December Flashback: Christmas Traditions and Pigging Out on New Year’s Eve

2014.

I don’t even know where to start. We are already over one week into the New Year and life is moving fast. The holidays came and went so quickly I didn’t have the time or will to blog.  I’ll do a quick recap here.

We spent the first part of December getting ready to get ready. Right after Thanksgiving Juan went into the attic and brought down our 12 crates of holiday decorations and the artificial tree we purchased last year.  I thought it would be a great idea to have an artificial tree so we could put it up early and enjoy it all month long.

The tree stood in the living room, and the boxes lined the hallway untouched for two full weeks. I kept wishing the tree would decorate itself and trying to find the motivation to hang a few decorations. My advent wreath was set out on the dining room table and the first two candles stayed unlit. Then Olivia came home from her first semester at college, Diego continued to ask about the decorations and I got tired of running into boxes in the hallway. Finally, mid-December we decorated and started our Christmas shopping. Bam! It was Christmas in my house!

The weekend before Christmas my family got together to make tamales. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and for many years I would get together with my mom and grandma to make them.  Since my grandmother died two years ago we have not made tamales.  This year it was time to start our tradition again.  Olivia wanted to participate so we went to my mom’s house and learned the craft of tamale making while the men “helped” by drinking Coronas, watching football and taste testing. I guess some traditions die hard.

Spreading the masa.

My sister-in-law and I spread the masa.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Another one of our Christmas traditions involve debating how we will spend Christmas. Juan and I have celebrated a dozen Christmases together and I can safely say that we have probably spent three of them in our own house, waking up in our own bed.  That’s because every year when the kids were younger, we would have to share Christmas morning with the other parents and divide our family time between my extended family and Juan’s extended family.  That usually meant Christmas Eve dinner with my parents followed by a sleep-over at my sister-in-law’s house for Christmas morning and then driving back to our side of town for the custody exchange, mid-day. It was hectic but that became our routine. Now that the kids are older and there is more flexibility with the custody exchange we have been able to cut down on some of the Christmas day driving.

Every year I try to eliminate the Christmas Eve sleepover, and this year was no different. Juan and I wanted a nice, relaxing Christmas morning in our own house, but we were completely out-voted. The kids protested, arguing that part of the fun and “tradition” was staying up late and sleeping over to celebrate Christmas with their cousins. So, that’s what we did.  In our annual tradition, we went to an early Christmas Eve service and then returned home to hurriedly load our van with presents for both our families, and our kids, overnight clothes and sleeping bags and then drove to Orange County to celebrate Colombian style with my in-laws. The celebration involved a late night meal, dancing and a hilarious gift exchange where my mother-in-law was the big winner! The kids were right. It was really fun! I guess part of our tradition is that every year I have to complain about our “tradition.” At least this year I didn’t have to rush through Christmas Eve dinner with my parents since everyone in my family was willing to have that part of the celebration on Christmas day. Maybe that’s a new tradition.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. Here, it's 3:30 a.m.

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. We’re still waiting and it’s 3:30 a.m!

Christmas day on the patio at my parent's house and relaxing family celebration.

Christmas day on the patio at my parent’s house and relaxing family celebration. Thank goodness.

New Year’s Eve was also the start of something different.  For a couple of years now I have spent New Year’s Day hosting an open house and serving black-eyed peas and posole. The black eyed peas are for good luck and the posole is because I like it.  This year we decided we wanted to host a party and switched it up for New Year’s Eve. We got together with another local family who are Colombian and combined forces. They brought over a 65 pound female pig to roast and 30 of their closest friends.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

We supplied the house, the black beans, rice, platanos, along with a few other appetizers, a whole lot of left over alcohol from my 50th birthday party, and about 20 friends.  We danced, lit fireworks, and finally ate at 1:00 a.m! It was a good time for all!  So good that the party turned into a sleep-over and carried over the next day as we all sat around in my kitchen eating leftover tamales and the posole I made for New Year’s Day.

New Year's Rockin' Eve in my family room!

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in my family room!

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

It may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

Posole  may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

I guess looking back at how busy we were for the the holidays, I can understand why I didn’t blog much. Remembering how wiped out I was after my New Year’s party, I can also forgive myself for waiting over a week into the New Year for my first blog post.  I have some intentions for this New Year which I hope to share with you in posts ahead.

In the meantime, I have some black-eyed peas I need to eat. Happy New Year!

A traditional New Year's food.

Our other traditional New Year’s food. 

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

Today is a special edition of Throwback Thursday. In celebration of Thanksgiving, I’m throwing it back to November 2007 and our blended family Thanksgiving.

In our blended family arrangement we often have to share holidays with the other parents. In 2007 Nico was going to spend the holiday out of town with his dad while the girls went with their mom. Before they left for the weekend I roasted a turkey breast and made some of our favorite thanksgiving sides. The other parents arrived and we invited them to stay for our impromptu feast. It was spontaneous and fun and we created a nice memory in the life of our family.

This year all our kids are home for the holiday. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and creating more memories. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Yes, There is a Santa Claus: Enabling My Son’s Belief Even When I’m Over It

I expected this to happen sooner or later.  After all, Diego is 9 years old and how much longer could I really expect him to buy into the Santa Claus thing? He really wants to be a believer in all the holiday fantasies.  He enjoys the magic of all of it. He even had me enabling his beliefs when I ran out on St. Patrick’s Day and bought him green gifts so he would think the leprechauns really did visit.

This year it’s not even Thanksgiving and he’s already asking about Christmas, and Santa. Honestly, I was just hoping that his belief would just fade away and this year he would admit to me that he didn’t believe in Santa anymore. Last year Juan and I drove over an hour to Filmore so that we could have what I thought would be our last “Santa Experience” and Diego could ride a Polar Express train. I figured 8 years old was really the end of the Santa fantasy.  I thought that by now he would stop believing and I wouldn’t have to do the whole leaving cookies and milk thing or sneak around and pretend Santa paid us a visit. My three teenagers stopped believing long ago, and frankly I am kind of over it.  I certainly didn’t expect Diego to ask about Santa this year, much less today. I was caught completely off guard.

On the way to school this morning Diego started asking a lot of Santa questions. He asked, “Why don’t parents get anything from Santa on Christmas? What would I want Santa to bring me?” I was not prepared to have this discussion before I had my first full cup of coffee. I just couldn’t be that creative that early in the morning. I quickly detoured that conversation by saying I had to concentrate on driving in traffic.

On the way home from work this afternoon, in the pre-holiday rush hour traffic we had a lot of time to kill.  We started talking about Thanksgiving which led to a discussion of how many days until Christmas, which of course led into another conversation about Santa.  It was dark and I couldn’t see his expression as he sat in the back seat, but he sounded sincere.

Diego: Do you believe in Santa? Be honest.

Me: Do you believe?

Diego: Yes, I believe.

Me: (Thinking) He’s still a believer?! How could I crush his belief? Even if he really just wants to believe in the magic, but doesn’t truly buy into the whole Santa thing, how could I tell him the truth? I don’t want to lie. But I don’t have the heart to ruin his fantasy. Especially now, when I am driving in traffic, and when I can’t see how he’ll handle the truth. And I’m tired. Can’t he just stop believing without me having to be the bad guy and ruin it for him? 

So, I kind of lied.

Me:   Yes,  there was a man named St. Nicolas. He would give presents to kids.

Diego:  (Not missing a beat). You mean used to be? What about now?

Me:  (Using my lawyer tactics) Well, what do you think?

Diego: I think he’s real. My friend Nelly told me she saw him once with his elf. I think his toy bag is magic and refills itself with the toys for the kids. How else could he have toys for all the kids?

Me: Yeah. (Seriously? This kid has quite an imagination. Either that or he is really playing me.)

Me:  Well, it sounds like you have it all figured out.  Oh look, a traffic accident!

Crisis averted. For now. Damn.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.

 

Shopping on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Like most grateful American I want to thank all those in the armed forces for their service, including my father and my cousins. I’ve written about the veterans in my family before, here and here.

Today in observance of Veterans Day, I had the day off from work. Like most busy, working moms I was grateful for the extra day off. I decided to use the time to get do some chores around the house that have been bugging me.  I wanted clean out some of my closets. I started with my linen closet.

My linen closet before the purge and reorganization.

My linen closet before the purge and re-organization.

I was making some good progress that was derailed when I stopped to run some errand to one of my favorite stores, Banana Republic. I intended to be really quick but I found they were having a huge sale and I stayed much longer.  I got as far as cleaning out my linen closet, and didn’t have time to clean out my own closet.

Too bad because I had a successful trip and Banana Republic and now I have no place to put away the clothes I just bought. I guess I’ll have to wait until the next holiday and day off from work,  Thanksgiving.  Followed by Black Friday. Oh no!

Happy Veterans Day! Happy Shopping!

My linen closet after the purge. Now I have room for more towels!

My linen closet after the purge. Now I have room for more towels!

 

Celebrating Thanksgiving in a Blended Family

This was originally posted last year but I thought I’d share it again. This year I am again hosting Thanksgiving dinner, and this year Nico won’t be with us to celebrate. He will be joining his dad and his other family and Olivia and Erica will be with us. Somehow we’ve gotten off our schedule. I guess it’s one of the downsides of being in a blended family. I’ll be thinking of Nico as I give thanks for the many blessings in my life. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

Over the river and through the woods,

To Grandmother’s, Mother’s, Father’s,  house we go….

I remember singing that song during a holiday recital when I was a young girl in elementary school. The words to the song were very personal to me because they reminded me of celebrating holidays with my own family. My grandmother, who died this past June, was the matriarch of our family, and during the holidays, my extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, would gather at her house to celebrate. It did not matter that she had a small house, her kitchen lacked a dishwasher, and a reliable oven, her house became the meeting place for our family gatherings. It was only in the last several years, when she was well into her 90’s, that we stopped gathering at her house, and Juan and I took on the job of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for our large, extended families.

Even though hosting Juan’s family and my own extended family means a house full of people, and a sink full of dirty dishes, I really do enjoy having everyone gather at our house. I love creating and maintaining the family traditions that go along with hosting the traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, in our blended family, creating traditions can be a challenge, because, unlike the song I learned to sing as a child, we don’t always know who house our kids will be going to for the holidays.

In our house, like most blended family households with joint custody, our kids share the holidays between our house and their other parent’s house, alternating every year. So far, we have managed to keep the kids on the same schedule, so that when Nico is with his dad, the girls are are also with their mom. This means that we have to be resourceful and creative to keep the traditions throughout the years, even when we are not all together. I remember the first Christmas that Nico and I spent apart because he travelled out of state with his father. Nico was three years-old and excited to be going on a plane to see his grandparents. I was single, home with my parents and broke down in tears at the sound of his voice on the phone. I still cannot think back to that time without feeling sadness and loss. These days I still feel a loss when Nico is not with me on a holiday, or when we can’t be together as a family, but I know that the kids have to experience these holidays and celebrations with their other family as well, and their lives will be enriched by it. I try not to let my own sadness spill over into their own celebrations, and I try to carve out some time for us to celebrate as a family, even if that celebration may not happen on the actual holiday. For instance, in the past, I have made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for just the 6 of us. We celebrated early because the kids were going away for Thanksgiving day. On another occasion, we celebrated an early Thanksgiving and during a spontaneous moment of good will we invited the other parents. It made for an impromptu blended family portrait and it captured a moment in our family history.

Our 2007 early Thanksgiving celebration with the kids and all their parents.

This Thanksgiving will be one of those times when we won’t be together on the actual holiday. It’s an exceptional year, because typically this would be a year that is “ours.” However, this year, the girls will be celebrating with their mother and her family. I am happy for them, since they have a lovely family on that side, and for this they have a lot to be thankful. But, they will be missed by our extended families, who are gathering at our house. Nico will be with us, and of course, Diego is all ours. This year when we gather to eat we will feel my grandmother’s absence, and the absence of Olivia and Erica, but our hearts will be filled with gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. Blessings of health, home and family–in whatever form that comes in.