Sunday, September 24, 2017

Commune Really Didn't Work Out

Hi guys, long time no post. 

As you know if you've been keeping up with the blog, we moved into a commune in June and have been in stasis mode ever since.  I joined a commune because I wanted a place were I'd have more interaction with people to help my depression.  I also was tired of driving the RV around due to all the close calls we had during the journey back and fourth to New Orleans.

Well, we've been here several months and we hate it.  We already put money into a lot and a structure so we're not leaving, but the commune has turned into a cheap place to park the RV and a permanent address.  Nothing more.

Although there are some great people here, the bad ones make this place terrible, and there's a lot of bad ones.  It started with people seeing us as rich marks to rip off when we first got here, and then as we stayed people showed their true colors, little by little.  Someone here tried to destroy another person's life by emailing their criminal record to the whole community just because they were on a vindictive power trip.  It's sickening.  I have other examples of how terrible some of the people are, but this one person is the only one I'm so disgusted with that I will expose.

I said in a previous post that cheap or free camp grounds are often where the people society has thrown away congregate.  I mostly saw it in the form of old men who had alienated their families and basically been thrown away to die alone.  They tend to be people so terrible they deserve their fate. 

At this commune there are good people, there are good people who are dealing with heartbreaking problems, and there are societies throw aways.  Except here I've found one or two women along with the men.  With several exceptions the commune is a gutter clogged with societies refuse. 

All the good people here tend to hide.  You meet them once or twice, but they don't befriend you.  They've been burnt too many times.  The people who reach out have been a mixed bag.  In the end it's left us becoming like the other 'good people,' and just hiding in our home, trying not to associate with anyone.

My mother and I agree that we both hate it here.  We see the advantages:  it's a paid for home.  It's a lot with RV connections.  It's a permanent address to get our cars registered and drivers licenses.  If we have money problems we can stay here cheaply.  However, we don't want to stay here most of the time.  We're going to continue traveling.

We're stuck here right now since we started renovations on the small house.  We want to make it liveable so that when we come home we have a home where we can come to.  I also canceled my Verizon mi-fi since we got Hughes Net here.  I have some things that need to happen before we can travel again.  We really had big plans about settling, raising animals, doing aquaponics.  This place is just not where we want to be.

I read online about how people say communes are a big bag of problems.  I thought it would be different for me because I was going to be kind and positive and win people over.  HA.  The honeymoon was short, and now we've found a cesspool.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hiya everyone.  It's hot in the deep bowels of New Mexico.  We are still living in the RV while slowly trying to get the building ready to move into (or even start on it).  We had our first electric bill and it was $160.  SERIOUSLY.  If you live full-time in an RV you know that's outrageous, even for June.  I can't believe how crazy expensive electricity is out here.

I'm building a shed and running into a lot of problems.  There was a stack of wood behind the building, so I bought a shed kit to try and used it.  We need the shed so we can clear all the stuff out of the building and plaster the walls and put in flooring.  Whatever this wood is, it's too hard for me to drill a screw into.  x_x  I had to order some drill bits so I can make guideholes.  Meanwhile my wood is under a tarp in our yard.

We're barely making progress, and have a HELL of a long way to go before we can move into the building and start renting out the RV.  And yet, I'm thinking ahead.  Ahead to when I have the animal shelter and canopy built and can get some sheep!  I went to my first livestock auction in nearby El Paso to scope out some sheep (not buy any, but see what they go for).  I'm so anxious to get these little beasties!

Here's a video I livestreamed at the auction.  I'm raring to go full farmgirl.

My mom and I need stuff to look forward to because we're both getting depressed.  The commune is miserable in the summer heat.  Not everyone here are people I want to be around, and I've gotten fed up with a few.  Still, we have a paid-for house and a place where we can live in our RV.  When the weather cools many nicer people will return and brighten things up.

I think the primary thing that bums me out is when I'm not making much money with my writing.  I got a REALLY low payday this month.  It bums me out so hard because I can't seem to break my slump.  I've been doing this for 10 years.  Why haven't I made it yet?

Oh well.  I think its' better to be stuck here rather than try to travel while I'm low on money.  (Though with this electric bill it might actually be cheaper to boondock.)  My mom is getting really itchy feet.  She wants to get back on the road where everything was new and exciting.  I think we just need to hang tight and try to weather this low period.

Anywho, if you want to help you can buy one of my books.  Here's the newer-ish one that I'm trying to reboot:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Life in a Commune

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.  We got voted into the commune and bought a tiny house here.  It needs a lot of renovations before we can move in, so we're living beside it in our RV.  Thankfully we have water, sewer, and electric (one of the members set up an RV connection on our switch box) so there's no rush to move in.

Here's our little house.  It's 324 sq ft, so a little more space than the RV.  So far all we've been doing is using the shower.  Another commune member got that working for us in exchange for some chimney covers left in our yard.  There's A LOT of stuff piled around the house.

I'll be using what I can for various projects.  For those of you keeping score:

  • Our land, about a 4th of an acre, cost us $1,750.  Some lots are bigger, some smaller
  • The house cost $5,000.  Most lots are empty, but we wanted a structure to start with.
  • The monthly fee to live here is $25
  • Sewage is free.  We have a lagoon with Effective Microorganisms
  • Water is from the local village and very cheap
  • We have electricity here.  About 50 amps.  We pay that to the city also.  Half the commune is located off-grid, but it's so hot in summer I just can't imagine going without AC.
  • Dying is low-cost.  We have an organic cemetery where a body can be wrapped in a blanket and buried for just the price of digging the hole.  (My mom and I signed up for plots).
This is an adobe house, and it's got some major cracks inside and out.  I need to clear the creosote trees off the land so I can build a shed (I just bought the kit for it) then I can put all the stuff surrounding the house in the shed and empty the stuff in the house.  Then I'm going to replaster the entire outside and tape and plaster the cracks inside.  Until that's done there's nothing else I can do.

I have been struggling to find anyone who will come and tear up trees for me.  'Trees' is being generous.  This is just overgrown scrub brush, ugly and useless.  Also, roots from some trees close to the adobe are causing me more cracks.  I want it all gone.  After fighting on and on to try to get someone I'm buying a chain to attach to the back of my car to tear the stuff up myself.  People in the commune have offered to chop down trees, but unless the roots are gone this stuff will just keep coming back.

So, here's the plan:
  1. Clear the lot of trees, cactus, and scrub brush
  2. Build a large shed that will be a windbreak and storage (the winds from the east are insane here)
  3. Clear the outside and inside of the building, putting the stuff we want to keep in the shed and taking the rest to the dump or metal recycling.
  4. Plaster, plaster, plaster.  Stop the cracks from getting any worse.
  5. Clean clean clean.  So many spiders in that little house.
  6. I was thinking about putting down a floor since we have flooring, but I probably won't.
  7. Block all the cracks around the doors that are letting all these spiders in.
  8. Purchase beds, refrigerator, kitchen counters and storage, washing machine, and TV. (We have a window box AC unit in there now.
  9. Get Dish for TV (we already got Hughes Net for Internet)
  10. Move out of the RV.  Put everything in the house or the shed.
  11. Clean the RV, top to bottom.  Repair any broken items (our screen door handle for one), get air in the tires.
  12. Put the RV up for rent with pick ups in El Paso, Deming, and Columbus.  This thing is too expensive to just be a driveway decoration.  I want it to be making me money.
  13. Build fencing off and around the shed.  Eight feet of the shed is going to be walled off from the rest of the shed and left open to be a barn.  This is where my sheep and chickens are going to live.  I'll have a canopy partway coming off he shed for shade.
  14. Get meat chickens, layers, and sheep.  Brooders will go in the shed.  (I'll have to get electricity hooked up there)
  15. Build a greenhouse behind the house.  This is for my aquaponics.  I'll have carpenter bee nests all over it it for pollination (it will be open in summer and covered with plastic in winter.)
The aquaponics is the final task on my big list of projects.  I've already done aquaponics from when I lived in Pahrump and had a pretty good system with lots of plants and 26 tilapia.  I want to go big time with aquaponics here.  This is my design plan:

The three circles are towers.  These will hang above grow beds.  A hose will go up a shaft in the middle of the towers.  This is connected to the pump in the in-ground fish pond.  The water will flow down the towers, into the grow beds, which are above rubbermaid watering troughs that are made into growbeds for two trees each.  The trees are partway over the fish ponds and will drain into them.  So, pump to towers -> to grow beds -> to tree beds -> to pond.  One pump for three growing systems.

I will have tilapia and Australian crayfish in the ponds.  The crayfish will require a grate over the ponds, so I'll have to look into something for that.  I expect to get this going by September or so.


The commune is City of the Sun, in Columbus New Mexico.  The village of Columbus has about 700 people and very few businesses.  There's a small grocery store here and a Dollar Store.  For serious grocery shopping you have to go 30 miles north to Deming.

The commune is 3 miles from Palomas Mexico, an awesome safe town that I love to visit.  This is where I go for prescriptions or eating out.  There are only 3 restaurants in Columbus which aren't always open.  This is a sleepy town with an easy border crossing.  There's never a line.

I got involved briefly with the website, and am helping somewhat with a sick commune member.  I've also written a play for a theater in the small town owned by one of the commune members.  I'll be playing one of the principle parts with another woman.  :)  That will be in October.  I can't wait to get into acting again!!

So, that's my life here so far.  I'll keep you updated as I get things going. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tomorrow We Get In

Tomorrow is when the votes are due back for me and my mother to join the commune.  All indicators point to yes.  I will be paying for my membership and moving into 'the Casita' which is a small building we are purchasing here.

The casita will eventually be our main home.  I'm going to move out of the RV completely and might rent it out or put it for sale.  Part of me wants to keep it so we have the option of travel when we feel like it...or just a big bug out vehicle if the SHTF.'s so expensive.  I'll probably be better off selling it and grabbing a small trailer if I need one.

My to-do list after I get in is long.  I'm still in the RV space at the commune because I don't have a long enough electrical cord to get to the RV connection a friend here put on the building for us.  That comes Friday.  We'll be moving over then.

After that we have a bunch of priorities.  We're staying in the RV for the summer, probably, since it's too hot to do much work outside.  We want to use the shower in the casita, however, so number one is to clean out the shower there and fix a big gaping hole in the fiberglass.  I'm not sure how to do it.  I'll take a picture and bring it to a hardware store.

Next, we want to be able to do our laundry in the casita.  That means buying a washing machine and getting it hooked up somehow.  We basically have to do this kind of stuff ourselves or find a good handiman.  The village is too far for us to get installation type services from the stores (I think). 

Once we have a washer, we need a good set up to hang dry our clothes.  We can't get a dryer unless we upgrade the electric.  I think we're fine without one. 

All the brush has to get cleared out.  Some of the trees are really close to the Adobe building, and are making cracks in the walls as their roots infiltrate.  I had to get rid of one bush already that was blocking the area where we need to park the RV.  I soaked the roots and then tied a rope to the back of the SUV and yanked it out.  I'm guessing I'll just have to do this a few hundred more times. 

The bushes have annoying spines, and I need gloves before I can continue.  As for the cactus, of which there are many, those things will probably be allowed to live.  I don't know how I can get them out without getting impaled by a thousand thorns. 

Anywho...a list is probably a good idea:
  1. Pay for the membership
  2. Buy the Casita and deal with the things needed for transfer of ownership 
  3. Get extension cord for the RV electric so we can move the RV over there
  4. Get Hughes Net Internet
  5. Fix and clear out the shower so we can start using it.
  6. Rip up the shrubs and weeds
  7. Get a washing machine and hook it up
  8. Get a shed to store all the supplies piled around the building
  9. Clean out the building and start setting it up to be a dwelling for us
    1. Get rid of the spiders
    2. Fix broken windows
    3. Put down flooring
    4. Install light fixtures/ceiling fans
    5. Install AC window unit
    6. Fix the back door (which is not secure)
    7. Fix the adobe cracks and leaking areas
    8. Put in a kitchen
    9. Purchase furniture
    10. Set up TV with Dish or DirectTV (probably Dish)
  10. Move in
  11. Fence the back yard
  12. Paint the front of the building like a Mexican Easter Egg
  13. Build chicken coop.  Get chicks.
  14. Build a greehouse.  Start aquaponics
  15. Get a flatbed trailer to tow with the SUV
  16. Get a carport as shelter for sheep. 
  17. Get sheep
  18. Find someone who will kill the sheep when they're ready
Oh God, I'm overwhelmed.  I'll leave it at that for now.  The good thing is that we have all we need in the RV, so we can move in whenever we're ready.  No rush on anything.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Last Pre-Commune Post

At the next monthly meeting the commune will vote on whether or not my mom can be members.  The Oracle is coming to divine the tea-leaves and there will be prayers to High Lord Zoraster so we might be assured my acceptance is of His great will.  At that time I will give up my materials and financial instruments so that all of the holy order may share equally, and further shall I partake equally of the work, which is currently the raising of soy beans.  Give praise, my friends, for soon I shall be on the path to true enlightenment.

Nah, I'm playing.  It's not that kind of commune.  :p  But we are going to be put up to a vote at the next meeting, and then I will be buying one of the plots of land here and getting back to homesteading.  We've decided on buying a 250sq ft adobe building and making it our tiny house.  The small parcel will let me get back to aquaponics (which I used to do with a modicum of success in Pahrump) raising chickens (chicken feed is 1/3rd the cost here as it was in Pahrump) planting and irrigating fruit trees (mulberry and pomegranite) and possibly raising some sheep for the meat.

We are proceeding as though we're going to be here for good.  My mom has started getting into the healthcare network here.  We're amazed at the quality we're finding in this rural area.  Gone are the 12 hour waits in emergency rooms or 2 month waits for doctor appointments.  My mom went to see about pain associated with her gallbladder two weeks ago and has already had a HIDA scan, ultrasound, and labs, all of which she has gotten the results of within a day or less. Does this sound normal to you?  It's not to me.  I lived in Boston and Las Vegas, and though I got great care at Brigham and Womens in Boston they were desperately understaffed and overcrowded.  In Las Vegas both me and my mother got horrifyingly bad care, and that's only if we set up camp in the ER for the hours and hours it would take to be seen.  When I was seen for kidney failure I was left on a gurney in a busy hallway for the ENTIRE time I was in the hospital because a room never opened.  AND I THOUGHT THIS WAS NORMAL.

So, Columbus and Deming get an A+ for the health services they offer.  Hopefully I'll be able to use them if I need them because I'm on Obamacare right now and my pre-existings are a list a mile long.  When I didn't have Obamacare I paid $980/month for insurance.  I can't afford to go back to that.

But enough about politics.  We've been in the RV space at the commune the last month and a half now.  We've met many people we like, and a few who we can't connect with.  The people in the village are super-nice, and this goes for Deming also.  Being on the Mexico border is nice too, especially when you need cheap meds. 

What wasn't nice was that my Verizon hotspot was bouncing off a Mexican tower and they said I was roaming.  The problem happened on and off for an hour or so until yesterday, when it went on all day.  I tried to get some kind of resolution, but you know how it goes.  I have to jump through hoops and accomodate them for a problem they're causing me.  I canceled my service today--which would be scary, since it was my only reliable Internet for the last two years, but I couldn't use it anyway since I was 'roaming' so screw it.

I went to the Walmart 30 miles away and got a T Mobile phone with a data plan that seemed reasonable.  It's really spotty.  I need to get a better solution, but I'll just deal with this for now. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Wrench in the Cheap Grocery Plan

I just returned from the nearest town to take my mother to an urgent care for gall bladder related pain.  Now she's booked for a HIDA scan on Thursday. 

Cheap food is fatty food.  Hotdogritos, mac and cheese, kielbasa, chicken thighs--this diet is killing her.  It's not great for our waistlines either.  My mom and I have reached our peak heavy weights once more.  I'm too scared to weigh myself.  Her weigh-in at the doctor was not good.

So, that's it.  Time to take drastic measures and forget about the budget.  I'm thinking of trying the 'Personal Trainer Diet' again, or something similar.  We'll see.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Driving a Car into Palomas Mexico

This is loosely related to my low-cost grocery posts because I went into Mexico today to get 94 bottles of mineral water for $40.   This should give me water for 30 days (probably a little less).  Ordering carbonated water from was the cheapest option I'd found prior to this.  I could get a six pack of water for $2.99.  Going to Mexico saves me about $8. 

I live a few miles from the Mexican border now.  The town in Mexico has far more to offer than the small border village I currently live in.  There are dentists, pharmacies, a furniture/fixture store, a proper grocery store, restaurants including a Chinese one, and various other stores. 

We went into Mexico a few days ago to buy a bowl, because one of my bowls got broken and I only had two.  While there I went to the grocery store and got a mineral water.  Only $.40!  So I asked if I could get a few cases.  The manager said he'd have two cases for me on Friday if I wanted them.

I drove the car into the border so I could easily transport these cases of water back to the USA.  Driving into Mexico at the Palomas border is easy enough.  You go by a lot of uniformed officers, some with AK-47s who suss you out as you pass. 

There's a building to park at immediately on your left as you go in where you can get your vehicle papers and insurance or whatever.  I did not stop at this building since I was told you could drive within 20 miles of the border without insurance. 

I got to the first intersection.  There's no stop signs.  No lights.  You just have to proceed carefully.  Then I turned left and parked at the lot in front of the grocery store.  This is a market, not a super market, and has only 7 spaces in front.

As we park the peddlers descend on us, having seen our USA plate.  One guy is selling sunglasses.  Anther is selling swing chairs.  As we get out two men start cleaning our windows (without asking, but that's how it is).  My mom tells them in Spanish she'll tip them on the way out. 

In the store the manager recognizes me and I ask him in my weak Spanish if he has the water.  Yes.  They ordered 4 cases of water in the hope I would come back to buy them.  The manager tells one of the men hanging around the store to go into the back and get the four cases.  This man doesn't work there, it's just a guy like the window cleaners hoping for a chance to carry out people's groceries for a tip.

He carries our four cases to the car and the window cleaners help him load.  We give out $6 in tips and then head back to the USA after once again fending off the sunglasses and hanging chair vendors.  (They're not that aggressive, it was worse in Algodones.)

The Palomas port of entry is awesome.  There's hardly ever a line.  We drive through the speed bumps and hand our passports to the border agent.  Another agent takes a German Shepard around our car to sniff it. 

Do we have anything to declare?  Yes.  We declare the cases of mineral water.  The agent goes to the back of our car to look at the cases then waves us to continue into the USA without filling any paperwork or paying any import fees. 

And that's it.  We're back in the USA.  @-@

Monday, April 17, 2017

$400 a Month Groceries and Sundries Part 2

If you're new here start with the first post to understand what I'm trying to do:

So anyway, I'm still at the commune in a rented RV space.  On Sunday my mother and I will present ourselves to the community for official membership and they will have one month to consider us, and then on May 15 they will vote on whether or not we can become members. 

In the meantime I'm in stasis mode.  I've gotten a lot of work done, including a chance to write a pilot for a stop-motion animated program.  Hopefully that will pan out into new opportunities, because I really love writing for TV.

If we're accepted into the commune (and that's still a big 'if', the last two people to try didn't get in) we want to buy a 250sq ft building and make it our Tiny House.  The RV might be sold...though maybe not.  I like the option to get into it and take trips on occasion.  (I just owe so much money on it that it depresses me.) 

Once we have the Tiny House I want to try aquaponics again.  I did it on my homestead in Pahrump and was actually pretty successful.  I'll also be planting fig, pomegranite, and mulberry trees.  And I'll be buying chickens, meat chickens and layers.  I can get 50 pounds of chicken feed out here for $14.  Then...maybe sheep, since hay is cheap too.  These will be the last things if I do them.  I'd love to raise red meat, and there are locals here who will help me kill and butcher.   So, fish, chicken, eggs, lamb, vegetables, fruit--I'll get well on the way of self-sufficiency!!  :D

But, until then, I'm still beholden to the grocery store.  Here it means a 30 mile drive to the nearest populous town or crossing the border to Mexico (which is 3 miles away) and having to deal with customs on the way back.  Yesterday we went the 30 miles.

I'm still trying to do the $400 budget.  Yesterday I did my final grocery shopping trip.  Here is the 2nd half of the month grocery and sundries situation.  Remember, I make the same thing for lunch as dinner for me and my mother.  For breakfast my mom has cereal with prunes and bananas with shelf-stable boxed coconut milk.  I don't eat breakfast.

April 17th - Baked Whole Chicken, Salad
April 18th - Chicken Stir fry on Rice (canned bamboo and frozen broccoli for stir fry veg)
April 19th - Macoroni & Cheese with Canned Tuna and Broccoli
April 20th - Rice and Beans with broccoli and Kielbasa

April 21 - Chicken Mofongo with canned green beans (I was making this wrong, I'll update the recipe)
April 22 - Chicken Curry with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk
April 23 - Penne Pasta with Broccoli and Kielbasa
April 24 - Chicken Fried Rice with chopped Onion and Canned Peas (maybe some carrot too)
April 25 -  Macoroni & Cheese with Canned Tuna and Broccoli
April 26 -  Rice and Beans with broccoli and Kielbasa
April 27 -  Chicken Mofongo with canned green beans
April 28 -  "Golden" (Japanese Style) Chicken Curry with Carrots and Broccoli on Rice
April 29 -  Hotdogritos with canned green beans
April 30 -  Chicken Curry with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk

Why so much broccoli?  The Dollar General in the small village where the commune is has frozen broccoli for $1 a bag.  

Why so much chicken?  Every other protein is too expensive.  I can get a 10 pound bag of chicken quarters for $.87/pound.  Beef and pork are outrageous right now.  Kielbasa can still be bought for $2.50, and canned tuna is crazy cheap.  So that's what I work with.

The baked chicken - If you've ever been intimidated about baking a whole chicken on a weekday, it's easy.  Just cover it with Goya Adobo seasoning powder, leave the giblets inside, and bake for an hour at 400 degrees.  (350 if your at a lower altitude).  Dark meat for lunch.  White meat for dinner. 

Chicken Stir Fry -  I've gotten a new stir fry sauce.  The yellow Sunbird stir fry seasoning packets are LOUSY.  It will make an edible meal, but it's just not that good.  So here's what I got from 

Hopefully the bottle will give me two stir frys.

For the Macoroni and Cheese I could have gotten the Kraft boxes for $1 each, but I would need two boxes to make a days worth of food, and the whole grain pasta I like is even more expensive.  By buying a big old box of whole grain shells for $1 and then getting a huge thing of powdered cheese I might do better.  Or not...the cheese was pretty expensive.

Add to the cooked macoroni and cheese three or four cans of tuna and a bag of broccoli or brussel sprouts.  Food for two for a day.

The Chicken Mofongo was wrong last time.  So, here is my new recipe.  Boil potatoes and smash them with chicken broth and Adobo seasoning.  Get a small cup worth and put in a bowl.  Add chicken broth so that you can get a soup with each bit of potatoes.  Season chicken pieces with Adobo and put on top of the potatoes.

The Chicken/Cauliflower curry is a Thai curry and was a big hit when I made it for dinner with some friends at the commune. 
1 pound of chicken, cubed,
1 bag of frozen cauliflower,
1 can of coconut milk,
1 bunch fresh cilantro chopped with the stems discarded,
one table spoon diced garlic,
two table spoons curry powder,
1 cup chicken stock
1 chopped onion,
1 cup chopped carrots
salt and pepper

Cook the chicken with the garlic,  onions and chicken stock in a wok.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the carrots are soft.  To thicken the sauce dissolve two heaping table spoons of corn starch in a small amount of water and stir it in.  Add more if it doesn't thicken enough.

The Golden Curry is using these curry cubes and following the directions on the box.  Serve over rice.

I don't know if this one is going to work out.  I read the ingredients after I bought it and it's a lot of crap I don't like.  I'll still give it a try.

The other recipes are in my last post.

So how am I doing?  Well...not as good as I'd like, but I've certainly cut down on grocery spending a lot more than I usually do.

What got me off track was my need for constant sweets.  I'm trying to fight this people, seriously.  A lot of people with serotonin deficiencies like me self-medicate with candy , since non-fruit derived sugar releases serotonin in the brain.  (Seriously, look it up.)  I crave candy at night when my serotonin dips and end up binging.  Lately I'm trying to have sweets I don't really like, such as marshmallows, so I can get my serotonin boost without wanting to keep eating the junk.

So...what have I actually spent this month, presuming I don't go shopping again?  (And I technically don't need to, but...) 


Ugh...I suck so hard.  However, last month it was $944 total, so I'm sure I'll still make progress.  Here's what threw me off:

EVERYTHING IS BLOOMING HERE.  OMG, my allergies are horrific!  I've had to buy 4 bottles of generic Allegra for me and my mom.  That was $44 I didn't account for.

Greek yogurt will not work as a yogurt maker culture.  I had to buy actual yogurt culture because I couldn't find any plain yogurt locally that would work.  That's $11.

Dollar General Candy and other stuff.  In the tiny village there is a grocery store the size of a 7/11 that closes at 6pm every day, and a Dollar General that stays open until 9pm.  When I get my nightly candy cravings the Dollar General is the only game in town, unless I drive 30 miles to the 24 hour Walmart.  So... I spent $91 at the Dollar General.  x_x  Though not all was candy.  They have stuff like little throw rugs and pajama pants, and when my mom comes with me she'll throw stuff like that in the basket.  So...anyway...that's the major part of my failure.

The rest was just going over budget.  But Rome wasn't built in a day!  Next month I shall do better, and shall keep to $400 for EVERYTHING!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

$400/Month Grocery & Sundries Budget For Two

One of my ongoing goals is to get my grocery bill down.  Part of the reason I couldn't do this while I was on the road is because I didn't have a local address to have stuff shipped to.  Now that I'm settling down in one place it's the perfect time to get this going.

I regularly spend $600 to $800 per month on groceries.  I know this because I budget $500, but blow that before the middle of the month, and then use all my small checks for more groceries.  What I mean is, I get a big royalty payment from Amazon once a month, which is what I live on.  But I also get little payments from Google, Smashwords, and Audible starting on the 17th.

All of those 'little' checks, which range from $120-$400, go straight to the grocery store (and gas station to a lesser extent).  I always intend to have them go into my savings account but they never get there.

So here it is, my $400/month for two budget.  This is a Grocery and Sundries budget.  I often see sites saying 'Groceries for $200/month' and then they just go into how to save on your food bill.  For me groceries are EVERYTHING you buy at a grocery store.

Some notes: 
  • I need large amounts of carbonated water.  I am constantly fighting dehydration due to the lack of a large intestine. I can't give any scientific proof for what I'm about to say, but I can drink still water until my stomach is gurgling with it and I will still feel thirst and have the symptoms of dehydration (leg cramps, chapped lips, headaches).  With carbonated water I actually get hydration.  I really need it, and that's why it takes so much of the food budget.  There is no place where I can exchange Sodastream tanks here.
  • I make one meal a day that becomes both lunch at noon and dinner in the evening.  Cooking a big meal twice in a tiny RV kitchen, where water and grey water space is at a premium, was not feasible.  I've done it like this since we started full-timing and will continue since it's just easier for me and the dish washer.
  • The prunes are a mandatory must-have for my mom.
  • My mom is the only one who eats a breakfasty breakfast.  I wake up when it's time to make her lunch, so I eat lunch for breakfast.  (I stay up late writing.)
  • This budget is for 31 days, so it will be slightly less during shorter months.
  • has better prices than on many things and gives free shipping on most items once your total is over $35.  (For USA only, sorry).  I've linked to the exact products I intend to buy on or where applicable.  The stuff without links will be bought at local grocery stores.  Getting non-perishables online with free shipping is a great option, and often cheaper than in the stores.
  • You can't buy this all at once or the fresh stuff will spoil.  I'm probably going to plan to go shopping once a week, or every two weeks.  
  • I put my recipes at the end.
  • This budget is going to be less than what's stated because I allow for buying things many people already have handy.
Okay, sorry for all that blabbering.  Here it is:

Breakfast Foods
2 Drums of 42oz Oats  $4.96
4 Drums of 18oz Prunes  $15.76
4 Bunches of Bananas  $8.00
1 Tub of Folgers 30.5oz Coffee  $8.47
1 Coffee Creamer 16oz  $3.17 (My mom uses this to whiten her coffee)
2 Cans Evaporated Milk  $2.00 (This is what I use for my coffee)
1 Box 250 Packets Coffee Sweetener  $2.15

Breakfast Total -  $44.51

Lunch/Dinner Foods
14 Pounds of Chicken  $17.50
14 Pounds of Pork $21
5 Kielbasas $11.50
2 Dozen Eggs $4
1 Bag of Hamburger Patties $9
1 Package of Sandwich Meat $2.50
2 Packages of Hotdogs $4

8 Cans of Tuna  $5.92
1 Package of Flour Tortillas $1.58
1 Loaf of Wheat Bread $1
8 Packages of Ramen $1.50
10 Pounds of Rice $5.69
6 Boxes of Mac and Cheese $3.24
10 Cans of Pinto Beans $7
2 Cans Refried Beans $1.70
4 Cans of Green Beans $2.78
2 Cans of Bamboo $2
5 Cans of Peas $3.75
5 Small 8oz Cans of Tomato Sauce  $2.20
1 Jar Minced Garlic $1.98
1 Bottle Soy Sauce $1.88
2 Stir Fry Seasoning Packets $1.56
5 Fried Rice Seasoning Packets $4.90
1 Jar Goya Adobo Seasoning $1.82

5 Bunches Fresh Cilantro $5
2 Bags of Onions $4
3 Bags of Potatoes 5lbs $3
4 Bags Spinach $6
4 Zucchinis $4
1 Head Lettuce $1
1 Pound of Tomatoes $1
1 Pound of Cheese $2.50
3 Cans Evaporated Milk $3
1 Box of Salted Butter $2.50
5 Bags Frozen Broccoli $7.50
5 Bags Frozen Brussel Sprouts $7.50
4 Bags Frozen Cauliflower $6
1 Drum of Corn Starch $1.18

Lunch/Dinner Total -  $174.18

1 Case of Still Water $2.95
3 12-Packs of Diet Soda $10
22 6-Packs of Sparkling Water $60.94

Beverage Total -  $73.89

Snacks/Other Food
1 Bag of Flour $1.74
1 Bag of Sugar $1.86
1 Box Powdered Milk $6.98
1 Bag Chocolate Chips $1.88
1 Bag Brown Sugar $1.98
1 Bottle Vanilla Extract $1.98
1 Drum of Baking Powder $1.82
1 Box of Baking Soda $.72
1 Box of Raisins $1.94
1 Bag of Apples $3.50
3 Jars of Jam $5.94

Snacks/Other Food Total - $30.34

Cleaning Supplies & Bathroom Stuff
36 Rolls of Cottonelle Toilet Paper $18.99
1 Feminine Hygiene ( know) $3.74
1 Box of Trash Bags  $4.44
1 Bottle of Laundry Detergent $5
1 Bottle of Dish Detergent $1
1 Toilet Cleaner $2
2 Rolls of Paper Towels $2
2 Bars of Soap $1.47
1 Set of Shampoo and Conditioner $4.98
1 Container of Disinfecting Wipes $2.27
1 Tube of Toothpaste $1.96
1 Thing of Hand Soap  $.98

Cleaning Supplies & Bathroom Stuff Total - $48.83

Cat Stuff
32 Cans of Wet Cat Food $14.72
1 Bag of Dry Cat Food $3.74
1 Tub of Cat Treats $7.24
2 Bags of Cat Litter $8.86

Cat Stuff Total - $34.56

GRAND TOTAL:   $406.31

I'm not too worried about being a little over because I have a lot of stuff on this list already.  For anyone who wandered here looking for an idea for a grocery budget I'm sure you have some stuff or may not need some of the stuff I need.  I'm sure we can all get this below $400.

Okay, so we have this big list of food.  How do I intend to use it?  I plan on making a few main dishes.  Here's what I'll do with the food:

Rice and Beans with Kielbasa
1 Kielbasa Cut up
1 Bunch Chopped Cilantro (cut off the stems)
2 Cans of Pinto Beans
1 Tablespoon Garlic
1 Diced Onion
1 Bag Frozen Broccoli
1 Teaspoon Adobo
1 Small Can Tomato Sauce
2 Cups Rice

Cook the rice in 4 cups of water in a rice cooker or boil in a pot with a lid that has a hole in it.  If you don't have a lid with a hole, then crack the lid a little on the edge of the pan so steam comes out.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to super low heat until the water is absorbed by the rice.

Brown the Kielbasa in a large skillet or wok and then set aside.  Dump your diced onion in the Kielbasa grease with the cilantro, garlic, broccoli, adobo, and a cup of water.  Simmer until the onion is translucent.  Add the beans and tomato sauce and bring back to a boil, stirring so it doesn't burn.  Turn off the heat and mix in the Kielbasa.  Combine with the rice and serve. I'll make this 5 days.

Mashed Potato Mofongo With Chicken
2 Pounds Peeled Potatoes
2 Pounds Chicken
Half a Can of Evaporated Milk
Green beans

Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish that doesn't use potatoes...but that's what's cheap and available, so we're using it.  Make mashed potatoes using evaporated milk instead of regular...because it's cheaper than regular milk and never goes bad.  Cook the chicken after seasoning it well with the Adobo.  Shape the mashed potatoes into a bowl and put the chicken on top.  Serve with canned green beans. I'll make this four days.

Chicken or Pork Fried Rice
2 Pounds Chicken or Pork, Cubed
1 Can of Peas
1 Diced Onion
2 Eggs
1 Packet of Fried Rice Seasoning
3 Cups Cooked Rice

For this one you follow the instructions on the packet.  I add in the onion and peas regardless if it says to or not.  Make sure to saute the onions before adding in anything else.  I'll make this 5 days.

Loco Moco With Spinach
This is a bowl of cooked rice, topped with cooked spinach, topped with a cooked hamburger patty, topped with a fried egg, topped with brown gravy.  For the gravy: dissolve a heaping table spoon of cornstarch in a cup of water.  Add some broth base and soy sauce and boil until it thickens.  I'll make this two days.

Tuna Macaroni and Cheese
This is boxed macaroni and cheese with canned tuna and cooked broccoli added in.  I'll make this five days.

Chicken or Pork Stirfry
Cubed Pork or Chicken
Stir Fry Packet
Follow the directions on the packet using the zucchini, bamboo, and onion as your vegetables.  Serve with rice.  I'll make this two days.

Sandwich Day
This is what the bread, cheese, lettuce, tomato and lunch meat is for.  You should expect to have four meals be sandwiches for two people (8 meals total).  They don't have to be on the same day.  Have it with cooked and buttered cauliflower.   I'll make this two days.

Ramen Stew
Two packages of Ramen with sliced chicken or pork and brussel sprouts.  I'll make this four days.

Smear a tortilla with refried beans and shredded cheese.  Add in a grilled hotdog or two.  Fold up the tortilla like a burrito and heat it in a pan.  It's a hotdog burrito.  What, you want something better?  This is eating cheap people.  (Salsa or a hot sauce packet from Taco Bell makes this delish.)  Have it with cooked and buttered cauliflower.  I'll make this two days.

Add up all those days and this is lunch and dinner for 31 days.  (Eating the same thing for both lunch and dinner, as I said before.)

For breakfast:  Get a yogurt maker and use the powdered milk to make your own yogurt.  For yogurt starter you just buy a plain tub of yogurt and add a little in to each cup.  Once you start your own you can technically use your own yogurt as starter, but I find it grows thin after a while.  You may need to keep one tub of yogurt in the machine for two yogurt-making sessions in order to get a culture thick enough to make starter with.  Mix a forth of a cup of oats with a cup of yogurt, add sliced banana and/or jam, stir it up, and then put it in the fridge overnight.  My mom will have it with prunes in the morning.

For snacks and treats:    All that flour, sugar, and baking stuff is to make Homemade Chocolate Chip cookies and Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  Then you'll also have Homemade yogurt with the jam.  With all this stuff in the house there's never a reason to jones for something sweet and run to the convenience store.  Make your own sweets.  And also have an apple every once in a while. 


Friday, March 24, 2017

Back at the Intentional Community

We got back to the Intentional Community two days ago.  We dropped in unexpectedly since I didn't know when we were going to get back.  We've basically just hung out in the RV and tried not to make a nuisance of ourselves.

Other than that life has been boring and windy.  My mom and I both have the sniffles from the drastic change in weather.  I'm trying to get out my next book installment, and might be getting involved with the theater here.  There probably won't be many updates from here on.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Heading Back To New Mexico

So we've been back for seven days now.  We stayed at the state park near New Orleans for three days of decompression, then I tried to get back to New Mexico in four days.

It didn't work.  The first night we were in Breau Bridge again, but this time at Crawfish City, a restaurant with RV parking who allowed us to stay over night.  Then we went to the Sam Houston National Forest to overnight at the equestrian parking area again.

After that I tried to make it all the way across Texas, but lost steam in Temple.  Lo and behold I got misdirected by Garmin and ended up at an RV park we stayed at last time we were in the area.  I pulled in, too exhausted to go further.  Recovery occurred last night.  Then this morning I found I was still too beat up to continue.  We paid for a second night and are still here.

After this two day rest I should be able to complete the final leg of my final journey.  I say final journey because we're headed back to the Intentional Community to buy land and park the RV permanently.

I'm done traveling.  I want to get back to homesteading and be in a nice community where I won't get lonely.

But we're keeping the RV.  We'll stay mobile in case we ever need to get on the move again.

Tomorrow we will camp in Junction Texas.  Then one more Texas stop, and we'll be 'Home' at the commune on the Mexico border.

I can't wait to start this new chapter of my life.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Puerto Rico Day 4

I'm glad I wrote up these posts while I was still on the island.  I've been back a few days now and I don't want to write anything!  I've been really busy catching up with my work.

This is what they call Equal (the stuff you put in your coffee) in Puerto Rico

That metal thing up there is a Puerto Rican water heater. 
Let's have tape on the electrical wire there to help make it extra dangerous.

I was seriously looking forward to today because we were visiting my youngest cousin Diana.  She’s only 22, her mother’s last child had 10 years after her closest sibling.  My aunt Gesela was 45 when she had her.  I was 16, and I knew Gesela was desperately poor.  My mother and I discussed adopting this baby to help Gesela, who had three other children she had difficulty supporting.  Bringing this baby to the mainland would have seriously increased her life prospects.  My aunt Yamila put this plan to bed pretty quick.  If anyone was going to have custody of that child it was her.  She won custody of her twelve years later and raised her into adulthood.

Another street scene

I met her when she was a little girl 12 years ago.  The ten year old was kind and adorable, and so amazed she had all these white relatives she never knew about.  My brother had come with us on that visit and was enchanted by her.  We all put a lot of hope into that little girl

When Diana’s older sister was murdered her mother had a breakdown and Yamila got custody, as she always wanted.  Diana went from desperately poor to middle class.  She prospered.  I bought her a laptop when she graduated high school to assist her in Dental Hygienist school.  The school didn’t work out, but Diana did.

Diana's House. Her rent is $300/month!!

I met my now 22 year old cousin who shares a house rental with Yamila’s husband’s granddaughter.  They’re doing great!  My little cousin speaks Internet, works at a good paying job, has her own beautiful home with her once removed step-cousin, and is extremely active in her church.  She adopted the Jehova’s Witness faith with a vengeance when she lived with Yamila, who has been a devout JW for decades.  Her roommate is also a JW who speaks perfect English.

Diana's bedroom

Diana speaks English too!!  For the first time I was able to have a clear conversation with one of my relatives.  ;_;  Diana is SO KIND!  She’s thin and beautiful, an independent go-getter.  I’m so proud of her!

Keep in mind, her older sister and mother were never capable of holding jobs.  Her older brother is working, but still living at home.  (He’s another story.  From the gossip it doesn’t seem he’s helping his poor mother that much.  I’m sad he doesn’t step up.)

Diana took us to a café in the mountains where coffee is grown.  Coffee is one of the major industries of Puerto Rico…or it used to be.  I’m not sure what the state of that industry is now, but at that café I had the best cup of coffee I ever had in my life.  It was so smooth!  My mother and I were both enraptured.  

Coffee Fruit

The views and antique coffee machines were neat, too, but the best thing was my cousin.  Healthy.  Thin.  Beautiful.  THRIVING!  She broke the cycle of her family, and I’m so glad.  I hope to have a lifelong friendship with her. 
Antique Coffee machine

Diana, like most of the Abraham females, is not romantic.  She’s not looking for a boyfriend or husband.  This is so like us.  We’re not man-chasers. 

Yamila was feuding with Diana, and my cousin only agreed to the visit to see us.  She didn’t want to fight with her aunt anymore.  Her aunt, in turn, packed up all the stuff Diana had left at her house and loaded it into our SUV.  It was a move done in anger, and she didn’t tell her she was doing it.  Fortunately, Diana was overjoyed to have all her old stuff.  And, also fortunately, her and Yamila made up during our visit.  At first Yamila wouldn’t eat her food, but the talked and talked alone in the kitchen while her roommate conversed with me and my mom.  When Yamila came out of the kitchen she asked for a plate.  Then everyone spoke in happy boisterous tones.  When we said goodbye Yamila hugged her and kissed her cheek.  (They hadn’t hugged when they greeted each other).

Her roommate works at home as a translater.  I thought that was so cool.  Diana makes me want to move to Puerto Rico and see the life she lives first hand.  I love her mountain city best out of all the places we’ve been so far.

Puerto Rico is an amazing place.  Yamila wants us to live with her.  We have rooms.  Her husband considers us family.  We would be great caretakers of them both, as they are both declining and Alejo may not be able to see well enough to drive very soon.  We could also do so much with their fertile land.  Sometimes I daydream about just giving up everything in the USA and staying here.

But paradise isn’t perfect.  We were eaten by bugs when we walked around Yamila’s yard.  One of the members of Diana’s church has Zika, and we hope we won’t catch it while we’re here.  The crime is another concern.  It’s not a matter of if we’ll be robbed, but when.  Yamila’s house was broken into and their gold stolen.  She’s had chickens and rabbits stolen from her yard so often she refuses to keep anymore.  One day her and her husband returned home to find all of a certain kind of tuber dug up and stolen from their yard.  Without any remaining plants the tuber no longer grows for them. 

When I was in the mall I noticed all the women had their purse straps swung over their heads so a purse-snatcher can’t yank it off their shoulders.  My uncle was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight in a super market parking lot.  Everywhere there are signs of high crime.  I’ve yet to drive through a neighborhood that didn’t have decorative bars on the doors and windows.  Every parking lot has ‘Not liable for stolen items’ signs.  The news is filled with carjackings and murders in the towns we’d been visiting.  And, as I said, we never go anywhere after dark.

The government is corrupt in an even more amplified way than the USA government.  Every politician is the son or daughter of someone else in office, like little dynasties.  We passed a windfarm when we were with Norma and commented on how nice it is that they’re using alternative energy.  That’s when I was informed the giant wind turbines aren’t powering anything.  The Electric company lobby shut the project down.  The politicians claimed they had to stop it because wind turbines are bad for the environment.  This is after they were already built!

Puerto Ricans are very politically active and virulently protest the corruption.  The nightly news shames them, like saying a politician hired his friends as ‘consultants’ and gave them all $80k/year salaries.  They gave his phone number and told people to call him and complain.  They did the same 12 years ago.  It isn’t working. 

When I first visited the island there were ‘publicos’ or mini-buses run by people with vans that would pick people up and take them where they needed to go.  I rode on one with my mom, and that’s how we first tracked down Yamila’s husband’s brother and were able to reconnect with the family after she hadn’t heard or seen from them for 20 years.  Publicos were the main form of public transportation.  So many poor people relied on them to get them where they needed to go.  They were safe—as safe as any taxi.  The taxi or bus lobby decided to shut this down, for their benefit.  No Puerto Rican who wasn’t a taxi or bus employee could have possibly wanted this.  Thousands of Puerto Ricans were devastated by them being shut down.  But the politicians pushed it through all the same.  They were beholden to who lined their pockets, not the people. 

The police are useless from all I’ve heard.  The murderer of my cousin was caught, but never charged, never investigated.  The case just fizzled into nothing and nothing happened to him.  One of my uncles was a homeless man who lived under a bridge for many years.  Someone ran him down with their car.  Not an accident.  He told the police he hated homeless people.  He was never charged.  I don’t know what the hell the police do here.  Do they need to be bribed or something? 

All of this crap doesn’t mean this is a bad island.  Puerto Rico is amazing, and if I didn’t have the RV I would truly consider just dropping everything and moving here.  Even with the crime.  Seriously.  Crime is a concern, but not like bombing in Syria.  You’re not in constant danger everywhere you go.  You’re more likely to find kind friendly people than criminals.  Every time we stood in line the person in front of us would turn around to smile and join in our conversations.  If you ask anyone for help they drop everything and go help you above and beyond what you’d ever expect. 

All the cars I’ve seen in PR look new.  All the homes are well kept and the same cute little boxes.  Diana pays $300/month to rent her sweet two bedroom house.  How cool is that?  And her neighbors all know her.  The neighborhoods look out for each other.  Woe unto any criminal who dares come to start shit.

I never felt in danger.  I want to think that if I keep alert I may never be a victim, but frankly, that may not be the case.  Despite the once in a life-time mugging or carjacking I might have to endure I would still live and visit here. 

Puerto Rico is not declining.  It’s not deteriorating.  The people are thriving.  This is just such a wonderful island!

But I'm really glad to be back...

A view from the coffee mountain

Monday, March 13, 2017

Puerto Rico Day 3

Here’s a few things about Puerto Rico.  Most of the houses don’t have addresses…and it seems to be the houses of every person we visit.  There’s no mailboxes.  They give their addresses as the neighborhood and then kilometers and hectometers.  So Livre Secondo K-8 H-3, City Name, PR Zipcode.  No GPS has any idea what that means.

Digitally savvy people, like my cousin Diana, give their addresses as GPS coordinates.  That’s the one address I know I can find, but we won’t be seeing her until tomorrow.

Puerto Rico has three political parties:  Statehood, Status Quo, and Independence.  Every politician is in one of these parties.  The largest party is Statehood, but the most aggressive is Independence.  Whenever there’s a vote for Statehood and the Indepenistas know they’re going to lose they tell their people to vote Status Quo to prevent Statehood from winning.  The average Puerto Rican knows little of Republicans and Democrats.  Trump has very little influence here so far.  No one is worried or even cares that he’s president.  

Pro-Statehood Political Posters on a Post

Puerto Rico has guyaba (guava) and mango as a common flavors for ice cream and candy.  Wild trees of these fruit seem go grow everywhere, along with bananas.  Mangos were hanging over the highway almost low enough to hit the roof of my car.  Everyone I’ve visited has at least two or three banana trees growing in their yards.

Adobo...a seasoning I use on an almost daily basis!  You never find that much Adobo in USA stores.

If you go to a gas station right now you’ll see $.67 for regular and $.78 for premium.  It sounds like a great deal, but the gas is sold in liters.  Fortunately the Velicidad Maximum signs are still miles per hour.  Switching to kilometers would have been rough.

Goya fruit juices in steel cans.

I don’t know what time I woke up, but I’m sure it was after 9pm.  I slept so well in my aunt’s spare bedroom with a fan going.  I thought I’d be sweltering, but March is a great month to visit the island.  It’s a sweet 70 degrees.  The weather reports here give temperature in Fahrenheit.  

I sat across from my aunt’s husband, who is pretty much the only “uncle” I’ve gotten to know well.  Yesterday we went to the horse racing lounge, which is literally in the middle of a neighborhood (with a doctor’s office and a bar here and there for good measure).  I bet $12, and he bet $2.  Then we watched the races and everything lost except one race I bet on for $2 which won $2.90.  -_-  Anyway, he parlayed my winning for a new ticket today.

Another street scene.  It was not easy to keep that rental car from getting damaged.

That’s where he left to as we were going out to start the day’s adventure.  Last time we visited 12 years ago he was forced to chauffeur us around all over the island.  This time he handed that duty to me.  I was proud to be able to take that weight off him.  We’re visiting his wife’s family, not his, after all.  I like driving myself.  The roads are dodgey sometimes, but I think they’re just as good as the ones on the mainland.  I haven’t had any trouble getting around except for the GPS issue.

Before we left I watched the local Spanish-language news.  It went like this:  A reporter reported the facts of an article objectively, looking and sounding very serious.  Next to her was a man in a bright blue suit with red lapels and a hat with a feather.  A ‘character.’  Whenever she reported something she would look at him and ask him what he thought of that.  Then the man would give his very animated and emotional opinion.  The reporter would nod or say, ‘I see.’  Or something else non-commital and then report the next news article.  When she was done she’d ask his opinion again, and he’d go into another rant.  It was like news and editorial and one. 

“Flooding will be happening in the northeast of the island from Rio Piedras from Other City name and people should move inland.  The risk of rogue waves are extremely high, and many highways are already flooded.  This warning will remain in affect until Friday night.  What do you think of this?”

“People must heed these warnings no matter how it inconveniences them.  The fisherman who was swept away on the pier last month refused to listen, saying he had to support his family.  Now he’s dead.  His wife is a widow.  How can he support anyone when he’s dead?  Only the foolish think they know more than the news.  We’re telling you to move inland.  Why must you be stupid!  Listen to us!”

“I see.  In other news…”

A lot of Hispanic TV seems to try to make things more colorful than USA TV.  The other thing my uncle-in-law watched was a Turkish soap opera dubbed in Spanish.  This seems to air four times a day because every time he turns on the TV it’s on.  Caro Paro or something.  The beauty norm from there is apparently light skin, huge dark eyebrows with penciling to make them appear even bigger, and black as midnight hair. 

This is the type of soap opera where a beautiful woman is often being irrational due to some offense against her loved ones, like going after the criminals, rival, corrupt police etc. with a gun she found, and a big strong handsome man has to hug the sense back into her as she weeps on his shoulder.  That’s not to say there isn’t strong female characters, but you never see a man acting irrationally.  If a man goes after someone who wronged him or his people it’s always with manly anger and righteousness.  Women get disarmed and hugged until the realize taking initiative is for men only.

There are movies with Puerto Rican movie stars which are delivered to theaters on Puerto Rico along with American movies.  Keep in mind Puerto Rico has the same population as California on 2/3rds of the land.  So it’s like if a Hollywood movie only released in California.  The market is small, and so is the budget.  The commercial for one I saw was a slideshow with music and text.  No announcer.  It was Island Love Affair, or something to that effect.  It showed the female lead who was apparently a popular Puerto Rican actress, and the same with the male protagonist, and then had some headline I didn’t understand, like ‘Romance, Intrigue, Drama’ or something, and the date it would be in theaters.  This movie might be based on a Puerto Rican telenovella, I’m not really sure.  Puerto Rico’s “Hollywood” makes them, but not as prolifically as Mexico.

These Puerto Rico celebrities show up at the sites of shootings and tragedies to talk to reporters.  Stray bullets hit a church somewhere today.  At the scene was some Puerto Rican star being interviewed.  She talked about how horrible it was.  It seems to be a morbid publicity op that’s common here.  It shows the celebrity ‘cares.’

Anywho, on the agenda today was to meet an aunt I’d never met before, Norma.  This is a half sister of my mother.  She’s almost the same age as my mother, but has a different mother than her.  They had the same father, who died in the great Puerto Rico flood of 1960.  My aunt Yamila said their father ‘pollinated many flowers.’  My grandfather sired 18 children in his short life.  Eight are still alive.  I’ve now met all the females.

I’m a not so young woman who’s childless.  Normally when you meet relatives they would want to know what the deal is.  With my family and extended family when they find out I have no children they just nod knowingly and say, ‘There’s always one.’  For some reason there are one or two Abraham women every generation who never have kids.  Me and my cousin (the one I visited yesterday) are this generation’s spinsters.  In my mother’s generation it was my aunt Yamila.  Before her were two sisters of my grandfather.  Before them was another great great aunt.  We Abraham’s are not romantic people.  Marriage and children are optional.  

My aunt tried to get us to stop at a hospital to meet a worker who she was friends with who wanted to see the gringa (me).  My mom declined before I knew what was going on. 

We continued to pick up Norma in Humacao, the city of my mother’s childhood.  The hospital where she was born is still there in the same spot, and so is the high school she went to.  Both immaculate stone buildings look nothing like the filthy dilapidated places she described from her youth, when she lived in a dirt floor house with no plumbing.  Things have improved tremendously since then, and still haven’t declined significantly.  I expected more poverty and desperation here.  I’m seeing poverty, but no desperation.  Puerto Ricans are a hardy and self-sufficient lot.

We brought Norma to a mall food court to munch and get caught up.  Norma looks 50, even though she’s 68, and is extremely hardy and boisterous.  Much gossip was shared, very little I understood.  I spent my time absorbing my surroundings instead.  This looked like any mall in anywhere America.  People were spending money on cell phones and jewelry.  Puerto Rico is no where near apocalypse-level crisis. 

A Puerto Rican Mall
There’s still tremendous crime.  When my aunt’s husband first came to get us in a super-market parking lot I tried to show him the prime rib I’d bought him and my aunt.  He shut the trunk of our rental and told me to hurry up and get in the car.  He’d been mugged at gunpoint in the same parking lot.

We also headed back home well before dark.  There’s some safety in the daytime, but not in every location.  You have to keep alert and avoid obvious dangerous scenarios.  A man with a flag was blocking an isolated two lane highway by the ocean.  My aunt said not to go near, but I did anyway since I could see from the front seat he was just directing traffic for a streetsweeper that was blocking one lane.  Her fear of banditos got my alertness back up.  It’s easy to forget you’re not on the continent here.

After we ate and gabbed with my new aunt we headed to another town to meet the last surviving member of my grandmother’s generation.  This is the sister of my grandfather, Carmen, aged 87.  Carmen lived on an insanely steep hill.  Norma told me to park between the broken vehicle and boat in her one car driveway.  The road was steep and the driveway was at a right angle to it.  I parked right on the street and put on the emergency brake.  I’m not Houdini.

So steep!

I’m going to digress to mention that Yamila also lives on an insanely steep hill.  You have to slam on the gas to get up the 50 feet to her house and it feels like you’re going to tip backwards.  Being on a steep hill is a means of protection.  It makes it difficult for the criminals to come for TVs and Refrigerators.  That doesn’t mean she hasn’t had rabbits and chickens stolen from her yard, though.

I loved my great aunt’s house.  It was a lovely concrete home, tidy and clean, but behind it was what got me excited.  She had the usual banana trees, but also gandules (pigeon peas) and pineapple bushes.  There was some green fruit the size of a soccer ball growing from a tree that is apparently used to make detergent and could be hollowed out and dried to make a bowl.  Chickens wandered freely, keeping the lizard population down.  She had two pens with black pigs!  Now that’s something I would do!  This woman had all the pork she’d ever need, and they pretty much just ate the ten million bananas she has growing (along with other stuff, I saw a big pile of mush).  This old lady has it figured out!!

My great aunt's house.  Lady in front is my aunt Yamila

That's my aunt Norma

Pigeons peas

On the way to the great aunt we went by some of the beaches.  I love Puerto Rican beaches because of all the vendors selling street food and all the little shops on the streets.  I asked if we could spend some time in this one colorful area.  It was agreed we’d stop on the way back.

I tried to do just that, but my aunt Norma said to keep going.  She was taking me somewhere better.  She brought me to a pier where all the water was brown, so I couldn’t take any pictures, and there weren’t any vendors.  -_-  Apparently she made me go there because one of the fishers (a woman) was her friend who she wanted to see.  I was annoyed.  

We brought her home and then headed back. 

My aunt made Bacalau (which I’m sure I’ve just spelled wrong) which is made from a boiled tuber she finds in her back yard and one fillet of salt cod split between four people.   

I guess I’m going to give my commentary on Puerto Rican food now.  You know how on Thanksgiving people joke that the only spice white people know is salt?  Well, I wish Puerto Ricans at least used salt.   

Menu from an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant.  Not a chili pepper to be found.

Puerto Rican food is BLAND.  They don’t use hot spices, not even pepper.  Most meals involve a tuber and meat.  Mashed plantain with meat on it is one of the main dishes called Mofongo.  Most things are seasoned with adobo and/or sazon.
Beef Mofongo

Shrimp Mofongo

Puerto Rico is loaded with wild tubers and plantains, so a lot of meals are made from a stringy waxy tuber that looks like a tree trunk called yucca, or ñames which are a round tuber with a hard skin that has what looks like palm leaves growing out of it.  Whether it’s the first one or ñames, it makes no difference, these things taste of absolutely nothing.  They’re just starch.  The last form of starch that’s plentiful, and has a relative strong flavor, is plantain.  

Fried rabbit with tostadas made from plantain
I may be about to lose my Puerto Rican card here, but I hate plantains.  They taste like banana flavored potatoes to me.  Yamila asked me if there was anything I didn’t eat and I said plantains.  So I got to avoid this Puerto Rican staple.

Bacalau is ñame, that tuber that tastes of nothing, with salt cod.  The salt cod is served instead of salt.  My aunt never uses salt on anything.  She boils broccoli and serves it with nothing on it.  The salt cod gives the tuber some saltiness, but the cod to tuber ratio is askew and you’re left with bland white chunks of starch with no seasoning. 

I just want to reiterate, Puerto Rican food is not spicy.  The national dish is arroz con pollo, which is chicken and rice.  Tastes great, but other than yellow rice I find myself craving salt and pepper.  If I ask my aunt for some salt it’s hidden in the back of her cabinet, like it’s some exotic spice.  At Puerto Rican restaurants you don’t find anything spicy.  The specialty by the beach is conch (you know that huge shell that you put your ear to to hear the ocean) mofongo or fritters (fried things).  

The highlight of my day was my great aunt’s house.  The rest was a lot of driving.  The gas tank still reads full on the rental car, though.  It’s all good.