What Mom Taught Me

In case you missed last year's surprise Mother's Day post, here is the link.

Also: Mom. You really should change your password once in awhile...


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 Mami taught me how to have great adventures.

We have driven to Vegas together more times than I can count.
Today, I love driving and am always ready to take a road trip.

We saw the GoGo's at Mandalay Bay (outside on "the beach" - aka The Pool) and we got drenched. Afterwards, we were sitting, still dripping, and having a cafecito while watching the people who had just come from an Il Divo concert head into the casino. We couldn't stop laughing about the people being dressed to the nines while we were dripping.
I wish I could remember what was so funny about the guy we met in the elevator, but at the time it was the funniest thing we'd ever heard.
When a friend invited me to the symphony, I knew how to dress because of that dripping in Vegas moment... and I still make friends with people in elevators.

She took me to New York with her right after 9/11. We FLEW. The two towers were still burning, but we went.
When she mentioned a trip to San Antonio to cook Cuban food for our troops, I bought my ticket right away.

We have gone to Miami plenty of times for Cuba Nostalgia because she had taught me to be proud of my heritage and my culture.
When abuela asked if I would take her to Cuba to be reunited with her siblings (for the first time since fidel took over) I did not hesitate; I went to Cuba.

We have met totally famous people and been total dorks about it.
People have treated us like we're famous and we have been total dorks about it.

We saw (presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee at the airport, but I was convinced it wasn't him. She went up and shook his hand. She was right.
We were in L.A. and I said "Mami, that's Pitbull," but she wasn't convinced it was him. We eventually shook his hand. I was right.

Mami taught me to be fearless. And to be right. ;-)



Kiki Amy

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My mom taught me to appreciate comfort.

I can remember sitting on mom's lap at Luza's old house, in the living room in the dark when she was trying to put me to sleep.  I remember sucking on her finger while she tried to rock me to sleep.  She always played with my hair to calm me down and I still run my fingers through my hair to relax now when I'm all wound up.  She would always say, "Who loves you more then anyone else in the whole wide world?"

She asked because she already knew the answer. And so do I.




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Mom taught me to be fearless.

I remember the first time I had auditioned for my first musical. I was an extremely nervous, shy and quiet person. (Hard to believe now, I know.) Before I left, my Mom told me: "Be fearless. If you are fearless... they will respect you."

Every audition I’ve had since then, I have chosen to be fearless.  All because my Mom, I am now outgoing, well-spoken, respected and trusted by my friends. Thank you Mom, for teaching me to be fearless.

I love you, Mom! And thank you for letting me live. ;-)



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My wife taught me the importance of telling stories.

When we are out at some family gathering or just out doing something fun together, she will stop and take photos or little video clips. I have to admit it used to drive me crazy.

But later when she writes about our time together or glues down the pictures in her scrapbook or tells these stories to our friends, I am grateful. She helps me slow down and see myself as part of a great story. Happy Mother's Day, honey. I love you.



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My mom taught me how to learn… and learn quickly.

Imitation was a skill I developed at a young age. And I had always believed that if mom could do it, I could do it too. My mom taught me how to bake a perfect cake (from scratch), how to do laundry (don’t mix whites with dark colors), how to sew (keep your finger away from the needle), how to clean the bathtub (it’s not a fun job, but someone’s gotta do it)...

My favorite compliment was to be called “mommy’s little helper.”

Later, she encouraged me to pursue my own interests. If I wanted to know how to do something, I had more than enough resources to learn how to do it myself.

My mom is an intensely curious, playful, thoughtful, and opinionated woman with the greatest sense of humor. She’s brave and honest and deeply connected to her culture. She had an excellent fashion sense, she makes the greatest pastelitos de guayaba, and she loves a good story.

Thanks to mom, I learned how to be a good listener, how to take care of myself, how to apologize, how to be creative, how to write, how to take a beautiful photograph and, most importantly, how to say “I love you.” and mean it.

Here’s to the best teacher I ever had. Happy mother’s day, mom! I love you so much I could spit.



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Also, bonus picture of mom singing karaoke to Neil Diamond at the top of her lungs... on Christmas Day.




The Best of MBFCF in 2010

I started this tradition last year.

I reviewed my posts for the entire year (which was kind of interesting in a wow-is-that-a-train-wreck? kinda way, but that's not important right now) and picked a mix of some of my favorites.

These links are a pretty good representation of what it's like Living the Vida Loca, MBFCF-style.

If you've been a regular reader, I thank you for your time and attention and your cyber-love. You may enjoy going into my cyber-time machine and re-living this past year via the following blog posts.

If you're new to my blog, make yourself at home and enjoy this slice of my Cuban-American life in the O.C.



1. The Writing is On the Wall - The one where I take you on a tour of the walls of my freakishly small cottage-like home.

E I love you m

2. A Living Legacy - The one where my mom turned 96 and had her photo taken with (almost) everyone in my big, fat, Cuban family.


3. Amy's Trip to Cuba - The one where Amy Kikita (my daughter) goes to Cuba and shares how she experienced the island and the people and how she ended up meeting Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y. This link is to all the posts from her trip.

Amy varadero

4.  How Google Works - A Very Cuban Explanation - The one where my 96 year old mom explains how the internet search engines work. She calls them Cuco and Yayo (Google and Yahoo) and becomes an instant Youtube hit among Cubans everywhere.

5. How to Turn 55 While in Miami - In which I drag out my birthday celebration for days and enjoy a wonderful party and my husband's sweet surprise.

Birthday party

6. How to Throw a Virtual Birthday Party - In which I surprise and amaze my daughter by having everyone she knows post a birthday greeting. (*takes bow*)

Val birthday amy

7.  Hasta La Vista, Baby! - In which my son, Adam, moves far away and leaves me sad. (*wipes away a tear*)

Adam car

8. Baking With Betty - Brownieliciousness - In which I get to bake in the Betty Crocker Kitchens in Minneapolis and am overwhelmed by my own nerdiness.


9. When is a Pitbull NOT a pitbull? - In which I am introduced to Cuban rapper, Pitbull and I may or may not have called him a muñecón. Here's the video version. ;-)


10. El Palacio and me. (It was love at first sight.) - In which I visit El Palacio de Los Jugos (with my partner in Tiki Tiki blog-crime, Carrie) in Miami and document the entire comelata.


11. The Mother Ring - In which I tell about how I received a family heirloom.


12. Nochebuena. Cubans. Photobooth. (Pachanga!) - In which I manage to capture the silliness and beauty that is my big, fat, Cuban family.


It's a nice compilation, isn't it?

I'll just keep writing in 2011. I hope you come back. My blog-casa is your blog-casa. =D

Happy New Year!

Reading in the 21st Century - A Very Cool Giveaway

We are voracious readers in our family.

Seriously voracious.

As I write this, four out of five of the people living in this house right now have a book in hand. I am personally in love with the Kindle for iPhone app, but that's not important right now.

So I was delighted when the makers of the new V.Reader for kids by VTech asked if I would review their product.

(In the interest of complete disclosure, I was given a V.Reader by VTech for my review. I was allowed to keep the product, but the opinion I am sharing remains my own. Well, with some help....read on...)

I got the V.Reader, turned it on, pressed the buttons, heard the story. I thought how incredibly cute it was and how I wished it had been available when my kids (who are now teenagers) were young. I totally would have purchased this product. So, my personal opinion was that I loved it.

An animated storybook? What's not to love?

But I knew I needed to get a real expert in here.

Ben with Vreader
Here's my grand-nephew, Ben, who just turned five. His mom (my niece, Helen) has been reading to him since he was a baby. He loves books. 

"Here, Ben, try this."

He quickly typed in his name: B-E-N. Chose an avatar. A robot (Duh!). And it took him no time at all to figure out how to turn the "pages" on his "book."

Page turner 

He became immediately engrossed in the story and was quickly asking for more. "What else can I do? Are there more stories?"

Vreader story 

The V.Reader is available at Target stores and so are the other book titles. (On hearing there was a new Toy Story 3 V.book, my niece left here and headed right over to Target to pick that one up.)

The final verdict according to my in-house expert and the general consensus from everyone here, the V.Reader is "Awesome!"

Here comes the very cool part....

VTech has generously offered to send out a V.Reader to one lucky MBFCF reader. (I know. Shut up!)

So, let's do a comment giveaway. (How much do I love this?)

Go to the comment section of this post and tell me ....what was YOUR favorite book as a child?

I'll choose a winner on Monday, July 5th at 11:00 am Pacific Time.

Mine was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss.  (That explains so much, doesn't it?) =D

Why I love my big, fat, Cuban family - Reason # 438. The Banana Incident.

Every year about this time, Amy and I start making plans.

Of course, these involve places to go and things to do, and movies to make! You see, my daughter is an amazing film editor. (A little known fact, unless you've been reading my blog for the past three years and have been paying close attention, but that's not important right now.)

Every year since my Papi passed away in December of 1999, we have been gathering video and photos and creating what has now come to be be known as The Christmas Video.

A few years ago, we switched over to dvds and burned and packaged the first 8 into what we call The Cucufate Christmas Collection. We've been making and packaging dvds since. (I know. Baking cookies would be so much easier.)


The Christmas Video has been cemented as one of our family's most important Noche Buena Traditions (along with the lechón asado and the turrones).

It is our gift each year to the rest of the family.

Although we stress about it for weeks, we're always proud of the finished product. I am confident that no matter how many gifts everyone receives, this is one that they are guaranteed to keep and treasure. And I love that.

Many times we use old footage from ancient family Super 8 movies collected over the years and transferred to tape. But sometimes we're inspired to do something fresh. 

Some of the guidelines we've created for ourselves:

  • Everyone in the family must be represented at least once.
  • The opening credits read the same way each year. Only adding names of new spouses and new babies.
  • Family members that have passed away continue to have their names listed in the credits.
  • We choose a Title and five or six songs. (This sounds way easier than it actually is. We agonize and argue over which songs will be included and are prepared to defend our decisions. My niece Helen jumps in at around this portion of the process and adds another dimension to the brainstorming.)
  • There's an Opening Song, something funny, something cute involving the kids, dancing (there's always dancing!), and a Crying Song (something poignant and sweet and sentimental with an aww-shucks quality to it.)
  • The music has to represent our Cuban heritage and of course, Christmas. (There have been some especially magic moments when these two things beautifully coincide.)
  • We keep it at around 20 minutes. (Some are shorter or a bit longer, depending on our choice of songs and what we're trying to accomplish.)
  • We will usually have a good idea of what we're doing by the time Thanksgiving rolls around so that we can film people doing stuff on Thanksgiving day.

This year marks the Tenth Anniversary of  The Christmas Video. So we decided to mix things up a bit and shoot some fresh footage for one of our segments.

Here's the beauty.... We showed up at Thanksgiving with a bunch of bananas and a banana costume (thanks, Gina!) and gave the family instructions and started rolling the tape.


Use the bananas as microphones and sing these lyrics.

Here I am with my beautiful sisters complying with the first of many "banana behaviors."

Banana sisters

Isaac, dressed as a giant banana, leading the Banana Conga Line....

Isaac banana conga

Did they ask questions? NOPE. They just did exactly what we asked. No questions. No complaints! We've asked the rest of the family in Texas and Idaho and San Francisco to send us film. They are already working on their stuff.

Either they trust us implicitly or they figure that if they can't beat us, they might as well just join us. ;-)

This is one of many reasons why I just love my big, fat, Cuban family.

It's going to be EPIC!

Indy and Daisy

My grandniece, Daisy, loves Indiana Jones. (Seriously, what's NOT to like??)

Not just the movies that have his name, but the ride at Disneyland - The Temple of the Forbidden Eye. (Which is on the top five list of attractions to see there for us, but that's not important right now.)


My (ever-resourceful) son, Jonathan is also a lover of All-Things-Indy.
In honor of Miss Daisy's 9th Birthday, which is today, he proposed I share the following:

(He found this on youtube... and okay, yes, now we always sing it before we go on the ride. I know. Shut up.)

So, Happy Birthday, Miss Doodle!


May your life be a series of wonderfully fun adventures! I love you.

Want adventure? Come to me!
A professor...of archeology!

                            ~ Indiana Jones and the Song of Theme

The Grand Poobah of Cuteness

My grand-nephew, Ben is celebrating a birthday today.

This beautiful boy is probably the most photographed child of this century.

Ben 3
There is a really good reason.

He is just too cute.
Ben 4
I know.
Super cute, right?

Ben 1

High cuteness factor.
Ben 6
Cuteness oozes from his pores.

In fact, he represents four years worth of cuteness. (Today is his fourth birthday.)

How cute is he?
Ben 7

The correct answer is: "Impossibly cute."

Happy Birthday, Benicio!

Always an Adventure

When people ask about my family of origin, I always explain that I am the youngest of six.
We are five girls and one boy. (Technically, it's nowhere near accurate to call any of us "girls and boy" anymore, but that's not important right now.)

My point (and I do have one) is that when I give that tidbit of family history, "five girls and one boy," most people's response has always been, "Poor guy!"

Let me just get the facts straight for you...

Being a lone male in a predominantly female household - of Cuban women! - this means his life was cake!
It was our responsibility to take care of his needs, cook, iron shirts, make beds, clean up after him. 

In fact, to wake him up in the morning, we had to have the café con leche prepared and kind of dangle it before his nose to get him from zero to coherent. (This was such a fun game. You'd hold the cup just a few inches from his face and we'd bet on how long before he responded...there was money to be made!) 

So it was because of my brother, Rudy that I learned how to serve.

He was worth it too. Taking us for Pancakes at Midnight or a late show in Hollywood. My friends that had older brothers never did the stuff Rudy would take us to do. And it was fabulous stuff.  Of course, he tormented us just as often, but you tend to forget some things and they fade to the back of your mind in remembering the sweetness.

So now in retrospect, I'm a little confused. Who had the sweeter deal?
a) The young man who's every need we were groomed to anticipate and care for?
b) Or the young women who got to experience the most fun memories of their young lives?

Gotta go with b) on this one. It is my brother's presence in my life that enriched it beyond what I could have imagined.
Always fun. Always spontaneous. Responsible with just the right touch of adventure.

I feel quite lucky to call Rudy my big brother.  So, happy birthday, Rudy! I love you. I wish you only the very best for your life. 

Happy Birthday!

(By the way,  if you ever call me Bomba the Jungle Boy again.....you die.)  =D

How the Uber-geek calendar works

You know... with a big, fat, Cuban family like mine, there's bound to be a birthday every month.
And I'm bound to forget some birthdays, too.  (Sue me. I'm human. =D)

But I remembered that today is my niece, Natalie's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Natzinhimer!

I remember this date because, being an uber-geek, we celebrate this date in history as the date The One Ring Was Destroyed.  (Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - geek reference for the uninformed....)

Yes, we watch the movie (extended version, of course) and have a big feast to celebrate the Return of the King.

Because my uber-geekiness knows no bounds.
But this means I always remember Nat's birthday, too.  =D

Not enough superlatives

My nephew, John-Paul was married last Friday to the lovely Jennifer Jo.
There are not enough superlatives to describe how perfectly beautiful the entire affair was.

(Except for the part where my sisters and mom showed up at a different wedding claiming to be the groom, John-Paul's aunts and grandmother. "That's great, but this is Barney's wedding."  Oops! Yes, they made it to the real wedding on time....)

Grandma & sisters
(personally I think they would have had a great time at Barney's wedding too, but that's not important right now.)

My mom got to walk. This is always a highlight for her.Luza & Rudy

 The new Mrs. Verdés was a blushingly gorgeous bride and her father was immensely proud.
Walking with dad
The groom turned from embracing his mother and committed to Jennifer with all his heart.
With Carmen

J&J kiss

The wedding was attended by their very closest friends and family.
The setting (Las Vegas) completely fabulous.
The reception was an intimate dinner at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris.
J&J b:w
Aren't they just incredible? So Beautiful. So happy.
The newlyweds were very obedient to kiss whenever we clinked the glasses. Quick learners!

I've already used up my quota of great descriptive words. Just think of them all. They surely apply.

I pulled together a little slide show. (I'm VERY aware I am completely lame when it comes to this, but Amy Kikita the master, was unavailable. And so the show is all mine. I did my best. Trust me. It's hard to edit video with tears fogging your eyes. ;-)

But here is my sweet tribute to the new Mr. and Mrs. John-Paul Verdés.
May you absolutely live happily every after...

Congratulations, you two!