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skills of living

Cooking Turkey: Accomplishments and the Tyranny of Lists

Recently, Aunt Toby became aware of a movement that seems to be sweeping over the world of Blogistan and that is this business of people’s coming up with huge lists of things that they say they want to do, accomplish, take care of , etc. etc. within a certain period of time.

As the kid says in the old New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s, while poking dubiously into a plateful of something set in front of him, “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.” (more…)

Forget Wall Street: Invest in Potatoes

(Caution: Image Heavy) We all know what’s happened to the stock market over the past year. No news there. A whole lot of people lost a whole lot of their retirement and goodness knows what else over the past year. A whole lot of people are going to have to work long past their ‘sell by’ dates just to get through.

What Aunt Toby is here to tell you is that there are other ‘investments’ that sometimes do a whole lot better than fancy financial instruments, ‘regular’ and ‘preferred’ and Class A, B or C.

I’m talking about…potatoes (more…)

Information: The Tool You Have In Your Hands to Help Others in this Economy

One of the reasons that I started this blog is that last year, I started to see that the economy was going into the tank and was very concerned that for a lot of people, certain basic ‘activities of living’ were going to become harder and harder to accomplish.

And that has not changed.

I don’t care what the economics pundits and MSNBC bozos wave around. “It’s over.” “It’s NOT over.” “Green shoots” “Turned a corner.”

I could not care less what some of these know-nothing self-interested gasbags say, actually, because I know that there are a lot of people in a world of hurt right now and a lot of them have been that way, frankly, for years. (more…)

The Exploding Pressure Canner and Other Kitchen Myths

Well, I certainly opened up the floodgates for folks with the ‘my grandmother told me about the time she just left the kitchen ‘for a moment’ and her pressure canner exploded and cousin CindyLou got burned and the windows blew out and she never used a pressure canner ever again’ stories.

The business end of these tales usually involve the fact that it’s someone’s grandmother – who was canning in 1925, using the dial canner technology of the time…was not watching the damn canner (and did not ‘leave for a moment’ – but actually went outside to yell at one of the other kids – and had to chase the dog out of the garden and then decided to pick some corn for supper and so on)…and Cousin CindyLou got burned – because she opened the top or took the weight off the vent tube before things were cold inside. As for the windows blowing out – well, Aunt Toby suspects that there is a little bit of dramatic license being taken there to justify the fact that they never used the pressure canner again.

I think there is also this tremendous number of people out there who would like to can but who are terrified that they will blow up the house. Folks – it ain’t 1925. (more…)

Sewing: Make it worth even more

Aunt Toby has, I suspect, a rather unique philosophy on sewing clothing for family members in terms of ‘making it pay’, which is this:

Learn to do one thing really well. Make that a bunch of times…and then learn to make another thing really well and make THAT a bunch of times.

Example One: Men’s shirts. I make men’s shirts for the DH as an act of love (ok, I admit it), but also because he has a sort of shoebox shaped body and the tails are just not long enough. Men’s shirts, from a sewing and design aspect are like Japanese pen and ink drawings: the buffet of design opportunities is pretty narrow. The items that are usually seen when the man wears it with a suit or sportcoat are the collar, the cuffs and the band (and even then, with a tie an observer doesn’t get to see much, actually) . The only other place to do anything is the yoke in the back and the chest pocket and even then, there is this really thin line between “Oh, that’s nifty” and “Oh, you’re subbing for The Tumbleweed Boys” this evening?” (more…)

The Light at the End of the Tunnel — and how you and your family can get there faster

moneyOK – everyone comfy? Want more coffee?

We’re back in the kitchen (because that is where the food, the heat and the good seats are). We’ve talked about (to review, in case anyone is taking notes here and no – there are no essay questions on the final) saving money, starting a garden, “doing one thing” to improve your situation, and finding out who your network is.

Today, we’re going to grasp the wriggly monster with both hands: The country is in the toilet. Really. The news gets worse every day. It looks as if we are “staring down the barrel of a gun” and “hitting the wall” – simultaneously. (Being able to do both at the same times is going to take the skills and physique of a contortionist, but I digress.)

And now Elliot Spitzer gets out there and basically says that all the money that has been used to bail out the banks and AIG was wasted – like we didn’t know that already.

But he did talk about something that we WILL talk about which is:
“government investment in the long-range competitiveness of our nation, not in a failed business model…”

What I want you to do, right now (and you know I am all about the “right now”) is to take that phrase “government investment in the long-range competitiveness of our nation” and replace a couple of words so that it reads like this:

“personal investment in the long-range competitiveness of ME” or “family investment in the long-range competitiveness of family members.” (more…)

The Grasshopper or the Ant: Who’s Going to Survive What Will Be Coming?

For those of us who are of the less optimistic bent, the economic future looks a little dark. There are others who insist on referring to what is happening as “not as bad as the Great Depression.”

I’m here to point out something that tells me that it’s actually going to be worse for a lot of people. (more…)

Getting Through the Next…Several Years?

money Let’s get down to some real “kitchen table economics” here: If you work for one of the financial/banking giants, it’s possible you might lose your job in the coming days or months. If you work for a company that borrows money to expand, operate or just plain keep going…it’s possible you might lose your job in the coming days or months. If you work for a governmental entity(state or municipal)…ditto. You get the idea.

A lot of us are going to start feeling even more uncomfortable and insecure very soon, if we haven’t already done so. How to survive? For all the comparisons to The Great Depression, in my estimation, this is a whole new ballgame. Why? First and foremost: in 1929, people in the United States were not that far removed from subsistence living. Even people who lived in the largest urban areas still were doing many things for themselves, simply because the consumer economy behemoth did not exist the way it does today. The distance between farmers and other producers and consumers was not that far — consumers in New York City, for example, were buying their farm products from New Jersey and the counties in New York State within a couple of hours travel. No one was getting strawberries in January from California or Florida – that … did…not…exist. The whole economy of just going to a store and buying whatever you wanted/needed was much smaller than it is today; people many times had to make do, make over, or make their own.

My great aunties worked in the garment trade; one of them did put herself through secretarial school and graduated from the sewing machine to a typewriter at The American Tobacco Company. A real step up. Her sister sewed for a fancy ladies’ lingerie manufacturer her whole life. At home, they made their own clothing, were thrifty, and only indulged themselves on occasion. In the Depression, when their parents had to move out to Coney Island (because it was a lot cheaper than the Bronx), they all moved in together in a fifth floor walk up. They pulled together and reduced the entire family’s overhead. And they survived. The big book of the period was Five Acres and Independence (you can still get it from Amazon), aimed at people moving out of cities and surviving because they had a bit of land (actually, five acres is quite a chunk of property).

How are people going to survive the loss of major family income today — especially if they live someplace where either they don’t have a big yard or if they do, they might live where there are restrictive covenants (lawns of a certain size, planting of xx plants, no vegetable gardens where they can be seen, no hanging clothes on a clothesline outside and so on)? In a society where much of people’s image of themselves and their families revolves around financial resources rather than actual “do it for ourselves, thrift, etc.” skills, what are the possible outcomes for families who lose a big chunk of their income?

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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