Performing Arts, Budgeting for Success, and Wizarding Awards

Dear Family,

‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”’

--David Foster Wallace



"Ope" = open Few = Whew Tibas = potatoes Touching her hair: “poufy!” Her first spoken sentence: “I dumped it!”



I’m still not ready to discuss my theories concerning Eliza’s health, because things are very much a work in progress and I am a superstitious, rapidly aging lady. But let me tell you, it’s a LOT more pleasant around here than it was back in January, so we are keeping on keeping on, with my theories tentatively still holding. If Jeff and I and some other people work our asses off, and if we’re very lucky, it seems very likely that Eliza has a chance to grow up to be a healthy, super-smart, beautiful little lady. I hope that we are very lucky…

"I'm not going to hold in my babies! I'm going to have a hundred and eighty thousand babies! And I'll have to cook a lot."

Singing: “…Even though the sound of it is something quite petrocious, supercalifragilistic, sex-pee-alidocious!”

Trying to deconstruct the subtleties of Growth and Change: “We thought these shoes were too small for me, but actually they fit perfectly!” That’s because they WERE too small, Eliza, but now your feet are bigger! “Ah,” she replies, unconvinced.

Eliza, come to the table now! “But wait! I just want to finish this one thing!” And there she sits, studiously working on her letters by copying the text from a package of “REACH waxed dental floss.”

Eliza's drawings of stick-figure people often look worried, and always have belly buttons.



“We won’t go for a fast [bike] ride - it’ll be a Beauty Ride.”


Jeff was mentioning a podcast he listened to that discussed swimming-pool-pee-detection using a surprising “biological” marker …along with the way pee and chlorine actually create significant amounts of mustard gas in the average public pool . This caused Jeff to remark to a friend, “Thing is, I used to love swimming pools as a kid! So many things in my adult life have been ruined by..."

"Knowledge?” our friend offered - at the exact same time that Jem finished, "...your wife!"

Which was patently unfair, as I pointed out to Jem, since it was PAPA who had listened to the podcasts in the first place! Plus, I reminded Jeff, who was guffawing a little bit too loudly, HE was the one who told ME that he liked to “question everything,” back when we were dating and he was inspired by my own similar propensity, so it’s not fair to blame me for how “questioning everything” two decades later is a bit more stressful than in our idealistic youth! Harumph.



Ben has learned to juggle! It’s only been thirteen years since Jeff began hoping that at least one of his children would take up this sport. And Ben is reading (something I feel nearly as happy about as the juggling)! He reads super fluently, comprehensively, and often. A few of the many books he’s recently enjoyed on his own:

Death by Toilet Paper, by Donna Gephart Save Rafe!, How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill, and other books by James Patterson The Worst Night Ever, by Dave Barry The Whole Story of Half a Girl, by Veera Hiranandani



"I haven't made a promise in thirteen years!"



I have been having SO MUCH FUN in “Mary Poppins”!! A super amount of fun. If you watch my face, you will notice a really, really large amount of genuine satisfaction and joy while I dance around and act a funny character part and put on yucky makeup and remember the sound a curtain makes right before it opens and you’re ON STAGE in front of a whole bunch of people who are there to watch you and the Big, Ephemeral Organism that is the 25-some-odd-member-cast of a musical production, while you put on a show.

A couple of snippets of video will be forthcoming! :)

The process of dealing with Eliza’s crisis, and figuring out how I could audition for and participate in the play without jeapordizing our hard-won family life and continuing stability, and how to possibly/ultimately make my participation an overall WIN for the whole family…reminds me of this hysterically awesome essay concerning “balance”, and its actual impossibility in real life: . I do know that I wanted to do this show so badly, and am so excited and proud of my small part therein, not to mention the show itself.

I gave my husband a shout-out in my bio in the program, but it is unlikely that most readers of same will fully comprehend the gift he has given me by making possible my participation in the play. We are now in the process of helping Jeff discover what HE desires in order to help make his life feel fully balanced… Stay tuned.


On February 18, my mother asked, “How are you?” Which at that moment inspired the following response:

…1. Ivy just got two eyeteeth ("a canine tooth, especially one in the upper jaw").

  1. These two teeth took about ten days to come through, culminating in teeth-pushing-through-the-thick-shreds-of-gum-tissue only on Tuesday.

To understand the impact of just two small facts, you have to try to imagine what nighttime with a teething Ivy is like. I'll try to give a rough outline for your imaginings, just to be helpful:

First, you put Ivy to bed. This involves A Lot of time and tasks that are irrelevant here, but basically, you need to get her to fall asleep at some point in the evening between seven and eight pm.

Second, you must get Everything All As Perfect as it can be, so that you don't wake Ivy up, because when she's teething it's as if her sleep is as fragile as spun glass. One tiny sound, and she will pop awake. No, seriously: you have to be super fucking quiet, or she will wake up. Especially if you're about to go to sleep yourself.

Third thing that happens is, despite all Counterfactual thinking and problem solving in advance...Ivy Wakes Up.

("Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened. Counterfactual thinking is, as it states: ‘counter to the facts.’ These thoughts consist of the ‘What if?’ and the ‘If I had only…’ that occur when thinking of how things could have turned out differently. Counterfactual thoughts include things that could never happen in reality because they solely pertain to events that have occurred in the past.")

Anyway. The sucky thing about teething-Ivy-wake-ups is that she can't be soothed, she kicks you and screams if she's in your bed, and she stands up and screams next to you if she's not in your bed. And she does this for between one and three hours at a time.

And let's get this straight: being awake between ten PM and one AM because a baby is screaming at you IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO, say, being on a hot date with your sweetheart for three hours between ten and one. Same time frame, TOTALLY dif brain state at midnight. If you're curious about the experience, like if you've never spent the night with Ivy or something, let me know! I can provide you with a recording and you can tell Siri to wake you up at 10pm and play it. You won't get the full effect, of course, because she won't be kicking you in the ribs or trying to lay with her full weight on your neck while writhing, but you'll get the idea.

So. When you experience a long string of nights with Ivy-who's-teething, it gets to be a kind of running joke about how tired you are, and how edgy you feel, and how you actually fell asleep for three or four seconds while Ivy was taking breaths between howls (only be be wrenched awake again moments later, with every nerve in your body vibrating, by her yelling), and how Oh My God I Can't Believe I Thought Parenthood Was A Good Idea, and you kinda try to push through, and you give your spouse and yourself kudos for how good you're managing, all things considered, to stay alive.

But the worst part of the whole situation occurs about three days after the teeth have come through. When Ivy is once again sleeping, more or less, through the night. It is only NOW that the stress kind of implodes, and you feel more tired than you've ever felt, pretty much, and your perceptions are negatively warped by fatigue, like your brain weighs four hundred pounds and your own personal sleep cycles have been totally and completely and irrevocably altered, so that when the entire camper is full of sleeping people you bust awake for hours at a time, experiencing loops of counterfactual thoughts pertaining to existence itself, and when somebody asks, "How are you?", you begin to blather unintelligible things about life's meaningless potential and other unrelated topics, and you think: What The Hell Is Wrong With Me??

At that point you remember that the answer to the original question is a very simple one: "I'm fucking tired, thanks so much for asking! And how are you?"


The past month and a half consisted of a few main endeavors around the Amaral Matilsky Campsite:

  1. Recovering from the Eliza crisis-of-sorts over New Years.
  2. Earning money (Jeff).
  3. Rehearsing for and now performing in “Mary Poppins” at Theatre 29 (me).
  4. Playing Plants Vs. Zombies (Jeff).
  5. The rest of All of Everything that has to happen around here no matter what, including cooking (I am proud to say that I managed to rehearse every weeknight for seven weeks while not missing the preparation of a single meal)! Also, Jeff didn’t miss a single kid weeknight bedtime during that long stretch, a task for which he is receiving a Husband of the Year award with Lifetime Durability Status.

But then during the opening weekend of Mary Poppins, Jeff suddenly became eligible for another award. And Jeff says that while he's composing his acceptance speech, and prior to thanking his beautiful wife and children for this Once in a Lifetime Opportunity, he has to decide what to call the achievement itself. Something along the lines of the "Tri wizard tournament", he thinks, but to describe the multiple feats of a parent who was at home during the onset of a virulent stomach flu. The "Tri-vomit Combo" is one name he's considering, or simply "The Jeff," cuz he's not even sure -- this may have been the first time such a maneuver has ever been done.

In any case: on March 4, 2017, Jeff caught three different people's vomit in three different receptacles. Plus, he cleaned up a fourth batch from the floor, but the award won't focus on that right now—the tri-vomit-combo is really a Three for Three. I mean, really, how incredibly unique is that? Most people only have 1.5 children, and they might not even have the chance to catch TWO full vomits in one night, EVER--but my talented husband caught THREE!

I was at a performance of Mary Poppins at the time, and so doubly made it possible for Jeff to do this Work without feeling any competition from me for the potential award honors. And in fact, later that night when the Third Wave hit, I stayed in bed -- partly because I was ready to chuck the screaming vomitous child (yes, I KNOW she was sick!!) (but not all sick people scream like banshees) directly into the path of any nearby coyotes (note to children of all ages: if you want your parents to be sympathetic when you're sick, don't fucking scream at them!)--but partly because I actually like to step back at these moments anyway, since Jeff is soooo much better than me at catching vomit and I wouldn't want him to feel upstaged by me trying to jump in and do an inferior job when he can perform the task with such award winning excellence!


P.S. Jeff, I really, really love you. Have I mentioned this lately??


My New Puzzle Project: Our Food Budget

I will be totally honest and frank here for a moment, now that Jeff and I are beginning to recover, not only from the stomach flu, but also from the shock of reconciling our bank statements and doing our taxes. We spent $25,000 on food last year.


Despite how strongly I feel about how Healthy Food is the most important form of health insurance, absolutely none of that $25K is tax deductible. I almost feel guilty about admitting this vast expenditure, because organic, whole foods have such an aura of luxury and Fad in this culture. I almost feel like an elitist, smarmy member of the LOHAS demographic for not joining up and taking my kids over to McDonalds and cheeze doodles and Sugar Sugar Sugar…. Almost. The same sort of “almost” that Trump feels when he considers the possibility of… Okay, sorry, I’m not going to get catty here.

The point is, there is no way in hell (unless it froze over) that I could imagine NOT trying to procure Really Great Quality food to feed my family, in an attempt to shield us from the Physical Degeneration that is an elephant-style epidemic in the industrialized world.

Okay, okay. I’ll calm down. But the point is, $25,000 per year for food is not at all sustainable for our family. So I have come up with an ambitious goal of feeding our family well…but on a budget that is 20% less than last year’s.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how I have come up with this budget, which is not yet a month in the implementation, so I’ll have to report back later on the details (and whether or not it works!):

  1. I figured out a per-meal cost for protein foods based on local availability of meat, fish, and eggs (since we’re currently dairy-free and do not eat any plant-based high protein foods).
  2. I figured out a per-meal cost for starchy foods based on local availability of white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and plantains.
  3. I came up with a basic daily meal requirement list, to understand how many pounds of meat, rice, etc. we consume in a day (for example, we can use about 11 pounds of meat, 5-10 pounds of broth bones, and 8 dozen eggs in a week).
  4. I came up with a plan for how many times each category of food could be served per week in order to bring our food costs down (no more weekly lamb chops, for example, and much more broth in order to stretch our meat each week).
  5. I tried to guesstimate a realistic weekly cost for condiments/oils/vinegars/spices/etc.
  6. I tried to guesstimate a realistic weekly cost for fresh vegetables and fruit (about 1/3 of the total budget).
  7. I considered each of the four places I currently buy food, and tried to determine how much money out of a weekly total of $385 (the new and reduced target total) to allocate to each place.
  8. I made weekly (and in some cases, monthly) basic grocery lists, with attendant total cost goals for each place, so that when I’m in the store or at the farmer’s market I can know at a glance whether the foods I’m putting in the cart will make or break the budget. (Items on the Fresh Vegetable list are not specific at all, but there’s an overall target to meet - while dry grocery items like rice and olive oil are clearly specified in the Trader Joes list.)
  9. Each week when I shop, I note the date and the amount spent so I can see whether I’m overspending.

I have to say that this is the most thought and work I’ve ever put into a budget - up until now, I’ve only spent time lamenting repeatedly how I wish we could spend less. Having the final step in place - shopping lists and detailed money totals to use in the grocery store - is a real accountability piece that causes me to hope that this budget will be more effective than wishes!

Two potential downfalls: I can’t known what we’ll find in grocery stores when we’re traveling, so my budget may or may not work well when we’re on the road (although food costs here in Joshua Tree are quite high, so I’m hoping that we won’t be spending more than this! And I know that per-pound meat costs, for example, can’t go above $8 (for bone-out cuts; $4 for bone-in) if I want this budget to work out). Also, while I’ve built a very tiny amount of “Fun Food” money into the budget (for things like plantain chips to eat with liver pate, as well as a bit more for things like fruit that are quite expensive and tasty), it’s not very much. So only time will tell whether we can be satisfied and happy as well as satiated, even while Going On a Budget…

At the very least I’m trying - and maybe someday I’ll even come up with a way to feed ones family “affordably” with grassfed meats, organic and local produce, etc. At that point I’ll write a best-selling book so that we can afford to feed our family for another six months or so…


Fun Movies Recently Watched:

Waiting for Guffman

Movies haven’t been watched very much lately! By Jeff and me together. Because, rehearsals. But Jeff has watched some, and we’re subscribing to Netflix until April, so maybe I’ll have more to report next time.


I am so super proud of my first big camper “mod”: solid poplar shelves that I designed and built for the kids’ clothing and toy closet! I will have to put photos of the shelves into our next album. My really useful find at Home Depot was poplar “hobby board,” which enabled me to create thin, strong, attractive shelves without using particle board or plywood at all.


My mommy came to visit!! This was a super nice week at the beginning of February, during which it was super fantastic and amazing to be living our outdoor lifestyle AND have mom/mom-in-law/grandma camping right next door (in our pop-up! Its last hurrah). I only wish my parents could park their camper next to ours most of the time…

But anyway, we made the most of our week: lots of walks, and hanging out with our wonderful neighbors, and grandchild bonding, and rehearsal attending, and eating, and desert discovering. It was too bad that Ivy was teething during Mom’s visit, but then again, life wouldn’t be life if everything were perfect.


A few interesting links:

Everyone’s favorite not-school, now with some Numbers to explain why it’s such a fascinating and viable alternative to traditional education for teenagers:

An interesting take on important weightless considerations within a traditional foods framework:

One person’s interesting treatment conclusions for autistic and other individuals:

Some reasons to skip the air “fresheners”:

Some interesting things to consider in the vast landmine that is the discussion of vaccine safety:

An interview with Stephan Guyenet, who discusses the role of “food palatability” and weight loss:

Kelly Brogan, and how tapering psych meds can become a bit of a spiritual awakening within a holistic approach to healing:


Books the kids have enjoyed recently:

Mrs. Katz and Tush, and The Keeping Quilta, by Patricia Polacco Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth Amanda Ben’s Amazing Dream: A Mathematical Story, by Cindy Neuschwander Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner This is My Dollhouse, by Giselle Potter Princess in Training, by Tammi Sauer Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, retold by Fiona Waters The Pigeon Needs a Bath!, by Mo Willems Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard Johnny Appleseed: A Tall Tale Retold and Illustrated by Steven Kellogg The Paperboy, by Dav Pilkey Horton Hatches The Egg, by Dr. Seuss Everybody Makes Mistakes, by Christine Kole MacLean


Thanks for all the wonderful e-mails and love from near and far!

Sending lots of love from the desert, Sarabeth