North of the Border: Miserly Musings

by Pat Mestern

Received some interesting e-mail recently. Someone wanted to know how I could go through life pinching pennies. They said that I was missing the best part of life by not enjoying my "considerable" wealth now - that being miserly was a "disease" that consumed individuals to the point they accumulated thousands of dollars, but could never enjoy spending it -that I should loosen up a bit. I did laugh out loud when I read that some people thought I had accumulated thousands of dollars!

Let me assure all readers that I am hanging loose. There is a big difference between living simply and existing as a miser. We lead a very interesting life, eat well, take interesting vacations , enjoy house, garden and family, dine in restaurants, enjoy live theatre. We do not starve and shiver in a dark, cold house. We live a good life. I know some misers. I do not want their lifestyle - but it is their life and their choice to live as they wish. I have always enjoyed a life more simply lived. Try it. You might like the experience.

A story with an interesting ending: Recently I was doing some research in a local coffee shop. I was comparing the cost of a litre of gas to a litre of various prepared coffees (coffee at one local haunt works out to $4.50 per litre) I was trying to verbalize the psychology of people who are willing to pay an arm and leg for a cappuccino while griping about an increase in gasoline. Keep in mind that one Imperial gallon equals 4.6 litres. If a Canadian filled his car with coffee rather than gasoline he would pay $20.70 per gallon.

On with my story - a woman sidled over to my table and congratulated me on a series of articles that were penned for a regional paper on "living simply". She said "Who better to write this sort of thing than yourself. After all you were always a bit old-fashioned." I smiled and took her comment as a compliment. It not always would have been so. Fifty years ago the comments would have been met with a drop-dead glare and possibly a punch, depending on my mood and their tone of voice. Our family didn't have much money. They had living simply down to a fine art. Mother and grandmother sewed all our clothing. Mother knit and embroidered our sweaters and other outerwear. If dad had been a cobbler, we would have worn "home-made" shoes too.

Some class mates were cruel. All dressed up in their own brand of finery, they daily taunted "old-fashioned, old-fashioned" - adding WOP at the end if they really wanted to get my dander up. I usually took this nasty bit of business with a shrug, but occasionally (perhaps once a year) one individual would find out I could punch like a boy- and I don't mind telling you, it felt good. The teasing subsided somewhat when an understanding teacher stood me at the front of the room during art class and said. "Pat's clothing is a work of art. Look at the beautiful art work embroidered on her vest and skirt. Look at the use of colour. Look at the stitching in her blouse. The people who made these clothes are artists. You should all be so talented. Do not ever let me hear any member of this class taunt this girl again." Bless that teacher!

When embarking on a writing career, I examined my past to see what I could contribute to the future. What did I learn from the past? What do I do best now based on my experiences from "way back when"? I knew how to live simply, how to tell a story, how to get a point across, how to approach people (don't worry, I no longer punch!), how to organize. There was a familiarity with being a little different, a touch more creative, a bit controversial. With hard work a reasonable living could be made by turning some of the talents developed during my "learning" years into readable text. I enjoy tapping into my "old fashioned" traits and talents to write for the present, to help people handle the future.

The moral of the story is that no matter what you have gone through during your short or long life, you can learn from the experience, build on it and become reasonably successful with the end result. No matter how poor you were, or are, you can learn from the experience. No matter what negativity has been part of your life, it can be turned into a positive energy. You can make an interesting purse from a sow's ear. You can rise above adversity and succeed. There is good advice in that old song line - "Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again"- what they should have added is "Learn from the experience."

Answers to some questions:

Where can I find cheaper yarn? Where can I find 100% wool yarn? If you like to knit but cannot afford the price of yarn, visit a few stores that sell clean used clothing for hand-knit sweaters. Salvage the yarn by ripping the discarded sweater apart. Rewind the yarn around the back of a chair. Why a chair? Read on. Once you have a good sized skein of yarn, tie the start and end thread together, then tie the skein in various places to hold it loosely together. Wash the skein gently in warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and hang from a tree branch to dry. Now the yarn is ready for you to apply your creative talents.

Sore feet? Try a foot massage. Use a large sized soft drink bottle. Fill with warm water. Make sure the lid is on tightly. Sit in a comfortable chair. Put the bottle on the floor at a comfortable distance from the chair. Put your tootsies on the nice warm bottle and roll back and forth. Bliss for sore feet is a nice warm foot massage. Not to hype that popular cola, but their large sized bottle have a great shape for a foot massage.

Scraps of soap? You can make soap balls (see a previous stretcher article for recipe - or you can make an excellent garden and workshop soap jelly. You will need a container with a cover for this recipe. Save scraps of hand soap until you have a packed cupful. Put them in an old pan and add four cups of boiling water. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally with an old wooden spoon or paint mixer until every scrap is melted. Pour mixture into the container. Cool and cover. This soap jelly is versatile. Whip it into a stiff lather for shampooing upholstery and small rugs. Leave a jar of it near the basement laundry tub for removing stains. Use it to clean your hands after gardening or working in the garage. Use it for washing painted walls, furniture and woodwork. I store my soap jelly in a decorative wide mouthed ceramic jelly jar.

Problems with salt sticking in shakers during the summer? To keep salt running freely during sticky weather, add a few grains of rice or several pieces of macaroni to the salt shaker to absorb excess moisture. To prevent the inside of the salt shaker's metal top from rusting or turning green, paint it with clear nail polish. When the polish is try use a darning needle to open the holes from the inside out.

Saving string? Here's a tip that dates back to the Great Depression. No, I did not live through the Great Depression. I am not that old. Roll all those little bits of string that are hanging around the house into a good sized ball, one that will fit into the top of an old kitchen funnel which is going to be transformed into your cheap string dispenser. Hang the funnel from a nail in a convenient spot. If your funnel doesn't have a hanger, you will have to punch a hole (using a hammer and nail) just below the rim. Dangle the end of the string through the funnel's spout and house the ball in its wide top. Keep one of these handy holders by your workbench, near your garden and in your kitchen. Mother had an embroidered 4" x 4" burlap string holder that looked like an " English cottage", the door latch being a hole out of which hung the end of the ball of string. If you are creative, make you own cloth holder from scraps of material - and give them away as gifts.

Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at

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