Archive for December, 2010

End of Year Admin!

admin December 31st, 2010

Hi Folks - Happy New Year, everyone! Just a few admin things. First, I still have several spaces in my January apprentice weekend, coming up MLK weekend. This is an adults-only weekend in which we’ll talk about everything, practice the winter skill set - late season preserving, goat care and milking, winter livestock care, cheesemaking and dairying, herbs, garden planning and seed starting, or whatever the group wants to learn! In addition, we’ll have a mini-adapting in place class as well.

The event is at my house, by donation (whatever you consider fair for the experience), and I also still have a space for someone who would like to join us for free in exchange for doing some dishes, helping with the cooking and generally helping keep things running. Again, this is for grownups - I’ll announce a weekend in May in which people can bring their own kids. Nursing babies are an exception, of course, if they can’t leave their Moms. I have a big old rambling farmhouse, so you are welcome to stay at our place, or there are plenty of nearby bed and breakfasts. My house is near Albany, NY, and trainable and busable as well as driveable, with some advance planning (Eric and the kids will be sent off to visit Grandma, so I won’t have a car to do pickups, but last time it all worked out fine).

I did this last January and it was a *blast* - an absolute pleasure with 10 of us eating, talking, working and generally having a wonderful time. I’m grateful to have made a number of lasting friendships, and am looking forward to meeting some of you. If you’ve ever wondered what my life really looks like, please come find out (I warn you, though, it may not look as good as in your imagination!). Email me for details [email protected]

Also, the next copy of Prelude is available - remember, our next book club will start a week from Monday (and yes, I know I still owe you one more post about _The Witch of Hebron_ - next week, I swear!_). First to email me gets the copy sent to them.

Finally, if you’d like to see my 2011 predictions, you can check them out here!

Finally, I wish all of you a happy and healthy 2011!



admin December 24th, 2010

I’ve had a lot of requests to say more than I did in my Anyway Project Update about our decision to adopt more children, and a lot of requests to write about the project as we go along.  So I will say something here, although with the caveat that the process is very new for us, we are just beginning, and we have not yet been approved as foster/adoptive parents.  Many of my assumptions are just that - assumptions.  At the same time, I will write about the process when and if children join our family, but I hope my readers will be understanding about the fact that because any children we take probably won’t be legally free for adoption, my words will have to be limited by their right to privacy.

What I have been thinking about is the degree to which my own experience of parenthood in some ways mirrors the experience I’ve had of learning about the changes coming in our larger society, and thus, makes me feel like this is just a logical continuation of our lives. 

I have always wanted to have adoption be a part of how I make my family - I grew up around adoption and fostering.  My mother placed children through the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, and I grew up around stories of placements and pictures on the refrigerator of the children she’d settled into families.  For a period in the 1980s they were foster parents as well.  My husband also has a background history that involved fosterage and adoption, and both of us wanted to expand our families this way.

At the same time, I wasn’t ready when I first approached parenthood.  Adopting through social services requires a precise skill set, and adaptation to a different set of realities than giving birth to a baby.  Children are usually older, and have been through enormous trauma to have reached the point that they have been taken from their parents.  In many cases the children have serious disabilities or developmental issues from trauma, and they may be dealing with issues from physical and sexual abuse among many other problems.  I know wonderful people who can go from 0-60 and start with an older child with serious problems, but I wasn’t one of them.

In some ways, this mirrors my experience with climate change and peak oil.  I understood the math of Hubbert’s Peak in the 1990s, when a professor of mine explained it.  I understood the science of climate change in the late 1980s.  I had long heard figures about what percentage of resources Americans used and how we were consuming planetary resources.  I did, not, however, fully reach the point where I was ready to grasp the implications for daily life until later - knowing we were using more than our share didn’t connect to the fact that we had to stop for a while.  Knowing that there would be less didn’t connect to “ok, how do we live with less” immediately.   I needed time to start from a spot I could see as a beginning.  Some people are ready to jump right in, but for me, starting from birth was a way of easing into the process.

Or so I thought.  In fact, I was fortunate to immediately go through boot camp about my parenting expectations.  The perfect sweet baby that slept through the night that I dreamed of was replaced by a colicky infant who screamed 7+ hours per day, inconsolable, driving Eric and I to hysterics over our inability to fix his problems.  He nursed near constantly and wouldn’t (couldn’t, actually) take a bottle,  so for the first six months of my life, he was never apart from me for more than a few hours.  He slept only 45 minutes at a stretch for the first four months, leaving us quite literally hallucinating with sleep deprivation.

Why on earth would I call something so awful fortunate?  Well, the good news is that it made me a much more relaxed parent.  Nothing I’ve ever done - even having four kids ranging from newborn to five, one severely autistic,  has ever been that hard, and it has given me a “ok, life’s good as long as I get three hours consecutive sleep once in a while.” attitude that I think goes well with both peak oil adaptation and the adoption of additional children. 

Eli’s disability (which I suspect was part and parcel of his colic) has also helped with that.  The words “special needs” sounded immensely overwhelming to a 27 year old me with no kids.  After a decade of managing therapists, sorting out IEP’s and dealing with public perception, as well as accepting that my expectations that my kids would be perfect little geniuses were stupid, I think I’ve got my ducks in a row, parenting-wise.  I’m happy to have my kids achieve what they can legitimately accomplish.  I don’t see disabilities as simply taking things away - they all come with compensations.  I have, I hope, reasonable and somewhat realistic expectations.  I want my kids to grow up to be good men who are kind to others and accomplish what they can, according to their abilities.  This is enough for me.  I do not fear disappointment - and indeed, I think my greatest skill as a parent and a person may be that I don’t like to waste time wishing things were otherwise.  What is, is, and we might as well get on with it is my mantra - saves a lot of time.

In peak oil and climate change terms, I think this process has worked for me too.  If I was deeply invested in keeping everything exactly the way it was, and had to figure out how to run it all on new technologies and pay for the private solar system, I’d be in trouble.  The numbers, in terms of personal finance and also world energy just don’t add up.  Fortunately, I don’t have to.  I’m fine with not having all the things I’ve had in my life - there are some I’d like to keep, but that’s a preference, not a personal investment that makes it the end of the world if the electricity clicks off or the budget drops.  I have things I’d like to accomplish if I suddenly have an influx of money or time, but I don’t waste time worrying about what I haven’t done - I keep on moving forward and doing the best I can with what I have.  A surprising amount gets done this way.

I doubt anyone adopts for wholly unselfish reasons - we are hoping to adopt not because we are noble, but because we love our kids and would like a couple more of them in our lives.  At the same time, we do hope we have something to offer children as well - space and our time and a place that is in its own way a paradise for children, a kind of old-fashioned upbringing that I think is healthy and joyous for kids.  The mix of what is good for us and what is good for children who need some good seems something I can live with, even if I would prefer, in the abstract, to be a wholly noble person who never thought of my own interests.

This too is how I approach my adaptation process - with a mix of what is good for the world and what is good for me.  Some would argue that it would be better for the world for me to live in a dense walkable city in an apartment - and there’s a case to be made there.  My energy goals might in some ways be better accomplished there.  But there is place enough in this world for me to spend my fair share of resources how I want - the apartment wouldn’t make me as happy as this place does.  In exchange for this happiness, the space and land, we are bound to use it well, share it well, and take our larger chunk of land and grow not just for ourselves, but for others. 

The process itself is complicated - we are just beginning to gather references, get physicals, put  together our materials, and we have some time before we know if our family will qualify to participate.  I joke to Eric that having babies was a royal pain for me, but not too bad for anyone else in the family (I loathe pregnancy), and this time, we get to spread the annoyances around more equitably.  I’m told the process will probably take about as long as having a baby - each step takes its time and scheduling, and then we wait for the right placement.  That’s ok, everything needs time to grow.  I’m as excited about this as I was when these tiny creatures were growing underneath my heart.  At the same time, it is hard to look at this unambiguously, because while my family will grow and be enriched, another family must be destroyed and children bear the burden.  That it isn’t my fault doesn’t make it any easier to be happy about it.

Again, this is not so very far off of my larger work, however.  The goods I find in the process of changing our society come with some truly terrible negatives, and denying that does no one any good.  At the same time, it is better, I think, for everyone to do what you can to achieve as much of what we want and need for happiness as we can - and to recognize that many things grow out of disasters.

I will keep everyone updated, to the extent I can as we navigate the process.  I suspect it will be frustrating and annoying at times, arduous and that nothing will work out the way I planned.  I suspect the joys will surprise me, the inconveniences seem impossible sometimes, the delight will emerge where I lease expect it.  So it has been for me as a mother.  So it is in the world that I live in.  I can think of nothing better to wish for than that joy and frustration, loss and gain continue mixed, that we continue to live as well as we can with the right expectations, and that we find delight where we can in a mixed and messy world until the end of our days.


In the Dark of the Year

Sharon December 21st, 2010

I wrote this in late 2007, in response to the emerging food crisis, but it is just as relevant now, as 2011 looks to be the year that the food crisis comes back - as so many things we wished had passed us by have.  I find it useful to think in the dark night of the things that I will accomplish as the light returns.

This blog will be quiet for a bit, while we enjoy the rebirth of the cycle of light and darkness, and relax in the quiet time of the winter. For those of you celebrating Christmas and Yule and the Solstice and other celebrations of rebirth, I wish you a good holiday. And as we go into this time of feasting, I hope each of us will think hard about what our role in averting hunger can be in the new year.

Some of us will plant gardens, or expand the ones we have. Some of us might start selling a little our extras, or a little more food. Some of us may volunteer with local food security programs or poverty abatement groups. Perhaps we’ll give talks at our local church, synagogue, mosque, temple, community center or farmer’s market about local food and food security. Perhaps we’ll bring food to a neighbor and let them taste the lush glory of local eating.

Maybe we’ll start a farmer’s market or a coop. Maybe we’ll talk to a neighbor or three about the importance of local food systems. Maybe we’ll run for zoning board and change that rule about backyard chickens. Maybe we’ll get some chickens this year, or rabbits or worms or bees. Maybe we’ll work on preserving open space for the animals already here on the planet.

Maybe we’ll join Seed Savers, pick out a single variety, and commit to maintaining it in perpetuity so that it doesn’t disappear from the earth. Maybe we’ll grow a new crop, or more of it, and donate to our food pantry or a local low income family. Maybe we’ll make a donation to the Heifer fund or another charity that supports local food systems. Maybe we’ll give a little more, and live with a little less and be happy.

Maybe we’ll buy more local food, and less from the supermarket. Maybe we’ll encourage our local schools or restaurants to buy from local farmers. Maybe someone will start a seed company, microbrewery or a CSA. Maybe we’ll get our town to plant fruit and nut trees instead of regular street trees, or start a permaculture forest garden. Maybe we’ll start a Victory Garden campaign in our town, city, state… Maybe we’ll start thinking of “Victory” as not something you get from war, but from a world where no one goes hungry.

Maybe we’ll learn to cook something new from scratch, or teach someone else how to cook staple foods. Maybe we’ll do something to promulgate the joys of a really local diet, or explain the problems of CAFO meat and industrial agriculture to someone who doesn’t understand. Maybe someone will run for office, and change agricultural policy in your region. Maybe we’ll feast gloriously, and eat a little lower on the food chain the rest of the time.

Maybe we’ll can or dehydrate something this year, ferment or preserve something we’ve never tried. Maybe we’ll teach a neighbor, a friend, a school class how to put up food, or how to forage. Maybe we’ll get our kids to eat the kale this year, even if we have to disguise it somehow. Maybe we’ll get our spouse to eat it too.

Maybe we’ll build soil, add organic matter, and sequester some carbon this year. Maybe this year will be the one we give up the chemicals, or the gas powered tools. Maybe this year we’ll stop treating the earth like dirt.

Maybe we’ll do what we’ve been doing all along, only more and harder, because we understand what is at stake. Maybe we’ll take on a new project, marshall our time and energy a little better. Maybe we’ll start tentatively and gain confidence, or take courage and go further with this than we ever have. Maybe one of us will make a difference, or all of us will.

Remember, there are moments that are dark - it isn’t just seeming. But the light comes back every year, and it can come back in the face of any darkness.  And like the light, we come back renewed as well.


_Prelude_ Circulation and Apprentice Weekend

Sharon December 20th, 2010

I broke my little toe this weekend, which I mention because while it is completely unimportant (the only things you can do about broken toes is tape and whine, I’m good at both ;-) ), I’m using it as an excuse to take some time off this week and post lightly over the next couple. Don’t ask me to explain how a broken toe affects my ability to type, or why I’m using it as an excuse to spend more time on my feet baking cookies and cleaning house instead of sitting quietly at the computer. It makes no sense, but after a busy, hectic first half of the month, i figure the majority of my readership is probably too tired too to notice the logical inconsistencies. So while I will post the second part of my review of The Witch of Hebron and my 2011 predictions and probably some other stuff when the spirit moves, I’m going to be quieter than usual since everyone else is going on vacation too, and because I have a perfect, if incoherent excuse. If it helps, I give you all official permission to use excuses that make no sense either for things. Try it out! “Sorry, I can’t come to the office Christmas Party because there’s a llama in my parlor” or “I forgot to get you a present because spleen’ might actually be more satisfying than the real answers.

Meanwhile, I do have two announcements. First, the first three people to request our round robin copies of Kurt Cobb’s _Prelude_ (kindly donated by Kurt to make it possible that low income folks with no copies at their library get to join in next month’s book club selection) be sent to them (send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll hook you up with the person who had it last) will get it - the first round of readers is done with it. I’ll post a “they are taken” update on this post after the first three, but won’t respond to all requests, so if you don’t hear back, try again when I announce the next round.

Second, over Martin Luther King weekend in January, I’m going to run my second annual winter Apprentice weekend. Last year 10 of us gathered at my house in upstate New York to talk, eat, knit (or whatever) and to learn woodstove cooking, livestock care, goat milking, herbs, and a host of other projects. It was a blast, and I made some wonderful friends, so I’m very excited about doing it again. Cost of the weekend is by donation, and I have one for someone who would like to barter for a spot in the class by doing some dishes and general help keeping things from all going to pot ;-) . I’ll ask everyone to bring some food and help with meals. Weekend begins Friday evening and ends on Sunday, and the exact agenda will emerge once the participation is in - I’m hoping we’ll make cheese, run a mini-adapting in place class and share a lot of knowledge as well as a host of other things. This is an adult weekend, although obviously parents that can’t be parted from nursing infants are welcome to bring them. I will be running a family weekend in May, that people are welcoem to bring their kids to, but this is for grownups (mostly because it is January and the thought of a bunch of cranky kids stuck in the house doesn’t seem super compatible with the adults doing anything useful ;-) ). I can house quite a few people at my place - last year everyone was able to stay with me, but there are also local hotels and bed and breakfasts I can hook you up with. Email me at [email protected] if you’d like to come to my place for a weekend and join us!


Peak Oil Books for Everyone

Sharon December 17th, 2010

In a perfect world, all our friends and family would have a complete understanding of peak oil and we could all talk spend the winter holidays talking about those things that most concern us.   And in a perfect world, none of us would still be shopping for holiday presents in late December.

 The reality, however, is imperfect.  Most of us have friends and families who don’t “get it” yet, and some who are actively hostile.  They may look askance at our concern with the price of oil or wonder why we’re running on about this.  The holidays are a good time to (gently) offer up a little new information that helps people make sense of what you are thinking about.  And you may have to buy a few gifts anyway! 

Again, in a perfect world, there’d be one perfect book out there that you could give to anyone that would be enlightening, revealing, engaging to everyone, and after reading it, everyone would totally get it.  In reality, if you give your Mom or your neighbor or your boss the wrong book for the holidays, they are likely to end up at someone’s library sale unread.  But just because Mom didn’t read the last book you gave her about peak oil doesn’t mean she won’t read any book – the trick is matching the book to the person.  Just as not everyone is reached with the peak oil message in the same way, you’ve got to match the media with the message.  So here are some thoughts about books to give that special person who doesn’t (yet) quite get it.

Not every one of these books is a “peak oil book” in the sense of being a simple explanation of the subject, although some are – many of them include only a brief explanation of what peak oil is.  What makes these “peak oil books” and valuable for spreading the word is that all of them take peak oil as a given, a basic, normative assumption that has to come into any assessment of the future.  In some ways, this can be even more powerfully effective than giving someone a book that attempts to persuade them that there’s an issue.  Recognizing that the ideas you have been talking about are so normal that they are integrated into the background assumptions of an author’s work can be extraordinarily persuasive.

For your co-worker who thinks you are way too worked up about all this: Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over.  The first of the popular books about peak oil is still one of the best, particularly for someone who needs a fairly straightforward, dispassionate book that lays out the case clearly. 

For your skeptical Sister: She’s the kind of person who wants to see the numbers *herself* and make sure they add up, and she’s sure not going to believe anything said by someone who used to steal her Halloween candy: Kenneth Deffeyes  Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak is a well written, thoughtful introduction to Hubbert’s Peak, including an excellent introduction to the math behind it.

For your Sister In Law who can’t stop talking about The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved is about Hardwick, Vermont and its local food endeavors.  More deeply, however, it is an attempt to ask what a viable local, low fossil-input food system might actually look like, and uses Hardwick as a case study.

Your friend “the Money Guy” who sees everything in economic terms: Jeff Rubin’s Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller which prophesies the end of globalization, the re-onshoring of manufacturing and a radical economic shift as a result of peak oil.

Your Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart loving younger brother: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects by Dmitry Orlov.  Inscribe in it something along the lines of “I know this book doesn’t look like it will crack you up, but you have to read this!” and you are all set!

Your history-addict Father – instead of yet another David MacCullough book, get him John Michael  Greer’s The Long Descent.  He’s bound to be fascinated, and just as the “but…” comes out of his mouth on each page, he’ll find his own arguments already answered by Greer.

The friend who is always pushing your comfort zone and making you think harder: Keith Farnish’s Times Up: An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis starts at the microscopic level and moves outwards, inexorably showing how peak oil and climate change are a disaster for our society.

Your cousin who always has the latest best seller on her bedside table: Prelude  by Kurt Cobb is a thriller that takes you through the story of peak oil as a story of intrigue and thrills.  You don’t even have to preface it with “I thought you might want to learn more about this…” In fact, better not, just give it to them, and be prepared for the awakening!

And, well, this is my blog, so I feel like I can gently suggest that for your garden crazy friend, you could offer A Nation of Farmers or for your friend who is increasingly uneasy about the world but can’t put their finger on the problem, Depletion and Abundance.

Happy reading!

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