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2017 in summary

December 31, 2017
The world's cutest toddler, running along a beach

My focus word for 2017 was “abundance,” and I spent all year trying my darnedest to cultivate that.

And failing. I failed so hard, you guys. My failures were abundant.

Financially, it was one of my driest years since I started freelancing. There were long and seemingly endless spans of time where nothing was accepted or published, even though I wrote, pitched, queried, and followed up obsessively. At one point I read an article that advised writers to aim for 100 rejections per year, and I cackled like a mad woman in a Brontë novel — I was hitting about 100 rejections (or non-responses) per month.

It was depressing. It felt like I was trying to climb a mountain, and even though I was doing my part, I couldn’t quite get there. I researched the trail, I showed up in hiking boots, I carried all the right gear, I had the motivation and desire to put in the work. Then mere steps from the top, I toppled for whatever reason, forcing me to start all over again.

Just when I considered calling it quits, I attended the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop in magical Granada, Spain. It helped recharge my batteries on just about every level, from inspiring me to write new things and look at my work in a different way to satisfying my itchy feet and proving I can still travel solo.

A peek out of a golden window at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Soon after, I placed some of my favorite pieces, like this essay for LitHub about Silent Book Club, a piece about wildflowers and making my own roots in the desert for Palm Springs Life (the online version is a little wonky with some repeated paragraphs, but you can see it here anyway), and a funny/sad essay about a rat for Mutha Magazine.

I also started hosting a radio show about books with Tod Goldberg. I received an acceptance from an outlet that has been on my byline bucket list for decades. I registered for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, because I want to find my way toward humor writing again. I read 51 books.

Other good things happened: A road trip to Vegas, a quick jaunt to Portland, a terrific visit with my sister. I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. As a family, Jason, Everest, and I slept in a tipi under the stars in Pioneertown, hiked through a couple of Canada’s spectacular national parks, and explored Vancouver, now one of our favorite cities.

Also Everest turned 3, and he has grown into someone I genuinely love to hang out with. He’s funny and weird and makes me laugh until I wheeze. We have dance parties, take silly selfies, and haven’t found a trail yet that we don’t want to explore.

Halloween selfie

In November Everest and I hiked 30 miles together, and most of those were quiet morning jaunts, clambering over rocks, scraping up knees, and listening to birdsong. I cherish every one of those miles.

Cutest toddler in the world goes hiking in the desert, standing on top of rocksNow we’re ending on a high note. We just finished a family road trip that was just about as perfect as those things get. We started by seeing the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at The Broad in Los Angeles, and stayed the night in Solvang, a quirky Danish-themed town. Then we spent a few easy days at Morro Bay, listening to seals bark, running on the beach, and sipping hot cocoa as the sun sank.

Our last morning in Morro Bay is a memory that I hope lasts, as it seems to sum up the whole year for me. It’s Everest, barreling down the pastel beach, gathering sand dollars by the handful. He carries them to me, holds these urchins to his chest, makes careful piles of them. He tosses some into the ocean; the rest he tucks into the pockets of my old college sweatshirt.

This is abundance. My pockets hang heavy with sand and salt and shells, and my heart is so full it’s buoyant. I am sand dollar rich, and I have all the things that matter.

A teal sky in Morro Bay


Five steps to a perfect budget babymoon (or any kind of vacation!)

March 26, 2014

Travel is very important to The Husband and me. But so is saving money, especially now that we have a baby on the way.

So while we did want to indulge in a babymoon — our last getaway as a couple before our boy is born — we also wanted to keep enough cash in the bank to afford diapers when it was all over. We decided to ditch the traditional advice, since an all-inclusive in the Virgin Islands was simply not in our budget, and plan our own luxury-on-a-shoestring excursion.

Here are five easy questions we asked ourselves. Use them to plan a babymoon, or any kind of vacation, of your own.

1. What do you want to do?

Are you seeking action or something more leisurely? Want nightlife or nature? Sightseeing or sunset gazing? Determine the kind of vacation you’d like to have. Once you figure out your priorities, you can whittle down the destination options.

Even though The Husband and I typically enjoy more adventurous excursions, we desperately wanted to relax and recharge. We decided to look for a beautiful location where we could hike and take long walks, as well as a nice room where we could curl up together.


2. How will you get there?

Decide how you want to get where you’re going. Think about what will be the best for your budget AND the most hassle-free. We all know how to get a cheap flight, but if you have to drive a few hundred miles to catch a redeye or endure a 7-hour layover somewhere, is it still worth it?

While The Husband and I love to fly, we knew driving would be the easiest and most frugal way for us to travel. Depending on where you live, though, you might find some terrific air travel deals that are both time-saving and low-cost.

With the goal of a one-tank trip in mind, we looked at locations within a five-hour driving radius of our home. Our options included Las Vegas, coastal California, southern Arizona and northern Mexico. I’m not crazy about Vegas (I know, I know — I’m THE ONE person who doesn’t care what happens in Vegas or if it stays there), and we’ve already spent considerable time vacationing throughout California and Arizona.

We figured Mexico would give us a new locale to explore, and our money would go farther there. For instance, for the price of two nights at a beach hotel in California, we could afford four nights in Baja.


3. What time of year is your vacation?

This sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how often it slips past when planning a getaway, and it can actually make or break your vacation. Ask yourself: What’s the weather like where you’re going? Do they have any festivals or major events happening when you’ll be there?

There are plenty of travel articles that will tell you vacationing off-season is a great way to stretch your budget, and that’s true. But really think about where you’re going, consider the potential risks and determine your comfort level, which is particularly important when you’re pregnant. Are you willing to brave Miami in the midst of hurricane season? Will you still enjoy Costa Rica if it rains every day? Will you be comfortable in the desert if it’s 120 degrees? It’s fine if your answer is yes; just arm yourself with this information in advance and plan accordingly.

Now look at what else will be happening in your destination while you’ll be there. To use an extreme example: Say you end up babymooning in Rio during the World Cup. Not only will you be battling crowds for tables at restaurants and places to stay, you’re also going to face severely inflated prices. You’ll probably still have a great time — but it might not be the getaway you originally envisioned.

In our case, The Husband and I were a little apprehensive about heading to Mexico during spring break. But since we decided to stay in a sleepy, seaside village and not anywhere with a Señor Frog’s, we didn’t have any issues with drunk fraternity brothers.



4. Where will you sleep?

Think about what kind of accommodations will make you most comfortable. Do you want to stay in a big hotel with a lot of amenities? Or are you looking for a boutique hotel with a lot of personality? Do you want a pool, a gym, a restaurant on site? Or are you looking for a totally unique experience, like a B&B? What’s important to you? I’m not much for room service, but I have some friends who consider it one of life’s greatest pleasures.

The Husband and I like to use Airbnb, an accommodations website with unique listings all over the world — anything from private rooms to entire houses. (Even clock towers and treehouses!)

For this vacation, we wanted an entire apartment to ourselves. It was also important that we have our own kitchen, because we both have special dietary needs, and we wanted to keep costs down by making some of our own meals. (We tend to cook two of our own meals a day, eat one nice meal out.)

This is the suite we booked.

What made this place special is that our host gave us the kind of personalized experience that you rarely find from a hotel, unless you’re paying top dollar. Cathy organized our Mexican car insurance for us in advance. She booked our massages with a trustworthy and experienced professional. She welcomed us with a tray of fresh-basked cookies. And she gave us invaluable advice on places to go, things to do and what to eat.


5. What else will make you feel comfortable?

This will be different for everyone and will depend on your situation.

I had two major concerns about leaving the country for my babymoon: Medical care and clean water.

Again, our Airbnb host was incredibly helpful. Cathy is an American who has been living in Mexico for 12 years, and she assured me of the quality doctors/hospitals located near her rental. She also offered to give me a list of physician names and phone numbers.

Her place does have filtered tap water (and all the restaurants nearby use filtered water too). That said, I’m very, very careful when it comes to water, so I purified it anyway. I use a SteriPen Adventurer Opti, which is my constant travel companion. It’s portable, it’s easy, and it works. And it’s saved me thousands of dollars over the years, because I never have to buy bottled water, no matter where I go in the world.


Here’s the final breakdown of our babymoon, which you can read more about here:

* The price of the suite rental came to $320. ($300 + cleaning fee).

* Our Mexican car insurance, required by law, was $40.

* Before we crossed the border, The Husband and I took out $200 from an ATM to pay for our food, massages, tolls and other assorted expenses — and we returned to the U.S. with $10 in our pockets.

So our grand total for five days was $550. (Plus one tank of gas, but I factor fuel into a different place in my budget.)

I’ve definitely traveled cheaper, but our priority here was comfort as well as a budget. We could have done without massages or some of our pricier meals, or we could have stayed at a smaller place off the beach. But we wouldn’t have quite as many beautiful memories — and those, of course, are priceless.



Week 24: Babymoon!

March 19, 2014

As I write this, my hair is sloppy with sweet almond oil from this morning’s massage, and my feet are caked with sand.

It’s day four of my babymoon, and I don’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed. My shoulders are no longer hunched. My spine is loose. I feel the thrum of a kicking baby in my gut.

What is a babymoon? It’s like a honeymoon but with a dumber name. It’s basically the last getaway as a couple before a baby arrives — which sounds slightly ominous but is actually pretty special.

Goodnight, sun. Hello, babymoon.


For The Husband and me, we’ve never had a vacation like this before. Our actual honeymoon was spent hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, unshowered, our muscles spent and sore. Then we explored the Amazon rainforest, slathered with DEET and stink.

So this babymoon — a road trip to Baja, Mexico — has been more of a traditional romantic getaway than anything we’ve ever had. No plans, no watches. The kind of lazy days where the question of “What should we do today?” is answered with “Let’s get tacos.”

Our time here has been unscheduled but busy. Mornings are for watching whales and waves. We read books and eat bagels on a patio that overlooks a wide swath of sea, and the early mist makes my hair frizzy.

Misty morning in La Mision. For some reason, this makes me croon the song “Memories.”


Afternoons are spent strolling the beach, finding patterns in the sand, unearthing pretty shells. The sun is hot on my shoulders, but the breeze is cool. We take naps and get tangled in the sheets. In the evenings, we sit on our patio and watch the sun sink into the ocean, our wine glasses filled with Trader Joe’s sparkling pomegranate juice. At last, when the sky goes navy, we sip peppermint tea under the white fairy lights that are woven into the wooden trellis.

After I took this photo, I pretended we were in the North by Northwest crop dusting scene.


We brought Lemon along, and her reactions to the beach have been a never-ending source of delight. She enjoys digging in the sand and sniffing out birds. But my favorite thing is how she becomes temporarily paralyzed whenever a cold wave hits her little legs. She is not a water dog, that’s for sure.

What do you call a blind and deaf dog on the beach? Nothing. She can’t hear you anyway.


The other day The Husband and I made an excursion to Ensenada, a city chock full of vice and rowdy cruise ship passengers, but there wasn’t much for us to do. We don’t like to shop. Horseback riding is out. I can’t drink and don’t need any cheap pharmaceuticals. And it’s hard to buy a lap dance when I no longer have a lap.

Next time, Bar Wetlips.


Instead we ate tacos. And then we walked on a beach. On our drive back to the B&B, we stopped at a fruit stand situated on a road shoulder in the canyons. We shared a cup full of fresh-sliced mango sprinkled with chili and lime, while a grubby white dog slept at my feet. Then I bought a coconut and slurped down all the water and meat. It was pretty perfect actually.

I love it here. They get me.


Here’s the update for the week:

Baby: Depending on the source, he is supposedly as long as an ear of corn, as big as a cantaloupe or the size of a large zucchini. Basically, he’s a whole Ohio produce stand.

Melon belly.


Food: I’ve probably been eating a little too adventurously. Every time I see my produce chopped with a rusty machete, I cringe and think, “Maybe I should ask for a clean machete.” But I can’t help but eat this way — I have a difficult time going to a boring restaurant when there are so many street vendors cooking up fresh, homemade goodness.

I also have this belief, based in no scientific evidence whatsoever, that chilies kill bad bacteria. So overall I’ve been feeling very confident about my food choices, as long as everything is topped with incredibly spicy salsa.

Body: My poor lower back has started to take notice of the new weight I’m carrying. I feel my spine curving just a little, compensating for the bundle on my hips.

Also this week my breasts started leaking. Not gushing, just a teensy dribble. But it was enough that I looked down and thought, “Huh. So this is why I have these things.” It is SO WEIRD! My body is navigating a brand-new landscape, and it doesn’t even need a map. It just knows what to do.

(By the way, I thought about not divulging this bit of information. But I have a male co-worker who tells everyone about his busted nipple, which is persistently erect, like a Raisinet glued to his chest — I know some of you have seen this — and so I figured all’s fair when it comes to nipple stories.)

Husband: At night when the baby is most active, The Husband likes to place his ear on my belly, resting on the slope of my stomach. This means we have a lot of conversations like this:

HIM: Wow, your stomach is grumbly.

ME: Yes, I know.

HIM: Ha ha. I think you have gas.

ME: Yes, I do. Thanks for pointing that out.

HIM: Whoa. The baby kicked me in the head!

ME: Good.



Pregnancy Week 22: Fetus in Seattle

March 4, 2014

Baby went to Seattle this week! I went also, because it would have been strange and irresponsible to send a fetus on such a long trip alone.

This was my first visit to Seattle, and most of what I know about the city was gleaned from Sub Pop, Starbucks and the movie “Singles.” I also know Seattle as the home of the newborn vampire army in “Eclipse,” the sequel to “Twilight.”

Unfortunately, neither grunge nor vampires were to be found anywhere.

A whole big city and not a single sparkly man.


On a good note, I did find Starbucks.

“You know it’s an original Starbucks, because the mermaid is fatter,” said my friend Ashley.


I fell for Seattle immediately, the way you see a handsome stranger and can instantly imagine your life together. Over-caffeinated people, many slightly pale and dirty, shrouded in flannel? Restaurants that serve sizable portions of inventive, local food? Markets filled with freshly plucked produce? Mountains and pine trees and painfully blue, blue water? Yes! All of it yes. This city gets me.

Six blocks of yum.


The occasion for this trip was the annual AWP conference, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, a gathering of 13,000 nerds for workshops, panels, a gigantic book fair, readings and evening events.

The conference squeezes all the experiences of going to school into just a few days. The first day is like a junior high dance, with everybody standing awkwardly in their own corner, looking at the wall. By the final day, it’s college. People have separated into cliques. They are bleary-eyed and weak, and their backs have been tweaked from carrying too many books. They skip workshops to meet friends or to tend to their hangovers. Or they skip the conference entirely to smoke pot in hot tubs.

AWP is a strange and wonderful world, but it was different to experience it sober rather than seeing it through a martini glass. Last year I was a social butterfly who hopped from bar to bar and the occasional hotel room, partying with questionable poets until 4 a.m. This year I was the pregnant lady who just shoveled pie into my mouth. But I spent less money this year. So there’s that.

Anyway, I did not take any photos of the conference, so here are some more pictures from Pike Place Market.

Spelling candy with a K makes it sweeter.


Warning: When a dead monkfish asks you to come closer, it’s gotta be some kind of trick.


Freshly chewed: The bubblegum wall in Post Alley.


Of course, the best part was that I got to spend a lot of time with one of my best friends, Ashley, and watch her give an incredible reading. Here’s the piece she read an excerpt from on stage.



Here’s how everything else is going this week:

Baby: The size of a papaya. Yuck. This is the first week I haven’t liked the produce comparison, since papayas taste like feet and vomit.

Health: I had a full-on anxiety attack, because I suddenly couldn’t feel the baby move anymore. So before I left for Seattle, I called my doctor’s office and forced myself upon them until they agreed to let me come in for an appointment. My usual OB wasn’t there, and I was given someone with the bedside manner of a Pike Place Market monkfish. She listened to the heartbeat and said, “Well, it’s there. You’re fine,” before she ushered me out the door. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but until someone invents a uterus porthole so I can peer inside myself and see what’s going on, I have no choice but to believe her.

By the way, can one of you invent a uterus porthole? Thanks.

Later, in Seattle, I ate some unbearably spicy Indian food, and the baby kicked up a storm. So he’s there. And I will eat tongue-shredding curry every day of this pregnancy if I have to, just to feel him.

Also, baby got his first piece of clothing this week! How sweet is this?

The onesie that said “Write like a motherfucker” was sold out.

Everything, really. Although I still want slurpy noodles and dumplings and curry and sushi slightly more than usual. This conveyor belt of food at Blue C was a dream come true.



Strangers: This week two people confirmed why I don’t like to leave the house anymore.

1. My seatmate from SFO to SEA leaned over and whispered, “What flavor is it?”

ME: By “flavor,” you mean what?

HIM: You know. FLAVOR.

ME: Like, boy or girl? Ethnicity?

HIM: Democrat or Republican.

ME: Oh. Well, his parents are Democrats. But I hope to raise a critical thinker who can make decisions for himself.

HIM: Atta girl! So a Democrat.

2. Inside the AWP conference, a man sidled up to me on an escalator. Then he rubbed my belly.

HIM: So what are you doing tonight?

ME: Me? Sleeping.

HIM: I’m going to this boss party, and it’s gonna be off the hook. I’d love to get your number …

ME: Um, no. I don’t think so.

HIM: (groaning and running hands through hair) Ugh. Sorry. I drank too much boxed wine last night.


Belly: I think bathroom selfies are the ultimate in tacky, but I found myself in a bad place this week. And that bad place was the Westin lobby, with several hours to kill before my flight back to Palm Springs. I wanted to get my usual belly photo, but all of my friends were already gone and nobody else was around so … I selfied it up.

I realize the point of a selfie is to make yourself look good, but I decided to reject that idea by getting rained on, wearing no makeup and staring at my iPhone screen with dead, soulless eyes.



That is what Seattle Maggie looks like.



Santa Barbara is DOOMED! (Or How Andrew McCarthy Revealed My Baggage)

April 10, 2013

Let me take you back in time, back before The Husband and I had health insurance.

The Husband was in terrible pain and needed an expensive root canal surgery, but our options were limited. We could drive to Mexico and look for a dentist in Tijuana. We could go to a dentist friend-of-a-friend in Santa Barbara, who was willing to do the work at a discounted rate. Or I could try my luck with an x-acto knife, a pair of pliers and a YouTube instructional video.

He chose the Santa Barbara route.

We were new Californians then, and it was our first visit to Santa Barbara. What little we knew about the place was culled from a new TV show called “Psych” and a soap opera from the ’80s.


The dentist was nice, and I was impressed that he opened his office on his day off to do this favor. His practice had one of those forcefully cheerful names, like Dr. Happy Smile Goodtime Dentist O’ Fun!, so I expected to have a great time. Maybe even get a free pink toothbrush.

My husband settled into the dentist’s chair, and I settled into the waiting room with a stack of books and whatever electronic gadget provided entertainment in 2006. A Tamagotchi, maybe? I don’t remember.

The dentist popped his head out of his office.

“Hey, this is going to take a while,” he said. “Maybe five, six hours. Why don’t you go get a cup of coffee or browse around? I’d hate for you to be stuck here that long.”

He gave me directions to State Street, just a couple blocks away, which is lined with boutique stores, galleries and cafes. Then he said he’d call in a few hours with an update. I put my things in my car, then headed to State Street.

Back then, The Husband was The Fiancé, and we were still in the planning stages of our wedding. So when I passed by a bookstore with a large window display of glossy wedding magazines, it was like having my clothes snagged on a thorny bush. I got stuck, and I couldn’t seem to walk away.

Before I knew it, I was in a coffee shop binging on newly purchased bridal magazines, making crazy lists and planning all kinds of shit with tulle. The lunch crowd came and went, but I remained, reading in-depth articles about how to give good face in my wedding photos and 40 reasons to love an illusion-neckline dress.

I had just reached the end of a quiz (Was I an elegant bride? Or a glamorous bride? Dear God, tell me!), when I glanced at my watch.


Five hours had passed. I still hadn’t received a phone call from the dentist.

Maybe I should call him, I thought. So I rummaged in my purse for my phone. No phone. I looked all over the coffee shop, back the bookstore, inside every store I visited. No phone. And then, in a jolt of panic, I ran as fast I could to the dentist.

The Husband was sitting on the concrete stairs outside the dentist’s office, cradling his jaw with his hand. He was in tears.

All he said was, “I called you.” And then he nearly fainted.

Here’s what happened: After I left the dentist’s office, the dentist realized my husband’s tooth was too far gone to salvage with a root canal. So he pulled it. The Husband was done and out of the chair within a half hour. The dentist, working on his day off, packed up and left. And my poor boo had been sitting outside for more than five hours, holding his achy jaw, with an unfilled prescription for painkillers in his pocket.

I helped him to the car, where my phone was sitting with the rest of my things. I had 27 missed phone calls, all from my husband. The voicemails covered the entire spectrum from “Hey, I got done early. Come pick me up” to “What the hell? Are you ignoring me? The engagement is off!” to “Are you OK? I’m so worried about you.”

The guilt! Oh, the deep, miserable guilt. This one incident is why I scooped the cat litter for YEARS without complaint.

Now, seven years later, it was time to revisit this beautiful city and make the past right. And so for our anniversary, I planned a trip to Santa Barbara.


Through Airbnb I booked a one-bedroom apartment in a leafy neighborhood near State Street. It sounded perfect — a dog-friendly place that boasted a full kitchen, wifi, off-street parking, all kinds of great stuff.

Almost immediately, things went a little awry. The owner of the apartment texted me to say there had been a death in her family, so she didn’t have a chance to clean the place. Also she left her car was in the carport, so we would have to park on the street. I completely understand how the sudden death of a relative can turn everything upside-down, and I truly felt sympathy for this woman, so I cut her a lot of slack. However, I didn’t like that she asked us to lie to her neighbors about who we were and what we were doing there, since she was illegally subletting her apartment.

Later, parked on the street instead of inside the carport, we found a neon-green parking ticket tucked under our windshield wiper.

The next day, in an effort to try something new, The Husband and I took a painting class together and created two lovely pieces of art. We didn’t yet know that just two days later, my husband would drop my painting and shred the canvas.

Then our dog became ill. This involved hours of walking in circles around the pretty, leafy neighborhood, wiping runny poo off the sidewalk.

On one such walk, my husband and I stumbled onto the office of Dr. Happy Smile Goodtime Dentist O’ Fun. The Husband held my hand and gazed at the concrete steps. “Remember when the dentist pulled my tooth and you abandoned me for more than five hours while I was in pain?”


And then our dog defecated on the steps.

Honestly, I wouldn’t say it was a bad vacation. I’ve known people who had bad vacations, and this wasn’t even close. But I will say that this lovely seaside town has a tiny raincloud above it, and it’s addressed only to me. All the things that would pass by uneventfully elsewhere seem to get bumpy for me in Santa Barbara.

I once asked Andrew McCarthy — yes, THAT Andrew McCarthy, the teenage heartthrob-turned-travel writer — how he writes about a location in which something bad happens to him or a place where he doesn’t feel a personal connection.


He said, “I’ve realized that when I don’t feel a connection to a place, it says more about me than it does about the place. It’s rarely ever about the place at all. It’s about what you brought there.”

It means I brought a lot of baggage to Santa Barbara.

Or perhaps, like my husband’s tooth, I’m rotting from the inside out, and Santa Barbara is simply exposing the decay. Who knows?

Either way, it’s a nice enough place that I don’t mind trying to love it again and again.

There’s always next anniversary.