sábado, 3 de diciembre de 2016

Advent Photo Challenge--Hope

I´ve been wanting to do something different with this blog, to shake things up a bit.  Or just blog more.  That would be shaking things up a bit.

Reading others´ blogs through the years, I´ve liked the idea of month-long photo challenges.  So when I came across the Catholic Sistas´ 2016 Advent Photo Challenge, it seemed like a great idea.

Maybe just because I caught it early in the first week of Advent.

But, then again, I love me some Advent, so this just seemed right up my alley.

Instead of posting one photo every day (because we all know that isn´t going to happen), I´ll post my 7 photos from the week once a week.

So--here´s this week!

November 27th:  wreath

For the first few Christmases we spent in Mexico, I was a little lost by not spending Christmas in a snowy wonderland.  That, and I was becoming aware that the Christmas we celebrate (even in Mexico) is morphing into a celebration of the idyllic winter wonderland, and not the birth of Jesus.  Let´s face it, Bethlehem in December probably faces the same chilly weather as much of Mexico--and probably the same severe lack of snow.

Our first year in Mexico, we lived in Metepec, in the state of Mexico, that is famous for clay pottery (arboles de vida, in particular).  After searching high and low, this Advent wreath seemed like the perfect souvenir of our year there.

I love that there are no flocked pine needles anywhere to be found on this wreath.

November 28:  violet

         Right before Advent begins, a lot of the daily Bible readings came from the book of Revelations.  Yikes.  That book always reminds me of advice that my neighbor, Gloria, gave me.  "When things seem like they are getting scary, when you need to run away, head into the mountains."

Here´s hoping that I never have to use her advice.  However, when the light hits them right, the mountains that surround Saltillo do turn a bit purple.

November 29:  pray

On Tuesday, a friend of mine shared that someone who had been influential in her life had a comforting habit of praying verses straight out of the Bible.  That idea has been simmering in my mind a bit all week.

On Thursday, I came across this verse, which I just love.

So, for anybody out there in anguish--it´s worth a try!

November 30:  martyr      

          OK, no pictures for this one.  But in thinking about what to show for "martyr day", it reminded me of a story I heard from Nigeria.  Boko Haram has been running loose, making lots of martyrs of both Christians and Muslims.  I´ve heard that in some cities, on Fridays, when the Muslims attend mosque, the Christians stand guard outside.  Then on Sundays, when the Christians go to church, their Muslim neighbors stand guard--both groups doing their best to make sure that there are fewer martyrs overall.

          If that isn´t an excellent example of trying to make peace on earth as we await Christmas a reality, I don´t know what is.  May we follow their example.

December 1:  prepare

Photo my daily planner.  It got hijacked a few weeks ago, and most of November got covered in angry dinosaurs.

But it still keeps me on top of things.

Mostly because those angry dinosaurs are breathing down my neck.

December 2:  Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Gospel reading for Friday was of Jesus healing a blind person.  I don´t know as much as I´d like to about Jesus, but I know that he wants us all to be healed--physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.  Whatever ails us, I´m confident that Jesus wants it to be fixed.

Also on Friday, my choir went on our Christmas tour to a hospital and rehabilitation center.  Clearly, we didn´t heal anybody.  But lots of people do get healed in those places.  However, we just sang.  But we had a nice time, and I hope that those who heard us enjoyed it, too.  

December 3:  Immaculate Heart of Mary

Confession:  I am not a cradle Catholic.  I was raised Methodist, and while I certainly respect Mary, I´m not much of a Marianist.  I´m pretty sure she´s OK with that.

That being said, thinking about a photo to represent the Immaculate Heart of Mary threw me for a loop.  Fortunately for me, I began writing this post while sitting in a rehearsal of the opera Suor Angelica, where Mary is invoked more or less constantly.  The opera also deals with themes of children born out of wedlock, penance, forgiveness, and suicide.

As a background note, Suor Angelica (set in the 1600s) had a baby out of wedlock, and was sent to the convent immediately after the baby was born.  Seven years later, the aunt who sent her away still has not forgiven her.  Suor Angelica´s life is consumed with penance for having a baby out of wedlock and prays to Mary pretty constantly.  Who else had a baby out of wedlock?  Yes--Mary!  Oh, the irony! Had Joseph not believed her, Mary and Jesus could have lived with the shame and discrimination that other unwed mothers and illegitimate children of that era faced.  (Way to go, Joe!)  

Thanks goodness we live in an age and society where [almost] no one bats an eye at unwed mothers and their children.  May we remember Mary and Jesus´s example and stand in solidarity with those families, families who may have very young parents, families who may have only one parent.  

Boy, there´s a reflection that I didn´t expect today!

What other strange connections will this photo challenge unearth?  We´ll find out next week!

miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2016

Thanksgiving/First Sunday in Advent

Living in Mexico means working on Thanksgiving.  Therefore, we celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday.

The more often we´ve done this, the more often I like it.  Furthermore, the date seems even more significant on the last Saturday in November.  Why?

The first Sunday in November is usually the first Sunday in Advent.  According to the liturgical calendar, Advent begins a whole new year (in the church calendar, at least).  So sitting down and reflecting and giving thanks the night before seems like the perfect way to cap off a year.

What am I grateful for this year?
Eight adults sitting down, having dinner.
Meanwhile, there were eighteen kids running amok in
the rest of the house!  Yikes!
So thankful for the space to pull this off.  
  • All three kids and how they´re growing, gaining independence, and emotional equilibrium.  
  • New friendships that we´ve formed this past year and old friendships that we´ve strengthened. 
  • Having enough space this year to get a number of those friends together to celebrate Thanksgiving together!
  • Having a creative outlet in the Choir of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Desert of Coahuila.
  • Seeing all kinds of positive possibilities on the horizon.  (Just reconciling myself with the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day!)
  • Setting down roots in this city, and feeling at home here.  
  • Hubs and I settling into a good groove (and improved working hours on his part), so we´re not driving each other crazy all the time.  Or, maybe better said, this year we´re enjoying driving each other crazy all the time.  
So many other things I could mention, but those are the important ones!

Here´s to Advent!  Enjoy the season--there´s time to enjoy Christmas during Christmas.

domingo, 20 de noviembre de 2016

Initial Reaction--Election 2016

Disclaimer:  for those of you who are sick to death of political posts, this one might not be for you.  In fact, skip my next few posts.  But for my own mental health, I need to write this out.  
And if you´re not sure if you should keep reading (depending on which side of the aisle we stand on), I am with the half of the country that voted for Clinton.  

But, like the vast majority of my facebook peeps, I´m on the side of unity.  (Y´all are a great bunch!)


Flashback to nearly two weeks ago.  Once my kids were safely tucked away for the night, I knew that polls were closing in much of the country, and CNN could begin reporting concrete results, and not just the same hot air they´ve been spewing for the past few months.

OK, I did check before dinner, when they called Indiana, Kentucky, and Vermont.  No surprises there.
Being from Indiana, the results of the rest of the night didn´t shock me either.  It was always clear that this was going to be a close election.  It´s been clear that both sides of the aisle want change.  After all, that was Obama´s platform eight years ago.  That was why Bernie Sanders did so well in the primaries.

Really, this election was about voting for change versus the establishment.

Normally, I´d be excited about the "change" candidate.  And the optimistic side of me is clinging to a thread that Trump´s version of change will be exactly what we need.

Except that he scares the crap out of me.

But I really, really want him to succeed.  Because if he doesn´t, we´re all going down with that ship.

So, back to that Tuesday night.  As the results were rolling in, I began to get nervous that Trump might just win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College.  He had been claiming for weeks that the system was rigged against him.  Can you imagine the stink he´d have made if that was the case?  (Now, I know plenty of people will cite all the protests that are happening all over the country, but Clinton is not instigating them.  She conceded the election the following day.)

At about 12:30, it was clear that Trump has scored both the Electoral College and the popular vote. While I wasn´t thrilled with the outcome, it was a clear result, and I went to bed at peace.

On Wednesday, I turned on CNN again, to hear Clinton´s concession speech.  It was then, after a peaceful night´s sleep, that I found out that Clinton--not Trump--won the popular vote.  Immediately, I sobbed like a baby.

What the heck?  I was OK with the result the night before!  Where did all this emotion come from?  I mean, it´s politics, for pity´s sake!  Ugh.  

It just took me back to 2000, and the disastrous results of that election.  It took me back to the night before, when my husband wandered in and out to listen to the results, shaking his head, muttering, "that´s not a democracy."  My cries echoed all the pent-up frustration I carry around about how my Democrat vote in Indiana usually counts for nothing.  (And then we wonder why half of the population doesn´t vote.)

But I´ll save my examination of the Electoral College for another post.

Still, I was surprised at my reaction.  I kept exhibiting symptoms of shock or depression for the next few days.  I was shaky, jittery, teary, and felt like I was always holding my breath, like I could never fully exhale.  I mean, for pity´s sake--it was clear the election could go either way, and the last thing I want to be is a sore loser!

On Thursday, I finally sat down with my Bible and looked up the reading for the day.  Out of curiosity, I looked up the reading for Wednesday (which I missed for being too consumed by the election).

      "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.  
       At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good."
                                                                                 -Titus 3:1-8


OK--to be fully honest, I´m not ready to read that first verse.  It pretty much just served as an attention-grabber.  Maybe someday I´ll be ready to read it.  But not yet.

But the rest of it?  Yes.

By stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, my symptoms of depression and shock evaporated.  I could finally exhale.

Regardless of who won, we still live in a world that is controlled by malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

As Christians, we know we that we are free of that cycle--but not by anything we´ve done.  We simply accept the gift of freedom that Jesus gave us, and spend the rest of our lives living out our gratitude, "devoting [ourselves] to doing what is good."

At least, that´s the way it should be.  It´s easy to get distracted.  It´s easy to get caught up in all that malice, envy, and hate that dominate the world.  But this isn´t the end of the story.

Or, as my friend David Bauser posted on facebook the day after the election, "We have work to do.  We all have neighbors who are hungry, homeless, uneducated, fearing for their lives or their loved ones, feeling isolated, betrayed, abandoned, and attacked.  We have a new president-elect but the Gospel has never changed.  Let´s get to work."

viernes, 4 de noviembre de 2016

Frustration to Reflection

This is the fourth year that I´ve had a child enrolled in our preschool.  Preschools tend to go all-out for holidays.  For Day of the Dead, we dress up the kids as catrinas (skeletons dressed in fancy clothes), make mini-altars, one class makes a full-size altar, dress up paper skeletons.  It´s very nicely done, but it´s a lot of work for the parents.  Because, let´s face it, while my preschooler can help decorate his mini-altar, making the tiers, and making sure it has the "necessary" ingredients falls squarely on my shoulders.

And let me tell you, nothing makes this former preschool teacher crazier than preschool homework that the parent is required to do.  (Within reason.  Cutting things out so the teacher doesn´t have to spend 6 hours cutting after school is prefectly reasonable, of course.)

So I was pleasantly surprised last Thursday when the teachers posted a sign saying, "if you´d like to bring in an altar on Monday, that would be great."

I loosely translated that to mean, "if you don´t want to bring in an altar next week, that´s OK, too."

So the weekend came and went.  We went back to school on Monday, and it turned out that the homework for the following day was to bring in an altar.  None of this "if you feel like it" wishful thinking that I had been planning on.

Of course.

So I sat down to work, making an altar.  Joey had ideas for decorating it, so after I finally got my 5 tiers somewhat solidly set in the diorama (and covered in colored paper).  I let him do his thing.

We got ready to go trick-or-treating, and it turned out that "his thing" was two odd rectangles and a picutre of his aunt who died this summer.

Knowing that he did want this altar dedicated to Tía Lili (and having a feeling that it might be a bit theraputic for him to take it in to his class, and explain about how he misses his Tía Lili), I sat down and added a bit.  And then I added a bit more.  Then I ransacked the kids´ toys, looking for little things that could symbolize interests that Lili had, things that were important to her, etc.

The more I worked on this, the more I realized that it was good for me, too.

The finished altar for Lili.  I added her computer (because she was always working!);
suitcases, because she traveled a lot; her name in Braille.  Water is
traditional to have on an altar, but I put it there because Lili loved to swim.  

After going through the toys, I found my brailler.  (Lili went blind when she was a teenager.)  It had been missing for years, and I found it again, shortly after she died.  When I found it this summer, it released some pent-up anger I had (because anger is a stage in the greiving process).  I threw it to the back of the closet, thinking "well, shoot--I don´t need THIS anymore!"  I bought it years ago, meaning to write notes to Lili, braille out some children´s books so she could read to the kids, etc.  I learned the most rudimentary braille, and then promptly lost the tools to use it.

Until a few weeks ago.

Our family altar, which Joey was
instrumental in decorating, too.  
So, putting the finishing touches on the mini-altar for Joey to take to school, I thought it could be a great teaching moment for the kindergarteners to see Lili´s name, written in Braille.  So I did it.  And, likely, the kids didn´t notice.

But it was helpful for me.  And, as Joey largely initated the project (or gave it direction), it was probably good for him, too.  After all, in essence, that´s what celebrating Day of the Dead is be about--sitting back and taking some time to remember people we love.  If we never stop to do that, we might never work through the grieving process, and that could just fester and manifest itself in all kinds of weird ways, if left to itself.

So I love that this country sets aside a day to pray, reflect, and remember.  It´s good for all of us.  And it seems that these traditions give even the youngest among us room to express their own grief and emotions, too.

I made pan de muerto this year, and was just so stinkin´ proud that I had to document it here!

martes, 1 de noviembre de 2016

As Expected

I´ve often wondered when my kids´ mastery of Spanish would surpass my own.

It´s becoming clear that we are crossing that threshold.  As I´ve been joking for years, it seems to be that I really DO speak Spanish like a second-grader.  Except now it´s not a joke.

Up until the other day, when Clara brought home this bit of homework, I had no idea that solo (Spanish for only) could--or sometimes should--be written with an accent mark. 

Thank goodness the teacher sent home a worksheet that had this grammar quirk well defined!

It turns out that when solo is used as an adjective (solo is describing the noun) it does not need an accent mark.  

Sólo requires an accent mark when it´s used as an adverb (sólo describes the verb).  After wading through 10 examples, I got pretty confident, and I´m pretty sure that both Clara and I now know the difference.  

But I´ve got my work cut out for me from here on out!

lunes, 25 de abril de 2016

Making Greek Yogurt

I´m one of those weirdos who make yogurt.

At first, I was just interested in making yogurt with less added sugar than the supermarket brands, as yogurt is my kids´ principal food group.  Later, I liked how the yogurt I make at home costs half the price of the same quantity of store-bought yogurt.

Then, a few months ago, I started straining the yogurt to make Greek yogurt.

I think I´ve died and gone to dairy product heaven.  Maing Greek yogurt is much more time-consuming than making "regular" yogurt (hence the drastic difference in price at the grocery store).  But it is so worth it.  I´m never going back.

The seven-year-old even requested the plain, unsweetened, homeade, Greek yogurt over mango-flavored Yoplait tonight!

A few years ago, I wrote my yogurt recipe in a long-winded post.  Here´s an easier-to-read version (plus Greek variation):

Homeade Greek Yogurt

(Measurements based on a 2-qt. crock pot.  If you have a bigger crock pot, just add more milk to make more yogurt.)
Nothing against Alpura--it´s great to drink!
However, any milk that has been ultrapasteurized
will not make yogurt.  That´s true for ANYTHING
that is packaged in a Tetrapak.

You´ll need:

  • 7 cups of milk (NOT ultrapasteurized, but pasteurized is just fine.)
  • A few tablespoons of already-made yogurt.  
  • Crockpot
  • Thermometer    (I prefer a meat thermometer, as it lets me read the temperature when the milk is cooling better than a candy thermometer.)
  • Whisk
  • 2 quart saucepan (or larger, if your crockpot is larger and want use more than 2 quarts´ worth of milk.  I would, if I had a bigger crockpot.)
  • a pitcher or bowl
  • ladle
  • cheesecloth or colanders fine enough to strain the pulp from juice (I recommend 2)

This milk is found in the refrigerated section, clearly labeled "pasteurized".
This will work for making yogurt (and cheese).
Stay away from the ultrapasteurized stuff if your intention is to make cultured dairy products!

Keep in mind the basic concept in making yogurt:  the point is to get the milk warm enough to get the active bacteria to multiply, but not so hot to kill them off.  A thermometer is a really, really good idea.  However, people have been making yogurt for thousands of years without the use of thermometers.  So, it´s possible to do it without a thermometer, but I´m guessing that it would be very tricky without years of experience.

  • Plug in an empty crock pot.  Cover it and turn it on.  
  • Add 7 cups of milk to a 2-quart saucepan.  Turn the stove on to high heat, and heat the milk until just before it boils.  (Or 190 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • Turn off the heat, and whisk the milk to cool it until the temperature drops to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  (Setting the saucepan in a cool water bath helps speed things along a little.)
  • While you´re waiting for the milk to cool, turn off the crockpot, but keep it covered.  
  • Whisk the single-serving container of already-made yogurt into the 110-degree milk.  
  • Pour the milk into the crock pot and keep it turned OFF.  Cover it and leave it alone for 8-12 hours. 
  • After 12 hours, the milk will have magically transformed into yogurt.  Or, for the muggles out there, the bacteria in the yogurt will have sufficiently digested the milk, converting it into yogurt.  At this point, the yogurt can be eaten, but it tastes much better sweetened.  I like to use 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.  However, if you want unsweetened, Greek yogurt, don´t add honey or any sweetner yet!  
  • For Greek yogurt, attach the cheesecloth to an empty pitcher or bowl (either with a rubber band or letting it rest in a colander or strainer).  Add as much of the yogurt as the cheesecloth can hold (hence, it´s handy to use with a strainer, as it can stand more weight).  Let the whey drain out of the yogurt for about a half hour.  Then, transfer the strained yogurt to a storage container, and strain more of the yogurt.  (Continue this process until all of the yogurt is strained.)  
This is all the whey after it was strained out.
  • While the straining process is a bit tedious, it´s so worth it.  Straining the whey out of the yogurt makes the yogurt much more palatable, so even my kids don´t flinch at eating it unsweetened.  Plus, it has much more protein than regular yogurt (basically because it is more concentrated).  All other things considered, it just tastes worlds better.  


  • If, after 12 hours, the yogurt still hasn´t thickened, move the covered crockpot into an oven and leave it there with the oven light turned on for 6-8 hours more.  

martes, 12 de abril de 2016

Perspective Changes Everything

I´ve been having issues with the four-year-old.

He refuses to wipe his butt.  He thinks I am always happy to do it for him.  We have gotten into power struggles over this.  Sometimes I give in.  Sometimes we get into yelling and screaming matches over this.  Sometimes I realize that he´s four, and sometimes it is hard for him to wipe his butt. Sometimes I let him know that the butt-wiping free ride ends when he turns five.

The other day, he told me, "when I´m ninety, I´ll wipe my own butt."

I was relieved to know that he had some date in mind to take responsibility for his own excrement.  (Never mind that I won´t be alive to see it.)

Then I clued him in on the ways of the world.  "Actually, when you´re ninety, you might not be wiping your own butt anymore."

Then genius struck.

"Hey Joe--do you know who´s going to wipe MY butt when I´m ninety?"

All of a sudden, I don´t mind wiping his butt anymore.

And he´s in full agreement that he´ll be returning the favor.

It never fails to astonish me how much it helps to step back and look at the larger picture.