Friday, May 11, 2018

"Three Red Suitcases: A Southern Childhood" Book Launch

Okay. So, I've been busy since returning back to Parksville, BC, on Canada's Vancouver Island. I'm preparing to launch my new book in June and all the related details have been many.  I want to share with you how to stay up to date on the progress of publication.  You can go to my website for information or you can follow along at my Three Red Suitcases Facebook page. 

Announcement and book description:

Book Launch JUNE 2018 "Three Red Suitcases: A Southern Childhood" by Levonne Gaddy
When adult Levonne returns to the rural North Carolina community where she was born and raised, to attend her biracial mother's funeral, the director bars her entry to the viewing room assuming she is white and therefore not related to the “colored” woman in the coffin.
Levonne easily engages the reader in a sad, funny, and poignant story of her childhood as she recounts a past marred by racism and the dysfunctional family life she left behind.
Her transition from 1960’s racial segregation to the integration of southern schools; the challenges of her first job, at age eleven, as the live-in caregiver for an elderly white woman; a rape; the death of her father; and estrangement from her mother are all part of a past with which Levonne struggles to make peace.

Many thanks and much love, Levonne

Monday, April 2, 2018

Back to the Maple Leaves

So, its April 2nd, 2018, Easter Monday. John and I arrived back home to the Jazz in Parksville (British Columbia, Canada) late Friday. We drove the 2,300 miles/3,700 kilometers from San Carlos (Sonora, Mexico) in thirteen days. It took us the weekend to move from the little Wanderer and get resettled. John turned on the water, checked the phone and internet connections, got the propane furnace lit for heating our abode while I transferred food and clothing from our travel RV.

After laundry, grocery shopping and putting the little Wanderer in storage, we're a bit tired and are ready to slow our pace. Our first day and a half back home was sunny though chilly (50F/10C). Then a day of rain and cold. Last night down in the low 30's F, 1C. Today partly cloudy and 48F, 9C at the moment.

Although we're enjoying wearing our “winter” clothes for a change, it would be a lie to say we don't miss all that San Carlos warmth and sunshine. On the positive side though, the view of snow-covered Mt. Arrowsmith out our back door, the rising and falling tide in the estuary, and the migrating water fowl are wonderful to behold.

Estuary and Mt. Arrowsmith

Today, I gather myself to reconnect with work on my book, with making art, with friends in the area and to life as usual in our little community with my little family. Life is good, even when tired. I have much to be thankful for. Good health, a husband that's handsome and handy and who loves to cook in the Instant Pot, two of the cutest dogs on earth, the best friends anyone could want, loving family members, the resources to sustain homes in Mexico and Canada, and a sense of wonder about the many things I have yet to learn.

I truly wish you health, wealth and happiness in your lives. Thank you for following along with our lives the past many months. Over the coming weeks, I will share some of the most striking differences between our lives in Canada and Mexico.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Summer Camp is Over!

John and I prepare to leave on Sunday morning for our return trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

In so many ways, we feel like kids that have come to the end of “Summer Camp”. We've had so much fun that it's sad to leave. We look forward to next winter and to reconnecting with the people of San Carlos and specifically with our Loma del Mar community. This place is definitely a jewel in the desert!

What will I miss the most?

Thursday Market at Loma del Mar and all the veggies and fruits two people can eat in a week for the fabulous price of $25 - $30.

The relaxed pace of life.

The winter warmth that allows me to wear shorts, flip flops, and a tank top most every day.

The Loma del Mar dance parties with fabulous and varied live music.

The iguana that lives in our patio wall.

Having water delivered to our door several times a week for 18 pesos (less than a dollar) per five-gallon jug. 

Spanish class and our excursions out into the world to learn about Mexican culture.

My studio and the shower in the little casita.

The super friendly people of San Carlos.

Bountiful and delicious lunches at Rosa's Cantina for less than $300 pesos (under $20 for two and includes drinks). 

High speed internet (we stream Netflix shows and movies) and telephone land line that allows unlimited calling to all of North America for $25 per month!

The Sonoran Desert, where it meets the ocean.

I've learned once again that it's important to allow the sad feelings of transitioning to be, to not fight them, or run from them.  The being in those feelings at any particular time as they arise, clears the way for all the beautiful feelings related to reconnecting with home and friends and family in British Columbia. 

From The Prophet "On Leaving" - Kahlil Gibran

..."And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

So saying he made a signal to the seamen, and straightaway they weighed anchor and cast the ship loose from its moorings, and they moved eastward.

And a cry came from the people as from a single heart, and it rose the dusk and was carried out over the sea like a great trumpeting.

Only Almitra was silent, gazing after the ship until it had vanished into the mist.

And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying: "A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.' "

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Meet India Davis...

I met India this winter in our San Carlos Spanish class. 
She's in the process of relocating to Mexico. Following is
my interview with her about how she came to her decision.

India Davis with Yaqui dancers.

India scored with the mop guy just before
Spanish class the other day.

One of India's dachshunds.

I'm India Davis. I'm forty nine, single, and retired from law enforcement at Pima County Sherriff's Department (in Tucson), where I was a bureau chief.

I retired in January 2017 after 22 years of service. The truth is we had a management change during the election in November and my Sheriff did not get re-elected. That usually changes the dynamics at the top of the organization. My position was an “at will” position which is common for higher management positions in law enforcement.

Arizona is also an “at will” state, so should the new Sheriff have chosen to fire me, I would have had no recourse. I did not want to be “fired” or have that on my resume, so I chose to retire. Absent the election, I would have stayed in that job for another three years at least. So this definitely changed my retirement plans.

I'm originally from the south, Louisiana and Mississippi, but I have lived in Tucson AZ since 1986 (off and on) barring military service and a short stint in Atlanta and North Carolina.

I have been traveling to San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico for about the last six years, usually for vacations four or five times per year. I love the water here and it is a short six-and-a-half-hour drive from Tucson. I love all water sports, but especially snorkeling. I will probably take some diving lessons and get certified for deep water dives while I am here. Since I retired early, I felt it would be a great time to try living in San Carlos, more full-time and less like a tourist, so I rented a place on Algodones Beach for six months.

Algodones Beach in San Carlos.

Where India lives in San Carlos.

I have traveled in Mexico extensively in the past and will continue doing so. While they do not have all of the comforts of home, it is easy to get accustomed to the lifestyle. I have never had any problems or discomfort traveling here.

The opportunity to rent the house long term was a key factor in deciding to move down for a trial stay. I did not want to keep bringing all of my stuff and then carting it home after every trip. I wanted something I could set up and make it feel like home.

There is the challenge of maintaining two complete households Long term that will be expensive. I have signed another lease for one year on a different house in the Caricol (another neighborhood in San Carlos). I'm looking forward to moving into that house and seeing what that year has in store for me. At that point, I may decide to rent out my townhouse (in Tucson) or sell it depending on the market.

I love the area and the proximity to the Sea, it is a calming influence on my mind and having had such a stressful job for the past twenty-two years, I really needed to de-stress.

To be here, I believe you need a special pass from the consulate for a one-time permission to bring “household items” without paying import taxes. I will check that out at the consulate in Tucson. I also have applied for and received my Temporary Resident Visa from Mexico which gives me the ability to stay beyond the 180 days permitted by the tourist visas you obtain at the border. My one-year temporary resident card was $4,000 pesos (about $200 U.S.).

Another challenge being in Mexico is mail and packages. I am an online shopper for all things from cosmetics to dog food. I also love to send and receive cards and letters (old school, I guess). I,m investigating the option of having a post office box in Tucson that is checked and monitored and delivered to a local real estate company here in San Carlos. (Note: Mexico's public mail system is slow and unreliable.)

My mom especially misses having me in the states, but she understands. My true friends also love San Carlos and I find that I am juggling the spare room for their visits, which is perfect. I cook at home most nights and usually make a trip to Empalme for fresh fish, shrimp and crab every few weeks and shop at the veggie market at Loma Del Mar on Thursdays for fresh veggies.

I would say (to fellow Americans) not to believe all of the hype and nonsense the media spins about things in Mexico. There is violence everywhere. Most people here are just living, making a living and minding their own business. As long as you aren’t in the drug trade you will be fine here. Mind your own business! is my best piece of advice. But that is true anywhere really.

Thank you India for sharing your story with my blog readers. Muchas gracias!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Emergency Care in San Carlos!

Last month, John and I joined an organization here in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico (our new winter hometown). Club Deportivo is about philanthropy and community. Members are the expats from the United States and Canada and winter visitors (like us).

Club Deportivo is housed in a big hall that hosts community dinners, arts and crafts classes, yoga, and regular informative lectures (among other things) to raise money for non-profit organizations that benefit youth, animals and peoples of the area. Organizations such as a local spay and neuter clinic for domestic or feral animals, an orphanage, a soup kitchen, and a youth music group.

A recent lecture, focused on medical care for non-Mexicans in San Carlos. A couple hundred of us showed up to hear what we're to do if we get sick or have a serious injury. Dr. Michael Laux said he was not prepared for such a big turnout.

We came away from the presentation with all our questions answered. San Carlos' medical gem in the organizaton “Rescate”. Formed decades ago, mainly to meet the needs of the large expat community, they are emergency first aid and ambulance service to residents and visitors. The EMTs are on 24/7 and are professionally trained.

Rescate is our link to life, I would say, in a place where communication due to language is challenging and where we are not experienced at getting medical care. It is our insurance here. Insurance that someone will come to us quickly (a private 911 of sorts), will call our doctor to coordinate our care (we learned we need to connect with/meet a doctor here that will be our doctor), will get us to a first-rate hospital as quickly as possible if needed.

We learned that to be admitted to the big hospital in Hermosillo for a major medical emergency, we basically need a charge card with a $10,000 limit or travel insurance. Since we do not have Mexican insurance, the hospital needs to know we can pay.

When we return next winter, we'll get connected to a doctor right away and will become gold members of Rescate. Then we'll get on with being careful and taking good care of ourselves.

The infrastructure that has been built for the community we've become part of here in Mexico is outstanding. Of course, they've already thought of everything. And it's great to be part of Club Deportivo and give something to our new community.

With only three more weeks left of our winter here, we're planning our route home and thinking of what we need to pack into the little Wanderer to take back to Parksville with us. I'm working furiously to get tasks completed with the new book that I'll launch in mid to late May this year. (I'll tell you more about that project in a new post.)

This iguana came out in February a couple times to sun on our patio wall.
We'll miss seeing how he lives during the summer while we're in Canada. He looks
to need a little food to me.  

Adios Amigos! Let's enjoy what's left of winter, wherever we are, heh?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mardi Gras Blast!

This winter was John's and my first Loma del Mar Mardi Gras celebration. It was a blast! I love our little community of two hundred plus residences tucked in between the shores of the Sea of Cortez and the mountains of San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.

To tell you the truth, I have been to more parties at Loma del Mar the past six weeks than I have during the preceding decade of my life. I've danced as much as I danced during the disco period of the 80's (I danced a lot back then)! There's something about being able to walk to and from a party that makes it great fun. And the draw of great and varied live music is absolutely irresistible.

To commemorate the season at Loma del Mar, I broke out my little video camera and documented the day of February 13, 2018.  Following is the result.

I hope that you had a great Tuesday, the 13th, and that fun has been a big part of your week too.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Spanish Class Field Trip

John and I joined Carolina, our Spanish teacher, and classmates for a field trip to the Empalme Tianguis (flea market).  It was quite the cultural experience!  John and I found all kinds of goodies to buy - a small metal patio table (la mesa), a hoover vacuum cleaner (la aspiradora), a hand saw (la sierra mano). We drank hibiscus tea with ice (agua de jamaica). It was great fun and great way to practice asking for things in Spanish, for talking numbers and pesos in Spanish, and for having fun generally.  Here's a little film of our experience.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bodies Found in the San Carlos Desert

A few weeks ago in the evening, while I walked my doggies in the desert just north of Loma del Mar's gate, my neighbor Marge popped over to warn John. 

“Tell Levonne it's best not to wonder around in the desert. Twelve bodies were found at the old airport!” Marge went on to explain to him that her neighbor had just popped over and informed her about the report on that evening's news.

View of the desert surrounding Loma del Mar community in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
Upon my return home after the lovely outing along a dirt path among creosote bushes and Ocotillo, John's first words were about the twelve bodies discovered in the desert and Marge's warning not to go out there.

Daily over the previous two months that we'd been in San Carlos, we'd reflected on our feeling of safety in our small part of Sonora, Mexico.

“You mean right out there where I was walking?”

“That's what Marge said.”

“Who were the murdered people? What happened?”

“I don't know. She didn't have much information.”

Stunned I walked inside. My head spinning with images of bloody bodies scattered throughout the desert. I imagined a drug-gang shootout the preceding night. We had heard sounds coming from the desert but sloughed it off as kids with firecrackers.

As I sat in bewilderment, I imagined other possibilities for the deaths. Could the twelve bodies have been migrants traveling on foot toward the U.S. who had perished from thirst? Quickly I ruled that the migrants surely would not perish so near a town in their own country from thirst.

It occurred to me to check the U.S.State Department website for warnings about travel in Mexico. Surely they would know of this if it was on the news already. Nothing there. No report of a recent rash of murders in Sonora. I did however learn about “prohibited travel destinations” due to violence. 

Sonora state – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel due to crime. Sonora is a key location utilized by the international drug trade and human trafficking networks. However, northern Sonora experiences much lower levels of crime than cities closer to Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico.

Okay. So roads to our destination and San Carlos were good although for other parts of the state of Sonora, the warning was Level 3: Reconsider Travel.

I went on to google current news stories on "murders in San Carlos." No reports of twelve bodies in San Carlos area. After nothing but dead ends on the internet, I decided to get on with dinner prep and to make the rest of the day as regular an evening as possible. But I must tell you that “my realilty” began to take a major turn.

What had we gotten ourselves into? I began to wonder how we could live in the middle of such violence. Had I been too cocky with talk about he violence of Mexico not being dissimilar to violence in the U.S.? I wondered if we should leave Mexico immediately. We had already invested so much time and energy and resources in getting our winter abode set up.

That same evening as we got news of the twelve bodies, we were sure that that night's "firecracker pops and bangs" were indeed bullets. Another shootout in the desert?

The next day, as soon as the Loma del Mar office opened, I went in and asked the Mexican National employees what was up. Surely they'd be concerned too.

“There's a rumor going around that twelve bodies were found out there in the desert.” I pointed toward where I had walked the previous day.

The manager replied, “Yes. Bodies were found.”

“Oh my God!”

“Don't worry yourself with all that. Cartel just kill one another. They aren't interested in you and me.”

My eyes widened. “Really?”

“Just put it out of your mind.”

“But. Aren't you concerned?”

“Not really.”

I could hardly believe my ears. And I was sure she must be lying. How could anyone ignore twelve dead bodies.

“Aren't people concerned?”

“Yes, People are concerned. They want to know whose bones they are.”


“Families want to determine if the bones belong to a missing family member.”

“You mean they found bones?”

“Yes. An investigation will happen to determine identities.”

All of a sudden my mind made yet another major shift. I cautioned myself. Always check your news sources. Always ask questions. Don't accept the first thing you hear about what someone heard on the news. After asking what the manager's source of information was and being given a web address for Sonora news, I returned home and got back on the computer.

The address took me directly to the story about the twelve sets of bones. The speculation in the news report was that the remains belonged to twelve fishermen that went missing in 2015.

In the days to follow, I learned more about the airport that had been shut down many years earlier because it had begun being used by drug cartel. I was relieved that the locals, or whomever made that decision, did so. 

Fast forward. A few weeks later, I still love San Carlos. I am amazed by all the beauty, the people, the abundance of great activities. I love the place at Loma del Mar that is now our winter home. But I am also reminded that no matter how safe a place comes to feel, one best continue to exercise common-sense caution, while simultaneously maintaining a positive attitude. For where I put my focus, is what will be my life.

Our winter home at Loma Del Mar, San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.

Envision the future you desire. Create the life of your dreams. See it, feel it, believe it.” Jack Canfield

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hector Lives!

There is a painting above my San Carlos, Mexico, studio door.  On first glance, I wondered whether I might paint over what was there and put one of my own up. Then one day John returned from a walk and said "Hector Vari's murals are all over Loma del Mar."

In the days to follow, I too noticed all the different beach, sea, and desert scenes throughout our little gated community.

Sure enough, upon inspection, Hector Vari's signature adorned the work. I began to wonder about this Hector Vari. Who is he? Does he live in San Carlos? Is he even alive? Our painting is dated 1987.

Part of the Hector Vari painting above the door of my studio.

One person invited me inside her place when she saw me photographing a mural outside. Senor Vari had painted scenes throughout their casita.

So my quest began to discover more about the artist that created so much art over the years in the two-hundred-resident community that we are now part of.  From an internet search, I found this information on the What's Up San Carlos website.

"While the desert landscape around San Carlos is beautiful, seeing the multitudes of murals throughout town painted by our very own Hector Vari makes the scenery even more spectacular.Hector’s hands are gnarled from arthritis from holding paint brushes for most of his life. He never had any formal art training and says that the best teacher was him practicing his drawing and painting in the streets as he was growing up. He did work at an art institute in Nogales for eleven years. His paint brushes are stiff from paint but he can certainly still create his magic with them. He paints with acrylic paint because it dries quickly and can be washed.
"If you wanted Hector to paint something for your wall or home, you can give him full creative ownership; you can tell him what you have in mind and let him run with it; or you can be even more specific. For our project, we told him what we didn’t want and then what we liked. He spent seven hours on our mural (the cacti painted around our glass blocks pictured above). It was awe-inspiring to watch him create another one of his masterpieces. He can paint anything from fruit, to landscapes, to people, to animals, to sealife, and in any size from entire walls to wall hangings.

"Hector Vari is 83 years young and has been in San Carlos for 33 years. He never married but was with the same woman for 48 years before she died of cancer four years ago. Together they produced seven children. Hector has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren and will proudly show you their photos. Hector spends the winters in Mazatlan.
How to contact Senor Vari? "About the only way to track Hector down is to find him most days in front of Rosa’s Cantina after 10:00am painting canvases and other articles. Go see what he is currently working on, have a chat with him (his English is quite good), or pick him up for one of your very own ‘Hector Vari’s’."
A few days ago, John and I went to Rosa's Cantina for lunch. Sure enough there was a thin, older gentleman across the street. I approached the man that looked all of eighty plus years. In spotty Spanish on my part and limited English on his part, I thanked Senor Hector Vari for all his creations at Loma del Mar. He graciously accepted my words and said that the location where I had found him would be where he could be found in the future.

Knowing an artist of a place breaks down barriers of language and culture.  The need to create, to paint, to imagine unites us. For an instant, all seemed well in the world.

What is your experience when you come to know an artist from another part of the world?