Nicole Salgado

Hi, my name’s Nicole Salgado. I’m from Syracuse, NY but now live in Queretaro, Mexico.

I originally came to Mexico to build a house here with my husband. My husband and I met in the SF Bay Area after we both migrated there for work in 1999. He was an undocumented immigrant and we weren’t able to adjust his status in the U.S., so the plan was we would leave the U.S. for 10 years until we could submit his green card application.

Well, now I feel like an expat, someone who has left their home country. In our case it wasn’t by choice – I would have preferred to stay and live and work in the United States, where I am from. But, by honoring my marriage vows and accompanying my husband to a place where we both can be 1st class citizens, my life has changed accordingly.

One funny thing that happened to me as a result of living in Mexico is that I have an adopted a lot of cultural customs that once exasperated me – for example, I have a flexible relationship with punctuality now. I also use indirect communication more now than I ever used to – I am by nature pretty direct, but since the culture here has a different way of being in many ways, I’ve adapted.

My beliefs haven’t changed much – I still highly value friends, family, the environment, culture, artistic expression and individuality, social justice, a strong work ethic, continual improvement, and the like.

I have had to become much more patient. I have had to accept governmental corruption and non-enforcement of laws. I have had to accept less time outdoors and more time in cities and in an office. Queretaro is a pretty big city, and even though we get a little more country exposure living on the outskirts, at the end of the day it’s still a metropolis. I have also learned to embrace the Mexican culture much more than before.  Although I had a grandfather who was born in Tijuana, we really weren’t steeped in the culture like I am now.

I think everyone has their stuff to deal with as a kid, in my case, I overcome typical adolescent taunts about my poor eyesight and my weight by getting into sports and being more social, and learning to ignore “the haters,” so to say.

At the university level, I overcome stiff competition at an Ivy League school and being the first in my family to complete a 4-year college education by seeking out allies and mentors, and never giving up – and also, by giving back to my community as a volunteer and in socially and environmentally conscious activities, which has rewarded me multifold.  While I don’t currently volunteer, there are many worthy causes that one can participate in. I do make both in-kind and monetary donations to a variety of things such as progressive political campaigns, migrant relief, and youth empowerment efforts, and of course environmental conservation.

As a young adult, I overcame the emotional burden of being far from my family by maintaining good long distance communication, and again, relying on and trusting friends to support me in many aspects of my life.

In Mexico, many things have been hard. For one, I am a naturalist, biologist, environmental activist, and outdoor enthusiast, so it’s been strange not having immediate access to as many natural, green, or wilderness areas as I did in New York and California, where a high value is placed on environmental conservation and enjoying nature as recreation. Here, most people are just struggling to get by or build their businesses or the local economy so it’s harder to place emphasis on conservation.

Another thing that was difficult was finding myself again professionally, but again, I had to just keep putting myself out there and believing in a positive outcome, and it eventually happened.

Finally, I have had a lot of health challenges, several of which I think are related to stress and our move south, but I have tried to see the silver lining by focusing on different ways I can get and stay healthy.

It still affects me and depresses me that American immigration laws and public perception are just getting more and more xenophobic, and they are making our country less and less welcoming to immigrants worldwide. The prospect of never being able to (or wanting to, due to our perception of how unwelcoming the U.S. is getting for immigrants and brown and black people) go back to the U.S. is a little frightening. Not because our life here isn’t good, but because I would like to be closer to my family in the States, and I always dreamed of my daughter experiencing the culture and wonderful things I grew up with at some point – and all the anti-immigrant rhetoric just is really threatening to my family and our prospects in general.  I miss all the time outdoors and spending time with family and friends in the States.

My father once said one of my worst characteristics is also my best, and that is that I am very stubborn, or headstrong, so to say.  That’s how I persevere.

My family, my friends, my coworkers keep me going. So does my conviction that there is a better way. I believe in myself and others. Having contributed directly to many positive outcomes in the past convinces me that I/we can do so again in the future, with the right approach, or mindset, and sometimes even surrendering to divine will.

It is hard to say what accomplishment I am most proud of. I am quite proud of my education and profession, but I am also very proud of my marriage, and my daughter.

I still laugh when I think back to my teenage years and how much I coveted material items, fancy dresses, cars, big houses, etc. I think a lot of that was because of marketing, advertising, and catalogs. Seeing ads and comparing it to what you have makes you feel almost incomplete, inadequate. I no longer feel that my status or quality of life is determined by what I don’t have. That’s not to say I never like to get new things, but I do believe the mantra “live simply so others may simply live” can inform our lives if we let it.

While living in Mexico, there came a time when I had to let go of toxic relationships – with certain in-laws, with certain friends/acquaintances, etc. I had to realize the role I was playing in continuing negative thought processes and/or relationships with negative people. By starting to meditate, and distance myself from toxic or dysfunctional individuals, although at first, I felt guilty as if I were neglecting something/someone, I actually found a lot more freedom to be myself, make progress, and experience less drama.

I work full time for Peace Corps Mexico, whose office is in Queretaro. We have a team of a couple dozen staff and over 70 volunteers serving in over 9 states in Mexico. I am in charge of the environmental education program, I help to select sites, train, and provide follow-up support for EE volunteers, who do a lot of really great work in conjunction with our partners in the SEMARNAT (National Protected Areas Commission, National Forestry Commission, others). I am pretty much exclusively working with and for Peace Corps Mexico at this time, due to the full-time schedule. Previously, I offered workshops on urban gardening and a few other speaking engagements on environmental topics and my two books.

A couple things have changed that affect how I spend my free time. I have very long work hours and travel a lot, so on the weekends I am pretty tired out and spend a lot of it recuperating. Before, I used to garden and do yoga more, but now I like to read, spend time with my family, be in touch with friends, and cook if I have the energy. I also enjoy ecotourism and “puebleando” (visiting quaint small towns in Mexico) as they call it and luckily I can still do that when we get long weekends or I take vacation time. Photography is a pastime I have always been able to maintain and enjoy, luckily. I have also recently taken up learning piano.

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To me, it’s important to balance opportunities for work, free time, and friends and family. It’s also very important for me to express myself creatively, whether through art, writing, or currently, I am learning about music through the piano. I also like to think that I am part of a movement for sustainability on this planet, although I’m aware we could always be doing more.
I have co-authored 2 books in Mexico.  In 2009 I self-published “The Bajio’s Bounty: Home cooking for the Queretaro, Mexico Region” which is essentially a collection of family recipes (my husband’s family were farmers, and his father still is) and fusion recipes. In 2011 I began co-authoring “Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders” with Nathaniel Hoffman, Boise-based journalist and friend/colleague from Cornell. We published under our own imprint, Cordillera West Books, in 2013. The Kindle version is available here. Even though our project was self-financed, we did have a successful crowdfunded kickoff campaign where we raised enough funds to take our book to Washington, DC and deliver a copy to every Congressperson, Supreme Court justice, and the President and First Lady.  You can read about that here.  We still blog from time to time and recently launched a new project, #buildbridgesnotwalls which we are hoping will gain more participation.

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A wise midwife friend once told me: fear is F.E.A.R.: false expectations approaching reality. I think I was less fearful and more adventurous as a young adult. Now as a mother and wife, I have to remember I am thinking for the rest of my family. But on the other hand, letting fear get the upper hand can cloud your decision-making ability or prevent you from making positive changes in life, so you have to find a balance in your relationship to things that intimidate or frighten you.

I am inspired by people who live their principles. People who rise out of poverty, abuse, or addiction, and break cycles of negativity and/or violence. People who dedicate their lives to serving others.

I am angered by people who don’t appreciate their blessings. Greedy, violent people. I especially am angered by those who take advantage of others, especially those who hurt women and children. People who don’t respect Mother Earth or their neighbors. Hypocrisy, double standards, disrespectful attitudes bother me a lot.

The most important thing for me right now is to continue putting food on the table for my family, making sure my daughter gets a good education. I am currently pretty happy with what I am doing, but I am also interested in working for myself again, more with plants, art, writing, and maybe helping my husband to grow his own business. We’re not sure where the future will lead in terms of geographical locations, so any future plans have to have a certain level of flexibility built into them.

There are a number of misconceptions about the process of legal immigration to the US.  Amor and Exile not only provides personal accounts of couples trying to negotiate the shaky and ever-changing landscape of immigration but also provides a history of US immigration and explanation of current laws.  Find out more on Nicole’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico

What do you really know about Mexican holidays? A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico is a comprehensive guidebook to Mexican celebrations. It answers how, when, and why these festivities are observed not from abstract research, but personal experience. Because moving to a new country can be daunting, learning about the patriotic, religious and civil festival days will help you understand some of what makes up the Mexican culture and allow you to become more fully immersed in the amazingly diverse world of Mexico. Viva!

Reviews on Amazon

I have recently moved to Mexico and while I love the holidays and celebrations, I find them confusing. This book has all the answers to my questions! –MM

Reviews on Goodreads

If you are as fascinated with Mexico as I am or if you’re dreaming about making a move, this is an incredible resource to add to your collection. I love this book because it not only tells you everything you need to know about each Mexican holiday, the author also shares some personal stories which makes it more relatable to readers. I personally love reading various traditions and how they came about; for example, why do Mexicans eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve? I’m not telling but I can assure you, I’m going to be buying some grapes this holiday season 😄 I give this book five stars and highly recommend it. –Mima

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Monique Alvarez

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I’m originally from Colorado and I now live in Guanajuato, Mexico. On May 1st of 2016, my family and I decided to travel Mexico and a friend highly recommended Guanajuato.

I would say my relationship with my family and friends started to change when I moved overseas for the first time about seventeen years ago. Making the decision to travel long-term changes our world view so dramatically it’s often difficult to return to the same relationships and even when we do they are not the same because we have changed so much.

My belief system changed when I was 19 and on my first overseas trip to Myanmar. I’m from a very small town in rural America and I had no world view. I was raised with a few thousand people that for the most part are exactly the same. There’s not much diversity for the fact that they don’t welcome it. I saw how close minded I was and how I had been taught (mostly silently) that people who are different from me are less than or bad. I realized that there was so much more to see and experience. I realized how different and how alike we all are. I also learned that we always fear what we do not understand and that would impact me until this day.  I wouldn’t say I have overcome fear. I have got comfortable feeling fear and acting anyway. Every time I do something new I feel fear. Every single time.

I returned to the U.S. ten years ago after getting malaria in Kenya. I knew Colorado would be a tough transition for many reasons including the change in climate. I decided to move to Tucson, Arizona and a few months later I met my husband on a blind date. We traveled together for a year before having kids and now we are traveling with our two sons. I feel like my husband and I have a much better relationship when we are traveling. Life, in general, is lighter and more carefree. We have more time and more fun and that’s always good for our relationship.

In some ways, our life is very similar to how it was before we moved to Mexico. Toddlers are still toddlers. We still own our businesses. My husband and I started a business together in 2008 and it has evolved into my consulting business. He does a little web design but for the most part, he is fully in his art business. He paints on the iPad and sells limited edition metal art online. I facilitate masterminds for female entrepreneurs and I have recently written a book called Success Redefined Travel, Motherhood, & Being the Boss. We still work and play. I would say the thing that impacts us the most, however, is the change of environment. We are living in a country where I feel much more supported as a mother. It’s very family friendly in Mexico. They love kids. They expect kids to act like kids here. In the U.S. kids are expected to act like adults. Parents have many pressures on them and it feels nearly impossible to do “good enough” there. In Mexico, we take more time to do fun things. Meals are longer. We walk everywhere. We spend less time working. We go with the flow more.

Because of my travels, I have changed entirely. I’m not who I was raised to be. I’m not religious in the traditional sense. After I started traveling I began an inward journey. I sought out to find what spirituality meant to me. I am pretty liberal. I’m inclusive. I believe everyone should be able to love and live as they choose. I don’t believe that anyone on the planet is illegal. I see borders as absurd. I don’t buy into the philosophy of hard work or martyrdom. I believe in living well and deliberately choosing my life. I would like to believe I have become a more compassionate and tolerant human being. I also have to say I have become more protective of my time and energy. I am incredibly particular who I allow in my inner circle and that has been very good for me. I would say the most valuable skill I have learned here (and everywhere I’ve lived) is to ask for help, to ask questions and to receive help.

There have been challenges, though. When I first started traveling I went everywhere by myself. That in and of itself was a huge challenge. I lived a very sheltered life and so this shift to independence had lots of growing pains. Looking back it was the single best thing I did for myself, my husband and my children because I know who I am as a woman. I overcame getting the deadliest strain of malaria while living in Kenya. I had always been healthy and suddenly I was bedridden for almost a year. The contrast in life helped me see how valuable good health really is. Later when my husband and I traveled together we had to overcome our clients backlash about out decision to leave the U.S. for a year. After we returned to the U.S. I had two babies in twelve months and had severe complications after birth that were life threatening. We also almost lost both our boys as babies. As a mother, this is extremely painful and yet it’s also when I found my strength. I fought for my own life and the lives of my children.

I would say the biggest challenge I face as a full-time traveler is the amount of criticism I receive. People who never travel or don’t feel the have the means to travel are the first to say my life is not good for my kids or that I am out of touch with “reality”. Truthfully I am out of touch with a reality that blames others for circumstances. In my life and business, I am passionate about empowerment. Most people don’t realize the biggest challenge standing in their way of having an amazing life is that they are unwilling to take ownership of their decisions.  Spanish has also been a challenge for me.  However,  I’m focused on classes this quarter and I am excited to learn this language.

Professionally, the accomplishment I am most proud of is creating reoccurring monthly income for nine years in a row. Most people who start businesses dream of steady cash flow and I have experienced it. Personally, my kids make me incredibly proud. They are complete miracles and bring me tons of joy.

I can’t say I miss anything about living in the U.S. but that took time. In the beginning, I did. I missed some foods and some systems and procedures. Now what I miss is how simply my life was when I first moved overseas. There was no social media and I rarely even used email. I appreciate how technology connects me to my clients around the world and yet it was very nice to live without it.

Stuff, in general, is no longer important to me. When I moved to Tucson after being out of the U.S. for most of my twenties I thought I had missed out on something.  My friends had gone to college (I did not), they were married, they had bought houses and cars and I had a suitcase of dusty clothes. My husband and I bought a house our first year of marriage and the second we did, I knew I didn’t want it. I didn’t realize how travel had given me a taste for experiences and I lost so much of my desire for status symbols in my country.

The defining moment of my life since leaving the U.S. nine months ago was when a client wrote a nasty blog post about my choice to travel. I lost clients over it. I lost friends over it. At first, it was painful and confusing and then I found my fierce, take no prisoners self. I raised the bar in my life and that was the best thing I could have ever asked for.  I have a good life and a good family. I don’t need the whole world to understand it, I simply enjoy it.

I spend my free time downtown and in our favorite plazas eating street tacos and churros. When the boys are napping I sometimes sneak away for yoga, a walk or nap myself. My boys just turned two and three and the move has been good for them. They are loved by so many and are very happy. I believe kids pick up on the energy of their parents, particularly their mother in the early years and so having me happy and light is a good thing for them. My life is meaningful because it’s deliberately simple. I love a good cup of tea or playing Legos with my boys or having a nice dinner with my husband. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. It has brought me to the beautiful place I am today.

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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?
Essentials
“Danger and betrayal never more than a few pages away.” — Kirkus Reviews 

La Yacata Revolution: How NOT to Buy a Piece of Heaven in Mexico

So you have big dreams of buying a few acres in Mexico and living the good life? There’s more to living in Mexico than you might imagine. In a land where everybody’s finger is in the pie, it’s hard to find the proper channels to get basic services like water, sewage, and electricity installed. When one community has had enough, they staged a coup and launched La Yacata Revolution. Follow along with their attempts to restructure the Mexican political system in microcosm. Viva!

Reviews on Amazon.

This book is a fascinating, informative, Must-read for anyone interested in investing in or just learning about Mexico. The daily trials, frustrating legal machinations, and colorful characters are endemic to rural life in Mexico. Flores manages to create an easy to follow account of a convoluted–but typical– Mexican experience. A delightful account of Mexico’s daily life. Excellent. —Kenneth J. Lillo

Reviews on Goodreads.

This book had me smacking my head going OMG and chuckling along the way. I could relate to certain parts due to living in Mexico but we are more urban than the author and this is where the dynamics change. Hope to see more of the Authors adventures. –Lynne DeSantis

The author tells the struggles she has endured as a property owner and as the treasurer of the homeowner´s association. She is honest and humorous in her stories. She is a strong gringa in a machisimo world to survive the tales. Hats off to the author and her family. I enjoyed reading her stories. — Fiona

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Lynda Lock

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Hello, I’m Lynda Lock. I’m originally from British Columbia, Canada and now live in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It’s an island about seven kilometers long and a kilometer wide 15 minutes by boat from Cancun. It has all the peace and quiet of island life combined with all the big city amenities, including a large international airport just a few minutes away.

I came to Mexico with my husband. We are both from British Columbia Canada, having lived in a variety of small communities and large cities. My original hometown, located in the coastal mountains of British Columbia, is now a deserted ghost town. It was a thriving gold mining town that shut down when the mining company ran out of easily accessible gold. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the city of West Vancouver, located directly across the harbour from the much larger metropolis of Vancouver BC. We met on a similarly sized island in BC Canada called Bowen Island in 1975. We have been together since 1980. We married in 1987. My husband and I are currently retired. For the most part of our working lives, we were self-employed entrepreneurs with a wide variety of businesses that included an antique store, a freight boat business, a solid waste disposal company, an award winning bed and breakfast, and a micro-brewery, to name just a few. He was also the Fire Chief and I was a volunteer firefighter for many years in another small island community in BC Canada. I’ve also been an ambulance driver, a control centre supervisor for a high-tech computer-driven train, a park attendant, and have written a safety magazine.

My husband and I frequently say that we have Adult Attention Deficient Syndrome. As soon as a business was running well, we got bored and sold it, only to immediately start a different type of business. In the later years of our working careers, we switched to managing businesses for other companies. He managed a large winery and restaurant complex and I managed a mid-sized hotel.

We had enjoyed short vacations on the western side of Mexico for many years and then we discovered the Caribbean side in 2002. Wow! The turquoise water, good food, friendly islanders; we were hooked. After four visits to the island, we purchased an oceanfront lot in 2006 on Isla Mujeres with the idea of building a home. Since we were still working at that time we had planned to live part-time on the island and the balance of the year in Canada.

When it was time to return to work we happened to arrive in the middle of a late spring snow storm. A meter of snow! That was it for us. We told our employers that we would be leaving permanently in October of 2008, and worked until it was time to move to Mexico. In the meantime, we sold our home, furniture, paintings, decorations, books – everything. The only possessions that we kept were some articles of clothing and a few tools or special mementos. Our rule was; if it won’t fit in the car it isn’t going.

We drove from the Okanagan Valley to Isla Mujeres in our Nissan Hybrid car, taking twenty-three days to sightsee across the south-western USA and central Mexico. Our then nine-year-old cat, Thomas, had to wait until we arrived on Isla Mujeres before he could fly with my sister to his new home in Mexico. Thomas starred as the hero in my children’s book The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato. He thrived in Mexico, living until his seventeenth birthday.

Since moving to Mexico, my relationship with my family hasn’t changed. I still see everyone almost as frequently as before. We have an adult son and two grandchildren. They love that we live in Mexico. They visit as often as possible. As for friends, some I see less, others more and I’ve made many more new friends. As I was already retirement age when I moved here, learning a second language has been a big challenge. I miss the easy, silly conversations with the locals, things like chatting about the weather, what’s happening in their lives and how they are doing. I should have learned Spanish about 30 years ago when my brain was younger and I was smarter. It’s a daily struggle, but I keep trying to pick up new words and phrases. I don’t take lessons because I don’t have the patience for classroom learning. Like all things in my life, I learn as I go. My Spanish is limited, but I keep trying.

I love Mexican culture. It is like being transported back in time to the 1950’s. There are large and close-knit families who look out for each other and easy freedom for the kids, not so many organized and scheduled activities, just outdoor fun with friends. I especially love the climate by the ocean in the tropics.

Living in Mexico has helped me to discover the ability to just live and not worry about the silly stuff that we have no control over. I have learned to be patient, when to give up and when to move on. For example, having a guarantee doesn’t mean much. You have to be calmly persistent to get service for any appliance or piece of equipment that is theoretically under guarantee. After seven weeks of polite and daily phone calls with the help of one of our Mexican friends, we finally got our new refrigerator fixed by the manufacturer. My friend’s words of wisdom regarding guarantees were “It’s a game of Survivor. You have to outlast, outwit and outplay your opponent to win.” That really made me laugh.tomas The accomplishment that makes me the proudest was self-publishing my first book in hardcover “The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato.” It involved figuring out how to get it printed in China as the printing costs in Mexico, USA and Canada were too much for my budget, arranging the shipping to Mexico, clearing the shipment through customs and arranging for trucking to our city. It was a great learning experience.

In my free time, I write for my own pleasure, walk on the beach with our low-to-the-ground rescue mutt, socialize with friends, enjoy the sunset and a glass of wine with my husband, who is my best friend, and take pictures.

I have self-published four books and two more are in the process.
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Books in progress:
Named by the Enemy, historical fiction set in Canada.
The Adventures of Thomas and Sparky, the bilingual sequel to The Adventures of Thomas the Cat: Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato.

I write a weekly blog called Notes from Paradise–Isla Mujeres with my husband. Whoever has the bright idea for the week, writes the articles. I take 90% of the photographs because I habitually have a camera attached to my hand. Since we began in September of 2011, we have had over 434,000 page views with the weekly average now hitting around 10,000 pages views. The response is astounding!

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I don’t specifically volunteer for any one charity, just help out where I can with student scholarships, donations to helping animals, and entertaining the island’s youngsters during the Christmas Golf Cart Parade and the Day of the Kings, with our Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes.

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.

Wascally Wabbits and Zombie Babies: Animal Antics South of the Border

The fascinating animal exploits in Wascally Wabbits and Zombie Babies begin when an ordinary family of three moves from the suburban U.S. to rural Mexico and buys a donkey. Over the course of a decade, their animal kingdom experienced oodles of triumphs and adversities. Who knew bananas, red rags, and phases of the moon have so much to do with livestock success?

Reviews on Amazon

Reviews on Goodreads

What a fun book! I enjoyed reading about the animals and their antics. I´ve always wanted chickens. However, I think I´ll stick to reading about them. — Fiona

Have you read this book?

Let me know your thoughts!