Author Archives: Southern Señora

Signs of my Father in an Oreo Commercial

Me ( on the right) with my sister Helena, and my dad having a great laugh one night! This photo was taken in Puerto Rico when I was about 7 years old.

In October each year, I always see signs of my father.  He was born on October 25th and would have been 95 years old this year.  He’s been gone for 16 years now.

A few days ago, I was doing laundry and somewhat paying attention to the Property Brothers on HGTV in the background.  I walked back into the bathroom to return the laundry basket when I caught an Oreo commercial playing.  In it, a father asks his young daughter if she sees any stars “out there.”  They live in the city so stars would be a little hard to see – she says, “not yet.”  The dad suddenly tells her to grab her jacket and they take off to find the perfect place to view the stars.  They end up in the back of their truck in the middle of a field gazing up at the stars with a package of Oreos.

As I was watching the commercial, I had a tremendously strong flashback.  My family was living in Puerto Rico at the time and I was getting interested in astronomy.  I had a booklet, probably from school, that showed all the constellations and I would mull over it to get familiar with them.  I would walk outside sometimes and look up at the stars and was eventually able to identify the big and little dipper.  The others were a little harder…

One night, my dad surprised me and out of the blue told me we were going to look at the constellations together.  I was so excited!  He grabbed a flashlight and I grabbed my constellation book.  But instead of going outside into our front yard, he said we were going to our roof!  We climbed up the wrought iron gate next to our car port and onto the flat roof of our concrete house!  Now as an 8 or 9-year-old, I had climbed on the roof before – without permission from my parents, of course – so this was exciting to me!  We were on the roof!!! I felt so grown up!!!

This photo is of my dad after we got our new Pug puppy, Tai Tai…you can see the wrought iron gate in the background. This was the same one on the other side of the house next to our car port. This is how dad and I climbed onto the roof of the house.

Our bathrooms had skylights so we were even more elevated as we laid down on the cool concrete to look at the night sky and dad  turned the flashlight to the constellation book.  Then we slowly started identifying the constellations together… (minus the Oreos!)  Dad would point to one in the book and I would start searching.  Dad would give me clues to finding a certain constellation and I remember him using both the big and little dipper as the home base to do our searches.  I don’t know how long we stayed on the roof that night but I do remember loving the fact that it was just me and my dad and this was something that we were doing together.  It was something very special.

I hadn’t thought about this particular memory for a long time.   But there was a split second in that Oreo commercial that focused on a constellation book showing Ursa Major/The Big Dipper that had all these memories flooding back to me.  It’s funny how you can have memories for so many years and yet the actual feelings remain dormant until something triggers them.  Cue the Oreo commercial…and I’m convinced my dad had something to do with this.  He always does at this time of year.

 

 

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Fiesta 2017 – A Celebration of Generations!

Fiesta Co-Presidents, Teresa Zuniga Odom and Vanessa Vargas pose with the newly unveiled Fiesta 15th Anniversary – Quince – logo!

A Celebration of Generations…that’s what Fiesta 2017, the Quinceañera, was billed as and it definitely delivered!

Planning Fiesta has turned into a year-round job for our board of directors and our incredible event manager, Denise Koch.  In recent years, we’ve begun the planning process in November instead of waiting until February.  As the festival grows, this is a must in order to stay ahead of the game and also make sure we are offering our patrons new and exciting additions to the event each year.  We are a working board but everyone also has a day job too so…

Our Fiesta t-shirts this year – Fiesta…then Siesta!

During our anniversary years in the past, the board had a new logo created in celebration and we’ve looked for significant ways to make Fiesta more exciting.  Our 15th anniversary – Quinceañera – was quite a milestone so we really wanted to ramp thing up!  It was a coming of age of our festival!  Last November, the board decided that during our anniversary years, it would be beneficial to have co-presidents at the helm in order to share the work load.  Board member, Vanessa Vargas and I were voted in as co-Presidents which lent itself nicely to our theme – with Vanessa representing the younger generation – the daughter, and me representing the older generation – the mother.   The next month, over lunch with board member Lui Fernandez, the Fiesta theme was born which cemented our charge for Fiesta 2017 – “a celebration of generations!”  I remember getting goose bumps when Lui explained his ideas for the year and threw out the tagline!  Vanessa and I were so excited and ready to assume our roles as “Fiesta Mother and Daughter!”

Looking back on Fiesta 2017 and our path to Quince…I have to say…it was our best festival to date!  Every quadrant of Linn Park was filled and we had well over 100 tents in the park – a record for us.  Park Place, the road running on one side of the park, was also filled with the presence of the McDonalds Fiesta Tour which had rebranded and looked amazing!  McDonalds, our Title Sponsor, was also handing out slushie samples and I heard they ran out!  That’s a lot of people drinking slushies!!!

The weather was gorgeous all day long and I once again loved going from booth to booth to photograph friends – old and new –  and thank them for being a part of Fiesta’s Quince!  This year I had Vanessa with me for most of the visits and loved having that experience with her.  I also really can’t remember a time when we had as much pre-publicity for our event!  Vanessa and I were booked on every station and one radio station leading up to the event.  At one point during the festival, Vanessa and I had “dueling TV interviews” going on in the VIP section!  Vane was talking to CBS and I was talking to NBC.   We always had a great time with Claire Per-Lee of Style Advertising (Fiesta’s Advertising Agency) at each interview and she always photographed and videoed so we could have that memory.  She made each appearance so easy for us complete with talking points and props needed for the interview.  Claire, Vanessa and I were in such constant contact in the weeks leading up to Fiesta that it’s a little weird not getting several text messages a day from each other now!

Everywhere I looked at this year, sponsors and nonprofits were doing a great job of reaching patrons and drawing them in.  Swag from these booths was over the top!  There was just SO much activity all over the park that it was hard to catch it all.  That’s when I know we’ve hit a home run!   We always throw sponsor items from the stage, but this year we really ramped it up and the crowd loved it!  We’ve done this before but not to this level.

Throwing swag from the stage!

Volunteers…I can’t say enough about volunteers in general.  They can make or break your event. It you’ve been involved with events, you know this.  For Fiesta though, we’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who have the spirit of the event at heart.  This year I wasn’t able to secure a volunteer coordinator for this festival so I took on the task myself.  And I was a little worried, I have to admit…especially with all the other responsibilities I had leading into Fiesta.  That is…until I got a message from a Spanish teacher Charity Jackson at Parker High School.  She said she had about 15-20 students who wanted to volunteer!  I was ecstatic!!!  And then she contacted me and said she had more students who wanted to volunteer!  By the time I had the volunteer schedule pulled together two days before the event, she had 35 students committed to working at Fiesta!  Ms. Jackson kept thanking me for having them at Fiesta but I told her several time that she really saved “me” by having her students there.  They were incredible…and so was she!

Spanish Teacher Charity Jackson with her students from Park High School – these kids were the best volunteers!

There are so many more stories about Fiesta 2017 that I could tell…but as I have done in the past, I think it’s best shown in photos.  If you came out to Fiesta, thank you…from the bottom of my heart for sharing our Quince with us!  If you weren’t able to be there…for whatever reason, I hope you enjoy a walk through our Quince in these photos!

 

And the Day of the Dead collection continues to grow…

Cynthia Rowley placements I found at TJ Maxx this year!

Collecting Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos items has become a year-round thing for me.  It used to be that I would begin seeing things in stores around September but these days, you can find things all the time!  Granted, a lot of the items I find in local stores like Target are rather whimsical and mass-produced.  They still blend nicely with my more unique pieces and give me ideas for creating my annual Day of the Dead altar at home.

DOD Sugar Skull yoga pants! Aren’t these cool?!

In August, I was in TJ Maxx with my daughter when I spotted these cute pumpkin DOD placemats by Cynthia Rowley!  There was also a tablecloth, but I decided to just get the placemats.  Of course, when you are at TJ Maxx, you have to look through the clothes section and I was thrilled to find these sugar skull yoga pants!  I’m sure I’m going to turn a few heads when I wear them at my local YMCA later this month!

I always go to World Market to see what their new collection looks like.  I happened to hit it right when they were putting all their items out on display last month.  I was drawn to this sugar skull bowl because of the subtle colors.  Plus they had a pillow with the same sugar skulls and colors on it!  I had a $40 gift card which helped me pay for these two items.  Oh, and I also found this incredibly colorful porcelain cup because…why not?!

On to Target…you know they always have a DOD collection and it seems to have gotten bigger over the years!   This year, I added a sugar skull banner, a trio of Day of the Dead birds, two sugar skull “dolls” and a sugar skull candle holder!  They also have some cutesy items in their Dollar Spot section and I decided to buy two of the fabric sugar skull buckets.  I figured they would be good to use for candy for Halloween.  It’s interesting how both World Market and Target seem to have coordinated their color scheme this year for their collections.  I’m loving the blues, oranges and pinks in these new items and they’ve made for a very coordinate kitchen table this year!

These little sugar skull pup salt and pepper shakers remind me of my pup, Lucy! These are from Von Maur.

Von Maur Department Store had these cute sugar skull dog salt and pepper shakers!  They reminded me of my pup, Lucy so of course I had to buy them!  This was an unexpected place to find DOD items!

Vintage style designs on these Day of the Dead placemats I found at the Albuquerque airport!

This year, we had my Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I always look forward to finding new DOD items when I’m in NM or out west.  Amazingly, I always find the best items at the Albuquerque airport!  These placemats are beautiful with their traditional depictions including La Catrina, La Virgen de Guadalupe and dancing sugar skulls.  I bought 6 total – two of each and plan to use them on my dining room table when I create my altars this year.

In addition, at our reunion I snagged these beautiful Catrina candle sticks!  I plan to use them this month and next around the house.  They are so colorful!  And I also came home with a purple and yellow sugar skull very large cup that my cousin Boogie made!  Could this BE any more perfect for this time of year???  Or any time, really…

Sugar skull puppy toys – one for Lucy and one for my grandpup, Lucia! These are from Pet Smart.

Finally…I was in Pet Smart to pick up some doggie treats for my pup, Lucy when I spotted these DOD puppy toys!  I picked up one for Lucy and one for my grandpup, Lucia!  They squeak which should make for an interesting game of fetch and retrieve!

I’m sure there will be more to add as we get closer to Day of the Dead.  I really can’t help myself when I see these items…I think I’m going to have to add another storage container or two this year to accommodate everything!

Fiesta Fridays! 2016

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

For Fiesta 2016 there was a renewed focus on our Cultural Village and what makes it the “Corazon” of our event each year.  We depend on the kindness of the Hispanic community when it comes to pulling this village together.  It is because these community members want to share a bit about their countries of origin that the village is always such a wonderful place.

This year we decided to have a competition to encourage participants to take it up a notch or two.  Word got out quickly when this was announced on social media and we had quite a turnout.  Not to mention, the booths were incredible!  Our cultural village chair and board member, Lui Fernandez, always has something special in mind as he creates the village atmosphere.  This year, he really wanted to encourage the community to sign up early for our 15th anniversary celebration and he decorated a booth with photos from all the previous Fiestas.  It was such a great way, in my opinion, to personalize the village even more!

The winner of the competition was chosen by three anonymous judges who went through the village throughout the day to observe and make notes.  At the end of the day, Mexico won the competition and a $500 prize!  Interestingly, the Mexico booth also has photos displayed all over the tent of past Fiestas!  Great minds…as they say!

Fiesta 2016 was also warmer than the year before!  If you read my post from last week you’ll remember that it was a cold and drizzly day.  This year made up for it with blue skies and warm weather.  It was beautiful…  And because of this, I think that’s why I remember people dancing so much!  We decided to use the gazebo in Linn Park as a Dance Station this yea and got DJ Ivan Correa to host music there.  He is always so wonderful and engaging with people.  He gave dance lessons and would also draw pictures of people who took a quick lesson from him.  Each time I went by there was always a steady stream of people.

Last but certainly not least, we had the McDonalds Fiesta Tour return for a third year thanks to our Title Sponsor, McDonalds!  This year, the tour went through a bit of a makeover with updated colors, design and also some new items on display.

Here are a few more photos from that day – some for how colorful they are and others because they are of family and friends who make Fiesta so much fun because they are there…

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Fiesta Fridays series as much as I’ve enjoyed going through my photos and telling them.  If you are in Birmingham on Saturday, September 30, 2017, I hope to see you at Fiesta for our 15th anniversary…and if you are, SMILE!  I’ll have my camera and you may just end up in my Fiesta photo collection!

Fiesta Fridays! 2015

Rain ponchos were seen all around Fiesta 2015 for several hours but thankfully no heavy downpours!

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Fiesta 2015 was a cold and rainy one…and if I were superstitious, I would have said all this happened because it was our 13th year!  However, even with the cold and steady drizzle, Fiesta was a success because of the people who threw on rain ponchos and came out to enjoy the day with family and friends.  I have many great memories of Fiesta 2015 in the rainy weather which I shared in my blog post that year called “Fiesta 2015 Rain or Shine!”

Mosaico Flamenco performs at Fiesta 2015 on the Main Stage.

This year we had a group called Mosaico Flamenco perform on the main stage.  I always enjoy watching and photographing dance groups and this group was incredible!  I love the swirling of the costumes and the angles of the bodies captured in mid-movement.  This dance group was really beautiful and I ended up staying to watch their entire performance.  Usually, I will photograph for a few moments and then move on to capture something else going on at Fiesta.  There is always so much to catch and experience!  This time though, I caught a rather intimate moment the group had right before taking stage too…they huddled together by the stage and said a prayer.  Like I said…it was such a sweet and intimate moment.  I watched for a few second and wasn’t sure if i would photograph or not but I wanted to remember it so took just two photos.  The group also had their own live music to dance to and that added quite a nice element to the performance.

Fiesta also tried something new with food that year by creating a separate ticketed area we called “Cocina Latina.”  A limited number of Latino food vendors participated and provided samples of their best dishes.  Attendees loved this and probably got to sample dishes they wouldn’t have ordinarily tried!  There was also the opportunity to sample Hornitos tequila too which was definitely a hit!

Some of the food samples at Cocina Latina at Fiesta 2015!

Our artists were also crowd pleasing that year which was proven when people braved the cold and wet weather and hung with us until the soggy end!  In fairness, the drizzle had stopped by the last two acts but i just remember my feet being so cold from walking through the wet grass all day – AND…I didn’t have on the best shoes that day.  Oh well…live and learn…

Toby Love sings to the crowd at Fiesta 2015!

We had a return visit from Toby Love, sporting a light…almost white colored suit, which made his presence even more stark when the fog machine started rolling out the fog!  It made for some great photos during his performance including one I took from the back of the stage of Toby Love center stage and singing directly to the crowd.  It’s one of my favs!!!

Members of the Fiesta board pose with Headliner – Bobby Pulido – before he takes the stage! (L-R Chris Miller, me, Vanessa Vargas Bobby Pulido, Matt Ennis, Cristina Almanza and Carlos Aleman.

Another favorite photo is one taken of several members of the Fiesta board with the last headliner – Bobby Pulido.  He is such a personable guy and was great with the crowd.  I got quite a few photos of him performing with his band but one that we’ve used for many Fiesta promotions and advertisements is of him playing his guitar right in front of the audience.  I love crowd shots and this one was perfect from my vantage point…the lighting from the stage hit the people in the front just right and so I began snapping away.

Come back next Friday for my last post in this Fiesta Friday series and read more about Fiesta 2016!

Oh…one last photo that I love from Fiesta 2015…me with board members, Vanessa Vargas and Cristina Almanza!  #selfie!

Selfie with board members Vanessa and Cristina as we began the day! My hair was still dry at this point!

 

 

Happy 3rd Anniversary to Southern Señora Blog!

Cheers to 3 years!!!

Today is the day, 3 years ago that I decided I wanted to start a blog.  Well, that’s not exactly right…I started the process many months earlier…the research, questions about the mechanics of a blog, and many more.  Today is the day 3 years ago that I “launched” my blog!  I chose September 15th as my launch date because I wanted it to be significant and this is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month!  After all, my blog is a Hispanic lifestyle blog!!!

A few weeks ago I started looking back on my posts since last September.  I’ve written 47 in 12 months and took a little break from December through March this year.  I made many notes during the off months about what I wanted to focus on and the one subject that kept popping up was Fiesta.  I’ve written a lot about this festival that I’ve been a part of for the past 15 years.  We are celebrating our Quince this year so I’ve been reminiscing through photographs and telling some behind the scene stories of the event since 2003.  I’ve called this series – Fiesta Fridays and have two more posts scheduled before our anniversary event on September 30th!  It has definitely put me in a nostalgic mood!

My new YouTube channel! I have one video so far of my mother talking about the first time my dad kissed her! So Sweet!

Another thing I want to focus on more is creating video content.  I got a start several months ago when my sister Kanista was in town.  We decided to start video recording our mother telling stories of when she moved to Cambodia with her sister and parents, how she met our dad and eventually got married there.  That was such a fun night of great stories and laughter!  I need to do some editing and get them on YouTube and write a few stories surrounding the videos.  Again…another nostalgic event this year.

I used this for my profile picture the day I retired on July 7th…

The other major change in my life this year that had me nostalgic (briefly!) was retiring in July from my corporate life.  I worked for the same company for 37 years and while this happened a little sooner than I had originally planned, I honestly haven’t looked back.  I’ve had two months to reflect and think about what comes next and yet, there isn’t any pressure to jump into anything right away.   That’s been my biggest realization in all this…I can do nothing!  I can stay in my pjs all day and drink coffee until it’s time for wine!  The difference in my day-to-day routine (do I have a routine??) is being able to do what I want, do what makes me happy and create projects that are meaningful to me.  Who knows what opportunities are out there waiting?!

Right now, my time has been focused on Fiesta and the success of our anniversary event.  I’ve also been doing some work with my dear friend, Willie Chriesman, on his digital media venture that celebrates the people, places and trends that make Alabama food and drink great.  I’s called “a la carte Alabama”  and we’ve already been invited to a number of events covering new restaurants, Birmingham Restaurant Week and other festivals.  This is giving me the opportunity to use my photography skills and I’m sure there will be some writing involved with Hispanic foods and wines that I can’t wait to share!

Covering Restaurant Week as a contributor to A la Carte Alabama!

So, how do I celebrate year three of Southern Senora?  Well, I figured it was about time to create a Southern Senora Facebook page!  I know…I know what you’re saying – “you’ve waited 3 years to do this???”  Yeah…I don’t know why it has taken me this long in all honestly.  Maybe I was looking for just the right time.  And as it just so happens…today is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month and this IS a Hispanic Lifestyle blog so…..

Today I launch my Southern Senora Facebook page to celebrate my 3rd year of blogging! Check it out!

Fiesta Fridays! 2014

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Title Sponsor McDonalds brought the Fiesta Tour to Linn Park in 2014!

Fiesta 2014 brought us a series of “firsts” to our event.  One of the biggest was getting our “first” Title Sponsor.  Our top-level of sponsorship had always been “Presenting” and we had toyed with the idea of having a Title Sponsor.  The conversation ignited when Santiago Negre, Hispanic owner of numerous area McDonalds arrived in town.  He is the type of person who gets involved in the community and found Fiesta a way to do just that.  McDonalds had always been a Presenting Sponsor but this was the year we asked and he said “yes” to Title Sponsorship!

Jeh Jeh Pruitt of WBRC poses with Ronald McDonald, Santiago Negre, Fiesta President, Matt Ennis and Russell Negre before on air interview.

We were thrilled, to say the least!  And in addition to taking the Title Sponsorship, Santiago also arranged to have the Fiesta Tour come to Birmingham.  This was a tremendous coup for us as this tour typically only presents in the largest markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, and the like.  The Fiesta tour – appropriately named (in our humble opinion) – is like a Latin Grammy Experience!  It’s a 50 foot trailer exhibit with a walk through display of unique artifacts and memorabilia loaned by Latin musicians.  You get to see items belonging to such artists as Jennifer Lopez, Celia Cruz, Jose Feliciano and Marc Anthony.  It also features a live DJ, music kiosk and kiddie area with a photo center.  The Fiesta tour was set up right at the entrance so attendees bought their ticket to the festival and could walk directly through the exhibit.  It was such an exciting addition to Fiesta that year!

Another “first” was having a parade of flags, along with the flag ceremony and the Pledge of Allegiance at the event and this was thanks to the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama.  Marisela Mendez is a powerhouse of a woman (now retired) who was a huge force in engaging Hispanic girls and their families into scouting in our state.  She arranged to have girl scouts from around the region attend Fiesta and dress in traditional costumes to carry the flags of Latino countries.  She also had a group experienced in the presentation of the colors on hand, and in uniform to lead the event in the Pledge of Allegiance from the main stage.  It was such a beautiful and colorful sight that year!  The girls were gorgeous in their dresses and throughout the day I would see them around the park with their families enjoying the day.

Photo of all the Hispanic Girl Scouts who participated in the 2014 Fiesta event in costume and Girl Scout uniforms.

At one point, I was next to the Coca Cola Main Stage with my daughter, Anna Marie, when we saw one of the girls twirling to the music.  Her pink dress was floating as she twirled and she was clearly in her own little world with the music.  Anna Marie and I began taking pictures of her when one of her friends saw us and decided to twirl with her.  It was such a sweet moment and I’m so glad we caught it.

This was also the year we were able to grant a wish to a young Hispanic girl who was seriously ill and in Children’s Hospital of Alabama.  She wanted to meet her favorite musical artist – El Dasa – and we arranged to make that happen with the help of Amado Santos, Patient Relations and Language Services Director.  El Dasa was so gracious too.  Jasmine – the young girl – was taken by wheelchair to his personal tour bus and along with her parents and brother, were able to meet him and have a short visit.  The sweetest moment came when Jazmine gave him a drawing she made.  It was of a pair of cowboy boots and a hat,  similar to what he wears for his performances.  He was so sweet to her, asking her about the drawing and other things that she enjoyed.  He was truly interested in her and wanted to make this a good experience…that was clear.  A local news station came out to cover the meeting and at the end, El Dasa posed for pictures with the family and the drawing before heading to the stage for his performance.  I enjoyed being a “fly on the wall,” as they say and being able to witness this special meeting.

 

More to come so please come back next Friday to hear about Fiesta 2015!