Archive for October, 2004

Assorted Rants:Politics, Derrida,

Sharon October 23rd, 2004

Did you see the hideous obit of Jacques Derrida in the NY Times? Check it out here:

What idiot wrote this? (I don’t expect anyone to actually pay them for this crap, and indeed, I discourage you from doing so!) I discovered deconstruction late, and it never resonated for me as I suspect it must have for those who found it as it was developing, but Derrida is not the caricature that he has been reduced to, nor is his thought the dim account that we get. You’d think that you could count on one single popular media to get Derrida, at least enough to write a half-decent bio. Further proof that the world is going to hell. (Did I mention that ponchos are back in fashion? If I were a Christian I’d say it was a sign of the end times. Instead, I’m guessing it means that

God, if real, has gotten bored with making fun of the upright monkeys and departed for warmer (or smarter) climes )

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

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

Update and food storage tour

Sharon October 22nd, 2004

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skepticism..what I’m thinking about.

Sharon October 22nd, 2004

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

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

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

Oedipal complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to knit a shawl

Sharon October 11th, 2004

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

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

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

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

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



Sharon October 4th, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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