Hanging On

After we made the decision to head back to Mexico and have our baby there, things fell into place as they usually do once intentions become clear. We found a great family to rent our house, and Mark had so much work thrown his direction that he was able to be choosy about what worked best for our family. As he packed up for one last job in Stanley, Idaho, he simultaneously packed our car like a sardine can. We kissed him goodbye and caught up with him a few days later in Stanley.

Our last day in Missoula--getting some road treats from one of our favorite bakeries.

Our last day in Missoula–getting some road treats from one of our favorite bakeries.

Finalizing the packing and cleaning the house was a huge chore for my 5-months-pregnant self, but it had to be done. It felt really BIG to drive away from Missoula, just Owen and I, knowing that when we returned we’d be a family of four. We made our way to Mark’s hotel and spent a couple of nights there waiting for him to finish. Mark’s schedule is always kind of insane when he’s working, and this was no different. Awake before dark and home after dark, he put in long hours doing hard labor with just enough time at the end of the day to eat, shower and go to bed. So by the time he’d finished his job, he was pretty tired. And I was raring to go.

The view from Mark's hotel room in Stanley, ID.

The view from Mark’s hotel room in Stanley, ID.

Before we’d left Mexico in April, I’d been told by the head of the ‘artesanos’ that if I didn’t return in time for the first market of the season, my spot would go to someone else. “And everyone wants your spot,” he said cryptically in his thick, Chilean accent. I’d nodded back at him, wide-eyed.

I. Would. Not. Lose. My. Spot.

So that meant that we had to book it down to the border to make it back in time. Mark’s project had gone over by a day or two, and there was no time to spare. He was tired with no desire to rush, while I was a wound up pregnant woman about to move to Mexico. We clanged against each other for the first day or two on the road. Actually, I just clanged against him.

2013-10-28 08.11.35

Nevada. Love driving through Nevada!

When we finally crossed the border into Mexico and arrived at the visa office, we were right on track to make it back in time for the first market. But then it all went to hell when we realized that we didn’t have our car registration. Who doesn’t have their car registration in their car, like, all the time? Us, apparently. Our nomadic lifestyle had caught up with us, and neither of us could recall what we’d done with the registration. I had a vague, dim memory of possibly throwing it in the trash after peeling off the sticker and putting it on our license plates. The visa office didn’t care about our sticker—no registration, no car permit. Adios, amigos.

At this point, all of my exhaustion, anxiety and freakishness came to a head, and I burst into tears in the parking lot. Then Owen started crying. It was no bueno. Some locals saw the commotion and asked if they could help. They offered to make it happen for us. We just needed to give them some pesos, and they’d meet us at the OXXO convenience store right down the road with our paperwork. We hesitated for a second, thinking that maybe this would be the quick fix that we needed. Then a police truck rolled into the parking lot, and our helpers all scattered. One of them chatted with the police and returned to our car to ask if we wanted to do it. “No, gracias,” was our reply. Seemed just a tad too sketchy. So back across the border we went. We got a hotel room and arranged to have our registration overnighted from the fine people at the Missoula County Courthouse. We rested. It was glorious to be forced to slow down.

Entering the oasis of San Carlos on our first night back in Mexico.

Entering the oasis of San Carlos on our first night back in Mexico.

Once we had the registration in hand, things went more smoothly in every way. Except we’d had our car A/C fixed right before leaving Missoula, and it wasn’t working. As we headed into southern Sinaloa with our windows down and sun beating in on my side of the car, I wondered if I might die of heat stroke. All of the sudden, the heat became too much, and I begged Mark to pull over ASAP. He pulled over under an overpass, and I jumped out and dumped water on my head as if my hair were on fire. Since the sun was only beating down on my side of the car, I took over driving for a bit to get a break from it. Thankfully, the sun hid behind the clouds for the rest of our trip to Sayulita.

Owen making the most of a hot and windy car ride. Such a trooper.

Owen making the most of a hot and windy car ride. Such a trooper.

We arrived in the dark after our longest and hottest day of driving and pulled up to Tacos on the Street to eat. We called my new friend, Leia, who I’d only met online, to get the keys to our place. I’d met her on a Facebook group called Sayulita People when I was asking around about having a baby in Sayulita. She’d responded with great info, and we’d developed an email friendship. I brought her some things down from the States, and she’d checked out our house in Sayulita to make sure it was okay to rent. She was hugely pregnant and due in 2 weeks when I met her for the first time on that hot and humid night.

Leia, the most lovely surprise of a friend, with baby Evelyn.

Leia, the most lovely surprise of a friend, with baby Evelyn.

We found our place in the dark and opened the gate. It immediately felt amazing and like we’d hit the jackpot. We peeked inside and all let out huge sighs of relief. Yes, we could live here. It would be just fine. It was laid out like a studio, with a half wall separating the living area from the bedroom and one king-sized bed for all of us. But it would work.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

During the first week, the mosquitos found Owen and were well-fed. The ticks found Rosie, too. It became the norm to pick up to 40 ticks off of her per night. Owen’s scratching led to the common (here) and annoying staph infection on his legs. It is a pain the butt to deal with, and all the tea tree oil in the world won’t beat it. Believe me, we tried everything. As the staph infection peaked, so did a fever and crazy rash. It came on in the middle of the night and had us worried, so we took him to his new pediatrician the next day.

The rash. Yikes.

The rash. Yikes.

It ended up being just a common (to here) virus, but the whole welcome-back-to-sayulita-here’s-a-staph-infection-and-scary-rash experience had me seriously questioning what I’d gotten my pregnant self into. To say that I felt vulnerable is an understatement. And if I’d known in that moment what was coming down the pipe, I’m fairly certain I would’ve packed my bags and headed home.

 

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A Long Story

Cobblestone

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.

Popsicles

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.

caretaking

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.