Sunday, August 27, 2006

Help, I Need a Cobbler!

Sometimes I have rather...apocalyptic thoughts.

Like, what if we really do hit peak oil, and we can't get food shipped from God knows where, and we have to revert to some kind of agrarian/subsistence culture? What would really happen?

Part of me thinks gleefully, all those years of playing Little House on the Prairie will finally pay off! All I have to do is whip out Farmer Boy and we'll have it made! (That book was set in Malone, which is way way farther upstate New York than we are, so things should be even easier here, right?)

That family raised their own meat, dairy products, fresh and storage vegetables, maple sugar, they had time left over to raise prized Morgan horses and make soap and clothes from their own sheeps’ wool.

Then I start to think, uh, where did they get their tools? They must have had a blacksmith in town. Oh yeah, and a mill to grind all that grain. And, I remember the cobbler came every year to make their shoes, they didn't do that themselves either....

Then I think about what I know of the Amish/Mennonites, who are sort of like Farmer Boy 2006. The image of the barn raising comes to mind. Sure, they know how to create shelters, but they don't do it alone. Each person knows how to do many things, and they help each other do them. And yet, one person is the best furniture maker, one is the best harness maker, one makes the best blueberry pie.

So maybe it's better that there are some specialists. The work is distributed among more people, expertise can be applied more efficiently, and social interdependence is reinforced.

Then I think, what do I know how to do that is practical? I come up with a very short list:

1. knit
2. crochet
3. wool felting
4. sew (by hand and machine)
5. cook
6. um, copy edit
7. um, basic HTML????

These items aren't really that helpful (well, except for clothing and warm hats) when you think about actual self-sufficiency. I could probably figure out how to grow some vegetables (Where would I get the seeds? When is the right time to plant? How do you can or preserve them for winter?) And I bet I could at least take care of fairly independent animals like chickens and goats (What kind of shelter do they need? How much land is required for forage? How are they butchered for meat?)…OK maybe I would still need some help here.

Sometimes I wonder how much more powerful and capable I would feel if I knew how to do more practical things. In a sense it's as if we are trapped in a materialistic culture, but yet don't know how any of our material things are produced. Rudolf Steiner talks about this in a lecture about education:

It is actually the case today that most people, especially those who grow up in towns, have no idea how things, paper for instance, are made.... Think of how many people there are who drink beer and have no idea how the beer is made.... I would dearly like to have a shoemaker as a teacher in the Waldorf School, if this were order that the children might really learn to make shoes, and to know, not theoretically but through their own work, what this entails...

The Kingdom of Childhood, Lecture 7
This lecture occurred in 1924; how much farther are we from practical knowledge of our surroundings today? How many of us could explain to a child how our houses are built, how our food is produced, how our clothes are made? Not to mention the glasses on my face, or the computer screen they help me see!

I think this form of interdependence (being dependent on others in an infantile way because we can't possibly understand how to make something) isn't beneficial. It's almost as if we've surrendered our will to others, to allow them to create our surroundings for us.

There are economies of scale, like with a blacksmith, miller, or wagon maker, where the level of knowledge, required tools, and materials make it reasonable to depend on experts. But sometimes the fact that I couldn't tell you how to even keep chickens or make a pair of shoes makes me a bit depressed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Eating Locally

I just got the latest email newsletter from the Organic Consumers Association. I followed a link to a fascinating article about local food: Eating Local: There's No Plate Like Home.

I'm a big fan of eating locally-grown foods. I have been blessed to live for the last 10 years in places like Sacramento, CA and the NYC area, which have access to amazing produce. I've also been lucky to live near biodynamic farms and CSAs, which to me are an improvement on organics.

I've noticed that organic milk in stores is always ultra-pasteurized, because the dairies are few and far between. California allows raw milk products to be sold in supermarkets, so I could get them at the co-op, though they were shipped 150-200 miles. In New York, raw milk is only available directly from the farm, so I currently get raw milk through a herd share program at Pleroma Farm, which is just under 100 miles away.

I'm concerned about both the environmental costs of fossil fuel use and the prospect of diminishing supplies. I learned something about the scope of the link between food distribution and fossil fuel use in this article:

In his book Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market, Worldwatch Institute senior researcher Brian Halweil writes about the enormous Mid-Atlantic regional distribution center for Safeway supermarkets in Upper Marlboro, Md., where all the East Coast produce is inspected. Even if the products will eventually be sold in a farmer's hometown 400 miles away, they must first be shipped to this central location then shipped back.

But this article takes the local concept further. The 100-mile diet sounds like an amazing exercise: only eat foods grown within 100 miles of your home. I could easily live on vegetables from the biodynamic garden across the street (at least in summer, but then I could get more local stuff from the co-op down the street). I could even get apples and berries from within 5 miles. coffee? No iced tea? NO CHOCOLATE? I would really miss that food of the gods. sugar? No olive oil? No salt?

The article recommends using butter instead of oil, and honey instead of sugar. I guess if I can't get coffee, I don't really need sugar to go in it.

I used to think, yeah - we should just eat locally and so many problems would be solved. We'd eat more nutritious food, use less petro resources, support local business, etc. Sounds like a winner all around.

Then I realized that I was partially basing my utopian food vision on an incorrect historical model. I was a big Little House on the Prairie junkie as a girl, and I recently bought a Little House cookbook. But they used sugar, salt, and a bunch of other imported items in addition to wild game and homemade sourdough.

Humans have been trading foods and spices for thousands of years. I realized, duh, once we had the wheel and seaworthy boats, everyone could have sugar and salt.

Sure, those things were once so prized and expensive that the woman in charge of the house would keep the keys to the spice cabinet on her person at all times. But nowadays, I think I could make an exception for sugar and salt in the local food arena.

Also, I live in a maple sugaring area, so I could get sugar from my backyard. Also I found out that there is an active salt mine within about 200 miles of my home. Gotta love the internet!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Early reading

...[Is] it really justified that we cater to the views of a materialistic culture with its demands concerning what [a young child] should know? The real point is that it may not be beneficial at all for such a child to learn to read too early. By doing so, something is being blocked for life. If children learn to read too early, they are led prematurely into absractions. if reading were taught a little later, countless potential sclerotics could lead happier lives."

-Rudolf Steiner, The Child's Changing Consciousness as the Basis of Pedagogical Practice, lecture 4

At the library the other day, I was reading a book to the kids while Papa looked for books for himself. A woman walked up to us and said how much she loved that particular book. She said she was a teacher, and she asked me how old my kids were. When I said 2 and 4, she told me that she taught her child to read at age 2, that I could easily teach my kids now.

This conversation was a shock to me. I taught myself to read at 4. At that time, that was considered early. Now, are people expecting me to teach Napoleona to read?

When I watch her play, she is so far from the world of abstractions. She just wants to splash in the brook, dig in the mud, and climb on rocks. She will sit still for picture books and stories, but more often than not gets up and starts playing before we finish.

SillyBilly is the same. He begs me to play outside. They both love to help me clean the house, work in the garden, take the recycling and compost out, etc.

Steiner states in the same lecture: "We must not lose sight of the fact that up to the second dentition the child lives by imitation." I can see that clearly myself in how SillyBilly is starting to "write." He will make tiny little marks in paper, especially on his drawings where I usually would write his name and the date. Napoleona will copy anything SillyBilly does, especially something we just told him not to do!

Both SillyBilly and Napoleona are very verbal for their ages. If they teach themselves to read as I did, then I won't mind. But I am not going to push them into reading. In Waldorf school they will start the process when it is developmentally appropriate, generally after the first tooth is lost (the "second dentition"), a sign that the next developmental stage has started.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes, IV


Mama, I'm full up of love from YOU! (Smooch, hug, cuddle, etc.)

Driving home from the grocery store:
Mama, how come all those people are at Dairy Queen....and we're not?

SillyBilly: Mama, I want to have wings like a bird.
Mama: Why?
SillyBilly: So I can fly in the sky.
Mama: What kind of bird would you be?
SillyBilly: A vulture!
Mama: Why a vulture?
SillyBilly: Because they're big, and I like big.

SillyBilly: Mama, can you take the airport shuttle into space?
Mama: No honey, it's not the space shuttle.

(He had recently watched a video of a space shuttle launch on Papa's computer. He's obsessed with space right now. He has eagle eyes and spied the airplane symbol on a sign for a shuttle stop, so I was explaining about the airport shuttle.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Me meme

Four jobs you have had in your life:

  • Library page
  • Call center flunky
  • Call center supervisor
  • Freelance copy editor
Four movies you would watch over and over:
  • Pride and Prejudice, the Colin Firth one (OK, it was TV but now it's on DVD)
  • Bourne Identity (Euro escapism, plus Matt Damon)
  • Trois Couleurs - White
  • Moonstruck (Snap out of it!)
Four places you have lived:
  • Westchester, CA
  • Thousand Oaks, CA
  • Pollock Pines, CA
  • Chestnut Ridge, NY
Four TV shows you love to watch (We don't have TV but sometimes we watch DVDs):
  • Firefly
  • Six Feet Under
  • Sex in the City
  • The Electric Company (When I was 4 years old)
Six places you have been on vacation:
  • San Francisco
  • Waterville Valley, NH
  • Catalina Island, CA
  • South Woodstock, VT
  • Mendocino, CA
  • Yosemite Valley (OK, it was for a wedding, but still)
  • Portland, OR
Four websites I visit daily:
  • Bradstein Household
  • Craftster
  • Zygote Daddy
  • MetroDad (Yes, 3/4 are dad blogs. Somehow they are funnier than mom blogs.)
Four people I am tagging that I think might respond...?
  • We don't need no stinkin tags.
Four things I always carry with me:
  • insatiable desire to correct the world's grammar and spelling
  • wedding ring
  • irritation that I can't identify every wild plant I see
  • useless trivia littering my brain

Friday, August 11, 2006

Book Meme

1) One book that changed your life: Health and Illness. The first Rudolf Steiner book I read. It led me to anthroposophy and Waldorf education. Must have changed my life, I now live on campus at an anthroposophical college.
2) One book you've read more than once: I am an unrepentant book repeater.
Pure escapism: Harry Potter, The Golden Compass.
Slightly more intellectual escapism: The Roads to Sata, The Robber Bride, Red Mars.
For my edification: The Incarnating Child.
For practical reasons: Guide to Child Health.
Because I have more in common with my mom every day: Pride and Prejudice.
3) One book you'd want on a desert island: Any guide to the flora and fauna of my desert island. Maybe a survival manual too. Oh, and everything on #2, since those generally reflect my favorites.
4) One book that made you laugh: Anything by Wendell Berry.
5) One book that made you cry: Anything by Wendell Berry. Also, at the end of Riding the Iron Rooster, Paul Theroux talks about the inherent joy and nobility of the Tibetan people, and of their deep abiding love for the Dalai Lama. All they want is autonomy, and their god-king back home.
6) One book you wish had been written: Perhaps something about how to raise happy, healthy, respectful kids while pursuing fulfilling, well-paying work and losing weight effortlessly. It's good to dream.
7) One book you wish had never been written: speech is very important. I could wish that some books weren't written because they offend me, but then I could just not read them. I could wish that hateful books weren't written because they inculcate more hatred in the world, but then there's that pesky concept of free will, too.
8) The book you are currently reading: Just finished What's Making You Angry?, The Minotaur, and most of Emma.
9) One book you've been meaning to read: I tried to read Middlemarch while on vacation but I just couldn't finish it. I'd like to read the Koran some day though I would be skeptical of the effects of translation.
10) Tag? No thanks.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

For the sake of Papa's sanity in beginning the Master's Degree program at The Barfield School of Sunbridge College, the Huntlings and I went to visit the grandparents in Southern California. For 16 days, away from Papa, away from home, away from anything familiar.

Flying out of Newark, we sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes (!) waiting for thunderstorms to clear out of our flight path. After that it was easy going, especially the sticker books I brought to surprise the kids. They played with them for hours. Stickers rock.

Nana met us at LAX to help us shlep our stuff. Traveling with two car seats adds another dimension to everything, especially with only one adult to carry stuff and hold hands with the kids. But once we got the rental car, everything went well.

The day after we arrived, we went to Elvenstar Riding Academy, owned by the parents of one of Nana's old friends. We were supposed to have pony rides, but because of the intense heat wave, the day's rides were cancelled. We still got to meet some of the ponies and feed them some carrots before they were hosed down and stabled.

The next event was the trip to the beach. Point Mugu is one of my favorite beaches. Rarely are there any people there, but there are great rocks for climbing, beautiful Boney Mountain as a backdrop, and good sand for playing. Once (pre-Huntlings) Papa and I saw dolphins body surfing there. This time, we saw pelicans diving for fish and a sea lion in the water.

But, disaster struck first thing. I wanted the kids to get their toes wet, but I forgot that this isn't a beach for actually going into the water. We kept creeping closer and closer, and then a bigger wave came along. It knocked the kids over, and since I was holding their hands, I went over too. A kind man came over and rescued us and gave us towels to dry off once I determined that I had left our towels back at grandpa's house, along with any extra dry clothes! Bad Mama, no biscuit.

Needless to say, the kids were pretty traumatized. We tried to stay and play in the sand, but it was pretty foggy and cold that day so we beat a hasty retreat. We returned the next day, since I didn't want the kids to become permanently afraid of the beach. Then I saw the sign warning us not to go into the water! (Really that was about rip tides and lack of lifeguards, but still.) It was sunny, we stayed far away from the water and made this killer sand castle:

After that, we stayed low profile. We visited with cousins, hung out at Nana's house, played at the park. We went to the Chumash Interpretive Center, which was small but just right for the toddler attention span. Very cool exhibits about the Chumash culture, history, and crafts. Plus, we saw a real live fence lizard out front! We opted out of the Ventura County Fair and went to an animal show at America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College instead. We saw a baboon eat an entire banana, peel and all.

It was challenging to keep up with our family rhythms and customs. Naps and bedtimes creeped later and later. Televisions were on, and Nana rented animal videos. Vegetable consumption plummeted by the day. But overall the kids were happy and healthy though a bit out of sorts.

Coming home, Grandpa Walt drove us to LAX and kindly returned our rental car for us. Unfortunately, we arrived at the airport early. Four hours early. So, we ate lots of snacks, played with yet more sticker books, and then ate more snacks. Not much else to do for little kids at Terminal 4.

Luckily our plane took off on time and this time we had a great view of the ocean, Los Angeles, and the desert before cloud cover took over. We landed on time and Papa was there to meet us. I didn't think SillyBilly was going to ever release him from that death grip around his neck! Between a long wait for our luggage, a long drive home, and a late dinner, we didn't get to bed until almost midnight.

I can't say it was truly a vacation for me, but SillyBilly summed up the kids' feelings on it: I want to live in California to be with my grandparents!

Special thanks to Nana, Grandpa Dave, Grandpa Walt, and Grandma Pat for helping make this trip happen.