Monthly Archives: May 2015

When Life Brings You Storms, Go Surfing (or Do Yoga!)

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Today I woke up to stormy skies, rain trickling down my window, and cool temperatures. My first reaction, especially because it was a Sunday, was disappointment as I felt held back from going outside and exploring Cleveland.

My mindset quickly changed when I received a reminder that my community yoga class at Edgewater Beach was still happening (despite the rain!). I arrived to Edgewater Park and followed a trail of hopeful yogis and their colorful yoga mats walking through the moist sand to a pavilion. I was surprised to find dozens of yogis spread throughout the pavilion, eager to begin practice with the friendly instructor.

The yoga practice was very relaxing and nourishing, with rain sprinkling around me as I overlooked a forest with Lake Erie in the distance. I felt one with nature, appreciating the fresh air, birds chirping, and beautiful green scenery.

Our yoga pavilion. Photo from Yoga for Every BODY, the community yoga organization that provides free outdoor yoga opportunities for Clevelanders.

Our yoga pavilion. Photo from Yoga for Every BODY, the community yoga organization that provides free outdoor yoga opportunities for Clevelanders.

I was reminded of an important message in life: Don’t let the storms of life hold you back from enjoying your days and pursuing your dreams. This message was further emphasized when I walked back from the class and passed Lake Erie beach again. Scattered throughout the shores were surfers appreciating the rough waters for the thrill of surfing. In their minds, a stormy day is the ideal time to go surfing in Lake Erie, as the waves are large enough to create an exhilarating experience. Whereas most of us would think of a storm as something negative, and interfering with our plans, others view storms as opportunities. The storms in this case demonstrate that the storms of life, or challenges and obstacles, can be turned into something positive. It all depends on our mindset and perception of the storms that come our way.

With this refreshed insight I am challenging myself and inspirNational readers to change our mindset about the storms and challenges that come our way. With each storm, let’s find ways to create our own version of surfing and appreciate each day as it comes!

Cherries and Sand Dunes and Wine, Oh My!

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InspirNational will be spending Memorial Day weekend in Traverse City, Michigan. I look forward to spending time in the cherry capital of the world, wine tasting in Old Mission Peninsula, and exploring the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. It will be wonderful to spend quality time with my mom and our loves in my mom’s new home!

Flashback to 2013: Visiting 2 Lads Winery in Traverse City with my mom!

Flashback to 2013: Visiting 2 Lads Winery in Traverse City with my mom!

Learn more about Traverse City, Michigan and other beautiful places to visit in the Midwest in my post, Why More People Should Visit the Midwest in the United States.

I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

We Are Considered Beautiful Somewhere

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When I first discovered my friend, Maddie Knapp’s blog, Celebrating Curves, I became inspired to think about international beauty. Throughout my travels, I have learned that each place defines beauty differently. With diverse perspectives on beauty, it is important for us to be comfortable in our own skin and cherish our bodies.

I scanned several articles and social media to learn the most strongly held beliefs about international beauty.

In the article, How Beauty is Defined Throughout the World, it was interesting to see the differences in beauty in various countries, compared to a United States perspective:

  • United States:  Americans often value long, flowy hair, bronzed skin, a face free of wrinkles and a thin frame.
  • Ethiopia: In the Ethiopia’s Karo tribe, beauty is emphasized with body scars.  The scars cut onto the stomachs of women at childhood are seen as beautiful adornments meant to attract men who are husband material.
  • Kenya:   To the Masai tribe of Kenya, long, stretched earlobes and low-maintenance buzz cuts are the ideal. Women are known to shave their heads and use everything from elephant tusks to twigs to pierce and stretch their lobes to become more attractive.
  • Burma and Thailand: Long, giraffe-like necks are the ultimate sign of beauty and female elegance to the Kayan tribe. At 5 years old, Kayan women start priming their necks with heavy brass rings. Each year, more coils are added, pushing down their shoulders and creating the effect of a longer neck. If you thought the phrase “beauty is pain” was referring to brow-waxing, keep in mind that the rings in this centuries-old ritual can weigh up the 22 pounds.
  • China and Japan: In various parts of Asia, pale, white skin is revered as a sign of affluence and attractiveness. In Japan, women avoid the sun at all costs (hello, parasols), while skin-care products with whitening agents are the norm in places like China and Thailand. Sometimes, it’s hard to find products without bleaching properties.
  • New Zealand: Tattooing is a sacred ritual to the Maori people of New Zealand, and not something parents warn their teenagers they’ll one day regret. Traditionally, a chisel was used to carve grooves into the skin (though today, tattoo machines are the norm), creating swirling tattoos called Ta-moko. Women with tattooed lips and chins and full, blue lips are considered the most beautiful.
  • Mauritania: While Americans are perpetually dieting and striving to be thin, Western African cultures find women who are overweight to be the most beautiful — the more stretch marks, the better. In the past, it wasn’t completely unheard of for families in Mauritania to send their daughters to “fat farms,” camps that would force-feed girls 16,000 calories a day to help them reach their ideal weight. Fuller figures are still the ideal, and fattening camel’s and cow’s milk are go-tos for plumping up, but thankfully, the government now frowns upon the unpleasant force feeding.
  • Iran: Nose jobs seem like a staple in the image-conscious U.S., but Iran is actually the rhinoplasty capital of the world. Both men and women are proud to show off their procedures — a sign of their social status and their path on the route to beauty. So much so that they’ll often wear their bandages much longer than needed, while others will purchase surgical tape to wear, even if they haven’t gone under the knife.
  • India: Instead of accessorizing with extravagant jewelry, women in India turn to nose rings, bindis and henna to make themselves more attractive for festivals and celebrations, like weddings. Brides in particular will often wear a dot of red powder on the face known as a kumkum to look more beautiful.
  • Japan: Stick straight hair is seen as the norm, and therefore, the most beautiful hair texture. Japanese women with wavier patterns have become pros at getting this look, turning to chemicals and flat irons to keep their hair as sleek as possible. It’s no surprise that thermal reconditioning — using a bond-breaking chemical and meticulous flat-ironing to straighten hair — is referred to as Japanese hair straightening here in the U.S.
Source: Women's Health Magazine

Source: Women’s Health Magazine

I found an eye-opening Business Insider article which demonstrates through photographs how 19 different countries define beauty. According to the article:

“Journalist Esther Honig used the online marketplace Fiverr to send out a photo of herself to graphic designers in more than 20 countries.

Their task: to edit the photo to make Honig look “beautiful” — however the designer defined the term.

The results are telling. Each photo represents the personal and cultural beauty standards of the designer, with the American editor giving Honig bright blue eyes and long hair, and the Israeli designer darkening her eyes and skin.”

With the varying definitions and different approaches to beauty, we are reminded to embrace our natural features. Even if we do not feel beautiful where we live or travel, our features are likely attractive somewhere in the world. Like the fun phrase, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” we should all remember that “we are considered beautiful somewhere.”

From Explorer to Settler

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InspirNational readers: We all love to explore and travel, but how do we decide where to settle? Thank you to Hunter Reams for writing this guest post with some great insights about choosing where to settle.


There are countless blogs and advice columns on traveling and exploring the world. While we all love being an explorer, at the end of the day, or at the end of a great vacation, we need a place to call home. Deciding where you want to settle down can be one of the most difficult decisions. From affordability to an awesome job market, many variables impact your decision on that place that you can call home. I have narrowed down my top criteria in making the all-important decision of where to plant your roots.

Job Opportunities
Job opportunities vary from state to state and region to region, and this is a very important variable as it is the foundation upon which you will prosper. I believe that the best place to start your “quest to settle” is to analyze the job market. If you work in investment banking, New York City will be much more likely to have opportunities than Gary, Indiana. Or if you are interested in supply chain management for oil, Texas and North Dakota may have the best opportunities. Network with friends, network online, network some more, and search for the employment opportunities that will make you happy. Once you have located either specific jobs or areas that have a demand for your expertise, narrow your search area to those places. This way, you will be much more likely to be financially stable, and derive the most enjoyment out of your new location!

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Family and Friends
If family and friends play a major role in your life, you may not want to locate far away from them. While social media and communications technology have made it much easier to stay connected over long distances, it is nonetheless very difficult to live far from your closest circle. Personally, this is a particularly difficult criterion as my parents relocated to a remote Appalachian city, while my friends and extended family are in Michigan/Ohio…When analyzing this variable; keep in mind the age/health of your family and friends, as well as the possibilities of them relocating. If you are looking to settle away from friends and family, consider living in areas that are near airports or other forms of public transportation to help you stay connected.

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Climate and Geography
If you love the beach, should you focus on living beachside? If you want to ski every day, should you narrow your search to mountainous regions? Do you want to live right by the Detroit Tigers’ stadium so you can get season tickets to the games? Both the climate and geographic region play a huge role in determining your hobbies, behaviors, and activities. A good way to analyze this variable is to write down all of the hobbies and activities that make you happy, and determine if each geographic location can cater to them. If you absolutely cannot go a week without playing golf, then living in Maine would not be a great idea. If you love the snow and four seasons, then maybe Florida is not the right place for you. This variable should not be overlooked because you can find employment, affordable housing, good education systems, and culture all throughout the country. But certain geographic locations have characteristics that others do not possess. (i.e oceans, warm weather, sports teams). Choose wisely when determining what geographic locations can best satisfy your needs.

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Population and Culture
I grouped population and culture together because I have traveled to many large American cities and have yet to find one that does not offer plenty of culture. On the other hand, the majority of small cities do not possess as many offerings of cultural stimulation. If you crave the variety of cultural foods, music, atmosphere, ambience, etc. then living in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami would be a great fit. Those cities are full of vibrant offerings that will keep any cultural sommelier happy. If cultural diversity is not as important to you, then a small town or suburb will likely be a good match.

Population is also an important factor because life in a small town is much different than living in a suburb, which is much different than living in a large city. Having lived in all three, I will share my opinions per population size:

If you enjoy seeing neighbors at the local grocery store and enjoy being a bigger fish in a small pond, then the small town life may be for you. Living in a small town provides a sense of community – you feel like you truly are part of the town. There are also fewer worries about crime, traffic, other annoyances, and the ability to frequently see friends and family at the local restaurants, churches, and stores. Additionally, it is typically much more affordable and land is abundant. The biggest disadvantages to small town life are the lack of amenities, culture, and job opportunities. In the town I lived in for 6 months, there was very little to do, not much shopping/entertainment, and lack of cultural exposure among many of the people. The town did not have any major corporation and held very few job opportunities for a young college graduate. I believe that living in a small town is best suited for those that want a slower pace of life, close-knit community, and more privacy. Families, retirees, and those who love the outdoors are best suited for the small town.

Growing up in a suburb provided a great mix of the small town and bigger city. While I could travel into Detroit for sports games and concerts, I also could retreat back to the safety and privacy that the suburb provided. There were great job opportunities in the suburb itself and in the surrounding cities. I feel that the biggest disadvantage to suburban life is that there is not the abundance of culture/entertainment that one finds in a big city, and it also lacks the land and community involvement compared to a small town. Some may find that suburbs are unsatisfyingly mediocre. I believe that suburbs are the most ideal location for families and those that want a comfortable lifestyle.

Life in the big city has the advantages of all the amenities you can ask for; lots of entertainment and culture, and tons of employment opportunities. Cities often have public transits systems that eliminate the need for a car and a short bike ride or walk can get you to where you need to be. I feel that the biggest drawbacks to living in a larger city are the lack of nature, expenses, small fish in a big pond, crime, and annoyances such as traffic and higher taxes. I believe that the big city is best suited for young professionals and those that want to experience a fast paced lifestyle with tons of culture and diversity.

Overall, small towns, suburbs, and larger cities all have pros and cons. It is important to discover what makes you happy, and find a place that works for you!

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Longevity
My final variable in making the decision to settle down is longevity. It is important to grasp an understanding on long-term variables that will be important to you. Education systems, healthcare, governmental benefits and taxes, real estate markets – these things are easy to overlook when you are 25 and excited to start your career in a new place. But in a few short years when all of your friends and colleagues are starting families, these variables can become extremely important, if not determinative. So when making your decision on where to settle down, keep in mind that your priorities will likely change. To help analyze this factor, reaching out to family members or friends who are at a later stage in life may be of help. Ask them what they look for when relocating, and the best ways of ascertaining that information. This way, you are not only preparing for the present, but also for the future.

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Final Word
Overall, there is no right decision and that is a beautiful thing! You cannot make a wrong choice, only choose a different path. Do your diligences, discover what makes you happy, and then go for it!

Tea Inspiration

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Did you ever think you could learn a lesson from drinking tea? If you’re like me, your first thought is probably “no.” Recently, though, I have learned that tea is inspiring.

Source: Not On The High Street

Source: Not On The High Street

As the second most consumed beverage in the world (after water), there must be something more to tea than quenching our thirst or soothing our sore throats. Throughout the world, many people find that tea soothes the soul and provides wisdom in our daily lives. A couple weeks ago, I learned from Gloria Kemer at the Emerald Necklace Inn & Tea Room in Cleveland, Ohio that tea reminds us to slow down and appreciate the moment. When I think about, how often am I eating “on the go” or getting a coffee “on the go”? The truth is, more often than not, I am in a rush, “on the go,” and forgetting the importance of living in the present and appreciating each day as it comes. With a precious antique cup and warm beverage, tea helps us pause for a moment in the day and simply enjoy.

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Over the weekend, I attended a Mother’s Day Tea with my mom and grandma at Victorian Rose Tea House and La Premier Catering in Rochester, Michigan. The tea house owner, Loretta, has an inviting historical home with family heirlooms that makes you feel like you’re traveling to Europe. She and her employees greeted my family with freshly brewed pomegranate tea, homemade papaya scones, fresh fruit salad, tastes of bruschetta and goat cheese, deviled eggs, and Hula pie. Each course was served on antique china with the perfect portion to help us enjoy each morsel. Similar to my experience with Gloria Klemer, I was reminded to slow down and this time, embrace the day with my family.

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I am now challenging myself, and inspirNational readers, to drink tea regularly and pause in our fast-paced daily lives. By spending time relaxing and drinking tea, we are giving ourselves the gift of a refreshed mind, new ideas, quality time with our loved ones, and the rejuvenation necessary to live an inspirNational life.

As an interesting side note, learn more about tea etiquette throughout the world below, so you can spread the tea inspiration no matter where you are living or traveling!

Source: IMGFave

Source: IMGFave

Why You’ll Want to Visit Rochester, Michigan

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Check out my latest contribution to Pink Pangea, featuring my hometown of Rochester, Michigan!


As a native Michigander who has traveled throughout the world, I still find that my heart belongs in Michigan and I have fond memories in my hometown of Rochester. Known as a family-friendly community with excellent schools and a charming downtown, Rochester continues to grow as desirable destination for people to live and visit. The city thrives on bringing people together, with community events every season and great spirit and pride in the school district. Growing up in Rochester, I felt comforted by the “small town” feel that helped me establish my roots. At the same time, I was surrounded by innovative leaders in the community who inspired me to blossom in Rochester and beyond, and to make a difference in the world.

Why should you visit Rochester?

Downtown Rochester combines historic and hip, with buildings dating over 100 years. It is home to over 200 shops and restaurants that are mainly locally owned. There are festivals to celebrate the tastes and joys of every season.

  • Winter: During Christmastime, Rochester is recognized as one of the most beautiful downtowns in Michigan. At the Big Bright Light Fest, millions of Christmas lights cover the downtown buildings. I enjoy attending Lagniappe, where stores give customers “a little something extra,” such as treats or special discounts, to start the holiday season. This annual event perfectly describes the nature of Rochester, where people strive to do “a little something extra,” whether that means giving back to the community, achieving great accomplishments in their careers, or doing “a little something extra” for their loved ones. The event instills a giving nature in the people that carries throughout the year.
  • Spring: I love to get fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market. The farmers are very welcoming and inspired me to create my first vegetable garden in fifth grade. This encouragement fostered my interest in gardening that continues today.
  • Summer: I enjoy going to the sidewalk sales, where the shops have outdoor booths and discounts on boutique and food items. I have great memories of shopping with friends and getting unique jewelry and trinkets over the years.
  • Fall: I recommend going to Arts and Apples, one of the best fine art fairs in the United States with over 290 exhibiting artists from across the country. While perusing the art exhibits and shopping for crafts and trinkets, you can enjoy homemade apple pies and other apple products in booths throughout Rochester Park. Likely inspired by the great desserts paired with art shopping, I credit this fair for also sparking my interest in international art.

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Stoney Creek Village’s Van Hoosen Farm represents Rochester Hill’s history with artifacts and archives teaching about the settlement, agriculture, industry and cultural evolution of the community. According to the Rochester Hills website, “the 16-acre museum complex was home to the Taylor and Van Hoosen families dating back to 1823” and it is “listed in the National Register of Historic Places.” Local schools often have field trips there to teach community members about the history of Rochester, which I enjoyed while in elementary school.

Yates Cider Mill is the perfect location in the spring, summer, and fall to enjoy homemade donuts, fresh cider and other sweet treats while strolling along the river walk and visiting the petting zoo. It is one of the oldest and continuous running businesses in Michigan. While growing up in Rochester, I would visit Yates Cider Mill every year and enjoyed dipping donuts in cider while walking through the trails. As I have moved away from Michigan, I have learned that cider mills are a unique tradition and Michigan, and one that you should not miss while visiting Rochester!

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Lipuma’s Coney Island gives you a one-of-kind hot dog stand experience, one of the best in the Detroit area. Another unique tradition to Michigan, you can enjoy a hot dog with chili (coney dog) and Greek salad at the same time! The welcoming setting has pictures of local and world-renowned celebrities that have visited the establishment since 1969. With my high school only blocks away, I visited Lipuma’s often and enjoyed eating coney dogs while sitting near the river. It is one of my favorite memories of growing up in Rochester!

Paint Creek Trail is Michigan’s first rail-to-trail. The 8.9 mile trail crosses through Rochester with scenic views of Rochester nature and parks. It is ideal for runners, bikers, or those looking for a casual walk to enjoy the outdoors. The trail makes many Rochester and Rochester Hills neighborhoods accessible to Downtown Rochester. I enjoyed several bike rides while living in Rochester for nine years and visiting since then.

Meadowbrook Hall is the historic home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of the automobile pioneer John Dodge and her second husband, lumber broker Alfred Wilson. A National Historic Landmark built between 1926 and 1929, it represents the revival of Tudor architecture in the United States. You can tour the home year-round, and many people recommend going on the Holiday Walk to see the beautiful decorations. The home also hosts weddings, youth programs, and business events throughout the year. Many of my high school classmates toured the hall and took prom pictures there because of the beautiful setting.

With all of these sites, I highly recommend that you visit Rochester, Michigan. When you travel to Rochester, I also recommend that you visit other famous Michigan attractions, such as the Great Lakes (the greatest source of freshwater in the world, five lakes that surround Michigan), Traverse City (the cherry capital of the world in Northern Michigan), Detroit (the motor city and renowned for Motown-era music), and Western Michigan (a furniture capital and famous for the annual tulip festival). Michigan, as a whole, provides many great travel destinations and tourism continues to grow with the welcoming Pure Michigan campaign. If you have any questions about traveling to Rochester or Michigan in general, feel free to reach out to me on my inspirNational blog, Facebook, or @brittanyvb on Twitter!

Respecting the Significance of Cinco de Mayo

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!

As many people in Mexico, the U.S. (including me), and throughout the world celebrate the holiday, it is important to remember its significance to Mexico.

Source: HLNTV

Source: HLNTV

I have read several articles about Cinco de Mayo and appropriate ways to acknowledge its symbolism. One of the most insightful articles I read was by Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Below I have captured his article, On Cinco de Mayo, celebrate, don’t stereotype, on CNN:

“Time to pass the margarita pitcher? For most Americans, Cinco de Mayo calls to mind tequila shots, mariachi music, and special promotions at Mexican restaurants. The Fifth of May usually means that it’s time for a mid-week fiesta.

Not so fast. It’s worth knowing more about Cinco de Mayo, our homegrown holiday. We should at least recall its true meaning and context. With Cinco de Mayo, the U.S. has gone straight to commercialization with little thought to its original significance.

That’s a shame, because Cinco de Mayo is a seminal date in Mexican history. It is a holiday that deserves respect, and it can even be seen as a metaphor for the Hispanic experience.

Contrary to popular assumption, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is September 16 — and dates back to 1810, more than 50 years before the first Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo marks the date of a Mexican military victory over France — not Spain. On May 5, 1862, several hundred Mexican soldiers defeated a much larger contingent of the French army in the Battle of Puebla. France had sent troops to Mexico after the country suspended payments on foreign debts. Although Mexico ultimately lost this war (and the French did not withdraw until several years later), the Battle of Puebla was a huge morale booster for Mexicans.

It was a David-vs.-Goliath situation, as the French army was then considered one of the best in the world. If only more Americans knew this! For if Americans love anything, it’s come-from-behind victories.

It also might surprise people that Cinco de Mayo is more of a big deal in the U.S. than Mexico. Though the date is a holiday in Mexico, it is celebrated mostly in Puebla, the site of the 1862 battle. In the U.S., the observance of Cinco de Mayo is thought to have originated among Mexican laborers in the in the mid-1800s as a celebration of national pride.

A century later, Mexican-American activists in the 1960s claimed it as a symbol of ethnic identity. Then corporations discovered Cinco de Mayo as a way to market to Latino consumers, and the holiday went mainstream. So here is a celebration that began among lowly immigrant workers that has now been recognized by Madison Avenue and Wall Street. It’s a process that mirrors the assimilation of Latinos into the fabric of society.

Cinco de Mayo is an imported celebration that has now become as American as the Fourth of July. How amazing is that?

Unfortunately, the American celebration of Cinco de Mayo often results in a parade of stereotypes. Last year alone: An MSNBC morning show apologized for a misguided segment that featured a producer shaking a maraca and doing a shot of tequila; an ABC News anchor apologized for wearing a sombrero and adopting an accent on what she called “Cinco de Drinko”; a Seattle radio station drew anger from local Hispanics after sponsoring a festival that encouraged people to “come dressed in the celebratory attire of festive Mexico”; and at a North Carolina college, some students took offense at Cinco de Mayo being observed with students donning sombreros and chocolate “mustaches.”

The sad thing about all these incidents is that the parties involved probably had a good impulse to mark Cinco de Mayo. Yet they showed poor judgment in how they did it.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Cinco de Mayo at a local bar or restaurant. I just hope people remember that there is more to it than Corona happy hours. Cinco de Mayo remains a meaningful date in Mexico and a point of pride for Mexican-Americans as well. Besides, we can never go wrong by showing a bit of cultural sensitivity. Just consider how it would strike us if we saw another country marking the Battle of Gettysburg with binge drinking and Uncle Sam hats.

This Cinco de Mayo, let’s ditch the sombreros, fake accents, and mustaches. Instead let’s honor the shared heritage of Mexico and the U.S. with joy and without stereotypes.

In fact, I’ll drink to that.”

As many North Americans and others throughout the world consider celebrating Cinco de Mayo, we should remember to celebrate respectfully, honoring the Mexican heritage that it represents.