Friday, January 4, 2019

Visiting Home

When we started on our journey in March 2017, we didn't anticipate being separate for so long. For us it was probably one of the biggest decisions we have ever made up to this stage in our lives. It seemed as if it happened really quickly too, and before I knew it, I was on the plane back to Canada, with a deep sadness that I hope to never experience again.

I was also very excited to go back to the country which has given me so much, surrounded by family, especially my children. It was an amazing 9 months of roller coaster feelings, two weddings and re-connecting with real friends.

When the time came to visit my Mexican home, I was more than just excited! I was also a little scared to be back in the place where I had spent one of the happiest years of my life.

The flight from Toronto Pearson to Mérida was uneventful . I walked out into a sunny warm Mexican day and searched the parked cars to find my Ford a little way off to the left. I approached the vehicle, where Herman was standing and we saw each other almost at the same time. I practically ran over and what did I notice right away? Xena was in the car! I got right into the passenger seat and she looked at me for probably 2 seconds, and then started these tiny little yelping barks and wiggle butt and all, jumped into my lap, where she stayed all the way home.

I felt at home right away, with some trepidation about how I would experience the simplicity of life while knowing it's just for a few weeks.

I was absolutely stunned by the new addition that Herman had built, the furniture he had bought and I absolutely loved all he had done!

Very soon, walking through town, I realized that Herman had made a lot of friends. Everyone was greeting him, chatting and he was communicating so well in Spanish. I felt a twinge of jealousy at how at home he seemed, but also proud of him to have settled into his life here so successfully.

We had an invitation from friends here in our pueblo for Christmas Eve; church, followed by dinner. I was very nervous to spend time with people I hardly knew. It turned out to be an amazing experience. We were welcomed in Church by Herman's good friend Juan Carlos, and we were able to participate, because they projected the words of the songs on a screen. The kids, who all hugged Herman enthusiastically on sight, participated in singing some songs and a nativity play, and then after the sermon, we were treated to a lovely meal by the congregation. Once again, I was reminded of why we fell in love with Mexico in the first place: the people. They welcome anyone into their midst and share freely what they have without question.

After the meal at church we were invited to Juan Carlos' in-law's house, where I met the remainder of the friends and family who had adopted Herman as one of their family. It was a wonderful evening, with more food and some dancing. We went home around 3:00 am and added another wonderful experience to our Mexican list.

We decided early on that I would prefer to hang around the house, relax and just talk or read, which is what we did most of the time. I ended up painting our living room, which is something I have wanted to do since we first bought the house, and now, after the months of construction, it was necessary. So I took my time and painted for a few days. I also enjoyed doing some gardening again and planted a few additional agave plants propagated from the original large parent plant.

The trees have grown so much in only 9 months and one of the palm trees out front has coconuts, so we had some coconut water to drink. It amazes me how much life is around us at all times, living so close to nature. Herman spotted a large black cat one night, which we believe is a puma. There are still large cats in the wild in the Yucatan, and when Xena hardly barks at something outside, we know it's probably a larger-than-a-house-cat relative, and she is kept safely indoors.

We visited with our good friends Jackie and Ray Ramos on Saturday, and it was as if I had never left, and we had a wonderful time!

We had a lovely dinner at the Mu Smoke House in Mérida, and I can recommend it to anyone visiting here. The service was excellent and the wait staff were proficient in English, which is always helpful.

We bought a washer, and had a lot of fun trying out the manual version, which reminded us both of our first machine when we were newly weds.

We finally figured out how New Year`s celebrations work in Mexico: you sleep until about 11 pm, then you get up, burn the "Old Man", shoot off fire crackers, visit friends, eat, dance, sing, share gifts to celebrate the first day of the year and go home.

We had our Old Man ready to burn, we had a measly bit of fireworks and we were outside our front gate ready to go into the New Year at midnight with a bang! Our neighbours all started coming out of their houses and we were lining up the old men on the ground in the streets, we set them on fire, and added the required fire crackers. Some lanterns were sent into the sky. Our neighbours' kids, two little boys aged around 6, came over to our burning old man, and lit their little crackers in the fire. They jumped back screeching with excitement as the little bombitas exploded. They shared some of their loot with us, when ours ran out, and we had a ball.

After midnight, when all the old men were burnt, the neighbours walk to each house and hugs are shared with well wishes for the New Year. No matter what age, you hug your neighbours and wish them well. We were invited over for food at one of the houses, but we already had an engagement at Juan Carlos' house, so we had to decline and left to make our 1 am appointment. We were again welcomed to this family gathering, and treated like VIPs. We ate, danced, and then there was a singing competition, which was a lot of fun. Herman took a spin on someone's dirt bike, and everyone was amazed that he could ride. We left around 4:30 am and spent most of our first day of the year, relaxing, reading, swimming, or napping.

So much of what I experience here is simple, but meaningful. I am very happy to say that even though I dread leaving and saying goodbye again, it did not consume my every waking moment. In fact, I hardly thought about it at all. I am excited about the last four days here before I return to work, ready for a new year with all the challenges that may bring. 2019 is going to be another amazing year!

Mu Smoke House - Mérida 

"Old Man" ready to get rid of the old year and some bad memories.

Getting some dancing in before a swim.

Panuchos before pre-New Year napping.
Old Man burnt.

New Year has begun and singing competition is starting shortly.

Front row seat.

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day Party.

Juan and Pamela.

Juan's lovely family - fourth location party on Christmas Eve - Santa just delivered the kids' presents. Live Facebook event for the grandparents who were visiting family in another part of Mexico.

Some of the kids who have stolen Herman's heart.

Luis and Cynthia.

Coconut water from our tree's fruit.

Angel - our neighbour's son. He and his friend shared their fireworks with us after we ran out.

I see a bike in our future...

From pool boy to bar man - I can get used to this.
Even the rays agree.

Working on the coconut to get to the water.

The trees have grown a lot, but it's winter
here too, so the leaves are falling off.

Happy to be here!

And finally seeing Xena again.

Red wine Christmas gift helped us celebrate.

One of the first babies I planted.


The before picture.

The after picture.
On the way...

My favourite room!

The indoor kitchen from the living room view.

My favourite picture - thanks Kelsey Briner!
The parent plant.

Herman's favourite picture.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Into the Future

In our life so far Herman and I have made so many plans that end up changing, that we often laugh about any plans we make at all. The last month has been no exception and turned out to be another roller coaster ride of sadness, plan changes, and excitement.

I have finally been able to book my plane ticket and will start work in a couple of weeks. So excited to get back into it, and being able to adjust life so that I can be there for my family and Dominique's upcoming wedding.

The house closed last week (March 1) which made us so happy after the ten months of waiting for this day.

We were invited to our neighbours' son's 5th birthday party. It was an amazing experience. The women arrive first for an extended religious celebration led by a female Mayan elder and a guitarist who leads the singing. From our limited understanding it appeared that the mother and child are blessed during the ceremony. At the end of the celebration the men join the event. The guests are invited to the front to wish the child happy birthday and the parents receive the presents, which are put aside. The birthday cake is then brought out, and candles are blown out after everyone sings Happy Birthday. The religious leaders then depart and the party continues where the guests each receive a glass of pop and a plate of food with a piece of the cake. Small plastic bags are handed out and the kids then line up to punch the pinata and the candies are then shared with everyone in their little bags. Then the guests head home and the close family members stay for the rest of the evening. We had so much fun and have already received our next invite. We love living here, and I know I am going to miss it a lot.

We spent a lovely day yesterday driving along the emerald coast. We walked with Xena on a stretch of beach in Puerto Chuburnu. Life is so calm and beautiful sometimes!

Herman is meeting with the contractor next week to start discussions for the upcoming construction at the house. We are both excited to get going on the work that will happen here now that we own the house.

Herman will keep me updated with pictures and stories of life in Mexico so that I can keep the blog going.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Winds of Change

Surprise: The house has not closed yet. Guess not really a surprise. Life still goes on, and more money is spent on monthly rent. If you ever decide to move here, be prepared for a lot of things LOL. It is lucky that we have a sense of humour, or maybe just a tad of insanity.

We ate a lovely lunch last Sunday, prepared by the very artistic Niki and her sidekick Louis. And received two very lovely Valentine's Day cards from their beautiful twins, Poppy and Maia. Made our day!
Herman's card: "Happy Valitime's day"

Denise's card: "Happy Valitime's day"

To: Herman and To: You

Funny how some things become normal in the Yucatan: we no longer even mention the spiders or scorpions we encounter, we just accept the pests as a part of life. However, the recent occurrences of giant flying cockroaches deserve their own pic! EEEWWW.

Giant flying cockroach next to Herman's foot.

We are still trying to eliminate leaf cutter ants from our life, especially after they ate both my two new crouton shrubs down to stubs overnight. We received new intel on the necessary ammunition required for the war we have declared against these mighty destroyers of gardens. We will test it out soon...

Last week Xena was very sick. She was lethargic, had no appetite, had a high fever, and she could only breath through her mouth. All in all, we concluded that she had something as severe as the man-cold. Luckily our friend Vianny has a vet she recommended. She was absolutely amazing and even followed up with us on WhatsApp this week to find out how Xena was doing. We are so happy to report that Xena is better now and almost back to normal.
Sick sleepy Xena.

This week is the date when I can start my residency renewal application for the next three years and I am so excited, but still a little nervous, to get this done. It is a process, as was the first application, but if you follow the steps it all gets done. Just chill and go with the flow. The staff were amazing last time, and I have no reason to think they won't be again. Hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho it's off to Mérida INM we go...

The weather has been awesome with cool nights and hot days. Swimming and beer are the order of each day. Of course there is some work being done with all the planning for me to return to Canada for the wedding and other family matters. And quite a lot of stress in dealing with the upcoming long distance relationship we are submitting ourselves to. But hell, after 31 years, including 2 years of military separation, bring it on! It is of course made so much easier because of the amazing people we have as friends, family, and friends who have become family. Thanks for your never-ending support of our normal.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Spring is in the Air

It is just fantastic to live in a climate where late January turns into spring and many blossoms are appearing on the naked tree limbs, indicating the end of winter. Gone are the endless long dark winter days of Canada and we are stunned that the days are getting longer and noticeably warmer already. We've had a few swims over the past week and even some rainstorms. The evenings are still chilly enough to enjoy an outside barbecue without too many bugs. We have a bat that flies low over the pool eating the bugs and freaking out the pooch.

The birds in the garden are noticeably fewer this time of year, but it is still beautiful in the mornings listening to the sound of country living. Some roosters seem to have serious issues with timing and will crow in the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night. Maybe it's all the street lights that have been installed in the small town recently. Goats, chickens, Brahmans and horses are a comfortable occurrence on our street and the newborn puppies, kid and calf are sweet to encounter on our frequent excursions to the local fresh market. We have become part of the  community here and people no longer stare and point at the weird people who have moved to their small town.

We have recently often been dropped outside an unknown house not far from here by some of the moto-taxi drivers and then we had to tell them, no, please continue. We were a little surprised, but then found out that another "gringo" couple have moved into the town. Shortly thereafter, Dianna came over and introduced herself. She and her husband are from the southern US and have moved here after living in Mérida for 8 years. It was interesting to wonder if we all look the same to the locals.

In Mexico, services come to you, not the other way round. Each service then plays a special jingle, so that you can be notified of said arrival. The baker plays a certain tune, the water delivery another tune, the gas supplier yet another one. As such when the water guy is a few blocks away, we get our empty bottles ready for exchange for the new refilled ones. He promptly drives to our front door and carries the full bottles into the house and removes the empty ones for next time.

We skip the gas delivery, since we do not have a stove yet. But boy, does the baker's cart every afternoon around 4:30 stir things up! The entire neighbourhood seems to surround the cart on almost every street corner and at our house Xena is front and centre to start barking at the excitement of our not too infrequent purchases of freshly baked rolls. On those days when we do not need bread, we will then mentally refrain from running outside as if an invisible force is encouraging us to do so. Maybe a little Pavlovian conditioning happening here?

We do feel that we were made for rural living and cannot understand what took us so long to discover we both felt this way. I know I have been pretty vocal about my feelings on city life over the years, but financially it was never viable. But I never realized that Herman also secretly felt the same. And people say women are hard to understand. Whatever, right ladies?

I have decided it was time to insert some culture into my reading habits and downloaded the book "To Kill A Mockingbird". It is an amazing book and I thoroughly enjoyed it after I got over the language of a bygone era. Onto some Hemingway next and who knows, maybe I'll read some F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am finding a sentimental enjoyment of the non-smutty writing of an era where language was used to its intended extent and not every second eBook author became a New York bestseller.

We recently ventured out to Chicxulub Puerto in search of a friend's daughter who spent a couple of weeks here to volunteer. We never found her, because they were probably off at some project, but we did see the place where they were staying, and it was typically secure for accommodating young volunteers in a foreign environment. So we stopped for lunch, visited the local fresh market and leisurely drove back home through several small towns where we took some pictures of the focal point of each town: the church. It was a pleasant day driving through rural Mexico and the vivid colours reminded us what a beautiful place we have chosen to live in. We also discovered that we are very close to one of the most sought after haciendas in the Yucatan, visited by royalty (not our type of accommodation). The Hacienda Katanchel is literally just a few kilometres down the road. If you are inclined to enjoy the finer things in life and can afford it, here is more information.

In our daily endeavours to live simply, we sorted out our routine to boil a few eggs on a fire, which only takes about 40 minutes start to finish😏. But since time is not money here, we can manage.

Changes we have noticed to our routine are that Herman now absolutely drives "Meksikaan", and we both have a walking pace we fondly refer to as "Mayan". These are good changes that we hope to hang onto, even though I doubt if mine will last long into 2018, since I am planning an extended visit to Canada in March this year, and I know life there is a different kettle of fish. We walk around the neighbourhood sometimes, and took a few pictures of the water tower and trees magically illuminated by the setting sun. We also walk past the local bull fighting arena, which we have not had the gumption to visit as of yet.

This week's video includes lots of pictures, but sadly, no videos of Herman dancing or singing (maybe next time). Enjoy!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Crafts, Construction and Fungus

We have started the new year excited to get some news about the paperwork for the house, but now, almost halfway into January, nothing is firmed up yet. The months of waiting, have given us a sense of calm that neither one of us would have considered possible, but we are certain that things happen for a reason.

February brings around our renewal date for our residency and we are looking forward to get that done for the next three years.

Herman received the quote for the additions to the house and once the house is in our name, we can start construction. That is so exciting. After several reiterations, I think we have a final picture in our minds of what we'd like to see. The casita is no longer part of the plan for the addition, as we realized that we do not need that just in case someone visits us one week in a year. Excess does not fit in with living simply.

I am over the moon about the engagements and future weddings, and I am planning on buying the "mother of the bride" (I love saying that!) -dress in Mérida and am looking forward to going shopping for it. I will also spend some time in Canada this year, to be close to Dominique and the excitement of planning for her big day. It is one of the reasons we decided to live in Mexico - so that we are close enough to go home when we need to.

We had a lovely dinner at Santiago's house last week and his mom made panuchos, which is a dish consisting of refried beans, chicken, tomato, onion and egg on small fried tortillas. It is a Yucatecan traditional meal. It was so good that I made it again for us on the weekend. With all the food I have been learning to make here, I have decided that I will start writing down the recipes and posting them on my blog. Santiago's dad gave me a flower from one of the trees in his garden, called the false bird of paradise. I wanted to find this flower since we came here, so it was a lovely surprise. He also gave me a book about Mérida, which will be the first Spanish book I am reading, and Herman was the lucky recipient of a beautiful hand made clay coffee mug. Such lovely people!

We went to Mérida last week to check out a large craft store in Centro, called Fantasia Miguel, where a friend of ours, Nikki joined us. Dominique and Natara would have loved all the supplies for dream catchers you can get there, especially the many colours of thin and soft leather strips. It has the most amazing glass beads and a lot of other natural materials for crafts. Afterwards we went to some textile stores and then on to Lucas de Galvez market for some fresh veggies. It was a very enjoyable morning.

I bought a few small clay pots that I decided to decorate and use to plant some succulents in. I am testing the local paint to see if they will be durable in the sun, before I do some larger projects. I hope to start doing some paintings again soon too and am thoroughly enjoying the creativity.

One of the neighbour's dogs, who we call Bella, has literally moved in here and we have a hard time getting her to leave. We don't want to be accused of stealing some kid's pet, so I think it will be necessary for us to temporarily close off the front wall to stop her from coming over the fence, until the construction of that part of the property can be completed. She is the sweetest dog and reminds me of Konstanz's Belle in South Africa. Xena likes her, but dominates the poor creature and looks at her as if she is not worthy of her attention. Dogs are super entertaining sometimes.

Herman and I are enjoying the cooler weather, but it is also really cold some nights, and we decide on a nightly basis whether we are making up the sleeper couch or if we are sleeping in the hammocks. It makes for an interesting non-routine-routine. Today was hammock wash day and with the breeze and the sunshine they were dry in about three hours. It still warms up nicely during the day.

So far 2018 promises to be full of new adventures with the planned wedding, visits to Canada, and upcoming construction. (I'm sure there will be some interesting construction tales to tell.) So far, what we have noticed is that the biggest challenge will probably be the quantities of some of the supplies. As an example,  when I decided to make a blanket, it was almost impossible to get the quantity of the yarn in the colours I originally wanted, so I just ended up making a multi-coloured blanket instead. It is not life altering, but when you're talking floor tiles, it could get interesting. From what we have read, patience solves all problems, and as long as you don't mind waiting, you can get it done.

Mexico is a place of contrasts and a country that at first may be overwhelmingly different, but it grows on you (like a fungus haha). Now that I have been here for almost a year, I truly love the country and the people. I am no longer intimidated by the traffic and have no problem driving here, which gave me back some freedom and a lot of confidence. It is becoming a part of me in a way that I would not have thought possible a few months ago and even though I still miss Canada and my friends and family, I am starting to feel more like I belong here. My Spanish is improving - not as fast as I'd like - so we are talking to people whenever we can. We should make more of an effort to mingle! I know that Herman and I have made a good decision to retire here, and it is no longer just because it is affordable.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Goodbye Old Year!

It has been quite the year for us. We left behind our adopted home of 21 years and moved to Mexico. We drove through a country known for its violence, not speaking the language, with heightened awareness, feeling invincible and vulnerable with intermittent frequency. Both our children got engaged and have chosen their life partners. Such a giant decision in one's life. We are lucky that they have picked two people that we both have come to love over the past few years.

We have met wonderful new people and have learnt a lot about the local traditions, food and unending generosity of its people. We are struggling through our broken Spanish, but improve daily. To say we have changed is an understatement. We have grown, each in their own way and we have found ourselves in constant upheaval in the process that we know from experience, takes years to finally reach that feeling of belonging.

Mexico is the kind of place that grows on you. You may instantly love the people, which is not difficult to do, but the country has so many contrasts and raises feelings in yourself that you didn't know you had, and sometimes didn't want to have. You get to know yourself.

We continue to strive to live in the moment, make the most of each day, and leaving the old year and any negativity behind. Luckily the Mexicans have a tradition to burn away the old year by stuffing a home made mannequin (or an old man piñata) with straw and fireworks and at midnight set it alight; thus burning away the old and leaving any bad events in the past. Last night, we were privileged to have been invited outside by our neighbours, where everyone came outside, burning their old year mannequins and wishing each other (and us) Happy New Year. It was an awesome experience, and one I look forward to for many years to come.

Right now, at the beginning of a new year, we have many more decisions to make, and many more lessons to learn. We are excited about it, and also apprehensive. Sometimes you want to peak at what the future holds. We are blessed with good friends (old and new). We have things to look forward to (did I mention weddings) and so much to live for every day.

Feliz Años Nuevo. Happy New Year. Love and Peace to one and all.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Guest Blog

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My Blog is the guest post at Surviving Mexico today. Please have a look!