Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Stack Your Functions!

In Permaculture lingo, “stacking functions” refers to building redundancies into a sustainable garden. In a forest, a tree doesn’t just do one thing; instead, it performs multiple jobs, like regulating climate, sequestering carbon, holding soil together, providing habitat, and giving food, just to name a few. One of the problems with industrialized society is that almost every aspect of our lives is specialized – there are shockingly few things we do or have that that perform more than one or two functions. This is especially true in our food and habitat (for most of us, houses and apartments), and it leads to an incredible amount of waste. Imagine if forests needed a separate organism to do each and every single job that one tree can easily perform.

Take, for example, a lawn. The lawn is pretty much the epitome of wasted space. Most of the time, it performs one single function: looking nice (if you like the way lawns look, something I personally can’t wrap my head around). Sometimes – sometimes – it also serves as a recreational area, so that’s two functions, which wouldn’t be so bad if lawn wasn’t the single largest crop in the United States. If you add a hedge to the edge of it to make it look nicer, you again have a plant that probably only serves one function – and notice that they don’t help each other out very much. If you find it impossible to keep your lawn healthy, this wasted space and lack of relationships is the reason why. Lawn is a monoculture, and there’s a reason monocultures never occur in nature.

To build a truly ecological garden, you need to make sure that all your plants are performing multiple tasks (and that all tasks are being done by multiple plants – more on that in a minute). For example, if you’re a fan of flowers, don’t just get a variety that looks nice. Try to find a flowering vegetable or perennial herb, or a creeping vine that acts as mulch or shades a window, or an edible flower like nasturtiums, or a flower that feeds and creates habitat for beneficial insects and spiders. If you’re growing vegetables, go for natural configurations that help the plants help each other. The most often cited example is the Three Sisters garden, in which squash, corn, and beans help keep each other healthy through mutually beneficial relationships. The corn provides a stalk for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash acts as mulch. See The Urban Homestead or Gaia’s Garden to learn how to do it, or check out Kai Chang’s blog for updates on his garden. Another way to stack functions is through a polycultural bed, in which seeds are scattered so that vegetables come up in no particular pattern. The random placement of beans means that you don’t need to rotate your crops to amend the soil, and the close proximity of plants shades the ground so that the temperature is regulated and moisture is preserved. Again, see Urban Homestead or Gaia’s Garden.

Think about stacking functions in terms of landscaping, too. Why plant some anonymous hedge when a rosemary bush is edible and produces adorable flowers? If you’re looking for border plants, why not plant strawberries or chives, both of which also flower? If you never use your lawn, why have one at all? Edible landscaping, polycultural beds, or a fruit or nut tree can look just as nice (better, in my opinion) as grass. And if you take your climate into consideration when you’re planting, it’ll take much less work to care for your garden.

It’s also important to make sure that multiple plants are meeting a particular need, in case something happens to one of them. If you want to grow food, don’t just grow one plant or type of crop – if it gets a disease, then there goes all your work for the season. If you live in a dry climate, don’t rely on just one source of water – use multiple irrigation and conservation methods, like a soaker hose, thick mulch, a cistern, and berms and swales.

To reduce waste, try to stack functions in the rest of your life, too. One example from my own life is transportation. When I drive my car unnecessarily, I’m wasting both gas and time; notice that the car is only performing one function. If, however, I ride my bike, now I’m getting exercise while I travel. If I ride the bus, I can read or grade papers. If my destination is close enough to walk to, then I can listen to a Yiddish tape while I exercise and travel. Note that since most people reading this blog probably live in a car culture, the car makes sense, for now, if you’re in a hurry or if you need to carry a lot of stuff. However, since the earth doesn’t contain enough resources to sustain car cultures indefinitely, consider the virtues of animal transportation – a horse will give you fertilizer and companionship in addition to healthy transportation. (Horseback riding is a workout, right? It looks like it, at least.) Also note that this form of stacking functions shouldn’t turn into an addiction to multitasking. If you’re doing more than you can comfortably concentrate on, or if it’s stressing you out, then you are canceling out the good effects of your functions.

Conversely, living in a place that gives me the option of walking, biking, taking public transportation, or driving is an excellent system of redundancies. If my car or bike is in the shop, or I’m temporarily disabled, or I don’t have time for the bus, I still have plenty of options. I’ll never be completely stranded as long as I’m traveling within my city.

Another area of your life in which you should stack functions is food. Over the past century, we’ve developed a bizarre system in which, generally speaking, pleasure and nutrition are separated from each other. We eat fast food and chips and then buy vitamin supplements. We choke down iceburg lettuce and then crave cookies and soda. The whole reason we have a sense of taste is because a good taste, absent artificial ingredients, signals good nutritional content. If the food you’re eating isn’t both pleasurable and nutritious, then there’s a problem. It’s probably not your fault, especially if you’re low-income, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Western culture needs to drastically change its food system.

Finally, think about stacking functions in terms of space and garbage. If you have one room in your house for the guest bed, one room for each child, one room for eating, one room for watching TV, one room for entertaining guests, and one room for working on the computer, then you have too many rooms. (Full disclosure: I myself currently live in an apartment with too many rooms.) Like the lawn, all this wasted space creates a lot of unnecessary work. Can you put your desk in the guest room? Do you need both a living room and a den? Similarly, if you use a disposable cup once, for fifteen minutes, and then throw it away, that cup has only performed one function in its entire lifetime. Use a glass instead – or, at the very least, compost the disposable one and feed it to your plants. If the cup isn’t compostable because it’s plastic or has wax or poisonous dyes or whatever, then that’s a bad system.

Of course, the idea of cutting down on garbage is hardly revolutionary – but in practice, it can be maddeningly hard to pull off. This is why the best way to really start stacking your functions isn’t to simply pat yourself on the back for using canvas bags at the grocery store or travel mugs at the coffee shop, but to honestly evaluate every single object you use. If it only performs one function – or if it’s not reusable or even biodegradable – then it’s wasting space and resources. Once you realize that, you can begin figuring out what to do about it.

my garden

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.

Continue reading

Has anyone heard of this…?

Birkat Hachamah? Far out. From the Forward:

Jewish Groups Prepare for Rare Blessing of the Sun

As sunrise broke over New York City on the morning of April 8, 1981, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi — at the time he was known just as Zalman Schachter — stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and sounded the shofar.

For more than two hours after, Shachter-Shalomi led some 300 mostly young adults in an obscure Jewish ritual known as Birkat Hachamah, or blessing over the sun, a prayer recited once every 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created.

According to an account of the service in The New York Times, participants raised their hands in prayer, asked for healing for individuals and the earth, and released 70 balloons. At the conclusion, some worshipers joined in the singing of a Hebrew version of “Let the Sun Shine In” from the rock musical “Hair.”

The rite, Shachter-Shalomi told the Times, “helps us renew our relationship with the solar system and increase our awareness of the sun as a source of energy.”

Twenty-eight years later, Jews across the denominational spectrum are gearing up again for the observance with a range of planned celebrations, many of them environmentally focused. The sun prayer will be said, as it will several times in the 21st century, on April 8, which this year falls on the eve of Passover.

I kind of wish I could be in Safed for this:

In the northern Israeli city of Safed, an eight-day festival is planned featuring several environmentally and kabbalistically inspired events, including the ceremonial burning of leavened bread on the morning before Passover by concentrating the sun’s rays through an optic lens.

“Over the last 28-year cycle, we have suffered from pollution and the depletion of natural resources,” said the festival founder, U.S.-based artist Eva Ariela Lindberg, in a news release. “Let us use this extraordinary opportunity to co-create the next cycle by seeking alternative solar energies and a purer environment, recharging ourselves and learning how to honor the earth, our neighbors and ourselves. This is a time to renew, and bring fresh blossoms to our world for the next 28-year cycle.”

See also

Oh! And before I forget, there’s a Yiddish musical in L.A. tonight called Our Zeydes and Bubbes as Children. See the California Yiddish Institute’s website for details.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Herbs From Seed!

From Little Herb Gardens by Georgeanne Brennen and Mimi Luebbermann:

The almost-instant gratification received from growing arugula, cilantro, or dill is reason enough to plant them. Each sprouts and grows quickly. Arugula leaves pop through the soil in three or four days. Success appears before your eyes. Cilantro emerges shortly thereafter, in five or six days, while feathery dill tips come through the soil in about ten days. Any of the three can be put to use within a few weeks, to flavor salads, soups, and sauces and to sprinkle on pizzas and sandwiches. Grow any or all of these herbs in small, window-sized pots, and replant with fresh seeds after a couple of months. A steady supply of succulent, tender leaves is your reward. Spring and fall produce especially good harvests. All three herbs quickly send up central stalks, flower, and go to seed during summer, and in winter germination is slower. Arugula is also called rocket, garden rocket, and roquette. Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley and coriander. Continue reading

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Keep Your Soil Healthy!

Quick note: I’m probably going to start doing these biweekly. Little easier on my schedule.

I don’t think I need to tell you that healthy soil leads to healthy plants. Is your soil light in color, dry, hard and impacted, or dusty and crumbly? Do your plants always wilt and die as soon as the fertilizer’s used up? Is there a patch in your garden (I know you don’t have a lawn!) where nothing ever grows? Do your potted plants never seem to do well? You’ve got some bad soil, my friend.

Here’s a rule of thumb: healthy soil is living soil. Healthy soil is teeming with microbes, fungi, worms, insects, and other beasties; unhealthy soil is uninhabited. Soil life is what causes decomposition, which releases nutrients for plants; healthy soil can’t help but fill itself with plant life as seeds are deposited by wind and larger animals. Unfortunately, our current agricultural practices – on both large and small scales – both discourage soil life from forming and actively kill it off. There are four things you can do, though, to encourage the critters to reinhabit your garden or pots: give them good water, fertilize with compost, refrain from chemical pesticides, and mulch each surface.

1. Water.
Most tap water is chlorinated. Chlorine, as any Orange Country resident knows, is the stuff that you pour in your pool to keep the sides from turning green. You do this because chlorine is a poison. When you put it in your pool water, it kills the algae; when you pour it on your plants, it kills all the soil life.

So here’s what you do. If you’re in an apartment and are just dealing with potted plants, fill your watering can or another container with tap water and let it sit, uncovered, for 24 hours. All the chlorine will gradually evaporate into the air. When I started doing this, I didn’t notice any huge surge in growth, but the pots did seem to retain their moisture a lot longer. (A quick note on potted plants: soil doesn’t have time to soak up the water if you just slosh some in there and let it run through; furthermore, any water running out the bottom of the pot takes nutrients with it. Water your potted plants at least two or three times, catching the water in a reservoir beneath the pot and pouring it back in.)

If you have a house and a yard, consider installing a cistern to catch rainwater. A cistern is basically just a big barrel positioned under the downspout that leads from your rooftop gutter. Just make sure that if you have an asphalt roof, you install what’s called a foul flush system so that you don’t get toxins in your water. For more detailed instructions, see Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew’s Toolbox for Sustainable City Living.

2. Compost.
The ecosystems found within soil are incredibly complex, and the nutrients they provide plants are correspondingly so. Conversely, the nutrients in chemical fertilizer are reduced to three main elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) plus a few extra chemicals thrown in for good measure. Recreating natural fertilizer in a lab is the equivalent of trying to put together a puppy. You can try, but instead of this:

a labrador retriever puppy.

Image Description: a labrador retriever puppy.

You’ll probably get this:

Sonys robot dog, the Aibo.

Image description: Sony's robot dog, the Aibo.

Just… not… the same.

(Oh, how I wanted to find a clip from Futurama’s Robo Puppy episode. “Robo Puppy commencing cheek licking! Licking in progress! Licking complete!” Classic.)

Luckily, you don’t need that jar of Miracle-Gro anyway, because compost has all the microbe-produced nutrients your plants need. If you’re not sheet mulching (more on that later), adding compost to your soil will keep it full of natural plant food. And as an added bonus, the soil life will attract more soil life, making your ecosystem even richer! A few weeks after I added my worms and garbage to the compost bin in my garage, I opened it up to find pill bugs crawling through the castings.

3. Pest Control.
To some extent, healthy soil itself will cut down on pests, since with all those species either in the soil or attracted by the soil, there’s bound to be a natural predator or two. Pests are naturally drawn to weakened plants, so if you’ve got a healthy garden, you probably won’t need much spray. But I’ve found that potted plants seem to be more susceptible to pests – especially my indoor ones, maybe because aphids can fit through the window screen but ladybugs can’t – so you may have to do a little maintenance now and then. Like chlorine, pesticides are poisons, and kill everything on contact, including beneficial soil life. Constantly spraying crops with poison only exacerbates pest problems; the soil life and predators die, making the plants even more vulnerable, and the pests, which are quick-breeding and more resilient than predators, come right back in even greater numbers.

The best thing is to try to attract natural predators with mulch (great for tiny spiders) and flowers (loved by ladybugs). But, like I said, in some cases you’ve just got to spray. In that case, try to use an organic spray with natural ingredients – these will suffocate the pests. You’ll still kill some beneficial life, but you won’t render the soil uninhabitable.

4. Mulch.
In dry climates, exposed soil is scorched, lifeless soil. In wet climates, exposed soil is probably not occurring very much, because it’s full of seedlings. Keep your soil moist! A layer of dried leaves or wood chips regulates the temperature and keeps moisture from evaporating. Sheet mulch, which is a thick layer of “green” (manure, kitchen scraps, etc.) and “brown” (dried leaves, paper, or wood) composting materials, actually creates compost and builds soil as organisms eat it and poop it out. Toby Hemenway describes it pretty thoroughly in Gaia’s Garden. Finally, groundcover plants, such as clover, function as a living mulch.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Hankies and Hand Towels!

Here’s a rockin’ awesome way to save paper: carry your mucus around in your pocket! Ha ha ha! No, seriously.

Using a handkerchief instead of tissue is a really easy way to reduce your waste. At first glance, it may seem gross to put that snot-rag back in your purse instead of throwing it away, but a) human mucus is mostly water, and b) if you’re anything like me, you carry the Kleenex around for a million years anyway. To wash it, simply rinse it with water and hang it up to dry. (If you have a wicked head cold or a nosebleed, no one will fault you for switching back to disposables. Although I do wonder if you could toss pathogen-laden tissues in your composting toilet.)

Plus, using a hankie gives you an excuse to learn embroidery! Ooooh:

(Image description: a multicolored sparrow silhouette within an embroidery hoop. “12-18″ is embroidered in the top left corner.)

(Via Our Descent Into Madness.)

Once you’re hankie-savvy, why stop there? When I was in Japan, I noticed that none of the public restrooms had paper towel dispensers. This baffled the hell out of me until someone explained that everyone just carries little towels around with them. Next time you’re in a public restroom, take a peek into the trashcan and imagine how much waste could be avoided if we all stopped using paper towels. Especially since we throw them away after wetting them with clean water.

Since I’m no longer in Japan, I’m not sure where to buy the little restroom towels, but a washcloth or tea towel would work, I guess. One note, though: get the towel out before washing up. I’ve ruined more than one important paper rummaging through my purse with dripping hands.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Build a Shelf!

I have this low south-facing window in my dining room, and I wanted to take advantage of the light to grow some plants. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t find a shelf that fit that exact spot – everything was either too high or too narrow. You can see where this is going.

When I googled “how to build a bookshelf,” I didn’t expect to find anything that I could actually accomplish, but actually, it turns out that it’s quite easy to make your own shelf. Plus, it causes less waste, since you can reuse lumber (unlike pre-shaped particle board), and shelf-building will be a handy skill when we’re all living in our post-apocalyptic sod huts. Below are the instructions for a pretty small shelf, but these measurements are just for the sake of demonstration; you can make your shelf any size you want. Just don’t make it so long that it’s going to bow in the middle – or if you do, put an extra side board in the middle to prop up the top. You’ll need:

-3 boards 24″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – these are the top and sides
-1 board 22″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – this is the middle shelf (note: you must subtract the width of the side boards so that your middle shelf will fit under the top shelf. So if your top shelf is 32″ long, your middle shelf must be 30″.)
-4 boards 1″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – these are the supports
-a power drill with 1/4″ drill bits
-16 1/4″ screws, 2″ long
-wood glue
-paint and a carpenter’s square (optional)

Hardware stores and lumber yards will often cut the wood for you. Make sure your wood is eco-friendly, though. (Unfortunately, I can’t help you there.)

Decide how high up you want the middle shelf to go. I put mine just a couple of inches off the ground – that gives me room to store my watering can, potting soil, and gardening books. (When we have guests over for dinner, I just drape a decorative sheet over the shelf, so that all they see are my lovely plants.) Once you’ve decided, mark the spot with a pencil on both side boards. The first thing you’re going to do is drill in your supports.

The supports are what actually hold the shelves up, so they’re pretty crucial – you don’t want the weight of your stuff resting on the screws alone. Take one side board and glue on 2 supports: one where you want the middle shelf to rest, and one in line with the very top of the board. Now, drill two holes into the side board for each support; these are going to be your guide holes for the screws. Repeat for the other side board. Now scrape (or dip) your screws in the soap and screw them into the holes.

Note: the guide holes and the soap are extremely important steps. Do not power-drill the screws directly into the wood! It’ll crack along the grain and ruin your nascent shelf and you’ll have to go scrounge up some more lumber.

Once you’re finished, your side boards should look more or less like this (ignore the nails):

Now it’s time to screw on the top. Simply follow the same steps you did for the supports: glue, drill, soap, and screw. Do one side board at a time, of course, and don’t try to do it upright. Also, the carpenter’s square will ensure that you’re screwing it on at right angles, so that you don’t end up with a Picasso shelf. Just line the square up against the top periodically to make sure you’re on track.

At this point, the shelf should stand on its own. Huzzah! Now, you may find that there are little gaps between the boards, or that your middle shelf doesn’t quite touch the side shelves. Don’t worry about it. Self-sufficiency isn’t about perfection. Repeat the steps for screwing in the middle shelf, and you’ll find that the side boards tighten up as you lock it in. You got yourself a shelf there, buster. And you swore you couldn’t do carpentry.

Now you can paint it whatever color you like! I went with blue, mainly because we had some paint left over from when we did our walls. But, you know, if yellow’s your thing, you can go with that. Red, I don’t know. I’m not going to judge.

I know these instructions sound kind of complicated in writing, but all the parts fit together pretty intuitively when they’re in front of you. And if you’d like additional instructions, I learned from and

Stop consuming – start producing!

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Cat Grass!

Readers, I am totally stoked because now, today, at this moment, I’m unveiling a new feature to get you all fired up about eco-kashrut: Self-Sufficiency Sundays.

What exactly is self-sufficiency? In activist terms, it’s a process of disengaging yourself from the habits and lifestyles that are fostering oppression and destroying the environment. Don’t ruin the lives of indigenous peoples in South America and poison multiple climates with chemicals and jet fuel so that you can have a banana in January – choose the food you eat based on seasons and regions, and then start growing your own. Don’t fuel unbridled capitalism and deplete resources in order to use crappy furniture from Ikea and Target – learn simple carpentry and restoration techniques so that you can make your own. Self-sufficiency is, in the (paraphrased) words of Permaculture founder Bill Mollison, learning how to stop depending on the very power structures you’re trying to dismantle.

My main interest is gardening, so most of my posts will center around growing food. However, self-sufficiency expands far beyond producing crops, and I’m going to try to reflect that here. Most of what I post will come from books or other web resources, often directly reprinted.

A quick note (which I’ll probably stick to the beginning of every SSS post): I’m a relative novice at this stuff. Please! Post additional advice and corrections in the comments, and consider these posts collaborative ventures rather than lectures.

Anyway, cat grass. I’m choosing this as my first topic because it’s a great project for people who are interested in gardening, but are afraid to try growing things from seed, either because they live in an apartment or because they have trouble keeping houseplants alive. Cat grass is not only useful – cats need greens as part of their diet, and providing grass alongside their food will keep them away from other, potentially dangerous plants – but frighteningly easy to grow. Starting with it will give you a chance to observe what seeds look like when they’re germinating and sprouting, and help build a little confidence for when you decide to move on to plants that humans like to eat.

You’ll need:
1 packet of cat grass seed
2 4″ pots per cat (so if you have 2 cats, 4 pots)
potting soil
an opaque cover, such as an old saucer or lid
a spray bottle and compact florescent lamp (optional)
a cat is probably helpful

The type of grass that cats like is oat grass (although wheat and barley are also possibilities). You don’t even need to worry about that, though, because garden stores sell packets of cat grass seed right between the carrots and the cilantro. Fill the first pot with potting soil and water. The soil level will sink; fill the pot again until the top of the soil is a little under an inch from the rim of the pot. Sprinkle on a 1/4 inch thick layer of seeds – you shouldn’t see much soil once they’re in – and mix them into the top inch of soil. Sprinkle about a 1/4 inch of soil on top of them, so that they’re mostly covered. Moisten the top layer of soil. The spray bottle works well for this.

Cover the pot with the saucer or lid and keep it away from light for a day or two; the seeds need darkness to germinate. When you see little tips poking out of the soil, put the pot in a sunny place. If you don’t have any sunny spots (with winter approaching, I haven’t seen any evidence of the sun in several days), shine the compact florescent light on the seeds for several hours each day.

When the grass is four inches tall, put it down next to your cat’s food. Remember to keep the soil moist – if you pick up the pot and it feels light, that means it needs water. Don’t let the soil get soggy, though, and don’t let too much water run out of the drainage holes in the bottom, because that washes away nutrients. (I learned that lesson the hard way, after weeks of growing yellow spinach and white dill.) The soil should feel like a wrung-out sponge when you touch it.

Eventually, your grass will wither and die; so goes the life of cat food. After a week or so, just before the tips start to turn yellow, take the other pot and start over. One seed packet should contain enough seeds for several plantings. Alternate between the two pots to make sure your cat always has grass available.

If you’re really ambitious, you can learn how to get oat grass to go to seed and cut out the trip to the garden center. I haven’t gotten that far, although I am uncomfortably aware of the fact that our seeds are probably coming from the same environmentally and socially destructive monoculture farms as our produce. (More on monoculture versus polyculture in a few weeks.)

Eco-Kashrut and Quentin Tarantino

From the New York Times Magazine (thanks to Tomemos for the tip):

The allegations against Agriprocessors galvanized a small but thriving Jewish environmental movement and took its concerns to a much wider audience. In some American Jewish households, the raid on Agriprocessors started a deep conversation about the very meaning of kosher: is it simply about cutting an animal’s neck and butchering it in a specific way?


Or is the ritual also meant to minimize an animal’s pain or to bring sanctity to its death?


Does it matter how the animal was treated when it was alive? How about the workers who processed it? Is reverence for life possible in a factory-farming setting?

Yes, yes, and no.

Part of [the debate over whether eco-kashrut should be adopted] has to do with denominational infighting. Some Orthodox Jews don’t like the idea of Conservative Jews or even liberal Modern Orthodox Jews horning in on an area of Jewish life that has traditionally been the domain of the Orthodox alone. But some of the debate harks back to longstanding Jewish questions about the purpose of religious observance: Does God require adherence to his laws because they are just, or is following God’s laws a good unto itself whether or not the laws serve a moral purpose? Should Jews keep kosher because it is an ethical practice, or should they keep kosher because it is what God wants? Last month, Agudath Israel, a lobbying organization that represents haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, released a statement opposing Allen’s proposals for a “justice certification.” Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, told me that if kashrut is framed as simply an ethical practice, or as a practice with any specific function other than obeying God’s law, it could set the stage for the practice to ultimately be discarded.

I’m no Torah scholar, but I find it very hard to believe that God would give us commandments just because. Empty observance of laws – paying more attention to technicalities than to judgment, operating through loopholes and contortions of logic – isn’t really observance.

The good news is that the eco-kashrut movement is thriving. See pages 2 and 3 of the article for examples of Jews taking their food into their own hands.

And hey, speaking of reconnecting with your food source, everyone who thinks gardening is just a hobby should immediately read The Urban Homestead. (Try to ignore the numerous typos.) I’m currently drafting a longer essay on this, so I’m going to remain tight-lipped for now, but I will say that I squealed when my spinach seedlings sprouted their first true leaves.

Then my cat knocked over my pot of scallion seedlings and the new scallions aren’t growing because the soil is infested with fungus gnats. But these delays will make the scallions that I eventually manage to harvest all the more delectable. Also the dill, which… Cripes, I don’t even know what the fuck’s happening with those.

In other news, Quentin Tarantino is working on a Holocaust movie, in which Uma Thurman is hunting down the Nazis who put a bullet in her head before they find out she’s the cop. No, kidding. It looks… well, here, take a look:

BERLIN – For weeks, Germany’s tabloids and culture pages have been preoccupied with Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglorious Bastards,” slated to start filming next week in Germany.

While the tabloids are drooling over the movie’s star, Brad Pitt, who is moving with his wife Angelina Jolie and their children to a villa close to Berlin (“The most beautiful couple in Wannsee,” one headline declared), the serious media is focusing on another angle: Is Germany ready for a Tarantino-style treatment of World War II?

An early draft of the script leaked onto the Internet three months ago suggested the film would contain scenes of bloody vengeance exacted by Jews against Nazis. One campaign would be carried out by Jews in the U.S. Army intent on scalping Nazi soldiers on occupied French soil; another would be a Jewish refugee’s revenge against the Nazi officer who murdered her parents. Pitt is to play Jewish-American Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a revenge squad known as “The Bastards,” who launch a killing spree in which they hang, torture, disembowel and scalp German soldiers and engrave Swastikas on their foreheads, according to the leaked draft.

I’m going to tread very carefully here, because I know that a project like this will stir up a lot of bad feelings in a lot of people, and I don’t want to make light of that. There are many good arguments against making this film – the main one, in my mind, being that it’s gallingly disrespectful to make a so-over-the-top-it’s-funny gorefest about the Holocaust, especially if neither you nor your leads are Jewish.


I saw Death Proof a few months ago and loved it. It was, in some ways, a similar situation: women have been violently oppressed for thousands of years, and it’s not funny. It shouldn’t be used for cheap entertainment. And what could a cisgendered straight man know about being targeted for horrific violence because of your gender?

Except he got it. He got how it works, and he got how we feel. It was, in many ways, one of the most cathartic feminist films I’ve ever seen. Take, for instance, Abernathy’s feet. The first half of the movie is meant to function as a straight-up grindhouse flick; women (perennial victims of serial killers, hypnotists, and evil magicians) exist only to show off their bodies and then have those bodies ripped apart. It’s the whole cycle of gender-based violence: man claims female body, man partakes of female body, man destroys female body. (Think of Butterfly’s lapdance – Stuntman Mike demands her, gets her, and kills her.) It’s the ultimate ownership. Jungle Julia is a particularly exploitative character – notice that whenever the four of them are in a car, she rides with her legs outstretched and her feet sticking out of the window, an unrealistic position obviously concocted for the male gaze. Shortly after that juicy exotic WOC gam flies out of the car and bounces on the pavement, we see Abernathy – another WOC – asleep in her car in the same position. After Mike traces his hand along her foot and speeds off, though, she does something interesting: she puts on cowboy boots. The previous group of women only wore flip flops; now, though, as she pulls the boots on, the film goes from black and white to color and we find ourselves in a very different movie. These women are badasses. They’re reckless, cocky, and confident; they pass the Bechtel Test countless times over. And, as it so happens, Abernathy uses the very boots she used to distinguish herself from Jungle Julia to smash Mike’s face in.

Also, driving through the rowboat? Totally vaginal. Although I don’t agree with the message that femininity must be destroyed in order for women to be empowered.

I know that’s a simplistic reading of the film; I know not every element fits into it. But I cheered out loud when Kim shot Mike and sent him fleeing and crying. That feeling of revenge was so potent. I didn’t really care about deep reflection or analysis; it felt good to see my people getting even. So, might Tarantino do as good a job with violence against Jews as he did with violence against women? Or is he going too far?

I really don’t know. My only thought right now is this: we should wait and see.

Although I do think he could have scrounged up a Jewish actor to play the lead. Death Proof didn’t star men in wigs, after all.


FROM THE FO – er, from the Forward:

Green’ Kippah Grows in Brooklyn

For Jews, the environment has always been a central concern. In the age of eco-conscious living, the issue has become increasingly visible. Members of the tribe may soon have another way of displaying their values, courtesy of Brooklyn-based artist Miki Katagiri, creator of a prototype for a “green” yarmulke nicknamed the “yarmulchia” for its close resemblance to the Chia Pet.


Though the prototype is made of felt and plastic, the yarmulchia is meant to be a symbol for Jews who want to reduce their carbon footprint. Katagiri originally made the head covering as environmental art and had not intended to design a yarmulke. But when she was spotted sporting one at a gallery opening in New York City’s Greenwich Village earlier this summer, a passerby suggested that her head covering could be made into a yarmulke. Out of that encounter grew the yarmulchia.

Katagiri said the yarmulchia, currently not available in stores, could be made to order.







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