• crunch week

    It’s crunch week, y’all. We’re racing the clock to get as much done as possible before flying home on Sunday.

    Thank goodness we have two expert workers chipping in this week. My cousin is back (for the third time!) and he done did bring his daddy-o.

    The two of them, plus my husband and kids, are whirling around the property like mini tornadoes (the good kind), pouring another porch step, grouting tile, installing doors, putting in the kitchen counter and cabinets, doing the porch roofs, finishing the painting, cleaning up the property.

    We won’t be quite done when we leave — but the place will be liveable, fingers crossed — so my cousin will stay for another week, trying to get it as close to done done as possible.

    In addition to the work crunch, there’s the social crunch — trying to pack in as much friend time as possible. Saturday night we stayed up late watching a movie and munching on popcorn, almonds, and craisins at our friends’ house. Sunday there was bowling and games and hanging out at Church’s. Monday, Marita, a friend from church, and Carmen came over to teach me how to make mofongo.

    They also made churrasco and whipped up a bowl of mayoketchup, and I made a cabbage slaw and blondies. Also, Carmen brought along her massage chair so we could take turns fighting over it.

    But hang on a sec. I gotta say a little more about Carmen. Just this, really: She is a HOOT.

    Over at the jobsite, she instigated a game of swords with my younger son, and then, because she was worried that my husband would get upset, she went home and crafted swords from foam noodles. My husband said he looked out the window and there she was, battling it out with the kid!

    Also, she doesn’t approve of my daughter’s new piercing, so when my daughter came out with an ice cube pressed against her ear, Carmen snapped in Spanish, “You’re the one who wanted a piercing so now just deal with it, ha!” and to me, “translate THAT!” and so I did, and then she leveled my daughter with the hairy eyeball to beat all hairy eyeballs and we shrieked with laughter, my older daughter loudest of all.

    So, continuing on….

    Last night I cooked supper for Nilda, Carmen, Nicole, and Norleene (and the two volunteers). All summer long they’ve been cooking for us, so it’s high time we turned the tables, I figured. And then afterward, everyone ran off to a basketball game, and now tonight a friend is coming over for a baking lesson….

    And today is only Wednesday, pant-pant.

    Two other things before I forget!

    First, I never told you about The Pan de Agua Car. Nearly every morning a car wends its way through our neighborhood, a recorded voice telling everyone to take advantage now. When my parents were here, my dad kept asking, What are they saying? What are they selling?

    I have no idea, I said. I didn’t care to know, really. Ad cars pass all the time, their speakers so offensively loud that I had long since tuned them out as a silent boycott against their rudeness. Whatever that car was selling, I wanted none of it. Just some peace and quiet please.

    And then, a few weeks after my parents left, it suddenly dawned on me: that car was selling bread! And then, of course, I had to flag it down to investigate.

    In the backseat was a huge sack of pan de agua, the long thin loaves standing on their ends like a bouquet of flowers. Up front on the passenger’s seat, was a box of smaller loaves of pan sobao, and couple bags of sweet buns with raisins.

    That first morning, I bought some of everything, and ever since, I’ve been a faithful customer. Mornings when I hear the recording (which isn’t nearly as offensively loud as most, I’ve realized) and we’re low on bread, I snatch a couple pesos from the money jar and dash outside to stock up.

    pan sobao on the left, pan de agua on the right

    It’s super convenient (though I am eager to get back to homemade sourdough!).

    Second, a question: Can I pack homemade (unsealed — it comes in old rum bottles) vinegar in my checked baggage?

    At the same fruit stand where I discovered parcha, I found a homemade vinegar. It’s called pique, and, packed with red peppers, fresh garlic, stems of oregano, and olive oil, it’s the perfect blend of flavor and heat.

    I pour it on anything — eggs, rice, meat — and have become rather addicted, so naturally I want to bring back a few bottles.

    However, I’m not sure the vinegar will be allowed through customs since it’s homemade and the bottles aren’t sealed. On the other hand, Puerto Rico is part of the US, so maybe they wouldn’t be as picky? Anyone have any experience with this?

    This same time, years previous: don’t wear deoderant, the quotidian (8.29.16), tomatoes in cream, peach crisp, Bezaleel scenes, puppy love, fresh tomato salad, roasted tomato sauce.

  • the quotidian (8.27.18)

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

    Plate of happy.

    Now I can (probably) make them myself.
    Banana cake workshop.

    Wiring up.


    The second coat of primer.

    Carpenter’s list.


    I think someone would rather be working.

    Keeping track of where it all goes.

    Punching holes.


    Art installation.

    They can make a game out of anything — in this case, shredded bits of napkin.

    Mapping out the last week. 

    This same time, years previous: fresh nectarine galette, family extended, a big deal, on love and leftovers, don’t even get me started, atop the ruins, the quotidian (8.27.12), coming up for air.

  • full circle

    Back in April, a few days before we left Virginia for Puerto Rico, Rolando, the island coordinator for MDS and our boss, sent us some photos and videos of his family cleaning up the rental house that we’d be living in. It made my eyes smart, seeing all those strangers mucking around with brooms and scrub brushes, preparing for our arrival.

    And now, almost exactly four months later, in a weirdly wonderful turn of events, Rolando and his wife are staying in our home while they transition their older daughter into college at the local university and it’s our son sending the getting-ready updates. All last week, he sent us photos of his progress: of the guest room all made up with fresh towels at the ready, the porches power-washed, the windows scrubbed. He even bought thrift store art and hung it on the wall (though I’m not quite sure how I feel about that).

    And then on Wednesday night, suddenly there they were, our friends in my kitchen.

    The photos keep coming, of them eating eggs and toast at the kitchen table, walking around the university campus, setting up the dorm room, touring my dad’s workshop, making applesauce with my mom, hanging out with my nephew and nieces. It makes my eyes smart all over again.

    The day after they arrived in Virginia, my son texted: “It feels weird having Puerto Rico in my house… I LOVE IT!”

    My thoughts exactly, kiddo. My thoughts exactly.

    photo credits: Rolando

    This same time, years previous: it’s what’s for supper, the quotidian (8.23.16). sundried tomato and basil pesto torte, that special date, bruschetta, he got me.

  • the quotidian (8.20.18)

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

    Coming right up: pepperoni rolls.
    Same lunch, different arrangement.

    On fear: an effective episode of Brain Games.

    Well, hello there, sweetie.

    Team Paint.

    Rolling right along (sorry).

    The Look: I get it (and give it) all the time. 

    A full day of work and proud of it.

    In the right light, drywall dust and concrete almost look like snow.

    Visitors are fun.
    This week, so many meetings.
    Pop goes the tire.

    This same time, years previous: miracle cat, kale tabbouleh with cucumbers and tomatoes, the quotidian (8.19.13), the quotidian (8.20.12), what crazy looks like, how to get your refrigerator clean in two hours, tomato and red wine sauce.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mondays

    For my husband, Mondays are stressful.

    A new week means a new group of volunteers and, no matter how skilled the workers, this means my husband usually spends Mondays getting tugged hither and yon, explaining, demonstrating, instructing, and answering question after question after question after question after— You get the point.

    It’s no one’s fault, of course. This is just the nature of the job. With new workers, there is always a period of adjustment as the volunteers learn how the agency (and us, as project leaders) functions, what the house plans are, and where the tools are kept and how they work. They’re adjusting to the heat, to new sleeping arrangements, and a new diet. They’re familiarizing themselves with the streets and the stores. They’re meeting the homeowner and any local people who show up at the jobsite (and puzzling through the Spanish), and getting to know the other volunteers. So naturally, it takes time — time to figure out the job and time to learn how to work together as a team.

    On the outside, my husband appears jovial and patient (I think he does, anyway, though maybe some of the volunteers would say otherwise?), but on the inside he’s stressed and worried, frazzled to his core. I don’t know how this will go, he tells me privately, ominously.

    It used to be, I’d get all sorts of fretful, listening to him stew. Oh dear, I’d think. The week is already ruined and it’s hardly even started, oh dear, oh dear, oh DEAR. But now, three solid months into this gig, I know better. Now when my husband sings the blues, I just smile and remind him, It’s Monday. Tomorrow will be better. And usually, it is.

    Monday morning this week, I drove over to the jobsite to check in on everyone, show my brother-in-law where to go (he’d just arrived, two days late, thanks to a canceled flight), take a few photos, and touch base with my husband.

    That last goal — to touch base with my husband — was laughably futile. No sooner did he manage to extricate himself from the goings-on and come over to talk to me then someone would approach him with a question and off he’d go.

    I watched from afar as he managed, directed and explained…

    “Yeah, the nail gun shuts off after awhile…”
    To his brother, “I know you didn’t get to see the safety video yet, but make sure you wear glasses when making cuts, okay?”
    To someone else, “Hey! Where’s your glasses!”
    “Here, hand that to me through the window.”
    “That tool is in the trailer — go look in there until you find it. I could have someone show you where it is, but it’s better if you have to search for it. That way you’ll learn where everything is kept.”

    …and then, the situation resolved, he’d stand there, looking around, observing, assessing, calculating, planning.

    And then I’d do a little reminder wave — yoohoo, over here, hon — and he’d snap to and scurry over, all apologies. But wouldn’t you know, I’d only just start talking before he’d spy yet another situation and rocket off, to wrestle with a tool, perhaps, or poke his finger in an electrical box, or help move a ladder. It was like trying to have a conversation with a ping-pong ball. Eventually I gave up and just settled for photographing the guy.

    Right before I left, I managed to catch him alone outside the house.

    “It looks really good,” I said. 

    “Huh? What does?”

    “It — this. It looks good.” I gestured expansively. “Everyone’s working. They’re doing stuff. This is great.”

    “Yeah, but I’m not getting anything done.”

    I threw back my head and hooted. “Oh, honey! How many times do we have to go over this? This is your job. Making other people work is exactly what you’re supposed to do.”

    “Yeah, well,” he sighed heavily. “I guess…”

    So every Monday, this is the routine: my husband despairs, I lecture him, he still feels rotten, and then the rest of the week happens and on Friday he comes home with a slightly startled, dazed look on his face and says, slowly, carefully, as though he hardly dares to believe it might be true, “You know, I think we actually accomplished some stuff this week.”

    And I just grin. Sure you did, honey. Sure you did.

    This same time, years previous: fresh peach pie, pile it on, the quotidian (8.8.16), the quotidian (8.10.15), best banana bread, crunchy dill pickles, elf biscuits, a bout of snarky.