Back to what?

As labor day came, so did the flurry of Facebook posts of people sharing pictures of their children on their first day of school. In our house and for the first time in over 20 years, I had nothing to share. My youngest son is only a junior but we live in a state where juniors and seniors get to take their classes at the college for free and have them count towards their associate’s degree as well as their high school diploma. The fall quarter doesn’t start for another couple of weeks and even then I highly doubt he will let me take a first day of college picture of him though that won’t stop me from trying! This week we are also celebrating my second oldest son’s graduation from massage therapy school. About a month ago my wusband decided he would take a 3 week long trip to Colombia starting this week as well. (Apparently my ideas are contagious!) It’s just such an odd yet proud feeling, watching them grow up and become adults with careers and significant others.

Thanks to significantly dropping mortgage rates, my wife and I recently refinanced our home and will save hundreds of dollars per month in mortgage payments. The idea is going to be to hang on to the house and rent it out while we are out of the country. We have also decided that we need to do the majority of our traveling in the next two and a half years as we will be pretty limited once we no longer have the same income that we have become accustomed to. This is not necessarily a bad thing but trying to run a few different companies, plan for vacations and relocation scouting trips, and focus on my family has proven to be somewhat overwhelming. I am a planning fanatic so in the back of my mind I keep feeling like I’m missing something for upcoming trips. I’m trying to practice flexibility because I know I cannot possibly anticipate everything that might go wrong. I used to be extremely anxiety ridden over trips when the kids were younger and when we had less money. Over the years I’ve learned to be more fluid and the family is pretty much running itself. As a matter of fact I agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to cancel the car reservation for our upcoming trip to Colombia. Based on feedback from locals, it’s easier and more affordable to use taxis and public transit. We shall see! I’m sure we will learn more when the wusband returns. Talk about brave! His first solo trip and he sets out to Colombia.

My oldest son is spending a lot of his time down in Oregon building a timber frame home and living his best life. My third oldest son transferred from Montana State back to Washington so he will be starting at Western in the winter. He’s not sure what career path he will be going down and that’s okay, he is only 19 after all. I’m 43 and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up! I’m so proud of all my boys. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

So they’re you have it. They’re is no “back to” anything. The only things guaranteed in life are change and death. Being brave requires a step outside your comfort zone. I can see resilience and bravery in every one of my family members and I could not be more proud.

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Hosting a Colombian host

I wasn’t able to post at all during the month of July because we were lucky enough to have visitors almost the entire month. Early in the month, my surrogate family came as well as my best friend and her husband to celebrate my birthday! After they left, we spent 8 days hosting a gentleman from the Colombia government who had chaperoned children over to stay with their potential adoptive families. What an absolute treat that was!

It all started with a random question from my colleague and friend over lunch a few months ago who worked with an international adoption agency. “Hey, do any of you know someone who would be willing to host a Colombian host for awhile this summer?” Of course I wanted to jump at this opportunity! First I had to make sure my wife was on board as she is much more of an introvert than I am and was probably going to think this was a crazy idea. I on the other hand, thought it was going to be an experience of a lifetime! When would we ever get this chance again? We have been researching for months and now we have the opportunity to hear first-hand experience from somebody who not only lives in Colombia but also works for the Colombian government in the foster care system! The universe could not have been more perfectly aligned.

We were given a short bio on our guest, he worked as a psychologist for the central authority working with children in the foster care system. His interest included Mozart, theater, and heavy metal. From the moment we met him I felt that there is this instant connection, likely because our worlds already overlapped in so many areas. Miguel was kind, helpful and anything–but obtrusive. Socially we shared the same values and beliefs.

Miguel is at the end of the table standing next to me

Because our line of work and interests overlapped, I brought him with me to work and he was able to meet several of the judges and players in the county that I work in and observe our court system. Listening to his observation of our court system and how civil he believed we were to each other in court was really an eye-opener for me. Sometimes I become extremely frustrated in the line of work that I do, though I love my colleagues, and listening to Miguel’s experience opened my eyes to how good we do have it here.

Miguel told stories of corruption in the central authority in Colombia and how there is a real lack of care for the children at all and that they might as well be treated as random numbers. I heard of stories where social workers would just swap the names children on reports and submit them. Some social workers wouldnever even see the children they were making recommendations for. It was not uncommon for the only reason the were social workers had the job was because they had a friend that got them the job and they were paid decently but they really had no desire to do that line of work.

We learned so much from Miguel during his stay. We learned that Colombia it’s experiencing a regression under the new president and there is an increase in Narco activity along the Pacific side of the country. He spoke of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction being issues but it seemed like the biggest issue was poverty. He did say the US was the biggest “client” the Narcos had. He said the tourist areas and more affluent parts of the country are not necessarily impacted and he believes it would be completely safe for us to rent a car and travel the route that we have mapped out.

When it was time for Miguel to leave us, Lisa and I felt genuine sadness. He quickly became part of our family and will always have a place in our hearts and our home. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to host him again next year and we will definitely look for a reason to visit him and meet his family in Pasto.

Hasta luego, Miguel!

Self Actualization

Maslow’s hierarchy of need is a stripped down analogy of what we, as human beings, need in life. There are 5 progressive levels of this pyramid and it starts with the most basic needs; food, air, water, sleep. Second up is safety and security, this is followed by social; love and belonging. The fourth tier is esteem; you are respected and you have respect for others. The last tier is self actualization; the need for development.

Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because a person does not feel anything if they are met, but becomes anxious if they are not. It is not until all 4 deficiency levels are met that a human can focus on the last level and even then, self-actualization (per Maslow) requires uncommon qualities such as honesty, independence, awareness,objectivity, creativity, and originality. I, like many others, learned of Maslow’s hierarchy in an intro psych class decades ago. I believe it makes great sense though I don’t know that I buy into the idea that only a few privileged people will achieve this enlightened state.

My entire life has been chaotic from as long as I can remember. My twin brother and I rounded out the last six children in my family and we’re primarily raised by a sister that was 10 years older than we were. (can you imagine raising two year old twins when you were 12?) It has been my experience that having such a rough upbringing has resulted in several long term issues as an adult. Through my work, I have become very familiar with the ACE’s studies and I believe I don’t need to say much more than, my ACE score is an 8.

One area that has daunted me the most is purpose. I have struggled almost all of my adult life to fill a a vast void with distraction, service to others, material things, etc. Though this void wasn’t present when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get formula for my oldest son 25 years ago. This makes sense when you look at the pyramid. As things settled for me over the years, I have been most fulfilled when in my role as a mother, working with abused and neglected children, being a foster parent, a gestational surrogate, etc. My level of contentment revolved around service to others. My ex husband (Wusband) was an excellent support person and would remind me that I could not distract my way to happiness or fill it with material things. I wasn’t sure what was missing in my life but a large something was and the more things settled, the bigger the void became.

If you look back at the pyramid, you can see that one of the most core needs is belonging. Love/loving/loved and inclusion are paramount. I certainly have been loved by many others in my life but I struggled for decades with self love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I came out three years ago (at 40) that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin but then the focus was on family, minimizing harm to my children, half who were still under 18, and adapting to a new role. My soon to be ex husband and I concocted a plan on how and when to tell the kids and what life was going to look like as co parents after 18 years of marriage. It was not an easy road to go down and while my Ex knew I had some “tendencies” my children had no idea and were practically blindsided. I spent the first 18 months out of that relationship distracting myself with another and as you can imagine, that blew up with fantastic success! I did feel more comfortable as a lesbian, in public, at home, work,you name it, than I ever have as a straight woman but there was still something missing.

After the complete annihilation of what my life used to look like along with some extremely stressful life events, things began to settle down during the last 18 months. While I was busy working on a new non-profit (distract,distract,distract!), being a mother, an employer, an advocate, a friend, and a partner, my life shifted gears yet again. It feels as if it almost happened without my participation or knowing. All the desires to fill the void had been gone and for who knows how long? I wasn’t paying attention. What finally clued me off was a bout of insomnia a few days ago when I realized I no longer had that feeling that something was missing. I can be pretty oblivious.

So this is what it looked like… Laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and thinking about how I would like to add alternative titles to this book I am working on and give a little explanation as to why, “My sisters/cousins” would have been appropriate or “Leave my liver out of this!” and finally settled on the one I chose (no telling) and why. When reflecting on the alternative titles,I felt nothing. And I mean, nothing except contentment. This is a brand new experience for me. When I realized this void I had been dragging around forever had somehow disappeared and I didn’t even recognize when or how it happened, I felt blindsided myself. How did this happen? What have I done so differently? I had embraced myself. I was able to do so because I am in a healthy and happy relationship. Not just with myself but just about everyone else in my life. My wife is incredibly supportive and loving and creates a safe space for me to be me. There is no drama, there is no toxicity, there is no pretending to be someone I’m not. There is no judgement. There is no need to search for something as I completely unknowingly had satisfied all 4 need levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an easy task and it came from identifying and pursuing my needs as well as recognizing and adjusting toxic relationships (family and friends) and loads of therapy. I am sure there is a lot more to it but that’s my limited insight.

The last three years have been quite an experience and I do believe I had to go through all of the bad to get to the good. I am extremely optimistic about the future and pushing the limits of what I am capable of now that I have this new found freedom. I feel more certain now than ever that early retirement=finish book. I am not saying I have achieved “Self Actualization” but I do know I have never been closer.

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. 🙂 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.

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 🙂 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