What’s up with Mexican Culture and Death?

                        La Catrina from the Book of Life movie poster

La Catrina from the Book of Life Movie

Yes, it’s that time again…not Halloween, but Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2nd.

I used to hear that celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (DLM)was morbid. But with some understanding of the cultural concept of Dia, it has become quite trendy–a real party.

We did not celebrate DLM in my Mexican-American home (In the 60’s we were Mexican-American, the 70’s Chicanos, the 1990’s Hispanic, 2000’s Latinos- a short history lesson).

Growing up Catholic, November 1st was celebrated as All Soul’s Day, and we attended mass (Not a party).

If you are ‘new’ to the Dia de los Muertos revelries, here’s a list I complied last year on the Icons of the Day of the Dead. 

And if you’d like to celebrate the days leading up to DLM, here’s a list of 10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos. 

Dia is trendy now but that’s okay. To me, this means DLM is not only culturally relevant to Mexicans, Mexican American, Chicano’s, but the concept also resonates with other people who agree that those who have passed should be honored, remembered, and celebrated.

Hey, even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. I’m so glad that the person who pitched this story idea was Jorge Gutierrez and that award winning director, Guillermo Del Toro signed onto the project.

Read this wonderful movie review of “Book of Life,”  by Melanie Mendez Gonzales.

If you’d like to become better informed or give your kids a wider multicultural view, here are some beautifully illustrated and written children’s books on the Day of the Dead.

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

This is a story about a young girl who helps her family prepare to honor her grandfather.

I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story

I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story

I like to use the remembrance cards that are given out at church funerals. I place these all over my dresser, light a candle, and re-read the cards and think about the good times I’ve shared with the person.

And now that you know a little more about Dia de los Muertos you can chose to honor your loved ones too by setting up a space on your counter or chest of drawers, with or without a candle, and place photos of the person (s) you’d like to honor.

Travels with Mom


Gingko tree in autumn-flickr

Gingko tree in autumn-flickr

I arrived back to Oxnard, California from Denver yesterday evening from a visit with my daughter. Rain fell the night before, puddling the deck with water. My mother and I stood outside in the cool morning breeze to smell rain and touch the droplets pooled on the banister. California is in a drought and it’s been several months since we’ve had any rain.

The trip provided a look into the fall season with the brilliant yellow Gingko tree leaves, golden hues of Aspen’s and the russet blazes on other trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they are since I was born and raised on the coast.

Traveling with my elderly mom (she would hate that I used that word for her) also provided a look into our coming season. The child is now the mom and the elderly mom is like a child. Before anyone feels miffed about this description, it was said by my mother.

Mom can no longer see, walk, hear or smell very well anymore. She uses a cane and needs a wheelchair at the airport. She hates that she burns tortillas on the stove and can’t see or hear the television unless she sits within a few inches of it and has it on 45 volume.

Her decline in abilities has been in the last three years and for the last two years she’s been saying “This is my last trip, I’m becoming a burden.” 

The inability to do everything for herself is foreign to her, being such an independent woman all her life, and something she struggles against. (I talk about this part of her life here.)

The two things she misses the most? Driving and reading. The freedom to travel anywhere she wants whenever she wants. She is keeping up with progress of the Google Self-Driving Car. I can’t bear to tell her that the commercial sale of these cars is still about five years out. 

Google Self Driving Car

But with the reading loss, Mom is still able to read large print, albeit slowly, with her thick glasses that hurt her nose if she reads more than 30 minutes.

Before we left to Denver, Mom implored me to give her my manuscript to read (Strong Women Grow Here which is about an immigrant teenaged girl in prison). Mom used that “I might not be around to see it published.” Sad, but true.

Given that Mom is legally blind, 12 font on paper is not an option. But, I did figure out how to place the manuscript on my Kindle Fire and enlarge the font so she could see the print.

She read every available minute. Hearing her laugh, or frown, or say, “Ay, that Jester,” (the antagonist) touched me to the heart. We had conversations about prison life for female offenders, effects of abuse, faith and people’s ability to change.

“You have to get this published. It’s important, people will really like the story,” she said.

I love that she is my cheerleader. 

The above led to Mom’s musings about technological changes and how these do not favor the elderly except for her Jitterbug, which she can operate half the time. “They should think about the old people, we want to know what’s going on.”

She’s still waiting to find a computer she can use, because “No one prints photos on paper anymore. They put everything on that ‘Facepage.'” (She calls FaceBook everything but it’s correct name).

“And I want to read your blogging thing. I hear you write poems, is that true?”

So, I’ll see what I can do to find her an easy to use computer with a large lettered keyboard, so she can visit ‘facepage’ and my ‘blogging thing,’ because now her travels will be through a computer screen and her memory.

‘Shoulding’ All Over Myself

I Really Should...Flickr.com by Sookie

I Really Should…Flickr.com by Sookie

I hate the word ‘should,’ but I use it on myself quite a bit.

I should be writing (working on my new manuscript).

I should be reading to improve my writing.

I should find a new book to read. (I did find this fun game to select a book, but twice it selected one I already read).

I should clean the house. I hate cleaning house.

‘Shoulding’ all over myself makes a mess.

Psychologist, Clayton Barbeau, came up with the term “shoulding yourself” to describe this cognitive distortion.

Yes, I feel distorted right about now.

Another psychologist, Albert Ellis, calls it “musterbation.” Yew!

Both say that we get into trouble ‘shoulding’ ourselves when it takes the form of an automatic thought, an abstract meaning an obligation to do something and if we don’t do it we are (or feel) wrong and guilty.

‘Shoulding’ ourselves is like nagging. We don’t need a spouse, or mother, to do this to us. It’s a  self-generated nag that makes us not want to do the task in question.

But there is something more sinister when we use ‘should,’ repeatedly, such as I am doing to myself today. Both psychologists say that the most frequent result of ‘shoulding’ ourselves is procrastination.

Yeah, the big P. That’s it in a nutshell. I’ve just been procrastinating all morning. I’ve been waiting to ‘feel’ like writing, because most of the time I feel like writing. Just not today.

‘Should’ is procrastination in disguise. I have to remind myself that not doing the ‘should’ is a choice. No one is going to suffer irreparable harm if I don’t write, read, or clean my house.

And the act of writing about this ‘shoulding’ and what I’m really doing has given me an epiphany- a light weight one-but one nonetheless: taking a step toward the ‘should,’ begins to propel you towards some sort of accomplishment.

So, I may not have worked on my manuscript, but I did do some writing today.

And that insight makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

So, now I’m going to go find my earbuds, the leash, and take my dog, Chip, out for a walk. Just because I want to do so.

Now go do something you want to do.

What’s On Your Banned Book List?

The Color Purple-Banned Book, huffpost.com

The Color Purple-Banned Book, huffpost.com

How many banned books did you read last year?

A search on the American Library Association (ALA) turned up several lists.

I found out I read eight of the top10 list for 2013.

The books I didn’t read were 50 Shades and Captain Underpants-the chone wearing superhero, really?

All three of my kids loved Captain Underpants.

Like the ALA and others who are highlighting #BannedBooksWeek, I support the freedom to express ideas through literature, and the freedom to choose what a person wants to read.

What I really like is David Pikey’s video on how to express concern about a book without censorship:

Now get thee to your community library and check out a banned book.

Or not, because I also support your right not to do so.


Farewell to Summer

Sunflowers outside Siena, flickr, by Cristos.

Sunflowers outside Siena, flickr, by Cristos.

Sunflowers bloom anytime between June and July in Tuscany. The hotter the weather, the earlier they bloom and this summer was a scorcher.

My friend and I traveled between Siena, San Gimignano, and Montalcino during the second week of September.

Swaying stalks of sunflowers waved a tricolor swath. The egg yolk yellow of youth, the gold of prime time, and the sepia color of age.

By the time we left Siena, last week, the sunflower fields became a personal haiku.


Once golden, bronzed

heads bid farewell to a

summer of brilliance


Goodbye, summer.

I look forward to the colors of autumn and traveling to Denver, CO to see the vibrant shades of fall.

Enjoy your last summer weekend!

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