One of the scariest things for me about spending a few months in Puerto Rico was that the boys would have to start a new school with only three months left in the year.
In Puerto Rico, we were told, you pretty much have to send your kids to a private school, especially if they don’t speak fluent Spanish. I spent the last two months researching online, making un-returned phone calls to schools all over San Juan.
Private school. I grew up in the public schools and my Mom is a retired elementary school teacher. When I ran for office, I was and advocate of the teachers unions in the state. I’m all for public school all of the time. So this was a change for me.
Of the very few that we could afford, we had our first interview at an Episcopalian private school, a college prep school that was very strict about behavior and dress. At our interview, the principal (younger than me) kept reminding me that they were a college prep school and that the boys would have to test in to make sure they were up to snuff. I saw the test in advance and I’ll tell you that my boys were ahead of their curriculum with what they were learning in Penns Valley. Still, the principal only expressed doubt to me.
On recommendation of our friend Carlos, we walked right into the Palermo School and tried to enroll our kiddos–it’s a run by and Italian/Puerto Rican family who moved to the island 30 years ago. It’s very small and like a family. And the price is very reasonable.
Okay, so maybe you’re wondering how the boys feel about all of this? Well, they were very scared that they’d have to speak Spanish. They were very shy at first. But we left them there for an exam and when they were done they went right into their classrooms. When we picked them up, they were so happy and ready to start school immediately.
It is strange what you take for granted with the public school system. Like we had to pay for everything–books, uniforms, school supplies (at Penns Valley, we only have to have a back pack), after school sports, casual Friday ($1), enrollement fees, technology fees, etc.
Well we loved the school. We’d walk them the mile it took to get there and we’d pick them up in our car in the afternoon. We got one week of instruction in before the government/COVID-19 shut us down.
So here I am, the most reluctant homeschooler in the world (“I would never homeschool two boys. No way. Never. I wanna werrrrrk!)
I don’t really like it, honestly, in part, because in PR we’re not really allowed to leave the house. We do, of course. We walk to the store. We walk to the post office. We sneak to the beach at dusk when the cops seem to have gone home for the day. I’m very sure a healthy homeschool curriculum requires a shit ton of outdoor time.
But we’re making the most of it. One cool thing is that we don’t have any doors on our house. So we’re basically living in an indoor/ outdoor space. It’s also very large, so sometimes just walking to the sink or to the bathroom is a big walk. And we have one large open room where we conduct gym class–we play bad tennis, bad racquetball, and somewhat decent soccer.
Josh has been a very enthusiastic science teacher. He's decided to start with Earth Science. Roscoe pretty much makes up his own rules, starting every day by searching the grounds for lizards, frogs, and slugs. Unfortunately, none of the lizards on the property have their tale anymore, because he's caught so many.
Mad love and respect to all of the teachers out there, who are now transitioning to online curriculum. I’ll tell you what–I miss you!
The sun is out and the birds are singing and my mind is racing. Right now, Harry Bellafonte sings “Sweetheart from Venezuela/Juanita” and I can either dance or write.
I just got back from my single-gloved daily post office visit, avoiding people by cutting through alleys and parking lots still covered in stones hastily thrown down by trucks so that cars wouldn’t slide during the one ice storm this town experienced this so-called winter. Those goddamned rocks are putting holes in the bottom of my boots, who’s soles I had replaced for a whopping $40 just last year.
On sunny days in this muddy Pennsylvania valley, the coffee seems to work. Finally. My manic mind, full of ideas, won’t stop. But there is a push and pull.
“I just want to sit in my chair in front of the woodstove and get down all of these brilliant (obviously) ideas before they leave my simple brain permanently!”
“Get outside in that sunshine! Pick up a spade, a rake, a paintbrush, whatever! Work outside while you can!”
Always its exclamation points on these urgent, sunny days.
When we were in Puerto Rico as pandemic set in I hid my Irish-ancestored skin from the blazing sun, kept my blue eyes always behind sunglasses, and shielded my face with a Hollywood starlet-style floppy straw hat. I lived for the sometimes twice-a-day rains that brought any break from the sun.
Still, my pale skin turned red and then brown and people back home still looked sickly white.
It’s all relative and I might as well keep adding cliche—I always want what I cannot have.
These days here in the valley if there is sun, the days last longer than when I was last here. And my pre-peri-menopausal self can bask in the sunshine at the top of a mountain I like to pretend is mine (I sometimes let my kids come along) without breaking a sweat.
And there are the small tasks—the small stupid tasks I’ve been putting off for years. Everyday suddenly feels like those boring, friendless Saturdays as a teenager, where your Dad is watching golf on TV and the only thing to do is sit in your room and play with dolls that you’ve long outgrown. I hated these Saturdays, and then longed for them as I became an over-achieving, hard-partying academic, and later as an over-performing multi-job-holding hustler with two non-stop kids. These endless Saturdays are mine again and the small becomes significant and productive.
On sunny days like this, quarantine or no, I’m grateful for all of it. And I have to write it down before I forget it permanently.
Maybe you saw this coming? Not the end of times, but the end of our time–this time–in Puerto Rico?
One week of not working for Josh. Can you imagine it? Inconceivable?
Yesterday we woke up realizing how long the work stoppage/lock down/no school was going to last, or at least how long it could last.
And immediately we had the realization that if we didn’t leave right then that the airports might very well be shut down soon.
So we were able to book flights home for around $30 each.
We’re home now and it feels pretty good. Did a quick grocery run before we do a 2 week quarantine for real. I forgot my wallet. They said take the groceries, Erin, and pay later. I stopped at the post office and they put an immediate cancel on my forwarded mail and handed me two books delivered just that morning.
The boys are so happy to be playing with all the toys they forgot they even had.
Of course I’m disappointed that our stay in Puerto Rico wasn’t longer, but we figured a lot out while we were there–what we like, how to live during a pandemic lock down, how to swim in the ocean, etc. I have yet to face the San Juan/Carolina DMV, but I’ll do that upon our return.
Thanks Puerto Rico–how lucky we are to have you in our life! And thanks Penns Valley for the welcome home.
It’s amazing how quickly you can accumulate things in a capitalist end-of-days society. For us, we arrived with our carry-on luggage and are now working to make a construction site feel like home. After the initial buying of air mattresses and sheets and a few dvds, we were provided some essentials–such as some beds (we’re most thankful for the beds), a refrigerator (wait, I’m actually most thankful for the ice), and some patio furniture (and I love having a place to lounge!). With the essentials in place, the McCrackens, especially Josh, are back at their pickin’ ways.
Here are some of the treasures we’ve found just by walking around our neighborhood. We found two great light fixtures that our next door neighbors put out. Josh spotted a great chair when I accidentally took a wrong turn on a dead-end street.
On the way back from the grocery store we found this great table that we filled with found books (see below), and Josh found this great light that he carried a few blocks to our house. Josh is very into good lighting, no matter the situ.
And of course, no home-temporary or otherwise–is complete without books. So there’s this cool thing up the road, a kind of free library. We were able to get a bunch of school text books, which help with home schooling, and a few things for us to read as well. I’ll tell you, of all the luxuries I miss while being in quarantine away from home, it’s my book shelf (and my local bookstore and library!).
It’s getting to the point where we’ll need to stop gathering stuff–I’m enjoying not having the clutter comforts of my PA home (it still exists, I just don’t have to think of it at this moment. STOP THINKING ABOUT IT, Erin!).
But we’re pretty comfy in our new life, and we find a certain joy in getting what we need by just looking around and not going too far.
ps. much of this was pre-lock down so calm yourselves. We’ve got protocols too, dang it!
When I first tried my hand at vegetarianism, circa the year 2000, I was forever perplexed by people saying how much they loved beans and rice. I couldn’t imagine a more boring thing to eat. Had I developed a taste for beans back then, I could’ve probably committed to the veg lifestyle for good, but alas, I wouldn’t learn to make them until 15 or so years later.
I’ve noted before that since arriving in PR, our situation has been a little dicey. Even before we secured our living situation, we were living off of this recipe. We change the type of beans, and I generally always eat this within a burrito setting, including cheese and avocado, and sometimes meat (I try to turn all food into a burrito), so it’s pretty versatile.
Here’s a basic recipe for making beans and rice that we use at home and in the EcoVents catering kitchen. I’m not a professional recipe writer and I use approximate measurements, but beans lend them to variation at any point in the cooking process.
And also, you are probably a seasoned chef. If so, don’t be insulted by me making such a simple recipe. Instead, share with me how you make yours. Thanks in advance!
1-4 onions, chopped
4 oz preferred cooking oil.
1 red, yellow, orange, or green pepper, seeded & chopped. (or 2 tbsp of Sofrito if you have it)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Ground Cumin to taste
Smoked Paprika to taste
Other spices: crushed red pepper, adobo seasoning, Cayenne, etc.
Juice of one lime
1-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 can of diced tomato (fire-roasted are best imho), or chopped fresh tomato
1-2 cans Habichuelas/Small White Beans (note: back in PA these are a bit hard to find. Look in the “GOYA” section. They usually have the dried version. Of course, any beans will work, but these mini white beans are my fave)
Serve with 2 cups Basmati Rice, y’all.
- As with all cooking, I start by frying the onions in a bunch of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the onions start sizzling,( or before, whenever,) I add all of the spices and the lime juice. Then when the onions are soft, I add the chopped pepper.
- Once the pepper & onions are soft and translucent-y, add the tomato & chopped garlic. Then add the beans (you can drain before hand or not. I personally like the liquid).
Lately, my secret weapon has been that I serve these with Basmati rice. It’s the best rice and worth the little price bump. Unfortunately, they were out of Basmati at the store yesterday (boo!).
Enjoy, ya’ll, and don’t forget to tell me what you’re eating while in lock down, especially if it involves beans!
The police had swept the beach just 10 minutes before. We saw them drive from street to street in packs of three. We heard the whistles and we saw the tourists slowly walk back to their cars, many parked in front of our house.
It was late afternoon and it was our only chance. We threw on our bathing suits but didn’t take the time to put on our flip flops. Then we went for it, running the one block from our house directly to the beach and straight into the ocean. I could not keep up with my boys who were not about to miss their opportunity to ride the waves for a few glorious minutes.
No matter that the waves were choppy as hell (the boys had basically learned to swim in a rip tide), or that they were full of what we call “salad” (red seawead), we did it. No matter that there we could see the policia walking in the opposite direction telling the few stragglers to get out of the water, knowing he’d be turning back in our direction. That water was ours.
Shit is getting real here. The governor is not messing around. In reading the comments on David Begnaud’s FB page–David is the patron saint of Journalism/truth telling of Puerto Rico news, in English–there was some doubt cast on the ability of the government to enforce some of the strict mandates, citing lack of police and no national guard presence.
I’m here to tell you they seem to be doing just fine with enforcement–either that or they are just concentrated in my neighborhood.
This morning after my husband “gently” reminded me that I haven’t gotten any real exercise lately, I decided to go for a run. And well, I made it almost all the way to Isla Verde, when the policia stopped me, got out of their car, asked if I spoke Spanish (solomente un poco), and kindly told me I couldn’t run because we are on lock down.
That’s where we are here. My little tourist enclave is shut down, and while I welcome the break from the spring breakers, it’s not worth much if we can’t access it either. We are allowed to go to the grocery store, where they sell liquor and beer, so we’re all good in that sense.
We don’t know what we’re doing or what’s going to happen. That’s the exciting part. And the scary part. So what can I tell you now? I mentioned that we’ve moved here to Puerto Rico, and in a sense we have. We’re here for a few months, looking for opportunities, looking for a way to be here part of each year.
At the very least, we’ll be back in PA in June, when we have work lined up. I do have so much to tell you about being here though. They just closed the beaches down so it’s about to get real interesting. I made my first trip to the grocery store post-shut down and found out that toilet paper is pretty popular here too. And I forgot the goddamned bread. And eggs. Dang it!
Obviously it’s not “Day 1”. We’ve been in San Juan, PR for just over 3 weeks now. We didn’t make any big proclamations about moving here, in part because we were taking a few risks and didn’t exactly have work or a place to live lined up. All we knew was that we needed a break from Central Pennsylvania–a break that included warmth, sun, and the ocean.
Okay, it was more than a break. We were hoping to head in a whole new direction. To give our boys access to the world, to give them access to people who spoke a different language, to show them that not everyone looked the same or dressed the same way.
It’s odd to think of now–whatever hopes/ideas we may have had–how we had no idea that the world would shut down.
Last night, the Governor Wanda Valasquez–I think it’s fair to say that she is “embattled”–called for the closure of all non-essential businesses and restaurants for at least one week and a 9pm curfew for the whole dang island.
And we find ourselves living on a construction site of a sprawling Modern beach house one block from the ocean. I go back and forth between thinking that we’re in the best situation possible and thinking that we’re the most vulnerable. Either way, it’s going to be interesting, and I thought I’d share our story as it unfolds.
Stay tuned folks!
Hi Everyone! We’re tributing to Dad this week–your Dad, My Dad, Daddy Musicians, Songs that remind you of Dad, Songs your Dad sang to you, Songs that let your Dad speak from the dead.
Good stuff on this one–Billy Gibbons, Jack Motley, Dr. G. & The Mudcats, Beyonce, the McKay Brothers, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and oh so many more artists!
This episode made possible by a lot of input from listeners/friends. Thanks so much!
Honoring the dead and the living this week! We go back to listen to an interview with Jack Motely from Alive Fest and he plays a song for us.
Plus: Rio Grande Valley Rock-n-Roll, Urban Cowboy stuff, Jimmy LaFave, Ruthie Foster, Joe Ely, Jazzmeia Horn, Mance Lipsocombe, and more.