My Little Brother

This is entry No. 5 from the Tributes series, Father’s Day Edition.

It is 7:00 PM on Father’s Day. We’ve had a nice day celebrating as a family. Now, Juan is taking a nap and the kids are hanging out at the coffee shop, and all I’m burdened to do is write about this incredible man: my little brother.

As children, we were very distinct and independent. We enjoyed different things; we processed information differently; we dealt with life issues differently. We were not the closest of siblings, but were not indifferent to each other either. I loved playing my guitar and singing, while he spent hours on end flying pretend airplanes. I stayed indoors and played board games by myself while he preferred riding his bike with his friends. We grew apart during our teenage years, especially as I moved out of our home, came to the States, and enrolled in college. Not too long after that I was a married woman while he was in high school, and our priorities and paths of life looked drastically different. But I loved him deeply and he loved me.

I am so delighted to see the adult my brother has become. My heart beams with pride, for he is truly an amazing person. When we moved to the United States (he came a year after I did), we had nothing. My parents had lost their business and we had no possessions or money. My brother arrived in Florida knowing very little English and signed up in a public high school. It was a sink or swim type of situation. And he swam. He really, really swam. He got a job as a busboy and later became a very good server. He waited tables while attending college. He worked hard, saved money, and became very business savvy. He graduated, bought a house, got married, and had beautiful babies. He is now a very successful executive and works extremely hard for the good of his family. He is determined, hard-working, ambitious, and steadfast. I admire these qualities in him.

My brother loves his family. He is a committed husband and father, not only wishing their well being, but working hard to attain it. He values time with them, he knows their struggles, he helps them the best way he can, and he would unreservedly lay down his life for his wife and his kids, if necessary. Carla is an amazing woman and his children are fabulous humans; a testament to the love and dedication he has for them. He is also a good, faithful, and fun-loving friend. He continues friendships he started when he was a child, and his friends know they can count on him if they need him.

Peter is the most competitive person I know. He hates to lose. I am competitive as well, so our card or board games can get pretty heated and often times highly entertaining. But aside from the desire to win in trivial activities, my brother possesses an un-quenching desire to do things well and fully. He likes to live life to the fullest and with no regrets.

I love my brother and I know he loves me. If and when I’m in trouble, I want him by my side, because he has my back. Even though our lives have looked and felt very differently for many years, I know that age, experiences, and relationships have unified our priorities and goals in life. Despite our heated games and conversations (which we are learning to laugh at more and more), the truth is that I love spending time with him and his beautiful family. The single, hardest part, for me, about moving to VA, has been missing spending time with him and the Vargas clan.

Thank you, God, for giving me my brother. It is truly a gift from you.

Wasn't he a total cutie?

Wasn’t he a total cutie?

Oh his plane, with Lizette in the back seat

Oh his plane, with Lizette in the back seat

A die hard Ecuadorian fan

A die hard Ecuadorian fan

Clearly he won and Juan lost

Clearly he won and Juan lost

Partying

Partying

The clan at Jamestown

The clan at Jamestown

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For Laura

Entry No. 4 from the Tributes Series

I have so much to say about my dear friend, Laura. I’m having a hard time condensing it all into one reasonable post. She is just that amazing!

I met Laura many years ago through homeschooling. She was the one who introduced our family to speech and debate, which ended up becoming a huge part of our lives. Laura is persistent and persuasive when she really believes in something; Thus, she insisted that we attend a conference. We did, and the rest is history.

Laura is one of those women who seems to know everyone and loves to connect people with people, as well as people with causes. I discovered this early on in our relationship, so whenever I organized a speech and debate tournament, I delegated all the PR to Laura. Let me tell you, no one can recruit judges like Laura can! The politicians who came to her door promoting themselves for the next elections, had no idea they would end up judging a round of debate the next day. But she had her way of persuading them, and sure enough our beginner debaters were being adjudicated by congressmen and mayors!

Laura has strong convictions and pours herself out wholeheartedly for the things she believes in. She is a strong believer and loves Jesus passionately. She believes that the Gospel saves and that people need to hear it. She unashamedly pursues unbelievers in order to share her faith with them. She was a missionary in Guatemala many moons ago, and now a missionary in her own city. I just love that about her.

Her love and service of others is simply outstanding. Yes, she is a loving mom and a wonderful wife, but more than that, she befriends anyone in need of friendship and nurses anyone needing care (oh yeah, I didn’t mention she is actually a nurse and she has helped me a bijillion times with all my health consultations πŸ˜‰ )

If I ever need a friend, I know Laura is just a text away! She will lend me a listening ear, and she will also tell me her opinion plainly and simply. She’s a no-nonsense, down to earth counselor, and she’s not afraid to speak the truth. Her love is evident, and she follows through with much grace.

Laura endures hardship with strength and optimism. Auto-immune disease, loss of job, career change, and other difficulties she face are not enough to sway her from her steadfast joy and hope in her God. She doesn’t crumble under pressure but becomes a problem solver. She is not only self-motivated, but creative and resourceful. And when she finds something good, she gets everybody to join her! She can’t eat wheat. No problem! She finds a million recipes for delicious gluten-free foods. She discovers a fun way to exercise and soon enough her entire neighborhood joins Zumba classes. She can’t practice nursing any more, so she becomes a great salesperson (something she thought she would never be able to do) and she recruits like a pro! And hey, why not do some Uber driving on the side?

I admire you, Laura. I deeply appreciate your friendship and I love you very much. When we are old and… OK, I was going to say wrinkled, but with that Nerium you sell, that may never happen to you ;). Anyway, when we are really old, let’s move to the same community (Cristen, Leslie, and Carmen, you come too!). You can make your amazing chips and salsa, we can go to adapted Zumba-with-walkers classes or stroll together every morning, like we used to do at the lake, except a lot slower. Then we can visit in the afternoons and I can help you practice Spanish so you don’t forget it. Our kids all love each other, so when all 7 visit, we can have parties with lots of Ecuadorian/Guatemalan/Japanese/Cuban/gluten-free food. It will be a blast, I tell you πŸ™‚

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

At Les Miserables :)

At Les Miserables πŸ™‚

Laura with her man :)

Laura with her man, at my house, in some sort of a party…

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

<3

❀

I Am Joining the Lamentations 3 Challenge. Will You?

Once and again I read an article that hits me right between the eyes; You know, the deeply convicting kind. The article that I’m about to share is one of them. And by convicting, I don’t mean that I see what I’m doing wrong and feel guilty about it. I mean that I realize what I’m missing, and want it. My soul yearns for it and calls me to take action. The Spirit moves me to thirst for it, like a deer panting for water.

So, dear reader, here is the challenge I propose:

  1. Read “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning” from Desiring God, by clicking here. Read the article in its entirety.Β Don’t cheat. Just do it, and then come back to this blog and read the remaining points.
  2. If you long to experience the steadfast love of God and taste his new mercies every morning, then make a commitment, along with myself, to make time for reading Scripture and prayerΒ beforeΒ checking your phone for notifications, emails, news, or any social media. This may mean that you keep your Bible on your night table, in the bathroom, or breakfast table. In my case, I often tend to read Scripture from my tablet or phone. But since I don’t want to see any notifications before I actually read my Bible, I will only use the actual book (you know, the one with pages made of paper).
  3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, how about we triple that to make sure it really, really, really sticks! How about a 2-month challenge! I’m starting it tomorrow morning, and so can you. Whenever you read this blog, you too can begin.
  4. If you “like” or “comment” in response to this blog, I will add your name to my prayer list. I will pray that God helps you start and keep this commitment, and that He will establish this pattern as a life style for both you and me. I will appreciate your prayers on my behalf as well. If you share this on social media, use the hashtag #Lamentations3challenge, so we can keep track of each other.
  5. Relax and rest in the Lord. This is not an all or nothing pledge. God is full of grace and understanding for when we are unable to keep our commitment. He is sovereign over emergencies, change of schedules, young children who demand attention, sickness, and even our forgetfulness or mismanagement of time! If you don’t keep your end of the deal, pray and start all over again. Even if we are not faithful, He always is.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

Lamentations 3

My Tia is The Best Tia

Entry No. 2 from the Tributes Series: To my Tia (aunt) Cristina.

I was a scared teenager when I moved to the United States upon graduating from high school. I barely knew the language, I had no friends, I had never driven a car, much less in such a big city, and I had never fended for myself. Even though I had not grown up close to Cristina, and I barely knew her, she stepped into my life with a bang and helped me survive and assimilate to this new world of mine. She made me clothes that were in style (because styles vary from country to country and I looked like a dork in Miami standards), taught me to speak “Cuban”, and helped me laugh, even in the midst of such uncertainty and loneliness. I knew I could count on her. Her friendship became a life line, and she took hold of a permanent place in my heart.

Cristina is one of the funniest people I know. Last time I saw her in Miami, she greeted me with a joke, as always. She laughs at herself and she laughs at life. We recently grieved the loss of my uncle together. Cristina has the gift of truly embracing difficult emotions, while at the same time pointing out the light and comical. No one can cry and laugh in one sitting like she can. I’m so thankful for that!

Some of the things that I mostly admire about her, are her courage and perseverance. She has faced life and motherhood while single, working several jobs, even three at a time, relying solely on God for strength. When I grow up, I want to be like her πŸ˜‰

Cristina, I’m so blessed to have you in my life. Though we rarely talk, I am confident that I can always count on you, and that you will rejoice with me when I’m happy and hurt with me when I cry. I am so proud of you! You are a wonderful mom, sister, daughter, and friend. I’ve witnessed your spiritual growth. I know my grandfather would have been so pleased to see you serving God with such passion and love.

I love you.

My 18th birthday, 2 months after I moved to the states, with Cristina, my uncle Aris, and my grandparents.

My 18th birthday, 2 months after I moved to the states, with Cristina, my uncle Aris, and my grandparents.

She was a fashionista and we made outfits for my birthday.

She was a fashionista and we made outfits for my birthday.

Maid of Honor at my wedding.

Maid of Honor at my wedding.

Cristina with her daughter, Gabi, and my son, Daniel

Cristina with her daughter, Gabi, and my son, Daniel

Cristina now :)

Cristina now πŸ™‚

Mikala

Entry No. 3 from the Tributes Series

She was just the second student I had upon moving to VA. I had left my private voice studio in Miami, where I had more than 30 students whom I loved dearly. Now I was living in Richmond, without friends, connections, or recommendations. And in came 15 year old Mikala. She was the type of kid who listened to every word I said, took it all to heart, practiced wholeheartedly, and did not settle for less than her best. I had a few students like that in Miami. Now Mikala was blessing me by reminding me that I could have the same kind of fulfillment I had left behind, here in my new home.

Mikala and I connected instantly. She had the passion and the determination needed to grow in her craft, and I had the love and enthusiasm to help her in every way I could. Not sure who helped whom the most, but I know the blessing was mutual. She has continued to study with me, every week for the past two and a half years, with the same courage and drive as she started. I admire her work ethic, discipline, and disposition; three traits that will take Mikala far in life, with the help of God.

Mikala is strong. I have seldom seen a young person suffering so many injuries and illnesses, and battle them courageously with the help of her family (hats off to her momma for being a great one :)) She is also strong in her thinking, not caving in to peer pressure, trends, or fads. She has a mind of her own, knows what she wants, and goes for it. She doesn’t like to lose time, but keeps herself engaged, takes her school seriously, and loves to excel in everything she does. I had the pleasure of helping her with speech three years ago when her mom and I ventured out and started an NCFCA club in RVA. I’m very pleased to see that Mikala is competing next week in impromptu at Nationals, and has become an exceptional debater as well.

I am blessed to have Mikala in my studio, but beyond that, I am honored to have her, as the special human that she is, in my life. One day Mikala and I will be in the presence of Jesus, singing praises to him, together. For now, we just practice.

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

Last year's recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Last year’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Mikala singing at last week's recital

Mikala singing at last week’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Gabriel’s Visit to the Ophthalmologist

Yes, we finally found a great group of ophthalmology at VCU. What a team! Loved, loved, loved them!

After a long wait, Gabriel finally went to have his eyes checked today. The doctors and the technology at VCU were fabulous, and most importantly, Gabriel cooperated fully and kept his eyes open for the entire duration of the many tests he underwent. Juan and I were in awe.

It turns out Gabriel’s eyes are PERFECT. Clean cornea, retina, optic nerve, the whole shebang. There isn’t even a trace of the series of persistent iritis he had six months ago. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

This is great news, of course. And it’s also disconcerting, only because we have pretty much tested him for everything there is to test, and we still don’t know why he has had such a strong decline in behavior and mood. The only possible explanation, as far as I’m concerned, unless I’m missing something, is that it is purely sensory.

On that note, it’ll be fabulous to have our dearest friend, Maggie, come visit next week πŸ™‚ Gabriel is going to flip when he sees her!

Anyway, thank you for all who have prayed for Gabriel. I know many of you have and continue to do so. Please don’t stop. He has had several good days, and his eyes have been consistently open for three of them. This is INCREDIBLE. We have suspended the use of migraine medication, which has actually seems fine without it. But we still need to figure out what he struggles with and how to help him, so keep those prayers coming!!

Specific prayer request: Pray that he will receive his Med waiver. He has been on a waiting list for a long while, and it would be amazing for him to get those funds. We can sure put them to good use. Lord, provide the waiver before the fall of this year!!

Sitting casually at the doctor's office :)

Sitting casually at the doctor’s office πŸ™‚

Model patient

Model patient

Ready to go have pizza!!

Ready to go have pizza!!

Summer Resolutions

I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions in January because chances are, I will never keep them. They just seem so ominous and unrealistic, usually involving a transformation in lifestyle and habits. January 1st seems like such a random day, to me. Yes, the calendar year changes, but in actuality nothing is significantly altered, other than the fact that we have partied for a month and a half throughout the various holidays, and probably gained 15 pounds in the process. Hence all the diet and exercise resolutions that Weight Watchers and Gold’s Gym take advantage of πŸ˜‰

But today is different. Today marks the beginning of my summer schedule, which means I’m not working the same type or amount of hours as during the school year. Instead, I will be compacting all my private lessons into two days a week for the months of June and July. Therefore, I am looking forward to having two months of, well, a bunch of free time, and I want to use it well! So here are my resolutions for my summer:

  1. I will prioritize spending time with my family. I will have fun with Gabriel (I anticipate lots of trips to the pool), have plenty of picnics, go to the lake, play games, and have meaningful conversation with every member of my beautiful, loved family.
  2. I will clean and de-clutter my house. I’ll start with closets. I foresee many trips to the donation drop-off at Goodwill. I will, hopefully, tackle drawers and cupboards, and who knows, maybe even the laundry room!
  3. I will deep-clean my house. Once.
  4. I will cook more. My family will definitely appreciate that.
  5. I will take more time to write and compose.
  6. I will start and finish a book to help me grow spiritually.
  7. I will start and finish a book to read for fun.
  8. I will spend more time with friends, which will not be hard, considering I have barely done that lately.
  9. I will venture out more. I will take time to go places around this beautiful city and state, see new sites, and learn more about this culture and history.
  10. I will NOT stress if I don’t achieve the previous 9 nine things I’ve set out to do. Instead, I will be happy if I accomplish 50% of it and satisfied if I reach 75%.

I shall write a follow-up post at the end of the summer with actual, tangible actualization of my resolutions. How’s that for accountability? πŸ˜‰

These are pictures of my summers during the past two years of our life in VA. I have very good memories attached to every single one of these:

Summer 2013 in DC

2 years ago at Sunday Park

2 summers ago at Sunday Park

Goofing off with this goof

Summer 2013 at Yorktown

Summer 2013 at Yorktown

Gabriel at the pool in Brandermill

Gabriel at the pool in Brandermill

2 summers ago at Jamestown with my brother and his beautiful family <3

2 summers ago at Jamestown with my brother and his beautiful family ❀

With Geneva and Daniel at a Flying Squirrels game. Best fireworks in town.

With Geneva and Daniel at a Flying Squirrels game. Best fireworks in town.

Last year in DC

Last year in DC

2 summers ago at Sunday Park

Last summer at Sunday Park

2 days ago on a date with my beautiful mother to the VMFA

2 days ago on a date with my beautiful mother to the VMFA

10,000 Hits

Today my stats show my blog has been viewed 10,000 times in the span of about a year. I usually do not notice that number in the middle of my admin page, but that number just jumped out at me! While I know that there are blogs out there that are viewed a thousand times a day or more, I do feel honored that my writing, though often times uninteresting or irrelevant, has been followed and read so many times.

Thank you, readers, for all your “likes”, “comments”, and words of encouragement. Writing is a form of therapy for me. This blog is the place where I express my thoughts and emotions, and I am grateful there are people out there who sometimes feel encouraged and entertained by it.

Tributes

A friend on Facebook shared how she is going to pay tribute to meaningful people in her life, not after they die, but while they are still alive. I deeply appreciate this reminder to give words of gratitude and encouragement to those who have blessed me throughout my life. Therefore, I am purposing to write a tribute a week. If I keep up with this goal, I will have expressed my appreciation to 52 of the amazing people in my life, by this time next year. At that pace, it will take me a few years to honor those whom I love. I look forward to pouring out my feelings for them on this blog.

To view all my tributes, click here.