Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How and why we housesit

Cat sitting.

Why do you do it?

It's fun! We like staying in places rural or urban, living like locals, trying on different lives.

Many of the gigs involve taking care of pets. Because we travel so much, we don't have pets of our own. We enjoy being the loving babysitters of an array of dogs and cats--and in one case, ducks, geese, turkeys and rabbits.

Housesitting is appealing, too, because it's act of service. The owners can leave home and enjoy their travels without worry.

Walking the dogs in Port Townsend.

How do you get your gigs?

Facebook has been a good way. Several times I've posted a status update about when we are free; that's how we got two different housesits in Santa Cruz.

We belong to two housesitting websites: Trusted Housesitters and House Sitters America. To be a sitter, you create a profile with description, pictures, references and video if you like. You can go to any police station with your ID and ask for a background check, which you can provide to homeowners as a bonus. I include a link to this blog so they can read about our lives and feel pretty sure we aren't murderous thieves.

Trusted Housesitters, which charges $7.99 a month (but is free for homeowners), has a lot of traffic. New listings appear daily from all over the world. Through this site we got a two-month stay in Port Townsend, Washington and an upcoming month-and-a-half gig in Chicago.

At $30 a year, House Sitters America focuses solely on U.S. listings. That's how a couple in West Hollywood found us.

I peruse these websites daily, passing by anything that doesn't float our boat, like taking care of someone's rental properties or tending to horses or milking goats. Still, I get a kick out of seeing all that variety out there, the multitudinous ways people live.

Farmer Dave

Do you charge?

No. Although if anyone requests housesitters pay for utilities (which some do), we don't apply. We would consider asking for a fee if the job required unusual or time-consuming tasks.

The advantage is a free place to stay. And if we have vacation renters in our place in Mexico, we come out ahead.

A golden opportunity.

What's it like?

When someone is interested in us, we handle the details by email, phone, or Skype. It's good to prepare a list of questions, such as what the house and environment are like, if there's WIFI, what they expect of us, what their animals are like, and so forth.

Now that we've been doing this a while, homeowners are requesting us. Once we were offered what sounded like a fun urban adventure with a cute little dog, whom we met along with the owners via Skype. However, during the call, the woman said she didn't want us to leave her dog longer than two hours at a time--nor to take the dog in the car, to the beach, or other unfamiliar places. Not enough freedom for us!

The experience in Washington was the opposite. The owners called us and offered us the gig based on our profile. We didn't even Skype, just handled the details by email. They explained their usual routine with gardening and dog care, but they said we could do it however we wanted. When we showed up, they gave us their keys and said if we wanted to take their gorgeous Golden Retrievers anywhere, we should use their truck. They also handed over the keys to their RV and said we were welcome to use it too!

Abbondanza in Santa Cruz.
The house was a custom dream in the forest. Their garden was filled with fruits and veggies that we lived on for six weeks (as we did in the Santa Cruz mountains). We loved the dogs dearly, and enjoyed taking them to the beach. Yet there were challenges: they were very strong males who, on leash, could pull you out of your shoes! We both got a little beat up. And washing them after a day at the beach was a workout in and of itself. Still, the overall experience was great--and we feel like we made new friends in the owners. When they arrived home from their trip to India, we shared a meal and conversation.

When we drove away the next morning, tears came to my eyes. It wasn't easy saying goodbye to the dogs and the awesome Pacific Northwest. And yet, it felt freeing to let go, to move onto the next thing.

Housesitting is a great experience for nomads at heart.

Yoga with Duke, in West Hollywood.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Year of Living Drinklessly: Week One

up on the roof

My Facebook account blew up when I posted that I'm taking a year off drinking.

Tons of "likes." A few playful "unlikes." I was surprised to discover that a number of my friends have quit drinking or regularly take breaks.

One of my good friends stops drinking every February for a post-holiday cleanse. (She likes that February is the shortest month!)

Another takes what she calls "drinking sabbaticals." She's a very social person and enjoys having people over for dinners where the wine flows freely. Her wineglass is often filled with sparkling water. A non-drinking couple who attends these dinners brings their own pitcher of iced tea.

Some friends told me they experimented with non-drinking and never went back. Others did go back and are happy about it. One said she's always drunk sparingly, treating alcohol "like a spice."

I received several private messages. One guy said he hasn't had a drink since September. He stopped because he was rewarding himself with drinking. Without changing anything else, he lost 14 pounds. He said it's fun to go to parties, drink a virgin drink, and watch his friends "get looped."

He said he didn't want to comment publically because people might accuse him of having a problem. It says a lot about our drinking (and recovery) culture that someone who chooses not to drink is hesitant to say so. In my mind, whether or not one has a problem with alcohol is personal. And there are gray areas and slippages that only we can make sense of in their own lives.

I have friends who have thrived in various recovery programs. I have friends who've never drunk much, and others who drink a lot every day. Clearly they want to or need to for whatever reason, and I have no judgments. Many of them are happy and ongoing, others not so much, but whatever--we all get to decide how we're going to journey on this planet.

Most people who contacted me said they chose to stop (or take a break) not because they felt they'd hit bottom. It just felt good to cut back. Some enjoy the challenge. In my case, I'm thinking of it as an adventure. What will a non-drinking life be like?

I haven't spent more than a few months without drinking since I was a teenager. And now that I'm looking at a year off, I'm experiencing unusual sensations. It's as though I'm living someone else's life, that of a non-drinker. And it makes me kind of giggly, kind of off-kilter. Like I'm getting a drug high from abstinence!

Sounds weird, I know, but that's not all. The other day in yoga, I felt floaty, light, like my bones are a bird's. Maybe that's because I've been thinking for a while about quitting--and now that I have, it's a relief. Of course, it's always my choice to drink or not drink. But having created this arbitrary space of a year off feels like I've built a happy boundary.

I'm noticing that a desire for a drink often pops up in me around 4 p.m. Happy Hour is in my genes. An herbal tea or a smoothie later, the desire wanes.

I'm realizing I equate having an alcoholic beverage with doing something "special." I've found a special non-booze drink: limonda con agua mineral, a ton of fresh lime juice and sparkling water. You can get it with or without sugar; I prefer it without (sin azucar). Tastes similar to a margarita. I don't like tequila anyway.

I'm seeing how much I associate pleasure and relaxation with drinking. When Dave and I are on the roof watching sunset, I think about how a nice glass of cab would accentuate the experience. Then I turn toward myself and ask, "Why?"

It's a habit. It helps me relax. Wine's ruby color in a glass is an aesthetic pleasure.

So how can I get those things another way?

I inhale the ocean air, nestle into Dave's embrace, and watch the electric orange spread across the sky.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Casa sweet casa

The road to home.

It's strange that we own a house. How did this happen? Last I checked we were living on the road, homeless by choice.

Oh yeah, we bought a casita sight unseen over a year ago. A house in Mexico, in a part of Baja neither one of us had been to. It's a long story...but we were running on pure instinct.

In November when we landed here, I wondered if our success jumping off cliffs had run its course. I was totally overwhelmed by our empty place. We had to make it livable...in a country where we barely spoke the language. The first few nights we slept on a leaky air mattress on the cement floor.

I know a lot of people have a blast flipping houses, decorating, remodeling, landscaping, shopping. That stuff isn't really my bag. The kinds of projects I like usually involve words, like writing and editing books. Or exploration, like traveling to India and Sri Lanka.

It's funny how I've done some pretty major things in my life, such as retiring early and undergoing brain surgery, but the idea of tackling an empty house in a foreign country freaked me out. The place didn't even have cabinets, just empty spaces below the counters.

New cabinets.
And now, three months later, that emptiness is a hazy memory. Today the workers finished our cabinets. Our place is fully furnished, including a day bed on the roof. It's beautiful. My vision of creating "uncluttered color" has come to pass.

How did we do it? First, I had to get my head right. I consciously decided to enjoy the process, to be thankful for our fortune, to enjoy the beauty of the area--even if that meant gazing through the windshield at the turquoise sea as we drove to the store.

Finally some landscaping around the outdoor shower.
We shopped primarily in Todos Santos (10 minutes away) and Cabo (an hour away). We'd go out with a long list and come back exhausted, with just two or three items marked off. I used Google translate to look up key words before we ventured out, tucking the notes into my purse. My sister and our new friends helped us out, suggesting places to go, making referrals, and giving us stuff (an electric kettle, a slow cooker). Our friends from L.A. brought a suitcase full of things we had a hard time finding here. We got plants from a nursery down the road; others were pulled out the desert ground.

Day bed

A few things--like a BBQ and day bed for our roof--we ordered online and sent to a warehouse in San Diego to be trucked down. After trying to sleep on a pillow-top Mexican queen mattress (which is six inches shorter than an American queen), we broke down and bought a Temperpedic knock-off and had that delivered. If we've learned one thing, get a good night's sleep.

It all happened little by little, poco a poco. And now, it's done. Well, as done as a house ever is. There are always tweaks, things to move, things to discard, things to add.

Making our house a home has provided me with another reminder to trust the process. Did I really need another reminder? Apparently so.

Grilling on the new bbq!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Year of Living Drinklessly

I didn't have a drink yesterday but was offered a beer, a screwdriver, and a glass of red wine.

Living in beach paradise, as we do here in Baja California Sur, it's easy to get caught up in the It's-Another-Tequila-Sunrise Lifestyle. So many people in our little villa love to party. And who can blame them? They are on vacation or retired. Whoo hoo!

I have nothing against getting wasted away again in Margaritaville. God knows I've had a lot of fun over the years doing so. It's just that recently, booze has stopped being my friend. A few drinks at night is a surefire ticket to insomnia, migraines and malaise.

Maybe booze has always affected me like that. Perhaps it's just that in my 50s, feeling like crap bothers me more than it used to.

On my beach walk today, this idea came to me: How about an experiment? Not drinking for a year. The Year of Living Drinklessly (after one of my favorite films, The Year of Living Dangerously).

But wait a minute. Who will I be without drinking? When I'm offered a margarita, can I really say no? Isn't that rude? Won't I be a drag? Won't I be a buzz kill, a party pooper?

What will happen when I meet my sister's new boyfriend, who owns a winery, and I tell him I'm abstaining from the passion of his life? That doesn't seem very nice. (Then again, many people I know have never read my books.)

Most of my friends drink. I heard one--wine glass in hand--say: "I decided to stop drinking wine, but after a week I realized it made me really boring."

The non-drinkers in my circle tend to be pot smokers. Maybe by the end of my experiment, I'll be a stoner. Maybe I'll gain 100 munchie pounds.

I doubt it. I don't care for weed. Once I ate some pot candy and sat, a catatonic marble statue, for four hours on a friend's boat. I felt immobile and silent as a rock. I finally understood why they call it "stoned."

Booze has always had the opposite effect for me, making me bubbly and social and happy. Well, for a few hours. And then if I want to stay awake to keep dancing and chatting, I need coffee.

Maybe giving up booze is just the next level of shedding. In the past two years, I've shed my job, town, house and possessions. Oh, and a brain tumor the size of a walnut.

No, my husband and I are not ascetics. We love a fat steak and Tempurpedic mattress as much as the next guy. But we are experience junkies. We like to fling ourselves into life and try new things. Right now we have two more months in beachside paradise before we leave for more adventures in California, New Orleans and Chicago.

Oh my god. Am I really going to be boozelesss at JazzFest?

Well, that's hardly an epic act. People do it all the time. I'm just not usually in that group. In fact, the last time we were in New Orleans, I had a sore throat--so I drank ginger tea rather than beer, and I still had a great time.

This experiment could be an epic fail. Someone could put a Pliny the Elder in my hand tomorrow, and I could unthinkingly and happily suck it down.

But it helps if I frame the story like this: The Year of Living Drinklessly is an adventure. I'm not giving something up. I'm leaning into my curiosity about living a different way. I'm going to learn a lot. I can already think of a bajillion things I want to write about on this topic. So stay tuned.
(Originally published Feb. 16 on another blog, but I've decided to merge them. It's all ONE life after all!)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Baja Life


El Pescadero is on the Pacific. The wild Pacific. There are only a few beaches in Baja Sur that are advisable to swim in--and one of them, Cerritos, is a short walk from our place. The water is clear and shallow for a long way out.

Still, some days the waves are too high, fast and furious for swimming. And there can be a strong current. When the big waves come, they are amazing to watch. They shoot straight up then pause--like a still-shot--before crashing down.

On those days, we play Frisbee or kick back watching the daring surfers. We can usually wade in a bit to get cooled off. Or we just come back to the villas and swim in the pool.

"The Villas" sounds so lah-dee-dah. But it ain't no fancy resort. Yet it's quite charming. To get here requires driving a ways down a bumpy dirt road. If you have a problem with dust, Baja is not your place. Yes, it's beachy and feels tropical, but it's also the desert. Dramatic, dry, sublime.

Baja California Sur sunset (credit)

The Villas property includes an open-air restaurant (that usually opens around 4 or 5), pool, Jacuzzi (that's usually hot) and palapa, under which yoga classes are taught. The residences include a three-story tower housing large condos surrounded by bungalows, studios with palapa roofs, and one-, two- and three-bedroom casitas. 

Our casita, a one-bedroom, is 800 square feet of indoor space (double that outdoors). With the sliding glass doors and rooftop patio, it's very much indoor/outdoor living. We can take an indoor shower or an outdoor shower; the latter waters our palm tree.

Some people live here full time. Some vacation here. Some rent out their places. This means we are always meeting travelers, which we dig. The regulars are mainly Canadians and Americans who, like us, have sought out another way to do this thing called life.

The dwellings are close to each other, and because our windows and sliding glass doors are usually open, at times we hear others' conversations or music. It's communal living, where people drop by for a conversation or drink.

As I mentioned in my last post, living here works best when you flow. You either go crazy or learn to be patient with the laid-back mañana vibe. Making international phone calls with internet apps can be spotty. Mexican cell phones are cheap, but I still haven't figured out how to use the voice mail! Water has to be trucked in, and sometimes we have to go a half day without water. But that's nothing compared to what can happen to others in Mexico--including the small town of Todos Santos ten miles away--whose water and electricity go out more regularly.

Americans living here have to detox from the I-expect-it-all-yesterday-and-fast approach.

Streets of Todos Santos (credit)

It's sweet to have the Pueblo Magico of Todos Santos nearby. That's where I go to take my Spanish classes. My teacher is a young woman with a vibrant nature. She's a divorced, single mother and is writing a memoir about what that's like in Mexico. She has us discuss Spanish readings about Mexican history, the most recent being a biography of Miguel Hidalgo. He sparked the fight for Mexico's independence from Spain, working to end the oppression of indigenous peoples.

We do some grocery shopping in Todos Santos. We can buy a surprising array of relatively inexpensive stuff at local markets. And there are stands that sell organic produce. Meat, fish and poultry tend to taste very good--maybe fewer hormones? Maybe more local? For larger shopping excursions, we head to Cabo, an hour away, where there are box stores and big supermarkets. We are now experts at "the big buy" every couple of weeks, loading perishables into an ice chest for the drive home.

Dave with the horses that wander around Playa Las Palmas.
We often grill meats and veggies, wrapping them in fresh corn tortillas; we buy a thick, hot stack for a few cents at the tortillarilla downtown. I've been into making coleslaw, finely chopping green and purple cabbage, tomato, cucumber, pepper--whatever's in the veggie bin--and soaking it in oil and vinegar (balsamic and apple cider), sprinkling it with pepper and onion salt. I make other green salads and just did a potato salad, thrilled that I found pitted black olives and pickles at the store! You can never be sure that an item you love will be there next time. So when we finally found peanut butter without added sugar, we piled our cart high.

Talk about fresh fish: our friends make ceviche at the beach.

We mostly eat at home, but sometimes we get an oven-fired pizza, pasta and salad at the villa's restaurant, Pizza Napoli. The pizza is European style with thin crust, savory sauce and thinly-sliced toppings. Dave loves it. (But being a weirdo, I mean lactose intolerant, he orders it without cheese. I'm a cheese fiend, the only chink in the armor of our amour). I like the Greek salad and spaghetti carbonera. Prices are good (about $6 for a medium pizza), especially since the two other restaurants within walking distance are pricey. Then again, they are right on the beach.

Todos Santos has a crazy number of great restaurants. Chefs from all over come here. They aren't super cheap, but they are less expensive than comparable restaurants in the states. Our favorite is Tre Galline (Caffe Todos Santos during the day). It's Italian but in the true European sense: beautiful salads, steak in a salt crust, freshest of fresh fish, that kind of thing. It's magical eating dinner on the outdoor cobblestone patio amidst dark trees draped in twinkling lights.

Mac with Euva, the owner of Mixtica, an eclectic Todos Santos boutique.
There are many more restaurants we have yet to try that people tell us are fabulous. Our favorite place to eat is Bahia: a collection of six plastic tables on the sidewalk outside a pescaderia (fish market). There we get super-fresh fish tacos in soft tortillas and smoked marlin tostadas for just a few bucks. Out. Of. This. World.

que rico!
We also enjoy indulging now and then in pan dulce, sweet baked goods. My favorite panaderia in Todos Santos is in the front room of the baker's house. Kids and the grandma hang out in the living room or on the porch when you go in and pick out a few bakery items.

Todos Santos has lots of art galleries; every month there's an art walk. And there's a yearly music festival in January, spearheaded by Peter Buck, of R.E.M., who's a local. The festival is at the famous Hotel California on the outdoor patio, where we rocked out to the Old 97s with my sister and a friend of ours who just happened to be here from L.A.

Sisters at the music festival.

There are a lot of writers here too, and several writing conferences. I recently dropped in on one of the events, a talk open to the public at Casa Dracula. It earned its name because its former owner was a cruel sugar cane magnate who "sucked the blood" from his workers. Or maybe because of the bats that flew around the abandoned building before it was reclaimed and reopened.

Cerritos moon

There are also numerous opportunities to volunteer for the community, for example at the Palapa Society and Hogar del Niño, an orphanage. I have new friends who do everything from teach English, play music, hang out with the kids, and make food for these organizations.

For some reason, Baja has incredible sunsets. At night, there are a lot of stars, and the moon seems extra bright. When I wake up in the middle of the night, crickets and crashing waves serenade me back to sleep.

Maybe we are crazy to think of leaving here mid-April to wander around, as is our way, for months on end. Especially now that a cat named Mango has entered our life. She's kind of a communal cat, having gravitated to this side of the villas due to conflicts with another cat. And she likes our patio because we are one of the few casitas without a dog. Plus, Dave feeds her. We know she'd be fine without us. But a cat makes a house a home. Are the nomads home?


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Perfect Timing (Tiempo Perfecto)

There's a certain looseness here. When you walk on the beach, you see it: leash-less dogs, perhaps a few horses wandering around. Someone might drive his truck or ATV on the sand, after having bumped down dusty dirt roads.

Playa Las Palmas
Sometimes we even see a guy in an ultralight airplane land on the sand.

Don't get the wrong impression, though. All of this is not happening at once! The beaches tend to be uncrowded--although weekends bring out lots of families, and good waves bring out lots of surfers.

Boats launch by rolling into the water from the beach. When they return, it's spectacular to watch them blast full speed ahead to the land, bumping right onto the sand.

Fishermen landing at Punta Lobos.
This laid-back quality permeates most of life here. "Mañana" has two meanings: "tomorrow" and "some unspecified time in the future." That's pretty much how things roll. One day at a restaurant you might get really fast service. Another day, a "quickie lunch" might take two hours.

As Laura Fraser writes: "Mexico is a good place to practice patience. Whenever someone is an hour or a day late, I try to think of it as an opportunity to step out of my constant sense of urgency, to relax."

For example--and this is just one of many--we'd been waiting for more than a month for a delivery that was supposed to take 10 days. I was even to the point of thinking we might never see the stuff. I consciously decided to not worry about it.

Then this morning my cell phone rang. The woman on the other end told me she had four boxes for us, but she didn't know how to get to our place (even though I'd sent a map and directions).

We realized we could have gotten the call on a day our patio was torn apart. Or the other day when workers were here installing our cabinets. Or when we were in Cabo or on the beach or out of cell reach.

We arranged to meet at the gas station down the street. She followed us down the dirt road to our casita. Her worker nimbly unloaded several unwieldy items, hauling them to our rooftop patio. As he did so, I realized I'd been imagining that to get furniture up there would be a big project. Nope.

Sunset from our rooftop patio.

The driver was all smiles. We hung out by her truck, chatting. She told me she loves her job. I said, es una vida dulce and she said, absolutamente! When she found out I'm una escritora, a writer, she said she wants to write her autobiografía. I asked her if she's lived an interesting life (¿tiene una vida interesante?) and, grinning, she again enthused, absolutamente! I encouraged her to go for it.

"There is," writes Laura Fraser, "a mindfulness to day-to-day encounters in Mexico, an attentive cordiality, that is contagious. You see it in the politeness people pay to one another ... People take the time to greet one another, with no sense of hurry. There is endless Mexican patience for things that can always be a little late, go a little wrong, but will work themselves out tomorrow."

I guess I'm saying if I'd not been in the laid-back Baja state of mind, I might not have had such a great human connection. I was happy to talk to her. I was happy see our stuff, even if it was late. Actually, it wasn't late. It was right on time.

La Playa Punta Lobos

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What happens in Cabo...

Emma Gilchrist nails it: Cabo is a party animal, and Todos Santos/Pescadero is a hippie.

In El Pescadero, we live a five-minute walk from Cerritos Beach, which is featured in Gilchrist's article. We also live within walking distance of San Pedrito beach.

San Pedrito

San Pedrito is isolated and wild. We can walk for miles and see few people, even though there are some homes within view. Cerritos has a restaurant and bar that sometimes hosts live music, massage tables, and--as the article shows--horses hanging out if you feel like renting one for a saunter through the sand.

Even so, Cerritos and the nearby Pueblo Magico of Todos Santos are indeed laid-back hippies, chillin' out in peace and quiet, compared to the party animal action of Cabo, which is an hour south of us.

We just spent a few days in Cabo with our friend Jimmy, who has a house there. Or more of a compound, with  multiple units that he's remodeling.

Jimmy's compound

Jimmy and Dave in the compound's open-air kitchen.
It was cool staying in a locals neighborhood. Most visitors stay in resorts and see just the main strip. We came in through the back door. One morning, Dave and I walked about ten blocks through the 'hood, just checking things out.

A few blocks from tourist central.
Jimmy drove us through the exclusive Pedegral neighborhood, climbing in the car up bumpy cobblestone streets. We saw outrageous views and mansions the size of exclusive resorts brimming from the mountainside.

Pedregal view
 At Los Deseos in the Golden Zone of Cabo Marina, we ate tres quesos fundido. As a lover of cheese to rival Wallace, I watched enthralled as the waiter placed three different types of cheese into an oven-hot molcajete. As the cheese melted, he poured in tequila then lit it so it flamed up.  Next he scooped portions of the gooey mess into thick corn tortillas.

The died-and-gone-to-heaven tres quesos looked something like this.

At Arts & Sushi, Jimmy introduced us to the No Name Roll, a sushi roll that has to be eaten to be believed. For yummy dessert and coffee, we went to Señor Sweets.

Eating the No Name with Jimmy, Pete and Chrissy.
And yes, we did experience the party animal milieu at places such as Medano Beach, where people sit on swings at the bar and where drinks are always two-for-one...that is, when you order booze. My lemonade arrived solo.

Party animal hanging out at Medano Beach.
At night, we wandered the streets through reveling crowds. The atmosphere had a Vegas tinge. In the infamous Cabo Wabo, people danced on the bar to the blasting music. And not just any people: most of them were probably in their sixties and above. If I joined in, I would have been the young 'un--not my usual pace in partying crowds. Who said only young people get in the Spring Break spirit? Perhaps Cabo contains the magic of the swimming pool in Cocoon.

At the outdoor bar of Cabo Blue, I boogied to the band--a group of guys in their twenties playing 1970s classic rock. Nice to see the younger generation keeping our tunes alive!

We had a few more experiences I'm not going to write about in this blog. What happens in Cabo stays in Cabo. (Although I will probably write about it in my next book. Stay tuned.)


Monday, January 12, 2015

Are Things Going Wrong or Right?

Viva Mexico!
For a week I've been checking the electrical company online to see if we owed money. Yesterday I saw there was a balance listed even though we'd received no bill. I tried to pay online with my credit card, but the system would have none if it.

I called our credit card company (with the fabulous MagicJack that allows you to make free internet phone calls), and they said there was nothing wrong on their end.

So today we drove 10 minutes to downtown Todos Santos to pay the bill in person. When we arrived, we found the office filled with construction workers, open beams, and not much else. I'm not sure if they were remodeling because of Hurricane Odile destruction, but it was clear there would be no paying a bill there.

I pulled out my Mexi cell phone. It suddenly had a mind of its own, blocking me from making calls to certain people. I was able to get through to a friend who suggested I go to the local bookstore, where the owner "knows everything." The bookstore woman directed us to a trailer down the street, in the parking lot of the Hotel California.

When we walked into the trailer, I asked the woman behind the desk, "Habla ingles?"

She fixed me with a cold stare and said, "No."

I fumbled around with my Spanish, trying to explain what I wanted. In a flurry of Spanish that might as well have been Arabic, she pointed outside to two pay machines that looked like ATMs.

Fortunately, a guy whose Spanish was a bit gentler (like his eyes) helped me out. He fed my pesos into the machine. He understood me when I asked in creaky Spanish if we could pay in advance for a few months. With a smile, he handed me the receipt.

Ah, Mexico. I'm getting better and better at not freaking out when things don't work the way I think they should. I'm developing more patience and more compassion.

I realized that walking into someone's office and asking, first thing, if they speak English puts them on the spot. If they don't, they have to--right away--admit there is something they don't know. And perhaps admit they can't help me. I've heard that Mexicans think it's rude to not help someone who needs it.

So next time I will start out doing my best with my Spanish. And if I hit a roadblock, I will apologize for not knowing enough Spanish. I've noticed whenever I do that, people smile and compliment me on what I do know. They like that I try. It's as though my use of Spanish suggests that I care about their culture and their country.

And I do. Even when things "go wrong." Or maybe, partly, because of that. The mañana spirit can mean that when things go wrong, they also go right.

Because of today's wild goose chase, I had the opportunity to practice more Spanish and to think about how I approach people. And because we couldn't pay online in the first place, we had to go into town.

That meant we "had" to go to our favorite sidewalk restaurant where, for just a few bucks, we ate melt-in-your-mouth fish tacos. Not a bad way to capitalize on a fiasco.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Life Force

Walking San Pedrito beach, I was thinking about the eternal nature of the ocean. The perpetual movement of the waves. Forward and back, forward and back.

And how, if you really pay attention, there's a pause in between. A sliver of silence, like the lull between breaths.

booby (credit)
But inevitably the wave is pulled down by gravity, sucked out, and returned. Just like our lungs, on their own accord, take and release the next breath.

I started to think about how I much I love this motion of life. The opposites, the polarities. In/out. Active/quiet. The waves of life.

A voice came into my head. Oh really? You love it ALL? Blossoming and withering? Life and death? You love that? It was as though an antagonistic TV pundit was jabbing his finger into my brain.

And what about Hitler? Love him?

I stopped and took a breath. Why does it always come down to that?

No, I don't love evil. Of course I don't.

The pundit smirked.

I've always felt the resistance in me when I sang along with the lines of the Byrds biblically-inspired song:

A time to kill, a time to heal...
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace

Those lyrics don't roll off the tongue as easily as:

A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together...

Instead of sprinting on the sand to escape my thoughts, I just let it all float in my mind. Killing, healing. Hitler...Viktor Frankl.

Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, believed there was meaning in all forms of existence. So is that what I mean by love? That bad things will happen but that, as Frankl says, we always have a choice about how to respond?

I thought about recent violence in the news. In the face of disaster--be it personal or global, be it human-made or borne from nature (like Baja's recent Hurricane Odile)--there's always an outpouring of creativity, solidarity and compassion.

I think that's what I love. But it's not a light love, a free-and-easy love. It's a mysterious love, a love of the messy bigger picture. It's a not-always-easy-to-maintain trust in the rhythms of life and the ultimate goodness, or maybe meaning, that we humans aspire to. It's a love of the enigmatic life force.

A few days ago, as I was walking on this very beach, a beautiful bird--a blue footed booby?--with pointy wings and beak sailed into my vision. It folded in its wings and feet then bee-lined into the water like a plunging knife. Seconds later, it lifted back into the air, a slash of silver writhing in its beak.

And then today as I walked the same beach in the almost exact same spot, a wave crashed at my feet. As it receded, I saw an uncanny thing. A silver, wriggling fish right at my toes. I picked up its slippery body and tossed it back into the water.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Writing and Giving in the New Year

This year I'm focusing on WRITING and GIVING.

To see it on Amazon, click here.

The rights to my first novel, For the May Queen, reverted to me. So with the help of the amazing Jan McCutcheon of Coyote Creek Press, a delicious new edition just came out. The gorgeous cover features a photo taken by Dave, a stargazer lily (from the garden of our Port Townsend, Washington housesit).

And in the spirit of my focus on giving, 10% of the profits of the sale of this book will go to Hogar del Niño, an orphanage here in Baja. 

In re-reading and revising the novel for its new release, I felt a tender spot in my heart for its focus on coming-of-age, sexuality and friendship. I can see how these topics continue to be obsessions of mine. Yet now I see how we "come of age" continually, throughout our lives. For life is transformation.

LIFE IS TRANSFORMATION. That is the heart of my new book, Arriving Again and Again: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit and Travel. This book will be birthed into the world in this new year. As will other opportunities to give. I'll keep you posted.

Happy New Year and Feliz Año Nuevo to you all. May you fill the blank pages of 2015 with the stories you want to tell...the love you want to spread...the YOU you want to create.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Three Things I've Learned This Year

This has been an incredible year of discoveries. Here are our top three:

Making myself at home on a house-sit in Port Townsend.

What's not to like about a free place to stay? This year we joined two housesitting websites: Trusted Housesitters and Housesitters America, and we house sat in Port Townsend, Santa Cruz and West Hollywood.

When you join a housesitting website, you create a profile that includes a description, photos and references. There's a fee for sitters; for homeowners it's free. Most homeowners want you to take care of an animal--or ten. We don't want to care for someone's cattle herd, but we gladly have taken care of dogs, cats, rabbits, and fowl. Because we travel so much and can't have a dog of our own, it was fun to hang with two golden retriever brothers (in Washington) and a pug named Duke (in WeHo).
Each place we've stayed has had Wifi, comfortable beds, and nice settings with great places to explore. A nomad's dream.

We've spent the year in (in this order):

Tahoe, Maui, Newbury Park, Ontario CA, Big Bear, Marina del Rey, Palm Springs, Sedona, Zion, Cedar City UT, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Ely NV, Shasta Lake, San Jose CA, Santa Cruz, Oregon (Ashland and Portland), Port Townsend WA, Cannon Beach, Humboldt, West L.A., Newbury Park, West Hollywood, Solana Beach, Mexico City, Tepoztlán, and Baja Mexico.

Sounds exhausting! But it hasn't been, for the most part.

Living on the road, we've learned we are more flexible and adaptable than we ever imagined.

Dave and Duke

We know to allow for a little adjustment time when we first land. Sometimes I feel anxious when we step into a new place. It's like I'm trying to fit the unknown in a box marked "known."

It may take a day or two to get in the groove. If we're moody or tired, no big deal. Once we've found a place for our suitcases and toothbrushes, have done a session of yoga or taken a nap, and have filled the fridge with food, we're golden. That doesn't mean suddenly everything's perfect. It means we plunge into the newness and enjoy the ride.

As Joseph Goldstein says, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

When we decided almost two years ago to leave jobs and home to live on the road, I called it "plunging into the fertile void."

Voids are scary.

But opening up to them is how we make space for new things.

And new things always come.

That's not just a theory for me anymore. I know, for instance, when we stepped out onto the edge of change, we made space for this casita in Mexico to appear in our lives. Not to mention all the new people we've met, experiences we've had--and the book I've written that I hope comes out next year.

I don't want fears to run my life. I want my guides to be openness, joy, and a willingness to take risks.

What's happening next year? A few months in Mexico and then, who knows? Something will appear. I know it.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gracias, Mexico

Why are we wearing these funny hats and formal clothes? Read on.

Okay, now I know the truth about my Spanish: It sucks! But people are kind, especially when I try. A few words go a long way. I constantly remind myself not to be self-conscious, just dive in. How else to learn?

Sometimes Spanish is really fun. Other times my inner child gets a little whiny. It wants someone to fix it all, to make everything clear. RIGHT NOW.

It's helpful to watch Dave in action. He knows less Spanish than I do, but he has no problem making up words, pantomiming, drawing pictures--even throwing in a Japanese or German word. Okay, that last part is unintentional. It's just the language center in his brain igniting languages he knows.

Last weekend we were at a wedding where we met a lot of fascinating people. I craved being able to talk to them more in-depth. Serious Spanish study is high on my list.

Speaking of the wedding...wow, what an incredible experience. On Thanksgiving day we flew from Cabo to Mexico City. When we arrived at the home of our friend Paul, the groom, we met a small group of his friends who served us a turkey dinner with all the trimmings--and I'd thought tacos and beer in the airport would have to suffice.


The next day, we rode with Paul to the wedding location, a town called Tepoztlán. A "Pueblo Mágico" outside of Cuernavaca, it's a beautiful place, with cobblestone streets and surrounded by mountains. It's reputed to be the birthplace over 1200 years ago of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god.

Up and up with Sarah.

The morning of the wedding Dave, our friend Sarah and I hiked up Tepozteco mountain (a serious climb with a 1,200 foot elevation gain). At the top are the remains of an Aztec temple. People say this sacred place has a high vibration and that there are regular UFO sightings. We didn't see UFOs, but we saw a lot of these creatures:


The wedding took place at a beautiful open-air chapel. Although dress was formal and the service was Catholic, the Beatles "Let it Be" and "All You Need is Love" played as everyone filled the seats. During the ceremony, children ran around and blew bubbles while the musicians played Ave Maria and the Hallelujah Chorus.

After the "husband and wife" pronouncement to a glorious sunset, cocktails were served on the lawn. Suddenly, music predominated by drumming filled the air, and Aztec dancers in wild costumes appeared. Their traditional, freaky masks originally mocked the Spanish invaders. Everyone was invited to dance with them.

We moved into a gorgeous hall for the reception. During dinner, the band performed opera music. Later that very same band broke out into a wild array of music for dancing. A medley of songs from Grease. Disco. Salsa. A bunch of Beatles songs, "performed" by Dave and three other guests who'd been pulled aside and shoved into costumes and crazy wigs.

The bride and groom appeared in super sexy red and black outfits and performed a super sexy tango (watch here). We danced for hours. Crazy cartoon characters and props and neon flashing accoutrements for us to wear kept popping up.

There were even fireworks!

A colorful spread of quirky desserts appeared. Champagne, wine and tequila flowed freely. At 1 a.m., we were served breakfast! And then a mariachi band strolled in.  Pablo and Rosalba, longtime friends of Paul and Mari Carmen, sang the most beautiful, impassioned song. I get gooseflesh every time I watch Dave's video that captures the moment:

My Spanish may need some work, but I certainly know how to say: "Gracias, Mexico."