Archive for September, 2004

100 Things you can do to prepare for Peak Oil Part 1

Sharon September 18th, 2004

I thought I’d start a list of skills/studies/actions one could take to prepare. Let me be clear - I don’t find the Olduvai hypothesis compelling. But I do believe that with the end of cheap oil, we find ourselves in a very different world and a very different economy. Americans live now entirely in a world of consumption - most never really make anything that matters to anyone. But I suspect that is going to change, and change fast.

Every need of your own you can take care of outside the money economy makes you safer. Every skill you have that can be traded upon is a gift. Get ready now - I dont think we have that many years to go. Many of these things can be done even in an urban apartment - although I wouldn’t recommend that anyone stay there in the longer term.

I am aware that this makes me look rather like a wacky survivalist, and perhaps thats true (a leftist survivalist, I would like it stated for the record.) But then again, is this really so foolish? Think about the last 100 years - depending on where you lived when, I can think of dozens of reasons why one might have been poor, cold and hungry. Being able to live outside the money economy is the only real surety one has - whether peak oil or some other disaster comes this time. I would be grateful for my stored food if we lost our jobs, and for my skills if we were forced to flee as refugees - things that happen all the time, all over the world. It is possible that peak oil will be nothing more than a depression, although I find it unlikely - the food-energy link is too strong. But this makes my family more secure than it would have been otherwise.

100 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Peak Oil

1. Talk to your neighbors, friends, family - almost all of them will think you are a nutcase, but at least get them thinking.

2. Learn to knit

3. Grow a garden, however small. Start your own seeds. Grow only open pollinated vegetables and save seeds. Check out for an inspiring example of small scale gardening. Remember, however, that this is done with lots of outside inputs.

4. Compost your own humanure (check out Jenkins _Humanure Handbook_)

5. Make beer, wine, mead or liqueurs. Or better yet, get a permit and make ethanol - then you’ll know how to make whiskey when the time comes.

6. Make a quilt.

7. Begin a food storage program - each week spend ten dollars on a staple food like rice, beans, canned fish, shortening, vitamins, sprouting seeds, dried milk,honey, salt, tang/vit. C supplemented koolaid. Check out and click on their food storage faq, also the wonderful Alan Hagan’s Prudent Food Storage FAQ at

8. Write your congresswoman or man, your senator, anyone you can think of about peak oil. They’ll almost certainly ignore you, but you can say you tried.

9. Grow papaver somniferum (available from Park Seeds as “florists poppy” - check out Michael Pollan’s great article in Harpers April ‘97 about growing opium poppies in cool climates at BTW, for the records of the DEA, I have not done so, and have no intention of doing so any time soon.

10. Live somewhere with available greenspace for food growing - work hard to keep that greenspace (private and public) open. Read _The Tragedy of the Commons_.

11. If you have young children, be prepared to educate them through the college level at home. Books have an excellent “R” value, and make good insulation. Get all you can on every subject, especially traditional skills.

12. Take an EMS course, or at a minimum, a good first aid course. EMS is far more useful, particularly if you are young enough to be drafted anytime in the next 20 years - medics have gory, hideous jobs, but aren’t front line soldiers.

13. Get in better shape - do lots of weight bearing, aerobic exercise. Gardening and yard work is perfect.

14. Learn to play a non-electric musical instrument. Sing a lot. Teach your family to sing with you.

15. Buy a manual grain grinder, and use it to make flour.

16. Turn off your dryer and put up a clothesline. Use it.

17. Buy a few good bicycles and get in the habit of using them - they are the most efficient form of transport. If you have a bad back, consider making or building a recumbent (plans at

18. Eat some dandilions from your lawn. Learn to recognize wild edibles in your area - most likely, no one else will.

19. Learn to spin. Even better, raise some sheep, and learn to shear, butcher, trim hooves, wash and spin fleeces. Oh, wait, I’m not supposed to be scaring you ;-).

20. Arrange a showing of _The End of Suburbia_ in your community, and lead a Q&A afterwards.

21. Learn to split wood - manually.

22. Convert your car to biodiesel.

23. If you are post-childbearing or do not want children, get a vasectomy or your tubes tied. Poverty means less access to contraception, and times of crisis bring comfort and unexpected children. Or prepare for the unexpected children - learn to deliver babies at home, store formula (in case the mother dies in childbirth), cloth diapers and other necessaries. Remember, little as you may like it, your 17 year old will probably not be deferred from sex because you can’t afford condoms.

24. Bring your elderly family members to live with you - they will suffer or be evicted in nursing homes as costs rise and government payments lower.

25. Make friends with your neighbors. Do them favors. Bring them baked goods. Loan things to them. Share their pains and pleasures - your life will depend on these people in bad times.

Ok, end part 1 - more coming.

Eli and autism

Sharon September 13th, 2004

It took a while before I was ready to acknowledge that Eli was autistic. Part of it was denial, of course. Part of it is that he’s not classically on the autism spectrum. He makes eye contact. He cuddles. He says, “I love you.” He doesn’t engage in self-injury. I was convinced it was something else - Sensory integration dysfunction. He was just a late-talking child. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t - my son is on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with PDD-NOS, Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified - possibly the stupidest disorder ever described. It means that my son has some autism related disorder that no one can identify.

Eric and I have not, so far, been the kind of parents of disabled children who devote their whole existence to giving their child the best future, and I wonder if that is a terrible mistake. We have not, for example, seriously contemplated working with Eli after school so that he could get a whole ABA program - 40 hours a week of intensive training. We make sure he receives speech and OT, we advocate for him, but we don’t spend hours daily in his classroom. Unlike the mother of a friend of Eli’s, I am not going back to school to get a special education degree.

Some of the reasons that we are not devoting ourselves to this are philosophical - we feel like Eli has managed to do quite well at becoming functional at home, and that the best things we can do for him are allow him as normal and functional a childhood as possible. So instead of doing an extra 2 hours of ABA work when he gets home, he goes out and plays, he swings, he runs, we listen to music, play with the dog, feed the chickens, spend time with other kids. Maybe this is the wrong approach - I don’t know. But it seems like we want him desperately to have a childhood.

But part of the problem is probably something else - to do the kind of intensive training that Eli would need would require that Eric and I be his teachers, enforcers, the dispassionate observers who require constant repetition, and that’s a hard role for me to take. Eli hates showing what he knows, and getting him to work is a constant battle. I don’t want him to battle with his parents all the time - I want him to get comfort and nurturance here, not conflict.

Every time I read a story about some tireless parents who made their child normal by working 8 hours a day with them, I feel terribly ashamed that I do not wish to and do do that. I want my child to be normal, and I ping pong back and forth between confidence that things will work out all right whether he is or not and terror that Eric and I are limiting him, damaging him. I don’t know if I am doing the right thing or not, if I am failing my child or giving him a childhood.


Academia and Domesticity

Sharon September 6th, 2004

The two don’t go together very well, do they? Academia requires sustained periods of concentration, freedom of movement and comparative instability until your middle year, a lofty perspective. Domestic life, especially life with small children, means constant interruptions, at least arguments for stability, a very narrow perspective. The traditional solution is to hire a lot of help - nannies and daycare centers, cleaning services or housekeepers, a lot of takeout, lawn services, etc… And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that - it certainly helps in job creation. But I’m uncomfortable passing off my domestic labor onto poorly paid women, who then, to do my work, have to leave their children with even more poorly paid labor… And I fear we can’t afford to pay them well.

So mostly, we do it ourselves. We keep the house passably clean, grow the garden, mow the lawn, put up the food, take care of the kids, walk the dog, clean the animal pens, and also attempt to write, teach and study. I’m not sure how we’re doing - I’m two years past my hoped for doctoral defense date, Eric hasn’t written much.

It is hard to go from toilet cleaning to the higher plains of Milton, from Green Eggs and Ham to the latest info on Gamma Ray Bursts. I’m not sure why we try so hard to do it all. I certainly don’t think our choice is the best of the bad lot out there. But it seems like one way to raise children who don’t think that toilets are someone else’s job. It also is a way to slow down our lives - the few times we’ve tried to have both of us working and teaching full bore, we’ve both been very tired and cranky, and it hasn’t felt as if we were serving our children.

Our struggle with this seems to be more common than not - most of my friends, most of them women, are in their early to mid thirties, and most of them are trying to figure out what they are going to be when they grow up (older?). The careers we trained and planned for don’t seem to fit with our other responsibilities, and some alternative is necessary, but what? Among my immediate circle, I know only a few women who are full-speed ahead in the career they spent their twenties preparing for, and most of those either have no children or have a spouse who is willing to take on the career crisis for them. Oh, there are exceptions, and don’t think I don’t admire them. But so far, I can’t be them, and still live the kind of life I want for myself, my husband and my children.

Peak Oil links

Sharon September 6th, 2004

If you aren’t aware of Peak Oil, you should be. The end of the carbon age is coming, and what this means is up for grabs. But take it seriously, folks. Check out this site’s links pages. I’ll be posting some of my own prior stuff on this elsewhere.


First attempts.

Sharon September 6th, 2004

I swore I would not blog. I do not need anything else to take up my time right now, nor do I have the skill to do cool things with one. And does anyone who knows me really feel they need to hear more of what I already say too much of?

And yet, forthly I go. I thought this might be an amusing way to put together my rather disjointed collection of interests. Thus, of course, the name. An old Prof of mine used to say that all his female students wanted to be Dorothea Brooke, but I was always more compelled by old, foolish Casaubon - or at least his project. Of course he had it all wrong, but oh, the pleasures of synthesis, of creating the theory of everything.

So here are the ramblings of a 32 year old academic/writer/knitter-spinner-fibergeek/mom-of-three/CSA farmer/lefty-progressive/neo-luddite/cook/peak oil advocate/wanna-be-domestic-goddess/homesteader/quilter/dissertation-avoider/food-storage-and-preservation-semi-expert/Shakespearean/theory geek/aspiring-novelist/and-on-and-on-ad-nauseum. I do too many things to do any of them especially well. My working theory (ie, the random thoughts that added blogging to my list of weird habits) is that this might help me integrate the fragments of my life. But it will probably simply end up being another thing I do.

Welcome to chaos. You get used to it after a while.

« Prev