Camden On The Cheap?

Sure, our license plates call Maine Vacationland. But author and journalist W. Hodding Carter has added another word to the Maine mix: Frugaland.

Yesterday, while trolling Gourmet's Web site for inspiration, we discovered Carter's Extreme Frugality series, a life experiment that makes for compelling reading and watching. Our eyes popped out of our heads for three reasons: 1) we recognized Carter's byline immediately; 2) we don't know how we missed this, since he's been writing it since February (although we're willing to bet it has something to do with our aversion to the word "frugal"); and 3) we're quite sure it's impossible for a family of five to live on $41,000 a year in Camden, even if they choose to eat roadkill.

But that's not our call. Anyone who has read his books — his most recent, "Off the Deep End," chronicles his quest to qualify for the Olympic swimming team at 45 — knows the man can write. His curiosity is insatiable. And his honesty makes the reading even better. The premise of Extreme Frugality calls for the Carters to live within their means, instead of way beyond their means as they had been for the better part of a decade. After hearing that he and his family spent nearly $2,000 a month on food, most of that at restaurants, we didn't feel nearly as bad about our own predilection for fine dining.

In some ways, the column reads like a contemporary back-to-the-lander's journal. So far, the Carters have built a chicken coop, boiled their own sap for maple syrup, tried their hand at homemade mead and plotted out one heck of a veggie garden. Hodding's wife, Lisa, meticulously hangs all their laundry out to dry. And one of our favorite posts involves Carter's obsession with Caswell's in Waterville, which is apparently the grocery equivalent to Marden's.

What will he do next? Who knows. But one thing's for sure. We'll be reading.

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