Category Archives: Personal Journey

Reflections on family, friends and sources of inspiration.

The New Generation Begins to Make Their Mark

I now I am not alone when I wondered what my children would be like. However, I thought we would have more time – "more time" for our lives to change and somehow be "more ready" to help them as they each found their way. But here I am. Not much has changed but our children have. The difficulty and anxiety of nearing 40 has not yet subsided but life does go on -and now, without "more time" to wallow in that mid-life awakening,  I have to confess I am loving every minute of seeing the next generation, our kids begin to make their mark on the world.

For the past 3 years, Olaia, our eldest daughter has been wanting to start a lemonade stand. It all started with me doing my best to explain how family finances work. Jim and I have our own technology startup. This has been good but challenging. There are no sure things. No sure paycheck and a lot of working at odd hours. Our kids all know that we may be at home but we still are at work. We may hear what is going on and get involved but our attention will quickly turn again to work.

"Mom, can we go to Disney?" Olaia asked. " I am sure Jaimito and Javier would enjoy it." she adds trying to ensure her proposal is evaluated positively. She knows that if the activity proposed benefits the majority there is a greater chance for it to pass the parental approval. But rather than a quick "yes" or "no." She got an earful of how everything costs money and mommy and daddy have to work hard to earn it.  Money goes to pay for her school, the house, the cars, and trips to see family.  "The best thing you can do is try to help mommy and daddy by picking up after yourself, playing with your brothers while we work." Olaia, weighing her options, eagerly asked: "Maybe I can work too?!"  "Maybe, " I replied laying the topic for a long rest, or so I thought.


Some months later, kids were at our door selling chocolates for school. Olaia asked "What are they doing?" I explained, "they  are selling chocolates to earn some money for a class trip or activity." I should heard the distinct sound of the gears in her head turning. A few days later, Olaia announced: "Mami, how about I sell lemonade in the park? Kids come they play basketball or run around and get all hot and sweaty. Many of them dont bring water and if the water fountain is broken, I think they would love to have lemonade. I can use one of the tv tray tables and sell lemonade!" "Sounds like a good idea," I loved hearing her plan, still I cautioned "but there are more things to selling lemonade that we need to get and prepare." That afternoon she drew a lemonade sign. Over the years, she has drawn at least three. We also bought some powdered fruit punch and asked her great uncle for lemons from his farm.

Now Olaia is 9 years old. She is old enough to begin to manage an effort such as a lemonade stand. More surprisingly, Olaia has also added a new twist:

limpio2.png"Mami, how about I use a corner of the table for a sign up and take volunteers to pick up trash in the park?"

Her spontaneous suggestion for combining profit making and social responsibility took us both by surprise. Upon reflection it is so much like her. Olaia is a very perceptive, sensitive soul, always mature for her age. She has grown up hearing about her Dad’s volunteer work in prison, preparing care packages for handing out to homeless people begging under street lights and hearing me talk about corporate social responsibility and economic and social development.

I don’t know if she had planned it this way, but her complete vision for her lemonade stand with a community activism angle pushed Jim and I into action.  Her concern for the welfare of the community pushed her good idea to become a noble and great idea. She had a plan and it would be wrong not to endorse and facilitate it. The next day I shared Olaia’s ideas with our neighborhood association treasurer and he not only supported her initiative but vowed to be the first to sign up as a volunteer.  We shall see where this great idea takes us. For now I include the poster ideas Olaia and I were working on to spread the word throughout our community.

Celebrating Life in the Style of Roger Berny

I have a deep appreciation for rituals and tradition, I also am known among friends for fun and familiar gathering, so perhaps that is why it seemed unlike me to not care to celebrate my birthday. Everybody has their own idea of how I should celebrate: a big bash, a small party, a dinner out, a night out to the theater.  My husband and I had talked about having another  Fushi Party – that one was an eclectic combination of Homemade Fondue and Sushi. I thought of perhaps a Pishi Party – this time offering Homemade Pizza and Sushi. I laughed at the thought. It would be fun. But in the end, I opted for nothing special.

RogerBerny014sm.jpgI am not forgoing celebrating my life. I love my life and am immensely thankful for it. I feel uniquely blessed with an abundance of love surrounding me. But when I looked deep inside I did not quite feel like celebrating. I had just blown off two weeks of working on my thesis due to Thanksgiving holidays. Kids were off and the holidays were upon us. Taking another week of no writing -no matter how fun the evening- was not going to give me peace. Then I also thought of my dear friends that would not be here this year – those that recently moved away. The party would reveal to me the gaping hole I still felt. Finally my decision was cinched when I got the sad news of Roger Berny’s passing.  I just do not feel like putting up a bash, nor a gathering. I want to write, I want to eulogize a person I cherished and move on to celebrate another day. There are things and emotions I need to work through before I can loose myself in the gaiety of a party. It being my birthday, I have asked to be allowed to tend to these things first.

I can still remember the first tiime I met Roger Berny.RogerBerny017_1.jpg

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What are we celebrating again?

I went shopping recently at Walgreens and Kmart, I was looking for Thanksgiving napkins. It was Friday before Thanksgiving – a good 6 days before the holiday for which I was shopping. I was baffled to find not a single Thanksgiving item at Walgreens and only one measly cart at Kmart.  Instead of Thanksgiving fare, these national store chains had opted to begin the Christmas season early. In place of turkeys and pictures of bountiful harvests and Fall, there were inflatable Santa’s and images of a Winter Wonderland.

I guess, it was the Winter Wonderland that did it for me… but suddenly my cynicism  was running full steam.  Who decided that Puerto Rico was the place to sell Holiday decorations illustrating a Winter Wonderland. What exactly do these stores believe I am celebrating. How is a Puerto Rican Christmas even remotely related to a snowman?

This is a perfect example of how consumerism, run a muck ends up obfuscating completely the very simple reason for coming together. In places where Winter may still serve as a watered down safe shorthand for Christmas it may not be obvious this season, but here in Puerto Rico this watered down safe celebration now makes not an ounce of sense.

Rather than promote a huge anti-Christian conspiracy, I think it is easier to suspect and believe that the decisions made business sense somewhere. Several executives found the logic smart. I can also suspect the purchasing director is in the Continental US.  The decision making process probably looked something like this:

  1. Choose holiday merchandise that has the most crossover appeal. Generic and yet reminiscent of the Christmas Holiday get us: snowmans, snowflakes, candy canes, and maybe decorated pine trees. I believe the formula they used was:
    Christmas Season + Generic – Religious = Winter + Festive Generic Decorations
  2. Start the Season early to extend the sales boom as much as possible.
  3. If you are going to include Christmas icons, make them hip (ergo, Santa on the motorcycle)

With this in mind, I looked hard to find a picture of a Nativity Scene and found not a one in either store.

At a time when we often hear the plight of the little guy trying to keep his store open in the face of the big nationwide chains. I think the decision is clear: I will be doing my shopping in my corner store, the one that is locally one, where the family that runs it is well aware of local traditions and is not afraid to sell religious items for a religious holiday.

Kitchenaid Botches No Hassle Warranty

Last Mother’s day I got several neat presents. I got a tablet pc and an immersion blender from Kitchen Aid. I was sceptical at first. I remember how underpowered the last American immersion blender we had was.  But, we had done our online research and many chef’s recommended this product for its powerful motor and varying speeds. To boot Kitchen Aid boasted a "hassle free warranty." Excellent! I am sold.

But the boast turned to a botched promise. The blender worked great. Jim made me home-made mayonnaise -makes me weak it’s so fabulous, fruit yogurt smoothies for my health, and shakes. I made cooking starters – like sofrito from with recao from my garden or a starter with my fresh oregano brujo.  Asier was now into babyfoods and having a ball eating home cooked meals pureed for him. We were in heaven for exactly six months. Then the shaft in the middle of the blender attachment loosened and stopped working.  Life expectancy of modern household items is poor, which is why warranties are important to read.­

Kitchen Aid promises:

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A Boring Facebook Profile – Can I help it?

I finally gave in to curiosity and joined Facebook. Jim had already created his profile some weeks back so I was way behind the curve here. If Jim trusts it, then why should I let my skepticism and aversion to spam keep me from trying this new fangled thing out.  He is after all my Technology Guru among other things…. So there I am forced to write about myself and finding in retrospect that though I am passionate about my life and what I do… I still am mega boring on paper – what gives?! Jim tries to coach me "write about your family, spice it up" .I know baby stories are always cute. And so here it is… I am putting myself out there:

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Trampling Amateur Photographer’s Rights

Corporate America is littered these days with misguided policies drafted by lawyers to protect companies from liability, but without a moment’s pause to what they convey. A good example is this recent bit from an interaction between an amateur photographer and Walgreens.

I come to pick up my prints. I uploaded them via your website.

I’m sorry sir I cannot sell you these prints.

Excuse me? How come?

It’s our policy not to infringe on copyright of professional work. You need to bring a release from the photographer.

But I AM the photographer. You see this is my family.

If you are the photographer, then how can you be in a picture?

I set up the shot, gave my camera to a friend and he clicked it. But since the configuration, tool and subject are mine copyright is mine.

Sorry sir, you need to provide proof that you are the owner of the copyright.

How can I go about doing that?

Well you bring the media you used to save the picture or you bring proof by bringing the sequence of pictures or a signed release.

Now, this is a real story that happened to my husband, right before Father’s day. I even went to the store myself with my four kids to explain the situation to the managerial staff, to no avail. I saw they had my prints, my beautiful prints and still it was a Father’s day without our anticipated wallet pictures. I mention this incident as an example of ill-advised policies. In this case rather than protect copyright it infringes on a consumer’s rights and invites employees to treat consumers as thieves or scammers.

The policy is likely a throwback to a time when rolls of film were the medium of the day and photograph retouching and fancy lenses were the exclusive realm of "professional photographers." With the advent of digital photography and readily available art programs, touching up photographs has become a hobby of many. Semi-professional cameras can now be bought for $800, the price of one computer or two palm devices. Now that we rarely use film and all images are digital, we can snap hundreds and select the 3 that are excellent, whether by chance or design. In our case proving ownership meant either going home and printing other pictures – the irony being we used Walgreens online to upload the pics and get them printed so as to NOT to use our printer. If we had not had a printer I guess we could have brought the computer hard drive as the pictures were never on a single camera memory disk but in our files at home. The pictures were the best in our past six month.  I concurred with the Walgreens staff and that is why we wanted them printed.

Adding to the confusion and irritation, the policy is not posted online nor on the store. Consumers are led to believe the service is being provided and then when we were ready to pay "$1.99" the staff let us know they thought we were stealing images from some professional.

I am sure many lawsuits and underhanded situations have led stores to no longer uphold "consumer is always right", but "the consumer has to prove he or she is innocent" is quite upsetting. The courts in Puerto Rico spoke on this topic. In 2006, clients of Costco participated in a lawsuit against the store for their practice of requiring their clients proof of purchase as they stepped outside the store. The local courts found in favor of the consumer stating that the stores could not force clients to prove their innocence. If the burden of proof should be anywhere it should be with the store itself. If theft is a problem approach those whom you suspect or have witnessed in foul play, but don’t treat us all as thieves and scam artists.

But the practice of requesting proof of purchase at the exit continues, I just know I have the right to abstain. To the consumers that stand in long lines waiting to prove that they bought their goods and give me dirty looks, I say, defend your rights or be aware of what is the marketplace you are agreeing to sponsor and build.

There are great opportunities here for better policies and greater respect and better treatment of clients in exchange for consumer loyalty. But it is up to the consumers to let the businesses know when policies are unacceptable and for the business to review its policies and invest in improving their client relationship. I for one will continue to work to expose what is wrong and offer a solution.

Modern Living and the Ties that Bind Us

This past Mother’s Day, I rebelled and reveled at slowly evolving family habits, common signs of our age.  Disney’s 1980’s home of the future is a reality in many ways. You press a button and two minutes later voila! you have dinner for 30 people. You turn on a monitor and sit down before it and you are having a face to face conversation a world away. On a single tv you can watch at the same time in different squares different programs. Your office and connectivity has you always here and there at once without need to have teleported.

As I mentioned, this Mother’s day I rebelled. I did so by declining to be treated to "holiday meal" at a restaurant.  This may not sound very rebellious or dramatic but as I look back "eating out" has been an ever growing trend a definite change from my child recollections and what is now customary. Remember easter brunch prior to the 80’s?  In my family it was a family feast at someone’s house.  Baking and cooking were part of the Easter vigil. Nowadays, Easter celebration is a hotel all you can eat brunch. 

Most wives see this as an improvement but changing traditions are usually a mixed bag of good and bad.  On this one, I am partly old-fashioned.

The fast paced lifestyle of today has resulted in a generation of women who feel tired and overwhelmed. Women who have lost the pleasure of cooking. These are the generation of women over 50 that do not have the perks of their mother’s or even that they enjoyed back in the 80’s.  When things were cooked and recipe’s were important, those who cooked were the recipient of praise and gratitude. Food was the centerpeice of every gathering.  If you wanted to find the happening place it was in the kitchen. 

Nowadays, the kitchen is a lonely place for many. Attentions are pulled into many directions away from the kitchen. Techno-gadgets divide the crowd into many pockets of activity. Recipe’s and cooking is not as revered, downgraded to an oldfashioned hassle.

I ask my generation and the generation above why not cook and chorus of answers varies between " why bother? It’s too much hassle", "I don’t know how to cook for so many people" or simply "I don’t cook."  So who’s in the kitchen? Sam, Costco, Giovanna’s catered delights and whoever is pressing the button to heat it all up. 

On one hand, my generation put aside the kitchen because it was more common for both parents to be working and something had to give way. On the other hand, we have gotten used to thinking why do it the hard way if there is a new shortcut, a new technology that simplifies life, a new globalized solution that requires you to drive a block and find the world at your finger tips… and if it is easy it is good.

Oftentimes what we have lost is quality and inspiration. As an artist,l ife without inspiration is not worth living. As an anthropologist, I do love having the world at my fingertips and discovering aspects of it a block away. This mother’s day I wanted to celebrate my memory of "Mom’s cooking for the family ."  My approach to cooking met the global economy half-way.  I walked into Costco and I was inspired.  I found the raw ingredients and accents I needed. Spicy baby bell peppers filled with cream cheese were a delicious treat. I thank modern day shopping for providing the shortcuts but I was ready to have it all fit together with a good dose of love and inspiration.

I gladly stayed in the kitchen and along with my husband and my brother we cooked up a delicious, simple and nice looking dinner, while the other moms hung out in and around the pool.

After dinner we sat around my brother’s IMac which he connected at the kitchen table and called my sister in Rhode Island.  I reveled at having my 93 year old grandmother videoconferencing, greeting my sister and her daughters over 5,000 miles away.  Though my grandma does not speak up these days, her great granddaughters were able to hear and see her.  I doubt my grandma fully understood how all this was possible but she was happy to benefit from today’s technology.

A few days later my Mother’s Day gift arrived. My brother had also arrived a day earlier, having traveled from Germany with his wife. Geeky as I am, I was excited to show him my tablet pc. He was eager to convince me to join the family and hook up on Skype to do Saturday morning video-conferencing with them. Having enjoyed seeing my grandmother use Skype I might as well. Our Basque friends have sent us a pc camera hoping we’d use it to call them. We already have a VoIP phone. Friends and family seem to be eagerly waiting for me online, Skype here I come.



Family of Four: Insanity with Reason

Against the prevailing common sense we are a family of six: four children, two adults. Walking through the mall with Asier strapped to my chest and holding the hand of Javier while keeping an eye on Jaimito and Olaia, I get looks of disbelief and ocasionally blatant disapproval. To those who are atleast curious to understand how it is that we desired 4 instead of 1 and half or two I endulge with an explanation. 

Before you think we are fabulously wealthy and kids are an extension of our wealth, let me assure you you got it backwards. We got the kids and do live richly but we are still working on actual monetary wealth.  

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