Living Above “The Shop”

My apartment is just behind the red banner.

As an avid reader, movie buff and writer, I’ve always loved the idea of unique living situations. When we lived in San Fernando Valley – California- I would always point to bungalows, often incredibly tiny and part of a former motel complex, and announce to my incredulous husband, “I want to live there someday.” He’d just chuckle and shake his head.

my bedroom
Not exactly a Murphy bed!

One other recurring attraction was to apartments above businesses, regularly represented in the old black and white movies I watched every day after school. The “shop” below was frequently a jazz bar or a Chinese restaurant and equipped with a bathtub under the kitchen table, fold-down ironing board and sometimes a Murphy bed hidden behind the front room wall.

I now live above the shop, a café specializing in cake and coffees, not quite as glamourous as a jazz club, but don’t worry – I still get lots of music. Manzanillo, Mexico, is not a busy place, but I manage to live right on the busiest – actually the MAIN – street of this berg of about 160,000 people.

The Good Friday party getting started behind my place.

Although there is a large Canadian presence from November through March, there are very few foreigners in town at the present, but the party scene Thursday through Sunday nights is still very strong. And I managed to situate myself half a block from the party beach. In short, my nights are noisy. But they are also full of “joie de vivre.” There’s loud music, raucous laughter, sporadic shouts at passing friends and all of it accompanied by the sound of crashing waves. I have come to love it all.

One of the cool little nooks in Costenos.

During the open hours of the café downstairs, Costenos, I am treated to more the subdued laughter of business meetings and friends coming together for a few minutes. I also watch the tending of the gardens from above on my balcony.

My favorite people-watching perch.

Daytime also affords me the opportunity to watch people, sometimes from my street-side balcony or occasionally I perch on at a table out front for the best view. I have always loved people-watching and find so many characters I spot end up in a story or novel.

During my last taxi ride, the driver told me that there are about 900 taxis in Manzanillo. I immediately felt that must be an exaggeration, yet in my approximately 40 taxi rides I’ve only had the same taxista once. They all seem to know where Costenos in Las Brisas is. Do I live in a famous place? Is this the 21 Club of Manzanillo? Unknown. I’ll have to suss that out during my next stay.

So, now I’ve had another unique living experience, and have come to consider this my home away from home. I plan on living above the shop for six months every year, spending a month or two at home and exploring the world again for about four months out of every year. Where to next? Who knows. I go where the wind (or plane fares) blow me.

Can’t forget my backyard!



The offending spot!

I was talking to a local taxi driver yesterday, as he drove me to an unexplored section of town, and we began discussing Americans. He’d lived in the States for a few years and was effusive about how nice most Americans were, which I appreciated – especially now.

I mused that we are, as a breed, a bit spoiled and totally intolerant of imperfections. He chuckled and nodded. “Yes, but so nice.” Then I knew he was being very kind himself.

Make no mistake, I count myself among the overindulged and previously intolerant of flaws. I can easily slide back into that frame of mind if I don’t watch myself.

Here’s what I mean. As I traveled around SE Asia, I would become very irritated by the way the painting was done. Brand-new paint jobs on the walls of my rooms and other areas would have drip spots left on the floor and irregular edges along the ceiling. Nothing drove me crazier than spotting these blemishes.

I wondered, “Why can’t they just do a good job?” The attitude continued through Central America, where I traveled next and the “problem” continued.

One day, somewhere in Nicaragua, I suddenly thought, “Why does this bother me so much?” And I realized that I’d been brought up with an expectation of perfection, or at least the striving for it. I was imposing that ideal on cultures that had absolutely no use for it.

Occasionally, this long-held belief seeps into my brain even still. This morning, I nearly rejected one of the very cute little coffee cups provided in my apartment because there was a tiny pimple in the bottom of it where the ceramic hadn’t completely met in the firing.  I’ve done that several times – just put it back in the cupboard. Today, I stopped my reflex reaction and used the “imperfect” cup, chuckling to myself.

Yes, it’s inbred and I suppose I’ll carry strains of it forever but at least I’m progressing!

Thoughts For The Day ~ Repost

I think this is a terrific post and it fits in with travelers of all kinds! Enjoy!

From the Desk of MarDrag


“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  ~ Martin Buber

MarDrag’s Thoughts:

On our Journey, our Life Path, there are Destinations we see, aspire to, and reach. Destination is what keeps us going, with the desire, hope, and success of reaching them. BUT…we cannot always know every Destination life has planned for us. Some Destinations are secret…because they either hold a tremendous reward, or a profound lesson. Those Destinations are a combination of our efforts on our Path and the forces of the Higher Powers, Destiny if you will, that guide us on our Path. If we knew every detail or every end point, than would we see a need to even make the effort? Life’s little tricks! In addition, our Paths and Destinations change all the time, depending on our Choices and Decisions.

Experiencing Life is our Purpose, the Destination is the cherry on top.

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This little girl (me at about 4) didn’t have any idea what was ahead!

I think one of the loveliest things about getting older is our ability to understand ourselves. Where most of us have been struggling for years with who we are, in our middle and later years it often seems to come together, magically.

Of course, it’s not really mystical at all, but rather years of trial and error, and an eventual dawning of truth.

Like in the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”, an awareness of the things that are simply part of our package can be one of the greatest gifts.

Since the age of 50, I’ve been stumbling upon these truisms about myself and the latest is earth-shattering for me. I’ve realized I’m extremely limited in my ability to process information and details. While I can often instantly see how information should be organized, stored and shared, I can’t easily use it myself.

I used to tell my shuttle passengers, who wanted to relay the entire directions to their home at one time, to only give me three steps at a time. They’d look at me sideways, but I truly couldn’t retain more than that. Thank goodness for GPS.

There have been signs all along; like my dislike of multiple choices. I’ve had friends who, when trying to accommodate me, have offered me many choices. Then after I’ve chosen one, go on to list more. I’d get very angry, internally, at being forced to reassess. I didn’t realize until just recently that this was because choosing involves detail scrutiny and I hate that. Take me to a restaurant, hand me a menu and I usually choose within a minute. DO NOT point out other things I might like!

This limitation of mine also dictates the way I write. I’m much more of a storyteller than an actual writer. To be precise, I’m more like that old shriveled up geezer, who sits by the fire, entertaining with stories he’s strung out of pure fantasy. You notice, in Hansel and Gretel, we never know why the witch likes to bake children in an oven. What is her motivation?

But this is only one of my many limitations. I’ve embraced them as I’ve discovered them, not tried to change them, unless they are truly changeable and it’s wise to do so.

Instead, I try to see the flip side. Often, what we view as a limitation also empowers us in some way. For instance, I tend to jump in with both feet without much hesitation because the details overwhelm me so I just do the thing. This has helped me a lot during my travels.

Also, my self-knowledge of this trait has pushed me to seek help from others when I need it. My daughter is invaluable when deciding which camera or laptop to buy. She helps me process the options. And because I absolutely cannot edit myself, I have asked a good friend to help me out with that and she’s been wonderful.

So, limitations are simply characteristics that define what we’re not so good at. That’s okay. It’s okay not to be good at everything. Accepting that truth makes life a lot easier.

kat with antlers
But this older woman is fully aware wonderful things are ahead.

Quotes Inspire Me

Inspiration in Mexico City – by way of art, not quotes – affirmation

When I was writing my last book, Hug a Pink Elephant, I went in search of quotes that summed up the point I was trying to get across. It was one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing that book.

One Facebook friend and fellow author, Douglas Wickard, posts a lot of quotes on his timeline and I find almost all of them inspire me. Here’s a couple recent ones:

“Enjoy life by limiting your emotional baggage to a small carry on.” – Tim Fargo

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

“Your life is short. You have no clue when this ride will end. Stay present and live fearlessly.” – Brenden Dilley

You can see why I get moved by these. I share an awful lot of them on my own timeline.

I love quotes because I am encouraged by them. They help me to take a new step or sit calmly in my life while I wait for something to resolve itself.

Here’s the one I’ve lived by for the last twenty years, at least: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” ~ Susan Jeffers

Hug a Pink Elephant #4

I profile several friends and family members in Hugs. Here is an excerpt featuring my friend, Dawn, who was the first to teach me to relax a bit about planning and booking my stays. I always think of her when I’m deciding on my next step. I met her in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and happily spent time with her, and a few other friends, poolside, playing dice and drinking… Ah, the good old days.

dawn in oman
Dawn, in Oman

One of my passions in life is traveling, not just traveling, but traveling as a single woman.  I guess I should start at the beginning and how I became inspired. 

I’m a small-town girl from Northern Ohio that moved to Washington, D.C. area with friends.  The day I landed a job in D.C. was the first step towards altering my life and thoughts forever.  I work for company that employs people from all over the world.  Now I could have just worked there and stayed in the frame of mind I had when I left the small town, I’ve seen it happen, but as I talked to people, I realized how naïve I was. 

I had done some traveling but only as a tourist never a traveler.  There is a big difference.  My early goal was to spend one week during the summer at a different Caribbean island starting with Antigua, Aruba and Dominica Republic but always with my boyfriend or friend and always staying at resorts. 

Don’t get me wrong, I always had a great time with the person I was with and I won’t cut myself too short since I did enjoy the different cuisines and would learn some history by speaking to the locals.  Then I met someone that completely inspired me and changed the way I traveled, her name is Catherine.  When I found out that she was quitting her job to travel for a year by herself, I thought to myself “Why can’t I travel by myself?”  It had never occurred to me.  Not only that, but to stop staying at the overpriced resorts.

There is a secret world and it revolves around staying at Hostels.  Some of the perks are meeting other travelers.  With that, you get a great advice and new friendships and as an added bonus, it is really inexpensive.  This allows you to do get more out of your time by using that extra saved funds for other experiences. 

I did take a trip with a friend to Spain and we stayed in really neat places that were called Pensions that had a lot of character.  Some with marble floors and staircases.  We started in Madrid.  After staying for three days we hopped on a train to Valencia for a day.  Then we flew to Majorca for five days, then to Barcelona for about a week, then back to Madrid for the last few days.  That was it, I was hooked on traveling.

I wanted to give this traveling alone thing a try but knew it would be best to travel to somewhere that people spoke English, so I traveled to the Bahama’s and even though I stayed at a resort; albeit a small one.  I ended up meeting so many people and had such a great time.  The next trip was a cruise to Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Cozumel still very touristy but again, I had a great time meeting people.  I knew it was time to take it to the next level. 

I’m fortunate enough to have more vacation time then the average American and a Boss that encouraged traveling.  My longtime dream was to travel to Australia.  Another inspiration developed from someone I worked with years ago and had lived there for a year.  I remembered the stories she told me.  So, it was time to plan my dream trip. 

Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Australia and Fiji for a little over a month.  Started in Sydney, took a bus ride south to the 12 apostilles and took a helicopter ride.  Then to Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Coober Pedy to mine for opals and stayed in an underground Hostel, Alice Springs to see Ayers Rock, then to Cairns to scuba dive around the Great Barrier Reef and back to Sydney. 

In addition to the other things I did, I had also gone white water rafting, jumped out of a plane, rode a horse on a beach over sand dunes, stayed under the stars in the middle of the desert in a sleeping bag.  After leaving Australia, I went to Fiji for three days before heading back home. 

I was on such a travel high after returning from that trip, I wished that I could swing the cost of traveling for a while on my own without employment.  While that dream has yet to transpire, I have since traveled to Germany, London, England, Panama (to see the Panama Canal), Kuwait, UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Oman, Belize (to see the Blue hole), Bermuda, Barbados and Canada. 

Most recently and where I met Kathy, I went to SE Asia.  Started in Bangkok, then to Vietnam (Hanoi, Hoian, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City), Siem Reap, Cambodia, then returned to Bangkok.  At the time of this writing, my next trip will be either South America or Africa.  After I travel to those two places, I will have hit all continents except Antarctica, then the plan is to fill in the blanks.  If I had six months to travel and the funds, that would be the plan of action.

As I’m traveling, I’m considering the area for a possible retirement destination. I would run into Expats just like Kathy at times.  It is cheaper to stay in some other areas of the world other than the U.S. and many countries welcome us and our Social Security and some offer tax breaks.  But I also do it for education.  The places that are made out to be fearful due to mainstream media turn out to be just all hype in my experience.  Before I travel, I take the time to research the customs and traditions to try my best to not disrespect the people or their culture. 

The only regret that I have about traveling, is that I didn’t learn what I now know much earlier.  It can be done relatively inexpensively and is in a much more rewarding fashion.  Over the time, I’ve cared less and less about materialist stuff and more about saving for my travels, meeting new people and the education I gain.  I travel with a backpack with no real solid plans only an idea of what I want to see.  I found that just walking and allowing yourself to get lost, you run into things you would have normally missed.  Several occasions, I just went to the airport to hop on the next plane once I thought of my next destination.  Best of all once you get over your own vanity, you find that no one cares how you look or that you wore the same pants days in a row. It feels absolutely freeing.  

Critters and Creatures – Oh, My!

An elegant iguana at the Westin Golf Resort in Conchal, Costa Rica

Since I began my travels, back in August 2015, I have run into a wide variety of living things I might not have had the pleasure of meeting if I hadn’t left home.

The first and smaller scorpion – in Portreo, Costa Rica

While I had been introduced to bark scorpions in Arizona, by waking up with one just six inches from my face, I hadn’t ever seen the huge black variety until I found one in my shower in Costa Rica and two in my kitchen in Guatemala. Hands down, scorpions are the scariest creatures I’ve run into – up close and personal at least.

One of the geckos in Phnom Penh

I have had resident geckos several times – first the ones in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who lived on the walls of the downstairs restaurant. In Siem Reap – again Cambodia – I had a very noisy one I named Gary, who got very pissed off when I turned the lights on at night. Now I have Ernesto and Benito (thanks, Beth, for the names), two friendly rather flat geckos that chase each other around my shower mostly.

brown bat
Brown bat – not cute


Last week, my landlord and her handyman had to beat ten bats to death. They were establishing a colony in the upstairs outdoor living space and had to be eliminated. To her credit, Rosie tried to get animal control come out and relocate them, but no go. I had been sleeping with my window open (no screen) at night and was a bit freaked out, but I recovered my composure and am now back to open air sleeping. I researched the sound brown bats make and am on alert for that chittering sound should they try again to make our “arriba” their home.

This terrible photo is proof I actually saw this thing. See the next picture for more
seven-legged spider
Yes, there is a such a thing as a 7-legged spider!

I have been through two stages of spider fright – paralysis and acceptance. Paralysis occurred when I spotted this horrific thing with suction cups for feet on a wall in Bali. It was outside, so not much I need to do about it, except to return to breathing eventually.

For some reason, I was fine with a biggish (about the size of a quarter) spider in Guatemala because it crawled on me but didn’t bite me. I screamed and shook my leg and it went flying. Later, I frequently spotted it but couldn’t bring myself to kill it and it was way too fast to trap. I have forgotten the name I gave him – it might have been Frank – but one day I found him lifeless and removed him to the outdoors.

I enjoy iguanas and they are everywhere in Costa Rica and I’ve even recently spotted one here in Manzanillo. They’re basically friendly and everyone knows they eat bugs, so … okay.

A young howler monkey.

Finally, my absolute favorite critters – howler monkeys. I can’t remember if I’ve already told this story on the blog, but a re-telling won’t hurt. Vanessa (my daughter) and I were in Playa Grande, Costa Rica, and I was trying to build a client base on Upwork so I was writing outside by the pool at 4:30 a.m. when I heard the most ferocious growl. I froze and it came again. I knew it wasn’t very close but it was extremely loud and my first thought was that it was a jaguar. I decided it probably wasn’t going to eat me and went on writing after a short exploration at the gates to our hotel. The next morning the owner laughingly told me it was a howler monkey and it was only about a foot tall. What?! I came to love their sounds and would wake most mornings in Potrero, where I stayed for a month. I tried hard to get a picture couldn’t manage a decent one, so I’m adding the one above plus here’s my own attempt.

Not much after an hour of trying to get a decent picture.

In Potrero, Costa Rica, I also frequently ran into lovely gentle creatures, cattle. I was always a bit thrilled to walk alongside them.


A whole family of cattle, with several calves


I’ve rather enjoyed my encounters – even the scary ones – because they add a little flavor to life. I will however pass on sharks, gators and such.

This iguana stood perfectly still as I took a pictures of its evil grin