Archive for August, 2011

Family Planning Isn’t a Condom and a Pamphlet

Sharon August 30th, 2011

Over the last two weeks, my family has considered or accepted two foster placements that fell through - both of them sets of five children.  The first group consisted of five kids - 5, 4, 3, 1 and due any minute.  The second consisted of five children 6 1/2 to 5 1/2 weeks.  Both mothers were in their early 20s - the latter only 21.

Perhaps predictably, when I talk about these children (and we thought that the second group would be coming to us for the better part of a day), everyone’s first reaction is to be appalled at the fact that these young women have so many children that they can’t take care of.  I understand that - and the degree to which these children play on every stereotype about poor women.  Quite a number of people who heard about these kids spoke of the merits of forced sterilization - and those were some of the milder comments.  Despite the fact that I understood where they were coming from, and certainly could wish for the sake of both mothers and kids that they would choose to limit future fertility, the reactions also frustrated me, because so much of the emphasis was placed on “get these women some birth control” and so little on creating circumstances that would enable them to make different choices.

This resonates with me for several reasons.  The first was that instinctively, I felt very protective of these women - whatever their choices, they were going to be the mothers of children I cared for, and the rush to judgement bothered me on those grounds, regardless of its legitimacy or illegitimacy.  The second was that the “get those women some depo-provera” reactions struck me as revealing more about the speakers and about the assumptions we make from a still-comparatively wealthy and secure perspective than they do about any particular external reality.  Indeed, the circumstances of the poorest and most vulnerable women in America (and the poorest and most vulnerable people are almost always women and children) may have much more to do with our future than we think they will.  In order to have a future where women have choices about their fertility, we will have to recognize that family planning doesn’t begin in the clinic - it begins well ahead of that.

Let’s think about what needs to happen for women to control their fertility fully, and to make “good choices.”:

1. They need to have the full ability to give consent - to say “no” and have that “no” respected.  That means they must have men in their lives who wholly respect and support women, they must respect themselves enough to believe that their “no” should be honored.  They must be safe from domestic violence and sexual violence in the whole of their lives.  They must live in a society that supports women, including poor women and young women and women who are labelled negatively for their choices and  one that believes in making them safe and helping them achieve consent.

2.  The circumstances of women’s lives must be such that they do not have to trade sex for food, a place to sleep, basic comfort, safety, food for their children, or other needed supports, because those who depend on sex to get those things cannot say “no” or demand that contraception be used or safe sex be practiced.

3. Women need good access to medical care, both preventative and urgent.  They need to not be afraid that doctors will report them to immigration, will criticize their lives or judge their bodies and lifestyles harshly.  They need to be able to get medical care when they need it, without fear of losing a job because they took time off.  They need to have accessible care in their communities in places they can get to with people who treat them well.  They need to not have to walk through protesters and harassers in order to get basic reproductive and sexual health care.  They need to have full access to a full range of medical care - including treatment for substance abuse and mental illnesses that cloud judgement.

4. Women need to be educated about risks and benefits, and have a balanced, non-condescending, respectful presentation of information in languages they can understand.  They need to be able to afford reproductive and sexual medical care, and any devices or treatments they need.  They need know how to use these things safely and well.  At the same time, the power to control their bodies has to be placed respectfully in their hands - that includes the power of bodily integrity, the power to choose the kinds of medical care they will use, and the ability to make decisions about what they do and do not put in their bodies.

5. As children, girls and boys both need families to love and care for them, and to learn ways of receiving love and care that don’t involve giving birth to children.  They need to know, as they grow, that some adult will continue to be there for them and that others will provide love and care into adulthood, that they will have a place in the world and don’t have to invent that place wholly and alone.

6. Boys need to be taught to respect women, to respect the integrity of women’s bodies, and that fathering is an active verb, not a sexual act.  They need to see men who care for and nurture children. and to receive the message that they are fully responsible for their children and their partners.  They need to be able to choose love actively, not sex reflexively, and to honor and respect women and men.

7. We must respect the right of women to make choices about their bodies that we would not make.  ”Choice” does not mean “the requirement to have an abortion when everyone thinks you should” - any more than it means “no right to choose abortion.”  ”Family planning” doesn’t mean “give all poor black teenage girls an IUD” it means “allow women to make decisions, and then respect them.  That means allowing for people to choose differently than you would, and allowing for errors of judgement.  Coercion does not make women freer, and it doesn’t enable them to make better choices - fundamentally a society that respects and believes in women doesn’t have to approve of every decision women makes, but it must respect their right to make it.

8. In order for men and women to make good choices, society has to model good choices. We cannot take the most vulnerable, poorest, least well-educated people in our society and say to them “you made lousy choices and we will judge you and punish you” - society’s choices in regard to its poorest people have not been good either.  When we demand that people take responsibility for themselves, we must remember that someone failed to take responsiblity before - someone failed to adopt the 12 year old girl who eventually became a mother of five.  Someone failed to provide funding for the drug clinics that might have helped her get off drugs.  Someone taught the fathers and mothers the messages they learned about sex and children.  A thousand of us might have stepped up at any time and changed the way this worked - and each of us did not.  A whole society, a whole culture might have stepped up and offered more.  Those choices deserve judgement too - and they deserve consideration as we enter an era of less wealth and fewer resources. We are, in the end, mostly held responsible for our choices - but who pays the price changes over time.  Who will it be next time?

I don’t know either of the women in question - I may never meet either one.  I do not claim that I know anything of their personal circumstances.  I do know this, however, that if want to be able to care for our children in an era of diminishing resources, it will require sustained and conscious choice from all of us.  If we want to take care of the most vulnerable in our society, if we want to enable future generations to do better, despite our difficulties, we must provide supports that our society presently does not for many poor women.  As more of us become poor, as the future of our own sons and daughters is implicated, perhaps we can begin to do better - but we ought to have done better already, and must recognize the consequences of our own bad choices, both collectively and individually.


Storm Update

Sharon August 30th, 2011

o we made it through. Let me just note, however, that anyone who says that Irene was a wimpy storm that didn’t do much damage shoulda been here. We’re safe, but it was a near thing.

We had close to 9 inches of rain and wind gusts that I’d estimate above 60mph - they took down two big locust trees and several willows. One of the locusts came down 10 feet from the buck barn where the buck goats and the calves were, another 10 feet from the rear of the house, while my kids were sitting in the room reading. Our enormous beech tree was entirely surrounded by the rushing creek (it is normally well up on the banks) and it rocked and creaked a few times, but did not come down, which is a good thing, since it would have taken out a good chunk of the house.

Both barns held up well - they got a little wet but not too bad, and will need only minor repairs. The goats are presently outside clearing fallen brush, and in the net pretty happy that these yummy trees came down. After they are done with them, we’ll move on to firewood.

The creek did cross its banks, but the house is on enough of a rise that we didn’t flood - but again, it was a nearer thing than we’ve had before. My neighbor, she of the shared sheep was not as lucky - she evacuated, her home flooded and her livestock are spread among friends and neighbors. Our friends down in the Schoharie Valley and at the lower ends of Schenectady have it very rough.

We lost power on Sunday afternoon, which worked out very well, since the sump pump ran most of the day. We were out until this morning, which again, isn’t anything I can complain about - we’ve had longer outages in winter from random storms. As always, we’re pretty power-loss ready.

Besides the trees and one of the barn doors ripped apart by the winds, the biggest loss was my garden - the main garden was under nearly 2 feet of water. I had debated harvesting a lot of things on Saturday, but elected to spend the day at a foster parent event instead. I lost a lot of stuff - including, sadly a lot of the flowers that were slated for table and bimah decorations at a friend’s bar mitzvah this weekend - I’ve been planning all summer for this event, but most of the flowers were blown down or broken. I’m working on finding more, but a lot of the farms around here have similar damage Still, this should be the worst thing that ever happens to us! A few broken flowers and rotting squash are small potatoes.

I’m not sorry I spent Saturday at the foster parenting event, however, instead of harvesting. Some of you (who track my stuff on facebook) will know that we were called on Wednesday to take a group of five kids (and no, not the same group of five kids that they wanted us to take the previous week, believe it or not), several of whom were suffering some severe health problems due to neglect. We got the call Wednesday afternoon and expected to have the children (ages 6 1/2 to 5 weeks) arrive that evening, then we were called suddenly and told that the judge removed only one of the children, the one who was actually hospitalized.

We weren’t able to find out a lot more information immediately afterwards, and I admit, I’ve been losing sleep worrying about the kids not being safe. I hadn’t intended to spend my Saturday afternoon at this picnic, but went in the hopes of getting more info on the kids. Fortunately, it worked - I met someone involved with the case who was able to tell me that in this case, she thought the decision was right. The parents are young, overwhelmed and have missed some major medical issues they should have caught - but from ignorance. The parents needed services and support - and now they will get them. I have to say, that did more to let me sleep well than knowing the basement was dry.

The creek has gone down enough that I’m not scared either the kids or the baby goats will fall in and drown, and I’m grateful for our near miss. I don’t usually put “hurricane” on the list of major threats to upstate NY, but I might as well add it to the list of reasons why I’m glad we stay prepared.

I hope all of you are safe and well. Please let us know how things came through in your neck of the woods!

Planning for Irene

Sharon August 24th, 2011

It may be that Irene heads offshore and does no harm, but it is a good reminder for all of us to keep our preps up.

Keep safe, folks!


12 Books For Every Sustainability Nut!

Sharon August 23rd, 2011

I bet you haven’t read these!

Worms Eat my Laundry by Alcea Grovestock - Worms are hot - in-house domestic composting is everywhere. But have you considered the way red wigglers could augment your laundry routine? After all, so many of us, taken up with homestead and farm work, garden and family chores have developed that layer of laundry that never seems to get washed, composting at the bottom of the hamper. With the addition of red worms and regular contributions to the pile, your laundry worries can be over, and you can build up a healthy layer of topsoil to be added to your garden! A must-read.

Holy Fuck! by Gene Logsdon. Building the tremendous success of his book Holy Shit which revealed the ways we waste valuable fertiity and contaminate land and waterways with our wasteful relationship to human and animal manures, Logsdon turns his attention to sex, and the millions of barrel equivalents of oil wasted in heating fuel by human beings’ unfortunate aversion to just having sex all the time. Logsdon proves that we could virtually solve our ecological crisis if we’d just stop avoiding sex and concentrate on doing it more or less all the time.

Peak Brew by Richard Heinberg. The man who brought us knowledge of Peak Oil (The Party’s Over), Peak Coal (Blackout), Peak Everything (Peak Everything) and more has now turned his focus to the deepest of all our depletion crises - the end of beer as we know it. Heinberg carefully draws a picture of our international brewing crisis, and paints a bleak picture of a world without beer. If no other ecological and environmental crisis could move the American mainstream, this one will!

Why Your Neighbor Should Definitely Use Less Energy by Jason H. Thidwicke Millions of climate activists have tried, and largely failed, to get the developed world public to take Climate Change seriously, and begin to consume less and conserve more. Thidwicke makes a compelling argument that books that focus on what you can do to save the earth are seriously mistaken in focus, and don’t appeal to our real interests - which are to make other people do the work. Cunningly crafted, Thidwicke makes a compelling case that we can only change our life when we get to enjoy making other people miserable. His strategies include lying, cheating, manipulation and if all else fails, enslaving populations, and will be an eye-opener for every environmentalist who wants to make real and lasting change.

Where There Is No Plastic Surgeon by the Hepzibah Foundation. There’s a new, passionate, engaged back to the land movement - not young folks going to the country, but the affluent and middleaged, convinced that we’re all doomed, and ready to build the perfect sustainable doomstead where they and their families can comfortably live out an apocalypse with plenty of servants. They recognize that the end of the world will be inconvenient. But there is no need tor one to accept a lack of attractiveness or a dimunation of standards of beauty and youthfulness (especially since no one actually young will be able to afford to live there) in the face of disaster. This critical text on home plasic surgery, the culture of botulism toxin in canning jars for wrinkle removal and other strategies for making sure your husband doesn’t take a fifth wife into the bunker will have a place on every shelf.

Collapse II: How Dave in Human Resources Chooses to Succeed or Fail by Jared Diamond Not content to rest on his laurels after the stunning success of the first volume of _Collapse_ which cast a wide ranging look over societies that underwent ecological disaster, this time Diamond takes a micro-look at collapse, choosing as his subject, not Easter Island or Greenland, but Dave in Human Resources. Watch how Dave’s decisions about his personal ecology - his habit of consuming vending machine products wildly in excess of the carrying capacity of his abdomen leads towards collapse, while the emergent strain in his marriage from staying up and playing World of Warcraft until 3am every night and the hordes of barbarians (his two children) mass on his borders. Diamond makes the compelling case that Dave chooses his destiny.

Bend Over and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye: Strategies for Suriving Peak Oil, Climate Change, Economic Collapse and Plagues of Rabid Musk Oxen by R. S. Albert. The territory of explaining how we are totally fucked is old hat for most of my readers, but Albert offers a new, two step approach that conveniently breaks down the strategy necessary to prepare the coming disasters, which he describes in equisite detail and definitely involve your children being eaten by Musk Oxen if you don’t buy his book - a purchase of one copy for each person you hope not to be devoured is recommended by the author. Even the dedicated doomer will learn something new from this book, which offers a host of suggestions for the stiff who has trouble bending over far enough to reach their buttocks, and for those made nervous by the idea of kissing their own asses.

Radical Pantywaists by James Haroldd Biederman In this book, we see an emergent critique of works by Shannon Hayes and other writers who have argued that true sustainability emerges from diverse egalitarian family structures that take traditional “women’s work” and domesticity seriously. Biederman argues that those who believe that the lower-energy future belongs to men and women who take equity and domestic life seriously are completely out of their minds, and probably gay. The future, he contests, will be a future of manly, heterosexual men with no need to change diapers or make pickles, because they are off riding horses and fighting communism or something.

Storey’s Guide to Raising Common Carnivores by Randi Heller. Have you ever considered adding a flock of major carnivore’s to your small farm or homestead? Besides filling an important ecological niche controlling the overpopulation of deer, rats, pigeons and neighbors, Carnivore’s can provide many benefits to the sustainable homesteader including pelts, meat and exercise running away from them. Heller covers all the major species, from Mountain Lions to Cheetahs, Grizzly Bears (actually omnivores but covered in the material) and also exotic, like re-introduced Smilodons, bred from fragments of DNA. She suggest appropriate housing, diet (think ‘UPS Guy’) and a host of otheri mportant issues, necessary before you introduce your new predators to your backyard.

You Can Make It Rot! by Helene Nurdwinger. Have you mastered pressure canning? Bored with lactofermentation and filled up your root cellar? Nurdwinger introduces you into the exciting realm of home food decomposition, and offers hundreds of exciting recipes for rotting food. She discusses traditional ways of prompting decomposition including “forgetting it in the back of the fridge” “leaving it in the sun for three days” and “I’ll definitely get to those tomatoes tomorrow when it isn’t so hot.” Her recipe for hyper-emesis sauce was just one of the odiferous delicacies she offers!

Finally, there’s my own newest book You Can Be Exactly Like Sharon by Sharon Astyk. Building on other models of farm women who have cashed in on their beautiful, elegant, sustainable farmgirl lives, I offer a book with thousands of totally undoctored, not at all fake pictures of my gorgeous, perfect life, with my perfect children, my perfectly sustainable farm where I get it all done every day, my clean house and my own total awesomeness. This honest, revealing book tells you everything from how I grow all my own food, including bananas and mangoes in upstate New York, blacksmith my own pedal-powered automobiles, sew my children beautiful clothing that they never get dirty, distill biogas from my shit that doesn’t stink and otherwise, do all the things that you wish you could do, only better and more graciously than you ever could. Buy my book, and your life will magically too become just like mine.

How Do You Decide What Changes to Make?

Sharon August 22nd, 2011

As we move into the Riot for Austerity, a lot of us are thinking about life changes.  But how do you decide what makes sense and what doesn’t?  How do you decide whether to put limited time into hand-mowing your lawn or making pickles, to spend that dollar on cloth bags or on rechargeable batteries?   In a perfect world, of course, we’d do all of it, all at once.  But the reality is that particularly as we’re making behavioral changes, we have to pick and choose. Once putting the cloth bag into your purse and using the cloth diapers and hand mowing the lawn get to be normal, you’ll find you have more time for other changes - but there is a learning curve to habituation, and it is hard to do more than a few changes at a time.

If you wanted to organize your energy reductions, you might take two approaches. The first one is the “Pick the Low Hanging Fruit” plan. That is, you look and see what the easiest changes to make are. For example, you’ve been running to the library on Thursday and the grocery store on Friday. But suddenly, you realize you can combine those choices if you go to the other library branch, and do it on Friday - and without any major effort, you’ve cut out 9 miles of round trip driving. Or you suddenly realize that you’ve had the computer on all the time, but don’t use it on Mondays because you don’t have time - so you start disconnecting the computer on Sunday night and leaving it off until Tuesdays. The low hanging fruit is simply a matter of applying your mind to the obvious, and picking up things as they seem easiest.

Another way of approaching this to decide to make your cuts in your biggest expenditures. That is, you might look at where your energy usage is and see that your electric use is way above average. So you might concentrate on electric usage - removing some bulbs, replacing others with Compact Flourescent or LEDs, turning off your computer, cutting phantom loads, maybe saving up for a more efficient fridge or getting rid of the fridge all together. You could divide your energy consumption up into categories, much as we have in the Riot for Austerity, and decide to focus on that - water this month, heat next.

One of my favorite ways of sorting these out is economically and temporally. If I’m trying to decide between two choices, I tend to prioritize those things that give me either the gift of time or money, and a large number of choices do. For example, in October, I will buy 10 bushels of local apples for 140 dollars. My local Walmart would sell me 10 bushels of apples for 400 dollars. No contest.  Not only does it save me money, but time as well - because I can buy all the apples we’ll use for the winter over a week, and save myself several trips to the store.

We tend to assume that labor-saving devices save time - but this is not always the case.  Sometimes they do - my washer saves me considerable time over hand washing.  A dryer, however, doesn’t - when you add in the time I would have to work to purchase and maintain the appliance and to run it, the three minutes daily longer that it takes me to hang a load of laundry than stuff it in the dryer is not a significant time savings.   It takes me longer to wash the food processor in many cases than it would to simply chop something myself without power.  These things must be tested - sometimes labor and money saving projects really save, sometimes they don’t.

Or there’s the pleasure sorting method - what gets you the most fun?   I love to cook and hate to sew, and if I have to choose between a method of energy reduction that involves cooking something or sewing sometihng, let’s just say it isn’t always that much trouble to decide. So while I make my own crackers, granola, popsicles and yogurt, I’m still buying my underwear and bras.    I like hanging laundry - I enjoy the time outside in the quiet.  I love the pleasure of cooking with the sun in our solar oven and the coolth in the house.

However you approach it, the best trick is simply to do it. In many ways, it is the breaking of old habits, automatic consumption and assumption that is hard, more than the practices themselves.  All of us worry that we don’t have time to do things - but when ordinary things are part of our routines, we find that they fit - it is the process of making them fit that can be challenging.


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