Sunday, December 27, 2009

Time Versus Money

It was an interesting holiday season this year.

For whatever reason, I was too busy or too focused on other things to realize how close we were to "the" day until it was only a few weeks away. A lot has happened over the past twelve months. The world has contracted on itself, almost perceptively, and in a lot of ways, I feel like many of us thrivalists and survivalists and doomers are sort of holding our breath, waiting for that proverbial hammer to fall.

This is the end of the world as we know it ... right? All of the signs are there, the economy is buckling (despite reports to the contrary regarding a recovery), oil production is diminishing, crops are failing ... all of the predictions of a catastrophic end are coming true.

And then, there's been the weather, which has just been really weird, especially this winter. I mean, I'm sitting here, it's December 27, and the temperature outside was 50° today. It's raining. Some of you are thinking, big deal, but I live in Maine, and it's supposed to be cold right now. Since it hasn't been cold (just for reference, this is our normal spring weather), it just never felt like we were getting close to Christmas. In fact, I clipped lettuce from my unprotected lettuce bed for Thanksgiving dinner, which just doesn't happen in Maine. All of my garden beds should have been under a 4" deep layer of mulch by the end of October, and under a 12" layer of snow by Christmas.

Plus, there's a local farm that is offering a winter farmer's market at their farm store. I can get fresh, local vegetables, now, in December, in Maine. Last time I was there, at the beginning of December, they had tomatoes. Tomatoes!

All of which made thinking about the holidays a little difficult, and as a result, at the beginning of December, I hadn't decided what I wanted to do with regard to what I wanted to give to my family members, and it was getting too late to make things for everyone.

In a perfect world, I make gifts for all of the people on my list. The gifts are specific to the person and planned out well a head of time. Like, last year, I decided I wanted to make a lap quilt for Deus Ex Machina's grandmother. I made it "for" her, with her in mind as I was cutting and fitting the pieces together. In fact, the fabric was chosen because it was her favorite color. I was very proud of my quilt, which included my very first attempt at making an actual quilt block. I used the North Star design, because I like it, and it wasn't too difficult to understand.

I also made a bunch of games for Deus Ex Machina's nephews and gave reversed applique t-shirts to his sister and brother-in-law.

I started thinking about what I wanted to give in October, and I started making gifts before Thanksgiving. By Christmas, I'd completed everything I'd planned to make, including pajama pants for Deus Ex Machina and the girls.

This year, though, I lost time, and I realized that we can have one or the other. In our society, in life in general even, we either have time or money. This year, I had only a little of both, and I was able to make some things I'd wanted to make (like the knitting needle holder for Grandma K and a pair of PJ pants for Deus Ex Machina :), but more of the things I gifted this year were bought than were made.

I don't mind, so much, buying things, but I rather prefer to make them, and frankly, I rather prefer receiving handmade gifts, because I know that the person who gave me the item really spent time thinking about what she wanted to give. It wasn't simply a matter of random selection at the store, which isn't to say that I believe all store-bought gifts are randomly selected (like the Merino wool Ragg socks Deus Ex Machina gave me, because he knows they are my favorite socks), but I just think that something handmade took a great deal more time and energy and thought to create than an item that was picked up on a last minute shopping spree on the last Saturday before Christmas.

The most interesting lesson from the holiday, for me, centers on the realization of what the phrase "time is money" means. We all know that it means our time is worth some arbitrary monetary value we have set on it, but it's really more than that, for me, now. It also explains how we got to where we are in the country.

I'm reading the Little House on the Prairie series now. I know I seem a little old to be reading these books for the first time, but what's good about having waited until now is the mature eye I can give to the story I'm reading. What I see are all of the little cost-saving measures Laura's family takes, how they make most of what they need from materials that are readily available in their local area - like the shelf that Pa makes for Ma's figurine.

And the figurine, too. It's a purposeless, frivilous item for which Pa spends countless hours carving an intricately ornate wooden shelf, and what I realized was that, even a lack of money did not prevent them from having beautiful things.

What Pa had, though, was time. Time to carve the wood into lots of little leaves and stars.

They had time to butcher the pig and salt it and hang it in the attic for the winter, and time to do all of the things they needed to do for sustenance through the long winter in the Big Woods.

When we, as a culture, gave up our subsistence lives and embraced industrial society in an attempt to become richer, we sold our time. We sold the one thing that would allow us to live richer, fuller lives so that we could have cash.

That fact was made crystal clear to me this year, as I rushed about in the last week before Christmas trying to be sure that I had a gift for everyone on my list. In our society we either have time or money. Rarely do we have both, and the way things are going, we may find that we have neither.


  1. Great Post! I was able to make most of my gifts this year. However, I attribute a big reason for reaching this goal being the fact that my husband had our car during the week and therefore, I had no transportation.

    One would think that this would have been limiting. But I found that I had to use what I had on hand. There was a reason I kept a trunk full of fabric scraps. I was given the gift of time. And because we could not get anywhere to spend money on stuff, I had to be more resourceful.

    I found that our days soon filled with small crafts for the kids to do. Time for me to spend at my sewing machine. Days with knitting needles whipping up quick projects.

    Several packages that I sent out contained only home made things. I had a blast making it all and I was fortunate to save some money as well.

  2. Great post! Everyone in my family got at least one handmade gift. They weren't all hits--apparently my brother's dog liked the knitted ball I made for his son better than his son did. Ha ha!

    I was caught off guard a bit too by time. But I learned my lesson: 1. can MORE salsa in the fall (everyone loved it!) and 2. start the knitting/sewing in October.