Friday, June 9, 2017

The Importance of Filling Our Souls

There are some mornings when you wake up and just know that it's going to be a good day. Where a bunch of simple joys are revealed consecutively, and you can feel your soul filling up a little at a time.

This morning, my day started with Paloma asking me to give her "Unicorn Hair" - a YouTube tutorial given by an animated Barbie and her little sister Chelsea. Seeing my daughter's desire to be creative within moments of her eyes opening to a new day warmed my heart. That is an energy that I want to encourage for sure.

Moments after said Unicorn Hair was complete (and then collapsed, and then stabilizing changes were made), I opened my Facebook memories to see my blog post from three years ago this day, when I wrote about my trip to New York City. To relive those memories through pictures and words, made me feel like I was still on high from that spectacular trip. It was easily one of the Top 3 favorite weekends of my life, behind getting married to Solon, and something else that right now I can't think of because I have only had one cup of coffee.

After making my way downstairs, and getting my morning coffee brewing, (still on Facebook) I see a video of one of my FAVORITE singers, India.Arie, posted by an old high school friend who shares thoughtful, inspirational posts, and encourages the people in his life. The performance of this song was so simplistic, and so beautiful - I had to listen twice - before ultimately sharing it on my page.

Then, as I am sampling the awesome granola that I made yesterday (using a modified version of my friend Kristine's recipe), I scroll through my newsfeed to discover my FAVORITE writer Anne Lamott has just posted her recent TED Talk. Happy Friday to me! Just when I think my soul is filled enough, I sit down with my delicious dark roast, vanilla-coconut-milk-infused cup of coffee in my favorite mug (Thank You Jenni), and I listen to my favorite writer talk about the 12 truths she has learned from life and writing. I am laughing out loud, smiling, and simultaneously getting the urge to write. All before 9:30am.

At this point, I should add that Wednesday and Thursday were recovery days,  from what I have dubbed the "Almost Complete Summer of Soul-Filling Tour". It started 3 weeks ago with a 4-day visit from Larel (my sis-in-law) and my nephews, continued with an almost 2-hour conversation with Charissa, continued with a 3-day visit from Becky and her family, and then continued with a 5-day visit from Holly and Makena. And it's not over yet, because this weekend, my amazing Mom-in-law is taking the kids and Solon and I will head up to Healdsburg (one of my favorite NorCal towns) to help my friend Allison G. celebrate her 40th birthday. And next month, I am having a one-on-one trip to Vegas with Christina, all before coming back to AZ at the end of the summer for a family visit. See what I mean by the "Almost Complete Summer of Soul-Filling Tour"? It shaping up to be a full summer.

In her TED Talk, Anne Lamott said several things that resonated with me. One of which she says is the secret to life - "go outside and LOOK UP. The happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature, the lessons of worship." The kids and I have been spending a lot of time in nature these last few weeks. Soaking in the essence of the Eucalyptus and Redwood trees that surround us. Feeling the gentle mist of the Pacific sea breeze, with the sand beneath our toes. It's free to experience, and it does WONDERS for my breathing and my sanity. You also realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things, which prompts me to not worry so much about what is out of my control, but rather focus my energies on the people and things that are really important to me.

She also says "that when the people we love the most in our lives die, we will never get over these losses, and despite what society says, we're not supposed to. The person will live on fully in our hearts if we don't seal them off."  She says the people we lose to death, will also make us laugh at the most inopportune/random times. This happened to me yesterday in Wendy's when I took the kids for an impromptu lunch before our first summer visit to the Public Library. Quincy was sitting down, with his "Son of Baconator" in his hands - and for a brief few moments, I saw my Dad. The way Quincy held the burger perfectly symmetrically, the weight of the 2 small patties and 4 strips of bacon supported equally by his 8-year-old hands, as he raised it to his mouth, took a BIG bite, smiling simultaneously as his eyes somewhat rolled to the back of his head. It was as if that bite was the most decadent morsel he had EVER tasted. It was as if I was watching my Dad, and I literally LOL'd. Even telling the story to my mom late last night, we laughed and cried, because even though we are a state away, she could picture it perfectly.

One of the "truths" that Anne speaks about is our perceptions of each other. She says, "Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared. Even the people who seem to have it most together." I want us all to remember that - it's so important. In this day and age of Social Media, where there are literally dozens of photo-editing apps, and we have the ability to post and edit the things we say until they're perfect, I try to remember that the only thing I can control is how true I stay to myself. Anne says "we should not compare who others are on the outside to who we are on the inside." That is a major disservice to yourself. I am HAPPY 95% of the time - it's a choice that I consciously make every day - and you will see my joy and zest for life in the things I share. I'm a silver-linings, glass is half-full, spread the love and the positive kind of person. But that doesn't mean that the 5% doesn't hurt. It hurts immensely. And thus, I choose to share that too. Because it's real. And some days, and some moments, hurt more than others. But the release of it all into the universe helps me heal. In her talk, Anne says that "every single thing that happens to you is YOURS, and you get to tell it. You're going to feel like hell, if you wake up some day and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart. Your truth, in your own voice." That is all we really have to offer. This is part of my self-care, which coincidentally is another point that she spoke about.

Emotional self-care is something I have down pat. I write, I paint, I cook, I bake, I take long walks with Forrest, and I have deep and meaningful conversations with my husband and my best friends. Physical self-care is something I could definitely put a little more effort into. I certainly love how I feel after working out, and exerting myself, but it is challenging for me to make it a top priority. This is something that I pledge to myself to improve on. I am excited to start playing softball again, this time in a community co-ed league that begins next week. Solon and I need this, and I think it will be great for our kids to watch us play, as I have the fondest memories of watching my Dad in his Pop's League all those years ago. It will fill our souls, revive our spirit - which is so important(!) - and create memories for all involved.


Highlights from the last few months include:

2nd Grade - Surfin' USA (watch video here)

Kindergarten - This Land Is Your Land (watch video here)

A's Baseball

Mermaids Softball

Saying "See You Later" to our friends Emi and Yaari 
who are moving away

Visit from Larel and the nephews/cousins

 Visit from Becky, Scott, Noah and Gracyn

Saying "See you later" to Maksim and Dominik (not pictured)
at the park (this was the only picture sent via text before my phone 
fell out of my pocket, and then got stolen)

A visit from Holly and Makena

 It has certainly been a full couple months! Somewhere in the middle of these last few visitors, the kids finished 2nd Grade and Kindergarten, and summer is now in full swing. We are grateful for the time spent with family and friends, the adventures we took, and the memories we made. I'm looking forward to experiencing whatever else this summer may bring, and in August, I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE MY MOM!!

Until next time...

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...