Saturday, December 31, 2011

¡Feliz Año 2012!

Last family picture with my dad in July 2009

As I have done in these virtual pages since 2007, when I started this blog, the last day of the year is a good time to reminisce about the good and the bad and the not-so-bad. In looking over my calendar for this year, I am reminded of how busy it was with travel and scholarly projects.

Before December 2010 ended, I traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, to be with my family for a few days as they gathered, for the first time without my dad, who left us that year, to celebrate the New Year. That was in keeping with the tradition he instituted in 1999, when he thought the world might "end" due to the expected computer crash caused by the change to a new century -- the infamous Y2 scare that thankfully ended up being a dud.

In early January, I flew to Los Angeles, California, my first ever visit, to present a paper on Hawthorne at MLA, a presentation that yielded a query from a book editor about my work.  In February, we traveled by car to a seminar on immigration at the University of Chicago, which was a disappointment, but the visit yielded an advance contract for my book manuscript from that editor. In March, my husband and I traveled to Puerto Rico for our usual spring break respite, and we got in the car again in early June to travel to Annapolis for my nephew's high school graduation and then to Richmond, Virginia, to visit a good friend. In August, I traveled to Puerto Rico to be with my mom for a medical procedure and then in early September we got in the car again on our way to Canada to the famous Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see Richard III played by a woman actor. In October, we took the car to Boston, where I celebrated my 50th birthday on the same day that the Storm of the Century hit most of New England.

I am grateful that 2011 was a good year, with a successful pre-tenure review completed in the spring, many scholarly projects undertaken -- one article written, revised and soon to be published, a chapter for an edited book collection accepted and sent by the editors to readers for comments, a proposal for an article on Approaches to Teaching Hawthorne accepted for a collection on such essays, the book manuscript started with one full chapter completed -- and two faculty development seminars attended. This was also the year in which I won two teaching awards, one of which serendipitously gave me a one-year leave to finish the book manuscript for which I got the contract in early spring.

Indeed, 2011 was quite generous to me. But because it was very challenging for most everyone else, on a national and personal level, especially for those I love dearly, I cannot celebrate 2011 as a great year and am glad to see it end. Hopefully, 2012 will be kinder, and gentler, and more generous to everyone.

After a year of so much traveling -- five road trips (counting Maryland and Virginia separately) and three airplane jaunts -- my husband and I are happy to stay home to welcome 2012. This will be, however, the first year the family isn't together to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another, as had been the tradition. Still, almost all the nephews and nieces got to spend time together with my mom and sister at my brother's house after Christmas, which might just be the start of a new tradition in itself.

In the personal arena, my main resolution for this coming year is to spend a lot less money on myself and do more for those who have so much less than I do.  I pray 2012 is a prosperous and healthy year for everyone. ¡Feliz y Próspero Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Nochebuena, or the good night, has always had a special place in my heart and not because of the expectation of presents the next day.

Actually, I never did care much for Santa Claus given that I grew up on a tropical island where he represents the imposed traditions of a colonizing culture, which every day endangers the celebration of the much more lyrical Three Kings Day.

I have always preferred the legend of three wise men crossing the desert, who bring glorious presents to the poor newborn babe in a manger, to the overweight white man in a tacky red suit (with fur!) who simply feeds today's shocking commercialism.

For me, Nochebuena was always about the lit up tree not for Santa but to celebrate the birth of a Savior. While I am not particularly religious and way too much of an iconoclast to fit in any institutional church, the tradition of celebrating the eve of a new day where change for the better is possible seems lovely to me. I guess that's why I love Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" so much.

In that spirit, may you all have a lovely Nochebuena, full of love and joy and possibility. Hope you enjoy this powerful rendition of "O Holy Night" by Mariah Carey, which brings down the house, and brings me to tears of happiness.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The quilt is nearly done!

This is what the quilt looks like with the border and you can see a little bit of the backing in the edges. When it's finished, the piping or binding (the outermost edge of the quilt) will be in the dark fabric edge that frames the blocks.

A new quilt for the New Year.

First snow

There's nothing like a cardinal sitting on snow to give you a sense of the beauties (admittedly not very many) of winter, which doesn't actually arrive officially until Thursday but which is very much here already.

Today is our first snow of the season and it's falling light and quick out there, covering everything in a white blanket that feels like the shaved ice that the piragüeros in Puerto Rico use to make delicious piragüas or snow cones with flavored syrups.

In quilting class today I finished the front of the quilt and basted it to the back and I started quilting not "in the ditch" but just next to it. The actual quilting is the hardest part especially for straight-line challenged people like me who can't cut or sew straight. But I'll try to do my best so that the quilt is ready on Jan. 7, when we'll have our last class and put the binding on.

The semester ended yesterday so I expect the college grounds will be quiet when we go walk Lizzy. I am looking forward to being able to devote more uninterrupted time to piecing together my book manuscript now that the first half of the school year is finally over.

Yesterday I received the great news was that I won the competition for the best essay by junior faculty submitted to the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review competition. Papi would be thrilled. The win means a little bit of money (don't know how much) and will be announced at MLA, the major conference in our discipline. While I won't be there to receive the prize in person, I am going to enjoy this small success for a little while to come.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Return to quilting

After a long hiatus in quilting due to illness in the quilting teacher's family (all is better now), the class met again today. While I was the farthest one behind, I ended up being the first one to finish the larger "face" of the wall-hanging and now will work on the borders before our next and final class a week from today. For someone as impatient and as short-tempered as I can be, quilting is almost a Zen activity because I force myself to be patient and not to expect perfection but to do the best I can. And that's enough. And that makes it fun.

The last two weeks have been busy with end-of-the-semester events and meetings with advisees but I have been able to make steady progress in getting my first chapter finished. One of my colleague friends has generously agreed to read it after Dec. 20 so I plan to have a full, edited version then and move on to the last chapter, which is pretty much done (these are both dissertation chapters that are being re-envisioned and, hopefully, much improved). The goal is to have two full chapters finished by the year's end so that I can focus on working on the two rougher chapters (one is about half drafted) and the last to be done (the third one) must be constructed from scratch.

I hope to be done with the book project by June 1, 2012 so I can devote the summer to planning classes and getting ready to return to teaching and to full-time work in the fall. I have agreed to teach the honor's seminar for my department and am very excited about the possibility since, although it will be in the fall semester of my tenure-review year and involves a new prep, many of the books I will teach are regulars on my syllabuses, including The Scarlet Letter and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

For this year, I am looking forward to the semester ending next week and then to the open days when I can devote myself to working on my project with little, if any, interruptions. Putting together a book manuscript isn't very different from quilting: you need commitment, discipline, an eye for detail, and lots of patience and faith that you can do it and finish what you started.

These holidays we'll be staying at home and I'm looking forward to having no more traveling until February, when we'll be going to Puerto Rico.  I also am looking forward to a quiet time with my beloved husband and furry children (and perhaps visits from a College Daughter or two). Here's to 2011 ending on a good note for all of us!