Do you know Kissy Robin?

Dear Family,

There are certain questions I hardly ever asked before I had children. Respecting people's privacy, and all that. Yet since Ben was born I have--at conservative estimate--asked "Do you have to pee?" approximately 32,029 times. And I KNOW that some days I asked more than 15 times.

(Fun fact: to date, I've received approximately 31,709 negative responses to that question.)


For my thirtieth birthday, I wanted to do something besides navel-gazing, since I do that enough as it is. So I came up with the idea of a bake sale, to benefit Heifer International.

But I'm not quitting my day job for a career in fund raising:

--Buying organic, fair-trade ingredients set the fund raiser back about $75, which is more than one third of the amount I expected to raise.
--Due to various dietary restrictions, nobody in our house could eat the tempting and delicious-looking treats that kept coming out of the oven. Which was kind of like torture, and made US feel needy.
--Toward the end of my baking session Jem sorely needed a nap and was carefully and quietly destroying Ben's block tower, while Ben screeched loudly, which also did not make me feel like I was saving the world.
--A friend then said that my prices were too high.
--Another said that she could get behind brownies, but not Heifer, since "it's not exactly a vegetarian cause."

At least some hungry family somewhere will (I hope) be able to get a sheep or a goat. And I do admire the work Heifer does, the way they help create stronger communities by teaching recipients to pass on their knowledge (and their livestock's offspring) to their neighbors.

However, I recently learned that Heifer's CEO makes $258,246 per year. Why is that? And, why not $258,146 per year? How'd they come up with that number? (Check out to discover where your money goes when you donate to your favorite charity.)


You tend to get used to the automated voice mail host who tells you that, "You have...ONE new message! For new messages, press ONE. For SAVED messages..."

Our automated lady just got a voice makeover (voicelift?), and now when I retrieve our voice mails she has a deeper tone and still makes me push way too many buttons to hear what I want.


Did you know that some moths never eat once they emerge from their chrysalis, and have no digestive system at all? They only live for 2-3 weeks, but still.


The woods behind EcoVillage have hardly any underbrush. I never thought about it before, until our neighbor hypothesized that it's because there are so many deer eating whatever comes up. Tompkins county could probably feed all its hungry humans with venison. But I'll save that fund raiser for next year.


For our town day this week, the boys and I went out to Dryden. It's a cute little town on the way to Cortland, and 14,000 cars pass through each day. Dryden has an incredible little library, housed in a gorgeous stone building with a bell-tower (currently set to ring at four minutes past the hour, which we know because we sat and waited for the "big ding," as Jem called it, for eleven minutes.)


I cleaned our house on Monday--vacuuming, toilets, kitchen--everything. And you would have thought I was torturing my children, or at least making them work hard (I only asked them to pick up a few toys), because they were whining so incredibly much not paying attention to them because I was cleaning the house. It got to the point where I was actually feeling GUILT over cleaning my home, which I realized I had to get over, since I enjoy living in a house that isn't completely disgusting, and I want my kids to know that it doesn't always magically get clean while they're sleeping.

When the whole traumatic experience was over, Ben went into the bathroom to pee. When he came out he said, "Why is the sink so CLEAN?"


I think that I would make a lame-o lawyer. It's come to my attention that there are times, when my children are arguing, that--due to not having witnessed the _entire_ argument, only the final 90% of it--that I don't know whose fault it was. Some days I immediately blame the loud one, and some days I blame the quiet one, and sometimes I remember the futility and tell Ben and Jem that they'll have to find a better trained mediator, because I have no idea how to proceed.


In Other News:

--My sister is officially and gainfully employed at a Full Time Job at the domestic violence shelter in New Brunswick! With Benefits!! And Vacation Time!!! (And people think that homeschoolers will end up at MacDonalds...)

--Jeff, in an attempt to help Jem live till his third birthday, has installed low railings on our outdoor death-trap stairs. After installation, but prior to the railings getting sanded, Jem got three splinters but didn't fall down at all.

--The splinters gave us a chance to test the "pain free splinter removal" technique that my friend Sarah found online. Basic procedure: apply a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to the splinter, and let it sit twenty minutes. Then, remove the paste, gently scrape the splinter, and voila! Splinter is gone. It was amazing--almost makes me want to go out and get a splinter to try it again. I hope never to employ a pin or tweezers again.

--My teeth/gums are, according to my dentist at my six-month check up, marginally _better_! This is great news. I'm continuing to ferment my food with a vengeance, and am still consuming the nastiest cod liver oil ever. Who knows, maybe someday I'll stop grinding my teeth, too.

--If you're interested in making tiny rockets out of paper matches (Ben and Jeff definitely were), check out this link: .

--Rehearsals continue for the presentation I'm going to participate in for Light in Winter. The dance is tentatively titled, "Life at Low Reynolds Numbers." Did you know that to bacteria, water is a viscous fluid?

--I tried a fantastic recipe for crispy almond cookies , and then adapted it for pumpkin seeds . YUM!

--Pickle Update: I gave my daikon and carrot pickles to the chickens. They (the pickles) actually tasted fine, but I couldn't totally reassure myself that the orange color was beta carotene and not mold. But the sauerkraut came out deliciously, and we still have two gallons left.

--I can tell that I'm not the only mama to bring her bundled-up boys to the construction site. The first time we visited one of the workers said, "You folks must really like it here--you're here ALL the time!"

--Some of my dear friends attempted to plan a little surprise party for me, post-birthday! It was a great party, and I was very surprised, except that the surprise had to occur the morning before so that I could cancel the plans I'd already made for that evening. :) I have such wonderful friends!



"Jem's skin is so SOFT! Why is his skin soft, and mine is so ridgy?"

When I came into the room the other day, Ben was folding yet another origami penguin. But this time, he had gone back to the book and was studying the instructions carefully. He told me, "I'm doing stuff this time that I didn't do last time." He made a really stupendous penguin, which I can say because I'm his mother and therefore unbiased.


You have to respond to Ben's questions carefully, because otherwise it always ends the same way: with you having to assure him that actually, in fact, you absolutely, positively are SURE that you don't know the answer.

Ben: What would happen if you got right in front of the train?

Jeff: It would crush you.

Ben: HAVE people gotten crushed by trains?

Jeff: Yes.

Ben: Who?

Jeff: I don't know.

Ben: But who?

Jeff: I don't know, Ben!

Ben: But WHO??...[etc.]


While reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jeff the other night, Ben wanted to know why the Grinch lies to Cindy Lou Who.

Jeff said something like, "Because he didn't want her to know he was stealing her stuff!"

"Why?" Ben persisted.

"'Cause if he made noise, people would wake up and...stop him from stealing everything." (Jeff was being careful not to mention forceful actions, so as not to upset our impressionable young son.)

"How would they stop him?"

"Well," Jeff suggested, "they might make him leave."

"But how? He'd come back!" Ben said practically.

"They might be able to, though. There are lots of Whos," Jeff pointed out. "They could pick him up and carry him way out of town."

"But he'd keep coming back," said Ben. And then, not like he was upset, but just considering all the options: "I would think they would just kill him."



Jem said a phrase this week that has not been uttered by an Amaral/Matilsky child since they began existing on this planet. The phrase was, "excuse me." True, Jem was pushing Ben off a chair at the time, and he pronounced it "COO ME!" in a really loud, demanding tone, but it's the words that count. At least we know such politeness is possible!

According to onlookers, when Jem was asked which bedtime story he wanted, he said "Winnie Pooh Book!" And then he said, "Kissy Robin!" and started laughing and kissing Jeff's nose.

Lately, when I ask Jem, "Are you my teeny tiny adorable baby!?" or "Are you my sweet baby boy?" he says, "No! Just Plain Jem."

When you ask Jem if he has to pee, he generally answers "No! No pee--nuffin!" Where's your pee, Jem? I often ask, trying to help my wee one cultivate body awareness. It's good to let it out if you need to, I point out--where'd it go? Jem answers: "In tummy!"

The other day I got exasperated with Jem, as he tugged and pulled and prodded me. He looked at me with sincerity in his eyes and promised, "No Jem yank body Mama!"

When Jem is bored, he amuses himself by attempting to screech as loud as a Hyena (their call can be heard from seven miles away, incidentally), and/or dumping every bloody toy in the house onto the floor with maddening determination (this also serves the purpose of giving our downstairs neighbors the sensation that their ceiling may cave at any moment). Yet Jem, my sensitive child, hears the distant sound of an airplane or a truck starting and literally _melts_ into my arms, saying "Loud Noise! Loud Noise!" from behind vigorous thumb-sucking.

Right now, Jem is singing a song. It goes: "Down guy, sewer. Down guy, sewer..." It's got a very catchy melody and everything.


Try saying "Plump Green Grub" six times fast.


The other day, while trying to contain two extremely bored young men while doing the grocery shopping, I reached the register just as the whining hit fever pitch. Both boys were in the cart--one in the seat, one in with the groceries--and I was pretty please with myself that they were both still alive and accounted for. The cashier looked at them pointedly, and then at me. "I've heard that carts tip over," she told me. "And _know_ what happens."

I _didn't_ say, "No, I don't! What happens then??"


Anonymous quote in the Funny Times: "I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired."


Am phobic of getting sick. Before kids, I didn't think about it much. Now, I so don't want to get sick, or have them get sick, that I would like to put up a force field around our home for the winter. I feel kind of bad about it, but I'm not renewing our Sciencenter membership until the spring. Or maybe until _we_ get sick, and then we can do what many other sick families in town do, and go play at the Sciencenter.


You know how sometimes--and despite knowing better--you take out your frustrations concerning a Retail Shopping Experience on the cashier, who really has nothing to do with the situation?

Maybe it's just me.

But anyway, last week I was introduced to a person in a social situation who looked so familiar, yet I couldn't quite place her face. Until I remembered that SHE was one of those unlucky customer service reps, and I had once been her customer.

I'm hoping that she doesn't remember me at all.


There are two times of great suspense in my day:

1. When I am in the middle of doing something, working madly and single-mindedly on a project during Jem's naptime...and I hear him start to rustle around. How many minutes do I have left? Three? Ten? Zero?

2. When I am lying down with one or both boys, waiting for them to fall asleep, and my mind starts churning madly, and single-mindedly: Are they asleep now? Do I dare move my head to look? If I move, will the bed or my aging joints creak loudly and wake them up?

At these times I know two things simultaneously: that someday, I will miss having little babies; and that with every fiber of my being, I want my little babies to be asleep _right now._


I am at the end (I hope) of a several-day-long funk. Mostly this has to do with the fact that we are mortal, and will die someday. Inexplicably, this particularly started to depress me while at rehearsal, as we were discussing the number of E. coli bacteria that can fit on the head of a pin. Several days later, Graham helpfully pointed out that each year, we pass the anniversary of both our birth and our future death.

This makes me so restless sometimes. Like I look up into the stormy gray sky and think, Where Shall I Go? I could go anywhere! I want to run away. Like, I want to pack up the family and just...leave for a bit, and find out where we end up next.

But not really, I guess. It's just that I entertain these thoughts more frequently when I'm funky.


It turns out that "Who discovered the north pole?" is a question fraught with controversy, intrigue, and totally power-hungry people. This article in Smithsonian is about how Robert Peary tried (and succeeded, for nearly a century!) to convince the public that he got there before Frederick Cook.


Okay, my children need to go to sleep an hour ago, so here goes...

Much love, and Happy Thanksgiving!