Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Pictures

January 2013 began in this beloved old house, our second year of return to life in the tiny city near the capital. The best decision we made in 2012 was to come back to this house.

In February, my husband and I traveled to Savannah, GA, for a conference on the Gothic at which I presented part of my book project. I fell in love with Savannah and hope to return someday.

March roared in like a lion with lots of snow and ice and sleet and cold. In retrospect, it really has been a pretty chilly year...

But April, as usual, dazzled us with its beauties... And it was the month in which I celebrated achieving my promotion to tenure!

May was a month of roses.

We traveled to Annapolis, MD, in June for my niece's high school graduation. It also was a busy month with work, especially the inaugural session of the Summer Teaching Institute that I proposed and co-taught with a dear friend.

July marked our 19th anniversary, which we spent partially rescuing a lost Australian Shepherd.

August was gorgeous, a month of feasting on everything that late summer has to offer. My husband also built the new steps to our patio.  

In September, I decided to learn how to preserve the glorious bounty of tomatoes, peaches, and other edible gifts that summers here bestow on us so generously. This also was the month when I found myself back in the hospital because of my atrial flutter, which got worse in 2013.

October, my favorite month, gave us another Halloween, albeit a cold and wet one, in our beloved house.

For Thanksgiving, we went to Puerto Rico and stayed at the little studio in Isla Verde that served as our home for three weeks in 2011.

For Christmas, my brother and his family visited us here for the first time since May 2005
and we drove up to Annapolis (two visits there this year!) so we could all be together.
Thank you, 2013, for ending pretty much as promisingly as you started 
(despite the few atrial flutter setbacks here and there). 
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

¡La familia!


Spending a few days in Annapolis, MD, with the whole family, was a treat, especially the games of "Apples to Apples" and "CatchPhrase" and "Guess Who?" with the nieces and nephews. Lovely memories to end the year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas joy

This has been a very special Christmas because, unlike most years past, when it's just my husband and me, my brother and his loving family came to visit. Thus, there were many presents under the tiny tree, and Christmas morning was a delight just because of my nephews' and niece's contagious excitement. Even though no one got enough sleep last night, it felt just the way it should be.

Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, was also very nice as my talented niece helped my husband make his world-famous homemade pizzas. She didn't mind kneading the dough for 10 full minutes (she really loves cooking and is a very good at it, too!).

This morning, as everyone opened presents, Lizzy began to feel a little left out of the action so we had to give her a dog biscuit so she'd feel like she also was remembered.

And then, for our late lunch, early dinner, we cooked up a feast. My sister-in-law made a delicious arroz con gandules, and there were pasteles and hallacas sent by my mom from Puerto Rico, and the pièce de résistance: the traditional pernil, or roasted pork shoulder. I hadn't realized it before but, in a culture like ours, so influenced by Spain's colonial rule in Puerto Rico for over four centuries, it makes sense that pork would be the mainstay of the Christmas dinner table. What more contundente way of showing that you were a Christian and not a Muslim in Spain after 1492 than to have to eat pork for Christmas? This got me thinking about how it would be really interesting to find out when that tradition began to see if my guess is right that it begins shortly after the Catholic kings evict the Muslims from Spain after centuries of their influence there.


All in all, it's been a lovely Christmas and, as 2013 begins to walk quickly to its end, I feel blessed and so happy to have such a wonderful family and to have had at least half of them here for Navidad. ¡Felicidades!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Snowy December

Today is a good day.  Thanks to the fact that I only had a total 24 students this semester, compared to the up to 60 I can have in the semesters when I teach three courses, I was able to keep on top of my grading. I think this also was helped by the fact that I've become much more selective about the amount of work that I give my students, rejecting my "boot camp" approach of earlier, less experienced years when both I and the students were overwhelmed.

I've come to understand that, in teaching writing, process is much more important than product so rather than have students write an endless amount of papers, it's more important for them to draft and revise so they can see where they went wrong in the first place and feel how they've improved. This method has worked very well for my 100-level class and it keeps me sane and much more content, especially when, like today, I'm able to finish with all pending grades and am, officially, done with the semester. The deadline for posting grades is the 30th so I've actually finished more than a week ahead of time. Woo hoo for the unbeatable feeling of being better organized and more on top of things!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, December has been the snowiest in memory with more than 15 inches having fallen in Ohio before today (when winter officially began). The usual number is 28 inches total, so we're already more than half way to the average for the entire season! Of course, today it's 59 degrees out there and the rain is falling as if Macondo wasn't in Latin America after all. My husband had to hook up the sump pump (unbelievable for December) just so we could keep this basement from becoming an underground pool.

Earlier this week, before this warm front blew in, the beautiful moon glittered in the cold, like an ice queen.

Today also marks the day when my beloved husband finished our kitchen remodeling project, which we began in April, when we first met with our contractor to discuss choices. Below is our 1980s kitchen, complete with warped formica counter tops and poorly functioning appliances: from the gas oven that heated things at 75 degrees over the setting to the broken dishwasher whose tray was always wanting to crash onto the tile floor when filled with dishes.

TA DA! This is what the new kitchen looks like today, thanks to my hubby's hard work (he painted in what we chose to be a light gray but what looks like a muted lilac). New discount stainless steel appliances and gorgeous black-gray granite countertops make a world of difference, even when we decided to keep the same cabinets (it cut the cost of the project way down, too!).

And, instead of paying $129 for a new hood over the stove, about $5 worth of spray paint did the trick to make it match the new, functioning gas stove that actually cooks at the temperature it says it's cooking. "It's the best $124 I've saved this year," my husband said.

I always have a lot of "stuff" that needs to go on shelves (yes, I'm a teacher, after all) so we had the contractor build this set of shelves with its accompanying bulletin board to repurpose that useless space in the kitchen. It's a great place for all my cookbooks!

The kitchen makeover makes me smile every time I walk into it, especially since it was principally funded by the blood, sweat, and tears shed from having worked two jobs over five weeks this past summer, something I hope not to do again for a long time. But it sure was worth it and, today, I can hear this old house softly singing with happiness that we're taking such good care of it. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December frost

December roared in, dumping more than 5 inches of snow in Columbus this weekend and breaking records. Temperatures, which are supposed to be in the 40s, aren't budging up from the 20s, at best, so this winter is going to be one of those that test our mettle. I think winters in Ohio are getting worse, which isn't a good thing for us since neither one likes or enjoys cold weather.

I have one more week of classes and am expectantly anticipating the end of the semester, as is everyone else at my small college on the hill, I'm sure. This time around, though, I do plan to get my grading done ahead of the deadline so that I'm not having to grade on Christmas Eve, as has happened at least once before. Not that I'm particularly religious but there's something metaphorically sacrilegious about grading during Christmas break.

In our home, everyone is more or less gearing up for the holiday season. We've started taking out decorations (the lighted wreath is up and the colored lights are on the evergreen next to our front door). Once classes end, likely this weekend, I'll put up our tiny Christmas tree and finish the process of holiday-icing the house.

Christmas for me tends to be a bittersweet season. On the one hand, I love the notion of a Savior being born, of hope blazing eternal. But, on the other, there is so much that needs to be fixed in this world, and, seemingly, no way to do so. What's important, though, is to do our part for good and to never, never give up. Christmas is also a perfect time to celebrate second chances and to be thankful, deeply grateful for what we have, especially all the love in our lives.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving!

This year we decided to spend Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico, which was a good idea, considering that we avoided the coldest week in November, exchanging it for the greenest greens and bluest blues of my beloved island.

As we do each time, we went up to the ancient walled city of Viejo San Juan to visit my father at his grave in the old cemetery of patriots at the foot of El Morro Castle.

Although I have visited that cemetery countless times, I re-discovered the tombs of Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebrón, José Gautier Benítez, and many other patriots who lived and gave their lives for Puerto Rico. My father is definitely in good company and I can only imagine the great conversations that must be held each night once darkness falls in the cemetery.

This time, like we did in February 2012 when we lived in Puerto Rico for three weeks, we stayed at the tiny studio in Isla Verde that we really like. It's right across the street from a supermarket and we can walk a mile to the nearest Starbucks and the Spanish repostería that we love is also a few blocks away. It definitely feels like a little home away from home by now.

The walks on the beach in the morning are my very favorite and they always give me the feeling of really being on vacation. Strolling barefoot on the sand and occasionally dipping my feet in the warm ocean is such a treat. Another gift is coming across a cocolía, or tiny crab, a rare sight despite the tiny holes that are apparent all over the sand.

When we're on the island, we always spend at least one day in Old San Juan. This time, we walked from the bottom to the top of the ancient city, with its steep blue cobblestoned streets, and after visiting my father in the cemetery, we walked back down in search of a bookstore where we found children's books about Puerto Rico in English for my dear friend who's mom to two luminous boys.

Although being in Puerto Rico was a treat, and we were happy to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and visit my Titi Bebi at the home where she is nowadays, the re-entry to Ohio was difficult because we found ourselves completely acclimated to the 80-degree weather, not to the 20-somethings that welcomed us when we returned.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Robins and first snow!

November has roared in with a snow storm and 20-degree temperatures already. It's really a fallacy to call November part of fall and to say the winter begins on December 22nd. Winter, around these parts, is already in full swing. Brrr.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Feast of colors

Although, most years, trees are already denuded by November and autumn hues are gone, this time many trees still boast their true colors. They're a breathtaking experience each time I walk by them. This one, in particular, is a glorious beauty and the photographs cannot do justice to how its leaves glimmer in the sunshine. It is a feast for the eyes and it invites me to stop and look and look some more.

In my work on Sophia Peabody, I've written about how she complained that her letter readers in New England (mostly her family in Salem but also friends in Boston and including her husband-to-be Nathaniel Hawthorne) would not believe what she had to tell about her experiences in Cuba, where she spent 18 months to recover from migraines that had turned her into a near-invalid. She bemoaned the fact that words simply were not enough to describe a Cuban sunset or the full moon shining, unfettered, in an indigo sky above the coffee plantation where she spent her time on the island. I understand how she felt because words, and not even the camera, can express, or capture, the glory of fall around these parts. There is a sense of loss, of sadness, at the fact that such beauty cannot be replicated or captured, except in the recesses of memory, where it will ultimately fade, like dying stars do. Sophia Peabody sketched what she saw and, as her biographer has said, created "word paintings" to translate from her to her readers' eyes. I have the advantage of photographs which, though they can't equal what I see, they can at least give you an approximation of what it might be.

What is most touching is that the glory of fall is made up of each individual leaf. Recently, as I walked Lizzy on a carpet of fallen leaves, I realized that each one is, like a life, unique for that one year in which it sprouts on a tree. Another leaf will be born next spring but it's another one. These ones, the ones still hanging on for dear life, will never come again. They've had their moment in the sun, and, on so many trees this fall, the leaves are determined to make the very best of it up until the very last minute. Seems like a good attitude to me.

Though I adore the azures and greens of my island, I can't deny that the reds, oranges, and ocher yellows belong to fall. Everywhere you look, if you stop and take a minute to look, there is some tree or bush or grass clamoring for attention, showing off what they can do, even if fleetingly, even if only for a moment.

Also clamoring for attention around here recently has been Lazarus, the possum, which was completely unafraid recently when my husband went outside with his camera (the photo above is also his and you can tell because it's so much better than any of mine could be). Lazarus was the possum, as you may remember, that Rusty "killed" a few times in years past but who would always reappear, just as my husband said he would. But then we moved away from here and had no more Lazarus stories to tell.

We're not sure if this is Lazarus' great-grandson or Lazarus himself, but there's a possum that still hangs out on the porch. There's no dog to "kill" it anymore (Lizzy is now safely gated in the backyard) so it's obviously thriving. Neither one of us had ever seen such a huge possum before!

Also doing well is Hester, our feral cat who lives on the porch now. She's been there since we trapped and rescued her litter and since she was returned to us spayed by a rescue group that kept her kittens. On blustery days, like today, she's nowhere to be seen and I worry very much about her out in the cold. But on warmer days she eats and sleeps and plays and brings us her kills (mostly birds and moles and mice) to the porch, though she won't let us touch her, even after all these months. Perhaps by next year, in spring (and I can't believe we're almost at the end of 2013!), Hester will finally trust us and let herself be petted. We'll have to see.