Janalisa came by yesterday. We had a pleasant visit, making a break in my workday and in hers, discussing landscaping and summer camp and teenagers. To an observer, though, the interaction might have looked odd.

“This is for M,” she said, handing me a box.
“Great,” said I, handing a bag to her,”and this is for L, but I haven’t run into her yet. Will you see her?”
“I will. And G lives on my road,” she continued, taking another bag.
“Okay. And this is from Partygirl for you. She gave it to me when we were out walking last night,” and I gave her a box.

It was another example of the underground economy of women.

Janalisa sells Pampered Chef and runs a flea market booth. Partygirl does Southern Living. Chanthaboune does Beauticontrol. Mrs. C sells scarves that she makes. M hooks us up with fair trade coffee. Others bake cakes or sell excess produce or honey. There are always packages and parcels being traded and deliveries being done.

It is the underground economy of women. I think it is the equivalent of “egg money” — if a woman had a few chickens, back in the day, she could sell the eggs and the money was hers to spend on things that might not have fit into the overall household budget. Girls used to go pick strawberries for a day in order to have enough money for a new hat, a frivolous expenditure their parents wouldn’t have sprung for.

It’s not really a job (well, Janalisa is a real Pampered Chef consultant) but it allows us to have a little extra cash for luxuries or free cookware or to support a cause.

There is a barter element, too. When I go to work today, I will be taking books to give to Blessing. (I will also be taking a message about her cookware party that Janalisa is doing, and since she signed up at my party I get something for that.) She brings me books, too. The Empress and I bring each other food. Moms pass clothes around for our kids.

I think the online swaps belong in there, too. Frugalreader might, but there may be men involved in that, too.

Now, I don’t see this among men. The men at church don’t scurry around trading packages. Men never come into the store with a sack of something for That Man. My husband never gets mysterious parcels in the mail. They borrow tools and help each other and work on things together, but I don’t think guys have a fellow they depend on for all their guitar strings or anything.

It’s underground because it’s informal, untaxed, unregulated. The lady on the corner just puts out a sign if she has extra vegetables sometimes, and we can stop by and get our carrots as simply as if it were a kids’ lemonade stand.

And that reminds me that today is the beginning of the Summer Reading Challenge, the challenge in my case being to read and report on two books a week. I’m still reading What to Eat. Nestle is now talking about the milk cartel, which is probably why the underground economy of women stayed in my mind after what was not, after all, an unusual scene.

The dairy industry is so powerful (they got nearly every state in the union to declare milk their state beverage in the ’80s, and just recently they persuaded the government to increase their dairy product recommendations from two servings a day to three — did you notice? That’s half again as much) because they are united. Unlike the rest of the agricultural world, the dairy farmers of America present a united front in the great milk marketing machine, and they have been able to increase America’s consumption of dairy products.

Mostly in the form of premium ice cream and full-fat cheese, actually, and certainly at the expense of the small dairy farmer.

I can tell that Nestle is just about to leave the interesting details of how the milk cartel did their feats of marketing and begin to share the horrors of factory farming. I don’t look forward to that. There are some things I’d rather not know. The cattle I pass in several fields on my way to work seem pretty happy, lolling about under the trees, chatting and laughing (I made that part up), and I would prefer to think that all the dairy products I use come from them and their sisters.

If I knew a local mikmaid who would slip me some cheese in exchange for handknitted socks, I’d do that.

And speaking of socks (which I probably shouldn’t, since this post has become way too long for anyone actually to read to the end), I am nearly finished with Cherry Bomb and will need something new to knit at my conference tomorrow. It may be socks. Will I be able to finish Cherry Bomb and swatch tonight, in order to be prepared for tomorrow? Should I set Cherry Bomb aside in order to swatch for the socks, and then actually have enough knitting to do on Cherry Bomb that I could in fact have taken it to the conference?

Should I go ahead and begin the handbag instead, since it won’t require swatching? It has a pattern stitch, and I might be prone to errors since I will be having to put it down and pick it up all the time. Socks require nothing but the initial swatching followed by calculation — and there I am back to the same question.

I certainly must have enough knitting to last me. I will be at the Convention Center from 7:30 to 5:00 tomorrow, and there is always some time with no customers.

I will mull this over while I tidy shelves today.