Monday, March 9th, 2009

If I remember correctly, Hobbits used to give Mathoms instead of gifts. A mathom is an item that is passed from one Hobbit to another in place of a purchased gift. I hope I have that right. It has been many years since I followed the escapades of Bilbo Baggins. Anyway, as I clean out my kitchen cabinets, I am finding quite a stash of mathoms. Bruce just came home from a bee meeting with one-a set of swan shaped, silver plated candle sticks in the original box. They were some sort of a door prize. Thank you. I will pass them on ASAP.

This got me to thinking about gift giving and how it relates to sustainability and preparedness. When we got married, 36 years ago, a shower gift was a nice set of pot holders or some glasses or a cookbook. Often, the item was handmade. I still use the aprons a favorite aunt made for me. An acceptable wedding gift was a small appliance like a toaster or blender. I actually got married in the era of the fondue pot. I got 4 of them. How things have changed. Most wedding gifts now seem to fall in the $100.00 dollar range for friends and $200.00 range for family. I have gone to a couple of kid’s birthday parties where gifts cost an easy $25.00. Call me cheap (Please! I consider it a compliment) but I think this is plain silly. Most gifts, especially gifts for kids, become landfill clutter about 2 hours after opening.

I think we should become Hobbit gift givers and turn to mathoms. As the economy deteriorates, we need to think about what gifts are saying. Are they conveying a message of I love and care about you or are they saying I don’t have a lot of money but I am willing to run up my Visa card to keep you from knowing it?

Last year, a friend who really was not obligated to give me a gift, never-the-less got me a seed sprouting set up for my birthday. It wasn’t expensive but it was perfect for me as I hate cleaning the cheese cloth after a sprouting session. I gave him an extra set of canning jars I had in the basement. Again, not an expensive gift but one I knew he would use. For kids, I tend to pick up  drawing paper, crayons and markers when I find them marked down and keep them on hand for the forgotten birthday party (There is a preparedness connection. I knew there had to be.) The markers may have Easter Bunnies on them in October but do kids really care? I would like to go a step further and say that used books make a good gift as do the ingredients for cookies in a jar with the recipe attached.

We have given up giving gifts outside of the immediate family for everything but weddings and new babies. Bruce has 8 brothers and sisters and I have three and we have a pile of nieces and nephews and now a new generation. We would go broke trying to buy for everybody. If you can’t give up gift giving entirely, can you convince your family to turn to mathoms? The only rule is that the item has to be entirely useless and cost less than $2.00. Free is better.

This may seem like a silly thing to waste time writing about but there is a serious side to it. This country has to rethink how and why we do things. Trying to impress people with what we have rather than who we are has driven people to bankruptcy. The hot tub culture has to be replaced with one that honors honesty and responsibility. Taking back our country starts with taking back our own lives.


Sometimes a slush bound day is good thing. I was supposed to go out this morning but the weather will keep me in. This works because I am finishing Mike Folkerth’s book, The Biggest Lie Ever Told. I keep up with economic news but there are often pieces that don’t make sense to me. Mike’s book is not your typical doomer read. It is funny, informative and makes sense to someone without an MBA. I don’t recommend a lot of books but this one will find it’s way to my kids, just as Sharon Astyk’s book, Depletion and Abundance did. Add my book and you have a good starter library to life in this new world.

After that shameless plug, I want to talk about grains and legumes. I store a lot of both as they are cheap, readily available, will store nearly forever and provide a huge nutritional bang for the buck. The trouble for me was making them tasty enough to appeal to my family. Last night I made an investment in a cooking class that walked me through the finer points of preparing meals from what seem like pretty pedestrian ingredients. Even my husband, the meat man, liked the bean burgers I brought home and the kids fought over the dal (a kind of stewed lentil dish served with rice).

I know too many people who store food they won’t eat, thinking that in a crisis, they will figure it out. Guess again. Kids will go hungry before they eat something they hate. It pays to spend the money on some good cookbooks and spend time preparing meals from stored foods. We eat from storage several days each week. My new goal is a rice and beans in some incatation twice a week. I also want to cook with some grains I have never eaten before. Last night I ate rye and quinoa, new foods for me. With the right seasonings, they were terrific.

We are a spoiled bunch when it comes to food. Walk into a supermarket and the sheer volume overwhelms the senses. We can have strawberries in January and winter squash in July. Meat is affordable to most Americans at least some of the time. It is easy to forget that most people in the world eat less than we do and have a far more limited variety available to them. I can see a future where the lowly bean plays a much bigger role in the family meal plan. It behooves us to figure this out sooner rather than later. We will be healthier, save money and tread more lightly on the planet.

Back to the book and the cleaning. I do love getting things accomplished after laying around for nearly three weeks.