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Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Blog has Moved

Please note that my blog has moved. You can now find me at:

Please make a note of this change! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's a Writer's Life for Me

In the lull between semesters, as I scurry to get the grades in for one semester and the courses set up for the next, I find myself wanting to wedge between responsibility and whim. After all, what's paying the bills is my teaching, not my writing.

But in that lull (a word which, really, is ironic as it's applied to that space in time between semesters that's neither here nor there), as it often happens when I'm overwhelmed or ecstatic or sorrowful or angry, I am consumed with the need to write. Any emotion that courses through me becomes a flame igniting the desire and need to put into words said emotions - either in the form of characters in a story, a personal essay, a poem, or just some scribbles somewhere.

I've often contemplated what a "writer's life" means. Does it mean, as the romanticized version leads us to believe, that one must sequester oneself from the world, live in misery and abuse, contemplate suicide, and skirt the borders of sanity? Does it mean that a wife and mother with a day job can't live the writer's life? Absolutely not! A writer's life means the dedication and commitment to keep pursuing that passion of words that brings about a flurry of emotions to oneself and one's readers. It means carving out some time of one's busy schedule (and we all know our schedules are busy) to read and write and learn. Because a writer's life is one of constant sacrifice and discovery.

I'm leading a writer's life by writing every day as much as I can. By giving life to characters and stories, either made up or real, and by discovering and rediscovering who I am in relation to those characters of my past and present. I'm navigating through this uncertain territory of writing and publication, redefining who I am, and learning that there's more than one way of having a writer's life. Though some aspects of a writer's life might be ideal (as in weeks or months of solitude to only write), the ideal is what we make of it. I take the minutes and hours I can get - in between naps, a night's stay at grandma's, a day out with daddy, some hours at Starbucks - and make a writer's life out of it.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Today during dinner, my husband, son, and I sat, eating an array of leftovers that consisted of rice, spaghetti, carrots, pan-fried tilapia, eggs, teriyaki chicken, and salad. We sat, said our prayers, and began chatting about our day. Mid-way through the meal, the conversation went something like this:

"I don't like salad," my son says.

"That's okay," I reply.  "I like it. Do you know what I like about it?"

My son shakes his head.

"The colors." And he proceeds to name the colors in my salad with me.

Daddy chimes in and says, "Carrots are good for you, baby. They give you super vision, like Superman."

"I don't want to be Superman," my son says.

"Then how about Spiderman? Spiderman eats salad to make him strong."

My son shakes his head. "I don't want to be Spiderman."

"Then, who do you want to be?" I ask.

"No one," he replies. "I just want to be Lukas."

My husband and I were caught off guard by the innocent, yet profound statement uttered by my almost-four-year-old.

We spend our lives looking up to and wanting to be others. We look up to role models, and work our behinds off so we can achieve the sliver of fame or recognition or status that we want, because we want to be like someone else. We want money because we want to be like those who are well off. We want those shoes because they're the latest fashion and all the "cool people" have those shoes - and we want to be one of those "cool people." We want that car because it says something about a status that we may or may not have. (And by the way, the "we" refers to us as humans, the general population, you, me, the guy in the corner, the girl at the mall. It means everyone.)

Sometimes, we believe we're happy with who we are and, at times, we are. We like ourselves. But there are other times, and more than once, like during a mid-life crisis, when we just want to be someone else or we want what someone else has. We let ourselves be influenced by this and it clouds our judgement, our actions, our behaviors.

Lukas is on to something. "I just want to be me." With imperfections and character flaws. I hope I can remember this next time I want to change something about me so I can be like someone else.

POV Exercise - Dianita

Do you remember what I looked like when I married you, Mario? I was Diana Carolina Restrepo, slender, beautiful, wild. You liked me because I wasn’t as India as the other girls you slept around with. You could see the Spanish in me, you said. The light skin, which I hated, you loved. You would tell me I was tu reina.

But what did that get me? I fell for you, Mario. I left Jaime, who really loved me, for your promises of a good and rich life. Yes, you gave me two kids who I would sacrifice everything for. But you also took them away from me. The allure of the drug cartel was too much for you and dragged you away from the cafetales. It was more money than you could’ve ever imagined and it came easily. All you had to do was smuggle, lie, and kill.

You couldn’t kill me, though, not literally. You lied and snuck me out to protect me and our kids. At least I know you did love us in your own way, though I know you did it because it would’ve been much harder to explain the blood on your hands to them if you’d killed me. You don’t have to explain it to me. I know.

I want to hate you. I want to kill you sometimes, too. But I don’t have the connections you do, unfortunately.

Instead, I’m in exile here. I’ve aged; I see the wrinkles and the circles under my eyes. I saw them a few days after I got here, ten years ago. I’m lucky if I can keep a job because times are tough. But what do you know about honest work and tough times, Mario? I wonder if you’d recognize me; if I snuck back home, would you know it was me? Would they? If we were still together, if none of this had ever happened, you’d probably have already left me, or at least found a younger girl to satisfy you because that’s just the way you were. I should’ve known that, listened to Jaime when he tried to warn me that you were trouble, but I didn’t listen. I never did until you told me to leave, or the kids would get it. We’d all get it. Then I finally listened.

I’m tired now. Tired of the crap, tired of the exile, tired of missing my kids. I don’t miss you, Mario. Not at all. It was a sad realization that the only good that came out of us, was them. Sofia and David. You could go to hell, for all I care! I just want my kids back; I want them to know what really happened, that I didn’t leave, I was forced to leave. I sacrificed my happiness for their lives. That says a hell of a lot more than what you did for us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If we spend our lives dreaming, will we ever know when we reach our dream?

This issue of dreams is risky business. We're always told to dream, and to dream big. Nothing is out of our reach so long as we roll our sleeves back, our pants up, and get neck-deep in the process. We need to get dirty, stress, suffer - and with all the hard work, we'll get to that dream.

Trouble is, we tend to have many dreams. At least I know I do. It seems as with human nature, we're not content in reaching one destination. We're always pushing for more. I can think of a slew of cliched phrases that demonstrate this, starting with: "The grass is always greener on the other side." I say "starting with" because that's why we dream. We want something other than what we have in the present. I'm no exception. I'm always dreaming of something else. Fo example, I dream of leaving South Florida. I'm tired of the traffic, the rude (and highly volatile) drivers, the packed cement blocks. I'm tired of the fast-pace of the city. I dream of open land, pastures, green (that doesn't involved painted trash cans). I dream of friendly people, like those I met in Virginia, who, instead of saluting with the middle finger, gave friendly waves and hellos, even though we were outsiders. I also dream of writing full time. Dedicating the hours while my son is in school, to writing down all these characters and memories that plague my mind. Sometimes, I even dream of inventing some sort of time machine to go back to a healthier, livelier, more energized me.

The problem with these dreams is they interfere with my living today and now. I think there's a saying that says something akin to: the past already happened, the future is yet to come, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present. In dreaming so much of tomorrow, and in working so much for a future (retirement, fame, whatever), we oftentimes neglect today. And in today lies family and friends. When it's all said and done (I'm just full of cliches today, aren't I?), what do we have to look back at in our lives? Will we be happy? Will we be satisfied that we did all we could do at each stage?

I find myself often at this point, stuck between the dreamer and the realist. I remember my godparents, who worked their behinds off (might as well keep at it with these trite expressions), saving up for an unsure future, only to die in a plane crash in Long Island, on their way back from Colombia after the Christmas and new year holidays in 1990. What was that worth? Then again, if no planning is done, no dreams to pursue, our future might be just as bleak. There's no denying that retiring here, with nothing but Social Security (if that) is simply not possible. What's the right answer? Is there one?

I don't have the answers. I am pretty sure, though, they lie somewhere between dreaming and planning, drifting and cementing roots. There's got to be some balance there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Who's Eating My Cucumbers? Pickleworms, That's Who.

My humble vegetable garden is, of late, my pride and joy. Since I don't have a particularly green thumb, the mere fact that we were able to get seedlings to grow, and we were able to actually harvest what we planted, well, that was an accomplishment.

We harvested a total of six cucumbers before I encountered a nasty pest that has forced us take drastic measures to eradicate it (without having to turn to harsh chemicals or pesticides.) The culprits? Pickleworms.

In case you'd like to see what a pickleworm looks like, here's one I caught on my cucumber plant. I took the picture after I cut the stem off.

Apparently, pickleworms are larvae from a specific moth, and they attack mostly cucumber, squash, and other cucurbit plants. I spotted the eggs first this morning, though I didn't know what they were at the time. I just found a bunch of gooey, white blobs around my cucumbers. Then, early this evening, we were performing our normal rounds in our garden: watering, pruning, inspecting. My husband noticed two of the cucumbers were ready to cut, so I got the shears out and was getting ready to cut when I noticed the above critter on one of the cucumbers. It was on the outside, apparently munching on the skin. When I cut the other one, I noticed two minute holes on one side. After my initial gross-out, I gave the cucumber with the worm to my husband so he could take care of it, and I proceeded to dissect the other cucumber. Though it has those two holes, there is no evidence of pickleworm inside, much to my relief. However, I'm not sure if I can do anything with the butchered cucumber, nor do I know if I want to, especially since the holes means the pickleworm was inside that cucumber....that just doesn't sound very appetizing to me.

We busted out our organic pesticide, chopped off all remaining fruits (all which had pickleworm holes and egg residues) and damaged leaves. Instead of the immense foliage we had, we're now left with a bare-boned plant. I have no idea if we did the right thing, but after much consulting online, it seems as if there's little to do once these pests take hold. Very sad day for me.

I also discovered another possible pest: Vegetable leafminer. I've been wondering why the leaves of our plants (from the larger cucumber and squash leaves to the small basil ones) have these zigging and zagging lines on them that look like this:

Photo taken from

Upon some "googling," I found my answer. 

I think I now understand why chemical pesticides are used; and why it costs more to grow organic.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chocolate Dreams

My son's sleeping has finally become regular over the last few months. This semester was certainly much better than last, with only two weeks of multiple wakings due to a cold, croup, and ear infection. By 8 PM he's in bed, and because he's pretty much given up on napping during the day, he only mumbles, sings, chats for a few seconds before his eyes shut, his breathing slows, and soft snores escape his lips. In the morning, he's up anywhere between 4-6 am, at which time he drowsily pit-pats his way into our room, climbs in bed with us and, if it's our weekend (meaning neither of us have to go to work), he'll keep sleeping until 7-8 am.

This morning was no exception.

His routine before settling himself back to sleep is as follows: Once in bed, he rolls from me to my husband. At each of us, he leans over, smacks a wet kiss on our cheek, and says, "Mommy [or daddy], I love you." We say I love you back, he smiles, sighs, and turns over. Sometimes he'll do that a few times before he goes back to what children dream of.

Occasionally, he'll talk in his sleep. We know he is prone to sleep disturbances, as he's had night terrors pretty badly, but on the smaller, less intrusive scale is the sleep talking.

This morning, after he'd fallen back asleep in our bed, he sighed, smiled, and whispered, "Mmmm, chocolate."

Oh how sweet his chocolate dreams must be!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Growing Gardens

In early March, a few month's after my son's school had planted a garden and my son came home excitedly talking nonstop about cabbage, broccoli, and carrots, I decided to try our hand at planting a vegetable garden. This was also around the same time that my health was pointing me towards healthier, organic alternatives. So son in hand, we headed to Home Depot and picked out a few seed packets, a greenhouse kit for kids (with cucumbers and tomatoes), and an herb set. We planted the cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon-basil, oregano, chives, and thyme first. In those first weeks, the herbs took off, as did the cucumbers. The tomatoes died.

As our "garden" started growing, we decided to invest in a larger area for the vegetable garden. In BJs, we found an inexpensive option for a raised bed, and converted a part of our backyard into our garden. We transplanted the four original herbs, and the cucumbers, and planted more seeds: summer squash, peas, lettuce, mixed greens, dill, spinach, and radishes.

The verdict? We've already harvested two cucumbers (and five more are growing), lettuce, and herbs. The peas are almost there. The radishes, well, those I had to replant because the first ones didn't yield anything. The squash plant is large and leafy and healthy, but I don't see any squash yet. I've already had amazing salad with my own lettuce and cucumber (and some organic carrots, nuts, seeds, raisins, cranberries, and chia seeds). I've already cooked meals with my thyme, oregano, basil, and chives. The dill is just getting ready to harvest, so I'll be using that soon.

I'll post some pictures soon. I've been feeling quite proud, as before this, neither my husband nor I have ever had a "green thumb" - this is certainly a step up!

Lazy Afternoons in the Backyard

I'm sitting in my backyard today with my husband and son, amidst a lazy afternoon. The smoke from nearby brushfires is, thankfully, not blowing in our direction, and we can enjoy the sunshine (or in my case, the shade). A small child's sprinkler - a kaleidoscope of greens, oranges, purples and blues - waves its arms relentlessly, spraying cool water as my son jumps and runs, squealing and giggling. My husband has fired up his grill, and the scent of the turkey burgers cooking reminds me I'm hungry. Our outdoor rock-inspired speakers sound off an eclectic array of tunes: 80's, Disney, country, and pop/alternative. The simple breeze adds a backdrop to the tunes, a soft whisper. I love lazy afternoons like this; they make me feel content.

They also remind me of my childhood. I lived most of my adventures in the backyard of my Westchester home, la casita de Westchester. Though it was a humble home on the inside, just right for a family of three, its backyard was what dreams were made of - or at least, dreams for a six-year-old or eight-year-old. Or an eleven-year-old.

I can't say exactly how big the backyard was; such exact measurements escaped my interest as a child. Instead, I was more interested in the ampleness of the grass, where I could try my headstands and cartwheels, falling laughing and laying there, arms stretched out, the soft prick of grass comforting as I stared out into the sky bright with the South Florida sun, imagining castles in the clouds and princesses waiting to be rescued.

Or, I was more interested in the two dips in the ground, one towards the center of the yard, the other towards the left, right outside my bedroom window. They became fortresses, lakes, obstacles. The one on the left became a pet-cemetary for my two parakeets when I was about seven.

Or, I would run with my dog, Lucky, waving an adult-sized full skirt, part of the traditional Colombian costume that my aunt (though which one, I don't remember now) had brought me. Though I loved that skirt and how it made me feel (like a princess, beautiful and delicate), it was much too large, and it was much more fun to wave it around and watching Lucky snap at it erratically until he finally caught the material in between his teeth. I'd tug and pull and he'd growl, and then I'd turn round and round until Lucky would lift slightly off the ground, teeth still attached to skirt. When we both let go, he'd run to me as I lay on the floor, and I'd laugh while he licked my face.

Or, I would sit on the outside air-conditioner unit after having a fight with my father, my face tear-streaked and my chest heaving. The hum, and Lucky's wet licks on my hands, would comfort me and there I'd imagine I lived somewhere else where "life wouldn't be so unfair."

That backyard was my haven, my domain. I could be anyone or anything.

At one time, my father said he'd build me a small house in the backyard and I could live there. I think I might have imagined that, but I remember the dreaming vividly: a small, wooden "house," just one room with a cot and a window with flowers. It would be right next to the dip in the center, and I could enter and exit into my backyard as I pleased. I would have the stars at night for company and the next-door-neighbor's banana tree for food. I really wanted that backyard house, like I wanted the Barbie doll house my father had started building me, but alas, neither became reality. The first was never started; the second, he destroyed half-way in a rage.

But sitting out here, in my own backyard now, watching my son play, I remember those afternoons in that backyard so many years ago. Much has changed since then, but the peace and possibility that arises from a simple backyard - that is still intact.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering Papi

I've been remembering my father quite a bit lately. Not that I had forgotten him and somehow stumbled across his memory. No, it's more like I now have an inkling of the pain he must have felt, and I get it, or at least, I get some of it.

I still see him, in his later years, sitting at the dinning table in his wheelchair, a small glass of lukewarm water to his right (he sipped water all day), a bottle of tylenol to his left. He was always taking tylenol because of his headaches and my mother was always arguing with him that it was going to fry his liver. Or his kidneys. But he always took those small, white pills, in hopes of relieving a smidgen of the pain he was feeling, or maybe just in hopes of taking the edge off of the pain. His face was leathery, worn, and his eyebrows were more often than not scrunched up; he winced often. I imagine his whole body hurt, with deep aches and a never ending loneliness because of it. I imagine he missed his younger, healthier self. I do know he wished often to be taken in his sleep, so he could suffer no more.

Before the leg amputation that sentenced him to the wheelchair, his walk was slow, steady. He wouldn't drive; instead, he'd take it to walking from our apartment, eight blocks south to Publix or eight blocks north to Navarro. Those were his daily outings. I remember walking with him, I was in my mid-teens, and trying to have conversations. As judgmental as he could be, my father was a talker and he'd talk to anyone who'd listen to him. At times, on the bench outside of Navarro, my father would sit, and whoever was sitting there would soon find himself/herself in a tete-a-tete about current world affairs or the downward spiral this country was facing.

Immediately following his amputation and after he'd outlived his hospital stay, he was in a recovery home for several weeks. We'd visit him every day, bringing in chicken, rice and beans from the nearby Pollo Tropical. There, we'd find my father rolling around in his wheelchair from room to room, chatting up the little ol' ladies in the neighboring rooms. In between the groans and cries, you'd hear some laughter.

I do miss him. I see his character in my son, in his stubborn refusal for help or in his angry outbursts because something went wrong. I also see him in my son's eyes - dark, round and bright with mischief and imagination.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Key Largo Sunset in Pics

NCL Cruise in Pics

Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas

NCL Sky Docked

NCL's Private Island

Miami Skyline

Miami Skyline

Miami Skyline and Carnival Cruise Ship

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Invisible Illnesses

The semester is finally over. Grades are in, and as I sit here, reveling in the resounding quiet that comes after the chaotic finish, I can hear the whispered chants of: freedom, freedom, freedom! It feels good.

This semester's end is punctuated, though, with a follow up with my rheumatologist. It's been a harrowing academic year, though more because of my health than because of any academic impositions. Back in March, my diagnosis expanded to include undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) in addition to the fibromyalgia. What does that mean? For those that don't know what UCTD is (or who might resist the urge to go off into space at the "undifferentiated"), UCTD is an auto-immune condition that is lupus-like. It's not lupus, and it might never get there, but it could. It basically means that right now, between symptoms and labs, there is enough to know there's "something auto-immune" going on, but not enough to really be able to classify it into one disease.

I've taken to the web-waves to find more information. I've visited (and joined) online forums, filled with questions that I forget to ask when I'm at my doctor's office. I've heard these auto-immune diseases labeled as "invisible" illnesses and I found that so fitting. They're invisible because we don't generally have any outward showings of any illness. Sometimes we might limp, or we'll look tired, but from the outside, there's not much seemingly different than those who've just had some bad nights of sleep. And people who don't know we have an illness might label us as lazy because we don't take the stairs or carry boxes or say "no" to late night gatherings.

But inwardly - oh my. The pain. That's the worst. Sometimes it's a burning deep in the bones or muscles, like lava has temporarily taken over my extremities. Or, like I like to call it: growing pains on steroids. Other times it's a throbbing in the joints, my fingers, my toes, my knees, my hips, my elbows. Sometimes it hurts when I breathe in, and other times my head starts pounding in an attempt at a migraine. Every day, I hurt. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but every day.  And my memory - it's mush often. Part of the fibromyalgia is the "fibro fog." It sucks. I'll forget simple things, like words, or something that happened recently. I have to write down everything now because there's a very good chance I will forget by the time I need to remember.

I've had to make some decisions, prioritize, so I don't stress myself and trigger an anxiety attack, and more pain. Writing has had to fall a few places down on that list, during the regular terms, so that I can be an effective mom, wife, daughter, and teacher. I have to make peace with that. During the main semesters I will have to resign myself to a few scribbled notes, a few Facebook poetics, and an overabundance of mental notes that, ironically, I might forget. But now that summer starts, oh, now I will  redeem myself.

I have my moments when I want to cry. Usually, it's when the pain is the worst (and these last 4-5 weeks have been on a particularly bad, active "flare-up" of symptoms). Or when the medication I'm prescribed back-fires with the side-effects (apparently, I'm extra sensitive to medication) and withdrawal-like symptoms (I never have and will NEVER EVER do drugs - knowing that what I felt for four days and nights is similar to what those on addictive drugs can feel during a detox is enough for me to say this, with certainty.) Or when I want so badly to run with my son, kick the ball, enjoy a sunny afternoon in the park, but I can't because I'm exhausted, fatigued, in pain, or simply because I have to avoid the sun (the sun triggers inflammation, and since UCTD is an inflammatory disease, the sun will trigger flare-ups). I grieve my health then. At thirty-one, I feel ancient. And it sucks. These are my moments for grieving because I am grieving the loss of my health.

But more often, I am optimistic. One of the "silver linings" is that this invisible illness is not life-threatening, especially with the proper medication that helps halt the progression of this disease (thankfully, this medication, Plaquenil, I've been able to tolerate well, and the side-effects are relatively few). I am forced to slow down, and enjoy the time I have with my family more. It fuels my creativity. It makes me want to reach out to those that have similar diseases, these so called invisible diseases, because alone, it's hard to make sense of it all.

There's more that I want to say, but right now, my mind went blank - darn that fibro fog! Look for me more often, because I will be here. :) And don't feel sorry for me. I may complain and vent and grieve at times, but I don't feel sorry for myself. Behind each cross we carry, there's a blessing. And I certainly count my blessings.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Growing Up

Lately, my three-year-old son has become obsessed with growing up. It's not the simple obsession of "My birthday's coming up" or "I'm getting older." No, he wants to be a grown-up "like mommy and daddy."I'm certainly not ready for that yet. I'm still mourning the infant and the baby as he's now an active, rowdy, funny kid. There's not much baby left in him yet.

Yet the delicate balance between dependence and independence is such a wondrous phenomena, especially in children. They year to do things themselves (we constantly hear in our home: "No, I do it myself!") but at the same time, they don't want mom or dad to be too far away (we still get tears and sobs, with little arms clung to my legs and his sad voice begging "Mommy, don't go. I want to stay home with you.") At each stage, my heart melts and breaks, becoming an indefinite form of mush. At night, when he sleeps, I can only pray, God, please keep him safe always.

Last night, we were reading I Love You Forever, a children's book about a mother's love as her child grows up, through each stage, until the mother herself is old, frail, sick, and the roles reverse. It's a beautiful book (though some find it creepy as the mother creeps into her child's home to hold him, rock him, and sing to him - I take it figuratively), though I can hardly ever finish the book without a lump tugging and threatening to bring on the waterworks. So I don't read it to him too often. Last night, when we got to the part of the teenager now grown into a man and leaving home, we have the following conversation:

Him: Mommy, why is the boy leaving his house?
Me: Because he's a grown-up now, and grown-ups don't live with their mommies and daddies.
Him: Why?
Me: Because they have their own houses and families.
Him: (pause, then eyebrows bunch up, head tilts back) I don't want to be a grown-up anymore.

We followed this conversation in the morning, on our way to school.

Him: Mommy, I want to be a grown-up.
Me: But then you won't live with mommy and daddy anymore.
Him: But I want to live with you! (his eyes were starting to shine)
Me: Me, too, baby. I want you to live with us for a very long time. That's why I'm not ready for you to be a grown-up yet.
Him: Okay.

I know he'll be a grown-up soon enough. Before I know it (or like Kenny Chesney's song says, as I blink), he'll be that teenager going off to college, getting married, having kids. And I'm so not ready for that yet. I don't know if I'll ever be, but he's already growing up way too fast and I'm afraid I'm blinking too much. He's going to be four this summer; he's starting Pre-K in Aug. Next year, he'll be in Kindergarten. Yet, I feel as if I just brought him home from the hospital yesterday, cuddled him in my arms, nursed him, sat mesmerized by his gummy smile.

It's bittersweet indeed.