Friday, December 27, 2013

Seven Ideas for Overcoming Writer's Block

 Do You Need Some Ideas for Overcoming Writer's Block?

Recently, I confronted the dreaded writing problem above. I was involved in a writing research project about autobiography that lasted nearly five years. During that time, I learned many things about myself as a writer and how to deal with my own resistance. What follows is a partial list of ideas to try when you are suffering from any kind of resistance that becomes a roadblock between you and your own writer's journey.

l. Don't give up, just give in. Sometimes you need to go ahead and leave the page for a while. Go for a walk. Get a snack. Sharpen pencils. Wash the dishes. Just remember to come back and try again.
2. Start writing - anything. Write in a journal anything that comes to mind. Write a list. When some ideas start coming for your writing project, simply shift to the writing about the project.
3. It's no big deal. Accept that everyone who writes gets stuck. You are not inadequate or abnormal.
4. Trick yourself. Say to yourself, "I will just write a few ideas here, maybe one page and then I'll stop." Often times, you start to feel like working once you get over the resistance (and it's all about resistance.
5. Read about your subject. Caution: Remember that your point is to get ideas or get inspired so put the reading material away or go back to your writing screen after you cull some worthy bits of info or inspiration.
6. Bribe yourself. Seriously! Promise yourself that you will give yourself whatever you yearn for (a hot bath, a delious dinner, a funny movie, etc.) and then do it. If you don't give yourself the treat, you will not believe yourself the next time!
7. Cure boredom. Play music that helps you write. Go someplace unfamiliar to write (Starbucks?). Write on the run (while in transit).

Okay, this is just a preliminary list...feel free to make your own.

More here:

Vision for writers: Writer's Tips

Monday, December 23, 2013

Puerto Rican Celebrations: Travel and Food

Oasis feature: A Series of Local Views #2

Oasis meets El Morro as we continue being a tourist for the day in our own back yard...

Good morning and welcome to sunny El Morro. Did you know that Puerto Rico was under the Spanish flag for about 500 years until the United States came 100 years ago? Knowing that bit of information goes a long way in explaining the culture and attitudes of this beautiful island. El Morro was constructed on the protruding parts of the land surrounding the city to protect the island from invaders approaching by the sea, which explains why there is a wall going around much of the Old City (El Viejo San Juan).

There is an El Morro in nearby Cuba, too, and it is made in the same style and material.
El Morro in San Juan is actually called Fort San Felipe del Morro but not by anyone on the street. I have a little confession to make; this photo was taken a bit down the road from El Morro at another fort, Fort San Cristobal, though most tourist call all of these structures El Morro. I like this one because you can walk right into one of the garrettes and take a look at the framed sea.

Come inside with me and let's take a look

There is a mysterious story about one of these sentry boxes in San Cristobal, La Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Garrette). I must caution you: a legend circulates that says those who dare visit this most extremely situated and the first constructed lookout (1634) might mysteriously disappear. Though word on the street is that the only real disappearance was of a couple who escaped disapproval by way of the sea and left unimpeded to elope. (Oh, how dangerous and romantic!)

I'm feeling a bit hungry for lunch. Why don't we walk down the road and look for something to eat?

Or maybe, first, we could cool off with a piragua? These traditional iced syrups are quite refreshing. Look at the selection on the glass- Spanish and English are respectfully placed side by side. Agua Fria/Cold Water! I think I will have an anise flavored icy piragua.

Do you see the large solid block of ice inside the glass cart? The man is shaving it with a special tool, which he then scoops up the ice into a cone and pours flavored syrup all over the top.

I caution you to avoid the ajonjoli (sesame seed) except in your locally made candy.

If you're like me, you might find the grainy texture disturbing in your syrup. Of course, there are a lot of healthy and calming B vitamins in sesame seeds so it's your decision, entirely. The coco (coconut) flavored syrup is quite popular with the local residents.

For lunch, I would like to have a traditional pastelles with rice and beans. Pastelles are made from plantain and sometimes yucca root ground into a paste and filled with a spicy (but not hot) meat mixture. They are wrapped in banana leaf, tied with string and boiled for about an hour. It's a tasty meal all by itself but presents a problem for a real vegetarian. (Don't say it!) However, I have found several people who are willing to sell me a dozen garbanzo filled (chick peas), vegetable filled or sometimes soy filled pastilles. However, to be honest, I usually have to provide the textured vegetable protein meat substitute. (Okay, I will say it for you, I'm just a little bit weird.)

Making pastilles is a grassroots (and underground) business that thrives during the holiday season, yet those in the know can obtain them anytime of the year. Getting the best possible pastilles is all about maintaining your local connections.

What meal would be complete without a side of crunchy salty tostones? Tostones are large unripe plantain bananas, sliced thickly and fried of both sides until golden. They are served with salt, ketchup, and/or a bit of garlic.

Yum! Warning: these must be eaten fresh or not at all because they can get quite hard and dry. Tourist who eat dried out tostones are often perplexed and disappointed-what is all the fuss about?

[ Make your own! If you make these at home, cut thick slices diagonally, fry in oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, flatten -I use the bottom of a plate- on a board, and firmly press down. Return the plantain disks to the hot oil. Lightly cook on each side again, remove and place on an absorbent towel. Cook just one large green plantain banana at a time, and serve immediately.

Note: If your plantain's are turning yellow, they do not make tasty tostones. Let them ripen, slice, and gently fry them - once on each side- in hot oil. These are called amarillos. Also, when looking for plantains in the States, go to Chinese grocery stores and/or look for "macho bananas" -a most curious name!]

For lunch or dinner, I can recommend an atmospheric restaurant in the Old City, Raices (Roots), which is know for its mofongo -mashed plantain filled with garlic spiced meat. The waitresses wear white traditional costumes with headdress, and serve on authentically folk dressed tables, complete with a wood and tin service. Two recommendations here: arrive before you are hungry and bring your credit card because service can be slow and the food pricey. That's okay-afterall, you are getting a taste of Puerto Rico from the past. Just drink a Pina Colada and enjoy the atmosphere. If you don't want to sit in an air conditioned space, you can eat outside, listen to old time Puerto Rican music and watch street life, which is always entertaining, if somewhat overwhelming.

I should clarify a point here, people still eat these traditional foods. Why just this morning, I had freshly made hot tostones with a sprinkle of sea salt crystals and a tiny bit of ketchup. I don't usually have tostones for breakfast, it's just that plantains are in season now. Yes, they are usually available all year, but locally grown freshly cut plantains are of the highest quality and flavor. So I can eat them for all three meals. (Soon avocados will be available, too! Puerto Rican sliced butter! Yum! ) Back on the subject-I'm just pointing out that those atmospheric costumes and, natural, but rough plate-ware are not commonly used anymore except as festive decoration at cultural activities.

Today, there is a blend of the old and new in food as with all things related to culture. For example, take the traditional El Noche San Juan festival, which is both formally and informally celebrated during the summer solstice, specifically on John the Baptists' birthday. (San Juan/St. John) This night is all things pagan and Catholic combined into a modern synergistic mix. If you can handle crowds and would love to throw yourself backward into the cleansing surf a few times-seven to be exact- come to San Juan on this night of its patron saint, and be blessed by Yemayá, the Ocean Mother or St. John (as you wish) with good fortune. The festivities continue for a week and I have participated three times over the years. Recently, the crowds, drinking and commercialization put me off but if you're up for too much excitement then I can only say, it's your party.

Another blend is in reggaetón music, touted as the real Puerto Rican music of today, I remain reserved. However, this group Calle 13, which means street 13, has an interesting sound when combined with the Puerto Rican favorite, the Panamanian (Harvard educated), Ruben Blades. You can see the barrio (community-er-'hood), La Perla (The Pearl) just below El Morro. As a matter of fact, it's right over the wall and next to the sea. I have been down as far as that atmospheric old graveyard (seen in the video), but probably tourists would not be welcomed inside the barrio.

Warning: these lyrics are not tourists friendly. Yes, it's true, we are said to be in the way. Listen carefully to these Spanish lyrics, which say tourists are blocking the view while they take pictures of the view. If like me, you don't particularly like reggaetón music, you should still take a look at this exceptional video. Ruben, you're worth it!

Just look at that sign: Oasis El Morro
Friends and bloggers, though we are finished with our Oasis at El Morro tour, I hesitate to overload your royal patience with more today. Next stop in our Tourist for the Day Oasis Feature-A Series of Local Views, absolutely must include some spectacular views of Puerto Rican nature. Don't you agree?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

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