Why, yes, I did!

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I can only think of two years prior to 2012 that I vowed to accomplish a specific feat. One goal was realized (in 2002, I carried a notebook with me to capture thoughts and improve my writing) while the other was a total flop (I did not dress up for Halloween in 2010).

 In December 2011, I rediscovered my love for dance. I’m talking real dance, not break-it-down-rub-my-bootie reggaeton (which certainly has its place in my life). I started taking salsa classes thinking that I needed to work on my turns and discovered a whole new way to see and communicate. It is truly magical. 

 In light of my re-ignited fervor, I made a New Year’s resolution to dance every single week of 2012. Just between you and me, this goal was somewhat fueled by Juan, who doubted my commitment to salsa and told me that I would quit by the spring. 

I, of course, did not quit. As a matter of fact, although I am recovering from a cold, I got myself together tonight to dance so that I could claim my title as a dancing queen. I only danced two salsas before pooping out, but I made it. If I’m feeling up to it tomorrow, I may just do a kizomba victory lap.

This was a crazy, unique, blessed year for me. I indulged in weekly salsa classes as well as regular private lessons. I was introduced to kizomba. I organized a weekly outing for my friends to dance at Century Ballroom. I literally danced all over the western hemisphere. Samba in Rio de Janeiro. Cuban son in Ciudad Panama. Bachata in Bavaro. I saw some great live shows. Oscar D’leon in Boston. Ruben Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, Eddie Palmieri and Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl. I went to dance workshops and conferences and fell in love with the professionals. Portland. Seattle. San Francisco. I went to a workshop that changed my life – you must experience kaizen by Kwenda Lima if he ever comes to your city.

I danced and danced and danced. I met new people. I made new connections with my old friends. I set my sights on concrete dance goals for the coming year. I got lost in watching dance videos on youtube. I discovered that this new way of living could help me to articulate who I am, what I want and the beauty that I see in the world (I always feel silly when I share this kind of stuff, but I feel like I can see so much more clearly).

I came across a great quote earlier this week:

We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there, too.
~ Kristin Martz, Freelance Photographer

I can’t wait to find out where this dance journey will take me in 2013.

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How to hail a taxi pirate

This week I went to the Caribbean in search of some vitamin D. I landed in Punta Cana, Republica Dominicana, where Elaine had scored a time share at the Ocean Beach & Sands Resort for a low, low price.

Kirsten, one of my long-time hermanas, lives in Santo Domingo and was able to sneak away for some R&R with us at the playa.

Ocean Blue is an all-inclusive resort that sits right on the beach at Playa Bavaro. It was a ridiculously beautiful beach with blue, blue water. We sat mostly undisturbed (except for the day we set up camp near the sound system), soaking up the morning rays. The resort has two pools, but I felt that it would be sacrilegious to take a dip in chlorine when God’s pool was just a few feet away.

The resort staff provided us with endless hours of entertainment. I can’t count how many times that they asked me, “how many Dominican boyfriends have you had?” I can imagine that resort work is lucrative in regards to both financial stability as well as physical pleasure. Even if they aren’t getting any, the resort workers can entertain themselves by checking out the topless Europeans.

A couple of the resort workers turned us on to the Shop & Drink, which was a great place to hang out on my last night on the island. After a week of living in a bubble, we skirted off to a liquor store in Bavaro that doubles as a local meet-up and dance joint. We purchased a bottle of Barcelo rum and found seats near the dance floor. We got a taste of salsa, bachata and nine-minute merengue. As I expected, Dominican salsa is a little different than the mambo that I dance at home. Although we were there as ‘guests’ of a Dominican, we stood out like sore thumbs because of our resort wristbands and curly hair (anybody ever heard of a Dominican blowout?). Regardless, it was a very special night for me as 6 December is my one-year anniversary of re-discovering the magic of dance.

We stopped drinking and dancing just short of finishing our bottle of Barcelo. We asked one of the liquor store cashiers to call us a cab and bid our new friends adieu. We were surprised when the waiter escorted us to a black SUV and were even more surprised when we saw our taxista and friend, who were both barely on our side of legal. I was chatting with them, but the conversation was fast and not nearly enough tourist-style Spanish. I’m not going to lie – they were fucking funny. I asked if they were really taxistas, and they explained, “we are casual taxis, some might call us pirates.” Jajaja. We talked some baseball, barely got past the security shack at the resort and exchanged numbers just in case we needed any further assistance on our trip.

I love adventure, especially when it involves friendship, sun and the slight amount of tension created by cross-cultural exchange. I wouldn’t trade in this life for anything!

It’s Wednesday ~ uh, what happened over the weekend?

I jammed all of my music excitement in to one night over the weekend. On Friday, Heavy G and I headed down to Puyallup Fair to see Pitbull. The parking gods were with us and we scored street parking near the fair. We arrived at the stadium at 7:30, right when the music started bumping – this show did not start on Latino time. Pitbull was super smiley and a G.R.E.A.T. dancer. I would love to spend one night of salsa with him. Whew! He had a band (no horns), but most of the tunes seemed to be voice and music over tracks. It was all very flashy, with videos rolling in the background featuring all of his famous collaborators. The odd thing is that most of the songs were only about 1 1/2 minutes as he would do his rap thing and then let the track play through the chorus. I think only ‘I know you want me’, ‘Let it rain over me’ and ‘Tonight’ were played in their entirety. I sort of loved it when he sang ‘Culo’. I also appreciated that the south end crowd stood through the entire show (I hate sitting). The folks standing next to me were cracking me up as they were keeping watch of the time (“he can only play 15 more minutes”) and then had a discussion about how Pitbull says ‘loco’ a lot, which they thought meant crazy. Clearly, they scored complimentary tickets from somewhere.

Oh my, watching that video makes my heart race because I love me some Marc Anthony. Rawr!

After the show, Geri and I grabbed a scone (so delicious) and then headed back to Seattle. I dropped her off and drove down to Belltown to catch up with Brenda, Cata, Ester, Eloise and Alex at the Picoso show. It has been a minute since I’ve seen them play and it was great to sing along to some familiar tunes. Unfortunately, I chose to wore some practical shoes (flats – ick!) that were killing my pinky toe by 12:30ish or so and I decided to go home – boo! I should have just worn some sandals or something, but I thought it might be cold at the fair. 

Overall, it was a great night, but I wished that I could have danced a little bit more. Next time… 

Sunday night chill out

There are some days that I just prefer quiet and solitude. Is my choice fueled at all by hangover? Perhaps. Although I had some rum last night, I think my body is more exhausted from lack of sleep and from pushing my mid-section to the limit.

I met up with Elena and Eloise at Club Sur for the Kaysha show. Kaysha is from the Congo and I was turned on to him by the kizomba crowd. His hits seem to be slow and romantic, both in English and French. This particular show was fun because there was a large contingent of Africans in attendance as well as Seattle kizomber@s. The highlight of the evening for me was when DJ Guelas (Atlanta) pumped it up and started playing house music. I’m not up to speed on African tunes, but I do believe that he played some kizomba, semba, zouk and Top 40. He also threw in Danza Kuduro, which was a crowd-pleaser. We danced A LOT and apparently the different style of dancing did me good because my core muscles were feeling it when I woke up. 

Kaysha went on at about 1am and was so-so. We couldn’t totally tell if he was singing over the tracks or just lip-syncing. The crowd didn’t really care.

I had a great night and I think that I might have convinced Elena and Eloise to try out kizomba in September. Some folks are intimidated by the dance or feel that the embrace is too intimate, but these girls are game.

La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida, ay Dios

I created the moniker Mswandergirl because I wander a lot and love to explore new places.

Last week, I took some time off from work so that I could go to the Hollywood Bowl for a Latin Music festival. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic and my curly-headed Venezuelan brother, organized America & Americans in order to recognize and celebrate American music that was born in Latin America.

Geri, Javi and I made the trek down to LA. We rented a cute little VRBO cottage in Hollywood that was within walking distance (although uphill, so I was sweating somethin’ fierce) of the Hollywood Bowl.

On Tuesday night, we saw Dudamel, the LA Philharmonic and Juan Luis Guerra. It was definitely bucket list material for me. At some point a couple of years ago, I downloaded almost all of Juan Luis Guerra’s CDs on to my computer. He sings beautiful bachatas and lively merengues that are simply feel good tunes. Geri couldn’t get over her adoration for Dudamel that evening – she kept screaming, “I love you,” hoping that he would catch a glimpse of her in box 1688. She is moved by classical music and also taunted by his charisma.

Tuesday night was great, but it could only be topped by the main event (for me) on Wednesday. Eddie Palmieri and his orchestra opened the show. I had seen them a couple of years ago at Jazz Alley and it was one of those ‘more fun than usual’ nights for me. Karen and I sat in the front row making goo-goo eyes at the band during the first set. I love the sound of Latin jazz and did not want to leave when the set was over. We decided to stay for a second round. The band manager apparently recognized our enthusiasm and comped us for both shows. I love it when that happens! At the Hollywood Bowl, I wasn’t quite close enough for eye contact, but I loved to see them again just the same. They had a kick-ass Puerto Rican vocalist that was really fun to watch.

After the break, I realized one of my lifelong (at least since I was 22ish) dreams. I finally got to see Ruben Blades live. I am in love with this man. He is the epitome of a renaissance man – poet, singer, actor, Harvard law graduate, presidential candidate in Panama, etc. – and the most mature man that I would be willing to marry. Jajaja. When I was in Panama in May, I tried to find my way to his home, but all I that could gather were rumors rather than directions. He was elegant and his voice was rich. He let us know that he likes to banter, but time was short so he wanted to play a full set with no talking. He left me wanting for more.

The weather was beautiful, the music was grand and the time spent together was priceless. I can’t wait to see who is in the lineup next year!

Feliz año nuevo!

Well, hello 2012!

New Year’s Eve was a quiet Saturday night for me. I turned on the tunes and threw some pollo cubano in the slow cooker (it is debatable whether or not they would actually make this style of dish in Cuba, but I digress…). I cleaned house. I chit-chatted with some of my favorite people on the planet. December was a great month for me and I just wanted to savor that last day in my own way.

I’m such a big thinker, that I often mentally catalogue potential resolutions or changes that I can make throughout the year to live a better life. If I tried to implement every single one of them, I would go insane (sorry Earth, I will likely still be a half-assed composter in 2012). I know that I am a work in progress and, as crazy as it may sound, I really work hard at loving every day. Not making love, just giving and feeling it. Love really makes life fun! I hope that it helps me to understand other peeps and myself a little bit better, too. Go love!

Beyond love, I have a big, big dream for 2012. I want to be a better dancer!! I love salsa music and want to be able to tear it up on the dance floor, especially the next time that I visit PR. I’ve always been able to do the ‘basic’ steps (in the most beginners sort of way), but my turns are a nightmare. I have to submit to being a good follow. My goal is to dance every single week this year, whether it be classes, clubs or good old house parties.

I’m really looking forward to the coming months. I will be meeting up with some of my peeps that live outside of Seattle, I’ll get to catch up with a slew of folks at my 20-year high school reunion (what?!?) and I’ll spend more time giggling and creating memories with mi familia. Love you all!!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

Last night I hit up rum club at La Isla Puerto Rican Restaurant in Ballard. La Isla is one of my favorite and definitely my most frequented bar. I do love all of the folks that I run into there. I also love rum and they have one of best selections in Seattle.

This Rum Bum get-together was all about testing and training the palette. For the first ‘taste,’ I had to plug my nose, roll a jellybean around on my tongue to analyze the sensations and then take a swig of rum. Sweet and sour stimulate different taste buds and salivary glands – once you know where that is in your mouth, it is easer to figure out if the alcohol has fruity or acidic nodes. I’m going to be straight up with you and let you know the I usually guess on the nodes. Now, I hope that I can make more educated guesses and, ojala, hit the jackpot from time to time.

After warming up our mouths, we tasted six locally infused rums. The apricot/orange peel (I guessed grapefruit) was the most clean and crisp. The anise was delicious, although overpowering. At half-time (after third infused rum), food started rolling out. We nibbled on tostones, fried yuca, sweet potato fries and chicharrones. La Isla has reached a good balance of pouring tastes and serving enough food so that I can get to work the next day.

This was a great introductory session for folks who are new to tasting. I suspect that they will repeat this format from time to time. I do look forward to next month when they will be cracking open some yet-to-be-announced sugar-sweet delights. Rum, I love you.

Zumba with Mini

I met up with Mini for zumba tonight and let me tell you – I.love.this.class!! The instructor kicks some major booty. She is a great dancer and teacher. I give big kudos for great music, as well (Daddy, Marc Anthony, Drake and even some bhangra!).

It is fun to just let go and rock to the music. I am bound and determined to perfect my gyrating both clockwise (C) and counter-clockwise (A+). I think it is a great mid-week indulgence!

Whistler weekend

A gaggle of us girls headed up to Whistler this weekend to celebrate Kendra’s upcoming nuptials. We left town on Friday night, with a stop in Bellingham to dine at Casa que Pasa. We ate in the bar where they had a cool dragon painted on the ceiling and a gruesome art installation with a lot of blood and smiley faced stick figures that were ‘getting fucked’ by something.

After a long drive, we arrived to our beautiful townhome. We were within walking distance of Whistler Village, and headed out to the Longhorn for a beer before retiring for the night.

Saturday, was quite an experience. After scheduling debacle with Eco Tours Whistler, I hopped in a kayak with the intention of conquering the Golden River. Although I enjoy being out on the water, I did not have experience kayaking on a river in a boat that does not have foot pedals to steer the vessel. I knew that I lacked control but tried to stay calm and just go with the flow. Once we hit the (small) rapids on the river, I drifted to the bank and ended up going face-first into bushes and bramble. I did ok on the first few hits, but the last one took my hat. I reacted and tipped the kayak. The water was cold. The guide kept telling me to get out the water as if I could scale a river bank using tiny little tree branches to support my upward descent through the mud. I did finally make it up on the bank and was scratched up plenty by the brush while the mosquitos feasted on my fresh blood. We had a hell of a time getting all of the water out of the boat and the guide knocked my sunglasses off of my face while wrestling with the kayak. Once I was back in the boat, I was in survival mode. I lacked control and eye protection and envisioned a small tree branch poking in to my eyeballs. JJ managed to tip her boat near a clearing and I opted to get out of the water and go back to the condo. I consoled myself with several barrilitos and a friendly game of poker with Eleni and Sara.

I am able to accept the facts – I am a dancer, not a river kayaker.

After waiting about 1/2 hour to get in to Buffalo Bills, we danced and danced and danced until 2am. There were plenty of bachelor and bachelorette parties abound. Some of the bachelor men sported extravagant jester costumes (as is a ritual for Canadian stag parties) and one was wearing a very pretty white eyelit dress. I heard Enrique Iglesias’ ‘I like it’ and totally fell in love with that jam. After dancing, we stopped off for hot dogs and putin (fries in gravy with cheese curds – not up my alley).

Sunday was time to say ahhh. We went to the Scandinave Spa. You must go here if you ever trek to Whistler. I think we were there for about five hours. Some of the ladies scheduled massages. I just worked my way through the rotation of hot (steam room, sauna, hot tub), cold (quick blast in cold pool or cold shower) and relaxation (hammock!) for the entire time. It was luxurious, quiet (my friends were shushed) and offered great views. What a way for us to pamper ourselves!

Dinner at 21 Steps was a great way to cap off a fun weekend.

I headed out early this morning and am proud to say that I made it home all by myself (sans navigator). 😉

A night of hip-hop for Hsquared


I hit up the Snoop Dogg & Ice Cube concert last night with my friend Geri. It really brought back some fond memories of 1992 – being 18, rebelling against my parents and chasing after a boy who ended up being totally wrong for me. Back in 1992, I had purchased tickets (Xmas present) for then-boyfriend to go see Ice Cube with his brother. Unfortunately, said brother was not able to make the show so it turned into a date night. I remember standing in line outside of the Paramount Theatre marveling at the string of four or five cars that were continually circling the building. I wondered who they were looking for and hoped that the person was not standing next to me because I didn’t want to get shot. A group of scruffy looking dudes who were chewing on collard greens, beans and rice in styrofoam take-out containers passed up the line. Several people in line threw out vulgarities not knowing that those dudes were members of the Pharcyde and would be opening for Cube that night. After a long wait, we made it inside and got settled in to our seats. The crowd boo’ed the first act off of the stage and I felt sad for them. The Pharcyde rocked. And then the real fun began. I don’t even remember Ice Cube performing at this concert. We were seated in the middle of the main floor. At various times throughout the night, people from the right or the left of us would run screaming towards the middle as the security tried to wrestle a gun away from someone in the crowd. No joke! Cube had some thugs up on the stage and I was just waiting for those jokers to start shooting in to the crowd. It wasn’t very fun and I didn’t really connect to the music at all that night.

Last night I revisited the Paramount for a completely different experience. As with most hip-hop shows in Seattle, the crowd had a strong contingent of what I like to call ‘kids from Mercer Island’ who can belt out every lyric and pass the blunts to their friends around me. Geri and I snaked through the sea of people and made our way to good viewing spot. I think Ice Cube is a total hottie and I loved watching him perform. The crowd went a little crazy when he cued up You can do it.

Snoop Dogg was also fun to watch. He had a massive diamond studded knuckle ornament that distracted me for most of the show. I enjoyed his set because, in addition to a DJ, he also had a drummer and bass player. Both looked like they were having a lot of fun. I feed a lot off of the energy of musicians, so when they are having a good time I can’t help but smile and dance a little harder to provide ‘feedback.’

Other random observations:
  • I’ve never smoked pot, but I am pretty sure I can now discern good from bad weed. The good has an appealing sweet smell while the bad smells like dog shit.
  • After a night out, I waver between feeling deaf and hypersensitive to sound. My poor ears – I really should start wearing earplugs.

As is a normal night with Geri, we drank a little, danced a lot, laughed, crossed comments about people-watching with serious discussions and ended the night with, “we’ll do it again soon, hon.”