Tag Archives: Family

Deck the Halls!

Zuniga-Odom Christmas Tree 2016

Zuniga-Odom Christmas Tree 2016

It’s officially Christmas at our house!  While everyone else was shopping on Black Friday, I was at home getting all our Christmas decorations out and up around the house.  It doesn’t take as long as it used to since I organized my decorations by room and labeled everything.  It took a little time one year after Christmas but it was so worth it!

On Friday, my husband did his part and put our pre-lit tree together. Later that day I added some large white star lights to it and got it ready for the family to decorate it together today.  We’ve had a full house this weekend and it has been so nice.

Our 2016 Hallmark ornaments to add to our growing collection.

Our 2016 Hallmark ornaments to add to our growing collection.

So after a late lunch of left-over taco soup, I put on some Christmas music and we got started.  As I mentioned in my Hallmark Obsession post a few days ago, I add to my Hallmark ornament collection every year.  I always put the new ornaments out on the dining room table for the kids to see and then they race to add their favorite to the tree.  Then the singing and the storytelling begins as everyone sifts through the two large storage containers full of Hallmark ornaments dating back to 1973.  At some point someone – usually my husband – remarks that the tree is getting full and there is no more room.  I am always determined to prove him wrong and keep adding in little nooks and crannies.  I’ll also rearrange a section to add a larger ornament to a limb where a smaller one is taking up too much space.  My kids swear I rearrange most of the tree when they are gone but that’s not true.  Instead, I walk around the tree to see which ornaments they have selected to adorn the tree that particular year.  We have so many that I love to see what strikes them as special.  My son-in-law, Ryan, is a real trooper and hangs in there with me to keep adding ornaments when the others have given up!  This year he broke one of the ornaments – which is really not a big deal – and I said “that’s why we have super glue!”  He said “now I really feel like part of the family!”  Usually, my husband, Eddie is the one who breaks something!  Everyone had a good laugh about that…

Our ginormous collection of Hallmark ornaments in these two huge storage containers.  I used to put them back into their individual boxes for many years but it got too tedious so I just keep the boxes in the attic now.

Our ginormous collection of Hallmark ornaments in these two huge storage containers. I used to put them back into their individual boxes for many years but it got too tedious so I just keep the boxes in the attic now.

After the tree is complete, I unveil the family ornament.  Each year since 1989, when my son was born, I have bought a handmade ornament with our names and the year on it.  I never really thought about what a tradition this was until I had collected about 10 years worth.  When we got Lucy, our pup, I added her to the ornament.  Now we have added my son-in-law, Ryan and their pup, Lucia.  So my challenge has been to find an ornament with space for 8 people on it.  I like to select it myself and make it a surprise for everyone each year.  I’m so glad I accidentally fell into this family tradition and love looking at the different designs from over the years.

The 2016 Odom family ornament!

The 2016 Odom family ornament!

Finally, we take family photos in front of the completed tree.  I can always count on this being one time of the year when we are all together and can get these photos so I really do cherish them.  Kind of like first day of school photos…I always knew I would get those too!

Admiring our tree this year...

Admiring our tree this year…

Soon after the photos were taken, all the kids scattered and went to their respective homes.  The house is quiet again.  I stopped briefly to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the tree against a background of Christmas music.

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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!

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.

Family “Swing” Picture…Modified…

Odom Thanksgiving gathering 2015 in Jasper, AL...

Odom Thanksgiving gathering 2015 in Jasper, AL…

Our Odom Family Thanksgiving celebration is always the Sunday (or in this case, Saturday) before Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the highlight for the cousins is taking the annual “swing” picture.  This is a swing that was in my  late mother-in-law’s backyard for so many years.  It’s now in my brother-in-law’s yard and the cousins look forward to it without fail every year.

This year, I decided on something a little different.  With all the loss we have experienced as a family over the past few years, I wanted to capture everyone who attended our gathering in a group photo.  I told one of the cousins that we talk about doing this every year and yet we don’t…   I remember telling my mother-in-law that I was going to bring my camera to the Odom Christmas gathering to take family photos the year she passed away, right before Christmas.  I was so saddened because she was so looking forward to this and then she wasn’t there to be a part of it.  But the best way to honor something like this is to just do it.

I made sure to have my tripod on hand this year.  After everyone had indulged in all the food we had for our annual celebration, we gathered everyone outside at the swing.  We did this before anyone could leave…

It didn’t take long either.  Usually when you try to gather this many people, it’s like herding cats!  But in this case, everyone got together quickly and waited patiently for me to set the timer on my camera and get the photo taken.  We took a few photos and I think the one in this post is the best one.  I love that everyone that attended, whether they were family or not, was in this picture.  Because in reality, everyone who was there was family.

Odom Cousin Swing Picture 2015. (Missing Anna Marie and Ryan)

Odom Cousin Swing Picture 2015.

 

 

We Ate Some Turkey and then a Football Game Broke Out!

Odom Family football game - Thanksgiving 2007 - Jasper, AL.

Odom Family football game – Thanksgiving 2007 – Jasper, AL.

My in-laws used to live in Jasper, AL and had a rather large piece of property behind their house. I remember there was always a sign inside the back porch that said “Odom’s Farm.” It always felt like the perfect place for kids to run around and play and make up games and just get outside instead of sitting in front of the television set.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2007 was a cool crisp afternoon. We had just finished eating turkey and all the extras when one of the kids (the cousins) pulled out a football. Before you knew it, all the cousins – young and old – were outside in the huge backyard and tossing the ball around. First it was just the guys tossing and running after each other. But the Odom girls are pretty darn competitive and quickly joined in! It was one of those spontaneous times in families…we couldn’t have planned it if we had tried and it was the perfect Thanksgiving afternoon. Even Bentley, the dog, got into the act!

Bentley decides football is fun!

Bentley decides football is fun!

Here are a few of the photos I took that day in a slideshow…when I see these, I feel like it’s happening all over again!  Oh, and another thing you’ll notice…there is only one cell phone in the picture….those were the days!

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The Footprints We Leave Behind…Remembering My Cousin Chila

With my cousin Chila at the Zuniga Family reunion in Denver, Colorado - July 2013

With my cousin Chila at the Zuniga Family reunion in Denver, Colorado – July 2013

My cousin, Orcilia “Chila” Zuniga Forbes, passed away on Friday, August 28, 2015.  Here are some of my memories of this remarkable woman. 

My cousin Chila passed away two weeks ago.  It came as a shock to our family and we still can’t believe it most days.  She was truly remarkable.  Quite a number of stories have been published about her over the past two weeks, discussing her education, career, non-profit work and accomplishments.  I’m sure more will be shared over time and I look forward to hearing them.  She leaves quite a legacy and quite a few footprints…

Cousin Chila at the 2013 Zuniga Family Reunion - wearing her running shoes...

Cousin Chila at the 2013 Zuniga Family Reunion – wearing her running shoes…

One story I particularly love tells of how Chila was always so “neatly coifed, perfectly made up, stylishly and professionally dressed, stockings, running shoes.  Yes, running shoes.” The story goes on to say that she was always quite literally “on the move.”  Those shoes probably helped in some small way, but I know there was more her success than the shoes.  

I’ve been considering all the footprints Chila left behind with those running shoes.  At 77 years of age – that is just too young.  I remember her as the picture of health…calm, collected, striking in appearance and always having marvelous experiences with her sister – Wiro – and brother-in-law, Chuck.  It was always a joy to spend time with her at family reunions – she was so interesting and I loved the conversations we had together.

Chila - the oldest of 8 children of Lorenzo and Anita Zuniga - here with her brother Lorenzo Jr. (Boy), sisters Boogie and Wiro (Hortencia) and sister-in-law, Maria Varela.

Chila – the oldest of 8 children of Lorenzo and Anita Zuniga – here with her brother Lorenzo Jr. (Boy), sisters Boogie (Ophelia) and Wiro (Hortencia) and sister-in-law, Maria Varela.

One very inspiring conversation we had goes back to 2002 when I went to Portland, Oregon for a conference.  This was the year after my dad died.  A few days before I flew out, my mother reminded me I had a cousin in Portland.  I quickly typed an email to Chila and hoped for a reply.   To my delight, Chila immediately contacted me and outlined times she was available to meet and offered to include me in plans she already had in the works if I was available.  I was thrilled!  Spending time with a Zuniga cousin was so important to me since my dad had died.  I needed that connection to my Mexican family. 

Chila and her husband Richard picked me up at my hotel.  I had never met Richard so this was an added bonus.  I loved watching Chila and Richard together during that trip.  They were like two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together. They seemed so happy together.

Chila said she was taking me to a wine dinner that night and we would be sitting with the winemaker who was a friend of hers.  What a treat!  Richard dropped us off downtown and would return to pick us up afterward.  We were early so we decided to walk around the block and found a bench where we sat and talked.  The conversation quickly turned to my dad.  He has passed away June 1, 2001 and Chila began telling me a story I had never heard before.  She said after my dad – her Tio Chito –  left Carlsbad, New Mexico and got out of the Air Force, he went to Catholic University in Washington DC.  This part I knew, of course.  What she said next has stayed with me all this time.  She told me “your dad was the reason I went to college.”  She added that until the time my dad left Carlsbad, they (she and her siblings) didn’t know they could also leave or get an education.  Chila definitely took this encouragement to heart, first getting a nursing degree followed by two masters degrees and a doctorate.  Landing at both the University of New Mexico and Oregon State University, I can only image the footprints she left in both places.  She didn’t keep this story about my dad to herself either.  She shared it with so many people and even spoke about this encouragement in a video I found called Destination Success (in Spanish). Such a treasure to find this video and hear her words! 

Chila and Boogie sing with the Mariachi at our Zuniga family reunion dinner in 2013.

Chila and Boogie sing with the Mariachi at our Zuniga family reunion dinner in 2013. This is one of my favorite photos from that reunion…

Last year, I was doing some research on Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos and I bookmarked a website that spoke of “footprints” and the passing of a loved one.  The author writes, “the Mexican definition of soul, is the footprint we leave behind for others to connect to, in that we are present, still after death, in how others remember us. Even the person who passed away can change and grow within the stories we hold of them.” 

I know I was lead to rediscover this bookmark last week.  I had already been going through pictures from past Zuniga family reunions when I found one of Chila from 2013.  She was  neatly coifed (as the story goes) from her head down to her running shoes.  That photo made me stop in my tracks and smile.   Chila left 77 years of footprints and they have taught me quite a few things.  They have propelled me closer to my Zuniga family roots beginning with that story about my father.  They have encouraged me to see what changes I can make to do more to help others.  They have inspired me to continue to educate myself and encourage others to seek education….just like my dad encouraged his niece so many years ago.  

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.  Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts.  And we are never, ever the same. – Unknown

Chila and her sister Wiro sing with the mariachi at our family reunion - Denver, CO - 2015.

Chila and her sister Wiro sing with the mariachi at our family reunion – Denver, CO – 2015.

With Chila, her brother Nino (Orlando), son-in-law Hal and daughter Eryn - at our family reunion in Albuquerque, NM 2011.

With Chila, her brother Nino (Orlando), son-in-law Hal and daughter Eryn – at our family reunion in Albuquerque, NM 2011.

La Familia Zuniga at our 2003 family reunion in Albuquerque, NM...

La Familia Zuniga at our 2003 family reunion in Albuquerque, NM…

While singing with her sister Wiro with the mariachi, Chila stops to give me a smile... Wiro's husband Chuck stands by to take photos - Zuniga Reunion 2013.

While singing with her sister Wiro with the mariachi, Chila stops to give me a smile… Wiro’s husband Chuck stands by to take photos – Zuniga Reunion 2013.

Me with Chila at our reunion in 2003.

Me with Chila at our reunion in 2003.

Chila chats with my little sister, Kanista at our family reunion in 2003.

Chila chats with my little sister, Kanista at our family reunion in 2003. Cousin Chuck is on the laptop.

Chila with her little brother, Ricardo Zuniga.

Chila with her little brother, Ricardo (Googs) Zuniga. (2003)

My mother, Barbara Zuniga with her niece, Chila. Zuniga family reunion 2013 in Denver, CO.

My mother, Barbara Zuniga with her niece, Chila. Zuniga family reunion 2013 in Denver, CO.

Chila with her brothers and sisters...

Chila with her brothers and sisters…from left to right – Googs (Ricardo), Wiro (Hortencia), Boogie (Ophelia), Chila (Orcelia), Lala (Oralia) and Boy (Lorenzo, Jr.) – missing from this picture – Eddie and Nino (Orlando).- Family Reunion 2003 – Albuquerque, NM

Feliz Cumpleaños Dad…(Part Three)

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The Zuniga cousins – right before heading to the airport – at the end of our New Mexico journey.

This is Part Three of my pilgrimage to New Mexico after losing my dad in 2001.

Sunday morning, Oct 28, had us at the 8:30 Spanish Mass at San Jose Catholic Church.  It had been awhile since I had heard mass said in Spanish and it’s so beautiful.  We grabbed breakfast at Pete’s – again great green chile to top our eggs and tortillas!  On to Wal-Mart to pick up a birthday cake for Uncle Mando, flowers, and film for my camera.  (This was before I got into digital!)

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Running into Rachel Fernandez at the cemetery – here with Lisa.

We made another trip by the cemetery for more photos and a little more exploration.  And who do we run into?  Rachel Fernandez!  She invited us over for drinks that evening along with her two brothers, Jerry and Dan.

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Aunt Yoya singing Las Mañanitas to Uncle Mando as their son Orlando looks on…

We enjoyed spending more time visiting with Aunt Yoya and Uncle Mando and listening to more family stories.  She looked really good that day.  We brought out the cake for Uncle Mando, lit the candles, and Yoya held Uncle Mando’s hand and sang “Las Mañanitas” to him – a traditional Mexican birthday song – and as she sang to him, she began to cry….which made us all cry.  So touching and so beautiful.  Later, Yoya showed us the “Our Town” newspaper with a picture of my dad and his brother Lorenzo (“Lencho”) as altar boys.  Such a treasure!  We left after sharing cake and promised to come by again before returning to Albuquerque.  Then it was on to  Vone and Raymond’s house for a feast of carne asado, tortillas de maiz (corn tortillas), beans, rice, potatoes and a great salsa.  And always the conversation turned to food and family!  Then it was on to Olivia’s for a short visit with her and her girls.

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A quick visit and good-bye to Olivia and her girls…

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Lisa posing with Rachel in her chili pepper kitchen!

The last stop on our whirlwind day was to Rachel’s apartment for drinks where we met her brothers Jerry and Dan.  More cousins!  We talked a LOT about food, especially tamales and Rachel remarked about how she was late in getting the tamale making started for the holidays.  Her entire apartment was decorated in red and black, thanks to her brother Bobby.  He definitely had an eye for décor and celebrating and would always help her with her Christmas decorating every year.  Upon leaving, Dan and Jerry invited us to their house for breakfast.  An offer we couldn’t refuse!

 

 

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Tia Maria’s house – now the home of her grandsons – Dan and Jerry Fernandez.

Monday morning, Oct 29, Kanista and I went to Argus to pick up some Carlsbad historic papers – one of the papers included the altar boy photo of my dad and his brother.  Then we headed to Dan and Jerry’s house.  We later learned it had been their grandmother Maria’s house.  Maria was my grandfather, Tata Polo’s sister.  Rachel came by too and we got to hear about their family reunions.  Maria had 10 children so you can imagine the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren she had!  I love hearing family stories and all the connections.  We were able to really fill in the gaps of our Zuniga family tree during this trip!  Before heading back to Albuquerque, we went by to say good-bye to Aunt Yoya and Uncle Mando.  More crying…

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One last visit with Aunt Yoya and Cousin Rosie in Carlsbad.

IMG_7076Back in Albuquerque, we had to go by Old Town for a little shopping before heading back to Danda’s house for yet another fabulous meal – tortilla soup and stir fry vegetables!  More stories and we especially loved hearing about how Danda learned to cook from our grandfather, Tata Polo!  She learned by watching him and so many of her incredible recipes are from our grandfather.  At the end of the evening, Danda gave us each a recipe book from Albuquerque with a sweet inscription.  We finished out the evening looking through a box of old photos with Danda promising to make copies and send to us.IMG_7095IMG_7096

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Danda in her kitchen.

Tuesday, Oct 30, was our last day.  Danda prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with tortilla chips.  I haven’t tried this at home but my sister has and cannot get the same result!  She also prepared caldio – a mixture of ground beef, onion and chiles.  What a treat!We were also thrilled to have a little more time to visit with Bobby Fernandez…he stopped by to say good-bye and we took the opportunity to get a few photos with him.  On our way to the airport, we stopped by Danda’s school to visit and see her in action.

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So glad we got to see Bobby one last time before we left…

We ended our trip together – cousins – at the airport – chatting and enjoying food – a cup of posole…and then heading to our separate planes and back to our lives.  This trip gave us the opportunity to walk where our father’s had actually walked, visit the places they had known as children growing up and reconnect with family we hadn’t seen in years or didn’t know at all.  I know we all felt closer to our dads as we boarded our planes.

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Danda’s front porch – I loved this bench when I saw it and a few years later my husband found one in Birmingham and bought it for me!

And I know our dads were walking alongside us throughout this incredible week…IMG_6908IMG_6907IMG_6906IMG_6903IMG_6902phonto (6)