Expanding horizons – of the body AND the mind

This month I was privileged to again travel overseas to South Korea to visit my daughter, Erin, for a couple of weeks, and the two of us also flew to Osaka, Japan for a few days.  As always when traveling, I enjoy the new experiences and a different perspective on life.

Subway trains reserve cars for WOMEN ONLY!
Standing on line at the train station – for WOMEN ONLY!

While spending a few days in Japan, one thing really stood out to me: The subway trains have specific cars for WOMEN ONLY.  The place to wait at the station is also clearly marked WOMEN ONLY.  What a wonderful gift this is, in my opinion.  No, it doesn’t solve the huge problems of sexual harassment, but it does provide an immediate answer for a woman’s safety and peace of mind for today! Needless to say, Erin and I happily used this feature as we traveled to and from Universal Studios – we enjoyed a couple of days at Harry Potter World in Osaka.  It was a truly magical time!!

Welcome to Hogsmeade, Osaka, Japan style!
Hogwarts Castle!! I’m in love with this place!
One of my favorite shops – the Owl Post!

 While in South Korea, I spent a lot of my time just being present in this lovely country.  Knowing that North Korea and our president’s dealings with that country’s leader did give me some pause as we were less than an hour from the DMZ. But at the same time, North and South Korea were deciding to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics together, and sending positive messages of cooperation. So I felt relatively safe, and enjoyed walking around Cheong-na International City, where Erin lives and works.

One thing that always impresses me is that even the police do not carry guns.  Only the military carry weapons.  The most common phrase I hear as I visit other countries or teach the Chinese children online, when I talk about visiting them, is “Don’t bring your guns!” Apparently most of the world believes that every American walks around with guns – well, many do, but not me, thanks.  I often am told when I ask about them visiting America that “nope, that country is too scary — too many guns!”  I’m sure most of us have seen the internet videos of cops in other countries arresting and taking down criminals without using guns – it is possible! Personally, I think more weaponless training is an investment that communities and government should support, as well as more restrictions on gun control. If other countries can do it, why not us?

Another obvious difference from the USA was the universal healthcare that South Koreans enjoy. Even my daughter, as an English teacher from America, qualifies.  A dental visit runs her less than $10, her prescriptions from the pharmacy are just a couple of  bucks, and a coworker who broke a leg had emergency room visit, xrays, casting, followup treatment, and physical therapy – with just a few dollars out of pocket.  These folks are even able to see dermatologists frequently, and have excellent skin care (while most of us here get put on a 9-month waiting list for a VERY expensive visit to a specialist to have our skin checked for problems, including melanoma!)

In Cheong-na, along the canal that runs the length of this lovely city, is a lovely park where families ride bikes, shop, dine, walk, run, and even exercise! Under the bridge overpass for the street level above, are free exercise bicycles and ellipticals and other equipment, some of which are hooked to computer games to encourage exercising! I saw people of all ages stopping to do a free workout during their walks.  It is a natural part of their everyday life.  They also have plenty of comfy seats/tables and even platforms to rest on! The local construction workers stop after lunch to lay down and nap for a bit before returning to work — who doesn’t love naps!?!?!  The sidewalks in town also have inserts all along the way in bright yellow with raised bumps for folks with eyesight difficulties – it makes it so easy to see where to walk, where to cross the street, where the bus stop is…what a nice feature!

The intergenerational families living together, and grandparents taking babies for walks in their strollers during the day, made me smile. Many Asian families share their living space and grandparents are often the day care providers so both parents can work.  I also saw older people out in the mornings, picking up trash in the public places – a couple hours of work paid by the government helps them financially, and also keeps the city clean.  Elderly people are highly respected, and treated well.  Even on the subway trains, free for those over 65, they were waved to a seat by a younger person getting up to let them sit.  As a foreigner, I was treated the same, which made me smile.

Two lovely customs which I really appreciated are: 1) always take/offer money/receipts with two open hands and a lovely little bow of respect, whether paying for a meal or buying at a store, regardless of the amount of money.  And the other custom, 2) Whenever you enter a place of business, immediately soft voices welcome you with (in Korean) “Warm welcomes” and as you leave, no matter if you purchased anything or not, again soft voices send you off with “Thank you for coming to our business, have a nice day.”  The South Koreans definitely have mastered the art of customer service.  It impressed me how lovely and gentle voices can make a difference in the atmosphere of your daily life!

A huge factor in Korean life is RESPECT FOR OTHERS.  Even in a large apartment building with excellent soundproofing, one does not run the vacuum or make loud sounds in the evening/night as “it is not respectful of others”.  People on the subway actually do not sit in the reserved seats for pregnant women/disabled/elderly, even when all other seats are full.  Conversations between people in public are kept to a very quiet tone, and headphones are used for music/social media as “it is respectful of others”.  It really was a pleasure to walk around in a safe and respectful little world, even in a large city much bigger than most of us live in.

No, everything is not perfect in South Korea.  The educational pressures are very high on children from a young age.  The pressures to drink socially at an alarmingly horrible intensity are even worse, connected to your career and your bosses. No place is perfect, but I understand why Erin is choosing to live over there in South Korea, and is reluctant to come back to America with its divisiveness, political mudslinging, police shootings, and crime. Sad to say, but saying you’re from Canada is met with more respect and well wishes than being an American!

I enjoyed the gentle serenity of South Korea, especially in Cheong-na, and the lovely people.  Not only did I expand my horizons by traveling overseas to new countries, but I also gained personal experiences so my perspective has expanded!  This is definitely one of the best benefits of traveling!

—Scout, out!

From my bookshelf:

“Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will….Both are base, and both will fail a person as they age.  No, she had not approved of seduction as a tool.”

–Words of Radiance, Book Two of the StormLight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, 2014

Serenity now!!!

Santa Fe and Taos road trip

At the end of October (2017), I took a few days to travel up to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, in my little camper van.  A beautiful scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe was a refreshing sunlit start to some of my favorite places in the southwest.  Driving through the lands of the various Pueblo reservations was interesting.  I hope to visit each pueblo in the coming year as they are open to the public, and such a great historical (and yet current) testimony to our earliest Americans in their struggle to survive and prosper. The country is so rugged and I again recognize how easy my life is as a ‘townie’.  The open road and the big blue sky of New Mexico causes me to breathe deeper and totally relax as I travel!

Cottonwood trees shining in the autumn sunlight!
This is beautiful New Mexico country!
Beware of “falling rock”!








My first stop was in Santa Fe at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.  The art exhibition was, of course, most enjoyable to peruse. A particularly beautiful moment was looking at a gauzy curtain in front of a sunny window, where the shadows of the outside garden were made even more lovely – as purposely done by some artistic magician! I really appreciated the history and perspective about the artist, as I had heard stories about her and was rather pleased to get the accurate record.  From the museum, I walked around the old plaza area of Santa Fe where there are so many beautiful museums and galleries and open-air vendors.  I loved the Loretto Chapel with its mysterious and gorgeous helix-shaped staircase, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Of course, I will need to return to Santa Fe many times to see all the museums and historical places! Oh, too bad I only live about two hours away – LOL! Only one small issue, as a camper, is the restriction in Santa Fe against overnight parking anywhere. I did find a casino outside of town that had an RV area which I could use for sleeping, but nothing in Santa Fe itself unless I wanted to pay – which I try to avoid.

Loretto Chapel – staircase has no visible means of support!
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi – beautiful!

After seeing the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, I wanted to visit Ghost Ranch and her art studio – which was a gorgeous two-hour-plus drive north and west of Santa Fe.  I had to keep pulling over to take pictures as the scenery was beyond words.  The cottonwood trees were shining golden in the autumn sunlight – breathtaking!  A wonderful lavender farm was a great place to stop along the way, too! Cerro (Spanish for hill) Pedernal, which overlooks Ghost Ranch, is almost 10,000 feet tall, and I can see how O’Keefe was inspired by this location for so many years.

What a view! This would inspire me, too!
Cerro Pedernal in the background

My next stop was Taos, New Mexico.  Driving across the Rio Grande through the mountain passes was awesome! I didn’t even mind stopping for construction for 20 minutes, because the view was that great.  As always, the little stops along the way to read historical markers and enjoy each scenic overlook made for a leisurely morning.

Taos is a very different vibe from Santa Fe.  I compare the two cities as (being from New York), the difference between Saratoga Springs and Cooperstown -two towns I have lived in for several years each.  Saratoga Springs and Santa Fe have, in my opinion, that kind of ‘snooty’ vibe with upscale everything.  Cooperstown and Taos are more blue-collar towns with just ‘regular folks’.  I enjoyed walking around Taos and seeing the different architecture from periods of New Mexico history. Again, there are many galleries and shops around an old cobblestone plaza, a great place to lunch and spend a few hours.  The skyline drive in Taos to the ski area was a beautiful drive, and since there wasn’t much traffic this time of year, I could take it slow and stop to admire the scenery.

You want to come visit New Mexico now?

Just south of Taos is an old 1800’s Spanish hacienda (Hacienda de los Martinez) which is open to the public, and I absolutely LOVED this place. I spent several hours going through the collections and different rooms used for all the many tasks and purposes in a large Spanish hacienda.  Any person familiar with the American Girls books of Josephina would love this hacienda. There was even a play area with the Josephina books to read, and clothing and toys from that period, which a kid of any age would love.  And yes, since no one was there, I donned the clothing and enjoyed myself, imagining this life back in the 1800’s.

When done with the town of Taos, I headed over to the Taos Pueblo for the afternoon.  A delicious Indian fry bread taco was a treat, cooked in a small ‘apartment’ of the pueblo.  The local artists who live in the pueblo still, without running water or electricity, were so lovely and friendly. I “had to” buy some turquoise jewelry – who could resist?!?!?

Looking out the chapel entrance at the pueblo.
Taos Pueblo – still living here with no running water or electricity, these folks are just wonderful!
So here is your running water! A creek running through the middle of the pueblo.

The next stop for me was the Rio Grande Gorge and the bridge that crosses it, about 10 miles up the road. Whew! My hands clenched on the railing as I looked down into the gorge, and I did NOT make it across – I enjoyed the view from about ten feet away from the edge! At 565 feet above the river, this is a beautiful steel arch bridge on Route 64.  I then turned around to head back south towards Albuquerque.

My final stop was the Puye Cliffdwellings of the Santa Clara Pueblo outside of Espanola. My wonderful guide, Elijah, took me on a 1:1 walking tour of the cliffs with all its ladders and stairways and paths, telling me interesting stories from his family’s history there. There were about 1500 people living on this mesa for centuries, with ‘rooms’ carved out of the soft volcanic rock in the cliffs. On top of the mesa were storage and ceremonial buildings, now just remains – the Pueblo moved down to the river when a drought caused the waters to dry up in the late 1500’s – to imagine and enjoy.  We saw several falcons and ravens while on the cliffs, as we kept a watch-out for snakes, and a bear who had trashed the visitor center’s dump container that morning. (Seeing the heavy chain busted and the steel container mangled, I did not want to be anywhere near that bear!)  I left the cliffs after several hours on this sacred land, filled with an amazing serenity deep within my spirit.  I found I could not go anywhere else that day, as I just wanted to absorb the tranquility and rest from my time on the mesa. This was a beautiful spiritual renewal day!

Heading up to the Puye cliffs for a wonderful two hour walking tour with Elijah. So sorry (not!) that no one else was there at that time!
Room with a view!

I hope you enjoyed my little road trip album, and that it inspires you to a road trip of your own! There is just so much to see in our great country. I love the history here, and the wonderful people I meet.  Thanks for following the blog, and take care of yourself!

–Scout, out!

From the bookshelf…

The Dreaming – Walks Through Mist, by Kim Murphy, 2011

“Near the mist-covered river, the waves lapped against the bank. Lee gazed upon the water. No words were necessary. I knew he thought of how the land had once belonged to the Paspahegh. He held his hands out afore him, palms facing up.  My eyes filled with tears. At long last, he understood the sacrifice of the woman who had birthed him.”

Settling in for the winter – Albuquerque style

I’m baaaaack!!!

At the end of September, I completed a four-month road trip which was highly successful. I arrived back in Albuquerque and pulled into my daughters’ driveway. A thorough van cleaning was in order. I am happy to say that 1.5 years of van life has been without any sign of spiders or mice or snakes – whew! (That really was a concern of mine going into this adventure!)  I attribute the lack of creepy crawlies to peppermint essential oil on cotton balls placed strategically throughout the van, and some unwrapped Irish Spring bar soaps tucked in several places.

I am back to teaching almost every day. I found that trying to teach while on the road did not work so well for me.  It was entirely too stressful to be dealing with people not having sufficient wi-fi at their homes, or finding a place with sufficient wi-fi at random places. At one truck stop, I even paid $3 to use the truck stop wi-fi for truckers, only to find that the router faced the back lot where trucks are parked and not toward the front lot where I was allowed to park, so — no go, and I ended up cancelling my classes at the last minute.  This did not endear me to the company, to say the least.  I finally decided in July that I would only schedule classes for when I was at a family/friend’s home where I already knew the wi-fi was sufficient.

So now I am parked in Albuquerque and teaching most mornings, from 5 am to 8 am.  Once Daylight Savings Time kicks the clock back an hour, it will be 4 am to 7 am.  Gotta love Mountain time!  (It was so much easier back on the East Coast when the same classes were from 7 am to 10 am!) I am struggling with readjusting my internal clock to be ready to teach at 4 am.  I tried sleeping earlier at night to get my 7 hours in before 4 am, but that meant going to sleep at 9 pm – not a great solution!  Then I tried sleeping 3 hours before classes and 4 hours after classes – also not a good solution.  So now I stay awake through the night and go to sleep after classes are finished…which means sleeping most of the day. It works, but I am unhappy at missing daylight!!!! This is the biggest adjustment I have to make for the winter. *Addition: I am back to dividing my sleep to before and after classes; I just needed sunlight!! Much better now!

Living the van life all summer, where I went to sleep with the sunset and woke at dawn each day, was much healthier for me. I like being awake early in the morning and having sunshine all day.  It also greatly benefits my Seasonal Affective Disorder to live in the sunshine! But it looks like this sleep/work pattern will need to continue at least until August 2018, when I will reach 62 and my financial situation changes. At that time, I can just work Saturday/Sunday evenings, 7 pm to 10 pm, and be back to my normal circadian cycles with the daylight!

Fortunately, I arrived back in Albuquerque in time for the annual Balloon Fiesta. With about 700 hot-air balloons of all shapes and sizes, the 10 days in early October are always exciting in Albuquerque! This year, I was happy to volunteer for a day of crewing for a Brazilian team.  This meant arriving at the Balloon Fiesta Park by 6 am, helping to unpack and inflate the balloon (a big Armadillo!), and then after launch I jumped in the back of the crew pickup truck as we tracked the balloon northeast through the city and out into some wide open space where the pilot set down. (However, I did not enjoy seeing snakes nearby!) It was an interesting hour as we reached the balloon and helped deflate and pack up the balloon.  After we loaded the basket into the truckbed, I climbed into the basket for the ride back to the park.  Standing in the balloon basket as we drove down the highway was pretty fun – we got lots of funny looks from people, and some friendly waves.  What an adventurous morning!  Definitely sign up to volunteer crew (see website – www.balloonfiesta.c0m) if you are in Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta in early October – it was loads of fun!

It was also great to meet an RV-ing couple, who had also volunteered to crew for the same balloon team.  Jeannie and Dave were there all week, and they both got to ride in the balloon – yay!! We had a good time comparing our 2017 summer trips – seems we were in Maine this summer at the same places at the same time! Now we know….  We may all end up in Alaska next summer, too, or some other place on the road!  Some of the best people are RV-ers! They find adventures everywhere!

Inflating the Armadillo balloon
…and the Armadillo is up and almost ready to launch
Only three people in the basket – rats! Maybe next year I will get to ride!
The “skin” is deflated and ready to pack into its bag.
The basket is in the truck bed, and next I climb in for the ride back to the Park.

My next adventure is coming in 3 days – I will travel up to Santa Fe and Taos for some sightseeing.  I will sleep in my van at free overnight places, and enjoy the many sights of this area. The night temperatures have dropped, so I will be packing my fleece snug-sac and warm clothes.

I plan to take the Turqoise Trail up to Santa Fe. I can’t wait to visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Loretta Chapel with its legendary stairs, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the Palace of the Governors, and Meow Wolf.   I will also visit Taos Pueblo, the Kit Carson House, and Martinez Hacienda in Taos.  It should be an exciting four days!

With my winter base in Albuquerque, I am a short drive away from all the New Mexico Pueblos, as well as many sites in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. This should be a fun winter as I take advantage of my central location and ability to drive to some amazing scenery, museums, and historic sites. Currently I am planning on making at least one trip per month for several days each. Of course the holidays are almost here, so plenty to celebrate!

In January 2018, I will fly back to South Korea to visit my youngest daughter for a couple of weeks.  I am still deciding about next summer’s itinerary. I would like to drive up to Alaska but that may not be in 2018.  After all, I have two wonderful sons with my nine amazing grandchildren on the East Coast… and so much more to see there!  For now, I am enjoying the beautiful skies of New Mexico – and Chinese Lantern Festival is this month also!

I hope you are having a wonderful fall.  Enjoy the season, and talk to you soon!

Scout –out!

From my bookshelf —

“Now with the bare planks beginning to reveal themselves from under layers of varnish, I admire the different types of wood my grandfather used to construct this gondola. The fore and aft decks are fashioned of mahogany and cedar, beautifully grained woods that also give off distinctive scents. I recognize cherry and walnut used for the trasti, the crosswise pieces of wood that stabilize the prow and stern as well as the wide span across the middle…As I lock the gates of the boathouse behind me, I realize why I am in such a happy mood.”

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli, 2014

Anxiety? Depression? Coping strategies on the road

The mind is our greatest battlefield!

So, everyone who travels in an RV must be happy and fulfilled every day, right?  Does the sun always shine brightly?

I know I’m not the only person who has chosen the travel lifestyle but still battles with anxiety, depression, and/or other mental health issues.  (And how many of us battle physical health issues?  spiritual health issues? emotional health issues?  relationship health issues? etc.)

Just like the sky is not always sunny, so too we as human beings don’t always have internal sunshine.  Some days there’s clouds, or wind, or rain, or tornadoes/hurricanes/major storms.  Some days are dark and we struggle to get through the day…hour…the next 5 minutes.

Part of the reason I chose to full-time RV is that I was struggling with a full time job in the midst of some serious anxiety, and bouts of depression.  I have suffered from these battles off and on for most of my life.  At times I have needed to turn to medications and therapies, and it’s a smart person who recognizes when the red flags are waving and gets outside help.  Most of the time, though, I have ridden the waves pretty well with self-monitoring.  However, in 2016 I found myself struggling more and more with anxiety and depression, and while medication and therapy were helpful it just wasn’t enough.  I felt my work performance was slipping and it was increasingly difficult to show up every day and concentrate. Just the thought of a meeting or a snowstorm or just going up the staircase with coworkers often sent me into a panic attack.  I tried going back on anti-anxiety medication but hated how my brain turned to mush – also not good for work performance.

Then, I was in a minor fender bender and several days later awoke to incredible vertigo and could not drive, or barely walk down a hall without my world spinning, which lasted for months.  I tried, for a few months, to do my work from home remotely, thanks to a wonderful manager.  But while the anxiety symptoms abated when I was away, a phone call or an on-site meeting would dump me right back into anxiety for days before and days after. So I came to a critical point:  If I needed medication in order to do my job, and that medication messed with my brain, did I want to continue that route?

During the early part of 2016, I had decided to purchase an old van to renovate into a solo camper for vacations and possibly as a “tiny home”.  I moved into the van I found on Craigslist and renovated while living in it at my son’s home (see other blog posts for more info).  During this time I was battling the depression and anxiety, and then the vertigo.  Within weeks, due to the decreased stress of no rent, etc., and the fresh air of van camping, and working remotely, and other external circumstances changing, I found the depression was lifting.  The vertigo was handled with an OTC medication as needed, and it lessened bit by bit.  The anxiety, though, was still kicking my butt.

By August of 2016, I felt my best choice for good health was to resign from my job and begin full time RV travel with some type of part time work to support the traveling.  While it was difficult to resign from a job which I really enjoyed and paid decently, I didn’t want to continue with a medicated lifestyle. Now, seven months later, I am medication-free, depression-free, and almost completely anxiety-free.

I know from experience that depression and anxiety are life-long battles for me, and for many folks.  A concern of my family/friends is that I am off traveling alone – Would I slide into depression without my support system (family and friends)?  Would I let my health deteriorate and no one would notice? Would I hole up in a campsite somewhere and not take care of myself?  Yes, these are valid concerns for those who love me!  I don’t fight their loving concern, but I also don’t let that concern make decisions for me.

My red flags are familiar to me, and I mitigate those symptoms by a few simple daily routines:

*Complete B vitamins – sustained release

*Outdoor exercise (simple walking 20+ minutes)

*Journaling, creative stuff

*Healthy eating

*Healthy sleeping

Due to the freedom of the RV lifestyle, I can be alone or get together with people according to how I feel at any given time.  I don’t have a schedule or deadlines.  I purposely “go with the flow” instead of making a hard-and-fast itinerary.  If I choose to spend a day in bed reading, that’s okay.  If I want to visit someone, that’s okay.  If I just want to sit at a beach and stare at the surf, that’s okay.  If I want to walk in the woods, that’s okay. If I want to eat at a restaurant surrounded by chatter, that’s okay.

Since I do need to fund my travels, I work a few days a week for a few hours.  The schedule is mine to book, and the work is not stressful for me.  If I start to get anxious, I can take a break – I am only required to work 7.5 hours a week.  All I do is spend 1/2 hour at a time with a Chinese child online speaking English with the teaching PowerPoint provided. (See other blogs for work information).

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and this lifestyle choice would not work for everyone. If I find myself not doing well for a couple of weeks and not able to rise above those dark days, then I would head to family for support and reconsideration of what is best at that time.  But for now, this is working for me and I am happy and content with my choices.  I like having a clear head, and enjoying the fresh air and freedom of the camping life.

Do you have a battle you are fighting? What steps are you taking towards health? How are you coping?  Hey, just being honest with each other can go a long way to making a difference.  I bared my soul…doesn’t hurt and it might help someone else!  Feel free to share…


From the bookshelf:

“There are two truisms about a person.  The first is that they do not change. The second is that they do not remain the same.”

Aspen Allegations by Lisa Shea, 2013


Please remember, if you are ordering online via Amazon/Audible and would click through the link at the end of this post, I will make a small commission to help fund my travels. (no additional cost to you) –Thanks!