Reclaiming Christmas

I’m determined to be politically incorrect this year.  While airports and municipal buildings are taking down trees and Nativity scenes over fear of lawsuits and everywhere you go, all you see are signs saying "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings", I’m reclaiming Christmas. 
After all, what is Christmas but the observation of the birth of Jesus Christ?  (Although some experts believe that his birthday really falls sometime in the spring but I won’t go there.)  I don’t see anyone making a fuss over Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday or Abraham Lincoln’s or George Washington’s.  OK, while the presidents’ birthdays got lumped into one long weekend and no one has yet wished me "Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day", I think you get my meaning.
What’s the big deal over saying "Merry Christmas"?  Whether you believe Jesus is the Son of God, a prophet or just a nice Jewish guy who met an untimely end, you can’t deny the impact he made.  What’s wrong with celebrating the birth of a man who preached about love, peace and forgiveness and asked people to treat each other the way they’d want to be treated?  I can’t think of a better time when we all could use some love and peace and forgiveness.  If people actually treated each other with kindness and caring instead of inconsideration and disrespect, this world would be a much better place to live in.  We’d have a whole lot less broken hearts and broken lives.
Say "Happy Holidays" if you will.  As for me, I’m going to honor the birth of a poor carpenter who just wanted us all to get along.  Merry Christmas!!!!  I wish you all peace, love and happiness.
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“Blackbird singing in the dead of night…

take these broken wings and learn to fly…. all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arrive."
That’s the song that’s been running through my head since yesterday when Clara announced that she got a new job and will be moving to Quincy, Massachussetts in just a few weeks… right before our birthdays.
To make a long story short… last summer Clara met Bill through mutual friends who live near Boston.  He’s a nice guy with a decent job and seems to adore her as she does him (I’ve just met him twice).  Initially they talked of getting an apartment nearby and him finding a job here.  However, she fell in love with the Boston area as well which led to her job search and last night’s annoucement.  They have a cute one-bedroom apartment lined up. 
I’m torn between being happy and very proud of her and dreading the empty nest.  I’ll miss her terribly but, hey…. now I have a great reason to visit Boston. 
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There is a phone call which I will dread receiving… the one which will inform me that the disease, which has robbed my Abuelita (little grandmother) of her thoughts, memories and being, has taken her life as well.
It’s almost a sin that so formidable a woman (even if she was barely 5 feet tall) is now a 90-year-old infant dependant upon machines to help her eat and breathe.  That’s not my grandmother… that is a mere shell of the wonderful person I will always cherish.
Tact wasn’t one of Abuelita’s strong suits but nothing was ever said out of malice… only out of pure love and affection.  As many of you know, I’m adopted and she would often remind me that even though I wasn’t her grandchild by blood, she loved me like she loved all of her grandchildren. Years later she would just as often say of my cousin’s husband "He’s as black as coal and ugly as sin but I love him to death because he’s good to my Millie", ususally within earshot of said grandson-in-law.
Most of my happiest childhood memories took place within and around the walls my Abuelita called home.  It was a huge apartment (or so it seemed to this little girl) in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.  That neighborhood was where I first encounted Hasidic Jews but to me any man with white hair and flowing beard had to be Santa Claus on vacation from the North Pole.  Imagine the surprise of one elderly Jewish gentleman when I spotted him on the bus and ran to sit on his lap.  Abuelita laughed for many years over that little faux-pas.
Her home was where the family gathered every Sunday afternoon and stayed until past dinnertime.  She was so proud of her large family of 6 children (3 sond and 3 daughters) and a passel of grandkids.  It was where I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Wonderful World of Disney in living color on her huge console television.  It was where my older cousins and I beat on pots and pans and played air guitar, sure we’d become the Puerto Rican Partridge Family.  It was where the grandchildren would gather before the start of each school year to be properly outfitted with notebooks, binders and tons of looseleaf paper because Abuelo (grandfather) worked for the Mead Paper Company.  It was where 3 generations of women would arrive once a year in early December at 5am to begin making hundreds of pasteles that were a holiday tradition.  We all had a chore… cooking the meat for the filling, grating the green bananas, potatoes and what not, then putting together the final masterpiece and wrapping them up in parchment with string.  Late in the evening, each family would leave with scraped knuckles from all the grating and dozens of delicious pasteles.
It was where the best Christmas gifts and treats awaited but only after we all piled into various cars and headed to church for Midnight Mass.  It was where we’d gather to listen to the reel-to-reel tapes my uncle Nicky would send from Vietnam… then we’d take turns recording messages for him to listen to half way around the world.  It was my retreat, when my things got too tense at home between my parents and they needed some private time to argue and patch things up only to argue again.  It was where I found kisses and hugs and lots of unconditional love.
Her politics were simple but unforgettable.  When Nixon ran for his second term, she encouraged all her friends and neighbors to vote for him.  As far as she was concerned, Nixon personally brought her son, nephew and son-in-law home safely from the war and deserved her undying gratitude.  When Abe Beame ran for mayor of New York City, she coined her own campaign slogan, "I vote for Abe because I love rice and Beame". 
Unfortunately, my grandparents’ marriage fell apart even though they loved each other dearly.  They were very stubborn people who each wanted to get his/her own way and couldn’t stand living together under the same roof.  Abuelo half-heartedly found a companion who didn’t stick around long once she realized she would only be second best.  Abuela could not bear the thought of another man and remained single. 
Eventually the rest of the family drifted away… my uncles, aunts and cousins moved to Puerto Rico.  Abuela was one of the last hold-outs but then she too moved to the island when Uncle Marty (her youngest) decided to make a go of it there.  My father was the only one of her children who remained in New York City.
Over the years we would visit and she would also make the trip back to New York for extended vacations.  She met my friends and boyfriends and made sure to show them how wonderfully in shape she was for an old lady (her words not mine) by demonstrating various excercises and touching her toes.  They thought her utterly charming even if they couldn’t understand her very well with the heavy accent and broken English.  When I was 19, pregnant and unmarried, I was so afraid to face her… I hated the thought of her disapproval and disappointment.  Instead she hugged me and told me she would always love me.  Her advice was to do whatever it took to keep my child safe and happy… even if I had to eat dirt (again  her words, not mine).
During her visits, we noticed her mood swings and violent fits of temper but it was attributed to "the change of life".  Honestly I suspected otherwise but what did I know?  I was no doctor.  It wasn’t until after Abuelita had bypass surgery that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Shortly afterwards, Uncle Marty died unexpectedly… he had been in the hospital with pneumonia and was due to be released when he had a massive heart attack.  It hit both my grandparents very hard and their health steadily declined… I refer to that time as the beginning of their end.  Abuelo left us first, dying mercifully in his sleep after a long battle with diabetes and heart disease.  The only kind thing I can say about Alzheimer’s was that it helped Abuela forgot about the death of her youngest child.  She eventually became like a child herself, playing with dolls, saying her bedtime prayers and dressing up to watch TV because she was sure that the people inside could see her.  As the disease progressed, she became a petulant toddler, spitting her food at people and throwing tantrums.
Before anyone think I’m nominating her sainthood… she would have been the first to admit that she was only too human and had her faults and foibles.  However, to paraphrase Shakespeare, this is to honor my Abuelita, not to trash her during the remaing days of her life. 
The last time that I talked to Abuelita and she remembered who I was, she assured me yet again that she loved me very much even though I wasn’t really her grandchild by blood.  After that conversation, I became just a very nice lady who took time to talk to her… how I miss being reminded that I’m not really her grandchild.
Her birthday’s on August 31st… she just turned 90.  My father travelled to Puerto Rico to spend a month with her and share a birthday celebration that his sisters and brothers had planned (his birthday is 4 days before hers).  Sadly the party was cancelled when Abuelita suffered a stroke and spent her birthday in the hospital… she is there still.  My father returned home a couple of weeks ago but he, my aunts and uncles have prepared for the inevitable and made sure that the one thing Abuelita asked for will be done… she will be buried next to the love of her life… Abuelo.
When my cousins and I slept over as children, Abuelita would always say "suene con los angelitos"… dream with the angels… before turning off the light.  I know those angels are waiting to welcome her home.
Te quiero mucho Abuelita
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I found my other son!

Just kidding but Jason came across a profile on MySpace, of a 19-year-old young man named Justin, who could pass as his twin.  It’s said we all have a twin somewhere… here’s Jason’s.  The first 2 pics are of Jason, the second 2 are of Justin… you decide:
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It’s the little things, sometimes…

that catch my eye and make me smile.  This morning, on my way to the bus stop, I saw a sign stuck to the driver’s side of a car parked in the street.  It read (and I quote):  "You bich.  You take too space."  Granted, street parking is hard to find at night and apparently the car’s owner commited the faux pas of taking up a wee bit too much space.  But c’mon… if you’re going to curse someone out in writing, at least spell properly and be grammatically correct.  Otherwise your point is moot.
Later, at work, I go to the kitchenette for coffee.  In the fridge, I found a pack of Brokeback Mountain Beer… "For Men Who Don’t Like Busch".  I kid you not and even took a picture of it.  Damned thing made me laugh out loud.
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Poetry in progress

Trying hard not to think
Wishing I just couldn’t feel
But despite all of my best efforts
This hurt is just too damned real
Waiting in vain for your call
Seems such a silly thing to do
But of all the things I miss the most
I really miss talking with you
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Roller coaster week

A week of good news and not-so-good news and everything in between. 
I won’t get into the bad news… still kind of stunned and upset right now.  Also, I miss Jason who’s travelling with the drum corps for competitions.  This house is so quiet, even the dog seems depressed. 

The good news is that, as of next month, I will be working in the Corporate Finance department at my company.  It all happened so fast, my head’s in a spin.  I’m nervous as it will mean new tasks and responsibilities but also excited as this opens the door to so many opportunities and better financial security.
I’m fond of saying that God makes sure my life isn’t boring… this week has been far from it!  However, I have to admit that the good surprises this week have made up for the very bad way it started (still not getting into it).  Plus I’m fortunate to have friends who are there for me… no matter what.
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Nice Day for a Wal-Mart Wedding

The article copied below, from the Orlando Sentinel, is about my wonderful brother-in-law Robinson (I may no longer be married to his brother but we will always be family).  I cannot say enough great things about him.  We used to joke that he’s the brother I should have met first.  I’m just glad he’s in my life… my friend, confidante, cheerleader and strong shoulder to cry on even from hundreds of miles away.  It’s a testament to how highly his friends and coworkers regard him that they just wouldn’t allow him to have a simple city hall ceremony… Robinson’s wedding has to be as unique and unforgettable as he is.  Of course I teased the hell out of him about it but my only regret is that I can’t be there tomorrow to share in his happiness and welcome Naty to our family. 
I love you so very much, Robinson… may you and Naty share a lifetime of love and happiness (and may there be the pitter patter of little Dominguez feet soon?  Hmmm?)
ORANGE CITY — The layered cake is coming from the in-store bakery. The reception will be held in the break room with chips and dip.

As for the guest list, anyone can come. After all, Rob Dominguez and Naty Ramos are getting hitched at the 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter in Orange City.

They’ll exchange vows in the Garden Center at 9 a.m. Monday as the world’s largest retailer continues to do what it does best: Sell. Sell. Sell.

Even the arch and fresh flowers used in the ceremony will have price tags. "We can’t stop business for this," store co-manager Travis Cutshaw said. "Customers are still welcome to shop."

Although Wal-Mart weddings are new to Central Florida, they’vehappened elsewhere in the state — and across the country. Critics say Wal-Mart is replacing the "town center" of communities in ways no one had imagined.

"It’s becoming this sort of public backdrop," said Al Norman, an anti-Wal-Mart activist in Greenfield, Mass. "Wal-Mart killed the ‘town square,’ so now people are gathering in these artificial one-stop shopping emporiums."

Today’s Wal-Marts offer everything from in-store banks and hair salons to police departments and fast-food joints. "It wouldn’t surprise me if someday you see a City Hall annex in a Wal-Mart where you can get marriage licenses," Norman said.

Dominguez, 40, and Ramos, 28, didn’t initially intend to get hitched at work. They had planned a civil service at the courthouse and a small reception in their new Deltona home. But they changed plans this week after a store manager offered the store for free, because the couple couldn’t afford a big wedding.

"Out of the blue, [a manager] just comes up with this idea," Dominguez said. "Originally we weren’t sure . . . but I’ve worked [for Wal-Mart] for 17 years. It’s like a home."

The couple met two years ago while stocking shelves and said that most of their friends also are Wal-Mart employees. So, it makes sense, they said, that Ramos will be walked down an aisle of impatiens and begonias by a store manager, while a cashier will perform the ceremony.

Now, Ramos said she just has to find a wedding dress — something she won’t buy from Wal-Mart. Instead, she’s going to the mall.

Because most of the couple’s family members live in New York, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, several employees have volunteered to tape the service and send it to relatives, Dominguez said.

"It’s very untraditional," Dominguez said at work Thursday.Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone said the company doesn’t keep count of how many weddings are hosted in its stores. Most of the couples are employees, she said.

About a dozen couples have tied the knot at Wal-Mart Supercenters during the past few years –including at stores in Fort Myers, Palm Harbor, Texas and New Hampshire, according to newspaper archives.

"It’s a cheap trick," said John Vaughan, an Orlando organizer for WalMart Alliance for Reform Now and an Episcopal priest. "It tells us how well Wal-Mart pays its employees if they can’t afford their own wedding. [The company] could have rented a hall somewhere anonymously. This way they’re just calling attention to themselves."

But Orange City Wal-Mart employees said Monday’s ceremony is just about celebrating with the couple.

"When Rob made the announcement that he wanted to share it with us, we were so excited," said Tena Quimby, the store’s training coordinator.

Dominguez is "one of the nicest, most popular guys here," Quimby said.

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What Kind of Kisser Are You?

A very accurate assessment 
You’re an Expert Kisser

You’re a kissing pro, but it’s all about quality and not quantity

You’ve perfected your kissing technique and can knock anyone’s socks off

And you’re adaptable, giving each partner what they crave

When it comes down to it, your kisses are truly unforgettable

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A movie in Bryant Park under the stars…

(OK, it was actually under the clouds)… music while cooking together… watching the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest and World Cup Soccer on ESPN… lots of laughter… just hanging out and having fun… finally a goodbye kiss in the rain… among many things that made for an awesome 4th of July weekend.  I still can’t wipe the goofy grin off my face.
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