It's Not A Trip, It's a Lifestyle! +photos

Dear Family,

“Exhaustion and exasperation are frequently the handmaidens of legislative decision.”
—Barber Conable

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Ivyisms:

Ivy, with her deep, throaty baby voice and a halting but extremely enthusiastic Developing Speech Algorithm, is now a human who constantly speaks her mind.

Ivy thinks my feet are called "tootsies.” One day, she started laughing and explained that she was giggling at my sweatshirt: “You have funny hood!” She tells me if she’s sad because, for example, she wants "Papa a come home.” She gets annoyed, and demands “Don't put me there!” or “I want to go too!" Sometimes she explains: “Want to sit on yours lap! I need you!" One day she said, "I'm sick! Don't put me down!" Usually, she has big plans: "I might could be able to climb that mountain!” She employs her deep voice very amusingly when she announces, “I want to pee in the potty, REALLY BAD!” And often, not to be outdone by her three older siblings, she’ll yell, “Come out here, watch me climb up! BIG high up! Looka ME!”

She is so much freaking work that it is very important to write down her cutenesses, since we seriously do not have the energy to fully appreciate them right now. Her curls are enormously adorable, and when she slows down for three seconds (usually only with great reluctance, right before she falls asleep), it’s fantastic to snuzzle her head - she’s kind of like a cross between a sweet fuzzy kitten and an active hamster prone to frequent bouts of irrationality.

Missing her cousin, and sad because Jeff went to bring him to the airport after a wonderful weeklong visit: “I wuv Papa...an I wuv Nick!"

Combing her hair: “Cute me up! Head is pretty!"

Daily notification: “Atchally...I wanta nurse!”

How you know that Ivy is not an only child: she lays down on the trampoline and shouts joyfully, "I'm dead!" Additional proof is that she tells me: “Don’t grab my toe cheese off!”

Getting dressed, lifting her bottom and kicking her legs up: “Mine buns in the air!”

Crumpling up a piece of paper: “I crumped it!”

“Take me on yours lap!”

Already a sweet-talker: “I wuv you! I want to nurse a bit, please.”

Ivy starts early in the morning, and just keeps going all day: “Wake up! Come out! I am coming out. I have to come out. Hold yours hand. Let’s go…”

"I want to take a freaking shower! I want to!"

“I see it! Ocean!” (That’s a Canyon, Ivy. The Grand Canyon.) “I wuv canons! …I see mountains! I wuv mountains, too!”

“Cado River” = Colorado River. "I want go down, a Cado River!”

“Hug me in!”

“I wish…grampa and gramma come here!”

One of Ivy’s cutest current pronunciations is “w” for “th.” As in, “Look a wiss!” “I want wiss!” “Put on weez shoes!” “I want weez apples!”

Ivy mostly hates to be carried in the Ergo. But in the Grand Canyon, despite her best intentions to stay awake Forever, she - after protesting loudly at the indignity - started singing softly, and swaying heavily. Then she whispered, “Keep my head!" before she finally lay forward against my chest, succumbing to slumber at last.

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Eliza: Ivy, you are the cutest little sister I could ever have! I love you sooooo much!
Ivy: I wuv you, too

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Elizaisms:

The riddle of Eliza’s Really Challenging Eating Situation is not yet solved, but we’re holding steady at High Maintenance. I have no energy to write about it now, because I’m using it all up to muster the patience to spoon-feed yet another nearly-five-year-old. Her behavior is still much better than during the crisis at New Years’, and I try to remember this - it keeps her constant niggling symptoms (pains, aches, bad moods, anxiety, breathing challenges, an occasional tantrum) from totally burning out my Motherly Brain On Alert For Ailing Child System. When she’s not incredibly difficult to deal with, she is fascinating and perceptive and adorable.

“I’m going to name my dolls named Sarabeth Matilsky and Jeff Amaral. See, right now Sarabeth is going across the country, and then she meets Jeff Amaral, and now they go home together and live happily ever after!

Bursting into tears while listening to her audiobook: “I am SO sad because Charlotte is dying, and I don't want her to die! She's a spider, and I like her so much because she's a Really NICE Spider!!”

"When we get to the wedding, and there's a room full of all my aunts and uncles and everybody, I'm going to RUN in and hug EVERYBODY!!"

——

Jemmerisms:

Jem enjoys traveling, especially the parts that involve riding his bike anywhere. He is the one most likely to take Ivy for long, exploratory expeditions at toddler-speed; he’s the one least likely to have a Burning Problem Requiring Attention; and he’s probably the best of all of us at pacing himself and taking time out to relax via bike riding (doesn’t hurt that his stamina is High and Getting Stronger Every Day). Jem is on the cusp of being able to effortlessly outpace us all.

Grand Canyon is cool
Grand Canyon is amazing
Goodbye Grand Canyon.

Zion, where are you?
Zion is amazing, too
Zion, I love you!

Coming to a skidding halt while hiking downhill: “Anti-lock brakes!"

“Eliza, you should not pick those flowers!” Jem! Don't worry about your sister! It's MY job to boss her around, and you are not her papa. “So? Someday I'm going to be a father, so I should practice saying things like that now!”

Climbing up Angels Landing in Zion National Park: “If you're afraid of heights, this is not the spot for you!”

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Lunaisms:

“I love to help!”

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Bennerisms:

Ben is really blossoming, and although he would argue otherwise, I think it’s largely because he is now out in the world, and out of his comfort zone, much more than when he had a Rigidly Regular Home Schedule. Sure, he still enjoys reading his atlases and dictionaries and thesauruses, and asking his parents fifty thousand billion questions; but now more than ever, he balances this out with outdoor activity, social conversation, challenging non-regular schedules, and bouts of Real Helpfulness and Sibling Love that warms his parents’ hearts.

Death Valley is hot.
Lowest, driest, you are too.
Salt flats are so cool.

Amazing sand dunes
Shaping, shaping. Every day.
Sand dunes, you are great.

——

Things Jeff never expected to do in his lifetime:

Dry off his daughter’s fallen banana.

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——

So here we are, en route to Jake and Page’s wedding via a six-week Amaral Matilsky Caravan Tour (currently one month in). The plan seemed solid: depart Joshua Tree at the end of April, visit the Grand Canyon and then Zion National Parks, stop by Death Valley for a few days on the way toward Northern California and the Giant Redwoods, and then spend a week traveling up the Oregon coast before arriving on the Olympic Peninsula for Family Festivities on Memorial Day weekend.

A tremendous trip. With many amazing destinations. Well-planned and -prepared-for. Reservations at each popular spot to assure ourselves accommodation. And such a wishful hopefulness in Jeff and me, that our intense love of travel could translate into a somewhat energizing, possibly even relaxing journey. Long, leisurely hikes in the national parks, with happy, curious children…maybe a non-smoky campfire or two…

After so many years of not-traveling, we’re finally taking the time to do it - we may never be able to retire, and life is short!

We started this particular journey with our eleven-year-old friend Luna, whom we invited to join us for two weeks. Luna is a fantastic, delightful, exuberant young lady, who was slowed down barely at all by the boot-cast on her recently broken foot. Her presence meant (among many other things) that everywhere we went, people thought we had five kids. She managed to keep a very cheerful disposition for the entire two weeks, especially considering that this was the longest time she’d ever been away from home.

Making meals for our family feels sort of like you’re working in a restaurant anyway, but with seven people (e.g. more than two pounds of meat per meal), campsite mealtimes really turned into a Gigantic Buffet Experience. And it ended up being much more difficult than I’d hoped to coordinate “leisurely hikes” appealing to an age range of 2-13. But most challenging was getting bedtime inside our 26-foot camper to take place with less than three solid hours of parental effort.

Luckily, to counter the challenges, you receive truly admiring kudos from total strangers when you finally, finally manage to Go Out In Public and Go For A Hike with five children. And it was fun to have Luna with us, to finally be one of Those Kinds of Families who bring their kids’ friends along for the ride!

(After Luna went home, the kids petitioned once again for a fifth sibling: “At least one more!” “Just to keep it even like it was when Luna was with us!”)

(Just as a general precaution aimed at keeping our family size perfectly “even” right at Four Children (not that we didn’t love Luna’s company) (but another baby would likely kill one or both of us), Jeff and I have started sleeping at different ends of the camper. Just kidding! We simply make sure our sleeping bags are zipped securely and separately, with large granite boulders piled on the bed between us.)

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Sorry, I got distracted. Back to the Trip.

We have visited pretty much exclusively amazing places thus far, and have seen some fabulous sights. Our new camper is awesome, and tows like a dream, and is So So So much better for our full-time-living situation than our pop-up was. Our children (and Luna!) are amazing and wonderful, as are many people we’ve met along the way.

The only part that Jeff and I severely underestimated (again) (and had somehow conveniently forgotten, after spending only six months in one place) is how incredibly, amazingly, and terrifically exhausting it is to travel with our particular set of Circumstances. Our diet, with attendant food procurement and food preparation, plus mealtimes, is exhausting. Our lifestyle, which includes keeping careful track of our finances so that we can try to stretch a single income while Jeff works in spurts, is uncertain, less-than-mainstream, and stressful. Our kids’ homeschooling and basic Needs are consistently constant. Our collective health issues, which include various volatile tempers, phobias, fatigue, anxiety, intensity, bad moods, breathing challenges, sleeping challenges (wah!!!!), chronic digestive distress, and - in a couple of cases - the need to be spoon-fed each meal by parents, are truly exhausting. Our sleep, which hasn’t included a night during which one or both parents wasn’t woken up at least once (but usually more like three or more) times for Various Reasons, is distressingly exhausting.

Plus, Jeff and I are still very new to this full-time RV thing, and are continually being humbled by all the things we don’t yet know, and when this Humblement happens in the midst of high-stress situations and in front of our kids on a regular basis…it is both very exhausting AND embarrassing.

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On our second day of driving, near Kingman, Arizona, we started the morning at the top of a humongously steep mountain pass, with no idea (remember, this was practically the first time we’d taken our new camper out at all) that if you ride your brakes while towing for even a mile, you will overheat those brakes. Like REALLY overheat, to a super-burnt-rubber-smelling degree. Luna and Ben kept calling from the backseat, “Is that burning smell okay? That doesn’t smell okay! Is that okay? Should we stop?!…” Jeff’s face was, as they used to say with extreme understatement in polite society, A Study.

We did pull over, and sat on the roadside with five children asking us a lot of questions we couldn’t answer, plus an incredible number of questions we could but really didn’t feel like answering, and tried to figure out what to do while wasting any semblance of our “early start.” (Do you realize that when you’re traveling with seven people, and you have at your disposal (in this instance) a single toilet, you have to plan into the schedule for SEVEN PEOPLE to poop after breakfast and before starting a road trip?? In case you hadn’t thought about this before, I will assure you that it takes a LOT of time.) (Plus, completely unrelated, I was ridiculously fearful that I was somehow pregnant (due to a terrible dream I’d had the night before, not any actual risk of same; see note concerning granite boulders, above) (awful headache turned into a period around 2pm, thank you so much for asking).)

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Sorry, I got distracted.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah - the overheating brakes! I called roadside assistance, but we would have had to pay out-of-pocket if a tow truck came to fetch the camper. Finally, as I end up doing every time something mechanically complicated fails in my life, I called Dad. Discussed options. Had various frustration-, anxiety-, and panic-type-attacks. We ended up getting down the mountain, as per Dad’s suggestion, with Jeff carefully engine braking while adjusting the trailer brake controller in a very manly fashion.

Turns out that that’s how people manage to tow big rigs without overheating their brakes in super hilly places. Who Freaking Knows This?? How are you SUPPOSED to know this?! And why didn’t we ask someone about this before we left?!

It is an actual documented fact that when adults are stressed, confused, maxed out, and otherwise out of their element, children totally pick up on it. Except that children’s instincts appear perversely designed to challenge their parents even further, by actually INCREASING the kids’ level of neediness, number of questions they ask, times they are compelled to scream, interrupt, demand, whine, Ask For Things, need to pee, and otherwise contribute so much Input to the situation that their parents’ brains actually begin to flash neon red lights in the “Will Explode Soon” zone.

Just kidding. Parents brains don’t actually flash. Parents just lose gray matter quietly, preparing for an old age consisting of doddering and muttering and requiring of Much Care. The saddest part is that the kids don’t realize this until it’s way too late, and thus the ancient and vicious feedback loop of Parent/Child Stress Exacerbation continues.

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Sorry, I got distracted again.

After we successfully descended the mountain pass, we found a super-windy lunch spot that threatened to whisk our hardboiled eggs into the desert; then came a super-long second half of the drive. After which we finally arrived at the Grand Canyon with five hungry children, couldn’t find our large wrench, couldn’t get the hose to unscrew from the tap, had to figure out how to park/level/not hit the trees with our camper and then make dinner plus prevent Ivy from running into the road following the Kids, who were now riding their bikes around the campground. Next thing we knew - and we can tell the story now, because everything turned out fine, but it was super stressful at the time - Eliza had pitched head over handlebars, was screaming bloody murder, and after five minutes she announced “My whole body burns like fire!!” and fell asleep on the couch. Leaving me to be sure that I should probably wake her, or do concussion abatement/CPR/or _something_, except mostly there isn’t anything to do but feel guilty when you’ve been wishing SO HARD for your child to be quiet all day, and now you’re left to pray lamely: “I wasn’t meaning that she be quiet like THIS!”

By the time dinner was made, and we were eating it and shivering under the ponderosa pines (turns out that temps surely do drop in the desert when you’re up at altitude), and discussing the possibilities for laundry-washing and showering and meal-preparation for the next day, and Luna was informing us that this was the first time in her life that she wouldn’t have access to a daily shower, and I was trying to decide whether a daily pay-shower at facilities located one mile distant should be considered impossibly bourgeois (my default assumption), or an actually possible (??) Thing that I should somehow manage to provide for our temporary family member plus the rest of us…it was beginning to dawn on Jeff and me that taking our Current Family Situation on a trip designed for Retirement was probably not going to be very relaxing.

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The next day, this was made so clearly obvious. If we had any common sense that was stronger than our desire to See The World, we would have turned right around and headed back to buy a house in a suburb somewhere, and called it a day.

Instead, we spent approximately fourteen hundred hours preparing, eating, cleaning up, and discussing breakfast, taking turns with pooping, brushing hair, brushing teeth, getting dressed, adding about ten changes of clothes to the already-enormous pile of dirty clothes that already needed laundering, and cleaning up our campsite. Throughout the morning, Jeff and I kept snatching glances at the National Park Map, and plotting entirely comprehensive and unrealistic day trips. Then, after waiting for another round of Personal Urination, getting all the helmets adjusted properly, lubricating squeaky chains, pumping up tires, packing a lunch, filling the water bottles, locking the camper, riding down the road, remembering that we forgot to the lock the van, heading back again to do so, having a water break, and riding our bike for .8 mile, we arrived at the visitor center around noon. Then we had to decide which way to walk, change our minds, receive commentary on the direction change, lock up the bicycles, answer a few hundred billion questions, respond to requests that we immediately visit the gift shop (no, we told you already that we’ll go there after we actually see the canyon, but you’re welcome to go there alone, which of course you don’t want to do because you want EVERYONE to go to the gift shop, so again: NO!), chase down the two-year-old, don a couple of extra sweaters since it was still only about fifty-five degrees…and then we were finally all walking in the same direction, following signs toward the actual, spectacular reason for our visit.

We were ambling up the hill toward the Mather Point overlook, about to view one of the wonders of the world in all its glory, and so many small people were talking at Jeff and me, complaining at us, interrupting us, crying at us, needing to pee, wanting ten thousand and fifty questions answered Immediately…that I honestly couldn’t tell whether the tears that sprang to my eyes as we came to the edge of the amazing, purple-hued canyon were because of the view, or a familiar sense of clutching panic in my chest from feeling responsible for a family’s worth of so very, very, impossibly many needs and demands.

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To witness something amazing, I point you toward our photo albums. These depict just a teensy glimmer of how incredibly awe-inspiring and fantastic are the places where we’ve recently visited:

Grand Canyon and Zion:
https://goo.gl/photos/xe8ig4Ays1dCqj7i9

Into Death Valley:
https://goo.gl/photos/CWCrxmaKfdQqs5aQ7

But for an honest Overall Assessment of our recent adventures, I need only draw your notice to the Most Stressful Shit of My Life To Date, which occurred after an incredibly complicated-feeling short hike along the Grand Canyon Rim Trail on the second day of our visit.

Did you know that the Grand Canyon is amazingly full of amazing vista points, museums, visitor centers, hiking trails, bike routes, and free shuttle tours? Well, it is. And when you haven’t been there before - well, at least not since you were five - and you’re trying to coordinate a sightseeing expedition that will satisfy and delight seven people (plus accommodate one toddler’s nap schedule that nobody really wants to deal with, except you’re mostly totally fucked if you don’t), plus you need to accommodate a member of your party who is Currently Feeling Challenged and is therefore Whiny and Argumentative and Willful and Stubborn and Super Freaking Annoying, plus some of your party members want to engage you in games of 20 Questions literally All The Time, plus you have a party member who might at any moment throw herself over the edge of the giant canyon - not on purpose, but just because her brain is currently At That Point In Development…well, it turns out that it’s just not possible to coordinate your sightseeing expedition so that it’s fun for you, the Parent, hardly at all.

Feel free. You should certainly let me know all about how you personally took a camping trip to the Grand Canyon with nine children, and not only that, you slept in homemade yurts, maintained a gluten-free diet consisting of freshly hand-harvested venison and wildcrafted mache, enjoyed Quality Time with your spouse (no Logistics Discussions during dinner at all, ever, cuz you’re that organized!! And no need for decompression or deep sighs or morale-lowering complaining, because All The Time Is Quality Time and there’s nothing that can’t be enjoyed if you simply Change Your Mindset!) while your children romped and played happily and required zero input from you, rode your nine-seater tandem bicycle to all the fantastic Grand Canyon Overlooks, PLUS you had so much fun it started coming out your ears. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

But as I mentioned, that was not our experience. And that Wednesday afternoon in the toilets at the Yavapai Museum, right next to one of the marvels of the world, with a crying two-year-old and a four-year-old who kept asking, in between blasts from the deafening hand dryers (the cause of the two-year-old’s freaked-out sobbing), “Mama, are you done? Are you done? Are you done?? Why aren’t you DONE?!?”, my bowels - which had been patiently and unsuccessfully trying for two days to get my attention - finally decided that, like it or not, they were moving.

Outside, the vast expansive canyon, carved by a duet between a mighty river and lucky geology - an incredibly timeless, natural phenomenon.

Inside, a tiny human, flanked by her two tinier humans, in a tiny toilet stall.

Someday I will go back to this bathroom, just to shit peacefully and reverse the karma. And then I will walk out of the bathroom (washing my hands first, of course), stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon, air-dry my hands in the desert breezes, gaze out over the awe-inspiring depths, and I will not say one single word.

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After the Grand Canyon, we had an unexpectedly gorgeous drive to Zion National Park, where we spent a similarly hectic and challenging and amazement-filled five days. (You have to see the photos to even begin to comprehend the spectacular scenery of this place.) We managed to pull off an unusually wise plan of Dividing To Conquer: Jeff and I each spent one afternoon with only ONE (older) child, doing a challenging hike, while the other person took the four other kids on a more lower-key adventure. It is amazingly difficult for us to grasp that this may be the only way to enjoy complicated outings.

Next came a short drive that also encompassed five stops to get groceries, get gas, get propane, get more groceries, and do laundry, en route to a gorgeous state park that had no cell service for coordinating a Dinner Party that happened to include Luna’s grandma and some dear friends with whom we haven’t had the pleasure of partying since we lived in Boston! Amazingly, despite the challenges of convening without functioning cell phones, we made it happen, and had a truly lovely time.

The following day, a layover day, was possibly the most relaxing day of the trip thus far. (The secret? We hardly left our campsite at all.)

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And then we bade goodbye to Luna, and our journey continued through Death Valley (amazing!!! Gorgeous!! Fantastic!!! Like no place on earth). We didn’t want to leave, but we now had to detour farther east into Nevada to get some crappily-installed car wiring replaced (it had vaporized smokily on the drive into the Valley). We camped in a casino parking lot for two days, and had lots of discussions about Gambling and cigarette smoke and money.

Then, a set of Long Drives through amazing mountains, a quick visit with good friends in the Foothills of Northern California, and a brief and chilly stop in the beautiful village of Mount Shasta.

After which we arrived at our current stopover in Redwood National Park.

—-

You know, and everyone else knows, that Redwoods require tons and tons of water per tree, per year, in order to thrive. Therefore, you and everyone else won’t be surprised at all that on our first day camped amidst these enormous, majestic, prehistoric trees, the skies opened up and drenching rains commenced for approximately 26 thousand hours.

I also know that out in the world, many people - including my formerly childless self - often welcome rainy days. The chance to be quiet, introspective. A day to watch a movie, perhaps, or curl up with a good book. Maybe you like to just sit contemplatively on rainy days, and stare into space as the drops cavort gently down your windowpanes.

In my current life, however, which includes small children and a full-time RV lifestyle, the prospect of a rainy day is about as fun as…well, it is probably little LESS fun than my shit at the Grand Canyon, because shitting takes so much less time.

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Actual Fact:

In times of great stress, sometimes the best you can offer your amazingly committed, sweet, beaten-down, and exhausted spouse: your striving to be the least annoying of all the annoying people in the room; and your allowing yourself to be the easiest person to pick on. This might appear to be actually a negative contribution to the circumstances, but I can assure you that depending on the context, this is possibly the best you can offer that doesn’t involve retreating into a far distant cave in Peru.

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To get a tiny idea of our recent rainy Tuesday here amongst the Giant Trees, you first need to imagine my two darling daughters. First, imagine a high-strung four year old who is struggling mightily with her demons, and screams shrilly at provocations large and small, dozens of times per day. "Eek! It's breakfast time!" "Aieeee!! It's time to get dressed!" "Eeeeeekkkk! I bumped my knee lightly against a soft couch cushion!" "Aiiiiieeeeeee!!!!! There is a pretty river that everyone else got to see but I DIDN’T and it’s NOT FAIR!!!!!!!” “I am focusing so carefully on expressing my soulful emotions via screeching that I will NEVER ever ever ever ever be able to quiet my soul for long enough to tell you what is wrong, and so you saps - I mean family members - gathered around empathetically right now will just have to listen to me screech for the next fifteen minutes rather than learn how to soothe me in any way!!!!”

Needless to say, this sensitive family member is absolutely too sensitive to view any movie or media that features anything more scary than a flea (and even fleas can be waaaay too much, depending on context). As mentioned, she is also very sensitive to fairness, and doesn’t want anyone else to do things that she can’t do, such as watch a movie. In addition, she is impossible to keep warm and dry outside for any length of time, due to her incredible resistance toward wearing anything that isn't High Fashion (I.e. Definitely Raingear). Don’t forget: when she’s unhappy - I am compelled to repeat myself as a symptom of my fragile and overstimulated brain state - she shrieks.

Now, imagine a two year old who ONLY wants to go OUTSIDE to play ALL DAY, and inside can only think of one single interesting activity: putting on and taking off shoes. Except she can't do it very well alone, and really wants to go outside instead, and so she whines. A lot. For effect, she sticks her entire fist down her throat to make herself gag while she’s whining. Except now that she can talk, she has to remove her fist often, to say things like "I neeeeed help! Please put my shoes on!" Which sounds so sweet, right? Except when it’s the eighty-seventh time since noon that she has made this request, and you actually would like to use your powers of intellect and reason elsewhere, such as by composing ways to stab yourself in the eyelids so that you don't, not even for a single second, spend a moment relaxing on this rainy day.

Movies? These are utterly uninteresting to the two-year-old, except for the buttons on the computer which, if she pushes them, she has realized will make all movie watchers get super annoyed and stop watching temporarily. She really really really really really wants to play outside RIGHT NOW, in the puddles, except even when bundled up from head to toe in Technical Polyurethane Fabrics, she still remains the human equivalent of a sponge, and there are only a finite number of changes-of-clothes that are possible in our current circumstances before she is left with her birthday suit as the only option.

But fuck it - the actual truth is that NOBODY ACTUALLY LIKES TAKING BABIES TO STOMP AROUND IN PUDDLES FOR THREE HOURS STRAIGHT except for people who never have to, but for some sadistic reason suggest that parents should do so. The biggest problem is that these sadistic people have written children’s books with titles like “Parents Who Don’t Splash In Puddles With Their Children Suck,” and “All Good Parents Let Their Children Get Super Soaking Wet On Rainy Days, QUICKLY Soothe All Tantrums Related to Same (Because If Your Kid Has INCONSOLABLE Tantrums It Means You’re _Obviously_ A Bad Parent), After Which They Feed Them Sugar and Hot Cocoa And Love Them So Much More Than You Will Ever Love Your Child, You Stupid Parent Wannabe.”

Okay. I've said it. Smite me now (but you know it's true).

And then, it was almost dinner time. I just had to make and feed one more meal, and we could get everyone into bed, and go to sleep, praise the lord. But first I would do Something Fun, and bond with my children, because the whole point of life is to do this, and just because we are traveling doesn’t mean that everything has to be so stressful. Eliza wanted her hair braided, so I would stop cooking and just Be There For Her, and braid her hair. So sweet! Except after this, Eliza started screeching because the French braid I made in her (still very short) hair "looked terrible!!"

Then Ivy started to cry, and said, “I wanta braid! I wanta braid!” and lay on the floor and made piteous sounds. But she didn’t stop crying after I braided her hair. She just cried, and cried, and cried, and the rain kept pouring outside, and then, after Ivy had been yelling for over half an hour, refusing to stop even to take a pee break…

Well, at this point, one of the three people currently in the camper - and it wasn’t me - shat in her pants.

I have begun looking for a new career as a supermarket checkout clerk. I’ll be scheduling interviews shortly.

——

You may reasonably ask, at this point: If everything is going so badly, then why the hell are you putting yourself through this??

And I would have to answer, honestly, that I’m not totally sure. I do know that living in a house did NOT make Amaral Matilsky Family Life easy or simple. I probably miss Karen’s professional Child-Wrangling-Services more than any other aspect of our former life.

Even with the current ratio, which feels something like 96% Hard Work:3% Rewarding Hard Work:1% Quality Relaxation and Sleep, there are the constant intangibles that (mostly) feel worthwhile:

1. Tuesday in the Redwoods notwithstanding, we spend most days outside, breathing mostly clean air, and we’re out in the world instead of inside a house.
2. All the kids, even Ben-who-thought-he-wouldn’t, is excited to visit super awesome places that we only used to read about in books.
3. I often get to cook outside!
4. Even when I’m brought to my knees by exhaustion (well, not in the moment, but usually a little bit after the fact), I am glad we made this choice. We all have to make it: should we live in a house, or…not?

Today I didn’t try to do _anything_. Well, nothing in the way of sightseeing expeditions. Jeff took the boys for a hike, and I took the girls for a walk around our (amazingly gorgeous, especially when it’s not raining) campground loop. We threw rocks into the river, and it was a good thing we only had a quarter-mile hike home, because Eliza rode her bike into a mud puddle…and then stepped off her bike.)

By the time we ambled home, it was Ivy’s nap time. And time to feed lunch. And time to make dinner. And time to write to you!

I am so bad at Doing Less, but if there’s anything I would do well to practice appreciating, it’s probably that. Pretty soon I won’t have any energy left anyway, so I might as well practice.

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And now, some entirely unrelated news concerning interesting preliminary research on the association between household flame retardants and thyroid cancer:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170402111311.htm

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Recently, a misguided weed-control agency in Oregon decided that, in order to “eradicate noxious weeds” on a 2000-acre organic farm, glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) herbicide should be applied to the entire farm. After an outpouring of 40,000 letters and e-mails and phone calls to the agency, officials reconsidered. I thought this was a particularly well-written letter on the topic, containing useful talking points for any conversation focusing on weed-control and organic agriculture:

(https://hygeia-analytics.com/2017/05/13/will-there-be-mandatory-herbicid...) .

Dear Ms. Hernandez el al:

I live in Wallowa County. I learned today of the recent, dramatic change in the Sherman County noxious weed control program and the plan to forcibly spray a 2,000-acre organic farm in the county.

Over a long career, I have studied herbicide use and efficacy, public and private weed control efforts, the linkages between herbicide use and the emergence and spread of resistant weeds, and the public health and environmental impacts of herbicide use and other weed management strategies. I served for six years, along with fellow Oregonian Barry Bushue, past-president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, on the USDA’s AC 21 Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee. Issues arising from herbicide use were a frequent topic of discussion during our Committee’s deliberations. I have published multiple scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals on glyphosate, its human health risks, and the impact of genetically engineered crops on overall herbicide use and the spread of resistant weeds. In a separate email, I will forward you copies of my published research relevant to the use of herbicides, and glyphosate in particular.

The notion that Sherman County can eradicate noxious weeds by blanket herbicide spraying is deeply misguided. I cannot imagine a single, reputable university weed scientist in the State supporting the idea that an herbicide-based noxious weed eradication program would work (i.e., eradicate the target weeds) in Oregon, or any other state. To hear another opinion from one of the State’s most widely known and respected weed scientists, I urge the County to consult with _Dr. Carol Mallory-Smith_ (http://cropandsoil.oregonstate.edu/content/carol-mallory-smith) , Oregon State University. I also doubt any corporate official working for Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate (Roundup), would agree or endorse the notion that any long-established weed in Sherman County, noxious or otherwise, could be eradicated via blanket spraying with Roundup, or for that matter any combination of herbicides.

Before proceeding with any county-mandated herbicide use justified by the goal of eradication, I urge the County to seek concurrence from the herbicide manufacturer that they believe use of their product will likely eradicate your named, target, noxious weeds.

Given that almost no one with experience in weed management believes that any long-established weed, noxious or otherwise, can be eradicated with herbicides, one wonders why the County has adopted such a draconian change in its noxious weed control program. I can think of two plausible motivations – a desire by companies and individuals involved in noxious weed control activities, via selling or applying herbicides, to increase business volume and profits; or, an effort to reduce or eliminate acreage in the Country that is certified organic.

Weeds are classified as noxious when they prone to spread, are difficult to control, and pose a public health or economic threat to citizens, public lands, and/or farming and ranching operations. Ironically, by far the fastest growing and mostly economically damaging noxious weeds in the U.S. are both noxious and spreading because they have developed resistance to commonly applied herbicides, and especially glyphosate. There is near-universal agreement in the weed science community nationwide, and surely as well in the PNW, that over-reliance on glyphosate (Roundup) over the last two decades has created multiple, new noxious weeds posing serious economic, environmental, and public health threats.

In fact, over 120 million acres of cultivated cropland in the U.S. is now infested with one or more glyphosate-resistant weed (for details, see http://cehn-healthykids.org/herbicide-use/resistant-weeds/ . The majority of glyphosate-resistant weeds are in the Southeast and Midwest, where routine, year-after-year planting of Roundup Ready crops has led to heavy and continuous selection pressure on weed populations, pressure that over three-to-six years typically leads to the evolution of genetically resistant weed phenotypes, that can then take off, spreading across tens of millions of acres in just a few years. Ask any farmer in Georgia, or Iowa, or Arkansas whether they would call “noxious” the glyphosate-resistant kochia, Palmer amaranth, Johnson grass, marestail, or any of a dozen other glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields.

It is virtually certain that an herbicide-based attempt to eradicate noxious weeds in Sherman County would fail. It would also be extremely costly, and would pose hard-to-predict collateral damage on non-target plants from drift, and on human health and the environment. But even worse, it would also, almost certainly, accelerate the emergence and spread of a host of weeds resistant to the herbicides used in the program.

This would, in turn, leave the county, and the county’s farmers with not just their existing suite of noxious weeds to deal with, but a new generation of them resistant to glyphosate, or whatever other herbicides are widely used.

Sherman County’s proposal, while perhaps well meaning, will simply push the herbicide use-resistant weed treadmill into high gear. Just as farmers in other parts of the county have learned over the last 20 years, excessive reliance on glyphosate, or herbicides over-all, accomplishes only one thing reliably – it accelerates the emergence and spread of resistant weeds, requiring applications of more, and often more toxic herbicides, and so on before some one, or something breaks this vicious cycle. I urge you to take into account two other consequences if the County pursues this deeply flawed strategy. Certified organic food products grown and processed in Oregon, and distributed by Oregon-based companies like Azure and the Organically Grown Company, are highly regarded throughout the U.S. for exceptional quality, consistency, and value.

Plus, export demand is growing rapidly across several Pacific Rim nations for high-value, certified organic foods and wine from Oregon. Triggering a high-profile fight over government-mandated herbicide spraying on certified organic fields in Sherman County will come as a shock to many people, who are under the impression that all Oregonians, farmers and consumers alike, are committed to a vibrant, growing, and profitable organic food industry.

Does Sherman County really want to erode this halo benefiting the marketing of not just organic products, but all food and beverages from Oregon? Second, if Sherman County is serious about weed eradication, it will have to mandate widespread spraying countywide, and not just on organic farms, and not just for one year. The public reaction will be swift, strong, and build in ferocity. It will likely lead to civil actions of the sort that can trigger substantial, unforeseen costs and consequences. I am surely not the only citizen of the State that recalls the tragic events last year in Malheur County.

Plus, I guarantee you that the County, the herbicide applicators, and the manufacturers of the herbicides applied, under force of law on organic or other farms, will face a torrent of litigation seeking compensatory damages for loss of reputation, health risks, and the loss of premium markets and prices.

I have followed litigation of this sort for decades, and have served as an expert witness in several herbicide-related cases. While it is obviously premature to start contemplating the precise legal theories and statutes that will form the crux of future litigation, the County should develop a realistic estimate of the legal costs likely to arise in the wake of this strategy, if acted upon, so that the County Commissioners can alert the public upfront regarding how they will raise the funds needed to deal with the costs of near-inevitable litigation.

Sincerely,
 
Charles Benbrook, PhD
Troy, Oregon

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Here’s a fabulous new recipe (piccadillo) from Sue, whose keema continues to draw praise whenever I make it (and both recipes are a great way to serve ground beef but make it taste much more exotic):

http://lifeisapalindrome.com/recipes/susans-fabulous-picadillo-cubano

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And that, my dear family and friends, is it for now. I appreciate your reading to the end! I apologize if my subject matter wasn’t quite as upbeat as it might have been. I miss you all!! And wish to hear how you are, and what is new in your homes and outside.

Love,
Sara