Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Que Vaya Bien

Please forgive my poetry, I know it's gauche to rhyme,
But I'm knee-deep in suitcases and running out of time.

I thought a poem'd be a nice tribute to end my blog
But then I got distracted and wrote a post for my dog.

So now this poem's not exactly what I had in mind,
I tried to hit the highlights and thought it'd be nice to find

Old posts to link to each stanza but, seriously? Uh, no.
So, now, without further ado, my Ode to Mexico:

I arrived in Mexico with my father by my side
My life back home was all packed up and I'd said my goodbyes.

I'd left Chicago mid-blizzard and marveled at the heat
It was even be warm enough to sleep without a sheet.

My eyes grew ever wider as I took in my new town,
I got out of the car and my whole world flipped upside-down.

Thirteen in-laws surrounded me with fourteen kids in tow,
But sadly not the mother-in-law who I barely got to know.

My breath came quick as my new family embraced me to their heart,
And they welcomed this pasty gringa without a second thought.

Despite the culture shock I tried my best to get along
And joined my sisters in the kitchen, pretending I belonged.

The water didn't take too long to get accustomed to,
You drink from bottles otherwise your tummy says "oh poo".

I quickly learned to bathe without a shower or tub,
I woke up to my first earthquake that made the locals shrug.

Ibis got food poisoning and we rushed to the ER,
I got stung by a jellyfish that left a three-inch scar.

A local dog that Ibis had adopted as his own
Was poisoned by a neighbor and we knew it was time to go.

We moved to Zihuatanejo, a fishing village on the coast
And jumped for joy at the running water (the thing I'd missed the most).

Little things about this place were different from back home
And each day brought surprises that we never could have known.

The helicopters overhead, machine guns in the street,
Their presence meant to reassure but making my heart beat.

The paper guys shouting 'bout the latest beheadings,
Music drifting through the air from the neighbors' weddings.

The lions that they drag through town to advertise the circus,
Megaphones on top of cars to announce things sure to shock us.

Some things seemed more natural than anything back home
And the relaxed nature soon seemed like the only thing I'd known.

Sure, I had my moments when I'd wish things weren't so slow,
But then I'd watch the sunrise and be glad I had nowhere to go.

In Mexico it's assumed that you'll be an hour or two late,
But no one gets upset—you kiss hello and grab a plate.

A funny thing is that most Mexicans are really short,
And for the first time in my life I'm considered average, not a dwarf.

I discovered that my DC driving skills prepared me well,
I can be speedracer and no one yells to go to hell.

On weekends the hotels put on cool fireworks displays
That we watch from our living room while wearing our pjs.

And then there's Owen—how could I not mention our little pup,
Who came into our lives the day we lost the King of Pop.

He filled a void that I was sure might never be replaced
And brought a joy into our lives that'll never be erased.

Despite this newfound happiness I still felt at a loss
And longed to live where I could rediscover my purpose.

I made a choice that's proved to be the hardest in my life—
I'm leaving Mexico without him whom makes me a wife.

Over the past month I've really tried to appreciate this town
And soak in all the things I'll miss when I am not around:

The trickling sound the cobblestones make when you drive atop the bricks,
Being surprised when I look outside and see a giant ship.

The fruit, the bread, the cheese, the fish,
The fish. Did I mention the fish?

The molé enchiladadas that my husband makes so well,
The frozen-fruit paletas you have to inhale before they melt.

Sunday nights in the plaza when we run into our friends,
That quiet calm in the evening when the music finally ends.

The early mornings as the sun's rays stretch across the sky,
The lazy days spent lounging in a hammock with my guy.

For he's the thing I'll miss the most when I say adios,
I have no words… right now this is the way our story goes.

Adios... Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Never Say Goodbye 'til It's Closing Time

Yes, I have a medley of farewell songs running through my head. I'd also forgotten how exhausting it is to say goodbye to everyone, and I hardly even know anyone here. In Chicago I had a full week of goodbye parties and I still didn't get to see a couple people. So far there aren't any welcome back parties planned, but I'm sure something can be arranged...

Anyway, saying goodbye sucks. I'm sure most of you have moved at some point in your life and I hate that niggling feeling that I'm forgetting something or someone. We saw Ibis' entire family yesterday -- that was bittersweet, to say the least, although seeing my baby niece with a mohawk more than made up for that -- and there's only one person left that I'd still like to track down before I go.

Today I ship my computer and let's not even talk about how freaked out I am about that. The DHL store here doesn't sell boxes large enough for my iMac, so Ibis fashioned a box out of cardboard and foam that will hopefully keep my baby intact. I am planning to insure it, and really, beyond that there's nothing I can do so I'll just try not to think about it.

I have a final post scheduled for tomorrow, but in the meantime, I have an essay up at a new blog, An Army of Ermas. I'm one of nearly two dozen contributors and so far we seem to have quite a variety of stories.

Friday, February 19, 2010


That means I'm leaving in FOUR DAYS. FOUR. Ninety-six hours. (You don't want to know how many fingers and calculators were used to figure that out.) I've knocked a couple more things of my list of things to do once more before I leave. Among them:

I saw circus animals.

Watched ANOTHER piece fall off the car.

Ate the fabulous, yet slightly dangerous due to their proximity to the police station, tacos.

Ate a giant Hershey's kiss (okay, maybe that wasn't on the list but HELLO!).

Admired yet another gorgeous sunrise.

And played with my puppy (okay, that's definitely not on the list, but look at that face! Or those eyes since he's really fricking close to the camera! [yes, he licked the camera]).

Shockingly, I accomplished A LOT in the past couple days and my to-do list is shrinking much faster than I thought it would. This means that I'm dreading the flight even more because SOMETHING will go wrong and if it's not in the planning, it will be the actual trip. Maybe I should pack a bikini for Owen in case he ends up in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Believe This is What They Refer to As "Coming Full Circle"

When I was in Chicago preparing to move to Mexico, I had a small stroke of luck: my employer switched health insurance. This may not seem like a big deal, but as a woman facing a move to a country with uncertain medical standards, the opportunity to squeeze in all my doctors appointments even though it'd been less than a year since I'd last seen these doctors was HUGE.

I discovered an eye infection and a cavity, both easily fixed. On my last day of work I returned to the office after a final lunch with the girls and someone called out that my doctor had called while I was out. I knew she was planning to call with my test results (she knew I was moving) so I hurried to my desk to return her call.

My stomach dropped with her first words:

"I had a bad feeling when you told me you were leaving the country that there would be a problem."

Just what a girl likes to hear before moving to a country with uncertain medical standards. I had a going-away party planned for that night (my fourth that week) but I asked if there was any way she could see me since my insurance ended THAT DAY.

She said no, then kindly assured me that the tests I needed were very common and I shouldn't have a problem finding a doctor to perform them. She spelled out everything I needed & what the exact procedures were, then offered to stay in contact via email (which she did for a couple months).

And with that, I moved to Mexico.

I found a doctor within a week and thus began what ended up being one of my closest relationships in Zihua. In the three years I've been here I think I've seen this doctor at LEAST twenty or thirty times. Probably more. (and that's just off the top of my head.) I can't tell you how many times we've be thankful that we ARE in Mexico because even though I don't have insurance, the average visit costs 300-500 pesos, roughly $25-40 US. Sure, US co-pays are less, but I'm not paying a monthly deductible.

Anyway, over the past three years I've had countless exams, one biopsy, two minor procedures and one major procedure. Each time I go back for a follow-up, she's found something new. To say this has been frustrating would be an understatement, but at least now I speak Spanish well enough to go on my own. Ibis had act as my translator on those first few visits and he wasn't always as helpful as I'd have liked. Not to mention the doctor viewed me as a delicate American. Once I ditched him, my relationship with the doctor grew.

I wasn't due to see her again until the end of March, but when I decided to return to Michigan I scheduled an appointment at the beginning of February. On Monday Ibis and I went to get my results (they don't mail or call here) and she greeted us with a smile.

"You're fine."

"Everything is okay?"

"Yes. You're healthy."

It didn't seem real. After three years, visiting her on average every other month and CONSTANTLY getting more bad news, I didn't quite believe her. Ibis even asked her again to make sure.

I'll have to find a new doctor and schedule an appointment in another six months, but that's so much better than "fill out this prescription and come see me again in two weeks."

I keep feeling like she's going to call and tell me there was a mistake -- THAT would be fitting for the way things seem to go for me -- but for now I'm trying to focus on the fact that I'm healthy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another "Last" and a Beginning

Remember my post last week where I was all jazzed to start the edits on After the Fall? Yeah, I haven't started those yet. I did, however, write a couple pages for my NEW, yet-to-be-properly-titled-or-talked-about-in-public, YA wip.

This is the first time I've been so aware of a character's voice right from the beginning, and I hope that means I won't have to spend a draft fixing voice issues (like I am now with ATF). I find it fairly easy to talk like a teenager, but I don't want THIS character to sound like the teenager in my other book, so I'm making the effort now.

Then I swear I'll get going on my edits.

In other news, Friday night Ibis and I went to dinner with my dad at our favorite restaurant, Il Mare. It's on a rocky outcrop between Playa Madera and Playa La Ropa and overlooks Zihuatanejo Bay. It's usually hit or miss whether or not we'll get a nice sunset, and we TOTALLY lucked out.

We went a little crazy taking pictures -- my dad's eyeballs were permanently locked in the back of his skull -- but how often do you get a backdrop like this? We joked that the people at the table next to us probably thought we were nuts, but then they started taking pictures too.

Now I can cross off "eat at Il Mare" AND "take fabulous sunset pictures with my sweetie."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Another Day at the Beach

I leave in eleven days so I'm trying to do a lot of things "one last time." Among them: take a trip to Las Gatas, the beach directly across the bay from our home. As far as the tourists are concerned, you can only get there by boat, but you can actually hike along a narrow rocky trail. Since we went with my dad and another couple (who'd never been) we opted for the boat.

Owen's first boat ride!

Wouldn't you know it, there was a cruise ship! Talk about up close and personal!

Las Gatas is known for it's excellent snorkeling, courtesy of the rocky break that extends across the mouth of the inlet. (At least I think it's called an inlet...) The beach can feel a little crowded if all those tables are full, but it takes a LOT of people to fill those up.

We live just beyond the cruise ship and it was fun to see it from the opposite side of the bay. We kept waiting for it to move a little bit more so we could point out our place to our friends, but the cruise ship was very uncooperative.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Writing Life

I haven't talked much about fiction writing this year because I hadn't written any fiction this year. Between caring for my grandmother for most of December, then getting back into my routine back here, then writing freelance articles for MONEY (I already have thirty published articles!) then, uhh... deciding to move to Michigan, my creative juices have sort of been on hold.

I sent the second draft out to a handful of beta readers in December and I've read their comments as they've trickled in but had yet to do anything with them. I came up with an AWESOME young adult idea in December that I'm still really really excited about, but I haven't been able to come up with a storyline that really clicks for me, so it's just sitting there. I've done hours of research, just not plotting.

I've been thinking about my new idea and my current wip but just haven't had the urge to get to them. Well last week my friend Lurker Monkey posted a prompt for our monthly flash fiction group and I wrote half the story before I could even reply to the blog post.

Read my story here.

Then Monday I decided enough was enough and I began compiling my beta readers' notes into one document. Let's just say there are a looooooot of comments in that first chapter. Wow. By Tuesday night at 8:30 (just in time for the Lost premiere -- we're a week behind the US schedule) I had all my notes plugged in and I'm officially ready to begin draft #3.

I leave for Michigan in two weeks and I decided that if I don't start working on my wip before I go it'll be too easy to keep putting it off -- even though I LOVE my story. It means too much to me not to keep moving forward. And this will give me something to do on the plane other than worry about Owen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

That is One Sick Puppy

Let me give you a tip:

If your dog is sick and you're trying to find out ways to help him, don't google "sick puppy." Trust me on this.

Early Thursday morning we woke up to the sound of our adorable cuddly puppy puking his guts out. I managed about three hours sleep between rounds and we brought him to the vet as soon as they opened. He determined that Owen has a bacterial infection and that it's common in dogs here when we have heavy rains. All the crud rushing down the hill collects at the bottom -- where we are -- and finds its way into dogs' bellies.

The vet gave us some pills for Owen and sent us on our way. He was lethargic and didn't eat, but he didn't seem too bad. Friday we took him to the beach, and again, he was tired, but still his normal puppy self. Well, late Friday he started getting sick again and wouldn't stop throwing up. We were getting progressively worried and didn't know what to do (enter more googling), so back we went Saturday morning. The vet gave him a shot, said no food or water for 24 hours, and said to bring him back that evening.

During the second visit the vet weighed Owen and he'd lost half a kilo -- one whole pound -- since Thursday! He started at 6.6 kilos and was down to almost 6. That's a lot when you're so itty bitty! The vet told us to come back in the morning and approved Owen to eat ice cubes. Woohoo!

Then we had a minor incident while driving back from the vet. Ibis was teaching an English class so I was alone with Owen, who insisted on riding in my lap. Fortunately we've got a 5-10 second window between when he starts gagging and actually gets sick, so I was able to pull the car as far to the left curb as possible, hit the hazards, and fling open the driver's side door. I held Owen over the sidewalk with one hand while cars squeezed by on the right. I think people must have been able to see what was going on because even though traffic was heavy, no one honked at me.

Once I got him home he was still sick -- and very weak -- but eventually seemed a little better. He slept all night and drank a bit of water before his appointment, and the vet didn't give him any more shots. In addition to allowing him water, he also gave us this Nutri-Gel stuff that's made for animals and is loaded with nutrients. I've been calling it Nutri-goo because Ibis used to eat this energy goo when he ran marathons and that's a lot more fun to say.

As of mid-day Sunday Owen's been sleeping a lot, but he seems more and more like his normal self. He's run up to the roof on his own and even went to the door when Ibis left -- something he wasn't doing for a couple days. Even the water guy was weirded out when Owen didn't greet him Saturday night, so he asked to come in and pet him. Everybody loves Owen.

I'd like to thank all my friends who held my hand over the weekend and gave me endless support, advice, and encouragement. This is the first animal I've been solely responsible for and it helps to hear what others have been through (and some of them are still going through).

UPDATE: As of Monday morning he's finally acting like his old self. He's running around, jumping on the furniture, and even barked!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Who Says Rain Dances Don't Work?

*checks calendar*

Yep, it's February.

*checks sky*

Yep, it's raining.

This could be why:

I took this around 5pm on Thursday and that SAME cloud has been hovering over Mexico since late Tuesday night. It seems all my complaining about the hot, blistering sun worked and it's gone into hibernation. I feel a little bad for the tourists but super excited about the amount of writing I'm getting done. I haven't actually worked on a novel yet this year, but I am cruising through my non-fiction articles -- and those actually pay!

Rainy season ended MONTHS ago but it seems someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. The previous two winters that I've lived here it didn't rain a single time from early December until mid-May. Since I returned from Detroit the first week of January it's rained more days than it hasn't, and the past two days have been CONSTANT. Unending.

Just ask my dad, who arrived here Monday afternoon and has yet to go to the beach. At this rate he'll finish all his reading material by next week.

And lest any of you lash me with a wet noodle, I'm NOT COMPLAINING. I love this. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Violence

And this one is a little unsettling.

I've mentioned here before that our favorite beach is Barra de Potosi -- a stretch of beach at the southernmost end of a 9K beach just south of Zihua. The airport is at the north end and you can see Barra from the air when you land. The water is cleaner and bluer than in Zihua, there are less people, you can actually see the fish in the water (and watch the birds fishing for them), and there's a lagoon around the bend that you can explore by canoe.

We go there maybe once a month and always tell people to make sure and include a daytrip there in their plans. Every friend and family member who's visited here has been there -- that's where we saw three whales last year with my mom, dad, and sister.

Well, last week someone (or multiple someones) shot as passing vehicles. It didn't make the same headlines as the shooting in Ixtapa, but once again, tourists were targeted. I don't know many details or I'd include the links here.

A narrow two-lane road winds through the fields from the main highway to the beach, and once you're on it there aren't many options for getting off, aside from stopping at someone's house. Yet there are lots of places for people to hide. We never go there at night because the restaurants all close around 6pm so I can't say what it's like there after dark.

Ibis brought some tourists there on Friday and stopped off at the new ecological park on the way. He met a local ex-pat on the tour and when he returned to the parking lot, discovered the man's van had been broken into. Inside the parking lot. The logical assumption is this is all the work of the same people (the shooting near Barra, not the Ixtapa shooting -- they are almost an hour apart) but my bigger concern is: what if they aren't? I always tell people that the economy here sucks and people are getting desperate, but I never imagined people being shot at in broad daylight.

It's really too bad. I'd have loved to gone there once more before I leave.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Twelve Days Short of Three Years

You might want to grab a fresh cup of coffee for this one.

* waits *

Ibis and I have come to the difficult decision that it's best if I move back to Michigan. If you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't think I need to explain why, but the biggest reasons are the increasing violence and the whole not-having-money thing.

Owen and I will be flying into Chicago on February 23rd, then I'll drive my dad's van to my parents' house in Michigan, where I will become a cliché. Yes, I'm moving into their basement.

I'd rather not get into all the details on the internet, but I'm sure you have a couple obvious questions.

My Marriage
No, we are not getting divorced. We've talked about sending me back to the US to work for well over a year now and I've always resisted (again, for a lot of reasons I'd rather not get into).

A Job
No, I don't have a job yet, but I'm working on it. I've applied to one place (I know…) and I have a list of "industry" folks that I plan to contact. Michigan's economy is among the worst in the US, but that's where my family is.

The good thing is I no longer have the limitations I had by trying to work in Mexico or Canada. As an immigrant you are required work within your field of study -- for me, graphic design -- and there just aren't that many design positions in a struggling economy. Now if I want to wait tables or work at a bookstore (or both), I can.

I've also started writing for Demand Studios -- an online company that supplies articles for eHow, Livestrong, and several other website. I've already had two articles approved, and yes, I'm kicking myself for not doing this two years ago.

Ibis & The US
No, my being in the US will not change anything about Ibis getting into the country. He is facing a ten-year ban for unlawful presence and that ban will not be lifted. Period. The answer we received in September was regarding an extreme-hardship waiver that we filed on my behalf. Appealing that decision or reapplying will only waste more years and more money. He can reapply in seven years. Period.

Travel to Zihua
Yes, I still think it's safe to visit Zihuatanejo. In fact, my dad arrives today for two months and my brother will be here at the beginning of March.

True, the violence helped persuade me to leave, but the dangers I face are because I'm a local. (I'm going to generalize here, so bear with me.) When some locals see me -- a white American who doesn't work -- they assume I have money, or if I don't have money, my family does. After all, we're getting by somehow, right? That puts me in danger, especially when all around us people are struggling to survive. Burglaries and muggings have increased drastically since we moved here three years ago, and you can only avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time for so long.

If you've been here you know that the local police and government takes tourism very seriously and it's very rare for anything bad to happen IF YOU STICK TO THE TOURISTY areas. The Canadians who were shot in mid-January were on a deserted bike path. Another tourist was raped a couple days after that, but again, she was on a fairly isolated beach. (I don't know the details of that attack or I would tell you more.)

Yes, bad things happen, but that's not limited to Zihuatanejo or Mexico. I've decided I've had enough of this place, but that doesn't mean I'll never return to visit.

Okay, now everyone take a deep breath.

* inhales *

* waits for everyone to join in *

* turns blue *

Okay, seriously people. Take a deep breath.

* takes another deep breath but only pretends to hold it and breathes out my nose *

Because I'm leaving Mexico, this blog will no longer make sense. So… I have a new blog:


Go check it out!

* waits *

What do you think? There are still a couple things I'd like to tweak, but for the most part, I'm happy with it. I decided to switch to Wordpress for a couple reasons, number one being I can still keep "melanieavila" as the name.

One question for you fellow Wordpress bloggers: is there a Followers button? I know I can see who's following me, but I like having it displayed on the main page.

A benefit I didn't anticipate is the extra pages Wordpress allows you to set up. As you can see (you looked, right?) I've essentially turned this into my writing/author/whatever website. Some of you may recall I have another website that also has my writing info on it. Well not anymore! I've changed that too:

Melanie Avila

* waits *

This site hasn't changed as much, but I've refreshed a couple things, including the About Me photo. Ibis and I had a mini photo shoot on the roof over the weekend. Didn't he do a great job?

But wait, there's more!

Because designing a five-page Wordpress blog and updating my design site weren't enough, I started yet another blog:

What Am I Doing in Michigan?

* waits with a big smile *

Eh? Eh? What do you think?

I feel bad retiring What Am I Doing in Mexico?, but not bad enough to stay. I'll continue posting here until I leave, then transition to Hoosblog once I get settled in Michigan. Once there, I'll keep this blog online, but I'll probably deactivate comments.

One last favor before I go: Will you please follow my new blogs? I'd really appreciate it. :)

* takes a big sip of coffee *

Friday, January 29, 2010

Two If By Sea

Yesterday Ibis and I spent the afternoon at the beach -- something I really don't do as often as I should, considering where we live -- because I wanted to see the TWO cruise ships in the bay. Two! This has happened before but I was out of town or something, so this was a first for me.

We had planned to go to Playa la Ropa (the biggest beach on Zihuatanejo Bay) but stopped at the hotel where Ibis used to work to see which beach some friends were at. They were settled in front of the hotel, so we decided to stay there. (I swear this gets more interesting...)

About an hour after we sat down, Ibis was running up and down the beach, Owen yipping at his heels, when he stopped to talk to a family of four. Ibis talks to everyone and Owen is absolutely adorable, so I didn't pay much attention to what they were doing until they approached where we were sitting.

"Melanie?" the woman asked, rushing ahead of her family.

"Yes." I stood and took a step forward, smiling as she neared. Like I said, Ibis talks to everyone so it's not uncommon for people I don't know to come up to me and say hello.

"I read your blog!"

This is where I about fell over.

"I'm [xxx]. I wrote to you a couple weeks ago."

Ah yes, [xxx]. She was concerned about the violence here in Zihua and had written to ask if I thought it was still safe for her to come. I wrote back that as long as they used common sense I was sure they wouldn't have any problems, like I do whenever people inquire about the risks.

"Hi!" I said. By now her family, Ibis, and Owen had joined us, so we all shook hands and talked for a good ten minutes.

They'd been in town for three days but because their hotel is SO nice, this was the first day they'd ventured into town. (I do NOT blame them. The hotel is awesome.) They were on their way back when she noticed Owen racing across the beach. She told her husband that she thought it was Owen, to which he -- obviously -- replied that she was crazy. (Yes, I'm paraphrasing here.)

She was sure of it, then she thought she recognized Ibis, and just as her husband and tired children had almost convinced her to keep walking, she heard Ibis call Owen's name. That's when she went up to him and asked "Is that Owen?"

(Ibis told me afterwards he thought they were going to try to buy Owen, but they weren't worried about a mere dog. They wanted the blogger! Ha!)

Ibis confirmed that Owen was Owen, and then she asked "Is your wife Melanie?"

Fortunately Ibis is aware of my blog so knew right away how she would know all this. He pointed out where I was sitting and that's when we met.

The craziest part is that we NEVER go to that beach (Playa Madera). Sure, Ibis runs with Owen on the beach sometimes, and she remembered reading that on my blog, but never there. CRA-ZEE.

Once they left, I turned to one of the people we'd been sitting with. "I feel like a celebrity."

He laughed. "You ARE a celebrity!"

Does this mean I have arrived?


(Here's another shot of the boat, zoomed in so you can see a bit more.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Ibis and I were running errands Tuesday afternoon when we noticed a bit of a traffic jam up ahead. That's not a very common occurrence here in Zihua, so a line of red taillights really stands out. (Especially because half the cars here don't have functioning taillights.)

We approached with caution, half expecting a police truck to zoom through the cars like one did earlier in the afternoon. When that happened I commented to Ibis that "this is what people probably imagine when they think about Mexican traffic." In that particular instance we were at a junction where cars merge from the left AND right into a middle street, and half the people merging want to cross all the traffic to get to the complete opposite side. Add to that a police truck with flashing lights, a loud siren, and a muscular cop with his machine gun ready, and things come to a halt.

But that wasn't what was going on this time.

What originally looked like a slow-moving bus turned out to be a fancy motor home towing a car. From Quebec.

"Wow, Quebec," we both said, marveling at how far these crazy tourists had traveled.

Then we noticed another, similar vehicle in front of it.

"Hey, they're from Quebec, too."

After about the fourth one we confirmed that they must all be traveling together. There were ten HUGe motor homes, all towing cars and some with bicycles strapped to the back, easing their way through Zihua. This unleashed a zillion questions from me, most importantly:

"How do they all stay together when going through towns like this, especially at lights?"

Any ideas?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spontaneous Design

On Friday I was chatting with my friend Adam when he mentioned that he wanted a different image for his new serial blog, Gumshoe Casefiles. He described more or less what he wanted -- a manilla folder with the name in a typewriter font -- but said he couldn't find the right image.

I, of course, got all excited and told him how he could make a coffee-stained folder himself.

He lamented his lack of photoshop skills.

"Good thing you know a couple designers," I said.

Ten minutes later I was spilling coffee on my own manilla folder.

So far so good.

We decided the initial design looked too plain, so I took a photo of my desk, dropped it behind the folder, and added a little tilt for good measure.

He still plans to tweak the colors a bit, but go check out the final product!

Like what you see? Contact me for a custom blog head at melaniehoo@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Canadian Tourists Shot in Ixtapa

Here we go again.

On Wednesday, January 20th, two Canadian tourists were shot during an attempted robbery on the bicycle path on the far end of Ixtapa. The path runs from the north end of Zihuatanejo, through Ixtapa, and winds through a wooded area until it ends at Playa Linda. The attack happened two miles from the end of the path.

Image from Despertar de la Costa

Chislain Lazure, 55, from Quebec, was shot in the abdomen and his partner, a 40-year old woman, was grazed in the ear. They reportedly refused medical attention at the time but were later hospitalized. Wednesday afternoon they went to the Prosecutor's office to report the crime.

This article from a Canadian website gives slightly varying details, and as I'm not entirely sure what has happened since the shooting, I figured I should include that as well.

One thing I haven't found online but did hear through word of mouth is that the gunmen robbed up to nineteen people on that path and had them lie on the ground and hide in the woods when other people approached. Rumors spread faster than actual news around here, so I don't know if this is true, but I've been on that path and I can see how that would happen.

So, what does this mean?

When the violence erupted here last spring I received dozens of emails from nervous Americans and Canadians -- many of whom had been here before -- wanting to know if they should cancel their trips. Based on my stats, a lot of people find my blog while googling "violence in Mexico" and "is it safe to go to Zihuatanejo?" so I want to address that. (Especially for my former roommate who JUST booked a trip here two days ago.)

Mexico is a foreign country. Mexico is struggling economically. Tourists who come here and keep that in mind shouldn't have any problems. My standard response when people ask if it's still safe to walk around downtown Zihua is "if you stumble around drunk in the middle of the night, especially alone, something bad will happen. If you use common sense and stick to well-lit areas where other tourists frequent, you shouldn't have any problems."

I do not mean to imply that the tourists who were shot weren't careful. They probably never imagined someone would shoot at them in the middle of the day. That's the part that surprised me the most when I heard about the attack. Ibis and I walked that path once over the summer -- all five miles through the woods -- and we were more than a little nervous that someone might try to rob us. We weren't carrying anything besides our water bottles and car keys, but a desperate thief doesn't know that. (In fact, Ibis was probably carrying 100 pesos just so we'd have something to give and not make the person angry.) Once you set out on that path you're stuck until you get to the end. Something that all the locals know only too well.

Ibis and I agreed that we wouldn't walk on that path again, but at the time we figured rollerblading or biking would be safer. Now I'm glad I've walked through there once because I won't again.

Now, when I say "use common sense", here's what I mean:

- don't flash a lot of cash
- don't wear expensive or expensive-looking jewelry (I've stopped wearing my diamond ring)
- always always always be aware of your surroundings
- stay with a group
- don't go down dark alleys or streets

And a more recent addition for Zihua:

- don't walk on the path along the ocean between downtown and Playa Madera at night

The ironic thing about this list? These are the exact same precautions I took while living in Chicago. In the US. In the Midwest. Now that I'm living in Mexico I've stepped it up a notch:

- I don't go out by myself after dark -- EVER
- I always make sure my husband knows where I am and when I will be home

I know there are some ex-pats who live here and think that we're paranoid, but I'd rather be paranoid than get mugged, shot, or worse.

Before I've scared everyone into never wanting to visit our little fishing village, please know that the government and the police take tourism very seriously. As long as you stick to the beaten paths there's no reason you can't have an uneventful stay here.

I'll be sure to let you all know if there are further developments, and in the meantime, stay safe.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is This What They Call More Fun?

I've been coloring my hair for over ten years, and until I moved to Mexico I'd always let a professional handle the foils, pastes, and whatever magic goes on inside that little plastic bowl. Once I arrived south of the border I opted for magic in a box and, for the most part, I've been happy with that arrangement.

Until recently.

My hair has become increasingly darker over the past year and a couple weeks ago I decided to go back to blond. I'd already purchased a box o'magic when I stumbled upon pictures of me with boxed blond from a couple years ago. I don't remember looking quite so... brassy. Needless to say, I wasn't keen on repeating that look, so I informed Ibis I wanted to find a hair stylist.

There are stylists on nearly every corner but I've always been hesitant to venture inside. My hair isn't special or anything, but it is different from typical Mexican hair and I've been more than a little concerned about letting an inexperienced (with American hair) person pour chemicals over my head.

Turns out a woman from Ibis' gym owns a salon across the street from the gym, and after a two-minute consultation where she "examined" my hair (and I supposed deemed me able to handle her chemicals) I scheduled an appointment for the following Saturday.

I was more than a little nervous in the day leading up to the appointment, but I figured as long as she didn't burn my hair off, it could always be fixed. Right? Right. Saturday at noon sharp I plopped into her chair and watched as she mixed her chemicals in the little plastic dish.

"What's that?" I asked. (This is all in Spanish, but I'll spare you the translation exercises.)

"To prepare the hair for the color." (At least I think that's what she said.)

"And mine?" I asked, lifting the box of color I'd brought from home and told her during the consultation that I'd like her to use.

"Yes, we'll use that too."

Hmm. I wasn't sure if she meant the mixture she was dutifully putting on my hair was to PREPARE for the color I brought, or if mine would be added on top, or what. Meanwhile she'd started the foils and I was grateful to see she did it exactly the way every other stylists has ever done my color. Two points for her.

Midway through the foiling process she had to run across the street for another box of tinfoil.

"I have a lot of hair," I said sheepishly.


Yes, our conversation was scintillating.

THEN she reached for MY box (which I'd already opened) and prepared THAT in her little bowl.

"Is this the same color as your roots?"

"No. It's lighter."

"Okay." She shrugged and carried on.

Now I'm panicking. This whole time I've been wondering if she's put bleach on my head because Mexicans tend to have dark, coarse hair (in comparison to mine anyways) and they need to bleach their hair before applying color. Why oh why oh why didn't I demand to know what was in her magical goo?

Before I can say another word, she starts squirting the boxed color onto my roots and the pieces in between the foils. A few curse words bounced around inside my head, but I figured it was too late now. Hopefully I wouldn't have to dye it black to undo the damage.

When my entire head was coated she shuffled me to a bench to wait the requisite 20 minutes. I'm used to a little tingling during this process, but my scalp was BURNING. Again, my fault since it was MY boxed pixie dust that was doing all the damage.

Twenty minutes later she led me to the sink to rinse, and as soon as she had the foils off she sprinted from the sink to the shelf with all her chemicals. She slathered something on my head, her hands rubbing furiously while my bowels dropped.

"What's that for?" Not that I wanted to know at this point.

"To stop the yellow."

[insert F word really long and drawn out]

She finished rinsing me, slapped a towel on my head, and placed me back in my plastic chair (no swivel action here). I was afraid to look, but I figured I'd have to get it over at some point.

The majority of my hair looked exactly the same -- what the hell was she doing with those foils for thirty minutes?? -- and my ROOTS -- the part at the TOP OF MY HEAD -- were GLOWING yellow.

[insert F word really long and drawn out]

I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything.

"It's very strong on your hair."


"Do you want me to blow dry it?"

I nearly laughed. "Sure."

Ten minutes later my dripping hair was only mildly damp, and the blond tones had started to balance out. She dragged another gooey product through my hair and declared me finished.

I still wasn't sure how I felt about it when I left, but I thanked her and handed her my money. By the time I got home the Mexican heat had dried it the rest of the way and I could finally see that the highlights she'd put in looked nice. Kind of buttery, if you may. The only part that I wasn't thrilled with was the color I'D brought.

In the end, I'm happy with how it looks and will definitely go back to her again. But next time I'm leaving the magic to her.

Total cost: under $40 USD.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kelly Meding's Three Days to Dead

Aside from ten sleepless days I spent with the Twilight series, I've never read fantasy and never considered it something I would be interested in. Well not anymore.

Kelly Meding's debut novel, Three Days to Dead, is exactly the kind of book I love -- I don't want to do anything but read, but I want to read slowly to make it last longer.

Here's the back cover copy:
She’s young, deadly, and hunted—with only three days to solve her own murder…

When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue – in a stranger’s body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there – her troubles are only just beginning. Before that night, she and the other two members of her Triad were star bounty hunters — mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives, but also convinced the city’s other Hunters that Evy was a traitor . . . and she can’t even remember what it was.

Now she’s a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice – and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days, Evy will die again – but this time, there’s no second chance…

I'm horrible at writing book reviews, but I will tell you this -- Evy is a strong heroine that doesn't take crap from anyone, yet there are hints at the softer woman inside that make her relatable. Three Days isn't listed as a romance, but there's definitely some heat between the, er... pages.

Coming from someone who doesn't read fantasy, Kelly does a wonderful job of creating a world full of vampires, goblins, weres, and elves without confusing us literal folk. She explains each group without dumping pages and pages on the reader -- instead things are explained as Evy races from one scene to the next. Just the way I like it. She also kept me guessing right up to the very end. Even when we know who the bad guy is and what his plans are, we STILL don't know all the details. Kelly does a wonderful job of doling out the bare minimum to keep you reading.

Oh yeah, and Wyatt is HOT.

The coolest part for me was being able to email Kelly as soon as I finished to tell her how much I loved it!

Friday, January 15, 2010



*cue slasher-flick music*

I'm sure there are a lot of things I've done 666 times and now I can add "posting to my blog."

Among others (I'm guessing -- I haven't actually counted):
- eaten ... (Wow, I thought I'd start with an easy one and now I'm stuck thinking about everything I've possibly eaten 666 times. Let's just go with cheese and leave it at that.)
- shot a basketball
- fallen down
- done a spin salsa dancing
- saved a document (that's per day; I'm a tad compulsive)
- tripped
- petted Owen
- read a book (not the same book -- books in general -- and yes, the total is probably much higher, as is the cheese)
- read about the Jen-Brad-Angelina love triangle
- wished the paparazzi would leave Jen-Brad-Angelina alone
- watched a Leonardo Dicaprio film (and George Clooney, Viggo Mortensen, Clive Owen, Johhny Depp, Paul Walker ((I'm sorry, he's hot)), and Tom Cruise ((back in the day)))
- quoted Ben Stiller
- turned left
- craved goat cheese
- twirled my wedding band
- bit off my split ends
- used adverbs
- cracked my knuckles
- emailed my mom
- wondered how different my life would be if I'd never moved to DC
- poured a glass of wine
- laughed with my best friend (we've known each other 29 years ((holy crap!!)) so it's probably more)
- slammed my shin, knee, or thigh into something
- said "I love the internet"
- missed my friends
- missed my family
- smiled at the kindness of others, whether it involved me or not
- marveled at the adorableness that is my dog
- wished my online friends lived closer
- wondered about my future
- been grateful for everyone who's touched my life

What's something you've done 666 times?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I've Been Busy!

If you normally read blogs through a reader, take a moment and click through to my actual blog.

That's right -- I've done some housekeeping! And photoshopping, and reorganizing....

The photos were all taken here in Zihuatanejo and I feel like they give readers I good idea of what our little town in like. (And maybe the fact that I put them in the header will mean we can move that much sooner...)

I've also gone through all the blog links on the side and broke the Blogs I Read Everyday category into Writing Blogs and Non-Writing Blogs. I don't mean to imply that the writing blogs are not fun -- that's just how I have them labeled in my Google Reader. If you don't see your blog and I regularly comment on yours, let me know. If you have a blog but haven't posted in months, well... I took you off. Let me know if you start posting again and I'll update the list.

The only new thing is I've added a Twitter widget so you can see my most recent posts. Hopefully I'll remember that's there when I start gabbing about new names for my yodeling band with Stacey.

What do you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Have a New Gig

For most of my adult life I've been a graphic designer, in the last year or so I've started saying I'm a writer (although only to select people), and as of the first of the year, I have a new title:

Social Network Liaison

Sounds fancy, eh? Backspace: the Writer's Place, has hired me to solicit content from writers, agents, etc, for its blog, STET, then spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. I even have the secret passwords, bwahahahaha.

While I currently spend a lot of time on these sites (pick your chin up off the floor) this angle is new for me, and I'm excited that all my blog reading will finally be put to good use. The first article is up today -- a post by Therese Walsh that was originally posted on Writer Unboxed back in October.

That's right -- the content doesn't have to be original.

STET focuses on six categories -- conferences, literary agents, writing craft, publication, marketing & promotion, and opinion -- AND you don't have to be a published author to submit an article.

Do you have a post you think would fit within these categories?

If this goes well I'd love to be able to develop this into a career, so keep me in mind when you get so rich and famous you can no longer handle your online shenanigans.

Friday, January 8, 2010


The quality of being discreet, esp. with reference to one's own actions or speech; prudence or decorum: Throwing all discretion to the winds, he blurted out the truth.

I'm a sharer. If you catch me in the right mood (or even not the best mood) I'm bound to overshare until your eyes glaze over and you find yourself wondering what possessed you to become friends with me in the first place. Over the years I've had many stern talks with myself about telling too many private details to too many people and while I've gotten better, I still feel this need to tell people everything.

Yesterday I actually said the words "I'd rather not get into it" when a friend I've known for twenty years asked me a personal question. We were talking about something that I've been open about in the past, but I've gotten to the point that it takes too much energy that I just don't have to spare. I felt guilty about it at the time, but as I'm writing this I only feel relief.

Do you ever feel like that?

Is this something only I struggle with?

I've often joked that I can keep everyone's secrets but my own, and I guess that's because my secrets are the only ones I'm allowed to tell. And I like talking. And sharing. And learning secrets about other people.

I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

Anyways, it felt good to stand up for my mental health and even better to have that friend understand and then -- get this -- STILL BE MY FRIEND.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Things I Did Not Do While in the US for One Month That I Normally Do When I’m Home for Two Weeks

- Eat fast food
- Watch prime time television
- Keep up on gossip blogs
- Exercise
- Go clothes shopping
- Buy a crapload of previously-viewed DVDs
- Go to Spring Lake (where my parents live) (this was a first)
- Sleep in
- Play games with my sister (I do NOT understand how this didn’t happen)
- Feel an urge to leave
- Get sick of the weather (I loved it even when the temps dropped into single digits)

Things I DID Do That I Do Every Time I’m Home:

- Eat at my favorite restaurant, Café Iberico (this time with new friends)
- Eat at my favorite Thai restaurant, Opart
- Squeeze in a lunch at Panera (yes, this all revolves around food)
- Stock up on sunscreen (you wouldn’t BELIEVE how expensive it is in Zihua)
- Speak Spanish to everyone for the first couple days, especially little things like “Excuse me” and “No, thank you” that come out of my mouth automatically
- Talk to my sweetie via Skype
- Ooh and ahh at the tall buildings as if I'd never lived in Chicago
- Laugh and laugh and laugh with friends and family, and leave feeling like we didn’t have enough time together (although much more this trip than in trips past)
- Invade my brother’s apartment (formerly my apartment) for a couple days, then breeze out like I still own the place (half the stuff in there used to be ours!) (Thanks Brian!)

Things I did that I don’t normally do when I come home, but MAN how I would love to do them on all my future trips:

- Go to a Red Wings game at the Joe with my mom
- Get together with several writing friends (see laughing statement above)
- Get together with several middle school friends (see laughing statement above)
- Drive an hour in the middle of the night on icy roads after downing several cups of coffee so I would stay awake for said late-night drive home, then lie awake in bed unable to sleep, then just as I’m falling asleep receive a call from one of the friends I’d been with and talk for another half hour, during which time she realizes she’s locked out of her aunt’s house and we feel like we’re in middle school again (what? You didn’t sneak out in middle school? I swear it only happened a couple times)(I'm thinking this probably shouldn't be in this category, but the whole night was JUST SO FUN that it has to stay here)
- Get a netbook (okay, I don’t need a netbook on every trip, but you know what I’m saying…)
- Get an idea for a novel that has me really really excited (yes, it’s still just a premise, but I have high hopes)
- Bake and cook in an oven
- Talk with my aunts more than I have in YEARS
- Really get to know my grandmother
- Feel more useful and productive than I have in years

And thus ends my month of living...

You know? I can't think of the right word, but I'm grateful to have had the chance to do what I have and I only hope my actions will continue their positive ripple once I'm gone. Thank you to everyone who made it happen.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Think I Missed My Calling

We're only four days into the new year and I think I've spent more time cleaning and organizing in these four days (well, really three) than I did all of last year. As you know, I'm staying with my grandmother while she recuperates from back surgery, and since I leave on Wednesday, she needs to be able to function on her own. That means lots of organizing.

It's really amazing how many things you can't do when you can't carry things. She needs a walker for the time being, which means she either needs to plan ahead and figure out where things need to be when there's another person to help, or carry it in the pink & purple bicycle basket I bought her.

(Is it bad that I get endless joy from the little girl basket? I didn't buy the bell and the streamers like I wanted to...)

She and my family keep thanking me for everything I've done, but I'm just happy to help. My family has gone above and beyond to help me over the past several (several? ugh) years, and to be able to give back gives makes me feel more fulfilled than I have in awhile. I just hope my grandmother still feels that way when she discovers just how many things I actually threw away.

In the meantime, let me know if you have a kitchen or bedroom that needs organized. For the low low price of a round-trip airline ticket and and an endless supply of red wine, I'm all yours.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's the Future!

*adjusts robotic-sounding microphone*

Twenty-ten. Can you believe it? Ten years ago we thought the world would implode and our bank accounts would be wiped out, and now I have wrinkles and gray hairs and I’m still trying to get rid of those same last five pounds.

Unfortunately, parts of my life are even less certain than they were at age 24, but I’m hopeful that things will start to turn around for us. I hate to say they can’t get worse, because they can always get worse, but 2009 was quite a challenge.

While I don’t do resolutions, I do have some goals for the new year, the biggest having to do with my writing. I hope to start querying After the Fall in another month or two, and I’m determined to keep sending out my short stories until something sticks.

Personally, I’m determined to get out of Zihua. Ibis and I have been in Mexico for three years now, and we never imagined the process would take this long OR turn out the way it did. We have a lot ahead of us and I’ll share more details as we make decisions, but for now, just know that we’re trying.

As for my blog, I’ve decided to keep the three-day schedule I’ve adopted for the past month. (Yes this was planned. Do you feel tricked?) I often struggle to come up with content and I don’t want to bore you, so three days it is. I’m debating changing the look, but I feel like so many people read through Google Reader and other RSS feeds that I don’t know if it’s worth it.

What do you think?

Did you have a good new year?

*turns off microphone and zooms off in hovercraft*