Lucky 13

I am lucky. Today you turn 13.

Thirteen years ago today you made me the luckiest person on earth. Actually, 13 years ago today, you made me more than lucky,  you made me your mommy.

I was lucky,  not just because I became a mommy, but because I became your mommy.  I am lucky because for 13 years I have had the chance to raise you, watch you grow, and believe it or not, to learn from you. You remind me that life doesn’t always have to move so quickly. You remind me to appreciate our family, because I know that you do.  And even though it may not always seem like it, you remind me not to lose my temper. Your calm manner and sweetness remind me to let go of anger and pride when I am frustrated or impatient.

Someone once told me, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” For the last 13 years I have been able to witness the process of an acorn becoming the oak tree. The little baby that you were– so happy, so calm, so easy going.  The toddler years were a joy even though I had some sad days because I had to learn what it meant to be a family with just the two of us. But we got through it, and we found a wonderful rhythm together. It seemed like you adapted easily, enjoying the time with your father, and then coming home for some time with Mommy. And when our family grew to include your sisters and brother and Juan, your generous loving heart, accepted our new family.

On your 4th birthday, you traveled with your dad to New Mexico to visit your Granny. I waited all day for you to come home but your plane was delayed. When your dad finally arrived I opened the door, and you were asleep in his arms.  It seemed like you had suddenly grown up. Your dad said, “I brought you back a 4 year-old.” He carried you inside  and put you in your little bed.  I looked at you sleeping there and wept with gratitude that you were home, and I was amazed that you seemed to grow up overnight.

It’s been 9 years since that night when you could still be carried in your father’s arms. It’s so hard to believe that you have grown as tall as me. Your voice has deepened and you no longer play with toys, unless you do it because your brother has bugged begged you to.  You told me you didn’t want any toys or games for your birthday this year. Instead you asked for money to save up for a computer. How responsible of you. How mature, how grown up.

I know you don’t like it when I worry about you and when I tell you how to do things. I can tell because sometimes I catch you rolling your eyes. But, then we exchange looks and we laugh because we can tell what we are each thinking. I know you probably don’t realize it, but I am happy to see you grow up. I do miss those days we shared together when it was just you and I, and those days  I would enjoy watching you play with your toys or invent some game with Erica or Olivia, but I don’t really want to go back to those days. I am happy for today. I feel lucky that I get to see you turn 13 and enter adolescence. I feel lucky that I get to see you grow up and become the kind-hearted, responsible, witty teenager that you are. I am lucky to see the acorn becoming an oak tree.

Happy birthday Nico. I love you.

Mommy Mom

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Top Reasons Why August and I Are Not Friends

It’s the final week of August and the end of a long summer in our house. I enjoy summer for many reasons, also because the days are a nice change of pace from the hectic schedule of the school year.  But this summer was different, and I find myself looking forward to a new season, even if it means another busy school year.  However, before  I can get started on the new school year, I have to get through August, and August is the month I hate most in summer.  August is the month when I scramble to find camps for the kids to fill in my big gap in day care; August is the month when summer temperatures heat up and relegate my already restless kids indoors; and August is the month when my temper and my kids’ tempers are as short as the days are long. Here’s a few other reasons why August is not my favorite month:

1) School Supply Shopping.

Beginning in August the kids start bugging to go shopping for school supplies. I try to put off this chore as long as possible, but not so long that the stores run out of supplies.  Usually in August, the kids’ schools send a list of school supplies they will need. It is usually very specific with things like, “College Ruled Spiral Notebook with Three Subjects and Pocket Dividers,” or 3 packages of 150 quantity 4×6 White Notecards, Unlined. Can you tell why I hate shopping for these supplies? Sometimes I feel like I am on a scavenger hunt, and when I am done running between at least 2 stores, hunting for everything on their list in triplicate, I have the pleasure of spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $250.00!

2) Summer Homework Torture

Nico, Erica and Olivia all go to schools which assign summer reading and math packets.  The reading assignment also includes an essay which must be turned in the first few days of school. For Olivia, she gets tested on her summer reading.  I know the kids should read throughout the summer anyway, but something about this assigned reading makes what I consider a pleasure, a pure hardship for them, and me.  In August I become a complete nag about their unfinished reading, essay writing, and math homework.  Sometime after the dismissal bell in June and the beginning of August, my kids’ brains turn to mush and they cannot write a complete paragraph without constantly  interrupting their work with bathroom breaks, trips to the refrigerator, or watching “5 minutes” of television. It is pure torture, watching them “write” the essays. It’s usually not until the final day before school that I can light a fire under their *&!$ and they can get their summer homework done.

3) The Birthday Season

In August I begin preparing for the birthday season. Beginning on August 1, we celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. This is the kick-off event for the month of birthday celebrations which culminates in my father-in-law’s September birthday.  In the coming weeks I will have to plan no less than three of my kids’ birthday parties. I like to get the party planning  done before school starts so I don’t have that to contend with sending out invitations as I cover text books, shop for last-minute school supplies and fill out a seemingly unending stream of enrollment forms, medical clearances and notices of emergency contact information.

4) Summer Let Down

After I am done buying school supplies, nagging my kids about summer homework, and planning birthday parties, I can stop and reflect on the past couple of months. This is when I realize that summer has whizzed by and I feel like I haven’t really enjoyed it. Truth be told, even if I could spend my days enjoying all that summer offers, I would probably still be let down when August ends, because as an adult, summer just isn’t summer like I remember it. Summers used to be carefree, and fun, with nothing to do spend my days waking late, swimming in my parents’ pool, reading books that I chose, watching All My Children, and  hanging out with my friends. Sigh. How can I help but feel let down when August comes and, if I am lucky, I made it to the beach a few times, and maybe had a few barbecues.  The other day Diego reminded me of all that I am missing from the fun of summer.  Juan and I were headed out the door for work, and I suggested to our nanny that she take the kids to the local city pool or maybe a matinée to beat the heat. Diego asked, “Do you have to work everyday? Can’t you have summer vacation too?” August reminds me that I haven’t stopped enough in the business of the season to enjoy the fun of  summer.

So, now that I am wrapping up my summer, and the kids will all be back in school this week, I have planned one last hurrah. This Labor Day Weekend I’ll be hosting a barbecue, and I’ll be combining it with another birthday party.

The Day We Met

Seven years ago today I met you for the first time,  even though I knew you for some months before that. I knew you when I first felt you move inside me. I knew you when I saw your blurry image on an ultrasound.

Ultrasound at 21 weeks

Throughout those months when I carried you within me, I dreamt of you. Who would you look like? What would you be like? I couldn’t wait to meet you. Even though your daddy and I had only been married a short while, we were ready for you. Your brother and sisters were excited and happy at the thought of you. While you grew inside me, we remodeled our house so that it would be big enough for all of us to live comfortably.  Soon you grew so big, I couldn’t get comfortable.

Diego and our house under construction.

When the doctor said it was time, we scheduled the appointment so you could be born.  The night before you were born, daddy and I went out to dinner. We laughed how it would probably be one of the last dinners we could have alone in a while, but we didn’t care. We were so excited to meet you and we wondered what the next day would bring.  Early in the morning, before the sun came up, we drove to the hospital. I was so nervous and excited, my heart was racing.  The nurses were concerned, but then my doctor came in and said it was okay. Your abuela, “Lala, ” called me on the phone and said a prayer for me in Spanish. I could hardly understand her because I was so nervous  and I was crying.

When I went into the delivery room, the doctors joked with me and there was music playing. I was nervous that your daddy was not going to be able to stay with me, but he did. He stayed with me until they pulled you out and took you away to examine you. You checked out great!

Diego, minutes old.

They showed you to me, but I could not hold you  right away. When the doctors finished taking care of me, I went back to my room.  I was anxious to see you again and hold you. Finally, they brought you to my room. Somebody gave you to me to hold. When I held you and looked at you, I cried again. But this time, I didn’t cry because I was excited or nervous. I cried because I was happy. I was happy to see you. I was happy to hold you. I was happy to meet you. Daddy was there and together, we held you and said hello.

Grandma and Grandpa arrived and they were happy to see you too.

Later that day, Lolo and Lala arrived to say hello.

And, at last, Nico, Erica and Olivia got to meet their new brother!

Since that day, we have shared many things. The baby years were a happy blur. It was such a busy time for you to come into our lives. We were remodeling our house, your siblings were in grade school, there were soccer games, baseball games, all kinds of activities. But you were a trooper, going places with us, never complaining. Over the years we have watched you grow into the funny, spirited, loving boy that you are. You make me laugh more than you make me cry. I love how you have such a special bond with your siblings. How you make friends so quickly. I love the way you question things that don’t seem right to you, like why some people are homeless.  I love the way you accept other things so easily, like the magic of leprechauns.

I love the way that you have brought our family closer, just because you are here. I love that you help me to live a different life–a richer life.  I love that you remind me to be patient, to be kind, to find joy in small things. I know that sometimes it’s hard being the youngest one in the family, because you want to do things like your older brother and sisters. But, there will be time for all of that. I don’t want it to come too soon. I love each day I have with you and each birthday I celebrate with you. I am so glad to be your mommy, I am so glad to have met you,  seven years ago today. Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.

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50/50 Friday – Weeks 7 thru 9

I can’t believe I am still checking off my list of 50 Things I Want to Do Before 50. Lately,  Summer is keeping me busier than school days, so it is no surprise to me that the only thing I can seem to get done these days is cook. Actually, not really cooking, more like heating things up. It’s been so warm lately I haven’t felt much like cooking. But, I still want to stay on track with my “bucket list” and complete Number 37, “Make one new recipe a week.” So, that’s what I am doing, even if I am three four weeks behind. Hot weather or not,  I am using a new recipe a week, although the recipes don’t always involve food. For instance, one of my new recipes came from my trusted web site, The Food Network, and it involved this.

When life gives your neighbor’s lemon tree a lot of lemons, make lemonade. And when life gives you a garden full of fresh mint, and a hot day with cranky kids bored on a summer day, what do you do? Make Minted Lemonade, of course.  Actually, it was sticky, sweet and delicious fun!  Nevermind that the recipe called for a lot of sugar, and all I had was raw Turbinado Sugar.  The raw sugar turned my Mint Lemonade, a gross  brownish color, but it was still tasty.  I tried not to mind too much when the kid next door,  who had designated himself the lemonade stand hawker, was shouting, “ICE COLD MINT LEMONADE! DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE COLOR! IT TASTES GREAT!”

My second recipe was from a favorite blogger’s website. And sticking to the beverages and kids formula, I thought a recipe that involved Nico and Erica’s favorite soda, Dr. Pepper, would be sure to please.  I guess it would have been a kid pleaser too,  if I had not overcooked it. What did I say about it being a busy summer?  I asked my babysitter to put it in the oven to cook for me while I was at work. She did, but unfortunately, I did not come straight home after work and by the time I made it home, the dish was in the oven for over 6 hours. The meat was still tender, but there was no juicy Dr. Pepper sauciness. (Is that even a word?) Ah well. When life gives you a pork roast without sauce, make carnitas. That’s what it tasted like to me. So I made a little taco bar and we had “carnitas” for dinner.

The last catch up recipe on my list, involved no recipe. That’s right, I had planned on making my old stand-by meal, the-late-from-work-no-time-to-cook-dinner-ground -turkey-with-pasta-and-sauce-from-a-jar, when I learned about a recent ground turkey recall.  Instead of making dinner as planned,  I enlisted my girls to help in the kitchen, and we improvised.  They are both surprisingly good cooks. We inventoried what we had in the pantry: 1/2 a box of penne rigate, and 1/2 a box of angel hair pasta, and garlic.  We inventoried what we had in the refrigerator: a bag of frozen shrimp,  leftover roasted red bell peppers from last night’s barbecue, fresh parmesan cheese, and artichokes. We also took stock of the wonderful bounty of fresh pear tomatoes that a friend had grown in her yard.  Since there is no recipe, I’ll tell you what we did.

We chopped about 6 garlic cloves. I steamed the artichokes and then took out the hearts. Olivia made a dip with mayo, butter, lemon and dill and we noshed on the leaves while we finished the rest of dinner. Erica sautéed the shrimp in most of the garlic, with olive and a bit of butter. We squeezed lemon over the shrimp in final minute of cooking. We then removed the shrimp from the pan and Olivia began to work her sauce magic. She deglazed the pan using white wine, while I supervised, drinking white wine and nibbling on artichoke leaves, of course. She threw in some butter, more garlic, added some lemon juice and seasoned it with salt and red pepper chili flakes. Then,  we kept it warm while we sautéed the already cooked peppers, chopped artichoke hearts, and the fresh pear tomatoes. We tossed everything in a big pasta bowl,  added the sauce, and tossed in some fresh basil and parmesan cheese. It tasted as good as it looked.

The last thing I was able to accomplish these past few weeks was Number 20 on my list, Try a New Wine. On a trip to Napa Valley one year, Juan and I were persuaded to join a cellar club at Jessup Winery. We loved the wines there and so it really wasn’t a hard sell for us. We no longer are members of the cellar club, but that has more to do with economics than it does with the wine. Unfortunately, we have made quite a dent in our wine inventory and we only have a few bottles left. We have had this one lying around for a while, so we decided to open it.

Juan had never really had a lot of port before, and me, being the wine connoisseur that I am, told him it is usually poured with a dessert. Since I am also an epicurean, I told him that this port would go wonderfully with Smores. Yes, Smores. Because we are such wine snobs. Can’t you tell?

We lit a fire outside, roasted marshmallows and brought out the graham crackers. And because the port we were drinking had wonderful cherry flavors, and  smokey undertones, I brought out the dark chocolate. Can you say, “food and wine pairings?” I think I have created a new classic pairing.

So, nine weeks in and I still have two recipes to catch up on,  among other things. The kids go back to school in a couple of weeks, and my real job is becoming busier, so I’ll  have to see how much cooking and checking things off my list I can accomplish.

BlogHer Bliss and Thoughts on my 100th Post

I think it’s fitting that my 100th post is about blogging and my experience at the past weekend’s mammoth blogging conference, BlogHer’ 11.  When I started this blogging project I really didn’t know where it would take me. I wasn’t even sure what I would write about, and as you can tell from my sometimes rambling, often random posts, I am still not always sure what specifically I blog about. In other words, I don’t have a niche blog. Instead, I blog about the things that interest me, (and I hope interest you),  otherwise known in the blogosphere as a lifestyle blog. Whatever, you call it–a lifestyle blog, an identity blog–I think, what I find special about blogging is the process. The process of having a thought and capturing it in a post. Experiencing a moment and documenting it in a story.  Creating something, and memorializing it in a photo or in a blog post, and then hitting the “publish” button and putting it out into the internet world. Sometimes I just hear crickets chirping, but, sometimes I reach someone.

Attending BlogHer conference this weekend, for me, was all about the “someone.” Sure, I went to a couple of really good sessions, I had a lot of fun at the parties, I walked the exhibit hall where I filled 4 bags of swag, and took some goofy pictures, but the best part of my BlogHer experience was about the people I met. There were over 3500 attendees, about 95% of them were women, and most of them with a shared passion and interest in blogging.  The more I talked to these women the more I realized, that although our blogs may have different content, we share an interest in the idea, and the communication of that idea. Sometimes, the idea is one which may hopefully generate a discussion, or create community.  For instance, some of the women I met this weekend were Latina bloggers, like me.  There were about 20 of us who gathered for margaritas, and socializing. Our blogs were as diverse as we were, because even though we are all Latinas, we are all unique.

Another group of bloggers I met with were the Step-family bloggers. There were only 7 of us, but we all shared similar stories of the challenges and joys in step-parenting. We had a great time offering support and encouragement to each other and giving voice to ideas to create a community  to offer support to other step-moms.

And then there was the other bloggers I met with, informally and casually. I roomed with JCK, a blogger who I know from my church. I got to know her more this weekend and loved the time we spent together.  Through her, I had the opportunity to meet other bloggers she knows, Jenn who blogs at  Juggling Life, and Maggie at Magpie Musing. On Friday night, while JCK and were at the bar, I met Jessica, whose own story about loss touched me so deeply I felt myself tearing up. But with her quick wit and comedic sense she had me crying with laughter a few minutes later.

Thanks for sharing the last 100 posts with me and I hope you’ll be along for the next 100. In the meantime, here’s my shameless plug for some of the product I tried at the conference:

Dove Ice Cream Bars: There were ice cream vendors everywhere, giving away their delicious chocolate bars. I loved the new peanut butter flavored bars.

Skinny Cows: A really good low-calorie ice cream sandwiches. Made me feel less guilty when I snacked on them after indulging in the Dove Bars.

Knorr: This isn’t your mom’s bouillon. I loved the new chicken bouillon base. So easy to cook with!

Pressman Toys: My kids are enjoying the games and puzzles I brought back for them.

Proctor and Gamble: I can’t wait to try the free product they are sending. I also got to participate in a personal version of the new Febreze campaign.


There were so many more! Thank you sponsors of BlogHer’11

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.