Muñeco de Año Nuevo – Good Riddance to 2017

I don’t know about the rest of you, but around here 2017 was pretty much a dumpster fire.

Oh, don’t get me wrong… there were some good moments. I’m finally in my senior year. My fibro pain is mostly under control. I was able to travel a bit – went to Denver twice and Miami & Key West once. My pilot Antonio and I are better than ever. The Munchkin is doing better than ever. The year in politics has made an activist out of me.

But also… egad. We lost my grandfather in August. My sister’s 14yo Pug (who was basically like my niece with fur) died right before Christmas. I spent the first half of the year in a custody battle with my ex-husband and the second half just trying to not hate him and his nasty emails. And don’t even get me started on what’s happening in this country with regard to politics, equality, and social justice…

So when Antonio suggested that we make a muñeco de Año Nuevo, it seemed like a pretty good idea.

Antonio, for those of you new to our story, is from Peru. And Peru is serious about their New Year’s traditions. REALLY serious. Much more so than here in the States. They have so many customs and traditions for the New Year that are meant to cast out last year’s bad and bring good luck for the new year, it’s mind-boggling to this Indiana girl. Some of them make sense – like going into the new year with money in your pockets, or wearing new clothes. Others, like lucky yellow underwear or hiding potatoes under the furniture, seem completely odd. But the one really big one – and I mean BIG – is the muñeco.

In English, we would call it an effigy. In Peru and other Latin American countries, the muñeco is a life-sized doll built to represent the outgoing year. You stuff old clothes with leaves, newspaper, etc. On scraps of paper, you write down the bad or negative things that happened that you don’t want to take into the new year with you, and stuff them inside the muñeco. Then on New Year’s Eve, the whole neighborhood goes out in the street and lights this life-sized doll on fire.

Out with the old and in with the new, right? Sounded good to me.

Since it was just the two of us this year, and because I live in the Midwest and not in a very culturally diverse subdivision, we decided to make just a small muñeco. We hit up the local Goodwill store for some tiny clothes, then stuffed and stapled and gave it a head. 

Disclaimer: In Latin America, it is very common for these muñecos to carry the face of a national figure, such as a Peruvian politician, so I’ve doctored these images a little. 

Around 11:30 tonight, in the FREEZING cold, we headed out to the back patio and set our little muñeco on fire. It didn’t take very long, but it felt pretty good to watch all the negative from this past year burn. Loss and illness and challenges… we’re not taking any of that into this new year with us.

As I look forward to graduation and Antonio’s career keeps growing, as we continue praying for those in this country that have less than we do, as we stand up for our neighbors who are discriminated against, let this new year bring peace and prosperity and good health.

Friends… Feliz Año Nuevo. Bonne Année. Happy New Year. Blessings and peace to you and yours in 2018 and beyond.

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On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

Ed. Note: This piece was written both as catharsis on the loss of my grandfather, and as ethnographic research paper for Dr. Marvin Sterling‘s ANTH-E393 World Fiction and Cultural Anthropology class at Indiana University. It is both biographical and fictional. 

The sky is a brilliant blue. There’s a warm breeze drifting up over the hill from the river below. The beauty of this late summer day betrays the solemnity of such an occasion. I’ve always thought so. Some might complain about duty in the cold or rain or snow; to me, it always felt like the weather should match the mood. It’s as if the warmth of the sun is a slap in the face to a family in mourning.  Continue reading

Up on the Roof

These days I find I have less patience for big crowds. If I’m being honest, I think it is related to my fibro, and being afraid of getting into a situation where I’m in pain and stuck… I should probably work on that. But it’s the Fourth of July, and I promised my Munchkin fireworks. 

Now, we live less than 3 miles from the local high school where tonight’s show was happening. We also live up on top of one of the highest hills in the area. So I suddenly had an idea: Can we see them from the house?! I wonder… 

I ran the idea past the Munchkin… who replied, “Can we watch them from the roof?” After a moment of thought, I said, “Why not?” 

Now, before you all think I’ve lost my mind… We have a split-level home, and the roof is actually just one step over the railing from the second-story deck in the back. And it’s not steep. So at five minutes before showtime, we doused ourselves in insect repellent, gathered an old blanket and a bag of chips, and headed upstairs. 

I should note here that about two steps onto the roof was when I remembered how terrified I am of heights. Specifically, FALLING from them. Which is why, even with an easily accessible roof, my gutters are sadly neglected. I can be in a plane, I can admire a gaze across the skyline from a 48th floor window, and I adore balconies. But in any situation where I feel like I could fall, I freeze up. The Munchkin wanted to go higher onto the very top level of the roof. It’s literally one step up, with only about a 5/12 pitch. I’d be nowhere near the edge of the house. And it was closer to the end of the house nearest the high school. It would be the best vantage point if we were going to see anything. 

But I couldn’t do it. 

Luckily, just then a neighbor sent up a shell a couple blocks away that could be seen perfectly from the end where we were. Thank you, sweet baby Jesus, for literal signs from heaven! I gulped down a lump in my throat, ventured to the apex, and said “Let’s just sit right here.” 

As it turns out, we were either too far away, or it was too hazy, to see any of the town fireworks from our roof. It had rained just a couple hours earlier, and everything was still damp. I could make out distant flashes and the low rumble of echoing explosions, but that was it. Fortunately, some neighbors due south of the house were setting off some pretty decent ones, so we sat up there watching for about 45 minutes. 

During that time in the dark, my son’s mind was going a million miles an hour. Commenting on every noise we heard, every shape he saw in the scattered clouds, every sparkling mortar shell that flew into the sky. He made up a song about sitting on the roof eating tortilla chips. We even FaceTimed my sister, using one phone to talk and another to light our faces in the night. 

Of course, the Munchkin wanted me to keep taking pictures. It’s what we do. But armed with only my iPhone? We weren’t gonna get much. My hair was a mess. But we had two phones for light, and a big moon, so why not? In between bursts of color in the sky down the street, I snapped a couple shots: 

As the fireworks started to slow down, my son snuggled up against me and said, “Isn’t this a lovely night?” 

Yes, baby… it’s perfect. I hope you remember it forever, because I’m certain I will. 

Searching for a Silent Night…

For several days, I’ve had a few bars of a song stuck in my head. Problem was, I couldn’t get quite enough of it to put a name to. But there it was… just a few bars of a chorus, drifting into my thoughts as I went about my days.

All through the errands.
Through the stressing over the Christmas gifts.
Through the worrying over finals and my sister and visitation schedules and HDMI cables and postal delivery times.
Through juggling phone calls with the Munchkin’s school and health insurance companies and pharmacies and doctor’s offices and banks and the mortgage company.
Through laundry and bill-paying and house-cleaning and therapy appointments.
Through the daily efforts poured into shoving aside the dark December memories that tried to push their way to the forefront.

All the while, I was tangled in an internal tug-of-war… an extension of my ongoing existential discord between allowing myself to rest when needed, and feeling guilty over all the things that went undone. Continue reading