May 12th, 2007

_Grave Matters_ by Mark Harris

Subtitled "A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial"

I love books about death (probably the DOOM! thing again). Usually, I read books about epitaphs, suicide notes, stuff like that. For whatever foolish reason, I have not yet read Mitford's classic on the topic (altho I did read her book about birth and it was fantastic, so I'm sure I'll get 'round to it some day). I picked this up at BPL and wish I'd bought it (more or less like the Zen Center book). I may yet.

Harris has arranged this book in order of ecological correctness, so he starts with a "standard funeral": embalming, viewing, metal sealer casket, concrete vault, etc. Next up is cremation, followed by several chapters on What People Do With the Ashes. The reef balls section was particularly cool, and it was amazing to learn that you really can dump, er, bury a body at sea, still, quite legally (3 miles out in water at least 600 feet deep and you have to make sure it's weighted enough to sink). If you are military or ex-military (and not dishonorably discharged) or a spouse of or dependent child, you can have the Navy do it for you. Wow.

Anyway. The good bits were about "green burials": on your own land, on land that combines conservation with burial, etc. Nothing about composting, a la _Stiff_ by Roach, an idea which creeped the hell out of R. He is not enthusiastic about a private cemetery on our land, and I suspect the area is now a little too developed to allow it altho this

suggests we could probably fit it onto our land somewhere (assuming water doesn't mean wet, and assuming that the town didn't have rules saying we couldn't -- and somehow, I'm betting the Planning Board would look at us Real Funny if we asked to do this).

It looks like green burials have already taken off in Great Britain, and are starting to get rolling in the US, in basically the places you'd expect them to show up (think liberal enclaves). NH isn't there yet, but presumably we won't be too far behind.

Even more interesting were the stories about laying out bodies and holding vigils at home. Dry ice! It makes sense, but does take a little getting used to. Harris is great about referring the reader to other resources. Each chapter lays out the relevant information in convenient, bulleted paragraphs: how much it'll cost, where to find out more, etc. And you _can_ by a simple pine box. ;-)

I realize it's too late for one of my readers, but we're all of an age to have parents that might tip over at some point. Bonus: in addition to being less damaging to the environment, virtually every one of Harris' non-standard suggestions offers the prospect of huge savings (heck, just say no to embalming. That all by itself is a win).

On a more serious note, Harris is very empathetic in telling the stories of the people he interviewed (yeah - another one of my kind of books, where someone researches something by going around and asking questions). Some of these stories are heart wrenching, in particular, the death of Alison ( and what that led to. Harris writes in a way that presents these stories unflinchingly and depicts the emotional reactions of those who grieve, without becoming, I have no better word for it, icky, and without being inhumanly detached.

It's thin, it's thought-provoking, it could save you a bunch of money, it could help reduce our negative impact on the environment (it could help us _help_ the biosphere, not just mitigate harm), it's written in an engaging fashion and it's not a topic that's easy to learn about in general. Run right down to your local library and check it out if you don't care to pay hardcover prices.

counting? nah....

Back at the beginning of April, visitors heard Teddy counting at the top of the slide. This is because his grandma said, "One, Two, Three, Wheee!" whenever he went down the slide when she visited a month or so earlier. They weren't entirely certain what they were hearing, so they asked, which is how I found out other people recognized what he was saying. He doesn't always get the numbers in the right order. I assumed it was a bunch of nonsense syllables to him.

But lately, since he doesn't emit recognizable sentences otherwise, I've been wondering if, "One, Two, Three, Wheee" counts as a multi-word sentence. Because he's absolutely obsessed with counting books (Boynton's _Hippo's Go Berserk!_, _The Very Hungry Caterpillar_ by Carle, etc.), I've also started wondering if he has some idea about what's involved in counting. I've also been bribing him to tolerate being dressed and undressed by singing button, button, button, who's got the button, Teddy's got, 1, 2, ... n buttons on his shirt today.

So today, by way of experiment, I started pointing at some smiley faces I'd drawn for him with crayon (we'd earlier been finding out whether he could recognize a representation as a face as having identifiable body parts and point to them correctly -- he can) and counting them. He then pointed and counted them back at me.

I can't say it's definitive, but it is suggestive.

He'll also match the race car to the race track on the three color race track toy. And he'll repeat back color words when pointing to a crayon swath of color. Again, not reliably, and not definitive (could just be echo-ing). But suggestive.

He took one of the disposable sippy cups and up ended it and sprinkled water on the carpet in the living room. I righted it and asked him not to do that. He ran off to the bathroom and got a towel and started patting at the wet carpet. Then he went back to the bathroom. I thought he wanted to put the towel away, which rack is still a little too high to reach. But no, he was standing at the sink. He's seen me dampen a towel and use it to spot-clean the carpet. Apparently that's what he wanted to do. R. and I just looked at each other and I asked him if we really saw that happen.

On Friday, K., who is at least a year older than Teddy, told Teddy (whose diaper R. was changing at the table in the library. Naughty R.!) that she didn't wear diapers any more. Apparently Teddy took this to heart. Today he removed his diaper, sat on the potty, picked up a book and started reading. The silence in the bathroom made me nervous, so I went to investigate. I was pleased at what I saw, so I took the book (_Hippos_, see above) and read it to him a few times. He started peeing. Wow. Still going through a lot of diapers, but that is incredibly encouraging.