adventureswiththepooh

An honest take on life and parenthood

The end of an American era

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On Saturday, I found myself crying in the produce aisle of the grocery store, trying to hide my wet eyes from the Pooh.

Trump had just issued his executive order to ban travelers from five Muslim countries from entering the U.S.. In a unprecedented move, even travelers with green cards were prohibited entry.

Although the orders of the previous few days had upset me, I was overwhelmed by the implications of this newest order. As a Mexican immigrant to this country, I felt shaken to my core.

This was not the America I knew.

As I took care of this mundane task of grocery shopping in Stop-N-Shop for my family, I moved as if I were in a dream. I chose a crown of broccoli and picked up a bag of russet potatoes, and answered questions from the Pooh automatically.

But I wept silently as I moved from one bright, orderly aisle to the next.

I cried for the people who suddenly found themselves detained in holding rooms in airports, prevented from returning to their jobs or going to their dream universities. I wept for the people who found themselves separated from parents and children and spouses in the U.S. I cried for the little kids who were separated from their mommies for hours, and the elderly who had no access to their medications.

I cried for the refugees who had been through years of rigorous vetting, only to have the America’s door cruelly slammed in their faces, with death likely to greet them upon their return.

Most of all, I cried for my country.

The shame and grief I felt ran through me like a sickly stew, dripping into my heart and stomach. I had always believed in America as a beacon of hope and a welcoming home to all, particularly those in search of a better life. American represented a promise of freedom and opportunity for all.

That shining promise was broken with the stroke of a demagogue’s pen.

As I walked through Stop-N-Shop that night, I looked at my surroundings with new eyes. I noticed the abundance and freshness of the produce and other products on the shelves. I marveled at my feeling of safety as I walked through the store with the Pooh. I realized that I was lucky to have enough money in my purse to buy the food we needed, and maybe a treat or two. We could shop in a store that was clean and well-lit, with other shoppers and staff as pleasant company.

I thought once again of the refugees and other people detained in airports, and was overwhelmed once again by my own good fortune, and the terrible fortune of other human beings at that very moment.

I imprinted the picture and sounds and smells of my shopping trip in my memory, a snapshot in time. This moment, this quiet, unremarkable trip to the grocery store, marked the end to the America I once knew.

I dried my eyes as I approached the checkout line.

I decided that I would allow myself to cry when I needed to (I am a sensitive soul, after all), but more importantly, I will allow myself to fight for the America I know and love, and for the America I want to leave for my daughter.

I refuse to give in to despair.

I refuse to roll over and give in to the dark, fearful forces of this new administration.

I am just one person, but I will speak out. I will call and write and petition my elected representatives. I will vote. I will volunteer and donate and contribute.

I will not accept this angry, harsh version of America.

I will FIGHT for the open, tolerant America I know truly exists.

I WILL #RESIST.

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My Blue Period

It’s always there. Depression is always lurking for me, a sleek granite gargoyle waiting to move in on my mind. Sometimes he is far away and I don’t notice him. Other times, like now, he is up close and personal, invading my space.

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I’m not sure when it started, but I’ve been fighting a low-grade depression now for a couple of months. Some days are better than others. The clouds break and my feet and hands feel lighter, and I can actually get some things accomplished. But many days, I’m forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other, and trying not to cry in front of people, especially my Pooh.

Fortunately, it’s not the kind of debilitating depression I have experienced in my 20’s and 30’s. On those occasions, I barely existed, dead on the inside, unable to work or do much of anything. Right now, I am able to get out of bed, stay clean and presentable, fulfill my responsibilities, and accomplish the tasks of basic living.

But it is frustrating. I’m a busy person and I have so many things I want to do. Depression cramps my style. It sits on my productivity like an anvil. I am annoyed because it takes tremendous effort to take care of the things I need to do, and there is no energy or creativity left over for the things I want to do.

I am working to stay social and connected to others, because I have learned that isolation will send me into a terrible downward spiral. But I confess that I want to retreat from everyone and just be left alone until I come out on the other side.

I have started a gratitude journal as one small way to fight back. I also have resolved to keep moving and stay engaged in daily life. I will continue to build my writing business so that I can look myself in the mirror and not feel as if I have wasted my talents. Domestic life as a stay-at-home mom and housewife may be okay for some, but it is not for me. The paid work gives me a boost of much needed confidence. It is a path out of the drudgery of housework and cooking, and the demands of parenting.  The paid work died down over the holidays, but I am already working to build it back up in the new year.

If I am going to be a mom to myself, I also know that I need to get more sleep and exercise. Finally, reaching out to other people and helping them in small ways brings me little bursts of happiness, a targeted antidote to the deadness creeping up on my edges.

You don’t have to worry about me (in case you were). I’m around and about and accessible. I’m not avoiding anyone. I know I just have to get through this blue period and that it will end. If it goes on too much longer, I’ll find a doctor to prescribe a mild antidepressant to pull me out, but I want to give it another month or so.

But if I seem not quite myself, you know why. I have experienced this before and I know that it will pass. The granite gargoyle will retreat back onto his perch, far away and out of sight, and I can get back to fully living again.

Thanks for listening.

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A day in the life…

Hello my faithful blog followers! I am in the process of creating a website that will link to this blog, and decided to ask professionals to take new pictures and update my look. Here is a special preview of the pictures they took. I am not easy to categorize, but somehow, they captured the glam geek look I wanted. Also, if you’d like to check out their other work, catch them at https://luniacphoto.wordpress.com.

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Wendy is an accomplished scholar, artist and children’s author. When she ask me to take some shots for her updated website I jumped at the chance. What a beautiful morning we spent together. I loved hearing about her journey, and I cannot wait read her book when it comes out!  In the meantime check out her blog here: adventureswiththepooh

(Hair + Makeup by Kristen Lemoine) 

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A Note to Trump Supporters from a Hillary Supporter

I am still processing the results of this election. I accept the results because I believe in our system and our democracy.

I accept Trump as our President. However, I do not support Trump as our President. That is my right as a citizen. I will continue to call out every instance of inciting hate and violence, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, lying, cheating, and childish behavior that this man celebrates and exhibits. The President is supposed to be someone noble for all of us to admire. Instead, we have a man who represents our basest instincts.

I know many of you voted for Trump. You are family members, friends, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances. I understand many of your reasons for voting for him and struggle to reconcile the person I know with that fact. Then again, I’m sure you have your own conflicts with having me in your circle, so I suppose we are even.

Know that even when things get ugly, I will never support or advocate violence against Trump or his supporters. I ask the same of you and people who protest against supporters of Hillary, Bernie, Black Lives Matter, or any other peaceful people who have opinions that differ from yours. Do not celebrate or support violence.

But I will not be silent about Trump. And I am not alone.

We may disagree about the results of this election, but as long as we can be respectful to each other, I would like to keep the conversation open, even when it is hard to listen.

We can agree on one thing: we all love our country. So let’s talk.

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Why I Never Celebrated Father’s Day with My Dad

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My father in his 20’s

I didn’t grow up celebrating Father’s Day in any meaningful way. I didn’t love or even like my stepfather, so I have no memories of the holiday as a child.

Memories of my own father were dim at best, since I had last seen him when I was four or five.

My American mom rarely spoke of him. When she did, she either teased me about looking just like him, or pointed out something awful he or his mother had done, which justified getting the hell out of her marriage and Mexico, where she was married and where my sister and I were born.

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My mother at eighteen, the year before she married my father

I wrote my college essay about those distant memories of my father, and questions about my identity and where I fit into American society. Not long after I sent in my acceptance to Yale, I told my mom I wanted to meet my father again.

Resigned to the inevitable, my mother broke her long silence and reopened contact with my father and his family.

In the beginning of August 1989, a few weeks before I started my freshman year of college, my father arrived in the Philadelphia International Airport. My mother, sister, and I stood at the gate, waiting with bated breath to meet this man who had flitted like a shadow across our lives.

As my father walked down the arrival ramp, I studied him. His skin was brown, and his black hair was thinning, hairline receding. His nose was aquiline, a masculine version of my own. He walked with a rolling gait with his shoulders slightly hunched, walking as a shy or introverted person might, both of which he was. He was neither tall nor short, though I remembered him with the graceful build of a slim matador. He spoke English with a heavy accent, and his voice was deeper than I expected.

“Hola, Queenie,” he greeted me, using the nickname he had bestowed on me when I was a tiny child, making my stomach flip flop unexpectedly.

Over the next fifteen years, we attempted to rebuild a relationship that had been destroyed by the ravages of time and resentment and international immigration law. It was a messy seesaw, particularly as I tried to navigate the loyalties to the mother who raised me, and my intense desire to know my father and understand who I was.

My father and I would become alternately frustrated and angry as we struggled to understand each other, yet we kept trying. He took me to visit and experience some of the most remarkable places in Mexico, including the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Museum of Anthropology, the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe, the magnificent Zocalo of Mexico City, the poetic island of Janitzio with Patzcuaro on the mainland, and the beautiful colonial cities of Guanajuato, Morelia, Queretaro, Taxco, and San Miguel de Allende, to name a few.

He took me to Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, where I ate fresh seafood and ripe mangos dusted with chile and salt on a stick, and drank icy coconut water straight out of the fruit.  My father did his best to introduce me to the cultural and culinary treasures of a country that was my birthright, and it transformed me.

In spite of his best attempts to put on a good show, my father was not well. He never had been. Unable to work in a traditional profession as his younger siblings did, he lived simply and subsisted on a small income from my abuelita. His hoarding and alcoholism and bouts of severe depression created physical and emotional walls that were difficult, if not impossible, to surmount.

By my early 30’s, I had come to accept that he would not and could not be the kind of father I had always dreamed of. With that realization came a sense of peace. I went to visit after Christmas one year, and several aunts and uncles and cousins gathered at my Aunt Lupita’s house one evening to break the traditional rosca de reyes bread and see who found the tiny plastic toy baby Jesus inside. (The person who finds the baby is on the hook to host a tamale party the following month).

After enjoying bread and Mexican hot chocolate, everyone quietly disappeared. My father and I sat companionably at Aunt Lupita’s hearth, a crackling fire warming the cool January air. He smoked a cigarette as I sat in a chair next to him as we gazed into the flames. We didn’t talk, nor did we feel the need to.

A few months later, I called my abuelita’s house and my Uncle Tito answered the phone. He told me that my father had Stage 4 cancer of the bladder and bones. The news had surprised the entire family.

Stunned, I packed up my apartment in NYC, threw my belongings into storage, and flew to Mexico. I vowed that he would not be alone when he died. Two weeks later, I was there when he took his last breath, white curtains fluttering in the cool breeze of the Mexican night as his spirit flew to freedom. He was 61.

Now, all these years later, I sometimes catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see my father glancing back at me. I draw my breath and laugh a little.

I never celebrated Father’s Day with my dad, but somehow, it doesn’t matter anymore.

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My father as a boy with my Uncle Tito, Aunt Ana Rosa, and Aunt Lupita. He’s the little guy on the right in the fedora.

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Maldonado family portrait. My dad is seated,the second on the left.

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My father holding me when I was four days old.

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Goodnight, Sweet Prince

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I’m anything BUT funky and freaky, but let me tell you – I loved Prince.

When he died two weeks ago, I could not accept his passing for two entire days. It seemed so impossible. He was Prince! The Purple One was ever present, always would be.

His music and presence indelibly marked my formative years and some of my most important friendships. Prince was an eternally youthful, endlessly creative artist who didn’t give a rat’s ass what people thought of him. He mesmerized me.

I am embarrassed to admit that I never went to see him in concert because I thought he would be around forever. I ran in nerd packs and I was not a big concert goer. In the back of my mind, I thought that there was plenty of time to see him live one day.

The regret is KILLING me.

All I can do now is binge on his music, his videos as they come to light, pictures, old interviews, and articles.

Writing is my other coping mechanism, so here we are.

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I take four things away from Prince’s passing.

  • Go see your favorite artists perform. If you love an artist, go see them in concert. It doesn’t matter if they are still huge stars or not. Live performances by truly talented artists trump video and the in-person experience cannot be replicated. If you are a geek like me, I encourage you to bust out of your dorkdom for a night so that you do not live with salty regret later.

 

  • Exercise quiet good. We now know that Prince gave to many organizations and people with little to no fanfare. He frequently gave anonymously or instructed the organizations to avoid publicizing his philanthropy. I started practicing this philosophy last year, and I enjoy the sweet secrecy of it. It’s a good feeling, and I remind myself of it on days I feel low.

 

  • Be yourself. Prince defied labels and boxes. We could each see some of ourselves in him, even if none of us resembled him at all. He was also far from perfect. He was vain, he could be eccentric and temperamental, and he could be a jerk sometimes. But he was unapologetically himself – impossible to categorize, impossible to forget. And what a sense of humor! We loved him in spite of, or maybe even because, he was so very human.

 

  • Use your talents. Prince was a musical genius, a modern Mozart with spectacular dance moves, huge stage presence, and incredible fashion sense. While the rest of us mortals were not blessed with the range or depth of his almost supernatural talents, we each have something of value to share with the world. He considered some of his work better than others, but it did not stop him from making music or venturing into uncharted waters with varying degrees of success. Even when he was successful, he continued taking risks and growing artistically. He squeezed every last drop out of his talents. So should you. So should I.

With that, my friends, I leave you. I am off to enjoy more of his incredible music, as I attempt to get used to a world without him.

Peace and be wild.

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A sweet surprise from Grand Central Station

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Lexington Passage. Credit: Google images

The day before Valentine’s Day, I stopped by the Jo Malone shop in the Lexington Passage at Grand Central Station. The elegant glass box of a store is small, as all of the stores in the corridor are.

I could not pass up the chance to browse at my leisure without a tiny curious Pooh or impatient husband at my side, so in I went.

Jo Malone is a scent lover’s paradise. The exquisite fragrances are neatly displayed and easily accessible. A topper with a black fabric bow accompanies each bottle, so you can check out each one without spraying it.

I shamelessly sniffed all of the fragrances there and pined for a few of them. I asked the young clerk, “Is business good for Valentine’s Day?” She told me it had been slower than she expected.

I continued my browsing, looking at the candles and bath oils and other lovely items perfectly arranged on the shelves.

While I browsed, a well-heeled woman asked for a sample of Wood Sage and Sea Salt from the clerk. She tucked it into her expensive purse, and left, presumably for the Upper East Side.

I observed the exchange, thinking, “Hmm. You can request a sample? Interesting.”

A short time later, the clerk offered a cologne sample to me, even though I never requested one. But hey, I love Jo Malone and I was not going to turn down her offer. The products are expensive, so I have not ever splurged on them.

When I arrived back to my hotel that night, I found the tiny box, and discovered that she actually gave me TWO samples! Dark Amber and Ginger Lily, and Peony and Blush Suede. Both were beautiful fragrances that I loved. She was clearly paying attention to my fussing.

So to the attentive clerk at Jo Malone, thank you so much. You totally made my day. I hope karma brings you a delightful surprise of your own this week.

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Jo Malone products. Credit: Google Images

 

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And Now We Are Six

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The Pooh appeared in this world six years ago, fat snowflakes heralding her arrival in the evening darkness.

After I gave a final push, Dr. Heinzel announced, “It’s a girl!”, which caught me by surprise. I had been expecting a boy.

The nurses weighed and cleaned her, wrapped her in that universal white blanket with blue and pink stripes, and brought her to me.

I took one look at her smushed face, red and puffy from my 22-hour labor, and fell hopelessly in love.

Fast forward to today.

Once again, fat snowflakes are falling outside my window, but we are home this time, together on a snow day.

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The Pooh’s days of infancy are far behind her. The baby chub and delectable tiny toes are gone, replaced by skinny legs and long golden brown hair.

She sees herself as separate from me now. She is her own little person, with perpetually warm hands and a fierce heart and a sharp wit.

Today she is six. Six years away from birth, six years away from twelve and tweendom.

I will enjoy this day, this sixth birthday, and I will think about the night she arrived, and the days after, and each birthday since.

Because each birthday is a celebration for mommies too.

Happy birthday, Pooh.

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Of Monday morning meltdowns and do-overs

20151230_120654Have you ever had one of those mornings with your child when you start the day off fighting about simple things?

The Pooh and I started off that way on Monday morning.

I woke her up at 7 am as I always do, got her dressed, gave her breakfast, and let her watch Sofia the First on Disney Junior.

I packed her lunch, fed Callie the cat and Baby Fish IV, and warmed up the car.

When I approached her to brush her teeth, wash her face, and go to the bathroom before leaving for school, she had not touched her breakfast. She even had the gall to ask for another episode on TV and more time to eat.

Unsympathetic, I refused more TV and informed her that she would have to eat her breakfast in the car on the way to school.

We started arguing, since then she refused to brush her teeth. Breakfast after brushing would taste funny, you see.

After considerable arguing, yelling, and crying, we ended up leaving the house, late for school.

I buckled her into her car seat, but she had not washed her face, brushed her teeth, or gone to the potty. Her hair was barely out of bird’s nest stage.

My only victory was the homemade zucchini bread in her hand, which she ate on the way. I was sure her teacher would think I was the worst mother ever, but I was done fighting and just wanted to get on with the day.

As I left her in her kindergarten classroom, she had joined the circle for her morning meeting. I caught her eye and blew her a kiss. She nodded and gave me a smile.

I wanted her to know that in spite of our earlier battle, I still loved her.

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I did not enjoy my own childhood. It was an anxious, stressful existence and I always felt decades older than my true age. I also did not gravitate naturally towards little kids and babies, and had little idea of how to interact with them.

When I learned that I would become a parent, I was excited but apprehensive. Would I be a good mom? How could I make sure that my little one would be as healthy as possible, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically? Could I teach her to be more resilient than I was?

So when the Pooh arrived, I fell in love with her instantly, but I had no idea how to be a mother. I figured it out on the fly, and now I know that everyone else does too.

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As I have gone through different stages with her, I have found a surprise benefit to parenting: a do-over.

The Pooh gives me a chance to do childhood over again.

The playing, the dancing, the learning of emotional ropes.

The laughing, the silliness, and the discovery of places and people and books.

The flouncing, the giggles, and the grappling with questions, some big, some minute and endless.

I am 44 and she is nearly six, and there are times that I don’t want to play in the ocean or go sledding or play dolls. But I do, and we have so much fun that I wonder why I hesitated in the first place.

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Sometimes she asks me questions that I cannot answer.  I confess my ignorance, and I see a flash of disappointment in her bright brown eyes.

The Pooh is strong willed and persistent and logical, and while it is – ahem – challenging to parent her at times, I refuse to steamroll her for the sake of having a docile, obedient child.

I want her to be able to stand her ground and think for herself, instead of going along to get along as I have for so much of my life.

And in the meantime, I work to teach her flexibility and empathy for others, and which important lines cannot be crossed.

As we battle and laugh and play and talk, I see the world through the eyes of a little girl again, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of woman she will grow up to be.

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As we approach the Pooh’s sixth year on the planet, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude towards her. Yes, parenting is tons of work, with highlights and lowlights and tedium and fun, all rolled into one little person and years that telescope into one another.

But as I mother the Pooh, I have learned what it is to also mother myself.

Thanks to her, I’ve had the chance to hit the reset button on childhood.

And what a beautiful childhood it is.

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Recipe: Pan de muerto (for bread machine)

If you know sweet bread from Mexico, you are familiar with pan de muerto, the special bread that is made only around the time of the Day of the Dead in early November.  This buttery, orange-scented bread is reminiscent of brioche, and tastes wonderful with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

For two years running now, I have made pan de muerto at home for the Pooh’s class and for friends. I always intend to publish the recipe and my method here on my blog. But in both years, I let it slip. Ah, good intentions…

I’ve decided that I will publish it here and now in January regardless, and repost it again in late October and early November. If I don’t do it now, I might not get to it again. Besides, why not?

The first time I made this bread, I used Fany Gerson’s recipe for pan de muerto on Fine Cooking.com. I liked it because the recipe was straightforward and most closely resembled the bread that is made in my birthplace, Celaya, in the beautiful state of Guanajuato.

Fany’s wonderful recipe, along with a demonstration slide show for making the bread manually, can be found here:

http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/pan-de-muerto.aspx

The first year, I followed her recipe exactly. The second year, in a flash of lazy inspiration, I decided to use a bread machine.

I adapted the recipe slightly and ended up with fabulous results. (Why didn’t I use the machine last year? Mensa.) This past year, I was churning out loaves of pan de muerto so fast that my kitchen started to resemble a pop up panaderia.

Without further ado, here you go, bread fiends:

Pan de Muerto  (Bread Machine method)

Bread Ingredients:

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 5 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Freshly grated orange zest from 1/3 of a navel orange
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange blossom water
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1 ¾ teaspoon (or one standard packet) active dry yeast

Topping:

  • ½ stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar

Oven: 350 degrees Farenheit

Directions:

  1. As your first layer, place these liquid ingredients in the bottom of your bread machine baking pan: milk, butter, orange zest, orange blossom water, eggs 20151124_085046
  2. As your second layer, add the sugar and salt
  3. For the third layer, add the all-purpose flour or bread flour (all-purpose flour will work just fine) 20151124_085137
  4. As your fourth and final layer, sprinkle yeast all over the top 20151124_085159
  5. Set your bread machine for the white bread setting for a two-pound loaf. Turn on the machine and let the machine knead the dough and let it rise twice. (This process takes about 2 hours with my machine.) 20151124_101222
  6. Be careful. If you can set the machine for rising only, do so. Keep an eye on it otherwise.
  7. REMOVE DOUGH BEFORE IT STARTS TO BAKE IN THE MACHINE. Time to create the round loaves! 20151124_124909
  8. Grease a cookie sheet and take out plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel to prepare for the last rise of the bread.
  9. Remove a lemon-sized ball of dough and set it aside.20151124_125009
  10. Divide the remaining dough in two.
  11. Form a round with each half, and place the rounds of dough on the greased cookie sheet. 20151124_125130
  12. Take the lemon-sized ball of dough, and pull off a piece the size of a large marble. Divide it in two and set aside. Take the remaining dough and cut it into six small pieces, which you will make into long ropes about 5 inches long each, representing bones.
  13. Place three pieces of rope onto the top of each loaf, crisscrossing them to result in six arms. 20151124_125757
  14. Pick up the last piece of dough and divide it in two. Form each into a small ball and place in the middle of each loaf, right at the intersection of the ropes. This represents a skull. 20151124_125844
  15. Cover the bread with plastic wrap, and then a clean towel. Place in a warm spot to rise for 30-45 minutes.20151124_130042
  16. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  17. After 30-45 minutes, check your loaves. They should be nice and puffy. 20151124_133643
  18. Put the loaves in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes. Make sure there is room in the oven for the bread to rise again, as it will swell during baking.
  19. Enjoy the delicious smell while it is baking – and keep an eye on it!
  20. Remove the bread from the oven. It should be golden brown. 20151124_135757
  21. As soon as you can handle a hot loaf, take a stick of butter and smear it over the top of the first loaf, including all crevices. 20151124_140129
  22. Immediately sprinkle sugar on top while the bread is warm and the butter is glistening. 20151124_140324
  23. Let it cool on wire racks.
  24. Enjoy! 20151124_143609
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