Memories from an "all girls" Catholic school

My son, following the public education of where we live, will go through four schools before graduating from high school. He is truly unfazed by the system and is already looking forward to going to his third school, I,  on the other hand, cannot help but feel anxious that he is not creating roots and love for the “alma mater” the way I did. You see, I went to the same Catholic School for 13 years, 13 years in the same building, with the same teaches, with the majority of my classmates year after year, simply growing up together like sisters.  It was an “only girls” school, and it was awesome!.

My school logo

After spending 13 years in the same school, an immense love develops for the building that saw us grow, for the teachers who witnessed year after year our development. We learned to admire the Patron Saint of my school: Santa Rafael Maria, who we knew her entire biography from beginning to end, and to which we prayed and sang during our religion classes. We grew up in an environment of love, servitude, and peace, and above all, of friendship.  It was as if each of my classmates had something special and specific to offer, we all together, all 72 of us, were a unit. A unit of solidarity, of understanding, of acceptance, of complicity, of fun.

me in the circle!

We still in contact, through Facebook, and and we are currently 66 in our Whatsapp group. We congratulate each other when one marries or becomes a mother, and we support each other when illness and pain knock on the door. The school joined us for 13 years and 25 years later we still have the ability to remember our adventures and pranks with love and with the tenderness that great memories of the past can make us feel.

The picture below is in our 20 year anniversary. We were almost the entire group including the ones that live outside of Panama, like me. We did our effort to show up and catch up after 20 years, it was an amazing night!

My hope is that my son will develop the same loyalty to his high school, that his schoolmates will become an intrinsic part of his upbringing and he will have is own wonderful, long-lasting, and honest group of friends with whom he will learn that no matter what life throws your way, you have shoulders to lean on and a strong core of values that the school has also planted in his heart.

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Photos from the past… time to remember

The other day my cousin sent me a photo unexpectedly. I kept looking at the picture for a while, trying hard to recognize the place. I was so surprised when I finally recognized it! It was the beach house we use to go when we were younger when we were kids, it was our vacation spot, it was our Adventureland. What I could have remembered as a beautiful place, with very comfortable beach chalets, and a gigantic pool was nothing more than small cabins with a grill and plastic chairs in the front porch, and a small pool that certainly had to be overcrowded when we would swim and play in it. 

In those little cabins, I had created memories that are surrounded by happiness and pure joy,  encapsulating that moment in time when fun was the main driving force of my days. I could clearly remember the happiness of my parents. The happiness of my cousins ​​and friends. The happiness of freedom. The happiness of not knowing that life hits hard and takes away your loved ones. The happiness that only the innocence of youth can make us feel.

Now, seeing that picture, trying to piece together the puzzle  of my broken memory I realize that it is impossible. That beautiful beach, with its very comfortable chalets and its gigantic swimming pool, will be forever engraved on me, and cannot be reconciled with the photos of reality. 

Speaking with my cousin of those times, almost 27 years ago, we felt nostalgic for the innocence we lost over the years, we felt sad when we remember the people we lost since then.  It was painful to realize that so much time has passed. That we grew old.

I have always believed that the purpose of remembering is to relive again. And when talking to my cousin about those years, we felt the urgency to recognize that our children now have the opportunity to experience the happiness of innocence. That it is not the beauty of the place, nor the spectacular hotel, nor the giant pool what will remain in their memories … but our company, our laughter, the moments with their friends, the talks in the sand next to a campfire … those will be their memories and no picture will match it and the time will not corrupt it either.

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The power of true friendship… looking into my memories

Memory Lane…

I grew up with a fantastic group of friends.  Some of them are part of my life since I was 5 years old (really we met in kindergarten!).  Others were added to the circle as we grew up, however, we, all together, go back since we were 12 years old.

We are now older, we would think smarter, definitely more experienced, we want to believe wiser.  We have stuck together through 25 years of friendship where marriage, divorce, kids, distance, and loss has happened.  But we are us, uniquely us, we encourage each other, we help each other, we give each other company, we complain about everyone and everything and we, sometimes, don’t see eye to eye (at all).  I am a very fortunate and grateful person for having them in my life.

I have personally a great story about what friendship is all about, what my friends have taught me with their actions.  I was 17 years old when I had a bad car accident. I broke my neck (C5) and back (L2 through L5), which meant I was so very fortunate to be able to tell the story, even more of fully recovering from it.  The recovery took months and one constant through all those months were my friends. They took turns coming to visit me, they learned how to help me with changing clothes or with shower and bathroom duties, they helped eat when I was not able, learned to clean my wounds (I had the halo), and most importantly where constant emotional support.

We were young, just graduated from high school, we had boyfriends and we liked to party. We were wild in our own way.  We were good kiddos that truly enjoyed going out and living life and so for the next few months, we held parties at my house so that I could be present, they slept in my house so that my parents could leave for the weekend to attend other commitments, they took me to therapy when needed and wherein the house the moment I would feel down and in pain. They were my rock.

I am so grateful for my friends for what the did during one of the most painful times in my life. I am grateful for their company, support, encouragement, compassion, and kindness.  My love for them has only grown stronger as the last 25 years have passed and we remain as close as ever. Even though I chose to leave Panama and come to live in the US and therefore my life took a different route than theirs back home, we talk every day through Whatsapp and phone, always fully invested in each other lives.  Always. That is what I call best friends forever (all 13 of them).

Treasure your friends, no matter where they are, no matter how different their lives look from you now, friendship is an infinite source of power and encouragement, but it needs to be nurtured, you need to pay attention to it, you need to be present and provide as much time as you can.  Call them, talk to them, listen to them, tell them how much their friendship means to you. Always.

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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?

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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)

 

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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…

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