Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I'm Havin' a Freakin' Heart Attack

We are supposed to live to about 72. If you divide that in half, and 36 is your middle age, then, my friend, guess what? You are now this side of Middle Age. More than halfway through your life. Sure, it would be easy to pretend that 40 is the new 30 or, um, 50 is the new 36, but no matter how you mathify it, it's on. Middle Age is here to stay in your life.

Still think you can remain in denial? Forget the math then -- find out the truth your answer, by taking this specially tailored comprehensive quiz compiled by an on-that-side of middle age expert: *coughthatwouldbemecough*

1.  The fashion headbands advertised on your Facebook sidebar look adorable on the 18-year-old model, but make you look like Crazy Mary who used to sweep the bridge downtown during rush hour.

2.  Red fingernail polish and red lipstick may be in style, but on you they’re Cruella Deville.

3.  When you walk downstairs in the morning your knees sound like pop rocks.

4. There was a time when a tankini and skirted swimsuit were enough, now you need a burka.

5.  While grocery shopping you blissfully hum and skip to the piped Muzak version of “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher.

6. Lift more than four grocery bags at a time and your brain actually starts shouting “I’m Having A Freakin’ Heart Attack!”

7.  You shoot dirty looks at cars driving alongside you with their bass pounding to Kesha.

8.  After shooting the dirty look, you pull over, *safety reasons*, and call in a complaint to the non emergency police number reporting the Kesha-loving driver. (extra middle age points if you politely stress the non-emergency part of the phone call)

9.  Your kids see pictures of you from twenty years ago and ask who the pretty lady is.

10.  The face you see looking back at you in the mirror isn’t yours, it’s your childhood Aunt Rosita's.

You can keep your answers to yourself, of course, but ask yourself this:
Does your neck look like your knee?

Welcome to the club.

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Looking for more? I also write here:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I Don't Want Them Back After All

It's been twenty years since I last saw them.

Twenty years of missing them, and fantasizing of their return.

Wishing hasn't gotten them back, half a lifetime of trying to win them back, in which none of the ways were easy or without sacrifice. Pining their absence, feeling where they once used to be.

But then, in a sobering moment, no more. 

I was at a 6th grade basketball game, and No. 24, a small wisp of a blonde boy, 68 pounds at most, was thrown a surprise pass, which sent him first spinning, and then flattened, to the floor. Stomach first, down, on the wooden gym court floors that might as well be concrete. I couldn't help but watch his face.

Contorted in pain, eyes closed, mouth open, head thrown back. If he could have cursed without having his mother pull him off the court by his ear, he would have. He was speechless, his lips pressed together in agony, I was ready to fly Samuel Jackson here to do his swearing for him.

Jiminy Christmas (we'll pretend that's what he was thinking) that hurt like a *$*#- er. I could read it in his face.

He had bounced like a Frisbee and landed full force on his hip bones. The very anatomical protuberance I had been chasing, coveting, daydreaming about one day seeing back on my own body. I instinctively pulled my shoulders up to my ears in sympathetic pain for the poor boy and in a flip-switch of life, I was instantly cured of my symmetrical bone longing. 

*&#*@! I DO NOT MISS HAVING HIP BONES, I know I said it out loud. Un-huh. Because in that moment, I was jerked back in time, to my pre-children body, and I felt every slambang that my own  jutting cow bones had endured. Sharp edged counter tops, pointy school desks, car doors left ajar, kitchen sinks, parking meters, bathroom doors, and exposed basement pipes. Even a damn roller coaster that knocked me repeatedly in the left hip until I thought I'd have bone meal shakes to sell.

No sir, I DO NOT miss my hip bones. I said it, and meant it more with each time I said it. No sir. I do not.

Five minutes after witnessing the 12:38 p.m. Hip Bone Slam, I slapped my thigh, once more declaring and this time owning it. I DO NOT MISS HIP BONES. If someone had a hard time with me standing up and blocking their view of the game, I didn't care. The enrapture of an epiphany is too intoxicating to not be vocal. 

Thank you, No. 24, for what you did for me today. I'm hoping you're able to walk by Monday. In the meantime, please know, that twenty years of shameless pursuit were released like a thousand balloon launch. After the game, I hurried home to celebrate my new skeletal liberation by creating what I now realize I truly want: some more of this wonderful built-in protective fat padding.

I can't think of anything more up to the task than macaroni and cheese with crumbled bacon on top.
hip bones? they were here 101520900 minutes ago.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Controlling Online Life So You Can Get Back to the Important

Focus and discipline are the keys to production. Production means you produce and all the precious time we have results in an outcome. If you (read: I) were to manage that scrolling and clicking and stayed OUT of those time consuming rabbit holes, yes, this means BuzzFeed videos (seriously, is BF not killing it with those videos lately?) then we'd have something to show for our hours in front of the glow of the screen.
We all know about the time we spend online, just like we know but don't understand that weird time/space slinky action thing that warps the minutes we're on the internet into hours. Now you see it, and zaaaaaaaaaaaap snap, now you don't.
Where DID those two hours go? Last thing I know I was searching for *Lunch Boxes+Sturdy* and then I'm looking at a video of Taylor Swift sliding down a snow covered college campus hill on a lunch tray. 
This can't go on, I'll tell you, there are things I need to get back to doing that I did before I moved online. 
Important things, like this list right here of how I'd be spending my time if it weren't for the seduction of the internet:

--Staring at my fingernails, willing my lazy butt to get out of the house and get a manicure.

--Poking around the snack cabinet deciding on what to have for second breakfast.

--Walking around the house with two pairs of socks on to stretch out my new winter boots.

--Letting my Bethenny Now! exercise DVD play in the background while I finish up the sweet-n-salty chips the kids left out last night.

--Going to the basement with intention to cull toys, DVDs, books. Walking back upstairs after surveying area for three minutes with my hands on my hips.

--Be at the local yoga class where the teacher there waits until I'm *this close* to falling asleep to sneak up on me and make me jump ten feet in the air by whispering "namaste" into my ear.

--Or I could be at Zumba, where the instructor there tries for the 7th time to talk me into leading her Zumba Silver class.

--Pull the blankets off the beds to let the sheets "breathe" as Martha Stewart Living advises. Consider that my housekeeping for the day.

--Decide to have lunch with my youngest at school. Surprise him with McDonald's only to have him grab the bag out of my hand and say, "Thanks mom you can go home now. No. Really. You can go home now."

--Notice that my jeans have permanent knee mounds, take myself to Old Navy for new pair, where all are too long and too tight. Refuse to try the larger size up. Drive to Hefner's Cup O'Custard, stay in their parking lot and lick my wounds, metaphorically through Death by Chocolate triple scoop in cup. Consider Death by Chocolate a literal invitation.

--Drive to an afternoon matinee. Suffer through Playing for Keeps about hyper-sexed soccer moms wanting to do aging soccer star Gerard Butler at every which way while he coaches their little ones on for a team win! Play a game with myself and try and guess which mom is the one who gets behind the scenes special skills "reffing" session.
--Rummage through my husband's sock and underwear drawer. Hoping to find something linking him to exciting past Bourne Identity double-agent life. Find only saved tags from the past ten years of boxers in case new ones don't fit.

I've got so much to get back to from the old life. If you want to get back in control of the life you had pre-internet, then it's time to download some of that software that locks you out of Facebook and gives you only 5 minutes of twitter. Or.... you can stay online with me, and send me your answer to "What Kind of Egyptian Queen Would You Be?"
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photo credit: The Daring Librarian via photopin cc

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It Lies Below The Land of the Remembered

For as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about her fear of being dead.

Not of dying, she looked forward to that. To seeing her mother again, her husband who had passed away when he was 39 years old, of being with her four gone before her brothers.

I must not be forgotten. If I am forgotten, my body is alone. I cannot bear to watch and know, that my body is alone.

I would sit on the edge of the bed, and listen to my mother's phrases of worry. She never asked any of us if we would visit her grave, she assumed she would be buried, and then forgotten. So sure was she of being left entombed and unattended, that her fears kept her roaming through the house at 3 a.m., consumed with the vision of a stark, physical afterlife.

I would hear the floor creak as she paced in the dining room. I would hear her in the kitchen, getting a glass of water, then half an hour later, another glass. Her mouth made dry by the anxiety of the future. Sundays were the worst, after church when the priest would talk of ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was then, that I think she first came to think of cremation.

She was Catholic in the strongest definition of the word, she had grown up being told Catholics could not be cremated. But I remember the day that I was driving to my house, with her in the passenger seat beside me.

The priest say, I can be cremated. It is not a sin.

Oh? I didn't know it was a sin. Was it a sin?

We were told to only be buried. But, now he say yes, and I will do it.

She burrowed through her ever-present purse and found what she was looking for. A small business card with information, numbers, check amounts, and contact procedures. All of this, on thin white card stock of two by three inches.

This is what I want.

To be cremated.

The priest say, I can do it.

When my mother did pass away, she was cremated. I kept her card in my coat pocket during her burial, patting it every few minutes, making sure it was there, in case any family member questioned her request.


There is a scene in the movie, The Book of Life, that jumps, sudden and swift, out of nowhere. It is in undeniable contrast to the rest of the film, and is of The Land of the Forgotten.

When I saw this scene for the first time, I gasped. I sat between my two children and said to them, “THIS is why my mother was so afraid of being buried! The Land of the Forgotten! Do you hear what they're saying about the Land of the Forgotten!?”

On screen, we see black against grey against another grey hue, barren and stripped, no color in sight, nor vibrancy of life. No visitors. And more haunting than the lack of others, is how quickly one can arrive in the Land of the Forgotten.

"One only has to be forgotten."

My mother's body was turned into ash, this is the insurance she needed to be sure that her bones were kept out of the Land of the Forgotten. But for me? Her fear has become my vigilance.

I say her name every day, I keep a candle in front of her framed picture. With my sentinels at the gate, she will never feel or hear the empty gusts that blow across the Land of the Forgotten.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Life Changing Stories

photo credit: Reid Peterson Life Changing Stories
Everyone should be free to live a life that celebrates who they are. Living with joy and without the weight of things that hold you back, things like shame.

I have often spoken on shame and how it keeps us from feeling included, accepted, and understood. Reid Peterson, of the podcast Life Changing Stories, contacted me after hearing me present for The Moth, and asked if I would explore the topic of shame for his listeners. I was honored, and couldn't wait to share my experience of how letting go of that emotion set my life on a new path, one that was made of a sense of solid self-worth and value.

We spent a great half hour talking to each other, and I'm proud to share our dialogue of that with you, via his podcast, Life Changing Stories.

If you know of someone who needs to lighten their load on this life journey and has been carrying the burden of shame for too long, please share this with them.

Thank you so much, for hearing, and listening.


About Life Changing Stories: "I was inspired by stories shared from The Moth, I realized that we often hear someone tell a story but seldom hear what the person learned from the experience. That’s when I thought “Man, if people share more of the wisdom of what they went through, it could be extremely supportive and inspirational to the listener!” That’s why I do Life Changing Stories. To give you more meaning and depth- of what someone goes through. To provide more hope, inspiration, and support in your own life." ~ Reid Peterson

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why Your Children Need to See Selma

Acting on the tremendous article written by Deb Rox of BlogHer citing reasons America needs to see Selma this weekend, I headed to the theatre 30 minutes away, my teen children with me.

Selma is rated PG-13, and provided your child is 13 years old, take them to see it. The dialogue between you and your child during the film, on the drive home, and still the morning after will open your eyes and their eyes, over how much our children don't know about the not so in the past history of Selma, Alabama.

Talking about the human condition, suffering at the hands of supremacy and injustice, and of doing what is the right thing to do in the face of fear, brings you together in community for each other. Making the effect of Selma more immediate, is how this time in our history, was not that long ago.

Selma is a drama, by any and all definition, but the pride that is unmistakable on the screen, in bringing to life 1964, is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. This is not a movie about Martin Luther King, but it is about moments that leave you unable to breathe, from the first opening scenes, my hand over my mouth from gasping. To see the injustice on a screen in front of you, unbearable to comprehend as truth, brings not only consciousness of what our country is enduring right now, but a call to action. It is hope of what can be accomplished when all join in to right a wrong, when we show up for each other. A line in the movie says it perfectly, "Being kept from voting is not just a problem for Black Americans, it is a  problem for Americans." The reality of struggle within a party is seen here -  even when having the same goal - the layers and complexity for change to occur bring us a perspective that few of us have, illustrating how many hearts and hands it takes for things to happen.

Every single person in the audience for Selma will have their own take away. Mine were tears, my childrens' were disbelief in the recency of the struggle of Black America's perseverance in the right to vote. Not the vote in the twisted legal sense but in the true ability to cast a ballot.

There are reasons to see Selma, and the ones that prick your conscience are the very ones to act one. Attend a showing, take your children over age 13 with you. Show them the far reaching roots of the anger in Ferguson, and across America.

The fight for rights of Black America has been going on for a long time, and a piece of that history is here for us to see, in Selma.

These films are needed to capture and cast open the cost, which was high, of the story of Americans wanting to be accepted as Americans. These films are films our children need to see. Take your children to see Selma, to open their eyes, give life to the pages they've learned in school, and plant a seed in a young heart.

As soon as you can.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Learn the Secrets of a Blogger! All This and More!

  • How READING YOUR WRITING ALOUD IS DIFFERENT than someone reading your words online
  • HOW IT FEELS TO AUDITION for Listen To Your Mother and why it’s WORTH A LONG DRIVE if you don’t have one in your backyard
  • Why not to let FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING hold you back
  • TIPS FOR AUDITIONING for Listen To Your Mother and how it CHANGED MY LIFE
  • MY plan for PITCHING YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC RADIO and why it’s important to BE PREPARED and TIMELY
  • Listen To Your Mother Show details from Carisa Miller, co-producer of LTYM Portland, about WHO CAN AUDITION and HOW TO AUDITION for Listen To Your Mother
  • Answers about the TYPE OF PIECE you should audition with/read for the show including TOPIC, LENGTH and more
  • How the Listen To Your Mother shows are CAST and HOW MANY CAST MEMBERS are selected in each city
  • Carisa’s TIPS FOR AUDITIONING for Listen To Your Mother
  • Why Auditioning for Listen To Your Mother is such a GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR BLOGGERS
  • Carisa’s MAIN TAKEAWAY from being involved in Listen To Your Mother
  • Why BEING AN AUDIENCE MEMBER for a Listen To Your Mother show is an amazing experience and HELPS YOUR COMMUNITY
Resource Links:

--Alexandra’s BlogHer Voice of The Year piece: When Someone You Love Has A Blog
--Alexandra’s first reading at Listen To Your Mother: The Reach of a Small Moment
--Alexandra’s readings on local public radio (WUWM, Lake Effect): We Don’t Eat PeacocksMagic Memory and Fred and Me
--Pitch Information for The Moth
ALL THIS and more! On Beyond Your Blog's Podcast: Finding Outlets for reading your work aloud: 
**A huge thank you to Susan Maccarelli, founder of Beyond Your Blog, a site that helps bloggers get published on sites beyond their own blogs! Follow Beyond Your Blog if you want to get read!
And for fun, let's have some more exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Milwaukee, Come Tell Us Your Story! Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee Wants You!

2015 is starting fast and furious for Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee.

We’ve got lots to tell you, but we’ll begin with the exciting news that LTYM Milwaukee has issued an open call for auditions for its 3rd annual show! More details to come, but save the date, Sunday, April 26, 2015, 3 p.m. for our show at Alverno College Wehr Hall.
Audition dates are BY APPOINTMENT ONLY Saturday, February 21, and Sunday, February 22, 2015 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Bayshore Mall Community Room. Please contact us for your time slot, we won’t be able to accommodate anyone without a scheduled appointment time.
Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee is looking for stories from anyone who has a story to tell, as long as motherhood is the focus of the piece. Your submissions must be no longer than 5 minutes when read aloud, and original. We welcome submissions from everyone, not just moms. Did you get that? You do not have to be a mother to read for Listen To Your Mother.
To get an idea of the pieces that work with a Listen To Your Mother Show, please view our LTYM youtube channel. There, you’ll find essays, poetry, prose on the heavy and the light on the theme of motherhood. As Ann Imig, creator and national director perfectly puts it, “LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER features live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood in celebration of Mother’s Day.” Your story does not have to be about your mother, or about you being a mother – the tale you tell should be one that shares what motherhood means to you, in whatever form that is, or was, for you.

You don’t need to have stage or public speaking experience.

You do not need to be a professional writer.

You just need to have a story that is yours to tell.

If you need to find some inspiration in preparing your submission, here’s what we look for when reviewing a piece:
  • Make sure Motherhood is the star focus of your piece.
  • It must be a true story, yours, and original. No fiction.
  • Your piece should not be longer than 5 minutes when read aloud.
  • Poetry is welcome.
  • Pieces should not be memorized. Work is read from your pages on stage, so please don’t memorize.
  • Watch the LTYM youtube channel for ideas on what works for LTYM shows.
  • ATTEND A SHOW. There are 39 shows nationwide. Seeing a show makes you part of the experience and may inspire a story in you!
Make 2015 the year you take on those dreams. Be courageous, push the nervous to the side, and write your story!
Reserve your audition slot online via VolunteerSpot or by calling our LTYM number 414- 939-LTYM (5896).
We can’t wait to meet you and hear your story! And if you know of anyone perfect for this amazing opportunity, please share this information with them.
In the meantime, be sure to follow LTYM Milwaukee for updates on our 2015 season show, our local cause announcement, cast announcements, our wonderful sponsors, and details on our beautiful venue!
*Listen To Your Mother Shows feature original readings by local authors. They take place in celebration of Mother's Day, across 39 cities -- so look here for a show near you. Whether behind the stage, behind the mike, or in the audience, LTYM shows will leave you feeling like no other show! Come see what we're talking about when we tell you, everyone has a story -- mother or not. 


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Everyone Gets a Bad Rap

I think I just read my 1500th article on someone being an a**hole. I know for sure I've passed the 600 mark on posts regarding 'my partner sucks!' Neighbors, bosses, ex-friends, the people in your life, they're all jerks, too.

The thought that passes through my head when I read this, because of course 1. it's my head so my thoughts and 2. I know what I'm about so I know what I know about me. Anyway, what I think is this:

I'm pretty much an a**hole too, ask the people I live with. It's not just my kids, my partner, the crotchety thorn in my side grocery clerk. My two horned head rears its ugliness many mannnnnny times a week to those I could be nicer to, more patient with.

Yesterday morning, I was short-tempered. A**hole-y, if you will. Someone had to get me out of bed and not a one among my three kids wanted to be the one to poke the bear. I didn't want to wake up.  And I was an a**hole about it. Especially to the littlest one who handed me a stack of school papers to be signed at 8:19 when we had to leave at 8:19. Talking to him in a louder than needed to be voice at a faster than needed to be pace about checking his backpack the night before, I'm not sure what I thought that would do -- maybe make both of our mornings more productive?

The afternoon found me irritable, grouchy, cantankerous, and full of pet peeves, like the way the city plow dumps the snow at the end of our driveway but never the neighbor's. Enough to turn me into a  hissing old bat. I wish, sometimes, that I were a person without pet peeves. But then I'd miss the snarky conversations in my head that crack me up.

Crabby is my kids' favorite descriptor of their mom. They're so sweet, they'd never say a**hole. It doesn't take very much for me to bare my fangs like a wild hog. Just the usual of too much to do and not enough time, pressure and stress of the much too long to-do list, and I blow. My children have to listen to me grumble and kick boots out of the way when it's arctic outside and I have to leave the house to get groceries. Mix in not enough sleep, not being enthusiastic about cold weather, not really being into making dinner again, and Roooooooooaar! I sound just like when I used to play lion with the kids, except for the past ten years, I haven't been playing.

Everybody wants so much attention and everything needs so much attention. My children, my marriage, my house, my own life. I've taken to listening to only one kind of music in hopes of calming the savage beast -- slow piano collections from the Target slow piano collection music CD. And cleansing breaths? They used to be something I needed to remind myself to do, now it's the only way I know how to breathe.

I thought Darth Vader was raspy from being in that nasty fire. Turns out he's deep breathing trying to be less of an a**hole.

Doesn't work all the time, does it.

I know people call others a**holes, I do it. Especially when I'm driving, just ask my kids. But it would be only fair if we looked at the entire picture and reported what it's really made up of: the person in the middle of it all, being an a**hole right back. That's how it is with me, anyway. Every time I roll my eyes when my husband stares in the refrigerator, right at the soup I set aside for him, right there in the middle of the shelf, right there in front of his eyes, I'm being an a**hole. But he never calls me that.

I speak for myself only, of course. Maybe you all aren't the a**hole that I am. I know we don't have to be a**holes, I know that. But it comes easily to me some more than others, my kids push my buttons, my spouse forgets his manners. My kids' mother lets her buttons be pushed, and my spouse's spouse thinks eye for an eye when it comes to the words please and excuse me. That's how it really is.

The perfect storm just takes a couple of a**holes who forget to forgive each other, have grace for each other, and to deep breathe the lion hahahahhahaha kind of breath this lady shows us here:

 She may look and sound dumb, but if it makes her less of an a**hole, I'll take it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Solution versus Resolution

During this time of year, I can't help but think that I should make resolutions. Something that inches me toward who I want to be. I know I need a list, I know I should assess my life, and then, there are the goals we are to have. The GOALS Oprah tells us we need so that we spend January feeling like we have to improve every part of our lives. "What? No goals? How will you ever get somewhere?"

It hit me the other night while I tried to sleep, thinking of how my life is flying by and I want to yank the reins and switch the path to a less careening course. In moments that are clear, I say it, I don't need to resolve anything. I've spent what feels like my entire life trying to re-do myself. I'm weary of it all except for the one that fuels me: the want for things to be different for me and my family. But the *resolutions* part like I'm in bad shape about things? Nope. I'm not having it. What I'm going to do is look for solutions.

A solution that will help me fill in the parts of my life that have been neglectfully left to chance. I sorrowfully confess, that this part, is about that which is worth gold to me: my children, my family. I take advantage of their gentle nature and slap together the mothering and spousing aspects of my day in the ugliest knee-jerk style. Time is running through my hands, and my children need to know what they mean to me and why. I want them to know about the me that loves them.

* * *

They know so little about me.

My children know me as their mother, yes, I have been with them more than any other person they know. And though they have seen me daily for thousands of days, I remain two dimensional to them.

I'm the one who hasn't fleshed myself out to them. In between breakfasts and lunches packed, laundry pulled out of the dryer to be folded, and barely below speed limit runs to activities, life and face time has been done in snatches. And though we always meant to, or I meant to, one day catch up – the number of opportunities to soak each other in is on the short side of the hourglass now.

A resolution can't cover a solution. My solution is to help them see me, through different eyes than those that once looked up from a time when I was so much taller then they were. I won't just speak to them in words, but through something with power, the kind that moves faster than words can. Music, the music I grew up hearing.

* * *

I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. My mother and grandmother played the records they brought with them to America from Colombia every weekend during the day and into the night. I colored and cut out paper dolls while Lucho Gatica or Lupita Palomera played in the middle of it all.

This music of guitars that danced one pluck at a time, with one voice jumping on the back of the notes, always made me feel at peace. Time stood still on the days when these records played. When I would be away at school, or at a friend’s house, I always felt as if I were tip-toeing around someone else’s culture. But when I got back to my house, and opened the front door to this music playing,  I was home.

I want my children to hear and feel this same tethering, to know what it was like for me when these sounds filled my house. I want them to hear some of this music, to start. And later, more of this music. I want to bring this part of me into their lives.

I played a CD in the car of Lucho Gatica, a singer I grew up listening to. The reaction of my children, well – I worried that they might politely hurry it through, "How much longer do we have to listen, mom?"

But the one song I played, they liked it. Not for long, they told me, "Nice. But one is plenty," but when it was done, they liked it.

My middle boy said, "I can see you being little, and dancing to it, mom.” They say it makes them feel good, and when I hear this, my imagination runs wild and I want to shout out the car window and beep my horn, crying, “DNA! It's the DNA of mine that they carry!”

They are part of this music. They always have been in it, the thread of songs that my grandmother played for my mother that my mother then played for us, that I now play for my children.

I don't want to resolve to strengthen the chain of my family's heritage. I want to solve, softly, my fear of losing who my children are while they're from America.

I want my children to understand my want, when I ask, “Do you feel this music? Do you know what I hope for, when you hear this?”

I want them to hear the guitar strumming melodies, the lone voice, and find themselves as I did, home.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Oomancy: Food for the New Year

If you were to walk into my childhood home on New Year’s Day, you would see six children tip-toeing around a dining room table, careful to not bump and disturb the tall, clear glasses that had been set on it the night before. They were filled to the rim with still tap water. "You can't move them even a bit!," we would caution each other, "If you do then none of it counts!"

Inside each glass, floating like a plump newborn, would be a globulous raw egg. The water would grow bubbly as it sat over the hours, the strings of congealed egg white taking shape, reaching for the top with their thin strands of arms. I remember thinking how much those gelatinous peaks of egg white looked exactly like the sea monkey habitat ads from the back of my brother’s comic books.

It was the New Year, and my Colombian immigrant family was doing what we do on New Year's Day: egg divination. Oomancy. An egg symbolizes a beginning, and my grandmother, my abuela, would seek to predict our future for the coming year by the power of raw eggs in water. My grandmother lived with us and had been her small Colombian town’s esteemed medicine woman: a bruja buena, good witch. She was in charge of making her town’s monthly coca water (just what you think it is) as well as possessing the knowledge of fortune telling, in this case, via egg whites.

The first thing at midnight on New Year's Eve, my family would fill eight ounce glasses with water. We would then take take a still in its shell raw egg, rub it over our body, hand it to my grandmother who in one sweep of a movement, would crack the egg into our glass. This egg in water ensemble sat undisturbed through New Year's Eve and into the night. Most important of anything, was that the egg remain unshaken, motionless, in the tepid water. Nothing could influence or jeopardize the egg as it wove and dodged, the thick egg white separating from the yolk, stretching to the point of almost breaking as it searched for the meaning in the year to come.

We would awake the morning in the new year, and run to find our abuela. We surrounded her as she took each of our glasses, which we had left sitting on top of square pieces of paper with our names printed by our own hand. One by one, she'd hold our glasses up to the day's light, shifting the angle this way and that. Humming and murmuring, sometimes silent, she assessed the predictions for the new year. The egg white swirls pointing the way to good, or bad, news.

Your swirls could tell you who your future husband would be. If your egg had red spots, someone had put the evil eye on you. The egg white swirls could point to the next  possessor of the oomancy powers. If there was to be a long trip in your future, the peaks of the egg white would form a mountain, making sure you were the first to know and pack accordingly.

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What child could keep something this amazing a secret? If you had a grandmother who was able to interpret egg white strands, you would tell everyone in school, wouldn't you? And so, we did. My five siblings and I came back from Christmas break one school year, with stories to tell, chest bursting proud ones, of my abuela, the good witch with the egg divining powers. And since she did this every year, they were all invited to our house for New Year's! "Bring your own eggs!" we reminded them.

That New Year’s Eve, people did come. They came dressed like Mad Magazine’s Spy versus Spy, incognito in black coats, black head scarves, and black movie star sunglasses; sneakily knocking at the back door, whispering if now was a good time for an egg reading.

None who came seeking were turned away.

They hungrily took in what their egg peaks revealed. Miss Quill, who was my second grade teacher and single, in particular nodded eagerly when my grandmother pointed out that her egg whites were forming a bell shape. Miss Quill, rapt with her lashes just inches from her glass, begged my grandmother, "But Senora Pinzon, please, what does it mean??" In her broken English, my abuela answered back, "... a wedding, una boda, perhaps for you, maybe soon..." My grandmother had to shake her head no as Miss Quill pulled a plastic bag of eggs out of her spy coat pocket, begging for a continuation of the reading.

By everyone's smiles and general cheeriness, my siblings and I knew that our visitors had no idea  what was about to go down next. Your egg divination session didn’t simply end with an individualized reading of your egg white swirls.

No Sir.

After your egg white fortune telling was complete, my grandmother handed you back your glass with the raw egg congealed and wobbling at the bottom. Toast!Salud!” she would motion with a nod of her head for you to clink your glass with hers, and then 1-2-3 you were to tilt your head back along with her and let that good fortune slide right down the back of your throat, like it was the world's biggest slug. We could stand and peek from behind the kitchen door watching 15 pained gringo egg glottal slammings in a row and it never got old.


Years later, my brothers and I went to see the movie Rocky when it first came out. I remember the three of us gasping out loud as we watched Sylvester Stallone take an egg, and in the same precise one-handed manner as my grandmother, he cracked it on the edge of his water glass and plopped the yolk in. Then he sat and studied his glass as the strands of egg white floated upward. The popcorn fell out of our mouths as we turned to each other in disbelief, asking, “Rocky’s Colombian?!"

Who knew.

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