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Monday, February 28, 2011


Since this blog is about the journey "from here to there", I'm going to start a little triptik, Lorraine-style.  Back in 1995, when, upon return from my last long stay in Mexico, I announced to my family that I would be moving to Washington State, my parents got on the horn with AAA and had a triptik made for me, which was a trip planner complete with an updated road map from Minnesota to Washington.  Never mind that the directions can be summed up in two words: Go West.  They felt I needed to be aware of all of the possible turns, bumps, and detours, as well as the highlights of all of the possible cities and tourist stops along the way.  It was not a bad idea, as it turned out, because we did get stranded with car trouble for a night in Montana, and the information on the triptik came in very handy.  Yay for worry-wart parents!

So, hey, why not start some planning for our big move and try to avoid some of the figurative potholes in our path?  For starters, we don't even want to start our engines until we have done a little housecleaning, so to speak.  When newly inspired Mr. Husband came back from Mexico last month and announced that yes, he does want us to move there, the wheels started turning.  Egad!  We would have to:

1)  Get the house problem figured out, once and for all.  Our loan is still in limbo due to hitting foreclosure proceedings last year. Filing for bankruptcy last fall bought us some more time to figure things out, but we don't know how much time.  We've actually been trying to reinstate the loan, but with plans to move to Mexico we are floundering around, considering our options.  Should we keep our house and rent it out to someone, sell it before we go, or just let it go and fly the coop the week of the sheriff sale, which could very well be sometime by the end of this year?

2)  We will need to have a big sale and get rid of the majority of our belongings.  That would best be done in warmer temps, so, once again, we need to decide when we're leaving.

3)  I want to pay off the rest of my school loans so that we are not burdened with that problem when we're trying to start fresh.

4)  We need to find a moving company!  Mr. Husband says he should just drive, and someone could ride with him.  My thoughts on that are "HELL NO" because I don't want him driving through bullet-dodging country, ie the northern border of Mexico.  This discussion has not gone very far because we are butting heads on the issue.

5)  Health topics, such as dental work, optometry appointments, and general physicals should be all taken care of before we go so that we can avoid any extra surprises during our first 6 months or so.

6)  Translation of documents such as college transcriptions and immunization records, etc.

7)  My visa for Mexico.  No, I don't need a visa to visit Mexico, but I DO need a visa to be there on a more permanent basis (6 months or more, I believe?) and work there.

8)  I want to get a TESL (teach English as a Second Language) certificate so that I may get work when we get there.

9)  Save, save, save.  Oh, and SAVE.  We'll want to have a few bucks in our pockets to fund the start of our new life.

10)  I feel like there should be a number 10 but I just can't think of anything at the moment.

So, there you have it.  I think the big question of the month is going to be "WHEN?".  I mean, we need to consider the housing issue (here) and the fact that our son is starting kindergarten in the fall and I really don't want to pull him from his school in the middle of the year.  I've been having lots of mixed feelings about the whole thing.  We'll talk about the "What If's" in my next post.  Until then, thanks for riding along as we begin this process............

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

Life in Mexico is not necessarily as dreamy and sweet as I've been making it sound.  I think a big part of me wants to convince myself and everyone else that moving to Mexico is the right choice for us.  Can I say with all certainty that it is?  Nope.  But one friend asked me, "Does the thought of moving to Mexico make you feel happy or excited?"  My answer is "For the most part, yes." 

Why the little qualifier?  Why "For the most part" and not just a resounding, "YES!"?  Well,  there are a bunch of "what ifs" that pop up when making humongous life-changing decisions such as these.  Things like homesickness and the current struggles with violence are points to consider.  I would miss my mother immensely.  She and I have always been really close, and in recent years we have been even closer due to the traumatic divorce she went through with my father and the subsequent feelings of loss that have left their mark on our family.  But I believe we are through the worst of the storm, and at this point, if I allowed that horrible event to continue to affect my life enough to alter my life decisions with my husband, it would be incredibly unhealthy.  I realize that as one's parents grow older we have certain responsibilities to them, but she's not to that point yet, and I will cross that bridge when I get to it.  Anyway, there are the "what ifs" and I'll discuss those later.  Let's get to the "Yes" for now.

Mexico and I have had a long love affair.  I first became aware of Mexico as a small child.  My dad had gone there once and came back with little gifts for us.  I don't remember what I got, but I remember my sister's gift.  It was Mexican Jumping Beans.  If you put them under a lamp, they jumped.  Around that same time I realized that English was not the only language that people spoke.  I heard the word "agua" on Sesame Street, and my world got a little bit bigger.  In high school we could choose between studying German or Spanish, and I knew that Spanish was the choice for me.  I was entranced by the musicality of the language.  It was so pretty! 

Studying Spanish never felt like a burden to me.  Even at the college level, when the subjunctive tense loomed over me like a huge question mark, I kept at it.  During my freshman year my college roommate announced that she was going to sign up to spend her sophomore winter semester in Mexico and that I should do it too.  At first, I thought, "No, I can't do THAT!"  It was enough of a shock for this small-town girl to go to college in Chicago, let alone make the long journey all the way to Mexico!  By the time my roomie convinced me to go, the list of available spots had filled and I was placed on the waiting list.  As it turned out, a couple of people ended up cancelling, including my roommate!  I made that fateful trip to Mexico.

WOW-ZA!!  My world exploded into a wonder of bright colors, new feelings, foreign concepts, wondrous imagination, altered perceptions, and new-found self-confidence.  I was hooked.  The language was crammed down my throat as fast as I could swallow it, and my brain was buzzing and bulging with cultural delights and an abundant vocabulary. 

For a few years after college I went back and forth between Minnesota and Mexico, waitressing at home and teaching English in Mexico.  I'd fly into Mexico City and hop on a luxury bus to take me to "my city."  I felt like I experienced all of the joys and hope and sadness of the country in that 4-hour ride, just looking out the window.  The desperation of poverty was evident in some of the shanty towns we'd pass through and my heart would lurch at the sight of it.  Moving on, the beauty of the countryside and the colorful houses and shops and the smiles of people greeting one another would bring a new set of tears to my eyes.  The political campaign signs, mostly painted skillfully on the sides of buildings awakened me to the serious nature of the plight of an impoverished place and of people mistreated or misunderstood.  Upon arrival, the greetings I'd receive from strangers, acquaintances, and friends who felt like family drew me in deeper and deeper.

When I fell in love with my husband, I was also going through a time where important decisions and actions had to take place regarding mundane things like paying school loans and finding the perfect career.  It felt like I was a character in a story who had found the perfect plot, but my story was being rewritten by an accountant or a business man and I was just going to have to make do and make adjustments.  Adjustments were made.  My husband moved here, and it feels like we've been living a skewed life in some ways. 

Don't get me wrong.  I believe that Mr. Husband living here was crucial to our relationship for half a dozen reasons.  But I think the appropriate lessons  have been learned, and now, with HIS new-found confidence, Mexico can be HIS dream too.  As for me, every time I return to Mexico it's like part of my heart is going to it's happiest place.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Get Real

The sentiments I expressed in my previous post are ones that hold a lot of weight in what I consider to be "quality of life".  Taking time for family, friends, and even strangers is a goal which can be accomplished in ANY country and not just in Mexico.  However, it is obviously easier to live up to this goal if you are in a place where taking time for others is a way of life.

So, how else do I define quality of life?  Well, let's do a little list-making.  I LOVE making lists!  They help me see things realistically and analyze problematic situations.

A)  Educational system ~ I have always been impressed by the knowledge of world history, current events, science, business, and other subjects that most people display in Mexico.  I happen to know that students have to work VERY hard in Mexico to achieve good grades and make it into universities and grad school. An education is highly valued in Mexico.  Something else that I like about schools in Mexico is that most every school uses uniforms.  I think this helps to prevent bullying and distraction and I'm all for it.

*****And here I must edit, because, as my husband pointed out, not all schools in Mexico give an excellent education.  Just like anywhere, if the school has the funds to back them up, they can offer a better education to their students.  Often times a private school is your best bet for a good education, and thankfully the fees aren't overly astronomical. 

B)  Time For One Another ~ Well, this is something I talked about in my previous post, but if we talk specifically about our situation I can tell you that if we lived in Mexico we'd have a LOT more contact with family and time for date nights, fun with friends, and family outings.  Partly because of the logistics of where we'd be living, and partly because of the way of life in Mexico. 

C)  Career Possibilities ~ I have never been able to narrow down a specific career goal for myself.  There are a number of creative avenues which interest me but I can just as easily take those up in Mexico as here. One option I've been exploring is becoming a teacher.   I could easily find work as an ESL instructor in the area to which we'd be moving.  Mr. Husband, however, would do much better career-wise in Mexico for a few different reasons.  One reason is that he is more at ease and confident in Mexico since it is his home country and he is very familiar with the ins and outs of business and hoops to jump through, etc.  Another reason is that the  type of business that he is interested is much more likely to be successful in Mexico than here.

D)  Healthcare and Healthy Living ~ In the place we would be going, there is quality healthcare available for about 1/5 the price we'd be charged here.  Medications are cheaper, which means Jose's asthma can be controlled without breaking the bank.  There are also plenty of workout facilities, not to mention people walk a lot, so exercise would come easier.  Fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables can be found daily at markets, year round.

E)  Stress Levels ~ This one's tricky.  At first, my stress level would be high because of all of the changes that we'd undergo.  Even after adjusting to the changes I will very likely have moments of homesickness.  However, the lifestyle of most places in Mexico generally holds a slower pace than the city where we now live.

So, anyway, this is my shortlist, in no special order of importance.  It's important to note we realize that one's happiness does not have to depend on one's surroundings.  We realize that hardships can be experienced anywhere.  But after spending many years struggling and spinning our wheels in the same place, it may just be time for us to move on to other pastures.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Few Doses of Perspective

Years ago, when I was an ESL instructor in Mexico, I had a student, Javier, who was late to class at least half the time.  After a few days of him arriving about 10 minutes late to class, I let him know I was unhappy and expected him to arrive on time from then on.  He sighed, clearly frustrated with me, and said, "Listen.  My father is a business man and I don't always get to spend time with him later in the day.  Many times, breakfast is the only time that I can visit with him.  My father is more important to me than this class.  I'm sorry if that is not to your liking.  I always apply myself to your class and to my studies. (That's true, he did.) But I am not going to give up time with my father."

Wow.  There was a dose of perspective.  Not only on Mexican culture, but life in general. 

Currently I am enjoying a book called "On Mexican Time" by Tony Cohan.  In his book he shares many accounts of wonderful insight into his life in Mexico.  One story he tells is about an American female retiree who lives alone and whose maid, a young woman of little means from a nearby little rancho town, feels sorry for the older woman because she spends her days alone.  The maid invites the woman to a birthday party for one of her seven children which was going to be held at the communal ranch where she lived.  The woman declined many times, until she realized the young lady would never stop inviting her until she agreed to go.  She accepted, and took a taxi out to the little ranch.

"......There must have been sixty people, all relatives or friends of some sort - old people, nursing infants, ranch hands in boots and hats.  They were poor, but there were tamales to eat, and pork and tortillas all cooked outdoors, and corn drink, and beer.  Everyone seemed so comfortable together.  A little band played the sweetest music.......Adults held the infants who never cried, not a peep.  The old people spoke among each other, and younger ones sat with them and listened.  There was so much warm, simple love.  It was the best time I've had in years.  There's something....criminal about that, don't you think?........Where have we gone wrong?  Alone in our houses with televisions and newspapers and books, crowing the whole time about how much freedom we have..........We've gone off track somewhere, don't you think?"

If you take a ride in a crowded combi (an old VW van used for public transportation), you will witness manners that you didn't even know still existed.  You sneeze, and EVERYBODY says "Salud" (our equivalent of "bless you").  A woman boards with a baby in tow, and someone automatically reaches out to hold the baby.  Men and young boys stand and offer their seats to females who board and have nowhere to sit.  Oh, and if you want to stop at the corner instead of the marked combi stop, you simply call out, "En la proxima esquina, por favor" and the driver is happy to oblige, and no passengers show signs of irritaion. 

Everyday at around 2 PM the streets grow suddenly quiet and many (or most) stores close their doors.  It's siesta time.  Everyone goes home and eats lunch and visits and relaxes with their family.  The streets and stores come to life again around 4 o'clock (OR SO!).  

Schedules are not in stone.  Courtesy is not overlooked.  Family takes priority.  People take time..........for people. 

What else IS there??  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Honesty is such a lonely word......

In order to be completely honest with yourself about where you think your life is going, you have to first cut out all the bull and start asking yourself some really, really difficult questions.  The kinds of questions that you probably thought you already asked yourself, and maybe you DID, but you lied to yourself when you answered them so that you could stay in your comfort zone with the wool pulled over your eyes for awhile longer.  Pull off the wool, for pete's sake.  Otherwise, after too many years, you're bound to wake up stinking and unable to focus.

So, you might ask things like:  "What do you want to get out of this life?"  "What is the most important thing to you?"  "What is keeping you from your dreams?"  "What is keeping you from YOU?"  "Who is God?"  "What is your biggest fear?"  "Who or what is your great love?"  "Who is your greatest influence and why?"

I've been thinking about most of these questions for most of my life.  That doesn't mean I've bothered to answer them genuinely all of the time.  Many times I've felt like I've failed myself and my life's mission.  I've feel like I've been off track quite a few times, sometimes for years at a time.  But when you really think about it, how do you know that you are really "off track?"  I mean, depending on how you define the purpose of your life, you could and maybe should allow for a few detours along the way in order to fulfill a certain role for someone else or to learn a big lesson.  For the most part, I now feel like I am where I need to be in my journey.  I think if you want to live, I mean REALLY live, you need to stay engaged and keep an open mind. 

One of my greatest struggles in this life has been my tendency, no, obsession, over worrying about what others think of me and the decisions I make.  It even affected with whom I chose to share this blog first.  Writers like to have an audience, but in this case I wanted to start with an audience who either doesn't know me from Adam (or Eve! :) ) or who would be able to keep a distant and/or healthy perspective on our situation and offer an opinion without cutting me to the quick and causing me to worry more about what they think of me than the actual issue at hand.  I am overly-sensitive, but I am learning to turn that into a blessing.  :)

This post is not going to reveal my answers to all of the questions I asked above, but let me just say this: 

When I was 16 years old I had a spiritual experience where I tearfully begged God to tell me what my life was for, and He answered me with one word.  LOVE.  I think sometimes I've lived up to that purpose, and many times I've failed miserably.  So, I can ask myself now, what decision should I make regarding moving to Mexico that would promote the best, deepest love all around?  There are MANY people to factor in while answering this question, including people that I don't even know.

In all honesty, if I take a look deep inside, the question about living in Mexico again was never really "Will we go?"  It has always been "WHEN will we go?"  

Now the real fun begins.  Keep reading at your own risk.  I will not be held liable for any possible motion sickness while joining me on what could sometimes feel like either a crazy roller coaster ride or a long road trip in a stuffy car.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Over the past 10 years or so I have seen the glimmer of hope gradually fade from my husband's eyes.  He had so many dreams and ideas when he came to the U.S.  Many of those expectations have died for various reasons.  Some of those reasons have to do with the limitations we place on ourselves psychologically.  That said, mostly I think that what happened is that he discovered how many hoops one needs to jump through in order to realize a dream here in the U.S.  Compared to Mexico, there seems to exist an excessive amount of  bureaucracy in the U.S.  Also, he noticed that many times people here seem to sacrifice quality of life in order to achieve success.   He started to become discouraged.  Eventually, despite efforts to better our lives with career changes and positive thinking, the discouragement gave way to depression and hopelessness.  Then his mom came to visit.

Now, I'll admit that the time that his mother spent here with us (two months) was not exactly a piece of cake for me.  I mean, I love her, but it was challenging for this gringa to share our tiny two-bedroom home with my mother-in-law, especially when Mr. Husband was at work everyday, leaving us to fend for ourselves.  Even though I am comfortable in the Mexican culture, it was a stretch for me to have such an extended, intense amount of "quality time" with her because I am a person who values her "alone time" and, to compound the problem, there were moments when the typical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law issues reared their ugly head.

Over the last few years my husband and I have tossed around the idea of moving to Mexico, but it has always been set aside because of the violence that has been occurring there.  We have been frightened by what we've seen on the news. The story that ran not too long ago on Dateline sent us over the edge.  We were NOT going to run the risk of that happening to us.  We were in agreement.  Until his mom came to visit.

Poco a poco, seeds were planted in my husband's mind.  Little seeds of hope for a better life.  A life where a family has time with one another, and where business dreams have a fighting chance.  (Now, I realize that the truth in the statement I just made depends on what sort of business is in question.  I'm choosing to not share our ideas here on this blog for various reasons.)  The seeds my mother-in-law planted were in direct contradiction to what we had previously decided upon as a couple, and this really stressed me out.  We fought about it a little.  Then we fought about it a lot.  Mr. Husband said that it wasn't as though he suddenly felt at ease with the idea of living there.  It was just that he was beginning to weigh all of our options and take into consideration that the media may be causing the general public more fear than necessary regarding Mexico's violence problem.  He realized it is a very serious problem. What we weren't sure about was just how much it would affect our daily life if we were to live there.  A good way to get the answer to that question was to visit Mexico. That's why, when his family offered to buy him a ticket to go visit them, we agreed whole-heartedly that this was a wonderful idea.

Remember how I said that sometimes this "American Dream" feels like a nightmare?  Well, the other day when my son and I went to pick up my husband from the airport upon his return from Mexico, I immediately noticed something different about him.  He seemed at peace, but more than that, he seemed hopeful; excited.  He began to tell me about his visit with his immediate and extended family, and how they enveloped him with their love and wowed him and encouraged him.  I felt a surge of love as I saw the man I first met emerge from a long hibernation.  It was like he'd been awakened.

Funny, these days I find myself stretching and wiping the sleep from my eyes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Forced off the Grid

Last week I stopped at a gas station and got out to pay at the pump.  I slid my debit card in and a message popped up on the screen demanding "see cashier".  After swiping it again only to get the same result, I chalked it up to a scratchy magnetic strip and used my husband's card instead.  He was in Mexico visiting his family (who paid his entire way) and had left me his debit card.

The next day I went to a nearby family-owned grocery store to pick up just a few necessities. You might be able to guess what happened when I swiped my debit card in the reader.  Yep.  Declined.  Hmmf.  There must be some mistake, I thought.  A couple of days ago I had deposited my meager paycheck of $278 into my bank account so I KNEW I could cover gas and groceries.  Something was up.  I called the bank.

"We're sorry, but your account services have been restricted.  Due to the loss you caused us we are not able to grant you continued use of a debit card."

Late last summer, after years of struggling and many honest efforts to reason with our mortgage lender and reinstate our loan (which was in late stages of foreclosure and had a sheriff sale date set for early fall), we came to realize that the lender was so incredibly overwhelmed with this ongoing national crisis that they were never going to be able to help us in time to save our home.  We had already cut out all of the frills, with no cable, no land line, and after 2 years of driving only one junker car (which we passed back and forth daily as we worked opposite shifts from one another) we had "upgraded" to one more junker which was so kindly donated to us.  Our credit card debt was nothing compared to what most people are drowning in, but we couldn't make ends meet, couldn't pay our debts, and we were about to lose our home.  We filed for Chapter 7. We included $1000 of debt to my bank in the bankruptcy. I was too naive to realize that this would be cause for being ostracized by the bank, even though I'd done business with them for 13 years.  Duh.  They couldn't care less about second chances or having a heart when there is a bottom line to be considered.

After hanging up the phone with them I threw myself into a sobbing fit which included numerous expletives as well as cliches such as "WHY, God? WHY?!" Luckily my son was at preschool and not a witness to my one-woman tragic play. Finally, I pulled myself together and said, "Well, you've often said you'd like to live 'off the grid', and a not having a debit card is a step in that direction.  Now stop being so dramatic and count your blessings.  Worrying and going into despair will not help your situation."  Also, it took me about 2 minutes to realize that having to spend cash on-hand instead of blindly using my debit card while half hazardly balancing my checking account in my head was going to be a much better way to manage my spending.

Going off the grid is something I've fantasized about during moments of indulging my inner hippie.  In reality, what I sincerely want is a simpler, happier life.  I am tired of struggling in a society which values things that I don't necessarily care much about.  I've never been one to care about having flashy toys or name-brand clothing.  Sometimes I feel like I'm forced to buy into the American Dream, but for me it's turning out to be a nightmare.

When I met my husband in 1995 I was 22 years old.  I was living in Mexico and teaching English at a language school in Central Mexico.  It was probably the happiest time of my life.  I grew to adore the culture and the simpler lifestyle that many people have there.  All of it's quirks and bumps and round-about ways just make me love it more.  I wanted to stay there and for a little over two years I managed to go back and forth between Minnesota and Mexico, saving every cent of my waitress money in order to return to Mexico to teach English and enjoy my new-found loves, my (now) husband and Mexico.  But alas, student loans were calling my name, and responsibility dug in it's claws. 
Much has happened over the past fifteen years.  My love came to the U.S., we eventually married, and now have a 4-year-old son, who, I'll proudly say, is bilingual.  It's been nice to have my family all within driving distance, though we do not spend nearly enough time with one another, which my husband finds to be a little sad since family is always on the front burner in the Mexican culture.  We have struggled in so many ways with jobs we hate and poorly made financial decisions which I feel came as a direct result of our unhappiness with our situation. 

Last year I went out on a limb and quit my job, even though there is a horrible crisis going on.  I was in pursuit of a new career and I really thought it was going to work out fine.  I'll save those details for another day, but let's just say that my daring decision is largely responsible for putting us in the new low that we hit this past fall.  In effort to explore possibilities, my husband went to Mexico on his family's dime, and was bombarded with endless ideas of what could very well be some fruitful business endeavors.  His family all but threw up their hands at him, asking him what the heck we are doing struggling and losing our precious time in a place so unforgiving that it seems to allow no room for dreams to come true and relationships to be fostered.  I realize that for many, the United States gives hope and freedom and a solid foundation.  But sometimes I feel drawn to leave.

SO, now we've got Mexico on the mind.  We realize it's not perfect there either and there are a few things that are keeping us from taking the plunge asap.  But even with our thoughts racing all over the map, so to speak, I believe the X that will mark the spot is going to be in Mexico. 

Stay tuned, if you feel up for the ride.