Question of the Week: What song or songs remind you of your younger self or of a specific time in your life?

This question has been on my mind for a very long time, the reason I think this question often pops in my head is that I have vivid memories that are strongly attached to specific songs, each time I hear these songs, my soul goes time traveling back to that moment and I feel encapsulated with all the colors, people and places of that time. Which song/moment combo comes to you when you think about it? It can be a sad, happy, lonely, coming-of-age moment, or just powerful enough to find its place in your memories. My Top 3 moments and their songs are:

1.Place: Street Car in New Orleans   Band: Duncan Dhu (all songs)   

I studied  Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of New Orleans and one year into my studies I moved to an apartment in uptown New Orleans with my best friend.  While living in uptown meant we were closer to our Panamanian friends and Bourbon Street with all its glory, it meant also that I was far from where the University was and had no car, so for a full year, I took the Streetcar (from beginning to end which is approx 1 hr) and then a  bus that would take me across the city until reaching the University campus. I went back and forth every day while listening to Duncan Dhu, a Spanish band and one of my old-time favorite’s. I had a big collection of their records so I was always changing the CD on my CD player (oh yeah!!) and never ever getting tired. 

I have one perfect memory of being in the Streetcar, passing through Audubon Park in Saint Charles Avenue while listening to A Tientas, with my head resting on the window.  Its been 20 years since that time and the memory remains the same.  It is one of my favorite memories because although I felt tired, lonely, and overwhelmed with the studies, and uncertain about the future, the song lyrics and melody allowed my soul to sing giving me profound hope for the next chapter in my life.

2. Place:  New Orleans    Song: Late in the Evening by Paul Simon (in Concert)

When I was 14 years old my dad introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel and was love at first sight.  I barely spoke English but the album Bridge Over Troubled Water had a special place in my music collection.  With the years I was able to slowly collect more albums and the album The Concert in Central Park became my favorite.   In 2001, when I was living in New Orleans Paul Simon came to Jazz Fest and he was giving a concert and of course, I wanted to go.  I could not get one person to come with me so I asked my then-boyfriend to drop me off and pick me up after the concert to which he agreed.   I remember I had bought the cheapest ticket and was on the second floor, but since I was by myself I slowly moved my way down and placed myself in the center of the fourth row. It was magical. Seeing all these people singing Paul Simon’s songs was unbelievable to me.  And then he played Late in the Evening and the people exploded and I was there, dancing, singing, seeing Paul Simon singing while playing his guitar was unbelievable, it was a moment of excitement, of pure joy, of pure greatness.  No matter where I am, every time I hear this song, I smile… I fill myself with love and joy and happiness… Thank you, Paul Simon.

3. Place: Driving in our car   Song: Everything will change

We have been fans of Gavin Degraw’s music for years.  We have all his albums and we constantly listen to him in the house or while driving.  My husband and kids are huge fans too which makes it super easy to ask Google to play his music at any time. He is our to-go-artist when the four of us are together.  My husband always dreamed of buying a convertible and after saving money for a couple of years we were able to buy one. One beautiful morning, we went for a ride, with the top down, the wind blowing, the sun shining, and Gavin Degraw’s Everything will change playing out loud.  I captured this moment in video and this moment represents fulfillment, joy, happiness, and love. I catch my husband every now and then watching the video with a big smile on his face, holding on to that moment in time in which as a family, we felt whole, we felt connected and we felt loved.  The kids are much older now and although their love for Gavin Degraw and especially this song has not diminished, this moment in time will forever be ours.

I believe in the power of music, on the power of songwriting, from been a teenager and listening to Sublime, to Ruben Blades (of course best ever), to singing Regueton with my oldest son, or reaching for Pearl Jam during traffice time, music plays an important moment in my life. So what about you?  Which are the songs that connect you with that special memory time and time again?

6 Tips to help you get your life organized!

Learning to be organized has been a learning curve for me.   When I look early on my marriage I wonder how my husband could have been so patient with my slow development into been a more organized person.  As I had kids and my job became more demanding, I honestly and sadly can say that my improvement in being organized was minimal. With that said, a lot of things just did not get done and very important areas of my life were just been attended when no longer could be ignored.  As I said, I and organization have come a long way… It was on my 10th wedding anniversary, when I turned 35, that a switch was turned on in me… I needed to work towards improving areas of my life that felt chaotic. But where to begin? I turned to books and magazines that were about been organized.  I learned to be patient with myself as I learned that it takes time to save time and that been organized is a process that is different for all of us. We all have different priorities and therefore how we organize our lives reflects our day to day as a person, a professional, a parent, a son or daughter, a friend, a spouse, a caregiver, etc. It works differently for all of us.

So below are the areas that at some point or other can be improved by taking the time to be organized:

  1. Meal Plan:  Simple but effective.  I remember for years I will plan dinner the same day. I will, therefore, have to go to the supermarket almost every day for one or two or ten things that I needed.  When I started organizing my meal plan for the week I was instantly rewarded with extra time and less stress. Additionally, organizing a meal plan provides me with the ability to stick to my budget and along the way, save money.   It also allows me to be creative in the kitchen and try new recipes. I usually plan my meal plan on Sundays. I search for recipes (usually recipe books, magazines, and websites) and write down day by day the recipe and at the same time make the grocery list that goes with it.  I have a planner for this and helps out when all goes into the same place including the recipes that “worked” vs the ones that were not as good or as simple or as fast as expected
  1. Pantry and Closets:  Organizing my pantry is a pain that I endured every couple of months.  As mentioned I am the opposite of organization so when I do it, it’s great but it gradually tends to gravitate back to chaos, so every few months I have to roll my sleeve and get to it again.  However, every time I am done I feel like a champion. Same with cabinets where we keep our kitchen tools, pots, and pans, closets or our laundry room, it all starts great and gradually becomes a mess, and again and again  I take the time to reorganize it. 
  1. House Cleaning: Nowadays you can find a really good home cleaning checklists and guidelines online.  There are plenty in Pinterest, and also apps that can guide you into a daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annual and annual cleaning schedule.  I do use my home planner to keep track of what I have done and what needs to be done, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. My kids and husband are part of the planning as well with each one taking on the different tasks as needed.  Keeping our house tidy and clean has exponentially improved our quality of life and if we keep a daily and weekly schedule it becomes daily maintenance instead of daily cleaning.
  1. Garage:  We have a three-car garage and our goal was to be able to put our three cars on it and we did.  We had to move things around, choosing between what we “need” and “don’t’ need” and going to Ikea and other places that specialized in small spaces to come with our own system, but it worked.  Between labeled bins, bikes on the wall and tons of wall hooks we have three cars in the garage. Mission accomplished
  2. School and Sports Activities:  As my kid’s weekly newsletters from school are posted and sports emails are sent with all the upcoming practices and game schedules, I put everything on my calendar.  I set reminders 2 days in advance for any signup or volunteer activity I sign up for. I check upcoming tests, projects, homework that my kids have and put it on my calendar as to be aware of and be sure it gets done. I work hard on trying to make my kids organized as well, asking them to keep tap of what is coming up in their agendas.  My google home is great at making a quick introduction every morning with what is to be expected or done that day.
  3. Home Finances:  This was a big learning curve that unfortunately took too many late payments fees to make me pay attention and be organized. I have used several apps, but I usually use my bank app and a Google spreadsheet, as well as a home planner (the same as the meal planner).  I take two days a week to sit down and do the math and maintain taps on our spending, as well as make sure that bills are up to date and our saving goals are on track. At the end of the month a review all the info and make a smile or frown depending on the end-of-the-month results.

These are the main areas that have provided me with a rewarding feeling.  They were not easy and is a daily, weekly and monthly task that I am committed to. Ever since improving my organizational skills the house is more functional, the family is working in a more efficient manner, we are saving money and time,  and most importantly, I am not so overloaded with last-minute errands that could have been planned and executed in a more productive way.

First time traveling solo…

traveling solo

When I was 16 years old my parents offered me the opportunity to go to Bournemouth, England to study English and I happily said yes.  The English course would take 4 weeks and after its completion, I would fly to Rotterdam, where my cousin was currently living, and stay with her for a week or so.  Once I arrived in Rotterdam, I and my cousin started planning out what I could do during the day while she and her husband were at work. She proposed for me to go to Bruges, Belgium for the day by train, my cousin would drop me off at the train station and after a 2-hour train ride, I would arrive at Bruges.  I was anxious about going by myself to a new city, but I felt confident with my improved English skills and felt genuinely excited to go.

I arrived at Bruges train station around 10:00 a.m. It was February so it was cold, although not freezing.  I walked from the Train Station to the City Centre to the Markt guided by the city map my cousin had given me. I walked the Historic Centre and through the channels by the lake. I remember vividly standing at Rozenhoedkaai for what it seems to be a very long time, looking at the water while seating on a bench, with my thoughts overfloating me.  I felt the excitement of being in a new place, of discovering the beauty of this amazing city, the freedom to walk at my pace while taking pictures and enjoying the peace within my silence.

After having a long lunch which consisted of Belgian waffles and a Coca Cola I continued to walk along the water, looking at my map while following my instincts, buying Belgian chocolates and small souvenirs and after eating fries with mayonnaise (European style), I walked back to the train station to find myself back in Rotterdam.  

During the years to come (24 years since then), I have had the opportunity to travel alone many times, Syria, Greece, London, China, among other places.  Always finding the perfect moment in which amazement meets self-enjoyment and happiness shows up, but I always go back to 16-year old me, sitting on the bench looking at the bridge in Bruges, Belgium and I cannot help but smile, knowing its true that old saying… To remember is to live again. 

Recipe of the Week… Chicken Wings with Potatoes… YUM!

mari's book review (2)

This week I would like to share a quick, easy-peasy, uncomplicated meal that I usually cook when I need a fast meal and an even faster clean-up.

For the chicken wings:
2lbs chicken wings
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken wings and pat them dry. In a bowl put the wings, add the oils and salt and pepper and make sure it covers the wings. In a baking sheet, place the chicken in a single line and place them in the oven for 25 minutes, after 25 minutes turn them and place them back in the oven for another 25 minutes. Enjoy!!!

For the potatoes:
1 small sack of potatoes (small ones or big potatoes cut into pieces)
1 tbsp of olive oil (or more depending on the number of potatoes)
1 tsp paprika
Truffle Salt
Black Pepper

Boil the potatoes for 8 minutes until a knife goes through smoothly. Drain the potatoes and cut them in half or small pieces. In a non-stick pan (I use the same one I used for boiling the potatoes) heat the olive oil and once it’s hot add the potatoes, add the spices and continue to fry the potatoes until they are golden brown. Enjoy!!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the chicken wings and pat them dry.  In a bowl put the wings, add the oils and salt and pepper and make sure it covers the wings. In a baking sheet, place the chicken in a single line and placed them in the oven for 25 minutes, after 25 minutes turn them and place them back in the oven for another 25 minutes.  Enjoy!!!

For the potatoes:
1 small sack of potatoes (small ones or big potatoes cut into pieces)
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp paprika
Truffle Salt
Black Pepper

Boil the potatoes for 8 minutes until a knife goes through smoothly. Drain the potatoes and cut them in half or small pieces. In a non-stick pan heat the olive oil and once it’s hot add the potatoes, add the spices and continue to fry until they are golden brown. Enjoy!!

This duo is always welcome when served in my home. I add a simple salad (spinach and avocadoes) to add freshness to the meal.  Clean-up is easy and fast and takes minimum effort and is budget-friendly.

I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe.

 

 

Mari Park

 

Mari’s Book Review – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

mari's book review

I picked this book from my dad’s library in one of my visits to Panama. Actually, I picked book number 3 without knowing it is a 4-book series and started reading it. Soon enough I realized that I needed to stop and get books 1 and 2 immediately. I remember I was on a weekend getaway in Austin with my family and insisted I needed to go to the bookstore to get the books right away, I could not wait until we got back to Houston the next day.  I got the book number 1 at the bookstore and bought 2 and 4 online. I was one happy girl.

I must disclose that I read them in Spanish which is my native language.  I do read both in English and Spanish, but for this particular series, since I started in Spanish I decided to continue in Spanish. 

The book was mesmerizing. I submerged myself in the Barcelona of 1945  following the end of the Civil War, and at the beginning of the first chapter, I was captivated. As I imagined myself inside the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, a secret library hosting millions of forgotten books and where you have to choose one book out of all the books to take with you, I was hooked in the storytelling and drawn to the main character Daniel after he chooses the book “ The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax.

The book is a fictional gothic drama, beautifully written, filled with mystery, intrigue, and characters that you simply can’t put down.  The characters are so well defined, and bring the story alive as each of their past is revealed. The city of Barcelona is described with great detail, and with a tangible love for the city, its restaurants, its streets, its avenues, and its people.

The author’s storytelling draws you inside the narrative, as a witness of the unraveling storyline, making you complicit of every discovery, every new clue, and every new plan.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a unique writer with a capacity to make you witness the emotional rollercoaster that each character goes through the story.

100% recommended.  

 

Additional Information as found in Goodreads

Paperback, 487 pages

Published: January 25th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2001)

Original Title: La sombra del viento

ISBN0143034901 (ISBN13: 9780143034902)

Edition: LanguageEnglish

Series: El cementerio de los libros olvidados #1

Literary Awards :Barry Award for Best First Novel (2005), Gumshoe Award Nominee for Best European Crime Novel (2005), Borders Original Voices Award for Fiction (2004), Dilys Award Nominee (2005), Humo’s Gouden Bladwijzer (2006) Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger for Roman (2004), Prix des libraires du Québec for Lauréats hors Québec (2005), One Book One San Diego (2015), Premi Llibreter de narrativa Nominee (2002)

 

Question of the week…

stencil.facebook-link-post

I have been thinking about ways to engage with you, the reader, and have decided to do, every Thursday, a “Question of the Week” segment, in which I will ask a fun, insightful, interesting and hopefully smart question that will challenge you to answer it.  You can answer it out loud on the spot, use it for your journal entry, or just reflect on it for the next couple of hours or days.

The intention is to invite you to reflect and make you aware of your thoughts and feelings while you answer the question… creating a mini mindful moment.

The question of this week is:  If you had an extra hour every day, how would you spend it?

When we ask ourselves this question, we tend to gravitate towards those actions or activities that we “keep putting off” mostly because of the “lack of time”.  Some of the most common answers are:

  • I would exercise
  • I would cook a healthy dinner 
  • I would take time to converse with my husband and children (or parents or friends)
  • I would study to further my education (go back to school or a work-related course)
  • I would practice meditation or work towards mindfulness
  • I would start my own business
  • I would start a hobby (or go back to it)

This question, when we answer it honestly, can reveal things that are sincerely important to us since we are no longer blaming the “lack of time” as the culprit for not doing them.

Think about that extra time and what you would do with it. Maybe you will realize what is truly important to you, and rearranging your schedule to make it happen can be something worth looking into.  All is possible within our reach and our time schedule. Yes, we do need to rearrange and prioritize, but we can do it.

 

 

Mari Park

7 Tips for making a bedtime routine that works for you…

CREATING AN UNIQUE BEDTIME ROUTINE

With years of trying to perfect multitasking (and never really accomplishing), I have come to the conclusion that following a routine makes it easier for me to accomplish all that is needed to be done. I have a morning routine, a working routine, an afternoon routine, and a bedtime routine.  I have already shared with you morning routine tips and now want to share tips for making a bedtime routine that can work for you as it works for me.

My bedtime routine starts right after the kids go to bed and my “mom role” is turned off, here are my tips:

  1. Finish cleaning the kitchen / tidy up the living room:  I take the time to clean the kitchen, do the dishes, clean the stove, wipe and tidy up the kitchen island, swipe the floors and tidy up and declutter the living room.  Since I do this every day, it really takes no more than 15 – 20 minutes to complete this task and there is no better feeling than waking up to a clean and fresh kitchen.
  2. Check the calendars and to-do list: I take 10 – 15 min to answer any pending emails, check my family calendar and update my to-do list for the next day. Also, any bills or home expenses are done or updated at this time. 
  3. Take a shower: There is no better way to put an end to a day than by taking a shower. It’s the best way to wash off a hectic, crazy, and non-stop day.
  4. Beauty routine:  I am turning 40 in June so the closer I get to this date the more I pay attention to my beauty routine.  I keep it simple, by cleansing my face well and using face oil or serum and finishing with a face and eye cream. Twice a week a do a facial, usually a sheet mask.
  5. Read a book: From a self-help book to a mystery thriller to a romantic novel or a magazine.  Reading is a way that I calm down and take the time to relax and let my mind enjoy the wonderful world of books. I personally keep about 5 books in my nightstand and go one after the other.  If you are not a fan of reading, you can take this time to write in your journal or listen to a book, rather than reading it.
  6. Practice Gratitude:  You can use an app or say it out loud or write it in your journal.  Acknowledging what you are grateful for will give you inner peace, love for the people in your life and faith for a better tomorrow.
  7. Meditate:  Take 5 – 10 minutes to meditate right before you go to bed, it can be a breathing exercise or a guided meditation and you can use an app or even a YouTube video as a guide.  Meditation is key in helping you be present in the moment.
  8. Turn off the light… is nighttime!

No matter what your bedtime routine consists of, having one will create a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day.  It will also allow you to make sure that the last part of your day are dedicated, in part, to your self-care.  These tips are meant to inspire you to create your own, from adding a time to watch TV to going for a run or doing yoga, create a routine that works for your interests and passions.  And if for any reason, we have to deviate from our routine, it’s fine… there is always tomorrow’s bedtime.

 

 

Recipe Time: Avocado Toast

Avocado Toast Time!

We have been making Avocado Toast for a while.   We usually make it for Sunday’s Brunch at home.  I like it because it allows me to customize it to everyone’s tastes and likes… For example, my husband likes it with Onion/Jalapeno Relish (pictured above) and a fried egg, my younger son likes it with boiled eggs (also pictured) and my oldest son likes simple with just a touch of cayenne pepper.

Below is the recipe we use to make Avocado Toast:

Avocado Toast

We spread the toast with Hummus before adding the avocado mix, below is the recipe of the Hummus we use:

Avocado Toast (1)

Finally, add the relish on top, below is the recipe I use for the relish:

Avocado Toast (2)

Putting it together:  Toast the bread, spread the hummus and put the avocado mix, at the end add the jalapeno/onion relish.  Enjoy with a 7-minute boiled egg (pictured).  Sunday just got better!

6 Tips on how to support your kids in school…

Gray Nordic Travel Photo Postcard

It is usual for us parents to have high expectations for our kids at school. I have always said to my kids over and over that their main responsibility is to study and do their best at school. I, as a parent, expect my kids to help around the house and clean their rooms, and for the most part, they do, but schoolwork is important and is prioritized when planning my family schedule.

A few days ago my oldest son received the news that he could take an exam, provided by his school district, that if he passes this exam he will be eligible to get credits that will allow him to learn 9th Grade Math next year when he goes to 7th Grade.  He is already in Advanced Math and thriving in his class. So when I brought this opportunity to him, and I left it to him to take it or not, he immediately accepted the challenge.

After reviewing all the information, he said he wanted to take the test, and my only two conditions were that he needs to prepare himself for it, and whatever he does with the exam he does it with 100%. He would need to practice and read and practice some more, of course, I will help him and support him. I said that if he doesn’t pass the test, it’ll be ok as long as he gave 100% and gave all his effort. He, of course, agreed enthusiastically. 

So, that made me think… how can us parents support our kids with their studies?  Here are my tips for you. It is what we do as a family and has worked for us so far.

  1. Create a reading habit. Give your kids time to read every day.  The time gets adjusted as they get older. For example, my 9-year-old gets 20 to 25 minutes, my 12-year-old gets 25 – 30 minutes.  This habit will help them build the foundation to discipline themselves towards their school work.
  2. Provide them with a place to study.  It can be their room, your room, the dining table or the kitchen island. It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as it is a constant place they feel comfortable and familiar with. 
  3. Learn with them.  Yes, we want and need time to sit down, relax, and do our thing, but taking the time to learn with your kids is pivotal to their learning process.  We, for example, read the Children’s Encyclopedia with our kids. They pick the subject and we take turns with reading the paragraphs and before we know it their little brain just learned new information.
  4. Support them in what they like.  My sons have gone through all kinds of interests, from the Titanic to airplanes, to all kinds of sports, etc., so we take them to the Library and they can find books on the subjects, from dinosaurs to precious rocks, and from Catholicism to Buddhism. Whenever a subject catches their attention, we motivate them to learn more about it.
  5. Reward success and understand the failures. When your kids do great, be happy for them, make them feel their effort is valued, and when your kids have what’s considered to you failures, be compassionate and understanding. Ask the right questions such as “Do you understand your mistake?” and “Do you want to go over it to understand it better?” “How can I help you bring the grade up?” Asking questions like “Why did you fail?” and “Why you did not try your best?” Are counterproductive and will not bring their grades up. We all make mistakes, and getting back on track is what matters. You want your kids to be open and honest with their struggles so when a bad grade or conduct comes home, it is a window to connect with your child in a compassionate and loving way.
  6. Provide them a healthy breakfast and a healthy snack. A nutritious, low sugar and a “good” fat content snack or meal are important for your kids.  When they eat healthily and nutritious, it is scientifically proven that their brains become more attentive and their body/mind becomes significantly more energetic and alert and that makes a big difference on their day at school.  We have our own “breakfast ritual” with our power shakes every morning (Monday to Saturday), but breakfasts like avocado toast, toast with hummus, a plain yogurt with low sugar granola and all sorts of fruits and veggies are great options.  A healthy snack when your kids come back from school includes, hummus and celery/carrots sticks, or hummus toast, almonds, cashews or pistachios, low sugar energy bars, etc.  Providing a healthy snack and meal will provide a surge of energy to tackle any homework or sports activities.

These are my top 6 tips for helping your kids with their studies.  We do all 6 of those tips with our sons, and so far it has helped them tremendously. They are thriving at their academics and after school activities (soccer and running).  It also provides an avenue to make you feel like you are a part of their journey. Remember, their success is your success.

 

 

The joy of running wild…

Orange Family Photo Greeting Thanksgiving Card

(Above are my two sons, at this time 11 and 8, last summer, and right behind is my Dad)

I was born in Panama, and my kids have been able to go back every vacation for a few weeks.  They stay with my parents, in the countryside, where my parents live. The little town is called El Barrero and my parents have lived there for over 10 years now.  There is a much bigger town right next to it, its call Penonome and many family members live, and it is also about 25 minutes from about three different beaches. My kids love going back every summer and feel the freedom that only small towns in the countryside can give you.

I know times change and their time in El Barrero and Penonome, will not be as it was for me when I was a child and would go there every vacation I had, but in regards to the feeling that nature, freedom, fresh air, and relaxation can give you is pretty close.  They always come back to us more humbled, less demanding, more appreciative, less connected to the electronics that they left behind and more connected to just be present and relax. They come back having discovered new foods that they like, remembering moments they spent with my family, telling stories of hiking trips, horse riding in the mountains, beach walks in the sunset and eating dinners outside with my parents.

I fear sometimes that there will be a moment in which they will choose to stay here and not to go back to Panama, maybe because of friends or girlfriends,  summer school, or sports activities, but at least I know that they will always treasure their time surrounded by the memories I made while growing up.  They had the chance of running wild…