Guest column | Darcy Maness

With unemployment comes a sense of self

I've never been a brand name shopper, but I do like nice things, and I pride myself on having somewhat good taste.

As I reach my 18th month of unemployment, I've learned some priceless lessons.

Here are a few tips:

I limited my leg-shaving to twice a week. No, I didn't self-combust or fall out of grace with the World of Ladydom. Panty hose or slacks keep my stubble a secret — until now — and my razor lasts me a good part of a month. Instead of the lavishly rich and creamy shaving cream, I now use the cheapest bottle of hair conditioner — 99 cents at the dollar store. One bottle of conditioner lasts close to six months.

I'm a firm believer that one's hair is a direct reflection of one's work ethic. And, as a marketing director by trade, I understand the concept on the back of every shampoo bottle. Wash, rinse, repeat is a marketing scheme for consumers to use the product faster, thereby creating a need to purchase more product.

What I've learned is to use just a tad bit more the first time, and let the shampoo sit on my hair while I wash my face, rinsing both together (also a way to conserve water). Wait at least 30 minutes after the shower before you run that blow-dryer. It takes less time to dry your hair and saves on the power bill.

As a former shopper at Sam's Club, my usual six-month supply of toiletries and sundries have been rearranged in a variety of ways. Being forced to buy only on a need-to-have-basis, searching for price specials on things like mouthwash, floss and toothpaste, can be a chore. However, the old standard — baking soda — not only cleans the teeth and freshens the breath, it's a natural abrasive for polishing those teeth. As for those expensive whiteners, I rinse once a week with a capful of peroxide (per my dentist's advice, more than that could be counterproductive). Cheap and effective.

As the economy worsens, the nation's brand-name producers of toilet paper are facing the fact that their product is being flushed away for cheaper brands. Lo and behold, I switched to the cheaper brands and my backside does not protest.

For those who slather on the lotions, I have two words for you: while wet. Lotions spread more easily when you've just lightly toweled yourself off and they're absorbed more completely as well. Okay, I have another two words for you: olive oil. Years ago, I had a client in her late 60s, and she had immaculate skin. Her secret? Olive oil. I still use it today.

I love a clean-smelling home and I used to have a cleaner for every purpose and a purpose for every cleaner. I now use a combination of inexpensive products that create the best cleaning solutions I think I've ever used.

For windows: distilled water, ammonia and vinegar. For bathrooms: distilled water and bleach; adding water makes it last longer and it still disinfects. For greasy kitchens: distilled water added to Dawn detergent with a little bit of bleach. The best sanitizer of all: distilled water and peroxide; put in a spray bottle and use liberally on all surfaces.

I've learned a few things about providing meals for my family that had long ago escaped me.

We've all fallen prey to becoming lazy in the kitchen over the years, preparing boxed foods, serving frozen desserts and microwaving just-add-water meals. Those foods have become a luxury to me, and a good thing; I am now the mother I left behind in Iowa. Hungry for a chocolate cake a few months back, I opened up the cookbook and found an amazing recipe for devil's food cake, complete with creamy chocolate icing. I already had all the ingredients and it was the best cake I'd ever tasted. Since then, I always keep a supply of flour, sugar and eggs, along with a (lifetime) container of baking powder and such, and the supply of desserts is now endless in my house. I never waste a bag of apples, or an overly ripe banana — they all get baked into some delightful treat, all at no additional cost.

I've also gotten out my old recipes of egg noodles, pot pies, etc., and began making them all from scratch as well. If I make a pot roast or roast a chicken, the juices are used in making a stew. The savings are tremendous and add the satisfaction of producing a real, homemade meal, and it all becomes almost immeasurable.

I started a garden. It is therapeutic and a great way to feed your family all summer. Designing a large garden for the neighbors to add their ideas (as well as their sweat) created a huge assistance in the grocery budget. There's nothing like fresh produce, except if it's your fresh produce.

Dogs are family, too, and in the old days, my parents gave their dogs leftovers. I still feed my dogs dry food, but now I add a ladle of stew or broth. It allows me to cut back on the dog food and gives them added (healthy) calories. You won't hear the dogs complaining, either.

Along with re-learning to connect with grandchildren via puppet shows, late-night flashlight stories, board games, picnics and crafting (instead of going to movies, shopping and eating out) I'd say that being unemployed for 18 months has been good for me. In reality, I need for nothing. I may want a time or two, but I need for nothing.

The basics I left behind in Iowa 22 years ago have come in handy. They grounded me to my roots and created the girl I was before I moved. There's no better present than knowing who you are and living it fully.

Darcy Maness lives in Leisure Hills.

With unemployment comes a sense of self 01/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 4:30pm]

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