Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If You Want to Save Money, Cook Like Manny

Egg salad, potato salad, pots of soup -- all in vast quantities. Never buy the little canned soups. They're so fancy and tempting, especially when they're on sale. Don't do it. Walk right past em. They're loaded with salt anyways.

The huge pot you make with your own freezer stock will last you a week and is just "jumpin' with vitamins." Leave it in a big pot in the fridge. Bring it out everyday at lunch. Reheat. Eat. Reheat. Eat. It's so much better the second and the third and the fourth day.

All this to say, my cooking has reminded me of my dear, young grandmother lately. We're on a blessedly tight budget (we still eat like kings and queens compared to most the world) and our habits would certainly meet the approval of my Depression-era reared Manny.

I have literally found myself thinking as I create shopping lists: "What would Manny make?" The answer is always something wonderful & simple & mostly from scratch. I then venture to the market and nod at little old ladies with similar lists written on the backs of window envelopes and similar raw ingredients in their carts: bottles of vinegar, bags of potatoes, economy size chunks of cheddar.

These girls have got it figured out, I tell myself. No debit card swiping for these chicks. Nope. Myrtle and Bettie Sue have pocket books with just a week's worth of cash and they're storming the aisles, squeezing every last drop from every last dollar.

This reminds me of something I read last year: Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin. She refers to such frugal habits as the "lost, feminine art of Thrift." The book looks at womanhood from a traditional point of view and criticizes modern notions of feminism on the simple basis that they, according to the author, do not lead to happiness.

While I didn't agree with everything Andelin had to say, I certainly was challenged, enlightened and affirmed by the book. Specifically, her advice on finances (in short, letting one's husband lead) has been an enormous blessing and was providential advice to have garnered as I now face the challenge of Pete setting up his own business. I recommend it even though my original intent of this post was to talk about one particular Fascinating Woman and her culinary talents.

On that note, I saw Manny last week. She brought potato salad to my sister's house. I told her I had just made some at home the day before. We shared tips on the dish's best ingredients. She uses whatever salad dressings are left in her fridge. I, on the other hand, always add purple onion and turkey bacon -- both are always a good price at Aldi.

And while I'd love to stop there, at the mention of my favorite enterprise, I have to mention one last thing about Manny. Her frugality is not an end to itself. She raised 4 children mostly alone, owns a great house, lives debt-free and has taken some pretty cool trips.
Manny was never a spoiling type of Grandma but displays random acts of selfless generosity in thoughtful, meaningful ways. For example, she had her mother's and each of her 4 children's portraits professionally painted. They're on display in her living room. We gather there when grace allows and eat delicious meals like soup and egg salad sandwiches.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I hate it when women gush about their husbands. For example, I once read a blog where the woman bragged she went away for two days and returned to find her 8 children happy, well-fed & her house cleaner than when she left.

For the record, when I go away for 2 hours I return to find my house trashed and my kids and husband starving to death.

So on that note, I'll gush about my husband but only a little.

Today is his birthday. And no I'm not bragging about him because the above photo could land him a spot on some really popular tv drama. I'm bragging because over the past few months he's handled one huge crisis with enormous strength, dignity and grace.

Most of you know that he was suddenly laid off in November. Since then, he's started up his own practice, Advent Foot and Ankle, under tremendous time pressure & on a shoestring budget. His desk is in our living room, which is also our playroom & family room & everything room. I have seen him fill out horrible, tedious paperwork while a 3 1/2-year-old and a 19-month-old scream and climb on his chair like a jungle gym.

And he has never once raised his voice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ashes Aren't Enough

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -- Benjamin Franklin

I couldn't agree more, Ben. And so goes my main thought on Lent this here Ash Wednesday: If eating good things like chocolate and hamburgers and drinking good things like coffee and beer make you so very happy that you want to fly away to heaven to thank God in person for being one heck of a Creator, isn't it somehow wrong -- perhaps even sinful to abstain from such pleasures for 40 whole days?
Absolutely, declares my late 20th century Protestant thinking (early Protestants observed Lent -- some still do). Remember, agewise I'm only 3/31ths Catholic and 28/31ths Protestant and the matter of conversion truly takes time ... I better live a really really really long life.

So I haven't decided what I'm giving up for Lent. I'm still here: "I've given up my whole body (pregnancy), every waking second of my life (motherhood), alcohol (pregnancy), money (husband's job loss) already; what else does God want from me? Throw me a bone here, or maybe just a steak or a candy bar.

And after all this pondering, what's my conclusion? Just this: if, out of love, I voluntarily offer up a sacrifice during Lent, perhaps the rest of the year it will be just a little easier to offer up the sacrifices demanded of me. We'll see.