Thursday, February 21, 2019

The ambivalent part-time expat (that's me)

 Vallodolid, Yucatan, MX
A few years ago, I had this fantasy that if I could just move to Mexico for six months I would become 1)nearly fluent in Spanish and 2)a more relaxed person who could  3)salsa dance up a storm.

OK, goals two and three are still in progress. But I am happy to report that I am nearly fluent in Spanish. That's because, since 2016, I have spent about a year and a half all-told hanging out down here.

And that, as most of you know, is because I fell in love with a Mexican. Which is really by far the best way to learn Spanish. And though my relationship with him appears to be flourishing, my relationship with Mexico is more tortured. 

Laguna Bacalar, Quintana Roo, MX
I love it on the one hand, because it is absolutely beautiful. The country bursts with natural and cultural treasures. Mountains, lakes, hot springs, charming towns, white-sand beaches, vibrant indigenous culture, gorgeous folk art, a fascinating history that's represented in many well-preserved ruins and archaeological sites.

Then there's the food. Mangos, avocados, tacos al pastor, sopa tarasco, habanero salsa, cemitas, tamales, pan dulce, pan de queso, tlacloyos, chiles en nogada...I could go on listing my favorites. Just know that every region in Mexico has its own twist on these foods, its own specialties, and every region in Mexico thinks it has the best food in all of Mexico. 

Lago de Patzcuaro, Michoacán, MX
And they are probably all right. 

I have been so lucky to travel all over this country. But what I've realized, now that I have spent time living here off and on, is that I much prefer traveling in Mexico to living here. 

Because I am a spoiled American at heart. I know there are many expats who love being here, who have no desire to return to the U.S. - because of its politics, because it's so expensive, because the pace is so hectic, because of many things. 

I don't think I'm one of them though. My heart  belongs to the USA. To Seattle and the northwest. I am a spoiled American at heart and there many things I miss.

Here are just a few of them:

Pachuca, Hidalgo MX
Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Soy creamer. Peet's Coffee. Thai food. National parks with well-marked trailheads. Composting and recycling. Showers with water pressure and reliable hot water. Knowing that if I have a heart attack in my house, an ambulance will be there promptly to try to save me. People who speak my language. My dog. My car. Artsenal doughnuts.

And yet...
I've been here for four months this time around, and while I want to go home, I also don't want to go home.

Here I can actually afford my life. When I go back to Seattle, this time with my boyfriend in tow (who has miraculously acquired a visa to stay for a while),  I will need to get a better-paying job to pay the rent. Or else I will need to go to a cheaper city where the rents aren't so high, of which there are many, but my heart belongs in Seattle...

Tepoztlan, Morelos MX
Or maybe my heart belongs in Mexico. I don't know. All I know is that being a part-time expat is confusing. It's like I don't exactly know where my home is anymore.

And that's OK for now. After all, as a Gemini, ambivalence is my constant state of being anyway.

Plus, look at all the  cool stuff I've gotten to see in the last four months!

(And if you think this post is really just an excuse to show off some of my recent photos of Mexico, you'd be right). 




Friday, February 1, 2019

Essay publication! "My Mother-In-Law Was Like a Second Mom, and Then I Got Divorced."

Image by  Sammiches  & PsychMeds
Thanks to Sammiches & PsychMeds for publishing my essay My Mother-In-Law Was Like a Second Mom, and Then I Got Divorced.

I wrote that essay about a year ago, when the wounds of my divorce were even fresher. I tried to get it published a few places, but when I didn't, I posted it here on my blog for Mother's Day last year.

When 2019 rolled around and I realized I hadn't PUBLISHED A SINGLE THING in 2018, I told myself I needed to try a little harder . I spend a lot of time writing and most of my stuff never sees the light of day (at least now that I'm not a prolific blogger like I used to be back in the good old Breakup Babe days).

So I tried again to publish this essay, using the likes of Duotrope to help me find markets (a tool I hadn't used before, but which I now highly recommend). At first Sammiches & PsychMeds rejected me, but they did say they liked the idea and if I expanded the essay, they might consider publishing it. 

This made me despair. I mean, it was a compliment, of course. They liked the idea! But it is so hard to go back and edit stuff  that you have already slaved over and "finished" to your own satisfaction. 

But it being a brand new year, I had a little extra energy and drive, and even though the revision process was not pleasant, I went and I did it. And you know what? I think they were right, the essay is better for the stuff I added to it. 

Their editors made me think harder about how losing my mother-in-law has affected my life. There was a lot of crying during this rewrite, which surprised me, because I thought my wounds were healing up. But they are still plenty raw. 

Which makes for the best writing, right? As various famous writers have said, the best writing happens when you bleed onto the page. 

So thanks again to Sammiches and PsychMeds for encouraging me to bleed a little bit more. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mountains and wildflowers in Hidalgo state

Colorful staircase in Pachuca
This weekend, we  took a little getaway to the state of Hidalgo, which borders the state of Puebla (which is where I am currently hanging out, avoiding Trump's America and the hordes of fans that stalk me at home, demanding a sequel to BreakupBabe).

You don't hear about Hidalgo much. Which is probably a good thing - it's not in the news for drugs and violence. It's also definitely not on the gringo tourist trail, and perhaps not much on the Mexican tourist trail, except for  people who live nearby.

But I was looking for a place to go over Thanksgiving break that wasn't far and that would serve up some nature - something that's sorely lacking here in the traffic-choked city of Puebla. More than anything when I'm here, I miss the green spaces of Seattle, the lakes, the Puget Sound, the snowy peaks (sob).

And so, on Thanksgiving Day, we bound a bus for the city of Pachuca. The capital of Hidalgo state, it's not too famous for much of anything except soccer and "pastes" (aka Cornish pasties), both brought by Cornish miners who went there to work the silver mines in the 1900s.

We did stuff ourselves with pastes,  but what we enjoyed most in Pachuca was "Las Palmitas." It's a once-sketchy neighborhood perched on a hillside that - thanks to a community effort - was turned into one big eye-poppingly colorful mural. (The Guardian published an article about it a few years ago).

We were the only ones around
You'd expect such a pretty place to be full of tourists, but we were the only ones wandering around taking pictures. (In fact, we were practically the only ones wandering around at all).

And one resident, when she saw me take a picture, got very grumpy and started ranting about how I shouldn't take pictures because I didn't live there, and the neighborhood belonged to the people who did.

This has never happened to me before in Mexico, but then again, I guess I'm usually in more touristy places. You'd expect this place to be more touristy. If Las Palmitas was, say, in a neighborhood in San Francisco, CA, it would be  packed with tourists drinking $8 lattes, $15 glasses of wine, and buying t-shirts.

Mural in Comuna 13, Medellin
In fact, it reminded me of a similar - but much more vibrant -  neighborhood I visited last year in Medellin called "Comuna 13". Comuna 13 also used to be a violence-ridden place until the Colombian government cleaned it up (ahem, using some violent methods of their own). Now it's a safe, bustling neighborhood bursting with murals, souvenir shops, and people taking pictures.

 In any case, there were no lattes or souvenir shops to be found, just empty, colorful streets - a little on the haunting side in their loneliness.

Into the mountains to Mineral del Chico

After a night in Pachuca, we hopped on one of the passenger vans that ferries people up into the mountains. After a sinuous 40-minute drive, we arrived in the picturesque mining town of Mineral del Chico. It's one of Mexico's mostly recently-designated pueblos magicos - or "magic towns."

What makes this one "magic?" Well, it's got a beautiful old church, of course. It's also set in the middle of a national park, which means that many of the vistas from the town included striking rock formations and acres of forest.

And luckily, we found the perfect hike to do amidst this wilderness. I say "luckily" because it's not always a given that you'll find such things as "maps" in a national park in Mexico. In fact, there were no maps to be found in Mineral del Chico, but there was a bright red information booth, and even though it opened late (eye roll), there was a friendly person in there who dispensed advice.

This guy enjoyed the view too
We hiked up and up, first to a mirador called La Pena del Cuervo, which offered a 360-view of the surrounding scenery and the valley below. Then, encouraged by a friendly Hidalgo couple we met there,  we hiked up further to an abandoned lookout, which we had to ourselves and which was surrounded by wildflowers.

I was so excited to see wildlflowers! I thought I'd seen the last of them in August, when I hiked at Mount Rainier. But no, here they were in late November, and suddenly, for the half an hour that I wandered around on this little peak, surrounded bursts of white, yellow, and red flowers, I felt at home for the first time since I came to Mexico over a month ago. 

That alone made the trip worth it.

Not that the trip was difficult. It just had minor annoyances, like trips tend to do. But they were so minor they are not even worth going into (much as I'd like to bitch about the couple that was constantly having sex above us in our otherwise peaceful lodging in Mineral del Chico. I mean, people, once a week is enough for most couples. Do you really need to be having sex several times a DAY?).

So, instead, I won't gripe. I'll leave you with this image. Mountains. Flowers. Sunshine. Blue sky. Much as I miss for Seattle and long for it when I'm gone, you're certainly not gonna find a scene like this there in late November. Viva Mexico! 



Friday, October 26, 2018

Just another day in Mexico

Mexico is such a land of contrasts.

It has a vibrant culture, systemic corruption, a joyous spirit, abject poverty.

The feelings that it stirs up in me are a jumble of contrasts too. Love, hate, annoyance, longing, disgust, sadness, admiration.

I love it because it's beautiful and welcoming and epic, and because Ian is here. I hate it at times because...well, I'm a spoiled American and things don't always go the way I want.

Let's take Monday, for example. I was in Mexico City to see some friends who were visiting from the States. Our big plan for the day was to dine at Pujol, the #13 rated restaurant on the oh-so-trendy list of the world's top 50 restaurants.

Because I had to work  til lunchtime, my plan was to go to the café-bookstore right near the restaurant and work from there until it was time to eat. Although I had never been to this particular café, it has several locations in Mexico City, and I always like to work from there when I'm in town because of the great food, welcoming vibe, and stable Internet.

I managed the Metro ok. This in itself was a bit of a triumph because the metro in Mexico City used to make me claustrophobic and panicky. Now I can handle it with mostly no problem AND actually get places I need to go (which is no small feat for someone as directionally challenged as me).

Then came the first annoying part of the day. For this, I have no one to blame but myself. I popped out of the metro in the swanky neighborhood of Polanco and started following Google maps to the bookstore/café. I saw a panaderia and popped in for a concha, my favorite pan dulce. 




Conchas, mmm
Unfortunately, the concha was both terrible AND overpriced. But that wasn't the annoying part.  (At least with an overpriced pastry in Mexico, you're talking $1.50 instead of $7).

The annoying part was that 1)I left my jacket in the bakery 2)realized it almost right away  3)but then couldn't find the bakery again even though - I SWEAR - it was right around the corner. Mexico City is not always the easiest place to navigate!

I knew I would find it eventually but the problem was I had to start work ASAP.  After searching fruitlessly for the panaderia for 10-15 minutes, I was threatening to make myself late. OK, fine. I would find my jacket later. Hopefully no one would have stolen my jacket by then (because that concha really wasn't worth it!) 

Then I got a little lost trying to find the bookstore. When I rushed in, it was about 11:01. I was one minute late for work. I logged on, worked for two whole minutes, and then - BAM - there was no Internet. 

"Oh, the Internet isn't working right now," the server said to me casually when she brought me my coffee. 

*&$!*! %$ 

The Internet continued to not work and not work. For the whole two hours I was supposed to be working, I got online for maybe 10 minutes total, thus losing a a bunch of money because I could not bill for that time. This I blame squarely on Mexico. 

Thank you Mexico and your terrible Internet. 

So that was the morning. But then there was lunch. 

And lunch was a miracle of deliciousness and beauty. None of the hustle-bustle and heat of Mexico City or the country's problems was to be found in Pujol.

Blissful dining in Pujol
No, Pujol represents only the best of Mexico: fresh Mexican ingredients welded into amazing lovely-to-behold creations. Attentive service. An architectural design that makes you feel both energized and relaxed.

Then, after three hours, it was over. I was dumped back out onto the street with the hoi polloi. I proceeded to have an experience that was almost the exact opposite of my decadent, leisurely interlude in Pujol.

I went to the doctor.

I had a female problem. And, it became obvious during lunch when I visited the bathroom five times, that I needed to get it looked at urgently. And so I did what a lot of Mexicans do when they need to see someone quickly and cheaply, and they don't have health insurance: I went to a farmacia.

When you go to a pharmacy, you pay $0 to $3 to see the doctor, and then you inevitably go into the actual pharmacy and spend a lot of money on whatever they prescribed to you. And they always prescribe something because the doctors who work there are subsidized by the pharmacies.

Anyway, at this particular pharmacy, the waiting room was broiling hot and packed with people. To make matters worse, due to my female problem, I had to pee like a mo' fo but there were no public bathrooms available.

So I waited. And waited. And sweated. And waited. Finally I got into see the doctor, who turned out to be a lovely, friendly overworked young woman stuffed into a stinky, windowless and dirty office.  Even though I liked this doctor very much and was relieved she was a woman, I did not like wondering what the pinkish-reddish stains on the walls and floors were.

Was it BLOOD?

I tried not to think about it as she examined me. As she wrote up my prescriptions, I wished for her a better job - something less hectic, more peaceful, where she at least at time to clean up the bloodstains (or juice stains), look out a window, or let a breath of fresh air in the office before the next patient.

Then I ran back to my AirBB, trying not to pee in my pants. Meanwhile, I passed by Parque Mexico, one of the loveliest and most peaceful urban parks anywhere (and even though I wasn't in the best frame of mind to enjoy it, there was still part of me appreciating it just like I always did).

So, really, it was just another typical day in Mexico for me.

OK, so maybe going to one of the world's best restaurants isn't exactly typical. But the way the day encompassed both beautiful and ugly, hectic and calm, warm and difficult -- all these contrasts, for me, are Mexico in a nutshell.

(Oh, and by the way, I did find my jacket again.)





Monday, September 10, 2018

A fresh ground story, coming right up

In June of this year, I achieved a big goal of mine, which was to speak at a live storytelling event. The event I spoke at was Fresh Ground Stories, a once-monthly get-together that happens at a coffeehouse in Seattle. It's very popular! The place was packed, and the audience very supportive.  The theme for this evening was "Under the illusion." I was thrilled that I got a chance to get up there and tell my story. You all know I love me some spotlight. You can listen to it here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Celebrating my ex mother-in-law on Mother's Day

With my stylish MIL in happier times

My mother-in-law literally used to give me the clothes off her back.

It happened more than once that she’d be wearing a stylish shirt or sweater and I’d say, “M-, I love that sweater.”

“Do you want it?” she’d say. “Take it!” Then she’d hand it to me despite my (feeble) protests, saying something like “I have so many others” or “But it looks better on you than it does on me.”

It would then inevitably become one of my favorite and most-complimented sweaters because she was one of the most stylish people I knew.

Her generosity took other forms too. Like the elaborate meals she used to cook for us, not permitting us to lift a finger in the preparation or the clean-up.

“I’ll do the dishes tomorrow!” she used to say, though she was 78 with MS, and we were fit and mid-40s and very capable of washing dishes (even if we were stuffed with chicken piccata and chocolate cake). I’m embarrassed to say we always obeyed. 

I used to say I won the “mother-in-law lottery.” Instead of a mother-in-law who didn’t think I was good enough for her son, or who was crazy, or just plain annoying, I got a mother-in-law who made me feel special, beautiful, and brilliant.

She had a talent for making people feel good.

Also a talent for looking good. If once I’d thought getting older meant letting myself go or falling out of step fashionwise, she taught me that didn’t have to be the case. Her hair was usually a perfect honey-blonde, her outfit something hip from Nordstrom’s.

And yet, her sister – also a beloved figure in my life – presented a contrasting yet equally vibrant picture of old age. She had a head full of unapologetic white hair, wore track suits so bright they hurt your eyes, and was full of energy in her 80s.

They were fun to be around. They made me feel like getting old was possible, and possibly not so bad. In my own family, everyone died before 70. My dad and my grandparents were all long gone by the time I met my mother-in-law in 2007. So I needed older and wiser people like her in my life.

Especially after my mom died in 2012 at 68. The pampering presence of my mother-in-law became even more of a comfort to me then. So did her own hard-won perspective on life and loss. 

Occasionally I thought of her as a second mom, but in reality, she acted more like a grandmother – never criticizing, always adoring, lavishing love and attention on me.

Then, in late 2016, my husband and I split up.  I had naïve hopes that my relationship with her would survive the messy divorce. That once the dust settled, we’d get back to the business of being besties.

So I reached out to her with cards and email. Tried to stay in touch. But the divorce became final a year ago, and more time than that has passed without a response from her. And I’m just starting to accept that our relationship is a thing of the past.

It hurts, of course, but I understand. And when it hurts a lot, I remind myself of something she said to me at the beginning of the divorce process, before I moved away.

“You’ll always be my little girl,” she said. It was quick and whispered. She said it almost in passing, when she was helping my ex move out of our house.

She had never called me her little girl before. But of course I was. I was the daughter she’d never had, plus adoring granddaughter rolled into one.

Which is why, although I might not be in her life anymore, I like to think I’m still in her heart. In my own special room, eating homemade chocolate cake and staying forever warm in a spontaneously gifted sweater from Nordstrom’s. 



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Am I too old for him?

I recently published an essay in The Globe and Mail - whoohoo! It' s about dating someone much younger than me, and the insecurities (and occasional mean looks) that go along with it.