Dia De Los Muertos.

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We recently moved into a Halloween crazed neighborhood up here in the hills. There are only a few thousand people in the area and it seems that all of them trick-or-treat on my street. My neighbor literally has a pirate ship in her yard along with cannons that blow "smoke". Across the street, the elderly couple (who can barely walk), had their daughter come over and put up orange pumpkin lights, scary masks and a large inflatable black cat that moves its head. There will be dance performances by local troupes in various cul de sacs (all to Thriller I'm guessing). I kid you not. We are told that we need 1000 pieces of candy. Ouch. That's expensive.  And it makes practicing what I preach about fair trade chocolate cost prohibitive for us. So I'll be giving out slave chocolate damn it. [I cringe every time I think about it. More on slave chocolate in a separate post.] Fortunately local businesses collect candy for us since no one else in town gets much action --but I'm not sure how much.

So what am I doing? Or, what have I been spending every 'free' and non-free moment doing for the past few weeks? Making stuff. It's been so much fun and slightly insane and obsessive (but that's not surprising, is it?).  Jason is shocked every evening as I pull out my latest creation. Of course I'm mostly just re-working ideas that I find on the internet and pin on Pinterest, but I'm learning a lot of cool stuff. For example: how to use fusible interfacing with felt on owl wings and how to keep an active baby away from my hour's work of paper flowers without losing them and having to do the whole thing again (I haven't fully accepted this yet, I'm still looking for that bag. I fear it's found a new home at the dump).
image credit: associated press
I fell in love with the Day of the Dead when I lived in Mexico 10 years ago. On November 1st and 2nd (All Saints and All Souls Day respectively) the tradition is to create altars (ofrendas) to honor your deceased. The idea is that the dead will come back for a visit. It's a happy day with comical dancing skeletons and smiling calaveras (skulls). There are fiestas at the cemetaries, loaves of pan de muerte, golden marigolds and paper flowers everywhere. It seems like such a healthy way to look at death and the act of making an altar has been therapeutic for me since my mom died four years ago on October 30th.

El Dia de los Muertos has Aztec origins in Mexico, but was catholicized when the Spanish conquered the country. I find it so interesting that cultures across the world celebrate a similar holiday with nearly the same meaning. It coincides with the cross quarter day-- we will be half-way between the fall equinox and the winter solstice right around Halloween and the Day of the Dead. In Celtic Pagan traditions the high holiday is called Samhain and is based on the same idea: that the 'veil between the worlds' is thin and the dead may come back for a visit. Isn't that cool? I love it. 

Here is what I've been making (or will be in the next few days): A colony of black bat sillouhettes for inside the house, painted and decoupaged bottles, paper marigolds and other flowers (which I guess now I'll be re-making), an owl costume for the baby and a frog costume for the toddler, a large painted banner for the garage, pumpkins yet to be carved, a skeleton dressed up like a nurse to honor my mom, tiny painted plastic skeletons, mason jars with faces....the list goes on.  These are just the inspiration photos. I'll post the photos of my actual results next week. We're going to have a photo booth set up out front for trick-or-treaters (I had to talk Jasona into this, but he's finally agreed that it's a cool idea).

What else? I commissioned 2 dozen tamales from a local Mexican woman, ordered Pan de Muerte from the bakery (I was originally going to make both, but decided that I might severely stress myself out). Instead I'm only cooking 1 dozen sweet corn tamales, gluten free halloween cookies, and champurrado (Mexican hot yummy drink).

Oh, and for my own costume? It will be similar to this (but I'll be wearing traditional Mexican garb):

[Photo credits: Martha Stewart, Country Living, Flickr: Amyr_81, DeviantArt: Docophoto}


How I got here.

Two weeks after my second baby boy was born, we packed up and moved from San Diego to  northern California where my husband grew up.  I went from working 50+ hours a week at a wonderfully intense charter school to being a full-time mom to a  2 1/2 year old and a newborn in a tiny mountain town.

I miss teaching and I really miss the teenagers (I taught 12th grade), but I knew that my personality just couldn't handle the insanity of being a full time teacher and a mom of young children. I'm not exactly good at drawing boundaries at work and we design our own curriculum at my school (which I love)--but that means I could keep working and working and working. Also, did I mention that I'm crazy sensitive? Teenagers have a lot going on emotionally and I just soak it all up, so that I by the time I get home, I'm completely zapped and then I dream about them ALL NIGHT LONG.

And then there's the perfectionist in me--I just couldn't handle thinking that I was doing less than my best at either the teaching or the parenting--or BOTH! Yikes. It makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it (obviously this is something I need to work on).

So, here I am for now-- a mom. It seems so much more difficult than the stressful teaching job. Why is that?

This post was going to be about my latest intellectual and creative obsession: Dia de los Muertos. (and how I fill the intellectual void now that I'm not constantly researching and developing material for my class).

Stay tuned!

(note: the slide show above is from a couple of years ago--I still have to archive and organize my more recent projects. Yet another thing to obsess about. Ha!)


Book Notes: Recommended.

Now that I'm not teaching full time I get to read novels again! It's a complete escape for me. I'm highly picky so I have to find books that are well-written and not too depressing (the second part has just become true over the past 5 years--same with films.)

Here are some books that I've loved lately.
(note: I've linked to Amazon, but if you have a local bookseller, please consider supporting her instead of ordering online. I know it's tough with cost--I usually go for the library, myself--but people like my friend--the owner of Sustenance Books in Murphys, CA--will appreciate it.)

1. Peace like a River, by Leif Enger. My friend (the bookstore owner) loaned this to me and at first I wasn't sure that I'd be thrilled with it. But after the first chapter or so I was in love. It's one of those books that I didn't want to end. It reminded me of all the books I read as a kid-- the ones that really took me out of my reality and gave me a warm, cozy feeling. It's about a family with a single dad in the northern midwest. The older brother becomes an outlaw and the rest of the family goes on a quest to find him. It is told from the younger brother's perspective. Did I say that I love this book?

2. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. She is such a beautiful story teller.  I like to read her words again and again just to hear the sound of them. The story of Macon Dead III (nicknamed Milkman)  is well crafted and mythic just like her other novels.

3. Half-Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls.  Have you read Jeannette's first book, The Glass Castle? If not, read that first--it was one of my favorites. While The Glass Castle was about the author's childhood--a memoir of growing up in an unbelievably dysfunctional family, Half-Broke Horses is about her magnificently strong grandmother. It's a fun read--especially if you've read the first book.

4. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Loved it. He's a Nobel Laureate for a reason. It's about love in its many forms, but it's not at all a 'romance'. Like Toni Morrison, Marquez develops dynamic characters that you know so well by the end of the novel.

That's all for now. Another post later for non-fiction--I'm talkin': Outliers,  by Malcolm Gladwell, Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohenand Simplicity Parenting, by Payne & Ross.

Damn. It's been a hell day for me and the babies and one of them is awake! I haven't even emptied the dishwasher, never mind tried to close my eyes.... We're heading to the garage so as not to wake up the other.

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