Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Special Delivery

Mug cakes aren't the only food category where Cynthia and I arrived late to the party. A much more basic topic hiding in plain view has until recently eluded us for years.

Our daughter's home in New Jersey is in that raising small children mode with which we're all familiar. There never seems to be enough time and everyone's always tired. So when we're there visiting the drawer with menus from local eateries is often opened, a phone call is made, and shortly thereafter the doorbell's ring announces that dinner has arrived via delivery.

We came to Cuenca in 2010 before the appearance of this home delivery idea. And truthfully the food scene was so abysmal then there wasn't anything you would have wanted to order anyway. Fast forward to today when a remarkable explosion of culinary choice has blossomed.

We've seen the motorcycles with boxes on the back for making deliveries. We've even been in restaurants and seen boxes of pizzas going out the door. But somehow those observations never translated into our participation. I often say there's a fine line between being in a groove and being in a rut. Perhaps, as with the story awhile back about the gas guy, we had fallen into the latter category.

About six months ago, after 6 1/2 years, we finally took the plunge and ordered a to-go pizza and Caesar salad from one of our favorite Italian eateries. As expected the delivery guy couldn't find our building (the number is out of synch and no one seems to be able to find it the first time) and I had to walk down four flights of steps to complete the transaction. But the food was wonderful and we're sitting at our table asking, "Exactly why have we not done this before? The delivery fee is about the same as the tip we would leave and we didn't have to go to and from the restaurant, wait for the order, wait for the bill, wait for the change--this needs to happen more often!!"

And indeed it has. In addition to the pizza place, a new gringa-run food delivery business called Grits Catering has quickly become an integral part of our weekly meal planning. Owner Jennifer Martin is cranking out some damned tasty food and we've been elated to wash a couple of plates, knives, and forks after a delicious meal instead of facing those plus a kitchen of dirty cutting boards, utensils, pots, and pans to clean up.

We've enjoyed shrimp and grits (What??), gourmet meatloaf and au gratin potatoes, barbeque chicken salad, shrimp po' boys. I'm in fact writing this blog right now while we're waiting for delivery of short ribs and mushroom risotto, and I can't wait to dig in!

Between inexpensive local almuerzos and meal delivery our grocery bill and kitchen cleanup time have both been slashed. OK, we're late to the party but the Staton's say:

Party on!!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Microwave Miracles

Have you ever heard of a mug cake? If so, why the hell haven't you told me about it? We were having dinner at a couple's home last week when the hostess said something about an easy dessert.

"What did you say?" I asked. "A mud cake?"

"No," she replied. "A mug cake."

"What does that even mean?"

"You put the ingredients in a mug, stick it in the microwave for like a minute, and you've got a small cake."

"Shut the _____ up."

I came home a little dubious, but curious enough to Google it. Sure enough, almost 8 million results appeared. Wow.

We enjoy delicious baked goods but rarely make them for a number of reasons. One, our oven sucks. It's the only one that would fit in the opening in our kitchen when we moved in and the temperature, which refuses to exceed 400 degrees, is reliably unreliable.

Second, baking at high altitude is notoriously tricky. And most importantly, what are two people going to do with a whole pie or cake? (Cookies, most likely because of their smaller individual size, avoid that question and magically disappear.)

So this mug cake idea eliminated a lot of problems and potentially opened up a whole new world of possibilities. But how could a cake that cooks in one minute be any good?

Only one way to find out. I saw a recipe for a molten chocolate cake and knowing that we have all the ingredients looked no further. But I was a bit flummoxed when it said to put everything in a 2 cup capacity mug. They make coffee cups that big?? Who knew?

I used an appropriately sized bowl and saw that this dessert was for sure going to be a "splitter." I thought if people are routinely eating this much cake all by themselves I instantly understand the U.S. obesity problem much more clearly.

Less than 5 minutes after I started--VOILA--this bad boy emerged from the microwave.


And when I dished it up---oh, my goodness!


Moist and delicious, my friends, this is nothing short of a miracle. I quickly went back to the computer and on deck for the coming week are a blueberry muffin with strudel topping and a yummy-sounding carrot cake.

Somebody stop me!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Goldilocks People


Happy Fall, y'all. With the official changing of the season many of you are probably looking forward to putting away the shorts and tee shirts in favor of jackets and sweaters. The leaves will be turning soon and it will be great to say bye-bye to summer heat and be outside enjoying that crisp autumn air.

Here in Cuenca we're looking forward to---tomorrow. Which will be about the same as today. In the "Land of Eternal Spring" weather fluctuations are pretty much confined to minor changes in temperature and whether or not it's going to rain.

We're now emerging from our "winter" season which in truth lasted maybe two weeks. Fourteen days of constantly chilly, overcast weather felt pretty miserable as temps inside our apartment ranged from the mid-60's to the high 50's. Again, that's inside our home!

It's Groundhog Day every time I open my closet. Twelve months a year I pick from the same clothes, which are mainly long sleeved shirts and jeans. I have more pairs of jeans than I do slacks--never saw that one coming. I honestly get tired of wearing them so much and welcome every opportunity to "dress up" when we visit friends or go out to eat. Packing for our recent beach trip took like five minutes since I have so few warm weather choices. My one heavy coat hangs in one of our daughter's closets in New Jersey because I never need it here.


Cynthia and I replace a few clothing items each time we go to the States. When we're in Phoenix next month a trip to a premium outlet mall is already planned. Usually the discarded clothes (Staton rule: get rid of at least as many as you add) we give to our maid aren't worn out--we're just sick of looking at them!

While staring at the exact same wardrobe every morning admittedly gets a bit monotonous, I'm not complaining. Because of our daughter's health crisis last year Cynthia and I were in the U.S. for much of the summer and enough of the winter to confirm our disdain for temperature extremes. Cuenca's mild climate was an important reason we moved here, and over the past 7+ years we've become total Goldilocks people--not too hot, not too cold--just right!







Sunday, September 17, 2017

Get Out of Town!

What do you do when you've basically been in exile for two months with a messed up face and blot clot issues? Well, if you're the Staton's you get the heck out of town and head to the beach!


I found what appeared to be a great Airbnb rental right on the Pacific, invited one of our favorite couples to come along, and off we all went.

The good news--the place where we were staying was just right--private and oceanfront. Here are a few pics.

Covered seating area right outside.


Big hot tub with the ocean just beyond our seawall (couldn't resist the overdone foot pic).


Grill for fresh fish, shrimp, and lobster.


And the ugliest dog I think I've ever seen.


When I said private, I meant it.


The bad news--one of our motivations was to enjoy sunshine that has been sorely lacking here. Over the course of five days we experienced a total of about thirty minutes of patchy blue sky. Sigh-----.

We went to a local fish market to get that grill fired up. Hello, dinner. These guys cost $3 apiece.


Fun in the sun wasn't happening but that didn't dampen our spirits. One day we jumped in the car and headed up the coast to Playa Los Frailes, one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. Located within Machalilla National Park, it's very secluded (the number of visitors is limited so there's never a crowd) and has a lovely horseshoe shape.



Another day our friends took us to a wacky hotel/restaurant/museum called Hosteria Farallon Dillon. The owner and his wife have created a very unique property perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We had a beer, then toured the museum filled with artifacts collected from a Spanish shipwreck he discovered and lots of other treasures from his worldwide travels.



We otherwise spent our days walking the beach, playing cards, and enjoying cocktails. Not many shells to be found but lots of amazingly colored rocks.


Every evening involved seafood, wine, and extended visits to the hot tub. After that and the hypnotic sound of crashing waves we slept the best in a l-o-n-g time. Now we're back in Cuenca with improved health and renewed energy. Even without sunshine, getting away was exactly what we both needed.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

In the News!

Cynthia and I are honored to be featured in this article today by author and financial planner Ben Carlson:

An Alternative Solution to the Retirement Crisis

Posted September 2, 2017 by Ben Carlson

After writing about some of the reasons for the potential retirement crisis a few weeks ago I gave the standard prescription for the solution for most retirees — a combination of working longer, living on less, and reducing expectations for their retirement dreams.

Then I received an email from two of my retired readers, Edd and Cynthia, who took a different approach — they retired abroad. Like many others, they had a difficult time following the financial crisis with both work and their finances so they got creative with their retirement solution and moved to Ecuador where the cost of living is much lower.

People are constantly trying to emulate world class investors but I think most would be better served looking up to normal people who have been able to find a happy, successful retirement.

What follows is Edd and Cynthia’s story as well as a short Q&A we had through email about their experience. Retiring abroad won’t be for everyone but this is a cool story about normal people getting creative to solve a financial problem and retire on their own terms.

Here’s Edd and Cynthia:

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As 2008 began we were on a roll. Edd had recently been honored as “National Salesperson of the Year” by his company and Cynthia was selling a high-end condo development on the shores of Lake Las Vegas. We earned great incomes and lived in a beautiful home. Our investment strategy looked solid and the enjoyable retirement we had envisioned for so long was only a few years away.

Six months later our world turned upside down as we were engulfed by “The Economic Tsunami of 2008.” Both jobs vanished and the value of our investments was shrinking by the day. We desperately sought new employment but the job market had also disappeared, especially for middle-aged sales professionals seeking high compensation.

As the months dragged by and our financial situation became more desperate we realized that the conventional wisdom we had always followed–hanging in there, staying the course–was no longer serving us. A radical solution was needed. Now.

We decided that preserving our remaining assets, retiring early and relocating somewhere overseas with a lower cost of living was our best bet. But to make such an extreme move a reduced budget wasn’t enough. Our wish list also included a temperate climate, excellent health care, proximity to our family in the U.S., plus cultural amenities and modern conveniences.

Internet research turned up a location that seemed to check all our boxes. It was a small city we’d never heard of in a country we knew next to nothing about–Cuenca, Ecuador.

We scheduled an investigative trip in July of 2009, loved everything we experienced, and immediately made plans to move to Cuenca the following May. Preparations were going smoothly until January when we were rocked with another setback–Cynthia was diagnosed with breast cancer.

By now we were fully committed to this relocation and there was no turning back. Surgery was immediately performed followed by radiation therapy specifically designed to support our schedule. Shortly after her final treatment we were on the plane to Ecuador.

Flash forward seven years later. Cynthia’s cancer-free and against overwhelming odds we’ve never been happier. We live in a beautiful 3000 square foot two-story penthouse apartment with 270 degree views of the surrounding Andes mountains. The weather is spring-like year round, and we’re only hours away from our kids and grandkids.

Our budget includes a housekeeper, dining out 4-5 times a week, gym and yoga studio memberships, fresh flowers, mani/pedi’s, plus national health insurance (100% coverage with $0 deductibles).

And how much is that budget? Less than $2000/month.

For folks in their 50’s and 60’s who, like us, suffered a major financial setback, or who for whatever reason just haven’t saved enough, the standard advice to work longer, save more, and after doing all that accept a meager retirement is, well, not acceptable. Moving abroad as we did provides the opportunity for a retirement lifestyle that can greatly exceed expectations with zero stress and 100% freedom.

PS. As a finance guy you’ll be interested to know part of our capital is invested in one year, government-insured CD’s that earn 10% interest.
*******

What are some of the biggest drawbacks of retiring outside of the country?

1)The psychological distress of being apart from family and friends, especially if grandchildren are part of the picture. This can be alleviated by an adequate travel budget for regular trips back home. 2) Adapting to a different language and culture. Some new expats have the mistaken expectation that moving abroad is simply a cheaper version of life in the U.S.

How difficult was the transition from a paperwork perspective?

Shifting everything online involving paperwork in your home country makes life abroad much easier. Banks, credit card and investment companies, and other ongoing bills you may have will most likely offer this option. For the rare situation when you would need to receive mail, many expats maintain an address of record with a family member or use a service like US Global Mail. Since paperwork in foreign countries is often extensive and confusing, we highly recommend paying qualified attorneys for their professional guidance with legal transactions, including property purchases and visa matters. We have found legal fees abroad to be generally much less expensive than in the U.S.

What’s something most people wouldn’t consider when making this type of move?

Many people our age move abroad primarily to enjoy a better quality of life with a lower cost of living. The surprising discovery your new relaxed lifestyle reveals is how debilitating the stress level was that you unknowingly carried around for years. It really is a silent killer. So without sounding dramatic, for someone facing retirement who is financially under-prepared for whatever reason, this “type of move” where the cost of living is now affordable could add many stress-free years to one’s life. Since retiring to Ecuador this has certainly been true for us.

How long did the planning process take to make it happen?

Of course, there’s no standard answer here. Our life was fairly complicated, so it took us about a year to unravel everything and make the move. We discovered Cuenca online in May of 2009, traveled here for our investigative trip in July, and arrived as new residents May of the following year. Even though this seemed like plenty of time to prepare, some last-minute obstacles caused a bit of scrambling at the end.

Thinking about any other locations or are you happy where you are?

After 7+ years here the subject of “what’s next?” has recently been broached, but honestly at this point in time there’s no itch to scratch. All the attributes that initially drew us here are still in place, and Cuenca just keeps getting better and better.

What are the biggest financial hurdles to pulling this off?

Our biggest hurdle was summoning the courage to abandon the retirement plans we’d nurtured for years and head off on a radically new path. Once that decision was made there was no looking back. We arrived in Cuenca intending not just to “live” but to create a fulfilling life, and to make this new direction work at the highest possible level. And it has. We also had to overcome the hurdle of our own skepticism that a satisfactory retirement financed by Social Security income was doable. On our investigative trip we experienced firsthand a truth that our subsequent residence has confirmed–moving abroad offers an affordable lifestyle that exceeds expectations.

*******



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On the Mend

Abundant appreciation to the many kind friends who reached out to us during Cynthia's recent health scare. I wanted to update everyone that she is doing great. We normally think twice before taking an ibuprofen tablet so it's been weird for her to be on a schedule for multiple medications each day. The good news is she has had no adverse reaction to any of them and within a few weeks she'll only need the anticoagulant once a day.

Throughout this whole ordeal a nagging problem has been a pain in her side. It was discovered through a more specialized examination of the CT scan that when she lost consciousness and fell she fractured a rib! Good grief. I suffered a similar injury playing football and know there's nothing you can really do except take pain medication and let your body do its thing regarding healing. Without complete range of motion she's not yet back to full strength but is definitely on the mend.

A number of you have inquired how my face turned out. The joke around here is that if Cynthia's problem had occurred a couple of weeks earlier they would have immediately put me on a gurney when we showed up in the emergency room. "Oh my god, this gringo set his face on fire!!"

Honestly I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. My skin looks so pink and fresh with next to no blotches or discoloration, even on top of my head. Appearance aside, it feels fantastic to know that at least from the neck up I have zero potential skin cancer lurking. I'll post a pic of our smiling faces soon.

So the mood is upbeat in Casa Staton. Between the two of us it's been a rough couple of months but we've both overcome our challenges and are excited about the future!

Thanks again for the remarkable support you have given. Our hearts are filled with gratitude.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Believe in Miracles

It's amazing how life can sometimes change in the blink of an eye. My last post described a lovely walk through the neighborhood. Two days later all hell broke loose.

Cynthia was experiencing shortness of breath on Tuesday but we didn't think much about it because she had had a couple of similar episodes since we returned to Ecuador in July. We figured probably more altitude adjustment. After she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and lost consciousness we were in the emergency room at the IESS (Ecuador's national health care system) hospital first thing Wednesday morning.

After a l-o-n-g day and many tests an echocardiogram found a blood clot in the right side of her heart. A CAT scan found another on the left side. The official term for this condition is bilateral pulmonary embolism. Then an ultrasound of the leg where she had previously had a clot nine years ago revealed a third in her groin. The level of apprehension and stress we felt were beyond description.

Our dear friend and personal physician Dr. Pablo Parra quickly took charge of her care. She was immediately given anticoagulant injections, oxygen, and pain meds. Because of all the monitoring and medications being administered she was placed in a private room--a luxury since patients in IESS are normally in triples.

There has been concern recently in the expat community about IESS. I can tell you Cynthia received world class treatment that greatly contributed to saving her life.

I'm thrilled to report that after a week of excellent care Cynthia is doing great and was discharged this afternoon. She has now switched to oral anticoagulant medication for the next six months or more. There was no damage to her heart and she'll be able to resume normal activities as her strength improves in the coming days.

This whole episode is really a miracle and we feel so blessed considering the circumstances. We will be eternally grateful for the kind and professional care she received.

Please send healing thoughts and prayers her way as Cynthia continues to recover from this terrifying episode.