Las Posadas, or Making Room

Inez just hanging out with a couple of her closest buds! #nativityscene

A photo posted by izzyortega (@izzyortega) on

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Above: Inez this year; Mary Tobin last year.

Every December our church celebrates Las Posadas, an Advent tradition that migrated from Spain to Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The church we attend in Nashville, St. George’s, is approximately five thousand times whiter than our old one, Gracia y Paz. So I was not expecting to see a Las Posadas sign-up sheet last year. But since I recognized that Las Posadas was a Mexican thing, I felt like it was our duty, as the representative Mexican family in the parish, to volunteer for hosting Mary and Joseph for a night.

Afterward I panicked momentarily that I’d agreed to throw a huge party. In Mexico, Las Posadas begins nine days before Christmas, and there’s a party at a different house each night. In Tomie de Paola’s book set in Santa Fe, the event is a procession with singers, paper lanterns lining the square, and a procession led by Mary and Joseph (actually: María y José), knocking on doors, sometimes rejected, sometimes ignored, hindered by devils (Boo! Hiss! says the crowd). Another sweet book about this tradition is Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico. Whatever the specifics of a locality’s Las Posadas—posada means hotel or inn— it ends with Mary and Joseph finally finding a place at the stable in Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I had not signed up to serve tequila and hot chocolate to the entire congregation. St. George’s Las Posadas is more “flat stanley” than fiesta. It’s a tradition where a family hosts Mary and Joseph—essentially yard art statues—for a night, then passes them along on their journey to the next family, and then they’re ultimately delivered to the church to process down the aisle to the creche on Christmas Eve.

We had our turn hosting the Holy Family on an early December weekend. A couple friends came by the house and I had to explain right away why we had outrageously out-of-proportion nativity figures. We literally had to make room for a place for the Holy Family (JC still in Mary’s belly, I had to explain to Mary Tobin). This got me thinking about the idea of making room during Advent. Sister Angie, in De Paola’s The Night of Las Posadas, talks about “Making room in my heart so the Christ Child can be born.”

How did I make room in my life this December? Some ideas and attempts:

  • Make room in my house
  • Make room in my schedule and my plans. In a word: MARGIN.
  • Make room for . . .
    • people,
    • maybe last minute plans,
    • maybe a need to be filled.
    • Maybe silence that I need.
    • Maybe ABC Family’s new classic The 12 Dates of Christmas.
  • Make room for mystery.

I love that last one. Mystery. The incarnation is history’s greatest mystery, worth pondering every single year. In our Sunday school teacher training for the sweet little [wild] 3 to 6 year olds, we were encouraged to get Socratic on them (my words, and I might not grasp the proper usage). Rather than cleanly tying up a story by issuing the final, correct answers to all questions—as if we could!—instead, we wonder together. I wonder how the shepherds felt? I wonder why God chose Mary, chose Bethlehem? Why did he want to tell the shepherds about it? How did the wisemen know to follow the star? This must have been a very special baby.

I want to get comfortable with the discomfort, the mystery, the not knowing. I want to let go of control and loosen expectations. I want not to be embarrassed by the slightly tacky Marys and Josephs sitting in the living room. I want to clean out the mess and make room for something new to be revealed in the old stories.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Musical Beds (+ Girls’ Room Inspiration!)

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When my oldest brother Will was yet an only child and Dad was traveling a lot, Mom and Will met Dad at the airport, in the days when you could go all the way to the gate to greet incoming passengers. When Will saw Dad walk out of the jetway, he ran up happily and shouted, “Dad, nobody slept in Mom’s bed last night!”

Mama Rote is not a floozy. They’d been working on getting Will to sleep in his own bed all night. Good job, Brother!

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We’ve just gotten through a similar stage with Mary Tobin. She’s always been a champion sleeper and truly is doing great overall. (Please understand, my mom once told someone that I’m a “sleep nazi”—in other words, my standards are very high. I like to get a ton of sleep, so sue me.) Still, Mary Tobin hit a few bumps as several transitions converged . . . moving, new big girl bed, new baby in the family, a bit of potty training, new understanding of the dark and fear . . . who knows. But—knock on wood—getting into our new house with her new room, shared with sister, has helped a lot. I think things have been quieter partly because she’s scared of waking Inez up. Hallelujah.

Tell me, did you share a room with a sibling growing up? I never did because I was the only girl (read: the princess). But I love the idea and think it will be fantastic for them. At least, looking back I think it will be great, and they’ll have to learn to deal with each other in the mean time.

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Unsure about sharing.

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Getting the girls’ room all ready was also a lesson to me that I actually can be a good mover if I can motivate myself. We focused with laser-like precision on unpacking their room first to give these chickadees as smooth a transition as possible. Thanks to pre-painting and curtain hanging by the grandparents, the room was basically good to go the first night.

As we battle the disarray in every other part of the house, I’ve found myself sitting in the girls’ room whenever possible; it’s so peaceful by comparison.

Regarding decorating choices for their room: I’m doing my best to keep it simple, but it’s a struggle. We’ve got some lovely art in there, including the señorita mexicana and some prints from vintage style Mexican calendars. My new favorite is a piece of beautiful Otomi fabric that I’ve been saving for the right spot since I bought it in Mexico, thanks to mi suegra’s bargaining. I had my prices and my Spanish prepared, but after haltingly exchanging a couple of sentences with the vendor my courage failed, so I sent in the big guns: Mama Ortega.

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Let’s call the diaper pail a modern sculptural piece.

As we left the market in Cholula, she told me that the guy was so excited to sell that piece of fabric, and that his mother and sister had worked on it for five months. ¿¿QUE?? I felt immensely guilty for haggling them down (well, Mama Ortega was my bargaining agent) to such a great price for that amount of work. She quickly assured me that the guy was thrilled to sell it, that he’d go home that night and celebrate with his family, that it was quite a big sum of money for them. Phew. I could’ve dealt with colonial angst for a long time.

I love this wall hanging because it’s so charming and Mexican, but instead of the animal Otomi pattern that’s so hot right now, the flowers look like something that my grandmother could’ve had too. (The flowers are poinsettias, which are from Mexico. Did you know that?)

It doubles as a fantastic backdrop for a Father’s Day photo shoot:

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More on kids’ rooms/nurseries:

  • Examples of how to un-obnoxiously use pink in a little girl’s room. (I should be a headline writer! Clickbait!)
  • Lay Baby Lay is still one of my faves for nursery and general design inspiration. Here’s the post where I went a little nuts going through all her inspiration boards.
  • Finally, I’m [somewhat, half-heartedly] trying to follow Nashville designer Rachel Halvorson’s advice to keep it simple in kids’ rooms. This room she designed for twin girls is so lovely, and as she points out, “If you took out the artwork, and a few accessories, you’d still have a neutral palette to work with. And when they come in with their hot pink superman capes and polka dot beach balls?? There’s your pop of color.”

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)

¡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!

Spoiled Rich Kids


The best movie we watched over the holidays was a Mexican import: Nosotros Los Nobles [We The Nobility].

It’s a commentary on the spoiled children of the Mexican elite, who are starting to receive some pushback from everyday Mexicans, as covered in this WSJ article.

They are known in Mexico as “Juniors”—the sons and daughters of the country’s elite, young people whose love of brand names is surpassed only by their sense of entitlement. Juniors grow up to dominate the upper echelons of business and politics. They live behind high walls, travel in private jets and seem utterly untouchable—and out of touch in a country that struggles with poverty and violence.

In Nosotros Los Nobles, the father of three such spoiled brats realizes he’s got to take drastic measures to turn his kids around. Fooled by his elaborate ruse, the Juniors believe that their fortune is lost and have to—gasp—get jobs. As you might imagine, hilarity ensues. It was funny, charming, and thought provoking—what’s your idea of the good life?

Mom was here helping with Inez, and loved the movie too. Once you get used to the subtitles, I think you’ll like it even if you have no interest in Mexico. And if you do have any interest, your entertainment will only be enhanced. We cracked up, for example, when it was revealed that the daughter Barbie’s boyfriend was faking his lispy Spain-Spanish accent. Spoiler alert!—he’s actually from Cholula.

New City East Lake (or, How to Decorate for Interracial Couples!)

On the subject of churches and Spanish speakers, we visited a lovely church when we were in Chattanooga. Friends from Gracia y Paz had told us about New City East Lake, a diverse Presbyterian congregation in Chattanooga’s East Lake neighborhood, which from what I can tell has been over the years mostly white—my mom wondered if it was the same building she went to church in as a little girl; then black; and is now an increasingly Latino neighborhood.

Their building is a beautiful, old, mostly-but-not-fully renovated Methodist Episcopal church, with a simple sanctuary that retains its yellow stained glass windows, lending a beautiful sunny glow to the place. I really liked the atmosphere. (OK, don’t judge me for judging other people, but these were my impressions.) The congregation was majority white, fairly young, with a kind of preppy, southern, but still a bit crunchy feel—which seems like standard Chattanooga to me, and kind of feels like Charlottesville, which may be why I felt so comfortable. But then they had a solid number of black parishioners, numerous interracial couples (holler!), and a sizable group of hispanics, most of whom we learned are Guatemalan. That was the group I was interested in.

Those Spanish speakers used headphones with simultaneous translation (the reverse of our church, where there’s translation into English for the non-Spanish speakers, i.e. me). At various points in the service, Spanish was spoken. When it happened, without warning, I was surprised at how moved I felt . . . that a congregation whose majority did not need it, gave some time for a few people to be able to hear a prayer, a greeting, a song in their “heart language.” I kept my head down and tried to be subtle about dabbing the tears in my eyes.

At such times I wish I had a big name tag explaining, “I’M PREGNANT” to excuse my red face and erratic emotional behavior, and also bad driving. In a sweet way, though, those moments at New City East Lake showed me what a long way I’ve come in identifying with hispanics. Going to our church, I became the minority probably for the first time. The awkwardness and embarrassment that I experience once a week with my fumbling Spanish is what many immigrants face daily, and I respect their courage enormously.

But, what I actually wanted to get to in this post were the visual/design elements I noticed in particular. It seemed like the church consciously chose things to create a welcoming space for all their members, wherever they’re from.

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The first I saw was the cross, which looked to be made of steel or tin (some kind of metal) with candles. It immediately reminded me of the Mexican aesthetic (punched tin, candle altars), though much simpler. You could also argue it as a nod to Chattanooga’s industrial history. Am I over interpreting this?? Amateur art historian alert!

Then, when communion bread was passed, I noticed the lovely simple cloth napkins they used. They have to be Guatemalan, or something, right? Yes, I should’ve been thinking about JC, but I noticed the napkins.

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The baskets for the offering also looked like they had a story. A lot more interesting than stodgy old collection plates, I say.

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I think the vibrant baskets only worked so well because, as a whole, the place was simple and light-filled.

In my mind—again I’m way over-thinking this, probably—it was such a nice combination of design elements. The old reclaimed church, the crisp white interior, a couple punches of color, the simple beautiful cross lit by simple white candles. It was enough to please the crunchiest of yuppies and the freshest of immigrants, not to mention the spanglish-speaking, bright-color-loving, whitest-of-white person that I am.

Have you ever been to a multicultural church, or other group like that? I think it’s hugely challenging to pull off, and the visuals are probably the least of your problems! But symbols and appearance matter, and in this case they seemed to be a reflection of the church’s deeper values and commitments. Visit them if you’re in Chatta-vegas!


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.)

Naming the Princess

Not to be outdone, Israel was on an exotic trip to Colombia while the Ortega girls went to Memphis. Last time something like this happened, I synthesized our surprisingly similar experiences in this post. Now, I’ll just give you one image:

Pigs, llamas—all the same!

Note his friend’s t-shirt, a harbinger of things to come. [It says, “Guns don’t kill people. Dads with daughters do!”] This is a clumsy way of revealing: Bebe Dos is a girl!

Your days to offer name suggestions are numbered, since the Name Summit is coming soon.

Some items we thought about during the epic summit that resulted in Mary Tobin’s name:

  • Family names: I’m a history person, so I just love family names. You’ve got meaning, roots, background, something bigger than yourself, already built in.
  • Playground test: Are you comfortable shouting the kid’s name out in public, in front of God and everybody?
  • Blind date test: If you were set up on a blind date with someone of this name, what sort of idea would you have about the person before the meeting?
  • Popularity: I didn’t want a name that’s incredibly hot right now. We love the name Zoe, but I vetoed it due to this factor.
  • Meaning: [Does this need explanation?]
  • Spanish/English: We were looking for names that could translate well in English or Spanish (or actually, not translate!). For example, something like Sophia or Lydia is lovely for native speakers of either. I didn’t want something that’s awkward to say (like my own name!) for Spanish speakers, and I didn’t want to choose a name so Spanish and en fuego that I’d have to change my own accent when saying it. “This is my daughter, Beatriz.” I would just feel dumb.

So we kept these criteria in mind. (And I’m sure there’s much more to consider: initials—monograms, of course!, how names sound with your last name, etc.) But in the end, you’ve got to go with whatever you want to do. If a name is popular, so what? Maybe because it’s awesome!

Mary Tobin, as you may know, is a family name. Mama Rote’s first name is Mary, and mi suegra‘s middle name is Maria. Tobin is a last name from my dad’s side of the family, and it means “believing God is good.” I’ve always loved double names and considered naming a daughter Mary something, which is more common in the South. It doesn’t perfectly meet the Spanish/English consideration—Tobin is kind of weird and unnatural to say for hispanics, but Mary is easy and universal.

We knew that not everyone would love it or get it immediately (Y’all, we’re like, so diverse. I mean, we know people from the north.), but we love it, and of course we love our girl and think it fits perfectly!


This time around, we’re also taking this great GQ article into counsel, which essentially explains how to not name your child so he or she will grow up to be a meth addict. It’s worth your time.

Do you have the names of all your offspring chosen? How will you, or did you, decide?

Ten Tweets from Mary Tobin

When the social media icons popped up on the screen during Meet the Press this morning, Mary Tobin identified the birdie that represents Twitter with one of her cute little motions and a “tweet tweet!”

So naturally Israel and I began to discuss what insight she might share with the world if she had a Twitter account. Here is what I imagine:

Happy Sunday! Just made a killer tent under the covers w/ @josieortega & @izzyortega. Love that game!!


OMG THIS CHEESE IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER EATEN. I could eat this stuff all day. . .

Sporting one of my favorite bows today: Check it out! #biggerisbetter

Can’t wait to go to church, beg all the ladies for food, and make them think my gringa mom starves me! #LOL #sorryImnotsorry

My brain won’t stop thinking about cheese. Please tell me other kids have this problem?! #firstworldbabyproblems

Fruta? Yes yes yes yes ::nods head vigorously::


Did y’all hear that TRUCK outside!!! #beepbeep yeah!


Clearly, this list is not realistic, because all Mary Tobin’s tweets would actually be about food. One question remains: what should her Twitter handle be?

Mexican Made

Cabo San Lucas

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:

Mexican dress 2

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:

Ruth and Tim

Cabo cake

Ortegas CaboAll 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.

MT getting freshMary Tobin made her flower girl debut, and she exercised her celebrity privileges by attacking this little boy with love. (He didn’t mind at all!)

Josie Israel Tim Ruth(We looked better before hitting the dance floor.)
girls in Mexico
My parents were the designated Mary Tobin-sitters for the week.
Mexico topless swimmingDad and Mary Tobin. Look at her arms! (Mama Rote shared this pic on facebook. Some of her friends saw her caption—“Topless swimming in Mexico!”—before the picture itself, and were sketched out.)


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!