Saturday, April 23, 2011

Long time, no see!

Protracted absences from this space usually mean that I've had the kind of week (or weeks) when even sitting in front of the blog to describe anything about them is basically impossible. Either I really don't have a single minute to sit and reflect, or I'm too exhausted to do so.

It's taken me a while to figure it out, but I've finally realized why many colleagues prefer to teach their two-course semester in spring. For the past five years, however, I've taught three courses each spring, a streak I hope will end the next time I return to the classroom in 2012-13. The spring is much harder because, on top of having three classes and 55 students (a few less than I had in spring 2009, which was 62, and significantly less than some of my friends who have 75 students in intro classes for other departments), there are senior projects to read, comment on and grade, in addition to honors theses to read and honors defenses to attend. There's also campus visits by candidates for different positions, reviews for other colleagues, recommendation letters to write for graduating seniors, and so on.

I guess the good thing, if there is such, is that this spring has been so wet and cold and gray that at least I haven't felt worse that I'm so uber-busy when the nice weather has started and I want to enjoy the long afternoons before night falls. Hopefully, the nice weather will be here by the time the semester ends in May and then all is well that ends well.

One really cool thing I did do this semester (as if I needed any more!) was a staged reading in Spanish of Miguel de Cervantes' El retablo de las maravillas. Last year, a Spanish professor and I got the idea to get money from the community events fund at our small college on the hill and we staged a bilingual dramatic reading of Fuenteovejuna, which was a lot of fun but sparsely attended. This year, we put on Cervantes and we had a nearly packed house, so to speak. I gave the introduction in English and then the student "actors" read and acted their parts in Spanish, with different levels of proficiency. That went from a native speaker from Mexico, who had one of the main parts, to first-year students taking 100-level Spanish, who had secondary roles. I had a ball and while it took chunks of my time that could have been devoted to other pressing tasks, I enjoyed every minute of it and it was the highlight of my week.

There was also a lot of fun in collaborating with the Spanish professor and with a newly hired professor of Drama, who directed the play, and did a terrific job. So much so, that while we never did get a chance to have one rehearsal where we ran the play from beginning to end, the director had framed the scenes so well that, on the performance day, everything went on almost without a hitch even though he couldn't be there. Ironically, given what I said before about the added pressures of spring on everyone, he had a meeting of his department to go over senior comps and couldn't make it. We've now decided that we'll try again for something else to stage next year and even though I will be on leave thanks to a one-year fellowship I received, I most certainly will participate. Not only do these efforts diversify the drama offerings available to students at my small college on the hill but watching those students, most of them second-language speakers of Spanish, read and act in their second language was inspiring.

In the home front, my husband is simply biding time until my semester is over and I become human again and am actually able to get home and enjoy being home instead of spending about 15 minutes with him and then running upstairs to my office to grade, or plan classes, or write letters, or answer e-mails, or a combination of all those and more.

One member of our household whose life has changed even before the weather finally improves is Darwin. For reasons unknown, except that male cats who mark territory after being neutered tend to do so out of anxiety, Darwin likes to pee on the walls. While I've heard of other people who either medicate their cats with Prozac to zonk them out or put the cats down because of this negative behavior, I'm not going to consider either one of those options. I'd rather just clean up after him each and every day.

However, I heard of someone in the college who had a cat doing that and then started letting the cat outside and the cat stopped marking inside the house. Thus, we're letting Darwin out now for stretches of time and he seems to like it. I haven't noticed as much marking recently so, perhaps, we've found the perfect cure. We'll have to see.

The only thing that worries me is that he may want to imitate Hamlet (see him on top of the fence) and start running to the front of the house, where the issue of a road and the cars makes an rookie outdoor-indoor cat's presence tricky. We may also have to get Darwin his own collar with a bell to help the birds, mice, etc., escape before he's upon them. We'll have to see how this experiment goes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Like a miracle, today's sun finally coaxed the reluctant daffodils in our backyard to open and to look toward it with hope.

Also with hope, the white dogwood is sprouting little green "hands" all over the ends of its spindly branches, which look ready to unfold and stretch.

That is one of my favorite things about spring: that it does spring, inevitable.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April showers

March started with the much-longed-for Spring Break and ended in a mad rush that has not yet abated. While I do appreciate the two-week break, especially because it gives us the opportunity to have a leisurely visit in Puerto Rico, the crazy-busy-ness of the last two weeks and that of nearly all of April make the break feel like a hazy dream. But perhaps the idea is that the break fuels us with the energy to make it to the end of the academic year in about five weeks' time. Perhaps.

Thankfully, I have managed to stay above water so far, which is an achievement given my previous track record at my small college on the hill, and clearly points to lessons learned. I also have received encouraging news, such as positive, if unofficial, feedback on the pre-tenure review, a full-year research leave for 2011-12 awarded on the basis of teaching evaluations and student letters, and the acceptance for publication of an article I submitted to a specialized journal. The feedback on teaching, especially, has been most appreciated and helpful in fully restoring my self-confidence, which suffered some last spring because the personal difficulties I was facing with my father's illness coincided with a small group of disgruntled students and created a perfect storm of near-despair. But those days are now only a sad memory and there is nothing like the positive reinforcement of colleagues to restore self-faith and perspective.

Also in very good news, my father's bench on the nearby trails has been installed and the photo above gives you an idea of the view (albeit the winter one) that the resting spot affords to the winded hiker (it's atop a small hill). Soon, there will be plaque on the bench with my father's name and he will be memorialized near the home where he spent his last months of life and at the place that he had come to love so dearly.

The photo of Chiquita below I'm including only because it's so cute and because it shows her doing her favorite thing: snuggling up to me and taking a nap. Because this semester has been manageable and I have not been as severely exhausted as last year, I haven't needed to take life-preserving naps at 8 p.m. every night just so I could get a second wind to finish working until midnight. I've been going to bed at a regular time and getting a good night's sleep so naps have not been necessary. Thus, Chiquita doesn't get the chance to do this very often.

The fact that this semester has been manageable also manifests itself in the fact that I was able to make a batch of aromatic sofrito for all the upcoming bean concoctions that will grace our dining table in the future.

When I prepare this (a "base" for cooking traditionally used in Puerto Rico), I always remember my maternal grandmother, who was famous for her sofrito. In looking ahead to other batches of sofrito, and because from my paternal grandmother, my abuela, I may have inherited a green thumb, today I ordered four sets of seeds for different kinds of cherry tomatoes and for Costa Rican sweet peppers. I remember the plants of ají dulces and recao that my abuela had in her backyard and am going to try to get some seeds next time I'm in Puerto Rico to bring and plant here even if I have to keep them as inside plants over the winter.

April is only a few days old today but it's started with very rainy weather, which I keep repeating to myself means that May flowers will come. Still, there is a chance of snow flurries tonight and severe storms tomorrow, which reminds me that I'm in Ohio where the weather is, as Toni Morrison so aptly said, "theatrical."