Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Is thriftiness only for the rich?

Now here's an interesting thing. An article appeared in the Outline entitled "Being Frugal is for the Rich." The author, Miles Howard, profiles a young Millennial couple who call themselves the Frugalwoods. I'd never heard of this family before, but it seems they decided they wanted to escape the rat race while young, so they crazy-saved their money, invested their savings, bought a homestead in Vermont, and retired young. Now they're blogging and writing about how the gospel of frugality can save others as well.

The interesting thing about this article is not the Frugalwoods themselves, but the sneering tone of the writer, Miles Howard, who seems to take affront at thriftiness. "Their story slots neatly into a classist myth that millions of adults in this country still believe: the American Millennial," he snarks.

Mr. Howard appears to think that because the Frugalwoods didn't start from a position of poverty, their thrifty lifestyle is hypocritical and a slap in the face of those who truly DO start from a position of poverty. Then he profiles the typical Millennial who, contrary to popular belief (presumably by the "millions of adults in this country") is "underprivileged." He laments the high student loan debts of the Millennial generation and the poor wages they're earning after graduation, forcing them to live in their parents' home well into adulthood. (Did he look at what kinds of unemployable degrees the Millennials earned that locked them into this debt cycle?)

"Regardless of intent," concludes Howard, "these Millennials [meaning, the Frugalwoods] are telling an older generation of elite Americans – the very people whose policies and financial decisions kneecapped the economy – what they want to hear: that everything is more or less okay, and young people just need to be more thoughtful about their money. And that's a [expletive] idea to perpetuate. Because whatever happens in the years ahead, penny-pinching will likely remain a lifestyle enhancement for bourgeois Millennials who possess enough money to enjoy the dividends of being thrifty. For most of us, there are no dividends: just thrift."

Here's the thing: neither the Millennials nor the "older generation of elite Americans" who "kneecapped the economy" can help anyone but themselves. The national economy is a vast engine far beyond the power of individual influence. It seems to me the Frugalwoods simply did the best they could with their "bourgeois" circumstances – and did very well – and now endeavor to show others how they did it. What's wrong with that?

"For the rest of us, there are no dividends: just thrift," says Mr. Howard. So answer me this: What's the alternative?

Seriously, what's the alternative to being thrifty? The Frugalwoods could have continued their previous careers and squandered away their money on material possession, fine dining, vacations around the world, personal electronics, or other frivolous spending. They didn't. They became thrifty, and by doing so, they achieved a different lifestyle.

But what about "the rest of us," as Mr. Howard so condescendingly asks? Are there no dividends from thrift, just the dull grind of thriftiness for the rest of our lives? What's the alternative? To spend and spend and spend money you don't have and dig yourself deeper into poverty?

What Mr. Howard seems to forget is thrift and frugality are powerful tools – especially for those who are poor. If someone is having a hard time making ends meet, they will simply dig themselves into a deeper hole by NOT being thrifty.

I remember years ago, when Older Daughter was a baby, getting into a somewhat heated discussion with another new mother about diapers. Don and I – penniless, with a home woodcraft business and a new baby – couldn't afford disposable diapers, so we used cloth, washed them, and hung them to dry.

This mother argued she couldn't afford a washing machine, so she had to keep using disposables. I whipped out my price book and calculator (for in those days, being a student of Amy Dacyczyn's "Tightwad Gazette," I kept a price book) and looked up the price of the cheapest disposables in the area, punched some numbers in the calculator, and demonstrated to this mother how she could purchase a washing machine within two months if she switched to cloth diapers and washed them at the Laundromat (which, presumably, she already frequented) until they could buy a washing machine of their own. Additionally, the washing machine would last for years and allow them the ability to do their own laundry for less expense (and hassle). She could save even more money if she line-dried her clothes.

This mother was not amused by my argument; and doubtless for the rest of her child's toddler years complained bitterly about how expensive disposable diapers were – without doing anything about it.

Folks, the only economy you can influence is yours. No one else can make you rich, but lots of things can make you poor … including your own profligate or illogical spending.

Kudos to the Frugalwoods, whoever they are. Regardless of how "bourgeois" they started out, they're doing things right financially. A lot more people could learn from their example – not the example of financial helplessness Mr. Howard demonstrates.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Proof progressives can evolve

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Proof progressives can evolve," in which I had the privilege to interview some remarkable friends.

For those unable to access the WND website, here's the text of the column:

Proof that Progressives can Evolve

I’d heard the whispered stories about Steve and Mary even before I met them. After settling nearby, their chronicle ricocheted around our small rural community with admiration and wonder.

You see, Steve and Mary used to be liberals. Serious liberals. New York liberals. Ardent Obama-supporting liberals. Pro-choice Hillary-voting liberals. Yet within the space of just a few years, their minds exploded beyond the narrow progressive lockstep. The result was not just a switch of political affiliation. They also uprooted their family and moved 3000 miles away to settle in our neck of the woods, desperate for a place where their kids could grow up with like-minded neighbors.

Steve, an engineer, always had a distrust of the government system. “I had one toe in both baths,” he related. “After going through the Bush years, I voted for the Democratic presidential candidate, but I was cynical about both parties.”

Mary was more leftist. “I voted for Hillary in the 2008 New York primaries. I felt Obama was too young and inexperienced. After Bush was voted in twice, I really disliked Republicans. I couldn't imagine myself having a serious conversation with any of them. How could they vote for Bush?”

Mary’s college years as an English major were steeped in feminist thought and literature. “It was all liberal ways of thinking,” she related. “We learned all about the inequities in the world, the voices that weren’t being heard. We talked and read about feminism, about Marxism. I became a vegetarian. Bill Clinton’s election happened when I was in grad school. It was an exciting time, lifting us out of the dark ages of the Reagan/Bush years.”

Neither Steve nor Mary was religious. Steve grew up in a strict Catholic home, but he fell away as he grew older. But Mary’s religious experience as a child was influenced by her mother’s bitterness toward church and faith. “She spoke very angrily about religion,” said Mary. “I’d been through a liberal education where the Bible was just a book, Jesus was just a man. I was skeptical about Christianity being pushed in politics. I was skeptical about religion in general.”

Oddly it was the 2007 incident of poisoned pet food from China that started opening Mary’s eyes. “How could the FDA allow this pet food into the country?” she wondered. She started doing exhaustive research on the assumed protection the FDA was supposed to give American citizens – and what she learned began disenchanting her about government oversight.

But Mary was excited when Obama was elected. “After Obama’s election, we were so full of hope about what was happening,” she related. “My biggest issue was universal health care. My hopes had been dashed when Hillary tried to pass it, so I was fully supportive when Obama pushed the same issue.”

But as Obama’s presidency unfolded, Mary became disillusioned. “He claimed he wanted universal health care,” she recalled, “but as the whole thing unfolded, he kept coming up with excuses why universal care wouldn’t work. He used it to pit Democrats and Republicans against each other. When Obamacare passed, there was no single-payer option and it was mandated for everybody. Obama had made deals with hospitals, with the pharmaceutical industry and with the insurance companies, all the time making promises about the single-payer option and universal health care. He was flat-out lying. Obamacare was an absolute farce for everyone, including poor people. It was a huge blow. Devastating. He was not the man he represented himself to be.”

For Mary, the scales began falling from her eyes as she realized Democrats and Republicans were just the same. It was all a big game. There was no difference between the parties. As with the FDA’s lack of vigilance with the tainted dog food, she realized health care should not be left in the hands of government.

As Obama’s rĂ©gime started contributing to global instability, particularly in the Middle East, Steve and Mary started thinking about moving to a less-populated area. They became more interested in preparedness. In 2010, when Steve started talking about buying a firearm, Mary didn’t freak.

Then their son was born with health issues pertaining to serious food allergies, and this couple realized three things: The media wasn’t honest, the government wasn’t honest, and the medical system was corrupt. “We woke up to corruption and how intertwined it all was,” remembered Mary. “The media was supposed to be keeping the government honest, but they weren’t. All three industries are intertwined and equally corrupt.”

Faced with her baby son’s health issues, Mary started doing her own research rather than depending on what doctors told her. She abandoned vegetarianism since it was impacting not only her own health, but her breastfeeding son’s health as well. “I assumed food at the grocery store was safe because the FDA tested it,” she said. “I had total trust in government agencies keeping us safe. The pet-food scare started opening my eyes, and our baby’s food allergies opened them further.”

During this time both Mary and Steve felt something was missing from their lives, and independently came to realize it was God. They felt called to homeschool their children, to take charge of their own health care, to leave the crowded, liberal east and move elsewhere. Providentially Steve got laid off from three engineering jobs in a row in Syracuse, but landed a job he spontaneously applied for in northeast Washington. “God was opening doors,” he recalled.

This couple decided to vote with their feet. “We were oppressed by the homeschooling laws, oppressed by the gun laws, oppressed by our circle of friends who couldn’t understand why we had changed,” said Steve. “We realized we were now ‘subversive’ in our own home state. We could either stay where we were and be outcasts, or we could move to a place where our choices to be independent were supported.”

“We couldn’t be ourselves anymore,” added Mary. “In our daughter’s dance class, mothers told each other how wonderful Common Core was. Our whole world had changed and we realized we were now different than everyone around us.”

“All the cards fell in place,” related Steve. “Our cars conked out, but a friend donated a working vehicle to us. I was offered a job with paid moving expenses. We sold our house within one day of putting it on the market. We found a place to live. It was a total and complete leap of faith.”

Which is how these folks became our neighbors a couple years ago, and started their journey toward self-sufficiency.

“God was giving us signs,” admitted Mary. “How many times did He nudge us to where we are now? We didn’t see the whole picture until we settled here, and it was then we realized the whole thing was Divine intervention.”

“People have preconceived notions about why we’re doing this,” said Steve. “But all we’re really doing is developing a self-sustaining lifestyle that will be here for our kids after we’re gone. We were floating aimlessly through life with no particular goal, but now that we have kids, we don’t want them to follow in our aimless footsteps. We want them to be independent, to think for themselves, to be able to protect themselves, to be spiritually sound.”

“We’re not here in this life to have a good time,” added Mary. “In the Bible, people always worked hard. We wanted to be close to the land, to raise our own food, to be healthy. That’s where we are in this journey.”

“And listen to what God is trying to tell you!” added Steve with a grin.

Thankfully Steve and Mary’s journey is not an isolated example. God is leading more and more people out of their progressive bondage to a land of greater promise, and we welcome them all as neighbors since God has also blessed us with their friendship.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dirt cake

It was my turn to bring dessert to our neighborhood potluck, and as often happens, I wanted to try something different. Once in a while another neighbor brings a phenomenal concoction she calls dirt cake, so I decided to give it a try.

Dirt cake, I learned, is little more than Oreo-flavored trifle. I tripled this recipe.

First thing to do is chop up the Oreos in a food processor. The result does, indeed, look uncannily like dirt.

Mixing butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar.

At the bottom is a bowl of whipped cream.

Not pictured: blending the pudding mix with the milk. Then all the filling components -- cream cheese, whipped cream, pudding -- are also blended together. (Sorry about the lack of photos.)

Then I layered the bowl with Oreo crumbs and filling, Oreo crumbs and filling, until it hit the top.

Looks almost like I could plant some seedlings in it, doesn't it?

Good stuff. One more dish for my potluck repertoire.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring walks

One of the advantages of having an active dog is he's relentless when it comes to taking afternoon walks (meaning, he makes sure we get our exercise). In fact, we joke that we'd better take Mr. Darcy out before he explodes.

Our usual walk is a two-mile circuit (one mile there and back) along the dirt road leading to our house. At this time of year, early spring, the vista is constantly changing. Come along on one of our afternoon perambulations.

The meadowlarks are returning. For some reason I have a dickens of a time photographing these melodious birds. They're cagey and don't let you get too close, which is why I had to zoom in and then crop these photos ... but wow can they belt out music.

In March, large flocks of geese are not unusual. These guys are heading for the lake.

Here some fog is just burning off, showing a glimpse of the hillside across the canyon.

By contrast, here are some sheets of rain around the butte. Despite the ominous setting, we didn't get wet since the rain skirted around us.

More rain across the canyon.

Now here's an interesting thing. See this vista?

Or this one?

In both photos, note the glimpse of flat green field in the middle distance. Those fields are early growth of winter wheat, just emerging after the snow. What's not obvious is those fields are loaded with deer.

It wasn't always easy to focus on the deer through the tangle of tree branches.

Here's some ice overlaid by mud from an earlier water flow. The mud is insulating the ice against a fast melt-off.

Being a golden retriever, Mr. Darcy is forever toting sticks along the road.

Maybe it's a guy thing, but it seems the bigger the stick, the better. I can't tell you the number of times he's tried to drag small trees along for the ride.

A pair of mourning doves.

Five cows, five calves. I am forever taking a mental count to make sure no one's missing.

So that's a walk in early spring. Thanks for coming along!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Raising boys to be husbands

Here's my WND column for this weekend, originally titled "Raising boys to be husbands" but re-christened "Nine qualities your future son-in-law must have." I certainly don't mind that the editors retitled it -- especially since they put it on the front-page slider.

For those unable to access the WND website, here's the text of the column:

Raising Boys to be Husbands

Several years ago I read an article entitled “How to Raise the Men We'd Want to Marry.” The article describes how a woman raised her son to be a sensitive, nurturing soul who wasn’t afraid to show emotions. Clearly this woman did a fine job raising her boy – particularly as she apparently did so singlehandedly, since the boy’s father is not mentioned anywhere in the article.

Does this mean I’d want this woman’s son to marry one of my daughters? Probably not. I found the article to be just a touch bit heavy on new-age claptrap, emphasizing the feelings and emotions of boys at the expense of what woman might actually want in a future husband and as the father of her children. Feeeelings are fine, but too often they don’t translate into husband material.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am not suggesting we don’t permit boys to express feelings and emotions (and I’m certain many critics will conclude I’m saying just that). But at what point does a boy’s rough-and-tumble nature supersede his mother’s preference for feeeelings? What does his dad have to say about it?

A boy needs lots of emotional nurturing from his mother when he’s young. But as he grows up, he naturally gravitates away from his mother’s cuddles and embraces toward the more manly example set by other men. He’s less interested in “talking about his feelings” than he is engaging in farting contests with his friends.

So anyway, this whole line of thought started me thinking about how I would want a boy to be raised if he was going to marry one of my daughters. What qualities do I admire in a man? Here’s a partial list, in no particular order (friends will recognize my husband in this list):

Humor. My husband is funny. Hilariously funny. There are times he has me in stitches as he imitates accents or tells a story with added melodrama or otherwise finds the more amusing side of life. Humor can get you through the darkest and most uncertain of times.

Morals. Men should have high moral standards. These standards will translate into proper fatherly authority and guidance for his children.

Warriors. Men should be warriors. I don't mean all men should be soldiers or police officers; I mean a man should be ready, able, and willing to defend his family under whatever circumstances arise. The defense could be as low-key as words (telling his mother to stop picking on his wife) or as dire as shooting an intruder who is threatening his family.

A work ethic. A man, my husband tells me, should be able to provide for his family. His opinion is not that women shouldn’t work outside the home – quite the contrary – but that women shouldn’t have to work because the man is too lazy to get off his duff and find a job, any job, to make ends meet. A man takes pride in doing whatever lowly job is necessary to provide income for his family.

Gentleness. A man should be strong enough to be gentle, and I don’t mean “gentle” in the feminine sense. I mean, a man should know how to convince others through his words and honorable actions, not through sheer strength or violence (unless the situation calls for it, of course). He should know how to discipline his children, not beat them. He should know how to disagree with his wife in a respectful way, not with fury or (God forbid) with force. A man should be strong enough to admit when he’s wrong, and strong enough to be gracious when others admit they're wrong.

Faith. A man should have faith. A man should be strong enough to know he is weak and flawed, and where to turn to remedy that. A man with faith guides his family toward God.

Practical knowledge. A man should have practical knowledge – just like a woman should have practical knowledge. My husband can turn his hand to any number of tasks that need doing – he can wire a house, replace leaky plumbing, build sheds and barns, cut firewood with a chainsaw, and other manly activities.

The Head. A man should be the Head of the household. A lot of modern women take exception to that term, somehow seeing it as demeaning or insulting. By contrast, I see it as comforting and loving. I am the Heart of this household, and as everyone knows, a body is no good without a heart, just as a body is no good without a head. We need both, and the fact that I view my husband as my Head in no way diminishes my importance as his Heart. But someone has to have the final say in a house for peace and order to prevail, and God in His infinite wisdom ordained that job to go to the man.

Smart women pick men who truly understand what being “the Head” means. Remember the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? Laura admired the way her parents worked together. I once saw it written that Caroline went wherever Charles took her, but Charles would only go where Caroline let him. In other words, being the Head of a household doesn’t mean being a nasty dictator. In means taking wise counsel from others, primarily one’s Heart, to discern the best path for a family to take. An important task for a woman in choosing a husband is to pick a man who truly understands what it means to take his place as Head of the household.

Respect. A man should respect his wife – but that’s easier said than done unless a wife respects her husband. A woman should never emasculate her man by nagging or complaining about him to her friends. (It drives me nuts to hear women trash-talk their husbands.)

The article referenced at top was written by a feminist, for feminists. She raised her son to support feminist ideals. So while the qualities of “empathy” and “being good listeners” and “expressing feelings” listed in the article (all feminine attributes, I might add) might be a plus, do women want girly-men as husbands?

Feminists might. I’m just glad my husband isn’t one of them. I’d far rather have a funny guy who can fix a sink than a sensitive guy who weeps at chick flicks. I’m just weird that way.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Update on our daughters

A reader asked recently how our daughters are doing. Here’s a quick update.

Older Daughter continues with her job as a live-in nanny in New Jersey, but she’s getting mighty tired of the endless suburbs surrounding her. Coming home for Christmas made her realize how much she missed the wide-open spaces and the ability to go walking and be surrounded by nature rather than houses and pavement and cars.

So – she plans to move west within a year or so, this time heading toward Western Washington (Seattle area). She’s now an experienced nanny. Besides nearly three years’ experience on the job, she’s been volunteering at a women’s shelter caring for babies and toddlers (she needed experience with that age group), and this facility liked her so well they offered her a paid position. (She declined, but boy was she flattered!) Coupled with her credentials as a Certified Professional Nanny from the English Nanny and Governess School in Ohio, she will be in hot demand in the Seattle area.

She's grateful to the family she's working for, who have been very generous with her. Older Daughter has been diligently saving her money since eventually she wants to purchase some rural property. So many young people her age are mired in student loan debts after attending college; but she's soaring, free and unfettered, with a healthy bank account, excellent in-demand credentials, and endless opportunities in a place like Seattle.

Some may wonder if moving to Seattle means she’ll be exchanging one urban prison for another, but the Emerald City is a lot closer to wild spaces than New Jersey. An hour’s drive puts you into the mountains. There are also endless hiking groups in the area, which means she can get out on weekends and hit the trails.

Selfishly, we’ll be very, very glad to have our oldest closer to us. She’ll be a five-hour drive away, rather than a five-hour flight away, and conceivably could even come home on weekends. (Or we could go visit her.) Wouldn’t that be something!

Younger Daughter, as you recall, is now a sailor in the Navy, training in Advanced Electronics/Computer Field (AECF) in Great Lakes, Illinois. She just – as in, last week – finished ATT (Advanced Technical Training) School. Just as boot camp is a “filter” to weed out those unable to hack military life, Younger Daughter described the 10-week ATT school as a “filter” to weed out those unable to hack AECF. She tied for second place in class, so she’s clearly able to hack the coursework.

This week she started “A” School, with more advanced training. My understanding is this will continue until about October, at which point “A” School will be over and we might be able to expect her home for a fast visit. By then she’ll know where her duty station will be – perhaps Virginia, perhaps San Diego, perhaps somewhere else – and she will travel to that location to attend “C” School, the specialized training she’ll need on the job. Then she’s bound for a ship.

So far she loves the military life – absolutely stinkin’ loves it. She enjoys the discipline, she enjoys the camaraderie, she enjoys the challenges, she enjoys meeting people from all over the country and from all stations in life. She’s working hard, saving her money, and looks forward to when she can get on board a ship and put her training to work.

So there you go. That’s the latest on our girls.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Brat Pack is complete

We only had one cow -- technically a heifer -- left to give birth to her calf. This was Pixie, Polly's adult calf.

She's been fooling me, this little lady. I've tucked her into the pen (which I'm coming to think of as the Birthing Chamber) a couple times, sure she was close to calving, but morning would come and no calf.

But yesterday her udder was very turgid, and she had a string of mucous hanging from her backside. No escaping it this time.

We'd been letting the animals down into the woods during the day, but they've still been hanging in the driveway in the evening. Yesterday evening came and Pixie was nowhere to be seen, so I walked down into the woods and found her in a thicket of leafless bushes. It's very normal for cows to go off by themselves to give birth, but Pixie is a first-time mother and there are coyotes around. I wanted her on firm ground with the rest of the cows nearby. She docilely let me herd her back into the driveway.

The weather has been very warm (it hit 60F today!) and the nights cool but not bitter, so it didn't bother me wherever Pixie choose to have her calf, as long as it was in the driveway area with the rest of the herd around. She settled right down for the night. I checked her just before I went to bed, and there were no signs of labor yet.

But this morning, I was not surprised to walk outside and see five, not four, calves. Pixie is now a mama.

Here's the new baby, a little girl we named Peggy (so the descendants go: Polly ==> Pixie ==> Peggy), wobbling right over another calf.

Here's Pixie, looking a little shell-shocked at her new role in life. Sometimes it takes new mamas a little while to get the hang of things.

But she was attentive enough. I think it helps to have other, more experienced cows around.

Then I fed all the animals breakfast under the awning, and Pixie was torn between wanting food and wanting to stay with her baby.


Or breakfast?

Breakfast won. Hey, a gal has to keep her strength up.

So here we have the makings of a fine Brat Pack: Five little calves, born within a few weeks of each other. Can't you just see the mischief they'll be getting into?

In the meantime, Pixie showed signs of being a good mama.

For a little while, that is. Through a series of unfortunate events (namely, spring), one cow (Sparky) jumped a fence into another pasture, and eventually everyone ended up there for the day -- five cows, four calves.

Naughty Pixie had shucked off her responsibilities and left her baby in the driveway while she took advantage of the pasture (those calves aren't hers, by the way). Like a newborn fawn, it's often the habit of newborn calves to just hunker down and stay still when their mothers are away, so Peggy stayed in the driveway.

As evening drew near, Peggy needed her mama, so I scooped her up and put her in the barn pen, then put fresh food and water in the barn pen as well. Then we did our universal cattle call ("Bossy bossy bossy bossy bossy!!!") and got the herd near the gate. It was at this point Pixie remembered she had a calf, so we got her into the barn with her baby.

I was pleased to see Peggy nursing strongly. Once a calf nurses, its chances of survival are superb.

I'm afraid Pixie is in for a boring spell since we're going to keep her confined with Peggy. We have a day of rain moving in, and I want the newborn protected.

So that's the completion of our Brat Pack. In a few weeks these guys will be wreaking havoc. Such is spring.