Monday, October 20, 2014

A Dream of Love

I witnessed my younger self walking slowly down a country road.

A wooden fence enclosed a pasture lined with trees that stretched endlessly to the sky. A breeze gently stirred the leaves as golden light peeked through a dense canopy.

I wrapped a blanket tightly around me as I stepped forward to nowhere, amid soft yellow seeds drifting lazily around me.

A faint glimmer in the horizon turned into a reddish beard.

He appeared as tall as the trees in his blue overalls. We had known each other before. We knew each other now.

I looked up at him, dropped my blanket and we hugged.

And then I woke up from this road less traveled, wrapped in my blanket, my naked body still basking in and already missing the plenitude of our embrace.

“What are you waiting for, Maria?” I asked myself. “What are you waiting for?”

Photo by B K on Flickr.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Angel on Bus 58

angel drawing
Artwork by yours truly on Flickr.

She tenderly held my face with her bony hands. “You have an angelic face,” she said. Then she kissed my forehead.

“I believe in God,” she exclaimed. Pointing her finger upward, she completed her thought. “God will bless you.”

She was a stranger, among so many, on a bus heading west.

She wouldn’t be a stranger for long when we both stepped off at a busy intersection.

 I gave her my hand to help her down as she clumsily negotiated a small rolling suitcase and walking cane.

I glanced into her eyes.

 She seemed confused.

“Can I have two dollars?” she asked. “I need it to buy a sandwich for lunch.”

I was nowhere near downtown Miami. This seventy-something woman dressed in brown slacks and a matching blouse didn’t look like a crack addict.

Noticing her accent, I asked her where she was from. “I’m from Paris.”

“I don’t have much money in the bank myself,” I said. Reaching down into my purse, I handed her two bucks.

“Thank you,” she said. A smile beamed across her face.

The crosswalk lights were out of order. Cars sped westbound and eastbound over four lanes.

“Here, grab my arm,” I said.

We crossed Bird Road together. And on that journey of just about a hundred feet, I thought intensely about my mother, who had just passed away. While the sky was about to burst, my beautiful mom came to me in the middle of a road assaulted by frantic drivers and surrounded by hideous strip malls.

Across the street, my accidental companion pointed at a gas station. “That’s where I’ll get my sandwich. Thank you. Thank you.”

I pointed south. “I’m going to visit my father,” I said. “Enjoy your lunch.”

We said goodbye.

The rain came down hard and I rushed on foot to the assisted living facility. I’m terrified of lightning.

But another kind of bolt struck me.

I decided then that dad would come home to live with me. I couldn’t bear to see this old Parisian woman begging for a paltry sum of money. I couldn’t bear to see my dad in a place where vestiges of lives were waiting to die in a solitary hell.

Here on earth, with a heart still beating, a once daring life fading away in the same room where my mother had taken her last breath.

I felt a great sense of freedom and I was no longer afraid. Lightning be damned.

Soaking wet, I marched into my dad’s room. “Papi, you’re coming home.”

After my visit, I waited for the eastbound bus back to the Metrorail station.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw her. I don’t believe in coincidences.

“How was lunch?” I asked.

 “Oh,” she replied. “It was delicious. Thank you.”

The bus was loud and she was hard of hearing. I had to lean close and speak loudly in her ear. 

“What’s your name?” I asked. “I’m Mary.”

We shook hands.

“I’m Maria de los Angeles.”

No surprise. No coincidence. My mom whispered a reminder. "Remember, I knew I was going to have a girl named Maria long before you were born."

On the way back, I learned that Mary was indeed from Paris. A widow with only one child who lives in Canada and rarely visits Miami. Mary makes ends meet as part-time seamstress at home, despite her failing eyesight.

"I'm tired," she said. "I'll take a nap when I get home."

As we approached the station, I reached into my purse and handed her another two dollars. 

“Here’s your next lunch, Mary.”

She tenderly held my face with her bony hands. “You have an angelic face,” she said. Then she kissed my forehead.

“I believe in God,” she exclaimed. Pointing her finger upward, she completed her thought. “God will bless you.”

I helped Mary find her transfer bus and we hugged goodbye.

I no longer need to take Bus 58 now that dad is home, saving me 3 hours of travel time. I’ll probably never see Mary again, but I’ll never forget her.

Mary, like my dad and my mother before him, is approaching the last stop, the final transfer. Sometimes you meet angels with wrinkled faces en route. Sometimes they fall from heaven and ask for lunch money in return for a priceless blessing.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

9 Years and Counting

sex and the beach

I was so busy with caregiving that I forgot to observe an important milestone: this humble little blog celebrated its 9th anniversary on October 8.

In 2005, I embarked on a writing journey that would change my life. I found new voices to tell stories while exploring a myriad of topics -- from the banal to the sublime. Since then, I've also mentored others to become rockin' bloggers.

Thanks to readers and fans for making it all worthwhile -- and most importantly -- fun!

Wax and Pap, the first post, still promotes and excellent idea: why not get your pubes plucked while having the outer rim of your cervix swabbed? Sounds good to me!

P.S. For extra naughty and nice editorial tidbits, follow Sex and the Beach on Facebook.


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Healthy Eats in South Miami

arugula-beet-salad temple south miami kitchen

Living in a region of Florida with high restaurant turnover rates, I often hesitate to recommend great spots for fear of walking up to the CLOSED sign on the door.

Meals of yore, as if from another lifetime in a far away land, come to mind. Restaurants the names of which I can no longer recall. But I do remember the succulent, sage, ricotta, nutmeg raviolis slathered in a wine butter sauce on Lincoln Road. Sometimes when I sniff a sprig of rosemary, I'm transported to that tender osso bucco, braised in red wine, on Washington Avenue.

Further inland, the former Kafa Café -- Miami's then only remaining Ethiopian restaurant -- served delicious, home-cooked style fare, but eventually disappeared from its Midtown location. I miss dipping injera bread into those aromatic and spicy sauces.

I hope that such a fate doesn't befall Temple Kitchen, a neighborhood vegan and vegetarian friendly in the heart of South Miami, an area of Miami-Dade that offers many choices -- from Cuban to French to Portuguese and East Indian -- all in a few squares miles. Temple is Sunset Drive's newest addition. Prior to Temple's opening, only Whole Foods offered similar fare.

Even a carnivore would enjoy the flavor combinations at this plant-based eatery, which bears the slogan "joy to the food."

Joy to the tastebuds would be more appropriate.

Yesterday, I tried the Q & A salad and one of Temple's signature house waters (mint, ginger, lemon). The salad was pure heaven: the namesake quinoa and arugula, with roasted beets, mint, cherry tomatoes, almonds, parsley all served with a beet coulis dressing.

It was pretty too; you could almost call it an altarpiece.

Just out of curiosity, I asked for a sample of the Cream of Broccoli soup. In my younger years, when I poured over classic French cookbooks, the idea of creamy and thick -- without a buttery roux -- would have seem impossible, not to mention preposterous.

I'm not sure if any of the other patrons heard me, but I moaned a little when I took one sip of this simple and silky soup: broccoli, coconut milk and vegetable stock. Creamy indeed but supple on the tongue.

I'm not particularly religious, but I do plan on worshipping at this temple regularly. No penance or kneeling required.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Mother, My Heart

I choose to remember her as she was in this photograph, nearly a decade before I was born. In 1960, she was pregnant with my brother and she already had two daughters from her first marriage. But she knew, even before she married my father, that they'd bring a boy and a girl into this world. She named me Maria de los Angeles while they were dating.

I almost missed the journey in her womb. Or maybe I was biding time elsewhere. Waiting, just waiting. A faint glimmer in her heart until she gave birth to me, three children and three exiles later, when the family finally settled in Miami.

I also missed the political mess of Cuba when my father pressed the shutter. The revolution had just turned in favor of communism. Not long after she paused to capture this pensive moment, she would venture out of the island to an uncertain future.

What was she thinking, I wonder?

Could she foresee the life ahead of her? Could she know, that in spite of some hardships, she would -- by the time she took her last breath -- never lack for anything? Did she know that all four of her children would outlive her? That she would have great-grandchildren? That she would travel? That she would be married to my father nearly sixty years?

Until the specter of Alzheimer's reared its ugly face.

She lost her memory and then, all the good and bad times she experienced -- life's richness -- all slipped away. She died before she died.

The last form of communication I had with my mother was through music. She was breathing, but barely barely conscious in hospice care. I had composed a song for her, which I sang while strumming a small guitar with four strings, about sweet unconditional love -- a love without fear, a love without malice, a love that still overflows out of my heart even though her body returned to the good earth in the form of ashes.

I became a mom to my mom and we were so blessed to have known each other during this lifetime. I'm glad I waited. And I'm glad that the faint glimmer in her heart saw the light of day. Dar a luz -- to give to light -- means giving birth in Spanish.

Caring for you, mamita, was the most challenging yet rewarding blessing.

You took such good care of me and I know you are looking over my shoulder now -- there's a tickle where my angel wings would be attached -- and that you are giving me the strength and courage to open a new chapter in my life, to take care of myself and my father until the two of you meet again.

Of course, I cry. Of course, I miss you. But you left me with a great legacy -- a sense of peace and grace.

You are not far from me, mama. You are forever in my heart.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Sex, Cooking and Libations

lentil soup mis-en-place

Cooking is like sex.  The more creative you get, the better it is.  But don't put too much on your plate if that means you don't have time to really eat and sip slowly.

So behold, my Pinterest page, Mis-en-place, which is a fancy French term for getting all your shit together before you cook something or making cocktails -- it's the best, most organized way to do it, because cooking and mixology, like sex, is all about timing.

First, let's talk about food. Think of it as something beautiful. Almost tantric. The way you design how the food is presented. Just like you choose a perfect scent or lingerie before greeting your lover. You "marinate" yourself in the joy you are about to receive.

That inspiring expectation of what you are about to taste.

One of my ex-boyfriends used to eat like a velociraptor. You know, like his prey was going to run away, never mind if that was a cauliflower instead of a small mammal.

I don't enjoy that kind of eating. I prefer that the energy at the table be low and slow.

Maybe that's why I like cooking soups, because it's a process that takes time and then the home becomes redolent of that delicious, hot and wet thing that's going to go down my throat, its sole purpose to nourish my body and soul.  Oh my!

And what greater pleasure than sharing that with someone I love?

I just don't understand why people rush through pleasure. Never scarf it down, unless, by mitigating circumstances, it's a quickie.  Yeah, sometimes you have to eat a cracker in your car while rushing through traffic. But consuming food shouldn't be an unconscious act.

Where's the fire, otherwise? The way your lover eats might be the same way he or she makes love.

So yes, there's flash cooking. But also there's slow-food cooking. Maybe that's why I like Crock Pots, although I just don't dump everything in there in one big lump. I always caramelize the onions, do a mirepoix  -- that's carrots, celery and other vegetables you sauté before you combine them with other ingredients.  I love the textures of raw before it cooks. I take a nibble of a vegetable here and there.

And then there's the sounds of chopping. The sizzle of the olive oil.

But then it just stews and comes to a lovely climax on the table, with something hot and steamy that's not just in a ceramic bowl -- a prelude to something wonderful.

Cooking is like sex. Think of it as culinary foreplay.


The same goes for drinks. Here's a white wine sangria I once made with starfruit (carambola), marinated in dark Appleton estate rum.  It was an amazingly refreshing summer drink but it took two days to make, with blueberries and strawberries in the mix, added on the second day, finished off with some seltzer when poured.  Chilled, of course.

An easy drink to make, but slow and fine.


Even single ladies get hectic, but don't forget to slow down as much as you can.  Eat and sip slowly.  Life isn't meant to rush by. What's the point otherwise?


My nine-year-old macaw relishes a peanut every morning. I always say to her: "You love your peanut and it loves you." Even though she has had a peanut every morning since she was weaned off her baby   formula, she still rushes eating a peanut like it's the last peanut she'll ever have. It's the survival scarcity model: "I better eat this now before it escapes me or I might not get one tomorrow or some predator eats me first."

But before she gobbles it down, peanut in claw and beak chomping away, she walks slowly from one side of the cage to the other and dips the peanut in water; she does take the time to moisten the peanut shell, which makes me laugh every morning.

And also, she won't eat her regular pelleted food until I sit next down to her by my computer when I start working -- not that I ever sent her to charm school. She stares me in the eye at me and then she eats. It's as if she's asking: "Is it OK? Can we eat now?"

Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. Or somehow I taught this avian critter good table manners.

Treat your food and drink the same way.  And enjoy it slowly, whether alone or with good folks in your life.

Bon appetit!

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

These Precious Things

I'm dismantling the estate of my father and mother. It feels like a painful surgery without anesthesia. An amputation with a ghost pain. An entire life changed. Just like that. In a flash.

They're now in an assisted living facility under part hospice care.

And while doing this, I was listening to my music playlist on my iPhone. Tori Amos' song, These Precious Things came up -- which has nothing to do with elderly parents and caregiving -- but the title struck my heart.

What are the precious things in our lives? Vintage photos? Little knick-knacks? A dress my mother wore at my brother's wedding? My father's architecture degree from the University of Havana? The piano my mother and I used to play duets with together, out of tune and with a broken key in the treble clef? Photos of the my nephew's beautiful kids on the wall -- painful reminders of never being able to walk down the aisle with my father to give my hand in marriage? Or giving my father and mother a legacy?

Yes, those and more are precious things.

Maybe this is why I am a minimalist and I don't like to get to attached to physical objects. I don't even own a car right now.

It's hard to toss away anyone's things in the dumpster. But then I remember, it's just things.

It's the archeology of a life. I'm digging deep into strata and detritus.

So what is truly precious?  What really matters?

Bodies, hugs, hearts, feelings, devotion, soul, laughter, tears, memories.

I don't remember the scent of whatever soap my mom used on my body when I was a baby. But today, I remember wiping my mother's butt when she became incontinent and helping my dad pee after he had a broken hip surgery.

Not quite cute, yes? But these memories of caregiving mean more to me than all these things. What else is there?

We should treat the elderly with the same joy and dignity as babies. Being an elderly patient advocate has been the most difficult yet most rewarding job of my life.

Think of the word dismantling. Let's look at the etymology. A mantle or mantel: associated with protective covering, a soothing cover, a hearth, a fireplace, a cozy place of warmth, safety and life. As I face the end of the life issues of my parents, I am also letting go of so much that is the opposite of what these words connote.

I'll tell you what's a precious thing. It's nothing you can hold in your hand. It's what you hold in your ever present heart.

I don't have much tears left in me. I've cried enough. But my heart swells with an immense love. And I choose to remember my parents as beautiful as they were when they were young and fell in love, years before I was even born. They carry those memories within their hearts, too.

Appreciate what you have. NOW.

Those are the precious things, whether you can touch them or not. The most precious thing is the love you give and receive.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

About Fathers and Fishing

A redfish: one of my catches with Captain Chuck.

When I was a baby, my father sang me a lullaby in Spanish about little fishes in the sea.

When I was a toddler, we went bridge fishing. He handed me a yo-yo with a treble hook and smelly squid for bait. I tossed the line into the water and held on strong against the tugging current.

I couldn’t tell if a fish had bit or not. I reeled up the line: no fish, bait gone and I hooked my clumsy little self! Ouch! Dad gently removed the metal from the bleeding wound on my leg.

I didn’t cry.

I wouldn’t fish much in my childhood. My parents signed me up for ballet lessons instead. Being a tomboy wasn’t my fate.

In my twenties, I fell in love with an angler.

One sunrise at Christian Point in the Everglades, where the water typically looks like pea soup, it was flushed clear. A school of juvenile tarpon rushed by our craft. With strong predatory instinct and graceful arm movements I learned from dance, I caught and released my first Megalops Atlanticus on a gold spoon. I was hooked again but this time, I knew fishing would be in my blood.

I casted very well, but I wasn’t talented at tying knots, not even with him. We broke up, like a shriveled leader line. He kept the boat and the truck. I kept the girly things: kitchen pots and linens.

Men I dated later wouldn’t take me out fishing. “It’s a guy thing,” they’d say. I missed the sport that’s not easy to do alone as a woman.

Eventually, I met my mentor Betty Bauman from Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing and I learned techniques from seminars. More fishing adventures ensued.

During a workshop weekend, Betty and her husband Captain Chuck took me out to the Ten Thousand Islands on the journalist boat. The line squealed and after half an hour, I caught and released a 200-pound bull shark.

“Atta girl!” Captain Chuck said. “I’m so proud of you!”

At sunset, the boat sped over the flats to Chokoloskee marina. With my biceps in pain and the wind battering my face, I meditated about my father. He’s got Alzheimer’s. When I sing him the same lullaby about little fishes, he cries -- even though he sang it to keep me from crying when I was a baby.

Thank you father, for being the first person who taught me how to fish and tackle all kinds of other things in life that are bigger than a shark, because I didn’t think I could and I did.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Parent's Day

Sometimes, life takes you on certain journeys for which you didn't buy a ticket or pack your bags.

My mother is in hospice and my dad fell and broke his hip and has been in a rehabilitation facility for over a month.

My parents, whom have been married for over five decades, had to separate so my father could receive treatment.

I think my mom is clinging on to life because she wants to say "see you on the other side" to dad even though she can't walk or open her eyes or barely speak. He's making a good recovery, but he cries because he wants to be next to his wife.

It's heartbreaking to witness all this even though it's part of life.

When you get that old, succumb to dementia and Alzheimer's over the age of 80, does it really matter anymore what happened in the past when you can't even remember what happened five minutes ago? Does it really matter if the relationship had its dysfunctional moments?

You see, I don't like to use negative language anymore, but as my blog slogan says, I "tell it like it is."

My parents weren't perfect, but in the eyes of G-d, they are. Who is anyone to judge? So what if they made mistakes. They are only human.

They chose each other. And they loved each other with great passion. They still do. And I understand now more than ever why they also fought. Because they couldn't stand to be without each other, no matter what disagreements, behaviors, decisions -- whatever it was -- rocked their boat.

Passion and commitment is a curious thing.  I wasn't even on this mortal coil when they got married -- I was somewhere in the ether waiting for my mommy and daddy to make me -- but I'm sure they probably said the vows.

For better or worse until death do they part; however, honestly -- I don't think even death will separate these two wonderful oddballs who are my parents.

So today isn't really mother's day exclusively. It's a day to honor all parents, regardless of gender. And a day to honor myself, because I've been a parent to my parents.

If you take care of anyone or anything, you are a parent.


Sex and the Beach will be on hiatus for the time being while I deal with all these end of life issues.

The image you see above is my grandmother's writing. She was an amazing calligrapher.

Well, thanks to growing up in the age of the internet, I can type in the dark but my writing looks like chicken scratch.

I may have inherited the writing gene from her.  She copied poems and wrote racy, passionate ones of her own, which was absolutely naughty in early twentieth century Cuba and I very much admire her courage to "tell it like it is," although her book was shared only with friends whom she trusted.  It was actually a common practice in those days to share writing in leather bound books.  Think of it like a proto-blog.

I never really connected with my maternal grandmother.  She went back to the light when I was just a little baby. And my paternal grandmother passed away when my dad was just a toddler.

In my heart, I still meditate on my grandmothers and all the amazing women who gave me my mitochondrial DNA.

Here's a line from a story I published in a literary anthology a few years ago:

"Women connected by an invisible umbilical chord through blood, flesh, time, and the indifference of centuries; separated by boundaries of clocks, exiles, tribes, and the differences among days."

I leave you with that thought.

And wish me luck ... and a good laugh.  Lord knows I need it.  Only good things from now on ...

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