Frame Your Story

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Not my house. Obviously.

If you’re not impressed by cheap inexpensive affordable art, I’ve got a couple of higher end recommendations, both on my wish list.

First: frames by Saw & Mitre. Earlier this year my friend’s husband resigned from his corporate job to start his own business, combining his two passions for photography and working with his hands. (“He was a carpenter, and I just figured if you’re going to follow in someone’s footsteps, who better than Christ?” Name that movie!)

Order from Saw & Mitre Frame Co., and Dave will create a beautiful, gallery quality frame to display your photo. And it will last forever, so you can switch out photos in the future—just like an art gallery!—if, say, your photog skills improve and/or your decor needs a change.

We got to chat with Dave at a friend’s wedding recently, and it was so interesting and inspiring to hear how the business is going. Already he’s connecting with some of his photography heroes, learning, and adding to the products and services Saw & Mitre offers. I asked him if my iPhone/instagram pictures would be good enough for these frames. I don’t think he answered directly (very diplomatic) . . . but he is offering wood and metal frames in smaller square sizes now!

I’m not much of a photographer, but I love following Dave’s story on his blog, and I really love the Saw & Mitre instagram account, which is inspiring on the regular. This one really got me, along with Dave’s question: “How will my grandchildren discover and see photos of me when I’m long gone? Will it be a Google Image search? Will they find an old hard drive that (hopefully) still works? I sure hope not. #printyourwork” How right he is.

Second: textiles from St. Frank. An acquaintance from college is the dynamo behind this lovely company that sells beautiful framed textiles (and now pillows!) made by artisans around the world. Of course, my favorite would be the Otomi from Mexico . . . too bad Christina didn’t have the advantage of Mama Ortega’s bargaining!

It’s really fun to look through their Tastemakers posts and Collectors pictures to see the art in place in stunning, fabulous rooms. Also, if you’re needing more Pinterest inspiration, check out their account. My favorite board is Global Chic. Or Salon Walls. OK, also, shout outs to St. Frank’s Passport to Mexico, and Saintly Blue and White. Just check it all out.

You are dismissed. Go find something beautiful in your day.

(Not sponsored; just love ‘em.)

P.S. The story of acquiring Otomi for the girls’ room here at the end of the post; and if I were forced to choose, maybe I’d use one of the photos from here or here in a Saw & Mitre frame.

P.P.S. Two of soccer’s most iconic photographs.

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)

Cholula Churches

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Happy birthday, Mexico! Actually, I’m not 100% clear on the history behind Mexico’s September 16 independence day . . . I do know that it involved a priest-rebel yelling the “grito” on the night of September 15 . . .

Whatever the case, I think you should eat tacos (or one of the authentic recipes here) and drink margaritas this weekend!

The holiday reminded me to post some of the pretty pics from our trip to Cholula, though months have passed. Mama Rote, who was also on the trip, focused her photo efforts on the beautiful churches in Cholula (as well as the neighboring city Puebla), of which there are hundreds. Neither of us is big into photography (Can you tell from my cell phone pics on this blog? Sorry.), so I thought she was rather brilliant to narrow her scope in such an artsy photojournalist-ic way, specifically on the church towers against the sky.

All of these were taken with her phone—unedited!:

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It’s such an incredibly beautiful place, as you can see. Thanks, Mama Rote for your (phone!) photo essay.

Our trip to Cholula fell during Holy Week, which was a great time to visit, aside from the strange bank hours. As I mentioned, Cholula (actually two cities: San Pedro Cholula and San Andres Cholula) is known for its churches. When the Spanish took over the existing native city, they built churches on each and every pagan temple or worship site, and of course that was a lot, since there were deities for rain, sun, various animals, etc. Legend holds that there are 365 churches, one for each day of the year.

Over and over I wished we had a personal art history and/or religion professor to give more details on a certain church, how they were used since sometimes they were just a block away from one another, and a thousand other questions about the special displays for Holy Week. But I had to let it go and just take everything in. I did ask a guy in one of the churches what the fresh fruit hanging from the ceiling meant. Good Spanish practice, but not great for finding more information.

me: Hi. Do you speak English?
guy: No.
me: Why is there fruit in the church?
guy: For Holy Week.
me: OK. . . But, I don’t understand. I’m from the United States. In our churches, we don’t have fruit for Holy Week. The fruit means new life?
guy: Yes.
me: OK. Thanks for your help.

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The two required churches to visit in Cholula are Santa Maria Tonantzintla (where these pics of Mary Tobin and Abuela came from), with crazy syncretic decor covering the inside; and San Francisco Acatapec, with gorgeous gorgeous talavera tile covering the outside.

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That one was my favorite. The most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. We took pictures, but they don’t convey how overwhelmingly breathtaking it was. (No pictures allowed inside Santa Maria Tonantzintla, but you can learn more about both churches here.)

Which photo is your favorite? I love the yellow one at the top of the post, and the nighttime shot.

P.S. We considered it, but are not naming our daughter Cholula. (Or Sriracha, or Chauffeur, my brothers’ suggestions.)

Secretos de Belleza [Beauty Secrets]

Gracia y Paz mujeres

Awhile back, the ladies of Gracia y Paz got together to eat, chat, and have some serious talk about the beauty that comes from within.

It’s at these gatherings where my Spanish comprehension is truly tested, as we sit around a table discussing something, then heads turn to me and I’m expected to contribute. I hope that I’ve been keeping up correctly and that my comment is relevant, and that the lady next to me didn’t just say the exact same thing. (In case you’re wondering, I listen to them speaking Spanish, then make my comments in English. Just to change things up and keep everyone on their toes.)

After covering the inner beauty stuff, we took turns spilling our personal [outward] beauty secrets. We chatted about makeup routines; working out (use something like this); how to curl your eyelashes using a spoon; and eliminating blackheads using a homemade face scrub (honey, brown sugar, a couple drops of lemon). In the “I’d never thought of that as a beauty secret” department, someone who shall remain nameless brought her OB-GYN’s business cards for all of us.

My secrets: drink a lot of water, try to get a lot of sleep. I also brought a bunch of Crest White Strips to pass around. That beauty secret doesn’t belong to me, but to someone else in the Ortega household. (And, no, Mary Tobin currently has six teeth and does not use Crest White Strips.)

I just love hearing tips, for beauty or otherwise. I think the human mind is more open to new information if it comes in the form of a tip. They’re yummy little nuggets that promise big results from little effort. Does this love of tips apply to all people, just women, just me, or just anyone who reads Oprah Magazine?

Alright, spill your guts! What are your beauty secrets? (And, thank you for any leads on good OB-GYNs!)

P.S. After I added the pictures above, I have to say: are these women not some of the most beautiful around? Their faces are RADIANT. It’s a privilege to hear their beauty tips, and to call them hermanas. This is not a serious post, but I was on the verge of tears!

P.P.S. For the Gracia y Paz women’s gathering this month, I agreed to come up with a Valentine’s Day-related activity. Any suggestions? I’m scouring pinterest . . .

Fishmael Part II, or How To Choose Fantastic Souvenirs

Shopping in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

The people spoke, so Fishmael will stay for autumn! Bostonians drink water all year, apparently, and “being awesome never goes out of season.”

Clearly, the gurgling cod was a good choice. I hope we’ll use it him during dinner parties for years and years; he’s fun yet fancy; he says glug glug; he will always remind us of the trip we took when I was pregnant with Mary Tobin. All in all, a fantastic souvenir.

I’m not necessarily qualified to give retail advice, except that I love stuff too much so I’ve had to become more selective to combat my hoarder tendencies. Since I was young, when I see a collection, I feel I need every piece. (Ahem, American Girl dolls.) No one could accuse me of being a minimalist.

I’ve gotten better at thinking through what I really need and/or want, and I try to choose carefully, with the goal of only surrounding myself with things I really do like. (Not just things that I got because they happened to be there.)

When it comes to souvenirs, what’s worth buying and why? Here’s the rubric I’ve come up with for choosing a little goody to commemorate your trip to a great place. (Similar but different from my brother’s old dating philosophy: Smart, pretty, sane. Pick two.) For souvenirs, try to find something that’s all three:

  • beautiful
  • useful
  • representative

Beautiful. Ask yourself, would I want this in my house if it wasn’t a souvenir? A gurgling cod? Of course! Timeless. And I love the blue and white pottery from our honeymoon to Mexico. I’d buy it in a store today. Please don’t get something just because you feel like you have to.

Useful. What’s something you’ll always need and use? Think housewares, clothes, etc.  My best example is our comfy blanket from Paraguay, in classic white. (I admire my own restraint! That’s another tip: don’t get carried away by your exotic locale and buy a multicolor tapestry that’s going to look crazy in your house.) I still wear the earrings I got in Rome and Chile. Be careful about clothes though. My epic fail in this area was the gladiator-style disc belt I bought in Cardiff, Wales. Useful in theory, but fails in the beautiful/representative categories. Ridiculous looking. Forced it. Never wore it.

Representative. Will your souvenir be a good reflection of the place? Are they known for that type of thing? Don’t buy a sweatshirt that says St. Thomas USVI; get a nice big beach towel instead. When I studied abroad one summer in Oxford, my splurge was a nice rugby shirt in the colors of University College where I stayed. Now I love to get cozy in that thing on cool days, and remember the big park behind Univ, eating brie and apples, the school boys walking by in their uniforms, the chapel bells tolling the hour. Had I purchased a bathing suit in Oxford, however, that would not be representative.

What do you think of my system? Can you add or comment? Please share your souvenir triumphs and failures!

Kathleen: It happened in Spain. People do really stupid things in foreign countries.

Frank: Absolutely! They buy leather jackets for much more than they’re worth, but they don’t fall in love with fascist dictators.

-Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail, 1998