Adios 2019!

I know I didn’t write on our adventures in Mexico like I said I would so here is a brief update. Mexico is and always has been a magical place for me. I feel like I truly belong in the Riviera Maya and that my feet long for the sand and my soul for the ocean after I have been away too long. With that said, since we stayed in an a mega resort this last time, we didn’t experience a whole lot of Playa del Carmen. We did take a day off from the resort and tax a cab into town to the Mega store to stock up on food and water because the resort we were at was not all inclusive and had prices relative to the USA. Tip! At checkout, you are expected to bag your own groceries or tip the person who does it for you. If you are interested in my review of The Grand Mayan, you can find it here. We went Scuba diving while there but it was delayed several days due to adverse current and weather conditions so our dive wasn’t as magical as the one from March in Cozumel. I really think it would take a lot for me to say it was a bad dive, is there such a thing? Even if the clarity isn’t fantastic and the current is strong, you still get to experience total zen and mindfulness. We have another trip planned for Mexico though this time to the Pacific side next November to check out Puerto Vallarta and that area though I am not convinced I will like it. I grew in Southern California and the ocean there has nothing on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. I’m doing my best to ensure that I am not being too short sided and doing as much reconnaissance as possible.

I think 2019 is going to be a hard one to beat but we are going to try our best 🙂 It has been a good year for me and my family. We are ending the year with everyone healthy, kids are achieving their goals and dreams, work has had some real highs and some real lows but that is to be expected. My sister, who has been missing for several years, showed up out of the blue when a person contacted me on Facebook asking if I was her sister. That was pretty mind blowing!

We have our big trips mapped out and Lisa and I decided we will use our upcoming trip to Jamaica (Celebrating her 50th birthday!!) in March to obtain our PADI advanced open water certifications. I am very much looking forward to learning underwater navigation, how to safely dive in a wreck, deep water diving, etc. Jamaica will be all vacation-no recon. I would like to get another trip to RM in there somewhere but I am not sure I can talk Lisa into doing a shorter stay in PV and then head to RM but I am going to try! The price of housing in Puerto Vallarta at least double that of Riviera Maya so there is another strike.

One thing I know for sure is that you cannot accomplish something you don’t actually plan for. I follow a few really interesting and inspiring women on Instagram who travel and I came across this post this morning from Jen Winston. I really love the idea of vision writing so that is what I am going to do to step in to 2020 with the best frame of mind to achieve my goals. (There are so many bad puns to be had here…) While planning for your dreams, it is important to remember that if something comes up as an absolute roadblock or you find yourself on a detour, be open to why that is. Sometimes the universe has a great way of saving us from paths not meant for us. So, what are you planning for 2020? Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, and successful new year!

What an adventure! Part 1-Colombia

We just returned from a 3 week whirlwind trip that included New York city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, Cartagena and Santa Marta Colombia and winding down in Playa del Carmen Mexico. If you have followed this blog at all, you will know that we have been looking for a place that fits our needs/budget so we can pull off an “early retirement.” Colombia and Mexico had been on the short list for sometime so this trip was a long time coming. I am going to break this into two separate posts as there is so much to cover. You can also check out the reviews I have left on Tripadvisor for more detailed information and places I have left out of this page 🙂

Colombia…wow. What a lesson in first world problems, humility, culture, food, and privilege. It is not like I went in blind. Colombia is a third world country and I expected a lot of what I saw. What I didn’t expect is how absolutely desperate people are there for food/money. I have been to plenty of locations where there are street hustlers, beggars, etc but the beaches in Cartagena trump it all. You will be asked several times a minute if you want, xyz and you will need to say no repeatedly and often times, that isn’t enough. Some of the vendors took no for an answer and would move on but several did not. It appeared to be especially true of female vendors who would offer a massage. They would start by asking you, telling you some story about starving children, you can say no repeatedly and they would persist. Often times moving into your personal space and touching you while stating you are so tight, you need a massage. When you continue to decline, some would say that because they touched you, you now needed to pay them, even if you never accepted the massage. We had to physically get up and leave. When I mentioned this at our hotel, the staff said that was unfortunately normal and that the beaches are just not safe. This is an absolute shame as the beauty of Colombia is unparalleled but you can’t go anywhere in Cartagena (Boca Grande is the area we stayed in) without actually being accosted.

Cartagena, CO

The walled city in Cartagena was absolutely beautiful and full of history and culture as well as little boutique shops. We experienced several vendors and children begging for money saying they were from Venezuela but it was nothing compared to the beaches.

We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. After much research, we settled on Marsol for transportation. They picked us up (late but that was to be expected, it’s been my experience that almost everything runs on different time in Latin America) from our hotel and dropped us off at our hotel in Santa Marta. You need to text Marsol using Whatsapp to get a reservation. It was $50,000 COP (about $15 USD) per person and the van ride was ok. We scheduled a time slot where there was no stop in Barranquilla but it still took about 5 hours. This is where the biggest shock came. We chose to take the bus instead of flying because we wanted to see the land and area between Santa Marta and Cartagena first hand. After passing Barranquilla, you enter the small fishing town of Ciénaga. Until that day, I had never seen actual slums. Skid row in LA? Yes, small fishing villages in Belize? Yes. Ghettos, bad neighborhoods, poor tribal reservations, and my own research could not have possibly prepared me for what I saw on that bus ride. Children playing in pools of what I can only assume is contaminated waste water. Dogs, trash, rubble… and it went on for miles. Here is a good article that talks the death of Cienaga .

In 2007, the city built a highway at the edge of the Cienga. These houses right agaist it flood when it rains and are not connected to the sewage system.

When we arrived in Santa Marta we could tell the vibe was different than Cartagena. The poverty didn’t seem as pervasive and the vendors were not as aggressive. We spent only a day in Rodadero which is considered the “ex pat” section and to be honest, we didn’t really care for it. The beaches are beautiful but it just seemed so cut off from the rest of the area. We did look at an apartment for rent/sale while we were there and were impressed with the location and value. The big advantage i felt Rodadero has over SM is the breeze! Nothing feels as good as the breeze coming down from the Sierra Nevada mountains on a very hot and humid day. I could totally see spending the day on a hammock on the balcony. Oh and if anyone is wondering, yes, there are lockers for rent on the beach! I searched forever for that info and never found any 😉

The beach in Santa Marta isn’t as pretty but the Marina is very nice. And lets be honest, after the experience we had with vendors, we weren’t going to be hanging out on the beach. While we were in Santa Marta, we found plenty to do besides hanging out on the rooftop bar/pool. The big adventures were trying to navigate the city and find the best restaurants. I think we were pretty successful, the food there was amazing! We really had a great time even though our level of conversational Spanish is minimal and practically no one in Colombia speaks English. We flew out of Simon Bolivar Airport south of Santa Marta to Bogota on Avianca where we connected to our flight to Cancun, also on Avianca. One of the most stressful parts of the trip was trying to navigate the airport in Bogota having arrived on a domestic flight and needing to make our way to the international terminal where there were literally no signs. We had to ask two different people and it involved a long walk, going down several flights of stairs, leaving the terminal we were in and walking a bit more to the international terminal. If you are planning to do this, allow plenty of time to get lost, get through customs and get to your gate. Both flights were pleasant, on time and without issues.

We went diving with Caribbean Pro Dive while we were in SM and had a great experience diving at Tayrona Park. It was just the two of us with the divemaster and a photographer. We left from the marina in a small dive boat and they provided snacks and water. Two tank dives with equipment was $180,000 COP (about $52 USD) Later that week we took a sailboat excursion back to Tayrona to spend the day at the beach. Similar vendor issues but they took no for an answer much more readily. The sailboat trip was booked through Tripadvisor- Tayrona Bay Sailboat Trip

Final thoughts on Colombia…. It was an experience of a lifetime, it really helped shape my perspective. The people there are mostly friendly to foreigners though Lisa caught a handful of dirty looks. I am not sure if it was because of her looks (blonde/blue) or? I did not catch a single one though maybe I am more oblivious. Most people assumed we were travel partners, and the one time someone asked for clarification they were genuinely shocked when I said she was mi Esposa. I would definitely go back to Santa Marta to visit though I think it is safe to say we have ruled it out as a possible future home. Mexico on the other hand…. More to come!

Was it my time?

Obviously not or I wouldn’t be writing this. Could it have been the day my ticket expired? Maybe. Last Monday morning I didn’t sleep well, waking frequently with a mild headache and a general feeling of unease. I woke my 16 year old that morning by knocking on his door and went downstairs to finish getting ready. When he came down for breakfast we started having a conversation where my words were coming out slurred. He asked me if I was drunk and I said of course not, it was 8:30 in the morning! When I answered him I could hear it, the slur. I said a few more things that became even more slurred and he said, well then you’re having a stroke. It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. It was almost as if I was looking at the scenario as a third person. I remember thinking, hmm maybe he’s right, I might be having a stroke. The rest of the morning is a blur, filled with the emergency room, a CT scan, and people talking to me too fast for me to process what they were saying. I had become unable to speak shortly after I arrived at the ER. I was given TPA, which is a clot-busting medication and transferred to the ICU. I was very lucky my son was home because I don’t know that I would have had the wherewithal to know what was happening or call someone for help if he wasn’t here. Now I get to spend the rest of my days listening to my youngest son tell me he saved my life inferring payback is warranted. I say that jokingly. It scared the crap out of him but it didn’t take long for him to start cracking stroke jokes after he realized I was going to be okay.

When my wife and other children showed up I was not able to speak. I really did not want the kids there because I didn’t want them to be scared. It’s weird the things that you think of when something like that happens. I was more worried about them being worried than about myself. Anyway it’s been about 10 days now and I need to keep that in mind when I become impatient with myself. I am not a patient patient.

I’m grateful that I still have 6 weeks before our big trip. I am worried about my abilities and I’m actually a little scared. We have so much on our agenda, New York for 3 days, Cartagena Colombia for 3 days, Santa Marta Colombia for 5 and then 7 days in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. This is where reminding myself that it’s only been 10 days and not to future trip would come in handy.

Well; if I wasn’t already committed to retiring early and getting the hell out of Dodge, I would be now. My job, that I love, is extremely stressful. I went to work on Tuesday and didn’t say anything, I mostly just observed Court and by 3 in the afternoon I was exhausted. I run three businesses so easing back into work is almost a joke but I have excellent colleagues and co-workers that are making it as smooth as possible.

I’m 43 years old. My sister died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at 47. I have another book to write (both literally and figuratively) and I’m not ready to go. I finally have everything in order. My kids are almost all adults and doing well, I have the woman of my dreams, and I have plans!! I am extremely grateful the universe extended my ticket with a reminder to be brave, you only die once.

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.

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.