Dream House?

The weekend before we left for Mexico, we attended a dinner party at which one of the hosts asked everyone, “If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?”

London and Hawaii were popular choices. I chose Paris, because I still want to spend a month there, writing. I will manage this before the year is out. It’s a promise to myself.

More recently, talking with my mother, I said I wanted to live on the beach, and teased that Fuzzy should get promoted a couple more times, so that we could afford such a thing. “Any more promotions,” he said, “will require us to live in Florida.”

“Oh,” I replied. “I don’t want to live on a beach there.”

My mother suggested we save our pennies and buy a second home somewhere coastal, which has me fantasizing: if I were to buy a vacation home, where would it be?

I wouldn’t mind living in Portland, OR, but it’s not on the beach, and rivers don’t do it for me. I love Half Moon Bay, CA, but it’s insanely expensive. Bolinas and Benicia, also in California, are favorite places, though Bolinas is a bit weird. And often smells funny. And I love love love the region around Tomales Bay – Pt. Reyes Station and Inverness – so much do I love that region, actually, that the town where my book opens is based on it.

But California is expensive, and I don’t really have ties there any more. So the search continues, with other dream locations including Ocean Grove, NJ, where we lived for a while when I was a child.

The thing is, I prefer cold, stormy beaches to just lying in the sand baking on hot ones, so warmth isn’t entirely an issue, though a temperate climate would be nice.

You may ask, “why not Mexico?”

My parents live there. I can visit any time. It’s not a place I really want to live.
But I really should visit more.

Resting States

Sitting in LAX last night, sipping a mocha frapp between planes, and taking a moment to catch my breath, I read a blog comment from my mother, and an email from her as well. I miss her already. The bond between mothers and daughters is an interesting one, rather like an elastic band. You stretch it thin, then let it snap back to its resting state, but you are always tethered, even when the connection is so thin you think it might break.

My mother and I have been through every stage: hero worship, worst enemy, best friend, close confidante, distant acquaintance, but always there is that connection. Where my mother is, is home, even if I didn’t grow up there. She has the knack of taking two pieces of fabric, pinning them to a wall and making a blank space into something warm and comfortable. We both have short tempers, and we sometimes don’t communicate well, but neither do we tend to hold grudges, and we eventually snap back into our own resting state of shared references and long memories, and similar, but not identical tastes and opinions. She shaped my perception of the world, of course, as do all parents, but she gave me the freedom to mold the window I look through to my own liking.

With my stepfather, it’s different. We don’t have that blood bond. We don’t have that instant connection. We had to forge our relationship in fire and ice, and it didn’t come easily. He wasn’t accustomed to children who fight back, who fight at ALL, and I didn’t trust him to stay. Our resting state is at a different vibration than that of my relationship with my mother. With Ira, it’s witty banter and affectionate teasing, and an evolution of language. He challenges me. I like to be challenged. It’s good.

They say that women marry their fathers. On the surface, my sweet geeky husband who looks like Steven Spielberg right now because his beard is trimmed short, and he has color on his cheeks, and has been wearing a baseball cap all week, is nothing like my stepfather. But then there are ways in which they are eerily alike: neither can complete a task without getting lost in minutia. My mother and I draw the world in broad strokes full of color and light, the men in our lives use finely-honed pencils and are detail oriented, not at all impressionistic. Both are inclined to curl up in corners with books or blankets rather than be outwardly social, but are delightful companions when in the mood.

I am writing from bed. My own bed. My normal weekend morning resting state: one husband, curled up with his face turned away from the light seeping in from the gaps between the blinds, two dogs, exhausted from their early morning welcoming of their people, many pillows, one laptop, total contentment.

I am rested.
I am home.
I have found my resting state.
For now.


Here’s how I spent my day:

Up at four – couldn’t sleep. Tried to sleep. Didn’t work.
Gave up on sleep at five. Packed. Showered. Woke Fuzzy. Had coffee and a bagel with mom and Ira.

Arrived at La Paz airport @ 12:30 for 2:30 flight.
We were in line behind a blonde woman with many bottles of tequila (and not even the good stuff) in her suitcase which was overweight. She was refusing to pay the $2 per kilo (it would have been about $10) overage. Instead, she held up the line by removing books and such from that bag (and adding them to her carry on) which required the officials to keep weighing the pile of removed stuff until it equaled the overage.

Then waited while Mexican TSAs searched every bag. We were polite, therefore our bags were not searched terribly deeply.

Went to waiting area. Sat for about an hour. Twenty minutes before flight was called, found out we had two hour delay. Checked with gate agent, who was a) very handsome in that Old World Mexican kind of way, and charming, and called me My Lady, and b) very patient. Informed that we’d likely have more than enough time to clear immigration, clear customs, and go back through security at LAX.

Waited more.

Got to LAX @ 5:30 PM local time. Cleared immigration. Cleared customs without bag search. (Answered “no” to “do you have any food or alcohol. Decided tiny wheel of brie, tiny bottle of Damiana, gummi worms and Mexican oreos do not count as food. Or alcohol. Never mind that Damiana is widely used as an aphrodisiac and is derived from an herb that is one of the ingredients in viagra.)

Walked bags from terminal 5 (international arrivals) to terminal 4 (American Airlines – domestic). Handed bags to very tall TSA. Walked through security. TSA there liked our kite.

Discovered, en route through security, that plane from LAX to DFW was also delayed. Relieved.

Used restroom. Had Starbucks. Waited for plane.

Waited for plane some more.

Finally boarded 7:35 pm flight to DFW at 8:15.

Scheduled landing time: 12:35 AM. Actual landing time: 12:55 AM. Not bad, really.

Waited for luggage.
Waited for bus to car.
Drove home.
Stopped for food and gas.

Greeted dogs.


I think I’m ready to crash now.

Miss mom.
But glad to be home with cute furry animals.

Out of the World

Yesterday, our last full day in Mexico, I slept til eight, and it felt like luxury after a week of being up at five. Breakfast was leisurely: yogurt, a bagel, a banana, chai, cranberry juice. I sat in the warm sun and let the waves carry me into sleep for another couple of hours.

In the afternoon, my stepfather took us on a tour of the place where he works, CIBNOR, the Center for Biological Investigation in Northwest (Southern) California. We forget sometimes that Baja is still California, it’s just not part of the USA.

We spent the late afternoon shopping in downtown La Paz, popping into Dorian’s, and old-style free-standing department store, where my mother bought $1200 (MXP) of on-sale Christmas ornaments for $340. In American money, that’s about $120 (USD) of stuff for about $30, but the conversion isn’t exact. Street vendors offer a 10 pesos to the dollar exchange, while the actual rate has been closer to eleven while we’ve been here. Easier to just think in pesos and not convert.

I stopped in the Artisania to get a gift for a friend who lives near Toronto, a gift from the sea and sand, and the heart as well, and also picked up some hand painted postcards.

In a t-shirt shop, La Luna de la Paz, I found gifts for my nephews and nieces in the midwest, and for our dog-sitter, who has been hand-feeding Zorro all week: 5 really pretty, really good quality t’s for $420 MXP.

We went around the corner to my parents’ favorite espresso shop, Caffe Gourmet (which is pronounced with a hard ‘t’ at the end, here), and had mochas and pastries around three. They do beautiful nochebuenos (poinsettias) in the foam, but only for special clients. Everywhere we went people my mother knew from her real estate work, or writing for the Gringo Gazette, or that Ira knew from CIB, stopped us and wished us Buena Fiesta (happy holidays) or “Feliz Nuevo Ano” (I can’t do a tilde – sorry), and were sad to hear we were leaving La Paz so soon. My mother’s neighbor came over and said, “We love your mother, ” and her friend Maria took me aside and whispered, “Your mother misses you. You must visit more.”

After coffee, we walked through an alley to the Malecon – an esplanade, of sorts, along the water front. The beach side is lined with wrought iron benches, and sculptures that represent the city: a mermaid swimming behind a dolphin, a breaching humpback whale, an old man in his newspaper boat, a conch shell, all in weathered bronze, but looking beautiful. The shore side is rows of shops and hotels. We ducked into one small shop that looks like nothing but more t-shirts from outside, but inside is a treasure trove of reasonably priced, good quality Dia de los Muertos stuff. In there, the fussy owner sold me the gifts I bought for Rana and Jeremy, and a box for me, didn’t like the total price when he rang it up, discounted ten or twenty pesos, and gave Fuzzy a free map, from the window, when they were out of maps for sale.

We stopped at Hotel Los Arcos to use the bathroom, as the one in the car park was so bad even my mother wouldn’t use it (though the toothless guy at the booth did offer a roll of toilet paper), and the one in Dorian’s had no paper left AND a long line. The hotel bathroom is always clean and well stocked.

They took us to the Mall, and we sat in the food court, and watched people, including this little girl zooming around on her sneaker-skates, executing gorgeous spins and spirals, with her proud papa watching. We had fun interpreting the Mexican names of popular movies.

Then we went back to town for dinner with Helen and Robert at the closest thing La Paz has to a five-star restaurant. It’s called Tres Virgines, and the food was exquisite. I had roasted poblano creme soup, and followed that with the best sea bass I’ve ever had served over mashed potatoes flavored with mint and garlic. Delicious.

A young woman named Myrna plays the guitar and sings, and we asked for her – she strolls from restaurant to restaurant, and my parents are fond of her music. She’s so warm and engaging, a natural singer, and very good, and she played and sang “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” “Sentimental Reasons,” a traditional Mexican folksong I don’t remember the name of, and also “La Paloma” which is beautiful, but actually Cuban. She said we were all beautiful people, and said it was so good to see happy people surrounded by family. “Family,” she said in rapid Spanish, “is the most important because it keeps you alive in your heart.” She came back a few minutes later, and asked if we’d liked to buy her CD. My parents already had it, but gifted us with a copy, and then Helen and Robert bought one as well. I can’t wait to play it.

Midway through dinner, our timeless vacation from media and television, and general noise came to an abrupt halt when Helen mentioned that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated, which caused my parents, Fuzzy and me to emit a collective gasp of shock and sorrow. Living here, following rhythms of moon and tide, sun and wind, you feel so safe and isolated that you forget all the horrible things happening in the rest of the world, and to be confronted with reality in such a fashion was jarring.

Fuzzy and I came home to bed – we leave today and needed to sleep so we could get up and pack – but my parents rushed to watch CNN.

We clicked the light off at 10:30, and I fell into sleep almost instantly. This morning, waves and wind roused me around four but I lingered in bed for another half an hour. Now, I am ready to face the day. It’s 5:35 AM local time. At this time tomorrow I’ll be in my own home, in my own bed. But for now, for a few hours longer, I am out of the world.

And it is good.

Enchanted Mangrove Forest

I woke this morning at dawn, with my head spinning and my lips feeling parched, but I couldn’t sleep, so I got out of bed, showered, and joined my mother for coffee.

I went back to bed with Fuzzy around eleven and slept til one, then had lunch with my parents: a delightful salad of greens, tomatillo, red bell pepper, celery, onion, tuna, and tortellini with an olive oil and herb dressing. Tasty, fresh, and almost healthy.

Afterwards, Fuzzy and I went back to the casita where I tried to nap, but couldn’t school my mind to sleep, so I dragged him out to the beach.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Forward,” I said.

“And then what?”

“Turn right.”

And so we did, meandering down the beach toward the mangrove, watching shore birds play in the froth, and looking for shells. (We actually had a bag with us, so didn’t find any worth taking.)

About an eighth of a mile into the mangrove, there is a stream that flows from the desert to the sea, creating a miniature delta, and also creating a sandbar, upon which sits a single lone tree, much like a lone cypress. We waded – I waded – he jumped – across the stream, and found ourselves in a magical forest with singing birds, and the soft whisper of the waves, with the stream merrily flowing, and shells strewn around.

I watched two crabs dance around a third, and saw sand worms spit water at my toes. I wanted to go back for the camera, to capture this magical section of beach on film, but Fuzzy didn’t want to go back alone, and the tide was rising. Had we both gone back to the house, a return trip would have been impossible. Indeed, this is the first time in the week I’ve been here that this sandbar has not been submerged.

And so we captured it with our minds and hearts instead: watched gulls racing along the coast, heard the cries of frigate birds, saw a pelican dive for fish. At one point, seeing one, I said, “Duck.” Just as Fuzzy turned to look at it, the orange-headed creature looked at me, then ducked beneath the waves, coming up just a few inches from us, in shallow water. We stayed there, still and quiet, for several minutes, then turned back for home.

This has not been a warm December in La Paz. Indeed, it’s been abnormally cold, with temperatures in the low seventies, and high winds. The locals, Mexicans and American and Canadian ex-pats alike, are bundled in sweaters and long pants and SOCKS, while I’ve been scampering around in capris and tevas. Tomorrow is our last night here, and then on Friday night/Saturday morning, we’ll be home with our dogs and our soft bed (Mexican mattresses are distressingly rigid), and as much as I love living on the beach, I’m ready for winter and cozy evenings piled with quilts and blankets, and noise.


But I’m taking a piece of La Paz back home with me: the brilliant moonrise we saw on Christmas Eve, breathtakingly beautiful; the still picture of the moonlight beaming down, cutting a swathe of warm light across the midnight sea, the sounds of gulls and pelicans and owls, the joyous spiralling of the local hawks, and the sunset I’m watching as I write this, facing out to the bay, with the lights of La Paz winking into view across the water.

And of course, I will take home my afternoon in the enchanted mangrove forest.


Too much rompope and cidre and not enough water make MissMeliss cranky in the morning. My head is pounding, but I was up at 6 anyway, showered and dressed, and watching the sun rise over the bay with my mother, while we basked in the warmth of the crackling fire, and the glimmer of the lit Christmas tree.

We’re having an at-home day today, puttering, and doing laundry. Eventually, Ira will go into town to return borrowed purse stands (it’s considered bad luck to put your purse on the ground, so many outdoor restaurants have purse stands) that we used for hanging stockings, but the rest of us are off-duty. As soon as the sweaters are in the dryer I’m grabbing a bag and going down to the beach to see if there are any interesting shells. I’m intrigued by cone shells more than anything this year…

I had more to say, but the waves are distracting me and I’m not feeling terribly writey.

Peace, love, and chocolate to all.

Telephonic (Christmas by the Hour)

9:00 AM: Call from Marina, telling us she’s on the way.

10:00 AM: Call from Helen & Robert: they just got up and will be late.

11:00 AM: Call from friends of parents. “We miss you too much. Christmas isn’t the same without you.”

12:00 PM: Call from Helen & Robert: Can’t get trustworthy taxi. Please come fetch.

1:00 PM: Wrong number.

2:00 PM: Phone-free.

3:00 PM: Texted friends to wish them a Merry Christmas.

4:00 PM: Dinner: poached salmon on a bed of spinach leaves, green chili soup, whipped yams.

5:00 PM: Called Fuzzy’s brother to wish them a Merry Christmas. They were en route home from inlaws.

5:30 PM: Called Fuzzy’s dad to wish him a Merry Christmas. He was home alone. His mother was working.

6:30 PM: Called Fuzzy’s sister to wish them a Merry Christmas. Spoke with her and also with nieces Katie and Karri.

7:00 PM: Received call from stepbrother, he and parents chatted on webcam.

7:30 PM: Received call from pet-sitter: Zorro is only eating if she hand-feeds him, Cleo has been torturing him. He’s limping for attention, but otherwise all is well.

8:00 PM: Dessert. Mango torte. OMG good.

10:00 PM: Helen, Robert, and Marina head back to town.

11:00 PM: Tea and crackers.

12:15 AM: Time for bed.

A MultiCultural Christmas

We had an intimate but boisterous Christmas Eve, the latest in a week of small Christmas gatherings.

Saturday, we went to town for tourist stuff, rather than shopping: a trip through the serpenario (reptile museum) where we watched a monitor lizard stalking dinner, a visit to the artisania, which is like a co-op of crafters, everything from sculptures carved from cardon cactus, to earrings made of local stone (I bought a pair), to dresses and such, and then lunch at the Hotel Los Arcos: tortilla soup all around. That evening, my parents’ friends Yvonne (African-American single mother from LA) and her husband Paul (incredibly tall white granola guy from the Pacific Northwest), and Jaya and Murrigan (from India) with their daughters Swastika (yes, you read that right, no, it has nothing to do with Nazis) and Pritivi. Jaya is my age, and delightful, and Murrigan is quietly geeky. Swastika is ten and looks fourteen, speaks three languages (English, Spanish, and the not-Hindu language spoken in their region of India that I don’t remember the name of because I’m horrible), and Pritivi, who is four, speaks Spanish fluently and refuses to speak English, even though her parents want her to.

Yesterday we met friends from New Jersey, Helen and Robert, who have known me since before I was born, for breakfast at a place called Goula (or Gula? – it means “gluttony”) where the food is Mexican with a Middle-Eastern twist. I had green chile chilaquiles, and Helen had pancakes and my mother had something called Joquoco, which was an egg casserole (think fritata) with mint sauce, then toured the shell museum before the beach trip mentioned in my last post, then came home and had drinks with my mother’s dear friend and shopping buddy Maria, who is elegant and stylish, and has this rich, cultured Mexican accent that makes you feel compelled to hang on every word.

Today, I was up at five, but thhen went back to bed after blogging, only to be awakened again around eight with the call “Coffee’s ready!” from my mother. We lounged around, then she and Ira went shopping, and I spent a couple hours on the beach here, wandering through the mangrove a bit, but turning back when a hawk made it very clear I was too close to her kill, and exiting a bit faster when I noticed a rattlesnake basking in the noon-time sun. I wandered the OTHER way on the beach, and let the waves flirt with my toes, played an improvised game of tag with a blue heron and some sand pipers (the heron won) and then sat in the sunshine to watch ducks floating on the surf. After a late lunch I crashed hard for three hours, and woke to hear laughter. Marina, who is Italian but learned English while on her foreign exchange year in the Caribbean and is on her post-doc here in Mexico (she’s a veterinarian, but is studying conservation, and wildlife rescue), is our guest this evening and tomorrow, because my mother cannot allow anyone to be alone at Christmas.

She brought her guitar and we sang carols in the living room, then I found an NPR feed from Alabama, of all places, that was broadcasting an hour of Christmas essays from old editions of All Things Considered, which we listened to while Marina and I decorated the stockings with glitter paint, for tomorrow morning (we only had silver, copper, gold, and turquoise, but it worked out well), and then the replay of Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, which became our dinner music, while we ate my mother’s homemade broccoli beef, and then snacked on coffee (decaf) and cookies.

I love that the circle of friends we have comes from so many places, and yet all in it share a common respect for the world, and for each other. I love that we can sit in a beach front home in rural Mexico and listen to one of the most famous Christmas services in the English speaking world over the Internet, with better clarity (probably) than those actually in the chapel, and I love that amidst all the hustle and bustle of Christmas we all took a few moments tonight to stand on the deck, and watch the moon rise above the water, it’s burnt-orange glow wishing all of us a holiday full of warmth, light, and love.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or some other Decemberish holiday, or none at all, I wish you the same: warmth, light, love…and peace.

Bathing Beauties?

Bathing Beauties
Click to embiggen

We slept late yesterday, not leaving bed til after seven. “Late,” of course, has become a relative term, but since I’ve been up around five every morning since arriving, I think you’ll see why seven seemed luxurious.

My mother and I had coffee while watching the tide recede. With the full moon came the high tides. Because of the shape of Ensenada de La Paz, which is really, technically, a lagoon and not an ensenada (cove / bay), the tide sweeps diagonally toward El Comitan, and tide pools were left at the end of the road between my mother’s house and her neighbor. Calle 5 ends at the beach, so when I say “at the end of the road” I really mean “just outside their fences.” It has been higher, but rarely. My parents fence does not mark the end of their property, however, as they have a concession which means they own the beach itself. Down to the water.

In any case, we dressed, and drove to town, and then down the Malecon to pick up friends at one of the older, traditional Mexican waterfront hotels, Los Arcos. From there, we went to a “marina village” called Costa Baja, an upscale marina and resort, with restaurants, shops, and a shell museum. We ate at a place that combines Mexican food and Middle-Eastern flavors, and everything was delicious. My parents go there often and the owner knows them, and came out to say hello.

We browsed through the shell museum, falling in love with cone shells, one of which, Conus Litterati, looks very much like blurry text wrapped around a nautilus. It was beautiful. Half the museum is a collection of model ships – Fuzzy spent almost all his time there.

Next, we went to Balandra, which is about half an hour outside of La Paz, past Pichilingue where the ferries and big boats dock (the La Paz harbor is shallow, and cannot support full-sized cruise ships or the ferries to the mainland). Balandra is my favorite beach here. It’s a mixture of white sand and the normal coarser stuff, and it’s all sand bars. We got there at low tide – mud low. Low enough to walk across the sand bars to the opposite shore, though we weren’t dressed for the beach as it was “cold” here. (Gray and 71. My parents were in scarves and sweaters.)

As we arrived, a group of Mexican men started posing for my mother, Helen and me, mooning us good-naturedly, and making a fuss. They saw Fuzzy’s camera, and begged him for a picture, then pulled their long swim trunks up, tucking the legs under to make them look like speedos. Laughing and cat-calling, they stood reasonably still, and we snapped their image. They left, and my first response was, “I am SO blogging this.”

And now I have.

Symphony for Sea and Sky

Yesterday morning I woke up around five, jarred from the warm cocoon of sleep by Fuzzy’s digital-dental-drill alarm tone, and by the thought that bed seemed too hot, constricting, and uncomfortable, even though I wasn’t fully awake.

The morning had not even begun to blossom; sunrise was over an hour away, but in the false dawn light I crept across the deck from our cozy casita to the wicker sofa near the fire pit, draped on of the big cotton beach towel/throws around my shoulders, and let the wind seduce me.

The wind here is nothing like the wind in Texas. Partly because the gulf is about 100 feet from the back door, partly because of the latitude, the wind here is a wild sentient thing, and I could hear it’s voice even as I felt it whispering bold, naughty things across my skin.

I watched the sky lighten, heard the birds rouse themselves from feathered dreams, and suddenly even the deck was too confining. I wanted to be one of the wild creatures. I stood on the top of the cement wall that marks the edge of my parents’ property, and the wind ran invisible fingers through my hair, caressed my hot face with unseen hands. Around me it roared, with me it was gentle.

I slipped back into the casita, and drew a pair of ancient, fraying leggings on under my sleep shirt, twisted a bra on without taking anything off, and tossed a sweatshirt over it all. I stepped into my blue and purple teva sandals, and walked out the gate, and down the path (technically 5th street) to greet the churning, choppy sea.

Gulls flew overhead, and pelicans, so focussed on the broken waves that I could see their eyes dilating and refracting as they honed their focus on whatever fish was their prey at the moment. A stray duck bobbed on the surface of the water. I turned the camera skyward, to snap pictures of the waves and the pelicans, but the bird that strayed into my frame was no gull, no pelican, not even one of the frigate birds, but a gorgeous creature with a hunter’s profile and chocolate brown plumage. I tried to snap, but my digital’s shutter speed was no match for the swooping, diving bird that flew within inches of my hair, my fingers, me.

Back to the house, and the porch, I went, wanting to sit and watch. By now, false dawn had been replaced by the real thing, and the sky was evolving through yellow tones into warm pinks. My mother was up, brewing coffee, and she called me to join her, and I did, telling her of my morning adventure.

“You saw an osprey,” she said dismissing my excitement. But I’d met the osprey’s the night before on our twilight walk, when we’d had some nice mother-daughter time, and she’d introduced me to the blue heron who has a personal vendetta against Abigail (my parent’s neurotic, tiny, chihuahua).

I showed her the picture, and she said, “Wow…” and then, as one, we looked toward the see, and saw my hawk making a run for the sea, circling back, over the house, and diving into a glide so low across the pool that her feet could have skimmed the surface.

For an hour, we watched this bird, flying for no reason other than the primal pleasure of being caught between the sea and sky, borne aloft by strong wind, and held there by nature’s magic.

Hours later, after dusk, I would see the hawk one more time, in silhouette against the full moon.