Cuando Sali de Cuba - Stories of Courage and Hope

Cuando sali

My family moved to the U.S. reluctantly. 

When we left Cuba, we didn't know we were coming here for good. I think that's a part of our story as Cuban refugees that doesn't get much play. 

When we left our beloved homeland, we (when I say "we," I mean, my parents) thought it was only a temporary stay until that whole pesky revolution thing blew over. Obviously, it has not. 

The Verdes sisters circa 1961

The Verdés Sisters, circa 1961. Our 1st photo here in the U.S.

We began our life here in the U.S. based on the premise that it was going to be sort of a long vacation. Then we began calling it exile. Then there came a point when we knew for certain that there was no going back. 

It's Hispanic Heritage Month. From the 15th of September to the 15th of October, we, here in the U.S. celebrate the contributions of Hispanics to the fabric and culture of America.

For the past few years, here on my blog, I have celebrated the stories of Cuban families who came here and built beautiful lives as proud Americans. I call that series, "Cuando Sali de Cuba - stories of courage and hope."

Here's a link to all of the stories. Cuando Sali de Cuba.

Here's a video of my family in Cuba "back in the day" and in the here and now. Set to the beautiful song by Celia Cruz that inspired this series. The lyrics are especially poignant to me as well as to most Cuban refugees. 

That's right: Refugees. Not Immigrants.

Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor
Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé enterrado mi corazón.


When I left Cuba
I left behind my life, I left behind my love
When I left Cuba
I left my heart forever buried in the ground.

That just about sums it up. 

The Best Graduation Party of The Year

My son, Jonathan, graduated from high school a few weeks ago. As I've done with each one of my four kids, I asked what type of celebration he'd enjoy. 

The four of them have asked for completely different types of parties and I have tried my best to comply.

in 2001, Amy wanted an All-Cuban theme, with all the family and her friends, Cuban music, and food. So that's exactly what we did. I made Arroz con Pollo for about 50 people. It was a wonderful success.

2004 - Adam wanted a really nice dinner with just his closest friends. And Lucy (class of 2011) wanted a "classy outdoor dinner party" with a showing of the Marx Brothers' film, A Night at the Opera. I have obliged them all.

Warning: This is going to be a super loooong post with lots of photos and detailed descriptions and some serious over-sharing. (You're welcome.)

The Invitations

Jonathan wanted to celebrate with his two closest friends and have The Blowout of the Year. He wanted "The 3-D's: Dinner. Dancing. Donuts." Of course.

We bantered ideas back and forth with his two best friends, Nathan and Tori (the girl next door) and finally came up with this - Their own take on Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

We would call it JON, NATHAN, and TORI'S DAY OFF.


Lucy got the three of them together to do the Ferris inspired photo shoot, and worked her magic with Photoshop to create the clever double-sided invitations.


They each invited friends and family. The RSVP's began immediately.

"We wouldn't miss it!"

"What a clever idea. Of course we're coming!"

"We will be there!"

At last count we had over 75 people including children and adults. 

The Preparations

As I wrote about in my last post, we decided, along with our neighbors (Tori's parents) to take down the fence between our yards. Read that story here: Tearing Down Fences.

We couldn't afford to pull up all the dying grass and create a cobblestone courtyard (my idea of perfection, but that's not important right now), so we grabbed all of the old pots that had once held plants that had long since died off, and Tori and I planted pretty color bowls to set around the neglected beds in our garden. 


Also, we had our old wooden patio furniture that still looks pretty cool, but we weren't so sure it would actually hold bodies anymore, so we re-purposed them as plant holders. I was quite happy with the results.



The day before the party we enlisted good friends and family to help with the heavy lifting and the addition of extra lights and things. One of the things that stresses me out the most when I'm entertaining is the idea that I have to be Superwoman and do it all, which, of course, is ridiculous. (It's also a Cuban thing, but that's not important right now, either.)

This time around I deligated, and practiced saying, "yes, thank you" when someone offered their help. This is new and unexplored territory for me. I must practice saying that magical incantation: "yes, thank you."

Remember those wonderful lights and flags we put up last year? Read about them here: Documenting the Magic. Well, the flags were a little sun-faded, but still very usable. (I was worried.)


Eric and crew hung them in strategic places. (I may or may not have made some sketches of where I wanted everything set up. Shut up. It's efficient.) Flags would go on either side of the "dance floor" (concrete slab), and along the garden's edge. 

While digging around for all my decorative things I came across a bag full of fabric. It was actually just rags. The triangular pieces left over from cutting the flags last year. I quickly decided that those would make an awesome 'rag banner' to drape over the dance floor. I enlisted the girls next door to just tie the rags onto twine and call it good. I wrote about the amazing twine here: Styling a Quick and Easy DIY Thanksgiving.

This might be my favorite decoration of all.


For those of you that are curious about the metal poles holding up those lights and flags. Eric got some 18" metal pipes that he pounded into the ground. Into these he inserted the long 10 foot metal poles. I think they can be found in the electrical or plumbing sections of Home Depot. At the top of the poles, he added some "S" hooks which are held down with white duck tape. I know. It's so much simpler than it looks, but the end result is stunning.

They look even more magical at night.


The Posters

Remember that our general theme was Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Lucy created some really fun poster designs for each of the three graduates with quotes from the movie and we had them mounted and hung them in different spots around the yard.


"The question isn't: 'What are we going to do?' The question is "what aren't we going to do?""

"You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"

"How can I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?"

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

So cute, right?

I also got dozens of plain black sunglasses as a lovely parting gift to give to the guests. These were quite a hit.



The Signs

We were going to be hosting such a large crowd and I didn't want our guests to be wondering where things were or what was going on, so I made signage. (People, this is what I was born to do.)

This first chalkboard was right outside the front door. I wanted my guests to feel comfortable right away. It was quite effective and they knew what to do immediately. I also had two friends stationed inside greeting and giving directions. Because is there anything worse than getting to a party and not knowing where to go? (I should teach a class in Cuban Hospitality 101. Thank you, Haylee and Marc!)


Also, we came up with our own hashtag. (I know. Shut up.) So if you were following along on Instagram or Facebook, you would just follow the #jntdayoff tag.

(Speaking of following, if you don't already, you should be totally be following me on Instagram. I'm Smrtqbn.)

As you walked into the back yard, almost the first thing you saw was the piece of our old fence, now painted with chalkboard paint and sporting directions.


The food had its own signage. And so did the desserts, which were located next door. (I should be crowned Signage Queen. Just sayin.')


This is the view from the far end of our house looking out over everything. Even before our guests had arrived I was feeling so pleased with our hard work.


 The Food

I decided to keep the food as simple as possible and decided to serve my own version of Southern California Mexi-Cuban. (What? Mexi-Cuban doesn't exist? It does now.)

First, we had a Make Your Own Tostada Bar.


I deep fried 6 inch flour tortilla shells into a "bowl" shape.


We provided 3 kinds of meat: Cuban-style pork, ground beef (really it was picadillo without the raisins and olives. Shh!), and a crockpot lime chicken (I promise I'll share that recipe another day). The pork and the chicken I made in two crockpots the night before.


We also had black beans (duh) and a blend of grilled onions and peppers (Shh! It was really a sofrito). The idea was to grab a tortilla shell, put in some beans and your own meat and your favorite toppings, which included lettuce, sour cream, olives, cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, lime, avocado, guacamole, cheese, and of course, salsa. (Thank you, Stacie, for all the chopping and grating!)

Are you feeling the Mexi-Cuban vibe? I'm on to something.


Everything was pretty easy and according to all the guests, delicious. 

The other (genius) thing we served - did I mention most of our guest were teenagers? - was the Walking Tacos.


1) You start off with a bag of Fritos or Doritos, which you crush before opening.


2) You open the bag and add meat and toppings.

3) Top this with Ranch Salsa. Basically half Ranch dressing and half salsa mixed together to make a wonderful yummy, rose-colored concoction. 

4) Grab a fork and eat right out of the bag. 

From the reactions we got to the Walking Tacos, you'd think we had discovered fire. (Win.)


My dear friend, Theresa of Sundrop Cottage (she is The Party Maven of Orange County) let me raid her storage area for all the fabulous and funky serving dishes, beverage dispensers, tubs, stands, covered glass cake stands, chalkboards, frames and every other wonderful party detail you see pictured in these photos. (Thank you, Theresa!)    

The Refreshments

It has been a long standing tradition at all of the parties we've ever had in the Darby home, to serve Real Ice-Cold Coca-Cola  ("it's the Real thing.") in the traditional glass bottles. They're made in Mexico with cane sugar instead of high fructose. You can totally taste the difference. 

We got cases and cases of Cokes. At the end of the night I think we had maybe two left. (Win.)




For the non-Coke drinkers, we also had a tub full of mini cans of other soft drinks, Perrier, carafes of water, beverage dispensers with lemonade and iced tea. Also, instructions on how to make Arnold Palmers.




The Sweets

Of course, we couldn't forget the desserts. To be honest, I debated making my pastelitos, but I was already cooking all the rest of the food, and besides Jonathan wanted donuts. So we got dozens of Krispy Kreme Donuts, elegantly displayed under glass. Jon was correct in his assessment that "his people are donut people." 


But I got a little fixated on having mustache cookies. (Please don't even ask me why. I was planning so many details and I got a little crazy here. Shut up.) Except my sugar cookies don't ever turn out very well. What to do? 

I enlisted the help of my talented next door neighbor, genius baker, and mother of Tori, Debbie and her other daughter, Tessia to make the sugar cookie mustaches. Remember me practicing the "yes, thank you?" This was one of those moments. 

Mustache Sugar Cookies for the win. (Thanks, guys!)



All that was left was for me to make the signs. (You know, I excel at signage.)


Tessia made a simple chocolate fondue and the rest of the dessert table featured All The Things That Are Awesome When Dipped In Chocolate:

  • Wavy Lays Potato Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

 Here's the recipe from Hershey's Kitchens:

Chocolate Lover's Fondue

  • HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half & half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Assorted Fondue Dippers

1, Combine chocolate chips, light cream and sugar in heavy medium sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is hot.

2. Pour into fondue pot or chafing dish; serve warm. About 2 cups fondue.

The Photo Booth

We have the distinct privilege and pleasure to have, not one, but two talented photographers in our circle of friends. (All the photos that you see here are from them.) We decided it would work best to divide the picture taking between a photo booth and a roving photographer. (Seriously, I can't even believe I'm writing this. How lucky are we?) 

Rafael Guajardo (Tori's dad!) of Rafael Photography manned the Photo Booth.


Jonathan, Nathan, and the girls next door, Tessia and Tori

While Dan Shalaby and his son, Cameron shot the candids. 


The screen that was the backdrop for the photos is where the movie would later be shown.

Here I am with my dear friend and best neighbor, Debbie. This is pretty much the only proof that I was actually there at the party. I was mostly behind the scenes making sure there was food and everyone was happy. (Also, my curls were winning that night, but that's not important right now, either.)


Here's Debbie with her husband, Rafael. How cute are they? 


(The antique picture frame was also provided by Theresa at Sundrop Cottage. (Admit it - I have the coolest friends.)

The Surprise

Jonathan's girl, Amy, flew out from Texas to surprise him for his graduation party. You can tell by the look on Jon's face that he is indeed surprised. It took him a while to process that she really was here. We may or may not have had to re-start his heart from the shock. (Win.)


The Music and Dancing

Lucy volunteered to be the DJ and our brother-in-law, Corey provided the speakers and microphone for this event. Let me just interject right here that all I had wanted originally was just a microphone to make "dinner is served," or "it's time to dance" type announcements. Corey took it up a notch with an amazing state-of-the-art sound system. (I know. Charmed life. Thanks, Corey!)


And Lucy entertained us all with her intelligent mix of current favorites and extremely danceable songs. She took us from hip-hop to Cuban (Benny Moré and Celia, of course) to swing (Glenn Miller). Once the dancing started, almost no one stayed in their seats.


Amy Kikita was the one who instigated a lot of the craziness on the dance floor. Is anyone surprised by this?


A traditional Cuban conga goes from side to side, people. I just thought you should know.


 The guys donned their shades and totally got into One Direction, much to the delight of all the girls.


"You don't know you're beautiful..."

The dance floor was pretty much a blur from all the movement and happy sounds. (Also, can you tell this photo is from my iPhone? Not quite up to par with the quality of the others, is it? But look at how much fun they were having!)




"It's fun to stay at the Y..."

The lights. The music. The happy chatter. The magical glow. I loved everything about this night.




We wrapped the dancing up around 10:30 and moved all the chairs out to the far end of the yard (you can see the big screen up against the house). The kids grabbed blankets (it was a cool, but comfortable 66 degrees that night) and settled in for a showing of... what else? Ferris Bueller's Day Off. 


I can safely say that a good time was had by all. 


My youngest, Jonathan has graduated high school and we celebrated in great style. I was so delighted with how everything turned out and how comfortable everyone was. I was grateful for all my friends who stepped up and helped turn our sketches into a reality. (High five, Debbie! We did it!) I feel like we honored our three graduates in a way that was perfectly fitting, surrounded by family and friends and their extended support networks.


However, I neglected to to mention to those assembled that this was actually, in fact, my retirement party, but that's not important right now.  

Life Without Pretending

When I started writing over-sharing on this blog six years ago, I had made the decision that I didn't want to ever complain. (I follow that rule in my real life, too, but that's not important right now.)

I seriously have so much to be grateful for, and I swear I do lead a charmed life. But like everyone else, I go through a rough patch now and then. Many of those things I've chosen not to write about, but now I'm wondering if you (my readers) wouldn't benefit more from my honesty. Or at least a good explanation for why I have been writing intermittently...

When I wrote about my struggle with Fibromyalgia I was humbled by your tremendous response and how many of you identified with me. I'm so grateful. This has made me feel more brave in sharing what's happening right now.


A few weeks back, just as I was getting over the sinus/bronchitis/pneumonia thing, I got a pain that was not my usual just-a-stiff-neck-you've-been-sitting-on-your-c0mputer-much-too-long pain. The back of my neck went into a spasm and the pain and tingling radiated from my neck, down my shoulder to my arm and over to the front of my neck and face.

People, I'm pretty sure no one's face is supposed to tingle.

I was not happy. Not. Happy.

There was an emergency room visit and muscle relaxants prescribed and then an MRI.

Can I just tell you that the whole MRI business was one of the most profoundly unpleasant experiences of my life. This is the thing where you are strapped to a bed and slid into a tube and have to keep perfectly still while the magnetic resonance imaging happens. (If you can bring your own music and convince the technician that Celia Cruz really is much more soothing to you than the Pandora Easy Listening station, you'll do sooo much better.)

Even with Celia at my side, I'd really rather not have to do that ever again, thankyouverymuch.

But I did it. And the diagnosis is a bulging disk in my neck that is pinching a nerve that's causing the radiating pain. (I so wish I was not writing over-sharing about this, but that's not important right now, either.)

This bulgy-disk-pinched-nerve deal is affecting my life in so many ways. It's tough to sleep, which is already not my strong suit (see: the Fibromyalgia post). I have a constant ringing in my ears, which is making my hardness of hearing even harder. (Seriously, this is so embarrasing.)


I'm in physical therapy now and receiving treatment, but I'm not loving this season of my life. I feel weak and I feel vulnerable. And did I mention the weird tingly-face thing? But again, I've determined to live my life without pretending anymore, so there you have it.

In fact, I was tempted to stop blogging altogether, but something happened last week that made me change my mind. I'll write about that tomorrow.

So, here I am again. Sorry for the long break in my writing over-sharing, but I've been a bit out of sorts. But I'll get through this.

I found this quote and wrote it on the pantry chalkboard in the kitchen. I was inspired by it.

It says: "Expect problems...and eat them for breakfast." ~Alfred A. Montapert.

I like that.


Besides, with Celia's voice in my headphones, I found I can do anything.

Pa'lante y con fe.

I Parranda and I Do Laundry - Multi-tasking the Cuban Way

I'm still recovering from my The Traumatic Thwarting of My Trip Home by the POTUS.

Thank you all for your concern. I'm definitely home now and back to my real life which includes laundry and laundry and more laundry and I have some videos I have to edit - in between loads of laundry.

I'll tell you all about Blogalicious Weekend and what I did and the cool places I got to stay in and my visit to the Palacio de Los week.

Remember my ¡Parranda! shoes? I totally got to wear them at the Que Rica Vida sponsored ¡Parranda! Party and I wrote all about that over at the Tiki Tiki today. Click here to read that story and watch the video.


Carrie & Me at the !Parranda! Party

In my mind I am still in Parranda mode, so while I'll be doing my best to scale Mt. Washmore* I'll definitely be moving my Cuban butt self to the delicious sounds of Celia Cruz.

You can take the Cuban girl out of Miami.... ;-)

(*H/T Flylady)