First Halloween and Día de los Muertos in Ithaca

These days I’m missing California a lot. With festivals for Día de los Muertos, there’s always something to do in late October. Plus, I love Halloween and in recent years family members have thrown parties. Last year was tough with Mamá Toni’s recent passing, but even then it was still a time spent with family as we gathered for the traditional novena (nine evenings of praying the Rosary) and followed the prayer with tamales, pan dulce or pozole.

Ithaca is amusing

Nevertheless, I think this was one of the best weekend’s we’ve had in Ithaca even though half of it was spent doing chores.

Xavi's third Halloween has been such fun. Well done, Ithaca.

On Friday I left work a little early so I could change in to my last-minute Frida Kahlao costume* and join Xavi and Sean for trick or treating in the Commons. Most businesses were passing out candy or other treats and it was full of kids and their parents in cute costumes.

Maybe Thomas Jefferson?

We decided to play up Xavi’s love of trains rather than our love of Prince circa Purple Rain (why don’t costume shops make these) and my current obsession with all things Hamilton the musical. He could’ve been that other significant Thomas [Jefferson — as portrayed by Daveed Diggs].

Xavi's Halloween costumes

He got a lot of compliments and was a champ at grabbing candy and placing it in his bucket. Last year he enjoyed knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, but this year he was all about choosing candy and

Ithaca meets Diagon Alley, Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. #wizardingweekend

On Saturday we tried to check out the Wizarding Weekend downtown (er, 6 blocks away). It was crowded, but we still were impressed by Ithaca. The organizers transformed the area in to various sites in Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley. We missed Quidditich and didn’t get to taste butterbeer, but maybe when Xavi’s older we can all dress up as wizards.

After visiting Hogwarts we did more trick or treating until we were tired and kinda cold.

In progress calaca

On Sunday I put the finishing touches on our altar. This is the first time I put together an altar. It felt important this year for Xavi to see it and to also remember family and friends since we’re so far from everyone.

Muertos altar

We put up pictures of Sean’s Aunt Myrtle who passed away earlier this year, Kevin (2014), tío Joe (2010), Grandpa Bartolo (1997), Grandma Juana (2000), tío Johnny (2012) and Mamá Toni (2014). I made do with what I had on hand, could easily find. Rather than sugar skulls I colored calacas (Xavi helped) and put out cookies rather than pan de muerto. We also set out tamales (made Mamá Toni style), a ukulele (no guitar on hand) for my tío Johnny, pancakes and coffee for Grandpa and Grandma, and some more food. I didn’t have a needle and yarn for Mamá Toni, but did put up some of her handiwork. She knitted the pillow on the left.

Hope your Halloween was fun and safe. If you observe Día de los Muertos, I hope doing so was a nice remembrance of your loved ones’ lives.

*No unibrow because Frida is more than a unibrow, it’s barely visible in some photos. Plus, I don’t actually have an eyeliner pencil to draw it in.

Remembering Alicia

On Sunday my dad called me. I knew what he was going to say before he said it. _____ passed away, mija.

There’s something about his voice that is hard to hide when he calls to share news about a family member or friend’s passing.

This time the name was Alicia. He didn’t even need a last name.

Remembering Alicia

Alicia has always been just Alicia since I first got to know her in the early 1990s through church. Alicia was the primary organizer and benefactor of a ballet folkórico that formed at church. She did so much for us. She took time out of her schedule to organize the rehearsals, found places for us to perform and even helped pay for the fabric to make the dresses.

She showed us she cared and accomplished what she set out to do by starting the group. I don’t know when it happened, but when she was much younger, she lost a son to gang violence. As I recall, her son was no involved but he was an innocent victim. In her grief, Alicia tried to reach out to youth in gangs, but found that these youth may be too entrenched in the life. She needed to reach out to youth who weren’t involved yet.

Danny, Lori and I were all in elementary school when we started with the dance group and continued dancing for a few years. In those years we performed at the annual church carnival in the summer and for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe. We performed at her son’s restaurant in San Juan Capistrano and were paid in delicious carne asada nachos. Those performances were always extra fun as it was a short road trip with my good friends in the group. She also set up shows for us at youth group homes and convalescent homes.

Ballet Folkórico days (circa 1993)

The performances at the restaurant were fun, but the most memorable time was when Alicia organized a trip to the Shrine Auditorium for a performance of the Ballet Folkórico de México de Amalia Hernández. I remember being starstruck as Doña Hernández left through the stage door.

Thank you Alicia for all you did for us. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced ballet folkórico, but the zapateado and lessons have always stayed with me. More importantly, thank you for showing the importance of being involved in your community and contributing in whatever way you can as a role model. You were the definition of that lady in the village who looked out for us kids.

Thank you to Angelita, the mom of two of the girls in the group, for sharing this picture with my dad.

Introducing Xavi Be Like

I met Sean in 2002 but I didn’t get to know him until many years later. Enter our blogs. I read his blog, he read mine and we discovered we had a lot in common when it came to music, TV shows and the like. We’ve both been blogging so long that sometimes it feels like we’ve run out of topics, at least the ones we’re interested in sharing on a public blog. Parenting isn’t one of those topics.


As the child of two long time bloggers, it was only a matter of time before Xavi had his own blog (sorta).

Xavi Be Like is a collection of animated GIFs about toddler life and all the emotions it induces. Xavi’s an awesome kid, but he’s also a toddler who is, well, a toddler. There’s a reason “terrible twos” is a common — phrase not that it applies to our little angel. Nope.

Use your words: Starting over and a review of ‘Late-Talking Children’

Use your words, part I

Before we moved from LA I requested my medical records and did the same for Xavi. It was pretty much all review except for the results of Xavi’s initial assessment with the speech language pathologist. I remember looking through PDF and seeing the raw score, the age equivalent and percentile ranking and feeling like I’d been sucker punched. I wanted to cry.

What I heard from the SLP was “Xavi should get one hour of speech therapy. He also qualifies for early intervention pre-school. Let’s set up the former and you can look into the latter.”

It was something like that. On paper the situation seemed more dire.

Xavi started speech therapy for an hour a week and attended for about six weeks before we moved. The location was close and convenient and Xavi liked playing with new-to-him toys and running around the indoor gym/playground. He was also starting to make some improvements.

In the midst of starting a new job, getting acclimated, and moving I dropped the ball when it came to continuity for Xavi’s speech therapy. I finally called the county early intervention office after his second birthday. I shouldn’t have waited so long. I assumed that with our medical records and Xavi’s initial assessment in April he’d be able to start therapy soon. Nope.

Since we’re in New York, we had to restart the process. I wanted to kick myself. I should’ve called as soon as my new insurance kicked in on my first day at the new job. As expected, it’s taken several weeks to get Xavi in speech therapy once again. In the mean time he’s taken to communicating through lots of pointing, pulling us along, nodding his head, signing and using a few words. I’d love to hear him say “‘Bye, mamá” when I leave for work, but right now a big hug, waving goodbye are enough to give me warm fuzzies.

Below is our timeline:

  • August 3ish: Initial referral, I called the early intervention office
  • August 8: Receive the early intervention parent handbook
  • August 24: Intake session with coordinator
  • September 14: Assessment with speech and occupational therapists; immediately get results which confirm that Xavi has a speech delay and qualifies for services. Devise a plan with the intake coordinator.
  • Currently: Waiting for Xavi’s first appointment with his speech therapist in a week

Aside from waiting, the process has been pretty painless. After reading Late-Talking Children: A Symptom or a Stage? by Stephen Camarata I was worried that we’d have someone who would be pushing a diagnosis that didn’t fit or advocated something that could be harmful.


I started reading Late-Talking Children in the spring. I saw it a bookstore on campus and was intrigued enough to request it from the LA Public Library. I slacked on it and only got through the first couple of chapters. I bought the e-book and finished the second two-thirds a few weeks ago.

Late-Talking Children was exactly what I was looking for. It’s easy to go online and read some parenting magazine’s short post/article about speech delay or another parent’s experience, but I wanted evidenced-based info that was also accessible. Camarata lays out the current research and what is known about late-talking children while also including anecdotes seen through his clinic at Vanderbilt University.


While Late-Talking Children is very useful and reassuring, it also left me a bit worried and stressed. The first few chapters made me think that Xavi’s speech delay was a stage he’d grow out of rather than a symptom of something else typically linked to speech delay, particularly autism. This was probably why I got lazy and stopped reading initially. Plus, by that time Xavi was already in speech therapy and we were happy with the services he was receiving.

As I started reading more I got worried. Camarata writes about several cases where parents and their children didn’t receive the treatment they needed or clinicians/educators insisted on a certain diagnosis. He acknowledges that these instances are not the norm, but it’s still enough to make you think you’re going to need to go to battle every time you speak to a pediatrician, teacher, speech therapist or other professional who works with early intervention programs. Plus, I couldn’t help wondering about the socioeconomic aspect. I imagine it can be intimidating to argue about an IEP with teachers or clinicians if you’re not fluent in English or they talk down to you because you don’t have multiple degrees from fancy colleges or universities, not that this means everything will be easy as seen through Camarata’s personal experience. He and his wife, an experienced speech pathologist, faced challenges trying to get their late-talking son in a mainstream classroom. While they were both experts in this area, they still faced push back from the teachers and clinicians who were supposed to have his son’s best interest at heart. Yikes.

Thus far, I haven’t felt like I’m doing battle. It’s been the opposite as the only challenge has been waiting a pretty normal amount of time from referral to beginning speech therapy. The handbook we received from NY early intervention office clearly outlines parents’ rights such asking for a second evaluation or declining services. For instance, if the occupational therapist found that Xavi had issues with fine or gross motor skills and recommended occupational therapy, I could have declined this without affecting his right to have speech therapy.

Interesting thing to note: Camarata never mentions bilingualism as a possible cause for late-talking in his section on characteristics of late-talking children.

Overall, I recommend reading Late-Talking Children if you want to be better prepared to advocate for your child if he/she needs early intervention services.

Late summer

Xavi’s review: I like this book because there’s a train on the cover. [Seriously, I had to hide the hardcover book when I had it because Xavi would take it away from me. He loves his trains and instantly likes a book more if it includes a picture of a train.]

Working mom FOMO

Zoo time

This morning Sean and Xavi came with me to Syracuse. While I attended my meeting they visited the zoo, which was on all the lists of toddler friendly things to do in the city. I knew that was the plan but it didn’t even cross my mind to object because I’d be missing a first. It just seemed like a great activity. Plus, they needed to do something while I was in my meeting.

I didn’t realize until we met up for lunch after the meeting and we talked about the visit that I’d missed Xavi’s first visit to the zoo. I didn’t get to see his face the first time he saw an elephant (he was more interested in some kids and their wagon) and monkeys. I wasn’t there to make him roar at the tiger and try to wake it up. And I wasn’t there to buy some totally cute toy or stuffed animal — that he does not need — in the gift shop.

But Sean was there and he took pictures and told me stories over lunch and the drive home. Xavi had a good time too, which is more important than me being right next to him. We’ll have more opportunities for fun outings.

I’ve always known I’d miss some firsts, but outings like this didn’t cross my mind because up until a few months ago Sean and I were both working outside the home. We both missed his first steps. His babysitter and grandparents witnessed it and took video. A few hours later Sean and I came home from our respective jobs to the gleeful news from my mother-in-law. She was really hoping Xavi would begin walking during her visit. You can imagine her excitement and pride.

This zoo thing, though? It’s like when you see mutual friends hanging out and it bugs you even though you know that’s dumb because even if you were invited you wouldn’t be able to go.

I shouldn’t have any FOMO (fear of missing out — don’t worry I’d never heard of this until one of the students I work with mentioned it) about my husband and son doing fun stuff together. I should just be thankful we can get by with our current family work arrangements and that I have an awesome husband and Xavi has an amazing dad who also makes beautiful pictures and funny videos so I can feel like I was there.

Mini shopper

After lunch we visited the only Trader Joe’s in a 70 mile radius (*tear*). Xavi made a beeline for the mini shopping carts and immediately filled his with the bananas he picked out and my favorite cereal. He’s always fixated on other kids’ toy shopping carts so letting him push the real deal must’ve been exciting. At least I was there for that first and to make sure he didn’t knock down a display or run over anyone’s toes.

Looking for my friends

A couple weeks ago I sat down and looked at our recent spending to figure out if we could afford to enroll Xavi in preschool part-time. We hadn’t intended to sign him up this soon, but the school is close by and had a last-minute opening. After doing the numbers a few things were clear.

  1. I’m spending a lot on new work clothes. My new department only allows casual clothes on Fridays.
  2. We’re not spending much on gifts anymore.

The latter was just one more reminder of all the birthday parties, showers and weddings we are missing. Put another way, we have no social life. 

Friday comes and Sean asks, “What’s going on this weekend?” I used to be able to rattle off a few different options. Even if there wasn’t a formal party coming up, just spending a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at my mom’s house felt like a family gathering thanks to Papá Chepe’a visitor. (A positive side effect of the stroke. It’s brought our family even closer together.)
Now I might say there’s some event I need to do for work but otherwise it’s do chores and hang out as a threesome.

If I was in LA today I’d be in the middle of getting ready to attend my fourth wedding of the summer — pretty average for us — and second of the month. Today, Elizabeth and César will get married. I’ve known Elizabeth since she was a toddler and her family moved to our block. They quickly became close friends. We even visited them in Jalpa, Zacatecas one December and went to Elizabeth’s quinceañera. By chance, I got to see the proposal too. César threw a decoy party complete with delicious tacos and a mariachi. I’m definitely sad to miss this wedding (plus her family throws awesome parties).

Last week I missed David (it feels weird not to call him Oso) and Iris’s wedding. I checked out the photos taken by other friends I met through blogging. I wish it could’ve been like the Carlsbad blogger reunion of early 2012, but alas it’s tough to travel with a toddler cross country. 

Earlier in the summer I missed Diana and Carlos’s wedding. I’ve known Diana since 2002 and would’ve loved to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara celebrating with them. Unfortunately, their wedding was on the weekend right before I started my new job and we had already moved. 

At least I didn’t miss my cousin Vanny’s wedding in early June. I was lucky my new job was okay with me starting later than their target or I might’ve missed Vanny and Junior’s nuptials.

Of course, I knew I’d be missing events when I decided to move. That was part of the deal since I don’t have an unlimited travel budget and vacation days. 

What I didn’t expect was how difficult it is to make friends and how lonely weekends feel just us three. I know I need to give it time. I’ve only been here about 11 weeks and have actually  met a number of kind and friendly people. We say “yes” to the things we are invited to like a picnic for Latinos in the area. We’ve even been to a birthday party. 

But still on weekends like this and last I wish I could teleport the three of us to LA for a good party or BBQ, delicious food and amazing people. 


For now, you might just find me running around the Ithaca Commons skipping like Sid the Science Kid singing “I’m looking for my friends, I’m looking for you!” 

35 notes for my 35th birthday


Monday was my 35th birthday. To commemorate the start of another year of life, I’m giving 35 snippets on life, things I like, and whatever else is too short to really warrant a blog post.

The first card I received for my birthday was delivered last Wednesday. It was a butterfly painted in water colors by Papá Chepe. On the back he wrote “feliz cumpleaños” and signed his name. It was perfect. I might’ve cried. Following his stroke, he’s had to relearn to write with his left hand.

Sean got me a silly card about farting. Don’t worry, the romance is still there. We just share the same immature sense of humor.

Xavi’s card featured Thomas and Friends and had stickers. I let him keep the stickers.

For some reason he puts his stickers on his sock-covered feet. He’s silly like that.

Bubble time

Sean and Xavi gave me a comal. I forgot the old one on the stove back in LA. Sean said this one had the best reviews. All the other ones “got hot too fast” or “burned [owner’s] tortillas.” I’m baffled that a comal can get a bad review. These people have to be doing it wrong.

I used to be a big fan of taking the day off on my birthday and doing something like going to Disneyland. Not this year. It’s the second week of the semester and our office is still pretty busy with welcome events, orientations and the like. Plus, there’s no Disneyland nearby.

Family members in LA called to wish me a happy birthday. Again, Papá Chepe’s birthday greetings were most touching. He sang “Las Mañanitas” to me. It was beautiful. (The photo above is from the day we left LA.)

I’m a little bummed I wasn’t in LA for my birthday, but not upset to miss the triple-degree heat.

No one at work knew it was my birthday.

I ordered myself a necklace from MALA by Patty Rodriguez. It hasn’t arrived yet. I’m such a slacker on buying birthday gifts that even when I treat myself the gift is late.

Sean has started blogging again. He’s calling his posts about the stay-at-home-dad life S.A.H.D. State of Affairs. Don’t worry. He’s not really sad unless Xavi skips his nap.

We’ve started the process of trying to get Xavi in to speech therapy through early intervention. Since we’re in a new state, we basically have to start all over again. I have a lot of feelings about this, but the people we’re working with are quite kind.

I finally finished Late-Talking Children: A Symptom or a Stage? by Stephen M. Camarata. It’s a good guide for parents on how to navigate the system. It’s also simultaneously worrisome and reassuring. Of note: Camarata never mentions bilingualism. Thus supporting my doubt that bilingual kids are more likely to have speech delay as has been stated a few times when I’ve written about Xavi’s speech delay.

According to Goodreads I’m 4 books behind target to reach my goal (75). Boo. Must download more audiobooks. Or maybe I should count the books I read to Xavi. Note: I love that the librarians put together an easy list of books about trains for kids like Xavi who are obsessed.

I found out recently that LA Public Library cards can expire. That’s not cool. At least the university library has ebooks and audiobooks accessible through OverDrive. Yeah, plus one for being at an Ivy League institution!

I’ve had a few fish out of water moments. One: At a secondhand kids store I put down my name after purchasing a toddler bed and table for Xavi. I spelled out Mosqueda for the cashier. She tried to pronounce and I corrected her as I’ve done many, many times over my life. Her response to the correct pronunciation? “That’s beautiful.” Rather innocuous, but it was just so strange. I’ve never heard anyone describe my last name as beautiful.

Technically I have two last names, but the second is much easier to spell and for ease and not to confuse folks I keep it to Mosqueda. This way I can avoid folks thinking Mosqueda is my middle name and calling me Ms. Campbell. That sounds so weird!

Fish out of water moment two: The waitress at a Mexican restaurant in Ithaca was totally confused when Sean ordered mole. Yes, it was on the menu under the chicken dishes. Either she was new and didn’t know the menu very well or she thought it was pronounced like the animal.

The tortilla section at WalMart was full of Old El Paso taco shells, taco bowls and other products. There were NO corn tortillas. I nearly cried. I have a tortilla press and can get the masa to make my own, but I’m also kinda lazy.

I bought less than a pound of queso fresco for almost $7.50. It doesn’t even taste like queso fresco. Luckily, when my mom visited in late July she brought lots of supplies. I have some frozen queso fresco for emergencies.

When people find out I’m from LA they’re really curious about why I’d move to Ithaca. I know the winter is going to be rough, but I came here for the same reason they did, to advance my education/career.

They ask a lot about how I like Ithaca. Although I’ve been here two months I haven’t had much of a chance to explore. Plus, I can’t really assess the town when a sizeable chunk of the population was gone for the summer. Xavi and Sean have explored lots of parks and kids activities.

I do say that I’m surprised by the noisiness in our neighborhood from traffic and the neighbors across the street. My neighbors in LA were pretty noisy but by the evening it quieted down. Here we still have large trucks or emergency vehicles drive by (we are at a major intersection).

We went to a park that was 20 minutes away this weekend. I told Sean, “Oh, it’s far,” after I had mapped it out. Ithaca is messing with my sense of what is close and what is far.

I miss our old churches, both St. John Vianney and St. Augustine. I miss the option of an afternoon mass, air conditioning (at least at SJV) and the music.

I miss my favorite cereal and yogurt from Trader Joe’s. The nearest location is in Syracuse (which I learned is pronounced like Sara-cuse not Si-ra-cuse). I stocked up on items when we were in Long Island over Xavi’s birthday weekend. My old co-workers also sent me a care package with TJ’s snacks. I miss them too.

I missed family and LA most on the day my mom flew back to LA. She visited for ten days in late July and early August. In between flights I texted her that she should get some reast. She said she couldn’t even sleep because she was so sad to leave Xavi. Ugh.

While my mom was here we took advantage of the free babysitting. We watched Inside Out. It was entertaining, but nowhere near my favorite Pixar movie. It did make me wonder about Xavi’s core memories that are shaping his identity.

Speaking of no longer having access to free babysitting, I was surprised to see Ithaca as one of the top 10 most expensive cities to raise a family in the US. The list came from a report by the Economic Policy Institute on What Families Need to Get By. Here I thought I was moving to an area with a lower cost of living, but not so if you factor in taxes and child care. I recommend doing the side-by-side comparisons.

Any disjointed post or photo dump should include recent favorites. I won’t include things I pay for because I’m not about endorsing stuff. First: Super Mamás Podcast – Bricia and Paulina Lopez, two sister and new moms living in LA. Bricia’s little boy is about 4 months old and Paulina has two girls (about 1 and 4, I think). The two sisters speak about striking a balance between using the knowledge they might have gained from their traditional Mexican families along with newer or modern parenting approaches. They have great guests who discuss mom issues I hear less about in other parenting podcasts such as what it’s like to be a teen mom, a singly mom or being a full-time working mom who also has side hustles as an entrepreneur. The podcast is pretty new and they’re only 9 episodes in. However, I’ve already come to look forward to their new episodes. Coincidentally, both sisters delivered their babies at the same hospital where I delivered Xavi. So when they recounted their birth stories I could imagine the same maternity ward. Even better, most of their guests are from LA and they have that LA Chicana/Latina accent I miss.

Another Round Podcast with Heben and Tracy – They just make Tuesdays better. I’ve “known” Tracy Clayton through and #thatsite for many years. I knew she was hilarious in written form, but her humor and stories are just as entertaining via podcast. Heben Nigatu is also a writer for BuzzFeed and together they make a great team. It probably helps that they have great guests such as Roxane Gay and Lianne La Havas. In the most recent episode they featured small children giving advice on how to be a big brother or sister. I might’ve cried thinking of (a) how awesome it is to have siblings and (b) how I want Xavi to have that experience.

Sherman Alexie’s Twitter feed is hilarious. I want to favorite every single tweet. He also started a podcast about a year ago with long-time friend and fellow writer, Jess Walter. On A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment they read works in progress, chat with other writers, answer listener questions about the process and discuss things such as the role of grief in their writing process.

OverDrive and public library memberships. OverDrive makes it easy to search for and download eBooks and audiobooks from various public library systems. I rarely buy books these days for myself (Xavi still gets new books) because I just don’t have much space. I borrow from OverDrive through the university and local library system.

Radio Ambulante is my favorite podcast in Spanish. Well, it’s the only podcast I listen to in Spanish. It’s hosted by writer Daniel Alarcón and features stores by journalist throughout the public radio world. I need more podcasts in Spanish, but for now Radio Ambulante will do.

Turning 35 years old means I’m now of advanced maternal age which could factor in when/if we try for another baby. I didn’t have a rough go of it the first time around at 32 years old, so I can only hope that a few years doesn’t make a big difference.

Second Quarter Bookishness

Early in the year I zipped through a couple of books a week. By March I was way ahead of my overall goal for the year (75) and thought I might even get to 100. Then I discovered a jigsaw puzzle app which was quite relaxing but cut in to reading time unless I was listening to an audiobook. Then I found out I got a new job and we started the moving process. Rather than read in the evening I was looking for a place to live, packing and all that fun stuff.

That’s all to say I’m really slowing down, but still making decent progress toward my goal.

Anyway, on to the mini reviews.


5 Stars 2nd Quarter

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I was a huge fan of the Veronica Mars TV series. I’m bummed we only got a few seasons before the series was cancelled. You can imagine my excitement when I saw someone mention the Veronica Mars book as one they were reading to fulfill a challenge (book basked on or turned in to a TV show). I downloaded the audiobook narrated by Kristen Bell and loved it. It picks up where the movie leaves off and takes us back to solve the case of some young women who go missing in Neptune during spring break.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I listened to the audiobook for this outlandish story of a Singaporean family and the wealth that I can’t even begin to imagine. The plot centers around Rachel Chu and her boyfriend, Nick Young, two professors living in New York. Rachel knows little about Nick’s family and doesn’t come to find out that he’s part of a secretive old money family in Singapore.

The story is fun even if it’s tough trying to remember who is who in the Young-T’Sien-Cheng family trees. I listened to the audiobook so I didn’t see the family tree until much later.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

It’s easy to see why Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming has earned her so much praise and earned her the 2014 National Book Award. The book is written in autobiographical short poems that all can stand on their own but go well together. It reminded me of The House on Mango Street in that sense. We follow young Jacqueline as her family moves from the South Carolina in a segregated part of town to Brooklyn. The poems are about things like her little brother getting lead poisoning, enjoying summer days in South Carolina and going to Jehova’s Witnesses church services. My only complaint is that I feel the book ended too soon, when Jacqueline is entering her teen years and both the South and North are feeling the affect of the Civil Rights Movement.


4 Stars 2nd Quarter

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn is an excellent satirical novel following some heroes from the early days of the war in Iraq. Bravo Squad is home for a “Victory Tour”. Most of the action occurs in one day as the men attend a Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. While they’re simultaneously treated like heroes, they also know that soon they’ll be sent back to Iraq. It’s billed as the Catch 22 of the Iraq War, but I think it’s much funnier. Granted, I don’t think I finished reading Catch 22.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I’ve heard parts of Jim Gaffigan’s stand up about being a father. Thus, some sections were repetitive. However, I overall really enjoyed it as someone who currently has a small child. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Gaffigan.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I’m ashamed to admit that Roxane Gay wasn’t really on my social media radar before I started seeing her 2014 books, An Untamed State and Bad Feminist on my radar. Nevertheless, I’m glad I’ve read both her recent fiction and nonfiction. My favorite essays tended to be about pop culture (Sweet Valley High series) and the intersection with issues of race and class. Gay also made me think twice about unlikable main characters and why likability shouldn’t really matter in literature.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro tackles loss in a new way through The Buried Giant set in the England of King Arthur’s time. While I enjoyed the book overall, it was a little bit of a slog. I actually liked it more after hearing the Ishiguro on the Bookworm podcast where he discussed his motivations for writing the novel. I had that “aha, now I see what you were doing there” moment I was too dense to figure out earlier.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I didn’t anything about The First Bad Man before reading it, I just expected it to be odd and a bit funny like other Miranda July stories. I liked where the novel went and how it made me think about my own identity shifting in recent years as I became a mother.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I never read A Wrinkle In Time as a kid and it was on the list of must reads for 9-14 year-olds. I liked it, but it overall felt too short. Not sure I want to read the whole series.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

I’m glad I gave Lianne Moriarty another try after What Alice Forgot which I complained was too long and trying to do too much, even if the premise was interesting. Big Little Lies takes us back to the suburbs of Sydney and focuses on the lives of three women whose children attend the same school. Madeline is aggressive and likes to start fights. She’s fiercely loyal to her best friend, Celeste, and takes Jane, a new, young single mom, under her wing. Everything gets pretty dramatic rather quickly. Considering that it’s about murder and domestic violence, the book is actually rather entertaining.

THREE STAR BOOKS (and one 2)

3 Stars 2nd Quarter

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas Marie-Helene Bertino

All the action in 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas occurs on December 23rd, Christmas Eve Eve. I liked it, but should have probably read the book. There are a number of characters and plots to follow that all come together without feeling forced. Madeleine is a little girl who recently lost her mother to cancer. The neighbors and local business owners look out for her as her father seems too grief stricken to really parent. She has trouble at her Catholic school where her teacher, Sarina Greene, takes pity on her. Then there’s the owner of the club, Lorca, and his group of musicians and family. Overall, it’s an enjoyable story but I was thrown off by the magical realism elements.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

It’s easy to see why The Girl on the Train is on bestseller lists. Read it if you really liked Gone Girl and psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators and characters you find it tough to cheer for.

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Mr. Kiss and Tell is the second book in the Veronica Mars series. Veronica is hired once again by the owner of the Neptune Grand to find out if the woman who said she was raped by an employee of the hotel is actually telling the truth. Veronica quickly finds that this isn’t just about the rape of one young woman and uncovers a bigger crime. I think I would’ve liked this more if Kristen Bell narrated the audiobook once again.

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

I really liked the other recent books I’ve read by Ann Patchett, but didn’t love The Patron Saint of Liars. I’ve a read a few books recently about reluctant and absent mothers. Rose Clinton isn’t absent, but she’s definitely got a complicated relationship. The novels begins when she simply drives away from San Diego where she lived with her husband. All she leaves is a note. She goes to St. Elizabeth’s, a home for unwed mothers run by nuns, in a small Kentucky town. While the other women leave St. Elizabeth’s after having their children and giving them up for adoption, Rose stays and continues to work as the cook.

Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins [2 stars]

I needed to read a romance novel for the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I picked a book that featured protagonists of color. As a plus, it’s set in 1800s California. Mariah Cooper is a young seamstress living with her mom in an east coast city (Philadelphia? I can’t remember). She answers and add asking for a housekeeper placed by the widowed mistress of a ranch in northern California. She quickly gets to work and clashes with Logan Yates, her new boss who also happens to be a very handsome and eligible bachelor. It was okay, but I’m not intrigued enough to read the rest of the books in the series.

On Muerto Mouse, Coco and Haters

Sunday morning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz joyfully announced via Facebook that he was working on the new Disney Pixar Day of the Dead-themed animated film, Coco.

ESPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I have been sitting on this news, but it’s finally time to let you know that I am on the team creating the new Pixar Day of the Dead movie titled “Coco”. [link]

I responded “Firme,” which is Mexican slang that loosely translates to “cool.”

What I didn’t write was that I was kinda surprised and may have raised an eyebrow or two. I’ve been following Lalo’s art since the ’90s and when I met him him years ago at the Pocho Hour of Power event  I asked him to sign the calendar I bought and took a picture with him. I don’t want to say I’m a fangirl, but I’ve cut out and saved my share of La Cucaracha cartoons over the years.

Lalo’s political cartoons first made me laugh when I saw them in the LA Weekly. He critiqued mainstream Hollywood and racist/xenophobic practices alike.

While some people brought up Muerto Mouse, — more on that — I thought way earlier to Migra Mouse. From Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration, a collection of Lalo’s political cartoons:

“Migra Mouse represents the corporate interest of the Walt Disney company, which donated money to then California Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign. Wilson was exploiting the illegal immigration issue in the most divisive way, so I felt it was necessary to point out that wholesome Disney was affiliating itself with Wislon and Proposition 187, a xenophobic state ballot.”

A lot changes in 20 years… or even two years.

In May 2013, Disney made the epic blunder of trying to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in anticipation of the movie. Rightfully, this pissed off Chicanos and Latinos everywhere who were tired of seeing the appropriation of DDLM without respect for its roots. Lalo made Muerto Mouse, a mock poster for the movie, that was quite popular.

With this history, there were some people who were understandably scratching their heads. Like, what gives, man? Lalo explained himself when questioned. The patent attempts were dropped because of the pressure, Disney listened. Isn’t this what we want, greater representation and diversity in mainstream Hollywood? With him as part of the creative team he could to his best to ensure the culture was respected. And, I thought, he’s an artist who has the right to make the best decisions for his career and his family. I’d be a hypocrite if criticized Lalo for making a move to advance his career after just doing that myself by going from a public university of an elite private university. I can’t deny that compensation and career advancement were not part of my decision. Bills don’t pay themselves.

Later that day I saw this come up in my feed.


On Monday morning, Lalo posted this:


Something bothered me about Lalo and others’, namely Gustavo Arellano, response to the critics. It was the abject dismissal of the haters and tying it to an ethnic trait, even if jokingly. Being critical is hardly exclusive to Mexicans. Furthermore, it begs the question. If I share the same background as you, do I have to always approve or like the work you’re doing be it in politics or art? Do white people get accused of crab mentality if they say anything other than “Awesome! Congratulations!”? Perhaps “You are not expected to support culture produced by someone of same race” should be added to Peggy McIntosh’s invisible backpack of white privilege.

And were people really that critical? No!

I went back to Lalo’s initial announcement to see if there was a backlash I missed. The first thing I noticed was that the news got a ton of likes and shares. There’s no way to know if these are all positive, so my rudimentary research focused on the comments. Of 450 comments, most were congratulatory. In fact, since I like making charts and playing with Excel, I looked up some common words to see their frequency.


There are 323 total mentions of the words I searched; some of these were surely mentioned by the same commenter (“Congratulations! This is awesome news! Good luck!!!!”). I also searched for Muerto Mouse (<10 mentions; some by Lalo himself) and Migra Mouse (1 mention). The comment that garnered Lalo’s “so it begins screenshot” wasn’t representative by any means. And no one called him a tío Taco (sell out or Uncle Tom) except one lady. When he posted about his critics or haters, the vast majority of people responding to the critics sided with Lalo and lauded him with more praise. I doubt he deleted comments.

I favor constructive criticism and debate. In a medium like social media, everyone can share their opinion. Chicanos and Latinos do not, nor should they, all agree that Day of the Dead traditions need to be shared in mainstream entertainment. We are not a monolith. I have mixed feelings on DDLM going mainstream but have also purchased sugar skull patterned bags, clothing at the mall and stamps at the craft store. I’ve enjoyed Lalo’s art for many years and hope his humor will come through in inside jokes or Easter Eggs as is common with Pixar films. As for Disney/Pixar, I usually love Pixar movies and grew up watching lots of Disney movies in the ’90s. Toy Story is one of my favorites and the Lee Unkrich/Darla Anderson producer/director team made me cry last time I watched one of their animated movies, Toy Story 3. I go to Disneyland occasionally, wear Minnie Mouse ears, and sing Disney songs to my son. I like that Coco, which features a little boy named Miguel, may be one of his first moviegoing experiences.

What I’m not down with is exaggeration and blanket statements, but I’ll do one of my own. Maybe Jerezanos* like Lalo and Gustavo just attract more hate than others. And if that’s the case, then I’m wondering when I’ll get a share of that hate.

[*Jerezanos are people from Jerez a city in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. Lalo, Gustavo and I all have roots there.]

Xavi is two


Xavi is two years old*. That feels weird yet natural to write. It’s not the time that’s passed, but the way we measure it. We’re no longer saying his age in months when people ask.

My son has changed a lot since we first met him that sunny Thursday afternoon. He’s no longer the tiny newborn who nurses frequently and is swaddled to sleep. He’s a bright and silly toddler who says a lot without using many words. He’s obsessed with trains and freaks out when the train rolls by a block away.

And while he is bigger and more active, there is so much that doesn’t change. I still want to cuddle him even if he can wriggle free in two seconds flat. I stare at him while he sleeps amazed that Sean and I made such a beautiful creature. I still send poop emoji because dirty diapers are still an event. His hair still gets him lots of attention and comments and his smile and giggle are the best sounds ever. And he still loves my singing and listening to stories.


Ride On

We spent Xavi’s birthday at my in-laws’ house in Long Island. From a two-year-old’s standpoint, it might’ve been the best day ever as it was filled with his favorites and he was spoiled by 1.5 sets of grandparents (my mom was in town).

The word has spread that he’s a bit obsessed with Thomas and Friends and trains in general. My mother-in-law bought him a train he can ride on as well as an iPad. Xavi now officially has the newest iPad in the family. The big train and smaller trains joined Xavi’s collection of Thomases (Thomi?) that my mom helped grow by bringing some of the magnetic trains he left behind in LA and buying him new trains.

2nd birthday

After exploring the stairs at grandma’s we walked down the street for a block party. It was the perfect weather a neighborhood block party. Xavi had a good time trying to stay upright in the bouncy house and playing with water, two more favorites. I was a little squeamish about seeing him play with a water gun, but he’d rather just pour out water from a cup and splash water.

He also had a small birthday party. It was a low key affair compared to his first birthday bash. Eula invited over some friends from the neighborhood and church. She cooked up a bunch of delicious food and we played in the backyard and tried not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Xavi played bubbles and soccer with his grandpa. I don’t think he’s ready either for El Tri or the Reggae Boyz squads, but if there was a selección nacional team for chasing and popping bubbles Xavi would surely make the team.

And last there was cake! Who doesn’t love cake.

The perks of being a small toddler.

We returned to Ithaca on Sunday. Xavi had one last awesome experience. He got to sit on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during a rest stop. The very kind bikers kept calling him a little girl — he gets that a lot thanks to the long hair — but the only thing that bothered him was when I took him away.

Oops. Sorry little guy.

*And a couple of weeks. I’m a little late in posting this.