Do it yourself

Temporary Fix

I forget now who it was, but someone I knew long ago had two TVs. One had no sound and one had no picture (this was in the olden days of CRT-style TVs.) They put one on top of the other, tuned them to the same channel, and had the full TV experience for a while instead of having to rush out and go into debt to buy a new TV.

To me, this is immensely smart. Certainly there comes a time when you need to buy a new (or new-to-you) whatever-it-is, but if there’s a temporary fix that prevents going into debt, why not?



Reinstall the Drivers

For a panicked moment I thought I would have to buy a new laptop. There was no audio, not on any page. I plugged in the headphones; still no audio.

I Googled “no audio on HP laptop.” Several sites told me to reinstall the audio drivers. One of them was detailed enough that I could easily do it. Voila! audio.

Something similar happened when the printer wouldn’t print. After quite a bit of research I read about reinstalling the printer drivers, and sure enough, it worked.


Time to Trade and Test Seeds

You don’t have to have a big yard to grow some of your food and herbs. Pots on the porch or balcony will do fine for parsley, oregano, onions, all those relatively small plants.

If you do have room for a full garden, there are ways to do it less expensively. Maybe there’s a gardeners’ group in your area where people trade their extra seeds, and you won’t have to buy so many.

The frugal gardener knows that last year’s seeds are still good this year if they have been stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Indeed, mine were just in the cupboard, and they stayed good until the next year.

To test them just before planting time, lay ten seeds in between two paper towels and keep them moist. If at least seven of the ten sprout, the seeds are good. In 2013, I planted 2012’s onion seeds and they grew nicely.

You can make compost in a covered five gallon bucket. I’ve done it. Start with a layer of dirt, such as topsoil or garden dirt. Add a layer of kitchen scraps, stir it into the dirt and get the whole thing wet. Stir it every day and keep it damp but not soggy. Add more scraps and more dirt as the scraps become available. Stop adding scraps while there’s still room to stir the compost. You do have to keep stirring it daily even once it’s full. Over time, the scraps will break down into nutritious compost. You can use raw vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, crushed and crumbled eggshells, and dried grass clippings and leaves. Don’t use bones, meat, grease, or cooked foods.



Save on Sprouts

You can make sprouts at home for a fraction of what they cost at the store. You need the seeds of whatever you want to sprout, a glass jar, cheesecloth, and water. Put a teaspoon of seeds in a small glass jar. Stretch cheesecloth over the top and secure it with a rubber band. Add water and soak the seeds for twelve hours. Pour off the water and set the jar on a sunny windowsill. Rinse and drain every day. When you have a jar full of sprouts, store in the refrigerator.

Directions for sprouting are widely offered on the Internet, including at Alfalfa sprouts are an old standby. I’ve also seen broccoli, onion, and kale sprouts.


For more ways to save, see my book Frugal Living for the 21st Century

Plenty of Fish



No algorithm in its right mind would have matched my late husband and I. On the metrics they use, we were irrelevant to each other. On the metrics that can’t be measured in a questionnaire, we were a perfect match. We met pre-internet, back in the olden days.

Internet dating is becoming the norm. You can pay a monthly fee for the big sites that use computer constructs to find people who will be well suited to you. And maybe they will. On the other hand, for frugal dating, there’s a good, free, site called POF tied for second place in Consumer Reports’ survey.

As with any site, you have to use discernment. Meet at a neutral location such as a coffee shop for the first date. Maybe the second, too, if you feel uncertain. Don’t hesitate to decline a date if you’re uneasy about the person.

You have to use caution on any site, and the frugal path is the free sites.

A Two-Pronged Approach to Spending Less

One way to think about cutting costs is to come at it from both ends. What do I feel I absolutely must spend money on? And on the other hand, what are the obvious extravagances I have no difficulty in identifying and letting go of?

Perhaps one insists on having a home, not living on the street. That’s a good baseline for the housing part of the budget. On the other hand, perhaps one could cross expensive artwork for decorating that home off the list of future expenditures. That’s fairly obvious too.

Maybe have to have a vehicle to get around in a normal fashion, so I spend on that.  On the other end of the spectrum, maybe I don’t need to spend money having an optional moonroof installed on my vehicle.

These are wide extremes. As I’ve worked through the process of cutting expenses, I’ve gradually come closer and closer to the middle balance in all budget categories.


Writers: Seeking Certainty


Seeking Certainty

Fiction writing is an awkward compendium of art and craft, and one with very few absolutes. A physicist can drop something off a roof and know with certainty what gravity will cause it to do under all conditions. A writer has dozens of rules, conventions, alternatives, options, and style choices.

Having written, we then hear from critiquers, readers, editors, and publishers that the work is, or isn’t, cohesive, engaging, properly punctuated, correctly formatted, in the currently preferred style and point of view . . . on and on.

We don’t have one Delphic Oracle to pronounce definitively that this way of phrasing the sentence or describing the scene is absolutely correct and that way is definitely incorrect. We lack certainty.

Humans tend to prefer certainty. Consequently, when a respected person says something, we are likely to clutch it like a shipwreck survivor grabbing a passing flotation device. Someone says not to use adverbs as a substitute for strong verbs. Lacking certainty as to what exactly “strong verbs” would be in any specific situation, we remember and repeat, “Don’t use adverbs.”

Someone says never to repeat words within a few lines of each other. So we make pretzels of ourselves trying to find another word for something that doesn’t really have on-point synonyms. If a kitchen sink is key to a scene, once we’ve called it the sink, and perhaps the basin, do we then reach for awkward alternatives like tub, leaving the reader wondering how we suddenly moved from the kitchen to the bathroom? Or, do we use common sense and just call it a sink again.

As a reader, I never noticed repeated words until writers groups made an issue of them. I’m not saying to ignore repeated words. I’m saying let’s not go nuts about it. What matters is conveying the meaning and telling the story.

Someone says semi-colons are pretentious in fiction and suddenly we’re writing comma splices or cutting apart clauses that make more sense together. The purpose of a semi-colon is to join two clauses that could be separate sentences, but are so closely related they work better in the same sentence together. There’s nothing wrong with using punctuation marks in the manner they are intended.

Some publishers don’t accept manuscripts written in the omniscient point of view. That’s useful information for a writer who hopes to submit to those publishers. It’s not a reason to tell all writers that their omniscient writing is wrong. Sure, let them know it’s out of fashion, but if they are self-published or submitting to a more open-minded publisher, and want to take a chance, that’s their choice.

Many current, traditionally published, widely read novels are written in the omniscient point of view. Some of the works of Alexander McCall Smith, Nevada Barr, Phillip Pullman, and Terry Pratchett are examples.

Any certainty we may achieve is tenuous at best, full of exceptions, loaded with nuance, and constantly changing. The challenge is to avoid locking our writing into artificially produced straight jackets in the struggle to cope with a chronic lack of certainty.




Originally published in the blog of the Florida Writers Association