Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

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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Tostones

I recently made tostones and posted some of the pictures on Facebook. Several friends responded with a request for the recipe. Here it is!

First, a language lesson. The appropriate singular form of tostones is tostón, not tostone (pronounced toston-eh). I’ve heard people, including high profile TV chefs, mispronounce it all the time. It grates on me. And I’ll be damned if I let a single tostón go the way of the tamale!

Thank you. Now let’s begin.

Start with very, very green plantains. In fact, it’s pretty critical for the unique flavor of these Latin-Caribbean delights that the plantains not show any signs of ripening, such as yellow spots (even a dulled green), or feeling soft when squeeze-tested. Green plantains are now relatively easy to find at most grocery stores.

Trim off the ends. Using a dull kitchen knife, run a lengthwise line down the middle, and peel. You will notice the skin is quite hard and heavy on sap. But a dull knife does the trick very well, and it’s a lot safer than a sharp knife given that it will take a bit of elbow grease to get this part done. Don’t be surprised if your fingers end up heavily stained from the sap. (It’s worth it!) Cut each plantain into 2-inch rounds.

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Preheat a frying pan with about 2 inches’ worth of your preferred high-heat frying oil to medium high. Fry the rounds in batches (to avoid overcrowding them) for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, and drain.

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Flatten the rounds. I use the bottom of a plate against a cutting board. It’s best if the plate has a flat bottom, no rim. Once flattened, the rounds start to look like tostones. You may need a knife to unstick the flattened tostón from the bottom of the plate. Fry them a second time for 3 to 4 minutes per side.

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Drain them on a fresh piece of paper towel. Sprinkle both sides of the tostones with salt the instant they come out out of the hot oil.

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You’ll realize right away that you can’t make these without needing to taste test the first one(s) to come out. The challenge is to not eat them all before the rest of dinner is ready to be served.

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TOSTONES

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes. Two plantains make about 1 dozen tostones.

Ingredients

  1. 2 very green plantains
  2. oil for frying
  3. salt

Cooking instructions

  1. Preheat about 2 inches’ worth of oil in a shallow pan to medium high
  2. Trim the ends off each plantain, and peel with a dull knife
  3. Cut each plantain into 2-inch rounds (about 6 per plantain)
  4. Working in batches, fry each round for 3 to 4 minutes per side
  5. Drain and flatten using a flat-bottomed plate on a hard, flat surface
  6. Fry a second time for 3 to 4 minutes per side
  7. Drain and sprinkle each side with salt
  8. Enjoy!
  9. (Serving these with homemade guacamole –recipe available– is optional, and highly recommended)

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The Midnight Poop

Pet peeve: When parents with one or two generally healthy, thriving children overstate the sacrifices of parenthood. My theory is moms do it more than dads. You know, the type who love to say, I’m a mother! like that explains all there is to know about them. Like motherhood equals that they never finish a sentence or a book or a movie, or get any sleep, anymore. Sometimes an entire meal for them is nothing more than the scraps left by their children. Worrying is a superior way of being. They wear their self-sacrifice like a badge of honor. I refer to them as Martyr Mamas.

Here’s a real doozy I heard one time: “A friend of mine went to brunch over the weekend. <Chuckle> Obviously he’s single. I mean, brunch? Ha. It must be so nice to be able to go to brunch! I don’t even know what that looks like since I had kids!”
Okay. Let me tell you what it looks like. You get in the damn car, and you go to brunch. Have a mimosa, maybe it’ll help you lighten up a little bit–consider having your husband or a girlfriend drive if, like me, you are a lightweight. Oh and guess what? Kids like brunch, too!

Last week I was in Puerto Rico with my four-year-old son, visiting my parents and siblings, and all of my boy’s cousins. My husband David stayed home in DC, working. A terrible, terrible habit I fall into whenever I’m not with David is I go to bed wayyyy too late. Last week was no exception.

Thursday was night three and I was dragging my Puerto Rican behind, feeling loopy and irritable from lack of sleep. Finally, at midnight, when I realized I was falling asleep with my finger resting on the screen of my e-reader–something I don’t recommend–I decided to put it down and call it a night. My son was in the room across the hall from mine. I still use a baby monitor at Mami and Papi’s house because it’s a large-ish concrete house where we sleep with all the doors shut to keep the AC from the individual units contained in each room. I thought I heard my son stir in his bed across the hall, but still fell asleep hard and fast.

One afternoon, he asked to go to bed for some quiet time. I gladly crawled into bed with him. The “nap” lasted about 45 seconds.

Then I felt the door to my bedroom open. “Caca,” was all my typically crazy-verbal boy said before heading to the bathroom. It was past midnight, and I suspect he was pissed–pun?–about being awoken by a call of nature when he, too, was exhausted from all the family fun that day. Naturally, I got out of bed to help him. He was loopier than me at that hour (this is saying a lot) and cried the whole time, that’s how bothered and inconvenienced he was. I understood the sentiment perfectly. We wrapped things up quickly and he was asleep again roughly 1.25 seconds after his head hit the pillow again. Mama, on the other hand?

What if this was the start of a tummy ache? Wow, even with the monitor on, I really can’t hear him get out of bed or leave his room, until he’s in my bedroom. What if he slipped all the way downstairs and past locked doors and dark rooms downstairs, and ended up in the pool? Damn it, we have yet to sign him up for the next round of swim lessons. That’s probably bad parenting. Ugh, that was a nasty big green iguana by the pool this afternoon. I wonder if it’s in my bedroom right now? [NOISE] What the hell was that?! My baby with a tummy ache? The iguana? Which one’s more upsetting? Good question. I have good ones like this sometimes. Did I say something unkind about that person during the conversation I had with Mami earlier today? I can’t stand the way I feel after I think I’ve been unkind. Boy, single moms are super heroes. I’ve been solo parenting my only child (who’s pretty darn easy going) for three days, and I feel so tired! I’ve got three new issues of O Magazine that I haven’t read–this never happens–and I haven’t even opened the one I brought on this trip. Man, parenthood is so exhausting–Wait! Shit. So there may or may not be a tummy ache, or perhaps an iguana that sneaked upstairs to my bedroom, and now I’ve turned into one of those Martyr Mamas?! Ugh!

These were just some of the thoughts I had in the hour(s?) I spent awake after the midnight poop. My boy, meanwhile, slept like a freaking log (no tummy ache, thank God(dess)!) the rest of the night … until he burst into my room again at 7AM. This time he was fresh as a cucumber and ready to face the day, asking (I think, I was mostly asleep and don’t remember) whether Abuela was awake, to see if it was okay for him to move on to her room as he continued on his top-o-the-mornin’-to-ya rounds. Needless to say I was not nearly as chipper.

At a mall in San Juan.

But I got over myself soon enough. Mercifully, even through the snipping (sorry, familia), sleep-deprived haze of the day, perspective reasserted itself. I wasn’t sleep-deprived because of motherhood: I was a fool who was going to bed too damn late! If I haven’t read O Magazine lately, it’s because every minute I don’t spend wife-ing or parenting, I’ve spent working on my novel. In truth, most of the time, I manage to finish movies and books and conversations. Maybe not in one sitting, but still! I don’t declare, I am a mother! in that tone that implies that martyrdom and disappearing as an individual are my methods of parenting. The midnight poop made me tempted to feel like motherhood is nothing but a succession of sacrifices, but ultimately, that’s just not the case!

Would you believe it, sweet boy was polite enough to go to the bathroom right before bed the following night! As I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, I thanked him for pooping, and told him how much I love being his mama, that I was having a great time with him on our trip. Then I thanked life for him. And for the opportunity to visit my parents. And for my parents themselves, whose love and generous spirit never fail to draw and envelope all of their kids and grandkids. Life is good. Poop is good. And parenthood? Oh sure, it’s tiring. It is the hardest work I’ve ever done! I never had to be so selfless, and I worry way more than I should. Also, though–cliché but true–I have never been happier. Parenthood is by far a greater gift than it is a burden. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. And guess what. I still go to brunch, too!

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