All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Family (Page 2 of 16)

Where I express my endless and boundless love for my kids through the stories of their youth. Someday you’ll all be old enough to be embarassed by these. Chuckle. I’d talk about Laura here, but she doesn’t like that… private she is.

Lucy, the Tomato Dog

I stepped out in the morning to do my garden walk-through. I have been battling rats that like to eat my roma tomatoes (only my roma tomatoes), and since taking out the family, I do a daily inspection for critter activity. I feel like a detective, looking for flattened areas of traffic, disturbed soil, nibbles, toothmarks, half eaten fruit. What a ton of work it is just for my tiny little garden. I couldn’t imagine having to survive on it.

But today there was a new mystery. There is always a mystery. The critters of the night lead a secret existence, the insects, mice, rats, dogs, and iguanas, little forces of nature with their own agendas contrary to my own.

I almost stepped on today’s mystery.

What is this? I picked up one of the several green tomatoes scattered about. I turned it over. It was sticky and had a couple of large puncture marks about the width and size of our Lucy’s canines. The stickiness was Lucy slobber. I’d know that persistent agent anywhere.

What is she doing with my tomatoes? This is bizarre. Is she playing with them? She’s not eating them, but brings them back to the terrace. I scolded her, “Lucy, stop taking my tomatoes!” I knew she didn’t understand, but whatever.

Over the course of the next few weeks every few days, I would find tomatoes in various states of ripeness placed on the terrace. It was exasperating. I’m not the best tomato farmer in the world, so every single one counts. Stupid dog! Stop picking my tomatoes. She knew I was upset and would cower, “I don’t know what I did to make you mad, master, but I’m sorry,” she seemed to say.

She’s a good dog though, very loving, smart, and craves attention. Olaia calls her an, “attention hoarder.” And whenever I go into my garden, she trots along with me and watches. We know how smart she is, because she’s so easy to train and is eager to please.

And still the tomatoes came, rolling around in the hot sun. Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. Could Lucy be trying to help me? When I pick the tomatoes I always bring a handful back and place them on the terrace while I clean up. And while I’m pulling weeds and picking them, there’s Lucy watching me. Could she be imitating me? She isn’t eating or playing with the tomatoes. She delicately picking them with minimal tooth marks and brings them back to the house and leaves them. A-ha! I think that’s it. I have a farmer dog, harvest helper.

If only I could train her to only pick the red ones though… and not slobber on them.

R.I.P. Billy

He was a little chihuahua mutt that I rescued from a military installation. Some young soldiers were kicking and throwing things at him. I hollered at them and scooped up the little guy. My heart went out to him. On the car ride home, he stood up on his hind legs looking straight ahead through the windshield while he tried to bite me. I was already beginning to regret this.

He was a nervous, bad-tempered little dog. At first, I met his aggressiveness with force, but he just got more desperate and anxious. Soon, I realized I couldn’t  force good behavior on him. It sounds stupid for that to even be a revelation, but alpha dogs don’t coddle. In the pack, you either get your act together, or you get a beat down. But I realized I couldn’t strong arm him into obedience. I would have to meet him with gentleness no matter his mental state. When he got worked up in a frenzy it wasn’t good for anyone. So I tried to adopt a kinder softer stance with him. Loud voices, sudden movements, forcing him to do anything, would get him worked up and he would spin around and try to harm himself.

Also, we never did break him of the peeing on everything in his sight – inside or outside.

When we went to the park he would bark at us until we came back to get him and take him too. He hated the leash though. Another thing to torment me, he seemed to say, but I guess he preferred to be with us than to be left at home.

Once we came home to him huddled in a corner on our terrace all bloody and disheveled. “Oh my God,” I yelled, “Billy’s chewed his tail off.” He’d always hated it, it tormented him. He would catch it out of the corner of his eye and spin for the attack. Around and around and around he would go until we thought he’d have a heart attack. It wasn’t really funny, but we did not know how much it tormented him until he almost killed himself to be rid of it.

After one surgery and the cone of shame, we were nearly ready to pack it in. He was still bent on harming himself like an insane asylum patient. We had to be with him all the time, and his growling and frenzied attacks on his butt were putting us all on edge. I remarked at the time that this must be a small window into what the parents of addicts go through. No matter what we did, he wanted to hurt himself and there was nothing we could do but supervise him 24/7.

We closed our eyes for one second, and he had what was left of his tail again.

After another surgery and an infection, we were able save his life. He now had a nub. We bought him a spiky collar to go with the new tough-guy image. He seemed to enjoy not having his tail. He became a decidedly calmer dog. His hated nemesis was gone.

Soon after we moved to our new house, he developed a cough. It persisted for more than a week, so Laura took him to the vet. An x-ray revealed a large tumor nestled next to his heart, pushing on his trachea. It was so large already and in a difficult place.  “He’s already 10, let’s just keep him comfortable. If we see he is suffering too much, we’ll put him to sleep.”

He carried on like that for a little over three years. There was a moment last year when he stopped eating. I thought it was time and we discussed it as a family. Everybody was distraught, especially the little ones. They didn’t want Billy to die. Billy, so as to not let us down, suddenly started eating again. He was back to his peppy self, and we soon forgot about his little episode of sorrow.

Recently, he had been eating less and less. He’d take a few bites of food, wander over to be petted. If we petted him sufficiently he would take a few more bites. The bites became fewer and fewer, the pets more frequent. We’d have to stroke him many minutes before he would go into his kennel at night.

Today though, he didn’t want to eat. He just stayed in his kennel all day. I roused him to go out and pee this evening. He needed to go out for a little bit. He was so pitiful, but he trotted out after some cajoling.

After twenty minutes or so, I called them in. Jessie wouldn’t come, and I didn’t see Billy at all. I went out to look for him in his usual places, and I found him collapsed near his favorite flowerpots.

I wouldn’t say he was the best dog. He was soft and cute, but he was nippy, generally nervous and bad tempered. We had made a choice, though, to take care of him, to accept into our family. He taught us that love isn’t an affection, that we don’t love because of what you do or because you are smart or cute or fun. We loved you Billy, because we could, because you needed us to.

I’m gonna miss you, little guy.

Perfect Heroes

“Hey Daddy, was Jesus perfect?”

“That’s a tough question, Javier. Hmmm, I don’t know how to answer that. I’m going to say no, he wasn’t perfect.”

“Well, some kids in my class say he was perfect, but I don’t think so. He must have made his mommy mad at some point when he was little.”

“Hah, you’re right. I’ll bet he didn’t eat his apples all the time like Asier. You raise an interesting point though, Javier. I actually don’t know if perfect is even a relevant question to ask. What is perfection? Never making a mistake? You can’t be human without learning from making mistakes and learning from them. If perfection is completely living your potential, then he might have been perfect, but still, most people see perfection as just not making any mistakes. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a perfect man. Some say he cheated on his wife. I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that he was a sinner. Does that make him less of a hero? He struggled and sacrificed for us all, but he had his weaknesses. If Jesus was fully human, it would follow that he made some mistakes too, but again, I don’t even think it’s relevant to talk about. Just like Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, it’s not relevant to mention his individual failings. The most important measure of their lives is their heroism.”

“Isn’t it more interesting to talk about heroes than perfect people? Perfection isn’t a goal. Heroism is the goal. Was Jesus perfect, is the wrong question. He was a hero because he made heroic choices in his life. He overcame his weaknesses, his fear, and his doubt to make a heroic choice.”

“So there you go, Javier perfection isn’t the goal of life, heroism is.”

Religión, la Familia y el Cerdo

Yesterday was the 25th of July, el Día de la Constitución en Puerto Rico (Constitution Day). It is a big holiday very much like the 4th of July in the US. We began it going to the funeral mass of, get this, the brother of the husband of the sister of Laura’s father.  You get that? It all boils down to el hermano del querido tío Benny. I call him Tío Benny too. We always gravitate towards each other during family functions and end up talking compost and farming and whatnot. I’ve learned a lot from him. So when we heard his brother had died, it was a given that we would be there.

This is how Puerto Rico is. Cousins removed – cousins of cousins, cousins through marriage… they’re all primos and we all celebrate and share together. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but still, I appreciate watching and pretending. I suppose it’s as close as this gringo can get.

The funeral mass was held for Pedro Alberto, a local school director and beloved character in the town of Guayama in the southeast of Puerto Rico. The mass was packed, the homely strange, and the words spoken few, but everyone was there, extended relatives from all branches. My wife’s parents were there. We were there with our four children.

As is my usual manner, I contemplated my place in the assembly, the upsides and the downsides. On the general downside of having a huge interconnected family, we attend a lot of funerals. There are so many extended relatives, you just can’t help but be called upon to go and show support. It’s not pleasant, certainly. Who wants to face their own mortality, be reminded of it regularly. Can’t we all pretend that life just goes on forever?

For the kids too, do we really want them to be here? Is it too hard? I don’t think it is, in fact, I think it’s good for them.  It is probably good to be exposed early, to get to know pain and mourning and the loss of a loved one, because it will find them later in life, and they should be accustomed to the process. “Javier, this is the mass for Tio Benny’s brother. I’m sure he misses him. You would be so sad if you lost one of your brothers, no?” Yes, he said, and I know he appreciates his brothers. They all hugged each other and gave each other kisses. Such cariño; it brought a tears to my eyes.

There’s an upside too, more in line with my previous post about beauty and pain. Life is beauty and pain. Living is painful, but life is beautiful. A funeral mass is the acknowledgement of that duality. There is relief for the dead; the long journey is over. There will be no more tears to cry, no more pain to endure. You are dead, you finished your work. For the living, the frailties of the departed loved one become less important as time passes, until la vida is purely sanctified and beautiful.

This mass, this ritual is the coming together to process and find acceptance, to deal with the passing and in the end to say, “It’s all good.”

When it was over, I was tired, but at peace. I thought it fitting that we celebrated this Constitution day doing something important, something that I feel is the best part of the Puerto Rican culture, la familia.

We have passed from religion, to family, and now we finish with another typical and important part of Puerto Rican culture. I will leave it here so that we end on a light note with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.

We stopped in Guavate and ate lechón, slow cooked pig on a spit, with rice and gandules, mofongo, amarillos, yuca y morcilla.

From family and religion to the tasty pig, it doesn’t get more typical than that.

Diplomat Javier

“Hey Daddy, what is this song saying?”

“I don’t know, Javier. It sounds nice, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to the words.”

“I don’t like this song.”

“Is it saying something bad?” I asked, thinking perhaps he had picked up on some offensive lyrics or something.

“No, it’s just that this guy’s voice is weird. It sounds like he doesn’t have good breath control.”

I laughed. “Javier, you would know better than I. Your choir training makes you a subject matter expert.”

Javier grinned.

“But I think he is singing that way on purpose. I don’t think he can’t sing well, it’s just that he is going for the effect.”

“Well, it sounds bad. I don’t like it.”

I explained that perhaps his affected style was to convey an intimacy with the audience, a lack of polish to engage, to not set himself apart from those appreciating the song. It wasn’t a beautiful performance, I agreed, but there was something I liked about it. It hit me like a slow jam around the camp fire with friends. It did bring me in close and didn’t chase me away with vocal acrobatics.

“So Javier, you’re right, probably, but it’s hard to say who is right and wrong when it’s a question of why a person likes a song or not. Your opinion is probably as valid as mine. I like the song. You don’t. Who is wrong? Sometimes that’s the problem when people argue about things like this. We’re having a good discussion, but just saying it’s bad, probably isn’t the best way to talk about it.”

Javier furrowed his brow. I could see that he was calculating a response. He always pauses before he says something profound.

“Daddy, this guy is doing a good job of singing badly.”


We Call it the Easter Dishwasher

Like most everything these days, home appliances come with printed circuit boards tucked away in various corners of their interiors. These control and logic boards rein over everything from the temperature, to water usage, cleanliness, etc, all to achieve an Energy Star rating.  They do the same job with as few resources as possible. The only problem is that you have to throw them out after a couple of years.

It turns out that the heat and humidity of tropics is murder on the electronic guts of modern appliances, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines. Sure, they’re more energy efficient, but then you have to get new ones every few years because the cost of repair is nearly the cost of the appliance as new. Sigh. How environmentally sound and efficient is that?

Anyway, so our dishwasher started acting up, first not draining properly. At first I thought it was clogged, but it turns out that the drain cycle was just not being triggered properly.  The cycle would not complete due to some control system problem. I took it apart, checked what I could check, studied the electrical circuit diagram, went online and found the part.  $150 but I couldn’t get it shipped to Puerto Rico without jumping through hoops. Sigh again.

After further reading however, the problem didn’t necessarily have to be isolated to the control board. It could be in the touch panel circuit.  Both together would be over $300 and that wouldn’t guarantee it would solve the problem. As a do-it-yourselfer I can’t guarantee my work. If I have misdiagnosed the problem, I eat the cost and try again.  To pay someone else with more knowledge to do it, I would have to chip in another $150-$200 for the work. Now we’re at nearly 80% of the cost of a new dishwasher.

So there I was, the thing wouldn’t drain, and now the touch panel was not working… lighting up in a strange configuration, only turning on and running if the delay wash button was pressed. Then one day it stopped working all together.

Time to get a new dishwasher. And off i went.

Perhaps it was the threat of being replaced. Maybe it had reflected on its life purpose, and got past its existential crisis, maybe it wanted us to reconnect with hand washing so as to appreciate it more. I don’t know, but that stupid dishwasher began to work again.  One day, I closed the door and heard the pump motor wind up and suck the dirty water from its bowels. “Well, will you look at that. Do you hear that, hon? This damn thing is draining!” On a hunch, I loaded it up and pushed the delay washer button, and was greeted with a one hour count down. I danced a jig in the kitchen.The boulder had been removed from the tomb, but I did not know what it meant yet.

For a week, we used the delay button to do the loads and things came out sparkling clean. The water drained. It’s a work around, but we can live with it. Then Laura came to me, “I pushed the wash button, and it started up!”

“Really?!” It was too much to believe, unreal, a complete resurrection.  I had to see it for myself.

Now the question is how long will we have it.  For how long will it walk with us, washing our dishes, freeing us from the hell that is hand washing? I suppose we should rejoice for whatever it decides to give, for it could be recalled at any time. Let’s hope it goes longer than 40 days.

Windows Update Comes to the Rescue

We have been watching the TV show Arrow, a live action show about the DC comic character The Green Arrow. The show is sponsored by Microsoft and one can see their products, the unmistakable Windows Metro 8 interface conspicuously sprinkled throughout, with lots of little logos, and other call outs to Microsoft products (Bing etc). This is important, so pay attention.

Scene: Green Arrow is chasing down a bad guy who has someone tied to a bomb that is set to go off on a timer.  Green Arrow’s computer expert, Felicity, is tracking some IP address, wireless tower, whatever to help Arrow locate the evil doer and hostage to avert disaster. Seconds are ticking off, the hostage is crying, the evil doer is laughing, monologue-ing. Tick tick tick.

“Where is he?!” yells Arrow into his communicator

Felicity concentrates on her Windows 8 laptop as her fingers dance over the keys, “Just a second, I almost have him.”

“Oh wait,” says Jaimito, “There’s a Windows Update, and it’s restarting the computer.”


We all roll on the floor laughing.

Dogs and Man and Cosmos

Loving the new show Cosmos with Neil deGgrasse Tyson. Today, episode two came to life.

The second episode of the new Cosmos began by detailing the ancient relationship between humans and dogs, how we co-opted each other to mutual benefit. Tamer dogs would get closer to the humans and be rewarded with scraps. Those dogs reproduced and the traits that allowed them to coexist with humans caused them to diverge from gray wolves. In turn, humans began to incorporate these new friends into their tribes, using them for hunting, watching, herding, etc.  It has been a fruitful collaboration ever since.

In modern times, a good many dogs are little more than companions to their human benefactors. They are rarely called upon to fulfill their ancient duties. These little doggies, yearning for the times of old, bark furiously at the postal worker, dig for ground animals in flower beds, and scavenge trash for treats. Mostly though, they languish with only the faintest primal ember still burning in their dark eyes.

Today though, our dogs returned to the lives of their ancestors.  An iguana, a big male, perched upon our fence and dared the dogs to do something. They barked and leaped throwing themselves at the high fence in a desperate frenzy. “Look, master, another meatbag wandered into our yard. Ooooo, I want it so bad!” They seemed to say.

I, however, wanted the racket to stop, and I didn’t need the impudent creature impregnating another female, thereby increasing the devastation his invasive species brings to Puerto Rico. I reached up and grabbed him. With my hand firmly around his big tail, I hauled him down twisting and squirming in my grasp.  His thrashings were so violent, I couldn’t hang on. Wow, that had never happened before. He was vigorous and strong and raced free along the fence seeking escape, rising up on two hind legs for maximum speed. Without hesitation, Lucy took off after him, through my spinach, over my basil and peppers where she ran over him twisting her body and grabbing him in her big powerful jaws.

Her blood was excited and I must say, I felt the rush of the hunt as well. Here was a worthy strong opponent, with a razor sharp tail lashing, its strong legs carrying it faster than I could go. And Lucy, 25 lbs of mutt, a funny mix between a rottweiler and dachshund, let her ancestors’ ferocity bubble to the surface.

“Git ‘im! Git ‘im! Lucy!” I yelled. “Good dog! Good dog!” My praise redoubled her efforts as she tore into the shoulder and neck of the six foot reptile. In that moment, I wanted its blood, and Lucy, oh Lucy, she was living the dream, hunting with her master. And her master was happy, and she had blood in her mouth and prey at her feet.

I reached in and grabbed it by the tail once more. It was now far more docile, injured and resigned to its fate. With a quick blow to the machete, I severed its spine taking off most of its head. They have such tough thick skin. I spent the next thirty minutes wallowing in iguana blood butchering the thing as Lucy stood proudly by. I had to put her inside, though, as I think she thought my manner inefficient and sought to speed up the task. “Master, you are doing it wrong. You are wasting blood, and I very much want to eat it. I want to eat that bag of meat that came into my yard, because they are delicious, and I love to eat them.” <- read this in Dug’s voice from the Pixar movie UP.

It’s funny, but only a few days before, we went outside and Lucy came trotting up. “Daddy,” Jaimito said, “Lucy’s hurt.  She has blood.”

I took one look at her panting and trotting playfully. “Jaimito, that’s not her blood. Look around the yard for an iguana carcass.”

As for today, the hunt, the kill, the butchering – we shall dine well, doggies, iguana fricassee is so delicious. You will be rewarded in accord with your ancient assistance.

La Cosecha


Javier picking a peck of unpickled peppers. He crawled all over and under these huge pepper plants, selecting red ripe sweet ones for sofrito. I love this photo, the contrast of his reddish hair with the green and the fruit.


Dat calabaza! A big green Caribbean pumpkin squash. We use them in tons of things, from beans and rice, as a soup thickener, as a soup, and yes, in pie. Delicious. This one weighed 37.5 lbs (17 kg)



Asier will be turning seven, and the common theme in the family is that we like him just the way he is.

“Asier, I forbid you to turn seven.  I don’t want you to get older. I think you are perfect just the way you are,” I said chuckling.

“But, Daddy, if I don’t get older then I will never get married and have a family.”

“You have a good point, Asier. I guess we’ll allow another birthday… this time.”

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