Voices of MainStreet: Maryellen Apelquist


Why I'm Big on the Small Screen
May 26, 2011

I love movies. I love watching them at home, nestled on the sofa, and I love watching them on "the big screen," sharing overpriced popcorn, smuggled-in-my-purse Junior Mints (or gummy worms, if I happen to be with my nephew), and $6 watered-down cola.

Despite my love, my movie theater outings have dwindled to once or twice a year. It's not a cost issue — the prices have been exorbitant as far back as I can remember — so much as an I'd-rather-be-at-home issue. The older I get, the more I prefer hanging out in my own digs, cooking for loved ones and watching movies on our own obnoxiously large flat-screen TV, complemented by surround sound and wearing my comfiest shouldn't-be-caught-in-public pants. Really, why go out?

Still, it does happen — usually for a summer blockbuster aimed at my nephew (with a few somewhat clever one-liners thrown in for the adults) or for an over-the-top action flick my boyfriend and I can't wait to see. This summer, that over-the-top action flick is Transformers 3.

Now, this is not my usual genre. I am more of a The King's Speech / A Room with a View sort of girl. For a long time I didn't confess my adoration for the Transformers movies, but it all came tumbling out last summer when the man got me hooked. Long-buried memories of playing with my brother's "robots in disguise" plagued my thoughts. I had to see Optimus Prime and crew kick the Decepticons' butts.

I saw the first two back to back, in the comfort of our own home, and I am hard-pressed to wait until July to see the third. And, yes, it has to be in the movie theater, on the biggest of big screens, with overpriced popcorn and smuggled-in candy. Nothing else will do.

As far as movie merchandise goes, I am full of contradictions. I like to think it's not my thing. I purchase DVD copies of favorite flicks — they make great stocking stuffers — but I think of movie merchandise, on the whole, as garbage that wastes money. But then I find myself making exceptions, thanks to my nephew's fanatic love of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies: A Pirates poster adorns his bedroom wall and a Pirates-themed Lego set given at Christmas has given us hours of playtime fun. And what's wrong with a Pirates of the Caribbean lunchbox, if you need a new lunchbox, anyway? Or Pirates-themed pajamas, found for a steal at Target? I guess this is how they get us.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Living My Life, Not Theirs
May 6, 2011

In terms of travel, not much has changed for me since 9/11. I may think about things differently, but I don't do much of anything differently.

A few months after the attacks, I flew across the country to visit the home of a favorite childhood author. I thought standing where she stood might inspire and comfort me, and it did. It was a childhood fantasy come true, thanks to a major commercial airline, a rental car, and the money I had saved to make the trip. Nether terrorists nor the threat of terrorists factored into my decision to get on the airplane.

Hate-mongers, religious fanatics and murderers don't have a say in my day-to-day doings. They have no power over me.

Likewise, my friends abroad live their lives as usual. A kindred spirit from my college days who lives and works across the globe, splitting her time between Qatar and Paris, plugs along, aiming to complete her doctoral program. She asks me to visit and I say I will, just as soon as I can swing it financially, and we both keep moving forward. That's all we can do.

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, I feel relief at the news. I think to myself, "good". It feels just. I'm not inspired to dance in the streets, but I feel a modicum of peace at the thought that the so-called mastermind behind the murder of thousands of innocents is finally dead.

Still, though, he is but one man. Evil has many faces left in the world. And while our planet is not necessarily a safer place, it is still ours. It doesn't belong to terrorists who would love nothing more than to see us cower in fear, limiting our lives in the face of their insanity.

I will still travel. I will still live my life the way I see fit, all the while mourning the thousands of lives lost at the hands of madmen.

Earlier this week, NPR published a story titled "After Sept. 11, 'He wanted me to live a full life.'" I've read it at least five times. It tells the story of Beverly Eckert and Sean Rooney, two sweethearts who met at 16 at a high school dance, married, and lost each other at 50 — when Rooney died at the hand of World Trade Center terrorists. Rooney spent the last moments of his life on the 105th floor of the south tower, on the phone with his wife. I find their story both heartbreaking and hopeful, and I'll share part of it here:

“After a while, they stopped talking about escape routes and instead focused on the happiness they'd shared together. ‘I told him that I wanted to be there with him, but he said, no, no, he wanted me to live a full life,’ she says.

“As the smoke got thicker, Rooney whispered, ‘I love you, over and over,’ Eckert says. ‘I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him, to hold him, one last time.’

Then she heard a sharp crack, followed by the sound of an avalanche. The building was beginning to collapse. Eckert called Rooney's name into the phone repeatedly, and then she just sat there, pressing the phone to her heart.

Rooney had kissed Eckert goodbye that morning before going to work. She says, ‘I could still say that was just a little while ago, that was only this morning. And I just think of myself as living life for both of us now. And I like to think that Sean would be proud of me.’”

I think he would be, too.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Subliminal Messages

April 29, 2011

There exists a photo of me that few have seen. In it I am naked, save for a diaper, and pushing an ice cream truck. My fiery curls are blowing in the breeze and my belly is hanging out. I am 2 years old.

This photo depicts not only the carefree abandon of my toddler years, it showcases one of my prized toys. I wheeled that plastic ice cream truck around our backyard trading treats for money. There were no freebies. No matter that the "treats" more often than not were represented by rocks or sticks, and the money by leaves from a nearby Mountain Laurel bush; I took my goods to market and people were eager to buy.

I had a fleet of food-service toys and marketing accessories in addition to the ice cream truck: a red, yellow and blue grocery cart filled with pretend food, a cash register that would sound a telltale “ding” whenever its drawer opened, a hand-me-down Holly Hobbie Oven that sometimes worked and that I would use to trade baked goods for Matchbox cars…

Later, when I was older, I occasionally set up a makeshift lemonade stand by the curb, hoping a thirsty someone might happen by our quiet neighborhood and pay a nickel for a cool, refreshing cup of lemony goodness. I probably made 15 cents on a good day.

My first money lessons were taught to me by my mother, through the toys she gave me and from watching her try to make ends meet. These lessons were pretty basic:

  1. Mama works hard for the money (five kids to feed on a nurse's aide's salary),
  2. Few things in life are free, and
  3. Your piggy bank isn't just for looks — save your money, since you never know what tomorrow will bring.

My mother also taught me that making it is cheaper than buying it; that growing a garden will feed you longer than a trip to the grocery store will; that if you save up hundreds of dollars for a much-needed vacation, your car will break down the next day and you can kiss that vacation goodbye.

Some of the lessons were tougher than others, as I watched my mother struggle financially, but all of them are still with me.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

A Clean Sweep for Spring

April 15, 2011

My annual spring cleaning sweep reaches every corner of my home, my car, my purse. Nothing is safe.

The main objective is to give everything a refreshing scrub, but ridding my life of any unnecessary clutter also ranks high on my priority list.

The clutter is not usually significant — I am not much of a pack rat — but I always seem to have a pile of unwanted clothing and accessories to take to The Salvation Army every year.

Back in the day, when shopping for new clothes was my primary source of entertainment, I amassed quite the collection of items that were worn once and shoved to the back of the closet. I've managed to whittle down this collection over the years, but for some inexplicable reason I've never managed to get rid of it lock, stock and barrel.

Every spring, I pull everything — I tell myself it's everything, anyway — that I have no business wearing anymore and bundle it off to the local clothing drop-off box.

Aside from the joys of cleaning and scaling back my closet, I look forward to spring-cleaning season for the yard sales. I don't hold my own, but I love scoping out the goods at the many sales sprinkled throughout the county come spring. Favorite finds include wooden furniture and old-fashioned kitchen utensils, crocks, enamelware and the like. While I look for things with character, I only buy items that I am lacking in my own kitchen, that serve a purpose. Like I said, I am not one for clutter.

I am not the only one in my area who loves a good yard sale. It is a rite of spring in these parts. The local newspaper prints a special section showcasing these sales every year, sometimes even with a map, and folks carry it with them in their quest for deals.

Nothing beats a sunny weekend morning when you have nothing more pressing to do than to amble about town, chatting with neighbors over whatever treasures they have scattered on their folding card tables, striking a deal for a piece of furniture, then maybe stopping for old-fashioned cake donuts and coffee on the way home.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

You Get What You Pay For

April 8, 2011

Years ago I had a roommate (let's call her "Betty" to protect her true identity) who had a thing for old food. More precisely, she had a thing for the discounts offered on old food. Betty did her grocery shopping at a market across town whose prices were a fraction of those offered by other grocery purveyors in the area, but these prices came with a lot of unwelcome baggage — funky odors, off colors, stale textures.

Betty didn't mind the food baggage, but I did — even though I wasn't the one eating the old food. This single woman would come home from the market weighed down by eight to 10 grocery bags, all tightly packed with highly discounted vittles. She loved to fry up her several-days-old ground beef with its brownish-grey pallor early in the morning, letting the funky odors waft through our tiny house. I would try to gag quietly, so as not to hurt her feelings, as I passed by on my way to the fridge, but Betty and I did not last long. The funky meat grew to be too much for me to bear, and I moved out after only a few months.

Betty understood, I think.

Anyway, I am frugal, yes. (I clip coupons with enthusiasm, have my eyes peeled for buy-one-get-one deals while shopping, try to make meals go further with the addition of beans and whole grains, and I rarely eat out.) But I have my limits: I will not sacrifice quality for a deal, nor will I buy things that I normally wouldn't eat for the sake of taking advantage of a deal.

I am passionate about food and the rituals surrounding it — its preparation, sharing it with loved ones, celebratory dinners — and fresh is always best. I want to know where my food comes from. I want to know how it was made. I want to know how long it's been sitting on the shelf. In short, I won't compromise a meal's integrity or my loved ones' health by cooking on the cheap. You get what you pay for.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Learned Skepticism

April 1, 2011

I haven't taken information released by the federal government at face value since middle school, when my seventh-grade teacher gave his students frequent current events-inspired pop quizzes based on the previous evening's news headlines. I loved these quizzes. I believed everything the earnest-looking newscasters told me in their reports littered with facts (so-called, anyway) fed to them by the government in press conferences, and I dutifully regurgitated the information the next morning.

Those days are long gone. My trust in the information that is trickled down to the American people from our leaders is virtually nonexistent. My first instinct is to doubt, thanks in large part to my career as a journalist.

And nowhere is my lack of trust more apparent to me than when contemplating the reasons given for our country to go to war. The U.S. is now involved in three armed conflicts — in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The decisions to enter these conflicts (and stay in them) have everything to do with economics and politics — but we're not usually told that — and less to do with looking for weapons of mass destruction, or hunting down bad guys, or building democracy, or fighting for human rights.

Don't forget Rwanda. President Bill Clinton's administration knew about the genocide and did, well, nothing. "It took Hutu death squads three months from April 6 to murder an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington's top policymakers," reported The Guardian in 2004, 10 years after the slaughter, when classified documents finally revealed the sickening truth. Bottom line? No strategic value, no dice.

There's really not much talk anymore in my community about our current conflicts, aside from offhanded comments at the fuel pumps and widespread agreement that Moammar Gadhafi is a murdering whack job. Beyond that, we support our troops, as it should be, and are thankful they are not on the ground in Libya. Let's hope it stays that way.

Quoting movies is not my usual shtick, but Will Hunting's take on a prospective job with the National Security Agency in Good Will Hunting puts to words what I believe was the real deal then (in 1997, when the movie was made) and is the real deal now. I know I am not the only one who thinks so; the video of his rant haunts Facebook walls:

"Why shouldn't I work for the NSA? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at NSA. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', ‘oh, send in the Marines to secure the area’ 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon ..."

Need I go on?

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

I Have Forsaken the Cellphone

March 25, 2011

I don't have a cellphone, and I couldn't be happier about it. But this hasn't always been the case.

I enjoy talking, and I enjoy listening, but I don't like to do either one over the phone. Never have — not even in my preteen years, when photos of New Kids on the Block lined the inside of my locker (yes, I was grossly misled; one day it was The Cure, the next day NKOTB) and a trip to the mall from my tiny hometown was as good as it got.

I would rather have a conversation face to face, in person, complete with gesticulating and facial expressions — if I want to talk to the person at all.

Telephones — whether landlines or cellular — have always annoyed me, but I can't deny their usefulness and for most of my adult life have had one or the other, or both.

For years, my cellphone was a necessary evil I carried with me as a young reporter and then later as an editor. I was always reachable, and I can't say I was always happy about it. Sitting at work where I was managing editor, doing double duty as a page monkey and obits editor in a newsroom that was a shadow of its former self, I fielded calls from my landline (usually disgruntled readers who wanted to know why, for all that is holy, does the crossword on the puzzle page seem to be getting smaller and smaller?) and from my cellphone (reporters who wanted to know if they really had to stay for the whole meeting). Make no mistake, sprinkled among these calls were a few worthwhile exchanges — valuable news tips and the like — but these were few and far between.

In my downtime, I faced the phone — both landline and cell — with similar dread. My usual reaction when the phone rang was one of, "Oh *expletive*, what/who the hell is this?" No matter that I was registered on "do not call" lists, most calls were from people I did not know, people who wanted to sign me up for this or that, people who wanted to take my money.

But, I am happy to report, I have nipped most of this in the bud: now a freelancer, I rid myself of my cellphone after finally realizing, “hey, I don't need this. I don't need this exorbitant monthly bill. I don't need more than one telephone. If a call is truly important, the landline will work just fine.”

And it does.

For all of those fun things I like to do on the move and that my cellphone never let me do well (or do at all) despite the $100-plus monthly fee — emailing, surfing the Internet, Epicurious recipe searches on the app, card games, live video chat with loved ones — I turn to my iPod touch. A gift from my man, the iPod touch offers everything I want without plugging me into unnecessary conversation. Without saddling me with a two-year contract. Without monthly fees. I love it.

Now, in my life, to my way of thinking, the only time a cellphone is necessary is during times of travel. After all, no one wants to find herself stranded in the snowy woods of Vermont without a way to contact help. For this purpose, I may invest in a TracFone (prepaid wireless) for emergencies only. Otherwise, I am done with cellphones — for good.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Thankful for What I’ve Got

March 18, 2011

Ruth Reichl, one of my personal heroes, recently received some heat from a reader over a few lines she Tweeted the morning of March 11, the day of Japan's 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. The Tweet? "Basking in sunshine. Gently fried eggs, soft golden yolks. Bright salsa: chilies, onions, tomatoes. Black beans. Warm tortillas. So fine."

These few lines of morning contentedness on a day of such monumental disaster did not go unnoticed by a California woman, who replied, "What planet are you on? The one WITHOUT thousands dying from an earthquake? SO FINE?!?!?!"

Reichl responded via a blog post, “Why Food Matters, 1”, and I hope you read it. In the post, Reichl points out that while she hadn't yet read the day's headlines when she Tweeted about breakfast, she can't say whether she would have written something different.

In part she writes, "There is no time, ever, in which a terrible disaster is not taking place somewhere on the planet. And thanks to modern technology, we know all about it almost immediately. As I see it, we have a moral responsibility to respond to those disasters in the best ways that we can. ... But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have. That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes."

This is why Ruth Reichl is one of my heroes.

I've often pondered whether I should follow the example of so many of my online friends and revisit the world's headlines via various social media outlets. Some of them spend a significant portion of their day updating their Facebook walls with all that is wrong with the world — and there is a lot wrong with the world — to the point where I wonder: Are you really at work?

I am not knocking this. Not by a long shot. I am glad they do it. I hate to think of where we would be without education and spreading awareness. But what do I blog, Facebook, or Tweet about for the most part? Food. Baking. Feeding the ones I love.

For me, it's a no-brainer. Food and security and love are vital to a healthy existence, and I seek to comfort through feeding people.

This way of thinking fuels my charitable giving as well. In a world where gross consumption lives next door to misery and starvation, I admire the work of City Harvest, "Rescuing food for New York's hungry" and Action Against Hunger, among other charitable organizations. These days, my cash flow has slowed to a trickle, but I give how and when I can. For the most part, my contributions are locally focused — donations to community food pantries and such — but I look forward to the day when I am able to give on a broader scale.

I don't do it for a tax break. I don't do it because my favorite celebrity does it. I do it because no one should go hungry.

In the words of Reichl, "... eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you've got it.  Then go out and save the world."

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

A Reformed Tax Procrastinator

March 11, 2011

My first real paycheck: I remember it clearly. As a teenager working at the yacht club on the island where I went to high school, that first paycheck meant that my days of babysitting for $5 an hour were over; it meant that I could make somewhat regular deposits into my newly opened statement savings account; and it meant that I was now doing my duty as an American taxpayer.

I remember opening the envelope that held that first check. I was gleeful and proud of the work that had gone into earning it (slinging chicken salad and washing dishes for the pastel-cardigan-clad yacht club set takes a special kind of resolve, particularly when girls my own age would come to me complaining that they had found a piece of dark meat in their salad and wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I had plenty of suggestions for them, naturally ... but I digress).

My enthusiasm waned a bit when I scanned the figures inside. I knew about taxes, of course, but seeing is believing and the reality of Uncle Sam's share hit home with a thud of disappointment. My first thoughts were, "What? That's it? Where did it all go?"

The annual filing of taxes is another financial ritual that quickly lost its sparkle for me. (Yes, the first time, there was a sparkle. I felt, well ... righteous.) The luster gave way to feelings of dread years ago, and filing my tax returns became something I looked forward to with the enthusiasm of someone facing oral surgery. Despite my work in deadline-driven environments, I couldn't muster the get-up-and-go to file my taxes much before April 15. While a responsible person in most things, my taxes included (hey, they always got done), carving out the time to file my returns well ahead of the due date wasn't a priority. Rather, my method was to wait until the night before, spread out all the necessary paperwork on my bed, and have at it with a two-liter bottle of diet soda by my side. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush I received from cutting it close, but I wasn't inspired to change my procrastinating ways.

That is, until a few years ago.

I am pleased to report I have left tax return slacker-dom behind, thanks in large part to my significant other. In everything he does, he is organized, efficient and meticulous. In his world, nothing is put off that can be accomplished today. He maintains a calendar and file system for his personal business. One device is synced with another to ensure all is in harmony and up to date. I find it difficult to maintain my slothful tax return habits when living with such a creature.

I should also thank the wisdom that comes with maturity. Now in my 30s, I don't take a lot of personal pleasure from cutting things close in my financial life.

And boy, have I changed. This year, I called the accounting office of a previous employer in mid-January, wanting to know when my W-2 would be mailed. I e-filed shortly thereafter, then used the "Where's My Refund" tool on the IRS.gov site to check the status of my money. I have long since received my refunds, state and federal, and they've been used to pay bills.

Having filed well ahead of the due date, I have peace of mind. I wish I could say I felt the same peace when contemplating how the federal government spends my tax dollars.

— Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Snowy Vermont Is Perfect for Break
March 4, 2011

I have a running fantasy involving dry heat. In it, I am hot, really hot, but not uncomfortably so, and that's about it. That's the fantasy. And just so we're clear, there is no actual movement in this dreamy picture; this is not a jogging fantasy. By "running," I mean thoughts of dry heat are perpetually rounding the loop that is my at-times-scattered mind.

Then my senses give me a nudge and I tune in to my true surroundings: snowy Vermont. Complete with lows well below zero, shoveling, and slick roads. Complete with a workhorse wood stove and mile-high propane bills to heat our humble home (or, at least, keep the pipes from freezing).

But did I mention it's Vermont? And while cold and at times cumbersome to get around in, it boasts a stunning landscape in every direction one looks; it is home to active, generous-hearted, think-green sorts of people; and ski destinations abound. Not to mention cheese. And maple syrup. And ice cream. And the best in farm-to-table dining. And breweries. I'm not speaking in mere stereotypes, nor am I being paid by the tourism bureau. This stuff is all true of Vermont, and I love it.

My home is a spring break destination, an all-year destination for that matter (leaf-peepers and hikers have long loved Vermont's autumns, springs and summers). But this time of year, when winter is thinking that it may have to give way to spring one of these days, skiers and snowboarders pack into their Connecticut, New Jersey and New York SUVs and make their way up Interstate 91 (rising gas prices be damned) for their last hurrah on the slopes at Okemo, Stowe, Killington, Jay Peak, Mad River Glen, Mount Snow, Stratton and Bromley (that's enough with the name-dropping). They come here to relax and unwind and cut loose. They come here to take a break.

I stay for the same reasons. Mind you, I'm not on a perpetual break, but what better place to live and work than a place you love? While I may whine about the cold come February/March, I consider myself lucky to call Vermont home. So what if I have a dry-heat fantasy once in a while?

And by staying, I give shelter to nephews and other family and friends who choose to spend their spring breaks in the Green Mountain State.

I am by no means hiding in the mountains, though. There is life outside of northern New England, after all. And while money is tight and I am nothing if not frugal, plans are in the works to crash with friends in those parts of the world that aren't Vermont. These plans will be executed when time and money allow, not when the calendar dictates. First up? Texas — to visit an old kindred spirit from my college days (well, she's not that old), marvel at the flatness and the bigness, and soak up some dry heat.

- Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

Inflation Means Making Cuts

Feb. 18, 2011

A friend of mine recently posted the following on her Facebook wall: "With the cost of everything going through the roof, come summer we'll have to choose — pay our bills or go hungry. Heck, I need to lose some weight anyway!!"

While she closed her post with a joke, none of her Facebook friends commented with an "lol." No one clicked the "like" button. The reason, I think, is that most of her peers sense the pain of her situation, and it hits a little too close to home as they have been living with similar financial anxiety for years.

I have, anyway.

As a matter of fact, I would no longer call it anxiety — just a dull, ever-present tick that has dictated my every move since college graduation nearly 15 years ago, thanks in large part to my excellent decision to enter the newspaper industry at nearly precisely the moment that it began to die. But I and I alone made that decision and I learned to live with it: I drive beaters while my friends drive the newest in slick and financed (that's right, no one owns that rusty, sagging behemoth but me); for years I eschewed cable television in favor of frequent trips to the library; and I have always seen credit cards as my enemy (if I don't have the money now, I sure as hell won't have it anytime soon). I deal in cash, not credit.

At this point, I actually find managing the household finances mildly entertaining. It has become a sort of game show in my mind. I might call it "The Price Is Always Wrong" or "Financial Flub-Ups." Either way, I'm always playing.

And on no occasion do I play more than on trips to the grocery store (or, usually, the nearest membership warehouse retailer where I can get canned kidney beans at a fraction of the price offered at a chain grocer). The daughter of a hard-working, home-owning, third-shift nurse's aide who fed and clothed her five children on a meager wage, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The way I see it, I have it easy: I have but two mouths to feed and no children hanging on my shirt sleeves in the checkout line, begging for extra treats like chocolate sandwich cookies or ice cream. And if I did, I think I'd leave them at home if the cost of child care didn't preclude it.

There are two things I ask myself before entering a food item on our grocery list: 1. Do I really need this to make such-and-such? and 2. Can I make this item myself, at less cost? At the end of the shopping trip, our cart is filled with pantry staples and our go-to meal builders. Nothing overly processed. Nothing packaged to the gills. Nothing ready-made and marketed for convenience (the cost of which is decidedly inconvenient). And nothing that is not on the list.

That's not to say we don't treat ourselves on occasion. We do. Just last week we bought ice cream, buy one get one free, of course. And it's not to say I am not continually amazed at the escalating price of kitchen staples like bread, milk and fresh vegetables. Indeed, I am. I even posted a photograph featuring two bell peppers on my food blog, for no other reason than to express my astonishment at their price. In my book, $2.90 bell peppers deserve a moment to shine.

The economic slump our country is just beginning to crawl out of, or so "they" say, has had a real chokehold on American consumers. The members of my household included. But, I have to say it helps that I've never been one to keep up with the Joneses. I don't compare what we have to what you have. And while we own a flat-screen TV, iPods and the like, they were purchased with cash after months, if not years, of thoughtful financial restraint.

Bottom line, I think about every dollar I spend. Always have. Likely always will. And when there aren't enough dollars, something's gotta go.

- Maryellen blogs about the foods she loves to cook in her Vermont home on her blog Love & Scraps.

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