Posts filed under Livin la Vida Loca

Back to Bogota

Our arrival was the opposite of auspicious. The airport looked unusually busy as we descended through the clouds to Bogotá's bright lights but I shrugged it off and focused on getting off the plane. We'd already been traveling more than 13 hours. The aircrew announced that they had forgotten to get the Customs paperwork for us. Whatever. I rolled my eyes. Airline incompetence, we've all lived it. Then they said "Oh, and we don't have a gate so we'll be exiting onto the concourse. Normally I love exiting down stairs. It makes me feel like a celebrity or similar. Burbank is my favorite airport to arrive to for exactly that reason. I like to step out of the plane dramatically, taking an extra moment to feel the sun shine on my face and shake my hair out. It's the little things, you know.

The stairs in Bogotá were a very different Hollywood experience. I dragged myself and my small son off the plane into... chaos. It wasn't just our plane that didn't have a gate. El Dorado airport is under construction and most arriving planes were exiting without gates. The tarmac was a disaster of planes, people and busses, all sporting flashing lights. It looked like "James Bond: Behind the Scenes". Elian looked at me with wide horrified eyes. We descended from the plane into my first-ever tarmac traffic jam.

Did I mention it was raining?

All of this is to say, it didn't start so well. Colombians like to do things big, so it wasn't just a mess. It was A MESS! There is also construction all over La Septima, the principal street. I swear the first day I thought the whole city was in ruins which, yeah, not the way to start your vacation or reintroduce your son to his hometown.

Isn't this fun? I chirped to Elian as he covered his ears to drown out the jack hammers.

The thing is though that Bogotá is a beautiful city. Even with construction scarring its main streets it is impossible to resist its pristine skies, so crisp and clear after the predictably unpredictable rainstorms and it's magical mountains which rise up straight to the heavens. We had a great couple of days there, hanging out with good friends and drinking coffee every two hours because of course. It's Bogotá! In Bogotá there is always a good excuse to drink more chocolate, stay up later and laugh harder. Even the construction feels hopeful, part of the constant push to make the city better. They close all the main arteries every Sunday for family bicycling. This is a city that rallies.

I fell in love with Bogotá a long time ago. Before it gave me friends like family. Before I married Arnold and before I knew this city would give me my first-born son. I highly reccomend it to each of you. If you know what's good for you, you'll fall in love too.


Posted on July 17, 2012 and filed under Adventures in the World, Livin la Vida Loca.

Extraordinary Ordinary Time

In the Catholic church there is a liturgical calendar. Important religious holidays like Easter and Christmas are preceded by special times of spiritual preparation like lent, advent etc. These periods are relatively short compared to the rest of the year which is made up of something called Ordinary Time. I like the sound of it, Ordinary Time. Something about it rolls and relaxes and soothes me.

For a long time I felt caught up in a multitude of "special" events. There was the adoption, the adjustment to parenthood, changing jobs, etc. Now, finally I feel like we've returned to Ordinary Time.

Recently we attended a preparation class for Elian's baptism. It turned out to be quite literally a Come to Jesus moment for me. The nun teaching the class was running it like some sort of bad-ass baptism boot camp.  She was not messing around with bland platitudes about grace and mercy and cleansing waters. No, no, no, she wanted to make sure we got that baptism is not a one time party but a lifetime commitment "You must remember that we are beloved children of God and as parents you are the first and most important people to teach your child what it means to be unconditionally loved."

I felt those words cut to my heart.

It is so important to take the time to go beyond the basics of caring for my son. I am diligent in emphasizing manners and practicalities: to wash his hands and not to throw things, but I am severely lacking in other things that are more important. I remember to scold but not to tell him how proud I am of his kind and generous little heart. I remember to feed him healthy food, but I forget to bless him, pray for him and remind him that nothing will ever separate him from our love or God's. I am impatient with his rambunctiousness but slow to appreciate his bright smile. Yes, I am tired and exhausted and imperfect but life is not about excuses, it's about looking for solutions. I'm praying that God will help me do better.

The day after the class Elian's school was closed and I decided to trash my plans of getting chores done and instead dedicate the day to working on teaching love: namely listening to him, being patient, and lavishing the attention that he constantly craves but doesn't always receive.

It was a total blast.

We watched Sesame Street, we ate yogurt, we went to Starbucks and discussed the merits of each car that passed through the drive through. Instead of mumbling uh-huh to his nonstop chatter I made the effort to focus in. We talked and giggled and hugged. It was ordinary time and it was extraordinarily beautiful.

Posted on November 9, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Scary Stuff

This week we are dealing with real-life scary stuff: buying a new car, trying to finish up my cookbook project and of course, managing our normal everyday life.  At least I have my own personal mini-fireman to help me out. I hope Halloween is a sweet not scary respite from the crazy!

Posted on October 31, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

NKOTBSB Part 3-Dance Off with Nick Carter

Did I mention that the Backstreet Boys also performed at the concert? Backstreet Boys concert in San Jose-NKOTBSB

Not being a Backstreet fan I wasn't really sure how I felt about this addition. I do know a shocking amount of lyrics due to their insane popularity while I was studying abroad in Chile but if you asked me which was my favorite, I'd say "Uhm? How many are there?"

For shame. I should go to Boy-Band fan prison for this offense.

I was however really looking forward to one part of their performance though and that was hearing "Everybody (Backstreets Back)". I love it when Boy Bands come out with the requisite "We don't care about the haters" anthem (see "Games" and "Celebrity" for additional examples) and Backstreet's was a particular favorite. With a super-loud bass line and fresh lyrics like "Am I original? Yeah Yeah. Am I the only one? Yeah Yeah." it was a can't miss pop-moment. My favorite part is when Nick Carter (researched their names in preparation for the concert) asks us (I assume rhetorically) "Am I sex-u-al?" in his dirty-boy voice. In the video he sings it while dancing as a Mummy! (3:30)

Here it is for your reference. Please enjoy the Phantom of the Opera makeup. I did.

Since the first moment I heard that song in Santiago, Chile I thought the line was hysterically awesome and when I realized I would be hearing it live I was psyched. I talked about it non-stop on the way to San Jose. "I can't wait to hear this live, it's going to be awesome" I babbled on and on! "I'm sure he's going to do a sexy-dance while he sings it!" (cue me demonstrating body-rolls for my fellow-concert-goers).  I could NOT wait! So great was my enthusiasm that by the time the big moment came several people had cameras pointed at me to record my sexy-dance off with Nick Carter. "C'mon" I yelled at the stage "Show me what you got boy!"

I wish I could tell you I look awesome in those pics, but apparently my sexy-dance is not that hot when recorded by stop-motion photography.

Nick however did not fail me though. He was a drama KING. He dramatically ripped the top of a plastic water bottle and threw it all over himself before doing a body-wave/hip-roll combo that my friend Deana described as "circling his Johnnie." It really made my life. I wish you were all there to savor the moment.

Shortly after that moment I realized that my feelings of bewildered besument is probably what the rest of my world experiences when I babble about the New Kids on the Block." Is that what other people think about me?" I mused while I observed 20-somethings all around me faint watching Nick "circle his Johnnie".

Donnie Wahlberg shirtless at San Jose

I felt like I was on the verge of a major existential discovery, but then I got distracted because the New Kids were back and I was too busy swooning while Donnie Wahlberg ripped off his shirt.

Posted on July 24, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Thanks for making me a Fighter

Usually I consider my day job and blog to be like church and state: it's best for there to be no overlap. Today I'm making an exception. Recently we finished a mega-project that's been almost a year in the making and I'm really proud of what we accomplished. Even better? Renee ended up being featured in full-page kick-ass glory. Rock on rockstar.

Posted on July 18, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

NKOTBSB Part 2- Please Don't Go Girl

Originally I was going to be the picture of restraint with these New Kids posts."Don't bore everybody Em, not everyone is obsessed like you" I told myself but as you'll soon see I have no restraint. My deepest apologies.

I think you'll forgive my fan-girling though because there is another back story to that concert that I wanted to share and I think you'll all agree that it's far more important than a childhood dream come true.

We went to the New Kids concert at the beginning of July but we bought our tickets last year. At that time Renee, my friend and one of my best NKOTB-partners-in-crime had been recently diagnosed with lymphoma. It was a scary time. It wasn't clear what her diagnosis meant. What stage was her cancer? What would it mean for her quality of life? The length of her life? It was a time when I  kept all your questions on the inside because it was really scary to talk about them out loud.  News would come back and it wasn't good; lymphoma in the marrow, chemo and more chemo.

Things didn't seem hopeful and I desperately wanted to imagine a hopeful future for Renee. I wanted something for her to look forward to, so when Lisa put out the call for concert tix, I told her "I'm in, get me two tix, one for me and one for Renee".

If you knew how infamously tight-fisted I am and how expensive concert tix are you would know how desperate I was. I called Renee with the news all fake-cheerful "I think you'll be done with chemo by then and we'll go and have SO MUCH FUN!" Ever-positive I could hear her grinning through the phone "Of course we will! I don't care if I have to go straight from chemo on July 2nd, we're going to rock it." In my head I prayed silently "Please God, let her be well by then." Out loud I said "Of course we will!"

Obviously though, all the magical thinking and concert tix in the world do not make cancer go away. You know what does? Months and months of enduring chemotherapy. Renee finished her last round in June and as I was editing this post I found out that she is now officially in remission.

So now you know that the concert was about so much more than childhood dreams deferred, die-hard fandom or even simple escapism. For me it was about celebrating my friends' triumph in a first-round well fought. Last fall I honestly didn't know if we would be able to go to this concert together. I bought those tickets as an act of defiance in the face of an uncertain future.

You can only imagine my joy to be there with her when Joey Mac was hitting the stage crooning "Please don't girl". Normally I love to tease Renee, I like to wait until she is totally blissed out and then roll my eyes dramatically while simultaneously poking her in the ribs ( I mean before joining in myself, of course!) But this time when I looked at Renee's enraptured face lit up with unfettered devotion for her childhood love I felt totally overcome with gratitude for every moment I've gotten to spend with that goofball. So I skipped the teasing just that one time. I closed my eyes, looped my arm through hers and hugged her tight because I am so incredibly thankful that she is still here.

Posted on July 17, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Emily makes a plan

Ha ha! Got you again. Today I am talking about myself in third person, because it's fun, and catchy and reminds me of that 90s show Clarissa explains it all which I never got to watch because we didn't have cable.  :( But as usual. I digress.

So on Monday I was talkin big about my BIG dreams and my BIG plans to be stupid-fearless and I alluded to a plan. As you all know well, I love plans, checklists, spreadsheets and things of that nature so when Jenny suggested the following simple plan I was all over it.

Why don't you just use your blog and write one short story/essay a week. At the end of the year you'll have 52 and you can pick out the themes and form a short story collection.

I know! Jenny is quite possibly a brilliant, mad genius! Even better? I've essentially been writing a short story once a week or so for most of the past year so my current plan is to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON! At the end of the year I should have about 50 stories and then you guys can help me sort out a theme and we'll have a real-life little book sketch that we've done? Right? I love it.

And I love you guys too. Just thought you should know, in case I hadn't said so lately.

Okay, now it's time for you to help me write my short-story book. What makes the best short stories? Musings on my courtship with Arnold. (I assure you this story is ca-razay). Life lessons? Like "How I learned to not just be a geek." or the "Naturally a Disaster" variety like "When appliances attack". Let me know. I'll do my best to acquiesce to your excellent judgment.

Eternal Love,

Notoriously dumber and less fearful MLE

Posted on January 12, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca, Nothing to Do with Anything.

Emily Explains it All

Ha ha got you! I bet you thought I was going to talk about how wise and deliciously intelligent I am, but I'm not! Today, I'm going to tell you about the wisdom of another Emily. Specifically, Ms. Emily Henderson, who won last years Next Design Star competition.

As you know, I am a big supporter of Emilys so when one of our kind won a Design Show I was psyched. Obviously I immediately had to start following her blog and sending her lunatic tweets. I can't help it, I have to be me! Anyways, last year she did a post about a decision she made in early 2010 that led to her auditioning for the show. You can find the post here. I could give you my summary of my favorite parts but instead I'll use the magic of cut and paste to share it with you in quote format.

So what was different about 2010, eh?  Well, for starters i woke up January 1st, and was all, 'ok, life, fine, you asked for it, Emily Henderson is about to care less about what people think and take a few risks'. Cause, you want to know the real truth?  I was sick of people that are less smart and less talented being more successful because they have less fear. You heard me, and you know what I'm talking about.  Big words from a little blond, i know.  I hope that doesn't come across boastful, cause I'm not saying I'm the smartest or most talented, but I kept seeing the same thing over and over, and was a little tired of wondering why it wasn't happening to me. -Emily Henderson

Uh, does that hit any of you between the eyes? Cause it sure affected me. Maybe it's cause she's an Emily, or maybe it's because I  see so many  dum-dums getting ahead in life because they don't know they're stupid. C'mon, I know that you are all thinking of the dum-dum you know that is wildly successful despite being an idiot. They are out there in droves.

Don't worry, this is not going to be a blog post that rails against stupidity. I like to keep it positive. In fact this is actual a pro-dummy post. I've really been thinking about what she said and it's time for me to be more fearless. Sure, I'll probably make some spectacular mistakes but if you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know that it's not like I'm currently mistake free! Please! In the words of Cher Horowitz, "as if".

So I decided this is the year to stop  mulling/thinking/half-wishing that I was a professional writer, blogger, creative-person and instead take steps to make it happen.

Enter Jenny, a friend of a friend who is an actual writer. She is currently finishing a young adult novel that will be published. Obviously she is awesome. We went to dinner last Friday and I was talking to her about writing and she said "Would you like to write a book?" and I was like, uh, I don' know? To which our mutual friend Char replied "Of course you would!" with an astounding amount of confidence.

You know how sometimes people outside you see you more clearly than you see yourself? I think it was like that but I wasn't convinced yet. After all Char did once convince me to see Scream 3 in the movie theater. I still haven't recovered.

In reply to Char's assertion I began listing all the boring and practical reasons I don't have time to write a book. My full-time job, my child, what would I write about?, blah, blah, blah.

Mercifully Jenny interrupted me "Okay, pretend, I'm a publisher and I said 'I will give you $20,000 to write a book, but you have to tell me in 2 days what it's going to be about.' What do you say?"

"I would write about Elian's adoption, or a series of short funny stories" I said with about 2 milliseconds hesitation.

Uh... speaking of dummies. What kind of person thinks they don't want to write a book but can spit out an answer like that instantaneously?

I think, quite possibly a person that might be dumb enough to write one.

Jenny also helped me formulate a plan. More on that later this week.

Posted on January 10, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca, Nothing to Do with Anything.


Last October I went to Seattle with a bunch of my friends. We ate insane amounts of pizza, it was heaven. Another thing that happened on that trip is that my friends gave me a mini-intervention.

'You have to go out with Arnold once in awhile' they said. 'It's important for your marriage.' There are four of us here and we can all help babysit.'

This might not be a terribly remarkable conversation except that they followed through. Since that trip Arnold and I have been out about once a month courtesy of my friends. Even more amazing? My girlfriends are not sympathetic fellow-moms, none of them have children, yet they are my family's enthusiastic advocates.

I hear so many horror stories about women who lost their friends after they became mothers. The constant exhaustion and gap in lifestyles breaks the bonds that once seemed unbendable. I was very afraid of this happening because my friends are like my family: without them I would be lost. I was reassured and reassured, but still the fear was there, festering in my belly, making itself a comfy home with my other many neuroses.

I really shouldn't have worried because here is a list of things my friends have done in the year since I became a parent:

  1. Called me to arrange play-dates between themselves and my son.
  2. Bought toyboxes and baby-proofed their homes.
  3. Purchased a baby-pool so Elian can swim at their house.
  4. Listened and reassured the Mommy-angst. Over and over and over again.
  5. Planned events around my son's bedtime schedule.

This is a short list, with vast gaps. We all should be so lucky and yet even when I am blessed with an embarrassment of generosity my friends still have the power to bring me to tears with their kindness. Yesterday I received the following e-mail from a friend.

I read on your blog that a goal for 2011 was to have a date night once a month.  On behalf of helping you reach that goal, I would like to extend the offer to be your babysitter should you need one.  This is a standing offer until Elian no longer needs a sitter.-Lisa

I don't even have words for how that e-mail changed my day. It is so hard for me to ask for help. I feel guilty asking people to babysit. After all I'm the one who decided to become a Mom, how can I shirk my responsibilties off on my friends? And yet, time and time again my friends have been God's grace to me, blessing me in ways I would never dare to ask request. I pray that each of you are lucky enough to have the same.

Pssst-Tomorrow is List Love Book Club Day 2 - The Topic is Books that have made you Cry. I'm hosting the Link Up so get your list ready!

Posted on January 4, 2011 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

The Locket

Note: A year ago today Arnold and I were en route to Bogota to meet our son for the first time. Unbelievable. For awhile now I've been fixated on the idea of getting an initial necklace. All cool girls have one! Carrie Bradshaw has one and so did Betty Suarez. Ms. Allyn has one too.

Obviously I had to get on that train.

It had to be just the right necklace though. Even though I am not necessarily vain, I am self-involved and my letter necklace had to be just right for me. This set off an existential crisis of the highest degree. What kind of letter was I? Bold Typography? Delicate filigree? It had to be something meaningful. I didn't want just a piece of jewelery. I wanted something that reminded me of something.

And nothing was right.

Then I saw the locket and I realized that "my" necklace wasn't really going to be about who I am, it was going to about who I wanted to be. Each part of the necklace means something to me and today, on the very last day of my life that I can say "At this time last year I was not even yet a mother" I want to tell you why it is special to me.

The dove with an E represents the Holy Spirit. When we were dating Arnold brought me a necklace with the outline of a dove and told me "You hold the Holy Spirit inside of you. Don't forget you are special." As Christians Arnold and I believe that the Holy Spirit is present inside us, guiding us and giving us strength to love in a way that is bigger and better than we could do on our own. That necklace is chipped and worn now but whenever I see a dove I remember his first gift to me and that time in our lives: when we were falling in love and the world was our oyster. The dove makes me want to be worthy of the young man who gave it to me so many years ago.

The clear glass disc and chain are from a clearance Anthro necklace I bought for 9.99 in Atlanta last Spring. At the time we were struggling tremendously as a family and I needed a little sparkle. Elian loved to play with that necklace. Each day I came home and even though he refused to let me touch him, he would play with that necklace giving me the chance to hold my face close to his and run my fingers through his fuzzy bear hair. When I see that clear circle I remember those tenuous moments of hope when it seem that happy days we share now were an impossibility.

Last but most certainly not least is the locket. The locket reminds me of Elian's foster mother who cared for him from the day he was born till the day we met him. I knew that I was going to have the unusual opportunity to meet her and I wanted to bring her a gift. But what do you bring to the person to whom you are most grateful? To the person who cared for and loved your child for a year and a half knowing all the while she'd have to give him away to strangers.

It's a situation where Bath and Body Works just doesn't apply.

I wanted something special, to give her something so that she would know that I will never forget what she did and I will always be greatful for her love and sacrifice.

So I gave her a locket. And I told her this story:

My grandfather died when I was 10 years old and after he died I put his picture in this locket. And I wore it around my neck and close to my heart to remember that even when someone close to you is no longer in your life, the love you shared still lives on. I want to give you this locket with my grandfather's picture and remind you that even though Elian is far away the love you gave him will always be there, living in both of your hearts. We both know that he is too little to remember  past a few years the care that you gave him, but I want you to know that I always will.

If you think I got through that carefully planned speech without bursting into tears you are delusional. I only got halfway through the word grandfather before I exploded. I can't say Elian's foster mom did better, she was a mess too. In fact she was worse than me in that she burst into tears upon seeing our faces for the first time. Her husband teased that she is a chronic crier in the best of times, but I saw him covering up his sniffles with bright red eyes. It's not generally a goal of mine to elicit tears but I felt proud because I knew I had done my job, I had let them know how much the love they showed my child meant to me but what I didn't know is that God can take a little love shown and turn it into something more because she took that locket, held my hand and told me " I have fostered children for 9 years and giving him up was still one of the hardest things I ever had to do. The past weeks have been terrible and I prayed every day telling God. 'Give me a sign if you want me to continue.' Thank you so much for being my sign."

Obviously I burst into tears. Again.

So now you know why I needed a new locket.


I thought my necklace would represent who I am but it doesn't. It represents the person I want to be.

I want to be worthy of my husband's love and a bearer of the Holy Spirit.

I want to be a mother who loves her son in the hard moments. I want to always look for way to love when it seems there are none.

I want to be the kind of person who can give love freely without the need for a thank you, knowing that even a tiny bit of love can become greater than you ever imagine.

Love can overcome death and give life to those we leave behind. It is our sign, our only hope and our saving grace. It is bigger than our broken hearts and grander that our wildest exaggerations. It is God's gift to us and I wear my necklace to remember not to take it for granted.

Posted on December 20, 2010 and filed under Adoption, Livin la Vida Loca.

For I am sick

Last week I visited Renee over at Kaiser while she lounged in the “Chemo Infusion Suite”. I don’t know what I was expecting the experience to feel like but it was both weird and normal at the same time. Even for someone like me who deals with cancer all the time it was strange to wander around oncology looking for my friend.  As I walked into the room I felt an overwhelming anxiety. I could literally feel my blood pressure rising, I guess because it was one of those moments where I had to face the fact that this is really happening.

When I got there she was lying in a Leopard Print Snuggie recovering from a bad allergic reaction to the first attempt at chemo. I know that chemo takes awhile before you start feeling the side effects so I was surprised to see her lying listlessly when I arrived. I think I expected her to be doing the N’sync  “Bye-bye-bye” dance for the other patients or something.

“I already barfed” she declared.

“Of course you did” I replied. “You are an overachiever.”

The more dire things are, the more I joke. I try to be nice but it comes off stodgy and unnatural and then Renee eyes me suspiciously "Wow, being this nice must really be wearing you down!" It does really wear me down, she can't imagine how I suffer! Oops, there I go again. If things get any worse I might start showing up in clown makeup.

If I'm relying on a steady dose of silly than Renee is relying on a steady dose of kick-ass courage. She’s the definition of a fighter, and this is not the normal “fight cancer” cliché, she truly can kick some ass. A few hours after her allergic reaction, something she described as feeling like “an elephant was sitting on me”, we were sitting there wolfing down ham sandwiches and perusing the Anthropologie catalog. You know, just another day in the chemo suite.

We talked and laughed and teased the other patients and it was fun, except you know for the cancer. That damn lymphoma is really a downer.

But isn’t this real life? The mundane and the surreal co-existing in the same space. Sometimes I think about the cancer and I feel totally overwhelmed, it is like a wave that I desperately want to stop from crashing. Most of the time though, even in the chemo ward it feels normal.

Me and her having fun like we always do: planning hijinks and imaging our future life as rockstars. And laughing. We’re always laughing. We are the best at laughing. And there is no way cancer is going to kill that.

If anything that effer is providing new and creative material. Witness a recent e-mail exchange:

Me: I think you should start getting some special treatment because you are sick. Why don’t you start demanding things like I should be carried on an elephant to Anthropologie for I am sick

Renee: Great idea. I must wear a leopard-print Snuggie and bunny slippers to work for I am sick...

Me: I must eat only beef jerky and cornuts for I am sick…

Renee: I must be entertained by stupid human tricks every morning for I am sick...

Me: I must watch endless Alias re-runs because Sydney Bristow is my inspiration and I am sick...

Renee: Someone must give me a piggy back ride to the water fountain every time I need a drink for I am sick..

Me: Someone must hand feed me these grapes one by one and wave palm fronds over me for I am sick...

Renee: Children must sing my name whenever I pass for I am sick...

Me: Kanye West must interrupt speeches in my honor for I am sick...

It’s the new excuse for everything. And for the record when you say "For I am sick" you have to imagine Renee swooning dramatically onto a velvet chaise lounge. The irony of course being that even though Renee is a drama queen she is not a wuss. She only missed one day of work after her chemotherapy. I am the complete opposite, I start crying the minute I get a cold. "Arnold my head hurtsssssssssss!" If I had chemo you better believe I'd be on that chaise lounge for real.

Not Renee though, it's her toughness that makes the joke all the funnier.

Last week I showed up at her house with a dress newly bought off the Anthropologie clearance rack. “I had to buy this dress for my friend is sick….”

She smiled and said “Of course you did! Now come inside, take off your coat and eat some candy.”

Okay, my dear readers I have a request for you. Renee is having a not so fun week and I would like to give her a reason to smile. Please leave a comment letting us know what you would add to our list of ludicrous things that she should request people do! I know Renee will love reading your comments and besides I command you to do it… for my friend is sick.

Posted on December 13, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Salsa Week Part 3: Kinesthetic Memory & A Sentimental Journey

I guess I never told you the back-story of why I’ve been thinking about dance lately? Hopefully you are interested in knowing because I’m going to tell you today. When I was in Denver I reconnected with a friend from my salsa years (aka college). Aydin is the older brother of my friend Ellie who I hung out with all the time. I hadn’t seen him in about a decade. I didn’t even know we both worked in the same field till we ended up at the same conference. Halfway through he left me a voice-mail. “Emily, I heard the Latino caucus is having a networking meeting tonight. They’re going to have a live band.”

I called him back three seconds later and said “So Aydin, I hear we’re going dancing.”

We show up to this party, I mean “meeting” and do a little networking and then because Aydin’s never one to BS around he sticks out his hand and says “Well let’s go.”

Here’s the weird thing, the second I took his hand I lost ten years.


Humans have several different types of memories, there’s short-term memory, long-term memory, emotional memory and probably some other kinds. Then there’s my favorite, kinesthetic memory.

Kinesthetic memory is your physical memory. It’s the reason I put my hands over the piano and can play Bach fugues I learned 15 years ago. It’s the reason you know how to ride a bike right away even if you haven’t done it for 20 years. It’s the reason that your Dad’s hug feels so comforting and perfect.

You don’t think to use your kinesthetic memory, you move.

You dance.

If you'll forgive me a simplistic metaphor I'd like to say that salsa partners are kind of like cars, each one feels different. Some crank their turns and some will use just their pinkys. Some will lead so hard that your arms are exhausted at the end and others are perfect gentleman. As a female dancer you get used to each person and their particular style but if you had asked me in October “Can you tell me what it feels like to dance with Aydin?” I would’ve said, uh, whah? What a weird question? Why would I know that? I haven't seen him in 10 years."

Here’s the thing though, my kinesthetic memory remembered. It was insanely specific. I knew exactly how he executes turns and precisely how much pressure he gives for leads. It was crazy easy to dance with him again. What my brain memory forgot in all those years my kinesthetic memory knew by heart. And what’s even weirder is that dancing dragged all my other memories along for the ride. In that first song I remembered it all. I remembered how much fun we used to have with our friends. I remembered his sister’s infectious laugh and sarcastic eye rolls. I remembered hanging out in the DJ booth with our friend Nehad and the night I met Arnold. I remembered four years in one weird physical rush.

I can’t be sure, but I think Aydin felt somewhat the same. We were exploding with memories that I hadn’t though of in over a decade. I felt 19 again. We danced till they kicked us out. After the dance, I mean “networking event” was over a few people came up to say “Wow, you guys are really good”. All we could say is “well, we should be, we’ve had enough practice.”

All things considered though I think maybe it wasn't quite true that I lost 10 years when I took Aydin’s hand because now at the end of this story it seems like the opposite was true.

I didin’t lose 10 years, I found four and I have Aydin and my kinesthetic memory to thank for that.

Posted on December 8, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Salsa Week Part 2: When Arnold met MLE

Note: As a reminder I'm guest posting about Colombian salsa over at Raising Colombian Kids. Feel free to stop by as I spread my "wisdom".

If I grew up thinking dancing was reserved for the elite athletic types and those lucky enough to be born Latino my husband grew up in an opposite environment. Arnold lived in Colombia until he was about 26. In Colombia nobody grows up without knowing how to salsa. When you go to a house party, you salsa. When you attend a high school dance, you salsa. Some of my Colombian friends break out in a sweat at the prospect of having to dance to “American music”. “I don’t get it,” my friend Hernando once told me “What am I supposed to do?”

American music stresses them out. I know! It cracks me up too.

So of course on his first day in the USA Arnold and the aforementioned friend would head to a salsa club, right? I mean they were both here on missionary visas (long story) so a night out dancing seemed apropos. Right? Don't all missionaries head straight to the club?

Hmmm? What? Just my husband. Okay then.

No English? No Problem! Arnold doesn't let himself be bothered by such trifling inconveniences.  Hernando taught him a survival phrase “Would you like to dance?” That Hernando he’s a solid wingman, always helpful with the good advice. He’s a Catholic priest now. I mean, obviously, right? But I digress (yet again).

I remember the night we met clearly because it was a great night. The club was packed with my friends and I was feeling pretty popular. Remember how I was a geek? To be in demand at a salsa club was SURREAL.  That night Arnold was one of many guys I met but I remember him very clearly, because I thought he was weird.

First off he asks me very formally “Would you like to dance?” except that he is literally fresh off the plane from Bogota so it sounds like “Wood jew lick two dans?”

Personally, I’m partial to accents and quite frankly if you ask me to dance I will say yes. Asking a stranger to dance takes guts and unless you are creepy scary, I’ll say yes. (Actually I’ll say yes even if you seem creepy-scary however if you continue to act creepy-scary it will force me to fake an injury halfway through the song) Anyways, so he busts out this very formal invitation and then says NOTHING else for the whole song. Not talking during a dance is not unusual but only if you are busting out more than the basic step. But no, not Arnold, he invites me to dance and then, having run out of all his English proceeds to stare at me blankly while I ask him various questions in English/Spanish. He responds to none of them.

I’m just sayin, it’s helpful to learn a little follow-up phrase like “I don’t speak English” for just these kind of situations.

Arnold has never been much for the small details or planning ahead though so he was just fine with his one phrase and the staring. I asked him later why he didn’t respond to anything I said in Spanish. His response “I don’t know.”

I like to think he was just totally entranced by my charm.

I was annoyed by the whole exchange. Since I'm a natural born blabbermouth I don’t think lack of language is an excuse for silence. I say this as a person who has one-phrased my way through many a foreign country. Arnold however thought we were having fun. The next day he saw me at the bookstore and told Hernando “Oh there’s the girl from last night. She was really nice.” If I had seen him I would've said "Ugh, there's the guy who doesn't speak..."

How we got from that first night to a married couple 1.5 years shy of their 10th annniversary is a  long and bizarre (trust) story for another time but like Aesop, I have a lesson for you, me and everyone we know. It doesn't pay to have a closed mind. The man who stares at you blankly the first time you meet might also be the same one who will bring you french fries after a hard day at work. He might be the one who holds you when you cry and forgives you when you yell. He might be weird, but maybe he'll turn out to be the exact perfect weird for you.

Posted on December 7, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Salsa Week Part 1: Inauspicious beginnings

Do you guys know that I used to be a dancer? Well, technically I’m still a dancer. It’s not like I stopped dancing but I used to really DANCE and for a few years I worked at a local Ballroom Studio. I like all kinds of dance but my heart now and forevermore belongs to Salsa. Today I’d like to tell you why. ***********************************************

I was a nerdy kid. (A happy nerd: they are not all miserable like in the movies.) I didn’t see it as a negative thing to be smart, but looking back I think my contentedness was sometimes limiting. I saw myself as only capable of being good at academic-type things and it made me fearful of trying things outside the College Prep track. Model UN, sure why not! Dancing, uhm… scary. But I have always secretly loved dancing, and so in high school when The Filipino Club decided to put together a Cha-Cha performance for our annual multi-cultural assembly I signed up. It was probably one of the scariest things I ever did.

I was terrible. I mean really BAD. People think I exaggerate but I am telling the absolute objective truth: I flat out sucked. And the reason I’m making a big deal about this is because I know from personal experience that you do not need natural ability to become a good dancer. To quote Stand and Deliver, all you need is “ganas”. Desire.

What I lacked in skill I more than made up for with intense, insane irrational ganas to be a good dancer. So I learned the routine. It was hard and I sucked but I still danced in front of my entire high school.

E-N-T-I-R-E High schoool. This is the stuff that movies are made of. Can you feel the music signaling impending humiliation? Scary right?

I wasn’t very good but I wasn’t very bad also.

I was mediocre and it gave me courage.

Looking back I’m surprised it went so well. Teenagers can be cruel. It could’ve gone so wrong so fast. They could’ve been cliquey and refused to let me dance. They could’ve refused to teach me. They could’ve said, “please get out half-breed, you shoulda learned to dance at family weddings like we did.” They could’ve taken my shaky confidence and ripped it to shreds.

Instead those girls who I barely knew, taught me. With insane patience they held my hand and got me through it and I’m so grateful to them because I caught the bug.

Two years later I went off to college, signed up for a salsa class through the rec center and never looked back.

I want to repeat that I started off as a terrible dancer. People don’t believe me now but this is not an exaggeration; I have very little physical ability for anything besides eating. I became a dancer through exhaustive determination and the willingness to shake off constant embarrassment. 

I am the little engine that could salsa.

I was also lucky. I ended up arriving in UC Davis at the same time Salsa was exploding in the Sacramento area. I was there the first night our local club started a salsa dance night. By the time I graduated they were holding it twice a week. During those years I must’ve danced at least 10 hours a week and that was just at the club. There were also parties and events and you get the idea…

I can sum up college in a few words: Salsa+Jesus+Class+Sleeping.

If you had asked me back then why I loved it I don’ t know if I could find the words but a decade later it’s crystal clear. I loved it because it helped me to expand my view of myself. Dancing gave me my breakfast club moment. It helped me to see that smart and physical are not mutually exclusive. That geeks aren't limited to piano lessons and Debate club.

Dance is what helps me believe that I can do new things. Now I say "I learned to dance didn't I? What could be harder than that?"

That’s not the end of me and salsa though… cause dancing gave me much more than confidence… it gave me a husband.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you that story.

Posted on December 6, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

Croissant Day

I can't believe it's taken this long but the day has finally come. Yes people, it's Croissant Day. The first thing to know about Croissants is that they are absolutely not for the weak of heart in that they are both time consuming and full of saturated fat. You also need 9-10 hours that you can be at home because that's how long it takes. Before you ask I have to state somewhat sadly that I can't give you the recipe, it's too long to type out and requires multiple illustrations. And even if I gave you the recipe I don't think it would make sense. Lisa, Em and I all took notes during the baking class and between the three of us we could barely remember how to do the last steps. Yeah, it's a little complicated. Not difficult, just particular. In any case the recipe we used was from the Apple Pie Bakery at the NY CIA.

I stupidly thought CIA meant Central Intelligence Agency.

Apparently CIA also stands for Culinary Institute of America which is a pity because I was imagining a very exciting post about "double agent croissaints"

At this point you might be wondering a few things... like why are all the pictures of Emily? Well, because she did all the work. I'm scared of messing baking up and Lisa admirably kept Elian busy the whole day. Ever since croissant day Elian has been in love with Lisa, every night he pulls out a chair from the table and says "Tia Lisa" as if waiting for her to arrive. It's friggin adorable... but I digress.

The point is Em did most of the work but it's a long tiring process so I really recommend rounding up friends and a movie if you are going to do this. There is a lot of down time and you need someone to watch your kid and cook you food while you wrangle the croissant dough.

I was the chef, Lisa was the nanny, Em D was the croissaint queen.

It was a beautiful day for friendship and butter.

Then disaster struck, and by disaster I mean idiocy. After forming the croissaints you have to let them proof for 1.5 hours. After that time they should double in size but uh, they didn't. I think it was too cold in my house. At this point it was already 9 so we stuck them on top of the oven extraction fan figuring my house was too cold. then we sat down to watch the rest of Coco avant Chanel, our chosen croissaint day movie.

And when we came back, they had melted some and there was butter spilling out everywhere all over the pan.


I hope the amount of panic that ensued is being conveyed.

By this time Lisa had left to attend a Halloween party. Em and I were bereft. All our hard work, spilling ALL OVER THE PAN. It was the critical moment and we had biffed it, after measuring and cutting and rolling for hours.

BUTTER EVERYWHERE! <---If I knew how to increase the font size I defenitely would have.

"Em we just have to throw them in, we can't put butter back in the croissaints!"

I think I was calm when I said this but in my deluded memory I imagine myself clutching Em's shoulders and screaming at her in a raging  and hysterical panic. I didn't though. I said it real calm like, the heroic general resigned to facing certain death.

So we did. We threw them in the oven. Our imperfect masterpieces, we cast them into the fiery furnace.

There was butter everywhere, the croissaints were literally deep-frying in butter on the bottom. We sat on the floor nervously and watched them cook. Nutty stood guard with us as we watched them puff and heave, the oven breathing life into our franken-croissaints.

We took them out and put them the cooling racks. They looked pretty normal. The smell was out of this world. I thought I was going to pass out just from the smell. I mean honestly 5 sticks off butter. It was unreal.

There was nothing left to do, we had to just go for it. We congratulated ourselves on a good try, picked up our croissants and revealed our fate.

They were everything I dreamed they could be. Buttery, flaky, crispy and soft all at the same time. And just when you thought that nothing could rival their perfection came the counterpoint, melted earthy chocolate spreading across your palate. Oh Franken-croissants. I love you so.

Posted on November 29, 2010 and filed under Bossy Pants Recommends, Livin la Vida Loca.

What I know

I knew this day was coming, I think we all do, but out of anyone I especially knew.  I knew because I work in cancer control:  I knew because I receive legions of daily e-mails about programs, statisics, support groups and clinical trials. Cancer is everywhere in my everyday life. I meet survivors and read studies and it's cancer, cancer, cancer all the time. I knew and I know and I have always known that one day someone I love would call me and tell me they have cancer.

My friend Renee called me two weeks ago on a Friday night and left a message saying "Lets talk" and I felt something twitch inside my heart because I knew instantly that day had come.

As I sat there dialing I feverishly wished that she was calling to tell me something else like "I'm getting re-married" or "My house burned down", but I knew it wouldn't be those things.

I just knew.

So I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the wave.

Non-hodgkins lymphoma.

Only 37 years old.

A single Mom to a teenage daughter who lost her father just three years ago.

So many times the injustice of life is staggering. She is the healthiest person I know. Two weeks ago she ran a 1/2 marathon. When she does triathlons she sometimes places in her age group. That's how healthy she is. Health is literally her hobby.

Like so many things, it's just not fair.

I shouldn't say that though because I of all people should know that no one deserves cancer.

If we had talked about this in person she would've seen it all in my face: the worry, the fear, the abject hysteria. She would've known that as we calmly talked about staging and treatment options I was doubled over on the couch clutching my stomach for fear of letting my sobs escape.

I'm a highly emotional person. I've cried over peaches before.

I know though that when someone tells you bad news, it's not your time to fall apart. You save that for those delicious peaches. When someone tells you something scary you need to listen without losing your sh*t. You need to give them the opportunity to say what they need to say because even if you are a graduated-with-honors conversationalist like me you can't make it better with your words.

If you are Renee and me you will spend the night discussing the merits of Alias-style Sydney Bristow wigs and how not being able to exercise will free up so much time to work on your multiple hilarious YouTube viral video ideas. You'll mull the possibilities of rocking a fedora. You'll laugh and laugh as you discuss a probable new blog series called "Renee kicks cancer in the teeth".

You'll giggle till your breathless because otherwise you'll drown in an ocean of fear.

When you've successfully discussed all the possible positives that could come out of this you take a moment to tell Renee that you love her. You will say that you know it's going to be a hellishly hard road but that you are going to hold her hand till she gets to the other side. You will vow that even though you don't know anything about lymphoma that you are going to be an expert by the end of the week. You will tell her if you don't think her doctors are on their game that they better watch out because you have absolutely no problem raising hell to get your loved ones what they need. You will wish that you could do more because you already know that it won't be enough. And then you'll say goodbye because your phones are dying and the night is late.

You will take a moment to get your husband up to speed and maybe a few more to cry in his arms.

You will go to sleep exhausted of both tears and laughter. And when you wake up the next day you will write this post because you love her dearly and even though you don't really know anything, you'll do your very best to be there every step of the way.

Posted on November 22, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.

History arcs towards Justice

Last week I said a little bit about my conferences keynote. This is my attempt to wrap my head around it. I'm taking a break from my regular posting of baked goods and pratfalls. This post is long and embarassingly sincere. You've been forewarned...

10 years ago I went to the Urbana Mission Conference as a college student. There were a lot of amazing speakers at the conference but by far the one that sticks with me was Gary Haugen who is the founder of the International Justice Mission(IJM). The IJM frees people from slavery. Literally. They find slaves and bring their captors to justice.

It is an awesome organization.

Gary spoke on what it means to be a Christian in world of suffering and I think that the questions he asked are the kind that all people ask irregardless of religious beliefs. How can it be so ugly? What can I do in the face of such inhumanity and suffering? If God is really good why is the world so ugly? Does God have a plan for justice? How could there be a God in such a messy world?

Gary's answer has always stayed with me. "We are the plan. You are God's plan to change the world."

I've thought about it a lot over the years. What does it mean to be part of the plan? What does it mean to fight for justice? How do I fit in?

Being a part of the plan is why I joined Americorps out of college and it's the reason I do my best to look homeless people in the eye and respect their humanity when they address me, even if I can only say "I'm sorry, not today sir." It's the reason Arnold and I financially support the IJM and the reason I love Public Health.

I truely believe that most of us in our heart of hearts are looking to be part of the plan. I think we all long for justice.

But we all know it's hard to keep caring: The suffering is overwhelming, our lives are busy. We have children and jobs and heartbreak and it's hard to know where to start. Over the years I find myself secretly thinking "Yeah, it's nice to be idealistic but..." Slowly practicality and bureacracy kills idealism. Over the years I started feeling... it doesn't matter what I do anyways. I can barely dress myself how can I worry about justice? And then I got the 1-2 punch of Cornel West & William Carter Jenkins last week. Cornel West is a well-known intellectual from Princeton and coincidentally a Sactown native.  William Carter Jenkins is a public health hero.

If I could take away anything from their speeches it would be that "What you DO matters". The world has been changed by people who cared enough to speak out passionately for justice and love. Some of them dedicated their lives to the cause of justice, some of them sacrificed their lives. Most people though bring about change through small, simple actions everyday. Rosa Parks sparked a revolution by refusing to give up her seat.

We are always making choices. We choose to be merciful when someone makes a mistake. We choose not to take our bad day out on those around us. We choose to care for our co-workers more than our projects. We choose to do our very best for our children over and over again. We choose to be leaders who serve and support our contractors instead of merely controlling them. We choose to make our work matter rather than just getting things done for the sake of checking boxes. We choose to support public education for our children, public health for our society and public transportation for our cities. We are always choosing, choosing, choosing whether or not to be part of the plan. Or as Cornel said "I try my best to love my neighbor with my crooked heart."

Amen to that brother. My heart may be crooked but it does not get me off the hook for love.

I felt really convicted during their talks to not be complacent. I miss the young girl that I was in Urbana, Illinois ten years ago. I miss her passion and idealism. I miss her hope. I miss how excited she was to enter the world and try to make a difference. So these days I'm thinking a lot about the choices I make. Being older and wiser doesn't have to mean being jaded. Working in public service doesn't mean I have to give into the bitterness and resentment that creeps around like an infectious disease.

Everyday I have a million choices. It was good to remember that those choices make a difference.

Note: If you would like to hear Gary's speech you can click here. If you would like to see the keynote speeches that I heard last week you can find them on APHA's youtube channel by clicking here. Pt. 1 of Cornel's keynote is a little bit irrelevant if you weren't at the conference, I would probably start on Pt. 2

Posted on November 15, 2010 and filed under Bossy Pants Recommends, Livin la Vida Loca.

Nutella would like to register some complaints

Thank you guys all so much for cheering on my Denver shennanigans. I wish you all could've been with me. I had a blast and the time apart really helped me to appreciate it when my little one came home today with a big hug for me! Today is one of those days when I wish you could all speak Spanish because what I am about to share is so much awesomer in language. I love you guys  and I have done my diligent best to translate the essence of it's glory. Please read below the amazing e-mail Arnold sent me while I was in Denver.

Hi Honey, Elian saw the video you sent and was very happy. He's asking for you every three seconds. On the other hand I wanted to let you know that I had a very serious conversation with Nutella today. She says she's fed up with eating the same thing every day. She reports that she eats cat sh*t in the backyard because it's the only way to switch things up a bit. She also complains that we won't feed her from the table. She said and I quote "You could at least let that little terror throw me a bit of rice". She continued her tirade by saying that now we never take her on walks and that through the window she sees that other people are still walking their dogs. What's up with that?

She also says she's tired of staying home inside all day listening to NPR and asserts that even dogs deserve respect. She's also pissed because we don't give her bones or bathe her often enough. The only positive things she had to say on our behalf was that she loves watching TV on the "big screen"-she said "big screen" in English- and that above all she favors watching Grey's Anatomy and Big Bang Theory.

Anyways, that was the conversation I ended up having with Nutella today. Just letting you know so that you are up to date with everything going at Casa Perez.

Un beso, Arnold

Unrelated note: Oh, and Happy Veteran's day!  Remember to take a moment and thank the veterans in your life for their service to our country.

Posted on November 10, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca, Nothing to Do with Anything.

Nothing is too wonderful to be True

Remember when I teased about my fun and unexpected surprise on Monday?  Here is a foto-novela of my Happy Friday surprise.

Me: Did you know that Pam bought me a mixer? Why is she buying me such an expensive present?

Mom:  Oh, yeah. (Nonchalantly) You didn't know about the mixer?

Me:  Uh. NO.  I did not know about "the mixer".

Mom: Yeah, Pam won it in a raffle.  She says she hoped you would like it even though you wanted a pink one. (Actually it was yellow, but that's pretty much moot and unimportant now)

Me: She won it in raffle?  Then it was pretty much free for the most part?  OH my goodness that is so awesome!

Mom: Yeah, she won it for free!  I can't believe you didn't know.

My aunt gave me a mixer she WON for free?  It's the best of all possible worlds.

Next up of course I had to call my Aunt(while buying butter at Target for the upcoming baking binge of course).  My Aunt is generally against the modern invention called the telephone but on Friday she picked up right away.

Me:  Auntie Pammie. Thankyoueversomuchfortheamazingmixer. I can'ttellyouhowexcitediam!

Pam: Oh you got it!  Good I was worried. I saw it on your blog and then when they had a raffle at work I entered it cause I knew you wanted one. Everyone was upset that I won it.  All the men were offering me $200 to buy it for their wives.

Me:  Yeah, I bet!  Those things retail for like $400.

Pam:  Oh yeah? Well I knew they were pretty nice.  Well, anyways I told them "No, this is for my niece Emily, she likes to eat and she wants a mixer."

Well said Pam.  Well said.

When I originally posted my birthday "wish list" I felt like maybe I was being a bit greedy for daring to list such extravagant things but if I hadn't done that my Aunt would never have even known that I wanted a mixer.  Then she never would have entered the raffle with the intention of winning it for me.

Thank you Auntie Pam for thinking of me!  And the rest of you... get ready for a lot of baking porn photography!

Posted on November 3, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.