Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year's end

December was a mild month, when we were able to take outside walks, both near my small college on the hill to visit the bench we dedicated to my papi's memory, and in our favorite pond park.

Christmas came and went, rather quickly, and this year I resolved to be more organized than in times past when I put away our decorations, some of which are decades old.

After Christmas, we drove to Memphis to be with my family and enjoyed a wonderful fried chicken dinner at Gus' Fried Chicken, which is one of our very favorite places to visit. Papi used to love it so we always make a point to go all together.

My sister, who always gives me the greatest gifts, gave me a set of PJs and a cake slicer in animal print. Very chic!

My dear neighbor, meanwhile, gave me these. They're quite whimsical and I actually wore them to school.

All in all, 2014 was a mixed year. It started scary and hard with so many troubling health issues, but it ended well. And all is well that ends well, I agree.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December, in a whisper

December has gone so furiously fast that it's not even funny. The month hasn't been bad, weatherwise, though they're now forecasting a wind storm for Christmas Eve, which will be a new one for us. All in all, December has been mostly gray (so this day of blue skies and crows on a tree was definitely different), and the sun has been a welcome surprise when it was deigned to show its face.

Early on, we decorated our live spruce on the back of the house with lights, and it's lovely to see them sparkle in bright colors in the early nights that fall in December (though now that the solstice is over we are looking forward to the lengthening days).

I have a tiny live tree at our house in the small city and the tiny fake tree in my home-away near my small college on the hill.

I'm trying to get all the Christmas shopping and organizing done while at the same time trying to finish the grading so I can have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to enjoy. I don't like the fact that grades aren't due until the 29th since it really does mean many of us are working through the holidays. Many colleges I know finish classes, exams, and have grades due before the holidays, which I think is much better. As it is, I often find myself (as likely will happen tomorrow) grading on Christmas, which is no fun and feels simply wrong. Here's what I say to that: Bah humbug!

Friday, November 28, 2014

November Ending: Found Family, Food, and Gratitude

November, colder than normal, brought a major snowstorm last week, forcing me to leave home last Sunday so I could be at my apartment near my small college on the hill when Monday dawned. And this is how that Monday dawned. Thankfully, we haven't had more snow and we actually had a mild day here last Friday when my husband and I took the dogs to a nearby park and were able to enjoy temperatures in the 60s. This is Ohio after all.

This week, of course, it was all about getting ready for Thanksgiving. My family doesn't usually visit on this day so for the past few years I haven't cooked but this year I decided I would take out my recipes and menus and invite some friends and a few students who don't get to go home for the holiday. I remember spending several Thanksgivings with friends when I was in college so I like the idea of paying it forward to those who don't get to be with family. After all, the family we make is as important as the family we have.

I started cooking on Wednesday, making the stuffing and cranberries and an arroz con gandules for my vegetarian husband and tried a New York Times recipe for a make-ahead gravy, which turned out to be a great idea. The turkey was 14.64 pounds, just big enough for everyone (we ended up with 8 people here, not counting us!). I seasoned it in the Puerto Rican tradition, with garlic, and olive oil, vinegar and herbs (tried Herbs de Provence this time and it worked out well).

I follow the Martha Stewart recipe, which calls for a cheesecloth seeped in butter and white wine (light butter and an inexpensive Pinot Grigio in this case). After the third hour of cooking the cheesecloth comes off and the turkey looks fantastic.

My husband turned on our fireplace (which doesn't actually work but we rarely get to light the candles that decorate it) and the sconces and the living room looked welcoming and cozy. One student said he was so grateful we'd invited him because "it was great to be at a home on Thanksgiving." That said all I needed to hear.

My sister texted me her famous sweet potato casserole recipe, which I assembled in the morning and cooked over the last 30 minutes, and it was a great hit. We sent the students home with a bag of leftovers to tide them through the reopening of the dining hall this weekend.

I'm not sure why I love spending two days cooking for a few hours of good conversation and companionship but I do. Maybe I like following in my grandmother's and grand-aunt's traditions since they always put up a feast for Thanksgiving and opened their homes to their families. I'm so grateful that I get to indulge in that love with friends and students and my beloved husband and furry children.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Icy November

When most trees in our small city had lost their leaves after the cold spells that November has brought, this maple still maintained its glorious radiance until yesterday, when it gave up the ghost and its leaves fell, turning the street into a carpet of crimsons and burnt red.

Meanwhile, the Cooper's Hawk that hunts at our feeder paid us a visit recently, scaring off every winged creature and lording it up for the phone camera.

I've been spending a lot of time in my home-away apartment near my small college on the hill, and Chiquita goes up there with me to keep me company so it's not too lonely. She likes to snuggle in this chair where she can keep an eye on me while I work.

She also likes to look out the picture window at the comings and goings outside, maintaining her self-esteem as a very effective guard dog, despite her tiny size.

Recently, upon leaving one of the many meetings I attend these days (I now know that it was no exaggeration when I was told administration meant a lot more meetings) the sunset put up quite the show as it set the sky on fire over the old cemetery in my small college on the hill. Simply breathtaking!

I'm still really enjoying the variety and challenges of balancing my teaching with my new job, but I'm very much looking forward to the break over Thanksgiving week. And then, when we return, it'll be just two weeks before the semester ends. It hasn't been an easy semester work-wise but it's been a breeze compared to last year when I was struggling with so many scary health problems. Being healthy is such a blessing that it provides quick and very good perspective on all other difficulties that might arise.

While it's not fun to think that winter is here again (and this November is feeling more like January!), it's inevitable so best to enjoy what we can and look forward to the spring of a new year.

Friday, October 31, 2014

I love Halloween!

The saddest part of Halloween is how quickly it arrives and how fast it's over. This year, despite better weather than last year when it rained, we had less children stopping by on "Beggar's Night" last night, though we did still ran through most of our candy (my husband always keeps a small reserved "stash").

This year he carved the best Jack-O-Lantern ever, and my sister sent me the best costume for Lizzy (as the Headless Horseman's horse) but it was too small. Still, we made good use of it and fun was had by all (except Lizzy, of course, though she did enjoy being petted by the very mannerly children who all adorably asked "Can I pet your dog?").

Goodbye Halloween! Until next year!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

October days

Like March and April in the spring, October is the busiest month for pretty much everyone at my small college on the hill, and it's even busier for me now that I'm doing two jobs at the same time. This past Thursday and Friday I was busy pretty much every minute of both days (yesterday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.) in events all related to work.

Now that it's over, I'm very grateful that I got to sleep in a little this morning and will soon be going back home to my husband and furry children. There's still piles of grading to get through, which I hope to finally get to tackle over the next two days. So no weekend break for now.

Because this October has been so over scheduled (in comparison with last year), and because we were in Ann Arbor last weekend also for a work-related conference, my husband made his delicious buttermilk biscuits on  Monday and it was the perfect way to start another busy-bee week.

Meantime, the fallscapes around my small college on the hill are at their peak, with trees getting routinely illuminated in their full color by the afternoon sun and the farm lands acting like the last green preambles to the groves of trees dressed up for fall.

And, of course, this month is Halloween and our house in the small city is already decked out for that purpose. Next week our small city has trick-or-treat hours on Thursday and that's a highlight of our life in that community so I'm very much looking forward to it! (Note to self: don't forget to get candy!)

I'll leave you with a video I shot of Chiquita, in my home-away-from-home near my small college on the hill, doing one of her favorite things: chasing a ball. She's not the best retriever, as you'll see, but she does love to chase that yellow ball as if she were.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Luna de toros

This month, the moon was huge in the sky at night. The first picture is taken with my phone from the courtyard in front of my small apartment near my college on the hill.

The second photo, also from my cellphone, is the fuller moon a day or two later from our home in the city. Just looking at the photos makes me want to howl.

Friday, October 10, 2014

October break

When I started my administrative job, one of my colleagues promised that the amount of meetings I would attend would at least double. I smiled at what seemed like a funny exaggeration since I was already attending a fair share of meetings before I started as associate provost.

But, like many such predictions I've tended to disbelieve, this one was quite accurate. Some days, I have a hard time keeping on track when going from meeting to meeting to meeting to office hours with students to teaching my classes to meeting to meeting to meeting. Though this position is half time for now, it is obviously one that could easily be full time with the amount of work it's absorbing. Some days nowadays I find that the phrase "booked solid" aptly describes a schedule that goes from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in meetings and class-time alone.

Still, I'm learning a lot in this new position and really enjoying the different challenges that teaching and administration bring. But it's not easy keeping on top of two new preparations for my two brand-new classes (even if one is modeled after the Honors Seminar I already taught) so I'm looking forward to next semester, which will be easier with only one class to teach (and that a class I've taught several times before). But we're already mid-term so I just have to pull through this first one as best as I can.

Not having had a chance to celebrate my appointment yet, my husband and I went to the Hocking Hills this past Thursday for October Break to enjoy "the colors" and to spend a night at our favorite Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls. This is a lovely place that we try to go to at least once a year, mostly for dinner at their restaurant, but we'd never stayed in their cottages before so we decided to try one of them.

We stopped at Lake Logan for a few pictures and even in the rain the area was just vibrant with fall colors and I could feel myself relax after the challenging first several weeks in the new job.

Once at the Inn, we got the Bluebell cottage, which didn't look like much from the front but was very comfortable inside. It also had a wonderful deck overlooking the forest and I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in warmer and better weather.

We had some time before our dinner reservation, so we decided to hike to Cedar Falls, which is now only a trickle, but which is beautiful during its peak seasons. It's a cliff area and there have been plenty of news stories about accidents and falls by people who stray off the trail so the signs are a little bit daunting. But the hike itself is very safe and easy, and well worth it since the views are breathtaking, even in the drizzling rain.

It is an ancient area, with huge sandstone configurations that speak of a time when the region was under water, and one can't help but be amazed when walking through the rock formations.

After the hike, we had a delicious dinner, a restful night's sleep, and we returned home yesterday. It was a quick turnaround, and I was a little sad that it was over so quickly. But I'm very grateful that we have such a lovely place not far from home. Hopefully, we'll get to go back soon.