April 2021 Virtual Book Tour — Judy King

Meet Judy King, author of Living at Lake Chapala, an excellent resource for those planning on making the move to Mexico.

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I was born and raised in Iowa – part of the 5th generation of two lines of ancestors: great-great-grandparents with the surnames Thomsen and Chrestensen who emigrated from Denmark in the 1840s. I moved to Ajijic (isn’t that a fun word, with all those letters to dot?) in Jalisco, about 45 minutes from Guadalajara, from southern California in October of 1990. I’m here now because this is la Tierra de mi Corazon – the land of my heart.

I came to Mexico the year my youngest of three children entered college. All three of them were in universities in Iowa and Missouri, I was in California. It didn’t seem to make much difference if I was 1800 miles West of them or 1800 miles South of them. As a fairly recent resident of that town in California, I had just a few close friends – who were preparing to move to the east coast.

My children went through a series of changes, as college students and young adults are meant to do and came out the other end extremely independent, and well prepared to live in the world on their own. NOT having the ability to move back to live with mom really does make a difference. Plus they really enjoyed spending holidays in Jalisco.

By the way, I’m an only child. My mother died in 1972 when I was 29, my father remarried, to a much younger woman, so I didn’t have the obligation to remain in California to care for him…I really was on my own. I came alone. I was divorced, the man I’d met and become engaged to in California had died of cancer, and with the kids in college, I sure was at loose ends.

I’ve changed so much and learned so much in these 26 years that It’s hard to know where to start and how to explain. I was a “bit” of a control freak, I learned those skills along with some other frantic traits at my mother’s knee

I’ve learned to slow down, to not push and shove and force my way through things, that stuff happens on its own schedule, that MY logic is not the logic of this country, that MY country’s way of doing things is not the only way and certainly not the best way. I’ve learned to live one day at a time, a habit that drives some of my newer in Mexico friends wild. Where are we going to lunch tomorrow? I don’t know. I’m answering these questions today. When we get to tomorrow, I’ll let you know. Why would we need to know today?

I’ve learned that time can be fluid. I’ve learned that when appointments are not kept or people are late, it has NOTHING to do with me. It’s just the way it is. AND that Mexico and the US/Canada have different ways of doing things. One isn’t right and the other wrong, they are just different.

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That means I’ve given up a good deal of judgment. Yes, some folks live in houses that others might consider hovels – they are just houses – and the people who come out of those houses every morning are spic and span, combed and coiffed, looking better than I do.

How my belief system has changed is worthy of a whole book—as “the chicken man on the road” said to me once, “Que lastima (what a shame) that extranjeros (expats) shop (and judge) with their eyes and not their hearts. He was killing chickens every morning, plucking and dressing them, and he didn’t refrigerate them, knowing that most people who bought the chickens would be cooking them for comida (meals) in the afternoon. I know from time spent at Great-Aunt Lulu’s farm and at Aunt Margaret and Aunt Betty’s places that fresh chicken is safe, doesn’t grow bacteria that is harmful to us in 4 or 5 hours, UNLESS it is refrigerated, allowed to warm up and then refrigerated again.

I’ve tried to look with my heart and not just my eyes while living here. I’ve learned that money certainly is not the basis of determining the value of people, or of deciding who has knowledge to share with me, or who is “worthy” of being my friend. Certainly a welcome change from the US, and especially Southern California where the pretense of wealth/upper class/ prestige is everything.

I’m angered, I get really HOT when expats, especially those who are new start in with “WHY DON’T THEY….pave over the cobblestones, make laws so it is quiet at night….and on and on and on….” Northerners Don’t have the right to decide what Mexicans do, with their money, with their lives, with their time, with their customs. It’s ok if it is different.

During these years I also converted to Catholicism. Ajijic’s parish church has had an English Mass every Sunday for over 50 years – fairly unusual in Mexico. I was born and raised Presbyterian – totally middle of the road, religion wise. I was a bit of a rebel and was attracted to the Catholic church in my teen years, but it was easier to give up what I wanted than to go face to face with my mother. SO, I waited until I was around 60. Mostly I did it because I was invited to so many weddings and baptisms and quinces that I really wanted to be fully part of the Mass, AND I had fallen in love with the Virgin of Guadalupe and had accepted her as my mother, as the Mexicans also do. Knowing her love and help in return had helped me heal from the leftover wounds inflicted by some born-again family members, and when I was able to accept that Her son really had nothing to do with what those people were doing and saying, I was ready to come back and be in a church again.

I’ve had my share of challenges too. I met an American man here and married him here. I didn’t realize he was an alcoholic and gambler. When my money was gone, he was gone, too. On to the next woman. Then when the divorce took longer than he wanted, he took her to Texas and married her too – I thought happily about putting him in jail in both countries for bigamy, but decided to sit down and shut up and wait until the 10th anniversary when I could collect my social security from his base, rather than mine. By that time the new wife had died of hepatitis, and he was living at the beach, I was here and never saw him, so it didn’t seem to make much difference. Hanging in was worth it. Now I’m collecting widow’s benefits.

It wasn’t quite that simple emotionally, however. It took a good long time for me to heal. If it hadn’t been for Al-anon, I don’t know if I would have. That’s one of the great benefits of living here at Lake Chapala – there is such a great support system of expats, and more than 100 organizations of all kinds meeting in English.

Any challenges these days are small, and usually self-inflicted if I’m honest. I’m almost 72, I’ve been here 26 years, Growing older has meant growing calmer, softer, easier, less stressed, less affected by what is happening out there. Living alone helps too!

There is a pair of accomplishments that make me the proudest. I’m delighted to be seen with respect by many of the Mexican community leaders. I’m not talking elected community officials, but the hometown guys who know who I am and how I believe and what I know about Mexican customs and traditions. They call me la media Mexicana.

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The ONLY thing on my bucket list was to write and publish a book, to hold it in my hands and see my name on the front. I used to “write books” when I was 4 and 5. When I was 6 all I wanted for Christmas was a BIG pile of paper (that I could do with what I wanted), a BIG box of crayons (in 1950 that meant the box of 48) and a lot of pencils and a pencil sharpener. I just received my 4th printing of Living at Lake Chapala, which continues to sell well on amazon.com, too.

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I hope to write another book this year – The working title is FIESTAS! Celebrations of Families, Fireworks, and Faith. In it, I’ll talk about the civic and religious holidays, the customs of celebrations, and the family events, baptisms, first communion, quinceaneras, weddings, anniversaries, deaths, funerals, etc. What I need is to put myself in the chair and stay there until I compile and edit the articles I’ve already written and rewritten over the years and collate them into book format. Thankfully we have a great German/Mexican printer in Guadalajara who will print as many as we want at very reasonable prices.

I have an immigration book ½ finished but I became so angry with the power and antics of the US government – ICE and Homeland Security that I quit about 18 months ago and put it back on the shelf. The name of that was Coming Home: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants. It was a series of interviews with local guys and women who have been to the states, some back as far as the braceros, who worked there and then returned home to live. The alternate chapters would explore issues at the center of the interview – applying for visas, detention, The wall (the original wall, not the newly planned wall) etc.

Things I miss about my life before Mexico include shopping and time with my kids, but in my head, it’s my kids when they were younger, not now when they all in their mid-to-late 40s! Two of them were here for my last birthday. One will be coming this year.

I sold real estate here at Lake Chapala for 11 years, I managed B&Bs for owners, I designed interior decorator accessories for local production to be shipped to the US, Canada, and Europe, I started, edited and maintained a subscription-based online magazine, Living at Lake Chapala for 12 years, I edited a monthly print magazine, the Lake Chapala Review for 8.5 years, and I was a columnist and reporter for the Guadalajara Reporter for 2 years before I retired January 1, 2016. (NOTE: that adds up to more than 26 years! Some of those jobs overlapped, I was multitasking frequently) Now I have social security from the US.

In my free time, I sew, quilt, play the ukulele, attend church, belong to a quilt guild, to a women’s writers group, to a book club, and sharing breakfast or lunch with groups of friends. The expats here are more prone to earlier activities – I hesitate to say we’re old, exactly, but I’m actually excited about the New Year’s Eve party I’m invited to – it is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. PERFECT…then I can come home and put on sweats and spend the evening with my dog – she doesn’t like fireworks. Besides English Mass is at 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

I learned a lot of the skills I needed for daily life growing up in the 50s in Iowa and then being an Iowa farmwife in the 60s and 70s. I was well used to phone, water, and electric outages, even running out of gas. I also read the book Don’t sweat the Small Stuff….PS It’s ALL Small Stuff.  This year I want to continue quilting. I’m making TV couch quilts for my great-grandchildren. I have 2 done, 3 to go. I’ve done quilts for my daughter and one son. Need to do one for my older son this year, too, to keep things even. (smile). Then maybe I can do one for me to use for my siestas.

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I have learned to emulate my Mexican neighbors and live in today. That’s so valuable. As soon as I start to think about the past or the future, I’m prone to worry and I’m out of today. I’m inspired by the ability of people here to just keep keeping on, no matter what. Christmas is a perfect example. I grew up with a mother, and I became a mother, who had to have every flat surface decorated, who had to bake dozens of cookies, and dozens of loaves of banana and date bread to give to folks, to decorated every gift, who fussed until every gift (and there were many, too many) was absolutely perfect, and the house was spotless and the food was fit for Julia Child and the table for Martha Stewart….and we were tired to the bone and so so crabby that no one had a good time. My Mexican friends just don’t worry about it until the last few days – and then a gift or two, sometimes with their sisters making tamales, bonfires, some strings of lights, speakers, and chairs in the street on Christmas eve, and everyone has a great time. It’s all about family and not all about appearances and pretenses. WHEW…I wish I’d known this sooner.

I’d sure like to be kinder and less judgemental more often. (Note: my flares of disgust and anger are aimed at stupid expat behavior, NOT at local customs, traditions or daily life.

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I volunteer for a local orphanage – la Villa Infantil de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe y Sr San José. This children’s home houses between 35 and 40 children. Right now there are a dozen Little ones, age 2 and under and the other 25 are from 3 through 12. Some of these beautiful children are orphans, others have been abandoned in Guadalajara, others have been taken from their families due to abuse, drug use by the adults, etc. The home is run and the children cared for by three wonderful nuns – I have no idea how they manage to maintain their sanity, and they go so much farther and are calm, measured, sweet and loving to all of the calls of “Mami, Mami, Mami” (Nuns here are called Madre – so it’s automatic that they become Mami.) We do a monthly food and cleaning materials drive, we take turns providing and serving lunch for the kids when the older ones get home from school, we provide school uniforms, backpacks, and school supplies each fall. And we just provided clothes and a toy for each child for Christmas. “My” Christmas child was a 2-year-old girl. When she and her siblings arrived at the home they were so dirty and so infested with lice that their heads had to be shaved and it took multiple baths to get them clean. They are thriving now. Another little set of 4 siblings all had cigarette burns. The baby had burns on her temples. The older brother and sister had never been to school, the nine-year-old couldn’t write his own name and was addicted to the drugs his uncle had him selling and delivering and had to be in rehab for a few days to detox. Anyone wanting to help the home and the kids could call Father Basil (our English speaking priest who dedicates a good deal of his week and energy to making sure the children and nuns have what they need to keep the home running like a clock. His US VOIP number is 408-733-6042 and his Mexican Landline is (387) 763-0928

At the beginning of 2014, Our Club Ukulele de Laguna started an academy to teach local children to play the ukulele. There are 40 youngsters enrolled in the program. The adult group furnishes instruments for the kids, pays for the professional college-trained musical teacher to instruct them, and helps with all of their performances. Already some of these kids have moved beyond uke to guitar, violin, cello, and all will have the lifelong benefit in reading and math, and an advantage in life skills from the discipline and group experience of music.

Finally, I’m teaching a series of classes about Mexico for the Lake Chapala Society, a 60+-year-old expat organization here. All of my classes look at Mexico through literature and sometimes movies and music. The first class related to the Maya, Olmec, Aztec and the Conquest. The November 2016 class explored the winter holiday customs and traditions in Mexico. In January 2017 an eight-week class is titled Surviving the Revolution. We’ll look at the family in Mexico at the turn of the century and as the fervor built toward the Revolution which began in 1910. Then we’ll read and discuss the people and their experiences in several books including Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor, and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. We’ll watch the movie, “Like Water for Chocolate” based on the book by Laura Esquivel, and possibly also “The Old Gringo” based on the book by Carlos Fuentes. A shorter book, written during the Revolution and included in the class is “The Underdogs” by Dr. Mariano Azuela.  

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If I had to do it all over again, I would move to Mexico earlier. I would not waste time living the first years in big gringo houses. I love my smaller rental house in the village.  I really haven’t had a defining moment in my life here. But then I chose to come here, I choose to stay here because I love it here, because this is my home, where my heart is. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. I don’t experience fear. I live in faith that all will be well. I know that may sound way too simplistic, but if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it. When tough times hit, if I went to fear that the sky would fall on my head, nothing got better. If I believed, really believed that all would be well, even if I couldn’t imagine HOW, somehow it was.lake chapala

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Living at Lake Chapala recounts one woman’s adventure in Mexico with an inclusive guide on moving to, building, renting or buying your dream house in Lake Chapala. Here you’ll find everything from the average cost of living to language and culture tips that will make your life at Lake Chapala successful.  Find Judy on Twitter and Facebook.

April 2021 Virtual Book Tour — Carmen Amato

 
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I’m originally from New York, went to college in Virginia and Paris, and my husband’s job took me to Mexico 17 years ago. While we live in the US now, the years we spent in Mexico were life-changing, mostly because what I saw and experienced there inspired my writing. I’m now a full-time mystery and thriller author, best known for the Detective Emilia Cruz police procedural series set in Acapulco.

My notions of Mexico City were rather naïve before we got there. I didn’t realize what a huge city it is, or what big gulfs there are between social classes. An early lesson came from a mother whose children rode the same school bus as mine. Her chauffeur drove her to my house because we were the first stop and their house was the last. The mother wanted her kids to have the experience of riding the bus, but not too much. So they got off at our house and were chauffeured the rest of the way home.

Later, the woman took pains to put our Mexican housekeeper in her place, lectured me for being too lenient with the hired help, then asked me to help her maid get a visa. I declined and never saw her again but unfortunately met many more women like her. Great for fictional character development, not so great for Mexico’s social stratification.

Little customs, like tipping the attendant at the Pemex station or kid who wheeled my grocery cart to the car, took some getting used to. Was this a cultural norm or ripping off a clueless gringo? I found myself assessing many probably innocent encounters.

The traffic terrified me at first, too. Being able to get around by myself was essential and I was determined that the city streets would not defeat me. A major victory came on the day I decided to take the kids to the zoo to see the pandas. I initially didn’t realize that you can’t drive into the zoo itself. We finally parked somewhere in Chapultepec Park and walked, which turned out to be the exactly right thing to do. We saw the pandas and headed into the Zona Rosa for lunch. I parked on the street near the fancy San Angel antiques market. A man with a red rag popped out and assured me he’d keep the car safe. We walked a bit, discovered VIPs and its famously undrinkable coffee. When we got back to the car, I found that I’d left it unlocked! But the man was there and nothing bad had happened to either us or the car. I knew then that Mexico was going to be a good experience.

Being Catholic helped and opened doors that might have been otherwise closed. I loved the way Mexico celebrates the rhythm of the church calendar, the glory of the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the floral vendors in front of the big cemetery on the rim of Chapultepec Park. I was very involved in the English-speaking church, Saint Patrick’s, but also attended the local church in the Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood.

My Spanish was non-existent when we moved to Mexico but having to fix up our house forced me to learn rapidly. One of the first things I did was to sit down and write out numbers up to 100 so I would understand prices. Not only did I have to negotiate for cleaning and gardening services but painting, custom curtains, plumbing—you name it. The Newcomer’s Club and weekly immersion lessons saved me!

The children’s school was another reason to learn the language. The children attended the American school, which meant half their lessons were in English and half in Spanish. We got a tutor to help the kids and I took lessons, too. The school’s administration and most teachers were Mexican and many preferred to hold parent-teacher sessions in Spanish.

The security situation in Mexico City was a low-simmering and ever-present concern. We had a hard and fast rule for the kids: no talking getting into or out of the car. This is when it is most easy to be distracted. We had some close calls; would-be robbers were scared off by our dogs, our car suffered minor vandalism, and I was followed around a store. But I think being very vigilant helped us avoid any real trouble.

I had several defining moments in Mexico but the one I recall most clearly was when I was driving back from the big mall in the Santa Fe suburb. I’d had a run-in with a snarky salesgirl in Liverpool. She’d taken something I’d tried on, five minutes later didn’t know where it was, and bottom line, I walked out of the store empty-handed. This was a common occurrence, that and being unable to complete a purchase because the person with the key to the cash register wasn’t there, or the cash register didn’t have change. Using a credit card was generally out of the question; every time I did the credit card company would put a hold on the card. I called them weekly to explain that I lived in Mexico—please see the mailing address—but it never mattered.

So I’m driving out of the mall and the afternoon sky darkens to lead. Sheets of water pour down, deafening me as the rainstorm pounds on the roof of the car. I’m already frustrated and angry and now I’m scared, too. I begin to cry in the car while repeating my mantra, “This city will not defeat me.” I pull up at a red light and there’s this Madonna-looking girl standing in the median, with a thin rebozo over her head, carrying a baby.

Now I generally did not give to street beggars–warnings had gone out advising not to give because beggars are an organized syndicate or in league with criminals who will approach the other side of the car to rob you. Yet today, as it’s slashing rain and I’m sobbing, I realize that my life is pretty good after all. I roll down the window and give her 200 pesos.

If I could do my Mexico experience all over again, I’d travel more. I never made it to Guadalajara or Copper Canyon or Baja. I also would buy more Otomi embroideries and painted alebrijas.

But with my books, my life is now inextricably linked to Mexico. I know I’ll visit many more times.

I owe Mexico a debt of gratitude because I doubt my writing career would have come together the way it has without those high/low, sweet/salt years of experience. It took me about five years to distill it all into my first novel, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, a Cinderella story set against the backdrop of cartel drug smuggling and Mexican presidential elections. Next came the Detective Emilia Cruz series which in 2016 was optioned for television by a major US network. I don’t know if the series will actually come about but if it does, I hope it is as authentic as I have tried to make my books.

Thanks so much for hosting me. Readers are invited to join me at any of the links below:

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Carmen Amato (also known as me) writes romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series. Emilia is the first female police detective in Acapulco. She can take the heat. Can you?
 
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“Danger and betrayal never more than a few pages away.” — Kirkus Reviews 
 

Buy Me A Coffee for Authors

Although I joined the Buy Me A Coffee platform some time ago, I recently sprinkled additional buttons on my website. As an author, you can offer readers a way to show their support without being pushy about it.

Buy Me a Coffee is used by more than 200,000. Readers can support their favorite writer by buying virtual “coffees” (which is a small cash donation to further creative endeavors). 

In addition, you can find “extras” on you Buy Me a Coffee homepage. Here you can offer ebooks, drawings, or even schedule a zoom meeting free of charge or for a small donation.

Buy Me a Coffee also has a membership option. This would be for people who would like to become a “patron of the arts” and provide regular support for creatives. Authors and artists can provide exclusive content for their patrons in this section. Think of sample chapters, or book cover reveals.

WAAAAY down at the bottom of the page.

There is also a “share” option at the very bottom of the page. Since the more readers you reach, the more people have access to the useful content you create, this is a nice way to increase your exposure and doesn’t cost a cent.  

So there you have it. You’ll see green Buy Me a Coffee buttons on Surviving Mexico and blue on Content Creative, in case you have a mind to provide a little “coffee” motivation! 

Mima

My pen name is Mima but my real name is Michelle M. Arsenault.
I’m originally from Prince Edward Island, Canada and although I’ve lived coast to coast, I’m currently back on PEI. Although my feet aren’t nailed to the ground.

Since publishing my first book, I’ve had to find a balance between writing, my day job and social life etc. I haven’t always been very good at this but over time, managed to adapt my schedule accordingly. I also get up much earlier than I used to (usually 6 a.m) in order to get something accomplished every day. For this reason, I don’t have many late nights and definitely no late night parties, since I want to wake up fresh and clear each morning. My days are very full but I’ve learned you can always find a way if you’re passionate about what you do.

My belief system has changed vastly over the years. I now think it’s more important to focus on my art and be creative rather than worrying about being ‘discovered’ and becoming a best-seller. You can’t allow your ego to get involved or you will be doomed because some people will love your books, some people will hate them and if you allow their feelings to dominate your worth as an artist, you will find yourself on a very rocky path.

I have grown much more confident in myself. I used to be a perfectionist and that almost made me quit writing. Now, I don’t allow myself to get upset if I find mistakes in my books, if I misspeak in a radio interview or if I have a bad hair day in one of my YouTube videos. Who cares? If anything, that’s what makes me relatable and real.

I used to worry about editing my books. It was to the point that I almost drove myself crazy rereading one sentence, repeatedly until I almost drove myself mad. Now, I have people helping me out and if a mistake goes through to the published book, so be it.

I sometimes feel like I’m not being taken seriously as a writer. I feel like most people would rather grab a book from a best-sellers list or whatever Oprah has suggested than take a chance on a less known author and that’s pretty frustrating.

My characters keep me going. They want their story to be told and who am I to say no?

The fact that I’ve published ten books makes me pretty proud. I feel like I’ve faced a lot of my fears along the way and continue to do so. I’m proud of the fact that I am persistent and aggressive when it comes to marketing my writing and dealing with issues, such as with publishers, booksellers etc.

I miss taking a day off. I’ve heard it’s lovely.

Overnight success is no longer important to me. I know hard work is the key.

The defining moment for me was when I realized that the story writes itself, that the characters create themselves and all you have to do is make your mind be quiet….and listen.

If I have any free time, I enjoy watching Netflix programs, documentaries and reading. I work a couple of jobs on the side and usually exploring new options.

Currently, I’m finishing my 11th book and I’m attempting to write a pilot episode for my current book series.

You can find me at:

Mima on Fire

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Also, I have bookmarks (see below) and would be happy to send some to anyone interested (while supplies last). I just need your mailing address.

And the winner is…

Last week I told you about the signed book giveaway of Travels with Grace through rafflecopter. The winner is Cassandra Darensbourg! Congratulations Cassandra! Please contact me to make arrangements for your book delivery. A big thank you goes out to everyone who participated as well!

Erma Note is the author of our giveaway prize, Travels with Grace. You can read what she has to say about her life in Mexico here.

You get your own copy of Travels with Grace by Erma Note at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

Daniel T. Gair

Daniel T. Gair is originally from Maine, U.S.A. and is currently living full time at Rancho Sol y Mar in Jalisco. Here’s what he has to say about his life.

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Mexico had loomed large in my mind since, in junior high, a friend’s older brother came back from a trip to Mexico with his buddies, and regaled all of us younger boys with stories of the adventure. Just the word itself “Mexico” seemed larger than life while growing up. In many ways, it has remained so to this day.

The property we bought in Jalisco was a catalyst for a total makeover of Holly’s and my life. We’ve transitioned from a norm of black-tie fundraisers and cocktail parties to shoveling goat poo and tending chickens. Perhaps the largest transition is that I’ve gone from a life of jetting around the world, to living quite simply, and swearing off red meat and all unnecessary plane travel in an effort to limit my carbon footprint. My main focus in life has become the pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle, and Mexico, with its ample sunshine, and relaxed regulations, has been the perfect place to follow that intention.

Other than the above practical day-to-day belief system changes, I don’t think my underlying spiritual beliefs have changed any. My beliefs are pretty standard issue Buddhist: Live with integrity. Be as present and in-the-moment as possible. Don’t harm other living beings unnecessarily. Be kind and truthful.

I’ve gotten calmer and more disciplined in my approach to things. I’d like to believe I’ve gotten softer and kinder. I’m trying to live less in my head, more in-the-moment, and to go easier on myself, but that is still a work in progress.

Achieving basic fluency in Spanish has been a big challenge that I have overcome. I have also overcome a lot of my core, day to day fear. I’ve had a good life. What comes now is the icing.

I’d say that other than all the challenges described in the book, the most intractable challenge is breaking through culture and language barriers to achieve the fullest assimilation possible. That and reducing my carbon footprint to as close to zero as possible, which, I’m finding, is a much, much larger challenge than I had anticipated. Creating community at the property is an ongoing challenge. Other challenges I face include missing friends and family and having good pavement to ride my bike on.

I try to take care of myself by eating well, meditating, and getting some good aerobic exercise daily.

I’m deeply proud of my daughter Aja who is one of the smartest, compassionate, and well-adjusted people I know. I am proud of how well Holly and I have dealt with mountains of stress getting to this point in our lives, and, even though the tracks of our lives have diverged a lot, especially with my current self-imposed travel ban, I’m proud that we have still remained committed to keeping our love intact and growing. I’m proud of what we’ve created here at the ranch. It makes me feel hopeful when I see young people get excited by the Permaculture Principals we are practicing, and I feel empowered to see the efforts we’ve made beginning to bear fruit (literally and figuratively). Lastly, I have to say, I’m proud of the book. I think I’ve transmitted a fun, insightful read, and that the stories carry with them a deeper message of respect for culture and nature.

The day we found the ranch was the defining moment in my life in Mexico. Where we’re becoming more and more self-sufficient, I no longer care much about all the consumer choices that we’ve left behind. Part and parcel with that, I barely ever worry about money anymore. We live off a combination of investments, social security, and rental income from a couple of properties, one here, and one in the States. I also have a dribble of photography residuals. As a retired photographer, Mexico has always provided me with visual inspiration. The country folk of Mexican, with their grit and positive attitude, despite so often having the deck stacked against them, are a constant source of inspiration.

I spend my free time reading, listening to and playing music, bicycling, horseback riding, swimming and taking walks with Holly.

As for writing aspirations, for now, it’s all about pushing this little bird, The Mexico Diaries, out of the nest, and seeing if it can fly. I’ve also begun writing regular articles and book reviews for Permaculture North America Magazine, and I intend to continue with that. I am re-working one of the chapters in the book, The Ride To Talpa, into a submission for Outdoor Magazine, or possibly others. Depending on how the book is received, I may begin a follow-up. Just a few weeks ago we had a story-worthy incident where a volunteer we had headed here turned out to be on the Atlanta Top Ten Most Wanted list and was being sought by both the FBI and U.S. Marshal’s Service. We helped stall him until his capture by U.S. agents posted in Mexico city. Seriously, this shit keeps writing itself! Lastly, I have a couple of fiction book ideas that I’m kicking around.

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Take it from me, you won’t want to miss out on the adventures found in Dan’s book The Mexico Diaries: A Sustainable Adventure available now at Amazon!

Don Karp

 

the bumpy road

Don Karp has written The Bumpy Road, A Memoir of Culture Clash Including Woodstock, Mental Hospitals, and Living in Mexico.

Hometown is Syracuse, NY. I spent 12 years living in W. Mass before moving to Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. It’s in the central volcanic region, an hour south of Mexico City.

The culture—fiestas, food, music, celebrations. And the temperate climate brought me to Mexico. Since moving to Mexico, I live more cheaply and made some sacrifices. My life is enriched with more vital food, beautiful nature, and people more open and accepting. I’ve also become less judgmental and more open. Because of this, I have had a greater number of opportunities unfold. I am more solitary and happy with that. I am healthier and happier.

I’ve overcome challenges. The first ones involved getting it together to move here. I’ve learned to speak Spanish and survive on a very low retirement income. I am still working on building an email audience for my publications.

My motivation comes from a desire for leaving a legacy—a body of published work that helps many people, based on a varied life experience keeps me going. Perseverance is a part of my nature.  I am proudest of self-publishing my memoir. I consider it my defining moment in Mexico.

Now that I live in Mexico, mostly I miss the ability to organize projects with people. In Mexico, the culture is largely not accountable enough to do this. I find that working on projects is how I develop intimacy with people.

Hot showers are no longer important to me. I spend my free time mostly hiking the wonderful mountain trails. Mexico has been an inspiration to me in many ways. The friendliness of the people with their emphasis on community and family has made me feel more at home. The extreme suffering economically and politically, but yet retaining a general joyful attitude about life is very inspirational to me.

My site lists the memoir, contains my blog, information about workshops and speaking engagements. The memoir is available from Amazon; the blog, Letters from Mexico is here,  If you are interested in personal coaching, here is my US phone number: (413)366-1023. You can email me here.

I am revising and updating my memoir, and have three more memoirs planned, each for a different audience with a different theme. My blog, Letters From Mexico, is to become one of the books. My hope is to build an audience to fund professional preparation and to help with the title, cover art, and editing.

Jennifer Robin Lee

Jennifer Lee wrote How to Not Run Away to Mexico and from her experience designed an eCourse to help people NOT repeat her mistakes. Here’s what she has to say about that process. 

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not move to mexico

I use my branded name Jennifer Robin Lee online but most of my friends and close ones call me Jenn.

I’m originally from Edmonton but my heart is in Mexico City. I spend my time between these two places these days. I am a completely different person because of Mexico. I don’t even know how to describe it. I’m more relaxed, more discerning, less naive, as well. I’m always changing, regardless of whether of I’m in Mexico or not. I’ve had quite a bit of challenges in Mexico which you can read in my book.

I joined the circus in 1994 in Monterrey, Saltillo. And then I ran away from the circus. The way I got started writing my book was for at least 20 years people have been telling me I should write a book. I went to the circus at 17 and now I’m in my 40s. I’ve been coming and going to Mexico for a long time. So finally I was like how am I going to get this book started? I’ve got two little children and I want to get this thing off my bucket list.

I saw a website online, Stefan James, talking about how to write a book in 24 hours. I also got a professional life coach. That’s when I set up the e-Course, in May 2017. So I decided to write a book. Then I bought the domain names and set up the website. Then I helped people with some immigration questions on the site because I was having the same problems.

After the site was developed, somebody approached me to see if I needed some videography done. I met with this Mexican guy and we ended up working together and filming at least half of what is in the intro course.

The accomplishment that makes me the proudest is building this e-course. I’m excited to get up in the morning. I feel I have a purpose. I have more emotion now as I’m growing through success than no emotion when I’ve been unsuccessful or failed. It’s just more emotional when you’re like Wow! I did this. I accomplished this. I created this. I had this idea and it came true. You have to create things in your mind before you can create them in reality. That’s the hardest part. People can’t think about what they want and then they can’t express what they want.

When I moved to Mexico the second time, I had a 6 bedroom character home. It was beautifully renovated. I just gave the keys to the neighbor, and my cat, and said I was going on a trip to Mexico. I sold it while I was gone with everything in it. It felt so freeing.

Before that, I had downsized a lot. And really cleaned up my environment, cleaned up my things, got rid of all the junky little things and everything I had was in good condition. I’ve learned that is more of a headache to have all this stuff.

There have been many moments that have defined my character in Mexico. Because sometimes there will be moments when the situation defines you. Mexico really tests your patience.

I don’t have a lot of free time. I schedule in every moment something that can be done that I enjoy doing, like going and visiting my friends. But my friends have the same kind of interests as me when it comes to business and stuff. So I’m always talking about my business and sharing ideas.

Helping others. When they have trouble, I’ll share what helped me. So that’s what I do in my spare time. I’m living my business but it’s not like I have to escape from it.

I work online. I have a certification in e-commerce. I have a specialization in SEO from the University of California-Davis. I’ve been a geek since I was 7 years old when my dad gave me my first Texas Instrument 100 computer where I learned programming at age 7. There were video games on it but I had a programming book that my dad gave me that’s what got me really into computers and I’ve been a geek since. I don’t program now, I just do web development but nothing complicated like Java. I’d love to meet more people in that work role.

My services are mostly consulting for clients who have at a sizeable amount to spend on a project. I used to do hourly, I still have some clients like that but I don’t accept any new web development work where I’m actually customizing for clients anymore.

My current goal is to help people move to Mexico and be a mentor or role model in helping others achieve success online whether it be writing, e-course development, web development, search engine optimization, networking, making videos and whatnot. Every day I work towards this goal.

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Make sure you don’t miss out on either the eCourse or the hysterical roller coaster of a ride Jennifer writes about in her book How to Not Run Away to Mexico. 

Mary Ellen Sanger

Meet Mary Ellen Sanger, author of Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixoctel State Penitentiary.

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Mary Ellen

It’s Mary Ellen – not Mary, ever. Mom hated that name. Long story. I am from Schenectady, New York – though I left when I was just 20. Told my mom I was tired of falling on my ass in the snow. Moved to San Diego (8 years) then Mexico (17 years), New York City (9 years) and now Fort Collins, CO – because I fell in love with a chemist.

I think the smell of the ruins brought me to Mexico. Names like Nezahualcoyotl and Huitzilopochtli. Flower songs. Cacao. Jaguars. I had studied Spanish and Anthropology in college, and it seemed like the logical thing. A three-week visit to the Yucatan tickled me enough to know I needed more. A job in tourism (and a spirit of adventure) allowed me to stay for 17 years.

Our lives change with each chapter – my Mexico chapter opened me up to tectonic shifts – all those plates shifting underneath us. It felt oddly comfortable, the uneven sidewalks, the rumbling earth – made more sense to me than the staid and tidy right angles of home.  Because of Mexico, I can’t live without chile and I cry at stories of solidarity.

My experiences in Mexico introduced me to inequalities I had not before met face to face. The gloss of tourism vs the displacement of the indigenous. The fashionista vs the young girl who tapes her shoes together to get to school. There’s a heady gap to contemplate. I don’t know that mine is actually a change of belief system – but rather an opening that allowed me to see beyond the happy colored veneer of commercialized Mexico, to the reality and severity of Mexico “descalzo” (barefoot). I became an activist, observer, explorer. Now, out of Mexico for 13 years, I retain that desire to contemplate what lies beneath… believing that answers are sometimes in the cracks and shadows.

I think it is a challenge to be an obvious Gringa in Mexico – and find a place that is not off-putting. To go beyond the token American, to learn enough about the country/history/food/music/telenovelas/ to meet Mexican friends on a level that demonstrates a real interest in Mexico and Mexicans.

The mom of a Mexican boyfriend from years ago said she would hold me to writing a book and planting a tree. She was present at a tree planting – so the book remained. I finally wrote a book.

I spent 17 years getting to know Mexico – there are many moments that I can easily slip back into. Watching a sea turtle leave her eggs on a beach in Akumal, meeting a wildcat in Cabo San Lucas, listening to a discussion of abuelita’s (grandma’s) best salsa with friends, listening to the songs of displaced families in Chiapas. They are small moments that stay with me, for their ability to pin me to a certain light, sound, smell.

A defining moment – while there is a temptation to say my time in jail that defined the life I live now as an advocate and writer – I think is better defined as the month spent in Chiapas with indigenous families. Observing the “other” side of life in Mexico, the side at once glorified and reviled. Glorified as symbols of the cultural richness of the country that draws tourism, and reviled as obstructions on resource-rich land. The imprint of that time reminds me to look beyond, to observe the tendrils of a vine – what do they hang on to? What throws them off?

Now that I no longer live there, I miss some things about my life in Mexico, but not things I would trade my current life for… I miss the acceptance of imperfection (rutted roads, alright) and the availability of community. I left Mexico under duress, never expected to. A brief stint unjustly incarcerated was enough to drive me back to the States to reconsider my base. I go back to Mexican as often as I can (annually, preferably) though I am happy in a committed relationship with a man who appreciates Mexico.

I, like so many I know, do not have enough free time. In the mid-90s in Cabo San Lucas, I read seed catalogs. Hadn’t seen half the flowers in there, but learned Latin names. Antirrhinum for Snapdragon. Ipomoea for morning glory. I sowed a zillion seeds, and obviously, not all wanted to live in the desert. Gardening provides metaphors for so many things – most of my free time goes to nurturing plants and observing growth. Oh, and petting cats. And the New York Times crossword puzzle with my partner.

I work for an NYC nonprofit – a remote gig, and on the campus of Colorado State University. Jobs that keep me too occupied to write the next book right now.

blackbirds

I published “Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison” in late 2013 ten years after my release. The book is a love story to Mexico, to women, to solidarity and community. It is a product of living in New York City after the trauma of unjust incarceration and a shift in my life so large I couldn’t find footing. Then I recalled the many women I met who were victims of their own system. And I sat with them for a few years writing the stories I remembered as they shared them with me.

I met the great Elena Poniatowska while working for a Mexican organization in New York. I met her not as writer to writer, but friend to friend. We walked around New York looking for a new watchband for her, buying a suit for her upcoming presentation (Do you like the pink or the red?) and navigating the subway together. She wrote an introduction to the book for which I am forever grateful that ends – “I suppose and believe that I am not wrong in saying that for Mary Ellen, Mexico is a woman who one day, will find herself.”

May we all do the good work to find ourselves.

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Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison is an absolutely amazing read.  The author’s love for Mexico, despite it all, shines through.  She gives voice to the voiceless found in the shadows beneath the walls of the women’s penitentiary and once reading it, you will never see the world in the same light again.