Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Update Part I of 3 -The Vortex, Housing, "Dry July", Weather, Fire and Bikes

The lazy and hot days of summer are here.  The kids have been out of school for a few weeks and since that time it seems like the "Vortex" has been seeing if we are still up to the challenge to continue our Adventure here.

Out of necessity and the fact that it is summer travel time, Ashley has been away busting her tail working in the States.  Her working a lot in the summer is not new but this year seems a bit more than usual.  This leaves the kids and I here on our own a lot more and for longer stretches.  July has been exceptionally dry and hot this year, and I sit here each morning drinking coffee with sweat rolling down my back starting before 8am.  We have been hiding from the sun most of the time rather than cooking on the beach since there is no relief to be found in the ocean.  In other words, hot, lazy and long days.  Many other parents who are still  in town are also already wondering "when does school start"?

In addition to the lack of summer activity is that we were given notice by our tenants in Park City that they would be leaving at the end of August.  Re-renting our house has unfortunately become a yearly event and a financial drain when you add up having the house empty for a time, travel back to Park City, maintenance items and cleaning just to get someone in there for another 12 months and then do it all over again.  Any money we gain on the rent evaporates at the end of the year when I need to go back and fix things up again.  A bad cycle.  It's a great mountain house but not a new place and needs consistent TLC to keep it working well and looking reasonably good.  I am trying to rent the place from here but I am at the mercy of the current tenant to show the home and have missed out on potential new tenants since I cannot be there in person to open the house up and show people around.

We have also been given notice by our landlords here that he will want our space here at Casa Estrella when he returns in November.  Our days at our sweet set up with the million dollar view are now numbered.  This has set us scrambling to find new place to call out own.  Like any popular destination, housing is mostly tied up in the rental market so full time rentals are few, priced high and you are in competition with many others in the same situation.  So, in addition to finding a new tenant in PC, I have been trying to find a new place for us here...and doing this without Ashley's stamp of approval.  Scary to think about.  I have been hovering at my computer for weeks sending out inquiries, making contacts and responding to housing questions for both houses.  I hate sitting here waiting for something to be resolved in either location.  Having a rental in this town would potentially be a very good investment.  Just point me to the local money tree and I'll get right on that.

July a has also been a time where some friends have concocted what has been called "Dry July".  Kicking back each day with some tequila, a few mixed drinks or a few cold cervezas is easy to do here since life on the beach just lends itself to that kind of lifestyle more than it did in Park City.  So easy in fact that sometimes you just have to say "I need a break".  So, many of us decided to call this month "Dry July" and not have any alcohol during the entire month.  Not an easy task when 5pm Happy Hour rolls around I assure you especially when I have been here sweating all day alone with the kids.  Some friends who were also having a "Dry July" just came back from Tequila, Mexico where they brought back some goodies to help celebrate the end of "Dry July".

10 Liters of Anejo Goodness-Phone for size reference
We came back from running errands one day followed by a large fire truck riding.  No lights or sirens but it was in a hurry.  He passed us and I realized it wasn't the town firetruck but from a neighboring town and the driver would stop and yell out the window for directions for what appeared to be an emergency somewhere in town.  Eventually, a guy on a motorcycle showed up and told the driver to follow and off they went.  The route to our place was in the same direction so we followed for a time and began to see the smoke plume in the distance.  I began to get a bit nervous since it was clear that the problem was in the same area of our rental and the summer had been extremely dry.  We got to our driveway an were able to see the condo complex below us had a fire in one of their palapas.   The fire crew had responded but the ash was being blown up the hill and covering everything.  Houses, cars, landscaping and other extremely dry palapas.  After a couple hours the flames and smoke subsided with the crew's efforts but we kept an eye out for flare ups on the hillside.  A little mid-summer excitement.

Fire At Pajaro De Fuego
My full time companion as a kid was my bike.  The kids were just starting to ride when we left Park City three years ago.  Alex was even venturing into some single track mountain biking at that time.  Sayulita is a tough location to have a little kid learn to ride a bike safely so we never really pursued the idea of getting the kids their own wheels.  Surfboards, skateboards, boogie boards and other things were higher on the priority list.  At the end of the school year a family was selling some bikes and we were able to get a bike for Trace and get it tuned up.  We were able to purchase one for Alex as well at a local bike shop.  The kids now have the first Mexico wheels and they love them.  The hitch is we go back over to San Pancho to ride them and practice.  San Pancho has a large flat plaza with quiet streets around it this time of year.  So, we've been loading up the Land Rover and making an almost daily commute to San Pancho to get the kids on their new rides.  They love them but riding the Plaza del Sol is starting to get boring so we try to invite school friends along to ride too.  I wish we had trail access like we had in Utah as the kids start to enjoy doing this and need to be challenged.

Ashley had two weeks of vacation in August so we decided to get out of town, try to beat the odds flying stand by on Ashley's flight benefits and meet up with her see some things Stateside.  More on that in Part II.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day Of School - Escuela Del Mundo - 2014

It is unbelievably that time of year again but we are sooo ready.  The first day back to school at Escuela Del Mundo Alex moves up a classroom with a new teacher and Trace is no longer the youngster in his class and now must be an example to the new kids and younger classmates.  He also will be without Alex in the same room this year and I know it will be a good thing for both of them.  The kids language skills are off the charts now so there should not be anything that will get in their way when it comes to having a great year.  Big kids now.

  In previous years at school we were the new family, had a language barrier or there was staff turnover that made things a bit unsettled.  There will be none of that and things feel different this year.  Even though there have still been some changes in personnel, they are not ones that effect the kid's classrooms or the way the school functions.  The teachers also have new equipment and training so we hope this year will be the best one yet.  We are still the exception as far as our attending EDM.  We live in Sayulita and we are from north of the border and most anyone who meets us assumes that we attend the private school in Sayulita.  There are not many families from the States or Canada at EDM.  A very small percentage.  We are very happy to have our kids experience school with kids a little less like themselves vs more like themselves and feel like they get a much bigger Mexico experience because of it. Looking forward to great things this year.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Alex' New Classroom Teacher

I just got out of a meeting with Alex' new teacher, Barbara, at our school, Escuela Del Mundo.  Alex is moving up to Taller II and will have a different teacher now that she will be in class with the older kids.  Can I tell how rad I think it is that our daughter will have a teacher with two lip rings, a "bull nose" piercing and skulls tattooed on her legs.  I am not sure why but perhaps it is a lesson in self expression in some way.  Alex likes her already.  What I am reasonable sure of is this would most likely NOT pass the Park City School District's classroom dress code/appearance guidelines for teachers back in her former school in Utah.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Promotional Flyer At Our Bank

I was standing in line at the bank a while back and this flyer was on display at each of the teller's windows.  Even if you can't read Spanish you have to agree that the message the image sends is just soooo wrong.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mexico Swimming Hole

The summer heat is here and we've been looking for some ways to get some relief other than just depending on air conditioning or fans.  A couple families we know recently posted some photos of a spot only a short drive from here that looked perfect to find some relief.  So, with some other hot and sticky friends and at least one person pretending to know where the hell we might be going, we set off to find what we hoped would be a cool oasis away from the heat of the coast for an afternoon.

Fortunately, this is a shot from the end of the day.  Storm was coming.
About 30 minutes out of Sayulita we made a turn off the main road, through a wall of lush vegetation, took a right at a fork in the road on a single lane jeep road and out into the fields we went.  No signs, no markers, no indication that what we were looking for was at the foot of these mountains.  A place you had to be told was there and directions on how to get to it since it does not exist on any map or guide.  A local's spot.  We kept driving down the dusty road for a while along side beautiful fields of pineapples and grassy open space.  Eventually, large shade trees started to fill in and we could see that the terrain was about to start up into the foothills and here is where we found our oasis for the day.

Our oasis.

Ashley, Amy and Michele.
After exploring upstream a ways to be sure we were not missing anything higher up, we settled down in an area that had a natural pool.  Lots of rocks to sit on and mostly in the shade.  The stream is fed directly from the mountains so it was cool and refreshing.  The humidity was much less here so it felt much cooler.  Slowly, the locals started to arrive and planted themselves in various parts of the stream to enjoy the day as well.  Everyone happy to be cool and comfortable for a couple hours. Very odd to be wet and not be sandy and salty from the ocean.  The kids brought their boogie boards to float around on and spent a good amount of time piling rocks up to make the natural pools fill just a bit higher.

Trace and Alex floating the stream.
At one point during the day Ashley turned to me and remarked that Dillon would have loved this.  He certainly would have and may have never left.  We miss our "good boy Dillon" and if we had known of this place earlier it would have been a regular place to visit so he could have just sat and enjoyed being cool and be by the water for a few hours.  A storm started to brew late in the afternoon so we called it a day and headed back to Sayulita only 30-40 minutes away.  Such a great spot to beat the heat and not one complaint from the chicos.  We'll be back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Quote From Another Adventure

I think Crystal says it well as I relate her comments to our own Adventure here in Sayulita.  She certainly speaks from experience as she has been on an Adventure of her own with her daughter for the past year and a half in Cozumel, Mexico.  I think we are agreed that this kind of experience ain't NO Corona commercial...but the rewards are incalculable.

"This is an amazing place that has the ability to humble you to the basement and watch how you crawl, all with the mastermind plan that the process will place gratitude and humility into your heart like never before, where it will stay for the rest of your life. The hard is hard, but the lessons and the good is far beyond excellent."

Crystal Blue

Read about her experiences at...

Sayulita Scenes - Nanzal Hill

Sayulita beach and Nanzal Hill...our "hood" in Sayulita.

Photo by Marcelo Moreno

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day 2014

My Father's Day present from our aspiring artist, Alex.  An original!  I love it!  She loves the new paints and canvases that Ashley and Grandmother brought her.  Apparently, if this does in fact show me surfing,  I have either wiped out or have ditched to avoid a "close out" and wasn't wearing a leash.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Immersion For Kids- Does It Work?

I sit here with our kids and a friend of theirs from school who slept over last night.  Their friend, Roberto, is Mexican and only speaks Spanish.  I drink my coffee listening to them have an in depth conversation in Spanish about "who knows what"(probably Mine Craft).  The level of Spanish they are speaking is too fast for me to understand very well so I continue to sip, sit, listen and shake my head in amazement of what our kids have accomplished in the time we have been here as far as their language skills go.

With our blog out there for others to read, I occasionally receive questions from parents who may not speak Spanish, are considering a move like ours and how their kids might fare learning a new language.  I cannot say how well or how fast someone else's kids will learn a new language and adapt to everything along the way but I can at least tell the story about what our kids' experience has been so far during our "Adventure".

First off, Ashley and I are not Spanish speakers.  Ashley took some college courses and I took German for 7 years but never actually used it.  Many expat families we know or have known here have at least one member with strong Spanish language skills.  This is not the case in our family.  In Kindergarten back in Park City, Alex was enrolled in a half hour after school Spanish program twice a week.  There she learned to say "Apple", "Dog", "Blue" and "Hello".  Not really a big head start.  We had a few DVDs at home as well but they really didn't hold the kids' attention very long and didn't cover much more than perhaps what Alex' Kindergarten level class did.

When we arrived in the fall of 2011, Alex was 6 and Trace 4.  We didn't know if we would be here all that long and couldn't justify the cost of tuition at one of the area private schools so the kids were enrolled at one of the local public Kindergarten/pre-schools.  The teachers and students there spoke virtually no English so all lessons they received were in Spanish.  Any early interactions our kids had there had to be done without the benefit of even being able to say "Hello, my name is.....".  Alex and Trace may have been the only north of the border kids to ever go to school there.  When you are new to any school, look different and don't know the language kids tend to be less than welcoming.  They took their "licks" on the playground for sure but to their credit they kept going every day.  Fortunately, after the first semester, the kids really started to be able to understand simple directions and phrases from their teachers and communication from some of the friends they were beginning to make.  I think they also realized that people really do speak in other ways.  At the beginning of the year it wasn't really something they actually believed or understood.  "People speak differently?"  A concept that took our kids some time to digest I think.  Once they understood that and continued to receive their daily lessons and communications in Spanish then things started to progress though slowly.  They began being able to speak in short phrases with their teachers and understand basic instructions.  For a kid, being able to understand the friends they were making on the playground was a big step as well.  Spanish was not some trick but a way that they would learn and make friends.  A beginning.

Alex was the first to catch on by the end of that year and was eager to show off her language skills any chance she got.  In just about any situation where Spanish was involved, she was there to try to translate.  It became a challenge for her and she loved it.  Trace, on the other hand, at only 5 years old at this time, was less than convinced that Spanish was a good thing.  After all, Alex was always there and could help right?

We decided to stay beyond our first year and decided to check out Escuela Del Mundo in San Pancho.  EDM is a Mexican Montessori school where only Spanish is spoken though the administration staff is bilingual.  Spanish for the kids in the classroom and administrators who Ashley and I can communicate with?  Sounds like a "win win" situation to us.  The twist on it was that Trace would be in a separate classroom than his sister for the first time and would have to figure things out for himself.  Alex had some bilingual friends in her classroom and was able to receive some help from them during the first semester but Trace was not so lucky and had to learn all on his own.  The first semester was a tough one for him as we saw some growing pains concerning his new situation start to surface.  The kids wouldn't play with him very much and he spent a lot of time during recess on his own.  From his teacher's point of view he was a still a model student in the classroom and fortunately he went to school each day without hesitation.  All Spanish, all day and it began to make a difference for him.

The second semester is where we really saw a change in Trace and suddenly he became the eager translator as Alex was.  They even squabbled about who was going to help Ashley or myself understand what was being said in the store or by someone speaking to us on the street.  When language started to click for Trace, then the socialization started to pick up as well.  A much happier kid and it showed during the rest of the year.  The kids at EDM are not kids who turn Spanish on during school and go back to English when classroom time is over.  They live, learn and play in Spanish since most of them are native Spanish speakers.  I feel this made such a difference in both our kid's progress in picking up the language.   Alex did great things in the classroom as well and her teacher let us know that she was even giving reports to the class in Spanish   What?  Our Alex?  The year ended strong for both kids, especially Trace, and we were eager to see what language progress the next year would bring.

This year at Escuela Del Mundo saw both kids in the same Montessori classroom and daily Spanish exposure has really ramped up.  They have even helped other kids with developing Spanish skills in class.  Paying it forward.  This has become the time where socialization has become a big part of the kids world not just in school.  It is one thing to go to school and speak a language for all or part of the day but when school is done and the kids have to continue using the language with friends on the outside then things really start to solidify.  After school activities, play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties etc were the norm now.  The kids were getting 6 hours of Spanish in the classroom each day.  At the end of the day they went on to play dates with their school friends who, for the most part, only spoke Spanish or on to after school classes taught only in Spanish.  The kids Spanish exposure would go on for days not just a couple hours in the classroom.  Here is an example.

Thursday School in Spanish:  6 hours
Thursday after school class in Spanish: 1 hour
Friday School in Spanish: 6 hours
Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon sleep over in Spanish:  24 hours
Sunday birthday party in Spanish: 3 hours
Monday School in Spanish: 6 hours

You get the idea with this example but this kind of thing goes on all week.  Not just a few hours in class.  Hours and hours of this degree of exposure among native speakers.  Our kids have had success picking up a new language simply because of the hours spent listening to it and using it.  They have had very little, if any, hand holding along the way.  Their classroom, their friends, most of their socialization is virtually all in Spanish these day.  No one sat them down and taught them "how" to speak the language.  They have been coached a little along the way and we have been told that Alex is somewhat picky about getting things right, but they did not grow up with it or have it at home in any meaningful way.  Could we have predicted that the kids would have survived this "swim or sink" education?  No.  If we had known the route the kids would take to get where they are now, would we have agreed to it?  Probably not.  Like many parents, we would have most likely underestimated our kids ability to adapt and persevere.  They have not only "persevered" but are now thriving in my opinion as I listen to them everyday.  They certainly have my admiration for what they have done and accomplished to this point.

I remember an encounter during our "Month In Sayulita" in March of 2011 before we committed to this "Adventure"  One day we ran into a pack of what looked to be "north of the border" kids at one of the ice cream shops and unexpectedly they all spoke to the woman behind the counter in Spanish.  They received their ice cream and ran off to the Plaza like it was nothing.  It was "nothing" for them to operate this way.   I still remember this as I stood there totally impressed as to how well these kids were communicating and hoped our kids would be able to roll like this someday.  Well, now they do.

Has there been a downside?  I cannot say that these are true "downsides" just yet but we have seen some side effects of our kids "Immersion".  Trace's brain has been processing two languages since he was 4 years old and had very little reading experience before leaving the States.  Though his speaking skills are strong in both languages, his desire to learn to read has not developed in either language.  His teachers have said it is normal so we continue to expose him at home but not with a lot of pressure.  He is catching on but when you see letters in a word that have multiple pronunciations depending on what language is being used I am not surprised he does not enjoy the idea of reading right now.  Alex, on the other hand reads and writes well in both languages and actually speaks better in Spanish.  Her brain processes slower in English but flows better in her new language.  Native speakers have remarked on it.  She even admits that she doesn't know how to say things in English though she could explain to you exactly what she wants to say easily in Spanish.  Interesting, unforeseen side effects for sure but not things that we don't believe won't work themselves out in time.

 Can we honestly say that "Immersion" has worked for our kids?  We believe so.  Can we pat ourselves on the back as far as the route we took to get our kids to this point?  Probably not but it wasn't a planned course to begin with.  We were recently told that a language teacher we knew said that "Immersion doesn't work".  We were surprised by this.  Have you spoken with our kids lately?  Well, it may not work for everyone but for our children it has given them a skill to not only live here more enjoyably and effectively but has exposed them to a whole world here that they would not have had access to had they not learned to speak Spanish.  They interact just as easily with English speaking people as well as native Spanish speakers.  Even locals who have known us since we moved here have positively remarked on the kids' ability to communicate now.   "Are they fluent?" one might ask.   Per the definition, I can say yes, they are "fluent" since they can "capably use Spanish easily and accurately" but are they 100%?  No.  But in another year or two, at this rate, I think they will take with them this skill that will positively effect their lives forever.  What a tool to have at such a young age!

Sayulita At Night - Sayulita Scenes

Photo by Evrim Icoz Photography

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrate The Beat

Celebrate The Beat came to the area again this year and Alex was finally old enough to participate.  What is Celebrate The Beat(CTB)?  You can read all about this great not-for-profit program by clicking the link above.  Briefly, in there own words:

Our Mission is to teach inspirational music and dance classes that help children discover their potential by motivating them to believe in themselves, to value artistic expression, and to develop a personal standard of excellence.

There is a lot more to it than this and you really have to see a performance to understand the results.  We were encouraged to attend one of these performances a couple years ago and immediately became one of our favorite events.  The staff from CTB goes to local schools and gathers kids of a certain age who are interested in participating in the program.  It does not matter if the school is a one room classroom or a larger school in a bigger town.  The kids are assembled and during the course of a few weeks they are taught some basic dance moves, choreography and then they join other kids from other schools for a large performance.  The kids perform identifying their school associating by wearing a colored T-shirt.

This is NOT some polished dance recital.  Some kids can really move and dance, some kids really can't but that's not the point of the program.  These kids are out there giving it all they have with only a T-shirt, a smile on their faces, the skills they have and the coaching they have received in the previous weeks.  The smiles and energy are contagious and the kids walk away from the experience for the better and so do those in attendance.

Alex watched from the sidelines the past two years until she was welcome to attend a dance class last spring given by the fantastic "Maestra de Dance", Colleen and her staff.  When CTB came around again this year, Escuela Del Mundo did not have a group of their own so based on Alex' participation last year in Colleen's class she was welcome to join a group called "Grupo de Excellencia" represented in orange.  She was the youngest participant in her group. This is where Ashley and I play the proud(and amazed parents) since Alex has not really had any dance experience.  She does not even turn on music and dance in front of the mirror or see dance on television.  How she understands movement, beat, rhythm, coordination and stay cool on stage performing is beyond us.  Ashley danced when she was young and I've always been active and fairly athletic.  I guess some of those genes have passed down to our daughter in some way because it has been amazing to watch her just go do it and do it well.  She loves it and that's what matters.  You will see in the video Alex' "wardrobe malfunction" when someone stepped on her shoe and she tries like crazy to keep going and pull her shoe back on.  Got to love live performances.  Can't wait until next year.  

There is more to the performance than this but these videos highlight most of the action that Alex' group was in.  If you are not into the Spanish introductions, you can forward past the first two minutes or so of Part 1.  Perhaps videos only grandparents will love but fun to say the least.

Part 1

...and part 2

...and part 3

...and part 4