Golden Days

Dear Family,

We are deeply into critters here.


-Pillbugs don't pee (they expel their ammonia wastes as gas); the mamas carry the tiny babies in a pouch for their first few days; they breathe through their gills; and like many crustaceans, they have hemocyanin in their blood (copper, instead of iron) which makes oxygenated pillbug blood appear blue.

-Garter snakes birth live young; in the spring, females give off a
pheromone that attracts males (sometimes so many that they create a
squirming "mating ball"); and the male garter snake has two penises,
called "hemipenes," on each side of its body. The male will try to use
the best-positioned penis to mate with the female in the center of the
mating ball.

-Newts and Salamanders can regenerate some lost body parts, and like many amphibians, they can give off poison through their skin if they feel threatened. They see extremely well (this is a relative statement), but are totally deaf to airborne sounds. And if you google facts about them, you will sometimes be accidentally directed to websites about Newt Gingrich, who is not at all interesting to nearly-six-year-olds.


We had a frantic Homeowner-Type event yesterday, when I walked past our linen closet and noticed the scent of raw sewage wafting up toward my sensitive nose. We spent the better part of two hours investigating, climbing ladders to look inside various vents in case something had died, searching for sewage leaks in our downstairs neighbors' house, and feeling basically and utterly clueless.

Finally, one of our neighborly Handy People called and explained our problem: the previous owners had plumbed the linen closet to put a washing machine in, and we just needed to pour a quart of water down to refill the p trap.

You may be wondering what a p trap is, because I definitely was. It turns out that it's a neat and important type of valve/vent/drain thingy, that creates a water seal along the curve of the trap. According to one online source, "The seal prevents noxious air or gases to backflow from the sewer line, but the original waste can still exit into the sewage system. If the gases were allowed back into the home, not only would they smell, but they could cause illnesses and have even been known to explode."

Thankfully, we have neighbors who save us from having to send out updates entitled "Poop Explosion in Amaral/Matilsky Residence!"


Additionally: I know you've all been waiting for a status report for months, ever since I announced how Jeff and I were embarking on a program to be able to do one hundred push ups (

And the update is...approximately four months after beginning the six-week program, I can now do 35 push ups in a row. Jeff can do slightly more. And we've kind of lost steam, after several minor lapses, repeating "week four" of the program five times, and then doing "week five" over and over for the past two months.

We haven't totally given up, though. (And 35 is a lot more than 5, which is how many I could barely do when I started.) But I'd really like to talk with someone who went from 5 to 100 in six weeks!


Our Town Day this week brought us to the hamlet of Danby, where I discovered an unfortunate truth. See, I used to LOVE swings, back when I was little, and even until I was big. The higher, the better! Jumping off? After eating? With my eyes closed? Why not!

Well, it turns out that as I approach my thirtieth birthday, there's been a bit of a shift. Although in theory I still love swings, the reality is that when I swing on them these days, it's quite certain I will vomit if I continue for more than a few minutes. I also get height sick, which I never used to.

But I console myself by noticing that I'm much less depressed now than I used to be. That means that someday I'll end up being a height sick, carsick, swing sick, yet happy old person.


Ben and Jem enjoyed the Danby playground, and we were entertained by a testosterone-crazed pack of teenage boys who arrived for their football practice in an adjacent field. It was NOT touch football--we could barely tell where the ball was, for all the wrestling bodies lying on top of it at any given moment.

Jem watched for a few minutes and then announced that football is a "fall down game!"


I like how Ben and Jem can have really heated conversations, and then turn on a dime.

Ben: Jem, I want you to go down the slide on my lap.

Jem: No!

Ben: Can I go on YOUR lap?

Jem: No! NO NO!

Ben: But I want to!!!!!!

Jem: NO!!!!!!

Ben: Jem, look at this bug! Let's be snakes now."

Jem: Nake!


I organized a moms' night out at the CH last Friday, and it was super nice. It's really good for my brain to be able to participate in conversations without my children interrupting either the listening or the talking. Kinda like when people attempt to keep their careers alive even when they're not "working," by going to seminars and conferences every few months or so...


Last week, I cooked. I cooked lots of meals, all my fermentation experiments, all of our CSA produce, a common house dinner, two enormous chocolate cakes for neighbors' birthday, and some local tapas for a fundraiser for Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming (

And pies! I cooked a round of pies for Westhaven Farm to test some value-added ways to use their organic apples. Unfortunately, it takes nearly one person-hour to make one pie, but I'm hoping to better that ratio when I do another pie-baking session tomorrow evening.


I had an open-source cooking consult last night with Aaron and Susannah, continuing my ongoing obsession re: fermentation. I currently have 25 pounds of sauerkraut going strong in our coat closet, thanks to the ceramic kraut crock that Graham lent me. For just a few of the recipes I've been working on lately, check out my works in progress here:


We spent many, many hours in the woods this week, a highlight being the
day that Jem spotted a small snake and Ben was absolutely ecstatic.
("Isn't it good that we found a snake? JEM found it! Did you think that
we would find a snake? I didn't think we'd find one in the PATH! Aren't
snakes cool? Isn't it good that we found a snake...")

There were a couple of glorious fall afternoons this week, when it was clear and sunny and warm and the leaves hadn't really decomposed much so they were like a rainbow carpet in the woods. (Ben was kind of annoyed that the leaves were blocking a clear view of the path, but he put up with it.)

In some parts of the woods the trees are all turning yellow right now. And on Tuesday, we found two (yellow) toads, a yellow caterpillar, a yellow beetle-type bug, and a light-colored salamander. "It's a GOLDEN day!" Ben said, as we trudged through the yellow leaves and the sun shone down, clearly yellow too.

Jem found a super long stick one day, and stood there with it for a few
minutes, just poking it in random directions, practicing extending his

Oh, to be young on these gorgeous golden days!


When Ben is on the hunt, he is serious and engaged and reminds me of me
when I'm obsessed with a project.

Ben: Mama! Do you think we'll see a snake?

Me: I don't know, Ben.

Ben: But DO you think we'll see one?

Me: I don't know!

Ben: But DO you!?

Me: BEN! How can I possibly give you an answer to that question!

Ben [several minutes later]: Did you think we wouldn't see a snake?

Me: Uh...

Ben: Did you? Did you know that Jem would find a snake? Did you? DID
you? Mama, why aren't you answering?!"

Me: Ben, my brain is clouding over and I can't think about this anymore.
Stop asking me, please!

Ben: Okay... [two point five seconds later] Do you think there are centipedes under that rock [which could only be moved with serious earth-moving equipment, so there's absolutely no way we can possibly know]? Do you? Do you?? ...But what do you THINK?



--Chickens are still known as "peck-pecks," but their manure is called
"chickbin Poop."

--He loves a library book that we got about airplanes that contains
overlays, which Ben calls "See Through Pages" and Jem calls "SeePooPidge."

--The dog incident is still casting its shadow, because Jem daily reminds
me, "No eat puppy Jem!"

--On our morning walk the other day, we heard some emergency vehicular
sirens nearby. Jem was really impressed, which I know because he said
"Firey Tuck!" about seventeen times a minute for several minutes. And the sound also inspired his first five-word sentence: "Firey Tuck
'wee-ooooo' tell Papa!"

--On the swing at the park, he directed me to push him "Supah High-uh!"

--Jem almost NEVER wants me to assist him at the moment when I try to help him. But the second I start walking away or try to do something else, a tiny, plaintive voice says, "HelllMee! HelllMee!"

--Sometimes Jem's intonation is spot on, but the pronunciation isn't quite there yet. Like, I'll ask him, "Hey Jem, do you want to go outside?" And he'll consider, but not decide, and say, "Ah Nah Know..."

--Zipper = "Yipper"

--Here's sentence structure to admire: "Log newt in a!"

--Walking home the other day, admiring his shadow, Jem waved at it. "Hi!" he called enthusiastically. Experimentally, he waved his other hand as well. This time he said, "TWO hi!"


This week, I finally did it: I called Ben "Jeff...I mean Jem....I mean, BEN!"

I may end up being a happy old person who can't remember anything.



"Dead dragonflies are VERY fragile."

"Jem! A worm! It's a really good one, and it's right on the surface so
it's easy to catch."

"This centipede looks _almost_ like a snake, 'cause it's legs are underneath. If it didn't HAVE legs that it WOULD be a snake, or a legless lizard."

Often, apropos of nothing, Ben will come into the room and say something like: "Why can't we go for a walk in the woods!?" or "Why can't we have cereal and eggs for breakfast?" Sometimes I find myself actually feeling guilty for saying no...when I realize that I haven't yet said anything at all!

The other night in bed: "I'm thirsty!" says Ben. Well, why don't you get your water? I propose. "But..." says Ben, "I want a way to get it without having to get out of bed!"


Jeff held his second movie night in the common house on Friday, and many neighbors joined him to watch "Life of Brian." I'm pretty certain that movie nights are good for Jeff's soul. :)


On Friday I was woken up WAY to early, it was spitting rain and bitter
out, and also I felt Restless. In addition, I decided that in the
evening I wanted a handsome prince to come whisk me away on his white
horse to go learn how to swing dance.

Instead, we all spent about 1.5 hours trying to open a Health Savings
Account at the bank. After expending all of Ben and Jem's patience on
that fun activity, I took them grocery shopping. You can imagine that
that was a super barrel of fun. At home that afternoon, Ben and Jem kept arguing constantly, our young neighbor picked a flower which I'd been encouraging along all season, waiting to save its seed...

It was that kind of day.

And there were several challenges standing in the way of making my
Cinderella fantasy come true:

1. Two small boys who couldn't get within five feet of one another
without causing large amounts of antagonism.

2. My handsome prince, while quite handsome, does not have a white horse
and is supremely unenthusiastic about the idea of taking swing dance

3. No babysitter.

4. It was movie night, so Handsome Prince was over at the Common House
and I was trying to cause the small boys to fall asleep. Except that the
smaller one didn't want me to remove his hummus-encrusted, two-day-old
formerly-known-as-a-shirt, and so he screamed like a very
high-pitched banshee directly in my right ear to let me know how unfair
I was being.

There were only two things I could do, on such an evening, in my current

So I decided to laugh, long and loudly and to myself, because Jem and Ben didn't notice. But then Jem eventually stopped screaming, and while I lay in bed with my two babies I mentally picked out which ball gown I might wear once the boys fell asleep.


We took a family hike from the top of the Taughannock rim trail all the way down to the playground on Cayuga lake. This afternoon was so pretty that it was almost tragic--you know the gorgeous leaves are about to fall, and you can't stop them, and you can only enjoy them as much as you can for the moments you're there.

But Ben and Jem weren't bothered by such existential nonsense, and Ben found newts along the way and Jem ran a good portion of the trail on his own two legs. And it was only just this afternoon, while experiencing heart palpitations as the boys made their ways down the steep, uneven stone staircases, that I understood why the places between flights of steps are called "landings."


"...Don't know what to believe, I just show up and breathe..."

--Indigo Girls


Goodnight! Please let me know if you have any great ideas for my Halloween costume, which is currently set as Cat.


P.S. I'd love to know what you think about a fascinating article we read recently in The Walrus: "Rat Trap: Why Canada's Drug Policy Won't Check Addiction". It's all about environment and how addictive behaviors aren't always what we think.