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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

Why are you doing this?

When I started telling people that we were selling our house and moving out of the US, the first question was “Why”. Why would you leave Seattle, a city that you have moved back to three times? Why would you choose another country over the US? Why now? And why would you take your son out of school? Sometimes, I engaged in a lengthy conversation and explained how we had made our decision. Other times, I responded with “I promise to explain in on the blog”. So this post is for those of you that have not received an answer or new people we have met that are curious about why this came to be.

Let me start by saying, I love Seattle. Seattle has been good to me over the years and will always hold a piece of my heart. Seattle is home. I first moved to Seattle in 1989 with about 100 dollars to my name. Friends talked me into moving there because jobs were plentiful and paid well and housing was cheap. Back then, living in Seattle was easy. The city was bursting at the seams with creativity, passion, and originality. I found a job within a few days and for the first time in my adult life, I had money to burn after paying for my necessities. Now the cost of living is prohibitive and artists and other creative types are leaving the city in droves. For many of us, we need multiple jobs to just squeak by. And the traffic, the city just wasn’t ready for the influx of techies and planning decisions thus far have not eased the growing pains. As the cost of homes continued to reach ridiculous levels, it seemed for once it was time to be an opportunist and cash out. My city no longer afforded the quality of life it previously promised and leaving had the potential of giving me more time with my son, time to travel, and time to pursue other passions. Staying, meant working 60-80 hours a week at multiple jobs and not being able to be fully present as my son soars through the teen years. After weighing the options, the right path became clear. And since my current research project was ending and I didn’t receive funding to start a new one, I decided instead of feeling like all was lost… I would embrace it as an opportunity to try something radically different!

Leaving the US made sense for so many reasons. Quality of life is at the top of the list. My mother has lived in Mexico on and off for quite a few years and has been encouraging me to head south of the border as well. She started sending pictures of houses for rent close to where she was living. For less than the cost of a studio apartment in many areas of Seattle, I have a gorgeous home, lake view, maid service and a gardener! I feel privileged beyond my wildest dreams. (The thought of having hired help goes against my working class & DIY roots but I’ll save that for another post). In contrast, my salary as an academic living in Seattle barely paid the bills and I lived very modestly! It was not sustainable. Leaving the US has already provided a higher quality of life and best of all TIME! I can focus on my health, my son’s education, writing, and playing music. It has been years since I had time! I have often said that music and art are what makes us truly human, but I had to stuff my own creativity into the back of the closet so I could pursue the money necessary to merely get by. Our short time on earth was not meant to be spent making money and paying bills. About 20 years ago, my boss at the time told me “no one ever dies, wishing they had spent more time at the office.” He was absolutely right! And since life also offers no guarantees, it doesn’t seem wise to wait for retirement to live the life you want. Time and time again, I have witnessed that life can be cut short and I don’t want to take the chance of kicking off before I get to really live.

As for my taking my son out of public school, all the reasons will unveil themselves over time within the posts on this blog. As an educator that focuses on preparing youth for the transition to adulthood, I endlessly study adolescent development, best educational practices, and interventions that are the most effective. I studied at one of the best schools in the US for this field. I have trained teachers, school counselors & psychologists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers. I have observed in well over 100 schools. We know how kids learn best. We know how to keep kids engaged in learning. We know how to help improve kids quality of life, self-esteem, and social/emotional health. As a nation, we do not do it! Educators often tell me how trapped they feel within the system. Many have their students’ best interests at heart, but the system they work within doesn’t allow them the flexibility to meet kids where they are. I saw my son become increasingly disengaged from school. We know middle school is a pivot point, that can have a dramatic impact on the rest of the child’s educational experience. As an educator (and first-generation college student) the last thing I want is for my son to be turned off from learning. But even worse, I saw his schooling was taken a toll on his self-esteem. I have worked with far too many youths and young adults that suffered from the narratives others created about them. I could not let that be my son’s experience. So now, I put myself to task and will utilize all I have been taught so that my son’s education is personally meaningful and culturally relevant. Volumes of research support this approach and although I cannot immediately change the entire US school system, I can change my son’s educational experience.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. The answer to why we left our home, city, and community we love. Like so many immigrants before us, we are searching for a better quality of life.

Photo credit: My incredibly talented daughter, Nox, took this shot!

Next page with a police escort

The last post ended with the words, “And tomorrow, I will face what comes…” Of course, I had no idea how relevant they would be. I woke up to the news of the carnage in Las Vegas and was once again jolted out of the sense of tranquility I am working so hard to create. We started scouring the internet to find information about what had happened and what was known so far. Again the suffering of those affected was overwhelming, as was the knowledge that there was nothing I could do to relieve it. Our original plan for the day was to head to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, on our way into Arizona, so we packed up from the current AirBnB, ate breakfast, and moved forward.

As we drove to the Grand Canyon, we listened to classic rock and focused on the splendor of the aspens in full fall color. I reminisced about how much I loved the aspen’s that lined the acequia behind the ranch I used to live on in NM. I felt certain my family was getting tired of hearing my ranch stories, because my time in the high desert had flooded my mind with memories. Overall, the drive was pretty uneventful. When we arrived we were fortunate to find parking easily, since it was the end of the season and the north rim isn’t as frequented by tourists.

We started out on the easy hike to the viewing platform and noticed immediately a thick haze across the Canyon. I tried to remain positive but couldn’t help thinking, “what have we done?” I remember visiting the Canyon as a teenager, I felt like then I could see from one side to the other. The stratification produced vivid colors, which are now obscured by haze. Although we had been dealing with haze and smoke from wildfires for months in the NW, I was appalled that we let one of the most beautiful regions of our country fall victim to our irresponsibility and corporate greed. (https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2017/04/06/court-rejects-arizonas-challenge-to-epa-imposed-emissions-rules/)

What will we leave behind for our children and grandchildren? As much as I tried to keep a positive attitude, so far the day had been pretty damn depressing.

We walked back to the van to get the dogs out for a walk before heading on our way. I began to feel a little short of breath (I have a history of asthma) but thought it was probably just the high elevation. We finished walking the dogs and loaded up for our next destination near Flagstaff. Everyone was quiet as we descended, I tried to focus on the yellow shimmering aspens. The night before I noticed some burning in my left fingertips. I attributed it to cutting really hot jalapeños, but I was beginning to feel it again. I didn’t really think much about it but as we drove along, I began feeling numbness in my arm all the way to my elbow. Next, I noticed tingling in my face and tongue. I decided I should let my family know what was happening. I started to panic and became worried that I was having a heart attack or maybe even a stroke. We got to Jacob Lake (famous for their cookies) and got out to walk around. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I felt lightheaded. Maybe it was altitude sickness? We asked the guy at the tourist information center which hospital was closest. He said we should go to Page, AZ. It was 80 miles away!

So off we went. To avoid the expense of tickets, interactions with the police, and because of my extreme fear of being in another car wreck, Stan had been adhering to the speed limit (even when everyone else was not). He let me know that slow driving wasn’t going to happen this time. As we made our way to Page, I began to feel worse and eventually both arms were tingling and numb and I couldn’t feel my tongue! We still had a LONG way to go to reach medical care. It was time to call 911. Luckily, we had cell service at the time. The dispatcher told us to keep driving and an ambulance would meet us. A few moments later the dispatcher called back and told us to put our hazard lights on so the highway patrol could identify us easily. I became more panicked and felt like I was going to pass out. I had no idea what was happening to me! I knew Stan was flying down the mountain, passing lines of cars, but for once I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to Page! Finally, we came around the bend and saw a state trooper. He was waving frantically. Stan veered to the right where the police were waiting. We were surrounded by four cop cars. “Mike” came up to my side of the car and introduced himself as a supervisor and paramedic. He said they were going to send a helicopter but instead an ambulance was on the way. We were about 10 miles from Page. I was still feeling panicked, but also thought at this point Stan could probably get me there faster than they would. Mike had commended Stan for “making good time”. My son later informed me we had reached 110 mph! Way to go Kia Sedona (aka Silver Lining).  After some discussion, Mike instructed Stan to jump in line with the police and drive until we met the ambulance.

We raced through the desert at 80mph with our police escort. I really thought we’d get to Page before the ambulance met us. I must have been feeling better because I was starting to worry about the expense of an ambulance ride. At long last, we saw the ambulance and again pulled off the road. Ava (our German Shepherd) started barking as the EMTs approached the van. After some initial questions, they loaded me into the ambulance. It seemed the symptoms were vague enough they couldn’t make an accurate diagnosis and didn’t want to take chances. Once in the ambulance and hooked up to oxygen and an IV, I noticed the buff EMT dudes were wearing bright pink shirts! It just added to the surreal experience.

As soon as the ambulance doors opened at the hospital I was relieved by hearing Stan’s voice. They had beaten us to the hospital, the police escorted them the entire way! I still couldn’t believe what was happening and although feeling slightly better, I was worried about the outcome. The staff at the hospital in Page were excellent! We were treated respectfully and quickly. I was kept informed of everything that was happening and had all my questions answered. They were thorough and ruled out a cardiac event and pulmonary embolism, and X-rays were taken. Ultimately, Dr. Cluff let me know that my lungs had not been effectively doing their job. Three breathing treatments later, we were ready to head to our next cabin in the woods. I was so relieved that the issue was not a new medical problem, but am pretty irked that our environment is under such assault that the air in our “national treasure” is not suitable for breathing.

So yeah, we faced what came and will continue to do so… but next time I do hope it is a little less dramatic!

Joy, tragedy, and bad behavior

A majority of the travel blogs and instagrams seem to paint a picture of perfect trips and a life of ease. In reality, as we travel the horrors of the world do not stop. Family and friends continue to face unthinkable tragedy and suffering. When we do check in on world events, we inevitably find that greed remains the motivating factor instead of compassion and the desire to care for others. Worldwide there is senseless suffering. Self-serving behavior is pervasive. With 45 at the helm in the US, it seems more people believe this type of behavior is acceptable.

As we travel through the national parks, people boldly demonstrate their sense of entitlement. It is hard to believe that even with gorgeous canyons and stunning views all around them, they honk at each other, aggressively pass on narrow roads, and flip each other off. Their behavior screams that they believe they are the most important and must be “first”. Even absorbing natural beauty is a competition. Who saw the most? Who got the best selfie? In reality, they barely see anything because everything is flying by so quickly. Even out here among some of the most beautiful places on earth, many people do not suppress their bad behavior, demonstrate patience or kindness.

I am challenged. I am often horrified by the way people act within these parks. The complete disregard for nature and of others pulls my mind away from the beauty in front of me and back to the needless suffering all over the world. I am painfully aware of the plight of the people of Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Indigenous people most everywhere… I see racism in the US bubbling up from the filthy slimy underground into the open – on our streets and campuses and in our police forces. Humans believing they have the right to choose when someone else’s life should end. Countless senseless murders. Every day there is more horror. I am overwhelmed by the suffering.

I pull myself back into the moment. Be here now, I tell myself. I look up at the sky. I slow down. I focus on the smallest detail of the flower or cliff right in front of me. I give myself permission to feel joy. There is so much work to be done. I will continue to fight to try to make the world a better place. I will try my best to at the very least cause no harm. But right now, I will allow myself to experience peace and beauty. The systemic injustice that is so pervasive cannot be solved instantly. We must rise and resist. We must also rest and heal.

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I admit at times I feel guilty for this privilege of travel, of being surrounded by beauty when others continue to suffer. Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed unimaginable beautiful wide open spaces. We had the great fortune of seeing California Condors, Big Horn Sheep, Wild Horses, Wild Burros and countless Pronghorns. While this was happening some close to us are suffering. I cannot fix it but I will hold space for them and give comfort, however, I can. I also know that in time the suffering will again be mine. I must allow the moments of joy when they come. So tonight instead of focusing on the horrors of humanity, I will just be right here in the high desert where the coyotes howl under the endless sky. And tomorrow, I will face what comes…

The lost art of porch sitting

“When I was your age, I loved being on a farm”.

“But Mom, you had friends to hang out with…”

“Actually, I did not”.

It was just me, my grandparents, and the cows at their farm in Michigan. No internet. No TV. No running water. I haven’t thought about that farm for years. I remember now, I loved everything about being there. Sometimes, after my grandparents went to sleep, I would sit on the porch alone, look up into the sky or across the fields, and listen. Although it may have seemed I was doing nothing, I was completely engaged… simply observing. And in those quiet moments that was all I needed.

Although we left our life in Seattle behind, disconnecting and being fully present seems to be one of the bigger challenges we are all facing. Since my son is part of the “iGeneration,” I suspected disconnecting from technology would be a huge challenge for him. As we prepared for this adventure, I often told people my hope for world-schooling my son would be that his world view would expand far beyond what comes at him through a tiny screen. But, I am surprised at how hard it is for me and my husband to re-learn to be completely present. Even though throughout our youth and early adulthood we didn’t have smart phones and weren’t constantly bombarded with “notifications”, we have since been conditioned to be “busy” all the time and to immediately respond to Facebook, texts, and emails. These things are now expected and rewarded by our culture. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that we miss out on so much by constantly looking at those damn phones and not being in the moment or content with being where we actually are.

As I sat on the porch alone at our home for a few nights in Onalaska, WA, I heard owls hoot, an occasional shriek of a hawk, and the chorus created by chirping crickets. Occasionally the song of farm dogs echoed throughout the valley and I heard a horse whinny. Smoke filled the air from wildfires burning throughout the NW. A blood red moon intermittently peeked out through the clouds and haze. A slight breeze brought the faint sweetness of honeysuckle. I inhaled and absorbed my surroundings. No one else bore witness to the exquisiteness of that moment. They were plugged in. Distracted. Connected to politics and people far away, but missing out on what was right in front of them. I invited them to put away their devices and join me on the porch; within seconds they became cognizant of the beauty the farm offered us…we only needed to be present and receptive.

It is absurd that we have become reluctant to turn away from our screens to experience what is right in front of us!!! True, the world is a crazy place in 2017 – fires, hurricanes, the threat of nuclear war, blatant racism on the rise, climate change…But watching it all unfold on a screen and missing out on what is happening in front of us surely can’t be helping? After years of serving people who struggle with feelings of being disconnected, substance abuse and/or mental health issues, I understand the desire to grasp at anything that brings a feeling of connection. Our communication devices provide an illusion of being constantly “connected”. However, the relationships and stimulation we gain from these devices pales in comparison to the experiences we miss from not really being where we actually are.

In the 1970s and 1980s, my grandfathers used to complain that everyone was going too fast. “What’s the rush,” I can hear them say. Now I understand their point. As Seattle becomes more crowded, I watch people rage in their cars to be at the front of the line of the traffic going nowhere. Crossing the street on foot, feels like you are in a game of Frogger. It seems most of us are constantly rushing to the next thing, and that desire to be somewhere besides where we are is pervasive. What’s  next? Stay “busy”. I fell into the trap, I was so proud of working multiple jobs and “handling it”. I worked 60-80 hours a week for years on end… no problem. However, learning to relax and slow down? This will take some time. But in that one evening that I just sat on the porch, listened and watched… I was reminded why it is so important. Life is short. So much is out of our control. Many things we cannot fix. However, we can choose what to focus on during our short time here. I think the world in front of us and the people sharing our lives deserve a hell of a lot of that focus.

Big Day. Big Feelings.

As if selling off and giving away the majority of our belongings wasn’t surreal enough, the remains of our worldly possessions were loaded into a freight truck as the moon totally eclipsed the sun. We stood on the back porch and watched the shadows morph as our house was emptied. Our German Shepherd, Ava, raced around the yard excitedly barking as if she had something very important to say or perhaps trying to tell us something very unusual was happening. By the time the sky was fully bright again, it was time to pay the movers and watch our stuff leave for indefinite storage.

The next day we visited the house for the last time. As I opened the door, the lack of dogs greeting me was momentarily more unsettling than seeing it completely empty. But as I walked from room to room, I sensed the house was already losing the essence of us. It seemed still, cold, lifeless. Although, I could bring to mind all the great times we had there, as well as memories of sickness and tears, the stillness was palpable. I was stunned when tears started streaming down my face. Not only had we sold our “forever home”, my daughter would not be coming with us on the next phase of the adventure. She is now a grown woman following her own path.

I needed to spend a few more minutes under the cherry tree where we had spent innumerable nights talking, laughing, and drinking a whiskey (or two). The same cherry tree that Stan and I were married under a month ago. We walked the yard looking for treasures the dogs had buried (and the droppings that the new owners would not treasure). We hugged and looked through the leaves of the tree into the sky as we had so many times before. I made one more lap through the house, tears coming intermittently. Then, I pulled myself away. It was time to let go.

Immediately following the good-bye we set off to trade in my car. “Lady Bug,” I joked was my mid-life crisis car. Although I always suspected I hadn’t done it quite right, since she is a Chevy Cruze and was purchased because of her superior safety ratings. However, she was red, with a sunroof, and great stereo system. And yes, I blew the speakers listening to Motörhead. I couldn’t believe I was once again shopping for the oh so practical mini-van. The dealership had several “used” low mile 2017 minivans in stock, so we did a side-by-side comparison and went with the one that had roof rails installed. We only had a few more days before getting on the road and would need to add a roof cargo rack asap. Like any used car experience, we had to navigate the smooth talking and the pushiness of the sales team. For the first time, we also encountered the challenge of not having a permanent address. I was amazed that they were less concerned about me producing “proof” of employment than of an address. For some reason, in their minds, having a permanent address equated to my ability to pay. I wonder how many times this will be a problem for us?  I also feel deep compassion for people who are homeless and are discriminated against and denied access to things/services just because they have no permanent address. It is totally unreasonable and unwarranted, My example is trite in comparison but it shed light on difficulties others must face.

The whole process of trading the car took many hours. Adding to the heaviness, the TV in the waiting room blared images of 45’s rally in Phoenix. I had time to sit with all that had happened in the last few weeks and the fact that our “forever home” was no longer ours. Everything was sinking in. By the time I saw my car again, to double check I had gotten everything out, it had a dealership sticker on it. I momentarily panicked. What the hell had I done, maybe the naysayers are right? Maybe I am crazy for doing this? Then I remembered, that my job was not secure, Seattle is too expensive and is not the same city I fell in love with over 25 years ago. Everything aligned to give us the opportunity to travel and to have some space in our lives. It is terrifying, exciting, sad, and joyous.

That evening when I finally sat down at the AirBnb where we were staying, I had a chance to peruse Facebook. For many, it was the first day of school. A dear friend posted an article reminding how difficult that day is for kids, the title was Big Day, Big Feelings. Those four words summarized my day perfectly, all the feelings I could have had…I had. It was the Big Day and the point of no return. I had to roll with the waves of emotion,trust, and continue to let go. It is too late to turn back now. We can only go forward…