Category: Uncategorized

Hiatus + Further Reading

Hi friends! As I updated on my Lately page, in two days I’m headed to Colorado for six months of conservation work… without my computer. I’m excited for the work and location, but this will be my longest chunk of time without blogging since something like 2005. I’m bringing along plenty of notebooks and pens, though, and I should be able to post some updates on Instagram from time to time. So you can check there (no need to have an account) if you’re curious to see what I’m up to.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read (shoutout to you, Cathleen!), below are links to my two latest ebooks, plus a collection of blog posts from over the years. Every time you come back to check for new posts, you can just read an older one from the list! 😉

Ebooks

Compass-Directed Moments

My Decade Living with IBS-D

Blog Posts

A Look Inside My Day-Marker Art Journal

I Puked, I Sketched, and Then One Man in Munich Changed My Day

The Impermanence of Words

Integrity Inspiration from a Girl in Rodez

The Joy of Being an Adult Beginner

Just Move the Pen

My Guide to Writing Online as My Truest Self

Never Again

Personal Projects: Ideas to Kickstart Your Next Creation

A Reflection on 100 Days of Mind Mapping

The Sound of Death

The Unexpected Email from My Spanish TA on Easter

We Can Grow by Doing

What I Learned Walking 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago

 

I wish you all a summer and fall filled with enjoyable moments—some calm, some nature-filled, and many with people that you love!

Until then,
Rebecca

ACE-AmeriCorps-Arizona

American Conservation Experience (ACE) Glossary

Neighboring my college city is a huge healthcare software company where many graduates end up working. While living downtown the year after graduation, I remember getting annoyed if I ever found myself in the same room with two or more workers from this particular company. They would talk to each other using all these acronyms and terms only insiders would know—I could hardly even follow the conversation. It drove me nuts!

Well, if a non-ACEr were to join a group of ACErs for any given period of time, I’m sure a similar phenomenon would happen. I quickly picked up the ACE lingo near not long after my 6-month AmeriCorps term began, but I thought it might be helpful to compile a glossary of such terms for future newbies. It was also a fun exercise to commemorate my time in ACE, now that I’m “ACE dead”—a term you’ll learn below.

Disclaimer: These are not official ACE terms. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this post belong solely to me, and not necessarily to ACE or AmeriCorps.

ACE Glossary

ACE Basics

ACE-AmeriCorps-Arizona

ACE – ACE stands for “American Conservation Experience.” Or, if you live in the apartments, it’s the joke name of their Snapchat group: “Apartments Clique Experience.”

Hitch – This is your conservation project which is usually an eight-day stretch of working and camping, as in “How was hitch?” It’s perhaps most frequently used with the preposition “on,” as in “I’m on hitch through Wednesday, so I’ll call you next week.” Here are the different schedules for hitches:

4/3 – You work four days, followed by three days off.

8/6 – You’re on hitch for eight days, followed by six days off.

Monthlong – Sometimes you might be sent to work at a location for four to six weeks, which is called a “monthlong.” In this case you’ll have housing of some sort for your off days (AirBnb, NPS bunk house, etc.).

Rig-up – The day before you leave for hitch your Crew Leader (and any crew members who want to come lend a hand!) will “rig up” at the office. This means preparing the van and trailer for hitch. So, you’ll load the coolers and food bins into the trailer, pack all of the tools you’ll need, etc.

De-rig – On your final day of hitch, upon arriving back at the office in Flagstaff your whole crew will help with “de-rig.” This involves washing the cook set, emptying coolers and food bins, cleaning the van/trailer, and cleaning/putting away tools.

The Schedule – This is a massive Google Spreadsheet which shows the year’s current/past corps members and what hitch they’re going on. There are multiple tabs to view the crew leaders’ schedule and other resources. Members check the schedule with anticipation every hitch cycle to see where they’ll end up next. It may change at any moment, and thus isn’t really finalized until the day before you leave for hitch—so be sure to check it a few times during your off days!

 

On Hitch

ACE-Grand-Canyon-hitch

30/30 – This is a safety rule that means if you hear thunder within 30 seconds of seeing lightning, then you should go indoors and wait for 30 minutes.

Asshole Day – This is the last full day of hitch, the day before you drive home for de-rig. “Last whole day” kind of sounds like “asshole day,” hence the name. Nothing happens, people might simply comment that it’s Asshole Day.

Direction and Duration – This is a safety rule that means when you’re leaving the group for any reason (usually to go to the bathroom), tell at least one person your direction and duration. Examples: “Hey, I’m gonna go pee real quick this way” or “I’m gonna go take a shit over there, be back in 10.”

Hump Day – This is halfway through your project, and the day your crew gets to break into the Oreos and chips/salsa. This is an unwritten rule (as far as I know?) which everyone follows, so don’t touch the Oreos or salsa before Hump Day!

PPE – Personal Protective Equipment. In ACE, this usually consists of gloves, eye pro, hard hat, and long work pants. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, sometimes this could mean ear pro (ear protection – aka ear plugs) or long sleeves if you’re working with herbicide, for example. ACE provides your PPE—you simply have to bring it along on hitch and make sure you wear it while working.

The Four Essentials – These are (1) water (six to eight liters), (2) lunch/snacks, (3) PPE, and (4) rain gear. You need to have your four essentials with you every day of hitch.

“Hydrate or Dydrate” – This is a silly little phrase we say a lot on hitch, which we use to encourage one another to drink more water!

Safety Circle – This happens every morning of hitch. You go around a circle and each share a safety rule, and then everyone signs a sheet—your “contract” saying you’ve gone over these safety concerns and will keep them in mind.

Question of the Day – Most Crew Leads follow up Safety Circle with Question of the Day, which doubles as an opportunity to stretch. The Crew Lead or a crew member will pose a question, and then you’ll go around the circle to answer it. On your turn you’ll give the group a stretch to do as you share your answer.

Whoop – A whoop is a loud, high-pitched call of changing tones used to get someone’s attention—either when they’re using a loud tool (and have ear-pro in) or if they’re out of sight. You don’t want to overuse the whoop, though, because it’s a great call in case of emergency.

 

ACE Housing

ACE-Housing-Flagstaff-Apartments

Apartments – These are the apartments on the south end of town. There are four bedrooms (each with its own bathroom), with four people to a room. (The best person-to-bathroom ratio in ACE!)

Cedar – These are the three houses on the north end of town, closest to the office.

Cisco – This is the house downtown, right across from The Mayor (a bar).

Commons – Any unlabeled food or items left in common living spaces will be put in “commons,” and thus up for grabs.

Commons Closet – The commons closet is where we keep non-food commons items, like clothing and guitars. You can take/use anything from the Commons Closet!

Food stamps – Most people serving in ACE apply for food assistance and receive EBT from the state of Arizona. But we just all it “food stamps.”

Hot bunking – If you’re gone for a monthlong, hot bunking is when a new corps member is assigned your bed while you’re away. As in, “Nooo, I’m getting hot bunked while I’m on my monthlong in Texas. So now I have to pack up all my stuff!”

Potluck – During my 6-month term, the Apartments began a weekly Sunday evening potluck. It was so regular, we just refer to the event as “potluck,” as in “Hey, what are you bringing to potluck this week?”

Strike – Earn three of these and you’re out of ACE! Each house has a list of ACE-wide rules, along with the number of strikes you’d receive for breaking each rule.

Super Scrub – At the end of each set of off days (every two weeks), every ACE house has a required “Super Scrub” in the morning. All members living in that house divvy up cleaning tasks.

Super Duper Scrub – Four times a year the houses have a much more intensive cleaning, called “Super Duper Scrub.”

Timesheets – These are completed every two weeks on an outdated AmeriCorps website called “America Learns.” If you correctly use the copy/paste function they don’t take long, it’s just a small hassle because of the site’s clunkiness.

VSP – Each AmeriCorps member must complete one (for a 3-month term) or two (for a 6-month term) VSPs before the end of their service. This is a conservation-related volunteer event in the area. In your biweekly ACE news email, Member Support Coordinators will let you know of any upcoming VSP events and how to sign up.

 

People in ACE

ACE-trails-training

ACL – This stands for Assistant Crew Lead. There are a few hitches that require splitting up into two groups. In this case, they’ll have an ACL lead one half and the Crew Leader lead the other.

CL – This stands for Crew Leader, though we rarely used this abbreviation when speaking.

Housing Supervisor – This is a corps member who enforces rules in housing, welcomes new members, helps lead Super Scrubs, and generally serves as a role model in housing. Each ACE house has several Housing Supervisors.

Member Support Coordinator – This is the ACE staff member who hired you and who takes care of all housing concerns, PPE, and nearly any issue that could arise during your term. There were three Member Support Coordinators during my term: Clancy, Claire, and Kelsey. They have a long title which I never found myself using. Instead, I would ask members “Who’s your ‘person’?” when discussing issues where they should contact their Member Support Coordinator.

Project Partner – Different agencies hire ACE crews to work on various conservation projects. The agency is your Project Partner (i.e. NPS), as is the person from that agency who supervises your crew (i.e. Pam).

 

Just for Fun…

ACE dead – This is an informal term used by members as a status which means your ACE term has ended. Here’s an example conversation:

Jen: Do you want to go hiking with us on Sunday?
Orion: I can’t—I’ll be ACE dead! I leave Saturday at noon.

Dirt Muppets – This is the name that a bouncer at a Flagstaff bar once called a group of ACErs, which ACErs have since proudly clung on to as an endearing nickname. (Proud to work in the dirt!) How’d we get it? Apparently we looked dirty and danced like muppets!

First Fridays – The first Friday of every month in Flagstaff is the First Friday ArtWalk, a cool event downtown where art galleries and shops open from 6-9 p.m. for live music, art exhibits, refreshments, and more.

Odds – Another “game” I learned in ACE is called “Odds.” Basically, you can dare someone else to do anything by saying “Odds you… [insert dare here].” The person you singled out—let’s call them Andres—now gets to choose a number. Let’s say Andres chooses 20. Now you’ll both silently pick a number between one and twenty, and then count down aloud from three (“Three, two, one…”)and both say your number aloud at the same time. If you and Andres both say the same number, then Andres has to do the dare. If not, most of my friends play that now the dare is reversed back onto the person who began the Odds (in this case, me)—but they have to play with the number the first person picked (in this case, 20).

Snot rocket – Okay, so this isn’t an ACE-specific term, but I’d never heard of it before I joined. To save on tissues when you have a cold on hitch, I learned it’s handy to just snot rocket your snot out! Close one nostril with your finger and then blow hard through your nose. Snot from the open nostril will shoot out down to the ground! I laugh every time I do it—such a fun and funny sensation. And it really does save you on TP!

Sure does! – Many friends and I got in the habit of replacing any affirmative question with “Sure does!,” even if it doesn’t make sense, thanks to the joke about two penguins rowing through a desert. Example:

Dra: Should I make vegan chocolate chip cookies for potluck again?
Rebecca: Sure does!

What’s an ACEr’s favorite flower? – This is a joke you’ll hear in other branches of work as well, but I heard it often in ACE. The answer: Tulip! (Tool up)

 

Trails Terminology

ace-trails-grand-canyon

There’s a ton of terminology with trail work, and some of it varies based on the organization/Project Partner or Crew Lead that you work with. Instead of going through all the terms, here are some great resources you can check out:

Recommended Standard Trails Terminology for Use in Colorado – This is what I should study up before my next conservation gig (Rocky Mountain Youth Corps), but it’s not a bad place to start.

Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook – This is a full PDF of the booklet I received at my trails training at ACE, put together by the USDA and the Forest Service. I like it because there are lots of images, plus the writing at parts is more entertaining than you’d expect.

Trail Terminology at PCTA Trail Skills College – Here’s a PDF of the trail terminology used by the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Tools for Trails – This site has a nice glossary (with images!) of the many tools you might use on the trails. The navigation isn’t that intuitive, though, so to see the other pages you just have to click the links for the section you want to view (located near the top, between the red “Tools for Trails” heading and the dark blue “Tools for Trail Work” subheading).

 


If anyone has recently joined ACE in Arizona, I hope this is helpful! And to anyone who has been or is a current member of ACE, are there any other terms I should add? Let me know in the comments!

Hitches #10 & #11: Arnett Creek

I spent my final two hitches in March working on an equestrian trail in Arnett Creek. Here’s where that’s located in Arizona:

map of arnett creek az

The trail has been a social trail for several decades, meaning no one ever designed it, it was simply so heavily used that you can see the path.

What this meant for us is that there were several reroutes to make, so we benched new trail and then naturalized the old social trail (covered it with large branches and cactus).

The reroutes / new trail were marked with flags. Reasons for rerouting from the old social trail might be to put it on higher ground or to have less steep of an incline, such that water won’t erode the trail as much and to make it easier on the horses.

Here’s what one reroute looked like before and after:

Trail – Before; Photo by: N. Coney

 

Trail – After; Photo by: N. Coney

In other sections we would widen the tread of the existing trail (to three feet) and brush (=lopping nearby branches both on the sides of the trail and above it, such that there’s an appropriate corridor for horse riders).

cows on arnett canyon

To retain soil and prevent erosion we also had several rock projects going on along the trail each week, such as installing check steps and building staircases. While the first hitch I was mostly brushing (lopping) and sometimes widening tread, this past hitch I spent the week working on a staircase.

Our staircase will have seven or eight steps when it’s finished, gaining around eight inches of height each step. Since it will be used by horses, the step platforms are five feet deep.

We wanted the steps to be at least four feet wide, which meant we had to find a huge rock for each step, and then move it to the staircase.

We did this using a grip hoist, a magical tool which can pull two tons of weight:

Sometimes we’d have to first excavate around a potential rock to see how big it really was, if it had a nice flat surface on one side for a step, and if we could get a strap around it (for the grip hoist). Below you can see me excavating around a rock that we did end up using in our staircase.

Once we got a step set in the correct position (which can take a loong time…), we would crush it in (break down rocks with a single or double jack around it) and then set and crush in liners along the sides of the step.

Here we are, all crushing in different rocks:

When you’re done crushing in the space between one step and the next, you can then start to cover the crush with dirt/sand and tamp it down.

Here’s what the step looks like afterwards:

The four of us finished five steps during the work week, which we were proud of.

Here’s a peek at our tool cache at the end of the week, if you’re interested to see what sort of tools we were using.

Finally, a group picture on our steps:

It was really fun to construct a big rock structure on my final hitch, rather than doing the typical trail work I’d gotten used to throughout my months in ACE. I’m much more confident using a grip hoist now, as well as a double jack. It was a fantastic way to end my term with ACE!

Hitch #9: Texas (Laguna Atascosa)

I spent the month of February working on a private ranch in Raymondville, Texas. Here’s where it lies in comparison to Flagstaff, AZ. (Note: Route pictured is not the route we drove.)

Map Flagstaff AZ to Raymondville TX

We spent two days driving down, and then it was off to work!

The task was to plant 45,000 shrubs during the month, in order to create a more ocelot-friendly habitat. (An ocelot is pictured below, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Ocelot

The Ranch

The Frank Yturria Ranch where we worked let U.S. Fish and Wildlife and a local nature conservancy do this project on their land. It felt kind of weird to be working on a conservation project there because the ranch is home to all sorts of exotic animals, for the purpose of hunting. The ranch charges a hefty fee for hunters to come hunt on the land.

So on the drive in each day (20 mph limit within the ranch), we’d see all sorts of wildlife. Deer, javelinas, turkeys, this strange deer/antelope from India, etc. One day we even saw zebras!

zebras tx ranch

The Plants

Here’s what the plants looked like:

shrub

There were over 30 varieties of shrubs and they came in these crates of 49 plants.

crate of shrubs

And the crates were in these trailers of something like 80-90 crates. There were multiple trailers around the property.

Each day the most important number was how many crates we had planted. Our very first day we planted 19 crates, and later we’d get around 30/day, with a high of 52. (Our partner’s original goal for us was 66 crates/day!, which was simply not possible.) Later in the month they brought in a 12-person NCCC AmeriCorps group, and our last three days they also brought in a 6-person ACE crew from the Corpus Christi branch. On the days when all 28 of us were planting, we got 60-64 crates in a day.

The Planting

For a majority of our work days during the month, we used augers to make holes in the ground. Plants were supposed to be 7′ from each other, which later got changed to 6,’ so that’s how far apart augers made the holes.

Three or four people would auger side by side moving forwards in a straight line, from one end of the plot to the other.

auger

The augers were followed by “tubers,” who would lay a tube next to each hole. (After each plant is planted, tubes are put around the plants to protect them during their first year in the ground.) We set the tubes out right away to make the holes visible and to make the planting go faster.

tubing

Finally, someone would walk along with a crate of plants and place a plant at each hole. Everyone else would begin planting at that end while the augers, tubers, and plant-passer-outer continued creating their rows across the plot.

Here’s what a hole would look like for the planters:

hole with plant and tube

First you rip the plant wrapper at the top and fold it over a bit, so the wrapper doesn’t stick out. (It’s biodegradable so we buried the plants in the wrappers; they simply couldn’t stick out of the soil.) Then you put the plant in the hole and pack in dirt tightly around it, followed by sticking the tube in the ground around the plant. Sometimes we could push the tube stakes all the way down into the ground, but we often used a hammer and block to hammer them in. The stakes couldn’t be hit directly with a hammer, which is why we carried around wooden blocks.

planting

tubing

When the augers (and distribution group) reached the far end, they would all get on their knees and begin planting and tubing, until we met with the other group in the middle. While I wasn’t using much upper body this whole month, my legs certainly got a workout from jumping up to my feet and back down to my knees over and over.

Odds and Ends

Another part of our work day was assembling the tubes that we put around the plants. Stakes had to be put through each tube, and then we’d stuff a bag with around 20 tubes to take out into the field. Often there were volunteers who worked on assembling tubes while we planted during the day, but any extra time after finishing our final row of the day was also spent assembling tubes.

assembling plant tubes

Because of all the wildlife, we would find bones all over the fields while we planted. Here’s a deer skeleton spotted one day:

deer skeleton

This was a strange hitch for me because our project partners put us up in a motel, so we weren’t in tents all month. It was weird to fill up a motel room with all of our food bins and coolers, and do the cooking in there with a tiny sink.

We also had to drive 90 minutes to different housing for our off days, which meant lots of packing/unpacking the trailer, coolers, etc. all month every three or four days—all done on our “off” time, of course.

Luckily we had a stellar crew, so we had lots of fun together despite some less-ideal work conditions on this hitch.

crew photo

And that was my first (and only) monthlong while in ACE! Have any questions?

pexels-photo-271168

Real Talk About Money

I’m a huge fan and supporter of the podcast Real Talk Radio with Nicole AntoinetteOne question she has asked past seasons’ guests in her rapid-fire questions section is “What is one thing you wish people would be more honest about?”

And can you guess what the most common answer is?

Money.

A month ago in the podcast’s Patreon community, Nicole started a thread about this topic. Most everyone expressed an interest in learning the behind-the-scenes about people’s incomes and financial situations—especially for those on a more unconventional path. So as someone without a career who has lived abroad several years (Spain, South Korea, and France), I’ve decided to add my voice to this discussion and pull back the curtain on my personal finances.

Real Talk About Money

University: 2007-2011

My dad helped with one of my first housing or tuition payments my freshman year, I think it was around 1K, but from then on I covered everything myself via student loans and working. I had an office job throughout college, where I’d work 10-15 hours a week during the semester, and full-time over Christmas, Spring and Summer breaks.

At some point in here I bought an old car (’89 Honda Accord) from my neighbor for $500. The summer of my sophomore year I got an additional weekend job at the hostel, so I’d work there Friday nights and Sunday mornings, picking up an additional Saturday shift here and there.

My junior year of college I studied abroad in Madrid. I knew I wanted to study abroad somewhere that spoke Spanish, and ultimately chose the Madrid year-long program because its tuition was about on par with a year at UW-Madison (~$7K). I applied for and received a $1,000 scholarship from the study abroad alumni foundation and taught private English lessons each week while living in Madrid, bringing in 65-80 euros/week. My rent was 320 euros/month.

By the time I graduated from college in 2011 I had ~23K in student loans.

Teaching English in Spain: 2011-12

I worked full time the summer after graduation, until I left for Spain. I’d accepted a position teaching English in Madrid, through Spain’s North American Language and Culture Assistants program. I received 1,000 euros/month for nine months (October – June). My rent was 240 euros/month. You can see all the financial details of my second year in Madrid here.

I paid on all of my school loans as soon as the grace period was up, overpaying each month. By the end of my time in Spain (September ’12) I still had over 1K euros in my Spanish bank account, which I left there. I’m pretty sure this was the year abroad during which my dad sold my car to someone for scraps.

Working in Madison: 2012-13

I returned to Madison and was able to work in the same office where I’d worked all through college, this time as an LTE. I made $16/hr before taxes, the most I’ve ever been paid to date. During the tax season I got a second (weekend) job at H&R Block ($12/hr). I would leave my university office job a little early on Fridays to work at H&R Block Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday.

My rent this year was around $420/month (I shared a flat with two housemates). I put all my extra money towards my loans and finished paying off two of them in 2013. To date, this is the most money I’ve ever made in a year (~35K), and that was at age 23.

Teaching English in South Korea: 2013-14

I left my office job in the fall of 2013 to teach English in South Korea. The school paid for my airfare (to/from) and my rent during the year. I made around $2,000/month, which included some compensation for the extra after school classes I taught as well (requested of me by the school).

I finished paying all of my student loans before the end of 2013, which felt quite freeing. I also opened a Roth IRA that year and contributed the maximum amount ($5500).

Working as a Virtual Editor: 2014-16

In spring of 2014 while still teaching in Korea I started writing blog posts for a language-learning startup. I made $65/post and wrote just a handful of them. Then I was asked to come on board as an editor for the startup—$13/hour. I started working a few hours after school each day, coming out to maybe 10 hours/week. When my contract ended in Korea that fall, I visited Spain and spent a month walking the Camino de Santiago, using the money I’d left in my Spanish bank account two years earlier to fund the journey.

When I returned to the states in the fall, I was able to bump up my editing hours full time. It was the same flat hourly rate without any health benefits, so I got health insurance through Obamacare (my contribution was ~$80/month) and maxed out my Roth IRA contribution again that year. I was living with my parents rent-free.

Moving to France: 2015-16

For the previous five years I’d been dabbling in French, and when 2015 came around I decided that was the year I was going to really learn it. Using money earned in Korea, I booked myself six weeks at a private French school in Montpellier, France. I rented an AirBnb for two months at $500/month and was able to reduce my work hours to 20/week (for maximum French time). I asked for a raise during this time and my hourly wage went up a dollar. I started dating Damien (a French guy) near the end of my time there, and we decided I should try for a year-long visa to live in France.

I returned to Wisconsin in July and began applying for the year-long tourist visa. (<<The breakdown of what the visa cost is in the previous link, but the total comes out to ~$1,200.) Basically I had to prove that I would have enough money to sustain myself, which my virtual job made possible. I moved to France in October of 2015.

I continued working from home full-time for the language-learning startup. Since I split rent with Damien, my half was about 150 euros/month. My phone service was actually free, as it came with a deal through our internet. I broke up with him in March and found a place to live in Montpellier for 300 euros/month, staying until my visa expired at the end of September. Per my usual, since I live without a car (and many other things), my main expense after rent was simply groceries.

Personal Sabbatical (aka Intentional Unemployment): 2017

It was that summer (2016) that I decided to leave my job. After 2.5 years working virtually, I was ready to spend more time away from the screen, interacting with people and the outdoors face-to-face, and to pursue other interests. I stopped working full-time in September, but worked minimal hours (10/week) through December 2016 until I left for good. I was living at my parents’ home when I came back from France, again rent-free. When I received my final paycheck in December I had around $16,700 in my savings account.

My flight home from France (I actually flew from Madrid to Chicago) had been cheaper to buy round trip (600 euros), so I had a return flight (Chicago to Madrid) booked for January 2017. I took the flight and a backpack and spent three months slow traveling Italy, returning to Madrid/Montpellier, and visiting a friend in Munich. I stayed at hostels, did a work exchange, and stayed with friends for the duration.

When I returned to the states in April I lived with my parents again. I got a U.S. phone number and a month-to-month plan for $30/month with Cricket. I started a garden in the backyard, participated in a local art project, and read lots of books from the library. Again, my only expense was food, as I had no rent or car expenses. My mom is amazing and let me use her car if I needed to get anywhere in the evenings, so from time to time I’d fill up the tank—but I honestly wasn’t driving much.

I volunteered as a camp counselor in July (took the bus to Minnesota) and visited my younger brother for a week, taking the bus back). I was on the state health plan (Badgercare) during this time of unemployment.

Then in August I applied for an AmeriCorps position with American Conservation Experience (ACE) in Flagstaff, Arizona—where I’ve been based since the end of August. At the bottom of this post is a breakdown of how much I spent to get there (~$700). ACE provides group housing (I live with 16 people in a 4-bedroom apartment), food on work days (hitch), and a biweekly stipend of $512 before taxes (it’s around $470 after taxes).

I’ve been on food stamps in Arizona since arriving, receiving $190/month for groceries. It’s more than enough and for the first time in my life I shop at Whole Foods, as it’s the closest grocery store to me. Twenty-seventeen was the first year since opening my Roth IRA that I did not contribute, since I hardly made anything. By the end of the year I had around $14,500 in my savings account—so I only went down about 2K overall during those twelve months of personal sabbatical.

Currently: February 2018

I’ll turn 29 in April and here’s where I stand: I have no debt, my Roth IRA has around 20K, my savings account has been hovering around $14K over these past couple of months, and I have a couple hundred dollars in two different checking accounts (Charles Schwab Investor Checking—no foreign transaction fees and Capital One 360). I have a Capital One Venture credit card where I make nearly all purchases (no foreign transaction fees), and which I treat like a debit card.

My AmeriCorps term is coming to an end next month and I don’t have any idea what I’ll do next. (I’m not worried; this is normal for me.) But based on my lifestyle and the opportunities I know exist (i.e. HelpX—volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation, WWOOFing—work on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation, Couchsurfing—free lodging for travelers with open-minded community members, AmeriCorps, volunteering to live at intentional communities like Ratna Ling, seasonal work via CoolWorks, etc.), the money I currently have in the bank can last me a looong time. My food stamps are scheduled to last until August, unless my income rises above $1010/month.

I know my money perspective is quite skewed (and that it will likely change with time), but to me at this point in my life, anything over $50K seems like a huuuge amount of money to make in a year. If I were to ever make 40K a year, for example, that also seems like so much.

Everyone has situations that give them an advantage in some way. In my case, I have parents who live in a house which they’re happy to share with me rent-free when I’m in the country. I had the privilege to choose not to own a vehicle, which definitely limits what I can do in certain ways, but also allows me more freedom in other ways. I also had the privilege to choose to not buy a house or to not go in debt after paying off my student loans. (Among many other privileges I was born with…)

I take my time to search for the lowest rent possible (with roommates) when moving somewhere new and have also been willing to live with my parents in a town of 12,000 people for different periods of time in my upper 20s. I prefer experiences over things, and always shop secondhand when I want new clothes. I’m still single and don’t have any kids yet. My unconventional life has evolved such that I spend my time doing things I enjoy; it doesn’t feel like I’m living with monetary restraints. This lifestyle feels most natural and joyful to me, which I know is definitely not the case for everyone (nor even for a majority of others).

All right, that all said, what questions do you have about my money? Did anything surprise you? Want to know more about a certain topic?

Hitch #8: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

This past hitch I was working at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, five miles north of the Mexican border. Above is a picture of an Organ Pipe Cactus, aptly named.

We were removing invasive Buffelgrass, which grows densely and often pushes out native plants, not to mention it’s a fire hazard.

I removed Buffelgrass on a hitch in October with herbicide, but this time we were hand-removing with picks.

After removing each bush of Buffelgrass, we’d fold it in half and then put a rock on top to hold it down.

Here’s a before and after of one of the patches we worked on:

Buffelgrass: Before
Buffelgrass: After

Being so close to the Arizona/Mexico border, Border Patrol had a heavy presence and there were signs about drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

We had an hour and a half hike out to our work site each day, and we’d always pass a few traces of human life—like black water jugs (which don’t reflect light) and some old items of clothing.

water bottle

We got to wear ACE sun hats under our hard hats while working out in the sun.

The weather was fantastic all week, and we had an excellent crew. Tomorrow I’m headed to Texas for a monthlong hitch. Happy trails!