My Perspective on Life in Altus

Like every place, Altus is imperfect, so people here can always find something to complain about. Complaining is natural, easy to do, and doesn’t actually require solving a problem. We all do it though, and sometimes that’s fine!

Some common complaints here are:

Altus is too small a town, I can’t trust the tap water, I’m allergic to the air, my spouse still has to deploy, I can’t find a good job, my neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, the wind just blew all my patio furniture away, it’s too far away from everything I had in XYZ… and where did this Whataburger bag come from anyways?

Oh, I know! I get it. 

This website exists because I haven’t found a Software Engineering job nearby, and I needed an entertaining project to keep me busy. And trust me, I don’t know where the Whataburger bag came from either. Garbage seems to be attracted to my landscaping. #OklahomaWind

Life in Altus just isn’t as traumatic and challenging as some people make it out to be.

via GIPHY

We have a lot to be thankful for actually. Many of us have household amenities that my younger biological siblings in the Philippines have lived without for years. I’m talking about solid walls, roofs, electricity, hot water, drinkable water, and toilets that flush. Things we can all appreciate.

As Americans, the majority of us have access to these little luxuries. We also have opportunities to learn, work, grow, improve, and participate in events and solutions that bring our local communities together. We are not helpless, at the mercy of our situations.

Sometimes I wonder, with all these gifts, have we forgotten how things could be? I could be like my biological Mama, who was so poor that she didn’t have a birth certificate or identification.

I once told someone my Mama didn’t know how old she was, and they were like “How is that possible?” But, sadly, it is common in poverty stricken countries, and simply having a birthday is something to be thankful for and celebrate. The Children’s Shelter of Cebu takes birthday parties very seriously, for all the children that they care for.

It’s not even about thinking how we could have it so much worse. I don’t need anyone going around telling people in the midst of a terrible personal crisis, “Oh but you know, it could be so much worse. You could be starving to death!” That’s not the point to take away today.

There are also some people like my adoptive Mom, who actually choose to live a very simple life without most modern amenities and conveniences. You will read way more about this soon, but it’s because of her lifestyle that my bathroom was once an outhouse in Mexico. Due to her choices, I am thrilled to be able to flush a toilet, use the internet at home, and take a hot shower.

I still enjoyed the rustic place we lived in Mexico, since I could snorkel every day, but it was a compromise. It’s about accepting the situation for what it is. It’s about making the simple choice to enjoy whatever we have right now.

As an example, I strongly disliked living in Charleston, South Carolina, from 2013 to 2016, but I absolutely loved my job there with Boeing. I had many friends from work, and I miss them every day. Life there was an example of how Charleston wasn’t the ideal place for me either, but I accepted it for what it was, did what I could to make it a better experience, and moved on with life.

Moving on… it’s what you do!


I’d say we’re doing just fine!

Living with my Mom gave me a new perspective.

The fact remains that since we PCSed to Altus from Charleston, nobody has come up to me wearing an expression of exasperation and said, “You know what Kim, I am really tired of shitting in a bucket every day.”

Because if they had, I would nod with empathy and say “I totally understand. I TRULY do.” Then I would wonder if they somehow know my Mom.

Likewise, I also haven’t been privy to a conversation here that started with “I know I smell awful and I’m sorry. I was hoping to shower this morning, but I have to wait until the sunlight naturally heats up the water tank on our roof. You know what I mean?” Been there, done that.

And finally, since our PCS to Altus, I haven’t had to find my flashlight in the middle of the night, stumble 50 meters away to a rustic, unlit outhouse, and teeter-totter above a dark hole in the ground, imagining the horror of falling into the pit below. I checked that box too!

Let’s be real! Altus is an upgrade from some of my previous life experiences.

We are not in the shanty town in metro Manila, where we visited my Mama in 2014. My Mama’s squatter’s field did not have a Facebook group where passive aggressive neighbors could constantly complain about ridiculous things that matter very little the grand scheme of things.

Instead, even in the most legitimately desperate of situations, people in that squatter’s field shared, prayed, and loved each other.

Altus is not going to kill you, but stressing out about being here might actually hurt your health!

There are so many good things happening in Altus. I’m hosting monthly Life in Altus Kid-Free Coffee Meetups, there are two great coffee shops in town, a million car wash options, and a new grocery store is opening soon! Altus is a big city when compared to my own hometown, which had a population of about 1,600 in 2010.


You can blame my Mom

So, most of my childhood was actually normal, but your definition of ‘normal’ might differ greatly, probably significantly, from mine.

I grew up in a small coastal California town with dirt roads, and one major intersection with a stop sign. Despite its eccentric characteristics, Bolinas was only an hour drive from San Francisco too, so it wasn’t like we were, you know, far away in Altus.

My tiny childhood home, which for some insane reason has a current Zestimate of $883,253, had electricity, knotty pine paneled walls, and a flushing toilet. It was a charming little cottage in a field, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but it was nothing at all like our house here in Altus.

Despite all the modern conveniences of middle-class, daily American life, my adoptive Mom has always spent her days a little differently. She’s been blessed with the gift of individualism, and chooses to do things her own way, to hell with everyone else. Sometimes she is ahead of the curve, doing her unique thing years before it was cool to do so. She’s an interesting lady.

For example, while other parents back in the day sent their children to elementary school with chips, sandwiches, and Lunchables, my sweet Mom would prepare me a Michelin star rated, gourmet, 1000% organic meal. My ‘ravioli with fresh homemade pesto sauce’ lunch might begin with an appetizer of salted cucumber slices, and a vinaigrette dressed arugula side salad, topped with cherry tomatoes and whatever else she found at the Marin County Farmers Market.

My Mom is sort of a hippie
A salad just like this.

Now, sure, this sounds nice TODAY but imagine being 10 years old again. Kids that age can be mean. Even kids with very liberal and ‘open-minded’ parents are mean. And they have excellent memories, so that time you pretended like your organic fruit leather was the same as a Fruit by the Foot will haunt you forever. They laughed a lot.

For shame, Kim!

Gosh, I’m having flashbacks now! Elementary school was really terrible. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t have the right clothes or food. I didn’t have any Fruit by the Foot. My classmates teased me because my pesto sauce was green (what a concept), which is apparently the color of boogers, AND I had to eat my lunch with a fork. Furthermore, I was unpopular because I never had anything normal to trade with other students.

“Hi! I’ll trade you, uh, three lightly salted cucumber slices for your incredible bag of deliciously unhealthy Cheetos…”

These days I see parents in my newsfeed obsessing over healthy diets for their kids, and my inside head thoughts are like MODERATION please. Let them have the Fritos once in a while! I know how that’s going to turn out.

Because, when my parents separated, and my Mom permanently moved to Troncones, Mexico, my first priority was to eat all the Gushers and Lunchables that I wasn’t previously allowed to.

I enjoyed a lavish junk food rebellion, full of delightful and excessive sugar, fat, and artificial flavorings. Pringles, Doritos, Swanson microwave meals with the corn brownie; I tried it all then.

I was like “I don’t want your radishes anymore!”

My Dad took me to get a Big Mac at the nearest McDonald’s, which was a 45 minute drive away. We were also able to bring the microwave inside, since my Mom kept it in the shed beside the lawnmower, where we couldn’t be affected by radiation.

Although officially, I lived with him in the Bay Area, my Dad would fly me down to Mexico to be with my Mom for the duration of a tourist visa. This time together was possible because I attended an independent study high school, and I’m very grateful to have had that alternative education program as an option.


Keepin’ it simple!

I love her, but if you haven’t noticed, moderation is not my Mom’s middle name. She’s either all in, or all out, and there is no in-between. So moderation aside, in an effort to completely and radically simplify her lifestyle, refocus on her meaning and purpose, and spend more quality time outdoors, my Mom built a palapa on a beautiful piece of property with over 300 meters of oceanfront, facing out onto the great Pacific Ocean.

For those in-the-know, a palapa generally doesn’t have walls. So, without any walls, we hung our hammocks and air chairs between the structural beams, which drifted around in the sea breeze.

I slept on a bamboo shelf that was suspended in the roof of the palapa, only accessible by a ladder. My bed was simply a mattress pad beneath a mosquito net. I would wrap the netting all around the bottom of the mattress to help prevent the gecko population in the thatch roof from snuggling up with me at night. Often they would just hang out on the mosquito net itself, so I’d fall asleep watching their shadows move.

My Mom slept in a separate, smaller palapa built on top of a rock formation, about 50 meters away from the main palapa. Her bed had a panoramic view of the ocean.

For electricity, we had a gas generator, and we would only use that to charge my laptop so I could study for school, and run a weekly load of laundry in the washing machine. Once a week, we would drive to an internet cafe so I could connect and email my assignments back to my teachers in the United States for review.

Our refrigerator ran on propane, and our water was delivered by a truck every week, and was stored in a tank above the only structure on our property that had solid cinder block walls, which we referred to as the bodega.

All our valuables were in the bodega, because we could lock the door. It was all very rustic. Like ‘elevated camping’ my Mom would say proudly. We also bought and refilled 5 gallon bottles of drinkable water, just like we do in Altus.

For years our only shower was open air, and fed by gravity from the water tank on our roof. My Mom put a fancy shower curtain up, which offered privacy, but didn’t help the fact the water was freezing cold until the strong Mexican sun could heat it up naturally. Morning showers were exhilarating, and evening showers were relaxing.

Oh yes, and the toilet factor. We didn’t have one of those. We had an outhouse positioned about 150 feet away from the main palapa, near our driveway.

I dreaded using the outhouse at night because of the innate darkness, the ever present snakes and scorpions, the inconvenience of having to semi-consciously climb down a ladder, and then stumble around our yard with my flashlight, come rain or shine, through hurricanes and tropical storms – drug cartels be warned, I AM JUST TRYING TO USE THE BATHROOM.

When I tell people that I lived in Mexico, they share stories of a nice cruise they went on, and how awesome this one resort in Cabo was. I’m like, that is SO not the same experience that I had there. But it’s okay, because at least we all had toilet paper, right? By the way, the toilet paper goes in the little garbage can next to the hole in the floor.

After many tropical years of ‘elevated camping’ in Troncones, I was thrilled when my Mom decided to move back to the United States. She and my new Step Dad decided to spend ‘only a few’ months a year in Mexico, and the rest of their time in Weott, in Northern California.


Recycle and reuse

Together my Mom and Step Dad remodeled a house on several gorgeous acres with river access, and made things the exact way they wanted it to be. Their property was down the road from the Rockefeller Forest, containing the world’s largest remaining tract of old-growth redwood trees. The tourists mostly stayed in the park and at the campgrounds, so we could swim in the river and be completely alone. It was awesome.

Swimming in the river, Weott, CA
Time for a swim?

Meanwhile, their house was a legitimate dwelling with solid walls, an indoor kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom with a private shower and flushing toilet! Unfortunately though, it was all theirs at night, so guests couldn’t enjoy those modern amenities.

When I would visit them, I stayed in a guest yurt, surrounded by lovely mountain views, happy trees, and their beautiful and prosperous garden. My Mom had a yurt before they were trendy, and it was quite spacious. She furnished it nicely and it was a serious upgrade from the bamboo shelf that I slept on in Mexico.

On the backside of the yurt, my Mom constructed an outdoor shower addition that was similar to the one in Mexico, only we didn’t have to wait for the sun to heat up our water anymore. Tankless water heaters for the win! As for using the bathroom though, there was another outhouse for that, only this outhouse was extra special.

This outhouse contained a composting toilet.

The concept of a composting toilet is to reuse the waste that we produce. Our composting toilet was really just a giant bucket of sawdust, in a big wooden box with a toilet seat attached to its top.

The outhouse itself had a roof, and three full walls, but was exposed to the elements on one side, via a pony wall, built so you could, I suppose, enjoy the view of nature while seated.

Business complete, you would then be expected to top off your addition with sawdust, and close the lid to keep the wild animals out. My Step Dad would regularly empty the bucket into their compost pile, which they kept at a very particular temperature for a very particular period of time, all of which I never cared to learn in-depth about, since I have no intention of ever having a composting toilet.

And that’s how that worked.

Need I mention the plentiful food growing in her garden, and why all her plants were so healthy and, uh, well fed? It all makes sense now.

Anyways……. since we were in the middle of the woods along the Avenue of Giants, we would often have wild visitors to our yard too. Usually my Mom would share this news with me just prior to bedtime, so I could spend the night wondering if that black bear and her cubs had come back again to munch on our blackberries.

I love animals, but not when they get in between my yurt, and my composting bucket toilet.


This brings me back to Altus.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s more about making the simple choice to enjoy what we have now, even if life isn’t perfect –which it never is. Altus has not been good for my career, and a lot changed since we lost our first child last year, but I can still appreciate our remaining time here.

Over the years, I accepted geckos in my bedroom, and brown bear families in between me and my composting toilet. I squatted over a hole in a traditional outhouse, and slept on a bamboo shelf which, if I rolled over too far, would drop me off 20 feet down onto a concrete floor.

Despite these things, I was able to appreciate living on a beautiful, tropical, white sand beach in Mexico, and spent weeks among the giant redwood trees of Northern California, swimming peacefully in the South Fork of the Eel River.

Neither place was ideal for me, for SO MANY reasons, but there were still things that I liked about both of them. There are still things that I miss about them now.

Today I have the household conveniences of hot water in the morning, electricity when I need it, a toilet that flushes my feces away and out of my sight, air conditioning for when it gets really hot outside, and somewhere indoors to sit during a rain storm. Sometimes I do miss the nice geckos that kept me company at night in Mexico, but I’m all about modern amenities today, and Altus is not lacking in that department.

Altus is a different way of life for some people, but it isn’t a dramatic change like living in Mexico was for me initially. It isn’t so different here that people ask us to pour sawdust over our waste, so they can one day fertilize their gardens with it. Because I mean, come on, that is sort of weird.

#NotShittingInBuckets #LifeinAltus

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