Category Archives: Rant

Of course I’m with her

Yeah, in case it wasn’t already obvious. But I’m not going to make my musings here all dense and high-brow. Goodness knows we all have policy and issues fatigue. Here are some simple basic things that describe one person who’s voting for Hillary Clinton. I hope you’ll find them worthwhile or at least amusing.

I’m with her not just as a Latina. Also and more specifically, as a Puerto Rican (and lifelong US citizen) who’s spent half her life on the Island and the other half on the mainland. As a woman and feminist, a daughter and sister, an aunt. As a deeply flawed but fiercely loving wife and mother in a multi-ethnic household.

I am voting for Hillary as a Catholic (yeah you heard me) and a woman who believes in God and evolution and prayer and reincarnation and faith and energy fields. As someone who, in fact, prays every damn day. Who believes in democracy and never takes something so precarious for granted. As someone who wants peace. Who supports gun control and who still cries every time she remembers Sandy Hook (crying now). Who believes that what’s good in humanity (and in America) is greater than what’s not so good, and who refuses to ever, ever give in to cynicism.

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I’m with her, as someone who loves this country. Who is passionate about human rights and civil rights (is there any difference?). As a Generation Xer who likes to think she’s acquired some measure of wisdom in her 41 years on this earth. Which reminds me, also as someone who does not believe global warming is a hoax. And as an unapologetic tree-hugging bacon-eating pescetarian. As someone who’s on the fence about pets but might still get one out of love for her kid.

I’m with her as someone who, in addition to family and country, also loves history, coffee, saying ‘I love you,’ books, potato chips, traveling, Judy Bloom, sushi, Harry Potter, chocolate, Stephen King, cooking and baking, yoga, naps, swearing, exercise, friends, raw onions, Hamilton (and musical theater in general), Christmas, Paris, red shoes, tea, pasta, writing, NYC, Hondas, cuddles, and cheese.

I am voting for Hillary as a fervent LGBT ally and supporter for life. As a neighbor. As a linguist with a freaking doctorate. A once and future educator. An author. A hypnotist. As someone who strives not to take herself too seriously. As a citizen with common mother-trucking sense. As someone who reads and who’s been paying attention.

I’m with her as an individual whose pet peeves include tardiness, meanness, having to remember so many damn passwords all the time, poor spelling, self-righteousness, sloppy food preparation in restaurants (apple core in my pie? really?), toilet paper placed with the flap under instead of over, superiority and condescension, plastic packages designed to be impossible to open; and the incessant need to update the software and apps on my phone to the point that nothing works like I remember and I have to relearn how to use Viber, Facebook, and the message threads on my Gmail all the damn time.

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These are just some things about me. And like all of you, I am greater than the sum of my parts. Not easily labeled or pegged. Thank goodness for that. The two nominees are also greater than the sum of their parts. There’s a part or two about Hillary that I’m not crazy about. But the sum of what she stands for resonates with me, with my values, with my vision for the future of this country.

I can’t think of a single thing the loathsome Trump has said that would ever, ever, EVER make me vote for him. Not one that I could isolate. Which makes me think that voting for him on one single issue (abortion –like Trump stands for the sanctity of life? please) is reckless, irresponsible, and deeply troubling. (To the person I know who says she’ll unfriend anyone who “attacks” her “faith”-based support of Trump, the ball’s in your court, my dear. Perhaps you should unfriend me. Go in love and light.) And the sum of what I’ve seen and heard from this awful, awful man makes me feel like I’m in a nightmare I want to wake up from.

I am not flippant about what’s at stake here. I also know that calling this the most important election of our lifetime is tired and trite. But of all the values we hold dear as a country, I believe that democracy is one of the greatest, and also one of the most frighteningly under siege right now. There are many, many reasons why I’m voting for Hillary. I tried to be both humorous and serious here, but don’t be fooled by my (attempt at) lightheartedness. This isn’t funny. There is one nominee who, in unprecedented fashion, has seen fit to shit all over the strides we’ve made in our –admittedly flawed– democratic process (not to mention all over equality, integrity, and basic human decency). And if nothing else, I am voting for the one one who respects and vows to uphold democracy.

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Three S’s for 2016

Okay. Yes. I made New Year’s “resolutions.” But no, they are not aimed at losing weight or making money. Instead, I set intentions for myself in the new year. The idea came after a bout of anxiety in the final months of 2015. Folks who, like me, are prone to periods of anxiety never know when they’re going to strike. But it’s captured quite well in this internet meme.

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My initial sneaky trigger last fall was a worry about my son Eric and illness. Think the usual worries most moms feel, multiplied by … a lot. Soon, the Paris attacks happened, and the negativity and anger that surfaced afterwards were deeply upsetting. I started a blog post about it and simply couldn’t finish it. My husband David was also travelling overseas a lot in those weeks, and I was in a state of constant fear for his safety. It was all just a little too much.

I went into a bit of a personal hibernation (despite the abnormally mild start to the winter) in which I was just productive and present enough in the daily wife & mom grind, but rendered pretty powerless in most other respects. I rallied and cheered up for the holidays, yet the start of the new year still found me feeling more than a little bit vulnerable.

So I set three intentions for 2016. Coincidentally, they all start with the letter S.

The first one is self-care. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: It’s often hard for moms to take time for ourselves. Even when you’re at home, like me, the time your kid is in school can easily be spent dealing with family and household stuff. Add to that a lot of stressful stress, and toward the end of the year, I wasn’t writing or seeing friends or going to yoga class. I was barely exercising, and wasn’t even reading much. I thought of returning to New York City, a hugely re-energizing solo trip I’ve made every February since 2012, but then wondered if I could justify it, since I’ve finished my novel set in the City. I usually know better than to be a martyr mom or to draw all identity or worth from parenting, but it’s such an easy place to hide when feeling emotionally lousy, that I found myself using family as the excuse for everything I simply had to or couldn’t do.

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On the second day of 2016, David and I watched the sunset off the West coast of Puerto Rico, and talked about what self-care means to me.

Thankfully, my knowing better caught up with me, as it usually does. And I realized I was in woeful need of some serious self-care. For me, it starts with taking time for myself without feeling guilty about it, or trying not to … baby steps, you know. Time for my writing, for reading, for exercise, for personal space and quietude. It’s eating right, and while I’m on the subject of what I take in, also learning to discern amongst the many —many— thoughts that enter my head. I mean, I can be discriminating about food but then accept every wild and crazy thought (and I have some real doozies) that assaults my mind like it carries a truth about me and my world? Uh, no. Right?

My self-care also entails saying no to things I’ve been accepting, which compromise who I am and my values. When I was in the throes of some internal struggles right around New Year’s, I came across this beautiful article. The highlight:

“The sapling doesn’t look to its elders for approval. It just grows toward the light … it all comes down to how each of us dares to say no when asked to be other than who we are.”

It can be hard to say no, but sometimes there’s too much at stake not to. I’m talking here about no as a complete sentence, without apologizing for it. And oh — yes, I am going back to New York City this month!

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Clichéd but true.

My second intention with the letter S has to do with my relationship with the concept of should. Because come on, think about it. If you’re anything like me, you obsess over what you should be like. And over how someone else should be behaving (usually someone who’s pissing you off). Or exactly what a given scenario should be, look, and feel like. Frankly, I am exhausted! The thing about should is, it conjures expectations. Obviously, right? And I don’t know about you, but I could seriously use a reality check on expectations, and a firm, honest sense of what I can and can’t control.

Which brings me to my third and final S, the Serenity Prayer.

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I think of the term change in this prayer as closely paralleling control. Iyanla Vanzant says that the greatest human addiction is the addiction to control. That we fear what we can’t control, and since we don’t want to be in fear, we try to control, control, control. Something like that. Though I may not be in a 12-step program for substance abuse, I must honestly confess that I have been addicted to control, in one form or another, my entire adult life. And it has been at the heart of So! Much! Needless! Suffering! I suspect I’m not alone in this. Enough, please.

Among the many reflections I’ve made on aging and life since turning 40 recently, maybe the most important lesson learned is, growing pains never really end. And at the same time, growth is always worth it. So, time to grow up, like the sapling, toward the light. Time to say no when it matters. Time to seek wisdom about what I can and can’t control. To embrace acceptance when something’s out of my hands, and courage when I do have power over it. Most times, the only thing I’ll be able to control is the story I choose to tell myself about what’s happening within and around me. And maybe, that’s power enough.

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Snowga

I really, really, REALLY-really don’t like snow. Maybe I vaguely like the prospect of a white Christmas, or the cozy thoughts I associate with being stuck at home with my two favorite people (provided we have enough food, of course). Beyond that, I sort of like how pretty it looks from inside the window of our DC home, and how happy it makes my kindergartner son Eric. But I dislike everything else about it, especially being out in it.

When blizzard watches and warnings started earlier this week, I took heed, went to the grocery store, and bought a LOT of food. By the time the snow started Friday at 1PM, I was halfway through baking a cake for my husband David’s 44th birthday, and was all set for a lonnnnng hunkerdown.

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Eric was chomping at the bit, asking –within minutes of the snow starting– when we’d be going out to play. I told him sometime tomorrow, and reminded him there would be no we, just him and Dad.

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Chocolate cake drizzled with a slow-cooked caramel sauce.

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It was good. So, so, so good!

Saturday came and went. David and Eric, and seemingly every individual on my street and the street behind it and the other one beyond that, spent time outside on more than one occasion, making it look like a neighborhood festival of some kind. I won’t deny I felt peer pressure to join in. But every time I opened the door just enough to get a decent picture was enough for me to reassert my HELL no!

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24 hours in

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“You say snowzilla, I say focaccia.” My caption under this photo on Facebook. Isn’t it cute?

By Sunday morning, I’d eaten quite a bit of David’s birthday cake, and of the focaccia bread I made on Saturday to go with soup. I was feeling sluggish, and the view outside our door increased my anxiety the more it reminded me of that horribly jarring snowstorm episode on Little House on the Prairie.

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The cars were buried.

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I also knew cabin fever was starting to set in.

When I saw that my neighborhood yoga studio was offering most of their regularly scheduled classes, I took it as a sign to challenge myself and venture out on foot. The studio is about half a mile from our house. Obviously, I needed courage and fuel for the hike. So I treated myself to a morning slice of cake with a second cup of coffee. Then, before I could change my mind, I squeezed my 40-year-old Puerto Rican hips into a pair of snow pants that I don’t remember ever buying. They still had the tag on and were surely a tight squeeze even back in the conveniently forgotten time when they were purchased. After almost getting cold feet –no pun– twice, out I went.

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The sidewalk turned into a trench.

The thing I feared most happened almost immediately. In my case it wasn’t slipping and falling, but sinking into a snowbank. I was up to my thighs within minutes of leaving the house. This triggered both my latent claustrophobia and my fear of drowning (I’m not saying it’s logical, but thus is the nature of irrational fears) and sent my heart racing. I wanted to turn back. But I pushed on, motivated more by pride than the promise of stretching my stiff limbs in the warmth of the yoga studio.

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I had no idea where the sidewalk met the street here.

When crossing over (and plunging into) these wickedly high mounds of snow, my phone almost went flying out of my hands. Luckily I never did lose it, but it was close enough that I have to wonder how many phones ended up buried in snow this weekend. Word to the wise: Stop, take your pictures, then put your damn phone back in your pocket before you resume walking.

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Or here.

The other thing I had several close calls with was dog poop. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Dearest dog owners, just because it’s snowing, that doesn’t give you a free pass from picking up your dog’s crap. It is nasty on any normal day, and so much more so against freshly fallen snow, with neighbors in various stages of struggling to maintain our balance. Seriously, kiss my icicles!

Done ranting. Thanks.

Streets that I know like that back of my hand looked very different, and felt quite disorienting, under 20+ inches of snow. And since the streets were clearer than the sidewalks in places, they were more populated with people than cars. I felt like I was in a game of Find the Curb, which slowed me down and made me wobbly, but was also kinda fun.

Finally I made it. When I confessed to my yoga teacher that this was my first time out of the house since the blizzard started, she and another few people echoed, “Me, too!” Not that I was fishing for an amen, but it was a welcomed bit of you’re-not-alone validation. The class was PACKED! We huffed and puffed through our poses together. It was very worth it.

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I headed back with new found confidence. I noticed the charm and beauty more, and probably smiled more, too. It may not sound like a lot, but I felt as though I’d conquered something. And I did it for me, on my terms and through my own resources. Have I gone back outside? No. But I did learn today that the countdown to Memorial Day has already begun!

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No more Miss Nice Girl (My turning 40 manifesto)

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The summer felt both long and drawn out, and short and sweet. It’s Saturday of Labor Day Weekend as I start this post. On Tuesday I’ll be 40. Friday is the anniversary of 9/11. A week ago the world lost Wayne Dyer. That made me pretty sad. Then a few days later, our human family lost a young Syrian boy named Aylan, and I swear, my heart –like so many others’– turned to shards. I tucked my own little boy into bed the night after those wrenching haunting photos appeared, then cried tears of gratitude (for our safety), denial, shame, angry powerlessness…

All this hand-wringing on the eve of one’s fifth decade really gets a person thinking. I can’t take on the weight of the world. SO WHAT CAN I DO?  Well. In my own small way, one thing I’ve decided to do in honor of my 40th birthday is to stop being nice.

Listen, I’ve been nice long enough. Nice paired with judgmental. Nice while prone to comparisons and competitiveness. Nice and secretly angry. And you know what? No. I’ve also been on the receiving end of similar types of niceness. Nice plus condescending? Oh, yeah, always a doozy. And how many times has someone been perfectly nice while slapping me with a terrific underhanded insult? Like I can’t tell? Please. Stop it-just-STOP IT!

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It’s not that “nice” is bad. It’s just so ubiquitous and tired. It conjures (for me, at least) comfort zone complacency and stagnation. It is all too often used as a front for self-righteousness and passive-aggressive derision. Plus it’s on a steep slippery slope to inane flattery without substance. And I want off  the damn slope!

In the face of bad stuff happening in the world, what’s the stuff that matters? What have four decades of living and loving and wins and losses taught me? Nice doesn’t cut it anymore. I want to strive for depth, authenticity, empathy, love. I don’t want to compete with you. I want the light in me to see the freaking light in you. And I want to tell the TRUTH about it all.

The whole, “If you have nothing nice to say … ?” Meh. I’m not a big fan. My kid is being taught about kindness, love, intention, about saying what he means and meaning what he says, and owning it. I don’t want him to settle for inserting some prepackaged PC response on cue. I want him to give a genuine shit! About the planet, his place in it, and how he coexists with its fellow occupants.

Also? I’ve never been softer (and I don’t just mean in my midsection) or sappier. I’ve never felt a greater urgency to say “I love you,” usually with a hard squeeze, to the people I love. I cry a lot more easily. There’s a space somewhere in my heart that I’ve only just begun to uncover in the five years since becoming a mom. I have a feeling this space runs deep, and I want to both nurture it and draw from it. I often look at my boy and say, “If you could see what I see every time I look at you … !” And once, after hearing it enough times, he finally said, “What, Mom? What would happen?” I love that he made me finish the thought. So I did; I said, “You would always, always know that you are good enough, and worthy of love, exactly as you are.” I fret often over whether he knows he is precious and beloved. I mean, does he really, really know it? I want to plant as many kisses on his sweet, soft face as I possibly can before he decides it’s uncool to let his mom do that.

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I want to remember to thank my husband every single day for being my best friend and cheerleader and the best imaginable co-parent. Ever. I want to try to yell at idiot other drivers less. I want to keep smiling, hell I want to smile more. I’ll probably share more cheesy Facebook memes with positive messages and lighthearted silliness. Why? Because I refuse to give in to cynicism. These four decades have hardened me in some good places and softened me in other very important ones.

I will continue to assert my faith in the good in humankind and in the power of love. I resolve to align myself, as much as possible, with things that are good. Not perfect or (god(dess) help us) superior. Not PC or ceaselessly angrily militant for one cause or another. Just good. Loving. Authentic. It’s not likely that I’ll be housing refugees or marching in protest against this and that. But I do promise to cultivate truth and peace in my world. And I pray that for now, that will be enough.

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Roasted Kale Chips

My beloved picky eater Eric came home from PreK one day and announced that his class had made kale chips with their gardening teacher. That he’d had some. And more importantly –wait for it!– that he’d liked them. I went straight to his teacher to ask if this was true, and she confirmed it! Whuuut?

So after several tries, this is my very own foolproof recipe for crispy roasted kale chips. Eric’s teacher wasn’t kidding. Whenever I make this (true story, I swear), he says, “Kale for dinner tonight! Yeah!”

(Oh yeah, and right as I perfected my recipe, I saw this at Whole Foods.

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Really? Don’t you just love it when that happens? “Like this or that? Yeah well that is sooo yesterday’s trend.” Bah, don’t believe ’em.)

Start with one bunch of curly kale*. Odds are pretty good you already have the other two ingredients for this recipe: olive oil and salt. Preheat the oven to 375. kale1

Pull the leaves off the stems, discard the stems, and rinse the leaves well (at least twice, depending on how much dirt you start out with).

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Make sure the kale is dried very, very thoroughly. I always use a paper towel after the salad spinner to be extra thorough. Otherwise, if it’s still too moist, it won’t crisp up in the oven. Drying the leaves is probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe.

kale6Arrange the kale leaves on two (half-sheet) sheet pans. Drizzle each sheet pan with a 1 1/2 tablespoon (a tablespoon and half) of olive oil. Toss to coat the leaves in the oil. Then arrange them in a single layer (this is why you’ll need the two sheet pans).

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The single layers is another step that ensures that the chips crisp up properly. If the leaves are layered on top of each other, they will only steam, and stay soft.

*My quest for crispy chips is an important reason why I use curly kale and not the more popular (if we believe Food Network) dinosaur or Tuscan or “lacinato” kale. Tuscan kale is too flat. The effect is similar to roasting the kale in multiple layers or without drying it well; it comes out soggy. Curly kale, on the other hand, allows some air underneath the leaves that helps the chips crisp up. Plus Tuscan kale is often more expensive. This one’s a no-brainer.

After the leaves have been tossed in olive oil and arranged in a single layer, sprinkle each sheet pan with about  1/4 (a quarter) teaspoon of kosher salt.

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kale12Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes. When the kitchen starts to smell like someone in your house has bad gas (about 2 minutes in), that’s how you know the kale is cooking properly.

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The kale chips will come out looking wilted, drier, and slightly browned once they’re done. But they’ll burn easily if you’re not careful!

Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt the moment they come out of the oven (optional). And voilà. Enjoy!

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kalepicstitch1Any leftover chips can be stored in the refrigerator for two or three days. Just take them out of the fridge about two minutes before eating them, and they’ll taste just as crispy as when they were freshly made!

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ROASTED KALE CHIPS

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • olive oil
  • salt

Cooking instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Remove kale leaves from stems, discard stems, and rinse leaves well.
  • Dry thoroughly in salad spinner followed by a towel.
  • Place kale leaves in two separate sheet pans. Drizzle each one with 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, toss and arrange the oil-coated leaves in a single layer.
  • Sprinkle each sheet pan with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt while the chips are still hot.
  • Ignore obnoxious trend-fixations and enjoy your superfoods!

 

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Am I a Feminist?

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Yes. No. I don’t know.

A bit of background.

I grew up in a pretty traditional Hispanic family. I enjoyed Disney princesses and all things girlie. I was scared of the term feminism because some men in my family thoroughly discredited the concept, and dismissed feminists as angry man-haters.

I also loved playing with my older brother’s toys, which were about 100% gender-specific. And I got into plenty of trouble for straight-up scoffing at things I saw and heard that simply made no sense to me, like a wife always (always) preparing her husband’s plate for a meal at family gatherings, or men making macho pronouncements about their macho superiority and authority. I saw so many husbands being mothered by their wives (with apparently no one seeing anything wrong with this), that I vowed to never get married. Naturally, as I grew up, I started to wonder whether maybe I was one of those “man-haters” that had so scared me as a young girl.

One thing that made my original nuclear family awesome was that they supported–indeed, they championed–its female members in achieving high-level education. My mother, sister and I are all doctors (sister is physician, Mami and I are PhDs). It was in large part thanks to this wonderful support that I finished my degree in Spanish Linguistics before age 30, and before I was married. This made me feel pretty bad-ass at the time. I lived alone for seven very happy years during graduate school in DC. During these years, I also got to see the world a bit. Alone.

The pyramids in Egypt; cappuccino in Florence; wine on a gondola ride in Venice; the Parthenon in Athens.
Eventually, I was pleased to realize that not all men are grown children. Then one day, I fell in love! My husband David and I did “shack up” before getting married (though, after I read some of the research at the time, not before getting engaged). While most people wouldn’t bat an eye at this, if you’d known me growing up, you’d know that this sort of decision could set many an eye to batting. Upon becoming a wife, I kept my own name–don’t care much for calling it my “maiden” name–instead of taking my husband’s name. Why? Simple. Thank you, Daniel Day Lewis.

I like that David talked to my father to discuss with him his intention to marry me. Of course it’s absurdly traditional, yet it didn’t make me feel like either man’s property. Maybe because I know I am no man’s property, and that these two men love me very much. Could it actually be that simple? Oh, I also love that my mother was a little p.o.’d that the phone call to “ask for my hand” was addressed to my father and not her. And when we were married, I did kind of look like a princess at our big fat Puerto Rican wedding, which we held in a church.
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May 2005

Obviously, my marriage is traditional in one important sense: It’s between a man and a woman. And there are other traditional elements when one looks at it on the surface. I cook and bake and plan parties in our house. David typically deals with plumbing and electrical issues, takes out the trash and recycling, and shovels snow. These happen to be our respective strengths. But the balance between tasks has always been equal.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we had a baby boy. When I became pregnant (biggest shock of my life!), I always thought I would go back to work before our son had celebrated his first birthday. And then, I didn’t. And this is just us, okay? But David and I determined that we wanted one of our baby’s parents to be the person who spent the most time with him in his early years. Given our respective salaries (I was working as a Spanish professor, he’s an attorney), deciding who stayed home was a no-brainer.
I would make the same decision in a heartbeat if given a do-over. Once again, though, like the choice to keep my own last name after getting married, I am in no way making pronouncements or statements by means of this choice. It was a simple case of two spouses discerning what their gut told them worked best for their family, and acting on that. Thankfully, and very importantly, we have a choice in the matter to begin with.
Now. I don’t know how parenthood impacts the roles of each parent in same-sex marriages (hallelujah for that, by the way). But here’s something I think a lot of married hetero moms like me can tell you: There is no bigger game changer and gender role divider in a marriage than having a kid. Boom. It’s crazy. This recent article is an excellent example of the apparent inevitability of this dynamic.
No matter how awesome a husband is at washing dishes, changing diapers, doing laundry, being there when the kid is sick (and in this regard, I have hit the PowerBall in the husband lottery), you’re the mama. Robert DeNiro’s prosthetic “manaries” in Meet the Fockers were funny. Ha ha. But only mamas can do the nursing. My kid looks to Daddy for rough-housing, and to Mamá for …  well, softness. And once the mom makes the decision to stay home? Fuggedaboudit.
The single most important reason why I am able to be an at-home wife and mom without feeling like a doormat is because of the kind of husband I have. Because I’ve always felt like his equal. And there is not a minute of his time outside of his day job when he takes for granted that I will be the parent on duty. This is key. This is critical. Therein lies my jackpot.
My loves in November 2010.
The thing is, my current uber-traditional family role still compels me to reevaluate the issue of being a feminist. And I’m not even sure of the answer right now. Let me break it down a bit more.
 
Gloria Steinem is one of my all time personal heroes. Any time I see a man acting like a baby, or pontificating (ugh, ugh!), I have to actively remind myself to breathe, in order to curb the sudden and urgent desire to smack him someone. Articles like this one make my stomach churn. I have been judged and chastised my entire life, by both men and women, for being too opinionated and assertive.
On the other hand, I’ve also been referred to as “floofy” on account of my taste for girlie things. And I was recently teased by friends because I liked receiving flowers from my husband. The latter two were by women. Striking a nerve on both sides of the equation? Now there’s something I find interesting.
Some of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes.
But then I’m further confused by mixed messages. Like some married women not wearing wedding rings, and others straight-up rejecting engagement rings as barbaric. And apparently, they’re not barbaric because of unjust and violent diamond mining practices (this is actually a conversation I would be interested in having), but because of the old, awful, misogynistic trends associated with marriage and engagements back in the day. Way back in the day.
Wait, what? It’s based on this that we’re rejecting engagement rings? Please. Then why get married at all? If we were to really examine old practices and how they’ve been used to oppress women over the ages, no thinking woman ever would willingly get married to a man, much less leave her body open to the possibility of making a baby. Who, after all, gets to dictate the terms of what an object like an engagement ring symbolizes for two grown individuals in the 21st century?
Then there’s the wedding ring itself. Once, many years ago, I asked a married woman why she doesn’t wear a wedding ring. Boy, did she pounce! Something about how she shall not wear shackles because she is no man’s slave. Let me tell you something. This is a woman I love and adore, and have done most of my life. She is one of the kindest people I know. But ring or no ring, she does very little outside her capacity as daughter, wife, and mother, and her life basically revolves around the needs of the men in it, with no pursuits of her own, not even a “coffee can plan” down the line. It breaks my heart to say it. But who cares about whether or not you wear a piece of metal around your finger? I’m left scratching my head (more like shaking it) at the utter pointlessness of making statements for statements’ sake. Empty words, man–I mean woman! Here’s an idea. How about we lighten up, and get smart about picking our battles? Okay, that’s two ideas, but you get the idea.
I now, finally, understand Wayne Dyer’s frequent statements about how we should focus on being for things rather than against them. He is likely referring to the reactive “anti-” types, the very same types who seem fixated on making statements for statements’ sake. You know them, ’cause they’re all over social media. And there’s almost always something riling them up. I’ve noticed this particularly among particularly cynical women–this blog post is, after all, about feminism.
An example. Any time that “good feelings” are too readily available, such as the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with fall or the winter holiday season, or romance, such good feelings are rejected almost on principle. I think–I think?–these women view “feel-good,” or anything pleasing on an accessible, simple level, as incompatible with critical thought and/or intellectual sophistication. Which leads me to wonder, is cynical the new cool? Oh dear. If so, I am hereby cementing my status as uncool for life. That’s okay. With the exception of a very short-lived and confusing time in the fourth grade, I’ve never, ever, been one of the cool kids. All I know is, I grow weary fast when gratuitous reactivity distracts from the stuff worth fighting for, and god(dess) knows we women still have plenty of worthwhile battles to wage.
Another example. A lot of feminist women are dead against being asked by men to smile while they are, say, walking down the street. I get that. And I don’t. I remember being the target of cat calls one time when I was taking my baby for a walk in our neighborhood. I mean, this was very disrespectful and crude. Make no mistake. I laid into that guy like Hannibal freaking Lecter. That said, I like to smile. And I once asked a man to smile, and that got me an expedited passport for a trip to Mexico (the story is here).
My point is, there are enough mixed messages that I don’t always know where I fall on the question of feminism. It’s a question, like so many others, that can’t–and should not be–oversimplified. Clearly.
For now, my plan is this. I will continue to be the cook, baker, event planner, and travel agent in my household. I will also be the parent who is consistently home when our kid comes home from school. Most of my decisions in the foreseeable future will be conditioned by the needs of my family. I will also continue to go by the family name I was given at birth. And I will continue to pursue my writing and other passions. I will not become a martyr mother. Furthermore, I will not mother my husband. What is up with that?! And I will fix a plate of food for him mainly in direct proportion to him doing the same for me. Next time I’m in the presence of a pontificating narcissistic male type, I will actively remember to breathe. Next, I’ll remind myself that smacking the offender is never rarely the answer. Most times, not even trying to set him straight will be worth it. Instead, I will endeavor to recognize the equality and full humanity in him, too, in the spirit of Gloria Steinem’s quote above. And maybe then I will know I’m a true feminist!
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Things I would say if I didn’t have a filter, Part 2.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes daydream about saying certain things that, for one reason or another, I didn’t say in the moment, particularly when something made me mad. Makes sense, too. Filters kick in more frequently when something makes us mad, and there’s a danger of being unkind. Luckily, the first one in this installment is a happy one. (I first talked about things I would say without a filter a few months ago–the link is HERE.)

To parent-friends at my boy’s preschool.
Thank you! After I gave up my paying job 4 years ago to be home with my baby, I lost an important sense of community, and felt adrift for part of those first years. Post-partum depression in the early months didn’t help. At preschool, I have met working parents, stay-at-home parents, parents from Hispanic and many other heritage backgrounds, writer parents, parents who work part-time, and in every case, parents committed to raising children who are at least bilingual from a very early age. Several of you offered words of kindness and support during the first difficult weeks of adjustment to preschool for my little guy, our first real separation after he was home with me for his first 3 years. I will never forget that! Many of you have expressed excitement about my writing projects. Some of you have become dear friends. When I look back on this year and a half, the best memories I will have, in addition to the joy that school now brings to my boy, will be of the incredible, committed, smart, caring community of parents I’ve had to pleasure to know. Wow!



It’s early May in DC, and out come the shorts and flip-flops. Only the outside temperature is barely breaking the 50-degrees mark. To the person wearing shorts and flip flops outdoors.
Okay. I know you know I know that your feet must be freaking freezing. Get some socks! Put on a sweater! Here, I’ve got an extra one–I’m Puerto Rican, I frequently carry an extra sweater with me. You can have it. Just cover up those goose bumps, please.

To the parent who bemoaned to me that their 15-month-old had, sadly, outgrown all of the toys in their house.
Sorry, I’m still laughing at this one. That thing you hear? That’s me still laughing.
This was years ago, by the way…


To the man who said to my husband, “I know your wife has a lot of opinions…” (You know, with a tone, like it was a bad thing.)

Actually? You know nothing about me. But hey, thanks for reciprocating the benefit of the doubt that I had so generously extended to you, until I knew about this. And how’s this for an opinion? Oh yeah, here she goes again, won’t this housewife ever stop with the opinions?! In my opinion, it takes a weak man(A) to talk smack to another man(B), whom he barely knows, about man B’s wife, whom he knows even less. But of course, put-downs always say so much more about the put-downer than they say about the put-downee. My own husband would never do anything even remotely like that–one of many reasons why I have such a high opinion of the man. And by the way? It’s called having boundaries, and I happen to like that about me. Yes, that was me giving another opinion.

At writing conferences or classes, typically about two-thirds of the way in.
Stop! I’m done listening to advice.
“Grab the reader in the first two paragraphs, or else forget about it. Keep the points of view straight or lose the reader instantly.”
Seriously?! One of the last novels I tried to read (keyword here is tried)–not naming names, but it was Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin–started with the point of view of a freaking horse and was all over the place from that moment on. I thought I was going dumb, which usually annoys me. But I get it, authors like Helprin can pull it off. It’s just the rest of us beginner writers, who will never be the next J.K. Rowling (why do writing “experts” love to remind us of this? I don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling, I just want to be Sandra Falcón, thanks), who shouldn’t dare try. Oh and I may scream if I hear the word niche–and its seemingly infinite possible pronunciations–one more time.
“Readers cannot spare the time or attention span or brain power for historical detail. But show them, don’t tell them. Make the characters come to life and pop out of the page, but for the love of Christ and Krishna, if you do nothing else, you must spare your busy, instant-gratification-seeking, electronic-device-addicted readers the drudgery of back story.
Print is dead. Don’t believe for a second that print is dead. Just kidding, it’s all about the e-book, didn’t you know?
Facebook is in. Facebook is out. Facebook is back in.
You must have a blog, but don’t presume that it will do you any good unless you write about topics very specifically related to your current book, and unless you have thousands and thousands of followers.
Hey, these are the current trends in publishing, we’re just telling you this to help you!”

Yeah, time to tune out, wake me when it’s over. I call it trend-fixation fatigue: when I get so wary of the the nonstop talk about “trends” that dominates things like writing (and parenting!) that I shut down. Advice is great, and usually welcomed. I want to know the trends. But then trend/advice fixation bugs the hell out of me, particularly when it’s used in the interest of an “expert’s” power trip.

To people looking at their cell phones while driving.
Please. Please. Put your damn phone down and drive! What makes you think that you are above being tragically distracted when you do this? No one is above this danger, no one. And it would bother me a lot less if it were only your own life you’re endangering. But it’s not, is it? It is just plain reckless and … well, the s-word that we try to never say in our house (it rhymes with Cupid when British people say it).

I’ve actually confronted people about this. One night months ago, I was driving home from writing class, and I saw a man who would not put down his phone. At a red light, I motioned something to him. He motioned, “What?” and rolled down his window. I rolled down my window, and said, “I’m really worried about you being on your phone! It’s dark, the road is wet, and there you are staring at the screen of your phone.” His response? “Oh, I’m not texting!”
Oh.
Okay then.
And my hair is naturally blond.
And straight.

In case you haven’t met me, this is my hair in its natural state.

My husband David later said to me, “You know, honey, I really wish you didn’t confront male strangers on the road at night.” David’s got a good point there.

Again, I think there is a good reason why most of these things I’d say without a filter are mini-diatribes. I try to actually say the good things, rather than keep them to myself. It’s the ones that I know could get me into trouble that tend to stay bottled up inside. But keeping them in is way too hard for me. That’s the other very good reason for these.

Here are a few final things I have been tempted to say–many times!
Are you going to finish those fries?
Are those shoes as comfortable as they look?
I think it’s awesome when you are intensely enthusiastic about things you know well; I find it less awesome when you are intensely aggressive about stuff you know.
Is having straight hair so easy that it sometimes gets boring?
Would it be weird if I asked to feel your hair right now?
I really think you and I could be great friends. No, really! What do you say?

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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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Isn’t it ironic?

It was announced last week that Alanis Morissette’s 1990s album Jagged Little Pill is going to be made
into a Broadway musical. Ahhh, Alanis. I spent an abnormally large portion of my
twenties reveling in the shared anger and validation that I found in the songs
on this album. She had me at, Do
I stress you out?
Well over a decade later, many of the lines from these songs still resonate with me, as a wife, mom, writer, and occasional (frequent?) awkward type–I’ll elaborate on this later.

Another favorite line from that first song? Enough about you, let’s talk about life for
a while. The conflicts, the craziness, and the sound of pretenses falling, all
around.
I think about this often when I encounter the funny, bragger-superior types. Or folks obsessed with constant correctness. Yikes, how exhausting it must be. And yes, I think of my own pretenses, too. My biggest one? Probably that feeling fearful is a measure of my caring. There, I’ve said it. But I can hear the sound of it falling. One day at a time, man …

 

Wait until the dust
settles
.
 I thought in my
twenties that this line could be applied across the board. Turns out, it can’t be
applied to parenthood. When you are entrusted with the care of a
tirelessly-evolving young soul, the dust simply never settles. My child is
three. And I bet the dust will never settle even after he is old enough to be
out of the house. Because I doubt I will ever be done worrying and loving
him in a way that breaks my heart wide open, into thousands of little
pieces, every single day. That’s okay. I have no interest in this particular extraordinary
bit of dust ever settling.
I feel drunk but I’m
sober
. This basically speaks for itself.
I’m young and I’m
underpaid
.
Now. Is it sad that this line resonates as deeply with me at age
38 as it did when I was 24? Or is it funny? Maybe sad-funny?
From Oprah.com
I’m brave but I’m
chicken shit
. Again, speaks for itself. But I will say that I am becoming
more courageous over time. The evidence? People whose opinion I trust telling me so. And being
called a strong and opinionated woman with increasing frequency.
Whether folks meant the latter in a good way, I have my doubts (no, really). But I
count each time as a victory. And clichés notwithstanding, it is
true that we can’t really know how courageous we are unless we experience
being chicken crapola, too. I mean, right?
And all I really want is some peace, man.      Yes. Yes!
I never forgot it,
confusing as it was. No fun with no guilt feelings
.
It still is confusing.
It used to be because of wanting to be a good, always dutiful, girl. I’ve been mostly cured of that. Now it’s because of mommy guilt.
The common denominator is trying to navigate an independent identity regardless of where I am in my life and of how deeply I love those closest to me. Guilt is guilt, though. And utterly pointless 9.9 times out of 10.
I had one more stupid
question
.
          🙂
You ask how my day
was
.
     Sweet husband of mine.
And don’t be surprised
if I love you for all that you are
.      
 Same.

You are the bearer of unconditional things. To the precious three-year-old boy who made me a Mama.

Thanks for your
patience
.    
Beloved parents.
I believe the entire contents of the song Not the Doctor are best left unaddressed in the context of this blog post. I will
simply say that I was young, that’s all.
But nothing is more poignant and timeless than the song entitled Ironic. Again, not enough space in this blog post. But I have one real doozy that happened this week. I emailed a chapter of my novel to my writing teacher, the very morning of the class, fully indicating that I understood if she didn’t have time to read it or comment on it by the time we met in class that evening. She didn’t. But she was kind enough to give me several minutes’ worth of time at the end of class. Unfortunately, by that hour, my parking meter had expired, and I was consumed by anxiety over getting a parking ticket. I choked and blanked completely when my teacher asked me what questions I had for her. At one point (here is the awkwardness I promised), I  just stood up, mid-conversation, then sat back down, apologizing profusely the entire time. When I finally got to my car, there was no parking ticket. Thank you, God(dess)! And then, on the drive home–FLASH. Surprise! A speed camera. Son of a b!tch. For what it’s worth, I swear I am not a reckless driver, and that part of the city has no business being a 25 mph zone at nearly 10 o’clock at night.
A little too ironic, yeah I really do think.
Seeing Alanis Morissette evolve from twenty-something badass chick to an almost 40-year-old total mom of one only makes me love her more. The Broadway show is scheduled to open in 2014. I thought I was running out of excuses to visit New York City next year. Now I have a new one. Jagged Little Pill is the gift that keeps on giving!And what is all boils down to, is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet … Sing it, sister.

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Things I would say if I didn’t have a filter, Part 1

To the library staff during these freezing library days.
I know you mean well, I do. And I think you all do a terrific job. But look at me for a minute. I am wearing two shirts, two sweaters, a hat, a hood, my coat, fingerless gloves, and a third sweater around my legs. I am also drinking hot tea. Here, feel my nose. Is it still there? ‘Cause I can’t feel it anymore. Every person sitting in this section is wearing their coat. That poor woman over there hasn’t taken her hands out from inside her coat sleeves in at least ten minutes. How about you taste my water? Tastes like it’s been sitting in the fridge, doesn’t it? It’s just been here on my table for two hours. It takes me longer than this to get a bottle of wine chilled in my refrigerator at home.

To the woman who comforted my son on that particular day when he was inconsolable and I felt alone, and the one who told me he looked like a very well-fed baby when I most needed to hear that, and to my Whole Foods parking lot angel when I broke my pinky toe.
I don’t really know you, but I think I love you.

To the mother who has a conversation with me about how her child eats everything (but never candy), watches no TV, is always in bed and asleep before 8PM, was one hundred percent potty-trained by age two and half, adjusted seamlessly to preschool, has outgrown at least half of their toys, and how she, the mom, never loses her cool.
Unless I can have a conversation with you where I call your bullsh!t or your delusion, I’m not sure I see a lot of conversations in our future.
(The same general principle applies to women who talk about how they can basically binge-eat everything and anything, do nothing physical in the interest of their fitness/health, and look like a stick. I know about two people who could say this in earnest; they’re the ones who don’t need to talk about it. The rest? No tengo tiempo.)

To the two women who were having dinner together at a nearby table at a restaurant recently.
Could I be your friend, too? You two seem so cool. The parts of your conversation that I overheard–it was more than I care to admit–made you sound like terrific ladies. I am a good baker, I’m reasonably smart, loyal, and a good listener. Plus my husband also tells me I’m funny. I swear I’d make a great girlfriend!

A time in recent memory when it felt awesome to not have a filter.
Saying a loud “Thank you!” that’s dripping with sarcasm when someone just went through a door and didn’t hold the door for me, especially when I’ve been pushing a stroller.

Times when my non-filter makes me go woops.
About once or twice a week, with my husband. When something comes out of my mouth and then I say, “Wait. Did I really just say that out loud?”

The day when having a filter was the right thing to do.
I was going for a walk in my neighborhood and I saw a young woman sitting on the hood of her car, crying. I went to say, “Are you okay?” Then I thought quickly. No. That’s trite, and obviously she’s not okay. But I couldn’t not say anything. Because she was distraught and I was the only other person around, and I happen to believe that this stranger and I are members of the same human family. I had just a few seconds before I was directly in front of her! When I was finally there, what came out was, “I’m sorry you’re upset.” We then proceeded to have a meaningful conversation–that didn’t involve oversharing or violate any boundaries among strangers–about what was upsetting her. I like to think it helped her.

The day when not having a filter really paid off.
At teaching job years ago, I’d had a paper accepted at a conference in Mexico. My passport was going to expire before the trip, and I’d have to request an expedited passport renewal. But I knew I didn’t have any of the reasons that would qualify me for one. Which was precisely what the man at the passport office told me. Angrily. Next thing I knew, I said,
“Couldn’t you at least smile a little?”
“Excuse me?”
“Smile, you know, smile! Couldn’t you at least do that? Or are you having a bad day? I know I let my passport expire and now I have this trip to Mexico. I get that. But as far as I know I haven’t done anything to you personally. So why be so mad? Maybe smile a little instead?”
“Tell you what.” He said, smiling. “Because you made me take a moment to smile, and no one’s ever done that before, how about you come back after 2PM today to pick up your new passport?”
Cross my heart, true story!

Additional photos from Someecards.com, and (I think) Laurie Alex on Flickr.com.

 

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