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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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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6.9 earthquake this week!

Being from California, Leslie and I have experienced our share of earthquakes.  We’ve also experienced small quakes here because of the nearby volcanoes.

But at 1:30 am Tuesday night (why are earthquakes “always” at night?!!) we were jolted awake with the biggest earthquake yet.  Immediately the power went off, we heard a loud bang (our just filled 5 gallon water jug falling down) and other various sounds.  Without lights we grabbed our flashlights (always prepared for emergencies!) and gathered our bearings.

Our little cocina (kitchen) was flooded, but surprisingly only one glass jar with some utensils crashed down.

Everybody else in our apartment building started calling out and everyone was okay.  So we started mopping up our water and about an hour later the electricity came back on.  With nothing else to do we went back to bed – but anticipating aftershocks (none came).

The next morning I walked around town but didn’t see significant damage.  Most of the recent construction here is concrete columns and beams infilled with hollow block, so these buildings came through fine.

This is from our rooftop looking south toward volcanos Santa Maria and Santiaguito (which erupts in smoke and ash from time to time).

This is the view from our rooftop looking west. You can see most of the construction is the column and beam concrete construction, but the old tile roof on the bottom left is an example of an old adobe constructed home. These tend to suffer the damage from earthquakes.


The buildings that sustained damage were the old adobe buildings (some hundreds of years old).

A number of people in Guatemala were killed as a result of this quake.

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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!