A vanishing act and then a return

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Welcome to a great city!

15 months ago I disappeared. I left the San Francisco Bay Area to start a new life in Mexico. Since my disappearance, I’ve completely morphed into someone totally new.  I’ve replaced myself with someone I barely recognize. Most of the time, I like her, but sometimes she bugs the hell out of me.

The old me was a stressed out non-profit executive director who worked 45-50 hours a week. I thought about fundraising all of the time.  I worried about how we would keep up with the Joneses and our fancy (but not excessive) San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle.  On the weekends, I drank $5.50 pints of craft beer, I read.  I searched out inexpensive Korean meals from trendy Bay Area restaurants.  It wasn’t a bad life. I was happy.  But I yearned for more.

It’s so weird, but I’m someone else now.  Maybe it’s related to my cancer diagnosis, maybe it’s not.

I don’t recognize the “before Mexico” me anymore. That driven, super hard-worker has vanished.  She’s so murky.

Who is this new me?

The new me is happier with less. The new me is thrilled  to have 5-10 hours of steady work.  The new me is thriving in Mexico and loving it.

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But sometimes the new me feels a bit bored and a bit restless.  I’m not really quite complete yet.

The new me seems to be lacking a sense of purpose. The new me doesn’t have activities to fill-up each day.  Why isn’t the new me taking private Spanish lessons a few times a week?  Why isn’t the new me doing some volunteer work?  Why can’t the new me just be a chilled out version of the old me?

Some days I accomplish absolutely nothing and it doesn’t feel very good.

I understand why experts say you need a retirement plan, something to fill your days and nights. Otherwise, you just simply exist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to trade this experience for how things used to be. I can’t imagine spending my days in meetings, working with board members, and writing grant proposals. I much prefer sitting on the Morelia main square people or the Zihuatanejo beach.  But still,  I really do think I need a bit more to fill my days.  I want me to find its way home.

I might return!

This past week, I was contacted by someone who wants to build a non-profit to serve kids in Uganda, Africa. His first goal will be to build a school to serve 400 very poor children. He’s asked me to help get his non-profit up and running.  He’s hired me to help him develop a mission and vision statement. I will also help him develop a website and begin to seek out individual and corporate donations.  The work sounds engaging and right up my alley and it’s about 5 hours a week. This, in addition to the  non-profit consulting work I’m already doing,  should help solidify the new me in some really cool ways.

I think I’m getting closer to getting this retirement thing down.

I’m interested in hearing from others folks who haven’t quite fully evolved yet.  If you have a story of your own personal evolution to share, leave it in the comment section below.

Stacey

 

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Those pesky parasites

Ten days ago, Andy and I were talking about where we should go for the months of October and November. Should we stay in Mexico or head down to Belize? Maybe it’ll be time to visit Nicaragua or Guatemala.

Within a few days, the conversation had changed.

Suddenly I was talking to Andy about moving back to Oakland. About where we’d live since our house is being rented. About whether our part-time income would be able to support us in the expensive Bay Area. Suddenly the topics in my head were not pleasant ones: Spending the next four months undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of my ovarian cancer. Shopping for funky hats to hide my baldness. Filling prescriptions at the Kaiser pharmacy and visiting the local cannabis dispensary (has the first legal store opened yet?) to control chemo-induced nausea.

I wasn’t at surprised by the abrupt change in our conversation. Statistics don’t lie. Seventy to 80 percent of people with my stage and type of ovarian cancer get it again (and then again), with most first-time recurrences at around the 18-month mark. Only 46 percent of us survive five years after being disgnosed. I’ve already been cancer-free for almost 27 months. Much luckier than so many.

But had my luck run out?

Some abdominal symptoms started abruptly. I had an upset stomach followed by days of nausea, constipation and loss of appetite. I was also very tired. Many of these are symptoms of an ovaraian cancer recurrence, so I was concerned, needless to say. But at the same time, Andy was having a few similar symptoms. He had toughed his way through a 24-hour food poisoning bug the week before, and he too was constipated. But he still had an appetite and no nausea, and, unlike me, he was getting better.

After days of hoping I’d magically get better too, I reached out to my Mexican oncologist, Dr. Miguel Flores, and asked to be seen. He didn’t waste any time, agreeing to see me in his office the next day (a Saturday); he also had me take a series of blood tests, including the CA 125, a test for my ovarian cancer marker. Although cancer was a concern, the doctor (and I) both thought it was just a parasite or some such intenstinal woe. A disgusting worm wreaking havoc on my digestive system. Sure, but it could be something else, too. Just to be on the safe side, the doctor set me up with a prescription parasite killer and prescribed one for Andy, too, since he was having some stomach issues.

I couldn’t help it. I turned the conversations to, “Should we move back into our house in Oakland?” “Should we rent an apartment just outside of the Bay Area, Davis maybe, so we could keep the rent money rolling in?” Maybe we could stay with Andy’s mom in San Jose until we figure out our next move.

My reality is this. Every twinge, every muscle ache, every upset stomach is a constant reminder of a potential cellular party I don’t want to be part of. I try very hard to keep it all in check. On many days I’m able to distance myself from what was.  And some days, (especially recently) I wallow.  I read Inspire.com, (the ovarian cancer board) over and over.  I search the internet for the latest ovarian cancer clinical trials and I read about new drugs that will magically push other women past the 5 year mark.

I was sad. And anxious. But I kept focusing on the fact that at least I got all this time — 27 months — without batteries of tests, without surgery, without chemo. Without cancer. It’s been more than two years in which I’ve been able to spend amazing times with friends and famly. Time that I got to enjoy several different cities in Mexico, and Japan, and South Korea, and a two-week cruise from Yokohama to Vancouver, and a road trip from there down to Oakland, seeing friends along the way. And to be with the man I loved. Time that has meant the world to me, and time that could not be taken away.

While I was in my scared mode, I spent a lot of time in wallow mode reading depressing cancer statistics. This did not improve my outlook or my mood, but it did help me cope. I was contemplative and quiet, a rarity for me. I shared the news with my immediate family. I told them I thought my cancer might be back.

Today I got my CA 125 test back from the lab. It was a low number and that’s great news.  In the next few days I’l l get a CT scan just to make sure, but having a low CA 125 is a great indicator that the cancer hasn’t yet returned.

I think Guatemala sounds perfect for November, don’t you?

Stacey

 

 

Fond of fonts

Dear readers of believeitohrnot,

Thank you so much for your comments about my last blog post where I talked about fear and the debilitating effects it can have on our psyches. I’m really happy that the post  resonated with many readers. Many of you shared stories of your own fears in the comments section of the blog and through email.  I encourage you to continue to share your fears with friends and trusted family members. Their support will be essential if you hope to overcome what’s hanging you up.

Now it’s time for something lighter!

Font fun

I’ve always been fascinated by fonts. Fonts are cool and they tell stories. I like how fonts can  express playfulness or seriousness. In some perverse way,  I even like how fonts are used to capture and engage us into buying products we don’t need and we really don’t want.  I like how some fonts scream and how some fonts whisper.   I could probably talk about fonts for longer than the average person, but I really do enjoy them. Comic Sans is one of my favorite fonts, Arial, not so much.  More about fonts in a second.

Recently, my friend and I went to Patzcuaro, Mexico to enjoy their annual Cantoya, (lit lantern) festival.  We got to see hundreds of both big and small lanterns being launched into the day and night sky. Teams competed from around the world and built their cantoyas over the weekend.  In the evening, we joined throngs of happy revelers and launched our own cantoyas.

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I’m watching my Cantoya soar!

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Patzcuaro is only an hour from Morelia and is a really special place to visit.  We lived there last summer for three weeks and it’s a great place.  It’s filled with indigenous people peddling their wares at the market and it’s also filled with some very good regional cuisine from the state of Michoacan.

Patzcuaro is also a place filled with great fonts!  These amazing fonts dot the fronts of restaurants and give the entire town a very surreal, old- Mexico feel.

Here’s a little bit about the Patzcuaro font.  Yes, the name of the font is actually called Patzcuaro which I think is effin cool.  This description states…

Patzcuaro is a summer resort by a lake of the same name. It is situated 370 km west of Ciudad de Mexico and a visitor from Europe, on seeing it, will be reminded of the Austrian Rust or the South Bohemian Trebon. The town’s colonial architecture is protected as a historical monument, the reddish-brown tint of the footings of the buildings, their white facades and even the type of lettering with red initials is prescribed – and these regulations are also complied with as far as cars are concerned.

This colour scheme is splendid in combination with the rich gamut of greys of the stone window jambs, vaults, lintels and pillars. Joking apart, even the local petrol station is 16th-century in appearance. Patzcuaro Regular is a cosy, welcoming type face which is good for use on labels.

I really love looking at the myriad of buildings with this killer font.

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Photo courtesy of Kara Goldhamer.

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photo courtesy of Kara Goldhamer

 

 

Giant cockroaches and other insomnia stories

Welcome new followers who found out about Believeitohrnot from On the Road in Mexico. I’m honored you signed up to follow my Mexican and world adventures.

If you want to read about my story from day one, it starts here. 

I’m writing this post from Chia, located in the beautiful city of Morelia, Mexico.  It’s a very cool & hip cafe located four doors from our house. They play great music, and their coffee is muy bueno.  Bob Marley is blaring out some cool tunes at the moment.  chia

This post is about overcoming fear and it’s about Mexico. I’ve written about overcoming fear before, but it’s such an important topic, I felt it deserved some further attention. Fear almost killed my dream of moving abroad and that would have sucked since my husband and I had talked about this dream since we got married almost 21 years ago.  Fear has the ability to be a dream killer and that’s not cool. Since I started this blog, I’ve become inspired to help people realize that fear doesn’t have to paralyze souls.  I’m not just talking about moving to a foreign country. I’m talking about it killing other dreams too,  Let’s examine what living in fear can do:

  • It can stop you from professing your love to someone who might reciprocate!  Wouldn’t that be sad?
  • It can stop you from making a job change for the better.
  • It can keep you trapped focusing on how much life sucks, instead of how beautiful life can be.
  • Fear can keep you from being happy and it can turn you into a miserable, angry SOB.

I started thinking, what if I shared my biggest fears with readers about moving to Mexico? What if my story could inspire YOU to make a major life change?  It doesn’t have to be moving to a different place. It could be anything at all.

I’d be able to add the title of “personal cliff pusher” to my resume!!!

So, it’s time for me to bare my soul and tell you every single fear I had about moving abroad and how I overcame it.  Some fears were big, and some were small. All were aggravating and made my brain hurt for many weeks before our move a little over one year ago.  These are not in any particular order, but they all had the ability to keep me feeling stuck.

# 1-Would a gigantic cockroach crawl across my skin when I slept?

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The Fear: I’m really scared of cockroaches and there are a lot of cockroaches in Mexico. I wouldn’t say my fear of cockroaches is debilitating, but I don’t think I have ever had the courage to kill even one. When I see one, I don’t run and hide, but just the fact that I don’t have the cajones to confront these pesky creatures says volumes about my phobia. So, naturally, when I thought about moving to Mexico, I wondered, “what would happen if a gigantic, black cockroach crawled across my head when I was in na na land?   Seriously, this thought kept me awake some nights. Good thing I didn’t know then, what I know now.  I just found out that cockroaches can live for a full month without their heads!  Isn’t that disgusting?  Here’s more about these disgusting creatures.

The reality:  We’ve lived in Mexico for 14 months now, and I’ve only seen one cockroach in our house and it was dead. I’ve seen a few outside on the street and i think we’ve reached an awesome agreement. They  avoid me and I avoid them.  The longer we live in Mexico, the more I realize that a cockroach probably won’t crawl across my head while I slumber and invade my space.  I’m now starting to think I have a better chance of being stung by a scorpion, but let’s not go there.

#2- Would our standard of living fall dramatically?

The fear: What would happen if our new living conditions weren’t as nice as the house we left in Oakland, CA?  What would happen if I we could no longer lie on our comfortable large couch, or sleep on our perfect Tempurpedic mattress?

The reality: Overall, our living conditions in Mexico have been great.  Every place we have stayed has been charming, well-located and diverse.  Our living conditions have been up to snuff in every city with the exception of Guanajuato where this happened.

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This is our cute living room in Zihuatanejo.  Our standard of living hasn’t suffered since we moved.

We’ve easily found places well within our budget in every location. Sometimes we’ve used airbnb. Sometimes we’ve asked local people for recommendations, sometimes we’ve pounded the pavement ourselves.   I’m happy to say that after months of living in many locations, mainly in Central Mexico, this particular fear has been squashed.  I can say with 100% certainty that there are many, many charming places to stay (especially in larger cities) and that our quality of living equals that of the United States. I only miss two things. 1) Having a bathtub. 2) Having a large couch that Andy and I can both snuggle together on.

#3- Would we be able to afford to retire at such young ages?

The fear: Where would we find the money to quit our jobs, and embark on this great adventure?  How would we pay rent and afford food, electricity and other living expenses?

The reality- Before we moved to Mexico, I worried ALL the time about how we would afford to quit our jobs. Even by renting our Oakland, CA house for well above our mortgage, I still worried. I shouldn’t have.  Designated husband is working 15 hours a week remotely and I’m working 3-5 (some weeks, not all).

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Even on a  limited budget, we can live fine. The beach is free and cold coconuts don’t break the bank.

Because it’s so cheap to live here, we have enough money to cover all of our monthly expenses and we are using minimal savings.  And if we limit our monthly entertainment expenses, we have enough money to travel and go other places.  I can’t tell you not to worry about money.  I can’t tell you that money isn’t a real concern because it is. What I can tell you is that Mexico is cheap and that we can afford a really nice lifestyle here on way less money.

Maybe you are stuck in the worry about money mode?  Maybe you want to change careers or start a new business.  I can only offer this simplistic advice.  It’s possible to do more with less. It really is.  Start by creating a budget and then scale back on monthly expenses (cooking at home, not buying fancy clothes). By taking these steps, you may find the income you need to make the change.  If you have one, talk to a financial adviser and plan, plan plan.  But most importantly, don’t let your fear of what “might be” cloud what “really is.”. 

#4- Would I be able to get high quality medical care?  And would I know when (and if) my ovarian cancer returned?

The fear: My cancer would return and I would not have access to good medical care.

The reality:  My ovarian cancer may return at any time. But my amazing Oakland-based oncologist, Dr. Liz Han, told me to live my dreams now, and I heeded her advice.  If and when my cells decide to party it up,  I will need to return to the Untied States for treatment in the form of more chemotherapy, most likely an 18-week commitment. But until that time happens, it’s time to celebrate life.

But before I had a pow-wow with Dr. Han, I would lie awake night after night, I’d worry about what would happen if and when my cancer came back.  Some days I thought that I would never be able to leave the U.S.  What if they didn’t have the medical tests in Mexico to detect its return?   What would happen if I woke up in the middle of the night with another bowel obstruction? Where would I go for treatment?  The list went on and on and my mind just wouldn’t stop spinning.  Worrying about medical concerns was all consuming and almost became a deal breaker.

Then I met Dr. Miguel Flores.

Miguel Flores is my Morelia based oncologist.  I can’t remember how I found him, but I think another Mexican doctor referred me to him. He’s the bomb. I see him every three months when I’m in Mexico.  First I go to his very modern office to get a blood test to detect the ovarian cancer marker. Then I get a pelvic exam to check for tumors.  My concerns about the possibility of me not receiving top-notch medical care in Mexico have proved to be unfounded–at least so far.  Dr. Flores takes good care of me. He speaks great English and he knows his stuff.  Another plus?  He’s my Facebook friend!  I know if I ever need him in a pinch, I can send him a Facebook message or personal email and he’d be right by my side helping me get the medical care I need.  When I’m in Morelia, I never worry about medical care. There are many top-notch hospitals here.

Zihuatanejo is another story since it’s so much smaller and four hours away.  But, if I get seriously sick in Zihuatanejo  I know a very competent English speaking Dr. who many ex-pats use. In a pinch, I would probably  be able to utilize his services and work with him to figure out next steps.

While the fear of getting seriously sick in Mexico is still here, it’s not at the forefront of my mind, and it’s in no way a strong enough fear to make me want to return home.

#5- Would I miss California and my friends & I would I suffer from loneliness and heartbreak?

The fear– I would be homesick all of the time and greatly miss my friends.

The Reality– I’m lonely.  There I said it.  I miss my friends every single day.  Many have come to visit us and our time together means the world to me.  In general, I’m finding the longer I’m away, the more it hurts.  I don’t have the luxury of going out for a cup of coffee or grabbing a beer with my posse.

There are strategies I can use to be less lonely, like connecting with other ex-pats, and making friends in places where we will be staying for a while. I’ve done all of those things.  But it doesn’t replace cherished girl friends you’ve know for years and years.  I’m  less lonely in Zihuatanejo because my mom lives there six months out of the year.   But as a highly social person, it sucks, period.

Out of all of the fears I had about moving abroad, this one turned out to be true. Some days I feel empty inside and it’s very, very hard to reconcile. But as lonely as it gets,  I wouldn’t trade the experience. Living in a foreign country, learning a new language and doing this experience with the man I love feels important and is so worthwhile.  I can deal with the day-to-day loneliness, I don’t have a choice.

Final thoughts

If you managed to read through this entire blog, you can see that every fear I had about moving abroad didn’t really come to pass.  A giant cockroach didn’t devour me as a slept and I never lived in sub-standard living conditions.

Imagine if you could have the same experience managing your fears. What if your fears were simply fears?  Fears that could be managed, conquered and expertly defeated?

Would you be ready to make a change?

In the past year, I’ve seen many friends make amazing life changes all for the better. One left the San Francisco Bay Area, sold her house and opened a Bed & Breakfast in a very small town.  Another left a high-paying tech job and bought and opened a restaurant.   They took a huge leap and haven’t looked back. I’m in awe. They are so courageous!

Are you ready to jump?  Do you need a personal cliff pusher?

Tell me what’s holding you back.   I’m ready to help.

Stacey

 

 

Have we found our new “it” place?

Have we found our “it” place in Morelia, Mexico?  Just maybe…it really could be!

I always refer to Morelia as the ‘greatest city you’ve probably never heard of” but if you follow me on Facebook, and if you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably now familiar with this great city in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.  I often wax poetically about it.

We’ve been here for almost four weeks (with three months to go) and we’re loving it.  Let me set the stage for you so you can understand why.  Some of this is covered in my earlier blog post about Morelia, but it’s worth repeating again, and again and again.  If you already know why it’s superalicious, you can skip reading this post cause I’ve already said it once.

Morelia is a huge city of roughly 525,000. It’s greatest attraction is the Central Historico–a mind-boggling jumble of old colonial buildings, huge public squares and sky stretching cathedrals from the 1500’s– all anchored by a kick-ass main cathedral located in the center of the historical district.

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Until September 30, we’re living in a lovely three bedroom flat owned by a friend we met last year while having coffee in Morelia. At a local cafe, I spotted what I assumed to be an American or Canadian dame enjoying a frothy delight. Now seeing anyone non-Mexican in Morelia is a very uncommon sight because it’s not a big tourist destination (which is mind-boggling given how cool it is) so I decided to talk to her. I asked her if she lived in Morelia and when she said “yes” I bombarded her with a litany of questions which she politely answered.  When I told her I was going to be in Morelia for several more weeks, but had no chicks to hangout with, she gave me her email address and told me she would be glad to show me around. Score!!!

A week later and after a few pleasant email exchanges we were having pedicures and grabbing lunch. Over the course of our three-week stay in Morelia last summer, we saw her  several more times.  Once we got to Zihuataenjo, we stayed in touch. And then, when I came to Morelia to visit my Morelia-based oncologist, (every three months) we’d pow-wow over dinner and libations.  Eventually, Valda became a cherished part of our lives and asked us if we would be interested in renting her apartment in the Central Historio for five or so months since she wanted to spend time with her family back in the good old U.S.A.  She’s an Indiana girl.

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This is plaza San Francisco. See how happy this fountain is?

Andy and I had already fallen in love with Morelia, and knew we wanted to spend more time here, so we said absolutely. Now we’re tending to her house plants that sit on her spacious rooftop with a killer view and experiencing life in the big city.

Valda’s apartment is in a six or seven unit complex located behind huge wooden doors. It’s on a very busy street. And it’s only a five minute walk from the main plaza. Everything is at our finger tips and the location is A #1.  All around the main plaza are street cafes where Mexican’s gather at all hours to enjoy coffee, beer and meals.  In the late afternoon, vendors come by selling trinkets and musicians stroll by playing traditional marachi music and other kinds of music.  It’s sidewalk cafe culture at its finest and anyone who knows Andy and me knows that we can spend hours sitting outside drinking coffee and people watching.  We are simply in heaven and we couldn’t be more pleased to be here for an extended period of time.

Everywhere we look we see old cathedrals, vast plazas and dancing fountains. And we hear music all around us because Morelia has several  well respected music conservatories. We see students hanging out with their friends, sometimes playing music, sometimes enjoying drinks. This city has a frantic and amazing energy. Mexican’s love a party and Morelia gives them the opportunity to enioy life. There’s always a party or  going on– whether it’s a public magic show for kids, or it’s the weekly Saturday night fireworks display overlooking the main cathedral. The plazas are always packed to the gill with people hanging out and we love it.  There is tons and tons to do. A local club right around the corner from our house hosts weekly Friday night jazz and blues, and serves up some great vegi burgers and artisanal brews, and another hotel hosts guitar music and then there’s free plays and other performances to enjoy.  Last Saturday night we saw a Doors and Rolling Stones tribute band!

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This is the courtyard of my favorite hotel in Morelia, the Soledad.

The Central Historio is an area of beautiful old buildings, many from the 1500’s.  The best way to describe is the French Quarter on steroids. It’s way bigger. Some of the buildings are in a state of great disrepair due to gang tagging,  (I’m reminded of Havana) and need a lot of work, but others are simply stunning. The iron work, and tile work is a great architectural wonder. When we walk through the endless streets, we often can glance into beautiful courtyards and see stunning historical homes.

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This is a typical street in the Central Historio.

And then there’s the cost. Morelia is way cheaper than the touristy Zihuatanejo.  We’re spending way less on rent here and restaurant costs are crazy cheap. The peso has been moving around a bit, but the prices below are calculated at around 17.81. That’s low. When we moved last year it was closer to 20. Here are some typical costs in USD.

Beer- $.80
A cheese quesadilla-$1.78
Breakfast including juice and coffee-$3.64
Latte at a nice cafe- $2.25
One avocado-.65
Tickets to a live concert-Mostly free!  There are tons and tons of free concerts here.
Tickets to a private concert at a club or concert hall- $5.60
Cocktail/Martini-$3.93
Dinner at an upscale restaurant for two- (drinks, appetizer, entrees and a shared dessert) $38.00 and this is at a super, super fancy place. We rarely spend more than $19 on a nice dinner out.
A monthly yoga pass- Unlimited classes $19
90 minute hot stone massage $29.00

Morelia also has a lot of box stores including Home Depot,  Office Max, Sears, and even a Bed, Bath and Beyond so I can get items I can’t get in Zihuatanejo. Also, it has a really great grocery store with more American brands than I can get in Zihuatanejo.  I feel like everything is at my fingertips  and after living in a city of just 100,000 it’s a welcome change.

Finally, Morelia is a walking paradise. Four of five times a week, my swanky new Fitbit accompanies me on a urban walk and since the Central Historio is mostly flat I can walk far.  And the weather is picture perfect for traipsing around. It’s usually around 80 degrees and it’s sunny every morning when we wake up. Often there are lightning and thunder storms in the late afternoon or early evening but they don’t last very long.

We do have several people coming to visit us and we’re excited.  We will be here until September 30 so let us know if you are interested.  It’s really the cats meow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When can we go back?

Hi folks.

Where have my blog posts disappeared to?  Truthfully,  I have no excuse for not writing sooner. Ever since we returned to Mexico on April 30th, we’ve been getting settled into our new place, and I haven’t found the time to write. Plus, I’ve been doing some non-profit consulting and grantwriting for some international organizations and this has kept me busier than normal. But I’m hoping to start communicating again more frequently.  In fact, right after I send out this missive, I am going to start working on a blog post about our current digs in Morelia, Mexico and I promise to get it out this week.  But for now, I want to tell you about our trip to Japan and Korea. What an amazing time we had!!!   I want to go back so bad. I loved both places. This was my third visit to Japan and I think it’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited.  Please put it on your bucket list. You won’t be sorry.

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There were so many highlights during our month-long trip and I’m happy we went to Seoul. I really enjoyed getting new glasses and experiencing their coffee culture which was just mind-boggling.

Here are a few additional highlights of our trip.

  • 1. Traveling on the bullet train in Japan, which went 199 miles an hour!  The trains were clean, efficient, and always punctual.
  • 2. Enjoying some of the best sushi and Japanese food I’ve ever had. It was plentiful, fresh and not expensive.
  • 3. Staying at several traditional Japanese inn’s and experiencing true Japanese hospitality.  I really enjoyed bathing in traditional Japanese baths, know as onsens.

4. Seeing amazing cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Gumna prefecture, and in many other places.  They were spectacular.cherrybloosomorgy2

5. Relaxing on the cruise, despite the daily average temperatures of just 42 degrees. Brrr.  Despite the cold weather, the cruise was a blast. I even got to sing in the cruise choir!  I practiced every day while on the ship and then 60 of us performed for 2,200 passangers. It was super inspirational.

Here are a few things I learned about myself and about life while on the wide open road.

  1.   I loved the sense of freedom being on the road brought and I loved not knowing what our day-to-day life would be like.  Although I was tired on many days because we walked so much, I never felt like i wanted to stay in one place for two long and I enjoyed moving around frequently.  I never yearned to be back in Mexico.
  2.  It’s easy traveling with the same person day-in and day-out if one leads (Andy) and one follows. It doesn’t work if both people want to lead. Someone has to take a back seat.  This greatly reduces arguments.  I’m happy being a follower.
  3. Crazy little things made my trip really enjoyable.  Things I never thought about. One of my friends gave me three essential travel items before I left and I used them like crazy. 1) A small notebook with pages that can tear out. 2) An erasable pen 3) A portable charger for our many devices. What great gifts!  I won’t leave home without these items ever again.

About Japan planning

Onsen2

This is one of many hotsprings found throughout Japan. Going to hot springs are a national obsession.

  1. Japan had amazing on-line travel resources which made travel planning easy.  There were tons of websites and blog posts we used to help us plan our visit. Purchasing a rail pass was probably one of the best decisions we made because it gave us a lot of flexibility and it allowed us to travel to many, many places.  In the past several years, Japan has really upped their game and has made many more resources available in English for tourists.  They also anticipate travelers needs so there are always people who speak English (and wear cool hats) available at train stations and major tourist sites to help people.

As my good friend Kara told me, “everything works out in Japan”. She was right. We never encountered any places that didn’t have our hotel reservation, the trains were always on time, and things just worked. I even needed to go to the emergency room one day to get two stitches in my leg, and this worked out just fine too.

bloosoms3

This is one of my favorite pictures from Kyoto. We were there during the height of the cherry bloosom season.  This cherry bloosom canapy was magical.

Japan isn’t as expensive as one might think. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. Nice hotels were running $130-150 a night and a nice dinner for us both at a traditional Izakaya, was around $45.  Want to enjoy a bowl of ramen for dinner? Shell out $6 and you will be in noodle heaven!  Our trip was very affordable, not as cheap as Mexico, but not as costly as one might think.

A few thoughts on what I brought with me…

I packed really light because I didn’t want to be lugging around a ton of stuff and because Japanese hotel rooms are so small.  I bought a few new things before I left, but not very many.

FYI, the companies I’m mentioning below didn’t pay me and I didn’t get free swag so don’t fret.  I just really want to give them a shout-out because they made my trip way more pleasurable.  I’m kind of a cheapskate and I don’t like to spend money on stuff, but paying for the items below was sound judgement and I had no regrets.

  1. I packed my stuff using ebags packing cubes. Packing cubes kept all of my clothes organized and they allowed me to bring more clothes with me.  Best invention ever, seriously.
  2. I purchased two cute travel skirts that I wore over and over again. Both were from Royal Robbins and I got them at the Royal Robbins outlet in Berkeley, CA.  You can also find these at REI. They were both great to walk in and they washed like a dream. I can’t recommend this line of travel skirts enough.  One of my skirts is orange and the other is gray and I wish I had hundreds more to wear every day.
  3. I purchased a new pair of walking shoes (Mary Jane style) from SAS and I while they were a bit pricey, they were really great.  I also walked using Sketchers which never let me down.

Offshegoes

Finally, one thing Andy and I both realized during this trip is that we like not knowing where the wind might take us–we’re open to more exploring and luckily we’ve set up our fall schedule to have time to be open to new adventures.  Our lease ends in Morelia, Mexico September 30th, so October and November is wide open.

We’re returning to Zihuatanejo for four months in December, but we’ve got eight weeks to explore more of Mexico, or perhaps even venture out through Central America.  I want to go to El Salvador, Honduras and perhaps Nicaragua, so perhaps this might be a good time to do so. Who knows?  We’ll start figuring this out soon.

Hope your summer is off to a peaceful start.

Stacey

 

Potty talk, trains and an ode to 7-11

Dear esteemed readers of Believeitohrnot,

Hello from Sendai, Japan, population 1 million plus.

Sendai is in the north of Japan and suffered a lot of damage due to a massive earthquake in 2011. We’re leaving tomorrow to visit another small Japan traditional Inn (ryokan) and then we’re hitting Tokyo for a week before we board the cruise ship.

This blog post is about toilets, trains and other random stuff you might find interesting.

First, let me start with some potty talk.

Japanese toilets are a complicated subject. You might have heard this before but it’s true. Japanese toilets do a lot of things besides serve as a “business vessel”.  Every toilet I’ve run into, even ones in public restrooms do a lot of magical things.  I’m not making this stuff up. They really do.

Here are some:

1.  First, when you sit down you are treated to a heated toilet seat, every single time. Sometimes you can adjust the temperature. Sitting on a heated toilet seat is a very pleasurable experience.

2. Second when you start doing your business a song starts playing so you don’t have to hear your loud disgusting potty sounds, and so others don’t have to hear your sounds. Cool, right?  Sometimes the ditty is a tropical rain forest composition, sometimes it’s the sound of water running, and sometimes it’s just lovely calm muzak type tunes.  You never know what you are going to get. But it’s all calming and pleasurable.

3. You always and I mean ALWAYS have buttons to clean different parts of you.  There are often so many buttons (all in Japanese of course) that  I don’t know what they really do. Sometimes Western style hotels have the buttons in English over them so I know they can 1) clean your backside  2) clean your front AND you can have the toilets spray at different temperatures and at different strength levels varying from strong to very gentle.

I’m sure they do many, many other things and we have 11 more days to figure them out! Also, every single toilet I’ve encountered even in public places like train stations are spotlessly clean and they never run out of toilet paper. I don’t know why they can’t be like this in the United States. After dealing with the stench and filth of Mexican bathrooms for months and months on end, this is very refreshing.  Mexican bathrooms are horrible.

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This is a typical panel located on a wall next to a toilet seat. 

In Train-ing

Traveling on trains in Japan is a real pleasure and going to the train station is even a bigger pleasure.

Japan train stations are phenomenal. First, they are just huge. I mean massive. Even the small train stations are large by U.S. standards.  Most are located in corners of shopping malls so there is always awesome shopping to be done while at the train stations. Imagine floors and floors and floors of great shopping. And each train station usually features no less than 15 high-quality restaurants, some where you can buy beautiful and very inexpensive bento boxes to take-away.  Don’t want bento? How about some fresh ramen, udon or tempura? Don’t want that, how about some sushi? Not in the mood for sushi how about a delectable fruit and ice cream parfait?  These multi-purpose stations are simply amazing.  You can eat, shop and drink coffee until your heart’s content. We always try to get to the station 45 minutes before our train to check them out.

It’s very easy once you get the hang of traveling throughout Japan, but it is daunting at first. To help make it easier and less expensive, we bought a 21 day Japan Rail Pass in Korea since tourists cannot buy them in Japan.  You have to buy it  before you get here. Once in the train station you simply located the JR counter, you wait in line for about 45 seconds (they have tons and tons of agents working there) and you tell the polite agent where you want to go next and around what time.  Then the agent prints out a 1/4 sheet of paper with the draft itinerary which you approve.  45 seconds later you have a reserved seat on the bullet train.  if it’s a local train,  no reservation is needed.  It’s the easiest thing ever once you get the hang of their massive system.  Navigating the subway stations are a challenge because they are so huge, but with practice it gets easier and Captain Andy has a great sense of direction so we’ve managed to get around just fine.

Ode to 7-11!

In the United States and in Mexico 7-11 stores are great places to pick up Cokes and chips and maybe a pack of gum. In Japan, 7-11 stores at completely different and they are on every single corner. People go to 7-11 stores to buy real food, well-made food, that’s healthy and fresh.  Because eating out in Japan can be expensive, we have found 7-11 a good and relatively healthy alternative for eating healthy and cheap lunches.  You can get freshly made bento boxes with fish, rice and pickles for about $6 and they will heat them up for you.  shirokiya_bento

You can also get small salads, tons of various types of fish cakes, fried chicken, steamed chinese buns, freshly made sandwiches and other treats.

It’s not the best food in the world, but it’s not the worst food either. I’m always impressed with the variety, selection and freshness.  They do so much takeout that they have to keep fresh food stocked.  They also have tons and tons of rice balls that make for a cheap and very filling snack

Tokyo Random Eats Foodicles 03 Onigiri Ikura Seven Eleven

One rice ball comes in each pack. They cost about $1.50. The ikura isn’t the best, but it’s not  bad. It makes for a nice snack.

I haven’t figured out the various kinds of rice balls they have yet, but I like the ikura ones the best (filled with salmon caviar).

In addition to 7-11 there are also other places that sell cheap take-out food like 7-11 and they are on every corner. They are called Family Mart and Lawsons.  Both are very similar.

We are still having a great tip and my next blog post will be from Tokyo before we board the Celebrity Millennium.