Saturday, December 25, 2004

Tikkun Olam - what really matters

Something to think about, whatever holiday you have celebrated, will celebrate or are at the moment recovering from...Perhaps there is someone out there who longs to hear their own life taken apart for its foulness, excess and banality, but I do not know them, and it would be a risky thing to write this blog hoping that there were thousands of such people. Most people (and I do include myself here) who decry the collapse of our culture into rampant consumerism, the environmental disaster that is modern life, and the sadness of our empty collective experience are extremely tedious, and they do so because they enjoy self-righteousness. Whether they do a great deal or nothing to resist and relieve these conditions, they enjoy the sensation that they care more than the rest of us, feel deeper outrage and are the better for it.

Outrage and compassion are good qualities, but in themselves, they take us nowhere - we may feel the better for experiencing them, but they alter nothing except our interior state, and when we imagine that what is important is our feelings, or our intentions, we glorify ourselves when we are most unworthy. There are two things better than self-righteousness, better than moral outrage, better than mere abstract compassion: courage and principle.

But I have a hard time fixing the problem of overconsumption, and the fact that our language does not really allow for an alternative way of thinking. I am the origin of the difficulty, abetted by corporations, by the notion that money and trade are what matter most, by the notion that being humane is too hard, by the sense that we cannot really make deep alterations in our state, that we are simply cogs in the wheel. But the bottom line is that I did not have to buy what they sold me. I did not have to buy the barbie dolls, the packaged mini-carrots, the notion that grandparents belong in a home because no one can be there to take care of them. And while I am skeptical, even ironic, about these notions, I also have given in at times, conceeded, kept my pleasures and polluted and enslaved and mistreated others.

The reality is that my wealth is borne on the backs of others who are less wealthy. I can have not only vaccinations and urgently needed medical treatment for my children, but they can have orthodontistry to the tune of many thousands of dollars for slightly crooked teeth. But other children cannot have vaccinations, can die from diarrhea or starvation. We all know this, we all believe in our hearts it is wrong, but there is something lost in the translation. Either we do not believe that the one depends on the other, that my wealth deprives another, or we want so badly to give the gift of everything to our families and children that we enjoy our wealth and close our eyes to the consequences. Or perhaps it is that we cannot see how depriving ourselves will help another.

But it is the simple truth that I am wealthy in goods because goods are cheap, and do not represent their ethical cost. I have cheap clothing because people who are effectively slaves sew it for me. I have cheap food because people who are effectively slaves fertilize and spray and pick it for me. I have cheap gas because it is extracted by oil companies who destroy wildlife, pollute seas and rivers, and prop up fascist governments so that I can take all the money I have saved and drive my kids to Disneyland. My wealth is built on slavery just as much as that of the plantation owners before me. And I'm not very wealthy. I struggle to pay my mortgage. I have credit card debt on which I pay the minimum. I am wealthy on paper, in calories and in objects, but my wealth does not translate to a sense of security or confidence, it does not bring me happiness (more people are depressed now than ever before), freedom from fear, or anything but more work to preserve my wealth and more stuff to fill my overflowing home.

Most reasonably well educated and socially conscious people realize that there is something horribly wrong with the way that they live. You do not need me to tell you that on hot days, you can scarcely breath for all the exhaust hanging in the air of your suburb. You don't need me to point out that because you cannot afford housing near your job, you spend an hour a day commuting. You don't need me to tell you that more of our children have asthma and psychological difficulties than when we were young. You don't need me to tell you that by letting our kids watch hours of tv, they are being influenced by powers that you cannot compete with. You don't need me to point out that teenagers (and younger children) are murdering, robbing, raping, abusing at a rate far higher than anything you knew before. You don't need me to tell you that your mortgage and credit card bills are leaving you hanging on the edge of bankruptcy, while things keep accumulating in your house. You don't need me to tell you that the truth is that the oil that finances our economy, that pollutes our planet, that feeds our unending lust for gas, is eventually going to run out, and that some scary things are going to happen in the meantime. You don't need me to tell you that you work longer hours than your parents did, and now, both of you work, and you rarely have any time alone. You don't need me to tell you that an economy based upon consumer spending, all financed with imaginary, credit-card money, is eventually going to collapse inward. You don't need me to point out that it feels increasingly hard to make good choices, to find a way to feed and clothe your family without putting chemicals that you disapprove of into the atmosphere, and without using slave labor to pick or sew or make the things you depend upon. You don't need me to tell you that something is very, very wrong.

We all know all of these things. We know it in our guts and our bones, and we're afraid. And we try desperately to fix some of these things - to make sure that kids at risk have more counselors, to get more exercise, to eat more veggies. Maybe we've even tried some of the more radical approaches, like taking the train instead of driving or eating less meat. Maybe you recycle everything, are a vegetarian, only watch PBS and ride your bicycle to work. You have courage and conviction, a set of principles that say you want the world to be a better place, and you want to do your part to make it that way. But you only have limited time. You can't ride your bike every day, because that takes away time with your children. You can cut down on tv, but not cut it out altogether, because your kids like it, and because you don't have anything to fill the void with - you have to work. You cannot fix it yourself, because you do not have the time and energy and resources and you don’t understand the complicated system that needs to be worked to enact major change. How do you contact your congressman? What does that do if you do it? How do you get a question on the ballot? How do you find like-minded people? How do you make them care?

Even if you care, when you are tired, you buy the grapes coated in pesticides. Even if you care, in a hurry, you drive in just this once. The piecemeal solution depends upon private willpower, individual engagement, and the vagaries of your life permitting you
to make the right choices. Modern, corporate life offers no incentives for you to succeed, and every incentive for you to fail, to feel that you tried biking and it was too time-consuming, too hard, too slow, and it took time away from your family. You give it up because the benefits to you are purely abstract.

The only solution I have been able to come to is the most radical one of all, and because it is radical, it is easier and better than the piecemeal solution. It is to make your life what you want, and to build into that life a set of rules and techniques to do what you think is right. You receive the reward and the incentive simultaneously. You start over, find what you want, and figure out how to make that come about. It involves great sacrifices, for you will get off that other man's back once and for all. It is difficult. But the reward is that you get the thing you most desire - yourself, your family, your love, your life.

It is not easy, and I can't tell you how to do it. I have not yet wholly succeeded in doing it myself. But it seems to me the only goal worth working towards and the only thing worth praying for - that I can break my dependency on doing wrong, and begin, at this moment, to do right, to take up my true share of tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

More on this soon.



Friday, December 24, 2004

Harper's Index

Harper's Index for this month has two interesting statistics in it. Take a look:

"Percentage Change since 2002 in the average U.S. price of gasline: +35.2
Change since then in the amount of gasoline Americans consume per capita: 0"

Interesting conjunction, those statistics. Part of the issue, of course, is that prices simply haven't gotten high enough to make people conserve. Only about 14% of the American population reports having to choose between gas and something else that matters as yet. More will this winter, as heating oil prices rise.

But most people have enough leeway in their budgets that they haven't changed their habits all that much. But I would argue that that lack of change isn't because they don't want to - its because they don't know how, or worse, they *can't*.

While there are certainly places we could easily consume, one of the things most people don't seem to notice is just how hard it will be to alter our usage patterns on any large scale. People *have* to drive to their jobs, and as gas prices rise, and employers find their margins of profit dropping because they have to heat their buildings, transport their goods, etc... their ability to move or be flexible will drop as well. I anticipate during the early stages of peak oil, that a lot of people will pick up and move closer to their jobs.

But that's not a long term solution, and we won't be moving. Because as the cost of oil and gas rises even higher, and salaries are cut (again, as those profit margins drop), those jobs will fold altogether. No employer in the world can operate without lights, heat, transportation. When those things get costly, and the average worker can no longer afford their product anyhow (since they have all they can do to pay for food, which is also rising radically in price), the jobs will be gone.

The simple reality of peak oil is that we have built up our infrastructure around oil to such a degree that we are no longer able to back away from the cliff we have made. Oh, wise leadership and serious attention to this issue could make it better - but not good. We won't stop burning oil until we either stop affording it or the last drops are pulled up - we can't. We no longer have the means to live without it. Only those who find a way as individuals or communities to step off the treadmill will be able to escape the end result - when they have to choose between heat and food, spending most of your salary on transportation to a job or not having one at all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Chanukah is mercifully over!!!

I don't know what I was thinking when I bore two children between the end of November and the middle of December. In a three week period this year, we had Simon's third birthday, 8 nights of wretched excess, and Isaiah's first birthday. My kids got, umm, many, many presents. Far too many.

Actually, I do know why I have two children in such a short period - birthin' by the agricultural calendar. We have our babies at the most convenient time of year, when the garden is done and the next one not yet started, after the CSA deliveries, the canning and preserving, and garden clean up are finished, but before seed-starting, the arrival of chicks and poults, etc...

We have some strange rules about presents, nearly all of which we've violated now and then, but which keep the insanity from getting too intolerable.

1. Nothing that sings, dances, has no volume control or otherwise drives Mommy and Daddy up the wall.

2. Nothing that can only be played with one way - if it has "directive" qualities, it goes to the synagogue yard sale, particularly if it gives you verbal instructions on how to play with it. The sole exceptions to this rule are board games.

3. No batteries - or nothing that can't be played with without them. Many battery operated basic toys (like our otherwise beloved Fisher-Price farm, which sings and makes noises when you put the animals in the "right" place - grrr!) work just fine without batteries. I make exceptions for a few things - we have some musical toys that use batteries, but generally, we're opposed.

4. Anything that says educational, but means "sings the alphabet really loudly while otherwise doing a lot of stupid crap."

5. Natural materials whenever possible. Partly to reduce the appalling quantity of brightly colored plastic in my house (there was a time when I thought about thinks like aesthetics - ie, before I had children), partly to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals and non-renewable garbage, but mostly, because real materials feel nicer. So wood, wool, metal, silk, etc...

6. Mostly no tv/movie tie ins. We have always excepted Sesame Street from this rule - DH has a cookie monster thing. I have come to tolerate a certain amount of Disney Winnie the Pooh crap, since Simon is Pooh obsessed (we're reading _The House at Pooh Corner_ with both boys right now) and it is disturbingly hard to find Shepherd Pooh related toys. We own Thomas trains, but my kids have never seen Thomas, and don't know that it is a tie in. We own a lot of Bob the builder trucks, but since they are primarily trucks, not characters, I tolerate them. I suspect I'll soften further on this subject at some point, but I'm trying to hold a line - no Disney toys, no Halloween character costumes, no Blue's Clues flashlights.

7. No violent toys. This doesn't mean what you probably think it does. The issue is not guns, which so far hasn't come up. For me, the issue is *superheroes* - our neighbor's sons are allowed to watch anything they want, and their three and five year olds are Batman obsessed. All they want to do is play Batman - which pretty much involves kicking and hitting my kids. That's not to say my kids are incapable of violence (hardly), but their kinds of play rarely involve karate kicks...yet. So we're holding the line hard against superheroes. We love our neighbors - this is the only complaint I've ever had about them - but I wanted to cry when I found out that my 2 year old knew who spiderman was already.

For the record, I actually am not opposed to all toy guns. I think trying to make water pistols look like anything other than guns is stupid, and I don't necessarily think that the wooden toy flintlock I had as a girl made me any more violent than I am anyhow. But I suspect most contemporary toy guns violate at least one of the above rules. I'm sure we'll have our own little "Christmas (Chanukah?) Story" moment with guns sooner or later, and again, as long as they are made of wood or wool, have no batteries, make no noise and you can do more than one things with them, they can have as many guns as they want.

8. No toys that Mommy and Daddy deem stupid, gross, unappealing, inappropriate or worthless. This is the rule under which all others are subsumed. No playdough MacDonalds, no Mexican jumping beans on racetracks, no green slime in a tube, no books with farting and vomiting, no pointless commercial tie ins, no hideous clown face puzzles, no toys that indicate on the boxes they are only for girls (I still have not been able to find a tea set for my kids that has children of both genders on the box), no throw-away crap meant to be played with for two minutes and sent to the landfill.

We get a disturbing number of these toys (with three kids and multiple holidays, we simply get a disturbing number of toys), and they are returned, regifted or donated. My kids don't seem to mind (yet) that Mommy scoops up some of their toys and says, "these are for tzedakah" after the kind people who gave them depart. I'm hoping if I keep doing it, it will get to be a routine.

Despite all of this, our house looks like a giant playroom, and while it troubles me some (I am not a fan of excess), I'm happy that there is a lot of good stuff - I'm not a believer in artificial shortages. Just in the last few weeks, my children have received:

1. Woolen dolls (in Simon and Isaiah's case) and a woolen stuffed horse with leather saddle (for Eli). They are beautiful, warm and soft.

2. A table and a train set. This might actually have been for Eric, who is at least as into it as the kids.

3. Many, many, many beautiful children's books.

4. A new top - we break one from overuse every couple of years.

5. A wooden abacus for math games.

6. A puppet theater

7. Assorted trucks for my truck obsessed 1 year old.

8. Assorted stuffed animals for my animal obsessed three year old.

9. A wooden xylophone for my music obsessed 4 1/2 year old.

10. An enormous set of wooden architectural blocks.

My kids are so not deprived it isn't funny - in fact, even my rules aren't keeping the toy level respectable. I feel fortunate not only that my children have wonderful toys to play with, but that many of these will outlast my children, and on to the grandchildren I so fervently hope to have.

I hope your holidays are wonderful, fruitful and over soon!



Sunday, December 12, 2004

100 Things About Me

I'm feeling narcissistic today, and have been reading too much Proust, since it is way too hot to weed the garden. So, to up the banality of this blog, 100 random facts about yours truly, virtually none of them genuinely proustian or of any great interest.

1. I am exactly 6' tall, and share a birthday (60 years apart) with Julia Child, who was also 6' tall. This means nothing, but pleases me.

2. I did not immediately feel overwhelming love for my children when they were born. More like interest, and a certain degree of abstract concern. Love came later, but hard.

3. I will eat pretty much anything except aspic. That has included many things not classed as "food" in this country.

4. I grew up in a family where people made things and did things themselves. I remember helping my father smelt bullets for his target shooting in our home furnace, and watching my grandmother's hands as she knit, thinking that if only I could learn to mimic her movements, I could do that too. My step-mother pretty much singlehandedly turned our house when I was growing up, from a wrecked stable with no heat into a gorgeous period home.

5. I was given at birth, by my grandmother and great aunt, lifetime memberships in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and Eastern Star (women freemasons). For some strange reason, I have never pursued them, although my friend Steve and I have considered starting a Jewish chapter of the DAR for the fun of annoying them.

6. The Jewish thing isn't even the worst thing about me for the DAR - I'm part Cherokee, and my Mom was raised in a trailer park. I think I get my taste for country music from there. Oh, and Native American may not be the worst shadow on my racial purity, as Grandma took pains to deny strenuously. Terrible, ain't it?

7. I cannot follow any kind of diagram, no matter how obvious. I was 25 before I could read a map. Visual imagery in general doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and I don't think in images.

8. My family has a Groucho Marx thing, and I grew up watching his movies obsessively. Simon's middle name is "Julius" for Groucho.

9. I have been truly, deeply in love three times. Only one of them requited. Fortunately, the requited one I'm married to.

10. I am a real pain in the ass to live with - I have this on excellent authority and with plenty of external corroboration by multiple sources.

11. I never really liked Middlemarch all that much, despite the name of this blog. I prefer _Daniel Deronda_ or even _Silas Marner_. Although, really, I'd just rather read Fielding.

12. I always claimed to hate Melville, but during my last pregnancy was seized with a sudden, desperate desire to read about whales. I didn't hate it, although I haven't changed my dissertation topic or anything.

13. I am a mean Mommy - I have a "only two repetitions of any story in one day" rule. And only one reading per day of _Green Eggs and Ham_.

14. I like cats better than dogs, but only slightly. Cats are less needy, and I already have children if I want needy things.

15. I remember my father heckling Ronald Reagan at a rally in 1980. He called him "Turkey," I think because he knew we were watching and did not want to curse. I was very impressed by this.

16. I really liked LSD the couple of times I tried it. I was fond of pot, too. I have not yet prepared my anti-drug speech for my children, although it will probably have to be a variation of, "Well, I did drugs. Your grandparents did drugs. Great-Grandma smoked pot a couple of times. Maybe you should think of a more original way to rebel, no?"

17. Despite the fact that I have 30+ hours labors, I love being in labor - it gets me the hell out of pregnancy. Pain, schmain, as long as I'm not pregnant any more.

18. I could eat sushi 3 meals a day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. This would probably not be good for me, nor for my budget.

19. When in doubt, I cook twice as much food as anyone could realistically need. I am nearly always in doubt. It is a compulsion, passed down through several generations, from at least my great grandmother. No one ever runs out of food at my house, although I am perpetually anxious that they will.

20. I am oddly flexible for someone not thin or athletic. I can still do a split and come up without using my hands. Given that I have had three children and am in my 30s, I am proud of this.

21. I made Eric promise to stay married to me at least 75 years. After that (he'll be 103, I'll be 101) we can date whoever we like.

22. I am bisexual. Since I am also monogamous, this is mostly irrelevant, but it makes it fun to go out girl watching with my husband.

23. My mother and step-mother (better known as Susie) got legally married last May in their hometown, Beverly, the first lesbian couple to do so in their community. I am so proud of them, and so pleased that I'm from the state of Massachusetts.

24. In all my years, it would never have occurred (until I read about it recently) to me that there was such a thing as a support group for children of gay parents. A support group for children of narcissistic baby boomers might have been a good thing, however.

25. My father thinks I'm his clone. There is some truth there, enough to be scary, but not quite as much as he imagines. Still, it is always sobering to know that your career choice is pretty much what your father would have picked for you.

26. I like red wine more than white. Last time we went to France, Eric picked Alsace for our wine tour. He owes me a week in Burgundy, maybe for our tenth anniversary.

27. I have had cats named: Gustave Mahler, Entropy, Turnip, Mr. Myxyzptlk, Mnemosyne, Alas Poor Yorick, Tycho Brahe and Angus Og. The dog is named Rufus T. Firefly (points to the first person who gets the reference.)

28. Although I despise virtually everything about pregnancy, I really like babies. This surprised me, because I expected to prefer older children who I could talk to. I like kids a lot too, but there's something about really little babies that I adore.

29. I have four different books in progress, and the worst case of publishing anxiety you could imagine. Expect them in print in 2092.

30. The smell of cabbage makes my happy and nostalgic for my Paternal great-grandmother. I suspect it is a genetic affection, on the polish side.

31. The smell of pipe smoke is pretty much an aphrodisiac for me, but I consider it unethical to press Eric to affect a pipe.

32. I have a fairly impressive vocal range, but a totally mediocre voice. But I can sing tenor, which makes up for a lot, since tenors are always in short supply. In my dreams, I can really sing, and sound a lot like Etta James.

33. The only things I miss about Christianity since becoming a Jew are the smell of pine trees in my house at Christmas (although not the pinetree dog barf on the rug ;-), not having to edit the words to "Chicken Soup with Rice" when reading to my sons, and the concept of poverty as a positive aesthetic virtue.

34. Even though it no longer bears any resemblance to the place I spent my adolescence wandering 15 years ago, I have a certain nostalgia for Harvard Square.

35. The older I get the less I like to read James Joyce (who I once loved) and the less impressed I am by Molly Bloom.

36. I like to organize things. As opposed to cleaning them. I especially like to organize books and yarn.

37. I own enough yarn to open my own shop. I'm gonna have warm socks at the apocalypse, dammit.

38. I like winding skeins into balls as much as knitting - I find it very soothing.

39. I have never read the ending of some of my favorite novels - I just couldn't stand to have them be finished. I still don't know what happens at the end of Nabokov's _Pale Fire_ although I can guess. And I won't tell you (lest someone who might hire me reads this) which one, but there's a Shakespeare play I've never read - I'm saving it as something to look forward to on my 100th birthday.

40. I have never read the end of Fanny Burney's _Cecelia_, but not because I liked it. I'm sure this matters to none of you, but it is a book I'm supposed to have read.

41. I mostly think American Literature before 1900 was a waste of time, with three exceptions -Twain, Dickinson and Whitman. They are the obvious and trite choices, but the only ones. Ok, I've softened a little on Melville, but he still wrote too much, too often.

42. I have two sisters. Rachael and I are 1 year and six days apart. We hated each other for most of our childhoods, but are finally mostly over it. I used to call her "Wurm" - with an odd degree of affection.

43. My other sister, Vicki, is very cool, and to top off her coolness, produced my perfect niece, Abigail. I like this aunt thing very much.

44. My husband's childhood has made me realize that I would not rather have been an only child, although it took quite a while to get there.

45. I was so terrified of motherhood (of the possibility that I might not love my child) that I almost didn't care that I was two weeks past due when Eli was born.

46. I had my third baby at the exact stroke of midnight on December 16. I did not realize, until I did so, that midnight between 12/16 and 12/17 is still 12/16 - it isn't the next day until 12:01. Had I thought about it, I might have been able to figure it out.

47. I am very good at taking other people's ideas to their logical conclusion. I'm not so good at coming up with new ones on my own. But people find the former impressive at times.

48. I don't really care that much for chocolate - except mixed with peanut butter or fruit. The more adulterated, the better.

49. I am not at all afraid of heights, and love to hang off the edge of high things. This scares the heck out of my husband, so I (mostly) try not to do it in front of him.

50. I had cooler taste in music (Punk vs. the ubiquitous boy music, Led Zepplin) that Eric in high school. It is quite a remarkable thing that I was cooler than anyone about anything - ever.

51. I am freaked out by horror movies, fake blood and guts, gross jokes on tv. I am totally unsqueamish about all those things in real life, and have had ample contact with them back when I was doing EMS. I don't understand this about myself at all.

52. I wrote forty pages this past week - and deleted 24 of them.

53. I hate driving - I will do almost anything to get someone else to drive instead of me. I would be delighted never to have to get in a car again.

54. I like to win. This can be very annoying, whether I win or not.

55. If you are sick, I am the nicest person in the world, even if I am sick myself.

56. I believe that the right kind of tea fixes any problem or illness. I own nearly every kind on earth.

57. My husband has been known to refer to me as his "beloved vagina dentata." This is more appropriate than I like.

58. I talk to myself, particularly when I am working out ideas. I particularly like to walk and talk to myself. I cannot chew gum at the same time, and do not try.

59. I have an extremely poor memory for fiction - I can read most mysteries at least twice before the ending isn't a surprise. I read extremely quickly, but I have to read twice to really retain things.

60. I wanted to be Joan Jett when I was 12. Secretly, I'd still like to be her.

61. I actually like doing Latin declensions and complex math problems.

62. If I had my way, we'd live much further from civilization than we do. I like quiet, space and no one remotely in sight.

63. I am wildly shy, and mostly hide it by being kind of obnoxious and talking too much. I hate meeting new people. Mostly, people do not like me that much when we first meet. I am an acquired taste.

64. My first memory is of my parents bringing my sister home from the hospital. We lived on the fourth floor of an apartment with very long, low windows, and I recall looking down with someone (my grandmother, maybe?) as my father helped my mother and the new baby out of the car.

65. I have a "save the world" complex. I used to run off and try and actually do it, now I write about it. This is, perhaps, why one shouldn't trust anyone over 30.

66. I have been pregnant or nursing for almost six consecutive years now. I anticipate at least another few months of nursing Isaiah (Simon stopped at 2, Eli at 3).

67. I have been sleep deprived for five out of the last six years. There is a connection between this statement and the previous one.

68. I am a semi-skeptic, in that I tend to doubt things but do them anyway. I am presently taking homeopathy for carpal tunnel syndrome, and, psychosomatically or not, I think it helps. That does not mean I believe in homeopathy.

69. I am torn between admiration for Romanticism and the wish that there would be a great movement of adult, rather than adolescent ardor. I mostly love Percy Shelley, have come to terms with parts of Wordsworth, and like Coleridge and Byron very much. _Wuthering Heights_, is, however, the most overrated book of all time, and Wordsworth the most overrated poet save Jory Graham.

70. I don't like most contemporary fiction I read, for much the same reason I don't like a lot of movies. You have to surprise me to get me paying attention.

71. I don't like to own first editions of books - I like books I can write in, turn down a page on, etc... The sole exception is the first editiion of US Grant's Memoirs my Dad sent me for my birthday. It was my great-great-great uncle's, I believe.

72. I probably should have gone into advertising. I'd be really, really good at it. Of course, I'd miss my soul. Eric particularly admires my campaign for "FauxFu" a meat-based tofu substitute for lapsed vegetarians.

73. In part, I homestead because no one seems to really believe it is possible to reduce one's consumption to a fair share of the earth's resources. I have not yet fully succeeded, but I believe it is possible, and that someone has to do it.

74. I hate it when people say "yuck" about food, or call something disgusting that they don't like. My children already know better. I've seen enough hungry people to find only that disgusting.

75. I love to teach. I can never believe they pay me for something that's so enjoyable. And I love to teach writing particularly. Lit people are supposed to hate it, to think it isn't very important. But ultimately, teaching people to write well is teaching them to think clearly, and there's nothing that matters more.

94 Years ago today

Grandpa died a week ago. It was a good death - he died with his family around him, and had a period of lucidity and energy greater than he'd had in a while. His wife and I were holding his hands, he had just eaten chocolate with almonds (his favorite food) and he was excited that his son and daughter in law were present.

Today would have been his 94th birthday. I feel most grieved for Grandma, who was his wife for 62 years, since she was 17. She was on the kindertransport at 12, and there were so many things she missed as a servant in England during her teens. So he was nearly everything to her - husband, teacher, protector, father figure. In the last years she devoted herself to caring for him, and I've never seen two people love each other more. It will be very hard for her.

Their daughter, Eric's aunt, was in transit from California when he died, and when she, her daughter and grandson went home from the funeral last night, they took Grandma with them for a month. Its a good thing for her to have a break, and I think a very good thing for us as well. I checked - until Saturday, except to attend the funeral, I hadn't left the house for 2 weeks, since Grandpa and then Grandma required so much care.

I planned the funeral. No one else wanted to do it, and I'm not a weepy sort of person. I'm good for about five minutes of hugging and crying, and then I get to work trying to fix what's broken, and get ready for what's coming. So it was easier for me to make the phone calls and speak all the harsh details, and better for me to have something practical to do.

So I made all the arrangements, and told everyone what to do and say, packed Grandma's suitcase, arranged her plane tickets, got the body sent to the cemetary, arranged the funeral lunch, babysat the kids during the hard parts of the funeral, cooked dinner for the relatives, explained death to Simon, Eli and nephew Jake, made everyone eat and sleep when they didn't want to, even arranged to remove and hide the birthday presents and cards from Grandma. And all because I've never yet been able to shake my basic degree of detachment in any crisis. Its a useful quality - everyone always comments on how calm I am when the chips are down, and I've used it at times in some scary situations. But it comes with a down side - others perceive me as cold, and I'm not sure they are wrong. There's a sense that even the strongest and most passionate moments of my life are always something I perceive simultaneously as though they were happening to me and as though they were occurring to someone else - I am always a little disconnected.

I think it was Emerson (John Burt, one of my wisest and best Profs told me this) who said something along the same lines about the death of his son. Now I've never experienced a death quite like that, and I don't begin to imply that the death of a 94 year old man who I'd known and cared about only 8 years bore any resemblance (God forbid!!!) to what it would be like to lose a child. But I have this evil sneaky feeling that I'd be the kind of person that even in the face of the ugliest of personal tragedies, who could to some degree watch herself mourning, and doubt my own sincerity.

Ok, enough about what a dreadful person I can be.


Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Winding Down

My husband's grandparents came to live with us this past spring. We bought the house planning to have them with us a few years ago, but they resisted leaving familiar surroundings (they've lived in the same part of NJ since they came to the US as refugees after WWII). When Grandpa started to seriously decline, we built an apartment onto the house, and they moved in this spring. And now, Grandpa, whose 94th birthday is coming up on December 12, seems to be coming to the end of his life. It is so terribly hard to watch.

I've worked in hospices and nursing homes, and done EMS for years, so I'm intimately familiar with the details death in a professional sense, but I had forgotten, somehow, how badly one longs for the mercy of death at the end. I am normally (more than normally?) afraid of dying - much more so since I had children who need me so desperately. I do not look on death as a friend or ally for myself. And yet I did not remember how I used to pray, really and truly beg God with all my heart, that a particular patient, reduced to suffering and endurance, would die, and be granted a little peace. I had forgotten how angry I used to get at the universe for allowing this kind of pointless misery. I am reminded.

And here I am again. Grandpa is in a moderate amount of pain, which no medication seems to relieve. He cannot enjoy his great-grandchildren, food, music or companionship. Life has been reduced to the hideous misery of having to move from one place to another, to endure another bathing, another meal, another toileting. Grandma, who is 14 years younger, is no longer his companion or friend, just his increasingly overwhelmed and exhausted nurse while Eric and I try to take what of the burden we can from her.

Suffering does not always, or even usually, have a purpose. I've seen little children, parents of small ones, people desperately loved and needed dying slowly and agonizingly sufficient times that I have long since made myself recognize that there is no meaning in pain. And yet I cannot reconcile myself to that absence of meaning. I still want God to relieve him of his suffering, to end 94 good - at times even heroic- years with dignity and peace. I find it nearly unbearable to watch him, confused, hurting and querelous, attempting to understand why it is that we are hurting him by forcing him to move, or eat again. And he tries desperately to be kind and dignified, thanking us for our kindness even when we are making things worse.

This is not a life tragically cut short - he had a good run. And while we will be sorry to see him go, that's not the point. The point is that we have no right or way to make his end anything other than a misery and a kind of tiny, personal tragedy, when it might have had grace.

I don't know if he'll live days or weeks or a couple of months. I doubt longer. I know I will pray (pointlessly, I suspect) as hard as I can that tonight, or tomorrow, or soon he sleeps and doesn't wake up. If God is real, he doesn't take requests. But I will keep praying, because it is better than any alternative that accepts this misery and indignity as inevitable or meaningful.



Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving and Seed Saving

At the moment I'm baking a gigantic Hubbard Squash that began its live in a paper cup in my garden. I'm more than a little ambivalent about Thanksgiving, given the Native thing, but I admit, I like it because I love to cook, love to feed people, and believe with all my heart that festivals are going to be more, not less important in the future. To fully appreciate the value of a meal like Thanksgiving, with its many dishes, emphasis on the sweet, meaty and rich, you have to imagine yourself as an ordinary person in a pre-industrial world (or an ordinary person in much of the world right now).

You work hard all day. You never, ever get enough to eat. Oh, you get enough to get along, but you would always eat more if you could, and hunger is a constant companion. There is very little sweetness in your life (we eat 20 times the sugar of most pre-industrial peoples), and never enough protein or fat. Your meals are mostly monotonous - you eat cornbread and beans, biscuits and gravy, potatoes and eggs, rice and tofu every single day, for several meals, and only at the peak of the growing season do you eat much fresh food.

So now, imagine yourself celebrating. There are many, many dishes. Many of them are meaty or sweet, and involve special flavors and foods you miss the rest of the year. You are encouraged not only to eat as much as you like, but more, until you feel completely full. Then, instead of returning to your work, you sing, and talk and play with the children, before eating a bit more again.

That's what Thanksgiving (or any other feast day) is supposed to be - not a gorge of salt and sweet and fat on top of our daily gorge of those things. It is also, to me, special because it is one of the rare times when others eat the foods that I eat during the cold weather. The traditional foods of the holiday make sense - they are the foods that can be produced in cold climate New England or the northeast, and are widely available. They are what you produced in the garden all summer and fall, and what you have in your cellar. They are what I eat most of the winter - squash, potatoes, beets, carrots, parnsips, onions, apples, cranberries - and what most of the population only tastes at Thanksgiving time.

If we return to eating seasonally and sustainably, we're all going to eat a whole lot more of those foods - and they are so delicious I can't imagine why anyone would eat butternut squash soup or pumpkin pie or brussels sprouts or creamed onions only at Thanksgiving - but they do. 80% of all the parsnips eaten in the US are eaten in New England, in the months of November and December - despite the fact that parsnips are nutritious, sustainable, reasonably easy to grow, and delicious. They are also at their best in January and February, when comparatively little other food is - but no one eats them but me. Too bad - glazed with maple in march, or with celery root in soup in February, they are wonderful. (Is anyone reading this? Should I post recipes? I will if anyone is interested.)

The production of those foods begins in our gardens. And if we're concerned about the long term future and sustainability, it has to start with the sustainability of our gardens - with seed saving, growing our own fertility, choosing varieties that suit our climate, storage needs and that produce a whole lot of food.

Mostly growing open pollinated vegetables is no big deal - just choose the right varieties (ie,non-hybrids) from a catalog that has plenty, and grow them. Growing out seed is not that hard either, although it takes some practice. I'd strongly recommend reading Suzanne Ashworth's _Seed to Seed_if you are planning on living on food from your saved seed garden, and if you want to expand your knowledge into backyard breeding, definitely read and acquire Carolyn Depp's _Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties_ - which is surprisingly fun to read, btw.

Some plants have issues, of course. In my cold climate (borderline zone 4/5, fairly high up), it has been hard to find an entirely satisfactory sweet pepper that ripens to color in time. Since I'm fond of sun-dried peppers, that's a pain, although I've had some luck with _King of the North_ and _Staddon's Select_ both from Fedco, and _Albino Bullnose_ from Baker Creek. They can't match the hybrids, sadly. But since peppers are not a major crop (major in the sense of lasting through much of the year and providing a lot of basic food value), I take what I can get gratefully. Hot peppers, which *are* a major part of our diet, we do much better with. You can still grow hybrids, as long as you use reasonable care seperating the varieties - you don't have to choose between them right now. But if you are planning on sustainability, they should be a supplement, not a priority.

Sweet corn is always a problem. For those of you in hot climates, apparently there's such a thing as an OP supersweet (pretty amazing) offered by someone in Hawaii through seed saver's exchange (you have to be a member, but you should be anyway - they are noble. For the rest of us, "Howling Mob" (Shumways) and "Ashworth's" (Fedco) are very nice, although without the sweetness and holding power of the hybrids. But again, sweet corn is a nice touch in our diet (we dry it for succotash, corn chowder and adding to chili), but dry and pop are much more important to a sustainable diet, and there are a number of dent and flour corns that seem to do well here. My favorite, although not a high yielder, is "Northstine Dent"

Corn is a seed saving problem for people with small gardens (which does not include me) or people with field corn down the road (me). We've had pretty good luck saving seed from our early sweets, but the fields have tended to hybridize on at least the outside rows. I gave up altogether this year when our neighbor planted a whole cornfield worth across the road. Remember, you need at least 200 plants and seed from 100 ears to have reasonable genetic diversity.

I still haven't worked out the squash thing to my satisfaction. There are four families of squash, and you can have one of each, if you don't want to hand pollinate. For me, the pepos are the problem - acorns, pumpkins and summer squash are all pepos. I think I'm just going to give up zucchini in favor of pumpkins, but I haven't decided yet. So far I've had pollinated, but I don't want to count on that. The maximas are also a bit sad - they are the best tasting, and I can never decide between them, but I can rotate - butternut this year, pink banana the next. The only mixta I've ever grown that I liked and got to maturity was Tennessee sweet potato.

I'm a huge fan of West India Gherkins, which are not quite cucumbers, but almost indistinguishable. They are wonderful picklers, very crisp and tasty, and allow me to grow both gherkins and a slicer or pickler and have a bit more variety.

Saving seeds from biennials varies from easy to hard. Kale and leeks reliably overwinter here, as do parsnips (important, since you need fresh seed every year). Cabbages do ok packed in the garage over the winter. Potatoes are not a problem most years, but I doubt that with the flooding we had any of our sad little potato crop is going to make it to seed - which is why I keep a supply of potato seed, harvested both from my own and bought from pinetree garden seeds (Gilroy - discontinued after this year, and the only "true from seed" variety I know of, so buy lots for your storage). Potatoes don't come true from seed, but some potatoes are better than none, and you can store seed for some years, but not potatoes. Since they are such a staple crop, definitely store the seed.

Beets do fine for me, and I just keep the parsley in a sunny window, but I have much less luck with brussels sprouts and other brassicas. I just keep trying to winter them over. Sometimes I've had luck persuading them to go to seed the first year by starting them very early. It works well with parsley and kale as well.

Start thinking about next year's festival meals. Even if you can't grow all your own food, you can grow the food for your feasts, and harvest the next year's seed to practice for the day when you may need to, and long for the change from your corn and beans.

A Happy Thanksgiving and a peaceful Day of Mourning to you all.



Monday, November 22, 2004

Its been way too long...

What Am I reading? _This Organic Life_ Joan Dye Gussow - for the third time. Fabulous read! _Plague_ Edward Marriot - a bit NY Times best sellerish, but a good history. And Phillip Roth's new futuristic opus, which is ok, but overblown.

What Am I Listening To? Schoolhouse Rock - Gen X nostalgia, nominally purchased for Simon's birthday. Most of it ages pretty well, but the song "Elbow Room" on the _America Rock_ CD is a hideous monstrosity, which actually sings happily about manifest destiny...ugh.

What are we eating, and where did it come from? Baked Potatoes (local, our potato crop drowned), with broccoli (ours, pretty much done for the season) and horseradish (ours) cheese sauce (NY cheddar, local organic milk, home grown, locally ground wheat flour, salt from who knows where). Salad (our lettuce, our carrots, local tomatoes!!!! (amazing in November, but cool) and the leftovers of the chocolate banana bread pudding (homemade challah, our eggs, local honey, local wheat home ground, tropical vanilla, bananas, sugar, and chocolate). Sounds fairly ethical at the moment, but don't ask me about the way less local menu for Simon's birthday party. Just don't.

What are we picking? Cabbage, kale, chinese broccoli, mizuna, lettuce, leeks, brussels sprouts, napa, parsnips, spinach, mint, parsley. Mmmmmm.

Can it have been two weeks? We were felled by the one-two punch of a miserable, long virus (made longer by everyone getting it in sequence) and the descent of the relatives for Simon's third birthday. Sorry I haven't posted. I've decided to list off the above info at each post, since I'm not up to posting everything in my library. Still, I've got some more book recommendations.

First, the birthday summary. Many, many, many presents. Overwhelmed three year old. Chaos. We try so hard to keep my kids from having an insane amount of stuff, and try equally hard to keep what they do have appropriate. We have rules - no battery operated things (there are a few exceptions here, but very few). Nothing that sings and dances (for Mommy and Daddy's sanity). Nothing that can only be played with one way. Wood over plastic, high quality over low. Books whenever possible. But we still get dozens of gifts, some of them junk, many of wonderful quality, but total excess. I can't tell the aunts and uncles, grandparents (my kids have *8* grandparents) and etc... not to give them gifts. We re-gift the least appropriate, but with 3 kids, times 1 birthday each, times 1 Chanukah, times... excess.

Now, we prepare for Turkey Day (The "Manifest Destiny" song playing cheerfully in the background - did I mention I'm 1/3 Cherokee?). Local, organic kosher turkey is coming - rather less local and organic peking duck (our buddy Joe is Chinese Jewish and hates turkey) is coming. Our Israeli buddies will bring booze. No one will watch football. We will sing the brucha over the cornbread. The mashed potatoes will have horseradish, the sweet potatoes will only have little marshmallows on them over my dead body. They will be carribbean style with lime juice. It will be good, if historically troubling, and pleasantly multi-ethnic.

Wanna eat greens all winter? Make absolutely sure you read the following:

_Solviva_ (can't remember her name - Anna something) and _The Four Season Harvest_ by Eliot Coleman.

Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving, Folks.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Hallelujah and The book list

Thank you, G-d! I don't have to make the afghans - John Ashcroft has resigned. I do not necessarily believe his replacement will be a vast improvement, but still, we all need good news now and then. Let us all say schecheyanu!!

Deb asked me to list what's on my homesteading/self-sufficiency/gardening/etc...bookcase, lest anyone else wants to make the transition from academic urbanite to rural farmer (ie, in case some of the rest of you are totally nuts). Since I'm always grateful for any excuse to skip out on my current dissertation chapter (Donne and Shakespeare aren't getting along, and they are drawing me into it. Oh, and its just possible I've written something stupid - like 80 pages or so), here I go.

Basic Homesteading Books: My top six, the ones I couldn't go on without, complement each other nicely.

1. The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery. Its huge. Its comprehensive. She's wonderful (I did some editing for her, and she's been to my house). If you could only have one book, this would be the one. That said, it has flaws (some of which I have helped fix for the tenth edition, coming out one of these years), and in some places insufficient depth. But the breadth is astounding. Wanna grow spelt? Melons? Butcher a turkey? Milk a cow? Can sauerkraut? And the book is full of recipes, some terrific some flawed, but designed to be made by people who are really and truly producing their own food. Don't live without it. And consider buying it directly from her website - she's a sweet lady and can use the money.

2.Permaculture: A Design Manual, by Bill Mollison. Mollison is a genius - he created something genuinely different and brilliant when he invented permaculture. It will change your way of thinking about homesteading design, energy usage, sustainability and everything else. There are cheaper books, but if you are going to buy one, spend the money and get this - its too good to miss, too smart, too creative. I'm not a permaculturist per se, but he's influenced my thinking a lot, and discovering Mollison was definitely one of those "oh, wow!" moments.

3. Another such moment was reading Nathan Griffith's _Husbandry_ - precisely because while I suspect he never read Mollison, he seems to have created his own local variety of sustainability that uses some similar techniques and ways of thinking - but also some very different stuff. His politics are appalling to me, but he's very smart, and fun to read. He also writes articles in Countryside Magazine.

4. 50 years ago, the Robinsons' _Have More Plan_ was on the cutting edge of homestead design - it still is. You should definitely ignore the gender roles, the suggestions that you spray with DDT, etc... but that doesn't invalidate its essential wisdom. If I were building a house (and G-d willing, I never will), I'd use their homestead plan, at least in part. And when I finally have the money to renovate the kitchen, I *will* use their homestead plan.

5. I'm going to pick _The Contrary Farmer_ as the best basic book by Gene Logsdon, although that's tough - his old _Homesteading_ book, and his _Two Acre Eden_ (Deb, make sure you look at that last one - it would be really relevant to small scale homesteading) are so terrific - he can really write. He's creative, and funny and smart. You should read everything he writes, and I'll probably recommend some more books by him later in this process.

6. Finally, The first 10 Backwoods Home Anthologies. Ok, their politics are even more appalling, and their taste for lots and lots of guns sucks. But there is lots of information here duplicated no where else. They are worth the money, and the older ones spend less time on ways of passing concealed weapons and more on homesteading techniques. Jackie Clay alone is worth her weight in gold. Try and search for "Hardcore Homesteading" - its the perfect post peak oil article.

Ok, much more on this topic, but I'm too tired to stay conscious, and I've got some serious thanksgiving to do.



Monday, November 08, 2004

I'm over it...really

Yup, I'm completely ok with the fact that Chippy the Wonder Chipmunk and My Lord Vader from Wyoming are in charge again - and that the fucking morons of our nation clearly wanted them. Its all good - I'm hoping we invade Australia this time. I'm pretty sure they have WMDs.

Ok, I have to sublimate somehow, and so I'm back to talking about knitting. I'm starting a shawl made out of this really, really pretty, very soft, totally inorganic fuzzy stuff that looks like mohair, only much snugglier. If you know anything about my taste in knitting, you know this is not my usual wont - I am pretty much entirely a natural fiber woman. Oh, I've crocheted a few afghans in the nicer artificials, mostly for my Mom, who is allergic to nearly all natural fibers, but for the most part I like my yarn to come from an animal or vegetable, rather than an oil well.

But this stuff was really, really soft. And so pretty - a slightly variegated burgundy. It won't keep me warm the way wool or alpaca will - and in fact, I swear my next shawl is going to be the aran pocketed one (I am not generally a cable person, but I like this one) from _Folk Shawls_ (amazing book, btw) in Artful Yarns's Jazz, which is a wool/alpaca mix. It will keep me terrifically warm, I suspect, and very happy. The current shawl project, umm, will probably not warm me too much.

I knit for many reasons (to keep from eating too much, to do something productive while I watch tv, because I like to spin and you have to do *something* with the yarn, because I'm in preparation for full-time sheep ownership), but mostly because I like people to be warm even in the cold, and because I believe in using as little heating energy as possible. Thus, warm sweaters, socks, hats, blankets, shawls, made of natural fibers that are warm, water resistant, and snuggly, so that you want to wear them. I am not the person to make a fun-fur scarf, or a metallic-polyester poncho. My philosophy of knitting is that the garments should be simple, serve their purpose (to cover one's back or ass or whatever, and to keep it comfortable in whatever temperature it is designed for), and show off the beauty of the yarn and simple stitch work - period. That's all there is to knitting.

Which is why I don't do artificial yarns, picture knitting (except for small kids - although I admit I have considered making political afghans. Do you think people would pay me to knit blankets that say, "Kiss my ass John Ashcroft?"), or anything remotely fashionable (see all previous comments on ponchos). Except that I'm knitting this shawl, which will not be warm, is not made of natural fibers, and which I'm doing entirely because it is pretty, at a time when I have dozens of holiday gifts to knit.

I can't be sure, but I blame this on the Bush presidency. I believe that not only have the Republicans done near infinite damage to people (like 100,000 Iraqi civilians, not to mention our own soldiers - check out, governance, freedom, the environment, the national discourse and my children's future (not to mention a whole lot of children's present), but they have also started to ooze into our collective consciousness and destroy useful brain cells. I'm pretty sure had Kerry been elected (no great joy to me, truly, but at least a relief from the pure hell of this administration), I'd be spinning organically raised yarn dyed with natural goldenrod to make my shawl. Instead, I'm making this oil based monstrosity.

It is soft, though. And really pretty. Is this how it starts?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Day children and their futures

It wasn't like I haven't been predicting it, or that I'd allowed my hopes to rise, but... well, I had the faint hope that the lesser of two evils (which is looking pretty good right now) might have won. It does not look that way. I know that the blogosphere is filled by thousands of people writing their opinion on this. Let me just say... I don't want to talk about it.

Eli went horseback riding again today - he is the simple embodiment of joy on a horse. Although kind people have told me how to post pictures, I haven't yet done so. So I doubt you will believe me when I say that my oldest child is transcendently beautiful. But so many people have told me so spontaneously that I almost believe my own natural inclination to think this. It helps that I do not believe that of my other two children, who are very cute (yea, I know, I'm their Mom - I would say that). Simon looks *exactly* like is Dad, who I happen to think is very handsome, and Isaiah is very round and Gerber babyish. But Eli is luminous - huge brown eyes, long lashes, the sweetest smile, tousled hair, very tall and lanky.

And he's a luminous personality as well - that doesn't mean he's not an ordinary child - he misbehaves, he pushes and hits, he complains when he doesn't get his way. But when is happy, it is whole body happiness. His sorrow is total as well. He loves completely, no matter how you behave (he forgives me my quick temper and failures instantly, to my shame), and wants nothing more than to play, cuddle, tickle, laugh, be with you. He has a sense of humor, and a devilish one, and a boundless capacity for fun. He is the most physically affectionate and loving child you can imagine. Eric and I have often felt that if someone came to us and told us that Eli was the reincarnation of some Lama or other great soul (even though we don't believe in reincarnation particularly) we'd be inclined to accept it. A number of people who had heard about Eli and pitied us, on meeting him, tell us how wonderful he is, and that they wouldn't necessarily want him to change. I feel precisely that way sometimes - although I want for my son all the ordinary joys of life that are not necessarily compatible with autism (I hope I'm wrong about that last), and particularly so today.

So watching Eli on a horse, his total delight and pleasure, has a way of moving me from the uglier thoughts in my head about this election. I will say, I believe with all my heart that we are laying the ground now for a longer term war, potentially a world war, in the middle east. I won't be surprised at all if my sons grow to manhood in an era of drafts and wars. Although daughters don't necessarily spare you the draft these days, I admit, today I feel particularly vulnerable because I have sons that I love so dearly, and history has not always been gentle to those sons. It is perhaps stupid, and predicated on way too many anticipations and guesses, but this morning I found myself feeling dually grateful to have Eli - because he is such a wonderful child in himself, and because his condition means that I will never have to send him to war.

I wish the same was true of Isaiah and Simon. I think I talk more about Eli than the other two boys, and thus give the impression that Eli's needs are at the center of our world. But that's not the case at all. Simon is sweet, sensitive, gentle, very, very high strung (everything is a crisis), hyperverbal and imaginative. We spend a lot of time making up stories with him, and he always (at not quite 3) knows exactly how they should go. Right at the moment, he's being eaten by a stuffed shark (for the fourth or fifth time this morning), and he wants to know if winnie the pooh is a mammal.

Isaiah is a baby, and it is always hard to tell what of his character will last. He definitely has a prediliction for doing things the hard way - if he can insert an obstacle in his way, he does. If he can climb over something, or hurl himself off a piece of furniture, well, all to the better. I spend much of my day trying to mitigate the damage to a child with excellent gross motor skills, absolutely no fear of anything, and a tendency to greet the world face-first.

I'm rambling a bit, but all I can say is that I'm grateful as hell to have my perfect boys, and it scares the heck out of me that what we do now will shape their futures in ways I cannot control.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Assorted Rants:Politics, Derrida,

Did you see the hideous obit of Jacques Derrida in the NY Times? Check it out here:
What idiot wrote this? (I don't expect anyone to actually pay them for this crap, and indeed, I discourage you from doing so!) I discovered deconstruction late, and it never resonated for me as I suspect it must have for those who found it as it was developing, but Derrida is not the caricature that he has been reduced to, nor is his thought the dim account that we get. You'd think that you could count on one single popular media to get Derrida, at least enough to write a half-decent bio. Further proof that the world is going to hell. (Did I mention that ponchos are back in fashion? If I were a Christian I'd say it was a sign of the end times. Instead, I'm guessing it means that
God, if real, has gotten bored with making fun of the upright monkeys and departed for warmer (or smarter) climes )

All of this is simply a deferral of the thing that is making me craziest of all - the election. I still believe we are going to lose, although Pat Robinson (someone who has not been notable for bringing me joy in the past) did please me. But I don't dare allow the flare of hope - because I know we're going to lose, and lose for the simple reason that people want their president to speak the language of right and wrong, moral and amoral. We on the left used to know how to do that, now we don't seem to. And so we allow the deeply amoral to take the language of faith, and right and truth away from us, and without a fight. There is no reason for that - in fact, there is every reason to believe that we have the right to the language of principle. But that battle is lost, and I think it would take a more eloquent man than Kerry (tell me there aren't more eloquent men, for cripes sake - the only duller guy is Holy Joe) to take it back now. We'll see.

Final proof that God may have taken a little break from us? My cousin is joining the army, so that he can go to college. Is it not possible in this world that one could get a decent education without having a limb blown off in Iraq? Can you imagine a more bleak trade off?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Update and food storage tour

I know, I know, it has been a long time since I posted. Things have been much as usual, except that I had three days of food poisoning (ugh). Eric thankfully saved me by taking care of the kids, the house, the skunked dog (ugh), the disabled grandparents and his job with a grace that is completely normal to him and unbelievably admirable to me. I don't want to sound like the post-feminist wife here, but *no one* can run our life alone - *NO ONE* - it is simply too complex. And he did - beautifully. I love him so much.

This is proof positive that academic life unfits women for domestic work - literally. I got food poisoning at a talk I attended on Macbeth, one of my rare forays back into the world of scholarship from the world of motherhood/farming/writing/etc... I spend an evening thinking of high minded things and neglecting my other work, and then spend three miserable days heaving, neglecting my life as vague commercial jingles and ugly images of childhood screw ups floated through my nauseated and exhausted brain.

In other news, Eli is horseback riding!!! Isn't that the coolest thing (if I ever learn to post pics, I will - he is so cute). A program for autistic children to ride has accepted him in late, and he was so excited. He's very good with animals (he and Rufus, our collie, have a special bond, and even the chickens like him), and he was so relaxed, comfortable and happy up there on a horse - no fear or anxiety at all. Even the helmet didn't bother him.

Anyway, here's part one of an ongoing (ie, when I get around to it) tour of my home food storage.


I don't know if this will be useful to anyone, but I recently had occasion to start writing up a description of the ways we're preparing for Peak Oil, and I thought I'd post it. I'd love to hear comments/suggestions/critiques, and I thought this might be useful to those who are just starting to acquire materials or store items. I'm including the ways that we've found to pay for these thing/make them cheaper, since for us, at least, money is the biggest obstacle to preparation.

I'd like to emphasize that there are two layers to our preps, and both of them are equally important. First, there are stored items designed to ease a difficult transitional period, but that are unsustainable in the longer term. Then, there are the preps that are designed to allow us to replace lost items, to be fundamentally sustainable. We make choices between the two regularly, and some of the choices weve made might not work for someone else.

I also think it is worth noting that not everything we do has a dire inevitability around it - most of my preps work great even if nothing bad ever happens. My food storage cuts down the number of trips to the store, my yarn and fabric stash drops gift and clothing costs, the grain grinder means we eat healthier, etc... The thing is that none of this should be perceived as a miserable necessity, but as a useful plan with positive immediate consequences. And lord knows, don't go into debt for it.

Finally, ours is a particular family in a particular situation. We are 7 people, 3 small children, 2 elders, 2 healthy adults. We have a large amount of land (27 acres) and a large house (4000 square foot farmhouse) and a number of outbuildings. The size of our house, for example, shapes our preps in several ways - we certainly have the luxury of storage space, but we also are not trying to heat the whole house, so warm blankets and winter clothes figure more than in a much smaller space. Because we have children and elders, some of our preps are specific to them.

Ok, caveats done. I'll start with food/toiletries, since that's one of the most urgent things.

Our food storage covers several rooms in our house. First, is the kitchen. We have an old, ratty kitchen, and we havent done much to make it decorative - but we've enhanced its usefulness by putting in a wood cookstove, and filling the (fairly large) room with cheap metal shop shelving - the kind you buy for $20 at home depot. We have four of them. We also have made additional counter space by building into the walls (we are bad carpenters, so this is not an aesthetic enhancement, although my step-mom did a nice job with some counters), and we have some cabinets as well. We store beans, some grains, whole spices, etc... in the canning jars and storage containers that are not suitable for actual canning. The grains we use a lot of - brown and white rice, whole wheat, rolled oats, are stored in those decorative metal popcorn tins. One will hold 25 lbs, and they cost less than 50 cents. The kitchen is where we keep all the food ready for immanent use. There is somewhere between two weeks and a month worth of food there at any given time, along with the same amount of food for dog and cats. In addition, we store some of our food preservation equipment there - the pressure and water bath canners, the food mill, dehydrator, etc...

We also have our grain grinder there - there's no piece of equipment I'd recommend buying more. Whole wheat stores forever, is cheap and bread is infinitely various. I actually have several - I picked up a couple of cheap corona mills (the cheapest model, mostly made for grinding corn) one of which I use for rice dehulling, another for grinding nut butters and coarse cornmeal. But the one we use every day is Lehman's Best, and is terrific. I've never seen one at a yard sale, although occasionally a good deal shows up on ebay. But they are worth paying full ($150-200) price for, or asking for it for a gift (very kind MIL gave it to me for my 30th birthday, although I don't think she quite appreciated how glad I was to have it - she thinks we're nuts.) We grind wheat for our bread, and for the bread of our 20 customer families by hand. It is great exercise, and the bread tastes so good. We also malt barley and grind that, which adds a sweetness and lightness. If you haven't read Sally Fallons Nourishing Traditions definitely do so - sprouted grain breads, lactofermentation, etc... are a big part of our diet.

We try very hard to eat from our storage - in part because I believe it is a healthy way to eat, in part because we like it, in part because it is cheaper, and also because it will make the transition less painful. Thats not to say that we don't eat citrus and spices, etc... but we do try to mostly eat locally and a sustainable diet. So the food in our storage is only slightly different than the food in our kitchen for dinner. We eat a lot of beans, a little home-raised meat (mostly chicken, although we trade eggs for milk and beef as well), sweeten mostly with honey, make grains primary in our diet, and eat a lot of meals in the asian style. So we have on our shelves lots of grains, lots of beans, lots of sauces and spices, very little meat and fish, and lots of vegetables. If that doesn't sound appetizing, all I can say is that no one every turns down an invitation to dinner at my house.

The next part of our food storage is the downstairs guest room closet. Grandma is none to pleased with this, since she thinks guests should have more than 6 inches of room to hang their clothes, but she deals. That closet is devoted to storing two categories of things - diapering materials and canning materials. My extra canners (I have two pressure and two water bath - all acquired at yard sales for less than $5), canning jars (I have about 600 - and I never pay more than $3 per box), along with lots of lids, parafin (yeah, I know it isnt recommended), rings, and pickling salt. Canning isn't necessarily the least energy intensive or most sustainable method, but it is an essential element of our food storage now and through the transitional period, when having complete foods with all their water intact may be essential if we ever have a real emergency. The investment in canning materials has been small, compared to the return - I'm not sure I'd recommend it if you had to buy everything new, but if you check out yard sales, canners and canning jars are generally in good supply. This means that most of the canned soups, broths, pickles, jams. vegetables, beans, etc... come from our garden, without pesticides, and are processed fresh.

Also in that closet are diapers. My oldest son is autistic, and at 4 1/2 not entirely potty trained. My middle son, at 2 1/2 is also not fully trained, and my youngest is only 10 months old. We cloth diaper, but we make a point of storing several hundred plastic diapers for each child, in case we are unable to wash, or have water restrictions. Since our well is electrically powered, although we have non-electric backups, we'll probably begrudge every drop of water we have to haul - so they'll be well worth the landfill costs.

Under the guest room bed (thankfully Grandma hasn't noticed yet) is space for 14 5 gallon buckets of beans and grains. We have the same under our bed. All told (in various locations), we have at present 500lbs of wheat, 500 lbs whole rice, 200lbs white rice, 50lbs brown rice, 500 lbs beans of various sort (we grew about 1/2 of them), 100lbs lentils, 200 lbs soybeans, 150 lbs barley, 600 lbs oatmeal, and various smaller amounts of grains and beans. We buy them cheaply in bulk from a food coop, and move them into containers in the kitchen as needed. All are stored with easy removal lids and oxygen removers. Fortunately our house has strong floors. The nice thing is that it keeps mess out from under the beds - theres no room.

Going upstairs, we've converted one of the closets in our bedroom to food storage. In there are most of the canned goods, tinned and home-canned meats and soups, the pasta, extra beans and rice, sauces and seasonings (I buy spices in bulk from, 150 lbs of sugar (should be more), 100 lbs of salt (ibid) (all bought in bulk), as well as things we just happen to like. We store vegetarian oyster sauce, sambal olek, korean pepper paste, hot bean paste, etc... for asian cooking. We store Tang and Vit. C koolaid for vitamin C for the kids, pickles (for appetite enhancement), shortening (disgusting, but lasts forever), Canned and dehydrated tomatoes (from our garden), hot sauce (by the gallon), and lots more, which I'll pick up next time.

Skepticism..what I'm thinking about.

In the modern age, skepticism begins with doubt as to the existence of God. It is hard to underestimate the difficulty, then, of wrapping one's contemporary imagination around a skepticism that retains complete and implicit belief in the divine, but doubts the reality of the person standing next to oneself. And yet, in its most literal sense, that is the character of Renaissance skepticism - a world peopled by God but not by other humans.

My doctoral dissertation is about the intersection between Renaissance demographics and skepticism. Oddly, skepticism in the 17th century didn't mean anything like what it means today - depending on whose version you follow (Katherine Maus or Stanley Cavell - I think they aren't incompatible), what people doubted then was not what they doubt now. When we think of skepticism in a modern sense, we think about doubt about the existence of God, or of other transcendent things, or about science vs. religion. But both versions of Renaissance skepticism accept the existence of God as foregone, and neither see a contradiction between science and faith (there wasn't one at the time). Instead, skeptics doubt either the existence of other people (ie, Cartesian skepticism, which says that you can prove that you exist and God exists, but not that everyone around you isn't a figment) or what you can know about other people (ie, what they are thinking).

I've been writing about this for several years, but it only recently has occurred to me that the Biblical story of Sarah (the forgotten part of the binding of Isaac) is as much the pre-narrative of this model of skepticism as the Oedipus story is for well, the
Oedipal complex.

If Renaissance skepticism as we have discussed it can be said to have an originating myth, we might find it in the Biblical story of Sarah, for whom the otherness of G-d and the question of the (m)aternity of her children are inextricably linked. Doubt, counting, reproduction, skepticism, all are linked across time and narrative. Stanley Cavell is right to tie skepticism to the questions raised by the paternity of children, but I would suggest that he refers only to a species of skepticism, that ultimately the act of reproduction itself is perennially tied to the question of whether the others one creates are truly real, and, perhaps, whether the act of generation, which mimics God's, is perhaps a kind of proof that we are real.

Sarah (then Sarai) is, described as barren when she is first named, and thus her infertility is tied to her identity. Sarah herself insists that G-d is at fault for her sterility, that YHWH has closed her womb. Her certainty on this point is startling Unconvinced, as she ages, that God will keep his promise to give Abraham descendents as "numerous as the stars," Sarah imagines as means of providing a child to both of them, by requiring her handmaiden to sleep with her husband, and thus get Sarah and Abraham a child. It defies imagination, given her machinations at reproduction, that Sarah could participate in the act of faith later demanded of Abraham - to which her husband is strangely quiescient.

I've always wanted to write a version of the Binding of Isaac in which God asks Sarah to sacrifice Isaac - how much fun would it be to write her reply? Abraham's gesture of complete faith could have been matched by another gesture of complete faith, for Sarah never, ever doubts the existence of God. Oh, she doubts his power - doubts that even God could open her womb in her 90s, and perhaps that God can tell whether she's lying, but she knows God is real. And she thinks God is wrong - and has the courage to say so.

Sarah doubts, as Satan in Paradise Lost does, the degree of God's power. She doubts that God is right. And she is not a wholly positive figure (her treatment of Hagar is hideous). But she is also the mother of a kind of doubt that achieves both faith and courage - one that says, "I believe that God is real, but I do not fully trust God to be always Godly?"

And can you blame her? Not only does this act of Yahweh's evoke the old Pagan Gods they attempt to differentiate themselves from, but it is done in the face of proof that this God is rather new to the divinity business, and makes errors, is subject to human persuasion (a tactic Abraham refuses to use here) and chooses unwisely. What mother, what person, what skeptic could not fail to doubt. Sadly, all the role of Sarah in this that we have is her death - the Talmud says she dies when Abraham takes her son to the mountain.

In a personal sense, I wonder, did God grow up? I speak as a person who believes in God out of a kind of visceral sense of immanence. I have always felt that there was God, since earliest childhood, known it as fact much as I know I have a tongue hair, or any other part of myself I cannot always feel. You would think that this certainty would be useful, but I haven't found it especially so. Instead, it raises more questions. Is God subject to human persuasion? Does God show interest? Are God's agendas always the right ones? Should I be a subject, or trust my own wits and will and argue? Do I emulate Abraham or Sarah when tragedy strikes, when costs are tallied?

I don't think it is any accident that I stumbled into the study of skepticism, do you?

Monday, October 11, 2004

I want to knit a shawl

Ok, I admit to thinking that there was something to 19th century dress. It was warmer. It was comfortable. For all that the corset gets a bad rap if you pull it really tight (I shudder to think how tight mine would have to be to give me any kind of a figure), a reasonably arranged corset is a wonderful antidote to back problems. Skirts are in many ways quite easy to manage - you can always hike them up. And they looked nice. Similarly, the male working equivalent was a lot nicer than the daily uniform my husband wears.

But I still don't quite understand why I want a shawl so badly. I don't do victorian dress, much as I admire it (today's outfit - ripped jeans, slip on shoes, long sleeved t shirt that says, "Picky Eaters Garden," with assorted places where the baby wiped his nose on me.) I have sweaters. But I really, really want to knit a shawl. Just a simple one, maybe a nice black one in Cashmerino. I don't need it, but my desire is approaching a need.

Part of the problem is that holiday knitting has taken over and I just want to make something for me. I've got two afghans, am about to have a third, four scarves and 6 pairs of socks in progress to finish between now and January. Clearly, I need to make myself a shawl too ;-P.

But part of it is the kind of person I'd be if I had a shawl. I'd be prettier. All the nineteenth century tasks I'm learning (badly) to do would come easily to me. I'd be a neater spinner, shear sheep in minutes, weave baskets, keep an elegant home. I'd be Tasha Tudor, only younger and edgier. I'm pretty sure a shawl can do all that.

Do you think I'm putting too much pressure on the shawl?


Monday, October 04, 2004


Anyone who has ever met me knows that I am no sylph - I'm 6', and while I have no intention of posting my weight, I am not skinny. That said, however, I have no intention whatsoever of going onto the Atkins diet. Why not, you ask?

Well, besides the fact that I find it totally grotesque to imagine that those of us who are so rich that we are obese should respond to our obesity by consuming *more* resources. We get fat because we consume a ridiculous amount of everything, and we're going to lose weight by eating a whole lot of high-on-the-food-chain butter, meat and oil. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for weight loss, and I certainly could stand to do some, but given that I got fat on the backs of the poor, I'm certainly not going to diet in such a way as to raise their kids' infant mortality a little higher.

The other observation I've made is that everyone who loses weight on Atkins gains it back the minute they stop. What's the point? Are you really going to eat a bowl of bacon grease every morning for breakfast until you're 90? Yoyo dieting is not notably good for you - maybe worse than keeping the weight, unless you are radically overweight. Realistically, unless you want to eat a bunless whopper for lunch every day for the rest of your life, you are going to gain the weight back - there is *0* chance you will stay thin.

Understand me, I am not mocking the fat. I am one of them. But I can't think of anything more stupid and less moral than the current Atkins craze. And the whole "carbohydrates make you fat" idea is errant nonsense - not burning as many calories as you take in makes you fat. Have you ever seen a really fat Amish guy? Do eight hours of hard physical labor all day, and I promise, you can eat all the noodles, crumb cakes and mashed potatoes you want, and not worry about your blood sugar in the slightest.

Now that stated, there is a useful distinction between the denatured crap that passes for starch around us and actual whole grains. Wanna lose some weight? Eat all whole grains. Seriously, there is a limit to how much brown rice anyone can consume. Eat a small amount of everything else and a whole lot of whole grains. Wanna lose even more? Grind your own grains in a manual grinder. It burns calories. Want to lose just tons of weight? Raise all your own grains by hand - till, plant, cut, bind, thresh and winnow them by hand. You will be full all the time and you will weigh 20lbs less.

I was never a dessert person until I met my husband, who believes that meals require a sweet. Marriage has not been good for my weight - and I wasn't skinny to begin with. But at least I used to eat a bowl of cheerios with skim milk for dinner a couple of times a night. My perennially skinny husband does not consider that adequate to his metabolism, to my detriment. But one way that we did keep the dessert consumption (and the consumption of any other kind of junk) to a minimum was this - we made the rule that if we want something, we actually have to make it. That is, I can eat all the brownies I want, but I have to get up, and melt the chocolate and bake the brownies. It worked well when we had a bit more time.

I would like to propose a new diet - the "you have to make it" diet. It is time consuming, but less so than recovery from stomach stapling. It is far healthier than Atkins, and quite cheap. Instead of blowing a lot of money to lose weight, you will save a ton, and can donate it to the Heifer fund or some other good cause so that some poor folks in other nations can get up to a minimally healthy weight.

So here it is - you can eat anything you want, but you have to produce it. Otherwise, you get a few bags of whole grains, some dried milk powder, fresh fruits and vegetables, a few eggs, spices, and herbal tea. Want honey in your tea? All you have to do is order a package of bees, build a hive, install them and work them for year and half, and you are totally set. Want cookies? Butter is yours for the asking, as long as you are willing to pitch hay to the cows, get up at 5 am to milk them, churn the butter (manually) and shovel the manure. Want roast chicken? No problem, just grow their feed, deliver the food, and butcher your chicken. Otherwise, its brown rice and squash for you.

I promise, you'll lose a lot of weight, no matter what you choose to eat. You are never deprived of anything, no one will ever tell you know, and you will be healthy and thin. You can donate the cost of your gym membership to the poor, plus your food budget will shrink, and you can donate that too.


Saturday, October 02, 2004

Movies (continued from last post)

On movies. Several people have emailed me (believe it or not, there are actually people reading this!!! Stunning, isnt it? This claim would be more credible if I had the faintest idea how to download a hit counter, wouldn't it? Anyone know how?) and asked me if I really hate all movies, as my profile claims. Of course I don't, but there's some truth to the statement. If you are movie buff, I am not a good person to go out with (as poor Eric has found to his grief). I have a semi-hostile relationship to the movies. First of all, on the rare occasions on which I actually get to leave my house, I have no profound wish to spend the time sitting in a darkened room. Much of the time in the last few years, doing so would be a recipe for unconsciousness, since neither of my first two kids slept through the night before they were a year, and Isaiah seems to share his brother's timetable (yup, out of the last five years, I've been sleep deprived for more than 3 of them!)

I also resent paying $10 for anything that is of lower quality than what I get for free on television. And that isnt saying a great deal. If it is less good than a West Wing episode, I'm not going. I don't think I'm setting the bar too high.

I also have a particular distaste for pretentious movies that pretend to plumb the psychological depths of anyone. _American Beauty_ is the perfect example of a movie most people liked that made me want to throw up. Yeah, yeah, Kevin Spacey, whatever - I liked _The Usual Suspects_ too. But long angsty movies about how alienating suburbia or the 1970s or motherhood or jet lag, etc... really annoy me. The Victorian period piece equivalent pisses me off even more. The simplistic nature of the way psychology is used in literature and film makes me nuts - the "cause - effect" theories of the human mind. You'd think I like that stuff, since I'm a lit geek and in many ways a Freudian, but what interests me about psychoanalysis is its precise failure to choose the stupid, linear way of thinking.

Some movies everyone else liked that I hated:

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - I know it was beautiful and poetic (and tedious), and the culmination of the martial arts drama (a genre I actually kind of like), but it rather went on a bit, didn't it. Admit it, it would have been better at 45 minutes.

2. Lost in Translation - I love Bill Murray. Bill Murray is a brilliant actor. He could stand buck naked in front of a white wall and masturbate for 2 hours, and he'd be wonderful. This movie was almost as good as that. Please, someone, put Scarlett Johanson back in her bottle!

3. That stupid movie about migrating birds, set to music. Dear G-d, is there no level we won't sink to?

I can list more, but you get the point. I'm no fun at all to go to the movies with, not least because everyone who goes with me eventually ends up agreeing with me.

But I do like some movies - movies that don't try to be more than they can, truly good movies, movies that are generous rather than petty in spirit (they don't take the cheap jokes, the cheap shots, the cheap sex scenes, the cheap dialogue or the obvious plot points), the occasional weird thing that I like despite the fact that it breaks all my rules. Here are some movies I like:

1. Anything by Robert Altman, except Pret A Porter. Just finally saw Gosford Park, and it was glorious. Weirdly, Popeye is a favorite movie of mine - weird and wonderful.

2. Danny Devito movies. I love how deeply he mocks the urge to moralize or psychologize. Drowning Mona was flawed, but a wonderful antidote to the tripe done in good movies. Matilda was everything Roald Dahl should be. The War of the Roses is still a favorite.

3. Farenheight 9/11. Yeah, it was filled with cheap shots, overblown and tacky. It was also strangely moving, and better than I expected it to be. Moreover, I genuinely admire Michael Moore, not something I can say about many people.

4. Chicago. Yeah, that one. Sure, it is a musical (modern musicals are generally loathsome) and has the inevitably tedious Renee Zellweger(sp?) in it, but how can you not love a movie whose essential message is, "you'll regret heterosexual sex - go lesbian!" and still gets an Oscar? Plus, Queen Latifah is hot (Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn't really do it for me, although I can see her appeal) and Richard Gere can both dance and sing (I had been resolutely hostile to Gere, who has never appealed to me, but I was impressed despite myself).

Mostly, I like old movies. I just watched _The Magnificent Seven_ for the thousandth time (Eric had never seen it) and I kept thinking, "Why is it we needed _Unforgiven_ again? I tend to think that the majority of films are simply pointless redundancies. And I think that about books, too. Yeah, I know that retelling stories can be cool, but it often is merely annoying.

Ok, I'll get to books next, but I'm tired and cranky now ;-).


Socks, Books, Movies

So I actually figured out how to knit socks today! I've avoided socks because I am possibly the least coordinated person on earth, *and* I have no sense of spatial relations (literally true - a friend gave me an IQ test some years ago, and I think I tested out as mildly retarded in the part where you have to put the little blocks together). In case you don't know, socks are knitted on four or five teeny tiny needles held carefully together, while you slide stitches from one to another. This, for me, is a recipe for disaster.

And yet, I like warm feet, I like wool socks, and socks are cool. So I knew I wanted to knit socks. And foolishly, when nephew Jake (4 1/2) was visiting last week, and asked me to knit him rainbow colored socks, I agreed. So it was determined I had to learn.

Unsurprisingly, I cannot, in fact, manage to knit with teeny tiny yarn (I am not a delicate person - in appearance, in taste, in personality) on teeny tiny needles that have to be held carefully together. But I was frustrated, and convinced myself that there must be some way to knit socks on circular needles. I sort of figured out what that would look like, and then searched the web to find out if anyone had figured it out better than I could. And lo, and behold, the angel of the web spoke, and there it was - a way to knit socks on either one or two circular needles at How cool is that? I practice knitted four inches of a pair of thick socks for my Dad (who likes to wear birks in January - which isn't quite as crazy in Bellinham WA as it would be here, but still), and they looked cool. And I started socks for Jake (or maybe some other child, if my gauge turns out to be off, as it faintly appears)! I can do it. And not only can I do it, but I sort of even figured out the general gist of how to do it without help. Given that I visualize only slightly less well than I tap dance, I'm pleased with myself. Next stop, mittens!!

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Next 25 Things you can do to get ready for Peak Oil

The next 25 out of 100 things you can do to prepare for peak oil.

1. Acquire Countryside Magazine issues that cover late 1997 - 2000. Those issues, JD Belanger's last, were focused heavily on Y2K and sustainability, and contain tons of useful information. Definitely worth every penny of the money - they covered things like making pectin, making lye, feeding your animals without the feed store, food storage, etc... I got them kind of by accident, and they are wonderful, well worth whatever the cost.

2. Make a pair of socks. Knit them. Crochet them. Felt them. Sew them. I don't care. But cold feet really suck, and working outside in cold weather means that your socks are the primary barrier between you and frostbite. Make warm ones, ideally out of wool, and make lots of them - they wear out when you really work in them.

3. Build a root cellar, and store some garden produce. If you didn't grow any, buy it from a local farm. Storing a couple hundred lbs of potatoes, onions, carrots and beets will a. make you more food secure and b. give you practice at the storing, use and care of root vegetables. For anyone in a cold climate, they are going to be your staples.

4. Offer to do a presentation on peak oil at your local synagogue/college/church/community center.

5. Teach a neighbor child to garden.

6. Dehydrate some food, and actually use it. Dehydration is energy efficient, the food stores well, and it retains a decent amount of nutrition, and you can do it after peak oil.

7. Plant garlic - now is the time, and garlic is so good, so tasty, so healthy.

8. Dig up a few biennials (parsnips, parsley, carrots, cabbage, kale) from your garden and put them in either a sunny spot or a cool dark one. Try and winter them over, and grow out seed. You'll need to find space for them.

9. Look over your food storage, and try to imagine that the grocery stores close tomorrow. What will you eat? For how long? What do you need? Try and fill some gaps.

10. Buy shoes and boots on sale in adult sizes and in larger childrens sizes (if you have kids) and store them.

11. Learn to hunt - there probably won't be much game out there after peak oil, but it is a useful skill, and an excellent way of making friends with the neighboring men.

12. Get a dog - a good one. Get a dog who can be trained to work your animals (and your children), to protect your property (not aggressively - that's a recipe for lawsuits) and run critters out of your garden. Plan ways to feed him without the grocery stores.

13. Learn to ride and drive a horse.

14. Develop a repetoir of recipes that use only local produce, herbs and ingredients

15. Make a compost pile. Right now thousands of suburbanites are throwing away leaves - collect them, pile them and use them to fertilize your garden.

16. Build something - a toy train, a shed, a bookcase, whatever, using hand tools.

17. Pick up used down clothing at your local thift shop - you can turn those used vests into blankets and pillows.

18. Read Keeping Food Fresh and try some of the methods of food preservation.

19. Join a local food coop for bulk buying.

20. Consider volunteering to work on "Preparedness" for your county, your town or your state. No one has enough money to hire people, and every kind of general preparation applies to peak oil.

21. Whenever you buy something that will be in short supply after the peak, pick up a second one for your storage - an extra pair of sneakers, another box of nails, an extra pack of pencils, a second pair of sheets. It all adds up.

22. Send a letter to disbelieving relatives informing them of your preparations and giving them your ideas for handling the coming crisis. Ask them to save the letter, even if they think you are nuts. That way, when your Mom and sister are bugging out to your place, they'll know you want them to pack all of the blankets, canned goods and garden tools.

23. Try and keep up important religious and family rituals even in hard times. Don't give up the bedtime story by candlelight. Make gifts. Store the ingredients of favorite holiday foods. Your family will remember, and it will make things better.

24. Study herbal medicine, homeopathy and anything else you can think of. It is worth a shot.

25. Learn about breastfeeding, so that you or your children can do so. Consider extended breastfeeding or volunteer feeding the children of friends and relatives, to keep your lactation going after you are done childbearing. The more women who can nurse in a given community, the lower the infant mortality rate