Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something Got Lost in the Translation. . .

Last week I mentioned that I'd be taking photos of the new plants. The weather has not been very cooperative, however. Although we are extremely privileged in terms of natural disasters (namely, there are none here), when hurricanes get close to either coast, they send us rain clouds, dark and miserable, but way more liveable than the catastrophic events on the coast. Soooo... I've been busy, weather allowing, planting and levelling the lot.

With that in mind, last week I had ordered tierra morena, a rich brown soil that plants love. That, and tepetate, a calcium carbonate friable rock that packs quite nicely and will reduce the amount of dust stirred up by the running dogs. A previous order of brown soil had already been delivered by Los Coyotes some two weeks before. I was asked in what order I wanted the truckloads to be delivered. It was soil first, then tepetate. 

The first truck showed up--with tepetate. On the narrow lot that I have, dumping the tepetate first would have prevented any truck from coming in. He had to return and come back after the half-load of soil had been dumped further in onto the lot. He wasn't particularly happy. But wait, that's only the beginning!

Less than an hour later, here come two trucks. One with a half-load of soil that makes its way towards the back and begins dumping. Just as soon as I see the black dirt, I holler "STOP", both arms gesticulating in the air to make myself understood, but not quickly enough to prevent a sizeable portion of the soil to land. Black soil here turns up very spongy and sticky after a rainfall. With 12 active paws running around, the amount of dirt is unmanageable. Then when it's dry, it produces tons of fine dust! I hate the stuff.

The driver and his helper contemplated the dumped soil, about a cubic meter, probably wishing it away with a strong enough stare. . . and I insisted that it had to be removed. Meanwhile, the tepetate truck had been waiting in front of the lot. A short consultation took place with a final verdict that a maquina (I presume a front loader, but perhaps I should avoid presuming) would be sent to remove the black dirt, but it is now too late to dump either the brown soil or the tepetate. The helper asked me once more, meekly, "...are you sure you can't use it?" Absolutely NOT! The driver pointed out (somewhat acidly, I might add) that brown dirt here is called lama. Ah... I guess I should have known the technical term. Away both trucks went. Again. For the day.

No sooner had they left that rain clouds, as dark as the dumped soil, rolled in. I quickly called for help from my neighbour to spread a tarp over the black #%?# just in time to avoid the downpour that would have turned the whole #%?# into an unspeakable miasma. No way this late in the game that a front loader could be sent. Not in the downpour.

So today, I expect a front loader and an empty truck, followed by a truck with a half load of lama (see, I'm a fast learner!), in turn followed by another truck load of tepetate.

Then, maybe not. . .

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Making of a Full-Time RV'er... My Own

I find that, sometimes to gain perspective as objectively as possible, it helps to read old journal entries. It is particularly helpful when one is contemplating such a drastic change in one's life as taking to the road for a years to come, if not forever. For instance, when I read all my old entries while living in a stationary home, (my own house) I certainly do not appear overly distraught with my circumstances (except for Social Services, perhaps...)

Then I turned sixty-five and had a choice to make. The three children under my care for years were being moved to other foster homes (not my choice). There was no way I could afford, or keep for that matter, a five bedroom house, particularly in a small community in which I would not be able to find employment, but would need to, just to keep paying for the mortgage, taxes, and upkeep. Frankly, that last option held very little appeal for obvious reasons.

A few months earlier, I had signed up for the RV, thinking I'd take the children places during the summer. I simply used the equity on the house to pay for it. I was running TOWARD a new life so had no qualms about letting go of all that was associated with my soon-to-be former life. I put almost everything up for sale and managed in liquidating it all. Re-reading my journal entries, I'm waxing almost lyrical about my life to come on the road. Was I running AWAY from something? Not that I can recall. I knew the certainties and security of the world that I was leaving behind. I think that I was fairly realistic about that. I foresaw no propensity to miss any of it, just as long as I could make up for certain necessities afforded by having a stationery home, such as communications by phone and internet.

What I was running toward was a new life that I was ready and keen to embrace. I had lived it with VW Shermie in my mid-fifties for a year and a half. It meant the lure of unknown and (to me) exciting adventures, looking forward to new, ever widening horizons, people to meet, challenges to overcome. An almost inconceivable FREEDOM! Admittedly, I was the envy of many people who would confide that they too had often thought of running away from the rat race and do what I was doing...

What I realize with utter clarity, if somewhat belatedly, was that I had been running at once from and toward. I was running away from a world that offered stability and comfort yet often felt confining, stifling. A world in which there was almost an obligation to conform to society's expectations or else be somewhat of a loner, an eccentric or even an outcast. My sanity had sometimes been questioned for caring in my sixties for three young children. That fact alone set me apart from most people my age. And, from most younger people who were also caring for "their" children and were in their thirties and forties. Clearly, I failed to fit in either bracket. It was obvious then, as it is now, that conforming had not been an overwhelming need...

Had I idealized life as a full-time RV'er? UNDENIABLY. Did I ever question my decision in the worst trying circumstances on the road? CERTAINLY. Did I have any regrets? NOT ON YOUR LIFE! As stated earlier, although I realize that I had been running away from my previous life and all its contradictions and restrictions and (this one is probably the biggest!) constant judging by others' standards, the life toward which I had been running brought both a relief from all this together with a set of previously unknown challenges, restrictions, and compensations. I met them all, aching loneliness at odd times, the stark realization of being (technically... and obviously) homeless, the innumerable and inescapable chores, (I had little suspected how many of them and how overtaxing at times), a definite lack of privacy (perforce it must be when you overnight park on the street or a large parking lot), and too many more to list... Was it worth it? UNQUESTIONABLY!

It finally excised from me the last remains of the "obligation" to conform or else having to explain and justify myself. It is MY life, and I owe explanations or justifications only to MYSELF just as long as my choices do not negatively affect others. Conversely, it brought me an awareness that no one can be an island upon oneself; that regardless of one's lifestyle, self-sufficiency is possible, but rarely without other people's help at certain times. A lesson in humility, this. Together with the necessity to reciprocate, as well. Was I ready to keep RV'ing boondocking for years to come? NO LONGER at 70.

The time had come for a change and my options were still open. Although I'm still boondocking, now it's in Mexico, on my lot, where I DO NOT feel like a round peg attempting to fit in a square hole. The challenges are different, but manageable. I had never foreseen that I'd be designing and building a house in another country, but life on the road has prepared me for change and made me aware of what I can face up to.  And what I appreciate most both in the country and from its people? The non-judgemental attitude. So, I finally met what I had been running toward.

The freedom to simply BE ME.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Women Full-Time RV'ers

This is a sort of generic appellation since I'll be talking mostly about my experiences traveling solo. But I have met quite a number of other women who have opted for a life as a full time RV'er and we have exchanged many "tricks" of the road. All in all, I was on the road for a little over 6 years.

First and foremost, make sure all that's mechanical, tires, oil, etc. (I won't go through the list, it should be evident...) is checked out BEFORE you leave. This does not guarantee an accident free trip but certainly increases the chances of making it to the destination without INCIDENTS. Besides who wants the stress of wondering whether you may be stuck where you don't want to be and faced with a substantial repair bill?

Secure all that's in cupboards or tied to the rig. I recall once that, after a visit and a barbecue with my daughter and her partner, she offered to dry the dishes. I forgot, however, to warn her about placing the anti-skid squares between the plates and bowls. Your guess is right on. Everything slid off the shelves at the first sharp turn of the road. Even though it was Corelle, everything DID break. A real mess.

Make sure that your TV antenna is down or else everyone and his cousin on the road will honk at you (a tad nerve wracking, that) and point to the antenna. When I started out, I'd made a list of everything to check out before leaving. It helped as all that I had to remember was a bit overwhelming and I was afraid of forgetting something.

Tell family or close ones the date when you're leaving and where you're heading or how long you intend to keep on the road. Otherwise, they will worry about you unnecessarily and will contact you on your cell, which you DO NOT want to answer while driving. Once at my destination, I usually got in touch with a son, daughter, or sibling to let them know I was ok.

Safety must always be first. While traveling, I have made sure to stop for an overnight before darkness. There are a number of outlets that will let you stay overnight, have a security guard, and stay well lit for the night. For me, it's almost always been Walmart. I bought their atlas that lists all the W-M stores and specifically the Supercenters-a one stop shop. Also, preparation is the key to travel that will be as uneventful as possible, except for vistas and places to visit on the way.

I once witnessed a drug exchange at a rest area surrounded by tall trees and not visible from the road. (Yeah... I was a newbie). Five tough-looking guys kept looking toward my VW van when at first, there had been only two ordinary looking guys. Luckily I had made sure all the doors were locked before lying down for a rest. I was concerned with showing by my leaving that I was a woman alone so felt that I had to make myself "undetectable". My dog had already had her pit stop so I just stayed put quietly, without even moving, until they all went their merry way. A very disquieting experience. Since then, I've used rest areas ONLY during the day.

I always made sure my holding tanks were empty except for the fresh water one, which had enough water to sustain me through the travel only. Also, I stopped as often as necessary to keep the gas tank at mid-level. This alleviates the load and saves on gas, too. (Except perhaps for Nevada... and others with 80 miles or more between service station.)

I have listened to plenty of full timers and have always taken their advice to heart. Also, I bought plenty of books relevant to my journey and read them before leaving. That way, I felt prepared. I did not have a GPS. Without a co-pilot, I wanted to have an easily read itinerary for the next day. I made sure it was written large and dark enough so I could check it without getting my reading glasses on. I even marked the rest areas on it.

There are so many reference books, articles, websites, blogs, etc. that offer advice on traveling as a solo woman. I bought and downloaded as many as I could and read them all before leaving. The advice was at times a little too technical for my thorough comprehension, but I kept it anyway. 

Oh... yes, an afterthought. You will encounter PLENTY of people who will warn you of all sorts of potential calamities. Yet the doomsayers have not really gone through the experience themselves. Trust those who have. Even though people may talk out of concern for you, rarely is it from a place of knowledge based on personal experience. Each trip is just as individual as you are.

Using your head is the most important. Preparation is the key. Better to act than to react. As to keeping a blog, I never published my next destination. Although I always kept a journal, my report was written AFTER the fact. I never traveled with a firearm. I heard it said that it's not the finger that controls the gun, it's the head (I wasn't sure that I could trust my cool factor in a panic situation). Also, I'd once met a retired policeman (from San Francisco, if you must know) who warned me that unless I had considerable experience in the use of a gun, I'd probably end up with the gun being used AGAINST me. I took his advice to heart. He knew.

Oh, one more thing. I never opened the door--always kept locked--to a knock unless I could see if it was someone that I knew. And whom did I know on the road? Not a soul. If talk was necessary (and it did happen once that a kind mechanic warned me about a tire almost ready to burst--I had checked the tread but not the walls...); it took place through the window opened to a slit. I took care of it right then.

Finally, just remember that the world is NOT filled with axe murderers.

And DO enjoy both the preparing for the road and hitting it finally!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wrapping Up Construction--For Now

Building is a heck of a challenge. Actually, the planning is worse than the building 'cause the planning is my job. There are a few constraints on account of the lot configuration. Also, because I continue to live in the RV and have to plan for where I'll eventually leave it parked. It leaves me with serious headaches at times trying to prepare for everything, allowing enough space for the work to get done while having enough free space to live in the RV.

The lot is narrow and long. Roughly a tad less than 40 feet wide by 90 feet long. It follows a natural slope West to East. The East side is lower by a little over 2 feet. Fortunately, the North/South is fairly level. Now that I have lived through the rainy season and heavy downpours, I saw that the eastside "ditch" got filled in a matter of minutes--what I would term a ferocious rain coming down by the bucket load! It took much longer to dry up. Tina found it to her liking and had a ball splashing in the brown water. Final conclusion, the lot will have to be levelled.

I must have revised my plans 5 or 6 times owing to a number of factors. The first one was the lot configuration. The second one is that my awning gave up the ghost. So off it went but I had to make up for its loss. I designed a simple roof of galvanized metal to put over the "patio" that provided me with an extension of the RV. Ismael built it fast and well. The whole thing is quite primitive but it suits my purpose. The awning posts are anchored in cement Bodega, dogs, lavadero, flowers 015and will be cut off when I can move into the house. The galvanized roof will serve very well over the laundry area. The bodega in the background will eventually get windows and a door.

Another consideration: since I have to fire up the generator to use my washer, I thought I'd buy a "lavadero" (a double sink made of cement, grooved for washing and polished smooth for rinsing) and use the washer for large items only. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took photos. I got acquainted with the "lavadero" when I was in the casita on Juarez. I LOVED it! It brought back memories of a large laundry vat filled with dirty clothes... a washboard ...and plenty of elbow grease! The surprising thing is that clothes come out cleaner and softer with the use of the Mexican equivalent of kosher soap that I used to buy "on the other side".

Bodega, dogs, lavadero, flowers 014

A little aside about laundry terms. The sink is masculine LAVADERO. The washing machine is feminine LAVADORA. The place where laundry is performed is LAVANDERIA--feminine too. Could it be that, at some level, the terms are somewhat representative of real life? Hmmmm... I wonder!

As I'm writing this, three young men are digging a channel for the water to run from the water main to my lot by a pipe. Again, it will be a temporary installation while boondocking. In most of the country, water is channelled from the water main to a large water tank that is usually installed on the roof. It then simply flows by gravity. This way, if the city has to shut off water for a while (and it DOES happen) nobody has to be without water. Right now, a water tank in the soil supplies my RV with water. A "flotador" or float similar to the one in a water tank for the toilet works the same way. When a certain level is reached, it shuts off the water supply. All very clever. That tank will be replaced by the rooftop model---when I get a house, and a roof over it.

Now, as to the reason that construction is on hold is so simple. Lack of funds. I'm still paying for the lot and until I'm done at the end of January 2011, I will have to be content with boondocking. However, there are amenities. I have water, I have sewage (to the septic tank) and I have solar energy. And, I AM HOME!

I will however, continue to level the lot and work on detailed plans. Oh.... and I got plants. And trees. More about this in the next couple of days.

L'arte d'arrangiarsi

This is an Italian term that signifies to make do, to make something out of next to nothing. When I saw the pups insisting on using the couch for all three "comfortably", this is the term that immediately sprang to mind. Sleeping the sleep of the just. . . while barely fitting. They made it work!

Bodega, dogs, lavadero, flowers 012

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Doing Without - a Loss turns into a Gain

Since I've been boondocking in Mexico, I've had to do without certain things that I used to expect as a given. The first one and believe me, it loomed big, was reading. The second, almost as big, was TV. Not that I was ever addicted but I did enjoy some shows. Before my last season in the Arizona desert, I had bought a small digital TV. Close to Yuma, the reception was so good that I didn't even have to raise the antenna! Which is a good thing since the raising mechanism had broken down... Briefly, I considered getting a new one installed but finally opted against it since I had no idea what awaited me in Mexico, my ultimate destination.

Upon arrival in Tequis I rented a casita and got cable with quite a few channels in English. No way could I tackle anything in Spanish. Little had I realized that most shows were VERY dated. I used to enjoy "So You Think You Can Dance". Quite thrilled that I would get it here, I settled for an hour of visual delight (well, at least some of the dancers were skilful if not exactly artful) only to realize within the first two or three minutes past the commercials that the show had been taped some 3 years before! The experience was repeated many times over with different shows. Even some films in French were so old that I recognized actors from my younger days! So, when I finally decided to remain in Tequis rather than settle down in Oaxaca, it was to buy the lot on which I will eventually build my own little dwelling. I had other priorities besides TV so I let it slide.

I had discovered a lovely pastry shop in downtown Tequis run by an expat Austrian pastry chef. Stefan is multilingual and makes the most awesome desserts to be enjoyed with an espresso or cappuccino. His café sports a small shelving unit filled with books, some in English others in German, that he resells for a few pesos. I grabbed all that I could identify as new-to-me and filled a few evenings with reading--a short lived affair. I returned a few times and got the espresso and the strudel but no new books. My friends Jimena and Peter had given many books. Same fate. Within two to three weeks I'd run out of a boxful of reading material.

Evidently, I had to tackle that challenge head on. During the day I spent many hours learning as much Spanish as I could so that I could get a degree of understanding the written word for evenings to come. As I mentioned in a previous post, the easiest and cheapest way to get reading material was buying Selecciones del Reader's Digest and painstakingly work my way through the text with the help of the dictionary. The first edition was filled with handwriting. With the second one, I could leave quite a few lines of text unmarked. Then I passed both of them on to my friend Guadalupe who in turn lent me her book Siddhartha in Spanish, no less. I filled separate pages with translations, read it at least three or four times, until I could look at a paragraph without panic. Eventually I could take it no more. I'd read it in English centuries before and recalled the story line.

Yesterday I bought the September edition of Selecciones. Last night was stormy, a perfect evening for reading. After the first article without checking the dictionary -wait a minute- could it be that I had read the whole thing without underlining words? Wow... I had understood all of it! And the images formed in my mind without resorting to translating mentally!

Now, that's what I consider an unmitigated GAIN.

I can't wait until I get to the downtown library!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Final Note on Learning Spanish

I should have been more explicit. Briefly, here is how to access the Spanish lessons at http://www.spanishdict.com

Click on the above link. You'll have a number of tabs to choose from. The very first tab is LEARN SPANISH. Click on it, then follow the directions to register and choose a user name. Spanishdict will keep track of your progress and this way, you'll have access to many collateral services. And all you'll have to do is enter the site where your URL will be remembered and you'll be in immediately. Then click on where you left off last or choose to do any lessons or access any service you want.

A good way of adding vocabulary is to sign up for the "Word of the Day", which will be emailed to you daily. I have created a file just for it on my email provider and keep all that I get for reference.

Lately, I could not find the translation for a medical expression and appealed to Spanishdict.com. (Hmmm, ok . . .it was bone spurs--which was posted as a question and was answered by a number of people, who incidentally, showed immediate compassion for moi! The Spanish term was espolón óseo. And yes, they are bothersome, but more so painful, as they are in the shoulder joint).

The list of FREE services is too long to list here. Just go for it!

Now, that's about all I have to say about it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Tricks in Learning Spanish

I have had some queries and comments on my post about learning Spanish. In it, I mentioned how I finally got to progress in my learning the language through free lessons on the internet at http://www.spanishdict.com (it does indeed help that I get to practice daily what I learn).

What I found most helpful, besides the fact that it's entirely FREE, I love that one, was that I could choose the speed at which I could assimilate the new language. We each have our unique learning style and capacity to memorize and recall; that's the immense advantage of progressing at one's own learning rhythm. And, away from a classroom and bombarded by everyone else's learning style, which I sometimes found was an impediment to my own. With spanishdict.com, I virtually breezed through certain lessons while for others, I had to go back two or three times before they would sink in. It was like having my own private tutor.

Look. I am not paid to tout spanishdict.com. I simply found it the most effective of all in my learning the new language rapidly and easily. When I had foster children, many of whom were afflicted with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), I devoured all information so as to teach "my" children who were thus disadvantaged. I recall mention of a book or an article written by a psychologist (whose name I forget--come to think of it, he may have been an educator), who said that one should not ask "...how intelligent is my child", but rather "...how is my child intelligent". This to determine the style in which a particular child is apt to learn as opposed to another. Is he/she more of a visual learner, auditory, kinesthetic, or a combination of these? I applied this information with great success in tutoring my foster daughters. Now, in my case, strict memorization, a rather dry affair I might add, does not work. I need context.

Another trick of mine, which I'm actually finding most helpful in acquiring vocabulary, is the Reader's Digest monthly edition. I buy it here in Spanish, of course, and start with the simplest (and shortest) articles, underlining each word that's new to me. Strangely enough, the first article I read was on how to develop mnemonic aids. The suggestion was to arrange a context in which to recall a selection of words. For instance, memorize the word table and imagine yourself next to it. Then you disappear and a vase appears on the table; then the table disappears and a rose appears in the vase, and so on. I guess you could call it "...recalling by association". When I learn a new word, it is thus in a context that situates it into a logical association (namely a storyline); furthermore, it helps me to get a clear image of it. I check the dictionary, write the translation for the word over it, and re-read the whole article once or twice over to "gel" the meaning in my mind.

It works for me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pride... and Moctezuma's Revenge

Well, I'll have to admit it. I'm guilty of pride. I had congratulated myself in taking all precautions to avoid the gastroenteritis that afflicts many tourists coming to Mexico, so determined was I that I would be the exception to Moctezuma's long list of conquests. I dutifully soaked all fruit and vegetable that I wouldn't cook later (I may have even washed them when not sure whether I'd eat them raw or cook them later!) in the prescribed disinfectant, avoided eating anything roadside, even cooked items; in fact, I prided myself in being super-vigilant so as to avoid the "affliction". It worked well for over a year. (Heck, I even washed chicken, the only meat I eat!) In the end, it looks as if Moctezuma was bent on scoring once again, regardless of vigilance or pride.

I tried to review all my actions preceding the event, but could find no culprit... unless it was that Iceberg lettuce that I let soak for only 10 minutes? It was so nicely wrapped in clear plastic. . . It looked so innocent. . . Could it be that a shortcut of a measly five minutes or so can make such a difference?

I guess it probably did. Oh, well. Live and learn.

And now, I have to run.


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