Why I am Not aTightwad

Back when I was a young mother, “The Tightwad Gazette” was a hit among our circle of friends. Most of us were under thirty, in first-time jobs, starting families and households. We loved Amy! We needed this kind of advice, and for people my age (now over fifty) it helped us feel normal as frugal people, and not like paupers when we compared ourselves to the consumer culture spreading through our society like an influenza virus. Amy and her family lived in Maine, like our little group, and many of us shared the same conditions and challenges her family had.

via Amazon.com

We learned to make our own granola, bake our own bread, darn socks, clean with baking soda and vinegar, establish car pools for work and playgroup, refinish furniture and power-shop garage sales and thrift stores. We used it up and wore it out, made it do or did without. I admit: My mother and grandmother taught me most of this, but it was new to the people who had moved to almost rural Maine in the late sixties and early seventies, looking for a quieter, healthier way of life. Amy helped them find it, as they had left a suburban and urban world that was rapidly evolving into the greedy, status-hungry mess we now see.

Amy and her frugal companions never advocated harming your family by neglecting nutrition, good sanitation or medical care. They advocated giving gifts and helping others. They did not mean “tightwad” as in miser; it was a humourous play on how others characterized them when they saved buttons and zippers from old clothes that they then made into patchwork quilts or diapers. They weren’t hoarders. If you want you can find photos and interviews on video with Amy at her home. It is spare and clean. Her collections of reusable items are well organized.

But times have changed. And this is why I am not a tightwad. We are just poor. I do employ those old ways of keeping body and soul together; I have food in the house at all times because I have a supply of dried foodstuffs in the pantry – beans and lentils, flour and cracked wheat, potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips I bought in quantity, which should last us at least a couple of months. We have firewood, and we installed a woodstove because we could not afford to heat with oil or electricity, which were the existing systems in the house. Our reasoning was that it is cheaper here; seasoned firewood is available from our landlord; and in the worst case, we can scavenge wood, which we can’t do with oil, electricity or propane.

Back when I was a young householder, it was possible to buy or rent a big old house in rural Maine with barns and sheds, acres of land, and maybe a woodlot. A couple of Jotul stoves and a big garden  later, you were good to go. This isn’t possible now. The houses are older and losing condition if they weren’t renovated 30 years ago. Woodburning stoves are expensive and old ones are no longer acceptable to insurance companies. For someone without a woodlot, cords of wood in an area where there is high demand can run as much as oil overall.

Many of us have to look at living in smaller houses, and even micro-homes, less than 500 square feet. Ours is less than a thousand, but since we use only four rooms principally, we use about 700 square feet of living space.

This is why I can’t be the classic tightwad, and I’m not sure I am inclined in that direction. We can’t afford the space to store all the bits and bobs to be re-used; we can’t trawl the thrift store and garage sales for items to be stored for later. All my extra fabric, notions, items for resale and out of season coats have to be stored in a dresser and one closet. In a micro-home, there would be even less room, and it makes no sense at all to rent a storage locker for $25-$100 a month to store items that could be purchased new for less. I’ve seen what happens when people with a tiny home start to store those things – the vintage finds for resale (that don’t get sold); the bags and boxes of extra clothing the children outgrew and haven’t yet grown into; the hardware, kitchenware, linen, toys, appliances, and even lumber for the house that is not yet built, and can’t be built until the two acres is cleared of sheds, old trucks in various stages of cannibalism, piles of scrap metal to sell, and firewood to cut and split.

I limit the saving. I don’t stock up unless I am certain I can use it within its lifespan. I am the opposite of a hoarder – I get rid of things when they have not been used. I find this is the only way to live in a small house without getting overwhelmed.

There is still plenty to be learned from Amy and the tightwads of my generation. But I think we are all going to have to look at the reality of downsizing – of consuming less – of turning old things into new things by recycling rather than storing for later. So if you have trash bags full of old detergent bottles for the Scouts to turn into bird feeders, well, just go ahead and take them to the recycling center. It’s time.

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Copyright Notice

Consider this notice that ALL the material here that is of my own work is under copyright. I don’t care where you are or who you think you are, do NOT take my material, whether written or photographed, and use it, even with credit, unless you have my express permission.

I am very upset that someone has been disseminating photographs from here of me and my husband without permission. Plain is more than the way we dress. It is also our right to modesty. If this continues, I will remove all my material from the internet. I am annoyed that you chose to make my life that much harder because of your indiscretion.

Book Review: Surprised by Oxford

 

Magdalen Tower, Oxford

 

I’ve never been to England, but the environs of its most famous university, Oxford, are familiar through television, movies, and books. There is something endearing and awe-inspiring about Oxford. Most of us who aspire to university have a secret desire to go there. A few realize it, either through Rhodes scholarships or, in Canada, Commonwealth scholarships.

Carolyn Drake was one of those Canadian scholars, and when she completed her degree at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, she was awarded this prestigious opportunity to continue her work in Romantic literature at one of the most romantic universities in the world. She was a hard-working, self-supporting student, driven to stay at the top of her class, to excel in order to prove to the world that she, too, could make it. She had been raised in a fractured home, in the midst of one of London’s most prestigious neighborhoods, always aware of her mother’s relative poverty, and the lack of opportunities ahead of her unless she made them for herself.

She would teach, after earning the coveted doctoral degree. She expected Oxford to give her some of the polish and prestige that she lacked in her home environment. But it gave her much more: An introduction to the heart of the Christian experience. She had not planned to delve into Christianity, and like most upper degree students, she wasn’t much interested in it. Then she met a young man who set her heart afire, and through him, met God, who set her soul on fire.

I wanted to like this book, and anticipated diving into Carolyn’s soul-searching experience. Instead, I was puzzled and a bit put off by the format of her style, when she inserted long dialogues with characters she acknowledges are amalgamations of friends and classmates. I was dubious that she could recall this conversations after ten years, and I could have generously attributed her total recall to journaling except that she admitted that the characters were partly fictive. The dialogues were awkward, windy, and sophistic; it was too much like Tuesdays with Morrie. And while she explored the writing and influence of one of Oxford’s most famous Christian writers, C.S. Lewis, she seems cool to him, his enthusiasts and his church, the Church of England.

Carolyn becomes an Evangelical by adult baptism, another aspect that puzzled me, as her mother was Roman Catholic. There is no mention of whether she had been previously baptized as an infant, or if not, why her mother had decided against it. This would be an important point in someone’s spiritual biography. I also was unimpressed by her use of the “Surprised by” clause of her book title – the two words are incredibly reminiscent of both Lewis’s Surprised by Joy and the Anglican theologian N.T.Wright and his popular and influential book, Surprised by Hope. The use of the title would suggest that she was writing in the same genre, but it is only loosely attached to Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, and a far cry from Wright’s erudite exposition of heaven and earth. Carolyn Weber is yet a baby Christian, and it is too much hubris on her part to classify herself with these Christian giants.

I think the book could have used more of Oxford, less of the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the
publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review
bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I
have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal
Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html>
: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in
Advertising.”

 

Need in a Small Amish Community

photo by George Harven, via albany.edu

Many of us have connections to the Amish in some way, or are very interested in their way of life and faith. Amish do not subscribe to medical insurance, trusting God and the church to cover any extraordinary medical expenses. Small Amish communities often have to appeal to the larger church and to friends outside Amish life to help when these are more than can be afforded in their local church. Erik Wesner of Amish America brought up this issue:

“One-year-old Amos Hertzler cannot eat regular food, because he was born with esophageal atresia–meaning his esophagus does not connect with his stomach. He is fed every four hours by a feeding tube in his abdomen.

The Hertzlers’ community, however, seems to be not the Conewango Valley people, but a much smaller Cattaraugus County group nearby, of a single church district.  By the reporter’s description, they too seem to be quite conservative, though.  In the story, they say they’ve never held a benefit auction before.

An extensive news story in a major state paper is also a bit more coverage than you’d get for your typical benefit auction.  The willingness on the part of Amos’ parents to go to media probably indicates the direness of the situation.  ”It’s not an emergency, but it’s the next thing to it”, said Amos’ uncle.”

The community is holding a benefit auction, and Amish and non-Amish have contributed. The low estimate for this child’s medical needs is $250,000. It will probably amount to more.

If you wish to contribute, Erik has also furnished this information:

Hertzler Hospital Fund at Cattaraugus County Bank
P.O. Box 227
Little Valley, NY 14755.

For a news story on this situation:

http://www.post-journal.com/page/content.detail/id/592279/An-Auction-For-Amos.html?nav=5057

Erik’s blog is at:

http://amishamerica.com/amish-public/comment-page-1/#comment-22284

Recovery

I thought I would never recover from this flare of allergies and eczema. I would read accounts of people suffering for years, of sleeping very little because of the pain and torment of irritated, red, inflamed skin. I thought I had lost my own face. I looked unfamiliar in the mirror, scarred and swollen. I was reading Dickens’s Bleak House, where poor orphaned Esther contracts smallpox from a vagabond child she takes in, and finds, when she recovers, that she is disfigured with the pox scars.

I desperately threw my state of illness out for my friends’ regard. Many of them rallied, gave advice, much of it succinct to my case. One friend helped me sort out whether I had developed lupus, a terrifying, to me, possibility. And they prayed, which I think contributed more to my recovery than anything.

This is what I did: I stopped using my prescription medicated ointments, as they no longer seemed to have any effect. (This is common.) I switched to a homemade honey salve, which I have mentioned in previous posts. I continued with antihistamines. I also went on a low-histamine, low-salicylate diet for at least a month – which I will continue until the end of October. The diet and other reliable information is here: http://www.chronichives.com/, and I recommend the International Chronic Urticaria Society site to anyone who is dealing with allergies.

After using the honey salve for two weeks, the recommended time, I was able to renew my prescription ointments, and only because a dear friend sent the money unasked. I was also able to get good, deep, healing sleep, which one friend, from experience, said was absolutely necessary for building collagen, which is the basic unit of skin.

So this is how I am clearing up, day by day, the horrible, almost disabling eczema, angio-edema and urticaria I had developed: Hydrocortisone OTC for my face, clobetasol for the body and hands, Benadryl for an antihistamine, 25 mg 2-3 times a day, with 50 mg at night. A salve of honey, beeswax and olive oil for the two-week hiatus. A diet low in histamines and salicylates for 4-6 weeks, with gradually trying foods after that. And lots of sleep, lots of water, an attempt to keep anxiety low, and so many good and happy prayers from my friends for me that I am sure the heavens rang.

Things Accomplished

Amish Doll Clothes from Missouri

I am making Amish dolls. I have orders for four and I am now more than half way done. It would go faster if I didn’t have so many other things to do at this time of the year.

The garden is slowly getting put to bed. I still have pumpkins and squash coming, with the hope that they will not rot in all this rain. I have pulled most of the bean plants, feeding them as fodder to the goats, after removing the dried pods. They would eat the pods, but I am trying to save the seed.

Wood is getting stacked and split; the barn has been mucked out. We either have a small leak in the roof or the goats have amused themselves by drinking lots of water. I’m sure bean plants aren’t that diuretic. I usually muck out every couple of days, but when we have four or five rainy days, it is less than a pleasant task – and it is no one’s favourite. There is also the problem of mooring the goats to something while working in the barn on a rainy day.

We are getting one or two eggs a day, but never three. I suspect the girls are taking turns laying, and they all like the same nest box. The chickens had a bit of a scare the other day. They were out scratching around in the garden while I watched from an upper floor window. Suddenly they all ran for cover behind the trash bin, the rooster sounding an alarm. A bald eagle passed above, headed for the river. I had wondered if they had enough instinct about eagles and hawks to get out of the way. They don’t panic over crows, though, although some of our crows are almost eagle sized. they stayed in hiding for several minutes, too.

We lost the last of the little silkies, leaving us with three bantam sized birds who are doing well. She just didn’t grow; Nicholas found her hunkered down and drowsy in the barn, so he put her in the hay box under the lamp. When I went in an hour later to feed them, she was dead. All I can think of is that the little ones that died had some sort of deficiency similar to what calves and lambs have when they develop white muscle disease.

I have discovered that I am reacting to a large number of foods, especially high-histamine foods like tomatoes. So I am on a low-histamine, low salicylate diet, which means a very limited repertoire. It is largely vegetarian, low on fruit (except peeled apples) and fairly bland. I am tapering off coffee and have given up tea. I miss the tea more than anything. Lightly toasted bread and butter are now my favourite snack, as not much else is left!

So I am in the midst of making applesauce, starting by peeling the apples, a tedious job. I bought a huge bag, about 30 pounds, of apples for $10. They are called deer apples here. I buy them, make applesauce or apple butter, feed the cores and peels to the goats and chickens, and feel satisfied that I did not spend $1.30 a pound on apples in the store.

Cultural Conditioning and Honey Cures

I used to work in offices, for corporations. “They” give you maybe ten sick days a year. If you are ill more than that, you have to figure out a way to remain home for recuperation without losing your job. This does not always work in reality.

I have been under the weather and ill for most of this year. I manage to get up and get around, but if I had to put in a commute and an eight hour workday, I would definitely be unemployed by now. It is the nature of auto-immune diseases like this, to incapacitate for long stretches of time. Yet I expect that I should be well enough for a full work schedule in two weeks or less.

I think I am past the worst of it, barring another round triggered by some allergen. My cough is clearing up rapidly, and I think a longterm infection has caused this long allergic response. I developed a sensitivity to lavender oil; it has taken a couple of weeks to get that sorted out. I am resistant to the pharmaceuticals I’ve been using, so I needed to change gears on that for a while.

I put up a plea on facebook for advice from my friends. One suggested that I needed two things: a strong dose of honey in my beeswax and olive oil salve, and a lot of sleep. Skin does not heal, it seems, except in stage 4 sleep. Honey has long been used as a dressing on healing wounds and sores. I’ve seen it in Amish and Old World books on home remedies.

The honey cure has been great. Here it is, according to what I worked out for myself following an online recipe that wasn’t as effective: 1 part honey, 1 part beeswax, 3 parts olive oil. The beeswax should be all natural – I use drippings and stubs from my Ukrainian altar candles – and the honey should be unpasteurized. The olive oil can be just any olive oil. Heat the olive oil gently, on low heat, maybe over a double boiler but at least while you hover over it and stare meaningfully at it. Then add the beeswax in bits, stirring until it melts. Pull off the heat and beat in the honey (which can be slightly warmed to make it flow easier; warm it by putting the jar in a  bowl of hot water). Stir with a wooden spoon until it is well homogenized and cooling. If you don’t stir, stir, stir, the wax may separate out in grains and the honey sink to the bottom.

I have been warming this gently by placing the jar in a pan of hot water raised to simmer, and taking off just as it becomes spreadable. Make sure it isn’t too hot, then spread it on the affected area.

I feel as if I have been waterproofed, but it is amazingly effective at reducing eczema and treating dry skin that resulted from the prescription ointments.