Monday, October 20, 2008

We Can Do It! Don't Get Scared! (How did I become the cheerleader for optimism?)


Okay. The “they says” are taking over. I know that people are stressed and everything because of the stock market, etc. But look at the short term. Gas is down. That means food will go down. And is anyone really not going to Christmas shop? Really? My sister and I have been roiling our hands waiting for the Black Friday ads to come out on this special website she goes to where they post all the flyers as soon as they go to press. Except no one’s posting them this year! I know, I know. Buy Nothing Day and all that. I have Buy Nothing Year, and I actually like to shop the day after Thanksgiving. It’s like a giant party. With DVD’s for $3.00 that usually cost $20.

Anyway, I keep hearing all this horrible stuff. No one will be able to get a loan. No one has cash to get paid. Blah, blah, blah. Did anyone really not get a pay check last week because there was no cash? I think we would have heard more than just the random “they says” about it. The whole thing reminds me of this story that we read in 4th grade about the Depression. (I know it was 4th grade, because that was my favorite year of school. my teacher gave me a pile of her textbook samples and a couple reading books from the high school side of the building and told me to finish them by the end of the year. It was the last year I learned anything in school. She also gave me great books to read like the ones about the little kids who smuggled the treasury of their country out from under the Nazis buy sledding the gold bars one by one down the hill to the port. That was a great one.)

The gist of it was a guy had a hotdog stand and was doing good business and went out and worked hard all day and sold all he could get. When he went to expand and maybe hire someone to run another stand, all he heard was about how there was a Depression, and he shouldn’t spend money. So he didn’t expand his business and he cut back on what he bought to sell, and he didn’t go out to work as much, because there was this Depression, so he didn’t make as much and wouldn’t you know it, the Depression ruined his business. The moral of the story being, don’t believe the “they says” until you see if for yourself. Don’t be reckless or anything, but if you’ve got a good thing going, go with it until you see something different.

I have been preparing for the “next Great Depression” since I was about eight. It’s not weird. I grew up with stores about how my grandfather only got an orange for Christmas and had to go and live in a CCC camp in Pittsburgh so he could send money home to his mother. He served stateside in the war, so he didn’t have any WWII stories he could repeat over and over. And, again, most of my teachers in elementary school were kids during the Depression, so they had some really harrowing “when I was your age” stories. At least they sounded awful to a seven year old.

Needless to say, student loans have ruined my finances, have for years, and I was able to finance an older truck at a good interest rate and, contrary to what the TV news was saying this morning, I was also able to finance a warranty plan for it. You don’t need $3100. You don’t need a 700 credit score. Yes, I had to join a credit union. It was one extra piece of paper I signed when I picked up the truck. If I’d listened to the “they says” I would have been paying high rates at a U-Pay-Here or I would have been roped into buying a vehicle that cost two or three times as much as the one I ended up with. I am not Miss Optimism. But Plan A worked this time, and if it hadn’t? That’s why there’s 26 whole letters in that alphabet.

Speaking of which, about Plan M came through on that goat shed, and it’s done. Except for a door. Here is my mom with her fantastic architectural creation. (And some appreciative goats who will not have frost on their furry behinds this year!)

But, in response to the “they says” I’m going to have a little episode of what I call “They Say if You ....” I have a couple of these up my sleeve, so I’ll label this one:

Experiment #1: They say you can make your own vanilla, and it’s cheaper than in the store.

Yes, it’s true. Kind of. If you use a lot of vanilla, which I do.

How to do it:

1. Plan ahead. Save an old vanilla bottle. My mom threw mine away, so I actually bought an empty bottle at the Whole Foods Co-op. It also takes about 6 weeks to get started, so if you expect to have homemade vanilla for holiday baking, START NOW.

2. Get 2 (or so) vanilla beans, some vodka, and a pint jar. Later, you’ll need a funnel and a coffee filter. The vodka should be okay, nothing too expensive.

3. Slice the vanilla beans from end to end. Stuff them in the jar. Fill the jar with vodka. Shake.

4. Put the jar in a dark place. A cupboard, closet or pantry should be fine. Give it a shake every few days. After about a month or so, you should have vanilla-y vodka in the jar that you can use in recipes like normal vanilla.

5. Line the funnel with the coffee filter and pour the liquid through so you don’t get beans and seeds in the finished product.

6. When you end up with more vodka than vanilla, fish out the beans, and add fresh beans.

Is it cheaper? One ounce of fair to middlin brand name vanilla extract costs about $7.00. To get set up with vodka, vanilla, and a funnel, it’s about $15-20. I buy the beans in bulk for a couple of bucks a piece. If you don’t have bulk vanilla available they can be a lot more, though the expensive ones that come sealed in glass taste better and last longer. You get a lot more than an ounce when you make your own, though. I run through about one bottle of vodka every six months. I bake everything at home, and I also make a lot of vanilla flavored frosting for cakes. I definitely save money. Tastewise, they are about comparable if it’s real vanilla extract and not imitation. But if you’re short on cash and all you can get is imitation vanilla, you’re better off using that than nothing or not baking at all.

There are a ton of things out there that are like this, and I’ll definitely be trying some more “You can make your own ___” experiments in the future. But on this one, “they” are right!

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