Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thank you to everyone who commented yesterday. The Relocation Workshop is shaping up well.

People tell me that one thing really worries them about living away from their home countries. And that is: How will we celebrate our special holidays? They fear they’ll feel nostalgic because they’ll miss the joy that’s part of being “home for the holidays”.  

Our family, never has this problem because we celebrate every single one of the Canadian holidays here in Merida. Just as though we were in Canada. I decorate our living-dining room, put a wreath on the front door. On the back burner of the stove, I leave a cinnamon stick simmering in a pot of water. This way our house smells like Thanksgiving.

And definitely, we have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I love having helpers… because as anyone who has made the traditional meal knows, it’s a big job. I find it works really well to get most of the prep work done the day ahead. While I gather around the kitchen table with my crew, we peel potatoes, cut up veggies and make bread cubes for the stuffing. And we talk about previous feasts we have shared. Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, but for our friends and relatives who live here, it has become a treasured celebration. After sharing Thanksgiving at our home, quite a number of my son’s and daughter’s friends have begun the tradition with their own families.

Some of the ingredients are not available here. So when I visit my Canadian west coast family (usually in the summer) I fly back to Merida with a can of pumpkin for the pie and poultry seasoning for the stuffing. Cranberries are available locally, and I always have a few cans stocked in my pantry – just in case someone else buys-up every can on the shelf. I also go to the dollar store and pick up Thanksgiving favors and festive napkins.

I pack Christmas provisions too – more pumpkin, a jar of mincemeat for the second pie, and candied citrus peel for the fruit cake – At Christmas, there’s no need to worry about seasonal napkins or decorations though. The stores in Merida are flooded with them from September on.

As I write this post I am waking up from a delicious siesta and I know it’s time to get the rest of the food cooked. My table for 12 is already set, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. While they are enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine, each person will tell the rest what they are most grateful for this year.

Maybe some of them maybe feel a bit self-conscious, but they know it is important to be aware of our many blessings. Last year everyone felt thankful to no longer living with lockdown. That seriously curtailed our Thanksgiving and we all felt happier than ever to be together again. I wonder what my loved ones feel they have to celebrate this year.

There’s no question in my mind what my biggest blessing was. One night in the spring, Jorge woke up with a pain he’d never experienced before, and he had the good sense to ask me to drive him to the hospital. I won’t go into the details of all that happened next. But as you can imagine, his heart attack would have been fatal had we not made that two-in-the-morning dash to CMA’s Emergency room.  

Whether you are Canadian or not, today is a good day to give thanks. What are you most thankful for?

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The Mindful Adventurer: A Relocation Workshop in Yucatán

“I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference” – from the poem by Robert Frost

There are more new faces in town. Nothing surprising about that — Mérida is ever-popular with tourists. But I’ve overheard a few of the conversations and it sounds like some of them might be considering a permanent move here. And they won’t be the first, will they?

I was only 23 years old when I chose Mérida. I’d not been planning a move at all, but after just 18 hours here, unbelievable as it sounds, I met the man I wanted to marry. Happily, he felt likewise, and a year later, that’s what happened. It was romantic and exhilarating, but confusing too, because I could find no information about moving to Yucatán.

Nowadays, we have the internet and many sites bulge with opinions on the topic. But if you are new to the idea of relocating to a different country, you maybe wish you could gather the professionals you want to speak with in one room, and definitively find out all you need to know. 

If you are looking for answers, you’ll be pleased to know that Yucatán Magazine is sponsoring three relocation workshops in early 2023. This is exciting for me because I have been asked to coordinate the events. The weekend-long program covers issues I wish I’d been aware of way back in 1976. Several of my friends who also live here have suggested more topics to be included. The featured speakers and guides are all well-seasoned residents and professionals who will cut through the guesswork for you.

During the three-day workshop, you’ll receive an accurate timeline of all that’s needed for a move to southeastern Mexico. The logistics of shipping your belongings, finding a home to rent or purchase, getting a residency visa, and a lot more related topics will be covered amply. Such information will help to ensure that your transition proceeds as smoothly as possible. The two sides of living internationally – advantages and drawbacks – will be addressed. The discussions, presentations, and field trips are designed to be interactive and engaging. You won’t be confined in one spot for hours on end.

I will lead a seminar on the cultural differences and sensitivities you will likely encounter.

I often look back to when I left western Canada and moved to Yucatán. As I settled in, I realized it was unusual to meet people who were not native-born Meridanos. Intrepid archaeologists, tourism entrepreneurs, and a few federal bureaucrats seemed to be the only Mexicans from other states who settled in Yucatán. Only a handful of international residents were to be found. I didn’t meet another native English speaker until 16 months after my arrival. The day I spoke with Lynne – a California native – she was in a hurry to finish her shopping, and she turned to leave after just a few minutes of conversation. Honestly, I had to hold myself back from grabbing her ankles and not letting go. I felt starved for fluent conversation in my language.

Mexicans from other parts of the country have long-considered Yucatán an exotic place – almost a different country. The peninsula’s distance from Mexico City, the heat and humidity, as well as the mosquitos and other bugs, kept them away – until recently. Now that living in Yucatan is more comfortable, a huge number have taken up residence here. Canadian and American tourists did not use to consider Yucatán a typical vacation spot. And really, it was not too long ago that many of those living north of the Rio Grande didn’t even know where Mérida was located. Neither did they know about the beaches of Progreso, Chicxulub, Chelem, and Chuburna. But this is no longer the perception. Mérida is now well-known for its large and vibrant international community. As well, the services have been substantially updated.

The shift began when SECTUR, the federal Mexican tourism agency, started seriously developing Cancun, and word of the peninsula’s attractions leaked out. I worked for a Canadian airline in those days, and part of my job was to accompany travel agents and journalists on familiarization trips to up-and-coming destinations. On these complementary junkets, the groups toured hotels, saw the sights, and of course, wined and dined at top-rated restaurants.

I went with such a group for a week to Cuba. Later we traveled to Merida, but the folks felt exhausted. I helped them settle into their rooms, pointed out the hotel’s lobby bar, and then walked on my own through Merida’s Main Plaza. Even though it had been a hot afternoon, at dusk, cool breezes swept into the city.

Enjoying a Sunday treat.

It was Sunday; big families were out in full force. Throngs of darling, dark-eyed children chasing pigeons around the fountain waved as they ran past me. I clapped my hands and tapped my feet in time with the local band – made up of primarily elderly musicians – who enthusiastically accompanied a silver-voiced crooner. I knew right away that I had stumbled upon an extraordinary place.

In Mérida, the moon tips at a different angle than up north, and familiar constellations look higher in the sky. Fallen red blossom carpeted the plaza, reminding me of saffron. It had rained earlier in the day, and the tangy smell of rich earth lingered. As I’ve already mentioned, the following day I met Jorge Rosado, the man who would become my husband.

I admit we did not put much deep thought into my move. I did not read much about where I planned to be for the rest of my life. Nor did I bring many of the household items I could have. As I settled in, I began to understand that adjusting to life as full-time a resident of Mérida (not just a tourist bopping around) would be more than I had allowed myself to consider. I wished I’d been better prepared for it all. Cultural shock and homesickness set in for a while.

During my more than four and a half decades in Mérida, and especially in the past five years, I’ve met many new residents from all over Mexico, Canada and the U.S., parts of Asia, and Europe. A lot of them asked me questions about relocating to Yucatán. So many questions in fact, that I wrote two books on the subject.

In retrospect, many of my deal-breaker moments seem minor now, but at the time, they were humongous. Our little house tucked away on a quiet street in the García Ginerés neighborhood, was certainly sparsely appointed. Really though, I could manage without some material comforts for a while, but no toilet seat in the bathroom had to be remedied immediately.

There were also major challenges that are still hard for me, like driving. I did not want to drive in Mérida, not for anything in the world. I learned to ride the rickety buses, and all the shake-rattle-and-roll endured on rock-hard bus benches was preferable to getting behind the wheel. The traffic moved way too fast and erratically for my nerves.

Yet, after much cajoling, l did go with Jorge to get my driver’s license. He assured me the process would be a mere formality; I had a Canadian license, so I’d automatically get one from Mérida’s motor vehicles department. Ha – not so fast!

“You know I can’t drive a standard,” I hissed at Jorge while an officer escorted us to his parked VW bug. Reluctantly, I got in—the policeman beside me and Jorge in the back. I lurched and squealed around a few blocks, and when we returned to the starting point, the examiner turned to my husband and said sternly, “You have to let her practice more.” Then he smiled at me and said, “You’ve passed.” I felt shocked to have my license, and slowly I learned to navigate the streets. Not too willingly, but I did.

Right through the 1980s Merida had few international restaurants, and not much of the entertainment I would have liked. Shopping was limited and recreation facilities lacked infrastructure. But I did have a wonderful group of friends. We organized all sorts of parties and met regularly at one another’s homes. I believe a strong network of like-minded friends is essential when living in a country that is not your birthplace.

First-run English-language films have played in the cinemas ever since I started my life in Mérida. With sandwiches and snacks stowed in my oversized purse, we often enjoyed “dinner and a movie” in air-conditioned comfort. I particularly recall the night we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The Milky Way blazed brightly across the night sky as we exited the theater. I smiled and felt a bond with Richard Dreyfus’ character and all the others who’d been searching for something elusive all through the film. I squeezed Jorge’s hand when I realized that despite the challenges, I’d found my special place, thousands of miles away from the land of my birth. Increasingly, I knew it was the right one for me.

Looking back, I know I should have been more culturally aware, but not many of us are at 23, are we? The majority of those who relocate to Yucatan nowadays are closer to the age I am now – nearly seventy. For some, the desire for profound change creeps up over time, and for others, it arrives suddenly and full-on. When the desired change involves moving to a place with a warmer climate, many choose Mexico.

Just as I progressed through the cultural and linguistic maze, those who want to will do likewise. There are many helpful organizations and amenities in place now, so the stress I experienced and the isolation will not be significant issues for today’s newly arriving residents in Yucatan. However, the cultural differences will likely cause some confusion. The legal hurdles can also be daunting.

Investing in a weekend to learn about all the pluses and minuses of international relocation seems like a smart move. And it’s even smarter to do so in winter when the cold weather storms up north!

For more information, visit https://relocationworkshop.com/

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My Grandmother’s Wedding Bouquet

When we are young, few of us believe our most heartfelt desires will follow us far into the future. Some of our actions and decisions would best be forgotten, but my story today is not about any such thing.

It begins in 1917 when my grandmother Florence (who I always saw as a loving but no-nonsense woman) was wed to Joseph, my artistic, continental grandfather. Their union lasted until he died in 1958. But it turns out that Granny was not just being practical when she decided to marry him. In fact, she was an adoring and romantic woman who married the great love of her life.

He was born in the Netherlands in 1880 and apparently said he’d escaped “Cupid’s arrow” on every continent (including Antarctica). However, when his work took him to the USA, he met my grandmother, and eagerly relinquished his bachelor status. In a letter to his brother, he described her as “a passionate, spirited redhead”. And I guess she must have been.

He was 20 years her senior, and unlike most other young ladies of the time, she worked. In fact she was a legal secretary, and her employer was the President of Royal Dutch Shell in North America. Grandad worked as a geologist for the same large petroleum company, and along with his brother, he had been contracted to survey the U.S. central continental oil basin.

Granny’s parents did not approve of her dating a much older and more-worldly man. But apparently, she accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. When he arrived at the family home, he wooed both daughter and mother – with a bouquet of red roses for his date and a bunch of red bananas for her mother – The fruit was rare and it was her favorite.   

The courtship was a short one. The couple married at St. Mary’s Cathedral, on February 20, 1917 in San Francisco, California. Congratulatory telegrams arrived from the groom’s colleagues in East Africa, Borneo and Tierra del Fuego.

Granny created a wedding album that included a copy of their invitation, greeting cards and best wishes received, newspaper articles, photographs, and a list of gifts that arrived from all over the world. She also included private notes the two of them wrote, dried orchids and a silk cord from her wedding bouquet.

I felt moved and grateful beyond words when Granny gave me this album five decades ago. The flowers were intact, the photographs still glossy. But when I moved to Mexico in 1976, I gave the album to my mother for safekeeping. I worried that Yucatan’s humidity would destroy the seven-decades-old treasure. Mom in turn passed it on to my sister-in-law who has lavished it with care for almost fifty years.

Over the weekend my brother, his wife and I had dinner together and she returned the album to me. I felt overcome when I saw the little orchids, faded but definitely intact. I loved my grandmother deeply and I am so grateful to have this memento of her.

I feel inspired to make something similar for Emma, so that she too will remember me, her grandmother who adores her.