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, April 29, 2014

Project Life Tuesday

If you hadn't noticed by now or don't really know me at all, you might have somehow missed the screaming signs that I'm an addicted scrapper. And I don't mean scrap metal, I mean scraps of paper and photos. If I had to choose between my husband and my hobby, it would be a very painful decision but hey, at least I'd have pictures to remember him by!

This life in Mexico has finally given me what I have needed most; unlimited time to scrap with! I wake up and I start playing with my pictures and I come back to it all throughout the day. My second most important purchase was a huge table that measures 3 feet by 9 feet so I can set up my craft area. My wooden chair is a little hard for my bottom's preferences but I'm not going to invest in a big comfy chair or I'll never move from this spot. I'm sure my in-laws have got to think I'm a crazy white lady who spends all day on the internet because I do. They just don't know what I spend my time doing.

I used to scrap with physical materials; a big 3 ring binder, plastic page protectors, photos, and lots of little embellishments. One of the first things I accepted about traveling is that I won't be able to haul around the literal ton supplies that I own. I'm a shopper and I have a hard time controlling myself when it comes to shopping for my hobby. The little purchases add up here and there and ouch! So starting with my 2014 album, I became a digital scrapbooker. And now the pages are flying out of my hands faster than ever before. Why I just ordered Volume I, a 101 page digital scrapbook that only covers 14 weeks of our new life! If I were working in a physical album, I would still be stuck back in February I'm pretty sure. That's what happened to me last year, I fell off the wagon somewhere in June and managed to climb back on for a month in October before life sucked me in again.

Week 27 from my physical 2013 album
I am so proud of myself for actually staying current in my album. Right now I'm finishing up our week long trip to Guerrero, Mexico. The Project Life system was created by Becky Higgins as a way for people to scrap faster and get those pictures into albums because that's what it's really all about. I'm not a fancy scrapper by any means; pictures and journals and a little flair and I'm good. It is easy enough to get started with either version. If you're like me and computer literate, go with Digital Project Life. Start with a couple free templates off her website and you can find millions of freebies with a quick search on Pinterest.

Now that I'm just about caught up with my 2014 album, I made a promise that I'd drag out the neglected 2013 album, literally drag out as it weighs about 10 pounds, and start working in it so I can get caught up. I plan on taking that beast home with me this summer and putting it into storage along with all my other albums. From now, it's going to be digital all the way! Some weeks I complete a lot more pages than others but it comes and goes in flows. If I'm not feeling it, I just leave the layout open and walk away from it. It should never be a forced effort or that would just suck the joy right out of it. I started scrapping back in 1998 and it still enchants me as the very first day I fell in love with the hobby. Obviously others as well since it's a billion dollar industry now and still growing!

So here's a peek at what I've been creating this week, Enjoy! I got lots of pages done from our trip to Guerrero and started Volume II of this year's album!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Lifelong Book Worm

Borrowing a page from my friend Andrea and her top 10 favorite books, I realized that I don't have a particular favorite book as much as I have authors that I love to read. My favorites are usually series; they pull you in with the first book and then you're hooked until you've read the very last one. The worst part is when they publish each subsequent book years later and you're left hanging forever.

  1. Anne McCaffrey and the Dragonriders of Pern series
  2. Jean M. Auel and the Clan of the Cave Bear series
  3. Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander Series
  4. Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series
  5. James Patterson
  6. Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games trilogy 
  7. Dean Koontz
  8. Lucy Maud Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables series
  9. C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia series
  10. Roald Dahl
There are a million more authors that I love out there but these are definitely my favorites. I don't buy books very often, I am an avid lover of the library. I used to love walking up and down the aisles and randoming sliding out books and flipping open the front cover to see if it piqued my interest. Like my friend Andrea, I started reading at 3 years old and never stopped. 

I spent the majority of my childhood in Alaska. We sometimes had electricity but never running water. We never had a television until I was probably 16 or older. On weekends, we would tune into the public radio, if we lived near a town, and listen to a story read aloud. You would have to tune in every weekend or you'd miss those chapters and be completely lost the next weekend. When we lived in the bush, the Fairbanks Public Library would ship out books on your wish list. Our friend would pick up our mail and fresh produce once a month and fly them out to our homestead, sometimes bringing my teacher. 

For my 10th grade year of homeschool, I decided that I wasn't going to do any formal schoolwork. I was going to read. I was going to read 1000 books in 365 days. I started on October 31st and each week meant a trip to the library and I just read my way through, one book shelf at a time. I can easily read a 300+ page chapter book in one day, more if I'm left alone without distractions. Reading books allowed me to escape into another reality. We lived a very isolated lifestyle where we could go months without seeing another person. There were no video games or toys, just my sisters and I and our 36 sled dogs in the middle of nowhere. I would have this wild dreams about building a little house in the woods and lining all four walls with books, having a fireplace, and just living my life reading. 

Fast forward 25 years and now everyone in the family has the e-reader Kindle. We kept our library cards active when we left the United States so each week, we log onto the Deschutes Public Library website and we check out new books. Each person is allowed to check out 8 digital books at a time. You can have them for 7, 14, or 21 days at a time. No matter where we travel in this world, we'll still have our books with us. Much easier to pack up four Kindles than boxes of books. We did bring some physical books along with us but they are pretty special ones, the Adventures of Bella and Harry by Lisa Manzione. The books focus on two little chihuahuas as they travel the world with their owners and they are just perfect for our family. Give them a read and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Packing for a week long vacation

Color Coordinated Packing Cubes
I moved more than 30 times before my 18th birthday so packing comes pretty naturally to me. Packing up to move homes is a stressful affair; packing up for a vacation should be exciting and enjoyable. When I'm really excited about a trip, I start packing a week or two in advance. When I'm not that enthused about it, it's usually the night before, like tonight. Semana Santa began this week here in Mexico. School is out for the next two weeks, similar to Spring Break back home. The college level kids only have this week off so we're taking advantage of it and getting out of here. Only we aren't going on some fancy vacation to the tropical beaches or the big city, we're headed to Guerrero. José grew up in Zirandaro until he was 15 years old and then the family moved to Mexico City to find work. He was raised in the house of his grandparents and everyone lived on the same piece of land so there's never a dull moment and people are always coming and going. His grandparents have both passed away now but the tíos and tías and primos still remain so we are gathering everyone up this week for a Mexican Family Reunion.
Now back to my favorite subject of Vacation Packing. We used to throw everything into suitcases and backpacks and haul it around. That all changed one day when Talon over at 1 Dad 1 Kid introduced us to the packing cube. I have a Type A personality and I love organization. When I jumped online at packing cubes, I immediately went into shopping mode. Now each of us has our own set of assorted packing cubes in different colors. José has the Raspberry Red, I have the Eggplant Purple, Erika has the Grasshopper Green, and Mia the Peony Pink. I love that there are different sizes and they all have handles on them so the girls started using them as overnight bags when they went to Grandma's. It was easy to pack up the large size and take it with us if we went out of town briefly. Everyone got packing cubes for their birthday and Christmas last year as well so now I've got everyone hooked on them. Kara even said that it made packing fun and she normally hates it. They have lots of great sales as well and a rewards system so I also scored four rolling duffel bags in matching colors so that is what we travel with now.
Harvestmen aka "Daddy Long Legs"
When we get to our destination, I just pop the packing cubes into the dresser drawers and sit the bathroom one on the bathroom counter. As the girls wear their clothes, all the dirty clothes go straight into the large one so it's easier to grab the four bags when it's time to do laundry. Talon is talking about upgrading to the compression cubes but I'm not ready to invest in an upgrade to our system yet. We are slow traveling the world so we have the luxury right now of lots of space. When we jump overseas to Europe, we'll have to reevaluate our situation but that is still a little ways out. Even after three months here, we still use some of the cubes. I keep all of my undergarments in one and my bras in another and just slip them into a drawer. The girls do the same with theirs as it's easier to keep the drawers organized. The clothes come out of the bag when we're somewhere long term but it works awesome for the short term!

As part of my packing process, the girls realized that they didn't have enough clean underwear and shorts so I went out to wash a load of laundry in the dark. I took the flashlight over to the water spigot to see if our water had been shut off or not and I found these lovely creatures ALL OVER THE FREAKING SIDE OF THE HOUSE!! I ran screaming into the house and grabbed the bottle of Home Defense and sprayed down the walls but there were just so many of them. My daughter AshLee schooled me that these are not actually spiders but harvestmen. Either way, I was freaked out. These are the same harvestmen that crawl onto my bed at night and walk across my pillow and my body. José promised to call the bug exterminators when we get back. I'm a tough girl and there isn't a lot that scares me but I can't handle bugs on my bed!!!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Visiting the Local Doctor

The sunburn looks like freckles
Since we got back from our vacations this past weekend to the water parks, we took inventory of our internal systems. Traveling anywhere in Mexico is going to subject you to new bacteria and expose you to lots more people in the tourist areas. I was a little concerned about subjecting ourselves to three different bodies of water that aren't treated in any manner. On the last day, the girls played in the water for several hours and we forgot to put sunblock on their faces so they both ended up with a sunburn on their noses. Their faces are starting to dry and peel now.

Mia and I had diarrhea when we returned but it was Erika who ended up getting sick and running a fever of 102.4F on Wednesday. I could tell she wasn't feeling well when I caught her sleeping up on her bed during the day. This is my child who never stops so I knew something was wrong.  I gave her two chewable children's Tylenol that I had brought with us in the move. Prior experience has taught me to stock up on the children's medicines because they are more difficult to locate and the girls are prone to fevers to fight off any infections and bacteria.
Carrying Erika piggy back
Now I'm not the mother who runs off to the doctor every time they get a fever or whatnot. I let Mother Nature run her course and the fever burn off whatever infection there might be in her system so I don't get real worried unless it spikes over 104F or I can't break her fever after a day. I had to walk all over town looking for popsicles that didn't contain dairy products and finally found some for 17$ each which is a rip off. It would cost too much to drive all the way to Santa Ana or Tlaxcala so I paid the price and walked back home. Mia slept with José down in our bed and I climbed up and slept with Erika. I have always slept with the girls when either one of them is sick. It's easier to tell if they start burning up or throw up in the middle of the night and it is brings me, and them, peace of mind.
Sitting on the couch in the Dr's waiting room
Mia was running a slight fever on Thursday but it was so low grade that I didn't do anything for it, just kept both girls drinking lots of water to keep them hydrated. I have a hard time drinking lukewarm water after my year in Iraq. Our water bottles there were blazing hot from sitting in the desert sun and we didn't have any other option. Now, I like it chilled unless I'm running. Our fridge here is very tiny so I can't keep a water pitcher in there either. Instead, I send José up to the OXXO on the highway to buy bags of ice. The bag comes with four individual bags inside so we can fit them into the small freezer.
Sitting at the Dr's desk
Today Erika started complaining about red spots on her hands. I figured she had gotten into something and placed with it so I just told her to go outside and wash her hands really well without any soap to further irritate it. In the afternoon, she started to complain about them again and state that it felt like they were itching and stinging so I covered her hands with hydrocortisone cream and I gave her a benadryl to reduce any swelling she might have. Erika said her feet were feeling the same way so I treated them as well. My concern at this time was that she might have hand, foot, and mouth disease again but the symptoms weren't looking the same. She was crying with frustration and nothing seemed to be helping but the benadryl finally knocked her out and she slept for about an hour. When she woke up, she was fussy again and asked if I would please take her to the doctor. It was painful for her to walk on her feet so I carried her piggy back all the way to the doctor's office. We knocked on the door at 3:20pm only to be informed that the doctor wouldn't be in the office until after 6pm. So back to home we went.
José gets to carry her piggy back home
Erika relaxed on our bed for the remainder of the day watching TV and bickering with Mia. Physically she felt fine aside from the hands and feet. We walked back to the doctor's office at 8:30pm and were ushered into the empty waiting room. As we waited for the doctor, it slowly filled to standing room only. The culture here is more inclined to rush off the doctors at the slightest sign of a runny nose or fever. José has asked me numerous times if I was going to take one child or another to the doctor, urgent care, emergency room, etc. We waited for about 15 minutes before seven people emerged from his office and we were invited in. The doctor set Erika up on the cloth covered examining bed and checked her temperature, her throat/mouth, and inspected her hands/feet.
His diagnosis is that she must be allergic to something or have some kind of infection...He prescribed three different medications for her. 1. Laritol (Loratadina) which is an allergy related medicine like an antihistamine. 2. Penbritin (Ampicilina) which is your run of the mill antibiotic and 3. Flamozin (Nimesulida) which is another common NSAID pain killer. This isn't my first experience with the doctor so I was expecting a generic response/diagnosis accompanied by several prescriptions. All in all, everything cost 350$ ($27.24USD) for the visit and medicines. I don't know about you but I research every medicine that I put into my daughters bodies to look up side effects and what it treats in general. All of Erika's symptoms point towards a viral infection which isn't generally treated by antibiotics so I'm not going to start her on that regimen until we've treated the other medicines and see if they treat the symptoms. We are leaving for Guerrero in two days so let's hope this clears up quickly and she's back to her hyper self in no time!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 90: Three Months in Exile

Wow, I don't even know where to start. I've been wanting to write this post all week long but now that I'm sitting here, what do I tell you? A list of the goods and bads? Cry and whine and moan about my life in exile? Tell you about the tears we've all cried and how homesick we get at times? Maybe a little of all the above.

First off, the time seems to have flown by and it feels pretty much just like home. You turn around and your kids are growing up and you don't notice the passage of time. Time, it's very fluid here. I was a night person at home and I'm a night person here. The girls keep similar hours because we can. If I stay awake until 2am working on my scrapbook layouts or researching something, I can sleep in until 10am and it's no issue. José hits the gym early in the morning and he comes home. He's a morning person and he always will be.

We have settled into a routine now. Erika can hold a conversation in Spanish and Mia is right behind her. I can't even imagine how much they will improve over the next three months. We work on their school work in the afternoon but we don't wrap our schedules around it. They are already learning so much just by being in this situation. By becoming fluent in Spanish, they can test out of the first year of Spanish in college and save themselves hundreds of dollars in addition to setting themselves up for a higher paying job.

The girls don't really have many friends here. We've met one other American-Mexican family here in a similar situation but we've only been able to get together with them once. They are used to constantly having their friends over to the house and playing and it has taken a toll on them. They get lonely and homesick more often than they might otherwise with friends to distract them. Heck, Mom and Dad don't really have any friends here either so I get all of my interaction from the internet. Without Facebook, I'd be a goner.

I feel like I'm at a standstill in my life right now. We aren't moving forwards or backwards, just sitting and waiting for something to happen. That something is the United States Immigration. They played with our minds these last couple weeks. A big announcement about how they were going to reopen all the denied I-601A's from last year. Then a few days later we get text messages and emails that our case has been reopened and we'll be notified about a decision within 30 days. A few days later, we get more emails and text messages that our case has been denied again. An emotional roller coaster for José who doesn't understand the process and what each email means or what its consequences are. Now we are back to waiting for the official receipt that USCIS has received our I-601 waiver so we can begin the 6-8 month wait for another response.

In the meantime, I spend hours a day planning our next move out of this country. There are so many beautiful things about Mexico but I don't want to make this my long term home. I would rather stay on the move and explore the world than remain behind the 12 foot high concrete walls that surround our home. I've lost my freedom here and that alone is what kills me. Our next stop is going to be Guatemala this fall and we'll stay there until we can head overseas. I'm researching every possible program that will get us to Spain for longer than the 90 day Schengen visa. Right now our ticket is being able to either get a student visa and study there on my GI Bill or being accepted into the North American Language and Culture Assistant program. Come what may, I'm going to create a future for my family.

Monday, April 7, 2014

La novata

Shirah, me, Nicole, and Heather
 I truly feel like I am always caught between worlds and never fit into one or the other. While we were in the US, I couldn't fit in with the exiled spouses who were already with their undocumented spouses. I finally make the move to Mexico and I still feel like I don't fit in!! We spent the weekend out of town and met up with Nicole and her family in Queretaro on Friday. We had planned on making a chocolate and peanut cake that I found on Pinterest so Nicole thought it would be a great idea to invite over some other exiled wives that are in the area.
And there we were; four exiled wives who followed their husbands to another country. Four women who loved their husbands more than the great ol' U S of A. I find myself in awe of this group of women. All three of them have lived here for 7+ YEARS, given birth to their children here, and already been through every up and down in life that I can't even imagine yet. So here I am, the newbie, the greenhorn, the novata (novice). We are all educated women with two Masters and two Bachelors between the four of us. Definitely not the uneducated poor white girl who hooks up with a darkie because we have no self worth and need a man to take care of us. We are awesome and these women are my role models. In our world, you have to walk the walk to earn our respect because talk is just that, just talk. We've all reached a point in our lives where actions are the only things that matter. Don't tell us that you think our husbands should be allowed to live in our country with us, prove it with your vote. Write letters to your congressperson and representative. Show the world that there is a US Citizen face behind these stories of deporations and bans. A citizen spouse must certainly does NOT equal a visa and we are living proof of that. I feel so much stronger now knowing that I have the support and knowledge of these women to learn from and draw on in times of need and strength. For now, I'm sharing my stories and strength as the newbie to the group and helping other women make the same transition. I have my foot in both worlds...

And the cake turned out delicious!!! You can find the original recipe here: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
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