Road Trips and Four Things That Bring Me Pleasure & Joy

One of the benefits of a long road trip, other than admiring a scenic view and listening to a great podcast or playlist, is uninterrupted time with your travel partner to really dig into a discussion. On a recent drive upstate through the breathtaking Catskills, my husband C and I delved into a conversation about the difference between pleasure and joy when he asked how my writing was going.

(For those who may not know, I am working on a coming-of-age memoir that spans ten years of my traumatic experience growing up in a dysfunctional family battling unresolved issues from generational trauma. I struggled with self-worth and emotions of guilt and shame for feeling disconnected from my family and wanting to pursue a different path. In my journey to find a sense of belonging, I made unconventional choices against familial and cultural expectations for a world that wasn’t ready to receive me. After years of self-healing guided by intuition, relationships, and my love of learning, I discovered my purpose and identity.)

I was on a tight deadline and struggled to write that week. But for me, that’s often the case. In fact, I find little pleasure in the process. Eating pistachio gelato? Now, that brings me pleasure. Coming up with the right framework and words to describe something when my head buzzes with a million, often mediocre, ideas, making me freeze in self-doubt and want to give up, is not a physical feeling that brings me happiness. Writing came to me much later in life, and reading in earnest was something I found in my mid-twenties. I accept that I am learning and require an exorbitant amount of inspiration. So much so that I wonder if it’s the same for other writers. If so, why they would voluntarily do this for a living.

I am in awe of past and present writers who persevered and published their gifts to the world. I can’t be sure their process was pleasurable, but I imagine it brought them joy. It’s what I feel when I complete a scene, a chapter, or an article — joy, a state of mind that goes far beyond the momentary physical feeling of doing. I imagine I’ll feel it once the book is done, knowing that my words will be capsulated, alive for others to read long after I’m gone.

Pleasure and joy are worthwhile, and I want more of them. At least I want to recognize the difference when I’m experiencing one or the other, if for the purpose of magnifying it and stretching it, like taffy, as long as I can.

What about you? How would you define pleasure and joy? What examples come to mind?

Here are four things that brought me pleasure or joy this month. I hope they bring you feelings of happiness.

  1. This article from the incomparable Zadie Smith inspired this post and former discourse on the same topic. It’s well worth the read. You may never think of joy and pleasure the same.

The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little pleasure in it. And yet, if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

Zadie Smith, JOY
  1. In my never-ending search for inspiration, I stumbled upon Joan Didion’s Why I Write. Such a pleasure to read.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*
It tells you.
You don’t tell it.
* “Note well.”

  1. I recently read the beautiful novel by Xiochilt Gonzales, Olga Dies Dreaming, a New York Times Bestseller and International Latino Book Award Finalist the Kirkus Review describes as a “tough-minded story of a sister and brother grappling with identity, family, and life goals in gentrifying Brooklyn.” In my quest to extend the pleasure of living in the world Xiochilt created, I searched Spotify to see if a playlist existed. It does, at least one inspired by the book, and it’s pretty good! Consider a playlist for a book you read and loved.
  1. La Brega is a beautifully produced and engaging podcast about the “stories of the Puerto Rican experience.” Episodes are done in both English and Spanish, which is terrific for those who want to brush up on their español. Tip: Listen at ¾ speed for your language learning pleasure! A second season was just released: The history of Puerto Rico in eight songs. The show’s producers will release a cover album of the songs this month! Connecting to and finding new ways to celebrate my culture brings me lasting joy.

“There’s no direct translation of “la brega” in English, but for Puerto Ricans, it’s a way of life. To bregar means to struggle, to hustle, to find a way to get by and get around an imbalance of power. It’s got a creative edge, a bit of swagger; as Puerto Rican scholar Arcadio Diaz has observed, it’s a word that belongs to the underdog. Hosted by New York-born Puerto Rican journalist Alana Casanova-Burgess, La Brega tells stories of an island and a people trying to cope with too many challenges, and who deserve and demand better. The series is created by a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers, musicians, and artists from the island and diaspora; a co-production from WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios.”

Consider your next road trip a mobile garden to fertilize the marvelous world of imagination. Thank you for taking the time to connect with me here. It brings me both pleasure and joy to be in community with you.

With love, 



pistachio gelato in Florence, Italy – a pleasure & a joy
working manuscript, 160 pages

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Lost in Repatriation: Where Have the Writers Gone?

It’s been three months since my husband, Craig, and I settled in Manhattan. While I understood it would be a challenge and take time to make meaningful connections here – everyone seems to scurry from one place to the next in hurried determination – I didn’t expect it to be this harrowing.

After all, I had no trouble making friends when living abroad in two foreign countries. I had built-in opportunities through the boys’ schools and sports clubs, my workout groups, and neighbors. It’s true that we are new empty nesters, and our sons are now grown and live in different cities; we can no longer count on the ease of meeting other parents through them. But why am I surprised that I haven’t made a single connection on an island of 23 square miles and 1.63 million residents?

I partially blame myself. 

Since our return from Europe, living in Stockholm and London for over eight years, we have been focused on work and reconnecting with friends and family in neighboring states, gathering for celebrations we would otherwise miss if we still lived across an ocean and a six-hour time difference.

I’ve also been spending too much time inside our apartment. I didn’t set out to pass my days sitting at a small desk in the guest room, but I needed a private space, a room of my own if you allow, to establish a routine as a new writer. Writing a memoir is a soul-searching endeavor that requires you to revisit and examine significant moments in the past, some of which can shake and bring you to tears. Until I was more comfortable with the process, I wouldn’t consider venturing out, although I fantasized about living a writer’s life in the city. (There’s also the fact that I often talk aloud. Something about speaking the words makes them real and helps with editing. Not sure the public would appreciate my practice, but then again, this is New York City 🤓.)

My online writing community and work as a property manager and board Co-Chair for a national nonprofit kept me from noticing that I hadn’t yet made a friend IRL. I had grown accustomed to my routine and wondered if I had unknowingly become an introvert. (The answer is brilliantly clear for those who know me well.) I even retook the 16 personalities test to see if my source of inspiration and energy has shifted these past years, especially as I spend a good portion of my days in isolation. But, I am a person who needs the energy of others to be at my best.

So, I searched earnestly for fellow writers and ponderers in local cafés. Many coffee shops I visited did not invite lingering, as evidenced by the limited seating and lines of nomophobics edging toward pick-up counters. Admittedly more of a fan of their community outreach than coffee, I imagined spending mornings in the creative buzz of a Starbucks, fueling on their milder Veranda coffee blend and tapping away on my laptop. I wandered to several of their renovated stores near my apartment and saw similar changes where they notably traded their inviting nooks and tables for the digital convenience of preordering and take-out.

I’m wondering what is left now that this beloved Third Place for writers and creatives doesn’t seem to exist in brick-and-mortar. Surely there is something I’m not considering. If London has local pubs, Stockholm cozy cafés and Fika, undoubtedly something similar exists here.

In the meantime, I want to be intentional about making friends I can give my energy to while discerning the kinds of people I want to surround myself with. I’ve thought about this for some time: how we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. In an exciting city like this one, I’ll need to think differently about ways to make connections outside of writing and step out of my comfort zone.

I am deeply grateful for my community beyond state and country lines and virtually, including you. Thanks for taking the time to read and share.

In the spirit of friendship, I am curious if there is a facet of your life that can benefit from contemplating or thinking differently. What would stepping out of your comfort zone look like?

With love,



Morning bite at a London cafe before writing

3 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Stopped Lying and Started Listening

In my late teens, I began to spend more and more time away from my hometown – flipping burgers at McDonald’s on the I-95 highway, attending community college, then working my first corporate job as an office clerk. I noticed there was a big-time gap between my life experiences and education as a second-generation, inner-city Latina and those of my co-workers.

As the new girl in the office, I’d been invited to join a group of women for lunch. After introductions, the conversation naturally moved to current events. Names I’d never head of – captured journalist Terry Anderson, Cormac McCarthy, Follet’s Pillars of the Earth – filled my head with doubt. I folded like origami to fit neatly into the tiny box I believed contained people like me, those who felt stuck in between two worlds: the one they knew and the one they were too intimidated to enter.

I nodded and listened, wondering how I knew so little. I’d been sucker-punched. At first, this realization upset me:

How dare my schools not prepare me enough; students from more prosperous school districts were trusted to take books home with them – to read the classics and spend time with passages and characters, bringing the words and images to life – while we inner-city kids were lucky if we had twenty minutes to read aloud before stacking them into a tower on our way out of class.
Do my co-workers assume I don’t understand things because I’m Hispanic? How will I ever catch up?
I’m not smart enough.

I don’t belong here.

Then, I feared being found out.

I tired from trying to erase myself invisible. Worked myself sick figuring things out on my own rather than ask for clarification, because I believed asking questions was a sign of ignorance – too slow to get it right the first time. 

Shame followed me like a thunder cloud. When I did engage others, I found myself slipping into a dangerous habit. Lying became my umbrella. It felt easy at first. I could walk the red carpet with everyone else: Por supuesto, I’ve been to the new restaurant downtown; Claro, I’ve heard of that bestselling book; Pues sí, we also set the dinner table during Thanksgiving and ate as a family.  

The fact was that my family never ate out besides the rare trip to McDonald’s for breakfast sandwiches or Duchess Restaurant for onion rings and vanilla shakes. 

I grew up eating at Abuelita’s house where there was always a pot of rice or chicken stewing on the stove. At grandma’s we ate sitting on the floor, if the sofa was full, or on the bed while we either watched telenovelas on full blast or listened to the latest hip hop cassette on the boom box that was glued to my cousin’s shoulder. We didn’t read novels. We lived them hanging out on Caroline Street and Hough Avenue in Bridgeport, and summers spent owning the pueblo in Manati, Puerto Rico.  

But the dishonesty only made me feel more anxious about my place in the world. I felt like a fraud. 

The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t.” – Paulo Coelho

One day, a friend at the office said she dined at the restaurant I had recommended. She enjoyed it so much she wanted to hear details of my experience. I generalized, nodded, and smiled nervously in agreement, but as she dug into the details, my reddened face told her I’d never been. She was gracious and moved on to another topic. I stopped listening and prayed that quicksand would swallow me whole.

I made the decision to stop. Both the not asking and the knee-jerk lying. No longer would I pretend to know what I didn’t. And no longer would I agree to have the same experiences when I hadn’t. 

Instead, I would find a way to flip my reaction of embarrassment into excitement and an opportunity to learn more. 

I created a three-step approach to keep me from falling into my old habit.

Step 1 – Prepare to reply without a fight

I knew I needed help, a sort of break-glass-in-case-of-emergency response, to volley the questions I felt defensive and small answering, so I memorized the following phrases: 

“I have not experienced (or visited or heard of, etc.) that. Tell me more.”

“I want to be sure I understand. Will you please repeat the instructions?”  

Step 2 – Listen up, nena!

I would also need another trick in my back pocket to keep my shame umbrella tucked away because I knew I’d most likely reply with a “Yeah, I get it” (when I didn’t) or “Yes, I’ve been there, done that” (when I hadn’t).

So I decided that listening would become my superpower. I let go of the need to respond for the sake of looking smart and decided instead to listen and absorb the lessons.

Step 3 – Reflect back

As a sign of respeto, I would paraphrase what was shared with me. For example, if instructions were repeated to me, I would reflect it back: “What I heard you say was this… is that right?“ If a friend shared a new experience with me, I’d tap back with, “It sounds like you really enjoyed tal y tal (at that restaurant, about the book, Thanksgiving dinner).”

I tested my approach for each situation. Here are the three things I learned:

  1. I felt free from shame and open to absorb new things when I stopped sabotaging myself
  2. Most people expressed empathy and were happy to share their knowledge and experience
  3. Everyone felt understood when I validated what was said

People appreciated my eager interest in their experiences, and they became interested in mine.

I described my neighborhood and our traditions like pig roasts in the summer that began at 4am, and parrandas, traveling sing alongs during Christmastime when carolers and musicians showed up at your home unannounced any time of day or night to sing carols and eat and drink.

Once I brought my own lunch to work: chicken noodle soup using sofrito – a Puerto Rican cooking base made with cilantro, garlic, onions and green peppers. Everyone at the table commented on its delicious aroma and asked for the recipe. One woman, who became a lifelong friend, even tasted it. A few days later one of the women slipped me a wink and a post-it with a recipe for her Sicilian family’s sausage soup.

The more we got to know one another, the more we understood that our cultures share similar dynamics and customs. From this respectful exchange of personal experiences, we became closer and more trusting of each other, our perceptions broadened.

I began to understand that my dual worlds – my beautiful Puerto Rican culture where traditions and values ground me and my American culture where my aspirations are possible – could coexist if I propped the door wide open.

Still today, I find planned emergency responses helpful in dealing with difficult situations. For example, people asking me for money or to cosign on a loan: “As a personal rule, I don’t lend money, but I’m happy to help you find resources you can use now and in the future,” or a disagreement with someone: “I want to hear your thoughts. Can you help me understand?”  Think for a minute what the conversation might be in these situations if instead I replied, ”Oh, hell no,“ or ”It’s you who doesn’t understand!” 

Here are some situations when a practiced response can help:

  • A troubled friendship: I value our friendship and I miss spending time with you. Can we get together soon? 
  • Pressure to have sex: I don’t have sex until I feel it’s the right time for me. If you care about me, you’ll respect that.
  • If you’re asked to do something you’re not comfortable doing: I don’t do things I’m not 100% sure about. It’s a rule I won’t break. If you care about me, you’ll understand.

How about you?

When did you last lie or present a false front? What would be gained by being real? 

Is there a situation you’re currently dealing with where a planned response can help? 

Let me know if you try this and how it worked!

Here are recipes for sofrito and sopa de fideo. Buen provecho!

Sofrito -photo courtesy of Carolyn Gonzalez

Sofrito is the base for many Puerto Rican dishes. It’s similar to the mirepoix of French cooking, or the “trinity” of Creole cooking. This is my version using items you can easily find in your local grocery store.

Yield: About 1 1/3 cup

1 large bunch cilantro
1 green bell pepper or 3 cubanelle peppers (also known as Italian peppers), chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 large Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
6 large cloves of garlic, crushed
(and, if you can find them, ¼ pound small sweet chili peppers called aji dulce, sliced in half with inner seeds removed)
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree, adding a little water or olive oil until it has a thick but smooth consistency.

Storage tip: Freeze sofrito in ice cube trays. When frozen, pop them out and seal in a freezer bag and your sofrito is always ready to use.
Usage: There are so many simple dishes you can make using sofrito. I like to pop one or two cubes into my soup stock for a quick burst of flavor and into my pasta meat sauce for a Puerto Rican twist on the Italian classic. Have fun exploring ways to use this simple base in your cooking.

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Seven Questions for a More Intentional and Fulfilling Life

Photo by Anna Herbst
Photo by Anna Herbst

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” 

-Scott Westerfeld

A manifesto, a written statement of believes or intentions, can help guide us in important areas of our lives. I wrote this one the summer my firstborn flew the nest for college, and my youngest was beginning to fluff his feathers. These are thoughts from my own personal experiences that I wanted to share with them before they ventured on their own.

Who Am I? Know and celebrate who you are. I’ve spent most of my life trying to define this for myself so you can confidently step into your colorful heritage. You will have questions as you travel the bicultural bridge. You are Puerto Rican American Swedes. Global citizens with a rich heritage to ground you, no matter where you live.

What Makes Me Special? You are unique and have a gift(s) to share with the world when you are ready. We all do. By not expressing our talents and ideas, we are, by choice, depriving someone else of becoming inspired or feeling comforted by our experiences. Cast your pebble into the wide-open pond and trust that the ripple you create will be received with gratitude.

What Can I Trust? Let your values guide you. When in doubt, trust your gut instinct. You will know your truth when your mind, heart, and intuition are in complete alignment. 

Who Can I Count On? Become your own best friend. Seek solitude and expression as a way to self-connect. These tools will center you and help you deal with difficult challenges. They are a quiet conversation with your authentic self, a way to connect your mind, body, and spirit. Meditation, for example, can happen in the traditional sense. But you can also find groundedness by taking a mindful walk in nature or composing music. Even listening to music can bring a connection to your truthfulness. Whichever way you choose to practice, mindfully observe your present moment and absorb the miracle of it all. You exist, and that’s wonderful!

How Do I Improve? Remember to jump out of your comfort zone. It happens quietly; we find ourselves in a plateau, not moving in the direction we had hoped. It may serve a purpose: information raising its hand to let us know it is time to challenge ourselves. Many people choose not to acknowledge the eager hand in the air, for the unknown can be scary and feel dangerous. But you are calculated risk-takers and understand that fearing something means you do not have enough information to move forward. Like your creaky pre-teen knees indicated you were growing, calculated discomfort allows you to develop toward your fullest potential.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Life? Life experiences over things! Life is a transaction of deposits and withdrawals: Positive life experiences are deposits. Sometimes we experience withdrawals in the form of setbacks. Like your funds, make sure to create more deposits. Invest in travel – opens your mind and connection to the world – and in relationships, making sure to give as much as you receive. Volunteer. You will receive so much more than you can ever give. 

How Do I Make an Impact? Stand your ground, participate civically, and treat people fairly. We live in an age where remaining silent about issues we care about means we are decidedly allowing them to happen. Educate yourself about the topics and perspectives, and respectfully voice your opinion. Always vote and stand up for the issues that matter to you. Ask yourself how you can best serve.

What about you? 

How might your manifesto look? 

What beliefs or wisdom from hard-learned lessons can you gift to your younger self or someone who is just starting on their own?

To create a goal-driven manifesto, imagine yourself five or ten years from now, living the life you hope for. What might your future-self share as loving advice to align your life today with your vision?

Let me know how you did. Comment here or contact me directly.  

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