New York’s Not My Home

In the fall of 1997, I quit my first ‘real’ job at Planned Parenthood of Missoula, sold or gave away most of my belongings and hopped on a train bound for Chicago. I was going to meet up with one of my best college girlfriends, and we were going to drive to New York City to start fresh and live with her boyfriend. As I made my way from Missoula to the train station in Whitefish, I looked at the low-hanging, ominous, dark clouds shrouding the Mission Mountains and thought, “Thank, God.” I’d spent a little over a year in Montana, and I’d loved it. But it had also been really hard and really lonely. I jumped at the chance to reunite with my friend who’d spent the last year teaching English in Korea.

Our reunion was lovely, and we quickly got down to the business of driving to NYC. After a quick visit to my Mom’s in central Illinois, we were on our way. The plan was to drive straight through in one day, and that’s exactly what we did.

About midway through our drive, my friend started confiding in me that there was maybe another guy that she was interested in. I don’t remember if I hid my shock or just laid it all out, but I was horrified. I’d just quit a job and sold everything to go live with her boyfriend while we found jobs and eventually found a place of our own. The Boyfriend was the key piece to this move happening sanely. Things got a little tense. As we approached the city, I asked if she could take over the wheel as she’d promised, and she froze. So I drove us over that giant bridge and into Manhattan at something like 12:30 in the morning. The skyline was incredible and overwhelming in our bleary-eyed state.

About 2 days into our stay, the boyfriend announced that I could stay, but that my friend needed to move out. They were breaking up. My worst nightmare was coming true. We both stayed on while we sorted things out, and I knew immediately that for me, this was a deal-breaker. This was not what I’d signed up for. I frantically ran through a list of possibilities in my head, all of which led me back to Montana with my tail between my legs. “I just had a going-away party,” I thought. “How can I go back so soon?”

With my favorite cousin in town with his new wife, I did have some fun during those 1 ½ weeks. I called it my ‘1 ½ week-long really stressful vacation’. Somewhere in there, I remembered a woman I’d met at my job at Planned Parenthood. She’d written ‘Montana Conservation Corps’ as her employer on her intake form, and I’d asked her about it. She spoke of building trails in the wilderness, working outside and working with her body. It sounded pretty awesome from inside that windowless clinic. And a heck of a lot less stressful.

So there I was in NYC, dialing the number for the Missoula MCC office. When Keith, my future boss, answered the phone with his gravelly, laid-back, hippie/mountain man voice—the polar opposite of what I was experiencing in downtown Manhattan— I knew that my future was sealed. I couldn’t have been happier. I ran to the nearest Kinko’s and faxed him my resume. Within days, I was back on the train, tail tucked in my back pocket.

This story is on my mind right now, because my niece is on her way to NYC to attend school at the AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts. My niece who just yesterday was five and holding hands with me on Rock Creek, asking me how mosquitos can see in the dark. My niece who grew up in my small hometown and went to the same schools that I did and has virtually the same background is moving to the big city. And she’s never been there! And I am so proud of her. To the moon proud. It’s painful to not be with her as she sets her eyes on that skyline for the first time.

Her story will be different. Yes, it will. And I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

PS—The Boyfriend and my friend did in fact break up that fall. They parted ways for a good 4 years or so. Then they reunited, got married, had two kids and moved to Copenhagen. And yes, we’re still friends. 😉


I’m Serious

I’m preoccupied these days. A major shift has occurred that, while not taking us completely by surprise, has made us surprisingly confused about the future. I’m pregnant. I was going to try to write a post about something else, because you’re not supposed to tell people that you’re pregnant when you’re early in your pregnancy. Right? But I couldn’t keep it a secret with #1, and I can’t with #2. It’s a really big deal, and I can’t pretend that nothing major is happening in my body right now. It kind of consumes my every waking thought.

baby owen

Minutes after Owen was born in our bedroom.

It is consuming my every thought, because The Plan was to return to Mexico in early November. And now, if all goes well, The Plan is to give birth in February in either Mexico or Montana. So here we are, trying to sort out our feelings and goals and concerns and dreams and see what shakes out in the end. I wish it were an easy decision. I really do. And maybe it will become an easy decision soon. But right now, I’m thrilled to be expanding our little family and utterly conflicted about what that means as far as Pursuing An Art Business In Mexico goes. It’s kind of a win-win situation, right? Mexico vs. Montana. Except that we were on this trajectory…

My fear is that all of this momentum that we created last winter will disappear if we don’t return. What if that’s it? What if we don’t make it back? On the other hand, I fear that I’ll underestimate what a Big Deal it is to give birth and care for a newborn and be sleep-deprived and that I’ll end up feeling overwhelmed in a foreign country with no family in sight. But then I think about the fish tacos at Bicho’s, and it’s like, who cares?! And I’m being totally serious! They’re that good.


This is making me drool!

I’ve already begun doing research on birthing down there: options, pricing, what to expect. Mark and I had an all-day discussion on Father’s Day as we drove a long loop from Missoula up Rock Creek, over to Philipsburg and back to Missoula, with some fishing and picnicking mixed in. It was perfect for talking it out. He’s torn, too.

owen with bubbles

Owen and his friend on Owen’s birthday in 2012.

So this is the very unexpected and exciting next chapter in our story. We’d been trying for another baby off and on since we first went to Mexico in the summer of 2011. The fact that it worked–finally–is a bit of a surprise! We told Owen recently, and he kept asking, “Are you serious?” over and over and over again. He was stunned, to say the least. I can’t even imagine what is going on in that sweet brain of his, but my guess is that he’s excited and confused, too.

Yes, honey, I’m serious.

A Long Story


One of my favorite things about Mexico.

Back in 2004, my husband and I bought our first house. It was an old fixer-upper that my mom, upon seeing it for the first time, referred to as a tear-down. Another friend referred to it as a shack. They were both kind of right. Let’s just say it had good bones. Being do-it-yourselfers to the extreme, we decided that we would tackle this sad, neglected home and bring it back to life. Holy hell, if we’d known what we were getting into…

I’ll narrow the gruesome details down to this: I was almost killed by a pile of bricks. Our infant was almost killed by infant botulism. We barely took any time off. When my dad passed away from cancer, I had to go to his funeral alone because our house didn’t have a roof on it. I gutted our living room when I was 8 months pregnant. My husband put a nail through his hand on his birthday and then called me at work to ask me to Google it. (“Google what exactly,” I asked. “Nail through hand,” he replied.) At 9 months pregnant, I couldn’t find our mailbox. I went out to the front porch (wearing an oversized shirt with a big grease patch on the front from the Weleda belly oil I was using) yelling, “Hon, where the heck is the mailbox?!” And then I realized that an entire university class was standing in front of our house, on a tour of our historic neighborhood. Enough said. It was hard. For seven years, it was really, really hard. (And sometimes really, really funny.)

Owen infant

The very best thing that happened in the old house: the birth of our son.

Oh–but then! We weren’t yet finished with the house, and we decided to divide our property and build a NEW house! Yes! Financially, it would be great! Right?! Mark would build it with our builder friends, I’d be the general contractor, no problem. So we put the old house on the market (For Sale By Owner, of course) and began building the new one. And our dog had puppies. And I had an in-home daycare. And…well, you get the picture. It was bloody insane.

New House

The house that we built.

Okay, so this is all sounding really negative…and that is so not the point. But this is the back story. And the back story is relevant. Soooooo relevant. Because after 8 years of caring about houses and working on houses, we were so sick of houses! So. Sick. Of. Them. Seriously, it’s kind of amazing how much energy we can put into our homes. But that’s another story. So we sold the old house just in the nick of time and then finished the new one. We’d already decided, Forget this. Let’s just rent it out. This brand-new house that we’d made just right, just perfect for our little family…we didn’t give a rip about it anymore. We were so burned out. Fried. Disturbed. American Dream? What?! Whatever!

So as we were finishing the last details–literally out the back door–our renters were moving in the front door. And just like that, we had no home, no jobs, no schedules.

Owen sleeping in carseat

I remember crying as I took this picture. We were so fried as we drove out of town.

We had a bit of cash from selling our house. Not a ton, but enough. We decided to travel around Montana for a bit…unwind. We were so tired. So tightly wound. We needed space and time to make decisions. So we went to Yellowstone and Chico Hot Springs. It was a wonderful trip in so many ways. But I couldn’t sleep well, because we were camping in grizzly bear country. I’m terrified of grizzly bears.
(One time a naturopath asked if I had any irrational fears, and I said, “Well, I’m terrified of grizzly bears.” And she said, “That’s not irrational.” Thank you, naturopath.) So then the conversation turned to whether we should buy a rig that we could sleep in or just fly to Mexico.

While we’d been working on the old house, we’d spent evenings watching travel videos. We must’ve watched every Lonely Planet video that our library had. It was so far out of our reach at the time, but we talked about it and dreamed about it and made it our goal. We would travel. Someday.

So here we were. We had time and a little money and no plans. Like, none. So we booked a flight to Puerto Vallarta and ended up in Sayulita, Mexico, in August of 2011. Friends had told us about it, and it sounded good. It was good. It was soooooo good. We stayed for 5 weeks and had an amazing place all to ourselves. We did nothing but eat, swim, sleep, hang out, eat, and swim. And sweat. We did a lot of that. It was heavenly for our family. We’d never been anywhere like that or done anything like that for THAT long.

First family beach shot

This picture really captures the feeling. Amazing!

On our last night in Sayulita, we met a family that we’d seen around town. Our kids hit it off, we hit it off and we spent the next 24 hours together. It was a love affair. They’d sold everything they owned in Sweden and bought a sailboat 2 years prior. They’d been sailing ever since. Their story was super inspiring. They were living there temporarily, and I swore we’d return. ASAP.

Rosanna & crew

We fell in love with this family of sailors. Almost missed our flight home!

We went back to Montana after that, moved into the new house and Mark went back to work doing environmental restoration. We’d both done this work in the past–before having a child–and it’s a flexible schedule along with pretty good pay. It’s seasonal work, so Mark worked that October and November. During those two months, I had vivid dreams about Sayulita. I just knew that we had to return. It seemed crazy at times since we’d just been there, but the story just didn’t seem over yet.

We drove back down in January. Our new friends were still there, and our days revolved around the beach, our friends and food. That was about it. We couldn’t really afford this trip but once we’d made the decision to go, miracle money appeared. It just worked out. This became the norm: follow your heart and doors will open.

We spent 3 months in Mexico that winter. It was amazing, and I knew once again that we’d be back.


Owen and his buddy having a little piece of heaven.

We returned to Missoula and picked up the odd housesitting gig. Mark returned to the seasonal work. I decided that since the universe seemed to provide when we asked for something specific, I’d ask for something really specific: I wanted a free place to live in Missoula. One night, while looking for a more permanent (than housesitting) place to live, I found a caretaking opportunity on Craigslist. I emailed immediately, and we were picked out of over 70 others to be the caretakers of a property with 10 horses and an enormous garden. In exchange for 12 hours of work per week, we lived there for free for the entire summer. Well, maybe it’s true that nothing is ever truly ‘free’. Things with the arrangement went south in the fall, and after a very difficult couple of weeks, we decided that being freed up to return to Mexico was just fine. We drove back down in January.


The amazing view at our caretaking gig.

This time, prior to leaving, I told all of our friends and family pretty much the same thing: “We really can’t afford this trip at all, but we have the time to do it…and we don’t know if we’ll always have the time…so, we’re doing it.” It was really, REALLY crazy out there to do what we did. But a few weeks before departing, someone backed into our old 1992 Subaru and the insurance company gave us a check to fix our car. My husband fixed it instead, and we knew we at least had the money to get there!

My loose plan was to sell my art in Mexico. See how it went. I take artsy photos when I’m there, and then I transfer them onto wood. I found the technique while looking for something else online, and I was hooked. We really, really needed to make money somehow while we were there, and I felt good about trying it out. I figured I’d just set up on the street with the other artisans and see how it went.

Photo Transfer Alamos

An example of my art: I take photographs and transfer them onto wood.

The first week, it went shitty. I can’t even remember exactly what happened. But it felt overwhelming and someone told me I needed a different kind of visa and my pictures turned out weird from the print shop and all kinds of other small things that can overwhelm a person following a crazy dream happened. And then we ran into a woman on the beach in Sayulita. All she said was, “Sayulita has a way of providing.” That was it. But it gave me hope. Prior to that, I’d told Mark that it seemed like the universe was telling me to quit. It was too hard; it should be easier. Without missing a beat, he said, “The universe isn’t telling you to give up. It wants to know how badly you WANT this.” Yeah, my husband rocks. He’s always had this Following Your Bliss thing down–don’t worry be happy, listen to your heart, follow it. Always. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him. Not a fearful bone in his body. And when you’re around someone like that for long enough, it rubs off on you. Thank goodness.

Mark Rosie Coffee

My inspiring husband with our new Mexican mutt, Rosie.

Okay, so long story short (ha), after that first week, things went really, REALLY well. It blew our minds. It was the most amazing experience in so many ways. A truly cultural experience where I was this gringa from Montana selling my art among these beautiful, talented, Mexican artesanos. They saw me out there, right along side them, at market after market. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was gaining their respect. We were all in the same boat…trying to feed our families and putting ourselves out there day after day with a smile and faith. It. Was. Amazing. And then something else happened that I wasn’t expecting. I met some other gringas and senoras who were doing what I was doing, only better. They helped me so much and inspired me to no end. Every step of the way, I was helped by someone who just wanted to help. Every step. Log hearts We were crazy busy down there, but we did it. We totally did it. It was probably the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. And we can’t wait to go back.


Mexican ceramic plate

Love the bright colors at the markets!

One warm March morning, I set up my art display at a new market in Sayulita. It was the first day of its existence, and no one knew what to expect. I was already selling at four other markets, but this one was literally steps from our door. I wasn’t sure where to set up, so I ended up on the very edge of the market. I was the only non-Mexican selling there, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. It turned out to be a painfully slow morning. No one in town knew about this new market, so very few people came by to shop.

While I waited patiently to see if anyone would come by, I noticed two Mexican women approach my stand. I recognized them from the market—they were vendors, too, and were set up near me. They must be looking for a way to pass the time, I thought. They stood in front of my display and stared. “Muy bonito. Muy bonito!” One of them picked up a small, square picture that I’d taken of a statue of Christ in a cemetery. It was an image that resonated with tourists and Mexicans alike, but I hadn’t sold a single one since I’d started selling my art two months earlier.

Christ in a cemetary

The image that capitaved their hearts.

She looked at it lovingly and again said, “Muy bonito.” She may have asked, “Cuanto cuesta?” I don’t remember. In that moment, I instantly decided to do some giving. “Regalo,” I said. Remembering that I had the same piece in a larger size, I pulled it out from the back of my display to show her. I waited to see what she thought of this larger piece and judging by the look on her face, she loved it. “Regalo.” She looked at me in disbelief. “Si, regalo,” I said. I pulled out a similar picture for the other woman. “Regalo.” They stared at their pictures, looking back at me with the most loving eyes. “I will put this above my bed for protection,” one said. They cradled the pictures in their arms like newborn babies saying, “Muchas gracias,” over and over again as they walked away. A third woman, having seen what had just gone down, approached. I offered her the small, square picture, and she happily walked away with it.

Later that day, one of the original women returned and handed me something wrapped in paper. She said only, “Regalo,” and walked away. It was a brightly hand-painted sun made out of a coconut. I loved it. That day, I sold only three tiny pictures to a tourist family and made maybe $18, but I packed up my things with a full heart and a big smile on my face.

Painted Mexican art

This is similar to what I was gifted.

Later that week, I was selling at my favorite market, the Mercado del Pueblo in Sayulita. I wandered over to look at my neighbor Memo’s jewelry. We’d become buddies, and I loved how he was always smiling and content. I tried on a ring with a symbol of the circle of life, and it fit perfectly. Admiring it on my finger, I asked, “Cuanto cuesta?”

“For you, regalo,” he replied.

“No! Necesitas dinero.”

“Regalo. Regaaaaaalo,” he said smiling.

I looked at him and hesitated for a second, really wanting to give him something for his work.

“Regalo,” he said again. “Some things matter more than money.”

What could I say? I knew exactly what he meant. I knew he needed to give it to me, so I let him. I pulled my hand up to my heart and thanked him.

Hearts painted on a tree

Sayulita, full of creativity, love and open hearts.

Over the next few weeks, I watched the circle of positivity and giving go round and round. Someone would give to me or some amazing thing would happen, and then I’d feel fueled to give back to someone, anyone! At one point, I offered a discount to two different people because they bought more than one piece. This was a standard thing for me to do. BOTH people paid me the full price instead.

The flow of giving and receiving was humbling and exhilarating and amazing. I’d never witnessed or been a part of such instant karma (or whatever you want to call it) as I was during those last weeks in Sayulita. I think I’m addicted. 😉