Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year 2012 in Pictures

This year, in January, we moved back to our tiny city near the capital. In the mild winter with which this year began, Lizzy and Hamlet would look out onto the old deck to their new much-reduced yard (we went from more than 2 acres to square footage here), and to the still-green grass. The house is much smaller and older but my husband and I agree that our decision to move back and to sell the house near my small college on the hill was the best one we made in 2012. When we walked back into this old house, we both felt like we'd been away from home for too long (almost four years!).

In February, we spent three weeks in Puerto Rico, in a tiny studio near the beach in Isla Verde, right across from a grocery store, and at walking distance from Starbucks and from our favorite panadería. The three weeks were the most productive time in my entire year of leave and in my work on the book manuscript (which, btw, I emailed to the editor last night!). We also enjoyed our morning walks and, interestingly, got to eat in three different Peruvian restaurants treated by friends and family. Who knew that there were so many Peruvian restaurants in Puerto Rico?

In March, and back in Ohio, we enjoyed being in our old neighborhood where my husband took this impressive photo of an approaching early spring storm.

In April, the apple tree in our backyard blossomed in all its spring glory. I had actually missed that tree while we lived away from here so I was thrilled to watch as it grew more and more flamboyant as the spring progressed.

This Japanese maple, which I helped save after a late frost in April almost killed it many years ago, also exploded in magnificent color in May.

By June, the month in which my one-year leave ended, I lived temporarily, for about three weeks, in an apartment near my small college on the hill while working in the summer program I've been a part of since 2008. I took Lizzy and Chiquita with me but Lizzy couldn't get used to the fact that she didn't have a yard to play in. The worst part of that experience was betting stung by a horse or deer fly, which caused my right hand to swell and had me rushing to the doctor for antibiotics. Eww!

To celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary in July, my husband and I went to a favorite inn in the beautiful Hocking Hills, now much nearer to us, and had a lovely time staying overnight and enjoying a wonderful anniversary dinner.

After planting several tomato plants in spring, August produced a feast and I was able to indulge one of my favorite sauces over cooked spaghetti: fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, and Italian spices. Unbeatable.

September saw the first in a series of major improvements that we made this year to this old house, this one my husband's idea. I was not sold on it, at first, but have to agree that I don't miss the decrepit, ugly deck and that we've really enjoyed our new patio and the new stairs my husband built for us. We also updated the main bathroom with beautiful tile, fenced the backyard for the dogs, and my husband recently painted the dining room and the small downstairs bathroom. Slowly, but surely, this old house is getting lots of the TLC it deserves. I think it's very happy we're back.

Halloween was always my favorite "holiday" here in our tiny city, when I would dress up with my evil witch's hat and hundreds of children would clean us out of any and all available candy. I had missed celebrating Halloween while we lived on a country road that was not walk-friendly so I was absolutely tickled that I got to restart our Halloween tradition this October. Lizzy, however, was not so happy about having to wear her costume.

In November, we went back to Puerto Rico for a third time, since I also went in June to teach a two-day seminar at the University of Turabo. This time, we went for a conference and stayed at a different place, more directly in front of the beach, but I still prefer the tiny studio that we called home in February. The highlight of that trip was spending time with the friends who had hosted us when we visited Oregon a few years back, and we were able to return the favor. They were so appreciative and delighted with everything we showed them that they made the experience a pleasure.

Unlike the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, this December has not been mild and January promises to come in like a lion, with highs in the twenties and lows in the teens and single digits this coming week.

Still, 2013 opens up, like a blank book, for us to write on it what we want, and what fate will have readied for us.

Wishing you all a very happy new year. Here's to a kinder, gentler, and more peaceful 2013 for all of us and for the world in general. ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


The first snow came on the 21st, the day the semester ended, and then returned, fast and furious, while I was in Memphis, visiting with my entire family at my brother's place. The visit was lovely, especially because I saw my mom and sister, and spent quality time with my luminous nieces and nephews, and with my brother and his wonderful wife, whom I had not seen since my father passed away in 2010.

We all went to our favorite fried chicken place, we all went to see "Les Miserables" (way too much crying and singing for my taste), and we all went to a Mongolian-style grill place for dinner, which was definitely a first for me (you even get to choose your spices! I was intrigued by the concept of "Dragon Salt.")

I may have missed the first big storm in Ohio on the 26th, but overnight between Friday and today we got about 4 inches of snow and there's more expected on New Year's Eve.  I am so glad that I canceled my plans to go to MLA in Boston this year since that would have meant I'd be traveling, again, next week. No way, José! There's no place like home for the holidays, like the Carpenters' song says.

I've basically spent the entire day in my basement office (with the space heater on) in a writing and revising marathon, and now have the book's Introduction,  Epilogue, two chapters and the Working Bibliography updated. Tomorrow will be more of the same but I'm going to aim to finish it all by tomorrow night so I can email the 256-page manuscript to the editor a day early. That will allow me to focus on the grading (my husband says this is probably the most-mentioned word on this blog nowadays) and on letters of recommendation for current and former students, all of which are due on the 2nd.

Hang on, I tell myself, once the New Year is two days old, I will be done with EVERYTHING! I can taste freedom, which awaits. In the meantime, I'm diving back into my work after taking a  quick interlude.

Monday, December 24, 2012

¡Feliz Navidad!

On Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, I like to think of the all the possibilities for starting anew that tomorrow, and that the new year, bring as gifts. May this holiday season we healthy and tranquil and loving for you all, and may the promise of a new beginning shine bright in all our hearts. ¡Feliz Navidad! (And nobody sings it better than our José Feliciano.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

First snow!

Well, the world didn't end (again) but we did get our first major snow in these parts. The day has been so cold and windy and raw that, other than a quick drive this morning to Starbucks and to get a few staples at the grocery store, I parked the car in the garage, and stayed inside working. Lizzy didn't even get her daily morning walk so my husband threw her squeaky ball for her to chase outside for a little while. Even that didn't seem like its usual great fun for her because she was ready to quit after only a few throws.

I had planned to be up at my small college on the hill today but I'm so glad I decided not to brave the elements. I even considered staying overnight with kind friends who're always ready to put me up, but then I would've had to deal with the bad weather coming home. According to the evening newscast, the accidents on the road were so many throughout the day that the police stopped responding to anything that didn't involve an injury. Video of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways further persuaded me that I was right to err on the side of caution and stay home on the last day of the semester.

Although I didn't get up to school, I spent the day working on reducing the piles of grading that await attention, writing letters of recommendation (an interminable though important part of what we do), and trying to make some headway on revising my manuscript. Tonight, there'll be more work but I do plan to squeeze in some time to watch a Christmas movie, one of the many adaptations of my favorite A Christmas Carol.

Tomorrow and Sunday there will be more grading and more manuscript work to do. I don't want to spend another Christmas Eve working, as I've done many times in the past, but I am thinking that finishing with all the pending work by the 31st wouldn't be a bad idea. That way I can start a brand new year, for real, on the 1st, with absolutely nothing pending. How might that feel? I think I may just want to find out! (We'll see how much I can get done over the next few days.)

The dismal, wintry weather is great encouragement to stay home and do work, as my husband pointed out. There's another storm forecast for mid week but I hope it here while I'm visiting with my family and not on the day I'm scheduled to come back. As anyone who knows me knows, I hate traveling so I'm not good with trip delays, disruptions, or interruptions. However, I will make sure to take plenty to do  in case I have to deal with any contretemps, which hopefully won't be the case.

Even though the weather outside is dreadful, like the song says, I'm glad that the world didn't end (I still have too much to do for the End of Times to get here now) and that this long, long semester is finally, officially over. Woo hoo!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Countdown to Christmas

Well, classes are finally over (woo hoo!) and now there's just piles and piles and piles of grading that need to get worked through before final grades are due on Jan. 2. The original due date for grades was Dec. 28 but someone (or someones) must have complained because the day was set back, thankfully, until after the end of the year.

Unlike previous years, when I've found myself grading on Christmas Eve, feeling rather Grinch-like, I plan not to have a grading marathon over the holidays. Instead, I'm aiming to get a lot of that done this coming week, which is finals week. I still have to go in to school to give one exam and to hold "special office hours," which I offer so my students can touch base with me and thereby reduce their panic levels. But with the later due date for grades I will enjoy being able to work solely on my book manuscript for the week of Christmas before it's due to the editor on the 31st. That's a huge relief. I've been able to sneak work on it here and there for the past week, which always feels good since I can see the project becoming crisper and more polished, but I won't be able to devote any full-time hours to it until schoolwork is finito.

Having no more classes means I also get to spend more time at home, which is something Chiquita, whom I should have named Sombrita because she's like a tiny shadow following me around all the time, loves. And home is just where I want to be these days. Now that we're back "home for the holidays" in our new old house (as the pretty home-made card my husband designed for us this year announces in either English and Spanish, depending on the recipient), I've become even more of a homebody than ever.

Just as my husband had predicted, the commute to and from my small college on the hill has been quite tiring (it was about an hour in the mornings, when I had to leave before dawn, and more like an hour and a half in the evenings). More so when I couldn't start for home before dusk, which was basically the norm given that there was usually someone or something to attend to (a student, a colleague, a meeting) after my last class ended at 4 p.m. But I'm willing to put up with the commute for the joy that I feel at being back in our neighborhood.

Also, thanks to the long commute I've become a much more informed person because I can listen to NPR for a few hours each day, which I have loved. And I've been able to listen to several good audiobooks of books I'd never have time to actually read, which is a plus once the NPR signal dies out in the boonies where my small college on the hill is located (I plan to take up the audiobook of War and Peace once I begin commuting again in the new year).

Once the semester closes officially on Dec. 21, I am eager to commute less and spend most of my time here, with my beloved husband and furry children. We have a nice tradition for Christmas Eve and early dinner reservations at a favorite restaurant for the 31st so this is definitely going to be a homey end of the year, God willing. In between, I will take some time over the holidays to see my family when I travel to my brother's home. I haven't seen him since 2010, when our father died, so this will be quite special.

And then, once January arrives, I'm very much anticipating the two weeks of peace and quiet and of no more major projects to conclude or embark on. Thankfully, in spring I'm teaching two classes I've taught before so there won't be a lot of prep and maybe, just maybe, the spring semester will feel like I've finally mastered the art of balancing life and work. That's a good thing to look forward to in 2013.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ready for Christmas!

Yesterday, instead of doing the gazillion school-related things I could have done, and after doing what felt like a hundred of them and needing a break, I decided to turn on the holiday music and decorate our home for Christmas.

It's always a bittersweet pleasure to "deck the halls" (though we have nothing as large as a hall, mind you), and to hang our decorations (some of them almost crumbling from old age) from our miniature fake Christmas tree. Getting ready for the season is a mixture of joy and sadness for me, and I'm not really sure why. I don't know if it brings back memories of my childhood, when the family was all together (now so dispersed and far apart). Or whether it's because it makes me realize all that has been lost, especially in those who have left us behind, human and furry presences alike (my abuela, my father, my beloved old satos, Rusty and Geni, my old, old cat Nube).

But I remind myself of how blessed I am with (relative) health and love and challenge and reward and the ability to appreciate it all, so I give humble thanks for everything and look on the brighter side.

Once this semester ends, not a day too soon, and once I send in my draft manuscript to the press editor by year's end, the new year will awaken brand new for me in more ways than one. For the first time, there will be no impending professional goals to meet. The long-worked-for tenure review is in process, and the manuscript will have been finished and sent off for whatever may come of it. I look forward to 2013 because it will be my year to actually slow down and enjoy the feeling of not having any major professional project or endeavor looming ahead. What I felt I needed to demonstrate, in terms of my teaching, my scholarship, and my commitment to service, I have done. There is nothing else that needs to be proven to anyone else at this point.

I have been so driven for so long (in this iteration of my life it's been since entering graduate school ten years ago) that, despite the doubts my husband has expressed that I will actually know how to wind down, I'm not just anticipating but also will welcome and actively promote a change of pace.

More immediately, once December 14th arrives, if you hear, in the faraway distance, what seem to be shouts of unabridged joy, think of me. I will be celebrating the end of a challenging semester, and though I will still have to finalize my 200+-page manuscript in only two-weeks' time, I'll at least be able to do what I love doing best: being a homebody in our lovely, beloved home, now all prettily decked out for Christmas.