The Interiors Project: Sarah Loring de Garcia in Monterrey, Mexico

Issue 8 of The Interiors Project takes us to Monterrey, Mexico and the home of my dear friend Sarah Loring de Garcia. When I left Monterrey six years ago, Sarah was hired to be the new College Counselor; I was delighted for her and knew that the program I had built would thrive in her capable hands. Damien and I share vivid memories of her preparing for her first date with Roberto Garcia who is now her husband. Reading through the stories Sarah has shared in her Interiors Project was a bittersweet experience for me because I have never seen this gorgeous home that Sarah and Roberto built… or the sweet Amelia who is the light of their lives. As Sarah describes below, leaving places and having our friends move away is a fundamental part of teaching internationally. Like Sarah, I believe it is much better to have loved and lost friends to other schools and other countries than to have played it safe and never loved at all. I know that you’ll enjoy Sarah’s tour!

Bienvenidos a Monterrey, México!

I’m Sarah Loring de Garcia and I am the College Counselor at the American School Foundation of Monterrey. I’m in my tenth year of working at ASFM, and I used to be Monna’s roommate years ago. In those days I was a science teacher who thought my roommate’s job looked interesting and fun and perhaps I might like to have that job if/when she ever left (although I certainly didn’t want her to leave… I miss you, Monna!)

I came to Monterrey in August 2002, thinking that I would probably be here for 2-3 years and then move on to another international teaching position somewhere. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the school, this country, or a very cute and techy Mexican guy… but I did all of those things, so here I am ten years later in the city I now call home.

Philosophy of education
I became a teacher because I love working with kids. Many people are in love with their content area, but for me I always knew that I would become a teacher… and then I really had a hard time deciding what to teach. In college I struggled to decide whether I wanted to teach science or choral music. I ended up teaching science for nine years, and that was fun… but I think now I have the job I always dreamed about but never knew existed, since my own college counselor was really just the girl’s soccer coach who knew how to point in the general direction of a room full of college brochures. My job is the best job in the whole school. Here is my unofficial job description, in my own words: Get to know each and every kid as well as you possibly can, and use your knowledge and expertise to help them make the first adult decisions of their lives. (Show me a gig that is better than that!)

{Here we are on the day that we selected our house and put down our first deposit.  They hadn’t even started building the third floor yet.}

{The park in our colonia}

Finding our current home
Roberto and I purchased our house as new construction. We had been engaged for about a month when we picked out this little “fixer-upper” in a lovely new neighborhood near our school in May 2007. We liked the gated neighborhood and we could imagine our future children playing in the cute little park… and we loved the proximity to the school and the fact that several other couples we worked with were living in this little “colonia” as well.

{Our living room when all the toys are put away…}

{… and when they are not.}

During our engagement, we lived in the world’s smallest and cheapest two-bedroom apartment, paying the rent there and the down payment on our new house at the same time. In that apartment we lived in the smaller bedroom, while the other was referred to as the “crazy box room.” Our stuff was stacked to the ceilings. It was like living out of a suitcase for ten months… but we were also living together for the first time and planning our wedding. Everything was lovey-dovey. I adore my husband, but I don’t think that either of us would enjoy that much togetherness at this point. We were in close proximity at all times because there was nowhere else to go except the restroom. For those ten months, I had the world’s sweetest cellmate. (Would I go back and change this? Absolutely not… but I don’t miss it either.)

{The five red and gold “buttons” on the wall come from an amazing artisan’s market that the teachers from our school refer to as “The Eyeball Store,” after the giant concrete sphere that sits out front and is painted like an eyeball.  I am sure that the market has a real name, though I have no idea what that name might be.  Monna, you and April Johnson were the first people to take me to that place ten years ago!}

The builders called us on the day before our wedding, during our rehearsal dinner, to say that the house was done… and oh, by the way, can you sign the papers and pick up the keys this evening? (No, we’re a little busy right now, but we’ll see you next week.) We met with them just two days after returning from our wedding/honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, and started working to make the place our own on the very next day. Six weeks later, we moved in to a partially painted place with no kitchen… the cabinets, granite countertops, sink, appliances, etc. took another two months after that. The pizza delivery guy knew us well in those days.

Size of our home
Our home is approximately 225 square meters; that’s around 2,420 square feet for any gringos out there. I cringe to even think about the square footage (meterage?) of the interior walls and ceilings, which we painstakingly cleaned, sealed, and painted ourselves. If I never see a paintbrush again, it will still be too soon.

Favorite thing about our house
My favorite thing is that we’ve done most of the work ourselves, and it is a nice representation of our partnership. We complement one another well in many ways, each one’s strengths balancing out the other’s weaknesses. I am in charge of selecting things like paint colors, fabrics, art, and most furniture and appliances. I also designed the kitchen and all of the built-ins throughout the house. Roberto is responsible for anything that involves power tools, electricity, technology, plumbing, heating & air conditioning, renovations, post-hurricane repairs, and any project that involves the words “build” or “install.” I have to add that he is also a very loving husband, an amazing father, a master of the grill, and often serves me breakfast in bed on Sundays. Sorry ladies, he is taken. (I also have a few other nice qualities and talents. As I said before, we are good partners.)

Since moving in, we have done a lot of work. In addition to the aforementioned kitchen and cleaning/sealing/painting of every wall/ceiling/surface and the obvious selection of furniture, art, bedding, towels, curtains, rugs, etc., home projects have included (but are definitely not limited to):
– Addition of gates to protect the front entrance and side alley
– Addition of numerous electrical outlets and lights in places where they obviously should have been but weren’t
– Selection and installation of every interior and exterior light fixture and ceiling fan in the house
– Installation of closet shelving, hanging bars, etc. in all three bedrooms and the linen closet
– Installation of heater/vent in master bathroom and four mini-split A/C units with all outdoor components on the roof
– Construction and installation of built-in desks and shelving in two “office” spaces
– Major construction project – enclosure of the useless third-floor back terrace to create a storage room/gym
– Major construction project – addition of “hevel block” insulation and tile on third-floor front terrace
– Exterior sealing and repainting after Hurricane Alex (and various other repairs throughout the house)
– Selection and installation of tile on the patio walls, a fountain, and landscaping
– Installation of “tinako” rooftop water tank for use during occasional water outages
– New double-paned windows throughout the home

I recognize that none of this describes the typical experience of an international teacher, and in fact, may be the reason why many people choose to teach internationally for a long time… so that they will NEVER have to do anything like this. But for some reason, Roberto and I have really enjoyed “creating our nest.” (Most of the time.)

I am especially pleased by my kitchen appliances. I don’t know any other teachers at my school who have garbage disposals or dishwashers… and it is possible that I had a moderately inappropriate moment at Sears when I “met” our refrigerator and hugged it passionately right there in the showroom.

I will add here – my LEAST favorite thing about our home is that it feels like we are never “done.” We have lived here for four years, and I still feel like it is very much a work in progress, quite literally from the ground up. I feel like the first floor is great, the second floor is pretty good, and the third floor still has a lot of improvements needed!

{The source of my second-floor discontent: My office space (complete with baby gate to stop the little one from getting into the mess).  This has sadly become a dumping ground for papers and projects I plan to deal with the next time we have a vacation that is not spent traveling.  I hope to attack this over Easter, actually.  I wish that my house was at the stage of having a place for everything and everything in its place, but I have never quite gotten there.  During my pregnancy all of my nesting thoughts were focused on getting to that stage, and then we got hit by a hurricane… two actually… one literal named Alex, and then one figurative and tiny and cute named Amelia about two months later.}

Defining home
Wherever my husband and daughter are, that is home. This building that we live in is our house, and we love it, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world to sell it and move on. For now, this house is the place where Roberto, Amelia, and I get to make memories… and that is the best thing about it. The third floor terrace has seen many barbecues with friends, family, and a few lucky visiting college representatives. The kitchen and dining room were the sites of the disastrous Christmas-turkey-that-just-wouldn’t-cook and the triumphant first anniversary dinner, which I cooked and served entirely while wearing my wedding dress. The master bedroom – well, that’s where the magic happened… We were there as we watched KU win the 2008 national basketball championship (what were YOU thinking?) and I’ll never forget dancing around the room while we wore every piece of Jayhawk gear I own, including the golf club head covers like puppets on our hands. The guest room is where we slept during and after hurricane Alex, through a week with no water service but significant water damage to our house, when I was seven months pregnant. The tree out front will always be the tree that our friends decorated on the day we brought Amelia home from the hospital, and the living room is where she took her first steps. Even after only four years, every inch of this house is full of memories.

{Master bedroom. Brown fuzzy rug courtesy of Monna.}

Resources and services that make it easier to live overseas
I love that we are very definitely not in the U.S., but it is easy to go for a weekend whenever we need to. We have a mailbox that we share with a group of about 15 friends in McAllen, Texas. I can order something online and have it shipped there, and whenever anyone in our group goes up to Texas, they bring it back (and in turn when we go, we bring their things too). I get all the joys of living internationally and there is absolutely no reason to feel homesick for “things American.”

{Amelia’s nursery… the crib was a gift from my grandmother, and the chair was one that my parents rocked me to sleep in when I was a baby. I had it reupholstered.}

Culture shock
Occasionally I experience culture shock… but it isn’t really shocking. I am still astounded by the “me first!” attitude of drivers. That’s the worst thing for me. I think that as someone who has been here a long time, perhaps the greatest problem is that I catch myself sometimes not wanting to “invest” in friendships with the new teachers… I’ve had my heart broken so many times when close friends have left. I would like to just get over that. In my head I know it’s better to go all in, invest, and get my heart broken than to miss out on those friendships altogether.

How friends and family members feel about me working overseas
Some Americans have a lot of strange ideas about Mexico and Mexican people, and it’s been interesting to talk with people about it and to try and clear up some of the misconceptions. I hate to call it ignorance, so let’s call it “fear of the unknown.” For example, when I accepted this job one person actually asked me: “Why do you want to move to Mexico? Don’t they all want to move here?” No one in Mexico seems surprised that my husband and I are happy and choose to stay here, but a few of my American friends and family members seem surprised when they learn that we aren’t in the process of getting Roberto a green card. One person asked us when we were engaged, “If you have children, will they speak Mexican or American?” (For the record, our daughter is learning to speak both Spanish and English.) So while some people are very supportive of me in my choice to live here, others think I am crazy. I invite them to come for a visit and see that this is a lovely place. It isn’t perfect, but it’s home.

Knowing when it’s time to leave
Ten years ago, Monterrey was the perfect place for me as a single science teacher in my late twenties looking for a fun opportunity to travel while I worked. Now, Monterrey is the perfect place for me as a married college counselor in my late thirties looking for a great place to raise a family while not being too terribly far away from my extended family in the states. Roberto has lived here his entire life, although he is not averse to the possibility of moving. But for now at least, this is home. We love our house, we love our jobs, and we love our friends. As far as our daughter is concerned, she has three loving parents – Claudia (her nanny) has been working with us since before Amelia was born, and she is absolutely wonderful with her. When it’s time for Amelia to go to school, I’d be happy to see her go to the school at which Roberto and I work. If the security situation was to get truly ugly (and right now I think it’s getting better, not worse)… or maybe someday if/when we don’t feel professionally happy anymore, we’ll move on. We take it one year at a time, and so far every year when we discuss whether we will stay or go, we decide to stay.

My favourite (Mexican) food
My husband makes the BEST carne asada out there. Fresh tortillas, arrachera (flank steak) and onions on the grill, homemade guacamole and salsa, a squeeze of lime and a dash of salt… simply delish. Outside of my own home, I would say that it’s a tie. On one hand, there is the chile en nogada at La Catarina here in Monterrey (I can’t possibly do better than this description. On the other hand, you have ceviche de pulpo from any local dive in the Mayan Riviera… chopped octopus, tomatoes, onions, and peppers mixed with lime juice and sea salt… the lime juice literally cooks the octopus (you can have shrimp, fish, or really any seafood but in my opinion the octopus is the best) and then you just eat the mixture with tortilla chips and a VERY cold beer (preferably while squooshing your toes around in the sand). Uh-oh… I forgot about chilaquiles, and Mexican hot chocolate with churros. Seriously, there is just a lot of good food around here.

Above: Three photos I love from our honeymoon, now hanging in a place of supreme importance in our home – yeah, right! (They are above the toilet in the downstairs half bath.) The frames were once yours, Monna!

Below: A beautiful piece by Stacey Lindbloom, a former student, that she gave to me when she graduated and headed off to architecture school.

What I buy when I travel
I love to buy pottery – my favorites are some pieces I have with little dots and butterflies on them from Guanajuato. I also have a painting that I adore – I bought it my first year here. The artist, Coco Nuñez, has her own gallery in San Miguel de Allende. I think it was a little hard for her to part with it, but after she told me the story behind it, I had to have it. It is called “La Busqueda” (The Search). It is all about her search for happiness… in work, in money, in love, in religion and spirituality… but the only way that she has ever really found true happiness is by looking within herself and being honest about her real dreams and desires. She left a job, a man, and risked rejection from her family to become an artist and open her own gallery. As she told me, “Now my only sadness is that my paintings are like my children, and it is hard to see them move on, but if I don’t let them go they will bankrupt me!”

{Pretty things.
Above: The pottery that I love from Guanajuato.
Below: The Coco Nuñez painting from San Miguel de Allende.}

On travelling and staying home
I wish that we had more opportunities to travel in Mexico for fun. I feel a little bit like our vacations now are mostly spent visiting my family in the U.S. Because my family is so spread out, it is hard to see everyone as often as we would like. We try to reserve at least one holiday a year to travel within Mexico, just the two – now three – of us, but that certainly isn’t what I had in mind when I moved here. Having a baby has helped, since people are more likely to come and see us now! It is wonderful being geographically “close” to family (compared to those of you who are teaching on the other side of the planet and only get to see your families once or twice a year at best), but it is also exhausting (personally and financially) sometimes. We actually spend more money per year visiting my family than we do on our mortgage, which seems crazy since we are only three hours drive from the US border. I hate to say this, but after ten years I sometimes feel a little bit resentful when I am making my tenth trip to visit someone who has never come to see us. (Did I really just put that in writing? I think I did. Let’s try and say that more positively…) It’s DEFINITELY wonderful and GREATLY appreciated when friends and family can come to see us sometimes too! If you’d like to come for a visit, let me know… Mi casa es tu casa! Our guest room (and its queen size, memory-foam-mattressed bed) await you!

You are cordially invited to leave a little love note for Sarah in the comments section below.

21 comments

  1. This is beautiful, Sarah! I’m so happy to see such your home in such detail, and to read about your thoughts and experiences around being an international educator. Thanks for sharing this. Can’t wait to hit that guest room one of these days!

      1. Hi, Sarah- just found this piece you wrote and it really gave me some comfort . I live in the states and have been contemplating moving to Monterrey. After reading your piece, I felt reassured that everything will be ok. I would love to chat with you if you don’t mind. Here’s my email (in case you would like to email me back): mariza2575@yahoo.com.
        Good luck with everything .
        Mariza

  2. This blog/ post really brightened up my day. I was feeling a little down throughout the day and I saw this link on Ms.McDiarmid’s facebook. It reminded me of all the positive experiences I had in Monterrey, Mexico and how much I miss it. I’m so glad to see that you are happy and doing well Mrs. Loring. I still remember having you as my 9th grade science teacher at ASFM! I remember you dressed up as a toaster for halloween and gave everyone fun sized packs of m&m’s. I always had positive experiences in that classroom! You look very happy! I wish you and your family the best! 🙂

  3. Wow a shout out to the eye ball store! I love that store. Always a favorite place to go and hunt for a new treasure. Lovely family & house Sarah. 🙂 I am supremely jealous of the arrachera ( oh how I miss that –sometimes in a Mexican as opposed to TexMex restaurant you can find some arrachera in TX) and I can’t get guacamole here in Curacao –beautiful beaches but no good avocados. Great to hear about your experiences in Mexico and reminisce about all the good times I had there.

  4. Sarah – So fun to read about you, your family & your home! (And a good break from the final weeks of application review). Hope you are well & that we get to see each other soon 🙂

    1. Hi Isabel! Great to hear from you, and so glad you enjoyed this. I need to come and visit Dartmouth again as an adult sometime! I went once when I was about 13, with my great aunt who was the registrar there for 40-some years. Hopefully someday. Hugs to you dear!!!

  5. Sarah, it was such fun to see the pictures of your house and hear more of your perspectives on your life in Mexico. I love you!

    Kate

  6. FYI – The “Eyeball” store no longer has the eyeball out front, it’s been painted over into something not very “eyeballish” at all! 🙁

  7. sarah, my dear– I love this account of you and your life and your home there! And I DID
    come to see you.Maybe I will try it again some day……..Much Love, Grandma Moray

  8. Sarah, you seem like a sweet soul. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, home, and beautiful family with us. And thank you for your snark, too! I also spend most of my vacation time going home to visit family (I’m in Texas, they’re in Michigan), and it can feel frustrating to not have the time or money for more exotic travels. I know that I’m choosing to spend time with them, and I don’t regret my choice, but I’d really like to visit other places too!

  9. Sarah-how wonderful your life is! I remember your budding romance with Roberto. Heidi and I always said you’d found true love! Congrats!

  10. Hi Sarah and Roberto! I’m so happy to see a little bit of your life in Monterrey. Seems like just yesterday that you were navigating the nerves of first dating. And wow, Amelia is getting so big. Xoxoxo to you all!
    Love, heather

  11. Sarah,
    A lovely blog post! So many things to comment on, but I will leave it to just this: FABULOUS rooftop photos! Makes me love Mty even more.

  12. I love The Eyeball Store! I bought a beautiful wooden box with wrought iron details there, when I visited Monna and Damien. One of my all time favourite souvenirs ever! I hope your loved ones visit you more often so you can introduce them to The Eyeball Store and Seven Mile Market too.

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