Looking Backward at 2012– Moving Forward to 2013

I can’t believe 2012 is coming to an end. It sounds cliche, but the time flew! When I look back at my last blog post for the end of 2011 I realize how anxious I was to bring on a new year. 2011 had its own challenges so I was happily looking forward to starting anew. That’s the thing about blogging, it keeps me accountable to my own life, and my own words. In reviewing 2012, I can honestly say it was better than 2011, it many ways, but it was not as good as I hoped it would be.

There have still been the regular stresses of living with teens, which seem to be amplified when you factor in the multiple households that come with our blended family situation. The living arrangement that I hoped to return to hasn’t materialized–Erica still lives most days with her mom and Olivia is full-time with us. I miss having the consistent routine of shared custody, (that’s an oxymoron). The transitions we experience when Erica returns for all too brief periods, are difficult, especially for Diego, who misses his sister’s regular presence.  But, Olivia seems to have benefited greatly from living with us full-time. She finished the important junior year in high school with exceptional grades, and seems content. At least, as content as any 17 year-old anxious to leave the nest and escape her parents’ clutches. The fact that Olivia is now a licensed driver helps to ease her restlessness and gives her some independence, at least temporarily until she sets off to college in the Fall.  She’s already been accepted to two of her top colleges and is waiting to hear from a third. 2013 should be a good year for her.

Olivia earned praise for her hard work this year.

2012 marked a huge transition for Nico and Erica. They graduated from junior high and have started high school. Both are finding their way through the academic challenges of Freshman English and Algebra I and they are loving the social life and “big pond” experience they have gained moving onto high school.  Having spent 9 years at the elementary school and junior high with essentially the same kids, they are both enjoying maintaining friendships with some of their former classmates who are attending the same high school, and they are thrilled to be making new friendships too. As for me, I love seeing them expand their universe with new friends, and new experiences. I know 2013 will be an enriching year for them too.

Erica and Nico at one of the last events of Junior High.

For Diego, 2013 will probably be more of the same,  I hope. After all, he is only 8 years old, and I don’t expect a new calendar to rock his world too much. He’s (finally) in the second grade, and happy to be there. His Spanish is improved, and he is a strong reader.  He consistently drops in a Spanish word or phrase when he talks to me or Juan, and he is proud of his expanding vocabulary. I am convinced that sending him to the Spanish immersion program in our public school district was a good idea. Sure there have been things he’s missed out on not attending the Catholic school that his older siblings attended, but he is gaining a language. How can you beat that? We manage to help him fill in the gaps with his participation in our church childrens’ choir, soccer and little league baseball. He’s looking forward to moving up a division in soccer this year. So, for Diego 2013 should be just fine.

Diego enjoyed his first season of baseball in 2012.

As for Juan, I think 2012 was a very satisfying year, professionally.  He was rightfully recognized by my alma mater,  Loyola Law School and the Criminal Courts Bar Association for all the hard work he did on a case involving a wrongfully convicted defendant. He was in his element this political season, since he loves politics. He followed all the pundits and devoured all kinds of blogs, and news shows during the elections.  His two worlds collided this year, when our boss, the District Attorney for Los Angeles, did not seek another term, and we had to elect a new top prosecutor. Ultimately, we are very happy with our new DA, and look forward to the changes in our workplace that a new administration will bring. I think 2013 will be a very good year for Juan too.

Juan earned the Ignatian Award, in service towards others.

When I started writing this post I wasn’t sure how it would go. I realize I didn’t have any time this year to write my regular Christmas newsletter, like I have done in our 2006 Family Newsletter, and in 20072008, 2009, and in 2011, so I wanted to write a kind of retrospective on the year, but there is just too much to say. That’s another perk to blogging, I can post another day. For now, for me, 2012 had some high points, and some very definite low points. It wasn’t the year I hoped it would be, but it wasn’t a year to frown upon either. I think 2012 was probably a transitional year–one which I hope will lead me to an even better year in 2013. Happy New Year. 2013. Bring it!

How was your 2012? Are you looking forward to a New Year?


Le Magnifique Les Misérables: A Movie Review

Before I begin my film review of Les Misérables, let me preface my remarks by saying that I have seen the stage version four times, I have the soundtrack, and I read the book. So, this review will probably be a bit biased. Consider yourself warned. That said, after seeing the movie, I still found parts of the film version which I could critique and I still found things which seemed new to me.

Another preface, I went to see the movie with my husband, Juan, who has a strong dislike for any musicals unless they involve rock and roll or his favorite group, Kiss. Since there is almost no musical which has these elements, it’s safe to say he hates musicals. Juan has a lot of wonderful qualities but an aficionado of the arts, he’s not. I thought he was joking when he told me he once took a book to a performance of the Joffrey Ballet, but then his former wife confirmed it. Still, Juan agreed to go see the movie with me. That’s how much he loves me. Or how much he wanted to be able to mock me afterwards. Anyway, I made sure to order a large popcorn and a small soda with free re-fills, so he would have plenty of reasons to get up and refill his cup during the nearly 3 hour movie.

Okay, onto the movie. I loved it. I had seen the trailers so I knew the production values would be amazing, but I was blown away. Onstage, the only real large piece of scenery was the barricade. In the movie, all the scenes came to life with spectacular sets, costumes and cinematography. I suppose that with the minimal stage scenery, it made the singing that much more emotional. In contrast, the singing in the movie was not as powerful, but in combination with the backdrop of all the production elements, I did not feel the emotional impact of the singing in the movie was diminished, except for Russell Crowe’s singing. No amount of production elements could make up for his weak performance. In stature and appearance, Russell Crowe definately looked the part, but his singing lacked the strength and conviction of any Javert I have seen before.

Apart from Crowe’s weak performance, I thought all the other performances were very good. I was not disappointed by Hugh Jackman of Wolverine fame, playing Valjean, Amanda Seyfried’s Cossette, or Ann Hathaway as Fontine. In fact, I felt all these performances were equally as strong as any stage productions’ I’ve seen. I don’t think it’s really fair to compare the two anyway. They are very different productions. On stage, it’s a live performance, and I have never felt that the experience was that intimate, especially since I have never sat any closer than mezzanine. On a large screen with close-ups, the acting felt so much more electrifying and the characters more magnetic, even if the singing was less powerful. I have heard some criticisms about the sing/talking by Jackman and Hathaway, perhaps to make-up for their less than stellar singing voices, but it didn’t really bother me. In the emotion of the scenes’ moment I felt that sing/talking was right on. I saw an interview with Hugh Jackman in which he explained the filming process for this musical. He explained that since the film was shot with live singing, he could really experience the character in the moment, and not be concerned about hitting the lip syncing from the pre-recorded songs. I think it worked.

For me, the best part of Les Miz has never been about the singing, the acting or the scenery, rather, it is about the story. A classic morality play about redemption, God’s grace and the power of love. There were several pivotal moments in the movie where I was transported with the depth of the emotion, and of course, I was moved to tears. The first time I saw the play I came out of the theater with my blouse wet from the tears that had rolled off my face. Today, as soon as the credits rolled I made a beeline for the bathroom to splash cold water on my swollen eyes.

As for Juan, well he’s a sensitive guy but he didn’t cry, although he kept handing me napkins. I looked over at him a couple of times during the movie to see if he was enjoying it. “Enjoying” may be a strong word, but at least he wasn’t hating it. In fact, he only got up one time to re-fill his soda cup. He told me that when he went to the see the stage version with me in June, he kept thinking, ” I don’t know what’s going on”, “How soon until intermission and I can get coffee?” “When can I go to the bathroom?” At least today, he didn’t keep looking at his iPhone, and he definitely did not bring a book. Although, since Juan is such a comic book fan, he told me that he was secretly hoping that Jackman would pull out his Wolverine knives during a sword fight with Javert, and at he end of the film’s credit roll, Samuel L. Jackson would appear and recruit Valjean to join the X-Men.


Avocado Inspiration

Recently I was selected to participate in an Avocados from Mexico promotion. I was happy to be included in this campaign because I love avocados. It wasn’t always like this for me. I can remember being a little girl and not liking avocados, even though I had never actually tasted one. Then, one day my parents encouraged me to actually taste an avocado, and I was hooked from that day forward.

Luckily, I don’t have to force my family to eat avocados, because everyone in my family loves them. In fact, I have a hard time keeping avocados in the house. One of my co-worker’s knows this about me, so every time she has an avocado, which in her opinion is too ripe, she will give it to me. There have been many mornings when I walk into my office and see an avocado waiting for me on my desk. (Thanks Ann!)

So, you can see that blogging about avocados is not a real dilemma for me. But what is more challenging is blogging about a recipe I use with avocados. Honestly, we eat avocados very simply, with a squeeze of lime and salt. Diego is a purist though, and enjoys his avocados sans lime or salt. Even though we love avocados, as I considered what recipe to share with you all, I was stuck. I decided to look through my pantry to inspire me to come up with an avocado recipe. Nothing. Then, I opened my freezer and I came across this.

Bags and bags of tuna.

Yellow fin tuna that Juan and the boys caught on a fishing excursion while we were on our family vacation in Cabo San Lucas. The guys caught a total of 18 beautiful tuna. The fishing crew cleaned, filleted, packed and froze it for us. The day we were scheduled to leave we went to WalMart, bought a cooler, packed it all in and brought it all home. We’ve been enjoying it ever since. Last week, while at a family barbecue my brother asked to use some to add to some guacamole he was making. Hmmm….

I was inspired. Now, not only did I have the two major ingredients–avocado and tuna, as it happened, I also had an occasion to cook something. All summer my next-door neighbors had talked about getting together on our porch for a happy hour. The summer was nearly over but we finally managed it. They planned to bring the mojitos, and I would bring the appetizer. I looked on-line for some guidance on what ingredients to include in my avocado tuna ceviche dip. I was missing some ingredients, but fortunately I had found suitable substitutions. I decided to improvise and this is what I came up with:

Avocado and Tuna Ceviche Dip. 

It was a hit. So easy, so good! I was so glad I could use the tuna that the boys caught. Then next day, I had unexpected company so I whipped up another batch. It was gone in a flash, but not before Olivia tried it and raved. She asked if I could make it for her to take to school. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of recipe you make and pack for lunch. Something about taking raw fish and avocado and storing it in your school locker until lunchtime, doesn’t sound like a good idea. Still, I was happy the kids tried it and liked it too. Even Diego, the avocado purist, loved it. But, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because the main ingredient was avocados!

Happy hour on the porch.

Here are the details:

1-2 ripe Avocados

1/2 pound raw good quality yellow fin tuna

2 tablespoons chinese chili paste

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Chop the avocado and tuna into bite-sized pieces, equal size. Finely chop onion and cilantro. Add the onion, soy sauce and chili paste to a bowl. Squeeze in some of the lime juice. Stir to combine. Add in the avocado and tuna. Stir gently to coat with chili paste mixture. Squeeze in additional lime juice and continue to stir gently to coat. Toss in cilantro. Add additional soy sauce or salt if needed. Serve immediately with chips, or crackers. Eat and enjoy. Repeat.

Do you want to try out an avocado recipe?  Go here for recipes. Or if you’re a purist like Diego then just use the coupon on the sidebar, buy the avocados and enjoy!

The Ever-Shortening Days of Summer

It’s been a long time since my last post. In fact, it’s been almost two months! When I last blogged summer had not even officially begun. School had just ended. Nico and Erica had just graduated from 8th grade and said good-bye to the school and classmates they’d known since kindergarten. Olivia finished her finals and was sleeping away the first days of her summer vacation. I was on a weekend getaway with Juan and Diego to a quaint seaside town in Central California. Best of all I looked forward to the promise of Summer. The possibilities of long, lazy days, free from kids’ homework, sporting activities, and obligations. I looked ahead to warm evenings on my front porch sharing margaritas with my neighbors during impromptu happy hours, family dinners al fresco, and roasting marshmallows on our backyard fire pit. Most of all I looked forward to slowing down and being able to spend some of my evenings writing and savoring the ever lengthening daylight.

My last blog post was just before the summer solistice and the longest day of the year. As I enjoy the lengthening days, I tend to overlook the fact that what immediately follows the longest day of the year, is that the sun sets just a bit earlier, every day. Summer, known for it’s long light-filled days creeps its way to Fall with the light-filled days getting shorter and shorter. Summer days pick up speed as I soak in the warmth of July, and I am surprised by the arrival of August and its accompanying swealtering heat. I was as sad as Diego the other morning, as I drove him to summer day camp in the foothills of the Angeles forest, and he asked me how many more days did he left of summer vacation. When I did the calculations and told him just a little over 20, he replied wistfully, and almost tearfully, “Summer is going by just too fast.” I know Diego. Perhaps, that’s why I haven’t blogged a lot lately. I have been spending my evenings trying to capture summer, trying to stop it and realizing another day is closing before I have even powered up my laptop, I go to bed without writing, resenting the fact that the days are getting shorter, and I am unable to memorialize the season with my words. My blog and I are at a stalemate. Until this morning, when I woke up early, read one of my favorite blogs and felt inspired by these images of summer. I knew I just had to break this stalemate. I knew I had to concede that even though this summer hasn’t been exactly what I idealized, I don’t need to be resentful and I can enjoy what’s left of the season. While I can’t slow the ever shortening days of August, I can look back fondly on the memories we created these past couple of months.

Did you slow down during your summer? Did it go by too quickly?

Choosing Skin Health with Neutrogena

Growing up in Southern California, I was exposed to the sun year round. Even though I preferred reading books to being outdoors, by the time I was a teenager and my parents had a pool put in our backyard, I figured out a way to combine my love of reading and my increasing interest in my appearance. I tanned while devouring my summer reading material.

In those dark ages, we called it suntan lotion, not sunscreen. Melanoma was something we read about, and it affected older people, certainly not us–pass the coccoa butter please. When summer ended and we returned to high school, the girls would often compare who had the best tans. One year a classmate returned to school with her fair Scandanavian skin burnished a rusty shade of orange. She had tanned herself using a homemade mixture of baby oil and iodine. What were we thinking?

Yes, the photo is old, but my skin was really that tan for the prom.

By the time I reached my twenties, I knew better. I knew to be careful to stay out of sun during the hours of 10-2, I knew that just because the beach was overcast, didn’t mean I shouldn’t wear suntan lotion– I should at least wear some kind of lotion with an SPF-maybe an 8? I figured that because I was Latina my olive complexion would allow me to be in the sun wearing minimal protection. This way I could brown my skin without burning. My bronzed complexion made me feel healthy and attractive. It was the late 80’s and the summer I went on a weekend cruise with my single girlfriends, I sported big hair, blue eyeshadow and brown skin. What was I thinking?

In the 80's, when tanned skin and big hair were the dress code for our weekend cruise.

Fast forward 20 years and now I really am thinking. I have been blessed with good genes. My grandmother lived to be 97. My mother at 78 years young, looks and acts youthful. I have just reached the last year in my 40’s and with any luck I still have a long life ahead of me.

My skin, with all its flaws–freckles, sun spots, laugh lines, is hanging in there. This is not due to any care I have taken in the past. In spite of my own reckless habits, my skin has still kind to me. Now, I know better and I try to treat my skin with the kindness it deserves. Of course, I cleanse and moisturize, and one thing I don’t skip on ever, is sunscreen. It’s a daily part of my ritual. Brush my teeth. Wash my face. Apply sunscreen. So, when I was approached by Nuetrogena to write a sponsored post for their Choose Skin Health campaign, I didn’t have to think twice. I already use Nuetrogena’s Age Shield Face Sunblock lotion everyday.  I no longer delude myself by thinking that just because I’m Latina, I can expose my skin to the sun without consequence.

It really is a part of my daily ritual.

The number of melanoma cases is increasing in the Latino community. Sun damage affects everyone. Now, not only do I use sunscreen daily, but I continuously re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. Last weekend we spent the day at my friend’s pool. Times have changed–I wore my sunscreen, big glasses and wide-brimmed hat. My friend slathered sunscreen on her Ethiopian adopted daughter’s beautiful, dark skin. My other friend applied and re-applied sunscreen to her own daughter’s fair, European complexion.

My best friends' daughters wear equal amounts of sunscreen.

Meanwhile, I made sure my own Colombian/Mexican son was covered in sunscreen too. Even though I can’t turn back the clock and undo all the damage I did to my skin in earlier days, I can prevent future damage and protect my own skin and my family’s skin while we are out in the summer sun.

Apply and reapply sunscreen throughout the day before jumping into play.

Want to learn more about your own skin health? Click here to find a sun screening station near you.

Learn more about choosing skin health when you “Like” Neutrogena on Facebook.

This is a compensated post in collaboration with Neutrogena and Latina Bloggers Connect.