But what about family?

Today is the last day of school for my 16 year old son, next year he will be a Junior. He is the last of 4 boys who range in age from 16-25. My family is, and has always been, the focus of my life. Slowly becoming an empty nester has made this inevitable transition easier. I have gone from buying 2 gallons of milk at a time to 1, then to a half. I remind myself that one of the two things guaranteed in life is change, the other is death.

Moving to another country, away from my children, will not be without struggle. Even though the majority of them have moved out and are adults, we still have regular family dinners, celebrate holidays and birthdays together and have the random lunch dates just to catch up. As exciting as it is to plan for the future, I continue to have a little momma bear sitting on my shoulder, whispering to me horror stories that might succumb the children if I am not physically present. I flick her off and remind her I have tried to teach my children to be brave, fearless, and to pursue their dreams. Who would I be if I let her keep me from mine?

In researching Colombia, it appears that when we apply for a (M) Migrant or (R) Resident Visa, that children under the age of 25 can obtain a beneficiary Visa. That takes care of my youngest 2 of 4 should they want to spend some time in Colombia. My oldest is a frequent traveler to Costa Rica-he is a bit of a gypsy so I imagine he will make his way to visit plenty of times. My second oldest son talks about traveling with his long term girlfriend during a gap year to Central and South America. My hope? They love it and want to stay but even if they don’t, who is going to pass up a couple of weeks a year with mom on the Caribbean coast? We are keeping some property in the US, whether it is our family home that we rent out or a small apartment is yet to be decided but there will be plenty of coming and going We are trying to be as realistic as possible so we are concurrently planning on returning to the States after a decade or so, should we chose.

As much as I remain family focused, I also remain committed to living my life to the fullest and being the brave, daring, bold, mother that has tried to teach them that they can do, be, accomplish whatever it is that sets their soul on fire. I just might do so while wiping away tears in the grocery store while buying a quart of milk.

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Work…a four letter word

There is a bit of a phenomenon that happens when people decide to retire and I bet you can guess what it is…. Short timers syndrome! Ok, I am not really there but let me tell you that after spending the month of May attending a few different conferences and meetings only to have your worst suspicions confirmed, it is disheartening and makes me wish I could speed up the clock! Actually, it makes me wish I could wave a magic wand or say a spell and *POOF* every family would be healthy, loving, and functional. I work in child welfare and the last few years have been exceptionally hard. My role is to recruit,train, and supervise child advocates to represent children in court who are in the foster care system. Not exactly work for the faint of heart to start with.

I absolutely love my job. I love the kids I work with. I love most of my colleagues. I hate stifling and ill fitting policy and bureaucracy. I hate that our social workers are not paid or supported enough and this leads to significant turnover which leads to delayed permanency for our kids in care. I hate that parents are generally only given two, two hour visits per week if they need to be supervised because the Department lacks the resources to provide more and frequently, even those minimal visits aren’t happening.

Earlier this month I was interviewed on a local radio station about what it is we as CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates) do and how we can make an impact on the life of a child in system. (You can listen to it here if you are interested) I stressed the importance of CASAs and GALs (Guardian ad Litems) in the current turmoil that our county is experiencing. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA, visit www.wacasa.org for Washington State or www.casaforchildren.org in other states.

While I can neither speed up the clock nor wave a magic wand, I can focus on what I can do over the next 2 years, 10 months and 17 days to improve anything and everything in my control to help the system run better. Our kids deserve to have visits with their parents, they deserve to go home if it is safe enough, they deserve to be adopted when reunification isn’t an option, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to wonder what they will be when they grow up and they deserve to sit on this side of the keyboard, planning for their retirement.

Santa Marta, here we come!

It’s been awhile since I have been able to write. Unfortunately, my life doesn’t slow down despite my desire to spend more of my time daydreaming about where we might land in a few years.

It’s been a hectic few weeks; I am training a new class of CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children removed by the state) and that will roughly take up the month of April in conjunction with everyday work and life. We spent last weekend in Vancouver BC where we experienced the most amazing P!NK show and we are trying to unpack our things since we decided to pull our home off the market and pursue early retirement abroad instead.

With all of this going on, I managed to map out our upcoming trip and purchase our airline tickets and it goes a little something like this… SEA to JFK to enjoy New York City and have some really good food and unparalleled entertainment for our anniversary, JFK to CTG where we will spend 1 night in Cartagena, rent a car the next morning and make the drive to Santa Marta where we will spend 5 nights, SMR to BOG where we will spend 2 nights in Bogotoa, just checking things out, BOG to CUN to spend 7 more nights in Rivera Maya and finally CUN to SEA to be back in time for Thanksgiving. Fun side note, you can fly intercountry in Colombia for about $25 USD so while it is a 4-5 hour drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, we are choosing to do that to see the the coast. Who knows, there may be some amazing beach town we drive past that we would never have known about otherwise! We are then flying from Santa Marta to Bogota for $25 where we will spend a few nights and then take a direct flight from Bogotoa to Cancun. We are not checking any bags so we can travel pretty freely and not have to worry about delays through customs, lost luggage, etc. I picked up a pretty awesome Travelpro carry on size suitcase on clearance at Macy’s that will easily hold everything I need to bring with me as well as my own snorkel gear. I was able to book the above itinerary for less than $1,500 per person using mileage points, perks, hotel reward points, etc.

I have never planned out a trip this extensive and I am sure some thing will not go as planned but that is all part of the experience. You may wonder why we are spending more time in Mexico since we just returned but if you’ve read my previous blog posts, we have decided to keep the Riviera Maya area open as a possible retirement location. Akumal, Tulum, Playa del Carmen-they all give off a mystical feeling. The Mayan culture, the beach, the people, the food, the cenotes… they call my name. The downsides to Mexico vs. Colombia on paper is rather extensive though. The medical care is not as good as the States and Colombia is significantly better than both. Cost of living is on par with Santa Marta though that is only if you are willing to swap an ocean front condo in Santa Marta for one that isn’t in Mexico. Residency is easily established in both. Mexico has really developed a reputation for being quite unsafe these days and that’s true even in Rivera Maya but of course, Colombia has its own sordid history but history is the key word. There are still plenty of travel advisories for both countries, check before you book! Common sense is your friend. There are plenty of places in the states, especially Seattle that I would not walk around at night and alone. Upsides for Mexico, English is much more widely spoken than in Colombia and its a 6 hour flight home instead of a 12 from Colombia. With that said, I have always felt like a flight is a flight so whether you are a 2, 6, 12 or 18 hour flight away, it is still just a flight. ๐Ÿ™‚ Since we aren’t exactly looking for another America just in a cheaper location, I am not sure that part of Mexico would even give me the foreign experience that I want.

We are very excited for our trip to Colombia and the reason we aren’t staying longer is the fear that the humidity will be so oppressive that we will want to take Santa Marta off our list. If we do, that doesn’t mean Colombia is out. We want to spend two nights in Bogota on this trip just to see and feel the capital, we would not consider residency there but we want to return for at least a week long trip to Medellin and it’s surrounding areas for that purpose. Our stays in both countries will be research so that means that while we will likely dive and enjoy the beach, the whole idea is to rent a car, drive around, look at properties and neighborhoods at night as well as during the day. This isn’t a, sit on my rear and have a server bring me food and drinks all day while enjoying the Caribbean sun poolside, trip. The idea of being in Colombia thrills me. The people have a reputation for being extremely kind and open to foreigners and there is something uniquely empowering about forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone and submerging yourself in another culture especially when you don’t share a common language.

Ghosting

This blog is not just about upcoming travel and early retirement plans, this blog is meant to inspire people to be a little bit braver than they already are in order to get the most out of life. As humans, we grow and change over our lifespan, at least we are supposed to.

Ghosting and being brave is an oxymoron. Ghosting is a fairly new term but the practice is not. It is described in the dictionary as, ” The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. ” This is a blanket explanation that applies to all personal relationships; family members, friends, romantic interests, can all be potential victims or perpetrators.

I wanted to write about this because yesterday, I stumbled across an article in the NY times about why people ghost. Being ghosted in a romantic relationship can be difficult but what about when a family member or supposed good friend does it? The article was well written and it focused on the many different ways one can be ghosted and reminded the reader that it isn’t on you, it is on them. So this is my message to those of you who do it. It might be time to look at your communication style and why you can’t express your thoughts and feelings. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in being a little bit braver, a little bolder,and overall more comfortable in your own skin, right? To get there, you have to do things that make you uncomfortable. Anything inside your comfort zone does not qualify as personal growth.

I have been ghosted over the years by friends and family. I understand that while it may be their preferred way of (not) handling conflict it is very damaging to both parties. The choice is personal but it certainly isn’t any way you should treat someone you claim to love. (Note, none of this applies to anyone in a toxic relationship. ) When I came “out” this happened. When I got divorced, this happened, when I started a new job..etc. etc. Admittedly, I am not one who has a problem expressing my feelings.


Maybe you think ghosting is a way to avoid conflict, thus, sparing the persons feelings but studies have shown that social rejection of any kind activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain, meaning thereโ€™s a biological link between rejection and pain. That goes for friends, partners, and family members.

What about the person who caused this pain by trying to avoid conflict? If you are honest about your feelings, you will have better self esteem, improved mental and physical health and you don’t have to worry about awkwardly running into them at a store, family function, or a funeral. You will feel much better about yourself and reap the benefits of being less stressed if you can communicate (write,text, send a pigeon) . There is nothing wrong with saying, I think we have grown apart. Own your feelings and remember that relationships have to work for both parties. If it isn’t working for you, you are being a little self absorbed to think the other person would want to continue a friendship. Most people would never be upset by someone sharing how they feel. Most people are upset by the way the message is (not) delivered.

In the famous words of Maya Angelou-Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Be Brave! Embrace Change. Express yourself. You only die once.

Decisions, Decisions


Where is my magic 8 ball?

When it was decided that our family needed to move from our state of origin (California) in 2011, it wasn’t all that hard to pick a location. We knew we wanted to stay on the west coast, we wanted a small city with plenty of things for the kids to do, we wanted good schools, good weather, and decent home prices. We were able to whittle our list down to one city in no time. We flew up to visit during the rainy season to ensure it was tolerable and then moved that following summer. From the time we decided to move to moving day was about 8 months. Pretty short considering we had never lived more than 2 hours from where we were both born and raised.

While you would think moving a family of 6 to another state knowing absolutely no one would be difficult, it was surprisingly easy, no 8 ball needed. If only identifying a country to retire in could be the same. If you Google, “best Countries to retire in,” or “best Countries for expats,” there are some really tough contenders. What I do know is, it needs to be affordable, it needs to be easily accessible from the States, It needs to offer good healthcare, people need to be friendly and welcoming , my marriage needs to be recognized (No countries like Malaysia that criminalize homosexual behavior-You can be sentenced to 20 years with or without fines and whippings.  ) but more important than all of that, It needs to call my name. We are talking about leaving all my family and friends, not only does it need to call, it needs to SING my name.

So who’s on the list? Colombia to start. Mexico is also in the running. Costa Rica is out and so is Panama. While both of those countries make the top 5 list according to International Living, they are too expensive and too far away to be worth it. Yes, Colombia is further but it is about half the cost of Panama and half as empty (this is a +!) as Costa Rica. While the Riviera Maya area of Mexico may be more expensive than the Caribbean side of Colombia, it has some real benefits. Most people that I have encountered in Mexico speak at least a little English.
The majority of people in Colombia do not speak English. Given that I only speak a little Spanish, this is a big plus for Mexico. Though I am dedicated to spending the next few years working on my Spanish. Since the majority of my top retirement contenders are in Latin America, this seems like a no brainer. I used to fantasize about retiring to Italy, and I might! Even in that situation, a good Latin base will be extremely beneficial.

Easy access to the States is essential. I have been playing with flight schedules over the last few months trying to figure out how to get to Colombia and back without wasting two days of travel each way. The issue is compounded by the fact that I am trying to travel on JetBlue because I have a hefty credit from when we decided to focus our time and money on early retirement instead of a lofty vacation in the Caribbean. This issue is further compounded by the desire to check out inland areas of Colombia, east of Medellin. You can’t just drive around Colombia, it would take days to get over the windy mountainous terrain so maybe that will have to be tabled for another trip. Most people can pop a sleeping aid and catch some zzzz’s on the plane. Not for the life of me do I fall into this category! I learned this the hard way on a red eye to Ireland. An Ambien and massive time change later, I was a mess for days. We will have a little over two weeks in November to explore Colombia-I don’t want to waste 4 of those days traveling with two of them sleep deprived. At least the time change is only a 2-3 hours,depending on our daylight savings, major bonus!

Traveling to and from Cancun or Cozumel is a piece of cake on just about any airline. It takes half as much time to get there than it does Cartagena. As you can tell from my previous post, Ahhhh the Riviera Maya there is much love for Mexico. That was my 3rd trip to the area. I have been to Cozumel, Cancun, Rivera Maya, and Progresso. Disclaimer, I have only been as a tourist. I think we are kicking ourselves now that we have returned for not checking out the local scene but what a better excuse do you need to return? I know the weather is warm and humid but tolerable. I fear that Colombia will be similar to Jamaica and I could hardly stand it there. The humidity is oppressive, even in the shade with a breeze. If we get to Colombia and it is similar, that part of the country gets a big red line through it on the list. There are much milder areas of Colombia, Medellin is actually named the city of eternal spring. Moving to a big city is not on my list though. I want the Caribbean Sea. I want to scuba dive frequently and do nothing while enjoying the white sand just as often.

Medical care in Mexico is not nearly as good as Colombia, touting a WHO ranking of 22. The US ranks 37 and Mexico claims the 61st spot. Interesting side note here. When we came back from Mexico, Lisa had a cold, then I got it. I have spent the last 9 days trying to fight off who knows what she caught on the flight down. I do take immunosuppressants for an autoimmune disorder so it may have been complicated by that. You can’t even assume you won’t catch measles anymore! Digression… Anyway, we picked up some cold medicine that worked really well in Mexico for about $1.50. I have some cold medicine that I had from Canada that works OK for about $5. Then I went out and bought somewhat similar (though not because of the regulations on pseudoephedrine) for $13 that didn’t work at all. $13 vs. $1.50- Works vs. Doesn’t. Hmmmm

As you can tell, it is all very much up in the air. One of the greatest benefits to writing is the ability to see things more clearly, however, If anyone see’s my magic 8 ball, let me know.

Next stop, Colombia

Though not why you would think. I have been extremely inspired over the last year or so to really listen to my inner voice and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell me . We had put an offer in on a house that we didn’t love but thought it would be a good investment. After a few bumps, and the sellers thinking they should have listed it for more, we walked away from it. We had already said that we would accept what was meant to be and clearly, that purchase wasn’t it.

Since I have almost always been self employed, I have no pension. I have a few small retirement accounts but nothing huge. My retirement plan has always been to sell my home and downsize. The falling through of our most recent financial venture has spurred some pretty interesting ideas. Kids are almost all grown, I am not getting any younger, I would like to retire from my rather emotionally draining and somewhat PTSD triggering , though very rewarding and at times, cathartic, career while I still have some physical get up and go and certainly before I end up being totally jaded and dead inside. I would also like to finish my second book but have decided I can’t tackle that while in my current profession. Lisa is almost at her 30 year mark at work, shes been there since she was 20. I’m sure you see where I am going with this.

We have decided to check out what Colombia has to offer us as expats. We are going to visit the Caribbean coast of Colombia from Cartagena to Santa Marta in November. Nothing has been decided yet, obviously, but my research on Colombia has proven to be very promising. It is very easy to obtain a resident visa, their universal health care is quite good, they even have a Johns Hopkins hospital in Bogotoa. The WHO ranks Colombia #22 in the world, easily beating out the USA at #37. Oh, and it is cheap. Really cheap. The cost of living index in Santa Marta is 74 compared to 196 in Seattle. If you were interested in buying a 2/2 new condo on the beach in Santa Marta, you could do so for about $100,000 USD, about 3.2m COP . The Colombian Peso is very weak against the dollar and has been for years.

This blog is all about living life to the fullest and this is me, putting my money where my mouth is. For those of you who are wondering about the safety of Colombia, the days of Pablo Escobar are long over. Sure, there are places you probably should go alone or after dark but that is true even in my little town in the PNW. The Government in Colombia is set up very similarly to the US-three branches of government, a democracy, an elected president, etc. Colombia has a tragic history but it is one of the most beautiful,safe, and biodiverse countries in the world. It is also one of the best countries for Expats, continually ranking in the top 10 according to International Living, beating out Spain and Portugal. Colombia is one of the most LGBTQ friendly countries in Latin America and same sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since 2016.

Ahhh the Riviera Maya..

This vacation went down as the first one where I actually did not want to come home. If you are anything like me, you may have kids, a pet, a house, or even just a bed calling your name back home. Forget the job calling- that’s why we need a vacation to start with! And get this, Lisa (for those who don’t know, Lisa is my wife) had never been to Mexico! She was the inspiration behind this trip.

So, our last minute vacation plan started just a few weeks ago with the mention from Lisa that she wanted to take a couple of days off for her birthday. She works hard and long hours and has for close to 30 years. When I met Lisa, she was working about 12-14 hours a day and hadn’t taken any vacation to speak of in decades. She works so much that she can no longer accrue paid time off from work because she never uses it! This madness had to stop! Since we became a couple, Lisa has traveled more in the last few years than she has in her whole life. I am fortunate enough that I have a great group of colleagues who can hold down things at work for me if I don’t have anything big scheduled, which I did not. I also have a good relationship with my ex-husband who willingly keeps the dog and kids in check while I’m gone. I digress, I am the queen of digression so if that sort of thing bothers you, you might want to stop reading now ๐Ÿ™‚ Back to birthday plans… She suggested a day or two to the hot springs or maybe a trip to the spa. At the sheer notion that she was willing to take ANY time off, I seized the opportunity. Hey babe, what about Mexico? You’ve never been, I have a ton of miles to use, it’s your birthday, we didn’t really have a honeymoon…. I would bet money that her bosses don’t think I am that positive influence on her.

Traveling as a lesbian couple can be tricky. One of the first things I do when looking to travel is research LGBTQ friendliness in the country we are going to and then identify resorts, excursions,etc. You wouldn’t think in this day and age but those issues are still very prevalent. And I want to be clear, this blog/post isn’t about being a same sex couple. We are just humans like the rest of you but it is something that needs to be considered when travelling abroad. You can probably imagine that there isn’t much need for research when it comes to Mexico aka MexiPlay. The customer service and general attitudes of locals are beyond welcoming no matter who you are. And for those of you who are interested, same sex activity has been legal in Mexico since 1871. Most of the states within Mexico recognize same sex marriages.

Moving along… Lisa’s few days off turned into an 8 night all inclusive adults only stay at the Royal Hideaway Playacar and IT WAS FABULOUS. Customer service was top notch, the room was wonderful, the flight was great, (we love Alaska! Never fly Allegiant btw, especially if you are a same sex couple. )
the food was out of this world. We had an excursion to Tulum and Jungle Maya where we experienced a Mayan blessing ceremony, rappelled into a Cenote, zip lined through the jungle and overall just had the best day of our lives. I underwent ankle fusion surgery 3.5 months ago so my I wasn’t sure of my abilities but was pleasantly surprised. The only black mark on our trip was Pro Dive International- you can read more about that terrible experience here if you’d like. Nonetheless, the dive that we did do at Planacar Reef was spectacular. I have been a certified diver for several years but Lisa just got her OWD certification in November in Maui. She is sold on Mexico and swears we will never go back to Hawaii again. Gosh, twist my arm.

I am so grateful I got to share all of this with her. The woman who has dedicated her life to her work is finally putting her own regulator on and diving into life. BBYODO