Would Jane Austen have bought this at a yard sale?

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Gentle readers,

Sometimes the thrill of the chase becomes overwhelming, and one finds oneself bringing home the unlikeliest objects. Note the object above, which one of the ladies purchased, overwhelmed by its excellent price of $2.00. (She had once observed one being demonstrated on an “infomercial” in which its virtues and the multiplicity of the tasks it could perform were being extolled. Of course, it was significantly more expensive than the pittance she paid for it at the yard sale, especially since she didn’t have to pay shipping and handling.)

So, would Jane Austen have bought this, assuming she had access to a microwave? Did she even eat pasta? According to the Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages, “there is significant evidence that ravioli and fettucini [sic] made from semolina paste were prepared in the Middle Ages” (294). We are told in the same source that pasta was so popular in Italy by the 1600s, that pasta shops featured a multiplicity of pasta shapes, with the pasta prepared by groups of young apprentices who trod on the dough in order to knead it. A rudimentary pasta shaper which allowed the dough to be pushed through a form created the regionally most popular pastas.

Since young men from the best families made the Grand Tour, they undoubtedly shared this newfound treat with their families at home. One piece of evidence for this is found in Elizabeth Raffeld’s The Experienced English Housekeeper, 5th edition, published the year of Austen’s birth. Raffeld gives directions for “Maccaroni, with Parmesan Cheese to Dress,” although rather significantly she doesn’t mention the source of the macaroni. Did she make it or buy it? We don’t know. Did our Jane eat it often, if at all? She doesn’t say.

BUT we like to think that our Jane enjoyed Mac and Cheese as much as we do.

And as for the fabulous “Pasta Boat,” when we tried it out, it did everything it promised. Without mess and fuss, it created perfect pasta—in our case whole wheat spaghetti—in the microwave without having to be watched or tested.  It even provides measuring rings to parcel out the perfect portions.  And if one has a dishwasher, the whole thing can be slipped onto the top rack and washed—out of sight, out of mind.  Since this lady hand washes her dishes, it was an easy matter to clean the whole thing in just a few seconds and store it back in its box with its handy book of recipes—and, yes, there is a macaroni and cheese recipe, although it calls for “cheese product,” something we NEVER have in our fridge, due to our devotion to real cheese—but about that another time.

So the moral is, sometimes it’s both fun and practical to take a thrifty chance on the unknown.  We think Jane might approve.

Yours,

Two Thrifty Ladies

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Recycling Jane

It’s spring!! All nature is coming alive again. The bloom is on the rose, the tulip, and the daffodil. And to judge by all the books on the market, Jane Austen is coming alive again, because more and more she has become a character in an astounding range of books.

Take C.S. Harris’ new mystery Who Buries the Dead. As it so happens, just before I picked up this novel, I had been listening to a history of England that discussed the remains of the sainted (or much despised) King Charles I, executed in January of 1648/9—even the date is up for grabs and depends on which calendar you use. Let’s just say that King Charles’s head plays an important part in Who Buries the Dead. Featuring continuing character Sebastian St. Cyr, protagonist in nine previous works, the novel also features Jane Austen and her brother Henry, as well as several characters bearing a not accidental resemblance to some of Jane’s own special creations. Remarkably gripping and suspenseful, Who Buries the Dead provides both historical accuracy and mysterious action. Keep your smelling salts handy, but do give this a read.

A perennial favorite of mine is The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig, one of the Willig’s Pink Carnation series. With Jane Austen giving advice to the young heroine Arabella Dempsey not to become a teacher at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, Arabella finds herself increasingly drawn into a mystery at the school (of course, she takes the job). The secret to the mystery is found in a Christmas pudding, apparently the Regency equivalent of fruitcake in desirability. The genuine appeal of the characters, the mischief of the “select young ladies,” and the sometimes absurd action have made me laugh out loud more than once, since I’ve read this book at least four times. Highly recommended!

And, of course, for sheer Janeness, who can forget Stephanie Barron’s mystery series? I got lucky this last holiday season when my sister gave me a copy of Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, the latest in the series. Jane has to solve a deadly mystery set right in the middle of a Regency Christmas celebration that will take place over the traditional twelve days of the feast. Stephanie Barron’s meticulous recreation of the details of Regency life coupled with her lively sense of Jane Austen’s personality creates a riveting read.

So, as spring comes, get out your reading glasses. Jane Lives Again! If you have another favorite Regency reviver who loves Our Jane, share your reviews with us!!

Yours,

One of Two Thrifty Ladies

Anniversaries, Fresh Air, and the Power of the Simple

For one of the two ladies, this month marks the second anniversary of the (almost) death of her drier. Since then, due to extreme sticker shock and a thrifty shudder when shopping for a new drier, all laundry has been hung out on the line or on hangers in the bathroom or garage. It has been a life improvement in many ways.

The line-dried laundry has a fresh smell that cannot be equaled by any product with any perfume name on the market. Clean sheets dried in the sweet outside air, then placed on a newly made bed are indescribably delightful. More delightful than that are the electrical bills, which have plummeted and stayed substantially lower since the investment in people power over electric power.

We wonder how many other ways we can make our lives simpler, yet better, while conserving resources in the best possible ways. Remember how Elizabeth Bennet looked when she came in from a refreshing walk? Perhaps there are errands we could actually complete on foot that we are currently running in an automobile, eating up non-renewable resources while polluting the air. Is the grocery store actually within walking distance? Could some of those trips to the post office be made on foot? Could the children be walked to school, rather than driven to school?

And if the distance on foot seems long, what about bicycling? Using a bike is another healthy habit that provides exercise while using fewer resources than motorized means of transportation. Many businesses and communities are now providing bike racks so that people are encouraged to travel the healthy way. In municipalities, bike lanes are being factored into roadways to make the bike trip safer. Bikes are more maneuverable than cars, help build cardiovascular capacity, and provide a natural way to accumulate brain chemicals that make us feel happier and healthier. Bicycling with children means encouraging their lifelong health habits, too. How much happier would John Thorpe have been if he had had to bicycle rather than sitting back in his curricle while exploiting horses to get from one place to another? And perhaps he would have cultivated a virtue or two along the way, such as a shred of self-discipline.

If we live too far to bike or walk where we need to go, another way to maximize thrift is to plan trips ahead. Figure out the most efficient way to accomplish all errands and work everything out ahead. That is a way to spend less time and energy in a more productive manner.

Aside from laundry and travel, how else can we simplify our lives and preserve resources? Where would Austen’s characters cut corners in today’s world?

• Loving books as he does, Mr. Bennet would give up TV, thus saving a sizeable monthly charge and feeling smarter by the day, a perk he would enjoy even more. Perhaps he’d become more conversable as well. One of the two ladies stopped subscribing to cable about five years ago and her serenity level has improved. She still watches Austen-inspired movies, of course.

• In the aftermath of Lucy’s marriage, Nancy Steele would research her family tree and find more relatives to visit for as long as they will have her, while refining her skill in flattery.

• When eating out, sensible Anne Elliot always orders water, thus saving the family money while enhancing her health, as evident in her increasingly rosy complexion. Of course, Sir Walter orders a whole bottle of Chateau LeTeur 1929. She makes popcorn as an inexpensive evening snack, and he turns up his nose and tells her to bring it to Mrs. Smith, as a snack more suitable to someone who lives in Westgate Buildings.

What other thrifty habits would Austen’s characters embrace if they lived in our place and time?

Let’s take Anne Elliot rather than Sir Walter as our model; like her, we can be thrifty and still preserve our elegance.

Regards,

Two Thrifty ladies

Sweet Sleep

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When our Jane writes to Cassandra in January of 1813, “I hope [Martha] is now quite well—Tell her I hunt away the rogues every night from under her bed; they feel the difference of her being gone,” as readers, we wonder just what is happening. Was Martha subject to those concerns that many of us have, first as children, and maybe later as adults—boogiemen under the bed? In the closet? Did she need reassurance before she went to sleep, or maybe it was just the dogs seeking a comfy hiding place, as the note in the collected letters suggests.

One of the thriftiest of life’s pleasures is sweet sleep, but many people struggle to achieve it. Even Austen’s characters occasionally suffer bouts of insomnia—Marianne after breaking up with Willoughby, Mrs. Bennet after learning of her daughters’ engagements, but for the most part we don’t hear of them lying awake.

But what about us? Sometimes in our stressful world (they didn’t have the TV news to cope with), we find ourselves counting endless flocks of sheep without getting one step further towards a good night’s rest. And we don’t have Mr. Collins to read Fordyce’s sermons to us or Mr. Woodhouse to lecture us on nutrition, both of which would surely have promoted heavy eyelids and the occasional snore.

Instead of rushing to the doctor for a prescription or the drugstore for some OTC assistance, perhaps there are some healthy and thrifty alternatives that will help us sleep, or so we are told. One of the first is to turn off the television and other electronic devices well before bedtime. Better still, don’t even have them in the bedroom where they add to ambient light, which can make for restless evening hours. Create an evening ritual in which you read, keep a journal, or meditate before purposefully turning out the light and settling down to sleep.

Certain foods are said to complement the sleep process—yogurt, turkey, or pasta. Most are comfort foods as well as containing beneficial elements that calm the body and prepare it for rest. Eat early—a late meal can contribute to restless sleep. Take a soothing cup of chamomile tea before settling down for the night. Foods to avoid are coffee and other caffeinated beverages, sugary foods, and alcohol, all of which may have an irritating effect on the system and prevent that natural relaxation that presages slumber.

Emulate Mr. Hurst, who, when thwarted at playing cards, simply stretched out on the sopha and off to sleep he went. We assume this means making your mind as empty as his, after which you will find yourself sleeping soundly. Or imagine you are Mr. Woodhouse settling down in a quiet house after a refreshing dinner of gruel, folding your little hands for rest.

Or perhaps you can make a soothing recording of Miss Bates’s harmless good-natured prattle to send you into benevolent dreams.

With a little Austenian assistance and following a few helpful habits, we too can sleep soundly in the bliss of those who love Jane Austen.

Regards,

Two Thrifty Ladies

June Mewsings

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In May of 1799, our Jane writes to her sister, “We are exceedingly pleased with the House; the rooms are quite as large as we expected, Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, & a little black kitten runs about the staircase—.” It is one of few references to our feline friends in Austen’s work. And in fact, for women, she mentions very few pets—Lady Bertram’s infamous “Pug” and perhaps Marianne Dashwood’s prospective mare “Queen Mab,” and the mare that was bought for Fanny Price to replace the pony, both of which beasts seem to have grown on Fanny after her obligatory period of intense fear.

Men have more scope. Many of the men are pictured with their beloved dogs, or they speak of them. Willoughby first prances on the scene with his hunting pointers, and Sir John Middleton waxes ecstatic over Willoughby’s dog rather than his character. The Mr. Musgroves are described as having “their own game to guard, and to destroy, their own horses, dogs, and newspapers to engage them.”

All of this is to remind our gentle readers that June is National Kitten Month, a time for us to consider the responsibilities of pet ownership. Our pets are not like newspapers—they are sentient beings, not to be discarded or recycled without thought to their physical and emotional well being. So, in the thriftiest possible way, we implore you that if you are looking for a pet, look into adopting a stray or a shelter pet; you can save a life. Shelters even offer a selection of pedigreed rescues, like getting a bargain. (After all our Jane said of herself in hunting a bargain, “I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse.”)

And let’s consider what pets our favorite characters MIGHT have had, if they had been so inclined.

Lucy Steele would be a lover of herps if there ever was one. There’s nothing like the coldblooded hug of a boa constrictor to remind Lucy of her own instincts in squeezing a coin at bargain time.

Emma, who seems to love little, fluttery companions, would probably have a canary or two, something to sing. In spite of the fact that she marries Mr. Knightley, who seems bent on contradicting her at every turn, she’d probably never have a parrot because a pet that had the power to contradict her would be too much.

Mrs. Croft would have a big, genial pet bear, which she would affectionately steer along on pleasure outings, not unlike she does her husband.

Catherine Morland calls to mind sweet, gentle, dense, domestic cows. We mean no offense. She enjoys petting Daisy and feeding her clover as part of her many contributions to her new household at Woodston. Perhaps one of the most patient servants could attempt to show her how to make a basic cheese. Again.

Charles Bingley could easily fill his and Jane’s house with all of Lydia’s unwisely purchased pets, and whether lucky dog, cat, hamster, or weasel, we know they would all dote on him as much as he would them. He’s the kind of guy who fusses over and baby talks to animals in private, and we love him for it.

Would Kitty Bennet have a kitty?

Gentle readers, what pets would you match to our characters?

Have a lovely June,

Two Thrifty Ladies

Thrifty Careers for Austen Ladies

As commencement speakers celebrate the wonderful opportunities opening up for this year’s crop of graduates, the Two Thrifty Ladies would like to consider what the world would offer for Austen’s characters if they were starting out in life today. No longer would they (necessarily) be seeking “Mr. Right,” but they could also train for the vocation closest to their hearts. So in celebration of all the graduates, we offer a list of possible career opportunities for our favorite heroines:

Catherine Morland: With help from Henry Tilney, Catherine is a shoo-in as a fashion designer. Her first red carpet event would feature a gown of muslin (what else?) guaranteed to last forever. Mrs. Allen would always get a coveted VIP seat at her runway shows.

Emma Woodhouse: In spite of having sworn off the art of matchmaking, Emma discovers that she could be a Millionaire Matchmaker whose tasteful pairings would guarantee happiness for even unlikely couples. No online dating for her clients—Emma prefers meetings for tea or picnics at Box Hill. Witty conversation and, of course, the dance always bring out true character.

Anne Elliot: She would manage a babysitting and caretaker service. With her extensive knowledge of small children and their whiny, hypochondriac mothers, she would quickly set things right in every household, while providing competent nursing at the same time. Of course, she’d avoid anyone taking her charges to the steps at Lyme or on a tree-climbing expedition. With her financial savvy, you can guarantee she’d run a tight business, no retrenchment required!

Lydia Bennet Wickham: She’d become a party planner and spend her life deep in entertainment and flirtation. Of course, you might not want her planning your wedding since she might run away with the groom.

Fanny Price: Let’s face it, we wouldn’t want her at our party, but we’d definitely want her for our surgeon. There’s no one like her for combined patience, precision, careful study, and attention to detail. With her self-discipline and obsessiveness, she’d get a full ride to med school, and make the perfect incision in the most sterile possible environment. Plus, she has all that sewing experience with Lady Bertram!

Elizabeth Bennet: Top attorney. Who could compete with her quick-witted arguments, sharp-tongued clarity, and ruthlessly conclusive judgments? We’re not saying she’d always be right, but she’d probably always win! We beg your pardon, be she “knows exactly what to think.”

Lucy Steele: Behind that skill with calculation and mean-spirited machination is a frustrated mechanical engineer. She’d get her start making robots from recycled materials to do all the menial tasks she doesn’t feel like doing, to spy on people, and even a computerized “Lucy” doll to harass her sister full-time with a cyclical series of ungrammatical remarks.

Mrs. Jennings: Star of “Late Night with Mrs. Jennings,” of course. With her gregarious personality and constant jokes and laughter, she’d be a hit as host of a comedy show. Her YouTube series would be such a global sensation that she’d be picked up by a major network. And every comedy show needs a sidekick to laugh at the jokes—you guessed it—Charlotte Palmer keeps the audience roaring, but don’t expect her to know or care why she’s laughing!

Regards,

Two Ladies

Thrifty Summer Discoveries

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Dear Readers:

Don’t judge this sweater. Too late—you are probably either thinking it’s adorable, or, like one person who shall remain nameless, you feel the instinct to ask if Clown School is in town. Regardless, it exemplifies the many fun finds one can discover by exploring thrift stores as a form of cheap entertainment while on vacation, something we both routinely do. You may meet local people and glean valuable insights and information about the area while exchanging friendly opinions—one fellow shopper claimed that my controversial $1.25 purchase was a “happy sweater”! At another thrift store, a fellow shopper recommended the most scenic hiking trails nearby.

Another travel tip you may not have considered is to become a member of a local food coop, especially on an extended stay. Many coops have a refundable membership fee (such as about $75), which you will get back when you close out your account to return home. This is a great service to temporary visitors and college students who go home for summers and breaks. Membership will give you a discount on delicious fresh, local produce, baked goods, and sometimes beautiful handicrafts by local artisans as well.

When flying, consider traveling light (only two carry-ons) and then buying a cheap suitcase from a thrift store in which to bring back thrift purchases and souvenirs (fly an airline that lets you check one bag for free). If you’re visiting someplace for more than a few days where you don’t have family or friends you can stay with, research the extended-stay lodging options where you may get a better value—more space, a private laundry, and kitchen facilities to make some of your meals (such as dinner, which is more expensive than breakfast or lunch).

Look around you and drink in the landscape, seascape, or cityscape. Observe the teeming wildlife or human life, listen to the wind or the bizarre dialogue or the guitarist on the corner. Window-shop by peering over the cliff or into the chipmunk’s hollow or the art gallery or the local bakery (am I mentioning baked goods again?). Ask yourself, along with Elizabeth Bennet, “What are men to rocks and white chocolate raspberry scones?”

Meet your destination where you find it and explore the best free and inexpensive treasures it has to offer. And perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to return home with a crazy clown sweater of your very own as a memento of your trip.

Of course, may we also humbly suggest that you will find more thrifty travel tips in Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift!Smile

Wishing you the best of economical adventuring,

Two Thrifty Ladies