Saturday, August 18, 2018

a little house tour

My mother pointed out that my photos of the house often only show bits and pieces of the construction, so here are a few big-picture shots to give you a better sense of the house in its entirety.

The north side of the house. The porch door leads into the living room. 

This is the back, east side of the house, butting up against the neighbor's house. The dining/living room is on the end closest to me. The first door leads to the kitchen, and the second "doorway" is actually a little open-air alcove where the washing machine will go.

Here, I'm standing in the alley kitchen, looking into the dining/living room. The main room has four double sets of windows spread over three walls, plus a door, so the ocean air breezes right through.

The bathroom: Smile! We've got tile!

Nilda wants the entire inside of the house white and we wholeheartedly agree. 
The white paint brightens up the place, making everything feel light and breezy.

The photographer (my younger daughter, I think) is taking the photo from the living room. The hall divides the house down in the middle, from north to south: the alley kitchen, bathroom, and a bedroom to the left; a larger bedroom and a smaller bedroom on the right; a linen closet at the end.

The west and south sides of the house. Currently, all that remains to be plastered is the south side, and the subcontractors should be able to complete the work on Monday.

Next up: finishing the electrical and installing the floor tile. Two weeks to go, wheee!

This same time, years previous: a new room, in progress, the quotidian (8.18.14). garlicky spaghetti sauce.

Friday, August 17, 2018

passion fruit juice

Have you ever tried fresh passion fruit? I never had until a few weeks ago when a few of the kids and I stopped by a fruit stand.

"What’s that?" I asked, pointing at the box full of smooth, pale-yellow fruit. 

"Parcha," the vendor said and then, noting my blank look, he picked one up, split it in half, and passed it to us.

The fruit looked less than impressive — a snotty mess of yellowish-orange seeds — but I bravely scooped one out with my fingers and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious! Tart and sweet, it reminded me a little of rhubarb. We swallowed the seeds whole and slurped up the juice.

Once home, I did a bunch of research and then made juice. It ended up watery (I was winging it), but it was still good enough to make me want more. 

I kept shoveling great spoonfuls of the soupy fruit into my mouth. 
The seeds are smooth and light, like the bubbles in bubble tea, or like tapioca pearls.

Turned out, passion fruit was a little harder to source than I thought it’d be. There wasn’t any in the grocery store, and when I went back to the fruit stand, they no longer had any in stock. Come back Friday, the vendor said.

Even though I had my doubts he'd actually have any, I went back again at the end of the week. Lo and behold, there it was! I bought six. At a dollar a fruit, it's not cheap, but I didn't even bat an eye. I was on a mission.

This time when I made the juice, I took both measurements and photos.

I don’t know if I can find passion fruit in Virginia, but if I do, I want to be prepared.

Passion Fruit Juice

1½ cups passion fruit pulp, about 4-6 passion fruit
⅓-½ cup sugar

Put the pulp into the blender along with three cups of water. Blend briefly (30 to 60 seconds) until the seeds are mostly ground up.

To remove the seeds, pour the juice through a strainer that’s been lined with a cheesecloth. Once the majority of the liquid has drained through, pull the ends of the cloth together and wring out the remainder of the juice.

Add the sugar to the juice and stir until dissolved. Add another three cups of water. Taste, and add more sugar if desired. Serve over ice. (Leftover juice will separate, so give it a brisk stir before serving.) 

This same time, years previous: the Peru post, the quotidian (8.17.15), this new season, starfruit smoothie, the beach, around the internets, drilling for sauce.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the beginning of the end

On Monday, my older son flew back to Virginia.

It was hard for him to leave.

He’d poured his heart and soul into this house and now, just weeks before it’s completed, he has to leave. And at the most fun part, too! After the tedium of laying block, everything is happening in a rush: windows! ceiling! plaster! cabinets! tile! paint! Suddenly, the house is real. In a matter of weeks, Nilda will have a home.


When we first introduced the idea of coming to Puerto Rico for the summer, my older son was not pleased. In fact, he was downright dismayed. But I was going to work this summer! But I need to earn money for school! But—! But—! But—YOU CAN’T DO THIS.

He considered staying at home and we considered letting him, but the thought of going on an adventure without him made me sad. It just didn’t feel right.

Oh, come on, I pleaded. It’ll be fun. And then when that didn’t convince him, Look, this may be the last big thing we do together as a family. You might never again have the chance to work this closely with Papa. Think of all you’ll learn!

Round and round we went until finally, because I am persuasive (and right, ha!), he gave in.

photo credit: older daughter


His last Sunday at church, they presented him with a card and prayed for him. He sang a song with my younger son, and then he briefly spoke, both he and Leryann, the translator, struggling to speak through their tears. An excerpt:
...I will also remember this summer as the most rewarding summer. There’s a saying, “You only get out of life what you put into it.” And I have never worked harder in my life than I did this summer. I am proud of the house that I helped build. And what have I gotten out of it? Not money or fame. Instead, you’ve given me your trust, your laughter, and your friendship…. 
From working all day with my father, my siblings, and the volunteers, to late-night pincho parties at Chiro’s house, I wouldn’t have had this summer any other way. I will miss playing guitar on Sundays with the band, lunches on the jobsite, random people showing up for dinner, pincho parties, and this church family. 
Thank you for welcoming me. Thank you for feeding me. Thank you for laughing with me. Thank you for making this a summer to be remembered. 
Afterward, we went to Chirito and Lery’s for a lunch, just their family and ours.

Lery draped a furry blanket over his shoulder — Today you’re the king, she said — and she and Chirito presented him with a certificate.

We ate apple pie and ice cream, drank lots of coffee, and lingered long into the afternoon.


Monday morning before leaving town, we drove over to the jobsite so my son could have one last look at the house and say his goodbyes.

By the end of the summer, my husband was relying heavily on our son (the same son who, by the way, used to not be able to build diddly for squat) counting him among the “skilled labor” that all project directors covet. The last few days, my husband kept whimpering, “Don’t leave me!” and “Do you really have to go?”

I cried off and on all the way to the airport. My son’s departure signals the end of so many things: of four months of grinding physical labor and grueling heat, of family togetherness, of Thursday night pinchos, of swims in the Caribbean and bottles of sunblock and daily trips to Home Depot, of new groups of volunteers and weekly orientations and late night visits on the twinkle light-lit porch, of fresh mangoes and stray dogs-turned-pets (Penny, Lobo, Lucky) and nightly sewer smells hanging heavy in the still air, of pan de sobao and tepid showers and cheek kisses.

Now we are beginning the process of detangling ourselves from this place and saying goodbye to these dear friends who tease us and buy our kids shoes and make us steak and who tell us, in no uncertain terms whatsoever, We are family now.

This same time, years previous: bourbon and brown sugar peach pie, knowing my questions, easy French bread, a piece of heaven, lately, our life, peach cornmeal cobbler.

Monday, August 13, 2018

the quotidian (8.13.18)

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

Lunching alone.

Fancy supper at Nilda and Carmen's house.

Street closed.

Street sweeper: because the number of times we've gotten nails in our tires is five.

The ceiling is up!

Putting the icing on the cake  I mean, the cement on the house.

Running wires.

My husband subcontracted out the plastering and is now suffering from a major case of Bicep Envy. 


When volunteers go on a let's-decorate-the-jobsite-with-upcycled-trash bender.

After a (brief) early-morning mopping.

The "get out of my space and stop taking photos of my toes" look.

Uncle Dan.

After a day of work: the droppings.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.14.17), spaghetti with vodka cream tomato sauce, grilled trout with bacon, Friday snark, totally worth it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

riding paso fino

Wednesday morning, I took the three younger kids to a horse farm on the outskirts of Ponce so my older daughter could ride.

This opportunity came about via a member of our church. Daniel used to ride horses when he was younger, so he appreciated my older daughter’s interest in riding. When my daughter turned 17, he and his wife — it was her idea, he said — stopped by with a gift of a brand new bridle and reins (!!!), and then this last week Daniel connected us to this farm. On Sunday after church, we followed him and his wife out to the farm so we’d know where it was, and then he sent me the owner’s phone number. Call her to schedule a time, he said.

It felt a little awkward, cold-calling a stranger to see if we could come over (Were they truly okay with a bunch of strangers showing up on their doorstep? I didn’t want to be a bother! Were we taking advantage?), but Daniel had insisted that this was totally okay — it was all arranged, he said — so I shelved my qualms and made the call. The owner was bubbly and warm; she’d meet us at 9 the next morning.

The owner briefly showed us around the farm — we were introduced to the dogs, the pig, the sheep, and we peered down at the small river that, during Maria, had swollen to such a size that it had gouged out a fair chunk of her land — before leading us behind one of the barns where two of the hired men had two horses (she owns about twenty and boards another dozen or so) saddled up and ready to go.

My older daughter hopped right on and took off.

For my nervous younger son, the hired men kept the horse on a lead and took turns running back and forth across the field until he was comfortable enough to ride by himself.

After a bit, one of the men — he seemed to be in charge so I’ll call him the manager — brought out another horse, this one a Paso Fino. He rode the horse up the drive, her legs shooting up and down like pistons, the staccato tah-tah-tah-tah of her hooves striking the concrete sounding just like a train clickety-clacking over the rails (like this). The other Sunday, he proudly told me later, he’d competed with this horse, and they'd won, too.

In the field, they kept the mare on a lead while my daughter rode, but once in the ring, they set her free.

Only the manager and the owner rode this horse, the manager told me, openly impressed with her easy confidence, and this was the first time a female had ever ridden her.

They brought out another Paso Fino then, this one a stallion, the son of a world champion and grandson of the infamous Terremoto de Manizales of Columbia.

“This is like a wine tasting, but with horses,” I joked.

To me, the horse seemed frightfully high strung, but my daughter didn’t appear fazed so I took my cues from her and played it cool.

After a few minutes, they opened the gate and my daughter took the horse down to the wooden boardwalk, or resonance board, that is used to amplify the hoofbeats. (Check out this clip, starting at the 30-second mark.) The horse kept walking sideways, its rear listing to the right.

What am I doing wrong? she wailed. Nothing, the manager assured her. It’s just that he hasn’t been ridden much in the last couple years. But it helped a little when they told her to tug the reins from side to side.

After she dismounted, they demonstrated how to work a horse to correct an imbalance: pull the neck to the right (watch out he doesn’t bite your leg!) and then release, over and over again. 

Afterwards, we walked through the stalls, admiring the horses and holding kittens.

And then, as if an entire morning of riding horses wasn’t gift enough, the farm owner pulled out ham sandwiches and cold drinks, and we stood around visiting for another half hour in the breezy, open-air patio.

The end.

This same time, years previous: tomato bread pudding with caramelized onions and sausage, on getting lucky, the quotidian (8.11.14), the quotidian (8.12.13), goodbye, there's that, sanitation and me.