The multiple meanings of ‘Feast or Famine’

Orange tree whose fruite is ready to harvest - looks like feast

Photo by Brian Jimenez, Unsplash

Most freelancers are well aware that, when it comes to getting work, it’s a feast-or-famine game.

When I lost my job a few years ago, it took me a long time to realize that rest is no different. If it were, we wouldn’t put so much work into planning vacations. I mean, we have to plan to rest.

Thank God for my mom who knows me better than anyone, because I’m not sure I could have taken this wise counsel from anyone else the way I did from her.

Basically, she told me this: Enjoy this time as rest. You may never have this opportunity again.

That resonated in a way I wasn’t expecting. She was telling me to go out more, rekindle old friendships, enjoy a few coffee shops, play more tennis – all things I could never do that readily before.

As it turns out, I did in fact have that “rest” opportunity again.

Once again, it took awhile to figure out that, while it didn’t feel like rest at first, this season might be short-lived. So I’d better make the most of it.

And it’s when “feast or famine” took on a whole new meaning.

Happy 97th, Desi Arnaz!

hb-desi-arnaz

I loved growing up with this man on my television. Little did I know how much his musical influence would become a fixture in my life. All the happier for it.

You can do better

I’m really happy there is finally some representation of ethnic families with sitcoms like ABC’s “Blackish” and “Cristela.” Most weeks Blackish makes me laugh until I cry. Culturally, though, I relate most to Cristela.

While I don’t find Cristela’s mom’s character entirely believable as a first-generation American, I can appreciate the lessons she teaches.

Tonight’s episode especially hit home with me.

natalia

ABC’s Cristela’s mom Natalia (Terri Hoyos) defends a difficult parenting decision. (Source: Cristela FB page)

In this episode, Cristela’s mom, Natalia, reveals she had not entered Cristela, now a 20- or 30-something legal intern, into the gifted and talented program when she was a little girl because “people like us” didn’t belong in “fancy programs” like that. Basically, they would have been aiming too high, beyond their social status.

Cristela’s character eventually comes to appreciate her mother’s decision, made out of the desire to protect her. Natalia was, after all, a single mom doing the best she could for her young family.

This struggle triggered something in me I totally didn’t expect – a belated appreciation for my mom’s determination to ensure my best possible future.

It actually set off my tear ducts.

[Cue high school memory scene.]

One time, in high school, I came home with less-than-perfect grades – mostly As, with a couple of A- and a B+. I was so excited to show my mom! She would be so proud.

“You can do better.” That was her response.

What??? I can do what??? You mean, that wasn’t good enough?

I carried this disbelief, the shock and the sense that I’d disappointed my mom for – well, let’s just say it went on far too long.

What I didn’t realize then that I realize now – and, truly, especially after watching Cristela tonight – was that my mom was pushing me to aim higher.

Nothing at all wrong with protecting one’s kids from ridicule and humiliation. My mom, however, was willing to take that risk – taking me with her – of not being accepted for being different (which, by this age, I was pretty good at).

As someone who had to leave school at 12 to work and support her family, she knew working harder would grow both my character and my capacity. She knew I could do better.

My mom has never done anything less than teach me to be strong, have faith and, in the face of difficulty, get back up and dust myself off.

As we approach in a few weeks what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be grateful for her strength and endurance since losing my dad nearly 30 years ago.

She remains my best girlfriend and biggest cheerleader. Even today, the way she lives her life is a reminder that we can always do better. So I will.

Imagine the other side

other-side-2

Sometimes I look back through my social media posts to see what they tell me about where my heart and mind have been the last few months.

It looks like lately, I’ve mentioned – a lot – the longer days, starting with Dec. 22, the day after winter solstice. I used not to care a lot about winter (or summer) solstice – the shortest and longest days of the year, respectively.

These days, I care a whole lot about them. I guess it’s because they have everything to do with getting to the other side: the other side of winter, short days, cold. Or, the other side of tennis season – a break for my body and muscles, a time to slow down with the seasons.

I won’t lie – I love winter solstice most. Because on the other side of that is spring, summer, my garden, new life, fresh perspective for a new year.

Missing the other side

There was a time, for about five years, when I spent a lot of time on airplanes, trying to get to the other side of the world and back again.

Most of those trips lasted 10-15 days each. A few were longer. One thing I learned then was this mind-blowing fact about myself: I’m a home body. I love to be home.

Good thing my name comes from Latin “nido,” meaning “nest.” Because I took my nest with me wherever I went, settling into my aisle seats with music, pillow, book, travel wallet, journal and favorite writing pens.

I would set up for the long haul – literally – and miss home every minute I was away. Never mind the wonderful relationships on the outbound side. Nothing ever can replace those. I just like to be home, that’s all.

Envision the other side

So I had to devise a strategy for keeping myself “up” for the duration of each trip, whether I was there for training, story-gathering, meetings or whatever. I prayed for health and strength and presence for what I went there to do.

What I came up with was this very simple formula: Imagine myself on the other side of my trip. Imagine what I’d do when I first got home, besides eat a cheeseburger. That didn’t count. Enjoy friendships, spend time with my hubby, get groceries, talk to my mom every day. Simple things.

So on every trip, each day I would tell myself: In 9 days, I’ll be home in my own bed, or In 3 days, I head back on the midnight flight.

Knowing I was working in my strengths – bringing clarity to issues around children in poverty and equipping others for the same – gave me assurance I was in the right place at the right time. That helped a lot.

But when I missed home, I just imagined myself back with my family, and that peace carried me from that moment all the way through the rest of the trip.

That was how I got to the other side: by imagining it.

My happy, happy Valentine’s heart

heartWhat a wonderful weekend.

It wasn’t eventful, but it was full.

It wasn’t fancy, but it was lovely.

It wasn’t full of fanfare, but it was full of joy.

It wasn’t hysterical, but it was funny.

It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and that’s what made it special.

A new book, a new secret decoder pen

Today felt more like Christmas than Valentine’s Day.

finding-your-mexican-ancestorsMy mailman brought me a reference book I’d ordered to help with my family history research. Great timing, since Finding Your Mexican Ancestors is like my secret decoder pen for unlocking key records about when my grandfather and grandmother came to the U.S.

Along with increasingly available online resources, this book (and anything by Ryskamp) offers so much context, I’ll now have a better idea of why, how and where I’ll find records to fill in some of our gaps.

I can’t help but be more amazed every time I turn around to learn how genealogy has evolved technologically since I last worked on my family’s history. But sometimes analog is still the best way to go to find answers to lingering questions.

In any case, it makes for a great Christmas Valentine’s Day present.

A picture worth a biography (or four)

cabello-kids-being-themselvesI found this photo the other day of my brothers and me, plus a couple of our cousins, during one of our visits to South Texas from the Midwest. Vintage 1975 in every way.

We were in my grandma’s kitchen, where pretty much where all socializing took place.

Times haven’t really changed much, have they?

Only a handful of years later, we would move there, and I would spend a lot more time in that kitchen watching Chespirito, Sábado Gigante or whatever telenovela was blaring from Grandma’s TV.

The funny thing is, this snapshot perfectly captures our personalities.

My oldest brother, Noe (Spanish for “Noah”) is in back, holding our younger cousin. Noe has always been the quiet, loving caregiver and nurturer, taking his love for babies and kids from our dad.

In front, from left to right: My brother Edgar, looking sly (as usual), is eyeing whatever Eddy is about to bite into.

And me, in my Ernie-and-Bert shirt, well, I’m posing for – I don’t know, another camera? My only explanation I have is that one of my aunts used to call me “Miss America,” and I was probably working hard to live up to her prediction. (The closest I ever got was Barbie-doll boot camp at Pan Am. We know how that went.)

Behind me is our other little cousin, about 2 years younger than her brother Noe is carrying. I suspect she’s standing on the oversized, bell-bottomed pants Noe is undoubtedly wearing. Which can only mean one thing: platform shoes.

Grandmas & girl power

Wasn’t planning on writing about this today but I do want to be intentional about sharing the “big things” I learn through researching my family’s history. I mean, if we don’t learn about our future by remembering our past, then why spend all this time looking at dead people?

One thing that has jumped out in the last few days is the suffrage and increased liberation of women during the period of time I’ve been researching – late 19th to early 20th centuries.

From my paternal grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, her ability to capitalize on new technology to create a business and her marriage choice (as well as my maternal grandmother’s), I’m learning that both of my grandmas took the opportunity to express important life choices under great pressure.

It turns out both of them had been committed to men for marriage before they actually married my grandfathers. Same story, different family: both ended up marrying for love – and eloping.

Love this one: One of my grandmas was given the choice between a piano – you know, something big to win over her heart – if she chose not to marry my grandfather, an illiterate ranch hand (whose father had been shot while playing music in a nightclub) for whom she had immense compassion and, eventually, love.

Last I heard, my grandfather wasn’t made up of a big, wooden box and 88 black and white keys.

Dots

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 9.33.48 PM

From the game Two Dots, Level 42, where I continue to suck.

Ever played Two Dots? I’ve never seen two dots that could mess me up so good.

So here I am, at Level 42 (pun definitely intended), where I plan to hang out awhile. Mostly because I can’t connect enough dots to get any farther. I think this is where my usual ability to think and plan ahead comes to a grinding halt.

For years, that’s just how I have felt about connecting my family’s “dots,” too. Until this weekend. 

For 20+ years – all I knew was that my great-grandfather’s birth family wasn’t his birth family at all.

In the last week, I’ve found the dots he connected to originally and then those he connected to later, leaving me to investigate when and why he changed families. I have theories, of course. But I’d rather have dots – the connected kind.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of talking with my aunt, my dad’s youngest sister. She set me straight on who said what and the origins of my blog’s name.

She also put me in a better position to locate records about their father – not that far back in our ancestry, of course. But between that and my other recent findings, I can actually start connecting dots that have sat unattached for far too long. Much better than Level 42.

What Poor Mexican Gone really means

Weekends are for fact-checking. In fact, I’m thinking of using them to write more about my family’s history, since I have more time on weekends to do research.

I’m more fascinated every day by how the world, as it evolved, was a macro image of things happening in my own family and in the fast-changing Mexican and Mexican-American cultures.

For now, I got one fact wrong – an important one. And I love the correction!

Today I learned that the “poor mexican gone” saying didn’t come from my my mom’s mom, although she was known for making up some pretty funny ones.

It turns out this phrasing came from my paternal grandfather – my dad’s dad.

So what started as this:

Cuando hitty con un cartucho
No come back
Cuando de repente pún
Poor Mexican gone

Actually meant this:

When you pull the trigger [on the gun],
The bullet doesn’t come back
When it hits the Mexican,
He doesn’t come back [either]

I love that, as facts come together with more clarity, the surprises keep coming, rearranging the pieces of this puzzle.

As with many things in life, sometimes it’s just not as important to see what it all looks like in the end, when the journey alone has so much to teach us. I’m grateful for the rich lessons along the way.