Adjusting to a new normal in a Post-Maria world.

Puerto Rico is still in crisis. A slow uneven frustrating crisis.  My family thankfully is fine.  I read the news each morning and pray. I am thankful for all who are helping while knowing the help is not enough and the path will be long and hard.

We were able to fly Mami out almost 2 weeks ago now. She is getting comfortable in our house, adjusting slowly to the idea that she might be here longer than she expected, missing her friends and her routines but staying busy making all the arrangements she needs to make. She has written a couple of blog posts about her experiences during and immediately after Maria.

 My father flew down to Puerto Rico last week. He made a quick survey of our properties and was soundly surprised at how well they fared. Our apartment in Maunabo (very close to where the storm came ashore) was remarkably unaffected. Some superficial damage, some lost furniture but nothing hard to replace or repair.  Although my father had planned on staying for a few weeks he called me Saturday morning to update me on his findings and ask me for help on getting an earlier flight.  He said the devastation was just overwhelming and the situation felt unstable. Although he was staying with friends at a house with a generator and water, he was not eager to stay longer. My father is a keen observer of the Puerto Rican economy. He is a long-time investor and former real-estate developer. He is very worried about how people will cope after businesses start failing in the coming months. He expects many will have to close due to lack of electricity, stock and customers. Many business in PR already were balanced on a knife's edge and this prolonged crisis will only further endanger them. He said if the government doesn't get a bailout soon, many of the first responders who have been working endless shifts will not be paid after the end of the month. What that would be like is hard to fathom considering how overtaxed they already are and how opportunistic crime gangs are already causing additional losses to a vulnerable population.

 My cousin Michelle is keeping busy. She is freelance reporter and she has launched a YouTube channel where she is concentrating on providing English-speaking Puerto Rico residents with news about Maria. She is based out of the convention center and has been able to interview important officials including Lt.General Buchannan on the slow progress of the recovery process.


My cousin Virginia continues to gather supplies for her sisters and our extended family. She sent off yet another box yesterday. This time sending via Fed-ex because it has become harder to send supplies via airplane  and none of the care packages sent by mail seem to be arriving at their destinations.

If you are reading this I urge you to call your reps. Please urge them to pass a generous redevelopment and reconstruction bill for Puerto Rico and USVI. Urge them to work on debt relief for the island. Don't forget PR, and welcome the many that will be arriving on the mainland.

and if you want to hear the names of all the towns of Puerto Rico sung to melody punctuated by the sound of coquis, listen to Lin Manuel Miranda's amazing new song. It touched my heart greatly.


With peace, but with tears

This morning Chris let our congregation know that after 8.5 years of full-time ministry at RCRC he will be stepping down as pastor and leave full-time parish ministry sometime in June.  There were tears and then standing ovation by the congregation in appreciation for his work and years of service.

I was a mess this morning, I started crying even before he made the announcement because I knew it was coming and the doxology was a tear-jerker.  I wasn't even going to try not to cry. I had a big wad of tissues stuffed into my purse. I got some big hugs before and after the service.  I had some good and some awkward conversations. But that big sad moment that I had been dreading is done. Chris and I have a lot of peace about the decisions and the reasons we have moved to make the changes we have but our exact plans are still not fully set.

So what is next?

We are staying here. We are not moving. We own our home and want to finish raising our children here.  Our daughters love their schools, I love my job and we all love the area and the many friends we have made.

A few months ago, after  several years of questioning and prayer, Chris decided to apply to the University of Rochester's CPE program with the goal of training to become a hospital or hospice chaplain.  The time Chris has spent doing hospital visits with ill or dying and their families has been one of the most rewarding and consistently satisfying parts of his job as pastor. Hopefully he will be accepted into the program.

He also pursuing being accepted a minister with the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the hopes of finding a pastoral care or other part-time position within that denomination. 

We have a lot to think about it and figure out in the coming months, so we will covet your prayers that doors keep opening




Pray. Pray for me, Pray for Chris and pray for our daughters. For days, weeks, months, there have been worries and concerns I wish I could share but I can't, so I haven't. I can't tell you how many posts I have started and then deleted. Life in ministry is lonely even you are surrounded by loving friends and church family. So tonight I ask you to pray for us. I ask you to pray for renewal, for wisdom and for peace.

And because I can't just give you that vague post, I can assure that while those worries and concerns are big they not our whole life. We have plenty of blessings and good things going on.

Our girls are happy. They had the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time playing games and talking with their aunts Kendall and Rosie and their Oma and Opa on consecutive weekends. Zee continues to be active in Karate Demo team. Aay is busy with her music, drama and art. They are thriving.

I recently had the very fun experience of being interviewed by LatinoUSA. They wanted to talk to a Latino family whose members span the whole political spectrum. The whole experience was fun. A local radio producer, Matt came twice to our house and set up a mini-recording studio. My sister and I had a chance to talk over the phone to Fernanda Echevarri one of the producers of the show about our family and the way we talk about politics and how we react to politicians who don't understand the diversity within the Latino community. Fernanda and Matt were both very nice and interesting people to get to know. They plan to check with the rest of my family throughout the year as the election nears. In my church life I have transitioned from help lead adult Sunday School to working with our youngest kids. Parents are ever so thankful and all I feel is blessed when I am done.

Chris has many busy nights, full of church or library board meetings but in his spare moments he has been diving deep into music research projects, most recently Blues and 90's Alternative Music. As family, we have really enjoyed the playlists he has crafted. He is starting to make plans for spring educational trip.

So if you think of us, please add us to your prayer list.



Changes, Changes and More Changes

Yesterday morning I submitted the last of my paperwork related to Zee's home school semester. It felt great to send out confirmation of having accomplished and exceeded all our learning goals in the last 6 months. As family we are very happy with our home school experience. It worked for us, took the pressure off during a time of crisis, allowed us to divorce her emotional health from her academic well-being and let us focus on doing the work that needed to be done. We all got to know each other in a deeper way. We have gained a greater appreciation for the work dedicated home educators taken on, and appreciated the incredibly generosity of all our friends who have helped us learn the ropes.

But as successful as our home school experiment was, we have yet to commit to do it again in the fall for a couple of different reasons. The first is that Zee wants to return to school. She misses the social aspects of school, misses seeing friends on a daily basis. As a family of introverts we have always struggled to give our resident extrovert enough social time despite playdates, youth activities, group exercise classes...she loves being around people.

Secondly I have accepted a full-time job* (scroll down for more). This is actually not a huge obstacle to us continuing to home school because of the way we had already structured things, but it is still a consideration. Undeniably my return to working full-time means my schedule will be less flexible, so a greater part of the home school and family life responsibilities will fall on Chris.

Is Zee ready to return to the classroom? Hard to know. She is motivated to be there, but hasn't been tested by the challenges of the classroom regularly so we don't know how successful she will be once she returns. We are waiting to make our choice till Zee returns from summer camp. She will be attending a sleep-away YMCA for two weeks starting mid-July. We hope she has a fantastic time, but how she comes through that experience will greatly influence our decision about her fall schooling.

**** The new job. In late May, around the same time I was handed my contract for another year at RCS, I had an abrupt realization that I needed to move on. I've been wading through the red tape to retain my teacher certification with NYS. I finally had to face facts, my part-time hours at RCS had not allowed me to rack up enough hours to be able to apply for my professional (vs. Initial) certification document. Mercifully I was granted an extension by the State of NY after I committed to looking for full-time work this year. I have loved working at RCS. I had incredible colleagues, who faithfully and diligently worked under difficult conditions to provide an amazing education to their students. Working at RCS been a sacrificial ministry. I chose to work many hours beyond what I was contracted to do, at rates below what I could have been earning elsewhere. However I had incredible freedom and support. I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was vastly upgrading the education of my children. It was a calling and a ministry. A RCS, I had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the table, to serve a parent, a volunteer, a board member and also as teacher. I saw on a daily basis the dedication and love for Christ my co-workers exhibited, and their desire to do the best they could do with little money or resources.

After prayerfully considering my options I told RCS I wouldn't be returning. I know I disappointed many. I had many tearful hugs. I also received so many words of appreciation and encouragement. I will treasure all those words as I strive to let go. I am trusting that God will inspire people to pick up what I have let go of and accept that they will do it their own way.

Not having sought full-time work since I started at RCS, I was pleased and surprised by the incredibly positive experience I had job hunting. Within 3 weeks of starting my job hunt, I had been invited to interview for four different positions, interviewed at two districts, received offers from both and accepted a fantastic position. Starting in September I will be a middle school librarian at a large diverse school about 1/2 hour drive from my house. I am very excited about the school, the new opportunities I will have there, along with new challenges and learning opportunities.

So that is what is new with us. We have many fun summer plans ahead: Camp for both girls, a fun trip to NYC for Chris and I, and trip to Florida to see my Dad, before we return for orientation days and back to school shopping.

Thank you for your continuing prayers and encouragement.

When I want to do.

I don't know about you but I'm a very practical person. I like to be able to fix and do. I have a hard time listening to people vent without suggesting solutions or taking it as invitation or request to take over and fix the issue. This can lead to unwarranted frustration when the solutions or fixes are not wanted or in fact requested. Over the years I have learned to set boundaries, learning to ask and double check to see if people in fact want me to take over or help them. I've learned that there are some kinds of venting that I can simply listen to, and learned to excuse myself from the conversations I can't handle listening to without intervening.

Last week in Sunday School we were watching the second 1/3 of a video on the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We talked about his ministry and activism in Germany as part of the resistance movement against the Nazis. As those conversations are wont to do, we ended up at the end of class talking about Putin and the ISIS, and what kind of responses our nation and we as people should have. A few people suggested bombing or military intervention, others like me didn't feel that would be the right response, but we all understood the desire to act, to do, to not simply stand aside and watch atrocities occur.

Afterwards I was talking to a friend, and I tried to express how saying, Pray and actually praying in the face of injustices, atrocities, feels so small, so feeble, so inactive. But again and again, it should be where we start.

Nearly 8 years ago I was part of an amazing conversation with a nun at Coptic Convent in Cairo. She was serving as the interim Mother Superior, and welcomed our small tour group into her office for tea, when we showed up at the convent to see some of their amazing icons on the wrong day. It was a Friday, a day when the convent is normally closed to tourists and open only to friends and family. She would have in her rights to simply turn us away, but instead she welcomed up and treated us like family. We asked her questions about her life in the convent. She told us she had not left that convent for over 50 years, only seeing the friends and family when they came to see her on family Friday's. We asked what it felt like to see the world outside the convent walls change as dramatically as it had in her lifetime and how she felt about being cloistered within the walls of her convent. She responded by telling us about her call to a life of prayer. How she dedicated her life to it as she saw the Coptic church in Egypt face greater and greater persecution and upheaval. The certainty and peace she had in her call was a powerful and unexpected lesson.

I am in no way saying protests, calls to action or even military interventions cannot be the right response, but over and over for me, I need to remember to pray, especially when my first desire is to move and act under my own power.

When a friend calls or texts with tough situation, I will always offer my hands, my sympathy but I need to remember that it is no minor thing to say, "I will pray".

Praying is a surrender, a sacrifice of my will to God, and to say, "this is not something I can do alone". It is often painful, quiet and lonely but we are called to pray, and I so often need to remember that.

Dark clouds at the Horizon

Ocean view

One of the magnificent pleasures of our Maunabo apartment is it's fantastic ocean view. I love just sitting in the living room, reading or writing and being able to look out at the view. It is always captivating, always changing. I love watching the clouds roll in from the northeast. The Trade Winds bring us all sorts of skies. Some are bright and clear, some hazy with "Bruma", but most often full of big lazy clouds.

Playa Larga, Dark a Clouds

Today as I prepared coffee and breakfast I watched a bank of extremely dark clouds appear on the horizon, deep gray sheets of rain trailing behind it into the ocean. As I looked out I wondered what it meant for our day. Will the bank of clouds roll past us or over us, will we be able to go down to beach or be stuck in the apartment. Should we try to wait it out, or run out and do what we can now? After much internal debate I decided that even if all we could get was 15 minutes at the beach before it started to pour it would be worth it. Soon everyone had changed into their bathing suits, grabbed towels, chairs, bogie boards and books and climbed into the car. We got a lot more than 15 minutes. We had 45 before the first light sprinkles urged us to pack up. And when the rain didn't follow us in-land, Zee and Chris enjoyed another half hour in the pool. We took a chance, and didn't keep the specter of dark clouds keep us from doing what we wanted to do.

Bogie boarders wade in surf

I've been thinking about that morning sky all of the day. Right now Zee's mood swings, and flash meltdowns are the dark clouds in my horizon. I think it of them often as I evaluate my daily plans. I evaluate how challenging certain social situations might prove to be, how difficult it could be to leave and often question future plans. Will this be okay or will this push her over? Will I be able to go to that conference I booked? Are our sight-seeing plans too ambitious? Am I helping her enough or too much? There are lots of great days where no plans are upset, we try new things, and have a lot of fun. Some days are long days, where everythig goes great, till it suddenly doesn't, and of course it is front of people who don't understand or have any context. Other days are filled with a string of mini-battles and situations, not a single one terribly remarkable or difficult, but still exhausting. Most days I feel like, like I felt this morning, determined. There are dark clouds, and many challenges ahead. I can make plans, and give myself appropriate expectations & the clouds might miss us and we will have a better day than expected or we might get drenched and overwhelmed but it is better to get going and enjoy the day we have been given, instead of sitting inside and wishing we had a different one.


What I've Learned so Far (Day 22):

-That if I am left to my own devices I will go to sleep every night by 9:30 and like it (this is my kind of sabbatical)

-That routine is my best-friend, but that I can just change it when it is isn't working.

-That it is completely okay to say no. Not coming to that I wasn't planning on doing I don't know the answer to, I'm not answering that call right now.

-I am not going to get everything done and the world is not going to end.

-People are willing to help if you tell them how, but that sometimes feels like more work, but it is worth it if you can let go of it.

-Some people have lots and lots of advice, but the best people just pray, hug you and make you laugh.


We are down to our last three days on our own and we are doing well. Chris should be getting here sometime Wednesday. We are eager to hug him and welcome him home. I don't know how our new routines will work for Chris, and I know we will have a lot of adjusting but we are looking forward to it.

Homeschooling (Day 16 of school) is going great. Zee is rolling right along with the curriculum. She still has very rough days emotionally,but we are all a lot less wrung out about it. She is sleeping more, eating more and that is such a good thing. Homeschooling gives her the time to process her feelings and I am glad we are giving her the time.

I want to thank of all of you who have checked-in with me, offered to help or actually helped.  I came close to wearing a sign saying "I'm FINE!' but I do appreciate the thought. And I appreciate those who gave my girls rides, or watched over them, when I couldn't. 


What is missing

Tomorrow it will be a week since Chris left for Sabbatical.  We hear from him every other day, and I love hearing how well things are going.  He is running into old friends and professors, he is enjoying the classroom discussion, and today he will spend the day with his Grand Rapids family.

At home we are missing him. Last night at bedtime I had my sometimes-so-grownup teenager, ask if she could curl up with me at bedtime because she was missing her daddy.  Not long after midnight her sister (who always wants someone to curl up with) joined us.  

In so many ways our daily routines have not changed. I still get everyone up in the morning, make lunches, ferry kids to activities, make dinner. We are getting everything done but we still missing Daddy.  We miss his music playing in the afternoon, we miss his presence at the table, we miss him sitting on the couch beside us. They miss him nagging them to take their showers or clean up their stuff.

I find myself stretching to do things he normally does. I've tickle-cuddled Zee and Aay, because they miss that from him. I've put music on the stereo, or invited them to watch a movie or tv show with me. Without Chris, we so prone to sit alone in our different spaces in the house and do our solitary things.  

It makes me think about what people miss about us when we are gone? What we don't realize we need and take for granted.

When I told Chris on the first day how Zee was blasting her dance music because she missed him, he said "She misses the fact I am noisy?". That is not it,  I think she misses the fact that he fills up our quiet with invitations to interaction.

I am not Chris, and so I can't fill that void, but we are filling out days with other interactions. Zee is our extrovert, so she always asks for what she needs,  sometimes it can feel exhausting but at least I know when she needs from me.  So Zee and I have been working through a really fun set of vocabulary puzzles together called "Daily Word Ladders" whenever she feels lonely, she comes to ask if we can do a page or two.   I am still trying to figure out how fill what is missing for Aay.  Last night it was cuddles, so maybe that will be what I do.  To just hold her for a little while each day.

I am missing the person who daily cares about all the stuff we do. Who cares as much as I do about the girls. Who runs up to tell me about some trivia, news or internet fight because he thought I would like to hear about it. The person who interrupts me when I get too deep into my introversion.

What is missing?  It is a who, we miss you.



Winding down: The Summer Wrap-up


Our summer was fun, busy and wetter than we expected. After our travels out West, we came home to a week and half of family visits. Papi and Rosalia stopped in for a 24hr whirlwind visit, dropping off a car for me (I know I am terribly blessed!), before rushing back home to Florida. We had just a long enough break from torrential rains to enjoy the visiting the American side of the Niagara Falls together. Hot on their heels was my sister Rosie, her wife Kendall and my Mami, who came to visit for the week. We toured around Rochester, walking down Park Ave, taking a boat tour of the Erie Canal and sharing a lot of wine and stories. We closed out that week with a big birthday party for Chris's 40th birthday. His Aunt Sue and his cousin Jackie dropped in for the party, and we had fun even though it drizzled the whole time.

A. went off on her first sleep-away summer camp. She spent two weeks on the campus of Houghton College taking part in the Cshey School of Music. She returned to us very much a teenager. She made tons of friends and already made plans to return next summer. While she was gone, Z. took part in RMSC's Wilderness Survival day camp. She learned how build a fire, basic orienteering skills and most of all for the first time in her life was at camp without any friends and family around. She made friends and had a fun time, and grew up just a bit more.

I took most of July off from book reviewing, and I have spent the rest of the summer trying to catch-up. I have also dug out boxes and boxes of items to be donated from our crawl space in the basement. It is was liberating to get rid of so much, even if it is only a portion of what we should get rid off. I caught up in all sorts of other household projects, so hopefully the house will tolerate being ignored for another year when the school year starts again. I have started working on my fall lesson plans, planning and registering for fall conferences, and buying our Feb Break plane tickets.

Chris had a good summer. We enjoyed his Sunday evenings off together, and took advantage of the extra time to go visit his family. We loved visiting with his mom and siblings over Civic holiday weekend in London. We love giving our girls time with their cousins. We also went up last week to Cambridge to visit with his a Dad's side of the family. The family had gathered to say good-bye to his uncle Bert who passed as few days later. Again we were blessed to spend time with with aunt, uncles and cousins. Even though everyone's hearts were heavy, we enjoyed each other's company, and seeing the smiles on the little toddlers too you to know why everyone gathered. Chris is on his way now to Brampton so he can join the family for the funeral service tomorrow.

Even though gray clouds fill the sky right now, we are doing well. School is around the corner and we are getting ready. There is of course as much anxiety as hope in our hearts as we look ahead, but we trust that with God's blessing we will have a good school year, A.'s last at RCS.

So please pray for us, that Z. and A. have a good school year, pray for our friends battling cancer (Carolina, Jennifer and Bill), the Fluits as they mourn, and for my Mami as she settles into her new life in PR.





Taste Test

Late yesterday afternoon, Aay, Zee and I were enjoying a pre-dinner snack of Laughing Cow original swiss cheese wedges, which Arwen proclaimed to be TASTY! and finished off three wedges in quick succession. I grew up having the Laughing Cow bites, tiny foil wrapped squares that were shelf stable and a staple of my pack lunches as a child. Sadly Laughing Cow no longer offers the original version of in the bites here in the states (they were availble in Canada last year), only offering the very plasticky light version, which my girls rightly rejected.

Cheese 007Aay's evident enjoyment of the cheeses prompted her to ask if we could go and buy and taste a bunch of different cheeses. I told her we could, in fact if Daddy was game we could even make a dinner of it. So this morning after I took out my new bike for a quick ride to pick out of first delivery of fresh veggies from our CSA, Porter Farms's delivery point, less than 2 miles away, we headed out for our saturday family day. We played a round of putt-putt at Wickham Farms, we crossed the parking lot to our YMCA and went for a swim. They had a giant dragon play slide in the exercise pool, and then both girls practices many of their new swimming skills, like underwater diving and glides. After our pool time we drove down the road to the supermarket and wine store. Chris went off to replenish us and I set out with the girls to select the cheeses we wanted for our taste test. We ended up taking home 11 different kind of cheeses, Piave, Muenster, Brie, Campo de Montalban, Feta, Wensleydate with Cranberries, Fontina, Humboldt Fog, Beemster, Havarti,  and Emmenthaler Swiss. Once at home we set out several kinds of crackers, sliced meats, olives and bruschetta topping. Everyone got 11 little cards with the name of a cheese and a pen. As we tasted we were asked to jot down our impressions, and whether we judged the cheese good, okay or bad. Chris and Zee were juding on the same pace and Aay and I did them in the opposite order. 

We had a blast. The girls tried everything, even the Humboldt fog, which took some courage even to get Chris to try it. (I thought it was marvelous).Cheese 014 Cheese 015  Zee marked hers with circles (good), checks (okay) and Xs (bad). We had a ton of fun. Talking about how each flavor and texture was, what we liked or didn't like about them and then experimenting by combining the cheese and with the fruit and meats we had on the table and seeing what  combinations work. The  girls  really got into that, and we  talked about  on of the scenes in Ratatouille where Remy is trying to explain to his brother about tasting things not just gobbling it up. Great time!  For the record. Aay's favorite was Piave, Zee: the Feta, Chris: The Havarti and Me: The Humboldt Fog.


I just read a really nice email from the nice folk at makers of Humboldt Fog, who really enjoying reading about our taste test. Since it was my favorite of all the chesses we tasted I want to make sure I shared their website with you.  (July 11, 2008) Buen Provecho!