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Meet a Reader | Millicent the Poet

Today we’re meeting a longtime reader who happens to be a poet! Millicent and I have exchanged emails multiple times over the years, so I was glad for the chance to get to know more about her.

Here’s Millicent:

1. Tell us a little about yourself

I am a Portuguese-American writer who has four poetry books including Through a Grainy Landscape (at Amazon now) and Quarantine Highway (written during the early days of Covid), available in the fall.

Millicent on a bridge.

Among my awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, CantoMundo, Fulbright, Foundation for Contemporary Arts NYC (Covid grant), Fundação Luso-Americana, and the Barbara Deming Foundation, “Money for Women.”

I live in the rural hippie-arts community of Topanga Canyon, CA where I curate Kale Soup for the Soul and co-curate Loose Lips literary readings. I also do instructional design work and technical writing.

bowl of kale soup

Kale Soup (Portuguese Soup)

I am @TopangaHippie for IG and Twitter.

2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?

I have been reading The Frugal Girl since your kids were small.

I cannot remember the exact year but I had just moved from a series of apartments to my first house. It was fairly soon after I had gotten married and for the first time I had a backyard, a real kitchen (so many opportunities for frugality), and a mortgage– so I was looking online for tips to save money by baking from scratch, using coupons, etc.

 

I found your site and scrolled through some of the recipes, finding one for dinner rolls which I made (daringly) for the first time to take to my mother-in-law’s house for a holiday gathering and SHE fell in love with the dinner rolls. They became MY thing to bring

dinner rolls on plate.

And your Xmas cookie recipes and decorating? Those became MY thing that I do around the holidays!

christmas cookies.

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

I grew up in a multi-generational immigrant household where my grandparents lived with us and for them, the Great Depression was engrained in their bones. We were a family surviving on one income, and my dad worked at Sears, so everything was scrimped and saved.

I have a poem about the Life Cycle of one shirt and how it was re-purposed and re-purposed until it was sold as a rag.

In my family growing up, I remember my grandmother making her own soap and rinsing plastic bags in the sink, and hanging them on the clothesline to re-use.

When something was torn up in the house, my grandfather saved the nails, hammering them straight again after they had been pulled out and then storing them in a series of old pickle jars by size.

So how did I get interested in saving money? I was BORN into it.

4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?

I am always and continue to be in shock how “the frugal way” is often BETTER than the non-frugal way in that it builds community, adds a homemade touch, and effectively creates personal engagement in ways that mindless BUYING, consumerism does not.

The “why” in frugality is out of necessity but the subtext is that frugality is USUALLY BETTER. For example, if we had had millions of dollars we would have catered an event and hired entertainment for our niece’s birthday party.

But instead? We had all of her friends over and did hippie tie-dye (socks and t-shirts) in the backyard! We went to a local pool and in the community room there a friend taught a yoga class. Afterward, my husband made and we blasted the girls’ favorite Spotify music really loud.

deck at back of house.

Frugality requires you to BRING yourself to the party. It requires you to be vulnerable (asking for help when you need it) and it requires you to be grateful and humble for the blessings you have instead of unattainable, meaningless objects.

The “why” in frugality is also: possibility! Frugality makes $$ things possible.

My dad was famous for bartering and being creative. Like, when I wanted to go to Disneyland? My dad knew a guy who was in the Easter parade so my dad signed me up to ride a bicycle IN THE PARADE– and that meant the whole family got into Disneyland for free AND even better? We got to go on the rides before the park opened!!

And I got to invite a friend– frugality is not just cutting coupons. It is a way of looking at life through the notion of magical possibility.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

I think not being ashamed or embarrassed to ask questions.

My grandmother used to go to department stores and ask for a discount, She would hold up a shirt and say, “The buttons are kind of loose. Can I get a discount?” and then she would stand there and wait. AT A MAJOR DEPARTMENT store she would do this and they usually caved in. Mind you, she was not lying. The buttons were loose or perhaps one was missing, but she stood her ground,

My biggest frugal win in this regard was when we bought our house.

House by bridge.

My husband was in the hospital at the time and I was terrified to make the negotiations but the final inspection had come in and there was a foundation issue that the inspector told me could cost $20,000 or $100,000 and that it would at least take permits and a special underground survey to diagnose.

front of Millicent's house.

So in the final weeks of escrow when I decided to write the seller a note– I explained what the issue was and asked for a $20,000 reduction in price. I tried to be fearless.

I KNEW they had fallen out of escrow on two other occasions and that the couple had moved out of California to Texas and were anxious to sell the property. So I held my breath and waited, knowing I could lose the house. I took a chance.

6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?

Ignoring my frugal spidey-sense and paying FULL retail or being peer-pressured into buying a present I could not afford to give.

I hate being wasteful. Especially when there IS an alternative.

I guess perhaps the worse mistake I have made monetarily would be when I was in an accident (rear-ended) and both drivers held the same car insurance and I had been hurt and had X-rays for my chest and neck and was in a lot of pain and the insurance agent came in and “offered” me $200 for my pain and suffering and I said YES.

I thought, “free money?” But it was not the best decision to make. It was not thoughtful or frugal. I should have asked questions and waited to see how my tests came back.

7. What’s one thing you splurge on?

Travel! Food! Experiences.

I am less likely to spend money on material things, but I am always game on spending money (frugally and smartly) on airfare, a special ingredient, or live theater.

8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?

Fashion:

Clothes of the moment.

Walking into a department store or shopping online and not shopping around.

Buying fad clothing that is expensive and goes out of fashion the next day.

9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?

I would love to be generous and say that I would donate it to charity but I guess that is not the point of this question, is it?

I guess I would buy a new laptop. Mine is over eight years old, purchased by my husband who frugally saved $10-20 a week for over a year to buy it for my birthday AND he actually made a cardboard version of the computer for me to unwrapped since the real computer took a few weeks to be special ordered and delivered.

The cardboard version was amazing, a piece of art.

10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?

Easiest?

Feeling like a have a super-power. Being able to live above our means and feeling luxurious every time I bake homemade bread! Knowing that when I see something on TV or online that YES I can recreate that recipe at home for a LOT less money.

roasted artichoke.

It makes me feel powerful to be able to KNOW I can knit a hat or make a blanket. To know that I can spend nearly no money and yet give everyone on my Xmas List a batch of rich Brigadeiro candies.

Coming up with inventive ideas is easy and creative and so much more satisfying than buying something off the shelf.

wooden monkey hut in backyard.

Our monkey hut (built from old pet cages and chicken wire we had around) It is a raised bed garden that is enclosed by wire and cages so the backyard critters do not steal ALL of our veggies!!

Hardest?

Everything requires work, extra thought, and creativity. It would be nice sometimes (I admit) to just cave in and buy that Halloween costume instead of running around the house for a week, looking for how to put together a Black Canary outfit from WHAT WE HAVE I THE HOUSE ALREADY, without buying anything.

When I was a kid, it would have been nice to go to J.C. Penney and buy a brand new girl scout uniform instead of wearing my cousin’s hand-me-downs or picking thru the “seconds” bin at the GSA headquarters.

But then again, my uniform looked COOL and I was not one of those brand-spanking newbies; I was “seasoned” and my sash had already seen campfires and hikes, so I felt more of a part of history.

11. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?

I live in the hippie capital of the world (matched only by Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s and Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania) The canyon where I live is a strange mix between hippies and millionaires.

We call them the peakers and the creekers.

Living ON the seasonal creek are the hippies– those drawn to the area by the rural natural beauty, the artists, musicians, the yoga teachers, the belly dancers, the meditators).

Potted plants in garden.

The peakers are usually in the entertainment industry (filmmakers, screenwriters, musicians, actors) and they own McMansions high in the Santa Monica mountain range.

What is unique and frugal is that there are SO MANY artisans, potters, knitters, and bakers–everyone here seems to have a talent and a way to get by on their frugal skills and handiwork.

Topanga is also the home of The Theatricum Botanicum, an outdoor theater founded by Will Geer (after he was kicked out of Hollywood for being a communist).

In the summer, there are festivals and Shakespearian plays performed under the stars. In Topanga, there are farmers’ markets and food coops.

Many people keep pigs, chickens, horses. There are groups that share produce, and every weekend there are free for alls and yard sales under the statue of a flying pig (our canyon mascot).

12. How has reading the Frugal Girl changed you?

I think there have been two or three MAJOR benefits to reading the Frugal Girl.

christmas cookies.

The first is that I started BAKING. You gave me the confidence to try my own pizza dough and English muffins and baked bread–

The second is that in the early days, you were fixated on kitchen waste and you took photos of what you bought and photos of using up produce and I went from bags of trash every week to like one or two.

I hardly waste ANY food these days- it’s a mission now. I try to use up veggies and fruit in smoothies and my shopping patterns have changed also– I subscribe to an imperfect produce box.

green smoothie.

The third and final is that reading your blog has CHEERED ME UP and inspired me. My husband and I have gone thru some health scares and deaths in the family, and checking in with The Frugal Girl has helped me stay grounded and cheerful.

Your lists of what you are grateful for inspired me and acted like a touchstone to help me get thru the tough times.

13. Which is your favorite type of post at the Frugal Girl and why?

I like the holiday posts!

_________________

Millicent, I am especially pleased to hear that my blog has cheered you up during tough times. Yay!! And I’m delighted that my recipes have helped you learn how to bake…and now you even do yeast baking. You should be very proud of yourself. 🙂

I thought the story of your husband saving up for your laptop was so sweet, and I think it’s extra lovely that he made a cardboard replica for you.

One question from me: I am dying to know how your negotiations came out with your house purchase. Did they say yes to your proposal??

Readers, the floor is yours!

(And I remembered to let Millicent know her post is going up today, so she told me she’ll be by today to answer your questions. That is, once it’s daytime in California!)

P.S. You can see more of Millicent’s books here.

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A T

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

I love how you have put so many of my deepest feelings of frugality into words, in ways I could not have done myself. I have never voiced it, just my own upbringing informed my views. Like, in one of the comments, at least try frugality before you cave and make the purchase. So helpful when I am trying to impart some wisdom to my children! Thank you for sharing! You are quite the wordsmith. I loved the entire interview.

Millicent

Thursday 30th of June 2022

@A T, Oh thank you! You just made my day!!! Frugality was kind of a necessary "first step" when I was growing up. We would try EVERY avenue before caving in. I remember going to 6th grade camp (everyone went), and I SO wanted a particular kind of Levi jeans (button fly), but my mom thought they were too expensive, so, my grandmother made me (weird) denim pants. . .but they were not the same, and we tried Goodwill and Army Surplus store but the sizes were too large for me--and finally my mom caved. We got Wranglers at Sears (an off brand that was cheaper at the time, especially with my dad's discount). But you know? We had an adventure along the way! Being frugal so often means being creative and having adventures-- Kristen has SO MANY adventures especially re-purposing clothing.

Anita Isaac

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

what a great post. do you still have the cardboard puter? thank you so much for posting.

Maria Zannini

Monday 27th of June 2022

Love your monkey hut--including the name. We live in the boonies so critters are a thing here. I fence what I can and plant extra if I can't.

Millicent

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

@Maria Zannini, Thanks for reading my story! My husband came up with the name "monkey hut" since we used animal cage bars to build it. We had cast off some pet carriers and a large puppy trainer cage under the deck, so, when we built the enclosed raised bed, we decided to use what we had around the house to secure the fortress! After a previous year of squirrel, raccoon, birds, rabbits and the occasional deer completely decimated EVERYTHING we planted.

Nancy Sadewater

Monday 27th of June 2022

I really enjoyed your column Millicent! Thank you for sharing.

Millicent

Monday 27th of June 2022

@Nancy Sadewater, Thanks for taking the time to comment! Frugal Girl is an inspiration to all of us-- Glad you liked my story.

MB in MN

Monday 27th of June 2022

Millicent, thanks so much for your wonderful post and the picture you painted in words of your life in Topanga Canyon. I love-love-love the "why" behind your efforts. And this blog cheers me up, too!

Millicent

Monday 27th of June 2022

@MB in MN, Thanks very much! So great to connect with other fans (readers) of the Frugal Girl.

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