I Wish I Could Take Credit For
I wish I could take credit for making the decision not to have television in the house.
But the truth is, one of the children dropped the portable television set. We had bought this with the idea that we could put it away in a closet when it was not being used. Well, that never happened.
I set up all sorts of controls—a chart beside the television for the children to record the amount of time they watched television and what they watched; a rule that homework had to be done before television; a limit on viewing. We even had a Saturday-morning-cartoon violence-tracking chart—but none of this worked well. It didn't because television regulation required that I be the television vice squad, something not suited to my style of discipline. Indeed, the greatest viewing offender in our household was I! I am a latent television addict. So when one of the kids dropped the darn thing and it broke, we decided not to replace it and to go cold-turkey TV-withdrawal instead.
And do you know what?—it was one of the best decisions we ever made for the life of our family—not to mention my own intellectual and spiritual development.
I wish I could take credit for going for the past three summers without an air conditioner.
But the truth is, the 30-year-old AC finally breathed its last blast of chilled air in 1995, and we didn't have the money to replace it. So I looked back to those hot summer days when I was a child and my mother and grandmother controlled the temperature in the house by letting in cooler night air—all the windows open—then closing everything up tight the next day. Each mid-morning, windows were shut, shades were pulled and curtains were drawn on the sunny side of the house. We sat out on the screened-in porches on summer evenings and my Dad hooked up a monster fan to a discarded but very stable wooden high-chair, and turned it on in the evening so cooler air was pulled all the way up to the attic. David and I've survived just fine without AC. The basement is finished and cool, so we can migrate down there if things get sticky hot upstairs in the middle of a heat wave.
And do you know what?—not only have we cut our summer electricity bills, we've become acclimatized. Like our kids who live in Arizona, the hot out there isn't as hot to them as it is to me. Well, here at home in Chicago, we just don't feel the effect of heat as much as we used to. Our youngest son and his wife and baby daughter moved in with us for part of the summer. "Aren't you hot?" they'd ask. "You know, it just doesn't feel that hot to me," I heard myself answering. And it doesn't! I can work in the garden on 90-degree days and just not feel it. "Aren't you hot out there?" someone will call to me. Nope. Not feeling the pain.
I wish I could take credit for buying most of my clothes at Goodwill (I don't have time to shop in the other resale shops).
This again was mostly an economic decision. Wow!—I love the grey Ralph Lauren slacks I bought for $4.99. On a recent foray to Goodwill, I discovered a small leather Villager bag for $2.99. Perfect for my France trip; it's small enough to wear under a jacket to confound pickpockets, but large enough to organize essentials without activating my luggage elbow. Found some lovely cranberry-glass vases ($5 each) for a daughter-in-law's collection. Found a terrific butter-soft tan leather jacket (missing a button, which I have already replaced) for $12.99.
Admittedly, I have a strong populist streak. I believe privilege of any kind separates us from the struggles of where disadvantaged folk are forced to live out their everyday lives. I love shopping with immigrants, their darling little children playing hide-and-seek in the clothes racks. I smile at other retirees and feel kinship with the teenagers who really know how to find a bargain, their shopping baskets full of stuff. My friend Sibyl Towner pointed me to the Re-Store in Elgin where Habitat for Humanity runs a warehouse stocked with perfectly fine salvage or manufacturer's overstock. Sometime soon, I'm hoping to get out there and find a new dishwasher to replace the one my repairman says is not worth fixing—"Nope, lady. That there motor's just gone. Not worth the price of a service call."
And yesterday, David and I received in the mail our Regional Transportation Authority Senior Ride Free passes. Expiration date: 10/31/2012. "You know what?" I said to my daughter over the phone. "There are some advantages to getting old!" David and I are eager to travel into Chicago and all over Chicago for free.
You know what?—everyday in my life is a bargain hunter's holiday! There is no such thing as poverty if you do not have a poverty mentality.
I wish I could take credit for the fact that I compost and recycle everything I can and am consequently, in this area at least, really, really "green."
But no, this comes from being raised as the daughter of parents who survived the Great Depression (the one in the thirties), and who remembered soup lines and tent cities and the Dust Bowls, and good folk broken because they had lost everything. As a child, men came to our third-floor apartment backdoor, begging for food. Mother would have the man wait on the porch and she would fix him a sandwich. "What if that were a son of mine, going hungry?" she would ask of me, a child of five or six. My parents never had much, but they were generous people. They were also frugal; "waste not; want not" was a family motto. A garden was the first thing they put in our suburban home when they moved out of the city. The upstairs bedrooms (the heated ones) were rented to college students. My father refused to let my mother buy a certain dress for my sister (because it was too much to pay for one dress) but it was OK to buy two dresses for the same amount. You get the picture.
And do you know what? We separate cans and bottles. I stack newspapers and magazines, flatten cereal and cracker boxes, and I compost all our degradable kitchen waste. A metal garbage can waits in the garage for me to dig in all that smelly good stuff that creates black friable soil in my garden. I love the alternate retail economies—Craigslist, eBay, garage sales, roadside "TAKE IT—IT'S FREE" signs. Because we've been living frugally, I have absolute confidence that we can make it through hard economic times.
And guess what? The news this morning reported that David and I are going to receive a cost-of-living increase in our Social Security payments (about $67 each, I think the article said). God is good.
I wish I could take credit for the fact that I am finally bagging it!
After months of trying, after months of going into grocery stores without my I'M A GLOBAL BAG LADY—And Proud of It! shopping tote, after months of leaving my full grocery carts in the aisles to run outside and retrieve my sustainable bags from the trunk of my car, I am proud to announce that I am finally developing a discipline. I keep a stack of reusable bags in the trunk for large shopping forays, and one fancier bag on the car seat for quick trips to the drug or variety store. I have a Chico's pouch bag (this patented design folds from a 15"×12" bag into itself and is now available with a GBP logo—see the column) clipped to the side of a purse strap. Here at the Mainstay Ministries offices, we are even ordering BYOB (Bag) self-stick reminder notices to put in the car for people like myself who take a while to create good habits.
I wish I could take the credit for developing the Global Bag Project concept, but I really think it has been the sound of the earth crying to be purged, the bright eyes of courageous HIV/AIDS widows, the testimony of millions of the poor who have been lifted out of direst poverty by loans of $75-$125. I really think it has been the joy of friends who have volunteered because they think this is something they would like to help launch. A hundred people have willingly, even eagerly, given me ideas and feedback. I really think the Global Bag Project is in its start up stage because the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, This is something you and your friends could do.
And you know what?—Linda Renner, my colleague in microcredit schemes reports that we have sold out of the first supply of African-made bags and we are ordering more. And you know what?—Carla Boelkens, my colleague in planning the Meeting of Women's Minds March African Journey (who plunked down $500 to buy jewelry in the slums of Kibera) has held three parties, is planning three more and has ordered more jewelry from Africa. And you know what?—Hungry Souls has a great GBP logo, a design for the pocket of each bag, and we have developed a full line of imprinted bags with our GBP logo for pre-Christmas sales.
And do you know what?
I wish I could take credit for any of this. But I can't.
Bag Ladies Project shopping bags
"There is no such thing as poverty if you do not have a poverty mentality."
Comforting One Another:
In Life's Sorrows
by Karen Burton Mains
Karen Mains considers herself a
collector … a collector of
pietąs. A pieta is any person or group of persons holding a broken body
death or near death. In Comforting One Another, Mains says pietąs are
whenever we hold another person who is facing life's sorrows.