Tuesday, May 22, 2018

a problem

Good morning! How about a problem to start off your day, yes?

Since arriving here, finding something for the kids to do has been an honest-to-goodness struggle. The social outings, which they enjoy, are usually limited to the weekend, and during the week, while there are routine chores, shopping sprees, and a bit of work on the jobsite, there’s not much else going on.

A few other factors that intensify the situation:

*There are no other children around. Our (calm and pleasant) neighborhood mostly consists of elderly folk … and a bunch of empty houses, thanks to Maria and the declining economy.
*The heat makes outside play unappealing. Plus, we are surrounded by concrete. Our property boasts no grass, as in, zilch, zero, nada, none.
*Houses are shut up to keep out the heat and, except for early morning and evening, the streets are devoid of pedestrians...which is kind of boring.
*The parks and ball field at the edge of our neighborhood are overgrown and in disrepair. (They’re probably perfectly safe, but they feel a little creepy.)
*They have no way to get around — no bike, no scooter, no skates — and besides, we’re in the city, hemmed in with interstates. Plus, the older two children, licensed drivers both, have had to relinquish their independence (and a good portion of their usefulness) since MDS policy requires drivers to be at least 19 years old.
*We have an extremely limited supply of reading material, art supplies, and games.
*Thanks to the language barrier, the children often don’t understand what’s going on, which adds a layer of tedium to what would otherwise be an engaging social experience.

Because of the nothing-to-do situation, technology has become a real issue. The older two have unlimited access (as they do at home), but here, without their normal involvements of work, friends, chores, and studies, their usage has increased dramatically. Our younger daughter has an ipod that she uses for texting (at home, she doesn’t have internet access so this is an unwelcome, though permissible, breach of our no-tech communication-until-age-16 rule). Both girls have kindles, and all three of the older children use their devices to listen to music.

Quite honestly, I don’t much mind the collective spiral into the technological abiss. I know it’s a temporary situation — once we start the build, the children will be working mostly full-time, and there will be state-side volunteers to host and relate to — and it’s actually nice that the kids aren’t pestering us (and each other).

However, for our younger son this whole situation — the boredom coupled with the zoned-out sibs — has been a tremendous source of frustration. He’s an active, relational kid: he wants things to do and people to do them with and NOW. It drives him absolutely bonkers when the other kids hole up in their rooms. And it doesn’t help matters that so much of our job requires my husband and me to use technology. I’m juggling two computers, and we both now have smartphones, often spending long periods of time learning how to drop pins and deposit checks, staring at Google maps, and painstakingly crafting messages in Spanish. It’s all work (or mostly all work), but to our younger son it looks like play.

I've taken some measures to counteract the pull of technology. We bought gel pens and a basketball. I aggressively encourage the older kids to find actual activities to do with their younger brother. I sometimes collect all devices and remove them from the equation. I'm trying to consolidate my "office" hours. When we’re home in the evening, I read out loud to my younger son before bed.

Still, I find myself constantly racking my brain for things for my younger son to do. He cooks (right now he’s making French toast for breakfast, and my older son is teaching him how to make coffee), assembles furniture, washes dishes, studies Spanish, runs to the colmado for milk, bananas, and bread.

But it's not enough! We need more options, activities he can, when left to his own devices (ha!), easily and happily fall back on. Is there an engrossing game we should order from Amazon? A miracle toy? A new book series or a magazine subscription (that the other children would enjoy as well)? A yet-to-be-discovered project?

So, to summarize, WANTED: enjoyable pastime activities for a high-energy, twelve-year-old boy that:

1. Can be done in isolation and indoors.
2. Don't include books.
3. Cost (almost) nothing.
4. Do not include technology.
5. Require no fancy supplies.

Please, weigh in. The boy needs something to do, and fast.

This same time, years previous: snake charmer, moo, sauteed lambsquarters with lemon, ice cream supper, Shirley's sugar cookies, the basics, my favorite things, chocolate-kissed chili.

Monday, May 21, 2018

the quotidian (5.21.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Snack: freshly-picked, underripe pomegranate.

A supper delivery, from the pastor and his wife: mapen (breadfruit) and fish stew, so good.

From Olga's daughter: the best tres leche cake I have ever eaten. 

Playing hostess: our first real sit-down meal with Puerto Rican company.

Coffee and scones: with the Puerto Rican project engineer.

And with the state-side engineer.

Office work pile-up.


My younger daughter woke up with one of these nasty critters crawling on her head.

A stray cuddle.

Leryann's Mother's Day gift to me: her out-of-home business has quite the reputation.

Me and mine: El Dia de la Madre.

Birthday party brunch for a newly-minted ten-year-old.

Complete with an art class for everyone (such a good idea!).

I ruined our one shot at Polaroid fame.

An ordinary Saturday afternoon.

Touching base, constantly.
(Also, I have an office!) 
(And look at me wearing jeans I'm acclimating!)

From my (!!) instagram (puertoricomurches) post: 
"My front porch feels like we're in the Caribbean. Oh wait  WE ARE."

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.22.17), chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies, campfire cooking, after one year: Costco reflections, the quotidian (5.19.14), the quotidian (5.20.13), the quotidian (5.21.12), baked brown rice, the boring blues.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

rocking the house

On Sunday after church, we went to Chiro and Lery’s for a Mother’s Day celebration. Both sides of their family were expected for the festivities, so I got Leryann, Chiro and Lery's young adult daughter, to helped me craft a family tree so I could keep everyone straight.

The day before Chiro had assembled a turkey, stuffed with plantains and ground sausage and lathered with all sorts of spices — cilantro, achiote, oil, sofrito — and it turned out fall-apart lucious. (He also made the ham steaks for the celebratory luncheon at the church that day: out-of-this-world good, they were. Clearly, the man knows how to cook meat.)

Mid-afternoon, Lery and Chiro's place started filling up. We heaped our paper plates with turkey and potato salad, rice and coleslaw. Someone brought a huge take-out container of fried goodness — chicken, plantains, etc — and there was never-ending punch bowl, sodas, and bags of chocolate. Oh, and my two cakes (chocolate and carrot) and nutella flan and coffee. And chips and dip and and and ... burp.

And then people started hauling instruments out to the terrace — a keyboard, guitars, a drum box, bongos, tambourines. Oh good, I thought. Music! Both Lery and Chiro, gifted musicians and singers, lead the worship at their church, and all three of their children are musical — one of their sons (who we have yet to meet) majored in music in college.

And then the singing started: one large, raucous jam session, really. Someone would start a song and then the rest would join in, clapping, giving the thumbs-up when people landed on the right harmonies, eyes sparkling. I recognized a few songs from the church service, but most were ones I'd never heard before.

But then they launched into “How Great Thou Art” and suddenly I was sobbing. At our family gatherings back home, we often sing together, and here we were, far from home and with people we barely knew, celebrating family in the same unique, intimate way. The song, simultaneously familiar and foreign, pierced me to my core.

Thankfully, I got a hold of myself in time to catch the last bit of the song. Just listen to that ending!
Everyone took turns leading songs. Children played piano pieces and sang solos. Lery, her sibs, and their mother sang an old classic that is often sung at weddings. Even my boys got in on the fun, belting out a couple camp songs.

Every single contribution was met with enthusiastic shouts, earth-shaking applause, and much laughter, and four hours — FOUR HOURS!!! — later they were still going strong.

Eventually, some people decided enough was enough but others wanted to keep going. And for even that there was a song, but of course:
note our younger son dancing in the background

Clearly, we have landed in a musical family. It is glorious.

This same time, years previous: pined, the quotidian (5.16.16), help, 'twas an honor, caramel cake.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


The night after our son arrived, we went downtown for ice cream. The ice cream here is lighter, more like a sorbet, and they serve up all different flavors: banana, strawberry, tamarind, orange julius, passion fruit, coconut, etc — so far, peanut is my favorite. There was a man playing saxophone on the square, and couples taking selfies by the fountain. We wandered around, people watching, chatting, and practicing The Smolder (reference: Jumanji).

Then we got a call from our friends Chiro: “Hey, we’re all at the church practicing music for next Sunday. Come on over!”

Within five minutes of walking in the door, our older son was up front, a guitar in his lap. For the next hour, they rehearsed, Chiro patiently pointing out the chords. When we left, they gave him the guitar to borrow, and now, once again, there’s live music in our house.

At Chiro and Lery's house a couple days later, rehearsing with Lery.

More and more, Puerto Rico is beginning to feel like home.

This same time, years previous: driving home the point, Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours, crock pot pulled venison, people watching and baby slinging, a burger, a play, and some bagels, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta, raspberry mint tea.

Monday, May 14, 2018

the quotidian (5.14.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Don't look here for fancy. 

Silly supper.

A Costco find: I've been looking for these for years!


Kitchen table desk: until the Ikea one comes in. 

Kindles are nice, but I miss real books.

Combating boredom: for certain children, the struggle is real.

Tool or toy?

Folding station.

A necessary installation.

Painfully loud.

My first San Juan-to-Ponce trip: We didn't get lost once!

The ever-expanding fleet, oo-la-lah.

Our corner.

This same time, years previous: surprise!, tomato coconut soup, on getting a teen out of bed, the quotidian (5.12.14), happy weekending, maseca cornbread, getting ready.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thursday snippets

Late afternoon the other day, after hours of shopping, unpacking, and setting up, I realized that I would fall over dead if I didn't eat something right this very minute so I grabbed the nearest available calories — a bag of corn puffs — and tore into it. The rest of the family flocked to the table, and we feasted.

Then, after our 4 pm sorta-supper, we took off to find the beach.

Turns out that the Ponce beach — La Guancha — isn’t great for swimming. It’s rocky and the water is gunky with algae. But there were a lot of people about, just soaking up the sun and luxuriating in the steady breeze, which is really more like a fierce gale.

So we meandered about, discovering sandcrabs and stray cats and cotton (?), and then back at the wharf (or whatever it is), we played on the exercise equipment and gawked at the big ships and the huge port thingy which I would love to see in operation.


Yesterday we drove to San Juan to stock up at Costco (found: pesto, cans of frozen orange juice concentrate, tubes of ground beef, craisins; not found: chocolate chips, ranch dressing mix, and rolled oats) and then to pick up our older son from the airport.

Traffic was horrible on the way back so the trip took twice as long, but at least we have air conditioning in the van. Sluggish traffic is so much more bearable when one is well-aired.

And now we’re a family of six once again!


The plumber unclogged the pipes the other night — a piece of mop was stuffed down there — and then I did a whole bunch of laundry the next day. Under that hot tin roof, the laundry bakes up nice and dry right quick. I have a ton of line space, and the washing machine is enormous. It’s a fabulous little set-up.

But then this morning, the toilet stopped flushing again. Apparently the plumber only got out a piece of the mop? Just enough to let some water through? So my husband, fed up with not having a functioning toilet, rented a pipe snake thingy and right now he’s back in the closet yelling at the kids to bring him things and the whole house smells like a sewer.

Fun times.


In other, more delicious news, I’m cooking again!

The fridge is stocked with leftovers and iced coffee, and I have frozen fruits on tap for smoothies, and there’s a tub of animal crackers to snack from. There’s a jar of granola on the shelf, too, and mixed nuts. I feel equipped, like I can whip up something nourishing at the drop of a hat, and so this morning, when we had company — a couple from World Renew — I did just that: sausage and egg bake, bagels, juice, coffee.

We’re invited to a Mother’s Day celebration on Sunday and I’m taking dessert. I’m thinking I’ll make a cake. Maybe chocolate? I haven’t decided yet….

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.8.17), Moroccan carrot and chickpea salad, rhubarb crunch vanilla ice cream, how it is, so far today, black bean and sweet potato chili, the family reunion of 2012, rhubarb cream pie.