Email from Mama Rote today, to all her offspring and our significant others:
Subject: CLASSIC MOVIE ALERT!!!
The Court Jester is on TCM Sunday evening at 8pm ET/5pmPT.
I think you should NOT MISS IT. But that’s just my opinion.
“The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”
If you’ve ever considered taking my old movie recommendations, now is the time. You’ll love this one. It’s full of hilarious scenes, memorable lines, and of course, Danny Kaye making faces like this:
(Fair warning to my husband: there’s singing and dancing. But also a great sword fight scene.)
You’ll do a double take when you see Angela Lansbury as a beautiful young princess, rather than Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote. And then there’s one of my all-time favorite villains, Basil Rathbone.
Happy Mother’s Day to Mama Rote and the rest of you lovely ladies!
Last week I talked about parenting with one of my favorite honorary mamas, Linda Rice, of Little Lights. If you know Ms. Linda, you’ll be able to hear her voice in this short interview. If you don’t, you’ll feel like you know her.
And some other thoughts on motherhood I’ve enjoyed:
- Need: baby cage. (H/t Rebekah!)
- One day, your kids will be glad you stayed in the picture.
- The Domestic Monastery. This is “leaning in” for real.
P.S. A bonus link, if you’re not a mama and all this gushy-ness is getting to you: Meg, my friend from high school, wrote this piece on why being single through your twenties is great. Yes to the hour long bath.
Usually my packing represents the worst of both worlds: I bring way too much, and I still don’t have anything good to wear. But, for the past few trips I’ve made an effort to follow Ashley’s advice to pack light and rewear things. In order for that to work, though, you’ll need to bring only good clothes that you won’t hate yourself in.
It’s a cathartic process —ruthlessly evaluating one’s clothes and their wearability. As for me, I realized that I should probably just reduce my whole wardrobe to only those items that pass the trip test. But, as I said, it’s a process. It worked pretty well when I packed my favorite blue and brown tops to layer and mix with my favorite jeans (going with a single color scheme: advice from Cup of Jo), and maybe a dress or two that roll up nicely in my bag.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Wherever you’re going, they probably use toothpaste, wear clothes, and style their hair. . . as Clark Griswold says in European Vacation, ”Europeans go to the bathroom, don’t they?” So if you forget something, don’t stress. You should be able to pick it up at your destination—which will add the cultural bonus of a genuine, non-souvenir shopping experience.
- My mom pointed out that no one knows you, so there’s no big need to worry about how you look. Feel free to experiment and take fashion risks. In Cholula, I wore a couple of scarves in a kind of French-y fashion that I wouldn’t dare to wear here. They protected my sunburned neck, and some German tourists asked me if I spoke German. European chic. (Are Germans known for that?) To me it was a WIN.
- On the flip side of no one knowing you, I shouldn’t be embarrassed when my dad wears his ID and wallet in a pouch around his neck, as if he’s a young child who can’t be responsible for carrying a note home to his parents. The good news is that he will NOT be pick pocketed, and perhaps someone will strike up a conversation when they see a Tennessee driver’s license. I should let it go, or like my brother said, just think of it as an homage to Flava Flav.
- Here’s a post on packing light from the old Bonobos blog (with packing list, for dudes). They also once posted travel tips, that I can’t find, including: leave something awesome behind for your host (think: rugby shirt, scarf, glasses), and remember what the “true bottom” of your rolling bag is when you pack.
- Finally, I recommend trying out a Turkish towel. They’re great in general, but for traveling, they take up less room and dry way more quickly than a traditional towel, and can double as a blanket. In DC, find the Turkish towel stand at the Eastern Market flea market. Salt and Sundry at Union Market carries them, too, and it’s worth visiting the store to see how well they curate everything. But, insider tip!, Salt and Sundry buys their Turkish towels from the woman at Eastern Market, so, obviously, their prices are higher. Here are some similar online.
Are you a professional packer, or what?
I’m pausing the travel posts to bring you the not-so-secret recipe for the tastiest and easiest pie in the world: Derby Pie. I do feel reluctant to share, as this is pretty much the only thing in my dessert arsenal, since it’s so yummy and dadgum easy. It’s my favorite and has become my signature dessert, but I feel guilty hiding it. And I feel guilty when people get the impression that I’m a culinary wizard . . . shhhh! Golly, it’s so easy. Now that you have the recipe, you can simply have the ingredients waiting in your pantry and freezer. Dinner party, housewarming, work or church event? You’ve got dessert covered. You have such southern charm and grace! Please, don’t brag; you’ll ruin it.
Give it a try in honor of Saturday’s big race.
1 stick melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cake flour (Regular flour is fine—I use that.)
1 cup sugar
a splash of bourbon (Optional, but you should definitely do it if you’re making this for the Derby.)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
6 oz chocolate chips
pre-made pie crust (From the refrigerated section.)
Mix first six ingredients together.
Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
Pour into pie crust in round baking dish.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
And while we’re in a celebratory mood, here are some snapshots of our spring so far (only the good stuff, of course!):
Women’s dinner centerpieces using Costco roses (!) and Cup of Jo’s flower arranging tutorial.
Waiting with Tia Raquel after the zoo for brunch at Open City, a yummy spot which brilliantly provided chalk for their young antsy patrons. (Here, Mary Tobin is staring at little boys off camera.)
[Pro tip for taking kids to the National Zoo: If you're using the Metro, go one stop past the Woodley Park/Zoo stop to Cleveland Park. From there it's the same distance, and you can walk downhill instead of huffing uphill with strollers and the rest of your combat gear. When leaving you can walk downhill to Woodley Park (and Open City!).]
Happy Derby! Happy Spring!
Hands down, one of my favorite things about traveling to other countries has been staying with families in their homes. It embodies that most sacred of travel buzzwords: authentic. (Of course, the word authentic can cover over a myriad of inconveniences that you would otherwise never put up with.) Someone else’s home may not be the nicest place you could stay, or the most convenient—but it is probably the cheapest. It may not be representative of the whole country, but it’s real, and you can’t argue with that.
I wax romantic about the beauty of staying in someone’s home—being adopted, temporarily, into a new family—because of how powerfully it moved me on our mission trip to Paraguay a few years ago. The Paraguayans set a standard of hospitality that humbles and embarrasses me, since I’ve never been so generous with my home or time. The women of the church cooked all our meals; the guys drove us from place to place, insisting we never walk; everyone was so pleased to see us and excited to hang out each day. I ask myself, how would I help out if a group came to visit my church for a week? Maybe I’d show up to one event, or help with one meal. It would not cross my mind to say, Yes, we have room. You can sleep in my bed!
Saying goodbye, with some tears, to our host family after the Sunday service.
Pabla and her family went way out of their way for Israel and me, as did her fellow church members for the other people on our mission team. We occupied her best room and were treated as honored guests. In the cold dark mornings, I treasured coffee and pastry time with Pabla, before the van came around to pick us up and take us to breakfast #2 with our team, then the day’s work.
(Free advice for travel in Latin America, or, actually, anywhere someone’s hosting you: eat what they offer! Fortunately this was no difficult task in Paraguay. Their food was simple, hearty, and good. Lots of meat, rice, potatoes, and, surprisingly, sliced beets at every meal. The risk, especially when there’s a language barrier, is that your hosts will be worried you’re not satisfied with the food. So even if you’re not hungry, try bites of everything, don’t look afraid or perplexed when faced with a new dish, and be more verbal and effusive than you think is necessary in your thanks.)
Pabla’s three kids were charming, and hilarious, and did their best to help me communicate. And I will never forget when Israel gave Junior a Listerine breath strip to try. You better believe his eyes popped wide open.
To make it just perfect, of course, there had to be the precious abuela. She didn’t live in Pabla’s house, which I didn’t realize until the end of the week, because she was there every morning when I got up. I was and am a lazy American. Abuela and I weren’t able to have deep conversations, but we smiled. I loved her and she loved me, and she offered to let me stay with her whenever I wanted to come back to Paraguay.
More free advice (or as my neighbor would say, a “pro tip”): If you’re in a foreign country, especially if you’re staying in a private home, but even if you’re not, start off on the right foot by asking the host if there are any details about how the bathroom works that you need to know.
In some Latin American countries and elsewhere, you toss the toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of flushing it, since the plumbing is not equipped for that. And please, note well: in Spanish, hot is caliente. Ergo, the C on the faucet knobs in Mexico does not signify Cold.
I knew that much, but still, in Paraguay, Israel and I took cold showers for half the week. (In the middle of their winter. Not as cold as it is here, but we were ill-prepared coming from summer in the U.S., and didn’t heed our packing advisories. And, since their winter isn’t as cold, buildings don’t have heat.) But we were tough; we were doing the authentic experience, man!
We didn’t realize there was a switch on the wall to turn on the hot water heater before your shower. Of course, this electrical hot water system was their normal, so why would our hosts think to explicitly tell us how the shower operation went down? I never would have predicted that my week in South America would be one of the coldest of my life.
In the showers in Denmark, one knob controls the water pressure and the other is hot/cold, which is a pretty reasonable way to do it. Fortunately, our hostess, a fellow American, let us know about it right away. And by the time we were presented with an “eco toilet” in Sweden, we’d learned our lesson. “Yeah, we’re going to need some instructions on how to use this toilet.”
This weekend Israel told me, “You’re just as Mexican as I am!” as I was elbowing him and pestering him to speak with the Mexican family next to us at a tourist spot here in DC (he could tell they were Mexican by their accent). His point, other than that I’m obnoxious, was that I can speak Spanish well enough to chat with them, if I really wanted to. Overstatement of the week, but I appreciated it.
It’s absurd to claim that I’m as Mexican as he is, but, since my husband was born there, our daughter is Mexican American and learning Spanish, and I now share a last name with a taco company, I’m getting to be comfortable enough to legitimately claim Mexico as my own, kind of.
I should’ve known that I was born to become Mexican because of my lifelong love of dresses like this:
Oh so comfortable, yet festive for summer soirees.
Disclosure statement: Growing up, I got these dresses from my dad’s family in Texas. My family is far more likely to wear them than anyone in my husband’s family! Never seen mi suegra wear something like this. She’s a New Yorker, man. Nuances and stereotypes, hereby acknowledged.
By now, I’ve traveled to Mexico three times: to Valle de Bravo and Mexico City for our honeymoon, to Cabo San Lucas for my sister-in-law Ruth’s wedding last August, and recently to Cholula. Each time my confidence increases, and so does my love for the country and people.
Our honeymoon was wonderful, of course, but as far as language goes, I stayed in the shadows and let Israel be my personal translator (much as it didn’t help me at times!). On the day we met a lot of his aunts, uncles, and cousins, the best I could do was just try to keep smiling.
The trip for Ruth’s wedding was a turning point for me. With slightly improved Spanish, I was able to order things and chat a little bit more, plus I could say mi esposo es mexicano [my husband is Mexican], and that we were there for la boda de mi cuñada [my sister-in-law's wedding]. I was claiming ownership and family connections. Plus, we had an adorable baby with us—great ice breaker. Plus, we were in Cabo, tourist area to the max, where most Mexicans speak English, and those in the service industry are trained to be friendly and helpful to tourists and to politely affirm our language skillz.
Plus, the spot was breathtaking, and the occasion was joyful:
All the men wore guayaberas to the wedding ceremony. It was an awesome look for the whole group, and so cool and comfortable for the summer. Now I sometimes wear Israel’s, belted with skinny jeans or leggings.
We would love to continue traveling regularly to Mexico. I’ve gained so much confidence during these few trips. We hope Mary Tobin and any futures niños of ours not only will feel comfortable with the language but also will have a sense of rootedness and connection, or at the least, familiarity, with Mexico. (Don’t worry, y’all; we still love ‘Merica.)
As I’ve thought back through some of the trips that I want to post about, there are quite a few in addition to Mexico: Paraguay; Chile; Copenhagen; Oxford, MS; Austin, TX . . . it’s almost embarrassing and feels excessive. I acknowledge that we’re privileged to be able to travel like this. But also as I review, none of the aforementioned were on a lark or solely for our personal exploration, though certainly that could be wonderful. Behind all the trips were people and reasons. Business, elections, dear friends living far away, weddings. (I guess we feel obligated to attend our siblings’ weddings; not a huge bummer when they take place in an awesome location.)
Travel is a decision to use resources now instead of saving or obtaining something else more practical. You’re making a bet that the experience will prove to be worthwhile. I don’t think we’ll regret our choices to invest time and money in these trips. I hope we’ve done it in a wise way—researching and finding good values, staying with friends, combining business and pleasure, using credit card points. Plus, no additional plane ticket for Mary Tobin while she’s under two! We’re feeling pressure to seize the day as that clock ticks down . . .
Even after getting creative and doing our best to find the best value, travel is costly. But when there are loved ones involved, in my experience, it’s always been worth it. (And after you travel with people, it’s likely they’ll become loved ones if they weren’t before—that, or you’ll terminate the relationship!)
How do you make those decisions? What’s your travel philosophy? Also, let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to attempt to answer, about Mexico, traveling with or without baby, my daring fashion choices, etc.
Vaya con Dios!
Here are some shots of Mary Tobin and her dear abuela from a few weeks ago, when we made our first trip to Cholula, Mexico where my suegros [in-laws] have a house.
Cholula indeed was beautiful, and full of the bright colors that I love. In these pictures outside of Santa Maria Tonantzintla on our first day there, we asked “Donde esta Mary Tobin?” or “Where’s Mary Tobin?” to get her to smile and be playful for the camera.
“Dientes?” “Teeth?”—another of my photo tricks.
Thinking . . .
There she is!
By the end of the week, all she would’ve needed to smile was to see Abuela. They were best buds. Abuela taught her to wipe her nose and throw away the tissues, waving bye-bye boogies and/or adios, moquitos! They smelled socks (don’t ask), played with osito [bear], and dissolved into fits of giggles in the early mornings.
I’m planning some posts for the coming weeks with pictures, stories, tips, etc. from our Cholula trip, as well as some of our recent and not so recent travels that I never got around to blogging. So check back if you’re interested.
Hope your weekend is bright and beautiful! I anticipate Mary Tobin will go bonkers with excitement this weekend: Tia Raquel is coming to town, and tomorrow we’re going to the zoo [!!!!].
Babies are more important than dogs. Sorry, Neely!
A couple of my gals have had sweet new babies recently. So exciting! Like just about everybody, I love finding out the names parents have chosen for their children. What a profound privilege.
Celebrating the arrival of our newest neighbor Hudson.
Lots of tips for baby’s first year, I realized, are just as much about helping the parent adjust as they are about the baby’s wellbeing, and this is one:
Use the baby’s name. I read that simple piece of advice somewhere, and it became quite profound for me. Don’t call her The Baby. It’s too easy then, to think of her the same way you’d think about your dog, or some other obligation or chore. “We’ve got to get home so the baby can nap.” (Sounds like: “We’ve got to get home to walk the dog.”) Instead of I’ve got to feed the baby, try I’m going to feed Mary Tobin.
Surely the child learns his own name and develops a sense of security as he hears it lovingly spoken. But I’d argue it’s more for Mom and Dad. New parents are going to be significantly inconvenienced by this new baby. (I hope you knew that already. You did sign up for it.) I knew it, of course, but it’s one thing to know, and another to adjust and to bring your heart, and body, alongside your mind to accept and embrace the responsibility. Calling Mary Tobin Mary Tobin, the name we chose with so much love, was a subtle reminder that she is a person! Just like me and you! She has needs and she’s real. She’s not a doll, a pet, or a project, but a life and a dear girl.
Names. So much could be written about their significance. For me using Mary Tobin’s name was a weapon against bitterness and discouragement in the early days of motherhood. You’ll still feel bitter and discouraged at times, but you’ll have an advantage from daily reminding yourself that your baby is a person who should not be dehumanized or objectified.
Elizabeth’s son John Bernard IV, AKA Bear. Bernard means “brave as a bear.” How awesome is that name?
My friend Elizabeth built up my ego during her pregnancy by asking my advice on various matters. We agreed that in some ways it’s easier to learn from the experiences of our peers than from the advice of seasoned mamas and grandmothers (not to mention mothers-in-law!). Perhaps because of the distance of years, the veteran moms can make it sound so easy. There’s less pressure with advice from friends your own age: you can take it or leave it, since we’re just rookies trying stuff out. (Example: Elizabeth took my suggestion to rub one’s belly with olive oil to avoid stretch marks, but one-upped me by buying something actually made for the purpose.) Above all I think you can feel the sympathy factor in a very real way with other new moms; it feels like we’re in it together. And by sympathy, perhaps I mean a palpable sense of shared desperation!
All that to say! While helpful for her, I hope, Elizabeth’s openness to my thoughts about what I did during pregnancy and Mary Tobin’s first year was really encouraging to me. I got to think about what helped me most and what I’d like to hold on to for the future. Once I began brainstorming, she was so patient and kind as I called and emailed with all sorts of tips, and did not cut me off when I sent random text messages that began “unsolicited advice #8 million” and ended “sorry I’m so annoying!!!”
Besides using the name, my other favorite tip (from Mama Rote, of course) was to put up my feet whenever I could when pregnant. Also, drink lots of water. And stock the fridge with cut pineapple, watermelon, or something else that will make you feel good. What baby advice has been helpful to you—profound or otherwise?
These videos are not to be missed:
One unashamedly embracing masculinity; one so confident, he’s redefining the concept. Both so hot.
UPDATE: John’s featured on Esquire’s Style Blog. No big deal. Oh yes, those are the Rote thighs, alright.
When you’re relaxing Sunday night after the Easter feasting is over, you want to watch something uplifting, not a particularly dark episode of Mad Men like we did last year. (I love the show, and I can handle heavy viewing. Just not appropriate for Easter, you understand.)
You want something to make you cry with joy. You want to see redemption, to see the good triumph—bursting forth in glorious day, as the hymn goes.
A handful of suggestions:
- Chariots of Fire
- The Sound of Music
- Les Miserables
- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
What would you add to the list? (Sorry I don’t have one about JC. In this post about movies for Lent, Steven Greydanus recommends kid-friendly The Miracle Maker, which I haven’t seen.)
P.S. Here’s some beautiful Easter egg hunt inspiration! Have a wonderful weekend!