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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Interview with Wild Mama Carrie Visintainer!

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Hey everyone!

As part of a writer's blog chain, I've chosen to interview my good friend Carrie Visintainer.  We've been friends for over a decade now, and it's been thrilling to watch her writing career and travel passions bloom.  I was lucky enough to read early drafts of her upcoming book, Wild Mama, and I can say you're in for a treat.  It's everything I look for in a memoir-- moving, funny, smart, relatable, and most of all, inspiring! I know so many women (myself included) who have struggled to maintain their identities (of adventurer/traveler/creator/etc) while mothering young kids. Carrie has been a big inspiration to me, personally, as I've watched her navigate this terrain. (Our sons are the same age-- nearly 8 years old now.)  In her debut book, Carrie recounts her own struggles, adventures, and misadventures on her journey to embracing the role of "Wild Mama."

Here's where Carrie did a revision of her manuscript... this treehouse-like place in Yelapa, Mexico, 
where she spends two months of the year with her family in tow!

Here's the official book summary:

Wild Mama

Coming Summer 2015 from Thought Catalog

When Visintainer became a mother at the age of 33, she worried it was all over, that her adventurous life was done. World travel? Adios. Solo explorations in the mountains? Ciao. Creative outlets? She wondered, Are diapers my new white canvas? Immersed in a whirlwind of sleeplessness and spit-up, she was madly in love with her new baby, but also felt her adventurous spirit and core identity crumbling.

So she laced up her boots and set out on a soul-searching journey, with revelations near and far. Inside a local Walmart, she realized that new motherhood is like traveling to a foreign country, with a new vocabulary, unknowable customs and extreme jetlag. Lying in a yurt in the Colorado National Forest, she came to terms with her postpartum depression. While sailing on a gullet off the coast of Turkey, she examined feelings of guilt about leaving her child in pursuit of adventure. And then, while perched in a handsome stranger’s motorcycle sidecar in the Mexican jungle, she found herself face-to-face with her central quandary: Domesticity vs. Wanderlust. Finally she discovered she could—and should—have both.

Here's her little writing shed in the back yard of her old farmhouse at the foothills of the Rockies.  She and her husband worked hard to create this with recycled materials. Check out the antique wood-burning stove in the corner! *Swoon!*

Okay, without further ado, here's Carrie...

1. What are you currently working on?

Right now I'm working on my second book, which is a choose-your-own adventure for new parents called Have Kids, Will Travel. It's a follow-up to my first book, Wild Mama, a travel memoir that's being released in September. I also freelance, so I'm always working on various articles, essays, and blog posts. 

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

Some of my work focuses on solo travel or family travel, which are topics that haven't been written about extensively. 

3. Why do you write what I write?

I do a lot of traveling, from short adventures in the mountains to extended international trips. Sometimes I go solo, and sometimes my husband and young kids join me. When I get out of my routine and comfort zone, I find lots of inspiration, which fuels my various projects.  

Yelapa, Mexico is Carrie's home-away-from-home-- accessible only by boat-- so beautiful! 
And what an amazing (and *inexpensive*) place for the whole family to spend the two worst months of Colorado winter...

4. How does your individual writing process work? 

This depends on the specific project, but I'm at a point where I always have something to work on, so I've become pretty disciplined. Three days a week, I begin writing right away in the morning before I get online, and I put in a couple of hours on my literary projects. Then I transition to freelance projects and internet work. In terms of craft, I tend to work from the outside in, starting with a sketch and then filling in details as I revise. 

I like working in simple, uncluttered spaces. My writing shed in my backyard is ideal, as is the desk I use in remote Mexico for two months each winter. 


Me again!  I highly recommend reading some of Carrie's articles to whet your appetite-- you can find links to many of them (from the Huffington Post, Outside, 5280, Fort Collins Magazine, The Coloradoan, and more) on her website

Thanks for swinging by!  And I'm always curious to hear about the creative ways that other adventurous parents maintain and develop their own wild spirits while their kids are young. If you want to share your experiences (struggles and triumphs, both), please leave a comment!  You can read about my own experiences traveling solo (while a mom) here and here... and my experiences traveling *with* my precious Lil Dude here and here.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jungle & Beach & Ruins around TULUM!

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Hello darlings,

Ian and Lil Dude (who is really not so lil anymore, truth be told-- almost 8!) and I spent the first wonder-filled week of 2015 in the jungles and beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

We've been to this area a few times before-- flights from Denver to Cancun are direct and fairly cheap, and then it's a straightforward  1 and a 1/2 hour rental car drive to Tulum.

Here's the lovely guesthouse we stayed in:

Previously, we'd stayed in cabanas right on the beach, but this time, we stayed in the jungled inland-- at the little La Selva Mariposa bed and breakfast, which was an easy 20-minute drive from the center of Tulum.

The place is in a rural area, on several beautiful acres of forested land, with a few cabanas for guests and an open-air dining area.  There were several private or shared "cenotes" on the property that you could swim in-- we shared ours with our neighbors. The little blue pools were human-made, but very rustic-looking, with waterfalls and stones and gardens. The water came from underground, where there are springs and caves and real cenotes. 
(And we actually did snorkel in real cenotes one day-- three deep caves near Coba... so magical.)

There were pretty trails on the b n b property...

And enchanting  little spaces where you could read on hammocks.  The book I brought along was Jandy Nelson's I'll Give you the Sun.  It was incredible, one of my new favorite YA's.

The temperatures at home in Fort Collins had been sub-zero/single digits/low teens for a while, and we were ecstatic to get away from the bitter cold.  Just being near flowers and leaves made my heart happy.

Winter in Colorado lasts too long (if you're not a skier, and I'm not.)  
By the end of December, I'm ready for sunlit green...

Here's what the inside of our room looked like.  There was a little sleeping nook for Lil Dude.

And look, a temazcal-- a Mesoamerican sauna.  This one was for relaxation, but I've done temazcals in rural Oaxaca as healing practices-- they were part of my Master's fieldwork in anthropology. 

Our last night in Mexico, Ian and Lil Dude and I sat in the temazcal and told each other what we were thankful for.  We try to incorporate this little gratitude ritual into everyday life... 
Lil Dude went first with: "I'm grateful we don't have lice." 
(This one often comes up in our gratitude listing... because no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. Not that there was anything bad that tropical evening-- it's just our gratitude-reflex now.)
After the lack-of-lice came: swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, Mayan ancestors, loving family, etc....

Our b n b was close to the Mayan ruins of Coba... we went there in the late afternoon/early evening-- the light was gorgeous, and the ruins not terribly crowded at that time.  
I love the jungly nature trails that you walk or bike along to go from building to building-- very peaceful.

I included this picture because Lil Dude's feet are so dang cute I can hardly stand it. 
He lost his fifth tooth right after our trip! He's at that toothless smile stage now, adorable.

So, I have this policy of not posting pics of him (at least not his face), but I have to show you my imitation of his standard photo pose at these ruins: arms spread out wide, as if to say, "Behold!  My ancestors' masterpiece!"  We adopted him from Guatemala, which means he most likely has some Mayan blood-- and he is extremely proud of this ancestry.  He practically takes personal credit for the temples and ball courts...

Usually we try to avoid big theme-parky-places, but we decided to go to Xel-Ha for various reasons, and were glad we did!  
We were pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly... pleasant... the whole experience was. 

 Twas a completely delightful day of snorkeling in natural lagoons and caves, zip-lining, doing an obstacle course, swimming with dolphins, eating at the yummy all-you-can-eat-and-drink traditional Mexican restaurant... it definitely surpassed my expectations.  
And Lil Dude said about fifty times that day that he was in paradise, that this was "a dream come true."

The whole place seemed very efficiently run and eco-friendly.  There were plenty of cool paths through jungle foliage and wildlife like coatimundis, tropical birds, and of course, stunning fish.

We hung out on the Tulum beach for a couple days...

 Usually Lil Dude is a huge fan of the beach-- he especially loves surfing-- but we didn't spend too much time on the beach this time because the mountains of seaweed freaked him out.  There really wasn't any place to build sand castles because the seaweed had the prime wet-sand real estate.

So nice to eat fish caught that same morning....

One evening, we went to the Tulum ruins, situated right on a cliff overlooking the ocean-- so pretty and picturesque, but not as exciting and interactive as the Coba ruins.

We just resorted to old-fashioned selfies, since Lil Dude's photos often result in missing heads and blurred torsos. Lots of people had those selfie-sticks-- first time I'd seen them.

I tend to make impractical purchases while traveling-- things that are a pain to try to carry back on the plane. These large ball pendant lampshades were a craft specialty of the tiny town where our b n b was located.  I wanted to get a three-foot-diameter one to hang from our back porch roof (which we have yet to build, haha!)  Ian gently helped me realize we'd never get that thing back on the plane, so I settled on a 20-inch one.  We stuffed it with clothes and wrapped it in cardboard and stuffed more clothes on the ends of the duffel bag.... and it survived the trip! 

In the spirit of brutal honesty, I will also share with you the un-fun moments of the trip, too...

1) Despite the cuteness of Lil Dude's sleeping nook, he refused to sleep in it, and insisted on sleeping with me in the full/queen bed, which meant giving Ian the boot... which did not sit well with Ian.
Bedtime conflict, every evening.

2) Lil Dude received his first hand-held electronic gaming device for Christmas, and was naturally inclined to play obsessively... so there was much struggling over Nintendo-boundary-setting.

3)  I had my own little melt-downs, the main one over artificially scented toilet paper.  I hate the stuff.  I hate anything artificially scented, but especially toilet paper.  I'm ridiculously sensitive to smells, and this variety, in particular, drives me crazy.

4) And since we tend to spend money on cool trips rather than vehicles and their maintenance, *neither* of our cars would start the night before the trip (partly because of the cold, and partly because of aging batteries), so we had to do some stressful scrambling to come up with Plan B, which was an inadequately heated airport shuttle at the crack of dawn in sub-zero temps.
 (Everyone's feet were numb by the end of the one and a half hour ride to the airport.)

So, now you know the warts on our trip, too... but overall, it was an abracadabrant getaway.

 I have more travel coming up soon, this time *solo travel*, of the adventurous type... 
and there will be plenty of green involved!  More on that later.

My upcoming travel is related to a new book idea... but as you know, I tend to stay quiet about books-in-progress.  And this Tulum trip, too, was related to a book-in-progress, but one at the revision stage.  That's what I've been busy with since our return.  I hope to be able to tell you more about that one, soon.  I also hope to be able to tell you the new title for The Impossible Caravan and share the cover with you some time in the not-so-distant future!

May you find your own colorful way to make it through winter... 
or maybe you're already in some beautiful green-blue place, in which case... lucky you!

Thanks for coming by!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

The happy new life of my old theatre seats...

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Hello dear readers!

Would you like a peek at Ian's and my holiday project?  Here's the final product!

They add soft and comfy and compact extra seating in our little living room... and give you the festive urge to make buttery popcorn and eat it in paper bags.


My good friend Les Sunde, who makes beautiful story-filled creations from rusty old things (you can read an article I wrote about him here-- and note that it takes a few seconds to load), gave me three red art deco theatre seats a couple years ago.

They came from the local old Bas Bleu theatre on Pine street here in Fort Collins, before the theatre moved.  (We think that they're from the 1940's-- their original home was a theatre in small town eastern Colorado.)  I had big dreams for these seats, but they sat in my garage collecting dust for three years....

... and then, a cute little reupholstery shop called Sparrow House of Designs opened up just blocks from my house.  So I consulted with the lovely owner, Gayle, and we made a plan to give these seats another life.


The fabric (velvet and vinyl and some kind of scratchy old material on the sides) was in bad shape, stained and a little torn and threadbare in places.


 We pried the cushions from the metal base with a screwdriver and got rid of the stuffing....

They were full of dust and stuffed with hay and burlap and ancient cotton padding. (Sadly, I'm extremely allergic to dust and hay, so these were an allergy nightmare. I wore a dust mask while removing that stuff.)


 I re-stuffed and reupholstered the seat and back cushions, with Gayle's help. (That's the cotton padding on the right, below.)


It was so fascinating to see the way these seats were originally assembled... there's this narrow, slinky-like spring that's holding the seat back fabric into place.



The metal back of the seats are kind of rusted from decades of spilled Cokes, I'm guessing.  I like the way the old metal looks, though, so we're keeping it intact.


I found some gorgeous, silky-smooth velvet fabric remnants super-on-sale at  Gayle did a beautiful job sewing the velvet for the seat, which I couldn't do with my limited sewing skills and non-upholstery-grade sewing machine.  Then she provided the foam and Dacron wrap for me and guided me through reassembling the seats.  (I think the foam was about 4 inches thick-- I glued a layer of Dacron to it with spray fabric adhesive.)


Ian helped me, too, since he's well-muscled and mechanically-minded.  There was an issue with one of the seat's springs, but he fixed it. (He always tells me from the get-go that he's not going to get involved with my latest creative dream-project, but then he gets sucked in for one reason or another and saves the day.)

I glued two layers of Dacron to the metal back (and glued them together, too.)  Then Ian and I wrapped the new velvet around the metal and cushion, which was a bit challenging because we had to wedge it in with that tiny, long slinky. We accomplished this with a hammer, mallet, clamps, and Ian's brute force. 

He built a sturdy hickory frame for the base, made from leftover, pre-finished wood flooring from our remodel.  Once again, I feel I owe thanks to the young boy Ian of the 1980s who obsessively played with Legos, thereby mastering the basics of construction... and it has served our whole family well!

Et voila! The end result...

One charming thing about these seats is that there's an ancient chewed-up piece of gum stuck under one of the arms.  We're keeping it there for posterity's sake. It's probably decades old-- any germs are long gone, replaced by the charming patina of the years. (Right?)  So if you come over to try out the chairs, be warned!  And, as we instructed Lil Dude, don't you dare remove that piece of gum...

We're trying to keep Wilma and her potential doggy-grime off the seats... we don't want to have to reupholster them again for at least a few years. :-)

That's it!  I wish you happiness in your own creative projects....