Monday, November 17, 2008

In June I sent my father’s 16 mm home movies to Florida Home Movies, to have them transferred to DVD. After visiting Kits Camera and emailing several transfer businesses, this was the one which told me that they could add the sound of an old 16 mm projector to the DVD. Other outfits said they simply couldn’t do it or thought it was nuts. Lured by seeming enthusiasm from a Jean Marcott I carefully packaged my reels of film and sent them UPS to Florida. The job was to take a month.

My summer was dominated by home repairs and an ill mother. It was easy to let the days slip into weeks and not inquire after my movies. When I did I would get an email reassuring me that the job was proceeding with every attempt to make it wonderful. Like a bovine that had been tossed an armful of hay, I would go on as happy as a cow for a while.

In September replies to emails turned abrupt and then stopped altogether and I panicked. Those home movies were pretty much the sum total of my inheritance and more precious than gold to me. And they were 3,000 miles away with people who were disinclined to communicate with me. I emailed, “Please, just send the movies back. “ I left a comment on their website and contacted the Boca Raton Better Business Bureau. Finally, someone I had never heard of called.
“Mark,” if that was his name, had plenty of excuses for why a job slated to take one month had so far taken three. The projector broke down. The bulb burned out. The replacement bulb was costly and a long time coming. Any of this I would have sympathized with if along the way someone would have emailed or called and explained. They were prepared to go forward with the project and it would be done in a few days. Did I want them to simply box up the movies, “Which by-the-way, were 8 inch reels, not 7 inch.” We had a massive failure to communicate.
I was torn. I wanted to smack the freckles off the face of this “Mark” person, but he was a long ways away and had my movies. They could easily get lost or destroyed. I told him that I still wanted the movies transferred, that it was Christmas for my children, that if he would have called occasionally over the months I might not have gotten BBB involved.

It was not as quickly as a week. Actually it was more like two when Mark called to say the movies were ready and what address did I want them shipped to. He would send them out the next day. Even at that it was another two weeks and a message left on his cell phone before I received the package.

Had the economy gone south a few months earlier I might not have embarked on this adventure. Despite the inconvenience of dealing with uncommunicative people I am glad that I did it when I did or I might not have ever done it. Who knows what the future will bring and with a husband who will sooner or later be out of a job I am glad that I bit the bullet and got it done. I’ve paid off the credit card and the children will have my memories, my father’s memories, for Christmas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Poverty Unit

Most of my adult life I have had to struggle financially. After having and paying for a place for my family to live, putting food on the table while stretching dollars has been the most important skill I acquired. More times than I can count I’ve stood in my kitchen and blessed Mrs. McLean who was my home economics teacher my senior year at Sammamish High School in Bellevue.

Home Ec was not my favorite subject in school. Art was. But in those days a certain number of Home Ec credits were required for graduation and while sewing was torture, cooking was more appealing so I signed up for Creative Cooking with Mrs. McLean. She was young, hip--a bit of a beatnik--and fun. Dressed in sweaters and straight skirts, she claimed that if she ever had children she'd name them "boy" or "girl" and let them choose their own names. Despite the fact that Home Ec was generally the realm of the girls, we had two boys break the gender barrier at Sammamish that year and sign up for Creative Cooking.

Whether or not Mrs. McLean looked into her crystal ball and foresaw the decade we were graduating into or if her own life experience was the source of her curriculum in the form of the Poverty Unit I do not know. Certainly there was nothing about our own suburban Baby Boom childhoods in Bellevue that would have led her to believe that we had our would have need of the lessons we learned in the Poverty Unit, but the gift she gave us was to be able to create a meal, more or less palatable, from what we could scrape up.

Mrs. McLean’s method was simple. She started us out with the fewest ingredients possible. What can you do with just flour and water and a little fat? We looked at each other puzzled. Surely she wasn’t serious. We came up with something akin to a cracker. That was the first day. Over the course of the unit, Mrs. McLean added basic ingredients to our supply list and our creations took on the qualities of recognizable food.

For most of us it took a stretch of imagination to envision ourselves needing the skills we were learning. Certainly for the daughter of a Boeing engineer it seemed like the last lesson I would be in need of, but in two short years I would be a wife and mother with a low enough income to qualify for food stamps for the first time, but not the last, and the confidence that Mrs. McLean instilled in me helped me not be afraid when I stood in a kitchen with little food in the cupboard, praying the mailman would bring the child support check.

Many of today’s youngsters in my community are used to eating out or buying processed foods which will quickly drain a wallet. Getting the most out of my food money is as much of a job as the one I go to five days a week and I’ve brought out Mrs. McLean’s Poverty Unit and dusted it off at some point during nearly every decade of my adult life. She’s with me again in this economic crisis. I just hope that there are other Mrs. McLeans, preparing other young people to feed themselves and their families.

Now I have to climb down off my broom and have our family squish into my little Neon like circus clowns so we can tool down I-5 to a family wedding in Portland. Thank the goddess gas prices have taken a momentary dip to make the trip possible, but then, when family is there, so am I! Thanks to Mrs. McLean I can stretch our food budget far enough to get gas to Portland.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Have Yourself a Thrifty Little Christmas

Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Apparently Franklin was un-American. I’ve been accused of being un-American and hell-bent on destroying the American economy by shopping locally, making gifts, and giving experiences rather than stuff and--OMG--conserving gas. I think we’ve recently had ample evidence that large amounts of debt is not working for America and Americans. Maybe my critics will shut up as they scramble to create Christmas in the midst of a recession brought on by the greed of all of us.
Each New Year, my resolution is to buy throughout the year and be ready for the holidays. I am happy to report that 2008 was finally the year that I did not put off all of my shopping until the traditional shopping season between Thanksgiving and the Winter Solstice. I haven’t done purposeful shopping, simply kept my eye out for things that reminded me of people I love and then stored them in a big plastic tub in our bedroom. The tub is full and I’ve even started wrapping! I’m having fun discovering what all I’ve stashed away and hoping that by getting a jump on the holidays I will get a jump on the stress because holidays are supposed to be fun, right?

To date my best purchase was a big box of Legos from Craig’s List. My four-year-old grandson Gabriel has had a large box of the chunky Legos for toddlers for several years. This summer he became enchanted with the little Legos I’d saved from his Uncle Nadir and stashed at our summer home to the point of not wanting to go out and play on the beach. A trip to Target horrified me that you cannot buy just plain old Legos. You buy sets that create specific things instead of letting a child’s imagination (which Gabriel is blessed with in large quantity) run wild. And the price? To get any amount of Legos you can spend $80 or $90 to get a fancy box and directions for making a pirate ship, a castle or the Millennium Falcon.

I would not have driven to Mercer Island just to buy a box of Legos, but since my husband works in Seattle anyway, and loves a bargain as much as the next guy, he was willing to leave a little early one day and “score” the Legos. He actually sent me that in a text message. So now Gabriel will have a large unfancy box of gently used Legos and we spent $45—still a lot by our family’s standards, but the entertainment value will be worth it since Gabriel is creative and we so enjoy watching him create.

In February, while having a little holiday on Whidbey Island, I purchased a shaker can of lavender scented kitty litter sweetening. To keep it out of the reach of grandbabies, our kitty’s box was moved to our master bathroom so we get up close and personal with Zeke on a daily basis. I clean the box regularly because…well, it’s right there by my foot, but sometimes it needs a quick freshening. A few shakes of the can and voila, problem solved. All was well until we came to the end of the can. I’m here to tell you that the folks at the Lavender Wind Farm near Coupeville impressed me when I read the back of the can and discovered that they’d included instruction for creating more of their product yourself instead of sending them money! Using the can as a measuring cup I put baking soda in a bowl, added a few drops of lavender essential oil, stirred it like a sweet smelling cauldron, scooped it back into the shaker and we were good to go. Hey, if it’s that easy why not make some of my own to give to kitty loving friends? I found the proper shakers at Cash & Carry on Tacoma Mall Blvd., but I’m holding out for Goodwill since $4.69 for the can seemed a little steep. That’s how much of a tightwad I am.

And we are headed into the Bazaar Season. I have a friend who goes to a gazillion bazaars which sometimes I am able to tag along to, sometimes not. This year I am striking out on my own by going to my mother’s church’s bazaar at the Peninsula Church Center in Seaview, WA. As bazaars go, it’s not much, but the Presbyterians, with whom the Lutherans share the building and event, make awesome chowder and I just might score a little something for the new granddaughter while we’re at it. At the very least we’ll be sure to find watermelon pickles!