Haneisen: The secret to good scrounging

Rob Haneisen

“Make it quick because if anyone sees us, I will be so embarrassed,'' my wife, Marci, said.

One thing husbands do to their wives is provide them with a source of embarrassment. We also annoy them. Occasionally we make them feel good and I'm convinced that's why wives stick it out with husbands - they are curious about when will be the next time they feel good.

But on this occasion, I was not making my wife feel good. She was on the verge of embarrassment.

``Are you almost done? I don't want them to come home while we're here,'' she said.

What was I doing? Scrounging.

There's a difference between scrounging and being a cheap so-and-so.

I know I'm not cheap because I pay too much money for beer, and I don't roll my eyes when my wife wants extra toppings on pizza. Usually.

But I don't mind working for something I want or think I need that's free.

Being cheap means you don't like to spend money. Scrounging means you see the value in sweat equity if there's something free in the offing.

So what was I scrounging for on this occasion that had my wife on the verge of embarrassment? Hops.

In the past year I've gained a hobby in home-brewing beer and hops are one of the primary ingredients. They provide the bittering and aroma qualities needed in good ale. Most often, hops in a pellet form can be bought from home-brew stores and catalogs but fresh hops are a delicacy and hard to come by. They don't store too well, need to be dried and then frozen or used right away.

And I found some growing wild in some lilac bushes up the street from my house. A year before I pointed them out to the owners who told me I was welcome to help myself because they always assumed the vines were weeds and struggled to hack them down each year.

And that's why my wife was hesitant. The invitation was nearly a year old.

But there I was, pulling and tugging on the vines to rip them down out of the tops of the 15-foot tall lilac bushes by the roadside. The hops are small green cones filled with tiny yellow glands that contain a resin you add to your boiling brew pot.

Hops ripen quickly and if not harvested can spoil. The owners were not home. We decided to take the hops but leave a small gift bag with a thank you card, a small jar of raspberry preserves and a promise to give them some raspberry canes when we thinned our plot this fall.

The vines tumbled down after being tugged this way and that and we started to pick the cones into a grocery bag. Cars drove by and Marci sheepishly waved at the strange stares.

``I hope you know how lucky you are,'' she said.

``We're almost done,'' I said.

Later, we dragged the remaining vines and cones down to our own front yard where Marci, her sister, our niece and I picked the cones while our 2-year-old son busied himself tearing up the leaves. The haul was close to half a pound of fresh hops, enough for probably three or four batches of ale. Cash value? Maybe $20.

The next day at work, I received a phone call from a man in Sudbury who wanted to know if anyone wanted some hops grown from vines his great grandfather planted in 1897. When I finally caught up with him, most of the hops had gone bad but the rhizomes in spring would need a little thinning meaning I could help myself to them if I had a strong back to dig 'em out.

Scrounging sometimes means simply keeping your ears and eyes open. There are plenty of places on the Web to scrounge as well. The popular site www.craigslist.org, in addition to being the occasional source of news when people advertise illegal sexual services, is also a great place to find free stuff. Another good source is www.freecycle.org where people register to recycle goods through their local community members. Many community bulletin boards are also great. In Framingham, www.framcom.syslang.net is one such source.

And just to show I'm not a just a taker but a giver too, I recently put out an e-mail to my co-workers letting them know I had free hydrangea blooms for anyone who wanted. I cut them and brought them in to work for some of the women who enjoyed the flowers and some of the men who wanted to score points with their spouse or girlfriend.

Perhaps you have scrounged something up recently and want to share your story? If so, please leave a message on the MetroWest Daily News blog site (MWNow) at www.blogs.metrowestdailynews.com/MWNow.

Rob Haneisen is a metro editor at The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News. He can be reached at rhaneis@cnc.com or 508-626-3882.