Welcome! Don and Leslie have been full time Realtors in Ventura County for over 30 years. It's been fun watching as "little" Victoria Avenue (and many other streets) have morphed into what they are today.

Just as our local communities have evolved, we've seriously considered for the past several years how we could someday "give back" and "finish well" - expressions that can mean a lot of things to different people.

As part of our research into opportunities for service, in early 2013 we contacted a Peace Corps recruiter who helped us start our journey. But our new path wasn't going to be as straight and easy as we thought! And so we began a transition into something completely different from the routines we've known for the past 30 years - and have begun a path that's leading into the exciting unknown. This will be our story!

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Hurricane Harvey

I’ve been an inspector for many FEMA disasters over the years.  Last fall, after hurricane Thomas went up the eastern seaboard, I was called up to do flood inspections in North and South Carolina.  Leslie and I were in Guatemala at the time and Leslie went with me to the east coast to volunteer while I did my FEMA inspections.

While in South Carolina Leslie found out about a FEMA outreach program called Disaster Survivor Assistance and the work it does immediately after a disaster. She thought this emergency work program would appeal to both of us so we applied and were accepted as Reservists earlier this year.

When Harvey deluged southern Texas with up to 52″ of rain over two days, we were called up and flew from Guatemala to begin our new roles as “Disaster Survivor Specialists” with Leslie working close to the Gulf in Port Arthur and Beaumont.

She spent about 3 months working in Texas, while I was in Texas for only 3 weeks until I was transferred to Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria.

Leslie was working in areas of heavy flooding and streets like this were typical scenes she faced every day:

My working environment in Puerto Rico was completely different as you can see! I loved working in “las montañas” (the mountains) driving narrow lanes with great views all around!

Leslie was “demobilized” from Texas just before Thanksgiving and we coordinated so that I could take a “rotation” (10 day break) to fly back to California.  So on Thanksgiving day Leslie flew to SFO from Texas and I flew out from San Juan.

After visiting family in California and our son Marc in Denver, Leslie flew back to our apartment in Guatemala and I flew back to work in PR.

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My wandering through español

I’ve lived in Guatemala for 2 years now, and I’m frustrated I can’t speak español like a 5 year old. Why? Upon reflection, it’s several reasons. First, Leslie and I have applied to the Peace Corps 3 times.  One of those times, we were “under consideration” for the Philippine Islands so I stopped español for about 6 months and started thinking about Tagalog.

Also, for long blocks of time I was back in the States doing FEMA inspections – while forgetting all my español!

But Leslie and I have had a great foundation here. Last summer we spent 3 months in español intensivo. 5 hours a day, one on one with a teacher covering the equivalent of 2 years of university Spanish.  Last fall we applied again, this time putting Guatemala as our first choice.  Then lo and behold, at the end of January, we were “invited” to serve in Guatemala.

After time back in California getting our Peace Corps medicals done plus all the other background information completed (and re-leasing our home) we came back and have started private tutoring with a husband and wife team 3 hours daily in our apartment.

Kenia and Leslie work at our dining room table,

while Rony and I work at the office table.  Español is coming back fast now, but for me, reading is so much easier than listening or speaking.  Why?  Just look at my next post about all the different sounds and pronunciations from just one word!

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Learning español is easy (uh huh…)!

Over the years I’ve heard people say learning Spanish is easy because it’s a Romance language with a lot of similarity to English.  That may be true for some, but trust me, to learn it well requires a lot of work.

For example, verb conjugations. Each verb has over 50 different “words”, each which really sound alike to my gringo ear (when spoken in normal conversation – rapid!).  Here’s what I mean.  Take “hablar” – to speak.  It’s a “regular” verb with regular rules for conjugation (irregular verbs have special spellings and pronunciations).

We start with this basic list of 25 words (Indicative – and we skip the “vosotros” which is used in Spain but not in Guatemala) for the different persons (first person, second person, etc) and time (present, past, etc).

The Subjunctive (not in English) adds another 25 words – close, but all sound a little different!

The imperatives are commands like “Speak!” but for the correct “person”.  Let’s add some more combinations of variations to “hablar”…

So how many words or phrases for “hablar” – a lot! And to speak fluently, I’ll need to quickly “grab” the right word or phrase automatically from memory without thinking about it!

This past week, I needed to memorize 78 “irregular” verbs – verbs that don’t follow the “regular” conjugation rules like for “hablar”.  Meanwhile, I’m learning (and re-strengthening) nouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc, to add to the mix.

The Peace Corps says that in order to “graduate” from Pre-Service Training (and thus be accepted into the Peace Corps) we must meet a minimum language proficiency level of intermediate Spanish.  But if I want to be effective in my work and be able to communicate easily and freely with my future co-workers, the parents and young people in my site, I’ll need to be much better than just “intermediate”!

Learning español is easy (uh huh…)!

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Work arounds – baked beans, chili sauce and idioms …

The Cambridge Dictionary online definition of the idiom “work around” is: a way of dealing with a problem or making something work despite the problem, without completely solving it.

For months I’ve wanted to make baked beans. The recipe I’ve always used calls for a can of Bush’s Baked Beans. After scouring Walmart and another store that carries “gringo” food and not finding anything close with the name “baked beans”, I decided to do a “work around” – what is available in Guatemala that I can substitute for baked beans?

There’s no problem finding beans (dried or in a can) in a Latin country, but which one is closest to American style baked beans? After searching online and studying the selections in stores, I took a chance and bought this can of frijoles.

The second “work around” that I now faced is that my recipe calls for chili sauce. Again, after scouring several stores and not finding it, I looked online for DIY chili sauce and made my own.

End result … I made my first “Baked Beans Guatemala” and the taste is yummy and satisfying. With this “work around”, I’m now able to make baked beans anytime I want!

Idioms … I once heard a speaker say “to know a language is to know the idioms”. The English language is full of idioms or phrases that we use every day and don’t realize they don’t translate literally, such as “work around”. To a nonnative speaker, this is baffling. Spanish also has its own idioms and I’m challenged as I learn that it’s not a “piece of cake”!

As I interact with my Guatemalteca friends, they know I’m attempting to speak in Spanish using its idioms, so they’ll use the common phrase “poco a poco” – little by little. And that’s exactly how language learning is – poco a poco!

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I love my rooftop!

One of the things I love about our apartment complex is the rooftop.  It’s used for fiestas, drying “ropa” (clothes) but for me, I just love being up above it all in the open air and being able to look around.  I love watching the approaching rain storms, sunsets, evening lights and fireworks (more about that later!).

This is great place to memorize español verb conjugations (ha ha!). This faces the southwest so get nice sunsets looking this way. To the left a little bit (on the other side of the hill) is the volcano Santa Maria/Santiaguito. Santiaguito belches from time to time, but the hill blocks the actual volcano – we just see the big plume (in the dry season when it’s clear).


My vecino (neighbor) Amin is growing spices up here and people hang up clothes to dry. In the distance, up a hill, is la Democracia, a commercial shopping area. You can see the new hotel/mall being built.


But I really love when it rains (pours!). We’re in the rainy season now and I’ll sit in my chair (studying of course) and simply watch the rain pound on the roofs and neighborhoods around me. Frequently there are huge thunderclaps and lightening. At night, the lightening storms are fun to watch – much like I remember from my Minnesota days.


I also love approaching rain storms. You hear it first – the driving rain on the tin roofs as it moves closer and closer towards me – and then it hits!


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Don's building a replica of a 1930s era biplane at Camarillo airport. Over the past several years, he's had numerous students help in building the plane. Track the Tiger Moth progress here!