Saturday, April 18, 2015

Nomads on the move again


Five months in Mexico has been wonderful--the longest we've stayed in one place in two years.

And now in a few days, these nomads are headed out again.

We knew after our six-month visitor visas expired we'd need to leave the country. That could have been a weekend in L.A., only to turn around and come back. We weren't sure what we were going to do, except listen to whatever arose.

I like the fertile void. It's opening up to not-knowing. It's making space for new stuff by not filling in every blank.

We knew what we wanted: To see friends. Experience music and travel. Keep expenses low. Spend time elsewhere during the Baja hurricane season. Oh, and I have a book coming out next month. So some things related to that.

I put out feelers on Facebook and housesitting websites. We talked to friends. And soon, a six-month plan unfolded that involves hanging out with a bunch of our friends, experiencing four music events, and staying in five great (and dare I mention free?) places as housesitters. And a few book release related events as well.

For the two places we're flying (New Orleans and Chicago), we've used frequent flier miles. We have so many miles because we buy everything we can on a card that gives us travel points.

We'll be doing a lot of driving in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (our blue Subaru), starting with a four-day adventure up Baja.

Hasta luego, Mexico. We will return to you and all of our Baja amigos with new stories to tell, new experiences to share, and new love to spread.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Taking a booze break (update on The Year of Living Drinklessly)

A great booze-less Baja evening.

When I decided to take a break from booze, I had no idea there was a movement afoot.

These days, people are doing a lot of writing and talking about the role of drinking in their lives. They are looking at why they feel compelled to drink in social situations or most evenings. Or why they drink to celebrate or soothe. For many, traditional views of drinking (such as espoused through 12-step programs) don't resonate. So they are finding other ways.

One of the most exciting for me is the social network Hello Sunday Morning. Some people on the site are taking a break. Some are sober. Some have developed a "drinking plan" to foster mindful drinking. What they all have in common is a desire to understand.

New books on the topic abound, such as Glass Half Full, Sober is the New Black, The Sober Revolution, and Kick the Drink Easily!--in which Jason Vale makes the great point that "alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking."

There are many reasons to take a break from booze. It doesn't have to be that you're an alcoholic or have a "problem." I don't identify with either notion. I was realizing how I didn't feel good the next day, even after one or two drinks. And I wanted to step back and take a look at my patterns.

I haven't had a drink in two months--the longest period of time in my life except for when I had brain surgery.

For the most part I've been very good at focusing on not drinking as an adventure. I'm seeing that I'm not missing out on anything, except hangovers.

But the other day, I endured an hour-long super-craving for a glass of wine. The desire was so strong, it surprised me. I didn't pretend it wasn't happening, and I didn't impulsively act out (unless you can call eating a few jelly beans acting out). I just watched that crazy part of my mind buck like a wild horse. I actually laughed at myself as that voice developed all kinds of rationalizations about why I should do it.

I told myself I could go buy a bottle if that's what I really wanted. But that didn't sound so good either.

So then I drank a big glass of sparkling water with a dash of grapefruit juice and went for a swim. Drinking that water helped a lot. Makes me wonder if I was a bit dehydrated and, therefore, more susceptible to the craving.

Soon, the desire disappeared. As Joe Dispenza days, "A habit is when the body becomes the mind." The mind knows what it wants and doesn't want. But the body has become so habituated it overrides the mind.

The question is: Who's in control?

During this time off, I've come to realize the limiting thoughts I have about booze. The main one is that only uptight, un-fun people don't drink.

Today I embrace my empowering belief that what I imbibe has nothing to do with my happiness, joy, strength, personality, or sense of self.

Every day, every moment, I have choices. I celebrate my choices! I know what makes me feel good. My sense of ease, peace, spontaneity, fun, purpose, and power come from connection to my inner being--not from some outer source.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

East Cape Baja Adventure

Baja continues to blow our minds. On the first day of our four-day adventure to the East Cape, we slipped into this incredible body of water:
Ballet leg at Cañon de la Zorra falls.

Getting there required driving rutted dirt roads--as is true of most of the area.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (our blue Subaru) earned her off-street cred.

To get to the waterfall, there are lots of twists and turns. At times we weren't sure we were going the right direction. But with the assistance of luck and a few signs, we made it to the entrance.
Pay here.
The guy who lives here takes a few pesos then points you to the trail. The hike takes about 15 minutes and was a little iffy in my flip flops. 
Hiking down to Cañon de la Zorra falls.
We spent the night in Santiago, a pueblo so small and deserted it feels like a ghost town. The items on the little grocery store's shelves were dusty and out-of-date. One customer had a zombie vibe. I decided to view it all as charming.

When we arrived the Palomar Hotel, we were entranced by the terrace restaurant, fruit trees, and cooing doves. Our room featured a rock hard bed, crumbling wall and dead cockroaches.

After a nap, we went to the restaurant at 5:20 p.m.--only to be told it was closed for the evening. I pointed to the posted hours of 9 a.m.-6 p.m. but the guy responded with a shrug. We scraped together lunch leftovers, half an avocado from our cooler, and a few cookies to tide us over.

I woke a few times in the night to thousands of doves bawling, dogs yowling and roosters crowing. The next morning the Palomar redeemed itself with this breakfast:
Dave had huevos rancheros, and I had chilaquiles.
Note the hand-drawn map on the table, courtesy of Sergio, the charismatic owner. He directed us how to get to here:
Santa Rita hot spring.
I'd thought the waterfall would be hard to top--but this hot spring was even better. We had the place to ourselves.
Me in the hot spring.
Dave in the cold creek.
Afterward, blissed-out, we wandered through the church in nearby San Jorge.

This and the basketball court are the main features of San Jorge.
Later, we came across a monument at the Tropic of Cancer. I liked looking at the monument's globe and pointing to exactly where I stood at that moment, on this thing called earth. It made me feel pleasantly insignificant.
That afternoon, we headed south to Los Zacatitos, to a friend's purple dome house in the desert.

The house is a work of art.

The dome's ceiling is like the sky. The bed looks afloat.
That night we went to Zac's for Taco Tuesday--a fun gringo scene, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. The next morning, Angel (our friend's dog) led us on a walk of the playa de Zacatitos.
Angel leads the way.
Back on the bumpy dirt roads, we drove north to Cabo Pulmo. Even though the road was rough, I was glad we chose the ocean route (rather than the smoother inland route) because we were treated to awesome sites along the way. Like whales:

And interesting juxtapositions:

bull and tractor

burros and surfers

raptor and cactus
We also saw striking remnants of last September's Hurricane Odile:

We spent the night in Cabo Pulmo at a dive shop.
Cabo Pulmo room
Even though the morning dawned with choppy waters, we figured what the hell, we're here, let's do it. So we got aboard a boat appropriately named Si no quieres no ("If you don't want to, don't"). From the beach, some guys pushed us backward into the waves until the captain could drop the motor.
We want to!
We were taken to the only hard coral reef on the west coast of North America. The fact that it's a protected national park became evident as we swam with a dizzying array of fish. A mermaid's dream.
The captain also took us over to check out the sea lions.

On our drive home, we passed through the small mountain town of El Triunfo. I love its striking architecture ....

...and flagstone streets...

...and Caffe El Triunfo's baked goods.

We loaded up on sweet stuff then drove to our home sweet home.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Update: The Year of Living Drinklessly

What's in my blue cup?
The other day I was sitting around with a group of laughing, chatting people who were drinking beer and smoking pot.

Then there was me and my fucking Year of Living Drinklessly. What the hell was I thinking, giving up booze? I felt so left out. So un-fun. Was I everyone's buzz kill?

I kissed my husband goodbye and trudged to the beach. I was alone. Sand and water and sky stretched out eternally.

I walked and walked. Waves shot up, lingered, then crashed. A pelican flew by.

A voice said to me, "What anyone else does is none of your business." I don't think the pelican was talking, but who knows?

What anyone else does is none of my business.
What anyone else does is none of my business.

I kept that mantra going, toes grabbing at the sand.

Then the voice said, "You can have fun, drink or no drink. You are fun!"

As though my body believed those words, my bones felt lighter. My mouth smiled, all by itself.

By the time I got home, I waved hi to my drunk, stoned friends. They seemed happy. I was happy. I went to my kitchen and made myself a special drink--a smoothie of banana, mango, berries and homemade yogurt. And I poured it in this beautiful glass: 

A few days later, we went to a pool party celebrating our friend Pete's 60th birthday. I filled my blue cup with an Arnold Palmer: iced tea, lemonade, sparkling water and fresh lime on ice.

Dancing with the hostess. Damn, I'm fun!

What a blast, hanging out with great people, eating fantastic food, jumping in and out of the water, spontaneously dancing on the pool deck.

What everyone else did was none of my business. And I enjoyed them all the more for it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Peaceful La Paz

La Paz means "The Peace" for  good reason.

Our first foray into La Paz, an hour drive from our casita, was a bummer. We'd been in Mexico a short time and were whirling from all the change. We'd heard there were lots of good stores in La Paz to buy furniture and sundries--but we'd also heard La Paz cops might pull us gringos over for a mordita (bribe) and that the city had problems with violence. We were a little on edge.

It was tough navigating the unmarked streets. And some of the tiendas were in post-hurricane upheaval. The whole vibe seemed dreary and industrial.

But we also heard a lot of great things about La Paz. People urged us not to miss out on the best parts of town, the parts we had yet to see: the downtown, the malecon (waterfront esplanade), the beaches, the food. Long timers spoke glowingly of La Paz, adding that it was as safe as, if not safer than, American cities.

The biggest pull for Dave was the sea life. Especially the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. Talk about danger! But no, not really. The largest living non-mammalian vertebrates, they can get up to 42 feet and almost 50,000 pounds. But they are gentle giants, filter feeders who eat plankton, not human flesh.

whale shark (credit)
When our neighbors came back one late afternoon glowing with suntans and reports of an amazing day in La Paz swimming with whale sharks, we took that as a sign. The next morning we threw our snorkels in our car and took off.

It was an easy drive. We followed our friends' directions (turn left at the big McDonalds) to avoid the drab, confusing outskirts and headed right to the Malecon. Immediately we were struck by the azure waters of the Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez) and charming streets lined with shops, restaurants and small hotels. We found easy parking in front of Los Arcos, a defunct hotel.

There are lots of beautiful sculptures along the Malecon.
Right across the street a guy named Omar stood in front of his small boat. He charged us $600 pesos (about $40) each. It would have cost less with more passengers. The boat might have fit two or three more people. But we were happy to have our own spontaneous, private charter. Especially when we saw tourist boats crammed with 12 or more people, who paid $800 or more pesos each.

el barco de Omar
We stepped from the beach into his boat. In just minutes dolphins bounded by. About ten minutes later, Omar spotted a dark shadow in the water. A whale shark. He stopped, urging us to jump in. Gulp.

Dave caught the whale shark coming right at him.

We dropped into the 70 degree water in front of the beast, who glided by beneath us. How to explain being in the sea with a shark of that size? Electrifying.

Several times we got back in the boat--hauling ourselves up the small ladder--and Omar took us to another spot for more whale shark action. At one point, Dave got in alone and captured the experience on video. When he got back in the boat, he was in his blissful Dr. Doolittle state, happy and deeply moved.

After two hours on the water, we were hungry. We walked through the skate park to a big palapa that was Claro Jr., an open-air restaurant. The tacos were stuffed with super-fresh fish and shrimp, to which we added all kinds of goodies from the huge salsa bar.

Next we drove south on the road that snakes through the desert hills past one beautiful beach after another until we reached El Tecolote.

This osprey watched us as we drove by.
El Tecolote is one of those beaches of your dreams. Calm aquamarine waters. Vast areas of solitude punctuated by by shade palapas and charming feet-in-the-sand restaurants.

El Tecolote

The water, shallow for a long way out, was so inviting. It was one of those magical swimming moments, where your body and the water meld.

Our first impression of La Paz may have been alienating. But now we know better. There are so many treasures in this incredible place, and we can't wait to go back for more.


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 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!