Monday, May 24, 2010

Judgment Day

I asked Deus Ex Machina this morning what the definition of passive-aggressive is.

Last night, after everyone had gone to bed, and I was just surfing around, reading my favorite blogs and looking at the news, I came across this article about a very frugal young lady (she's nineteen), who had been entering 4-H contests since she was four years old and had been saving her winnings all of those years. She'd intended to pay for college, but her parents made an agreement with her, and she found herself with all of this money. When she pondered, aloud, what to do with the money, her father suggested she buy a house ... which she did. She's still living with her parents and earning $450 per month from rent for the house for which she paid cash and owns outright.

I think hers is a great story, and so I printed it off ... and I left the printed copy on the table so that other people who live in my house and might not be quite as frugal as she, might see the story and, maybe, take a lesson about what's possible if one is careful and thoughtful rather than wreckless and spontaneous.

When I was her age, I wish I'd had someone like her as an example. I wish I'd known about The Tightwad Gazette, too, because I could have used that advice. So, yes, leaving the article on the table is a not-so-subtle hint, but it's also a reminder to me about the kind of habits I wish to cultivate in myself.

I asked Deus Ex Machina if leaving the article on the table as a not-so-subtle hint was passive-aggressive behavior on my part. He said it wasn't.

I was concerned, though, because of a different incident.

By way of pre-explanation, it has been shown that people tend to most hate the characteristics we see in others that are most like the characteristics we hate in ourselves. That is, maybe I am passive-aggressive, which is why passive-aggressive people bother me so much.

What sparked my concern was having some dinner guests recently.

The fact that I'm a hardcore, staunch, and vocal locavore isn't a secret. I make no bones about how I feel about certain foods. In particular, soda is on my black list, along with any non-local meat (but especially pork and beef, which unless I know the farmer who raised the animal is almost assuredly from a CAFO - and I won't eat CAFO meat, and so, unless I know where it's from, I don't eat it), any out-of-season fruit that will grow in Maine, but which we find fresh, in the grocery, in December (and I won't buy strawberries, blueberries or apples, unless I know they're from Maine), and anything that has high fructose corn syrup or any sort of benzoate ... which pretty much cancels out any processed food.

I've developed quite a reputation for the foods I won't eat, for the places I won't shop, and for the appliances I won't use. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that I'm often ridiculed, often openly ... well, not openly, but rather passive-aggressively by people who feel that my philosophies are a wee-bit stringent and my stance on certain things is a little too rigid.

So, we had some dinner guests recently, and one of them was standing in the kitchen as I was preparing the main dish, which consisted of eggs from my chickens, the last of last year's garlic and sauteed greens from my garden, and rice. I was adding the cooked rice to the frying pan full of eggs and greens, and my guest said, "So, does rice grow in Maine?"

I had to pause for a second, and I looked up at this guest who was sporting as innocent a look as possible, but I knew that under that look was the "see, you're not so perfect" attitude that I know this person has, especially when it comes to believing that I have been caught with my philosophical pants down.

Never mind that the meal had local eggs, local greens, and a meat side dish - all of which were local and much of which was grown by me, but the fact that it had rice, which doesn't grow in Maine, made me hypocritical in my guest's eyes.

What bothers me most about the incident is that I've never claimed that we have a completely local diet. I have always been very up-front about the fact that we still eat bread, about the fact that we eat out a lot, about the fact that we're still (too) dependent on coffee, tea, and sugar. I didn't think I was coming across with a holier-than-thou attitude, but I guess I have been.

But, in my defense, the people who are quickest to point out where I'm failing in our quest for the perfectly sustainable lifestyle are those who have made no changes at all, or who believe change isn't necessary. I guess if I were living their life, but claiming to live the life I am living, and I got caught in a lie, then I would deserve it, but that's not the case. I really do use my clothesline - every time. We really do eat eggs from our backyard flock, and we really don't buy eggs from the grocery store - even when our flock isn't laying (we do without eggs during that time). I really did make my own laundry detergent, which I use. I really do make my own deodorant and haven't bought commercial deodorant in more than two years. We really do forage and eat the food we find. We really don't have cable. I really don't watch television (although I do watch Grey's Anatomy on DVD). I really don't shop at Wal*Mart.

Unfortunately, those who would judge me can only see the non-local food and the new things from Cabelas or the take-out leftovers (from the locally-owned restaurant, even if the food isn't locally sourced). Those people can not or will not see where I succeed, but only where I fail ... and that's a shame.

My guest didn't read the article about the frugal girl. If my guest were to read the article about that frugal girl who bought a house, I'm sure the response would be, "Yeah, but she lives with her parents, and they pay for all of the stuff she needs."

I would want to reply that's true, and the frugal girl is an adult now, but the bulk of her house-money was earned and saved when she was very young, but instead of buying a toy or new clothes or candy or ice cream or any other consumable, she saved her money, and now at the age of nineteen, she owns a house with no mortgage. I think that's pretty impressive.

I'd want to say that, but my guest would be too busy finding the tiny flaws to understand how amazing a story it is.

It's too convenient to look for the faults and seeming inconsistencies, and then dub all of the efforts void because of that one, little imperfection. I've been thinking about it all day, and it reminds of the admonition, "Don't point out the splinter in your neighbor's eye when you have a 2"x4" in your own."

My concern is, who has the splinter in this case, and who has the 2"x4"? Is it that I hate that passive-aggressive attitude, because I see a little of me in there? Or is it that I hate that passive-aggressive attitude, because I feel judged by someone who has no business judging me? And by saying that I feel judged by someone who has no business judging me, am I guilty of judging my guest, whom I have no business judging?

For lunch today, we had our first salad of the season from our garden. I've missed my homegrown salads ;).

We also had pan fried rice, eggs and greens ... again. And I'm still drinking green tea,too ... with sugar.

But, I swear, that tea and sugar are on the replace list, as soon as I find a replacement that's all local ... and I suppose rice will be added, too. Maybe we could have corn ... or potatoes ..., instead.


  1. I read that article, too. When I was growing up I saved EVERYTHING. I bought my first car. Then I worked for two years before going to college and managed to save ALOT. But then I spent it all on nothing. I always kick myself when I think about it, I could have had at least a down payment on a house. Grr. I was very thrilled for that girl, though.

    I don't know all the particulars with your guest, but that was pretty brazen.

    It's great to see I'm not the only non-cable freak. I haven't had cable for seven years and I really don't miss it.

  2. Gah! That would drive me crazy. I'd ask why you had such a nasty person as a guest and why you were going to the trouble to feed them, but I'm afraid that would come off as judgmental.

    BTW, have you heard of/considered the New Jersey tea plant? Obviously it tolerates the winters here in the mid-Atlantic; don't know if it would work for you in Maine. But it was the native alternative the colonists turned to when they decided to boycott imported tea. I have two plants just started this year. Too early to harvest anything yet, but I'll definitely try some when the plants are looking vigorous enough. There's also monardia/bee balm as an alternative tea.

  3. Wow - I have to admit I feel sorry for folks that can only see the short comings of others and when I recognize that behavior in myself I'm incredibly ashamed. Well, I have to say that I admire all you've accomplished and am very inspired by it. We're actually buying a freezer next month to store the homegrown chicken we raised ourselves (inspired by you) and to store the locally grown food we'll stock up on this summer and to store the 1/2 cow or pig we're planning on purchasing this summer from our local dairy - where we buy all of our dairy products and all of our meat. We are even considering switching our dogs over to a local raw diet. I have to admit you and your family are some of the folks in my life that have inspired me to make the changes we have and are making.

    Now if only I could get lettuce to grow.... sigh.....

  4. Alyse - The longer we go without cable, the more I hear of people cutting the cable, and what's better is that when they cut the cable, they talk about how they're getting outside to garden more. It's very cool ;). Suddenly all of those things I didn't have time to do, I can now do, because I'm not wasting time watching television ;).

    Kate! You're a life-saver! I hadn't heard about the New Jersey tea plant (ceanothus americanus), but it is now on my "to find" list, and according to this resource, it likes a bit of shade, which will make it perfect for the periphery of my "forest garden" :). Thanks for the recommendation! I love tea ;).

    Thanks, Hope :). I think it goes both ways, and I'd have never learned to knit (if you can call what I do "knitting" *grin*) if it hadn't been for you ;). As for lettuce, I don't plant the lettuce seeds. What I do is to prepare one of our raised beds (which means raking off the winter mulch), and then, I actually broadcast the seeds in that space, and lightly cover them with soil*. If you want really big, leafy plants, you'll have to do some serious thinning, but what we end up with is a whole 4'x4' bed of leaf lettuce. I just clip it as I need it at first (probably twice a week when the leaves get to be about 3" long), but about a week or so into June, I'm clipping lettuce almost every day, because it gets that out of control ... and then, we're giving it away in gallon-sized storage bags, because we have too much ;). In other words, what I've found works in my small space is not to pamper it too much. Just toss the seeds on the ground and let 'em do their thing ;).

    *I know ... all of the real gardeners out there are groaning, right? *grin*

  5. I'll have to try that next, Wendy - part of my problem is that my raised beds drainage is "too good", so the soil just can't retain the moisture needed to grow plants. Our plan is to take the bed down bit and try watering more often.

  6. Any method of gardening that reduces work is great. There is so much to do and lettuce should just take care of itself.

    Hope, it sounds like your raised bed soil might need a little more hummus to retain moisture. In the fall till in some leaves and mulch heavily with leaves or mulch hay and it should retain moisture better. You could buy peat moss but it is better to use what you have in your food shed. Mulching around your plants with leaves/ and mulch hay will help you to retain moisture as well. Grass clippings from mowing will work too.

  7. Fleecenik - that must be what I'm doing right, then - even without knowing it ;). When we prepare our raised beds for winter, we always heavily mulch them with leaves, and I use all of the leaves I can get my hands on around my perennials, too. I knew that the leaf mulch retained moisture for the perennials, but I didn't realize that by adding the leaves to the raised beds and mixing the partially composted leaves into the bed each spring, that I was increasing the moisture retention in the beds ;).

    People could write books on what I don't know about gardening ... oh, wait, they have ;). I should probably read a couple of the ones I own ;).

    Another thing I use as mulch is spent hay from the bunny hutches, but I do this intentionally, because I know that the bunny manure is good for the plants and adds nitrogen to the soil ... which is good, from what I understand (see above ;).

  8. Wendy, one of the things that we can't control is how other people see us. I empathize with these feelings. It's been a hard lesson for me, but I feel like I'm making some progress. Basically, I've had to ask myself if I'd rather hang out with people who pick out every flaw, or those who encourage me to live my dreams. And would I rather emphasize my own flaws or areas where I still need to grow, and feel bad about those, or would I rather focus on what brings me joy and on learning new things so that I can move forward towards my goals?

    I think you're doing amazing things! Don't worry about others' opinions, or even your own self-judging voice (we all have one :) - just keep on growing and learning and enjoying.


  9. How sad that a dinner guest would be so rude! I totally feel your frustration about how folks actively look for the holes in your plans and point out areas that you are still working on. That happens so often, like they don't want you to be successful at something you are passionate about. (I am using "you" in the broadest sense, here)

    As for the story about the gal who saved all that money with 4H... HOLY COW! I wish I would have been more like that at a young age. I am still paying for mistakes I made fresh out of high school, and get a little jealous when someone is THAT smart THAT young!

  10. Lots of herbs make wonderful teas - peppermint, raspberry leaf & berries, lemon balm, sage, chamomile.

    There are many people out there that would rather ridicule you for your beliefs than try to make changes that would benefit themselves and the world they live in. Rather than questioning if you are passive-agressive, take pity on them and hope that by your example they will learn. Meanwhile, enjoy your life knowing that you are doing what you want to do.

  11. Heck, why not try your hand at growing rice? Granted you may not get a lot--but how cool would that be? I mean MN has a lot of wild rice. I imagine the weather is pretty similar. Shoot just some googling has found a rice farm in Vermont!!

  12. You have every reason to celebrate the changes you've made, and being an inspiration showing others change is possible (and, frankly, necessary and GOOD). We've made changes in our own lives that others seem to be ready to take offense at...I don't know why, because we're NOT holier-than-thou about them, nor are we as far down the list of changes as we'd like to be (such as many of the ones you've made.) I love that you printed out that article...sometimes I think highschool counselors should be given them, and a good rethink about the direction they funnel kids into career-wise and monetarily (expectation-building in the wrong direction, etc, don't get me started). My grandparents were FRUGAL and I learned from their example even as my own parents did quite the opposite.

    Want to hear something along those lines? I was one of those kids who did save EVERY penny during childhood and had much more built up than the girl in the article did. I was saving for my life dream: a horse...a fixer-upper. My parents told me I had to save for one, and I did from the time I was old enough to pull weeds in the garden on up straight through high school. It all went into a joint account my parents opened when I handed them my money every time. At the end of high school, I wanted to use it for college. They had drained it all and there was nothing, and no accounting for it. Every penny, gone. I have no idea how much, but in the four digits.

    I've had some major ouches when it comes to losing money in the past, in strange ways such as those. But the lesson still stands...I'm always better off keeping to good habits, and trying to get better. There's no telling where I'd be if we hadn't learned these and adopted them.

    Some changes seem revolutionary to others, and sometimes seem just plain nuts. That's ok. You wouldn't believe the anger I've experienced doing some things differently from others, simply because they choose something different. An example is not working from sundown Friday night through Saturday sundown, nor making anyone else work, nor doing any commerce. For our family, it means turning down going any place where folks are spending money or serving food, which eliminates most social events, farmers markets, gettogethers, etc, until nightfall Saturday night. It's our own choice and we're quiet about it, but you wouldn't believe the folks who can't accept a simple raincheck, have to get down to brass tacks about WHY, and when they find out it's a private conviction of ours then they feel free to launch into an explanation of why we Jews are under a bondage of The Law (etc etc) and then try to argue it with us...all the while we simply just tried to give a rain check and avoid having to explain anything. Oh, the eye-rolling and whispering, or comparing us with other jews who don't practice the same thing.
    If folks are that willing to TRY to find something to get-all-up-in-the-business-about, other issues like food rights, simplifying, self sufficiency, and so on are all fair game as well.

    I've about decided we're just misfits who enjoy the company of other misfits and want to keep on building our Best Life and encouraging others to live theirs, woo!

    So...keep on doing what you're doing, with joy :) You're an inspiration, Wendy