Month: January 2014

Plot is Character Revealed By Action

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I am nearing one month in the challenge! The most interesting thing I’ve been noticing is how although I’m only tracking clothing, tea, and soap purchases, all of my actions are getting the Life During Wartime scrutiny — hence the Aristotle in the title. Forgive me! He featured largely in my readings for class I did last night. But think about it — is this not only true in Poetics but in Life ? Is how you do anything, how you do everything (to fast forward this general concept over two thousand years and make it a heck of a lot more selfhelpynewagey, but I digress)?

This theory seems to be true for me as I prepared for my class this semester. I am taking a graduate class in Research Methods in Composition and Literacy. I not only have three major texts to read, but a tower of scholarly articles. I also need to keep a research question log.

I have access to two university libraries, and was able to find two out of three of my major texts in free ebook form (yeah!). I’m one of those old skool people who need to print scholarly articles and annotate the heck out of them to help understand them (plus I like to bring them to class and I don’t carry my laptop with me. I take public transport and have a long walk from the train to home and that thing gets heavy!), so I printed them on the other side of last semester’s articles that didn’t get too much wear and tear. This is working superbly!

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I also need to keep a research question log. I was going to pick up a moleskine, but then I remembered that I had learned how to make sewn chapbooks and still had some linen thread, the special needles, and the awl to make the sewing holes. I grabbed the fancy card stock that my acceptance packet to the university came in to make the cover, used some cheerful colored paper I had laying around for inside the book, and within five minutes I had a research question log! (Bonus: now I’m thinking about all kinds of interesting little books I can make with lino block stamped covers and handmade paper and all kinds of wonderment!)

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My class also runs pretty late, and I’m going to need to do something to keep my stomach from growling without spending loads of money and creating tons of take away waste in the process. I’ll eat a large, late lunch brought from home at work, and I will also be dusting off my beverage thermos so I can take a nice 16 oz container of tea with me to class. I also am going to make a quick bread each week and take a hearty slice in my Seriously Safe Stainless Steel food carrier to eat during the break. This week I made a maple pumpkin hazelnut loaf. We had some last night, and it’s delicious. Much better in all ways than a dash to the campus Starbucks for cardboard flavored tea and one slice of pumpkin bread that costs as much as it takes for me to make an entire loaf.

…and to get back to clothing, soap, and tea coupon expenditure? I have not spent a single solitary coupon. I think this is going to change this week because we are getting very low on hand washing soap and very close to having no bath soap. More when I decide how to solve that problem using the least coupons in the kindest to the earth way I can manage.

(images: 1. Poetics chart from a book review on A Preliminary Poetics by Michael Mateas 2. My cat Woody examines the stitching I did on my research log. 3. The super yummy maple pumpkin hazelnut loaf!)

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Make Do and Mend

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I ordered the neatest little book through the interlibrary loan service at the university I work at. It’s called Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home  Afloat on War Rations — Reproductions of Official Second World War Instruction Leaflets. The main subjects included are mending, reinforcing, refashioning, sewing, and washing. There is also information on cutting down on energy use, fixing household items, a war coupon primer, and a Ration FAQ of sorts. There are also some really cool slipper patterns for all sizes — imagine making the sole of your slippers from braided worn out stockings coiled into shape —  now that’s thinking outside the box! In some leaflets, a little cartoon lady named Mrs. Sew-and-Sew gives us advice like a friendly neighbor.

Reading this book hit some important points home for me. Even though I’m a mender, I realized that I’ve done very little patching — not because I was unwilling, but because for the most part, my clothing never stuck around in my closet long enough to need it! I operated on a sort of revolving closet principle — I could donate to the thrift shop when I was sick of something — how virtuous! — then buy or thrift more stuff. Repeat as needed.

I stopped doing this after reading about the  used clothing “crisis” — I still try to buy as much as I can used, but not add to the problem by donating back. I’ve been sticking with what I have and choosing new items very slowly and wisely. Still — I haven’t worn through any sleeves at the elbow or needed to reinforce underarm seams — yet. When I do, now I know some tricks with patches, several darning stitches (I only knew one!), and some clever ways with added pockets and trim. I also learned some important rules of thumb, like never wash a hole (it will get worse!) and never patch old material with new (too much stress on the old material — it can tear).

Much of the charm of this book is that the leaflets are original and authentic, and included in full without modern commentary. There is a preface to the book, but the leaflets otherwise stand alone, allowing you to immerse yourself in this very different worldview. The illustrations are charming; the sayings are catchy (Make fastenings fast!). It’s propaganda, I know, but propaganda at its best. A little of that indefatigable homefront spirit rubbed off on me. I closed the book feeling knowledgable, competent, and inspired to make what I have last as long as possible.

(image: how to darn a hole, an illustration from one of the original leaflets)

Vim and Vinegar

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I have already realized that I misinterpreted the Soap part of the rations! Not only do my 36 coupons need to purchase all of my toiletries for the year, but also all of my household cleaning supplies (as in laundry soap, dish soap, etc.). Suddenly, 36 soap coupons doesn’t seem as generous as it did before.

Luckily I have already made friends with Vinegar! I have a giant bulk jug of white vinegar and a large bottle of apple cider vinegar that I depend on not only for culinary uses, but cleaning and personal care. The photo above is of my citrus vinegar. I keep a carafe in the kitchen and one by my clothes washing machine. Whenever I use a lemon, lime, or orange, I stuff the skin in one of the carafes and make sure they are always topped off with vinegar. The resulting infusion smells bright and citrusy, and the citrus ups the cleaning power of the vinegar.

I splash some in a bucket of water to mop, use a fraction of the powder recommended for my dishwasher because I splash the dishes with my vinegar concoction first, use a quarter of the machine washing liquid because I put vinegar in the fabric softener compartment of the machine, clean my tub — you name it! Combine it with some baking soda, and you get “scrubbing bubbles” action! I love to use this to clean my teapot and cups every now and again — it gets rid of any stubborn staining. It’s also great to make sure you removed any lingering smell from a glass bottle or jar you plan to reuse.

I use apple cider vinegar on my hair. I have a big brown glass jar that used to contain vitamins, but now holds apple cider vinegar with lavender essential oil added. I could probably use only this to keep my hair clean, but I still have some shampoo and conditioner from before I got the idea to go No Poo. So, I alternate. It’s been working out wonderfully.  My hair is so much calmer and shinier! I’ve also heard that ACV makes a great skin toner. I will try that once I have less of my current one.

Do you use vinegar for any household or beauty uses? Do tell! I would love to know of more ways to save my soap coupons and use vinegar instead!

Let’s Ration Like It’s 1941

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I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “Buy Nothing” challenges since reading Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping in 2007. Since then, I’ve read about many people pledging not to purchase anything (except necessities, except used, except from ethical companies, except…) and I’ve both admired them and said to myself, “No way! I LOVE stuff! Stuff isn’t bad! It’s wasteful and unnecessary and harmful stuff that should be avoided!” but never got much past that. I love to make things, I love to thrift shop — certainly I’m not the one with the problem here!

Well, I’m sorry to say that I really don’t know that for sure! I still unconsciously pick up a lipstick at the drug store although I have 8 tubes in various places around my house and in my purse. I have 15 pairs of shoes. I have lost count of the number of black opaque tights in my drawer. My tea cupboard is an embarrassment of riches. I’ve struggled with telling myself “No more! This has to stop!” (and then a few ounces of tea finds itself following me home).

Then one magical day, I ran into the blog of Tom of Holland when I was searching for mending resources. And THAT lead me to the blog The Double Life of Mrs M and her Wartime Wardrobe Challenge. She also turned me on to The New Materialism pamphlet! Everything started to come together in my mind. Here is a challenge I could get behind! You can still buy things — but smart things. Things you’ve thought over and determined you really need and things that come from a good place. I think tracking these types of purchases for a year will be really good for me, and I’m excited to share what I learn about the way this works and myself in this next year. I hope you read along!

Why rationing? Why harken back to a system equated with horror, deprivation, and war? Well, I’ve long thought that all of the things that drive me crazy about our culture (plastic, disposable everything, an abundance of chemicals, the eschewing of frugality and making do, buying instead of making or growing) happened post-WWII. Crazy as it seems, the values that I cherish were last widely present in Western culture during wartime. Using this ration system and couponing is a way for me to see if my ideas hold any water. I think I believe in and operate in this world, but do I truly? The next year will tell!

Without further ado, the coupon system, based on 1941 British rations and updated for environmental concerns by Meg. I have 66 coupons to clothe me for the calendar year 2014 (I know it’s January 12! I haven’t purchased anything yet this year!).

I am also going to ration my toiletry and tea expenditures.

On the blog Frugal in Norfolk, I found wartime soap rations:

Soap Rations 3 coupons each per month – For 1 coupon you can choose just one item from the list below:
4 oz hard soap – (green scrubbing soap)
3 oz toilet soap – (hand washing soap)
1/2 pint good quality liquid soap OR 1 pint cheap liquid soap
6 oz soft soap – shampoo/conditioner etc.
3 oz soap flakes – (Lux wool flakes etc)

6 oz good quality soap powder OR 12 oz cheap soap powder – (this today would be laundry powder and cleaning powder such as Vim or cleaning sprays etc)

This doesn’t get into lipstick, powder, etc. (which were around but hard to find during the war) so I am going to make stuff up 🙂 For 2014 I will have 36 coupons to buy soap, shampoo, lipstick, and even the items I use to make my own toiletries (coconut oil, shea butter, etc.) I’m thinking lipstick, powder, mascara, jojoba oil, etc. should be two coupons each and 6 ounces of shampoo, 3 ounces of hard soap etc. should equal one coupon, as above. Those that know more about rationing, please tell me if I’m going wild with the coupons here and have too many.

Now, for tea. The most common ration amount I found was two ounces of loose tea per person per week. That’s 104 ounces of tea a year. The problem is that I have over 60 types of loose tea in my cupboard right now some of them in 4 or 8 ounce tins. I could probably not buy any tea for this entire year and still have tea in January of 2015! BUT. This challenge is not about buy nothing but buy less and buy smart. So I am going to give myself 10 tea coupons, with one coupon equaling 2 ounces of tea. This gives me some purchasing power if I run out of a favorite type of tea without continuing to add to my Tea Problem.

I’ll record any coupons spent here, my thinking process about how and why I use them, and I’ll also write about what I do in order to spend less or no coupons. I also hope to include some historical information about rationing, instructions on how to make things, and anything else that pertains to this project that reveals itself to me.

I’ve got my imaginary ration book and lots of hope. Let’s do this!

(image: American rationing poster, 1943)