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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.