Backwards Plan

Yesterday afternoon, before I left for the day, I sent an email to my colleagues letting them know I would be moving on next year.  I explained that my state license for education requires that I teach there in order to keep it, and that if I fail to do so, I will lose my teaching license.

When I found out that I needed to return to Tennessee, it came as a surprise.  To say that I was disappointed is a huge understatement.

But today I started thinking of something my mentor and friend asked me last year around this time.  She asked, “Jania, what is your ultimate goal for your family?”  I told her that it was to eventually settle in the United States.  Then she said, “Well, now you can ‘backwards plan’ to see what steps you need to take before that happens.”

My list of steps soon became the countries we were interested in moving to–and schools that I could teach at that would pay a lot of money while providing housing.  All the while I prayed the same prayer from six years ago–that God would put me (us) in a place where we can be helpful.  That he would open doors that should be opened and close doors that should be closed.  I wrote to the workers in the middle east, and they responded letting us know about the area, the work opportunities for Victor, and of whom the meetings were composed.

That didn’t work out for us.  Neither did Asia.  But I still would like to teach internationally again someday.

Until then…

Here I am.  Moving straight through my backwards plan to the ultimate goal part.  Life has a way of sending little twists and turns our way.  I find myself hoping and praying for guidance and peace again, and trusting that God has our best in his plan.

Someday in Tennessee

This week a crew from school will be heading to Tennessee to complete in the DI (Destination Imagination) Global competition.  I’ve been trying to think of fun things for them to do, and it has made me long for the day that I get to share East Tennessee with my family.

Someday, I am going to take my girls to the Knoxville Zoo.  I can’t wait to pay for those overpriced day tickets.  I will watch with delight as they squeal with glee over the gorillas and the bears.  I will shiver as they discover snakes through the windows of the reptile observatory.  And I will shell out the big bucks for zoo treats and souvenirs that will I will one day regret buying when I pick it up off the floor.

Someday, I am going to wake my husband up early and stop for coffee at an all-night Pilot service station as we drive up to the Smokies to watch the sun rise.  I won’t know where we are going, but my “map” will be the road.  Up will always be the choice–until we reach the perfect place to park the car and see the sun peek out over the trees as the hills come to life.  (I will probably end up singing some cheesy song from a musical or recite “Tennessee Sunrise” much to his dismay.)

Someday, we are going to be tourists in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  We are going to play mini-golf, and ride all the rides at Dollywood.  We are going to spend way too much money on those tickets, unless some niece or nephew happens to be working there at the time… (hint hint)  We are going to eat funnel cakes and sing along to all my favorite Dolly songs.  I am going to tell my family all about Dolly, and how she is my hero for never forgetting where she came from after she left (but more importantly, for all her work with the Imagination Library… #literacystartsyoung, afterall…)

Someday, we are going to drive down to Cardins and eat hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and drink milkshakes.  I am going to tell stories about my Mamaw, and how we would buy hotdogs on the way home from Wednesday night bible study.  We will fill up on fries AND onion rings, because if you are going to “do Cardins,” you might as well live it up.

Someday, we will go watch a drive-in double feature.  We will stock up on treats at the gas station, then back in to a spot so that we can sit in the back of the truck together on piles of blankets.  We will let the girls go to sleep late that night, and will surely regret it the next day.

Someday in Tennessee, we will get together with our friends on Fourth of July, eat tacos, and shoot fireworks.  We will swat hands that sneak black olives, and will tease each other over how much eating has happened, and we will watch the new generation of kids catch fireflies before dark.

Someday, we will sit on the porch in a summer thunderstorm and watch the waterfall created by the warm rain.  We will read aloud something appropriate for summer storms–something that will make us giggle with delight.

Someday, we will pack up a cooler, and take off for the lake.  We will slather on sunscreen and squish our toes into some Tennessee mud.  Then we will drink sweet tea with our friends as we reminisce about when we were young while enjoying all the babies playing together.

Someday in Tennessee, my sisters and I will stay up late and snuggle together on the couches.  We will laugh and tickle each other like we did when we were young.  We will inevitably ruin that fun time by fighting over something stupid.  Then, we will make up by singing old hymns together at the piano while mama cries because her “babies” are together in harmony.

Someday, we will load up the kids and the bikes and head up to Cades Cove.  We will take lots of water and a picnic lunch to share.  After 11 miles of hilly countryside and kids complaining, we will head back down the mountain to sleepy snores in the backseat.

Some Saturday morning, Mama and I will get up earlier than everyone else and make biscuits and gravy.  We will work together to fry up enough sausage and bologna to feed a small army.  She will make the lightest biscuits ever tasted, and I will stir together some gravy–thinking about Mamaw and her methods.  We will slice some Grainger County tomatoes, and fill up glasses with sweet tea.  After calling everyone to breakfast, we will bully someone else into doing the dishes (but will probably end up doing them ourselves later…)

Some summer day, we will drive up to the farm stands and buy bushels of tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn.  We will wash and sterilize mason jars that will later be filled with chow-chow, stewed tomatoes, and maybe some strawberry jam.  We will listen to the “pops” of success while warning everyone around to leave them alone.

Someday, we will pack up, and drive 20 minutes down the road to convention.  We will wake up early and help with breakfast.  We will stay up late and drink hot cocoa while eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  We will soak in the heavenly rain and fill up on spiritual food–and we will relish in the fellowship with sweet forever friends.  We will leave that oasis with new purpose for the next year, and promises to keep in touch that will go forgotten until the next spring.

Someday in Tennessee, we will wake up and check to see if school is out because of the flurries that were predicted.  We might get lucky enough to make snow cream and build a snowman.  We will regret having not bought a sled, but we will improvise with garbage bags and clothes-baskets.  We will eat too much, sleep too much, and play until we are frozen solid.  Then we will sit in front of the fire, and thaw out with soggy socks and gloves all around us.

Someday, my family and I will enjoy all that I miss about Tennessee.  But that day isn’t today, this summer, or this year.  So until then, I will make my plans for someday…


Food is My Love Language

I have a friend who always tags her foodie pictures with #foodismylovelanguage.  And I get it!  Because there are a few of us who show others how much we love them by feeding them every opportunity that arises.

I love preparing special meals for our visitors–surprising whomever I can with a meal from their homeland.  I had a game night for Minnesotan friends from work where I made Tatertot Hot-dish.  Ick.  They loved it.  I didn’t.  When our visiting worker from the Dominican Republic vetoed Italian food, I cooked an all day affair which turned out to be Sancocho.  Sometimes I like to ask if anyone wants something special–and I have whipped up everything from chocolate chip cookies to cornbread and beans.

I don’t just cook foods from other places for other people though–often I will think of someone, then cook a food that reminds me of them.  For example, I have been really homesick for Chiapas lately.  I normally visit there during the summer months, but we are skipping our trip this summer.  What came out of my kitchen as a result was black beans and salsa–which we ate with tortillas and fresh cheese.  I roasted the onions and peppers on the stovetop before adding the blacked parts to my tomato pulp (procured by “shredding” the tomato flesh on the cheese grater).  The more time consuming the project is, the more time I have to think on them!

This morning I made homemade cinnamon rolls–too many!  I still have a pan of cinnamon rolls sitting in the kitchen!  There’s a gallon of iced tea on the counter-top, and buttermilk just waiting for some biscuits to be made tomorrow.  Our basil plant needed to be cut back, so I made a friend’s pesto recipe a couple days ago (and shared the frozen pesto leftover with another friend who stopped by to visit).

I may not be able to be all the places that I am thinking of today: Virginia, Tennessee, Chiapas, etc.  But each memory inspires something new to happen in my kitchen.  Memories of those places are taking over my mind–and dancing across my plate.  Oh, yes! I do believe that food is my love language too!

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

20131019-091340.jpgMy baby playing while I work at Starbucks.

Last year I was so excited for the arrival of October. Yes, I live in the desert. Yes, it looks the same all year long. But there was one little thing I couldn’t wait to get my hands on… Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks!

I tried Every. Starbucks. In. Town. Finally I accepted the fact that Mexico, while plentiful in the salsa category, was sorely lacking in the sweet-treats-of-fall category. Sigh. I feel like I should write a sonnet for my fall friends. After all, a love like this is a special thing. When I bought squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes the other day, I felt so at home! I hurried back to my kitchen to make Mama Bell’s “Pumpkin” Soup. Yummy! (And Victor was excited to find out that you could do something with squash other than adding sugar.)

Well, my love affair has blossomed with my little Sweet Pea. I like to add sweet potatoes or pumpkin to her food. I feel like she needs to grow an affection for those too. There are many autumn goodies in her future.

This year I was thrilled to hear that Starbucks finally got the message. Of course this came after I learned to make my own pumpkin spice lattes. And guess what? I like them better! I wake up in the morning, and put this on the stovetop: 2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of pumpkin purée, 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spices, and sugar to taste. I cook that and add 2 cups of coffee. Oh. My. Word. It’s like a party in my pink coffee mug! I drink that deliciousness down slowly–and I savor every drop.

If only we could ship the trees, and the leaves, and the crisp morning air, and the smell of campfires, and…

A Longfellow Moment

Ahh! How good it feels!  The hand of an old friend!

You know, the best friends on earth are the friends that you can see–and things just click back into place.  CLICK!

I feel so blessed to have you in my life, sweet friends.  You have been so patient–I know it isn’t easy to have a friend whose head is in the clouds.  Whose dreams of traveling have kept her away from home for so long.  Whose current lifestyle only allows for little snatches of time here and there.

And yet, no matter how long we go without phone calls, letters, or visits it seems like yesterday…

It seems like yesterday that we sang every Harry Chapin song we could remember.

It seems like yesterday that we pretended Mama was an evil old stepmother who only gave us saltines and water to eat.

It seems like yesterday that we tried to steal cookies from the dining shed find a cup to get some water in the middle of the night.

It seems like yesterday that we made fun of Mr. Sage for everything under the sun.

It seems like yesterday that Mama read us How to Eat Fried Worms while we laid on the floor.

It seems like yesterday that we made it to almost every Friday Night Midnight Movie.

It seems like yesterday that we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking.

It seems like yesterday that we followed our sisters around.

It seems like yesterday that we played ball, ran to the concession stand, and ordered suicides (ick).

It seems like yesterday when boy problems were our actual biggest problems that we delt with.

It seems like yesterday that we swam in the lake–letting the fish nibble at our fingers and toes.

It seems like yesterday that we went to Friday Night Football Games together singing “Oh, McGee, you’re so fine...”

It seems like yesterday…

Where did the time go, old friend?  And why haven’t we taken more time to write, call, and visit?  Has living in a Facebook world made us closer or are we more displaced?  Because like always, we part promising to get together, write, and Skype more.

Will I be writing a blog in ten years talking about the good memories of today?  I hope so–but let’s make a point to make some good memories, eh?   Because before we know it, we’ll be watching grandchildren play while we reminisce about the good times we had.

Ah! How wrinkly it feels! The hand of an old friend!

Home Visit

Maci and Ale

I watched my baby last night–she was laying on a blanket in the floor, and Mama was “gettin’ her.”  In the South, that means that she was tickling her tummy all the while saying, “I’m gonna getcha, getcha, getcha!”  Alexandria laughed and laughed.  The sound makes my heart so happy.

During the night, she snuggles up to me like never before.  I can’t decide if this is because she’s extra snuggly (being away from her daddy and home), or if it has something to do with the pillow-top mattress we sleep on.  Hard Mexican beds don’t allow for a lot of movement during the night.  She cuddles up beside me, and I look down to see her cubby little arms tucked between us.  This morning Mama took her and played with her–letting me get a few extra winks.

At gospel meeting yesterday, she sat up on my lap.  It makes me sad that her papi couldn’t see her.  She was (is) so big!  Her cousins (from the youngest to the oldest) wanted to play with her during meeting.  I remember that, you know.  I loved sitting with my nephews in Omaha.  It gave me something to do other than listen…  Hence the reason why I said, “No” when my very capable niece wanted to hold Ale.

Oh, sweet Ale!  She is so loved!  My suegra (mother-in-law) loves it when her son tells her everyone loves our baby.  It makes me so content and proud to see everyone loving on my baby.  She’s got an important role, I just know it.  There’s a place that she’ll fill someday–maybe just giving unconditional love to God’s children!  Only he knows, but I hope he empowers me us to raise a beautiful, strong, kind, and helpful young woman.

pic collage

Something to Smile About


I made my way to the highest point I could, and I waited.

The anticipation builds, but your eyes stay glued to the horizon.  A tiny pin-prick of light appears on the other side of the dark mountains in front of you.  It spreads across the sky as if the sky is cracking open–lighting up the clouds with beautiful blues and purples.

It takes your breath–and you can’t look away for fear of missing something extraordinary.  I used to think that there was nothing like a Tennessee Sunrise in the morning.  Until now.

By far, the best thing about sleeping with my baby is when we wake up.  This morning it was with eyelashes fluttering against my arm where her head was rested.  Some mornings it is with her rooting for something good to eat like a little piggy–soft snorts and whistling letting me know how hungry she is.

Sometimes my baby wakes with a startling cry–and I wonder if she had a bad dream.  Maybe a nightmare that she was all alone (because bad guys with guns don’t exist yet in her world).

Occasionally, she’ll start cooing and talking.  Sometimes a bit of whining.  Every once in a while, I will feel her hand slapping against me with erratic movements–as if to say, “Hey, Mama! It’s morning!  Time to wake up!”

Today it was eyelashes.  So I opened my eyes and stared lovingly into her great big brown eyes.

“Good morning,” I said softly, “Good morning, sweet angel.”

Then, it was the moment that I wait for.  A little twinkle appeared first, then the sweetest smile spread across her face lighting up the room.  And I couldn’t look away for fear of missing something extraordinary.

It used to be mountain morning sunrises.  Those sunrises have got nothing on my sweet sugar’s smile.

South of the Border, She Went Back One Day…

It’s one of my favorite songs–the one I grew up hearing my Mamaw sing.  I’ll share the lyrics, and you’ll see why it means so much these days:

South of the border, down Mexico way
That’s where they fell in love
When stars above came out to play.
And now as they wander,
Their thoughts ever stray
South of the border–down Mexico way.

It goes back to tell of how he left her, and she became a nun… not exactly the ending to my love story, but sweet, none-the-less!

I have refrained from detailing my woes in job-searching this time.  I figured you’ve already heard it once, and you know the drill.  This time, I have really focused my energy on three counties here in East Tennessee.  My goal was to stay with Mama, pay my bills, and work on Victor’s paperwork for returning to the States.  I have purposefully applied and sent resumes/emails to a gazillion schools.  Okay, not quite that many–but it’s pretty close.  In one county, I sent emails AND paper packets (resume, letters of reference, etc.) to over twenty schools.  In. One. County.

Turns out that living in East Tennessee isn’t what the good Lord has planned for me.  Funny:  It’s the first time in fifteen years that I’ve wanted to be here–and it isn’t working out!

A week ago I woke up depressed and unsure of myself again.  I did what any good depressed person would do, and promptly went back to bed.  When I had sufficiently moped, I crawled out of bed, and begrudgingly went through the routine:  Check for jobs.  Apply to jobs.  Email principals. 

Then I decided I might as well check out Korea’s status on job listings.  Turns out they only had one.  After scanning the rest of the globe, I slowly made my way to Mexico.  I felt a sense of dread come over me at the thought of moving back to Chiapas (which is totally curious, because I was so happy there).  I decided to check out the other two schools with available jobs.  The first was a bust.  The second had a position, so I quickly sent the same email I send to everyone else.

An hour later the principal called.  (I thought he was my bill collector for the student loans I can’t pay.)  He said he would call back, and asked for a time when Jania would be available.  This really gave me a little time to breath and get my thoughts together.  When he called the second time, it was with a job offer.


Turns out I really DO belong in Mexico.  I’ll be leaving this weekend…

Video Propaganda for the American School of Torreon (Video)

Corny Business

Princesa Dyanita and Maci–Dee Dee did actually shuck that corn in front of her (with a little help).

When we were young, I remember Mama and Mamaw getting all kinds of fresh produce to put away for winter.  One time, someone delivered a pickup truck with the bed loaded down with a mess of green beans.  We pulled them off the vines, strung and snapped them for canning.  Another time, I remember sitting beside the cow pasture shucking corn.  We would pull the husk off and throw them over the fence (where all the scraps went…in the country, you don’t throw food in the trashcan…)  Everything had to be inspected, and more than once we were instructed to lick our calf over (redo the job we hadn’t correctly sufficiently completed).

Just the other day Mama showed up with a bag of sweet corn.  They really could stand to get a little of that stuff in Mexico–corn there was all dry and not sweet at all.  I took it out on the porch and asked the kids to help out.  I showed them how to pull the pelo de elote hair of the corn off, bringing the shuck down with it.  They had their own methods…

At one point, my witty nephew, Spencer (who recently got a haircut–thank goodness!), said, “Look, Nino!  An ear of corn!”

We were going to scrape all the corn of the cobs and freeze it for later use, but quite frankly, we couldn’t pass it up!  Especially when we discovered it was pretty good raw, and Mama took pity on Dyana–who cleaned a half of a raw cob…

Delicious summer yummies!  Ummm Ummm!  (To be said while rubbing your tummy and licking your lips…)

I Like That Man

“I like that man, Nini!” my three year old nephew told me the other day.  This is after he and his sister decided that they wanted to Skype with Victor.  Of course, that really consisted of them sitting on my lap avoiding talking to him–except with short mysterious answers.  “Where is your dad?” Victor asked in Spanish.  “He’s at work all day long,” replied Orlando.  All day long is his new addition to every sentence.  i.e. “I love chicken all day long!”

When all the family was in, it really warmed my heart when my brother’s two oldest sons wanted to talk to Victor too.  I finally went and laid down as he asked them about their family, etc.  When the Spanish lessons began, the connection went out.  “Aww, man!” exclaimed Jacob, “It was just getting good!”  When we recovered the call, the kids hopped back on the computer and the conversation went on.

See, Skyping with your husband in Mexico is always a family affair.   Half of the time, Victor will position the computer so that I can chat with his mom, sister, or the niece of the day.  Yesterday his niece, Paola, sat beside him the whole time, resting her head on his shoulder, occasionally asking questions.  That was the first time I had met her.  Later I called his cell, and she asked, “Is she teaching a class right now?”  “No,” Victor replied, “she’s busy with other things.”  “Well, can she call on the computer?” she suggested.

When his sister is around, I get questions like, “When are you coming back?”  Turns out that they are all still pretty apprehensive that I will choose to return to Chiapas…

I don’t mind the family calls really.  I think the only time that we’ve had a private call was in the middle of the day last week.  Everyone in both houses were gone, and it was almost strange to not have a niece or nephew walk by and wave.  The beauty of Skype is that the call is more personal–And my mom will tell you that she feels like she already knew Victor when I announced my new husband.  (She likes to “read” people, and apparently studied his every move.) Getting to know new in-laws via a computer might actually take some of the pressure off, huh?

I love that he takes the time to talk to these kids he’s never met–and I know that he will be just as attentive in person.  He sure is charming Mexican with a heart of gold.  I like that man!