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.

 


Dear Friends, How to help...

This month has been rough. Back to school, back to work but with my attention divided as I watched not just one storm but two hit Puerto Rico.

I have a lot family still there including my mother. She and my immediate family are okay, safe and sound, even if their homes are not. We have been lucky to have nearly daily contact with family, while hundreds of thousands are still waiting to hear from their loved ones.

We hope to be able to evacuate her on Tuesday (if the airlines don't cancel her flights once again like they have twice already this month after Irma).  

The island is devastated by this hurricane to an extent never seen by my generation and that of my mother's. There is no region of the island that is untouched, and everyone is working together to restore power, keep each other safe, despite damaged roads, shattered infrastructure (power and water are out to the whole island) and a barely functional phone system (80 to 85% of all cell towers in PR have been destroyed).

It is emotionally overwhelming but at the same time necessary to spend time combing the local news for information about conditions.  Everyday there is another heart-breaking photo collection. Yesterday was seeing pictures of my Alma Mater, Wesleyan Academy  or Watching a aerial video of our second home in Maunabo.

Many have asked me for ideas on how to help. Thank you, I know it is hard to take yet another disaster in, and  I imagine lots of you are suffering from disaster fatigue

There are lot of good organizations on the ground already mobilizing to help.

 

This is a good listing of place accepting donations: https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/centrovoices/current-affairs/where-donate-help-puerto-rico-disaster-relief-and-recovery-hurricanes

 

However I know many people like to give tangible items:

 

A group out of DC (United for Puerto Rico) is coordinating with the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration Office and has created an Amazon Wish List, for items they are gathering to be sent down:

 

https://www.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/3Q9IA6CLWJ0IM/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_ws_MSeXzb0T2BS9Q

 

If you want to be even more personal,  my cousin Virginia Rojas-Firpo is coordinating a care-package drive with the help of her cousin in Naranjito, a small town in the center of the island my mother's family is from and where they don't expect official help quite a while.

She shares a list of the most needed items and an address.

https://www.facebook.com/rojasvirginia/posts/10155168223687144  

 

Most of all I just covet your attention to what is happening in PR and other Caribbean island once the news coverage ends and please share this with anyone who is looking for ideas on how to help.

 

Muchisimas Gracias, 
 

Worth the Chimichurri

Growing up we didn't grill steaks  very often but if we  did, they were well-seasoned skirt steak smothered in salty-garlicky chimchurri.

Chris and the girls  don't  have the  same  garlic addiction I have so  over the  years I've stopped making  chimichurri when I make  steak  (My siblings, Rosie and Juan D. can  groan in disbelieving unison here).

Maybe because's today's weather  is so PR-like or because in recent months I've started being better about taking care of myself and not just  everyone else's needs.  I treated myself by making some Chimichurri along with our steaks. No one else enjoyed it with  their dinner, but  I sure did.  

As a mother and as I wife I'm very  loved and appreciated, my life is not one of sad martyrdom but I do sometimes forget to cater to myself the same way I care for others. My joy in each bite was  a reminder that I needed to remember that I'm  worth the effort of making the Chimichurri,  even if I am the only one that enjoys it.


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

 

 


Crossroads

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.

 

 


Rainy Day Fare: Chesseburger soup

Last fall we introduced our girls to cheeseburger soup. It was a staple of our young and poor days.

Zee often asks me to make it on days I don't have a handy can of Campbells condensed cheese soup. Today when she asked I decided to look at internet receipes and see if there was any that I could adapt to our preferences.

I ended up using this one from Taste of Home. I made a quite a number of small variations and it turned out great.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
3/4 cup diced small celery
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced peeled potatoes (1-3/4 pounds)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Adobo seasoning to taste


Toppings: Shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, diced onions, diced tomatoes and sour cream

In a saucepan, saute the onion, celery and garlic in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are tender. Add the broth, potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender. While potatoes and veggies simmer, brown the ground beef, lightly seasoned with adobo powder.

When veggies and potatoes are tender, scoop into blender and puree. Add the potato mixture back into the broth and add the browned and drained beef. While it simmers and thickens on low. Make the roux, melting 3 tbsp of butter and thickening with flour. Slowly add the 1 1/2 cups of milk to the roux and then melt in the 2 cups of cheese. Mix into the soup along with salt and pepper to taste. When the soup is creamy and mixed together, serve hot. Add toppings/garnishes just prior to eating.


Enjoy!

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Adjusting

Today I picked up my paystub. Adjusting to working full-time has actually been a lot of fun. My new library is a busy one, as I serve roughly 700 students and nearly 100 teachers and staff. I enjoy getting to know new people and I love being able to help them.

The girls are also adjusting to new schools. After 4 years together in the same building we are all in different schools. A at the high school and Z at the middle school. They have both made new friends and are greatly enjoying their new schools too.

The after-school has taken more negotiation. I'm home an hour and half later than I used to be. Running kids to evening activities and getting dinner on the table is more of a challenge. Chris has stepped-up and is now sharing more of those duties. My belly is full with some delicious Potato-leek soup Chris made for us tonight. It was nice to be able to sit back and decompress and chat with Chris while he cooked instead of rushing right into the kitchen to whip something up.

There still remains a lot of other adjustments to make, like when I will ever manage to sneak in runs, because however early I wake up (between 4:30 and 5:30 am) I can never motivate myself to go for a quick run, when I rather stay in bed and read. I am also trying to find a new writing rhythm.

I am so happy our new starts and opportunities, and I am confident everything will settle in nicely.


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.


Processing: The Gap between inspirations and aspirations

I love going to conferences. I'm blessed in every way when I can pack up and take a break from the everyday hustle and concentrate on learning and listening. For me conferences are not just opportunities to listen to speakers but opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I learn something from every interaction, not just in the workshops or presentations, but at the breakfast line and luncheon table. I've only been here a little over 24 hrs and my mind is bursting.

I feel a little anti-social right now writing and trying to process instead of sitting down at hotel bar networking, but I felt a stronger than usual need to think and process on my own tonight. I feel caught in that productive discontent of sorting through the inspirational, convicting, challenging and occasionally frustrating things I've learned & trying to think about what things I want to bring back and do & which of those things I can realistically tackle.

This school year I made a choice to scale back some of my efforts, to reserve my energies and not over perform to the sacrificial degree I had done in the past. That was not a easy decision. I love my school, but it is a part-time position that I was treating and working as if was full-time because I love them so much. But in the long run it wasn't fair to my family nor did it set up the realistic expectations. I advocated for myself, and was able to get a schedule that didn't set me up for overwork. I've asked for help more than I've ever have in the past, and said no to things that couldn't accomplish within my paid hours. It has been hard to scale back my expectations of myself but it I needed to pull back in order to respect myself and my family.

I thought I knew what I was going to do with the time I was reclaiming. I had plans. I thought I would sub more, clean more and catch up with everything but that wasn't what I've ended up doing. While I am reading more and writing more (which I deeply love to do), in the end the majority of my reclaimed time has been taken up by unexpectedly by homeschooling. While there is still a gap there between what I aspire to do, and what we have been able to do, I've at least I had the time to try to tackle it.

Despite my greater than usual need to pull back and process I am as always incredibly thankful of being been able to come. I know that I can't aspire to do everything I'm inspired to do, so I'm storing up some of those big ideas for later, and I will content myself with the smaller ways I can improve my practice.

 


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.