The Ohr’s big shake up!

Right before captain Andy got diagnosed with the “big double C” (colon cancer)  I told him that it was time to shake things up.  I  didn’t exactly know what this would mean, but I wanted to do something different in the spring of 2019 after our stint in Zihuatanejo had finished. Would it be international volunteer work?  Would we temporarily move back to the United States and do another fun driving trip?  What would be something new and totally different for us to experience?

Andy agreed he was open to a substantial lifestyle change. Unlike past springs, we weren’t really anxious to travel for weeks and week on end, so after much discussion, we decided we wanted to be stationary for whatever change we would make.

So we’re shaking things up bigtime… we’re temporarily moving to JAPAN!

What???  The Ohr’s are moving to Japan in the spring of 2019?  Why?  How?

Many of you know that I have a love of Japan that runs deep. I’ve been to Japan twice for work and once with Andy in April of 2017 to see the blooming of the cherry blossoms. We traveled for five weeks throughout the country and visited Korea too. We had such an amazing time in Japan we decided to go back and see what it would be like to live there for an extended period of time.   img_20170410_092813

What’s so great about Japan?

  1. Fantastic public transportation. The bullet train is incredible.
  2. The fact that they are preparing to host the 2020 winter games. It’s an exciting time to be there.
  3. The food!  Japanese food is by far my favorite food. There is no competition.  I want to eat miso soup, salmon, pickles and rice for breakfast for days and days on end.  This is hard to do in Mexico.
  4. The coffee scene It’s fantastic.
  5.  The aesthetic beauty.
  6. The cherry blossoms. Seeing the cherry blossoms was one of the highlights of my life. I’m really happy we’ll get to see them again!
  7.  Baseball. It’s super fun seeing games in Japan.
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We are both excited to see the cherry blossoms again.

Fukuoka here we come!

Starting in mid-March, we’ve rented a two-bedroom apartment in Southern Japan in a very large city called Fukuoka. It’s on the island of Kyushu.  We picked Southern Japan because it’s known for its beaches and natural beauty.  I had never even heard of Fukuoka before I started doing some on-line research about cool places to live in Japan. We didn’t want to live in Tokyo (too expensive and too crowded) and Andy wanted tons of good hiking opportunities and the opportunity to watch spring baseball. What has baseball and hiking?  Fukuoka!   After I did more research, I called a few Japanese friends who live in Tokyo and they instantly told me that Fukuoka does indeed kick serious butt.  In fact, in 2016 Monocle Magazine rated Fukuoka as the 7th most livable city in the entire world!  Admittedly, I’ve never heard of Moncle, but still!  Fukuoka is pretty large,( 1.5 million) and has tons and tons of large city amenities and cultural activities happening.  For those of you who want a bit more of a geography lesson, Fukuoka is located 2.5 hours from Osaka (a fantastic Japanese city) by bullet train or about 5.5 hours from Tokyo.  It’s a three-hour ferry to Busan, Korea so we’ll probably spend some time in Korea too.

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We loved Korea!  This temple was beautiful.

Finding a place to live in Japan is hard. There are not many Airbnb apartments available and they are very, very small.  Plus, the language barrier makes apartment hunting even harder. After extensive research, I found a company that specializes in renting short-term apartments to foreigners and their staff speaks English, so I sent them an email. They had several one-bedrooms and one very spartan two-bedroom available, so we took it for two months. After our rental is over, we’ll hopefully travel to some other places in Japan, but not for that much time.  I do want to go back to Tokyo and maybe even Kyoto. The apartment rental is less than our mortgage in Oakland and only a tiny bit more than we would be paying in Zihuatanjo.  I also had our friends in Tokyo give them a ring to make sure they are legit. The company checked out.

We’ll arrive just in time for cherry blossom season and for spring baseball. The baseball stadium in 30 minutes by train from our house so we will both enjoy going to games. During the day we’ll hike, take day trips and visit cafes of course. We’ll also do as much cherry bloosom viewing as we can.  Oh, did I mention onsen baths?   Japan’s largest hot spring area (Beppu) is just 2.5 hours away!  We’ll definately spend some time in Beppu!

But before we move to Japan we have to move in Mexico two more times! 

We’re moving next week to a new three- bedroom house in Morelia. The current owner of our kick-butt house is coming back for the winter so Andy and I are getting the boot. We’re so sad. We’ve loved our stay here. The location has served us well and we love being so centrally located.

We’ve rented another house for our final six weeks until we return to Zihuatanejo for four months on December 1, 2018. The new Morelia house  is really, really nice (but very, very expensive) and it’s not located as close to the square as we’d like. It’s about a 15 minute walk.  But on the upside, it’s right across from a huge Mexican mercado which will make for some very easy shopping.

There is a lot going on in Morelia. The guitar festival was great and just concluded. Now Morelia is gearing up for the International film festival and Day of the Dead. So much to see and do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A taste of Toluca

Last week Captain Andy and I were having coffee on the square when we saw a young couple walking around. They looked like American/Canadian/European tourists and we were somewhat surprised to see them because non-Mexican tourists are few and far between in these parts. In fact, we can go for days and days without seeing gringos or gringas. This twenty something couple asked us where they should eat and after they had eaten, they stopped by our table to tell us they had enjoyed our restaurant recommendation.

Conversation ensued and we found out that they are currently on a world tour! They had saved money for an entire year and then they carefully budgeted their money to allow them to travel on a world adventure.  I started asking them about their planning and they shared a bunch of cool travel stories with us. After they left, I looked up their blog and I just could not believe how much they were moving around! I realize that “20 something” is a lot different from “50 something” but reading their highly ambitious travel schedule left me exhausted.  One thing Andy and I are both starting to realize is that we really prefer slow travel over speedy travel. We can’t imagine moving from place to place for more than four or five weeks at a time. We just get too burned out and while we love to see new places, we also like to have our own kitchen and not living out of suitcases. But this couple was on a mission to see it all and see it fast.

This past weekend we went to Toluca in Central Mexico for a quick overnight jaunt. Andy had been there once before without me and really wanted me to see it.  It was a fun last minute adventure having decided to go just  the night before. We found out that there was a bus leaving for Toluca every hour from Morelia. We booked a $50 a night hotel on-line and off we went. We boarded a first class bus and 3.5 hours later we arrived. We visited the botanical garden (stunning stained glass was everywhere), hung out in a coffee shop, (I had a virtual reading date with a friend), went to the professional soccer game, (Toluca won), and ate dinner in a vegetarian restaurant. On Sunday morning we had brunch, and then boarded the bus to return home. I really liked Toluca. It had a nice historical district, a lot of modern stores, and it was very vibrant.  I would enjoy visiting again. The botantical garden was definately the highlight.

Besides the fun we had in Toluca, this past week was fun in other ways.  The international Morelia guitar festival was in town so we saw a lot of great guitar music and got to see the Michoacan symphony perform – all for free!  The amount of culture activities here is crazy.  Theater events, musical concerts, fireworks. It never ends. Soon the international film festival is going to start, (not free) and I know we’ll be able to see a lot of cool films. Day of the Dead festivities will follow. Before you know it, we’ll be back in Zihuatanejo!

We think we’re going to have to visit the U.S. sometime in the next six weeks. Andy has to get some chest x-rays and I’m due for a mammogram. Plus, we’ll need to restart our tourist visa…sooner is better than later because we don’t want to have to leave Zihuatanejo when the weather is so lovely in January. Our tourist visas will expire in January (we are only allowed 180 days) so it’s probably better to leave now and re-set the 180 day clock. Then we will leave again after our juant in Zihuatenjo is up in March. We actually are just finalizing our plans post Zihuatanejo. No announcment yet, but I can disclose the plans will involve 1) Travel outside of Mexico  2) Baseball watching  3) A big lifestyle change!

We think our trip to the U.S. will be a quick. Our tentative plan is to fly from Morelia to Tijuana, walk across the border via the pedestrian bridge, and then go to Kaiser in San Diego for medical tests. Then we will fly right back to Morelia via Tijuana.  Not sure if this plan will work, but research will commence shortly.

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Is my glass half-empty?

I’m sick. I have a really bad cold and I’m in a foul mood. The glass isn’t half full at this moment in time.  For the past week, I’ve been dealing with a nasty cold, and I’m run down. Our week has been spent pounding the pavement looking for a nice place to live for our final 6 weeks in Morelia, Mexico and house hunting/apartment hunting has proved to be somewhat difficult. We’ve seen a lot of properties, but none of them have been in the right location for us. We really want to stay as close to the main square as possible since we don’t have a car. Public transportation in Morelia is easy, cheap and great, but traffic is a nightmare so sitting in cabs or on mini-vans is not something we love to do.

Please don’t get me wrong, this nomadic life is fantastic.  It’s always an adventure and generally I love it, until I don’t.  While our  current rental, three blocks from the square in the historic district of Morelia is phenomenal,  we can’t stay here past October 15.  The owner is returning so we have to find a new place to live. We thought about leaving to explore another part of Mexico, but we’re not ready to leave. There is so much fun stuff happening here, we want to stay. But I must say, looking for constant housing is no fun.

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Then there’s Zihuatanejo…we left in the spring having signed a four month lease with a man who is building two brand new one-bedroom apartments. The one bedrooms are tiny, tiny, tiny, so we rented both apartments side-by-side figuring we’d have a place for company to stay when they visit and we’d have more space in general to store our stuff. Plus, Andy could hangout in one and I could hangout in the other 🙂

We figured we’d sleep in one apartment, and use the other space to primarily live in. Now when I write about our plan it sounds ridiculous, but as much as we tried, we could not find a nice two-bedroom in our price range in Zihuatenejo for four months, so this seemed like a good plan. Well, the owner of the house where the apartments are being built, (a fantastic guy) decided to build two more apartments (we just found out) and the design of the two new units took away our two front patios. Goodbye outdoor living.  In addition to the patio issue, now we’re going to have potentially two sets of loud neighbors to deal with.  It’s not what we signed up for. We thought we’d be the only people living there.  We did contact the owner, and  we may be able to switch to the two front apartments (they will have a patio) or perhaps occupy one in the back, one in the front, but it’s still stressful  and we may have to go to Zihuatanejo (4 hours from here) to see what we want to do. Not fun by any means.

But back to Morelia. We did finally succeed in getting a really nice, fully furnished house starting October 15,  but it’s about $300 more a month than we are paying now and we have to move out for four nights right in the middle of our rental and let other people stay there for Day of the Dead.  Argh!  Luckily, we can keep our stuff at the apartment and only take a small bag to the other space for these 3-4 nights. The owner of the house has promised us our stuff will be fine since the people coming for Day of the Dead are close friends of hers.

As I understand it,  October and November are high season n Morelia so things can be costly. There’s a huge International film festival, a music festival and Day of the Dead. All the hotels are jam-packed and sold out. I think we were pretty lucky to find this house for 6 weeks.

You can find photos of it here:

http://www.furnishedapartmentmorelia.com/casasanjuan

So my glass is only half-full and I’ve got a bad cold.

But tonight we’re having visitors for the weekend and we’re hosting people for Rosh Hashanah dinner on Sunday night.  I think my glass will be fully full soon.

 

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Mexico: Violent place or vat of honey?

Almost every day, I read or hear about a shootout, a revenge killing or some other murderous undertaking that involves either the drug cartels, the Mexican police, the military,  innocent family members or bystanders … or (most likely) a combination thereof.

A few days ago, for example, I read about how eight bodies (some dismembered) were found in the tourist mecca of Cancun — some near the hotel zone. I know that the U.S. State Department recently issued updated, “do-not-travel-to” advisories for five states among the 31 in Mexico, including Guerrero (where our part-time home of Zihuatanejo is) and Michoacán (the capital city of Morelia that will be our home until Dec. 1).

Surely this isn’t the Mexico I know and love.

Let’s recap:

Number of dismembered bodies I’ve seen since we shifted our lives to Mexico in May 2016: 0

Number of times I’ve felt physically threatened in Mexico: 0

Number of times I’ve witnessed a kidnapping: 0

Number of times I’ve witnessed a shootout between police and cartel members: 0

Even with these stellar stats,  I’m not naive. I know Mexico can be a dangerous place. We see the covers of Mexican newspapers and online articles that don’t hold back in showing graphic images of the dead bodies. And those State Department travel advisories must have some basis in reality (right?) even though I shake my head when I see how they ignorantly blanket entire states.

I’m not going to use this blog post to say, “But the U.S. is unsafe, too. Look at what’s happening in shopping malls or in schools, or anywhere, or in places like Oakland or Chicago. (Should a foreign state department issue a “do-not-travel-to” advisory for Illinois?)” Nor am I going to use this blog to tell people that Mexico is a safe place. If you want to know what Mexico is like, come visit. I’d be happy to show you around.

I want to use this blog to talk about how disconnected I feel when I read news about murders, gang activity and corruption … because this is not my Mexico! None of that is part of my experience in this wonderful country.

All the horrible news about Mexico leaves me permanently perplexed. It leaves me feeling like I can’t get a handle on a peoplehood or a nation. Mostly it leaves me feeling stymied, like I don’t have the intellectual foundation or enough years “in country” to grasp a very large, tangled and confusing socioeconomic problem.

Here’s what I do understand:

  • We don’t live near border towns, where much of the cartel activity is.
  • Because we aren’t involved in obtaining drugs, or distributing them or exporting them, or vying for control over a city or a region that a cartel wants to have for its own, we are extremely unlikely to encounter cartel activity.
  • Cartels generally have zero interest in tourists, or even 99 percent of rank-and-file Mexicans.

Generally and repeatedly, we come into contact with only lovely people who always say “Buen dia” or “Welcome to my country.” Almost everyone we meet is genuinely curious about why we’ve come to Mexico for more than just a short stay.

Interacting with average Mexicans is like being dipped in a huge vat of honey.  When someone gets on the city bus and says “Buenas tardes” with a smile, and all six or eight people aboard (hey, these are small buses!) reply with “Buenas tardes” and smiles of their own, it’s like a sugar buzz. When we’re walking on the sidewalk of a narrow street and peer into an 18th-century entrance-way, giving us, if we’re lucky, a glimpse of a fabulous interior courtyard, and the owner invites us in and gives us a tour of the entire home, it’s a wonderful, happiness-inducing feeling. It’s a warmth that you rarely get to experience in the United States.

And it’s very far removed from images of dead bodies, machine guns and executions.

It’s going to take me a long time to understand the other side of Mexico.

Suck Another Way!

Dear readers of BelieveitOhrNot,

I’m determined to teach people to suck another way. More about this very strong desire later in this blog post.

Yes, I’m back!  It’s been a while and for this  I am very sorry.  This week we were invited to lunch at a new friends’ home, and right when I met her, she mentioned she read my blog and missed me posting. So, thank you Kim for providing me with a strong impetus to post again.  I’ve been way busier than usual for a very exciting reason which I will soon share. But before I talk about what’s been keeping me so busy, here is a re-cap of what’s been happening.

  • Two days before we were supposed to return to Mexico, Andy got diagnosed with colon cancer.  We had to postpone our return to Mexico so he could get treatment.  Maker:S,Date:2017-8-28,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
  •  After a two-day hospital stay,  Andy began his recovery in San Francisco, while we waited to see if he would need chemo. If chemo was going to be needed, we would have been in the Bay Area for at least six months.
  • Thankfully, no chemo was needed!  The surgery removed all the cancer. We spent a month in the Bay Area so Andy could regain his strength and then we embarked on a five-week driving trip to Utah and Colorado where we visited several national parks, including Bryce, Zion and Arches and spent 10 days in Denver. It was a ton of fun!

We then flew to Morelia, Mexico (where we are now) and spent a week in a lovely bed and breakfast while we house hunted for a four-month rental.

Right now I’m writing to you from our amazing two-bedroom house located three blocks from the main cathedral in the old historic section of the city.  We love, love, love Morelia (as I have told you over and over) and we are thrilled to be back. For the next 10 weeks, we’re staying in a really beautiful colonial house that has a great rooftop and a kick-ass courtyard with a beautiful water fountain.  Unfortunately, we can’t stay here until December 1 as we had planned, because the owner is coming back. So we’re going to have to be a bit flexible in our Morelia plans. But for now, we’re enjoying this lovely colonial city, the weather and the friends we’ve made here. It feels wonderful to finally be off the road!  As much as we both love traveling,  it’s very, very hard living out of a suitcase for months on end and not having access to a kitchen. We’re happy to be sitting still for a while.

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We are only a five minute walk from the main cathedral.

So now I’m ready for a BIG reveal.  I co-founded a new business! The business is called BAM. It’s a Mexican bamboo company that provides high-quality Mexican bamboo products to individuals, and to restaurants and cafes. The first product will be reusable bamboo drinking straws, but eventually we will branch out to other products such as water bottles and bamboo silverware you can travel with.

I’m starting the business with a friend. A friend who lives in Morelia. Her name is Lisa Cortes and I met her through this blog!  We’ve been having so much fun working together. She’s a entrepreneur and has vast business experience.  Me, not so much!  But I hate, hate, hate plastic straws! That’s what fueled me to envision BAM.  Even before the no straw movement gathered steam in the U.S,  I was anti-straw.  I actually purchased a bamboo straw in Zihuatanejo last year, and it made me very happy to use it. One day I  showed it to Lisa and BAM was born.  I’m doing the marketing and writing and eventually we’ll produce an educational curriculum for kids.   Lisa is doing a lot of the graphic design (she’s an amazing designer) and handling a lot of the day-to-day business activities since she has more experience and she’s fluent in Spanish, having been raised in Morelia until age 12.  She’s also able to work in Mexico (but BAM is U.S based) and I can’t legally work here. This is a great partnership for this reason and for so many more! We have a ton in common and make a terrific team!

And get this… on Monday, Andy and I and Lisa and her husband, Robert, are all traveling to the World Bamboo Congress conference, held once every three years, this time in Mexico.  It’s a crash course in bamboo 101!  The meeting is in the state of Veracruz, but in the past its been held in India, Japan and China. The four of us will bus to Guadalajara and then fly to Veracruz and then take a bus to the conference site in Xalapa. At the conference we’ll meet people from all over the world who manufacture bamboo and  farm it. There’s even an expo of bamboo!  I’m super excited for us to introduce you to our line of high-quality Mexican bamboo products!

Will you join me and become an environmental warrior?   Maybe you want to suck a different way too?

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Lisa and I want everyone to suck a different way!

In the next week or two our website will launch.  You can check it out soon at letsbam.com.

In the meantime, please like us on Facebook and be prepared to suck another way!  I’m going to post photos and updates from the conference on Facebook.

Another blog post is coming soon with more details about life in Mexico.

Stacey

 

My personal vagina monologue

This blog post is about my vagina.

I’ve wanted to blog about my vagina for a really long time, but I haven’t had the courage. Even now, as I write this, I’m second-guessing myself. However, when you get the urge to write about something and it doesn’t go away for weeks and week, I think it’s time to share it with the world. Moreover, my husband, the professional journalist, told me that sometimes writers have to write about hard subjects. It’s just what they do.

I’m highly uncomfortable writing about my vagina. I don’t want to do it at all.  I’m scared people will think I’m being crude.  I’m also concerned that many readers won’t understand why I’ve decided to share something so intimate, when I could just be writing about traveling, Mexico, packing, or how to “retire” early and live out your dreams.  I never thought in a million years I’d be sharing something so intimate.

Here’s why I am writing about my vagina:

  1. Many women (me being one of them) are not comfortable discussing physical symptoms and problems that are happening to them during pre-menopause or menopause. As a blogger, I have an opportunity to create a space for all women to better understand what is happening with their bodies, souls and minds.
  2. After experiencing problems for many months, I am feeling compelled to share my story.  Believe me, I would rather discuss this in a less public manner, perhaps with just a few close friends,  but I simply can’t. I feel compelled to share my experience with every single female reader of BelieveItOhrNot … so they can avoid what I’ve been through. Just because I’ve been in vagina hell doesn’t mean others have to be there, too.

So here goes …

Things have gone south with my vagina in recent months. It all started after my ovarian cancer surgery three years ago in May of 2015, a procedure that included a total hysterectomy. Afterward, my doctors told me that I would enter menopause immediately (even though I was only 49 at the time) and that I would start having symptoms such as hot flashes. They were not lying.

My menopause symptoms are freaky bad and scary as shit. In addition to hot flashes, I have memory problems and anxiety issues. Some days I actually feel like I am losing my mind due to brain fog and general forgetfulness. I actually thought I might have a brain tumor at one time! Luckily I found out that these are all symptoms of menopause, but it took me a long time to get there. And I had to figure it out by myself, which is scary and not cool.

For me, the worst symptoms are the hot flashes. Some nights I wake up drenched in sweat. Two seconds later I’m freezing cold. Then I’m sweating again. It’s freaking maddening. Due to my lack of estrogen, my  body temperature just can’t regulate itself.  I have hot flashes during the day, too, but they aren’t so bad.

Then there’s my vagina. About six months ago, I began spotting — which, of course, freaked me out. I thought ovarian cancer had returned. In addition, I had really horrible itching and burning. And sex was just impossible. I’d be doubled over in pain.

These symptoms led me to believe: 1) I had a horrible yeast infection; 2) I had some type of bladder issue; and 3) I had a recurrence of cancer. I tried a bunch of stuff to treat the alleged yeast infection and the alleged bladder infection, including a big dose of antibiotics. The symptoms would retreat for a few days or a few weeks, only to return.

Then, a few months ago, in the spring of 2018, I visited the Bay Area and went to an appointment with my oncologist. I talked to her about my symptoms, including the chronic itching, burning, dryness, pain during sex, etc.

Here’s the very important takeaway for women who are entering menopause, and for women who have similar symptoms but don’t have the courage to talk about them.

I was at that point diagnosed with vaginal atrophy, which sounds a lot worse than it actually is. It’s the thinning of my vaginal walls due to menopause symptoms.  It’s common … and it’s treatable!

My doctor prescribed a topical estrogen cream, which I apply twice weekly. It has really helped relieved my symptoms! The spotting/bleeding has completely stopped, and the other symptoms are greatly reduced. They haven’t disappeared, but now they are super manageable whereas before they were atrocious. My doctor also told me that I have to have more sex — with or without a partner — because the act will help rebuild my vaginal tissue. This “prescription” made Andy very happy.

I’ve said what I wanted to say on this topic. If you are feeling uncomfortable about anything to do with your vagina, find some courage to speak up. Maybe talk to your  friends about it, or at least find the courage to share it with your doctor. I wish I had understood my symptoms were related to menopause sooner rather than later. Getting properly treated, rather than guessing at things, could have saved me a lot of money, time, anxiety and energy.

If you want to email me with questions, I promise to respond.

A short, but sweet update

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Sheryl, affectionately know as “Toot”.  I met Toot in 2015 during chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Toot and I shared our cancer journey together, but sadly her journey recently ended.  She was spirited, passionate and wise beyond her years.  Our friendship was short-lived, but meaningful to us both. 

 

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Hello from San Francisco,

We’re sitting in our lovely studio in the Richmond district watching the World Cup. It’s a sunny, but relatively cold day–burr. Summers in San Francisco are chilly willy.   I do not like this cold weather one bit. I long for warmer environs!

Update time…

Andy’s recovery from colon cancer is going great. He’s walking a lot more and says he is now 95% recovered.  I beleive him. Laproscopic surgery is da bomb!  In the next few days he has a call with an oncologist to review his pathology report and he has a call with a nutritionist to talk about healthy eating after cancer.

Andy’s 95% means we can hit the road for new adventures!!!  We’re both very excited about our upcoming plans.

Here’s a sneak peak at our upcoming itinerary. We’ll be gone about four weeks in total.

Visalia, CA- Minor league baseball game

Vegas baby!

Zion Nationa Park

Bryce National Park

Provo Utah

Denver- We’ll be there for 9 days.  We’re stoked about going the Colorado Rockies’ July 4th fireworks game … against the Giants!   We might even see a show at Red Rocks.

In Colorado we may also do a one-day river rafting excursion. I love white water river rafting!

Telluride- We’re going to the Telluride Music Festival!  Sheryl Crow is headlining!

Moab

Park City

Elko

Reno

Bay Area (to drop off our clothes and to pick up new ones)

Morelia

Side note: When we started planning what our next adventure would look like, we made a list of what we wanted, and one of the first things on this list was “to not move around too much”.  Oops!  We’re cracking ourselves up about this.  Our longest stay in this trip will only be 9 days until we get to Morelia!

I will blog from the road to give you an update about our trip.  We anticipate we’ll be doing a bunch of hiking (easy ones for me, harder ones for Andy)  and just general sight seeing. I’ve never been to any of these places before (Utah and Colorado) and I’m pretty excited.

We are both very, very excited to return to Morelia.  We’ll probably be there at least three months, maybe even four months depending on how we are feeling.

That’s about it for now folks!

Stacey