This week, I've been sharing the highlights from two weeks we spent in Mexico. Read these first: Part 1 - Guadalajara, Part 2 - Tapalpa. Thanks for joining me!

After Tapalpa, we headed to Valle de Bravo. Valle de Bravo (the cool kids just say 'Valle') is a mid-sized city in the mountains about a two hour drive from Mexico City. We flew into Toluca, a smaller city outside of Mexico City (about an hour from Valle de Bravo), and took a taxi straight to Valle de Bravo. It cost more, but it was far more convenient (and we'd heard the bus terminal was a little sketchy).

Like Tapalpa, Valle de Bravo is a Pueblo Mágico. The town has the same white-washed walled houses with Spanish tile roofs, and not only one, but two beautiful churches. The town is set into the hills above a large man-made lake, and it is very popular with Mexican tourists. It is also an international flying destination, and there were a ton of pilots there during our stay.

Church in Valle de Bravo, Mexico //

We found a comfortable posada (Posada El Campanario) hidden in a quiet courtyard less than a block from the town center. The location and price were great, and the family who ran the place were warm and welcoming.

Brian and I fell into a pattern of waking early each morning (there is both evening and morning flying in Valle de Bravo) and walking down to the town square for breakfast from the street vendors and shops - a fresh-made smoothie and a baked good from the panadería, or tamales and hot atole. Then he would catch a van with other pilots, and I would happily entertain myself by being a complete tourist. I wandered the narrow, hilly streets of the town, checked out the churches and museums, visited and re-visited the artisan market, tried new cafés, read in the courtyard of our posada, and worked on my revisions.

Exploring Valle de Bravo, Mexico //

Then Brian would return and we'd head out to the town square for dinner - usually a mish-mash of things from street vendors. We found a few vendors who were happy to make things without meat, so I had fun trying tamales, quesadillas, and enchiladas with a variety of fillings. Most common were potatoes and chilies, roasted poblanos and onions, and mushrooms with chilies. We also found a restaurant with a view of the lake plus some truly delicious sangria.

Exploring Valle de Bravo, Mexico //

It was a great trip, and I look forward to returning in the future!

Thanks for reading. If you have questions about where we stayed or what we saw, let me know!

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P.P.S. In case you missed it, I shared a few of my favorite childhood reads on the YA Bucaneers blog this week.

Mid-Winter Mexico Trip, Part 2 - Tapalpa

Posted on February 11 2015 in travel

As I mentioned on Monday, we took a two-week trip to Mexico last month. I'm sharing some of the highlights, and started with Guadalajara.

After Guadalajara, we headed to a small town in the state of Jalisco called Tapalpa. It's one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos, which mostly means that it is promoted as a tourist destination because of something that makes it unique or special.

And it's well-deserved! Tapalpa is located in the mountains, and is surrounded by pine forests. All the buildings are made of white-washed stone and topped with Spanish tile roofs, and the town center has a huge plaza overlooked by a gorgeous brick church.

Brick church in Tapalpa, Jalisco, Mexico //

Cathedral in Tapalpa, Jalisco, Mexico //

Hotel La Casona

We chanced upon a beautiful hotel called Hotel La Casona. From past travel experiences, we've learned to book our first night in a new place ahead of time when possible. We found a deal for this hotel online, and were only going to stay one night, but it wooed us. :) You can certainly find cheaper places in town, and this hotel was a little bit of a walk to the town square, but in my opinion, it was 100% worth it.

Hotel La Casona, Tapalpa, Mexico //

First, our room had a fireplace they cleaned and prepped daily, there were potted plants everywhere plus splashes of colorful tile and unique art tucked into every nook, cranny, and corner. Second, we had the place mostly to ourselves. It was a rather large hotel, but we only saw a couple of other guests during our stay. And, perhaps most importantly, the hotel offered breakfast, and the chef was fantastic. Since the town was late to bed, late to rise, having breakfast taken care of was a huge bonus. Not only would the chef make us whatever we wanted, but he would also chat with us for a bit.

Virgen de Guadalupe

Our visit happened to coincide with the town's celebration for the Virgen de Guadalupe. For a week (possibly longer), the town went all out every night with parades, live music, fireworks, dances, and big light displays. Plus just general partying for all ages in the town square.

Celebrating the Feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe in Tapalpa, Mexico //

We loved watching the kids running around in the main square. The photo on the left was taken around nine at night, and we were getting sleepy. The kids? Not sleepy.

Each night, we went to sleep to the sound of fireworks and music (mostly mariachi-style, with lots of tuba and horns), and on our last night, there was a jam session across the street from our bedroom. It was a special experience!

Flying in Tapalpa

Tapalpa is a known paragliding destination. Had Brian been the one to write this, that may have come up sooner. ;) He went flying most of the days we were in Tapalpa, and I went with him a couple of times to check out the scene and the view.

I can't speak to the flying logistics, but I loved that the launch was on land owned by a local pilot, a very chill guy with lots of dogs. I spent a bit of time hanging out and reading in the shade there, and having a quiet space to sit (some launches get crazy), with a clean bathroom and a restaurant, was very welcome.

Launch in Tapalpa, Mexico //

Plus, that view!

Flying in Tapalpa, Mexico //

Las Piedotras

On one of Brian's non-flying days, we walked to see Las Piedotras, a cluster of large rocks in a field about five kilometers from Tapalpa. The walk gave us a chance to check out the quieter area surrounding Tapalpa; there were plenty of swanky cabins and resort-like enclosures, but there were also ranches and farms, and one very intruiging monastery. Plus, big rocks are always cool.

Las Piedotras near Tapalpa, Mexico //

Food in Tapalpa

Beyond the amazing breakfasts we ate at our hotel, we also enjoyed the food in town. My absolute favorites were the chard tamales (tamales de acelga). We tried them from street vendors, but also from a restaurant called Paulino's. Paulino's had great prices (for a tamale and a beer it was about $2), GREAT chard tamales, and a view of the plaza. Perfect for people watching during all the festivities. Festival or no, Paulino's is definitely a must if you're in Tapalpa.

Chard Tamales in Tapalpa, Mexico //

Brian got tacos from street vendors, which is always fun. And I tried nearly every baked good from ladies with tables set up in the square. Yum! Plus a local specialty called Café de Olla, which is a hot drink of coffee, cinnamon, and a special brown sugar. They served it in cute little ceramic mugs, but I unfortunately didn't get a photo. I did find a recipe (and a photo of the style of mug!) online. You can see it here.

That's it for our trip to Tapalpa! Check back on Friday for photos and stories from another Pueblo Mágico, Valle de Bravo.

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In January, Brian and I headed to Mexico for two weeks. It was a wonderful trip, and I wanted to share a few highights. Starting with Guadalajara!


We only spent a couple of nights in Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, but it left an impression. Although it's a big city, it had a far friendlier feel than some of the larger cities we've been to. People were friendly, and the city bustled night and day with both locals and tourists.

Hotel Morales & Guadaljara's Centro Histórico

Our hotel, Hotel Morales (a cheap deal online) turned out to be a gorgeous building located only a few blocks from Guadalajara's Centro Histórico. The details in the building were amazing. Lots of colorful tiles, interior courtyards, and maze-like corridors to get lost in.

Hotel Morales, Guadalajara, Mexico //

Late into the night, the old city center was busy with people, walking, sitting on benches, tourists checking out old buildings beautifully lit for just that purpose.

Guadalajara, Mexico //

La Fonda de la Noche

The highlight of Guadalajara (for me, ha) was a gem of a restaurant called La Fonda de la Noche.

La Fonda de la Noche - Guadalajara, Mexico //

Some of the dishes in the photos: Posole, a hominy soup traditionally served with oregano, chili powder, lettuce, lime, and onion; Atole, a masa-based drink; Chiles en Noganda, roasted poblano peppers stuffed and topped in a walnut-based cream sauce and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and parsley - a beautiful ode to the Mexican flag.

Here's what I loved about La Fonda de la Noche (in a list, because I also love those):

  1. The decor was warm, glowy, and inviting, with paint-flecked walls, a wide variety of paintings, traditional Mexican handicrafts, and brightly colored textiles. It felt like walking into a friend's house, a place where you could sit comfortably with loved ones in happy contemplation for hours.

  2. Although there are no printed menus (the menu is read out loud in Spanish), the amazing wait staff will happily speak slowly and carefully if you need.

  3. They made a sampling of their most popular dishes without meat for me. Swoon! Vegetarian diners will know just how awesome that is!

  4. Beyond all of the extras - the friendly staff, the cozy decor - the food was AMAZING. The flavors danced on my tongue and I wanted to both savor the meal forever and ever and gobble it up all at once.

If you are ever near or in Guadalajara, please promise me you will go to this restaurant. It is that good.

I Latina

We also checked out I Latina while we were in Guadalajara. It had a more hip atmosphere including - for whatever reason - a wall of pigs on shelves. Hm...

I Latina Guadalajara, Mexico //

I especially loved the drinks (Margaritas with guayaba and rimmed in chili powder? Yes, please!) and one of the appetizers we ordered - thinly sliced zucchini with sliced almonds and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Simple, but delicious! The other vegetarian dishes I ordered were smothered in cream sauces ... not my favorite, but Brian really enjoyed the tacos he ordered. This would be a great choice for a couple of drinks and an appetizer.

While we were only in Guadalajara for a couple of nights - not long enough to truly explore - it was long enough to make me want to return. If nothing else than to stop by La Fonda de la Noche for a tasty meal, then stroll through the Centro Histórico at night.

Have you been to Guadalajara? I'd love to hear your recommendations for favorite sights or restaurants!

P.S. Check back on Wednesday for Part 2. We head to a small mountain town next ...

P.P.S. My email newsletter subscribers already knew about my trip to Mexico. If you'd like to get the scoop before it happens, you can sign up here!

Plot your novel for NaNoWriMo

Posted on October 27 2014 in writing

Although I won't be able to take the NaNoWriMo challenge this year (unless my revisions magically complete themselves before November 1st), I wanted to share a few of my favorite plotting resources.

2014 NaNoWriMo //

My favorite plotting resources

  1. Start with Susan Dennard's "How I Plan a Book" series: How I Plan a Book, Part 1: Of Plotters and Pantsers, How I Plan a Book, Part 2: Before I Start Drafting, How I Plan a Book, Part 3: Scene-level Planning, How I Plan a Book, Part 4: Coaxing Out the Magical Cookies.

  2. Dan Wells' Story Structure talk is a quick way to learn A LOT about story structure. I can't recommend it enough!

  3. 9 Steps for Plotting Fiction is especially handy for those who like visual representations of story structure.

  4. OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL and STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL by K.M. Weiland are both must-reads. They are quick, useful reads, but putting her words into practice may take longer than a week (perhaps more helpful when you're not about to start NaNoWriMo!).

Do you have a favorite resource, tool, or trick for plotting your novels? I'd love to hear about it!

Happy plotting!

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It's Talk Like a Pirate Day! No, really. Since the YA Buccaneers have a deep appreciation for all things pirate-y, we're celebrating by sharing our first lines in "pirate talk". Join the fun by stopping by our blog!

Inspired by all the nautical excitement, I made a quick Etsy Finds round-up.

Nautical Etsy Finds //

01. Boats baby mobile by Nuppi

02. Hand drawn anchor stamp by papersushi

03. Anchor bracelet by SeizeTheNight

04. Octopus print by NauticalNell

05. Large waves giclee print by KrisJohnsen

06. Never Stop Exploring print by FreyaArt

07. Anchor sachet bags by Gardenmis

08. Vintage photo of a frigate ship on a canvas bag by BucktoothedBunny

I'm thinking I should honor the occasion by watching The Princess Bride or The Goonies. Or perhaps something new.

Any suggestions? Do you have a favorite pirate-themed book or movie? I'd love to hear it!

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