Goin’ for the Gold!

IMG_1305©On a cloudy Thursday this past week our son was blessed to be standing on “America’s front porch” at the nation’s Capitol, facing the Washington Monument, looking over the Mall and the reflecting pool, shaking hands and talking economics and city layout with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Mr. Ryan’s sharp intellect was immediately apparent, as was his down-to-earth sincerity and interest in people.

Ours was not a political visit, but a meeting to celebrate Daniel receiving the bipartisan Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest youth award bestowed by our government. Danny had logged nearly 700 hours of community service, over 500 hours of personal development, 250 hours of physical fitness, and participated in or led eight expeditions, to earn the award. He had previously received the Bronze and Silver medals; the Gold are awarded in a full day of ceremonies in DC.

The immigrant comes home. My young TCK: Third Culture Kid, our global nomad. We moved our little white boy to Mexico after he graduated from primary school, so that he would know what it feels like to be an immigrant, a minority. It was important to us as parents that he gain a second language and culture, a way of looking at the world that saw beyond state lines. It has not been an easy journey; being an immigrant and a minority rarely is. It’s hard to have your voice not heard; it’s discouraging to be seen as weird, to be misunderstood. It’s frustrating to be labeled, to be grouped, rather than to be seen as an individual. Yet such experiences can cultivate an empathy and recognition of perspective that staying home rarely can. All life paths have their advantages; this was ours. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The Speaker had just finished a meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy when he met with us, and left us to record an interview with 60 Minutes. How cool is that? We were privileged to visit his private office—with that view I’m not sure I could get any work done at all, and the office’s gorgeous private conference room with its hand painted gold filigree ceiling and paintings of national parks and Wisconsin territorial maps, on loan from the National Gallery.

Sadly in such private spaces we weren’t allowed to take photos, but I assure you that amidst the history, the ornately carved furniture, antique tiled floors, wood paneling and plush carpets, there was plenty of Packer and cheesehead memorabilia. My personal fave was the wooden mallard decoy painted in Packer green and yellow signed by Brett Favre. Wisconsin has made its presence known on the Hill!

First thing that morning before we met the Speaker, we were honored to spend an hour or so with Senator Tammy Baldwin, also from Wisconsin. Her office also proudly repped this fair state: baskets full of dried cranberries, beef jerky, Cheetos, potato chips, kringle next to the coffee pot… Some day I’m going back to the House and Senate offices on a snack food tour! Guess I’d better lose some weight first.

Senator Baldwin had had a late night, because she had actively participated in the 18-hour filibuster on the Senate floor to help ensure that those on the terrorist watch list are banned from buying guns. I am proud to be a cheese head represented by this obviously committed, talented and passionate public servant, who has done so much to help our country realize its dream of inclusivity, first in the House and now in the Senate. She kindly accepted a copy of Cultural Detective LGBT, and assured me she’d give it a read and some feedback.

After these two very fortunate meetings, in the Senate and the Capitol, we went over to the House, to the Cannon Caucus Room, for an afternoon awards ceremony. We were so grateful to our friend Ross, who joined us at the ceremony, and hosted us with his wife, Meredith, at their home this weekend, too. It makes all the difference to have a cheering section, right? This was yet another gorgeous room, with ornately decorated walls and ceilings. The master of ceremonies was a reporter from ABC, and we heard from the President of the Congressional Award Foundation, Paxton Baker, one of the owners of the Washington Nationals. The foundation is privately funded. Although it’s a governmental award, issued according to a law passed in 1979, we were told that no government money goes to support this youth award.

As both the House and the Senate were in session, members of Congress had to come and go to present the awards to their constituents. It was quite a delight to feel the energy of being part of the important voting going on this week on the Hill.

This year 325 young Americans received the Gold Medal—the most ever. I was so happy to witness the diversity of the recipients. The sociologist in me wants to calculate the ethnic/racial demographics of the recipients, but I’d have only their names to go on—not exactly accurate or helpful data. Judging by the skin colors on stage, and the MC’s difficulty pronouncing the names, our diversity is definitely a strength for our future!

Fortunately at this point we got a bit of a break, and were able to head over to the National Arboretum to put our feet up in the shade and listen to some music. We had a major recognition dinner ahead of us in the Reagan Building and International Trade Center, yet another very impressive piece of architecture, this one modern. Over 1000 people attended the banquet so, honestly, we expected rubber chicken. We also feared there would be no alcohol, it being a youth recognition event. We were gratefully wrong on both counts.

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The meal was unbelievably good! I guess in DC the chefs know how to feed large crowds and still impress! We were received with passed appetizers and an open bar. We began dinner with a delicious baby spinach salad, followed by perfectly cooked short ribs and prawns over mashed potatoes with green beans, and finished with fresh raspberry topped chocolate torte. All this accompanied by free flowing red and white wine and beer. We sat with the families of two other awardees, one from California and one from Ohio; it made for great dinner conversation.

On the program for the evening were Cal Ripken, Jr., Wonder Woman herself, Linda Carter, and the hit of the evening, América Ferrera. Here enters our embarrassing moment. They introduce our beloved América, and the three of us stand, giving her a standing ovation. However, no one else does. There are over a thousand other people in that room, and no one stands? Do they not know how awesome this woman is? What a terrific activist she is, for very important causes? Are we this out of sync, living in Mexico? We stayed standing and clapping, feeling the eyes piercing our backs and sides. Today, the day Danny receives the Gold Medal, is the day eight years ago we became immigrants. This is an important day for us, in more ways than one.

América gave an incredible speech. I pray the Congressional Award people will make a recording available. It was so moving that a few minutes later, nearly everyone in that ballroom stood to give her a standing ovation. There was hooting, hollering and whistling. Who’s vindicated now, huh? I really, really wanted a photo with her, but the handlers hustled all the VIPs away immediately after the ceremony. Bless you for being you, América!

Man oh man oh man! We all went to bed that night feeling like we’d each just had the best day of our lives. What an incredible, unbelievable day. Yes, that’s repetitive, but it was a superlative kind of day. And then we woke up on Friday to go back up to the Speaker’s office for a private tour of the Capitol! The two-hour tour for just the three of us took us into the ceremonial office, where there’s an original Senate desk, where the President waits before he gives the State of the Union, and where heads of State wait before they address Congress. We were told that about 15,000 people tour the Capitol on an average June day, and maybe 5 enter that room. We were three of them.😉 I’ll take that luck. Again, no photos.

We got to walk on the floor of the House, sit in the chairs, push the vote buttons, and even stand at the speaker’s podium. “My fellow Americans,” I proclaimed. OMG, it was so very awesome! Again, no photos. But we have memories!! We toured all the rooms, the rotunda is still being restored, and thanks to Greg’s curiosity we even got a tour of some of the over 30 miles of tunnels connecting the buildings, many of which date back to the Revolutionary period. Trivia? Did you know the Capitol still has furniture makers on staff?

Today is Saturday. We’re sleeping in. Recovering from the hyper-energy of this fairy tale. We had originally hoped to meet with President Obama during our trip. He, of course, was in Orlando on Thursday, honoring the victims and consoling those affected by the horrific mass shooting.

Danny, thank you for working so hard so that your Mom and Dad could enjoy such an incredible experience on your coattails. I know that’s not why you did it, but it was a nice side benefit. It sure was fun. We are very proud of your discipline, perseverance, and hard work. Keep it up, remember who you are, values and ethics first. Be proud of you, in all your uniqueness and weirdness, for there is no one else on this earth with your set of talents and perspective—take them confidently and joyfully into the world.

Speaker Ryan and office staff, Senator Baldwin and staff, thank you for hosting us; we are so grateful for the opportunity. Congressional Award Board and staff, thank you. I cannot imagine the hours of work that go into managing a program of this magnitude, and pulling off an event of this size and caliber. Job extremely well done! It was amazing!

Family and friends, this award is for YOU, too. You helped raise and form Daniel. As the Africans say, “It takes a village,” and Danny is blessed to have grown up with you, in an incredibly love- and talent-filled global village. I have tears in my eyes thinking of the myriad ways you have either gone out of your way to help him, or unknowingly influenced him through your day-to-day modeling of how to be in this world. There are way too many people to mention, but directly leading to this Congressional Award I would like to mention a few.

  • Glen Jonson and Gary Kaufman of Troop 381 in Leawood, KS, who helped guide Danny through his first years of Scouting. You guys taught Danny the value of hard work and honesty, of not just signing off on something when you haven’t earned it. Thank you.
  • Patricia Tirado, who tutored Danny in Spanish and his academic subjects when we first arrived in Mexico. He, and we, couldn’t have done it without you or Gemma Tornero, who tutored him before we arrived!
  • Brian Samore, a close family friend and high school principal, who acted as Danny’s official advisor, helping guide and motivate Danny throughout the path to gold.
  • Jefe Carlos, Jefa Jessica, Jefa Graciela, all the wonderful leaders and fellow Scouts of Grupo 4 Conforti in Mazatlán. You helped Danny rekindle his love of Scouting, and to cultivate that love of the outdoors and camping. Bless you for your friendship!
  • Terry Meyers of the Lone Scouting organization, and all of those who helped Danny on the road to Eagle. Eagle is a significant achievement with a troop, but as a Lone Scout, in a land where no one understands what you’re trying to do, it was unbelievably challenging. There were so many times we all wanted to give up. Luis Ramirez, thank you for celebrating that milestone as US consular officer, to help show our local friends that it was, indeed, something to commemorate.
  • People to People International, thank you for the double scholarships to the Global Youth Forum, without which there is no way Danny could have attended from overseas. You provided him invaluable experiences and friendships.
  • Teachers, students and staff of Instituto Cultural del Occidente. Thank you so much for the guidance, the friendship, and the going above and beyond to help with college applications and recommendations in a foreign system. We so appreciate your loving on our son.
  • The Congressional Award staff. You rejected his Gold Expedition application not just once, but twice. You most definitely helped Danny learn perseverance and hard work. The first time, he led a Scout expedition across Mexico, renting a bus, planning the itinerary, coordinating young to old. The staff ruled that it didn’t show enough independent leadership, and yet, he led the whole trip. It’s a cultural difference between US and Mexican scouting, we get it. In the end, Daniel sold his car and took a much-anticipated solo trip to Argentina, living on US$700 for three weeks. Don’t ask me how, but he came home with money in his pocket. That application proved the ticket. Thank you for your guidance on the record keeping, and your help with the Congressional office visits. You are doing much good with our young people.
  • Speaker Ryan’s staff, for making the meeting happen, for all the behind-the-scenes stories and trivia, and for that most excellent tour! You rock and it is so appreciated! Also thank you to Senator Baldwin’s office!
  • All of you who love him, and us—family, friends, colleagues. You bring joy and meaning to our lives.

God bless you and keep you, most sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. As I read yesterday in the bagel shop recommended by Maureen, from Speaker Ryan’s office, “May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past” (Irish blessing).

Addendum on Sunday, June 26: The awardees are entered into the Congressional Record! So cool. Danny’s name is on the bottom of the first page—and, amazingly, it is spelled correctly!

 

 

USA’s Oldest Sanctioned Bowling Alley

DSC_0692©We held our cousin’s birthday party yesterday in South Milwaukee. In Lincoln Village, actually— a traditionally Polish neighborhood that is now heavily Latino. On the corner sits a 200 year-old home, the ground floor of which is a baudily decorated tavern. Upstairs lives 88 year-old Marcy Skowronski, the very feisty and sharp-as-a-tack proprietress, and in the basement is a two-lane bowling alley built back in 1908. When I made the reservation, she and I must have talked for about twenty minutes—she’s a hoot!

When we drove up, I could see my cousins weren’t as excited as we were. I imagined them thinking, “We drove 30 minutes for THIS?” The house is old, non-descript, not the best maintained, much like any other in the neighborhood. To many locals, a place like this can, I suppose, be very ho-hum. Greg and I have outsider eyes—I was born in this area, but I haven’t lived here since I was 11; Greg grew up in California. To us, visiting a place steeped in local history and tradition is awesome; we don’t care where on the planet it is. New and fabulous clubs and restaurants have lots of parallels worldwide, but funky local dives—that’s where you see true diversity. We’ve confirmed this through decades of living as global nomads. Our group ended up having a very good time; it just wasn’t a place they would have chosen for a party.

Anyone versed in bowling history or Milwaukee-area trivia knows this place as the Holler House. Holler House is confirmed by the United States Bowling Congress as the first bowling alley in the USA. In 2008 Esquire magazine rated it one of the best bars in the USA.

In the bowling alley, you’ll notice Polish falcon crests above the lanes. There is a mini-museum of bowling balls, bags, shoes, trophies, and other memorabilia dating back to 1912. The two lanes are made of wood, and they are gorgeous—though far from level after all these years! Balls are ancient, largely heavy, and many have only two finger holes. Some of the balls are even made of wood! Bowling shoes are a tangled mess, very worn and quite smelly; they hide beneath the stairs. One wall in the alley is cinder block and is filled with signatures and drawings of bowlers who have preceded you. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

What is the best part? The pin boys, of course! The manual-mechanical pin-setting mechanism requires a real person to reset the pins. He (in our case, his name was Carmelo, and he was a college student) hides at the back of the alley, narrowly escaping the flying pins and hurtling balls, in order to launch, by hand, your ball back on the hand-carved wooden track so it returns to you. He also re-loads the semi-mechanical pin-setting machine. It is chez cool! The ball return is HAND-CARVED wood! I could barely believe my eyes!

Score is kept on a large piece of paper hung on the wall—just like when I was a kid. The teenager and twenty-something in our group seemed to have no idea how to score a game of bowling, so it was nice for the older set to have a skill to show off. I will also brag on my cousin Chub who, at 80, still bowled a fantastic game!

Marcy married Gene Skowronski in 1952, and has run the bar since his death. Her parents-in-law built the place back in 1908, calling it “Skowronski’s.” She and Gene changed the name to “Gene and Marcy’s,” and changed it again to “Holler House” around 1975, when they heard that a customer told them his wife had asked him to take her “back to that wonderful, noisy, holler house bar.”

Here’s a 2014 interview with Marcy from the documentary, Pints and Pins. Check it out. You’ll get a good feel for her storytelling, and you’ll see just why I and everyone else falls in love with her:

While there is a full bar, there are no taps for beer or sodas, so you only order bottled beer. But, man, are there some good beers—and wonderful service by the bar keep! Here you can have an excellent Old-Fashioned or Gin Rickey. While the Internet and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives talk about Marcy’s food, please realize that she is no longer cooking. She is happy to have you bring in your own food, or order in. Fortunately for us, they very graciously produced a coupon for Ned’s Pizza, which has long been on our bucket list. It did not disappoint! I’ve always said that there is goodness in not over-planning; it leaves space for spontaneous blessing to enter. In this case, it was pizza instead of the Polish sausage I’d somehow been imagining all day.

Wondering about the decor? I sort of like the dark red walls, the tapped tin ceilings in bright red, the old hardwood bar, and the stained glass lamps, but the many bras hanging from the ceiling? Marcy tells me that she was drinking with some girlfriends about 50 or so years ago when they decided to throw their bras up on some skis hanging from the ceiling. A tradition was born; women visiting for the first time were encouraged to autograph and leave an intimate souvenir to commemorate the occasion, resulting in thousands of bras hanging from the ceiling. The current batch is a second round, as in 2013 all the bras were taken down and boxed up, for the tradition to begin anew.

Some years ago the guys decided they wanted in on the action. Marquette University published an article on Holler House, and the male students asked Marcy if they could autograph and hang their underwear and boxers. She said, “Sure!” As I said, she’s feisty and doesn’t miss a beat!

The place of course was open during Prohibition, when they hid the booze under a baby crib. Her father-in-law smoked 18 cigars a day and drank Old Fitz. In 2008, in preparation for the 100th anniversary, Marcy found five two-hole WOODEN bowling balls weighing 15 pounds each. I think we may have played with them last night, lol! Nowadays, Marcy’s son-in-law takes care of the accounting, and her two grandsons can’t wait to take their turn at being pin boys.

It’s a dive, no doubt. It smells almost as old as it looks. But it is so cool! Well worth the visit! We shared some great laughs and reminiscences here. Call ahead to make a reservation: 414-647-9284. Bowling is $4/person/game, and it’s customary to tip the pin boy $3/person—he works hard in limb-threatening conditions!

 

ChocolateFest!

DSC_0169©I grew up in a very small farming town in southeastern Wisconsin, amidst fields of sweet corn, soy beans, pigs, cows and chocolate. What, chocolate? Yes, my birthplace— Burlington, Wisconsin—was at least at that point in time, in the 1960s, home of the world’s largest Nestle’s chocolate plant. When the plant was running, the smell of chocolate filled the thoughts and the subconsciousness of those in town and the surrounding areas—anyone within whiffing distance. No need for me to wonder why, as an adult, I crave chocolate.

In the late 1980s some entrepreneurial municipal leaders started Chocolate Fest. It quickly gained popularity thanks to Hershey’s suing our town over it’s newly adopted byline, “Chocolate City USA.” The lawsuit was written up everywhere, including the Wall Street Journal, and my little hometown of Burlington gained some welcome press (plus, we still use the tagline). Click any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

This year, thanks to our desire to get to DC to witness Danny receive the Congressional Award, we are in Wisconsin much earlier than usual, in time for Chocolate Fest—it’s always on Memorial Day weekend. How could anyone resist a festival with such a cute retro logo? And loads of chocolate of every kind? And rides? And games? And carnival food?

I wanted to go and take some photos, and Greg was kind enough to humor me and act as photographer’s assistant, carrying my gear and helping me set up. We had a blast watching a brother and sister’s intense concentration and commitment to a game of chocolate Jenga. Their teamwork and mutual support were a sight to behold. If more families were like this, America would be oh-so-great! In the end, when the tower finally fell, there was no shame and blame, just pats on the back, shared sadness, and smiles. God bless those two! Ends up the two men against whom they were playing were their Dad and, I’m guessing, their uncle. Mom and little sis were in the audience. I do love small town Midwest!

Next up in the chocolate tent was the cupcake eating contest. I was very quickly enchanted with vampire boy (he had his face painted like a vampire). He easily won the child portion of this child-parent contest. Check out his passion and skill. Sadly, while his Mom did her absolute best, she wasn’t able to keep with the Dad next to her who cleaned up his plate quite easily.

We absolutely love our home in Mazatlán, México. It is a blessing every year to be able to reconnect with loved ones north of the border, and to experience the beauty up here. Every culture on this earth has so very much to offer; if only we’d take the time to truly embrace one another and realize that we all have our truths, our contributions and our pieces of the solution. It was a privilege and a joy to share Chocolate Fest with all of you today!

The city fair in Burlington goes on today, Sunday and all day tomorrow, Memorial Day. Then next weekend is our church fair—St. Thomas here in Waterford, which includes my all-time favorite: cow pie bingo. Plus a pig roast. I think we’ll have to miss it, though, as we plan to drive to St. Paul to visit Danny.

Thank you, parents and kids, for being such good sports about letting me photograph you all! If you want the high-res versions of any of these photos for your family use, just let me know!

Infographic on Our Malecón

A few weeks ago a lady from a marketing company contacted me, asking for information about our beloved malecón. She said she was tasked with making an infographic for a new hotel in town.

It’s always fun when someone asks you about something you love, and Lord knows I absolutely adore our malecón. It’s one of Mazatlán’s greatest treasures. I don’t know where this lady is based, but my guess is she knows nothing about Mazatlán, but was given this task. She was very nice.

A week or two later, I heard from Janet Blaser, M! Magazine, that she’d been contacted as well, and liked what the lady showed her I’d said about our malecón being the world’s largest gym.

Turns out the infographic is for the new Choice hotel, Quality Inn Mazatlán. The marketing company gave me permission to share the infographic with you. It’s pretty cool. I hope it’ll show up so that you can zoom in and read it easily.

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I rather like it. Cool to have an infographic on Mazatlán. I would have preferred a good picture of our three gorgeous islands in the bay and the killer views, but… Please let us know what you think. You may remember I did perhaps Mazatlán’s very first infographic a few years ago, about our Carnavál.

Of course, when we give input on these things, there’s never enough room for everything. Infographics are summaries. Interested in what I told the lady? Here’s my note:

My apologies, Ana; we have been traveling in Colombia for work and didn’t have a chance to respond.

The malecón to me is the world’s longest outdoor gymnasium. You can ride bicycles, in-line skate, jog, or walk. You can also do yoga on the beach, zumba, open-water swim with members of the swim club at Playa Norte, surf, standup paddle board, or parasail. You can rent a catamaran, Hoby-cat or jet ski and check out the sea lions or head out to the quiet beach on Deer Island, with killer views of the city. In addition to these many sports, there are palapa restaurants where you can sit with your toes in the sand and eat fresh shrimp, scallops, ceviche or fish.

https://vidamaz.com/2009/10/04/el-gimnasio-mas-grande-del-mundothe-worlds-biggest-gymnasium/

Carpa Olivera is one of the world’s very few ocean-fed public swimming pools, free of charge and extremely scenic.

https://vidamaz.com/2015/05/01/carpa-olivera-ocean-fed-pool-positions-mazatlan-among-worlds-elite/

Once a year locals swim out to Deer Island in the Travesía Anual:

https://vidamaz.com/2013/03/03/la-travesia-anual-annual-community-swim-from-playa-norte-to-deer-island-mazatlan/

During Carnavál, the world’s third largest, two parades go down the full length of the malecón.

https://vidamaz.com/2013/02/18/street-view-carnaval-de-mazatlan-2013-desfile-principal/

https://vidamaz.com/2012/02/22/carnaval-parade-preparations/

During the Maratón Internacional del Pacífico, there are fireworks set off from a dozen places along the malecón, making for an incredible sight.

https://vidamaz.com/2015/11/29/festival-de-la-luz-2015/

Enjoy! Have a wonderful summer, everyone!

Are You My Mother?

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You have read of the lovely rosy finch families that have nested on our deck the past 5-6 years. First it was one family, then two, and now up to three families nest on our eleventh floor terrace each spring. We love it! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Every year we are blessed to wake up to their bird song, and to hear it throughout the day. We watch as the mother and father make their nest, then as they feed their babies. They zoom in and out the windows, they dance on the railing, and they poop a LOT. The family below had three babies this year. Aren’t they cute? They climb on top of each other in order to peer out. Once in a while one or the other will get his feathers stuck on the edge. They grow so very quickly.

Then, suddenly, one day, the nest is empty. We hear no more singing, and we are sad. In the process, we usually lose one of our plants, because we stop watering it while the birds are nesting.

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This year, however, two unusual things have happened. First, one family of nesters left an egg that never hatched. How very sad! It is so, so tiny, and oh-so-precious!

Then, last night, Greg was awoken at 2 a.m. One of the small birds in the second set of nesters had either fallen or flown from the nest. He was standing on the tile floor right in front of our sliding glass door, looking in at us, and chirping his heart out! “Are you my Mommy,” he seemed to be asking.

Greg googled at 2 a.m. to read that the parents were no doubt nearby, and would take care of the bird; that we shouldn’t worry. We should just leave him alone. So we did. And he chirped all night long. Well into the morning.

Just before I left for church, we read on the Internet that it’s a wive’s tale that birds will abandon their young if humans pick them up and return them to the nest. The article cautioned, however, that young birds have parasites and germs, so it’s best to pick them up and move them with a container.

I used an old yoghurt container to gently take our baby bird and replace him in his nest. Twenty minutes later, he was down again, this time inside a pot of aloe. Again, he was chirping his heart out. I went to church, and Greg went running.

By the time we returned, our young friend was again out on the deck, looking in at us and crying. We were worried. It would appear his mother had died; we hadn’t seen her since yesterday. Then, miraculously, Daddy showed up!

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Our guess is that Mom has, sadly, disappeared. Thank goodness that this father isn’t an absentee Dad! He seems to be taking good care of the two remaining in the nest and, the one hyper-active child who keeps thinking he can fly before he’s ready.