Saturday, August 1, 2020

Six Things To Do During Pandemic

While I never imagined that this pandemic would last so long, the crisis has brought a slower pace and with it, opportunities to enjoy a simpler life.  Not all is bad during quarantine, while I am an introvert and perhaps for me being a homebody socially distancing is not as challenging as for extroverts- the length of the separation has also affected me.  Some days, I too feel like I am going a little nutty not being able to enjoy things that I normally take for granted.  Nevertheless, I have found that mourning over the old way of life is not as productive as just living in the moment.  Thus, when I get those anxious feelings that come from being cooped up to long, I distract myself.  Here’s my list of positive quarantine distractions:    

  1. Spending Time with Family- We took a trip to Big Bear to change scenery, but for the most part we spend a lot of time together outdoors.  Usually my dad tending to his garden while I read a book and my mom sews masks.  This period has allowed me to get to know my parents so much better and our relationship has grown so much!
  2. Training Francis! He’s a really smart pup, but he’s so darn cute that he gets away with murder! He still has issues with biting (a common problem with this breed), when he gets excited he bites without understanding the power of his teeth. Also, I can’t lose sight of him because he’s a little vacuum that picks up things within his reach and destroys them.  He also loves terrorizing our birds- so he still needs a lot of training.  
  3. DIY Projects- I still repair thrifted handbags and sell them on eBay- this whole process is so darn entertaining to me.  I love finding a gem at a thrift store and breathing new life to it then finding it a new home.  I also dabble in sewing, mostly sizing items to fit me or adding a missing button, sewing a hem or adding a little design to spruce a top.   
  4. Organization- I have been organizing my things.  I had accumulated quite a bit of things from my thrifting escapades and after watching Marie Kondo I realized that I wanted to be surrounded by only things that make me happy.  So, I have been implementing her process in small bits to simplify my closets.  I have a bit of a hoarder problem so it helps to find new homes for my things whether it’s sharing with my family, donating or selling it on eBay to people that will use it.  When I know my items won’t end up in a landfill it makes getting rid of them easier.  
  5. Reading- I have dented my stack of books that were in the need to read file this quarantine.  When I am outdoors enjoying my beautiful home, I like to pull a book and learn about things.  I have loved reading novels, doing spiritual reading and also learning about fashion.  I love to learn about the history of design and the masters of each era.
  6. Outdoor Prayer- Whether it’s going to outside Mass or praying the rosary or novenas in my backyard- I have loved that I get the opportunity to be outdoors with God. 

This quarantine has been challenging, but it has also been a time to slow down and to do things that normally I don’t have time for.  I think filling my days with fun things to do at home has helped me keep a positive attitude during what feels like a lockdown.  Hope you got some ideas to try in your isolation! 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Being Catholic

I was thinking how much being Catholic means to me.  Recently, with everything that’s going on in the USA – with the leading political parties being at odds I am so thankful to have a Catholic vision.  Don’t get me wrong, I am so proud of my culture- being Mexican-American has always been such a huge part of my identity.  I love my roots and the possibilities that this country has given immigrants like myself.  However, in times of crisis, I am glad that my faith has given me a more integral vision.  A few weeks ago, when I used “All Lives Matter” to express my views I have been told that I lack empathy for the black community.  I reflected on that comment for some time and finally concluded that when you put a color in front of “lives matter” it states the side you are in the argument.  As a Catholic, I believe in the sacredness of each individual.  Simply put lives matter!
That’s why you won’t see me with a banner for black or blue lives- because God tells me that all lives matter.  It’s easy to get emotionally involved and pick a side - forgetting that as Catholics we are meant to love everyone.  This is no way negates the suffering of a group.  As a child my heroes were Martin Luther King Jr and Frederick Douglass- I have loved studying the Civil Rights Movement because as a person of color I understood their fight. I too, have felt different and at times suffered racism and discrimination.

When I was a child, I also wanted to become a police officer.  At the time my father was an alcoholic so I would joke, “I probably won’t be a police officer or else I will be jailing my dad daily.”  However, as I got closer to college I research what it took to be a police office and when I saw that starting salary was almost the same as a teacher even though they risked their lives I quickly put a lid on that dream.  Recently, I researched the cops responsible for the death of George Floyd and I discovered that most of them were rookie cops, they were new on the job.  While I don’t know their hearts and maybe they are racist – I got to thinking how many mistakes I have made when I just started a new job.  However, some mistakes can cause a person’s life.

In the end, I realized that I just couldn’t take sides, I stuck by my “all lives matter” comment because as a Catholic (which is how I most identify myself) my faith challenges me to not side, but to love all.  

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Quarantine: Be Still

It’s easy to lose heart during this time because we are a country used to living on the go.  Thus, for many (myself included) the changing pace of quarantine at times can be extremely challenging.  Restrictions on employment, education, religious life - even our social life have changed the way we live.  I think I have voiced my frustration with teaching virtually and how I miss church life.  Sometimes, I can get easily discouraged especially when I read the news about all the chaos happening within our country.  At times, I can get stuck thinking my experience of quarantine is universal, but when I check in with my students and discover that they are not working on their school work because they are trying to help parents who have been laid off due to Covid-19 earn a living or when I check in with my fraternity and discover that many of the elderly members who live alone are struggling with loneliness – I realize that some have it worse than me.  It’s easy to complain, to see the flaws and focus so much on struggle the that we miss those hurting worse than me.   
I love words and I have a verse written on the wall of my room, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Every morning it’s the first thing I see, but I think the familiarity made it almost invisible for some time.  Recently, I woke up and was feeling restless from being cooped at a home too much and I looked at the verse on my wall and this lightbulb went off in my head and I realize that I needed to live by those words during this quarantine.  In this country activity is glorified.  We are always on the go and something out of our control is telling us to slow down and be still.  Many Americans have trouble with slowing down, I mean I just have to cross the south border and already in Mexico I feel a difference in pace.  This time though, I am being asked to slow down in my own home and for someone usually on the go it hasn’t been without its moments of restlessness.

Yesterday, as I sat on my porch with my dad, mom and Francis waiting for everyone else to get home from work (our usual daily ritual) I realized that one of my dreams is to retire to live in a farm.  On this afternoon that slower pace of farm life that inspired this dream felt utterly boring.  I was thinking maybe, this is the way I will feel if I live away in seclusion (smile).  In seconds, I almost discarded my dream for the noise and the activity of city life!  That’s when it hit me - how condition I am to the hustle and bustle and how much I need to contemplate and really discover the beauty of what draws me to the verse, “be still and know that I am God.”  All this time, its meaning was that in order to be utterly present with God (in prayer) I needed to be still, but now I see that God is asking me not just to be quiet when I pray, but to live in stillness. To have peace and tranquility – to be still always, especially in moments when I have more time to sit and reflect.             

Saturday, July 11, 2020

RCIA Class of 2020

Yesterday, I attended an extraordinary service where my RCIA students received their sacraments.  This year was quite a challenging one- I was only able to help at the beginning of formation because my new job was so demanding.  Even, with only a couple months invested in the formation of this year’s sacrament graduating class- I still have such a deep love for the program.  Yesterday, as I arranged the newly initiated Catholics for a class photo- they were like, “I thought I recognized you.” To which I responded, “I wouldn’t have missed your special day for the world.” 
Our team leader did- like always such an impressive job!  I mean to inspire and keep a group going during quarantine was a huge struggle and she did it.  I remember her sending us a message on Easter Vigil and how much all of us lamented not being able to celebrate one of our favorite nights of the year.  While this year’s celebration took place within a daily Eucharistic celebration and though the students, godparents and families had to be outside in the hot sun separated by six feet – while wearing uncomfortable facemasks they joy of the new Catholics was equally shinning.  The service though simple was beautiful and I am sure equally memorable to all those present.
In terms of spiritual motivation- it’s moments like this that inspire me to continue serving.  After the budget cuts at my school, I was given the 8AM-4PM shift so I think that I will hopefully be able to serve next year as an RCIA catechist.  I have noticed that involvement in faith is crucial and these past few months unable to do so (first because of my job and then due to quarantine) have been a challenging time.  Yesterday, though my attendance was simply one of moral support (I didn’t have any duties) I realized how much I miss my team and my ministry. So, am looking forward to this new RCIA year!    

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hug the Cactus

I love hugs.  It hasn’t always been the case.  When I was a freshman in high school, I was assigned a mentor and every time the two of us would meet she would embrace me in a tight hug.  I know that she felt me cringe underneath her arms, yet she continued to leave me with a warm hug.  As time passed and affection towards her started to form, her hugs seemed like a healing balm. One day after a couple years of knowing her, I told her that she taught me to like hugs.  She surprised me when she answered, “I knew signs of outward affection made you uncomfortable, I also knew that you hadn’t been taught to hug. Now you know how and you can teach others, starting with your family.”  I left her car that day, and thought about learning to hug.  Is that for real?  Does one learn to hug, it doesn’t just naturally happen?   
My family at the time was in crisis due to alcoholism and poverty – meeting the basic needs was the priority and signs of affection were probably not even on the radar.  Yet, I had been given a mission and I started to hug, first my mom who has always been my dearest.  As I gained confidence I started doing so with my siblings and eventually my dad.  My mentor helped me tap into a world that we had dismissed due to the hardships in everyday life.  Those early hugs began to chip away at the tough skin our life had made.  It was awkward to hug people I knew so well because it wasn’t our norm, but slowly we became huggers.  While we might still be working on giving really tight embraces, we are a family that hugs!

Recently, I was listening to priest talk about the division in our country and he said that the best advice he had for times like these was to hug the cactus.  There’s a lot of people like freshman me, who life has given them blows and those blows create pricks in our skin that makes us difficult to love.  I know from my own experiences with that strange white woman who loved to hug me.  She saw beneath all my defenses a kid in need of love and not words of affection, but the actions of a warm embrace.  She felt my pricks when she hugged me, but persevered knowing that love overcomes hate.  She was the first person I confided in about why I didn’t trust people to touch me and through her example showed me that good people exist. People who do things like help a barrio kid learn to hug without expecting anything in return.  She embraced me when I was a cactus and now at every chance, I play it forward giving affection especially to the cacti that God places in my walk. Heal the world embrace the cactus!  

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Great Debate Rothy’s or Tieks?

With all the debates going on right now and people quickly to take sides without thought - I believe it’s the perfect time to address the heated choice Tieks or Rothy’s? Now, if your pocket book can only afford you to have one or the other (since both shoes are quite pricey) than a little research and product reviews might help settle the problem.
Tieks Flats
  • Start at $175 and go up pricewise (and never go on sale)
  • They are made of Italian Leather or Vegan materials
  • They are light and easy to pack when traveling
  • They have great sole padding that make them quite comfortable
  • They only come in rounded ballet flat style, but come in an array of shades
  • They are a little more difficult to clean
  • They come with cute packaging, a flower and a pouch to carry them in your purse

Rothy’s Flats
  • They run from $125 and go up pricewise (and take coupons and have sales)
  • They are made of recycled plastic bottles
  • Not foldable, but still lightweight and easy to pack
  • Machine washable including the removeable insoles
  • They have six different styles including my fave the pointed flat
  • They come in various patterns and colors
  • They are eco-friendly

If you are like me then you know that sometimes you don’t have choose, you can have both.  Don’t let the price deter you to be quick to take sides.  I am a proud owner of both and not because I have the income to often treat myself, but because I am a secondhand shopper to the core. In my thrifting escapades I found not one, but two pointed Rothy’s in my size that had been worn maybe once.  Both pairs I got for $5.99 each and I absolutely love them.  They are super comfortable – I love them so much that I am considering ordering the Mary Jane style from the actual site.  My only complaint would be that on hot days they can make your feet sweat, but they are quite easy to wash and come out from the wash looking brand new.

I also found a pair of brown Italian leather Tieks for $7.99 which had more wear than my Rothy’s, but still were in great condition.  These I don’t wear as much because I prefer a pointed toe.  However, they are quite comfortable and I get a lot of compliments when I wear them.  I also get the comment, are they worth the high price? Since mine were thrifted, I don’t have the lovely packaging, the flower band or the bag to store them in that all Tieks come with.  Thus, I am only left with the shoes to review. I do believe that the craftsmanship, the materials that Tieks are made with and the comfort are worth the price because it’s a shoe to live in. 

Lucky for me I own both at a price that didn’t send me to the poor house.         

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Quarantine: Visiting the Salon For the First Time

After weeks of quarantine I was able to finally get a haircut!  While the salon I visit doesn’t serve mimosas or has an atmosphere worth mention, I have been going to this humble establishment for years.  It is run by a Vietnamese man on a wheelchair and his posse of skilled Vietnamese women.  They are quite efficient and I think that’s what I love most.  In addition to, taking walk-in clients because when it comes to visiting the salon, I usually am quite spontaneous.  This week when I visited, I found one of my Salvation Army friends sitting underneath the hair dryer, “I have been coming here for ten years,” she proudly shared. Linda, my usual hairstylist, welcomed me with a warm smile and immediately proceeded to work on my hair, after the initial exchanges she went quiet because she knows that I am not much of a small-talk conversationalist.  In fact, I think most of the ladies are rather quiet because they get lost in their work.
As I sat in my chair, I marveled at how much I love Unlimited Hair & Nails Salon. Not being able to visit gave me a new appreciation for this hole in the wall establishment.  Usually, I never recommend the place because women usually look for a luxury pampering session and my place is certainly not that.  When busy, the hairstylist work on more than one client at a time and if you want your nails and hair done, usually you have two people working on you at the same time.  Ladies usually pay more money for slow, focused pampering.  Yet, I have never liked being at the salon for many hours, nor do I like the spotlight solely on me, so I like the speed with which they work at my place. They also don’t have the high-end equipment they don’t serve cocktails or have a television - everything is very basic.  Yet, to me walking in with a mop of a hairstyle and coming out with lighter locks is reward enough.
I had been feeling quite insecure lately.  I think when there is so much change, I can become quite self-conscious.  I mean things like not getting a like on a post lead me to speculate all types of scenarios.  These past few months I had been trying just to survive the rollercoaster of quarantine the best way I could and not being able to run to the faith things that usually balance me has been quite the struggle.  My strongest love language is quality time and during quarantine I couldn’t practice this because screens make everything so impersonal.  Though I tried to meet with bible study groups, attend Mass, see friends - virtually is not the same… Thus, when I sat on the chair to have Linda work on my hair, I felt so good.  Finally, some physical contact with someone outside my home.  When I was done, I felt like a little of my confidence returned not only because my hair didn’t look like wires, but because I saw a glimpse of life going back to normal.  I couldn’t understand how healing sitting in a salon chair felt or what the process returned to me, but I wanted to share how much I love my little hole in the wall salon.           

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Life's Movement

Last year for Father’s Day, I took my dad to his favorite nursery and he picked out this beautiful plant.  After a couple of months, the flowers died and the plant dried up.  My dad so loved that plant that he found a seed from one of its flowers and replanted it.  For months he watered it and tended to it and one day he proudly showed me the first sprouts of the seed.  The other day, dad pointed proudly to the plant which looks exactly like it did almost a year ago.  Jokingly I said, “I guess this year I am not getting you a Father’s Day gift.”  As I sat in my backyard enjoying the red blooms, I realize that most things in life require care- when things are neglected - they shrivel and die. 
Lately I have been so consumed with the changes that have occurred in my life and I haven’t tended my garden.  A new job, returning to school, induction, ERWC training, quarantine among becoming a virtual teacher has taken all of my concentration.  The days have blended into each other and all of my focus has been simply survival mode.  I am not one that does well with change and these past few months have been so full of it that sometimes just rolling out of bed to perform my job has been a great success.  These past few days, I have sat in my garden thinking how devoid of life I feel- I have been so focused on getting my responsibilities taken care of that I haven’t dedicated much time or effort to anything else… But after the tempest comes the calm. This next week is my last week of work before my two-week summer break and I am so excited to have some time to finally relax.

I will have a few days to catch my breath, to reconnect with others, to do things that make me happy – to tend to my garden.  I miss the creative entries that I used to produce here, lately my writing feels stale because it has felt more like a duty than a creative outlet.  Much like my dad’s beloved plant life requires attention and care.  These past few months (like many) I have been just trying to survive but, I cannot do that anymore I need to add life to my days.  Everyone deserves a break (I am so lucky that my profession gives me that luxury) to stop and simply enjoy.  In the creation narrative, God tells us that on the seventh day He rested.  As I like to share with my RCIA students, “On the seventh day, God sat on his throne and opened a Corona to simply enjoy His masterpiece giving us the example to do the same.” 

After months of days that blended into each other- I am looking forward to the upcoming rest and the opportunity to tend and enjoy my lot.  Dad's plant reminded me that all is not lost, that with a little care new blooms do come.  Things are forever changing, but just like the movement of water in a river keep it from rotting - life pushes us to press on.  After all its the ride that helps us build character and chip away at our imperfections becoming a little less me and a lot more like Him.           

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Everyday Heroes

I have a student that everyday I call him for his appointment he’s always like, “what day is today- with things as they are, I cannot never keep track.”  These past few months that’s exactly, how I felt- everyday just blended together.  That’s why I am so grateful that places are starting to open up again bringing with it a sense of hope that perhaps the worst is behind us.  This past week I was able to go to confession and visit the dog park!  I had been cooped up in my house and I finally went out to two of my favorite places.  Today, I heard one thrift store is opening and I plan to make a quick stop.  Though I am an introvert and being in isolation perhaps has been less challenging than for extroverts- I do miss having the choice to be out.  However, my parents are of the critical infection age, so my siblings and I have tried to make sacrifices in order to make sure that they remain healthy.
It’s funny how something so small can impact our lives in such a big way.  I live in the city where we had massive protests to open up the county again. I still remember the crowds on the news holding signs “it’s my body and it’s my choice if I die.”  A bit selfish, but people react to challenge in all kinds of weird ways.  As a Catholic I am used to the idea of sacrifice, that even though the odds of me contacting the virus is much less than someone older- I still need to follow protocol to keep others safe.  To many this idea of giving something up for the good of others is not in their realm of comprehension.  However, as members of a bigger community sometimes we must sacrifice, even if it is a personal freedom to help our neighbor.   

I remember a teacher once told me, “history is full of heroes and people continue to be fascinated by stories about heroes- you will rarely, if ever, hear a story of a person who gave up on his dreams.”  This is true even today when Marvel Comic movies sell out on opening week.  The soul is attracted to heroes, those who overcome great challenges, opposition and exhibit great personal character.  There’s also an element of sacrifice in the hero’s journey.  Some do give up their lives, but they do so as an act that will save many lives and not as an act of selfishness.  I am reminded of Saint Maximilian Kolbe who took the place of another in the fire in Auschwitz.  He was a Catholic priest who volunteered to be executed in the place of a stranger, he gave the stranger life and the opportunity to be able to return to his family.  In the worst of times we thrive in hearing testimonies of everyday men and women who meet challenges with utter self-denial.  During this quarantine, I saw many photographs of hospital staff who worked such long days that their face masks left bruising on their faces- now that’s they stuff heroes are made!         

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Bit of Rollercoaster

It’s been a week like Shakespeare would describe one of “sweet, sorrow.”  On Monday, I awoke to the news that 16 people were laid off from our joined five charters, five staff from my center.  Though I was the last to get hired, I was not affected and finding out that I get to stay and continue living my dream job brought all sorts of mixed feelings – relieved that I get to stay and hurt for those that are leaving us at the end of the school year.  We are living in difficult times, Covid-19 has had negative effects beyond health concerns and I just pray that soon we will be able to lead normal lives again.  The financial repercussions have been extreme and its scary because if things don’t improve none of us are safe in keeping our jobs!

My take on "Portrait of Miss Bowles with a Dog" by Joshua Reynolds

I also was able to complete year one of Induction this week and get certified to teach ERWC.  My last two weeks were crazy busy attending classes and workshops after my work hours – my eyes and head were in a state of perpetual pain, but I finally can come into the upcoming week knowing that now I only have to worry about completing end of the year parent conferences and no longer extra course work.  This is such a relief because I hate, hate, hate screens.  I never wanted to be the protagonist of my own films and this quarantine has me in front of a camera all day long.  I crave for the day we are told that we can return to working on site.  At the moment the plan is that we will be working virtually until the end of August month two of our new school year. So, things are ever changing and for one that has difficulty with change it has been quite a time.

As I state all these laments, God is so good! He knows how much I miss the Sacraments and Father just announced that today we can come for drive thru confessions!  I seriously, did the Snoopy happy dance because I so need to go after such a long period of not being able to.  Then the Diocese of Orange announced that on Corpus Christi Sunday the parishes will open for Mass!  These changes have me elated because now I know that I will be tangibly fed to continue fighting the good fight.  These changes are also glimpses that perhaps we can soon go back to leading our normal lives and gain the freedoms that have been put on hold (smile).