Día de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead is a celebration that takes place in Mexico, most of Latin America, and other Catholic nations. This holiday commemorates the dead. Relatives and friends who have passed from this life are remembered. Altars are built for this purpose. One of the more famous aspects of this holiday is the painting of sugar skulls on people’s faces.

San Antonio, Texas heavily celebrates this holiday due to the large number of Hispanics in the city. This year, I had my first experience with Día de los Muertos by attending SA’s festival, which took place downtown at La Villita.

Here are a few of the altars I saw. They included some items that the ones who had passed found special, such as their favorite book or food.





There was a big altar in the main plaza as well.


The artwork there was amazing and included papermache as well as hand-crafted jewelry or decorations that were for sale. My favorite was the artwork on the lamp posts.


And of course there were many people with their faces painted like skeletons, which are called sugar skulls. I loved it! I asked a few people, and they told me it usually takes 1-2.5 hours to pain their faces. That’s dedication!


There were also bands playing all weekend. I was able to listen to some mariachi music, as well as a local band called The Sugar Skulls. Both were excellent! And you can’t beat listening to music at the Arneson Theater at the River Walk. It’s kind of magical there.


All in all, San Antonio puts on a fantastic festival, and I’m glad I got to experience my first Día de los Muertos.

How to Survive the Texas Summer

Well, everyone kept talking about this SW Texas heat. I’ve been wondering when it would show up. 90 degrees hasn’t been too terrible. Well, here it is…


Average of about 100 is a bit much for me. But sometimes I forget that I lived in Hangzhou, China for 2 years, which is considered one of the 5 furnaces of China. So I can handle San Antonio, right?

Here’s my tips so far for surviving the heat. I’ve learned these things quickly.

1) Always walk in the shade when possible.
– This helps avoid the sun’s blistering rays, especially right after leaving your air-conditioned workplace. Walk under the trees, slink in the shadow of that annoyingly oversized pickup truck, and do strange zig zags through the parking lot if needed. Your co-workers might question your sobriety, but, let’s be honest, they were probably already doing that anyway.

2) Don’t touch your steering wheel while driving.
– I’ll admit; this one is tricky. However, no one enjoys having their fingerprints melted off by that hot plastic. (If you’re a parolee and have been wondering how to accomplish this feat, you didn’t hear it from me.) I have not quite mastered this one yet. I’m still at the fingertip driving stage, but I’ll get there by the end of the summer.

3) Don’t ever leave your house.
– This one is like West Virginia in the winter. Stay inside a lot and resume your life in the spring. I’ve been told that April is the end of the nice season here and then festivals and outdoor activities will pick up again in September or October. I will look forward to wearing shorts on Thanksgiving Day, but, until then, I’m staying inside with my $249 electricity bill.

4) Drink lots of sweet tea.
Duh. We’re in Texas, y’all.

I hope these new-to-Texas tips will help you make it through the summer heat. Is it hot where you live? What kinds of things do you do to avoid burning alive?

San Antonio Museum of Art

I’m loving living in a new city and exploring it when I have the chance. San Antonio has so much to do and see! Today my friend Erin and I went to the San Antonio Museum of Art.


It’s located in an old brewery downtown on West Jones Avenue with easy, free parking directly across the street.


The museum has 4 floors of permanent exhibits and a separate special exhibit that can been seen for an additional fee.

The first floor boasts an Egyptian collection.


And an area of Roman and Greek statues.


There is an Asian art wing.


And an Oceanic section.


The contemporary art  was probably my favorite. It included an electric chair, some abstract paintings, trash turned into art, and a giant fish. (??)



There’s so much to see that you can easily spend 3-5 hours there. We were there for about 3 hours, and it wasn’t quite enough. Regular admission is $10, children get in for free, seniors pay $7, and students and military have a discounted rate of $5. This museum is full of history and art and worth every penny. If you’re ever in San Antonio, be sure and stop by!

Forget The Alamo

I’ve only been in San Antonio a few weeks, but I decided to make a quick trip to Spain.

Many parts of what is now Texas were colonized by Spain. Between the years of 1690 and 1821, “New Spain” acquired many cultural practices of Spain, including the Spanish language and religion. In an attempt to convert the “savage” natives of the area, the Spaniards set up churches. These churches were more than just churches; the Native Americans lived at the compound, learned the Spanish way of life, and participated in Catholicism.

There were 26 missions in Texas. The most well-known mission is The Alamo. Many people visit this landmark while in San Antonio, but most miss out on the other missions in the city. These 4 other missions, in my opinion, are grander and more beautiful than the Alamo.

San Jose, known as the “Queen of the Missions”, was built in 1720. It is the largest mission in San Antonio and once hosted over 300 Native Americans.

San Jose Mission in San Antonio

Inside San Jose

Inside San Jose

Prayer candles

Prayer candles inside San Jose

Spanish architecture at San Jose

Spanish architecture can really be seen at San Jose

San Antonio churches

Walls surround the entirety of the mission

Tourist at San Jose Mission church in San Antonio

I felt like I had left the US!


San Jose Mission door and carvings

The carvings were extraordinary!

Prayer Garden at San Juan Mission

In the prayer garden before entering the actual mission

San Jose Mission

A look at the church from inside one of the other buildings on the compound

Mission San Juan was established in 1731. This one stuck out to me because of its white color. Visitors are able to go inside each of these missions and worship services are still held.
Mission San Juan




Mission Espada has been around since 1731. There’s really not too many building left that existed before the US was even a country!



Not the Alamo

I was in love with all the doors!

Mission Concepcion is the oldest unrestored stone church in the US. This mission is the one that looks the most like it did in the 1700s.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Fresco inside on church wall

Mission Concepcion

I loved the palm trees surrounding this mission!

The missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Admission is free, and the inside of all of the churches are open until 5 each evening. Feel free to wander the outside of the missions after 5, but I highly recommend getting a look around inside each church. You will need to drive to each mission, unless you plan to spend a bit more time there by biking or hiking. We spent almost 4 hours there, so, if you go, make a day of it. Make sure you visit the visitor center first, close to San Jose. There is a neat 15 minute documentary that will explain some things to you before you begin.

So if you are planning to come to San Antonio, Texas anytime soon, please don’t miss out on these jewels of the city! And contrary to the infamous phrase, please do forget the Alamo!

My 1st Hanukkah Celebration

Blake is one of my new colleagues this semester. He is now teaching history at my university. He and his wife Renae are about the same age as me, and we have become close friends in these last few months. Renae asked me if I wanted to join them for their Hanukkah celebration. I was confused at first because they, like me, are Christian. She told me that this will be their 3rd year celebrating this Jewish holiday, and they began their observation of Hanukkah due to curiosity and interest in this Jewish custom. And you know me; I’m all about learning different customs and cultural traditions!

Eight of us gathered to eat a Jewish meal, say a few Jewish blessings, and light the menorah. Renae started by reading us a children’s book about this celebration, so that we could have a better understanding of it.

Christians celebrating Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah is about the struggle of the Jews against a Syrain king to continue to worship their God instead of the Greek gods. Judah Maccabee got a group together to fight, who were called the Maccabees. The Maccabees prevailed and restored the Jewish temple. When the temple was reclaimed, there was only enough oil to light the religious lamp for one night. However, the lamp stayed lit for eight days. This is why Jews celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah and why eight candles are lit on the menorah. Menorah simply means lamp in Hebrew. The ninth candle is used to light the others. Hanukkah is also referred to as The Festival of Lights and can also be spelled Chanukah.

If you are familiar with the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or the Torah (the Old Testament), you may be wondering where this can be found in those books. Well, it can’t. It is found in the books of First and Second Maccabees, which are Jewish apocryphal books. Jewish apocryphal books are Jewish traditional texts written in the time period between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. Many of the Jewish festivals are based on happenings from these texts. Jesus himself, as a Jew, celebrated Hanukkah. That is something I have always wondered about…what the tradition was based on and where the story could be found. Ah ha!

During these eight days, Jews eat special foods made with oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts. We had chicken (no pork is a must!), salad, brussel sprouts, latkes, and several traditional desserts. Yum!


Hanukkah food

Special games are also played during this week,so we couldn’t pass up a chance to play one of them- the dreidel game! It’s basically a 4-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters stand for the acronym “A Great Miracle Happened Here”. Each person takes turn spinning the top and each letter landed on has a corresponding action, like take half the pot, put one of your items in the pot, etc. You can use coins, chocolate, nuts, etc. as the “pot”.  My dreidel was not so lucky, and I lost all my Hershey Kisses quite quickly.

Celebrating Hanukkah Dreidels

I really had a nice time learning about Hanukkah, and I hope you did too through this post! Please share this with others who might want to learn a little bit more about this Jewish tradition.

I’ll leave you with a Hanukkah song that I remember singing in my middle school holiday pageant called  “Oh Hanukkah”. The scary thing is, I don’t think I’ve heard this since the 5th grade, and I still remember every word!

A Teacher Has to Entertain Herself

Well, it’s finals week at my university. It’s hard on the students, but it’s also tough on the teachers. We’re all busy; we’re all stressed. Therefore, I have to think of ways to entertain myself and keep myself sane this week.

In my college composition course, our final exam ended up adding up to 99 points. Normally, I would just give my students the 1 point. However, this time, I made them earn it. They were instructed to draw a picture of me to earn that last point.

It was hilarious to watch them when they read that last question. The tense shoulders loosened. The giggles began. And then, as they seriously began their artistic work, they all started staring at me in order to really capture my likeness.

The results made my day.


I suppose she thinks more of me than her poor drawing skills will allow her to express.


This is the Asian me.


That is some curly hair, and those are some big ol’ eyes!


In the running for my favorite. I am a queen! *flips hair dramatically*


I think I look like another race in this one. Like my ever-present podium?


Good ol’ “no nose Ashley”


Apart from the football player shoulders, this it’s pretty good! (I’m going to have a complex now…)


I had a LOT of stick figures like this one.


No arms and no nose, but I love this one.


This one is probably my favorite. One question though- do I have a tail??

Oh man. I love my college freshmen. Now I think I can survive the rest of finals week.
Be sure and tell me which one is your favorite!

Whom is Stupid

English is changing. Constantly morphing. Whether you want it to or not.

I was telling my college composition class today that I firmly believe that the word “whom” will be completely gone from standard American English within 50 years. Grammar rules are in place, because of how we talk- not the other way around. The rules were written to explain how we speak. If we stop speaking in a certain way or words fall out of use, the rule will be defunct. I want to start a Kickstarter to defunt (yes, I just made that adjective a verb, because I do what I want!)  the word “whom”. Is that possible? Will you donate 5 bucks to that cause? If so, go to www.whomisstupid.com. Just kidding. Don’t click on that link; it’ll probably give you a virus.

Let’s talk about verb tenses, such as the verb “to help”. The tenses actually used to be help , holp, holpen. For realz. They have know become regular- help, helped, helped. I think some other irregular verbs are moving that way as well, such as drunk and swum. Have you ever heard someone say, “I have swum in the ocean many times.”? Uh, no. They say swumpt. Just kidding. But swum sounds just as silly to me. What about brung or thunk? The less often a word is said, the more likely it is to change. That’s why go, went, and gone are probably around to stay I’m afraid.

Next on my list is the word “well”.

“How are you doing today?”

“I’m well. How about you?”

No. All kinds of no. Yes, I am an English teacher, but I feel so stuffy when I say I am well. I feel like a 19th century woman carrying a parasol when I say it. This is another rule that I give a good 20 years before it falls to the way side. Everyone always says, “I’m good.” “Things are good.” Except me, because I only reply with, “Things are poppin!” Mostly to my boss. Just kidding. He gets a “well” since he has a PhD in English. And he’s my boss. But really, things are poppin!

There are even some capitalization and punctuation rules that are changing. People argue over the oxford comma all the time for example. Did you know that the Chicago Manual now says not to write U.S. when talking about the United States of America. It is now just US with no periods. The word “website” and other technological words used to require capitalization and now don’t.

Some grammar gurus get angry for what they view as grammar infractions, but really, they just need to accept that English grammar is fluid and ever-changing, and it always will be. And, in my opinion, they also need to think about incorporating the word swumpt into their vocabulary. I better hurry and go get a copyright on that.


funny grammar

Image from onehorseshy.com


Do Cruise Ship Stops Count?

Sometimes when people find out that I like to travel, they’ll let me know how many states or countries they’ve been to and which ones. And I am genuinely interested to hear about it. However, I’ve found that everyone has different ideas about what counts as having visited a place. Here are some situations people argue about:

– airports

-driving through

-cruise ship stops

-living somewhere

I know that I 100% don’t count airports. All airports are the same everywhere, no matter the state or the country. You can see as much culture and as many different nationalities in the Columbus, Ohio airport as you can see in the Beijing, China airport. You don’t even step on the land itself. You see people from other countries more than you see the natives of that place while in an airport. I have been in more airports than I can count on my fingers and toes, but I don’t count a single one of them. Yes, I have been to the LA airport; in fact, I have even stepped on LA’s ground because you have to walk outside to change terminals. However, I have never been to LA.

Driving through. Oh, this one is argued about quite a bit. If you drive through a state to get to another state, does this count as having been there? If you’re going to South Carolina and drive through North Carolina, does that mean you can check North Carolina off your list? But what about if you stop to eat there? Or what if you just open your car door and plant your 2 feet firmly on the ground. Does it count? In my humble opinion, no.

When people tell me their cruise ship stops, I am a little hesitant to count those as countries visited. Yes, you may have stepped on the shore of Puerto Rico, but does 4 hours there actually count as having visited the country? Especially when you have only seen the touristy parts that your cruise guides you to….I know when I only get to stay in a country for a week, I feel like I haven’t got to experience even 1% of the country- its people, its food, its culture. How can a few hour stop allow you to understand a country’s essence?

I also wonder when people speak of “living” in a country. I heard a student say that she lived in Italy once when referring to staying for 2 months of the summer during a study abroad experience. I would venture to say that a person needs to have a permanent address before they can say they lived in a country. I guess my best bet would be to see if the locals consider you a neighbor, if they see you as a permanent part of their space in the world.

To know a place means to experience its food, its language, its religion, its people, its traditions, and its government. Perhaps you don’t have much time to spend in a country or a state. Well, spend some time learning about the place beforehand, so that you’ll know what you’re seeing when the time comes. Every time I visit a new country, or even a new area of my country, I try to read the history of the place, know what the racial makeup is, learn what the dominant religion is there and so on. When you get there, browse the local market or grocery store, walk around a college campus, try the local cuisine, and talk to the people. This will help you know the place you are. Then, you can say you have been to a place.

What are your rules about where you’ve been? Am I being too strict? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

State lines