Thursday, July 31, 2008

1st Playdate

I am so excited to be back in Mexico! Nice to come Home.

So Kids had first playdate today! I was not here yet but Husband and Kids told me about it. Our Housekeeper's son Ricardo who is 9 came with her today. Ricardo only speaks Spanish. Kids swam and played. There was not a ton of verbal interaction but it is a start. Ricardo and Kids seemed to have fun. According to Youngest Son, Youngest Son understood everything Ricardo said ... not quite ... but I appreciate the enthusiasm.

Did I say mention how nice was to be Home? The flight into airport was beautiful. Everything is so green.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Pieces of Puzzle

So we are down to the last pieces of the puzzle for our Move to Mexico.

RENT HOUSE - This is a huge middle, piece with big fat $$$$ signs going "down the tubes." I am starting to get financially antsy. And yes I still have several "get house emptied" tasks there never seem to end.

US HEALTH INSURANCE - This is medium sized red piece that is really important. We need to have major medical in US to keep credible coverage certificates and for any major health issues we may have to treat in US. Husband has some health conditions making this difficult. Looks like we will drop kids & me off COBRA, file a Qualified Status Change on COBRA to Husband Only and when expires in October Husband will go into State Pool. Sounds complicated - it is.

MEXICO HEALTH INSURANCE - A corner piece. Gotta get some kind of policy in Mexico too. Husband working on it.

It has been strange to be in USA home while family is in Mexico. I get confused when referring to here or there or home. Which is it? Is here there? Is there here? And where is home for me since I will be back and forth.

By the way, Husband has recovered but was sick for about 36 hours. I hear from Husband that Kids were great. I miss them. Allot.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Back in the Good Ole USA

I flew from Mexico to USA this morning for my first official commute to work in USA. I will return periodically to work onsite at the organization in which I provide contract assistance.

This will be a very, very busy week. I have lots of contract work and I am still working on clearing closets in our USA house. It is still not rented. The house is completely cleared except for a desk, desk chair and couch in office. This will be where I live until Thursday. My Amazing Neighbors took me out for pasta tonight - yummy.

Hep A & B Shots
The timing for this trip back was good in that I can get Round 2 of Hep A & B shots tomorrow afternoon with my regular doctor's office.

Uh Oh - First Intestinal Issues
Our family has been hit with its first bout of intestinal issues. Husband texted me that his tuna from lunch was creating some pretty bad sickness this afternoon. Yucky - poor guy - sick and in Mexico with kids alone. Not fun.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shabbat Shalom

Tonight was Shabbat. I want to savor Shabbat while we are in Mexico. Take a bit more time - no rushing.
  • We lit the candles and recited the prayers in Hebrew:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
l'had'lik neir shel Shabbat. (Amein)
to light the lights of Shabbat. (Amen)
  • We lift our Kiddush cups to drink the wine (lemonade for the kids):
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
borei p'ri hagafen (Amein)
Who creates the fruit of the vine (Amen)
  • We sing the Ha-Motzi with Youngest Son lifting the "challah" wrapped in the challah cover:
Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz
We give thanks to God for bread
Our voices join in song together
As our joyful prayer is said:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe
hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz. (Amein).
who brings forth bread from the earth. (Amen)
  • Oldest Son reads Gates of Wonder to us which is a book of Prayers for Young Children by Rabbi Howard Bogot and Rabbi Robert Orkand. It covers rainbows, night and day, the differences found in people, Shabbat, and the Torah. It is beautifully illustrated.
  • Finally, we have a special Mitzvah to celebrate. We affix (with scotch tape to be respectful of actual owner) a Mezuzah the doorframe of our new Jewish home to fulfill biblical commandment to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house." (Deuteronomy 6:9) This Mezuzah is special. Youngest Son made it in Religious School last year during a special class in which I participated. I put it away at that time just for tonight.

Baruch atta Adonai Eloheinu melech ha‘olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboa‘ mezuza.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

During the entire set of rituals we had God's beauty out our back door.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fishing Story

Youngest Son and I wander to the beach this evening. There is a group of rocks that juts out from beach. We had seen kids fishing down there through the afternoon.

The Eel
There is a young, local woman with 7 children ranging in ages from 3 to 10. They are grouped around something long. At first I thought it was a snake but it was an eel! They had caught it and now could not get it off the hook. One of the 10 year old boys goes to get a big knife and they start trying to cut it off - clearly trying to save the hook. Eventual success. Youngest Son takes closer look at eel.

The Fishing Tools
You might assume the fishing was with fishing rods. Uh, no. Plastic bottles with fishing line wrapped around it with a weight and hook at end. They are using chunks of fish cut from the small fish (about 8 inches long) they have brought with them. One 6 year old boy had his fishing line wound about a flat piece of wood.

The Octopus
We look up to see a man swimming into the beach. As he surfaces, he has a dive mask, back pack and crow bar looking item with hook on end. We move in closer. He pulls 2 octopuses from his back pack. One is alive and one appears to be dead. Youngest Son tentatively touches the live one. I am fairly certain the octopus is dinner tonight.

What a nice way to end the day.

Setting Up Our Household

Setting up our Mexican Household has been good. We have consciously chosen to approach differently than we would in the USA.

Our furnished villa is wonderful: 3 bedrooms (2 quite big), a nice size common living area with kitchen, dining and den, 2 1/2 bathes, laundry closet and 2 car garage. Even so we do not have everything we like or even need.

In the USA, we have this way of life that you have individual items for every need. In general, we do not multi-purpose furniture and everyday living items. There are retail establishments everywhere to meet your every whim. Need a special color - choose from 15 colors; need it smaller - no problem, need it special made - you bet, on and on and on ...

In our Villa, we are trying very, very hard to purchase very little. We have bought plastic bookshelves (we brought so many books!), charcoal grill (must for Husband who loves to cook), kitchen trash can, bed "egg crates", ice cream scoop (honestly the spoons bent when I used what was here) and 1 set of linens. The bed "egg crates" we could have probably done without but mattresses are quite firm.

We did get 4 plastic cups. Husband wrote our names on them with Sharpie and now these are cups for the day for each family member.

We have repurposed:

  • 2 Large Decorative Tables - Now 2 Desks
  • Nightstand - Now TV stand
  • Master Bedroom - Now Master Bedroom, my Offfice and Husband's Office
  • 2 Outdoor Chairs - Now 2 Desk Chairs
  • Large Plastic Storage Container we moved stuff with - Now Toy Chest
  • 2 TV tables - Now Tables for Oldest Son and Youngest Son to keep their stuff
  • Staircase Rails - Now Laundry Line for wet clothes to dry
  • Decorative Basket - Now Art Supplies Holder
  • Decorative Bowl for Fake Fruit - Now Real Fruit Bowl (fake stuff in top of closet)
  • Coffee Table - Now Play Table for kids
  • Guest Room - Now Media Room with DVD Player we brought from USA
  • Guest Room Closet - Now Game Closet
  • Guest Room Lamp - Now my Desk Lamp
  • Plastic DVD Holder - Now Bread Storage
  • Beach Towels - Now Throw Blankets all Over Villa

We are trying to simplify. Make do. Be creative. I have found I am oddly stimulated to figure out how to make it all work - so much more fulfilling than to just go buy another thing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flushing the Toilet - Who Knew?

USA - You hit the flusher and instantly it flushes - maybe 1 Second.

Mexico - You hit the flusher, HOLD for a solid 3 Seconds and it flushes.

I think the message is obvious - "slow down, enjoy the moment" - even the mundane things in life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Living In Mexico: Medicine Delimma

I expect we will run into many challenges that surround living in a different country and not speaking the language fluently.

Oldest Son woke up with fever today along with some vomiting. We have a few Junior Strength Motrin tablets that we started giving him. Husband purchased Motrin Suspension Infantil and Tylenol Infantil at local store. The dosage dispenser only goes to child's weight of 15 kg.

Dilemma: Doesn't Infantil mean Infant? Oldest Son is 8 and 50 lbs/22.7 kg.

Well yes but the other choices in Mexico appear to be Pediatric (which seemed to be for babies) and Adult versions. There does not seem to be Junior or Children's versions exactly.

Oh Mannnn. I spent 45 minutes surfing the internet in English and Spanish to make sure we are using correct dosage. Thank goodness for Babel Fish translation.

Conclusion: The Motrin Suspension Infantil is 20 mg/1 ml which is same as Children's Motrin 100 mg/5 mL. So we just have to add dosages together to get to the 10 mL.

Not sure what we will do if we need to take Oldest Son to doctor - no doubt we will figure it out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

School, Panic, Relief

We took both children to School today as we were told that there would be some kind of extra help this week in the mornings for kids who did not speak Spanish. Honestly, it was unclear whether it was for both kids or just Oldest Son and we really did not know what it was.

We arrived. The Principal obviously did not know who we were and did not remember we would be there. She asked about their Spanish and I erroneously gave the impression they could not speak Spanish at all. She indicated they could not go to school there since much of day was in Spanish and those teachers do not speak English. I had a moment of panic. Oh My Gosh - what are we going to do? Fortunately School Administrator explained who were and Husband entered conversation. All was okay.

As it turns out, session is only for Oldest Son since he is entering 3rd Grade (Youngest Son going to K3.) It is 1 hour of tutoring. We leave Oldest Son at School. I know he is a bit nervous. Oldest Son understands Spanish quite well and speaks with a beautiful accent but he is not conversational yet.

When Husband picks him up, Principal is complementary (guess kids get to go to school after all!) He was in tutoring with one other little girl who is learning English. It worked out nicely. She can help Oldest Son with Spanish and him with her English. Oldest Son has homework and returns each day this week at 10 am.

We are grateful for any extra help with Spanish before the kids start School on August 18th.

Husband is doing great with his Spanish. I am afraid Spanish is going to be very, very difficult for me.

Here, Here, Here

We arrived last night at around 7:00 pm. Other than a bit of car sickness from Youngest Son (lots and lots of winding mountainous road with breathtaking views) we had an uneventful, long day of driving.

We celebrated at local restaurant. The big hit: OCTOPUS! Oldest Son and Youngest Son proclaimed to love eating the tentacles with "suckers." They also brought home limes from tree growing beside our table.

We are happy to be here and a bit weary. Husband is setting up all the technology now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Over the Border

Mazel Tov! - Today
We are here in Mexico again! We crossed the border easily. Border Patrol did direct us over for inspection but they looked at couple items and sent us on our way - 3 minutes at the most. No questions about the Car Permit on our windshield (that we should have turned in 2 weeks ago when leaving Mexico.) Perhaps it was the Mexico National Futbol shirt Husband had on ...

So we arrived at the Hampton Inn in Saltillo at 7:00 pm, ate dinner next door, bathed and in comfortable beds by 8:15 pm. We had a family toast at dinner - To Life! La Chaim! A La Vida! - milk for kids, cervaza for me and tequila for Husband.

"The Roof Raising" - Yesterday
To say the last couple of weeks in USA have been rough, stressful and tiring would be a huge understatement.

Yesterday was very special. First, I called College Friend in desperation since the young man we had hired to help us had to leave early. She came over immediately. She picked up our new mirror and the dry cleaning, attached ceiling fan lights and blades, installed vents and blinds, sorted through "stuff" and kept me sane.

Second, many of our closest Friends came over with their own dinner (and ours too) to let kids swim and play and say good bye. They came bearing goodies, cards and well wishes. They all pitched in to help us in this final push.

The car was packed with boxes and then "tons" of items left to cram into all the in between space. I thought there was no way. In less than 10 minutes, our spatially gifted friends had loaded every single item! I do not think there was a square inch not utilized. I was shocked, amazed, impressed, relieved and grateful.

Friends went with Husband to storage, swept the garage, hung and sorted stuff, watched kids, cleaned floors and much more.

My very Sweet Friend came up to me with Oldest Son's Rice Baby in a basket. She said she would foster him for a year. I wanted to cry. (See April 9th Blog Posting)

All my girlfriends went "shopping" taking cleaning items, toiletries and gift wrap stuff I could not take to Mexico or donate and did not want to through away.

Our Special Friends stayed until 10:30 helping to the bitter end.

Youngest Son spent the night next door, Oldest Son and I spent night across the street and Husband in our house. Thank goodness for caring neighbors!

There was Chaos, Friendship and Love. It was like an Old Fashioned Barn Raising where everyone comes together to help their neighbors, family and friends. There could not have been a more perfect send off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Toys versus Clothes Pins

Husband and I have been debating how many toys Oldest Son and Youngest Son need in Mexico. On 1st Trip, about 30% of our available truck space was given to transporting toys.

I hope to take lots of books, games and a few more toys on 2nd Trip.

Husband sent me the following Text Message today:

"Next time u think more toys r needed in mexico know that the boys are playing w/clothes pins and having fun"
See Picture.

Since all their toys are already in Mexico, packed to go in next trip or given away ... kids really have been playing all kinds of games with these clothes pins that include bad guys, good guys, strategic positioning ... like first thing in the morning when they wake up ... kids really are not helping me "win" this debate for them.

On a more serious perspective: it really is an amazing example of the glory of a child's imagination and how ridiculously consumeristic we are.

Friday, July 11, 2008

We are still in the Good Ole USA

We are still here. It just takes time to get it all done.

Still no renters for American House. We have had several lookers but always come in 2nd!

Projected date of departure for Permanent Residence in Mexico: Saturday, 7/19, 5:30 am.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Journey Back to USA - Delays and Border Worries

Part 1 Was Very Good - 13 Hours
We left Saturday morning at 6:30 am (Nayarit time) and headed up the winding road towards Tepic. The clouds were literally right there - the kids thought this was very cool. We also saw vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) herding cattle down the road - also very cool.

We navigated through Guadalajara without too much stress and we arrived in Saltillo by 7:30pm. We chose the Hampton Inn right off 40 and the airport which was perfect since it required absolutely no detours. It only set us back $134 USD and included breakfast for 4.

Part 2 Was not So Great - 17.5 Hours (should have been 10 hours)
We were again on the road by 6:30 am (Central Time).

1st Set Back - Rain all the way from Saltillo to Laredo

2nd Set Back - We got caught at the Border in the line for International Bridge #1 for 2.5 hours! Then we realized at the actual crossing we really needed to turn in our FMT (180 day Tourist Visa) and our 180 day Car Permit in at Immigration before crossing bridge at same building in which we got them. We are on the bridge and no way to turn back. Now what?

We talk to US Border Person. He is not really too helpful. But we keep asking questions. Finally, he seems to think the 180 day part should make all okay. I am not so convinced. Husband and I have to decide whether to go back over border and start all over - definitely a 3 hour process. We decide to go on into Texas and I start researching on my iPhone web. It seems obvious we should have turned in the FMTs. The Car Permit also probably should have been turned in (and scraped off windshield) but there is conflicting information out there. Since neither are expired and we will be back within 2 weeks, we decide to deal with it when we cross then. The worst that should happen is we pay some fines and the best is we just go back over and use our FMTs and Car Permits as is. This all makes me very, very nervous.

3rd Set Back - We encounter multiple accidents causing a 4 hour delay. It was bad. One accident shut down entire highway for overturned 18 wheeler. Sidenote - We were behind a passenger bus from Mexico with Mexico plates - I thought this was serendipitous.

Humorous Highlights - We are serious car trippers so all three males maximized their equipment and emptied their bladders into an empty plastic soda bottle multiple times. Unfortunate for me I forgot and actually started to sip it ... oooh ... yuck ... quick spit it out! Kids just thought this was hilarious. Not so funny ...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kids, School & First Shabbat

Today was a big day. Oldest Son and Youngest Son visited their Mexican School for first time and we met with the Principal. All seem to go very well.

We presented the 170+ English books all our friends had donated for kid's Birthday Mitzvah. Principal was quite pleased and grateful.

We learned that the Principal will be holding special 2 week session July 14 - July 25 in the mornings for new kids and those whose first language is not Spanish. We did not know about this option. So. We will now leave Mexico in the morning and try to wrap up American Home ASAP and get back down here for kids to attend.

Principal not worried at all about Youngest Son and Kinder 3. She did talk a bit more about Oldest Son and his adjusting. She will pull him out of English each week along with another French Girl to provide extra help with Spanish.

We got our holiday listing, school supplies list (they will gather and provide for 250 Pesos) and directions for where to get uniforms.

Principal was quite dynamic. Apparently she started school 20 years ago and has built it to 3 Pre-Primaria grades and Grades 1-12. They are in construction right now for new building to hold Pre-Primaria. She is very attractive and mentioned being in Germany and traveling in USA while growing up.

Kids are very happy. They really like our Mexican Villa. They have played and played and played. They like their room and the pools and the ocean. Both reacted well to Mexican School visit. We all shared a huge platter of BBQ Fish today which had 3 whole fish (heads, bones, etc.), rice, vegetables and tortillas - scrumptious!

We also had our first Shabbat tonight. We had all the important components:

Candles - We used candles selected by Oldest Son and Youngest Son at Mega and we had to blow them out since not exactly quick burning
Kiddish - Nectar de Mango juice worked
Challah - Fruit loops wrapped in kitchen towel
Prayers and Family - We always have these
Shabbat Meal - Chicken, Mango, Cucumbers, Queso Manchego, Plantains, Homemade Tortillas & Salsa

The perfect first Mexican Shabbat.

The Towels, Symbolism and Simpler Life

Work Colleagues gave me these really great Beach Towels (huge & soft) for our Mexico Life. So, I loaded the 4 towels for the trip. We typically travel with special blankets but I decided that our Simpler Life allowed for using the Towels as these blankets.

Since Tuesday, the Towels have been used as:
  • Blankets for car trip
  • Picnic blanket to sit on for our breakfast in Mega (big Target supermarket) parking lot
  • Beach towels for swimming
  • Play prop on porch (blue towel for good guys and pink for bad guys) for boys to play set up their action figures (Star Wars, Animals, Pirate Ships)
  • Floor mat in living area
  • Wash Them
  • Couch covers for the kind of itchy couches (see above picture)

The multiple uses just strikes me as humorous and quite symbolic. One of our goals is to live more simply this year and when we return in a year. We have found 6 uses for a towel - how great is that?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 3 - We Get Our Mexico Villa!

View from Master Bedroom Balcony towards the West.

View from 1st Floor Patio. There is an endless pool straight ahead. The kids spent 30 minutes in that tree today.

Our place is FABULOUS. We are in a gated community with a couple guards patrolling the area along the villas and the beach. There are 3, 4 and 5 bedroom split level Villas. We have a 3 bedroom with 2 car garage. There is an open kitchen, living and dining that all overlook the view of the ocean since our whole back "wall" has sliding glass doors.

How did I get this life? I am so fortunate.

Day 2 Including Policia Encounter #2

Well our 2nd day proved to be just as interesting as the first. We started the day off with another police encounter.

So let me say up front we had the exact experience that is thought of as just an overblown myth. We were trying to navigate out of Monterrey (we only took 1 wrong turn this time). A policeman waves us over. Apparently we were driving in the left lane which is only for passing (although were passing people at the time.) Policeman indicates it will be a ticket. Husband, in a tactful way, ask if we can "take care of here" instead of going downtown. Policemen smiles and says yes for $120. We gladly hand over the USDs. We just wanted out of Monterrey and to be on our way. ADDENDUM: As I told this story to Realtor Guy and Mexican Villa Owner this morning - they just laughed and shook their heads. We had been taken! At the most we should have paid $30.

Journey to Guadalajara
The drive to Guadalajara was very, very interesting. We started going on a very straight road with desert landscape and mountains looming. The "forest" of trees that looked like strange palm trees was eerie. We had a couple of security checks by Mexican law enforcement with machine guns in hand but they just waived us through. Then we hit lush valleys with winding roads, lots of agriculture and quaint towns. The drive was just beautiful.

We played a game with the kids: "Find something interesting to the family" and you get 1 point if 3 out of 4 family members agree with you. My most interesting sight was a man plowing with 2 mules and an old fashioned hand plow. Wow. We did see many tractors but to see someone still plowing manually was incredible.

We did learn some things about driving in a large Mexican city while in Monterrey:
- Signage will not tell you how to transfer from one highway to another
- Do not veer off on any side streets
- Study all available maps even though it will not tell you what to do exactly
- Make sure you know what the next major cities are on your path - the signs will probably list those cities and you can use to navigate
- Be ready to make a move at any time - signs are infrequent and often right when you need to turn, change lanes, etc.

And the good news is we got through Guadalajara without making any wrong turns!!! It was still tense but at least we did not get lost.

Bad, Bad, Bad
So while we did a good job navigating, we did a terrible job with timing. We thought we had 3 hours left to our destination on the Pacific Coast and we only had 1 1/2 hours of day light left. Our problem was there were no hotels close by (and we did not want to go into Guadalajara) and none on the way. We decided to continue forward even though we both know not to travel at night in Mexico.

We started on an expressway that allowed quick travel. Total toll way costs ended up being $50. I did start a text conversation with Best Friend so someone on this earth would know where we were if we disappeared! I diligently kept her updated on our whereabouts.

It got dark. Ugh.

Now we are on 2 lane highway with mostly Truckers who can only go 25 MPH uphill. Although, we did get behind a farm truck loaded full of chickens too. Going was slow. We were back to winding, hilly roads. Agonizing. Really. Signs sparse so hard to gage where we are since it is taking way longer than 3 hours.

The plan is to stay in Other American Family's Mexico home till we can meet to get keys to our place the next morning. We finally arrive 4 1/2 hours after Guadalajara (which is 3 hours after sundown.)

Cerveza. Yes I definitely have one and Husband has one with a shot of Tequila in it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Policia Escort for 1st Night in Mexico

Yes, you read the Title correctly. But I will start at the beginning ...

We left American Home this morning under some stress and tense moments but did get on the road with all packed and happy kids.

Husband very nervous about border crossing. No Problemo! We literally hit the green light (random car check trigger) and we were over in 5 minutes at most.

We miss the turn to complete Immigration and Car Registration (that is right after border crossing.) We drive around and around and around for 30 minutes. Finally we find a place that looks right. Husband leaves us in a parking lot and sets out on foot. Kids have good time playing in dirt and rocks. Husband returns. Wrong place. This is place for Mexican Cars.

We return to border get to proper location. We get through steps 1, 2, 3, 4 in about 45 minutes. We pay $100 in immigration fees and leave a $300 credit card deposit to guarantee we will bring car back into USA.

On the road to Monterrey!

Glitch #2
I get on phone and make reservation at hotel recommended by friend and AAA travel book. Friendly Hotel Person gives me "clear" driving directions. It is kinda pricey but we are excited to be in Mexico so why not? Drive goes very smoothly. We enter Monterrey, make 1st designated turn but end up in the mountain, literally. Turn around, make another bad turn. Get on right road. We are about 45 minutes being lost now. Going fine until we are supposed to turn on Major Highway. Here are highlights:
  • End up at airport (20 minutes wrong way)
  • Complete race car turn on Major Highway (scary) - I think this is when bike rack broke
  • After many failed attempts, I figure out we did not need long distance code of 01 when calling in the city - Versus when I had called hours earlier and used the 01
  • Talk with Friendly Hotel Person off and on for about an hour trying figure where the h-ll we are
  • Husband yells at Friendly Hotel Person and hangs up on her - you know it is bad when I am the calm one
  • End up in apartment complex parking lot and can not get out without race car maneuvering
  • Find nice Police Person and thrust phone to him to talk to Friendly Hotel Person
  • Follow Police Person to hotel which includes taking us up a ramp the wrong way with his lights flashing
  • Arrive sheepishly at hotel to face Friendly Hotel Person

We have been lost for 3 hours. All this driving done with the Pop-up Camper on back.

I think this qualifies for a memorable first day in our year abroad.

P.S. Hotel is spectacular