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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Puerto Rican Christmas Food: Pasteles

Christmas in Puerto Rico: Plantains!

I'm not sure if the bananas in this truck are plantains but they look about the right size. Plantains are called platanos in Spanish but when I lived in San Diego, California, I often saw them on the shelves at the now defunct Alpha Beta grocery store under the name of "macho bananas". ( I wonder what that referred too?)

During the holiday season in Puerto Rico, which starts just before Thanksgiving Day, these large green bananas are in high demand principally because the favorite holiday dish features a mashed banana paste (masa). I usually order mine from Dona Christina because she makes them without meat upon request. If I ever motivate myself enough, I will adapt a version of the following recipe(please follow the link for exact directions).

Puerto Rican savory cakes in banana leaves:
"Pasteles are Puerto Rican special occasion food. The whole family usually gets together assembly-line-style to make large numbers of these starchy parcels and get them ready for the boiling pot. No Boricuan Christmas is complete without pasteles."
If you prefer, you can watch this YouTube video on how to make pasteles. It shows an adapted recipe that is made by a Puerto Rican woman in the United States.  
Feliz Navidad to all!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Animal Farm Revisited

Many Changes Both Great and Small

Dear Readers, Since this post appeared we have undergone many changes. Our dear Michelle (in the photograph) has died of a liver ailment. We moved to the animated and transformative beach. Benicio del Toro, the perky black dog and Miss Junie are living with us in our beach side apartment. We found a small farm for a few of our adopted dogs, several were placed and the less fortunate were taken to a shelter. It was a painful time. I send you all a most lovely wish for both joy and compassion in your lives. Sincerely, Ms. Oasis (Cynthia)

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 BoyIt 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!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Oasis Feature (re-post): A Series of Local Views #1

Good morning, friends. Have you ever looked again, with appreciation, at the place you live? Recently, we met with some visitors from California and while we talked, I started to remember the early impressions I had of Puerto Rico, la isla enchanto-the island of enchantment. Won't you be a tourists with me as we take a look around this beautiful island? To start, we are taking a little tour of the beautiful Old City, El Viejo San Juan.

Please sit down and join me with a cafe con leche at El Convento Hotel before we get started on our little walk. Sipping locally grown strong coffee accompanied by hot steamed milk is a must for the beginning of an active day.

El Convento Hotel
is one of the oldest hotels in the city and used to be a convent. It is graced with lovely arches, thick cool walls, and remarkable works of art informally placed around. If you ask at the front desk, the bar, or the waiter about the pieces, it is likely you will get this response from the young attractive bilingual employees, "No, I don't know. I should because we get a lot of questions about it from our guests. But I don't really know much about it." After living here for fourteen years, I have a theory about these answers. Puerto Rico is an accessible unpretentious place where art and artistic talent are considered ordinary. Why make a big deal about these mystery musical monks? (Who is the painter???)


Creative expression is more of a lifestyle here rather than a career path. Of course, I love Puerto Rican people and like bloggers, they all are excessively talented.

Let's go up one level to the Cana restaurant and bar to look at this impressive sculpture created by Botero, a work that is just casually observed as you sip your pina colada on the outdoor patio. The name Cana, has a special significance to me because when moved to Puerto Rico fourteen years ago, we lived in Cana, a community outside of Bayamon. Also, if you have read Jan Karon's Mitford series of books, you probably have come across the the title, Out to Canaan? And have you heard "Camidano haica Cana" (accent on the letter a or else it means white hair)? It's a lively church song here, "Walking Towards Cana", which suggests a pilgrimage to the promised land-maybe a Puerto Rican paradise? This piece was sculpted by the Columbian artist, Fernando Botero Angulo (born April 19, 1932 in Medellín, Antioquia) He is a well known Colombian figurative artist whose work is often on exhibit in the Museo del Arte in Ponce as well as other places around San Juan.

This early piece reflects a gracefully slim young woman but his more popular work focuses on the large curves of voluptuous women-here is Botero's drawing/
The Love Letter (2003).

I cannot resist posting another one, Rosalba (1969):
Actually, the people at El Convento Hotel know who Botero is ...

This antique filled hotel also has some beautiful botanical prints and here is one of the Ceiba tree flower by Agustine Stahl ...

Interestingly, he had a leading role in the Independence movement in Puerto Rico. He was remarkably talented in the natural sciences and made important contributions in the fields of archaeology, botany, ethnology, medicine and zoology. Dr. Agustín Stahl (1842-1917) is one of the first celebrated and acknowledge Puerto Rican scientists.
I'm glad I did this bit of research. The next time I go to the El Convento Hotel, I will pay my respects to the series of three accurately rendered botanical watercolors on the external wall leading up to the Cana Resturant and bar...

Let us step out into the antique cobalt blue cobble stone street.

Oh, what a lovely park just out the door! I just want to sit there and do some light summer reading... maybe one from the Mitford series?Or maybe I could draw this tree? I love the iron work detail, too.
When we walk out the front door and look down beautiful purple flowers grace the entrance.
Such a sunny day for a walk in El Viejo San Juan.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fear or love?

Choose love or fear..."There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life." ~ John Lennon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oasis Feature: Re-post Self-disclosure and Honesty

How do you react when someone "over" shares?

Though I no longer live in the country, I think this post invites relevant introspection about our sharing boundaries.
Yes, it's true, I have lots of it! Seriously...at least three bags in the bedroom. See, it's been raining on the weekends and I wash all of my dirty clothes outside in the sun. Why? Yes, I have had modern conveniences but whenever they break, I take a break from the 21st century. Washing clothes outside reminds me of women washing by the river; I feel connected to the past and linked to an unbroken chain of peasant womanhood. Of course, women still wash clothes outside by a water source in many countries. (And, yes, it seems to be gender specific.) I look at this washing as my karma yoga, for all of you (sparse!) yogi bloggers out there. I kind of imagine myself out in another country, say India, next to the spiritually renown and polluted Ganges or in Peru, next to the Parana infested mystical water of the Amazon. Or on a Caribbean island, Antigua say, where author Jamaica Kincaid describes her childhood as she was growing up in the 1950's and I see her mother's pile of bleaching stones. I also see myself: There I am washing, and lifting the wet clothes. I swat them at the stones, breaking the clinging mud from its hold on the once lovely soft fabric. Rinse in the cool flowing water. I carefully spread the white clothes on the pile of bleaching rocks and allow the sun to bear down into the fabric until it is white again. If you do feel inspired to wash clothes outside and do your bit to save the planet, you should keep the weather report close at hand! Still, I'm not talking about that kind of dirty laundry.

I'm talking about the kind of secrets that people are not suppose to say unless there is a significant degree of real intimacy in the relationship. I was trying to come up with a list of socially taboo subjects...

  • physical and mental disabilities

  • same-sex gender preferences

  • terminated pregnancies

  • a murder in the family

  • financial problems

  • unmarried parents

  • bodily functions

  • criminal record
I know these are not all of the potentially "forbidden" subjects, but I think the above list is enough. Notice when someone begins to reveal something personal from the above list there can be a kind of moral physical retraction and the accompanying emotional feeling, 'Oh no, over-share! Make-it-stop. We want to know secrets and we don't want to know secrets. Why else would we avidly read about celebrities infidelities, and other domestic and personal indiscretions? Why would office gossip be so popular? Maybe we just don't want direct contact with those who tell their own secrets? What makes something wrong to share? How did we make these rules?


I've been thinking about this disclosure issue because some of you know that my mother was murdered. Whenever, I share this fact, it's a risk. Some people just want to run from this sort of bare fact. I've noticed the same concern addressed in other confessional modes. Consider, the Twelve-step Program which is designed to help people confront the desire to deny and soften the truth by beginning every testimonial with, "Hello, I'm (insert name here) and I'm an (insert condition here)." Why would people judge you when you tell them the biographical detail of your life? I've read many autobiographies and several of the classics which are titled, Confessions. (Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy and St. Augustine.) I've noticed that what was private has changed over time.(The three "Confessions are from the more recent past and go back to the 1600's) Also, I have worked for a number of years in counselor type positions (military, prison, and college). From these various experiences, I can assure you of what you must already know, people are not really so different. Everyone has secrets. My own dear grandmother would not talk about her missing father. I don't know if he was really 'killed in the war.' Were her parents really married? Did she feel shame? I would like to know. I'm sure you also have some family secrets you would like to know. Many of our questions remain unanswered, either they are buried in silence or buried underground. We just have to accept the fact that we will never know. It's a secret.
We assert or reveal who we are or what our values are through 
personal sharing.
In our time, I think we should pave the way of connecting by honestly (and without pressure)sharing our own life experience. And if someone shares with us through our everyday interaction or through the blogosphere, I think we should say (or at least think) in a nod to the sixties:
Let it all hang out!
Right on, baby!

You tell it like it is!

We should let those brave people who risk self-disclosure know that what they have shared has been honorably received. We should embrace them in an accepting atmosphere. I say this because recently, I've read some confessions in blogland and the commenter(s) seem to be frightened away. Sigh. I wonder why? I think our lack of response is interpreted as society's voice echoing the familiar warning:
Don't go airing your dirty laundry out in public.
Here's a quirky little video, I thought you might enjoy. Also, it makes me think of my mom's positive vision. I see her on her motorcycle. (Like other trail blazing women of her day, she was a proud trophy carrying member of the Motor Maids, Inc.) This is for you, "Mama Sue."

More about my clean laundry:

If you would like to know more about my mother's story, click on the highlighted links. Also, there is a documentary film that is being made by Brian Alexander about the life and death of my mother and her partner, Christine, just click here.

 photo credit

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Congratulations to Marianne K. Martin who is the author of The Indelible Heart for winning the International Book Award! 

I appreciated it when Marianne invited me to write the forward for this book and also how she included me in her celebration of winning this award by sending a Facebook message that said: "We did it!"  I celebrate her warmth, intellect and story-telling ability.

Thank you Marianne for continuing to keep the memory of my mothers alive. 

Let us all join together to end homophobia and hate crime.

On May 5, 1992 my mother Susan Pittmann and her lesbian partner Christine Puckett were murdered by their neighbor James Brooks. Newspapers in Detroit and Huron Township, Michigan reported that the double homicide was the culmination of an ongoing battle over property lines. My mother was fifty-five, healthy and vibrant with positive ideas about the future. Christine was thirty-nine, energetic and busy raising her teenage son. Brooks was slow to reflect and quick to anger. He became enraged when he saw my mother and Christine publicly expressing affection. By erecting a privacy fence between these two rural properties, Mom and Christine intended to bring a peaceful resolution to Brooks’ complaints. However, it became clear that he was enraged about their gay relationship, and that not seeing them together was not enough. He vigorously complained to neighbors where he found support for his rage, and he formulated his murder plan.

From police reports, it’s clear that he shot Christine first from the side door of his house and then as he walked over to view her body that was face down in the grass, he lifted his gun and shot her in the back. I imagine just before he pulled the trigger, he thought the words he told the police later, “It had to be done”. My mother was on the kitchen phone with the emergency operator reporting that Brooks had threatened their lives when Christine was first shot. She immediately dropped the telephone, ran outside and stood in front of Brooks, weaponless. I imagine she asked him why he did it, and in answer, he shot her just below the heart. Brooks’ determined discriminatory attitude has troubled me ever since. How did he become so certain about his decision to murder my mother and Christine? After the deaths, I watched in astonishment as the actual motivation for the crime was determined to be a property dispute instead of a hate crime. Newspapers reported exaggerated stories casting my mother and Christine in a harsh light, which apparently had nothing to do with their sexual preference.

I was shocked to see my mother, a dynamic loving people-person characterized as a temperamental abuser of animals while Brooks was portrayed as an elderly man who was pushed to the limits of tolerance by his unreasonable neighbors. Neighbors reported that he was upset about my mother’s Pit-bull trespassing onto his property. No one explained that my mother’s dog, Ms. Pitt, was an elderly overweight, exhausted and non-territorial dog that was given a daily dose of thyroid medication just to stay alert. No mention was made of her activism within the gay community, and that she and Christine were founding members of the Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Downriver-Detroit. No mention was made that she was a loving mother of five children and devoted grandmother to eight. No mention was made about how much we would continue to miss her for the rest of our lives.

After reading these news reports, I quickly understood that Brooks had not acted alone. In fact, it was a narrow-minded society that provided ammunition for this crime. It was only the gay community that stood strong and honestly told the truth about these murders. They loudly proclaimed that this double homicide was not a neighborhood feud but a hate crime. As a continued tribute to the gay community, I am honored at Marianne K. Martin’s request to write the forward of her latest novel, The Indelible Heart. This novel extends some of the plot threads related to my mother and Christine that appeared in Martin’s first novel Love in Balance and succeeds in giving a personal face to the events surrounding the murders. Though it is a work of fiction, the narrative highlights how in fact, the gay community rallied together to fight homophobia and violence in response to this shocking crime. I encourage people to read this profoundly moving novel and realize that it is our duty as members of society to stand together and continue a united struggle against intolerance and violence.

Visit the Pittmann-Puckett Documentary

Monday, May 14, 2012

What about Bob Marley?

Do you ever wonder about Bob Marley' fame and why it's lasted so long? Living in the Caribbean, I sometimes sit outside  Pizza Cono and listen to some great old Marley tunes like "One Love" and consider why this music continues to resonate with so many people in Puerto Rico and around the world. When my family lived in California our son Alex made a little CD with a cartoon face of Bob Marley drawn on the cover. It was a carefully constructed five year old's effort complete with an aluminum silver case and a wild reggae lion-man drawn on the front. I share that story because I think it shows how important Marley was to my young family. Certainly, I appreciated Marley's non-materialistic giving and compassionate nature as well as his talent. In Puerto Rico, I think he represents independence and an attitude of embracing all that life offers. Here's a recent article about his family and his current family legacy.

While 1 love.org is a charitable organisation devoted to spreading peace, love and good deeds, the family also runs the Bob Marley Foundation, assisting with the empowerment of the oppressed in regions such as Africa. They own the reggae label Fifty-Six Hope Road, while Tuff Gong Worldwide is a label formed by Ziggy, who named it after his father's original label with the Wailers. Rohan explains that his eldest sister Cedella makes all the business decisions together with Ziggy.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Confidence or Self-importance

Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it - what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellowmen. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.

Carlos Castaneda Anthropologist and Writer
University of California

Do you remember in the movie, "La Bamba" when Ritchie's mother, Connie Valenzuela gets offended because the band does not allow her son to play solo at an evening garage performance? Ricki jumps in the car where his whole family is waiting and she asks, "What did they mean ...not letting you play, Ritchie?" He says, "Don't worry, I'll get them to listen." Connie is angry, though, and she says, "My Grandfather was a full blooded Yaqui Indian..."
I aways smile when I think of that pride. What is it? Mother's pride? Family pride? Some part of me knows that it does not really matter how you came into this world and which group of people you belong to...but another part can relate to that indignant mother! Respect! It's like Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

(Photo Yaqui People C1910 Mexico)

I'm thinking about confidence and balancing our needs with the needs of others....of knowing that you can make a difference in your own life and in the lives of others....of putting yourself out in the world. I think many of us are born with a introverted character, we have to learn to express our needs. Others are born with an extroverted tendency and may overlook the needs of others. Neither is necessarily better because we have to learn balance, either way. I know some people who keep giving until they harm themselves...and others who tightly hold on to what they have -but the universe or chance creates hardship and loss anyway. Perhaps, teaching generosity to some children is difficult in some way but so is teaching children to stand up for themselves and be noticed.
Many years ago, when my daughter was singing at a small theatre for a school function, I watched her get pushed away from the microphone by a more aggressive singing partner. (I have it on film so it's clear in my memory.) The other girl's parents had the shame of their daughter's public behavior to deal with but the girl who pushed was the one who was heard the most. I kept thinking that my daughter should have moved back toward the microphone and tried to sing again instead of staying in the background. I always wonder what is the right guidance to give in those situations. I didn't want my daughter to grow up into an aggressive personality but I did want her to know how to stand up for herself. She's turned out fine but I still wonder how to handle pushy people in the world.

As a shy child, I had to learn how to stand up for myself. My mother frequently commented about my own sensitive ways. She used to say, "I worry about you. You need to toughen up!" I think I must have gotten much bolder in my teen years but I remember feeling the need of support before I could try something new. I waited for friends to say, "Hey, you can do it!" I think you miss a lot of opportunities when you need to wait for someone else to discover your talents and encourage you to move ahead. Sometimes even people you love just don't want you to excel too much . Why is that? I'm naive a bit- when someone tells me it's control and jealousy, I don't want to believe it. Usually, I just look away and try not to notice. I think maybe my daughter does that too. It's a strategy. I don't know if it's the best one.
What do you think about confidence and self-importance? Sometimes when it comes to my children, I'm like Ritchie's mother, Connie Valenzuela. Do you remember when she was imagining for her son and she looked up into the sky while visualizing, "Ricky Vallenzuela and his Flying Guitar?" She's dreaming big for her child...her cause...

(A version of this blog post can be found in Oasis Writing Link archives.)