Goodbye to my 30’s & Embracing My Inner 9th Grader

There is something about teaching 9th grade English that I find magical and rewarding.  Unlike sophomores who teeter between tinges of optimism, cynicism and weariness, and juniors who wearily and anxiously anticipate, “this will be over soon”, or seniors who know “this will be over soon,” freshmen are an abundance of emotion- enthusiasm, dread, and indifference, or a mixture of each- for the newness and strangeness of high school.  They have left their ordinary worlds of middle school and have embarked on a journey that will most often leave them feeling like they have been swallowed up by the unknown.  They will experience tests and trials, but victories will be short lived.  Perhaps they do not see the big picture yet, in the ninth grade, but in time they will learn that they will repeat this cycle over and over again.  It is the monomyth, the hero’s journey, the archetypal pattern that every story follows.

This fall, I have the good fortune of teaching five ninth grade classes.  Such a schedule is timely- Not only am I at long last finishing my MFA thesis this semester, I also am turning 40.  As I say goodbye to my thirties this week, I realize how important it is to keep that inner ninth grader inside of me.

My first week of high school I was twelve years old, 5’1, and 150 lbs.  We had the torture of something called freshman swimming that first six weeks of school.  I was the only girl in my class whose mother refused to buy her a Speedo swimsuit, and instead wore a pink flowered suit with a ruffle on the butt.  My teacher, Coach Walthour, a former Olympian, who won the bronze metal for the 400 butterfly, was an intimidating, barking old man, near retirement.  To complicate matters, the beautifully sculpted captains of the boys water polo team decided they would practice during the time we had freshman swimming.  Needless to say, I suited up every day, but sat trembling on the bleachers with my towel wrapped around me.  At the end of the torturous six weeks, my teacher said, “HENARES THE ONLY REASON I’M GIVING YOU A D- INSTEAD OF AN F IS BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR SORRY ASS IN MY CLASS AGAIN.”

My grades my first quarter in high school were abysmal.  I did not try at much- I seldom did homework, I refused to take notes.  I stayed in the girl’s locker room of the gym during lunch. 

It wasn’t just being a  high school freshman, it was something else, something that affected all of us.   Within our first month of freshman year, Daniel died.  Daniel was supposed to be captain of the freshman football team, everyone loved him. To this day, I still have the Hello Kitty pencil box Daniel gave me for my birthday in sixth grade. Our high school was a very small school- only 650 students.  (To put it in perspective, the entire freshman class of the school I teach at has more students.)  Daniel had been riding a motorcycle without a helmet after football practice our first week of school.  He crashed and was on life support for three weeks.  My English teacher made the announcement to us that he had passed away.  We didn’t have classes for the entire day.  Mean old Coach Walthour didn’t make us suit up or swim.  None of us knew how to process what had happened.  We were reading The Human Comedy by William Saroyan in freshman English.  In his introductory essay, “Why I Write,” Saroyan said he wrote to cheat death.  While Daniel was on life support, I made a vow to myself that if he died, someday I would write.  Someday I would cheat death.  

My first six weeks of high school were abysmal.  My grades were terrible.  But by the end of the fall semester, I improved my grades, became more social, lost a little weight, and even earned an ‘A-’ in Phys Ed.

 Twenty-seven years later, upon turning forty and saying goodbye to the mistakes and triumphs of my thirties, I realize I have always been the same girl I was in the ninth grade, filled with enthusiasm, dread, and indifference for the world.  In many ways I am still that girl tightly wrapped in a towel, terrified and trembling on the bleachers, or the girl in the back of the class with her nose buried in a book.  I have never stopped being the girl that vowed to one day write, and cheat death.  The girl who has had to shrug off the poor grades of those first six weeks of school, pick up the broken pieces of herself and re-emerge triumphant, again and again and again.  

By: Nicole Henares

then & now

9th grade


Nicole Henares is a high school English teacher who sometimes can be found masquerading as a poet.

The Emmys & The Latin Female Form- Sexism, Stereotypes & Not So Funny Jokes


I am a Latin American woman in a field that is primarily based on the female physique. I am a dancer. It is my body that is viewed moving across the stage and the only thing that converts my dancing from something just kinesthetic into an art form, is my expression, my intention behind the movement. So it is from this perspective that I approach the Emmy Awards segment with Sofia Vergara and the President of the Academy. What was the intention behind having Sofia Vergara on display like a shiny new object at a Department Store? What was that scene attempting to express?

Huff Post reported that the Emmy’s were trying to use Sofia’s body as:

evidence that TV throughout the years has known how to present viewers with “something compelling to look at.”

Upon watching this segment, with Sofia in that beautiful white dress, letting her self be the punch line to the President of the Academy’s oh so witty commentary, all I could think of was, this reminds me of another Hollywood star who was objectified throughout the entirety of her career. Of course I speak of Marilyn Monroe; iconic and tragic, just like this segment will be remembered. I get the humor behind “our academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera,” (as Sofia Vergara spins on a box), but I am not laughing.

from The Representation Project

from The Representation Project

How the Emmys thought they were going to get away with this on a night that #Askhermore was getting women from all over the world riled up, and demanding that the media treat female actresses as professionals, rather than walking and talking advertisements for dress designers, is beyond me. Or perhaps they wanted the controversy. As the old cliché goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I admire the female form and applaud anytime that a woman with a very womanly body, is celebrated in the media. I give a standing ovation, when that woman is a Latin woman who has succeeded in Hollywood despite the curves, the accent and the limited range of roles she is offered. I can even congratulate Hollywood for believing that they have made sufficient strides towards diversifying, and actually presenting programming that features actors and stories that reflect current society. But blatant sexism and the propagation of the Latin woman in Television stereotype, (all T & A), negates any of the positive intentions the Academy may have had when they conceptualized this scene. All I can say to the Emmys is, consult with the women in your staff more often. You know, ask her more.

 By: W. Castellanos-Wolf

Ex-Porn Star turned Winemaker- That’s what he said.

Wine ReviewIn Los Angeles where the majority of the creatively inclined population has to stitch together an income from a variety of sources, one can meet the dancer/school teacher, or the freelance writer/barista, but the ex-porn star turned winemaker is a definite first for me.

Disclaimer: I am a blogger, not an investigative journalist, so while I did try to fact check some of the following post, I really did not try that hard. Because really, who wants to spend the morning scouring the web for an ex-porn star? Can you imagine? I did, and that’s why I decided to just go with it, which is another fun idiosyncrasy of living in L.A. You are what you say you are, no proof necessary.

We met Victor Abascal at Silverlake Wine during their weekly Thursday night tasting event. Abascal is the owner/winemaker at Vines on the Marycrest in Paso Robles where he specializes in Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. As soon as we approached the bar and even before talking to him, I knew that he was the winemaker. He was exuberant, friendly, informative and poured generously. His excitement for the wine was contagious.

We tasted 4 different wines, a 2012 Viognier and Granache Blanc blend which was lovely on a hot summer afternoon. This wine was cold, crisp and light bodied with faint fruity notes. Next, Abascal poured us his 2011 GSM “Heart of Glass,” named after the 1978 Blondie song. He said that this song was the musical embodiment of the wine because like the song, his wine had a haunting first note. I’m not sure if this was an accurate description of the wine but I’m a sucker for a good story. Besides, just thinking of Paso Robles and GSMs makes me smile. GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) wines, otherwise knows as The Côtes du Rhône Blend, are extremely popular in Paso Robles and to me, they taste like love and new beginnings. GSM wines were how my husband got the courage to propose, and what we celebrated our engagement with.

Winemaker in Paso RoblesBy our third tasting, our group was adequately socially lubed and our conversation somehow got to ex-porn star, jokes about the San Fernando Valley, vacation homes in the Russian River and oh yeah, “This is my favorite wine I’ve ever made, the 2011 Syrah.” It was full-bodied, slightly smoky and even though no self-respecting wine connoisseur would ever say this publicly, just plain good. I liked the Syrah. Our last pour was a Zin from a 57 year old vine. I thought that 57 year old vine would be considered old vine Zin, but apparently it was middle aged vine Zin. (Who knew this was even a thing?) This wine had lots of dark cherry flavors, but was not overwhelming to the palette.

We finished our last wine pour slowly, enjoying the conversation and planning our next trip up to Paso Robles. Cheers!

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf


Driven: “Bad Ass Women, Doing Bad Ass Things”

career drivenIt is not often that women are celebrated for being career driven. It is even less likely that career driven women are celebrated for being in unconventional industries like the arts. Ok and let’s take it one step further. Career driven women in the arts, of all different ages and stages of life, being celebrated by the most unexpected source: a group of young male filmmakers. It sounds pretty unbelievable right? Well, it may sound like an unlikely scenario but it is completely true.

 On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending the premier of an independent short documentary produced by Jaret Martino and Mara Santino of Luber Roklin Entertainment, titled “Driven.” I was quite intrigued by the project ever since my friend, actress and Dancer Kristelle Monterrosa said of the film, “It’s about bad ass women doing bad ass things.” She had just finished shooting a scene where she had danced Flamenco on top of a train in the middle of Downtown LA. So yeah, I was definitely intrigued.

On my very good days, the ones where I wake up with vigor and attack the world until it is putty in my hands, I feel like a bad ass woman doing bad ass things. After all, I too am a career driven women in a very unconventional field. This theme of being driven, resonated with me because I know first hand how difficult it is to pursue what most would consider an unlikely goal, and how much discipline and perseverance it requires to keep at it every single day.

Her 30’s With Producer Jaret Martino & Actress Kristelle Monterrosa

I also know first hand what it is to be considered “older” by your industry’s standards, so it was refreshing to see that some of the featured stories in the documentary were of  “older” women. (I put older in quotes because age, like beauty is so subjective.) Dreya Weber, Actor, Performer and Aerial Choreographer, was especially inspiring, mentioning that as an artist who pursues many disciplines, she did not start making money until she was forty. Her interview revealed a vibrant woman of a certain age that spoke of her career path with a calm confidence I aspire to.

Was the film perfectly executed and polished? No. Within the confines of a short documentary, the story felt more like an introduction rather than a finished product. The concept lends itself to a much longer piece, one that in my opinion needs to be told. I see this documentary following in the footsteps of “Miss Representation,” by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and other similar films that are striving to change the image of women in a misled media saturated society.

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf 


A Real 30-Something Response to Huff Post’s “25 Things a Woman Should Have by Her 30’s.”

As a woman in her thirties often does, I was perusing the blogs over my morning cup of espresso when I came across an article written by Ada Polla for the Huffington Post, titled “25 Things a Woman Should Have by Her 30’s.” For obvious reasons, I was intrigued and read on. Had I known what was going to be on the list and how it was really going to make me feel, I would have finished my espresso and started drinking wine instead.

The list did not make me feel bad about myself, rather I felt baffled and perhaps some morning wine would have brought me um… some clarity? I kept thinking, “Do most women in their 30’s have most of the 25 items mentioned on the list?” Out of 25, I had 11.5. I gave myself half points for having part of something such as, “the ability to write a thank you note,” but not owning any stationary to do it on. (Does a drawer full of scratch paper count as stationary?)

I write a blog about the 30-something female experience and I scored less than fifty percent on what a 30-something woman should have, and on a deeper level, according to Ada Polla, be! Upon further study of the list, I noticed that I had most of the internal and psychological attributes mentioned. For example, I have “The ability to flirt, elegantly, yet convincingly,” but I don’t have “A handbag from an iconic French or Italian design house.” I have “The confidence to say no. At work. In bed. And everywhere in between,” but I don’t have “Eye cream that you use religiously twice a day.”

Being a woman in most societies in the world is difficult enough without the added pressures of living up to unrealistic expectations, propagated by lists that give the same value to “A family you love,” and “A signature fragrance.” Ada Polla would have done more justice to her 30-something sisters by making two lists: one that celebrated the emotional and psychological maturity of 30-somethings, and one that recommended the material possessions and beauty regimes that make her in particular, feel fabulous at 30. By removing the word “Should” from the title of her list and replacing it with something more positive like “Aspire,” she would have empowered her readers, rather than confounding them.

Ada Polla’s list of “25 Things a Woman Should Have by Her 30’s.”

1. A passport (the more stamps the better).
2. The ability to flirt, elegantly, yet convincingly.
3. A great aesthetician to turn to for brows, other waxing needs, a facial, a massage.
4. A fail-safe skin care and makeup routine for day, and one for evening.
5. A signature fragrance.
6. A form of physical exercise you are passionate about.
7. A friend who can count on you as her “get out of jail” card.
8. A set of champagne glasses and a champagne you know you love.
9. A handbag from an iconic French or Italian design house.
10. A set of pearl or diamond stud earrings that makes you feel elegant and put together no matter the tears in your jeans.
11. A pair of jeans you know you look great in (with or without tears).
12. A garter-belt, and the confidence to wear it.
13. The ability to write the perfect thank-you note (and the stationery that goes with it).
14. Eye cream that you use religiously twice a day.
15. Something on your wall that is neither a poster nor a family photograph.
16. The ability to forgive (others, but yourself first).
17. A family you love.
18. The confidence to ask for what pleases you in bed.
19. The confidence to say no. At work. In bed. And everywhere in between.
20. A savings account and a retirement fund.
21. A local bar that will always find you a seat (because you go there often and tip well).
22. A restaurant you can take clients out to lunch that will always give you excellent service and act like they know you (again, because you go there often and tip well).
23. A set of stilettos that will give you confidence no matter the day you have had (and that you can walk in).
24. A person whose happiness you put above your own.
25. A bucket list.

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf 

Los Angeles Arts District- Barcade, Sausage & Pie

The city and I have a love hate relationship. Sometimes I contemplate what it would be like to part ways and live in a much quieter town, a place where traffic and graffiti are considered big city problems and where space is in abundance. I imagine rolling hills, bike riding through the countryside and meeting up with my neighbors in the town square. It is a very seductive image until I think, “What the heck would I do for fun?!”

Big cities come with big amenities, and that is where the love part comes in. I love Los Angeles because even if it takes me way too long to get anywhere, I can go see and do anything any day of the week. With a little bit of effort, fun is easy to find in LA, but sometimes, if you have great friends, fun will find you.

This past weekend I was taken on a Saturday afternoon adventure. We were picked up and carted to an unknown destination. We drove towards Downtown. Round and round we went through a very desolate part of town due to an unexpected detour. We eventually emerged in the Arts District and parked in front of a purple and aqua colored mural. Our friend handed us a roll of quarters and triumphantly announced, (for we still didn’t know where we were since there was not signage), that we were at the “Barcade!”

cocktails at 82 in Los Angeles82 on 4th place in the LA Arts District, is an arcade for adults. It carries all of the classic arcade games like Mario Brothers, Street Fighter and Ms. Pac Man, but let’s patrons reminisce about their childhood arcade victories, all while sipping on very adult cocktails. Their cocktail list features drinks like the Tempest, which was so eloquently described by the bartender as “if a Margarita and a Mojito had a baby, it would be the Tempest.” She was right, refreshing and delicious, we wanted more. We also tried the Princess Peach, which was the epitome of a girly drink. It was pink and fruity and so dangerous. My roll of quarters is usually reserved for a Saturday afternoon at the Laundromat, not an afternoon at the Barcade so I welcomed the change. (Pun totally intended.)

LA Arts District Barcade82 is on a food truck route in the evening but not in the early afternoon, so for lunch we walked around the corner to Wurstkuche, home of the weird and tasty sausage. Weird like Alligator, Rabbit and to some, Vegan, but all properly prepared and served on a fresh bun. We got steak cut seasoned fries on the side and washed it all down with a German Pilsner, perfect for the hot afternoon.

LA Arts District Pie Hole And because gluttony was part of the Saturday afternoon surprise, we walked across the street to the Pie Hole for dessert. Oh The Pie Hole… I love pastries. I love savory pastries. The Pie Hole has this and every other type of pie one can think of.  

I left the Arts District that afternoon full, tipsy, happy and feeling completely validated, knowing that this is why I continue to live in L.A. 

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf

I’m Not a Rebel, I just Can’t Be Bothered

Apparently I'm wrong. There are tons of books called a Guide to Life. Oh well, CBB.

Apparently I’m wrong. There are tons of books called a Guide to Life. Oh well, CBB.

There is no official guidebook to life and thank God for that because if there was, I would probably not be following it. I am notoriously bad at following recipes and instruction manuals. I cannot build furniture or puzzles. I can’t even really read or follow a map. Let me clarify. It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I am CBB. (Pronounced in Spanish with a California Valley Girl accent, CeiBayBay.)

 CBB stands for Can’t Be Bothered, and it is a life philosophy my friends and I adopted way back in our early twenties, when we could afford to be CBB about lots and lots of things. For example, we would show up late, or not at all to an event and say something like “Sorry, CBB.” It is an adjective, a state of being and an excuse.

 As a woman in her thirties I cannot just be CBB about anything anymore, so I choose wisely. What I am CBB about now, is prescribing to societal expectations of who I should be or already be as a woman in her thirties. Society says that I should have my life pretty much figured out by now and that if I don’t, something must be wrong with me. I should have a steady career with benefits, and a 401K. I should have a husband some kids and a couples date night. I should own some property. I should look a certain way, dress a certain way and have the right status symbols to show off to the world. To all of these “shoulds” I say a loud capital letter “CBB!” (Just writing it feels empowering.)

 I just can’t be bothered to do the supposed “right” things. To be honest, sometimes I wish I could find happiness in convention. It would make life so much easier if I could be fulfilled by what society tells me I should be fulfilled by, whether that be status, money or career trajectory. If I could only follow the road map that we are all supposed to be following, perhaps then I would stop questioning every decision I make.

I don’t know many people who are on track with societal expectations. In fact, most everyone I know is paving their own way and reaching the milestones of adulthood in their own time. Despite this sense of independence though, (and I am certainly not alone in this), I have also experienced a feeling of inadequacy that comes not from comparing myself to my peer group, but from comparing myself to the dreaded society, (whoever that may be.) Sometimes, no matter how CBB I am, I can’t help seeing if the progress I have made, measures up to some ideal that has not existed since my parents were my age. It is a different world and perhaps it isn’t me that is weird or unconventional, but society’s expectation of what it means to be a thirty-something that is outdated and old fashioned.

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf 


“I’m too old for this $#!^”

It was the day after the super moon phenomenon of 2014 and a group of thirty something friends sat around the patio completely satiated. Homemade Mexican food had been served and devoured and all wore beer induced grins. It was a lovely way to spend a summer evening. It was all quite normal and familiar when the conversation took a sudden turn. Music from the 90’s had played commercial free on one of those Digital TV channels and all night the phrase “I love that song,” could be heard. Song after song, we listened to the passing of our childhoods but instead of feeling old, we must have all felt rejuvenated because at one point somebody said, “I would love to take a Hip Hop class,” and we all agreed.

We imagined ourselves in class finally making our Fly Girl fantasies come true. Except it’s not the 1990’s anymore, Hip Hop dance and music has changed a great deal since we were kids, and people might not remember who the Fly Girls were, or that J-Lo had once been the very best of them. Oh yeah, we also realized that we are old! We had a great laugh about how funny it would be to go to a Hip Hop class as women in our thirties, dressed like Fly Girls and actually taking ourselves and our dancing very seriously.

I guess that is what happens right? At a certain point, we start to outgrow certain things, activities and even people, and it takes a lot of grace and self-awareness to realize it before actually showing up to a Hip Hop class.

In the fourth season of “How I Met Your Mother,” Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris, comes up with the Murtaugh List, which is basically a compilation of things he is too old to do. In typical Barney fashion he states, “challenge accepted,” and proceeds to try to accomplish everything on the list within the span of 24 hours. It is comical because it is relatable.

The list references Robert Murtaugh, Danny Glover’s character in “Lethal Weapon,” who is constantly saying that he is “too old for this shit,” and while I tend to feel youthful, I have found myself stating this very phrase more often than not. I don’t have my own Murtaugh list yet, but when I do, going to Hip Hop dance class will definitely be included.

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf

Umami Burger

Umami Burgeras featured on love happy hour dot com

I first heard of the term umami while indulging in one of my many obsessions: cooking competition shows. For years I heard about umami and how it was considered one of the five basic flavors, for the receptors of the tongue are able to taste salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Often described as a combination between savory and earthy, when referring to Umami Burger, I will describe it as delicious smothered with a little bit of heaven. I think I shed a small tear of happiness as I bit into one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. I have been a vegetarian for over 10 years now so finding a meatless burger that absolutely blows my mind and erases memories of the BBQs of my past, is quite impressive. What could make this scenario better? Happy Hour!

 I was completely surprised to find out that Umami Burger serves up their delicious signature burgers at 15 southern California locations. How had I missed it all of these years, especially since last summer on Friday afternoons, I would walk by the Los Feliz location. I would see people eating and drinking on the sidewalk patio and imagine that this is where I was headed instead of actually heading to work. I would notice the Happy Hour specials written on the chalkboard in front of the door and grasp onto the inviting cooking smells that drifted off of people’s plates and onto the street. I kept meaning to get there earlier and sit at the bar to grab some dinner before my show, but of course I never got out of the house in time.

 umami burger review on

A year later and still missing out on the burger that would raise the bar for all other burgers to follow, I had totally forgotten about my Umami Burger fantasy. This is why I was so excited when some friends suggested we meet up at Umami and as I stated earlier, I was not disappointed.

umami burger on los felizThe Los Feliz location hosts Happy Hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 at the bar. (Not all of the Umami Burger locations have Happy Hour so call ahead before heading out.) Their specials include $6 burgers that can be served meatless or bun less by request. My meatless burger was not the typical veggie burger patty but instead, a giant, perfectly cooked portabella mushroom served on a brioche bun and topped with truffle cheese. My burger was the epitome of umami and now I can truly say that I understand what the big deal is with this hard to master flavor. My companions were just as impressed with their burgers. Because we love to eat and eat well, we also ordered some crispy thin cut fries at $3.50 and tempura battered onion rings at $4.50 to share. Both side dishes were outstanding.

Drinks during Happy Hour are $2 off beer and $5 wine. Umami does not have an extensive beer list but they did have a solid beer list. I had an IPA called Speakeasy Big Daddy that was just hoppy enough to stand up to the umami flavor of my portabella burger. I need to do a little more “research” at Umami, but perhaps veggie burgers and beer parings are in my future. 

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf



Courage to Provoke Change: Another Thirty-Something Birthday Proclamation

It is this woman in her thirties birthday week. Yup, in just 4 days I will be staring down the at some sort of pastry, lips puckered and breath held, right before blowing out way too many candles. And what will I wish for this year as the smoke drifts aloft? (Sigh…) Too many things.

It has been a wonderful and terrible year, as most memorable years are. I haven’t had time to process everything that has occurred. I have not relished in the moments of happiness, celebrated my successes or mourned the undisputed finality of endings. I have lived, and I guess that is not a bad feeling to be left with.

It’s funny because I want to have something wise and eloquent to proclaim; a nice neat wrap up of lessons learned this year but I have nothing. Well, I guess that is not completely true. I do have one realization of the past year: The problems, unfulfilled desires and insecurities that I had in my twenties, are the same ones I’ve had in my thirties. Anything that I have not addressed persists.

Like the old saying goes, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.” Turning thirty did not automatically erase my problems or fix my life. In my thirties I have felt more empowered and more in control than ever before. I have developed focus and discipline and while I have become more conscious and aware of my inner self, whatever has not been addressed is still there, gnawing at me for some attention. These issues that have followed me around for a decade have become ingrained in my identity and are almost a source of comfort. I don’t think I am alone in this either because I have seen it in others. It is very easy to take solace in the consistency and predictability of one’s issues because the opposite of this, change and challenging what has become habit, is extremely difficult and frightening.

Perhaps my grand proclamation for this year will be that I intend to work on my courage so that I can confront my problems, pursue unfulfilled desires and challenge the insecurities that I have let become a part of me. 

By: W. Castellanos-Wolf