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Five years ago today, I turned 44 and boarded a plane with my eight-year-old twins on a one-way ticket to Mexico.

We left the States with nothing more but the suitcases we could carry and the contents that fit inside of our 14-foot aluminum boat, trailered by my recently retired firefighter hubby on his 4,000-mile drive South. Frank will have to tell the story of how he did the entire trip with a drooling chocolate lab at his back and without a map!

Retired Firefighter, Mexico Bound!

Retired Firefighter, Mexico Bound!

We left with hopes and dreams for a better future—a better here and now.

We have that.

As we celebrate our five-year Mexi-versary today and my 49th, we reflect over some of the lessons we have learned in our adopted country of Mexico:

1. Savor the Moment

Mexico, often referred to as the “land of mañana” (tomorrow), embodies much more than the conventional meaning associated with this popular cliché. There is a palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and to take it all in. The vibrant colors and sensory-rich nature of a quintessential Mexican town—alive with energy from the street vendors, music and bouquet of sights and smells—make it nearly impossible to not linger in the magic of the moment.

Birria @ Mercado Emiliano Zapata, Old Town Puerto Vallarta

Birria @ Mercado Emiliano Zapata, Old Town Puerto Vallarta

2. Be Proud

Mexico sets the example of a culture that embraces its history and honors its national pride, of a people that value their identities and honor their roots. I love how Mexico celebrates who she is with intention and meaning. 

Dancers in Banda

Christmas Celebration in Banda~Rural Community Outside of SMA

3. Celebrate, Whenever You Can

Dia de los muertos

Día de Los Muertos @ La Parroquía in San Miguel de Allende

 

Wedding Celebration in the state of Guanajuato

Wedding Celebration in the state of Guanajuato

4. Be Curious & Have Fun

In Mexico, I am allured, intrigued, invited to stop and look, to be in the moment. With my senses awake, I am tuned in to the details and the magic of my surroundings. 

Just running a few errands in SMA

Just running a few errands in SMA

Mexico has taught me to celebrate the textures and layers, to pay attention, to notice…to be participatory and present in life.

Los Mariachis

Los Mariachis

5. Live in Freedom & Responsibility

There is a certain aspect of “organized chaos” on the streets of Mexico—families of four piled atop a motorcycle, off-leash dogs dodging in and out of traffic, police officers standing in the middle of busy four-way intersections—a cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds emerging from the outdoor markets, corner cantinas, garbage trucks, city buses and street vendors. Some would call this Darwinism, perhaps even a lawless and haphazard way to live…I just call it cultural immersion!

A Life in Color

A Life in Color

6. Honor Thy Family, Community & Friends

O'Grady Strong

O’Grady Strong

I love the importance placed on the family unit, including the extended one of second and third cousins—not always necessarily blood-related.

A very good friend is often referred to as a primo (cousin) or hermano/a (brother/sister) and they are taken into the family as such. Conversations at gatherings and casual run-ins are meaningful and sin prisa (without hurry). The art of conversation is well preserved in the Mexican culture. Greetings and farewells? You can count on a customary hug and single kiss on the cheek between young and old, male and female alike.

There is a strong sense of community and connectedness amongst the Mexican people. They are united, loyal, hard-working, welcoming and generous of their time and help. 

7. Live Sustainably, Buy Local, Eat Well

Street Tacos

Our Reds enjoying ten-peso street tacos on a Friday night!

10-peso street tacos, 20-peso super-sized fresh fruit cups, 100-peso chicken rotisserie dinners complete with tortillas, rice, salad and grilled peppers…With the current value of the peso to the dollar about 19 to 1, you can calculate the amazing value!

Fruit Cups

Less than a dollar fifty for one of these delicious fruit cups!

There is never a shortage of fresh, locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, wines and breads…and many, thankfully organic.

Via Organica

Vía Orgánica, San Miguel de Allende

8. Pay Attention & Be Grateful

This was not meant to be a promo for Coca-Cola, but I love this capture of a cowboy with horse, taking it all in at the jardín in San Miguel de Allende. 

Coca-Cola

Break Time at The Parroquía

From the jungle to the desert highlands and back again to the coast, I have thousands of pictures of our immigrated lives that capture, as they say, a story within a single image.

I am grateful that I live in a country that provides plenty of sensory-stimulating experiences and that I get to share some of them with an audience who appreciates my work. Muchas Gracias.

And what about you?

What are some of your favorite things about Mexico?

I would love to hear about them in the comments section below!

Cheers,

~Katie

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*all photos by Katie O’Grady

 

 

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While we consider ourselves fairly seasoned travelers, we never once thought that packing a carbon monoxide detector was an essential and life-saving item in our travel preparedness until tragedy struck and my husband nearly lost his life to CO poisoning at a “boutique hotel” in Central Mexico.

After dropping our twins off at their much-anticipated 6th grade camp in a rural community outside of Guadalajara, Frank and I set out to enjoy our weekend together, knowing that our children would be in good hands in the company of their classmates and counselors.

But instead of enjoying a romantic couples-only weekend, we spent it at the Red Cross, an ER and a Hyperbaric Chamber Facility fighting for Frank’s life.

How could such a thing happen? 

Do mistakes and bad things just happen? Absolutely.

But in this case, the hotel management had haphazardly jerry-rigged a below eye level, malfunctioning water heater to the room we had been bumped to due to overbooking on a holiday weekend.

After several hours of working next to the open window—not knowing that just on the other side of it was a yellow-flamed carbon monoxide-leaking heater—Frank was overcome by severe visual disturbances, weakness, confusion, headache, difficulty speaking and vomiting.

Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life

Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life

Confirmation by the hotel staff that two carbon monoxide leaks had been found in this water heater, together with all of Frank’s symptoms, clearly pointed to CO poisoning.

All medical diagnoses and treatment further confirmed that it was indeed carbon monoxide poisoning that the installation of a simple and affordable CO detector could have prevented.

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Only time away from the CO gas, immediate medical intervention and continuous high-saturation oxygen therapy saved his life. Prayers, support and good thoughts from family and friends didn’t hurt either. 

Hyperbaric Chamber~One of Two 80-Minute Treatments

Hyperbaric Chamber~One of Two 80-Minute Treatments

As a result of this terrifying, near-death experience, we now ALWAYS travel with carbon monoxide detectors and we can’t emphasize enough the importance for others to do so too.

After much research, we decided on the Kidde Battery-Operated Carbon Monoxide Alarms with Digital Display for both travel and home use.

Something so simple and so affordable can save your and your family’s lives in the event of a carbon monoxide leak. 

*Carbon monoxide is silent, odorless and tasteless*

CO poisoning signs to be aware of

CO poisoning signs to be aware of

I hope this information is useful to you.

In peace, happiness, safety & health,

~Los O’Gradys in Mexico

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*Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for us to earn commissions by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

 

 

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As seen on The Huffington Post: 

If one of my jobs as a mother is to support and nurture the emotional well-being and development of my children, then moving to Mexico has been one great step towards that endeavor.

In November of 2012, we sold, donated and discarded the majority of our physical possessions, packed the remaining essentials into a 14-foot aluminum boat and immigrated from Southern California to Mainland Mexico with our eight-year-old twins and 90-pound chocolate lab.

Departure from San Diego November 2012

My husband had recently retired from firefighting and we wanted to show our children a life outside of the States. Mexico had long been a cherished place of family adventure and connection and we were ready to have that as our norm and not just a reality relegated to vacations only.

Within three months of arriving to the small jungle town of San Pancho, Nayarit, we became permanent residents and in a few years time we will apply for our Mexican citizenship.

Mexican Mug Shots 2013

We have spent the past three and a half years decompressing, reconnecting and carving out new lives — immersing ourselves in sunsets and surfing expeditions, horseback riding through high desert plains, soaking in hot thermal pools, climbing pyramids, and imbibing our senses in the rich cultural heritage of of a country that reveres the family unit.

We have gone from mind-numbing traffic on five-lane freeways to commuting on dirt jungle roads and sixteenth-century cobblestone streets where there is no shortage of stimulus to engage our minds and activate our senses.

Burros in San Miguel de Allende

Our children are bilingual and bicultural and see a world without borders. They have witnessed their parents reinvent themselves from teacher and firefighter, to writer and photovoltaic designer. They see a life without limits, that anything is possible, that dreams do come true, that shaping one’s own way in this world is not just possible, but doable.

Our children see that it is not only okay, but of great value to slow down and pay attention to the details, to relish and thrive in the here and now, to be alive and awake to the magic of the moment… to value conversation and interaction that does not involve tuning the world out behind a computer screen.

Cañada de La Boca

We have not traded in some “American Dream” for a second-hand version of a life. We are not living in Mexico by default, but by choice.

And we are not so naive as to not see — as we have lived them first hand — the struggles and challenges and hard edges of living here. In many regards, Mexico is like the Wild West. It is not for the fainthearted or weak of constitution.

Our kids are independent, artistic, thoughtful, perceptive, tuned-in. They have two hands-on, present parents who are no longer running the rat race, struggling to keep our financial heads above water. We can afford housing, food and medical care. I have recently had two major, life-saving surgeries in Central Mexico, with top notch, patient-centered care. My husband and my son’s food allergies have lessened.

If our contribution to the good of this world is raising decent, compassionate, wise, strong-willed children, then things are looking pretty good. Moving to Mexico has played a huge part in our parenting success.

M & L 11 YEARS OLD SMAIf you are feeling courageous and up for an unforgettable life adventure, perhaps you too are ready to mix it up and get out of your comfort zone — to see what’s out there waiting to awaken your senses, shake you upside down, and see what you’re really made of.

You just might surprise yourself.

Huffington Post Link: We Left the American Dream to Raise Our Children in Mexico

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It comes to me as no great surprise that we find ourselves in a time when more and more people are moving to Mexico, looking not just for an escape from the current political and social climate north of the border, but for a reinvented, reinspired life where adventure is affordable and enhanced quality of life is your most precious commodity.

As the granddaughter of a former Chief of the US-Mexico Border, it is no small irony that I, along with my husband and two young children, would immigrate to Mexico nearly five years ago.

Departing from San Diego with nothing more than a car and trailer full of stuff that we deemed to be the remaining essentials after gifting, donating and selling the rest, we headed south.

Shortly after our arrival to the beach town of San Pancho, we became permanent residents, having begun the process stateside to facilitate its expediency.

From a very early age, perhaps even encoded in my genetics, I have had a deep love for Mexico–her people, her magic, her fervent sense of community amongst family and friends…the sense of freedom I feel in her rich biodiversity. 

Growing up a half an hour away from the San Diego-Tijuana border, my relationship with my grandfather was by far one of the most significant contributors to this undeniable connection I have with Mexico.

My “Big Joe” as we called him, adorned in his Stetson cowboy hat and crisp-collared Oxford shirts, modeled such a deep respect and brotherhood for our south of the border neighbors, that I too could not help but fall in love with a land and people so magnificently rich in corazón y alma (heart and soul).

I would marvel with the pride that only a granddaughter can feel at my grandfather’s ability to conduct himself so eloquently in both languages and cultures.

He would turn the ordinary into magic.

His affinity for conversation, his staid charisma, his thoughtful ways and his sharp sense of humor made for a dynamic mixture that quite simply attracted people to him. It felt good to be in his company and I was just lucky enough to be his granddaughter.

I would sit mesmerized on his living room couch, predicting my future in his black Magic Eight Ball, listening to his stories of herding cattle and training horses down at our family’s dairy ranch in Chula Vista.

He would speak of his many adventures, one of them of having left home at the age of 14 to become a cowboy on the last rancho that spanned the US-American border.

Family historians have shared with me that he was known as the “Paul Revere of Chula Vista” on account of his warning the Otay Valley on horseback of impending rain that ended up bursting the Sweetwater Dam.

He died when I was a freshman at university, and while I miss him dearly, I will carry the strength of his legacy, his humility, and his wisdom with me always.

Growing up in a border city gifted me access to a bilingual and bicultural world, allowing me to move easily between both realms to this day. 

If former lives exist, I am certain that I was a salsa-dancing Latina in mine!

My Grandmothers Mary & Elizabeth had their own fair share of shenanigans south of the border and their stories were the material of an I Love Lucy episode! The picture below is of the two of them (in the middle) in Tijuana, in 1982 when I was just 14, an impressionable age for sure.

Why Mexico?

Here in Mexico, there is a palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and to take it all in, to be in the moment and to not rush from point A to point B on autopilot for the sake of checking off a to-do list.

The stimulus and sensory-rich nature of the Mexican culture—alive with a detectable vibra (energy)—beckons one to be awake to and appreciative of the details around.

Life in Mexico takes you out of whatever slumber you might have previously found yourself in, RESETS your outlook and REMINDS you that true, mindful, engaged living results from paying attention to and participating in LIFE.

Mexico has taught me, and reminds me daily, to relish and thrive in the here and now, to celebrate the present moment and the textures and layers within that moment, and to always, always be grateful…for health, life, family, friends and fun!

Mi Querido México, thank you for taking us in, for welcoming us and for graciously adopting us with open arms. These past four and a half years have been one heck of an adventure and we are better people for it….mil gracias. 

For more stories about our immigrated life in Mexico, please follow us here:

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                                               “We should not moor a ship with one anchor, nor our life with one hope.”                                                                                      ~Epictetus, Ancient Greek Philosopher

She calls me Kayyyy (said with a thick Colombian accent) and I call her Sophia–as in Sophia Vergara. Her waist-length, brown, ringlet hair with sun-kissed caramel highlights, flawless terracotta skin, and long, graceful limbs made it hard not to notice her in my morning yoga class.

In a room where one does their best to be simultaneously connected and disconnected–somewhere in between half moon and standing bow poses–I was drawn not only by her undeniable physical beauty, but more remarkably, her calm and confident energy. My kind of energy.

In spite of our nearly ten year age difference and having been raised in two different worlds, Daniela and I forged a friendship that knew no borders nor generational differences. The fact that we are both considered “extranjeras”—foreigners, outsiders, not originally from Mexico—is of interest to me as both a writer and a student of life.

Daniela—a native Spanish speaker, who is all things Latina—is nonetheless considered an expat, an immigrant…much in the same way that I, with my Dutch-Irish ancestry, am considered by many, a “gringa”. 

Colombian Dance Lessons in Our San Miguel de Allende Living Room!

Colombian Dance Lessons in Our San Miguel de Allende Living Room!

My friendship with Daniela got me thinking about some of the “life anchors” of an immigrant—special relationships with people, objects or even places that provide a sense of comfort and stability in a new environment.

1. Family 

Reinventing one’s life in a foreign land carries with it its own unique set of challenges. Surviving the unexpected, kick-you-in-the-arse, pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap moments, and emerging more connected, resilient and determined with a sense of humor and character still intact, is no small feat and certainly something to be admired and celebrated!

O'Grady Style! #ogradystrong

O’Grady Style! #ogradystrong

2. Home

Ensuring the habitability and maximum comfort of your home in a foreign land is an exercise in awareness, adaptability, and gumption. Whether figuring out how to best heat your home in the desert highlands of central Mexico or the most efficient means of mold abatement in the hot and muggy tropics, home safety and comfort is key to settling into your new life.

3. Fur Babies

I know some people have to make the very difficult decision of re-homing their pets prior to an international move, but that was not an option for us. Our Famous Seamus and Luna Love are our kids, just with four legs and fur. Seamus, our big brown lab, came with us from the States and Luna Love, our little feisty fluff ball, was adopted in San Miguel de Allende. They are two of the sweetest gifts of unconditional, slobbery love. #adoptadog

move to Mexico with dogs

Famous Seamus and Luna Love

4. Mementos

My grandmother’s antique rocking chair, the crucifix from my grandfather’s memorial, the kid’s collection of books and legos, all of our many musical instruments—even Frank’s tools! They each have their own story, hold their own memory and represent, in their own way, permanence through the flux, fluidity and transient nature of life.

Altars & Life Anchors

Altars & Life Anchors

5. Care of Self

Our bodies are our most precious vehicles via which we integrate, communicate, operate and define our place in this world. Taking good care of them provides a source of wellness and maximized life experience. I am eternally grateful for the amazing health care my family has received in Mexico, including two major surgeriesER visits with our children and saving my husband’s life from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Awareness~Travel with a CO Detector

Carbon Monoxide Awareness~Travel with a CO Detector

6. A Connection to The Divine

God, Alibaba, Buddha, Swimming with Dolphins, Yoga, Tai-chi, Hiking The Sierra Madre Mountains…call it and find it how you wish. Moments to pause, reflect and connect with the divine. Whether in a 16th-century colonial church, atop horseback in the high desert plains of central Mexico or surfing in the Pacific Blue, having a place to pause in reverence and gratitude for life and its many gifts is a defining, grounding source of connection.

An Expat in Mexico

Catching Rainbows with My Son~Nayarit, Mexico

9. Climate

Having lived the majority of my life in “Sunny San Diego”, my activities and production levels were consistently high year round. Now having experienced both the cold winters of the desert highlands and the hot, humid summers of the coast, I have seen first hand how much climate alone can affect productivity, mood and overall quality of life.

The months of October through February in Central Mexico can be cold, requiring extra blankets, socks, scarves and layering of clothes. Since most homes in the colonial regions like San Miguel de Allende are not outfitted with central heating, fireplaces and free-standing gas or electric heaters are often used. *With any gas-heating appliance, it is highly recommended that you have carbon monoxide detectors installed in each room.

Knock Knock, Someone's at The Door! Firewood Delivery in SMA

Knock Knock, Someone’s at The Door! Firewood Delivery in SMA

Life along Mexico’s Pacific Coast can be hot, muggy and buggy from May through October. Sleeping with air conditioning, battling cockroaches the size of golf balls and frequent mold abatement is enough to put your sense of humor, grit and gumption to the test! There are prices to be paid for living in paradise!

10. Technology

 

WhatsApp, Messenger, Email, Skype, Google Chat, phone—thank goodness for them all! Although we are thousands of miles away from our loved ones in the States, these various options in communication allow us to stay in close touch with our family and friends north of the border. 

 

 

 

Friends, Family, Home, Pets, Sentimentals, Health, Spirit, Weather, and Communications…these are some of our Life Anchors as Immigrants to Mexico.

If you too are living a reinvented, reinspired life in a new land, what are some things that allow you to feel tethered and grounded in your new world?

I would love to read about them in the comments section below! 

Cheers & Saludos,

~Katie O’Grady

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