Tithing 10%

I was halfway to Quartzsite, had a meltdown and ran home to my husband. I am having a harder time being away from him right now.

work-in-progressI’ve decided/felt/realized that I need to start giving away 10% of my gross income each month, so will also include that in my budget this year. (Dave Ramsey says he tithed all the way into and out of bankruptcy and that if we can’t live on 90% of our income, then we can’t live on 100%.)

My healing through my Jungian psychoanalysis was a profoundly transformative spiritual experience (that I’ve not written very candidly, or at all?, about) and this impulse has that strong spiritual feeling that I can’t ignore.

Taking a hard look at my budget, my financial goals for this year, and my recognition that I need to give more away makes it harder for me to spend so freely on travel, so my travel style is going to have to be recalibrated for the short term.

So much of this is a process for me. When I started this journey I often felt discouraged when I would see how disciplined others were in these areas. From my vantage point, it felt like it was too far a leap to make. Now I’m learning that all of these things are a journey and that moving toward this lifestyle, gently, and without harsh judgments on how I should or should not be doing it has allowed for a wonderful and more natural sense of growth.

Hope you are doing well!

Take care,

Jennifer

Out of Credit Card Debt in 2011!

cutting credit.

My biggest goal for 2011 is to be completely out of credit card debt. I have one card left:

American Express: -$29,158.08

I cut some big expenses over the last two years, but didn’t ever do a hard budget. I’ve just used my debit card for everything and whatever was left at the end of the month went toward my enormous debt. This year I want to get more deliberate and aggressive on this plan.

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Here is my current budget:

Fixed Monthly Expenses:

  • RV Loan: $514
  • Medical Insurance: $440 ($5,000 deductible) My husband got invasive melanoma three years ago, so this skyrocketed. (We pay $880 total.) We both need to be on our corporate group policy in order to keep his coverage.
  • Rent House: $400 (The difference between mortgage and rental income; my husband pays half of the $800.)
  • Student Loan: $228
  • T-Mobile Cell Phone: $100 (The only cell service that works where my husband lives.)
  • Verizon Internet: $65
  • Auto/RV Insurance: $50 (I split a $98 Geico premium with my husband.)

Total Fixed Expenses: $1,797

Variable Monthly Expenses:

  • Camping: $500 (I hope to decrease this, but want to give myself some pad here.)
  • Diesel: $350 (1,500 miles at $3.3 per gallon at 15mpg; 0.22 per mile; This would be a decrease!)
  • Groceries: $300 (This would be a decrease!)
  • Personal Care: $200 (Includes dr appts, meds, etc.)
  • RV Maintenance: $100 (or saving for same)
  • Dining: $100 (This would be a big decrease!)
  • Misc: $100 (Web site fees, credit monitoring, bank fees, etc.)
  • Travel/tourism: $50
  • Propane: $40 (This will go up as camping fees go down.)
  • Unknown/Other: $200

Total Variable Expenses: $1,940

Total Budgeted Expenses: $3,737

i need a loan

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Total Debt:

  • American Express: $29,158 (prime+6%)
  • RV Loan: $41,857 (6.5%; 10 year balloon)
  • Student Loan: $41,644 (2.125% over 30 years)
  • Rent House: $236,222 (6.75% fixed 30 yr; interest only; pymt of $2022 includes taxes and insurance; needs a refinance but is upside down.)

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Should I Keep My Austin House?

My biggest question is with regard to keeping my house in Austin. Of course, I didn’t have the option to sell it (or not without locking in a significant loss in the middle of the recession), and later decided to hang on to it as a long term investment rental property.

Is that a good idea or a bad idea?

It costs me $800 a month, or $9,600 a year. After I pay off my credit card debt, I can start making big principal payments so it would possibly be cash-flow neutral within 3-5 years and paid off in 15.

It is in a very prime neighborhood in Central Austin — all the value is in the lot. (Literally, my appraisal values my house at only $2,400.)  Just north of the University of Texas, it is also always in a good rental market. (Currently rented at $1,450.)

I like this plan because it is a forced investment plan. I fear I won’t stick with a voluntary one. Also, I lost my entire (meager) 401K in the tech bust of 2000, so feel burned by my ability to make good market investments.

The amount I’d save on interest with an early pay off is more than the current amount I owe! I love the idea that in 15 years I’d have a paid off income generating asset and it is hard for me to see how I could confidently build that with another investment strategy.

But this house would likely be my only investment/savings plan. I don’t know how to calculate a rate of return on this and figure out if this is the best strategy or not.

find x

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p.s. I’m kind of obsessing on my finances right now, so that is why the budgeting thing is coming up a lot.

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Stealth Camping

Back on the road! Here is a short video about how I stealth camp while traveling.

transcript for stealth camping

My Homemade Schematic

I was trying to get my head around my electrical system (since I have three outlets that aren’t working). In the process, I made this homemade schematic of my Mini.

I think I’m starting to figure some of this out!

Jennys Homemade Schematic

I am going to expand it and add things as I understand them. I had to study a lot to understand this much.

Back on the road Saturday. Yeah!

Take care,

Jennifer

p.s. Will I see any of you at Quartzsite?

A Review of My RV

I think most of you know that I love my Mini, but since some of you are still in the shopping stage, I wanted to give you a hindsight review of my RV choice.

What I love:

  • miniIt it really easy to drive. I am in love with the Sprinter!
  • Averaging 15mpg. (Some say they do better, but this is my average.)
  • Really reliable engine. I know that if I take good care of it, my Mercedes Benz diesel will keep my Mini running for a long, long time.
  • It is skinny, so that makes for much less stress in tight spots.
  • I love the floorplan and rear bath, with a large enough shower to use. (I didn’t realize how few RVers used their own showers!)
  • I like the more contemporary interior design.
  • 24 foot with a slide is the perfect size for me.
  • I can do a veggie oil conversion on the diesel.

What I don’t love:

  • How much I spent.
  • Poor quality of house construction.
  • Poor quality of Gulf Stream support.

winnebago minnieIf I were shopping right now? I’d probably be looking at something like this 2003 Winnebago Minnie.

Why?

  • I’d have as much, (if not more) room as my current class C
  • I bought my 2006 Mini for $45K, and could probably pay $15k less for this 2003 Winnebago.
  • I’d have an RV that had a good manufacturer — better construction, better customer service, and, oh dear god, maybe I’d get a detailed schematic!

As I start to finally tighten the belt on my spending, I think my only regret is just how much I spent. I’d rather have the $15k and the older Winnebago.

Hold back on the “I told you so!”

Screen Room Disaster

It’s Christmas morning, so I am at my husband’s house at the Gulf.  (Because his tiny house is a 700 sq ft wall to wall office, I still live in my Mini when I’m here.)

huff and puffI’m sitting in my comfy leather chair and drinking coffee when I see my new screenroom go AIRBORNE. Half of the 10×10 structure is IN THE AIR, hurtling toward my Mini.

Flying out of my chair, I run outside barefoot to try to get a grip on one of the flying legs. The roof has now turned into a giant sail, so I don’t dare let go to run ask my husband for help.

Step by step, I dismantle the room in the blowing wind. I’m freezing my ass off.

Frantically running around for almost ten minutes, I finally have the room safely disassembled. Able to catch my breath for the first time and lowering my adrenaline, I am again struck by how cold I am.

Another cold gust of wind and I realize why –  the back of my cotton skirt is stuffed in my underwear.

Not only was I freezing my ass off, I was baring my ass to all my neighbors.

Merry Christmas!

Jennifer

p.s.  I did have the screen room staked into the ground!

Adding a Screen Room to My RV

Here is my Christmas present from my husband! I was able to set up and dismantle the whole thing by myself. (I was worried, because the instructions say you need two people.)

The screen room was $139 and the rug was $59,  much cheaper than the permanent screen rooms that attach to your awning.

step 1

Here is the 9x12 reversible outdoor rug I got for the floor. (It folds almost flat and weighs about 5-7 lbs.) It feels kind of plastic-y.

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step 2

The 10x10 screen room is pretty compact and fits in my basement storage. (It's that blue thing.) It weighs 44 lbs.

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step 3

I was actually able to get it back IN this bag after I dismantled it!

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step 4

This would be the step where they think you need two people. I just had to walk around in a circle and keep extending each side.

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(Though I'm sure I looked ridiculous making continuous circles around it.)

(Though I'm sure I looked ridiculous making continuous circles around it.)

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step 6

Roof canopy goes on before fully open.

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step 7

Legs extend all the way out, then up.

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step 8

Note to self: Don't stake the poles before putting the screen around them!

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step 9

I accidentally put the screen on inside out. (Velcro holds it up inside.) Okay, now I am very confused as I see the Velcro on the correct side. Maybe they are on both sides!

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step 10

The screen room is not tall enough to be placed in front of the door to my Mini. I'll move it back farther next time.

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step 11

100 extra square feet of outdoor living space!

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Happy Holidays! I am visiting family all over Texas and will be heading West again at the end of the month.

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Here is a link to the screen room I got.

Here is a link to the rug.

I also got these sun/wind breakers.

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November Travel Expenses and Credit Card Debt Update

I’d rather not post this because I’m gagging on the numbers. That said, this exercise is not one in which I am intending to show you how ‘frugal’ I am, but more along the lines of when I posted “I can’t believe I am a drunk.”

credit card debtMoving out of my house and into my RV did cut a lot of my expenses, but I started with a pretty high bar of spending and still have a lot of room for growth.

  • RV Insurance: $98
  • Diesel Fuel: $748 (this is one I cannot believe, but it is correct)
  • Propane $33 (I have a propane generator)
  • RV Maintenance: $9 (weighing my rig; she’s about 200lbs overweight)
  • RV Parks: $307 (more free/cheap camping this month)
  • Dining: $192 (includes taking a friend to dinner)
  • Groceries: $256 (artificially low as I’ve been trying to eat all the food I’d stocked in my pantry for Alaska)
  • Car Rental: $352 (This should be partially written off as a business expense, as I needed a car to go to a bunch of work meetings one week.)
  • Tourism: $42 (museum and three events at McDonald’s Observatory)
  • Internet: $64 (Verizon WiFi)
  • Misc: $50 (electric heater; I was blowing through my propane.)

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Good news is that I am making progress on my credit card debt! This one I always like to show in context  – from a high of about $51K (on three cards) in the summer of 2009 to one card:

American Express: $28,906

(Interest rate is prime plus 6%)

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I get a lot of questions about ‘why’ I am paying off so much credit card debt and not just walking away. The issue is that my business is completely dependent upon my credit rating. (If I get a ding on my credit, it effectively shuts down my entire business.)

That said, my credit scores aren’t great. It seems owing a lot on your mortgage has become a bigger part of the scoring equation. These indicators of why my scores are low have a couple of new statements about real estate account balance. (I haven’t refinanced yet.)

credit scores december 2010

*fool me once shame on....

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I’m feeling better! Thanks for all the well wishes on the vertigo…

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How many of you get vertigo?

free falling

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I still can’t hold a coherent thought. I think it is a combination of too many new (and exciting) changes that have my brain going in a lot of different directions, a case of vertigo that has been stalking me since Thanksgiving (I’ve gotten bouts of it since I was 30), a bad cold, and loads of medicines that have been keeping me up for the last week or so.

I do have lots of random thoughts and things that are stacking up that I want to share, so here is a free-associative ramble…

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congested trafficI had no idea how much my car accident in 2003 affected me until I started to get over it the last two months. I’ve realized that it wasn’t just that I had become terrified that the world was potentially dangerous, but I had grown (irrationally) fearful that my presence in the world could be tragically harmful to others.

I’m now guessing that my desire to drive 10,000 miles across the continent (after being off the freeways for years) was a bigger part of that healing than I realized. It is so strange to me that I didn’t really connect those things, though.

(Note: What may not have been clear, but has been subsequently made more explicit, in my previous post is that two people were killed at the scene of my accident. THAT was the trauma/horror of it. I obviously still wasn’t able to write that part very clearly last December.)

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answers_cover1On a lighter note, those of you who have been reading for a while know that Cherie and Chris of Technomadia have been an early and ongoing inspiration for me as I moved into a simpler, more nomadic lifestyle.

I’d been wanting to aggregate some of my favorite posts that I thought would be helpful to people reading my blog, but learned that they have finally put them all together in an eBook.

This book is 15 chapters covering the range of excuses they’ve heard over the years for why people can’t travel and, more importantly, the creative solutions they’ve discovered to overcome them.

It is a pay as you wish product. (This is not an affiliate link.)

Answers to Common Excuses to Not Travel Full Time

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I went to McDonald Observatory and, in a small group of 12 tourists, discovered another woman who was fulltiming in her van! We spend three days together and I was so inspired by what she’d done that I got a couple of video interviews with her to share with you guys.

(The first one was actually taken second. The second video was more rushed as I didn’t know I’d get to hang out with her for a few days.)

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I am shocked by the growth of the Women Go Solo Yahoo! group and can hardly keep up! I expected to create a small question and answer group for 10-15 women who were thinking of going full time solo, but we have almost 100 members now! It is an amazing group of women. I am trying to make sure I can keep it functional with the bigger numbers and high email volume, but adding and welcoming new members is sometimes the only thing I am getting done each day. ; )

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A group of the women on Women Go Solo are talking about going to the Rubbertramps gathering at Quartszite, so I think I may go. Is anyone here planning to attend? It will, of course, be my first year, so I have no idea what to expect. I have already RSVPed yes.

That’s all for now.

I’m on the mend, but pray that I can keep my head straight. ; )

Take care,

Jennifer

Writing about Writing

I still feel like I’ve gone into a bit of a hibernation/quiet mode.  My travel experiences have been wonderful and I want to share them with you! I just feel at a loss for words when I sit down and try to tell you about them.

Sometimes it feels like so much is changing with me on an internal level that I don’t even know what to write. The travel stories end up feeling like superficial anecdotes over these larger tectonic shifts that I can’t explain.

blogging nothingI’ve never written much about the work I do for a living. Mostly to protect my husband’s privacy (we have a business together), but also because I have absolutely no emotional connection to that work. One of the things that has been coming up lately is a new desire/insistence/need to do work that I do feel connected to.

I think that impulse is partly because of this blog. I’m reflecting more deeply on the process I’ve been through in the last few years and have been thinking about doing that more formally through a larger writing project.

I’ve resisted the idea of writing a ‘book’ about my experiences because I found the short and interactive blog format to be such an unexpectedly healing tool. I didn’t want to change that into the solitary experience of writing a book. But what started one morning as a brief synopsis of my trip is growing into a much larger reflection of the last few years.

I’ve written pretty candidly on this blog about the fact that I had a suicidal breakdown, but couldn’t ever write about that in much more detail. I think that is partly because I knew I didn’t completely understand what caused it. Now I’m surprised by new things feeling ‘resolved’ that I was unaware were even a part of my unraveling.

So, I think my new personal writing project is stealing from my blog writing.

I’m also confused by the fact that I have so much less to say, but that my blog traffic is way up. I think, Why are these new people here? Do they want travel stories? RV shop talk? That sends me into blog-post paralysis.

But I know it is important that I keep this blog as the deeply personal space that has turned into an accidental tool in my personal growth. I need to write what comes up and not try to force myself to stick to a particular theme/topic, etc.

So, I may start to post a bit about the stuff I’ve been writing in the morning. It still feels pretty disorganized and personal – a lot like this blog post!

Take care,

Jennifer

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One Year of Sobriety Today

What a year…

I’m feeling quiet lately, but all is well.

Oliver Lee State Park is beautiful.

dog canyon trail smaller

The 4,000 year old Dog Canyon Trail

Strange Places in New Mexico

jennifer at white sands smaller

“You should go to Three Rivers”

Sitting in the small cabin that serves as check in lobby for the resort where Susan is working, I’ve told the retired owner we’re caravaning to White Sands National Monument the next morning. Selected from my 1,000 Places to See Before You Die! book, he suggests that instead of camping at White Sands we should head farther out to the Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site for the night.

I’m trying hard to drop my Excel-spreadsheet-every-trip mentality, so reply, “Okay. How do we get there?”

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yelllow tree and white sands smallerWhite Sands National Monument is strange. A waterless environment, the sound of a nearby missile run adds post-apocalyptic ambiance to our one mile hike over the hot white gypsum. Signs explain that desert animals get their hydration by drinking the blood of other animals they kill and eat.

The place is worth visiting, but is more creepy than comforting.

Back at Susan’s RV, I’m scraping off the microscopic sand that has made its way through my shoes and socks, anxious to drive to the more ambient sounding Three Rivers. We depart separately,with plans to meet up at the site.

A few hours later, I am in the middle of the New Mexico desert, not a soul or building around, with a GPS lady insisting, “Destination is on your right.”

A panicked call to Susan, “Where are you?”

“In hell!” Similarly lost, she sounds as flustered as me, but calms me down and guides me to our camp.

hello from the Jornadas

hello from the Jornadas

At Three Rivers, we climb the short hill to the petroglyph site and wander the sacred space separately for over an hour. Both abstract and intimate, the hill is covered with thousands of hand carved petroglyphs scraped into the rocks by the Jornada Mogollon people. Another trail leads to their small village, where they lived for over 400 years between 900 and 1400 AD.

Back at our small campsite, we end our day watching a sky of everchanging blue, pink, and red as the sun sets over the desert and mountains. A pack of coyotes howl.

I wake up in the middle of the night to a blaze of stars coming through my skylight. Grabbing my pillow and blankets, I crawl through the skylight and onto the cold roof of my Mini. Snuggling back under the warmth of my comforter, I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. I fade in and out of sleep on my roof, listening to the night sounds of the desert.

Susan has to leave the next morning, but I decide to stay another day. Back out on the petroglyph trail, I meet a woman hiking alone.

“Where are you going after this?” she asks.

“I don’t know.”

“You should go to Oliver Lee. It’s even more beautiful than here.”

“Okay. How do I get there?”

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I’ve continued to add a bunch of links from solo women travelers.  If you know of any solo full time woman blogs that I’m missing, please send me the link. Thanks to LG for sending me this laugh-out-loud one. I dropped my book and read the whole thing.

Gone Scamping: One Woman, a Tricked-Out Trailer, and Miles and Miles of Two-Lane

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I just finished the book Land Beyond Maps by Maida Tilchen and loved it. For lack of a better description, I’d call it a ‘coming of age’ novel for the woman over 40. If you’re a woman who dreams of going west and finding yourself, I highly recommend it!

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October Travel Expenses

I’ve been really sick.  (Warning to solo travelers – always have any and all medicines you think you might need in your RV!) So, I’ve been laying in bed trying to figure out what I’m spending each month.

Here are some very rough numbers from last month in case you are interested.

October:

  • RV Insurance: $98
  • Diesel Fuel: $334
  • RV Maintenance: $149 (oil plus filter; I did the oil change)
  • RV Parks: $521 (Includes one propane refill purchased at RV park.)
  • Dining: $157
  • Groceries: $346
  • Car Rental: $168 (I rented a car in Santa Fe.)
  • Other Travel Expenses: $894 (Includes planned $500 monthly travel budget to see my husband ($440 actual); $341 payment on my satellite phone usage in the Arctic; $80 National Parks annual pass renewal, Good Sam membership.)
  • Internet: $64 (Verizon WiFi)

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Take care,

Jennifer

p.s. I finally relented and am on antibiotics, so am starting to feel better.

Learning Nomadism

Learning to live as a nomad continues to be a new practice for me. I enjoy it, but still feel like a novitiate.

When I left Truth or Consequences,  I checked into an RV park outside of Santa Fe and quickly ran out to do some touristy things.

I took the trip to the Pueblo ruins, which I had been looking forward to, but then decided to extend my stay by several days. After those were up, I extended my stay again.

Each morning, I would open all of my windows, drink coffee while watching the sun rise over the desert, and then spend the rest of my day getting caught up on work.

After four or five hours of working, I’d feel a nagging sense of, “I live in an RV now. I need to go do something fun!”

I finally realized that I was missing the very point I had just declared to myself. I live in an RV. I am not on perpetual vacation on an RV. I have work to do, bills to pay, a home refinance, laundry, grocery shopping, and doctor’s appointments – all the basic stuff I had in my sticks and bricks house.

It is more enjoyable to do those things with an ever changing view (and following the pretty weather), but, for me, getting use to being nomadic means getting used to being in a new and cool place and not being a tourist.

I actually think this lifestyle may be easier when you still have to work. I wasn’t expecting that.

Hope you all are doing well.

Take care,

Jennifer

sunrise over santa fe desert

sun rising over the desert

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p.s. I did get a chance to visit some cool places with Susan this weekend. I’ll post about that later this week!

Remembering Things

peublo people homeWalking through the ruins of the ancient Pueblo people’s homes in Bandelier National Monument, I was thinking of Dan’s  comment about our attachment to items that function as placeholders for our important memories.

When I felt the urge to give away my things, it was only with regard to meaningless items that felt like heavy, material obligations. Most represented a failed effort to comfort myself through acquisition. I never intended to part with any of my sentimental objects.

But the accidental reality of living in such a small space is that I no longer see most of them.

And now, I am having a new and unexpected experience and it is going to sound kind of loopy. But I am feeling it, so I am going to share it with you.

The loss of objects that function as an external placeholder for special memories is fostering the growth of a new interior space. I feel like I am beginning to hold these memories inside of me, rather than outside of me, in objects.

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Jennifer in cave at BandelierThe experience is almost inarticulable, but gives me a deep sense of comfort and connectedness. It is another unexpected re-filling of empty material space.

At Bandelier, it was mistakenly believed that the inhabitants of these ancient Pueblo ruins simply ‘disappeared’. Years later, their descendants began their educational campaign of “We are still here.

The homes in this canyon were left behind when the Pueblo people packed up the few items they could carry and moved south. Now settled along the Rio Grande River, modern day Pueblos still remember through storytelling and traditions.

Their stories and traditions teach them that their ancestors are not absent, but present and living in the ruins.

I expected to find Bandelier interesting and beautiful, but was struck by the spiritual presence I felt there.

I used to fear the loss of objects that I believed comforted me. This new growth of something that can’t be lost is an unexpected and blessed gift.

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“Through oral traditions and dances we know that the spirits of our ancestors are still present in our homes on the Plateau.” – Gary Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo

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