Monday, March 13, 2017

Childhood Memories to Live On

When I was a child in elementary school, my dad stayed home to raise my brother and me, while my mom was out pursuing her American Dream. I remember having one car for the four of us, and driving mom to work downtown Phoenix at the Arizona Bank (later known as Security Pacific Bank, now known as Bank of America). Natan and I would pile in the car to pick her up around what I am assuming was 5 o'clock in the evening. My dad would pull the brick red Toyota Corolla up to the curb in front of the tallest building my young eyes had ever stood beneath. (Natan and I used to freak out that the building would fall over and crush us. It was big.) I loved that car. I remember the beige leather (pleather, maybe?) seats in the back that had decorative holes that looked like someone pushed a fork through a hundred times to make the pattern. Those seats got so hot in the Arizona summers. I remember that, too. The car was a manual transmission with a stick shift gear that was shiny and round like an 8-ball that you use when you shoot a game of pool. I wanted that to be my car when I turned 16. It got wrecked in a car accident when I was 12, I think. My dad was driving by himself, on the way home and stopped at a stoplight, when a woman lost control of her vehicle and her car somehow crashed into ours. It's funny the things you remember from your childhood.

I have started writing down my childhood memories, the ones that are so ingrained in my memory bank, because I am realizing almost daily how much they shape me, and who I am today.  More of them are coming up when I catch myself doing things that I remember my parents doing. When I am in the kitchen, preparing (with time and love) a delicious meal to share with our neighbors or friends... I am my mom. Watching her from the kitchen table all those years as a young girl has paid off in the kitchen. I love to cook. It brings me peace, and joy. To see my guests close their eyes when they taste a bite of what is the result of one of the many lessons my mom has given me, it warms me from the inside out. I feel her next to me, even though she is a whole state away.

Now, as an elementary school mom, I am channeling my father, who volunteered as an Art Guide when I was in grade school. He (and a few other moms) would rotate teaching lessons in our Art class about famous artists, and then we would try to create in their style. Since November, I have been teaching Lunchtime Art at the kids' school on Mondays and Fridays outside on sunny days. I bring materials, and directions, and watch the kids create. There's not a lot of time during their lunch break - 20 to 30 minutes at most - but it's enough to teach them a little, and as long as they are creating and I am encouraging them to try new things, my job is complete. I feel so connected to my daddy when I am there - in the nature (which he loved), teaching/mentoring children (his life's work), appreciating art (one of his many passions). The hardest part still, a year and a half after his passing, is that I can't call him to tell him about it. I can only imagine him watching over me, as he hovers near by in his new hummingbird armor. (Don't think I haven't noticed you, Daddy - the kids have stopped their work to admire you in the adjacent tree from time to time.)

And this past weekend, as Quincy and Paloma had their Opening Weekend of Baseball and Softball, I was immediately transported back to the afternoons at the ballpark, watching Dad play on the Arizona Bank team, and later in his men's league. Those afternoons led to our love of the game - Natan and I couldn't get enough of it - it was in our blood. To know that my brother is my nephew's Little League Head Coach in Arizona AND assisting the baseball team at his old high school, brings me so much joy, because he is carrying on the lessons that my dad taught us; the lessons that our Papa Ray taught our Dad. I am assisting Paloma's softball team, and my love for the game has been reignited. The memories are resurfacing gradually, as my heart is filling up. And to see Solon helping Quincy's team, and to see the look of pride on both their faces, I can't help but feel my dad there. Life seems to only get busier with two very active kids, but it's moments like these where we are able to reconnect with such a HUGE part of our past that has been buried for so long. I hope we are all making him proud.
Quincy - A's 2017
Paloma - Mermaids 2017
Daddy and me - Wild Things 1991


Last month, the kids had a week off of school, and we took a family trip to Cancún, Mexico. Solon and I hadn't been there since our honeymoon 12 years ago, and I felt our kids were the perfect age to "go international". I have so much family there, including 2 of my mom's sisters, and I have been needing to see them. We were able to use all those Southwest points that Solon has been piling on for work to fly my mom out there to meet us. I wanted my kids exposed to the culture that I love so much, and I wanted my mom to be able to share her love of her culture and birth country with her grand-kids. We were able to spend time with our family, and share stories and memories, and my heart was literally so full I thought it was going to burst! Quincy and Paloma LOVED Mexico. They were exposed to beautiful oceans, kind and wonderful people, and so much family.

 Our beautiful view of the breathtaking water

 Mom and my grandma, Mama Lilia (painted by my grandpa, Papa Gustavo Cándido Nieto)

Mayan ruins at Xcaret Archeological Park

Quincy and Paloma between el diablo y la muñeca

Much needed time with our Mexico family!!
Paloma and Quincy meeting their great-aunt China (my mom's sister) and great-uncle Emilio

My cousin Penny (in white), her daughter Ashanti (far left), 
my cousin Sally (next to Solon), and her daughter Roxanna (far right)

Prima sandwich!

With my Tío Luis, Tía Yolanda, and their son-in-law, my cousin Raymundo
 Brother and sister, my cousins Luisito and Yolandita

Ashanti and her husband Carlos (I still see her as a 2-year-old running around in diapers)

In the middle (next to my mom), my cousin Olgita, and her daughter (my little cousin) Maria

My Tía Yoli is FAMOUS for her margaritas and her big heart!

Solon enjoying something he has waited 12 years for!

With my cousin Cecilia and her husband, surrounded by her amazing artwork!

I am so happy I got to hug an kiss all these beautiful people!

 Late-night visit from my cousin Alejandra - the perfect way to end our trip

My heart is refueled - I am so grateful to have been able to take this trip as a family. It was an adventure, and I learned a lot about traveling internationally with kids, and how it's almost impossible to have family visit you at an all-inclusive hotel (so many rules). So next time, we know what to do, and what NOT to do. My hope is to start taking the kids for a couple weeks in the summers to stay with family, and learn the language through immersion and practice. It was fun to practice my Spanish, and communicate with the locals. I can't wait to do it again.

More adventures await, so many childhood memories to help my kids make...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Star Up There

I have always been a firm believer in the one holiday at a time rule. I don't particularly like seeing Christmas decorations and gift wrap in the stores when I am out searching for the perfect pieces to our family's Halloween costumes. One holiday at a time. I always wait to put the Christmas decorations up at least a couple days after Thanksgiving. I don't even like to hear Christmas music on the store radios until the day after Thanksgiving - it kind of really bugs me. And I don't get bugged easily. Now don't get me wrong, once Thanksgiving is over, and we've enjoyed turkey leftovers for a few days, I am ready to listen to Christmas music 24/7 and start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Christmas has always been a magical time for me. My favorite time as a kid for sure. My mom always had the most beautiful decorations around  our 1200 square foot house. Garlands on the walls, adorned with lights and Mexican wicker ornaments, a natural straw color with red trim, alongside wooden nutcrackers with the string down the middle that raises the arms and legs when you pull down. Those were later replaced with shiny tin ornaments that we began to collect over the years, but I still remember how they looked. Thanks to my mom, the house always smelled of mulled cider, or posole, and tamales... so many tamales. Natan and I would have our Christmas Lists on the refrigerator by the first day of December, usually no more than a handful of things. As we go older, we added the word "MONEY" to the bottom of the list. I wonder when my kids will start doing that. I don't remember my parents ever doing any "Black Friday" shopping. Mom would purchase a special outfit or two for us, and Dad would be carefully shopping for all of us throughout the year - for a new book, and that one perfect gift. We usually got a couple small things, and one big present. It's all we needed. To be honest, I was more excited about the little things in the stockings than what was under the tree. Some Christmases were more plentiful than others, but never extravagant. The house was filled with the sounds of "A Music Box Christmas" - one of my favorite of daddy's purchases from Tower Records.

Last Christmas was the first without Dad. I don't remember much of it, to be honest. It was something we just needed to get through, I wanted to be strong for my mom, and luckily I had my kids to help me keep the magic of Christmas in me. I had a hard time even turning the Christmas music on this year. I just wasn't ready to face another one without him. The music fills me with great joy, yet so much sadness at the same time. All it takes is one freakin' song to set the tears free.

This one does it every time:

"The lake is frozen over
The trees are white with snow
And all around reminders of you
Are everywhere I go
It's late and morning's in no hurry
But sleep won't set me free
I lie awake and try to recall
How your body felt beside me
When silence gets too hard to handle
And the night too long
This is how I see you
In the snow on Christmas morning
Love and happiness surround you
As you throw your arms up to the sky
I keep this moment by and by
Oh I miss you now, my love
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas, my love
Sense of joy fills the air
And I daydream and I stare
Up at the tree and I see
Your star up there
This is how I see you
In the snow on Christmas morning
Love and happiness surround you
As you throw your arms up to the sky
I keep this moment by and by"

This was my "go-to-for-a-good-cry" Christmas Song, I discovered, when my Papa Ray had died in 2008. I was extra pregnant with Quincy, therefore fully-hormonal, and setting up the tree a week before Quincy was born. The song came on, right after Joni Mitchell's "The River", and I was a mess. Losing my grandpa was the first real loss I had as an adult. No one in my family had died since I was 12 before that, and when you're 12, it's sad, but the connection is definitely stronger the more years you put into it. So, every year from 2008 until 2015, the Christmas Blues were a reflection of my love for my grandfather, and they were an icy turquoise blue. Now, add the layer of sadness that is my dad's passing onto that, and my Christmas Blues are a deep midnight blue. But I cry because I loved. And I cry because it's my therapy. With every ornament I put on the tree, with every memory that is attached, I think of how they brought me joy, how much they added to my life, and how their love carries me. I will keep them alive by sharing those memories with my kids, while we create new memories as a family, as we learn how to celebrate in our new normal. But man, oh man, what I wouldn't give to feel my daddy's warm, soft bear hug just one more time.
That's my Christmas wish.

Here's some happiness...


The Superhero
The Villians
(Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Two Face)
We had a blast...
 and scored a lot of candy!


Thankful for family...


Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season, filled with peace, love, joy, and all the wonderful memories that came before.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Round Here

The past 8 weeks have left me in a whirl. Most of it has been good, but I would be lying if I said it was all good.

I have been using inspiration from my all-time favorite band (Counting Crows) since my last post, in an effort to really reconnect with myself. To use my memories to heal me, and to remind myself of the important things in my life.

"Gonna get back to basics I guess I'll start it up again"

I have been thinking about what I really want to accomplish in life. There is so much that I want, and sometimes life seems so fragmented that it's hard to get all my ideas out of my head on onto paper, so I can track them - making tangible goals out of them. I want to write every day. About motherhood, about childhood, about cooking, about travel, about this freaking election, about loving, and growing, and moving on through all the stuff that life throws at you. But I bottle the thoughts up one by one, until I have more time to devote to them, and before I know it, my bottle is so full, nearing explosion, and I can't articulate ANYTHING the way I want to. I need to work on that. First goal: Keep a journal - write things down right after they happen.

"We only stay in orbit for a moment of time 
And you're everybody's satellite I wish that you were mine"

Death seems to be a common theme in my life for the past 14 months. It seems like every few months, I am having to sit my children down and explain to them that someone we know has died, or is going to die soon. It's a conversation that I never really had with my parents until I was like 12. So the fact that I have had this conversation with my 5 and 7-year-old SO MANY times in a little over a year... I mean I don't even know how to explain it. From my dad, to my great-uncle, to my mom's dog, to my great-aunt... and most recently to my best friend's 3-year-old daughter... I feel like seeing their mom sad is the current norm in our house. Through the moments of grief, I am working my butt off to remind them of, and expose them to THE GOOD in our lives, and in the world. We talk about the lessons we learned from the example of our lost loved-one. We do things that we enjoy, that makes us happy. We have adventures, we learn things together.
"Where we make a lifetime commitment to recovering the satellites" I am not going to shield them from the pain, because I do think kids need the honesty of what we have been going through, but I have to find a delicate balance because I don't want them to be hardened, or numb. I don't know if they need to be as emotional as I am, but I don't think it's a bad thing either. My emotion comes from the way I love so deeply. Especially when it comes to my given family, and my chosen family.

"She sees shooting stars and comet tails
She's got Heaven in her eyes"

I will forever be grateful that I got to see this little angel in August before she left this Earth for the Heavens. Her story is not mine to tell, but I will say this: This little girl had more personality and fight in her pinky finger than most adults walking this planet. She has taught me to not be afraid. She has reminded me to ALWAYS dance in the rain, and to BE AMAZED by the little joys that life brings - to NEVER take them for granted. Her parents have shown me how important it is to follow your gut, and who cares what others think of your choices where your children are concerned - you have to do what works for you. Their family has shown me that LOVING HARD does so much GOOD in your life, even when it's difficult to breathe, even when the end comes sooner than expected. Love hard and deep, and find the GIFT in what makes you different.My promise to Makenzie Rae is that her light will always fuel my heart. I will live life to the fullest, continuing to love fearlessly, and conquer challenges that lie ahead, with her smile and laughter in the back of my mind. One of my favorite aspects of sharing this journey of motherhood with my very best friends is the relationships that I get to have with their children. I am especially grateful for this one.


Here are some of the good moments in photos to bring us to current:

Huntington Beach



School starts

Final Ultrasound (2 years later, ALL CLEAR)

My godfather Chuck came to visit!

I welcomed in 37 with a birthday lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley 
(crossed off the Bucket List!)

Girls weekend to see Counting Crows and Rob Thomas!

I participated in a commercial shoot for the Women Voter Project 
(representing propositions on the CA ballot)

Community Fun

Reconnecting with childhood friends in Petaluma

Fun with my mother-in-law!

Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate our friends, Maksim and Dominik

Fall fun with old friends near Sacramento

Live fully, love hard, and enjoy the Fall!