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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Final Portugal Post: Exploring More Lisbon...

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Hey guys,

First, thank you so much for your kind comments after my last post (about pain.) It was a bit scary to reveal a not-pretty part of my life, but you all responded with compassion and insightful comments, and that meant a lot to me.

I had a bad few days, but am feeling great now, enjoying summertime with Ian and Lil Dude, writing more of a new book, cooking with herbs and veggies from our garden, going to little fairs and markets and fountains around town...

So, I'm gonna wrap up my series of Portugal posts here, since you're probably getting sick of them! (I do have to admit that this is serving as my personal family photo album/travelogue, too, as you may have guessed...)

Here was the view from the little balcony of our room at Travellers' House -- awesome hostel. Check out the beautiful mosaics of smooth cobbles that form the streets.


Wouldn't it be fun if these wee balconies were standard in homes here in the U.S.?


We book-ended our trip with a few days in Lisbon, and at the tail end, we had a chance to explore more of the neighborhoods. View from the medieval, labyrinthine Alfama neighborhood, perched way up high:


I loved the tiles on the buildings... I have dozens of pics like this one, all different colors and patterns:


I always seek out flea markets and antique shops... here's one in the Alfama district, chock full of shiny, intriguing treasures... 

Sigh... sunsets...

In some neighborhoods, at nights, the cozy, narrow streets were full of tables and chairs and cushions and people and music and food... so cool.

We rented out bikes and rode along this great bike path to a famous ancient monastery in Belem. 

Along the bike path (which ran along the river most of the time), there was art (see the boat hook-up thingie below) and poetry painted on the pavement.


These are the famous custard pastries of Lisbon, called pastel de nata... this cafe in Belem was supposedly the best place to eat them.  The place was super-touristy, but the pastries were worth it-- warm for the oven, the crust flaky and buttery and delicious.

 Fado music is Portugal's famous tradition of singing wistful songs accompanied by acoustic guitar.  We listened to it at a hole-in-the-wall bar, over sangria and candle light. A nice romantic end to our 10-year anniversary trip. :-)

Thanks for coming by... hope you're enjoying summertime, too! Oh, and if you're in the Ft Collins area, please come to the Old Town Book Fair, which is happening all day on Saturday, June 29, 2013.  I'll be chatting and signing at the Old Firehouse Books booth/tent in Old Town Square from 1-2:00.  Come say hi!



Many readers have been asking me if Portugal will be a setting in an upcoming book!  Wellll... as you know, I don't like to divulge much about a book before it's even written (not good for my creativity), but I will say that one reason I chose Portugal for our trip was because of the coastline, castles, and mysterious gardens... all of which play parts in the two new YA manuscripts I'm currently working on.  I'm having lots of fun with it.  For me, it's so important to engage in a setting with all my senses, to really make it come alive for readers.

Anyway, thank you all for asking, and I hope you like the books that will eventually materialize from this latest travel adventure!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chronic pain sucks.

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Just for the record, I'll tell you that I've had to deal with chronic pain issues for much of my life. I'm telling you this because I focus on happy things on my blog and in interviews-- happy travels and happy book news and happy family and friend things.

But you know, sometimes when I read other people's blogs and  their lives appear constantly happy, it annoys me.  So I thought I'd come right out and tell you that a significant portion of the time, I am in pain.

I don't write about it because while I'm in pain, I feel too crappy to write.  And after the pain is gone, I just want to forget about it and focus on happy things.  I also don't write about it in blog posts because frankly, I wouldn't want to read a blog with updates about someone's chronic pain. Maybe once or twice, but I wouldn't keep going back to a blog that brought me down with posts like:

I woke up at various points in the night in pain.  In the morning the pain was still there.  I tried exercising. Made it worse. I tried writing more of my book.  Couldn't.  I took pain meds that gave me a cascade of side effects and required more meds. Finally I gave up and laid on the couch in a pool of snot and tears and watched LOST episodes all day.

I also don't write about pain on my blog because of the responses I'd get.  I don't want anyone recommending their holistic doctor or dietary changes or herbs or whatever, because over the past couple decades, I've basically tried it all-- Western and Eastern medicine and everything in between, with varying degrees of success and failure.  I've found some things that have more-or-less worked, and I've been managing the pain with that.

I don't write about the pain because I really am not looking for sympathy.  I've pretty much accepted the aspects of the situation that I can't change, and changed the ones I can, so here I am, managing.  I think we all have horrible things to deal with in our lives, and the key, I think, is to not let them become an all-consuming part of our identity.

Mostly, my life is good and I'm grateful for that, and overall, I feel very, very fortunate.  I've been able to write a bunch of books, have a bunch of travel adventures, have a bunch of smart and fun and good-hearted friends, have a happy family.... and those are the things I want to focus on in my blog and in my life.

BUT... I also don't want to misrepresent my life-- I don't want you to assume that everything is easy and smiley and sunny all the time.  I want you to know that on any given day at any given moment, I might be taking a happy walk in the woods, I might be happily writing another chapter, I might be traveling somewhere exciting, I might be biking around our friendly neighborhood with my family, I might be partying with writer and reader friends....


I might be in a doctor's waiting room, I might be squinting and grimacing at my computer trying to write despite pain, I might be making phone calls to the insurance company, I might be feeling sorry for myself in a pool of snot and tears and LOST episodes.

I feel like I should put a positive spin on this... how pain can be a lesson, blah blah blah... what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... blah blah blah... but really, it just sucks. There is no uplifting conclusion here.  It's about accepting that life comes with crap as well as beauty.

My good friend Laura Pritchett (who serves as my model for managing chronic pain with grace) wrote an insightful article about this in the spring issue of Fort Collins magazine. (You can read it here.)

My apologies if this post isn't very well-written, but honestly, I feel like crap now.  I'm going to fix myself a cup of tea and try to write another chapter, and if that doesn't work, the couch and LOST reruns await.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lisbon Trip-- Porto and Aveiro!

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And here is the next batch of Portugal pics!  Hope you're not sick of them yet (because there's still another batch coming after this...;-)  So, these photos are from Porto and Aveiro, from the middle of our ten-day anniversary trip...

Cafes along the river...

Our beautiful hotel room was right on the water! Guest House Douro was a bit of a splurge for us, but totally worth it.  We were greeted with roses and champagne and this amazing view:

Our hosts, Carmen and Joao, were stylish and vibrant and warm- they made us feel so welcome!  They had a smile-inducing array of pet names for us: kittens and loves and kids and babies and sweeties. (I told Ian I wanted to start calling everyone babies and kittens, but he didn't think I could quite pull it off the way Carmen and Joao do.)  Beret-sporting Joao made breakfasts, which were veritable towers of sculpted exotic fruit... (I need to raid Ian's camera for pics, since for some reason I didn't get any on my own camera... too busy eating mango and guayabana.)

We spent our two days in Porto wandering the various cobble-stoned neighborhoods, going from one amazing scenic outlook to another.

This town definitely had a port feel-- the smells of water and tastes of fresh fish and smattering of colorful boats.  Like Lisbon, there were many beautifully tiled buildings with intricate wrought iron balconies holding flapping laundry...

We found a craft/antique market in the street, and got some cool little gifts.

We rented out bikes one afternoon and biked along the Douro River to the Atlantic. This was something I don't remember doing when I backpacked around Europe a couple decades ago-- renting bikes-- must be a more recent phenomena.  We made bike outings several times on this trip, and loved them all.

I appreciated how these people's laundry was color-coordinated with their tiles...

The colors of Porto are this wonderful mix of rich and gritty...

Ah, sunsets...

Porto is supposed to be one of the romantic cities in Europe, and I have to say, I agree... there's something about the river and boats and bridges...

Maybe it has to do with the light... look how golden! (Nothing here is photo-shopped-- I'm too lazy or perhaps busy for that.)

We stopped for a night and day at Aveiro, a small town between  Lisbon and Porto, on the coast.  It's called "Little Venice."

The bikes here were free to use (although they were fairly beat-up.) We biked along  the canals, past these gondola-like boats.


Half the time on this trip, we stayed in private rooms in economical hostels, like this one-- Aveiro Rossio Hostel.  These hostels were centuries-old and gorgeous-- twelve-foot high ceilings with elegant moulding and other cool architectural details. They were usually decorated in a mix of antiques and IKEA-- a kind of funky vintage-modern scheme-- waaaay different from the crumbling and utilitarian hostels I stayed in a couple decades ago while backpacking in Europe.   (We have those same curtains from IKEA at home, hehehe.)

Here's the lobby of the hostel.  In the morning, I had a nice long conversation in French with a French guy-- it's so fun to meet people from other countries, speak in other languages-- another bonus of hostel-hopping.

Here's the beautiful old hostel where we stayed in Lisbon-- Travellers' House-- super-high ceilings, lovely moulding touches, private balcony, antique desk, IKEA beds. This place was kind of a Scandanavian-minimalist aesthetic with the white walls and linens. And the staff and other guests there were very cool and interesting to talk with, too. They made me nutella crepes for breakfast, further winning my heart...

Okay, I will only subject you to one more batch of these pictures, I promise!  Coming up next... Lisbon again-- the medieval, labyrinthine Alfama district; another bike ride along another river; romantic fado music in a hole-in-the-wall bar...

Off for a cup of tea now!



Many readers have been asking me if Portugal will be a setting in an upcoming book!  Wellll... as you know, I don't like to divulge much about a book before it's even written (not good for my creativity), but I will say that one reason I chose Portugal for our trip was because of the coastline, castles, and mysterious gardens... all of which play parts in the two new YA manuscripts I'm currently working on.  I'm having lots of fun with it.  For me, it's so important to engage in a setting with all my senses, to really make it come alive for readers.

Anyway, thank you all for asking, and I hope you like the books that will eventually materialize from this latest travel adventure!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Half Moon Bay and Japanese Tea Gardens!

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Hey guys!

 As I was walking along the bluffs of Half Moon Bay last week, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that *this magnificence* is part of my job!  Ten years ago, as I was revising the not-yet-published manuscript of my first book, I never dreamed that my books would take me to places like this...

This was my second author visit to Half Moon Bay-- the first was a few years ago, during which time I fell in love with the place. I'd already been enchanted by the name, because, as you know if you've read my first two books, I really like moon-related things.

Armando Ramirez (above) invited me back this year and I was thrilled!  He's an amazing bilingual librarian who is deeply devoted to his job-- more like his calling, I'd say.  He knows everyone in town, as well as in neighboring towns, and calls them all m'hija or m'hijo. Makes me smile.

On the drive to visit El Granada elementary school (which overlooks the ocean! these kids are so lucky!), he told me all about his personal experiences with los gitanos (aka Rom, gypsies, hungaros) and el cine ambulante (traveling cinema) in rural Mexico-- a fascinating topic that I've been in the midst of researching lately. I was scribbling lots of notes...

His cool librarian colleague, Karen (above) is so much fun to hang out with, too-- here we are with the El Granada school mascot (a dolphin). The HMB community is so lucky to have these awesome, creative, committed librarians.

And here (below) is another one of my favorite HMB people-- teacher extraordinaire, Laurie McMahon, who reads my books aloud to her students every year.  I adore her students, who send me letters with insightful questions and comments about my books (and a bit of psychoanalysis of me--- they're really perceptive readers and notice all kinds of recurring images and themes...). We had an interesting, fun discussion in English and Spanish in the classroom. I also got to visit Pescadero Middle School, in a small, beautiful town down the coast a bit.

On Friday night, I did a presentation for the community, which was so interesting for me because I could chat more with the students and their families-- some of whom are from Oaxaca, where several of my books are set. So cool!

In my free moments, I walked along the succulent-covered cliffs over the beach and savored every last detail of the ocean... the sounds, the smells, the light on waves, the feel of the wind... it all makes my soul happily shiver and sigh.

I walked to the farmers' market on Saturday morning, and bought this entire fresh cherry pie for myself.  It was a smallish pie, and it was fun to just dig into it with a fork and sit on the curb in the sunshine and listen to the band play mellow, funky music.

I spent that afternoon with my good friend, Andrea, who I've known since middle school.  We walked and talked on the beach for hours among the gulls-- such a nice day!

I had a wee bit of time before my plane left on Sunday, so I spent an hour in the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco.  I love gardens and tea, so it was no surprise that I loved this place.

The morning light was pretty and peaceful...

It's funny how safety-hyper (or lawsuit-scared) the U.S. is. A couple weeks earlier, in Portugal, Ian and I scampered up and down towers and castles and ramparts and tunnels and all manner of potentially dangerous-yet-cool things.  And I don't remember any signs telling us to be careful... after all, it was pretty much common sense, you know?  But back here, there are signs all over the place. Sigh.

Lovely, vibrant red temples here and there...

Pink azaleas remind me of growing up in Baltimore.  We don't seem to have azaleas here in Colorado.-- maybe they need more moisture or are less tolerant to cold? I miss them.

Such a peaceful way to begin a day of plane travel.

Thanks for swinging by!