Family Vacation in Colombia: A Wish Come True?

I am writing this somewhere over Mexico, en route to El Salvador. My final destination is some two hours after that, Medellin Colombia. Why Colombia? Well, you might recall, a little over 3 years ago Juan and I traveled to Italy for my 50th birthday, and as part of my list of 50 Things to Do Before 50.  Juan didn’t have a list of 50 things he wanted to do, but he liked the idea of taking a birthday trip. We considered all sorts of destinations to mark his milestone birthday—Argentina, Spain, or perhaps even Portugal? They all sounded like wonderful and romantic locations for the both of us to get away. Ultimately, his birthday wish was to travel to Colombia. The country of his parents’ birth, the country where he spent many happy summer vacations of his youth, and the place where found solace when his first marriage ended. So here we are traveling on, appropriately enough, Father’s Day. It’s an appropriate day to begin this trip because the second part of Juan’s birthday wish was that we take this trip with all four of our kids. He wanted to experience Colombia with our kids, and show them how special this country is to him, and introduce them to the extended family who live here. You know that adage, “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it?” That’s kind of how I am feeling.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

If I sound like I am anxious about this trip, it’s because I am. Not since our disaster of a family vacation in 2008 have I ever dared to think we would all travel together for any extended period of time. That year, I spend an inordinate amount of money and time planning a week-long vacation at a beautiful resort on the Mexican Riviera. I had high hopes that the kids would spend hours on end in one of the four resort pools, complete with a lazy river and water slide. They would occupy themselves while Juan and I lounged poolside, reading and sipping tropical drinks. Instead, one of us spent the majority of time sleeping in the darkened hotel room, others complained of heat, humidity, foreign food, and the lack of internet, some of us got the “Turista” and the balance of the time we spent trying to pretend we were enjoying ourselves. The week ended with a major meltdown where some of us ended up flinging clothes at each other and the rest of us couldn’t wait to get home and back to work again.

A happy moment before the turista hit and the vacation imploded.

A happy moment before the Turista hit us and the vacation imploded.

Here it is eight years later and we are trying it again. This is not to say we haven’t all been together for any trips. We did a short camping trip with friends who ran interference among siblings, and we took a vacation with my extended family.  There were enough adults to act as referees, allowing us all to get away relatively unscathed. That is, until the ride home from the airport which ended with an embarrassing teenage temper tantrum, and my parents racing to their car so they could drive themselves home to their peaceful retired life.

This time around I am trying to manage expectations and yet I still have hope this vacation will be different. The “kids” are not kids anymore. They are almost 21, 18, 17 and 11. Olivia just got home yesterday after a semester in France. Maybe her travels abroad and maturity will enable her to roll with the punches and not throw any at her sister. Erica has gone through a lot in the last year, and she has learned techniques to help her regulate her emotions. Now, If she could just put the techniques to use when she feels triggered. Nico has always flown under the radar, and acts with the neutrality of Switzerland during most family conflict, even when he knows better than to stay silent. With only two months left before he leaves home for college, I hope he can find it in himself to speak out instead of going along to get along. Diego is just the right age to enjoy this vacation with the siblings he loves, and not so old that he doesn’t want to hang out with his parents. I am also excited to see how fluent he has become since finishing his elementary school education in a Spanish language immersion program. As for Juan and I, we know that with the kids being the ages they are, this could very well be the last time we vacation together as a family. I just hope that we all get along well enough that none of us regret Juan’s birthday wish.


Ready for take-off. Who looks more nervous?

An Afternoon With U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor

Last week I went to see United States Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor speak at a local event. Fresh from swearing in Vice-President Joe Biden, Sotomayor has been on tour promoting the publication of her memoir, My Beloved World.  She was being interviewed by actor and political activist Eva Longoria. The duo made an unlikely match but as the interview began everyone in the 1800 seat sold-out theatre was drawn into an intimate conversation on the Justice’s thoughts on family, law and adversity.

The conversation ranged broadly among these topics, and Sotomayor was well versed to speak to all of them.  As the first ever Latina, and only the third woman to be appointed to the highest court in the country, she has overcome many challenges in her life, including losing her father to alcoholism when she was 9,  and contracting juvenile diabetes as a child, and being the first in her family to attend college. Throughout the interview I was stuck by how personable she was, even though she is a Supreme Court Justice. For someone like me–a Latina, the first one in my family to graduate from college, and a lawyer–it was inspiring to hear her insightful words, and learn from her experience.

When someone from the audience asked her what advice she could give to others about being a trailblazer, she responded, “Take other people with you.” She explained that occasionally she will invite her mother to accompany her to events but her mother sometimes refuses to go because she’s afraid she won’t fit in. She will tell her that’s fine, they’ll go anyway and not fit in together. I love that even a US Supreme Court Justice can feel a bit like a fish out of water, just like so many of us. I think it’s especially true for those of us living in two cultures.

Sotomayor also spoke candidly about her relationship with her mother, and how she sometimes felt abandoned by a mother who had to raised her daughter as a single mother.  She spoke about the difficulty she had writing this memoir, but how it became a vehicle for her to repair the relationship with her mother and forgive her for her mother’s detachment.  I was so inspired to hear that even now, as a grown woman, a “wise Latina woman,” she is still every bit a daughter to her mother. She realized, as we all do, that our parents aren’t perfect but that she has come to appreciate how far her mother had to travel to get to be where she is and support her daughters’ rise to the bench.  It gave me hope that my children, who by now realize how imperfect I am, will come to know and appreciate my efforts to support them in their lives.

Sotomayor told of her experience in writing her memoir, and how she was able to learn more of her parents’ story.  She explained that through her  genealogy research she learned where her father came from, and she learned of the love story between her parents. She told us that writing her memoir caused her to listen to family stories from a 97 year-old uncle and encouraged us to listen to our own family members tell their stories, even if we’ve heard the stories before. Instead of tuning out. she encouraged us to listen, and ask, “Why?” We may be surprised by the answers. This was inspiring to me because one of my fondest memories I have is talking to my 97 year-old grandmother about her story before she died, and chronicling some of my family’s history on this blog.

Perhaps the most moving part of the afternoon’s conversation was not just in the words Sotomayor spoke, but the way her words were received. The audience was diverse. There were people of all ages, ethnicity, and professions.  My husband Juan was also there, and so was a dear friend of mine, who is also a Latina attorney. My friend is also diabetic and has been dealing with the challenges of this disease for nearly 25 years. As my friend listened to Sotomayor speak, she was moved to tears.  As a justice on Supreme Court, it would seem natural for Sotomayor to be removed and detached, but Sotomayor has such a warm presence, that she made my friend and I both feel like she could a family member. It was awesome and I was so glad to experience such a moving afternoon. I can’t wait to experience more of her story when I read her book.




We Decide- As a family and as a Nation.

This summer Olivia travelled to Medellin, Colombia with her aunt and cousins. Olivia had the chance to visit the town where her grandmother grew up, and she met many family members for the first time. It was Olivia’s first time to Colombia and she loved it. Juan and I wanted her to go for many reasons, one of which was to learn about the country where her grandparents were born, and lived. It was a chance to connect with her history, her roots. It was also a chance for her to be exposed to a different way of life. She had a fantastic experience.

After four weeks in Colombia, Olivia came home and immediately left again. Two hours after her flight landed, she boarded another flight to our state capitol, Sacramento. Olivia was selected to participate in a week long conference called the Chicano Youth Leadership Project. There she had another kind of experience putting her in touch with her culture as a Latina in the U.S. Olivia is interested in politics, policy and social justice, and will be going to college next year to study international relations. Her week in Sacramento exposed her to some of the political and social issues that Latinos face today, and have overcome in the past. Through this dynamic program, and perhaps her month in Colombia Olivia has gained a deeper appreciation about what it means to be an American of Colombian ancestry–and what it means to be a Latina. She came home after 5 weeks away on fire!

Olivia was inspired and motivated to begin working in politics and social justice issues. She wasted no time. A few days after she returned from her travels, she began interning at a US congresswoman’s office, a Latino organization and a grass-roots organizing group. I am so proud of her and excited for her future. She is interested in poitics and as the election draws closer, we discuss the issues more frequently. As a Latino family we have been discussing those issues which are personal to us–immigration, education, voter disenfranchisement, and of course, the economy and health care.

That’s why I was so excited to read about the launch of a new program on nuvoTV. We Decideis Latino town hall program moderated by Natalie Morales, and premiering on Sunday, August 19 at 8 pm. The program will feature a panel of high-panel experts who will engage with a live audience and other virtual particpants engaging through social media platforms. The program will cover how the presidential candidates are addressing issues specific to America’s Latino population. Not only will Latino celebrities and political figures be appearing on the show and tuning in, but our family will be tuning in too. As a social network savvy teen, I hope Olivia will be able to contribute to the discussion by accessing the Facebook site. Even though Olivia is still to young to vote, she’s not too young to follow the discussion and stay informed on the issues we face as Latinos, and as Americans.

Click here for a preview of We Decide on nuvoTV.


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

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.

Wrapping up Christmas

Another year, another Christmas all wrapped. up. This year we shook things up a bit by spreading out our Christmas celebrations and gathered with family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yeah we’re crazy like that. Usually, we do the Christmas Eve tour by going to church early, driving to my parents, where my mom hosts a Christmas Eve dinner and then heading to Juan’s sister’s house, to celebrate Colombian style, with a very late Christmas Eve dinner, and dancing into the early morning hours. Sometimes we even spend the night. Yeah, I know, we are pretty intense with all that Christmas, but that’s the way we roll. This year, we had to split up Christmas into an entire weekend event. Our Christmas Eve plate was pretty full already since Diego had to sing with his choir at the 3:00 family service, and had to be at church before 2:00 in order to robe and rehearse.

Waiting for the family service and the children's choir with my friend Julie and her daughter Ty.

It was a beautiful and fun service, very family friendly, complete with a warm-up round of carols, and an entire Christmas pageant. Every year, one of the church families with a baby, is selected to play the Holy Family. The year that Diego was born, our family was the Holy Family. Diego was just 4 months old and the girls played angels. Nico had too much stage fright to be the shepheard boy that year, but we all had a great time assuming our divine roles.

The Holy Family, Christmas 2004.

After this year’s pageant, Olivia and Erica had to acolyte at the 5:30 service, so Juan and I got to sit together and enjoy this beautiful ceremony. The church was all decked out in holiday splendor.

The church altar decorated for Christmas.

After we finally left church at 7:00 p.m. we raced home to finish packing our sleigh minivan, with overnight clothes, sleeping bags, and the posole, cheese plate, brussel sprouts, cookies and french toast casserole I had spent the morning preparing, along with all the presents we had spent the last two days frantically wapping. Santa’s sleigh had nothing on us. We were packed to the gills. I was very sad not to have Nico with us since it was his father’s year for Christmas, but I think he would have had to sit on the roof rack if he had been here.

We made it to Juan’s sister’s house by 9:00 p.m., and the party was just getting started. They like to enjoy Christmas Colombian style. Let me tell you, if you have never celebrated Navidad with the Colombians you haven’t celebrated. We graze on pan de bono, and pan de queso, delicious balls of cheese, and bread, which are fried or baked. Drinks are served, including Aguardiente, an anise flavored drink served with lime slices. It’s kind of the Colombian equivalent to tequila, both which I enjoy, although definately not at the same time! We eat really late, and then the music gets louder, the furniture and rugs get pushed aside, and the dancing and the music begins. This year, even the kids participated!

You can watch it here: Christmas Colombian Style

This year, with so many young kids in the family, we enjoyed dancing to salsa music and my brother-in-law’s own dance party mix.

Watch us getting footloose here: Footloose

The dancing didn’t even start until shortly before midnight, and somehow these little guys had the energy to keep moving.

Diego and cousin cut some rug: Diego and his cousin dancing.

Around 1:00 a.m. Diego started getting frantic. I told him it was time to quit dancing and head upstairs to bed. He was so distressed that Santa would not come because everyone was still up dancing. He tired to sleep, but between the music vibrations and all the activity he had a really hard time. This made him even more upset because he was sure Santa wouldn’t make it to his aunt’s house. I knew Diego was still a believer, but I guess I didn’t realize he was a True Believer. He made all kinds of preparations for Santa’s visit, sending Santa his wish list, setting out the milk and cookies for him, and Diego even wrapped up a couple of his old stuffed animals to give to Santa and Mrs. Claus for Christmas. While we were in church Diego asked me to write this letter for him to leave for Santa that night.

A Christmas letter to Santa.

Finally, Diego fell asleep and Santa could work her his magic.

Santa's first stop at my sister-in-law's house.

Santa even left a footprint in the fireplace after he ate the cookies and milk and fed a carrot to his reindeer.

Santa stepped here.


Santa did not disappoint.  He even left Diego a thank you note and Diego is still a believer.

Santa remembered to leave a thank you note.

After the massive gift opening, that was over in all of 30 minutes, we had a delicous breakfast and then packed up the sleigh minivan again and headed our next stop, Pasadena, via a brief stop at my parents house. This year, the girls were with us for Christmas Eve but Juan had to get them back to their mother by noon on Christmas Day. This is one of the many difficulties of having a blended family with shared custody. Over the years we have had to learn to make adjustments, and be flexible in our scheduling, but it still doesn’t make it any easier for everyone when we can’t be all together on the holidays, and our celebrations get cut short to accomodate all the different schedules. So, we made a brief stop at my my parent’s house so the girls could say hello, and then Juan drove them to meet their mom, while Diego and I stayed behind to help with Christmas day dinner preparations and wait for more cousins to arrive. A few hours later, the cousins started arriving and we were set for Round Two of Christmas.

We had our traditional Mexican American version of Christmas dinner– prime rib and tamales on the side. Every year we make tamales with the family and my grandmother supervises mixing the masa and spreading and filling the meat. This year, perhaps because it was the tirst time she wasn’t here to do it with us, or perhaps because Christmas came too quickly, we didn’t make our own tamales. Instead, my dad and mom made a trip out to La Mascota Bakery in East LA and bought tamales. They were good, but I still prefer our homemade tamales.

My parents supervise my brother carving the prime rib roast. Tamales on the side.

After dinner, when we couldn’t put off the kids any longer, we exchanged gifts. Thank goodness that we have the sense to draw names in both sides of the families, so our Christmas gift giving has been pared down. Even though we select names, with so many in my side of the family, the Christmas tree still looks like this.

...but wait, there's more! Santa's second stop, my parents' house.

I have been to Christmas celebrations where everyone opens gifts one at a time, and each person has the opportunity to ooh and ahh over each gift and thank each person individually. It is all very civilized and refined. Yeah, we don’t do that. It is more of a Christmas gift unleashing in my family. I have tried to quell the frenzy, asking my kids to tell me who gave them the gift before they open it, but I am not always successful. I guess, after I have asked Diego to sit through the entire day of Christmas day meal preparations and the meal itself, he is more than ready to get through his presents.

Just so we don’t lose the true meaning of Christmas in all the gift giving, Santa believing, and tamale eating, we do to celebrate, my family has one more ritual we do every year, singing happy birthday to Jesus. We’ve been doing it since I was little with my own cousins and grandmother.

My cousins and I singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, circa, 1969.

We did it this year, with Diego and his cousins.

Happy Birthday Jesus

So, even though we did do things a bit different this year, spreading out Christmas over two FULL days, and not sharing the holiday with all my kids in the same place at the same time, and adding the cha cha cha, to Happy Birthday to Jesus song, it was still a very good time.

Merry Christmas everyone!