Meet the proud new owner of Pure Play Kids!

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October was quite the month for me!  For those that missed the couple updates I did in my group pages, here’s the gist of it: I flew down to Nashville (from WI), on a Monday (getting in at 9:30pm instead of 1:30 due to a whole bunch of misfortunes), loaded up the 16′ Penske truck on Tuesday & got a few of the 12 hr drive outta the way. On Wed I drove the rest of the 900 miles & was home by 7pm. Thu we unloaded all the goods into my new office, moved by desk & other supplies from old office to new one (same building, just opposite side), drove the truck back to the drop-off spot an hour away, picked my van up at the airport & was finally home 

I’m so looking forward to updating the Pure Play Kids site which is currently down as I update the available inventory & tweak it to make it mine. I’ll let y’all know when the site is live, I hope I can count on your support by checking it out! Thanks to all who offered kind words of support before & during my journey, all of the thoughts, prayers & knowing y’all were thinking of me helped keep me safe, I have no doubt!

I wrote this while traveling, and wanted to make it an “official” blog post: A common theme I’ve heard when others learn of the journey I’m currently on is: Wow, you’re brave! Wow, you’re doing this by yourself? The elderly lady on the plane next to me: Where’s your Husband? Me: home with the kids. It took her awhile to process that…. In my life I have honestly never felt there was something I couldn’t do. Brave, naw. Independent, yes. I think it’s so, so important that we remind girls, and women, that we can do anything we put our minds to do. We don’t need someone to hold our hands. And as the Mama of 1 boy, and 1 girl, it’s also so important to remind our boys to be the support system us girls need sometimes!


I can attest to the fact that having the support of those close to us is also so very important. When I was having a super rough day yesterday (while traveling back from Nashville after a rough start), a timely message from my Dad telling me how proud of me he is, and how much he loves me meant so, so much. And my Hubby reminding me that being self-employed isn’t always a cake walk, but how proud of me he was that I was following my passion, and that I “got this”, meant so much.

Then, I officially became the owner of Pure Play Kids. I’m planning to slightly re-brand it to Pure Play Kids+, expanding it into more than *just* toys, and offering home & personal care goods as well. I truly am looking to make a one-stop shop for great quality, safe, made in the USA goods! It is an amazing feeling to be the owner of my very own small business dedicated to offering the finest made in USA items I can find. On my way back, I had an awesome dinner of BBQ ribs & brisket w/ fried okra at a place that has won 4 world championships for their BBQ meat. I made it to the IL border, and have 8 hrs left to go tomorrow. I will spend that time reminding myself how blessed I am to be doing what I love, following my passions, and having found y’all who share similar passions. There’s nothing we can’t do if we are determined to do it.

Here’s a ~6 min video I took of my new office space: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.brandt.3990/videos/10156753633319297/

 

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Nashville, oh how I loved thee…..

I had a chance to go to Nashville for a weekend, here’s what I loved about it…. Mainly: I love how they honor their long, vibrant history, while making way for their new history. The absolute best way to see the city- a trolley tour. I ended up buying the 2 day pass, it was $34 for one day, $44 for 2 days. You can get on/off at any of the 15 stops & spend as much time as you’d like there. So long as you’re back by the last pick-up of the day around 5pm you’re good to go. I felt like the trolley took the place for any need for a taxi/uber to get around the city as well. I feel like this photo shows the juxtaposition I’m trying to get at: old meets new…. I like it though! They say ~100 people/day  move to the city! Between the need for housing for them, and the need for hotels for the millions of visitors each year, there is a lot of construction!

Below, the iconic Broadway Avenue, you see a crane on the horizon just about any which way you look.

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above, the war memorial

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New hotel or apartments going up directly across from Ryman

 

Below: coffee dripping all day in the lobby of our hotel. They guarantee to deliver to your room within 10 min of your request, and they did!

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Room service coffee below:

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The city is so full of random gorgeousness:

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Above sculptures are in a round-about in the city center. The same artist sculpted Athena at the Parthenon. This display was the center of many protests for many months. Our trolley tour guide said he say church groups here daily for a long time, covering certain parts up with sheets, making large diapers. Finally it died down.

Random fact: Nashville is a MAJOR bachelorette/bachelor party destination. They estimate that income is twice that of all sporting events combined in any given year! You’ll see a lot of this:

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And some of this….

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They need to pedal to keep the alternator in the thing going, trolley dude said they often stall out & annoy all around….

Below: the only 1:1 scale replica of THE Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Nashville is known as Music City, USA. But also as Athens of the South. Why? Their #1 industry is health care. #2: music. #3: education. They shadow the same values Athens, Greece held near & dear centuries ago. The Parthenon was built during their centennial celebration, which you can read about here:

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Larger than life!

 

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40 foot, gold-gilded statue of Athena?! Yes, why not?

 

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Casts of what is left of the original statues in Athens, Greece.

My Hubby: well, I guess you can cross Greece off your bucket list now…. Lol 🙂

Below, trying to take in some authentic cuisine. I had lobster bisque, crayfish tail risotto, and duck empanadas (not sure where those are authentic to, but they sounded good & were). These were off the appetizer menu, I couldn’t eat even 1/2 of it, they don’t skimp on their portions!

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Below is an iconic Nashville spot. It was pointed out to us from a few blocks away on our trolley tour. The next day we went to have breakfast at Biscuit Love, a must-eat destination we were told. Well, the line snaked out the door way too far for my liking so we went to a juice bar instead, I had a green smoothie. But a block away we found this spot, glad we stopped for a quick pic!

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The State Capitol building sits atop a gorgeous, green, rolling hill.

 

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50 bell towers representing the 50 states, with 95 bells inside, representing the 95 counties in TN. On the hour the bells ring out an iconic song, and then the bell outside the Governor’s window up the hill responds with 1 ding.

 

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Again, just love the ‘old meets new’ feel the city has.

 

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Contemplating life atop a rooftop bar, my 1st ever Moonshine drink. My pal Dana volunteered to go fetch us a drink. I told her what i wanted & she came back with this bucket! I almost finished it, not quite 🙂

All in all, I had a great weekend. I’m a huge fan of slow travel, and believe you can’t really experience much in a few short days, but really feel the trolley tour gave us a great overview of the city’s rich history, as well as the opportunity to do some quick exploring. Within days of returning I bought concert tickets for my Hubby & I to go see our favorite band there for 3 nights over Labor Day. So yes, you can say the city made an impression on me, and I will be back!!!!

 

 

 

 

You Better Belize It!

When asking my Son last night, what he missed about Belize, he said… Belize. Indeed, it has a special place in the heart of each member of my family & we are already planning our trip for next year.

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I’m sharing personal stories & even photos of my children & took quite a bit of time to type this all up! Why? Traveling is so, so important to me & I want to share the experiences that made me value it more than ever with you. In hopes maybe I’ll motivate 1 person to get out there & see a new chunk of the world. Raising my kids in rural Wisco, cultural diversity is not something we are strong in. Books can only teach us so much about other humans & cultures, it’s going to visit & making connections & friends with others is priceless & extremely important to me.  I share experiences that aren’t your everyday experience here in Wisco. I’m also happy to provide more specifics for anyone interested in traveling to Belize. I did about a year of research before we went. Little-by-little, reaching out in various groups for advice. While the following is quite lengthy, it is a small fraction of my actual experience. I cherry-picked my most meaningful tidbits. But really, truly, it’s all the details that did not make the cut for this post that are absolutely priceless too.

Pre-trip planning: I started researching Belize almost a full year before we went. I booked our lodging in May, our airfare in early Oct. I’m extremely grateful to not suffer from anxiety except for 1 area: going to the dentist (I have a long list of reasons why). I have always LOVED to travel, and get so, so excited about it. This trip was the 1st ever that I had a few semi-major bouts of anxiety in the day or 2 leading up to us leaving. It didn’t help that we had a completely random, but quite stressful event happen here in Wisco on our own property, a car plunging into the frozen river in our front yard (all ended well, the couple was okay, but we all were quite shook up over it). Then there were the headlines that caught my eye: family of 5 from the US dies in charter plane crash in Costa Rica. Tourist bus plunges off cliff in Mexico, several dead. And I suddenly, and for the 1st time ever, 2nd guessed myself. What the heck was I doing putting my 4 & 6 year olds on a plane to head to Central America?! Was I crazy to think this was a good idea? What if we all died there, my entire family? I really, truly had that feeling for the 1st time ever that I did not want to leave my house. A day before we were to leave for 2.5 weeks. But I got over it. A: I’d been planning this for most of an entire year. B: it was all paid for, no way I was going to forfeit our expenses & stay home out of fear. C: the realist in me shone through: accidents can happen leaving our driveway to go the store to get gallon of milk. We never know when it will be our last day, and I sure the heck want to see as much of this gorgeous planet as I can before my time is up. And I’m so thankful & grateful to be home safe & sound, typing this up from the comforts of my own bed, able to reflect on our amazing trip. The thought of NOT going due to fear makes me want to cry, that is no life to live.

We spent 7 nights on the mainland with a rental car & did quite a bit of exploring. Then we headed to Ambergris Caye for 5 nights, and ended with 4 nights on Caye Caulker.

My 1st Facebook update:

We made it to Belize safely! Super long day, up at 4:30am, left Milwaukee 7am, got off that plane & straight on to the next one in Dallas (40 min from time plane A touched down, and plane B took off, they need to lock plane B 10min before take-off, so we had 30 min, which was plenty of time!). 6 hrs of flight time total, long lines to get through immigration, loaded up into a rental car, an hour & half drive & finally to our home for the next week. Kids have already hit the pool & we just hit happy hour for a tropical drink next to the pool. It’s only 75 here, a bit chilly everyone says 🙂 We’ll take it! It was zero & snowing & so drab & dreary when we left Wisco. I LOVE the vibrancy of the culture & landscape here. The drive from the airport to San Ignacio is wonderful!

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Our trip got off to the most amazing start when we found these ruins just up the hill from where we were staying in San Ignacio. We had arrived near dark the night before, after a suuuuper long day of traveling (up at 4:30am is never fun), but there we were, in Belize by 4:30pm! So 1st order of business day 1 was to find a grocery store. While checking out the options in town, we saw a brown sign that said Archaeological site so thought okay, let’s go check it out. This literally is on the edge of town, and I’m not joking we had the entire place to ourselves for an hour & a half. It was $30 USD to get in, we got approached & asked if we’d like a guided tour for $40 USD & politely declined. Little did we know we’d have the entire place to ourselves & the ability to explore all structures at free will!

My kiddos exploring as they liked. Until my Son SWORE he saw a scorpion scuttle into a crack in the rocks. They both stuck a bit closer after that!

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They are still unearthing many of the sites after they were reclaimed by the jungle when the Mayans suddenly disappeared. What happened to them is still a mystery….

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Plaza A:

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Our 2nd full day in Belize, we drove 6 miles up the road to visit some more well-known ruins, just 1 mile from the Guatemalan border!

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This community was built over the course of TWO THOUSAND years. And is just now being re-discovered. Some areas were blocked off with tin & barbwire, we overheard someone saying that area was waiting for the next digging season to see what was underneath. One of the tallest (likely the 2nd tallest at this time) manmade structure in Belize!

You take a hand-cranked ferry that can hold up to 4 cars across a small river to get to these ruins. This is me driving the rental we had for a week onto the ferry. Everyone but the driver had to exit.  So there I was, telling my Husband & 2 kids to get out of the vehicle, I’d see them on the other side. I honestly was a bit nervous loading up onto it, but it went very smoothly & the man guiding me into place said I was an excellent driver. There are very few people doing self-guided tours as we did, but I feel we had so many more fun experiences than if we’d hired someone to take us everywhere as many tourists do.  I thought the rental price for a week was quite reasonable, $600 included full insurance coverage. We had read that gasoline was expensive, but it wasn’t until we topped off our 1st ½ empty take &  it cost $90 USD that I realized how serious they are. No more belly aching about it being $40-$50 to fill my vehicle in WI if it is on fumes, it would be $100 in Belize. But being a small country, we only went through about a tank& half of gas in a week, and I was happy with how much exploring we did.

Waiting for the ferry!

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 The amazing thing is they’re still finding more Mayan ruins all the time! I developed a sudden desire to be an archaeologist. I think it’s a bit too late for a new career, so I’m hoping 1 of my kids will take it up & I’ll tag along… We can hope, right?!  I didn’t know I had a fear of heights until I was 26. I climbed to the top of ChichenItza in Mexico,  I knew it was a climb, and it was fine going up. But once I got up, and realized how high up it was, and how steep it was going back down, my knees started shaking & my heart started pounding. I couldn’t enjoy the view I had worked so hard for because my body was telling me to get the heck down from there as quickly as possible. So here I was, 12 years & 2 children later, and it was time to put my fear of heights to the test again. It was so, so refreshing & amazing watching my kiddos climb without fear. We saw ZERO other children here. Yet there mine were at the top of the world! It makes me so proud, yet it’s hard not to worry that they’re going to trip & fall & tumble to their death, you know, the brain of a Mom. I’m confident in their climbing because they have been going on pretty serious hikes with us since before they could walk. They are sure-footed, and I’m there to say go slow, go slow, a million times over. But still, there were some ledges a little too narrow for my liking. But, we did it. And it was amazing. I may have sprouted a few new gray hairs on this one thoug!

Let’s do this Mom, we’re waiting!

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You can pay $100+USD per person, per excursion to go with a guide, or you can pay $10/adult to walk into these places yourself (kids were always ½ price).

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Looking from one end to the other, breathtaking: yesn

Having all of that under our belt within 48 hrs in country, I truly felt how special Belize was! We had so many more days, as so much more to do!

Day 3: St. Herman’s Cave! Below is a photo of the entrance to the cave. You hike through the jungle for 10 minutes or so, along a trail, but that was fun in & of itself. Then down into the cave, then in. The sun was out that day & it was HOT! The shade that the jungle canopy provides is priceless, it seriously prevents you from feeling like you’re withering. And the cave, with a stream running through it, cool & refreshing of course! The stream turns to a river eventually, and you can carry a tube in with a guide & tube the cave/river & even see Mayan sacrificial skeletons that are preserved there along the way, if you want to. Many do, it’s a popular tourist attractions. We were able to hike several hundred yards into this cave with no guide. Motto of this trip: conquering our fears. For me= fear of heights, fear of caves. For the kids, they know no fear, and it’s refreshing! I worked hard to not let my fears come to the surface, but every now & then they would notice I was a bit worried or skeptical, and we would all say: be brave, be brave.

St. Herman’s Cave

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We followed our cave/jungle hike with a dip in the Blue Hole up the road, your ticket to Herman’s gets you free entry to swim at the Hole. So cool & refreshing! Had an interesting chat with a couple of expats who had relocated from our neighboring states of MI& MN, as well as a family visiting from Panama. I just love the variety of people we met at each & every stop we made!

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The  Belize Zoo. We’d seen it highly recommended from various sources, so wanted to check it out!

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Above: Not the clearest pic, but I so love this one of my girl. The zoo prides itself on not having concrete walls to keep the animals in, they do their best to provide as natural a habitat as possible, which means lots of chicken wire & various fences. It was definitely a fun visit! I loved their hand painted signs all over the place, many of them comical, it’s always good to laugh. We felt slightly sad after reading the sign that said their jaguar was on loan to the Milwaukee zoo, we were in Belize to escape January in Wisco, and this poor animal had to spend its winter there!

Below is a pic of a Howler monkey at the zoo, we did see some outside of the zoo too, at a preserve which I discuss below, and up the road from there at a place we spent 1 night.

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Getting around in country—Belize is a tiny country, and that is part of the appeal for sure. It is quite easy to navigate. We’re not smart phone users, so my Hubby purchased a Belize map update for our GPS via Amazon. This absolutely came in handy! There are 3 main highways, one going the hour & a half west from Belize City to the Guatemalan border, and another going north & south. Once you get off those main, paved roads, you’ll find yourself on dirt, pothole-ridden roads which are rarely marked, nor are the landmarks you’re trying to find.

Seriously, you’d think there would be a sign for Big Rock Falls off the dirt road, but no. You just have to know where to turn. The map says it’s 10 miles, and you’ve driven an hour & feel you definitely should be there by now. You consider, or do, turn around because you think you must’ve passed it. But 2 miles the other way you finally see a local who says no lady, it’s back the other way, you were close. Turn by the sign to Gaia resort (just a random example), go 2 miles down that dirt road & when it forks at the tree, stay right. You don’t want to drive your car too far after that, look for somewhere to pull over & then walk. And yes, we did find many great spots eventually, and if they were easy to get to, we wouldn’t have had them to ourselves as much as we did! Over & over we surprised people that we were showing up without a guide. Being self-guided has many advantages such as not having to be on someone else’s clock. But at the same time, they are soooo knowledgeable & I loved the couple times we did have a walkabout an area with a local. I learned SO much.

One cool place we randomly stumbled across while out trying to find some waterfalls was a resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola (Blacaneoux), he owns 2 in Belize & they’re regarded as some of the best places the country has to offer in terms of lodging & food. We stopped for lunch not having a clue about any of this, but when I looked at the menu I noticed the difference: salads with organic arugula & veggies grown on the property there. The menu was amazing & the food was excellent. The place is located above the falls we hiked down, and they run the resort off hydroelectricity they produce themselves along the river!

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It was a slightly treacherous hike to get down to the waterfall, slippery granite rocks, a less than maintained trail with crumbling handrails, but my kids didn’t skip a beat. As with so many places, we discovered that getting there early in the day makes a big difference in how many people are there. Having kids who get up no later than 7am & are ready to GO helps with that. So we had this place to ourselves for an hour or so then people started showing up. Once again, ZERO kids, zero families. The looks my kids got were always priceless, the adults did take note of these adventurous 4 & 6 (almost 7) year olds. They made me very proud!

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RIO ON POOLS:

Looked a lot like Northern Wisco. Granite rocks/ledges & even pine trees among the palms!

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The day after the falls (and we visited more falls up the road from here), we had a special day at the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Bermuda Landing, ½ hr north of Belize City & the zoo. I don’t think this is something that is on the radar of most travelers, but it was a special place for us to visit because it was created with the help of a man from my home town here in Wisco, way back in the ‘60’s. It started as an effort between 10 or so landowners, to preserve the habitat of the Howler monkeys. From our Guide we learned they were not baboons, just had been dubbed so by the locals, baboons live in Africa. Presently, ~250 landowners are working together to preseve the territory. The local guy who helped start this sanctuary passed away in 2017, he was in his late 70’s & was a very respected wise elder from my small town, so it meant a lot to me to go visit this place that he went to many January’s of his life! We arrived & were told we had to have a Guide, no self-Guided tours.  We were told our Guide was eating breakfast & would be with us shortly.

A group of 2 families from Denmark arrived off of a cruise ship with a tour guide of their own for the few hours they had free from the ship, and they joined us on our walkabout. There were 3 kids in their group, a bit older than my kids, I’d say between 8-12, and they knew no English so it was fun to hear their Mamas translate what our Rastafarian Guide was saying about the flora & fauna of the area. My Son spotted some iguanas & pointed them out to our Guide, gaining him some major bonus points. Guide explained how it took 7 years for this one troop of monkeys to gain his trust to come down out of the trees (the women & children at least, the males no!) & eat from his hands & those of the people with him. We also learned monkeys don’t usually eat bananas, it’s a stereotype, bananas don’t grow in the depths of the jungle, they’re short & get choked out by the competition. But once turned onto them, they do fall in love! We were done with our walkabout & our Guide presented my Son with a piece of aloe he broke off from a plant in the visitor center ( a small thatched hut), for some ant bites my Son had received. Our Rasta Guide says, what’s your name Son. Orion he says. The look on the Guides face was priceless, I’ll never forget it: MY Son is Orion, he’s 1.5 years old. It was a very special connection. He took my hands into his & said: Bless you Mama, bless you. He told me how he had studied the nebulas & Orion was the farthest unobstructed view into the sky that we are able to see as humans. Something like that anyway. I told him how throughout my pregnancy it was ever-present, no matter where we went & whenever we looked up, Orion’s belt was there. He pulled me in & again: Bless you Mama. It was so powerful for me to connect with this Man in this way!

I could not get over how lush it is everywhere, coming from the frozen tundra back home, where nothing is green, this was exactly what I needed to see:

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From there, we traveled a few miles up the road to the Black Orchid Resort, turns out, this was a special place for us…. My kids made a friend. It was so, so sweet. She gingerly approached my kids with her blonde-haired Barbie dolls.  They shyly tried to ignore until they no longer could…. She is the granddaughter of the owner of the Black Orchid Resort. She came to join us on the boat we had permission to fish from, I asked her: is it okay with your Mommy and/or Daddy that you’re here with us? She said: this is my Daddy’s boat! Okay, okay then I thought. She stuck with us & shortly thereafter, my Hubby handed her a  pole with a fish on it! She caught a catfish!! She jumped for joy at catching this fish. She hugged me over & over, she was sooo excited, said it was her 1st fish ever!

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On the islands, we spent most of our time being beach-bums, and it was wonderful! My Son & Hubby fished from the piers on a daily basis, my daughter can sit & build sand castles for hours on end! The color of the water is unbelievable, impossible to accurately capture!

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Below is a drone photo of the famous “Split” on Caye Caulker, a hurricane split the island in 1/2 in the early ’60’s!

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Below was one of our very favorite days at the beach. We were just lamenting the lack of kids, we saw very few as fellow travelers, and where were the locals? In school of course! Around 3pm the kiddos got out of school, and many local families joined us at the beach. It was so much fun!

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Building sandcastles, or burying an Ariel doll, is a universal language. One of these girls did not speak English, or Spanish, yet we didn’t need a common language to have fun!

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Nothing like laying on a beach & watch sailboats pass by, and knowing that it’s -10 back home in Wisco!

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FOOD: a few of our favorites: 

Garnaches! Photo taken from Google images. Small, round, hard shell corn tortillas topped with beans, shredded meat, a mound of cheese, pico de gallo (salsa), lots of cilantro. Yummmmmmm. These were so delicious, and as always when you eat as the locals do, these were one of the cheapest things on the menu, around $1.50 each. (photo below from Google images)

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Pupusas- our last night on Ambergris we were talking to a 70 year old man who had recently moved to Belize, from Iowa where my Dad & Step Mom live, so they did it off big time. He asked our dinner plans & we were going to eat up leftovers but he talked us into meeting him at his favorite local spot a few blocks away. He said the chicken soup was amazing & the rest of the food was great too. We got there & they informed us that on Sunday night they only offer Pupusa’s, a local specialty. They had just fired up the outdoor grill & were getting ready to make the 1st ones of the night. He assured us they were good & we should stick around & give them a try & I’m so, so glad we did! They’re basically like a Hot Pocket, but with corn flour dough. A native woman stood there & grabbed a ball of dough out of a huge bowl & patted out tortilla in her hands, then filled them with your choice of ingredients. My kids & I turned our chairs towards the grill & watched her make them,  and I made sure to remind them how cool it was that we could watch our food being made for us right in front of our eyes,  and I could tell it made her proud. We went for the mixed ones which had beans, pork & lots of cheese, I’m not sure what all else was in there, I just know they were so, so good. She patted on another tortilla dough ball to completely cover all ingredients then cooked it on the grill. After a while the cheese started to ooze out & the smell made us all hungry. Each plate had 2 of them on it & that was  the perfect amount, I was pleasantly stuffed. They offer it with a fermented cabbage kinda’ thing & some sort of red sauce, it wasn’t spicy, wasn’t Ketchupy, kinda blah really but that’s what all the locals put on it so we did too.

We were some of the 1st people there for dinner that evening,  but as time went on, the place filled up, and we realized we were the only non-locals there. I can say, this meal meant a lot to me. It’s hard to get a truly authentic experience while traveling, and I felt this was one. When we were ready to leave I wanted to thank the cook who made our meal & as I got close to her she dropped the Pupusa she was making from her hands & came over & pulled me in close for a tight hug & kissed my on each cheek. THESE are the priceless experiences that make traveling so, so important: connecting with other humans who we feel we likely have very little in common with. You realize that we have more in common than not. We’re both women. Mothers (likely, assuming she was, don’t know that for sure but good chance). We want to feed our family & friends good food. We want to have safe drinking water. We connected briefly over this meal, and it made my heart skip a beat. The bill for our meal was $40 USD, for 6 adults & 2 kids, with 2 rounds of beer & ice cream for the kids! So many meals in life are forgettable, and then there are those that are not. I will never forget my Pupusa experience. And I will be trying to make them myself soon!

I did not take photos there, but these taken from Google images look exactly like what I would’ve taken myself. Below, a Pupusa grill:

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Complete with the relish & mystery red sauce:

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Food shopping– I enjoyed shopping via different stops, I’ve found I appreciate it more when I work harder for it. It’s so easy to get used to the convenience of 1-stop shopping, places like Cosco have everything we need!  And I was shocked while staying on Isla Mujeres in Mexico last year that they had a super, super store to rival a Cosco, that surprised me, and yes, it was convenient.  You won’t find those in Belize. Even the largest Supermarkets we found were pretty tiny, housing the very basics. But I came to appreciate making several stops to get what I needed for the day. I walked 3-5 blocks from where we were staying on Ambergris to get 1-2 days worth of supplies, taking 2 empty backpacks with me. In just 2 blocks worth of vendors, I was able to stop at the meat shop for some ground burger or chicken breasts, and was surprised that they were very reasonably prices. Then to the bakery owned by French expats, where I picked up a loaf of bread, some buns one day, sweet treats another day, it was all soooo good. Then on the corner was the produce guy, with a huge selection of fruits & veggies. THEN my last stop was the “supermarket” to get our other meal items. They manage to have a little of everything, and thankfully my kids aren’t too picky, I turn to staples such as spaghetti, tacos, I did an excellent chicken alfredo one night. Comfort food basically, but different than back home based on what I was able to find. On the island #2, Caye Caulker, I asked for tortillas at the corner store. No, the Chinese storeowner answered. You get tortillas 2 blocks down, just past the school, you’ll see a small tortilla sign. And sure enough, I saw the tortilla sign, saw some ladies sitting outside, selling random items at a pop-up tent: I hear you’re the ladies to get tortillas from? Yes, flour or corn? Both. Come back in 20 minutes, we’ll have them. And sure enough, come back 20 min later & they are fresh & hot, they lasted us our 4 nights there: tacos, breakfast burritos, leftover chicken strips made into wraps. You name it, we wrap it! What you appreciate about shopping this way: I talked to a whole lot more people than I would’ve if I was at a huge shopping center, likely the cashier wouldn’t have even made small talk there. I think human connections are very valuable, and gained an even stronger sense of that. And I felt more appreciative of the food after schlepping it back to our home by pack pack. The harder you work for something, the more you appreciate it! I was very adamant about no waste too, even more-so than I am here at home, any leftovers got saved & re-purposed in a future meal.

We ate out every 3-5 days, and made it special!

Below is view while eating lobster ceviche & sipping a precious glass of wine. Wine is VERY expensive in Belize, they only make a cashew wine in country (I did not try it, should have, will next time). You can buy a huge bottle of Belizian Rum for $12, same size bottle of wine is $35.

lunchview

ceviche

THE UNEXPECTED:

AN EARTHQUAKE!!!! We were just a few miles north of Belize City, less than ½ mile inland from the coast when this stuck. My Hubby: that was a train. Me: we’ve been here 6 nights, when have you heard or seen a train? Not at all. It was an earthquake!!!

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In all the situations I ran through my mind of possible threats to my family while traveling, this one never crossed my mind & now I realize that it should have! Mainland Belize feels tremors from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico quite a bit. What was unique about this quake was it was offshore between Belize & Jamaica & it triggered tsunami warnings for the islands of Ambergris & Caye Caulker. This was the night before we went to Ambergris, and that was one of my 1st thoughts after the quake rattled our room: what if we’re on an island & don’t have anywhere to go?  What do we do? Is there a warning system? Suddenly, on our last night on the mainland, after my kids were in bed (the tremors were felt around 9pm), just before we headed to spend 9 nights on islands, I had a whole new topic to research, one I’d never considered! I talked to our night watchman & he assured me there was nothing to worry about this night, but he admitted he’d be worried if he were on an island at that moment. I have since learned this general rule of thumb: during an earthquake, get the heck out of the building. After the earthquake, get up as high as you can if there is a tsunami threat.

And sure enough, when we got to Ambergris the next day, it was the talk of the island. Just about everyone had a story about the tsunami alert. Everyone was tsunami “hungover”, tired, yawning, it had been a long night for everyone there. Many locals contended that the coral reef barrier would break up any huge waves into smaller ones, and something like what happened in Indonesia was not possible in Belize. Thankfully, after 2 rounds of tremors, no more were felt,  all tsunami warnings were canceled pretty quickly, and NO injuries were reported to my knowledge! But oh my goodness, I definitely had a lot of new thoughts racing through my mind: were these just small pre-tremors, was “the big one” about to strike? We never, ever know & eventually we just move on & quit thinking about it. But this Wisco girl definitely had a wakeup call & reminder of who is in charge, and it ain’t this Mama, it’s Mama Earth. In hindsight, being there were no injuries or damage, it was an exciting footnote to our vacation! And it’s something I hope to never experience again! https://www.breakingbelizenews.com/2018/01/09/7-8-magnitude-earthquake-shakes-honduras-felt-in-belize/

Scalping my toe. Yes, this is graphic, but let it be a warning to you if you travel, or if you don’t: door stops are dangerous! I had been up less than 5 minutes on Sunday morning, a week+ since we’d been in country, I opened the glass door to our balcony to greet the new day. And bang, did not see that doorstop there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lesson: bring waterproof band-aids/tape!

Near drowning: Woah, for those that remember the incident where those people went into the icy river by our house right before we came to Belize, just before we headed out on this trip. As if my Hubby didn’t have enough water karma, he saved a ~60 year old woman from drowning (possibly, hard to say someone else wouldn’t have saved her). Hubby & Son went fishing here on Caye Caulker around 7am (kiddo cannot sleep in past then, feels he’s missing something). By 8am they were back, both wide-eyed with a story to tell. The woman was getting pulled out by the current towards where they were fishing. She had greased up with sunscreen so was very slippery & not able to cling to the pilings she was occasionally coming across. She managed to make her way over to the wall they were fishing along, right along the split here on Caye Caulker. She was yelling for help. She made it to the wall, and he was able to reach his arms down & barely reach her. Her: I’m all covered in sunscreen, you can’t possibly pull me up… While she did get all scraped up from being drug up along the concrete wall, he pulled her to safety. She was very shaken up….

Weather: Variable, cloudy was slightly chilled. You definitely don’t want to go in the wet season, which is ~March-August, but the dry season is, well, dry! All the dirt roads kick up dust. When we rented golf carts on the islands, we ate dust.  And we did notice the effect on our respiratory systems, blowing our noses every morning, slight dry coughs, nothing serious though. The one day it did rain, our last day which was kinda’ a bummer, those dry clay roads turned super slick, like ice almost, so either way, the roads are treacherous, walking or driving! Highs were in the 70’s-80’s most days, but it was cloudy most of the time, which we appreciated! When the sun did come out full forced, it was SUPER intense, made you feel like you were withering up! Compared to what we were dealing with back home, we knew it was paradise! But I will be bringing some medium/heavy weight long-sleeves next time!

weather back home in Wisco:

weather

 

CHALLENGES

Bedsharing- This is a challenge anytime we travel. At home I share a king size bed with my 2 kids, Hubby has his own king. Kids have dubbed our bed “paradise”, and we all know how kids are about routine. So stepping outside of our bedtime sleep routine is always a challenge. I wasn’t willing to do it when they were still napping, but now that we’re post-naps (we did have 2 out of 16 days traveling),  we make it work. I rearrange the room wherever we sleep, 90% of the time. When there is a choice of bed/rooms, I look for the one that largest bed and/or the one that is pushed up against a wall. If it doesn’t exist, I’ll rearrange myself to make it happen, which is possible most of the time. Then I’ll move some furniture to block off the other side, end tables, etc make excellent barricades from kiddos falling out of bed, I know in the coming years they’ll be transitioning to their own beds/rooms, then we’ll need even larger homes to keep us comfy. I’m okay with us just needing 2 decent beds at this time, it works for us! Especially in a foreign land, they depend on the fact that they can wake up & Mama is right there. If not, I’m in earshot should they awake. Myself, I woke up several times & had that: where am I feeling? I remembered I was in Belize & fell asleep with a smile on my face. NOW, since I’ve been home for a week I can say: every, single night, I have woken up wondering which bed I am in… I know this will fade soon.

CAR SEATS: My kids are 4.5 & almost 7. I decided on the Bubble Bum travel seats— and honestly, I’m not a fan. They just do not seem that secure. And both my kids complained just about daily of their butts being sore from the car seats. We did do quite a bit of sightseeing, but they were never in their car seats more than 2 hrs tops before getting out & doing some hiking or some sort of activity. The top shoulder belts definitely moved around.  While I as the driver was as careful as I possibly could be, it’s the other drivers we need to worry about. And indeed, we had someone pass us, meet oncoming traffic, have to take the ditch, meet oncoming bicyclists. I will be bringing more proper car seats for my kiddos next year, for sure!

FOOD: While I may gripe about the prices of organic food back here in Wisco, I was paying more, for less, in Belize. It pretty much was survival mode, organic was a secondary factor. Several times while out exploring in our rental car with our windows down, we’d get a whiff of that unique RoundUp smell, if you’ve smelled it once even, you won’t forget it, it is nasty! Most of the brush clearing we witnessed was being done the old-fashioned way, with a machete, some were using RoundUp…. So for us organic food loving folks, this is a challenge we face while traveling for sure. I did see an occasional USDA certified organic product, but they were very few & far between.

WATER! We appreciate our well water more than ever when we travel away from it. I LOATHE buying water, and am able to avoid having to go that route most of the time. But in Belize, just like in most countries, you do not drink what comes out of the tap. In Belize, most tap water has been chemically treated with chlorine, so it’s relatively safe to brush & shower with,  but all drinking water & rinsing of all veggies, etc  is with with bottled water. Every place we’ve stayed at least has 1 full 5 gal jug to get you started. Some places will keep you stocked for free, others make you pay for whatever you need after that 1st jug. It was $2.50 USD for a 5gal jug. And being used to our mineral-rich well water, bottled water is so sterile tasting & I’m just not a fan of it. But we have no problem getting by on it. It definitely makes rinsing sandy lettuce & cilantro more of a chore when you can’t just run your tap water over it. But it truly makes you realize how much water you’re using & conserve its use as much as possible.

To further the not taking water for granted topic, we got home & discovered our grey water drainage field leaving the house had frozen up while we were gone. We still had running water, and could still flush our toilets as this was on a different system, but could not take a bath, do dishes or laundry without it baking up into our utility room. It took my Hubby a day to get it thawed out, just a minor inconvenience, but again, put things into perspective for us!

Random tidbits:

Tooth fairy—My Son lost a tooth in Belize! It was so fun. It had been loose for quite some time & we had discussed the scenario several times: Mom, what if I lose my tooth in Belize? Will the tooth fairy find me? What would she bring? Would we hold onto the tooth until we got home for our tooth fairy? Finally, after days of dangling, it came out. Kinda’ crazy story that it happened while he was sleeping. I got up to go pee in the wee hours of the morning & he sat up & said: Mom, my tooth is out, it was in my cheek. He was able to spit it out! We briefly discussed what to do & since it was close to morning I suggested we just hold onto it until the next night, so we could write her a note & present the tooth properly. That gave me a chance to write him a note the next day, in Spanish, stating the following: Of course I will find you wherever you may be when you lose a tooth. Here are a few dollars for you to buy yourself something. Love, the Tooth Fairy. She left ~ $5 Belize/$2.50 US in mostly coins under his pillow. It was sooooo cute to see/feel him wake up in the middle of the night & feel under his pillow! Of course he was up extra bright & early that morning (6:30-7 is his normal hour, it was 6am that day) to see what happened.

Violence in Belize—I got the question many times: is it safe in Belize? My response: Is it safe in Chicago? It all depends on the part of the country you’re in! Petty theft is your greatest concern. If you leave something outside overnight, there’s a good chance it will be gone in the morning. Most of the crime takes place in Belize City, at night, among the locals. All sources of info advise you to make sure you don’t find yourself in Belize City after dark, just as I wouldn’t want to be in certain parts of Chicago after dark. You fly in there, then you get the heck out. The fishing boat captain my Hubby went out with told him his brother had his throat slit by a woman he owed drug money to, and it was a small amount of money. There is definitely a huge drinking culture, and that’s where most of the trouble comes from: bar time, you invite your new friend to your place for a night cap, you pass out eventually, you wake up the next day missing your purse.

One plus to having young kids is we’re generally in bed by 9pm, and that keeps us out of a lot of trouble. Still yes, random acts of violence do occur in Belize, but as we all know they can occur anywhere! There was only 1 time both my Hubby & I felt uncomfortable with the locals. The place we stayed on the mainland for a week (San Ignacio) had a river running through it, just a few blocks from where we were staying. My Hubby & Son were so eager to do some fishing, Hubby hauled a bunch of gear down & wanted to put it to use. We saw locals frequenting the river banks on a daily basis, and one day decided we should stop & let the kids splash a bit & maybe do some fishing.  We had to cross the 1 lane bridge over the river to get to the place we were staying. As we were approaching the bridge& thinking of pulling in, we saw a group of 4 men, appeared to all be 20something’s, and we seemed to lock eyes, and they did not seem friendly, Hubby & I got the same vibe. Hubby said: go to the other side, let’s not go near those guys. So we went to the other side & chose the outer edge, giving the other locals that were there room. We got out & the kids were exploring the river banks, ready to start digging in the sand & building a castle at the very least. When suddenly we noticed those guys pulling in over by us. Immediately my Hubby said: kids, get in the car. I reiterated, YES, get in the car now, don’t even buckle up, just get in. And they knew it was serious. The dudes got out of their car as we were getting into ours, I locked the doors & immediately started driving away. They walked into the tall vegetation of the outskirts of the river.

It lead to an important conversation with our children, one I’ve tried to avoid, but is necessary eventually: not all humans are good, most are, but not all. And that we trust our gut & our heart. Both Mommy & Daddy’s gut said the same thing: get outta here NOW, we don’t 2nd guess that. Other than that, there was not 1 second that I felt uneasy in the presence of those around me. The people of Belize are so, so, so genuinely kind from the bottom of their heart, it restores your faith in humanity.

Mantra of life in Belize: Be brave. Go Slow. Relax. Enjoy your day. Life is good. And it felt so, so good to do just that, take it slow. I don’t wear a watch nor keep a phone on me, and clocks were rare to see. Time was loosely based on where the sun was in the sky, we didn’t have to be anywhere at any time, and it was exactly what I was looking for.  This sign hangs on the fence of the house we spent our 4 nights on Caye Caulker at.

goslow

Conclusion: We fell head over heels in love with the country, the people, the culture, all of it. I could go on & on, but this is already quite lengthy so I’ll leave it with these tidbits. We cannot wait to go back & hopefully spend twice as long. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures! And I hope you’ll share yours with me!

Below is our GPS tracker showing us where we went in country. We hope to go back next winter & do the north/south corridor, and spend even more time on Caye Caulker!

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Heading back into Dallas, so gorgeous!

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You better Belize it… We will be back!

Adventures in traveling south of the border with my family, viva Mexico!

I’m fresh back from almost 2 weeks in Mexico! Some of you travel a lot, so this is no big deal. My Hubby & I traveled quite a bit before having children, and I’ve really, really missed it. I flew with my Son a few times while he was under 2 still, to visit family here in the US, but have not flown since. My daughter who is 3.5 has never been on a plane. So I was more than ready, but quite nervous. There are so many things that could go wrong. All the what if’s kept rattling around in my brain. Traveling from WI in January is always a risk. But, I decided to trust the Universe that everything would work out, and it DID. It went better than I ever could’ve imagined, and I’m so, so glad we went!

My main goal was to get somewhere warm to make ½ of January disappear quickly. It’s a long, cold, boring month here in WI. I was tempted to go to FL as there are plenty of nice beaches & warmth to be had. But I really wanted to get us out of our comfort zone a bit more. I wanted to expand my kiddos world view beyond the horizons of rural WI. We have very little diversity here in terms of different skin colors, languages, etc. and therefore I need to make efforts to expose them to the larger world around us. Some of you know, but many aren’t aware of my background: my degree is in Spanish Education. As I said I enjoy traveling & I really loved learning Spanish in college and knew I would have a chance to study abroad if I majored in it. I was fortunate to be able to spend 10 weeks in Costa Rica living in an apartment & studying advanced Spanish 4 hrs/day as part of my degree. I finished 6m of student teaching in 2 local schools, received my degree to teach K-12 Spanish in public schools, and then immediately learned I was pregnant with my Son. I still planned to get into the workforce, and applied for many jobs, but didn’t land any that coming school year. My Son was born in March & I still thought I’d get into teaching that next Fall. But, once I had my Son I realized I did not want to leave him. I had always felt that if I had kids, I wanted to be the one to stay home & raise them, not have someone else do it while I worked. So I stayed home, turned down several jobs that they were calling & begging me to fill. My Son is about to turn 6 years now & I have not used my degree in a public school setting at least (have done some tutoring), and I do not intend to.

Living in rural WI, I have very little opportunity to use my Spanish, and as they say if you don’t use it you lose it. So I really wanted to throw myself into situations where I could use it. I knew traveling to FL would not give me those opportunities. I’m happy to report it came back quickly & I received compliments over & over on my ability to speak which made me very happy. My kids loved hearing me speak & my daughter soon started speaking gibberish & saying: Mom, that was Spanish. Now that they’ve had the tiny bit of exposure I plan to keep with it. I had been regretting not teaching them from day 1, something I had intended to do but completely failed at. My Mom was born in Germany & although she has lived in the US for 40 years now, is still a fluent speaker. She never taught us a word in German & I told myself I would be different, but I had failed. Those of you who speak other languages, please pass it on, it’s a great gift!

I know a lot of people dis Cancun as being way too touristy, but there is a reason people from all over the world flock there. The beaches are AMAZING. The water is gorgeous. It is not far from anywhere in the US: it only took a little over 4 hrs in the air from Milwaukee, WI (on 2 different flights). And there are many very culturally significant Mayan ruins in the area. Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the world, and for very good reason.  There are palm trees, coral, shells, iguanas, it’s another world compared to WI, and that’s what I wanted. I was there ~10 years ago with my Mom & Sis. I was in my 3rd semester of college at the time & it helped cement my love for the Latin world & propelled me to decide on my Spanish major. On this trip, I waited too long to book our day trip to Tulum, and it was all full so we didn’t visit any ruins this time. I know we’ll be back, and that the kids will appreciate them more in a couple years, although I know they would’ve left quite the impression on them, they are remarkable!

We were definitely the minority being from the US. We met a LOT of Canadians, they really like to travel! And they’re very friendly. We were having lunch at a small luncheria one day & the place was pretty full but we had 2 empty chairs at our table. A middle-aged Canadian couple approached & asked if we minded if they sat down for a cup of tea with us. Of course we couldn’t say no & we chatted over lunch. One thing I found out about traveling with kids is we had a lot of empathy from others. I heard over & over: ahhhh, I remember when our kids were that age, now they’re grown, cherish this time, etc….. We had many helping hands along the way, many kind & understanding gestures, it was refreshing. And one of the things that warmed my heart the most was my kids made friends with non-English speakers. At the 1st place we stayed at for 4 nights, my Son befriended a Czech boy. His Dad worked for a major bank so traveled all over the world, but they chose Cancun for vacation. The Dad spoke some English, but the boy & his younger brother spoke very, very little. Yet the kids played for hours each day.  They swam together, built sand castles together, laughed, and I thought they were both going to cry when they gave their goodbye hug the day we left. Yet very few words were spoken. And to me there is something so powerful in that. Same with a Japanese girl they met on the beach. She was there with her parents, I saw her eyeing up my kids who were digging in the sand & building castles. I held out an extra shovel they weren’t using & she shyly accepted it & came & started digging with us. An hour went by and we built a super great creation together & again, very few words exchanged.

As we all know: there is no place like home. And traveling out of country or to less developed areas of our country even, definitely gives a greater appreciation for what we have. My family lives quite simply & modestly. We have a 1400 sq. ft home, only buy things we can pay for, etc. Going to a place in which many people live in extreme poverty, in which you cannot drink the water or even brush your teeth with it gives me such extreme gratitude for my safe well water. Except for the super fancy resorts, you generally never flush your toilet paper in Mexico. There are garbage cans next to the toilets & you’re supposed to put your paper there, their septic systems cannot handle it. My kids easily adapted to this, but again, it gave me a great appreciation for flushing paper again. There are vast, significant differences between the lives of us here and there, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, we have more in common than not!

On packing: I felt I did a really good job. We have 1 huge suitcase that is at the max specs for not being charged for oversize, and it weighed in right at 50# so we didn’t have to pay more than $25 to check it. I felt I was packing really lightly for each of us, and I was, but X4 it adds up quickly. But still, we had plenty of clothes & not any that we didn’t need. My daughter brought 1 doll, my Son 2 of his transformers & his stuffed rooster that he takes everywhere, but other than that we had 1 small backpack with art supplies, maze & other activity books. One small backpack with snacks & water, my purse, my Hubby’s manpurse with his tablet, and that was it! The 1st aid essentials I chose to bring were: Josiah’s Oils Germ Fight Blend which I applied to all of us several times/day, Bach’s Rescue Remedy, Nux Vomica (not sure the brand, I get it at my co-op, but I SWEAR by this for upset bellies), Poofy’s Everything Salve & After Sun Spray, Traditional Medicinals Elderberry/Echinacea tea, and that’s it really. I used everything I brought.  We all stayed remarkably healthy the entire time. In the beginning my Hubby had a bit of a belly ache, nothing major just was feeling bloated & not so great. Me: here, take some of these nux vomica tabs, they’re amazing. Him: no, no, I’m fine (as he rolls around in bed trying to sleep). Finally I hear him take a couple of them & drift into sleep shortly afterwards. The next morning: wow, shortly after I took those I felt much better…. Classic! So the entire time we were in Mexico that was really the worst of any belly aches any of us had, we truly stayed healthy. On the way home we flew from Cancun to Denver, and although we had a 2 hr layover which I thought would give us plenty of time to get through customs, etc, we barely made our connecting flight. We had all of 10 min before our next flight was leaving by the time we got to the gate, and the kids were starving. The only food in sight was McDonald’s right next to the gate. My kids have never, ever eaten McDonald’s in their life, they don’t know what it is. But we went for it, the next flight was 2 hrs long & didn’t get to our destination until 9pm, and we were out of snacks. We got a chicken nuggets meal & a cheeseburger meal for them, cheeseburgers for Hubby & I & ran on the plane, sat down exhausted & chowed down. I’m not joking that within ½ hr of eating that crap food, we all had our 1st upset stomachs of the entire 12 days we’d been traveling. My Son suddenly said: Mom, I have to go to the bathroom reallllly bad, and there was someone in both of them on the plane, and I truly thought he was going to soil his pants. All of us were running to the bathrooms. I’m sharing this because I think it provides great insight as to why so many Americans are so sick, it’s the food, I will never eat there again, nor will my kids as long as I have a say.

My thoughts on all-inclusive vs not:

All inclusive (El Cid for 4 nights)- The things I liked about it: it was at the end of a dead end road about ½ hr south of Cancun. It was very quiet, there was no street noise, no barking dogs. A bit of hooting & hollering here & there but mainly all I heard every night was the sound of the wind through the palms & the waves crashing! I liked that there was a huge, very nice pool with a small water slide & a bigger one for older kids including a cliff jumping area, my kids were still too young for those activities.  At their age the ocean is a bit much for them, and being winter in Cancun means a lot of wind, so the ocean was not calm at all. I liked that I didn’t have to cook a single thing for 4 days! There were 4 restaurants as well as a huge buffet that was constantly changing. What I disliked: We over ate. I saw sooooo much wasted food & I’m very sensitive to that, I absolutely hate it. But we’d go to breakfast, then a few hours later it was like: let’s go see what’s for lunch. Even though we weren’t really hungry we’d try a dab of this & that & have a plate full before long. And I just saw so much wasted food. My hope is that they do something with some of the waste…  And it was quite expensive, but considering we didn’t have to spend any money the entire time we were there other than a tip here & there, it didn’t seem so bad in the end.

View from the balcony of our all-inclusive:

balcony

Non-all-inclusive: We spent 7 nights at a quaint, very traditionally decorated, lovely villa on Isla Mujeres, just north of Cancun. It was 1/3 of the price/night of the all-inclusive, but suddenly I was responsible for all meals again which I hadn’t really missed. My Dad & Step Mom joined us for an overlapping 5 nights, and had their own room near us which was nice. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is always an interesting experience. Our 1st day there we went out for lunch then I asked where the supermercado  was & got pointed in the right direction. We found a corner convenience store & I was a bit worried that was the place. Nope, there was still somewhere bigger a few blocks down, phew. I got the basics there: coffee, fruit & some veggies, 1st night’s dinner & next morning’s breakfast. Then the next day someone pointed me to the SUPERmercado. I took a taxi without the family & spent a good hour+ cruising the aisles for our week worth of groceries. There were familiar names like Johnsonville, Sargento, many organic offerings, and even canned cranberries from WI! The island is only 5 miles long by ½ mile wide, so very small. The natives all use mopeds or bikes to get around, the tourists rent golf carts or take taxis which there are tonnnns of. There is a constant whir of golf carts, long into the night, and this actually was a downfall in my opinion. Back home we live on a very quiet back road that gets hardly any traffic, so the street noise really bothered me while in our room, especially at night, that and barking dogs.  The place we stayed at was a marina as well, and it was fascinating to hear the stories of those docked there. We met people from all over the world. My kids befriended a 7 year old Australian boy who had the most amazing accent, I wanted to listen to him talk all day long! He lived in Australia until he was 5, and they’ve been docked there on Isla Mujeres living on the boat for 2 years now! The kids played so well together and again, I thought they were going to cry when saying goodbye, he asked if we could please stay longer. Other than being too noisy for me,  it was a nice home base for the week, and our days were mainly spent at the gorgeous beaches on the north side of the island, building castles, collecting shells, relaxing.

The beach we spent a lot of time on in Isla Mujeres:

playa

Shopping in Mexico: I’m not a shopper. I prefer online shopping vs malls, get most of our clothing handed down or via garage sales/thrift stores. Shopping in Mexico is overwhelming. At 1st, haggling for deals can be fun, seem rewarding & be a bit of a thrill. But for me, it quickly got very old. Example: I pick up a gorgeous dress for my daughter at the 1st stop, ask how much it is & am told $35. Ok, see ya I say. Wait, Wait, how much you want to pay? I never pay more than $20 for any kids clothes I say, which is true, they outgrow them so fast, and I am used to hand-me-downs as I said. Him: how about $21, a small tip for me on top of your $20. Me: pulling out $14 worth of pesos, this is all I have. Him: Ok, deal. Seriously, you wanted $35 but will take $14 (the dress is SUPER cute by the way, so I was happy). But this gets repeated over & over, for every item, and I got super burnt out on it quickly. Speaking Spanish gets you even better deals for sure, and I loved the practice & compliments I received on my speaking skills. I watched people paying full price for t-shirts, $35 or so, when they likely could’ve gotten it for $10. I didn’t do much shopping, but did get 2 adorable dresses for my daughter, a couple of shirts for my Son, 2 dresses & a couple pairs of cute & comfy pants for me, some vanilla, a sea shell wind chime, a couple magnets & that’s it! My Hubby & Dad went fishing & their catches were made into fresh ceviche as well as grilled up for us for that nights dinner which we ate under the stars, it was a real treat!

Many of you have asked about my experience “unplugging”. It was easy for me! I do not own a smart phone as 99% of you likely do. I do most of my work from my lap top or our home PC. So when I’m out of the house, I’m truly away from technology. We did not activate international functions for our phones, so turned them off in Atlanta & didn’t turn them back on until we got to Denver 12 days later. I didn’t bring my laptop on vacation but my Hubby did bring his tablet as it’s our camera/video camera as well, and he installed a couple super basic kids games on it as well which kept them entertained on the planes when needed. So it came in handy, and we did have internet at the 2nd place we stayed so I did update my personal Fb page a couple times to let friends & family know we were safe & having a great time. But other than that, with all my groups shut down, I spent no time browsing Facebook, and didn’t miss reading daily news updates, etc. It truly felt good to just focus on my family, how we were going to spend our day, and not think about the rest of the world for a bit. I lost an entire week of productivity between Christmas & New Year due to a terrible toothache. I had a lot of projects planned & got very little done… I urge everyone to try to unplug a little more. Give it a shot! I know many people who have a tough time balancing their online time with the rest of their life. I know people who suddenly feel the need to pull the plug completely, deleting their Fb account entirely. Then a month or 2 or 6 later they’ll pop back up. I really do like & value Facebook & with all things in life: balance is key. Ying & Yang. Speaking of Facebook, here’s a fabulous page that has many great posts & inspiring messages, it’s one of my favorites: https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution/

We squeaked home between some wicked ice storms that hit the Midwest. My Dad, who had joined us for a week down there, got stuck in Chicago for an extra day & a half, but luckily his Sis who lives there was able to come & get him & he had a great, extended vacation. Had we gotten stuck in Denver with the kids, it would’ve put a sour note on the end of the trip. But everything, seriously everything, went as it needed to go to make it a happy, successful trip & I know my kiddos will be thinking & talking about it for a long time to come. It gives me the motivation to work hard and continue to live modestly so I can save the money needed to fund an annual adventure. I don’t know that we’ll go back to the spots we visited this time, as I like exploring new spots, but I do know we’ll be heading south of the border again for sure!

So, that’s my vacation in a nut-shell, I enjoyed writing about it, I hope you enjoyed reading about it! It was not cheap, but it was priceless family time that I would not trade for anything in the world ♥

A glimpse at life in the Drifless Region of SW Wisconsin

I’ve heard from many of you who would like to pick up & move somewhere where there are more like-minded people who care about things like organic food, and living a little more simply, away from the hustle & bustle of major metropolitan life. I LOVE this short video put together by Organic Valley, headquartered here in SW Wisconsin. It gives a glimpse into why I’m so thrilled to call this place home… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TntyVqSFQUI