Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Accomplishing Goals

In my dance mom post the other day, I forgot to talk about my success.

At the beginning of the year, I resolved to not purchase bottled water.  I already don't/didn't buy bottled water, for the most part, but sometimes it's just such an easy thing to do - you know, purchase water in a plastic bottle when we're out and about at functions like dance competitions.  The girls have to stay hydrated, after all, and the dry air in those auditoriums is migraine-inducing for Deus Ex Machina.   

Fact is that it's a costly convenience - even more costly than we allow ourselves to consider.

I am very pleased to note that we did not purchase any bottled water at this recent competition.  It was available, of course (at $3/bottle from a vending machine ... or at the store a block from the venue). 

Instead, I had brought with me one of my canning-jar to-go cups.  It's just a reused canning jar with a reused black plastic lid with a hole drilled in it (the lid was from a glass salad dressing jar - and we saved the jars, too) and a reusable straw (one of those that comes with the plastic reusable drinking cups that are all the rage these days - but which don't last as long as the straws last). 

I know - still a lot of plastic, but all of it, we reuse, which means we don't buy more.

Home-brewed iced tea - to go

Anyway, I had it with me, and then, I found that rare treat - a water fountain (also called a "bubbler"), and I just refilled it when we wanted water. 

It was free ... and probably the same kind of water that's in those expensive plastic bottles.

Most of us uber frugalistas understand that our saving $$ is also saving the planet.  Win/win.  Right? 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Waiting for the Perfect Match

We live in an instant-gratification culture.  We want what we see, and we want it now.  It's that attitude that has fueled the Rent-A-Center market of furniture acquisition ... and so many other consumer-centric aspects of our culture.

In fact, it's exactly that attitude that has fueled this Walmart mentality we all have, because Walt's initial mission was to ensure that everyone could afford the same stuff.  It's the attitude that has cultivated our entitlement culture, our belief that we, not only, need to be able to get what we want when we want it, but that we deserve it.

I had a conversation with my sister a couple of weeks ago.  We were discussing our household furnishings.  Many years ago, she and her husband were a young, newly married, military couple with no household goods.  Apparently, there's a whole industry in military towns for just the purpose of helping these families furnish their new apartments.  Back in those days (the late 80s), for $1200 (with credit available, of course), one can get an entire household of *new* furniture.  Sounds like a good deal, until one sees the quality of the furniture.  Still.

When Deus Ex Machina and I got our first apartment, we had a few things - some bookshelves and electronics, and a couch my parents gave us.  We bought an air mattress, which we used for our bed for six months, or so, and then, we bought a bed from a second-hand furniture store (also very prevalent in those military towns). 

When we bought our house, we discovered that we didn't have enough furniture to fill the space, and so we started finding odds and ends pieces.  We bought a table from Goodwill.  It was ugly, and I never liked it.  The chairs were crappy, pasted together pieces that fell apart (with one even breaking when a friend sat in it!).  We needed a bed for the kids, and we ended up purchasing a second-hand bunkbed - a double bed on bottom and a twin bed on top - when our neighbors offered it to us in advance of their move.  It sounded like a good idea, but it didn't fit in our space.  A friend gave us her beat-up sectional couch when she was moving out West.  Everyone's old dressers ended up in our house. 

In the early days, as we furnished our new home, too much money went to the purchase of things we needed right then that were poor quality and not very attractive (money, ultimately, wasted), and we also ended up with way too many pieces of other people's cast-offs that didn't match anything else we had. 

My sister and I had a good laugh about the many ways we have furnished our homes over the years.  I told her that my design scheme was shabby-shabby in a play on the popular Shabby Chic style, but my style isn't really style at all.  It's an eclectic combining of pieces that were not found or purchased with an eye for what would work in our space, but rather selected on the fly, because we needed something right then to fill an empty space.

For the past several years, we've had to live in the mess we created.  It was at that time that we started fixing the roof, and we had to figure out how to fit a whole room's worth of furniture (and a whole closet-full of stuff we were "storing") into the other rooms of our house - rooms that were already completely furnished.   

At first, there was barely even room to move, and we still have stuff piled into corners and stacked to the ceilings in some places.

But the overall result has actually been rather positive, because we are learning how to pare things down to what we need, to what is useful to us, and to what works in the space we have.

And I'm starting to envision what will actually work better and make the best use of our space.

The ideal would be if I could afford to commission someone to come into my house and design and craft furniture tailored to our space.  See, our house is non-conforming.  What that means is that nothing is standard.  The rooms are long and narrow or there are unusual archways or the doors are placed in strange configurations.  I know a little about the history of my house, and, yeah, it actually was a thrown-together as it looks on close inspection. 

But it's fun, and it's eclectic.  We actually had a friend, who knows us to be quirky and non-conforming individuals, who asked us if we built our house ourselves.  It was meant as a compliment. 

Because our house is so unique, the art of finding furniture for it, has actually become an art, and it requires a vast amount of patience and fore-thought.

After we moved our living room/dining room around and tiled what had been a carpeted floor, I started looking for more seating options for our living room.  The problem is that it is a very narrow room.  In fact, our couch is a bit too wide for the space, but at the moment, it's what we have, and we'll keep it.

Because the room is so narrow, there isn't a lot of room for additional chairs, and I knew that it would require something specific.   I knew that it needed to have clean lines, and that it should probably have legs rather than a solid base.  After looking for months at different chair designs, I finally settled on the winged-back chair design.

And, then, I started looking.  A new, leather one (my preference) would have cost in the neighborhood of $3000.  I couldn't imagine spending that much money on a piece of furniture.  Who does that? 

I waited and watched.

Finally, someone had one for sale on a FB yard sale site.  She wanted $30 for it. 

This chair fits perfectly in my space. 

And there was an added bonus to getting this chair - in order to make it really fit, I had to move a bookshelf that was across from the couch.  I've been planning to do it for a while, but just hadn't gotten around to doing it.  Bringing the chair into the house required me to take action on my plan. 

Moving the bookshelf into the office/bedroom helped to organize and clean up the office, AND it made the living room appear less cluttered. 

I really like the new chair, but what I like even more is that I took my time finding exactly (almost exactly) what I wanted, rather than feeling like I needed to get it NOW.  There's something to be said for patience.  Apparently, it's a virtue, but it also feels good to know I waited for something I wanted, rather than impulsively purchasing the first thing that came available. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Confession - I am a Dance Mom

There, I said it.  It's out. 

Of course, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a secret, especially not after my very long-winded discussion of our trip to Las Vegas for a dance competition (where we actually met and competed against some of the "real" Dance Moms cast members).

My daughters have been dancing most of their lives.  Big Little Sister signed up for her first dance class on September 11, 2001 (yep, that day).  She joined the Competition Dance Team four years later, and it didn't take long for her sisters to follow her lead.  For several years, I had three dancers on the Team.  Any time anyone wanted to complain about the fees for their one dancer, I gave them the stink eye.  

Sometimes I feel a little disingenuous dispensing advice about being frugal and self-sufficient when I realize how much money we spend allowing our daughters to continue fueling their passion for dance.  It's one of those things we started, though, before I became as interested in simple living as we have become, and, at least in the beginning, frugal living is my passion, not theirs (as dance is their passion, not mine).  We decided that we needed to figure out how to live with both of these, almost contradictory, lifestyle choices.

It's not always easy, honestly.  Costumes, tights, leotards, shoes, make-up, hair supplies ... in endless, expensive rotation.  With three dancers, it can feel like we hemorrhage a small fortune every year, and it's any wonder that we manage to keep our heads above the red line. 

We've managed to stay pretty frugal in a lot of ways with regard to our daughters' dancing.  I made  garment bags for them instead of purchasing expensive luggage (like these that are a common sight at most competitions).  We found a tri-pod clothing rack that we purchased second-hand for $5.  It works well for hanging their costumes in the dressing room backstage at competitions.  For a lot of years, we used a camera bag for their make-up and hair supplies (most of their teammates have ones like this). Our camera case, which fit everything they needed, plus a few things they didn't know they needed, until they did, was free. We hoard bobby pins like they're gold, and we've learned some tricks over time so that we can minimize the use of costly hair products (like hairspray and gel, which my daughters hate). 

This past weekend marked the beginning of our dance competition season.  The team decided on three regional competitions this year - two of which are more than an hour's drive from our home.  Living in Maine, driving is just part of what we do.  Most of the people I know commute from some rural community where housing is affordable, like Buxton or Standish, to "the city" (Portland) to work - a drive which can take as long as forty-five minutes.  In fact, many of us dance parents, willingly, drive a half hour or more, one-way, so that our children can take classes at their dance school.  So, an hour drive doesn't scare us, and most of us don't think, much, about how much it costs us to drive. 

Competition weekends are very long and stressful.  The competition starts at 4:00 PM on Friday evening.  The Friday awards' ceremony can be as late as 11:00 PM (it's been later).  The next day, dancing starts at 8:00 AM (which means dancers need to be in costume with hair and make-up done and warmed up by 8:00 AM - not that they arrive at 8:00 AM and start getting ready).  Most dancers are in multiple numbers, in the same age/skill level, and sometimes even in the same category.  We've been at dance competitions where there was not more than an hour between each of my daughters' dances for the whole day.  That can be rough.

On Saturday, dancing lasts from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM when they have their first awards ceremony.  The second half of the day starts at 5:00 PM ending some time between darkest night and the wee hours.  It's a long day for adults.  By the end of that day, many of the kids are Zombified.  Sunday can either be another day of dancing on stage or a day of taking Master classes (which is the best reason to do competition, actually - the chance to take classes taught by professional dancers and choreographers). 

When the first day ends at 11:00 PM and the next begins at 7:30 AM, and there are three hours worth of driving in between (an hour and a half home and an hour and a half back), most parents decide to find overnight lodging.

For us, it wasn't an option.  The frugalista kicked in, and we decided that we were driving back and forth.  Gasoline is cheaper (at the moment) than staying two nights in a hotel (plus, none of our daughters' dance numbers were scheduled before 9:00 AM, and so we had a bit more time). 

Hotels are expensive, and so is food, and since we're already under a lot of pressure to remember costumes and all of the accessories, it can be almost impossible to even start thinking about what we're going to eat in the middle of those pressure-packed days.

The problem is that if we don't, we either end up eating crap (like vending machine fare) or spending a lot of money eating restaurant food.

This competition, we got smart and actually thought ahead.  We packed a grocery sack full of snacks, like apple slices with peanut butter, cheese and pepperonis, carrot sticks, protein bars, cheese crackers, clementine oranges, and bananas. 

We also made sure to get up early enough that each morning, we filled travel mugs with coffee from home, and I made everyone a breakfast sandwich, which we enjoyed on the road on the way to the competition.

I won't say that we didn't spend any money on eating out while at the competition.  We bought a second cup of coffee both Saturday and Sunday, and we had lunch at this sweet, little locally-owned hamburger joint (with my sister and her husband who were able to come to their first dance competition ... ever! and see their very talented nieces perform).

Between the savings from driving rather than lodging and only eating one meal out, we saved, in the neighborhood, of $350. 

Next time, maybe we could get really smart, and maybe pack some mason jar meals.  While most of the non-salad choices require some way to heat the food, not all of them do.  Of course, we could probably bring our electric teapot and find an outlet to plug it into so that we could heat up water for one of the noodle jars.  Even if I had to purchase a 12-pack of wide-mouth canning jars, it would be  cheaper (and healthier) than most fast-food meals, and since we are dietary-restricted (no gluten) anyway, packing our own food means we don't, accidentally, end up eating something we shouldn't, and we don't have to spend extra $$ paying someone else to prepare food for us that won't make us sick.

Dance Competitions may not be a very frugal pastime, but there are ways that us frugalistas can make things a little more kind for our wallets. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh, Snow!

This post is just for my friends down south. 

I spent much of my childhood in the deep south.  When I was in junior high school, we lived in Alabama.  One year, we had a pretty bad winter with about a half inch of snow and ice that pretty much immobilized the city.  The best entertainment on that "snow day" was the Orkin man who tried for an hour to get up the hill in front of my house.  He finally gave up trying, and I guess, just rescheduled. 

My family from Kentucky made fun of the Alabamans.   

In the early 1980s, my family moved to the mountains in southeastern Kentucky.  Kentucky gets a lot more snow than Alabama does.  Most of the time, the snow is big, fat, wet flakes that covers everything for a day or so, and then, it melts pretty quickly, but that day or two of snow cover can be significant - anywhere from an inch up to three or four inches - and driving is dangerous, because it's just enough of an anomaly that people don't *really* learn to drive in it, but enough of a regular occurrence that everyone thinks they know how - especially people who have 4WD (most of them). 

I don't ever remember shoveling snow when I lived in either Alabama or Kentucky.  I don't remember it ever being necessary.

In the late 1990s, I moved to Maine. 

Living in Maine, one really appreciates snow.  It's rumored that the Inuit have many words for "snow", and I can actually understand, now, how different snow is.  There's the snow with big, fat, wet flakes that is the prettiest when it's falling, but is also the absolute worst.  That kind of snow makes the roads slick, like oil, and it's heavy and wet and difficult to shovel.  It's also the kind of snow that breaks trees, because it is so wet and heavy.

Then, there's that light, powdery stuff.  It looks solid enough, but don't walk on it, unless you're a cat.  You'll sink to your knees.  And don't fall, because you won't get up, unless you roll over on your back and sit up.  Don't put your hands down and try to push yourself up, either.  My dog even got stuck trying to walk through that kind of snow.  It's surprisingly wet.  So, when you fall, expect a wet butt.  It's easiest to shovel, except when the wind blows, and then, it just settles right back where it was.  That's fun.

Snow mixed with sleet is the absolute worst.  It leaves an icy crust on the top of the snow pack.  Walking through that can cause some serious damage to one's shins.  Experience for the win!  

The most recent storm was measured in feet, not inches, for much of our state.  From reports, my town received a foot and a half of snow (okay, 15", if we must), but where I am in town, I'm pretty sure we got more than that.

My mother loves to call when we have inclement weather up here.  The other day, during the storm,  she calls and says,

"How's the weather?"

I looked out the window and reported, "It's snowing."

She asked, "How much did you get?"

Stretching my achy back from the two-hour long shoveling session I'd done earlier, I said, "I don't know.  Probably a couple of feet."

She chuckled and said that there, in Kentucky, they'd gotten 3" or so. 

I laughed.  This time of year, after having snowstorms every couple of days, 3" isn't even enough to take out the shovel.  We just stomp through it.   I'm not making fun.  It's just a different perspective.    In Alabama, the city shut down for a half inch.  Here, we have to get feet (plural) of snow to shut things down.

The last storm we had ... shut things down.  Both Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister had a snow day. 

Of course, a picture's worth a thousand words, right? 

I'm taking this picture from the road in front of my house.  That sign says "Herbs", and it's probably 5' tall, including the 9" of stake at the bottom. 

The dog is sitting in the road in front of my house.  I tried to get some perspective, but it's just really hard to see, from this picture, how tall the snow wall really is. 
Where's the garbage can?

 Oh, there's the top!
Found it!
The cat is on the gate, which we will not be able to open without some serious digging ... or more likely, until the spring thaw.  

These photos really don't do it justice.  Wish you all could see how magnificent it is. 

Another storm is predicted right on the heels of the last - just enough time for us to clean up a little.

It's February ... in Maine.  Keep the shovels handy and the coffee brewed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Repurpose, Recycle, Repair

My daughter is loath to let go of her stuff.  She's even holding on to her baby teeth, which are still in her mouth.  Every time we talk about moving, she gets sad, because she was born in this house.  It's HER house, and, with the exception of perhaps a few years of travel after she turns 18, she plans to live here for the rest of her life.  Fine by me, actually.  We'll be roommates.

At first, though, I couldn't understand why she needed to hang onto everything, but then, I started preparing this post, and I realized - oops!  She gets it from me.

Back many years ago, a great-aunt passed away.  Cleaning her house was the typical story of walking into a hoarders' home - newspapers stacked everywhere, which were often used as end tables, apparently, because as they were sorting, they found dirty dishes in between the layers.  I guess it comes naturally to me, too. 

While I'm not quite the hoarder my aunt was, and I'm better at letting go than my daughter, there are still things that I keep, because I feel that they may have value. 

Most of my long-time readers (and family and friends) know that I don't do wrapping paper.  We wrap presents in all sorts of paper, including: newspapers (we actually collect the "free" papers throughout the year for various projects); magazines; and catalogs.   Most of the time the gift is just that simple - wrapped in recycled paper with no trimmings.

This year, though, I had this ball of twine, and in an effort to look more festive, we wrapped the gifts a usual, but then, put some twine around them to fancy them up (curses to you Pinterest!!).  So, the day came and went.  The paper ended up in the fire, and the twine was heading that way, but then, I thought, "Wait!" 

Yep.  Just like that.

"Wait!  I can probably reuse that!"

So, I collected it, balled it up, and kept it.  Worst case, I have twine for next year's gift giving. 

Most folks also know that we raise rabbits.  Winter is particularly difficult for us, because those bottles tend to freeze in our weather, and even if we only partially fill them, it takes a while for them to thaw - or it takes gallons of hot, running water - neither of which is optimal. 

The other issue is that those plastic bottles tend to break, and so there are many times when we need another bottle. 

The solution is to have extra bottles, but that, too, can be a problem, as they're expensive.  We pay around $15 for a water bottle replacement - which includes the plastic bottle, the nipple fixture and the little thingy to hold the bottle on the wire hutches.  Times six rabbits, that's a pretty big chunk of change.  We considered buying the extra bottles one-at-a-time when we have extra cash.  Problem is that we never seem to have the extra cash as frequently as we needed to build up the stock, and we were always being forced into buying them as an emergency (i.e. one broke and had to be replaced).

Then, Deus Ex Machina found THESE online. 

Those little spring things are awesome, by the way.  Much better than any of the other apparatus we've used for holding the bottles onto the hutch. 

We, now, have two bottles per rabbit.  One is outside with the rabbit.  The other is inside thawing.  Works great. Problem solved - at a cost of just under $3 each.  So, basically, for the cost of one replacement bottle, we replaced them all.  Score!

Then, there was the problem of my jeans.  I have this pair that I just love.  I tried finding the same pair locally, but no one carried that size and style.  So, I ordered a pair from an online vendor, but when it got here, the fit wasn't the same.  The problem is that the fabric on the thighs is so thin, now, but I only have two pairs of jeans. 

So, I fixed them. 

Hooray for iron-on patches!  The patches are on the insides of the jeans, and yes, one can (just barely) see the colored patches.  Whatever.  I like it. And they'll last for, at least, the rest of the season.  Then, I can go back to wearing skirts for the summer ... and maybe those jeans will become a skirt. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Getting Back to the Way Things Were


A few weeks ago, after I attempted to make my own Kombucha starter, Deus Ex Machina gifted me with a new SCOBY. 

This batch of Kombucha took a little longer to ferment than I expected it would, probably because it's a little chilly in my house, but also because it was a really small SCOBY.  I probably should have read their instructions on how to start the first batch.

I've been watching it closely.  I could see a new SCOBY forming on top, which is a good indicator that things are happening the way we want them to happen when making Kombucha.

Then, life stuff happened, and I didn't get to taste-test it for a few days beyond what I thought would be the best day. 

I was pretty sure that it was spoiled, and so, even before I tasted it, I started a new batch of tea.

Then I tasted it, and Wow!  It was perfect!

It's bottled now, and sitting for a few hours on the counter with corks in the bottles, to let it ferment a little more (for effervescence).  Then, it will go into the refrigerator, and my family will enjoy it for the next week until the new batch is ready.

This getting back to the way things should be is so nice; so good for my soul.

And there's Kombucha. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Weather reports for today, February 9, 2017 called for a Nor'easter here in my part of the world.  For those who don't know, a Nor'easter is New England's answer to a Hurricane, only with snow instead of rain (although we had a huge Nor'easter back in 2007 on Patriot's Day that brought rain and resulted in the Saltmarsh flooding over the roads, effectively cutting off nearly every route North for me). 

There is usually a very visible channel in the saltmarsh where the tidal river flows through.  The water gets to the top of the channel during high tide and then the water level drops during low tide, but one can always see land.  It never looks like a lake, as it does in this picture.  During the Patriot's Day storm, well before high tide, the entire marsh was flooded.  At high tide, the water spilled onto the road, effectively cutting off this route north.  I was glad that I had already gone up and come back home, before I got stuck on the other side. 

The weather people are calling for up to 14' of snow for those of us near the coast.  Snow totals get smaller the further inland one goes, but pretty much, the entire State of Maine is under a snow advisory. 

Deus Ex Machina was booked on a flight today to fly out west for business, but his flight was canceled because of this storm.  Schools were canceled.  Some businesses will close today.  It's a pretty big deal.

This far into winter, most people around here are no longer freaking out at the mention of a storm (Bread and Milk!  Bread and Milk!).  It's become business-as-usual.  We're all just staying home and enjoying the snow-day, if we're lucky, and braving the storm, if we're one of the unlucky who have to go to work, no matter what.  It's winter in Maine, after all.  Snow is part of the deal we've made with Mother Nature in exchange for being allowed to live in this amazing place.

What impresses me, though, is the accuracy with which this storm was predicted.  These days, it's not just "There's going to be a storm", but rather our modern meteorologists tell us down to the time the storm is expected to start.

Today's storm was predicted to start at 09:00, and it's supposed to last until 21:00 with "periods of heavy snowfall." 

I looked out the window at 08:51, and noticed the little snow flakes drifting down.  It's 09:14 as I write this and the snow is getting heavier.

It's amazing.  They were able to predict almost down to the minute it would START.  That's some serious diagnostic equipment they have there.

Which makes me think about the whole climate change thing. 

I guess, I'd like to see those who don't believe in our scientists' ability to show that things have been changing, warming up, across the globe, and that those changes are wreaking havoc on our environment, maybe, come to Maine and experience life here for a while. 

And take note that our weather people predicted this storm - right down to the minute - almost like they'd called up the storm, and said, "Okay, so what time can we expect you?"  

Seems logical, to me, that they can also look at data that shows a warming trend and state with accuracy that *something* is happening, for which we might consider preparing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fix-It ... or something

My house is usually on the cool side.  In truth the temperature fluctuates depending on how close to the woodstove one is.  Since I don't sit next to the woodstove all day, there are times when I can use a little sweater. 

And then, there's the Maine weather.  Most of the year, a light sweater is appropriate attire when outdoors. 

I don't have enough light sweaters. I have two, and since I wear them almost all of the time - except when I'm sleeping, they're starting to show some wear and tear.  My dark sweater, I've relegated to outside-the-house attire.  That is, when I go someplace where I care a little more than usual how I look.

My other sweater is the one I actually prefer, especially as a light layer under my wool coat.

It probably doesn't look as good on me as it feels, but it's lightweight and comfortable and provides just enough of a layer to keep me warm in the house (when I'm not near the woodstove) and to allow me to not freeze when I have to step outside to put the trash can on the curb, get firewood, or take out the compost. 

Problem is that it's not in great shape.

Once I forgot I was wearing it, and I took off my coat.  I received several comments about the holes.  Oops!  Not that I care all that much how I look, but when people start commenting in that judgmental kind of way that people have, it's bothersome. 

So, I had to consciously make my favorite sweater an exclusive at-home attire.

Probably wouldn't have been a problem, but *see above.*  I only have TWO sweaters.  If one is for going out and one is for staying in, then, there aren't very many chances to wash them and ensure that they are dry when I need to wear them.

Oh, right!  You remember now.  I don't have a clothes dryer, either.  Sometimes it can be a bother.

I decided that I needed both sweaters to be in decent repair.  I mean, guess I could have bought a new one, but you know how when you have this favorite shirt or pair of jeans and nothing you find will replace it?  Like that.

I've been mulling over what I wanted to do for a while.  I could darn it, like socks, or like I fixed the cuffs on my daughter's sweater.  But a couple of the holes were pretty big, and then the rest weren't holes, but runs, which are more of a challenge - for me - when it comes to darning. 

So, I decided what I wanted to just replace the sleeve, and I was thinking something along the lines of when Barbara Good (in the 1970s BBC series The Good Life) replaced the leg on one of her pairs of jeans.  I have some long-sleeved shirts that have a few holes.  I could use the sleeves.

One of those long-sleeved shirts is brown.  My sweater is tan. 

It's a pretty close match.

I have only replaced the sleeve with the holes, so far, but it might look like it's supposed to look that way if I replace both sleeves.  So, that's the plan. 
For now, though, I have two sweaters again.  No holes.  Ha!  Take that Judgey McJudgersons.   

Monday, February 6, 2017

Creating Holidays

Because movies and television are so much a part of our culture, and fictional characters are so real to us, we often quote them when we are looking for words of wisdom. 

In keeping with that strange habit, in the movie The Incredibles, which follows the lives of Mr. Incredible and his wife, Plastic Girl, after they have been exiled into a quotidian existence following several lawsuits against the "Supers" (humans with super human strength and/or abilities).  The government realizes that it can not continue to pay people who are injured when they are rescued by a Super, and the Supers are forced to live like the rest of us, hiding in plain sight.

Unfortunately, for the Supers, it's almost impossible, but also, Mr. Incredible made an enemy of a non-super, very special young man, who, perhaps, didn't have super-strength, or super-stretchy arms, but he was exceptionally creative and extraordinarily smart.  He grows up to develop products that make others "Super."  He calls himself "Syndrome", and Syndrome quips: "When everyone is Super, no one will be."

That's how I feel about holidays these days.  A holiday should be a celebration of a particularly meaningful event.  In our modern times, not only have we completely stripped our holidays of any real meaning, but we've commercialized all of them to the point that the only universally and accepted practice is the purchase of a *something* and the giving of a gift.

The problem is that we, now, have a holiday nearly every day of the year, but many of these days really mean nothing at all.

Take "Friendship Day", which is celebrated on July 30 by the United Nations.  Google had this to say about it: "The UN-Secretary General, Kofi Annan, announced Winnie the Pooh as the ambassador of friendship. United Nations celebrates International Friendship Day on July 30."

While I'm happy that Winnie the Pooh has finally gotten the recognition he deserves ....

Oh, wait.  I just had this hilarious thought of some future generation where the idea of Winnie the Pooh, as the Ambassador of Friendship, survives, and he becomes some Christ-like entity.  Myths of his birth are created, and Kofi Annan is remembered and celebrated as Pooh's Prophet and Disciple.  Kids get toys from the Pooh bear.  Honey cakes are served.  The Sacred Honey Pot becomes a lawn decoration, and bees become a sacred and protected species.  So, maybe not a bad thing??

Still, the idea that everyday is a holiday does exactly to days what Syndrome did to Supers.  "When every day is a holiday, none of them are."

Today we are inundated with so many days that we are supposed to be sending cards and/or gifts that I, personally, can't keep track.  In fact, I can't even remember birthdays these days.  My poor kids and grandkids are lucky if I send them a greeting on their birthdays. 

In February, we have two, mostly, observed days:  Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day. 

I don't, really, observe either one of them, but if I did, it would be the former, not the latter.  I know, that seems weird, right?

The thing is that Groundhog Day is actually steeped in something real, something tangible.  It's about the changing of the season and a prediction of when we can start to prepare for the growing time.  In our Agrarian past, people watched for signs of what was to come, and it was important -- life-and-death important -- to be able to observe and interpret the natural world.  Crops planted too early might be killed in an unexpected late frost.  Crops planted too late would never fully ripen. 

Groundhog Day is actually a historical observation.  In Northern European traditions, it is Imbolc (which is Greek meaning in milk, and would have been lambing season), also called Candlemas or observed as St. Bridget Day, and marks of the beginning of the Spring - not the first day of Spring (which is in March), but that time of the year when we can determine how much more winter we will have to endure, which would have been of paramount importance to farmers. 

The rhyme goes: 

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.

In the Christo-Pagan traditions, Candlemas is the day that Priests blessed and distributed candles (Candle Mass), and it's celebrated as a Day of Light. 

As a homesteader, someone who follows the signs of nature as a guide for every day things, like putting laundry on the line, holiday traditions that support that lifestyle are much more important, to me, than days of observation with the only goal being to share a gift. 

In fact, if we were going to really "celebrate" Groundhog Day in the tradition in which it was originally observed, wouldn't it be fun to get together with friends to mark the day?  Prepare a hearty soup and some crusty bread (because this time of year, it's all about soup, for me :)) - share a meal and do a thing. 

If the "Day be fair and bright", we could make candles, to get us through the rest of the dark winter.

If the "Day brings cloud and rain", we could make seed bombs or plant some seeds for cold-hardy vegetables.

I do think that we should have special days of observation, traditions that mark the days of the year as special for us, but it is important that we not end up with holiday fatigue, where we are constantly bombarded with "[fill in the blank] Day" and are expected to give flowers, cards or whatever ridiculous gift as some meaningless observation.

Making those days actually mean something, where we actually DO something to actually FEEL something about the day is actually a little harder than just buying a box of candy or sending a card, but it's worthwhile, I think, to decide what's important to us, keep the good stuff and jettison rest.  Kind of like, decluttering the calendar in the same way that the frugalistas recommend we declutter our closets. 

The cool thing about nature-based holiday traditions is that they aren't as rigid as a "[ _____ ] Day", where there's on calendar day of the year on which that tradition must be observed.  The nature-based holidays are fluid - like nature itself.  In fact, Imbolc, according to the Wikipedia article, while traditionally, celebrated on the first day of February, could actually be any day in the two week period before and after February 1.  The timing of the celebration depended on lots of variations - one being the blooming of the blackthorn.  I mean, how more "nature-based" can you get than that? 

For me, perhaps Imbolc could be celebrated as the first day we tap our maple trees.  Or it could be the day we boil our first batch of maple syrup. 

Or it could be some day around the beginning of February when we're all home, and I make a really awesome, hearty soup, and we spend the day melting down leftover bits and pieces of wax in a double-boiler on the woodstove to make new candles. 

Or if we're having a long stretch of bitter, cloudy, rainy (as opposed to snowy) days, it might indicate that winter is over, we could celebrate those dreary days by lighting all the rest of our candles (which we won't need anymore, right, because spring has arrived?), making a yummy, bright, sunny soup (yellow lentils or corn chowder, perhaps?), and planting some seeds. 

In the end, a holiday observation should be very personal, and we should take care to make our own traditions as specific to our own lives as we can with observations that are meaningful in speaking to the way we wish to live our lives.

I really like the melting of the candle-ends idea, though.  I mean, creating meaningful holiday traditions that incorporate reusing, recycling, and decluttering?  Can I get a Hoo-Rah for the win? 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Standard of Living versus the Cost of Living

The one thing that I like about Facebook is that they show "Memories."  That is, each day when we log onto Facebook, we are shown our posts on that day in years prior. 

Today my memory was a link I posted to this article, which appeared in the UK Daily Mail newspaper and shows pictures from a 1960s photo shoot of the Appalachian region in the US.  The headline reads:  Valley of poverty: The desperate pictures of rural America that show 1930s-style depression actually lasted until the SIXTIES.

The 1930s-style depression lasted well beyond the 1960s, actually, and even today, the Appalachian region of Kentucky remains one of the poorest in the country with 25% of the population falling below the federal poverty income guidelines and the average per capita income only $30,308 compared to $46,049 for the rest of the country.  They don't make any money in them-thar hills.  When the only steady job available is a retail or service job making minimum wage, financial insecurity is the way of life.  Then and now.

But wait.  Let's talk about this for a second.

Aside from the sensationalism of putting the word "sixties" in all caps and the fact that they really only showed a couple of families (probably the same family, just cousins living in different homes in the area), it's actually true.  Well, somewhat true.  Compared to today, the lives and homes of the people in the photo essay could be considered squalor, but maybe in rural American in the 1960s it wasn't so far from normal. 

The bit about them having no indoor plumbing was probably true back in those days (although I would argue about the "no sanitation" because outhouses smelled bad, true, but they weren't "unsanitary" if they were properly dug and maintained).  Most people didn't have flush toilets in the house back in those days, and people who lived in "Coal Camps" (housing property owned by the coal-mining companies) had some pretty sparse dwellings with limited amenities (although the linked article claims that the people lived in better housing than they had previously had - which for some may have been true). 

My own grandmother, who lived in this region her entire life, didn't have indoor plumbing until the 1970s.  Yes, I do remember using her outhouse.  It smelled bad, but I've seen public restrooms that were worse smelling and a lot less sanitary than my Grandma's outhouse.  When I was in Basic Training, the portable toilets they expected us to use while we were at the range, were, actually, overflowing.  Talk about unsanitary.

This map from 2014 shows that there are still homes, today, that don't have indoor plumbing.  Not sure we can say that all of these folks live in a 1930s-style depression, although most of them live in rural areas, and probably a lot of them are very poor.

My grandmother's house was clean, however, almost sparkling (as much as a mountain-side farmhouse with a coal burning stove in a coal burning region can ever sparkle), and so it was plenty "sanitary." 

I love my father's stories of growing up in the hills of southeastern Kentucky. Of the farm.  Of the house.  Of rough-housing with his brothers (he still has a scar on his lip where he was smacked in the face with a tin can that split his lip wide-open.  Ouch!).  Of going to school in a one-room building that used to sit in the middle of what was in my youth an open field a mile from my grandma's, where my sisters and cousins and I used to ride horses.  To hear the stories, and then visit the places where those stories occurred was living history.  It was fascinating. 

My dad used to talk about being poor.  Everyone in those mountains was poor, though, and when my dad talked of being poor, what he meant was that they took cracker-bread (which was leftover biscuit dough pressed into a pan and baked into flatbread) and a canning jar filled with milk from the family cow to school for their lunch rather than getting money from their dad to go to the corner store for candy and soda pop.  Sometimes, he confessed, they'd trade their homemade cracker-bread and fresh raw, milk for an RC Cola and a candy bar.  Dad thought he was getting the better end of the deal.  So did the kid he traded with.

I grew up knowing that it was not okay to accept government handouts.  My kinfolk were hardworking, industrious, self-sufficient, proud, mountain people. 

But they had neighbors who looked just like the people in those pictures.

That's the thing, though.  Perhaps my grandparents weren't so very different from the people pictured in those photos.  I mean, I can remember the washtub baths.  I can remember my grandmother's clothesline.  I can remember the outhouse.  I'm sure after a day of playing with my cousins out on the farm, I probably looked as messy and unwashed as the children in those photos. 

Here are some photos, also from that part of the country. 

My grandmother and my aunt sitting on their front porch.  They're clean and healthy - and my aunt, true to her nature, is reading a book or a magazine.  So much for the illiterate hillbilly stereotype.
My Great Uncle busy with some sort of project.  A handsome, strong, mountain man.
Also, apparently, literate.
My Great-Grandfather (my grandma's dad).
Check out that wringer washing machine behind him. Wish I could get ahold of one of those.   

While I'm not positive, I believe that these pictures of my family were taken sometime between 1950 and 1970 - around the same time that the photo essay was being shot.

The photo essay was trying to bring to light the deplorable conditions in which these people lived, and I get that, but it only tells part of the story.  Like the line that read: "... the harsh reality, as these pictures show, was that people of Appalachia sustained themselves on bare government subsistence, were ridden with diseases, and lived in shacks." 

Really?  Ridden with diseases?  Lived in shacks? 

Ridden with diseases could actually describe most Americans, to be honest.  I was looking up a statistic for the number of medications each American takes in each age demographic and the first thing that popped up in my search was the statement that 70% of Americans take prescription medications.  I mean, do we consider the 70% of people on medications ridden with diseases - especially the 65+ demographic, most of whom take a fistful of medications on a daily basis?  I'm not being snarky.  I worked for over a decade as a medical transcriptionist.  One of the categories in every single note I typed was Medications.  I never took a statistic, but I can comfortably state that MOST of the notes had something listed in that section of the report.  I learned how to spell most of those drugs even when they were mispronounced, and I knew what many of them were for. 

And "lived in shacks".  That word, "shack", is so subjective, isn't it?  My house looks like a shack compared to some of my neighbors' homes.  No, I don't live in a shack. 

That some of the folks who live in the mountains "sustained themselves on bare government subsistence" is true.  But consider those words "bare government subsistence."  And let's ask that question, why do most of them live on "bare government subsistence"?  Heck, WHY do they have to depend on government help?

The article linked above in the comments about "coal camps" actually sheds some light on why, by the 1960s, there was a need for "government subsistence" in that area, and it had everything to do with lack of government oversight and corporate greed (and please note the mention of one of this country's favorite dead Presidents, who also was a party to the raping and pillaging of those beautiful mountains and their people).  Then, of course, the government, which could have prevented the poverty in the first place by limiting and regulating the mines and their owners, swooped in with food stamps and subsistence programs, you know to help the people.  So much for Benjamin Franklin's sage advice:  An ounce of prevention.

As you continue reading through the rest of my rant ... er, blog post ... start nurturing that little nugget of a thought about how the corporations are given free reign to run amok and destroy in the name of profit, but then, how our government will pretend to save the day by giving us a pittance.  The destruction and degradation could have been averted, had something been done in the first place, and then, the government wouldn't have had to "make things better."  That's never how it happens.  That's not how it happened then.  That's not how it's happening now.

What's really bothersome, to me, is this mass hallucination, this widespread belief, that most of our modern amenities are no longer "amenities", but rather "necessities."

My dad occasionally tells the story of when television first arrived in the mountains.  His dad wouldn't get one of those things, but they used to go over to the neighbor's house where they could watch television.  His neighbors didn't have much else, but they had a television.

I don't have television.  In fact, there have been many times in my life when my family didn't have a television.  I don't remember much before the age of four, when we moved to Germany, and so I don't remember if we had a television before then, but I do know that we did not have a TV while we lived in Germany.  We moved to Georgia in 1975, and my father bought a DIY kit.  It took him a few months, but when he was done piecing together all of those tiny electronic components, we (finally) had a television.  That TV survived over a couple of moves for almost a decade before it died.  Then, we didn't have a TV again for a while.  It wasn't on our priority list to own a TV.  Shelter, food, heat, and clothing were higher on the list and took precedence over a TV. 

Most people who read my blog know the story about Deus Ex Machina's co-worker who tried to take up a collection to buy us a television set when she found out that we didn't have one.  We laugh, but after the laughter dies down, think about that mentality - the idea that we *need* certain modern conveniences and luxuries.

For most of the last few years, I was a volunteer at our local food pantry.  One of my favorite parts of the pantry was the Recycle Boutique.  A couple of years ago I read about these "Really, really FREE flea markets" they were having out in California, and I kept trying to imagine how we could recreate that sort of thing in my community.  The Boutique comes pretty close.  Basically, people donate stuff - whatever they have when they're decluttering - and the Pantry has this room where they sort and organize the goods, which are free for the taking.  That's right.  It's FREE.  And the stuff is actually pretty amazing!  Local businesses occasionally donated stuff, too - like the hotel that was changing its color scheme and donated all of its old bedding (sheets and comforters - most in good condition).  Clothes, shoes, dishes, bedding, curtains, books, CDs, toys ... just every manner of thing.  Really cool stuff! 

I was occasionally surprised by the kinds of things people would ask us for - like microwaves, which were a popular request.  I don't have a microwave, but I can understand that if one doesn't have any other way of cooking, how a microwave could be useful.  That wasn't the reason that most of the people asked for a microwave.  Mostly it was that they didn't have one, and there is some societal pressure to believe that having a microwave makes one more successful.  I know this to be true for a lot of people, because when I was a poor college student attempting to pass myself off as financially affluent, I had a microwave (and a television and a fancy king-sized waterbed with a full-wave mattress and a television and brand new furniture which was financed through a company that charged 19% interest, and which I really couldn't afford).

That's why that article is so important.  Those people were living in squalor, not because they were living in squalor.  Clearly, they had everything they needed to survive, but someone, somewhere, told them that their lives were lacking, and they believed them.

I started the month of January participating in an Uber Frugal Challenge, and it didn't take me very long to realize that, if those suggested life changes are what it takes to be considered uber-frugal, I've gone way beyond that yardstick. What's more than "uber" Frugal?  I might even be past that. 

But it got me thinking about that notion of "voluntary frugality."  The other night, we watched the movie Platoon (which we borrowed from the library).  There's a scene where Chris, the newbie (played by Charlie Sheen), is helping a couple of short-timers with burning the latrines.  He explains that he quit college to join the war effort - because he wanted to make a difference.  One of his comrades quipped that one has to be rich to think like that in the first place.

That's how it is with voluntary frugality.  Those of us who are doing it are already in a position to have everything we need ... and most of what we want.  We're able to consider doing without, because we're giving it up by choice, rather than because it's not available to us.

And therein lies the REAL problem.  Not that we're so entitled and privileged that we can choose to live like "poor people", but that our society has decided there are certain things we all need to have to be considered successful or to live the good life.

There's so much talk these days about living wages and standard of living

The Standard of Living is always changing, and the things that we believe we now need to live at the minimum standard are things that would have been luxuries to my parents when they were kids.

My grandma was an uber-frugal goddess.  She makes all of today's uber-frugal people look like silly spendthrifts.  I mean, washing out plastic baggies?  Seriously?  How about never wasting good money on disposable stuff in the first place.  My father tells the story of how his mother would purchase socks for them.  At the beginning of the school year, each child was given several pairs of socks - all the same color and style (no one ever had to worry about mismatching socks - my grandma was smart).  He jokes that they wore the socks until they got a hole in the heel  - and then, they'd flip them over and wear a hole in the other side.  They wore their socks out ... AND THEN, if they needed new ones they got them, but new clothes were a luxury, and not something that was purchased without a real need.  

Today, here in the United States, there is a huge - obscenely enormous - surplus of used clothes.  It's so bad, in fact, that we have stores specializing in the resale of these used clothes so that we can keep them out of landfills.  I mean, wrap your brain around that.  We, as a society, have so many clothes, we are throwing them away ... and we STILL have too many clothes in our closets.  The clothes that don't sell are sent overseas to workshops where people are hired to shred our castoff clothes, which are then used as stuffing for furniture.  That's also something pretty mind-boggling.  The waste is deplorable, but it's just part of our social fabric these days. 

Ha!  Ha!  Fabric ... see what I did there :).

When I listen to my father's stories, especially after having also lived in that region (but after I had lived most of my life outside of the region - which gave me a very different perspective of what I saw), I understand that the biggest cause of our financial woes comes not from not having enough money to survive, but from the continual chatter about what is required to achieve an adequate standard of living.

I can, actually, remember when having more than one car was a luxury, not a necessity.  These days there is one car for every licensed driver in a household - at a minimum.  We (believe we) all need our car.  Our OWN car.  It's not just a convenience.  It's a necessity.  Cars cost money - not just to purchase them, but also to maintain them.  Gas to drive them.  Insurance.  Registration.  Regular oil changes.  And cars break down.  If ever there was a thing manufactured for planned obsolescence, it would have to be cars.  I mean, how is it that cars always seem to start wearing down the moment the Warranty expires or the car is paid off - usually right around five years?  Most people never don't have a car payment.  

People lived for hundreds of thousands of years without cars, and yet, in our society, we have convinced ourselves that it is not possible to live without a car ... or that those who do must be suffering immeasurably.  Mr. Money Mustache had a really funny post about how attached to our cars we Americans are

That's just one thing in a long line of "I needs" that our society has drummed into us, which also includes: electricity, flush toilets, hot running water for bathing and doing dishes, televisions, cellphones, computers, dishwashers, refrigerators, couches, kitchen tables, diamond engagement rings, salon services, microwave ovens, dish towels, toilet paper, the latest fashion trends ....  The list of things that we need extends far out into the horizon, when the truth is that what we need, and what we believe we need are really in conflict with each other. 

So, let's go back.  We need shelter.  We need clean drinking water.  We need good food.  We need adequate clothing (that keeps our skin safe from frostbite and sunburn, etc.).

If given the opportunity, most of us could provide those things for ourselves.

Doing so has become illegal in many places.  I can't just stake out a piece of land and start building a house.  Several healthy, vibrant communities have sprung up in or around urban areas where it is too expensive to rent or own property.  The communities are illegal, and as soon as they are discovered by property owners or the authorities, they are torn down, usually under the pretense that they are unsafe and/or unsanitary.  Or that the dwellings are inadequate for human habitation (although they're fine for a weekend getaway).  It's okay that those people will end up sleeping on a mat on the floor of some overcrowded homeless shelter, or worse.  But to allow them to live in a warm, dry tent or some cobbled together, using recycled or reclaimed detritus, structure in a community they have built is not okay, because that land belongs to someone else and they aren't paying:  taxes, land fees, sewer usage fees, water fees, electricity fees.  That's the bottom line, right?  They.  Aren't.  Paying. 

It all comes back to the money.  Cha-ching. 

But even if I went through the right channels and legally purchased the land, the house I built would have to meet whatever codes had been adopted by the community in which the land was purchased.  These codes dictate the size of the house (most "tiny houses" are illegal), the location of the house on the piece of land (set-backs), how large of a septic system I will need and where it needs to be placed in relation to the house and the neighbor's houses, whether or not I need a well, and where on the property the well can be located, how much building I can have on the lot.  The codes will also definitely include needing an electrical outlet for every six feet of wall.  One can not even build a house these days without having it wired for electricity, which we can all agree is not a "need."  For most, having electricity means paying someone else to supply it. 

So, we get back into the rut of having to pay for a service - in some places, by law (i.e. it is illegal to live in a house and/or apartment that does not have electrical service, and homes can be condemned and labeled unfit for human habitation if the electricity supply is cut).  So, like, if my family really wanted to go all Laura Ingall's Wilder and live in our suburban home without electricity - you know, cooking on the woodstove and using candles and the kerosene lamp for light, hand-washing our clothes, stuff like that, and we called the electric company and told them to remove their lines, we could end up losing our house. 

The one thing in common that all of today's "need" items have is that most of them require the purchase of something that must be manufactured by someone else.  In short, we pay a great deal to have other people do stuff for us so that we can live this luxurious lifestyle.

And for the most part, most of us don't even recognize how luxurious our lives are.

Hot and cold running water.  Daylight 24 hours a day.  Refrigeration for things that don't, really, need to be refrigerated.  Ice cream all year long.  Fluffy dried clothes.  Plus, our homes all have heat in the winter (even the ones in the deep south where the temperatures only rarely go below freezing) and most of them have some kind of air conditioning in the summer (even here in the extreme northeast where, at its worst, we might have a day or two in a row where the day time temperature goes above 90°).  Most Americans live a full life during which their normal, daily temperature is between 65° and 80° with some uncomfortably extreme deviations when they go from the building to their cars.

As our standard of living has increased so, too, has the cost of providing for that living.  Most people who live below the poverty level are still living pretty good - by global standards - but because they struggle to keep the lights on, purchase clothes, pay for cable, pay the cellphone bill, maintain their cars, pay the oil bill for heat in the winter, while also trying to feed their families and not lose their homes, they consider themselves poor.  

They believe, and we will tell them, that if they don't have all of those things - the cars, the cable, the cellphone, the closet full of clothes - that they are destitute.  I've only ever met a few people who were truly destitute, although I know hundreds of people who struggle financially and live well below the federal poverty level.  I did at one time.

What we need to accomplish, as much as if not more than, ensuring that everyone be able to earn a "living wage", is a redefining of what "standard of living" means.  We need to stop forcing people who can do just fine without a television to believe they need, not just the TV set (I mean, what kind of amoral, un-American, jerk-off doesn't have a TV?  ... oh, wait), but also all of the peripherals and accoutrements attached to that device - like cable, a DVR, and the DVD machine.  

Like owning a car, the cost of owning a television doesn't end with the purchase of the set.  And even if one does not elect to have cable, it still costs money to operate the TV.  Unlike a book, which takes nothing, but gives all, a television needs electricity.  The book can be enjoyed - no energy required.  

We have this ridiculously high "standard of living" that just keeps getting more complicated and more expensive every year.  Every time we add one more thing that we "need" to survive, we raise the cost of living in this world just above what a too large portion of our society can afford.  We can keep trying to outpace the cost of living with wage increases, or we can call uncle, and start paring back our lives to actually fit our needs.

Maybe we could change the ideal from "keeping up with Joneses" to "living like the Ingalls."    


If you've stayed with me this far, I thank you.  I know this was a long post, but it's a really complicated topic.  Our self-worth is too intricately tied with how much we have in this society.  As such, I love when I find stories of people who actually get it and learn to work within and outside of the system at the exact same time. 

Johnny Sanphillippo is one such person.  In 1999, he bought a piece of property in Hawaii for a song.  His goal was to build a small house, but codes and stuff.  So, according to this article, he drafted plans for a McMansion with a detached garage, and he started work, immediately, on the garage - stating an intention to complete the rest of the plans in some unspecified future time. 

In the meantime, his "garage" is actually a home.

What I loved best was this tidbit of wisdom, which goes very nicely with the theme of this post: 

"Sanphillippo feels strongly about living small, having the sense of security that can only come with being mortgage-free and not falling prey to consumerism. “You don’t need very much stuff in life,” he said. “You need to ask yourself why you need this stuff you think you need. Is it because you really need it or is [it] because you’ve been told over and over, you have to have it?”"

Wise words.   That might be my new quote.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Money Well-Spent

We might have splurged a little this past Christmas. 

Mostly we gave books, which were, mostly, purchased at a local new & used book, music, and movie chain store, but I also put together a "Winter Survival Kit" for my adult children and their families.  It included books, pajamas (or fuzzy socks) and mugs (for coffee, tea, or cocoa). 

When it comes to my children still at home, though, we sometimes go a little overboard. Certainly, we didn't spend more than we have, and we did budget for some more expensive gifts this season. 

One, in particular, was a thrill to give, and now that she's had it for a few weeks, we are so (SO) very happy that we spent the little extra to get it for her.

Little Fire Faery began taking violin lessons when she was eight or nine years old.  She still plays the violin, and like with her dance shoes, as she's gotten older, she has outgrown them and needed the next larger size.  We've made sure that she has the size that is appropriate and comfortable for her.

Thing is, she really likes music, and she's good.  We got a banjo for her for her birthday a few years ago, after she'd mentioned that she would like to learn to play one. She also has a small drum set we were given. 

In the fall last year, she started plucking around with her sister's ukulele, and I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina that we should look for a ukulele for her.  There are so many options for ukuleles these days.  Tiny soprano ukuleles in fun colors.  Concert sized ones with neat designs cut into the body.  Acoustic electric versions.  I even met a man at the music camp this past summer who had a ukulele-sized bass - a REAL bass instrument.  He said he bought it, because it was easier to carry to gigs than the upright bass. 

Around Christmas, a locally-owned music shop that resells used instruments had an eight-string ukulele.  We talked to our music teacher, who said "Why not?!"

And that's what she got for Christmas.

Last night, she and I started looking at this song, and we're thinking, maybe a family ensemble featuring the ukuleles for the Spring music recital might be fun.

The thing is, being uber frugal is good, but sometimes, at least for us, investing money in things that we love and that will enrich our lives makes more sense.  For my family, it's musical instruments, and we have quite a few.

What's interesting, to me, is that in many of those post-apocalyptic/dystopian future novels, the characters lament not having music. 

Maybe that's why my family has been so eager to build our musical instrument library.  When TEOTWAWKI finally does arrive, my family could earn a few loaves of bread and maybe a bottle or two of mead by playing at people's weddings. 

Or, we could just play, as a family, because playing music is free entertainment (the ultimate in frugality) after one has acquired the instrument. 

What atypical end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it equipment does your family splurge on?