Lessons learned from a year of family travel

01 Washington Coast 2017

Walking through our house for the last time, I felt excitement and trepidation. We were leaving the US with only a vague sketch of a plan – we would visit my mom in Mexico, I would finish my research project, and apply for a new faculty position. The position I landed would dictate where we would go next. I was open to where that would be and confident that with my education and research background an extraordinary opportunity awaited. What I didn’t anticipate was that even with a PhD and decades of experience, no job offer would come.

A false promise

As a first-generation college student from a working-class family,  I believed the promise I had been told. Education would guarantee constant employment and a higher quality of life. A doctoral degree was like a magic pathway out of poverty. I learned there was a caveat! At this point in time, careers in higher education are no longer guaranteed to even pay a living wage. Many positions are temporary or contract with no benefits. The competition for full-time tenure-line faculty positions is fierce. There are now more people with PhDs than positions requiring them. Perhaps, if I wasn’t as selective about where we want to live, I could have landed a position. However, one thing I have learned this year is that quality of life matters. Just having a job and merely surviving isn’t living.

Unexpectedly falling in love

14 Fisherman on Lake Patzcuaro 2018

The next surprise was that I love México. I was reluctant to visit my in Ajijic because no one in my family likes heat and constant sunshine. Not surprising since the pacific northwest is where we call “home.” However, while we wandered around México, we came across Pátzcuaro, a Pueblo Magico, high in the mountains where summer days rarely surpass 70 degrees, and it rains daily. The lush green landscape and cloudy skies remind us of Oregon and Washington. Yet, Pátzcuaro is also inimitably Méxican. The area has a rich history and unique artesian villages nearby. There is also a large Indigenous population, which has ironically helped me reconnect with my Indigenous roots.

13 Summer Solstice Ihuatzio 2018

As I type this, I hear a sound collage of my favorite rooster belting out his distinctive song mixed with music from a car radio, and an occasional church bell. I love being surrounded by a culture where hugs and kisses are a standard greeting, public affection isn’t shamed, and young people offer their arms to elders as they walk through the plaza.

17 Blue Corn of Corupo 2018

Of course, like any place else, México has social problems. However, I do not feel the anger spewing out of the drivers and people walking down the streets like I did in Seattle. The more money that came into Seattle, the more angry and entitled people seemed. Often as I walked to my office, I was nearly run down in the crosswalk (frequently by BMWs). Sometimes the driver would honk at me, even though I had the right of way and was in the crosswalk! I often thought, “If money was supposed to make you happy why were the people in their fancy cars so damn angry?”

In our new town, there doesn’t seem to be the pride of busyness like there is in the US. I previously received praise because I worked so much. It frequently took weeks for me to find time on my calendar to have dinner with a friend. In stark contrast, people here take time to be with their loved ones.

16 Cantoya Fest opening night 2018

The pace is slower. I have time to think. And time to sip my morning coffee while absorbing the beauty of the mist covered mountains outside my window – instead of pouring my coffee into a to-go container and drinking it while battling traffic on my way to work. When I think of where we should go next, I cannot think of any place I’d rather be.

11 Tzintzuntzan Yuccata 2018

A change of plans

We met a lot of other family travelers over the last year. When my dream faculty position didn’t materialize, I contemplated staying on the road and continuing the adventure. Maybe we should head to Europe? We could ship the van over and fly the dogs. We’d have to hustle to keep the money coming in. Lots of people do it though and generously shared their success stories with us. It seemed doable.

The more I thought about leaving México, the less I wanted to. Why? What else do I need to see? What makes my family happy? When are we at our best?

04 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2017

When I moved into my last house in Seattle, it was supposed to be our “forever home.” I had moved 46 times in my life. I lived in every US state that I wanted to live in. I moved for adventure, education, and jobs. However, mostly I moved out of economic necessity. I was ready to settle down, nest and make a permanent home. When that was no longer possible, I made the best of it and worked hard to tap into my adventurous spirit. I had never heard the term “slow traveling” until this year. Since I have never lived in the same town for more than 5 consecutive years, I guess you could say I have always been slow traveling!

08 Oregon Coast 2018

Traveling full time turned out to be exhausting. Although being on the road with dogs is doable it added to our expenses. We also have special dogs. Our German Shepherd is a terrified rescue who doesn’t do well with other dogs. Our Basset Hound is becoming a grumpy old man who can’t keep up on hikes. Both are happiest when they have their own yard and comfy beds. They are family. Leaving them behind is not an option for us.

Communication is key

We also learned that whatever unaddressed issues you have as a family will be magnified 1000x when you are living on the road. When you are consumed by the daily grind, you can hide your issues and emotions. Often American families spend so little time together you don’t even notice what is going on with each other.

And now we are together 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week (no exaggeration).

One of our biggest mistakes was not talking about what traveling full time would mean for us as a family and how we would all get our needs met while on the road. I think we thought it would just work itself out. That has been far from the case. As it turns out, we each need incredibly different things to be happy. This wasn’t as noticeable previously because so much of our time was consumed by what we had to do. Work. School. Sleep. Repeat.

Stan and I routinely worked over 60 hours a week each. Now, we are learning how to be together all the time and what we want to do now that we have time to do it. It has been a steep learning curve. We haven’t completely figured out this new life, but I have confidence that we will.

12 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2nd visit 2018

Road Schooling

The best part of this radical new way of living is having time and space. As an educator and advocate for student-centered, culturally relevant, and personally meaningful education, I feel privileged to be able to provide this for my son. The other night we went out to watch a metal band (my choice, not his). While listening to the band my son shared that being homeschooled allowed him time to figure out what he was interested in. He reflected that in a traditional school they tell you exactly what to learn and when to learn it.

“You don’t have the opportunity to figure out what you like or to explore topics that are interesting to you.”

Then he told me the six topics he would like to focus on next. I was so excited! I am surprised I didn’t start jumping up and down. This is EXACTLY what we (academics) teach about how to keep students engaged in their learning. We have known this for decades, but our approach to educating students hasn’t incorporated this basic idea – make school meaningful, culturally relevant, and interesting! My son was disengaged from school before we left Seattle. Due to his experiences in the traditional school system, he did not believe learning was fun. A primary goal of mine was to ignite his passion again and help him find something he loved and wanted to learn more about. So, although my education did not land me my dream job (yet) I am thrilled that my own son is benefitting from it.

Next Steps

10 The 400 steps to the top rim of a dead volcano in Patzcuaro

What’s next? We don’t really know. It has been a year of tremendous growth and uncertainty. There are days that I long for Seattle, being part of a research institute, and our friends. I remind myself that I actually want to return to Seattle circa 1995 and it no longer exists. We love Michoacán and have been embraced by the community here. We have been invited to be of service to the community. I have never lived anywhere where so many people have asked me to stay.

Perhaps this is my “forever home?” I really cannot say. For now, we will continue to accept opportunities as they present themselves and be open to living a life we never imagined!

We hope you continue to follow our journey, where ever it takes us.

Advertisements

Learning with Laughter

A few years ago, I was hired to teach a graduate level research course. I told the assistant dean, “I will make it fun too.”

He responded, “No need to go that far?”

I asked, “Why can’t learning difficult subjects be fun?”

He looked at me quizzically but didn’t give an answer. No wonder so many students think learning is boring. It seems deeply embedded in our psyches that it is not supposed to be fun and our educational system is set up to reinforce those sentiments.

Send in the clowns!

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 4

My family had the honor of attending a one-day peacebuilding workshop in the small village of Tzuramútaro in Michoacán, México. The workshop was led by Nano Lara la La and German of La Bufon SOS.ial. Their mission is to “entertain and help improve the quality of life for children and their families in communities of México’s trauma, natural disaster, and conflict zones. Through artistic workshops and clown shows La Bufon use[s] fun and laughter to improve the emotional and physical state of the children in these communities.”

In the workshop children are taught how they can tap into their Creativity, Compassion, and Courage to better handle frustration and conflict. What makes the workshop so outstanding is that the children have FUN while learning how to handle difficult emotions. Nano explained that since they arrive as clowns the children don’t feel the hierarchy of the traditional teacher/student relationship. This creates a safe environment where children freely express themselves.

Finding the strengths of the class clown

Nano and German were adept at identifying the children who were more precocious and would often receive the label of having “behavioral challenges” in a traditional school setting. The rambunctious children were seen as an asset to the group. Nano and German understood that these children could be counted on to lead in the physical activities because they were not afraid to seem a little silly in front of their peers. They craved the attention of their peers!!

While this “class clown” behavior often gets children in trouble at school, it was appreciated here. Therefore, there was no need for the behavior to escalate before the children received the attention desired. Instead, the attention seeking behavior was channeled to benefit the individual child and the rest of the group. This is a beautiful example of how you can redirect potential negative attention seeking behavior. (More information about helping children get their needs for attention met in a positive way can be found by clicking here)

I was fascinated by how the clowns skillfully utilized a strengths-based approach to working with children they had just met. Teachers often struggle with this and instead of utilizing student differences to the benefit of creating a positive learning environment they get into power struggles with children who are “misbehaving.” This ends up taking away valuable teaching time, can have a negative effect on the student’s self-esteem, and the student may become even more resistant to the material the teacher is presenting. In addition, the extra time given by the teacher to deliver consequences may inadvertently reward the behavior.

For many children, negative attention is better than no attention at all.  

Instead of going down that path, the “rowdy” children helped pave the way to silliness for the rest of us. And trust me, as a research scientist this was definitely a stretch out of my comfort zone. It is easy for me to understand how the children that were more reluctant to participate needed someone else to be set the stage for silliness. With children leading the way, I could not sit on the sidelines. I did NOT want to be the “bad” example.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 1

Our day of Conflict Transformation

The day began with games that served as “ice-breakers” to help us all relax and become comfortable as a group. It also helped get the “wiggles” out before the children were expected to sit down and focus. I was impressed with how this fits so perfectly with what “we” (academics) know about how children learn best. I also noted how it is in stark contrast to how we actually teach in most schools.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

The games incorporated:

Courage – Who is willing to stand up in front of everyone, be ridiculous or make mistakes?

Creativity – Can you play ping pong without a net or ball? Including sound effects?

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

Nano then led a discussion about Compassion. Allowing space for the children to provide their own definitions and time for them to work in teams to write about how they used compassion in their lives.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 5

For some children, the tasks of sitting and writing were more challenging, but they received support from Nano, German, and volunteers. This enabled all children to feel successful.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

After the structured learning period, where the children were more likely to experience strong emotions, we went back to fun and games. Nano explained that it was important for the children to leave the day feeling good. To this end, Nano and German invited us all to try our luck walking the tightrope. Then, they performed for us – putting smiles on our faces and filling the air with laughter.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 4

Traveling clowns creating a Culture of Peace

Our one-day session was only a teaser of the weeklong workshop they generally provide.  La Bufon S.O.S ial has been traveling around México and Columbia with the intention of creating a Culture of Peace.

I had the opportunity to drop in on another workshop they were giving in Pátzcuaro. This time the youth were older and therefore some of the projects were more complicated. I only got to spend about a half-hour with the youth but they were excited to show me what they were working on. I saw in them confidence, pride, and joy. I look forward to learning more from La Bufon SOS.ial about how we can build a more peaceful world and bring joy to children while we are teaching.

You can also learn more about their incredible work by following them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/labufonsosial/ or on the Children’s Space Theatre website!

10 Favorite things about Ajijic, Mexico

After spending over four months near Lake Chapala, it is time to move on. We will definitely be back but we can’t leave without giving a shout out to the places, restaurants, and small businesses we will miss the most. If you visit Ajijic, we hope you enjoy our favorites as much as we did!

Restaurants.

Restaurant Las Gaviotas

Las Gaviotas RestaurantGrab a table right next to the lake and enjoy watching herons and pelicans enjoy their dinner – as you enjoy yours. Favorite eats here include the Fish or Shrimp Ceviche and the Queso con Chorizo! This was also one of the few restaurants lakeside that served salsa spicy enough to please our family! We preferred to go in the late afternoon to avoid crowds, but if you are looking for a more festive environment you might prefer going for dinner.

Smokehouse

The Head Chef at The Smoke HouseSmokehouse serves up the most tender and tasty brisket I have ever had! The hamburgers are the best in the area (according to my teen, so it must be true). The ribs fall from the bone to the delight of your anxiously awaiting taste buds. The sides are delicious and include favorites from North of the Border – onion rings, coleslaw, and potato salad. Daily specials, including all you can eat ribs on Thursdays, are not to be missed. The large patio is dog- friendly! (The street dogs also know this is a great place to get some dinner)

Tepetate

Tepetate PianHeading out for Thai food might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re in Ajijic, but Tepetate offers some of the most authentic Thai food I have had outside of Thailand. The restaurant features all the classic dishes like Phad Thai, a variety of Curries, and Coconut Shrimp. The owner is from Bangkok and the spiciness goes from 1-10.

Small businesses.

Productos de Cabra Galo de Allende

Galo de Allende Goat FarmWe cannot speak highly enough of our friends Juan Diego and Laura – and the amazing products they produce. Their goat milk, yogurt (greek and regular), and soaps are some of the reasons it was hard to say farewell to Ajijic. You can find them at the Tuesday organic market and the Wednesday Ajijic market. Laura and Juan Diego also give tours of their goat farm. Read about our visit to their farm here!

Coffee from Veracruz

Francisco CoffeeMy mother tipped us off about amazing coffee from Vera Cruz sold out of a truck on the Carretera (aka- the main drag in Ajijic). If you see this truck, stop immediately. Not only is this some of the outstanding coffee you’ll ever have, Francisco is incredibly kind. His family grows the coffee and he drives back and forth to Vera Cruz to sell it directly to the consumer. No corporations involved! He will even hand grind the coffee for you if you don’t have your own grinder. We bought 3 kilos when we left for our trip back to Seattle! We can’t wait to serve it to our discerning friends (if we don’t drink it all during the road trip).

Happy Life (Chocolates)

Chocolate plus helping youth! What is not to love? The owner, Margarita Llona, is a former Montessori teacher who is devoted to empowering youth by teaching them business skills through a one-on-one mentoring program. We especially love her peanut butter cups and nut butters! Her products are made without sugar or oil. You can find her at several markets around Ajijic (often next to Productos de Cabra Galo de Allende).

Relaxation.

Jocotepec Malecón

Jocotepec Malecon.jpgThere are many places to stroll around Lake Chapala, but the malecón in Jocotepec is our favorite. The nearby park offers plenty of trees that provide an escape from the sun, gorgeous indigenous inspired sculptures, a playground and a skatepark. This is also a great place for bird watching. Definitely a favorite spot for locals as well. There wasn’t a time we visited when families weren’t enjoying its beauty. There are even a few vendors serving cool drinks and snacks.

Balneario Spa & Thermal Bath

Spa Balneario.jpgThe thermal baths exceeded our expectations. The grounds are beautifully maintained and the baths overlook the lake. The staff monitor how many people go into each tub, to ensure a relaxing experience. Depending on the package you purchase you will have access to 4 or 6 tubs. The thermal mineral water hot tubs provide a variety of hydrotherapies (e.g., flowers, apple cider vinegar, salt, coffee, or even wine). The two special baths rotate the type of hydrotherapies available (making multiple trips worthwhile). You end your experience by slathering yourself with therapeutic mud and then one final soak. You can also enjoy steam and ozone rooms. Or for an additional charge –  a massage, facial, or pedicure. Your admission fee also gives you access to the heated pools and several other hot tubs making it possible to spend an entire day unwinding and being pampered.

 

Day Trips.

Mezcala Island

Mezcala IslandAfter a 30-minute boat ride from Mezcala, you arrive at a peaceful island steeped in history. The island is famous for when Indigenous people held the Spaniards from overtaking it for four years (1812-1816). Depending on which boat captains are available, you can pay for a guided island tour or your boat captain will wait while you explore (usually 1 hour of waiting is included and the fare negotiated is round-trip). It is helpful to understand some Spanish or hire a local guide for this experience. This was a highlight of our time in Ajijic. We were in a parade and got quite the history lesson.

Mazamitla ­

MazamitlaMazamitla, a  Pueblo Mágico, is about an hour and a half drive from Ajijic. The road, although winding through the mountains, is in great condition. And the drive is worth it. Upon arrival, you feel as if you were transported to an alpine village in Europe. The contrast in the type vegetation and architecture is substantial. It is also a great day trip if you need a break from the heat. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the village. There are also numerous tour companies that will take you up into the mountains, if you are seeking adventure. On the way back down you can stop and pick up some water buffalo for dinner from a small roadside shop. Who knew there were water buffalo in Mexico?

 

 

 

 

Art on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico

Living on the shores of Lake Chapala stirred a love of art, unlike anything I previously experienced. Generally, I am attracted to words and sound. I read and listen to music voraciously. While I always appreciated the visual arts, I did not go out of my way to discover new forms or to understand the process of creating the pieces. However, my husband and daughter are visual artists and have taught me to pause, look deeper, and see more than I could in the past.

And then we moved to Mexico! I already described the soundtrack of Mexico; I will let the images speak for themselves.

Street Art

Art infuses every place you look in Mexico ­– sidewalks, doors, windows, alleyways, and even on trees. In comparison, much of the rest of the world seems afraid of color.

Guadalahara St ArtAjijic St Art 4Ajijic Tree SculptureAjijic St Art 3Ajijic DoorAjijic St ArtAjijic St Art 2

Working artists

Along Lake Chapala, there is not a shortage of art shows. They are often advertised on flyers around town, Facebook events, or you may just happen upon one by walking around town. There are also many galleries where you can pop in and talk to the artists while they work.

Feria Maestros del Arte, Chapala, Mexico

Feria Maestros del Arte is a non-profit that hosts an annual an event to showcase some of the most amazing folk artists from Mexico. On this occasion, we couldn’t resist temptation. We bought two pieces of art, even though we have no permanent home in which to display them. Both pieces are now traveling around with us!

Chapala Art Show purchase

Isabel Mendoza’s follows a traditional straw art form developed by her grandfather. You can visit her studio in Guadalajara! Or contact her directly at mendoza.isabel71@yahoo.com.mx

Chapala Art Show

Miguel Fabián Pedro from Oaxaca. He is a 4th generation potter. His work is inspired by the Mesoamerican cultures of the Mixtecs and Zapotec.

Artist at work

While walking along the cobblestone streets of Ajijic, I caught a glimpse of magical colorful beauty. When I peeked into his studio Efran Gonazalez graciously invited us in, even though he was preparing for a huge show in Austin, Texas.

Artist At Work

Efran working on a painting of his daughter. He said this is the first time she has modeled for him.

Artists Work In Progress

This was my favorite piece. It captures the feeling of market day perfectly. And makes me wish I had a wall to put it on!

Artists Studio

More pieces getting ready to head to Austin for the big show!

Sculptures

Malecòn in Jocotepac

The malecòn in Jocotepac is a lovely way to spend a few hours. Families take full advantage of the shade trees, grills, and even the exercise equipment that is scattered throughout the adjacent park. As you stroll through the park we were also surprised by incredible sculptures many inspired by the Indigenous culture of the area.

Aztec ArtAztec HeadAjijic Malecon

Chapala

Chapala also offers a beautiful malecón, great spots to eat, and of course more art. I found this sculpture particularly mesmerizing.

Chapala Malecon

Museums

Although a little north of Lake Chapala, I cannot exclude the museums and art found in Guadalajara. There is so much to absorb, it would take days if not weeks to take it all. Here are a few favorites from the Museum of Arts: University of Guadalajara.

 

Dome

Jose Clemente Orozco is credited for the Mexican Mural Renaissance (along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros). This dome is a stunning example of his work!

Gudalahara Musem Art

Unfortunately, I did not note the name of this artist. But the museum features many contemporary artists. I am fascinated by seeing the contrasts and similarities between the ancient art, folk art, and modern art in Mexico.

 

What else can I say about the art of Mexico? Besides – VIVA MEXICO! I am in love!

 

Positively spinning in 2017!

I woke up, on a working farm in Borgarnes, Iceland, to the sound of an incoming text. My daughter was back in the states so I reached for my phone immediately. “He won!” I replied, “What?” Surely, she was joking! I woke up Stan. He also thought it was a joke and frantically grabbed his phone. We were in a state of shock. What did this mean? What was in store for the U.S. in 2017? How bad would it be? We sat in stillness as it sunk in; then we determinedly resolved it would not impact the rest of our time in Iceland. We walked in silence over to get breakfast at the café where we were staying. There was a stillness there as well. Over the rest of the trip, many Icelanders expressed sadness and worry for us. Luckily, they instinctively knew we were not ok with the outcome of the election. On the fight back to the US, we tried very hard to not ask “what if”.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is cathartic – a celebration of letting go and a time to embrace possibility. However, I felt trepidation about 2017. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I suspected it wasn’t going to be good. After the inauguration, like most Americans I know, as soon as my eyes opened in the morning I reached for my phone. I had to know what 45 had done while I slept. Within a matter of weeks, we were all exhausted. The onslaught of bad news, absurdity, lies, and spewing of hatred wreaked havoc on our spirits. I spent a lot of time consoling others, but freaking out when no one was looking. Then I said, “Enough.” I had to find a way to navigate this hostile administration while still moving forward and finding some enjoyment in life.

With that in mind and after countless conversations as a family, we decided to make radical changes in our lives hoping they would provide the opportunity to experience joy within the uncertainty. The year was still hard and as we watch the US backslide towards a country that cares even less for those that need it most – my heart continued to break. I hope I live to see the day that people unite and truly take care of each other. Until then, we must also find a way to take care of ourselves and our families so we can remember there is still beauty in the world. In 2017, I embarked on a mission to make time to find and embrace beauty. Amazing that since I set that intention – we did indeed find tremendous beauty. Here are few of the highlights!

1) Walking in a Winter Wonderland
I received a small grant to present my research at the University of Iceland! This allowed us to return to Iceland and further explore the country we love so much. Being snow lovers, a day spent wandering snowy fields was perfect. Followed up by an amazing meal at one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Tryggvaskáli

Iceland Clouds

Southwest Iceland    February 2017

2) Taking a Break from City Life ­
One of the best parts of living in Seattle is the closeness of the mountains, alpine lakes, and waterfalls. Teneriffe Falls is one of my favorite day hikes. The sound of the water pounding down the mountain helps relieve the stress of city life. The hike is moderate and you can push yourself to the top (13.8 miles round trip) or just find a good spot along the way to picnic and relax.

Teneriffe Falls, Washington

Teneriffe Falls, Washington, USA      April 2017

3) Scouting out Scandinavia
Again, I was honored to present my research abroad. This time at the University of Örebro. Since we were in the area, it was the perfect opportunity to explore a little of Scandinavia. I absolutely fell in love with Stockholm (especially the Chokladbollar). We will certainly be going back.

Stockholm Sweden Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Sweden    May 2017

4) Viewing the Vast Vigeland Sculpture Garden
Oslo welcomed us with a rare heat wave. We were completely unprepared for the heat and returned to Seattle with a tan! Not sure anyone at our jobs believed we actually went to Scandinavia on the trip. So, here’s a great picture to prove it!

Gustav Vigeland Monolith

Vigeland Sculpture Garden, Oslo, Norway  May 2017

5) Wedding Day ­
Marrying your best friend under the cherry tree in your backyard is highly recommended. Our dear friend (and amazing musician), Simon Henneman officiated our “Shredding Wedding” through song ­– Pink Floyd Narrow Way Pt III. We were surrounded by our closest friends and Ava (our GSD) even stood by our sides during the ceremony!

Wedding Day

Seattle, Washington, USA  July 2017

6) Sunset Strolls Along the Beach
Grayland was one of my stomping grounds in the early 90s, I hadn’t been back since. It was a bittersweet reunion and farewell. The sunsets, kite flying, and seafood on this part of the Washington coast are remarkable. The dogs loved beach time for sure!

Washington Coast Sunset

Grayland, Washington, USA   August 2017

7) Farm Livin’ is the Life for Me
Nothing quite prepares you for the moment that your child is ready to fly solo. You spend years preparing them so they can succeed and then one day it is time for them to go. I don’t think we could have found a better place for our last weekend together before we left for Mexico and my daughter literally flew off on her own (to the UK). We spent her baby years on a remote ranch in the mountains; it seemed oddly fitting to launch her into adulthood from the middle of nowhere!

Family Portrait 2017

Onalaska, Washington, USA   August 2017

8) Wowed at White Pocket
We were tipped off about White Pocket by our waitress our first night in Kanab, Utah. Her face beamed and her enthusiasm was contagious as she described hiking there. It is truly one of our highlights of the year. I think I used the word stunning more on that hike than I have in my entire life (Love it so much I also wrote about it here ).

White Pocket walk

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona, US   September 2017

9) Zealously Ziplining
When you are traveling the world with two adventure seekers you get talked into things! It took them days to convince me that I would miss out if I didn’t go along with them. I’ll be honest, I almost chickened out. Finally, I committed. It was a blast. I’d do it again!

Zip Line Kanab

Kanab, Utah, USA    September 2017

10) Honored by Big Horn Sheep
After several days of being in crowded National Parks, we almost skipped Zion. Our journey was about natural beauty, not crowds of people. However, we were so close and didn’t know if we’d ever visit the area again so we decided to go for just a few hours. It was worth battling the traffic and crowds. Standing a few feet away from Big Horn Sheep is an awesome and humbling experience!

Big Horn Sheep

Zion National Park, Utah, USA    September 2017

11) Dazzled by Dia De Los Muertos
The relationship to death in Mexico is refreshing compared to what we experience in the US. Instead of ignoring or hiding it, death is represented in art everywhere. Skulls and skeletons are found in high-end galleries and murals that line the streets. Dia de Los Muertos is a magical celebration of life that brings families together to beautifully honor their ancestors. Experiencing the music, art, dancing, and alters was a privilege we will never forget.

Catrina

Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico   October 2017

12) Thanksgiving with Mom
If you had told me at the beginning of 2017, that I’d eat Thanksgiving dinner with my mom on the shores of Lake Chapala I would have laughed – impossible! I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom. Through my work with teens and young adults, I have repeatedly seen how they suffer because their moms don’t support them in who they are. My mom may not have understood my crazy punk rock antics or life choices, but she always accepted them and let me be me. I am truly thankful for that – so thanksgiving with her was perfect!

Thanksgiving Dinner with Mom

Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico    November 2017

So that’s a wrap! This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we experienced in 2017, but reviewing the beauty we found along the way makes heading into 2018 feel a little more doable. The current administration, in the US, has already assaulted almost every community my family and friends belong to (or the communities of those I served for decades). I fear what this administration is capable of in 2018. I also know I will never be able to remain silent in the face of injustice. I will continue to advocate and fight for what is right. I recommit each day to do as little harm as possible, but I also need to replenish my reserves so compassion fatigue doesn’t leave me incapable of being of service. Therefore, I also re-commit to finding beauty in 2018! I will choose love over hate and continue to grab opportunities!

Thanks for going on this journey with us. May 2018 be the year that we unite like never before!

Peace, Health, and Happiness to all!

 

Loving the Street Dogs of Mexico

Seattle has a very interesting relationship with dogs, in fact, dogs in Seattle outnumber children! Seattleites bring our dogs to restaurants; most coffee shops offer puppuccinos or at least dog treats. My husband built a career out of taking care of other people’s dogs (and cats, turtles, snakes, bearded dragons, and …) We have shops all over town dedicated to high-quality pet foods, toys, beds, and clothes. You think up something that you might want for your pet and you will be able to find it in Seattle. I often joked that our dogs ate better than we did; I was only half joking! It seemed almost everyone you met had dogs, was a dog walker, or was involved in a pet rescue. It really is not an overstatement to say that Seattle is obsessed with dogs. When we sold almost everything and left town, no one questioned what we would do with our dogs. Seattleites knew that our Basset Hound and German Shepherd would not be left behind.

Lord Harley the Great, came to our family during a time when my 13.5 year-old beloved Australian Shepherd mix, Indah, was at the end of her life. She had been with me longer than my children at that point. My grandmother was also about to go into hospice and life was heavy and dark. For some reason, I just happened to be looking at dogs on Craigslist and there was Lord Harley, a full blood Basset Hound that was no longer wanted by his family. My heart melted and the next day he joined our pack. Fast forward about 6 years – my husband always had German Shepherds but Eva the love of his life, and apparently the “best dog ever,” had passed about 8 years earlier. Although he cared for dogs all over the city, he did not have his own pup to come home to at the end of the day. So of course, I decided he needed a GSD. The pup had to be a female and a rescue. I waited and I searched; then one typical cloudy day, a beautiful face appeared on the Seattle Humane Society website. Ava immediately stole Stan’s heart. She is a very special girl that requires a lot of patience and attention. She was in 3 other homes before ours, one person took her back to the Humane Society after just a couple of weeks. Poor sweet girl. Turning our backs on her is not an option. She is now bonded to us and Lord Harley. She is 100% family.

Ava Harley

Lord Harley the Great and Ava enjoying the beach in Grayland, Washington, USA

We even had to buy a larger vehicle before setting out on our adventure, because Lord Harley and Ava take up a lot of space! They are having the time of the lives and enjoying the adventures, hiking, and change of scenery as much as we are. Before we crossed the border, we obtained the required health certificates for them. Although it’s always good to have your documents in order, we were waved through at the border with no questions asked. We were shocked at how easy it was to bring them into Mexico! I have been to Mexico many times and knew we would encounter street dogs. We talked a lot about how to keep our dogs safe when we did. We felt prepared. However, we weren’t prepared for the magnitude of homeless dogs we would encounter.

dog6

Strolling the Malecón in Ajijic. This lady stole my heart!

It is impossible to walk down the street without running into street dogs. Most are very shy and avoid people. Many have battle scars, injured legs, and/or mange. Stan being “The Doggy Guy,” wins most of them over, takes their pictures, and gives them some love. However, “kibble” often doesn’t get their attention, unless they are really hungry. Perhaps it is because in places like Ajijic, they line up at the butcher shop in the morning waiting for scraps … kind of like Seattleites line up for their morning lattes. Most locals have compassion for the street dogs and feed them scraps. Many restaurants even have “regulars” that are street dogs or dogs from the neighborhoods that come for dinner every night. They generally don’t beg like our spoiled dogs, rather they wait off to the side patiently hoping they will get the remains of someone’s dinner. Some seem to prefer ice cream and have learned how to be ridiculously cute to get their way.

collage-1

However, the relationship with dogs here is very different than in Seattle. Of course, poverty plays a big part in this. When your own basic needs are scarcely met, the needs of animals cannot be your highest priority. Veterinary care and pet supplies are expensive, therefore spaying or neutering is often cost prohibitive. This contributes greatly to the problem of street dogs in Mexico. According to SpayUSA, an un-spayed cat and mate(s) can produce nearly 2 million kittens within 9 years and an un-spayed dog and mate(s) can produce 67,000 puppies within 6 years! That is a lot of animals that need homes!! Many organizations around Lake Chapala are working to remedy this situation. Rescue groups provide veterinary care, “freedom flights” to the US, and spay and neuter clinics. At a recent volunteer-run spay and neuter clinic in Jocotepec, Jalisco, volunteers were elated by the turnout. In just two days, 200 animals were spayed or neutered (83 cats and 117 dogs)! People with extremely limited resources brought their dogs in boxes, sacks, a grocery cart, and whatever else they could – just so their animals could be sterilized. Volunteers’ remarked that they are seeing more men than ever bringing their dogs to these events, including large breeds like Pit Bulls and Malinois. Many people brought their whole families along and children from the area even assisted with the clinic. Volunteers offered rides home to ease the difficulty of transporting post-op animals on the bus. It was truly a community event!

dog5

Taquito’s injuries have healed. He’s doing great & is a frequent dinner at the SmokeHouse!

While there are many volunteers from the local and international community working to help the animals and to prevent the birth of unwanted ones, no one loves the animals more than Alvaro Rene Garcia Martinez. He moved back to his village a couple of years ago to care for his elderly mother, but now also cares for an astonishing amount of animals as well. Alvaro is well known in this area as the person to go to if you find any animal that needs help. He currently cares for over 40 dogs, dozens of cats and birds, and even a couple opossums. He has become so well known that it isn’t unusual for him to wake up to a box of puppies on his doorstep. He works tirelessly to find homes for as many animals as possible! Not having a car doesn’t slow him down, he miraculously manages to arrange rides to the vet, spay and neuter clinics, and meet and greets with potential “forever families”. Immanuel Kant said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” ­– Alvaro’s heart then is pure gold! It is impossible for him to turn away from a suffering animal or to say that he cannot help. He didn’t ask for assistance from others, he simply took care of the animals in need. Alvaro truly leads by example and in doing so has become a magnet for others who want to help.

Alvaro

Alvaro Rene Garcia Martinez with Briso – 8 months old and available for adoption

The number of animals Alvaro cares for is mind-boggling and people in the community recognized that he could really use some help! A group of ex-pats recently joined forces to help him start a non-profit, It Takes a Village Lakeside, so that he would have more resources to help the animals in his care and the others that are surely coming his way. People are also lending their time because it truly takes a village to care for this many animals in need. If you would like to learn more about Alvaro’s incredible work, want to adopt a street dog, or feel compelled to donate you can contact the group at – https://www.facebook.com/ItTakesAVillageLakeside/

It take a village lakesideFollow us on Facebook to see more pictures of the Street Dogs of Mexico or Stan’s animal photography The Doggy Guy

 

Accidental parade participant and an Indigenous history lesson

Last summer before we left Seattle, I was a member of the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Ethnic Studies Task Force which formed due to a resolution by the NAACP (after a long history of inequality within the district). The task force consisted of a dynamic group of educators, community members, and students determined to eliminate institutional racism in SPS. Implementing ethnic studies is just one step towards achieving this huge goal. However, the impact of a culturally relevant curriculum is well documented. When the curriculum reflects students’ life experiences they are more engaged in their learning and academic and critical thinking skills improve. They also build self-esteem.
One of the big push backs heard frequently about ethnic studies is, “What about white students?”

Research demonstrates ethnic studies benefits all students (regardless of ethnic background) because it contributes to greater cultural awareness and promotes equality.

During the task force meetings, my son’s school experience haunted me. My daughter benefited from attending some progressive forward thinking student-centered schools. She thrived – as did her self-confidence, curiosity, and love of learning about and trying new things. Although my son had a few great teachers, overall his schools tended to be more regimented, stale, and mainstream. The focus was on teaching to succeed on standardized tests and compliance. Not surprisingly, his level of engagement was dropping quickly. The curriculum was not culturally relevant or personally meaningful. Two things we know are critical for students to be excited about learning. Much of what we discussed during the task force meetings helped me decide that taking my son on the road would benefit him tremendously. My son was not thriving, getting excited about learning, developing his strengths, or connecting with his culture within SPS. Since middle school is a critical developmental period, I did not want to risk him becoming further disengaged from learning! So, we took the leap and dove into student-centered and culturally relevant learning – 100% of the time! First stop, Mexico! My son now gets to learn about a part of his heritage every day (we will get to the others in time)!

As a research scientist and educator, I love planning! However, I challenged myself to live a more relaxed lifestyle while on the road. We basically live day to day now. We will pick a spot of interest and head out with no set agenda, ready to greet what we meet. In Mexico, it seems there is frequently a surprise waiting. Last Sunday, we headed out to Mezcala Island (aka El Presidio) in Lake Chapala. We read there were ruins of an old fort and ancient tree on the Island. I jump at the chance to be out on the water, so between a boat ride and cool things to explore I was excited to check it out. From our last post, you already know the drive out to Mezcala is dramatic and bumpy. Once you make the turn towards the village, the roads quickly narrow. We came to an intersection and guessed at the way to the dock where we’d catch a boat to the island. We saw flashing lights ahead and the road seemed blocked off, we tried to back up and turn around, but a local passed us and got behind the police vehicle. We assumed they had more information than us and decided to follow. Why not? The cars started moving again, we could see horses up in front…the next thing we knew we were in a parade with no way to turn out! You can imagine the look on the faces of the locals as we drove the parade route. Ever feel like you are being looked at strangely? Well, this time we knew for sure we were not just being self-conscious!

Children to the rescue! A boy around eight years old asked us if we were going to the malecón. “Sí”, we responded. He pointed ahead and said “derecho”. Got it, we just need to go a few more blocks and then turn right. But that meant a few more blocks of being in the parade!! As you can imagine, the children thought this situation was hilarious and they ran along the van instructing us about where to turn. They continued offering guidance until we arrived in a parking area. We were incredibly thankful for our young guides and that the local people found our predicament humorous, not disrespectful. As we got out of the van, we were greeted by a man that runs shuttle boats out to the Island. We walked about a block down the road with him and he explained that it was a very important day. November 25th marks the day of resistance for the Indigenous people that held the Spaniards from over taking Mezcala Island from 1812-1816. Apparently, we had just been a part of the resistance celebration parade!
Mezcala Boat blog
Within a few moments, our shuttle boat was ready for departure. Our young guides eagerly helped us board the boat. I admit I was a little relieved when the boat’s Capitan offered us life jackets – the lake was choppy and the boat had very low sides. The two young metro police that were also catching a ride also took the life jackets. Maybe, I wasn’t being paranoid after all? When traveling, I am frequently amused by how often I really have no idea what is going on. My Spanish is such that I can “get by” and know the jest of the conversations but the details are often lost on me. We approached a boat anchored offshore, for a moment I thought we might have to try to get ourselves from the boat we were on and into the other one! Instead, the man who had walked us down to the dock stepped into the other boat and said “good-bye”. Guess, he wasn’t our guide after all. The Capitan then turned the boat, picked up the pace a little, and headed towards the island. Although incredibly young looking, he exuded confidence and I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the short ride. Along the way, we saw Great White Egrets, Mexican ducks, and beautifully awkward White Pelicans.
Mezcala Tree blog
From the very first steps, you begin to realize that Mezcala Island is an extraordinary place. We were the first boat to arrive that morning, so it was extremely quiet on the island. I immediately began to feel contemplative and calm. El Árbol de la Vida (Tree of Life) stands gracefully above a statue of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos. I haven’t been able to locate an accurate age of the tree but locals gave us a range of 300 years to 1000s, so let’s just say it is impressive and very old. After an easy climb to the top of the hill, the fortress, chapel and soldier’s quarters came into view. As we wandered, I kept thinking I smelled food but there were no restaurants on the island and we didn’t see anyone else. However, there were some backpacks and cooking gear near a large tree in the middle of the fortress (also used historically as a prison). Although it seemed we had just arrived, the timer went off and the hour we paid our Capitan to wait was almost over. We were not close to being ready to leave, so my husband ran down to ask if we could stay an extra hour. Luckily, this was possible. As we continued to explore the island, a man in his twenties came up and started talking with us. He spoke some English but most of the conversation was in Spanish. He spoke slowly and used lots of gestures to help us understand, as he shared with us the history of the island and his tribe (Coca). It was during this conversation that we began to understand how fortunate we were to have decided to head to the island on November 25th. José said that many indigenous people would be arriving on the island for lunch and to celebrate thier culture and the resistance. He told us he had once moved away but is so happy to be back on the island – the land of his ancestors. Now, we understood why the backpacks and cooking gear were in the fortress. A festival was about to happen!
Mezcala Fort blog
José asked us to walk over to a circle on the ground under a large tree. He said it was very special and that Indigenous people held ceremony at this location. He asked me to raise my hands to the sky and feel the power. I followed his lead and let the energy from the sun come into my fingertips and then I washed it along my body down to the earth. We repeated this together 3-4 times, he glanced over occasionally to see if I was still following his lead. The ritual was so familiar, it reminded me of those I experienced with Indigenous people in the US. I felt calm and connected. Reminded again that although we come from different cultures and are born on different land, we really are similar in so many ways. José asked if I felt the power, I responded, “Sí” and he began to share the story of the resistance.

Perhaps, the most famous part of the story was the four-year period where the Indigenous people fought off the Spanish army and navy. The Indigenous people created underwater barriers that destroyed the unsuspecting Spaniards’ boats. While the boats were sinking, the Indigenous people launched rocks to ensure the invader’s defeat. The Spaniards were embarrassed by being decimated by the Indigenous people, whom they outnumbered by several thousands! As he told the story, our new friend’s pride for his people’s resilience and creativity shone brightly on his face. After four long years, he told us, the people on the island began suffering from illness and eventually a surrender was negotiated. However, because of the long history of defeat, the Spanish authorities agreed that the Indigenous people would have amnesty, assistance in rebuilding their villages, and be awarded seed and livestock. The Spaniards honored this agreement, which was very rare! We were told that this success helped inspire others to continue the resistance, which ultimately contributed to Mexican independence.
Mezcala Soldiers Quarters blog
José then invited us for a tour of the fort and to stay for the celebration. Unfortunately, it was time to return to our boat so we had to decline. We promised to return and he told us to look for him and he would tell us more about the Coca people. At this point in the conversation, he switched to mostly English and told us that it was important to him to know the history of his people and now he just wants to share it with others. On the drive back to town, my son and I had a long conversation about colonization. We compared and contrasted colonization in the United States to that which occurred in Mexico. Although our goal is to be as organic in our learning as possible we do create a framework to keep us on task. Since November is Native Heritage month, we already read and discussed colonization in the US at length. We talked about how US history continues to play out related to current events like the Dakota Access Pipeline and land grabs from tribal people. My son became curious about how colonization happened in Mexico, wanting to know more about the Coca people, and his own Mexican heritage. Instead of being “forced” to learn Spanish or being “bored” by it, my son listened attentively while José talked because he was interested and wanted to understand. And all of this learning occurred on a Sunday, which wasn’t even a day we do “school”. It is pretty spectacular to have the luxury of time, so teachable moments aren’t wasted and deep reflection is possible.

As part of our roadschooling, my son keeps a travel log. It provides him a framework for digesting what he learns and observes during our adventures. His travel log incorporates history (including from Indigenous and women’s perspectives) and life science. I also encourage him to go deeper and explore any aspects that are particularly interesting to him. Through this process, I can see clearly how his schooling taught him to only answer the questions asked in the prescribed format. I am still waiting for the day that my son is so excited by a new topic that I can’t pull him away, but we are only a few months into the journey and he must unlearn the 7 years of conditioning that taught him to fill in the worksheet, answer the test questions, and just get it done. However, I already see a change in the depth of the conversations we have and in our relationship.

How do you incorporate ethnic studies into your home- or world-schooling?

Teachers in public/private schools – How do you incorporate ethnic studies (regardless of if it has been officially implemented in your school)?

What happens when you follow your dream and live your passion?

Spending even five minutes reading world “news” these days can be soul crushing and make you feel like goodness in the world is gone. But then you meet people that move through the world in a way that gives you hope. One of the best parts of traveling is chance encounters with people you’d never have met if you stayed in your own city, country, and comfort zone. Since we began staying near Lake Chapala in Mexico, we have fallen in love with the most delicious chipotle goat cheese we have ever tasted! The flavor is undeniably impeccable; so much so that when I ran out of crackers I had to find something else to put it on. I tried it on tortilla chips. Amazing! When I ran out of them, I may have just licked it off the knife. Each week, I look forward to going to the market and renewing our supply. As I relayed my love of their product to the vendor, she mentioned that they gave tours of their farm. I knew I wanted to go. I have always adored goats. Back in my punk rock, volunteering on a reservation days, I even had a goat named Darby Crash! I wasn’t sure if my family would be as enthusiastic as I was, especially at the prospect of doing some milking! However, I am fortunate that my family is generally game to take any adventure with me that I can come up with. The next time we saw the vendors, Juan Diego and Laura, we told them we were in and that we couldn’t wait to visit their farm.

Goat
Juan Diego had told us that the tour of the farm also included treats! As it turned out, the best treat was getting to know them. We met Juan Diego and Laura in Ajijic and followed them out to the ranch. The drive from Ajijic to Mezcala is excitingly beautiful and bumpy. Mexico is notorious for its unmarked speed bumps, topes, and although we encountered some along the way, we mostly encountered what I called inverted topes, essentially huge potholes. It was impressive watching the cars in front of us navigate the potholes effortlessly by weaving from one side of the road to the other. The scenery along the roadside is unlike any I have seen, to the right the mountain has flowering trees all the way to the top, to the left a stunning view of Lake Chapala and the historic Mezcala Island. Much sooner than expected, we arrived at the ranch. Along with a few other tourists visiting the ranch that day, we were welcomed with fresh fruit, goat yogurt, and granola. After enjoying our delicious snack, Juan Diego instructed us to wash our hands before feeding the goats to protect them from our human germs. The goats’ favorite snacks were the leaves of the plum trees growing all around the ranch. They gently ate from our hands and some were super affectionate and loved being petted… others not so much.
Laura_and_goatsAfter feeding, Laura freed the goats from the pens to wander among us as we climbed up the hillside. At the top, Juan Diego introduced us to their “office” ­– large rocks for sitting, a small fire pit, and a magnificent view. Juan Diego started sharing the story of how the Galo de Allende farm came to be. He found the property while hiking and knew it was the perfect place to raise goats. He was already a cheese maker and for many reasons the next logical step was to raise their own goats, which would offer them a fresh supply of milk. What struck me the most during the conversation was how intentional Juan Diego and Laura are about their place in the community and the natural environment. Buying land is generally not an option in Mezcala if you are an outsider. Juan Diego, along with his mother, had to meet with the village elders and convince them their intentions were good, they would not harm the land, and they would contribute in a positive way to the community. These are the very values that permeated endless conversations I had in the US Pacific Northwest in the 90s. Many of us had a shared vision of how things could be. But instead of sustainable community development, I watched corporate greed completely destroy the areas I loved.

Allende_officeWhen I went to the Galo de Allende ranch, I hadn’t expected to see a successful business model that was actively focused on giving the best care available to the animals, protecting the land, and providing jobs for a community that has an extremely high rate of poverty. As if that isn’t all amazing enough, it was also incredibly inspiring to meet people that had forsaken the traditional modern lifestyle to go back to small batch cheese making and ranching. A huge part of my work over the past fifteen plus years is coaching youth and young adults to find and follow their dreams. To the depths of my heart and soul, I believe that quality of life is more important than making a bunch of money, fitting into the status quo, or doing what is expected by the current measures of many societies. As Laura and Juan Diego talk about their plans for the future and how they got to where they are; their eyes sparkle and their smiles widen. Their gentleness, intentionality, happiness, and generosity are contagious. I wonder how much more peaceful the world would be if more people followed their dreams and lived their passion? I am not sure if they realize it yet, but Juan Diego and Laura are an inspiration to others. I am honored they shared their dream, ranch, and delicious food with my family! If you happen to find yourself near Lake Chapala, look them up (https://www.facebook.com/galodeallende) … you will be glad you did.

The sountrack to life is loud!

Fond memories were born while sitting under our cherry tree in Seattle, sipping a little whiskey, telling stories, eating, and laughing. Beneath our tree, we planned trips, cried tears of sadness and joy, and even married each other! I cannot even guess at the number of hours we spent in the shadows of that magnificent tree. Oddly during most of those hours, we were the only people in our neighborhood out in the yard. I would get so excited on the rare occasions I heard someone else entertaining outside, laughing, or practicing an instrument. Why were people inside their houses even when the weather was perfect? The young guy that lived behind us had a grill on his back porch and a large backyard. When grilling, he’d open the door quickly, peek at his meat, and go back inside (presumably to watch his enormous TV, which we could see plainly through our upstairs window). When his meat was ready, he’d hurriedly grab it and return to his house. I never once saw him so much as enjoy a cup of coffee sitting on his back deck or playing ball with his dog in the yard. Even when he had friends over, during the awesome summers in Seattle, they’d all stay inside. This behavior seemed commonplace throughout our neighborhood. I found it incredibly bizarre. During our long evenings under our tree, sirens were the most frequent sound heard outside of our yard. City life!

cherry tree

In stark contrast, every night seems to be a celebration in San Juan Cosala! Sitting on the porch I can hear live bands, roosters crowing, the braying of burros, announcements on loud speakers, the whinnying of horses, an endless chorus of dogs barking, church bells, and mucho cohetes! Occasionally, I can even hear a cow. I love it! These are the sounds of living. I hear freedom and families. Freedom to express yourself. You like music? Then by all means… play it and play it LOUD! Invite your neighbors over. Sit, share stories, laugh. Why should the sound of laughter or music be bothersome? Why is it actually banned after 10 pm in so many places in the US? “It is 10 pm; everyone must go to bed. No more fun, laughter, or music for you.” I love that here as I crawl into bed accordions, trumpets, and drums soothe me to sleep. I admit that the drummer in me cannot resist the music’s allure and sometimes I have head back outside to get a better listen. I soak in the power of the music and on an especially lucky night catch a shooting star or lightning off in the distance. At first, I thought that all the noise might keep me awake but since it is almost constant it has become a beautiful soundtrack to our lives.

Last weekend we had the honor of experiencing Dia de los Muertos festivals in Ajijic and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. The festivals went into the night and the music blared. Beyond the stunning costumes and incredible dancing, I was struck by all the families gathered together – from wee ones just born to teetering elders. Seeing the multi-generational families together reminded me of my childhood when my family lived closer together and we gathered on a regular basis. For many of us in the US, this sense of community no longer exists. Families, like my own, are spread all over the globe. In our cities, we often don’t know our neighbors. Educators are taught that one of the primary goals to teach youth is “independent living.” People look down upon young adults that choose to live with their parents, grandparents, or with groups of friends. We are conditioned to think living alone (or with a partner), not knowing your neighbors, staying inside, and living quietly is “normal” and healthy. Not only does it not seem normal, it seems oppressive and isolating. So many of the youth I have worked with experience anxiety, depression, and addiction. They are desperately seeking connection!!!! Yet, our culture looks down on the things that connect people. We can resist this!

PSX_20171106_185535.jpg

I propose we encourage people to build community again and to make some damn noise. Don’t be dissuaded from living with your parents, grandparents, or friends. As my grandfather always said, it makes way more sense to pull our resources together and thrive than for each one of us to be struggling on our own. There is integrity in helping each other out, not turning our backs on the young, struggling, or elderly. For most of human history, we have lived in multigenerational housing – it is a farce to think that the current system is better. All we have to do is look at the number of people that experience social isolation and/or the skyrocketing numbers of people that are homeless. Build community: Go outside, tell your neighbor a story, play an instrument or your favorite music, look at the sky, invite friends over, and laugh.

Isolation is quiet, living is loud!

You know what they say? If it’s too loud you’re too old!

So, since it seems everyone wants to stay young,

you might as well turn up the volume!

 

Photo credits: Stan Reed Photography

Discomforting privilege and a warm welcome to Mexico

I lived in poverty or scrapped by barely making it from pay check to pay check for most of my adult life. I lost everything multiple times and had to rebuild. For years, my daughter thought we ate rice and beans almost daily because it was part of her cultura. She didn’t know until years later that it was all we could afford. In Seattle, I worked hard to make ends meet. I did ok and was relieved that when the bills came I could actually pay them. My family’s lifestyle was incredibly modest; all our furniture was second hand as were the majority of our clothes. Our house needed many repairs but it was home and I loved it. As a single mom, I felt extremely fortunate that I was able to buy a house in one of the most expensive cities in the US. Every day, I passed by people struggling with homelessness and living in tent cities. I also knew that if I lost my job and didn’t find another within a few weeks we could very easily end up on the streets too. There was no nest egg, rich family members, or trust fund to turn to in time of need.

Luckily the housing market in Seattle is absurd and for once in my life, I was at the right place at the right time. Selling the house gave us options beyond my wildest dreams and as soon as we crossed into Mexico our privileged position screamed loudly. After years of struggling to just get by, I gave myself permission to live in luxury for a few months. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable I feel living in a gated community above the town where so many people live in poverty. I feel and I am separated from the poor like never before. People tell me that my good fortune was because I worked really hard. Although it is true I worked my ass off to obtain my PhD, if the real estate market hadn’t exploded I would have continued to live pay check to pay check for many years to come (the pay in my field is not great)! It really is by chance that I have this opportunity.

Now, I am trying to find my place in this very weird and uncomfortable position of privilege. Like many of the rich areas in the US, empty houses surround me. Some of the owners come only for vacation; others not at all. The disparity is mind boggling. I do not for a moment believe that I deserve to live in luxury and others deserve to live in poverty. I understand the structures that created and maintain the disparity in the US, now I want to understand the systems here. I also want to make sure that I am doing everything possible to not cause further damage. Although I am painfully aware that I cannot single handedly solve injustice, I make the commitment to at the very least not cause harm. I am a guest in Mexico and I want to experience all the beauty and culture it offers. I also want to be of service and am looking to connect where my skills can be the most useful.

Unfortunately, many gringos here don’t seem to have the same approach. On online forums and in interactions I observe the same entitled behavior and racism that I saw north of the border (NOB). Especially on the online forums there seems to be a general overtone of superiority and an us vs them mentality. People are constantly writing comments about how locals are short changing them and trying to scam them. These comments are made with little to no evidence that their assumptions are correct. I am not saying that bad things can’t happen or that dishonest people don’t exist in MX, I am just saying that everything that people worry about happening here definitely happens in the US too. Gringos also get frantic searching for the same brands as home, like “tide pods” (yes, really!). C’mon on people, you were adventurous enough to move to MX how about trying a different kind of detergent? They also bring with them their harried way of being in the world. Horn honking, huffing and puffing when waiting in line… What is that all about? Most of these folks are retired. Where the hell do they have to be that they can’t stand in line a few extra minutes for dirt cheap organic veggies bought directly from the grower?

farmers market.jpg

In stark contrast, the locals are extremely kind and welcoming. Everywhere I go, smiles and “Buenos Dias” or “Hola” greet me. I have not once felt unsafe or unwelcome. As an educator that works mostly with youth, I am blown away every time a teen looks me in the eye, smiles, and says “Buenos Tardes” as they walk by. That certainly wasn’t the teen behavior I saw in Seattle; friendly teenagers that WANT to talk to adults? Wow! And the children… they are often eager to try out any English words they know. Their smiles melt my heart. The vendors at the markets we frequent are also incredible. Today, we even got hugs and kisses from our favorite baker! These delightful interactions make getting our groceries fun, instead of being another chore on the to do list. Even when I visit communities that people from NOB don’t often frequent and I struggle trying to speak Spanish, people always respond with patience and kindness. Never once has anyone said, “SPEAK SPANISH, you are in Mexico” or shouted at me to go back where I came from. What if in the US “foreigners” were welcome the way my family has been here? I think the people of Mexico have a lot to teach those of us from NOB. I look forward to learning all I can during my time here.