Siri-ously Call Me Your Grace

Re-reading my last couple of blog posts, I think I need to lighten things up around here. I’m not all serious and gloom, even though I sometimes sound like it.  One of the great joys in my life is laughing at my husband Juan’s corny jokes and terrible puns.  His unique sense of humor is often evident in the titles to my blog posts. If my post has a corny title or a play on words, you can bet he suggested it, e.g. the titles to the last three posts.

Juan is also my tech guy.  If I ever have a question about anything tech related, I ask him. In fact, nearly everyone in my family calls him when they have a tech question especially if it has anything to do with Apple.  Yesterday he sent me a link about an article discussing how to make Siri, the Apple voice assistant, simplify my life. I looked at the article and just learning how to operate Siri was too complicated for me. Forget about it simplifying my life.

I am learning to use Siri little by little and thanks to Juan and his tech savvy, Siri is programmed to call me “Your Grace.” I didn’t program her this way but after watching several episodes of Game of Thrones, Juan thought it would be funny if she called me by a royal title.

Juan taught Nico how to program his Siri and now she calls our 15 year-old son,  “Supreme Overlord.”

Diego and his friend are in on the fun too. One of his 3rd grade buddies recently programed his mom’s iPhone to call her “Poop head.” (He changed it back before he got in trouble.)

Last month Juan spent the afternoon helping my dad buy and set up his iPhone. Juan programed Siri on my Dad’s iPhone and wanted to have her call him by the family nickname, “Chuy.” I vetoed that idea. Then he wanted to program her to call him by his given name,  “Jesus,” but in English. I vetoed that idea too. I think he finally programed her to call him “Jess.”

Juan used to have his Siri call him “Lord and Master.”  I guess he figured that would be the only time he’d ever have that title. Now, Juan has taught Siri to call him by his given name,  perfectly pronounced, with a throaty spanish “J” sound, kind of like Hwan. 

One of the ways I like to use Siri is to dial my cell phone when I can’t dial myself.  I will tell Siri, “Call Juan.” Siri will then respond, “Calling One.”

I think still have a lot to learn about using Siri.  I guess I also need to learn how to pronounce my husband’s name correctly.

Back to School with the 3 R’s – Reading, Writing and Retention

Diego has been back in school for a couple of months now, and I am happy to say that even though the beginning of the school year presented a lot of challenges, we survived it.  You see, Diego is in the first grade. Again.  It was a big decision, and one we did not take lightly, but after several meetings last year with Diego’s teacher, the school principal and a reading specialist, Juan and I decided it would be in Diego’s best interest to repeat first grade. I felt it was the best decision.  Until the first day of school when I saw Diego curled in the corner crying. My heart ached and I began to second guess our decision. It was not the first time either, that I would second guess myself.

The first time was shortly after Diego started  kindergarten, when he was in pre-school and his pre-k teacher suggested he could use another year before he went to kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher at the school he was scheduled to attend also suggested it.  Juan and I considered giving Diego another year of pre-k since his August birthday would make him one of the younger students in the incoming  kindergarten class.  Delaying kindergarten, especially for boys, is a growing trend. There’s even a name for it, “Red shirting.” It comes from the term used in college sports when recruited athletes sit out the first year of college play.  In fact our own school district recognizes the benefit of starting kindergarten later and has begun to move back the cut-off birth date so that by next year an entering kindergartner must be 5 by August 1. However, in 2009, when Diego was set to start kindergarten, the birthday cut-off was still mid-December. That year Juan and I  learned that Diego was accepted into our local school district’s inaugural year of a Spanish immersion program, and we decided it was too great an opportunity to pass up, so we enrolled him in kindergarten, even though a part of me felt he could benefit from another year of pre-k.  In kindergarten Diego struggled for several weeks. He cried  regularly when I dropped him off. The teachers assured me that he was fine after I left and he definately seemed to be grasping the curriculum, even if 90% of it was in Spanish.  I felt better about our decision to to start him in school–and then he got to first grade.

Suddenly, it seemed like the curriculum took a steep curve. The class sizes increased to 29 students, due to budget cuts. When I volunteered in the classroom, it seemed chaotic, a couple of students seemed to continually interrupt and demand attention from the teacher, as she tried to work with small reading groups. Diego seemed to be a bit behind in reading, but we figured it had more to do with the fact that this year 80% of the curriculum was in Spanish, and the understandable confusion between learning to read in Spanish and English.  Four months into the school year, the teacher determined that Diego needed reading extra support and he began to see a reading intervention specialist. The added support seemed to make a difference, and Diego loved it. He received 20 minutes per day of individualized instruction. Unfortunately, by the end of the school year, his reading was still significantly behind the standard,  and we were faced with the decision to let him advance to the second grade or repeat first.

Juan and I were taken aback. How could this happen? Diego is a bright, sociable, confident boy.  Juan and I both love to read, and we have been supportive of his education.  I hate to say it, but I felt a bit like retention was a poor reflection upon me, and my ability to raise a child who loves to read.  My ego was tied up with my son’s academic achievement. Mother fail. When I came to terms with the idea, I realized  retention wasn’t about me, but about him. I knew that retaining Diego was the best thing for him.

I broke the news to Diego, and he was, understandably, very upset. He cried because he thought he would not see his friends and that he would not be able to play with them.  He sobbed and told me he was a “failure.” Ugh.  Exactly what I did not want to hear. I had tried to put as postive a  spin on retntion, without ever suggesting that he failed. Diego came up with the idea on his own. My own fears were realized, since I had read that one of the major criticisms of reteniton was the negative impact it had on a child’s self-esteem.

The first day of school Diego was anxious.  He saw his old friends but didn’ t engage them much. He seemed self-consciouse that he had to  line up separately from them.  When he got into the classroom, he didn’t recognize anyone.  He took a seat on the carpet away from everyone and began to cry.  It was awful. I tried to comfort him but I there was little I could do to make him feel better, and eventually I had to leave. I hovered outside the door for about 10 minutes and watched through the window as his tears stopped. I knew that he would adjust. It’s taken awhile but he seems to be doing okay. He used to regularly ask if he could move onto second grade, but he is doing that less and less. He still plays with his old friends and has made new ones. He is confident in class and is one of the kids who regularly speaks Spanish to his classmates, and his reading has improved.  The class size is smaller, 21 students.

Next week, Juan and I meet with his teacher for a conference. I am anxious to talk to her and spend some time discussing his progress. Even though I may have second guessed my decision to send Diego to kindergarten early, and our decision to retain him for first grade, the more and more I see him really blossoming, the more I feel like it was the right decision. Diego is not the youngest in his class, but he’s not the oldest either. I think that he is right where he needs to be.

On display and for sale at Olvera Street.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

Today is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I have never really celebrated this holiday, even though I have long had a fascination with the rituals and the history behind this tradition.

Day of the Dead isn’t about a morbid fascination of death or the dead. It’s a time when families in many Latin American countries, and in some parts of the U.S., celebrate the memories of loved ones who have passed on.  Legend has it that on this day, the “veil” between this life and the after life is thinned, to allow the spirits of our loved ancestors to come back.  In Mexico, families gather at the gravesites of departed family members, cleaning headstones, decorating the graves, and picnicking as they tell stories, sing songs and reminisce with fondness their departed family members. Many families build altars in their homes, adorned with photos of the deceased, and offerings of favorite foods or momentos. The altar typically has other elements which symbolize the four elements of nature: air as represented by the decorative cut paper banner (papel picado), earth as represented by food, fire as represented by the altar candles, and water.

About 20 years ago, when I was in a Mexican folk dancing group, I became friends with several people who celebrated this tradition.  One year, we drove all over the Los Angeles area looking for celebrations and exhibits commemorating Day of Dead. We didn’t find too many. Recently, though, it seems you can’t go anywhere in the Los Angelesarea without running into the celebrations. Last year I went to one of the biggest celebrations in Los Angeles, held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary. I blogged about that here. Yesterday,  I went to a local supermarket which is part of a major grocery chain, and I found a pan de muerto.  I was surprised to see this sold at the supermarket, so I had to buy it.

A sweet bread mad in the shape of bodies or decorated with shapes to resemble bones.

Today, leaving my downtown LA office I ran into someone wearing full-face make-up like a skull. No doubt, she was there to participate in the Olvera Street festival. Olvera Street is a kind of touristy, but fun, Mexican market place. I went for a walk over there yesterday during my lunch hour and the  place was filled with candy and colorful ceramic skulls, (calaveras), paper flowers, papel picado and the smell of marigolds.

On display and for sale at Olvera Street.

I love that this holiday is becoming more widely known.I think the colors and the pageantry and the rituals behind the day should be celebrated by all those who wish to participate.

This year I decided I wanted to celebrate with my family, both living and departed, so, we built altar in our family room. Here’s a photo of my altar. It includes pictures of several of our grandparents. Since we are a blended family, our altar probably honored more grandparents than the typical altar.

There are some momentos for Olivia and Erica’s maternal grandmother, Grandma Lupe.  She loved Elvis and was quite artistic

There’s a photo of Nico’s paternal grandfather, and there’s photos of both of my grandparents, and photos of my cousin and her parents.


Juan added a photo of his maternal grandparents, and their favorite “cafecito.” There’s a memory of our loved dog, Mischief.  We also added the typical offerings of pan de muerto and flowers, and a calavera.  The water is held in a favorite glass, which was one of a set belonging to my grandmother. The shawls, or rebozos, which were used as drapes on the altar were given to me by my grandmother too. Even though we may not get an actual visit from any of our departed relatives this evening, the act of creating the altar helped to remind us of the all those we love and miss, and that is what the Dia de los Muertos is all about.

Latino Heritage Month

Today marks the beginning of Latino Heritage Month. In honor of the month long celebration of Latino culture, I am re-posting something I wrote last year.  Well, I am re-cycling the post for that reason, and the fact I am so overwhelmed with life right now that I haven’t had much time to blog.  But, with the weekend in sight, I may be able to put up a new post soon! Thanks for stopping by.

This past month has been a celebration of Latino heritage. Latino Heritage  Month technically runs from September 15 to October 15.  Being Latina is a big part of who I am.  During most of my childhood, I lived in a very diverse community near Los Angeles.  In my neighborhood there were Armenians, Japanese Americans, Anglos, and people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately white suburb that I was aware that I was different. During my first days in the new school, my new classmates were naturally curious about the “new girl.”  They asked me “what I was.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I wasn’t really sure what they were asking, and I had never been asked that question before. I must have looked confused because the follow-up question was, “Are you Hawaiian…Italian… Indian?” Mexican wasn’t even an option.

I responded that I was Mexican, and then they asked if I was born in Mexico.

 Over the years I have been asked that question several more times, although it may not have been phrased the same way.   Depending on the circumstances I answered the questions in varying ways:

“I’m Mexican.”

“I’m Mexican American.”

“I’m Hispanic.”

“I’m  Latina.”

“I’m American, but of Mexican ancestry.”

“I was born in the U.S. but all of my grandparents were born in Mexico.”

Even though I wasn’t always certain what was the best way to answer that question, I still felt certain that I knew who I was and where my family was from. And I felt proud of my heritage.  My parents and family raised me with pride in our heritage, and culture. At family celebrations,  I would watch my mother dance  the Mexican folk dances she had learned as a young girl. 

I learned these dances too. I have had occasion to dance as an adult. 

I am so glad that some of these cultural lessons have been passed on to my children, my step-daughter Erica.

Diego, my youngest son, walked in the Latino Heritage parade last week. He marched with his classmates from his 1st grade Spanish immersion program. He wore the hat typical of his father’s native country, Colombia.

This is what Latino heritage is all about. A celebration of who we are and who are ancestors were. I hope that when my kids are asked the question, “What are you?” They will know how to answer, and they will answer with pride.