Mourning and sorrow…COVID-19 reality.

Truth is stranger than fiction“…this phrase keeps popping into my head lately as we collectively do what we can to confront and navigate our way through this pandemic, trying every day to keep safe and not become one of its sad statistics. The world has been dealt an eyeopening set of circumstances that, while having been pondered endlessly by epidemiologists, keeping them up nights wondering how something like this can be prevented and/or contained, humanity somehow was not able to avoid it. Now as a result of such an occurrence, the sad consequence of so much suffering and needless death is left for the survivors to bear. How will we be able to cope with the aftermath and how will we find closure when our ability to mourn and commiserate has been changed so drastically? Nothing is normal anymore, not even the way in which we say goodbye to a loved one who has moved on from this tormented earthly realm.

Death, the unavoidable great equalizer of men has become an even heavier burden for many to carry considering how COVID-19 has affected the ordinary way that we see death, confront it and cope with it. This pandemic has tainted the nobel last act of death with a ominous specter, leaving many with heavy guilt ridden hearts. We are suddenly left to factor this uncontrollable variable into our equation of grief and make as much sense of it as possible. Not only has the everyday “normal” been drastically affected by “social distancing“, constant sanitizing and cautious interaction, but so has our process of grieving the passing of a loved one, whether it be because of COVID-19 or not. Our natural tendency to be there whenever possible, at the side of a loved one when their time comes has been cruelly taken away by an invisible, microscopic virus that could care less whether or not anyone has closure. A virus that preys on the weakest among us and destroys countless hopes and dreams along with the bodies of its victims. An unwanted scourge that has become the cause of so much heartache, so much agony and incomprehensible pain. We, the surviving collateral damage will have to come to terms with such stark and bleak truth…

This truth has been in the public eye thanks to the constant media coverage and the anxiety around it has grown in everyones bowels with every passing day. Its progression was evidenced by all and its eerie approach was the stuff of nightmares, but even with so much coverage and foresight, this usurper of normalcy invaded our collective experience and forced an unimaginable “pause“. This pause, which is the unfortunate necessity if we are to keep safe and curb the spread of the COVID-19 is in some way a horrible tasting medicine that has unwanted side effects of its own. Not only will we have to deal with the economic repercussions, but also the latent emotional and psychological after shocks that will surely surface as the time passes. To be quite honest, this writing is my attempt to deal with my own pandemic related event. An event that under normal circumstances would have been one of those pang filled sad memories hiding in the recesses of my mind, only occasionally being coaxed out from hiding by some nostalgia. Now however, the whole event has simmered in an unpleasant stock that is COVID-19 and what ought to have been a solemn and sad memory, the passing of my father, has taken on the tragic taste of this pandemic. I understand that I am not alone in this time of acute suffering, and I know that working out all of the emotional and psychological issues will be a very slippery slope indeed.

In my case, my father was in his late eighties living in Puerto Rico, being careful to avoid being exposed to the virus and living his life at the very slow pace that one lives when reaching that age. Caring for his wife of just about the same age, both seeing so many days pass from their front porch, they did what they could to take care of themselves in order to see the next day. He sounded tired that last time I spoke to him, during my car ride into work, and I thought the same thing I think as I spoke to him…he’ll feel better in a little bit and he’ll find a way to trudge along as the hours pass. That conversation dances around in my head as I struggle to retain the topics discussed and the sound of his voice. This will be an impossible thing to forget and I’m sure I will struggle to remember it clearly as the days pass. Then came March 15th, the Ides of March…the day he had a severe stroke and the day so much changed in my world. I received word from my sister on the 16th and began to hope with every ounce I had in me, trying so much to remain tranquil, positive and accepting while what was happening happened. It was on the 18th that the gravity of it all struck me and a raging torrent of emotion burst from within me, revealing the difficulty of being distant and just how fragile we really are. My vigil of hope and miraculous recovery lasted only 13 days. On March 28th, my father died, in a hospital room with only the staff there to see him take his last breath.

I at times find myself wondering what his last moments must have been like. How was he able to release the grip, let go of the life he had lived for so many years? I go over in my head…”why” did this have to happen this way? Why did COVID-19 get in the way of my being there for my dad…why is it so? When these questions do arise, I simply remind myself of the one extraordinary occurrence that happened on the 28th, the one thing that brings me to the beginning of the road that leads to peace. That day wasn’t that different from the ones before it. I woke filled with angst, waiting for some kind of good news to head my way about his getting better. The day meandered along as did I, wandering the house looking for something to do. I clearly remember being in my office with one of my daughters when I decided to frame a photo of me and my father. A favorite of mine that I had printed out for him as a gift on a previous trip. It was one of those little projects that I had been putting off considering the situation…seeing the photo easily got me emotional. Nevertheless, something urged me to start it and work on it until it was done. As I finished it, I looked at the image, looked at the smiling face of my “viejo” so happy that I was there with him taking a selfie. I spoke a few soft words, “hi papi, como estas?“, then shed a tear. I was not long after that that my sister calls and tells me that he died, at about the same time that I was framing the photo. The coincidence didn’t strike me until after my whirlwind of emotions, tears and grief. He shared one last moment with me, despite the distance and the circumstances, I was allowed a tender moment together with his essence…and was able to say goodbye.

It has been said by many and in many different ways…“Everything is changeable, everything appears and disappears; there is no blissful peace until one passes beyond the agony of life and death.” – The Buddha, “Todo tiene su final” – Hector Lavoe…Death is the one appointment that we all must keep. In this time of so much death, suffering and hyper uncertainty, those who continue to live will feel the pain of loss for those who die. How will we choose to live is the question, how will we be able to help others who have either lost someone to COVID-19 or have simply lost the ability to mourn and grieve because of COVID-19? This will be one of the many challenges that awaits us in the future yet to come. The answer will be different for many, but one wholly unique aspect that we posses is the ability to remember the good times, share the stories and recall the faces and voices of our loved ones; and in remembering those times, we should celebrate the life that was shared and the years that were lived, and perhaps in that way, we can lay to rest the our heavy sadness, gnawing discomfort and the pains of our lament.





A few words on loss…

I’m not exactly sure how to begin…loss is a difficult topic to discuss. It is something that will at some time or another find its way into all of our lives. On this day, March 28th, 2020 the reality of loss made its weight evident to me. I lost my father today…and the truth about this is proving to be a sobering event that is never simply accepted without an onslaught of emotions welling up. No matter how I prepared myself for this indelible event, confronting it puts ones whole being to the test. This post is an attempt at softening the blow and a step towards healing.

Domingo Peña Lebron moved on today, leaving behind the worldly woe that is an unavoidable part of it all. Sickness, old age, pain, angst and anguish…all left behind. Along with these, those who grieve and mourn; family, friends and other close relations. I am part of this group and the grief is oppressive at times. The truth is that I feared death had somehow given him notice and he was in some very personal way preparing…becoming aware of the undeniable acceptance of impermanence. I would hear it in his voice, feel it in his sighs, and see it in his gaze. All I could do is merely be there, hear him out, share my life with him and just talk with him, trying myself to prepare and temper my being for what cannot be avoided. I would be lying if I said that this doesn’t hurt…”it” has no speakable word, describing loss is worthless, it is everything you expected and everything that you didn’t.

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As with most relationships, it took work, heartache and dedication to maintain, but what he taught me was that it too undoubtedly required patience. There were years that I wasn’t the best son for what now seem to be very insignificant and selfish reasons. Be that as it may, he was patient with me, didn’t write me off completely, gave me the space and time I needed to come around. This thing called “time” is what torments us all, but more so when it comes to matters of loss. We all yearn for more of it when a loved one passes. I had realized this some time ago and gradually understood that this “time” could not be re-captured and whatever time remained ought not be wasted. After many years, tears, and difficult conversations, I reconciled with my father and agreed with him not to try to make up for lost time, but make the best of the time we had, no matter how long or short it was. Shedding this heavy cloak of pride stitched with qualms from the past was not an easy thing to do. That process hurt as well, but it was a necessary hurt for it gave us, my father and I the chance to get to know each other all over again and ultimately enjoy ourselves.

This mutual forgiveness restored my love and admiration for this man. It helped to heal a wound that now is but a light scar on my being. Yet another reminder that life can hurt you now and then, but healing happens as well. I am happy with how our relationship turned out, especially towards the end. We made the best of it and made amazing memories filled with love, concern, laughter and joy. Love is patient…and it is seldom perfect, but that’s never been the goal…our relationship in the end was excellent, because we both gave each other the chance, in this case a second chance to make it so. I will miss my father so much, but I also know that I will continue to love him even more than I miss him!

Thanks for all the adventures…

I really miss this man.  I have never met him, aside from his shows, but I do feel as though I miss him.  I was surprised as many the day the news of his passing was reported to the world.  I felt a tremendous sense of loss, unable to wrap my head around the way he checked out and clueless as to the fathomless reasons why he would have taken such a final decision.  It saddens me always when someone reaches this realm of such utter despair that the only option seems to be ending it all.  This type of despair would appear to be so oppressive and insurmountable that taking it on is futile and pointless.  I would hope that there will be a time when this scenario becomes less and less common, and that those navigating this precarious trail, find ways to circumvent this sense of utter despair.  Perhaps Anthony Bourdain’s life and wondrous, thought provoking adventures can inspire us all to “take it all in“; experiences, food, interaction and the celebration of differences.  I for one have been impacted by this man’s life and sincerely hope that his thirst for adventure and curious nature have somehow rubbed off on me.

Food unites people

Good food, good chat!

Watching Anthony Bourdain helped me see how unifying food can be.  Seeing him travel to distant lands, as well as to some local places where I myself have been, and seeing him take in fully and completely the experience, as well as openly interact with the differences presented to him was so insightful.  Insightful in the sense that it showed me that differences shouldn’t divide or be the reason for derision.  The differences that exist in the world and among the peoples of the world are things to be examined and to be curious about.  Anthony Bourdain was extremely skilled and adept at making these inquiries so enticing to watch.  Add to this his openly honest being, not attempting to hide his struggles with addiction, and his “oh so” refreshing wit and sense of humor.  I honestly think that I would sometimes just tune in to hear him narrate the show, and say some quick witted and funny shit!  That was a special part of the show in my opinion…his narration and severely frank sense of humor.  His presence was a vital ingredient that was needed in order to make the episode a success.  Once the meal was ready and the table set, adding a dash of Bourdain completes it all.

Good food, good times!

Some of the best episodes had Anthony Bourdain at a table, surrounded by friends, family or new acquaintances enjoying an exquisite meal and a thought provoking discussion.  This was part of the magic of the show.  Watching the whole interaction and hearing the different opinions and views mingle into an engaging experience was so refreshing to watch.  I’m sure it has inspired many who watched him to use this tactic of eating and interacting in order to make their social experiences more fruitful and fulfilling.  If there is anything that Anthony Bourdain cherished, it was trying to make sure that the viewers were able to see the genuine good times that he had with all.

Don’t just eat!

Part of the allure of Anthony Bourdain was that he not only went to spectacular locations to eat, but as importantly, he visited these places to help us, the viewers get a peek into the lives and the experiences of the people he met during these excursions.  Not just highlighting their food, but in a way examining their existence.  From street food to fine dining, he made it all so provocative.  Seeing him walk the streets of a local market, or visit someone’s home for a well prepared traditional meal, to doing some outright crazy shit like wiping out on a four wheeler during a joy ride…all on camera was really entertaining to watch.  One of his main goals I believe was to have his viewers know that it’s not about going to a place to “just eat“, it’s about visiting a place to in a way “consume” the entire experience.  One of the other goals was to bring to light some of the history pertaining to the location and how it is coping today…what the people are dealing with in their every lives and what they are doing in order to overcome the issues.  So Anthony Bourdain wove two essential ingredients necessary to story telling together, how people cope and endure with the other necessity of life, food!  This is how he captivated us, informed us and entertained us.


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Lasting impact…

I’m sure that this man’s life and influence touched many!  He had, I’m sure many friends, admirers and critics.  All interesting people usually do.  Despite all of this, he always seemed to come across, at least to me with an open genuineness.  Whether he was explaining the preparation of a dish, or commenting on a hot topic affecting the people of a certain location, or relating something or some aspect to his own life struggles, he always kept it real in a sense.  This was another facet to his style of genuine storytelling.  He was not afraid of giving us a glimpse into his struggles with addiction, his emotional hurdles and past in general.  What was different about his way of explaining it to us was how real and witty he could be.  I really don’t think he took himself too seriously.  He was out in the world, wanting to see and absorb more and more, all the while knowing that he didn’t know it all and didn’t pretend that he did in any way.

Mr. Anthony Bourdain


Although he might be gone from this world, his impact will remain.  His life, his struggles, his talent in cooking, writing and entertaining are his legacy.  The wit and mirth with which he chronicled his adventures should serve as a blueprint for those who wish to travel and “take it all in“.  He will certainly be missed for many reasons and by many people.  His travels took him far and wide, and he was able to help us realize that our western idea of food isn’t the only one, and more importantly that the differences found in not only the food, but in different cultures and countries are really opportunities for us to get to know each other better.  Now whenever I find myself eating a meal somewhere new, I’m sure there will be a voice in my head whispering, “how would Bourdain eat this, or what would Bourdain say”. I suppose that I will always be left to wonder what it would’ve been like to share a table with Anthony Bourdain.  To hear his voice utter something witty, insightful or outlandish.  To see him eat and enjoy the moment.  That will be left to my imagination…so If I am ever lucky enough and find myself somewhere new, in some far off land, I will do my best to enjoy the moment, and take in the experience entirely…Bourdain style!!




Discovering a wellness therapy.

Wellness is a topic that for me has become a very integral part of my daily routine.  So much so that I have developed for myself a wellness therapy.  A thought out plan that helps me get through the day, helps me deal with the stressors of the day and how to respond to them in a calm, cool and collected manner.  The goal is always to find a balance between the stress of the situation and the response that is given.  Sounds easy, but it’s not.  It actually has taken me years to develop a system that works for me and it is a daily practice for me if I am to keep my sanity and maintain a calm peace of mind.  Just as our particular situations are unique to each one of us, so must the system that is developed to combat it must be.  The main point here being is that what works for me, might work for you, or it might not.  My hope is that I can relate to those out there dealing with life struggles, letting them know that he/she can re-gain some peace, calm and comfort in their life.  It will require action, dedication and commitment.  Each of these things also require effort…which is probably the first hurdle that everyone runs into.  Hopefully I can dispel this idea that things are hopeless, and replace it with a sense of inspiration and a renewed feeling of “Joie De Vivre“!!

Step back

We are constantly drowning in information these days and it comes fast and furious at times.  We have all had the feeling that we never have enough time to get everything we’d like to get done, done.  For many who suffer anxiety, this is one of the things that they have in common with one another.  We feel the pressure of the clock and fear the consequences if we fail to get everything done.  This pressure, along with many others mix with the avalanche of daily information that we are all subject to and cause us to forget about “ourselves” and our loved ones.  We begin to see our lives revolving around tasks, checklists, and material goals that ultimately leave us tired, spent and distracted.  Pausing to step back from this type of mindset would seem to be an unproductive and useless task.  Oh, but on the contrary.  I am here to tell you that if you don’t embrace this act and allow it to help you see things from a different point of view, the healing will never start.  Stepping back, pausing and confronting yourself is one of the most difficult things about developing a wellness plan.  In my opinion, it is the first things that must be done.

Step back
Pause and reflect

This act of stepping back and observing “yourself” without bias or opinion is one of the most difficult things any person can do.  It requires that one become vulnerable to a number of different variables.  Variables that we sometimes unconsciously disregard and push to the side while we run our rat race.  It is so easy to get caught up in this race and “drift” away from yourself.  This drifting will only compel you to conform to “norms” that are socially coveted, widespread and for lack of a better term, acceptable.  These norms will be your unconscious goals in life and will ultimately lead to suffering.  They will be the ever present noise that will drown out the deep inner need for sincere self reflection.  This is the challenge when you “step back” and attempt to gaze upon yourself.

In many cases it takes some sort of life event to occur in order to “jolt” one into sincere reflection.  A health scare, hitting rock bottom, the loss of a loved one or bouts with depression and/or addiction are usually the culprits.  Any number of events can be the catalyst, but what’s most important is how one “responds” to the event.  I say “respond” rather than using the word “react“, because reacting often times results in a continued sense of anger.  This is certainly not conducive in any way, shape, or form to reaching a neutral and reflective state of mind.  Reacting angrily to what life has dealt you will not lead you to the appropriate choice or decision.  This is not to say that anger isn’t useful.  This angry reaction can help us fine tune the direction in which we point our wellness compass, in order to help us to navigate the tricky terrain within our psyche and mind.  We must be able to recognize that anger is a “knee jerk” reaction and nothing else.  What is essential is developing the ability to harness the information that this anger reveals, try not to suppress or smother it and most important of all…learn from it.

Analyze then synthesize

To analyze as defined in the dictionary means, “to study or determine the nature and relationship of the parts of something.”  This ability to observe ones current situation and look upon it with analytical eyes is very important.  Doing this, without the judgmental filter of anger allows the person to piece apart the hurdles, triggers and unresolved issues that many times are the causes of a depressed and unsatisfactory feeling.  Being able to put aside the angry feeling and shutting out the judgmental voice in your own head are key if this healing self analysis is to work and provide insight.  The goal is to regain calm and identify factors that are contributing to your suffering.  When done objectively, we can calmly look for a new and fresh perspective in which to view these factors and see them in a new light.

Analyze / Synthesize

The graphic above helps to illustrate how vital the process is and how it can truly affect one’s outlook.  The first image represents the obstacle, the problem and/or issue.  This is what we encounter when we take a moment to step back and see the situation as it is.  The second image shows us how the analysis works.  It takes the same obstacle and deconstructs it and breaks it down into manageable and understandable sections.  Finally, the last image takes the same parts and synthesizes a new construct, and new frame from which to view the problem.  Once the problem is revisited, with fresh eyes, this new view shows us how to re-arrange things so that we see a way past the obstacle and gain a better understanding of it.

This analysis is just as difficult and confusing as the initial step of stepping back to truly see yourself.  One hesitates and then procrastinates when the time comes to look at the problem and break it down to manageable parts.  The task seems herculean and unachievable at first.  This is normal, but as when one steps back, it must be done with conviction, patience and purpose.  The way you view the problem, along with the way you respond to it will certainly impact the way you analyze it and figure it out.

Once past this analysis, one then has the opportunity to take the issue, in its broken down form and build from these parts a new perspective.  This is the part where one can synthesize something different from parts of the once impassable obstacle.  The conscious re-organization of the individual parts of the problem can often times help by making this new perspective the focal point.  Having this newly synthesized point of view and outlook take center stage can assist in finding a solution.  Taking the individual parts and mentally, figuratively and psychologically “moving” them to different spaces can open up new paths allowing us to explore new solutions in a calm yet deliberate way.


Acceptance is a very tricky aspect of the whole wellness concept.  It actually involves taking all that has been discovered from the previous sections and surrendering to the realization of them.  This is to say, that once the first 2 exercises have been navigated, the truth that they reveal needs to be accepted.  This truth can be difficult to accept and the steps required to confront the situation will also seem foreign and unappealing, but every journey’s beginning starts with steps that are somewhat cautious and unsure.  One must accept the fact that this “challenge” will in fact be “challenging”!!  Making significant change as a result of a deep and profound reflection of ones current condition and situation is a notion that can be scary.  In fact, most of the times it is avoided.  The only thing that I can add is that acceptance is not easy…and that comes from personal experience.

Acceptance is not easy

Acceptance really does requires strength.  This strength is not of a physical nature, it is a deep and internal strength that is difficult to muster and confusing in nature.  It is the strength to “surrender”.  The strength required to let go of pre-conceived notions that have been thrust upon you with the aim of convincing you that things should be a certain way…that certain things are socially acceptable and others are to be frowned upon.  Acceptance relies on the strength to look past failures and shortcomings.  Acceptance helps free you from the burden of others’ comments, critiques and cruel criticisms.  Acceptance allows you to appreciate this day, and every day simply for what it is.  It is unfortunate that this passive and peaceful way of existing in today’s socio-cultural scheme is looked upon as a “weakness”.  This calm and tranquil stance is viewed negatively and will sadly be likened to “giving up”.  How untrue this is…the acceptance of certain circumstances isn’t an admission of giving up, but rather an invitation to finding a different solution to the given circumstances.  Letting go and surrendering is healthy and necessary whether you are in the process of shedding trivial life layers in search of your true self, or if you are dealing with one of the many life traumas we are sure to encounter, or if you are in the process of awakening from the mist filled confusion that all of the “noise” this world bombards us with; letting go, surrendering and accepting is a beneficial practice that will help open your perception and enrich your experience.

Mindful Activity

Activity is a powerful catalyst.  Activity in various areas of life is a necessary ingredient in order to move out of a negative, stagnant or depressed state towards a positive, rewarding and nurturing state.  Inactivity can be a very cunning adversary when it comes to developing a wellness strategy.  After all, inactivity requires little effort to accomplish…literally!  Lingering in inactivity can only make one fall deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of thought, doubt and insecurity.  All of these conditions have the potential to conspire against you and can lead a person in circles or worse, further away from ones desired happy place.

Mindful activity
Mindful activity = Healing

Mindful activity is my way of interpreting what I would call a “thoughtful” and “realistic” plan for fulfilling results.  This is the part when the realization sinks in and you come to terms that something must change.  Your routine must change, and activities are a part of the overall change.  It is a thoughtful method of getting out of your comfort zone and allowing new experiences to help get you well.  It becomes an integral part of the healing process that slowly becomes a source of inspiration.  This sense of inspiration can help forge new healthy and beneficial thought patterns that can help to boost ones confidence.  This commitment to changing your ways, habits and activities, when done genuinely can lead to meaningful results.  In my case, each one of the things pictured above has contributed to my being open to healing in a very organic and wholesome way.

Each of the activities pictured above challenged me to change in different ways.  Yoga helped to get me in tune and in touch with my breath and my body.  It helped me realize that the yoga mat can be a place where peace can be found.  Running further helped my body by challenging it to do something physically demanding while at the same time, strengthening the mental aspect of discipline.  It helped me to appreciate determination and conviction.  Two words that go hand in hand when describing the challenges of running.  Mindfulness has been the elixir to the distractions and trivialities we find in this noisy and turbulent life.  Remaining present and at peace have allowed me to realize the wonderful things that are always around me, but are drowned out by the fickleness of this materialistic society.  Being able to ground myself and commit to a genuine “simplicity” has brought me a tranquility I thought was unattainable.  These were all things that I wouldn’t give much thought to.  I disregarded their hidden gifts and categorized them as unnecessary in my life.  That was the mindset I had a few years ago.  I look back on that person and I am so glad the I was encouraged, inspired and challenged to change.

I suppose that is the part of wellness that should be highlighted the most…change!  Wellness implies change.  Changing thought patterns, points of view, changing habits and activities and most importantly, changing ones own opinion of personal change.  Wellness can have many different shapes and forms depending on who you ask, but what’s true regardless of who you ask is that without a wholesome sense of wellness, one can feel very incomplete, fragile and purposeless.  So no matter what you do to achieve wellness, do it so that the life you live is rich with purpose, full of joy and inspiring to others!!







It’s time to do “Lo Vueno”!!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything…life sometimes has a way of getting in the way of things.  September certainly got in the way!!  Personally, I have had to contend with a lot of stressors in September…Hurricane Irma, my dad’s health and the aftermath of hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico.  Hurricane Maria has really affected not only me, but scores of others who carry Puerto Rico close to their heart and have family over there.  Being so far away and sitting by, relegated to being a spectator was the worst feeling ever.  Sitting by Wednesday, knowing that the island was being pummeled by winds and rain like it had never seen before was horrible.  A category 5 making a direct hit on the island had everyone terrified…and rightly so.  The images that we saw the days that followed were truly frightening.

The images were disturbing and caused a deep sense of anxiety.  I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure that anyone with family on the island, had horrid images running through their heads.  The flooding, mudslides, destroyed houses, no electricity or running water…it at times was too much for me to handle.  My father, who is in his 80’s, battling prostate cancer and caring for his weak wife was already struggling to pick up the pieces after Irma passed by earlier in the month, and he was not in the best position or condition to deal with the additional devastation that Maria brought to the island.  Devastation is the closest word to describe what the storm actually did to the island.  The combination of destructive winds and torrential rains dealt Puerto Rico a punishing blow that could only be fully comprehended once the storm had moved off.  Vegetation practically stripped off of the land, houses and homes destroyed, communities broken, roads impassable, infrastructure in collapse, an island and it’s people stunned, dazed and confused, wondering where to start!  What was painfully evident was that they would not be able to handle this type of endeavor on their own…help would certainly be needed.

It is for this reason that “Lo Vueno” came to mind again!!  It’s my vegan take on the Spanish word for “good”.  Its been my hobby…writing about vegan food and vegan topics.  Only now, it takes on another meaning, another facet that rings true with the vegan lifestyle.  Doing Good!!  As vegans we do our best to do what’s good for our health and bodies.  We do what’s good for our fellow animals, as well as what’s good for the longevity of the planet.  Now, as part of our human family in Puerto Rico suffers, we must do what’s good by them.  This can be manifested in many ways, but it’s up to us as individuals to become engaged and take action.  Whether that’s by donating money to an organization committed to helping those in Puerto Rico, bringing food and water to events focusing on getting those supplies over to the island, or by being resolute and steadfast in continuing to make sure that this crisis doesn’t go unnoticed or forgotten…however you decide to manifest your “good”, please do it.  People are depending on this good!!  People are relying on this good!!  People are on their hands and knees waiting for this good to reveal itself!!

So now is the time for everyone to really feel with your heart and put the needs of others ahead of their own.  A wave of good thoughts, good deeds and good hopes has to manifest itself, especially from those of us who have a connection with the island.  We need to make sure that the call for help is answered.  Lives have been lost, children and the elderly are suffering, the normalcy of life is forever altered and the vulnerability of life becomes evident once the night time comes, as you try to find comfort in the dark of night, waiting for the light of the sun to bring hope to the day.

As of this writing, the island still is without 100% power and locating a reliable cellular signal has become a daily task along with finding food and gas.  On October 20th I finally was able to hear my fathers voice.  One month after the storm hit.  As we spoke I knew somehow that his Puerto Rican pride was mixed in with his words as he told me a reassured me that he was ok.  I heard the fatherly instinct to make things seem like they’re ok come through in his words.  I know that he is “ok”, but I also know that his current version of “ok” isn’t really “ok”.  This new normal is something that everyone over there will need to confront, and everyone who has ties to the island will have to contend with.  I have slowly come to terms with the angst and desperation of being so removed and far away from my family on the island.  I have felt that rush of anxiety to just get on a plane and go over there, then have it change to sullen sense of helplessness. What I do know is that I feel for those on the island and continue to hope that the situation slowly shows signs of improvement.

So, as I write asking everyone to keep this beautiful island in their thoughts, I also ask for everyone to see if there is a way that they can help.  There are various ways to help.  The New York Times has a good article titled “How to Help Puerto Rico and Other Islands After Hurricane Maria” published on September 22nd.  There is some good information there on how to go about donating or looking for other ways to help.  As the island goes about the difficult and time consuming task of re-building and recovering from this catastrophe, all the help that anyone can afford will certainly be appreciated.

All I can think about is finding a way to get over there to be with my Dad and the rest of my family.  There is a certain feeling of calm you get when you’re with someone during their time of need.  Hopefully a way can be found for me to somehow get there…to listen to their stories about the when Maria passed, what they saw, how they managed to survive the rain and winds, how they reacted to the aftermath and what they’ve done to continue to survive.  But honestly, I just want to see their faces and share a moment with them, looking into each others eyes, knowing that no matter how far we might be from them or the from the island, we will always have a bond that connects us…Boricua blood and a unique Puerto Rican spirit that is undeniable, unbreakable and unrelenting!!  Que Viva Puerto Rico!!  Siempre!!!

The gift of Gardein

This post will be about one of the go to products that I have found to be indispensable in my Vegan kitchen.  Versatile, flavorful and just plain useful, Gardein products will be the focus.

I can’t exactly recall when I was introduced to this product, but I am very grateful that I was and that the product continues to provide me and my family with a healthy and flavorful vegan option for many of the foods that we left behind once we committed to our Vegan values and eating style.  Garden literally has wide variety of foods that will even please and satisfy the non-vegans out there.  From meatless meatballs, to chick’n cutlets and tenders to even crab cakes, Gardein has been able to take commonplace foods and veganize them.  Not an easy task especially since some of the foods that they decided to veganize have such a big following and have well established reputations.  Nevertheless, the company has really done an excellent job!!  For more information on the company, go to their website at,

I’ve been using Gardein products for years now and my experience with the food has been great.  I cook it for myself as well as my family, which includes 3 children.  We all have our favorite item, but needless to say we use it and enjoy consuming it.  I have to say that one of my favorite items to use has to be the meatless meatballs.  They are awesome!!  As a matter of fact, my youngest loves to eat them all by themselves served with a little pasta sauce.  It speaks volumes when a meatless product can be a favorite meal of a 10 year old…she is also partial to the Mandarin chick’n.  Tough choice I’m sure.  The product can be found in the frozen food isle, usually where the plant based foods are located.  They are relatively easy to use and prepare.  Check out some of the dishes I whipped up using Gardein products.

This dish was prepared with the meatless meatballs and some hearty vegetables.  The nice thing about using this product is that you can continue to make some of the meals that are commonplace and, for those of us that used to be meat eaters, that we miss.  Those dishes that we once craved and looked forward to eating…like pasta with meat sauce or meatballs.

It is easy to incorporate some other ingredients along with the meatballs to make a really nutritional and satisfying meal.  In this dish I used some fire roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts.  Seasoned it just right, added some capers at the end and served it up over some linguini.  It was good!!  The texture of the meatless meatballs also makes the meal all the more enjoyable.  For those of us who know what meatballs are, you will be surprised at how Gardein has mimicked the texture in their product, and for those who have never had a traditional meatball, the texture adds a nice film bite that compliments any additional vegetable the sauce might have.  I would also like to mention that the meatless meatballs are seasoned well.  Biting into them reveals a well seasoned interior that includes fennel seeds, which really help to round out the flavor profile of the product and whatever dish you decide to incorporate them in.  Definitely worth giving them a try…

The other product that I have found to be delicious and versatile are the chick’n scallopini cutlets.  Eaten on their own or as an additional ingredient, they also hit the spot and help you to enjoy your plant based diet and cuisine.  For example, the dish seen below highlights the versatility of the product.

Chick’n salad…yum!

Satisfying and delicious, this meal didn’t really take long to prepare, plate or eat.  The Chick’n scallopini cutlets made dressing this said up really easy.  As the bag says, they are lightly seasoned so there is no overpowering flavor that competes with any other seasoning or ingredient.  The texture isn’t that different from real chicken, but it certainly isn’t the same.  But if you’re committed to establishing and exploring the possibilities that plant based eating affords you, then you will not only enjoy the texture, but the overall flavor of the product as well.  So the preparation of this dish went down like this…put a cutlet in my air fryer for about 8 minutes.  Just long enough to get it warm enough to eat and retain some of it’s moisture.  While that was warming up, I got some regular mixed greens and cut up some mushrooms into slices to added them to the salad.  Sliced the cutlets up the long way and covered it with some Peach poppy seed dressing, then dusted some nutritional yeast over the whole thing.  Voila…an amazing salad that was satisfying, flavorful and nutritious!!  Who says plant based eating can’t satisfy!

I can’t say enough good things about this product.  I enjoy cooking with it, my kids and I enjoy eating it, and we feel so good knowing that it falls in line with our commitment to eating compassionately, responsibly and nutritiously.  I suggest everyone give it a try and I’m sure that you’ll find your favorite within their wide assortment of plant based protein products.  So go for it!! Give Gardein a try!!  You can thank me later….

Paisley Vegan Kitchen…so Good!

All I have to say is go here if you want some good Vegan food.  This is how direct I will be with this review.  Amazing food awaits.  But seriously, if you like traveling for Vegan food, like my wife and I like to do, then this is a place to definitely consider.  So now for the story.

I love my wife for many reasons, but one of them lately is because she has a knack at searching for and finding good vegan eateries, and Paisley Vegan Kitchen is one of them.  It was during our Veg Fest weekend, November 12th & the 13th.  We went to 2 events that weekend.  One was the Veg Fest in Tampa on the 12th, & the other in Cocoa on the 13th.  We made it part of our plans to go to Paisley once we were done at the Cocoa Veg Fest.  We made our rounds at the Veg Fest, visiting vendors and checking out what they had to offer.  Sat for an entertaining cooking demo using a pressure cooker.  Drank some good Kombucha and had fun sampling stuff and talking to all of the vendors.  The weather was amazing that day so we had to enjoy it somehow, and we were in a way re-acquainting ourselves with the area since were would be there again on the 27th of November to run the Space Coast 1/2 marathon.  After we were done at the Veg Fest, we made our way to find Paisley.

Found it…

Cocoa Village is very nice to just walk on any given sunlit afternoon, and that’s exactly what my wife and I did, enjoying the shops, the people and the locale.  A gorgeous afternoon with hardly a care in the world, except for the need to feed ourselves.  Fortunately for my wife and I, Paisley Vegan Kitchen came to the rescue.  The restaurant itself is not that far from the main part of Cocoa village and is easy to find.  Just a leisurely stroll up Brevard Avenue will get you there in no time at all.

When we found it we decided to go in to take care of our “hunger situation”.  The interior decor is clean and nice with what at first looks like tight seating, but once seated is more than adequate.  One of the first things I noticed when I waked in was a dish that someone had just been served.  A waffle dish that looked really good and peaked my gastronomic curiosity.  So after my wife and I took our seats, we looked the menu over and saw that it offers a wide variety of what we would consider comfort food.  Like the dish that I saw when I entered…Chicken (seitan) and Waffles.  So guess what, this is exactly what I ordered.  My wife, after giving the menu some good though, settled for the chicken parmesan sub.  See images below…

Comfort food!!

To be quite honest, I didn’t know what to expect…I don’t usually order this type of food when I go out, and to have it be vegan got me wondering.  I’m glad to report that everything went well.  I completely enjoyed the meal!!  The only thing I missed out on was the strawberry reduction sauce that normally comes with the dish…my wife and I got there a little late in the day and they had already run out of that sauce.  “Not to worry”, I told the waiter…“just give me more maple syrup”.  Problem solved!  The waffle was perfect.  Moist and semi-soft on the inside & had a nice texture on the outside.  The seitan chicken was what won me over.  The texture and preparation of the seitan cutlets was nothing short of amazing!  Two of these bad boys is sure to satisfy any hungry or “hangry” individual.  I can only imagine how much better it could have been had there been some extra strawberry sauce…no matter because I ate the whole thing and enjoyed it.  My wife really enjoyed her meal as well.  We are both from New York originally and have a certain expectation burned into our brains when it comes to chicken parmesan…and since we have only been Vegans for about 4 years, we know what the traditional version tastes like.  So, we were very pleased when our tastebuds had that moment of nostalgic bliss after biting into this sandwich!!  The sauce and the flavor really hit home.  The nice crunch of the breaded seitan cutlet totally blew us over.  My wife enjoyed it so much that this sandwich has been all that she’s ordered the next 2 times that we’ve gone there!!  It’s that good!!  We finished off the meal by snagging the last piece of peanut butter/chocolate cheese cake.  Amazing!!  We left there promising to come back later in the month…on November 27th, as a reward for finishing the Space Coast 1/2 marathon that my wife and I were running.  I also took the liberty of sharing a hug with the chef, Mike!!  I gave him a hug and let him know that we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and promised to be back!!

Full & satisfied!!

Fast forward to race weekend…my wife drove out on Saturday and took the kids along.  They went to Paisley because my oldest, who is vegan too, wanted to get a taste of what we had been raving about.  They loved their meals and couldn’t wait to go back after the race was over on Sunday.  Well I had to drive out Saturday night due work and needed something to eat before the big race.  Ordered the seitan chicken Alfredo dish in order to carb up for the race.  All I heard when I got to the hotel room was how much they enjoyed the food at Paisley and looked forward to going back.

Sunday began with an early start in preparation for the race.  We did what we had to do, ran our hearts out and were lucky to have all 3 of our daughters waiting for us at the finish line!!  Awesome race and great memory!!  So, after hanging out for a little while we made our way back t the hotel to check out and head on back to Paisley for our well earned reward meal.  My daughters liked the pulled pork “jackfruit” sliders and the cauliflower buffalo bites.  These were a hit!!

img_4313They were spicy a full of so much flavor!!  One nice bonus was that any race finisher would receive 10% off.  It’s great to find a place where all of the members of my family can eat and enjoy.  All five of us enjoyed the food and I think that we are all waiting for our next opportunity to head out to Paisley.

Paisley Vegan Kitchen has won us over, not only with the good food, but also because of the overall experience.  From out first visit, when I ended the night by sharing a hug with the chef, to the amazing race weekend experience, along with the children, we enjoyed the cozy atmosphere, the amazing food and the genuine good service.  I can certainly say that I would recommend them when it comes to “really good” vegan food joints!!  So, if you’re ever find yourself in Cocoa Village and need a good place to eat, visit Paisley Vegan Kitchen (…you can thank me later…and don’t forget to give Mike the chef a hug!!







Wonderful Dandelion…Yum!!

For my first review I wanted to spotlight the first place that I went to shortly after choosing to go Vegan.  Dandelion Communitea Cafe is a gem when it comes to good Vegan eats.  Located on Thornton Ave, off of Highway 50, Dandelion was a great place for me to get my first exposure to Vegan food.  I have been going there for years now, so I will do my best to recall exactly how I felt when I first sat down and had my first meal.  To be honest now that I think about it, perhaps it wasn’t the very “1st” place I went to, but none the less, I liked the experience enough to classify it as my first.  So, here it goes.

Dandelion has become one of my go to place for Vegan food.  This is because the food has for the most part, always been prepared well and the flavor has been consistent.  The menu is varied and has options for those who have a very big appetite, and those who would like something on the lighter side.  Monday is a good day to go since that is $5 dollar “Giddy up” day…one of their items on the menu that can be either in the form of a bowl or a wrap.  It is a good one and it’s even nicer on Monday.

I’ve tried quite a few things on the menu and I have developed a liking to the F.L.T., Fakin, lettuce & tomato.  It’s Dandelion’s take on the traditional B.L.T., but they substitute nicely seasoned tempeh slices for the bacon.  It comes with a side of their homemade hummus & blue corn chips.  The hummus is also really good, and they top it with a light sprinkle of hemps seeds.    I always seem to order this when I go, because like I said earlier, it’s always made well & the flavor is the same.  This is one that you have to try when you go.  See the image below.  I always get it with sourdough bread and a tea of the day.  The tea is good too, and the re-fills are free.

F.L.T. with tea of the day!!

Although the F.L.T. has come to be my favorite, there is one other item that deserves mention.  It is the Buffalo 66.  This wrap is really good.  It is one of the items I get when I’m really hungry.  It’s got cashew encrusted tempeh, hearty vegetables, a flavorful buffalo sauce and vegan blue cheese dressing.  See image below.  You can get this in a bowl or a wrap.  I prefer the wrap with the quinoa/spring mix option, and the delicious hummus and chips as my side.  you can’t go wrong with this one either.  It’s got a lot of good flavor and it will hit the spot and fill you up as well.

Buffalo 66

Dandelion is a great local place to go to for a great lunch, or on a Sunday, after doing yoga at lake Eola park like my wife and I sometimes do.  The atmosphere is casual, friendly and inviting.  One lovely thing to alway look forward to is the featured artist.  Dandelion supports blossoming artists by supplying their wall space for artists to showcase their works.  It really adds to the overall experience.  They also have nights where there is live music.  That’s also a nice touch.  We’ve taken our 3 children there with no problems, we’ve taken no-vegans there who are curious about good vegan food with fantastic results, and we love having it as our go to place!!  Dandelion Communitea Cafe will always be on my recommendable list because it really provides great food for the price and from what I can tell, has been able to do it well, consistently.  So look them up at, or just drop on in and enjoy a good vegan meal.


Vegan vs. social norm

So this quick thought usually isn’t quick at all!  For many that opt to make the change towards a vegan diet and way of life, they must confront the “established social norm”!!  This is that pre-described way of thinking (or not thinking) about things such as, food, social acceptance, the finer things in life and the “worth” dilemma.  These topics, and a lot more are very much rooted in our very own culture.  They are taught to us, presented and framed in such a way that we learn them and without any question, continue to act out what we believe to be the “normal” way.  This is precisely what happened to me.  I was raised to eat meat, drink cows milk, aspire to be like the rich and famous and to value material items’ implied worth!  It was like this for a very long time!!  I have only been vegan for 3+ years, and vegetarian for about 7 or 8 years, and it was a slow awakening I must say.  If one doesn’t commit to looking at life and the revolving circumstances differently, then you just unconsciously continue to follow the “established social norm”.

Once I forcefully stepped out of my “established social norm” position, I began to appreciate other aspects of life that had been pushed to the side and suppressed by socio/cultural forces.  Once you have a chance to reflect and change your viewpoint, you begin to appreciate questions like where does your food comes from, how can nutrition be achieved compassionately, and how can the simple act of eating can speak volumes about how you choose to exist!!  This is the position that many are in when they take a definite stand for and against something.  In the case of vegan diet and lifestyle, we willingly choose not to include ourselves or participate in the practice of sentient being exploitation, which includes the killing of these beings.

I will admit that my path to the vegan lifestyle began selfishly…my health!  I wanted to feel better, lose weight and obtain visible benefits.  So I chose to change the way I ate, and the benefits were great, but they were somewhat magnified once I further refined my eating style to be predominantly plant based.  I was amazed at how the overall benefits affected my entire experience and how it touched different areas and aspects of my entire persona.  Thankfully, if it weren’t for these very real changes, I wouldn’t have been able to stalwartly stand up, with conviction to the questions, rebukes and ridicules for having made such a socially a-typical change!  I was able to use myself as the undeniable proof that this change was for the better, and consequently opened my mind to other areas where a vegan lifestyle can make things better.  So with 3+ years under my belt, I can say that I have made advances, both personally and on a broader level.  I am as fit as I have ever been, I have used the kitchen and nourishment to educate my family and other to the benefits of a plant based eating style, and I am more aware of how my actions and behavior can either help or hinder people.  I slowly came to realize that by unconsciously following the socially accepted norm, I was causing tremendous pain and unforgivable suffering to countless animals for no apparent good reason other than to have them be our food…makes no sense now that I look at it with a new perspective!  I really can’t figure out why it took me so long to make this change.  I suppose a lot had to do with my not wanting to break with what was socially accepted and expected of me.  This fear of not fitting in or not doing what all of the cool kids do had me so brainwashed that I feel ashamed of my former self.

I am glad that I have made the change to a plant based/vegan lifestyle.  It has opened my eyes to a new way of existing!  One that is compassionate, sustainable and that doesn’t rely on a primal blood soaked notion that meat is necessary in order to live.  The vegan community is proof that nutrition and vitality can be achieved a different way, a compassionate way, a better way.  So don’t shy away from saying that you’re plant based/vegan, or from the question, “where do you get your protein from?”  Declare it boldly and answer it confidently.  Fear not what people think, simply continue to be the change you wish to see in the world!

Which path did you take??

So I wanted to throw this question out there to you all.  Which path did you take when considering becoming a Vegan??  We all have some kind of revelation when we decide to begin our journey, but something compels us to take that first step…I’m curious as to what usually make a person take the plunge.

So, I can only speak for myself.  The thing that compelled me to take the first step was coming to the realization that I was allowing myself to become very unhealthy simply because I was more or less following the societal norm.  I was a college graduate, married with children, and a home owner….the play book that I was taking my cues from basically had me growing old and becoming sedentary…I thought that this was what I was supposed to do!  I did this for too long before something in me urged me to change.  I have to say that slowly allowing yourself to become unhealthy is terrible.  You eat without limit because our society teaches that “more is better”, you conform to letting yourself get lazy because your glory years are behind you, and you just get used to the saying, “it’s ok”.  Well I’m telling you that it’s not ok!!  I realized that all too well in the end of 2011 and in the beginning of 2012.

In November of 2011 my wife accomplished a goal that she had set for herself earlier that year.  To run a 1/2 marathon.  She totally did it and I saw all of the work and effort she put into this goal in order to finish the race.  I was very happy for her at the time, but I didn’t see it as her invitation to me to make a change in my ways in order to live a healthier life.  So in 2012 she signed up the whole family for a Disney fun run.  I went and ran…and realized how out of shape I was!!  This really hit home.  I couldn’t breathe right, keep up or have any kind of “fun” at this fun run.  That got me thinking about my health.  So that year, I decided to get healthier.  I started going to the YMCA, looking at my style of eating and current lifestyle.  It wasn’t until a whole year later that I actually committed to the vegan way of eating.  Thanks again to another family member, this time my eldest daughter that I took vegan/plant based eating seriously.  After watching some documentaries and a lot of self analysis, I realized that I had nothing to loose and possibly a whole lot to gain!!  To this day, I am thankful to my strong wife and compassionate daughter for helping me open my eyes to a better way.  Since that day, I have committed myself to this healthy and compassionate lifestyle and tempered my personality to withstand the rebukes of many, to overcome their objections or criticisms, and most importantly to stay true to my conviction and inspire others to not fear the inquiry into being vegan!!  I’m living proof that a hardened meat eater from NYC can see the compassionate light.  It all came together to make sense…health, compassion towards animals, and sustainability for the years to come.  Vegan just makes sense…to me and many others.

So tell me, what made you change….tell me!