Sunday, August 28, 2011

Travel and work

A close look at finances and long term goals reveals a large disconnect. How to go round the world, slowly, sensuously, living comfortably, and still have enough money upon return to live to the end of a ripe old age?

Pond reflections
Without getting into tedious monetary detail, suffice it to say that spending large amounts of cash on hotels, restaurants and trinkets cannot be the way I get around the globe in a 2 year period. What other options are there? If I were a great writer, I might be able to write travel articles and sell them to magazines and e-zines on the web. If I were a great photographer, right up there with the best from National Geographic, I could perhaps venture into the wilds and snap action shots of tigers or polar bears.

With the right skills I might get together a clientele of companies needing web design and maintenance, something I could do from where ever I can find fast WiFi or Internet connections. Unfortunately, I don't have those skills....

Since my career was working for a National Laboratory, holed up in secure facilities, working on projects that required a Q-clearance, even with the right software, I doubt anyone there would be willing to allow me to work on designs outside the cloister. So electro-mechanical design work is out.

What to do? I looked over my skillset. I can use computers, as can most everyone under the age of 40 around the world. I speak English, but I am not a teacher although I could probably learn to be by taking an ESL training class.

I can cook. I can paint. I can clean. I have all the skills of a third world maid but probably not all the skills of a third world handyman. Hmmmm. This is not looking good.

But I also pay attention and I've run across Facebook sites like MarriedWithLuggage. They are a couple who sold everything they owned with the idea of taking a 5 year trip around the world, and coming home when they run out of money. However, after almost a year, they discovered they truly love the lifestyle and are now focused on finding ways to extend their money and make a living while living at large in the world. Through them I learned about And from a friend in Australia, I learned about WOOF, Workers on Organic Farms. I'm afraid my black thumb would disqualify me from life as a farmer, however, on the WOOF website, there was a link to

So I joined WorkAway and set up a profile describing my skills. The way it works is that people who are willing to put up a traveler and feed them for a period of time, can take their pick of dozens of applicants who'd like to have that opportunity. The traveler puts in about 20 hours of work a week, and the host assists him/her with sightseeing and the local culture. It's as much a cultural exchange as it is a work situation. In fact the site says that this activity should not be viewed as a way to get free labor. Since no money is exchanged, neither party has to worry about work visas or taxes.

The hosts can put up a profile on WorkAway for free, the people wanting to work are the ones who pay a fee to join the site. As luck would have it, I found a WorkAway gig in Cambridge, MA for the month of November. A woman who lives near Harvard wants a little painting done, and would love for me to cook a few meals, maybe teach her something about Thai and Mexican cuisines.  That will be my first foray into the WorkAway world. And there are many more possibilities in all the countries I'd like to visit. My rough plan is to go to Mexico again and live in San Cristobal, Chiapas for a few months, to study Spanish and finish the explorations I'd started in April. After that, I'll start around the world.

Other interesting places on the web are the "Round The World Ticket" sites:, and Star Alliance also has round the world fares. I have yet to buy the ticket, but as I understand it you can buy a ticket to go one way around the globe, choosing the places where you want to stop over. The price depends on the number of stops you chose. A fellow I met on a rafting trip recommended I stop over only at the big world hubs like Singapore, London, Mumbai. That way, I can take round trips on local airlines to places like Australia and New Zealand, Thailand, all over Europe, maybe even Africa. The local airlines are usually cheaper and more frequent than major carriers.

Sammy and Sophie
I also joined TrustedHouseSitters. Although I've not gotten any gigs from them, I have my own experiences house-sitting for friends. Those friends have written recommendations that should help me to secure places to house-sit around the world too. The couple from MarriedWithLuggage has done this quite often and found several great places to stay and take care of pets in Europe. WorkAway seems to be much more global in its scope as is WOOF. And of course, the more people you know, and the more they know about you and your availability, the more of these kinds of opportunities arise.

For the last couple of weeks, I took care of a house in Taos (see the previous several blogs) and got my "Dog-Fix" with Sammie and Sophie. I'd always wanted to live in Taos. It was a great chance to spend real time there, see how people actually live, experience all the wonderful art. If I were to spend more than a month or two, I'd have to take some art classes, get involved with a ceramics studio or find a part time job in a gallery. Skimming the "tourist surface" wouldn't cut it for the long haul.

The Taos House

My friend's place is gorgeous but required a lot of time watering and maintaining. The dogs were well behaved after they learned the boundaries that I set, and we got along just fine. It was a wonderful two weeks, but now it's time to move on to the next thing, which is to find a renter for my furnished condo in Los Alamos, and head off to Massachusetts and beyond.

Sophie's yard, just gorgeous.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

5 Museums, $25

Bedroom in the Fechin House Museum.
Fechin's Studio

Taos has many museums, some are privately owned like the Kit Carson and Governor Bent homes. But there are 5 owned by the county and one can purchase a 5 Museum ticket for $25, a 50% savings.  Some friends came up from Albuquerque the first week I was in Taos and we went to the Fechin House which also houses the Taos Art Museum.  Nicolai Fechin was an incredible artist, and somewhat of an insomniac. When the sun went down and the light faded in his north facing studio, he then went to work carving wood. The entire house is decorated with carved lintels, colums, shutters, doors, baseboards, gates, mantels and other surfaces of wood. It has two bathrooms, both decorated in the style of the 1920's with deep metal tubs, big pedestal sinks, yellow tile and copper plumbing. The kitchen has been left in it's original state, with the gas stove tucked into an awkward little nook and a "modern" refrigerator with the compressor on top. I couldn't imagine cooking in a kitchen that badly arranged, but since there was no air conditioning back then, the stove in the nook put it next to a window which could be opened on hot days.  It was interesting to see lots of old cleaning supplies like BonAmi powder, matches, Calumet baking brought back a lot of memories of my grandmother's kitchen.

Fechin House Fridge
Upstairs there are several bedrooms with light coming in from large multipaned windows. There are two solid cedar closets that are elevated with a trap door floor for storing sweaters and other wollens I would guess. The floors were beautiful dark pine and the walls were decorated mostly with drawings and etchings from Fachin and several of his friends. His daughter had donated the home to the town of Taos in the 60's after her mother passed away. Much of the furniture was original and created and/or designed by her father.

Another "Home" museum is the Blumenschein. Ernest, his wife Mary, and their daughter Helen were accomplished artists, though back in the 30s and 40s only Ernest was lauded as the great artist. Helen also deeded the home to the town with all of its furnishings. It's a lovely home, every wall filled with paintings of Taos artists and their more distant friends.

Pottery in the Millicent Rogers' collection.

Handwoven dress
and rugs.

Practically next door to the Blumenschein is the Harwood, a modern art museum with several installations by current artists. Although there were some paintings in the collection that I recognized from various contexts in my life, the more modern stuff escaped me entirely. A giant pile of shredded wool that was titled "My Brain", a block of black wood halfway up the wall, with a more rectangular black block nearby......a plastic case with half a doll's head....hmmm. And a room of large Agnes Martin paintings of white on white with a bench to sit on while looking at them. If I could get into some Zen frame of mind, I might enjoy watching shades of white shift around from the staring.

Belt Buckle from Millicent's collection.

They also have an impressive collection of Santos, Retablos, and other altar art from the last three hundred years, plus old carved Hispanic furniture, plus the wonderful wood carvings of Petrocino Barela.

Although the Millicent Rogers Museum used to be a home, it wasn't her home. Millicent was the grand daughter of one of John D. Rockefeller's partners, so she was raised with incredible wealth and good taste. Her collection of South Western Indian jewelry, pottery, carvings, drums, tinwork, furniture, and fabrics is mind boggling. The museum shows only small portions at a time, so that each time one will find different examples of art. Plus she was a talented designer and had many of her own pieces made by local artisans.

Quilters at the Martinez Hacienda
The last museum on the ticket is the Hacienda de los Martinez. It is an old formidable hacienda built in the large rectangular shape with two patios inside and a couple of cart entrances with heavy gates that can be closed for defence. The famous Padre Martinez was raised in this house. In the first patio there is a well, quite deep and dry now, evidence of lowering water levels in the valley. The hacienda faces a small stream edged with cottonwoods and willows. It featured a blacksmith shop, small chapel and even a room for the occasional visiting priest. Most of the rooms were used for storage of leather goods, grains, equipment, and tools, while people crowded into the 'bedrooms' when it was winter and they couldn't sleep outside. Some rooms had tiny kiva fireplaces in one or two corners and people slept on piles of sheep skins. In one of the larger rooms a series of old quilts were on display and a small group of women (and one man) were quilting using a suspended frame that hung from the ceiling.

Looking into Fechin's Studio from the garden.

Fechin House kitchen circa 1920
My reflection in a tin mirror at the
Millicent Rogers Museum
Products dating back to the 1920s.

Entrance to the Martinez Hacienda

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Going to Pieces

Now Taos is home to a number of millionaires. Movie stars like Julia Roberts and corporate moguls have second and third homes here. Plus thousands of people whose families date back 450 years, whose land has been handed down through the generations and whose combined incomes would barely buy one mansion on the hillside.

As a result, there are galleries on the plaza with paintings retailing for $150,000 and second hand stores where you can buy some beginner's work for $10. There is a store near the plaza called Now and Again. I went there looking for a couch-bed, futon couch, Taos bed (day bed), or some such. A piece of furniture that is both a bed and a place to sit. But not a fold out, miserable-to-sleep-on couch. They had a lot of stuff, but not what I was looking for. A woman was there, consigning a set of Franciscan ware, the old pieces with the subtle colors, identical to the set my grandmother had and used forever. She and I chatted for a long while about her hobby of remaking old quilts into clothing. She suggested that I try to find the bed at a store called Pieces which is right next door to WalMart.

So, on my way back to Derek's place, I stopped there. It is a huge place, probably was an auto parts store at one time. They have everything:  dinnerware, blankets, vintage clothing, furniture, jewelry, as well as an assortment of beginners' paintings. I spent over an hour drifting around the place. I found dishes similar to my Aunt Judy's Rose bone china, a nice heavy bottomed copper cook pot with a glass lid that I needed not but lusted after, a Kelty external frame pack that is identical to the one I had for 20 years and lost in the fire, clothing from the 60's and 70's, wonderful oddball necklaces and earrings, books ranging from religious tomes to treatises on geology, and a wrought iron day bed that almost exactly matches the frame on my bed upstairs at home. Serendipity. It was dusty, so I knew it had been there a while, and it was in pieces, stacked in a slotted cabinet holding myriad other bedframes. I made them an offer and they took it. So for a very good price, I got a nice metal bed with the mattress in excellent condition and a cover which even had flaps to disguise the springs. What a deal!

This place takes "going to pieces" to a whole new level.....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rocktail Cocktail

For the next two weeks I am house and dog-sitting for my friend Derek in Taos, NM. It is a place I've visited many times in my life and where, when I was 10 years old, I wanted to live. When I was 16 I wanted to live here too, I wanted to live in the mountains and write books. Now after 45 years, I live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, and I write. I just don't live in Taos.

In some ways I wish that I did. It's so open and lovely, with tall mountains rising in the east, then that rolling flat expanse of desert to the west through which the Rio Grande cuts an enormous gash, a deep dark and dramatic chasm called the Gorge. To watch the weather come through from on high, to see the clouds coalesce into blue bottomed monsters just itching to burst open and flood the landscape is the subject of long poetic dissertations.
Rare standing water with

Derek lives two blocks from the famous Rancho de Taos church, probably the most photographed church, maybe even building, in the world. Intentionally, I did not bring my camera this trip. I didn't want to be distracted, now I regret it. However, I will return home briefly this weekend, and I'll fetch both of my Cannons. Meanwhile, readers will have to be content with photos taken at an earlier time.

Since I'm here for 2 weeks, I plan to see and do all the things I never do normally. Most of the time, when I come here, it's to see friends, and of course we spend time hiking and just sitting around in outdoor cafes having drinks and enjoying the usually beautiful weather and people watching. Derek has a beautiful old adobe that he has remodeled into a home with all the modern accouterments you can imagine. The kitchen has stone countertops, under counter sink, french door refrigerator, wood floors and a skylight with latillas so that it would appear that there is a hole in the roof, light is filtered through the poles. The ceiling is classic viga and latilla construction, giving the house an earthy feel. Other floors in the house are either dark pine or stone, the walls are a foot thick, covered with a silky plaster that I'd fear to put a nail into to hang a painting.  It's so pleasant and pretty, it's almost a shame to leave every day to go out and explore Taos. I could live here if it were in this house!!

Stairs on the side of the church.

So the first full day I went to the plaza and parked in front of Governor Bent's home, now a museum. I'm so glad I read Blood and Thunder, the biography of Kit Carson, by Santa Fe historian Hampton Sides. I can just imagine that house and its occupants under siege by the Taos Pueblo Indians and the local hispanic people. He was murdered by them and left dead with his family still alive, locked up inside the house, freezing without food or fuel for several days. His wife was was of Spanish descent and of a prominent local family, which is probably why she and her children were spared. It was a long and complex story, having to do with many generations of bad feelings and a crowd mentality. Still. Knowing the story made the house take on a whole new feel and meaning. Kit Carson would have been killed too, if he'd been in town at the time. If that had happened, the book would have been a lot shorter!!

Kit Carson's house is a museum too, and I may go visit it again, though I've seen it many times. Today I purchased a 5-Museum pass that is good for a year. I want to see the art museums like the Harwood and the Millicent Rogers. I plan to eat at Dara Thai and a couple of other places, like Wired, that my friends have recommended. But tonight, two writer friends are coming over for dinner and we'll get to enjoy Derek's wonderful home on a full moon night.

Yesterday, not having eaten lunch and suffering from summertime thirst, I stopped at Coffee Cats to get a fruit smoothie. It's a small cafe across from Monet's Kitchen, a delightful cooking shop. Sometimes I wonder just how much of being human I've missed out on. I cannot for the life of me find that "place" in my mind/heart/soul where I can "feel" and understand what so many others chatter about as if it's as common as blue sky. I'm talking about feeling vortexes, swirling energy sensations while standing in a certain spot, or tasting the difference, the radical difference, in a drink after you've added a piece of quartz or amethyst. At Coffee Cats, for a dollar extra, you can pick from among an astonishing variety of rocks to add to your coffee or smoothie, and experience the difference each rock makes. It's even got a name: Rocktail

Good grief.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Topless women and fruits galore

Boulder, Colorado, August 6, 2011

Boulder was my home for 17 years, and so it's tough for me to think of it as a tourist attraction. There are of course many wonderful things to see: the Flatirons, Chautauqua, the Pearl Street Mall (which was just a run-down street when I was a kid), etc. But there is, in the summer, a delightful attraction that the run-of-the-mill tourist may not know about unless someone tells them, or they simply follow the crowds as they coalesce in the park on Saturday mornings, all summer long.

It's the Farmer's Market, and what a scene!  A huge truck loaded with organic peaches had a line 40 people long at 7:00 in the morning. I stayed the weekend with my friend Deb. Her neighbor bought a crate of peaches, because, as she said, "I stood in line far too long to buy a little bag of them". She gave 6 to Deb, and then Deb gave 2 to me on my way out the door on Sunday. OMG! They were juicy, perfect, fuzzy, and delectable.

The park just south of the Pearl Street Mall, on 13th and Canyon, features a Russian Tea House that is a treat in and of itself, open year round. But up and down that street, closed off on Saturdays, are many tents and booths filled with colorful vegetables and fruits, canned goods, organic and grass-fed meat, potted plants and freshly cut flowers.

And half naked ladies.

You cannot imagine my shock to see a young woman wearing many necklaces, a hat, short cutoff jeans and nothing else. In my adult lifetime, I've forgotten many things, but I've never forgotten to put on a bra. That poor girl has been going braless for some time. Her breasts drooped, aureole brown, nipples pointing at the ground, boobs bobbling along as she walked. If nothing else I should think it would be uncomfortable. I couldn't help but stare. She didn't seem bothered by anyone looking at her. I glanced around, no one else seemed perturbed so I began to think this must be a common occurrence. I wonder when the nudity laws in Boulder changed? Or was it the crowds at the market were so thick no one actually noticed? Or worse, maybe the economy really is so bad people have lost their shirts!!

Next to the Russian Tea house a "food court" had been set up. A large tent at one end housed tables and chairs for the patrons while both sides were lined with vendors grilling up meats, stuffed gorditas, steaming pot stickers, fried wontons, spring rolls, and chimichangas. The smell was delightful. Deb and I had lunch and listened to two different acts play music. Between the music and the crowds, we could barely hear each other. If you are a people watcher, it doesn't get any better than this.

I almost forgot, as we were about to leave, that I wanted to purchase some flavored Balsamic vinegars and coconut milk carmels. It would never have occurred to me to mix dark chocolate and vinegar, but their sampling table won over my heart. I ended up bringing home three bottles: pear, peach and chocolate, plus a package of coffee-coconut carmels that are amazingly NOT coconut flavored (I actually hate the taste of dried coconut) and
quite low in calories for a piece of candy, another plus in my book.

From Deb's house to and from the market, we put in about 4 miles of walking. Boulder is the perfect town for long walks through neighborhoods and around the shopping areas. The temperatures were perfect, the air didn't heat up till around noon. We enjoyed the best of a summer morning, went home to a cool house and sat on her back deck under the umbrella to enjoy her luscious back yard brimming with flowers.