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Join me on my new adventure - Van Living!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Perfect Gift From Spain

Once I reach Santiago, 
I often find myself shopping 
for friends and family.

As a minimalist, 
I am looking for a "needful thing,"
not something that will end up 
in next year's yard sale
or in the landfill.

For me, 
the perfect gift
is Spanish saffron!

Saffron is the stigma of the Crocus sativus,
a pretty little flower known as the saffron crocus.
It takes approximately 70,000 flowers
to make up one pound of saffron.
At $2,000 to $10,000 per pound,
it is one of the most expensive and most sought after spices
in the world.

Saffron is the spice used 
to make paella that beautiful golden color.
It's also used in other soups, stews,
and often in East Indian dishes.

I found Spanish Saffron in Santiago!
These little boxes carry 2 grams of the whole spice,
and are only €6.
This amount of excellent quality Saffron would cost you
many times more in the USA.

These larger boxes carry 50 packets (sobres)
of the ground spice
and they are under €20 per box.

Inside are two rows of packets,
each filled with 0.12 grams of ground spice,
enough for most dishes.

Where to buy saffron:

I'm sure you can find it in many shops in Santiago.
My favorite place is JUST as you come into 
the Plaza Cervantes in Santiago.
To your left ,
at Number 9,
you will find a tiny store
called Cepeda.

Ask him to show you his Azafran.
There are other nice gifts in the window.

I've gone through customs with 
as many as 10 boxes,
no problem.
So stock up!
It keeps forever in the freezer.

Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How My Grandparents Saved the Earth

One of the lessons of the Camino Santiago is that you really CAN live quite happily with nothing but what you can carry on your back. My maternal grandparents learned this lesson when they traveled out to California during the Dust Bowl days. My paternal grandparents immigrated from the Azores during wartime.  All of my grandparents were quite self sufficient and very skilled at living a frugal but happy life.  They also were environmentalists without even knowing it. Some of the skills I learned from them came in quite handy during my two-week stint as hospitalera at San Anton Albergue, where there was no hot water, no electricity, and no wi-fi.

Here are some of the things they taught me:

Use the SUN to dry your clothes!  
At San Anton, there were no clothes dryers. In fact, 10 years ago along the Camino you were VERY lucky to find a washing machine or clothes dryer. Instead, clothes were hung on the line or on a rack like the one below.  I bought my clothes rack on for $27. Worth it's weight in gold, it sits on my back patio, ready to be unfolded when I need it.  At San Anton, we used these, and we also used a plain old rope, strung between two buildings. Nothing fancy. And you know what? The clothes dried in no time with no electricity, no stinky fabric softener sheets, and a lot of sunny satisfaction!

Grow Your Own Food!
I'm lucky to live in SE Portland, Oregon, where the neighbors support gardening!  We have taken out the grass in the sunny front yard, and put in a raised bed garden. We also have fruit bushes and trees all over the front and back yard. We grow 75% of our own vegetables in this garden. Not only is it satisfying, but we know where the food is coming from and we save a LOT of cash!  We grow carrots, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, kale, squash, watermelon, cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, figs, and a variety of herbs.  I also have a hen house and we are allowed up to 3 hens so we have fresh eggs.

Preserve Your Own Food.
We do this. I can and freeze vegetables, and I have a dehydrator. I plan on doing more this year.

Re-Use, Recycle, Mend
I rarely buy anything new. Once a year I buy new underwear, socks, and shoes if I need them. Everything else is second hand. Portland is an awesome place for yard sales and second hand shops. Rich people buy a new toaster every year, and I'm happy to use their old one. If my clothes need a button, I sew one on. If something breaks, I fix it. Last year, I fixed my blender, saving me hundreds of dollars on a new one. It was a simple fix and I found the instructions online. We recycle plastic containers and glass, using what we can. Freezer bags are washed and dried and reused. I remake old wool sweaters into arm warmers and hats. We compost our vegetable trash and chicken manure. Just about anything can be recycled.  When I was a child, we bought milk in glass containers that were returnable. You can still do this!

Cultivate Community
This is something I'd like to work on. I remember visitors coming over often. My grandmothers would always have a pie or cake and a pot of coffee on hand.  Folks would sit and visit an hour or two. It was wonderful! I miss having my friends over. My MCS has impacted my social life dramatically, but the friends I have left are precious to me, as is my family. I would like to have more dinner parties, more barbecues, more family get-togethers. That is a goal for this year. 

Cook at Home
I am on the Eat For Life program and that means lots of salads and beans. Cooking at home doesn't have to be super time consuming. A pot of soup or beans can last several days. Prepping salad ingredients ahead of time and keeping them in glass containers is a great time saver. Just pop some greens in a bowl and choose your toppings.  You can save a LOT of money by eating at home, instead of fast-fooding it!

Sit and Eat Together
Family dinners seem to be a thing of the past, and I'd love to see them come back. In our house, we have "roommate appreciation day" some weekends, where we cook a big breakfast and eat together. It's nice to sit around a table and talk, instead of having people on their iPhones or watching television. My eldest son's family sits around the table for dinner, and I'm so proud they do this! Eating together, sharing food and drink and conversation, is a great way to bond.

Drink Tap Water
Portland has some of the best tap water in the country. Check out your own city tap water and if it's clean and safe, stop using those plastic bottles. They are horrible for the environment - and not very good for your health either!  Save yourself some cash and your health, and save the Earth by drinking tap water!

Buy Less - Make Gifts
Christmas has become a holiday of excess. This year, try drawing names in your family and put a limit on the amount spent for each gift.  Many of the expensive gifts you give to people end up in the next yard sale. Do they really NEED that thing? Instead, give coupons for services like babysitting, yard mowing, house cleaning. Or make gifts of food or drink.  Think hard before you spend on people, including yourself. Where will that item be in 12 months? The land fill?

Get Outdoors More
We used to pack a picnic for every 4th of July. We took camping trips each summer. Evenings were spent on the front porch visiting with passing neighbors. Morning coffee in the back garden.  Make a vow to do more walking, more sitting outside listening to birds and bees and enjoying trees and flowers. It's healing for your soul as well as for your body. WALK or BIKE the few kilometers to the market, using your backpack to carry groceries. Stop jumping into the car every time you need to go 2 miles.  

Make Your Own Products
This is a big one for me. We are so brainwashed into believing we need to buy expensive products to clean our house and bodies.  

When I first was diagnosed with MCS, I went many months without using soap or shampoo. I used plain hot water to rinse my body and hair. I mixed a tablespoon of baking soda in a glass of water, poured it through my hair, rubbed, and rinsed. Then I mixed a tablespoon of vinegar in a glass of water and poured it through my hair, then rinsed. My hair was shining clean and oil free. No shampoo needed.  

My go-to products for cleaning house are lemon-ammonia and dishwashing liquid. Those two products, mixed together with hot water, will clean anything. Baking soda scrubs sinks and tub. 

I make my own laundry soap using the Dugger recipe. I can make 10 GALLONS of laundry soap for under $3 and it only takes about 20 minutes.  You can find the recipe online.

My mother is 82 years old and every Thursday night she gets together with 4 friends she went to school with since kindergarten. They eat together, watch old movies, and play cards. My sons and our roommates play table games every now and then and it's a lot of fun.  The grandchildren really enjoy table games and even very young children can be a part. 

Better yet, teach your grandkids to play hopscotch, jacks or jumprope. 
Go for it!
I double dare you!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spring Clean Your House in 10 Minutes a Day - Bathroom

Years ago when I was a young single mother with three children, I used a technique to keep my house cleaned in 10 minutes per day, and with the children's help. 

I took a stack of 3 x 5 cards and went around the house. On each card I put one job that would not take more than 10 minutes. So for example, in the living room I might write, 'clean window sill behind couch,' or "clean baseboard by front door,' or "wash down inside of front door," or "wash window to the left of the television," etc. In the kitchen I might have cards that said, "clean top rack of fridge," "clean bottom veggie bin," "clean silverware drawer," "wash curtains over sink," or "clean off spice shelf." In the bathroom maybe I'd have something like "clean top shelf of medicine cabinet," or "clean baseboards, or "take down shower curtain and wash in machine." 

I went through the entire house, making notes of tiny 10 minute jobs in each room, each job on a card - all the jobs you would do if you were spring cleaning. Then I shuffled the cards and put them in a card file box. 

Each day, each child would take out one card and do the job on it. So would I. It was just one extra chore. And at the end of the year, all of these jobs that you'd usually only do once or twice a year had been done.

Currently, I use a Bullet Journal to keep myself organized.  I thought this might be a very good thing to put in my bullet journal and begin using.

So for the next week or so, I'll be going through my own house, making lists.

Remember, these are ideas for MY house. Your list could be different, have more rooms, or different jobs.

I haven't quite figured out how to insert a checklist box in blogger - so remember - the bullet points should be BOXES you can check off.

First the Rules.
They are simple.

  • Each job must never take more than 10 minutes. It can take LESS, but never more.
  • Choose one job per day and do it.
  • Do more if you feel like it
  • You do not have to do the jobs or even the rooms in order.
  • Check off the jobs as they are done.
  • Children can be a big help - give them access to your list or make a bullet list for them!
Ok. Here goes. 
I'm going to do a list for my bathroom and for my hall today.


  • Clean inside of door
  • Clean outside of door
  • Clean/polish towel bars 
  • Clean/polish toilet paper holder
  • Clean/polish bath/shower handles and spigot
  • Clean/polish sink handles and spigot
  • Clean/polish sink drain
  • Clean/polish bathtub drain
  • Replace or wash shower curtain
  • Clean/polish shower curtain bar
  • Medicine cabinet - clean one shelf - discard old items
  • Medicine cabinet - clean one shelf - discard old items
  • Medicine cabinet - clean one shelf - discard old items
  • Medicine cabinet - polish mirror
  • Medicine cabinet - clean the top if there is one
  • Cabinets - clean one shelf. Discard anything not used in a year. Put in shelf paper if you like. (repeat for each shelf)
  • Cabinets - clean off top counter(s)
  • Cabinets - clean/polish outside and inside doors and handles
  • Clean/polish back of toilet
  • Clean/polish entire outside of toilet bowl
  • Use a broom or dustmop to remove all cobwebs on walls and ceiling.
  • Clean 2 baseboards 
  • Clean 2 baseboards
  • Wash window and windowsill inside
  • Wash window outside
  • Repeat for each window
  • Wash one wall
  • Wash one wall
  • Wash one wall
  • Wash one wall 
  • Scrub one wall of shower stall
  • Scrub second wall of shower stall
  • Take off shower head. Clean and/or replace.
  • Wash ceiling if needed
  • Does tub sealant need replacing?
  • Scrub floor - weekend job
  • Clean ceiling light fixture
  • Clean medicine cabinet light fixture
  • Clean exhaust fan cover
  • Wash waste basket inside and out
  • Scrub sink, cleaning around the faucet with a toothbrush
  • Scrub tub, cleaning around the faucet with a toothbrush
  • Clean switchplates

  • Clean 2 baseboards
  • Clean 2 baseboards
  • Clean towel closet door outside and inside
  • Clean off one shelf - wipe down and organize
  • Clean off second shelf - wipe down and organize
  • Clean off third shelf - wipe down and organize
  • Check fire alarm batteries
  • Clean light fixture
  • Clean door jambs with magic sponge
  • Clean walls with magic sponge
  • Vacuum out furnace vent
  • Clean switchplates

I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and cannot use most cleaners. Here is what I have found works just as good or better than expensive cleaners. Lemon Scented Ammonia and dishwashing liquid. A professional janitor taught me this and I've used it ever since. Ammonia is a very basic chemical and it cuts through grease better than anything I have ever used. I love the smell (isn't that weird?) but if it bothers you, wear a mask.  Or use your favorite cleaner(s).  Plain rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle works nicely for counters and mirrors.

To clean windows and mirrors to a sparkle:  Mix a bucket of hot water with a quick squirt of dishwashing liquid and a capful of ammonia.  Use an old washrag. Get it "sloshy wet" and wash the window with it. Use a squeegie CROSSWISE to clean the water up. Finish up with a clean cotton lintfree cloth, like an old teeshirt.  Takes just minutes and the windows will shine.

To strip floors:  I get a bucket of hot water and an old absorbent rag like an old dishtowel or washcloth.  I pour straight ammonia on the floor and move it around with a scrub brush. I let it sit 2 or 3 minutes, then scrub. Then I wipe it up with clean hot water. This removes ALL dirt, no matter how old.  Use a mask. Don't breathe the fumes

To clean walls and doors:  I use the same mixture as I use for windows. In addition, I use a white magic eraser sponge. These things are worth their weight in gold and will remove pretty much any mark on your wall. Mr. Clean makes these, but you can also buy inexpensive off-brands and they work just as well.

Next, I'll post lists for the living room. 

Stay tuned . . .


Sunday, June 19, 2016


This was posted on the forum today. If you have any way of reaching these folks, please let them know.

FOUND in Santiago today: the credentials and camera of Julian Sanchez and Maria Lopez. We don't have any other way to contact them, but if you walked with them on the Camino (they just arrived in Santiago yesterday, according to their credentials) and/or have seen them in Santiago, can you please let them know that the Santiago local police have their things? Thanks so much!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thank you!

I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart 
for donating to Marcus' GOFUNDME campaign.

The goal of $5,000 was reached within 24 hours, 
and the balance continues to grow 
as compassionate people share what they can.

People are so good, aren't they?

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Friday, June 17, 2016



Hello Pilgrims. 
I hope you are enjoying your Camino planning. 

As most of you know, I donate a lot of my personal time answering questions, writing my blog, and helping pilgrims walk the Camino Santiago. 

I don't ask for money or help. 
Today, I need to call in some favors. 

The beautiful young man in the photo is Marcus, 
the son of my cousin, Ron Cato.

The lives of this family was suddenly changed 
and future plans came to a screeching halt a few weeks ago 
when Marcus was diagnosed with leukemia. 

The family needs to be in San Francisco near the hospital 
while Marcus receives treatment and that, as you can imagine, 
is very expensive. 

So here goes. 

If I have EVER helped you in any way, 
making your Camino planning easier, with this page or my blog, 
could you please donate something to this campaign. 
$5, $10, $20, $100 or even more. 

Any amount will be of great help. 

Maybe give up one night in a private albergue and donate the cash to this cause?

Or give up a Starbucks latte or a dinner out? 

If you have a child or a grandchild who is healthy, 
could you donate a little in their name? 

This is a GOOD family 
and I believe this young man can live to do great things. 

My cousin, Ron, has pulled himself up out of unbelievably difficult circumstances, 
and has done a wonderful job as a husband and father. 

I hope you'll find it in your heart to give them a bit of a lift. 
Just click on the link below to help.

Thank you for any help you can give.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

There's No Place Like Home!

It's good to be home.
I arrived last night after a very long plane trip via Madrid,
then Heathrow, 
then Chicago.

I will go into more detail later, 
after I've adjusted to the time change, 
but for now, let's just say security 
was above and beyond ridiculous!

Plans for the next few days include 
volunteering at Portland Pride on Saturday and Sunday.

Except for that, I'll be seeing family, buying groceries, 
cleaning house, and settling in.

I'll try to catch up the blog next week. 
I have a lot of cool photos to post.

Have a great weekend!


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Catch up

I'm at San Anton Albergue volunteering until June 12. We have no electricity, no hot water and no wifi and I LOVE IT!!!   I will catch up on blog and photos once I am home after June 15.    Until then, the greatest excitement has been watching this young owl fledge. He has jumped from the nest to the roof on day 1. From the roof to a lower roof day 2. And last night to the ground. We assume mom is feeling him because he looks very strong and healthy and is not crying.  A few photos b