Visiting Shenandoah National Park during a Pandemic

My family and I recently visited Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. After being on lockdown and quarantine for months, we needed fresh air and to enjoy new sights far away from our home.

During this pandemic there aren’t many choices for safe, family-friendly activities this summer. Going to the beach is still not a safe choice for me and my family, especially with children. Theme parks are out of the question. And my favorite things to do -cultural festivals, wine festivals, and outdoor music concerts- were canceled in order to avoid large gatherings of people.

It is not until we go through something like this pandemic that we realize how much people rely on each other to make every day things happen. Outdoor activities, food establishments and other businesses that rely on a constant influx of customers to stay in business, fuel the economy at both the local and the national levels. Teachers and schools rely on students coming in to school so they can teach, otherwise they’re out of a job. On the one hand, you want to go out there and support local businesses, and on the other, you are concerned about staying safe and secure while the pandemic storm howls outside. This dichotomy has been on my mind over the last few months.

I understand that we need to take care of ourselves so we can, in turn, take care of others. I kept this in mind as I thought of what sort of activities, we could do this summer. The best place I could think of was the outdoors.

Wild columbine or Aquilegia canadensis is found at Shenandoah National Park.

I remembered that about seven years ago, I went on a hike in Shenandoah National Park with my extended family and, although we didn’t plan the trip very well, and didn’t realize how extraneous this activity was going to be, we did make some good memories in the end. At the time, we had discussed the possibility of getting to see the waterfalls. Secretly, I was determined to make it happen. So, after about two hours of hiking with my less than enthused family we made it to the waterfalls! At that time, my oldest child was three years old.

This month, we decided to visit Shenandoah National Park the weekend before Fourth of July, so we could avoid large crowds. At least, that’s what we thought. I was so surprised to see more people at the park than I did around the same time seven years ago. Back in 2013, during our now legendary hike to the waterfalls, there wasn’t a lot of people in the trails. At that time, we went hiking around Mathews Arm, which is one of the most popular trails at Shenandoah. At that time, there were just a few visitors and we ran into people on the trail only every twenty minutes or so. During our recent visit to Shenandoah National Park, the number of visitors was a lot higher and the visitors were very diverse. There were a lot of professional hikers at the park, but there were also small families like us, who took their kids hiking as well. There were even extended families visiting the park, which included grandparents and even dogs as part of their extensive entourage. The public restrooms were mostly empty when I went to use one, but by the time I got out there was already a line of people waiting outside the door. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t know so many people were all of the sudden interested in the outdoors, especially at this park.

I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling the stress of the pandemic and, just like me, everyone else also felt the need to get out of the house after being quarantined for so many days.

I figured that many of the visitors at the park were people who had never been there before. Perhaps they wouldn’t have come to Shenandoah if it wasn’t for the pandemic. But after not having many choices to go to this summer and after being quarantined for months, the parks and the outdoors are the only places that we have left to go to.

Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of Virginia.
beautiful wildflowers found at Shenandoah National Park.
beautiful wildflowers at Shenandoah National Park
Swamp thistle or Cirsium muticum is found throughout Shenandoah National Park.
Swamp thistle or Cirsium muticum is found throughout Shenandoah National Park.
Erigeron annuus also known as daisy fleabane is found at Shenandoah National Park.
Wildflowers found at Shenadoah National Park.

During the hike, many people wore face coverings, masks, even plastic gloves, while a selected few still refused to wear anything at all. On most instances, these later folks wouldn’t even try to keep social distance when running into other people. This experience showed me how different our thinking is when it comes to this pandemic.

I wanted to take care of my family, so I modeled responsible social distance practices every time we ran into other hikers; whether they were wearing a face mask or not. Any time hikers approached on our trail we would move away from them as far as we could, always giving them the right of way. My entire family wore face masks and we only took them off when there was no one else around. It was annoying and unpleasant as most of the time we were the ones moving away from people and letting them pass. Plus, doing a very extraneous exercise such as hiking while wearing a face mask only made the exercise a lot harder.

We were not able to reach the waterfall at Mathews Arm; we only hiked about two miles and turned around and came back. I was being mindful that we had a three-year old with us who was not going to last the whole trip. So, this time around, I opted to keep the trip short.

Fly Poison or Amianthium muscitoxicum.
Mathews Arm Area at Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah is home to over 400 species of fungi such as this one.
another variety of mushroom found at Shenandoah National Park.
The Path – Shenandoah National Park

I love hiking and the outdoors and when I get the chance, I like to stay out all day and end up so tired that I just want to take a shower and go to bed. But one of the greatest lessons I learned during this whole pandemic is that we need to be mindful and considerate of others. I needed to be mindful of my kids and realize that they were not going to hike 6.5 miles round trip just to see a waterfall. I also had to be mindful of my husband, who would, inevitably, would end up carrying one or both kids on the way back had we walked all the way to the waterfalls. I had to be mindful and realize that other people disagree about how this new virus spreads or about how serious it is. I had to be mindful and accept that I might not get what I want all the time, especially while going through this pandemic. Instead, I was reminded to be grateful that at least I was able to at least do something I wanted. I had to be mindful and considerate of the fact that this new virus can put other people and families at risk when we choose not to do something as simple as keeping six feet away from others or wear my face mask, and that, even still, some people refused to do any or all of these things.

Even though hiking and the way we go about doing things today is different than what we were used to, we did manage to create nice memories during our trip. I’m glad to see that more people are getting out and visiting this beautiful park, and hopefully they will become aware about how important it is to take care of nature and our world. I am grateful that I live in a place where I can go visit wide open spaces and amazing outdoor locations such as Shenandoah National Park. I came back with a refreshed mind, ready to start my week, even in the middle of this stressful pandemic. There is no doubt that Nature can heal.

I love hiking and the outdoors.
I love hiking and the outdoors.
Visiting Shenandoah National Park during a Pandemic.

Lighting a Candle in Memory of my Grandmother

Today I am lighting a candle in memory of my grandmother.

She passed away on a sunny summer day on a Wednesday morning on June 24th.

A day like any other, when everyone was going about, getting ready to go to work and start their day.

I have written about grieving for my grandmother in previous posts because this is the one person in my life whose loss has affected me the most, but it’s also the experience that God has used to cause me to grow the most in my spiritual life.

When I first found out she passed away, it took me a while to process the news. After that, I felt all sorts of conflicting feelings: anger, hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear, and more. For the rest of that year I spent my days praying and being close to God, who comforted me as I found a way to move forward.

The first year was tough. The second, a little more manageable. By the third and fourth I felt I could manage with God’s help. And now, during the fifth year, I feel I can share my feelings with people and with those I love.

During the first couple of years after her passing I used to grieve about what could’ve been. What hurt me the most was not having spent the time I wanted to with my grandmother. All the things we could’ve done together as grandmother and granddaughter: all the times she could’ve sat with me and shared her stories growing up in her hometown or taught me valuable lessons about life. I grieved for the relationship we could’ve had and we didn’t. This hurt me the most after her passing.

But one of the most important things God taught me during this experience was to let go.  Let go of what could’ve been and didn’t happen. Letting go of the relationship I always wanted to have with her but couldn’t. Letting go of all the things I wished she did for me and the things I dreamed we could’ve done together.

God helped me to accept the way things are. He helped me forgive those who I needed to forgive in order to move on. He taught me I should instead do something with the things I do have control over.

Because of that, I chose to forgive.

By forgiving her, I experienced a great deliverance in my spirit that was long overdue.

Little by little, as I allowed God to guide me, I walked through the path that He laid before me toward forgiveness and acceptance. God took me to places where I don’t think I would’ve been able to walk on my own. I also had the opportunity to go back to the place where I was born and visit my grandmother’s house and make peace with my extended family. All of this for the glory of God.

It was through this loss that God taught me what it means to forgive someone you love. He also taught me to let go of the past, of painful experiences as well as of places that were preventing me from moving forward. He also taught me about reconciliation.

On this, the fifth observance of my grandmother’s passing, I want to light a candle and pray for her memory. I pray that she rests in peace and that God lets her know how much I love her. Also, that I forgive her and that my love for her has canceled any and all wrongdoings and hurts. I pray for the relationships between her and her children, that they also find a way to reconcile and make peace with her.

I pray that God helps my grandmother’s children to heal properly and experience reconciliation, so that they can have better relationships with their own children and grandchildren in turn. Above all, I pray that this new generation will understand the fear and love of God and will be blessed from this point onward and for generations yet to come.

Rest in Peace Abuelita Francisca and to God be the glory forever and ever, Amen.

Lighting a Candle in Memory of my Grandmother.

The Point of Convergence in the Past Two Years

Exactly two years ago, I embarked on the journey of starting this blog, The Point of Convergence.

I wanted to share how this blog has evolved since then.

At first, I wanted to dedicate this blog to the memory of my time growing up in Mexico.  The more I wrote about those memories, the more I realized that I didn’t want to just continue focusing on those memories of long ago; otherwise I would run the risk of getting stuck in the past.  So, I began to write about my life in the present and in the process of doing this I realized something.

San Luis Potosí Cathedral in 2000 the place where I grew up and often write about.

In these past two years something really important and exciting took place in my life.  This last Christmas, I was blessed with the opportunity to go back to the place where I grew up, San Luis Potosí.  This is the place that I often find myself writing about, the place that has inspired me to continue writing despite everything going on in the world.  It’s the place that inspired me to begin this personal blog from the beginning.

San Luis Potosí Cathedral in 2020 the place where I grew up.
San Luis Potosí Government Palace in 2020 during Christmas.

During that trip, I got to see my extended family and reestablish new relationships.  I also visited those places that I yearned to see and which I often talked about in my blog.  I realized many relationships with friends and family members won’t be able to just “pick up where they left off” and move forward.  Some of those relationships will require more work and some might just have to be ended.

For a whole year, I wrote for this blog focusing on my life in Mexico.  Then something unexpectedly happened in my life that was very unfortunate and made me reevaluate the focus on this blog; my stepdad passed away on April 13, 2019.  During that month I didn’t have time or the energy to write a blog post.  I had one ready to publish before he passed away, but chose not to publish it.  Because he was important to me, I felt like I needed to take time to mourn the passing of my stepdad.

May you rest in Peace stepdad knowing that you are now with our Lord Jesus Christ.
My stepdad used to sit here during sunset. He’s no longer here and this place reminds me of him.

It was his passing that caused me to redirect the focus of my blog.  I decided to include a post dedicated to his memory.  For the first time, I wrote about my life in the present.  It was as if my writing took a detour in that moment; it became a turning point.  The passing of my stepdad also made me realize that although it is important to have closure and heal from past hurts, it is also important to live in the present because spending too much time reminiscing about the past may cause your present life and any beautiful moments in it to pass by right before your eyes.

After this event, I also began including God in my writing.  God is an important part of my life, so why not include Him and give Him credit for the things He has done for me?

This year in 2020, two years after I began this blog, another major event is taking place right now as I am writing this; the epidemic of coronavirus, which has taken the entire world by surprise.

This is a time of change, a time of new beginnings.

While reflecting on these events, some that brings us tears and some that brings us joy, I find comfort and wisdom in what the Bible says about life in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,” (Ecclesiastes 3:4,5).

A Time for Everything Ecclesiastes 3:4,5

We are to enjoy life as it comes, with its ups and downs, and embrace every moment, even the sad ones.  Through my writing in this blog, God made me realize that living in the present doesn’t mean suppressing all of our past hurts, including mourning and grieving the loss of our loved ones.  It doesn’t mean that we are not to mourn for the things that we lost or didn’t have a chance to do.  But that perhaps we can deal with it a little bit at a time by dedicating some time to those things that have left us without closure.  Then the rest of the time, we can make an attempt to enjoy the present and create new memories.  Otherwise, life will pass you by in an instant, not realizing that you spent all that time reminiscing about what once was and is no more.

 

Bearing Good Fruit in Times of Uncertainty

This lockdown and social distancing got to me today.

I woke up fine, but then I went outside and saw that the sun was out and it was a beautiful, sunny day unlike the last few days that have been overcast.  I stepped outside my house to the garden and looked around and I began to feel sad.  Sad because I wish there was a cure for the coronavirus right now.  Sad because the number of people dead due to the coronavirus continues to rise every day.

I felt uneasy and sad, so I went back inside and went to my special place where I talk to God.  Right outside the window of my room there is a tree, which gives out a beautiful, white three-leafed flower around Easter time; it makes the tree look so elegant all dressed in white flowers.

I talked to God and told him how I felt; but this time instead of asking Him, why is this happening?” I thanked Him.  I thanked Him for the sun and the beautiful day that He gave us today.  I thanked Him for my health and for my family.

Daffodils are some of the first flowers to come out in the Spring in Virginia.
a white daffodil – Narcissus pseudonarcissus

I asked Him to reveal to me what is it that I am supposed to learn from this situation and to show me how to use these feelings to bear good fruit.  For the ones that get to stay home, including myself, it is also frustrating not being able to help, to do something for all the people who are sick with the coronavirus.  We want to help in some way!

I closed my eyes and while I meditated, stood still, looking at that tree outside my window.  I realized that the little sprouts that had been dormant during the winter are opening up.  The tree is beginning to bloom! I looked up and saw that the tall trees, which seemed to almost touch the sky, were already green and beginning to bloom as well.  With all the news of the coronavirus, my mind had been occupied and distracted and I hadn’t been paying close attention to the fact that spring has arrived.

Sprouts are beginning to open up in preparation for Spring.

God said to me, “Don’t feel bad for feeling this way, you are supposed to feel this way.  This means that you are paying attention to me.  The fact that you feel this way is proof that you are not selfish.  I want ALL my children to feel this way because this is what will move you away from your own selfishness towards what I want you to do for other people: Love them unconditionally the way Jesus loved on this earth.”

I opened my eyes and God showed me that, just like that little sprout is slowly beginning to wake up and open up so that a flower can bloom, my own heart is beginning to do the same towards humanity.  God made me realize that He is doing something in my heart; something good.  Suddenly, my eyes began to see how every tree which was barren and naked through winter is now sprouting green leaves and flowers.  Everything He touches bears fruit.  If He was to say right now to that tree, “Wither and die” it would be so in that instant.  God can reveal so much about Himself through nature because He made it.

God spoke to me and told me to go bear fruit in the same way that tree and every other tree is bearing fruit right now.  I still don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to go do with my gifts right now, but I know He will reveal it to me soon.

the first sprouts of stargazer lilies

Just because we are staying at home, it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything for the people who are fighting coronavirus right now.  Or that what we do is not as important as what the first responders are doing right now.

As a believer in Christ who is at home on lockdown because of the epidemic, we can pray not just individually, but collectively with another group of people.  We believers know the power of prayer when is done collectively and when we are all in agreement on the same thing.  Prayer can be done through social media using video calling or through the phone.

the first flowers announcing Spring has arrived

We can use our gifts and talents to encourage other people who need strength right now.  We can write, draw, make someone laugh, create something that brings a smile or encouragement to someone in need right now.  We can share our resources, time, our money to anyone who is struggling these moments.  Even if it’s just a phone call to see how they’re doing, a video call to check on them, or a video shared on social media thanking those doctors, nurses, first responders who are out there working hard without a break.

We all have something to give and if you can’t think of something, ask God to show you and He will show you what you can do!

We believers have the opportunity right now to share the Gospel and put into practice all the things that we profess.

daffodils or Narcissus symbolize rebirth and new beginnings.

God is not too far from us; He will reveal Himself to us if we ask Him to do so.

“The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

(1 Kings 19:11,12)

This is a time of change, a time of new beginnings.

2/24 Tribute to Kobe and Gianna

I have been personally touched by Kobe and Gianna’s loss and wanted to honor their memory by writing a special post in my personal blog.

I am not a big fan of basketball, but if I had to choose a sport to watch, basketball would be it without hesitation.

I was debating about writing this post.  I wanted my blog to just focus on my personal experiences growing up in Mexico and how I adjusted living in the U.S. after I moved here.  When I heard the news of Kobe and Gianna’s helicopter crash that Sunday morning, I was shocked and, as the days and weeks went by, I thought I was just going to put this news aside like other celebrities’ news that pass away unexpectedly.  However, I soon realized this was going to be different and would be something I could share as part of my blog.

I was never a sports player, but I do remember that as a freshman in high school I tried for the basketball team.  At first it was fun doing all those new warm-up exercises with a team of other girls.  However, just learning how to play basketball for the first time as a fifteen-year old freshman in high school was difficult for me.  I knew then basketball wasn’t for me and didn’t continue playing after that first semester.

The great lesson I learned from this experience is that you have to try new things, you have to push yourself to new challenges and at least be able to say that you tried and did your best.

The news of Kobe and Gianna’s loss brought back these highs school memories and struck a chord within me.  Perhaps the reason why it has impacted me so much, even though I didn’t know him personally, is because I am also a parent.  I’m a mother of a beautiful nine-year old who reminds me of Gianna.  Thinking about that makes me ponder about my own daughter –her dreams, her aspirations, how she seems me, and how I see her, as well.

Perhaps one reason why Kobe and Gianna’s story has touched many people is because it reminds those of us who are parents of our own kids.  Kobe was, when all is set and done, just a father who wanted to help his daughter live her dream.

Every time I hear about Gigi and her dream of becoming a basketball player one day, I am brought to tears.  The notion of the dreams that never came to be gets me every time.  Gigi had her eyes and hopes set high; she was ready to go and be a star like her Dad.

Today, I tuned into the Los Angeles Lakers YouTube channel to watch Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s Celebration of Life and it was really emotional.  The one speech that really touched me was Vanessa Bryant’s tribute to her daughter and husband.  When I hear all the wonderful things that her daughter did for her, her personality, and the little things she did to make her mom smile, it makes me cry.  Vanessa said her daughter was kind, thoughtful, and loving; three qualities that my own daughter also exemplifies.  She said of her daughter that her motto was, “there is no act of kindness that is too small to make a difference in someone’s life.”

I think about Gianna and my own daughter and it makes me think of how important it is to develop a deeper relationship with my own daughter; by spending quality time with her and sharing a passion with her.  Like Kobe did with Gigi.

Kobe and Gianna have inspired me to better my relationship with my own daughter.  I want to be more patient, kinder and more compassionate with her.  But most importantly, I want to spend more quality time with my daughter and I thought of the perfect way to do that starting right now: running.

My daughter and I both enjoy running.  We started running last year, but stopped once school ended before summer.

I believe sharing a common passion with my daughter will help us bond and running is something that we both enjoy and have fun doing.

If Kobe could share a word of wisdom with all of us right now, what would he say to us parents about our relationship with our daughters? I think he would say that we need to be grateful for each moment we have with our children, to spend time with them, and be an involved parent.  I think he would say we need to be interested in the things that our children are passionate about and share that passion with them.

I look at my own daughter and I feel grateful and blessed to be able to hug her right now and show her how much I love her.  I know I was inspired by Kobe’s relationship with his daughter to get out there and do more with my own daughters.  There are many things that I am passionate about that I want to share with them.

Kobe and Gianna, your memory will live with us forever.  You have truly inspired us! May all of you, including the other parents and daughters who were in that fateful helicopter ride, rest in peace.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant – I imagine them looking down at us like this from Heaven.

 

A Very Special Christmas in San Luis Potosí

This last Christmas I went to Mexico to spend the holidays with distant relatives.  Last time I saw my relatives was five years ago, and the last time I spent a Christmas in Mexico was twenty-one years ago.  I am originally from San Luis Potosi, a city located in central Mexico, where I spend this last Christmas.  I wanted my family to experience Christmas in Mexico for the first time.

Christmas in Mexico is very different than in the United States.  In Mexico, las Posadas is an integral part of the Christmas celebrations.  The tradition of Las Posadas comes from Spain and it was brought to Mexico and other Latin American countries by the Catholic Church.  For 400 years, starting in 1586, Mexicans have celebrated las Posadas in December.  Other countries in Latin America and in the U.S., in communities where Spanish cultural influence remains strong, las Posadas is also part of their cultural Christmas tradition.  Most of these celebrations take place in the Southwest; in states like New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California.

Las Posadas celebrations in Mexico vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and city to city.  Cities, which tend to be more populated and where people are more influenced by American culture, tend to have their own variations of las Posadas.  Their celebrations may include prayers and a piñata, followed by dinner.  The Mexican state of San Luis Potosi is divided into Municipios or municipalities.  Some of the municipios, specifically those located in more rural areas, celebrate las Posadas in a more traditional way.  Their prayers are longer and more involved.  A traditional Posada includes a reenactment of the Nativity story, followed by a dinner, and breaking a piñata.

During our visit this year, my relatives and I organized a simple celebration for the children on Christmas Day.  The day before Christmas, my aunt and I went to Mercado República, a very famous food market close to the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi, to buy food and other things for the celebration.  Most people go there to purchase food and gifts for las Posadas, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Mercado República is a famous food market in San Luis Potosi.

It was really nice to be back to this market as it reminded me of my childhood days, back when I lived in Mexico.  I took my daughter with me and we walked around the many long isles of decorative, festive piñatas, hand-made art crafts, fresh fruit and vegetables, food stands selling freshly made tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, pozole, menudo, and other popular Mexican dishes.

This food market is so big that it would take a whole day to see every isle.  It is usually visited with friends or family members who plan to go shopping and eat at the food stands available there.  The food is delicious and there are usually more than two food stands selling the same dish, but each with their own flavor twist.

This mercado or food market has been around for decades.  Despite the fast growth of commercial businesses opening in this city, including many American franchises such as Walmart, Mercado República continues being part of San Luis Potosi’s cultural tradition.  Although the majority of people who visit and shop at Mercado República are working class, many people from different social status come here to purchase the items such as hand-made art crafts and hard to find ingredients that cannot be found anywhere else such as certain spices or fresh herbs needed for some Mexican dishes.

Tejocote is one of the many ingredients found at Mercado República

We walked around the mercado and I spotted a ceiling full of colorful piñatas –some with five, seven and even nine points.  I chose a seven-pointed star piñata for our night’s festivities.  My aunt tries to find pinguica or pointleaf manzanita, a type of shrub needed for her nacimiento or nativity scene.  Many households set up nativity scenes on Christmas in addition to the popular Christmas tree.  Homes decorate their nativity scene in different ways; some like to set up a small nativity scene right next to their Christmas tree, while others like to set up a large one in their living room or a part of the house where it can be seen.

a ceiling full of colorful piñatas
Breaking a seven-pointed star piñata at las Posadas is a cultural tradition in Mexico.
A Christmas tree decorated with colorful piñatas at Plaza de Armas in San Luis Potosi.
Nativity scenes are set up during Christmas season in Mexico

We also bought velitas or small candles for the children as part of las Posada celebrations.  The candles are used to pray during the novenas, a series of prayers and songs performed at las Posadas.

After praying the novenas and singing villancicos or traditional Christmas songs we were ready to break the piñata.  According to Catholic tradition, the seven-pointed star represents the seven capital sins in Catholic religion while the nine-pointed star piñata represents the nine months the Virgin Mary was pregnant.  Spanish priests used the breaking of the piñata as a method to teach indigenous people in Mexico biblical concepts, such as the seven deadly sins during their evangelization.

Children take turns hitting the piñata at the end of a traditional song, which includes this lyrics, “dale, dale, dale no pierdas el tino porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino” – “go, go, go don’t lose sight of it, if you do you will lose the path!”

Each child has a turn until someone breaks the piñata and all the candy and fruit falls to the ground!  Many years ago, piñatas were made of decorated clay jars.  Today, they have evolved: the inside or the main body of the piñata is made of cardboard and newspaper.  I do miss the old piñatas made of clay jars because they were harder to break and allowed more people to take a turn.  However, the new ones are lighter and therefore less likely to hurt the children when the pieces fall to the ground.

After breaking the piñata, a delicious dinner follows with tamales, ponche, atole, and other favorite Christmas dishes.

All the children present enjoyed la Posada, and I enjoyed it along with them.  It reminded me of las Posadas from my childhood.  It’s been twenty-one years since I spent a Christmas in Mexico.  I had forgotten what it was like to look forward to Christmas as little kids do.  I feel grateful to be able to relieve this part of my childhood with my own children.  This Christmas was very special and I will treasure it for years to come.

A Very Special Christmas in San Luis Potosí.

A Stroll on Calzada de Guadalupe on Christmas Day

I have a beautiful image in my mind, a warm recollection of one my fondest Christmas memories from Mexico.  In 1998, I went back to visit my relatives in San Luis Potosi, where I am originally from.  This would be the only Christmas I got to spend in Mexico in the twenty-five years since my family and I moved to the U.S.

At that time, not much had changed in the four years since I had left Mexico.  Sure, my cousins and relatives had grown a bit older, but in most regards, they were still the same.  The neighborhood where I grew up was the same as well.  My old neighbors were also still there.  However, and most importantly, my grandmother was still in good health.  I was happy during this Christmas; I saw everyone and took a picture with all the people I wanted to see.

I spent that Christmas Eve with my relatives from Mexico. However, the next day, I made a long journey, accompanied by one of my cousins, to visit one of our aunts, who lived near the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi.  She was my favorite aunt.  Sadly, she has passed away since.  I still remember this nice stroll, walking around with one of my favorite cousins from my childhood.  We visited churches, historic monuments, landmarks.  We wandered the same old streets that watched me grow in San Luis Potosi taking pictures of the area at night.

Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Luis Potosi.
Santuario Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at night.

I am very fond of the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi, because it is the place where I grew up.  It’s where I see myself as a little girl with many of my relatives, including my Mom, in our family pictures.  This is why I find myself coming back here every time I visit Mexico.

The pictures shown here are from that Christmas evening, when my cousin and I strolled around Historic Downtown after visiting our aunt.  We must’ve talked a lot during those hours because the journey was long.

Looking back at the pictures from that evening, it is interesting to see what I thought was picture perfect: I took pictures of the churches, cathedrals, historic monuments, landmarks and of course, a picture of my cousin and I at Calzada de Guadalupe; one of the most famous and oldest streets in San Luis Potosi.

Taking a stroll at Calzada de Guadalupe in in San Luis Potosi.
Caja de Agua at night
Reloj Monumental at Jardín Colón

As we neared the end of our journey, heading back to our grandmother’s house, something caught our eye and we stopped.  It was a beautiful, gigantic Nativity scene in the middle of Plaza Fundadores in Historic Downtown.  The city of SLP had decorated all the streets in preparation for Christmas season.  And a Nativity scene was a view I dared not miss as part of my Christmas visit to SLP

Now, after 25 years, I am getting ready to once again visit my relatives and celebrate the Christmas season in Mexico.  As I close bags and ready my passport, I pondered on all the great changes in the lives of my relatives from then to now.  I reflect how my city has grown and changed a lot.  Above all, I brace myself for the space left by those important members of my family who won’t be there waiting for me this time around: my dear grandmother and favorite aunt.

Deep down, and though I treasure all those memories of the Christmas past, I know that this is a time to create new memories, reconcile with the things that I cannot change, and make peace with my past.

Nativity Scene at Plaza de los Fundadores in Historic Downtown.

Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí

Today is a very special day in Mexico.  The whole country dresses in vivid colors of red, blue, yellow, pink, green, even black and white.  The smell of copal is everywhere in the mercado —the open-air markets found in many cities throughout Mexico—along with the sweet smell of candied camote and calabaza or crystalized sweet potato with pumpkin.  The fragrant smell of the flor de cempasúchil and flor de terciopelo, combined with the sweet smell of the food coming from street vendors, is just one of a kind.

This time of the year, I miss Mexico the most.  Although I enjoy the changing of seasons in the East Coast and Midwest, and the festivities that come with it, spending Día de los Muertos in Mexico is a very special and unforgettable experience.

In Mexico, Día de los Muertos is a special six-day festivity where families set up special altars in honor of their family members who have passed away.  In each house, ofrendas are placed on altars intended to welcome them back amongst the living.  The ofrendas are collections of objects that held some type of significance to the dearly departed while they were still alive.

special altars are set up in honor of family members who have passed away.
altar of Dia de los Muertos at the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosí

El Día de los Muertos is a very misunderstood cultural tradition from Mexico, Central, and South America.  Its roots originate amongst the many native tribes that lived in the continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans.  Even the Spanish priests who came to America during the Conquista did not fully understand this concept of honoring dead relatives.

There are tons of articles and books written about this stigmatized and misunderstood holiday, but the more we read them the more confused the person trying to learn about can become.  I believe this is because it is hard to be able to explain spirituality within Native American cultures to someone in the outside who did not grow up in it.  As a result, people judge both the culture and the people who practice such traditions.

Although pre-Hispanic practices of Día de los Muertos have changed greatly throughout the ages, the essence of this special holiday has not changed; taking time to remember the relatives who are no longer on this earth.

As much I would like to be able to travel to Mexico during this special day, to be able to eat, smell, see, touch, and hear the festivities that take place during Día de los Muertos, I currently can’t.  So instead, I do what I can to educate my family about this part of my culture, sharing with them all the things they are missing by growing up elsewhere.

I prepare special sweets, desserts, and drinks that resemble the smells of the mercados in Mexico during this time of the year.  I take out pictures of my family members from Mexico who are no longer with us.  I share anecdotes about them and explain to my daughters how much they meant to me.

I light up a candle and say a prayer for them.

I don’t want to ever forget them and it is my duty that my children learn who those special people in my life were.

This year, my cousin from Mexico sent me pictures of the colorful altars set up by the local government in the city of San Luis Potosi, where I am originally from.  Many cities in Mexico set up similar altars in their respective Historic centers.  The altars set up in Mexico City, Oaxaca and Michoacán are the most famous.  San Luis Potosi sets up altars throughout the Historic Downtown of the city.  They are very striking and interesting to see.

Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí
Día de los Muertos altar in San Luis Potosí
Día de los Muertos is a very special day in Mexico.

Other places to visit during Día de los Muertos are the cemeteries, which are full of life during this time of the year.  Cemeteries are usually depicted as creepy, dark and gloomy in Hollywood movies, but in Mexico this is the opposite during Día de los Muertos.  The whole cemetery comes alive during November 1 and 2, the official days of Día de los Muertos.

Entire families go to the cemetery and spend the whole night or nights at the grave of their dead relatives.  They light up candles, take beautiful flower ornaments, and take food to eat with their families while they stay up all night praying and thinking of their long-gone relatives.

It is beautiful to experience this.

This year I will be making a special place today to remember my stepdad who passed away this year on April.  It was his wish before he passed away to be able to go back to Mexico to spend time with his relatives.

Feliz Día de los Muertos to those who celebrate this holiday!

The Friends We Leave Behind

Of all the people who were the hardest to break away from, not counting my grandmother, were my friends.  I always hoped one day I would go back to Mexico and reunite with them or at least see them again.

In Mexico, Secundaria is the equivalent of junior high in the U.S.  Students spend three years in Secundaria before they move on to Preparatoria or high school.  Students in Mexico spend three years in Junior High and three years in high school for a total of six years.

This is a very important time in the life of any young person, where they go through tremendous growth emotionally, mentally and physically.  For me, this was also the time when one of the biggest changes in my life took place; moving to another country.

After graduating from my neighborhood’s well-known private catholic school, my Mom chose a public junior high school for me because it was near my grandmother’s house.  It was also within walking distance for me, so I’m sure that weighed in on my Mom’s decision as well.  Other kids ended up going to other private junior high schools further away from the neighborhood.

I knew that attending this particular public school would mean I would not see my elementary school friends again, but I was okay with that. I would just make new friends at the new school.  And that’s how I came to spend my first year of junior high at Escuela Secundaria General Dionisio Zavala Almendarez, a public junior high school near my grandmother’s house.

Things there were going great for me.  I made friends very easily and soon I became one of the most popular kids in my classroom.  This was way different from my previous private catholic school.  Changing from a private catholic school to a secular public school was such a contrast.  There, I met girls who were more down-to-earth; they didn’t care so much about appearances.  Of course, there were some mean girls who thought they were better than everyone else; you will always find those types everywhere.  But with so many students in my new school, keeping away from such girls was fairly easy.

I had a particular group of girl friends who made me laugh and who I made them laugh in turn.  We all went through difficulties together, such as the time when we had to sing in public in front of our music teacher in order to pass our class.  We all went together to the tardeadas, teenage parties organized by the school to raise funds.  We listened to music together and talked about who we liked and didn’t like in school.  The end of that first year was coming in fast and by then we looked forward to our next year together and to the new adventures it would bring.

As that first year of junior high came to a close, a time I still treasured as one of my happiest school moments, my mom announced that we were moving to another country.  And to make matters worse, it wasn’t for sure that we were coming back to Mexico.  As the words came out of my mom’s lips, I felt my world came crumbling down.  I immediately felt the sadness take hold of my heart.  I had just turned thirteen years old, an age already full of changes and inconveniences, and now this.

I believe that I became a little depressed, but at that time, I couldn’t name it as such.  After letting my friends know that I was moving to another country, they hosted a few dinners for me as a way to say good-bye.  But once the school year came to an end, I refused to go out at all.  Going out reminded me of all the things, people and places I would soon leave behind, and I hated that.  As a result, I secluded myself from my friends and became withdrawn.

I understood my Mom was doing the best for her daughters.  She wanted us to have better opportunities growing-up.  And as a single mother living in Mexico, she didn’t have much support from anyone.

Children and teenagers understand more than parents give them credit for.  They understand when a parent has to make difficult choices such as moving to another country and that this does not mean the parents loves them any less.  However, these choices still hurt and parents should be mindful of their children’s feelings and allow them to grieve properly.

It is now that I am older, a mother, a wife and with the Wisdom that God gave me, that I understand that this type of experience in once’s life requires proper grieving.  A child needs to grieve about leaving their comfort zone behind, their country, their friends, their extended family, in the same way a person grieves the loss of a loved one or the pain that follows a breakup.

Even though it’s been twenty-five years since I left Mexico, that sunny, sad afternoon still makes me cry.  It makes me cry because it was Mom’s decision to move us to another country and I had no choice in the matter.  Because I could not change things, because I had to say good-bye to my grandmother, my awesome friends, my neighborhood, my country, everything about my life in Mexico and exchange it all for some distant, unknown land up north.

I did go back a few times to Mexico after being settled in the U.S., but it wasn’t the same.  I was unable to locate my friends; some of them moved away, stopped writing to me and just lost touch with one another.

It was heartbreaking as a new teenager to understand how distance and time can wither a relationship, similar to a plant when you don’t take care of it.

I have a few pictures of my junior high friends taken during a regular school day.  Just four pictures of them.  It is all I was able to take with me when we moved.

As an adult, I thought I had moved on from that period of my life after I moved away from my country; however, these repressed memories lingered in the back of my mind, never truly disappearing with time.  Whenever I looked at the pictures of my friends or my life in Mexico, my memories were tinged with sadness.

I now hope to return to that place where I left a piece of my heart behind.  I no longer hope things were different.  I am thankful for my friends at that time in my life.  Those moments, as fleeting as they might’ve been, will forever be treasured in my heart.

God has been instrumental in my healing process, God showed me that this period of my life is too important to ignore.  As a young preteen I was forced to put this part of my life in the “backburner,” not knowing how to properly handle it and by being forced to put aside my feelings for the sake of what was best for my family.  Most of all, I am thankful to God for giving me the courage to go back to that period in my life and heal properly from that heartache.

My friend at Escuela Secundaria General Dionisio Zavala Almendarez
My dear friends in Junior High School May 1994
Primer Grado “A” Escuela Secundaria General Dionisio Zavala Almendarez
My best friends from Secundaria or Junior High School in San Luis Potosi

An Unexpected Turn of Events During our Trip to Historic Annapolis

This summer, my family and I made the ritual visit to one of my favorite places in the East Coast: Annapolis, Maryland.  We have been visiting Historic Annapolis and the Naval Academy for the last ten years.  My husband graduated the Naval Academy in 2001 and he loves serving as tour guide and sharing with us all about the history of the academy.

We drove to Annapolis on an overcast day with chance of rain later in the afternoon, but we thought the rain would only last a little while.  Fifteen minutes after we arrived, the rain began pouring.  We rushed towards the Rotunda and spent our time in there walking around Memorial Hall, an area dedicating to honoring the lives of naval war heroes.  Once the rain stopped, we took a chance to stroll around the academy grounds.  A couple, who had just gotten married, were having their pictures taken in the beautiful gazebo immediately across the Naval Academy Chapel.  As we walked by and admired the bride and the groom rain began to pour again.  This time we decided to take shelter in the nearest building open to the public, which happened to be the Naval Academy Chapel.

This is our sixth time visiting Historic Annapolis together and up to now, I’ve never had the opportunity to go inside this chapel.  What a perfect time to discover what’s inside!

As we entered the church, we were welcomed by the relaxing music coming from a young man playing his guitar while singing old country Christian songs; songs I had never heard before yet made me feel right at home.

By now, it was pouring outside.  Once I realized we were going to be there for a while I made myself comfortable and tried to make the best of the situation.  I stood there listening to the singer who seemed to be practicing for Sunday worship.  All of the sudden, I looked to my left and noticed a tall window adorned with the striking image of an angel.

As I looked around the chapel, I noticed the entire building was decorated with stained-glass windows depicting images of well-known stories from the Bible.  The two images that caught my attention were those of Archangel Gabriel, on the left side of the nave, and Archangel Michael, to the right.  At the far end of the chapel, behind the altar, was an image of Jesus Christ also made out of stained-glass.

As I walked around the chapel, another window caught my attention.  It read, “Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of Men” (Saint Mark 1:17).  I could not stop looking at the image depicted above this inscription; of Jesus standing in a teaching position, speaking to His disciples while their nets were full of freshly-caught fish.  I was moved by this image because it reminded me of a promise God gave me.

“Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of Men” Saint Mark 1:17
Mark 1:17

I took many pictures as I walked around, admiring these pieces of art while reflecting on the importance of each and every one of the stories they represented.  I love reading these stories in the Bible and imagining what the people in the stories actually looked like.  Normally, I seldom watch movies about the Bible or look at illustrated Bible stories.  I feel such interpretations change the perception of the viewer, skewing the way a person thinks about each Biblical story to match the views of the painter or the director.  However, I was able to appreciate these scriptures and images as they related to the line of work of the life of a sailor.

As a former sailor myself, working out at sea and understanding concepts related to the Navy, I was mesmerized with how particularly the scriptures on these windows were chosen as they clearly drew connections with the Bible and the sea as well as to man’s relationship with God.

“What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him” (Saint Matthew 8:27) was another inscription and image that caught my attention.  The story of Jesus Calms the Storm reminded me of the rain that was pouring outside at that moment.  It also brought to mind how many times I encountered storms while being out to sea while stationed onboard a ship.  I imagined how it must’ve been to be in the presence of Jesus while He calmed the storm in front of His disciples.

“They that go down to the sea in ships these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep” (Psalm 107:23-24).  Another Scripture that spoke to me.

It was fascinating to see how all of these stories on the windows related to the sea and man, fighting storms, the elements of nature, how many of the stories of the Bible have to do with the sea and water…God continues to amaze me! How much more I have yet to learn from God!

Even though the rain was an unexpected part of our family trip to Annapolis, God had other plans for us.  The rain caused us to stop in an unexpected place where I was reminded of and taught new things about the wonders of God.  It is always in the least expected places where you’ll find God revealing Himself and His wonders.

Matthew 8:27
Matthew 8:27
Psalm 107:23-24
Psalm 107:23-24
Exodus 14:16
“The Word of the Lord came unto Jonah”
Jonah 1:1
overlooking the dock in Historic Annapolis
During my visit at the Naval Academy Chapel and Annapolis