Thursday, December 29, 2005

Graveside Visits

The holiday season means trips to the cemetery for me... I have lost too many people at this time of the year; couple that with the fact that I have lived away from my hometown for the past fifteen years (yikes), and this time of the year finds me near the graves of many of my near and dear.

Lately, I only make it to one cemetery or the other (my grandparents are conveniently now residing in two separate cemeteries)... the main objective of the trip is to see my mother's mother, father and brother, but I also always drop by to wish Jaime a merry christmas and to make sure he knows that he is still alive in my heart.

Jaime was my first junior high. He played on the basketball team and I was one of the managers. The thing about being so close to your crush on a regular basis is that you really can become friends. It was clear that he and I were never going to be a couple... nice to look at but not really my type, and I was definitely not his type. On the other hand, we were good friends...he, like many of the guys on the team, developed serious brotherly feelings for me. When we went to the same high school, away from most of the people we knew, our bond was sealed. Although we didn't have any classes together and didn't spend endless hours together at basketball games anymore, we were still buddies.

Our senior year, during our Christmas break, Jaime and his friend Raul were in a car accident, and Jaime didn't survive. It broke my heart then and still makes me cry. I can't believe it has been 19 years since my friend Jaime went to live with god.

Every year at Christmas, I go to visit Jaime... It makes me feel better to see his picture on the headstone and see the decorations his family has put out for him. He was the oldest and on the outs with his parents when he died, but they have never left him alone there in the cemetery. This year, I found a lonely balloon stuck in the flower holder and a chip in his picture. I can almost not describe the sincere sense of loss that I felt when I saw his lonely grave. It was like losing him all over again. It hurts to think that Jaime is not the center of someone's world; that his loss is not as deeply felt as before. Maybe his family has moved away; maybe they, like my family, have just stopped going to the cemetery. Maybe he lives in their hearts even if they can't be there to decorate his grave for Christmas.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas without Tamales

Sometime earlier this week, my sisters decided that my mom was too sick and tired to make tamales. Note, they didn't decide that we could make them instead.

Tamales or no tamales is not what makes Christmas. I guess I have learned that the hard way. Living far away from home for so many years, I had to do without tamales quite a bit. One year I even made my own, by myself... and maybe that was when I learned that it wasn't about the tamales.

What has always marked our Christmases is the making in group of the tamales. It takes all day and all night between the preparation, the assembly and the cooking. And in between all of the people wander in and out of the kitchen; some help, some steal olives, some fix drinks, and some entertain the cooks. Growing up my favorite part of Christmas was that we got to have the whole family in the house, but there was little pressure to do any one thing. Of course, all the moms and tias complained that I didn't take my place on the assembly line, but in some way that was entertainment for them too.

A few more important facts to note: my mother never celebrated Christmas as a child. Her family was poor, it wasn't their tradition, and they didn't put up trees or sit around and make tamales all night. My mom created the tradition after she was married as a way of bringing together all the various pieces of her family: her brothers (she's the only girl), my dad's siblings and all of the cousins.

It took me a long time to figure out that my mother hadn't been celebrating Christmas this way her whole life. She guards every piece of the traditions she's created very fiercely. She doesn't like to vary the menu or the way anything is prepared in the least. She takes it as a personal insult if anyone suggests that she add or take away ingredients. Though, for the short time I was a vegetarian, she did learn to make a new kind of tamale for me that she then added to the tradition as though it had always been there.

Over the years, the guest list has become more and more limited... more because as the cousins have grown up they have their own family gatherings, but also because my mom is unwilling to give up any piece of her guardianship of tradition. So the house is no longer full of people, but there is also less drama. But there are fewer tamaleras to help with the making and cooking of the tamales. None of us girls are wildly interested in cooking, but some of that has to do with the strictness with which my mother guards everything.

So, it should not have surprised me when my sisters decided that we would just have something else and that rather than coordinate with each other, we would all just make whatever we wanted. When it was five o'clock, the chosen eating time, and there were no appetizers, there was some backlash. And there was too much food and nothing went well together. It was a little like Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving... popcorn and peanut butter sandwiches... on the other hand, it was very sweet to have everyone around the table to eat together instead of some stuck in the kitchen cooking (though there were three of us stuck in the kitchen for a while).

It was also nice to not have my mom whirling around like the tasmanian devil all day. She was nervous in the service... that's what I call it when she just doesn't know what to do with herself. I made her go for a walk with my sister and I to run our last minute Christmas and trip shopping. Then I took her to the cemetery to visit one set of grandparents and some other relatives and my friend, Jaime. Every Christmas I try to visit Jaime and my grandmothers... I lost all of them (in different years) at this time of the year. When we got back there was still time for all of us to sit around and finish wrapping our gifts. It was a chore no one was looking forward to, but somehow, like making tamales in group, it was more fun together.

So, it turns out Christmas will come and go without tamales... and traditions and recipes can be tweaked, and the sky will not fall.

Merry Christmas all...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

the child's table

Overheard at the physical therapy place:

I think we should put in the extra piece to the table and then put the two tables together.

She inquired about the number of adults and the number of children. 6 of each. The young girl tried to talk her mother out of having a child's table.

A young party planner in the making, I remarked. No doubt.

But it was also about being a tween and being tired of being a kid ... a little sense of powerlessness and yet the cunning to try to talk her mother into letting her be a grown up.

I remember the child's table in the kitchen. I hated that as well. When we still had a lot of people over for thanksgiving, my dad would bring in a big table from outside and when we put it together with the dining room table, it took up the entire living room and dining room. And we still had to put the children in the kitchen.

I look at my niece and nephew now and wonder if they wouldn't rather be at a child's table. Last year, we sat around the table telling stories about our history. My niece was really annoyed. No more stories she wailed. My nephew was entranced... another one.

It's the way I learned my family's history... listening to the stories around the dinner table, especially when we had visitors.

I thought today about all the children who won't know their grandparents and how would they learn about them? Do other families like to tell stories as much as mine? I was born about fifteen years after my mother's father died, yet I feel as though I grew up at his knee. My mom is really good at telling our history... and since she and my dad grew up together, she knows his family stories too.

Maybe it is time to start writing down the stories so even if we don't talk about the stories, they can still be passed down.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

message in a bottle


Awaiting reply

The thing about a message in a bottle is that sometimes you don't get anything back.

I usually only resort to the message in a bottle if I need to get something out and don't really NEED a reply.


I don't NEED a reply now either...just want one.

Any one


Sunday, December 18, 2005

how do songs get written?

Not the music, the words.

Is it possible that tangled emotions are worked out in poetry?

Do the words learn to string themselves in somewhat ambiguous patterns?

What takes one to the point of letting out the words?

Saturday, December 17, 2005


This article, coupled with several other cases, clearly demonstrates to me why the "justice" system is so fucked up. Sure, it was a horrible thing that this woman's actions resulted in the death of her defenseless child. But compare this sentence with the 6 years one guy gets on a plea deal for Gwen Araujo or the 16 maximum years the other guys got for beating and strangling an equally defenseless Gwen Araujo.

Or if you want to compare another case in NJ, the 15 year maximum the guy got for beating his filipino wife (mail order bride?) to death and then throwing her body in a car down a ravine to pretend it was an accident that killed her.

Maybe I am just crazy, but it seems like we use the word justice and then bend it around our personal vendettas...

After reading this, I had a long discussion with a friend about justice, the death penatly, and judicial punishment in general.

What upsets me is not that people are seduced into believing that vengeance will soothe the pain of losing a loved one. What upsets me is that we pretend that when we are meting out "justice" that is has something to do with logic and rule of law. Sentencing in this country is arbitrary in the most gentle terms... and racist, sexist and vengeful in the most extreme terms.

We demonstrate as a society how we devalue some people and value others. We disregard the health and welfare of women and children; but then we punish them to the fullest extent of the law if they attempt to defend themselves.

It would be less hypocritical if were not always judging other countries and the way they punish.

We talk about rehabilitation and then we murder those who attempt to change their lives.

We talk about wanting to have safe communities, but then we fail to educate poor, black and brown children so that they can be financially secure. We look around ourselves and wonder why bright youth turn to crime.

We expect people to cross the border to do any job, for less than is financially responsible, we are unwilling to do or pay a living wage for, and then we don't want them to have access to education or healthcare. We treat people like slaves or indentured servants; we demonize people, and wonder when we are the targets of terrorism.

What does this have to do with justice?

It has to do with our self-perception, our hypocrisy, our inability to admit when we are being human and looking for retribution instead of justice.

How can we change things or make them better if we can't admit to what we do?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My daily fortune

The secret paths of your heart contain many blessings to be shared with another.

In honor of my fortune, I am going to try, again, to write the letter I have been carrying around in my heart.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Velando a Tookie

The bright lights from the news crews were blinding; the people packed around you, and you had to move according to their movements. We walked along the water, the houses across the street were stately and quiet, as if no one were home. With my sight obscured and the sound of the helicopters drowning out all other sound, it seemed my sense of smell was more acute. It smelled like Christmas. I looked around and saw there were pine trees, and people who had climbed in them to get a better view. Move forward a bit, just stuck in a bottleneck, try to keep your hair from being burned by candles. I heard someone say, "excuse me," and Sean Penn brushed by me.

No way to be tired; no sense of time, it was truly surreal. So many camera people and news people trying to get the perfect picture or score an interview with just the most interesting person. Some people there to be seen, but most there to wait and hear and help Tookie's spirit pass to the other side.

For the last hour, children and adults read Tookie's books in the microphone. We all grew a little restless by 12:15am... no word, no sign, no way of knowing what was going on inside the prison. I hope someone told him how many of us had come to support him in his last hour.

The ridiculous show of force... police lined up in the most inane places. Smirking, talking about traffic, some taking the opportunity to earn the city a little cash by writing parking tickets. We were making them nervous. They were making us angry and sad and frustrated. So much wasted energy. So much wasted in general.

Watching your country make justice = vengeance in your name has got to be the single most disgusting thing. Maybe it would be worse to see them mow down innocent people in the war, but this was here...twenty minutes from my house. It should be required of all citizens to watch, to contemplate the horror of murdering someone in the name of justice.

I'm sure there's more, but these are the images, thoughts, and feelings pressing on my chest right now.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


So ... I think it was a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I really can't remember the exact date, I decided to stop drinking coffee.

I was tired of being addicted to caffeine. I didn't like the way it made me feel, and I hated having to worry about having caffeine before I got a headache. Besides the fact that I don't even like coffee.

Getting rid of coffee was like getting rid of the last nasty legacy of my last job. So I did it.

I switched to tea. Some days it would take quite a few cups of tea, but by the end of the first week, I was able to cut back to just one cup of tea.

Those first few weeks were difficult because they were super stressful weeks... so much going on... but I made it.

Now I can drink herbal tea in the morning or all day if I feel like it.

I miss the milk and sugar... so sometimes I have a chai latte and even found a place that will make a tea latte.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

twelve months later...

I realized today that at the end of the month, I will have been blogging for a whole year. It's hard to believe, but, then again, time flies.

I didn't really start blogging in earnest until May, but I have been trying to be a more faithful blogger in the past few months. Sometimes I do well, other times, I fall off the posting wagon.

I follow a bunch of other blogs faithfully; so I know how it feels when someone isn't updating. I have noticed that some of the people I follow stop posting when they are happy.

I am going to try to blog more faithfully... not just rant and not just untangle.

I looked back over the year so far and noticed that pattern in myself as well. Many days, they were just rants. I think that's ok... I read something that outrages me, and instead of forwarding it to everyone I know with an indignant note, I just write something here and post the link. That way, my readers can check it out or skip it.

What's different about my blogging, I think, is that I really use the blog as the place where I untangle the knots or muse about the blockage. I find it really useful to have a place where I can be honest while I am simultaneously not revealing too much information. I feel safe even while I am unloading things that had been dragging me down.

I want to post more often about good times and things that made me smile outwardly and inwardly, like the red rocks, the shooting stars, gorgeous redwoods and the little mijo.

So...when I look back over the year, I re-read and remember, oh yeah, that's what I was going through...or I remember feeling that.