North by East
Winning foursquare has new meaning, a new approach to knitting, and more.
Cartoon by Bill Woodman
No Penny Unpinched
Tightwad Gazette editor is still frugal after all these years.
For all the frantic economic talk emanating from the news media, one topic has been largely ignored: advice for living within one’s means. The omission hasn’t escaped the notice of Amy Dacyczyn.
You may remember Dacyczyn (pronounced like “decision”). She’s the self-proclaimed “frugal zealot” from Leeds who acquired a following of penny-pinching devotees during the early 1990s recession with the Tightwad Gazette, a monthly guide to thrifty living that covered everything from recipes to tips for steering teenagers away from designer labels. Although she and her husband have been comfortably retired since 1996, thanks to the success of that little newsletter and the four book compilations it spawned, Dacycyzn, we’re pleased to learn, remains a cheerful cheapskate.
“I still hang my laundry in my attic,” reports Dacyczyn, who famously clothed her six children in yard-sale attire and furnished her home with trash-picked goods. “We still cook up pumpkin puree and can it for the winter and make applesauce from dropped apples. I still like to give secondhand presents. I don’t get junk. I love to find great things.” That spirit was the secret to Dacyczyn’s success: she viewed living well on pennies as a game.
After she retired, Dacyczyn would get telephone calls from reporters whenever the economy soured. But not this time, and she isn’t sure why. “Maybe we’re so far removed from publication,” she speculates. Could be, but we can’t help but wonder if the hyper-partisan climate, fueled by finger-pointing cable news pundits, might have something to do with it as well.
“Every time the economy contracts, it’s a painful process,” observes Dacyczyn, emphasizing that she is not an economist, “but the economy probably needs to contract to someplace that is more reasonable. It’s silly for the government to do some of what it is doing — keeping the balloon inflated.” At the same time, she suggests, doomsday political rhetoric is panicking people. “Everybody stops spending, and that makes it even worse.” She advocates consistent simple living through good times and bad, which makes those inevitable downturns far less stressful.
Recessions tend to be especially hard on Maine, which “has not been a friendly state for business,” Dacyczyn believes, but Mainers are well equipped to cope. “They’re more receptive to frugality. When I was writing the Tightwad Gazette, local people said, ‘I don’t get it. We’ve been living this way our whole lives. What’s the big deal?’ ”--Virginia M. Wright
Are We There Yet?
Not quite, when it comes to Mainers and foursquare’s social networking services.
Ever wanted to be king of the world? Would you settle for mayor of the Happy China Buffet? Armed with foursquare on your smartphone, you have an excellent chance of dethroning Mario Moretto, who has, virtually speaking, lorded it over the Bangor restaurant for months. All you have to do is visit Happy China twice, “check in” to foursquare, and you’ve got Moretto beat. For that matter, you have an almost equally good shot at succeeding him at any of the twelve other venues where he has been appointed mayor simply because he dropped in one or two times.
Such is the current state of foursquare in Maine. The two-year-old social networking service has been creating a buzz in cities around the world (Times Square businesses, in a bid to draw customers, light up their towers with ads exhorting the hordes below to report their location on foursquare), but our rural state is largely untrodden territory. “Foursquare is a lonely, pathetic act to use by yourself,” Moretto concedes. “But if you live in a small community and your friends are on it, it can be fun.”
Sort of Twitter meets GPS, foursquare allows users to share their location with friends. So, when Moretto, a copy editor at the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, walks into Damon’s sandwich shop on his supper break, he “checks in” on his cell phone and his friends see where he is. He also shares tips like this one: “Seriously guys, eat at Damon’s whenever possible. Unless you’re a vegetarian or you hate sandwiches.”
Foursquare also is a game: Users who visit a place more than anyone else are crowned its mayor. But with so few Mainers using foursquare, it’s not exactly competitive, hence Moretto’s multiple mayoralties, although he did wage a spirited battle with a guy named Zach over some venues in Portland last year.
Not surprisingly, Maine’s largest city, where a few businesses offer discounts to mayors, is more tuned in to foursquare than smaller towns. In Portland, videographer and foursquare fan Robert Barnes took the title of mayor of the city of Portland the day after the November election, when Portlanders approved a charter change that will let the city directly elect its mayor — the real kind — next fall. Meanwhile, Carl Natale, a Lewiston-based Web content consultant and blogger, predicts the rest of the state will get in the game as ownership of smartphones increases and next summer’s tourists begin checking in. For now, though, Maine is a wilderness waiting to be claimed by explorers bearing cell phones. -- V.M.W.
Dodge This Draft
Plugging air leaks in your basement might just keep your pipes from bursting.
Mainers have plenty of differences, but in the dead of winter there’s one question that unites the vast majority of us — 94 percent, to be precise — who don’t own a wood stove. “How much time do I have?” is the question we all ponder the moment after the power goes out, usually during a blizzard or ice storm, when we realize that nothing but our own body heat is preventing our pipes from bursting. Sure, every house is different, but even an insulated one will start to cool down within a matter of hours. After we turn the faucets on to drip (moving water is less likely to freeze) and open the kitchen cupboards (to let any residual heat get to the plumbing lines), Mainers sit, fret, and think about that generator sale that we passed up last summer.
The good news, heating experts say, is that even a poorly insulated but structurally solid house will last several hours in freezing weather before your pipes start cracking. “In a normal house, it’s going to take the better part of ten hours before it gets to the critical stage,” says Bob Miles, owner of Bob Miles & Son, in Freeport. “Of course, every house is different and in a drafty house it might only take two hours for your pipes to freeze up, but that’s because it’s the drafts more than the temperature that’ll freeze your pipes.”
After preaching the benefits of installing a backup generator system, which will cost most homeowners around $1,500, Miles explains that the best way to prevent frozen pipes is to get in your basement or crawlspace on a sunny day and shut off the lights. If you see daylight, those are drafts that could contribute to your problems when the heat goes out. If your pipes are insulated and your foundation is tight, it’ll usually take at least a day of freezing temperatures before the water in most heating lines will have turned solid, since the ground temperature around your basement usually stays in the forties. By then, presumably, Central Maine Power or Bangor Hydro will have your power back on (we won’t talk about the ice storm of 1998, which saw seven hundred thousand Maine houses lose power, for up to three weeks).
Miles says that while Mainers are wise to be mindful of their pipes when the power goes out, they should never let the fear of a frozen pipe overcome common sense. Under no circumstances should a portable heater or generator be used to thaw pipes or raise a house’s internal temperature, as doing so can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide. Portable propane torches, too, can turn a bad situation into a deadly one very quickly.
Come to think of it, maybe that wood stove isn’t such a bad idea after all. --Joshua F. Moore
Found On Craigslist:
Bagged Leaves (Augusta): I have 25 (Likely 26 by tomorrow afternoon) 30 gallon bags of leaves. The bags are paper bags. Free to whoever wants them. Take as many as you want. E-mail for address. I will not hold them for anyone. First come, first served. I will remove this posting when they are all gone.
One Mainer to Another:
“Things now move with lamentable speed, and I often wonder what memories, if any, young people, here in Maine — and elsewhere — are storing up to soothe them in later years and at quieter times.” —Caskie Stinnett, One Man’s Island, 1984