The Peak of My Life

Seasons keep rolling in and out so fast.

All year long I look forward to Fall and Winter and just when I feel I am enjoying the nippy weather, and start dusting off the clothes I seldom use, it is hot again.

This past winter -again- I picked some guavas from our neighbor’s orchard. And -again- my family complained about the very strong smell. The mostly sat outside in the patio while they ripened.

I stood one afternoon, peeling them and seeding them, then boiling them with some cinnamon sticks and a bit of sugar and the scent transported me to my home, growing up in Mexico, were every single winter, religiously, we had guavas in the fruit basket. They would fill the whole house with their tropical scent, and almost daily we had them for dessert, in a thick syrup with a  splash of condensed milk – it was one of my Dad’s favorite desserts.

Remembering that was almost hypnotic and the scent in my own kitchen today was very comforting. Nowadays I make Guava cheesecake or Guava Jam, but I mostly share it with friends, seeing how no one in my family now likes it.

My both got into the Performing arts last school year, for different reasons, but the fact is that I got to see them each collaborating in the end of school year musicals. I had a few conversations with both drama teachers and I was surprised and disappointed to find out how they struggle to get funds for the class, the sets, costumes, paying choreographers, vocal coaching, etc  Apparently, -at least in public schools- Sports get the big bucks. The performing arts must rely almost 100% on donations and fund raising.

I know there are schools which are strong in promoting Performing Arts, but the majority isn’t. I believe that creativity and appreciation of the arts is just as important as exercise; to instill the love for the many forms of arts in our children has many benefits. That is something that my mom always procured while she brought us up; even my Dad tried hard to share his passion for Opera, Zarzuelas and Classic Ballet. He succeeded in the Ballet part.   Like I have said before in my blog,  I saw my first Live Ballet Company performance when I was 7 years old, and that is when my love for Classical Musical started growing.

I love music in general, but classical music feels more like a place to me than beautiful sounds. It is like a state of mind that I frequently reach out to.

The school year ended successfully; the kids did well in their classes. My son is already driving and my daughter will soon be. Another little piece of the “Letting Go” process.  Conversations about adult life and college are more common now, about jobs, about money.  The moment when the kids leave the house and start a life of their own feels more real now, more than I’d like. I know that for every parent, seeing their children grow up and be successful in whatever they choose to do, should bring happiness and pride, and a sense of fulfillment. But,…I am not anywhere near those feelings yet.

I frequently remind them that I lived with my parents ‘til I was 29, and married just a few years later; an idea that seems totally ridiculous and out of place here and now.

About a month ago, my daughter asked me one night “when would you say was the peak of your life Mom?”

First I fell comically offended, because the way she worded the question, made it seem like I was in my 90’s on my death bed.  But I understood her question. She is at an age (15) where many things seem to go SO SLOW, like having a boyfriend or driving or moving out, or having a job.  She wanted to know when the best was coming, according to me.  I chose my words carefully to answer.

I told her, when I was little, like 9 or 10, my world was near perfect. I had cousins and friends that I saw almost every day, I went to a good school, had near perfect grades;  I absolutely adored my parents and thought the world of them, even though they had their own struggles. 

But then I turned into a teenager and started driving at age 14, I happily chauffeured my friends around, picking up, dropping off, wasting gas like crazy, making up any excuse to go out. I enjoyed a financially stable upbringing and even got to travel with the whole family. We went to Europe and Disneyworld and many parts of Mexico, and a Cruise! We ate out a lot in nice restaurants, and yet I learned how to cook a meal. High School was the best thing that had happened to me yet. I started dating and going to parties,  the world was my oyster!

And then I started College and  boy ! was that super super fun.  I met a lot of new people from all over Mexico, I loved my major (Marketing) and did very well in my classes.

But then, I got my first job! And since I was living at home, it was all pocket money! I even had enough to share and help out at home. So, another peak!

Then I moved out to California and met “your Dad” I told her.  Found a job and got married, so another peak. A bit homesick but very happy.  And soon after, I had 2 children, which brought such joy to my life, a joy that cannot compare with anything else. Super Peak!

She kept listening to my long answer, knowing where I was going. I concluded, “ I don’t have a peak, my life is a ride full of ups and downs but the curve always has been trending upward.   There’s no peak, “ I told her, “every stage of your life will have explosive happiness and hard times too.”  I think she understood.

Being a Mom to two teenagers has been rough, yes, there are (many) days in which I cannot believe how mean and cold their responses are, and those moments when my eyes get teary and my throat hurts from holding it in, takes me immediately to the mid 1980s when I was just the same snappy teenager (probably worse) with my Dad.

Those memories actually help me go on and help me not take things personal. Being a teenager is tough, hormone craze, confusion, the uncertainty of the future, per pressure, social media and all the crap surround it and the stupid and pointless pressure of College and choosing their path when they haven’t even figured out who they are. 

The one that still is and always will be the baby of the house is our dog -Cinder. We have totally migrated from pediatricians to Vets. She is the most loyal and patience creature I have ever met. She -also- has helped endure these tough years, not just me, but all of us at home. She brings the best out of us.

Another peak! Being a dog owner…for sure.

Next up….

”Three Mexicans and a Microphone”

Blank Space

I am not referring to Taylor Swift’s song, but the absolute blank space when it comes to choosing a title for this Blog Entry. There are so many thoughts moving inside my head that it is hard to choose a topic. But I can start with this recurring subject: parenting.

As our kids get older, well into their teen years, I realize how little we know when we decide to start a family. When we grow up and watch our parents from a distance -raising us- or watch movies and TV shows, it seems so ..doable and even easy at times. It would seem sometimes like a story told over and over. You marry, you have babies, they cry a lot but are so very cute, then they start talking non stop, asking many questions. Then they get pimples and tempers, but not too bad, just a phase. Then they decide what do study, which route to take; they date, they drive, they get jobs and maybe marry one day. Then they give us grand kids and come apologize for being mean when they were teenagers. Then the Christmas gatherings get bigger and bigger, like in the movies, where its all a bunch of people overeating and having a good time.

But I had no idea how hard it can be to exercise patience, to not take things personal when your teenagers are rude, to bite your tongue when you are dying to give them a piece of advice but they didn’t ask for it and definitely don’t want it. To take a super deep breath when all you want to do is wring their neck! To hold back tears when they just hurt you so bad with a single word.

How mortifying it is to see them drive away at night and pray that they will be back safe without crossing their path with an idiot or a bully on the road. To see them crying when they are hurting inside, because it hurts almost as much as a parent to feel their pain.

We are now approaching the time when the kids start thinking what they want to do after High School. I had forgotten how overwhelming that can be. I switched majors twice until at last I found my place in College. And now that our kids are headed that way, I realize how immature (generally speaking) kids still are at 18 to be deciding what direction to take for their near future. I now live in a country where kids are almost expected to leave the house and start on their own at this early age. Whether as students or employees or both.

I am having a hard time (still) getting that into my head; in Mexico, in the late 80s, we went to college and lived with our parents almost until we married. That was the norm. So there is conflicting cultural differences between my upbringing and what I see now in 2022 in my own family.

We recently got some good advice from a professional on how to prepare our kids for Independent living; after listening to the reasoning and some examples of failed attempts of teenagers at “leaving home “, I realized how many mistakes I -as a mother- have made. Ironically, while trying to “help” them throughout their childhood, I have also been limiting their capability in problem solving and developing basic skills for life!

I believe these mistakes are the result of:

a) being a mom, which comes with some instinct to protect, to provide, (and we mexican moms are VERY intense at this) and

b) a subconscious need for them to need me, to stay home and not leave the moment they turn 18

The “Empty Nest” terrifies me, that is the truth. I have seen it all too often (my sister and several close friends). The emptiness and the quiet home. The meals for two. The void , in general.

But that is not our kids’ fault; they need support and help to make that transition a good one, a successful one. They deserve it and I am committed it make it happen, no matter how sad it makes me feel to see them growing up and being more independent.

I know I have other things to gain; and I trust they will all come in time.

So I am trying to walk this troublesome and tough time of their life with them, next to them , and not in front of them. I am trying to listen more, to understand their digital humor, their videogames, their language, the music they listen to.

This sometimes proves to be as hard as being a parent! I am sure I am not the only Mom that just DOESN’T get the jokes and the memes on Tik Tok, Instagram etc . Just like theirs….it’s an every day battle!

One day at a time…

Letting go…with confidence and the Wonderful 70’s

Days go on with a Pandemic that seems to linger more than anyone would have thought-or wanted. There is so much information AND misinformation out here, causing people to be so divided in regards to vaccines, masks, mandates for certain employees, Government heads and CDC rules and recommendations… it is all one big hot mess, with conditions varying tremendously between countries.

Even though we all got vaccines at home, as many others, we still live with that uncertainty: the possibility of getting sick or of seeing this Virus change into something else that could be more dangerous. I wonder sometimes of wearing a mask to the store or to a concert is here to stay…

I find myself feeling muted in a way when I try to express my attitude while half of my face is covered. Body language sometimes is not enough or inappropriate with strangers. Like smiling at someone so it doesn’t look like you are staring. Or giving someone a dirty look because they are standing way to close to you at the bank line. I feel myself exaggerating with my smile or eyes to get the message across. I might need more wrinkle cream soon!

Also, I feel like my skin is absolutely gross after 10 minutes of breathing in and out with the mask, so I have great respect for all those who HAVE to wear it 8 hours to work. No wonder it takes months to schedule a facial these days.

Most kids are back in school; I went back to work and things have taken a more “normal” course for a lot of people. A lot of companies that have survived so far, have allowed or implemented the “work from home” model; I guess they finally realized that working remotely is not a crazy idea after all. For many, it is actually more productive than being on site.

I called a Medical office a month or so ago to schedule an appointment, and the lady that answered, had a parrot in the back ground, making very loud noises- probably attempting to mimic its owner. It was hilarious. Some other times, I hear toddlers talking or kitchen pans clanking in the background. Just the echo of the call tells you if the person is working form home. Not to mention the zoom calls, where you can see everything from family members in the background, pets, or even worse , someone changing or getting undressed in the back. There is definitely some etiquette and fine tuning to be done by some.

At least I don’t feel so bad when our dog decides to bark non stop while I am on a call. Thank goodness for the Mute button.

Last year my son started riding his motorcycle with my husband. Just short rides, here in the neighborhood. It took me months to relax and think positive and not be sick out of worry. Now, he is 16 and a half and after months of practicing driving, he got his drivers license.

A day which I was looking forward to and also dreaded. The drop offs and pick ups at 2 different schools with two different schedules meant that I had to spend at least 2 hours a day doing just that. So now that he can drive himself to school, that cuts my “soccer mom” time in half. It has only been a week of this new way of moving around, so I am still living with my cell phone glued to my hip in case something happens. Then I remember I started driving at 14 and realize that 16 is ok. Except in Mexico we didn’t have freeways where people drive 70 – 90 miles an hour. So I try to relax and show confidence. We have discussed all the things that can happen when you speed, when you text or talk while driving, etc. My daughter can’t wait to start driving too; she just enrolled in Drivers Education, and I am still processing that her brother already drives.

Letting go, that’s what these years of being a parent to teenagers is about. Oh but it is hard sometimes to no longer feel needed! A sense of freedom mixed with emptiness. This too, will pass.

My daughter had her very first Home Coming Dance at school, an event much awaited, since Freshman Year pretty much disappeared from that class (2024), when students really looked forward to the many experiences that one lives in High School.

Dance, makeup, and a whole look that makes girls look so grown up, and my son driving on his own- all on the same weekend. I felt like I aged 10 years in 2 days.

And speaking of aging…I turned 50 on August this year. Considering vaccinations have been available for almost 6 months now, I decided to celebrate my Birthday with a small party- girls only.

Our back yard is perfect for entertaining and I hired the catering and the music, so there was little to be worried about. Also, I hired my daughter and 2 of her best friends to tend to the guests and make sure things were tidy and running smoothly. They learned how to make grapefruit margaritas and how to pour wine -with measure, haha.

The theme for the party: the 70s. A good friend asked me “why the 70s? We grew up in the 80s…”

The real answer was so long, I decided just to answer “the clothes were way nicer in the 70s”. But here, I can spare the time and provide more detail about why the 70s represent some of the best times of my life: I have no more than 3 memories of my mother when she could still walk without aid, and speak loudly. Those few memories, all took place in 1973 and 1974. My most innocent years when I played with a small oven (that made the most gross cakes, with the heat of a light bulb), I learned how to ride my purple bike, and mostly, when I pretended to be a DJ and recorded many many tapes with my double cassette boom box, all happened in the 70s.

My favorite childhood shows- all in the 70s:

The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, The Little House of the Prairie, The Six Million Dollar Man, Land of the Giants, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Gilligan’s Island, Cometo-San (Princess Comet), and of course- my beloved Mexican Novela “Mundo de Juguete”. My favorite cartoons of all times: The Smurfs, The Jetsons and The Flintstones.

It was also the time when I made my first true friends, some of them which I still have in my life, very close to me even though they are thousands of miles away.

In 1974 was the year that my mom had a stroke, but I was only 3, so for the rest of that decade, I really had no idea how that event would change our lives, my Dad’s and my siblings, every one of us. I never knew her life was in danger until many years later. I don’t even recall what it felt like to have a mom that walked and talked like everyone else one day, and the next have her in a hospital in Intensive Care for days completely paralyzed and speechless. They were happy days, I adored her and probably missed her, but thats is all I remember. Not the pain or sadness.

I remember spending many holiday breaks in Chihuahua with older cousins who were in their teens. Watching them get dressed up and putting on their make up and curling their hair (Farah Fawcett style) was so much fun. That is when I started discovering ABBA, The Bee Gees, Journey, Earth Wind and Fire and Supertramp. That’s what my cousins listened to and I just loved the music. I added all those bands to my Mixed Tapes and boy where they mixed! In those tapes you could find anything from Parchis ( A Spanish kids group that I absolutely loved), to Mexican Balladists that my Mom loved like Camilo Sesto, Napoleon, Emanuel, as well as the American bands that teenagers listened to.

So the 70s to me are all memories of fun, naivety, true friends, afternoons playing outside at the park across the street from our house, making prank calls, and really, not a care in the world. I was such a nerd back then, that even homework was never a burden.

The few weeks I spent planning my 50th Birthday party, every single day was flooded with all these memories and realizations of the huge influence the Disco Music had in the 80s Pop Music, and the 70’s gorgeous fashion still has in today’s trends. It was a very happy day, I spent it with friends I care about, and that have known me for many years, some of them even met my parents when they were still alive. My brother and sister in law surprised my the very day of my birthday – despite the US-Mexico Border closure to land traffic, they managed to fly in and just appeared on my doorstep on August 20th. I cried of joy, of surprise and of so much love felt through their embraces. My husband supported my “All Girls” themed party and made our back yard look amazing. He was smiling big whenever I looked at him.

These (almost) two years of non stop bad news and disease, have definitely changed my perspective about the value of life, health, of waking up every single day feeling grateful for all that I have, not the things, but the people that surround me -near and far- and that make me feel so loved and appreciated. And when things get tough or too dark I remember…like they say in AA meetings. ONE DAY AT A TIME :).

Empty churches and empty hearts.

Tsunami. Tsunami is the word that came to mind when I found out that my good friend’s husband has COVID, and another friend’s mother died due to COVID yesterday.

Eight months ago we were sending messages and news links about Tom Hanks and his wife, getting the virus. They were one of the very first well known people that got it. Throughout the following months we have all seen the spread get closer, and closer and closer to us. It seemed so far at first, we felt safe and unreachable, at least I did. But today ,… I don’t.

This morning I received a link to participate (virtually) in the mass celebrated to say good bye to my friend’s mother that recently passed. She had been sick for over 3 years, Alzhaimer’s Disease, and all the complications that come with it. She was home bound, under care and supervision around the clock towards the end. I don’t know many details about her condition, but I do know she got infected with COVID, most likely through one of the caregivers, or any family member that visited.

I clicked on the link not really knowing what to expect, it was the first time I participated on a similar event online.

I saw a near empty church. The service was limited to 15 atendees max. I saw family members with half their face covered by a mask, and even if the camera was placed atop and far from the attendees, I could almost feel the sadness, the emptiness, the loneliness in there. The husband, now a widower, stood on the first row, distanced from his two sons, in a suit that he seemed to once have filled and today looked big because his body had shrunk from sadness and emotional exhaustion. He looked small, so small. When he walked to the casket to say good bye to his beloved wife and placed a flower on it, he dragged his feet and seemed almost unwilling to go on.

When the service ended, the husband and his two sonds held each other, surounding the casket. It was, hearbreaking and painful to watch.

When we say good bye to our parents, we want to see a church that is full, completely full and overflowing with friends, family, to pay respects and show their admiration, their love, their support. To hug us, to hold us, to assure us that everything will be ok. To tell us that our dearly departed are resting peacefully. But in Covid times, the ones left behind get nothing like this. Not even close. It must be enfuriating to be deprived of a respectful and dignified ceremony. Deprived of a homely Wake to celebrate their lives, their moments that will forever be remembered.

These times are hard in so many ways, for the sick, for the families that have lost loved ones, for the unemployed, for struggling parents that cannot go back to work, and for young struggling students who are suffering from this both academically and emotionally. Hard for teachers and school staff trying to please all parents, even if they ask for the impossible.

People are stressed, people are being tested and a lot of them, wearing thin. Holiday season is here way sooner than it normally comes.

I visited the mall last weekend and it was almost sad to hear Christmas songs the first week of November in the stores. It is almost like shoppers need to be soothed into calmer environments and better moods. In the end, they want us to shop, of course! It just seemed almost like a “pretend world” built to keep the economy moving, and keep people employed.

This will be a very hard Christmas for millions of Americans, with no jobs. I hope all of those who- like me- are fortunate to still have jobs, find a way to lend out a hand, to volunteer, to donate, to share.

Changing to happier matters, I have learned to make bread this year. It is still a mystery to me why, during this pandemic millions of people went crazy buying toilet paper and baking. I am guilty of the latter, not the first.

I made my first loaf of bread, I also learned how to make (and can) jams and jellies.

I also came to know some exotic fruits that grow close to our home, they look beautiful and taste delicious. Dragonfruit is one of them.

My husband and my son worked together more than usual this year. He set his mind to teach him different useful skills; woodworking being one of them.

Together they worked on several projects, one of them -by request- is my new scarf holder. It is nice to see teenagers do something other than sit in front of a screen.

Well, lives are changing, and so is the way we perceive and appreciate simple things, like not wearing a mask at the store, feels like you forgot to put your shirt on! Also, I have found myself more than once, leaving quite a bit of space between my car and the car in front of me on a stop light. It is like my brain is now trained to social distance without even thinking. Even when I drive!

I am still taking my daily morning walks with our dog, Cinder. She has become dangerously attached to me, to the point of having separation anxiety even if I go out to water plants. Walking her daily down the hill and up again has definitely helped me stay more active. Not just that, but I really enjoy the fresh air, the silence, the birds singing and chirping like crazy. Not much changes on our route. Same scents, only the citrus blossoms come and go with the season, but same friendly neighbors, dog walkers, noisy beehives, grumpy neighbor than never waves , our dog’s favorite spot to sniff on. Recently the only change I have seen is that one of out neighbors took down their TRUMP 2020 flag…

This Pandemic has lasted so long, that the days have changed in their dusk and dawn times during these 8 months we have all been home.

Tomorrow I will take out my winter clothes again (if you can call it a winter when temperatures drop from the 80s to the 60s). I put them away in March and now I am getting cold in my own house again. 2020 really has seemed like a breeze to me; even though for others it seems like an endless nightmare.

We are planning a trip to the desert for Thanksgiving. It will a different holiday for sure. But we all need a break, change, fun times. Hope we get it all!

Disconnected but connected…

It has been almost 8 months since COVID 19 has severely altered the way the world functions, the way people behave, communicate, work, and nowadays…sleep. And I mention sleep, because I can only assume millions of people world wide are loosing sleep or sleeping poorly due to all these changes, which have mostly been changes for the worse.

As I said before in my previous post, I am fortunate enough to still have my full time job and I am able to perform all my duties from the comfort of my home.

I live in an agricultural area some 8 miles away from lights, noise and traffic; here, space is a given. Almost every night we can see the starry skies, hear nothing but nature sounds (coyotes mostly!) and enjoy cool air even in summer’s hottest nights. During the day we get to see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, when the sky has a palette of oranges, pinks and blueish purples. Traffic on our street (dead end) consists of the 7am-8am rush hour when maybe 5 trucks pass by . Mostly landscapers and orchard workers that are picking the Season’s fruit from surrounding orchards.

So, overall, we are so very fortunate to feel free and not secluded, relaxed and not overwhelmed by the tensions of hysterical neighbors who are desperate to get out, frustrated children kept inside against their will. Or overwhelmed by super busy sidewalks flooded with dog walkers and parents pushing strollers when the evenings come. Not a day passes by in which I feel thankful for this. Neither do i take it for granted.

Ever since we cancelled the TV service a year ago (Satellite TV) we have been more disconnected from the everyday news channels, and for months it was fine. When the Pandemic Started, I felt the need to reach out and “connect” to News Websites (mostly NPR and the BBC, since I have no patience for the politically charged US networks). After all, I need to be in the know regarding the governor and mayor’s mandates which keep changing every couple of weeks, depending on the epidemic trends.

Usually while I am working I will listen to an hour of news or so in the morning and then disconnect. That will get me the thick of it, if I missed something big later during the day, I always end up finding out through my husband, friends or quick Memes that are already making fun of this or that.

In the beginning I tried not to listen to too much, because it is all so negative and depressing, so I mixed it up with Podcasts about movies, books, art, or anything else. Nowadays, it is impossible to hear any channel or podcast without the content being about the world today or at least, content that is greatly influenced by current events: COVID and Elections.

The thousands of business closures and the massive job losses, have changed the way we look, the way we move, the way we communicate. It is totally normal and fine to see women with inch-long roots of grey hair, or wearing flip flops showing off cracked dry skin on their heels, and a haircut that leaves a stylist wondering what exactly did it look like 5 months ago, ’cause there’s no form left at all! No one cares; for many, grooming stopped being a priority, for others, it stopped being affordable. (I personally have tried at least 4 different colors/brands of hair dye this year, so under the sun, my hair looks like I volunteered for a “browns and coppers” sample wig…but like I said…who cares.) Having money for groceries, gas and hopefully rent or the mortgage became sacred priorities for millions of people around the world.

Children have found new spaces and moments with their otherwise super-busy working parents and young teenagers have learned to feel connected in a variety of ways; for some, a birthday celebration these days is a family dinner and a home made cake. For others it is a small gathering on a front porch wearing masks and keeping a safe distance. Or a 12 car caravan parading by the front of the “Birthday Home”. Goody bags went from candy to a bag with puzzles, coloring paper and Do It Yourself Hand Sanitizer. Who would have thought?

I have seen the most awesome home made videos of Dads and daughters dancing together and Moms doing Yoga with toddlers; it seems like 2020 will see the birth of Zillions of new bloggers and You tubers. Everyone has the tools and the time, so You Tube has evidently been saturated by everything we can think of- not all great- but, we choose what we want to watch, right?

In June we had planned a trip to the Ozarks, in Arkansas; a Family Reunion, under works for 3 years, and the majority agreed it was best to cancel. Families from Iowa, Illinois, Arizona and California were all coming together, adults and kids of all ages, from 72 to 2 year old. Too much risk, specially considering we were flying there.

Instead we cut the group small and decided to drive to Zion National Park, Utah. The park was partially closed, shuttles where out of service to avoid crowded buses, but we still enjoyed it quite a bit. The views were gorgeous. And it was nice to see my in-laws.

Zion National Park, Utah

On our way there, my daughter and I spent a night in Vegas, which had just reopened some of the hotels. The city was deserted: Vegas as I had never seen it. Most restaurants were closed and more than half of the casinos too. It was nice to avoid crowds and long lines though. I just wish people were more empathetic and wore masks just like employees were required to.

Other than that 4 day trip, we have only been out to the beach a couple of times. Beaches in California are crowded and whenever public Parking Lots are closed, it is quote the challenge to find a spot. But it has been worth it. The feeling of openness and the constant reminder of how tiny we are standing next to the water is refreshing in a way.

La Jolla Cove, California

These past moths I have gotten very close to my daughter. We spend several hours a day together, in the evenings specially. We watch different series on Netflix and Amazon, we worked out at least 3 times a week in the summer and now that she is back in school I miss her company.

Our grapefruit trees had a goos season. I picking as much as I could, and froze several gallons of juice, but ther where so many left, and eventhough I shared many with friends, it was impossible to pick it all.

Our Avocado trees did pretty well this year too so I was able to share dozens of this precious delicious fruit too. In California buying an Avocado is like buying a luxury item at the store, so..they are, really, priceless!

Between my street neighbors and us, we have traded Lemons (tons of them!), limes, oranges, Raspberries, Blackberries, Mulberries, Passion Fruit, Kale, grapefruit and avocados. This summer I learned to like Eureka lemons (I was always partial to limes). I have made lemon bundt cake, many many pitchers of lemonade and one of my new favorites: lemon bars!

Lemon Bars

More recently, I have gotten lots of pomegranate and guavas.

The smell of guava is extremely strong- I admit it. A single guava can make your whole house smell like it. But its scent reminds me of my home, in Mexico. My mom used to love guava (Guayaba, in spanish). When it was guava season, our fruit basket never failed to have at least half a dozen. We learned to eat them fresh since we were little, and also boiled in syrup with condensed milk, it was a super tasty treat. My dad loved them too.

Guava scent marks the begining of Holiday Seasons, Christmas, Punch, family gatherings, delicious desserts with nuts and dulce de leche. So I didn’t mind at all that our whole ouse smells of it. But one day after I go tthem, everyone at home starting complaining about the smell! I couldn’t eat them fast enough by myself, so I googled a recipe to turn them into jam, and ….wow. Mindblowing. I made several jars, and the next day, I made chicken pot pie and had leftover dough, so I made a few turnovers filled with jam. Wow again….I gave my neighbor -the one that gave me the guava to begin with saying she was not very fond of them- a jar and a large turnover and she loved both. It made me so happy to share that with them! One has to acquire the taste. Its really not a popular fruit in the US.

I am slowly but surely recovering still from my wrist surgery, I can slice and chop now (yey!) and open most jars too. It’s incredibly empowering: opening a brand new jar of Jam or pasta sauce without asking for help.

A lot of uncertainty has passed- elections passed, schools started, although most with distance learnign programs only, the markets are pretty unstable still, . There is a lot up in the air still, the approval of a vaccine, it’s mass production and distribution, and the questions of…how will our new president handle all these crises that he will inherit in Jan 2021. But at least in my case, I am handling this way of life better than I was a few months ago, despite the uncertainties. I am learning to live a day at a time. I am learning that it is OK not to always have a plan for everything. I want to transmit this peace and calm to my family and my friends because the last thing we need is fear, panic and negativity.

Thankfully, I can afford to be calm in the midst of this crisis, but I will not let my guard down and I will follow as best as I can what the experts and the authorities are asking of us : wear a freaking mask, wash your hands and keep your distance. It is not hard, I really don’t understand the thousands of Californians and Floridians (among manyothers) that are so very offended by the simple face cover request. COVID-19 deniers and the like…it is truly embarrassing. The US showing its true colors to the world. It is no surprise that we haven’t been able to get the spread under control, like dozens of Asian countries already did…I pray that our leaders get a grip and guide us through this quickly and successfully. Well, …most leaders, I know there are some we can definitely not count on. But we can not leave it all to them…what we simple citizens do everyday counts…each aeveryone of us.

Stay safe everyone.

2020: Let’s re-think…life

Many of us started this year with cheer, optimism, firm resolutions and in some cases,  looking forward to a milestone that was going to happen: promotions, graduations, re-locations, new businesses opening.

It is the end of a decade, also, year of reelections in an already politically charged time in this country.

Despite several warnings from years ago coming from Health , Science and Disease Control experts about the threat of a Pandemic and suggested preparedness on different levels, the world -with the exception of a handful of countries- was not prepared at all for what is happening right now.

I remember first hearing about COVID19 towards the end of January 2020 -back then referred to generically as a Coronavirus.

It sounded like one of many diseases that are so far away; one more virus that the world would easily survive with timely  treatments and vaccines for. It felt (to me at least)  like living in the US, we were absolutely safe from some disease going on in China. Most of us  continued our lives as if nothing had happened. One more piece of news that we listen to and forget about 10 minutes later .

A half a dozen  people in  China died- is what I heard back in January. Well, more people die per day in Libya, or Syria, or even here in the US due to the Heart Disease or Diabetes,  Flu, or a stupid shooting, or even worse, of hunger.  Those were  my thoughts. My concern really started when the news channels (all the ones I despise and the ones I tolerate as well) were all  reporting incessantly about it, specifically the exponential growth and the fact that it had spread to other countries and to passengers on Cruise Ships: the ideal place to spread a virus even faster.

Still, we all went about our business, went to work, went to the gym, ran the endless  “soccer mom” miles, went to the movies, met with friends.

All the while, the red zones indicating the spread of COVID-19 on world maps kept growing.

The first week of March, as I was leaving from work, I tripped, lost my balance and fell. The result was a broken Radius, on my right arm.

Besides giving birth and a horrible case of Strep throat I had years ago, this was by far some of the worse painful moments I have lived. I don’t know what scared me the most: the thought of getting into Urgent Care in the middle of a pandemic, or finding out about my three fractures and the potential need of a surgery.

The following 3 weeks were the worst. Pain, and a big heavy cast all the way from my knuckles to my armpit. Then surgery, which was super scary: the idea of being in a hospital, full of people who were hopefully healthy but possibly had the COVID-19 and were asymptomatic was terrifying.  Also, my mom died during a surgery, on the table.  So, despite our very different ages and health conditions (when she passed), the thought didn’t escape me for a minute.

During these first weeks I was in total mental despair and lost it more than once. And every time I was on the verge of getting extremely upset, I thought about all the people (specially my mom) that have lived with permanent disabilities or -even worse- without a limb.  I also thought of the hundreds of people dying each day, or fighting for their lives on a ventilator due do the current Pandemic.  That provided me with a whole new perspective on my current situation, my life and the world in general.  I also took comfort in remembering that my husband -who all the while was extremely supportive and patient- was in a serious car accident as a teen and had his femur broken into pieces. With the use of a  temporary rod, and a long road to recovery, he healed and is perfectly fine today.

My respect for the disabled is now even greater than ever. Not being able to open jars, cut or slice anything, do dishes properly, change bed sheets, fold laundry, carry heavy things using both arms, or just struggling with bathing and getting myself dressed,  was very frustrating (I am still not 100% recovered). And  asking for help from my kids for half the things I was doing, is something they were not used to, and at times, it was upsetting.

This time of social distancing and working from home 100% has helped me adjust and recover, without the need to drive the kids to school, or myself to work on a 70 mile commute.

We have all seen the virus start, grow, peak and decline in different countries. Some much worse than others, blame it on culture, economical and social readiness, political influences, age average , and who knows  what else.

Here in the US, these last 5 weeks, it seems like the world has stopped. Humans have stopped, most of us anyway, but nature keeps on breathing and even thriving in most parts of the world. Skies are clearer, beaches are cleaner. I can only imagine how the reduction of ground traffic has impacted our air quality.

I cant’t say enough about how I admire all the doctors and nurses that are out there (not by choice) trying to save lives, while also fearing for their own. Same goes for all supermarket employees and all other essential workers what are out there every single day.  Teachers have had to completely shift gears and change the way teach, all the while trying to stay “close” and available to their students. That is also a challenge that was likely hard and required a lot of patience from all those involved.

I have been going to town once or twice a week; we are trying to support local businesses by buying dinner or lunch on occasion, and it really saddens me to see most businesses closed: hotels, restaurants, bars, wineries, gift shops, furniture stores, gyms.  Every time I see an establishment closed  I wonder, how many people worked there? Are the getting paid at least partially? Are they doing OK? Can they still afford food? Healthcare?

It is a consolation that Utilities will not be disconnected due to lack of payment. So everyone will have water, electricity, phones, gas. And that banks are also being forgiving with Credit Card and Mortgage payments. And despite all the controversy about the checks that were mailed out to those who qualified, I am glad that they were. This measure (assistance checks for individuals) will , for sure, cause some damage to our economy in a not so distant future, but for now, they can help people with groceries, toiletry items, baby formula, diapers, many many things we all need every day.

My daughter and I went out a couple of days ago in the evening, and it really felt like a ghost town. To see the mall and the movie theater completely empty was unreal; same for popular places where you normally can’t find a parking spot or a table.

 

This is a moment in time that we and our children will never forget; it will (hopefully) change our appreciation for life, for health, for our beautiful parks and mountains; for a hug from a friend, for a night out with your loved one or a Girls night out.  For your favorite server and your favorite bar or restaurant. And most definitely, for our doctors, dentists, nurses.

A trip to the grocery store will often remind me of shopping with a mask and gloves, of giving 6 feet to the person next to me. Of the clear shield between the cashier and myself. Or of buying the produce that’s available,  and not necessarily the items on my list.

Wiping down with disinfectant every single item I bring home, or washing my hands 15 times a day are a few things I will probably not miss. Or wondering when I will find Toilet Paper or flour available for sale next.

I will miss having the kids and my husband at home,  an having lunch and dinner together most days. I will miss the spare time to cook, to bake, to write, and to do nothing at all.

I am tremendously grateful for the safety of my home, for my health and my family’s health. For all the food we are able to buy and store. There is so much uncertainty that sometimes I get caught up in the anxiety that it can trigger. What will happen to schools? Will they resume in the Fall? What will be of the stock market? How are hotels, airlines, cruise lines going to slowly rehire and re-train?

But no one has answers for that yet and worrying won’t help anyone. So I try not to watch news,  which lately are more like political campaigns. I stay away from panic-triggering headlines, and I absolutely refuse to read all the crap I get on my phone (videos, links, and the “a friend of a friend of a friend’s doctor said that” type of advice). I have never seen so much misinformation and Hoax on the Internet, Whatssapp, Facebook, you name it; we should all be more responsible with the things we send or forward.

A few years ago , kids at middle school were introduced and encouraged to participate in a Social Media campaign called #ICANHELP; it’s goal is to educate and empower students to use social media positively.

Shouldn’t we adults do the same, specially in times like this?

Be safe everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did I say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’?

I completely skipped the year 2019 in my blog- it doesn’t make me feel good to even type this, but that’s the truth.  It was a tough  year ;  I lacked motivation to write, despite the dozen people or so, that kept asking me “When will you write your next entry?”.  To them I say:  THANK YOU! 

2019 was a year in which bringing up teenagers really kicked off and sunk in. I hit a wall several times and felt completely lost, clueless and frustrated not having answers to my many questions and doubts about…how to deal with anger, resentment and grudges.  All – or most of it- originated by adolescent behavior.

More times than I can count I have wanted -more than anything- to call my Mom or Dad and vent with them, ask “How did you deal with us as teenagers?” .

After talking to friends and some of my Mom’s friends (in their 70’s) , I have learned that feeling sad, hurt and disappointed is normal when raising teenagers. “This will pass”, “Don’t take things personal”, many told me. But how does one not take personal when your kids are direct and honest about letting you know (at times) that they’d rather be alone than being with you?

For me at least, it is a painful  mix of watching your kids grow up, getting so noticeably independent, not needing you nearly as much as they did when they were little; when they couldn’t open jars, open cabinets, cook a meal, or when they didn’t understand a word or two from their school work.

It’s part of life, I know. However that doesn’t offer any consolation to my feelings of being forgotten and almost set aside at times.

Time flies in such a way,  that I can almost put together my memories of one of my kids saying “capeeteria” instead of Cafeteria, and today saying words I don’t even know the meaning of.

Or them asking “Can you tuck me in?” at night, while today, the kids go to bed usually after I do. Yes, sometimes, they tuck me in!

It is also a mix of being proud of them, and feeling them an inch more distant  every day.

When things get tough or hurtful, when they fall into rude or disrespectful behavior, when calm and peace come (after counting to 10,000), I often wonder …Did I talk to my mom and Dad like this when I was a teenager? Did I make them feel unwanted? Was I ungrateful?  Did I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for all they did and sacrificed for me?

At first, my answers were always No, definitely not! I never dared talk to them like that!  But as the months have passed, a lot of memories have been triggered, and I do remember my Dad being resentful when I would get up in the morning super moody, just because, or being annoyed by his overly affectionate ways. He was always thirsty for hugs and kisses from his kids, I am pretty sure when I was in my teens I wasn’t at all affectionate with my parents.

I can only assume it hurt, especially my Mom, who couldn’t even get up and attack us with hugs (like I do my kids).

Little by little, I have realized that I was probably just as rude and cold with my parents more often than I care to remember when I went through this tough age.

Sometimes I feel guilt for those years, and I can only hope they never “took it personal”, knowing that behind all those moody mornings, deep down, I always adored them and admired them both. At least I was fortunate enough to have them alive for the first 11 years of my motherhood. And I can say with all certainty that I did call them (a lot) to express my gratitude and admiration,to vent, to ask for advice, and to say I LOVE YOU!

There are two things of 2019 that I will always remember with great happiness and some melancholy perhaps.

On July 2019, after giving thorough thought to my sister’s advice, both kids went to Summer camp for 4 weeks. I never asked them if they wanted to go, I just enrolled them and planned the trip to Sacramento to drop them off at a Tiny town in a secluded place in the mountains. I had checked reviews and had long phone conversations with the camp director. She gave me assurance about the safety of their kitchen and cooking methods -my son’s peanut allergies have always made me apprehensive about his whereabouts when I am not with him.

A few days before we left to drop them off,  I started helping them each pack their things. When I explained they were not allowed to call, they didn’t like that at all (at one point they called it “a jail”). So I explained they were allowed to write and mail  as many letters as they wanted, or fax them too. “What is a Fax?” my daughter asked.  I just rolled my eyes and thought the answer too complicated and obsolete, was not worth our time.  “Just mail it”- I said.

I had to explain how and where to write the mailing address and returning address on the envelope- after I saw that one of them wrote the mailing address on the back of the envelope…

The stopped at Sacramento for a night, to learn a bit about it’s history, along with a tour of the Capitol Building.

The four of us drove up to Greenville, CA to CopperCreek Camp. My stomach felt knotted and my throat tight when it was time to say goodbye to the kids. They were both nervous and sad but the counselors there did an amazing job at staying close to them , keeping them distracted and busy and not making a huge deal out of our departure.

Upon our return home, the house felt so big and empty, it made me quite sad. My small dog Cinder really became my companion that month. We were not allowed to call the kids (or them us) unless there was an emergency. But we got to see plenty of action packed photos they posted daily for family and friends to see. We received probably half a dozen letters from the kids the first 2 weeks, begging us to come get them: they were lonely, bored and not getting along great with other kids. The photos we saw told another story, but the drama in their letters was almost troubling. Then I remembered how absolutely miserable I was at camp my first time when I was only 12.

So, we waited for another week to pass. By the 3rd week, they were singing another tune in their letters, and by the 4th week they were just as sad to leave as they were excited to come home.

It was a wonderful experience for both of them. They flew back together – unaccompanied for the 1st time- and everything went just fine.  There were no cell phones allowed during camp -of course- so they really were disconnected from everyone.

While they were gone, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA. My first time ever. Even though it is famously known as a Ski Resort, it has a lot to offer during the summer as well.

Christmas was also very memorable. Both my sister and I with our families, flew down to Queretaro, Mexico, to  spend Christmas and New Years’ with our brother and his family. It was a great chance for the kids and my husband to see a different part of Mexico they had never been to: Queretaro,  San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City.

The plazas downtown, the townspeople enjoying the holiday, very pleasant weather, delicious food. We even went to Teotihuacan, to see the pyramids. The kids liked it quite a bit.

We ended the year with a small party at my brother’s home, with some friends and delicious food, not having the slightest idea what 2020 had in store for us…

 

 

 

Revival of the Fall of 2018

There have been so many events, big ones and little on the second half of 2018, that have made me REALLY want to write, and for different reasons I never did.  I have lost  the details of those memories, and I don’t have the discipline to carry a note pad – like my sister in this day and age still does–  or record my main ideas on my phone. I will try to write about those that I remember most.

In August 30th 2018 my husband and I celebrated our 15th Anniversary . We took a trip to Alaska by Cruise to mark this date. Years ago we promised to take a trip every year by ourselves (no kids), we really haven’t; many years it was just impossible with the kids being so young, or we just couldn’t afford it.

But on the summer of 2018  I had my intentions set on doing something. I told my husband..let’s go somewhere, anywhere, a weekend in San Diego, Baja California, the mountains, Carmel. I was game for ANYTHING, as long as it meant taking a break from our routine.  So he suggested Alaska, and within days we had something booked.

I had expected to be going in a cruise for seniors, where all activities where planned around this  age group – anything from the pace of activities to the type of food and tours available on the ports of call. I really thought we would feel a bit “off” on the ship, but to my surprise we didn’t.

Having traveled before  to several cruises in the Caribbean , I could definitely see the difference in the type of crowd that was on board. Alaska is not a cruise for everybody- for sure. It was a more of a laid back, relaxing and enjoyable trip. Surprisingly there were a lot of families with kids, a lot of couples on their 40s and 50s and yes, a ton of seniors; the type that have nothing to do except figure out their next trip, back to back sometimes.

We experienced the “random group seating” during some dinners, and met very interesting and pleasant people- mostly European.  I felt so relaxed and idle , that I found it sometimes overwhelming so have so much free time. We took some adventurous and fun tours on jeep, canoe and bike, at the ports of call like Ketchikan and Juneau.  The landscape was just picture perfect and the glaciers were beautiful in their own way. It felt strange at first to walk the promenade on the ship wearing jackets and swimming at an indoor pool because outside it was 40 – 50 F degrees. The outside pools were heated (mildy) anyway so I did  dare myself to swim outside one day in 50F degree weather. It was…very refreshing!  My skin felt incredible tight and almost numb, but I liked it. They say it’s good for you anyway.

Neither of us had ever been to Alaska. What a beautiful State! The feeling of being so far and yet standing in US Territory felt welcoming in a way. Same language, same currency, and yet, the culture different there: more native and community-like.

One of the ports we stopped at was so small, they had a barge come in once a week that brought toiletries, produce, etc that was all sold at the one store in town. Also, there was no barber shop or beauty salon in town so also, once a week, someone came to town to cut people’s hair!  AND, there was no hospital in town, just a small clinic that would airlift patients if needed to the nearest city (Juneau). It was hard to imagine life like that, but people seemed absolutely content with that rhythm in their lives. We asked someone how they bought stuff online and they said Amazon did not deliver there, so they just made trips by boat to the city.

Today, I  make 3 clicks to buy something and receive the next day, and here was a town that had to plan their shampoo purchase a week ahead….unbelievable and kind of awesome at the same time.

It was a great trip, at my mind was at ease all times because my sister and my brother in law took turns watching our kids.  We even decided to NOT get WiFi on the ship, so we really were disconnected.

In November my brother and his family came to spend Thanksgiving with us. We took them to visit  Joshua Tree National Park and I felt like a tourist just like them, since it was my first time there. Joshua tree is nothing like any other State or National Park. Not much green and not many trees, since it is in the middle of the desert. What makes it so unique is the many many rock formations (huge rocks) and of course the Joshua Trees themselves. It is beautiful in its very own unique way.


 

A couple of weeks before Christmas I did a weekend trip to Monterrey, to see my siblings and friends. It was like recharging batteries of very positive energy and lots of love from family and friends. I went downtown to do some sightseeing -like a tourist- and enjoyed some authentic northern enchiladas, street corn on the cob and churros.

Christmas time was rather quiet. It was just our family, the four of us, and also the first Christmas we actually spent at home, no travelling whatsoever.  That  part I loved. No stress, no packing, or standing in long lines everywhere, no  lost luggage or delayed flights. Just home.

It was a calm and quiet way to close the year 2018 and I was grateful for all it brought, even for the additional 12 months it put between the pain of my parents passing and myself. My feelings and my perception of their absence had changed…for the better.

 

 

 

Memories of the Windy City

Time – again – has flown by and I have struggled to find quiet time to  write a small entry about this trip with the kids, mid July this year.

The purpose of our 10 day vacation was to visit my in-laws; have the kids spend some equality time with their  grandparents and some of the cousins they almost never see. The plan, also, was to spend the last 5 days in Chicago, a city that I had been to before with my mom and sister, and where my husband used to live for a couple of years.

We mentally prepared for some hot sticky and humid weather; coming from the desert, I was not exactly looking forward to it, but the words trip and vacation made the weather loose priority in my short list of travel inconveniences.

When I found out it might rain a little, I  actually looked forward to it. This California drought has made us change our perspective towards rain.

The only big cities our kids knew before going to Chicago where San Diego and Los Angeles, and L.A. not so much the chaos of downtown, but rather the surrounding areas and of course, the endless stop and go traffic.

So the extremely tough traffic,  the dozens of people honking horns, the endless streams of homeless people walking down the busy streets,  even at the fanciest areas of downtown Chicago, were a bit overwhelming for them at times.

We stayed at a hotel in the middle of everything, right by  Michigan Avenue, so we saw the many stores, restaurants and hotels, museums mixed with this large population of homeless mixed in everywhere, from the subway stations to the doorsteps of Department Stores.

I told them, “this is part of your travelling and learning experience. You need to know how other people live, what problems other cities have , even the challenges that the weather presents for them”.  In our home town we don’t really have “weather”, it is mostly the same year round, except for 3 or 4 months where the heat can reach -and pass- triple digits.  Other than that, it is actually boring weather -and too dry.

To think that traffic, pollution and homelessness gets worse with feet of snow or inches of rain is also something to consider -and maybe even value when we get tired of our Perfectly Sunny California Days.

My daughter was excited about  shopping and about the different stores she saw there – like the Nutella Cafe and the most adorable Candy Store, a big two story shop dedicated entirely to candy.

My son said that one of the things he liked the most about Chicago was the diversity of its people. He said, “I see Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, people from India, and the middle east, Europeans, etc”

I had meant to make this a trip that was cultural and educational  as much as it was fun and entertaining.

So my husband and I had come up with a list of places we did not want to miss:

The Art Institute of Chicago.  The place is big but safe enough for the family to disperse, so my son went on his own most of the time; I took my daughter to the most interesting and popular exhibits (for a 12 year old). She had asked if there were any paintings by Degas, with Ballerinas in them, so we started the tour at the Impressionism Wing. She took many pictures of the pieces she liked. She had never heard of pointillism, so when she looked at the magnificent masterpiece by Georges Seurat (A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette) she stood in awe in front of it, for a full ten minutes – maybe more.  We had arrived early to beat the crowds so we had a lot of room to admire the art from different angles without a rush.

 

Clearly uncomfortable with nude figures still, we breezed through the exhibits of the earlier European Art and the Greek, Roman and Byzantine Art.  Towards the end, we visited the  Modern Art wing, where, no matter how hard I tried to be open and appreciative, I had  a difficult time finding pieces that amazed or moved me.

Trying to appreciate this Modern Art...
Trying to appreciate this piece of Modern Art…

We did find some interesting Modern pieces

 

Millenium Park:  we walked along this park and it’s different sections. The Symphonic was practicing for an evening performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, so we sat for a while to listen. It was strange to see an orchestra playing in jeans and T-shirts, and abruptly interrupt their playing, cutting off short their pieces as the director indicated to restart or skip to another piece that needed polishing.

As my daughter observed the structure of the venue, she said to me “Mom, this place looks a lot like the Walt Disney Symphony Hall in L.A. Maybe the same Architect did it?”  I had to agree , it was exactly the same style and material used. So I quickly googled it and found that , in deed, Frank Gehry had designed both venues.

 

Jay Pritzker Pavillion

I felt proud of her , of the fact that at age 12, she noticed and pointed out  these things.

I realized then, that I was doing the same thing my mom always tried (and accomplished) with us: made travelling both didactic and entertaining.

The Museum of Science and Industry

We hesitated a bit about this visit, because it is not near the city center and the majority of the other attractions, but I am so   glad we went. The place is huge, big enough to be there a full day or even two.  So we had to pick and choose the exhibits that were not appealing the our kids.

There was everything from Climate and Weather,  with a very cool tornado simulator, airplane simulators, exhibits related to the human body:  the development of an embryo into a fetus and finally a baby, as well as other exhibits explaining the benefits of exercising and healthy eating;  optical illusions (mirror maze), Oceans , Coal Mines,   Ships and Train Galleries, it went on and on.

In my opinion, it is a must see for any family with kids in Elementary or Middle School, we left that museum out of tiredness, not lack of interest.

Mirror Maze at the Museum of Science and Industry

 

Chicago Aquarium

We have seen pretty decent Aquariums here in Southern California, but none of them compares to this one. The location is prime, the views of the lake are amazing. The exhibits are so well planned and designed and the live show we watched was an amazing learning experience for all – kids and adults.

This was probably the most crowded site, there are dozens of field trips , we could barely walk at times, so we had to be super patient getting places.

Even though I had already taken the Architectural Tour with  my mom years ago, I took it again and enjoyed it quite a bit. Chicago’s landscape is unique and beautiful and a lot of its buildings carry many years of important history. We saw what once was Marshall Fields, the Stock Exchange, The Wrigley building , the Tribune Tower . The contrast between the old and new is dramatic, yet it pleases the eye. There is nothing better than to see it from the river.  I highly recommend it.

The Merchandise Mart

Chicago was fun, wet, colorful and delicious. I want to believe that the kids are old enough to remember this trip for many years to come and also that it helped them appreciate our weather, drought or not, as well as the many  blessings they have:  having a warm home and a full stomach when they please, after seeing so much misery in some of the streets of the windy city.

Next up: Alaska!!

Summer Break and the Midwest

School ended the first week of June and for the first time since I have kids, there were no summer camps,  babysitting, rushing to find people to help me watch the kids, nothing at all.

Mixed feelings : I loved saving the hundreds of dollars in overpriced camps that desperate parents pay so they can go to work.  I knew our trip to the Midwest would come soon and I wanted to save as much as possible. On the other hand, realizing my kids were old enough to stay home alone and not burn the house down was one more little stone added to my heavy bag of feeling older lately. Liberating and yet it hit reality.

My son says the 2 days a week I leave them home to work are his “favorite days of the week”. He confessed this with a smile trying not to hurt my feelings. He explained those are  his “break” days, where no one makes him eat fruit or eggs and he has total freedom, no questions asked. My daughter truly hates those days. She feels lonely and bored.  Every now and then I pay our 15 year old neighbor to come for a few hours and be with her. They bake together, make things out of clay or play board games.

The World Cup (Soccer) started soon after school ended; I tried watching the games.  This is the real football of Mexico (…and Latin America and Asia and Australia and most of Europe!) so I grew up watching games occasionally with my Dad on TV or with friends at the Stadium.  I know the rules of the game  better than I will ever know or understand American Football or Basketball or Baseball (yawn) and I am no expert. Anyway,  I do not watch Soccer year round, but the World Cup is THE WORLD CUP, so I watched some of the games on the weekends with my husband. I believe he actually enjoyed it :).

Mexico did not make it to the quarter finals, but I felt proud watching the team play as well as the huge fan base cheering loud; I got goosebumps when I heard the crowd loud and clear singing “Cielito Lindo ” live from the Russian Stadium.

On July 13th we left California to visit my In Laws  in the Midwest. We had planned to see Chicago too, since most of them  live within a few hours of driving from there.

It had been a year since our last Family Vacation so some changes were evident:  I had to purchase 2 seats on row 1 of the plane so that my 6’4″ husband and 6″ son could sit comfortably during the 4 hour flight. My daughter and I sat in the back  but it made me think that soon I would probably be sitting by myself in the back …alone? I am 5′ 8″ and I will be the “shorty” one soon.  Kind if strange since I am the tallest of my side of the family.  I swear airlines keep crowding seats together- closer and closer as they are financially more strangled.  I feel like a sardine in a can in there. I already wrote once about the unpleasantries of travelling:  it is very stressful and frustrating.  The only playlist I have downloaded in my phone to have available offline is my New Age and Meditation list.  Because that is what I need to cope with the crying babies or the snoring guy or the non stop talking girl behind me or the movie being played by a toddler on his tablet at full volume with no headphones (is he travelling alone I wonder?)

Another evident change: when renting a car,  we need to make sure it has leg room for all tall people.  So we chose an SUV that was decent, not great,  but decent. With knee caps an inch away from the dashboard, my  husband drove us around for 6 days through the endless cornfields of Illinois.

One more change, our music selection for the ride all week was more scrutinized, criticized and judged by….all of us. My son usually has one ear plugged to his Iphone and the other one open for discussion and listening to us. I told him I wanted him absolutely unplugged. We had several hours of driving ahead of us those days and I wanted him “both ears in”.  So, after pairing my phone to the little Mitsubishi SUV (which my daughter initially called Mistu-bishi  (would this be the end of her  cute grammatical mistakes?), we took turns queuing up songs to listen to.  So we would have something like  Johny Cash, Duran Duran, The Cure, Arianna Grande, Neil Diamond, ABBA, Pet Shop Boys,  John Denver, Eminem,  and just for fun, I would throw in songs from their childhood like the Backyardigans Soundtrack and the awesome song “The Dissapointing Pancake” by Lisa Loeb- which is a silly kids’ song and a metaphor about how we are all good for something, not for everything but we all have our positive side and strong suit.

Again, my google account algorithm tries hard to guess my music taste but every time we have family shuffling it gets very confused. So every now and then I get a notification “Hey! There is a new song by Kanye West you might enjoy!”  And I am thinking – Not really, but thanks for offering.

We first drove first to Gurnee, Illinois, where we visited  a brand new indoor Water Park . The  Great Wolf Lodge. 8 water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool. Fun for all with no sunburn and lots of humidity in the air. At first it felt like I walked into a huge bathroom where someone had just taken a shower , after a while I forgot about it and  went on several slides with my husband and kids and had some fun. There was also a pretty cool ropes course that my daughter went through that made my dizzy just to look at.

Indoor Waterpark

The next day we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens.   Notes here:

It was so green, my pictures look like I put a filter on them, but I did not.  The place is beautiful and peaceful. There are bikes for rent and a nice bike path, so the grounds and trails can be covered more easily that way. It was raining a bit so we bought overpriced umbrellas at a mall close by  and just walked the beautiful area.

My mom used to love gardens so this place made me think a lot of her. Now that I travel without her, I can’t help but look for the blue familiar sign, the parking spaces, the ramps, the over sized bathroom stalls, and I sometimes find myself taking the ramp instead of the steps. I miss her,  a lot.

Twice I heard bells announcing the time,  a clock tower from a distance on the 30 minute and the 45 minute mark, finding it very odd to hear this at a garden -with no church in sight.  Later we came across a tower with all the bells exposed. It immediately took me back 40 years to my grandparents house in Chihuahua where every 15 minutes it would produce the exact same notes I was  listening to, which I knew by heart.

At the gardens, we attempted to walk a little bit through a dense , lush trail and  I was immediately reminded of 2 things:

1, the Midwest is infested with mosquitoes in the summer and 2, I have a blood type that apparently is irresistibly delicious to mosquitoes. So 2 minutes into the walk in this thick path, and I could hear them by the dozen around my ears and I started feeling the bites on my neck and arms and legs.  It gave me chills it was so bad.  Six mosquito bites later I sprinted away from there and managed to get a couple of good pictures of this intensely green area.

The Mosquito Path (no filter)

After this, we headed to our next destination:  Moline, Illinois.  There we stopped for a night and visited with my brother in law, his wife and 5 children -ages 4 to 12. They treated us to a delicious breakfast that reminded me of how good and proud they all are of making their own bread from scratch.

We had waffles , biscuits with gravy , fresh fruit, and a peach crisp (like a cobbler) that I could not get enough of. Five kids and my sister in law baking from scratch.

Sitting in the passenger seat during this leg of the trip (Chicago > Moline ) made me realize what a huge difference it makes to live in an area where it rains, a lot. Everywhere we looked it was green and thriving. While here in California, any patch of green you spot, means there is irrigation paid by someone. This area of Illinois is beautiful. Flowers bloom and fill every planter you see, trees grow big in different shades of green. And you don’t have to count the seconds while running a faucet or rush through your shower because water is almost a delicacy in California.

Our next stop was Nauvoo, Illinois.  Nauvoo is a small town founded in the early 1800s, after going through several name changes, it was named Nauvoo  in 1840 by Joseph Smith, founder of  Mormonism who lived here before moving to Utah along with his followers.  Despite the very small population of this town, it has great historical importance. And even though the majority of its population today is Catholic, the fact that the founder of the LSD Church lived here and that a beautiful temple was built here attracts many tourists interested in the Latter Saint Day History. Many historic buildings remain open and different guided tours are available that provide an insight on how life was in those early years.

My kids went to a couple of demonstrations on masonry, blacksmiths and rope making.  Very educational and informative!

 

The Mormon temple sits on top of a hill overlooking the Mississippi, it is so grand and majestic, it overshadows the Catholic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul a block away, which is also beautiful but looks tiny next to it.

Nauvoo Temple

 

One of the afternoons we were there, I ventured and dared to take the rented SUV and go to Nauvoo’s main Street on my own (also referred to as “town”). It was a 10 minute drive from my in laws. I needed to walk around, to explore, take pictures, be alone for a while.  Before leaving the house, I marked it on my Cell Phone Map so I would know how to get back.  I knew cell phone reception was a bit spotty there and I did not want to take chances. So I drove through the huge grids of cornfields, where every block is a mile long, the roads are numbered, so 800, 900, 1000  going North to South. And the roads going form East to West also!  1100, 1200, 1300. So yes, a true grid. It reminded me of elementary school graphs and the x and y axis.  All the roads there look exactly the same, the corners? Exactly the same. The barns and silos? Exactly the same. So if you miss a turn, you will never know.

I got to town no problem. Parked my car and took pictures of the temple. Then I found a coffee shop and bakery (The Apron) which I thought would be empty because to my knowledge, Mormons don’t drink coffee, right? Wrong! The place was packed with tourists. I stood in line and took a good look at the delicious pastries, then I spotted an old Coffeemaker machine with an almost empty carafe- its contents probably cold.  It was like an antique piece displayed in a museum, but not proudly displayed, more like forsaken and neglected. I walked up to the cashier who greeted me all bubbly and smiley and  all I could think of was…if I order coffee, every single person in here will know I am not Mormon. It is an actual statement. The mug is the statement. How silly was that?  The truth is, I felt like a fish out of water, I really did.

I ordered my coffee and a  piece of banana bread. The lady looked at the ancient coffeemaker, pitiful as it was and said to me “Of course, I will brew a new pot for you”.

Happy with the WiFi code provided by the same lady, I sat down to check my 24 hour old messages. Ten minutes later she came with a steaming hot cup of coffee and my bread. I sipped it slowly and enjoyed looking around at all the families that were having sandwiches, pies and  shakes. Breakfast for Dinner was featured, so half the people were having Omelettes and Waffles. It was a totally happy place.  The lady came with the carafe and offered to top me off, and I said “Yes, thanks” -thinking…if she doesn’t serve it to me, she will probably end up tossing it away , because who in this town drinks coffee? She asked if I liked it, because it was the first time ever she made coffee– no kidding! It was actually pretty good. I am just still wondering why the place is called a Coffee Shop.

When the sun started setting I immediately got nervous thinking of the 800, 900, 1000 grid with no street lights at night and spotty cell phone coverage. So off I went, back to the house, relying solely on the Google Maps Navigation lady. This lady does not have a clue on which of these roads are paved and which ones are pure gravel, so I drove on 100% gravel roads all the way home with the SUV fishtailing on me. I tried to change roads to get on pavement more than once, but I started loosing track of the grid numbers and I got really nervous, because this is what all the roads look like:

I made it back fine – of course. Took me 25 minutes instead of ten. But it was worth it.

After loosing both my parents in the last couple of years, it was really nice to see my kids spending good quality time with their grandparents as well as their cousins, who they only see every couple of years. I don’t want them to grow up without the sense of belonging, the feeling of being part of a big family that loves them and cares for them. I  don’t want them to feel isolated in California. During this trip in particular I felt sad when it was time to say good bye. I noticed how my father in law specially has gotten slower and more tired, with more aches and pains and I almost didn’t want to leave. The night before we left Nauvoo,  I could not stop crying that night, it was sudden and uncontrollable. It just hit too close to home. My son too was sad, I could hear it in his voice and see it his eyes that refused to shed tears. I suppose it is not “cool” for a 13 year old to cry about it, at least not in front of me.

The morning we left I gave my father in law a hug that was tight and needy, a hug that was asking to be hugged. I was already weeping inside and had a headache that was splitting my head: tears held back, I thought.

 

Grandma making Fudge at her place of work

 

After visiting family, we made our U turn to head back to Chicago, were we planned to stay 4 night. And that, -was a completely different adventure!  To be continued…

 

Too see more pictures of this trip click  here.

 

Links for the curious…

The Dissapointing Pancake Song

https://blacktoprecords.bandcamp.com/track/the-disappointing-pancake

 

The Great Wolf Lodge

https://www.greatwolf.com/illinois

 

Chicago Botanic Garden

https://www.chicagobotanic.org/

 

Nauvoo, Illinois

https://www.beautifulnauvoo.com/