The Plum Harvest

It was enormous this year. With help, I’ve taken at least sixty pounds of it off the tree so far, and there are more left. These are just a few:


our plum harvest

What does a person do with that many plums, anyway??? When I was growing up, our family made plum jam. Way too much work! Also, I like them raw, not cooked. Very best: sun-warmed and overripe. The only way to get that kind of plum is to have your own tree, or stay on good relations with a friend or neighbor who has a tree.

There’s a limit to how many fresh plums you can eat in a day and still crave them. I’ve gone over it. So . . . I’ve frozen some, made some into muffins, and given some away, to lots of different people. Some are going to a Food Security project, still in its infancy.  It’s an anti-capitalist effort.

Speaking of capitalism, and economics, what is the value of a fresh, ripe plum? The grocery store says it’s about $3.50 per pound, and since there are 12 of these plums in a pound, that would cost just about $0.30. In theory, if I wanted to sell all sixty pounds myself, I could get about $210. But that’s only if I could sell every last one, at that price. About half are bruised or have small bites, and we’re used to buying fruit that looks perfect. So it’s down to $105, barring clever marketing or packaging or whatnot.

Is that the only way to measure the value of a plum? What about its caloric value? About 30 calories. That would be 360 calories for a pound and 21,600 calories for the lot. Well, that’s interesting. Assuming that 2500 as an average daily caloric intake, those plums would feed a person for 8 days. (Do not try this at home, kids. Your colon can’t take it.) In a time of famine, this would be a windfall.

Or what about value in terms of time expended? Never mind the time it took to plant and water the tree, because it’s self-sufficient by now. But there’s pruning, keeping bindweed away, and hosing it down to prevent aphids. This year, an extra “climate change tax” of time because it rained ash, so I’m washing and drying the plums. Then of course, there’s the time it takes to pick the plums. Let’s estimate 30 hours annually. In that case, the plums are worth two pounds an hour.

In that case, one hour of labor gets me $7 worth of plums – not even minimum wage. Or, to see it another way, it gets me a third of my daily caloric intake. (Kids, again: Don’t eat all those plums in one sitting.)

These comparisons let me notice some things: first, we usually think of value in capitalism’s terms; and second, there are so many other ways to measure it.

What about the plums’ value to the tree? Clearly, since the tree just drops them on the ground, they’re worth nothing. On the other hand, if it wasn’t going to bear fruit, I wouldn’t have planted it in my back yard. So the tree owes everything to its plums.

How does the tree repay the favor? By sharing its plums. (Side note, it gives plums to the bees as well, which did the tree the favor of fertilizing the fruit in the first place, and which take bites of the fruit at harvest time.)

How do I repay the favor? Also by sharing the plums. And that brings me back to the food security project. It’s an anarchist thing. There is a hazy long-term goal of providing a sustainable source of food to a community, especially in case of economic collapse or whatnot. Will it succeed? Or will it go the way of many anarchist projects – abandoned in favor of something shinier? You can never tell.

All I know is that if people are truly interested in destroying capitalism, we have to build something else. And that “something else” depends on people not starving. It requires food to be produced, transported, distributed, and eaten. Somebody has to do that work. In any economic system.

In the meantime, twenty-some pounds of plums left my hands and went off to a meeting of anarchists, where they were shared and eaten and taken home. And valued.

Thanks, tree!

– Kristin





Review: Leviathan Wept and Other Stories by Daniel Abraham

Chewy, heartfelt, philosophical, concrete magic. Trigger warning for at least one of the stories, “Flat Diane,” a story I personally wish I hadn’t read. (I’m only halfway through the book.)

Lately, as in the past five years, I’ve gotten pickier and pickier in what I’m willing to read. Most books tell stories I’ve already heard and therefore can’t distract me from the ten thousand things on my mind these days. Not this book. I couldn’t predict a single ending, but when it came it was just right, and the journey was always full of allure.

I came across the collection after watching the first two seasons of The Expanse and wanting to read the books, which turned out to be written by James S. Corey, who is in fact not one person but two: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. It was hanging out at the local library and I’d passed over it many times, seeing pretension in the title.

The first story, “The Cambist and Lord Iron,” is an exceptional “three attempts” fairy tale. Our hero Olaf, who is a cambist (an exchanger of currencies) must contend with the impossible requests of Lord Iron, a monstrous excuse of a human being. Olaf’s misfortune is that he understands that it’s possible to exchange anything for anything. For instance, it’s true you can buy bread for money, but it’s equally true that you can buy money for bread, or exchange a horse for some number of lemon mints. Lord Iron brags about this ability and next thing you know, lives are staked on a bet. Can Olaf answer this question:

What is the value of a day in the life of the king, expressed in a day in the life of a prisoner?

This is starting to look like a Sufi riddle. It’s a seemingly simple question that breaks our usual way of thinking. Anybody can have an opinion, but to find an actual, correct, concrete answer?

I never saw the answer coming until it smacked me in the face. But it was true.

And that’s really as much as I can say about the story without spoilers. It’s a thinky story, also full of deep emotion and understandings, and concrete sensory experiences.

I’ll skip “Flat Diane,” which by the way is an International Horror Guild award-winner, so read it at your own peril, and move on to “The Best Monkey.” Just a taste. It begins like so:

How do men choose the women they’re attracted to? . . . It feels like kismet. Karma. Fate. It feels like love. Is it a particular way of laughing? A vulnerability in their tone of voice? A spiritual connection? Something deeper?

All the studies say it’s hip-to-waist ratio.

This snippet shows a tension between deeper meanings and concrete answers. The format – a question deep with longing and introspection, and a cold, abrupt answer that nevertheless sings with its own poetry – is repeated throughout the story, a seeming diversion from the detective-story plot, until the last. Then boom.

I won’t easily forget any of these stories.

– Kristin


Why genealogy?

Elenor, Ellen, Eleanor, Helena. Every official source seems to list her name differently. Why? After some digging, I learned that she could read but not write.

But that’s not the main question. The question I started with: which one of her husbands was my ancestor? Odd, conflicting family stories. Brothers who ran away from their father, or stepfather. They were adopted, but by which one?

The answer, which comes out only partially, is that there was one hell of a soap opera happening in the late 1800s. Elenor’s first husband Thomas had married before, not sure what happened to her. So Elenor married Thomas, and then had two sons. At some point, after the birth of the oldest son, she either left or divorced Thomas for a Henry (who had abandoned his first family to go gold mining, and who would later start a third family, after Elenor’s sons ran away from home and Elenor divorced him). She took her two boys, but later, Thomas filed a suit to get the oldest son back.

The game of musical spouses notwithstanding, it looks like my ancestor, the father of the oldest son, is Thomas. It took me three days of research and the answer feels somewhat anticlimactic.

But now there are more questions. Why did Elenor give up her oldest son? And several years later, when she went back to retrieve the oldest son, did Thomas give him up? Was it because he was busy with his third family? Why did the two boys later run away? Did they stay in contact with Elenor or did the family lose track of each other?

This is a story for which I’ll never know the details. The two boys had a happy ending. What about Elenor? She was indigent when she divorced Henry. Did she manage to have a good life anyway?

So why do I research genealogy? I’m seeking answers. But to what question? I confess I don’t know.

Chasing around after long-gone dead people to whom I am only remotely connected, but without whom I’d never exist. There’s some deep mystery there.

I do feel a greater understanding of human history. It’s a muddle. It’s full of people trying to survive the best they can. Sometimes they’re the oppressors and sometimes the oppressed, and sometimes they move from one category to the other.

And every one of the official stories about our collective past is a lie.

– Kristin

Picture of deeply entwined tree roots

We usually show genealogy as “a family tree” with happy ancestors adorning the branches. But our past digs deep, becomes unknowable fast. And many stories, like Elenor’s, become like bramble. (Image from the public domain.)




Muddled Privilege Conversations

Yesterday I came across a simple, effective lesson on privilege that missed out on something important. It came from a comic by Nathan Pyle, posted first on BuzzFeed and then on the Everyday Feminism site: “How One Teacher Taught the Class a Powerful Lesson about Privilege.”

The Lesson

The teacher instructed students to crumple up pieces of paper and toss them in a recycling bin. Students in the front row had it easy, but oddly enough, students in the back row had it much harder. So far so good. But. The moral at the end.

Your job — as students who are receiving an education — is to be aware of your privilege. And use this particular privilege called “education” to do your best to achieve great things, all the while advocating for those in the rows behind you.

What’s wrong here? In short, it’s all about preserving privilege and power. It’s assuming an audience of privileged people and presenting them with a recommended course of action–all the while ignoring the folks in the back, and with them, any possible chance of doing away with privilege altogether.

Rather than argue my points, let’s play with a couple of different scenarios and see what happens. We’ll name the students in the front row A and B; the second row C and D; and the third row E and F.

Scenario #1: Bow to the Teacher’s Wisdom

All the students throw their crumpled papers. A and B succeed, and consider it a job well done. The second row students try diligently. C barely makes it, while D misses, resolving to try better next time. E and F aren’t even close. They complain bitterly and start arguing with the rest of the class.

“Well, I didn’t make it either, and you don’t hear me complaining,” replies D.

The teacher imparts his wisdom and most of the students nod thoughtfully,  imagining themselves in the front row of life and resolving to be kind to those less fortunate. But the back row students feel something’s off.

After the bell rings, E complains to F: “You mean to say the best I can hope for is to throw my paper, fail, and get a pat on the head from B?”

F shrugs. “Guess so. Jerks.”

(Later that evening, the janitor comes in and cleans up the crumpled papers, feeling mild irritation at these careless, privileged students.)

Scenario #2: Classroom Warfare 

In the middle of the teacher’s speechifying, E breaks out and says, “That was not fair! I demand a redo!”

“What’s your problem?” asks A.

“You’re way up close!” says F.

“That’s not our fault!” says A.

In the second row, C turns around and says, “You sat in the back row. You don’t deserve to score. But I tried.”

E and F start crumpling fresh pieces of paper and get out of their seats for an impromptu redo.

“Sit down, students!” calls the teacher. “I wasn’t done explaining!”

E and F keep moving forward.  Afraid of violence, D asks everybody to quiet down and listen to the teacher. Meanwhile, A, B, and C have gotten out of their seats and formed a protective wall in front of the recycling bin.

A and F start yelling at each other. D starts shouting that it’s just a game. E pushes a chair up to the blockade and starts to climb up, B kicks it away, and A brandishes a ruler. D knocks over a desk. By the time the bell rings, the classroom is trashed and two kids are in detention.

(And the janitor is not pleased.)

Scenario #3: Somebody Uses their Imagination

Before any crumpled papers are thrown, F blows a whistle and says, “This is completely unfair!”

“So what?” says A. “It’s just a game. We sit in the front row, we win. It’s that simple.”

“You people are so sensitive,” says D.

The teacher tries to break in. “Students, this is a lesson about privilege. And your job, as students receiving an education, is to be aware of your privilege, and to advocate for others who are less fortunate.”

F blows the whistle again. “I vote we put the recycling bin in the back of the room. All in favor?” E shouts “Right on!” But C and D just look confused.

“This is a classroom, you moron, not a presidential election,” says A.

But C’s eyes light up. “Let’s put it in the exact middle.”

“Right next to you, of course,” A remarks. “As if.”

“Why do you care?” asks C. “It’s no farther away from you than it is now. You have the same chance of success.”

“Because it’s not FAIR to ME,” says A, with an eyeroll. B snickers and nods.

The teacher scolds A and B, saying, “Remember your privilege, and to advocate for those more fortunate.”

B looks a little abashed. “How about we give them more practice time?”

“Wait, I know!” says E. “We could move the chairs into a circle.”

“Sorry, but no,” says the teacher. “Moving furniture is not allowed for this exercise.”

All eyes turn to the teacher.

“Why?” asks E.

“Because I’m in charge, and I say so.”

“Now, that’s privilege,” says D.

“Well . . . no. . . ” says E, thinking hard. “Not privilege. Power. The power to impart privilege to some and not to others.”

The teacher makes eye contact with A and B and rolls his eyes conspiratorially. “That’s enough for today, students.”

F blows the whistle again. “All in favor of moving the chairs?”

The vote is not even close. The teacher vetoes, and A and B refuse to participate in the vote on the grounds that voting in a classroom is ridiculous. But the second and third rows are unanimous.  Chairs are moved. The game is played. Everybody wins.

(And the janitor has nothing to clean and goes home early.)

The Moral of the Story

It’s all well and good for the front-row students to understand their own privilege. But what then? What is to be done with that information, and who is capable of doing it?

(Aside from offering those questions, I have no Official Wisdom to impart. Make your own moral.)


– Kristin


Bye, bye, LiveJournal!

I love blogging. It’s like keeping a diary, but you self-edit so your posts are not so torturous to read later. And for those times you absolutely must splay your guts on the page, you can write a blog post and mark it “private.” It’s like having a secret pen pal.

I started blogging maybe around 2009? I quickly settled on LiveJournal, partly because other friends of mine were there too. Then Facebook came on the scene, and LiveJournal started doing pushy advertisements, so I switched to WordPress, leaving my old stuff on LiveJournal.

It’s not entirely the same. WordPress feels more professional and less personal, and with less of a sense of community. But it’s where I am.

Meanwhile, something happened with LiveJournal. It turns out it has been owned by a Russian company since 2007, and I neither knew nor cared. But after the 2016 presidential election, in which the Russian government explicitly meddled in the U.S. democracy, I care a damn lot. But more to the point, the servers are now living in Russia and subject to Russian espionage  (guess it wasn’t a secret pen pal after all), Russian law, and Russian censorship. This is happening in the context of human rights abuses in Chechnya relating to LGBT folks. (By the way, there is a call-out to folks to consider donating to an organization called All Out, for emergency evacuation of LGBT folks in Chechnya.  ) LiveJournal put out a new Terms of Service that everyone using LiveJournal had to agree to, and a bunch of people are leaving in droves and moving over to

Here’s a blog post with more info (especially see the comments): New LiveJournal Terms of Service.

So, goodbye LiveJournal. I made a backup on Dreamwidth (under an alias so I can splash fanfiction and whatnot on the page without worrying about the mess) and then I deleted my account. I am copying over some of my more interesting posts to this blog, as time permits, and back-dating them.

emma peel moved her blog

Let that be a lesson to me!

Somehow I ran down my iron stores and ended up with iron-deficiency anemia. In retrospect, it was inevitable. I’m a pre-menopausal woman, and although I’m not a vegetarian, I rarely eat red meat. Also, I donate blood.

The symptoms came on gradually and didn’t scream out “iron deficiency!” For starters, my red blood count was normal less than three months ago, when I last gave blood. But I was frequently lightheaded and had activity-related headaches, and a normal aerobic workout would wipe me out for the whole day. Oh, well. Now I know. I’m taking the supplements and starting to feel better, except for the upset tummy that iron supplements cause.

But it’s also a metaphorical object lesson. I just kept right on giving blood, without making sure I had enough iron in reserve. In other words, I ran myself into the ground. But I do that in many other areas of my life as well. I give other people more of my time than I mean to. And since the last presidential election, I’ve pushed myself to be more politically active than I can handle, which has meant an important life goal (my novel) has been sliding.

So my goal for the next month or so, as I build back up my iron stores and my energy: practice being selfish. I’ll see how it goes!




In defense of outlines

I. Introduction

A. Anecdote

B. Not taught in elementary and middle schools

D. Benefits of outlining

E. Call to action

III. Why not taught

A. Scare students

B. What teachers do instead

1. similar to outlining but without the Roman Numerals

2. ex. “mental map”

3. [note: research and give examples]

4. My opinion: this mystifies the writing process

II.  Benefits of outlining

A. Makes the writing process easier – manageable chunks

B. Helps with anxiety

1. There is something on the page

2. Numbers and letters make you feel like accomplishing something

3. Psych yourself into thinking you are not writing

C. Benefits for procrastinators

1. [Anecdote]

2. Can leave writing until the last minute

D. An aid to research

1. Lets you know ahead of time what research may be necessary

2. Lets you know what the gaps are in your research

3. Can take notes and cut and paste right into outline

4. Big screens are a plus. Do not attempt on a cell phone.

5. Old fashioned paper works too.

E. Organization is flexible

1. Often your first idea for organizing doesn’t work out

2. Easy to move around, add new categories

3. Word processors often have tools that make it even easier

F. The more complex the writing assignment, the more helpful

1. [Anecdote]

III. Call to action

A. Bring back outlining!

B. Not for everyone, indispensable for some

C. Yes, I am a geek for writing an entire essay in outline form and posting it to my blog. (What can I say? Organization pleases me.) If you read this whole thing, maybe you are too.

IV. Bibliography

A. [Find sources on any studies re: outlining]

B. [Find sources for any examples of mental maps, etc.]