Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat 2020: Winter Holidays, Traditions

This is our 9th year offering this retreat! We will gather in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from December 15 to 21, 2020, to reflect and write. Holiday traditions run deep here and it is a perfect place to explore our theme: ‘Tis the season for family, traditions, celebration, gift-giving, holiday expectations and disappointments, wishes fulfilled or not. The Christmas season evokes many memories and this is an opportunity to recreate them in a supportive environment. We are often inspired by our shared voices.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca church atop Zapotec temple ruins

You may even think about staying on in the village or in Oaxaca after the retreat, inviting your family to join you for the traditional posadas, Night of the Radishes, and other events that happen during this magical time of year.

We accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets

Winter solstice and other seasonal celebrations inspire us to revisit our memories of people and places, to dig in and go deep, and to write in whatever genre speaks to us: memoir, journaling, fiction, personal essay, creative nonfiction, and poetry. You will also participate in the Teotitlan del Valle Christmas posadas. Here you can explore traditional culture, values and celebrations to trigger your own experiences.

The last posada, December 24, when Baby Jesus arrives

New and seasoned writers are welcome. Come to kindle and rekindle the writer’s life.

Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.

Participants meet local weaver in his studio

Retreat is limited to 10 participants.

See the Exquisite Corpse Poem from our 2019 writing retreat.

Planned Itinerary: 2020

  • Tuesday, December 15: Arrive and check-in to our retreat space. Group dinner. Introductions. (D)
  • Wednesday, December 16: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities, group dinner, coaching session (B, L, D)
  • Thursday, December 17: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, independent writing, lunch, afternoon workshop, participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own, coaching session (B, L)
Abuelos at the posada. What do you remember about your own grandparents?
  • Friday, December 18: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
  • Saturday, December 19: Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
  • Sunday, Sunday, December 20:  Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, lunch on your own, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits, group reading and celebration dinner (B, D)
  • Monday, December 21: Breakfast and depart (B)

We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Scene from Teotitlan del Valle mountain-top

You can add-on days in Teotitlan del Valle or Oaxaca before or after the retreat at your own expense. To get to Teotitlan del Valle, please buy a ticket at the airport for secure taxi service.

Noche de los Rabanos, December 23, Oaxaca City

There will be optional daily activities in our schedule: gentle yoga, afternoon walks, and mini-seminars on writing topics such as writing effective description and dialogue, grammar, or submitting creative work for publication. Each person will have a private coaching session, too. We will also arrange visits to the home workshops of local artisans so you can delve more deeply into the culture.

Beeswax candle making for the Posadas

What is included?

  • Complete instruction with 5 workshop sessions
  • 3 dinners
  • 6 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 6 nights lodging
  • transportation to local artisan studios
  • daily gentle yoga and meditation (optional, but included in fee)
  • mini-seminars on writing topics
  • one coaching session
Watching the posada go by on the street

Meet Robin Greene, Writer-Editor-Professor

We are pleased that Robin Greene is returning to lead this intensive writer’s retreat. This will be her ninth year teaching with us to rave reviews.

Novelist and Poet Robin Greene in Oaxaca, Mexico

Robin Greene is Professor of English and Writing and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, where she held the McLean Endowed Chair in English from 2013-2016. Robin has published two collections of poetry (Memories of Light and Lateral Drift), two editions of a nonfiction book (Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories), and a novel (Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman). Robin’s second novel, The Shelf Life of Fire, is published by Light Messages Publishing, 2019, and Robin is currently working on a sequel.

Notes, Women’s Creative Writing Retreat

Robin is a past recipient of a North Carolina-National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Writing, and has published over ninety pieces of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in literary journals. She has received two teaching awards, the latest of which, the Cleveland Award, received in 2017, is the most prestigious award offered by her university. Robin has given over a hundred academic presentations, literary readings, and writing workshops in a variety of venues throughout the US.

In addition, Robin is a registered yoga teacher (RYT200), cofounder and editor of Longleaf Press, and cofounder of Sandhills Dharma Group for Buddhist meditation. She holds a M.A. in English from Binghamton University and a M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Art at Norwich University.

Higadito, scrambled egg and chicken holiday breakfast

What is a Workshop Session? The group meets daily for three hours to actively listen to each other’s writing, giving supportive and constructive feedback about what resonates or not. We offer guidelines for the process. Everyone takes a turn to read and everyone participates. Writers may accept or reject suggestions. Workshops offer an important learning tool for writers to gain feedback about how their words are communicated and understood.

How to Register:  Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space. Send us an email to say you want to attend and if you want a shared or private room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice to secure your space.

Holiday decor in the markets to decorate mangers. What is/was yours?

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance with a minimum of $50,000 of medical evacuation coverage. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to/from our program destination.

Christmas turkey shopping in Tlacolula market

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept payment by credit card with an e-commerce service. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After October 1, 2020, refunds are not possible. If there is a cancelation on or before October 1, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Flocked, fake trees from El Norte, an imported tradition to Mexico

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: The altitude is almost 6,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have uneven paths. The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do some walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This  may not be the workshop/study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico

How to Get To Oaxaca: United Airlines operates direct flights from Houston. American Airlines operates direct flights from DFW. Delta Airlines has a codeshare with AeroMexico with a connection to Oaxaca from Mexico City. All other major airlines fly to Mexico City where you can made independent connections on Interjet, Aeromar (code share with United), Volaris and VivaAerobus. Check Skyscanner for schedules and fares before you book.  Note: I always book directly with the carrier for better customer service.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips: Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.


Follow-Up on Food Sanitation and Gut Health: The Myths

Oh, wow! I didn’t realize what a response I’d get from the post about Healthy Eating and Disinfecting Food in Mexico.

In addition to Microdyne, more recommendations came in, both from blog and Facebook readers, and from my housekeeper Rosario.

I decided to take these additional recommendations seriously and look them up.

One person recommended vinegar and purified water as a better option to chemicals. In the USA, this can work. In Mexico, vinegar isn’t as effective as we think: https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/diy-cleaning-products-vinegar-drawbacks/

Another swears by bleach, having used it for years. This solution has merit, with a caveat: https://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/disinfectants-a-guide-to-killing-germs-the-right-way

Rosario says she disinfects fruit and vegetables with lime juice and salt.

What AARP says about the lime juice and salt disinfectant myth: https://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-03-2010/myth_buster_can_you_sanitize_kitchen_tools_with_lemon_juice_and_salt_.html

Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?

Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.

To Market, To Market: Distinfecting and Eating Fresh Food in Mexico

Probably one of the most fun things to do living here in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter, is shopping for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the local markets.

It’s easy to get carried away: A dozen mandarin oranges for 10 pesos. A huge papaya, ripe and ready to eat, 20 pesos. A bunch of 8 bananas from Chiapas, 18 pesos. Squash from the vine, 7 pesos. A perfect cabbage, 10 pesos. Eight large Roma tomatoes, 12 pesos. Melon, otherwise known as cantaloupe north of the border, is 37 pesos. A perfect bright orange sweet pepper is 8 pesos.

For example, today’s exchange rate is almost 19 MXN pesos to $1 USD at the ATM. I can eat for about $35 USD a week here if I don’t eat out. That leaves a lot more for handmade huipiles!

I don’t live in Mexico because of the prices or the great food. I live here because of the culture, history, art and generosity of the people. But, the prices are a bonus!

Teotitlan del Valle market produce

Too many times, I return from the market with a shopping cart-full of fresh fruit and vegetables. After about two-hours of making my way down the aisles and through the stands and getting my bags into the house, I know this is just the beginning!

It will take me another chunk of time to process the food. I don’t mean using the food processor! I mean, sorting, separating, disinfecting and storing what I have bought. Nothing goes in the refrigerator without being disinfected.

Living here requires food sanitation diligence. If one errs on the side of cutting corners, the digestive system will rebel and cause permanent disruption of the intestinal tract, often requiring strong antibiotics and visits to a gastroenterologist. None of us wants that, so we disinfect.

I use a product called Microdyne. The instructions call for using from one to fifteen drops, depending on what needs disinfecting. I use the maximum: 15 drops for 1 liter of water to clean fruit and veggies, letting them soak for 30 minutes. Depending on what I’ve bought, like fresh lettuce or chard or cabbage, I will rinse the sand and dirt off the leaves first before the Microdyne soak.

All the fruit and vegetables need to be completely covered in water. If not, then you need to turn them to make sure the other side has soaked, too.

As you can see, all this could take the better part of a morning! I want you to know that I don’t spend all my time going shopping for textiles or ceramics out and about in Oaxaca! I go food shopping several times a week because fresh food matters.

Here’s what they say in and around Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about disinfecting, too.

Most of us prefer to eat food we buy from our local markets. We know that it is probably organic. Here, in Teotitlan del Valle, the fields are fertilized with cow manure, and that means we need to pay special attention to sanitizing what is grown locally.

I will often ask in restaurants if they disinfect their salads, fruits and veggies. Of course we do, they say. I know restaurants that buy pre-packaged and pre-washed lettuce to serve to customers. I suppose it’s okay but who knows. I trust the salad I make at home.

A papaya big enough to last a week!

If you are visiting, what to do? What to eat? You are safe with cooked vegetables, grilled and roasted meats, baked potatoes, rice, and any fruits that you can peel. In restaurants, I will often order verduras al vapor, steamed vegetables that have been completely cooked. I will also order a glass of water from the large purified bottle of water — un vaso de agua de garrafon — that is used in the kitchen for food prep instead of buying a small bottle of water that adds on to the cost of a meal and the world’s carbon footprint.

Mexico Art Show Brings Oaxaca Artisans to Lake Chapala, Jalisco–Party Time

The 18th annual Feria Maestros del Arte happened last weekend at Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about 40-minutes from Guadalajara. I had never been before and I decided it was time! Plus, it gave me a chance to spend some time with friends Chris and Ben, who moved to Ajijic from North Carolina last year.

Estela Montaño with natural dyed wool pillow cover

I knew that Oaxaca would be well-represented among the 87 artisans participating. I was especially eager to see Teotitlan del Valle weaving friends Estella Montaño and Family, and mother-son team Maria de Lourdes Lazo Sosa and Isaac Armando Lazo.

Maria de Lourdes and son Isaac from Teotitlan del Valle

And, there was another good friend, flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco with his son Yaolt, who make extraordinary cotton cloth home goods and clothing. Their workshop is in El Tule.

Yaolt and his dad, Alfredo, accomplished fly shuttle loom weavers

There were other Oaxaca artisans whose work I know and respect: alebrijes makers, ceramic artists and sculptors, basket weavers, and some very fine clothing weavers from remote areas of the Oaxaca coast and Mixe regions. Many of these are included on our Oaxaca Discovery Tour coming up at the end of January 2020 (yes, a few spaces are available).

Fine, back-strap loomed cotton blusa, San Juan Cotzocon
Women who make red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola
Zeny Fuentes and Family, San Martin Tilcajete
Hand-woven palm necklace by Monica Diaz Martinez

An added bonus of going to the Fair was participating in events hosted by Los Amigos del Arte Popular. This is a non-profit group that supports Mexican folk art. They are appreciators and collectors, and do a lot to underwrite this Feria and provide scholarships for artisans to travel here.

Sally, Chris, Mariann, Norma, Ellen

I also had a chance to connect with friends Mariann who moved to Ajijic from Philadelphia, friend Ellen who comes to Oaxaca every winter, her sister Sally, and locals Elizabeth and Greg who live in Chapala. I also bumped into David and Barbara from San Diego, too.

Meat lovers’ paradise, ribs at Gosha’s, Ajijic, Jalisco
Lake Chapala from the Fair grounds

Unlike the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that covers the world, this Fair reunites those of us with Mexico-LOVE. While I’m most happy living in Oaxaca, coming to the shores of Lake Chapala is a refreshing change of pace and a great party all the way around. I had to come home to rest!

A collector’s niche
Otomi embroidered wall hanging adds drama to bedroom
Papier-maché Virgin from developmentally challenged Chapala school for women
(R) Michoacan potter Guadalupe Garcia Rios in traditional Purepecha dress

Exquisite Corpse Poem: Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

What is an Exquisite Corpse Poem? The root of the exquisite corpse poem comes from the Parisian Surrealist Movement, and is a method by which a collection of words or phrases is assembled. Each collaborator adds to the composition. In our case; Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, constructed this poem from lines that each of us contributed, taken from pieces we wrote during our five day Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.

Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

We are all made from mole

and the daily tortillas that hold us

to life. Hold us, that is until

mescal creates thunder

and all our clichés work.

But how much is a songbird worth?

And are birth and death only

an entrance and an exit,

or are they the constant cadence

of beginning, becoming, ending —

much like the stories we write?

We watch the shadowed Zapotec

mountains from the cemetery

tonight — Dia de los Muertos —

and want to understand

how the dead know where

their families live now? And what

will happen if everybody moves

to El Paso or Cincinnati? Will thunder

still roll across a purple sky,

or perhaps we’d have to take it

undercover until no one laughs

again, or we find ourselves

drinking Créme de Menthe

frappes, sickly green minty stuff,

poured over crushed ice

and diluted with vodka.

***

After Robin read this poem to open our last evening together, we each took turns reading a piece we had written which we chose to share. After the reading, we celebrated with dinner and a mescal toast!

Our next Women’s Creative Writing Retreat will be held December 15-21, 2021, again in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. During this winter holiday season, so magical here, we will delve into writing about holiday traditions, meaning, family gatherings, and anything else that celebrations conjure up. It’s a time to reflect and write about what was meaningful, disappointments, yearnings and relationships. Send me an email if you are interested in participating: norma.schafer@icloud.com