Realigning

(Post 60 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

This day three months ago, I started my lockdown. I remain infinitely grateful that I was able to get in my trip to Oaxaca first.

The first two months of lockdown were somewhat of a shock, a bit of “This can’t be real and can’t last,” so I found myself kind of just floating through my days. Everything was uncertain. I’d come back from Oaxaca very tired and footsore, so it took ages to get back into an exercise routine. Work was coming only in fits and spurts, so I had a lot of financial uncertainty. But as the weeks progressed, I started to adapt and create a “new normal” for myself in the current world context and the predictions for the months — and years — ahead. If there is anything about myself that I like, it is that I am resilient and adaptable.

Work sorting itself out really helped. I’m now at something like 33 days and counting of averaging seven hours of work a day. That’s plus admin time. 🥱 I’m not doing as much proofreading as I’d like versus transcription, but considering how many freelancers I know have zero income right now, I’m not complaining!

The biggest thing that’s come out of lockdown is a realignment of financial priorities that came to a head with the roof leaking as badly as it did during the storm two weeks ago. The Oaxaca trip was supposed to be the start of my starting to travel again. I was thinking of going to Quebec this summer and Peru this autumn (provided I could find a dogsitter, of course). I can’t be planning for travel in the current world context. I know lots of people are, but I think that’s just going to lead to a lot of heartbreak, wasted time and energy, and loss of money. For me, it’s not the right thing to be focusing on now.

What makes sense to focus on right now are to continue paying down my debt and to find a workable path to homeownership.

The debt is going really well. I’m a quarter of the way there, which leaves me in disbelief. I’ve had a lot of false starts in that regard, but I’m making steady progress now. I’ve given up trying to give myself an end goal — my income is just too erratic for that — but instead I focus on continually moving forward at a rate of at least 1% a month. Slow and steady wins the race and all that.

As for homeownership, it’s interesting how the lockdown has changed my perspective on a lot of things. I came back from Oaxaca eager to explore other cities and states and all the more certain that I didn’t want to stay in Mérida long-term. Now, I know I’m in the right place to ride out just about any crisis the world wants to throw our way. I’ve reconciled the things I’m not fond of here and have made the choice of deciding this is where I need to start rooting myself for the long-term. No more looking just two, five, even ten years out. Time to start looking twenty years out — I’ll be on the cusp of retirement by then and nearing the end of my life expectancy, even! I need to stop living like I’m twenty or thirty and accept that I’m in my forties now and start thinking about what I’m going to do when I’m ready to stop working.

The issue with the roof leaking made me realise just how badly I want to get out of renting. My landlords increased my rent, saying that they would keep on top of all the big maintenance and I would have to take care of the little things. Great. But they have proven that their idea and mine of keeping on top of big maintenance are not the same. The entire roof needs work, but they would only agree to a patch job. Am I really going to live with a leaky roof every summer for the foreseeable future? Or am I going to pay out of pocket to maintain a roof on a home that isn’t mine? Or am I going to simply move to another rental house?

Well, I spent some time looking at other rentals and, wow, the market has changed in the last three years! After hours scouring every rental resource I could find, there wasn’t a single thing in my budget that would have made me want to get off the couch and go look at it in person. This house has really spoiled me and, leaky roof and lack of pool notwithstanding, has gone from being at the market rate to being a bargain! I made the decision that, if at all possible, I don’t want to move again unless it’s directly into my own home. So time to figure out how to make that happen

Finding a path to homeownership sounds daunting enough in your home country, and even more so in a new country where your expat network insists that homeownership is not a possibility if you can’t pay cash. I refused to accept that and dug deeper. I spoke to my bank and a few peer lending companies. All said that there is credit out there for someone like me, yes, someone who is self-employed (and not even within this country!) and a foreigner. I will have to find a large deposit and accept high interest rates and that homeownership is not something I can plan on happening for at least two more years. But if I can shoulder all that, it can happen within the next five.

The fellow doing the roofing work here and I had a really good chat. He knows this house well. He walked me through a lot of the objections I have to buying it if I had the means, from the cost of a cosmetic overhaul to annual maintenance costs to projections for how the neighbourhood and the city might change over the next twenty years. I really love this house and I know it could be the perfect forever home, but I just don’t see a path to buying it in my current financial context. Well, unless someone wants a guaranteed 8-10% (typical mortgage rates here) return on a 90,000USD investment by giving me a personal loan!

So, realistically, I’m looking to buy something a lot smaller than this house, ideally under a million pesos (about $45,000USD) and in this neighbourhood (because I’m already very rooted here), older, and needing a cosmetic upgrade, but in liveable condition. That feels a lot more attainable in two to three years than any of the plans folks have thrown out for how I might acquire my current house. So that’s what I’m focusing on. Well, there is also the possibility of buying a brand new home in one of the developments outside of the city — that would actually be my quickest path to homeownership as their deposits are much lower — but I don’t like the new developments with the houses so close together, not being able to walk to anything, or the “modern” style of construction. I really want to stay in an established, walkable neighbourhood and have a home with a bit of character. Just making that decision is a huge step forward!

The only other “exciting” thing going on is that I am cooking so, so much. The new freezer was the missing piece in my kitchen. I can now shop and cook in bulk and that has made such a difference. It’s hard to keep a stocked pantry here due to the humidity ruining food very quickly. I can use the deep freezer to keep so many ingredients fresh. Now, I can stock things that I used to have to buy for a specific recipe. I can also freeze portioned meals. I don’t know how many times in the last month that I was about to order dinner because I didn’t feel like cooking but instead raided the freezer for curried beef, baked pasta, soup, or even Tex-Mex-style burritos to just pop in the microwave instead.

I’m trying my hand at all sorts of new things. Remember that I was a vegetarian for 15 years, so I’m still learning how to cook meat properly. My project the last month has been roast chicken. Don’t mind how anemic this bird looks — my broiler compartment isn’t tall enough to be able to brown the top of a bird — it was SO moist and succulent. I had no idea roasted chicken breast could be that good! Of course, the carcass goes to making stock, which I store in the freezer in small portions.

And then, I can grab some of that stock out of the freezer, along with udon noodles, shrimp, and veggies to make a wonderful 10-minute soup!

I keep buying myself new tools for the kitchen. I have a new two-burner cast iron comal/griddle incoming from Amazon (remind me to share the why for that purchase in a future post because it’s a pretty funny story). I have also soothed some of the regret of having managed to twice forget my huge cutting board on Miranda’s stove. A large wooden cutting board has been surprisingly difficult to find here — I’ve asked artisans and also looked in fancy department and kitchen stores. I had one on my shopping list for Oaxaca, but could only find small ones. So when a vendor I trust offered these up for sale with all proceeds going to buy despensas (pantry staples) for local communities economically ravaged by both COVID and Tropical Storm Cristóbal, that was an easy 1,000 pesos to spend!

And then, I promptly put in an order to my local honey supplier for some pure beeswax so I can make “spoon butter,” a conditioner for wooden cutting boards and utensils!

That is the beauty of getting rooted somewhere, establishing relationships with local suppliers and simply knowing where to find things. As a repeat customer, I was given the beautiful sheet of beeswax even though it was probably worth 30 or 40 pesos!

I promptly melted half of the beeswax into some oil to make the spoon butter. I cannot wait to condition all my dull wooden spoons as well!

Finally, Yucatán is starting to open up a little, so I’m going to make an effort to go out at least once a week now, just to get back into the swing of things. This week’s outing was to the dentist (just a regular check on how the braces are doing appointment) and to get groceries (I’d rather keep getting groceries delivered!). So it was time to buy some masks as we will have to wear them for the foreseeable future. I’m tired of going out looking like Chevy Chase in The Invisible Man!

So I decided to support a local entrepreneur by buying handmade masks. Please, I don’t want to get into “the mask” thing with anyone. Law is I need something over my face, so I’ve got something over my face. At least, now it’s something pretty and easy to put on and remove!