My Abuela has been gone a long time, but I think about her every day. She was smart, tough, courageous, capable—and unfailingly feminine and ladylike, too. This coming New Year, instead of the usual vague, easily broken resolutions I’m fond of making (like, “Get more stuff done” or “Be organized”), my loving memories of this remarkable woman are inspiring five resolutions I’m committed to seeing through.
Resolution # 1: Cook with Love
As a little girl, I was under the mistaken impression that spaghetti and meatballs were just as Puerto Rican as arroz con pollo. That was because my Abuela dished up both with equal acumen. The truth is, when she married her second husband, who was Sicilian, she learned to make Italian food for him, and she did it really, really well. She put the same love and thought into cooking for the whole family, whether it was veal parmigiana for her husband or crispy, homemade chicken nuggets for me. I’ve resolved to put the same care and feeling into cooking that my Abuela did. Instead of throwing together a fast, potentially mediocre meal, I’ll to talk to my partner Joe about foods he especially enjoys and would like to see on his plate; I’ll make meals our son, CC, can’t resist; and I’ll put a healthy, creative spin on my stepkids’ favorites. Healthy, seasonal ingredients don’t require a big budget—in fact, cooking with fresh, local produce makes a lot of economic sense, too. And it’s a beautiful (and delicious) way to express your love for your family.
Resolution #2: Create for Myself
My father is an artist, and I have an artistic side, too. People always told me growing up that it was in my genes, but they didn’t realize that the gene in question went back farther than my dad; Abuela was an accomplished artist in her own right. Her landscapes—lush forests, a forlorn beach dune on a rainy day—were modestly framed and hung throughout her house. She created for herself, for her family, and for the pure pleasure of it, which I often forget to do in my own life. It’s easy for a busy mom like me to check (and double-check) the bottom line of everything I produce: Does it have merit? Can it help contribute to our family? But interestingly enough, creating for simple pleasure aids in creating for profit by keeping those artistic juices flowing In 2012 I want to make time for a simple watercolor or one of my lopsided sock monkeys, just for the fun of it.
Resolution #3: Remember that I’m a Lady
Abuela was every inch a lady. Her makeup was subtle but always perfect; I never saw her in jeans or sweatpants; her elegant hands were made even more beautiful by her long, shapely, polished nails. The first time she saw me in what was to become a very long, drawn-out grunge phase—a black t-shirt over black leggings with beat-up sneakers—she asked delicately, “Is that what you call an outfit?” Well, I’ve gotten past the need to assert my personal style by looking like I just fell out of bed, but I often don’t find the time to tweeze my eyebrows or pull on an elegant pair of boots to set off my jeans and sweater. But when I do, I find that I’m more confident, more at ease with myself. So this year, I’m going to remember the eyebrow pencil, the nail file, and that I may be a mom, stepmom, partner, writer, sometime-artist—but I’m also a lady, just like Abuela.
Resolution #4: Keep a Beautiful Home
Just as Abuela took care with her appearance, she made sure her home was beautiful, too. She lived in a modest semi-attached home in Queens, but that house was pristine from top to bottom. Soft music always played; pretty soaps were laid out in a dish in the bathroom; the rooms were filled with the delicious fragrance of whatever she was cooking. And needless to say, clutter was an unwelcome entity in casa de Abuela. She certainly kept things that were of sentimental value, but with care and thoughtfulness—a glass bowl filled with matchbooks from her many travels, the bookshelf with her Hummel figurines, a side table stacked with my Abuelo’s beloved mystery novels. I’d like to set aside 20 minutes each day to make sure my own household is neat, clean, and uncluttered. Not only is it a happier place to be for the whole family, but I find I’ve a better sense of clarity and purpose when my surroundings are beautifully kempt.
Resolution #5: Family, First and Foremost
Abuela knew how to take time for herself to have fun, to cook up a fabulous dish, or to create something special. But she seemed to always have her family in mind, too. Throughout my childhood, almost every Sunday I would pile into the car with my mother and father and we’d spend the day with Abuela in Queens. In the summer, she would fill up a little inflatable pool for me in her backyard and run the garden hose into it. I still remember her boiling water in a teakettle and adding it to the pool to warm it up a little before I got in. Just as often, these precious Sundays involved my mother’s parents, too—Abuela, Puerto Rican and a devout Catholic, embraced my Jewish mom and her family; she could be found in attendance and dressed to the nines every year at my Grandma Lily’s seder eating up gefilte fish and matzah bread. This year, I want to make sure to have family days—and not just me, CC, and Joe with my mom and dad. I want to get everyone together: Joe’s brothers, his aunt, and my stepkids, of course—for some epic gatherings in the spirit of those Sundays in Queens.
It won’t necessarily be easy keeping these resolutions, but they’re certainly worth the effort. I’m determined, and confident that Abuela’s spirit—and the enduring examples she set for me—will see me through.