We’re blossoming!

Dear readers of BelieveItOhrNot,

We’re trying to predict the unpredictable and I’m not sure we can. We’re heavy into Japan planning mode for our two-month “move” to Fukuoka, Japan. We’re starting the project with the idea that we’re going to see Japan’s cherry blossoms (for the second time), and trip-planning is just plain hard.

But before I tell you why, I want to give you a bit of background.

Viewing Japan’s cherry blossoms is one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. We went to Japan and Korea for five weeks in 2017 and began our trip with a lot of blossom viewing. But as we found out, viewing cherry blossoms is a national pastime and a national obsession … and it’s not so easy.

bloosoms1

First, cherry blossom season is very short. Trees start blooming in the south of Japan and then the blossoms slowly make their way north. On the main island of Japan, the season usually starts in March and goes through May. But each location has a very short viewing period of just one to two weeks. While the country has blossoms for three months, it’s difficult to know for sure when and where you will get to see them.

Here’s how they make their dramatic appearances. First there’s “first bloom” when trees bud,  Then there’s  “full bloom” when you are engulfed in a sea of pink cotton candy. Starting in January, Japanese websites try to predict when “first bloom” and “full bloom” will occur in each region, and while science and weather and previous dates and averages all go into the equation, the predictions are just that: predictions. Depending on Mother Nature, one year Tokyo may experience “first bloom” on March 16 while another year it might not be until April 2.  With these variations, it’s difficult to book hotels and make travel arrangements. And for amazing cherry blossom cities like historic Kyoto, unless you’ve booked many months in advance, you won’t find any hotel rooms available. Oh, and even if you have booked months in advance, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you’ll be looking at empty trees.  Blossom-obsessed people, like Andy and me, look at dates from prior years and make estimates, but current weather patterns are more of a factor than, say, average “first bloom” dates over the past 10 years.

This year we will concentrate most our viewing on the island of Kyushu, on the southern edge of “mainland” Japan. While we’ll focus on big cities like Fukuoka, the city on Kyushu in which we’ll be based for two months, and Hiroshima, we’ll also take day trips to small towns and off-the-radar viewing spots. We may also do a few overnight trips. Once the blossoms start appearing in a few weeks, the sakura websites will start posting regular bloom updates, so we will strive to hit “full boom” when able.

IMG_20190108_193251

Andy made us this handy-dandy blooming map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note: In 2017, Kyoto was probably my favorite cherry blossom viewing places in all of Japan. It was also the most crowded and the most touristy.

bloosoms3

Kyoto cherry blossoms at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a special feeling to spread out a big, blue tarp (as is the Japanese tradition), bring along some bento boxes and sake, and relax underneath the trees. Japanese people take cherry blossom viewing seriously, planning elaborate picnics with family and friends underneath the canopy of cherry blossoms. We can”t wait to join them!

Advertisements

Lazy days in Zihuatanejo part 2

Dear esteemed readers of Believeitohrnot,

Happy New Year!

First, I must send out a HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to the BAM Kickstarter campaign. I’m so proud to let you know that we got funded! On behalf of BAM I would like to thank you for supporting our campaign and for agreeing to suck a different way using bamboo reusable straws. BAM is small, but it’s evolving. Lisa (my partner) and I have big plans for  BAM in 2019.  Your Kickstarter donations brought us much closer to achieving some important goals. Thank you.

2019… another year of living in Mexico and traveling the world. Another year where we are both in remission from cancer. Will 2019 be another cancer-free year for us?  We don’t know. But what we do know is that we continue to be blessed by the opportunity to live abroad and to travel this great world.

Our New Year’s Eve was super fun. We had dinner with a bunch of friends and then we watched fireworks. The fireworks were incredible. Dare I say they rivaled some of the greatest cities in the world. Forget London, Boston or Sydney.  Zihuatanenjo fireworks kicked butt! Mexicans LOVE fireworks. They set them off all the time, for birthdays, deaths, weddings, funerals, and of course on New Years Eve. We watched the fireworks from two different condos overlooking the Bay of Zihuatenjo and it was a spectacular show indeed.

We have 11 more weeks in Zihuatenejo until we leave for Japan and starting this week, we’re going to be in Japan planning mode. Because we’ll be arriving in Japan during cherry blossom season, we have to make hotel and train reservations. But Japan has great tourist resource information in English and since this is will be my fourth (which I can hardly believe) trip to Japan, it’s not such a daunting process. We’ll starting high gear planning this week.

But first we have to plan our trip to Taxco, Mexico, another great colonial city 7 hours from Zihuataenjo. We’re gong to be taking my mom (and her car) stopping a few places along the way. It will be nice to leave Zihuatanejo. As much as we love it here, it’s very small with very little do except go to the beach so all trips outside of Zihuatanejo are fun. Taxco specializes in Mexican silver and yes, I’m gonna buy me some!

Ah lazy days in Zihuatanejo…someone recently asked me how we can use so many nice pools when we are in Zihuatenjo if we are not staying at a specific hotel. Let me explain. First, we could probably sneak into any place in Zihatanejo or Ixtapa to use a pool in a resort, except for an all-inclusive resort because everyone has wristbands. But it’s a bother and kinda not cool, so we prefer to go to smaller hotels that are on the beach and have small pools. Usually, if we agree to order lunch, we can spend all day there and sit on the beach and use the pool. But there’s usually a catch. The dreaded “spending” minimum. Many places want us to spend a minimum per person on lunch and drinks and it gets confusing because all the places around have very different minimum. This ranges between $250 ($12.00 to $25) pesos with $300 being the average. Andy actually got a spreadsheet going because it got to be so confusing. We kept forgetting which property had which rule so the spreadsheet does help. Naturally, I like the $500 place the best (they have the best pool) but $50 is a bit steep for our budget, especially if we want to go for lunch once or twice a week.  There’s a cheaper option that I like to, that requests 250 pesos per person. It’s a cheaper and good alternative. Andy doesn’t care if there is a pool, but I do. I don’t like ocean water unless it’s very calm.  I’m kinda a pansy about the ocean but give me a nice pool, no problem. There is one resort I love that has amazing food, a to-die-for pool and doesn’t have any minimum at all, but they have minimal shade. You can see how great of a problem this is to have, yes?  This year, I think we’ve been to the beach more than last year. We’re trying to go at least twice a week.  Try as I might, I can’t figure out how we spend our time here.  We’ve both been working our consultant jobs, and I’ve  been working on BAM stuff.  Time just flies by.

I’m sighing off for now.  Maybe I will find the energy to blog more in 2019.

Sweating bullets…

We’re back in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and it’s sweat city.  We drip many times a day. It’s really gross sometimes.  I forgot how hot Zihuatenjo can be. January and February are the best months to be here, December still feels hot. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The beaches, the people, the fresh fish, ah.  img_20181207_1428371

Our newly built apartments are very nice. As you may recall, we rented two side-by-side one bedroom units because we could not find anything larger in our price range (Zihuatanejo is expensive in high season) and we like space. More importantly, we really wanted a place for guests to stay. Now guests will have their own private one bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and everything is brand new. Like last year, the inn is going to book up fast. Please make your reservations now! The building is just a 7 minute walk to the beach, and a seven minute walk downtown, so it’s central to everything.  It’s about a 45 minute walk to my mom’s but we can also drive (a friend lent us her car for most of the season) or we can take the mini bus. It’s been really nice hanging out with my mom again. This past Sunday,  we went out to dinner and then resumed our Sunday night sleepover tradition.  The next day we had her and her friends over for happy hour. On Thursday we’re going to a ladies lunch to celebrate the holidays. Very fun times. We also had a lot of fun with Andy’s mom and her boyfriend, Tom who came for a week to visit us right before we left Morelia.  We did a lot of day trips including stops in Patzcuaro and Santa Clara Del Cobre.

Thinking ahead

If I’m still in remission from my cancer and if Andy is still in remission from his, our plan is to leave Zihuatenjo in mid-March and then spend 10.5 weeks in Japan (Fukuoka). Our plan is to follow the path of the cherry blossoms and enjoy Japanese culture.

bloosoms3

This is one of my favorite cherry blossom photos from Kyoto. The blossoms are magical!

Then we plan on returning to Morelia, Mexico for SIX months starting June 1-horray!

We have already secured a fantastic colonial two-bedroom house, three blocks from the main square from June to November. This is the same swanky casa we stayed in when we first came to Morelia this past late July.  The owner wants to spend more time in Canada and she wants to travel so she graciously told us we can rent her house for six months so that’s our plan. The digs and location can’t be beat!

BAM Update

A lot of my friends and faithful readers have been asking me about BAM, the Eco-friendly company I founded with my partner and friend Lisa Cortes. I want to let you know that the business is going well and its a ton of fun. Right now, we’re focusing on securing funding for a Kickstarter campaign and we have a bit more than two weeks left!

15 straws 3 cleaners edited

The Kickstarter campaign has several important goals:

  1. Support and educate small-scale Mexican farmers and encourage them to farm Mexican bamboo used for making straws.
  2. Educate kids about how bad plastic is for the environment.
  3. Introduce people to products made from avocado seeds including single use straws and plastic silverware made from avocado seed pulp.

Come on peeps, make a donation to our Kickstarter campaign! We want people to suck a different way. Plastic straws are horrible for our planet. Let’s make them a thing of the past. Our straws are good for up to 1,000 uses!  If they break or crack, just let us know and we will replace it for free.

We’ve got 15 days left in our Kickstarter campaign to raise about $1,000. We only get funded if our Kickstarter campaign succeeds so please, please support this important campaign. Plus…we’ve got great swag. Mexican straws made from bamboo,  Mexican sweets and Mexican art.

Check out the campaign and share the link of Facebook!

Adios and gracias!

 

 

\

Cesspool of toxic waste

Yesterday I had to “do my business” outside our house. Not once, but twice. Ick!  Doing one’s business in a public place in Mexico is a horrible experience guaranteed to cause PTSD in even the hardiest souls. Going to battle with a Mexican bathrooms is not fun.  Of course there are hundreds upon hundreds of lovely bathrooms in Mexico. This blog post is not about them.

I don’t know why so many Mexican restrooms look like they have been bombed. It’s not something I understand, but it happens repeatedly.

You can usually count on one or more of the following happening:

  1. No toilet paper (50 percent chance)
  2. No hand soap (70 percent chance)
  3. No toilet seat (85 percent chance)
  4. Overflowing waste baskets (50 percent chance)
  5. Toilets that won’t flush (50 percent chance)

I’m getting more and more used to these less than ideal conditions but yesterday with my stomach acting up, I just about lost it.  The first bathroom (in a really nice cafe we go to all the time) had one stall completely out of toilet paper and the other stall had no toilet seat!

The second place we visited (a cultural center set-up music and food festival) had no toilet seat either in one stall, and while they did have soap– hooray! – they didn’t have any paper towels.  I found it even more interesting that when I was in the bathroom, they had someone cleaning it but she simply told me in Spanish that no paper towels were to be found.

If a bathroom has a toilet seat, paper towels, hand soap, and is clean, I always say a little prayer of gratitude in my head. I really do!

The state of Mexican bathrooms is of great interest to me because in Japan (where we’ll be living in the spring) every single public restroom even in the busiest train stations is spotless. I trust their state of cleanliness so much, I would completely adhere to the “five second rule” if a piece of candy fell on the floor.  I would do it!   I would eat it. I trust their state of cleanliness that much. I’ve never seen such clean bathrooms in my life!  They never run out of toilet paper or hand towels and their soap containers are overflowing with sweet smelling, silky liquids. Don’t even get me started on how high tech their toilets are!

We’re headed to the United States soon for four days. I’ll see my oncologist and Andy will get some tests.  Then we’ll be back in Morelia for 12 days before we move to Zihuataenjo for four months. I’m excited to return to the beach.

 

 

 

Happy Cancerversary to Me!

I’m a chick who defies odds. This much is apparent. At birth, I weighed just 2 pounds, 11 ounces. I came out of my mom two months early and it was unclear if  would live. But I’m here now dazzling readers with my witty musings so that’s good enough for me. My early entry into this world was just the first time I beat the odds.

Fast forward to the spring of 2015 when I got diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer.  The odds said I shouldn’t get cancer so young, at age 48.  The odds said I probably wouldn’t have the BRCA 1 gene mutation, but the odds were wrong again.

dayofdiahnosis

This photo is so special to me.  I don’t know how I managed to smile so widely, but this photo was taken the day I got diagnosed.

staceybald2

I think the pain pills must have had me smiling after my cancer surgery.

Now today, November 5, I’ve defied the odds again!  It’s my 3 year cancerversary!  I finished chemo three years ago today!

pirates

Andy sported a cool bandanna to keep my bald head company.

Three years ago today, I left Kaiser hospital in Oakland feeling weak from 18 weeks of chemo.  Andy and I hadn’t yet decided to move to Mexico and I was 4 months into a new job as the Executive Director of the Walnut Creek Education Foundation. Little did I know that we’d eventually quit our jobs, move to Mexico and live a completely different type of life.  I never imagined I would be cancer-free three years after my initial diagnosis. I simply assumed I would be fighting another bout of ovarian cancer because most people with my type of cancer recur within 18-24 months after stopping chemotherapy and once the cancer does come back, it’s considered incurable. Even worse…it comes back in 70-80 percent of women.  I’m still going strong at 36 months with no sign of cancer rearing its ugly head.  I’m incredibly lucky.  Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer aren’t. I’ve already lost one friend (diagnosed the same time as me) and another friend has had a very, very short lived remission. She’s back fighting this ugly beast.

I don’t know how much longer I can continue to be someone who defies these sucky odds. Many, many days I worry about my cancer coming back. I try hard to keep my fears in check, but the odds are not in my favor. If I can make it cancer-free to the five year mark, I have a good chance of beating it completely, but that’s still a very long way off.  So I continue to try to live in the moment. I continue to celebrate life, celebrate love, and live.

Happy Cancerversary to me!

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.
cherrybloosomorgy2

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.

img_20170403_132627

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

img_20180922_1439172img_20180922_2227012img_20180922_1448142img_20180922_1633261img_20180922_1434491img_20180922_0838231img_20180922_144847