Sunday, July 28, 2013

A festival is a festival is a festival... or is it?

Dayton, Ohio, July 2013.

Every summer, as long as I can remember, there is a surge of cultural festivals in the great Gem City, Dayton. Who knew. While this post is not meant to be a homage to my adoptive hometown, no one can deny the fact that there are so many cultures represented here, and you know what, they are celebrated!

Dayton, while being credited as the birthplace of aviation, "cuna de la aviacion" and the home of the famous folks of the likes of Erma Bombeck, from May through September, becomes our own free pass to the United Nations. The International Festival, World A'fair, kicks off the season over at the convention center. Some of us had an annual date to, not only have the carnitas from the Mexican booth, but to make sure the Puerto Rico and the Cuba booths, were supplied with enough arroz con pollo and rum to last a lifetime. Y la musica... yes, the music, the dancing. That is what festival weekends in Dayton were made for!

Admittedly, and reluctant to own it, I have been absent from these laugh, dance and music fests for a number of years. Why you ask? Life got in the way, I guess. Work, ups and downs, mommy duties, you name it. Every excuse in the book, too: "No, I don't feel like it. By myself? Nah, no thanks. Yada yada yada."

Friday I got a text from my friend Jennifer... "We are heading down to the Celtic Festival if you want to meet us."  After a short week of work, yet in full recuperating mode from perhaps the best 48+ hr trip home to Puerto Rico, I said heck yeah! Why not, I had no plans and staying home alone was certainly not going to be added.

The Celtic Festival in Dayton is huge! I can't remember the last time I went, but as soon as I walked down to Riverscape, memories rushed back. Good times, good times. With Jenn and Tony, kilt-wearing dudes sporting their SLAINTE shirts, I order my Guinness-like "light" beer and join in the reel! We danced, we sang, we even did an Irish polka and pretended to be featured in the middle of the "bottle dance" from Fiddler on the Roof when arms locked in unison. Let's dance!

Hundreds of miles away, in Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, a Jazz festival also shoot fireworks. Good friends, family and a home made fire pit, helped loved ones made new memories. I was in Dayton, they were in Puerto Rico. Thank you technology, for throughout the weekend some of us were able to share our memories with those with us in spirit, in music, in love and in our cell phones. ;)

Festivals are huge block parties. Open spaces were food and drinks are shared, good music is hummed to, or danced to, or out of tune-sung to! ;) Who cares. Festivals are fun and I missed that.
This weekend I wished I had certain someones with me to share these memories with, but I am grateful for the new memories I was able to make here.

A festival may be just a festival. During this weekend, not only I embraced my inner Irish lass, (LOL!), but I re-connected with a good friend that I don't get to hang out with often, that I don't see a lot and miss often. This festival served as a reunion and I am grateful.

May we have more festivals like this... I hear the Hispanic one is better than it was a few years ago! Vamos a bailar! Let's celebrate our cultures, our heritages, their cultures, their heritages, and most important, the cities that welcome all and make is all happen.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


When you grow up surrounded by what some may not define as the healthiest balance of love and tragedy, certain people stick out. There are those who are around you, living and breathing your every word, every step, every misstep you take. There are those who wipe your tears when your heart is broken, when your mom dies. There are those who laugh with you... not AT you, but always, ALWAYS, with you. That same laughter is as loud and as contagious a bad cold waiting for its germs to spread- sorry, you get the point. :)

Yes, there are those individuals, who individually have each of these qualities, or have played a specific role in your life. However, some people are all of this. Someone comes along into your life and it is just that... part of your life. In good times and bad times, in laughter and tears, in family reunions and sad funerals. At weddings and baptisms, and Mother's day (hello, cordero en salsa de pera!!! Jajaja) or at the classic, not-so-white Christmasy tradition of pig roasting on a stick, while drinking "CHEMPEIN PLIS" or at my personal favorite while living in exile, Don Q and Diet Coke, someone is there. Who-one? Someone.

That someone is one person. If you are blessed and lucky in life, you have a someone. You have a person. That someone is my aunt. That perfectly, imperfect balance of tragedy and bliss, she embodies. From premature deaths of loved ones, to premature weddings and premature babies, we cried. From premature crushes, mis-adventures and adventures in babysitting, we laughed! And we are still laughing!!!! :) Thank God, we are still laughing and the laughter outweighs the tears.

When a someone is able to look you in the eye and tell it like it is, it hurts. It sucks... THANK GOD it happens at the appropriate time and moment when you  (I!) need it the most. She is also the someone that wants us all to love her just the way she is... Don't we all want that?! Yes, we do. We are just afraid to admit it at times. She helps be my anchor, my biggest fan and often a bad critic. Again, an imperfectly, perfect balance.

She is that someone. Like the many someones each of us have that represent great memories of lives lived past, let's be thankful for that someone that at some point of another has left a mark forever imprinted in our hearts.

Having said that, there are different kinds of someones... The someone who is your buddy at school, your confidant, and even the barista at Starbucks who knows that at any moment you will order your grande, non-fat, peppermint mocha. She is my someone. Or even the bartender at my "Cheers" who has the bottle of Michelob Ultra waiting at my table by the time I arrive. He is that kind of someone.

Sometimes, suddenly and without warning, you meet a new someone. This time around, this someone is the one that looks into your eyes, actually feeling the penetrating look (it's true, trust me!) as it looks into your soul. This is the someone who stays up with you all night, talking, laughing, just being. This someone just makes you smile. Makes yourt heart smile. A new someone, unexpected. A new someone, welcomed. Open your heart and let many someones in.

May your life be filled with the many someones who make you happy, who cry with you and will forever hold your hands in friendship, family and love.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Look up and smile!

I turn Pandora on to my Michael Buble station and Jason Mraz's "Living in the Moment" starts playing. What an appropriate song on this very day, at the precise time; this moment. I am living in the moment that is today, that is now.

For those of you  who can speak "youth ministry" or any ministry for that matter, including your daily job, role as a parent, CEO, whatever...--OK, OK, maybe I am stretching it-- you can appreciate the term "be here now." I include our mundane daily tasks in the same category as ministry (and why not?!) because if you closely look at the definition of the word ministry you might be surprised. My favorite definition (brought to you by your friends at Webster) is "the act of serving; ministration; one that serves as a means; an instrumentality."

The act of serving... ahh, I get it. Instrumentality. We are an instrument. Of what, you ask? Well, I for one am pretty sure to be an instrument to facilitate conversations around issues in higher education and access, the need for leadership development in our youth and the impacts that has in a school's culture and of sharing this awesome thing, often difficult to explain, that is the charism; this ministry.

My friends are instruments of change, of motivation, of love, and they do it all by being loyal and faithful to their vocation. Their vocation, their ministry is in the classroom, in photography, as a science teacher, a chaplain, a youth minister. They know their mission, their role in this world, in this world and how it beautifully and intentionally touches everyone they encounter for the betterment of this world. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it's true.

My team, and yes, it's MY team and I am proud of each and every gift and talent they bring to the entity that is TEAM. The collective energy, passion and commitment to build community among these adults who give their time to help shape the spiritual development of hormonal teenagers is admirable. It's also equally as fascinating as it is terrifying. I mean, c'mon, we are talking about 16-17 year olds. Can you say DRAMA. ;) You know what, we love it.

With a hodge podge of personalities ranging from a high energy extrovert, a quiet, yet hilarious planner, plus a mom-type so full of love you just want to cry in her arms when levels of stress hit all-time highs, we are one. Add to that years of tradition and an overarching feeling, a presence of the most holy watching all over us. A force that lives and breaths inside these walls. Are you there God, it's me Jess and we are at LIFE? We are getting ready for the adults to learn the program so we can then teach the kids. We are ready and we thank you for being here with us. We feel it, we know You are here.

In other words, we are here now. We are here, physically, spiritually and it is manifesting in our ministry.

Here's the thing, this is all very bitter-sweet for me, for I am on my last summer retreat as a coordinator. How to describe what ten days of prayer, community building and spiritual development for adults and teenagers, have meant to me and change my life, forget it. We'll need a bottle... or two! ;) It has been too important in my own faith journey, as active and progressively fluid, it has been an anchor. This experience has held me down, anchored my beliefs and helped guide me to the light in times of the blackest darkness in life. LIFE saved my life, I have often said. It also "sucked" the life out of me, jokingly confessing.  I have been lucky. I have been blessed.

One of my co-workers once told me a story (and I think I wrote about it once before) about sometimes looking up at the sky and for as moment, pauses and smiles. I too, often look up. Whether it's a cloudy sky, or as blue as the "Bonnie Blue" flag (GWTW reference, thank you very much! ;)), I smile.  I say thank you. I chuckle and feel like I am getting winked at. I look up and smile because I got a little wink from heaven. ;)  Thanks, G., I know you are there. I know you are listening. Thank you for letting me your instrument and allowing me to do your work.

Now... to what life, not LIFE, will bring after July 20, 2013, I say... bring it! ;)

Friday, July 5, 2013

An extra suitcase packed -part deux!

Travel, travel, how I love to travel.

For months and months I have complained that I don't travel (especially for work) as often as I used to. Man, do I miss recruiting season---show me a former college admission professional that often doesn't feel the same way---! I may be in the minority, however strongly, I refuse to believe that.

We are not a common breed, although there are lots of us out there. We are like birds, born to fly, or in other words, explorers, lovers of people and places, and cultures and the WORLD beyond our own backyard. It is so hard to explain to the likes of those who have not experienced it, and by all means, do I not want to cast judgement, nor I invite it upon me. But those of us who experience certain life-altering rites of passage, like riding on 10 hours bus rides across the Swiss Alps, signing up for bus dates to Hays, Kansas---flies and cows, Cast C96? ;)--- or intentionally and sanely (that's questionable, though) saying yes to live out of a suitcase for about a year, we are different. Yes, here I am again, regressing back to my life after college experience of a lifetime, becoming a member of the Up With People community!

Folks, sorry, it's like a cult. LOL! It's the kind of cult that embraces the sorts that speak different languages, dance different steps, love without words, befriend other in every possible way that enables each member to be him/herself and that is OK. This program is about the world, ONE world that we all belong to; a beautifully complex tapestry of colors, races, accents and two-steps! ;) By celebrating our differences, we become stronger. By embracing our common human hunger for peace through conversation, especially, through music, we are one! Yeah, this is my kind of cult. LOL Sign me up!

Blessed with career opportunities that have allowed me to always keep a somewhat packed suitcase ready, just in case, I am preparing for the next adventure in visa land. Back in 1997, I remember saying "I never thought I would ever say I am going to Poland." I went to Poland. It changed my life. I now recall saying "China? Why would I want to go to China?" I am going to China!

While it is certainly premature to blog about "what is to come" I anticipate the entry that will be after August 12. For now, I long for, in thanksgiving, the opportunity to represent the university in a culture somewhat foreign to me, but not to my colleagues, and be a vehicle for cross-cultural conversations, relationship building and future partnerships in projects, as well as in mission. My newly- discovered interest in the Far East has only just begun. Stay tuned.

Yes, this entry is quite specific, but it will apply and hopefully, resonate with all you birds out there, who thrive on booking flights and soaring high. The world is indeed a wonderful, colorful, complicated quilt and each square represents a quality, language and tradition from each section of the globe. The quilt exists for the sole purpose of keeping us warm. You and me, under the quilt warming up, thanks to its hugs, laughter, multiple ways of saying Danke or Skoll! We all may not need a quilt like this, but boy, try it. If you haven't, get yourself a quilt like this, patched together by hands that milked cows in the USA, made poutine in Montreal, skied in Switzerland or drank from the local brew in Bavaria. I promise, you will yearn for one when the winter blues hit home.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dating (insert expletive here)!

I've dreaded and dreaded blogging specifically about a certain topics. They range from immediate family relationships, i,e. mother-daughter and its challenges and blessings, single-motherhood, divorce... there's quite the list I can still tackle, so stay tuned.

After the last few weeks I decided to jump in and hit one of them right in the face. Rest assure, no matter how this particular entry may sound or feel to the reader, I will do my best to add the comedic angles, for truth be told, this is all funnier than it looks.

My best friends will say if you ask them, it's about damn time you started dating, Jess. Well, it's easier said than done, right? Ummm, yeah. You don't just wake up one day and say, OK world, I want to date you. Child, please! ;)

Pause for confessional: I have a very bad habit of always wanting what I often can't have. Call it being determined, goal-oriented. Whatever! It all boils down to having bad taste... or at least for the unavailable and/or overly committed.  Gee, I guess that's what I get after years of learning how to tune out the fluff and NOISE in my head, I finally listened to my gut, heart and head and figured out what I really want. Even better, I know what I don't want. Even when I was little, I was the last one to get with the trends... The Hello Kitty pencil box came about a year after the other 1st graders had it. That's OK, no complaints. Moral of the story? Better late than never. :)

Dating sucks! Or at least it may suck for the poor fellas that have not yet had the pleasure of meeting me and spending hopeful, (to some) quality time over a deliciously brewed cup of Joe at the 'bucks. Ok, ok, newsflash in case you didn't get it by now, I have officially started dating. Ugh... ;) It probably took the much needed lecture from my aunt-mother who somehow managed to teleport an imaginary mirror and hold it straight to my face. "You are too picky, you are too serious and and you need to lighten up... and you are too much like..." That did it! Nothing like a little reality check to keep you "in check" and shake things up a bit. Bottom line, I am picky, and I am serious and I don't want to end up alone. Hey, don't blame me for poor decisions, for believing and falling, for getting my heart broken and having no choice but to build walls high up. A wall higher than the beanstalk growing up passed the clouds, housing the castle where Jack's giant has the golden goose. Yes, my walls are THAT high! ;)

STOP. Let's not be too overly melodramatic, even though it's a genetic condition very prominent in my family. ;) Point is I am slowly and carefully chiseling (is that even a word??!) through the wall and are now open to the possibilities. Help us all...

Ha! That brings me to the telling of the tales of dating for me, a no-nonsense mom with a pretty cool (shout out from me to me!) personality, a brain, a zest for knowledge, for culture, for education, spirituality... for MORE to life than what is in front me. Let's now add the poor souls that in writing had somewhat of a decent repertoire of qualities that looked compatible. What then comes out is me with a slight twitch of the eye in baffled amazement when these individuals come clean with the likes of "well, I didn't really go to college, I dropped out" or "um, I am actually married"- GASP! The best one yet "I am not really divorced because I never married the mother of my kids." Seriously, God. This is your grandiose plan for me?! ^(*&(^*$%%#$#%**)_ SMH!  LOL

Ok, ok, let's be real here. It may take time, yes. Tic toc away, my dear clock, but remember my overwhelming fear of expiring by the time I am 40. Yikes, it's getting close. Just kiddin' (no, not really, but therapy helps!), it's all good. Life indeed is good. I can't complain about much and if I do, you have permission to call me out on it.  I have a handsome son; the best thing that came out of the worse decision I ever made and I wouldn't have it any other way.  The work environment I am blessed to be in is part of my being and my vocation and I wouldn't have it any other way. My friends are my life-line, my heart and my soul and I wouldn't have it any other way. My family made me who I am and I wouldn't have it any other way. My personal life, well, that's the part I wouldn't mind tweaking and would indeed like to have things be another way. For that, I have to wait a bit, I guess. One day at a time, I am told and remember, for the impatient chica in me, that is the challenge.

I wish you could see me as I write this, for I am in a very good space and by no means expressing myself from a negative, sad place. Life is good, indeed it is. It would just be a little bit better if I could hang out with the likes of the tall, nerdy looking intellectuals, who are as funny as they are smart, like sports (basketball/baseball preferably, football if I must..!) and challenge me as much as they support, encourage and love me, just the way I am. He is out there, right, God? I know he is. Tic toc! ;)