Gringos & Dia de los Muertos


Hola to my new blog readers. Welcome!  I’m honored to have picked up a lot of new readers due to the article that recently appeared in Next Avenue. I hope this blog keeps you entertained AND inspires you to live your dreams, whatever they might be. Some of you newbies have tried to friend me on Facebook. As a rule, I don’t friend people who I haven’t met face-to-face, or at least had a few on-line chats with.  If I haven’t replied to your friend request, please take no offense. Once our paths cross we’ll become besties. I’m still honored you signed up to read the blog.  If you are a bit behind in reading about our adventures, feel free to start here.

The isolation of Zihuatanejo

One of the biggest problems living in Zihuatanejo is that it’s fairly isolated. It’s beautiful and mesmerizing, but it’s also far away from other cool places in Mexico. Zihuatanejo dangles other parts of Mexico just in front of you, and then pulls back with days trips that are just far enough away to be out of the running. Acapulco is five hours away, Mexico City nine, and Morelia and Patzcauro are three and four hours. All great places, but not exactly a hop, skip or a jump.

While we’re not restless or bored of Zihuatanejo, it’s time to hit the open road. We’re one month into our six month rental, and it’s time for a jaunt. Me and mi amore and my mom are moseying on down to Patzcuaro this coming Sunday to partake in some Dia de Los Muertos  (Day of the Dead) activities. I’ve wanted to participate in  Day of the Dead festivities for a long time, and we originally thought that we would attend events in Oaxaca. But many people told us that Patzcuaro has one of the largest and most authentic celebrations in all of Mexico, so we made reservations when we were living there in July.  We’ll be in Patzcuaro for four nights with  100,000 of our new best friends.

The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, is a festival celebrating the reunion of dead relatives with their families. This year it will be celebrated on Nov 1-2.

Customs dictate that during Day of the Dead, people’s spirits come back to visit for one day  and night. Why not honor them with a happy celebration instead of mourning them? To honor them, families build beautiful and colorful altars. The altars have flowers, photos, trinkets and even a favorite food of the dead. Families visit their graves, light candles and celebrate with stories and food. It’s a festive, famliy-oriented celebration based on indigenous practice dating back some 3,000 years.

Our plan is to arrive in Patzcuaro two days before activities gear up, hang out in the main square and watch the tourists descend upon the town. We’ll be staying at the same casita we stayed at during our stay in July. My mom will stay at a nice hotel one block from where we’re bunking.   day_of_the_dead_fabric

During the days leading up to the celebration, we’ll visit some of the many indigenous towns dotting Lake Patzcuaro, including Capula. All of these towns specialize in producing their own handicrafts, including black pottery, embroidered clothing,  catrinas (skeleton sculptures) and my mom’s favorite Carnitas, piles and piles of braised pork   Quiroga is the carnita capital of Central Mexico.

On November 1, we’ve signed up for a Night of the Dead tour with a local tour company.


Marigolds are popular flowers to use during this time.

We’ll leave Patzcuaro at 9:00 PM and go to a nearby town for a late dinner,  watch some traditional dancing  and then we’ll visit two cemeteries, respectfully visiting the altars of the dead and interacting with those who are commemorating the lives of their departed loved ones. I promise to post tons and tons of pictures of the awesome handicrafts, food and of the alters ( if the families permit). We’re supposed to get back to Patzcuaro around 2:30 AM–well past our bedtimes, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a really important, spiritually-based, indigenous Mexican tradition up close and personal. I’m really looking forward to experiencing this with them.





Here’s a cool video if you want to learn more about this incredible family rememberence day.



Water Woes in Zihua

Woe is us!  Mr Andy woke me up about 3:30 AM to report that we had no water. In my sleepy state, I remembered feeling surprised because since we moved to our six- month rental on October 1, our water pressure has been quite good and we’ve always had tons and tons of water.

Andy has patiently explained how people get water in Zihuatanejo to me many times in a language called “guy speak.”  I nod and shake my head and try to ask intelligent questions, but I still don’t quite get it. Here’s what I can share.  It’s probably not quite accurate, but it’s in a language called “girl speak.”

  • The city water in Zihuatanejo can be off for days and days at a time. This is a common scenario.  Sometimes it comes on for a few hours at a time and then turns off. Other days people have water all day.
  • Most houses have huge cisterns. A cistern is a storage container for water that’s below ground. Our cistern holds approximately 5000-6000 gallons of water.  Our cistern looks like this. Andy being the rocker he is, named her “Twisted cistern.”

I take a good long time to fill up!


  • Most houses have huge tanks on top of their roofs. Andy estimates that our rooftop tank holds 2600 gallons of water.


  • When the city water is not on, water flows from the cistern up to the water tank to meet your water needs.

This morning Andy called our landlords and they immediately came over to investigate.

Indeed, our cistern and our water tank were dry as the Sahara!  The landlord told us that they feared one of our toilets was constantly refilling and using way too much water.  They also indicated they wanted a plumber to check things out.

Said plumber came and found no leaks or filling problems, but did find a problem with the toilets in a newly constructed apartment below our house. He quickly fixed it. The sneaky thing was sucking up our water at an alarming rate!

Then moments later magic happened…

The water truck came!   It stayed for 20 minutes and filled up our cistern. Slowly, but surely, the water started rising to our tank.


The blue tank is filled with nothing but water. There are many, many trucks like this roaming the streets of Zihuatanejo

We are so happy to have such responsive landlords!  We could have been without water for a few days, ( I thought we might have to move in with mom) but they handled everything with great professionalism and grace.

Time for a shower!

Living w/ dear old mom!

I haven’t lived at home since I was 18.

I’m 50 now, so that’s a heck of a long time. I left for college and never returned. I haven’t even lived in the same time zone as my family since I turned 21. I don’t talk to either of my parents daily on the phone, although these days I do instant-message them quite frequently.

Now things are about to change. Me and dear-ol’ mom are gonna be living 1.5 miles apart in Zihuatanejo, Mexico!

Regarding the mother-daughter thing, we’ve always gotten along just fine (with a few tense moments in between), and I’m excited to be living in the same town as her, but I’m also kinda nervous. While mom is pretty easygoing, we now have a lot of territory to negotiate. Will it be rough or easy going?  Frankly, I’m not sure either of us know.


We are entering uncharted waters!

She’s got a full social life in Zihuatanejo, since she’s been coming here for four, five or six months at a time for more than 25 years. She has plenty of friends and knows the lay of the land well.

Am I going to cramp her style?  Will she feel like she has to invite me to the hottest social soirees in town?  If I’ve got nothing to do, while Andy is working remotely at his copy-editing gig, for example, can I just pop over and hang out with her for a few hours? Will she feel free to do the same with us?

And finally, how is Andy going to feel about his mother-in-law being front-and-center?

To help address the tip of this iceberg, I decided it would be fun to submit some questions to mother and present them in a Q&A format on my blog.

Readers, meet Helene Last (aka mom). She’s funny, easygoing and loves Mexico as much as I do (though she would claim she loves it more). Her favorite drinks are water and Don Julio tequila (Don Julio 1942, to be specific … the expensive stuff). She loves eating meat, having fun, being nice to animals and Facebook. She also likes making jewelry.

So without further ado:


My mom, Pam and Andy Inot pictured)  had a ton of fun when she visited us in Mexico this summer.

   Question. What is your favorite mother-daughter activity?
Answer. Just hanging out, really nothing specific.
   Stacey’s Spin Zone: I like getting manicures and pedicures with her, and going to our favorite ocean resort, Las Palmas.  I’m also hoping she might want to take a weekly yoga class with me or do something excercise-related activities, like walk and stretch in her pool. 

   Q. What concerns do you have about Stacey and Andy moving to Zihuatanejo?
A. I have concerns as to how you will adjust to life there, because I know you have a tendency to be impatient and that will not work well there.
   Spin Zone: I think this is a very legit concern. I can sometimes be impatient, and mom is oh-so-wise, as impatience does not work well in Mexico. But since we arrived on May 1 and have been traveling around to different cities, I’ve had five months to train and I’ve made great strides. But more practice time would behoove me.


The three amigas in Guanajuato, Mexico

   Q. Are you worried about Stacey and Andy cramping your style, since you know so many people in Zihuatanejo and already have a life there?
A. I am not concerned at all about you cramping my style. You’ re always welcome to join in and when I don’t want you join in , I will tell you.
   Spin Zone: I hope this holds true for us both. While my feelings might be a bit bruised, I think this will serve us well in the long run. There will be times when Andy and I want to enjoy “date night” or just spend time alone, so we’re really going to have to try to be honest with one another about our needs in this area. I suspect it won’t always be easy —but it will be very necessary.

Q. Do you think mothers should call their kids before “popping over” to their houses? What’s your opinion on this?
A. Yes, I think parents should always call before popping in.
   Spin Zone: “That’s good,” says Andy. Me too. Calling is the adult thing to do.

Q. Do you want Stacey and Andy to call before coming over, or is “popping over” acceptable?
A. Popping in on me is always accepted unless I have a gentleman caller. LOL.
   Spin Zone: Gentleman caller?! OMG. Mom in her unmentionables with Enrique? I would die of embarrassment! Need I say more? I’m gonna call, text and IM!!!  But seriously, dropping by her place unannounced is an unlikely scenario because she lives in the oppsosite direction of downtown and the supermarket, and beyond the best beach. However, she does have to drive right past our front door to get to the center of town or the supermarket, so it’s likely she will “pop by” our house (announced)  house for a visit.  


Nice coconuts!


   Q. How many times/days a week do you want to see Stacey?  Any pre-expectations?
A. I want to see you every day.
   Spin Zone: Gulp. Gulp. Sh_t. #&@*!  While I am definitely not opposed to seeing my birther every  day, it’s not what I was anticipating. I was thinking maybe four or five times a week? Andy was thinking one or two days for him, OK maybe three (he is, after all, a rugged individualist). I guess we’re going to have to play this one by ear. One thing I am really looking forward to is a weekly “Sunday night sleepover” at Helene’s digs. Already agreed upon is that we’re all going to have dinner together on Sunday night (hopefully with me doing the cooking). Then on Monday morning, Andy will arise and work for J. from her kick-ass balcony with a killer view of Zihuatanejo Bay. And while Andy is bringing home the kosher bacon, I hope to join my mom at her favorite beachfront restaurant and play me some dominoes.

 Q. Are you worried about feeling like a third wheel?
A. I might feel like a third wheel if you are with your friends. I wouldn’t want to cramp your style.
   Spin Zone: So far I have no style, and no established circle of friends in Zihuatanejo, so this scenario might not occur for a long time!

 Q. What will be the best thing about having your daughter and son-in-law living so close to you?
A. Being alone now in Zihuatanejo and having my kids there is a big comfort factor.
   Spin Zone: My stepfather, Morris, died last December. He loved Mexico so much, and he and my mom always looked forward to coming for five months. After he died, my mom wasn’t 100 percent sure she would want to come on her own. I tried to convince her that it would be OK, and that her friends would look after her and support her. She came on her own last year, for a shortened stay, and reported great success. I’m happy we can support one another if we need anything. I know she’s concerned about her health and mine. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the same week that I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and having cancer at the same time brought us even closer. We supported one another during our respective treatments (radiation for her, 18 weeks of chemo for me), and it was a very special time in our mother-daughter relationship. 


We supported one another through sickness and in health!

Q. What other things do you want readers of the blog to know?
A. I want everyone to know how special you and Pam are to me and how much I appreciate and love you. This includes Andy and Paul. You all have been so special and so kind and caring. I couldn’t ask for better children.
   Spin Zone: Pam is my younger sister and Paul is her husband. And as dear ol’ mom is not one who is overly, or at least overtly, sentimental, I was very touched to read this heartfelt reply. Love you too, mom!

Stay tuned for the drama of two-chicks take Zihuatanejo.


Blue drops and toilet talk

This new posting is kind of all over the place.  If you want to know about the following read on.

  1. Zihuatanejo’s newest cofee hot spot
  2. A day in the life of Stacey and Andy
  3. Blue drops
  4. Water
  5. Ice
  6. Toilet talk

Zihuatenejo’s Newest Coffeeshop

Yesterday we visited Zihuatanejo’s  newest coffee hot spot, Quattro.   It’s a great new American style coffee shop in downtown Zihuatanejo. We like it because it’s got air-conditioning and lightening quick wireless. We moseyed down around 4 PM so Andy could do a little bit of writing and while he was working, I decided a brief blog post was in order.

coffeeshopA day in the life

Yesterday we had a really nice morning. We woke up around 9:30 AM after going to sleep around 1:00 AM. For some reason, we are having trouble sleeping in our new place. We just can’t seem to get tired when it’s time to sleep. We’re now total night owls. I don’t mind because I have nothing to really get up for, but given my preference, I’d rather keep to regular waking and sleeping hours, at least Monday-Friday.

After waking up, we had a bit of breakfast, and then around 11:15 AM, we went for a walk. I’m stoked to be walking again. I hated not walking during our five- week stay in Guanajuanto, but it was just too hilly and supremely uncomfortable to walk anywhere. I’m happy to be able to enjoy walking again.

We decided to walk from our casa in Madera towards where my mom will be living when she gets here shortly.  It’s about 1.5 miles. A tiny bit hilly, but really lovely.

We walked along the Bay of Zihuatanejo and then skirted the jungle. Andy caught this amazing shot of this butterfly.  He coordinated his outfit to match the flower. Not Andy…the butterfly.


After walking for about 30 minutes we decided to pop in on the beach.  We went to a local beachfront restaurant and had some cold drinks. Then we took the bus back to our house for about 40 cents pp. On the bus ride back, the bus driver regaled us with the tales of his life. Here’s what I learned.

  • He used to live in Winston, North Carolina and has a strong affinity for NASCAR.
  • He married young and had a son who is now 16 years old.
  • When his son was two, he brought him back to Mexico because his wife started using drugs and partying too much.
  • The ex-wife is in jail in North Carolina for seven years–of which she has served five. She rented a car in North Carolina and drove it across state lines. Then she decided to “not bring it back” so the rental car company pressed charges and she’s in the slammer.

I would have learned a lot more in our short bus ride, bur we got to our  house too fast. The driver seemed really bummed to drop us off at our house. He was ready to share way more of his life than either of us wanted to hear.

After our bus ride, I showered and we ate some lunch and Andy organized the office, and unpacked more of our stuff. We’re almost done unpacking. It only took a week!

Then after getting coffee,  we went to get some water and watched the debate on Fox.  Fox is the only English news station we get on our cable system, so FOX it must be.

Don’t drink the water!

Purchasing water here is a necessity.  I’m sure you’ve heard, “don’t drink the water in Mexico” a million times. Breaking news… even Mexicans don’t drink tap water. They only drink bottled water. For the most part, most water systems have pipes that are corroded with rust and other unmentionables, so drinking city water is a big no-no. Some resort towns like PV or Cancun have drinkable tap water, and many resorts filter their water, but Zihuatanejo city water cannot be drunk.

We drink water from a garafon. Garafon is a Spanish word. Ours has a huge nozzle to pump water from. At our new house,  Andy’s been carrying the garafons  up the stairs. In  Guanjuanto,  he had to walk up a huge hill with them.  I was hella impressed. Now that we’re in a more settled place, we plan on getting them delivered, but we’re not 100% confident that Andy’s Spanish is good enough to place the water order and explain where we live.  Frankly we’re both a bit intimidated to make the call. And they have many different companies and you can’t mix and match bottles so it’s a pain. So far we’ve accumulated three bottles, two from our good friends at Santarini and one from Cielo. Some companies might take pity on us and take a mismatched bottle for a slightly higher fee, but we’re not sure.  We could have someone else order the water for us, but what fun would that be?  We do like a good challenge.


This is a five gallon bottle of water.

On the bright side, getting water is very cheap. We’re thinking it will cost $1.75 per bottle. We anticipate we will need three a week.

Here’s what I use bottled water for:

  • Cooking
  • Drinking
  • Washing and rinsing my toothbrush  (Andy uses tap water for this and I’m tempted to try.)

This whole water thing is a kinda a pain, but you do get used to it.

Blue Drops!

Getting water isn’t all that hard. What’s really a pain is washing fruits and vegetables.  In Mexico you don’t really know what kind of pesticides they use to plant vegetables so you have to pre-wash everything that can’t be peeled.  In order to do this, you have to soak everything with blue drops for 15-20 minutes.  This excellent blog explains the process in further detail.

I’m not such a good soaker.  I always pick the wrong size pot or plastic bag so I leave most of the soaking to Captain Andy.  He is very proud of doing this task and  he just  soaks it up!

After about 15 minutes, the fruits and vegetables are ready to go and you can use them.  You don’t even need to rinse them off because the Bacdym is edible, or so I’m told. The great photo comes from this informative site.


These are our new best friends. This is photo courtesy of our friends at Cooking in Mexico

I’m not sure about the need to pre-soak bagged lettuce and pre-packaged mushrooms. I haven’t been too worried about the mushrooms because I cook them first and I think this might kill off any bacteria,  but I think I’m probably playing Russian roulette with the bagged lettuce.   Let’s just say we haven’t had any issues yet.

In larger restaurants, especially ones that serve tourists, you can rest easy knowing that they use these blue drops. In other places such as street stalls,  I’m not so sure, but I have been told that the government mandates the use of blue drops everywhere and that restaurants can get them free-of-charge.

It used to be that everyone who came to Mexico even for a few days would get sick. Now that’s not the case.  Everyone eventually gets sick, it’s just a part of life here, but it happens less often that one would imagine. Hygine has really improved.

Feeling icy?

Ice is also something to be concerned about. We buy bagged ice from the store for home use. In most restaurants, everyone uses purified ice.  How can we tell?  It has a hole in the middle of the cube.  That being said, every day we see these delicious drinks they sell on the street and I’m always tempted to get them, but the ice looks homemade. It’s in huge blocks and I’m skeptical of its source.

However, a few weeks ago, I saw a vendor pouring bagged ice into a huge vat of flavored water and I was so excited I ordered me some. It was lime and cucumber and it was just delicious.


These drinks are so tempting!

“The debate was trash. As a nation we’ve sunk to a new low.  Our nation is in the toilet. But I’m not here to pontificate about my political beliefs. I want to talk to you about Mexican toilet etiquette and trash”–  Me

Everything is so Trashy…

In Mexico it’s common to see a covered waste basket right next to the toilet. Usually this is when the toilet shares its  wisdom…”you’d better not throw any toilet paper in me, you won’t like what the end result will be”. Trust me, best to heed its advice.

OK… so maybe you can toss your tp into the toilet at a swanky new resort, but that’s about it. So what do you do?  To be frank, it’s kinda disgusting. I’m not sure exactly what to do, but I actually remembered someone else giving advice about this in another blog. It’s called the wad method.  After doing “your business” it’s time to wad up the paper.

With a little bit of artistic talent you can create a masterpiece that looks something like this.


I am a stock photo.  This is just a re-creation. No human excrement was used in the posting of this photo.

Then, after you have done this first step, the second step is to toss said toilet paper into a covered receptacle that looks like this.


A covered can is muy importante!

The third step is to take out your trash.  Our garbage man comes every day (more or less) promptly at 8 AM.

Adios amigas y amigos. Mucias gracias for reading!

Shower world record!

Yesterday I took three showers… maybe four. I stopped counting.  It was a really hot day.  It’s 90 in Zihuatanejo and it’s going to take a few weeks for us to get used to being in such a hot climate again. I understand it’s really nice in Zihuatanejo starting in December through April. It’s not as hot as it was in May and June when we first arrived, but it’s very humid. We sweat like crazy. See my earlier post about adjusting to the heat. 

We’re almost unpacked and we are enjoying our three-bedroom, six month rental.  We can hear the ocean from our bedroom!   When we first looked at the house,  it was filled to the brim because the landlord and his family had lived in it for the past 20 years.  They promised us a clean, clutter free house and they 100% delivered!

The left us really nice dishes, tons of silverware and cups, stellar cookware (it’s from Spain) and plenty of storage containers for leftovers. We just ended up buying some basic kitchen utensils including wooden spoons, an all purpose kitchen knife, some new bathmats, a fruit bowl and a fan. We may have to buy another fan, will see. All in all, we’ve had to buy very little and what we did have to buy has been inexpensive.

I’ve included some photos of our new pad for you to enjoy.  I didn’t take photos of the guest bedrooms because I want you to be surprised!   We love the location of the house (it’s a seven minute walk to downtown), a two minute walk to other hip bars and restaurants in an up-and-coming area and a hop to the beach.


Sir Andy cut up a pineapple for breakfast.



Our kitchen has an oven-a rarity in many Mexican kitchens. And it has a 6 burner stove!


See the lovely view of the mountain from the living room?



The master bedroom is large and airy!


I have my own bathroom. Andy uses the guest bathroom!



This nice hammock is off our bedroom balcony.


Sitting area off our front door. The cushions are all new!


















Dream achieved!

I’m not an asshole. But somehow I fear I’ve turned into one of those obnoxious, “everything is better in Mexico people.”  And I’m so sorry.  But at least I know I’m “one of those obnoxious people” and I’m working hard to keep a lid on it. Unfortunately, being back in the Bay Area for the past two weeks made me realize that I’ve morphed. The traffic, the parking lots, the rat race, the price of cold-brewed coffee, $7 for a pint of beer?  See what I mean?  I’m hella obnoxious.

Thankfully, I’m smart enough to realize that I’m dangerously close to total a–hole territory, so I’ve decided to focus this blog on another topic … how we got the courage to follow our dreams, and how you can follow yours, too.

This blog isn’t about Mexico. It’s about something bigger. It doesn’t matter if you want to change jobs or dramatically change your life. We all have the ability and the capacity to rock this change thing. Recently I’ve seen many close friends and a beloved family member make major life changes, and I’m so impressed. Without naming names, here’s what these rock stars did.

  1. One left a high-paying job at a high-profile Silicon Valley high-tech company to go to culinary school and become a chef. She was a good cook before culinary school, now she’s a kitchen goddess.
  2. Another bought a commercial building because her lease was expiring on the tattoo shop she owns. She renovated an old building with her husband, and opened a new studio. She also decided to dedicate a portion of her business to serving women who have had a mastectomy — by helping them get beautiful tattoos to cover their chest scars. How inspiring is that?
  3.  Another friend is seconds away from selling her Bay Area home and moving to the Midwest. She’s on the verge of opening a  B&B in a lovely small town in a state that’s famous for corn.  She’s leaving a high-paying job, as is her husband, to give their young son more open space and a better quality of life.
  4. Another chucked her job, went on the road for two years and lived in Airbnb’s for approximately 30 days at a time. She was a freelancer to make ends meet. Recently she bought a house in the Pacific Northwest, renovated it and started a brand-new business. All at the same time. Phew!

These are not small changes. These are major changes. I’m so proud to have these people in my life.

Many of you have commented that we’re your idols for changing our lives. I’m humbled by these remarks. Although we did make this major life change, I want you to know that I had to combat a tremendous amount of fear before I could do it. I had to combat some very serious questions, including:  1) How could we afford to move to Mexico if we both quit our jobs?  2) How would I get the health care I needed in Mexico? and 3) What if my ovarian cancer recurred while I was in Mexico? What would I do then?

For several weeks I was stuck in the “what if” mode. It immobilized me. I played out a lot of worst-case scenarios in my head. Then I had a light-bulb moment. I was talking to Andy and I said, “I’m terrified we won’t be able to pursue our dream of living abroad. It’s what we’ve talked about for our entire marriage, and I don’t want my life to end without doing this with you.” Then I broke down and started sobbing.

That’s when I realized just how badly I wanted to move abroad, to a tropical climate. I knew that I, that we, would have tremendous regrets if we didn’t at least try to make this lifelong dream come true. I knew if my cancer recurred and I was still working full-time, I would be extremely bummed, to say the least. Andy looked at me and said, “I get it. We’ve talked about this for years. It’s  time to do it.”

Five months later, we boarded a plane with a kinda solid plan in place detailing how to make things work. By renting our house in a nice Oakland neighborhood for well above our mortgage (a fortuitous situation in a hot real estate market), and by Andy working 15 hours a week remotely (as a copy editor for the Jewish weekly that employed him for eight years), the financial pieces fell into place. Our savings for retirement and other “back-up” sources of cash wouldn’t have to be liquidated, and our financial adviser steered us away from what we intially thought might be a smart move: selling our home.

I know our situation is unique. I know we’re really lucky in this regard. One problem solved. Then, after a decent amount of searching, I found an oncologist in Morelia, Mexico, whom I really like and who knows his stuff. So another fear has been dealt with.

Fear is the ultimate brain-waster. It takes up space inside our heads and chips away at our dreams. From this blog, you probably don’t think  I’m an anxious person, but really I am!  I have a decent amount of anxiety and I’m pretty much afraid of a ton of stuff, including:

  • Giant cockroaches (of which there are a lot in Mexico).
  • Carnival rides.
  • Heights.
  • Not being able to fall asleep, or having Andy nod off before I do.
  • Recurring cancer.

But the trick to moving forward with your dreams is to not let fear paralyze you or take up too much valuable brain space. Confronting your fears head-on does work. Experts agree. Repeated exposure allows our brains to not feel so scared.

Last week, while taking BART from Oakland to San Francisco, I met a woman and shared our story. She said that she was fascinated with what we had done because she wanted to do something similar, but she couldn’t fathom the idea of cleaning out her house because she was too attached to her stuff. She was daunted, unable to even think about getting rid of all of her treasures even though she wanted to live a different kind of life. I told her that getting rid of stuff was easier than I thought it would be.

Here’s what helped me deal with the purge necessary to rent our house:

The first thing that helped me was my sister-in-law, the great Tamara Altman. Tamara volunteered to come to the Bay Area for an entire week and help us pack up our house and get rid of tons of excess junk. She also brought her boyfriend, a builder/contractor who not only helped with the packing but also did some vital “handyman and beyond” jobs around the house. Tamara loves packing and organizing, finding it at once relaxing, challenging and energizing. She’s a genius at it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Within a week, we had packed up valuables and things I didn’t want to leave in the house for the renters. And Shaun worked with Andy (OK, mostly it was Shaun) to help get the garage area maxed-out for storage and the house ready for the renters. Anxiety quelled!


  1. I gave away most of my clothes to friends (a) because it made me feel really good and (b) because they graciously accepted them. I felt really good about helping them revitalize their wardrobes.
  2. I asked my sister-in-law to help me make decisions about clothes I was conflicted about; I allowed myself to keep one huge plastic tub filled with clothing I could not part with. The rest I took to Mexico. I like knowing I have a big bin of clothes in our garage in Oakland full of my best duds.
  3. I kept focusing on the big picture, visualizing one ultimate word, “regret.” As in not wanting to live in it. This helped push me forward as we bagged up, boxed up and de-cluttered our entire house.

With the exception of our Jacuzzi bathtub and comfortable couch in Oakland, I don’t really miss the house — which I find very surprising. I thought I would feel way more attached to it, but for some reason, this isn’t holding true. To me, as long as I have a nice roof over my head (any roof), I’m good to go.

Some final advice about making your dreams come true.

  1. Set a deadline and tell people about it. It will help you make it come true once you’ve said it out loud.
  2. Ask for help!  I don’t think I could have packed up my house without the help of Tamara, Shaun and Andy. A teamwork approach made things less scary and I loved how organized we left things. I’m telling you: Everyone needs a Tamara to keep them motivated and organized!
  3. Do research. Don’t jump into something you know nothing about. I’d been visiting Zihuatanejo for a week or two every year for nearly 20 years; Andy came with me 10 or 12 times. Also, we’d been talking about retiring to a tropical climate for years. It wasn’t a new plan. Cancer just greatly speeded it up.

Now I wanna hear about your dreams. What’s holding you back?  Are you looking to change jobs?  Are you looking to go back to school?  Are you thinking about making a relationship change?  Are you thinking about joining us in Mexico?  Write me. Share your story with me.  Let’s see what we can do together to help make your dreams come true.