2012: The Favorites

Here's the wrap-up of 2012 on A Life with Subtitles in case you missed some of the more popular posts, you can you see what were the Top 6 most viewed posts on the blog this year.

Of course, I made the executive decision to eliminate ones especially loved by the spammers and included frequent comments like "Thank you for providing great content. I am so happy to have found your site. Please check out my site: How to Build a Business from Home" left by "Anonymous." I decided those weren't real views by real readers.

I am happy, however, to give some love to some of the guest posts that were written this year. I loved having new voices share their perspectives on multicultural life, and I'm glad you enjoyed them, too!

So here they are.... the superlative stealers of 2012:

#6: Tricked Into a Date: Somehow the "girls' outing" to watch a chick flick turned into a double date complete with Billy paying for my ticket, a bookstore, and a hug. How did this happen?!

#5: Being White & Looking for a Brown Doll: Guest poster Michelle from Simply Complicated reflects on privilege while shopping for a baby doll for her neice.

#4: The Big DTR Talk: There's the moment in every relationship when it must be defined. Apparently, it's unavoidable.

#3: How I Met My Husband: This post launched a nearly 6-month series of our immigration love story. The short answer is "I don't remember."

#2: The Not-So-Tragic Mulatto: What Growing Up Biracial Taught Me: My friend Alyssa from All Things Beautiful wrote an incredible post on the beauty of growing up with biracial heritage.

#1: How My Husband Came to the States: Yes. The most popular post of 2012 involves a song entitled "No More Suffer." What's not to love about a Guatemalan Christian hard core Spanish rock star?

Hope you have a wonder New Year's Eve, and I wish you a joyful, rockin' 2013!

The Interview of a Lifetime

After more than two hours in the waiting room, the employees of the US government called our case. Palms sweaty, we gathered our folders and albums to head back for the interview of a lifetime. The agent barely looked up and reached out for our folder.  

“Sorry for the wait. A couple folks left early today and we’re very busy. 

Name?” she nodded at Billy. He listed all four of his names for her.

“Birth date?”

Billy began answering… and that’s when things began to derail a bit. He started mixing numbers. My birthday, his birthday. It all spilled together and ended up being no one’s birthday. He stumbled. He corrected himself. He sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just really nervous.”

She looked up and gave a quick smile. “So when’s your birth date?”

He answered with confidence. We looked at each other. 

She was flipping through pages and pages of our file. I held our albums on my lap. She asked a clarifying question. She picked up some of the papers and left the room.

Billy and I glanced at each other and waited in heavy silence. She came back into room and didn’t sit down. 

“Here’s your originals back. I made copies. This piece of paper will serve as your temporary residence card until the real one arrives in the mail. I will need to take your work permit. You won’t need it now.”

Is this over?  But I was ready to wow you with everything I know about my husband!  You didn’t even look at all my photos I painstakingly chose, printed, and organized.  

I guess being very busy and folks going home early streamlined the process.  Billy reluctantly turned over his sole solid proof of legitimate presence in the country that he had only recently received as a result of our petition for an alien relative. He accepted a printed piece of paper and a promise in its place. 

And that was it.  We walked outside of the building and left.

Unceremoniously, our story ends. After a little more waiting, Billy's green card arrived in the mail. It was a joyous relief after immigration being on our minds and conversations for so long. Now Billy was an LPR, or "legal permanent resident," in the United States. I have written in the past how our first move after receiving his green card was to flee the country.

The first green card he received was provisional, which is standard for permits gained through marriage. Basically, if we had divorced within the two years after obtaining the green card, he would have also lost his legal residence in the States. I shudder when I imagine how that could be held over someone's head in a dysfunctional relationship. 

But we made it through the provisional time and Billy reapplied for a 10-year green card. It's a much simpler process and does not require another interview. At this point, now that he has been a legal resident for more than three years, he is eligible to become a naturalized citizen. That's on our list for 2013. (Isn't it interesting how just one year after you apply and pay for the renewed green card you're then eligible to apply and pay for citizenship. Yeah, I thought that was clever, too...)

It would be easy to close the book on immigration now that our story has drawn to a close. In fact, when Billy and I were speaking recently someone older told us that we are only talking about this because it's fresh and soon we will no longer worry about immigration anymore. 

Well, we don't worry about it for ourselves anymore. I am telling this story now, but it all happened about four years ago. But for Billy and me, we made too many friends along the way. I was too affected by Billy's experiences and those others with whom he lived and worked. I want to keep telling the story because there are other Billys and Sarahs out there living it now. 

In fact, after that same talk, a young couple approached us, sharing that they were engaged and overtly hinting that they completely understood where we were coming from and that they had some questions. So, even though Billy will soon be a US citizen, I will continue to tell our story and to blog on the topic of immigration. 

I have been so encouraged by your comments and emails as I've shared our immigration love story. Thank you for following along all these months and thank you for passing the story onto others.

If you want to catch up on the full story of how we met and our immigration experience, click here. To stay up to date on all posts from A Life with Subtitles, please subscribe via RSS or email. Both options can be found in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Nochebuena 2012

This year Christmas took on a new dimension of fun. Gabriella is reaching an age where she is beginning to enjoy festivities and the swirl of things outside of the ordinary.

Last year, I shared how were were beginning to meld our cultural traditions and celebrate both the Latin Nochebuena on Christmas Eve and some of my favorites on Christmas morning. It was fun to include Gabriella in the party this year. Here's a few pictures from our Nochebuena celebration.

Of course, tamales! We picked these up at the Carniceria the afternoon of Christmas Eve. They included some of the hottest sauce I've ever had. And I loved it!

We had to return to the store to pick up the frijoles. The place would just be empty without frijoles volteados.

And finally... our Americanized version of the Guatemala City fireworks. Our neighbors likely think we're crazy when we stand on the porch in the cold every Christmas Eve waving a few sparklers. This lasts a few minutes before we scramble inside to warm up. Hey... it's warmer in Guatemala!

I hope your celebrations were very merry this year. I'd love to hear your unique family traditions as well!

Advent: Love on Different Terms

We are entering the fourth and final week of Advent… welcoming the God of Love who came to Earth in the form of an infant. Love.

I was contemplating how I experience or understand the love of Christ. And per usual, I thought to myself, “I really don’t.”

I often have very clear ideas how I would appreciate God showing me love. Usually it involved giving me what I want or what I “know” will make me happy. Sometimes I have trouble reconciling different expressions of love than what I desire.

This concept is clear to me in parenting. Sometimes I love my daughter through quality time, sometimes through special treats, sometimes in discipline (which truly is not fun for either of us), and sometimes in hugs and kisses. She does not always appreciate these different forms.

In my relationship with God, I can often mimic my daughter, certain that the only thing someone who loves me would do is give me a big plate of cookies for dinner. That’s what would make me happy. (Actually, once I did let Gabriella gorge herself on queso dip. Later that night, I found her asleep in her own pool of pre-eaten queso, and I learned an important lesson about how love can sometimes mean saying no to more queso.)

All this to say I want to be open to listening and watching this week for how God expresses love… to me, to my neighbors, to the world. Christmas week we celebrate the act of love of sending Jesus into humanity. How is God doing that today? Where is God’s love expressed in the details of my everyday?

I often want love on my own terms, but there is the (sometimes challenging) reality that God’s love is higher and deeper and wider than even my imagination. I should receive the love on God’s terms, not my own.

Where do you see God’s love this Christmas season?

And He Shall Be Called ... What?

It seems my daughter has been reading my blog. You know kids… so tech savvy these days. Give her a tablet and she’s all, “I’m just browsing the blogosphere, mom.” Something like that…

But seriously, about a day after I wrote this post about how she kept referring to Billy as “Daddy,” she all but completely eliminated that word from her vocabulary. And then she said to herself, “Okay, mom. You want me to call him something Spanish. Here we go!”


She seems to have settled on Papi.

What’s funny about this to me is the fact that we are in predominately English environment pretty much all of the time. And, well… thanks to rap music, “Papi” just seems to make folks a little uncomfortable.

First of all, they think she’s saying puppy. “Is there a puppy?” they ask, looking around with confusion.

“Where’s Papi?” she asks again. They look at her, uncertain.

Then I have to jump in with responses like, “Papi is outside.” I would love to say instead, "Billy is outside"... but that just seems weird, too.

Other times, people have realized exactly what she’s saying. She’ll point to me. “Mama.” “Mama!” they repeat with glee. Then she points at Billy. “Papi.” Silence. (Or once there was giggles.) They don’t know what to say. Or they simply respond, “Daddy!” Mostly, I try to pretend like I don’t notice what’s going on.

So there you go. I’m delighted that she has started calling Billy by a Spanish name. I may have underestimated how uncomfortable it would make me in social settings. Ah, parenthood…

The Waiting Room

Where do you keep your salt?

How did you meet?

What were the names of the bridesmaids at your wedding?

What side of the bed does your husband sleep on?

What color panties is your wife wearing today?

We had been prepped.  Friends who’d gone through the process before us told us all the mundane and intimate questions they’d been asked by a government official assigned with the task of determining if their love was true or an immigration scam.  Even though we had nothing to hide, we were anxious.  So much was riding on this one-shot interview.  We couldn’t afford to be sloppy.  It could ruin our life as we knew it.  

So we studied our house.  We quizzed each other on biographical facts.  Where did I go to high school?  When’s my birthday?  What were the names of my childhood pets?  We reviewed our dating history, our wedding, our honeymoon, our married life.  We got our stories straight.  

A friend told us how the agent tried to rile him by suggesting his wife was a prostitute since they waited seven years after getting married to apply for her green card.  So Billy steeled himself for anything he thought they might try to use against us.  I had a master’s degree while he chose not to attend college.  At the advice of our lawyer, we had listed Billy as unemployed on his application, while my income was shown as supporting us both.

Now the day had arrived.  A bright white room lit with fluorescent lights.  Rows of folding chairs all occupied by mixed-citizenship couples.  I looked around the room while most people stared at the news program on the TV and others read.  Stacks of papers balanced on laps.  Bags boasting the names of wedding photographers pushed under chairs.  

I, too, held a bag full of documents required to prove our love.  Joint bank account statements.  A water bill in his name.  A gas bill in mine.  Both showing the same mailing address.  Joint credit card statements.  Pages and pages completed by our lawyer.  My tax returns from the past two years, proving I make enough money that if I “take Billy on” he won’t receive any social services.  An additional required letter from my employer confirming my continued employment and annual income.   

Our wedding album.  Photos from when we were dating, including a scrapbook I made for Billy.  Photos from life since we got married – our honeymoon, my sister’s wedding with Billy in the family photos, camping trips with friends.  It was all there, but in reality was nothing that Photoshop and a good printer couldn’t fabricate, I guess.  So we waited.

After an hour, I whispered to Billy that I wanted to ask other couples to see their wedding albums.  He, of course, looked at me like I was crazy.  Seriously.  We’re all here with nothing to do, and everyone has their album under their chair.  Let me see 'em!

He was too nervous to allow me to talk to anyone.  We were also concocting our own conspiracy theories that they may have cameras in the room to watch our behavior.  So he put his arm around me.  Then, we thought that might seem like we were trying too hard, so he put his hand back down.  How does a “real” husband act?  I don’t know.  It was too tricky to try to figure out. 

So I amused myself by surveying the room. A European woman with her half-American kids sitting next to her. A 40-year old white man and a 22-year old Asian girl. Mixed-race couples. Same-race couples.

The only thing I know about each is that one has a social security number and the other one doesn’t. Doesn’t mean that spouse wasn’t raised in the US. Doesn’t mean that citizen was. They could be cultural copies, but one was born here and the other wasn’t.

If you want to catch up on the full story of how we met and our immigration experience, click here. Click to keep reading the next post, The Interview of a Lifetime. To stay up to date on all posts from A Life with Subtitles, please subscribe via RSS or email. Both options can be found in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Advent: Joy to the Word

Friday I was supposed to write a post on Joy for the third week of Advent. But then I was awakened by my daughter just screaming, and I suspected it would not be a joyful day. And then I headed to work, where an unexpectedly busy and somewhat challenging day kept me from writing.
So I thought, I’ll do it when I get home… let me just turn on the TV first. And that’s when I saw nonstop coverage of children having been killed. And writing about joy felt trivial. By 10pm, with my daughter still awake and wailing in her crib (it had been exactly the day I expected), I threw in the towel on joy.
Here’s the thing. I’m a very emotional person. I can cry at the drop of a hat, and I can just as easily begin laughing so hard that I’m crying. I experience a lot of emotions, I feel others’ strongly, and I tend to rely on them to help me understand the world.
So I find joy very difficult to comprehend.
Is it an emotion or something deeper? And how do you express joy when your emotions experience something different?
I realize my Advent posts are taking on a “I-know-nothing-about-this-topic” quality as I reflect on hope, peace, and now joy. But I think it has caused me to reflect more deeply on my desire for the Christ child to come.
I am in need. I cannot manifest joy on my own. I can try to be obedient in rejoicing, even if I don’t feel like it, but I need God to supply joy. I can try to carve out space for quiet, but I need God to supply peace. And I can wait as patiently as my impatient self will allow, but when I find myself discouraged, I need God to supply hope.
There’s something somewhat freeing to me about this realization. I need God. And God has promised to come. This season we celebrate the arrival of the Liberating King in the form of a baby, and we continually await the future coming. I am encouraged knowing that God has no trouble bursting onto the scene and meeting humankind where we are.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
How do you experience joy this season?
Photo credit: SSkies

P.S. Don't forget to enter the raffle to win a holiday gift! Check it out here.

Next Advent post: Love. 

10 Most Awesome Things about London

Last week, I had the experience of a whirlwind trip to London. It was my first time with an extensive time difference (5 hours) and the trip home was my longest travel day ever (23 hours door to door).  It was exciting to visit a non-Spanish-speaking country, although my travel history made it such that I kept thinking I needed to speak to waiters, vendors, and the like in Spanish. So that was surprisingly confusing.

It was a great trip, and I have compiled the 10 most awesome things I saw that I'd like to share with you!

High Value on Stillness

It was pretty amazing. Those guards in the big furry hats, hardly moving a muscle. And only once did I ask myself, “Why is this important? Who cares if they move a little bit?” It was pretty cool to watch.


I think you can see in the photo above what I refer to as “the sharp knife at the end of the gun.” I found myself wondering what would happen if a tourist jumped over the rope and ran towards the palace. All I can say is that I really hope I am not touring when they decide they need to use one of these bad boys.

Children with Accents (and Glasses)

I may or may not have spent some of my time riding the subway (I’m sorry… “the tube”) trying to eavesdrop on children. Accents are already awesome. Then put them in the mouths of children. And add glasses (Yes, I realize this is not uniquely English). They are just so adorable! I don’t have a picture because… well… that’s one step over the creepy line, people!

Thoughtful Instructions

It really seemed to me that cars were coming from every direction. I couldn’t get used to the driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road thing. Thankfully, the British go the extra mile and offer aid:

They also go the distance reminding you to “Mind the Gap” when getting on and off the subway train. “The gap” could be described as a surprising large gully between the platform and the train. But I wouldn’t describe it that way… I’d call it a little extra adventure.

Escalator Etiquette

It was impeccable, friends. If you choose to stand still, you do so on the right. If you want to run up or down the escalator, you do so on the left. I’ve never seen a system work so beautifully. Everyone adhered to the rules. I wish I could help people understand this concept on the US freeways. “Keep Right Except to Pass” means something!

Horses Front and Center


You know me… I love horses. But seriously, as long as I am not operating them, I think it’s pretty cool to have them out and about. Just remember… this is serious business!


Yep. The first stop when I arrived was a Starbucks. To be fair, it was an overnight flight and that’s no time to “wing it” when it comes to your coffee. But really, I just like it.

In a sad turn of events, though, I did drop my entire cup on the floor over by that little cinnamon station. That was so unfortunate. And I walked in on someone in the bathroom. All in all, it was not my best Starbucks experience. Maybe this is one of those moments where you say things like “What happens in London…”

I also went to a restaurant that seemed exactly like a Chipotle. Because naturally, when I’m in Europe, I’m searching for good Mexican food.


Well… English and English doesn’t really merge like "Spanglish" does, so I opted for British and English, which I realize really isn’t a thing. But I’ve always had a penchant for language. On this blog, I share a lot of Spanglish, but I enjoyed words like “cheers” and “cue” as I saw my beloved English in a new light.

I also liked the phrase “Mind your head.” But then I started saying “Mind your mind” to myself and laughing inside my head, which really made me feel like a weird, crazy person.

Meat and Chips

You’re probably familiar with “Fish ‘n Chips” as a well-known English dish. I ate the fried fish and french fries and loved it. Everyone else seemed to like it to, which makes me wonder why I can NEVER convince anyone to eat with me at Long John Silver’s. I guess it’s a bit different….

What you may not be so aware of is the lesser known meat and chip combo “Salt Marsh Lamb & Mint.” Yum!

Nice to Terrorists

Heading through London security, my bag created some stir. Suddenly, I was holding up the entire “fast track” line while supervisors were being called in to inspect my luggage. The man came over and asked me questions about my laptop, which stressed me out because I was afraid it might get technical and all I could offer is “It’s red.”

They looked at it. Ran it through again. Opened it. Swabbed it. And ultimately decided the modern pen is not a sword and gave it back to me. And then... THEY APOLOGIZED for my inconvenience. 

I couldn’t believe it. I have been talked down to and insulted and once in Houston basically yelled at by TSA for no real reason except that they want to remind me they are in charge and I am nothing but a mere mortal that must please them to gain access to the sky. London was a pleasant surprise.

It was a great trip. I was there and gone too quickly, but at least I got to see these awesome things.

Have you been to London? What’s your favorite thing to see?

Merry Christmas to You!

2012 has been a fun blogging year for me. I've enjoyed meeting new friends, and I've been so thankful to you for reading, commenting, and sharing the blog with others.

Therefore, I decided I wanted to give away some Christmas gifts this season. This isn't a sponsored post or anything like that. It's just me choosing a few of my favorite things to share with you. Let me give you a breakdown of the gifts.

Global Babies/Bebes del mundo board book

This has been one of my favorites with Gabriella. Beautiful photos of children from around the globe with brief narration in English and Spanish. She loves pointing at the photos of the other babies. 

Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible

Billy and I have each read half of this book. Unfortunately, it's the same half, so I can't comment fully on the entirety of the book. But we have enjoyed what we've read so immensely. And author Daniel Carroll is masterful in weaving together stories from the Bible and helping the church to understand migration and immigration in today's world.

Vuelve by Julio Melgar

Julio Melgar is a passionate, gifted worship leader, and this album is a Quezada favorite. It's all in Spanish, but even English-only speakers can worship through the music. Side note: Billy helped to record one of the tracks, which was a crazy, fun experience for him. Another side note: This will be sent as a digital download, so it's the only gift available to those without a US mailing address.

I hope you might enjoy a few of my favorite things this Christmas. I'm no Oprah, so there's no show, screaming, or (sadly) one of each underneath your chair (go ahead... check). Instead, I'm experimenting with a raffle. The raffle will be open until December 18, 2012 at 12:00am. Then winners will be announced.

I hope you'll participate, and ultimately, I hope you know how grateful I am for your support and encouragement on this blog. Merry Christmas to you all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Smelly Girl Goes to London

Last week I boarded a flight for my very first non-Spanish-speaking-country international flight. (Well, I went to Canada once, but I didn’t fly there. Weirdly, I drove a van full of predominately Jewish middle schoolers… but that’s a story for another time. Well, that basically is the story… I was taking a bunch of Jewish teens to Canada.)

So I was on my best new country behavior, but an epic question hung in the air: Will I or won’t I shower? My anxiety over this issue rose when I peaked into the shower and got this treat:

I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to do with these two knobs? They are not even for hot and cold like you might think.

And then there were instructions: turn left for a couple seconds, then turn right. Watch out or you’ll get soaked when you didn’t intend to. Oh great! That’s basically a guarantee for me. I don’t like showers that require an orientation.

You’ll be happy to know that I gave it a shot and it turned out not to be that challenging. And I didn’t even get electrocuted. So there you go. This smelly girl is growing up…

Advent: Peace in Frenzy

I was supposed to write a blog about peace for my second advent reflection. The only problem was that I “planned” to write it while at the airport waiting to board a flight. Sure, that’s doable.

But I left the house a tee tad late. And then the first gas pump we tried didn’t work. Include also a slow-moving rental car return agent and being momentarily turned around looking for the shuttle. No set-back was very long or very dramatic, but they added up exponentially. (I suspect it has something to do with compound interest.)

Suddenly, it’s seventy-five minutes before my international flight takes off, and I’m not even inside the airport to check-in. They say the cut-off is sixty minutes.

I race to the counter. I am literally the only person checking in. It’s an empty room. The attendant chastises me for being too late. She insinuates that I may not have made it in time… particularly to check my bag.

By the hair of my chinny, chin chin I pass her my luggage, lavish my thanks, and scurry to security. Naturally, I am behind people who do not know to take out their laptops, or to take off their jackets… or to put their luggage on the conveyor belt. They do not speak English so the entire exchange is lengthy and confusing.

I rush to the gate just as boarding begins. I say a silent prayer that my luggage actually made it under the plane.

And then I momentarily lamented that I never had a second of peace to write down anything about peace. And I thought about that conundrum.

Isn’t that what the holiday season is like for many of us? Being a bit late… Choosing the wrong gas pump… Being behind the person who doesn’t know your laptop goes through security in a separate bin?

And in the midst of it all we nearly miss the very reason we were doing all this rushing around in the first place!

I am reminded that I must make space for peace this Christmas. But that is so often easier said than done because all those tasks… shopping, addressing cards, baking, decorating… still need to be completed. At least we think they do.

My guess is that two important changes – preparation and prioritization - would’ve reduced my blood pressure catching that flight! Being ready a bit earlier… leaving a cushion for the unexpected. And simply eliminating a couple of activities that were not as important as the main event. Could these practices benefit our Christmas madness as well?

So I pray for all of us slivers of peaceful moments this Christmas. And I am interested to hear from you how to you carve out time for calm reflection on the whole reason we are celebrating in the first place.

I am also struck by the truth that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and entered into a chaotic world. Which, for me, begs the question, of when you’ve prepared and prioritized all you can to create spaces for peace… and bedlam reigns anyway… how do you witness the Prince of Peace break in through the noise?

Next Advent post: Joy.
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