Sunday Offerings – Three Simple Joys

It’s a Sunday in Summer and, I confess, I didn’t make it to church today.  But, I did spend some time thinking about the following simple things that bring me joy and make me grateful.

!. Dodge Ball

Yesterday, Nico came home from a week at Boy Scout camp. He was covered in grime, and filled with stories of his camp adventures. He told me what he did each day, but when he told me about his last day at camp, his ever-deepening voice was filled with pride.

He told me that on the last day of camp, the camp staff challenged the scouts to an epic game of dodge ball. The game started out with about 30 boys playing against an equal number of staffers. Little by little, as the camper or staffer was hit by the ball, or failed to catch the ball, the player was eliminated. The game got down to Nico, the lone camper, against 3 of the kitchen staff. Nico threw the ball at one of the staffers. The ball hit the staffer’s legs and bounced off, hitting the second staffer, and both in one throw. With the game down to Nico and the last staffer, Nico threw the ball at the staffer. The staffer bent down to catch the ball, caught it, and then dropped it! The other campers who had been eliminated but were still watching the game let out a loud cheer for Nico.

The scouts won! Nico proudly told me how he was carried back to camp on the shoulders of his fellow scouts. What a great moment for him. Nico, the last man standing, triumphs in dodge ball!

2. Magical Cups

I have been helping my mom go through some of my grandmother’s things since my grandmother’s passing. It has been difficult and discouraging because she had so much stuff. We can’t just toss it out because some of it has value, even if it is just sentimental value. I took a few plant cuttings from my grandmother’s garden in the hope that maybe, in her death, my grandmother’s green thumb will have magically passed onto me. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes…

I also took these:

These are metal cups. They are the two remaining from a set which is long gone. When I was a child my grandmother would serve me milk in these cups. The milk always tasted so good when I drank it from these cups. Even though my stomach can no longer tolerate milk I wanted the cups, so my mom let me have them. Yesterday Diego, who rarely drinks milk, asked for a glass to go with his PB and J. Juan served him milk in the cup. Later, Diego asked for more milk from the cup. He said he had never tasted milk like that before. He told me the cup was “magical.”

I may not have my grandmother’s green thumb, but I have her magical cups.

3. Greener Pastures

About two weeks ago, Juan declared war on the grass. He looked at the patchy, yellow, poor-excuse-for-a-lawn we had in the backyard and said, “You and me lawn. I am going to win.” He went out and bought grass seed, lawn topper and set our sprinklers to automatic. Friday, we came home from a couple of nights out of town and we saw this:

Juan Wins!

Grass. Growing. And it is green!

Yeah. Maybe my grandmother’s green thumb went to Juan instead of me?

What about you? What simple things bring you joy? What simple things make you grateful?

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

You have probably heard these lines before, but in case you didn’t read the Cliff Notes along with your assigned high school reading of this scene, Juliet is pining away, after meeting Romeo and learning he’s a Montague. The Montague’s are family rivals to Juliet’s Capulet clan. Juliet muses that although her newly beloved is a  Montague, what matters is who he is, and not what he is called. Ah, love.

We all know this is true. What matters is the person you are and not the name you are given. Unless, of course, you are a young boy with a spanish sounding name, growing up in a largely white, suburban neighborhood, like my husband, Juan Rafael. Or Juan. Or Ralph. Yes, Ralph. He became Ralph when he was in first grade and the nuns at St. Hedwig couldn’t say Juan Rafael.  Now, with a name like St. Hedwig, why the nuns felt compelled to give Juan a more English sounding name is beyond me.

Juan Rafael is a beautiful name, and sounds especially nice when it’s said with a Spanish accent. But, when my husband was growing up in the 70’s  and the nuns at his Catholic elementary school couldn’t pronounce his name, they asked him to for the english equivalent. He told them Juan was John, and Rafael was Ralph. They nuns decided to call him Ralph. He was Ralph all though elementary and high school. Even his Colombian family called him Ralph.  When he got to college Ralph took back his name and became Juan. He also changed his political party, joined MECHA and became active in politics, but that’s another story.

So, when I was pregnant with our child,  and Juan and I learned it was a boy, we began to consider names. We knew we wanted something that would translate to Spanish, but we had a hard time agreeing on anything. Then, we recalled where our son was conceived–in Acapulco, Mexico, during a celebratory wedding weekend for some family friends. The groom was named Diego. Diego. It was perfect. Not too ordinary. No tricky spanish pronunciation, but a name that translated to Spanish. We announced to my family our intention of naming our son the Spanish equivalent of James.  My dad, Jesus, loved the name we’d chosen. My dad, whose name is a popular choice among latinos, and who probably fought his own demons because of his moniker, thought Diego was a perfect choice for his only grandson who would be born of two latino parents. But then again, my father, who has a strong sense of pride in our own Mexican culture, would have been happy if Juan and I named our son after the Aztec ruler, Cuahtemoc. My mother wasn’t too sure of our choice. She asked me, “You’re really going to name him Diego?” Yes, I really am.

When our son was born, he did not look like a “Diego.” He looked like, well, a red, squishy faced, hairy little monkey.  One day I sat down to nurse my little monkey and turned on the TV.  As I  changed channels I came across Nickelodeon TV and I I saw this:

What? A kid’s show with a little brown-skinned explorer boy with jungle animals as his friends, named Diego? The show was “Go Diego Go.” It was kind of cute, but still obnoxious enough that I suddenly began to doubt my choice of moniker for my little monkey. How often would he be teased about his name? Would the theme song follow him onto the school yard and beyond? Luckily, I had been living under a rock and didn’t realize how popular the show was. It was a favorite among the pre-school set. By the time Diego entered pre-school, the name had a certain cache to it. My mother even came around, and told me that Diego’s name suited him perfectly.

I felt very pleased with myself about the name we had chosen. I even celebrated it when I planned his 3rd birthday party with a Go Diego Go theme.

One day, not long after Diego entered kindergarten he came home telling me about the friends he’d made. There was Ben, Ethan, Chris, Matt and a little boy with a biblical name, Oshea. Diego asked me why couldn’t he be named something else. Something more simple. Why couldn’t he be called Ben or, even better, Oshea?  Sigh.

I am Butter Pecan. You are Chocolate Chip? Or, Still Surprising Me After Eight Years Married.

Eight years ago today we were married. I woke up next to you on our wedding morning and you surprised me. You excitedly asked me, “Do you know what today is?” I thought, “Of Course!” It’s the day we will marry. It’s the day when you and I will become husband and wife. It’s the day when we will officially become a family.” But,  you were thinking of something else. You told me that the KISS/Aerosmith concert tickets went on sale that morning. Yes, you surprised me. And you made me laugh.

You surprised me later that day, before we were getting ready to walk down the aisle. When one is marrying a man who already has two young girls, and the bride has a young son of her own, the wedding isn’t just for the bride and groom, it is for everyone. It was a ceremony so we could formalize this thing called “blending a family.”

The room where we all waited before ceremony started, was filled with commotion. My parents, your parents, the kids, the photographer, the bridal coordinator. When I thought my head would explode with all the excitement, you surprised me again. You told everyone that you wanted us to be alone. The room cleared,  and it was just you and me, and the kids. You took charge of the room and took control of the moment. And me, the micro-managing control freak that I am, was happy, relieved to have you in charge. And then, you gathered us together, and we held hands in a small, family circle. You led us in a prayer together and asked God to bless us, bless our marriage and bless our family. That could have been our wedding right there, in that moment– I felt it was that special.

During the ceremony you surprised me again. We did not write our own vows, so I did not expect it when, in the middle of our ceremony, you asked for some time to speak to our guests, the small group of friends and family who joined us that day. I didn’t know it was coming, but you told them our proposal story. You told them how you proposed to me that night in New York in a carriage in Central Park. And then you read to them, as you had read to me, the poem you wrote, inspired by St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I didn’t know you would do that during our wedding ceremony, and so, predictably, I wept. Predictably, you had your handkerchief ready to wipe my tears.

Later, I think we both surprised the kids when we asked them to join us in front of the altar,  and we gave them silver medallions that were in the shape of family circled in an embrace. I think we surprised our kids when I made promises to Olivia and Erica to care for them and support them, and when you promised the same for Nico.

That day, was filled with surprises, and laughter and love. But it was only the beginning. Last night, when we took the kids out for ice cream, you asked me if I could guess your favorite ice cream. I am embarrassed to say that I could not, even though you knew what I flavor I would order, before I even ordered it. I guess I was surprised you knew that I was Butter Pecan, but I was even more surprised to learn that you were not Pistachio, nor Coconut Pineapple, but Chocolate Chip. I like that I am still learning things about you. It makes our life together a little unexpected, even if it only is ice cream.

I know you joked that you wanted to start your own blog to write about the things your wife doesn’t know about you, but I hope that blog won’t have too many posts, because I think I do know you–at least the important things about you. Like the way you care for our family, how much you love us, the strength of your character, your goodness. Beyond these things, I hope we will still find new things in each other. I think it will keep things interesting. I look forward to many more years of love, laughter and surprise.

Happy Anniversary.


You might also like, Happy Un-Anniversary to Me.

A Change of Light in the Gloom of June

Around here I can usually tell it is June because of the gray skies,  known as June Gloom, the blossoming Jacaranda trees, and the inordinate amount of end of school year activities, family birthdays and anniversaries. This week I noticed the trees were filled with purple flowers, the cool,  grey mornings required a jacket, and there was nearly a daily occurrence of birthdays, school assemblies and a very special kind of anniversary

Ten years ago this week, Juan and I made plans to spend a Saturday afternoon at the beach with our kids. It seemed like it should have been summer already, but instead,  the overcast skies signaled the beginning of June Gloom. Still, we had young kids and wanted to keep them busy,  so Juan invited me to join him and the girls at  the beach.

Nico and I at a beach play date with Juan and the girls.

Juan and I had become friends through work . We supported each other through our sometimes messy and often painful divorces, and since our kids were close in age we would sometimes get together for weekend play dates. Juan had already asked me out for a date,  and even though I thought he was kind, funny and found his obsession with the rock band KISS to be a bit quirky,  I didn’t feel the romance, so I declined.  We agreed we should just remain friends.  But, something changed that cool, overcast June afternoon. I saw Juan in a different light. The way he played with his daughters; the way he flew kites with my son; and the spontaneity and lightness of the day made me see him in a new way, outside of being a serious lawyer. Perhaps if I had known that several months later he would show at my door looking like this, I would have changed my mind earlier.

He showed up looking like this one night, after attending a KISS record release event after work.

But I digress.  That evening, after we ended our afternoon beach play date with the kids, Juan and I spontaneously decided to go to a party given by one of our co-workers, at a Karaoke bar, in Koreatown. I think we both must have felt the desire to prolong our day, and not part each other’s company. Juan insisted on driving me to the karaoke bar.  When we got to the party, we drank something we now refer to as “Korean Lemonade.” Whatever it was, it was tasty, and strong. And it helped Juan lose some of his inhibition and get on the Karaoke stage with friends and sing. When I saw him up there singing, something clicked. (And, it was definitely not because he was a good singer.) I started to think, maybe, despite my injured heart, and his poor rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I should go out with this guy.

Really? Should I go out with him?

That Korean lemonade made Juan feel more than just brave–it also made him feel like couldn’t drive home.  I drove his car back to my house.  Juan must still have been feeling emboldened by that lemonade because he asked me for a kiss. I said yes. Was it the beach day, the Karaoke, the lemonade, or was it just a shift in my heart that allowed me to take a chance on this lawyer-dad-KISS-fan? Whatever it was, I am glad the sun came out in the midst of the June gloom, and the light changed enough for me to see Juan in a new way.

Fun Friday: Santa Barbara Overnight

Today is Juan’s birthday and we are in Santa Barbara for an adults only overnight.It’s one of those times where the planets aligned and all the kids are either with the other parents or with Grandma. The gods were especially smiling since I managed to secure a discounted price at a beachside hotel and a nice restaurant.

We are enjoying each other and some of our favorite things.

Happy birthday to the one who keeps my heart awhirl!


Guess What Today Is?

There have been two occasions that I can recall when  my husband Juan, upon waking in the morning,  was so happy that the day had arrived that he proclaimed with joy like a child on Christmas morning, “Guess what today is?”

One of those occasions was the morning of our wedding day. He woke up, rolled over and with a sleepy, but happy grin said:

 “Guess what today is?”

 Of course, I responded, “Our wedding day!”

To which he replied, “No. Kiss/Aerosmith concert tickets go on sale.”

Did you think I was joking when  I told you before about his obsession with the rock band Kiss?  So, I really should not have been surprised when I learned that on the morning of the day when we would pledge our lives to each other, he was thinking, not of our pending nuptials, but that the long-awaited Kiss/Aerosmith concert tickets would finally go on sale. So, while I was getting coiffed, made-up and dressed up for our big day,  he was at home, on-line , buying concert tickets for his favorite band.

The second occasion I can recall when Juan woke up happier than a kid on Christmas was yesterday. Juan woke up and announced,  “Today is the day I am  finally eligible for the iPhone 4 upgrade!” Yes. It was the long-awaited day when he could upgrade his phone. But his joy was short-lived when I reminded him that we had discussed it and he had already decided he would wait until January to purchase the upgrade. Like a kid who found coal in his stocking, Juan sighed and agreed that he was going to wait.  I thought that was the end of the discussion until Juan called me while I was driving home from running an errand at the local shopping mall. The conversation went something like this:

J:   Did you buy anything?

Me:   No. Nothing for me, but I bought Diego a pair of shoes.

J:    Really? Didn’t you want to find something for yourself. Maybe you should go to another store and check out what they have?

Me:   No. I am tired. I am coming home. Why? What have you been doing?

J:   Well, Diego and I went to the yogurt store.  

(Hmmm… Since when does a husband need to encourage his wife to go shopping? How suspicious that the yogurt store happens to be across the street from the Apple Store.)

Me:   Did  you buy the iPhone?

J:    Well….yes. We can talk about it when you get home.

Of course, when I got home there was nothing to talk about. It would have been like telling someone that Christmas was cancelled. Besides, Juan was already playing with his new phone, and had completed configuring his old iPhone for my use. So, Christmas came early for Juan, and now I guess I’ll be learning how to use his old iPhone.

Date Night With My Husband

Last week I told you about my date night without my husband. Thank you for your comments, it really was a special night for  Nico and I.  Last, night was special too because I had a chance to have a date night with my husband, Juan.

When Juan and I met and started dating we already had kids–Olivia was 5,  Erica was 3, Nico was almost 3. Between our jobs, the kids and our custody arrangements, Juan and I didn’t have the typical courtship. We dated on our “kid free” weekends and sometimes, because we worked together, were able to have lunch together during our workday.  We dated for 2 years before we got married, and once we got married,  our date nights and lunches became pretty infrequent.  Add the new baby in the mix, and  let’s just say we were pretty much settled into a routine where date nights meant getting the kids to bed, renting a movie, opening a bottle of wine, and falling asleep in front of the TV.

BUT lately, things have begun to change.  For the better.  Except of course, if you are a high school girl with her own social life.  You see, Olivia is now 15, and in my book, that is Babysitting Age.  Add to that fact,that Diego is now 6, and the other kids are pretty self-sufficient, and that means that I can leave the kids for a few hours occasionally and go out for a date with my husband.  This works out pretty well for us, except when it infringes on Olivia’s “plans,” then it doesn’t work out as well for her. Oh well….A happy husband and wife, makes a happy family life. Or something like that. Still, we try to be careful not to “burden” the kids too much with self-sufficiency, and responsibility. Ha! (Anyway, I digress, and that’s a whole other blog post.)

So last night, Juan and I enjoyed our date night and went to The Yard House where we sat at the bar, just like grown-ups, we had a drink,  and went to a movie. When we came home we said good night to Nico, kissed a sleeping Diego, and relieved Olivia from her Facebook childcare responsibilities. Then we tried to watch a recorded episode of Mad Men. That is, until I fell asleep in front of the TV.

Juan and I enjoying some adult beverages during an adult night out.