Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

baby-coconut

Okay, “middle-of-nowhere” is an exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like when you’re so far away from everything that represents normalcy to you – And if you have a baby with you, multiply that times a hundred.

A friend of mine will soon experience this first hand as she’s traveling to a small pueblo in Mexico, so this post is for her. Although my experience traveling with babies is limited, I did learn a few things the hard way. Those hard learned lessons will have to suffice as advice – or as the Catherine Aird quote goes, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”

So, here we go. Ten pieces of advice for anyone traveling with a baby and staying at a location which may not have the modern amenities you’re accustomed to.

Disclaimer: This advice may or may not apply to you depending on where exactly you’re coming from and where exactly you’re going, but this is the advice I’m giving based on my own experiences. Just because this post focuses on the difficulties and less desirable circumstances I encountered does not mean one should assume all of Latin America is represented. Latin America is extremely diverse and just like the United States and anywhere else in the world, there are areas of great wealth, areas of great poverty and everything in between. This advice is meant for individuals coming from a lifestyle of modern conveniences who are visiting and staying in a place that does not have those same modern conveniences.

Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

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#1. Get yourself and your baby up to date on any necessary shots. Besides getting your passport and traveling documents in order, you should go to the doctor and pediatrician, tell them where you’re going and when, and ask their advice about any recommended vaccinations as they may advise you to get shots that aren’t on the regular schedule. Do your own research ahead of time too on the CDC website so you can ask your doctor any questions you might have. (Also make use of the advice on the State Department website regarding your passport, closest U.S. consulate and embassy locations to where you’ll be staying, and how to handle emergencies while abroad.)

By the way, it’s somewhat controversial but some doctors will recommend “sedating” your baby or young child for a long flight using a medicine such as Benadryl. If you decide to go this route, make sure you get the proper dosing for your child’s weight and give it a trial run before the flight as some children actually become hyper on the medicine instead of sleepy, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you want when you’re 30,000 feet in the air in a cramped space with a hundred irritable strangers.

#2. Don’t let the doctor freak you out. I almost starved in El Salvador the first time we went because my doctor told me about all the diseases I would get if I ate unwashed fruit or vegetables, or if I drank the water. And I was constantly stressed and vigilant in preventing well-meaning relatives from slipping my baby a bite of food from their plates. I’m not saying it isn’t possible to get sick from contaminated food, but don’t let this be something you’re constantly paranoid about to the point that it ruins your trip. On our second trip to El Salvador I ate with reckless abandon. I ate a torta from a market stall that didn’t even have a proper sink for the owner to wash their hands. I survived.

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Instead of worrying about food poisoning and other food borne illnesses, focus on trying to prevent more likely and dangerous possibilities – such as your child wandering off. This may be overboard, but I had dog tags made with our local address in El Salvador in case they became lost. If your child doesn’t know the language well or the address of where you’re staying, knowing they have the address on them at all times will ease some of your anxiety.

dogtags

#3. Packaged foods are a lifesaver. Even if you and your child happily eat from vendors, markets, and the kitchens of your in-laws, it’s possible that at some point your child is going to want the comfort that only familiar packaged food can provide. If you can find the room in your luggage, pack a few favorites – a jar of peanut butter, a box of Cheerios, granola bars, etc. For a baby, consider packing baby food (avoid glass jars) and their formula in case you can’t find them at your destination.

Local authentically prepared meals are sure to be delicious, but don’t be ashamed if you feel the need to visit a local fast food place once in awhile. (Thank you Pollo Campero and Biggest for keeping me sane.)

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#4. It’s okay to be over-prepared. It’s better to be a little over-prepared than under-prepared. Think of all the things you use at home for your baby throughout the day, realize that some of them may not be easy to find at your destination, and pack accordingly. (Bottles, extra nipples, bottle liners, a specific brand of lotion or baby shampoo, diaper or wipe that you prefer, etc.) … If your child has a favorite blanket or toy, see if you can buy a duplicate to keep stowed away in case one gets lost during your travels.

Keep a sufficient amount of these items in your carry-on luggage in case of unexpected delays. (Wipes are especially useful for all kinds of messes so keep tons on you at all times.)

Don’t forget any prescriptions and all your preferred medicines for everything from pain/headaches, cramps, stomachache, itchiness, diarrhea, and allergies to motion sickness, (for yourself and for your child.)

If there’s any possibility of menstruating on your trip, bring your preferred feminine products as well.

Oh, and sunscreen. Bring the sunscreen and use it. If you think you stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll stick out even more if your skin is lobster red.

#5. Prepare for takeoff. For babies and young children, the worst part of the flight is takeoff and landing because of the pressure changes in their little ears. If your child is old enough, give them gum to chew. If the child is too young for gum, have them suck on a pacifier or bottle.

There’s no shame in using electronics to keep little ones quiet and occupied at the airport and on the airplane. Let them play apps on your smartphone the entire flight if it helps.

If you have an older child who has been wanting a specific toy for awhile, buy it and let him know he’s going to receive it on the flight. (Don’t let him play with it before then or it will lose its charm.) Keep a “fun bag” of random things to entertain your child – preferably new things they’ve never played with before. Cracker Barrel’s store is a great place to buy things like that. Some suggestions: Sticker books, coloring and activity books with crayons, a mini Etch-a-sketch, Rubick’s cube, Wooly Willy, slide puzzles – (The classics work best!)

#6. Mosquitoes are nothing to play with. Depending on where exactly you’re going and the time of year, chances are you and your baby or small child will come into contact with more mosquitoes than you knew ever existed on this planet. Not only will they make you itch, but some transmit diseases such as Chikungunya in El Salvador. Before you travel, ask your relatives if they have mosquito netting to cover the area you’ll be sleeping – if not, bring some. Also bring along mosquito repellent to put on your bodies as well. If your hosts offer to burn a mosquito coil (it looks like a green spiral), ask them not to. These coils are popular in some parts of Latin America but research has shown that they’re extremely toxic to breathe.

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(By the way, I’m convinced mosquitoes prefer gringa blood because no one was ever getting bit up as much as I was.)

#7. The hammock is your friend. Most babies love to be rocked but you most likely won’t have access to any fancy contraptions like you have back home. Make use of any available hammocks to rock babies to sleep, (but don’t leave them unattended.)

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#8. Stay hydrated. This seems like a no-brainer but when you’re busy, overwhelmed, stressed, in hot weather, and have to seek out bottled water since the tap water is off limits (or turned off completely), you’d be surprised how quickly you and your child could become dehydrated. Avoid caffeine the day you travel and drink water on your flight and at the airport as soon as you get off the plane. Grab some bottles to take with you to your destination and find out as soon as possible where you’ll be able to buy more when needed.

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(You can tell by his eyes, my younger son was getting a little dehydrated on an outing during our most recent trip to El Salvador so we stopped at the first place we found selling water.)

#9. Expect the unexpected no matter how much you prepare. Ask others who have visited the area what it’s like and have them tell you in as much detail as possible. Even after the most thorough research though, you may find that you were woefully unprepared to face such a different lifestyle even for a short period of time. Take some deep breaths (Inhala…Exhala…), and try to go with the flow.

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#10. Take plenty of photos. This is an incredibly special moment in your child’s life, and if they’re very young, they may not remember it well or at all. Take photos of your child with all their relatives and keep a little journal of what you do each day while there. These will make a cherished keepsake for your child later. Before you know it your return flight will be departing to take you home, and while half of you will be relieved that you can come back to familiar food, hot showers, drinkable tap water, modern appliances, child-safe locks, and air conditioning – the other half of you is going to wish you could have stayed a little longer now that you were finally getting the hang of things.

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La Cerca (The Fence)

Image source: Orange Grove Media

Image source: Orange Grove Media

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Uno no siempre puede saber todo sólo mediante observar. Ser observador es importante, pero sólo si uno recuerda que como ser humanos, nuestra abilidad de ver algo con los ojos y destilar la verdad, es imperfecto, limitado e influenciado por nuestras propias emociones, experiencias, y creencias.

Tomemos por ejemplo esta sencilla cerca. ¿Por qué estaba construida? ¿Los dueños quieren privacidad? ¿Es por protección o un sentido de seguridad? ¿Quieren previnir que salga su mascota o sus niños? ¿O que no entran extraños y animales desconocidos? ¿Tal vez van a construir una piscina o tienen un perro que muerde, y no quieren poner sus vecinos en peligro? ¿Es por razones estéticas, que se ve bonita la propiedad? ¿Quizás quieren vender la casa y están agregando valor a la propiedad? o es que ¿No quieren que su vecino les moleste?

Lo único que sabemos es que hay una cerca, pero no podemos saber por cierto por qué hay una cerca sin preguntar a los dueños. Pero ¿por qué estoy hablando de las cercas y los supuestos? Estos pensamientos se inspiraron en una hermosa serie que he estado leyendo en The New York Times. La serie se llama “The Way North“, y se trata de la inmigración.

The Way North: Day 25” es una entrevista con una mujer que se llama Francene en Wichita, Kansas. Francene ha vivido toda su vida en Wichita en la misma propiedad. Ella cuenta tanto las experiencias positivas y negativas que ha tenido con los inmigrantes mexicanos en la communidad que han estado moviendo a las casas en su vecindad. Ella contó sobre jovenes mexicanos que quebrarón una ventana, y entraron en un edificio de su propiedad, dañaron y robaron cosas. Contó también del hombre mexicano y su hijo que hicieron las reparaciones a la ventana y trataron de cobrar menos por la reparación porque se sentían mal por lo que le pasó. Una parte de la historia menciona a la familia mexicana que vive detrás de la casa de Francene. Anteriormente Francene les llevaba sandías cada domingo durante sus barbacoas familiares … hasta que se construyó una cerca.

Al final del artículo, nos encontramos con Leonel, el vecino mexicano que vive detrás Francene – El mismo vecino que construyó la cerca. Cuando el escritor del artículo hablo con Leonel y le dijo cómo se sentía Francene, Leonel expresó sorpresa. “¿En serio?” dijo Leonel. “Ella es una buena persona. Yo no sabía que iba a molestarse. Simplemente lo hicimos para hacer la casa más bonita.”

Esta historia me puso muy triste, porque estos tipos de malentendidos y suposiciones dividen a la gente más que la cerca física. Es una lección de no saltar a conclusiones.

¿Qué “cerca” estás malinterpretando en tu vida?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

One can not always know everything simply by observing. Being observant is important, but only if one remembers that as human beings, our ability to see something with our eyes and distill the truth is imperfect, limited, and influenced by our own emotions, experiences, and beliefs.

Let’s take for example this simple fence. Why was in built? Did the owners want privacy? Is it for protection or a sense of security? Do they want to prevent their pet or children from going out? Or prevent strangers and unknown animals from coming in? Maybe they’re going to build a pool or they own a dog that bites, and they don’t want to put their neighbors in danger? Is it for aesthetic reasons, to make the property look nice? Perhaps they want to sell the house and they added the fence to increase the property value? Do they not like their neighbor and want to make it more difficult for that neighbor to bother them?

The only thing we know is that there is a fence, but we can’t know for sure why there is a fence without asking the owners. But why am I even talking about fences and assumptions? These thoughts were inspired by a beautiful series I’ve been reading in The New York Times. The series is called “The Way North“, and it’s about immigration.

The Way North: Day 25” is an interview with a woman named Francene in Wichita, Kansas. Francene has lived all her life in Wichita on the same property. She recounts experiences both positive and negative that she’s had with the Mexican immigrants in the community who have been moving into her neighborhood. There are the Mexican teenagers who broke a window, entered a building on her property, damaged and stole things. There is the Mexican man and his child who made the repairs to her window and tried to undercharge her for the repair because they felt badly about what had happened to her. One part of the article mentions the Mexican family that lives behind Francene’s house. Francene used to bring them watermelons each Sunday during their family barbeques… until they built a fence.

At the end of the article, we meet Leonel, the Mexican neighbor who lives behind Francene’s house – the neighbor that built the fence. When Leonel was told how Francene felt, he expressed surprise. “For real?” Leonel said, “She’s a nice person. I didn’t know it was going to bother her. We just did it to make the house look nice.”

This story made me really sad, because these types of misunderstandings and assumptions divide people even more than the actual physical fence. It’s a lesson in not jumping to conclusions.

What “fence” might you be misinterpreting in your life?

Atol de Avena

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When my suegra lived with us, she used to buy oatmeal, which she called by one name and one name only – “Quacker.” This used to make me crazy because “Quacker” sounds like a nickname for a duck, but it was her mispronunciation of the brand name “Quaker Oats” – and perhaps it’s a common mispronunciation in El Salvador, the same way Corn Flakes are called “Con Fleis” – I honestly don’t know if it was a suegra thing or a Salvadoran thing.

When my suegra would make oatmeal though, she didn’t even attempt to decipher the directions on the can; the result was more like soup than anything I previously recognized as the thick, lumpy oatmeal of my childhood. I told her many times that you aren’t supposed to add that much water or milk, but she would only look at me like I was stupid and sip her oatmeal out of her favorite cumbo.

It was only years later that I found out what “atol de avena” is – and realized that my suegra had never been attempting to make American-style oatmeal in the first place. So, here is a lesson in humility, a reminder that there isn’t always one right answer, and a recipe for “atol de avena” which I am sipping right now, suegra-style.

Atol de Avena

2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (and/or ground cinnamon)
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (I use Quaker Oats 100% Natural Whole Grain Old Fashioned)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
4 packed tablespoons brown sugar or other sweetener (see directions below)

Directions:

1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups water, a cinnamon stick, salt, and oatmeal to a boil. (If you don’t have a cinnamon stick, you can add ground cinnamon to taste later.)

2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir continuously for about 3 minutes.

3. Add milk and stir until heated through. Remove from heat.

4. While still warm, you’ll want to add the sweetener. I usually use brown sugar, (4 packed tablespoons), but you can use piloncillo, dulce de atado, or dulce de panela. My suegra never would have added more sugar than this as she doesn’t like things overly sweet, but feel free to add more if you don’t find it sweet enough. You can also add ground cinnamon for more flavor as this recipe yields a very mild tasting atol de avena.

5. Serve warm. Makes about 4 cups.

Pachamama

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Image source: Dauro Veras

This morning when I remembered it was Earth Day, I started thinking about the concept of “Mother Earth” or “Madre Tierra” – and this in turn reminded me of a word I have always loved – Pachamama. Since it’s Earth Day, this is actually an excellent day to learn, “What or Who, exactly, is Pachamama?”

First, what does “Pachamama” mean, and where does the word come from? Pachamama is an Aymara and Quechua word commonly translated to “Mother Earth” but there isn’t really an exact equivalent in English or Spanish. While “mama” means mother, in Aymara and Quechua, the word “pacha” means far more than “earth” – the word also encompasses the cosmos, universe, time, and space. (On a personal note: I find it interesting that the word “pacha” in Salvadoran slang, which typically comes from Pipil/Nahuat, means “baby bottle” – So it’s another sort of mothering/nurturing word. I wonder if they’re related?)

Pachamama is a goddess of the Inca people and is adored in various areas of Latin America – primarily in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, but also in parts of Chile and Argentina.

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Image source: ImagenesDeOcasion

Here are a few quotes about Pachamama that I found interesting:

“It is often difficult for an outsider to understand the devotion of the indigenous people for Pachamama…the principal deity of Andean religion. Pachamama is earth itself, sustainer of all life. In the words of one of the villagers, ‘Pachamama gives us life, she nourishes us throughout our existence on this earth and when we die, we go back to our Pachamama from where we will rise again.’ Pachamama is powerful. She sustains life for animals and plants alike, but she can also kill with devasting earthquakes and allow lightening to strike. Pachamama and the god of thunder and lightening are considered compadres.” – Inge Bolin, Rituals of Respect: The Secret Survival in the High Peruvian Andes

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Description: “Q’eros shaman, called a Paqo, in his ultra-bright traditional poncho and chullo (hat) calling the Apu mountain spirits to bless a mesa, a cloth-wrapped package of special found and collected power objects (like rocks and crystals from places you’ve done ceremony) that a person on the shamanic path carries for ceremonies.” // Image source: McKay Savage

“It is very common for the Pachamama to receive the first serving of beer at social gatherings since believers pour a few drops on the ground before they take their first sip. This is a way to thank and feed the Pachamama.” – Caserita.com

car-pachamama Description: “Decorated Landcruiser – All decorated in honor of Pachamama over the Carnival period. People were doing this all over the Andean countries today.” // Image source: Andy Hares

“According to Mario Rabey and Rodolfo Merlino, Argentine anthropologists who studied the Andean culture from the 1970s to the 1990s, ‘The most important ritual is the challaco. Challaco is a deformation of the Quechua words ‘ch’allay’ and ‘ch’allakuy’, that refer to the action to insistently sprinkle. In the current language of the campesinos of the southern Central Andes, the word challar is used in the sense of ‘to feed and to give drink to the land’. The challaco covers a complex series of ritual steps that begin in the family dwellings the night before. They cook a special food, the tijtincha. The ceremony culminates at a pond or stream, where the people offer a series of tributes to Pachamama, including ‘food, beverage, leaves of coca and cigars.'” – Wikipedia/Pachamama

pachamama-dance Description: “La juventud es parte fundamental del espiritú que aquí se vive, en conjunto. Yo junto a mi novia nos contagiamos del ritmo y la energía de un pueblo que le agradece a su tierra por lo entregado, un verdadero carnaval, donde no hay personas arrastrandose por demostrar su fe, al contrario hay gente saltando y bailando felices de saber que son ellos los hijos del Inti.” // Image source: Pablo Embry

In this quote, the person seems to be referring to the tradition of some Latin American Catholics to crawl on their knees to show their devotion and to thank God and or the Virgin for answered prayer, when he says “…no hay personas arrastrandose por demostrar su fe, al contrario hay gente saltando y bailando felices…” [Translation: “…there are no people crawling to prove their faith, on the contrary, there are people jumping and dancing happily…”] This quote draws a contrast between the two faiths and the way in which they worship, yet there are some who mix their beliefs.

“When the Spanish invaded the Americas, they brought with them their Catholic religion, forcing it upon the indigenous people. But the people, devout to their own gods, resisted these advances…So the Spaniards had to adopt a different plan of attack. As Dr. Cajias says, ‘They then decided to mix Catholic beliefs and figures with native beliefs and figures.’ At the center of this syncretism are Pachamama and the Virgin Mary. Pachamama is an Aymara and Quechuan word loosely meaning ‘Mother Earth.’ The Andean people saw Pachamama as a mother who gave them food, water, and all of nature. She was considered a fertile mother because of the fertile land. And the Catholic figure most resembling a caring mother? The Virgin Mary.” – Source: Patrick Dowling, BolivianExpress

cruz-pachamama Description: “Ofrenda a Pachamama.” // Image source: Thiago Biá

Regardless of your religious beliefs, all of us living on the earth have a responsibility to care for it, and that’s what I take away from the belief in Pachamama. I find it difficult to live in harmony with nature in the modern world, balancing the wants and daily “needs” of American culture with a deeper and truer need to be in balance with everything outside my climate-controlled home which is filled with technology and other conveniences, but I try – and I want to try harder.

Happy Earth Day, Pachamama.

Libros for All Kids

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Hola! This is a guest post by Cuban American author, Meg Medina, as part of the Latinas for Latino Lit 2nd annual Día Blog Hop, which we’re proudly participating in for the second year in a row. Check it out! (And then check out the other L4LL’s Día Blog Hop posts from other Latino/a children’s and YA authors.)

Libros for All Kids

A guest post by: Meg Medina

Something happened to me recently at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference that gave me a glimmer of hope against the dismal  – and now familiar – news that we are still publishing too few kids’ books that feature Latino characters.  

I had been asked to talk about my young adult novel, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  It earned the Pura Belpré medal and the CYBILS Fiction Award, among other nice distinctions, and it was one of the measly two percent of children’s books by or about Latinos that was published last year.

If you’re unfamiliar, my novel is set in Queens, New York, and is the story of 16 year-old Piedad Sanchez who finds herself in the cross-hairs of a school bully.

After my talk, a librarian named Erica came to find me. It’s always such an honor when someone tells you they connected with your story. But I was especially happy to hear from her. She grew up in suburban Wisconsin with all brothers. There were no Latinos to speak of in her world.

“I read your book and I thought, oh my God, that’s my story.”

I could have kissed her whole face.

She’s right, of course. It is her story. It’s her story exactly the way Charlotte’s Web once felt like my story as a kid, even though I’d never seen a live pig and I lived two-hundred miles from the nearest farm in New York.

It’s no secret that I write stories that feature Latino kids and their families – the whole glorious ajiaco that I grew up with and that shaped how I move through the world.

But I do not write stories only for Latino kids. I write books for all kids about the universal problems of growing up. You remember that horror, don’t you? The frustrations with your family? Being betrayed by peers? Falling in love with creeps? To me, it doesn’t matter if a girl is named Fern or Piedad. What really matters is that her story is told with honesty and compassion.

When I think of books and what we want reflected in them, I say that it’s wise to cast a wide net. All kids benefit from stories that not only affirm their own experience but that also that allow them a peek at those same experiences through a slightly different lens. The magic of such books is in that beautiful spot where the unique and the universal hold hands like good and faithful friends.

meg-medinaMeg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. The first American citizen in her family, Meg was raised in Queens, New York by her mother – and a clan of tios, primos, and abuelos who arrived from Cuba over the years. She was the fortunate victim of their storytelling, and credits them with her passion for tales.

Meg’s work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls.

Her books are: MILAGROS GIRL FROM AWAY; TIA ISA WANTS A CAR, for which she earned the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award; THE GIRL WHO COULD SILENCE THE WIND, a 2012 Bank Street Best Books; and YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS, which was the winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Medal, which is presented annually by the American Library Association to a Latino writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.

Follow Meg’s blog at www.megmedina.com

Connect with Meg on Facebook and Twitter

Pararse a oler las rosas

flores

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Ayer estuve muy ocupada. Encima de mi trabajo normal, tuve que llevar a mi hijo mayor a una cita y hacer unos mandados. Admito que cuando mi día es interrumpido por un montón de correteos por aquí y por allá, me pongo un poco molesta. Es que necesito mi dosis diaria de tiempo, para estar solita y en silencio, para pensar y recargar las energías.

Así que cuando fui a comprar unas cosas que necesitaba en Lowe’s, no pude resistir la tentación de ir al Centro de Jardinería para literalmente “pararme a oler las rosas” como decimos en inglés.

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little-purple-flowers-latinaish

rose-latinaish

Mientras que olía (y fotografiaba) las flores, me preguntaba si hay un dicho similar en español que signifique “Tómese el tiempo para apreciar las pequeñas cosas lindas de su día.” Le pregunté a Carlos y a algunas de mis amigas, pero nadie sabía de un buen dicho con el mismo significado. ¿Sabes uno?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Yesterday I was really busy. On top of my regular work, I had to bring my older son to an appointment and run some errands. I admit that when my day is interrupted by a bunch of running around here and there, I get a little annoyed; it’s because I need my daily dose of quiet time alone to think and recharge that I feel that way.

So when I went to Lowe’s to buy a few things I needed, I couldn’t resist going to the Garden Center and literally “stopping to smell the roses” as we say in English.

While I smelled (and photographed) the flowers, I wondered if there’s a similar saying in Spanish that means “take time to appreciate the beautiful little things in your day.” I asked Carlos and some friends but no one knew a good saying in Spanish with the same meaning. Do you know one?

Mi Cumple

felizcumple-note

Today is my birthday. Carlos whispered “Feliz cumpleaños, birthday girl,” to me before kissing me on the forehead and going to work. I smiled and went back to sleep. When I awoke, I found that little note you see above, and minutes later he texted me a video of Pedro Infante singing “Las Mañanitas.”

Honestly, I usually try to lay low on my birthday – the more quietly it passes, the better. Of course, my family and friends never let that happen. Upon opening my email this morning there were even more birthday wishes, and even my gringo family sends them in Spanish these days. My father sent me a birthday song from Dora the Explorer and my maternal grandmother sent me a mariachi e-greeting.

So, since it’s a losing battle, this year I’m choosing to embrace my birthday. After all, I’m 35 years old today, and it doesn’t feel half as bad as I thought it would. Turning thirty was semi-traumatic, so anything short of a complete emotional breakdown is progress worthy of being noted.

This time of year always comes with thoughts about what I haven’t yet achieved and the fact that I still don’t know for sure exactly where I’m going in life. Thirty-year-old-me freaked out about these exact thoughts, but thirty-five-year-old-me shrugs and says, “¿Y qué?” … It isn’t that I’m apathetic about my goals, but I’m more accepting of the fact that they won’t always happen on my timetable, and some of them won’t happen at all – That’s okay because there’s something else I discovered; in life you will achieve and experience things that you never even set out to achieve or experience in the first place, and more often than not, those are the things you’ll end up cherishing more than anything on your list of “things to accomplish.”

“Oye abre tus ojos, mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida,
Abre tus ojos mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida.

Un descanso en el camino, una botella de vino,
Un suspiro, una mirada, una alegre carcajada,
Una cara en el espejo, un amigo, un buen consejo,
Un viaje en barco velero aunque no llegues rimero,
Un caballito cerrero que no corra por dinero,
Un palmar, un riachuelo, un pedacito de cielo.

Mira bien alrededor y verás las cosas buenas,
Que la vida es un amor, olvídate de tus penas.
Oye abre tus ojos, mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida,
Abre tus ojos mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida.

Una playa, un cumpleaños,
Un buen recuerdo de antaño,
Un olor a yerbabuena, una conversación amena,
Un romance que ha nacido que te roba los sentidos,
Un parque lleno de niños, un bellísimo cariño,
Un lágrima, un momento que sea todo sentimiento,
Una música muy bella, un perfume, una estrella.

Mira bien alrededor y verás las cosas buenas,
Que la vida es un amor, olvídate de tus penas.

Oye abre tus ojos, mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida,
Abre tus ojos mira hacia arriba,
Disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida.”

– “Oye Abre Tus Ojos” by Wilfrido Vargas