Viernes Santo [Good Friday]

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Last year on Good Friday, we were enjoying our last day in Cholula, so I wanted to share some pictures from the amazing procession that town holds every year to commemorate the Stations of the Cross. I don’t have the most accurate information about this tradition; I’ll just tell you about what I saw and share the pictures, which will not do it justice. Sincerely, I tell you, this was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I found it incredibly moving.

We woke up early with Mary Tobin and went ahead into the centro (town square) to claim our spot at the hotel restaurant where we’d already brunched twice that week—once to meet up with aunts, uncles, and cousins, and another time so that my mom could eat their chilaquiles. It was the perfect position along the colonnades from which to view the procession we’d heard so much about.

On our walk to breakfast, we saw this on one of the side streets:

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What in the world?

It was a chilly morning, and these people had clearly been there for awhile. After having swept the streets perfectly clean, they were working with huge stencils and buckets of what, upon closer inspection, we discovered were colorful wood chips.

(I love the picture above because of the little boy helping.)

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Further down the road, it appeared, another group of people were working on another section of the street. I was so curious!

We went on to our spot at the restaurant along the colonnade, and had to sneak around this to get there (apparently this section had been done at night or super early that morning):

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By the way, everyone respected the streets once the design had been laid, and didn’t step a foot on them until the procession came through.

We ate breakfast and made it a leisurely one so we could keep our spot and just hang out at our table until lunch time. (Thanks to a determined Abuela and a cute Mary Tobin the waiters were happy to oblige.) After a few bites I dashed out because I wanted to figure out what the deal was with this procession and all the street art. By that time we’d caught a few glimpses of the procession as it wound around the streets a few blocks further out from the centro. So I went around the corner on the opposite end of the colonnade, where we hadn’t passed by earlier, and I saw this:

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Another street full of people working! And on this one, it wasn’t one design repeated with the same stencil and colors, but they were busy with individual squares of separate works of wood chip sacred art—some very intricate and impressive.

(By the way, this was a little funny because the parade had clearly already started and they were racing against the clock. I asked one older lady when the procession was coming, and she answered half an hour. This also marked the peak of my Spanish speaking skills! Like, the best in my entire life! And, considering the day, it may have just been the Holy Spirit.)

Here are some of the designs:

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This was my favorite:

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“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Witnessing all of it made me nearly burst with questions: how long have they been doing this? Who decides who decorates which street? Are different parishes responsible for different parts? Is it the same every year? Do the artists jockey for prime real estate? (You could write a great little story or screen play about the old ladies competing with each other . . .) And where do all the wood shavings come from? But, as I wrote about here, there were a lot of Holy Week happenings whose meaning we had no clue about, so by this time I’d decided not to worry about the not knowing, and just enjoy.

I don’t know if you can tell in the pictures how beautiful all this was. I was moved on so many levels (and FYI, I was not pregnant at this time)—all the young and old, men, women, and children, working diligently and carefully, making the streets pristine, creating individual works of art that were powerful alone but breathtaking collectively. They were creating something huge and beautiful, pictures that would exist for half an hour, only to be trampled by the feet of the faithful and carried away in the wind.

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I found the procession itself a little on the kitschy side for an American sensibility, though it was still inspiring to see all the people out for this event. The procession stopped at different spots for each of the 14 stations and read the corresponding scripture passages. (Presumably! Again, I’m sure I didn’t know half of what was going on.)

As I think back on it, the language barrier and the not knowing was actually freeing. In our young family, we have traditions and rituals just starting, and it’s not important (or possible) for Mary Tobin to understand and articulate why we do certain things. And yet she senses that something is special—lighting candles (she LOVES), wearing a new dress for Easter this Sunday. In the first world, intellectual understanding usually trumps the physical, sensory side of worship and faith. But it’s that side of it that teaches us that some beautiful and mysterious celebration is taking place, even when we don’t quite understand.

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I mean, WOW. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We will all be in Memphis this year for Easter, and Mary Tobin will be wearing a new dress, sewn with love by Mama Rote (and in true second child fashion, Inez will wear one of MT’s old ones, once we locate it!). Wherever you are this weekend—geographically or spiritually!— I hope you’ll be be able to slow your racing mind and simply feel the beauty of the celebration.

Venid a mí todos los que estáis trabajados y cargados, y yo os haré descansar. (Mateo 11:28)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

An Outpouring of Support

I appreciate all the encouraging words after my online revelation—not about postpartum depression, but about JEAN JACKETS being back.

(Also sincerely loved hearing others’ thoughts on PPD. Thank you!! Perhaps more on that later.)

Did you know, and I’m sure you did, that jean jackets are IN? I’ve been determined to wear my ol’ J. Crew standard, circa 1998, this spring. If I’m successful, my pack rat tendencies will be dangerously affirmed. Israel and I are having a little feud over it, so I posted a couple instagram pics.

And people were not shy about weighing in. Aside from Israel himself, who helpfully commented, “Debbie Gibson called. She wants her jacket back,” all were in favor of the denim.

My brother sent me this classic:


(There’s no way that’s anything but a gesture of support.)

Mama Rote and Aunt Kace also followed with pictures of Reese Witherspoon and Carrie Ann Inaba.

I may be tired, but this is one project I felt up to tackling. Here’s my inspiration board on Pinterest of jean jacket looks such as these:

There’s no question that I’m right, that jean jackets are more than acceptable for spring 2014. The question for me is whether it’s worth the effort to pull it off. I’d love to reduce my wardrobe to the proverbial 10% that gets worn 90% of the time—only the items that are easy to wear, that I love and feel great in. So this experiment will determine whether the jean jacket becomes a go-to in my closet, or if it will be relegated to the archives at Mama Rote’s house.

(No, getting rid of it is not an option. MT and Inez will thank me for the vintage jacket down the road. Or they’ll use it for a costume. Or they’ll laugh. Their dad is already laughing.)

How do you wear your jean jacket? Please tell me you have one.

P.S. I know it’s painfully obvious, but I’m not a fashion maven, and FYI, this denim jacket renaissance is over two years old. If you’d like to follow a legit fashion blog, check out District of Chic, featuring a DC friend of ours who is both lovely and badass. How does she do it?

P.P.S. Mijin is a fashion icon.

‘Round Here

Remember when I talked about posting more often? Haha. Ha.

Not that you care.

Today, I’ll tell you, the infant stage is not my favorite, though it’s precious. I feel tired. Shocker. Even when my mom visited us for a week and did all the work and the cooking, I still felt tired. While she was here, I was working on a post about sleep routines and tricks . . . not for babies, but for me! I had written a lot of disjointed sentences, and stared at them thinking I’d now be able to reorder and weave them together logically like I’d do when writing a paper in college, but—no good. Lesson: Obviously I wasn’t sleeping as well as I thought and should’ve been napping at that moment.

Anyway, it was nice to look at this picture of Mama Rote and me back in the day:

Christmas mom and baby Josie

which called to mind this picture of Mary Tobin and me from the fall:

which reminded me that this is merely a stage and everyone’s going to grow up.

I had my six week postpartum check up (actually at eight weeks because I failed to make the appointment on time) where the midwife and I talked for awhile about postpartum depression. I was surprised that she said 80% of mothers get it (at some point and to some degree)— it’s wildly undiagnosed and untreated. (From a quick google search, maybe it’s that 80% of moms have baby blues, which goes away two weeks or so after birth. Whatever the case, her point remains.) My assignment on that score was to walk outside in the sunshine for at least half an hour each day to help my Vitamin D levels.

My friend Anna Kate wrote about postpartum depression awhile ago, and I thought I’d chime in too, to help battle the stigma. (Tell the stories!) For me, pregnancy through now—Inez is almost three months old—has felt like one big extended PMS: I cry easily, am extra irritable, have more “down days” than usual, have moments when I really feel like I can’t do it. But I’m never to the point of wanting to harm myself or my family, which is why I think this subject is so tricky, so often undiagnosed and untreated. I know that I’m not feeling 100%, but I don’t know where the line is between normal tiredness and true depression.

Wherever you might be on that spectrum, for anyone feeling down (winter blues! hello!), I thought the acrostic NURSE on the postpartum depression info sheet was helpful:

  • Nutrition (Stop eating garbage. Have a glass of water.)
  • Understanding (Acknowledge how you’re feeling; have supportive people around you.)
  • Rest (Easier said than did.)
  • Spirituality (Take deep breaths; connect to God/your higher power.)
  • Exercise (Ummm, sure.)

So, to sum up, I don’t have answers. The above list won’t solve everything; excellent medications are also available. Talk with someone and try to figure it out. But right now, at least, this gray area is my story and I’m sticking to it.

If you’re blue these days, I’m wishing tons of laughter and endorphins your way! Take care of yourself. xo

Hold the phone.

In a severe case of bad parenting, I’m going to share this with you. Just now I was going through emails and noticed the pictures I sent my mom of Inez at about one month old. This one, with the sweet inquisitive expression, I knew reminded me of someone when I took it. I thought it was an actor from an old movie. photo 1

When I saw the picture again today it hit me. After all, I’d spent a bit of time searching through Pinterest for stills from the movies in yesterday’s post, so it was fresh in my mind. Osgood!

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Osgood Fielding III. He’s got the movie’s best line: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Some Like It Hot (1959)

It’s OK! All newborns look like old men! She’s getting cuter and cuter every day. We love you, baby Nessie.

Movies to Make You Smile

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If you’re in the mood for old movies, here are three that you’ll love (or you should).

Recommending these reminds me of my parents’ friend who took them to his favorite Tex Mex place in Dallas. “Order the chicken enchiladas. They are the best; you can’t go wrong.”

When my mom asked about alternatives in case she didn’t like the enchiladas, he said, “Oh don’t worry. If you don’t like them, I’ll eat them.”

“If you eat my chicken enchiladas, then what will I eat?” she responded. He stopped. “Oh. Well, if you don’t like the chicken enchiladas, you don’t deserve to eat.”

So, no apologies here. If you don’t like these movies, there’s something wrong with you. I don’t feel bad at all. Here they are:

It Happened One Night

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In this precursor to Roman Holiday, Clark Gable is a reporter who, in order to get the scoop, helps a young socialite (Claudette Colbert) run from her life of privilege. (They may or may not fall in love.) You get to see Clark Gable’s abs—shocking!—in a move that allegedly hurt the undershirt business for years, as well as the famous scene where Claudette Colbert stops a car by showing a little leg.

My Man Godfrey

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William Powell and Carole Lombard make an unlikely pair. She finds him, a bum on the street, in order to win a New York society scavenger hunt, and subsequently hires him as her family’s butler. (They may or may not fall in love.) The mom in this one cracks me up.

Some Like It Hot

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Jack Lemmon makes the most hilarious faces. Out of desperation, he and Tony Curtis disguise themselves as members of an all-female band, where they meet Marilyn Monroe’s character Sugar. (People may or may not fall in love, and that’s the funniest part. That, and the cross dressing.)

Bonus fact: My husband wants me to point out that the mafia execution that Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon) witness in Chicago before joining the all-girl band is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Therefore, if you’re a little weird like us and like to coordinate the movies you watch with the season, go ahead and watch this one now, in late February.

All three movies appear on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 comedies, With Some Like It Hot taking the top spot. (Some Like It Hot and It Happened One Night are also on the general top 100 movies list, and It Happened One Night makes the list of top romantic movies.) All three make me laugh out loud.

Mr. Jefferson and Lifelong Learning

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I hope you all enjoyed a nice long weekend thanks to President’s Day!

I’m contractually obligated, since I attended the University of Virginia, to claim Thomas Jefferson as my favorite president. Did you know that Jefferson didn’t list his presidential status on his gravestone? Instead it proclaims his two proudest accomplishments: writer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia.

UVa students are indoctrinated in both subtle and direct ways to revere the man simply, affectionately, and respectfully known as Mr. Jefferson. The brainwashing hit home my first year when I was in the AFC (Aquatic and Fitness Center), a huge, sleek, state of the art facility, where a Jefferson quote was etched into a granite slab: “Give about two [hours] every day to exercise . . . “ My internal monologue went “OK, yes. How will I find those two hours? I really need to hit the gym more. ::record scratch:: Whoa, wait. I’m treating TJ’s words like holy script here. ::shakes head like cartoon:: Give it a little more critical thought, Jos.” (On the other hand, as this blogger points out, who am I not to take Teej’s advice about the two hour walk?)

Despite my coerced fondness for Mr. Jefferson, I could stand to learn more about him. One thing I know I’d like to embrace was his devotion to lifelong learning. That’s why at The University we were known as First Years instead of freshman, all the way up to Fourth Years instead of seniors—because no one is senior to another in learning.

In that spirit, you can take a bona fide University course about our illustrious third president, online and free, called The Age of Jefferson. It’s a massive open online course (or MOOC–catchy!) that you can access through Coursera or iTunes. No grades, but you can get a certificate. There was a writeup in the Washington Post this weekend.

Back in the day, I took a class with the course’s professor, Peter Onuf, called “American Wests” (yes, Wests was plural, because we were complex thinkers). Professor Onuf was a fabulously mustachioed Wyatt Earp-like character, but I hate to tell you that I don’t remember very much of the course . . . I do remember that it gave my friend Scott and me the unshakeable urge to watch Legends of the Fall. So we did. And it was worthwhile.

Myself, I’m not going to enroll in the MOOC, because I know that Age of Jefferson is not one of my priorities these days. But I love the idea of continuing education. After college, my continuing ed has consisted of an interior design class through Corcoran (loved it, use it), and a more ad-hoc effort to learn Spanish—a combination of travel, relationships, Rosetta Stone, children’s books, and one actual class I got through a Groupon. Not surprisingly, an actual class with an actual instructor provided some very helpful structure and motivation, and it was where I improved the quickest (though I already had a foundation through the other means).

I’m not an expert, but I think the higher education bubble will burst in the mid-range future, and these online and individual courses will be much more prevalent and available. Overall, I think that’s good news. Even until then, a motivated individual could learn more than I did to acquire my degree by heading to the library. And so, only one question will remain for the new democratic and decentralized education system to take hold fully: how ever will we replace interaction with fabulously mustachioed professors?

To Love At All

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To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

-CS Lewis, The Four Loves

This week I burst into tears after a frantic google search reminded me that Inez was born with a Mongolian spot on her back, that she did not actually have a mysterious, massive bruise on her behind and need platelet levels checked. (The midwife had talked to me about the spot after she was born, I realized once I found the wikipedia page. She told me it is common with Hispanic babies and might appear to be bruising, and I had nodded and said ok, and promptly moved it to an inaccessible part of my brain.)

One thing I noticed—I didn’t cry when I thought something was wrong, when I was internally panicking a bit, but I only cried once the relief came flooding in and I could breathe, once I realized how tense my shoulders had been as I typed and tried to talk myself down from the worst case scenario.

It reminded me of a quote that I’d heard about having children: “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” That resonates big time with me. I know I’ll only continue to learn that loving my babies is all about letting them go.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems that loving my spouse is the opposite—not letting go but leaning in. Cheryl Sandberg, write a book about that! Loving him is not so natural as loving the babies who were literally part of me and who carry my traits. The girls could never be rid of me. The thing is, they also carry traits of the one I chose. He’s the one who is not bound by blood but by decision. Israel, let’s decide to love each other each day. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Pre-marital counseling and all the baby books exhorted us to keep our relationship as the priority for a healthy family, rather than focusing only on the kids. I’d love to hear your experience and wisdom on this! Please share, and please know I’m grateful for you, very dear readers, this Valentine’s Day. Mil besos.

¡Mexican Hot Chocolate!

Out my window it’s snowing, so I thought I’d share an idea to spice up your love life, or at least your taste buds, while you do or do not cuddle with your honey this Valentine’s weekend—up to you.

Amigos, you know that I’m a wannabe Mexican these days, and I’ve loved learning about different Mexican traditions that we can incorporate into our familia. (Henceforward please imagine me saying any Spanish words with an over the top accent like an obnoxious newscaster. Comprende?)

One thing I LOVE about Mexico is café de olla—literally translated, jar or pot coffee. It is delicious on its own, requiring no extra sugar, cream, nada. It’s made in earthenware clay pots, and the flavor is coffee with some brown sugar, cinnamon, and—I just learned—orange zest.

The best place to get it is at a side of the road place on the huge highway into Mexico City. Guys, I have no expertise on this. When we were on our honeymoon, Tio Manuel pulled up at the place on the side of the road. You want a place that’s really cold, enough that you don’t take off your jacket. And you want a place where the abuela is sitting in the back room, pretty clearly visible from the “restaurant section,” watching either her “stories” or a futbol match.

You may not have a Tio Manuel to hook you up like that. In DC, we’ve had café de olla at Oyamel, and highly recommend it. (Overall Oyamel is pricier, but authentic, Mexican food—suegra approved!)

So, the way I Americanize those flavors and call them my own is not with coffee, but by making Mexican hot chocolate to keep around and give people at Christmas. My recipe for a big batch of Mexican hot chocolate is below, but you could try adding cinnamon and a tad of chili powder to your regular hot chocolate. Another good option is the Abuelita brand of hot chocolate (which Pioneer Woman wrote about here), probably available at your grocery store and certainly at your local tienda And here is a recipe I haven’t tried for the coffee—could be an important cultural project for a snow day.

Stay cozy and spicy! ¡Adios! ¡Olé! ¡Vaya con Dios! And . . . time to quit.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

To make 4+ servings of powder mix (or for a big batch, 30+, measurements are in parentheses), mix together:

5 tablespoons sugar (2.5 cups)

2 tablespoons brown sugar (1 cup)

2 tablespoons (heaping) cocoa (1+ cup)

2 teaspoons cinnamon (1/3 cup)

1/4 teaspoon chili powder (2 teaspoons)

1/8 teaspoon salt (1 teaspoon)

Optional: To add vanilla flavor, I sometimes include chocolate chips that I soaked in vanilla extract. Or you could add a drop or two of vanilla when you heat your milk.

For one serving: heat one cup of milk on stove top. At any time, add two big spoonfuls of mix and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat as soon as milk simmers. Serve and enjoy! ¡Buen provecho!

Mommy Blogging: In or Out?

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I posted several times last week, as you can tell. Don’t take any bets on how long I can keep it up! I always have “write more” on a mental to-do list, but it’s normally the first thing that gets nixed. I believe it gives me energy (here’s a helpful post on that topic, and on balancing your own versus your family’s needs, specifically for moms). So I’m conducting an experiment in self-care by trying to write and post more frequently, to see if it actually is as “life-giving”/energy-giving/zen buddha-inducing as my wishful thinking suggests.

But what to write about? Israel just sent me this piece, “Why I’ll Never Be A Mommy Blogger,” by one of his coworkers. Bethany loves writing and just had a baby, but doesn’t want to record the whole thing for the world. I expected that she’d list the common privacy and security concerns for her kids, but it was more about a child’s right to his or her own version of childhood.

Bethany lost her mom as a teenager and later found one of her mother’s journals. Get this: she didn’t read it.

When I found my mother’s diary, and immediately closed it, I did so because I wanted my mother to stay just the way she was in my memory: my mother. I didn’t want to see her as a woman struggling with life and death, depression, dating, and divorce. My mother was never a woman to me, she was a superhero, even though I was always aware of her flaws and shortcomings. While I conceptually realize that my mother was a human being, I don’t want to alter my memories of my childhood to include her personal struggle. Perhaps that’s selfish, but I know that my mother wanted my memories to be built in such a way, and I plan to give my daughter and G-d willing, future children, that same gift. If I had read my mother’s innermost thoughts, either in her diary or if she had maintained a “mommy blog,” that gift would have vanished.

What do you think? Would you have read the diary?

I’m a little more sympathetic than Bethany to the mommy blogging genre. Some “mommy blogs” I enjoy a lot; some are way guilty of the over-share, which brings into the discussion the difference between a diary (for my eyes only) and a public forum like the Internet (sometimes still for my eyes only, but available to all).

Also, since I’m not overly organized about photos, baby books, etc., I admire and am jealous of those moms who are successfully making a scrapbook for their family through their blogs. And I’m thankful Mama Rote is still around, so I have the benefit of her advice and memories. (Truth be told, though, she doesn’t remember what happened to which baby a lot of times. Another mark in favor of record keeping.)

My general feeling is the more stories we can pass along the better—but often privately is better than publicly! What’s your take?

P.S. My advice on how to record memories and be a good mom (tongue in cheek).

Simple Gifts

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‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

- Shaker Hymn by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848

Friday poetry to spur some deep thoughts for your weekend. Truthfully I don’t quite understand this one, which is as poetry should be. I like the feel of it; and I like the idea that simplifying creates space for us to move and grow, even “to bow and to bend” in humility, and ultimately to get where we need to go.

We also needed to counterbalance all the talk of hoarding. My official stance is to throw away your lapel pins.

I came across this poem on Hillary Butler’s site. She’s a lovely Memphis artist you should check out. (Don’t know her personally, but the kids gave one of her pieces to Mama Rote last Mother’s Day. And she’s offering free shipping through today if you’re looking for a valentine for your honey or yourself!)

Other valentine’s gift ideas: yummy chocolates made by nuns! And since most of you, dear readers, are ladies, Israel suggests a nice bottle of Macallan scotch as a gift for your valentine. Guys are straightforward. Simple gifts indeed.

[Here's a beautiful recording of Simple Gifts by Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss for your contemplative pleasure. Have a great weekend!]