Guerrero, Mexico

The girls taking the public transportation to the swimming pool with their cousins. (February 2015)

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Erika picking out pan dulce at our favorite panaderia. (January 2015)

Bend, Oregon, United States

Our family photo taken in Drake Park with all three of my daughters (October 2014)

San Francisco, California, United States

Enjoying the beautiful view from the top of Twin Peaks (July 2015)

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the ruins of Palenque during our Great Mexican Road Trip. (May 2014)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Auxiliares de conversación or North American Language Assistants

My world tilted on its axis last April when I first heard about a teaching program in Spain. I discovered the program just days after the application process had ended but that didn't stop me from planning for the next year, even if it was 16 months in the future. I didn't even have an idea what we were going to be doing in one month, let alone one year but that's how I roll.

So here is the official link to the program. The application process will open up on January 7th and end the first week of April 2015.

The guidelines are simple enough;

  • be at least a junior in college, 
  • be a US or Canadian national (other countries like the UK, Australia, etc have similar programs)
  • clean criminal record
  • under 60 years of age
  • speak English or French as your first language
In a nutshell, you apply for the program, select your top 3 regions, get assigned to a school, apply for a long term student visa, move to Spain in September or October, and teach 12-16 hours a week for approximately $850 to $1200USD, and finish the program in May or June. 

The application itself requires:
  • a copy of your college transcripts, 
  • the biographic page of your passport, 
  • a letter of intent about why you want to participate in the program, and 
  • a letter of recommendation from a college professor or employer if you've been out of school more than 5 years. 

So I'm ready to go and counting down to 3pm PST on January 6th when the application process opens up. I've gathered my documents, scanned them into PDF form, and filled out the shell of the basic information. My challenge isn't going to be getting accepted into the program, it's going to be securing 4 long term visas since I'm bringing the family with me. 

I am also planning to attend the University of Salamanca and get a Master's degree in Advanced English studies so that I will be able to teach ESL worldwide. I still have my GI Bill education benefits remaining and the clock is still ticking away on their expiration. The GI Bill pays 60% of my tuition even at a foreign university and provides a monthly housing allowance of $904 based on my 60% rating. The fun starts with trying to get my Bachelors degree recognized by the University first. Everyone is on vacation in Spain until January 8th so nothing will happen until afterwards.

So join me on my journey as I attempt to move my family across the ocean to the land of my dreams, España!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Most Awesome Day

You are always so lucky said my sister as soon as I called to tell her the news. I don't think I'm lucky. I think I'm smart enough to pursue the opportunities that exist in our country and attain those goals when possible. I also realize that I am very fortunate to live in the country I do. The opportunities that I'm being given do not exist in many countries. In fact, the opportunity that I received today would equate out to winning the lottery for many people across the world. As it is, I'm just giddy and excited inside.

When I flew home in June, I didn't really have a penny to my name and I was faced with having to start over again and somehow manage to get my husband home too. We did have a house to return too but we had people living in it and I had to give them some time to get out since we returned so much sooner than expected. I had a car that I'd left stored in the garage since we were still making payments on it. I reopened my unemployment claim and started work searching right away. My benefits were denied at first so I was trying to support two households on my one disability check.

We stayed with Corri our first night back home. We were talking about a mortgage assistance program that she had signed up for. I remember hearing about Oregon Homeowner Help while I was working at the employment department. It was a part of the recorded message that played every time someone called into the office. I decided to give it a shot since I was basically unemployed and a little frightened about our financial situation. The deadline for the cycle was July 1st and everything had to be turned in by that date or you would be disqualified. I ran all over town collecting up every single document they requested and going through my files in storage trying to find the rest.

I received a confirmation that everything had been received and that the process generally takes 120 days before any thing would happen. I got an email around the 90 day mark (Sept 29) asking for some additional documentation:

  • Need: A current mortgage statement
    Need: Property tax statement
    Need: Documentation for any pension income received from 5/6/14 - 7/1/14 or a note stating that no pension income was received
Bend Area Habitat for Humanity has been fabulous about helping me with the paperwork and assisting me with my application to the program. They carry my mortgage in-house and I have no interest, just the mortgage, insurance, and taxes. I gathered everything up and turned it in again. I asked what stage I was at and was told that it was a required 120 days so I needed to have a little more patience.

Yesterday morning ( Oct 30), I received an email with a copy of the loan documents and the request to make an immediate appointment to come in and sign before the papers expired. Well, I was in their office at 9 o'clock this morning signing papers!! Since our taxes and insurance are rolled into our monthly mortgage payment, everything will be paid for us. I had expected only the mortgage portion to be paid by the program. So as of right now, I will not have to make another mortgage payment until either a) December 2015 or b) we file bankruptcy or c) I fail to comply with the quarterly income verifications and view the 45 minute homeownership education videos. 

So I am so freaking excited!!! We can finally start paying off some personal debt like my sister's credit card and save up for a car since Jose usually  has to run to the gym after work if I'm driving, which is the case 90% of the time. And I can then start saving for SPAIN!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Immigration, the trumped up credentials, and the SSA

 If something were to have happened to Jose, the kids and I would have been without any type of survivor benefits. I'm not a morbid person by any means but the planner in me wants to always be ready for anything that may happen. Since my father slipped into a three week coma before passing away in 2010, I have had my affairs in order. Do you know what it's like to make a DNR decision for someone when they have left you nothing to go on? After I suffered and agonized and got my father's affairs in order, I flew straight home and set up a living will and testament for my family. I have young children who will not see adulthood for many years to come. 

Almost better than receiving the elusive green card is the valid social security number. Growing up, I hated being a number in a system. Enter the Army and now I have to stencil my social security number in big black numbers over all my gear. People freak out nowadays about keeping their number super secret and I'm like what the hell ever, my number has traveled through so many countries that it's not worth bothering now! You have a child, you register for a social security number, and you don't think about it anymore. Now hike across the burning desert in search of the dream and it becomes a lot bigger than that!
Currently available for about $150 on street corners in just about any immigrant neighborhood in California, a typical fake ID package includes a green card and a Social Security card. It provides cover for employers, who, if asked, can plausibly assert that they believe all their workers are legal. It also means that workers must be paid by the book - with payroll tax deductions. - New York Times (2005) 
It works the same way here in Oregon, drive to a certain corner in a certain town and just hang out for a bit, and they will come to you. You must not look like an American though, not light skin or suspicious airs, or you'll go home empty handed. Now they are getting wise and sending in the Latinos undercover to trap the vendors. What that piece of paper did create was a huge flow of money into the coffers of the Social Security Administration, billions of dollars of money.
As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year. Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions according to the New York Times April 5, 2005
Jose had been working here until a fictitious number and paid thousands of dollar into the SSA. Every year after you file your taxes, you get a letter from the SSA letting you know that they are having difficulty matching your wages up with your social security number and could you please respond with a copy of your card. It is no secret what is happening and our government doesn't do anything because it is more beneficial than detrimental. The IRS issues you an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) to use when filing your taxes. You send in your W-2's each year with the bogus social security numbers and your ITIN on the front of the form. You get your limited refunds or you pay your taxes. Being married to a spouse with only an ITIN, I lost my privilege to claim the Earned Income Credit every single year, until this one.

This year it all changes. This year I amend all the paperwork and wrongs and I continue to better my family. Yesterday I drove to the post office and mailed a letter to the IRS and asked them to please cancel his ITIN number and update their records with the new social security  number. It's unlawful to have both an ITIN and an SSN assigned to one person. I used a sample letter that I found here. Since we are planning to file bankruptcy, I won't be updating his credit bureaus!! I should receive a letter in approximately a month confirming the update.

The next step had me awake until 12:30 in the morning. I dug through our files and pulled out the last 11 years worth of tax returns. I carefully separated each one by year and then I created a header at the top of a word document. On the top line is font size 24 and bold, I put the year. On the second line, I put his full legal name and the (other) SSN and the new SSN. On the next line, I put the total amount of earnings and the names of the employers on the W-2s. Then I printed out that sheet. Then I put that sheet of paper back into my printer, set the W-2s on the glass and then hit the copy function. What came out was a sheet of paper with all the pertinent info on it and copies of the W-2s right below on the same sheet. For the years that he had more than 2 employers, I added a second sheet and wrote page 1 of 2, page 2 of 2, etc. All told, it came to almost $270,000 of earnings and thousands of dollars paid into social security and medicare. I filled out this form (SSA-7008) that I found on the SSA's website for correcting earnings. I filled it out and where it asked me to list the employer's and earnings, I wrote "see attached" since there was not near enough room. We went together to the SSA office with his valid social security card clutched in hand and feeling a little nervous about what type of representative that we'd end up dealing with. After a 15 minute wait, we were called to the window and I handed the paperwork to the lady and explained our situation. She asked Jose the security questions and then sought assistance from a colleague who assured her that we had everything in order. She asked Jose to sign the form and asked where the other number had come from. I just told her that it had never been issued and was undocumented. She said no more and we were all done. We should receive a letter in a month showing the earnings that have been credited to his account. Then we can log online and determine his estimated benefits.

Disclaimer: If you have worked under another name or have not filed taxes correctly, be prepared to not receive credits for your earnings or expect a demand from the IRS for any back taxes that they feel you owe. We did everything correctly so this can only be beneficial for our family!

UPDATE 2/24/15: We received our confirmation letter in the mail today that all of Jose's wages have been moved over to his new social security number. We were able to log onto the SSA website and view his estimated benefits for disability, survivor, and retirement.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power in Planning

Have you ever felt as if life was completely out of control and you're holding on by a thread? You have these people in your Facebook feed. It seems like one bad thing after another seems to happen to them and you don't understand why. I'm not one of them, I can't be.

In the chaos that it called life, I am The Planner. While we figure out what the next year is going to bring to us, I'm planning for all possible scenarios. Staying home and living life day after day is the easy one. Jose goes to work, I go to work, the kids go to school, and life passes us by.

Wait, what?!?!

I am not going to let life pass us by any more! This might just be fine and dandy for everyone else but I really feel like life is passing us by while we sit here and wait for something to happen. Erika is a middle schooler now and thus our day starts every morning at 6:30am. It means she has to go to bed at 8pm and our time together is reduced to two hours after I get home from work in which we also have to eat dinner, do homework, and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow. I never planned for her to attend middle school. This is her choice. This is Erika having a say about what she wants to do and I'm letting her. Do I think it will be short term? Absolutely but at least she knows that she gave it a try and it wasn't the right thing for us.

Mia is a first grader now and she loves school most days. Are there things wrong with elementary school? Absolutely!! Will the benefits outweigh the negatives for her? I believe they will. She loves her teacher, she hates how the behavior of others in her class equates out to her losing out on reading time as well she should but she is reading so much every single day and I love to see that light bulb pop when she figures out a new word. Mia is exactly where she needs to be right now and we are going to take it one year at a time for her. By the time Mia reaches middle school, Erika will be finishing up high school and we'll be able to focus on helping both of them with their educations. Mia doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up and that's perfectly fine. I'm still trying to figure that out myself.

I'm a planner, a maker of a million lists, with a hundred reminders set up in my phone to keep on track with everything that is going and so I don't forget the little stuff like going to bed at a decent hour or picking up the kids from school. I don't know how much relates to my PTSD and what is just old age but I struggle with the little stuff the older I get. Yesterday I was driving to pick up Jose and by the time I reached the traffic signal, I had forgotten where I was going and went the wrong way. It's frustrating because then I feel like I'm out of control and it usually triggers an anxiety attack. I try to use the GPS on my phone as much as possible to help me get from Point A to Point B. The sad part is that I actually do completely fine when I'm in a new place and don't know the layout but if I'm on familiar ground, I make one wrong turn after another.

In order for something to happen in my life, I have to plan it. My bucket lists are my hopes, dreams, and goals all rolled up into one plan. I'm a visual planner too, I like to see my lists, carry them around, jot down things, and add little graphics to it.

Right now that is being materialized in my smash book

Adding all the little bits and pieces of my dream
I must confess that this is my first time making an actual smash book. Normally I use a traditional paper journal and just write down everything that comes to mind. This is more than a simple vacation though, it's another international move and this time to a country that we've never been to. To me, information is power and I must be in control. There are so many things to prepare for with this program as well so I'm trying to get ahead of the curve now. I have yet to read about anyone else in the program ever going as a family of four! By the time I reach the point of Spain or Bust 2015, this little smash journal should be completely filled with my dream.

How do you plan? How involved do you get with making your dreams come true? Are you a do-or-die planner too?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coming full circle back home

This week has been one of many revelations for me. Coming home has actually felt harder than leaving did. We have been a united family for so long, always focusing on this goal of fighting immigration and proving against the odds that we were going to keep our family together and come out smiling on the other side.

Well, we're on the other side now and it hasn't been all smiles. Our relationship has been stretched very thin and I spent days wondering if we had survived so much only to lose it all after the battle. It was as if all of our energy and passion had been focused on fighting the enemy and now what? Where do we put all of our energy and passion?

My passion has always been to travel. I eat, sleep, breathe, and dream about traveling and places that I've never seen. This fire has been with me for as long as I can remember. These last 8 years of my life have been restricted because any travel I did was be limited to the United States if I wanted my husband as my travel companion.

Jose's passion is his family and the home front and then travel might come into play at the bottom of the list. He can finally walk around without the fear that we are going to lose everything we've created here. His passion is to make our home better and do all of the projects that we put off like pavers in the front driveway with a wooden deck and jacuzzi out back. He wants that Toyota pickup that I promised him if I ever succeeded in helping him get that elusive green card.

Since April 15th, I have been making my dreams point towards Spain. I want him to acknowledge the sacrifices that my privileged white self has done and jump on the train with me. I am consumed with this desire to travel and spend some serious time in Europe and see everything that it has to offer. I want to find a quiet little town and settle in for the 8 month stay and make it our life. I want to get my Master's in Linguistics so I can travel the world later on and teach English. Spending a year in Spain teaching will be a huge step in that direction and I hope that I can get my CELTA certificate in Barcelona at the same time. The time clock is still ticking on my GI Benefits and I don't want them to go unused. Jose doesn't understand why we can't wait another year and do it later. I'm afraid that the longer you put something off, the higher the chance that it won't happen. Maybe it will end up being me and the girls going while he stays home. I hope not but I am so focused on my dreams that I'm having a hard time acknowledging his. Buying a new truck means adding another large monthly bill onto the ones we'll already have to pay while we are gone. Why do that? Our mortgage and utilities will already consume most of the savings we need to take with us, let's not make it any harder, not to mention cut into my European vacation fund!?!?!

Right now we're sitting in Bend, in our little house that we call home. I think we have finally reached a point where we are not bickering and fighting about every tiny little thing. Oh my goodness, that just saps the energy right out of you! Jose was able to go right back to work when we returned but it took me quite a bit longer. I finally found a temporary position as a bilingual legal assistant for an immigration law firm. Wow, talk about coming full circle. This is what I have been living and breathing on an extremely personal level and now I'm doing it for a job. I've been there about 3 weeks now and I am fitting in perfectly. Our immigration journey was a very stressful, emotional journey and I am now being reminded of that on a daily  basis. I pick up the mail on my way into work and when I sat down to open it up one morning, I saw an approval for someone's provisional waiver and the tears just welled up in my eyes and spilled over. This is why I have a hard time becoming a high profile activist because it is so personal to me and hits me so hard. I have a hard time fighting my PTSD and depression without a drug cocktail and I can't drag myself into something that will end up pushing me into that dark place again.

So where are we heading now? I don't know. I can only hope that it is going to take me overseas on another wild adventure. A family member commented last week that they couldn't understand why I was creating shadow boxes that said Home Sweet Home on them with a map of the United States, Oregon, and Bend. I had to explain that I don't hate the land that is my home, I hate the way our society behaves and how dark and bleak the future seems for our people but I love the beauty of the mountains, lakes, and streams that make up my home. I want to take my children out into the world and show them the beauty of the world's people, not the borders that divide us. In order to do that, I need to leave home. World citizens weren't creating sitting at home in the comfort of our daily routines. That is where fear and phobias are bred.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Vacation in Exile: A letter to the naysayers

I started this post over two months ago and never published it. I was upset after the comments I was hearing and needed to vent. So many blog posts get written on a vent and never published. We need to get the words out on the proverbial paper and then we calm down, gather our thoughts, and realize it isn't really necessary. Except I keep coming back to this. This judgement by my own peers and I'm tired of being made to feel like my experiences aren't good enough for someone else. I don't care what you think or how you feel about my life but I'm going to publish this blog post and then I'm going to clean up the list of people whom I call friends.

Why do people always insist on trying to judge me and put me down and make light of my experiences? I will probably go my whole life being judged by someone by what they see on the outside and I'm here to tell you that I don't give a shit!! I gave up everything I owned to move my family to Mexico to keep my family together and now you had the audacity to say that my 6 months in Mexico was more of a vacation than exile?? Is there a secret criteria to be considered an exiled spouse? Maybe my husband should have been drug out of my home in handcuffs in front of my sobbing children to qualify? Should I donate my disability benefits to the next person who has less than I because I don't deserve it after serving my country for 10 years? To be in exile is an emotional state of mind, not an economic qualifier.

Stop being a bitter nasty person because someone else might have something more than you do. Look in the mirror and try to smile at the person staring back at you. I don't care how sad and unhappy and miserable your life is, you are the only one who can control whether you see the glass as half empty or half full. I'm alive and by God, that glass is half full and I'm going to fill it up!

When I decided that I loved my husband more than I loved my country, I was truly living the American dream. I owned a three bedroom two bath home with solar panels, radiant flooring heating, EARTH certified eco-friendly home, three cars, two dogs that I shared with my two beautiful daughters and the love of my life. I had an awesome job working for the state, took at least one big family vacation a year, and I was happy. The thing missing from my life was the most important though, the thing we call freedom. The freedom to go anywhere in the world in the company of my husband. The freedom to allow my husband to drive us everywhere because even though he had a valid drivers license, any traffic stop has the potential to turn into an immigration hold. The freedom to visit my in-laws two or three times a year with my husband. How many spouses have never even been to their wife or husband's home country before deportation?? The freedom to leave my US Citizen children in their father's care for any extended period of time? How many USC children are taken into custody and separated from loved ones when their parent is taken into custody? My children will never know what it's like to be taken into police custody until they are old enough to make their own mistakes in the future but they will decide that, it will not be due to an overzealous law enforcement agency that chooses to operate under federal policy on a state level.

My family is whole again and we are all together again on US soil. Does my journey stop here? Are my experiences invalid now? If you can't be happy and rejoice in your peers successes, you might not be the best person to have as a friend. I have sat there for years watching as my friends went through the same process and their husbands left and then came home with visas. Through the lump in my throat, I was genuinely happy for them. If we can't build each other and take care of each other, then who are we to judge the horrible state of affairs in the United States? You are only contributing to the hatred and ugliness with your bitter words and false friendship. I don't have time for the likes of you in my future.

We were fortunate enough to have our house to return to but it was occupied with the people we had left it to. They needed time to find a rental so we were staying with friends who were kind enough to offer us a room in their home, the four of us in one bedroom for six weeks. We just got the keys to our house on August 16th and were faced with major damages to one bedroom, a neglected front yard, and a general need for a fresh coat of paint and renovations. Jose was fortunate enough to be able to return to his former job as soon as that golden Social Security card showed up in the mail. The girls and I were living off my disability check and weekly unemployment checks in the meantime. We are sleeping on air mattresses on the floor and trying to slowly save up for one piece of furniture at a time. In spite of everything, every night I go to sleep and I'm thankful for what we have. We have each other and we have some very good friends; it's all about quality, not quantity.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Three Months and Seven Days to an Approval

Mexico City to Tijuana
I haven't been able to sleep since I returned to Oregon. The journey home was exhausting but I made it with the help of some great friends and family. We had to leave for the Mexico City airport at 6am so we could beat the horrific rush hour and allow Victor to get back at a decent hour for work. Our flight didn't leave until 10:50am so we had to wait in the airport for a few hours. Maria made us fresh tamales last night so we sat and ate one for breakfast. Erika and Mia were bawling their eyes out when we had to say goodbye to José before entering the security gates. Erika has developed a very strong bond with José during our exile and that alone has been worth every hardship. My family has united and grown stronger together in ourselves and in our love for one another. All three of them had tears in their eyes as we parted. Mia sobbed the whole time we went through security and into our wait time at the game. Security kept inquiring as to why she was so upset as if I was kidnapping her and taking her away from a loved one so I had to explain that her father was being left behind.
Meeting Andrea in Tijuana
We flew on Interjet from Mexico City to Tijuana and they are a very interesting airlines. Each passenger is allowed up to 110 lbs of luggage and it is a total so you don't have to divide it evenly between two bags. You can actually take three bags and one can weigh 55# and the other 15# and 10# etc. Now this I wish I had known about 10 minutes prior as I was weighing my bags on the airport scale and rearranging everything. I suppose it was a necessary evil anyway since our second airlines didn't share the same baggage policy.
3 Kids, 9 Suitcases, and lots of carry-ons
We were able to save about $210 total by having a friend pick us up at the Tijuana airport and drive us across the border to the San Diego airport, thereby eliminating the higher taxes of an international flight. Andrea and I met online a few months ago in a Facebook group about scrapbooking Project Life style, where else?! She finally made the brave step forward to reunite her family together South of the Border and this was our first chance to meet in person. There had been other opportunities while we were both living in Oregon but busy lives and excuses got in the way far too often. Sometimes we don't realize the impact that our actions may have on one another but Andrea truly is the epitome of why I blog in the first place: to share my story and encourage others. Thank you Andrea for the reminder <3

Baby I'm Coming Home
The next leg was from San Diego to Portland on Southwest Airlines and you get two free suitcases with them as well so I returned with 9 suitcases and several carry-ons for no additional charges. Erika stowed her Kindle Fire in her bag just before landing but it turned up missing when we arrived. I got a call from the airlines two days later asking if she lost an electronic device so miracles do exist! She was pretty upset because I can't afford to replace it at this time. My ScrapDiva Corri picked us up from the Portland airport and brought us back to her house so we could stay the night. Aubrey and Erika has been friends since they were toddlers so they got the chance to visit and catch up that night while Corri and I did the same. I had a hard time sleeping that night and José called to wake me up at 7am and ask me to check his case. I was pretty groggy and couldn't understand what in the heck he was talking about. I know he's eager to come home but he better not expect me to wake up at the butt crack of dawn every month and check his case!! Well I pulled up the USCIS Case Status app on my phone and my mouth dropped open. Jose's I-601 Waiver was approved on the exact same day that I flew home from Mexico. Three months and seven days after our waiver was officially received, it was approved for a permanent resident visa so my husband is coming home!!!

It has got to be one of the sweetest feelings in my life aside from my birth of my three beautiful daughters but my family is going to be united again. My husband's hopes and dreams aren't going to be smashed by the American fist of callous immigration. It's going to take a month or so to get him home as there are a few more steps to take and I need to save up some money. The plan is for him to pack up everything and ship it via courier to Tijuana and I'll come down and pick him and the doggies up in a few weeks and we'll be coming home!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 165 in Exile: The Honeymoon is Over

I came into this with such high spirits and just knew it was going to be so much easier for me than everyone else. I'm the golden one, how could it be any other way? We are so fortunate with everything that we have; two cars that run fine, a monthly check for being alive albeit slightly mental, we're all healthy most of the time, I love Tlaxcala, and I got the best in-laws in the world, right?

I realized the honeymoon was over and reality was finally setting in on Saturday, Mother's Day here in Mexico. A young family member had complained of the beginning of a migraine headache. As I've never suffered one before, I can only judge this by hearsay from friends. A quiet room, no lights, rest and relax, and it will eventually pass in a few hours or whatnot. It slowly progressed into a full blown medical emergency in the living room with burning herbs, the town curadora, and all kinds of crazy medicine like burying the patient in multiple blankets to sweat out the fever, and after the house had been cleansed, we weren't allowed to step outside without wearing a sprig of something green. And I bite my tongue so hard as a dark cloud is cast over our Mother's Day festivities with our guests who have traveled to spend the afternoon with us. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking that the head of the household might not have passed away from diabetes if they'd sought modern medicine instead of the good intentions. It only went downhill from there, one little thing adding on top of another forcing us to make a hard choice to leave our new home. José doesn't feel uncomfortable there either so it's going to be a rough summer as he tries to stay on the move visiting his sons and family in different areas.

Now I'm getting ready to board the plane to escape back to my beautiful Oregon while abandoning my husband in the process. I can't be two places at once but I can't handle being here for a few more months. The plan has always been to make our way south to live outside the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala in September. Things have slightly shifted in the last month because we are seeing I-601 approvals for people who have filed in January, February, March, and April. Our official receipt date is March 17 so it's possible that we might hear something any day. Now our plan has been adjusted to account for this new development. I had originally planned on waiting 6-8 months for our approval or denial but USCIS appears to be issuing decisions between 4-5 months now.

We have decided that if José is approved for the visa while the girls and I are still home in Bend, we will stay there, let our housesitters know that we are returning earlier than expected (ooops, so sorry but get the hell out), and start preparing to reintegrate into our American routines. Mia will start the first grade at their old school but since the 6th grade is the start of middle school of Oregon, Erika will be continuing her homeschool education in the house with me. I will try to find a part time job so I can help save up money and pay off any debt that we have remaining after I file bankruptcy next month.

A visa means that I can finally put money into my home without feeling like it would be a waste.
A denial means that we will be finding a third country to make our home in. We can always file a new waiver and spend another $585 but I'm not ready to do that again. We will make our way towards the Tijuana area and set up shop there until the end of the year. As long as I have a California residency, I will hopefully be able to continue claiming my unemployment benefits and support us as well as put away some money into savings. I have family in the San Diego area and lots of other exiled spouses in Tijuana for a support group. After the first of the year, we can pick up our original plans and move south to Guatemala.

Visa or not, I'm planning on taking the family to Spain next fall so I can teach as a part of Spain's Auxiliares en Conversación program and get my Master's and certifications to teach both English and Spanish. If things don't work out for us in the US, maybe we'll just stay there and get our Spanish citizenships.

So it's back to the United States for Erika, Mia, and I. We're not giving up, we're just preparing for the next phase in our journey. And when USCIS decides to update us on which direction our journey will be taking, you guys will be sure to know, right after I inform José and the girls ;)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Days 5 and 6 of the GMRT: Exploring the beautiful city of Mérida

My husband loves two cities in the United States besides our hometown of Bend, Oregon. He loves the bright lights and activities of Las Vegas and the beauty that is San Francisco. Keep in mind, we haven't gotten the opportunity to explore many areas outside of the west coast. Coming to Mexico, we knew that we wanted to travel as much as possible and get to know this country of his. This trip is allowing us to see eight new states in Mexico. Now some of the states here aren't as big as our west coast states in the US but they are all unique in their own right.
Something about Mérida though has captured José and he keeps talking about moving here and starting a dual language school. Spanish for those who would want to come down and stay with us for 1-4 weeks in an immersion type setting or local expats who want to improve their Spanish overall. And English for locals who want to improve their vocabulary and fluency to increase their ability to work in the tourism driven industries here. It would take a lot of time, money, and energy to start something like that and my heart just isn't pulled by that right now. It's all he can talk about though so I'm pretty sure that I'd better figure out when I can fit it into our future!

We stayed at the Hotel Ambassador which is just mere blocks from the downtown area and even though they raise the prices 48 pesos on the weekends, it was definitely worth it to stay a couple more nights. At some point in the last 2 days, the rear gate on the Cherokee stopped working so we weren't able to open it at all to get at our belongings. Instead we had to drag everything over the backseats to get it out, not fun at all! We asked around and found a mechanic only four blocks from the hotel and took the Cherokee over there. He determined that the actuator had gone bad. He didn't have the exact same one but was able to rig up a different model and go the lock and door working only, all for only 450 pesos!

We took the girls downtown to walk around and explore more of the city and its beautiful buildings. Our goal was to find the traditional Yucatan shirts with the embroidery on the neckline and hems. Eva told us to find the mercado so we asked around again and found it. There were tons of stalls full of shirts but you have to really work hard to find the good prices. There were so many beautiful things and I wanted them all but we were operating on a tight budget so I couldn't fulfill all my shopping desires. I settled on a black shirt with bright flowers. I would really love to get a dress and belt as well at some point in my future as a rich expat. We got a dress for Mia and shirts for both our moms and Erika. We have been looking for traditional and regional food to try out on this trip. In the mercado, we found a lady selling a version of Yucatan tamales (I think!). They were thick and heavy corn like the maza with a crunchy black bean in them. They were tasty but I'm not sure I could eat them like the traditional Mexican tamal because they are very heavy. We found lunch upstairs from the mercado and we ordered this green drink that sounded weird but was delicious and now I can't remember the name of it!! Can anyone help me here?
The girls spent the afternoons playing in the pool. They have informed me that they like playing at the beach but prefer the swimming pools because they don't get sand in their cracks or salt in their eyes and it's safer for them to play by themselves for hours. As an adult, I prefer the ocean for relaxing and playing in the waves but I can understand their point of view. My husband and suegra don't know how to swim so large bodies of water can be daunting and scary in general.

José and I took advantage of the in-house babysitter and walked downtown for dinner. We walked all over reading the menus and checking prices and entrees before we returned to the Dos Toros on our street Calle 59. We ordered a Parrillada for 2 and wow, I could have moved there just for the pork leg that they made. The meat just fell off the bone and melted in my mouth, like a food orgasm. And that was only one part of a huge meal with so many offerings.

We decided to stay an extra night on Saturday because the town had been advertising their event La Noche Blanca which was supposed to be full of events from 8pm to 2am. José and I left the girls with grandma so they could play in the pool and we walked to the Paseo Montejo where all the old buildings and monuments are located. It was a little walk over there but we planned on renting bikes as soon as we hit the Paseo because it's long! And right when we got there, we found the only bike rental place. Only 60 pesos an hour to rent a bike so we each picked one out. The sidewalks are quite wide and it was so awesome to ride up and down and stop wherever you wanted to take pictures. It took us less than an hour to go all the way down one side and back up the other. I think this has got to be one of my favorite parts of our vacation. I need to make a point to ride bikes more often with my family.
In the afternoon, we took everyone to the Parque Zoologico del Centenario. It is a combination park and zoo but it's free for everyone every day! This is a big deal to me because it shows that the town is more interested in taking care of their residents than the profit margin. We got raspados right before we walked in the gate and they are forbidden in the zoo for good reason so José sat outside the fence while we walked around inside. The girls loved the giraffe reaching up with its tongue to eat leaves and the baby hippo that stayed under water forever with its mama. After we wandered through the zoo, the girls went to go play in the huge water fountain.
After playing in the pool and having dinner, we walked downtown to explore the night time event. The streets were packed with people, the restaurants had pulled their tables and chairs into the streets, everything was peaceful with a great energy, and we enjoyed walking around. There are several parks scattered around the downtown area so there were billboards with the schedule of events and you could walk around and attend what appealed to you. Our only drawback was that we didn't know the names/locations to each place so we just wandered around and stopped when we found something interesting. The girls tired of it pretty quickly though so we walked back to the hotel around 11pm. José wanted to go out and explore more so he headed out by himself and had a great time. It sounds like all the good bands turned out to play after I went to bed!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 4 of the GMRT: Exploring Edzna, Uxmal, and Merida

The sun was shining right in our window this morning and we didn't have any great reason to lounge around in bed as the lack of an air conditioner meant the room was nice and muggy after last night's heavy rainfall. The girls gathered up all the shells that they had washed and laid out to dry the night before. We loaded everything up into the car and headed out for our first destination, the ruins of Edzná, just south of Campeche. Depending on traffic and road conditions and how long it took us to explore Edzna, we weren't sure if we could continue on to explore Uxmal as well or have to double back and explore it tomorrow.
I personally don't recall ever hearing about Edzná unless it was briefly in my Mayan history class that I took back in 2005 when I returned to school to finish my Bachelor's. I had posted a request for ideas about places to visit during our road trip and another expat had mentioned this place and it looked beautiful. I like to find smaller places that are off the beaten path because it's so easy to miss some places if you aren't aware of them.
The drive out to the ruins is a little two lane highway and sometimes you wonder whether you're going in the right direction or not until a random sign pops up on the side of the road and confirms you're not lost. When we pulled into the parking lot for Ednzá, there were only 3 other vehicles in the parking lot. There is thick vegetation and trees all around and you can't even see the ruins from where you stand. The path leads you into a thatch roofed building where we buy our two adult tickets for 48 pesos each and continue walking. The next building has several artifacts that have been removed from the ruins and set up for display. The girls started to run on ahead and then started yelling at us to come quickly because the path was blocked off. When we came around the corner, there were 4 large lizards standing in the middle of that path leading to the ruins.
We tried to keep track of all the lizards we saw but we lost count after the first hundred I'd say. The ruins at Edzná were beautiful and peaceful and I felt free to let the girls run all over up and down. We ran into another couple on top of one temple who were from France. She asked me in broken English if I wanted her to take our picture and then we reciprocated the favor. I think my favorite part about traveling is meeting other people. The hardest part about Mexico is the apparent mistrust of everyone so it's hard to really get to know anyone on our travels now. It was only about 12:30pm by the time we had finished wandering around Edzná so I decided that we'd push through to Uxmal before making our way to Mérida. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from Edzná to Uxmal via the "Mérida via Ruinas" route that was well marked. We crossed over from Campeche to the state of Yucatan, our 7th state of the drive now. There was a huge archway over the highway to mark the state line, very classy!
Uxmal is definitely a major tourist attraction for Yucatan. There are resorts and restaurants and all sort of businesses set up at the entrance to the park. We had to pay 22 pesos just for parking which has been a first for us on this trip. After parking, I went to the taquilla to purchase our two adult tickets. After handing me two tickets, the cashier told me to step to the next window and purchase two more tickets from the Yucatan tourism board. The state wants their money and the feds want their money too. Only this state chooses to charge extra if you happen to come from another country. The first cashier told me that I'd have to pay the gringo price without even asking if I happened to be a resident. I had a moment of confusion because the feds do not charge for seniors or children under 13 years of age while the state can charge for whatever they want.
I gave the two tickets back to the cashier and asked for a refund because I didn't have enough cash for everyone based on the incorrect information he had given me. I stopped to read the flyer that was posted on the wall between the windows and realized that he totally confused me. I'm a permanent resident so the price is only 73 pesos. The cashier was quoting me package prices that were like 183 pesos so I was lost. Anyway, only Jose and I had to pay the two fees and the whole family was finally in.
The ruins were definitely beautiful, no doubt about that. We walked up, down, and all around admiring the ancient civilization. It's fun to stand high on top of a temple and imagine where the people lived, worked, and played. It started raining on us while we were walking around the quadrangle of the nuns so we ducked into a doorway to escape as much of the rain as possible. Thankfully it wasn't the drenching rain that can wash you away, just a light one.
The wind started to pick up a little by the time we made it to the last of the ruins, the governor's palace. We were sweating from all the climbing up and down so it felt awesome to feel that breeze while standing on top of the world. There is such a sense of awesomeness and amazement at what was created here. I wonder if Jose's ancestors date back to the Mayans or what his lineage is. Mine weren't building anything as cool as this.
After Uxmal, it was a short drive north to the capital of Yucatan, Mérida. And the rest is history. José started walking up and down those streets and somewhere in there he just fell in love with the town. It isn't overpriced, it's not immediately on the ocean, the downtown is almost spotless clean(!!), and it's a safe town. Law enforcement is strictly handled by state police which make their presence known.
I guess I should mention that we followed the main highway into downtown. I had plugged the Best Western into our GPS since their website was quoting rates of 595 pesos. On the way there, I noticed a sign for 350 pesos and there we stopped. A five story hotel with AC, wifi, and a swimming pool so we decided to pay for two nights and see this town for ourselves. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner in the center and the whole family to a horse drawn carriage ride around town and it was worth every peso over our budget!
Our expenses for today were: 16 pesos for a bag of ice, 600 pesos of gas for 169 miles, 96 pesos for 2 adult tickets to Edzná, 22 pesos for parking at Uxmal, 118 pesos for 2 adult tickets to Uxmal, 146 pesos for tourism fees at Uxmal, 350 pesos for one night at the Hotel Ambassador in Mérida, 250 pesos for a horse drawn carriage ride around the historic center, 435 pesos for dinner for 5 at the Nicte-Ha restaurant downtown, and 68.50 for alcoholic beverages and FrosT's for the girls. Total expenses: $2101.50

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day 3 of the GMRT: From Villahermosa to Campeche

The only plan we had for today was to get from Point A to Point B, simple enough, right? Only this is the first time I've taken a vacation and not made hotel reservations ahead of time. We didn't have them on the move south but that was mainly because we didn't know where we were going to end up each night. Now I'm hoping that we can find cheap lodging in places that don't bother to advertise on the internet. We slept in a little bit this morning, all of 9am, and then it was rise and shine so we could get back on the road again.
We estimated about 5 hours for the drive so we decided to let some spontaneity enter our schedule, if by doing so we just don't completely negate the whole idea of spontaneity. Can you plan to not plan or is that an oxymoron? We filled up at the Pemex and headed out of town. The drive was supposed to take us along the coastline for the majority of the drive. Eva had told us to wait until we passed through Ciudad del Carmen and went over two long bridges before we stopped to look for a beach.

Today's lunch was peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. We stopped at the Bodega Aurrera when we reached Ciudad del Carmen and bought a couple bags of potato chips and lunch fixings for tomorrow. We try to eat cereal and whatnot for breakfast, some kind of sandwich for lunch, and then eat out for dinner in one manner or another.

After crossing over the two very long bridges that remind me of driving through the Florida Keys, I spotted a beach that had some sand and one other vehicle parked under a tree for shade. Jose of course wanted to keep driving and look for a better beach because the water looked brown in one area due to all the tree vegetation that was floating in it. We walked down to the beach and it was covered with millions of seashells so forget the water, the girls and Sara started walking along the beach and collecting shells. Let's hope there is not some national law against it that I'm unaware of. As it is, the car now has a lovely funky smell to it.

Next stop after the beach was finishing the drive to Campeche, Campeche; the 6th state we've visited on this trip. Remember, we have no hotel reservations so we do a quick google search to get an idea of where the hotels in town might be and we start driving towards the boardwalk. I pulled into a huge playground just across from the boardwalk so the girls could get out and play for a bit while I searched the web. And then what started out as a few drops of rain turned into a flooding deluge that filled the streets and then some. Jose was having to get out in the pouring rain and run in to check prices for a room. I think we asked at 5 different motels/hotels until we hit the budget jackpot. A double room for only $300 pesos and a secure parking space. There was no WiFi, AC, or cable TV but it fit our budget and that's all I cared about.

We hauled the campstove upstairs and I made a pot of Bear Creek Creamy Wild Rice Soup and we kicked back to watch the rain pour down.

Today's expenses were: 800 pesos for gas for 241.7 miles, 25 pesos for a bag of ice, 192 pesos in cuotas, 300 pesos for lodging, and 42.45 at the Bodega for one day's supply of snacks. Total expenses equals 1359.45 which still puts us over budget but not terribly.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 2 of the GMRT: Exploring Palenque

I learned the hard way that it's probably not the smartest thing to stay up talking until 5am in the morning when you are supposed to wake up at 8am so you can go explore world famous Mayan ruins. What in the hell was I thinking? I'm not 18 or 20 anymore, my children are! My body just can't function on a couple hours of sleep, much less driving around Mexico with potholes that can eat your front end and crazy ass drivers that easily turn a two lane highway into a four lane Autobahn. Since José also dislocated his shoulder at the gym a couple weeks ago, he's unable to drive here too because it puts too much stress on his shoulder. So little ol' me will be driving THIS COMPLETE ROAD TRIP!! Seriously, whose idea was this trip anyway?

I had a hard time dragging my butt out of bed but there was no way that I was going to miss out on exploring Palenque! It wasn't even on my original list of places to explore until Eva mentioned it. We followed them out in their car and us in ours. Last night I knew that I was running on empty but we agreed to fill up first thing this morning on our way out. Well the Pemex this morning was a little farther than the fumes in my gas tank took us so we ended up running out of gas and dying on the side of the road. Thankfully Eva and Hugo were able to drive up ahead and bring us back a few liters of gas in a large water jug from their car.

The rest of the trip out to Palenque was very uneventful which is exactly what I hope for every day! We had worried that it would be pouring down rain on us due to the thick cloud cover but we only had sweat pouring off our faces instead! I am not one to sweat by some freak of nature but I was sweating today. And it wasn't the polite glistening that my grandma used to refer to sweat as, it was bright red in the face and huffing and puffing up those millions of stone steps so I could reach the top. Palenque is huge!! I could easily have spent a whole day here if I didn't have an overheated 6 year old starting to break down due to an overload. We slowly worked our way back to the entrance, stopping by a stream so she could put cool water on her head which she didn't do out of spite.

I couldn't climb anymore after this one!

An iguana growing a new tail

Chiapas is a very beautiful state; lush and green and rolling pastures with some hills thrown in to break up the plane. If it weren't for the heavy humidity and heat, I would love to buy a piece of property here and build a finca and have lots of horses. We stopped at a Pollo Feliz on the way home and fed the starving family. José, Sara, and I shared a whole chicken with tortillas while the girls had chicken nuggets that were overcooked and dry and french fries. We all shared a pitcher of agua de limon. It wasn't as good as the one we've eaten at in Tlaxcala but the service was great. There was almost no one there but the servers were very attentive.
We got home at a decent hour and I went straight to the air conditioned bedroom to lie down and try to take a little nap. Unfortunately, the girls had other ideas and just thought it was jump around the room like monkey time. I told Mom that we had wifi during our stay here so we set up a Skype time to meet online and chat. Everyone was home there so we got to see Kara, Justin, AshLee, and Mom all at the same time. It won't be long before we're home for a long visit!

For dinner, I made the girls each a Cup of Soup that we brought with us in the food box while José and I walked with Hugo to corner taco stand a few blocks away to get some tacos. They had a special of alpastor tacos 2 for 1 so we got 16 tacos for the price of 8 and only 12 pesos each.

Our expenses today were: 15 pesos for two bottles of water, 40 pesos in cuotas (20 each way), 265 for a late lunch of a whole roasted chicken with tortillas, two orders of chicken nuggets and fries for both girls, and a pitcher of agua de limon as well as an additional tip of 17 pesos, there is a CONANP fee of 28 pesos for each person to enter the park so that was 112 pesos (they let us get off without paying for Mia since 5 and under is free), another 118 pesos at the ruins itself to get in, 20 pesos for two necklaces for the girls with a stone pendant of their Mayan zodiac sign, 96 pesos for dinner, and lastly a soda and bottled water for 20.50 pesos. Add in about 40 pesos for prebought food like sandwiches and cups of soup, snacks, etc. Gas to fill up the car at the end of the day was 517.12 pesos and we drove 178.6 miles today. Total expenses: $1260.62 (still slightly over budget with that damn gas expense in there).

Chiapas now joins the list as the 5th Mexican state that we have visited on our trip so far!


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