Monthly Archives: June 2015

I Swore I’d Never Do It Again, But……………………

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I Swore I’d Never Do It Again, But……………………

I have quite a few letters after my name already. Throughout the years, depending on positions applied for, I’d selectively include those on a resume. Once I obtained my CTesl at University of Manitoba back in 2010, I swore I was done. No more courses, certificates or degrees! But I just started an online writing course this past week with Duke University.

Why do this now? I have already published two books. The answer to this question is simple. I have a thirst for knowledge and I love to learn. Although I have taken courses in a variety of subjects ranging from Psychology to Economics, this is the first time I am actually taking a course in writing. There is always room for improvement in my writing. Additionally, After focusing on self-help books, I am now eager to try my hand at fiction, a genre completely foreign to me. 

Almost a year ago I joined a group on Facebook called An Author’s Tale. Created by an enterprising young lady from Texas, Cayce R. Berryman, this group has now swelled in number to more than three hundred aspiring writers around the world. I tentatively began submitting short prose and poetry. And I began voraciously reading the contributions of other writers. And I became intrigued with fiction.

My dilemma right now is just where to begin. Characters and plots are making my head swim. I need to figure out a way to organize all this. And of course the most sensational ideas always seem to appear in my dreams or at other inappropriate times when I can’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

I enjoy writing posts here on WordPress and try to write about a variety of issues, experiences and adventures in my life. I am forever indebted to Sean Roberts and Omar Ramirez who introduced me to this site and encouraged me in my writing. I’d also like to thank all of my followers and readers for taking the time to read my posts here on WordPress.

Buenas Noches from Mazatlan……………

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Kelsey

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Kelsey

It’s June 25th again. Twenty-two years ago today I baked Kelsey his last birthday cake. It was his sixteenth birthday. Yes I baked birthday cakes for my dogs. But I left off the icing. I don’t know who was more excited. My kids loved celebrating birthdays. And Kelsey would see me bake a cake without icing and he knew it was for him.

My husband and I had been in our first house for less than a week when I spotted an ad in the newspaper for apricot toy poodles. I had always wanted a dog. And now we had a house and a yard. It was time. So what if the sod wasn’t down yet, or if the fence wan’t built? Who needs a sidewalk anyways? Landscaping could wait.

I phoned my mother that day and by the time we arrived at my parents’ house, my mother had made Kelsey a little quilt and there was a dish with chicken for him. But she still chided me because we had just moved into our house and hadn’t unpacked any boxes yet. My reply was that the boxes could wait along with the landscaping.

Kelsey was the runt of the litter. He was this tiny lump of apricot fluff. He couldn’t manage a single stair, wasn’t in the least bit interested in being house trained at first, but he really loved the homemade meatballs I used to make him. Dog food? Yuck!

When he was a baby, I would take him to work with me. He slept most of the time on a blanket on my desk. I gradually began to leave him at home for small periods of time during the day. He was always so excited to see me when I came home from work. That tail wagged constantly and he would cuddle and give me dozens of kisses.

Kelsey loved ice cream, and he knew that he always got his own dish or cone whenever we went out. He also loved pizza. One night when we were eating pizza in front of the tv, Kelsey started barking loudly. He was our watchdog. He would announce the arrival of visitors before the doorbell sounded. So off we went to answer the door. But there was no-one there. When we returned to watch tv, there was Kelsey up on the coffee table having a grand old time with that pizza.

Kelsey was extremely intelligent and was house trained in no time. As he grew up, rather than stand by the door to let us know he had to go out, he would play the piano. As it would become more urgent, the speed and volume of the notes would increase.

His favorite toys were squeak toys. He chewed at them voraciously until the squeakers wore out. He also enjoyed chewing on small rawhide sticks.

I would often take him to visit my grandmother in a nursing home. There was a strict rule that pets were not allowed, but the staff all looked the other way. My grandmother’s friends would all crowd into her room to see the dog, and of course they always had treats for him.

He loved to go for car rides, especially when he could stick his head in the air conditioning vent. He enjoyed roaming around in our backyard and chasing birds. He would actually catch birds and bring them to me proudly displaying his prize. Of course I would immediately make him drop the bird and let it go. And he actually once even caught a rabbit in our backyard.

Kelsey sported quite a wardrobe as well. My mother made him cable knit sweaters for the winter and we also bought him T-shirts. We even bought him rubber boots, but he refused to wear those.

When my son was born Kelsey was very protective of him. He would sleep under the crib. When Kyle awoke from his nap, Kelsey would be tugging at my jeans long before my baby uttered a cry. When I nursed Kyle in the rocking chair, Kelsey was at my feet chewing a rawhide. As Kyle grew and sat in a high chair, Kelsey always waited for food to fall. And Kyle delighted in accommodating him. Kyle also used to throw his soothers to Kelsey, chuckling loudly as the dog chewed them up.

As Kelsey grew older he had some health problems. His hearing and his eyesight were affected. He became lethargic when kidney problems surfaced. And about two and a half months after that sixteenth birthday, it was time to say farewell.

Love you forever Kelsey, always in my heart.

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It’s Complicated……………Part 5

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It’s Complicated……………Part 5

Here we go again! If you haven’t read the first four posts of It’s Complicated, the Coles Notes version is that it describes the process I went through in order to obtain government health insurance here in Mexico. Back in Guadalajara, I was privileged to have Pedro Sanchez Bello among my students. Pedro is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee replacements. And yours truly had just had two of these procedures in Canada before returning to Mexico. Needless to say, there was an immediate connection.

When I told Pedro about the problems I was having obtaining social security, he insisted on accompanying me to the IMSS office to assist me. I was totally blown away by this generous offer, especially when it evolved into a two day adventure. This incredible man took two full days off of work to help me, and even came to the bank with me to pay the fees. I am truly blessed to have a friend like this in my life.

But I no longer live in Guadalajara. I have now moved to Mazatlan. This morning I went to the administration offices of IMSS on the malecon. I thought it would be a simple procedure of this is my old address and this is my new address! Que oso! This is Mexico.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my name showed up on the computer. I presented my utility bill with my new address. Luckily one of the staff spoke English and was able to explain everything to me. I was informed that I had to attend a different clinic due to the colonia I lived in. If I wanted to attend the clinic linked with the administration offices, I had to borrow a utility bill from someone who lives in this area. Otherwise I would have to go to the other clinic.

Ok, so I need to go to the other location. Not a problem. Easily doable on another day. But the staff went on to explain that I would be best advised to borrow a utility bill and attend this clinic. Their reasoning was that fewer people come to this clinic so the care is better.

Fascinating! Basically I want IMSS in place in case of an emergency. And I am still covered for that even though I haven’t changed my address.

Now I have a new dilemma. Do I borrow a utility bill and attend the clinic on the malecon? Or do I register at the other clinic? Decisions, decisions………….  

 

I thanked the staff for the their assistance and walked across the street to the beach. Ah, the comfort of the music of the waves and the feel of the hot sand beneath my feet.

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Wow! I Live Here Now!

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Wow! I Live Here Now!

I’ve been in Mazatlan for three weeks now. Temperatures have been hovering in the mid 30s during the day and mid to high 20s at night. It’s extremely humid here. Three hurricanes have barrelled up the coast with no significant effect.

Mazatlan is a much cleaner city than Guadalajara in terms of both the streets and the air quality. Because it is a smaller city there is considerably less industry to contaminate the air. The streets themselves seem to be well maintained and there is a great deal less litter on sidewalks.

I had to deal with an immigration issue the other day and had some time before my classes in the afternoon. I was only a block away from the malecon, so an Oxxo cappuccino in hand, I went for a walk along the beach. The surf was definitely up, due mainly to Carlos heading up the coast. This is the third major hurricane since the season began a short time ago.

I saw a man fishing and he actually caught a fish while I was watching. One of the beach peddlers walked by displaying jewelry. Another came by shortly after selling pails and shovels for kids. I had my hair up in a ponytail, but I really don’t think I look that young! But apparently he thought I needed some toys.

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I noticed several white flags warning people of jellyfish. One of the security staff at the hotel where I teach enlightened me on the subject of jellyfish. During hurricane season they wash up on the shore due to the strong tides. Unsuspecting swimmers as well as those strolling along in the sand are in danger of being preyed upon by these tiny poisonous creatures.

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I spent over an hour on the beach, fascinated by the rhythm of the waves and the sounds of them crashing ashore. I spent over an hour in contemplation of my life. The water is soothing and calms me. And I think about all the changes that the past few years have brought.

I have moved several times. The first move was Oak Bluff to Winnipeg. Next came Culiacan, Irapuato, Tlaquepaque, Winnipeg, Tlaquepaque and now I’m in Mazatlan. And I hope to stay here for a long time. Here is the house where I live now with a Mexican family.

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I live in Colonia Libertad de Expression. In a way it reminds me of Tlaquepaque except that there is no Jardin Hidalgo or Calle Independencia. There are small tiendas, taco and hamburger stands, grilled chicken and pizza all within walking distance. Mariscos are readily available but I have to pass on those due to allergies. There is a Kiosko across the street and an Oxxo a few blocks away.

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Along my street some of the businesses include a glass shop, a vulcanizer, a mechanic, a butcher, a tortilleria, a tool rental, a dress shop and a Tecate outlet. And that’s only in one direction. I haven’t ventured out the other way yet.

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I must admit that I rather enjoy the buses here. The men at the wheel do not drive like maniacs the way they do in Guadalajara. The buses are in much better condition. There is also a 10 peso air-conditioned bus that I took today for the first time. It also is in better condition than the Tur buses in Guadalajara. But I must admit that I miss the musicians and clowns that used to entertain us back in Guadalajara. But I spend mere minutes a day on buses rather than hours as I did in Guadalajara.

Because this is a large tourist area, English is quite prominent here. Although I do make a point of using my Spanish whenever I can, I must admit that I was quite excited about finding the Vineyard Church this morning and attending a service in English. I made some new friends and we all went out to breakfast after the service.

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Although I’ve only been here three weeks, I have seen a fair amount of this city and I look forward to exploring new territory. Mazatlan has much more to offer than beaches, restaurants and bars. I have already been back to the Centro Historico and look forward to revisiting the aquarium. There is a magnificent lighthouse here with hundreds of steps. For those of you who know me, you will understand the significance of a lighthouse in my life. So stay tuned for future posts from here in Mazatlan. 

Help! I’m becoming a computer Geek………..NOT!

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Help! I’m becoming a computer Geek………..NOT!

So here I am in Mexico with my spiffy new ASUS Transformer Notebook. I love it! Touch screen! Faster! Removable tablet so I can play Candy Crush comfortably lying down. I’ve mastered Seagate for backups and am using a USB hub. The compact size is another plus. Yes, my ancient Acer of the past three years is becoming a distant memory. Or is it?

At this moment I long for it……….slowness, freezes and all. I plugged it in and it charged. My battery never died. The hours we spent together………….sigh! Not one warranty problem ever! My ASUS  is a mere month old. And the battery will not charge! I am not impressed at all. I replaced the cable. That didn’t help. I spent hours messaging my computer guru back in Canada and we have been unable to solve the problem with files and programs. What ASUS has suggested on their support site just doesn’t work.

This afternoon I went to Office Depot with my laptop. The diagnosis this time was that the connection on my laptop is the problem and that when I return to Canada I should send the computer back to ASUS to be fixed under warranty. Uh oh! I live in Mexico. I’m not planning to return to Canada anytime soon. And anyone who lives in Mexico knows that sending it back from here is akin to throwing it directly into the trash can.

There is no Best Buy here in Mazatlan. Apparently no-one even sells it here so forget about any maintenance. It would probably cost more than what I paid for the laptop even if I could find someone to fix it. And my computer guru is still convinced that it’s the charger.

This is what I have decided. For the time being I will leave the laptop plugged in on my desk. No more Candy Crush lying in bed with the tablet. Yes, it’s a transformer. The beauty of being a laptop and a tablet……when it works of course. In October when I go to the Dominican Republic for my daughter’s wedding, I will have my computer guru give my son the proper adapter that I need and he can then give it to me. This is the simplest way. There is no such thing as guaranteed delivery of anything in Mexico.

But I want to tell you about my computer guru back in Winnipeg. Her name is Laura Bungarz. We met about five years ago in a university course for ESL. I was completely hooked when in mere minutes she demonstrated how to make a powerpoint presentation. And I could actually do it myself after that!

Those of you who know me are probably laughing by now. I am technologically challenged, or so I’ve been told. VCRs, DVD players, computers, iPhones……you name it and I can screw it all up. But no more! I now have Laura in my life and actually have found out things about my computer that no-one should ever need to find out.

Did I mention that Laura has the patience of a saint? After all, I am her favorite non-paying client ever. Just the other day she talked me through downloading zip files and changing them into regular files. She taught me all about my control panel. She had me do a BIOS update, not an easy feat to accomplish by any means. Yes, she did this from Winnipeg with me here in Mazatlan. She even made videos for me to make it easier. She speaks so clearly on the videos and her explanations make any process simple. It’s the next best thing to being in the same room with her. Of course, I do miss seeing her roll her eyes at some of the questions I ask.

I hope you will check out her website: laurabungarz.ca

And others have been so impressed with her that she was invited to record videos in California, so check out this link as well: lynda.com/LauraBungarz

Here is a pic so you now know what she looks like should you be so silly as to not check out the sites.

Remember: If you ever have any issues with technology, Laura is your woman!
As for ASUS, how likely am I to buy another ASUS product? Or recommend ASUS to anyone? Hmmmmm…………

Why Mexico? Why Mazatlan?

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Why Mexico? Why Mazatlan?

I am often asked why I keep returning to Mexico to teach. After all, there are dozens of other countries out there all over the world that are crying for English teachers. Mexico is definitely on the lowest edge of the pay scale. Flying to Winnipeg from here is a nightmare unless it’s snowbird season.

For me, the biggest attraction is the people. I have met such incredibly warm and loving people. They have welcomed me into their homes and included me in family celebrations. When I walk down the street complete strangers greet me with “Buenos Dias” or “Buen Dia”. When I get off the bus the driver comments “Que le valla bien”. If I’m eating in a restaurant other diners always remark “Provecho”. Smiling faces are the norm here. Children play together randomly in the streets or in parks. At night the streets are alive with music and the aroma of luscious cuisine from taco stands or barbecue grills fills the air. And there are the loud blasts from the bullhorns of the tamale trucks as they cruise through the streets. 

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My students are tremendously appreciative of the efforts of their Canadian teacher. They are respectful and eager to learn. They are kind and thoughtful, and always ready to offer assistance without my even asking. They have also taught me a great deal about Mexico, and so much about life itself. I often receive messages from some of my most challenging teenage students from years gone by who excitedly tell me that they are now pursuing a career in university. As a teacher, it is most gratifying to hear of their accomplishments.

Along with the people comes the culture. The Mexican people have a fascinating history and take pride in their ancestry. The holidays and traditions are rooted in family, and I have participated in some amazing celebrations. On Mexican Independence Day I attended the reading of the Gritto in Tlaquepaque and it was just the most awesome experience! Thousands of people crowded the square singing the national anthem and responding to the greeting. Bands played and fireworks lit up the sky.

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But my absolute favorite holiday is Day of The Dead. Tlaquepaque is renowned for its celebrations. Calle Independencia is decked out in colorful flags and flanked with altars and Katrinas. El Refugio has an amazing display of altars as well. The cemeteries are resplendent with flowers from the thousands of visitors as the joyfully celebrate the lives of their relatives who have passed on to another world.

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I have just moved to Mazatlan after spending most of the last four years in Guadalajara. OK, I admit it. The beach was the big lure. Another big plus is a much smaller city and commutes to work will be just minutes instead of hours. The air quality here is far superior. Hopefully the torrential rainstorms here will not be as frequent. The climate is stiflingly hot and much more humid. Sorry Jalisco, but I have always preferred the food in Sinaloa. Chata tamales and machaca ……..how I have missed you!
In Guadalajara I lived in shared housing. I am currently living with a family. My house is ideally located close to major bus routes and shopping as well as to the school. Tacos, hamburguesas, salchichas and birria are readily available from street stands. Unfortunately I have an allergy to seafood, so I must pass on the mariscos that are so popular here.  
My work experience here will also be a little different. In addition to the usual school classroom setting, I will be teaching on site to staff in a hotel. The focus here is more on conversation rather than grammar, and that blends well with my communicative approach to teaching English. And I am pleased that my students are all adults as this is the age group I prefer to teach. This is my classroom in the hotel.

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I am also delighted that I will only be a couple of hours away from Culiacan. I taught there when I first came to Mexico in 2010, so it holds a special place in my heart. I am excited that I will be able to see Juan, Lucila and my nietos more often. I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays and holidays together now that we live so close to each other.
I also fervently hope that my children and my friends might decide to come and visit me this winter. With the beach here, I’m certain that Mazatlan has more appeal to them than Guadalajara had.
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Why Mexico? Why Mazatlan? You really have to come here and experience it for yourself. I hope you do.

 

It’s All About Following Your Dream

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It’s All About Following Your Dream

Five years ago I came to Mexico for the first time in my life. I was on a mission trip with my church and we spent a week in an impoverished village in the San Rafael Mountains. This trip changed my life forever. And I knew in my heart that someday I wanted to return to this country.

A mere five months later I found myself on a plane bound for Culiacan. My CTesl in hand, the plan was to teach for a year and then return to Winnipeg. I taught secundaria at a private school and immersed myself in the Mexican culture. I began to learn a new language and discovered new foods. Shopping, taking buses and taxis, the process of obtaining a cellular phone, getting a prescription at a pharmacy…………. these were all strange and different. At times the challenges were overwhelming and I was often discouraged. My mantra was “You can do this Karen. It’s only for one school year.”

But something very unexpected happened. I returned to Winnipeg in the summer, but for only five weeks! I stayed with friends initially, as I had to find an apartment and a job. After only one week in Winnipeg, I knew that I wanted to return to Mexico. And when I was offered a job in Irapuato, I jumped at the opportunity.

Unfortunately the teaching position in Irapuato did not in any way resemble the job description proposed in the Skype interview. After a month with no contract in sight, I headed for Guadalajara where I had been offered a job in a language institute.

I settled into life in Tlaquepaque, a quaint Mexican town in the midst of the second largest city in Mexico. I enjoyed teaching and the months flew by. I returned to Winnipeg for six months to have knee replacement surgery. And I was more than ready to return to Mexico!

I  went back to Tlaquepaque where I taught briefly at a language institute. I then moved on to teaching Business English to companies on site. Once again the months flew by all too quickly and it was time to return to Winnipeg to have a second knee replacement.

I eagerly boarded a flight to San Diego and had a car service pick me up at the airport to drive me to Rosarito in the Baja California. I wanted ocean. But I was so disappointed in Rosarito. The element of the danger of living in a border town hadn’t really crossed my mind. The town itself was depressing. I couldn’t find adequate housing. There were no buses. There were more boarded up shops than open shops. The beach area was not nice at all. The sidewalks rolled up at dusk. This poor man’s Vallarta was not for me!

After a week I headed for the bus station in Tijuana. I enjoyed a spectacular ride through the mountains and arrived in Culiacan in the wake of a hurricane warning. I spent a few days with my Mexican family and then was once again on my way back to Tlaquepaque.

This time I stayed for eighteen months. I taught at a language institute and became somewhat of a grammar guru. I obtained my residente temporal and health insurance from IMSS. I jokingly told my friends that I was becoming a Mexican. I even have long, dark hair now and am suntanned year round. But alas I will never wear those high, high heels that are so popular down here. I treasure my new knees too much.

I returned to Winnipeg via Culiacan, Mazatlan, Sayulita, Bucerias, Puerto Vallarta and Calgary. Amazingly all this was within a twelve day period! And that was when I made the final decision to accept a teaching position and move to Mazatlan. And after five hectic weeks in Winnipeg, I was more than ready to return to Mexico.

Why Mazatlan? I discovered this magical place when I lived in Culiacan and enjoyed coming here on weekends. Mazatlan itself is much smaller than Guadalajara. It’s also much cleaner and has far less pollution. But the real lure for me is the ocean. Water is so peaceful and tranquil. I discovered this years ago when I visited my parents one winter in San Diego. They lived right on Mission Bay. And I often dreamed about living near water.

I have followed this dream for forty years. But it is only recently since my divorce that I have actually been able to live my dream. I realized that it was solely up to me to make this happen. And I did. I am now in Mazatlan, close to the sea. When I seek peace and solitude, it’s mere minutes away. I love the sound of the crashing waves. I love the feel of the ocean spray on my face. The sand beneath my bare feet is a heavenly cushion. And I am home.

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