Category Archives: Zuniga Family

The Vintage Beaded Sweater Made in Hong Kong

This cashmere beaded sweater came from Hong Kong in the 1950s – my dad bought it for my mother on their honeymoon.

I have a beautiful vintage beaded sweater that belonged to my mother.  She gave it to me many years ago when she was going through some old clothes and I tucked it away to preserve it.  It was already showing signs of age and I didn’t want it to get worse, so I bought a good garment bag and stored it in my guest room closet.

This week I was at my favorite thrift store and was about to leave when I made one more pass through the jacket section.  That’s when I spotted it…an off-white colored beaded sweater with a Hong Kong label.  It was gorgeous and in incredible shape and only $4.99…and as I picked it off the rack, that’s when all the memories rushed back to me about the beaded sweater from my mother.

After my parents got married in Cambodia, they went to Hong Kong for their honeymoon.  My dad was always insistent about buying quality items.  I remember one Christmas when I was in high school, I wanted a small stereo and I knew money was tight so found one at a discount place for about $50 and showed it to my mother.  When Christmas rolled around, I didn’t get that discount place stereo.  Instead, my dad went and bought a Magnavox stereo complete with stand and headphones!  I had that stereo for years too.  So I can just imagine my dad in Hong Kong with his new bride making sure it was a memorable experience.  I think this is when he bought mom two beaded sweaters…one in black and one in off-white.  Both were cashmere and both were stunning!  I remember as a little girl putting them on and they were – still are – quite heavy!  The detail in the beads was always amazing to me.  I could not imagine the time it took to create these masterpieces and I would turn it over and over admiring the detail of the beaded design.

These sweaters symbolized glamour to me.  When I tell people about my parents, where and how they met in Bangkok, and then tell them about their wedding in Cambodia, people always comment on how exotic and exciting their lives sounded.  Growing up I loved looking at my dad’s photos of their time in Cambodia and Thailand and also the photos he took of my mother. before all us kids came along.  I especially loved the photos of mom all dressed up for nights out with dad.  My mother had the glamour factor going for her big time in my little girl eyes.  She would wear her blonde hair up in a French twist and dress up in one of her hand-made (to fit her figure) Thai silk dresses or suits.  She would then add her favorite black peau de soie spike heels and on cooler nights out, she would add one of the beaded sweaters.  She looked like Grace Kelly to me.

I know my dad probably took many pictures of my mother wearing these beaded sweaters but I’ve only come across one in the slides that I’ve scanned and archived.  In this photo, mom is at a dinner party in Puerto Rico in the mid-1960s wearing a blue Thai silk dress, the peau de soie shoes I mentioned, and the black beaded sweater.  There is also a photo of mom and her best friend Gladys and another woman (not sure who she is) before they left for the party.  The more I looked at that photo the more I think Gladys is wearing the off-white sweater!  The photo is a little overexposed and while I worked on it to see if I could identify the sweater, I wasn’t able to say for sure.  Still…mom and Gladys were very close and don’t girlfriends share clothes at times?  I’m going with the idea that Gladys IS wearing the sweater.

It’s funny how a piece of clothing can bring back such memories.  I need to talk to my mother about these sweaters again.  We’ve talked before but I need a refresher and I always love watching her face when she reminisces about these early years.  Meanwhile…I’m still on the hunt for a photo of mom in the off-white sweater!

 

 

 

Spirits of Thanksvings Past

Thanksgiving 2012 – Odom Family photo

This time of year, I do a lot of reminiscing and looking at old photographs.  Thanksgiving has always been “the” holiday in our family – both Zuniga and Odom.  When my dad, Aunt Gail, and grandmother were still alive, we always had Thanksgiving on the actual day at my house.  And we would have the Odom family Thanksgiving in Jasper the Sunday before.  Soon, we were having our gathering on the actual day in Jasper.

One of the things that remained constant for many years was the annual family photo on the Odom family swing.  We have been taking a grand-kids photos for years on the swing but we really didn’t start taking a family photo until 2006.  My niece, Kate became our “family photographer” for these photos and we used these photos for our Christmas card too.  We were pretty consistent with this for many years until we switched to Christmas in 2015-2016.  But for this Thanksgiving, I thought an Odom Family pictorial over the years was in order.  Meanwhile, I always like to encourage everyone to take photos so you can reflect back on these times later in life.  I’m finding time goes by very quickly and these photos and memories are so priceless.

Here are our photos over the years…beginning with 2006.  We were all seated on the family swing and Allen and Rhonda’s dog, Ozzie decided he wanted to get into the picture!

In 2007 – Our 2007 photo was taken after a major family football game in my in-law’s backyard!  I’m surprised we were all so put together after all that!  Then in 2008, everyone sympathized with Anna Marie by puffing up their cheeks.  She had her wisdom teeth taken out a day earlier and was a bit swollen!  We didn’t use any of these photos for our family photo, of course, but she was a good sport and posed for photos regardless of how big her cheeks were that year!

I couldn’t locate the photo from 2009.  But here are the ones from 2010 and 2011.  We included Lucy in the 2010 photo.

Here are the photos fro 2012 and 2013.  In 2013, we hosted Thanksgiving in Hoover so we took the photo on our deck.

In 2014, we took our last family photo on the Jasper swing.  After that, we had to change to taking the photo after decorating the Christmas tree at our house in order to have everyone together.  I’m sure this will continue to change over the years but if we can manage one family photo together a year, I’ll be happy!

Nov 2014 – last family photo on the swing in Jasper at Thanksgiving

 

 

Honoring One Who Served

My dad, Praxedis S. Zuniga – posing on his plane. (1945-46)

Tomorrow is Veterans Day…a day set aside to honor the service of all US military veterans.  Today I was watching a DIY program and the man in the segment was talking about his father’s service and how when he died recently, he was buried at Arlington Cemetery.  He said just driving through the cemetery and seeing tombstone after tombstone that it really hit him…this is the price of freedom.  All these men and women who have served, and in many cases gave their lives in the field of combat.

I thought about the time I visited Arlington several years ago and remember having a similar feeling as I walked through and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.  Reading some of the headstones was somber as well…so many young lives.  Their young ages made me think about my father.

My dad was 20 years old when he enlisted in the Army in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  His occupation at the time was listed as fountain clerk in his hometown of Carlsbad.  He had already been taking flying lessons and wanted to be a pilot prior to enlisting.  Eventually he became a pilot instructor for the Army.  My mother always had a picture of dad visibly stationed in our home.  It’s a picture of dad in his uniform…you know the old saying – “I love a man in uniform.”  Well, I always loved this photo of my father in his uniform.

Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga – 1945-46

As I got into researching our family tree and history, I was fortunate enough to accumulate some more great photos of dad in uniform and by his plane.  For his memorial service in 2001, I created a scrapbook of these photos along with newspaper clippings that my grandmother had saved all these years from dad when he was star quarterback for the Carlsbad Cavemen football team.  He was so young…and so handsome!  Most of our family had never seen these photos either so it was a great memory to watch everyone’s reaction to them at the service.

I can’t think of a better way to honor my dad on Veterans Day then to share these photos today.  Our family is so proud of his service and how it shaped his life.  Happy Veterans Day.

Making a Nicho Retablo for Day of the Dead

The nicho retablo I created for my Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos altar this year!

This summer I visited the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I always love going here and seeing the exhibits.  My late cousin, Chila (Orcilia Forbes), served on the board of the center and it’s such a wonderful place to visit and explore.

I was walking through the permanent exhibit section with my mother and my cousin, Ophelia (better known as Boogie!), when we came across a really beautiful piece of artwork of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  It was a retablo or shadow box of a large Virgen Mary in the center, surrounded by small shadow boxes all decorated in different ways with other images of Mary.  We were all in awe of this piece.  I wish I could remember the name of the artist, but suffice it to say that the wheels started turning in my head and in my cousin Boogie’s head!  I didn’t get a photo since no photos were allowed in the gallery, but I sketched out the design so we could have something to reference.  Boogie and I decided this was something we needed to modify and try for our next Zuniga Family Reunion in 2019!  We always bring photos and make a point to remember family members who have passed on.  This would be a wonderful way to engage family members and plan a reunion activity!  Between now and then though, we decided we would each work on a prototype to see what we needed to have on hand in order to create a nicho retablo.

As background, nicho retablos are a mixed media type of creation or artwork.  In Hispanic culture, they tend to be spiritual and religious and can be used on an altar for events such as Dia de los Muertos or in devotional places of your home.  Sometimes these are made with small tin boxes, like an Altoids tin box, while others are made with wood and have doors that can be closed on the images inside. These are always very colorful and vibrant.  The décor can be quite ornate but there is a beauty in all this décor and it is quite striking because it tends to signify the person or persons being honored.

Boogie called me shortly after I got home from Albuquerque and she had found some shadow boxes at Hobby Lobby that she thought would work well.  She sent me a photo and I went to buy a few.  They looked perfect!  I set out to make a nicho retablo for my Day of the Dead altar this year and chose a photo of my father with his two brothers and sister.  I’ve always loved this picture of them…all sitting on the couch at my grandmother’s house and smiling broadly!  I knew I wanted to make this multi-dimensional so I made several copies of the photo so I could cut out each figure and experiment.

Meanwhile, I had collected various “artsy”  items like old jewelry, fabric leaves, decorative ribbon and other crafty items from various places.  I hit a creative roadblock as I got started and I wasn’t sure what to use so I went to Pinterest to browse.  Something I saw sparked my creativity and I decided I needed monarch butterflies to place behind each figure from the photograph to make it appear they had wings!  I headed to Michael’s and found a package in the perfect size!

From left to right – Uncle Lorenzo, my dad Praxedis, Uncle Felix and Aunt Gloria

From there everything started evolving…I used ribbon at the top of the display that reminded me of papel picado.  I also placed some of the same ribbon on the glass at the bottom.  Next, I hot glued each of the figures to the back of the shadow box, staggering them so they would all fit.

Next I used plastic amber gemstones from an assorted I bought at Hobby Lobby along with brown sequins leaves – two leaves to a gemstone – to create a flying effect, like a flying heart.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to use them but when I put them on the counter top, two leaves fell next to a gemstone and I took it as a sign to use that particular design!   The front part of the retablo, the glass, needed a little something more so I cut up a few fabric leaves to make them smaller and added a yellow looking plastic stone – again, keeping with the flying heart effect.

Heart applied to my dad’s photo and a look at the glass decor before everything is finally pulled together and completed.

The final touch was a red plastic gemstone heart.  There was only one in the package that I bought.  I placed it on the photo of my father adding a pop of color to the shadow box.  It was now ready to seal up and place on my dining room altar.

The addition of this handmade nicho retablo this year is really what my altar was missing and feel a few more in the works in the weeks to come.  I know when I begin seeing photos on social media of other altars for Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos this year, it will keep this creative streak alive so I’ll need to take advantage of that!

My newly created nicho retablo now has a special place on my Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos altar!

 

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.

 

 

Who Has Seen the Wind?

The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook that me and my sisters had as children living in Puerto Rico.

The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook that me and my sisters had as children living in Puerto Rico.

Today was a blustery day…it had me thinking about Winnie the Pooh and the blustery day movie that I used to watch with my kids when they were little.  I told a friend the gray sky and wind made me think of living in Chicago and the way the sky would look right before it would snow.  Of course, that’s not about to happen here right now!  It’s 69 degrees outside and we are in a drought – rain would be a welcomed sight tonight!

The wind also had me thinking about a poem I learned when I was around 8 years old and living in Puerto Rico.  My mother bought me and my sisters a Better Homes and Garden Story Book.  I always loved that book because of all the stories and poems that filled it.  I remember writing my name along with the names of my sisters in the “this book belongs to” section in the front.

I wrote our names in the book - me and my sisters - in case there was any mistake about who the book belonged to!

I wrote our names in the book – me and my sisters – in case there was any mistake about who the book belonged to!

When I was visiting my sister in North Carolina recently, I spotted the book in her bookcase and it brought so many memories back to me!  I was so happy that she had the book and as I thumbed through it a rush of memories came back to me.  In particular, I found the poem “Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina G. Rossetti.  As I read the poem I told my sister that there was a melody that went along with it and I started to sing it to her.  She had no idea about the melody…

The poem in the book - a short little poem that apparently had quite an impact on me as a child.

The poem in the book – a short little poem that apparently had quite an impact on me as a child.

I’m not quite sure where I heard the melody to the poem.  It may have been one of the children’s records we had and played over and over in our bedroom.  I tried to find it online and but never could find the exact melody that I know and sang to my sister that nigt.  But today, I was humming that tune as I drove downtown at lunchtime.  And tonight we are finally getting that much-needed rain along with the wind…

Who has seen the wind?  Neither I nor you;

But when the leaves hang trembling, the Wind is passing thro’. 

Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I; 

But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.

The Thankful Tree

Our Thankful Tree the first year...

Our Thankful Tree the first year…

When my kids were little, I was always looking for ways to bring the importance of thankfulness into their lives, especially at Thanksgiving.  We did the usual taking turns around the Thanksgiving table saying what we were thankful for and brought out little items they made at school as part of our dinner each year.  Pinterest wasn’t a “thing” at the time so going out and finding a multitude of ideas wasn’t readily available.  Hard to believe with the access we have on the internet these days.

One year I remember reading about creating a Thankful Tree using limbs from your yard and hanging leaves (cut out leaves or fake leaves) on a string to the limbs with why you were thankful.  I really liked that idea and it took on greater meaning to me in 2007.  That was the year that both my mother and her sister were diagnosed with cancer.  To me, for this to happen to two sisters in one year was an incredibly sad situation.  Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer that March and my Auntie Gail was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that September.  Getting them both through their chemo, radiation, hospital stays and doctor visits was tough that year.  But I’ll always remember how brave they both were and how difficult it was for them.  It was a privilege to be able to support them both that year and watch their courage as they fought this disease.

At Thanksgiving that year, I asked the kids to go out into our yard and find some limbs so we could make our first ever Thankful Tree.  We put them in a vase and cut pieces of brown yarn and added them to leaves.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t write on the leaves so we used sticky notes and stapled them to the leaves and hung them on the tree.  I remember watching my sweet Aunt write why she was thankful that year on a sticky note and then help two of her grandchildren with their own sticky notes.  I was so thankful that year that we were all able to celebrate Thanksgiving together because I know how difficult it was for both my aunt and Mother to get through their treatments.

A few years later, I found some paper leaves we could write on and we used those for the tree.  We had a few transitions over the next few years, celebrating Thanksgiving with the family in Jasper so we didn’t make the tree for a while.  But then my sweet Sister-in-Law, Rhonda, passed away suddenly in July 2014 and finding a way to be “thankful” was something I felt we needed as a family that Thanksgiving in Jasper.  I wanted to create something more permanent that year so I had this idea about using a bulletin board and using felt to create a tree on the board.  I enlisted my daughters to create this tree and they did a fantastic job drawing it out, cutting it out and then gluing it to the bulletin board.  They also cut out different fall color leaves from construction paper so we could write on them.

When I introduced it at the family gathering that year, it was just what we all needed. Don’t get me wrong, in no way did it replace those that we have lost over the years but it did give us time to reflect, all gathered as family, about what we still have and what we need to maintain our family ties.  I think it helped us reflect on our love for one another through whatever comes our way.  It was a blessing to watch the “kids” – almost all adults now – take to this “new” tradition and write something special to themselves on a leaf.

We have now used the bulletin board Thankful Tree for 3 years and I love reading what everyone writes.  Whether it’s something funny in the laughter of the gathering or if there is something special on someone’s heart, it captures that person at that moment in time.  I really do hope we continue to do this for years to come.

I have a larger project in mind after a few years of collecting these “thankful leaves’ and hope that by next year I can get it underway.  Meanwhile, each year I take the leaves that are put on the tree, write the year they were written on the backs of the leaves, and store them with my Thanksgiving decorations.  I am so very thankful that I found this idea so many years ago and I’m thankful for the creativity of my daughters in creating this on a bulletin board so we can keep it going.