Brother, Can You Paradigm?


(Not much to do with anything, but it makes me chuckle and I figured we could all use a laugh.)

I thought long and hard about today’s post. Especially after listening to the Presidential candidates debate and then hearing the business news. “Baby, it’s cold out there.”

Given the way things are headed, can we continue to live the easy and elegant life?

I’m obviously talking about more than detachable collars.

I suppose I’m a bit of a pollyanna. I’m pretty sure that we’re facing down some gloom, but maybe not doom. I believe that we will weather the storm. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it. Like Bing Crosby sang “I fall asleep counting my blessings.” We’re not under constant bombardment as was London during the Blitz. We haven’t had to endure wholesale rationing of food and petrol. Gas lines, at least here in Virginia, aren’t the norm. Unemployment is not yet at Great Depression levels. The banks are open, if a bit frozen.

Pretty Capra-esque view of things, huh?

I will admit that it’s time to reflect, hunker down, regroup, circle the wagons. It’s time to change the paradigm. And that’s where a few of my ideas may have some merit.

If you’ve bought new clothes and followed my advice, they are of very high quality and classically styled. Your wardrobe should help you remain well-dressed for a few years until hemlines rise or tie widths balloon. You may then be out of fashion, but you will still be well-dressed. Take care of your clothing. Keep it clean and mended. It is your armour against the fickle winds of fashion and will make you feel good when wearing it. The worse I feel, the better I dress. Never fails to cheer me up somewhat. “Wardrobe therapy” I guess you’d call it. Try it.

You may decide that it is more appropriate for your budget to stay at home and entertain, or gather around the family table instead of frequenting the local restaurant twice a week. Great! The slow-cooker makes wonderful dinners while you are at work and does so while tenderizing “inferior” cuts of meat. You don’t have to eat high on the hog to live well. Living well, is an art. Cultivate it. Candles purchased at the dollar store will add atmosphere while saving a bit of money on the electric bills. Asking everyone to dress (not necessarily in dinner jackets) will let you keep the heat down below 72ºF, too.

My grandmother, who lived through the Depression and saw this downturn coming a few years ago, often tells me stories me of the six couples who formed her party circuit. Once a month the gang would convene at one house and have a dinner party. My grandmother always made sure she had Halloween, and everyone dressed up. It might be a good time to start a dinner party circuit with a few friends. The meals needn’t be extravagant and each couple can pitch in with a couple of bottles of modestly priced wine. Break out the china and silver; a few branches from the garden. You will have a ball.

Speaking of meals, Mrs. E. recently did our books and realized that our biggest expense — close to mortgage size — is our grocery bill. (My clothing budget went the way of the Dodo after the chimneys were rebuilt this summer.) It wasn’t always like this. Having two children has added some (I joined the organic crowd out of an uneasy feeling that the city rats are the size they are because they are eating our leftovers… but it ain’t cheap) to the bottom line. Still, I can scale back very easily.

How easily?

When we were fortunate enough to live at the beach in France, Mrs. E. and I made the Saturday trek (all of ten minutes) to our market to buy our supplies for the week. One free range chicken would last us through roughly 5 dinners. First we had roasted chicken and potatoes. Then we had a bit of chicken salad. Then it was curried chicken over rice and finally chicken soup. Call it beak to tail-feather eating. Once a month we splurged and went out to dinner (there was a three-star restaurant also within walking distance.) All meals were supplemented with local produce, freshly baked baguettes, and wine from the co-op. Ten litres of wine, rationed out of our refillable jerry cans, lasted ten days (I cooked with it, too.)

Cutting back just takes some creative thinking. If I could, I would even plant a few vegetables as my friends plan on doing. As it is, I make do with homegrown kitchen herbs.

Just a few thoughts.

When was the last time you made a pizza instead of ordering out? Packed a lunch instead of eating out? Had an omelette and salad for dinner? Had lamb shanks instead of a crown roast? Chicken thighs instead of breast? Or a simple French onion soup made with day old bread? Used coupons (mine are downloaded directly to my preferred customer card, so I don’t even have to remember to take them along)?

So, plan accordingly, adopt easy and elegant best practices, plug in “The Object of Beauty“, or “The Razor’s Edge” (I Like Bill Murray’s version), “Meet John Doe“, or “My Man Godfrey” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington“, or even “It’s Wonderful Life.” There are lessons to be learned from each. Mostly about making do with a good attitude. And isn’t that what elegance is all about? Keeping your head when those around you are losing theirs?

And don’t forget to vote. History is being made one way or the other and America needs to rally behind the next President. He’s in for a bumpy ride.

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14 Responses to Brother, Can You Paradigm?

  1. I wondered as I watched the last debate if either candidate had had a moment of regret – the prize is looking slightly less appealing. As my eldest, a truly nice person, is asking for a PSP and a Nano for his birthday it was a good reminder that there is something between feast and famine.

  2. LucyinStLou says:

    What wonderful advice! Thank you for the reminder that tough times do not necessarily diminish us; they only encourage us to become more creative.

  3. Turling says:

    Perhaps I am simply being an optimist, but aside from housing and a number of criminal bankers, I’m not seeing this recession many are saying we have entered. IBM just reported increased profits, the Company I am the CFO for has broken sales records for three of the last five months. We went to dinner on Saturday and had a 45 minute wait, as the restaurant was bursting at the seams. I think it’s more doom and gloom from the media then anything else. Yes, it is bad for many, but definitely not for most.

    On the other hand, we started a vegetable garden this past summer and some of the lettuce is ready for harvest. While it is less expensive, I simply like knowing what has been placed on/in the produce I am eating. I read a magazine article of couple of months back talking about the chemical process producers use to ripen the tomatoes after they have been picked. Call me naive, but I had no idea. Scared the daylights out of me, especially since my five year old loves tomatoes.

    Funny you should mention the slow cooker, as my lovely wife just broke it out yesterday and made pork tenderloin and potatoes. I’m going to make pulled pork sandwiches tonight with the leftovers, and then we’ll probably have soup on Saturday. Frugality can be quite fun.

    Keep up the effort, my good man. I’ll tune back in again tomorrow.

  4. Another great post. I never know what to expect but it’s always worth reading. My two cents worth:

    Movie: “Sullivan’s Travels”

    Song: Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” by James Taylor on the Appalachian Journey CD with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor

    Clothes philosophy: COST PER WEAR. If you buy a dress on sale for $50 and wear it twice, it costs $25 per wearing. If you buy quality clothing that lasts, even if it is quite expensive, it is usually a better purchase in the long run. An example would be a $400 suit that you wear 2x week for a year so cost per wear is $4 per wearing.

    And if you buy classics you can wear them forever — assuming you don’t have a significant weight change. I recently was compliment on an outfit I was wearing (long pleated navy skirt and big off-the should navy and cream sweater). The skirt is about 15 years old and the sweater older. Favorite pieces so I felt good wearing them and the compliment meant they still looked good.

  5. CashmereLibrarian says:

    Nice post. My husband and I feel lucky, so far, as we are in education and feel that our jobs are pretty protected. Also, we live in an affordable area of the country. Still, we have college tuition and our own educational loans to deal with, so for the foreseeable future travel and major investments (house AND clothes–at least the clothes we like to buy!) will have to wait. So spending quality home time is our priority: eating well, working on our house together, trying to read more and watch less tv (unless to catch up on some great movies we’ve missed out on), going for walks (to and from work, to the market or gym, just around the neighborhood).

  6. “Sullivan’s Travels”, I was trying to remember the title! Excellent choice.

    Glad to see that everyone is taking this with a grain of salt. I originally had the bank rush scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” embedded, but I felt that the message would get lost. Sort of like when I tried to persuade an upper level English class full of graduate students (I was an undergrad) that we could all do mediocre work and the bell curve was sure to pass most of us… . “Don’t panic” or “Keep calm and carry on” would have served me better. That’s the case now.

  7. Tucker says:

    I would have agreed with Turling until today. I made the mistake of looking at my 403(b) balance (the non-profit world’s 401(K), for those who didn’t know)! I didn’t know you could have negative balances! Okay, slight exaggeration. Luckily I’m as diversified as I can be.

    But I have heard through the grapevine that colleges are having donors cancel pledges, and credit for even the best bond issues is getting tight. California is looking at issuing bonds based on lottery income, according to NPR.

    Does anyone else have a secret hope that perhaps this recession/crisis/apocalypse might bring back some of the things that made our grandparents so wonderful, and so strong, in the period of the Depression and both World Wars?

  8. pvedesign says:

    Since when did frugality go out of fashion. My Mother could stretch a dollar, always some sort of soup simmering, some mending, something to share, some celebration and the old adage, “Keep a stiff upper lip and a fuzzy brow” – She still uses this saying today. Her 103 year friend told her, a tiny piece of chocolate at four o’ clock keeps me going. (Tucker) you are so right, the constitution and backbone of our country which our Grandparents and ancestors -they took nothing for granted.
    We must not get down in the dumps, it is a “slump” and we need to pick ourselves up, and keep forging ahead. We are in for a rocky ride and things like shank bones, and bone marrow often have more flavour than the expensive angus or kobe beef. Creativity is the mother of Invention!

  9. style court says:

    Wonderful post Chris. The situation is quite serious — obviously bleaker for some more than others — but I agree that whatever is around the corner we have no choice but to keep calm and carry on. Panic makes it worse. And we do need to remember that our grandparents and great-grandparents endured seriously challenging times.

  10. Fairfax says:

    I agree with Tucker. I am in fundraising and we’re really worried. We had a spectacular year last year and based this year’s projections upon that. But we’re revising greatly!

  11. initials CG says:

    Object of Beauty was a gas! Malkovic and McDowell…great pompous fun.

    Sound advice, because it’s going to be a rough ride.

    I was CFO of a San Francisco dot com during the 2000 nose dive. That was pretty ugly. And the bursting-at-the seams restaurants were the tell tale sign…you couldn’t get away from hearing the word “my options…” It was sickening after a while. Wouldn’t go back to it

    Home grown vegetables are a world apart…you can’t really taste a tomato if you buy it from the supermarket. You just taste chemicals.

    I too have Tucker’s secret wish.

  12. Great post – a good reminder that frugality can be the mother of industry and creativity.

  13. tintin says:

    After 2 months in NYC I returned to northeast FL and a number of small business closings, tons of foreclosures in the local paper and friends with stories of uncertain jobs.

    In NY, I overheard more than once, talk of “moving to Chicago.” Where it’s cheap, clean but still a big city with decent curry restaurants.

    Sometimes it helps to go through the tough times. I was never more grateful for small things than I was when I lost a job. And never more thankful when I found another one. That gratefulness stayed with me.

  14. Charles Bixx says:

    Ahhh the joy of frugality. I live in Chicago; own a 2 story 3 bedroom 2 bath condo with a huge kitchen. Purchased the place for $199,000, in the down market. Can’t beat Chicago. I dress like a depression era business man.

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