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Keep Calm & Speak Spanish! 5 Tips from a Master Teacher!

Many of our friends, family members, and followers have on more than one occasion asked me for some insider’s tips for learning Spanish. Perhaps seeing me rattle off in near-perfect Spanish carries with it a certain shock value–which is a good thing–as it presents an opportunity to gently remind people that a book cannot be judged by its cover!

After years of growing up in the border city of San Diego/Tijuana, earning my degree in Spanish with a Masters in Cross-Cultural Education & Curriculum Development, and having taught K-12 Spanish for over a decade, I do indeed have a certain advantage and insight into language acquisition tips. 

While waving a magic wand might be the desired prescription for developing a working command of written and spoken Spanish, unfortunately for most, it doesn’t come that easy and hence a little bit of focused studies and uninhibited practice is in order.

Wherever you are on the learning continuum, I hope the following five tips are helpful:

Keep Calm & Speak Spanish! 5 Tips from a Master Teacher!

1. Examine Your Motivations

What are your reasons for wanting to learn Spanish?

Are they external—i.e. your Mother wants you to, you need a passing grade in an elective, you feel the regret of an unmet goal?

Or do you have an internal desire to learn, to connect with the people and to understand the culture? Are your motivations born from a personal hunger for intellectual stimulation, global connection, and cultural awareness? 

If you are trying to learn Spanish because you “have to” or you “should”, then you likely are not feeling the necessary motivation, commitment, nor even desire.

If your reasons, however, come from a true desire to communicate and connect with a world outside your own immediate one, then you are at a great advantage and you will not only learn the language but also enjoy doing so! 

2. Learn Like a Child

Keep Calm & Speak Spanish! 5 Tips from a Master Teacher!

Learning Language through Dance!

Pimsleur Language Programs

Pimsleur Language Programs

Music (including nursery rhymes), cartoons, movies with and without subtitles, talk radio, translating billboards and other print media all are engaging and very effective ways to supplement your language learning. Go to the library and check out children’s books, rent movies in Spanish, tune your car radio to a Spanish-speaking channel, listen to Spanish CD’s on your commute to work…all of these learning modalities add up to the larger picture of your desired fluency.

Learn like a child, take it all in, be curious and observant, and most of all, be patient with yourself. Seek out opportunities to practice Spanish and immerse yourself in real-life learning opportunities.

Learning in isolation only—behind a computer screen, nose in a book—-will likely not give you an adequate return on your investment. Balance and variety is the key to engaging all parts of your brain. Get out there and practice, speak, listen and engage with other Spanish speakers. Even if your pronunciation or syntax is not perfect, native speakers will likely feel honored that you are making the effort to communicate with them in their mother tongue. 

 3. Put In The Time, Do The Work

Yes, learning Spanish will require some work, studying, practice, repetition, commitment, consistency, and stick-to-itiveness. Find what works for you.

Do you prefer one-on-one instruction, small or large group classes, interactive computer programs, listening CD’sflashcards, textbooks…or a combination of some or all? 

Identify what your learning style is and capitalize on it. If you prefer to spend minimal time in grammar books, then get out there and start listening to and speaking with people. If you feel more confident with some technical/grammar knowledge first, then obtain that foundational knowledge and then put it to real-life conversational practice. 

Whatever way(s) you learn best, identify it, put in the time and do the work. I promise you, it will be worth it. 

4. Live, Work, Spend an Extended Amount of Time in a Spanish-Speaking Country

This is a given and why immersion programs work so well. Being in a country where Spanish is the native tongue is hands down the number one way to learn. Before I moved to Spain my junior year of college, I was very conversant in Spanish, but it was really only upon being forced to speak the language day in and day out—at the laundromat, at the post office, buying groceries, living a life in Spanish—-that all of the dots connected and before I knew it, I began to dream in Spanish!

Dreaming in the language is a tell-tale sign that your brain is making the connections and crossing over from emerging learner to more fluency. (Arguing is too!)

5. Fall in love

…with a person, the culture, the music, the sights, the sounds, the history, the vibrancy, the idiosyncrasies of the ever dynamic Spanish-speaking culture–whether it be in the Caribbean, Central or South America, Mexico, Spain or Morocco. If your fire and desire for language acquisition and cultural understanding come from within, the learning will occur.

Keep Calm & Speak Spanish! 5 Tips from a Master Teacher!

Proud Teacher of The Year @ Mt. Everest Academy

Language is primal, organic, a birthright, essential and fundamental to the human experience. It provides a platform through which we can connect, understand, love, play, and adventure.

Multilingualism is a vehicle through which doors of opportunity are opened and connections are made. Learning how to communicate and express yourself in another language is a skill you will never regret and one that can only add value to your life.

If you have any questions or comments about this post and your experience (frustrations, challenges, success) with learning Spanish, feel free to share them in the comments section below and I will get back to you muy pronto!

I wish you the best of luck on your Spanish learning journey!

Cheers y Saludos,




*this article contains affiliate links for products we use. The price is the same whether you use our affiliate link or not. If we haven’t spent our own money on it and loved it, you won’t see an affiliate link for it here.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Guest Post by The One & Only Frank O’Grady–Retired Firefighter, Solar Entrepreneur, My Right-Hand Man, Husband, Best Friend, Partner-in-Adventure, Father to Our Children and Love of My Life…

Authored by Frank O’Grady

Our immigration to Mexico was my dream, not my children’s.

We moved here when they were eight years old and, in my eyes, still babies in so many ways. 

Their faith in us was paramount to us having a successful move to Mexico—a part of Mexico where we were not going to be able to bounce back easily over the border to whatever perceived comfort zone that might have existed. 

My dream for Liam, Mairead and Katie was for a life that was not completely centered on commercialism and struggling to keep our heads above watera life without the incessant chasing and worrying about dollars in a world gone mad with the need to buy and consume just a little bit more than can be reasonably earned…a life with involved parents, instead of home just being a place everyone gathered at night after a day or days at work.

I knew there was a different and a better way and like with many of my other dreams I laid plenty of groundwork.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Retirement at 50?!

We did not just pick up and leave a life in the USA on some fantastical mid-life crisis.

We prepared our children in a multitude of ways with many experiences in and about Mexico well before we even broached the subject of moving here.

Katie was only a few months pregnant and Mairead and Liam were fishing with us on the Sea of Cortez out of a tiny aluminum boat. 

We journeyed down the Baja Peninsula, stopping at the same restaurants, rest areas and hotels…our twins hugged and held and squeezed and cheeks pinched by every female worker in these stops.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Redheaded Twins in Mexico Make for Fun Rest Stops!

A love for Mexico was born in our twins from a very early age…

Moving to Mexico With Children, A Father's Perspective

Little ducklings following Katie down to the water’s edge~Camp Gecko, Bahia de Los Angeles

As they became more aware of the differences in their country of birth and the country we vacationed in, they eagerly looked forward to our journeys to a place where we all felt very much at home, a place where we had the time to be together as a family instead of constantly trying to meet an agenda or drive across a city of two million to get somewhere.

Moving to Mexico with Children~A Father's Perspective

Jumping for Joy!

It felt as if every time that we went to Mexico that we were actually going home.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Driving lessons on the Baja Peninsula!

At a certain point in our careers, Katie and I both realized that continuing to support our lifestyle in Southern California was going to essentially condemn us to many decades of work so that someday, when we were close to 80, we might have a paid off house that we hadn’t had much time to enjoy because we were constantly working to pay for it.

When Liam and Mairead were around seven we really started talking to and involving them in our plans to move to Mexico. The existing paradigm wasn’t working for us emotionally, physically or mentally…we knew there was a better way and we were determined and committed to create it together, as a couple and as a family.

We viewed this move through our children’s eyes…how they would experience it as 8-year-olds, as 10-year-olds, as teenagers. We knew that we had an age window to move successfully with them and to do it as a team.

I retired from firefighting at 50, Katie from teaching at 44 and with our 8-year-old twins and 5-year-old chocolate lab, we immigrated to Mexico in 2012.

Our children speak, think and navigate life in two languages and through the lens of two cultures. 

They know that their lives are not just their parent’s dreams and creations, but also their own evolving adventure and story.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

San Pancho, Nayarit *photo by Shannon Hughes*

They know and see that living a life with intent is a choice.

For more on our family’s move to Mexico: 

Moving to Mexico~ A Wife & Mom’s Perspective



Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

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 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 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.

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life

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

All medical diagnosis and treatment further confirmed that it was indeed carbon monoxide poisoning that the simple installation of an affordable CO detector would have prevented.

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Removal from the source of the CO, immediate medical intervention and continuous high-saturation oxygen therapy saved Frank’s life. Prayers, support and good thoughts from family, friends and followers tremendously helped as well. Thank you

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

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. 

We can’t emphasize enough the importance for others to do so too.

Protect yourself both at home and on the road with the simple installation and packing of a CO alarm.

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

*Carbon monoxide is silent, odorless and tasteless*

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

CO Detectors Save Lives

I hope this information saves just one life. Please share it with your loved ones.

~Katie O’Grady






[email protected]

*Disclaimer: this article contains affiliate links for products we use. The price is the same whether you use our affiliate link or not. If we haven’t spent our own money on it and loved it, you won’t see an affiliate link for it here.




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It was our first big summer storm since our return to the jungle from San Miguel de Allende. The lightning came cracking down over our house like an arrow landing its bullseye, resulting in my jumping about three feet in the air and one of our rooftop AC compressors catching on fire! 

Fortunately for me, I share a home with a fireman and knew that our family (and my nerves) were in good hands. The tropical downpour helped to diffuse the situation as well.

Thanks to the ingenuity, reuse and repurpose mentality of the Mexican culture, the wires were changed out and the unit spared! Hard to believe, I know…fire and all. 

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

Jungle Summer Rain Storms are Powerful!

Jungle storms can be unforgiving, powerful, messy and destructive. They are equally exciting, cleansing and replenishing—popping out dense, lush, green canopies and a multitude of ecosystems that thrive inside of them—reminding you of the absolute grandeur and magnificence of Mother Nature.

The rainstorms also provide an opportunity to identify where exactly more silicone is needed, such as around the collection of leaking windows at the base of a 20-foot high boveda ceiling! Tall ladder anyone? Those first few falls on our slick marble floors were not so fun (especially after back surgery!) and made us delay not in tending to this issue ASAP.

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

Keep a supply of silicone on hand!

The jungle wasted no time in welcoming us back and reminding us of the fortitude, sense of humor and determination one needs to both survive and thrive here. Yes, there are prices to pay for living in paradise folks!

The following are 7 tips as to how you can maximize your enjoyment (and minimize your frustrations) in both coastal and central Mexico, based purely on our experiences these past 5 years of our immigrated lives!

1. High-Quality Roof Sealant

Ensuring that the roof of your home has been properly sealed and therefore protected against leaks and moisture intrusion should be a top priority. We learned the necessity of this the hard way when our San Pancho rental grew large circular mold spores from the outside in after our first rainy season there. A disgusting and unsafe “inconvenience” to say the least and one that duct tape alone would not remedy!

Use a quality product that has not been watered down. Hire a reputable company to assess the roof’s condition and if needed, to powerwash it prior to putting on a new coat of sealant.

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

What a difference a powerwash can make! The Before and After in Progress!

There are various types of impermeabilizantes (sealants)  Spending a bit more to ensure a quality result is well worth it. We went with an eco-friendly, waterproof one believing it best to have maximum protection considering the amount of rain we receive here on the coast of Nayarit. 

2. Air Conditioners

Have all AC’s serviced. The filters should be cleaned of mold/dust/debris and the electrical panels checked for unwanted critters that can wreak havoc. Apparently wires are a delicacy to geckos—ridding your AC’s of them is far easier than having to replace the units.

3. Mosquiteros

Screens on all doors and windows are not a luxury but an absolute necessity lest you want to share your home with mosquitos, spiders, geckos, scorpions, iguanas and stray animals. Even with window and door screens, these over the bed mosquito nets come in handy and allow for sleep that is not interrupted by buzzing in your ear!

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

Mosquito-Free Sleeping

4. Bathroom Drain Covers

Just think golf ball-sized cockroaches and sewer smells. Trust me, you’ll want to use these

5. Ventilation

Jungle, hot, humid….ventilate your home as much as possible lest you want to find fur growing on your clothes, shoes and other household items. Using these moisture absorbing bags inside closets and other closed spaces helps to absorb excess humidity and to protect your items from musty odors and mold. 

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

Just Say No to Mold on Your Clothes!

















6. Check Outlets for Proper Wiring

Check all outlets with a polarity tester or hire a qualified electrician to do so.

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

To prevent the photo on the left, invest in the photo on the right!

7. Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you’ve been following us for any time (or at least for the past year), you know why we recommend these for both home and travel safety.

The Roof is on Fire! 7 House Maintenance Tips for Living in Mexico

For Home & Travel Safety

These are our Top 7 Tips to consider whether you are renting or purchasing a home in Mexico.

Do you have any that you could add? 

Feel free to share them in the comments section below. 


~Katie O’Grady

Reader Tips:

Arturo: For the summer months it is highly recommended to put your clothes in airtight bags or vacuum sealed bags so that mold doesn’t grow in them especially if you skip town. I highly recommend doing this process with your shoes because if you don’t, the soles will disintegrate completely from the salty air and humidity.

Margaret: Keep all your food in the refrigerator, even if you wouldn’t normally, especially fruit. Clean up your kitchen messes as soon as possible to deter unwanted scavengers and never ever ever let your kids eat in the bed unless you want… ANTS ANTS EVERYWHERE! (And they bite). Even with screens and drain covers, if you leave food out they will find you… 

For More Reader Tips, please see in comments section below.

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*This article contains affiliate links for products we use. The price is the same whether you use our affiliate link or not. If we haven’t spent our own money on it and loved it, you won’t see an affiliate link for it here. 

I’m a Dreamer, I’ve Lived Death in Every Imaginable Form

When we lived in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, we had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Nancy G. Shapiro–Author, Life Coach, Advocate of Calm and an overall lovely person.

"I'm a Dreamer, I've Lived Death in Every Imaginable Form"...Excerpt from The Book of Calm by Nancy G. Shapiro

While I was recovering from major surgery, Nancy came to visit me at our home with a goodie bag of home remedies.

More notable than the items themselves was Nancy’s calm presence and healing energy.

It comes to me as no surprise that she has authored a poignant and dearly-needed book in today’s world, The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World. 

I am honored to share with our Los O’Gradys in Mexico readers an excerpt from Nancy’s book, featuring some of my husband Frank’s very real and very raw thoughts on a life well lived.


*Parts of this essay were originally published in Nancy’s book

Listening to Your Own Story, by Nancy G. Shapiro

I’ve lived in San Miguel de Allende twice, the first time for over five years, currently for almost a decade. San Miguel is a World Heritage site and much-loved city in the central high desert of Mexico. Its large expatriate population began with the arrival of American GIs who came here after WWII and enrolled in the two local art schools using their GI Bill benefits. The flow of foreigners hasn’t stopped since, resulting in a population in continual flux, changing with the seasons and other, less definable cycles.

Expats often speak of a more relaxed lifestyle, with more community and more time for family—in stark contrast to the 21st century’s assertion that all problems and challenges can be resolved through economic means, resulting in the mind-numbing story of dedication to work, busy-ness, consumption of goods, and a subsequent loss of values once widely appreciated, respected, and practiced. The families I spoke with while gathering stories for my book had a conscious awareness that something was amiss or missing in their former lives, something that compelled them to move and create their own version of a life well lived.

Frank O’Grady’s words were some of the most poignant, an example of the conscious self-awareness necessary to take such action:

“I’m a dreamer,” said Frank, a San Diego fireman for twenty-five years. “I’ve lived death in every form imaginable; it’s a soundtrack of blood and screams inside of me. Old people just wanting a human there while they die, babies who never even got started, the critically ill dying after wasting away for years, the addicts. None of them able to live their dreams. I have a responsibility in this life to live as if every day is my last because, in all reality, it is. My wife and I both retired early, left the rat race, and moved to a Mexico beach town several years ago when our twins were young. Then we moved to San Miguel, and now we’re back at the beach. The kids are thriving. The beach is what nurtures us, warm water surf, the freedom. If I don’t live my dreams and seek the beauty, who will do it for me? No one.”

The creation of a life full of meaning, values, and the richness of choice doesn’t mean one has to pack up and leave a place for years at a time. Or at all. Generation after generation, change occurs within families, cultures, and countries when what was ‘known and correct’ is transformed by chaos and upheaval, or by innovative progress and relative calm.

                                     As the poet Rilke reminds us:

                                                Again and again some people in the crowd wake up,

                                               They have no ground in the crowd,

                                               And they emerge according to much broader laws.

                                               They carry strange customs with them

                                               And demand room for bold gestures.

                                               The future speaks ruthlessly through them.

Sometimes letting go of what was once called home, passing forward one’s belongings and starting again is exactly what is needed when one ‘wakes up.’ My husband and I seem to get itchy feet and hearts every seven years or so. We are looking at travel trailers, and have no idea what is coming our way, only that something new is calling us.

Officially seniors now, our years add up to one hundred thirty-three years on this planet. What we’ve learned in those years is that we are ongoing creations—work, homes, places, our ideas of who we are and what we need have changed many times over. For change is inevitable, and embracing the shifts that come our way gives our actions a spunky energy and creative zing. We love and laugh more than ever, and are curious and excited to create another version of our lives filled with all we value and know to be true for us. As Frank says, “If I don’t live my dreams and seek the beauty, who will do it for me?”

Nancy G. Shapiro’s The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World is available on Amazon. She advocates calm as a Professional Certified Coach, writer, and workshop leader. Her expertise is supporting people through the inevitable shifts of personal and professional transitions while celebrating their resiliency, spirit, and wisdom. www.nancygshapiro.com

If you would like to order Nancy’s book for yourself or a loved one, click on the cover image below:

"I'm a Dreamer, I've Lived Death in Every Imaginable Form"...Excerpt from The Book of Calm by Nancy G. Shapiro










*Living in truth is the highest form of self-empowerment*

~Katie O’Grady