The Top 10 Posts of 2016

I'm a big fan of year-end favorites lists. There's so much content on the internet, it's hard for any of us to keep up with every post, status update, or newsletter. So I love to see the highlights, and I hope you enjoy these favorite posts from A Life with Subtitles.

The 5 Most Read Posts from this year:

#1 - Do You Live In A Good Neighborhood?

When Donald Trump started talking about all the terrible neighborhoods in our cities, folks who read this article assured me he was not referring to my neighborhood. But that's because of how I describe where I live. I paint a fuller picture. If you just wanted to look at crime rates and graduation rates and property taxes (I pay about $30/year), you'd know my neighborhood is exactly the kind of community most people avoid. But I'd still call it a good neighborhood.

#2 - 5 Reasons You Should Never Listen To Hamilton

Well, we still are. No regrets!

#3 - Stop Licking the Fireball!

This piece is one that resonated with many readers during the election season, and has stayed on my heart and mind as I try to figure out how to stay informed, while also staying active and engaged in the issues that matter to me. I want to know what's going on in Aleppo and with immigrant and refugee communities in our country. But I also know I that some of the hate and vitriol online can paralyze my heart.

#4 - The Ups and Downs of Raising Bilingual Kids

This post almost summarizes every post I've ever written on raising bilingual kids. It amuses me that it mentions New Year's Resolutions as here we stand on the doorstep of another New Year. We've been up and down a bunch even since this post was written!

#5 - When My Kids Insist on Being Generous

We are approached regularly in parking lots by folks asking for money or assistance. There is always a guy or two waiting at our exit ramp holding signs. We have a fella who regularly knocks on our door and asks to rake our leaves. It is an ongoing conversation of how we raise our kids to love well in a hurting world.

The Post Loved Round the World:

#6 - 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix

Okay, I left off one of the real Top 5 from 2016. But that's because it's so closely related to this post, which gets waaaaaay more views every single month than anything else I've ever written in my whole entire life. That's because if you Google "Spanish Cartoons on Netflix" or "Spanish Shows on Netflix," you get me! So lots of folks find their way here for these lists. If that was or is you, nice to meet you!

A Few of My Personal Favorites:

#7 - My Marriage to an Undocumented Immigrant

The opportunity to write for Christianity Today was such a fun part of 2016. (Even if it did mean a lot of strangers decided to tell me how Christians shouldn't love people who broke the law.) I was honored that they allowed me to tell this story about immigration, as well as a piece on visiting immigrants in detention. (Something else Christians apparently aren't supposed to do? I think I'm reading the wrong Bible!)

#8 - 17 Faces Anyone Who's Tried to Learn Spanish Will Immediately Recognize

You know I love any opportunity to make a list of GIFs. Buzzfeed is my jam!

#9 - Why We Need Different Friends Now More Than Ever

If I ever wrote a piece I'd characterize as my mantra, this one is probably it. I think it may ring even more true in 2017.

#10 - My Life As A Copa Wife

This one was just fun to write. And I love all things World Cup Wives. If you love someone who loves soccer, you may just love the World Cup Wives, too!

These are some of the reader favorites and my favorites from this year. I hope you enjoy them, too! What was a favorite post you wrote or read online this year? I'd love to read it!

My 10 Favorite Books in 2016

I do love to read. And I love to share about the books I've read. So without any further ado (and in no particular order), here are 10 of my favorite reads from 2016.

#1 - Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

This mix of comedy and sociology is perfect to talk about dating and romance in the modern age. I learned a lot, and I found so much of his research and perspective thought-provoking. So much relates to how technology has impacted all our relationships, not just romantic ones.

#2 - Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I haven't stopped talking about this book. Set in rural Kentucky and Ohio, Vance unpacks the regional, familial, and class culture of rural white America. It was super eye-opening and helped put into words things I've known or seen but haven't been able to articulate.

#3 - Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle

This book is not new, but I read it for the first time this year. (Actually, I listened to the audio book, which Father Boyle narrates... awesome.) It's simply so good. And inspiring. And heart-warming. And convicting. All the ingredients of a great book.

#4 - Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders by Chris Hoke

Similar to Tattoos, Hoke writes a memoir about his life serving among predominately Latino gang members. But, of course, he has a unique perspective and his beautiful writing is often quite deep and thought-provoking. I definitely recommend!

#5 - Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

I expected to hear about Noah's comedy career and rise to fame, but the subtitle is very true on this one. It's full of stories from his childhood in post-Apartheid South Africa. I learned a lot about South Africa, and Noah writes stunningly about shifting between cultures. One reason I loved the audio book was hearing him switch between languages and accents.

#6 - Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brené Brown

This is a book I will read again. I'd tried to read some of Brown's books in the past, but had struggled to connect. This one, however, clicked with me right away. What probably stuck with me the most is recognizing the stories we tell ourselves, particularly in a situation where we experience pain or rejection.

#7 - Dream Things True: A Novel by Marie Marquardt

A YA novel about a mixed-status couple? Yes, please! This novel follows a high school couple that deals with immigration issues when the boy discovers his girlfriend is undocumented. Marquardt's second novel comes out next month, and I'm super excited!

#8 - In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Guerrero's story is so heart-breaking and an immigration tale that many have never heard or considered, so I recommend diving into her story. While in high school, she returned home from school to learn her parents had been deported. But she stayed. No one ever checked up on her, and she was a U.S. citizen, so she stayed and finished high school before becoming a Hollywood actress.

#9 - Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book revolutionized my creative life. It made me think so differently about what creativity is and how to cultivate it in a healthy life. It was encouraging without any "follow your dreams" or "live the live you imagine in your mind" kind of stuff, which is not really my cup of tea... mostly because I have bills to pay.

#10 - Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham

I wasn't going to include this one because it was a total guilty pleasure. But I absolutely loved it! Sometimes you're afraid you won't like the celebrity behind your favorite characters, but Graham was so classy and kind and funny. It was a delightful read. And I loved all her behind-the-scenes of GG, but also her acting and writing career.

Well, there you go! I hope you may enjoy a few of these as we head into the New Year. You can see everything I read in 2016 on Goodreads.

So what was one (or more) of your favorite books this year?

P.S. This post includes affiliate links, so if you purchase through a link, you support A Life with Subtitles. Thank you!

A Christmas with Subtitles

I love the holidays. Hype is my love language, and the month of December is like a sugar-rush on a roller coaster. Whoo hoo! Of course, it can also all be a little nauseating.

If you’re like us, you may be planning both a Noche Buena bash and trying to squeeze in a Christmas Eve service where your children can hold a burning candle high above their heads. Combining traditions across cultures is fun, but also busy.

Over my years of blogging, I’ve written a lot about navigating multicultural holidays and what this experience has taught me about family and faith. Different perspectives have a way of impacting our viewpoint.

So today I’m sharing a few of my favorite Christmas posts over the past few years. I hope you, too, can enjoy a Christmas with subtitles!

How Do You Celebrate Multicultural Holidays?
In this short video, we share how we’ve incorporated traditions from our different backgrounds. Spoiler alert: Billy mocks some of my “adaptations” of Guatemalan festivities. Also, I have no idea why we start out the video so sad, but then we talk about fireworks and everyone is happy.

How To Make Ponche
If you want to be a holiday rock star, boil brown sugar and water together and serve it as a beverage. People will fall at your feet. I seriously get so much affection for this Guatemalan holiday drink, so I’m sharing the easy-peasy recipe with you.

Croweded Christmas: A Nativity Different Than We Imagine?
This is one of my favorite Christmas posts of all time because considering cultural assumptions about this important story blew my mind. I’ve never thought of Christmas the same. This perspective was also the inspiration for my story-based Advent series.

Coming Home with Tamales in Tow
There’s really no such thing as “coming home” for the multicultural family. I feel most aware of this at Christmas. At the same time, this unique perspective helps me sense a special connection to the very baby we celebrate.

7 Bilingual Kid Movies on Netflix [Holiday Edition]
It’s great having the kids home for the holidays, but I’m not going to lie, that often means a little more screen time in our house. If you’re looking to flex their bilingual listening skills or are needing options for Spanish-speaking guests, here’s a quick go-to list!

I hope you are yours are enjoying the holiday season. And if you make that ponche, let me know how your people decided to honor your efforts!

Community Across Divides

"GraceTable is a space for sharing stories about food, faith and how these things connect us to the world beyond our front doors." I just love that, don't you?

I started reading GraceTable earlier this year, and I have appreciated their focus on hospitality. We all need a little more hospitality in our lives!

Many moons ago, I shared a meal at a shelter for U.S. deportees in Tijuana. I have never forgotten that experience, and I think often of those men - and the scores of other immigrants separated from their families. In this guest post, I offer some thoughts and practical suggestions for opening our homes and tables and inviting newcomers to our country into our lives. 

95+ Global Gifts for Anyone and Everyone

If you're busy making your list and checking it twice, you may be looking for the perfect multicultural gift for the global citizens in your life.

With the help of readers and friends, I put together this Global Gift Guide with over ninety-five ideas, including:

     * Unique, bilingual clothing for kids
     * Experience-based gifts for culture lovers
     * Fun, global prints for the home
     * Diverse books for young readers to adults
     * and more!

To get your free copy of the Global Gift Guide, sign up below!

When My Kids Insist On Being Generous

My daughter’s class made care packages during the holidays last year. I’d received the email requesting a $3 donation, so I knew they were putting together bags of snacks, water, and basic toiletries. I also knew the next step was that I would help her give this bag to someone.

It was interesting to hear my 4-year old explain the project. She described the bags they’d made for “people who didn’t have those things” or “for lonely people.” She consistently referred to the tote of goodies as her “kindness bag.” I appreciated her teachers’ attempts to discuss this complex topic with a room full of question asking preschoolers. 

Our family has lived in a poor neighborhood my daughter’s entire life, and we have been involved in urban ministry and community development along the way. Still, her enthusiastic desire to “go find a lonely person” was challenging. For the obvious reason that it’s uncomfortable to walk up to a stranger and hand her a bag of toiletries and snacks. But also because we wanted to be very careful we would not sacrifice the dignity of another person in order to educate our own child. 

The truth is, I hoped my daughter would forget all about the kindness bag. But the mind of a four year old can be remarkably fixated. So, one chilly evening in December, we piled into our car with the sole purpose of finding someone in need of snacks and lotion. 

In the mix of cleaning up dinner and zipping coats, my husband and I had quickly hashed out three guidelines in hopes this exchange could be positive for all involved. Here’s what we came up with:

1. We wanted to give appropriate items.

Before we left, I opened the bag. It held a lot of miniature lotions, a bottle of water, pretzels with cheese, four shower caps, and other items. I plucked out most of the shower caps and a package of dental gauze. And we added more food items from our own snack stash. (With two young kids, snacks are our lifeblood.)

2. We wanted to foster a relational exchange.

It was important to my husband that we not pass the bag out of a car window. So we drove to places in our neighborhood where people are often asking for help. When we saw a couple folks at the freeway exit ramp, we parked and walked to meet them. We also prepared our daughter to introduce herself and ask others for their names.

3. We wanted to leave space for others to say no.

I’ve witnessed “aggressive givers.” There can be an attitude that suggests whatever and however I want to give is better than nothing, so others should accept it and be grateful. While my daughter really wanted to give away her kindness bag, I wanted her to know it’s not all about her. (An ironic lesson we must learn in generosity, no?) We helped her share that her class had made this bag of snacks and things and then to ask the man if he would like it. We left room for him to say no.

So how did it go? Well, the trio of adults by the exit ramp started by asking if we were okay. Then, one of the men held up a cardboard sign to us, so my daughter introduced herself and asked his name. He offered a fake one, which was was obvious by the laughter coming from the others.

The woman leaned over to me and asked what she was selling. I explained that my daughter’s class had put together a bag of items to share. “Ah, for the homeless,” she said while nodding knowingly.

“Sergio” handed my daughter a dollar (he must have also thought she was selling things) and accepted the bag. Then, the woman and my husband recognized each other from years ago when my husband managed a local thrift store. They exchanged pleasantries before she asked him for .75. Since he was still holding Sergio’s dollar, it was an obvious - if amusing - offering.

We said our good-byes and headed back towards our parked car a block away. As we jogged across the exit ramp, my daughter held my husband’s hand in front of me. She turned her head and shouted, “I’m happy!”

Of course, my mama heart was full. But it was also conflicted.

I found myself thinking about the woman’s comment: “Ah, for the homeless.” The men and woman we met were smart. They knew our outing was a lesson in giving for our daughter. In fact, they may have shared their own care packages when they were children.

I wrestled with familiar questions: Are we really helping? Are we being kind? How do we teach our children to share? How do I foster on-going, age-appropriate conversations on poverty and generosity?

I’m always interested to hear how other parents are teaching their kids about generosity while also affirming the dignity of those around them. We are still learning. At the end of the day, my hope is that we shared a moment with our neighbors and our children that affirmed we are all part of a community that includes folks without a place to stay and preschoolers with too many shower caps. And I hope that in the process, the people we met were happy, too.

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.