It’s All About the Deere

(originally posted on swampyankeewannabes in February of 2005)

I’m a speed demon, I admit it. I’ve been pulled over so many times I don’t even make any excuses anymore, just hand the license and the registration over and wait for the inevitable. I’ve definitely learned my lesson.

I got a radar detector.

Now I’ve got other problems, mostly pertaining to the fact that the radar detector stays on while the car is off and slowly drains its lifeblood away. While we were gone the monster sucked my car dry and I didn’t even have my digital clock — yesterday morning, at least, I could stare at its fading display and know just how late I was going to be for work.

My brain doesn’t work so well in the morning. Since Lionel had already left for work that meant I had no other vehicle to jump start the car with. I really hate calling AAA for a stupid battery, but I couldn’t think of any neighbors that would be around (and awake) at 8am. On the other hand, it’s hard to jump a car if you don’t have another one. So:

“I know!” I said to myself. “I can roll-start it!”

“How are you going to do that, dumbass? You’re in the garage.”

“Okay, well, I’ll push the car out, until I get it to just where the driveway starts to go down. Then I’ll jump in, roll-start it, and be on my way.”

So, I got out of the car and started pushing. It’s a light car but I’m a light person, so I got it about half-way out of the garage when I came to the conclusion that this was stupid. Naturally, my mind drifted to the next inane idea.

“The tractor! I can pull the car out of the garage with the tractor!”

So I get the tractor out of her hiding place, and I attach a chain to my car, and I begin to tow my car out of the garage. I realize, at last, that if I do succeed in getting the car out onto the incline as I’d planned, there wouldn’t be much stopping the car except the tractor in front of it. It seems I’d reached an impasse.

Until it finally dawned on me that the vehicle I was sitting on had a perfectly good battery.

Now I could claim that I pulled the car out of the garage because naturally I had the intention of jump starting my car with my tractor all the while, especially since the tractor doesn’t fit in the garage. But then I’d be lying. In fact, it took me half an hour to remember I had a tractor, let alone that it had a battery. So call me stupid. But hey, fess up. How many of you would have just called AAA? What kind of story is that?


Navigating in a world of otherness

As probably most of my readers know, I have never exactly danced to everybody else’s drum.  I was the kid with no friends, the tomboy with hairy legs, the girl who didn’t wear dresses.  The role of devil’s advocate has always suited me, since I can’t  help but interject the “buts” and “ifs” into even those subjects I whole heartedly agree with.   I could send back offensive mailings with snarky remarks or spit off a letter to the editor with little care in the world because, after all, the world needed educating and I, I was merely the messenger.  I’ve gone about my happy life this way and all was fine, Before Children.

A week ago, Bundle I, a first grader with a capital F, downheartedly explained to me that she had forgotten her school folder at school but there was something Very Important that I needed to read in there.   I assumed it was a newsletter, a calendar or a bus schedule change, but upon successfully bringing home her folder the next day it turned out it was a fundraiser for the PTO.  Within the glossy, glitzy catalog called, cutely, “BelieveKids” (short, I assume, for “we believe in kids” or possibly “we believe there might be kids” or maybe, actually, “Believe, kids!” )  was numerous glossy, glitzy items to purchase; pages and pages of jewelry, handbags, chocolates, a whole section of fall bulbs, christmas ornaments, magazine subscriptions…none of which I was interested in purchasing.  Nor was I planning on pressuring our numerous friends and relatives into purchasing any of it.  Because it was…well, it was all junk.  Made in China.  Most likely plastic.  And all of it, completely extraneous.

Still, it was a fundraiser and, of course, all the other kids were doing it and…there was a contest and…you know, gentle reader, thinking back on it, it wasn’t exactly a picnic for me to be the Tomboy with Hairy Legs, no Friends and no Dresses.  Wouldn’t it be better if my kids could grow up to be…I don’t know…normal?

Yeah, well okay.  “I’ll talk to Daddy about it, honey,” I said, and put the offensive, plastic paper catalog near the recycling bin.  It wasn’t even good for kindling.

I had just about decided that we’d kind of, sort of, just forget about it when another earnest missive came from the PTO, this time asking us to participate in the General Mills educational program BoxTops for Education.

“Mommy!  We just clip the tops of our cereal boxes and…”

“Honey….I’m sorry but….we don’t buy anything by General Mills.”

Truth be told, this isn’t quite precisely true.  A few General Mills purchases do occasionally creep into our house, since General Mills is all powerful and pervasive and own both Kashi and Cascadian Farms, both products that we purchase on occasion.  But there is no way that I am going to clip a rare boxtop just so that the PTO of my child’s elementary school can collect and send them back for a whole ten cents per box top.    In principle I support large corporations’ donations to educational endeavors as long as there are no strings attached to said donation, but we all know in our hearts that BoxTops is merely a pretense aimed solely at pressuring parents to buy Go-Gurts and HoneyNut Cheerios in an effort to shore up the finances of their supposedly publicly funded school.

When I finally did manage to talk to Lionel about both “fundraisers” a few days later, we both agreed that to participate in either one was unpalatable and morally wrong, but we were also both aware that our children’s social status could possibly be at stake, both with their peers and with the various adults they interacted with.  In addition, we recognized that while, in theory, public education should be fully and adequately funded, that in reality, it was not, and they really did need the money.  We finally agreed that we’d send the PTO a note letting them know we could not participate, without letting them know why, along with a direct donation–which probably would fill their coffers more quickly than our three boxtops or our one sympathy purchase would have and will hopefully dull the echoing effects of gossipy PTO-ers.

I used to enjoy being the Other in a field of Them.  After all, I was the one most likely to stand out.  But these days being the Other is increasingly and simply alienating, as  I navigate playdates and fundraisers, clothes and snacks, lunches and homework.   Having to not only make the decision that we will not be eating the nitrate-and-GMO-filled-hot-dogs at the PTO “BBQ” (in quotes because the hotdogs were neither grilled nor was the meal outside) but also trying to explain that decision to two hot-dog loving daughters in a way that would not cause angst or come out of the mouth of babes at the wrong time is exhausting, and my lame excuse that I had erroneously already put dinner in the oven fell flat when questioned about it by other parents.  They’ve all witnessed the bizarre antics of the LLARCS before.  It’s a small town.

Maybe they’re right, after all.  Maybe we’re not from around here.  But when we look around at the end of the day and notice all the dents in the walls that we’ve butted up against during the day, here in the town that we live in, we wonder if there’s any place in the whole world that doesn’t have those walls.

Or at least, softer walls.

In one ear

Over the weekend we dropped everything to take advantage of the first day of PYO strawberries at Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH, about 45 minutes from our house.  The plan was to pick as many pounds as we could and freeze them in order to offset the inevitable winter fruit shortage which forces us to buy frozen strawberries grown in impossibly far away places like Turkey.  (And to answer the mostly rhetorical question posed at the bottom of the post: Yes, actually, the  LLARCS apparently do have to do everything ourselves.)  Our own patch, which will yield a fair amount of berries but not in such startling quantities all at once, will be eaten fresh for as long as they last.

In conversation with another parent, I explained the strawberries-from-Turkey dilemma, and she responded, “You guys always notice stuff like that.”

To which I replied, “you know, I really wish I didn’t.”

I’ve always been hyper-observant of the world around me.  That’s not to say that I won’t miss a road sign or skip two steps in an instruction manual.  But usually I miss the road sign or the two steps because I’ve been distracted by something else.  Consequently I’m not very good at multi-tasking.  But it used to be that I could compartmentalize the observations I was making, along with their associated connections, and essentially shut the noise off.  Strawberries from Turkey?  …shut up, I’m eating strawberries in January; where did you expect them to come from?  Now let’s go watch re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But I lost that door somewhere along the way.  A new neurological connection bypassing the shut-off valve keeps these observation-connections at the forefront of my consciousness at all times.  Now, I have to filter through all the noise just to decide on which kind of fish I will buy and where to buy it; “sustainably farmed”?  (what about the escapees and what are they feeding these captive fish and what is the nutritional value?) hook-caught (from whence were these fish caught; what are the contents of mercury in this type of fish; were the fisherman compensated fairly?), “buy at the local CO-OP or the local fish market?” (CO-OP: Stronger Together! Fish-market: local!  Fish: from same damn distributor no matter where I go!) not to mention trying to remember how much the suddenly hungry LLARCS hoard will eat in a sitting and which recipe to use so that they actually eat it.

And that’s just what’s in front of me.  For added background noise there’s all sorts of issues pinging around in my head, almost constantly, every day, fueled by what I’m reading (Currently “Naming Names” by Victor S. Navasky), or what I’m experiencing, or bigger-ticket items such as climate change, the state of education and health care in our country, and the rise of the corporatocracy.  Sometimes, they even bump together in giant connections that border on a grade-one, Dan Brownesque conspiracy theory.

I think most people are capable of these observations and connections and; to some extent, everyone is influenced by the actual world around them even if they aren’t consciously thinking of issues, scenarios and solutions.  But these constant barrages of  input, in the form of observing, reading, listening and the subsequent echoes of thoughts and memory are inherently stressful to the human brain, and most people just shut them off.  They close that door.  They go on with their lives, willfully and blissfully ignorant.  There’s just way too much information out there to process it all.

 Just buy the damn fish already; you’re running late.

Recently we’ve been looking around us and realizing that while the land we live on is rich and beautiful and unique, the town itself is in a powerful state of decline.  Enrollment in the school system has gone down significantly in the last few years, and given my recent crazy gyrations trying to keep one of my children in the local school system, I can completely understand why, especially since, once they reach the 6th grade, they fall into the black hole known as Hillsboro-Deering.  The crazy gyrations piece will soon be solved by the application of a game card known as “switching” which essentially puts Lionel in the big breadwinner seat and allows me to drop down to part-time, more sleep and a less crazy commute every day.   But the educational dilemma still sits out there, a big dead end.   The thought of sending college-level tuition payments to private schools 1 or 2 hours away from our house fills me with dread.   Sending my children to an economically depressed, blue-collar populated, historically poor-performing school with limited options just seems wrong.  So what do we do?

Naturally, the LLARCS try to stir things up and petition the school board to study the feasibility of alternative school choices for Washington.  As if I didn’t already have enough chaos going around in my head; I organized my thoughts, researched the issue, wrote a lot of supporting documentation, pounded out some statistics, organized some parents and went to the school board, which promptly told us to go away because they were “too busy” and the issue we were raising was “too big.”

Essentially, they shut that door.  That big door that everyone else has where they can take in a bunch of supporting documentation, possibly even read it, and get absolutely nothing out of it at all.

The Chair said it all: “What do you want us to do, again?”

Lionel is as stressed as I am, these days, prior to our big transition.  So even though I patiently explained that the new automatic watering system that I had just purchased was leaking because I had neglected to use plumber’s tape or a wrench to put it together, but that if you turned it on halfway it didn’t leak as much, and that I was going to buy plumber’s tape and fix it the next day, this morning he called me to ask if the waterer was broken because it was leaking so much and did I know that and should he turn it off?  I know there’s lots of stuff bouncing around in his brain too.  In one ear, out the other.  Or in one ear, out the same ear.  Shut the door.

“No, ” I said, and decided not to go into the whole spiel again, and, understanding that it was stress that had made him tune out, tried not to be irritated that he’d apparently not heard anything I’d said at all, “Just turn it on half-way.  I’ll fix it tonight.”

You know, after I pick up the kids,  move the chickens, go to a laundromat because our washer just died, make a couple phone calls about said washer, buy said plumber’s tape,make dinner (fish tonight!), and deal with other unexpected issues.  Meanwhile, my brain, having lost that door somewhere along the line, will still be going on and on, each issue, whether immediate or large, getting equal and scattered attention.  You’d think with all that swishing around in there somewhere I’d finally figure out how to fix the damn door.

Live Free or Die

It sounds admirable, doesn’t it?  It’s a call no true hardscrabble New England Yankee could possibly deny.  It personifies fundamental freedom and hard work and pride.  It codifies responsibility for one’s actions and accepting the consequences.  It soars off the tongue and flies high in our consciousness.  It’s the motto of the Granite State, New Hampshire, the State where I live and work.

That’s me right there.  I should be living that dream all the way home.

I moved to this small town of Washington, NH 13 years ago, following Lionel to the town he’d chosen to call his own home after moving away from New York City both as a physical locality and as a world view.  Previously I had lived one town over (Hillsborough) and before that,  in Bradford.  I’d grown up in Henniker (“The Only Henniker on Earth!”) and gone to high school in Manchester.  I’d gone to Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania for college but came bouncing right back as soon as I was done.

Besides the fact that I was actually born in Boston, I grew up here.  I’m native to this landscape and presumably its people.

I’ve never thought to question this until recently.  All my life I’ve loved the hills, the forested roads, the snarky unpredictable weather, the landscape which grows granite rocks instead of fertility.  I like that our largest city would be considered a small suburb anywhere else.  I love the fact that you can drive across the state in less than a few hours.  I love the White Mountains and the parks and the cold crisp fall air of September, the snowed in coziness of January, the mud season sludge of April, the humid dog days of August.  But the people, the body politic, the culture that embodies our motto?

Let’s be gentle and say it doesn’t appear we have much in common.

I was in a general discussion of the people ‘round these parts with another resident in town with whom I do have much in common, when she mentioned in passing that she “wasn’t native, but..”

“Yes,” I said, “But I am!”  In this particular context I was lamenting the lack of will in the community to come together in any sort of collaborative way to further our local economy, preferring instead to hoard their secrets and their small customer base and not share anything—be it cost or profit.  I find this particular mind set limiting and potentially damaging to the goal of economic sustainablity—a goal I readily admit is not actually on these people’s radar, since the only thing on their radar is themselves—in true Live Free or Die fashion.  But it’s a goal I hold for them for both selfish and altruistic reasons.  What’s good for me would ultimately also be good for everybody, is the way that I see it.  But that would require a communal mindest dangerously sliding toward a socialist model, and we won’t have any of that here.  We’ll fall on our own swords, individually, thank you very much.  And we made them swords, too.

She ventured to say that I was younger, but I don’t trust this explanation.   There’s an assumption in town that I am not in fact a native New Hampshirite, or possibly its just an inherent old town pride which dismisses anything beyond the town line as “not from around he-ah”, which at one point during a heated Town Hall discussion caused another resident to turn and point directly at my face and yell “We let you come here!” when faced with the suggestion that we might want to plan our future housing developments in a more pro-active fashion.   It was later revealed that he himself had moved to town from Massachusetts to escape the persecution of an onerous Zoning Board, but presumably had gone native faster than I did even though I’ve lived here my whole life with no zoning at all.

It’s only taken me 39 years to come to this crisis of identity, mind you, but I now wonder how I could have lived my entire life in Small Town New England and not fully absorbed the culture here?

Lionel, a native New Yorker who’s citiness still arises at odd times (“do you think it’s okay to leave the tractor there?  Someone might steal it.”) suggested it was my education that had disrupted any native political acumen I may have developed otherwise.  Or perhaps my parent’s immigrant status as native Massachusettians and Marylanders gave me a bilingual cultural identity.  Or perhaps it was because I’d married a New Yorker.  Or maybe, I just didn’t fit in.

Yeah.  Story of my life.

Whatever the reason I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t get it.  Instead of fraternizing with my next door neighbors at the Annual Fire Department Chicken BBQ, we schmooze with retirees from Connecticut and New York and New Jersey, who have come up to New Hampshire to escape their own kind.  So the last irony is that I am trying to create a viable local economy by selling my wares to people from out of state, and sourcing the products that we don’t actually make from outside the town lines because the people of Washington NH are too busy making and selling their own jams and pies from their own homes from blueberries from god knows where that  they bought from Shaw’s because they wouldn’t be caught dead picking them from an actual orchard in town run by commie-not-from-around-heah liberals to figure out that it might actually work in their favor to do business with us.  In return, my good old-fashioned “Live Free or Die this, you muthas!” Yankee pride requires that I go tit-for-tat and  I end up going out of my way not to do business with them either.  So much for  altruism and cultural refinement after all.

Economy Size

In contrast to last year’s abrupt change from no winter at all to high summer heat, this year’s transition from winter to spring has been nicely gradual, allowing our sugaring operation some time to flourish.  The winter’s weather was still erratic and fairly warm and didn’t even start, really, until about mid February, but no one remembers that.  All they care about is getting on with the next season so they can show off their new pretty sandals.  Or plant their flower gardens.  Or ride their bikes.  Or whatever their “I’m off work now” passion of the moment is.  People have notoriously bad short term memories, but I’ve come to understand that they are even worse when it comes to the environment they live in.  Someone recently asked me how sugaring was this year, and I replied that at least we weren’t having a heat wave like we did last year.

“What heat wave?” they asked, truly puzzled.

You know, that freaky, 10 day, summer-like weather pattern which kicked off a whole year of drought?

What drought?

Okay, never mind.  Sugaring is great, thanks for asking!

Given this weird blindness to the near term and long term environmental past, it doesn’t really surprise me at all that people still haven’t figured out that the environment they live in actually directly impacts their economic bliss or bust.  A recent Gallup poll shows a majority of people think economic growth should be given priority over environmental protection, presumably because they believe that “environmental protection” is something that doesn’t directly affect them, like polar bears.  They don’t live in “the environment” for the most part, unless they live in “the country,” and then I guess it’s all idyllic and pretty and campfires in July.  The town provides them with clean water, so why should they care about that?  The air they breathe has been filtered and air conditioned so who cares about what’s in it?

We are probably going to raise our per pound chicken price this year, due to the rising cost of feed, especially organic feed.  The rising cost of feed is a direct result of the corn shortage due to the extended, ongoing drought, but our price increase will only cause short term grumbling.  It may not cause any grumbling at all.  Everyone’s food costs are going up, so naturally ours would rise with inflation too, right?  That’s all this really is, anyway, an artificial balloon effect caused by the rapidly shrinking value of the US Dollar.  It can’t possibly have any ties back to “the environment” and whatever it is doing in that wild and free mythical garden with endangered species those environmental activists are always going on about.

Here’s the thing, though; we’re talking about resources.  Resources, like money, food, land, minerals, water, oil… these are the things that fill our bellies and our wallets, right?  Ultimately, we’re all relying on the abundance or the rarity of these resources to provide us with jobs so that we can have money so that we can pay for food, water, oil…and, ultimately, these resources come from that environment thing, otherwise known as Earth, you know, that big globe thing we live on.



I haven’t lost you, have I?

“The environment” makes us those resources that we dig up and that we pay for.  If “the environment” becomes sour, if the resources that we dig up become rare or dirty or disappear completely, then the jobs that depend on them will no longer pay us the money for the resources that are too expensive to pay for.  In other words, the quality of our environment directly impacts the quality of our economy.

“Wait…. are you still talking about polar bears?  I’m all for polar bears, you know, but they don’t pay my water bill.  Which has gone up, for some reason.”

Okay.  Never mind.  I’m fine.  How are you?


Something There Is That Doesn’t

Yesterday, in the dark wee hours of the morning, I woke to what I swore was the sound of glass breaking.  The wind had picked up followed by torrential rain, as promised by that day’s weather forecast, and our old house shuddered and whined as the newest wild weather system crashed into it.  I went back into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up early these days, 4am.  Bundle I has a half-day in the public school kindergarten, and Bundle II’s pre-school days end at 2pm.   My progressive, “we’re all about life-work-family balance” employer doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, and is apparently large enough that it needs a policy in order to accommodate a lone individual with a 70-mile round trip commute, two young children in school and a job that is, let’s face it, 99% about remotely managing servers.  Lionel now works three days a week; someone has to get the kids to school, and someone has to get them back out again.  So; he goes to work at 10am and finishes up his day at 6pm, and I go to work at 5am and finish my day at 2pm, where upon I scramble around to pick up the kids from their respective places (Bundle II at her pre-school, which has a robust aftercare program, and Bundle I at the at-home child care provider, since her publicly funded school does not).  If I’m lucky, I might be in bed–and asleep– by 10:30pm.  Suffice to say I’m not getting the long end of the stick at the moment.

Yesterday upon waking up, the wind and rain lashing the house,  I uneasily ventured outside to retrieve items from the car which inevitably get left behind from the previous day, and was greeted by a moist, warm, evil blast of air.  I checked the thermometer.  57 degrees F.  The tiny bit of snow pack we’ve managed to accumulate this winter was rapidly disappearing.  I shivered despite the warmth, grabbed my items and ran back inside.  Finally I was ready to venture back out, and slowly made my tedious way through the rain and gale force winds to my job.

As I finished up my day in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature had dropped down to 38 degrees and was forecast to go back down into the 20s by sunset.  I complained about the crazy commute in and the weather in general to a colleague and their comment was “Yeah, well, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Yeah.  Okay.  Trite Twain platitudes aside, the weather pattern was actually breaking temperature extreme records all over the place, and was a direct result of a misplaced jet stream and stratospheric warming, causing tornadoes further south and forcing flood and gale warnings up and down the eastern seaboard.  And furthermore, just the week before we had seen temperature records falling on the other extreme, dipping well below zero.  Eventually, gentle reader, if it looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  And the carbon that I was spewing into that warm, unseasonable, extremely high force wind at 4:30am on my mostly unneccessary-but-for-policy commute wasn’t helping the situation at all.

When I was in my 20’s and reasonably endowed with a strong education, I believed the solution to problems was pretty much black-and-white.  Don’t enjoy your commute in the morning?  Move closer to your job.  Or get a job closer to home.  Or, don’t work.  Case closed.  But with the passage of time, a few small children and a whole lot of brain cells dying every minute of my day, the situation has gotten a lot more complex from a whole bunch of different angles.  The need to be employed in order to obtain adequate healthcare.  The reality of needing to pay out for electricity and phone services and taxes and food.  The fact that the town I live in has no industry and furthermore has no interest in having any industry.  My children’s future educational needs.   The ties that bind us to the land we live on.  Each angle has its own, sometimes even relatively simple, solution, certainly.  But the solutions we  arrive at might not add up to a coherent whole.

When I got back home yesterday after navigating around downed branches and trees and rapidly freezing puddles, I pulled back into my own driveway with some relief  to see that the only visible damage was one chicken coop which had blown over.  Even though I had woken to the sound of shattering glass, we could find no evidence of it.   The wind continued to howl outside, the audible, tangible roar of a climate officially gone awry, a human populace officially failing to navigate its way out of the hole it dug.  It blew long into the night and finally departed in the wee hours.  The shattered glass sound?  Maybe it was just the sound of clashing possibilities.

The Supermarket Reality Show

In the summer, especially in a good year, we’re able to successfully avoid conventional grocery stores almost all together.  Every once in a while we run out of some dry good staple like toilet paper, and we’ll make a reluctant run to Market Basket or Big Lots or Walmart–whatever is closest or isn’t bugging us as much that day.  This year we were able to make our tomatoes last all the way past Thanksgiving.  There’s still frozen corn, a few bags of peas, some swiss chard and some beans in the freezer.  We have all the meat we’ll need for the year except when we might hanker for sausage or fish.  We have potatoes, onions, garlic.  We have rutabaga, beets, and carrots.  We still have a few bags of frozen blueberries left.  We are up to our ears in pickles, dilly beans, and tomato sauce.  We even have our own catsup.

We’re able to get our milk, eggs, honey and bread at a local farmstand, and sometimes our soap.  We could even get cheese there, if Bundle I and Bundle II weren’t so specific with their love of Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar. 

It’s the fresh fruit and need for green vegetables that get us.

So, every two weeks or possibly longer if I can help it, I bundle the kids up and I make my laborious trip to the least offensive grocery store of the moment.  These days I’ve been trekking to Brattleboro, Vermont’s Co-Op, mostly because of all the various Co-ops in the region, they are the most likely to still be carrying local produce (apples, tomatoes, occasionally broccoli or brussell sprouts, and greens from various local high tunnels).  They’ve got a fair amount of bulk items like pasta, rice, oatmeal, flour, dried fruit.   I can get cases of wine there for pretty good prices which will last us for months.  But the majority of the store is as conventional as it gets, except with higher price points, so I then travel to one of the various supermarket chains for the rest of it– usually fruits and vegetables that aren’t local and are therefore coming from the same distributor regardless of whether it ultimately ends up at Market Basket or the Co-op, canned goods, cereals, paper products.  Depending on what time of day and the day of the week that I’ve chosen to do the shopping, I can come up against all sorts of obstacles; completely unripe fruit which was likely picked too early so that it could withstand the harsh trip from Mexico; items which try to hide the fact that they contain sugar by calling it “evaporated cane juice”, the ongoing and usually unsuccessful search for milk that doesn’t have Omega 3 added to it, or for yogurt which hasn’t had all the fat-and thus most of the nutrition- stripped out, items which proudly proclaim they are Gluten Free because they were never made out of wheat in the first place, rows and rows of bags claiming to contain bread but appear to only contain sponge, the lipservice to “Organic” which either involves wrapping said items in indestructable shrink wrap plastic and scattering them about the produce section or lumping it all together in a begrudgingly small space and then using that space as a storage area for the Kellogs Corn Flakes about to be re-stocked, the obligatory and utterly insulting and paltry display of “Local” items which are usually local only as the 747 flies, and finally, the other shoppers, most of whom have filled their carts with the very stuff I had studiously been avoiding and now am staring at while they-slowly- meander through the aisles and usually end up ahead of me in line.

At some point during the trip, I start muttering.  Usually it takes the form of a conversation with my children, but it is most likely obvious to everyone else around me that I’m actually about to go postal.  When someone randomly tells the package she holds that Rice Cakes have always been Gluten Free because they are made out of RICE, god-damn it, well, you just stay clear of that person.  You might even keep an eye on her kids just to make sure she isn’t, you know, really crazy.  I’ve also successfully cleared the “Organic” section by insisting that I wanted to look at the entire aisle, thank you, and please move the Kellogs Crap Flakes somewhere else until I’m done…but I’m not sure I should really be proud of that.

Here’s the thing though; the majority of the U.S. gets their food this way.  And they apparently don’t think anything of it.  They just blindly go down the aisles, blithely picking up “bargains” when they see them, skirt around the various displays, pay little attention to labels, and generally buy items which I personally wouldn’t consider edible, at least not on a daily basis.    They don’t care if the fruit isn’t ripe or the cucumber is soft because most of that is an after thought anyway, or maybe they’ve never actually eaten the real thing.    They buy the sponge bread and the peanut butter and jelly mix because they’ve been led to believe they’ll save time this way or possibly because their kids don’t have enough of an attention span to find both the peanut butter jar and the jelly jar.    So as I’m going about on my crazed hunt for the least offensive items on the very edges of the store, the majority is staying out of my way by buying up the middle.  So actually we don’t cross paths that often, except at the check out line.

The majority of the people that I come into contact with are omnivores.  Yet they are genuinely horrified when they realize that the chickens in our backyard are destined to be chicken salad.  For them, food comes from a supermarket, preferrably on styrofoam or possibly pre-cooked and microwaveable, its actual origins far removed from whatever form it takes in the package.  As long as the store offers convenient parking and the carts don’t wobble, they’re good to go.  Welcome to reality, Aileen.   Yeah.  What you think you’re doing?  That’s just a dream.

See what’s become of me

My mother just turned 69 two days ago.

That means I’ll be 39 in April, with one year to go before the big Four Oh.  When I was growing up, the big family history was that my grandmother was 30 when she had my mother, and my mother was 30 when she had me; so naturally, being my contrary, I’ll-show-you self, I waited a few more years after my thirtieth birthday to contemplate the idea of replicating  my genes.  Consequently, Bundle I will be a mere 7 when I am 40; Bundle II a mere 4.  Lionel, who is 12 years older than me, has already passed the half century mark and is every day feeling the effervescent and inexorable effects of gravity.

Most days, I work, do dishes, work, do laundry, watch kids and then fall into an exhausted sleep.  In the summers I add to the usual household drudgery by going outside and growing various vegetables, meats and fruits which the average consumer may feel are out of reach of both their pocketbooks and ability to adequately cook– what does one do with a rutabaga, a swiss chard, a beet, anyway?  How do I manage to fillet an entire chicken?  What do you mean  you slaughtered them by yourself?  I still observe the world but can’t express it in more sentences than it might take in a Facebook update; who has the time? 

Frustrated? Old?  Possibly, I just need to break out a little.

Just now I went to a clothing store and bought this weird sweatshirt/dress thing.  Very comfortable, kind of bizarre, I instantly fell in love with it and after buying it proudly took it out of the store thinking that I’d finally managed to look out of my little box.  But just now I realized that the thing is standard black/gray, the same color combination I always gravitate towards.  So much for orginality.  So much for age bringing wisdom or clarity.

Naturally since I have two girls and, being a tomboy myself, I try to balance my need to dress both kids in Carhartts and boots with their need to play Princess and discover the world of fairies, and I’ve found I’ve become a lot more open minded about what feminism might mean in the long run.  I find myself wondering if I’d have been so militant in the opposite direction with a son– would I have insisted that he have access to dresses and dolls so that he could choose his own gender?  Or would I have just gravitated towards the trucks and legos because that’s where I myself had always gone?  Without a doubt my daughters are both richer for the wider world they have access to.  But it’s made my world both narrower and wider as well.  Nothing is quite as black and white anymore as it used to be.  Maybe that just comes with my great old age.

So it is December 28, 2012 and we have survived the Mayan Apocalypse but we’re heading into the great climate cliff for which we are neither prepared for nor entirely even believe.  Nonetheless, we’re heading into a future of many tragedies, many triumphs, many challenges, many unknowns, and hopefully for all of us; many, many years.  Possibly, amongst all the varying peoples, varying attitudes and opinions, maybe the one abiding thing we all share is time. 

Time, time, time.

Preparation in a Globally Changed Climate

Lionel and I have gotten very, very good at preparing for disasters, at least the weather-related kind.

As Sandy began bearing down on the East Coast, we took stock of our situation and agreed on systematic tasks aimed at minimizing high-wind damage and water damage, preparing for possible long-winded power outages and road closures, and protecting our livelihood, as much as we are able.

We did not go out amongst the masses and buy bottled water, gasoline, batteries, milk, or bread.  We did do some last minute grocery shopping, more because we needed to go grocery shopping than because there was a storm coming.  We used the opportunity to fill up a cooler full of ice and essentials–in case of power outage– to minimize the number of times we might access our fridge in the event of the anticipated power outage.

We’d meant to buy and install a generator before the next big disaster, which we both knew was imminent, based on our fairly accurate observations regarding the number and frequency of the “freak” weather events coming our way, but the project was still in the works when news broke of Sandy’s path, and we were not about to be gouged on the generator front or stand in line for an item we intended to buy in due time anyway.  The generator would ease the burden on us by keeping our two freezers and two refrigerators powered, our sump pump going, and our furnace circulating.  We’d gotten around all these issues in past storms and knew it was not impossible, but it was certainly wearing thin.

Potable water went into numerous containers and stood waiting for us to drink them–a pot full of water stood in the bathroom for toilet flushing or other water needs.  On our trip out to buy groceries, we splurged on compostable plates and bowls to minimize the number of backed-up dishes we might have to do after power was restored.  We cleared the yard of debris, removed the flag from the flag pole, boarded up the playhouse, cleaned up the basement in case of flood, and, eyeing a lone white pine out in the yard, brought the turkeys into their coop to stay for the duration.  Then we waited for the fury to come.  While we waited, we made a dinner which could easily be transferred to the coleman stove outside, should the power go out at an inconvenient time.

In the end, we lost power for a few hours after everyone had been safely tucked in and sustained some minor flooding in the basement, but this large, “unprecedented” storm mostly bypassed us this time.  While New Yorkers bemoaned the loss of their subway service and New Jersey mourned the loss of its beaches, we poured out the potable water and unpacked the cooler with a sigh of relief.  We’ll wait for a few weeks for the masses to forget about this storm to buy that generator, in preparation for the next, big, unprecedented, historic, freak storm which has become all too frequent in this globally changed climate we now live in.  The difference between Sandy and these other events–perhaps– is that now we’ve finally accepted it.  This is what we live in now.  We’ll deal with it and move on.  There is nothing else that we can do.  Nature doesn’t stop for stragglers.

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