30 March 2016

Cost Of Living Aboard Our Boat | February & March 2016

It’s time for our regular cost of living update, which I do every two months. You may have noticed that this one is a tad early – March isn’t even over – but, I don’t plan on spending any money today or tomorrow and there isn’t room in the schedule to post this next month due to the A to Z Blogging Challenge (check back on Friday for the first installment of "Nancy Drew Investigates the Case of the Missing Anchor").

We've been tracking how much it costs to live aboard our boat, S/V Tickety Boo, at Indiantown Marina in southern Florida, where we were initially laid up during hurricane season and where I'm now living while Scott is working overseas. While Scott has been in Scotland, I've been staying on our boat and slowly ticking things off of our project list. So, our live aboard costs are pretty much just that - cost of my daily living aboard our boat and occasionally buying stuff for Tickety Boo to keep her happy.

You can find links to other cost updates from ourselves and others on this page. If you want to know how much we spent over the past two months, have a look below.

Cost of Living Aboard | February & March 2016

Overall, we spent $2,450 during February and March which is up around $275 from the previous two months.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of what we spent, here are a few things to note:
1 - All costs are in US dollars.

2 - Not all expenses are included - here's what we've left out:
(a) We don't report how much we spend on alcohol. I remember reading some horrible, judgy comments in a blog post a few years back about how much someone spent on booze, so I left it out when we first started tracking our cruising costs back in New Zealand. For consistency's sake, I've continued to leave it out when tracking our cruising and RV costs.
(b) We haven't included costs related to storing our Scamp travel trailer ($21 per month) because we track the cost of our RV and cruising adventures separately.
(c) We've also left out our costs for medical insurance. We didn't think it made sense to include insurance costs as they can vary so widely depending upon your nationality, where you cruise, what level of coverage you want and can afford etc. In case you are curious, while we're back in the States, we do have insurance through the health insurance marketplace (aka ACA/Obamacare), primarily to protect our assets and cover us in case of a catastrophic medical condition. After spending a pretty big chunk of change for health insurance during 2015, we were in a bit of a quandary about whether we should go ahead and get coverage for 2016 or take the risk and pay the tax penalty for being uninsured. In the end, after weighing up the potential tax penalty, possible tax credits and risk of being uninsured, we ended up getting insurance for 2016. If you want to know more about our health insurance options and quandary for 2016, check this post out.
3 - Scott has been in Scotland taking care of some work projects and tending to some other matters, so grocery and entertainment costs are less than they would be normally.

4 - I've included any shipping and taxes we've paid in what we report. Florida has a 6% sales tax. Boo.

GROCERIES | Total = $240.36

This category includes everything we put in our bodies in terms of food and drink (excluding booze) that we prepare ourselves. It doesn't include things like paper towels and ziploc bags, which I know some people would classify as groceries. Sure, you could probably eat them, but they wouldn't taste very good.

I spent about $216 less on groceries in the past two months than I did during December and January. This is due in large part to participating in the Eating on $4 a Day SNAP Challenge during February and trying to continue to keep food costs down during March.

PERSONAL & HOUSEHOLD | Total = $38.33

This is the category where we include household things (like paper towels and ziploc bags) and personal hygiene items (like soap and shampoo). We also capture items for the "home" here - like ant traps, a necessity in southern Florida ($3.98).

ENTERTAINMENT | Total = $134.12

One of the great things about hanging out in Indiantown is that there really isn't all that much to spend your entertainment dollars on. It's a pretty small town and things are really quiet at the marina, so there's not a lot of temptation.

In terms of drinks and eating out, this includes everything we don't prepare ourselves, even if we get something to go and eat it back on the boat. We also track how much we spend on books, magazines, movies etc. in this category.


Our cell phone is actually one of our biggest non-boat related expenses. I have a $60 monthly GoPhone plan with AT&T which includes 5GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. Normally, 5GB of data isn't enough for us, but we have a WiFi adapter/antenna gizmo which helps us get the marina Wi-Fi at our boat and minimizes the use of our cellular data. Lately though it's been hard to access the marina Wi-Fi as there are so many people here, so sometimes I end up buying additional data. While Scott is away, I've also added on a $10 monthly international call plan so that we do our daily phone call.

BOAT FUEL | Total = Nil

Because our boat hasn't left the slip, we haven't needed to spend anything on diesel or gas.

LPG | Total = Nil

I've been primarily using our microwave and crock pot for cooking, so haven't needed to top up the LPG tanks.

MARINA COSTS | Total = $1,160.70

Keeping Tickety Boo in a slip is one of our biggest expenses. The monthly cost of a slip with electricity at Indiantown Marina for a 34.5' boat is $572.40. The guys at the marina will also come pump out our holding tank on demand - $5.30 for each visit.

BOAT STUFF | Total = $131.89

This category is for all the stuff we've been buying for the boat. We've got a long list of stuff we need to get for Tickety Boo - some upgrades, some maintenance related items, equipment etc. I'm trying to spread the costs out because I simply find it too painful to spend so much money all at once.

During the last two months, I’ve bought a few bits and bobs like an inspection mirror so that we can see into the various nooks and crannies on our boat ($7.49), some storage containers to hold all of the various bottles of solvents, cleaners and other assorted marine products ($12.05), a Luci light which is charged by the sun ($16) and waterproof Gorilla glue to fix our teak shower grate ($4.78). We also joined the Moody Owners Association so that we can connect with other Moody owners and pick their brains. ($28.46).

In case you're wondering why there aren't any charges for boat insurance, we paid these up front for the year in April (you can see the details here) and we’re in the process of deciding what we’re going to do for insurance when it’s up for renewal next month (read about it here).

TRANSPORT | Total = $61.68

This category is for costs related to our vehicle, mostly for gas to keep it going and drive into the nearby "big city" of Stuart for errands. Gas is so cheap these days that I've really been able to keep these costs down. My mom ended up paying our car insurance for this coming year so that we can treat ourselves to something that we wouldn’t normally buy with the money we would have spent on it. Thanks mom!

MEDICAL EXPENSES | Total = $242.64

This category includes medical expenses outside of our monthly insurance premium (which aren't included here - see section on exclusions above), like over the counter medications, prescriptions and things for our medical kit. It also includes the costs of doctors visits and medical tests which aren't covered by our insurance. You’re about to see the costs in this category sky-rocket next month as I had an unexpected medical issue to deal with during March.

OTHER | Total = $281.08

In this category, we break out how much we spend on clothes and travel expenses. We also include a catch-all miscellaneous group for stuff that doesn't fit neatly anywhere else - things like laundry ($3.25 for a wash and dry at Indiantown Marina).

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28 March 2016

3 Silly Things, 2 Observations & 1 Pretty Picture

I don't have time for one of my more normal blog posts (not that any of them are really that normal) because I've been swamped with getting my Nancy Drew posts ready for the A to Z Challenge starting this Friday. Plus, I've been a bit tad under the weather which means not only am I ignoring boat projects, but I'm also not putting a lot of effort into today's post. 

So, instead, I present to you - 3 silly things, 2 observations and 1 pretty picture.

Silly Things

Old sailors never die. They just get a little dinghy. 


He would have become a sailor but he didn't want to make waves.

I have a deck but no backyard.
I have a bow but no arrows
I have a wheel but I'm not a car
I have a beam but I'm not a light
I have a stern but I'm not serious
I have a crow's nest but there are no birds

What am I? 

{Courtesy of Pun of the Day and Riddles for Kids}


When you make something in a slow cooker, the wee beastie inside tantalizes you with wonderful aromas until you crack open the lid to try some long before it's done cooking. Then, because you let all the heat out, you have to add more time on for it to be fully cooked. Today, I'm making tortellini and bean soup. Will I be able to resist the tantalizing smells of onion, garlic, tomatoes and Italian herbs and leave it be until suppertime? Place your bets.


Why does everything sound better when said with a Scottish accent? Sure, they might be telling you to get out of the way (Ye mak a better door than a windae) but it sounds lovely when they say it. Perhaps, I've been watching too many old episodes of Monarch of the Glen lately?

Pretty Picture

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, spring is in evidence all around with flowers and pleasant weather just right for strolling in the garden. In southern Florida, however, we've skipped spring and jumped right into summer with scorching hot weather, so I have to content myself with looking back on pretty pictures from more temperate climates.

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25 March 2016

Random Bits & Bobs Brought To You From Indiantown, Florida

Have you ever thought to yourself, I wonder what's been happening lately at Indiantown Marina? Well, here's your chance to find out. Yes, that's right - it's time for some random bits and bobs brought to you live from Indiantown, Florida.

Nigel, I’m sure you’re a nice guy and good fun at cocktail parties, but your book is kind of a snore.
Our engine isn’t working, so I’ve been reading Nigel Calder’s Marine Diesel Engines book. The cover promises that you can “be your own diesel mechanic.” What the cover doesn’t tell you is that you’ll die from boredom reading the book before you even get around to trying to fix your engine.

Scott sounded befuddled when I told him my views on Nigel’s book. He thinks all of his books are fantastic because they’re so detailed and technical in nature. Well, there’s the problem right there – they’re technical. Scott’s technically minded. Me, not so much. When I read a book, I’m looking for mystery, romance or aliens from outer space. I’m not really looking for dense text in small font and illustrations of fuel filters and glow plugs.

But, I’m soldiering on and plowing through Nigel’s book. This weekend, I’ve got fun things planned thanks to Nigel. I’m going to check out our air and fuel filters. I can barely contain my excitement. When I asked Scott where the air filter was he told me to look for a blue hairdryer shaped thingy-magingy. He knows how to translate technical speak into words I’ll understand. I think this is it.

Why buy something new, when you can repair what you already have. 

Our teak shower grate kind of fell apart, so I’ve been trying to repair it using waterproof Gorilla glue to reattach all of the slats. Usually, I love doing arts and crafts projects. Give me a bottle of glue, markers, sparkly glitter, construction paper and a pair of scissors and I’ll happily sit for hours making things. I kind of thought fixing our shower grate would be along the same lines, minus the sparkly glitter. Well, so far, it isn’t looking all that great, but at least it’ll be functional. I was thinking of using sparkly glitter to camouflage the areas where my gluing technique kind of fell down, but for some reason, I don’t think Scott is going to go for that idea.

Reality often looks better through the eyes of an artist.

A couple of weeks ago, some ladies from Stuart were at the marina as part of their plein air group (which is fancy French talk for painting outside). Here’s what I love about art – you start with reality, see it through your eyes and put your own spin on it. Oftentimes, what artists come up with looks so much better than reality, like this painting that one of the ladies did of the boat storage yard. Trust me, it looks a lot better in her painting than it does in real life.

I used to take painting courses when I lived in New Zealand, but don’t really have room on the boat for all the tubes of paint, supplies and canvases required. I’m looking for a new arts and craft hobby which doesn’t take up much space. I was thinking embroidery or needlepoint – any other ideas you might have?

I keep seeing dead fish floating around my boat. And they stink.

There have been a number of dead fish in the marina and for some reason they all end up down near my boat. Take some dead fish in stagnant water, add temperatures in the mid to upper 80s and you have a recipe for some really bad smells. Not sure what caused them to die – possibly toxic runoff from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie waterway? Fortunately, after a few days, they end up sinking to the bottom or getting eaten by some creature who isn’t too fussy about its diet. But, unfortunately, as if by magic, a new one appears shortly thereafter.

I won the lottery!

Well, not really. But I did find $400 hidden away on our boat that I had completely forgot about. It was kind of like winning the lottery. When we went to the Bahamas last year, we strategically hid stashes of cash around our boat, like many cruisers do. They were so well hidden, that I never found one of the stashes until recently. Such a fun surprise! I wonder how may other boats have money squirreled away that the current or previous owners forgot about?

Whatever you do, don’t mention grandma’s underpants.

I started volunteering for an afterschool reading program. The other day I was reading the kids Three Cheers for Catherine the Great by Cari Best and when we got to the page where grandma hangs up her giant underpants on the clothesline, everyone got a serious case of the giggles. Who knew underpants could be so funny? Kids are a good reminder to not take life so seriously.

Wouldn’t you get the giggles if you saw this picture (beautifully illustrated by Giselle Potter by the way)?

What’s made you giggle lately? Would you rather read about grandma's underpants or diesel engines?

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23 March 2016

Aliens Squashed The Planet & Other Shocking RYA Navigation Secrets

In my ongoing efforts to become a more productive human being, I decided to dig Scott’s RYA (Royal Yachting Association) navigation books out and start learning more about how to get our sailboat from Point A to Point B without crashing into a reef, the shore or a submerged UFO.

To be honest, I’ve been kind of dreading studying navigation because there’s a lot of numbers, math and weird gadgets involved. But, there is always the worry that Scott could get abducted by aliens while we’re out there on the water and I’ll have to be able to helm the boat back to safety on my own. Yes, fear of alien abduction is one of my key motivators. I used to also be motivated by chocolate chip cookies, but I’ve had to give them up recently.

Let’s all take a minute to think about that…life without chocolate chip cookies. Sad, isn’t it.

So, as I was sitting there munching on carrot sticks and reading through the RYA Navigation Handbook, I came across this passage:

Our world is a ball of rock, just under 13,000 kilometres in diameter, spinning through space…it is also slightly squashed.

Okay, what?! Our planet is squashed? All my life, I’ve been told that our planet is round, like an orange. The models of the Earth they showed us in school were all round, like oranges. I’ve never seen a model of the Earth that’s squashed. Have you? Why have people been keeping this a secret? Why hasn’t the National Enquirer done its civic duty, gotten a hold of this information and shared it with the general public?

More importantly, who did this? Or rather, what did this? Is this yet more evidence of alien interference in our solar system? Did some aliens drunk on homemade hooch distilled from asteroid particles go around shooting up our planet with their ray guns and end up shaving off parts of it?

Folks, this is why you study navigation - to find out the truth. I’ve always heard the truth was out there, but now I know where to find it – in the RYA study materials.

I also found out this other shocking secret about the the development of the GPS system we all rely upon:

To prevent civilian receivers being used for military purposes, the American government adopted a policy…under which deliberate errors were introduced to the CA code signal to degrade its accuracy to about 100 metres.

Yes, the government messed around with the GPS coding so that it would be unreliable for us regular folk at more than 100 metres. According to the RYA, this policy has now abandoned, but the government retains the ability to reintroduce it. Hmm....what else have they done to the GPS system? Are there really satellites fixing our coordinates or are these "satellites" actually alien spacecraft in orbit tracking our every move?

And, here's another shocker. From what I can gather, the big computer systems manufacturers brainwashed us all into believing that knobs and buttons were inferior. It was a deliberate campaign to put the knob and button manufacturers out of business. We should all go out and buy some knobs and buttons to help this floundering industry.

Until a few years ago, radar sets bristled with knobs and buttons. Now, knobs and buttons are ‘out’, and menu systems and soft keys are ‘in’.

But, here's the most shocking secret of all. The chocolate industry is so insidious that they've even blackmailed the RYA into mentioning chocolate while they're talking about how to deal with compass error. Here's the mnemonic you're supposed to use to remember that Variation (V) separates True (T) and Magnetic (M) and that Deviation (D) separates Magnetic (M) from Compass (C).

Cadbury's Dairy Milk Very Tasty

If you've never tried a Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar, don't. The minute you try one, you'll turn into a junkie, desperately looking for your next fix. Every single time you look at the compass on your boat -  BAM! - you'll be craving chocolate again.

Who knew that studying navigation could be so interesting. Now, if only I could figure out how to use Scott's Portland course plotter and resist the urge to color in all of the rose compasses on our charts with colored pencils and markers.

What secret government conspiracies have you discovered lately? Or, for the more serious minded among you, any tips to learning navigation?

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21 March 2016

Nancy Drew Is On The Case | Blogging From A To Z Theme Reveal

April 1st is going to be a big day here at The Cynical Sailor. Not only is it April Fool's Day, but it's also the kick-off of the 2016 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day during April (except Sundays), I'll be following along with the alphabet and posting on the blog. Committing to doing 26 blog posts during the month is challenging enough. But, what's going to make it even more challenging this year is that I've signed up to do a theme. That means that all of my blog posts have to relate to the theme I've chosen. No more slapping up random blog posts to tick off a particular letter of the alphabet. Things are going to have to be a lot better planned. Yikes.

Theme Reveal

You've probably guessed what my theme is from the image on the top of this blog post. Yes, Nancy Drew is back on the case. Some of you may remember when Nancy made an appearance on the blog at the end of last year during her investigation of the Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship. Nancy never did figure out where the mysterious leak on my boat was coming from, but she gave it a valiant effort and she looked immaculate the entire time she was investigating, even when she was poking around in the bilge with a turkey baster.

{By the way, for those of you new to The Cynical Sailor, I live on a sailboat, which is currently located in southern Florida. I often blog about life as a live aboard, along with a whole host of other random topics. You can find out more about our backstory here.}

The Nancy Drew posts were pretty popular, so I thought I would bring her back to investigate the Case of the Missing Anchor as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Here's how it's going to work. Every day (except Sundays), I'll post an installment of the case (it will basically end up being a short story by the end of the month), along with some random thoughts on the day's particular letter. For example, on April 1st, you'll be reading about A is for Anchor, where Nancy and her friends discover that an anchor has gone missing at the local marina. Then, I'll tell you a little bit about the real case of the missing anchor that this story is loosely based on. Next, there will be B is for Boatyard, C is for Catamaran, D is for Ditch Bag and so on. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Who's Nancy Drew?

Now, some of you {gasp} may not be familiar with Nancy Drew. I know, it's a bit shocking, but we better get everyone up to speed before April 1st rolls around.

The original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series was published between 1930 and 2003. During that time, there were 175 books written by a number of ghostwriters under the pen name of Carolyn Keene. A major revision took place in 1959 to update the series, remove racist stereotypes and shorten the books to be faster paced. This was the version of the series that I read when I was a girl, published between 1959 and 1979 with the trademark yellow spine.

There have been other Nancy Drew book series, such as Nancy Drew on Campus and the Nancy Drew Files, as well as TV series and movies, and Nancy and her friends have evolved over time. But, the Nancy you'll see during the A to Z Challenge is based on the books I read during my childhood. My Nancy is an 18 year old amateur sleuth, who lost her mother at a young age and lives with her father, a well-to-do attorney, and their housekeeper, Hannah Greun, in the town of River Heights. Nancy is resourceful, bright, independent, kindhearted, wholesome and always solves the case. She has a handsome boyfriend (Ned Nickerson), drives a blue convertible, wears fabulous clothes and never has a hair out of place.

During the Case of the Missing Anchor, you'll meet Nancy's two best friends - George Fayne and her cousin Bess Marvin. George is an athletic tomboy who is an expert in judo and doesn't easily frighten. Bess is more feminine in nature, tends to worry, flirts with all the boys she meets and constantly talks about food and shopping. Nancy's boyfriend, Ned, will make an appearance, along with Bess and George's boyfriends.

If you want to find out more about Nancy Drew you can check out Wikipedia and the Nancy Drew Sleuth site and blog.

The Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship

If you missed the original Nancy Drew posts, you can check them out here:

The Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship, Part 1 - Where a leak is discovered aboard a sailboat and Nancy investigates the likely suspects.
The Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship, Part 2 - Where Nancy narrows down the list of suspects and her friend Bess worries about alligators in the marina.
The Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship, Part 3 - Where a new leak appears on Thanksgiving and Bess consoles herself with apple cobbler.
Nancy Drew is a Total Slacker - Where a mysterious beep is heard during the middle of the night and a new case is opened.
The Case of the Disappearing Cat - Where I start to turn everything into a Nancy Drew investigation, even when cat sitting. This post really has nothing to do with Nancy Drew, but if you like cute cat pictures, this might be right up your alley.

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Linked up with the A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 3-21-2016

18 March 2016

Convincing Your Partner To Go Adventuring By Boat, RV Or Camel

For those of you who were wondering why there wasn't a blog post on Wednesday (like my mom), I had computer troubles. We've resurrected this laptop from the dead a couple of times already, but it still likes to taunt me with the Blue Screen of Death from time to time or, like earlier this week, freeze up and then pretend it doesn't know what I'm talking about when I go to look for my draft blog posts. It seems to be behaving itself today, so here's the blog post I had hoped to publish earlier this week.


From time to time I get emails or comments on our blog asking me how Scott convinced me to chuck it all in, get rid of most of our stuff, buy a sailboat, move onto a sailboat and go off adventuring without the security of a regular pay check coming in each month.

I imagine other people may be in the same situation. They have a dream to go off adventuring, but their partner isn’t too keen on the whole idea. It might go something like this:
"I really want to sell our house, buy an RV and travel around the States, but my wife worries about being so far away from the grand kids."
Or like this:
"Can you imagine anything better than buying a sailboat and sailing to the Pacific Islands?! I know my girlfriend is afraid of the water, but what’s the problem? She can take swimming classes. It would be a once in a lifetime adventure!"
 Or even like this, because riding camels is a pretty awesome way to travel:
"Crossing the Saharan desert by camel would be so awesome. I don’t know why my fiancé doesn’t get it. Why can’t he see that working 60 hours a work until we retire isn’t the way we should spend our lives? We need to live life now while we're young enough to enjoy it and have our health."

In an ideal world, both partners would share the same dream and no one would need convincing (like this couple). But, that’s not always the case.

Oftentimes, it’s the bloke who has the dream to go off adventuring by RV, sailboat or even camel and is trying to convince his partner to come with. But not always. I’ve seen posts on some of the sailing and cruising Facebook groups I’m a part of from women wishing they could find men who share their dreams of sailing off into the sunset on a grand adventure.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who’s convincing whom. What really matters is how to convince your reluctant partner. Because, after all, life is short and you want to get on with your adventuring.

Here’s the secret. Are you ready?

Don’t. Don’t do it. 

Seriously, don’t even try to convince your partner to go adventuring. It could end up in disaster. You can inspire them. You can stir their imagination. You can arouse their interest. You can get them excited about the idea. But convincing them. Complete waste of time.

It might seem like semantics (and in a way I guess it is), but the idea of convincing someone to do something makes me think of reluctant cooperation, of being swayed to do something you don't really want to do or even brainwashed into thinking something is a good idea, when, in your heart, you know it isn't.

Even if you think you’ve convinced your partner to go off adventuring, they may secretly resent you and your stupid ideas and do something passive-aggressive in retaliation. Like putting walnuts in a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Honestly, the worst possible thing you can do to someone.

“Here honey, look what I made you. Chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven. Go on try one,” says your partner while smiling at you with innocent Bambi eyes. As you bite into one of the cookies eagerly, all of sudden you crunch down into a dreaded walnut and grimace.
“Oh my gosh, I completely forgot that you don’t like walnuts in your chocolate chip cookies! I’m so sorry. Guess I’ll have to eat them all myself. But, at least you have that sailboat that you always wanted. So, I guess it all kind of works out.”

I know that I joke around on our blog about how Scott brainwashed me into getting onboard with this whole cruising dream of his. But, like a lot of stuff on this blog, you really can’t take me too seriously. Except for bringing moas back from the dead. I’m completely serious about that.

So, here’s the dead honest truth. Scott didn’t brainwash me and he didn’t convince me. He just slowly seeded his ideas and his dreams and chipped away at my concerns and fears over time until one day I actually said, “Hey, why don’t we buy a boat.” Seriously, it was my idea to buy our first boat. I’m not sure who was more surprised, Scott or me.

I’ve probably told this story before, but for those of you who are new to the blog, here’s how it happened for us.


1 - Share your passion. Authentically.

Talk about why you want to go off adventuring. Not with the aim of selling your dream to your partner, but so that they can understand why you're passionate about it and why it's important to you. When you come from a place of authenticity, it's not about convincing your partner to do something, it's about helping them understand you better.

This is what Scott did. When he talked about sailing and cruising and tried to explain why he loved it so much, his eyes lit up and he just got so darn excited. Scott's a pretty stoic guy, so when he gets visibly excited about something, then you know that you should probably pay attention. So, I did. His passion started to be just a little bit contagious.

2 - Be honest about the downsides of the dream.

The last thing you want to do is suck somebody into your mad schemes under false pretenses. "You'll love sailing! You can read books and eat snacks while we're on the water. Then, we'll have tropical cocktails each night in beautiful anchorages. What could possibly go wrong?"

Well, I can tell you from personal experience that a lot can go wrong. If Scott had glossed over all of the downsides of sailing and cruising and I found out about them later after we had bought a boat, then I think things could haven gotten really ugly because I would have felt like I had been tricked somehow and that the dream I had bought into was really a sham.

Scott was really upfront about the good, the bad and the ugly sides of sailing and cruising. As a result, I felt a lot more prepared when we chartered for the first time (and things went horribly wrong) and later when we bought our first boat in New Zealand.

3 - Figure out their fears and concerns.

Scott knows me pretty well, after all, we've been married for a gazillion years, so he was pretty clued into what my fears and concerns might be, which are way too many to list here. One of the things he suggested I do to allay some of my fears was to read blogs by other folks who were just starting out cruising or who had been out there for a while. It helped. I realized that (a) other people worry about the same stuff that I do and (b) they made it work.

4 - Try before you buy.

We did two things that really made a difference for me. First, before taking the plunge and buying a boat, we did a couple of charters in New Zealand. That allowed me to get a tiny taste of what it might be like to cruise full-time. Fortunately, I liked it. Second, we bought a "starter" boat in New Zealand (this was my idea). It was a small, relatively inexpensive boat which we had for a couple of years, and cruised on full-time for a season.

For me, I think it would have been way too overwhelming to buy our "forever" boat first off the bat and it might have even turned me off of the whole thing. Instead, spending time on our "starter" boat got me excited thinking about how much better our next boat would be. By this time, I was fully hooked and it had become our dream.

5 - Go off adventuring! 

This one's kind of self-explanatory. Once it becomes a shared dream, then go off and live it!


That’s how it worked for us. But, the cold, hard truth is that your partner may never get onboard with your dream to go off adventuring. It happens. And you have to be prepared for that. You might have to chuck your dream in or, better yet, adapt your dream.

For example, some partners don’t want to do ocean passages. So, the keen sailor might get some buddies to do long passages and their partner might fly over to join once they’re safely across the ocean. Or, a couple might downsize to a smaller place near the grand kids and split their time between RVing and their home base. Or, instead of taking a few years off the corporate merry-go-round to ride camels across the Saharan desert, a couple might decide to go backpacking in South America for a couple of months for an extended holiday.

What about you? Do you have a dream you're trying to get your partner onboard with? What ideas do you have for turning your personal dream into a shared dream?

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14 March 2016

Around The World In 80 Books | Update #6

I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. The idea is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in four more countries – Algeria, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Slovenia. That makes a total of 29 books since I started the challenge. 51 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4 and Update #5.


L’ÉTRANGER (The Stranger) by Albert Camus | Algeria
This one might be a bit of a cheat as I read this book in English many, many years ago. The twist this time around is that I read it in French. Plus, I didn’t really remember the plot, so it was like reading it for the first time. My French isn’t very good – I don’t understand it all that well (especially when French Canadians speak it, their accent is quite different from what I learned in school), can’t write it to save my life and every time I try to speak French (usually after a glass or two of wine), I end up saying something like, “There’s spaghetti on top of your car.” It’s no wonder the French Canadians at the marina immediately switch to English when they see me coming. They’re getting a little tired of hearing about pasta covered vehicles.

I used to have to read in French back in graduate school. Generally, a very slow and painful process with a well thumbed dictionary at hand. For some reason, I thought it might be a good idea to brush up those reading skills, picked up a French copy of The Stranger at the marina book exchange and slowly made my way through it. (That’s one of the reasons I only read four books this time, instead of the usual five. Plus, I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi lately. Next challenge – Around the Universe in 80 Books.)

The Stranger was published in 1942 and is set in Algeria, when it was a French overseas territory. It tells the story of a Mersault, a French Algerian, who attends his mother’s funeral and then later kills an Arab man. Mersault is indifferent and emotionally detached from the world, not shedding a tear for his mother’s death, being apathetic about killing someone and being indifferent to his girlfriend’s declarations of love.

On a popular culture note, I learned from Wikipedia that the themes of emotional indifference, detachment etc. in  The Stranger informed the character of Don Draper in the TV series, Mad Men. Now, I don’t feel so badly about binge watching Mad Men knowing that it’s linked to a literary classic.

The quote I chose to share is in French. I hesitate to translate it into English as I know some of the folks who read this blog are fluent in French and, well, I’d be pretty embarrassed for them to see my appalling translation skills. The gist of the passage is Mersault’s very lackluster response when his girlfriend asks him whether he wants to marry her and if he loves her.

"Le soir, Marie est venue me chercher et m’a demandé si je voulais me marier avec elle. J’ai dit qu cela m’était égal et que nous pourrions le faire si elle le voulait. Elle a voulu savoir alors si je l’aimais. J’ai répondu comme je l’avais déjà fait une fois, que cela ne signifiait rien mais que sans doute je ne l’aimais pas. <Pourquoi m’épouser alor?> a-t-elle dit. Je lui ai expliqué que cela n’avait aucune importance et que si elle le désirait, nous pouvions nous marier."
You can find out more about The Stranger at Goodreads.

THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grimm | Bolivia

One of my dock neighbors (hi Denis!) loaned me this book. He thought I might like it given my anthropology background and the fact that I had read a book set in the Amazon previously (see Update #5). The Lost City of Z tries to answer the question about what happened to the British explorer, Peter Fawcett, who went into the Amazon on a quest to find the lost city of El Dorado (which he called Z) in 1925 and never returned.

The author, David Grimm, set out to find out more about Fawcett’s mysterious disappearance, combing through old notes, diaries and other historical documents and eventually retracing his steps in the Amazon.
While I’m not usually a big non-fiction fan, I really enjoyed this book, as the author tells the story in a very compelling way. And Denis was right, it was a fascinating account of the history of anthropology and how Europeans viewed and treated indigenous peoples in Bolivia and Brazil.

If you’re doing the Around the World in 80 Books challenge, you could tick off either Bolivia or Brazil (possibly even India as Fawcett’s early days there are described) as Fawcett made several explorations in the Amazon in both countries. As I had already ticked off Brazil previously, I’m counting this towards Bolivia. The quote below describes how Fawcett and his party reacted when they encountered some Guarayos Indians along the Heath River in Bolivia. Unlike other explorers of the time, Fawcett had a reputation for traveling with small party without armed soldiers and taking a peaceful approach when meeting new peoples.

“Fawcett ordered his men to drop their rifles, but the barrage of arrows persisted. And so Fawcett instructed one of the men, as further demonstration of their peaceful intentions, to pull out his accordion and play it. The rest of the party, commanded to stand and face their deaths without protest, sang along as Costin, first in a trembling voice, then more fervently, called out the words to ‘The Soldiers of the Queen’ : ‘In the fight for England’s glory, lads / Of its world wide glory let us sing.’"

You can find out more about The Lost City of Z on Goodreads.

THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway | Bosnia and Herzegovina

This one was a sad, but good book. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a fictional account of the Siege of Sarajevo and is inspired by Verdran Smailovic, a cellist who played played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for 22 days in a row at the site where 22 people were killed by a mortar attack while waiting to buy bread in 1992. After Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs wanted to incorporate the city of Sarajevo into the Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska. They encircled the city and assaulted the people of Sarajevo for 1,425 days with tanks, artillery and small arms.

The Cellist of Sarajevo depicts what life was like living in the city from the point of view of three people whose lives are upended by the war – one man who sets off to get water for his family and a neighbor, another man in search of bread and a woman who is a sniper assigned to protect the cellist as he plays.

As I sit here on my boat in peaceful Indiantown, Florida, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to try to survive in the middle of a war zone.

“Since the war began Dragan has seen three people killed by snipers. What surprised him the most was how quickly it all happens. One moment the people are walking or running through the street, and then they drop abruptly as though they were marionettes and their puppeteer has fainted. As they fall there’s a sharp crack of gunfire, and everyone in the area seeks cover. After a few minutes, though, things seem to go back to what they now call normal. The bodies are recovered, if possible, and the wounded are taken away. No one has any way of knowing if the sniper who fired is still there or if he has moved, but everyone behaves as though he has gone until the next time he fires, and then the cycle repeats itself.”

You can find out more about The Cellist of Sarajevo at Goodreads.

VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE by Paulo Coelho | Slovenia

This was my favorite book that I read this time around. It was funny, touching and thought provoking. A young Slovenian woman, Veronkia, decides to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills. To her surprise, her suicide attempt wasn’t successful and she wakes up in a mental hospital, where she is informed that she has a heart condition and will die in a few days anyway. During her remaining days, Veronika connects with some of the other patients, has new experiences and discovers new things about herself.

In addition to enjoying Veronika’s journey of self-discovery, I found the take on what it means to be committed to a mental hospital fascinating.

“Once in a mental hospital, a person grows used to the freedom that exists in the world of insanity and becomes addicted to it. You no longer have to take on responsibilities, to struggle to earn your daily bread, to be bothered with repetitive, mundane tasks. You could spend hours looking at a picture or making absurd doodles. Everything is tolerated because, after all, the person is mentally ill. As she herself had the occasion to observe, most of the inmates showed a marked improvement once they entered the hospital. They no longer had to hide their symptoms, and the ‘family’ atmosphere helped them to accept their own neuroses and psychoses.”

And here’s a bonus quote, just because I like her attitude towards math.

“She hated everything. The library with its pile of books full of explanations of life; the school that had forced her to spend whole evenings learning algebra, even though she didn’t know a single person, apart from teachers and mathematicians, who needed algebra to be happy. Why did they make them learn so much algebra or geometry or any of that mountain of other useless things?”

You can find out more about Veronika Decides to Die at Goodreads.


If you're participating in the challenge too, I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, England, Ghana, Haiti, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, North Korea, Norway, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, Slovenia, United States, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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11 March 2016

Eating On $4 A Day SNAP Challenge | Lessons Learned

During February, I participated in the Eating on $4 a Day SNAP Challenge. The challenge allows people to experience the difficulties of living on a limited food budget and gain an understanding of the struggles many no-income and low-income people in the States face trying to feed their families, as well as highlight the good works that charitable organizations are doing to help address hunger.

If you want to know more about the challenge itself, click here to read Monday’s post which has background on the challenge and the “rules” I followed (or tried to follow). If you want to know what I ate on my limited food budget of $127 for the month, click here for Wednesday’s post which will give you the scoop on cooking with beans and ham hocks.

Today’s post wraps up the Eating on $4 a Day series and talks about the insights I gained and the lessons I learned during the challenge. Next week we’ll be back with some non-food related posts including thoughts on how to convince your partner to go adventuring by boat, RV or camel, as well as an update on the latest boat projects happening here on SV Tickety Boo.


Freezers are awesome, and not just for ice cream.

I’ll just come out and admit it – I’m a food waster. Generally, I’m not a big fan of leftovers, unless we’re talking about leftover lasagna which I can eat morning, noon and night for days on end. Because I’m cooking for one right now while Scott is working overseas, I end up with a lot of leftovers. In a perfect world, if I made a pot of black bean chili, I would eat it for four nights in a row. In the real world, I’ll end up throwing out the leftovers after day two because I’m sick of it.

I can picture some of you saying to yourselves, Duh, Ellen. The answer’s simple. Just put the leftovers into the freezer and heat them up later when you’re in the mood for more black bean chili.

It’s a great idea. One problem – I don’t have a freezer. Now, some of you may be saying to yourselves, What?! No freezer? Where the heck do you keep the ice cream?

For those of you who aren’t regular blog readers, you may not realize that I live on a sailboat. Of course, living on a sailboat doesn’t mean you can’t have a freezer. In fact, a friend of mine at the marina has a freezer on her boat and regularly taunts me with the fact that she can have ice cream anytime she wants. Actually, she doesn’t taunt me. She’s too sweet for that. I am jealous of her ice cream stash though. Our boat didn’t come with a freezer and we have no plans to put one in. It would cost money, we don’t really have a place to put it and it would just be one other thing that might break on us.

I’m just glad we have a fridge – a big improvement over our last boat.

So, during the challenge, because I don’t have a freezer, I had to suck it up and eat a lot of leftovers. People who live on a limited food budget don’t always have the option of chucking leftovers out just because they fancy something new.

Cooking can be challenging when you don’t have a stove or oven. 

When I first flagged up that I was doing this challenge, someone (can’t remember who) pointed out that some no-income and low-income families don’t have well-equipped kitchen facilities which can potentially limit the types of meals that they can make on a budget. For example, folks might be living in motel rooms with only a small fridge and microwave.

Wait, that sounds like me! I live in a tiny space (probably less than 350 sq ft), I have a tiny fridge and a microwave. Yep, no stove or oven. Of course, I only have myself to blame for the lack of stove and oven. One of the lingering things on my boat project list is to fix our propane system, which would allow me to safely use our stove and oven.

In the meantime, because we’re hooked up to shore power, I rely on our microwave and crock pot for cooking, which actually doesn’t bother me, and in fact has some advantages, such not heating up the boat and saving on propane costs. If it did bother me, I would have gotten around to fixing the propane system by now.

During the challenge, I tried to imagine what it would be like cooking for a family in a tiny kitchen on a limited food budget. I suspect that it’s a lot easier for me to cope with cooking in a kitchen (or galley in my case) that isn’t all that large or well-equipped (by American standards) than it might be for no-income or low-income families. For me, it’s a choice. And, I’ve become used to living in tiny spaces on our two boats and in our tiny camper without the amenities that others might expect. Plus, I’m cooking for just myself. The downside is that I can’t bake bread (which could be a money-saver) and the recipes I can make are more limited.

It pays to shop around.

Our boat is at a marina in a small town in rural southern Florida. There's one grocery store (an IGA), a green grocer of sorts and a couple of other smaller markets. If you want to go to a larger grocery store, the nearest Walmart and Publix are about twenty miles away in Stuart.

Small towns have many advantages, but food can often be more expensive due to distribution costs and lack of competition. The local grocery store has a decent selection (especially of Hispanic foods), but the prices are much higher than at Walmart. For example, a half gallon of milk costs me $2.18 at Walmart in Stuart compared to $2.79 at the local IGA. The store recently changed hands and people are complaining that prices have gone up even further.

The easy answer for me is to do my shopping at Walmart (although it isn’t always cheaper once you factor in the cost of gas). But, many people in town don’t have cars and are reliant on shopping locally, which means they’ll pay more for food. When the IGA was bought by the new owners, they actually didn’t accept SNAP or WIC benefits for what seemed like ages, which I imagine may have caused difficulties for some local families.

I can’t wait to try compressed soy tubes.

I don’t eat a lot of meat in general (compared to many Americans), and, in fact, I was a vegetarian for five years back in the dark ages (you can read about what made me become a carnivore again here), but in order to survive on my limited food budget during February, I ended up cooking more vegetarian recipes and eating a lot more PB&J sandwiches.

Meat can take a big chunk out of your food budget, so going meatless entirely or at least part of the time can help you stretch your food budget. A blog reader flagged up this free cookbook, which has lots of great recipe ideas and inspiration for frugal cooking, including many vegetarian recipes.

While I didn’t quite resort to eating compressed soy tubes (which someone on Facebook assured me can be passed off as kielbasa if you put a ton of sauerkraut on it), I did end up doing the vegie thing about half of the month. I probably should be cutting back on red meat more, so compressed soy tubes may be making an appearance in my life here soon.


A blog reader left a really interesting comment on Monday’s blog post about how the SNAP challenge is a bit artificial (my words, not his). One of the rules is to use the average SNAP benefit as the basis for your food budget, rather than the maximum SNAP benefit. Folks who get the average SNAP benefit are assumed to have other financial resources and SNAP is intended to supplement their food budget, rather than be their entire food budget.

While that may be the case, I still think it was a useful challenge to participate in as it really raised my awareness of what it’s like to live on a limited budget due to circumstances, rather than choice (as in our case). And for some families, the average SNAP benefit may be all that they have to work with if they need to divert other money intended for food to things like rent, utilities and medical costs.

Scott and I have had the good fortune to have had the financial wherewithal to be able to build up savings to allow us to cruise and travel for a while on a budget. Not everyone is so fortunate. This challenge definitely reminded me of that.

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09 March 2016

Eating On $4 A Day SNAP Challenge | What I Ate

If you read Monday's post, then you'll know that I did the Eating on $4 a Day SNAP Challenge during February. If not, then you might want to check it out first - click here. Today's post is all about what I ate during the month, along with a few tangents along the way.


Breakfast…the most boring meal of the day & a tangent on super heroes.

I ate oatmeal every single day for breakfast. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast, so no real change during February. Normally, I make it with milk and put raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and brown sugar in it. If I’m feeling really decadent, I might put peanut butter and some chocolate chips in it instead. Kind of like having a cookie in a bowl for breakfast.

There are many good things about oatmeal – it’s cheap, it’s filling and it’s a super food. I like to imagine my oatmeal as Captain Porridge, wearing a little super hero costume with a lightening bolt on its cape off doing battle somewhere down in my intestines with his arch enemy – Evil Bacon Fat. Captain Porridge wields his lightening bolt, slashing through Evil Bacon Fat’s clone army of cholesterol soldiers and bringing them to their knees. Good always triumphs over evil, even in one’s digestive tract.

Lunch…the second most boring meal of the day & a tangent on the joys of Goober peanut butter.

Most days, I had a good old-fashioned peanut butter and jam sandwich and some fruit. Yes, the PB&J – an American staple for children of all ages. Let’s face it, peanut butter is cheap. Fortunately, it’s also delicious (at least for Americans, some folks from other places think it's kind of weird, especially in Reese's Cups). I do eat a lot of PB&J, but not as much as I did during February. The days I didn’t have PB&Js, I had turkey, cream cheese and cabbage wraps, cheese quesadillas or soup. Normally, I’d probably have a few more deli meat sandwiches for lunch, but when you’re living on $4.44 a day for food, meat is one of those things that gets cut from the budget.

Now, who remembers Goober peanut butter? This is probably an American thing. It’s without a doubt the most efficient way to make a PB&J. It’s a brilliant combination of peanut butter and grape jelly all in the same jar. Stick your knife in, smear it on some bread and, presto, you’ve got lunch.

We never had Goober peanut butter at my house. I had to get my fix elsewhere. My mom was more of the natural peanut butter kind of mom. The kind of peanut butter without any added sugar that you had to turn upside down because the oil separated. I’m not really sure what the point of peanut butter without any added sugar is. By the time you get to lunch, you need a little sugary boost in your meal. Personally, I buy Jiff. Yeah, I know, it’s an awful food choice. Let’s just chalk it up to teenage rebellion well into my middle age years as a result of my mom’s natural peanut butter.

Dinner…or how to do semi-interesting things with ham hocks and a crock pot. Sorry, no tangents.

Dinner is where variety in my diet comes in. Well, not really. When you’re cooking for one person, you end up eating a lot of leftovers, which meant what I cooked for one night for dinner is what I also ate for the next two or three nights.

Some nights, I just cooked some eggs, heated up a can of soup or had a package of ready-made beans and rice, along with some cabbage salad. On other nights, I used my crock pot to whip up these magical meals:

KIELBASA, SAUERKRAUT & POTATOES – This one always reminds me of my mom. When she wasn’t serving us PB&J sandwiches made with natural peanut butter, she would make us kielbasa, sauerkraut and potatoes. She also made us other things, but this was one of my favorite meals and it still is. Her attempts to make us eat liver and onions, not so much. I had some kielbasa in the fridge that needed to be eaten, rummaged in the food storage and dug out canned sauerkraut and potatoes and chucked it all in the crock pot with some onions. Comfort food at its best.

BLACK BEAN CHILI  – This is a riff on Scott’s chili recipe (potatoes are the key), except without any meat. Another simple, chuck it all in a crock pot and wait for it to cook. All it takes are some black beans, a can of tomatoes, a can of corn, diced potato, onion, green bell pepper and a ton of chili powder. Once it’s cooked, add some hot sauce, grated cheese and sour cream and you won’t even know it’s meat free. I made this twice during the month.

CORN CHOWDER – This is one of our favorite things to make when we’re out cruising. If all goes well, Scott will catch some fish which we add to the chowder to make it fish chowder, otherwise, we eat it as is or put in some diced ham. I had neither fish nor ham, so stuck with the basic recipe of a can of creamed corn, diced potato, onion, chicken broth, thyme, a bay leaf and some milk at the end.

CUBAN BLACK BEAN SOUP – This is where the ham hock comes in. Ham hocks are a budget friendly way to add flavor to a dish. I adapted this recipe. It was okay, not great, just okay. If I wasn’t doing the SNAP challenge, I might have thrown the leftovers out and eaten something else, but people on SNAP don’t have those kind of choices, so I sucked it up and ate it for a few days in a row.

Snacks…or the importance of sugary treats.

Life is not complete without sugary treats. At least, my life isn’t. You might be one of those people who are content to nibble on alfalfa sprouts when you get a hunger pang between meals. That’s so not me. Fortunately, I got gifted some chocolate which helped me get through February, plus I found these amazing snicker doodle cookies at Walmart. I’m sure they’re not amazing for you, but they’re amazingly tasty and you get ten cookies for only $2!

When I ran out of chocolate and cookies, I resorted to yogurt and granola bars to silence my tummy. Of course, they both have added sugar too. I think I may have a problem. Please don’t stage an intervention. It would probably be ugly.

Eating out…or socializing over greasy food.

It wasn’t all home cooking on Tickety Boo last month. One of the reasons why I failed the SNAP challenge was that I went out to eat six times. It wasn’t like I was going out for fine dining either. Some of the visits were to fast food joints, which although relatively cheap compared to going to a sit down restaurant, still break the SNAP budget. For example, when I go to Dairy Queen, I get the $5 lunch meal. Sure, you get a lot of calories for your $5 (including a hot fudge sundae!), but it’s still over the daily food budget of $4.40 and it’s only one meal.

I went out to eat at a couple of local restaurants in Indiantown with friends. Probably the best value to be had in town is Taco Tuesday at the local pub. Tostadas are only $1.50 each and beers are $1 during happy hour. I can easily walk out of there for the same amount I would spend at Dairy Queen and I’ve had beer. Beer. Yum. Love. Beer. The other place we went to in town also has $1 beers on Wednesdays, plus burger and wing specials. I spent a bit more out on that night, but it was a fun outing.

The other big meal I had out was at one of those Chinese all you can eat buffet places on Valentine’s Day. Some friends invited me along. How could I say no? We decided to go for linner (lunch + dinner) and, since you can eat all you want, it kept me full well until bedtime.


Eating less meat was a breeze, but choosing between socializing with friends over a meal and staying within my food budget was probably the hardest part of the challenge for me. Check back on Friday to find out more about that, what else tripped me up during the challenge and what I learned.

What are your favorite budget friendly recipes?
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07 March 2016

Eating On $4 A Day SNAP Challenge | The Results

I like challenges, provided they don’t involve any physical exertion or dressing up in a costumes. I’ve done a few challenges over the past couple of years – Blogging from A to Z 2015 (win), NaNoWriMo 2015 (humongous fail) and Around the World in 80 Books (still in progress, but I’m winning so far). The thing I like about these challenges is that, given they involve reading and writing, I can literally do them lying down while snacking on sugary treats.

So, when I read about the Eating on $4 a Day SNAP Challenge, I figured it was right up my alley. After all, it involves eating, which ranks right up there as one of my favorite pastimes.

What's SNAP?

Those of you who aren’t American might be wondering what SNAP is. To be fair, there may be a number of Americans who aren’t familiar with the term either. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a federal aid program designed to help low-income and no-income people in the States. You may know it better as Food Stamps. Millions of people rely on SNAP to help feed their families and, for many of those millions, the SNAP benefits are the only access to food that they have.

Feeding a family on $4 a day per person isn’t easy. To be fair, it’s actually around $4.40 a day at the current level of benefits, but that’s still a huge challenge. I know, because I tried it during February. Spoiler alert – I failed. More about that below.

The SNAP Challenge

The SNAP challenge got attention in 2008 when four members of Congress tried to live for a week on an average SNAP benefit. Since then, many other people have tried the challenge including celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow (she only lasted four days), business executives, politicians, reporters and ordinary folks like me.

Obviously, taking on the SNAP challenge for a week, or even a month, can’t come even remotely close to experiencing what it’s like live on such a tight food budget in the long-term. But, it does help to build an understanding of the struggles that low-income and no-income families face in the States, as well as to highlight the good works that food pantries and other organizations are doing to help address hunger. Plus, it's also a good exercise to undertake if you're trying to cut your own food budget and live a more frugal lifestyle.

The Rules

Like any good challenge, there are rules:

1 – Each person should spend $4.40 a day on food and beverages during the challenge.

2 – Only eat food you purchase for the challenge. If you eat food you already have at home or which is given to you, account for it in your SNAP budget.

3 – If you eat out, include the cost in your SNAP budget.

4 – Keep track of your experience and share with others.

So, How Did I Do?

My monthly SNAP food budget for February was $127.60 ($4.40 a day x 29 days). If you’ve been following our cost updates closely (you can find them here), you’ll know that I’ve been averaging around $230 a month on food. And that excludes eating out (which averages around $50 a month). So, we’re talking about a significant reduction in my normal food budget – more than 50%!


I bought $77.07 of groceries during February at Walmart in Stuart and at the local grocery store in Indiantown. After my grocery shopping, I was $50.53 under budget. So far, so good.

Here's what I got for my $77.07:

  • Fruit & Veg – 5 bananas, 10 apples, 2 cans of peaches, 20 oz of raisins, 3 lbs of onions, 5 potatoes, 2 heads of cabbage and 2 green bell peppers
  • Dairy – 2 gallons of milk, 1 container of sour cream, 16 oz of cheddar cheese, 12 yogurts and 1 tub of cream cheese
  • Protein – 2 lbs of black beans, 1 container of deli meat, 2 ham hocks and 1 dozen eggs
  • Bread & Grains – 2 containers of oatmeal, 2 loaves of bread, 1 package of tortillas and 4 rolls
  • Beverages – 1 bag of coffee
  • Naughty Things – snicker doodle cookies (yum!)


In addition to stocking up at the store, I dug into our food stores, as well as used some stuff I already had in the fridge which needed to be eaten. I estimated the value of these items at $43.65, which left me with $6.83 to spend on food. Close, but doable. Or, so I thought.

Here's what I had in the pantry and fridge:

  • Fruit & Veg – 6 apples, 1 can of sauerkraut, 2 cans of potatoes, 2 cans of tomatoes, 3 cans of corn, 1 can of green chilies and the remnants of a head of cabbage
  • Protein – Kielbasa, 1 jar of peanut butter and a bag of walnuts
  • Bread & Grains – 1 package of tortillas, 6 granola bars and a bag of pretzels
  • Convenience Food – 6 cans of soup and 2 bags of ready-made rice and beans
  • Naughty Things – 1 jar of strawberry jam, brown sugar and 3 packets of hot chocolate


This is where it all fell down. I think if I had just done the challenge for a week, it would have been easy to avoid the temptation to go out for drinks and a meal, but because I did this for an entire month, it was a lot harder. I spent $51.90 eating out during February with friends. A few fast food meals (no judging please), Taco Tuesday at the local pub (a relatively cheap evening out), dinner at another local restaurant and one of those all you can eat Chinese buffets on Valentine’s Day.


Do you remember Rule #2 – account for any food that was given to you. I didn’t do this. But, in the interest of full disclosure, here's the scoop - I was gifted some lemons, cantaloupe, wine and chocolate. Plus, some friends made me lunch one day. I thought it would be kind of weird and rather ungrateful if I asked them to cost up how much they spent on my lunch. So, I didn’t.


Yes, it's true. I didn’t track the spices, oil, condiments etc. that I used. So there. Now, you know how untrustworthy I am.


I still had food left over from grocery shopping, which I’ll finish up during March. Since I didn’t deduct the cost of what I didn’t eat from my overall spend, I guess it all comes out in the wash.


Tune in Wednesday to find out what I ate. What in the world I did with all of that cabbage and those ham hocks? I know, the suspense is killing you. Don't worry, all will be revealed in due course. And then on Friday, I'll let you know what lessons I learned, including the challenges involved in cooking on a boat when you don't have a stove, oven or freezer.

Have you ever done the SNAP Challenge or something similar? How did you find it? And, have you ever cooked ham hocks?

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04 March 2016

February In Numbers

Clockwise from upper left: (1) Blog followers, Nicki and Keith, stopped by for a visit; (2) It's rained so much that I wasn't able to get off my boat a couple of times last month without risking spraining my ankle. One of the nice guys who works here set me up with a wood block to make things easier; (3) Alex, another one of the great guys at the marina. If you follow our Facebook page, this is they guy who got attacked by a wacko with a machete; (4) Our Rocna anchor - a little teaser for next month's A to Z Blogging Challenge; (5) Apples and lemons - they kept me going during the $4 a Day Food Challenge.

There’s been a bit of movement at Indiantown Marina over the past month. Folks have finished up their boat projects in the work yard, people have started to head south in search of tropical islands and (hopefully) warmer weather, while others have sold their boats and moved on to new adventures on land. It’s been sad to see people go, but I guess the good part about being stuck in Indiantown for the foreseeable future is that I’ll see many of them when they make their way back at the end of the season to put their boats back in storage.

Here's this month's recap in numbers:

  • 29 – The number of days in February. You’ve got to love a Leap Year.
  • $127.60 – My food budget for February as part of the “Eating On $4 A Day” challenge. You clever math people will have noted that it’s really eating on $4.40 a day (the average SNAP/Food Stamps benefit), but that doesn’t sound as catchy as $4 a day.
  • $77.07 – How much I spent on groceries during February. It’s not actually as good as it sounds. Check back next week for the scoop on how I did on the challenge overall. Spoiler alert – I failed.
  • $22.99 – How much our new stainless steel coffee press cost. You might remember from last month’s recap in numbers that I broke our old coffee press. A few folks suggested we go with the Aeropress instead of getting a new coffee press. While they do sound great for making individual shots of coffee (which you can turn into Americanos with some hot water), we really need something that can make coffee in volume (we drink a lot of the stuff), so we went with another coffee press. Someone recommended stainless steel which seemed like a good idea. Much harder to break than a glass one.
  • 2 – Number of blog followers who stopped by to introduce themselves and say hi while they were at Indiantown Marina. Keith and Nicki are checking out places to store their boat after they bring it down from Maine later this year. It was great to meet them and show them around the marina. I can’t believe how many people I’ve met through blogging and social media since we’ve been back in the States. You never know who you’ll meet next! Check out their blog at ‘Til the Butter Melts. It’s a cute expression which refers to getting far enough south to warm climates where the butter will melt.
  • 7 – Number of posts I’ve drafted as part of the “Blogging from A to Z” challenge, where you blog every day (except Sundays) during April. For those of you who have been with us for a while, you’ll recall that I participated in this last year, along with Jaye from Life Afloat. This year, there are some other folks who are thinking of joining in with us, including Stephanie from S/V Cambria, Samantha from Flying Pancakes and, our latest recruit, Melissa from Little Cunning Plan. I'm also hoping the Spunky Misfit Girl and S/V Sionna join in too. Who else have I forgotten? If you're taking part, leave a link to your blog in the comments so I can check in during the challenge. If you want to participate, it’s not too late to sign up. Check out the details here. Come on, join in the fun! I’ll reveal my theme for this year’s challenge towards the end of the month, but here’s a little hint – America’s favorite teenage girl detective will be investigating a new case. Some of you will know who I’m talking about.
  • 2 – Number of months that I filed our US taxes early. Yes, we’re getting a refund. A small one, but every penny counts. That’s about the only thing that would inspire me to overcome my natural love of procrastination and file our taxes early. I was so excited about getting money back this year, that I even tried to file our taxes online to expedite things. Big mistake. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to spend all that time filling out forms online only to find out that they have a coding mistake in one of the forms we need to file. That meant every time I hit the submit button, it came back with an error message. Grrr. I figure by the time they fix the problem with the form, April 15th will have already come and gone, so I did things the old fashioned way by mailing in paper forms. Next up – our New Zealand taxes. Dead simple compared to navigating the complexities of the US tax code.
  • 378 – The number of choices at the all you can eat Chinese buffet I went to on Valentine’s Day with some friends. Because nothing says Valentine’s Day better than eating way too much and wishing you had worn something with an elastic waistband. As George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

Here’s hoping all 29 days of your February were full of fun, happiness and a bit of overindulgence and that March brings you more of the same.

In case you missed them, here are some of our favorite posts from last month:

A Different Kind of Bathroom {Or Living on a Boat is Weird}
Monetizing Your Blog {Or Stop Sending Me Form Letters}
Life Is Short

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