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.

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!

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.