Six years ago today I celebrated my 44th birthday by boarding a plane with my eight-year-old twins on a one-way ticket to Mexico.
My husband Frank had left a few days prior by car with our slobbering chocolate lab Seamus and 14-foot aluminum boat filled to the rim with the belongings that had made the final cut.
Frank will have to tell the story of how he did the entire 1400 mile trip without a map…something about just heading south!
We left with hopes and dreams for a better life for our family.
As we celebrate our six-year Mexi-versary and my 50th, we pause to reflect over some of the lessons we have learned in our adopted country of Mexico:
1. Savor the Moment
In the land of “mañana” (tomorrow) there is a palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and take it all in. The vibrant colors and sensory-rich nature of a quintessential Mexican town—alive with energy from the vendors, music, sights and smells—make it nearly impossible to not linger in the magic of the moment.
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.
Christmas Celebration in Banda~Rural Community Outside of SMA
3. Celebrate, Whenever You Can
Día de Los Muertos @ La Parroquía in San Miguel de Allende
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
Mexico has taught me to celebrate the textures and layers, to pay attention, to notice…to be participatory and present in life.
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
6. Honor Thy Family, Community & Friends
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
Would you like to read more about our immigrated lives to Mexico?
While we consider ourselves fairly seasoned travelers, we never once thought that packing a carbon monoxide detector would be an essential and life-saving item in our travel preparedness until tragedy struck and my husband cheated death when he was poisoned by CO at a “boutique hotel” in Lake Chapala, 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 relaxing and sightseeing, we spent it at the Red Cross, ER and a Hyperbaric Chamber Facility fighting for Frank’s life.
Do mistakes and bad things just happen? Absolutely.
But in this case, the hotel management had jerry-rigged a malfunctioning water heater to the room we were 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—my husband was overcome by severe visual disturbances, weakness, confusion, headache, difficulty speaking and vomiting.
Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life
Statements by the hotel staff that two carbon monoxide leaks had been found in the hot water heater, together with all of Frank’s symptoms and intake diagnostics pointed towards carbon monoxide poisoning.
Removal from the source of the CO, immediate medical intervention and continuous high-saturation oxygen therapy saved Frank’s life. Prayers and support from family and friend tremendously helped as well. Thank you all.
Hyperbaric Chamber~One of Two 80-Minute Treatments
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“Sometimes we encounter things that profoundly change our outlook on life and when it happens, it doesn’t matter that former joys have lost their allure or that our foundations have been shaken. All we know is that the walls we’ve built around ourselves have crumbled into dust. All we know is that our unsatisfied yearnings no longer throb inside us and something restorative is taking place deep inside our souls… ~Will Kautz
It is nothing short of a modern miracle and a testament to the strength of the human body that I underwent and survived two major surgeries in less than six months. The skills of each of the specialists, together with my undeniable grit and gumption, saw me through one of the more difficult years of my life and returned to me the gift of function without debilitating pain or partial paralysis.
To say that I am grateful is an understatement.
I had a history of back challenges with a fracture at 17 years of age that together with the demands of competitive sports and a twin pregnancy with a 60-pound weight gain…collectively rendered me in need of some serious TLC and repair at the age of 45.
I had done all the “right things”—chiropractic care, deep tissue massages, physical therapy, acupuncture, rest, ice, heat, a prayer that the pain would go away…and sometimes it would. Most of the time, I just dealt with it, brushed it off as part of my reality and hoped for a better, more pain-free tomorrow and always the ability to continue my active lifestyle.
No guts, no glory
The whole “no guts, no glory” mentality has carried me through life and in my physical prowess I have found the stronger, never-give-up, courageous parts of myself.
This time, however, I was knocked down for the count.
Practicing yoga in our home in San Miguel, I felt a searing pain down the left side of my body, never imagining that I had just herniated two of my discs. Collapsing to the floor and calling out for my husband in agonizing pain, I knew that there was no amount of strong will nor determination that was going to get me back up on my feet.
Unable to move nor stand unassisted, my husband and a wheelchair were my only forms of movement and transportation prior to my surgery.
I hoped and prayed with all my might that the doctors would successfully repair my spine so that I would not be sentenced for the rest of my earthly years to a chair. I refused to accept that reality.
2 herniated discs, left side paralysis and awaiting my MRI
Flat out on a hospital bed in central Mexico like a turtle on its back, I have never felt so helpless and (almost) defeated. The streams of tears flowed without restraint as I lay with eyes closed, not believing the surreal reality I found myself in. There is no dignity in semi-paralysis, peeing in a pan or bed baths. I refused to accept that as my long-term reality.
The night before my surgery, I laid in my hospital room–alone, in great pain, and without my family. Frank needed to hold down the fort back at home in San Miguel and continue our normal life routine as much as possible for our twins. I am eternally grateful to all of our friends that stepped up and helped us out while I was unavailable. Thank you.
Waiting, night before surgery
Laying there in the dark and cold and solace of the night, I was in and out of a pain-induced trance of sorts, experiencing some truly powerful revelations about myself and my life…about balance and honoring oneself first–like the airline safety instructions of putting on your own oxygen mask first.
Silver lining, lemonade out of lemons.
My God and I got to spend some one-on-one, quality time together…He and I have always been together since I was a little girl, like the Sclemeel, Schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated song of the good ol’ Laverne and Shirley Sitcom that I so loved as a kid. Connected at the hip, He and I, always present in my little girl heart.
Give us any chance, we’ll take it. Give us any rule, we’ll break it. We’re gonna make our dreams come true. Doin’ it our way.
Nothin’s gonna turn us back now, Straight ahead and on the track now. We’re gonna make our dreams come true, Doin’ it our way.
There is nothing we won’t try, Never heard the word impossible. This time there’s no stopping us. We’re gonna do it.
On your mark, get set, and go now, Got a dream and we just know now, We’re gonna make our dream come true. And we’ll do it our way, yes our way. Make all our dreams come true, And do it our way, yes our way, Make all our dreams come true For me and you.
I knew what lay ahead of me and that I had to put my big girl panties on and confront it with determination and courage. That was my only option. That was the only reality I would entertain…getting to the other side—out of the wheelchair, functioning and enjoying my life again with my family and friends.
During what ultimately ended up being a six-hour surgery, Dr. Salvador Galvan completely removed my L3 L4 and replaced it with a 12 mm silicone prosthetic spacer. My L4-L5 was so severely damaged that it was just a matter of time before it failed, so it was fortified it with a 10mm spacer. Apparently the trauma to my spine was so severe that I lost over three times the amount of blood that is normally lost during one of these surgeries. No doubt that was part of my recovery challenge.
First Steps. Power of The Polka-Dot-Pajamas!
My surgery was on a Tuesday morning and come Wednesday night I took my first assisted steps. By Thursday I was able to take my first unassisted ones and be discharged home.
I had a road ahead of me, taking one step at a time. Walking back and forth to the bathroom, taking a shower and being able to stand long enough to brush my hair and teeth were huge accomplishments. Poco a poco, I got there, back to a newer, improved, and “bionic” version of my former self, with my family right by my side cheering me along and literally and figuratively picking me up when I would fall.
My running, kickboxing and horseback riding days are a thing of the past, but I have learned a new “new”. I can walk, dance, trot, stretch, yoga, swim and live a very fulfilling existence with 90% mobility and minimal pain. My limp is gone, cane thrown away and joy and gratitude forever imprinted in my heart. Looking at me, you’d never imagine the scars behind the clothes. We all have them, I just choose to speak about some of mine in the hopes that by bearing my story, I am helping someone else out there.
Several of my nurses questioned why I didn’t return to the States for my surgeries where the medicine is “more modern”.
“Because Mexico is my home”, I told them each, “This is where my heart is, where my family is, where my life is.”
Mi Querido Mexico, I love you.
I want to express my extreme and eternal gratitude to Dra. Rosario my physical therapist, to Dr. Salvador Galvan my neurosurgeon, to Dr. Paolo my pain specialist and to all of the nurses and operating room staff at Hospital Santiago de Querétero. You will forever be my earth angels.
Me & Dr. Salvador Galvan, Discharge 3 Days after Spinal Surgery
The gift of walking and of health is not to be taken for granted, ever.
May we all pause to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. They are there.
Even after six years as a permanent resident of Mexico, there are certain things about our lives here–some of the cultural and regional norms and facets of day-to-day living–that still cause me to pause, laugh, or even gasp in intrigue and bewilderment.
Take for example:
1. Three lanes on a two-lane highway
Navigating oneself on the highways often feels like a game of Russian roulette, as there seems to be a nebulous middle lane, created and bordered by nothing more than the driver’s risk-taking spirit and willingness to tempt fate.
Riding as a passenger usually has me alternating between holding my breath and blurting out various unladylike profanities as an attempt to distract myself and make the ride as tolerable as possible.
You can imagine how much my husband Frank loves this when he’s behind the wheel!
2. Ice Cream, Knife Sharpener or Trash Truck?
I wasn’t too sure at first if the loud, clanging noise was the ice cream vendor, the knife sharpener (he actually blows a whistle) or what, until I asked a nearby shop owner who informed me that it was the trash truck—on its way down a narrow, one-way, cobblestone street with pedestrians on both sides.
3. From Farm to Market
A walk through a tianguis—an outdoor market filled with a potpourri of every imaginable regional fruit, vegetable, handmade craft and meat—certainly leaves no doubt as to the origin and same-day-freshness of the carne asada tacos you might find yourself eating at one of the many open-air stalls–likely having been delivered that very morning from a nearby rancho.
Tuesday Market, San Miguel de Allende
If you are accustomed to purchasing your t-bone steak or chicken bits all cleaned up, trimmed and nicely packaged–or if you are a vegan–prepare yourself for a bit of a surprise while meandering through one of these vibrant and dynamic markets.
It is not uncommon to see an entire cow or pig head sitting on the corner of a butcher’s stand, along with various other parts of the animal that in the States are normally discarded and not necessarily considered edible, let alone desirable to look at on full display.
Cabeza (Cow Head) Tacos
Refrigeration? Arrive early!
When I took my Mom through the mercado during one of her visits with us, she was quite startled to come face-to-face with a large cow’s head, eyeballs and all, sans the skin. I suppose if one were playing with the idea of veganism, a walk through a tianguis just might seal the deal. For carnivores, it is an important reminder to support farmers who are raising their animals in the most ethical conditions possible.
4. Consume Today or Let Ripen
It’s the small things in life…
Many thanks to the supermarkets for separating their avocados into consumo para hoy (consume today) and a para madurar (let ripen) piles. Also, when going into a Mom & Pop’s frutería, you might have to ask for the avocados as they are usually behind the counter, hidden away and protected from public fondling.
Consume Today/Let Ripen
5. Round and Round The Glorieta We Go
Glorietas…those perplexing roundabout traffic circles that serve as an intersection for oncoming vehicles from all four different directions, often converging at the same time. If you are not careful, alert and prepared as you enter this whirlpool of automobiles, you just might find yourself getting stuck, going around and around, like on a spin toy at a child’s playground, feverishly trying to calculate the right moment to jump off and get out!
I have learned that I must enter the glorietas with confidence, ready to kick ass and take on the fast and furious obstacle-like course of oncoming cars, trucks and motorcycles. I do find myself holding my breath until I have successfully exited the glorieta and am, hopefully, headed in the right direction!
Round and Round
6. The Mysteries of A Left-Turn Signal
It is not safe to assume that a blinking left turn signal means that a left turn is about to be executed by the driver in front. Quite the contrary, it often means “go ahead, it is safe to pass me now—on the left”.
However, don’t assume that either, for a pass on the left, when in fact a left turn is in the making can be a risky assumption. Additionally, in Mexico, it is common road etiquette to pull to the right-hand side, before making a left turn.
Are you following all of this?
Keep in mind too, while you are mentally and tactically navigating the road conditions, that there are often burros, cows, horses and dogs on the shoulders that one must avoid for both their safety and yours.
Similar to the dynamics of a glorieta, stay alert, aware of your surroundings and able to respond quickly and safely!
7. Metric, Who?
Algebra and metric conversions, admittedly, are not my strong suit. Fahrenheit to celsius, inches to cm, kilos instead of pounds…it’s enough to make a girl dizzy!
Upon my first few trips to the local butchers, I held my breath, wide-eyed, waiting to see what the two kilos of salchicha that I had just ordered would amount to. Fortunate for me, my family loves Mexican sausages and over four pounds of them could easily fit into our fridge and freezer!
Time to get to work and study this helpful chart!
Photo Credit: K5 Learning Blog
8. Translate with Caution
9. Where There’s a Will…
Determined, resourceful, ingenious, skillful are all adjectives I would freely use to describe the Mexican people. Whether it is reusing, reconfiguring and repurposing or coming up with the most interesting ways to assign function and form to something that might otherwise be thrown out or thought impossible, the Mexican ingenuity truly embodies the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” expression.
During one of my morning walks around Parque Benito Juarez, I saw this woman in the photo below balancing what appeared to be a very heavy load on her head, navigating her way down the slippery cobblestone streets in flip flops! Impressive indeed!
Determination & Will
10. Is That Side Mirror Really Necessary?
To avoid collisions and keep your side mirror intact as part of your car, pull it in on narrow, cobblestone streets. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did if you deem it a necessary part of your car.
11. Hard-Working Burros
In many parts of México, burros are used for field work, transportation and delivery. It is not uncommon to be out and about and come across a pair of them hard at work.
Knock-Knock, Special Delivery!
12. A Different Kind of Saint
One morning after dropping our twins off at school, Frank stopped by the tortillería to pick up a medio kilo of flour tortillas. Next door was a small furniture store that had this little treasure on display out in front:
Art Is in The Eye of The Beholder
I’m sure you can use your imagination to to guess what this darling little saint statue looked like from behind. I’m thinking the creator of this treasure had a laugh or two.
13. Pig on A Leash
This was a first.
As seen in El Jardín
14. Trampoline on Third Floor Terraza
Yes, and yikes! No playdates for my kids at this house!
Life Without Safety Nets
While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the more noteworthy sightings and experiences I have had in these past 6 years. I am grateful that I get to live in a country that keeps my senses alive and teaches me to take things in stride.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed something in Mexico that has made you wonder, pause, or question in fascination, confusion, amusement, and gratitude?
I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Last but not least, today’s Spanish Lesson:
The Spanish Teacher in me just can’t help herself! You will notice that many of the words throughout this article are cognates–words that sound alike or are possibly spelled exactly alike as their English counterpart. Another reason that Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn—truly!
Thanks to creating a radical change in our family’s lives, we no longer live under this paradigm of life in a 21st-century modern society.
I can remember being STUCK in traffic—more often than not—anxiously and impatiently tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, moving along inch by inch, so fed up with that being the “norm”, knowing in my heart that it didn’t have to be and feeling so READY for a change.
The picture above represents so much of what we were ready to eliminate in our lives—breathing in exhaust fumes, missing out on active, joyful engagement in life because we were on hold in a sea of cars. That was not how we wanted to spend our valuable, once-in-a-lifetime time. I would take pictures from the dashboard of my car to the hundreds of bumpers in front and send them to my husband with the message, “One thing I will NOT miss”.
And I don’t, not one little bit.
Immigration to Mexico
Since immigrating to Mexico in 2012, we have gone from daily traffic congestion and the frequent witnessing of road rage to driving on jungle roads and 16th-century cobblestone streets. We have traded in mind-numbing, lost hours in the car to engagement in other, far more meaningful activities of our choice.
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 in supporting that endeavor.
Freedom and Horses in San Pancho, Nayarit
A Dream Birthday Party!
We immigrated to mainland Mexico when our twins were eight years old, during the middle of their third-grade year. Within three months of our arrival, we became Permanent Residents of Mexico. The process went rather smoothly for us because we did our homework prior to our move and had all of our required paperwork in order. Patience, planning and having the right legal liaison were in our favor as well. (*for a referral in the Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel areas, feel free to PM me)
Arrival in LA Bay and ready for some tacos!
Our twins were seasoned Mexico travelers prior to our move, having spent the first eight years of their lives adventuring back and forth between San Diego and Baja California. Frank’s firefighter schedule and my school teacher’s allowed us blocks of time off together as a family and we took full advantage of them to head South!
Mairead and Liam fondly referred to their Baja home as their “other home” and Mexico forever became ingrained in their hearts as a place of fun, discovery and family connection.
Adventuring in Baja, 2006
Baja Babies! Bahia de Los Angeles~2008
Aside from the inevitable emotion of parting ways with loved ones, our move and the preparations leading up to our departure from San Diego were relatively seamless in the sense that it was meant to be and something we collectively were all on the same page about and ready for.
Saying our goodbyes to my Mom at San Diego airport~2012
We arrived in San Pancho on a Friday, and that following Monday our formerly homeschooled twins began their first ever five-day-a-week program at Escuela del Mundo. Surrounded by tropical trees and open green space, our children experienced freedom and discovery like never before.
1st day at Escuela del Mundo
While the Spanish immersion component of their new school was a bit of an initial challenge for The Reds, they transitioned and acclimated rather quickly, having been exposed to Spanish in a border city the first eight years of their life. Even without those language advantages, we all know how sponge-like children’s brains are, and if given the opportunity, they are able to assimilate and adapt with great ease. I do believe they were the only ‘Mairead’ and ‘Liam’ their classmates had ever met, but their new friends and teachers warmly accepted them and made great efforts at learning and pronouncing their unique, Celtic names.
Liam making new friends at Escuela del Mundo~2012
From San Pancho to Sayulita
After Escuela del Mundo in San Pancho, they went to Costa Verde International in Sayulita, Nayarit—a neighboring village just 10 minutes down the main jungle road, famous for its bohemian, surfing culture. Moving to another school was indeed another change and adjustment for our children, but one that they embraced wholeheartedly with the amazing, trusting, positive attitudes that they approach most things in life with.
Located a few blocks from the beach, Costa Verde is a bilingual, multi-cultural school that focuses on environmental sustainability and the advancement of ecological responsibility in Mexico…and surfing! In fact, it was part of their PE program!
Mairead and Liam continued to explore, discover and develop their own sense of community and connection within the larger context of their family’s move and immigration to Mexico. Their language skills progressed and improved to where at this point, a year or so into our move, they could flip back and forth between English and Spanish with great ease.
4th Grade at Costa Verde, Sayulita
From Coastal Mexico to Central Mexico
After a year and a half of coastal jungle living, we were ready to experience another part of Mexico and set our compasses on something completely different. Sight unseen but with lots of research, we chose San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato in the interior of the country—the birthplace of Miguel Ignacio Allende, one of the leaders of the insurgent army during Mexico’s War of Independence. San Miguel de Allende was the first municipality to be declared independent from Spanish rule, and as such, life here is steeped in history, culture, national pride and one festivity after another.
La Parroquía, San Miguel de Allende
School field trip to Cañada de la Boca!
Our children are developing their mental and physical capacities in a loving, nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment of freedom and growth, with two hands-on parents who are no longer trying to keep their heads above water in the rat race.
A Life Without Limits
They see a life without limits, that anything is possible, that dreams do come true, that carving one’s own way in this diverse world is not just possible, but doable. Our children have witnessed their parents reinvent themselves from teacher and firefighter to Writer/Relocation Consultant and Photovoltaic Designer. They have gone from being monolingual homeschoolers to bilingual life learners of this world, interacting and learning with not only Mexican Nationals but also with many other adventure-driven families from various parts of this globe.
My son Liam volunteering at a rural school outside of San Miguel de Allende
From San Diego to Mexico, we embrace our re-invented, re-inspired lives south of the border and give thanks daily for Mexico and her people’s warmth, hospitality, graciousness, and generosity…for welcoming and adopting us O’Gradys and allowing us to feel at home in our new land.
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