Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Even in Mexico, there are Mondays

Tasha is tired of Mondays
Yesterday was such a Monday.

My pants were too tight, my hair was bad, and (flexible) (well-paid) work (that lets me live anywhere in the damn world that I want to) was destroying my soul.

#Firstworldproblems


Yes, I know, what a whiner I am. Here in a country with desperate poverty and a corrupt government, all I can do is complain about how tight my pants are because I've indulged a little bit too much in queso fresco and tacos al pastor.

Mmm, tacos al pastor. Actually, better yet, TORTAS AL PASTOR.

But  I digress.  In general, life in Puebla for a privileged gringa such as myself is idyllic.

I rent a little apartment with a Mexican family where I get 1)cheap rent 2)delicious homecooked meals 3)a clean room every day 4)Spanish practice and 5)canine companionship (shout out to my homies Tasha, Dolly, and Coco!)

It's also sunny. All. The. (Effing). Time.

OK, I love sun, don't get me wrong. Especially after 25 years of the endless winters in Seattle. But I'm starting to recall my love for rain too, and a bit of cloud cover in which to hide.

I'm also realizing how much I crave the presence of  water. In Seattle, you're never far from it. Throw a rock and you find a lake or a bay or a channel. At my ex-mother-in-law's house, I could literally launch myself into Lake Washington from here backyard (which I did often and enthusiastically).

Ah, Isla Mujeres.
Here in Puebla, we're landlocked. (Though I did get a splendid dose of agua in Isla Mujeres in December, which seems like eons ago now).

So it's a good thing I'm headed to Seattle in a few days. Besides seeing my friends and my dogs (oh, the pugz, how I miss them!) I will get to quench my thirst for clouds and water and rain.

Unless, of course, there's a freak stretch of sunny weather.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Good hair days in Oaxaca

Has anyone ever made a decision about where to live based on how good their hair looked in a given location?

If I could reasonably do this, then I would move to Oaxaca city.

Art from one of Oaxaca's many galleries
Not only is it full of stunning art, delicious food, strong drinks (including the best strawberry margarita I've ever had), colorful cafes,  and many other attractions, my hair looked fabulous there.

I mean, if I do say so myself.

Because of my Good Hair, I was exuding so much confidence (and possibly cleavage) that young waiter even asked for my phone number! Unfortunately I made the poor guy repeat himself several times because no one has ever asked me for my phone number in Spanish before.

And though I didn't actually I give it to him, I wanted to tell him how flattered I was and how he'd made my day, but my Spanish wasn't quite up to the task. Because I was flattered and it DID make my day. (I mean when was the last time a random stranger asked for my phone number?)

The minute I returned to Puebla, my hair started to droop again. Even though there are many things to love about my adopted Mexican city, good hair, alas is not one of them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Monarch butterflies in Michoacán

A couple weeks ago, I went to see the monarch butterflies in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico.


Ever since I was a little kid, I've had a thing for butterflies. That's because my favorite memories involve chasing them across the wildflower-choked meadows of the Sierra mountains in northern California when my family backpacked there every summer.

The monarchs here can be elusive. If you arrive before the sun is high in the sky, they might still be sleeping in the trees, clustered together with thousands of their butterfly friends for warmth. Or if it's a cold day, they might never really leave the trees.

But if it's a warm and sunny day like the one we were lucky enough to have, then you're treated to the sight of them swooping through the air like little orange fairies with the bright blue sky above.

I've always related to butterflies (I have three of them tattooed on my back, in fact), but even more so now that I've migrated to Mexico temporarily too.



We stayed at a little hotel called JM's Butterfly B&B, which I really liked (except that all the other guests were Americans, and I don't know when I got so snobby about other Americans, but I realized while I was there that they talk really loudly, and that they also never stop talking).

From this scenic and tranquil spot, you hoof it up on horseback or foot to about 10,000 feet, where - if you're lucky - the butterflies will be busily flitting about. And your mouth falls open at the first sight of them, and maybe you cry, and you wander about in a daze for the next couple hours, taking pictures, listening to the delicate whisper of their wings, and feeling really grateful.



Then you come back for tequila shots at sunrise, and eat wine-laden dinners with the other friendly but LOUD Americans  and later go to sleep with ALL your clothes on the pretty but unheated rooms.

Meanwhile, the butterflies go back to sleep together in the trees, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them, fighting off the nighttime chill until the sun prompts them to open their wings again.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

BreakupBabe: The Divorce Years

Well darlings, it has been an eventful year. And that doesn't even begin to describe it.

For one thing, I'm getting divorced. Which means we've fast-forwarded to...that's right, BreakupBabe: The Divorce Years! Soon to be followed by BreakupBabe: The Nursing Home Years! Oh wait, I take that back. No one in my family lives long enough to put in a nursing home. But ANYWAY.




You know what this means, right? It means that another juicy, tell-all memoirish book will be forthcoming in the near future. I have so much to tell you all!

Meanwhile, after centuries of writing and revising, I'm actually about to start flogging my middle-grade book about nerdy Sam and his embarrassingly exuberant pal Cedric, aka Little Lord Fauntleroy

So wish the two of them luck because they really need it. Although IMHO, Cedric is just as charming as he was way back when he was the Harry Potter of his day, even if he does talk a little funny.


But back to me. I can also tell you that in the wake of my divorce I've fled it to Mexico like so many brokenhearted, confused, and criminally accused before me. Though I might never get back, because of the effing WALL, I'm pleased to report that the sunny climate and tranquilo lifestyle of Puebla is agreeing with me even though I miss my dogs (a lot), my friends (a lot), and the rain (a little).

At least there's my new Mexican boyfriend Coco to comfort me. He's only five months old but the age difference means nothing to us.

Coco

Also, I've started writing regularly again, which is something that didn't happen much in the turmoil of the last six months. I've come out, at least, temporarily, on the other side of that turmoil.

Although if I know anything about grief, I know that it's a long process losing someone and this will be haunting me for a long time.

That is, of course, until I excise it by writing the juicy tell-all memoirish book, which I've already started on with the help of cervezas and sunshine, and the luxury of distance.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A look back at 2015

I’m always amazed to look back every year and see how much I’ve done. It's a good feeling to remind myself of everything, and to feel grateful for all the adventures, big and small. With that, here's a look back at the highlights of 2015...

January – I started off the year by diving into the icy waters of Puget Sound during the Polar Bear Plunge at Golden Gardens. I discovered it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be! I'm not in this picture (which was shamelessly stolen from the Seattle PI) but this is what it looked like. The temperature was probably about 40 degrees.








February – I was recovering from knee surgery, so this was a slow month. I did a lot of physical therapy. Snooze. Dave and I took one terrible trip to Fort Worden. The less said about that one the better. But Fort Worden is a beautiful place. Somehow I have no pictures from February. So I'll post a random cute pug picture of Sugar and Big Bud (who we adopted in July).










March – This was this first year I successfully grew my own garden. I started planting stuff in March, which was a good way to get outdoors since I wasn’t allowed to ski, bike, or hike. My cherry tomatoes were especially successful! (Thanks to global warming).








April – I camped with my sister, niece, and nephew at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Northern California. I’d forgotten how beautiful this part of the California coast is.









May – Going to Steamboat Rock State Park has become an annual tradition for me and Dave. This year I couldn’t hike up Steamboat Rock because of my knee, but I kept well occupied with biking, kayaking, and easier hikes...
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June –At the end of June, I headed to Oaxaca, Mexico for a language study at Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca and a homestay with a local family. I loved it! My only regret is not staying longer.








July – For the first week of July, Dave and I toured around Mexico City and visited Huatulco on the Oaxaca coast. We had our own plunge pool at the hotel, which felt like the height of luxury.












August – I did a solo camping trip on the Olympic Peninsula, during a rare stretch of perfect weather. Highlights included watching the surfers at Shi Shi Beach and hiking to Point of the Arches.








September – Fall colors were superb on this beautiful hike to Damfino Lakes and Excelsior Peak near Mt. Baker. Also, Dave and I went to see the Foo Fighters at the Gorge, and got in some (very hot) mountain biking at Ancient Lakes before the show.








October – Dave wore his scary pug costume and Sugar wore  her butterfly costume. Big Bud refused to wear one.











November – I taught a new class for the Seattle Public library this year, called “Get ready for NaNoWrimo.” It was a blast! Dave and I also went to Whidbey Island with the pugs, and hiked at Ebey's Landing and Deception Pass.








December – Skiied for the first time since my knee surgery at  beautiful Echo Ridge in Lake Chelan. Yay knee! All that boring physical therapy was worth it. What a great way to end the year.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Seeing dead people and killing your darlings

Revising my first kidlit novel (WHICH HAS TAKEN ME 1/8TH OF MY LIFE TO WRITE) is really hurting my brain. I'm trying to slash the manuscript from 70,000 words to 40,000 (to meet the recommended wordcount for middle grade fiction) and oh, is it painful. I'm having to kill many of my "darlings" as they saying goes.

So inspiration is most welcome these days and here's where I'm finding it.

courtesy of Whitely Center
The Whitely Center. I'd heard other Seattle writers talk about this retreat on San Juan Island for years before I finally applied (and realized how easy it was to apply). Now I've been twice in two months and I get loads of work done there. The value you get for the relatively low price is amazing. Your own beautiful college in a little grove of trees overlooking the water. Your own study in a soaring, glass-walled study center even closer to the water. It's a place of solitude and beauty, and I highly recommend it.
 

courtesy of San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park. I don't get out much when I'm at the Whitely Center even though it's in the scenic San Juan Islands. (Writer Lyanda Haupt calls Whitely her "beautiful writer's prison".) Partly because I haven't been there in the summer yet but mostly because I'm working my a*ss off when I'm there. But I do try to get some fresh air and this last weekend when I was there I visited an old favorite place: the San Juan Islands Sculpture Garden. It was just as awesome as I remembered, with great poetry by David Jenkins to go along with the beautiful and varied sculpture.
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell. This book was recommended to me just this morning by my great kidlit writing teacher Anastasia Suen. I told her the midpoint of my novel was sucking and voila, she told about this book and I've already devoured it. (It's short). It gave me a new way to envision the midpoint, an "internal moment" where the hero looks in the figurative mirror and reflects on where they're going and what they need to do. Expect a brilliant midpoint to be forthcoming from yours truly soon.
Save the Cat and The Third Act: Writing a Great Ending to Your Screenplay are two other books about story structure Anastasia introduced me to that have been super helpful to me. Even though they're both about screenplays, they apply equally well to novels.

Lastly but not leastly I'm re-watching some of my favorite movies to analyze how come they're so great and these include The Sixth Sense and Slingblade. (Because when you're a writer you can get away with calling watching movies and calling it "work.") These are absolutely amazing stories that blow me away each time I watch them. The writing is so perfect! With the Blake Snyder "beat sheet" in hand (see above for Save the Cat), I'm trying to look at the backend and see how these stories are structured that make them resonate so strongly.
 Finally, this January at Hugo House I'll be teaching my popular class about how to write a rough draft of your novel in only six weeks, except this year - for the very first time - we'll have eight weeks. Hoorah!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I heart Mexico!

I just returned from a fabulous trip to Mexico. So instead of working on my novel like I should be, I will instead post a few photos of my journey with occasional side trips to the mirror to admire my tan.

I spent the first week of my trip studying Spanish at Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca in Oaxaca City. I loved it! The school is in a charming colonial-style campus, the teacher was great, and I even made friends with some of my fellow students.

Fun with new friends in Oaxaca









I also stayed with a Mexican family, which really added to the whole experience. My family was quite hospitable and served delicious food. If my room was just a tiny bit on the stuffy and noisy side, it didn't matter. The house felt welcoming and homey to me. My Spanish definitely improved there too, since they didn't speak a lick of English.


My Mexican hosts









Next I met up with Dave in Mexico City, where we stayed at a B&B called The Red Treehouse. After only a few hours there I understood why this place is so popular. The rooms are beautiful, the staff goes out of there way to make you feel at home, and there are free happy hours and delicious breakfasts every morning. Plus it's in one of Mexico City's hippest and most walkable neighborhoods, La Condesa.


Courtyard at the Red Treehouse










Among the highlights of our time in DF (Distrito Federale, as Mexico City is also known), we went out to the famous pyramids at Teotitihicaun and the Museo de Arte Moderno. Plus TACOS.
At the Teotihuacan pyramids









We spent our final few days back in the state of Oaxaca, in a coastal resort area called Huatulco.



Huatulco
It was HOT HOT HOT. But I splurged on an ocean view room with a plunge pool, and boy was that worth it. Also, our hotel, the Camino Real had one of the, biggest, most awesome swimming pools I've ever seen.




The warm weather also  meant warm water and the ocean was divine for swimming. I'd forgotten how warm the ocean can be in Mexico; you can slip into it almost like a bath (but a bath with colorful fish!)



Plunge pools are fun!














And I loved eating meals al fresco with the waves lapping the shore nearby. Our last day we did a private snorkeling tour with Pilo Vazquez (highly recommended) who took us out in his boat The Black Pearl. Along the way, we saw sea turtles mating, various pristine bays and beaches, and blowholes. My favorite snorkeling spot was Playa San Augustin, where we saw an eagle ray.


With Captain Pilo


Then I arrived home promptly to get laid off at the beginning of the new fiscal year!

Whoa.

Welcome home, muchacha!

At least now I can work on my tan. And my novel. My garden. My Spanish. My guitar practice.

And,  oh yes, finding my next job too. (Sigh).