Mary Beth Writes

I have a weird dark closet in the back of my soul. In it are critical things people have said to me in my life. I rarely consciously think about those old cuts and criticisms, but they are tucked in back there and sometimes I remember them uneasily.

Here are some of my particular arrows of yore:

“Can’t you do anything with her hair, Dorothy?” Dorothy was my mom. My dad liked his daughters’ hair to be curly and orderly, mine was straight and flyaway. I think I was in my 40’s before I realized OMG I do not have “problem hair”… whatever the hell that is.

”Don’t you have any conversational filters?” How often do people tell us to talk less - and when we do talk we should talk about less interesting things? Do you want to talk about the weather, or about the ways in which your grandfather’s alcoholism probably affects the way you raise your kids now?

“Are you going to EAT that?” From people who won’t eat beans or green vegetables.

“Why won’t you buy your kids (insert name of latest flying electronic gizmo toy that costs $200 or more)?”

“A graduate education and you didn’t even get a job from it? Isn’t that a waste?” Yeah, I probably should have held studying the thing I was passionate about to my next life.

“Older women look better with a bit more foundation and eyeliner.” You don’t say …

“It doesn’t do any good to join a protest.” Somebody hasn’t been reading their history of how the Vietnam War finally stopped.

“Why do you care about those guys in jail? All they had to do was obey the law and then they wouldn’t be there.” Does “There but for the grace of God go I” feel real to you and if it doesn’t - what kind of over-entitled numbskull are you?

“Wow, I never heard a woman as old as you swear like that.” You haven’t hung around old women very much, have you?

“I’d never let my kids drive a car that unreliable.” Oops, where did I put that extra ten thou?

“You’re lucky that you can afford (insert name of product that costs more the way I buy it than it does at Walmart).” I’d rather pay farmers than donate canned goods to food pantries for farmers.

“You can get bedbugs from second-hand stuff.”  You can get bedbugs from elegant hotels, too. FYI: In 40 years of thrift-shopping, I have never encountered a live bug.

“You didn’t visit (your mom, your relatives, those people you used to know, etc) enough. You only love others when it’s convenient for you.” If by convenient you mean I am trying to not get sick from stress, you are right.

“You wore that out in public?” My very cool brother, RIP, was not impressed by the short shorts, colored socks, beat-up sneakers, and random T-shirt I wore to my cottage cleaning job. He may have had a point. Then again, if he had admired me for all the jobs I worked that summer; an admiring comment could have built my self-esteem instead of pinching my ego.

I wish I was one of those people who could truthfully claim, “Who cares?” I generally cared a lot once, and I still know where these things were said, who said them, and what was meant.

These criticisms became the shifting lines and edges of me. Having enough self-esteem to be kind, to care for others and for myself, to live frugally while not raping the earth – these are not fixed borders between what is moral and what is immoral. What is a good choice for me might be just plain nuts for you.

Such as; At 19 I wore beat-up clothes in which to sweep, mop, vacuum, scrub, and haul out garbage in non-a/c cottages in July. Then I was criticized by one of the people I loved best and I had to decide what to think about that. Am I the kind of person who wears "serviceable" clothing to that kind of job, or am I the kind of person who wears the random stuff I already own? It took time and experience to figure that out for myself, but once I knew, I had it. I am both. If someone is going to see me, I will not wear novelty socks with shorts. I also really miss being young enough to wear short shorts.

Such as: I know how to not swear. I also know that swearing can be powerful for some women in some situations. Modern old women probably need to amass their power where they can.

Such as: I am as gicked-out by bugs as any regularly privileged North American. But maybe it would make sense for us to get a sense of perspective. Bugs and vermin are disgusting, but in general, millions more humans will die this year from unhealthy diets, smoking, car crashes, and gun violence – than will get sick from creepy-crawlies.

So how does all this relate to being thoughtfully frugal? Some people will be critical of choices we make. Some will call us hippies – and not in a good way. Some will say we are losing the best things life can offer while we do so much on the cheap. Our kids will look at us skeptically and we will pretend we know what we are doing when inside we wonder if we are damaging them because we won’t buy them the stuff their friends have; friends who are also great kids with loving parents. Or good friends will wonder why we are spending our time and energy thinking about how to save a couple bucks here, a couple bucks there. Why sweat the small stuff?

Making decisions about what we will do and buy and what we won’t spend our energy and resources on – this is how we keep on keeping on.

It isn’t about winning and losing.

It isn’t about Little House on the Prairie versus Betsy DeVos’s “cottage” (Seriously? You have THAT much money and that’s how you spent it?

It isn’t that winners feed their families on $200/month and losers spend $800. It isn’t a battle between a $20 Goodwill jacket and a $60 TJ Maxx one or a $200 coat that is Fair Trade. It isn’t that we buy presents for each other in order to delight or irritate the others who will “have opinions” on how much we did or didn’t spend.

It’s that the choices we make become the character we have. We need to be going towards kindness, love, humor, and generosity. And the best damned solvency we can build, under the circumstances.


I remember my kid sister telling me once that my older brother had said" Franc he's the eccentric one in the family " which I interpreted to mean. ( The weird one ) I totally embrace that description... On another occasion the same sister showed up at my house with her Godchild. ( said brother's young son ) She said that she had asked him what he wanted to do and he responded with" Lets go to Uncle Francs' house" When she asked him why he said" Because he has all the cool stuff " I love that response.

You do have all the cool stuff. You are a whimsicality magnet.

damn, you smart...thanks!

Takes one to know one...


Many of those arrows/comments resonate with me -- I have the answers now though I did not have them then. And why do I remember? I think perhaps because I did not know how to answer at the time. My parents were very frugal -- I learned the skills though I confess that I no longer practice most of them. I really appreciated mom and dad's saving ways when mom needed Alzheimer's care in her final years. I was very grateful that the money was there to pay for the finest kind of help for her.

Henri (my 11YO) invents ways to stay up later and last night one of these was drawing our entire family and then coming in and showing it to me. I said, "that's nice. Now get in bed." Then he told me he had drawn it as a present because today they're having a "shop for your family" market where kids can spend $1 and $2 to buy {crap} for their family members. (Worst idea ever, imo!) Or as Henri put it, "That would be a waste of money so I drew this instead." LOL. The apple doesn't fall far, I guess... :)

Laughing. Smart kid. I still have some of these krazy glued together makes-no-sense sculptures one of my kids would give me for various presents. I did like the balsa wood airplane, painted green, with plastic cows grazing on the wings.

Great piece! I often, often worry that I am harming my kids by not providing some of the enriching extras their friends have. They are (luckily) not as materialistic as some of their classmates, but I know they could benefit from the lessons, trips, and even special parent-child "dates" that their friends enjoy. Promise me they'll turn out ok, even if we never make it to Disney World!

Yes they will!! We went to a car dealership on a blizzardy Saturday morning, in the late 1990's, to get a minivan. Took the kids with us because that's an "enriching experience", right??!! The dealership had a one-morning contest going to win a trip to Disney World in Florida - which was basically a discount room at a chain hotel for three nights. We were the only people there, ergo we won the contest! We took the kids out (this was extremely rare) to McDonald's afterwards to celebrate our new car. We hadn't mentioned the contest-win to the kids yet. Over the din of the 3 kids chattering, I asked my husband what he thought we should do. I can still see him grinning. "We have a minivan, free hotel, and kids. I think we're going to Disney World!" I loved the driving down and back. Hated Disney World, it was so crowded we spent most of the day in lines waiting for stuff; we left the park early. Next day we drove to Cape Canaveral and then on to the ocean. It was spectacular and memorable day. I bet Disney is grand, but it wasn't for us. One of the vacations they still talk about was our "penny tour". We drove away from our house and at every corner we came to, would flip a penny and heads we went right, tails left. The kids were young, they liked this! We did other wonderful vacations. I don't regret any of them - except that damn multi-hundred $ day at Disney World.

I have always been a who cares sort of person. Sometimes I cringe seeing old photos. Yes, Mom, I should have ironed my graduation gown after I took it out of the package. Many years ago someone told me that on my deathbed I would probably wish I had washed my hair oftener. It still makes me laugh.

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The Choosing Season

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1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

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3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of little things like bugs and crumbs, dollars and daily choices.

Several years ago our son and his wife decided that they were going to set a goal to visit every state park in Wisconsin. There are 50 state parks and they only have a few more to go; what a cool way to claim where one lives.

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