Saturday, January 28, 2012

Green thumbs

It was not until I arrived in Ohio nearly 11 years ago (can't believe it'll be that long in March!) that I began to explore the rewards and vicissitudes of gardening, something that, as a born and bred "city girl," I'd never really had the chance to learn about as I was growing up.

Although my first attempts at planting were not very successful, especially with regard to my beloved peonies, because I didn't know much about how to garden, I slowly learned (replanted all the peonies I had mis-planted so they faced the sun) and now can say that I have inherited at least part of the famous green thumb of my abuela, whose roses and potted plants were gorgeous and whose plantain and lemon trees were famously bountiful. I am not quite that successful but at least I do a lot better than when I first started.

One of the features my husband and I love best about this old house is its garden, which my papi used to call the jardín mágico because of all the birds, squirrels, rabbits, and even an opossum, that lived in it and because of the flowering trees and many flowers that we planted in it over the years we were here.

Today, I spent a couple of hours doing some weeding and cutting back of overgrown plants in the small garden that has been basically abandoned for the years we were not here. Everything needed a good trimming and the dessicated weeds needed to be pulled and cut back. I haven't worked that hard in the garden since we moved out of here so it was a nice feeling to see the fruit of my labor and to look forward to spring (winter is more than halfway done, as my husband keeps pointing out) when we can restore this magical garden to its former glory.

One of the major components of the garden, a water feature, was taken out because our tenants were afraid of the potential hazard to their toddler. My husband built it many years ago in the shape of a rock bath for birds. Though it will not function as a water feature ever again, I do love the labor that he put into creating the "natural" rock formation and today I placed a small ceramic dish where the plastic tub used to be and cleared the rock feature of weeds and years of accumulated debris, hoping that the birds will want to start using it again as it accumulates rain water.

Lizzy came to see what I was doing and I snapped this picture of her, almost posing, in her new backyard. We don't think she misses the country estate's rambling yard where she could run at full speed down the nearly acre-long expanse to catch her ball. She seems pretty content here though she can't get up to those speeds to chase her ball or toy because here she sees a lot more squirrels and people and even other dogs walking down the back alley.

As people who don't like anything about winter, we both look forward to spring. But this year's change of season will be even more special because we're both excited about making this the jardín mágico that so enchanted us long ago.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A family that watches TV together...

I'm not sure why but both Hamlet and Darwin are a lot mellower in this house than they were in the "country estate," and often, when I sit on the sofa to watch TV, all the furry children (well, except for Evil Magellan) want to be on or near my lap, as this photograph attests.

Now that we're pretty much settled here, and the house in the country continues to get some traffic (one more showing today and one "Under consideration" from the three showings on Saturday), I'm looking forward to getting back to my research so that I can finish the book manuscript on time (by June 1st is my deadline, August 31st is the publisher's). The move and its concomitant and unending "to do" lists have not been conducive to getting work done so I haven't had a chance to do much more than think about my project for the past three weeks. I hope to get back on the groove starting Wednesday (tomorrow I go up to my small college on the hill).

In addition to my book work, I received two readers' comments on a chapter I'm contributing to an edited collection of Transcendentalist women and they were very encouraging although also very demanding in the changes they suggested. All of the suggestions make sense and will make the chapter much better than it is right now so I want and need to devote a good amount of time to re-thinking that work. The editors wanted me to turn it around mid-February but I asked for more time since the changes will be substantial. The good thing is that I know where I have to go with that piece and am excited to get started.

This semester I'm going to finally honor my research leave and am cutting back on most, if not all, of the service endeavors I was involved in last semester. Except for only a few projects, I am going to devote my time to what it needs to be mostly devoted to: getting my scholarship finished. And I think that being away from the campus definitely helps because the distractions and possibilities for deviating from that purpose are significantly less.

Even though my basement office here tends to be much colder in winter than I'd prefer, I like that it's quiet and secluded and I can close the door and focus. I also like that when I need to take a break, there's lots of good options to do so. For example, today was a hard day of a visit to the endodontist in the morning and then two visits to my general dentist, all in the span of three hours. What's the best way to end a day like that? Well, we decided to walk Lizzy to the nearby Jeni's Ice Cream and my husband enjoyed some Whiskey and Pecans ice cream while I chose The Milkiest Chocolate in the World.

It's definitely true what they say, that all is well that ends well.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Let sleeping cats lie

Three cats on our bed in our small bedroom in the old house in the tiny city is an unusual sight. I don't remember ever seeing the three of them on the bed in our "country estate," so this may bode well for the future of cat relations in this household (though a fight over the cat tree this morning between the two male cats did much to contradict such hopes).

Interestingly, neither Hamlet (the black cat to the right) nor Darwin (the gray tabby to the left) have expressed any interest in remaining outside when we've given them supervised outings. This is especially surprising in Hamlet who used to roam far and wide away from our house near my small college on the hill. So far, in fact, that sometimes you could hear him coming through the tinkling of his collar bell from a long distance. But the move (and spending about 1.5 hours outside one morning when he woke us up at 4 a.m. and then again at 6 a.m. and Lance put him outside, as we used to do in the other house) seems to have cured Hamlet of his wanderlust, at least for now.

We have settled nicely into a routine here though not everything is at it should be or as we want it to be but I keep telling myself that patience is a virtue and that all will get done in its own time (and definitely before I start teaching again in the fall!). For now, things around the old house are more or less comfortably arranged and we now can find most of what we need so that's a sign of progress.

Meanwhile, the "country estate" is up for sale and while we know that January is the worst month to hit the market it's hard to think that no one is interested in the house, at least not yet. But I'm a hopeful person so I know how to hope and wait. (My husband just came in to say that there are three showings of the house today! Here's to hope!)

For a week, we've been pet-sitting for one of our "college daughters" (students who have, for one reason or another, become like family to us), and Zooey, a reddish tabby, adapted terrifically well to our household, which (until later today) has consisted of six furry children. Zooey has clearly expressed her preference for my husband, spending long hours on his lap, and I am thankful that she and Chiquita have enjoyed chasing each other and playing, which gives the Chihuahua some much-needed attention and exercise (since no one else in the household wants to play with her).

Yesterday afternoon, I bought a small webcam that my husband set up for me so I could Skype from my computer here. I intend to offer Skype office hours this semester (to the few advisees I have) and next fall, when I start teaching again, as a way to make up for the time I won't be on campus anymore. Yesterday, I had my first Skype session with one of my informal advisees (she's not an English major but comes to me often for advise of all kinds) and it was a success. I used to have "chat" office hours when I taught at OSU, which were really well attended so I think this idea also will work well and give students face-time without my having to be up there.

Being here has allowed us to do things we would have never dreamed of doing up in the town near my small college on the hill. Not only have I had the chance to reconnect with girl friends I hadn't seen in a long time, which has meant having company to go to the movies or to try a new tea salon, but my husband and I also got to attend a fundraiser for the Columbus Dance Theater last night. It was in a downtown theater we'd never been to and it gave us the chance to have a very nice dinner, meet new people, and watch a lovely dance performance. I felt like a little girl being taken to the ballet for the first time (that's how unusual it is for us to do such a thing on a Friday night). One of the highlights of the evening was seeing my very handsome husband dress up in his dark suit and black coat. He was the best-looking man there!

I'm also really appreciating the ability to simply walk out the door to take Lizzy for her walk (I used to have to drive her to my small college on the hill or to the nearby town), and as I walk these streets I know so well, I have come to realize that this place is full of good and happy memories for me. Geni and Rusty were alive here, as was my dad, and nothing sad or traumatic happened to us during the years we occupied this house. Thus, it's a happy place and that's, I'm sure, why it feels so much like the home we left and have now returned to.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hell froze!

So far, winter has been mild here in Ohio where we've basically basked (for this season) in higher-than-average temperatures. But that all ended yesterday when an aptly named Arctic Blast swept through and took no prisoners.

Yesterday, by the time I sat here to check e-mail and do some work, the temperatures outside where in the teens and the windchill was -1. When I went to walk Lizzy in the evening, the snow was falling in earnest and the streets were nearly deserted under what looked like near blizzard conditions.

But being back in the tiny city next to the capital means that when we get in the car we can actually go somewhere fun, not just for necessities, so my husband and I took a break and drove to a nearby café so we could sit in front of the fireplace, he sipping decaf and me enjoying their great hot chocolate.

I'm really enjoying being so close to so many fun places and on Thursday got a chance to reconnect with girl friends I hadn't seen in a long time as we went to a nearby tea house where I had a "Zen" blend that prepared me well for the sushi lunch and hot-stone massage I enjoyed with another good friend later that day. All within 20 minutes of our old house.

Today, the weather isn't as unkind and the snow has stopped blowing and drifting although temperatures are in the twenties, which feels almost comfortable compared to yesterday when this old drafty house couldn't find the way to keep itself warm. We'll definitely have to replace the storm windows at some point, another improvement for the already growing list of work that the poor old house needs.

And while we know that the house does need a lot of TLC, it's not something that frustrates either one of us (at least not right now). On the contrary, we both feel like it'll be nice to revamp the house and make it look better and be more comfortable for ourselves as we continue to make our lives here.

My husband just came in, after working outside and in the garage for a while, to comment that lore has it that no matter how big a garage is built, there is moment when it seems like it should have been four-feet bigger. "I have reached that point," he said, smiling. Our garage here is much smaller than in our erstwhile "country estate" so he's had to be more creative in arranging his motorcycles and my car and the lawn mower, etc.

Indeed, everything is cozier here and we're getting used to running into each other in the small kitchen space, about half the size of the one we used to have. But I wouldn't change it. Home is, indeed, where the heart is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New year, big changes!

I'm a firm believer that the best thing God made was one day after another. Each day presents itself as an opportunity for re-invention, for changing what we don't like about ourselves or our lives, for re-evaluating and re-calibrating our relationships, our external influences.

2012 dawned such a year for us with a move back to our old house (built in 1930) in the tiny city next to the capital of the state. We left this house and rented it in 2008 when I was given a tenure-track position in my small college on the hill. Last fall, we started thinking long and hard about the possibility of coming back, after the tenants wanted to have the house tested for lead and the estimate for fixing a part of the problem (common in all houses built before 1978) was financially daunting. When the tenants notified us that they were moving out, ironically unrelated to the lead issue, what was a thought became a reality. While there was a good chance that this house could be re-rented easily, the likelihood that we'd get as good tenants was remote and now that we've moved back we've noticed how much the house itself has deteriorated, as it would continue to do so since we would not want to invest much on it while it was being rented.

The truth is that while we've loved our spacious house near my small college on the hill, it was more isolated and isolating than either one of us liked. We're both walking people and I couldn't easily walk anywhere, not even to take the dogs out, except on the lovely nearby trails. But those same trails have been nearly impassable this year because of the record rain, which has turned them into mud pits, making them a whole lot less attractive or functional.

Thus, we moved on Three Kings Day, a fitting present for both of us, because we have found that we have a special place in our hearts for this old house, despite its many problems and its constant need for attention and maintenance. One of its greatest challenges is the 90-degree turn at the top of the stairs, which made it impossible for my husband and his moving helper to get our box spring to our bedroom. Or a large chair to his office, as we'd originally planned. We have Plan B for the box spring, which we'll be trying this weekend, hopefully, since sleeping without a box spring is something I haven't done since my college days.

Yesterday, we were able to move enough cooking utensils and pots so that I was finally able to make a home-cooked meal on our gas stove (another thing we really like about this house) and by this morning, Lizzy and Hamlet were already riveted by the huge flock of sparrows visiting the old, rusted feeder, which had been abandoned since we moved out.

I thoroughly cleaned the feeder, re-filled it, and today it's like we've never been gone. There's tons of work to do in the house to get it to where we want it, and once our situation stabilizes after the other house is either sold or rented, we'll make more improvements here. We've always joked that we revamp our houses and then leave them so that other people enjoy the changes, not us. But this time we're committed, God willing, to staying here and making the most of this house for ourselves.

In the end, this house is much older and smaller than our "country estate," as a friend described it, and my office is now in the basement, lacking the window with a view to the backyard. But, as my husband said this morning: "This feels like home." And I agree. We've definitely come back.