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on February 11, 2013
As someone who has repeatedly stepped outside her own comfort zone, I was fascinated by Sonia Marsh's tale of her family's experiment with living in a third world country when their prosperous California life-style began to feel too materialistic. Their attempt to adapt to the unfamiliar environment of the tiny Caribbean nation of Belize offers a host of insights that are useful whether you're moving to another country or just to a different city in your own country.

Marsh writes, often humorously, about the way that cultural differences affect day-to-day life. Housing styles and standards. The education system. The food that is (or is not) available in the local market. The bugs. Trying to establish a bank account.

But what I found most compelling about Marsh's story was her description of their interactions with their neighbors in Belize, be they local, permanent ex-pats or transitional folks like themselves. What seemed, in the early days, to be an idyllic and supportive if somewhat chaotic community proved to be anything but idyllic. Once Sonia and her husband Duke tried to structure a life for themselves based on "the American paradigm," the community seemed to rise up in protest, occasionally in a way that was frightening.

It is to Marsh's credit that she looks back on this as a learning experience, one that caused her to recognize that there is no universal "right answer." In the final analysis, Marsh chose a life style that is more California than Belize -- but it is a life style that has benefited from incorporating the best of what she found in Belize.
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on July 7, 2013
Cho! Though I didn't live in Orange County, I lived in bordering Long Beach California most of my adult life. So I well know what some allude to as the lure of California glitz. In 1987, I joined the Peace Corps, and never did move back, though I visit friends and relatives there yearly. I didn't live on the Belizean cayes, but in Belize City.

Some of my fellow PCVs would take their vacation time to visit the cayes...mostly Caye Caulker, which catered more to the backpacking crowd. Few of us, if any, could really afford more than a night in one of the pricy resort hotels on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, let alone imagine actually living there as residents. The island had a reputation on the mainland for being overpriced, snobbish, and so upscale it could hardly qualify as belonging to one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean. So, no, I never got there. I've never been to Cancun, either...but I've been all over the rest of Central and South America, so I've had some experience with seeing how locals in those countries deal with tourists and ex pats.

Reading this book took me back to the days of living in that stilted rickety old two-story house on Regent Street. Sonia's battles with bugs and varmints reminded me of how I had to move my bed around from one corner to the other when I'd come home from my work at the Belize Council of Churches to find my pillow covered with a pile of termite sawdust. She brought back my memories of the mice who ate themselves to death when they burrowed into my imported box of artificial sweetener. I laughed aloud at her scorpion stories, remembering how I shook out my tennies every morning to make certain nothing was huddled inside waiting to nip my toe.

Sonia bravely reveals her shifting feelings about the members of her family, how she struggled with three sons in different stages of childhood and early adolescence, and how her feelings for her husband changed from time to time. Glad that they had evacuated themselves from the Orange County rat race, she began to fear that he'd permanently morphed from workaholic to beach bum. He hadn't, of course, as we learn as we read along.

Though I may have prepared for such a move differently, I've learned that individuals and families have their own style when it comes from moving from one place to the next. I've a friend who took nearly a year to move fewer than 20 miles away. So that this family didn't adequately research job opportunities, local attitudes and prospects for schooling for their boys, didn't surprise me. They did what they had to do...which was to get the boys out of Orange County...and fast. When you'll read the book, you'll find out why. It will suffice to say that the eldest son began to act is if he were possessed by a subtle demon.

Kudos to Sonia for telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I write memoir, and I read a great deal of it. It's so easy to choose to leave out the events that might reflect badly on you and your motives. That Sonia opted for inclusion rather than exclusion is to her credit...and it's these details that she exposes that another writer might have conveniently censored that makes this book such a wonder!

If you've considered moving to a developing country, read this book first. It's a handbook on what not to do...and will leave you with some guidelines for avoiding this family's mistakes.

I lived overseas for ten years in four developing countries: Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Seychelles. What did I miss about the States? The usual, the creature comforts. For me they included hot bubble baths, frozen yogurt, the Sunday newspapers and the Lakers on TV. All those years I lived without hot running water, television, telephones, and washing machines. Most of the time, as Sonia points out,crisp fresh vegetables rarely were available. But I found we're resilient creatures, and we can adjust. When I lived in Belize, I learned to love the daily rice, beans and plantain. Even now, when it comes time for midday "dinner" I remember how delicious that meal used to be.

In 1998 I returned to the States, and have lived and worked in a variety of locales. And now, in my old age, I'm thinking of returning to Southern California. Born in Los Angeles, I'm a 3rd generation native Californian. I think if you grew up in that area, you'll never rid yourself of the longing to return. There's not a day that goes by that I don't pine for a glimpse of the Pacific. I can well understand this family's decision, after a year abroad, to return to Orange County...but not to the rat race. Good for them!
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on April 1, 2015
I am not sure I can finish this book. It is so very whiny. One petulant sentence after another before, during, and after the move. The family seems to be in desperate need of family counseling, but apparently this was not considered. It doesn't seem as if nearly enough research was done before the move, because we are drug into chapter after chapter of complaining about one thing after another that isn't the way it is in Orange County! There are paragraphs here and there that do relate happy moments, but soon we are back to the usual. The author seems to find fault with anyone who is wealthy. She finds fault with the way people live, the trash, the food! Did they not see any of this when they went down to visit before making the move to "save" their elder son? I wish I had liked this book. I realize that no major move is perfect. However, the lack of planning and education during the pre-move, followed by the incessant disillusionment is just more than the reader should be given.
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on February 10, 2013
All of us dream of escaping a deadening routine and life, but few act on it. In this memoir, Sonia Marsh takes us on a wild journey of risking what families rarely do . . . sell the house, chuck all the material possessions and move to a Third World Country.

Sonia's husband, Duke, is exhausted from traffic jams and the endless commutes that characterize life in Orange County, CA. Her oldest son, Steve, is headed down a defiant and possibly destructive path. Sonia's desire to "heal" her family and teach her three sons that there is more than video games, materialism and competition, leads to a path of drastic change. Despite her reservations after a visit to Belize and her own intuition that Belize may not be right for her family, she and Duke take the plunge anyway. The ups and downs, the steps and missteps, of moving from California to Belize, are both comical and heartbreaking.

Sonia soon finds that dreams collide with reality. She deals with a son who dislikes change and misses his friends back in California, a husband who can't let the "dream" go, an oldest son instant messaging his girlfriend back in California until 3 a.m. They are a homesick family trying to find their way back to each other.

"In Belize you didn't have to fit in, it was okay to be different," Marsh writes. But even that myth fades when the Marshes discover a social caste system where those in the bigger villas look down on those with less. The also discover unfriendly expats, rats in their oven, cock roaches that eat their way through ziplock bags . . . Then walking the beach one starry night in their flip-flops, the family looks up to see a shooting star and senses the possibility of magic, the beginning realization that beauty is not so much a place, as a state of mind, of being connected to one another as a family. That and the adventure that comes with trying something different and taking a risk, brings them together and is an important life lesson to be shared and savored.

What makes this memoir worth reading is the honesty of the author; not sugar-coating the family's experiences and interactions with each other. I would have liked less description of the family's lifestye in Belize and more reflection from the author. "I always felt it was impossible to escape mentally unless I escaped physically," Marsh writes with honesty and insight. I wanted more of this . .. a deeper glimpse into who Sonia Marsh is when she isn't juggling all the balls, dancing the dance, of trying to be the best possible wife and mother.
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on August 9, 2013
In Freeways to Flip-flops, Sonia March writes a saga of relationships: with her husband, her sons, her neighbors, other expats in Belize, with the locals of Belize whom she had once thought were her friends, and finally with herself. She writes with candor (and in a voice so clear, I swore I could hear her) of her fears of losing her oldest son, her tendency to worry too much, her disappointment in her husband, and her naïve assumptions of how to fit into the culture of Belize. She writes of her drive to "have an adventure in paradise," to live a slower life, and to get her family -- three sons, one husband, and her -- to reconnect.

The first few chapters of the book move back and forth between Orange County (LA) California backstory the "present" in Ambergris Caye, Belize, and Sonia uses different logos at the start of each chapter to help the reader acclimate. That is helpful.

The book settles in Belize as she learns new lessons: water is scarce, time is relative, dirt is subjective, and finally, "paradise is a state of mind, not a place."

Tension evolves throughout the story: will their three sons settle in, will they be able to make a living, and why are the locals so against them?

At the end, with the turquoise waters she had longed for just the year before in front of her, Sonia now longs to buy Brie and Boursin cheese from Trader Joe's. Lessons learned and children reconnected, the family returns to Orange County.

Twenty-odd years ago, I was faced with a similar adolescent son acting out. So, I found her decision to move her family to Belize nothing short of remarkable. With her husband backing her all the way, hers was an option not available to me. I chose the more traditional path, hauling my family of four into family therapy, which has, in its own way, a culture of its own. It certainly taught me a different way of seeing the world.

For both of us, our decisions changed our lives. And we both have our oldest sons to thank.
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on April 25, 2013
After visiting Sonia Marsh's website, Gutsy Living, I was intrigued. I couldn't wait to read her memoir. I wondered what would cause a family to uproot themselves from the comforts of Southern California and move to a Third World country. I also questioned what this family hoped to gain after they relocated to an unlikely location, Belize.

The opening chapter provided a taste of what they encountered in Belize. I immediately knew that life would be more difficult than they had ever anticipated. Unless the conditions changed, I immediately sensed that whatever they hoped to gain would be an upward climb. I predicted that they would return sooner rather than later.

The second chapter started to answer my first question. Sonia openly starts to discuss the dynamics of her family and her fears. Surprisingly, she doesn't shield any of her minor children from the possibility of embarrassment. Sonia talks freely about her eldest son's inappropriate behavior and the fact that materialism and entitlement issues were wrecking havoc with her household and that her husband needed a slower paced legal position.

After coming to grips with the dysfunctional nature of the Marsh family, Sonia shifts back to life in Belize in the next chapter. Additional hardships prevail. From this point forward, the reader follows the family's adventures as they learn to live outside their comfort zone. Sometimes the stories mirror the trials and tribulations of living as an expat in a foreign country and other times the tales are unique to the Marsh family. The story occasionally reverts back to their life in the United States so the reader can have a better understanding of their decision making process.

The pace of the book is inconsistent. Sometimes it flows freely and other times it drags. I was content to put the book down when I started to lose interest.

Having lived as an expat in a foreign country, I can relate to some of her cultural struggles and apprehensions. However, at times she appears naïve. Most people would do thorough research regarding, neighborhoods, schools, medical providers and business opportunities before moving in the states or abroad. Before I relocated from the Midwest to a mountain state, I did my homework and checked out schools and health care. For whatever reason, she preferred to punt. Perhaps, that was an intricate part of her desire to escape the comforts of American society.

Anyone reading the book will see why few are willing to leave behind an American lifestyle for an unknown Third World environment. Those willing to gamble have mixed results. Some end up disillusioned and return home while others learn to adapt and figure out how to fit in. In this particular case, the Marsh family was able to benefit from their time away and drew closer as a family, but at the same time could not adhere to their new community's ways. Their inability to conform ultimately sent them packing.

Much is to be gained from an expat experience. Living outside their comfort zone had a profound effect on Sonia's family. The lessons that she learned from her adventure will hopefully help others who face a similar situation..
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on October 16, 2012
When Sonia and Duke Marsh's oldest son, a teenager, goes off the rails, they come up with a controversial solution - a drastic change from their high-flying lifestyle in Orange County to a more natural, less privileged one in Belize. Their aim is to combat their kids' growing sense of entitlement and materialism as well as regain family values and togetherness.
They take an initial trip to Belize where they find a tropical paradise with friendly locals and expats who extol the virtues of living there. Based on their initial impression, they decide to sell their California home and move to Belize. It seems that Duke, an attorney, can continue to work there over the Internet.
Paradise proves to be a rude awakening. The family not only confront the shortcomings of a third-world country but initially, living in a primitive hut, have difficulty obtaining water, finding a remedy for poisonwood tree rash, scorpions - one shares Sonia's pillow, the kids' education, Internet problems, and adapting to an entirely different lifestyle. Sonia worries whether this is the right decision for her sons and then about her husband's apathy when he loses his job. They decide to start a property management business only to discover they have incurred the wrath of the local expats who set about showing them they are no longer welcome in this small community.
"Freeways to Flip-Flops" takes an honest look at the reality of relocating to a tropical island in a third-world country. Apart from the living conditions, it exposes the problem of an expat community that has its own rules of behavior and ostracizes, even sabotages, those who fail to fall in line with them.
The writing is full of vitality, humorous, somewhat whimsical, and a faithful account of life on a tropical island, though occasionally, the author's willingness to share her experiences and information results in too much detail and some repetition.
Ultimately, despite having to give up living in Belize, this experience helps fulfill Sonia and Duke's main objectives of the move: enriches their lives, helps regain family values, and focuses their kids in the right direction.
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on May 15, 2014
Started well, with an escapist tale of leaving it all behind to rediscover oneself in a tropical paradise. However, as the story progressed (and the author's relationships with her new compatriots fell apart) I couldn't help feel that there was more to this story than portrayed in the book. The author seems to believe she is blameless, but reading between the lines her actions (and those of her husband) contributed a great deal to the end result. A little more honesty wouldn't have gone amiss, and would have left me with a more favourable impression of the author - all I ended up with was "entitled, self absorbed American tries to change foreign country, fails dismally, goes home early".
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on December 1, 2012
What an intriguing premise: a family moves from Orange County, CA to the country of Belize because the parents are worried that their three boys (adolescent to teenaged) are becoming corrupted by the culture of urban, privileged southern California. Also the father, an attorney, is discouraged and burned out from his high-pressure job, and the mother (Sonia, who wrote the memoir) is increasingly sick of the materialism and hustle of the OC.

In Belize, they encounter bugs, bad food, scarce water, and other privations. In return, they receive the gift of breathtaking scenery, the pleasure of simple things, and the joy of becoming self-sufficient and making do with less. I couldn't put this book down. Sonia is a natural storyteller, and I enjoyed the book very, very much. I enthusiastically recommend it.
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on September 18, 2012
Freeways to FlipFlops is a good reminder that we should be thankful for what we have and remember that the 'best things in life aren't things', but are the people that God has given us to share life with. The grass is greenest where you water it!!! Living in Orange County is tough...easy to get 'sucked in' to what seems to be the best way to live which requires lots of money. Too bad this family had to uproot and go elsewhere to discover this truth, but at least doing so got them to a better way of life eventually after some hard lessons. Hopefully others can learn from this and not have to experience the hard lessons, but it seems we aren't good at learning from others - we only seem to learn from our own mistakes or hard times!!! Thanks for writing this to remind us all to keep our life simple and take care of our family, friends and neighbors first!!!
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