Above Average

Buenos Diaz, lovers! 

Earlier this week, I did a teary-eyed fist-pump when browsing through my Facebook timeline. I was pleased - no, ecstatic to learn that the beautiful Ashley Graham was named a Sports Illustrated Magazine cover model. Ashley has made history as the first plus-sized model to nab this coveted spot and I could not be any happier for her. Watching her reaction to the grand reveal gave me all of the feels; the tears, the incredulity, the jumping up and down in her inability to contain her excitement… it felt like a win for all of the curvy girls out there fighting the daily battle to have their beauty validated.

 Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images  Stunning!!

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Stunning!!

In the same week, I accompanied my soon-to-be sister-in-law along with both of our mothers and the rest of her bridesmaids to pick out her dress and be fitted for ours. The appointment started out perfectly – the bride had already narrowed the choice down to two dresses, so we helped her make the final choice then finalized a few of the color and veil-related details.

Next it was time to pick out the bridesmaids’ dresses. We were given a few choices to pick between and came to an agreement quite easily. The gown is quite lovely if I do say so myself, long and somewhat ethereal in a great shade of purple. The gathered waist and sweetheart neckline each feature some delicate crystal beading that adds a sophisticated level of sparkle to the dress. All in all, a great pick across the board.

With the hard part behind us, we each waited to have our measurements taken. The bride went first and remarked how surprised she was at the sizing schematic, which can absolutely come as a shock if you’ve never purchased a bridal gown before. For whatever reason, your wedding/bridesmaid dress size is, in a word: bullshit. It’s your regular size all hopped up on steroids. I don’t know who decided that it was a good idea to make you feel like a cow during what is supposed to be a positive and memorable experience, but that’s precisely how I felt the first time I was part of a bridal party. My brother’s fiancé, for example, is regularly a size three or four; her wedding dress, rounding one size up to play it safe, was ordered at a size 10.

Now, as any of my faithful readers or social media followers undoubtedly know by now, this is not my first rodeo, or second or third or seventh. I’m a frequent flyer at this damn rodeo, I should have a punch card for a free dress at this point. So I was more or less prepared to have to order a dress in a size that would stir up visions of a circus tent. Whatever, I thought. It is what it is.

 Note: not all weddings pictured here. Side Note: No, I'm not kidding.

Note: not all weddings pictured here. Side Note: No, I'm not kidding.

Then I was measured. I was advised that my bust, waist and hip measurements each corresponded with a different dress size. To err on the safe side, I should go with the size dictated by the largest of the measurements; no surprise here, that meant my hips. Fine, bring on the larger size. Better to have to alter a dress to make it smaller in places than to get one too small and be screwed. I still instinctively cringed a tiny bit when she told me the size I’d have to order, but told myself to brush it off. That was until the sales consultant said the following: “So, we’re going to order the larger size. And just so you know, that’s a plus size and has to be custom made. So you have to pay extra and there’s nothing I can do about that. Ok! Did you want to prepay for the entire thing or just leave the deposit?”

My previously cheery demeanor immediately evaporated, making way for the resting bitch face for which I’m apparently well known. I handed over my debit card for the payment of the deposit only, embittered enough to find, however irrationally, some sort of victory in a partial payment. Sensing my palpable mood shift, the sales girl attempted to make bubbly chatter. She asked if I was married yet, feigned shock that I wasn’t and expressed most enthusiastically her hopes that I’d come back to the bridal shop to get my dress when it was my turn. I couldn’t stop myself from issuing a snarky “Not if you’re going to tack on a premium for my hips, but thanks!” It was bordering on rude in tone and I know it.

I quickly corrected my mood as soon as the bride, who with the possible exception of my mother is the sweetest person I’ve ever met, looked at me with big brown eyes full of consternation. I smiled big and wide and assured her that all was fine. Inwardly though, I was not only upset but embarrassed. I work hard to be healthy – I eat right, I exercise. It was disheartening to be made to feel like a giant red buzzer was going to be pressed as soon as my order hit the manifest, like sirens would blare all across the factory, sending seamstresses whose overtime I was paying for into a frenzy to make my epic-sized gown. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL! GET OUT THE REALLY BIG SCISSORS AND GIANT SEWING MACHINE, WE'RE GONNA NEED THE HEAVY DUTY THREAD FOR THIS ONE!!!”

Later that evening at home with a glass of wine in my hand, I took a break from writing to read up on Ashley Graham and perhaps give myself a little ego boost. I was highly annoyed to learn of the barrage of hateful comments being leveled at Ashley and at Sports Illustrated for choosing her. One idiot called the cover a disgusting effort to shove obesity and laziness down our throats, another said curves aren’t anything to be proud of and said you too could look like Ashley if you just eat cheesecake all day. One troll commented, “Eww, another fat Adele. Wouldn’t want to pay for that grocery bill! What a whale!” and picked fights with anyone who called him out for his cruelty. Ironically, lots of the vitriol I read seemed to be coming from folks who were in no position to call anyone unattractive. I hope they all step barefoot on tiny Legos.

I was quite astonished at a different kind of negative feedback. Many plus-sized women expressed their distaste for the cover because they felt like Ashley wasn’t plus-sized enough. So skinny people are calling Ashley a whale, and bigger folk are giving her the Gretchen Wieners you-can’t-sit-with-us because she’s not plus enough to kick it. What the bloody hell?

So let’s go deeper here. I have never been a big fan of the term Plus Sized, in the assigning of certain sizes as normal and any outliers as not so. It is bothersome to me for a few reasons:

Plus, but No Minus: Only the outliers on the higher end of the spectrum get a special label. While I’m glad someone went with Plus Size rather than Too Big, Super Size, or Biggie, Biggie Biggie, Can’t You See These Clothes Aren’t Meant to Fit You, You See?, I resent the fact that no one went out of their way then to assign a label to the sizes on the lower end of the spectrum. If I’m a Plus Size, why aren’t the size 0 girls of the world a Minus Size? And don’t give me Petites, because that’s more about height.

Law of Averages: I have read and heard for as long as I can remember that the average woman is actually a size 14 or 16. Honestly, I don’t know if this is the case or not. It’s a confusing statistic. For one thing, sizing has changed drastically over the years (a size 8 in the 1950s is now a 16 according to an article I read in the Washington Post last year). Size also varies significantly depending on where you shop (some places I’m a size 12, others a 14 or 16. Blah – there, I said it). If it’s true though, the whole concept of what’s plus-sized relative to what's "average" or "normal" is seriously out of whack.

Who Decides What’s Normal?  As far as what’s “normal,” what the hell does that mean anyway? In my family, for example, wide hips are common. One of my aunts and I often wear a pant size that matches exactly or is within one size of each other. She’s rail thin, I am clearly not. Who’s the normal one and who's the circus attraction? Are we both abnormal because we’re not a smaller size? Am I the abnormal one because I see a larger number on the scale though our hip circumference is similar? I get that clothing obviously has to be bigger if your measurements are larger – that’s called math, and I get it. But why normalize one size range and not another when they encompass so many different body types? It leaves a lot out of the equation.

This all brings me back to why I’m perplexed over the divisiveness of Ashley Graham. I love that she’s breaking new ground but hate that this particular ground was there to break in the first place. For everyone calling her a cow because she’s a double-digit size, shut the hell up. Quit trying to marginalize her success with your “stop trying to make fat people beautiful, they’re all unhealthy and have diabetes” nonsense. I get what you're trying to do here, and yes: I do believe that there is a fine line between body positivity and glorifying unhealthy habits. But sweetie, the girl isn’t sitting around shoveling spoons of lard into her mouth in between shots of insulin and begging you to love her. It is absolutely possible to be of a larger size and be in excellent health, as is Ashley. For those saying she isn’t big enough to truly represent plus-sized women, you too may sit down. It all has to start somewhere, and I think she is a perfectly stunning place to start.   

Where I’m choosing to focus, as I’m sure are Ashley and countless other women, is the positive response. For every hatred-spewing troglodyte likening Ashley to a barnyard mammal or aquatic beast, there appears to an exponential number of light-bearing, love-touting supporters in Ashley’s corner. It gives me hope that the tide may indeed be turning, that healthy, not necessarily skinny, will be the new goal; it’s like I’ve said before – beauty comes in all sizes and real women have mitochondria.  I am still pretty bothered at being told that my bridesmaids dress is going to cost me more because I’m not a certain size. Then again, my waist size is cool enough to grace the cover of a swimsuit magazine.

So maybe I’m just above average, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Bookishly Yours,

Vanessa

 

 

The Look of Love

Buenos Diaz! I’m putting this post together on Valentine’s Day, a perfectly lovely day that I spent most of at a secret solo sanctuary away from home. I read and wrote in a Harry Potter t-shirt with a bottle of wine and snacks of all sorts. Because I forgot to bring a glass to drink out of or any kind of cutlery, I drank the wine straight from the bottle and took bites of cheese straight from the block. I am nothing if not the picture of classiness.

Today is supposed to be about love though, so earlier I joined some of the people I love most for breakfast – my parents and brother. We noshed at a favorite Mexican spot where the tortillas are made right there in the restaurant and are as thick as the hips they go straight to when I eat them. My favorite element of the meal was that for once, we weren’t approached like we usually are by a camera-toting female offering to take a free photo of us. That “free” photo is tiny and plastered with the restaurant logo, clearly meant to be a gateway to prettier, higher-quality prints costing $15.00 each. It’s uncomfortable enough to have to refuse the accompanying sales pitch; it’s super f*cking awkward to have to let the chick know that my brother and I are indeed siblings and not the “cute couple” she keeps referring to us as. This is what happens when you look nothing like your brother and he’s a good looking dude.

Keeping with the trend of surrounding ourselves in love, we made our way as a family over to a place near and dear to our hearts: Costco. After picking out a gorgeous arrangement of roses and lilies for my brother's fiancé (plus one for my mom - dad wasn't going to be upstaged), we walked towards the back of the store and approached the aisle containing the camping gear. My dad has had his eye on a dome tent, a model that boasts a 60-second setup and can accommodate five or six people, for at least a year. He has longed for that bad boy, excitedly explaining how useful it would be for trips to the park or beach or for toting around the grandkids, should my brother and I ever get it together and actually decide to produce any. He’s caressed the damn tent lovingly while walking away from it each time though, whispering “Someday!” to it the way I do to pricey rings, private libraries or travel ads to the UK. The tent was only around $80 but this amount has never been justifiable to my retiree father, who’s always been frugal and not one to indulge his fancies.

This time though, he decided it was time to treat himself – well, almost. My brother and I overheard him telling my mom that with his next pension check, he’d finally pull the trigger. My brother quickly chimed in to remind us all that he was the only one of the group with a Costco card, so he was going to pay for everything anyway and had no problem spotting my dad the cost of the tent. He and I will likely end up splitting the cost anyway as a present; it’s not that my parents can’t afford it, it’s that they feel guilty spending money on themselves.

I can’t help but look back on my childhood here. My parents put both my brother and I through private school as kids, a feat my parents struggled to afford but figured out as best they could in the name of giving us a solid education.  At one point, the financial burden forced them to evaluate whether they could continue to keep us in Catholic school. This caused my parents a great deal of consternation; the part of town we lived in didn’t boast a particularly stellar public school system but did have the advantage of being $Free.99.  When they sat me down to tell me that I might have to switch schools, I cried my freckly little face off. I begged and pleaded with them to let me stay with my friends, as though they were exacting an unjust punishment and not trying to keep their heads above water. I was breaking their hearts without a clue that I was going so.

So they continued to make it work, taking advantage of every possible tuition break available: endless volunteer shifts at every carnival, gala and bake sale, helping out at the school itself, signing us up to sell a ridiculous amount of those World’s Famous Chocolates or any other item the school asked us to hock. When it came time to pick a high school, I can only imagine my parent’s horror and simultaneous relief when I asked to be sent to a public school. My dad loathed the idea of me going to the local high school for a variety of reasons, insisting he'd find a way to afford one of the two Catholic high schools that were the natural next step for the majority of my classmates. Still, the idea of a free education held significant appeal; my parents sure as hell didn’t have a five-digit sum of money to fork over every year, not by a stretch.

One night I walked by my parents’ bedroom on my way to bed, and through a sliver in the mostly closed door, I saw my dad wringing his hands through his hair. Even if we hadn’t just discussed my educational future at length over dinner, I wouldn’t have had to think too hard to guess the source of his agony. I was starting to get it at the tender age of 13, to grasp the enormous weight that accompanies the making of choices that affect your children’s futures. He was stressing over me, over what to do with me.

The following morning, I formulated a plan: I’d file a request with the school board to be allowed to attend a high school outside of my district. The process took several weeks and involved multiple interviews with counselors, principals and board members. plus carefully written letters and presentations with graphs and fancy pie charts. The school I’d selected after careful analysis of the entire district's AP curriculum, graduation rates and college acceptance ratios was already significantly over-populated; I heard a lot of "no" during the process, an already daunting one for a kid of my age.  Imagine my family’s surprise and collective sigh of exuberant relief though when we got the call informing us that my request had been granted. Something about a pre-teen in her best clothes and a giant portfolio with big dreams must have won someone over. Thus was born the story my dad would tell about a thousand time in the years that followed. He was so proud of me, and elated that he could send me off to high school in peace.

My parents’ sacrifice was far from over though. Attending a school out of my district meant a longer commute; this meant that my mother had to pick up and drop off her two children in different parts of town every day, a challenge even before factoring in the many sports practices, dance rehearsals, study groups, volunteer shifts, etc. Then after high school, both my brother and I decided to pursue education at private universities. The scholarships and grants helped but weren’t enough; my parents took out loans to help afford the cost of our education. They held on to cars that badly needed replacing but managed to help my brother and I get cars of our own. They never took a single vacation or bought themselves one nice thing for themselves. They put their children above all things always – and what’s more, they were happy to do it.

The thing about all of this is that 98% of the time, my parents hid their struggle. They rarely let on to the fact that making ends meet was a challenge, never made my brother or I feel like we owed them anything or like it was all a lot to manage. Instead they celebrated every good grade, every victory, every performance. They made us feel special and treasured and important and unstoppable. They loved us every day, unequivocally, unwaveringly.   

So as I stood in line at Costco with my successful, educated and soon-to-be-married brother and my goofy, affectionate parents, I felt pride. I’m proud to be the daughter of a man who has brought his wife flowers every Valentine’s Day and anniversary as far as I can remember, the first man to bring me flowers and to put a ring on my finger. I’m proud to be the daughter of a woman who is loved by everyone everywhere and who leads always with her heart. I’m proud that, though a little bit lost and a lot of a dreamer, I am still deemed worthy of their decades of enormous sacrifice; they remind me of this fact every chance they get. To them, it was all so worth it.

To get these people a Costco camper then seems a little anti-climactic, especially with no cute offspring to load it with and sweeten the pot. “Thanks for all the self-denial, folks! Here’s an $80 camper thing to even the score!” Still, look at the man’s face, the sheer, unbridled joy of a wish made reality. This is the man that taught me how to love, folks. May you all feel this kind of love in your lives today and every other day.  

Changes

BUENOS GOSH DAMN DIAZ, y’all. It’s about time, right? I woke up this morning, threw this new Beyoncé on and got to writing with a very clear idea of what I wanted to say.

My last post was in November of last year, which seems like forever ago. In truth, I kept writing and was never satisfied with the finished product. My work and social schedule were both on full throttle mode during the holidays, which was at once both exhilarating and exhausting. As my close friends know, I’ve been battling an epic run of insomnia which has in turn rekindled my ever-infuriating struggle with headaches. In short, I felt too tired to write, to read. I went on autopilot: gym, work, cook, sleep (but not). Why haven’t I learned that this strategy never f*cking works???

So in January, I jumped on the “new year, new me!” ridiculousness, which I usually don’t subscribe to but worked for me in that moment. I reminded myself of what everyone already knows and what I’ve said in this damn blog before - I like to read, I like to write, and I’m happiest when I do both.

Today’s drop of wisdom then is this: walking away from or even just stowing away your passions, even when it feels like you really don’t have the time to indulge them, will never stop those passions from tickling the hell out of your fancy. The desire to pursue those passions will linger and creep back up on you, then slap you in the face one day like a crazy, neglected girlfriend begging you to notice her saucy new haircut and brand-new dress.

So! What does any of this have to do with my blog? Well, I’ve restructured it into a few different categories. One of obstacles I kept encountering was wanting to write about a myriad of different topics and not knowing if they fit into the theme of my blog. Then I remembered that I don’t answer to any blog police and that this blog is mine and mine only. So that’s what I’m going to do. Here are the new headers/categories you’ll find here (giggles with excitement).

  • All the Thoughts: This is the traditional “blog” part of my blog, if you will: my musings, my stories, my reflections. This is where I will express my thoughts on everything from current events to dating struggles to my dad’s crusade to marry me off before Obama’s term is over.
  • Bookishly Yours: This is where my bookworm freak flag will fly, proud and true! I’ll post reviews or discussions of recent or favorite reads, authors, book trends, etc. Typing this summary alone is giving me so much life right now. Heeheehee. Man, I love to read.
  • The Six-One-Dine: You know what else I love to do? Eat and drink. Who doesn’t?? I have the privilege of living in America’s Finest City where the food scene has changed by leaps and bounds over the last several years, and that is something to be very excited about. Here I’ll clue you in on all the places I explore for the love of a good bite, sip and eye-catching ambiance.
  • Do This, Trust Me: I thought of calling this section everything from “Spend Your Money Here” to “Cool Sh*t.” This is the space I’ve dedicated to ranting and raving about products I love, events you have to take part in, etc. It’ll be great, trust me.  
  • Ask V: Whether because people actually find me funny or intelligent or maybe just like to hear a chatty Latina go off on a sarcastic diatribe from time to time, people are constantly suggesting that I should incorporate an “Ask Vanessa” section in my blog or create a YouTube channel dedicated to the endeavor. I always found the idea laughable, like doing this would make me look a little too into myself and out of touch with my own entertainment value. Still, I continue to get this suggestion so I’m giving it a go. I mean, blogging in and of itself assumes that someone wants to know what I think, right? Send any inquiries to buenosdiazsandiego@gmail.com , if you dare.

So there it is! Thank you for your faithful readership and indulging in my little pipe dream. Have a great week, and stay tuned!

Bookishly yours,

Vanessa

 

Same Love

Last weekend I went to a wedding in Malibu for which much preparation was required, i.e. a solid round of stretching and the ingestion of copious electrolytes and carbohydrates. Any wedding with an open bar has the potential for debauchery, but when the wedding involves a group of friends I now like to call Spain Gang & Associates (SGA), you really have no choice but to up the anti-hangover ante.

Bride Nicole and groom Manny are a lovely couple who were brought together when another lovely couple, Victor and Leandra Negrete, asked each of them to be part of their own wedding party. Nicole had known Leandra since middle school, Manny had known Victor since studying abroad with him during undergrad in Spain. The Negretes apparently knew exactly what they were doing when they paired up these two crazy kids because they hit it off damn near right away. They may or may not have been spotted making out the night of the very wedding.

 A couple of blissful years of dating later, Manny and Nicole announced that they’d be moving to Virginia as part of Manny’s military commitment as a Naval Psychologist. Mere days before packing up their belongings to make the cross-country trek from SoCal, a group of us were invited to a beachside rendezvous under the guise of celebrating Manny’s 30th birthday. We drank Malibu and rum from reusable Starbucks cups and jumped around in an illegal bounce-house, then Manny proposed to Nicole with a ring pop while he and a group of his closest friends reenacted the “Nightman Cometh” musical from “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” That sentence pretty much tells you everything you need to know, but allow me to take you back a bit further.

My first time hanging out with Manny was back before he or I had ever met Nicole. I was living in San Diego and had come up to LA to visit Leandra and Victor for the weekend. Manny was in town from Northern California so we went out to dinner in Hollywood, and thus began an evening that culminated in Manny’s shirtless Flamenco dance-off with a stranger at a local bar. Afterwards we all went to McDonalds and Manny climbed onto the roof of said establishment; meanwhile Victor asked the drive-thru dude for a McNugget for Caramia, Leandra’s pet Chihuahua who we’d picked up for the short ride to Mickie D’s. Back at Leandra and Victor’s place, Manny and Victor purchased the domain name www.whatwouldcharliesheendo.me . They made shirts with this WWCSD slogan and later wore them proudly for Victor’s bachelor party kick off: Tough Mudder. (It should be noted that this all went down years ago during Charlie Sheen’s “winning!” days, for as I sit here and edit, some unfortunate news of Mr. Sheen’s health has just been revealed).

Not long thereafter, Manny moved down to San Diego to commence a rotation at MCAS Miramar. Little by little, other members of SGA became San Diego residents as well and I was pleasantly surprised to have a new set of friends in my hometown. Soon Nicole was a part of the bunch and the good times kept rolling: examples of pre-gaming activities includes zombie shoot-outs, Call Me Maybe dance parties, or a fun little game wherein participants take a drink each time Sting says the name “Roxane” during the song of the same name.

Two years ago, SGA made its way to Palm Springs for a post-holiday Gatsby-themed celebration at the home of Nicole’s grandmother. We played Jenga and Twister and got iced in between, then came a round of Cards Against Humanity fueled by shots of Fireball. I was somehow delegated to yell “I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE!” each time someone volunteered to take a penalty drink in someone else’s stead. Our friend Jefe had to take a drop of bubble-bath to the eye, proving that the whole “tear-free” bit on the label is a giant pile of lies. Later we ordered pizza and jumped in the hot tub in our costumes. At some point, Manny put on a Spiderman suit and gave his favorite William Wallace freedom speech to an audience of tipsy faces that had been painted Braveheart blue.

Then there was the time when my friend Celina quit her job and sold her house to travel the world for a year; her going away party entailed an entire weekend of 90s themed shenanigans. SGA strolled the campus and surrounding streets of she and Manny’s Alma Mater UC Davis, clad at all times in items like homemade light-up sneakers, pagers with troll doll accents, acid-wash jeans and all the flannel you could ever hope for.  We took over a local dive-bar, hijacking the juke box to play strictly 90s hits – that is, with a small interlude for the Harlem Shake and Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente. At one point during the weekend, Manny and Nicole sat us all down for a special surprise – a reenactment of sorts of the Baywatch theme song, red swim trunks and high-cut one-piece included.

How then could this wedding of dynamically fun-loving people be anything short of amazing? Set to the backdrop of a picturesque Malibu beach around sunset, the bridal party walked down the aisle to a medley of songs that included Mariah Carey’s Fantasy and Billy Idol’s White Wedding. Our place cards were each hung delicately off bottles of everyone’s favorite sweet and syrupy beverage: you guessed it, Smirnoff Ice. Groomsmen Robbie was the wedding’s surprise Sexy Sax Man, whose rendition of Careless Whisper had half the room roaring on its feet and the other half going, “Who the hell invited this guy?!”

The DJ had us screaming the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing like it was last call, except it was only 7:46 PM and the night had quite literally just begun. I busted out Britney and Beyoncé choreography like I had any business doing so and a group of the fellas proved that Ace of Base is the best music to grind (with each other) to. Friends Romo and Tyler tried to recreate the famous leap from Dirty Dancing only to be one-upped by the groom who fully committed to that leap and ended up with a facial bruise as proof. There were photo booths and props, non-stop dancing, and parking lot parties at McDonald's afterwards. My friend Julie and I ate half a package of Double Stuft Oreos at 1:00 AM that we may not have paid actually for… and all of this was documented via an epic 500+ second Snapchat story.

Before the bacchanalia and dance-floor frivolity though, Victor and Leandra gave a lovely wedding toast in which they took turns speaking humbly of their role in Manny and Nicole's union. Victor shared hilarious anecdotes of their first arranged meeting (thanks for taking a bathroom break Vito, we owe this wedding to you). Then Leandra summarized their compatibility with one perfectly eloquent thought: Manny and Nicole are so, so different in so, so many ways, but the way they love and approach the things they love is the same. Swoon.

Nicole probably wasn’t looking for a man who on the eve of his wedding would gift warrior spears to his groomsmen after cutting a Star Wars groom’s cake with a Samurai sword to the tune of The Final Countdown. She got one though and he’s perfect for her, for he loves passionately, outrageously, and genuinely – just like she does. I raise a glass, a Smirnoff Ice even, to that same love, the kind of love that makes these two wonderful and distinct personalities such fierce friends, gracious hosts, empathetic listeners and lovers of life. Congratulations to you, Manny and Nicole. May we each find someone who loves like you do, like we do, and never let them go.  

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Thirty Onederful

Remember that time I turned 30? I do. I could have sworn that was just a few weeks ago. I celebrated my entrance into the fourth decade of my life with vigor and anticipation, surrounding myself with family and friends for a celebration that basically went on for the entire month of October 2014. I ate, I drank, I danced, I sang; I partook in a bathroom photoshoot at a bar alongside a likeness of Lenny Kravitz (see Exhibit A). I also thought I was Britney Spears (see Exhibit B).

 Exhibit A

Exhibit A

 Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Low and behold, I am one year older and analyzing my life like birthdays seem to make one do. So much has changed and also stayed the same. This time last year, I was working at my corporate job of 10 years but had announced my intent to resign; I was excited at the prospect of chasing my dreams but wracked with insecurity over the judgments of loved ones. I was single but longing, hopeful but restless. I was ready for change and nervous to enact it.

Today, I’m… well, to be absolutely candid: still trying to figure things out. I’m writing, slowly but surely. I had some great momentum in the beginning and now have slowed a bit. Little gigs have added up here and there but my craving isn’t quite satisfied. I want more, need more. The thing is, I got scared.

For one, I had a few very important voices in my head telling me I was crazy and saddling me repeatedly with questions. “Are you making enough money? What about insurance? Do you still have a retirement plan? Could you buy a house or have kids on your salary?” All valid questions, all posed from a place of love. Still, they ate at me.

So I started doing some temp work over the summer, mainly clerical stuff. One of the gigs, an admin position in property management, was actually a great fit: it boasted an excellent team of very dynamic personalities and required a skill set only too perfectly matched to my own. In August, a spot opened up at the property that I was encouraged to apply for by the property’s Community Manager. I accepted the position and am now that property’s Assistant Community Manager.

I confess that I was conflicted about taking this on. I love my team and am good at my job, and there’s plenty of potential for movement. Let’s not forget the money, which was a HUGE help recently when paying for all the expenses one incurs when two of one’s best friends and a few other assorted friends all get married in one year. Still, when I looked at myself in the mirror as I donned my stilettos and pencil skirt for the first time in months, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d too quickly betrayed my inner creative. Would I remain dedicated to my passion? Would I find that delicate balance?

The truth is, I’m working on it. Some days I’m better at it than others. Sometimes I wake up on my day off and spend the day writing furiously, or otherwise get home from work, shove a salad down my throat and do the same until the wee hours of the morning. On other occasions, I get sucked up in chores and errands and travel recovery (I have a serious addiction to being busy) and don’t get the chance to write more than a paragraph or two, if that. I feel remarkable pride on the days when I write and overwhelming guilt on the ones that I don’t. I fear that I’m not following up on new opportunities as religiously as I should be, not trying as hard to move in the direction I quit a long-time job to reach.

You know what though? It’s all going to be fine. Just like I made my peace with the unknown that came with quitting a job without another one quite lined up, I now am accepting of the fact that there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B. The type of freedom and creative expression that I said I wanted is still absolutely attainable, even if it will take some time and additional effort to fully possess them. I’ll have to take some more risks, lose a few more hours of sleep, learn to say no to a few dinner invites and airline sales, and above all: be thankful. I have a laptop, a brain, two hands, and a college degree in my pocket. I have a roof over my head, some cash to feed and clothe myself, friendships that soothe my soul, family that has my back. Looking at it that way, it seems silly to be so critical. Life is good and I’m thirty-onderful. More to come…

 

King Kylie and the Thirst Trap Kids

I’ve struggled with body image issues all my life. Growing up, I hated my face and body so much so that at the tender age of fourteen, I made a list of things I would change about myself as soon as I’d saved enough pennies. My nose was too big, my face too freckly. My hair was wavy, my waistline too thick and my hips were wide as hell without much of a butt to match. My boobs were an ok size but not the shape I wanted; my lips were bird-like and my chin looked like an ass. If someone had handed me a blank check and the name of a decent doctor, can you only imagine what I might look like today?

Why yes, yes you can, actually. I’d look like Kylie Jenner.

Let me start by admitting I am one of those people that generally harbors no hatred for the Kardashian/Jenner squad. Call me crazy but I really do think Kim and Khloe’s’ butts are God-given, and I’d for damn sure give my kingdom but for one hour to pillage their closets. Sure, they’re often pretty ridiculous - North is the only one I’m really and truly down with because that little girl keeps it real. At the end of the day though, I feel like they’re probably halfway decent people who sometimes do frivolous things like so many other people in possession of gobs of money and fame.

That being said, the youngest of this reality TV’s supreme reigning family infuriates me.

Miss Kylie Jenner has become quite the social media giant, boasting over 36 million followers on Instagram and 11 million on Twitter alone. Via these and other outlets, we occasionally see snippets of a young girl trying to spread some love in the word: shots from a recent visit to Children’s Hospital on the eve of her 18th birthday, for example, and the #IAmMoreThan anti-bullying campaign she started up on Instagram. Along with each of her sisters, she recently announced the launch of a newly revamped website: she touts the accompanying mobile app as a labor of love for her fans.

These warm and fuzzy posts, however, are the exception and not the rule. Her followers are more commonly flooded with a barrage of carefully selected selfies, many of them overtly sexualized or dripping in material excess. Every day a different wig, a fresh batch of lip filler; a shot of ample cleavage, a frame focused on her derriere (the young kids call it “thirst trapping.” I call it “conceited as sh*t”). Several months ago, amidst the flurry of now-confirmed suspicions that Jenner’s lips had been cosmetically enhanced, she posted to Twitter that she “was happy w the way God created” her. Honey: it’s hard to buy the authenticity of this statement when your lips are fat full of injectable irony.

I’ll give the girl credit: she’s got an edgy sense of style and one mean makeup game, traits that have millions of teenaged girls (and boys, and grown-ass folk) wanting to cop her look. But go ahead – do a quick Google search. Take a peek at the before and after. Those aren’t minor touch ups and tricks of light. No amount of over-lining is going to get you that pout. This is the part I take issue with - not just the drastic beauty measures but the hyper sexed tone. Kylie’s transformation promotes a dangerous ideal of beauty that is spreading like an (overly contoured) cancer. It screams, “Hey kids! If you weren’t born with it, change it! Blow a couple grand on it! Flaunt it, record it, slap some sex on it; call it a tutorial or #OOTD and poof! You too can be a thirst trap!" 

The part that really, really gets me is that Kylie is a gosh-damn teenager. This girl got work done before she was even of the age to legally consent to it without parental approval. How much is up for debate. And I get it - she’s probably facing formidable pressure to look a certain way – being in the public eye will do that to you, especially when you were birthed by Kris Jenner. Still, she has a very powerful platform and is unfortunately using it for the exhibitionist glorification of her heavily made-up and surgically-enhanced form. She isn't teaching young girls how to be comfortable with the skin they’re in - and how could she when she didn’t learn this trait herself? Instead she’s inspiring her faithful flock to plump it up, push it out and throw it on the gram. Again - Google her. Insert Mexican Abuela voice: "Mira esta sinverguenza!" 

At age 30, I happen to like my wavy hair, and lip liner works wonders for my tiny mouth. A good bra keeps my boobs looking good and these freckles? They remind me of my mom. I’m still often insecure, who isn’t? I’m still thankful that no one ever gave me the option of taking my teenage insecurities under the knife. Kylie sure is lovely, but to be honest – she’s cheating. Girls: take what the good Lord gave you and love it for yourself. Aspire to be more than a thirst trap.

 Kylie at 18... you know, chillin'. Reeeeeal natural lips tho.

Kylie at 18... you know, chillin'. Reeeeeal natural lips tho.

 Me at 18, swearing I was a behemoth at this size.

Me at 18, swearing I was a behemoth at this size.


Reunited

My Mexican family is stereotypically huge. My mother is one of five and my father is one of six; all but one of those aunts/uncles is married and all but two of them have at least two kids. This, however, is not even the tip of el iceberg. The real fun starts when you get into counting cousins, for mine is a family where the number of times some of the women have given birth is in the double digits. Think about that.  

I won’t lie to you here: I don’t even know how many of us there are. All I know is that I could see half of my extended family in the street and not know we were related. Do you know how terrifying that is? I could meet some guy tomorrow, fall in love and start a Pinterest board only to be out on a date, asking about weekend plans and discover most unceremoniously that my Uncle Gabe is his uncle too.

Let’s chat about my Quinceañera. My parents and I had trimmed and cropped the invite list so many times and were still looking at a massive 325+ guests - you know Latinos: you don’t want to offend anyone, so you get pressured to invite everyone. We finally sat down and agreed on a few key points: our family was huge, we loved them all, but I personally didn’t even know a lot of them very well and helloooo: we were ballin’ on a budget. My mom, ever the optimist, came up with a genius plan for dealing with the Torres, her mom’s particularly sizable side of the family. We’d give ten invitations to each of the “smaller” family units that make up the larger clan, then they could each decide amongst themselves who would like to attend. Those ten people would get the supreme privilege of watching me dance to Thalia’s Piel Morena in my pretty white dress while all those less enthused by the idea could stay at home and save the gas money. Win-win for everyone! But oh, the best laid plans of mice, men and Mexicans…

A few weeks before my big day, I got home from school and checked the mail like usual.  Tucked between the Pennysaver and an Oriental Trading catalog were several RSVPs in those cute little cream-colored envelopes we’d supplied with the invitations. I was about to hand those over to my mom when another little stack of envelopes caught my eye, plain white ones with our address handwritten on the front. I opened one of them out of curiosity and it took me a minute to figure out what I was looking at…

It was my RSVP card, but not. It was black and white and written on. I yelled out, “Moooooom!” as the realization sunk in: my big fat Mexican family had photocopied my invitation and passed that sucker to everyone. We were already feeling pretty obnoxious about our ridiculous guest list when we found ourselves upping the food order and calling the hall with the emergency revision: please open up that final wing, sir, we need space for over 400 bodies. That staggering figure is precisely why I’ve always said that I will have to marry an only child or an orphan. Maaaaaybe a dude with one sibling. We’ll see.

Just a few years later at my cousin’s Quinceañera, this same crazy but lovable Torres family showed up in droves once again. Her venue couldn’t physically accommodate the additional number of guests, so what was she to do? Nothing! See, they got a hotel down the street and attended the party in shifts. Say what you want, dude, but Mexicans are resourceful.

Given the size of the bunch, it is therefore an impressive feat that this Torres family organizes an annual family reunion. It is hosted by one of families of the Torres siblings, i.e. my Abuela Mari and her brothers and sisters, and is generally held in either San Diego, Riverside or LA’s San Gabriel Valley. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the 2015 reunion in Irwindale, California at the Santa Fe Dam.

I carpooled in a big comfy minivan with my Tio Tony and Tia Monica, my Abuela Mari, cousins Alexis and Amanda, and Alexis’ boyfriend Rosendo. We left just after 7am, as always not quite on time, hitting the road while munching on a fresh batch of Abuela’s papa y chorizo burritos. Amanda kept to herself and played with her phone, my Tia fought to get a word in with my Abuela, and my Tio barked back at us from time to time, “EY! Calabazas! Pass me an iced tea!” Alexis and I, the “Calabazas,” shared the last row of the van with a giant cooler and each other. We cozied up with a set of blankets nearly as old as we were, sang songs on the radio and talked our faces off. Minus the presence of a boyfriend figure who got the “coveted” privilege of sharing the front row with my Tio, it was just like old times.

Upon arrival, we helped ourselves to some piping hot menudo and a steaming cup of freshly made café de olla then made our rounds greeting members of our extended family. The next 8+ hours were spent talking and eating, taking pictures and eating, pivoting canopies and chairs to stay in the shade and eating. Prizes were raffled, bingo was played, the young folks partook in a rousing volleyball match and everyone else oohed and aahed over how grown all of the young ones were.

The highlight of the day unfolded when my Uncle Gabe announced that my great aunt Trini was selling a selection of her hand-knit items. The items included coin pouches, phone and iPad cases, wristlets and the like, and Rosendo decided to show his support by purchasing a camo-colored phone pouch. My Abuela asked him what he had in his hands and Rosendo foolishly held it out for her to see. Poor Rosendo, so naïve to Abuela’s wily ways.

See, my grandmother is a thug. She wasn't always, to be fair - the shift took place when she had her liver transplant over a decade ago. Doctors warned us that we might observe changes in her personality and boy, he wasn't kidding. She was always so sweet and even tempered, never raised her voice and always sort of went with the flow. Her smile never wavered and she was always the pacifist, keeping everybody happy because that's just how grandma was.

Now she'll punk you in a game of cards, sass you if she thinks you looked at her funny and will flat out tell you where you can go if you try to cramp her style. She once called me stupid for having gone wine tasting in Temecula, not because she has a problem with wine, but because only a stupid person wouldn’t have gone to the nearby casino instead. She's accused me of wearing a wig twice in the last six months, giving me side-eye when I insist that I just have a lot of hair. Her latest quirk is that she insists on wearing this flimsy fleece scarf tied around her waist all the time. She "has" to wear it, she says, and will kung fu fight with anyone who insinuates that it is not indeed as effective as a back brace. That sucker was like $10 from Old Navy, dude, knock it off. I value my life though, so I keep that thought to myself.

My Abuela is also very sneaky. At the reunion, she took that pouch from Rosendo's hand before he could get a single word in and thanked him for the item, proceeding to mock her sister Tere for not having one of them herself. Rosendo was in a bit of a bind here: he could correct her and take the pouch back from her, sure. Then he’d be the dick taking a hunk of yarn from an old lady. He could let it go instead and just be out the five dollars, but he’d genuinely taken a liking to this colorful little pouch made with love. He went back to the table with the knit goods in search of a similar item when Abuela dearest appeared to his left out of nowhere. This, dear friends, is where the con artist went in for the kill: “Oh,” she asked in a voice both soft and saccharine, “did you mean to buy this for yourself?”

“Oh, it’s ok!” he said, sinking further in sneaky old lady quicksand. “You can have it back!” Abuela said. “Let’s just go pick out a new one for me!” Without missing a beat and before our poor sucker could protest, she picked out not one pouch but two of them then motioned towards Rosendo for payment. She wore that triumphant smirk proudly as Rosendo looked on in bewilderment, wondering how he’d just been swindled into buying not one pouch but three. Insert the unmistakable chords of The Next Episode here: that right there is thug life, and Abuela stays on that grind.

That’s my family for you. My grandma will try to hustle you out of money or gifts. My UCLA-loving uncles will threaten to hock your USC gear on eBay. My cousin will shove a handful of Birthday Cake Oreos in your purse because you never quite know when you'll have an Oreo emergency; my aunt will remind your mother that it was high time she got herself some grandkids and suggest you join a Catholic singles group because “Mija, come on. You’re thirty.” There’s a lot of love behind the crazy though, and I for one am glad that we take at least one day out of the year to celebrate it. I hope this love keeps bringing us together when it’s me channeling my inner Sophia Petrillo, selling self-published short stories and homemade bookmarks to suckers for cash to spend on booze and more books.

 The van of dysfunction

The van of dysfunction

 Cousinly love - Go Trojans! And yes, that's a Harry Potter quote on my shirt.

Cousinly love - Go Trojans! And yes, that's a Harry Potter quote on my shirt.

 Her + Him = Me. Never a dull moment with this guy.

Her + Him = Me. Never a dull moment with this guy.

 Remember when I said Abuela can get sassy? This is post sass - momentary sisterly discord.

Remember when I said Abuela can get sassy? This is post sass - momentary sisterly discord.

 No really, she put cookies in my purse. No plastic baggie, just straight cookies. I most definitely did NOT lick cream filling off of my wallet later that day. Pssh.

No really, she put cookies in my purse. No plastic baggie, just straight cookies. I most definitely did NOT lick cream filling off of my wallet later that day. Pssh.

 Birthday Cake Oreos basically taste like funfetti cookies. So.... yeah.

Birthday Cake Oreos basically taste like funfetti cookies. So.... yeah.

 The infamous scarf, and Abuela in all her "I'd rather have the cash" glory.

The infamous scarf, and Abuela in all her "I'd rather have the cash" glory.


Crying In My Car

It finally happened. In May of this year, after 34 combined years of service as a U.S. Marine and in the U.S Postal Service employee, my father retired! It almost snuck up on us, to be honest. He’d worked so hard for so long to get to this point, which always seemed an eternity away. But he made it. We made it. Free at last, free at last…

My mother, brother and I planned a surprise retirement party in secret that took place just a couple of weeks later. We invited tons of friends and family and hired a taquero like the good Mexicans that we are. For entertainment, we brought in an act that my dad had seen and loved at a family party long ago: a comedian and musical impersonator who takes on the likes of Vicente Fernandez, Juan Gabriel, Antonio Aguilar, Paquita la del Barrio and more. All you paisas out there are with me so far and would have gotten a kick out of it; the rest of you are probably lost as f*ck, and there really isn’t much I can say here to clear things up for you. Sorry, dude.

Dear ol’ dad was absolutely blindsided, totally believing the lie we told him about taking my mom out to dinner the night before Mother’s Day to avoid the crowds. The party was a success; the food was delicious, the company great and the entertainment was a huge hit. The entertainer apparently woke up with a terrible cold the morning of the party which could have been a disaster; however several shots of hard liquor supplied by my brother seemed to help the guy hit the high notes, which in all honesty probably made the Chente experience that much more authentic.

Señor Diaz dove into retired life, scheduling visits with friends and family, heading to a Dodger game in LA with my brother, even jet-setting off to Guadalajara with my aunt for a quick trip to see some extended family. It all seemed like sunshine and roses with one minor thorn in his side: he’d recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis. To make a long story short, my obstinate father convinced himself that certain digestive issues he’d suffered for years (you read that right: years) were a perfectly normal occurrence in the life of a perfectly healthy person. They weren’t, of course, and we unfortunately learned that in suffering through this condition for so long, my father had essentially gone years without properly absorbing much nutritional content from his food. It was time to seek treatment and make some major changes to his lifestyle; though begrudgingly, he made the adjustments.

Then a few weeks ago at 5:57AM as I was loading my gym bag into my car, I received a text message from my father that read, “Call me asap.” I dropped the gym bag on the floor and onto my foot as I dialed, toe now throbbing and stomach uneasy as the dial tone rang in my ear. I know my dad, and he wouldn’t ask me to call him early in the morning like this if it wasn’t urgent. I quickly learned that he’d been in the emergency room for hours waiting to be seen. He’d been suffering from pain in his abdomen for a couple of days and had reached the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore. 

I was relieved, to be honest. The more I probed into his symptoms, the more convinced I became that my father had appendicitis. Painful though it might be, it didn’t appear to be life-threatening. The doctor saw him, checked him out, sent him off for a CT scan, confirmed appendicitis, and scheduled a same-day surgery. His appendix was swollen but had not burst, so that was good news.

I sat with my mother in the waiting room and waited a couple of hours for my dad to get out of surgery. At one end of the room was a TV monitor displaying a list of patient ID numbers each color coded for status; one color meant the patient was in pre-op, another that he/she was in surgery; a different color meant the patient was in the post-op recovery area, another that he/she was being moved to a bed within the hospital. There were throngs of us packed into the same waiting area, each staring up at the screen with impatient eyes like DMV patrons waiting for our number to show up. My eyes were glued to the monitor when my mother touched my arm- my father’s surgeon had entered the room and wanted to speak with us.

Dr. Poon pulled us into the hallway and said the surgery had gone well. The appendix had been removed without much difficulty but the mass was in a difficult extraction spot, so he ended up having to excise both the mass and a chunk of the colon entirely. He kept on talking, explaining that since he’d cut open the abdomen instead of the originally planned and less invasive laparoscopy, the recovery would be more complicated. We’d know in a week what the pathology of the mass was; the results might further explain some of my dad’s recent digestive issues.

Wait - mass? What mass? I outwardly maintained my composure as I politely asked what mass he was talking about; in my head, the questioning went more like, “What the f*ck do you mean, ‘the mass?’ What mass? This mass and I have not been properly introduced. We aren’t bloody familiar, Dr. Poon!” My mom wasn’t as surprised; she knew there was a blockage in his colon. She knew because my dad had told her, but only very recently; he’d kept it to himself for some time. I made a mental note to slap the taste out of his mouth once he recovered.

I was upset, but I still felt optimistic in spite of my flash of anger. The surgeon had after all parted by letting us know that the type of blockage he found ends up being benign more often than not. It was more the shock of finding out the way I did, from a stranger in a white coat with my father recovering from surgery nearby. I have told my father once, twice, if not seventeen hundred times that he needs to be honest with us about his health. He does this every time though: he says he doesn’t want to worry my mother, brother and I, but ends up giving us a cardiac episode when we find out whatever he's been hiding inopportunely.

He was in post-op and still very groggy when a nurse came by to tell my mom and I that we could see him one at a time for ten minutes each. Mom went in first but Dad was still pretty out of it: he kept asking for his wife when she was there holding his hand all the while. In the meantime, I ran to my car to charge my dying phone.

I took the opportunity to contact two of my best friends to cancel my plans to visit them in LA the next day. One of them was going to ask me to reschedule anyway since his girlfriend had tickets to see the Anaheim Ducks playoff game. He apologized and said he felt especially bad since he’d be leaving to Europe for almost three weeks shortly thereafter, a fact he swore he’d mentioned previously and I was adamant he had not. I knew I had to stay with my dad, I mean: duh. Not even up for discussion. In my emotional state though, given that he was only home for the summer from law school and for so many other stupid reasons, all of this news made me spiral into an emo fit. I sobbed right there in my car and he listened patiently. I missed him and felt stupid for crying about that when my dad was in the hospital, then cried because my dad was in the hospital. This was hard. 

After getting some good tears out of the way, I pulled it together and made my way back inside. It was my turn to see my dad, and I felt my hands start to shake as I approached. Lying there tucked under a blanket, hooked to an IV and breathing tube, machines beeping and booping every few seconds in that sterile room with curtains separating beds from one another, my six-foot-tall father looked so pale, so small.

I came close to the bed in silence as he appeared to be asleep, then felt a hand digging its way out of the covers before closing its grip on my own. He squeezed hard as he writhed in pain and it felt like a stab in my chest. The nurse watching over him told me she’d asked for his pain level on a scale from one to ten and that he’d given her an eight. She said that kind of pain level more than warranted at least a mild painkiller, to which he replied, “Then never mind, my pain is a four.” He hates taking medication, even when he’s been sliced open.

I lightened up a little when he whispered in his Godfather voice that I needed to help him break out of this place; I smiled through glassy eyes and told him he’d need to take it easy for a few days, then outright laughed when he replied, “That’s ok. I’ll get your brother to get me out of here. He’ll help me.” And later on, he really did try to conspire with my brother to stage a jailbreak. If you know my dad, this isn’t much of a surprise.

Then I was reminded what it’s like to feel like all of the air has been sucked out of the room and ice water poured down your spine. He opened his eyes for a few brief moments and looked straight into mine and said, “I just wish I’d gotten to walk you down the aisle. I’m sad I won’t meet your babies, my grandchildren. Take care of your mom. You and your brother, please take care of her.”

Panic. Panic, panic everywhere. My brother walked in at that precise moment when I felt like my eyeballs had been doused in hydrochloric acid, and I’m convinced that his arrival was Jesus doing me a solid: “Oh boy, she’s about to lose it. Quick! Send in the brother NOW!” I walked down the long hallway back to the waiting room choking back sobs that threatened to strangle me. My mom and brother’s girlfriend made conversation, and I engaged but only vaguely remember doing so.

Before long, my father was admitted to a regular bed up on the fifth floor. A slew of family members came in spite of my dad’s request to keep visitors at bay. Hours passed and he became more lucid. My mom would spend the night with him, so my brother, his girlfriend and I say our goodbyes and left to grab a late-night bite to eat.

What no one knew was that I’d stolen away to my car again earlier in all the commotion, shortly after my dad lamented, fearing the worst of his condition, that he’d never get to see his firstborn child and only daughter as a bride. I sat there in my Altima coupe with the windows rolled up and cried my F*CKING face off. My chest heaved, my mascara ran, my breath became elusive. He’d hit me where it hurt. There I was, Miss Love-Will-Find-Me-When-Its-Meant-To, the girl who believes that love can’t be rushed and is best when it happens organically, suddenly reevaluating all of my life’s choices. It was silly, really. He was just groggy and would probably be JUST FINE. But what if he wasn’t? What if for once my insistence on positivity in the face of his worrying was misplaced? What if he really was sick and all the time I thought I had was suddenly stolen from me?

I spun out a little. I started to overanalyze every detail of my past relationships and asked myself if I would and should have been married by now if I’d done things differently. I thought maybe I should give an ex who keeps on contacting me a second chance, even though my heart isn’t really in it and never really was. Then I cursed that wretched, gushing heart for its insistence on loving a man who would not love me even when I told (and tell) it to quit that sh*t. I chastised myself for being so picky- maybe it wasn’t so bad if a guy used “your” when he meant “you’re,” and perhaps I should stop judging guys online so hard for their gym selfies. I resolved to give online dating a try for the umpteenth time; not a minute later, I saw that a self-proclaimed pansexual couple on a dating app had messaged me to compliment my exotic eyes and propose that we arrange a mutually pleasurable encounter. God has a sense of humor.

I fixed my face before heading back up to my dad’s room, no trace of a tear left as I joked with family about my dear dad’s stubbornness. With each day that passed, though my father was in pain and clearly stressing over the pending pathology of that stupid mass, things got a little easier. In typical fashion, he repeatedly questioned various health professionals on the possibility that his surgeon had removed the wrong organ; he kept sneaking down the hallway by himself even though he was on strict orders not to get up without assistance. He even got up and shaved when he wasn't supposed to, having to kneel down and take deep breaths between shave strokes to steady his dizziness. He could have fallen and knocked himself unconscious, but he'd sooner do that than go another day without a clean shaven face. His refusal to listen was maddening in the moment but of course made me laugh in spite of myself. I remember thinking that these were the types of behaviors that have always made my dad such a character, and how much I'd miss him if he weren't around to be a pain my ass.

You’ve all heard it before, you probably hear it every day. If someone isn’t telling you that life is short and unpredictable, then a Facebook post or some Instagram inspiration remind you to live life to the fullest and to carpe the sh*t out of each diem.  You’ve probably become desensitized to it by now, and I don’t really blame you. I’m still going to tell you though that it’s all true; life is precious, and I beg you not to wait to fully grasp that until your dad is saying his goodbyes, premature or not.

A few days later, I got another text from dad, this time with a much happier message. I stole away from the office I’m working at for the summer and practically ran to the parking garage, once again breaking down in my vehicle as soon as I’d shut the door. I cried harder this time, a cry that started way down in my stomach and exploded on my face in maniacal, tear-soaked laughter. By the grace of God, my daddy is going to be ok. His one-liners will continue to serve as writing material. He’ll proudly ask me to sign a copy of my first published book someday. He’ll continue to spend way too much money at the USC bookstore each time we head up to catch a game. He’ll walk me down the aisle someday, whenever that is, sporting a mixed expression of pride, joy and utter terror; he may or may not cry, but God knows I will sob. He’ll spoil my children rotten and feed them gummy worms and Cheetos even when I ask him not to, and he’ll love them in a way that he’s been waiting to do his whole life.

I recently told my dad that he is one of my greatest inspirations for writing, so now every time he does or says something ridiculous, he follows up with "Are you going to write about that? If so, please remember what my own dad used to say: 'No digas que soy terco, soy fino!' Hehe!" ("Don't say that I'm stubborn, I'm refined!")

So this one is for my padre fino, may he give me creative fodder for years to come.

 When my brother had surgery last year, my dad brought a stuffed Ninja Turtle to the hospital as a good luck charm because my brother loved the TMNT as a kid. When it was my dad's turn to go under the knife, my brother got him this little guy. Excuse me while I go sob.

When my brother had surgery last year, my dad brought a stuffed Ninja Turtle to the hospital as a good luck charm because my brother loved the TMNT as a kid. When it was my dad's turn to go under the knife, my brother got him this little guy. Excuse me while I go sob.

Bookishly yours,

Vanessa

Chones and Champs

Buenos Diaz!

This post was originally drafted (to 85% completion, anyway) back in May. Yep, MAY. You know what I like about May? This.

Its Gonna Be May.jpg

But I digress.

May was… eventful. It signaled the beginning phase of Bridalpalooza (two of my BFFs are getting married next month, so shower and bachelorette season are upon us) and my father was hospitalized for acute abdominal pain. That pain turned out to be appendicitis which meant an immediate surgery. That surgery uncovered a mass in his colon, which his surgeon had tested because he thought it might be cancer. And then it wasn’t cancer. Sweet baby Jesus. There were a lot of ups and downs there.

One of the other big happenings of that time period was my father’s retirement! After 34 combined years of service to the United States Marine Corps and the United States Postal Service, my daddy is now a free man (one recovering from surgery, but a free man nonetheless). In my next post, I will go into more detail about that whole situation. For now though, here is the post I meant to publish weeks ago right around the time of his surprise retirement party. Have a good one, folks!  

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Happy Thursday, y’all! Je suis currently house-sitting deep in Escondido and keeping tabs on two very energetic springer spaniels while their humans are off soaking in the Barbados sun. I’ve learned that they’re called springer spaniels because those mother f*ckers are springy as sh*t. They ate my sandwich clean off the kitchen island in the ten seconds it took me to pour myself a glass of milk. Hmmpf. How rude.  

I’ve been watching the house and pooches since middle of last week and invited my cousin/BFF Alexis over to help me put together a slideshow for my dad’s surprise retirement party.  We took a small detour on Friday and ended up visiting Orfila Winery down the street. Sure, it was the night before the party, and I had a lot of work to do since I’d accidentally deleted my first attempt at the slideshow, but hey! YOLO! Wine just begs to be tasted.

We each enjoyed a tasting, which at Orfila includes six pours of wines of your choice for only $12! Alexis favored the Sparkling Moscato Bianco which really did taste like bubbly peach perfection. I loved the Viognier, my favorite of the white wines, with its lovely floral bouquet and bright, crisp notes. I also really dug the limited release Petite Syrah- bold and big and delicious! The only bummer here was that the weather was crappy and cold and rainy, otherwise we would have wanted to roam the beautiful property some more and have a seat outside in the adorable courtyard. Orfila regularly features local musicians, like the amazing acoustic guitarists there that night playing everything from Gypsy Kings classics to Uptown Funk. The stupid rain also screwed us out of Food Truck Fridays, a regular occurrence at Orfila that was cancelled on account of the weather. Guess we’ll have to go back!

 If the glass fits....

If the glass fits....

 

Before we knew it, it was closing time at the winery. We decided to keep the wine flowing back at the house and for Alexis to spend the night instead of driving 40+ minutes back home. She hadn’t brought an overnight bag though, which prompted me to flick her on the forehead since it is an unspoken rule that our visits end in sleepovers. Fortunately, I had 99% of the items she’d need to get clean and pretty in the morning. For that last one percent (you guessed it: panties!), we made our way to a nearby Target.

When we got to Target, we were hit with a moment of divine inspiration: Mother’s Day was just two days away, so this would probably be a good time to finish (read: start) shopping for our mothers’ gifts. We walked over to a department store in the same mall and also decided to call in a take-out order for dinner later.

All was going according to plan until we got in line to pay for our purchases. I glanced at my phone and realized it was 7:51 PM. Skrrrrrrr….. say what!?! We now had only nine minutes to pay for our merchandise, run back to Target, grab a pair of underwear (and more wine, of course) and then jam over to grab our takeout before the restaurant closed at 8:00 PM.

Picture then two Latinas running through a mall with shopping bags in tow bursting into Target like they were giving away money. Alexis booked it to the panty section while I took off in a frantic search for booze. I sprinted and scanned the aisles like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, hearing that Chariots of Fire song in my head’s internal soundtrack. I turned a corner sharply and almost took out a small child, knocking over a few boxes of crackers instead. Alexis decided on a pair then gunned it for the cash register while I ran towards her with a bottle of almond champagne (cuz we classy). There we were huffing and puffing at Register Three, and the cashier was grinning in spite of her best efforts not to do so. Her last customers of the night were two flustered females: out of breath, in a hurry, and buying a single pair of cotton panties and a bottle of champagne.

We were able to get our food in the very nick of time, then went back to the house and enjoyed our delicious meal of chicken adobo and pancit while watching Scandal. We then settled in and cracked open the bottle of champs as I began editing the video for my dad’s party and Alexis studied for her Chemistry midterm. The video became a collaborative effort; I arranged photos and picked transition types and speeds, she helped with song choices and in converting You Tube videos to MP3 audio clips. We picked captions for the slides and broke into booze-fueled fits of laughter as we cruised down memory lane. I’ve included some of those photos for you below. Yeah.

 Brother had an opinion from the jump.

Brother had an opinion from the jump.

 Why do my bangs start at the top of my damn head??

Why do my bangs start at the top of my damn head??

 Rhythm in a dancer. 

Rhythm in a dancer. 

 I guess I know where I get my resting b*tch face from... what a photobomb, Abuela! 

I guess I know where I get my resting b*tch face from... what a photobomb, Abuela! 

 Just Dad being Dad. 

Just Dad being Dad. 

 Why yes, that is a bucket. 

Why yes, that is a bucket. 

The champagne had long run out and my contacts were grappling my eye balls when I realized the room was getting brighter. It was the sun, because it was past 5am. I looked over at Alexis and felt very thankful that God gave me a cousin who is also a best friend, one who isn’t just down but chones-and-champs down, because that’s, like, as down as it gets.


Items of Note:

Orfila Winery

13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido, CA 92025

760.738.6500

 A view of the vineyard from Orfila's website. OMG.

A view of the vineyard from Orfila's website. OMG.

If you ever find yourself in northern inland San Diego, visit Orfila Winery! Just be warned: you’ll probably think I’ve sold you the bill of goods until just moments before approaching the winery when this lush little vineyard just sort of emerges out of nowhere in the middle of the some of the underwhelming hillsides of the San Pasqual Valley. You can also opt to visit their tasting room in the lovely and quaint town of Julian. Get some apple pie while you're there! 

Like I mentioned above, the winery regularly features live music and food on Food Truck Fridays and also on Sundays at their Tunes on the Terrace event. Go here to see the complete calendar of events (including trivia nights and painting parties)– I am personally looking forward to the Grape Stomp on August 29th!

Want to buy their wine? The sparkling moscato and viognier I mentioned above are available for online purchase! Click here to get yours- both are perfect for summer!

Lastly, they do indeed host private tastings, tours, corporate events and of course- weddings! A friend of mine got married here a few years ago - I can see why! 

Almond Champagne from Wilson Creek Winery

35960 Rancho California Road, Temecula, CA 92591

951.699.9463

www.wilsoncreekwinery.com

I love me some champagne; dry, brut, sweet- bring it. If you’re more partial to sweeter champagne or just feel like switching it up with one not as commonly available, try the Almond Champagne from Temecula’s Wilson Creek Winery. I love this for summer as well - the almond infusion gives it that extra something special.

The winery itself is beautiful and their wine selection is impressive. They feature a lot of sparkling wines if that is your jam, as well as a very popular chocolate port.

The almond champagne is available at many local grocery stores, or click here to purchase online.

Carin di Ria – Filipino cuisine

This is the name of the Filipino spot from which we got our take-out. It’s located near Westfield North County off the 15 Freeway at Via Rancho Parkway. We had the chicken adobo, the pancit and the leche flan for dessert. All delicious, and the service was great!

3440 Del Lago Blvd, Escondido, CA 92029

760.781.1340

http://thecarinderiacompany.com

This is 30.

Buenos Diaz, readers! And how are you all doing on this fine day? As for me, life is pretty good right now. I’ve got some more freelance work coming in, I’m making good contacts, I’m sleeping an average of 7 hours a night and I have a tan from spending so much time outdoors! Many of you are familiar with my usual Alabaster Cream skin tone; please join me then in a collective prayer of thanks to the Almighty, for it is only May and I have graduated to Toasted Eggshell.

In addition to allowing me the time to take my workouts outdoors, this period of funemployment has given me time to write, and not just for a living but in my beloved journal. I recently reflected on some lessons I’ve learned in the first six months of my thirties and thought I would share. They speak to my current frame of mind, which I imagine will resonate with many of you. Here we go: 5 Vanessaisms from me to you with love.  

1.       PUT THE F*CKING CAKE FOUNDATION DOWN AND WALK AWAY SLOWLY.  I confess that I used to be one of those girls who would sooner be caught dead than be seen in public without makeup. It didn’t matter where I was going: class, the grocery store, the library, Del Taco, the ATM and yes, even the gym meant throwing on at least a quick layer of base, eyeliner and mascara. My foundation coverage was full, my setting powder strong, my lashes were chola-thin and my entire lash line was rimmed to the max in black kohl eyeliner.

Thirty-Year-Old Vanessa believes that while it's absolutely ok to enjoy putting makeup on, everyday makeup though shouldn't make you look unlike yourself.  I still love me some winged eyeliner and bright lipstick, but I've softened my overall look and have stopped hiding behind a makeup mask. I often skip the makeup entirely or else opt for medium coverage or tinted moisturizer because at age 30, I’m done trying to hide my freckles and have chosen to embrace them instead. I also let myself have real eyebrows again and have given my waterline a break; I guess I decided that I don’t need to look like a drag version of Amy Winehouse or Cleopatra. 

I don't want my makeup to change what I look like. I still want to look like me.

...Let's just focus on the photo on the right. 

2.       LOVE IT, OWN IT, ROCK IT. There’s probably at least one thing you were born with that people would pay good money for. For some it’s the boobs, or the butt or the lips (p.s. - Kylie Jenner needs to knock it off). For me, it’s the hair- but I didn't always feel that way.  

See, I had a crown of sleek, shiny hair with big, pretty curls at the ends as a toddler, but those curls went the way of the dodo bird after my first haircut. My hair stayed stick-straight for years and wouldn't hold a curl at all. Then around age nine, puberty attacked me hard and fast, bringing with it the very tragic poofy-fication of my once easily-managed mane. I kept on brushing it like I always had but it just wouldn't cooperate. I thought cutting it short might help, so I chopped it off. Jesucristo. If I only knew then what I know now.   

 My mom used to love twisting the curls into spirals.... then it went straight. And also- BANGS. 

My mom used to love twisting the curls into spirals.... then it went straight. And also- BANGS. 

It turns out my hair was a hot mess because puberty had brought back the curl unbeknownst to me. I discovered this by accident several years later when I had to wash out a horrible updo minutes before a wedding. I had zero time left to do anything but put some mousse in it, and it dried into curly-ish waves to everyone’s amazement. Here I’d been brushing my shit to death all this time not knowing that it was wavy. If there’s one thing you don’t do to curly or wavy hair, its brush it into submission. Yikes.  

I didn't want the wavy hair though. At first, I used gel and hairspray to keep the volume in check, which is why I refer to high school as “the crunchy years.” In college, I wanted straight hair like all of the pretty girls on campus, so I flattened it to death with a blow dryer and gold-plated straightener. Sometime in my late twenties though, I finally got it. I accepted that I was blessed with a pretty cool feature and not one that I need to subdue, so I decided to own it and rock it for all that its worth. Don’t get me wrong: some days I still take the time to blow it out all smooth and bouncy. Mostly though, I keep the routine to a minimal 10 minutes with some hair oil, styling cream and a diffuser, leaving it wild and wavy like it was meant to be.

 . 

Crunch, crunch, crunch with a *pinch* of Sun-In. And nooooo eyebrows

Smooth and bouncy, and "boho chic" 

3.       BODY POSITIVITY STARTS WITH YOU. I write a lot about body image and body positivity, issues that are especially relevant today and particularly important to me personally. When I’m writing, I feel all-powerful and super confident, especially when I’m armed with all the positivity coming from social media. Take Tess Munster’s recent modeling contract news and the Eff Your Beauty Standards movement or Lane Bryant’s “We’re no angels!” campaign. I get so pumped reading about acceptance of all female figures out there in the world and not just those that are “traditionally” attractive. However, I admit that it’s sometimes hard to stay positive in my real, personal life. I have the easiest time in the world telling other women that they are beautiful but have a hard time seeing it in myself. It’s just so easy to be critical when I don’t fit a certain size or see a certain number on the scale.

Having all this time to myself has helped me home in on this fact: it’s not enough to have all these outside forces telling you that you’re gorgeous just the way you are- you have to see it and believe it for yourself, period. Personally, I’m working harder than ever on not looking at so many numbers and figures as a measure of my attractiveness, and more importantly on being really and truly confident- not just on paper. It’s an uphill battle that I've waged before, but this time I have the wisdom that comes with age and experience to hopefully keep me on track.  

4.      SINGLE OR NOT, YOU SHOULD KNOW HOW TO BE ALONE. My aunt once told me that her son, my teenage cousin, told her that he hates seeing people eating alone at restaurants. When she asked him why, he said it made him so sad- why are  they all alone?!! I laughed. I've heard this same story many times before.

I love spending time with loved ones. Who doesn't? But you know what I also love? Being by myself. No really, I like- no, I relish- my alone time. When I say this, people often ask if I’m just saying that because I’m single (insert glare here), then follow up with, “Well what do you do then?” Well… live! I go shopping. I eat. I go to the library. I read in the park. I stop at a brewery. I cruise to the Farmers Market. I hike at sunset then stop somewhere scenic to write. I go to the bay and just float in the water because I loooove that sensation of weightlessness. I go where I want and do what I want, just me, myself and I.

Being alone does not mean I’m lonely; in fact, knowing how to be alone, comfortably and unapologetically so, is a skill that I think everyone should possess. It is empowering to know how to be by yourself, and not just in a relationship sense, and like it. It makes you more confident and aware of how complete you are on your own, which (I think) is an indispensable quality.

5.       YOU DON'T NEED TO PLEASE OR EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO EVERYONE.  Not everyone understands or supports my career decision, for example. Recently, I found myself hurt when I was questioned (not for the first time) about my success in finding a "regular job." I re-asserted my desire to take a risk in the name of creativity and my ultimate fulfillment, but had to hear that I’m seen as a disappointment to someone I love very much in choosing this path for myself. That of course led to all those other questions I love- when am I going to buy a home? Can I even afford a mortgage? Have I thought about getting married? Aren't I getting a little old not to have kids? What was all that schooling for? I cried like hell and vented to my best friend, feeling like such an outsider and like I was seen as a failure. He talked me off the ledge and reminded me that the concern comes from a place of love, and hat I have to do this for myself and no one else. He was right. It does me no good to put the world’s opinions first if I’m left miserable at the end of the day. I just have to give it hell, try my best and remember that sometimes support hides in a costume of criticism. 

I’m learning that it really is impossible to please everyone, and that doing so shouldn't even really rank very high on your list of priorities. It’s perfectly OK to not have all the answers; to want to take risks; to have goals, values, tastes, opinions, plans and even measures of success that differ from the people you love and who love you. If the love is real, and hopefully it is, then it will still be there when all is said and done. I say as long as you aren't causing any harm or inconvenience to yourself or others, do what you need to do for yourself and don’t make tons of concessions just to assuage all the naysayers.

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As I’m sure you've picked up on, the theme of my thirties is pretty much, “Be who you really are.” Do what you want. Chase your dreams. Take that risk. Love who you love. Love what you love. Feel what you need to feel. Say what you need to say- and confidently! Own your look. Embrace your flaws. Play up your strengths. Live with integrity. Act with intention. Speak with purpose. Have faith. Love hard. Be fearless. Always Compete, and Fight On.

Thanks for reading, folks. Your support is everything.

Bookishly yours,

Vanessa

.

On My Bruce Wayne

Buenos Diaz!

Holy shitake mushrooms, people. It’s April 23rd. That means I’ve been 30 for exactly six months. Six! WTF!? I guess time flies when you’re busy shaking up everything about your life.

If you keep up with my blog or are a member of the People Vanessa Texts Entirely Too Much Brigade, you know that I’ve been living that Funemployment life. It’s not all sunshine and roses admittedly, in fact it’s a little bit terrifying. I firmly stand behind my decision though. I needed to be uncomfortable. 

Why? Well, it’s like Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises. You may recall that painful scene where Bane kicks the living daylights out of Señor Bruce, finishing the brutal beat-down with a crippling blow to the back. Rather than killing him, Bane has his mercenaries dispose of Bruce’s broken body at the Pit, a cavernous prison where Bruce is meant to rot with the knowledge that he could not save his beloved Gotham. Legend has it that only one person, a child, has ever escaped the Pit. After months of recovery and training, Bruce resolves to make the climb.

He starts off strong then reaches the infamous spot where the would-be escapee must take a giant leap to proceed up. Bruce attempts the leap twice but falls short each time, saved only by the rope that tethers him to the side of the cave. A wise old prisoner has some words for Bruce here:

Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?
Bruce: I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns with no one there to save it.
Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce: How?
Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

Now, not all fear is healthy. It can sometimes make you do some really dumb sh*t. For example: when I was seven years old, I burned the hell out of my hands on a hot stove. I endured a 20-minute car ride to my tap dance lesson in tortured silence with second-degree burns, but I refused to admit I was in pain. My skin bubbled, my eyes watered and little beads of sweat dripped down my forehead. I sat there screaming on the inside when I should have been getting medical attention, all because of the fear that I'd be punished if I admitted I'd touched the dang stove. Smart, kid. 

In my adolescence, the burns were of a different nature. Fear made me reluctant to take chances or believe I was worthy of certain affection. It made me keep emotions bottled that ate away at my self-esteem. It made me lie to cover up people's transgressions, and even worse- ignore them at a detriment to myself. Let me tell you, one can only take enough of that before a) people tell you to stop being crazy, and b) you get tired of feeling crazy yourself.   At some point, you have to hold yourself accountable for rising above your issues. If you carry old fears around as an excuse for not bettering yourself, that is the real tragedy.

Right now, fear is triple-dog-daring me to live the life I want to live because I have in order to survive. I know I've taken a risk, I’m reminded of this all of the time. I’m asked if I think I made a mistake, if I should try to turn back, if perhaps all those years of expensive schooling have all been put to waste if I'm making less money than I could if I'd stayed where I was. Sure, I'm hurt by these objections, by words said hastily and hurtfully though coming from a place of love. The temptation to give into the fear of being loved less or seen differently is a potent one, but I'm too damn old to give into it any longer.

So! That's today's lesson from life in my thirties: fear doesn't always have to be unhealthy. Harnessing my fear is giving me so much fight right now. It's my impetus to try harder, do better, and think more clearly. It makes all the clichés I've ever heard (and gagged at) suddenly speak to me powerfully, pushing me to imagine the impossible, strive to achieve it, and Pinterest the heck out of way too many quotes.

I'm ever thankful for my super supportive friends, companions who remind me on good days and bad that naysayers come with the territory. I thank them for reminding me that I can in fact do this. As one friend reminded me, I am indeed MexiCAN, not MexiCANT. On that note, I recently won a contest to have a story published in the San Diego Reader! I will also be contributing to a couple of local newspapers and get to write about the San Diego communities I love. Thank you, Fear. Thank you very kindly. I'll just be over here on my Bruce Wayne game- I'm using my fear to climb.

Bookishly (and writerly!!) yours,

Vanessa


New site coming soon!

Buenos Diaz!

If you've found this page and have taken the time to read this post, you're a pretty awesome person. Thank you for checking in! The site is a work in progress.

For the time being, please continue to follow my blog at it's current web address (www.buenosdiazsandiego.blogspot.com). I hope to have this new site up and running very soon. Thank you for your support!

Bookishly yours,

Vanessa

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All Hail the Queen


Nowadays everyone’s all, “OMG have you read Gone Girl?!?” and “Duuuude, you have to read The Girl on the Train!” I’ve read each of these works and confess that I enjoyed them both thoroughly; who doesn’t love a good thriller?
Impressed as I am though by the gripping prowess of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and so many other authors doing great things in this genre, they don’t yet for me hold a candle to my all-time favorite author. She was blowing minds as far back as the 1920s, slaying the scene in her decades of writing with epic twists, dizzying turns and bombshell endings you never saw coming. Her collected works comprise a list of almost 100 titles and it is my life’s mission to own each and every one of them. I’m of course talking about the original Queen of Crime: the one, the only, the incomparable Dame Agatha Christie.  

Whether you’ve recently dabbled in the mystery/thriller category or are a seasoned fan of the genre, if you haven’t yet given ol’ Aggie a try, there is no time like the present. Her works are rife with that healthy dose of suspense you crave, wrapped in the unique literary ingenuity of Christie’s own.

Here are my five favorite Christie masterpieces, complete with links to purchase your very own copies in the format of your choosing. Now get cracking!




 
1.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Let me tell you how hard I want to drop a plot spoiler on you right now. Hard. Set in the village of King’s Abbot, this tour de force features famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who comes out of retirement to investigate the suspicious death of the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. Christie deftly drops a trail of breadcrumbs from beginning to end that will lead you in a hundred different directions, each one more convincing than the last until you’re plum baffled and begging to know who dunnit. Then comes the grand reveal and you’re like, “Whaaaaaat?”

Read it, read it now. Click here. Do it fast.

2.  And Then There Were None
This one was just about tied with my number one choice for its creepy mind-blow potential. The plot: ten people each receive a suspicious invitation to an island and are then slowly murdered one by one after arriving. It keeps you guessing at the edge of your seat the entire time, a flawless example of Dame Agatha’s penchant for a psychological thriller with an unexpected mind f*ck ending. Interesting fact: the original titles for this work include Ten Little Niggers and Ten Little Indians. Glad we stuck with the title as it stands now.

And then there was your own copy, which you can purchase here

3.  Murder on the Orient Express
I first became a fan of Murder on the Orient Express before I’d ever read or even heard of it; I was actually cast as Mrs. Hubbard in my sixth grade class production of this famed Christie classic, and in case you’re wondering: of course I stole the show. Set aboard the Orient Express, the glamorous train service best known for its service from Paris to Istanbul, it once again features Hercule Poirot as he tries to solve the perplexing mystery of a murder committed on board. This piece has been turned into a film not once but twice and is featured as an episode on British television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

As Monsieur Poirot would say, cliquez ici! (click here)

4.  A Murder is Announced
So I’ve always had a thing for smart & sassy old ladies (hence my obsession with Sofia Petrillo and the rest of the Golden Girls crew). My favorite spunky senior though has got to be Miss Marple. This dowager detective of Christie’s is not really a detective at all but rather a sharp-witted spinster from the fictitious village of St. Mary Mead; she is especially known for using observations of small-town life to solve complicated crimes. In A Murder is Announced, a murder is (you guessed it) announced mysteriously in the village of Chipping Cleghorn’s gazette, complete with date, time and location. The town’s locals show up out of curiosity expecting perhaps a fun little murder-mystery parlor game. It’s not a game at all, and Miss Marple is called upon to find a killer.   
Read the announcement here.

5.  Crooked House
The last but not least of my bunch of favorites has an ending initially considered too bold and shocking even for the likes of Agatha Christie. It is the tale of the Leonides family who all live together in Crooked House, and among them lies one guilty of the poisoning of patriarch Aristides. Like in And Then There Were None, the murder represents a dark interpretation of a nursery rhyme and will give you a mean case of the Oh-No-She-Did-Nots. It made me blurt, “Oh SNAP!” out loud in a coffee shop, so you know it’s going to be good.
Get in on the crooked fun here.



So that’s my list!  I have my eighth grade teacher to thank for introducing me to dear old’ Aggie, and I often wonder if Mrs. Geraldine Nau knows she changed my life forever when she did. In any case, I’m ever thankful for the suggestion and hope that you will be as well. Happy reading!
Bookishly  yours,
Vanessa

Peep This

Buenos Diaz! Allow me to provide you with a quick update on Funemployment. I’ve gone to bed late and woken up whenever I’ve damn well felt like it. I’ve visited museums, I’ve picnicked in the park; I’ve read by the beach; I’ve gone from being the girl who doesn’t drink coffee to finding myself four drinks shy of a Starbucks Gold Card. In short: I’ve taken a moment to breathe.
I’ve also been writing my face off at all hours of the day. I confess that I’m still trying to figure out a routine, playing around with how to make the best use of my time in order to be as productive as possible. I’ve learned that leaving the house is essential in staying disciplined. At home, it’s too tempting to watch reruns of Say Yes to the Dress, get up and fix myself a snack, or decide that my bookshelves need reorganizing. To avoid falling into this trap, I leave the house in the morning with gym bag and laptop in tow and try not to come back until close to dinner time. Spending all this time at libraries, book stores, coffee shops and even the occasional brewery has reminded me that life is much more interesting when you’re not sitting at home.
Yesterday for example: my day started with an hour long walk around a beautiful lake with my cousin. Not wanting to go all the way back to my house to shower, I decided to head to the nearest gym instead where I could get in some weight work and then just shower and get ready there. That’s exactly what I did, which seemed like a great idea… that is, until I found myself dripping wet in the gym shower and realized I’d forgotten my towel. Awesome. Picture me toweling off with a tiny hand towel I’d found in my gym bag. That was fun.
Later after a quick visit to my favorite bookstore/coffee shop and a lovely picnic lunch at a waterfront park, I set up shop at my favorite library for my usual writing session. It started off well enough- we all know I’m generally at peace anytime I’m surrounded by books. Today I happened to pick the floor (did I mention this library has NINE of them???) where library etiquette apparently went to die. A woman let her toddler scream unbridled while the child demanded a soda, a teenager answered his phone and proceeded to tell his caller at full volume that he has a new stash and to meet him at the crib later, and someone else refused to silence their ratchet rap ringtone while the phone rang and rang and rang.
I was cursing myself for having left my headphones in my car when I suddenly noticed that a man in his forties who’d been walking back and forth in my field of vision was hovering and trying to get my attention. I’d actually been annoyed with him earlier too for also neglecting to use his indoor voice, still I obliged and whispered, “Oh I’m sorry- what was that?” He told me I looked just like Judy Polish-sounding-last-name-ski, so I asked who that was; he let me know that this Judy gal was indeed his ex-girlfriend and then tossed me a folded up library card application. I was about to ask what the deal was when he interrupted me to say, “Just, just you know, do me a favor and read this. Nothing urgent, nothing important. Just read it, you can toss it. Ok. Ok bye!”  He then scurried away as quickly as he’d come. I felt several pairs of nosy eyes on me and suddenly felt quite embarrassed, so I left the note untouched for several hours before finally picking it up when it appeared no one was looking. I give you Exhibit A:
 
I had to laugh at the last part: “I swear I’m not creepy, I just have this super creepy request.” When I did get up and leave the library eventually, I kept looking over my shoulder and peering around corners like a paranoid freak. I kept expecting him to pop up from around a corner to accost me with his flash photography. My friend Carlos says the guy probably snapped a pic from his flip phone 60 yards away. Excellent.
Lastly, I made my way over to Target to pick up a couple of items. I was minding my own business in the lotion aisle when a screaming child came tearing towards me, clearly attempting to flee from his parents who were in hot pursuit just a few yards behind him. He didn’t see me standing there when he came charging around the corner and thus ran smack into me, falling backwards on his rear end as a result. He looked at me with fury in his eyes then took one of those long, deep breaths that you just know is the precursor to a cringe-worthy fit. Sure enough, the fit was had. He screamed and bellowed as he angrily tore open the item he was holding like a tiny little meth addict, which unbeknownst to me at the time was a packet of Peeps. He proceeded to grab a little yellow chick and hurl it in my direction, and it made contact with my face.  His parents appeared to haul him away walked away with a renewed gratitude for birth control.
So. Lessons learned. Not having that towel forced me to walk from the shower to the locker room in my bra and underwear, which is a huge step for me since I generally dress immediately after showering. Body positivity is a cause I like to champion, but I am only human and admit freely that fighting that nagging insecurity about my body is an active and uneasy process. As it turns out, no torch-wielding villagers appeared to demand that I cover my hideous body or face death; I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I usually do, which was a nice feeling.
The creepy can-I-take-your-picture guy may have been, well, creepy, but I’ve decided that sometimes the universe senses that you need a compliment and throws one in your direction; who am I to question the source? I mean sure, I’d be smitten if it was Chris or Liam Hemsworth calling me fine; I’d have posed for that photo in two shakes of a lambs tail and invited Liam to play out my own special rendition of the Hunger Games. Still, this library man took the time to approach me and had the balls to do so in what is supposed to be a quiet, leave-me-alone-I’m-reading setting. I’m going to give him some credit and take the little pick-me-up to go.
As for Little Beau Peep, well… his antics made me want to kick him into next Tuesday, truth be told. I am no mother, but if my spawn decided to fly into a Hulk-like fit of rage while tearing open a package of sugar crusted, animal-shaped marshmallows to then chuck at innocent bystanders, he or she would be doomed to learn a hard lesson from their mother about how to act in public. Really though, my annoyance gave way to amusement pretty quickly. I mean… the kid threw a frickin’ Peep at me. A PEEP! What’s more- his little tantrum assured me that I am where I need to be in life, i.e. that I’m not quite ready to have children just yet. Peep this though: there’s something fabulous about the freedom in that statement. That time will come for me someday, that time just isn’t now.
Bookishly yours,
Vanessa  
 

Who Run the World? Girls.

Buenos Diaz and Happy International Women's Day! Being one of the womens myself, I think having a day to honor us is just swell. After all, girls run the world as Beyoncé done told us; we deserve a little bit of recognition for all of the ways in which we rule, rock and run this mutha.

My original intent for this post was to just publish a quick quote by a woman I respect and admire, so I went in search of one of my many journals and notebooks in search of a good one to share. It is no secret to most that I spend a great portion of my life writing down words that move me, and it just so happens that a lot of the words that inspire me come from women.

What I came across when I opened one of my journals and let the pages open to where they would was this entry from October 2014:

"Today was my first day back at work after a four-day weekend, and not just any four-day weekend. This was the weekend when I officially began to call myself a writer- and by 'officially,' I of course mean that I announced it on Facebook. Ha. Still, it feels like such a big step- I created a page for my blog, invited people to 'Like' it, posted a blog entry detailing my plan to pursue the writing thing, leave my job, etc. I created business cards and ordered them, I wrote in this journal.. in short, I pretended that I was already living the live I want to lead. And it... felt... MARVELOUS."

Today, not even five months later, I'm really doing it! I've made the giant leap of faith and started to pursue this passion of mine. I'm still looking for a job that will both feed my creative spirit and pay for my car insurance- that particular element of my life plan is still a work in progress.  I am in the meantime unemployed self employed, writing both for myself and for a women's health website. I am also in talks to write for a San-Diego based startup magazine and working every other freelance angle that comes my way. It's all a bit tentative and I know I should be terrified, but as I've told any soul who will listen lately- I am HAPPY!!! I've been waiting for years and years and years to find something I was this excited about, to be hungry for success at something that means something to me and not just that I happen to know a way to be good at. I'm thrilled, even though not everyone sees or understands my decision. For those of you that share my faith, I say thank you in the biggest and most genuine way.

So, I hope someday to be one of those women you think of on International Women's Day, that something I said either in direct communication or in my work as a writer will speak to you in the way that so many of my female inspirations have moved me with their words of wisdom, humor, support etc. I'd like to share some of my favorite words with you now and encourage you to honor the amazing women in your life today and always.

Gillian Flynn as Amy Elliot in Gone Girl
I love this passage- this is 100% me, for better or worse, in my outlook on relationships. It also very accurately describes my unsuccessfully attempts to flirt, and Gillian has captured it all perfectly.

"I'm not interested in being set up. need to be ambushed, caught unawares, like some sort of feral love jackal. I'm too self conscious otherwise. I feel myself trying to be charming, and then realize I'm obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I've basically turned into Liza Minnelli; I'm dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me..."

To purchase your copy of this smash hit thriller novel and now motion picture, go here.

Kimberly McCreight as Kate Baron in Reconstructing Amelia
A twist on the "everything happens for a reason" and fate-related quotes we've all heard, but perhaps with an added sprinkle of hope.

"Then again, things that are meant to work out, usually do. Everyone has beacons. Lights that guide them home."

To nab this edgy YA thriller with a cyber-bully theme, go here.

Rainbow Rowell from Park Sheridan's POV in Eleanor & Park
Remember young love? All hail Rainbow for this awesome, nerdish and poignant musing.

"Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognize the formatting. When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognized her. He knew."

To get your hands on this touching and heartbreaking YA story of young and unlikely love, click aqui:

Donna Tart as Theo Decker in The Goldfinch
Admittedly, I am one of about seven people who don't think this book is the mastery so many countless others do; It is riddled with temporal inconsistencies and lacks the development of some characters while focusing too much on others, and I think it could have been ultimately more powerful if cut down about 200-300 pages. Still, Donna is undoubtedly a formidable and talented writer, and this particular line is beautiful and powerful in its simplicity.

"I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe."

To give this generally beloved and meaty work a try and make up your own mind, have at it!

Amy Poehler in Yes, Please
There are so, so many of Amy's witty and/or powerful words in this hilarious and introspective debut that had me fist-pumping while yelling, "Yessssss!'' Here are a few.

“Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.”  

“Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.” Sometimes you say, “Demon, I promise you I will let you remind me of my ugliness, but right now I am having hot sex so I will check in later.”  

“Great people do things before they're ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you're afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that's what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that's really special and if you're not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself”  

“However, if you do start crying in an argument and someone asks why, you can always say, "I'm just crying because of how wrong you are.”  

“Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”  

“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.”

“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”  

To laugh, think deeply and perhaps shed a tear with the one and only Amy Poehler, go here
BONUS! To learn more about a project of Amy's that I am a huuuuge fan of, click here.

Kristin Hannah as Eva Lange in Night Road
This blogger chick whose name rhymes with Schmanessa Piaz wrote a piece about one of her life mantras that Kristin Hannah echoes in this very quote:  love is a choice.

“It isn’t about being at the same school or the same town or even the same room. It’s about being together. Love is a choice you make.”  

To read this tear-jerker from one of my favorite authors, go here.
To read this author's incredible new work (The Nightingale) about sisters in WWII France that will also make you cry your face off, go here.
To read that blog I talked about by that super cool chick, go here, duh.

Last but certainly not least... two of my faves from the incomparable J.K. Rowling:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.”

"And the idea of just wandering off to a café with a notebook and writing and seeing where that take me for awhile is bliss." 

Amen, sister. How apropos.

For stuff by J.K., see this.
Because it would be like a day without orange juice if I didn't mention or plug Harry Potter at least once: go here.

Hey, look! Stuff I've written for other people (http://www.periodview.com/site-bloggers/). Scroll down to my bio!

Oh, It's Just Cramps - my story about that time it wasn't just cramps and the importance of listening to your body.

Paging Edward Cullen - exploring the hilarious monikers given to "that time of the month" over the ages.

See You Later


The saying goes that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans. Maybe you’re planning a wedding, a career move, a girl’s night out or just planning on making a sandwich. The point is that when you aren’t looking, when you least expect it to or even want it to for that matter- life intervenes and says, “So… this is what’s going to happen.”
Two and a half years ago, I was working as an Account Specialist at a claim center in Carmel Mountain Ranch when my supervisor called me; she let me know that I’d been selected to learn more about a position with a different department: Enterprise Fleet Management. Fleet was all but an urban legend to me shrouded in wonder and mystery. I knew little of what Fleet did or what it was all about, and because I was comfortable where I was, I turned it down.

A few days later, I got a call from a number with a 909 area code. He was a Regional Sales Manager in this Fleet division and wanted to pick my brain. I agreed to meet having nothing to lose and because I’d also forgotten my wallet. I also hadn’t packed a lunch, so.... hey, why the heck? Why not?  

We talked for over an hour in getting-to-know-you fashion, then came the questions he’d driven up there to ask: why had I said no? What were my concerns? Could he possibly change my mind? And because I am often awkward in these types of situations, what came out of my mouth was: “I don’t want to involve you in my mess. I’m medically fucked up.”

This friendly man with a shaven head and super blue eyes stopped chewing his roasted veggie salad, and he asked, “Like, psychologically, or… ?” and then came an awkward pause. I laughed out loud like a crazy person and then for reasons I cannot explain to you, I told private truths to this stranger who had the nerve to turn around and care. I told him I’d need to leave early on Thursdays. No one could know why. Little did I know that this man knew all about complications- cancer, divorce, single-fatherhood. That afternoon I called my boss and told her I’d had a change of heart. A few short weeks later I took up a space in a cubicle at 6330 Marindustry Drive.

Two and half years later, I look back and wonder what would have become of me had I not agreed to meet that man at Luna Café that summer. I wouldn’t have gotten a call from my new boss Melissa inviting me to Palm Springs for the weekend. I wouldn’t have been handed a pair of glasses, suspenders and drink tickets and told to show up ready to party as a Comic Con nerd. I wouldn’t have almost been abandoned in the desert by an employee with an agenda, or apologized to a thousand times the following Monday by everyone in the office.
I would never have met Michele, the blonde, human meerkat who speaks a different language known by only a chosen few: I wouldn’t know what a strippy truck is, or a Scooby or a ladybird or crotch monkey, how to jimmy-jammy something or kick someone in the kanicki. I might not know that “Kumbayashi” is actually Michele-speak for Kombucha. I might never have ordered root fries or met three Corgis as cute as can be.

I’d never have met Alisa, super stalker extraordinaire. I might not have stopped to smell the egg whites in the morning or else have missed out on her infectious laugh. I might also have never been stalked by her crazy customers when she and my friend Tara were out of the office, and someday I promise I’ll go ahead and forgive her for that.
I’d never have met Grumbles, who turned the word "mailers" to "mellers" and will put a smile on your face every SINGLE day come what day. I’d have missed out on his headstand while wearing a camo helmet, and never met his adorable daughters who will head-butt their way into your hearts.

I’ve never have Amy (aka Rosie or Ramy), whose dance moves are awesome and who always had high-protein snacks. I wouldn’t get Asian texts or have someone to talk Chanel to, or someone to scold for her shopping habits knowing full and well she will never learn.

I’d never have worked with Marty again, since I'd worked with her once before, she the queen of toast and talking to no-one-ness. I’d never have known what it’s like to have someone watch you from the next cubicle and have them creep you the hell out each time. I'd have missed her helpful nature and willingness to be a team player. I thank her for that.
I’d never have met Denise- the brave soul and big heart who will fill my shoes. The giver of fleet’s absolute worst news quiz, the badass who showed up with her own stock of Nerf weaponry.

I’d never have met Cheyenne, the most normal one of the bunch of us. My right hand, my cake-pop provider and my stable source of reality. I’d have missed out on a thousand “what the heck?” moments and not had someone to dare me to dream. I’d still have 42,000 driver name changes to do and an even bigger pile of files to reconcile.
I’ve never have met Kristin, the spider monkey and pallet-rider who laughs at dumbness with me like cats, owls and Kirimi-Chan. The girl who pushes me to dream bigger and aim a little higher, who got me to like country and taught me to replace the word “girl” with “squirrel.”

I’d never have met Tara, my dear sweet friend Tara, the world’s most friendly angry person whose laugh is possibly my favorite in the world. She taught me about “perry-meters,” crap holes, fudgesicles, monsties and daaaaaaark chocolaaaaate. I’ve never have learned to “do-do” song or how to sing your way through a shitty-ass day.
I’d never have learned that Fleet is pretty much Unicef from a guy named John that makes the BEST bruschetta, a real life Fun Hunter who trolls the halls with a stomp and a snap. He reads texts, said my face looks like chicken fat on my third day and never stops talking about poop. I’d never have met his baby who I secretly want to kidnap (just kidding , Maureen!).

I’d never have met this Zack guy from Philly who buys me books and loooooves those spirit fingers, who means what he says when he cares and has no recollection of emphatically tearing some documents up; I’d never have met his alter egos, like the black minister from the Southern Baptist pulpit, or met his future musician son (age 3) who’d like to talk to our controller Gerges.
That guy that took me to lunch Greg- I’d never have eaten about a thousand dollars’ worth of sushi with him after one too many sake shots or Sapporos, or God knows what other things. I’d never have learned to absolutely love salmon or known that my Spanish sounds like an aggressive samurai. When I waived a white flag and reached for a Kleenex box, I’d never have gotten my pony, or my diamonds, or avocado pudding, or a single flower in a simple vase.

I’d never have met my superhero boss Mel who reads through life with me, who once took me to a library opening and had my back every. single. time. I’d never have laughed that hard at Mustang Sally, tasted Rumchata or been to random creepy fabric stores; I’d have paid $90 for a headband it took her kid 30 seconds to make. She made one of the scariest, biggest decisions of my life a little bit easier. She let me go even when it was hard to, because she understood that it was my time.
What about the Nerf battles? The sales meetings? The brownie bites? The CVI pens? The thirty second dance parties and closet where everything went to die? Creepy Kevin? All-caps guy and his slow march towards zombiesm? The feet guy, the Russian mafia embezzlers? The FedEx chick who can’t see glass? The Padres and Chargers games, the Basic pizza? The 8:08s that start off strong but always go awry? What about the costumes? The holiday parties? The video filming, the weirdness? The pouring of granulated sugar on a dude in a fishnet crop-top, and of course the Harlem shake? What about the kayaks and the twerking in a child’s XL onesie? What about “skrrrrrr!” or “No I don’t!” or the many renditions of “Smack That?”

What about the weirdos I consider my family and that it’s so gosh damn hard to leave?

I’ll carry them with me always like family, these crazies, the freaks of Fleet.  
-----------------------------------
Since you don't say goodbye to people you'll see again...
See you later,
V
 
 

 









 
























 
 

Real Women Have Mitochondria

The day I got training wheels was the day I realized I was “curvy.”  

My dad came home with a set for me when I was 7 or 8 years old, just a few days after I’d ridden a bike for the first time down a hill with a speed bump at the bottom. My skinned knees, wrists, elbows, cheek, chin and ribcage were not at all amused when I lost my balance and made hard contact with concrete. I asked for a set of training wheels, post haste.
My dad sat down to affix the wheels to my bike while I pretended to supervise. He perused the instructions and muttered to himself that the wheels were not suitable for a child weighing more than 50 pounds. I felt my cheeks go warm with embarrassment since I knew for a fact that I weighed more than these wheels’ apparent max capacity. Dad took notice and said “Are you kidding me? You weigh more than that?!? Yikes!” He said it with a smile and meant no harm, but I still left the room with my head hanging low. I felt ashamed. 
Just like that, BAM! I was hyper-aware of my body. It dawned on me that 85% of my female classmates were indeed smaller than I was, and that the boys liked those girls better. An aunt had recently offered to pay me one dollar for every pound I could lose, because didn’t I want to be prettier? When puberty struck quite suddenly after an injury to my jaw did something wacky to my pituitary glands, my insecurity level reached a frightening peak that lasted well into my twenties. Body image issues followed me like a stage-five clinger with an axe to grind; I spent years trying to be smaller and employed unhealthy means to try and get there.  
So now curves have sort of made a comeback: joy to the world! You see it on TV, on the radio, on the internet and on t-shirts bearing Marilyn Monroe or some other curvaceous female’s image: real women have curves, it’s all about that bass, and anacondas don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. You’d think I’d be all about this refreshing mentality being of the curvier persuasion, right? Well… about that.
Here’s my first issue. The kind of “curvy” that’s lauded as sexy too often only refers to the Jessica-Rabbitesque shapes of women with voluptuous hourglass figures and not so much to that of plain ol’ fuller-figured women such as myself. I try so hard to identify with the “curves are hot” thing because frankly it feels like I should, and while I do appreciate society in any way embracing the concept of beauty being packaged in different sizes and shapes, it doesn’t always feel like my particular body type is the “right” kind of curvy. This is where social media can really make a regular girl want to pull her hair out; the Instagram models and Kim Kardashian types with their overabundance of self-indulgent photos make a great and maddening case for the fact that my curves are for the birds in comparison to theirs; not only my non-carved waist but my cup size, butt, nose, lips, eyes, pinky toe and gosh-damn nail beds are apparently the wrong shape, size, color or model year.
This brings me to my other problem with the “real women have curves” movement, and that’s that it does the exact same thing that the “skinny is sexy” ideal does: it defines beauty and sex appeal as only applying to a certain type of woman with a certain set of characteristics. It not only leaves out the women who don’t possess those physical traits but shames them into feeling like they aren’t feminine if they don’t. What I’m talking about is skinny-shaming, and it’s everywhere I look.
Given my life’s quest to be thinner, I’d never really given much thought to this side of the struggle. Think about it though. Being told or made to feel that I’m not beautiful or attractive because my body cannot fit into a size 6 is annoying, no doubt about that; my hips don’t lie and they say “we’re wide!” so I try and try to get their circumference down through healthy eating and exercise. Meanwhile a slew of other women wish theirs were a little less modest and a little more Minaj because in pushing the agenda for seeing beauty in a larger figure, smaller girls have become the new punching bag.
This is very evident in media and music which have begun painting women’s bodies as less desirable if they lack the certain curvature that has become so synonymous with sex appeal, like when Megan Trainor’s momma apparently told her boys like a little more booty to hold at night. I know a lot of people are giving her props for the message behind that song, but that message is sullied for me because it puts down the girls without said booty abundance. Then we have Nicki out here going so far as to say “f*ck you if you skinny, bitches!” This grinds… my… gears. It belittles women who don’t fit the big booty bill and is demonstrative of one of my major hot buttons: women’s body-shaming coming from other women. Enough already. A naturally slender, less curvaceous female is just as real a woman as Amber Rose, Christina Hendricks or Sofia Vergara are, and no one should tell her or me or you any differently.
I’m not setting out to tell anyone to rewire themselves in what they find individually attractive. What I do want is collective acceptance of the female body in all its variation. I want for all of us to be able to feel comfortable in our own skin, to be seen as perfectly beautiful, sexual, desirable creatures with appeal and worth and value that isn’t measured by our waist-to-hip ratio. I find it unacceptable to define beauty in exclusionary terms, and not just in how men see women but in how women judge each other as well.
So here is my own little body image manifesto: I think a woman should feel sexy whether she’s shaped like a Coke bottle or like a Coke can. She should focus less on being thicker or thinner and more on being healthy. No woman should feel pressured to wear makeup, nor should she be shamed if she happens to really like putting it on. Let a girl wear sky-high heels whether she’s 5’6” or 6’5” and don’t give her lip about it because that is her prerogative. Please, love the big boobs or full derriere of women who possess these body parts- but don’t make the women who lack these assets feel inferior either. Don’t assume that the skinny girl is healthier than the one shopping for plus-sized jeans, but don’t discount the slender girl, she might just teach you a few things. Gisele is a beautiful woman, so is Tess Holliday. Curves don’t make a real woman and neither do six-pack abs. You know what all real women have? DNA, cells, cytoplasm. Real women have mitochondria. Put that on a t-shirt.  
 

V-Day

Buenos Diaz! It’s Valentine’s Day, that day on the calendar that makes singles sick, lovebirds swoon, and people with kids wonder whether they bought enough Valentines for everyone in Timmy or Jenny’s class and whether they’re bad parents for choosing the store-bought cupcakes over the homemade and Pinterest-inspired. Today is also confession day here at Buenos Diaz. Gather round now, come in close. Can everyone hear me? OK, here goes.
I, Vanessa Diaz, am a girl, and sometimes I act like one.

Honest to God, 97.6 percent of the time I don’t mind and even enjoy being single. Knowing how to be alone and relish it is something I’m quite proud of, really. I like that I can go see a movie, take a trip to the Farmers Market, sit at a restaurant or coffee shop or lay out in the park all by my lonesome and not feel a desperate need to be accompanied if company isn’t in the cards that day. I’ve been very independent for as long as I can remember, so tell me why this year there is something about this saccharine-soaked, commercial concoction of a holiday that for whatever nonsensical reason really has me thinking deeply about my life choices. It feels pathetic. I will elaborate.

I hate having to admit this because it makes me sound like one of those girls, the ones who bitterly denounce “Singles Awareness Day” by sulking on their couch listening to Adele and eating Godiva. Maybe it’s the flower deliveries to people not named Vanessa at work or the emotion bubbling beneath the surface of my composure every time I realize I am quitting my job in 3 weeks. Maybe it’s because my favorite of favorites is no longer a well I can draw from and that person is going away and shacking up with someone for the love-filled weekend while I’m sitting here noshing on Gourmet Inka Corn (corn nuts for the grown and sexy) with a glass of Nebbiolo (I wrote this Friday night, I’m not being a booze-hound before 9am).

I just suddenly miss… affection. I miss nervous first kisses, or warm, familiar ones that melt you; I miss butterflies, anticipation, cutesy gestures, intense bouts of eye contact; hands in my hair, hands on my face, eyes wide open, eyes wide shut. I miss hand-holding, flirting, passion, surrender. I miss hearing someone call me pretty. I miss feeling pretty.
The worst part though is the feeling of guilt, that sense of “I’m not supposed to feel the feelings!” that eats at me as someone who normally thinks of themselves as strong, independent and not at all why-aren’t-I-in-a-relationship centric. I feel like I should be impervious to these juvenile affectations, like its sacrilege to miss the warmth, the smell, the feel of a man and still call myself a feminist. This is especially true now that I’ve reached an age where I think I’m supposed to be enlightened and above all of this mess, so now I’m not only feeling out of sorts but feel dumb for feeling that way to begin with. I feel like I’m betraying my own ideals.

I’m not betraying anything though. I’m just a woman. I’m allowed to feel and need and want. So I will confess that I do in fact feel and need and want and that doesn’t make me any less self-possessed. Yeah, I allowed myself those thirty seconds (ok, minutes) of feeling sorry for myself, then I decided to get up, turn on the lights and think of V Day as just that: V Day. V Day as in Me day. I may not be in love, but I am loved and I do love. The rest of this blog post will focus on that love. Here are some people who aren’t obligated to love me out of a blood relation.

-----

I have a friend who shares my not-so-guilty pleasures plus love of steak, bright lipstick, beautiful white boys and getting on planes. We Snapchat our workouts and pics of food afterwards. In the young and ratchet days when on a crowded Vegas dance floor getting the bump-and-grind treatment from a brotha with plans, she motioned to me, pointed down at the guy and said, “V, do you want a hit?” because she didn’t want me to be left out. That poor guy looked at her hurt like, “Are you pimping me to your girl right now?” and I just about died from laughter.
I have a friend who calls me at 6am to tell me that she’s proud of me, who two years ago looked me in the eye over brunch and said, “So you’re not an author yet, but you ARE a writer, Call yourself one.” She’s black and from LA’s Valley and I’m a San Diego Latina but somehow, someway, she is my twin. We bond over books and beautiful words, delight in sarcastic wit and get into good song be it Jay or Jill or that trap music. She’s been telling me I was pretty since the day I met her and one of these days I’ll believe her.

I have a friend who for years now I’ve been calling the poster child for pursuing your passion. She pushes me in ways both overt and covert and though we may not speak often it’s meaningful when we do. She brought me to wine, let me lean on her at low points, and never made me feel stupid for loving someone I couldn’t have. She once put a slice of salami on my sangria glass because we were all out of strawberries and has dared me to dream recently in a very big and international way.
I have a friend who knows it all, the good, the bad, the ugly plus the emo, the insecure, the crazy and the expectant, all of it wrapped up in big hair and too much jewelry. He’s talked me off a ledge, showed me lightening in summer, sends me YouTube videos of hilarious throwback rap jams and tags me in stuff about books and pretty places. He’s brilliant and witty and maddeningly stubborn, pushing buttons and boundaries and schooling me in emoji warfare. He knows what I need to hear/feel and knows when things are hard for me, he tells me I’m important because I need to be reminded and even when we’re not agreeing are close in an atypical way. He encourages my honesty even when it isn’t easy, like he wants me to be sassier, louder, braver, a bigger pain in the ass if it means coming into my own.

I have a friend who reminds me that I’m talented and worthy of more than I’m sometimes brave enough to ask for, who challenges me as a writer and gets me to do things in the name of “research.” As undergrads we spent the night before final exams dancing to Afro-Cuban beats at Zanzibar, banking on my freakish memory to get us through the tests because sometimes you just have to dance. She’s shared a $300 bar tab, a stash of emergency chocolate and many life conversations with me and reminded me last night in a moment of “help, I’m a little lost” that I’m not busted. She gets my struggles and I get hers, and she’s the only person I’ll let speak cutesified Spanish to me so please don’t try it because one is enough.
You know what’s awesome- I could go on for DAYS. I have a ginger who frolicks on bays with me, who encourages me and laughs with me about words that rhyme and unattractive dance moves; I have a boss who’s a BFF who let me go supportively because she knew I’d found my passion and because she shares that passion too. I have a gypsy life-shift Sherpa who takes me on Baja adventures and tells me to keep on dreaming. I have so, so, so much love in my life that it almost seems silly to want more.

If today you find yourself madly in love with someone who loves you too, I’m truly very happy for you. I encourage you to revel in love because love is an amazing thing and even if it’s corny and cheesy to make a big deal out of it on Valentine’s Day- so what! Go for it! The world needs a little more love. Go be sappy and happy about it and let the haters hate. If you’re single like me, I salute you just the same! Love is probably all around you like it is for me, you may just have to make a list and write it out to remember that. Do it, you’ll surprise yourself.
I am now about to go enjoy my V-Day with a group of beloved friends that I am lucky to have in my life. I’m also going to lather on the SPF because I live in San Diego which has a blatant disrespect for winter. I will leave you with some wise words from Hugh Grant, a classic quote from a classic movie.

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.”
Happy Valentine's Day!
Bookishly Yours,
Vanessa

That's What Friends Are For


Buenos Diaz! So, remember those awesome friends I touched on last week? About this one particular group of them...
It all started a couple of years ago in early December: a group of friends found themselves in San Diego on New Year’s Eve. This group of 10+ descended upon the Hilton San Diego Bayfront for a big fancy NYE celebration. After a few get-me-while-my-makeup-is-still-fresh photo shoots, bottles of 5 Hour Energy were passed around to rally the masses. The air was filled with shouts of “Dude, I only want a little bit! How about like 17 minutes worth?” or “Hey! Hit me! I need a full three hour swig!” Because once you’ve reached or are approaching the ripe ol’ age of 30, you need staying power to keep the party going till midnight.
Once adequately fueled, we entered the hip hop ballroom and got down like fools without cares or fear of camera phones and Facebook. We ate pieces of cold pizza and washed them down with tonics and liquors of choice.  At one point, someone set their drink down in the middle of the dance floor and we all danced around it Flamenco style to Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” Why? If you have to ask, you don’t know my friends.

Before anyone expected it to, the clock struck twelve. We went until our livers and feet allowed us to before heading to lobby where we found a giant line of people. Clearly someone was giving away some free shit, or a Kardashian or One Direction member was hosting a late-night meet and greet. Alas, no- this stupid queue that went from here to mother-effing Whoville was the line to catch a freaking cab out of this place. Neither my feet nor my spirit were prepared for this nonsense. My feet hurt. I was thirsty. I was tired. I wanted a bed.

Right when the crowd appeared to peak at both its inebriation and lack of patience, out rang like a shot in the dark, “NAAAANTS een-VEN-YAAAAAA ma-ba-GEE-chi-ba-va!!!!” A friend I’ll call Espiderman was belting out the intro to Circle of Life. You know what else? He sang the *whole* gosh damn thing. The rest of the group chimed in and at full throttle volume much to the amusement of some and the sheer and utter annoyance of countless others. Why? Again- if you have to ask…
It didn’t stop there. These weirdos transitioned seamlessly to “A Whole New World” then slid right into “Friend Like Me.” They crooned out “Part of Your World” then moved right on to “Under the Sea,” complete with some impressive onomatopoeia for the sounds of that steel drum intro. All the while a bottle of Fireball was passed around like a canteen. I tried to dodge the bottle but someone got me like one of those rude sombrero and zarape clad dudes in TJ, rudely tilting my head back and accosting my mouth and throat with cinnamon-flavored octane.

For reasons that should be obvious by now, I joined a group of these same friends down in Baja California for wine tasting in the Valle de Guadalupe for NYE 2014. A few of us headed down a day early to stay at the Rosarito Beach-adjacent home of my friend Celina’s family friend, who happens to manage 15 or so properties down in the Las Gaviotas community. The house was an amazing ranch-style home with gorgeous terra cota detail, a courtyard begging for an outdoor fiesta to be had, and views of the ocean could fool you into thinking you’d been teleported to Santorini. We dined on a delicious and simple meal of (AMAZING) beans, guacamole and quesadillas, all with locally sourced ingredients and with bottomless refills of a lovely red wine. I slept comfortably by a toasty fireplace on a very fancy air mattress with blankets aplenty. It was delightful- property managers are excellent hosts.
This courtyard tho...
 
 Santorini Poptla, BC, Mexico
   
 Hugs from Baja
 
The next day we headed to the wine valley and went in search of our B&B, a property out in San Antonio de las Minas. Right as we made the turn from the main drag on to the road that would lead us to our destination, it became apparent that the route to our destination involved a wet, uneven and muddy road. We braced ourselves and drove forward in Celina’s low-riding old school Lexus…
SKKRRRRRRRRR went Celina’s poor gas tank as it scraped against hard-packed dirt, reminding us that a Lexus sedan doth not an off-road vehicle make. Celi slowed to a mere roll and tried to maneuver around the uneven patches, but the weight of a driver, four passengers and all of their luggage was not helping the cause. There was only one thing left to do: lose some passengers. Imagine, if you will, the odd Chinese fire drill of sorts that ensued each time we came upon a puddle:  three of the five vehicle occupants getting out of the car then using sticks as puddle-depth measuring tools to determine which way to best navigate Celi’s car. Now throw in the appearance of some very hungry and fearless dogs that sent us running back to the vehicle every so often. Adventure time!


Still onward we went, only partially convinced that we hadn’t been sold a bill of goods. We drove for some time, proceeding semi-confidently only because of the occasional 8 ½ X 11 signs nailed to some fence or tree stump assuring us that the property was indeed still ahead. The terrain was rough and there just didn’t appear to be anything remotely resembling a bed and breakfast nearby, to the point where we half-kiddingly joked that an abandoned warehouse, a dilapidated shack or a Fisher Price playhouse by the side of the road might be our illustrious place of lodging.

We did eventually arrive and met up with the other 10 or so of our friends. Soon after checking in, we hopped on a shuttle en route to wine country, and though the number of stops was limited due to New Year’s Eve winery closures, a good time was had. I mean, with that many people and wine flowing freely, we were going to enjoy ourselves one way or another. I knew this when we were poured some Grenache and someone in our group said, “St. Grenache is a dog, right? Like what Lassie was!”
 Ready!
 
Really ready.
 
Remember us? La Gitana y La Bookworm
 
Celi enjoying a snack of Takis with her red wine, trying most unsuccessfully to convince my friend Leandra that this constitutes a delectable wine pairing.

"Quick, Vane! Before someone sees me!"
 
All the Single ladies.
        
After the wine tasting, we shuttled back to the B&B for a dinner prepared by the staff, which started around 6pm and was intended to stretch out course by course through midnight. We ate the soup appetizer and main dish but at 9pm ran out of enough patience to sit and wait around for dessert or midnight. We went back to our rooms for a little while and some of us made it back downstairs later for a toast and/or bachata dance-off at midnight. Several members of our group went on to stage yet another Disney Sing Along in the property’s communal dining room. I held on till around 12:30 before throwing in the towel.
It suddenly hit me that it was cold. SO cold. So gosh-damn bloody COLD! Colder weather than the property manager was prepared for, the kind of cold that made me, the girl who hates sleeping in bulky clothing, go to bed wearing leggings, two pairs of socks, a sports bra, a thermal top, and my big USC sweatshirt with the hood pulled so tight over my face that I looked like Kenny from South Park. I covered even my head with the blankets when I realized I could see my breath if I left my face exposed. When the girl I was sharing a bed with finally came to bed at 3am once she was all partied out, I thanked sweet baby Jesus for the gift of body heat. If she’d asked me to cuddle, I probably would have. Warmth is warmth, yo.

The next day, we all roused slowly but surely (I of course was up at 5:45 am reading on my Kindle) and enjoyed a delicious, made-from-scratch breakfast before parting ways. My friends were kind enough to get me back stateside by noon so that I could book it to the airport to hop a jet to Vegas where my girl Karina and I saw the second to last show of our boo Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Tour. Oooh child, that man can sang! I danced sexy in my seat to that little but of “Don’t Hold the Wall,” swayed in an emo haze at the outro to Love Stoned, screamed out “Yeeeeesssss!” to “My Love” (I STILL love that choreography) and closed my eyes and vibed to my beloved “Until the End of Time.” Karina and I sang our faces off the whole night and loved every minute off. JT can get it.

 V + K

Go 'head, be gone with it.

I caught a flight at 7am the next morning back to San Diego, which means that when all was said and done, I was in Vegas for about 12 hours, the same amount of sleep I’d had in a span of four days. Exhaustion is an understatement, but I’d do it again tomorrow. The lesson here is not to take yourself too seriously. These friends of mine are spread across the continental US but come together at random just when I might need to lighten up. They break up my tendency to overthink things and slap me in the face with some fun. They force me to delight in and appreciate the awesomeness that comes with laughing out loud and not giving a smooth f#%k about how you look to the world as long as you’re enjoying yourself. They also build me up and remind me how loved and supported I am at every hour of the day, I am so thankful for each and every one of these crazies. They’re the shit.

Do more of what makes you happy in 2015. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but MAN does it feel good when you pull it off.
Bookishly yours,
Vanessa