Saturday, July 2, 2016

7 Things I Learned in June.

1. Relax, already, about the outcome. My memoir was named a finalist for a Bi Book Award. The crazy little elf-on-the-shelf-of-my-mind spun its Linda Blair head around, swearing there was no way I would ever win against books put out by big New York publishers.

Bubble Lady at Washington Square Park
So instead of focusing on the award, I whipped out my frequent flier miles, thrilled to have an excuse to spend a few days in NYC. I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, something I'd always wanted to do. I meandered for two days around the West Village and Chelsea, soaking in all those incredible NYC sights and sounds...and bagels.

By the time of the book event, I was so high on my adventure that just being in the company of all those other writers felt like icing on the cake.

And then...I won! Not just one (Best Memoir) but two (Bi Writer of the Year).

That creepy little elf in my mind had almost talked me out of going. You're not going to win, anyway. Why bother?

But when I decided to focus on the journey rather than the outcome--the outcome was even sweeter. And if I hadn't won, I still would have had a memorable time.

2. "Paella season is a thing." We were lucky to enjoy two paella dinners in two weeks.

Chef Todd's creation

Chef Frank's masterpiece

3. ALWAYS double-check texts before hitting send. Auto-correct changed my playful word "wonkiness" to "long penis." Fortunately, my friend thought it was funny.


4. When Life Gives You Traffic, Make Lemonade. Is Bay Area traffic worse than ever, or is this just us adjusting-to-California-after-three-months-in-Baja? When we had to be in San Rafael on a Friday at 6 p.m., we knew that meant being off the roads by 3 p.m. at the latest.

Dave discovered there's a wild animal rehab facility in San Rafael that's open to the public. So instead of sitting in a wall of traffic, we hung out with hawks and owls and pelicans, and chatted with the knowledgeable people who care for them.

5. Let the locals teach you. We've been to San Francisco a zillion times...and taken lots of walks at Land's End and on Ocean Beach...which we did this time with our friend Nicole.

Nicole showed us something new.
Because she lives in the area, she knew of a hidden spot...
secret stairs
 that took us up to Sutro Heights Park, offering this view:

Worth every step--and we never would have known about it if we hadn't listened to a local.

6. Family isn't biology. I've learned that many times in my life--but it really hit home a few weeks ago. We were invited by my godmother to a gathering of her family. I hadn't seen most of these people in thirty years or more--but I felt like I belonged. It was sweet to hear stories about my parents, to talk to people who fondly remembered them.

Two women who loved my parents: Marcia (my godmother, on the left) and Louise.
Marcia and Dean had three sons. And one of them, Greg, said that when they were kids, the three boys had figured out which three Evans girls they were going to marry!
One of my dad's best friends (Dean)...and the guy I was supposed to marry (Travis).
 I was a child last time I saw all these people--but it felt like coming home.

Esperanza and Greg filled the house with music.

7. The story is never over. We are evolving, changing human beings. For the first time in many years, I went to the Pride parade. I wasn't sure how I'd feel there...but it was amazing. (And I wrote about it here.)

At Pride with my friend Laurie, looking at life through the eyes of love.
So, yes, the story continues. No matter what "it" is, this too shall pass.

Welcome, July. I look forward to what you have to teach.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Driving Baja Again...and Visiting the Wine Region

The drive up Baja from our casita is a study in contrasts: wet and dry, blue and brown, sea and desert, exhausting and exhilarating.

Sea of Cortez
For the second time in two years, we took four days to do it. Yes, it's possible to drive it faster. But spending more than six hours at a time in a car is not our favorite thing. Besides, as I wrote about here, there's a lot of cool stuff to see on the way.

Like last time, our first stop was Loreto. But this time we stayed at Coco Cabanas. Happily, it has a pool--a great antidote to the heat. And floating feels wonderful after all that sitting still. We were the only ones swimming that afternoon.

The next day, the drive was gorgeous, especially between Loreto and Mulege. On the way, we stopped at Bahia de Concepcion for a picnic lunch on the beach.

Just drive right up to the shade palapa and "palapa" yourself down.
The second night we spent in Guerrero Negro, the halfway point, where we met up with friends who had driven twelve hours that day. Together we had an excellent dinner at Malarimmo--a restaurant that makes you feel like you're in old Mexico, with its dark, heavy furniture and suave waiters. Order anything with fresh fish and you won't be disappointed. The hotel rooms are very basic and the least comfortable on the route, but they're cheap.

The drive from Guerrero Negro to San Quintin has some of the roughest road, which for some reason isn't as well maintained--but it boasts amazing desert scenery.

Sublime  (credit)
Before we hit San Quintin, we stopped in at Baja's Best in El Rosario. Except for the Starbuck's logo painted on the wall, the bright yellow building looked like someone's casa...and indeed it was, complete with dogs on the sofas and a telenovela on the TV. The food was as homemade as if you were eating at a friend's house. I could eat that shrimp chile rellano every day for the rest of my life.

Baja's Best pups
At San Quintin, we stayed at the Hotel Jardines. Last time we drove down all kinds of bumpy dirt roads to find it, but this time we drove right to it--thanks to Dave's excellent sense of direction. How someone can go someplace once and then, a year later, find his way back so easily is a mystery to me.

As its name implies, this place is a little Shangri-La of gardens steeped in flowering plants, trees, and so many birds I felt like Snow White. They also grow their own produce to use in the restaurant. The food was a bit gringo-fied but good--better than we remembered from last time.

But what really knocked our socks off was a place we found the next morning. On the main drag about ten miles north of Jardines sits Restaurante Santa Isabel, where Dave was served a savory nopale (cactus) salsa with his bacon and eggs.

Go Warriors!
Our last time crossing the border at Tijuana involved chaos, pandemonium, and delays. So this time we decided to cross at Tecate. It adds miles, but we'd heard it's a much better experience. That's an understatement.

To get to Tecate, you drive on nice roads through the Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley), Baja California's wine region. Its beauty rivals the other "California" wine country.

We stopped at just two of the 150 wineries. Each had charming buildings and offered low-priced wine tastings. One included free cheese, bread, and olive oil for dipping. And of course there were dogs.

Most of what we tasted were red blends. We bought some delicious bottles for gifts. The area was so nice that next time we plan to spend a few days there.

(I know some of you are curious about the state of my drinking life, since I've written about that. It's this: I drink very little, because it feels better that way. The tastings were fun, and a glass of wine every few weeks with a meal is about all that interests me.)

The one thing I haven't mentioned that happens on the Baja drive are inspections. In 1,000 miles, our car was stopped seven times. Five times we were waved through. Two times we had to get out of the car while the teenagers-with-guns checked out our car. Once I was asked to zip open my suitcase so the kid could riffle through my silky underthings.

At that time, a guard and Dave engaged in a conversation about the languages they speak. They were laughing as Dave taught him "hello" in Mandarin, German and Japanese.

Crossing the border at Tecate was a miracle. Seriously, people: NO WAIT! Only two other cars crossed with us.

When the border officer started speaking English--and with a southern accent no less--it took my brain a moment to register that, of course, he was an American. We were crossing back in the U.S. after three months in Mexico.

He asked us if we had anything to declare. Four bottles of Baja wine, I offered, having been told that we could bring in two bottles per person. But the California winemakers have an even stronger hold on wine imports than that. The guard said, "Sorry, it's only one bottle per person."

"Oh, that's not what they said at the winery," I said.

"Of course not," he said, pitying me, the naïve rube. After a dramatic pause he added, "But I'll let you go through this time."

So we had enough wine to share with our friends when we hit San Diego.

A sweet evening.
We made it up to Northern California in time attend the celebration of life for my Aunt Ruby who died at age 93. My cousin Bobby, her son, died shortly after she did at age 68. In the midst of these losses, it felt really good to be with family, loving and supporting each other.

Circle of life: my nieces and nephew at my aunt's funeral.
Shortly thereafter we took another road trip: this time to Lake Berryessa, near Napa.

On the road again.
We didn't do any wine tasting there. Instead, we met up with my sister and a bunch of her friends for houseboat shenanigans.
My sister's boat.
So here we are, back in the Bay Area for a little while, staying with our awesome friend Mark, whose home feels like our home-away-from-Baja home.

Perhaps one day we will be flying into Cabo. But for now, there is something special about taking the drive. It's like a slow initiation back into the English-speaking world.

We are here for a few weeks and then off to the next adventure in Asia. Life itself is a study in contrasts.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The winds will carry you.

"I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going.
And I have trained myself to love it."
Our nomadic lives are about to pull us out of Mexico and into the next adventure.
We leave our Baja home in two days. I feel like I'm suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight.
Technically, we know where we're landing: California, New York, Colorado, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. Yet there's so much we don't know. We will be on the move, experiencing people and places and cultures new to us.
How different that feels than being rooted here in our casita, enjoying the rhythms of beach life.
These three months, I've loved living next door to my sister and enjoying our long walks with her dogs.
Rama and Dino at San Pedrito beach.
We celebrated Dave's birthday with a bunch of friends from our wonderful community, featuring homemade tortillas and tacos al pastor.
Simon and Paolo from El Poblano, one of Dave's favs, catered for his birthday.
We spent time in La Paz, communing with amigos and whale sharks.
On Omar's boat.
Swimming with this 40-foot beauty was sublime.
We enjoyed spontaneous dance parties and meeting new people, many who dropped in for a few days or weeks, then left to journey on.
Kimberly's birthday at Palapa 1!
We were able to enjoy our home more this time because instead of scrambling around to get it furnished and completed, we could hang out. Writing, editing, reading, playing Scrabble, cooking, enjoying neighbors who dropped by--this was where the action happened.
Casita Once
So here we are, perched on leaving what now feels like home. Goodbye amigos and la playa. Adios fish tacos and ocean air. So long dogs and music everywhere.
When we left Santa Cruz three years ago, I didn't realize we'd be saying goodbye to home and hello to the next thing, again and again.
Before yoga class yesterday, Kylie, the teacher, and I were talking about life's uncertainties--especially in the face of nomadic existence. She said, "You're going to like the poem I brought." During savasana (corpse pose), she read:
We rolled over from savasana and curled onto our sides: reborn from the corpse to the fetus. Death, birth. Goodbye, hello.
And then we stood and spread our arms, our wings. An ocean wind blew through the room, carrying us.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Week in Todos Santos

Todos Santos is a Pueblo Magico, one of 83 small towns that the Mexican government has designated as magical--somehow very special and deserving of attention (and tourist dollars).
Magical Todos
Even though the address of our casita is Todos Santos, we're about 10 miles south on Cerritos Beach. A few times a month, we drive down our bumpy dirt road and head over to Todos. When a friend asked us if we could housesit for him a week, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know Todos Santos better. And what a week it's been.

Lazy dog days
The palapa-roofed house is a stunner on a beautiful piece of property in el otro lado. Literally "the other side," that's what people call this area of town. Every morning we wake up to zillions of doves cooing. And some nights we can hear the waves crashing. It seems like there's always a breeze here. I was actually a little cold sometimes and had to put on a sweater. Mexico's climate has made me a wimp.

We enjoyed walking around the area. One day we hiked to La Poza, the closest beach. Not swimmable, but stunning.

La Poza
We hiked down the beach and then over to these rocks, climbing up and around to head back.

This water flows out of the huerta and sometimes connects with the ocean.

 On our walks, we saw all kinds of creatures.

Anyone know what it is?


pájaro amarillo y negro
Another day we walked into town on this road to do errands, including going to the optometrist to pick up my glasses.

I like the optometrist. He has a brilliant smile and knows very little English, so interacting with him challenges me to work on my Spanish. At his office that day, we also ended up talking with a Canadian who now lives here and teaches in the local school; he used to teach on a reservation in Canada. When Dave mentioned I'm a writer he said, "Do you ever help people edit their books?"

Universe, you crack me up!

Why yes, I said, I'm a writing coach--and he launched excitedly into a description of the Young Adult novel he's writing. The protagonist is an indigenous girl in Canada who becomes a political activist. I told him it sounded right up my alley.

Speaking of political activism, we saw this protest on the road...locals protesting this.

A lot of gringos have been drawn to Todos Santos. One morning when Dave and I were out for breakfast, a big guy and a big St. Bernard sauntered through the door. Kevin, who lives half the year in Montana and half here, said he came to that restaurant for desayuno every morning. Sure enough, he hadn't ordered but the waitress brought him his usual, which he shared with Romeo. One-year-old Romeo is a sweetheart and a galumph; he reveled in our hugs and slobbered all over us.

"Are you going to share that bacon?"
Rob, another American guy we met, told us he's ten months into a year-long around-the-world trip with his wife and two daughters. We'd been planning to come back to our casita to water our yard, so we invited them to our little resort's pool. His daughters (12 and 15) years old were so fun to hang out with. They are citizens of the world, having lived in Jordan and several other countries before spending this year on the road.

Rob talked about having an adventurous mindset, one free of conventional limitations.* He and his wife Nadia want to live now. They don't buy a lot of consumer goods--they don't even own a car--and aren't afraid of spending their savings to travel. For many years, they have lived and worked all over the world, so this year of traveling with their daughters is a natural extension of their lifestyle.

And as it turns out, Rob just got offered a job in Myanmar, a place we'd been hoping to go when we're in China. They will be moving there this summer. I have a feeling we will see them again.

You know you're in Mexico when...
In addition to meeting some great people, we've enjoyed stumbling across cool things happening in town. One night we heard music and followed our ears. We ended up at an open-air restaurant dancing to a really fun Mexican band playing a cool fusion of rock, funk, and reggae.

One Saturday morning we also heard some live music and discovered the main street was blocked off. The band played on a makeshift stage, and people milled about, waiting for bicyclists whose race began in La Paz and would be ending in Todos. Soon, the cyclists appeared in their colorful outfits, marked Costa Rica, Guatemala, and various other Latin American nations.
Fun scene.
Another thing that makes Todos Santos magical is its artsy vibe. Lots of musicians, writers, and artists live here--and the streets are lined with galleries. Many of the galleries double as art studios, so you can watch the artists work.

Our casita walls have been bare for two years, and we had a feeling that a week in Todos Santos would cure that. And sure enough, when we walked into a gallery and saw this piece by a La Paz artist, we knew it was the one.

Oceany and expressive.
One of the best parts of this housesit was taking care of Bonito and Negra, two of the sweetest watchdogs. You wouldn't know it are by looking at them (or hearing them bark and protect the yard), but they are love bugs.

Bonito likes to recline while eating.
When our friend asked us to housesit, we didn't hesitate. I like saying yes. Yes opens gates to lands you didn't even know existed.

The gate into the housesit property.

* PS: Speaking of traveling and living with a freed-up mindset, check out this piece I wrote about a young woman who is bicycling around the world.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Baja Magic

It's sweet to be back to where the desert meets the sea.

View from Baja Zen's yoga studio, just down the road.
We took four days to drive from San Diego to our casita at Cerritos Beach. Day One we stopped in Rosarito Beach to visit our friend Tony, who happened to be hanging out to surf.
The roads were in much better shape than the last time we drove south in 2014, just a few months after Hurricane Odile. The improved roads and our familiarity with the drive made it fun and relaxing.

First Baja mission, Loreto.
Every day in the car we practiced our Mandarin by CD. Yes, Mandarin, not Spanish. We know enough Spanish to get us around Mexico for the four months we'll be here (and it improves each day). But Mandarin is a totally different animal. We are committed to learning key phrases before we go to China in the fall.
Making tortillas.
After almost a year away, we arrived at our casita March 1. That night as we climbed into bed, lulled by crickets and waves,  it was quite a contrast to our first arrival here when we had to sleep in a barren house on a leaky air mattress. Our place was set up just as we'd left it, except the garden had grown.

Immediately we were swept up into a world of awesomeness, including babysitting our neighbor's dog (who is so cute it almost hurts to look at him)...
...doing tai chi and yoga, walking with my sister (who lives here year round) and her dogs on this beach...
Playa San Pedrito
 ...eating the fantastic food available here...
Chicken mole: Dave's happy place.
Best fresas ever.

Amazing (and cheap) oranges and ruby grapefruits abound.
...and going to hear David Raitt (Bonnie Raitt's brother) play great bluesy rock at the Hacienda... dance our patooties off.
Boogying with our friend and yoga teacher, Paul.
Before we knew the date we were returning to Mexico, we'd rented out our place for three days in March. We didn't want to cancel on the couple--so after being here a week, we took off for La Paz, an hour drive east. We stayed in a B&B near downtown, whose best feature was this garden...

...where every morning we ate breakfast and watched the birds before heading to the beach.

The first day at Playa Balandra, we happened to run into people we knew--two awesome Canadian couples we'd met a few days before in our resort's Jacuzzi! They were vacationing in the casita just across from ours.
I mean, really? They are staying next door for a week
and happen to be at the same beach as us
an hour away at the same moment? What are the chances?
You know how sometimes you feel a connection to people you barely know? That's how I felt about them, so it was a blast to rendezvous unexpectedly.
At Balandra, we found a small reef near the famous "Mushroom Rock," where we snorkeled and viewed colorful creatures. The next day we enjoyed Playa Tecolote, the beach where a year ago Dave took the picture that graces the cover of my memoir.
Tecolote 2016.
Last year, most of the beach restaurants were closed due to hurricane damage. What a difference a year makes.
Playa Pichilingus
Last time we spent just a day in La Paz. This time, we enjoyed the malecón at sunset: families strolling, kids playing, and vendors selling everything from food to balloons as people rolled by on skates and bikes.

Malecón means a walkway by a lake or ocean.
 We wandered around the streets and into markets.

Of course there was eating involved....
Claro Fish Jr., our fav.
Back at home, a note was waiting for me from the woman who'd rented our place. She found my memoir on the bookshelf and wrote, "By the 10th page, I know I was meant to find it. It feels like the book I've been searching for my whole adult life." She went on to say that she feels connected to me, even though we've never met, and that she is now inspired to do what she's always dreamed of doing: write.

She took a copy of the book (I had two on the shelf) and left money to pay for it, saying she'd mail it back to me if that wasn't okay. I was flooded with gratitude and goosebumps. Maybe this is too grandiose, but it made me feel like I'm fulfilling my life's purpose.

The next day, Sally--one of the Canadian women we'd serendipitously run into--came to talk to me about writing and life. She believes we were meant to cross paths. I feel the same. When they left later that morning, I was a little sad. The nomadic life involves a lot of hellos and goodbyes. (Thank goodness for being able to stay connected through Facebook.)

As though the universe was conspiring cheer me on, later that day I found out that Call It Wonder was named one of three finalists in the Bisexual Book Awards.

All of this has happened in just two weeks. I'm going to chalk it up to Baja magic.