"I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object." -- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Boomer Cafe -- For Adventure, Write a Book

 Updated 3/14/2020

As a new author, it is still exciting when you see articles about your work.

Today, Boomer Cafe posted my article about writing as an adventure.

 Boomer Cafe


This link no longer works.

Here is the text of the article:

Baby boomers in search of adventure might write a book

Have you ever thought about writing a book? As a baby boomer, you might now have the time you never had before. That’s what happened to Ria Stone of Silver Spring, Maryland (and nowadays, Yucatan, Mexico), who turned out not just one book, but two. So her recipe for adventure is, write a book.

1/26/14 10:38 AM

Have you ever thought of writing a book? Has anyone ever said, “You Should Write a Book?” I suggest considering the idea.

Writing a book can be an exciting adventure. It can be hard work, a time of discovery, and an education. It can reap treasured memories, new friends, and introduce you to new worlds.

After being prematurely retired, I moved to Mexico where I found time to appreciate life. After six months, it dawned on me, “I have time to write that novel I always wanted to write.” 

So, in 2011, I began the process. It involved a lot of research but I like to do research. After comparing traditional and self-publishing options, I choose to self-publish as an eBook.

After two years of writing, rewriting, researching, going to writers’ conferences, joining writers’ groups, meeting and chatting with other authors in person and online, and working with an editor and several ‘beta readers,’ I published Gina’s Dream late last year. 

What an adventure! What an education! Because Gina’s Dream was a science- fiction/romance, I went to several science-related websites and studied various aspects of astronomy and space flight.

In other attempts to make the story real, I researched restaurants and their menus so that when my characters went out to eat, the menu choices would be authentic.

I studied weather and seasons, biology, and more.

There were many details to handle, like new software applications I had to learn to use quickly. I would feel a sense of accomplishment when I successfully used a new application or completed a process.

Then, while researching ways to promote my novel, I came across the idea of offering something free on my website: an eCookbook. What a great idea! I had an old cookbook I started years ago. This would be a great time to resurrect it. So I did.

Creating, writing, researching, and formatting recipes for the eCookbook was just as exciting as creating the novel. The only drawback was, I think I gained ten pounds re-testing recipes.

My eCookbook, Recipes from the Kitchen of a Frugal Non-Cook, was written for those (like me) who feel like aliens in the kitchen.

Letting family and friends know about the publication of my eCookbook sparked many wonderful memories of past dishes and meals. My family is even talking about creating a family cookbook. I inspired friends to consider writing that cookbook or novel that they too had been wanting write.

Writing and publishing sparked wonderful conversations and stories. And I met many wonderful people. I learned so much. The experience exceeded my expectations and more.

Creating the eCookbook was so much fun, I am working on another one. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Frugal Brother's Second Career

At a recent family gathering, my sister asked my brother, "Did you win that grill in a contest?" as she pointed to a nice gas grill.

"No," he said, "I picked it up off a curb in our neighborhood."

We all laughed.

My brother has made a second career of saving money by winning contests, using coupons, accepting credit card special offers, finding curbside treasures, and more.

One of his first big wins was a trip for two to the Redskins Super Bowl in New Orleans in 1987. He had bought multiple scratch-off cards. First, he won a Redskins hat, then a Redskins jersey, and then he received a registered letter for the tickets. He took Dad as his guest as a belated Christmas present.

Later, he began to enter multiple sweepstakes multiple times by sending in 3x5 cards. The next big prize he won was a cruise to the Bahamas for four nights and three days for two for Mom, fulfilling one of her greatest wishes.

But, his best prize was winning a county housing lottery where he got the opportunity to buy his beautiful brick townhouse.

My brother has a full-time job, an hour commute and an extended family. From what I can tell, he enters sweepstakes he sees while out doing errands, on his cell phone during his bus commute from ads in magazines and newspapers, or online while watching television or during family gatherings.

I admire how he has incorporated saving money into his everyday thinking. Every conversation with him generally includes a tip on how to save money. Recently, he suggested I open a account with an online bank because their interest rates were better than most. Visit him at home and he will offer you a 2 for 1 restaurant coupon or something similar.

He briefly stopped entering sweepstakes until he saw an instant win sweeps online for a $100 Visa card in 2002. He won. He thought of giving the card to his wife until he saw a Roomba, a flat vacuum robot, on Amazon for $125. He thought this would be a great gift to help his wife clean the dog hair from under the sofa. So, with a $25 first time buyer's credit and free shipping, he got the Roomba for free.

At a family New Year's eve gathering in 2007, he entered multiple online sweepstakes that were closing and won a trip to Disney World for his family.

Some of his other wins have included multiple liters of soda for everyone in the family, movie tickets, hats, shirts, and more.

My brother is a member of a Sweepstakes $10,000 club.

His philosophy for entering sweepstakes is to enter contests where the prize would change his life or to enter contests that have little interest.

He warns that there are dangers in entering online sweepstakes. Many sweepstakes sites are shams and others flood your mailbox with junk mail. He set up a separate email account for his sweepstakes entries.

Another way my brother wins prizes is to accept invitations to seminars. In addition to a free lunch, he has won an iPod and an iPad.

He uses multiple credit cards to get discounts and air travel miles. He, also, takes advantage of special credit card offers and prizes for opening new bank accounts.

Some of his other curbside finds include a large glass tabletop and a toilet for parts. He also likes to visit big box stores and food courts at lunchtime to get free samples.

He uses Freecycle.org, an international online service with local chapters, where posters list items they want to giveaway or items they want. One of his favorite finds was a collection of Dora the Explorer videos for his granddaughter.

And his dog, came from a local animal shelter.

On a recent visit to my brother's, his daughter, and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. As we stood in line, I realized we had not brought our own bags and would be charged $.05 for each bag. Here comes my brother with a handful of plastic bags that he gives us as we reach the cashier. When we exited the store, I asked him where he got the bags; he had raided the plastic recycling bin.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Frugal Friend Finds Curbside "Treasures"

Just another day in Mexico.

During a lunch walk with my friend, she spied an abandoned laundry basket on the sidewalk and near it was a bag of trash. Sticking out of the bag was a wooden rack. She grabbed this, too.

Back home the wooden rack, after being sanded and finished, would serve as a towel rack in the bathroom.

A new laundry basket could cost around 70 pesos; a wooden rack about 40 pesos.

Amy Dacyczyn advises checking curbside "trash" for useable items. In the Tightwad Gazette, she gives some great examples of treasures she and others have found. While I have never had any luck finding useable items in curbside "trash", my brother has found many items including a gas grill which just needed a few minor repairs.

It pays to keep your eyes peeled and to look in unlikely places for "treasure."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On My Way to the Lavenderia (Laundry Service)

As I was hauling my laundry to the Lavenderia, I passed by a "garage" sale.

In Mexico, you learn to take advantage of sales on the spot.

In amongst the various items was a lovely clean, plush, pink bath mat for 15 pesos (~1.50U.S.).  Value between 40 to 100pesos.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Junk Drawer and the Fine Art of Puttering

After being prematurely retired, I downsized significantly and moved to Mexico. Two years later after acclimating my new environment. I rented a one bedroom furnished apartment.

Among the pieces of furniture that came with the apartment was a large wooden bureau with four big drawers, one large shallow drawer and two small drawers. Because the bed had several large storage drawers for personal items, I did not need the bureau in the bedroom. So, I moved it into the living room/dining room area to use as a sideboard for linens and kitchen items.

I made one of the small drawers a junk drawer. Nothing says home like a junk drawer.

My junk drawer holds spare light bulbs, batteries, spare key chains, odd keys, guarantees for purchased items, rubber bands, nails, screws, pens, broken items, and other odds and ends.

Most people have hobbies. Many like sports. Lots of people are artistic and make crafts and such. I like to putter. I find it relaxing. I go around my home and determine if the furniture is in the best position.  I go through the drawers and sort and rearrange items. If there are items I know I will never use again, they go into a barter box.

I examine the rooms to see if there are items that need repair. Today, I sorted through my junk drawer. I found a broken corner from a stone paperweight. I found the glue and repaired the piece.

Then, I went though my closets, I found a colorful handbag and decided to hang it on the wall for decoration. I found a pair of pants I meant to mend. I made the repairs and now have a “new” pair of pants. I also found a little horse statue that was a gift from my mother; I moved it to my bookcase for display.

I sorted through my earrings and separated those that I use often, those I hardly wear --holiday and special earrings, and broken or single earrings. I repaired one pair of earrings and found a pair to put in the barter box.

In addition, my puttering makes me feel organized. It also reacquaints me with my belongings. Sometimes, I call this process “shopping in my closets” because I find things I forgot I had and might have purchased, again. So, I save money.

All in all, these few hours were relaxing and profitable.

This is a Fantastic Graphic Summary of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Source: http://www.businesswebpagecreation.com/selfpublishingbooks.htm

Reprint of SFF-World Post -- What Do Star Trek and Zorro (TV shows) Have in Common?

As a newly self-published author, I have been neck-deep in research in the various aspects of self-publishing. 
Research can take some surprising turns. At night, I would relax and watch old Zorro TV shows on YouTube. Then, during an internet search, I found a self-published biography of Guy Williams, the actor who played Zorro, by Antoinette Lane (Guy Williams: Man Behind the Mask). I got the eBook in Kindle. Long story short, Ms. Lane did a massive amount of research and produced a great biography of Mr. Williams. 
Anyway, I continued to watch the old Zorro shows and thought back to my first introduction to the show when I was a child. As a child, I was in love with Zorro, the horses, the action scenes, and the concept of good triumphing over evil without understanding the true nature of evil. Yet, when I think back, that show had a impact on my life, in the ideas I hold about good and evil, and even about the Spanish culture and American history. 
Today, I look at this show and see adult themes presented: tyranny, slavery, deception, crime, history, romance and more. 
Zorro was produced in the late 1950s by Disney. Star Trek came out in the late 1960s, produced by Desilu. When Star Trek came out, it was perceived as unique, yet, the creator, Gene Roddenberry, described it as "a wagon train to the stars." A western in space. 
I am a Star Trek fan and I appreciated how the stories present classic struggles to understand and overcome ideas like prejudice, intolerance, tyranny, slavery, crime and more. Star Trek also promoted exploration not just of space but of the human mind. 
What made Star Trek truly successful in my mind was that it presented classic stories that explored human nature. 
When I look back at the Zorro TV shows, I feel that they also presented classic stories that explored human nature. 
Both shows influenced my outlook on life.
Updated due to changes in Blogspot coding. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

40+ Small Ways to Save Money in Mexico

While I enjoy being a tightwad, it also carries with it an ethical responsibility.
As Amy Dacyczyn notes:
“It is wrong to save money at the expense of others.”
--p228 The Complete Tightwad Gazette.
Here is my list of small ways to save money in Mexico:
  1. Save receipts, create a price book (include housewares, clothing, groceries, services, & other items).
  2. Develop menus and staples list, stock up on basics.
  3. Scout various markets for price comparisons.
  4. Buy vegetables and fruit on sale or in season, cut up and freeze.
  5. Look for holiday items on sale after the holidays for future use.
  6. Check grocery receipts for mispriced items.
  7. Use crock pot, freeze portions for other meals.
  8. Drink water instead of soda.
  9. Make juice spritzers with club soda and juice or dilute juices with water.
  10. Refill water bottles for personal use.
  11. Use drink concentrates and powdered drink mixes.
  12. Reuse tea bags and coffee grounds.
  13. Wash and reuse baggies safely.
  14. Dilute dishwashing soap, shampoo, and hand soap.
  15. Use homemade skin products as a DIY facial: olive oil mask, grape juice astringent, milk as a rinse.
  16. Compare health providers, expertise, reputation and costs.
  17. Buy used clothes, household items from flea markets and “garage” sales.
  18. Repair clothes and other items.
  19. Wear old shoes around the house, save better shoes for dress-up.
  20. Develop a basic mix and match wardrobe, foundation black pants or light brown skirt.
  21. Use plastic grocery and laundry bags for trash bags.
  22. Use cloth napkins.
  23. Wear solar watch.
  24. Recycle envelopes and copy paper.
  25. Take public transit.
  26. Use fans versus A/C.
  27. Unplug microwave when not in use.
  28. Turn off lights and fans when leaving the house.
  29. Walk and/or do yoga and exercises in home.
  30. Read free or low-cost ebooks from Smashwords, Amazon, Project Gutenberg and more.
  31. Use OpenCulure.org for viewing classic English movies for free.
  32. Attend various free cultural events.
  33. Use Skype and Magic Jack for international calls.
  34. Research travel and large purchases, then wait at least 24 hours before purchase.
  35. Pay off credit cards, use credit cards for purchases if concerned about a dispute, pay credit card in full.
  36. Compare ATM fees, use the lowest.
  37. Reduce number of ATM withdrawals per month.
  38. Put regular weekly or monthly savings amount, and spare change into savings account.
  39. Research CD interest rates, store money in long-term CDs.
  40. Barter.
  41. Reduce, reuse, recycle, regift, rethink, and re-enjoy.
  42. Best of all, be creative and keep your eyes open for savings opportunities.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A List of Some Frugal Shopping Tactics in Mexico

I found Amy Dacyczyn's book, The Tightwad Gazette, in the late 1990s. She revolutionized my life for which I will be forever grateful.

Once I got the book, I tried to be a good tightwad.

In the states, I bought used clothes, used books and other items. I used her grocery price book idea and stocked up on staples like tuna, toilet paper, noodles, etc. and when items were on sale or marked down.

I had a route of a Asian grocery store for eggs and vegetables. A dollar store for some basics and a grocery store that had lower prices and good sales. Plus, I went to a discount bakery outlet once a week for baked goods.

One time, I found mayo on a special sale rack and took two. When I got to the counter, they rang up the retail price. I pointed this out and had to show the customer service representative the sale rack. I got them at the sale price. It pays to look for the same item in a store in different locations.

My goal was to make meals for under $1. I achieved that goal and much more.

Among other tactics, I saved refund checks, salary raises and more, I managed to save enough money to survive several financial crises. But, with the U.S. economy in the toilet, the loss of employment in 2011, and lack of affordable health care insurance, my only solution to survive was to sell my home and move to Mexico.

In Mexico, trying to be a tightwad has been harder, so far I use the following tactics:
  • use public transit;
  • for some prescriptions, I try generics;
  • buy bulk groceries;
  • compare price options like toilet paper - I choose the one with the most sheets. I avoid double sheets, colored or scented varieties;
  • look for sales;
  • look for banks with lowest ATM charges; and
  • follow exchange rate, use ATM or credit card when peso value is high.
While there are no used clothing stores like Goodwill here, there are weekly flea markets in various locations. Some are too far, some I can get to by bus. At the markets, you can get a variety of items from kitchen items to clothes. I found one lovely black and white, long, lacey, dress vest which I wear over a black dress or black pants for $70MX ($7US). I get a lot of compliments when I wear it.

Also, you can find "garage" sales at private homes. One great find was titanium frames for prescription glasses for $20MX ($2US). In 2013, I got new progressive lenses for $900.00MX ($90US) and used my yard sale frames.

There are tiendas (mom and pop convenience stores) on almost every block, where sometimes you can get a better price on some items.

There are food vendors in the open markets and those that set up stands along the streets at busy locations or who ride bike-driven carts selling pastries, fruit and more. The food vendors are the best bet for lower prices. But, there is one caution, sometimes "tourists" or Expats will get charged "foreigner" prices which are higher.

You can find several WalMart stores and Mexican food store chains. I go to Chedraui for bulk shopping. I am not always getting the best price but often there are items on sale that I can use. For me, saving time and cab money, is a savings.

I am working on a price book, so I can do better price comparisons.

Many Expats buy homes here as a way to save money on housing. I rent a 1-bedroom apartment.

To buy a house here, means paying a lawyer and a realty agent, it also means paying for renovations because many homes that are affordable are also fixer-uppers. So, in the end you can spend anywhere from $40,000US to $100,000US.

I don't have that much money to invest in a home. Plus, you have to add in the utility costs like electric, cable, water, trash and pool cleaning services. Many also hire housekeepers and gardeners. Plus, from my observations, Mexican homes, which are made from Yucatan cement, need frequent maintenance.

I pay $3100.00MX ($250-300US) plus electric which runs about $150.00MX every other month ($15.00US) for a one-bedroom apartment which suits my needs. The expenses vary based on the exchange rate.

I continue to calculate future expenses to try and determine other means of reducing my expenses.

When I first came in 2011, I investigated various clothing and grocery outlets trying to get a handle on prices. For clothing, most shops seemed to sell pants, skirts, tops, and dresses for anywhere from $100mx to $400+mx which is about $10US to $40US.

I found a shop that sold pants and tops for about $3.00US each, so I bought several pants and tops to mix and match and I have been wearing these clothes for over two years. While I do not have much variety in my "look", I have saved a lot of money on clothes.

Also, in this tropical climate, I, now, wear flip flops. After a search, I found a store that sold flip flops for about $2US, whereas in other shops they sold for $3-6+US. I have several pairs of flip flops in a variety of colors. I walk a lot and these flip flops are sturdy and hard to wear out.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Another Frugal Non-Cook Kitchen Adventure

Now, I usually have to go around the barn to get where I am going.

I went to heat a cup of water in the microwave last night and when I hit the start button, the microwave shut off or maybe blew a fuse, who knows what, but it no longer worked. Using another outlet proved it was the microwave unit and not the outlet.

I boiled water on the stovetop instead.

In the morning, I went to the apartment office to let them know about the microwave. I live in Mexico and I have not learned enough Spanish yet to say:

"I wanted to let you know the microwave stopped working."

So, I used my iPad and Google's translate to translate the sentence into Spanish.

"Hola, buenos días. Quería hacerle saber el microondas dejó de funcionar."

The office clerk understood me and used my iPad to tell me that a technician would come by today and would I be home all day? Si, gracias.

The technicians came in 30 minutes and replaced the microwave.

But, there was one special instruction they gave me in Spanish.

Push this red button (Inicio/Mas Tiempo) to use the microwave and push this red button to stop the microwave (Pausa/Cancelar).

I could not use any of the other panel functions. We spoke in SpanEnglish and sign language.

So, when I push the red ON button, I get 1 minute of power. If I want more minutes, I keep pressing the red ON button. To stop the process or clear the minutes, press the red OFF button.

As a non-cook, this is not a major inconvenience, yet. I had hoped to make a tuna casserole, so we shall see how I will use the red ON button when I try to cook the casserole.

All this happened while I was trying to plan my grocery shopping list. This is not as easy as it sounds.

If I buy lunchmeat, I have to freeze half of it and then have lots of lunchmeat sandwiches so I eat it the rest before the lunchmeat goes bad.

That is why much of what I buy is canned or packaged. The items keep longer.

If I buy fruits or vegetables, I have to plan dishes where I will use them within a week or two, before they go bad.

With some of the vegetables like onions, celery, or bell peppers, I can slice or dice and freeze some for use in crock pot recipes.

When I was in the states, I had achieved my goal of making my meals for less than $1. I have yet to achieve this in Mexico. Things are a bit different here.

Hot Plate and Microwave: Making One Version of the Tightwad Gazette Universal Casserole

These recipes are meant to encourage those who feel like an alien in the kitchen. So, don't worry too much when you make mistakes.

Also, I am currently in Mexico so things are a bit different for me.

This is Tightwad Gazette author, Amy Dacyczn’s original recipe:

1     cup main ingredient
1     cup second ingredient
1-2  cups starchy ingredient
1 1/2  cups binder
1/4  cup goodie

Main ingredient: tuna, cubed chicken, turkey, ham, seafood
Second ingredient: sliced celery, mushrooms, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs
Starchy ingredient: sliced potatoes, cooked noodles or rice
Binder: cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup
Goodie: pimiento, olives, almonds, water chestnuts
Topping: potato chips, cheese, bread crumbs

Choose one item from each category except topping and mix together. If mixture is dry, add 1/2 cup milk or stock. Transfer to buttered or greased casserole. Add topping.

Bake 350 degrees F for 30-45 minutes.


This is what I have:

1 can of salmon, drained (main ingredient)
1/2 14 oz can of champiñones (mushrooms), drained (second ingredient)
1 pkg of spaghetti (about 8 oz) (starchy ingredient)
1 can of crema esparragos (creme of Asparagus soup) (binder)
3/4 can water
5 aceitunas (olives), diced (goody)
about 10 leftover wheat crackers, crushed (topping)

Plus, I have no oven just a microwave and an electric stovetop.

I started the spaghetti on the electric stovetop.

Then, I went looking for the almonds I thought I had somewhere in the house. The search turned into a re-arrangement project as I searched several locations.

Couldn’t find them. My guess is somehow I managed to throw them out accidentally. So, I choose olives instead of almonds. The spaghetti was done by then.

I have cans of tuna but in Mexico they are not chunk-like, more like a tuna soup. But, I had been wanting to use my can of salmon, so here goes.

I am assuming you drain the tuna or salmon. I did.

After struggling to open the can of salmon with two different can openers, I used the lid to hold it against the salmon to drain the liquid. Subsequently the lid got stuck down in the can. I almost got my finger stuck between lid and can trying to get it out. But, finally used a knife to get that very sharp edged lid out.

After draining the spaghetti, I put it in the casserole bowl. Then, I mixed in the other ingredients except the topping.

I used roughly one-half of the can of salmon and had to separate the salmon with a fork.

Now, I really questioned using creme of asparagus soup. Was this dish going to be green? I went ahead anyway. I also added about 3/4 cup of water.

Then, I began “dicing” the olives. Another mistake, I had gotten a jar of olives with the pits (con hueso). They were probably cheaper. So, I sliced the olive meat off around the pit and added it to the casserole.

I tossed and mixed the ingredients with a fork.

Then, with the crackers in a bag, I smashed them with a spoon and added as topping.

Now, into microwave for 15 minutes. If it takes about 1 hour to cook a dish in an oven, it will take about 15 minutes in a microwave. Also, the wattage of the microwave may affect the cooking time.

Voilà! -- It’s eatable and tasty. What started out looking like a dish for Klingons came out looking “normal.”

It was a bit dry but I liked it because I did not want it soupy.

Also, my noodles were a little chewy when I started but once cooked twice they came out nice.

Next time, I may use the salmon juice and add 1 cup of milk instead of water. Maybe the almonds will have turned up by then.