Mary Beth Writes

I went for a walk on Wednesday and saw this mitten on a sidewalk. When I was at the same spot on Friday, it was still there, so I brought it home because it is a hand-knitted kid mitten, ya know? Any knitters out there interested in making it a mate, so that we could give it to a kid in my community or your? It's 7" from top to ribbed bottom. 


The point of “Mindful Chickens” is to spend less money while being mindful of the environment and our human values. We can try, right?

Probably most of what I write about how to live frugally and thoughtfully in the holiday season/winter months is old hat to most of you. Specifically, an old knitted hat given to you years ago or purchased on sale somewhere. You still wear it; it still keeps your ears warm.

But here we go.

1. Len and I put plastic over the lovely dining room windows in this 1922 house. Even with the flapper era storm windows, there’s enough breeze to puff the sheer curtains. Plus, the view is a classic urban non-scape– driveway, fence, the neighbor’s windows.

I’ve been winterizing leaky windows for decades and I bet many of you have, too. Modern kits are way more convenient than they used to be. This year there is a top tape that one just applies to the top of the window, then one pulls down the thoughtfully folded plastic and presses it into the vertical tapes.

I remember doing this job with masking tape and drycleaner bags. In case you want to try this free and ugly technique; collect a half dozen bags from your friends who actually utilize a drycleaners. Tape flattened bags along the sides of the window, then crumple more bags and stuff in from the top and bottom. Obviously, this blocks the view and looks like hell, but it kept my kid’s bedroom toasty warm. I put a flowery curtain over it, she didn’t mind. She now lives in a home with modern windows so I suppose the experience taught her how to set meaningful life goals.  

We buy kits in late winter when they go on sale.

But tell me this, pals. Why do we have to PAY for these kits? Why are they not available free?

Because we have been educated to assume that practices and materials to address climate catastrophe are up to individuals. If a family can’t afford $35 to purchase them, then too bad for them.

2. I read 'Mountains Beyond Mountains' by Tracy Kidder. It’s a biography of Paul Farmer, one of the three people who started Partners in Health, a worldwide organization with a powerful mission to bring excellent health care the world’s poorest people. I read the book in three days; it was never boring or tedious.

It reminded me of how poor the poor really are. I respect his “preferential option for the poor.” I highly recommend it and I now plan to read some books actually written by Farmer.

Partners in Health

3. It’s been ten years now, but I was a weekend guest of a MayaWorks weaving family in the highlands of Guatemala.

One evening the teenage/young adult sons came home from a Sunday spent with friends in town. It was a 10-mile bike ride (up and down hills) for the three sons to get back on two bikes; someone was riding fender. They were hungry but dinner (soup and tortillas) was already over. Masa for the next day’s tortillas was still mush in a covered cooking pot. There was one bag of stale bread hanging from a nail on the wall. The mother gave each son the equivalent of a hotdog bun. That was that.

No one complained. When there isn’t any more, there isn’t any more.

Guatemala is one of the poorest nations in the western Hemisphere. The US and Canada are the richest and most of us have never hit “there is no more.”

Yet, this. US unemployment in February was 3.5%. Now it’s 6.9%.

Strategies and practices to stretch our money seem kinda weird when measured against people in our communities who are hitting the “there is no more” wall.

I’m not going to tell you as to what to do, just reminding us that it is crazy to watch people be hungry right in front of you.

Hunger is blasphemous.

4. I wrapped our presents in the brown kraft paper and white bakery bags I bought last year. The paper can be recycled and even if it isn’t, it doesn’t add toxic ink to landfills. Although, to be completely honest here – I’m on my second year of paper printed with cavorting animals wearing winter hats. I figure that by the time the 4-year-old realizes she’s seen this paper before I will have bought a new roll of (on-sale) kid paper.

5. Len noticed that his fav shopping emporium had our coffee on sale for $4 less than we pay at the grocery store, so he made an on-line Farm & Fleet order for a couple fishing lures and four bags of coffee. This saved us $16 and if this doesn’t sound like a Wisconsin moment, you don’t know Wisconsin.


What are you doing to be thrifty and generous?

Seriously, what specific organizations do you donate time, energy, goods, and money to? If you have suggestions for the rest of us, let us know.





We have window inserts that are a heavy film and sized by the window. Keeps some of the Vermont winter outside. They are expensive, tho! We will never hit “ pay back” for utility savings. I watch my 20 month old grand sometimes. I often think about hungry kids as I go through all the stuff we try out for lunch. Sometimes I have to say “ all gone” when she finishes the last of the banana or apple or cheese...what if I didn’t have anything else to offer? I can only imagine the heartache of moms and grandmas who do not have chicken bits or Cheerios on standby. We have enough that she can drop stuff off the high chair to her dog. We all need to be alert to what is happening to the poor in our town and in our country and in the world. We cannot help everyone but many of us can help out through local food banks and feeding programs. God Bless us, Everyone.
Mary Beth's picture

I felt this feeding my kids, feeding the neighbor kids, being around my grandkids (before Covid...) I'm super glad we have enough to feed them, but it aches to understand how many kids go hungry. I read yesterday that there are 26 million refugees on earth (according to UN stats) and 1/2 of them are under 18.

I think everyone volunteering for or running food banks should *also* be receiving vaccines, along with healthcare workers. These are the people keeping the un-sick alive. I've been volunteering since March and it's one of the oddest, most rewarding experiences I've ever been through (and I've had two babies!). This week I'm signed up to deliver for two hours today & tomorrow, and four hours on Wednesday. All in all, this one org I'm working with is delivering food to 720 families this week. Needless to say, they could use more drivers. I know a lot of people are "burned out" from kids and jobs and all the holiday expectations, but doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with ME (except, of course, I'm providing the transpo) really jolts me back intro reality. [[Side note: I took my 12YO with me on a route and he commented about the deteriorating properties (he's recently gotten into architecture and is noticing things he never would've commented on before), so we discussed the responsibility of landlords and how/why they abuse their power & neglect those responsibilities. I hope he remembers this challenge and figures out a way to fix it with his architecture-minded brain one day.]]
Mary Beth's picture

I am going to check this out. I've not volunteered because I don't want to be among people- but driving, I could do that. Thanks for this and yes, volunteering, especially with one's kids, takes one places...

All of his books ( Tracey Kidder) are really good! I remember one about a family building a house, one about schoolchildren, one about two nursing home residents, and one about a computer corporation. He brings in all the people and situations and is a great writer. Frugal, because they are probably available at most libraries!

I find lots of singleton gloves and mitts on our morning walks. I put them on trees, and if they are there the next day I bring them home and wash them. Almost all are black, About two thirds are for right hands. My husband is using a mismatched pair, and I offer them to folks I see who need them.
Mary Beth's picture

I still have this adorable mitten. I've put it in a prominent place in my closet, I see it everyday, and I wonder if it will take my hand and take me some place, some day. I like your method, too. Funny that people lose more left mittens than right ones...

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"It's Good for You" Pizza

The Best Pizza Ever is in Madison 

Click here for their info:   “It’s Good For You”   

Last weekend, while out of town, we decided to stop for a pizza at the place where our son works one night per week. If you know my kid, you know he was manager of an artisanal pizza place for years. He doesn’t miss managing an entire restaurant. Apparently, he DOES miss making spectacular pies and then baking them at temps high enough to burn the hair off his arms.

What’s Scary & What’s Not Scary


Happy Halloween! I think because this is mostly a kid’s holiday, it tends to evoke a lot of sweet and funny memories from our childhoods and then of our kids.

Remember when we (who are now antique kids) collected candy in paper grocery bags that we had decorated with crayons? And then it would rain and one would have to carry the bag in both arms and run between houses while drenched and noisy and not even caring?

Obviously I remember that.

Frugality Hacks or how I saved $64,000,000, so far.

I read the ‘frugal things I did’ letters in other people’s huge and interesting frugality blogs. I figured I could list some of the ways I saved some money this week (this life). I’m pleased to say I saved about 64 Million.

Quarantine Diary #645 - Granola

Two recent tweets : Someone named Kate Harding tweeted; “What haunts me is that I am not just smart enough for so many people to be this much stupider than me.”

And from Di, Obstinate Hoper; “I’m starting to think of pandemic caution like labor: buckle down during peaks, relax a little between them. Hang in there, folks. It’s a damn long labor.”

Frugal? Road Trip to New Mexico

If our finances were stretched we wouldn’t have gone to New Mexico. We are doing fine despite the advice that says one ought to retire with a million dollars in the bank. Imagine that.

1. We and, at this point, about half the nation, have had our Covid vaccines so we felt safe and ready to see something new. However, we traveled to a place where they had worked WITH the effort to fight this pandemic. This limited our choices and is the #1 reason we didn’t go to the Badlands. How we spend $ is our power.

The Mindful Chickens are Wordy Today

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

  • Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).
  • Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.
  • Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.

This is my collection of wise choices and dastardly schemes from the last two months.

ONE: Our electric toothbrush/water pick would no longer hold a charge but a new one costs more than $100. Len took it to the battery store where they replaced it for $15.

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