Pheromones and Frisbees, and lots of other things

Dear Family,

Sometimes you envision a day, and what it means, and how you'll celebrate, and you can get nearly swollen with how lovely it will be. Yesterday my bubble burst bright and early.

Jem woke up pre-dawn, somewhere around 4:45am, and whined. And tossed. And kicked. And did not go back to sleep. And so the rest of us didn't either.

When Ben was fully awake, he started whining almost immediately that he wanted breakfast.

Right then, like he'd just thought of what a good idea it would be, Jem reached onto the windowsill and tossed Jeff's Nosovent (go on, you know you want to Google it) behind the bed. Jeff and I tried to make each other laugh about how Thankless this Giving was, but the jokes weren't very good.

Ben and Jem then created an honest to god Whine Symphony, which accompanied us through breakfast making, into breakfast itself (Jem taking a brief intermission to grind some scrambled egg into the gaps between the calculator buttons), and crescendoed into a huge finale, involving a sibling squabble over a frisbee that reached ear-damaging decibel level and nearly sent Jeff through the roof.

The only thing worse would have been to experience all that while in the car to NJ or CT. So we gave thanks that we were here, that we had a warm, sunny home, and more than enough food to eat.

And then we took a fun family hike down the south rim trail at Taughannock, and closed down the playground as the sun set at (!)4:36pm(!).

Happy Thanksgiving, dear family! We wish we could be with all of you--next year.


On Tuesday, I visited our friend Heather's tenth grade biology class during their unit on Human Reproduction. She is doing something fairly revolutionary, actually, which is to show "The Business of Being Born," and bring midwives, doulas, and moms to talk to her ~15-year-old students about birth.

Afterwards Ben noted, "Those weren't kids! They were adults." I said that yeah, it's true, they kind of are adults, but some people call them kids. "They were the biggest kids EVER," Ben decided. And then he asked, "Why did we go here?" I actually had a hard time explaining--something about how I was helping to tell them more about how babies get born. "Why don't they know about birth?" my nearly-six-year-old wondered.

And I wondered too. And how could I be useful to these teens during my 43.73 minutes of time with them?? Here's what I tried to do: talk about things that people get embarrassed about, use straight-up language like "penis" and "vagina" and "sex" and "fat" and "scary", and push the envelope. How often do you get a chance to infiltrate a public high school and say, "Isn't it crazy how our culture is so sexualized, and breasts are up on all the billboards, but you almost never see boobs in use??"

That's what I said, among many other things, adding to the helpful information provided by Linda and Annie, the midwife and doula who were also on the "panel" with me during these early morning classes. (Meanwhile, Ben and Jem plastered themselves and the left side of me with stickers--provided by Heather--until I realized that my left breast was getting entirely too many stickers so I shooed Jem on towards my left knee.)

I figure that we are not going to get anywhere as a society if we can't even say out loud that babies come out of vaginas and penises help put them in there!



--At the self check-out machine at the library, Ben wanted to know why it makes a THUMP every time the book goes through. "Ummm..." I started, somewhat brain-fogged by the library experience. "...When you check out a book, this machine makes..." And Jem, delighted to explain the rest said quickly, "NOISE!"

--New, long sentences are happening thick and fast, as Jem describes his play: "Slam in climbing structure big fire tucka!"

--Yield signs are called "Uld signs" (and they're notable because that's what Papa was for Halloween).

--At an ungodly hour this morning, when I was attempting to convince Jem to go back to sleep, I told him to lie down (for god's sakes!!), and just BE STILL! He told me that he couldn't. WHY NOT!? I yelled in a whisper. "Too tippy!" he answered.



--Wearing his cozy outdoor gear: "I'm fleece all over!"

--Ben wanted to know why he can't draw well with his left hand. I explained to him about dominant hands, and how most people have one, and how he's probably a righty. "But then," he asked, "why do we HAVE a left hand?"

--After our morning at the high school, I asked Ben if the school was like he expected. "No," he said. "I didn't know [they'd give me stickers and] it was going to be so much FUN there!"


Incidentally, Jem's seven-day trial run back in the family bed is OVER. He'll be sleeping in his own bed tonight.


Wildlife update: the outdoor insect life is beginning to retreat for winter, so Ben's hunting is mainly limited to fruit flies. And grain moths.

I told Ben that I was pretty sure moths use pheromones to attract each other--this was after we'd read that a scientist studying snakes had been able to wash a bit of pheromone off of a dead female snake and onto a piece of paper. Anyway, I told Ben, that's how the moth trap in our pantry works.

A few minutes later, Ben came in with the greatest-ever, 3-inch cut-out of a pencil-drawn moth with come-hither eyes. It was, he told me, a moth trap. "But how can I wash one?" he asked me. I was totally perplexed, until I remembered how the researcher had washed the snake's pheromones onto paper.

Later in the week, we got some new pantry moth traps at the co-op. Ben was very excited to get them set up, and we positioned the little pheromone patch...and waited. No moths. Ben kept checking, because his goal was to catch them before they got caught, so he could hold them and then release them outside. But all evening long, there were no moths.

Then today, Ben happened to check the trap, and there were two in there. And these moths were still alive, kicking and wriggling but hopelessly stuck to the adhesive. And my stomach started wriggling too, as Ben's face collapsed. " can I hold them?!" he said, and started crying. "How can I get them out?" We couldn't, I said, feeling as much of a murderer as I've ever felt in my life. They were just...stuck.

"But HOW?" wailed Ben, and he hugged me like a little boy, so sad for those dying moths. Oh baby, sometimes you just can't.


I remember very little about my old babysitter Laurie, who used to take care of me and Jake when we were very young. Except I remember that she always wore jeans, and they always went "swisch-swisch" when she walked. Athena just found a pair of jeans for me, and when I put them on I only had to take two steps before I recognized the sound. I guess it's unlikely that Laurie wore "Jeanstar jeans", "made in Egypt".


Laundry by the Numbers:

Probability that Jem will get a nosebleed and/or pee heavily at night: ~7%
Probability that Jem will get a nosebleed and/or pee heavily the night I've just put clean sheets on his bed: ~98%

If you think my grasp of statistics of way off, well then, you should just come and do my laundry.


Something I never even contemplated saying until two days ago:

"PLEASE don't spin while you drink!"


I successfully obtained calcium hydroxide, and am learning to prepare corn the way native peoples did! (Surprise surprise: it requires soaking, draining, boiling with a strong alkali, soaking, draining, mixing...and a lot of prep time.)

It's crazy--somehow, somebody figured out that dumping a bunch of wood ashes into their food while it cooked would not only make it taste better (after the excess lye-type chemicals had been thoroughly washed away), but would also make nutrients much more absorbable and prevent pellagra. It's fascinating how long it took folks in the southern USA to realize that all their grits and cornbread (not prepared with wood ashes) were actually causing their B-vitamin deficiencies.


What with Jeff's amorphous ailments, and him being on an elimination diet, and me trying to eat lots of many of the foods that Jeff is eliminating, plus I'm learning to ferment things, and with Ben not wanting to eat hardly anything besides his favorite air molecules...well, food is starting to embody just about all of the stresses of life. Lately, when I'm upset or worried, I keep eating, and eating, way past fullness, just because...I don't know, maybe because of messed-up wiring. Or because it's really not healthy to think about food so much.

But I've found an antidote! It's running. Yes, I've discovered that if I go for even a twenty-minute run (conveniently that's also my max, thus far), I have absolutely no desire to overeat afterwards (or even eat at all), because I know for sure that if I did, I would vomit. Plus, my heart is beating so madly that who can even THINK about eating, what with the gulping for air? And, with the endorphins kicking in, I'm not too depressed, either. My new favorite sport.


I've been really annoyed lately at my mundane dreams. So I was very excited, two nights ago, to have an awesome dream about riding a small-scale, momentum-powered zipline/roller coaster. It was super fun, and _almost_ like having a flying dream.

And this dream was was definitely the closest I've come recently to having an inspired nighttime fantasy world. WHY does my subconscious mind so often insist on dreaming A. about losing my children and racing through a burning building to find them, B. about running to help Jem poop, or C. discovering that I've just made a social faux pas while also walking downtown in the nude??


The other day, we heard the train JUST after our car began the uphill ascent (away from the train tracks). Ben struggled to hold back real tears, while I struggled to not feel guilty for not turning back into rush hour traffic to see the train. "Do you think," Ben said, between sniffles, "we'll EVER see another train?" Yes, I assured him, I really thought we would.

Next day, we heard another train, just as we were strapping into the car to head downtown. "A train!" Ben said--and then drooped, as he realized that we wouldn't make it in time for this one, either. More terribly sad sniffs from the backseat. Then a few moments of silence.

Then, "Will trains be running after we die?" Um, yes, I said, barring some cataclysm, trains will be running then.

Cheering up, Ben asked, "Will there ever be no more people?"

Huh. Yes, I said, it's very likely that someday, there will be no more people.

"But how?" Ben asked. "They keep growing up, and having babies, and then THEY grow up, and have babies, and then they do, too. If they're girls," he added (since he currently thinks that papas are pretty extraneous when it comes to reproduction).

I gave him a mini-lecture about habitat, and how animals often go extinct when something happens that leaves them with nowhere to live or find food. Like many species in the rainforest, I told him. And the dinosaurs. They used to be everywhere! And now they're all gone--they went extinct. Although other life managed to make it through, I ruminated, even when the dinosaurs couldn't make it, so at least (I added this to reassure the front seat as much as the back) LIFE may continue for as long as the earth is...

Ben interrupted: "But what if people looked EVERYWHERE for dinosaurs? MAYBE there still are some! How do you know they've looked EVERYWHERE?" I couldn't answer that one.

But anyway, so yeah, back to the point. "Are we going to go by the train tracks?" Ben asked. "Because then we MIGHT still be able to see the train." At mention of this sad topic, he sniffled again, a little.

No train. We crossed the tracks in a minute or two, and there was absolutely positively no train.

Until we had reached the library, found a parking space, and put money in the meter. THAT'S when we heard the train, for crying out loud, TEN long blocks away. My faith in a malevolent higher power was raised a few notches. Ben was frantic. "Can we just go back? Right NOW?! Because it's going by!!!" The tears were starting to come, because he was so plagued by the disappointment of it all.

Thank God I'd had a little sleep the night before, because I had the wisdom to realize that if I plunked Ben down on the hood of the car, and he squinted down ten blocks, he could see the cars going by in the distance. When he saw them, he was grinning, insanely happy that in this moment--tears forgotten, standing on the hood of our car as traffic streamed by--we got to see a train Ever Again. "We DID get to see it!" he said. "Jem, you can see the train!"

And maybe that's all you need for enlightenment--two boys on top of the car in the cloudy gray dusk, watching a distant train.


And now I'm going to sleep! Jeff's off showing his movie in the common house (tonight kicks off the three-week series of Lord of the Rings, extended versions), the boys are asleep, and most of my siblings are coming to visit for the weekend. Which is why, you lucky ducks, you got this update early.

Happy Thanksgiving!