Friday, January 29, 2010

To my five followers on blogger...

I MOVED YO! Hope you can stop by -- the blog warming party is in full swing!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #4

Dear Luki,

There’s really no better way to put it other than to say: Death Sucks. A lot. And it’s not just because your grandpa isn’t here anymore, it’s that, in a way, bits and pieces of those who loved him died as well. And even though I know that we will rise to the occasion, that this tragedy will make us stronger, better people, I often wish you could’ve gotten to know us the way we used to be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Your grandma’s birthday was a couple of days ago, and it was one of those days when we were all drenched in an overwhelming desire to have your grandpa here, with us. We missed him constantly, but none as much as his wife and partner of 33 years. Her life was so intertwined with his, they were such a tight unit, that she is perplexed about the fact that her birthdays continue to come without him.

I know your grandmother is going to be O.K., but I also know that she will never be the same. She is a different version of the person I grew up with. And, because I love the way she was, sometimes I feel sad that you won’t get to experience that.

But I also know that the years she lived by your grandpa’s side were amazing. I think that the best word to describe their marriage is: exemplary. Everyone wanted to be like them. Personally, I used your grandpa as the standard by which to measure my love interests. When your daddy met him, he was so impacted that he told me he wanted to be just like him when he grew up. Right then, I knew I’d found a keeper.

When I would tell my girlfriends the stories about how your grandma would call her husband in theatrical hysterics because her gas light turned on and he would drop what he was doing to meet her at the nearest petrol station so that she didn't have to pump her own gas, they would joke about hiring her to teach them the tricks to finding and keeping the perfect man.

But your grandma didn’t have to use any tricks. The things your grandpa did – dropping her off at the entrance of every store; getting out of bed to buy her ice cream at midnight; helping her make dinner and then washing the dishes each night – were always done willingly. He adored and admired her, and that was just his way of demonstrating it every day.

So, yes, your grandma will never be the same. But if she can find comfort in something, it’s that she has no regrets from her relationship with your grandpa. And, although she may feel sad, lost, and confused at times, after 33 years of being considered the most important person in his world, she will never feel worthless.

Cherish the person you end up spending your life with Luki. It's the greatest legacy you can leave your family.



Monday, January 25, 2010

On becoming domesticated

Last week was pretty busy. A couple of very talented people and I are working on redesigning this here blog and turning it into a proper website, so I've been spending a lot of time getting things ready at my new URL. You know, making hors d'oeuvres and finding throw pillows that complement the color scheme so that you all feel welcome when I invite you over. Because in my virtual life, I am a domestic goddess.

In my real life, however, things are drastically different. This week I started my new year's resolution to cook dinner every day, and I have to say that I feel exhausted and underwhelmed with the results of my culinary experiments. After spending four hundred years peeling and chopping one onion, splattering grease all over the kitchen walls, and using every single cooking utensil in the cabinets, I keep ending up with some version of dry meat which may or may not contain traces of Salmonella.

Being domesticated is hard!

So yea, there were a couple of days when I just wanted to order a pizza, buy a jar of Gerber for Luki, and call it a night. But I didn't do it because I genuinely want to figure out this cooking thing. And it's not just that homemade food is healthier and less expensive. It's because some of the greatest memories of my childhood involve food. Really, really good food prepared by my mother. And it is extraordinarily important to me that Luki have similar experiences.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: I want to become more like my mom.

My mom, who, coincidentally, is turning a year older today. And now she's probably really mad because she forbade everyone from even mentioning her birthday. Understandably, she is in no mood to commemorate the occasion without her husband, so I won't say anything else about it.

Instead, I'll talk about me, and the birthday I hope to have many years from now. If, when I turn 43 for the ninth time in a row, I have made enough of an impact on Luki that he wants to emulate me, even if it's in the tiniest thing, I'll have at least one reason to celebrate that day.

Madre, en tu día no dejamos de mandarte nuestro amor 
Madre, en tu día con las vidas construimos tu canción
-Silvio Rodriguez

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #3

Dear Luki,

Last week, when I told you about how your grandpa tackled the foreign streets of Miami decidedly and without missing a beat, I briefly mentioned that one of the first things he did was teach himself how to drive. Let me expound on that.

He was thirty five and had never sat behind a steering wheel. That may seem strange to you because you were lucky enough to have been born in a country where automobiles are the norm, but in Cuba, having a car was a luxury saved for a select few. And since your grandmother was constantly protesting and writing letters against the communist regime, we were not part of that small clique.

When your grandpa arrived in the United States and realized that his previous method of transportation, the bicycle, was not compatible with the South Florida expressways, he immediately went out and bought and old junker for $200. With no licence or any driving experience whatsoever, he managed to get the vehicle home and convinced us to hop in for a ride. I'm not sure if the car was actually brown or the color of paint that had completely chipped away; its sagging ceiling needed to be held up with staples; and we spent more time up on the sidewalk than the street during that first ride; but it got us places.

After that, your grandpa purchased other, slightly better versions of old, battered cars. We couldn't leave the house without a gallon of water to pour into the part of the motor (yes, that's as far as my technical knowledge of automobiles goes) that needs to be constantly hydrated, lest it get overheated.

When we moved to Charlotte, he was finally able to afford something brand new -- a Toyota Corolla for your grandmother. He still drove around in a little used Hyundai that kept stalling.

One day, your grandma, uncle and I were heading down one of Charlotte's biggest roads when we saw that traffic was backed up. As we got closer to the spot where the congestion started, we realized that it was your grandpa's car, stalled in the middle of the busy street. He kept trying different ways to get the car to move and somehow figured out that he could get it going by putting it in reverse. So, without dawdling, he got behind the wheel and drove the rest of the way home backwards, looking through the rear view mirror.

Your grandmother was horrified at the risk of such an outrageous maneuver and I, an insecure and foolish teenager, was like, totally embarrassed.

Today, I have a completely different perspective about that event.

Don't you ever get stuck Luki. Always find a way to keep moving, even if it's in reverse.



Monday, January 18, 2010

In search of balance

Confession. Last night, when I happened to find out the Golden Globes were on and realized I hadn't seen a single nominated film I felt...nostalgic? frustrated? uncultured? mommyfied? I don't know. I can't commit to a single adjective. But I definitely wasn't in a happy place.

Ton Ton and I just went to the movies for the first time in about seven months over the weekend (We saw Broken Embraces, the new Almodovar film. I thought it was O.K., but definitely not my favorite of the Spanish director's masterpieces. Ton Ton was too distracted by Penelope Cruz to opine).

In my previous life, we went to the cinema as often as twice a week.

When I was pregnant, Ton Ton and I would lie in bed together and fantasize about the baby in my tummy. He would say, "Can you imagine it? The baby, here, nestled between us?"

I thought I could.

Yesterday morning we brought Luki to our bed and, as we tried to get a few extra minutes of sleep, he hung out between us, sucking his feet and occasionally petting/scratching our faces.

Amid yawns, Ton Ton said, "Do you remember when we used to imagine him? When we talked about putting him in bed with us?"

I remembered.

The real deal is exceedingly better than anything my mind could have conjured.

And yet, sometimes I miss bits and pieces of my old life. The movies, the concerts, the cocktails with friends. I can rattle off the different sleep training techniques for babies, but have no idea what's going on with healthcare reform.

It takes the balance and coordination of a trapeze swinger to be a good mother AND an interesting person. I'm still working on both. I suspect things will get better with time, when Luki is weaned and I am no longer a mobile food unit.

For now, I'll just have to make do with this Oscar worthy performance:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Resolution #2

Well hello there! Fancy seeing you here! I am in such an inexplicably good mood! Can I get you a cocktail? A snack? Lovely day, isn't it? Ahhh...don't you just LOVE winter sometimes?


On a completely unrelated note, after a three month stay in the United States, Ton Ton's mom is heading back to Venezuela on Saturday. She and her empanadas will be missed.

With her departure, I will be launching another one of my new year's resolutions: I'm going to learn to cook!

Stop laughing. I'm serious.

Yes, I know I say this all the time, but this year it's different. My dad's not around to make tostones and congri anymore, and I can't let Luki grow up deprived of such basic necessities. So, now that Mamacita is leaving and won't be doing the cooking, and while Luki is still too young to eat table food and risk being poisoned, I am going to start experimenting in the kitchen.

I've written here before about how I yearn to be the kind of mother whose kids brag about her cooking. The mom whose kids go off to college and can't wait to come home and eat their momma's food. That's the kind of mom (and dad) I grew up with.

Unfortunately, right now I can barely boil water. That's not an exaggeration. Just the other day, I put the kettle on the stove to make my mom some tea and turned on the wrong burner. I was cooking plain air until my brother walked by, saw the bright red burner, and put the kettle in its proper place.

But that's all about to change. I've made a pact with Ton Ton to cook every day (well every weekday) if he handles the dishes. I've been looking up recipes, watching the Food Network, and even got some "hands-on" practice with my uncle who is a chef while in Miami. This weekend, I will take the final three steps to begin my endeavor:

1. Create the week's menu
2. Grocery shop
3. Develop and test-run an evacuation route in case of fire

Stay tuned! I'll be sure to blog about my culinary adventures.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #2

Dear Luki,

This past week, you rode on an airplane for the first time and we flew to Miami. You were great on the flight, and I made sure to breastfeed you during take-off and landing so that your ears wouldn't pop. The whole experience reminded me of a flight I took, also to Miami, over 17 years ago. We were leaving Cuba and moving to the United States, and when my ears popped in the plane your grandpa asked the flight attendant to bring me some water.

I don't remember too much about that day, but when your grandpa would talk about it later, he'd always mention how nervous he was. He didn't breathe easily until we were in the air, headed to the United States with no chance of being sent back. It was his lifelong dream to leave the oppressive regime in Cuba and offer your uncle Ani and I a better life.

And it was in Miami where he began to fulfill that dream.

I thought about him a lot as we drove around the familiar streets of Hialeah a few days ago. About how unfamiliar those streets must have seemed when he, at 35 years old, took on the challenges of starting it all from scratch.

But I want you to know that your grandpa didn't hesitate for a second. He exuded confidence and infected us with positivity.

Little by little, he began to build a new life for us. All on his own, he found a job, bought a car, taught himself how to drive, and moved us into our first apartment. I remember the day he came home with a T.V. We were all so excited that it was in color and had a remote control. I remember that he would drive me to school every morning and stop by the bakery to buy me two meat pastelitos for lunch. I remember that he'd come home from work and take your uncle and I to the park to play soccer or ride our bikes.

Eventually we left Miami and moved to a safer city with more opportunities.

But I will never forget how our new life in the United States began. How, when everything was new and different, your grandpa made it familiar.

Stand boldly before the unknown Luki, it's the only way to achieve your dreams.



Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A future chocoholic

When I was a little kid, my mother brainwashed me into thinking I didn't like chocolate. Every time someone offered the luscious fruit of the cacao tree, I would wave it away and say something like, "No thanks. I don't like that. I'd much rather munch on this delicious carrot."

The truth is, I'd never tasted chocolate. Big E told me I didn't like it, and I believed her. She claims that she manufactured the lie to promote healthy eating habits, but I know better. My mother told me I didn't like chocolate so that she would never have to share her treats with me.

Because Big E is addicted to all things sweet.

And I mean, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-eat-a-cupful-of-sugar-in-the-raw-and-a-pack-of-Starbursts-mixed-with-Oreos-chased-by-an-entire-pint-of-Häagen-Dazs-chocolate-ice-cream-covered-in-syrup addicted. She needs help.

Since the days of my deprived childhood, I've come to appreciate the taste of Godiva, however, I'd much rather eat a piece of fried chicken than a brownie. I've learned to like sweets in moderation* and would never, for example, purposely give myself an extra shot of insulin to make my blood sugar low just so that I can suck sweet and condensed milk out of a can like a certain diabetic someone who shall remain unnamed.


Now that I'm a mother of a baby who eats solid food everyday, I want to make sure that Luki has a balanced diet. I started off pureeing different vegetables like squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes for him, and he was eating them with gusto...that is, until he discovered the natural sugars in fruit. Now, the kid cries and spits out his vegetables, but is always willing to have some banana.

At the suggestion of friends and relatives, I've tried to confuse him by feeding him a spoonful of fruit followed by one of veggies, but no dice. He's all, "Lady I may still crap my pants, but I'm not stupid", and turns his face away every time he sees it's squash puree.

So, much like Big E, but for totally legitimate reasons, I think I'm going to have to lie to my kid, because if he discovers the magic of chocolate, he won't ever want to put anything else his mouth again. Well, unless we're talking about sweet and condensed milk.

*Except when I was pregnant. When I was pregnant, I had butter pecan ice cream and Cuban Dulce de Leche (not to be confused with Argentinian Dulce de Leche) for breakfast lunch and dinner. But I'm sure that the industrial quantities of sugar that passed through the placenta have nothing to do with Luki's sweet tooth. He totally inherited it from my mom.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Brrr...from Miami

Aside from looking at us like we were crazy for waking him up at 5:00 am to head to the airport, Luki’s first experience aboard a plane went off without a hitch. Well, he did knock down the complementary glass of orange juice I was so kindly given after paying $50 for checking two pieces of luggage, but that’s the sort of thing I routinely did before he was born so I won’t hold it against him.  He played, laughed, and cooed throughout the entire trip and, most importantly, his diaper did not explode. Luki gets an A+ on traveling.

Ton Ton and I, however, get a C-. It’s a question of basic math: four hands divided by one stroller, two suitcases, a diaper bag, a computer case, a purse, and a camera bag, equals two people tripping all over themselves and holding up airport traffic. Next time, we are definitely going to pack lighter – the computer and camera are absolutely necessary, but perhaps Luki can ride atop one of the wheeled suitcases and we can do without the stroller.

Miami has been fun, albeit, uncharacteristically cool. Although that sucks because I was hoping to dip Luki’s toes in the ocean for the first time, the weather has been responsible for affording us more than a few giggles. Just to be clear, when I say “uncharacteristically cool” I mean yesterday the high was 65˚F and the low was 40˚F. When we left home Thursday, it was below freezing.

I kid you not; we were watching the Spanish news and, in between the usual update on Fidel and rant against Chavez, they had a special segment in which they interviewed a meteorologist and a “heating and air conditioning expert.” The meteorologist used the words “polar temperatures” to describe the cold front, and the HVAC guy gave a step by step guide on how to turn on the furnace.

Our relatives must have been watching that newscast too, because when we went inside their house it felt like we’d just walked into an oven. They had set the thermostat to 80 degrees and were wearing sweaters! When they saw that Luki wasn’t donning a snow suit and ski mask, we got an earful. “The baby is going to get sick! You have to cover his head!”

It’s been an improbable trip. Hell Miami has frozen over. Our kid didn’t poop all over us. And, oh, I think I just saw a flying pig polar bear outside our window.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Ani!

A quick shout out to my brother Ani who is turning 22 years old today! It's quick because today we are traveling* to North Cuba Miami to visit some relatives and relax a bit and I haven't finished packing, so I don't really have time to go into detail about what an incredible person he is.

But I will say this: He is my favorite brother. Even if I had another brother, he would still be my favorite.

And also this, to him directly:

"Happy Birthday man! I know you may be sad about your first birthday without the man who is responsible for your birth, but don't. Dad is still with you, I see him in you all the time. And I'm not just saying that because of your receding hairline. He is in your laughter, in the way you treat mom, in your back-breaking willingness to do anything for anybody and, mostly, in your overflowing, never-ending, sure I'll sit here and spend an hour "talking" to an old hard-of-hearing distant relative, patience. You are wise beyond your years, and I have tons to learn from you."

*Don't worry, I'm taking my laptop. There will be a blog about Luki's first plane ride. Please pray for a poop-less flight.**

**You like how I just assume you wait for my posts with baited breath? It's because I'm the most humble person I know.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #1

Dear Luki,

You totally slept through it, but a few nights ago we rang in the new year. You need to work on your nightlife endurance, dude. I don't want you cramping my style because you're "too tired" by 11 p.m. when I take you bar hopping for your first birthday.

The truth is you didn't miss much. New Year's Eve was very low key. We just watched T.V. and ate the traditional twelve grapes at midnight. Oh yea, and we also cried because we missed your grandpa so much.

But it's a new year. And I have resolved to not be so sad. Instead, I'm going to celebrate his life and all that he gave me. You grandpa was always happy, and if he knew how devastated we all are he would totally say something like, "this too shall pass" or "more was lost in the war" about his own death.

Right after he died, through the disconcerting and overwhelming sadness, I knew that I would be O.K. You know why? Because I'm his daughter. Losing him is the biggest problem I've ever had to face, but he prepared me for it. Nothing was ever too daunting or complicated for your grandpa, and I learned from his example.

Luki, I want you to understand that I am incredibly blessed to have had a dad like I did. And the thing that upsets me the most about him dying is that you will not get to reap the benefits of being in his company. That's why I'm writing you this letter, and that's why I'm going to write you a letter about your grandpa every week for a year. Because I don't want you to just know him in pictures and casual anecdotes, I want you to be intimately familiar with him. It will make you a better man.

Your grandpa was funny and kind, and he made the best tostones in the world. But above all, he loved. He loved others fully, wholeheartedly, more than himself. And that love, not the love he received, but the love he gave, filled him with joy. I hope I can convey that love in my weekly letters.

Love like your grandpa did Luki, it's the best advice I could ever give.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


A fresh start. A clean slate. A new beginning. That's what each January is supposed to be about, right? Well, coincidentally, I've been feeling like an updated version of myself lately. 2009 was a transformative year. At first it was awesome, and then it kicked my ass so hard it knocked me unconscious. Now, in 2010, I am waking up from that coma with a completely new outlook. Things are so much more in focus.

Last year, my dad died in an accident, or at least that's what the death certificate says. But how can something so important as life and death be accidental? I have accidents all the time. An accident is when I spill tea on my shirt, or ignore my bladder for so long, a trickle comes out right before I can unzip my jeans.

I'm sorry, but ceasing to exist is not on the same level as peeing my pants.

It doesn't make sense to live a bunch of years and love a bunch of people, just to randomly fall off a ladder one day and stop. No. My dad's death, just like his life, has to have a purpose. A purpose for those he left behind.

That's my resolution for this year. To figure out what the purpose of his death is in my life. And I can tell you one thing, even though I miss him terribly, he didn't die for me to sit around and be sad all the time. That would be a complete waste.

He also didn't die to be forgotten. My dad led a great life and my brother and I are immeasurably lucky to have had his example all these years. Sadly, Luki will not be as fortunate. So, as part of my New Year's resolution, I'm going to write my son a weekly letter about his grandpa: things I remember, lessons he taught me, funny anecdotes, etc. It's the least I can do, and it would be a great disservice to Luki if I didn't try to share with him all that my father gave to me. I plan to publish them every Wednesday for 52 weeks. Be on the lookout for the first one tomorrow!

So, that's the plan. That's how I begin my quest to make sense out of this tragedy.

Last year I started writing in this blog. I had a baby. My dad died. Those things didn't all happen arbitrarily. They are the variables to an equation I hope to solve in 2010.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's our monthiversary! Part VI

Half a year baby! Luki is turning into an old man. Look! He's even grown a mustache:

It's been a rough month for all of us around here, including Luki. We've been trying to come to terms with my dad's death and that's thrown his routine a little bit of of whack. Sometimes he sleeps at home, sometimes at grandma's. Sometimes he gets a bath, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he eats solids, other times it's just boob. Add to that the holidays, the barrage of people coming in and out to give their condolences, and his very first cold, and you've got yourself the recipe for a very confused and cranky baby.

But Luki is no quitter. So, despite the hectic schedule, he's managed to teach himself a couple of new tricks. He can now sit unsupported! Except when I try to show off to someone that he can sit unsupported. Then, he always manages to topple over, hit his head, and make me look like a terrible mother who puts her kid in danger for the sake of making a good impression. Must be payback for telling the Internet about his penis.

And for his second antic, he gets on all fours and scoots his body back and forth, as if revving up his engines to zoom into month seven. I hope when he gets there, he finds a little more order, tranquility, and better spirits.