Rainy Season

The rainy season at Lake Chapala runs from mid-June to mid-October each year. Las lluvias almost always come overnight, bringing a tropical downpour, pounding on the roof.

Over the last eight days, there have been five storms that woke me up at some point during the night. The one this morning was brief, getting me up at 6:45 am. As I write this at 7:10, the rain has slowed to a Pacific Northwest-style drizzle, and the only sounds I hear are drips outside the front door and a cacophony of roosters in the neighborhood. But during those 25 minutes, it dropped over an inch of rain, according to Weather Underground.

Flooded roadThe storms can be spectacular. Last Thursday morning there was a thunderstorm. It wasn’t the rain or thunder that woke me up at 2:00, but the flashes of lightning filling the room. (Angela told me she is amazed at how the bursts of light push their way into the room, even with the blinds closed.)

As the storm got closer, the thunder began to roll in. Then the full downpour arrived, which lasted three hours. As the rain ended, the lightning strikes drew closer, until BAM! there was a strike just a block away. At that point, I thought I should go check on the kids, and yes, they were both awake. J was shaking, laying with his blanket over his head, so I stayed with him for a few minutes. But in the morning, he had a big grin on his face, telling Mom about the storm.
13631460_10153888530848163_7162831107659330851_nThat night it rained nearly four inches. When they got up, the kids noticed that the pool was almost completely full. I found myself surprised at how well the water drained, with no pools or puddles on the road in our community.

Later on, though, as Angela walked the kids to Spanish tutoring, they did find a puddle on the road that they couldn’t get around. They finally gave up and just walked through it.

(Here’s a great article about the rainy season in Ajijic, from our friends at Access Chapala: The Rainy Season in Ajijic.)

Telecommuting Challenges

On Monday, I went back to work after a week of vacation during our move to México. Man, that was hard. After two hours I was ready to pack up and move home.

IMG_5717It wasn’t just getting back into the swing of things after a week off, or overcoming the slower pace of life here to be productive. I like going into the office for work every day. Being around people helps give me energy to be productive, and I share an emotional connection with my co-workers. I’m giving up much of that for the next year.

The big issue, though, is my participation in making decisions. There are 10 of us who work together, and much of our decision-making process is organic and spontaneous. We have very few meetings, and little structure to how we make and document decisions. When something comes up, we quickly review the options, make a decision, and move forward with little interruption. It’s fast and efficient, and while we know it won’t scale for us long-term, it’s a method that has worked for us over the last 10 years. I believe it’s one of the secrets to our exceptional growth over the last 3 years.

But this system requires people to work in close physical proximity. And I’m now 2,500 miles away.

During my telecommuting tests last year, I skyped into the computer in our conference room when I got in each day, and left it on all day. Hearing conversations in the office, even if I can’t completely understand what people are saying, helps give me that energy of working with others. That’s helpful.

In our new office, that computer monitor is in a central area, right outside my office. So if someone needs to ask me a question, instead of popping their head in my door, they step up to the monitor. It’s an attempt to maintain that organic connection. And it works, sort of.

There are problems. One is a 2-3 second delay. Humor is a part of my personality, much of it based on speed and timing. Yeah, that’s not going to work with a 3 second delay.

Another problem is intermittent Internet issues. The “high-speed” Internet where we are staying has upstream bandwidth that peaks at 500kbps. And sometimes it drops out altogether. Once we move into a more permanent home I’ll be able to do something about it, but for now I’m a poor man’s Max Headroom part of the day.

That leads to poor audio and video quality caused by the low bandwidth. It makes it hard for people to understand me when I talk, which makes me more reticent to actually try to talk. It’s a spiral that leads me to be less participatory and more disengaged, which I have to actively fight.

I was on a conference call with about a dozen people, mostly from one of our major clients. At one point I jumped in to make a point, and when I was done someone said, um, we only got about 5% of that. Groan. For the rest of the call I just listened, occasionally messaging my colleague to say something on my behalf. That was painful.

Monday morning, after two hours of work, I was at a serious emotional crossroads. Pack up and move home, or stay and figure it out.

I chose to push through, and by the end of the week I felt like I was getting my sea legs. Thursday and Friday were especially good in helping me build productive momentum, and I felt like I ended the week at about 80% personal productivity. I don’t think I’ll ever get to 100% efficiency, but I’ll be happy with 95% personal productivity.

My participation in decision-making, however, will continue to be a challenge. We’ll need to experiment with more formal processes to allow me to be involved. That will slow down the process—bad—but if we get it right, the new system will scale better as we grow—good. It’s going to force me to step back from actually making decisions, and move toward coaching my staff so they can make the right decisions. It will require extra time to share historical context and provide specific information that only I have. But that will help grow the corporate memory and deepen the team’s overall understanding of the environment in which we work.

The best part of this experience has been my co-workers. I have sensed how much they want my family to have a positive experience, and I know several of them are taking on additional burdens to make this work.

Any leadership role I’ve had with the team will be on hold while I work remotely. There are just too many obstacles. But I trust my team, and know they will try their best to do the right thing every day. I’ll participate and support them where I can.

In some ways, my work won’t be as personally enjoyable, as I miss out on the interpersonal dynamics of the office. Will it be hard? Por supuesto. But that’s a sacrifice I’ll make for my family.

I expect that over the coming weeks this will all get easier as I get into a daily and weekly routine. I’ll work hard and contribute where I can. And for now, that’s good enough.

Sun at Zenith

Twice every year in Ajijic, on July 23 and May 22,* el sol is directly overhead at solar noon, which today was at 1:59pm local time. That means your shadow is directly below you, not at an angle like it is year round in the Continental United States (or anywhere else north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn).

Shadow at Sun ZenithThat also means more direct UV rays. And with an elevation of over 5,000 ft (over 1,500 meters), there is less atmosphere in Ajijic to block UV rays than at sea level. At this elevation, UV rays can be as much as 50% more intense than at sea level. That means put on sunscreen and a hat—or better yet, stay out of the sun altogether.

In this picture, Z is leaning her head and shoulders forward to look at her shadow, which is directly below her.

*Ajijic is at a latitude of about 20.25°. Here’s a graphic showing different dates and latitudes where the sun is directly overhead. So while I haven’t done the math, this date is a pretty close guesstimate.


I’m not on the PR team for Ajijic, so I’m not limited to sharing only the positives. Here’s a negative: the mosquitoes.

Mosquito bitesMosquitoes breed in standing water and swamps, and Lake Chapala has plenty of that on its shores. Z seems to be particularly attractive to them—she counted 55 bites on her legs.

It’s cool enough to wear long pants, and probably even a long-sleeve shirt. But yesterday I did get bit on my back through my shirt, so these are clever little buggers.

Disease like malaria and yellow fever is not an issue here. It’s just uncomfortable.

Roosters and Marbles

The little town where we are staying, San Antonio Tlayacapen, sits on the shores of Lake Chapala between Ajijic and Chapala. It is a working class town with very few foreigners living here. In other words, just the kind of place for my kids to experience “real” Mexican culture.

Next door to us sits an empty lot where two gaunt horses live. There are roosters on three sides of us, who conspired to wake up J at 6:00 yesterday. And in the alley next to us are boys playing marbles.

MarbleThe other night, as we were walking back from the store, we saw a growing gathering of boys on the street, appearing to get ready for a community marble tournament. I saw a couple boys walk past with socks bulging with marbles. A little farther down, the younger boys were having their own competition.

Yesterday, J found a marble in the street. With no one around to claim it, I told him to pick it up for practice. “How do you play marbles, Dad?” I told him we’ll have to ask the boys sometime. “But we won’t understand them.” That’s another good reason to learn Spanish, I said.

My son, who never met a sport he didn’t like, has been practicing a game he made up with his marble. And he is suddenly very motivated to work on his Spanish.

So much stuff

We broke down and pulled an old suitcase from storage to put more stuff in. Angela pointed out that we’ll have to get a cart at the airport anyway, since the kids can’t muscle 2 50-pound bags each. If that’s the case, what’s one more bag on the cart?

I checked with Alaska Airlines, and the 3rd bag fee is $75, while the overweight fee is also $75. They only charge one fee per bag. So we can jam 100 lbs of stuff into that last bag, and it will cost the same as a 15 lb 3rd bag. Yay, more stuff.

Man, I can’t believe how much stuff I’m personally bringing. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll actually use all of it. But it’s like the old story about advertising: the businessman knows half the advertising doesn’t work, he just don’t know which half. In my case, I know I won’t use half the stuff I’m bringing, I just don’t know which half.

The night before departure

We leave for Mexico in 8 hours. It’s hard to believe that we’re finally at this moment after 27 months of planning. Angela pointed out that for J, over half the life he remembers has been planning for this coming year, and now the moment is here.

J spent the afternoon playing at his best friend’s house, and as they parted there were a lot of tears by both the boys (and, I’ve heard, by the moms, too). Z spent the afternoon with one of her best friends, too. We’ll be giving both kids access to iPads specifically to text and FaceTime their friends on a regular basis.

My colleagues at work are so excited for us, and sent me off with a full heart. I work with such a great team, I can’t imagine trying to do this without their support.

This morning in staff meeting, I told them of the incredible peace Angela and I feel about doing this. I know God is behind this, especially in the timing and location. That gives me a confidence to go boldly into the unknown, without fear or tentativeness. This place of peace in my heart is where I want to stay.

Off to México tomorrow

The house has been emptied of its contents. We got rid of half our stuff (thank you, Craigslist), yet still filled a storage unit. Today we wrap up some loose ends here in the U.S., then head to the airport at 4:00 am tomorrow.

Each of us has two suitcases and a carry-on, filled with everything we’ll need for a year of living in México. We’ve distributed the heavy items amongst the suitcases, with 6 of the 8 right at 50 lbs each.

Our church family prayed for us on Saurday, and our closest friends threw us a nice fairwell dinner last night, with more prayers and tears. We’re being sent on our journey filled with love for our community, and we’ll miss them.

Now, we’re off on our adventure together.