Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Life goes trickling by...

It has been a stressful 5 1/2 weeks. Asher was born at 8lbs even, but lost a considerable amount of weight in the hospital and in the days immediately after - he was down to 6lbs, 10 oz four days after birth, even though my milk was in on the second day. We narrowly escaped having him hospitalized, and slowly, slowly, over his first 5 weeks, he made it back up to his birth weight. He's just over 8lbs now.

I've never had this problem before - Simon and Eli were both born well over 8lbs, dropped a few ounces, and then merrily began growing. But even Isaiah, born a bit early at 6lbs, 10 oz grew steadily. My kids tend to settle just below the 50th percentile in weight (and are all off the charts in height - we're a tall family). I'm not sure if this is a Jewish mother thing or what, but not being able to adequately feed my baby hits into a fairly deep pocket of panic in me.

That said, he's been fine. He's vigorous and healthy, just on the skinny side (little chicken legs). All this has bothered me far more than it ever has him. I'm finally starting to get over it - he slept 6 straight hours last night (hallelujah!!), and I didn't consider waking him to nurse more than twice. Ordinarily, he nurses more or less constantly, interspersing dozing with feeding. I think this was the problem initially - nursing is exhausting, apparently, and it took a while before he could do it for any period of time.

Otherwise, all is well here. Big brothers have been surprisingly pleased about him, even Isaiah, who is ordinarily very possessive of Mommy (for a while I referred to not as "Mommy" but "de lap" - not "a" lap, but "the lap," and no other brothers were welcome upon it.) Simon regularly holds and even feeds Asher, during those rare moments in which Mommy's breasts are temporarily not in play.

Because I am nursing just about every moment, I am not doing much, including posting on this blog. I have never before *longed* to clean - I'm not the most elegant housekeeper you'll ever meet, but boy, just getting up and sorting some laundry without a baby in my arms is such a joy. I try not to appreciate it too much - this is the last baby I'll ever have, and holding him is a pleasure. But with each of my children came the realization that at least for me, there is only so long that can be spent staring adoringly into your child's eyes, before you start looking around for something to read.



Monday, October 31, 2005

Finally, and well worth the wait...

Asher Cary Woods was born at 10:54 am on Saturday. He was 8lbs even, 21 inches, and is absolutely perfect. I'm doing well, despite 11 days (!!!!) of labor. Just very happy to be home and enjoying my family. More soon!


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Well, there's a baby...

Except it isn't mine! My sister Vicki, who was due 3 days ahead of me had her daughter, Katherine, about 30 minutes ago. Mother and baby are doing great, and little Katie is 7lbs 11oz, 22 inches. I'm so excited about my new niece - my mother's phone was busy, so I was actually the first family member to know, except the big sister, my niece Abby.

The baby saga here just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Two weeks ago tomorrow, I started having pointless prodromal contractions, just enough to drive me insane and keep me from sleeping.

Early this past Tuesday am, the contractions picked up big time - I was having them every 3 minutes, and they were long, intense and strong. My sweet MIL volunteered to come up, my kind neighbor came down, and off we went to the birthing center of have this baby. I was my usual 2cm, and after some walking, got gradually to four. The baby's head was engaged, I'd lost my mucus plug, my water bag was nice and bulgy and ready to blow, and I was starting to transition into active labor. I was offered some pitocin, accepted, and about an hour later, my midwife went to check to see what progress I'd made. The next words out of her mouth were, "Where's the baby?"

Well, somewhere in that hour, my very active little boy had left the pelvis and decided to go way, way back up into my uterus (they aren't supposed to be able to do that at this point.) I was dilated to 5 cm. And there he has remained for the last 3 1/2 days. I'm still having the contractions (not quite as intense or as frequent, but quite enough to be maddening), and we're all sitting here waiting for the baby's head to reengage. Sigh.

I haven't slept much in days, and I'm on the verge of losing it, but I'm trying to hold out as long as I can, because an induction without that head down will end up in a csection. So keep your digits crossed and your prayers going, and try and explain to this baby that out is down!


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A life, 30 years in revision.

Carla Emery died yesterday of a heart attack, caused by a pericardial infection. Two weeks ago, she was sitting in my mother's house, telling us about her adventures at the Common Ground fair, making us laugh as she described how far her husband had to go to obtain coffee among the ecologically pure. And that night she stood up in front of a small audience of community gardeners and interested parties and talked about the urgency of producing food and fertility in urban and suburban communities. She talked about peak energy, and about the day when we may all be poor enough that the food we grow makes the critical difference in our thriving over surviving. I saw suburbanites who garden for pleasure make the turn into understanding how terribly urgent that work is, for themselves and their community.

I'm not someone who is inclined to lionize, nor someone who starts fan clubs, but if I were ever to have done so, I would have done it for Carla. It isn't that she was perfect - she wasn't. But she had a store of knowledge as wide as the whole world. She could tell you how to make a turkey sandwich - and start with how to hatch out the baby turkey poults, plant your seed wheat in the ground, save seeds so you could grow the nicest tomatoes, lettuce and sweet onion. And she'd get you all the way to making your own mayo from your own eggs, raising and grinding your mustard seed and baking the best bread you've ever tasted.

Does that sound too arcane? It is so much simpler to go buy the turkey, bread and mayo at the store, but she could convince a die-hard urbanite that there were compelling reasons for growing their food, and she never missed the most important one - taste! And she could tell you how to birth your baby safely alone, how to get water when your well pump broke down or your well went dry, how to can jam, shear your sheep, or pinch a penny. She knew nearly everything about how to make the things we have become dependent upon industrial production for, and what she didn't want to know, she wanted to learn. Both her curiosity and knowledge ran so deep you could never get to the bottom.

Those are such ordinary, domestic skills and virtues and so few people now have them. When she sat down to write her book 30 years ago, people were just starting to notice that the generation that knew those things was disappearing. Now, they are gone. Most of us were raised with the wealth to buy what we need and no need to know those ordinary skills, that so often were part of the lives of ordinary women. I know when I was younger, I was interested in what extraordinary people did, in the transformative power of the exceptional. But I've come to appreciate that those ordinary domestic skills are what make the extraordinary possible, and they can be executed with grace, courage and the most astonishing skill, and become an extraordinary art in themselves. Not everyone can write _Middlemarch_ or paint like Mary Cassat. And not all of us would want to pay the price in our family life and our energies that it would take to produce a great work of art. But all of us have to eat, to dress in clothing, to have clean water. And teaching people how to have it, how to get it, how to live well even in poverty and have clean, safe food and water is, I think, a greater accomplishment than the production of a piece of art fit best for the educated and priveleged audience. Thousands of people in this country and all over the world have more of what they most urgently need because she shared her knowledge.

Carla Emery was blessed with both the extraordinary talent of being able to teach others what they needed to know, and also with the ability to do all those things. I doubt Carla would ever have called herself a feminist, but she did more for women than most feminists could ever do, because she saw very early, back when feminism was still paying most of its attention to the lives of women who did unusual things, that the most basic, simplest skills were what mattered most, and were the most exceptional things of all. The ordinary lives of women (and men, but it was no accident this was called a recipe book), and the things they did to survive and thrive, raise their families and meet their needs were recorded for all of us, and valorized here, if nowhere else. Later, the ordinary lives of women became a trend. But Carla was there when poor women having children and managing to keep them healthy and fed, warm and loved was not considered either exceptional or an art. She, however, knew otherwise.

Look at the _Encyclopedia of Country Living_ carefully. She wrote this enormous book while bearing and raising seven children, while living the life she described, milking her cows and growing her garden. And she kept on revising it her whole life. At 66 years old, last week she stood up and told us about how she maintains her entire 8000 square foot garden by herself, with a shovel and a hoe. She produced enough food to feed her chickens (lots), rabbits, her husband and herself, and take bushels and bushels of produce to market. These are ordinary things - in the academic culture I took on, having babies and feeding them good food, and growing old gracefully and working hard are not the virtues to be rewarded. Why does it feel to me as though those "ordinary" virtues are rarer and more valuable than anything more exotic? How many of us could raise our children without the benefit of the grocery stores and the power companies? She told you how, because she was sorry to see the skills die, and afraid we wouldn't be able to get along without them someday. She was right.

I was lucky enough to meet her on the internet. A few of my recipes and suggestions are in the most recent edition of her book, and I was fortunate enough to help her with some editing. It was a book that explained so many things to me, and I was so excited to get to add a little touch of myself to it. And she was tremendously generous, both with her guidance and her energies. She let me and dozens of other homesteaders comment, critique, recipe test, and be part of her work. And then she came, and spoke to my CSA customers, my friends, my parents, and told them what she knew, all because she wanted so badly for us all to know what she did.

She was on the road, telling people about why and how to grow food and cut energy usage, for more than half the year. She and her husband Don covered thousands and thousands of miles in their old van filled with books on gardening and sustainability. It was grueling, and they didn't make much money, in part because she refused to charge people more than $100 to hear her speak. She'd stand up in an auditorium, a library, a church, in your living room, and tell you what she had to say and what she thought you needed to know, and then she'd do it again the next day. She was a missionary - because she really believed that the world would be a better place if others would just stop putting their faith in corporations and industrial production, and start growing a pot of basil and a few tomatoes, if someone would grow some grains and beans themselves instead of a lawn. And she was right. She told people this in the 1970s, when the hippies wanted to hear it. She drove around the country in a van filled with her babies and children, speaking wherever people listened. And at 66 years old, two weeks ago, she was still doing it, for the grown-up children of hippies (like me) and anyone else who would listen, because she was concerned for us in the face of rising energy costs.

I didn't host her at our house this year. It was too hard with the baby coming and my sister's wedding at the same time, and Grandma and Grandpa both dying - or that was my sad excuse. And she said of course, no matter what *she* produced while having seven children. I used to tell my husband that I want to be Carla Emery when I grow up. I wanted to be as strong, and courageous, and focused on doing right as she was. And I wanted to be as kind and honorable and smart and funny. I'm not her. I don't have what she has. But I still keep her in my head as the kind of person whose moral courage and knowledge, expressiveness and sheer desire to save the world was one what I would most like myself and my children to become.

If you pray, pray for her husband Don, her children and her grandchildren, including the new one on the way. And pray that in the times that come, someone with as much missionary zeal and energy will come our way and pass as much knowledge along. I know I do.



Sunday, October 09, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Self-inflicted injuries

L'Shana Tova, All! I hope the coming year is both happy and healthy. I know we're excited about this year's coming blessings - the biggest one being that for most of it, I will not be pregnant any more (oh, and there's a baby too ;-))

It is time to consider, in the Christian terminology, what we have done and what we have left undone in the past year. I've made a few major screwups, and am presently paying the price for them, at least in stress and anxiety, and the embarassment of owing others my contrition. While I'm not yet ready to write about the details, it occurs to me that it is both a blessing and a curse that almost all the major crises in my life have been self-inflicted. It is a curse, of course, because shooting yourself in the foot is neither smart nor credibility inspiring, and you look like an idiot. Plus, you get to pay the price of whatever mistakes you've made, and many of mine have not been small.

On the other hand, it is blessing because up until now (and forever, G-d willing), I've only shot myself in the foot, never the head. None of my self-made disasters, no matter how traumatic, idiotic, terrifying and terrible, have ever been left me irretrievably lost, or caused me suffering from which I was unable to recover. Disappointment, embarassment, sorrow, shame, pain, yes. But I've never had been broken by something outside myself that I simply couldn't address. I think my situation is probably easier, if way more humiliating. I wish, however, that I could give myself the clean slate that I am taught to believe G-d gives. But I fear that would require direct divine intervention. The best I can hope for is to aim for the ground next time I'm determined to do something idiotic.



Thursday, September 22, 2005

Will Katrina and Rita tip us past the point of no return?

Peak oil, is, again, not about how much oil is in the ground. It is about the price of oil, and its availability to ordinary people. That availability is about to change yet again - with the second nightmare hurricane in a month. Hurricane Rita, at category 4, is presently heading towards our main oil shipping lanes, 30% of our refinery capacity, all of our diesel refining capacity and a large portion of our natural gas production - the latter of which cannot be replaced by offshore inputs.

The loss of diesel refining capacity is particularly troublesome, since our trucking and agricultural industries depend almost entirely on diesel. So what we're discussing are higher prices for gas - and every single other thing that people depend on. Heat. Food. Clothing. Power.

The economy has mostly absorbed $3 gallon gas, although with some pain, most of it to the poor, but some resonating through the economy (Walmart's falling profits, etc...) But can it absorb $4 or $5 gas and heating oil, just as we enter the heating season. Can it absorb the loss of diesel production just as harvesting and food production is at its most intense across the nation? I guess we'll see.

In the end, it may not matter how much oil the Saudis or the Russians have. If ordinary people can't afford to buy heating oil, or drive to work, the cycle of collapse begins, long before the last drops come out of the ground.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The population issue - from a women with four children

I'm probably the last person who should ever be allowed to comment on this, and yet it would be intellectually dishonest not to confront it on some level. I spend my time exhorting people to prepare, to consume less, to need less, and yet I keep having children. That not all of them were exactly planned is not really an excuse - I certainly was not displeased by the situation. And I do think we have to talk about this, and think about this, and maybe consider some public solutions - I simply hope they will not be the repressive ones that I fear over the longer term.

The world sustainable carrying capacity is probably somewhere between 1 and 2 billion people. we've got about 6.5 billion at the moment, and we're going to make 7. I still remember when we achieved six, just five years ago. I was pregnant with Eli, an irony I did not miss. The official six billionth was identified as a little girl, born in rural India, and this seemed grotesque to me - my little boy, born a few months later here, will consume five times the resources of that girl. To use the western world's vision of the "culprits" of overpopulation is unjust - because my children are the culprits. For all that I try to reduce my consumption and my children's consumption, there is no doubt whose children are the problem. Which is why I would argue that the best and only serious way to address this is to focus on the consumption issues, and the positive things that make men and women want to have fewer children.

I'm not sure there's much we can do about the overpopulation problem without becoming essentially a fascist society. Beyond simply keeping women's lives as healthy and secure and free as possible - what solution could possibly exist that would allow us to remain ethical and human? China solves its problems by draconian restrictions upon private people, ones I do not want to see enacted on myself or my daughters in law. And in addition to those restrictions, it (and other poor nations) resolves its problems by having an available outlet among rich nations for its unwanted children. What happens when that outlet dries up, because of political controversy and the sheer cost of moving prohibited children around the globe? What happens to those children in orphanages afterwards? Who would take our "extra" babies?
These questions are not as arcane as they sound - while in the short term the primacy of the religious right is unlikely to make this an immediate crisis, in the long term when population pressures grow, demographic anxiety and violence towards those perceived as "in excess" grows too.

I'm not sure I'm the right person to address the biology of having children - not because I don't have a strong desire to have children, but because I couldn't care less if they were born of my flesh - in many ways, my husband and I would actually have preferred to adopt, except that doing so meant allowing the government to regulate our lives and limit our activities to a significant degree, or, had we chosen private or international adoption, it would have cost us thousands and thousands of dollars we did not have. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't trade my children now for anything, and I take some pleasure in figuring out who they look most like, but I don't identify in the slightest with the "must have a perfect,white baby that looks just like hubby and me." Frankly, if one looked carefully at those related to either one of us, you'd note that the odds are better that I will be able to stand you if you *aren't* biologically related to either one of us.

Restricting the right of people to procreate generally comes with some disturbing trends. First of all, as our culture becomes poorer and probably more traditional,we're going to start valuing some children over others (ok, we already do - let's think about how much outrage there would have been if a lot of white children were dying of dehydration in New Orleans) - in many nations, for example, the trend is to valuing boys over girls, in addition to the obvious preference for white and non-disabled children. In the US, the trend actually runs quite strongly in the opposite direction - girls are perceived as easier, healthier, preferrable. My mother was an adoptive placement social worker for the state of MA for many years, and at least in that state, all boys are harder to place than all girls, and boys qualified as "unadoptable" or "special needs" (the latter of which doesn't necessarily mean any disability -just hard to place) on average 2 years before a girl (for example, whiteness being valued, a white boy was defined as special needs at 5, where as a white girl up to 7 was cosidered potentially adoptable. When you get into non-white children, an african-american male child was considered unadoptable as soon as he left babyhood, more or less.) Sex selection technology is also used overwhelmingly to get girls in the US - both to select out disabilities, but also just for female preference - more than 85% of the requests at most facilities are for daughters, overwhelmingly driven by mothers who prefer female children. If this continues, I wouldn't be surprised to see that in a one-child society, we have as huge an "extra boy" syndrome as China has an "extra girl" one. And, as the mother of a child with a disability who costs his community and school system an awful lot, I suspect that disabled children, already less valued in the commodity market of child adoption, will be subject to measures that are pretty horrible. When middle class women stop being able to afford amniocentesis to abort babies that would be "too much to handle," what will become of those babies?

The best solutions to unsustainable reproductive rates we've ever found so far are freedom for women, easy access to birth control, education for women, good prenatal and pediatric care and reproductive freedom. This is yet another argument for not returning to patriarchal culture - for example, highly educated women with significant careers only have children about 40%of the time - and the numbers get lower as they become more powerful. The more educated, autonomous and healthy women and their children are, the fewer they have, generally speaking (I'm not a good example right here ;-).

In order to be even remotely just, any restriction on fertility has to impact men as well - male behavior, male beliefs about the value of women, and male fertility - this isn't just a woman's problem, and cannot be. For example, women in patriarchal cultures that are dependent upon men for support depend on not only husbands, but sons to support them in their old age. Male pressure to procreate, and male desire to have fertile wives can also be a very powerful driving force - and men, in my observation, are often more reluctant than women to care for the babies of others, possibly for reasons of evolutionary psychology. (On this subject, and slipping a bit of my dissertation in, the philosopher Stanley Cavell is a fascinating read - he argues that skepticism of all kinds originates in the inability of men to ever know with certainty if they are the fathers of their children - one might read his _Disowning Knowledge_ or_The Claim of Reason_ were anyone besides me even remotely interested.) So all those things have to be addressed if we are ever to have any kind of public attempt to lower the birthrate or restrain fertility.

Keeping infant mortality low is also key - it is very hard to persuade women not to get pregnant over and over again if they are going to lose their children young to the diseases of poverty- a woman who is trying to get one or two children to adulthood might have to have as many as 5 or 6 in a society with poor survival rates. Raising children up in societies perpetually at war raises another issue, and a key one for those of us in the priveleged west who are presently at war with the idea of terrorism - parents who believe theywill lose their sons to military machines have reason to keep having them - or at least keep trying for daughters. And those, like we Americans, who will presumably have to risk their daughters as well are doubly so inspired. I know that our nation's language of perpetual war causes me blind terror when I think about my little boys. If you want people toobey your restrictions on reproduction, they need children that live. It is truly that simple. America has the worst infant mortality rates in the industrial world, especially among the poor. As our economy softens and fades, if we want to keep the birthrate stable or down, we must, must, must, put our resources into prenatal care and pediatric care, and we must not send all of our children to war.

I will say that the urge to have children is basic and profound - speaking as someone who never particularly cared whether her childrenwere biological or not, the experience of carrying and nursing an infant comes with some hormone and reptile-brain level intensities about them. I am told (and believe) that that is true of the children you adopt as well. We might look at Hannah's prayers to G-d in her barrenness, or at the journals that 17th century women wrote before childbirth to their unborn child - maternal mortality being a major issue, women entered childbirth expecting to die, and yet often also entered it willingly, even joyfully, despite the stakes. For myself, I see the necessity of children as a kind of meaning-making - I'm not sure I could stir up the passion required to ensure my own survival in the fact of a crisis - but the survival, happiness and security of my children, and their children, now that inspires me. All of which is just a way of saying that the reproductive nut is going to be a very, very hard oneto crack.

The very best that those of us who are priveleged to give birth into a world of reasonable security and wealth can do is to try with all our might to absorb less, consume less, take less, so that the babies of others can have just a little bit more.


The view from the peak

People sometimes mistake the peak oil issue for the question of "when will the oil run out." The answer is effectively, never. There will always be some theoretically extractable oil in the ground - how much depends on what we can afford to extract.

We're on the way down from the peak, or will be very shortly, and the ride down is a lot bumpier than the ride up was. But it doesn't look like all of the oil suddenly disappearing - it shows up as inflation, unemployment, poverty. It looks kind of like this - suddenly, we're making choices we never thought we would have to.

Just as an example, near me there's a family that sells organic, grass fed beef. They don't make a ton of money - their annual returns pay the taxes and give them a buffer. They do other work - cut hay, substitute teach in the winter, etc... But they sell wonderful meat, sustainably raised, without the hormones and the other crap, and they do ok. But I don't have a lot of hope for their future, because it is predicated on a healthy economy, and people being able to pay what their food is worth, rather than the artificially low prices that supermarkets offer.

The thing is, their costs are higher because they truck their beef to a small packing house they trust and have it butchered there, and then sell it back to the consumer. They keep it in their freezer, and pay regular electric bills for it. They have to buy some hay now and again, and pay their vet bills - and so do the industrial farmers. But because they have 70 cows, not 2000, they don't have the economies of scale. Feeding their animals on grass instead of cheap corn means that it takes longer to raise them, and the investment is comparatively

In the industrial model, economies of great scale absorb most of the cost of the automated killing system, the energy costs of refrigeration at the time of slaughter and during aging, in the truck on the way to the supermarket, in the supermarket. We all barely notice that we pay the cost of lighting, cooling or heating the supermarket, the cost of employing the butcher (which is in part a fuelcost - you have to pay him enough to drive to work from the next suburb over, and to heat his house with oil.) The handling costs have oil expenses in them - it is presently cheaper to hire one guy with a forklift to unload the meat, rather than 20 guys with strong backs. There's only a little oil cost here, and little there, but it adds up. At $2.00 per gallon, the cost is, maybe, 15 cents lb. No problem - if it gets too pricey, I'll just quit buying roasts.

Not a big deal, I still can afford an occasional roast, maybe I'll just eata few more beans and a bit more hamburger. But wait a minute - gas is up to 3 no 4 no 5.00 dollars per gallon (I know, you think it won't happen - of course it would never go as high as 3.50...right?) - now the roast costs $1.20 lb more. No problem, as I said, I'll just stop buying roasts. Beef isn't good for you anyway But even the hamburger costs $4 lb, and I'm spending more of my income on electric bills, heat and commuting - so no more hamburger either. Just spam and beans. So now beef isn't selling well - and the nice neighbors with the family farm who provided a sustainable alternative isn't making anything any more - because the bottom has dropped out of the beef market, but her land taxes haven't gone down any.

Oh, and let's not forget the supermarket butcher (he's also a neighbor) - the overhead costs for the supermarket have increased dramatically (very expensive to keep that a/c running all summer) and meat sales are down, so they've fired two of their four butchers and cut the hours back on the others. The laid off meat cutters are now collecting unemployment, along with everyone else whose employers are trying to keep their bottom line going. And there's a lot of them - the travel industry got a 1-2 punch with rising airline fuel costs (note that two more airlines enter bankruptcy today - shocked?), and with the lack of disposable income. Retailers are feeling the pinch as people buy fewer luxuries (remember Walmart's falling profits - so far iti is the poor and lower middle class who are cutting back on their buying). All those white collar Dilbert jobs my friends have - an awful lot of those are optional to the other companies that make up most of their business, so now the Gap and Banana Republic are having a bad Christmas, since the computer guys and the advertising people are feeling a pinch....

And none of those laid off are buying much beef anymore, either. The nice old lady who used to buy eye of round and drive it back to her house down the road has to choose between her medications and her dinner, since the price of her digoxin is up 500%. She's going to the food pantry now, along with the unemployed butcher. People are still buying food, of course, but now the competition is on for the cheapest prices, and Walmart has them - so the middle class who still have jobs but are feeling the inflationary pinch and getting nervous start shopping there. They no longer buy organic produce, or fancy salads, or $4 cups of coffee. Our nearest supermarket can't afford to sell hamburger at the same price as Walmart, and so they fold, putting all their workers out of work, and adding just another little pinch to everyone who doesn't live next door to a Wallyworld and has to drive there (all 8 remaining citizens ;-).

And the oil prices are up more, because of lost refinery capacity (been paying attention to the news from Katrina?) and the necessity of upgrading refineries to handle the lower grade of crude now being extracted (this was underway even before Katrina, and is among the best concrete evidence of peak oil I've ever seen). Now a lot of peopleare spending 20% of their income on commuting costs, and more if they have to heat or cool their houses - those that still have jobs and houses, that is. Now roasts aren't the issue for most of them - the price of potatoes is. See most ofthem are grown in Idaho (in fact, even though New York grows an awful lot of potatoes, most supermarkets don't carry them!), and the shipping, fuel, spraying andrefrigeration costs have driven them up to $1.80 lb - and of course,*EVERY SINGLE THING* is rising too - toilet paper, beer, soap, diapers, beets, cheese, flour, onions, chocolate, heating oil, natural gas, water bills, medical costs, town taxes (lost sales revenue means they've got to cut services, raise taxes or both to keep the plows and school buses running) - everyone has more overhead. Everyone's materials cost more. That extra 30 cents doesn't matter, until it is multiplied by 1000 every month. And until, trying to keep afloat, most middle class families are down to one, or no income.

Then we make choices - soup with meat or without...again? Bread and gravy for dinner? Heat off if it is above freezing? Heat off even below it? Desperately needed heart surgery or mortgage payment? Emergency room visit for daughter's asthma or electric bill? New shoes for the kids or a coat for Mom? Sound familiar? These are the troubles ordinary, plain old poor people have - except without cheap energy, a whole lot more of us, maybe even everyone, falls into that category eventually.

There will be oil in the ground, and gas in the gas stations - the ones that stay open, anyhow. But who will be buying? And how will we refigure our economy to bring back and reduce costs on things that only cheap oil made possible?


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Breeder Stuff

Well, second ultrasound accomplished (too many contractions), and all looks well with the little one. And it is boy #4. I'm going to admit something here that Mommys are not supposed to admit. I was really hoping for another boy.

It isn't that I don't like girls. I do. I desperately envy my friends who are the parents of daughters for many things, not least the fact that they get to buy much cuter baby clothes. But I so enjoy watching the dynamic of brotherhood among my other three boys, that I was reluctant to change it with someone who would be different. I love the fact that the three of them spend so much time rolling around like a pile of puppies. When my sisters and I did that, we were trying to kill each other. But my boys just seem to enjoy the benign and affectionate violence they do to one another, almost wholly by accident. I'm mystified, but loving it. And thus, the moderate preference for another male. Eric, sadly, longs for a daughter, and shall never get her from my loins (I am DONE!!!).

I can't actually believe I'm even doing this a fourth time. If there is a woman who hates pregnancy more than myself (besides Lois McMaster Bujold - read her novels and see a loathing of childbirth even more profound), I've yet to meet her. And by this point, it doesn't even have the virtue of novelty - at the end of the fourth pregnancy, any new experience is bound to be awful. There's just no, "oh wow, I've never had hemerhoids/a cessation of fetal movement/searing sciatica before...how neat." All the good parts of pregnancy have already happened (first heartbeat, first sight of the new baby, first flutters, birth), and its all downhill from here.

One of the most annoying sensations to me is the fact that my brain turns into a Don Delillo novel. For the last few months of pregnancy and the first few afterwards, I find myself hearing fragments of advertising, song lyrics, and fixated by fun topics of thought like, "Did I expose the baby to unacceptable levels of dioxin by chewing on the caps of my pens all those years." Mix that in with the lyrics from Simon's Winnie the Pooh video, some footage of a natural disaster and the soundtrack to a Subway commercial and you have my mind at night. I start out trying to relax to thoughts of garden planning and end up in a beer commercial with South Park overlaid. It is very like having an exceedingly annoying tenant who won't turn the radio down.

Unfortunately, I still have 6 more weeks until I achieve full termness - and trust me, I'll be doing all I can to arrange tenant eviction after that. I adore babies. I love how soft and sweet they are. I don't even mind all the attention and energy they require. But I sure as heck resent it when they make send out their negotiators from inside me, and hold my liver hostage.



Ok folks - so you don't store food, you don't have an emergency plan, you don't have a back-up arrangement for friends and relatives, you don't believe peak oil is coming (never mind those "temporary" gas prices over $3.00), and you think that those of us who worry about that sort of thing are out of our minds. Sure, you believe we should all be conserving more energy, but not in any way that actually *hurts*...

And you are right, there is something strange, surrounded by so very much plenty, about fixating on poverty and loss. But without that fixation (even with that fixation, but you can lower the risk more than a bit) we are all a few steps away from hunger, dehydration, being a refugee. At least, Katrina should point out that message.

Think about those people whose infants and elders died of dehydration. A portable, high quality water filter would have saved some formula fed infants' lives (an actual policy in which we *truly* encouraged nursing and actually worked to make it possible for all mothers would have done much, much more!) and kept people's elderly parents alive. For those trapped in their homes for an extended period, a supply of stored water, stored food and medical supplies could save lives. A way of doing most things without electricity could mean a quality of life not available to others, the difference between a frightening adventure and a terrifying ordeal.

For those who have had family descend upon them, and fear the economic consequences, stored food and other materials could mean the difference between being able to offer help with an open hand and struggling to feed an expanded family.

Do it. Do it now. Plan for a future less promising than right this second. Plan for the day that you need to leave your house at a dead run, and can only take what you can cram in the car. Plan for the day that you can't get to the grocery store, and the water stops coming out of the tap, and you have children to feed. Plan for the day that hard times hit and you have no job, no money. Plan for the day your entire extended family has to come live with you. Stockpile food. Pack a bug-out bag (a short term supply of necessities). Store some extra blankets and pillows, some empty soda bottles full of water. Put up the rainbarrel and buy that water filter. You can manage it, and if you never need it, you can tell everyone that the wacko on the blog made you do it, and laugh at me.


Monday, August 08, 2005

What my next child will not be named...

Besides MacKenzie or Makenna or Jaden (which seem to be the trendy names at my kids's schools - I've no objection, just not my thing), my children will also not be named Bathsheva, Hezekiah, Mehitabelle or Menasshe. And you can blame my husband for that.

Ok, I'm pretty sure everyone reading this is thinking, "Good job, Eric, preventing that kind of child abuse." But hear me out. I think there's an excellent case to be made for using some of those names.

1. They are not popular and are not likely to become so. We already know two Elis and two Isaiahs, just in our little rural community. At the time I named them, we'd never heard of any other. But name your child Boaz, and you've got at least a momentary hope that he'll never have to spend his school years as Boaz W. because of the three others in his class.

2. Basha, Zeke, Bella and Nash are cute nicknames. Admit it.

3. Once you've given your three children names like Elias, Simon and Isaiah, you have selected a category of name, and no longer have the option of naming your fourth child "Steve." Your category of name is OT Biblical/Amish/19th Century Prophet, and that's where you have to look, come hell or whatever.

4. Hepzibah Woods and Zebedee Woods are suitable names for actual grownups, and would look nice on the cover of a book jacket. I'm just saying.

5. And most importantly of all, despite my general distaste for patristic nomenclature, I spared my children the hideous final name, "Astyk," with all its potential schoolyard permutations. They get the bland and perfectly nice, assimilationist "Woods" - and since I spared them "Astyk" I feel I can give them any name that I like, and they still have to be grateful.

6. Besides, unusual names are pretty normal, anyhow. I have friends who have named their children Imogene, Inanna, Leopold, Manion, Charys, Dorrit, Hadrian, Byron, Locke and Thelonious. Add in the range of ethnic variation, and your child is bound not to be the strangest named kid in their class.

I've nearly managed to convince Eric on "Yael" and "Hepzibah" for girls, but I haven't made any headway on Jedidiah or Theophilus. I'm sure, however if the thousands of readers of this blog (can you tell I have an active fantasy life) were to write in about how cute they think some of the names listed above were, Eric would be persuaded.



Prozac for the Masses

I've been reading Peter Kramer's _Against Depression_ and debating whether or not he's right - that we've allowed depression and melancholia a too-central part of our sense of what constitutes culture. The problem is, even if he is right, I'm not entirely sure what we'd replace it with. He offers a distinction between melancholy and alienation - but is it even possible to be alienated without being depressed by what you are looking at?

My father, back when he was dating, used to claim that he never met a woman of his generation who wasn't on some psychopharmaceutical. I'd say that might simply be a comment on the kind of women who were interested in my Dad, except that it seems to be true. I look around at the copious number of parents (Eric and I have 8 between us), aunts, uncles, etc... of the boomer generation, and I know for a fact that more than half are on some kind of anti-depressant. I suspect the numbers are higher than that, since I doubt they'd all tell me.

While the numbers among my peers haven't quite hit the baby boomer ones yet, I certainly know of more than a few who take an antidepressent, or at least a tranquilizer now and then. My own husband has been on prozac for 7 years, as a treatment for panic attacks, and it works for him (although whether biochemically or as a placebo, we don't know). I certainly wouldn't trade back to the days when he had regular panic attacks. Don't get me wrong - while I'm not the depressive type (more like borderline personality), I recognize real and serious depression as a reality I am grateful for prozac - it has brought us a level of comfort and peace. But I admit, I have my doubts about it.

Some of them are the purely statistical ones - the fact that it hasn't been proved to have the physiological effects we claim. But more troubling to me is the question that keeps coming up - are all these people on medication really depressed? Were we as a people really walking around in such an agony of personal misery before their invention (or the invention of Freud)? Can it be that we're mistaking what Freud called "ordinary human misery" for depression? If we were that miserable, shouldn't we have been? And if we weren't, isn't it possible that knowing there's a "cure" creates the misery in the first place?

I know that when my first child was born, my obstetrician offered me anti-depressants. I was exhausted, and miserable. My baby nursed constantly and screamed when he didn't nurse or sleep (the latter rarely). Eli had terrible, terrible colic. No one could tend to him but me, because only I could nurse him, and that was the only thing that comforted him. He never slept more than 2 hours at a stretch. And frankly, he screamed most of the time that I held him, sang to him, comforted him. By the time I saw my OB, I was hysterical, had convinced myself my baby disliked me, and was beyond exhaustion. The doctor's immediate reaction was to offer me a script for zoloft - something I found strange then and now. What *was* the appropriate response to such an experience, other than misery, tears and hysteria? Of course I was depresssed - my life was hell. I declined the medications. And miraculously, when Eli's colic abated, so did my "depression." I've seen the same over and over again - Eric's grandmother was offered drugs just a month and a half after the death of her husband of 63 years. But shouldn't she be depressed?

On the other hand, everyone I know who takes anti-depressants feels better. Who cares if they don't really work, or whether the person was truly depressed. I admit, there's a real attraction there. Without anti-depressants, I'm neurotic, quick tempered, edgy, prone to self-destruction, irritable, bitchy, snide. With them, I like to fantasize, I could be calmer, gentler with my children, a better mother, less frantic, less foolish. I am absolutely sure I could convince a doctor to prescribe them - so why not? Part of the reason thus far is the habit of pregnancy and nursing - although they are acceptable while nursing, the thought of adding an unnecessary drug to my body seems inappropriate. But as my breeding years come to an end, the temptation will arise again - would I be a better person without prozac.

Kramer argues that depression has received the wrong treatment culturally - that it doesn't move us (or rather people like Van Gogh) to greater heights. Again, he returns to the distinction between depression and alienation - but I ask again, how does one look at our culture from the outside without at least ennui and perhaps despair? I will say, looking at my husband, I think there is a small down-side to prozac - he is calmer, less anxious, less easily stressed, but also has less of that sexy Heathcliffy (ok, one of the most loathsome books on earth, and I mention the boring bastard here only as an ironic reference to my own taste in men) vulnerability and crankiness that I admit (embarassedly) to finding attractive. Right now, this day, I don't need angst from my husband - I need a high-functioning working partner who can juggle his and his children's demands. But I will queasily admit to sometimes missing the husband whose amibivalence and angst made him so fascinating, and so much fun to compare internal states with.

I'm just not sure that introspection and depression are wholly seperate. Looking at one's self *is* fundamentally depressing, or, in the words of an old Prof of mine, disappointing, unless, of course, you are Condoleeza Rice and lack both interiority at self-doubt. And I'm not sure that normal human misery, or even normal human depression, aren't a logical consequence of self-examination (so is boredom, frankly - introspection is really dull, when it isn't depressing). I'm not sure that rooting out ordinary (as opposed to disabling) depression is really all that good for us. After all, if we cease to be depressed by what we see inside and outside of us, what kind of appropriate response is left?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I shall wear my trousers rolled...

Ok, 32 probably isn't really that old (although my husband just turned 35 and has his own copy of _The Inferno_ to prove it), but I admit, I'm not liking pregnancy as much this time as when I did it the first time at 27. And that's saying something, because I hated it then. I'm starting (just starting, mind you) to get the vague feeling that decrepitude is something that might happen to me. Mostly when I'm out in the garden, it is 90 degrees, and I keep thinking how nice it would be to have airconditioning - in the yard. Not exactly sustainable, or low-carbon, but still, my present fantasy.

I'm writing this on a brand shiny new computer, the second cheapest one that Best Buy sells. Now y'all know I'm a luddite, but I actually was once up to speed on technology. My first husband was a computer geek, and he taught me many things, all of which were relevant back when the 486 was the height of coolness. Now, I'm not even sure what the height of coolness *is* (I'm pretty sure that's another sign of old age).

Let us just say that shopping for this big plastic box made me feel really, really stupid. I haven't bought a computer in 8 years - I never needed to, I just inherited from other, cooler, early adopters who needed more memory for their collection of musical downloads or their game habit, or whatever. Basically, my computer is just a big typewriter with an internet connection - I do absolutely nothing cool or imaginative with mine. The great thing about being a lit geek is that I've never, ever felt compelled to put together a multimedia anything. Sadly for my natural cheapness, Eric neglected to disconnect the computer before our sudden thunderstorm, and no one I know really wanted to upgrade, sadly. So now I've got a faster processor and more memory, and I'm sure that will help me type much, much faster. Sure.

Here I am, someone who used to be able to go into a tech store (back before Best Buy existed) and ask knowledgeably for what I wanted, and I go in and say, "does this work?" I feel like a 70 year old confronted with their first modem. Dammit, I was on the old BBS's. I was a girl geek back when there weren't that many. Now, I am simply a middle-aged Mom who gets gently sneered at for not knowing how much memory she needs (it really depends on how prolific a writer I am when I become a better person, any day now.) Old.

All of which is another long set of excuses for not coming out to the blog. What I really need is some guest authors, or something, since I'm simply a lazy, lazy woman. But now that I've got a really cool computer, I'm sure I'll be much better about it. After all, old people, I am reliably informed, have much more free time.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Too darn hot!

I'm a bad, lazy blogger. Mostly, I am bad and lazy because I'm in the garden a lot right now, and when I'm not gardening or caring for my kids, or writing, or packing and moving all of Grandma's stuff, I pretty much want to stare at the wall and drool a little. Oh, and we're having an early June heat wave - temps every day in the high 80s and 90s. Now I am not a southern girl. I find 75 plenty warm for anything I've ever wanted to do. So I'm moving slower than usual, and am more inert than usual in the evenings.

The garden is mostly in - we're still manuring part of it, so that bit isn't planted, but things are getting there. We're eating rhubarb, greens, lettuces, spinach, and making kimchi and rhubarb sauce and compote, so at least something is happening.

In other news, we had our ultrasound yesterday, and we have no idea what the baby's sex is. That's the first time that's happened, and I'm a little disappointed, but interested to see what it will be like otherwise. But things look healthy, which is nice.

Ok, I can't think straight enough to write the long ramble on demography, the death of Anne Bancroft and the supposed science of economics that I was constructing in my head (actually they were seperate - I wouldn't do that to y'all). I promise I'll write more, if it ever cools off.


Sunday, May 08, 2005

What peak oil will mean to you

In the most immediate sense, end of oil and natural gas is going to mean a return to the hell of coal and nuclear use in your neighborhood. Think about it. When home heating oil and natural gas prices rise to the point that people are struggling to afford them, what do you think will occur? Will they say, "Oh, now we get it. We've been stupid - we'll put on extra sweaters and reinsulate our homes." I wouldn't bet on it. What people will do is go looking for cheap heat sources. With the price of cordwood rising rapidly, and deforestation an equally rapid danger, people will get coal stoves. When electric prices go through the roof, our long aversion to nuclear energy will go away - G-d forbid that we should have to turn the TV off.

Those conversations are starting right now. Our president claims we can build "clean burning" coal plants (no such thing!). People are putting in woodstoves - but the price of cordwood in my rural area is now near 150 dollars per cord - how long before coal becomes the new woodstove? And yes, they are considering new nuclear power plants - lots of them. Coming soon to your area.

If you've never read about what London or New York was like in the days of coal stoves, do it now. The yellow haze, the rising world temperatures, the arsenic and other toxins in your water, the asthma rates...all these can be yours. Remember, the population of even the major cities was a lot smaller then, and their standard of living a lot lower - do you think someone used to setting the heat at 70 is going to make do with one small coal burner for cooking and heating in their new McMansion? BTW, I would strongly recommend against living anywhere that has coal in the ground - unless you want your children to get black lung, your hilltops strip mined and your water so poisonous you can't drink it.

And those nuclear plants are going to be a lovely thing for all of us. Where will the waste live? Next door? Depends, most likely, on how rich you are. But distance won't necessarily prevent those cancers and mutations, the dangers of obsolescence and forgetting - in 500 hundred years, when someone opens up that now decayed plutonium storage... Not to mention the fact that as greenhouse gasses go, nuclear power produces nasties far worse that CO2. Will they build one on a major fault line next to you (the Seabrook nuclear power plant was built on one of the biggest faultlines in the Northeast, and it ain't earthquake proof. I spent much of my teen years futilely protesting that stupidity. Soon, you can do the same!) Check out Helen Caldicott on nuclear power today at http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/05/03/dicum-caldicott/index.html. Is this enough to get you to dig out those signs and go protest?

Now, realistically, those first plants are going to go in the inner cities and poor rural areas, so that the radiation and the arsenic can continue poisoning the poor who don't have lawyers, the luxury of moving, or the resources to properly protest. No worries there, as long as you don't mind the moral issues (Moral, shmoral - we want our out of season strawberries! A few little kids with cancer are a small price to pay for dryer-fresh laundry.) But how long do you think before you need one in your neighborhood to keep your lifestyle going, keep your house warm, your microwave running and (if we get really desperate we can distill gas from coal, a nasty, toxic process that makes nuclear power look friendly) your SUV running on time.

Dammit, people, the only thing anyone can do here is refuse. To yell so loud, and tell the truth so clearly, and be so angry and outraged that we have to find another solution. Anyone who ever fathered or mothered a child, anyone who wants their future to go past the next few generations has a stake in this. Yes, you can spare the time to write a letter, stage a protest, talk to your neighbors *before* the coal plant comes.

But I've seen no evidence that we're willing to defer immediate pleasure and comfort to spare our children a lifetime of drought and starvation (read the current series on climate change in _The New Yorker_ if you'd like a hideous picture of the US in 75 years), of early cancers and impure water. I wish I had a solution, other than giving up the lifestyle we so adore. But I don't, and I don't think there is one. Nor do I think we have the common sense to do it. So coming soon, probably next to your playground, a "clean burning" coal plant, 10,000 coal stoves spewing emissions, and your friendly neighborhood nuclear power plant, complete with blinky, the three eyed fish.


Friday, May 06, 2005

The material sum of one's life

I've done this job now twice, in my own grandmother's house, and for Eric's grandparents. Sorting through the material objects that lend fixity to one's place on earth is both depressing and oddly engaging. I find, in their home, a reflection of little neuroses that had passed unnoticed, like Grandma's habit of secreting tissues in odd places not intended for them, and also tremendous skill at the art of thrift and creative homemaking. Those latter are definitely underrated arts - I tend to underrate them myself. But my appreciation is growing.

My paternal grandmother and great aunt, shaped by the depression and by being a little nuts, were packrats. They saved every margarine tub, every scrap of cloth, every rubber band and bit of usable scrap paper. Grandma did the same, but she had less space, and a better penchant for organization. I have learned thrift from them, but perhaps not organization as well as I might have. I try to imagine (too horrible to think about) what it would be like for someone sorting through the objects of my life, and it isn't a pretty image. Instead of neatly organized shoeboxes full of used bows and old wrapping paper, you'd find piles and puddles and messes of miscellaneous things unsorted.

I can hear Grandma's exhortations to usefulness (it was only a few months ago we did this together, sorting through Grandpa's clothes and personal items) - "Could you use this?" "Would you wear it?" "Maybe you should save it." "Well, then give it to the synagogue yard sale." I try and do what she would want, although most of the clothing is off to the yard sale - some would fit me, but my taste does not run to polyester and the sort of things women of her age mostly wore. In the case of my great aunt Helen, many of her clothes were so outdated and so hideous that I was able to save them for dress-up play - there's a box in my attic full of fur hats and silver lame shoes that occasionally gets taken out for amusement. Grandma's clothes were more ordinary, and will warm and cover someone else, hopefully someone, who like Grandma, will be pleased with "Good Quality" and "Wash and wear."

The day is most likely coming when cheap goods of plastic stop being cheap, and when we all have less cash to play with. What we have will be treasured, what we need will be made, or cobbled together, done without, or bought at tremendous cost and made to last forever. The Grandmothers in our lives mostly have those skills, and we have lost them. It is a loss, no question, and it will take us more than a few minutes to gain them back. And along with the skills of thrift and making do, the capacity to track, organize, preserve and plan that make up the basis of that unloved profession, homemaking. I can think of no better tribute to either grandmother than to learn them now, learn them well, and pass to my own grandchildren the things they so lovingly preserved.


Saturday, April 30, 2005

Not quite 64 years

My husband's grandmother Inge, who lived with us, was buried on what would have been her and her husband's 64th wedding anniversary. She was visiting her cousin (who was with her on the kindertransport, and who was the only remaining survivor of Grandma's life in Europe), and became disoriented in the dark, and fell down a flight of stairs. She fractured her neck, spine, ankle, ribs, you name it. She lived for two days, and died conscious and aware, with great dignity, with her family around her.

I miss her a great deal. We bought our house with the intention of living with them. We built an addition for them. And it feels terribly hard to come back to our home from our passover visit to my MIL, and face a house that is only us again. They lived with us for less than a year and a half, and she survived him by only 4 1/2 months. She was 80, in good health, and I cannot but think that this was no coincidence. She couldn't bear to be without her husband. Part of her left with him, I think - she no longer held herself as firmly together as in the past. I'm not sure I can blame her, despite the grief I feel, especially for the boys, who totally adored her, and are too young to fully understand why she is gone.

It has been a long, sad, passover holiday for us, and I admit, I'm grateful this week is over.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Ok, I'm a bad person

It has been a whole month since I posted to the blog. The big reason for my being so dilatory - I'm pregnant again, and barfing up a storm. This pregnancy was, umm, a major surprise for us, wasn't supposed to be an option any more, but we're very pleased despite the shock, and also despite the fact that this is putting a big crimp in my teaching plans for next year. But we wanted more kids, just had decided we'd had our share biologically, and would adopt.

I'm pleased, at any rate, when I'm not herking. I *hate* early pregnancy (not that wild about late pregnancy either). I get sufficiently ill that I've been hospitalized for dehydration or put on medication more than once. This time I managed to avoid it, but it has been tough to do much of anything. Ok, enough whining about vomitfest.

In other news - Eli is back to horseback riding, and loving every minute of it. We're having an unusual dry spell in April, and I'm actually going to get to plant something before Pesach! We leave for NYC, the annual pilgrimage to Grandma, the Museum of Natural History, and malaysian restaurants. I'm looking forward to it, but it always makes me nervous to leave my garden.

Our first batch of chicks were chilled during shipping, and we lost all but 13 of them. I think I need to stop getting chicks early in the season - they do better when it is warm. I wanted to up our fall egg production by having some hens just coming into production during the fall off, but I'm not sure it was worth it. Obviously, they'll be replaced, but this time not until May. I'm finally getting banties! I had a couple of cochin bantams I got at a livestock auction, but this time I'm getting a bunch of silkies to set the eggs.

More geese arrive in May as well. And I think we're finally going to try and acquire dairy goats in the fall - we're travelling a lot this summer because of family things (sister's wedding, Grandfather's unveiling, family bar mitzvah) so we just can't quite manage a daily care thing. But I will be happier when our supply of home grown milk is more reliable than the current "barter if they've got extra" system allows for. Our goose is laying, and I'm planning on turning the eggs into decorations for family gifts, in my copious spare time.

In other news, since my sole contribution to the household economy next year will be a little online teaching, a few freelance articles and our garden production, I've decided to write fiction. Or rather, I've been writing fiction for years, but never as a for-profit activity. But after reading a fair bit of dreck recently, I've been inspired to actually write for publication, rather than the amusement of my friends. I might even post my first bits here, if I can get up the nerve to be mocked.

I'm trying to get Eric to do the same. I'm convinced there's a comparatively untapped market for boy(ish) children's fiction of competence. By which I mean things in the Heinlein children's fiction/Tom Swift/Jean Craighead George tradition, in which young boys and girls manage to do fairly remarkable things, the details of which, and theory behind them are explained, both engagingly and clearly. I loved those books as a child - I remember how strongly fascinated I was by the description, in _Have Spacesuit, Will Travel_ of the process (inaccurate to modern science, but still) of rehabbing a space suit and making it space worthy, or how much I wanted to go live in a tree and tan skins in oak stumps as in _My Side of the Mountain_. Eric's best qualities as a writer are that he is concise, and he makes everything accessible and comprehensible. We routinely get stopped on the street or in restaurants by former students of his who say, "you were the only physics professor I ever understood," or "you were the best teacher I ever had." I'd like to see his gift for clarity shown to a larger audience.

Ok, enough rambling. I promise, I'll be back with an oil related rant, bit of my dissertation, or some other inanity much sooner. But the peepers are peeping, the potatoes need chitting, and I still haven't had dinner.



Saturday, April 02, 2005

On Israel

Interesting short article on Israel in _The Atlantic_ this month. It does a quick but highly detailed analysis of the demographic and political situation in Israel, and asks, quite rightly, whether Israel will exist in 30 years.

I should say upfront that I'm ambivalent politically about Israel - I don't consider myself a zionist, and while I certainly don't want to see Jews harmed, I am troubled by our political past in Israel. What I am I unequivocably disturbed by, however, is the uncritical, "Israel right or wrong" input of American Jews into the situation, which annoys most Israelis I know as well. I'm always inclined to think something is truly wrong when someone who would never countenence an act by the American government tolerates it from Israel.

We all know that the central problem of Israel is demographic - and there is really only one way to resolve in a meaningful sense. That is, the two state solution isn't really a solution at all, when you are talking about cramming too rapidly growing populations into a resource poor area that cannot necessarily support them. There will be more war, more conflict, more territorial disputes, this time by two states both of whom get to have their own Cobra helicopters.

So the only way to fix the Israeli-Palestinian problem is to find another way around. No one is leaving. No one is willing to give as much as they should. So what alternatives are there, except to find a way to create one nation, not two, that captures the hearts and minds of both populations. A difficult call, that, but not, I suspect a totally impossible one. I do not believe it can be a Jewish state - and I do not blame Moslems for preferring not to live in a Jewish state, any more than I would prefer to live in a Christian or Moslem one. A secular democracy, however, with profound protections for both populations might conceivably be possible. I don't know - I know that it is *more* possible than continuing as things are.

The phenomenon of the religious state is fundamentally anti-democratic - you cannot simultaneously base your laws on theocratic principles and maintain an equal and truly democratic government. Moreover, in a practical sense, in very short order, Jews will be a statistical minority in Israel, and we all know how well a state run by and favoring a minority of the population fares in the long run.

The central tenet of democracy is that if you truly believe something, and your enemies outnumber you, you convince your enemies - you offer them something. No matter how much they hate you and you hate them, in a real and true democracy you must win your enemy's heart to move forward. Israel calls itself a democracy, but when its enemies outnumber it, it builds a wall. That's not democracy. Democracy is hard. It hurts. People die when real democracies are established. I am not suggesting this as a quick or easy solution - but I do think it may be both the right one and the only one. People are, after all, dying now.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy Birthday Eli!!

Eli is five today. My mother claims that when I was a newborn, her mother in law told her, "You'll turn around and she'll have babies of her own." My Mom says she thought my grandmother was out of her skull - until it happened. I'm trying (and failing) not to let that happen with my own boys! I can't believe I have a five year old.

I will not claim that every day has raced by - the first four months of Eli's life, the ones in which he screamed 7 hours per day because of colic, passed more slowly than any days ever have in my life. But time is disappearing at an alarming rate - and yes, I know this is a deeply banal observation. Tough patooties - my blog, I can be boring if I want.

I always had a strange intuition that I would have a child with a disability. I don't know why. I remember thinking about it when I was pregnant with Eli, and praying for almost anything but autism. I thought that autism would mean that he couldn't love me, or acknowledge me. I was wrong about autism, and I'm not sorry my prayers were ignored. Autism didn't mean what I thought it did, and this is a case in which I was not a good judge of my desires or capacities. As so often is the case, either luck or
the hand of G-d or whatever...got me better results than my own choosing could have. I should try and remember that, next time I attempt to get all control-freaky about my future.

Motherhood and I are not a match made in heaven. Parenthood did not transform me instantly into the kind of person who is unfailingly loving, kind and generous. It is a bloody hard lot of work being nice when someone wants you to tickle them rather than permitting you to sip tea and read a long novel undisturbed. It is very annoying to have to be the grownup all the time. And no matter how much I love my children, becoming a parent did not transform me into the kind of person who wants to play peekaboo for three consecutive hours.

It amazes me that five years and two days ago that my leisure hours were my own, that my house was not decorate with brightly colored plastic toys and that cheerios were not a staple of both my diet and my carpetting. I miss that past in the nostalgic way that people who liked high school (not me!!!) miss high school - I don't think they'd really like to go back, just that they want a do over, a way to properly appreciate and enjoy what they have. But strangely, I like my life without free time, surrounded by noise and chaos and small people who want nothing so much as my undivided attention. I miss them when they aren't around (although I do make do with my novels ;-).

Anyway, Happy birthday Eli, from your chaotic, ambivalent, disorganized Mother. I love you even when you drive me nuts, even when I'm the most horrible Mom in the world and won't let you watch any tv. I wouldn't change a thing about you, except maybe the spaghetti stains on your shirt and ....socks?



Sunday, March 06, 2005

DOE Actually acknowledges Peak Oil!!!

So the department of Energy published a report recently acknowledging the reality of peak oil, and that it will take a minimum of twenty years to prevent a crisis - and that no one knows if we have twenty years or not (hint, probably not!). They acknowledged massive disruption to personal transportation and the economy if the problem is not fixed in time - not, however, to the food supply, which is the most urgent concern.

Peak oil is coming. G-d willing, the government might even wake up soon enough to start making a little bit of difference (after the next election, at the earliest, I'm sure!) But the rest of us can't wait. The DOE, (who I think are radically underestimating the scope of the problem, but at least they've noticed) are saying we need twenty years *from when we make radical change* - and trillions and trillions of dollars in investment (love those deficits!). So we're talking 23 1/2 years at a minimum (assuming we don't elect another oilman), and a hundreds of trillions of dollars we don't have.

We can't wait for the government to fix it!!!! The only way this can be mitigated, the only way the next depression can be softened, the only way the danger of actual starvation, war on our soil, and social crisis can be averted (to any degree) is by immediate, grassroots organizing. That means everyone reading this. Personal preparations are great - you need to get your house in order, and be prepared to deal with this on a personal level. But that DOES NOT exempt any one of us from creating community solutions. This cannot be a wholly personal thing - if everyone else in your community is jobless and hungry, all the personal preparations in the world won't help you. If there are no jobs, you may not be able to finish your preps in time. If the economy tanks and inflation goes wild, you may lose your "safe" home with all its preparations. If war comes your way, you may be made a refugee with no where to go. As important as personal preparation is, more urgent is preparing at every level - family, neighborhood, town, city, state, region, nation, to face this collectively.

What do you need? Greenspace to grow food, and people who know how. Local, sustainable industry and home businesses. Low carbon or no carbon ways of distributing materials and resources. Ways of making and doing things that are environmentally sound and energy efficient. Strong family and communal ties, that encourage collaboration and cooperation, rather than conflict. Support services for the needy - it might be you one day. A commitment to maximizing resources for everyone, rather than individual profit.

How do you get those things? Talk about peak oil to everyone - with your family, in your church/synagogue/temple/mosque, with your neighbors. But don't make them crazy - even if they don't believe in peak oil, they probably believe in things like stopping sprawl, creating community canneries and food banks, creating community gardens and greenspace, reforming livestock laws, encouraging food and water security, providing emergency training for EMS and fire services, sustainable woodland harvesting, gardening clubs, etc... You don't have to spend all your time yelling "peak oil" out loud - instead, start yelling "let's make this a better, more secure place for everyone.

Run for office - anything. School board? Sure, you can encourage energy wise policies, get gardening programs and 4H into the schools, bring in guest speakers on fossil fuel issues? Town council? Keep those woodlands open, build community gardens, make it legal to keep chickens within the city limits, create mixed zoning.

Start a peak oil group - meet up with people who are as concerned as you are. You find them in the strangest places - a friend of mine from synagogue, who has never been very receptive on the subject recently brought her father over for dinner, and it turns out he's involved in peak oil in his area. Post signs at the library, at the bookstore, on the bulletin boards, at meet-up.com, at your local university.

Run a showing of the film _The End of Suburbia_ which introduces the concept in a friendly way. The DVD is cheap, and you can have a party in your living room. Talk about it.

Get involved in providing support systems for the poor - there are going to be more of them. Write/call/email your legislators. Help your neighbor plant a garden. Write an article for your local paper calling for victory gardens, gas conservation days. Organize a celebration of a local food or product. Start a home business that isn't reliant on fossil fuels. Prepare your children to live in a post-peak world. Do it today, and tomorrow, and again the next day - the government won't fix it, so everything depends on us.


The Bird Boy

My 3 year old, Simon is an obsessive sort of personality. When he's interested in something, he eats, sleeps, breathes it. He's always been fascinated by animals, especially owls and bats, but has gone through fixations on rainforests, construction equipment, predatory animals, rhyming and others. Right now, we're on birds and nursery rhymes. We have a copy of Audobon's _Birds of North America_ (1935 edition, inherited from my great-grandmother) and Simon is totally obsessed with it. He carries it everywhere (an accomplishment - he weighs 36 lbs, and the book weighs at least 1/6 that), and he has memorized all of the birds in it - he can tell you the difference between Canada Warbler, Carbonated Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler (even after repeated examination of this book, I can't), and can recognize them on sight. He knows where the birds live, what they eat, what eats them, etc... and he will cheerfully tell you (and if he doesn't know, he'll cheerfully make it up. He's into predation, and often will describe very small birds eating very large animals - for example, observing that wood thrushes eat Jaguars. They don't, generally.) all about it.

He's also obsessed with nursery rhymes, and any short poetry suitable for children. The literary critic in me is so pleased to watch my son absorbing rhyme and scansion so happily. Eric and I have a gentle competition to make our children into humanists (me) or scientists (him), and I feel I'm winning. Even the bird thing is really much more old style philosophical naturalist than modern ornithologist, or so I like to believe ;-).

He makes up his own nursery rhymes - my current favorite (see if you can recognize his primary literary influences) is "What are little toothbrushes made of...made of... What are little toothbrushes made of? Toothpaste and Snails and Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. That's what little toothbrushes are made of." Toothbrushes are clearly more ominous than I had previously believed. After clarifying the meanings of each of the triad "gunpowder, treason and plot," Simon announced, "plot is my favorite." We have not yet explained how to make gunpowder, and I think we'll wait on that one for a while.

In other news, it looks like Eli will probably get into the kidnergarten program we want him to. We're very pleased, although a little nervous. It is an ABA program, and while his preschool education has contained elements of ABA (to which Eli has respondend very well) I'm ambivalent about the whole thing, but hopeful.

Otherwise, spring preparations are ongoing. I hope all is well with you!


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Great Sock Rant of '05

The Great Sock Rant of Aught-Five.

Ok, I'm going to violate a personal rule against over-generalizing by saying that everyone preparing for peak oil ought to know how to make socks. I mean everyone - that means gentlemen as well as ladies, the crafty and the uncrafty, rural and urban. Why? Because the one category of clothing that someone is bound to run out of sooner or later is socks - the simply wear out too fast. And they are totally essential - ask anyone who has ever walked 30 miles in boots without socks how the experience went. Or ask someone living in a cold climate who doesn't have good socks how many toes he has left after working outside all day in -20 degrees.

Even if you live somewhere warm and your bare feet are as hard as diamonds, I'm going to suggest you know how to make socks anyhow - first of all, hard times make a lot of refugees, and none of us knows for sure where we're going to end up. Second of all, it is a simple, useful skill that could make you some money with little outlay of cash. For the disabled, elderly, pregnant and those tied down by infants, sock knitting is an essential service that you can provide and be useful with. With practice, it can be done by the blind or in very low-light situations, making it possible to do useful work while sitting around and singing, talking, but without extra lighting. It is a lot of fun, almost everyone can do it, and it can be done almost anywhere. You need not have a farm, money, lots of free time, expensive tools or anything else to start.

Basic information - socks are made from yarn. You could sew fabric socks with cloth and elastic, but the quality is not as high as knitted or crocheted, and they wouldn't stay up as well or wear well. Now where do you get yarn after peak oil? Well, first of all, you can store yarn for sock making. Socks can be knitted from any natural fiber (not sure how silk socks would work out), although wool and cotton make the most sense. Most sock yarn is pricey, and has some nylon in it to give it extra strength. If you have the money, you can buy that stuff, of course, but otherwise, you could easily buy any cheap wool, cotton or blend yarn and store a lot of it. Good sources for cheap yarn are www.knitpicks.com and www.elann.com. If you buy wool, keep it in a mothproof place.

Or, you can make your own yarn. Yarn can be made from a large range of animal fibers - urban dwellers without easy access to sheep, for example, might try using dog hair (although I'm told that it smells like wet dog when wet ;-P, or keeping a few angora or angora cross rabbits for meat and fiber). Neither angora nor dog will last as long as wool or cotton, but it is better than nothing, and both are tremendously warm. You also could buy roving or raw fleece from someone with sheep, or some raw cotton. You might find some to practice on at www.woolery.com but probably would get the best deals buying direct from shepherds or small scale cotton growers. If you live in a warm climate and have a garden, you can grow cotton. If you live somewhere cold you can grow flax for linen. If you have land and inclination, you can have sheep or rabbits, alpacas or camels, yaks or llamas or some other fiber animal. You might want to stick with wool and cotton to start, though.

Yarn is made by spinning, and you do not need an expensive spinning wheel to make yarn. You can easily buy a drop spindle on ebay or at www.woolery.com, or make one by following the instructions here and using a dowel, a metal hook and a freebie CD. Drop spindle spinning is considerably slower than wheel spinning, but much cheaper, the equipment fits easily in a pack or bug-out bag, and if all you are going to do is make socks, it probably isn't worth buying a wheel. Instructions for making a spindle and using it are available here: it takes practice, but it isn't a terribly hard skill to learn. Like all skills, it is best if someone shows you, but you can learn it fairly well from written instructions. If you do want to buy a spinning wheel, take a class or at least try a bunch of wheels. My personal recommendation is for a Kromski wheel - reasonably priced for a beginner, good enough for when you get better, and made entirely of wood and metal parts, so that it can easily be repaired or parts made after the peak (I have no connection to Kromski, other than owning and liking their stuff.) Lee Raven's book Hands On Spinning is a really good place to start learning. This website has some useful information as well.

Once you have yarn, you need to know how to knit or crochet. It is impossible to learn how to knit socks without learning how to knit other things. First you've got to learn straight needles. Knitting is definitely one of those things best learned from another person, so take a class in adult ed or at a yarn shop, get a friend or family member to show you, or try trading visits at a local nursing home for knitting lessons. But if you must learn from written instructions, the best book I've found is Melanie Falick's Kids Knitting - well worth the money or the interlibrary loan. The book is pitched to 8 year olds, but is great for uncoordinated adults like me who have trouble with visual instructions. It also has a very simple sock pattern, with no heel turning in it, not a terrible place to start. You could also try to learn from www.learntoknit.com but I've not tried it, and I can't promise anything.

The initial investment for knitting need not be large. In a pinch, you can make needles out wooden dowels, sharpened in a pencil sharpener. Otherwise, a good way to get a reasonable range of needle sizes is to buy a bunch from an estate sale or on ebay - large batches often go quite cheap. You could easily get away with one pair of straight needles, size 10 (for learning basic skills) and a couple of sets of double pointed needles, but more is better. You really can make them too. They come up cheap at yard sales too.

Socks are tubular, so they are knitted on double pointed needles, or on two circular needles. Here's a link to visual instructions and a basic sock pattern for dpns - most patterns are written for these. If you want to get fancier, Nancy Bush's _Folk Socks_ has wonderful patterns and a wealth of information. The most useful book on doing it with two circulars (which requires a larger initial investment but is my preferred method and IMHO is faster) is the inanely titled (but useful) Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles_ by Cat Bordhi. There's another book out there called _The Magic Loop_ (don't know the author) about doing them on one really long circular as well, but I know nothing about this.

Crocheting is easier than knitting, although I find it more irritating as repetetive motions go since I have carpal, and IMHO, not as versatile for socks, but you certainly can make plenty of socks by crocheting. To crochet, you need a couple of hooks, which could be easily made by anyone with a modicum of woodworking skill, or which can be bought cheaply in bunches on ebay or at walmart. A good size range of aluminum hooks costs about $5. One advantage crocheting has over knitting is that the hooks are not tied up in the piece of work - you can have six pairs of socks going at once using the same two hooks.

The best book I've seen for beginners is Pauline Turner's How to Crochet although it does not include a sock pattern. The best book on socks is Rehfeldt and Wood's Crocheted Socks! Again, you really only need one basic pattern, and can probably find some easily on the web. But if you can, get someone to show you the tricks - it really is easier.

Felted boots can be easily made by knitting or crocheting a large sock and then felting it - felting is what happens when you accidentally throw a wool sweater in the dryer - it shrinks, the material becomes less permeable to water, thicker, warmer - all good things in footwear. I don't know of a pattern for felted boots, but I more or less made up my own by knitting some really big socks on size 15 needles, and then felting them, and using laces (made of felted wool or leather) to tie them tight - it doesn't really matter if they are a little big. Felting only works with wool, which is why, unless you live in the tropics, wool is probably the most practical material for boot making - but if you live in the tropics, you probably don't need snow boots anyhow, and can simply use the tire sandals. A good book on felting is Knit One, Felt Too , although I've forgotten the author's name, but while it has some sock and slipper patterns, it doesn't have a scandinavian style felted boot - but you can figure it out. Crocheting should work fine too, but I haven't tried it.

Re:wool - lots of people think they are allergic to wool, and some genuinely are. But many are allergic to the chemicals used to strip the lanolin from wool, not the wool itself, and can use organic wool or handspun. If by allergic, you mean you find wool scratchy or itchy, you might try merino wool, which is very fine, and commonly worn next to the skin by babies. My mother, who has severe eczema and thought she was allergic to wool can easily wear merino handspun. If you are allergic to wool, you might still try the felted boot idea, if you can get someone else to make it for you, since there is no reason you can't wear socks of some other material between your skin and the boot.


Sharon in upstate NY, where she is all set on sock yarn for the apocalypse

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

We're upright and walking!!!

Isaiah took his first steps yesterday! 13 1/2 months - right on target for my kids. I'm always a little relieved when they start really walking - the proto-ambulatory stage tends to be one of the most dangerous for little people. Toddlers are so top-heavy, they fall right on their faces.

I had thought Isaiah would be an early walker - by the time of his first birthday, he had all the physical skills down - cruising, could stand unassisted, etc... But I did not reckon with creativity, a creativity that obviated the need for joining the homo erectus - he figured out a way to crawl with things in his hands, even both hands. Isaiah managed to create a weird, hunchbacked, Lon Cheney thing in which he used on knuckle and one leg to drag himself across the room with books, toys, etc... One has to imagine that had things evolved a little differently, we'd all be hauling around like that, and "Igor" would be a name of honor.

There was an article in the Sunday Times this week on family life blogs - about how there are thousands of the things, documenting every moment of family life, all giving comic exposure to the funny and dark side of parenthood. Now parenthood is indeed both dark and funny, and I enjoy reading about it in that particular tone. I write about it that way sometimes too. There's nothing in the world that can make you feel so stupid, and amoral and small as bad parenting (and I've done more than my share) and nothing funnier than watching yourself doing it with ironic detachment - except hearing it described the same way and having one of those "aha!" moments where you realize that you aren't the only one in the world who has actually named the cheerios that your children eat off the floor (ok, I think we probably *are* the only ones, and Eric coined them "floorios" when Eli first started throwing solid food).

And yet, despite the temptation, I try really hard not to write about my spouse or kids too much that way. Oh, there are moments. But I've been the subject of those stories as well, and I know that if they don't sound totally affectionate to me, they won't to my children. I'd like to think that if they ever cared, they could read the remnants of Mommy's blog, and not see themselves mined, however lovingly, for comic relief.

But the other thing is that ironic detachment is not how I connect to my family. I realize this sounds soppy and stupid, but I *ADORE* my husband and my kids - and I mean that literally. Of course they drive me insane. But then, I'm famously annoying, and they love me anyway, so that doesn't matter too much. I want to write about them as they deserve - and mostly, they don't deserve to be the subject of my humor. Instead, they deserve praise to the skies - I want everyone to know that my husband, despite having serious reservations, picked up and moved to the country for me because I couldn't stand not having a garden. He grew up in a household where you called the super to change the lightbulbs - but he learned to maintain small engines, shovel manure, hatch chicken eggs and build farm implements. He's cute and smart and funny, and he thinks I'm beautiful. You should understand how insane that last thing is - I am not even pretty, and while people who loved me have seen me, through the light of love, as attractive, even striking, nobody but Eric has ever thought me beautiful. And he thought it before he loved me, thinks it when I've been working in the garden on a 90 degree day, and says that he likes to "show me off." How many men are there like this?

The same is true of my kids. Eli works so hard to talk to me, even though language fits him about as well as my Dad's size 14WWWW shoes would. And he comes home from school and leaps into my arms and demands to be tickled, even though half the time I have no idea what he's saying or what he wants and needs. Simon sits on the potty even though he's scared to death of it, and explains to me (with total respect, although with some confusion as to why I don't get it) why he's picking invisible hummingbirds off the tails of our cats and Isaiah sees me as the source of all warmth, love, milk and goodness. So yes, they are funny. But they are sources of such profound joy that I can't bring myself to mock them, even with love. It's superstition, I guess - the belief that if you don't value things properly, you might not get to keep them.

Please don't take this to mean that when I write about my children it will be a Hallmark card, an unending sapfest that induces vomiting and seizures in the ironic. I hope not. I'm perfectly capable of making fun of them and myself. Nor do I think comic writing means lack of love. But I can't bring myself to make them the comic center of self-deprecating narratives, for fear that someday, they would feel (as I did before I had children) that I found them funny because I did not see them as worthy of my respect.



Friday, January 21, 2005

The Female of the Species, and children's books

Simon thinks that a "female" is a kind of bird. I was trying to explain that a "peahen" is a girl peacock, but what he took from that was that there was another kind of bird called a "female." When I tried to explain that Mommy was a female human, he told me that he was an owl-boy. So we've decided to let it go. I'll just hope he works this one out by high school or so.

My mother finally remember to send me a clipping she'd cut out a while back. My dissertation advisor wrote an article for the Boston Globe praising Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series, and incidentally dismissing JK Rowlings and the Harry Potter series. Check it out here: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/06/13/childish_things/

I'm generally inclined to argue with Billy just for the fun of it (and probably for some bizarre Freudian reasons caused by generally feeling inadequate around someone that smart), but I admit, since I got it on Monday, I've been mulling over, not so much his praise of Pullman, who is a good writer, although I'm not passionate about it, but the need to critique the Harry Potter books, which seems like a general compulsion for people who talk about children's books. I think that part of this analysis is wrong, and it bears looking at. Particularly when you compare the visions of childhood and the transition towards adulthood that are presented by Pullman and Rowling. In the end, I think Rowling offers up the more radical possibilities, and perhaps a more powerful way for young readers to think about the transformation they are experiencing.

Let me say upfront that I liked both series, but also believe there is plenty to criticize in both. (On no level do I think that Pullman is the "most electrifying piece of literature in 20 years, although I do admire him.) How could I fail to adore a vindication of Milton, Blake, Gnosticism and the fortunate fall? Pullman does a truly astonishing and wonderful job of introducing a new theology, and an old new way of reading Bible to people who are unlikely to pick up Blake at random (if only because voluntarily reading something you were assigned in high school is so painful.)

On the other hand, Pullman is clearly more interested in plot than characters, and it shows. The fall is ultimately played out through the awakening and maturity of his two main child characters, Will and Lyra. But neither character really changes very much in the course of the book - or rather, Will, who begins tediously and ends that way, remains much the same. Lyra, however, changes in disturbing ways. Adolescence and the beginning of sexual awakening transform her into a clingy, whiny, passive figure, who allows Will to rescue her (finally, in a soap-operaesque moment, from a drug induced coma caused by her badly torn mother who resonates wildly and creatively from bad Mommy to good, and is much more fun than Lyra) whenever times become hard. In the first book, child Lyra is a powerful and creative actor in her own world. By the end, Will is the actor and Lyra merely clings admiringly to his shoulder a lot. I admit, as much as I'd like to be pleased that Pullman placed a girl at the center of his novels, I can't be, particularly since his vision of sexual awakening is so damned boring.

Pullman's books are often ponderous and sometimes pretentious - my cousin told me that she gave up on the third book half way through the extremely lengthy "does she or doesn't she fall" section, and I admit, I put the book down then too. And he does an extremely poor job of showing why characters care for one another - they simply do, there are no explanations. We are told that the polar-bear mercenary and other adults love Lyra, but never shown how the love developed between them. Another adult character is more than willing to die for her, and then serve her needs in hell, but the evolution of his feeling for her is hasty, awkward and often left out. If love matters, as Pullman claims it does, if passion matters, it would be nice to see some genuine love, and it creation and complexity as an actual human thing, rather than a convenient plot device.

But the reason I really like Rowling better than Pullman (besides the fact that Rowling is funny and Pullman is painfully never so), is that ultimately, Rowling believes in growing up as a fundamentally positive (although painful) process, whereas Pullman's vision is another tedious version of Wordsworth, where no one ever really gets over the loss of becoming an adult. Rowling is a radical in the field of children's literature in that she presents the process of becoming an adult as a potentially exciting adventure, fraught with terrible experiences, but ultimately a liberation from the powerlessness of childhood. It is true that her children have special powers, but their powers aren't ultimately what saves them - it is their maturity, in the best sense.

I will admit, the last book (#6) was not one of her better ones, particularly after the Fifth book, which was remarkable both for its story and for its terrific portrayal of adolescent misery. The funniest moment in _The Order of the Pheonix_ (to me, at least) involves the portrait of a former Hogwarts Headmaster berating Harry for acting like an adolescent, and for believing he is the center of the universe (which is precisely the case). The headmaster announces that this is exactly why he hates teenagers, a sentiment I can identify with both in retrospect and from the perspective of a teacher. And Harry doesn't particularly like being a miserable, enraged, bitter, grief stricken teenager. Perhaps because Will and Lyra have so many other things to do, they never actually are children or adolescents, while Rowling's characters get to experience late childhood and puberty with all its myriad joys.

Rowling's best characters are grownups, but they are grownups haunted by their own (mostly unhappy) childhoods, trying as best they can to be adults, even as watching the teenagers around them makes it a struggle. But the remarkable thing about all of the major "good" characters is that they *are* adults when it counts. Severus Snape, the malicious, troubled, troubling (and really cool) potions master who hates Harry with all his might based on an old grudge against his father, is also Harry's savior, teacher and ally on and off. I won't mention what happens at the end of Book 6, but it really is the only good thing about the most recent book - that Snape, again, has not been sanitized in his ambiguity. Compare Snape, or Sirius Black (Harry's troubled, angst riddent, tortured guardian) with Lyra's mother or father, both of whom are amusing, but who really have no reason, other than loathing for each other, for acting like such twits all the time. Lyra's parents eventually sacrifice themselves for her, on the theory that "good parenting involves doing this" but that makes no more sense than their original acts of evil. Voldemort at least fears death, something that makes a disturbing amount of sense to me, at least, and something that is fundamentally an adult, fear. Harry and his friends are learning to fear and accept it too.

The Harry Potter books present two generations of teenagers (one now grown and mentoring the next), both badly damaged by war, attempting to transform their world. They do it with full, visual knowledge of the consequences of their actions. They know they can die, they know they probably will, they are afraid, they are angry and resentful of the necessity, they do not dream of innocence, but rather of peace. Personally, I find that resonates far better in the present world than an account in which innocents save the world and lose only their true love for each other and their virginity. The former is a vision of the world in which honor and maturity are virtues to be claimed, rather than losses to be mourned, and I strongly prefer it.