We have been here for 1 week now – and it has been a joyous combination of vacation, family reunion and settling in. Having our children with us for the start of the adventure makes me feel like this is a place where we can all be happy, where we can gather together from time to time even though most of the time we are far apart. They are part of our journey and contribute their opinions on what dishes we need and which taco stands are best and what color we should paint the pots in the soon-to-be garden.
We have shopped …. a LOT. Boring household items that I have never really had to buy since most of it came from wedding showers many years ago. But we are starting from scratch like newlyweds trying to find the best bargain on a potato peeler. Today we purchased paint and pots to create a little garden in the back – a sanctuary from the crazy noise and activity around us.
Speaking of noise…. It took us a few nights to finally get a proper sleep. Between dogs and roosters and our neighbor who played music louder than any nightclub until the wee hours of Sunday morning, this is a very ‘vibrant’ neighborhood! But that is one of the things we love about Mexico – people here have a joy for life and family that permeates everything they do. And they are not quiet about it. So we embrace it and play our music a bit louder.
We have eaten a lot of Mexican food. Breakfast at Poncho’s of course. But we were also thrilled when we realized there is a Mexican restaurant right behind our house. Well ‘restaurant’ is a bit of an exaggeration – it is a few tables in a backyard under some trees. But truly a delicious meal of mole enchiladas, sopes, tacos, drinks – the 5 of us ate and drank until we were stuffed for $210 pesos – around $17 total.
Signs of Christmas are around us – more tourists than usual, some trees and lights and decorations, lots of fireworks and pinatas. I have spent a lot of time this week stressing about how to either recapture our family Christmas traditions or start new ones. In the end, we’re figuring it out as we go. We’ll have some of our favorite dishes like our hashbrown casserole (with fresh potatoes because they don’t sell frozen hashbrowns here and Mexican crema instead of sour cream) but we’ll substitute Mexican egg burritos for our normal quiche. Luis has made us a giant pot of amazing beans and a nopale (cactus) salad. We’re going out to a restaurant for a turkey dinner – next year I’ll be set up to cook my own. Instead of sledding outside of our house in Lumsden tomorrow, we’ll boogy board at the beach. Traditions are important to keep us connected as a family – but it’s okay to let them breathe and grow and change. That’s what make life an unpredictable adventure.
So Feliz Navidad amigos! I will miss the rest of our family this Christmas. We will be thinking of you all and wish you a blessed day. Don’t forget to celebrate the birth of the one who gives us ultimate peace and joy and freedom.
We did it – we survived the last few weeks and we’re sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to be called. It’s been a crazy ride. Our main task was to get the house we’re building done – it’s our financial plan for this new life. It came down to the wire – we stopped working at 2:30 yesterday, appraiser came at 3:00. House is officially done. Except for all the little things that aren’t. But enough that we can breathe and head out. It wasn’t easy. Last week saw flat tires, computer erased reports, scratched hardwood that had just been laid and had to be relaid (3 times), big challenges at work, large bank deposit that ended up in the wrong account, and little sleep. We were so intent on getting it done that I actually used power tools…. twice…..
So we’re at the airport ready to go. Meigan is at the airport in Vancouver and Brett is on a bus from Guadalajara. By tonight the Swansons will be a family in our new home. A great start to a new life. As always Grant and I see it differently. I say we’re moving today. He says we’re “starting a transition”. He won’t see this as a move until his tools are with him. I guess we all have our attachments that define home. As long as I’m on a beach by tomorrow he can call it anything he wants. We will return to Canada sometime in January to finish up final house details, get taxes done, file year end business reports, etc. So maybe transitioning isn’t so far off.
The very final steps of this move were obvious – have some comfort Canadian food. So last night we met the Williams family for a quick supper of poutine. This morning a final Tim’s coffee. Now all is ready. And I know the suspense is killing you….. yes the pig made it! It seems kinda ridiculous but I just think we’ll need a friendly familiar face smiling at us while we sit in the garden.
Merry Christmas friends! If I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, we will be back in January and will do another round of goodbyes. My word for 2015 was JOY and although it has been a year of many ups and downs – as life always is – focusing on finding joy in the journey has truly made me grateful for every single moment. Can’t wait to see what 2016 holds for all of us. For me, it starts with guacamole.
The countdown is ticking loudly and I am not as cool and prepared as I thought I would be. In fact I am having reactions I would never have expected. My heart has taken over and my brain is allowing it to happen. I feel a bit betrayed really by my reasonable, practical self which usually navigates through unknown waters.
We have rescheduled our flight to the 18th to buy ourselves 5 more days. 5 more days to get this construction done, to finalize paperwork and transitions. A very needed 5 days. But that 5 days has cost me my sanity somehow. I have been planning for quite some time exactly what things I need to pack to go with us to the new land. We took 6 suitcases in October. 2 very stuffed carry-ons (that ended up too big to actually carry on), and 4 giant fifty pound suitcases. Two were free, the other two cost $25 each. Perfect. We put a LOT in those 6 suitcases. My plan was to take 6 more in December – the rest of our very important ‘stuff’. We will not be able to take the majority of our belongings until we get our residency which can’t be for at least a year thanks to Mr. Tax Man. So these last 6 suitcases were to be it for a while.
So back to the tale of the extra 5 days. We rescheduled our flight – but in doing so we had to switch airlines. After paying the change fees, the cancellation fees, the who-knows-what fees, we had a new flight scheduled for the 18th. But in reading the small print of this new airline I realized we cannot take a second bag each, and our first bag can only be 40 pounds. So we have gone from taking 200 pounds to now only being able to take 80. Now I have been lecturing/nagging Grant for 2 years that we really don’t need to take much stuff with us – we can buy what we need there. It will be fun to get new stuff. To pretend we’re newlyweds again setting up a new home. But somehow when I was robbed of 120 pounds of my stuff, I seriously freaked out. I am not kidding when I say that the stuff I was planning to take was really the weirdest combination of stuff ever. It was not valuable stuff – it was just things I had decided I desperately needed to be okay. Like 2 short lawn chairs that I may have used twice in my life but that would be great on the beach when we need a picnic. The green vase that I hardly every use but it would look great in the kitchen. This very large metal yard pig I had purchased in Vancouver – I absolutely NEEDED that pig in my tiny new yard. Some totally average candles. A bunch of shampoo because I can’t read labels in Spanish – and what if I don’t know how to Wash, Rinse, Repeat in Mexico? The list went on – stuff that I barely use here, that I have never been attached to but that seemed extremely important to my new happiness. What on earth is wrong with the sensible, practical, not attached to my crap person that I have always been?
Last night some of my dearest friends showed up with Chinese Food and Guacamole and memories to share. We laughed and reminisced and talked about the sadness of saying goodbye. We joked about my new suitcase crisis and Grant rolled his eyes at my angst. But when they left I realized that it is just really hard to let go of those you love. I don’t want to do it. To make it hurt a bit less I have been gathering silly possessions around me that I thought would help me feel comfortable in a crazy time of transition. If I could imagine the perfect sunset picnic with Grant on the yellow lawn chairs, if I could fill an unfamiliar house with pretty flowers in that green vase, if I could see my smiling metal pig when I sat in the yard with my morning coffee maybe I would be okay. But now I have to let go of that strategy. My 80 pounds will be taken up with a few months’ supply of vitamins, the last of my summer clothes, some winter clothes for when I travel up north for work in January. Practical stuff.
There will be little room left for silly sentimental crutches. And I’ll be okay. My security has never been in what I own but in the God who has me in His hand.
But don’t be surprised if Mr. Pig somehow makes the cut – I haven’t fully given up!
In August we nailed down our home for the upcoming year and I immediately began nesting in my head. I began to dream about how to turn the house into our home. It is a semi-furnished house and although the furniture isn’t exactly my style or favorite color, I’m grateful we don’t have to furniture shop quite yet. No, I was thinking about towels. Somehow I had the idea in my head that the house would be our home when we had correct towels. With that in mind I convinced my husband we needed a quick trip in October to ‘set up the house’ – by which I meant buy towels. He didn’t really get it “Don’t we have a lot of towels here – can’t we just throw a few of them in our suitcase?” My look gave him my answer. So we headed down to Bucerias for a week in October to get the house ready for our family’s arrival in December.
We spent the week shopping for house stuff and checking out as many local taco stands as possible. But we also knew we needed to start the difficult process of dealing with Mexican utility companies. We had heard many crazy stories and expected it to be time consuming and difficult – but we were ready. Our hot water and our stove is fueled by propane – and our rooftop propane tank was completely dry when we arrived. The first two days we had cold showers – which actually felt amazingly good – and you know I wasn’t looking to cook. But on the third day we decided we better get some propane in the tank. So we waited ….. and we listened….. and eventually we heard the sound we were expecting and needing. The Gas truck guy driving around screaming out of his loudspeaker to let the neighborhood know he had GAS. So I in turn screamed for Grant who went running out the door in pursuit of Gas Guy. Turns out Gas Guy only delivers tanks – doesn’t actually fill tanks, so he made a phone call and told us someone would be there in una hora – one hour. Now I definitely didn’t expect someone to arrive in an hour – I thought maybe 3 days – but we hung around for the afternoon unpacking the weird green dishes we had bought and 4 hours later we heard a big truck outside the house. Impressive really. Of course there was no possibility of English so we used our Spanglish Charade language and voila! we had propane! Gas Fill Guy gave me his card and told me at least 10 times to call him next time I need gas. I wasn’t so sure why he was being so insistent about that – but I realized why quickly. Within the next 15 minutes we had 2 other Gas company trucks arrive at our doorstep – apparently the word was out on the streets that Gringos were looking for gas. The utility company version of beach vendors!
So that went much better than expected. Next is phone and internet. Our gracious friend Fredy is helping us set that up and yesterday he emailed to say we are on a waiting list as phones lines are limited in Bucerias right now. He says we are waiting for a window of opportunity – I picture Grant chasing Phone Truck Guy down the street to crack that window open.
And as for those towels? Every room has soft grey towels ready for use and our bedroom even has the matching bath mat! How homey is that?
As we enter the final 30 day countdown to liftoff, I feel a shift in my heart and in my mind. This is happening. Soon. I am sad and I am overwhelmingly happy. I am nervous and I am increasingly bold. I want to stay but mostly I want to go. That is what makes life worth living – the mixture of emotions and confusion of thoughts when change is around the corner. I see similar emotions in the eyes of my friends and family – they want to be excited for us but are not sure they should be, or can be. Change in one person affects the whole community – and honestly the community didn’t really ask for this change. The hardest part of this last stage is that I feel I need to focus on the details of such a move – how is my mail going to find me? Who’s going to pay for my medical needs? What color towels will make my bathroom homey? Why on earth did I ever buy this many Wii games and how many can I reasonably pack? How do we get this house ready to sell? But I worry that what I should be doing is spending these last days with the people who I love and who are really unsure about what we are doing. Oh I know we’ll be back lots in the first year – and I have Skype and Google Hangout loaded on my computers and phones, ready to beep and buzz my way back into people’s lives. But I know it will not be the same – and I don’t really know quite how to process that now that we have entered the pre-liftoff stage.
Last week I felt like I was a participant in a House Hunters’ International episode as we searched for a new home to rent for the first year or two while we build our home on the mountain in La Cruz. Although we won’t be leaving Canada for 3 or 4 months we feared that if we waited until fall or winter the rentals would all be snapped up for the busy winter season. So we decided to have a look and once we got started there was no turning back. We looked at a few options:
6 months ago we had looked at a home that was for sale in Nuevo Vallarta, a suburban, residential area halfway between Puerto Vallarta and Bucerias. The house wasn’t for rent at the time but when we arrived this week I called the owners and asked if they were interested in renting the house. As luck would have it, the current renter was moving out that very day and they were very open to renting to us at a great price. I had really loved the 3 bedroom house with the open roofed courtyard right in the middle of it. It had a big yard and a great pool and I could picture our family there (okay they ALWAYS use that line on House Hunters!). Grant pointed out the downsides of the open roof such as bugs, lizards, scorpions, bats, floods – but I thought it was cool. Definitely a possibility, although it was 30-40 minute drive to our land where he will be spending a lot of time building. But still, maybe….
Next we had a realtor show us a home in a neighborhood I had never considered living in. The town of Bucerias is divided by the highway – on one side is the ocean and art galleries and restaurants and English speaking Gringos; on the other side are chickens and horses and taco stands and sweet Mexican children and their mamas who only speak Spanish. So when he showed us a home in the Mexican neighborhood I was uncertain – is this too crazy for even us? The house only had 2 bedrooms, a very small outdoor space and was on a super loud corner. Not so sure….
He then took us to a 3 bedroom home on a beautifully manicured golf course. Super quiet and peaceful, with a private pool and windows that open from a bar to the outdoor area. I could definitely picture Jose my private pool boy and bartender bringing me a refreshing beverage while I relaxed. It needed some renos but the realtor told us he was overseeing the work and we could choose what we wanted in the home. Tempting…..
We had three very different homes to choose from ….. and then there were 4. As we drove past the local church, our friend and pastor Fredy waved us down and told us he knew of a nearby house that was for rent. We were back in the Mexican side of the highway, but I admit my mind had been opened earlier in the day to this new possibility. As we waited for the owner to come and unlock the house we watched three untethered horses wander down the street with a couple of chickens following behind – looking at us as though they were also wondering what these gringos were doing in their town. Curiosity more than displeasure really. The house was large with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and an office area. There was a balcony off the bedroom for morning coffee and a back area large enough to make into a garden. The house was a 10 minute walk to the beach and less than a 10 minute drive to our building site. And a garage – it had a garage! The price was unbeatable and there were taco stands and a fruit market and a fish store close by. But certainly no ocean view, no pool, not even a bathtub. I don’t really think so……
We were leaving by noon the next day and were very confused by the choices. On House Hunters they sit down for 3 or 4 minutes, eliminate one house, argue halfheartedly for another minute and BAM – decision made. We did not have that experience – so we decided to sleep on it. I was definitely leaning towards the Nuevo Vallarta house with no roof and Grant was leaning towards the quiet golf course house. So we went to bed and sometime in the night God pulled a bait-and-switch on me. When I woke up in the morning I was somewhat horrified to experience that sense of clarity that I recognize as God’s leading. I leaned over and told Grant that I was thinking we should take the Mexican house with the horse neighbors – and he said he was thinking exactly the same thing. That is always our decision clincher – when opposites agree without debate it is a powerful thing!
We only had a couple of hours to raid a few ATMs to get enough cash to pay a deposit and a couple months’ rent and to meet with the owner to sign a contract. Our wonderful friend Fredy dropped everything he was doing to meet with us and be our translator as we negotiated final terms and took one last look around.
So we have a home! It is nothing like we had envisioned and yet in many ways much more than we had expected. I remind myself that I am not ready to retire by the pool and be served drinks by Jose – I am here to love and serve and touch Mexico close up. This neighborhood IS Mexico and it is the perfect place to jump ALL IN, to learn the language and customs and hearts of my new home. And don’t worry – when you visit there will still be cool drinks served in my garden!
It’s not that we’re unhappy here in Saskatchewan – we’re definitely not. Life is good – business is good – family and friends and faith….it’s all good. So why would we want to sell our family home, quit our jobs and businesses, say goodbye to those we love and head south to a country with an uncertain economy and a crummy reputation? Is it some kind of strange mid life crisis? Like most ideas that grab the hearts of dreamers, there is really no easy way to explain what’s stirring inside. But when the same idea grabs hold of both me AND my husband Grant, I know we have to pay attention, since Grant and I are extreme opposites in most areas.
That’s what happened to us 4 years ago. After some fantastic vacation times in the Puerto Vallarta area of Mexico, we were both gripped with the desire to pack up and move south for good. Not to retire – but to continue the adventure of our self-employed lives in a place where we weren’t deprived of Vitamin D for 6 or 7 months a year because of the great snow conspiracy. As we marinated in the idea and continued to visit the towns on Banderas Bay, we knew this wasn’t just about weather or tacos – this was a God idea and we were being led into a life of service in an area with much need. Not to fix Mexico, but to love Mexico. And love always means serving.
So we bought a piece of land up a mountain and started the process of dismantling our lives up north. I am so grateful we had no idea how hard that would be and how long it would take. We owned a construction company in a Canadian community in the middle of a building boom. While I was trying to shut it all down, God was prospering it. That made for some very strange, and possibly selfish, whining on my part.
But now it is time. We are finishing up the very last house building project – and this is the one we will sell to finance the new life. There are still millions of details, but those details will mostly be managed from a plastic table at a beach restaurant with vendors playing their games around me. We will continue to work because today work doesn’t have to be done face to face – it can be done over an invisible desk that reaches across borders. Together we will negotiate with our belongings as to what gets to go and what gets left behind. How do you tell a gravy boat that you received as a wedding gift many years ago that you no longer expect to make much gravy and are replacing it with the guacamole bowl? Sentimentality will wage the battle of my life with practicality.
I am creating this blog mostly as a way to process my own feelings and thoughts as we start this crazy journey – and I thought some of you might just be interested in following along. You KNOW there are going to be challenges and I expect some of them will be entertaining. Or maybe I just need to feel I am staying connected with all of you whom I love and will miss deeply.