Christmas by the numbers


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Merry Christmas from Graceland!

On this, the twelfth day of Christmas,¬†I’m totally on board with keeping Christmas going all through Epiphany. Not only does it appeal to my natural slacker, but the longer celebration provides an antidote to the inevitable disappointment when events don’t follow your vision for the perfect, beautiful Christmas morning. We’re not perfect; that’s fine. I wrote a reflection for my friend Elizabeth’s blog about the angels and the shepherds and what it meant to me to rejoice not because things are perfect, but because God has come near. You can wrap up this last day of Christmas by reading it here.

We had a wonderful—not perfect—fun, old-fashioned family Christmas (name that movie!) in Memphis, with Israel’s and my families combining forces for an epic Christmas Palooza 2K14. Mama Rote compiled the stats:

16 people
12 adults
4 girls 3 and under
6 Ortegas
5 Rotes (+  1 soon to be Rote)
4 Slakases
7 days
1 birthday party for a 1 year old
4 gallons of milk
10 pounds of corn tortillas
7 dozen eggs
3 gallons of pozole
3 high chairs (+ 1 booster seat)
3 cribs
3 strollers
countless diapers
50+ loads of laundry
30+ plus dishwasher loads
1 Grizzlies game, complete with overtime
14 rolls of paper towels
5 dozen tamales
1 1/2 gallon of vegetable beef soup
1 ping-pong tournament
1 Chinese checkers tournament
2 aerobeds
2 dogs 
1 cat
and…..
FOURTEEN, yes, FOURTEEN cases of a nasty tummy bug.**
*Some numbers estimated
**Will says that a positive thing is that, in the aggregate, we gained less weight as family due to ‘the circumstances.’

It was so fun to be together, despite the tummy bug. Now we’re back at home, watching Downton Abbey and maybe White Christmas one last time! In Mexico, children receive gifts from the Tres Reyes Magos on Epiphany, so last night Mary Tobin and I put shoes out in the hall, with pine needles instead of hay for the camels as the wise men came through, and this morning we found one last Christmas treat. Today we’re packing away the decorations, and I hope I can convince Israel to burn our tree in the fire pit in the back yard tonight . . . wouldn’t it be beautiful and symbolic, like the light in darkness, the star leading to the Christ Child?? OK, I love fire. I’m a pyromaniac.

If you’re packing up today, too, here’s some free advice¬†I picked up from my¬†Aunt Kace. She has pretty Christmas frames with photos from family Christmases in years past that she stores with her decorations (but too many embarrassing middle school ones, Aunt Kace!!). So now I’m keeping an eye out for Christmas frames at post-holiday sales and trying to tuck away any good photos¬†with the ornaments. I haven’t found many frames that I like, but we brought¬†out pictures and subbed¬†them into our usual frames for the month, and I love the nostalgic effect!

 photo 8759CC53-AD8D-458D-8785-D1D36FC356BE_zpslzyzsgs3.jpgIn looking through this year’s pictures, I spotted a bit of a theme:
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Merry Christmas!

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This and that.

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A couple weekends ago with the bruddas. We almost asked an old man to jump in to substitute for Ben, but no one’s hair was white enough.¬†

We’re gearing¬†up to take the fam to NYC for Thanksgiving, not packing yet, just thinking about it. Let me know if you have great New York City suggestions, especially for little ones! We do have traditions (e.g. taking our rings to Tiffany’s to be cleaned. “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding.” Name that movie. It’s easy.)—but they necessarily evolve with little chickadees,¬†plus there’s always more to see. This year we’re looking forward to the Botanical Gardens with the cousins.

If you don’t have to pack up yourself and two kids—it’s like when grandaddy told Mama Rote, after unloading all the gear for baby Will, that he loved her, but they didn’t take that much stuff when they were storming the beaches at Normandy—maybe you’ll have time to peruse some links:

  • Great news for those of us who aren’t used to maintaining a yard: don’t rake your leaves. Or, “If you’re too persnickety to have a leave-strewn lawn all winter, rake them off the lawn but into your plant and flower beds.”
  • Even easier Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the gratitude jar that I’ve posted about in years past, follow this advice and write a notecard at the table with everyone. No forethought, except for the person making notecards, and no anger at yourself or a family member who may have forgotten to add anything to the gratitude jar all year. Ahem.
  • Also via¬†MMD, this gem, by folks at Nashville Public Library . . . all the right books in all the right places.

  • From Pinterest, I was fascinated by this list of overnight hairstyles—ways to get great hair by doing something to it at bedtime¬†(tiny braids for crinkly waves, weekly coconut oil conditioner, dry shampoo . . .). Do you have any tricky hair tricks like that?
  • To end on a triumphant note, here’s an idea from Pinterest that I actually executed and enjoyed (you can tell somewhat in the pic at the top).

    Thanks to a Virginia friend with a China connection :) I have a few strands of pearls, but I think my neck is too big for them to look quite right, unless I’m wearing exactly the right thing.¬†Using ribbon provides a longer more flattering length on me, and perhaps takes the seriousness of the pearls down a notch. Try it if you need a festive, unstuffy look for Thanksgiving!

Have a fun, cozy week. May your turkey be yummy and your packing be light!

P.S. Jane Eyre pulp covers, and Jane Eyre for tots.

P.P.S. What a difference a year makes!

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)

Merry Autumn Days

autumn leaves

‚ÄėTis pleasant on a fine spring morn
To see the buds expand,
‚ÄėTis pleasant in the summertime
To see the fruitful land;
‚ÄėTis pleasant on a winter‚Äôs night
To sit around the blaze,
But what are joys like these, my boys,
To merry autumn days!

We hail the merry autumn days,
When leaves are turning red;
Because they’re far more beautiful
Than anyone has said.
We hail the merry harvest time,
The gayest of the year;
The time of rich and bounteous crops,
Rejoicing and good cheer.

-Charles Dickens

Solid poem, Dickens! Who knew? I like the line “what are joys like these, my boys”— reminds me of a New England prep school, as if I’d know what that’s like.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. If you need it, do a last minute gratitude jar with the fam.

autumn treeMary Tobin is sporting a cape (!!) from her adorable Halloween costume and a smocked floral dress—both by Mama Rote—along with pink ballerina shoes of her own choosing, several sizes too large.

Thanksgiving for Dummies

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Coming to you from the back of our overpacked car, heading home after a great holiday weekend in NYC.

As a young family there can be a lot of pressure (or maybe it’s just me?) to figure out and establish what your own family traditions will be. You want something meaningful, fun, and, of course, unique, original, camera-ready, and pinterest-worthy!

So the little container in my picture above may not be all those things, but one virtue it certainly has: this was easy, dear reader.

Throughout the year, as good things happened or one of us thought of something we’re grateful for, we would write it on a slip of paper and put it in the canister. (No peeking at the other papers!)

On Thanksgiving, we opened the little treasure trove and read through what we’d written, and remembered blessings large and small.

At a time when I feel stretched thin, talking through what a year it’s been brought a nice sense of renewal. We’re grateful for a daughter’s health and growth, two new in laws, lots of interesting travel, and so many material blessings (including nice cheese from Whole Foods). A running theme: we’re grateful for family who sacrificed time, money, frequent flyer miles, sleep … to visit us and watch Mary Tobin. Seriously there were grandparents/abuelos and/or tias/uncles here at least once a month. They helped us move, allowed us to go to a wedding, go on vacation, meet work obligations. They celebrated MT’s birth, baptism, and birthday. Unbelievable generosity.

The gratitude jar could work for any personality—write a slip dutifully every week, or forget about it for months, remember, then write a bunch. (Can you guess which style we are??) And though the purpose is to intentionally pause and thank God for what He’s done, I imagine the hilarity could shoot through the roof as kids grow and participate. (Laugh lines this year had to do with being grateful for our own Ortega family language, and Al Jazeera.)

Israel heard this idea from a friend last year, so now we share it with you. 2013 Thanksgiving prep: donesky. Except the turkey, food, travel, etc.

P.S. I finished this post at home. Road blogging did not work out.

Can you tell in the photo that the princesa is eating a pack of stationery? We love paper products!