Monthly Archives: April 2011

Independent Travel: Two Women From England Bus Through Southern Mexico

I “met” Polly Klinefelter about six months ago via this website/blog.  She was planning a trip with friend Kate to Oaxaca and Chiapas and asked for advice.  We started an email communication back and forth about textiles, where to see the purpua dye that comes from the caracol (snails) along the southern Pacific Ocean coast of Oaxaca, and more.  Polly is a textile artist from England who was born and raised in the U.S. but moved to the U.K. over 30 years ago with her husband, a Brit.

I actually met up with Polly in real life in early March when she and Kate had arrived in Oaxaca on bus after an adventure traveling through Chiapas.  I invited them join us on some of the optional activities we had planned as part of the Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat.  And, I introduced them to textile designer Sheri Brautigam who took them under her wing!

Here’s what Polly writes about the experience of independent travel, safety and how much she and Kate enjoyed their time in southern Mexico.

“I had the good fortune to travel with a friend to Guatemala and Mexico in February and March of this year.

We enjoyed our time in Oaxaca with the kind help of Norma (Oaxaca Cultural Navigator) who included us in some of the activities she had organised for the participants of the writers workshop. We were able to participate in a Oaxacan traditional cooking class with inspiring demonstration by chef Reyna Mendosa Ruiz. We also joined the writers group for an interesting talk and demonstration on traditional rug weaving with naturally dyed yarns given by the talented Chavez Santiago family of weavers (Federico Chavez Sosa).

Norma introduced us to jeweller Brigitte Huet from whom we were able to purchase beautifully made, unique silver rings and bracelet based on indigenous Maya arts at reasonable prices.

One of the best gifts from Norma was the introduction to textile connoisseur and blogger Sheri Brautigam ( who took us under her wing as Norma had done, sharing her expertise in Mexican textiles as well as her experience of living in Oaxaca. One of our best experiences with Sheri, Norma and the wonderful women on the writers workshop was our visit to the Tlacalula market just outside of Oaxaca. Fabulous!

Is it safe in Oaxaca?

Both Kate and I enjoyed walking around Oaxaca early in the morning and late at night. We felt completely at ease both together and on our own at times. Most everywhere is within easy and flat walking distance and there is much to see and do including talks and book discussions at the local English books library, definitely worth a visit to find out some of what’s on in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca feels a very safe place for women travellers. I look forward to my next visit!”

Polly Klinefelter, United Kingdom

Oaxaca Silver Jewelry Designer to Show in North Carolina

This week, silversmith and designer Brigitte Huet is coming to visit and I’m really excited!  Brigitte’s work is extraordinary.  She uses the lost wax technique to create deeply carved, high-relief silver jewelry that is derived from pre-Hispanic — Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec — symbols.  Her work reminds me of sculpture.  See the show schedule below.

Sterling Silver Bracelet by Brigitte Huet

  • Thursday, April 28, 5-8 p.m., show at the home of Erica Rothman, Chapel Hill.  Email me for directions:
  • Friday, April 29, 5-8 p.m., show at Davenport & Winkleperry Gallery, 18 Salisbury St., downtown Pittsboro.

Brigitte asked if we would host her in North Carolina because tourism has dropped off in Oaxaca related to fear of drug violence (There is no indication of this that I can see in Oaxaca.  Many of you who know Mexico understand that the drug wars are localized at the border states.)  Artists and artisans in the state that depends heavily on visitors for their livelihoods are suffering.

When I explained this to friends, they stepped up to co-host Brigitte’s visit.  Co-hosts at Erica’s house are Hollie Taylor Novak, Helen Snow, and Helen Spielman, all of Chapel Hill.  Co-hosts in Pittsboro are Cindy Edwards, Helen Mikul, Julia Kennedy, and Molly Matlock.

If you live in the area, please come!

Oaxaca, Mexico Women’s Writing and Yoga Retreat 2012: Lifting Your Creative Voice

Oaxaca Women’s Writing  and Yoga Retreat:  Lifting Your Creative Voice, Arrive March 2-Depart March 9 — 7 nights, 8 days

Add-ons:  Arrive March 1 and take a regional cooking class on March 2.  Depart on March 10 and go on an artisan villages excursion on March 9.

Imagine a setting so beautiful that it inspires all the best within you to write and create.  Here, amid the bougainvillea blossoms and in the shade of ripening pomegrantes, with the backdrop of 9,000 foot mountain peaks, you will enjoy a rich and rewarding experience.  Our all-inclusive retreat is perfect for renewal and self-reflection.  With Professor Robin Greene, MFA, guiding and coaching you in a supportive small group atmosphere, you’ll be encouraged to find your own creative center and to surprise yourself with the power of your words. You’ll have the opportunity to work with memoir, journaling, poetry, and mixed genre writing in an intimate workshop environment.

See what 2011 participant Sue Spirit wrote about the retreat.  Her essay was published in All About Women magazine.

We cannot promise that you will win a poetry prize (as one of our participants did this year after writing her award-winning poem at the retreat) or be published in a magazine!  We can promise that you will stretch, explore, and develop as a writer.

Offering 5 CEUs for 15 contact hours of instruction awarded by Methodist University. This applies to educational license recertification.

If you are working on a project — bring it.  If you have something in mind but haven’t yet put it to paper (or computer), this is the place to do it.

In addition, we include daily yoga sessions with our incredible yoga maestra Beth Miller, who employs movement, chanting and “vocal yoga” using the breath to find voice and creative center.

The retreat is designed to accommodate both novice and experienced writers, and it is limited so as to offer an especially satisfying small group experience. Through writing exercises, discussion, caring feedback, and the simple gift of time, you’ll gain knowledge and perspective about the art and craft of writing. Our goal is to empower you to tell your story well, and to lift and share your voice—widening your lyrical range and adding to the tools in your narrative toolbox.

In addition to daily writing exercises in organized sessions, Robin will meet one-on-one with participants so that each writer feels nurtured and personally served.

Workshopping session

You’ll have an opportunity to retreat and write on your own during open time in the schedule if you choose, but there’s also plenty to do here. We’ve scheduled daily yoga, stretching and meditation sessions, and there’s ample time for other activities such as walking, hiking, bird-watching, and visiting village weaving and artists’ studios.

What the Retreat Includes:

  • 18 hours of group writing instruction
  • One 45-minute individual coaching session
  • Daily workshops to give/receive feedback
  • Focused sessions to hone your skills:  grammar, reading in public, publishing
  • 6 daily yoga sessions, tailored to varying skill levels
  • Women’s traditional temescal sweat lodge
  • Guided tour to Tlacolula regional market
  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches and snacks
  • 5 dinners

Optional Added Fee-based Activities:

  • Massage with a Shiatsu massage therapist
  • Traditional cooking class (includes lunch) — stay one more day to participate!
  • Continuing Education Units for Teachers

Getting ready for yoga!

There are lovely walking paths around the village, along the river and into the countryside near a local reservoir. You are welcome to venture out and explore the village and its environs on your own.  Personal safety is not a concern here.

Prep during optional cooking class

Come join us in an inspiring setting of great natural beauty for an opportunity to explore and lift your voice, enrich, and empower your world.

What Past Participants Say

“It was all perfect.  You gave us a beautiful writing workshop in a beautiful village setting and you also gave us a strong community-of-women bond that will far outlast this conference.  Mil gracias!” — Katie Kingston, MFA, Trinidad, Colorado

“The quality of the teachers was stellar and the combination was a perfect fit for me.  Robin has a clarity that is lovely, supportive, truth-telling, knowledgeable, superbly skilled.  Beth is a beautiful, beautiful teacher.  Combining the yoga and sound with writing was profound.” —  Nancy Coleman, Portland, Maine

“This retreat is held in a really wonderful place, with a guide who knows a great deal about the town, has true relationships with people who live here.  Robin and Beth were great teachers; they worked really well together.” — Morgen Van Vorst, Los Angeles, California

“The week helped with my intention to write my book.  There were too many valuable parts to list! We experienced an amazing time together, sweating leaves, meditation, chanting, writing, and honoring our lives.  This was an awesome experience.” — Susan Florence, MFA, Ojai, California

“Deep and delicious work in a very supportive environment.  I now have a focused, with understanding and direction to move forward with my writing.” –Beth Miller, Boulder, Colorado

“We learned from the other women in the group, from the culture, the language and people in the village.  It was magical.” –Bridget Price, Sydney, Australia and Mexico City

“I loved that Robin, Beth and Norma were just a part of the group.  I loved going to the markets and the cooking class.  I’ve always wanted to come to Oaxaca and this was the perfect opportunity.” — Sue Spirit, Boone, North Carolina

Bridget, writing during free time

About the Workshop Leaders

Robin Greene is a Professor of English and Writing, and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is also co-founder and editor of Longleaf Press, a literary press that publishes contemporary poetry. Greene is the recipient of a NC Arts Council/NEA Fellowship, a university teaching award, and a visiting professorship in Romania. Her work is widely published in literary journals. Greene has led community and conference workshops, has served as a writing consultant, and has taught creative writing for over two decades. Her books include Real Birth: Women Share their Stories (nonfiction), Memories of Light and Lateral Drift (collections of poetry), and Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman (published in 2011). Greene holds an M.A. in English from SUNY-Binghamton and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. See Robin’s website:

Beth Miller is our yoga instructor who combines yogic practice and philosophy with meditation, creativity and improvisation.  She specializes in Vinyasa-Hatha yogic traditions and employs sonorous yoga practices as an approach to help women of all ages to give voice to their lives.  She has a background in Holistic-Health Counseling, working primarily with teen girls and young women to inspire healthy lifestyle habits.  In addition, Beth is a vocal artist, performer and teacher of Western classical and sacred music.  She holds a B.A. in music from Westminster Choir College, is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and completed the chef training program from the Institute for Culinary Education.

Norma Hawthorne has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006.  She has offered tapestry weaving, natural dyeing, painting, documentary filmmaking, and photography workshops that have been attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia.  During her twenty-five year career in higher education, Norma has organized national award-winning continuing education programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, and George Washington University, and has raised more than $20 million for The University of North Carolina School of Nursing.  She holds the B.A. from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.

Healthful meals with vegetarian options

Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at a woman-operated bed and breakfast inn that is part of their family compound.  Josefina, along with her mother-in-law Magdalena and daughter Eloisa, prepare delicious meals from scratch.

Base Cost: $1095 per person double occupancy with shared bath facilities.  Single rooms are available with a single supplement. A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.

[  ]  Option 1: I will share a room, double occupancy with shared bath, $1095 per person.

[  ]  Option 2:  I prefer a single room with shared bath for a total of $1195 per person.

[  ]  Optional 3:  I will share a room, double occupancy, with private bath for a total of $1195.

[  ]  Option 4:  I prefer a single room with private bath for a total of $1395.

[  ]  Option A:  5-hour Zapotec cooking class, includes local market shopping tour and lunch, on March 9.  Add $110 (includes class,one night lodging, three meals).

[  ]  Option B:  One-hour massage, to be scheduled during open times in the weekly schedule.  Add:  $45.

[   ] Option C:  5 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) for 15 contact hours of instruction, with certificate of completion, $75.

[  ] Option D:  Cooking class on March 2, add $110 (includes lodging on March 1 in Teotitlan del Valle).

[  ] Option E:  Artisan Villages Excursion on March 9, add $250 (includes overnight at lovely bed and breakfast in Oaxaca City on March 9)

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The trip does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be postmarked by January 1, 2012.  Payment may be made by check or PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

Please see our cancellation policy in the “Register + Refunds” section of the front page – tab is on the banner.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: or call (919) 274-6194

Please make checks payable to Norma Hawthorne, OCN-LLC, and mail it to: Norma Hawthorne, 110 Blue Heron Farm Rd., Pittsboro, NC 27312.  Thank you.

This retreat is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.


Oaxaca Cooking: Flavors of the Grandmothers

Quesadillas with quesillo, huitlacoche, corn, chiles poblanos, salsa fresca

Written recipes for traditional Oaxaca cuisine are a recent phenomena.  As with most cultures that create art through food, the way of cooking is passed through the hearts, hands, and soul of women, generation to generation, a folk-tale. Everything is by hand and by memory, intuited.  Measurements are imprecise, to taste and to touch.  Add a dash of this, a handful of that, stir, taste again, “correct the seasoning.”   The the preparation of mole, salsas, tortillas, the growing of the food that ends up on the table, is not easy because everything is prepared fresh.  Yet, this is satisfying for those who cook because it is a blessing of the sisterhood and creativity.  And, for those who eat the food, it is a blessing of sustenance, flavors, aromas, and appreciation for what has gone before us.

Quesadillas in the making on the comal

Oaxaca chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo says that you need to have a passion for the food to create authentic cuisine.  The outcome of a meal depends on the cook’s state of mind, the “estado de animo.”  If things are not going well in life, that is reflected in the taste of what is prepared that day.  I can believe it!

Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo with cooking class student

Years ago, when I led a group of people on a culinary tour of southern France, starting in Lyon and fanning out through the Loire valley, we visited some of the great chefs of the time:  Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and Alain Chapel. Their auberges (country inns and dining rooms) were on the lands of their parentage.

These were the first generation of men who sat at their mothers’ and grandmother’s knees in the kitchen and popularized French cooking (to say nothing of Julia Child).  They learned the mother cuisine, translating it into 4-star and 5-star brilliance for the world to know and enjoy. Gourmet French cooking has its roots in Lyon in the kitchens of the grandmothers, just as Oaxaca cuisine has its roots in La Cocina de la Casa at the comal and in the fields.  Fresh ingredients, organically grown without pesticides, harvested by the men, prepared by the women.  This great tradition has been translated by Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy and Susanna Trilling through their books and restaurants.

Pilar Cabrera learned at her grandmother’s knees and offers us the experience of authentic Oaxaca cocina de las mujeres through her cooking classes.  For that, I am grateful.

A Su Salud--To Your Health. A shot of mescal at the end of the cooking class and before we sit down to eat lunch.

A Tribute to Potter Dolores Porras, a Documentary Movie by Michael Peed

Dolores Porras -- The Movie -- DVD Cover

I want to tell you that Michael Peed has made a remarkable, endearing, engaging, and beautiful film about Dolores Porras and her pottery.  Michael is the perfect person to have made this documentary because he is a potter himself.  That is why the narrative is laced with terrific explanations of the pot-making process, how the clay is made, wedged, formed, dried to leather hard, decorated, then fired.  What I really loved about this 31-minute movie is that interspersed between the interviews with Dolores that Michael (Miguel) did over the years, are magical scenes of Oaxaca street life, music, festivals, markets, and the jumble-bump of an unsteady cinema verite that represents the hubbub and vagaries of Oaxaca life.

What I really love is how Michael explains clay.  You know he is knowledgeable, that he was a university professor, and you can trust his narrative.  Yet, he is not pedantic in his descriptions.  His narrative is warm and engaging and he captures Dolores perfectly.  You really get a sense of her origins, life in a small Zapotec village, the history of the village as it related to the magnificent political center of Monte Alban (now a major mesoamerican archeological site), and the defined roles of women in the art of pottery making.

The other really charming and delightful part of the movie is the involvement of Dolores’ entire family in the pottery making process.  You see her home, her children, her animals, and the larger environment of which she was a part.

I met Dolores just three years before she died in November 2010.  This film gave me the perspective I was lacking to see Dolores as a younger woman, vibrant, creative, and innovative.  I am grateful to Michael for making this film and I hope you will take the opportunity to purchase the DVD from him and see it yourself.

If you love Oaxaca and indigenous arts and crafts, you will not be disappointed.  If you want to know more about traditional pottery, this is a perfect film for you.

In homage to Dolores Porras, and in tribute to my dad, also a fine potter.

To order, contact Michael Peed:

Dolores Porras 2010