Monday, September 10, 2012


If I die tomorrow. Photo by Yaya.
This post is about nothing concrete. I often balk at people writing about their thoughts and observations. I want to hear real-life stories not fluffy ethereal concepts that no one actually practices in real life aside from that one moment of inspiration but alas I find myself bursting with inspiration at the moment. It may all go away by tonight, but I felt I should at least start writing just in case I decide to hit the publish button and embarrass myself.
 After a rough year, I've learned to cherish every compliment, smile, and hug I receive. Life is too short for the negative so embrace the positive. I'm also preoccupied by death. Ever since I was a kid and historian, I seek to preserve our past as I have watched elders in my family pass on. It was always a natural process, not scary at all. I never feared it until my paternal grandmother passed away. I recall not being able to sleep. I must have been around 6 or 7 years old and I can remember picturing her buried in her coffin, a dark, motionless, and uninspired place and I couldn't shake the thought or image in my head. Mom told me to pray to the angels so I did and must have finally fallen asleep mid sentence. Ever since, I've searched for answers about the other side. I never bought the concept of hell. It just made no sense to me. After my Women in Religion course at USC, that's when I decided I had to break from my Catholic mentality and feel free to explore other doctrines and so I have. I love hearing about other beliefs and real encounters with spirits. I've come to a few conclusions: one, I know the other side exists; secondly, I know our ancestors are watching us; and third, there is good in everyone.
With that in mind, my philosophy is not so much to live each day as if it were my last. If it was then I'd be too exhausted trying to cram too much stuff into the day. Instead, it's if I die tomorrow, what would I do differently today?. How would I react to the situation in front of me? Would I care what people thought? What would I make sure to tell my friends and family? Instead, I love living for the moment. I don't want to have any regrets. So often I find myself pouring my heart out to people at the risk of sounding insincere. You know those people. They say "oh honey you look great" and pretend to care about you but you know it's all fluff. Well, I hope I don't come across that way.
This leads me back to my initial reason for writing this. Just today, I was inspired. I was stopped dead in my tracks and felt that feeling, the kind that make you stop breathing. The kind that makes you think, this can't be for me. Then you realize, yes, it's for you. Enjoy it. Feel it! I know (and I don't mean to sound like a pompous ass) that I have the gift of finding the right words to say how I really feel and make people feel good, but when it happens to me, I'm surprised. I'm so busy being mama cheerleader that I forget how nice it is to get it in return.
My point is, people are always projecting their energy out into the universe. I firmly believe in the concept of The Secret. It makes perfect sense that what you put out into the universe is what you get back. That is probably why I love my artist, writer, and musician friends. Always creating. Always thinking and searching for inspiration. Then they find it and manifest it in their work. It's often phenomenal. Granted, it's not easy being happy and positive all the time but when you're able to acknowledge your negative moments, it's good to stop and reevaluate the situation. It has made a change in me. Along the same lines, there's a belief that what you wear affects you. Black absorbs and white reflects. I'm sure this has been scientifically tested somewhere. Some religions believe strongly in this and don't wear black to funerals, for instance. That's probably the worst thing you could wear, absorbing all that sorrowful energy. I believe it's the Navajo that wear protection beads when they come to the big cities with all those crazy people around them. So now we get to this out-dated, ridiculous rule of not wearing white after labor day. No one knows who or why this is a rule but yet they still follow it. Ok let's not be sheep and instead reflect other people's energies off of our bodies. So lately I've changed my wardrobe quite a bit. It's time for a new look anyway, some changes. I'm considering chopping off my long hair and get rid of any lingering negative history trapped in it. All I want is to be inspired and stretch those rare moments of inspiration for as long as possible.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NALACeando in San Anto

Torch of Friendship. A gift from Mexico to SA.

Summer is coming to a close and the need for sun basking has finally dispersed out of my veins. I can now concentrate on more indoor activities such as blogging. What else to write about but my summer vacation in Texas. My home state has always received a bad rap among cool LA hipsters, blue state Chicanos and east coast PIBs (people in black or JCrew). While there are some truths to the stereotypes (which I do not care to list) Texas is actually a fun, down-to-earth, relaxing, and friendly state. Shall I also mention AFFORDABLE?! No need to brag.

Initially, I wasn't planning a trip home this summer with LA sucking the last pigment of green from my bank account but then a well-designed postcard landed on my desk from an organization called NALAC, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. They were calling for submissions to their annual Leadership Institute. You have to be a member for only $35 and submit an application about the work you are doing to advance Latino arts and culture. Easy! (Join now!) I sent my application and was accepted! I was so excited that I could actually pull off this visit since it was in my hometown of San Antonio and grandma could spend hours of quality time with her granddaughter while I went off to long days at Our Lady of the Lake University. We never knew who the real Lady of the Lake was until Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio's first poet laureate, told us it was La Llorona! Ahhh, yes, that makes sense. We were also treated to a special appearance by the current Texas State Representative and future Congressman Joaquin Castro. Six days of lectures by prominent leaders from across the country and not only networking but also building a true bond with the 21 other participants was an all encompassing experience. It opened up my eyes to the forward-thinking ideas people are working on in the Bay area, Denver, el Valle de Texas, New York City, even Oklahoma. We are elevating Latino arts to a new level and it's happening everywhere!

Special thanks to our amazing mentors and NALAC staff! Maria De Leon, Rosalba Rolon, Maribel Alvarez, Abel Lopez, Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Ernest Bromley, Adriana, Claudio, Eddie, Beto, Chachis, and anyone I missed! Please click on the hyperlinks connected to the names above.

Nalaceros in Action! Love these people! Left center is the group picture of our mentors. Top right is me with NALAC leader Maria De Leon. If you don't know Maria, you should get to know her amazing work on behalf of Latino arts and culture! Just below that is Joaquin Castro giving us a motivational speech. Que inspiración!
Here are some of the websites and link to my fellow Nalacero's work:
Alejandra, New York, NY:
Amalia, El Valle de TX:
Ara, Denver, CO:
Giselle, Chicago, IL:
Jason, Tucson, AZ:
Javi, Bay Area, CA:
Jennifer, San Jose, CA:
Jesus, Bay Area, CA:
Joel, Los Angeles, CA:
Lisa, San Antonio, 
Liselotte, Philadelphia, PA: 
Maya, Bay Area, CA: mayachapina.tumblr.comRio, Bay Area, CA:
Sheyla, Providence, RI:

And to showcase some of these amazing people, check out Amalia on Def Jam Poetry:

Jason's Pan Left Productions works to document the struggles facing Latinos in Arizona:

Maya Chinchilla presents feminist poetry:

An homage to pan dulce from performance artist Javi, aka Perra Pumps!

Meet the Bay Area artists as they rallied to raise funds to attend NALAC!

And now for a word from Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto:


Then please visit Ernest Bromley's website at to view an array of amazing commercials expertly targeted at a Latino audience without the pandering or literal translations that make all of us Latinos cringe. Look under "Best of Bromley" on the home page. The Western Union ad put a knot in my throat. Ernest invented Latino advertising back when companies didn't know they needed it! I truly learned a lot from his presentation. It's all about our common values, not our common language. Family, friends, support, love! Those are the ideas that catch our attention. You can't simply translate an ad and think you're advertising and connecting with Latinos. Instead, hire Bromley and let him work his magic! Guey!(Check the Coors Light ad)

This ad has me rollin'. I'd get down to this cumbia any day!

Te vas a chupar los dedos mi gordito!

Inspired yet?

Friday, June 15, 2012

You Gonna Eat That?

Denise and Margaret
Sometimes it pays to have connections, be an insider, rub elbows with the elite especially here in LA/Hollywood. It's all about who you know and naturally, I know a lot of people who are very well connected. Well all that networking finally paid off this week! My dear friend Laura from Beverly Hill . . . I mean, San Antonio is promoting a new product. We met back in college at USC, and by that I mean high school in Texas. Ok so we were on the flag team and lost touch after high school but we DID find each other again in LA! That part is true. Turns out we are both in PR and were promoting an event that her client was participating in. Small world huh? Lucky for me, we kept in touch and many, many, years later, she sends me a box full of free sandwiches courtesy of Raybern Foods! SCORE! Aside from being a fatty, I'm also a foodie so consider this my first official food blog.

The loot
When she first pitched me the idea of sandwiches I wasn't very enthused until she mentioned the care that went into selecting the bread and the natural ingredients. This is LA after all, no processed glucosamazoids in my food please! Like really, gag me with a biodegradable spork! I gathered a few of my coworkers, Denise, Loni, Margaret, and Tessie, aka, the lunch ladies, and told them lunch was on me. The day was sunny and warm as I lugged the dry-ice infused box over to the lunch table, pulled out the neatly wrapped subs, admired the bright label graphics, read the instructions. Oh, we have to microwave these things? Hmm, that doesn't sound appetizing. So off we go back indoors with cold sandwiches in hand. Nuked them for 1.5 to 3 minutes. As each second of microzapping passed, my heart sank. It's going to taste like cardboard and slime, I thought.

I proceeded to divide the generous subs into quarters so we could each try several varieties including what is touted as the bestselling Philly Cheesesteak sandwich in America, Ham & Cheddar, Pastrami & Cheese, Chicken Philly, and Chicken Bacon Ranch. If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I'm completely obliterating my diet here with all this bread, cheese, and beef, but in the interest of market research, I'll make the sacrifice.

According to Raybern, the company was started in 1978 by two guys named Ray and Bernie. It took one year for the company to develop their patented bread recipe that cooks 'bakery soft' in the microwave. In the company’s quest to perfect their recipes, Bernie taste-tested sauces, meats and breads on his family – including son Chad who continues with the company today. Raybern’s makes a million sandwiches a week by hand in California. The rest of the country has been enjoying these bites for years and now they're hitting the SoCal market!

Me and Loni, first bites.
So let the tasting begin! First impressions, not bad. It's very cheesy, the bread is soft. Hey, what is that I taste? Could it be? Is it . . . flavor?? What happened to the cardboard? Nothing nuked could possibly be this soft and delicious. I was so ready not to like it that it took a moment to realize that these sandwiches are actually pretty good. I tried the Chicken Bacon Ranch and as Denise said, "Cheese and bacon make everything good." I agree! The consensus was a resounding thumbs up! Everyone had a favorite but what impressed us the most was how well they held up in the microwave. The idea of these heat and go meals appealed to all of us. Margaret said she'd take them along on a road trip. Although the cheese was very melted, they weren't as messy as they first appeared. I suggested buying up a few for small gatherings or as additions to a BBQ and slicing them up to put on party platters. Loni said they'd be perfect for Super Bowl. We agreed that even guys would like them and would fill their manly appetites, well almost. At 320 calories per serving (two servings per sandwich) we also thought it wouldn't break your diet. 640 calories for lunch, plus my cup of fruit and ice tea, not bad. The only thing missing from these tasty delights are the veggies. I was craving some jalapeño slices in my Philly and Loni thought grilled veggies would be a nice addition.

Margaret's top picks were the Chicken Philly and the Ham & Cheese. She thought the Chicken Bacon Ranch was just ok although she has this weird aversion to packaged meat so if she were to buy it in the store, she'd choose chicken.

Denise liked the Pastrami & Cheese the best. It had a good flavor particularly with the dijon mustard. She loves stronger spices. I have to give it up to Denise though. If I thought I was sacrificing my diet, she's actually 99% vegetarian. So thanks for allotting your 1% of meat-eating to me and my blog! Now I'm really glad the sandwiches were good!
 Loni's favorite was also the Pastrami & Cheese as well as the Philly Cheesesteak. She liked that you could see the spices in the sandwich with specks of black pepper throughout. The cheese was not overly processed. "You could tell it was cheese!"

Tessie (on the right) also favored the Pastrami & Cheese as well as the Ham & Cheddar and the Chicken Bacon Ranch. She felt that the stronger flavors like pastrami work better in a frozen sandwich. We all agreed!

As for me, I like it all! If I had to choose my favorite would be the Ham & Cheese and the Chicken Bacon Ranch. What can I say, I love pork!

So now you heard what we had to say. Now go try it for yourself. Raybern's frozen sandwiches are now available at your local SoCal Target stores. Plus, like Raybern on Facebook and get your $1.00-off coupon! Retail is a pack of 2 for $3.99, yes two!!. Not a bad price considering lunch can cost well into and past the ten dollar range anywhere now-a-days. Thank you Laura for sending us such a yummy lunch! Ahh, the glamorous life! Gotta love it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rocio Launches Solo Album

RocioMarron. Photo by Berkeley Gray Photography.
It is with great enthusiasm and a motherly pride that I write about my dear friend Rocio Marron who recently launched her first solo album! Veteran of the Latin and pop music scene, she's played with major recording acts Marc Anthony, Josh Groban, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cuban bass legend Cachao, Los Lobos, and others. You may have also seen her on this year's season of American Idol and The Voice performing with the finalists.

We met in college where she was studying music. I would follow her to her gigs and met her wonderful family and friends. As an original member of my favorite group, Quetzal, she introduced me into this great world of LA Chicano music.

Rocio spent a year writing and recording the album inspired by her family and personal experiences. “For years, I’ve enjoyed playing and interpreting other people’s music,” said Rocio. “Now I had the chance to write the music that had been inside me waiting to be recorded. I had to look no further than my own experiences and love of family to find the inspiration and words to create this album.”

Pic off of my tv. Rocio playing with The Voice's
Season 2 winner Jermaine Paul
Another tv pic. Rocio playing on American Idol
Season 11 with Top 3 finalist Joshua Ledet
 Rocio Marron, released in November 2011, represents the kind of poetic musical stylings and poignant lyrics she hopes will linger in people’s minds. The songs in this debut album draw from her own life, and are designed to touch the listener with relatable lyrics and soothing melodies.  With songs like Heartaches Will Mend, Promise You, and Should Have Waited, Rocio’s lyrics deal with the loss, discovery, and overwhelming feelings of love. “The deepest feeling of unconditional love I ever felt was when my daughter was born,” said Rocio. “Motherhood has brought a whole different perspective on life and priorities. It amazes me that it has made me feel so much, to the point of wanting to share it with everyone.”

Rocio put her multiple talents both in front of and behind the microphone composing, singing, and playing instruments including the violin, viola, and guitar on this album. She also arranged and engineered the tracks along with longtime collaborator Dante Pascuzzo.

Her first video from this album, Leaving Dreams was produced and directed by Eddie Arguelles of Tochtli Films.The song deals with the loss of love and realization that one must move on. It’s that moment when you realize that it’s the best thing to do for yourself,” said Rocio. The video is set in an abandoned Victorian home signifying the end of a relationship and an vibrant outdoor dried creek signifying a rebirth. “Where once you felt safe at home with a partner, now there is an empty feeling surrounded by darkness. It’s not until you search for a way out that you find the light and are able to move forward,” she said.

Her next solo album is set to be released in November 2012.

Listen to the entire album on her website:
Download the album on itunes:

More About Rocio Marron
RocioMarron. Photo by Berkeley Gray Photography.
Rocio Marron is an accomplished violinist whose passion also includes singing and songwriting.  After falling in love with music as a young girl and attending a high school for the performing arts, Marron studied performance violin at USC’s Thornton School of Music. She has toured, performed and recorded with Marc Anthony, Josh Groban, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cuban bass legend Cachao, Los Lobos, and Grammy-nominated Caravana Cubana, among others.  Rocio has also arranged and recorded as musical director for the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas, and she’s been a featured soloist with Ozomatli at the Hollywood Bowl. In film and television, Marron has recorded for major motion pictures including “Blow” starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, “Dance with Me” starring Vanessa Williams and “The Rugrats Movie”. She has also appeared on television programs such as The Young and the Restless, Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, The Rosie O’Donnel Show,  and The Tonight Show.  She performed on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, American Music Awards, Radio Music Awards, and the Grammy's. Most recently, she appeared on both the 2012 season of The Voice and American Idol. She teaches violin and guitar as a faculty member of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Latina Fashionista: Melena

Nothing is more inspiring than a woman who trailblazes through a man's world with such style and grace as this sultry diva of rhythm. In the manly world of salsa music, she shows the boys that the pulse of the earth is no more ingrain and natural than to woman. This week's Latina Fashionista is passionate Cubana percussionist

Born in Havana Cuba, Melena has mastered the traditional rhythms that have traveled from Africa to Cuba, to the dance floors of America. Her Afro-Cuban sound is a conversation of melodies which she plays with fierce passion. Melena is a multi-talented percussionist who is at home on congas, timbales, bata drums, and shekere. She exemplifies the sound of legendary players from the past, to the modern sound of today. Let's take a look her her glitzy performance outfits.

If you want to leave no doubt that you are the star of the show, you can't go wrong with a shimmering fringed sexy number like this one. The more she shakes that shekere, the more this sexy angelic outfit comes to life. It helps reveal Melena's inner rhythm with fantastic fierceness.

 Melena has a subtle style that stands out. She knows what styles fit her body and plays with patters, shimmer, and glitz. She keeps her lush locks relaxed, eyes natural, and adds a punch of color to her lips. These bikini top cut outfits flatter and accentuate her curves and the thin spaghetti straps give the illusion of more bare skin than you are actually seeing. Clever!

See this dress in motion in the great YouTube video of her interview on the Fernando Hidalgo Show, Miami . The flattering neckline is repeated here with an elegant medal and what better way to show great legs than a short miniskirt length. Light colored stilettos elongate her legs as she shows everyone that she can play and dance too!

This stunning lavender metallic piece has a fabulous Middle Eastern flair with that lovely fringe and see-thru veiled bottom. Her statement earrings are complimented by an understated silver necklace. Her best accessory has to be the lovely beaded shekere.

Another stunning piece is this skin-tight golden performance outfit she wore at Washington, DC's Cuba Libre. As she hits the stage, first comes catcalls followed by silence as she begins to play. Soon enough, the crowd realizes they're watching a pro as she shows her timbales and cymbals no mercy! You go girl! You're golden!

And just because she's so lovely, here are some stunning beauty shots.

Pictures of the play
In addition to leading her own band Melena recently wrote and staged her own play: Melena: A Cultural & Musical Journey into my Afro Cuban Roots. The play opened on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at the Sycamore Rouge Theater in Petersburg, Virginia. This was the first Latino production ever at the Sycamore Rouge. The play is a screenplay written by Melena and Jimmy Castro, and a production of Yamile Music/Ritmo Caribe Promotions. The cast consisted of Afro-Cuban percussionists and Melena playing herself in a story of a woman's journey to reconnect with her family through the culture and music of her native country, Cuba. Melena not only performed and acted in this play, it was her first production as artistic/musical director and choreographer.
Special Offer for La Vida Yaya readers! In order to inspire future generation of women percussionists, Melena has graciously offered to personally autograph the first-ever New Generation of Latina Percussionist 2012 calendar for the young, talented girl in your life! Get one for your daughter, niece, granddaughter, or little sister! Show them that women can do anything! Take a look at the list of professional women percussionists below. Who knew there were so many?

This offer is good for the first 10 orders sent to  Melena by June 15!

Let's support Melena who produced this calendar out of sheer will! This was her dream and none of the musicians were paid to model. Plus, she's not making any profit off of these sales. These talented women just want to inspires future generations. Now please place your orders and support these amazing ladies!

Place an order by emailing with the lucky girl's name to be included in the dedication. Tell her Yaya sent you! Price of calendar including shipping: $25

New Generation of Latina Percussionist 2012 Calendar Features:
January - Melena
February - Yuliet "La Papina" Abreu
March - Zoe Fuentes Aldama
April - Madelin Espinosa
May - Jessica "La Timbalera" Rodriguez
June - Yuleydi "Yula" Sosa
July - Ivette Gonzalez Kessel
August - Gretchen Pineda Corrales
September - Roselin Bey
October - Lidia Berman
November - Lisette Santiago
December - Melena

 Q&A with Melena

Who are your fashion icons?  
Melena's mom Myrna Valdes
Ohhh…I have so many. I love old black and white movies and how the women dressed back then. Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, etc…I could go on an on.  I love that era, so elegant and sensual at the same time. I also love looking at pictures of my mother and her sisters who also dressed so beautifully. But, I also love our modern Latina and Afro-American celebrities such as: Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, JLO, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Eva Mendez.  I love the long dresses that all of these actresses get to wear.  I glance through all the celebrity magazine and just adore their dresses. They are of course, expensive so I could only just dream of maybe one day being able to wear a long beautiful dress like they do one day. 

What do you fuss over the most when getting ready? 
My wardrobe! Whenever I get a contract for a special event or concert, the first thing I think is, “What am I going to wear?” I really believe that what you wear makes you feel a certain way and effects your emotions.  So, I want to not only look my best for a performance, I want to feel my best.  I take into consideration all aspects of the gig, and decide from there what I am going to wear and what is best for the occasion. The worst is when they say you have to wear all black and to be conservative. Then it feels like I’m going to some kind of job that has no creativity. The more freedom and expression I have with my wardrobe for performance, the more fun I have both on and off stage!

I usually wear my hair the same but, sometimes I like to try something new. A few times in the past, I have had my hair done at a salon on the same day of an event, coming home very unhappy with the results and having to wash it all over again and start from scratch. To avoid this from happening, I experiment with a new hairstyle at least one to two weeks prior to the event, so that I am not disappointed the day of.  Otherwise, I make sure to style my own hair and just keep it simple.  The same with wardrobe, sometimes I rather keep it simple and I feel more comfortable than trying to experiment with some new look and then not feel like myself. Although, I like to try new things…I like simplicity.

What is your favorite piece of wardrobe and why?  
My gold chain with an amulet my mother gave me several years ago of La Caridad del Cobre. When I don’t wear it, I feel like I’m missing something.  It completes my look.  I feel I’m connected to my mother, family, and roots, the land where I was born, Cuba.  

What inspires your fashion sense? 
Colors are fascinating to work with. They have a way of setting the tone/mood/vibe to your image and how you feel when you are on stage or just even hanging out. But, the biggest influence on me is the type of event that I am going to or performing at that makes the final decision on what I am going to wear.

I just finished producing a play about my life being born in Cuba and holding onto my roots through the music.  I had to organize all of the wardrobe for myself and the cast.  It took me about one month to work with the theme of the play and choose what colors to wear etc…I had so much fun.  We opened up with traditional African outfits in the colors of dark blue and gold from the Yoruba and then moved to the Congo where I chose the colors royal purple and gold. The colors looked beautiful on stage.  I also chose gold for myself and a pretty lavender to close with a rumba at the end. Everything came together beautifully.  But, yes…wardrobe, make-up, hair, colors, everything was taken into consideration.

Also, being a percussionist has a big influence on my clothes.  There was one scene that I wanted to wear a turquoise dress, but I was doing a bongo solo so I had to wear jeans instead. So, I think for me as a percussionist my wardrobe is extremely important as well. Even the dresses I wear have to be very loose fitting so that when I sit behind the congas I’m comfortable.  Now, when I go shopping or have a dress made for me I have to think “Can I play in this dress?”  Usually, I wear jeans so I try to emphasize what I’m wearing with a really pretty blouse.  I also have to be sure that the blouse I wear is comfortable enough for me to play percussion.  

For the play, I had some braids done on the left side of my hair to show my African roots. I have always done this on my performances from time to time. The girl playing my mother wore a scarf around her head, because my mother was very fashion conscience and wanted to be unique and different.  So, when you see pictures of her amongst her friends, she is the only one with a handkerchief around her head. I think that was pretty neat about her.  She was independent in her own creative way. 

Preferred lip color: Soft burgundy.

Check out Melena's YouTube clips!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Entre Mujeres Se Puede

Las fundadoras, Laura Rebolloso and Martha Gonzalez.
When the lead singer of my favorite band comes a-calling for a special request to write about her new project, there is no way a super-fan can say no! As much as we are hounded to death to financially support everyone else's jogathon, spring break trip to Nepal, or buy magazines from guitar-playing Xanax junkies, once in a while comes a project that you wish you could fully fund on the spot. Alas, being $9,980 short, I'm doing my part and blasting this far and wide.

Aside from being a Chicana singer/songwriter extraordinaire for the band Quetzal, Martha Gonzalez is also one educated chica. In 2007, Martha was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to head to Veracruz and write songs from a feminine perspective along with collaborator Laura Rebolloso, founder of Son de Madera, a son jarocho group in Veracruz. There Martha and other local women musicians gathered around kitchen tables and living rooms, multitasking songwriting with caring for their children, cooking, and communing with each other. The new feminine jarocho movement was taking shape and the sounds and energy of this experience was captured by Martha using inexpensive, portable, sound-recording equipment. These recordings were brought back to Los Angeles where Martha solicited fellow Angeleno women musicians to add their own flavor to the mix including Rocio Marron, Martha's sister Cava, La Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia, Maya Jupiter, and others. With all the music captured digitally, the call now is to raise funds to mix, master, and press 1,000 copies of the Entre Mujeres CD.

Like Entre Mujeres on Facebook at and click on the Kickstarter link here:

Las translocal colaboradoras
Performance artist and musician, Maria Elena Gaitan, aka Chola Con Cello, puts the project into perspective, "All of these women are brilliant musicians. Just one or two generations ago, women (let alone Chicanas/Latinas/Mexicanas) had no access to this level of cultural production. It was always hidden, unrecognized, silenced, diminished, limited to playing at home for family gatherings." Even more reason to back this project! It's a do-it-yourself time in history. No one else is going to fund this project. If we as a community can't spare $10 then we're doomed to leave no rich legacy behind for our children and future generations. When our great-grandchildren write their history reports on life in 2012 Los Angeles, what will they say? Chicanos were on Facebook but didn't tweet much except for their leaders Lalo "La Cucaracha" Alcatraz (misspelling included) and I-love-tacos Arellano and some guy named Mexican Mitt. Nothing against these guys, we love them mucho- mucho- mucho- but let's show that women were active, empowered, and self-sufficient in 2012! Let's do this for our daughters (cue the waving flag, patriotic music, and picture of sad wide-eyed Chicanita), our mom's comadres who treated us like their own, and for our abuelitas who were always more than happy to give us their last peso and blessing. Besides, I bet the best tacos were had during the recording of these sessions, just sayin'.

Let us take a cue from Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter campaign, "I hope you will join our Rock n Roll cause . . . this is the future of music  . . . this is how we fucking do it . . . we are the MEDIA." She raised over $1 Million for a new album, tour, and art exhibit! As the HuffPo article says (click link above) "which is an incredible milestone for the female performer." I find this statement sad, for a woman? Ouch! Women rock and women strum and sing, loud and soft and beautifully.

Can we do this? Are you in?

Read more about the project with this Q&A with Martha Gonzalez:

When did you first visit Veracruz?
I have visited Veracruz for many years. On and off for about 13 years or so. The first time I visited was because Quetzal (the band) was invited to El festival Afro-Caribeño. We had however been listening to tapes and CDs of groups that we knew had something to do with El Nuevo Movimiento Jaranero.

What drew you to Veracruz and not, say, Jalisco or an Indigenous reservation in the US?
The music of the son jarocho, and specifically the participatory music and dance practice called the fandango that generates the music of the son jarocho.

Why do you think the jarocho community is more invested in its women than other similar communities?
I don’t think that. I guess I just see so much power there and wanted to engage it on a more intimate level. Songwriting is as intimate as you can get.

Was it easy for the women involved from both sides to open up and trust each other?
Not always. I think they knew my work as a singer for Quetzal, but most importantly I think that for the most part we had already been acquainted through fandango practice. I have practiced in this way many times.

What are the topics of the songs created? Where there common themes that arose or common struggles?
Most of the topics revolve around love. Love for family, for our children, partners, for ourselves. But also childbearing, birthing process etc.

Do you plan on touring to promote the CD?
Yes. I hope. That is the plan.

What happens after the CD is out?
I wanted to not just have it in my files, I want to promote it and possibly find a way to get some grants to put together a mini tour.

What are the names of all the women involved?  
In Mexico: Laura Rebolloso-Cuellar, Kali Niño and Alec Dempster (Café con Pan), Wendy Cao Romero and Tacho Utrera (Los Utreras), Gisella Farias Luna and Gilberto Gutierrez (Mono Blanco), Annahi Hernandez (Son De Madera), Djael Vinaver, Karina Gutierrez-Rojo, Silvia Santos (Hikuri), Violeta Romero (Los Utrera), Rubi Osegura Rueda (Son De Madera), Raquel Vega (Los Vega/Caña Dulce Caña Brava).

In the U.S: Rocio Marron, Tylana Enomoto (Quetzal), Claudia Gonzalez-Tenorio (CAVA), Angela Flores, La Marisoul and Gloria Estrada (La Santa Cecilia), Laura Cambron (Son Del Centro), Maya Jupiter, Carolina Sarmiento (Son Del Centro), Marissa Ronstadt(Monte Carlo 76/The Know it Alls), Shirley Alvarado-del Aguila and Hook Herrera, and Xochi Flores.

Are they all full-time musicians or do they have other occupations? 
Most are not full-time musicians. They are mothers, sisters, workers in varying fields. Like radio shows, teaching, schools etc.

What would be the top 5 words of jarocha/chicana wisdom to women in the US?
I can't decide that alone. And I don’t know if I’ve really figured that one out. lol

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Luna, The Stars and The Moon

Luna at 2 Tracks Studio. Photo by Y. De Leon
This post is not about art saving a young, impressionable boy from the barrio. It's not about how he would be dead right now if not for art. It's not about Highland Park or Mexico City. That would all be superficial, convenient, passive. It all made sense sitting there at 2 Tracks studio which he shares with the equally talented New Mexico artist Pola Lopez, in the Northeast LA neighborhood of Highland Park, watching him move about, waving his hands in the air as if to control its direction and flow. Is there something in that air or is it just the haze in our eyes from a long day winding to a close?

Outside, passersby walk hurriedly against the fading light of day. Teen boys posturing macho bullshit about girls they hope to conquer. Old men lusting after a cold can of beer. Mothers eager to get home. Inside Heriberto Luna paces on edge wondering what I'm about to ask him. He takes me into the Avenue 50 Studio in the next room over. Frank Romero's pastel giclees hang in silence. Familiar cars and streets with city lights and a comforting aesthetic. In between, an examination of what appears to be a rainbow of rust on canvas by Isabel Martinez. Where to begin.

Luna at work. Photo by Abel Gutierrez
Always begin at the beginning, family. Two brothers, three sisters, divorced parents, from Mexico City. As I attempt to delve deeper into his family dynamics, the conversation leads back to his teen years. Growing up in Highland Park, Luna was surrounded by gang activity. His friends and neighborhood kids were gang members. It was part of life to hear bullets ring out nearby, friends getting shot at while riding their bikes, and being asked to join. However, Luna never felt the pressure to join. Instead, he was drawn to the beat of the Aztec drums at nearby community art center Tierra de la Culebra. "That was the first time I saw Aztec dancers," said Luna. "I was 16 and joined Lazaro's dance circle at 19. His was the first Aztec dance group in LA." Luna is a wealth of knowledge taking the history of Aztec dancing in LA back to Florencio Yeska from Mexico City who arrived in LA to do performances. Yeska competed in Pow Wows in the late 1960s and was a consistent winner in the fancy dance category. He realized that dancing in the US was much more lenient than in Mexico. The fancier and faster dances were crowd favorites so he adapted. "Danza was slow. You'd mark the steps to work with the heartbeat of the earth," said Luna. "Florencio studied dance and was a traditional Aztec dancer. His group was called Esplendor Azteca."

H. Luna, Universal Game, 2008
48x60 oil on canvas
Feeling safe at Culebra, Luna started hanging around the center. At the age of 10, Luna was already drawing intricate spaceships that amazed his family. "Tricia Ward was a crazy white lady who bugged me to be part of the program," Luna jokes.  Artists like Leo Limon, Frank Romero, Andy Ledesma, Raul Baltazar and even some graffiti artists were regular mentors at Culebra, but it was Margaret Garcia who recognized Luna's talent and taught him the business side of art. "She taught me how to sell. She was a tough lady. People didn't want to mess with her but she took me in. Not a lot of artists do that. She saw something in me. 'This guy is going to make it" she thought," recalls Luna. By his early 30s, Luna was the Art Director as well as the tree trimmer and gang deflector. "The gang members used to climb up the trees at Culebra to hide so I had to go out there and trim the branches or ask the gang members to leave."

In college, Luna studied art, science, and biology. "I just wanted to learn things," said Luna. "A pre-Columbian class taught by an Aztec dancer from Arizona was the best experience of my life." I being to see the common thread of Mayan and Aztec cultures found in his work today. "My family wasn't supportive. Art to them wasn't a choice. They didn't think I would make it so I became a car salesman in Cerritos." Because Luna was shy, the salesman job helped him come out of his shell. There he learned from the top salesman on how to manipulate people into buying a car. "Don Luis . .  . that guy was intense." Now you can find Luna in front of teenagers at Juvenile Hall teaching a mural class with not a hint of shyness to be found.

H. Luna, The Queen, 2009
36x72 oil on canvas
To see Luna's work in person, is to be transported to another time and galaxy. His celestial Mayan figures and hieroglyphs are bold in size and color saturation. Just like Luna, they let their quiet presence be felt in a room. What calls Luna to juxtapose Mayans and celestial backgrounds and not place them in everyday situations? Where is the Mayan mother with her baby? What about the Mayan farmer looking over his crops? Or does he see them as super-human beings that are watching over us today? "All artists connect with the spiritual side of their art, Van Gogh, Picasso, Diego Rivera, Caravaggio. I feel those artists. The art spoke to them," he says. The spiritual connection to his art is evident. "Only with the study and the teaching of our cultural past, our ancestry, is it possible to accept the strength and spiritual capacities of humanity in the present and future," reads his bio. Could it also be his love of science and movies such as the new Avengers or classics like E.T.  that draws him to super-humans and outerspace?

Behind the serene imagery on his canvases, there's an insatiable quest for knowledge. Luna, like many more people today, feel that there are truths and information about the world that are hidden from us by governments, secret societies, those in power, the 1%. "Even in movies such as The Avengers, if you are a superhero, you are not the one in control. They talk to the elite group. Who are those people?" After about an hour of conspiracy theories, I ask "So, what do you do with the knowledge that things are being kept from us?" Without hesitation, Luna responds, "You talk about it. We have to be conscious about who controls society, the world. There is power in knowledge, in pushing the issue. The Mayans controlled their civilization. Where did they go? That's the million dollar question."

H. Luna, The Stars and The Moon, 2006
36x36 oil on canvas
Perhaps by removing the Mayan figures from earth in his paintings, Luna seeks to infer that their knowledge is above it all, that it cannot be kept secret for long. Perhaps that knowledge, known to the Mayans of our past, is stronger than what is humanly possible to control. Or is it that Luna's own grandmother was a Mayan medicine woman? A powerful healer that people sought out and never accepted a dime in payment for her miraculous services. Was that her way of rejecting a capitalist society? Or was it that she was so giving that the taking of her legacy stirs Luna enough to learn about it and explore it on his canvas? Is it that art is a process and not the final product? It seems every time I visit, he has a new concept to work on. What first started off as a study in saturation and textures, turned into the addition of hieroglyphs within each figure. Now he has something new up his sleeve. What it is, only time will reveal. More celestial Mayans? I hope so.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Letter to Lydia

My daughter never ceases to amaze me with the words that come out of her mouth. I've always seen her as an alien from another world that I am charged with introducing to this one. As I've mentioned before, I have a twitter account for her called Lydia_said. There I post her memorable quotes of the day. Today, she said off-the-cuff, "Mom, I love you. I don't want you to die, but you will." What does one say to that? We've talked about death before and she's still a bit obsessed with it. I know she thinks about it often. So I thought that perhaps I should write this letter to her  . . . in case. I plan on living until I'm in my 80s or 90s but I'd hate to leave Earth without writing a letter that she can read when she's grown, just in case.

My Dear Lydia,

What can I say to the grown-up you that you don't already know. You've always been very intuitive and understood things way beyond your years. You just turned 6 years old yet you are an old, wise, soul. I haven't censored you from the realities of life as much as I'd like because you seem to grasp concepts and life itself with clear understanding. I am amazed by your wit, negotiating skills, and persuasive arguments. One of your pre-school teachers advised me that you should become a lawyer. You definitely have the verbal skills, logic, and drive to argue your case and win. You often win. Mainly you argue reasons why you should have dessert after dinner. Just today, you made me dizzy and confused by stating all the reasons for having a chocolate treat despite having had two time-outs in school. Somehow, it made all the sense in the world and you got your chocolate, but mainly because I wanted some too. We love dark chocolate with almonds but tonight we had it with raisins, dropped it in a bowl of popcorn so it could melt over it, and watched The Addams Family Values, or as you call it, the film where the kids are mean to the little brother.

You love to cuddle with my arm around your neck and your head on my chest, but you're so wiggly that it doesn't last long. Before you know it, you're standing on the rocking chair attempting to jump onto the couch. So full of energy. Your bedtime is 8:30pm. You like to be read a book or listen to the iPod Nano I gave you with your favorite artists on it. First on your Favorites list is Michael Jackson followed by Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Rhianna, one song by Sergio Mendez and Wil I Am called The Heat. The last song is Vicente Fernandez's Estos Celos. This is the first song you sang at 18 months old. You were sitting in the high chair as grandma cooked in the kitchen with the radio on. You tossed your head back, closed your eyes tight and sang "Ahhhhmooooh". I was so proud because Vicente was my idol. I grew up with his songs and most importantly it said that you had that love of Mexican music inside of you. It meant something to me to have that be your first song. Coincidence? Maybe, but it warmed my heart. You still love that song.

I've always lamented that I haven't been able to take you to Mexico. There have been several opportunities every time we visit Texas, but the drug war along the border in Laredo have made me not want to risk it. I'm sure we would be fine but even the small risk is not worth it to me and it breaks my heart to not have you touch Anahuac soil, to visit the home of my grandparents or that of my parents which they still have there. I'd love for you to step on soil that cradles my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They're all in the same cemetery in Rodriguez, NL. It's a small, dusty town, but it's home. I also need to be more diligent about teaching you Spanish. You claim to hate it but I know it's only because you don't understand it. It's my fault. I promise to try harder. I can't imagine you growing up not speaking Spanish. You do like Armenian and claim to know a few words your classmates taught  you. You learned Happy Birthday in Armenian in pre-school and can still recall some of the words. The more languages you speak, the better.

You also love dancing. You took a hip hop dance class in kindergarten and will probably go again in 1st grade. You were also in gymnastics but I took you out once you got bored with it. I think you'd still be great at it. Another thing that amazes me is that you love to make up songs. I can't wait for you to write your own. I've mentioned it to you but we haven't sat down to write just yet. You're very good at rhyming on the spot even if you have to make up words. In pre-school, you anguished over what to be when you grew up, a princess or a singer. I said you could be both but I don't think you were convinced. You often wonder who you're going to marry asking me how to buy a house and what exactly was dating. After explaining that dating is when a boy has money and takes you out to eat or a movie and spend time together, you said "Yes, I want to do that!" I rather enjoy your quest for knowledge of the working/adult world. According to you, you're ready to hit the stage and perform. You ask when will you get that opportunity. There is so much I have to do for you right now. I could fill up the whole week with activities and classes that interest you, not to mention karate. Bruce Lee is your hero "even if he never saved me," you proclaimed. You love watching Enter the Dragon. I mean really, you do. I get to stand back and allow you to be exposed to that which inspires you. I'm constantly in awe, shock, and impressed by these out-of-left-field surprises.

I have no doubt you will be successful and go on to have a great career, multiple-careers for that matter. I just hope I steer you in the right direction. I'm always taking cues from you. You never give up. You love what you do and do it with passion and confidence. I admire you for that. It gives me confidence as well. I know you will do what you love and not settle for anything else. I hope nothing on this planet ever destroys your drive. Things happen in life and sometimes people's fire get burned out and I will guard your flame with all that I am and all that I have. This I promise you and by the time you read this, I hope I didn't let you down. I love you.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

La Vida Yaya

LA Sunset by Abel Gutierrez
I had a blogger epiphany today. I realized I could purchase my own domain name for only $10 a year so I said, sure, what the heck. But I'm a Libra! Wholly indecisive. How will I pick a name? This blog has already had two names, now a third? Well, I figured it's not that popular yet, but judging from the hit count and comments I get on Facebook, Twitter, and here, I thought, wow, it could happen. Plus, the domain name was available. Score! So here goes, my own domain name . . .

Allow me to introduce you to LA Vida Yaya! I wanted to keep "LA" in the title to reference Los Angeles. It's also in Spanish and has my nickname. It's a play on La Vida Loca which I can relate to at times. I'm just happy it came to me so quickly and I didn't spend days agonizing over it, changing my mind in good Libra fashion. So that's it! No changing it! I got it for a year. My old links still work. They just redirect here. Wow, this blogging is serious business. I hope I can keep up! As long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Oh and I'd like to send a huge thanks to Abel Gutierrez for allowing me to steal yet another amazing LA skyline pic. I love the sunset, the classic car going over the 6th Street bridge from East LA/Boyle Heights into downtown. Imagine I'm the one driving. Great stuff!

Thank you all for reading. I'm working on a couple of more fashion blogs and trying to nail down some interview time with a couple of you lost-track-of-time artists. You know who you are!


La Blogger Yaya

Friday, May 4, 2012

Allow Me to Bragg About It

I had a great opening line for this post but now I can't remember. Ah, aging. Ain't it great? One day you're fun, and young, and free and the next you've gained 50lbs of baby weight and insert-other-reasons-here. Then, instead of drinking the night away with all your carefree friends, you're stuck at home writing a blog about it. As with anyone, the past few years have been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. I wound up with back problems that took about three years to figure out. During that time, I was scared to move for fear of re-injuring myself, at least that is what the doctors had me believe. This past December I got the news I wanted, needed, to hear.

As most curvy girls can relate, this isn't my first attempt to lose weight. Countless Weight Watchers sessions, reading up on trendy diets, fasting, raw diet, 3-day diet, yoga, you name it, has led to temporary results. So what makes this time different? It is about pain management. The more weight I lose and the stronger my abs/core get, the better off my back will be. As I sit here, I am in some pain as the Naproxin sets in. My goal is to stop taking pain pills and never have surgery. Besides, I'm back to a weight I'm comfortable in and look good.

Last week, I reached my second goal on this journey. My initial goal was 10lbs and that came off pretty fast in about a month. Now I'm at 20lbs lost which took about another two months. Of course, this is a journey, and I'm about half way to my pie-in-the-sky goal. You know, the goal you dream about but never think could be a reality. But after the past few months, I have started to allow myself to do a tiny, microscopic dance of joy at the thought that it could happen. Wouldn't it be great to be at my comfortable weight again, I thought back in January when I started going to the gym. Well, here I am and I'm going for more!

So how is it that I lost 20lbs since January? I read everything and stopped listening to everyone! I found my motivation after the doctor's visit and didn't look back. I must emphasize that I would not have been able to do this without the drive. It took YEARS for me to get my brain to click and put my wish into motion. The head game is the first obstacle and it's tough! The next step was to take the best ideas from everything I've ever heard/read/learned/done and do my own thing.

Since people have started to notice my weight loss and are asking what I've done, I realized that the answer is more involved than just saying Weight Watchers, Atkins, or 3-day diet. So, I decided to write about it. I'm not trying to brag about it. In fact, I've been sitting on this post for over a week, wondering if I have the courage to put myself out there like this. I realize that I'm not alone in this struggle and that I have had a breakthrough—a life-changing, life-affirming breakthrough. Take from this what you like and leave the rest. Do YOUR thing (not mine necessarily).

I started off by assessing my food intake and deciding what was going in and particularly, what wasn't. I decided that dairy made me feel awful and carbs were too addicting so I cut them out. This may or may not work for everyone but it did for me and I feel good. Next I decided that I like lightly steamed veggies and I also liked salads . . .  my salads, . . . the way I make them. So I went to Trader Joe's and found pre-packaged, chopped veggies that were easy to use in stir frys and salads. I decided that on weekends, I could still enjoy my breakfasts that I make despite my ban on dairy. I was going to have my eggs and eat them too. And yes, this includes the whole wheat tortilla. I also decided that I would stop eating "diet" food. No more Lean Cusines, no more splenda, no more food with more than 5 ingredients I can't pronounce. I cut out the processed food and decided to eat whole food. Apples, oranges, almonds, chicken on the bone (anything but the pink slime), corn on the cob, edamame, 75% cacao chocolate, etc. I also cut out Diet Coke which was already on my list many years ago but I had to reaffirm it because Diet Coke is so addicting. I may still enjoy it but will not buy the 2 liters or have it in the house. If I want soda I grab Hansen's made from sugar cane or Jarritos with that awesome Mexican sugar. I'm just not having soda every day. One can once a week, maybe.

So here is the breakdown with the various components to my new eating habit.The thing to note is that these are not rules. They are guidelines I keep in mind. If I stray once in a while and have a couple of those delicious Kings Hawaiian fluffy breads from heaven, no biggie!

Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar. So good for you!
First things first, hydrate! Yes, I know, water is soooo boring! Ugh!! Don't go out and buy that Crystal Light powder crap. I have to credit KPFK's The Aware Show for having Patricia Bragg on a couple of years ago (This is what I'm really bragging about). I was driving around when I heard this wonderful, energetic, full-of-life woman preach on about the wonders of a healthy living. Having a bad short-term memory I strained my brain to remember BRAGG DOT COM with two G's! There I was introduced to the wonders of apple cider vinegar. I placed an order for a great package of vinegar, salad dressing, spices and books. I mix the apple cider vinegar with honey and distilled water. Mix it up to taste in a large water bottle and place in fridge. Drink it morning, noon, and night, and take it to the gym. It tastes great and gives you a natural boost of energy. I used to drink Monster energy drink always wondering what that nuclear-green Chernobyl drink contained but not anymore! I'm having some apple cider drink now. Even better, you can buy it already in a bottle at your local Sprout's. I'll be talking about Bragg throughout this post so remember the name and visit the website!

Another great way to stay hydrated is to drink tea. Hot or cold, noon or night, tea in any variety is good for you. Just avoid the sugar. You can do without it (including the aspartame).

Let's get physical! So 80s at the gym.
Secondly, figure out what physical activity you can squeeze into your day. You've heard about walking to your co-worker's cubicle instead of emailing them, taking the stairs on the way UP, parking at the end of the parking lot, and other mundane, boring things you'd rather NOT do. So think about what you LIKE to do, and not just ONE thing but MANY things. Luckily for me, I actually do enjoy going to the gym so that wasn't too hard of a choice. I can go for a long time on the treadmill and that is where I started. First 30 minutes are cardio, then I hit the muscle machines rotating arms, legs, back, and other muscles that were interesting to discover. Read all the machines and know what they're supposed to work and how to properly do the motions. Start easy with 10lbs and 5 reps then move on. No one is watching or counting so do what you want to do. After a few visits, I worked up the courage to try the elliptical. I still had bad flashbacks of trying it in the past and dying after 5 minutes so I was very hesitant. I went for 10 minutes and it wasn't so bad. Now I can do 30 minutes before I get bored and need to move on but I'm not huffing and puffing at the 15 minute mark anymore. Little by little, you'll make progress. Don't get overwhelmed. Just do what you WANT (remove the pressure and let down of not accomplishing what you SHOULD).

Hiking in Griffith Park
I also tried hiking. Since I have my kid, and babysitters get expensive, I took her along. I didn't sweat as much but she sure did and we were moving for 30 minutes to an hour. It's better than sitting on the couch all day. Plus, you're out in nature. We need to be out there, clear our heads, and connect to mother earth now and then. On my lunch break, I cross the street from the museum and walk around the zoo (when I wear comfy shoes). The LA Zoo is uphill so you do get a good work out and no sweating unless the sun is beaming. You can stop and check out the animals or sit at a bench. You don't have to power through it. The point is to get your body moving, get some sun and fresh air. Another favorite of my daughter's is the beach. Walking on that sand is a workout! Lugging blankets, toys, towels and snacks? Just consider it weight training! Even if you just lay out or walk along the shore, you're out and moving. My daughter gets a great workout running from the waves. We also walk the grounds of the Huntington. It's so relaxing and beautiful. LACMA also has an extensive campus. Take your walking shoes and become inspired by art while you move. And if you're stuck at home, on the couch, watching TV, grab your weights and do some curls during commercials. There's also a handy app called Easy Abs by Lolo. It's a 5- or 8-minute ab workout. This way, you're not faced with making time to exercise, you're incorporating it into YOUR lifestyle and likes.

Best dressing ever
This HAS to be toughest part of losing weight, food! We love it, we crave it, we think about it all the time! One place to start is by snacking on fruit. I find cold fruit to taste the best. Cold, crisp, sliced apples and pears are easy to munch on and so refreshing. I save bananas for breakfast. Just grab and go. No cooking needed. My next step was discovering the great variety to be had in salads. Yes, salads are soooo boring. But not if you find out what tastes good in them. I buy the American salad mix at Trader Joe's (pick whatever appeals to you) because it's good and cheap. I go down the aisle and grab up their chopped cabbage, coleslaw mix of carrots and green strings (just realized I don't know what veggie it is), chopped mushrooms, and whatever else is in season. The wonders of this Trader Joe's aisle is that everything is prepackaged and chopped up, ready to go. I grab handfuls from each bag and toss into a large bowl. I'll add anything from apple slices, walnuts, sunflower seeds, to chicken, tabouli, calamata olives, crumbled up cheese, but the piece de resistance is the Bragg Ginger and Sesame dressing. It's so good that even my daughter started eating lettuce because of it. "I just want to drink the whole bottle!" she says. It costs a little more than your average salad dressing but it is worth every penny! Besides, I'm saving quite a bit on groceries after cutting down on the junk. Best of all, you can get it at Ralph's and Sprouts. I asked the Trader Joe's guy why they didn't carry it. He said to suggest it on their website. Will do!

Other salad toppings I enjoy include red beans, garbanzos, and I often top them off with avocado slices. Another salad option is a scoop of tuna salad on top of a chunky tomato salsa and mixed greens. Top the tuna with some Tabasco or Tapatio hot sauce and yum! On a side note, I also buy a tub of chopped salsa that I add to almost everything. It's a great way to add more veggies to omelets, chicken, quesadillas, etc.

For dinner, I might make a stir fry with chicken or shrimp using veggies such as carrots, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and the coleslaw mix. First, I fry up chopped onions, minced garlic and carrots in extra virgin olive oil. Then I add the brussell sprouts and any other veggie that take longer to cook. Last is the cabbage. The key to making a good stir fry is the spices and sauces. I use rice vinegar and oyster sauce. Once I pour the steamy mix onto my plate, I squeeze a line of Sriracha on the side of the plate for dipping. Delicious!

What I avoid: dairy, processed foods, greasy meats, and carbs. I may have some of each now and then but removing dairy from my diet has helped a lot. I didn't think it would but I can feel the difference. Dairy always made me sluggish and bloated. Not so much anymore. I also decided not to eat processed food including all that diet fare. First of all, it taste terrible. Secondly, it tastes terrible! Who knows what chemicals and unnatural ingredients are in there. I avoid aspartame. Instead I opt for full fat butter, fizzy regular Jarritos (I can't believe they came out with a diet version. Just wrong!), and the turbinado cane sugar for my coffee. Soda is hard to give up but I will have some once in a blue moon. Again, I'm not restricting myself at all. If I want it, I have it. At the same time, I think, do I want to eat/drink this, or do I want smaller hips? Once you start to see your body change, that answer comes easy.

I'm not a big follower of supplements but if you have your daily vitamins, do your thing. One thing I do recommend is buying a big can of psyllium husk. It's a ground up seed that you can add to almost anything you're eating. It doesn't taste like anything and is a great way to get fiber in your diet. Just don't add it to cereal. There you can taste the crunch. Not so good. I add it to my daughter's home-made smoothies and quesadillas and she doesn't notice it one bit.

Ah, the weekend. A time to relax and enjoy the good things in life. Well, my ideal weekend involves my delicous omelets. Yes, I am avoiding dairy but I can't let go of this! I make all kids of omelets topped with anything from nopalitos (cactus), soyrizo, migas (fried tortilla chips--not store bought), to bell peppers, red/orange peppers, chunky salsa, avocado, sriracha, you name it. Add a side of pinto beans, a whole wheat tortilla and some good coffee and I'm set.

Extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado. I basically fry everything in EVOO to my heart's content. I know the Greeks were on to something so I'll do my thing until the research catches up. In fact, I did read somewhere that EVOO does not make you fat or clog your arteries. Plus, it's more expensive than regular frying oils that you don't go too crazy with it either. I also like to eat almonds. Whole Foods in Pasadena (which I hardly get around to) had these amazing roasted almonds coated in either Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar or their Liquid Aminos, can't recall. Either way, I was in heaven! They were so delicious. I have to go back for more.

My favorite treat is chocolate. I have become a chocolate snob opting for dark chocolate containing 75-85% cacao. My favorite is the one with sea salt. I eat at will. For my daughter, I make smoothies. I buy the frozen fruit bags, mainly strawberries, pour 2 cups of them in the blender, add about 1 cup of non-fat vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup of fat free milk, a few teaspoons of turbinado sugar, a tablespoon of psyllium husk and blend. I serve her one glass and put the rest in the freezer for a cool after-school treat. My kid loves it!

As my favorite Weight Watchers leader, Rosa in Burbank, would say "Strive for 5! Strive for 5!" Don't worry about the big picture. Strive for your first 5lbs then strive for another 5. Small steady steps will get you to your goal. Don't get defeated. Find your motivation and your inspiration. The rest will follow.

So there you have it. I hope I didn't miss anything and if I did, fire away! Ask me anything.