Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Postcard from Puerto Rico

El Moro in the Old City*
Christmas in Puerto Rico is filled with joyous celebration...usually.This year we're turning a 'hard corner.' Do you remember manual steering? You just grab the wheel and keep pulling until you finally make the turn. That's our holiday. We're in a time of change that has brought about an unscheduled move that brings us closer to the beach. I remind myself every day that I can enjoy sunny walks on the sandy beach. Why am I sad? Our poor little homeless dogs have no place do go. We tried so hard to help with the stray dog problem in Puerto Rico. (insert sigh here)

Today the waves were crashing on Condado beach with great force and cutting a sharp wedge out of the coastline. It reminded me of our transition from the mountains to the sea; along with the water's turbulence is also a rejuvenating breeze. There's a yoga studio nearby and plenty of coffee shops in which to write. It will be okay (I tell myself.) I miss Mom.(Her story here.) Holiday blues? I'm going for a walk!

Accentuate the Positive
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

(Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen) 

Thank you for reading Oasis Writing Link (TM) this year. I send you besitios and abrazos!

*Photo credit: Amber Villanueva

Friday, November 26, 2010


Oasis Feature: Scenes Around Town

The long evening wait for the big sale!
Puerto Ricans border on being shopaholics-it's a consumer driven culture where everyone spends whatever they have on Christmas. Saving? Tomorrow will take care of itself! After a nearly five year recession - it started two years before the United States- you would think everyone would be broke, and Post- Thanksgiving-Friday would be like the fireworks that failed to go off. But no! The line is like a Ricky Martin concert event!

Is it true that last year a person was trampled to death at a Wallmart store in the States? Imagine all of that rushing in to save and spend a pile of money!   These people in the photograph are waiting in line at the K-mart in Rexville Plaza shopping center in Bayamon until the store opens at 3am. I asked the boys in the front, "What are you waiting for? What do you want to buy?" The older one said he was waiting (with his mom) to buy a flat screen TV and a microwave. I asked the younger boy, again, and he smiled and said " es muy divertido- it's very entertaining!"  Not to me!! I prefer to run the other way!  I'm off to bed!

If you celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a wonderful time sharing a meal with family and friends. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to say thank you for reading Oasis Writing Link (TM) this year!
Oh ! I'll let you in on a secret. It's my birthday!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Snowing in Puerto Rico!

Oasis Feature: Scenes Around Town

It's Snowing in Plaza Las Americas!

Crowds wait in anticipation for the first snowflakes to fall from the mall sky. Children wear Santa caps and imagine visits from the North Pole. Hey, wait!! We're in the tropics-palm tree, light breeze, bright sun...
Maybe it's the best of both worlds-a  Disney World Christmas without the cold? It reminds me of Christmas Up North and it's a bit confusing too: Where's the cold?  As suddenly as it starts, it stops. Parent's say, "Snow's over" and the children let out a loud groan, "Ohooo!"

Plaza Las Americas Shopping Center 
F.D. Roosevelt Ave 
San Juan PR 00918
(787) 753-5960

Friday, November 19, 2010

Puerto Ricans Enjoy Celebrating the Traditional Quinceanera

Quinceañera (or quinces) is a right of passage celebrated in Puerto Rico and many other Latin American cultures. A young girl turning fifteen, prepares for a special party with professionally applied formal makeup, hair, nails and a great big fancy dress! (often it's white) When my daughter was celebrating hers, we went to the older part of Rio Piedras to look around for traditional gifts and mementos to give the guests who were arriving from all over the island and the United States.
The atmosphere in this part of Rio Piedras gives you the feeling of being in another time, a more romantic Puerto Rico.
Maria Perez stands next to a "fancy dress" in her aunt's Trajes Finos  (refined dress) store in Rio Piedras.

 Arzuaga Boutique 
Calle Arzuaga 105
Rio Piedreas, PR 00923
Tel. 787.764.3337

Monday, November 15, 2010

Prisoners Released for the Day

Oasis Feature: Scenes Around Town

Urban Train Artisanos in Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Prisoners carve and craft objects to sell to daily commuters.

What do you think of this rehabilitation program idea? Prisoners learn to create and market folk art. I was surprised that conversation with customers was allowed. I was able to barter for a unique Don Quixote but decided to buy it later.  Unfortunately, they were already gone when I returned in the afternoon. Mr. Oasis won't get another Don Q for his collection!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Break for Chickens!

Oasis Feature: Scenes Around Town: Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

Remember? Question: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To get to the other side!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Trouble with Chickens

Point of Inspiration Chicken/Cock

Chickens Were Once Chicks

Chickens have wings but don’t fly.
Chicks are baby chickens.
Chicks are small, soft, and make a gentle peeping sound.
And are found in Easter baskets wearing
baby colors; powder blue, pink, yellow and green.
Chickens are domesticated and designed for consumption,
often cultivated with large breasts and small brains.
(He’s a thigh man. I like breasts.)
Chickens cross the road, chicks follow and flatten.
Do you want to play chicken? It’s game where
we drive toward each other at high speed,
the one who wants to survive the most? What a chicken!
Chicken soup, a healing broth,
Chicken Soup for the Soul, a sweet comforting story,
A chick flick, movies made for girls with predictable plot lines,
paint-by-number characters, mostly pink.
Chick lit, not solely romantic, empowering
Jane Austin and Bridget Jones.
And Hen Lit, matrons wearing red hats
and hot flashes. We're no spring chickens!
Chicken Little?   
Walking around like a chicken with her head cut off!
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
Crazy chick disease, it’s a softening of the brain.
Chick magnet/chicken coop
Many chickens but only one
Cock, a member reference, substantial,
He’s no chicken, nor is he a chick.
Chick, an American slang term for a young girl.

Cynthia Pittmann

Audio Recording  (Does the recording work for you?)

Written for Magpie Tales

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apple Charlie; a Memory

Bill Grover at Apple Charlies

I just wanted to see some pumpkins!

The farm is well taken care of by the new owners.

I carefully scanned the pavement looking for signs of Mom left on the driveway.

Coming back from Michigan, I again thought of the life that was made for me there, and all that has changed because I left home at seventeen (and didn't look back). The years of separation and absence have provided an unbroken memory that continues to be alive in me. Though the events and relationships are long gone, they exist completely intact in my memory.  I continue to feel close to people I have not seen for three decades. My unbridled affection is surprising because I'm essentially a stranger who has unexpectedly popped up from the haze of the 1970's. 

Bill is a friend from Huron High School. He is connected to the fall season the same way apple cider, orange pumpkins, and leaves caught in the wind or crunching under our feet are connected. He was a football player and champion wrestler who celebrated with us after the games with pizza (and sometimes beer) in Flatrock. I was a drum major, flag captain, clarinetist, all around band member and team supporter. He was protective of my sisters and me, and I believe he had a special deal with our father, Richard, to guard our honor; however, an unforeseen event wedged a terrible break in our friendship and we could no longer be friends.

It was my sixteenth birthday party and all of my family, friends, and their friends were there. The house was open, and traffic flowed in teen party fashion. People were drinking, smoking, and talking too loud. My sister came up in a car with her boyfriend. She had disappeared for many months, running off with her older boyfriend in the middle of the night, packing her clothes in large black plastic garbage bags and storing them behind the evergreen bushes that lined the front porch. Her arrival to my party was tense and unexpected. My father was quietly ignoring this turn of events. The couple was arguing in the car, perhaps about coming in the house or leaving before there was trouble. The discussion became physical and one of my cousins ran into the house yelling, "He's beating her up and she's in labor!" My father sprung into fierce action; he ran outside, grabbed the man and pulled him out of the car. My sister started screaming for everything to stop. However, it was too late and a fight became the main event. Yelling party goers crowded around shouting, "Fight!" Bill tried to break the two men apart, but it was impossible. They rolled into the field next door and it started to get bloody. Mom went into action, picked up a two by four board, and slammed it down just when they flipped over. She nearly knocked Dad unconscious, and it was all he could do to maintain awareness. I was appalled at her mistake! "She almost killed Dad", I thought. Mom came running back with a hammer, and I blocked her by grabbing her hand, "Don't you dare!" I was ready to get physical. Suddenly, lights were flashing, and people scattered. The police broke up the fight, and began taking reports from witnesses. "Who started it?" was the critical question. When Bill was asked he reported what he had seen, and so Dad was taken off to jail. Later, Bill stood as a witness for my sister's boyfriend, and that is why we could no longer be friends. It was as if he disappeared. He was completely removed from all interactions with us, all contact. My father felt he was disloyal to our family because he told the police exactly what he had seen, and in Bill's version, Dad was the angry aggressor. My sister went to the hospital, had my nephew, and decided to stay with her boyfriend because children need a father. Mom went to the hospital to be with her, and later helped her get settled but Dad remained stoically detached. He felt betrayed by family, friends, and society. A father is supposed to defend his child, isn't he?

The farm is well cared for now, with the exception of the circle driveway, which somehow seems appropriate. I stood looking down the drive for several minutes trying to find some remnant of my mother, a darkened area, a bit of the chalk that outlined her body but all that remained was broken cement. I feel sorry I challenged her when she was "defending" Dad. She wasn't ever a bystander, patiently waiting and helpless. She was a powerful participant- abet with a poor aim. She continued to be brave, running out to try to help her partner, Christine, after she was shot by our neighbor, Brooks. I wish she had stayed inside and waited for the police to arrive. I wish she were still alive. I wish we had just celebrated her birthday on Halloween, instead of her being murdered at fifty five years old.  Dad made peace with my sister and she escaped the domestic abuse situation. (He died when he was forty-nine.) Dad never knew about Mom's lifestyle changes.

I don't know if Bill remembers this story; we didn't talk about it. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that he was "Apple Charlie" -or rather that was the name his father used. My cousin, Tammy, was just taking me to an apple orchard and a place to see a pumpkin patch. (Living in the tropics makes me yearn for signs of seasons sometimes.) We drove up to Apple Charlies, I got out and started taking lots of poor quality photographs with my cell phone, then I started chatting with one of the workers, "So who is Apple Charlie? What's his last name? What's his first name? I mean, people don't call him, Apple, right?" I was just bothering a stranger with questions when I discovered that this was Bill Grover's place. I had forgotten his family owned an apple orchard. I wondered if he wanted to see me again. I decided to be bold, and when I saw him heading into his house, I called out, "Bill! Hey, Bill!" I'm glad I did. I feel as though a new bookend has been placed on that past disturbing phase of my life. When I left, he said, "Thanks for stopping by and looking me up." Bill's okay. I'm okay. Life goes on.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn's Leaving

Oasis Feature: Goodbye's Returning

I'm back from Michigan, and am still processing the astonishingly vivid autumn week. I decided to take an intentional walk down Memory Lane, and found a richly intense source of personal history. I highly recommend the experience of living in your own memoir by re-visiting the people and places that impressed themselves into your memory at an earlier time in your life.

On Memory Lane, I visited Apple Charles' orchard, and discovered a former high school friend is Apple Charlie. I walked through a pumpkin patch, and remembered the great pumpkin, and our farm fund raising activity where all proceeds went towards the purchase of a new motorcycle for the Pittmann girls.  I strolled the Parkview cemetery grounds while Brian Alexander filmed for the B roll that will be shown during the credits for the documentary. (This film is being made about my mother and her partner and the events surrounding their murder.) I met up with Lillian L., one of  Mom's motorcycle buddies, who still rides at 80 years old, and had a delightful lunch filled with her entertaining chatter. I went to the scene of the crime, rather, our farm house, and met the new owners who generously showed me all the changes they had made to the interior of the house.  I returned to our first house on West Point street in Taylor where I lived with my family until I was three years old. Located behind the house, I discovered Mom's Siesta Motel has been converted to a business office building where people siesta no longer. I walked around the corner to Mack's Shack, which is now Kelly's Bar, and remembered the first time I passed for eighteen, and reflected how once when I was sixteen years old I sat at the bar and had a beer with my father. I felt so grown up.

Courageously returning to these specific locations of my personal history reminded me to embrace the past, which includes as they say both the bitter and sweet. Join me as I share memory moments in the next couple of posts in the Oasis Feature; Goodbye's Returning.

The Thing Is

by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
"The Thing Is" by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Comforting Friendships

Oasis Feature: Friendship and Books

Do you order books and forget which books you've ordered? I do. I also make a habit of immediately reading every book I order- that way I won't stockpile and feel driven to persevere through the pile until the task is done. Now that books are so accessible online, I try to pace my reading. I have spent long periods of my life just living to get back to my book-for example, my entire 18th year was spent in a fiction-soaked haze. (While I was being hazed in the Navy.) No plans. No conversations-and I mean no dynamic conversation because my mind was focused on the book. Eventually, recognizing my escapist tendencies, I cut myself off from reading most fiction (except classics). I needed to learn from what I read, come up with a plan of action to solve my real life problems, and live in the moment.
Recently, I read The Wednesday Sisters (Meg Waite Clayton), and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I saw the book at Borders in Plaza Las Americas, and was drawn to both the title and the cover design. I picked it up but hesitated to buy it. I thought I might order it online. Coincidentally, the next day I had contact with the author through She Writes, and immediately clicked over to Amazon to order the book.(I consider chance events to be a sign!)  However, later, I couldn't be sure if I had ordered it.

ConfessionMy covert-okay I admit it-sneaky book reading happened innocently enough. 

After a long airplane journey, I waited  in Plaza until someone could come by and collect me. Since I had so many hours to kill before their arrival, I thought, why don't I look for the book and read a bit? I enjoyed reading The Wednesday Sisters so much that I forgot I was tired and hungry. When my company arrived, I reluctantly set the book down. I had such a pleasant time! I was hooked. Still uncertain as to whether I had ordered the book, I started making excuses to stop at Borders where I would willingly wait to be picked up. I read as much as I possible while in the store. I confess, I purposely mis-shelved the book so that I alone could find it. (I made sure there was a copy left in the correct section in case someone came in to legitimately buy the book.) I couldn't stop thinking about the characters. I made excuses to wait at Borders. I even took the bus. No easy task in Puerto Rico because the signs haven't been updated to reflect the new bus numbers. Is the T-3 the same as A-3?  (It is.) Another day, I took the train, which left me a good 20 hot-and-humid-walking-minutes away from my goal. One day, I persevered through the pouring rain, negotiating a heavy book bag and over-sized umbrella just so I could make it to Borders. As I persevered through the torrent, I visualized that hot cup of Earl Gray tea with milk and honey- and most importantly- the book. A week later, my husband found an unopened package in our cavernous mini-van.  Oh this arrived while you were away. I think it's a book. Umph!

What is so special about this book?

The story centers around a group of women who happen to meet at a local park, and eventually decide to start writing together. All of the women have different personalities but share an interest in reading books and the Miss America pageant. Watching the pageant together over the years brings the women together, and provides a set-point frame to highlight changes within the women, and within society as a whole. However, it is the meaning of sharing life through friendship that gives the book it's profound emotional impact.

It takes place in California and reminded me of the time I spent in Alameda, a little town across the Golden Gate Bridge. My personal experience with an area near the setting helped me to visualize the surrounding houses and the park where the women met. I thought deeply about the era the book covers, and wondered how life was for those who weren't right in the middle of the struggle for change. I went to a State college in Southern California, and most of my professors were involved in some aspect of the 60's- either they were involved protests to end the war in Vietnam and/or fought for equality of rights for women and other minorities.  (Remember when women were referred to as a minority?)

My professors were about nine years older than me, and I often wondered if I had been born too late. I admired the commitment of people who fought for civil rights during the 60's. Even though I am a veteran, I still appreciate people who stood against the war. I believe that their fight was against the decision makers in government and not the soldiers. I also knew people in the military who were against the war but when you're in the military, you do what you are told to do. It's part of your duty to follow orders.You don't decide which wars to support. Clayton brilliantly captures the ordinary woman's feeling of being caught in opposing ideas.
She brings alive that time of change for those on the fringes of the action, and shows how it impacts the ordinary lives of five women. You experience how it might have felt to grow up at that time, and realize that your life could be about more than getting married and raising children- that it might also include a space for a mother who wants to be a writer, for example.

Mother's Aren't Always Satisfied 

I was a young teenager when one of my aunts ran away from her her husband and children. It was shocking. Unheard of ! What kind of a mother leaves her children? Later, she was reunited with her children but she filed for a divorce. It mystified  her husband. Why would she leave? Didn't he take care of her and provide her with everything? He became enraged and then bitter that she had left him. To this day, he continues to hold onto his "anti-woman's-libber" grudge. I can't be angry with my aunt. She was the only person around who knew that books were important; and she gave my sisters and me the best books for gifts. She could discuss the mysterious Kierkegaard , and I remember my uncle hating her passion for study. He ridiculed her elevated conversation, and her love of books. Reading Clayton's book made me remember how difficult it was for women such as my aunt to find a way to thrive.

Even in the 70's, it was challenging for women to negotiate a new place in society. It's easy to forget. When I was in the Navy, the sailors wrote "Bitch go home" on my locker. They wrote vulgar comments about me on the bathroom walls, stole my coffee cup and clothes from my locker, taped up torn out pornographic pages from magazines and wrote my name on them. I know that not all sailors actively participated in this behavior, but I also know they all knew who was involved.
A few years after I was out of the military, I ran into the blond, soft spoken, beautiful and thin young wife of one of the Sailors that I had served with. She was widowed after her husband's motorcycle crashed somewhere in California. When we talked, she offered me an apology because her husband was the second class petty officer who secretly led the other Sailors on a vendetta to make my life miserable. I asked her why he did it, and she said he hated you because you were a woman in the military, and that was a man's job. 

I appreciate The Wednesday Sisters because it offers a  perspective on how important it is for women to support each other. It makes me aware of how much society has changed. It reminds me to value friendship, and know that genuine friendship, including complete acceptance,  is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

Click the Amazon link on the sidebar to buy your own copy of Meg Waite Clayton's, The Wednesday Sisters.

Have a lovely week and remember to celebrate your friendships!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Visit from Earl While I was Away

Beauford Delaney, "Throw it in the Creek" c. 1938

Oasis Reflection;
Turbulence and Change

 I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, “Look.” I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, “Look again,” which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.*  James Baldwin, Paris Review 1984

A lot has been happening lately, and life events are encouraging me to look in new ways.

The painting above references the folk wisdom that if something gets bad enough it should be thrown away, "Throw it in the creek." This is a disturbing thought, because I keep thinking of the Bosnian girl whose brother filmed her throwing black and white puppies in the river. You wonder how could those puppies be bad? I'm making an unsettling connection, but I've just returned from taking my daughter off to college. I don't know quite what to do with myself right now; however, I am delighted that she got into a good school and that she is enjoying her new life. Ultimately, that is what makes me the happiest. Still, we don't realize how our daily lives are shaped by our loved ones until they are away.
My college girl entering Mystic Pizza
While I was off the island of Puerto Rico, Sr. Earl, the hurricane, came to visit. My husband called me during the storm, which he was driving through, and gave me a blow by blow (pun?) account! I hear the loud wind while I yell, "Don't talk to me! Drive! You might get hurt!" Then he says, "All the lights are gone. I can't see the road." Finally, I told him I couldn't take the stress anymore- and it was making me not hungry-so please hang  up the phone. Oh, I know how bad that sounds! But it was such a surprising response from me that he did get off the phone.

I was at Mystic Pizza when he called. Do you know the restaurant in Mystic, Connecticut? It was the location of the movie, Mystic Pizza with Julia Roberts. The movie features three teenage girls who all work at the pizzeria and are trying to figure out what to do with their lives; one is reluctant to marry, another attracts the son of a wealthy family (Julia Roberts), and one is saving up for Yale University. I kept thinking of the story, while we were looking around the area. I never realized that Connecticut was such a sea oriented society. We stopped at the Portuguese Fisherman, and had a very large breakfast! (but no seafood!) It's only open for breakfast and brunch. (I think it should be called a diner now instead of a restaurant.)
Waffles cannot be contained on the plate! Huge serving sizes!

The entire area seems to be patriotic and though I may be mistaken, it also seemed conservative. The flags were at half-staff because of an officer who was killed in the line of duty. (I first wrote half-mast but I think that term is best used on ships.) When I was seventeen, I served in the US Navy for four years and I think that this coastal area of Connecticut could be called a Navy town- only it's Coast Guard all the way! I felt that familiar but distant feeling of being around many people who are connected to the military in some way, either business or family. Veterans were proud of their service, and one waitress talked about her boyfriend overseas. Everywhere, the presence of the military was strongly felt. I asked a group of young men for directions and one carefully groomed man stopped in the middle of the road to make sure I got the correct directions. A car honked at us for making them wait, but I just thought that guy was so helpful with his southern accent and polite manner, he probably was in the Coast Guard, (Yes, I know all servicemen are not gentleman- I was in the Navy, after all!)
When I arrived home, the yard was full of hurricane debris; branches and abundant piles of long pine needles. It smelled a bit like Christmas. It took a half day to clean up the yard. I was thinking about hurricanes as I raked and washed.  

A hurricane moves in a wide circle, the outer rings bring light rain, and as it picks up strength winds blow and bend trees. If it passes directly over, there is a time when it's profoundly hot, humid and the wind is still. It's a false calm because the storm is getting closer, but if you understand the hurricane's process, you have time to organize for the next ring of wind and rain to arrive. Usually, it's light rain again but then quickly turns into a dangerous storm. In the mountains, trees fall, mud slides, and a telephone pole may fall. But an amazing thing happens- you find the nicest people out on the road waving flashlights and yelling to passing cars (and complete strangers) that the road is blocked. "Slow down! Turn around! Be careful!" And though you cannot hear them, you know they must be warning you of approaching danger because they are risking their own lives while standing out in the storm. You slow down, see the telephone poll, and turn around as my husband did on the night that Earl brushed passed Puerto Rico. He was saved from a car crash because of those people shining their dim flashlights and yelling to save a stranger with all of their might.
The windy rings of change are turbulent, too, but don't you love it when you find heroes along the way? It's in the difficult times that we know how best to serve each other.These were my thoughts as I cleaned up after the storm. I'm having a storm in my life, but it's good. I have so much to celebrate and be thankful for!
Waiting at the San Juan airport.

Thank you for reading Oasis- I'm sending you good thoughts.

*Thanks to writer, Cynthia Newberry Martin, for the quote and inspiration.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Embracing Sadness?

Studying Memoir Under a Cieba Tree (Mayan Kapok/Tree of Life)

Oasis Moment: Dealing with Loss

Grieving doesn’t have to be a process that keeps us rooted in our thoughts of fear and sadness. For the moment we might feel despondent, but by expressing and coping with our true feelings, we face the sadness head-on. Daily Om 

The above quote comes from the Daily Om web-log,that was founded by Scott Blum author of Summer's Path and Waiting for Autumn
If you ever were curious about how people who are "spiritual but don't call themselves religious" might think, these books are a must-read. Both are incredibly imaginative, insightful and connect to experiences and thoughts I have also pondered. 

A Death in the Family

My young brother-in-law, Joel, died last week. He was still in his thirties, not always healthy but death is a shock whenever it arrives. When my father died of diabetes complications at 49, I stayed in a kind of shock for years. When my mothered was murdered at 55, it was a shock. When my niece died in a car accident at 17, I was shocked. And now this death is no exception. Age doesn't matter. I'm just shocked by the finality of death. I have trouble feeling when I first encounter the news of death. I become quiet inside and observant outside. I'm treading water out in the middle of the funerary sea. 

All the death details and surrounding dialogue feel unreal when the shocked-state is in place. I remember the words, "He's in a better place," repeatedly sounding, but I'm not so religious anymore. Besides, those words never spoke to my heart anyway. I remember the last time I saw him in the intensive care hospital ward, he had trouble breathing and couldn't talk. Just before I left, I said "I'll see you later" and he nodded affirmatively. He wanted to live. He loved life. He loved to laugh. He held no grudges and didn't complain. He was a journalist and editor who celebrated my children's triumphs in writing, bringing them a little local fame and boosting their self-confidence. I appreciate his generous and considerate heart.

Feeling grief is difficult

In Blum's books, though they are spiritual fiction, he talks about the psychological process of embodying your feelings and allowing them to be fully felt without bodily resistance. I think I have more "embodied feeling work" waiting for me when I'm ready. Encountering deep feeling is frightening. 

I think most of us cope with loss by cushioning memory with distraction.

Some of my distractions?
Reading fiction at Borders drinking Earl Gray-er Tea

Mom and daughter bonding over a homemade honey and oats facial mask
Capturing a funny shot for my Twilight fan, Miss A
Confession. I have laughed inappropriately while waiting for death to arrive. It's like a dark humor enters my body, and I forget death and grief. I hope that I don't offend anyone with my behavior. I have seen death up close when it feels far away. It's just a shock-adaptation. I remember it when it happens- a kind of coping humor. True, I also distract myself with study and focused work where I block out all thought, I think. But then I realize I'm talking about death and loss to my poor happy fresh-faced freshman students. Bummer! I also need plenty of comfort time such as bonding with family, reading fiction or about comfort food and cooking it, immersing myself in nature, and, yes, laughing.

How do you go through difficult times of loss?

The Ceiba tree rooted in life as we are while living
The ceiba tree (or kapok) in Mayan cosmology was considered to be the tree of life that connects earth to sky, or man to the divine. They left notes with requests at the base of the tree, and poured rum around it, ‘feeding’ the muse. Trish and Rob MacGreggor- authors of The Seven Secrets of Synchronicity .

Joel Villanueva Reyes
May your journey be peaceful. May your family and friends feel surrounded in love and support during this time of your passing.

Friday, July 30, 2010

All I Ever Wanted

It was all I ever wanted.
Not that I minded the age,
it was an old key meant for it's worn place.
But something was different.
After the death and robbery, I understood.
It couldn't be any other way. Things change. Life moves on.
I've heard this.

Passing through the keyhole,
a life lived and shared was worth it after all.

So soon, it became clear to you that the shine was gone.
But did you know you were so beautiful?
Did you know that every wrinkle
opened my heart even further to your inspiration?

What was worthy became more so.
It didn't matter that your surface had a rough feel.
It didn't matter.

Your opening was all I ever wanted.
When I could turn the key and find you,
in your scuffed and worn beauty,
I was immersed in a new light.
An innocence revealed us,
I opened in the sun of you, Mom.
It was all I ever wanted.

Cynthia Pittmann
(A writing assignment from the worthy Ms Willow of Magpie Tales)
I wanted to share a poem reaction (sonnet) in response to, "All I Ever Wanted" by my poet friend, Neill Edwards:

Cynthia, here's a sonnet, related to your poem. It came because I was so impressed by your work.


Cyn wrote something fine, a full creation
Yet delicate; the roughness unheeded
No real wall, feeling need, in reaction
To that warmth, that heart that her love seeded.
How you got there, without real direction
In this piece you made what you so needed -
All you ever wanted was ‘perfection’

Pittman’s place, among poets, we’ll find -
If she writes at all, her work flies, a dove
Touching sky, the work you think first as ‘kind’
Tears out the guts; mention ‘Mother ‘above’;
Mom’s epitaph is now sacrosanct, bound
All in one piece, grief replaced by this love
No mere ghost, she has her place in your mind.

Neill Edwards
July 31, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Mountains are Falling!

Oasis Feature: Summer Views while I'm away....
We had a mudslide that covered our main exit out of the mountain. We had to find another way out! The road was closed for nearly a week! Even after the cleanup, we still have falling rocks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Rainy Afternoon in El Viejo San Juan

Oasis Feature: Summer Views;
Snapshots from the Enchanted Island

A walk through the Old City...
who minds just a little cooling rain?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Garden Food for the Soul

Oasis Feature: Grappling with Gardens and Untangling Memories

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don't drive no car
Don't go so fast but I go pretty far
For somebody who don't drive, I've been all around the world
Some people say I've done alright for a girl...(Melanie Safka, Brand New Key song lyric.)

Do you remember when you were young and you got your first bike? I remember my parents making an announcement to our group of five children, "We are only going to buy you one bike each. You can select any bicycle you want, but that is the last one you will ever get from us." They were so serious about their parental pronouncements! I chose a Schwinn 10 speed. (Click here to read a fun and informative blog post about this extremely popular bike.) It was the best bike ever. Perfect timing! I was 13 years old, and seriously into health and saving the planet. I didn't care at all about driving a car. I wanted to bike everywhere, rain or shine. I bought a little license plate to hang behind the back seat which said, "Look Ma, No Exhaust". I was inspired to personally help our Mother Earth-and save gasoline! (Remember the oil crisis in the 70's?)

Why am I thinking of this? Have you ever noticed how committed young people can be? My own daughter, Ms A, reminds me to continue my concern about the environment. Through her own effort, I remember that seemingly insignificant lifestyle changes do matter.

Miss A was highlighted in a new gardening magazine, Agrochic, recently. I'm so proud of her!

A new magazine from Puerto Rico that encourages growing your own food-even in Urban areas.

La estudiante Amber Villanueva me dio un 'tour' por el huerto escolar
de Baldwin School en Guaynabo.... La chica es presidenta del Club Ambiental y mantiene junto a sus compañeros el huerto. Allí pueden encontrar productos, como: el quimbombó, batata mameya, guineo, recao, romero, espinaca, caña de azúcar, maíz, entre otros. -IVS

In English, it says something like this:

Amber Villanueva,a student of Baldwin School of Puerto Rico in Guaynabo led a tour of the school's vegetable garden. She is president of the Environmental Club, which planted and maintains the vegetable garden. The garden contains this produce: okra, root vegetables, bananas, flat leaf cilantro, rosemary, spinach, sugar cane, corn and other vegetables.
(My imperfect translation-If you read Spanish, I'm afraid I had to add a couple of words. Also, I found this information on the magazine's Facebook page and at the Agrochic.com website.)

Growing Food at Home

Recently, my girl asked me to cook her Healthy Soup, which is our name for a broth based soup concocted to fight colds and the blues. I have made various versions of this soup ever since we moved to Puerto Rico, and as time goes by, I've noticed that it takes on a local flavor. The soup is made from a collection of ingredients that happen to be either in the refrigerator or the garden- no shopping involved. Think of it as a vegetarian kind of "Chicken Soup for the Soul".
One day it might have green bananas, plantains, tomatoes and garlic. On another, it could have corn, green beans, oregano and a bit of pasta added to it. It depends on what is in the refrigerator and what's in season. (I recommend that you choose either pasta or rice, but never select both.)

Readers, you know that I veer from a strict recipe whenever I can get away with it, but here serious diversions are cultivated. Consequently, I suggest you follow these intuitive directions with care. I cautiously warn you that only the brave go into the Land of Insight Cooking where great experimentation may equal great failure or success! (I watched the extended movie version of JRR Tolkien's, The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings this week- hence the fantasy language and drama.)

Healthy Soup Recipe

Saute a cup of chopped onions in olive oil until transparent and fragrant. Add some smashed garlic and continue cooking until soft- about another minute. Add 6 cups vegetable broth (or water). Chop the starchy and/or large vegetables- any roots or green bananas-to about the same size (1 inch), and add them to the pot. After about 20 minutes, add softer vegetables-corn, green beans, tomatoes (tomato paste is fine). Season with homegrown herbs if you have any. I like basil, oregano and racao (see photo), which is a flat leafed cilantro. Cook for about 30 more minutes. If you want to add a cup of pasta or even rice, you should estimate the time it takes to cook. (Make sure you don't overcook the pasta.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

In my recent batch, I added cubed homegrown calabasa (photo), which is a green encased but orange fleshed squash pumpkin. It's plentiful here in Puerto Rico and is easy to grow. (It can also be the base of a wonderful squash soup.) I also had some white chayote, Christophine, left over from my trip to the local Farmer's Market in Santurce so I added that, too. (photo)
Looking at this as a creative cooking adventure, I thought about what everyone needed and added/subtracted ingredients based on what you might call, insight. Caution: This type of cooking drives onlookers mad as it looks so imprecise. You may change you mind about ingredients and combination at any time, but I think it's a great way to move into the creative feel of cooking.

~~Child: What are you cooking?

~~Mom: You know I don't like to be asked th
at question!

A Note on Composition
: Think of your cooking as an evolving process so that it becomes a bit like creating a painting. You have an opportunity to combine into your cooking all of your food-life-experience, and you get to share it. I like to bring in cooking colors from the north and south- from my childhood and my adulthood. Though impressionistic, this insight method of cooking requires that you consider who you are cooking for. For me, this means I have to consider that my dear ones do not like heat-spice even if it's homegrown! (I make a hot pepper oil that I keep in the refrigerator exclusively for my use.) I have to forgo the selfish desire to warm the soup up with ever so few drops of hot oil.

Enchant your family with "Healthy Soup"created especially by you!

Thank you for spending time with me in my Puerto Rican life. I hope your garden's harvest is plentiful and that you share your version of "healthy soup" with me!

Untangling Memories' Vine

My Healthy Soup this week surprised and delighted me. While cooking, I remembered the first time I came to Puerto Rico and was served guanimes; which is a boiled corn meal dough that is wrapped in a banana leaf, by my husband's great aunt who lived with her husband in a small house in the Botanical Gardens. What a novelty. My mom was traveling with us and we broke off from the group to go for a walk "in the jungle". We were impressed! The misty heat, piercing unfamiliar sounds and green lush foliage was both relaxing and frightening.
I never before attempted to make guanimes perhaps because the food seemed so wrapped up in the past. Nonetheless, they were a success and I'm glad I let that memory feeling visit me in the kitchen.
Miss A loved them! If you want to make these "corn dumplings", you would need corn flour, a bit of salt, oil and water, and banana leaf for wrapping. (I did not follow the directions on the posted link but maybe you'd prefer to look at it? I think it's a better starting place for the recipe.)

I wish you well!

Pattee asked a question about how to make "the dumplings" so I'm re-posting my answer here:

I have a "cheat" that I tried today
. Buy corn pancake mix, rather than cornmeal! If you add oil, a little baking powder and baking soda, and water to mix to the consistency of a soft dough, it is perfect. If you prefer 'hard' dumplings just omit the powder/soda. I also added a dash of salt. Do you have banana leaves? I wondered if maybe grape leaves would work if you used different spices, such as dill and garlic in the broth. If you have corn husks, you can wrap them in that and make something like a Mexican tamale. They taste best boiled in seasoned broth. If you prefer a sweet taste add a sweetener and raisins/apples maybe. Of course, that's becoming more similar to a tamale so you would highlight corn and season with cinnamon and/or nutmeg. (The soup broth ingredients would have to change if you made the dumplings sweet.)

A voyage into the past with Melanie-who by the way continues to produce a record annually, is married to a talented guitarist and musician, and has three musically inclined children.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trust No One?

Oasis Reflection: On Trust During Troubled Times

David: Why do people do such terrible things?
Sophie: Like what?
David: Like beat people, and kill them, and make them prisoners.
Sophie: Most people don’t do that, David.
David: My friend Johannes always used to tell me, "Trust no one."
Sophie: Oh, life wouldn’t be worth living if you did that, David. You can be cautious, but you have to let people in.
David: How do you know if they’re bad or not?
Sophie: David, most people are good. They have families and friends, and they just want to live their lives as happily as they can. Oh there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness.

Do you ever wonder how you can trust again after a difficult experience? I admit that I struggle with this one. Sometimes I think I'm a bit like the 12 year old David in the quote above. He was taken by himself to a Bulgarian concentration camp when he was young because of his family's political beliefs. Growing up away from his family in a lackluster environment surrounded by guards who are quick to administer punishment changes the way he interacts with people. He forgets how to smile. When unexpectedly he is given a chance to escape, he sets off on a journey across Europe to Denmark carrying important secret papers which later turn out to be his personal identification and the information needed to reunite him with his mother.
The story is compelling, but it is his interaction with Sophie, the Swiss woman who helps him to get in touch with his mother that is the most moving. She is played by Joan Plowright, a favorite English actress who plays a similar role, Mary who takes care of Luca Innocenti, in Tea with Mussolini. Both Sophie and Mary are exactly the kind of people I admire. In both of these roles, we meet creative, self-sufficient yet engaged with others woman; these women are not afraid to reach out when help is needed. Admittedly, I like Joan Plowright best in Enchanted April, where she plays Mrs. Fisher, a woman whose feelings have contracted so much that she has lost the ability to feel compassion for others, but then her time in Italy thaws the her heart and she realizes the importance of yielding to creative impulses and allowing connection with others. (photos from Facebook fan page)

Why am I pulled toward this type of character? I think I have to continually learn the trust lesson. I imagine myself sitting down and discussing life over a cup of Earl Grey tea with a wise woman like Sophie. If I let my imagination go further, I can envision that I might be a woman like Sophie in the future...and maybe a little now. However, at the moment, I'm feeling more like David-cut off and fighting with my own emotional demons- I'm particularly battling with trust issues.

Perhaps you know that my own mother was murdered by a neighbor. (I have told the story before-just click the link.) I don't know if you realize how perplexing it is to that young person who resides in me -ever an innocenti- who cannot comprehend how someone familiar and well-known-a lifelong neighbor- could do something so drastically cruel.

You read about people- this past weekend in Puerto Rico, for example- who kill their own spouse or family, and then turn the gun back on themselves. It seems like such a foreign experience. You never think you will have to confront that type of situation with anyone you personally know.
I have never been able to connect the act of murder with the known person who was my neighbor.
Factually, I know he did it. I've looked at him in photographs and in court but it never made sense to me. I think about his behavior more as a symptom of society's sickness and lack of tolerance for others differences. I have to make myself remember that it was his hand that pulled the trigger. It was Jim Brooks who killed my mother and her partner, Christine.
No, even after writing that statement, it still feels remote.
While viewing I am David, I allow myself to feel upset. After the movie, I watch an episode of Friends and found it extremely amusing. I laughed out loud. I felt freer somehow and more open to all emotions. I know it is important to feel. I also know that trying not to feel leads to depression. Did you know that when you have trouble, it often acts like a trigger for a cluster of repressed feelings, and there are some things that you just don't want to remember. Noticing myself going through this emotional roller coaster made me realize that I need to remember to feel and allow myself to trust people again.
Sophie is right, "...there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness." I'll take that wise-woman's advice!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Day in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Blogland Lane Re-post-View from my Puerto Rican Oasis
Hi neighbors! Will you please excuse the resident of number 70 who has been out of town for a while? I want to share with you some of my everyday summer views of Puerto Rico. Many people think of Puerto Rico in a traditional somewhat nostalgic way, similar to this Sugar Cane painting that hangs on the walls of a local Old San Juan restaurant, Manolin Cafe but the reality is quite different.
Last week, I went to Old San Juan with Mr. Oasis where he is teaching for the summer and so much is happening at the Esquella Artes Plastica (Art School). The students have joined in with the University of Puerto Rico students to protest the government wide-budget cuts, and they are camped out on the lawn of El Morro. (Click here if you want to read an Oasis post about El Viejo San Juan.) What a lovely place to camp-even if it is illegal! I met my bff, Ms. D, for lunch at Manolin Cafe- a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant that locals frequent. I enjoyed the mofongo and Yaucono cafe served with hot milk. If you haven't tried Puerto Rican coffee, it's time to be adventurous. In my opinion, it is the best coffee in the world. Confession: When I visit state-side relatives, I find the unopened Christmas present coffee still in storage. Why is that? (My Michigan cousin, Tammy, says it's strong and they prefer coffee-tea! Her coffee drinking quirk is to mix instant chocolate into a cup of weak morning coffee, which apparently gives her more wake-up power.)
My friend, Ms. D, knows where to go and how to spend money wisely. She suggested lunch at the Manolin Cafe because it has the best local food at the most economical prices. However, the value is not a secret! We had to wait at the door for a few minutes to be seated. And of course we ran into a friend because Puerto Rico is small, and you run into friends everywhere. Deeply immersed in conversation with our former co-worker and now world traveling friend, Mr. G, we completely forgot to compete for our place in line. After noticing we were still not seated, I took the initiative to be the rude one and excused us from an extended talk about the political situation and policy at the University of Puerto Rico. Finally, we were seated and it was well worth the wait. The photo is a half serving of mofongo, served with white rice and a mixed salad. I recommend that you do not order the rice with mofongo. It's too heavy. What was my waiter thinking? I find that being a vegetarian in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Often perfectly nice servers will give me starch with starch served with a side of starch. My growing middle may be blamed on such eating experiences as these!
Aside: Friends you have to try making mofongo. It's not too difficult as long as you have access to green plantains. Yes, you have to peel them with a knife, but it's worth it to try. Yes, they have to be sliced in one inch pieces, fried in oil until both sides are golden, and then briefly cooked again-but here is where you change your tostones to mofongo.
Place the fried plantain in a container and smash them with lightly roasted garlic until they are broken down into a nicely textured rounded pile. Flip unto a plate and serve with a little salad and Spanish olive oil. Delicious! (Click here if you want to try a more traditional recipe that includes meat.)
What I do differently in this recipe: I allow the plantains to get crisp so that when they are mashed, they continue to have texture. Also, I drop the garlic cloves in oil until they are a bit crunchy as well. Both of these changes make even the meat-eating Mr. enjoy the days when I serve his traditional food vegetarian style.
~~~~~~~~~~~ These Spanish looking baked clay tiles are on the floor of the Art School. Above them, an old picnic table on one side, and just behind the table, a scrap pile of boards and disgarded art projects. In spite of their neglect, I find the tile pattern beautifully arranged and pleasing to the eye. Doesn't it give you a feeling of another time? The art school is losing funding-drastically-and the students continue to work on their projects even though it feels as if the roof is caving in. It's a highly competive art school that produces students who can create in both the classical style art and more modern media, such as computer graphics. What a shame that art is the first to go when money is scarce.
Blogland Neighbors, thank you for sharing a cup of cafe con leche and some traditional Puerto Rican food with me. If you want to borrow a cup of sugar, please stop by whenever you are near Blogland Lane # 70 -or if you prefer azucar mascabada o negra (cane or brown), come over to Oasis !

Reposted from Blogland Lane

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Animal Farm- Finca de los animales

Oasis Animals: Michelle's Eyes

Michelle, ma belle, sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble-
tres bien ensemble...
(The Beatles/Paul McCartney)

What is so compelling about our animal friends? I love Ma Belle, Michelle's, face. I love to press my forehead against hers and send her all my love. Contact with Michelle gives me such a feeling of profound well being. I know this is not unusual. Many people have a special connection with an animal friend.
I also feel great warmth (and sometimes anger) toward Miss Junie. She claims all flat surfaces with a sense of authority that defies all boundaries.
Lately, we have been having a territory battle over the large table that I use as a desk. She determinedly knocks over my pile of research books and brushes her paw across the carefully stacked and ordered mail while she makes herself quite comfortable as owner of the table. But what can I do? She's the queen of the house, and is likely to punish anyone who attempts to constrain her. (These punishments are unspeakably naughty! If you have a territorial cat, you completely understand. If not, it's best not to go into it.
Recently, she has allowed me to pick her up and hold her in a close hug. Her tolerance of my affection has made me so much more permissive about her eccentricities.
This lovely yogi cat (Lionheart, Temple Cat) is from the Seven Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona (photo credit and to read the latest newsletter click here.)
A love song to our animal friends...

Only You by Ringo Starr's quirky video expresses this sentiment! (Click to watch the video!)
Only you, can make this world seem bright.
Only you, can make the darkness bright.
Only you and you alone can thrill me like you do
and fill my heart with love for only you
Only you can make this change in me.
For it's true, you are my destiny.
When you hold my hand, I understand the magic that you do.
You're my dream come true.
My one my one and only you.

Introducing Benicio del Toro (AKA Beni' and 'Nicio)!
He is the classic dog. Completely loyal. Completely protective. He is our oldest stray. One day, his mother, Ms. Nellie, arrived at our gate and just waited. She waited until the night. She waited until the next morning. She found her way into the fenced in back area and settled in. We fed her and then it was all over. Little Ms. Nellie was pregnant. The following day, she had our little bull- headed, Beni!

A few words of love by the renowned (and occasionally sardonic) poet, Billy Collins:

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

"Dharma" by Billy Collins, from Sailing Alone Around the Room. Random House, 2002.

And if that is not enough, here is a story that you can read to your little ones:

I’m a Big Boy
It was time for bed, but Joey was afraid of the dark.
“Go to bed Joey”, his mom said.
The room was dark. A big shadow moved on the wall.
“Mom” Joey yelled, “Mom!”
“What is it son?”
“There’s a big shadow on the wall!”
“A shadow,?” His mom asked “It’s from the big tree outside your window!”
Joey wanted to be brave but when his mom left, the shadow grew!
Joey could not fall asleep and only by holding his stuffed animal, Buster Brown, could he quiet his fear.
The next morning Joey went to the park with his mom. He had dark shadows underneath his eyes. He was cranky.
He met his friend Suzy.” Hey Joey, do you want to play ball?” Joey didn’t answer.
You look sad. She asked him, “What’s wrong, Joey?”
Joey said, “I’m sad”.
“Why are you sad?” asked Suzy.
“It’s a secret. I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell.”
Joey told Suzy everything, even the part about the shadow and how his stuffed animal, Buster Brown helped him fall asleep.
“I think I know how to help you, but it’s a surprise. I’ll come over this afternoon.”
Later, Suzy talked to her mother and then, they came over to Joey’s house with a gift.
When Joey and his mom opened the door, they saw that it was a soft fluffy puppy!
“Oh mom, can I keep him? And can he sleep in my room?” Joey asked.
She smiled, “Yes dear, but only if you are a big boy.”
Joy said to his new brown puppy, “I am a big boy, Buster Brown!”And everyone laughed.
Joey knew he was a big boy because he took care of a real puppy and big boys are not afraid of the dark!
Here's wishing you all the puppy love you want!