Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Spirit of Christmas (Movies)

It’s been three days since Christmas, and the child gift report is in: Hands down, the LeapFrog tablet is the winner, with the small kitchen and appliances coming in second place. Our boy also received a set of tools. So far, he is partial to the kitchen: Mama feels validated.

Happy 3-year-old’s Christmas kitchen. SHOP EARLY! This doubled in price after I purchased it, and trust me, that means a lot to our little family right now.

There is still some toffee and cookies left, and we’ve resumed exercise and some measure of lighter, healthier eating–before we go to Puerto Rico for New Year’s and Three Kings Day, and it all goes out the window again … Plus, my husband and I finished our Christmas champagne on Boxing Day. It’s a tradition we have, opening a bottle every year on Christmas Day, but we haven’t been able to finish it in one day for years. On Boxing Day, we also wrapped up the final installment in our annual Christmas movie rotation.

Sure, we’re lightweights these days, but the bubbly was just as bubbly the next day.

There is some variation in our rotation from year to year, usually in the first movie we watch early in December. This year, for instance, Home Alone was our first movie of the season. It had been a few years, and boy, how parenthood changes a person. I sat down for a carefree treat of mindless, predictable slapstick, and instead found myself getting worked up. Any time Kevin was terrified was very hard for me to watch, I don’t care how much attitude he had at the start. Also, all the previous times I’d watched this movie, I had disapproved of the mother apologizing to Kevin upon her return home. Ha. Not this time. Finally, there’s the “I would never forget my kid!” judgment element. I will say this, though. When I was very new to parenthood, there would be times in the car when my baby was so quiet, I panicked, thinking, “Oh my God, did I leave him?!” I’d have to reach over with my right hand, left hand still on the steering wheel, to pat his little head in his car seat for reassurance. And I have been known to order a meal at a restaurant and completely forget to order him food. It’s not the same as getting on a plane to Europe without him–I still don’t think this could happen but mostly because he’s an only child so he’s a lot easier to keep track of–but there have been brief moments of “forgetting,” or of fearing that I did.

The second movie we watched this year is a regular. Love Actually. I first saw this one when it was released in theaters, and I found it ridiculous and over-the-top sappy. It’s all about setting the scene properly, folks. The second time, I was on a plane coming back from Paris, where my husband and I had just gotten engaged. Oh, and they poured a lot of free champagne on the flight. The tears flowed freely and shamelessly. Several airplane napkins were required. It’s been true love ever since. I even love the idiot who travels to Milwaukee, and I find the adult film stand-ins adorable.

Professor Snape and Professor Trelawny play husband and wife! 🙂

Is it ridiculous that whiny Hugh Grant is the Prime Minister? Of course it is. It’s also annoying that Colin Firth flies to Marseilles to find Aurelia, only Marseilles is in France, and Aurelia and everyone in her community/town are Portuguese speakers. And don’t get me started on “molto … is Spanish!” I could pull my hairs out. But I forgive them; the appeal to me doesn’t lie in the stories’ elements being plausible or even sensible. I dare anyone to not feel anything–besides derisive cynicism–when Liam Neeson’s stepson runs through Heathrow airport while Colin Firth rushes through the streets of the Portuguese-speaking Marseilles village. I’ve made that sprint through Heathrow airport, more than once, under far less romantic circumstances; that they can make it look so beautiful and touching is nothing short of a miracle. And if that doesn’t do it for you, the scene also involves Bill Nighy performing a hilarious strip tease on live TV. By the time random people are greeting and embracing each other while The Beach Boys sing God Only Knows in the closing credits, I am a weepy mess. Oh, I loveLoveLOVE it!

Scored this bit of awesomeness as a stocking stuffer.

Last weekend was all about Ralphie, Randy, Flick and the flagpole, Schwartz, Schwartz’s hat, Scut Farkus, a Major Award!, and a “Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.” I could go on and on about the many things I adore about A Christmas Story. But I’ll just mention a few. Ralphie winking at his teacher when he turns in his theme about what he wants for Christmas. The lamp. The Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin. Randy in his snow suit. The line to see Santa Claus in the department store. Lifebuoy soap. The Old Man and the furnace. Plus, I really love the moments of tenderness between Ralphie and his mother (after his fight with Scut Farkus), and with the Old Man (Christmas morning).

This hangs on the wall above my dresser.

Finally, we save It’s a Wonderful Life for last every year, and this was no exception. There is something so fundamentally resonant, so powerful about unseen acts of kindness having a profound impact on our world, I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and retold, in as many ways as possible, forever. I live in a city largely populated by the Harry Bailey’s and Sam Wainwright’s, individuals who have succeeded in “shakin’ the dust” of their respective hometowns off their feet and seen the world, and become “important.” I suppose I am/was among them, too. I love our successes, feel strongly about the value of being highly educated, and I know a lot of DC people who do good, good work (I am married to one). But whenever I feel conflicted about a standard of so-called success and importance that I often see around me, I take comfort in this Dalai Lama quote that I so love.

My favorite characters in It’s a Wonderful Life are Clarence, Annie, Mr. Gower, Martini, Uncle Billy … okay, most people except Mr. Potter. And the old maid-librarian routine in the alternate life never fails to crack me up. I mean, old-maid Mary is wearing glasses, and she has bad eyebrows. The horror! I love it. Then, at the end, when Harry comes home from the war to a hero’s welcome, and says, “A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town,” I swear, my heart grows a few sizes. I know I am no George Bailey, but I can tell you this: I haven’t had a paycheck to my name in years, and our traditional Christmas bottle of Veuve Clicquot has long been replaced by much cheaper stuff, but after I am finished watching this movie, I might as well be “the richest girl in town!”

Thank you, O Magazine (Dec 2013 issue)


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Never! Part 1

I am all for strong principles and values. I have many of them. Those close to me know that when I feel strongly about something–which is something that happens … all the time–I go on and on about it. Also? I can’t
imagine life without the magic of changing my mind. Here are some things I
vowed I would never do.

When I woke up this morning ready to publish this post, this was the message on my Louise Hay calendar.
 Wear Crocs. Sure, I still think there has never been an uglier shoe, but oh, how my feet love them! Own an iPhone; this one is still a very
new experience for me, and it’s growing on me, folks. Get married. Ha! I thought I could never live with a
boy; now I live with two.
Give up meat. Okay, I still eat fish and sometimes require bacon. Otherwise, no meat for me. I was the biggest eater of red meat you ever met. I make a mean chili and I am certain—sorry, West coast folks—that Five Guys makes a superior burger than In-N-Out. Trust me, I have sampled plenty of both. One of my favorite food quotes was by Julia Child: “I just hate health food.” During my one pregnancy, I developed a strong aversion to red meat, and I never
fully got over it later on. Added to that, it dawned on me that it’s up to me to set an example of health habits for my son. I also got this goofy idea that my body is worthy of reverence, and that treating it well entails being mindful of the foods I put in it, and living in harmony with the planet and all living things. It’s been a year and a half of yoga, meditation, and exercise, and now my favorite food quotes are by Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” (Not that I don’t still love Julia Child … although, did you know she was a hater of cilantro?!)
Case in point, I had made it 38 years on this bountiful
Earth without putting a single brussel sprout in my mouth, let alone trying to make one edible. Then I went and did this last week: a pound of brussel sprouts, and not a clue of what I was going to do with it. Oh, and my husband has always made it clear that he does not care for brussel sprouts. He blamed the impulse purchase on me watching too much Food Network; he’s probably right. But hey, I made this salad, and even he had seconds. Yum. Who knew. And the point is, never say never!
Perhaps my favorite lesson of this lifetime is the unlikely friendships I have found through simply being more open. I have met people whom I’ve rushed to write off as “too different.” And I have loved being wrong about them. Sure, I’ve been wrong about people in reverse, too. And that is perfectly okay. Because few things have made me happier in this life than my so-called “unlikely” friendships, or rediscovering old ones.On the subject of friendships, how can I not talk about Facebook? I swore left and right, never, ever. Ever! Some friends who knew of my reluctance now like to point out my newfound status as an avid user. I get it, it is funny. In fact, I’m still ambivalent about a lot of it. But I am also grateful for the chance to
keep in touch with people I care about through this most ubiquitous medium. It’s not going anywhere, and if I can’t beat ‘em …Some of my nevers remain pretty firm. I doubt that I will ever eat red meat again. Or that I will learn to ski or ice skate. Ever. It’s my firm belief that no self-respecting Puerto Rican has any business enjoying anything outdoors when it is cold and snowy. And I am pretty sure I will never see a Quentin Tarantino movie. Or anything like the movie The Departed, even though I actually love Martin Scorsese. Next time he makes a movie based on a
book by Edith Wharton, I’m the first one there.

All the things that fall in our I-vow-to-NEVER! category are an ultimate “other.” That so much of my life now consists of embracing so many things I once swore off is a joy I can’t quite articulate. It also makes thoughts of the future very, very exciting.

Because it’s Christmas Eve morning, here’s another first for me, which only happened yesterday: making English toffee. Me making English toffee? Please. I still haven’t found a proper Spanish translation for it. Where I come from, if there’s no coconut in it, a food can hardly qualify as a Christmas sweet. But my husband loves toffee and he loves pecans. And I love him! The best shot would probably have been one of my face of panic as it started to boil hard, and I kept stirring furiously while trying to read the temperature. Finally, I relaxed, after ditching the annoying thermometer and relying on my sense of getting the color right. I’ll tell you, folks, I think I nailed it! Happy Christmas Eve!


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My love letter to an iconic all-American female

Today I want to share with you the poem The New Colossus, written in 1883 in New York City by Emma Lazarus. Why?

Inauguration celebrations, October 1886.

Because it is a beautiful poem. I invariably get a tear—or two—when I read it, hear it, or recite it. I even memorized it, in 2012, before my family went on a Disney Cruise out of New York City. I had just heard the story of the woman who wrote it, and I wanted to recite it right as the cruise ship passed the Statue of Liberty. This was an ironic joke on me, because the two times we went by it, I was own in my cabin! But I am glad to have learned it; now it will be with me always.

Travelers aboard a steamship can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

Because every time this beacon came into view when steamships full of new immigrants entered New York Harbor, the steamships would literally tilt dangerously to one side: Everyone was standing on the same side of the boat to see her. The legend that many of these people wept upon seeing her is a true one. Even in a scene from the best sitcom ever, The Golden Girls, Sophia  Petrillo recalls this moment. “But beyond her was the Statue of Liberty. I remember the first words I shouted out, ‘there she is, Lady Liberty.’ I also remember the second words I shouted out, ‘slow down, you yutz, you’re going past her!'”

Emma Lazarus 1849-1887 (

Because I am so deeply moved by the story of the poet, Emma
Lazarus, who never saw the completed Statue herself, that I am compelled to share it. She wrote and donated the poem to help raise money when there was not enough to finance construction of the pedestal. The only part of the Statue that the public had seen was the arm and torch. In 1887, on her return to New York after a two-year trip to Europe, construction on the towering Statue had been completed. It could easily have been seen from her steamship. But she was too ill with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to venture out on deck. Emma Lazarus passed the colossal “Mother of Exiles” in all her finished glory, and never saw her. She died two months later, at 38 years old. I will never see the Statue of Liberty in the same way after hearing this story. I hereby honor Emma Lazarus by sharing her words. I love their assertive feminism blended so seamlessly with soft femininity.

The arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, on display in Madison Square Park from 1876 to 1882 as part of the fundraising efforts for construction of the pedestal.

Because I had eagerly explored ways to incorporate the poem in my novel, set in 1911 New York City. After trying several angles, I’d given up on it. And that was okay, because it made no sense to force it. Earlier this week, I found a way (it’s so obvious to me now!) for the poem to fit into the story.

The (“Old”) Colossus of Rhodes. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it also sat in the harbor of a prominent world city. It symbolized superior military prowess.

Because the role of immigrants is still an intensely relevant topic in America. And the words in this poem continue to speak to the plight of immigrants with incomparable poignancy more than 100 years later.

Because I think that not enough people know this poem, even though most are at least familiar with the ubiquitous two or three lines toward the end. My proof? I told my brilliant husband, who knows a lot about history and also knows better than anyone of my fixation with this story, that I was preparing a blog post about The New Colossus, and he said, “Oh, great! … What’s that?”

Because I love New York, love the story of this poem, love the poem itself. Enjoy.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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Extreme novelist: Living the dream!

The eight-week class called Extreme Novelist has ended! Before I can say anything about it, I need to share with you a little bit about the journey before that.

I wanted to write books since I first started reading books by Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, etc. in the early eighties. Another favorite book back then was called Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days! by Stephen Manes. Spoiler alert. After the initial scenes where the main character does a bunch of funny things in pursuit of perfection, the instruction for the third and final day is this: do nothing. Because if you do nothing, you don’t risk getting it wrong. This sums up how I dealt with my dream of writing for 30 years.

In graduate school—late nineties—I started to buy books about creative writing. I kept them hidden at the bottom of a drawer in my apartment, where I lived alone. Ten more years went by and nothing. Okay, not nothing. I did write several academic papers and one doctoral dissertation. Once that was done, I still wanted more. Stephen King, in his book called On Writing, says this, “to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I certainly was doing a lot of both, only it was all academic stuff. My heart and soul weren’t fully in it, and I was so burned out that I couldn’t see beyond it.

Aside from academic fatigue, if I even thought of saying that I wanted to write fiction, I felt that I might as well be saying, “I want to be a Hollywood movie star.” I had the paralyzing fear that others would think: delusions of grandeur. Honestly? I myself thought I had to be some kind of superior being to feel worthy of saying it, let alone pursuing it.

I had been married over four years before I told my husband, the person I share my bed with, that I wanted to write fiction. It was summer of 2009 when I “came out.” Finally! I’d also had an idea for a book that very summer, after a trip to the Tenement Museum and the Merchant’s House Museum, both in New York City. page by Terence Stone

Emboldened by the fact that I had shared my dream with my husband and my mother, and neither had laughed or balked, I signed up for a creative writing class that summer. And another sickening fear I’d held about “writing types” seemed to come true. I got the impression that the folks were spending an absurd amount of time and energy engaging in a deep-high-brow-interestingness competition. Nooooo! Ugh. I never even finished the class. It was so disheartening. Plus, by then I had learned I was pregnant. Soon
after, I resumed my teaching job and was thoroughly absorbed by the work of my day job and planning for baby.


Funny how things work out. Because it was motherhood that had the effect
nothing else had. Simply going back to my old self was no longer an option to feel fully like me. And in order to encourage my son to always be himself and follow his bliss, I  knew I had to teach him by example. That’s when I knew I had no choice but to face my dream head on. This was it, man. And the assault of fear, doubt, and embarrassment made its appearance, right on cue. The difference now was, I didn’t have a choice. What I had was an urgency to get over myself and just do it.

I began the research for my book and started to write. Trips to New York followed. I met the fabulous Merchant’s House Museum historian, Mary
Knapp, whose book on the history of the home has been an invaluable resource.

Slowly, soooo slowly, I began to tell people, “I’m writing a book.” It’s one of the most vulnerable things I have ever, ever declared in my life. It makes me feel naked. I am not a very naked person. In fact, I sometimes still follow
up the statement with body language that conveys a timid dismissiveness, “I’m
writing a book but it will probably suck anyway and please, please don’t think I am an arrogant a-hole!”

Week 8 milestone: 70,000 words

I also signed up for the eight-week class this fall, taught by the novelist Kathryn Johnson. It involved a commitment to write 90 minutes a day, six days a week. Amid the countless gifts I’ve received since I began this journey in earnest, forming a rigorous writing habit is a huge one. I no longer get hung up on perfecting (please … trying to perfect) a scene, the language, the structure, or waiting to be enraptured by an otherworldly fit of inspiration. I make the time, sit my butt down wherever I can, and I work, work, work. By the end of week 8, I had written 70,000 words. The finish line for the first draft of my first novel is within sight. And the dream to have it finished by my 40th birthday looks well within reach! Very importantly, I have also maintained a steadfast writing schedule, even writing every day of our family trip for Thanksgiving. Now, I don’t mean to speak in clichés, but maybe I’m about to. Wanting to do this has been like a like allowing a major part of me to breathe. Either I stayed in the safety of my comfort zone, or I finally let that part of me breathe. Freeing myself of my comfort zone, I discovered one of the weirdest and truest clichés: That regardless of the outcome, the process is in itself its own reward. Just another one of the countless gifts … living the life I always dreamed, and breathing easier!

My husband took this photo and captioned it “Extreme attitude.” This is me: 1) Wearing the t-shirt my writing teacher made for her super-popular class, 2) Feeling a little naked (in the figurative sense) but with some sass to show that I’m proud of it, 3) Doing an awesome duck face
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