Category Archives: Familia

Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 2

Mom realizing she was having a surprise party last year on her 80th birthday!

This is Part 2 of Around the World in 80 Years – Mom Turns 80 – sharing the story of my mother’s surprise 80th birthday party last year.  

As with any event being planned, last minute details and unexpected situations pop up and you deal with them the best way you can!  In this case, someone told mom about the surprise party!!!  Here is what happened…

The week of the event, we had a lot going on including my youngest daughters birthday on May 31, her performance in The Little Mermaid in Tuscaloosa and a wedding in Auburn.  It was on our way back from my daughter’s show (June 1) that my mother dropped a bomb on me and my husband.  She told me that a cousin (elderly) had called her to wish her a happy birthday and said “your kids are planning a surprise party for you, but don’t tell them I told you!”  I’m thankful I was sitting in the front seat and mom couldn’t see my face!!!  I could see my husband’s face and he was just as panicked looking as I was right then!  That’s when I went into “spin mode,” aka LYING!!!

Mom was puzzled as to why our cousin would say this to her, of course.  I told mom that I had talked to our elderly cousin’s daughter the week before (this is true – I had texted with her when she told me her mother had mild dementia.) and she revealed her mother had mild dementia.  I went on to spin that I had run into our cousins a few weeks before and mentioned mom’s birthday was coming up.  I actually ran into my elderly cousin and two of her daughters the previous fall. Of course, the reason my cousin knew about the party is because she had received an invitation.  I told mom that maybe she got confused with her birthday and something else.  Mom then admitted she felt something was different when she spoke to her.

Once we dropped mom off, I went into damage control!  I texted my sisters and told them that mom may be “thinking” she was getting a party even after all my “spinning” and I needed their help.  My sister Laurie called her the next day to check in with her and mention she and her husband had out of town guests coming that weekend.  This was to throw mom off if she suspected my sisters were coming into town for a surprise party.  Then, I told mom we would go out to dinner for her birthday on Saturday to give her friend Jenine time to arrive from Colorado so she could join us.  I said it would be just family and she seemed happy about it.  I’m pretty sure mom didn’t think I had time to plan anything elaborate because I had spent the last 8 weeks helping her clean out her house!  So…my sisters and I all crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

I spent the next few days creating photo collages to display around my house as well as putting finishing touches on the photo slideshow.  I found an old hardbound Atlas at a thrift store many years ago and it definitely came in handy for the theme!  The last party prop created was a hot air balloon.  I mean, I did the best that I could with a tri-fold, brown contact paper, burlap and some burlap bags stuffed with newspaper and some helium balloons.  This was to be the photo prop for the party.  (Oh…and it rained after everyone arrived at the party so we didn’t get to use the prop until Sunday!)

Meanwhile…the weekend of the party, family began arriving.  The last to arrive were my daughter, Anna Marie and my nephew, Adam, both from Colorado.  The plan was for me to pick up mom and Jenine at her house and bring them to my house.  I told mom that we needed to stop back by the house and pick up Charlie because he was driving in from Wetumpka, AL, so he would be riding with us.  I pretended to get a text from Charlie and respond but I was really letting everyone at the house know we were on our way!  Of course, when we pulled up there were cars everywhere!  Mom said something about all the cars and I told her our neighbor was having a party.  I said he let us know earlier that day because cars that were going to be all over the cul de sac.  She seemed to accept that.  I pulled up right in front of the house and suggested we go inside where it was cooler to wait for Charlie to arrive.

I walked into the house first and stepped out of the way.  Mom followed and turned toward the living room where everyone had gathered.   As they shouted all “SURPRISE!”  it took mom a minute before she realized what was happening.  The photos my daughters took say it all and I love that they captured this exact moment!  That’s when my sisters all came up to her for hugs.  Mom was clearly overwhelmed, especially when she saw everyone who had gathered to celebrate her milestone day!  Later we asked about whether she suspected we were throwing her a surprise party and she said she had no idea.  I think if she had, she would have said something to her friend Jenine…and Jenine would have called me!

To say we took a lot of photos would be an understatement.  As I said in Part 1 of this story, it had been four years since we had all been together and we weren’t going to let the chance get away from us.  And while the party was the perfect reason to bring us all together, I loved that my sisters , our husbands, and five of my mother’s eight grandchildren, were able to come back to my house on Sunday and spend the day together.  We had plenty of food left over from the party, thanks to Chef Wendy, and even more to catch up on with one another.

So today, on my mother’s 81st birthday, I will take her to lunch and spend the afternoon with her.  I know we will talk about the party and look at the photos together.  Then on Sunday, I’ll treat her to brunch and a show – Red Mountain Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady.

Happy 81st birthday, mom!  I’m glad we were able to surprise you last year!

Loving her birthday sash sent by cousin Lisa Ramirez for mom to enjoy!

Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 1

Barbara Anne Zuniga – on her 80th birthday

This is a two part post about my mother’s 80th birthday party last year on June 8, 2018.  Tomorrow she turns 81 and I’ve been reliving the party, photos and memories from the preparations to the actual event.  

My mother has never had a surprise party.  She turned 80 years old last June and I thought it was way past time.  So armed with a great theme – Around the World in 80 Years – I got started surprise party planning!

Months earlier, I’d been talking about how mom had a milestone birthday coming up with my youngest sister, Kanista, and she said wanted to be in Alabama for that.  She lives in North Carolina.  That got the ball rolling and we thought – what if we could get all of “the sisters” together, along with their husbands and kids??!!  I think the last time we were all together – me, my sisters and mom – was when my nephew Adam got married in 2015.  So this became a bit of a mission with that realization!  I contacted my sister Helena who lives in Texas and she was on board, as was my sister Laurie who lives in Illinois.  Helena and Laurie put the word out to their adult kids too.  My mother’s friend, Jenine, visits each year from Colorado so I contacted her to make sure she could make her arrangements for the party.  We set the party date for Saturday, June 8 to make it easier for everyone to travel.  Mom’s actual birthday is June 6.

As the guest list started to grow, I began looking for a cozy venue to host the party.  That was probably the biggest headache.  I couldn’t get the invitations ready until I had a place, right?  And I really didn’t want a restaurant for the party because it didn’t feel cozy enough.  I remember calling one place and the lady who answered got a little snarky with me and said “well, you know it’s wedding season…”  Which translated to, “good luck finding what you want, lady!”  That’s when I decided to just have the party at my house.  Done!  On to the invitation…

Mom’s party invitation – the photo is one I found at her house in a box. She was five years old in this picture.

I’d been working at my mother’s house for several weeks helping her clean out when I found a box of old photos.  Honestly, I don’t even know if mom knew they were there.  So I secretly put the box in my car so I could go through and copy them.  That’s where I found the photo I used for the invitation.  Such a sweet picture of mother when she was five years old.  It was perfect!  I debated on getting the invitations professionally printed and then decided to do them myself at home.  In the invitation, I also requested that people send cards with a special memory about mom to me to compile.  My plan was to have a box of memories on index cards that she could pull and read throughout her 80th year.

With the venue and invitations out of the way, I needed to find a caterer.  Again…wedding season…but then I remembered a friend who had started a food delivery business and had just opened a storefront.  I gave her a call and she put me in touch with her chef – Wendy Bowman.  So, this is probably a good time to talk about the theme I chose – Around the World in 80 Years.  This was a nod to mom’s travels over her lifetime.  Born in Oneonta, Alabama, she moved around a lot growing up and eventually ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where her parents finally settled for two years so she could complete high school.  After that, they traveled to Cambodia for my grandfather’s work and that’s where she met my dad and eventually they got married.  Throw in living in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Chicago and finally Alabama, you can see why the theme fit so well.  When I explained this all to Chef Wendy, she created a wonderful menu incorporating all mom’s travels.  It was wonderful!

When it came to ordering a cake, I knew it had to be special and I knew it had to come from Louise’s Cakes & Supply in Hoover, AL.  Over the years, this little shop has created some beautiful cakes for my family.  The theme was firming up with maps, suitcases, globes and flags. so I asked about getting a suitcase cake made with decals all over it showing places where mom has lived.  I did find a few examples on Pinterest and we worked together to come up with the perfect design.

I mentioned all the places my mother has lived and I wanted to find a way to showcase those places.  That’s when the idea of a directional sign came up like the one they had on MASH – the tv show!  I found arrows in the Target bargain area for weddings and decided to spray paint them tan and brown and then write the locations in red.  My husband made the stand and then we used a nail gun to attach the arrows.  It was the perfect touch and we placed it in our foyer next to an old suitcase that collected all the cards and well-wishes for mom.  I also added string flags around the foyer, hallway, dining room, family room and kitchen that I had left over from a previous event.

My friend, Sherree, who is a whiz with plants and florals, created four distinct arrangements for the party.  The orchid was for my parent’s wedding photo and was used on the dining room table with the food.  There was also a bright floral arrangement for the living room where guests could share memories for mom.  The one I really loved was a desert scene with cactus next to a globe to represent the Southwest and New Mexico.  She really outdid herself!

The final pieces of the party plan?  I wanted music across the decades that meant something to my mother.  My sisters were wonderful working on this and sent so many suggestions from our time as children living in Puerto Rico.  I created a playlist on Pandora called “Mom’s 80th Bday” and we kept adding to it.  We had songs from Andy Williams, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others.  We also included music from musicals like South Pacific and The King & I.  But the most important song to include – Where or When – was my parents song.  When they were dating in Cambodia and would go out to a particular nightclub to enjoy the band, the band leader would see them walk in and immediately start playing that song for them.  It reminds me of a scene out of a Doris Day movie….  We ended up with several hundred songs on that playlist.  I still love listening to it.

Part Two of Around the World in 80 Years shares how I got my mother to the party after the surprise was almost revealed and her reaction to everything.  

 

 

 

Cascarones for Easter!

Cascarones – shown on a Mexican oil cloth tablecloth. The Easter bunny container is one my mom used in her decorating when I was growing up.

Easter is just a few days away and every few years I try to introduce a new fun aspect to our family Easter gathering.  One year it was a brightly decorated chocolate chip cookie cake instead of the usual brownies, cakes and pies.  It turned out to be a huge hit and still remains a crowd favorite with a few family members (ahem…cough…David and Emily!) who have a hard time waiting until after lunch to dig into this sweet treat! Well this year I’m introducing “cascarones” to the family!

So, what’s a cascaron?  It’s basically a hollowed-out egg filled with confetti!  I’ve known about cascarones for quite awhile but I can’t say that they were something we made or enjoyed when I was growing up.  Doing a little more research I discovered they are a Mexican tradition that gained popularity in the Southwest, in particular, at Easter time for many families.  Some say it was like a merging of Latino traditions and the American tradition of dyeing Easter eggs.  Because of the confetti, they are something also frequently used for other celebrations like carnivals, New Years, Cinco de Mayo and even at weddings…although they can also be filled with rice for that particular event!

Looking even farther back in history, cascarones were said to have originated in China where they were filled with scented powders and given as gifts.  Because of this they were very popular with the wealthy.  Marco Polo is said to have been responsible for bringing the eggs to Europe in the 13th century, and again, enjoyed by the wealthy.  They eventually made it to Mexico in the mid-1800s thanks to Emperor Maximilian’s wife, Carlotta.  The lovely scented powders were eventually replaced with confetti and became known as  “cascarones” since “cascara” in Spanish means “shell.”

Cascarones are made by emptying out an egg through a small hole at one end and cleaning it out thoroughly.  After that, you can decorate the eggs by using Easter egg dyeing kits.  When they are dry you can even take it further with more decorating but the best part is adding the confetti to the eggs.  Make a small funnel with paper to use for the eggs to keep the confetti scattering to a minimum!  You can make your own confetti or you can buy it.  Then you take a small piece of tissue and glue it over the hole to keep the confetti in the egg.  That’s it!  Lucky for me though, I found egg cartons of cascarones at a local Walgreens recently.  I was at the checkout counter and there they were!  I decided to pick up two cartons to enjoy on Easter afternoon with my family, all the while thinking, “this should be interesting!”

You may be wondering how cascarones are used.  I figured there had to be a tradition that goes along with these confetti filled eggshells.  It’s said that if you make a wish before you break it over an unsuspecting person’s head, your wish will come true.  Another school of thought is that the good luck goes to the person who gets the egg cracked on their head!  Of course, it’s best to crack the egg in your hand so the confetti pours out on the person rather than actually hitting them with the egg!!!

The other day, I was photographing the cascarones and I gently opened one of the eggs and let the confetti pour out for a shot.  As I took the photo, I saw something beautiful.  I had put the egg down with the paper covering the opening still somewhat attached.  The confetti was scattered in front of it and in that instant, it reminded me of Jesus’ tomb!  I immediately stopped photographing to look up any religious meaning behind cascarones.  I found that eggs are thought to be a symbol of rebirth.  So when the egg is broken and the confetti pours out, it is representative of the resurrection,  Jesus’ empty tomb.  The confetti then symbolizes a celebration of Jesus’ life and rebirth.  So beautiful…I really love this…

This is the photo I took that made me realize there is religious symbolism to cascarones…

So Felices Pascuas/Happy Easter to everyone!  If you celebrate Easter, I hope you enjoy a wonderful day celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus with your families.  And if you made cascarones or enjoyed them in the past, I would love to hear about it!  Meanwhile… let the cascarones crunching begin…and I do hope since this will be a first for my family that they will observe proper cascaron cracking etiquette!!!

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.

 

 

Iron Bowl Saturday at the Odom House

Easy peasy taco soup ready for the Iron Bowl today!

Easy peasy taco soup ready for the Iron Bowl today!

Today was Iron Bowl Saturday and this is the first time in a long time that we’ve had a watch party!  All the kids were home today and I honestly can’t remember this happening.  Typically a few are AT the game or not in town.  I know my husband was really excited about watching the Alabama/Auburn game with his children.

This called for Taco Soup and of course, he was up bright and early to put a crock pop of this delicious soup on to slow cook.  Kickoff was at 2:30 so the soup would be nice and hot by then!  Along with that, he made cheese dip with rotel – one with ground beef and the other plain (for me)!  My daughter, Anna Marie made her now famous swiss and bacon dip and also a cookie dough dip.  Oh the dips!!!  So much for the diet!!!

At any rate, our family room was full of family – human and the furry kind – and the game was watched to the conclusion we all had hoped for – Alabama won!  YAY ALABAMA!

Game day jerseys on!

Game day jerseys on!

Here are a few photos of our Iron Bowl Saturday – Roll Tide!

If you want to see the recipe for this delish Taco Soup, check my post from last November!

Remembering A Veteran

My dad...in flight training

My dad…in flight training

Today is Veterans Day.  From the time I woke up this morning to just a few minutes ago, every other social media post today has been about Veterans and remembering their contributions to our country.  It has been a welcome diversion from the recent election and with the divisiveness of what has transpired, it really got me thinking about my dad and his brothers and their sacrifice as Mexican-Americans to our great country.

I don’t actually know a lot about what my dad and his brothers went through when they each joined the service but I do know about the time period when they enlisted and served.  I also know what my dad experienced when he was growing up in Carlsbad, New Mexico through letters I received from several of his classmates/football teammates after he passed away in 2001.  I’ll share those remembrances in another post.  But suffice it to say, it wasn’t all fun and acceptance back then.  My dad didn’t talk much about it, choosing to just tell certain stories without any reference to discrimination or unfairness.  I think that was his way of just working hard and getting ahead.  I admire that in him because later in life, it served me well as I grew up overseas and in Puerto Rico during my formative years.

Dad's Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

Dad’s Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

I wish I knew more about dad’s time in service to our country.  I regret that I didn’t talk to him about this but then again, there is no guarantee that he would have shared anything about this time either.  I’ve heard that sentiment from a number of people who I know.  These are memories that have remained locked away to some of those who served.

I love looking in my dad's pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training...

I love looking in my dad’s pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training…

What I do have are photos, dad’s pilot logs and a few other artifacts from those years.  I also have two yearbooks from his pilot training in Texas.  One in particular is very touching because dad had placed check marks beside the photos of his friends who didn’t make it back during the war.  I didn’t know what these check marks were until my mother shared that with me several years ago.

One of dad's training yearbooks....

One of dad’s training yearbooks….

So as today closes out, I am grateful for the sacrifices of my dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, his brothers – Felix and Lorenzo Zuniga – and all the faces in the two yearbooks made for our country.  Some paid the ultimate sacrifice and that is humbling to see in my dad’s yearbook, the faces of those brave young men who did this for our freedom.

On this Veterans Day, God Bless the brave men and women who have served this great nation of ours…

 

 

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My Thanksgiving Table

My Thanksgiving Table this year...

My Thanksgiving Table this year…

Tonight I’m looking at my Thanksgiving table and anticipating tomorrow when we will gather together and enjoy a wonderful meal and each other’s company.  This year will be a little different.

We’ve already had our “big” Thanksgiving family gathering in Jasper – this past Saturday.  Tomorrow, it will be me, Eddie and two of our children.  We’ll add my brother and sister-in-law too.  Hopefully a few of the nephews will be able to join us at some point.  It will be a small gathering, but it will be family and I’m so thankful we have one another.

My “married” daughter – Anna Marie – and her new hubby, Ryan, will join us for a Thanksgiving breakfast tomorrow morning, which is something new to us.  We’ll be having French toast!  So maybe this will be a new tradition?  I don’t know but whatever the case, I’m just thankful they are able to spend a little time with us tomorrow.

So tonight, I’m going over my menu for tomorrow and getting as much done ahead of time as I can.  I’ll be making a turkey without my mother this year.  My mother is enjoying the holiday with my sister Laurie in Chicago this year.  The eggs are boiling as I write this – so we’ll make some deviled eggs tonight.  We’ll also make the stuffing tonight too – sorry, but when you put it in the bird, it’s stuffing to me!  (I know…I know…in the south it’s called dressing…)

A portion of my Thanksgiving table centerpiece...I found a new wine to try tomorrow too - Cherry Tart Pinot Noir!

A portion of my Thanksgiving table centerpiece…I found a new wine to try tomorrow too – Cherry Tart Pinot Noir!

In the end, we will be together as a family – whoever can be here – and we’ll enjoy the time together.  We’ll add people to the table along with the food and it will be wonderful.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow!  Enjoy your time together…and blessing to all.

Found these old timey cards at World Market a few years ago and have been using them as napkin rings...they add a certain something to the table, don't you think?

Found these old timey cards at World Market a few years ago and have been using them as napkin rings…they add a certain something to the table, don’t you think?