Thursday, May 30, 2024

Housesitting and Home and Dogs

Winter California hiking


The first half of 2024 has been a mix of housesitting and staying home at our casita. At home, Dave loves to garden, I like to hill hike, we enjoy being close to the beach, and we like our community. So why not stay put? Because we like exploring. And we like living many different lives.

California coyote

In January we housesat in California, in a home I first stepped my size-10 foot in more than 30 years ago. It belonged to Gabriele Rico, my other-mother and mentor, whom I've written about in Call It Wonder. She died a decade ago, and the last time I stood in her house was for her celebration of life. 

Bath with a view in Cupertino.

Her former husband asked Dave and me if we'd come care for the home for five weeks--a book-and-art studded place in the Cupertino hills. All we had to do was feed the koi and haul the garbage cans to the bottom of the driveway once a week. He sweetened the deal by letting us use his car. It's always good to see friends and to nestle into the familiarity of the area (until the reality of traffic and prices hit).

Happy to get some Stacey time.

And some Sally & Kelly time...on the deck of the house.

Much of the home is the way it had been when Gabriele lived there, including her office. She taught me so much about writing, and she helped my creative soul come alive. I pulled off the shelf several books I'd given her over the years, including the first literary magazine that published my poetry. As I sat at her desk, I could feel her energy as I worked on planning for my forthcoming writing retreat. 

Fast-forward a few months to that, back in Mexico:

Revolutionary Writers!

Seventeen revolutionary women gathered in Baja Sur for Angela Yarber's and my Reimagining Writing retreat, where we wrote, beach walked, swam, got massages, rode horses, did yoga, ate incredible food, played music, experienced the eclipse and a sound bath--and most importantly, created a community of writers we will never forget. This retreat had been in the making for a year--and it surpassed my dreams in quality, heart, and intensity. Afterward, I slept three 10-hour nights!

Dave, Miles & Jude 

At home, we got some magical hang-out time with our friends Jude, Melissa, and their son Miles who visited Todos Santos. We enjoyed our regular lives of cooking, reading, and yoga--and I borrowed my friends' dogs for walks. 

walking with Sierra

walking with Deva

Whenever we're gone I especially miss Zumba. The Todos Santos class makes me feel like a teenager dancing in the chorus of the spring musical. The whole thing is so positive and uplifting.

I'm in the back in pink, flashing a peace sign.

Even though I love to  move my body, I discovered my cholesterol had soared. So I cut off the half-and-half that had slipped back into my mornings and finally and happily quit alcohol for good (that one's been coming on for 9 years). I also began eating oatmeal with flax and fruit every morning, dates for dessert, and cut back on portions. In just over two months, my cholesterol dropped 100 points! Eating this way makes me feel great, so that's my motivation now.

Another housesit opportunity came along: two weeks at a big house with a pool and jacuzzi and darling dog named Ollie, an hour south of us in Cabo. 

It was nice to have our own pool and jacuzzi for a couple of weeks.

The owner said we could have a friend come stay. So we got to celebrate Dave's birthday with one of his best friends, Craig.

Dave and Craig in Cabo.

with Craig in San Jose del Cabo for a taco feast

Also, lucky us, one of my BFFs Nancy, with her husband Andy, happened to be in Cabo for the weekend--and they took us to a local soccer (futbol) game. The stands were packed and when Los Cabos United won, the celebration began with people drumming and singing and dancing. I loved seeing this side of Mexico.

Futbol in our new jerseys!

The Cabo homeowner asked us if we could come back in June for a few days. I was tempted since I'd fallen head-over-paws in love with Ollie, who followed me around like he loved me just as much.

Ollie  with me, the jacuzzi, and the mermaid.

But I wanted to suck up every moment at home until we leave in early July (more on that in a moment). So here's a first: she's bringing him to me for a few days in June. I can't wait to take him on my hikes and beach walks.

I'm realizing there are lots of DOGS in this entry. I casually said to Dave the other day that I might be ready soon to get our own dog. He looked at me cross-eyed, trying to register that I said this on the eve of our leaving to travel for 8 months. Would I really want to leave my own dog for that long, even if it was with loving sitters like us?

Hm...okay, maybe I was jumping the pistola. Who knows how I'll feel when we return after traveling to:






Cape Verde





and ?

Our itinerary isn't completely set, but we know this will involve housesits, rentals, visiting friends, flights, trains, a rental car, and at least one boat.

A nice couple with, yes, a dog, will be in our home during that time. Why won't that be us? Because over a decade ago we decided we wanted to see the world. And we're not done yet.


PS: I've been talking about nomadding and housesitting on podcasts lately. Check these out:

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Housesitting in Mazatlan, Guanajuato & San Miguel de Allende

Our private pool for a month.

Three months on the mainland of Mexico without paying for a single night of lodging? That's the world of housesitting! As I write about in Wanderland: Living the Traveling Lifewe've been doing this for a decade, and we get sits through various websites and referrals.

Our first stop was Mazatlan for a month, starting in mid-August. This was an unusual housesit: a five-unit complex. The owners rent out spaces during high season (fall/winter/spring)--and in the summer, they want someone there to keep an eye on the place. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment, our responsibilities to pay the pool cleaner (with the owners' cash) and check the units for leaks after a downpour. 

Yes, it was hot and humid, reminding me of Southeast Asia. That pool was a godsend, and since we were the only ones there, swim time was clothing-optional.

Walking along the malecon.

The location at Olas Altas ("High Waves") was amazing. We were close to the malecon, the biggest water-front esplanade in all of Mexico at 13 miles long. Many mornings I'd walk down the malecon with other walkers, joggers, inline skaters, and bicyclists. 

Zumba in Mazatlan!

After a mile walk, passing fishermen offering fresh catches and beaches with morning swimmers, I'd meet up with a large group of Mexican women and two super-entertaining male teachers for a Zumba class. While we danced, waves offered a cooling spray. Afterward, I'd try to overcome my shyness by speaking in Spanish. The last thing I've ever been accused of is being shy, but being in another culture and trying to speak another language changes my personality.

Mariachis on the night streets.

We were also close to Mazatlan's Old Town, a picturesque compendium of 19-century buildings, plazas, and restaurants--and a huge mercado where we bought fresh produce. If we didn't feel like walking back, we'd hail a pulmonia, taxis that are cute souped-up golf carts. Strangely, "pulmonia" means pneumonia, drawn from the idea that riding in an open-air vehicle can give you a cold. Odd PR--but super fun!

Sunset on the malecon.

We got this gig through Eden, who lived nomadically for many years but has now happily settled in Mazatlan with her husband. She introduced us to her friends Carol and Alex, who are from the Bay Area, close to where Dave and I used to live. They became our new BFFs. We had a blast wandering around with them, going out to eat, playing cards, and watching sunset on the malecon that bustled with families late into the night. Dave and Carol met up for yoga a few times a week as well. 

With Carol & Alex

Next stop was Guanajuato, a beautiful mountain colonial town. It's the capital city of the state of Guanajuato in Central Mexico. Formerly a mining town, its streets are narrow and winding and it has underground tunnels you can drive through. At 6500-foot elevation, it was much cooler there...which also meant gasping for breath while walking the steep streets. 

With Nat & Jodie in the mining hills.

Fortunately, a small funicular could haul us back up the mountain, since we were staying at the very top, in a darling apartment near the Pipila monument, with a vast view of the colorful city. Nat and Jodie, housesitters par excellence, hooked us up with the gig and showed us around the city, including their favorite taco cart. They were full-time nomads for years but now are settled down in their favorite place in Mexico. 

Our view

I fell in love with wandering around the city on foot, stumbling across musicians and dancers in the streets, people-watching in the shady parks, and stopping into cafes and bookstores. While there are people everywhere of all ages, Guanajuato is a university town, so there's also lots of young energy. 


It's famous for having a collection of disinterred mummies. But we skipped that "entertainment" and instead were drawn to the house where Diego Rivera and his twin brother (who died at age two) were born. It's now a museum with a labyrinth of exhibits, a collection of his works and preliminary sketches. I was entranced by this photo:

Diego & Frida

I easily could have stayed there longer, but next we were headed 50 miles east to San Miguel de Allende for six weeks. I know a lot of people who fell in love-at-first-sight with this UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its grand, colonial architecture and arts scene. Spoiler: While I enjoyed our time there, I wasn't as drawn to it as Mazatlan and Guanajuato, mainly because the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks are difficult to walk on and don't allow for as much lively outdoor public space. However, there's no question it's beautiful.

Our roomies for a week.

Our first sit was a week in a sprawling home with all the amenities. It was outside of downtown, but the homeowners--who were easy to befriend--let us use their car. We took care of two darling dogs, which meant only feeding and loving on them because they had a dog walker. There was also a housecleaner, a woman I enjoyed talking with in Spanish. 

Indigenous parade

Just a sample of the proliferation of Dia de Los Muertos fun.

Our next sit, for five weeks, had its ups and downs. Even though this one also included a car, we didn't have to drive much because we could walk everywhere: restaurants, shops, and El Jardin (the main tree-lined plaza). I could even stroll to Zumba at a nearby park. The gorgeous house was constructed of stone and was oddly cold. At least 10 degrees colder than outside. We wished we'd brought warmer clothes. When I was frozen to the bone, I'd hop in the hot tub, so I can't complain too loudly.

He loved Dave but not strangers.

The dogs, while adorable, were having some issues; they could be aggressive with each other and strangers. Fortunately, the homeowner hired a dog trainer to work with them. Still, handling their needs meant San Miguel was feeling less like vacation than our other sits.

so colorful

We were lucky to be there during the colorful Dia de Los Muertos festivities. In fact, September through October was a time of multiple festivals, with all kinds of events, parades, and our least favorite part, ear-splitting fireworks before dawn.

Nomads...and a few peeps I know from other lives!

Fiesta with housesitters.

We met a lot people from all over the world and were invited to a party one night for live music, belly dancers, and the most beautiful, haunting flamenco singer and dancer. We also had a few meet-ups with travelers and friends old and new.

Flamenco dancer 

There are lots of fancy restaurants in SMA, but our favorite food was at this taco stand.

One day we walked down a long street lined with stands selling a profuse array of flowers and shiny objects to place on headstones. It led to a huge public cemetery, like a ghost city in miniature, where people honored their ancestors by cleaning and decorating their graves. Music played and a full Catholic service was in action, with a priest offering communion. I felt like there we experienced the true meaning of Dia de los Muertos.

My favorite outing was La Gruta spa, about 30 minutes outside town, for some thermal springs rejuvenation. We next went to nearby Atotonilco, part of a World Heritage site, a religious complex built in the 18th century. The interior of the sanctuary features murals, sculptures, inscriptions, and oil paintings in Mexican folk baroque and indigenous styles. I hadn't seen anything like it since I was in Italy--and later I discovered it's been called the "Sistine Chapel of Mexico."

La Gruta

"Mexican Sistine Chapel"

In the pueblo we stopped for phenomenal tacos made by two sisters. A couple sitting near us, who have lived in the area for years, confirmed that we'd stumbled onto the best street tacos in the whole area.

que rico!

My other favorite thing was this: When I posted on a San Miguel de Allende Facebook page asking about Zumba classes, I got an offer to join a class at a private home. Of course, I jumped on that! Turns out that Vail and her mom started having the teacher come to them during the pandemic and never stopped. 

Zumba at Vail's

Vail has lived in Mexico for 30 years and is married to a Mexican man. She's also writing a book. So we made an exchange: Spanish lessons for an edit of her manuscript. Now that I'm home, we're meeting once a week on Zoom. She also threw in a food and history tour for Dave and me, since she runs the company. We enjoyed tasting food in five different spots and learning about the history of the city.

I'm grateful that housesitting makes it possible for us to live in so many places, trying out so many lives.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Goddess Tour

I write this from an upstairs loft in a home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This is our last stop on a three-city visit to the mainland. We wanted to get to know Mexico better by spending a month in Mazatlan, a week in Guanajuato, and six weeks here. Housesitting has made this type of adventure possible.

In my next blog, I will write about my impressions. But first I'll back up and share how, before we flew to the mainland, we did a "staycation" sit in Baja at Los Barriles, a community on the Sea of Cortez, 90 minutes from our house at Cerritos.

Ready to go!

These three cuties are Sunny, Happy & Colorado. Each morning they'd jump into the fat-tired golf cart for a 5-minute ride to the beach. The water was so calm and warm, I'd also often a swim.

The mermaid doing a ballet leg in the Sea of Cortez

We also cared for Roberto, the tortoise, who lived in the bedroom closet and would wander out each day. I'd take him outside for a big plate of fresh fruits and veggies. And that's not all: there were three outdoor cats to care for (and feed raw food, a gross process that involved pulling apart and deboning by hand a bunch of butcher trimmings and entrails. Thank god Dave dealt with it because the process made me gag). 


We normally don't take sits that involve so many pets, but being that this was close to home and in a great location for two weeks, we decided to jump in. We're glad we did because the beachy community was fun to explore in any of the three offroad vehicles.

A few weeks later, we flew to California for another housesit for two weeks so we could attend my sister Crystal's wedding. Housesitting came to the rescue again as we had a beautiful home to stay in that whole time, up the street from our friends Shannon and Tony in Solana Beach.

This rascal ate one of my shoes.

One of the dogs was barely a year old--cute as a bug and just about as pesky. We took a lot of walks through the hilly neighborhood and down to the beach. 

The homeowners let us use their car, which came in handy when I needed to drive south about 30 minutes for the wedding rehearsal. As the officiant, my attendance was crucial. The wedding the next day was perfection. I couldn't have been happier for my sister--and to welcome Kristian into our family. We all took a ferry from downtown San Diego to Cornado for vows on the beach followed by two days of parties. 

Crystal & Kristian with their four kids.

A few days later, Dave headed back to Baja while I embarked on a self-made book tour--which he coined the Goddess Tour, since it featured a coven of remarkable women. I'd planned stops to visit friends all along the way, using flight credits that were about to expire.

The first event filled Shannon's north county San Diego home with energized people and an elaborate display of food, including cookies the color of the book's cover! After I spoke and read a few pages, one person asked: "How did you talk your husband into living a traveling life?" Truth is, I didn't have to convince him of anything. Our nomadic desires bloomed simultaneously. Pure luck, because when we first met, we were both working long hours. I couldn't have imagined the life we live now.

with Shannon and turquoise cookies

Next stop was San Jose, California, where I expected to pick up my box of books from Mark's house to take to Santa Cruz for my public reading. box. The following day I had resigned myself to a book-less event when I received a call from Mark that the box had arrived. San Jose is at least 45 minutes away, and often longer when dealing with perilous Highway 17--so I thanked him but said he didn't need to come. However, minutes before we were to start, my savior walked through the door. 

Extra special delivery!

Another sweet moment involving that door was when four shiny people I'd met at a transformative retreat in Baja surprised me with their appearance. Can you tell how happy we are to be reunited?

Alex, Mike, Lisa, me & Julia--all aglow

Gratefully, we had a full house at the downtown public library for "Three Memoirs & Music." I'd put out a call on a memoir writers' online group, and Dena Moes & Andrea Ross--who also have connections to Santa Cruz--jumped in. As did my friend Sweeney's fantastic musical duo, Winterlark

The happy memoirists

My short time in the Bay Area included spending time with friends old and new--the former being this beloved crew:

Memorable times with my beloved Stacey, Kelly & Terry and their son.

--and the latter being Carla King who is also a traveling writer. Unlike me, though, she is mechanically inclined, as made clear in her wonderful motorcycle adventures memoir. She also teaches people how to self-publish.

The two traveling memoirists in Santa Cruz

An aside: I was introduced to Carla by my longtime amiga Cathy Miller. We recently co-authored a piece about working together on our books. Check it out here:

Cathy was indispensable in my writing of Wanderland

Next I flew to Tuscon, where Dana Killion--whom I'd connected with in the aforementioned online memoirist's group--had generously invited me (a stranger!) to stay a few days. She also recently released a memoir and hosted a book event in her gorgeous home, along with Taymar Pixleysmith, whom I'd met earlier in the year at the Todos Santos Writers Workshop.

with Dana and Taymar

Tucson apparently is some kind of vortex that attracts amazing women because my friend Kate Stern happened to be in town as well. One day to escape the heat, Taymar took us on a divine mountain hike.

Rose Lake in the Santa Catalina Mountains

Soon I arrived in Ashland, Oregon, where I was thrilled to hang out with my amiga Laurie in her new home and the town she loves. It was a joy-filled time, packed with theater and friends and wine-tasting and a weekend camping trip! Not to mention a book gathering at her house, and a talk-and-signing at downtown Bloomsbury Books. 

Talking about our wacky traveling life.

Magically, Barbara Kent--a longtime friend of my parents who makes an appearance in Wanderland--materialized in the bookstore! I was grateful she drove all the way up from Northern California, because as I say in the book, I love being around people who knew my parents.

With Barbara Kent

With Laurie & Tammy seeing the phenomenal Kinky Boots

Christening myself in the breath-taking (literally)
Rogue River on the camping trip 

For my last stop, I flew south to L.A. to spend a few days with my longtime friend Nancy, who pops up on many pages in Wanderland. I was glad that my L.A. book event never panned out because at this point in the whirlwind, my body wanted to slow down. We did a lot of hanging out and talking, our specialty. One day we went to the movies, hopping on the Barbie bandwagon (a fitting culmination of my Goddess Tour). 

Gort was in on the Barbie trend, too.

Another day had to be devoted to art, of course, since that's Nancy's love language. With her friend the playwright Jiggs Burgess and the novelist Janet Fitch (whom I'd met at the Todos Santos Writers Workshop), we lingered over multitudinous art at The Hammer and imbibed the quirky art collection at a private home & garden. 

Love me some artists & writers

By the way, if you have not yet read Janet's Russian Revolution "Marina" novels, do so immediately! We must have been talking about writing during our post-art lunch because our waiter asked us about our books. Oh, to stumble across a voracious appreciative reader. What a treat. Later he sent me this picture he took:

A reader's/my toes

I love that some men have been getting into the delightful Wanderland-toes-pics...which I have been receiving from readers. My publisher created this fun collage:

Many of these readers were traveling at the time!

When I finally landed back in Baja after a month, it felt delicious to see Dave. We'd never spent that much time apart. 

Writing this, I'm struck by the fortune of my life. Of course like everyone I've had my share of loss and pain--but at this moment I feel like those struggles are eclipsed by collaboration, friendship, and love. 

* *  *

PS: If you enjoyed Wanderland, I'll give you heart emojis for life if you'll review it on Amazon, B&N, and/or Goodreads. Reviews can be short & dulce :), such as these:

"This book will blast you off your recliner." 
"Wildly moving and poignant." 
"So well written. The details are delicious."

PSS: If you'd like a loving, supportive boost for your own creative life, come to Mexico in April 2024 for my co-hosted retreat: Re-Imagining Writing. There are only 3 single rooms remaining, and prices go up January 1, so save your space here. Consider coming with a friend to stay in a huge, luxurious 1100 SF apartment-room--and to share this inspiring, rejuvenating respite.

Beach front Prana del Mar,
where the retreat magic will happen!