Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The holiday season has begun for us, but not without its share of drama. But I guess in the midst of it all, we have been reminded again of what is important.

It isn't about the gifts, the food, the obligations we have to entertain other. It is about love, commitment, family.

We woke up Christmas day as we had many other Christmases. The kids were thrilled to see what Santa had left under our tree, and ready to put it all to good use. Grandparents came over to have breakfast with us, and I placed a call to my mom, who was late for our celebration.

She had been sick all of the night before, and was not feeling well. We weren't quite sure what was wrong with her, but she was not doing well. Mom isn't the type to succumb to illness, she will go to work if she can, even when ill. For her to stay in bed is a huge ordeal and a sign of things not going well.

I headed over to her house, along with 2 of my sisters, and we did our best to make her comfortable. The rest of the days have been spent at doctor's offices, and the ER. We finally have a diagnosis, and a course of treatment. She will need surgery but at least we found the cause of all her discomfort.

None of us really minded that our Christmas was unusual. We did what was right and took care of our mother's need. We cancelled our get together and hope to reschedule it later so we can exchange gifts. There have been no complaints, not even from the kids who don't quite understand what's happening.

In a way, this year reminded us of what's truly important. It is not about having the perfect decorations, perfect food, perfectly set table. It's about family, about taking care of each, about love.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Tomorrow is Nochebuena, Christmas Eve. Wow. This month flew by and Christmas was here before I knew it.

Nochebuena was probably my favorite day of the whole season when I was a kid. The anticipation, the excitement, the food. It was almost as if the air smelled like Christmas. I miss that. I wish I could take my family back to Panama for Christmas, so they could see how I celebrated growing up. One day soon...

I miss my home this time of the year, every year since I moved here. I miss the sound of villancicos (carols), the smell of the food being prepared, the festive atmosphere that just cannot be replicated, no matter how much I try.

This year, I will try to replicate a tiny bit of my Navidad in my home, for my children to experience: in the food, the christmas carols, the anticipation. Maybe one year soon, they'll get to experience an authentic Panamanian Christmas

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Christmas Season

I was cleaning the kitchen last night, when my daughter came in and sadly said she will be so sad when Christmas is over. I asked her what was the reason behind her sadness, and she said that once Christmas day is over, then Christmas will be over too.

I love moments like those when I can tell her about my life as a child, when I was her age, and have her undivided attention.

So I began to tell her about our Christmas season. I'm Catholic, and growing up in a country where the majority of the people were also Catholic meant our holidays were heavily centered around their Christian meaning. Yes, there were presents and Christmas trees, but we were reminded every step of the way, whether at home or at school, of the real meaning of the holiday.

My Christmas celebration has never ended on Christmas day. My tree doesn't come down, I keep everything as it is until January 6. That's when my Christmas season ends. Growing up, I didn't really know the reason behind keeping the decorations up so long. Everyone else did it, and so did we. It was what we did.

As I've gotten older, I have learned the reason why we did that. Our church celebrates the Christmas season from Dec 25th until January 6. I guess it is simple if you think about it. The story of salvation didn't end with the birth of the Savior, it is just the beginning. There were other things that happened after his birth and during his infancy that were also important and we conmemorate those too. It all ends with the Epiphany, or the day we celebrate the visit from the Magi, the three Wise men.

I explained all this to her in terms she could understand. Regardless of how your worship, Christmas doesn't have to end on Christmas day. The message of Christmas, the giving of unselfish love that God showed us, doesn't end that day, and we shouldn't stop celebrating it just because our decorations are no longer on display.

She seemed to be satisfied with the answer. Who doesn't want to continue to celebrate Christmas a bit longer? I just hope our decorations survive until then. My sons seem to think they need to redecorate every day. They keep moving ornaments around, and rearranging our Nativity scene. Let's home we have decorations left until the Epiphany.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


It's funny how the simplest of things can bring up a mountain of memories. After I put the twins to bed, I started wrapping some Christmas gifts that need to make their way to a friend across the country. It was then that a flood of memories came to me.

I had my first job at the age of 14, wrapping Christmas gifts at a store back in my hometown. My cousin, who was a bit older than me, was working there for the holidays, and got me the job. I was so excited because I had the chance to make my own money and spend it in whatever I wanted.

At the time, there was not a mall in my hometown. The majority of the stores were on one street, lined up on both sides. The stores would all have big speakers right outside, playing Christmas music and trying to lure people into their stores. The stores are not air conditioned, not that it would matter because, in order to deal with the crowd, the doors remain open.

December is the beginning of the hot season in Panama, very little rain, and lots of sun. The gift wrapping area was outside, in front of the store, right on the sidewalk. There was no shade to cover us when the hot afternoon sun was in full force.
I worked the entire month in the heat, and never even noticed. Since the gift wrapping was free, almost everyone took advantage of it, and as the day got nearer, the crowd of people got larger and larger. I wrapped gifts until 11 PM on Christmas Eve that day, and walked home with my cousin (I lived about 5 minutes walk from the store) shortly after.

I remember how proud I was when I received my paycheck. I can't remember the exact amount but it couldn't have been much. Back in those days, minimum wage was $5.60 per day.
It was hard work, but I was happy I was able to do for myself.

A lot has changed since then, I've had many other jobs too. I still remember that job with fondness. It taught me the value of hardwork, no matter what job you are doing. It also taught me how valuable an education would be.

Now I wrap gifts for those that I love, and thank the heavens for the lessons I learned back then.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Question

To-do or not-to-do, that is the question. Or at least the subject of today's rambling.

I recently suscribed to Real Simple magazine. I had bought one at the store, loved it, and ended up buying a suscription from a friend's son, they were selling suscriptions as a fundraiser.

Anyway, I received the new one yesterday, the official Jan 09 issue. I was anxiously waiting to see what new ideas I could incorporate into my not-really-simple life. This issue actually centered around to-do lists.

I used to keep to-do lists, that's how I survived engineering schools. There were design reports, lab reports, homeworks, tests, more reports that needed to be turned in on time. I had to keep a list so I would know what needed to get done next. As my life became more hectic, my lists got longer and longer until they were no longer manageable. I stopped making them.

I can get things done without one, and my life would be less hectic if I kept a list, but they just don't work for me. I've taken time management classes that praise list making as the best thing ever invented. I just cannot keep one. That's not to say I don't have lists. I keep lists of projects, reports that need to be reviewed, these are "master" lists, not daily lists.

I attended the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" seminar back in July and loved the whole thing. I even tried to apply the habits to my life and was doing really well until I went on vacation. You can't plan your days while on vacation. Habit 3 is First Things First. All about prioritizing and making lists, and deciding what should come first. It all sounds great, unfortunately once my priority list is set, I will very likely get a phone call from the boss, telling me a new project has moved up to the top of the list, and the list will no longer be valid. Back to square one.

I love the end of the year, not only because Christmas is my favorite holiday, but because the end of the year is near. All those things I promised myself I would do at the beginning of the year, that list of "resolutions" , I can toss it all away and start fresh once January 1 rolls around.

So, rather than trying to plan the rest of the year, I've decided to give the whole planning/prioritizing/to-do list another try after the holidays. If nothing else, this can be part of the whole "New Year resolution" list. After all, I may need something to "toss away" by this time next year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Adventure at the mall

I decided to venture out of the house with all three of the kids yesterday. I'm pretty certain my husband thought I had lost my mind. My friend Veronica was very quick to point out how "brave" I was to go to the mall with not just one but three kids in tow.

I kept telling myself I could handle this. This isn't international travel, it is just a trip to Northpark. How bad could it be?

We arrived at Northpark and I unloaded the double stroller. I told all the kids what behavior I was expecting from them and the consequences they would face if they misbehaved. There was nothing but silence in the backseat of the car as I started to unload them, one by one.

First stop was the food court. Every time my daughter and I head out together we have lunch either at McAlister's or Chick Fil A. Neither of these have a branch near our house, so it is a special treat. We ordered her lunch from McAlister's and got a table. The boys quickly decided they didn't need the stroller, and sat at the table. For a few minutes, I debated with myself. Do I wait for Candace to be finished with her food before I go order some Chick Fil A for the twins, do I leave the twins at the table with her, do I take the twins with me, do I take them all with me?

Decisions, decisions. Candace has been trained when it comes to strangers and what to do. Besides, the table was near enough I could see her while ordering food for the twins. So I took the boys with me, we ordered while watching her, and came back to the table. First obstacle had been conquered.

They got back in the stroller and we headed to find Santa Claus. Everyone was excited to see him, including me. I was daydreaming of the money I would spend ordering pictures with Santa. I didn't even notice the stares that met us everywhere we went, we were going to see Santa!

We arrived, and Cade decided he was having nothing to do with the white-bearded man. He wouldn't even look at him, much less get close. I couldn't even get the other two in there, because this kid was screaming at the sight of Santa.

So we left. He calmed down, we did some window shopping, tried to do some real shopping but they kept insisting in helping me. Thanks but I'm tired of putting things back on the racks. We did manage to get an ornament for our tree and an outfit for Candace. They had a great time, we ate cotton candy and they didn't even noticed the stares.

What's with the stares anyway? I get that they are twins, and they will get attention but these days, with fertility treatments and such, multiples are a lot more common. It seems people can't help themselves. Thankfully, they don't notice yet the unwanted attention they receive. I keep telling myself people stare because they are just too cute to go unnoticed!

People sometimes ask me how I do it. I don't have an answer for that. How does any mom do it? I don't think I'm "special" because I have twins, I'm just a mom like any other. Yes, I had to juggle feeding two babies at once, double the amount of diapers, bottles, and clothes. I had to learn to remain calm when both of them were screaming at once, and figure out how to juggle time with Candace so she wouldn't feel neglected.

But all moms juggle their share of challenges. They all manage. I'm not special. I am just a mom

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas traditions

At work, we have an internal newsletter that features different employees every month, and depending on the time of the year, different recipes, ideas, traditions.

For the December newsletter they asked that we submit our traditional New Year's celebrations. We have people from all over the world here so it should be interesting to see what everyone does for New Years.

This time of the year has always been my favorite. As a child, I remember how exciting it was to decorate the house for Christmas. One year, our entire neighborhood decorated the street with lights, and we made sure our house was decorated to match.
Christmas Eve is a big deal back in Panama. There is Midnight Mass, and most families attend mass together, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Mass usually starts around 11:00 PM and ends by midnight. Afterwards everyone heads home, to celebrate. There is food, and neighbors go to each others homes to say Feliz Navidad. The kids get to stay up late, and of course, no presents are "delivered" until after everyone is sleep.

I guess you can say we like to party back home because New Years is a big deal too. There is more food, music, our entire neighborhood would become a huge street party. At midnight, everyone goes outside to wish each other a Happy New Year.

I miss the holidays back in Panama. I miss welcoming our neighbors to the house, sharing a bit of food and happy wishes with them, I miss attending Midnight Mass at the Cathedral, I miss home.

But new traditions are emerging as my children get older. For the past 3 years, one of Santa's elves delivers a special package on Christmas Eve. The elves are very busy, so they usually ring the doorbell and leave before we can get to the door. Inside the package, there are pajamas for each member of the family. These aren't your normal pajamas, you know. They come from the North Pole, and they are magic. They help Santa work "his magic" on Christmas night.
I can't wait to hear the doorbell this year, and watch Candace rush to the door to retrieve the package.

We have a Nativity scene in the center of our home to remind us of the real reason we celebrate Christmas. We bake cookies for Santa and we write a note for him to read as he is eating his cookies. For the past few years, he has even left footprints inside our house, since the fireplace had ashes in there.

As they get older, I hope to incorporate more traditions, like Midnight Mass, and Christmas Carols in Spanish.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas now that the weather has turned cold. It's time to let the magic of this season touch our hearts and get ready to celebrate with our families.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If I didn't have kids, I would
* Sleep as late as I could on weekends
* Have a spotlessly clean house
* Spend lots of money in clothes, purses, and shoes
* Drive a convertible
* Take fabulous vacations every year
* Eat out at expensive places
* Go out of town on the weekends
* Go back to school
* Read more books

BUT if I wasn't a mother, I wouldn't know
* the joy of cuddling with my kids and watching cartoons on Saturday morning.
* the pride in my children's eyes when they show me their latest masterpiece drawn in the living room wall.
* the joy of buying clothes for that little person growing inside of me.
* what loving unconditionally feels like.
* I would have never discovered how good chicken nuggets from Chick Fil A are, or how much fun it is to collect the toys inside a Happy Meal.
* the sounds of my children's laughter in the backseat of my car would be unknown to me.
* that indescribable feeling I felt when I took my children to my homeland
* I would have missed the sparkle in their eyes when they saw the ocean for the first time.
* I would not know how chaotic and fun a family meal at home can truly be.
* I wouldn't have a first grader teaching me how to properly pronounce words in English
* I would have never read the Cat in the Hat, or even know who Dr. Seuss was.
* I wouldn't know that an old, tore up bear, can keep all the monsters away at night.
* I would have never known what it feels like to have a little pair of arms tightly wrapped around my neck.
* the joy of hearing "I love you" for the first time
* the pride of watching them in their first dance recital, or scoring their first goal, or playing their first song in the piano.
* how the cry of a child in the middle of the night will wake you from the deepest of sleeps.

If I wasn't a mother, I would have never known love can have no boundaries.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The real meaning of Christmas

Have you noticed how materialistic Christmas has become? I was disturbed to hear about that person who got trampled to death at Walmart. How is it possible that, out of those thousands, there was not one person who cared enough to help that man up so he wouldn't get killed? Have we become so obssessed with having things, that we take human life for granted?

I am an optimist and I believe there is a lot of hope left in the world. We seldom hear about the Good Samaritans who help others, or the families who share what little they have because it makes them feel good. Those are not newsworthy stories. But those people are still out there, trying to make a difference, and doing their best to refocused our Christmas celebration so we'll remember the reason why we celebrate in the first place.

Growing up, we had no Santa Claus. Our Christmases were not cold, there was no snow. As a matter in fact, December is the beginning of the "summer" in Panama, and Christmas was always warm, sunny, perfect for playing outside. Santa was someone who visited those kids who lived "up north", where it got cold and it snowed. He didn't drive his sleigh down to the tropics, you know.

I never missed not having Santa, and Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I was lucky to grow up in a place where the majority of the people are Christians, so our Christmas celebrations were centered around the birth of Christ.

You are probably wondering how could I receive gifts if Santa didn't visit me. Baby Jesus, the one who truly gives the best gifts, He brought our gifts. I knew my parents bought the gifts and I knew my mom wrapped them and they placed them under the tree. But I knew that without Him, there would be no gifts. If He didn't bless my parents with health and jobs, we would have no gifts. I knew even as a child that He was the real gift of Christmas.

I'm now an adult, raising children in a place where it gets cold for Christmas and where Santa visits every year. My husband grew up with knowledge of Santa coming on Christmas morning, so now we try to incorporate his tradition and mine during Christmas.

It is not easy, and those of you who are parents and are Christians know how secular our celebration has become. We seem to be more focused on how much stuff we get rather than on giving and living by our Christian faith. Maybe it is time we refocused our Christmas, don't you think?

I'm not Scrooge, I like gifts and I like watching my kids open their gifts on Christmas morning. Every year I try to recenter our Christmas around the birth of Jesus. My kids are still young and they probably don't notice but that's ok. Eventually, they will realize that Christmas isn't about Santa, or gifts, it is about the birth of our Savior, about giving, and helping those who need help, and spreading the love of Christ around the world.

So this year I've decided to spend less. Not because I want a fat bank account (well, I do, but that's a long way from happening), rather that money I will not spend on gifts of "obligation", I'm going to use for charity. I'm going to buy one less thing and find someone who needs it more than I or my kids and give to them. I will probably spend more time baking and giving baked goods because that's one way I show someone that I care. I will probably spend more time with my daughter making handmade gifts so that she can put a bit of her love into the gifts she is giving away this year.
I will give my kids gifts from Baby Jesus this year so they will remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

(for ideas on gifts, visit www.rethinkingchristmas.com

Monday, December 1, 2008

18 years ago today

It seems like just yesterday. I remember vividly how excited I was. I had never been on a plane before and I was about to get my first chance.

We arrived at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica very early and checked in. We didn't have a lot of luggage, just a few old suitcases with our entire possessions. I was nervous, and excited. I had no idea what the rest of my life would be like but I knew it would be an adventure.

We said goodbye to my father, it was a bittersweet moment. I felt guilty because I was so happy to leave, yet so sad to leave him.

We arrived in New Orleans on a typical December day. It was gray and cold as we stepped out of the airport. I could see the city at a distance. We drove back to Mississippi and I remember wondering what our life would be like from now on. Little did I know how my life would turn out.

Eighteen years ago today, I arrived in the US. An immigrant full of dreams. I have been blessed to be able to fulfill those dreams. One by one, they have become a reality. There are still many more dreams left to achieve.

I am thankful for the last 18 yrs, for the opportunities I have had, and for the people I left behind who supported me throught these 18 yrs, who rejoiced with me every time I achieved a goal and believed I could be someone one day.

I'm looking forward to the next 18, 36, 54, 72... years