This Saggy, Perky Life

Dear Family,

I’m trying something new this month. As I gather my wits and attempt to send out an update, I am going to send it out to you in “Manageable Chunks,” as some among my readership have asked me to do.

Maybe just a couple hundred words per chunk. I'm sure I can do this...

——

New On My Blog:

I just re-published an article from my mom - she wrote it years ago, when she was still in the throes of parenting several at-home children, and she called it “Unschooling is My Job.” She’d love to hear what you think!

http://lifeisapalindrome.com/updates/unschooling-my-job

——

And also … gluten-free baking!

When you google special-diet recipes, you realize that everybody's got different requirements. ("Hmmm...that fried chicken IS gluten-free, but it's definitely not vegetarian! Gotta get those search terms straight...") And googling Special Diets is what forces you become a Recipe Developer instead of merely a connoisseur.

I wanted to make a sourdough bread with no gums, but also no gumminess; I wanted to avoid milk proteins, refined grains, and most grains at all; I didn't want to use nuts, I wanted a nice crust, and I definitely wanted my bread to hold together without crumbling. Not having off-tastes was important, and I didn't want to use leavening agents apart from the natural microbes in sourdough. Oh, and I also didn't want a bread that "isn’t as good as Real Bread, but tastes okay toasted!"

Recently, I copied down ten recipes and read through many more. I came up with various flour blends and overspent my food budget on buying specialty flours that I knew I'd likely use only once. Then I started baking.

My third trial yielded a bread with a lovely, moist texture, a flavor and yellow hue that reminds me of challah, and good looks, to boot. :) It tastes good on the second day (the longest a loaf has ever lasted in our house), and it would probably taste _great_ toasted - not that I've tried...

…I hope that this recipe helps inform YOUR recipe development, and that you will share any tasty variations you come up with!

http://lifeisapalindrome.com/recipes/gluten-free-sourdough-egg-bread

——

Ivyisms:

Ivy is like a baby Jem. I don’t mean that she’s like Jem was when he was a baby - I mean that she is like Jem right now, only in miniature. She argues like him ("Aw, peeeese!"), she complains like him ("Aaaaaaww!"), and she tells his jokes (“...An’ now, I fall down dead!”). When she is told not to do something, she sighs just like he does. She describes things like he does: “My food is pretty not-cold!" ”I’m good!” and, "My sand toys are elsewhere." When she’s frustrated, she says “ARGH!” When she sees something cute, like a small stick or a small bite of food, she pats it or kisses it, just like he does when he’s playing with her. Often during the day, she says, “I wuv you, Jem!” to which he responds, “Aw, I love you too, Ivy!”

Recently I took Ivy to the playground, and after fifteen minutes of Boring Mom as her only companion, she told me, “I miss my Jem! I want my Jemmie!!" She loves all her siblings, but Jem is willing to cart her around for hours in the bicycle trailer, he brings her on “exploratory walks” even though she’s periodically a pill and refuses to walk home, and he generally Puts In the Time.

The only activity that, for Ivy, comes in a distant second (after playing with Jem and her other siblings), is putting on shoes. The freaking SHOES! There are always piles of them around our campsite and in our camper, and she’s always asking for help with the ones she thinks she can’t put on by herself. But after you’ve put on a pair, she pretty much decides, two and a half minutes later, to take them off so she can put on a new pair...and she wants you to help her with those, too - “Peeeese!!"

Argh!

She loves all shoes, especially if they are flip flops and even more especially if they are too big for her. “I try to do wis,” she’ll say seriously, as she’s about to “try to” walk down the steps in Papa’s flip-flops, a dangerous endeavor in my opinion, which I often try to stop her from doing, which causes her to protest and try to wriggle away: "ARGH!!”

Something I absolutely adore is the way Ivy dances. When she hears a catchy melody, her shoulders and her hips begin to move in a fabulous and sophisticated fashion, such that I am sure she will be a world-famous dancer someday - Except Of Course, Most Important Is The Fact That She Loves Moving To Music Which Is So Creative And Good For The Brain And Central Nervous System Or Something Else Related To Childhood Development And Growing That You’d Think I’d Remember Since She’s Child Number Four. But hey - actually, I just love to watch Ivy dancing, and I think she’s so great that you all should see her, too.

Ivy can pronounce the letter “s”, but she generally leaves it off the beginning of words, so that she “tops” before going too fast, she finds “crews” sticking out of sheet metal, she finds a good “pot” to go pee, she loves to carry walking “ticks”, and lots of things “mell” “tinky” (which is also Jem’s and her word for “tinkle,” meaning “to pee”). She recently yelled, “Mama DID pritz me!!” after I sprayed her off with the outdoor shower. Her dropped s’s also led to the following exchange:

“Waaaah!!!” What are you howling about?! What are you doing out there, Ivy!? “I’s creaming outside!” Later, after the drama was past and she calmed down again, she told me: “I topped creaming. I not cream at you.”

She calls the Burley bike trailer, “The girly bike,” which makes me smile every time.

Whenever she sees the red scab on her foot: “My po foot!”

She concludes: “My feet not icky, but SO nice. So nice!"

Putting on her shirt: “Ah! Wis warms up me!”

Sometimes Ivy channels her big sister by - apropos of nothing - repeating entire phrases that she’s heard Eliza say: “I can't hear you, Mama" (when I haven't even been talking). "That big dog gon get me!” (when she isn't really scared). “…Mama, could you have a bran new baby in your belly for me to play wif?” (which is truly funny because as of last month Ivy was actually scared of babies, and will still often run away from them, not to mention that she’d be Unhappy to be an older sister).

Ivy says: “You SO big! I'm wittle.”

Ivy wonders, during the rare moments when I go out: "Where my mama go?!"

Loudly interrupting a conversation about something completely uninteresting to her (possibly space travel): "Pop!! I wuv YOU!!"

Singing after peeing: "I neeeda paper towel, a wipe my butt, Mommm!"

Dizzy on the merry-go-round: “I’m getting busy!”

Was that a hiccup, Ivy? “Was burp, ackshully!”

Ivy sings: “I simply - get my fav-rit fings, then I don't feeeel bad!”

“Peeese nurse me!”

After I remove Ivy from a precarious, inadvisable perch: “You SHOULD NOT take me down! You shouldn’t! I WANT to go up!!”

Ivy reinvents the two-year-old’s rallying cry: “By my Own Self!”

You know that your toddler is a urine-separating-dry-toilet aficionado (it uses (the toilet, not the toddler) 1-gallon plastic bottles for removable pee receptacles), when she runs up to the dairy case in the supermarket and exclaims excitedly, “Pee jugs! Pee jugs!”

Waiting at a crosswalk, suddenly overcome by The Urge, Ivy pulls down her pants and says questioningly: "I need to pee...pee on street?"

Sitting down on the potty: “I have to poop SO BAD!”

Recently at the gas station, Ivy asked where Papa went. She was told that he was getting gas. A minute later, while she watched Jeff squeegeeing the windshield, she said perplexedly, “ Papa is...putting gas on ours window??”

——

Elizaisms:

Eliza turned five while we were in Spokane, Washington, during a weekend celebration that involved her hosting a tea party using her brand new stainless steel tea set, a family hike that took us Very Far up a mountain for a picnic dinner (plus we got to see a baby owl along the trail!), and Eliza joining the Big Kids and Jeff for a trip to a nearby amusement park on Father’s Day, where she rode several roller coasters.

Eliza is strong and creative, thoughtful and quick, sensitive and intuitive. She is socially adept, physically strong, and observant of beauty in the world. Those traits contribute to her personality.

Eliza's health challenges add many other behaviors that aren’t so sweet, and a casual observer of our family life would likely conclude she has an Extremely Difficult Personality.

But I really and truly don’t believe that her - ahem - Difficult Behaviors are due to innate psychology; they're because of Non-Optimal Health, and are therefore malleable, gosh darn it! Which is why Jeff and I plod onwards, spoon-feeding her three times per day, struggling to find patience, and determined not to give up…while I strive to help balance her biochemistry so that the real Eliza can shine through. She continues to be much better overall than at New Years’, but on her bad days and in her bad moments she is brittle and high-strung, picky and anxious and whiny, screechy and sorrowful, jealous and demanding, and still having much difficulty feeding herself. Her “can’t take a deep breath” days are every day now, with no discernible triggers. Eliza appears to feel contented for approximately five minutes per year; my belief is that all these things will heal - and slowly, as we correct as many imbalances as possible, her physiology will lead to a happier psychology: Eliza’s Actual Personality.

May the universe grant me strength to make it through.

We started reading the Little House series, and the racist stereotypes and opinions depicted in book three are leaving me unsure how to continue. “The Little Birchbark House,” by Louise Erdrich, has been a nice antidote to Laura Ingalls; I'd welcome other ideas!

Eliza had a fantastic time being the flower girl at Jake and Page’s wedding, but most of all she (and we all!) enjoyed seeing so many extended family members and friends. Saying goodbye was very, very difficult: "I'm as sad as a pad!" she said through tears, trying to rhyme her sorrows. “Why can’t they ALL camp with us? Everybody is leaving…except US!” When that didn’t adequately express her grief, she sobbed, "I'm as sad as a seal being eaten!"

Yes, Eliza’s analogies are Very Unique: “My head feels as bad as a bad carrot!”

Riding her bike: “The hill is so zipping fast!”

Eliza often says things that we try not to smile about when she is nearby, because she is very sensitive about people laughing at her:

“I wonder why I can barely itch?? I guess cuz my nails are so short!”

Coming across a picked-clean deer skeleton in the woods: “What’s that?! Is it dinosaur bones?”

Eliza really, really wishes that Ivy’s development would pick up already. She is dying to play games that Ivy just can’t yet comprehend, and often her attempts are thwarted even despite Eliza’s carefully-worded leading questions. Recently, screeches were heard from Ivy. Then Eliza, bursting into tears, came running to me: "Ivy says she ISN'T the bravest girl in the world, and I was saying she is, and then she also said that I'm not brave at ALL!”

And through it all, Eliza keeps petitioning Jeff and me: “Why can't you have just one more baby?! Please?! I really want a new baby brother or baby sister, and mama DOES have her period!"

"That song is stuck in my head! —Just on the side. The other top part of my head is where my brain is.”

Books Eliza has recently enjoyed:

The Mercy Watson series, by Kate DiCamillo
“Sarah Plain and Tall,” by Patricia MacLachlan
The Boxcar Children series, by various authors
“Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Avonlea," by L.M. Montgomery
Every “Fancy Nancy” book every published
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” by Florence Atwater and Richard Atwater
“The Book With No Pictures,” by B.J. Novak

----

Eliza, riding in the bike trailer, singing: “We will, we will, ROCK YOU!"

Ivy, riding alongside, singing just as loudly: "We wiw, we wiw ROCK ME!"

——

“Eliza, I wuv you!”

“Oh, Ivy, you are the cutest baby in the whole world! I love you.” *smooch* “I just kissed you on the nose!”

“Yeah!”

“Which is where your yucky snot comes out!”

——

Jemmerisms:

Jem’s so incredibly sweet with Ivy, as mentioned previously, and he’s getting stronger all the time because every day he rides his bicycle up hills and down dales and gets better and better at wheelies. He struggles with distraction, a lack of humility, and the fact that he is sometimes a giant pain in the ass, which can cause his mother to snap and scold and remind him: he should behave like a pleasant human being instead of a Punkass.

Traveling has given Jem lots of opportunities to listen to audiobooks, and thanks to the power of libraries’ online availability, we have been able to supply him with some great books for the drive. Jeff is also reading the Fablehaven series to both boys.

Recent triumphs by Jem include: initiating and completing a nine-mile hike, together with only his brother; capturing the brass ring on the Missoula carousel; losing two baby teeth in one week. He is still quite challenged by two skills he really wishes to master but don’t come easy: reading and swimming.

A Few Audiobooks Jem has Recently Enjoyed:

Bridge to Terabithia
Tuck Everlasting
How to Tame a Dragon’s Fury
A Walk In The Woods
The 21 Balloons
Fortunately The Milk
Frindle
Lunch Money
Half Magic
The Emperor’s Ostrich
Lemons
The Scandal

Recently, Jem’s math skills helped me figure out the cost per loaf of my newly-developed gluten-free sourdough egg bread. (It totally reminds me of challah, it’s quite yummy, it’s grain-free (apart from the starter), and…ingredients costs $7.48 per loaf. But I guess you can’t have everything…)

http://lifeisapalindrome.com/recipes/gluten-free-sourdough-egg-bread

——

Bennerisms:

After going swimming: “Skin dries so much faster than shirts!”

"Where there's smoke, there's fire! Where there's flies, there's poop."

These days, Ben can sit for hours looking at his dictionaries and his thesaurus - and his family’s bemusement toward this propensity in no way detracts from their love for him. They’re just a little bit tired of hearing So Many definitions. The dictionary does come in handy on a daily basis, though, during family mealtime discussions that have become just a little bit more sesquipedalian - and Ben wisely notes how looking at his books really helps him feel calm.

Ben is remarkable in many ways, and he can’t fully appreciate these because he is busy living his own life. But when I remember the tantrumming, anorexic, anti-social, physically deteriorating, rigid little boy I used to live with…and compare him with the strong, food- (and even-liver-)eating, well-behaved, socially-tolerant, growing and Striving young man I live with now…well, it’s kind of like that sickly little boy existed in a parallel but distant lifetime.

The other day, Ben said he wishes he could have just a “quick chance” to “see what it’s like without OCD." Are there drugs, he wondered, that make it go away? "If I could just TRY not having it, even for maybe a day, I would at least know when something is OCD and when it’s something to really worry about.”

My heart caught a little way up into my throat. I managed to say that yeah, there are drugs, but none of them are magic. Lots of side effects. But I wish he could see what No OCD feels like, too.

“How do you KNOW things?” he asked then. “Like without OCD. How can you know what to do, and what to really worry about? What’s it like?”

I hesitated. "I think...under your OCD and everything, there’s an Internal Guidance System - some part of you that always DOES Know What To Do, when you can listen, and when the noise gets quiet enough to hear. That’s why we’re always trying to help your body be as healthy as it can be."

But that sounded a little lame, since, as I then told him, it's totally legitimate to be annoyed by having to think about such complicated things and be thirteen at the same time!

I must acknowledge the challenges facing ANYONE who has known few extended moments of generalized/personal surety and confidence. This near-constant doubt must explain some of Ben’s difficulties when faced with everyday tasks and decisions, whether large, medium, or tediously tiny (not to mention why he much prefers to stay close and do Things He’s Already Good At, rather than venturing out into the complicated Outside World).

But wow: the questions - the constant questions generated by his brain that transfer to constant requests for me and Jeff to reflect the situation into black and white so he can grasp The Plan! “Should I put my shirt down here? Where does the spoon go? Is this spot okay? Is this enough? Is it right? Did I do that okay? Should I do it this way? Like this? Like that? In here? Over there? Should I leave it out? In here? Or not? Or this way?…” All. day. long.

AAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!

Ben does not exactly fit a diagnosis of Aspergers, nor is he autistic. But his growth and development Right Now constantly encounters a legacy left by the autistic-style deterioration he faced as a small child - a so-called “developmental gap" that is much harder to close than it might seem. He may always face challenges from this ASD legacy, but just as every autistic child is unique, so for sure is every recovering autistic child. I weep for how hard things are for Ben, and at the same time I am profoundly joyful at how much better they are.

I love when Ben’s own sweet self - his actual “personality” - transcends his challenges. This week, a misguided elderly person in the campground office made one of those boring and stupid taking-advantage-of-children mistakes that just HAD to be dealt with, and I marched back with Ben to do the Adult Intervention Thing - both to Mama-Tiger-Roar in defense of my tearful son, and get his fifty cents back. One of those easy-for-adults, super-awfully-hard for kids situations that I used to HATE as a child, and now I only hate even more.

On the way back to our campsite, after he had reclaimed his fifty cents, Ben said, “Thanks for coming with me to the office.” He said it so spontaneously and sincerely, and this sturdy thirteen-year-old striding next to me was so big and small at the same time, that my heart did its little hitch all over again. I remember so clearly when Ben learned (not till age nearly-eight) to say “Thank you” for the very first time. http://lifeisapalindrome.com/updates/some-truths-about-gratitude

The other day, when he saw Eliza begin her customary dance of reluctance and shyness and Whining, as she was beginning to mope rather than go to the playground, Ben quietly got up and started heading toward the playground himself. “Are you coming, Eliza?” he said, turning around to give her a chance to catch up. “C’monnn, Eliza!” he called, and then he did a little clap-clap with his hands, just exactly how Jeff has said to Ben on so many occasions: “C’monnn, Ben! Chop-chop!” Watching Ben and Eliza skip away to the park, my heart skipped a little too.

Books Ben has enjoyed recently:

The Miss Peregrine series - latest was “Library of Souls”
“Look Me In The Eye,” by John Elder Robinson (he didn’t finish this, but I was impressed that he started, since it’s an adult’s memoir)

——

A few random and interesting links:

— This is a quick overview of the ubiquitous herbicide known as Roundup. Yes, it seems like a Bad Idea for human health - but so many people use it! What are some of the challenges and solutions that would be encountered in a world without roundup?

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/2253546-seeking-a-world-without-roundup-2/

— Yet more commentary on the sad end of Chris Cornell; Kelly Brogan weighs in on the violence-inducing potential of phychiatric medication:

http://kellybroganmd.com/the-violence-inducing-effects-of-psychiatric-me...

— An incredibly moving piece by a man who did an unthinkable thing while under the influence of personality-altering pharmaceuticals:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/truthman30.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/david-c...

— An beautiful, short movie clip of The Seaweedman and his Maine Coast seaweed harvest (you have not yet tried wakame until you’ve ordered some alaria from him!):

https://vimeo.com/220509009

——
----

We have entered the Next Phase of our Grand Adventure, wherein we attempt financial solvency combined with full-time homeschooling, self-employment, and extended travel. Between June 1 and mid-August, the basic plan is that Jeff works Monday through Friday while we stay two weeks at a time in each campsite (at the end of August, we'll head back to Joshua Tree and park ourselves again through the winter). Jeff uses cellular data tethering to go online and connect with his far-flung colleagues, and he’s making websites and doing most of what he needs to do while hanging out in our camper. The kids and I are trying to give him space and minimize interruptions, which is working a little bit better than it has in the past; Jeff has a curtain around the couch that he closes when he’s “At Work”, and we’re trying to stay out of the camper during the day, at least for conversation and noisy activities. Ivy has a tent for napping, or can sleep in the van if it’s shady enough.

Nothing is perfect, and Jeff is absolutely ready for a six-month sabbatical that includes No Responsibilities. He struggles with distraction and, as he puts it, “feeling Really Toasty." I am ready for a part-time career change myself (more on that later). But until Magic whisks us happily away to a tropical cabana (or more realistically, until we become real estate investment tycoons), it really is great that Jeff is able to support our family by doing his work and collaborating with really nice people…anywhere-with-internet! While our four kids are able to homeschool.

Jeff is currently re-reading “It”, and has managed a few other similarly relaxing actives at various times over the past two months, including attending some very gory movies, watching loud fireworks explode, and taking the kids on extremely fast-moving rollercoasters at Silverwood amusement park...

----

I already mentioned our stop at Death Valley, but Jeff has now added his photos to our album, so here's the link again. Have I mentioned that Death Valley is incredible? Next time we will absolutely go swimming in one of the country’s only unchlorinated, naturally-spring-fed swimming pools, a feature of the park we did not discover until we were pulling out of our campsite on our third and final day.

https://goo.gl/photos/CWCrxmaKfdQqs5aQ7

——

The Big Trees were amazing, although the experience of camping in a damp, rainy climate with Present Company was, as previously noted, barely fun at all. That’s especially why photos (Jeff has now added his to the collection) are important, so I can look back at all the fun I _could_ have had, if only…

https://goo.gl/photos/xE4AM13AWALPPHge6

——

After the big trees, we hit the Oregon Coast. Which is amazing!! Literally countless spots, all along the coastal highway, to pull off and enjoy amazing vistas, fantabulous tide pools, fantastic little food co-ops and farmers’ markets and state parks and then, as if you could possibly get sick and tired of it, Natural Beauty up to Yours Ears (as Ivy might say).

We’re definitely figuring all this full-time RV stuff out as we go. A year after deciding to see whether Living Mostly Outside could help further our family’s collective health, we’ve discovered other reasons we’re glad we divested ourselves of a house and 90% of its contents.

But it was during this last part of the pre-wedding road-trip, when we spent only two nights in each fantastic place, that we made yet another Important Realization: all six of us love to travel, in our own ways and at different moments and to different degrees, but we all Really Dislike traveling fast. Two weeks per spot would have been just about right, we realized, while zooming up the coast at what felt like Warp Speed, and missing 99.9% of everything fun and cool and amazing, while struggling to simply reach our destinations and put food on plates and make sure laundry and butts and faces were all clean at appropriate times without succumbing to a state of severe fatigue and burnout.

Yes, Jeff and I agreed, we love to travel - but long road trips make us feel like moths circling a lightbulb, constantly racing toward the light, and banging and bruising up our skulls.

Plus, we used up a ton of unpaid “vacation time” on the road trip from Joshua Tree. While I fully acknowledge that this was a luxurious choice by many measures, let’s - ahem - just call it a “trip” rather than a “vacation.” Which probably won’t be repeated by our caravan until all sorts of costs are lower.

Along that beautiful coastal drive, however, we spent an afternoon with dear friend Grace Llewellyn (and her nine-year-old son whom we hadn’t yet met), and enjoyed campsites near the beach, a short bike ride or two (or approximately fifty seven, in Jem’s case), a grocery-shopping date for Jeff and me in Bandon, OR, lots of laughs concerning punny names given to stores selling legal cannabis, an unexpected visit to the Mount St. Helens area, and…

…The Wedding!!

Jake and Page somehow conjured the most perfect, sunny, non-rainy, warm, and gorgeous weather that has hit the Pacific Northwest in possibly decades. The entire weekend’s worth of parties were absolutely fantastic (it didn’t hurt that the happy couple had rented an amazingly gorgeous house on the water with about one trillion rooms, plus the food at the parties was great). I actually haven’t been to many weddings in my life, but this one was an instant favorite because although I was An Important Guest, I had zero important responsibilities besides my usual important responsibilities, so I was able to catch up with so many aunts and uncles and cousins and dear friends. Also, unlike at my own wedding, the weather wasn’t my problem, so I only checked the forecast during the week leading up to the big day about three hundred and forty-nine times. The flower girl (Eliza) (despite some very extreme and unexpected stage fright) walked ahead of the bride and did her flowerly duties, the ceremony was absolutely beautiful, the speeches were smart and funny and touching, and the bride and groom wrote some kick-ass vows that had many of us in tears and re-committing to life in a general sort of way, and the institution of marriage specifically. It was all a sort of balm for the cynical soul.

It was so sad when the rosy light began to fade over the sound, and guests started to filter toward the vans shuttling guests to the Grown Up part of the party (which we didn’t attend due to the majority of our party not being grown up), the caterers and the boomingly-volume-challenged DJ packed up their things, and we walked back to our campsite with Maya and Oliver in all our finery.

It seems quite likely that Page and Jake will enjoy a fabulous marriage with a start like this; we were honored to attend the celebration, and hope they throw many more parties along the way so we can attend.

https://goo.gl/photos/a65xSH2Gxj9c1wgZ8

——

Our next stop after the wedding was blissful relief: a nearly-two-week stay in One Place.

The Olympic Peninsula is full of about three trillion fascinating hiking trails, outings, historical markers, beaches, rainforests, hot springs, rivers, bike trails, etc. etc. etc. etc. The normal rainy, cloudy weather descended after the wedding, and we managed no ambitious sight-seeing, but we managed a few small field trips: after-dinner walks in the woods, bike rides on the Olympic Adventure Trail to Port Angeles, and a super fun visit with Sudip (which included a walk around some tide pools, a ride on the bike trail, and visits to the national park visitor center, the grocery store AND the RV park’s playground).

The little RV park where we stayed is adjacent to the former site of the Elwha River Dam, which is now one of the largest dam-removal projects ever attempted to reclaim former spawning waters for salmon and other wildlife. Walking down the path toward where the dam used to be, I suddenly remembered a day back in 2012. We'd been inside the four walls of our house as usual, dealing with baby Eliza's intense feeding issues but we won't dwell on the thousands of hours spent on breast pumping and bottle-feeding or anything like that, since that’s a real downer, and anyway since it was 2012, I was trying an up-to-date Technological Strategy to Bring The Outside World In: I had heard about this interesting dam-removal project, way out in the pacific northwest, and we could watch a live webcam! At the appointed hour, we would watch engineers tear down the last of the dam so the fish could once again swim up!!

The boys were underwhelmed, but I was captivated. And now, five years later, we were walking down a path full of ferns and trees, and we were there! I mean here. At the overlook from the webcam! Gazing right down at where the salmon can now swim! In a place made famous by us having viewed it on the Internet first.

——

While we were staying at Elwha Dam, Jeff and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary (PLUS we developed a mnemonic device so that, in theory, we can now easily remember how many years we’ve been married (one less than the year of the century we’re in! After sixteen years of kind of forgetting, this should do the trick)). We put the boys On The Payroll, they cared for their sisters plus fed them lunch, and Jeff and I went to Port Angeles and parked along the waterfront.

And then we took a little walk. And we stopped and started whenever we felt like it. And had real, uninterrupted conversations. And laughed about how many times (about every other minute) we did things like try to feed each other, or give Very Specific Directions or answers to questions that hadn't been asked, or start to go somewhere that the kids would really like but we could care less.

I found, however, that it took probably less than an hour to relax into the blissful spectacularness of Not Having To Do Anything In Particular, while hanging out with this really awesome person to whom I happen to be married.

We stopped at a Korean restaurant and decided to order (after learning about them for the first time) some trendy Poke Bowls. We went to an awesome local health food store for dessert and microwave popcorn. We probably appreciated it approximately ten times more than we would have sixteen years ago. (Then again, it really WAS good popcorn…) We reminisced, and ate, and talked about our children, and remembered some of the reasons we married each other, and ate some more, and tried to remember what we thought our lives together were going to be like and whether reality met those expectations, and then we ate even more, and laughed some more, and walked around some more, and suddenly it had been nearly four hours and it was time to go home to our camper and our children.

Way back sixteen years ago, when we were all young and the earth was new, I knew that Jeff and I had something special together. Turns out, we still have it, and I appreciate it even more now, but it’s always nice to have an excuse to celebrate all over again. Life is just funner together! Especially the little unexpected silly moments that appear endlessly and are often forgotten but are WAY better when we can laugh at them together (at least, I think it’s so. You’ll have to ask Jeff if you want the last word on that):

— A condominium complex on flat ground behind a strip mall named “Alpine Meadows”, located next to “Five Valleys Urology.”
— The RV park hayride that couldn’t actually go any slower, since, as Jeff noted, he could pretty much see people crawling faster than the golf cart tow-vehicle was driving.
— A random sign along the highway: “My fake plants died because I forgot to pretend to water them.”
— Ivy, wriggling down so she can go sit on Yours Lap, immediately prior to changing her mind and climbing down again so she can instead sit on YOURS Lap.

The other morning, Jeff got all serious and said, “I just found this twenty-dollar bill in my pocket. I guess I’ll put it away in my stash of mad money…to do some Laundry!!” And then his eyes got all twinkly and after twenty years of knowing this man, I fell in love with him all over again.

——

After Port Angeles, and two marathon days of travel, we spent two weeks at Liberty Lake Regional Park outside Spokane. This park was truly lovely: set at the edge of a beautiful lake (with a boardwalk over the marsh), all the attractions were right there: a playground, a swimming beach, nine miles of stellar hiking and mountain biking, and even a shade tree. The setting was so lovely it even inspired me to clean the outside of our camper for the first time in six months. Our Lance now positively gleams!

We could happily spend an entire summer at Liberty Lake someday…

https://goo.gl/photos/9QCYiBYGyiRZ1dq17

——

Now we’re in Missoula, Montana. Big Sky Country! When our two weeks are up on Friday, we will have heavily inhabited our campsite, taken occasional field trips to awesome local parks and bike paths and grocery stores and splash parks and rivers, done a lot of computer programming and cooking and cleaning and butt wiping etc., and then we’re on to another Montana destination for another two weeks. So the photo album isn’t full yet!

But here’s the sneak peek, including photos from our recent visit to the Adventure Cycling Association Headquarters in downtown Missoula. Twenty years ago this month, Jeff and I visited this very building on our separate journeys across the country by bicycle. Adventure Cycling, by publishing the best bike maps for cross-country cyclists, naturally caused Jeff and me to independently choose their route maps, and therefore actually meet each other in Carbondale, Illinois on that fateful day back in 1997 which literally changed the course of both of our lives.

So a visit to ACA headquarters was definitely in order, just prior to Jeff’s and my 16-years-and-nearly-four-weeks wedding anniversary! The folks there were super nice, and took a photo of our whole family, and even dug up the photo of me taken back in 1997 and published in their magazine, which is one of only three photos featuring myself that I have from my trip:

https://goo.gl/photos/iLSpA13gRjyYf6Y4A

——

Four things I am currently interested in

Five, actually, because an EARTHQUAKE! Last night! A little past midnight, Jeff and I thought somebody was shoving our camper really, really hard. Which of course they weren't, but the jolting was hard enough to knock down our sink cover which then knocked over a pan... It was crazy! Luckily, as jeff noted, our house has shock absorbers. And I'm sure the Experts will let us know if the Yellowstone super volcano is about to blow, won't they?

Anyway. Four things:

Real Estate Investing: I want to do this! I’m still in the information-gathering stage, but Jeff and I have realized that we need to do something about our retirement (i.e. save money for it) unless we don’t actually want to retire. And while our late thirties and forties is a little late to start thinking about it, better late than never is what I always say. (Mostly, I wish I’d discussed such things with my grandmother when she was alive, may she rest in peace…) Additionally, I would like to have more money to pay for convenience items in the realms of Food and Childcare. My goal is to begin generating a bit of passive income. (Got any real estate investment tips, or know of any hot properties (2-8 rental units) for sale in southern California?? Please do pass them along!)

Surviving Orthodontics: I really hope I make it through this! I guess it’s pretty obvious that orthodontics - especially of the complicated adult-jaw-fixing variety - are not super easy to keep up with on a long road trip. Of course, being Sarabeth Matilsky, I’m trying to do it anyway. For the past four weeks I’ve had some pretty unpleasant Pain associated with my appliances, as they literally and forcibly change the shape of my mouth. I don’t have much useful information for others traveling the same path - yet. Hopefully, if I make it through the next couple of years of treatment, I will. One great thing that has happened: I no longer chronically grind my teeth (!!) (this was a constant in my life since early childhood). Sometimes I clench at night a teeny bit, but overall, the changes this doctor is making to my mouth (starting with “opening up” my front top teeth a bit like a canopy awning) are taking a tremendous load off my poor, ground-down choppers. With any luck, my dramatic gum recession will cease, and possibly even get less dramatic over time (and at the very least, once the orthodontics are over, a gum surgeon could possibly fix my gums - not happening, the surgeon said last year, when my grinding was still so bad, since “bruxism” was the main reason I have gum problems to begin with.

Borrowing e-books from the library: you too can do this! While traveling all over the place! Reading books on your smart phone or other device with a Kindle app or Overdrive. Although Jeff’s brief research into Overdrive’s sordid business practices did little to boost my love for the corporate entities that profit from library e-book lending, the fact that online availability exists is super amazing. I can borrow books whenever I have cell service, and get audiobooks for the kids and put them on our old cell phones! I can get books for Ben that he might Just Happen To Like…and beam them to his kindle. For the first time in years, Jeff and I are reading novels. The process of “borrowing” “books” is not simple, because…surprise, surprise…many companies want to sell you e-books, not loan them to you for free. But you can do it! Don’t give up. (To start off your borrowing habit, I super highly recommend a novel that my mom and sister just recommended to me: “What Alice Forgot,” by Liane Moriarty. A woman hits her head when she falls off her spin cycle at the gym…and loses ten years’ worth of memories. She’s still herself, but she thinks she’s still 29, and she doesn’t remember her own children or anything that happened in the last decade. A fascinating premise, and - as they say in the reviews - Masterfully Executed by a Talented Storyteller! :)) 

Creating memories: what’s the point, if you don’t save these up?! In service of this pursuit, I treasure various recollections from the past couple of months: Engaging in actual fun and relaxation during the parties preceding Jake’s wedding; celebrating Jeff’s and my anniversary with a super awesomely sweet date at a restaurant; taking a family bike ride to Port Angeles, WA, on National Bike Travel Weekend https://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/bike-travel-weekend/ ; hosting Sudip for three lovely days at our campsite in Port Angeles, with the kids showing him all around and wishing he’d stay for months; attending (with Jem) a local playwriters showcase at a community theatre in Spokane; waking up to the scent of sagebrush at Wanapum Recreation Area in central Washington; spending two weeks at Liberty Lake Regional Park, in far eastern Washington, where the campground and weather were nearly perfect for our outdoor-centric caravan. Now, here in Missoula, Montana, memories are being forged as I type, including rides on our bikes and a community-built carousel that pretty much causes anyone who rides it to smile.

——

This Saggy, Perky Life

"There was no way in the world that she would forget something like that. She was a woman."
—from “The Hypnotist's Love Story,” by Liane Moriarty

Recently, a child of mine who shall remain nameless looked over while I was changing my tee shirt and said, “Mama, why are your breasts so TINY? They look saggy, and wrinkly, and like the skin on a fat person’s belly!”

This comment made me ponder the point of becoming a mother in the first place, and whether real feminists can ever _actually_ embrace their warts-and-all bodies, and also how I could make sure never to change my clothes in front of anyone, ever. Furthermore - as I told the child in question, after I had taken a brisk walk and could actually speak again - the comment hurt my feelings very badly.

It came right on the heels of another comment made by another child: "If you and Papa get divorced, I would go with Papa because I like him SOO much!"

Ah.

Such comments are not actually the cause of my periodic bouts of Absolute Toastiness and impending whininess (be forewarned!) - they merely illustrate why, if you want a rewarding and externally validating career, you are much better off choosing bricklaying or secretarial work or possibly mining rather than Full-Time Homeschooling Parent.

And quite independent of those remarks, my feelings of Toastiness go to show you can move out of your house, but - as one blogger put it - your biggest challenges will follow you right up the stairs into your new RV. So no sense even pretending that you’re running away! Running away also ages the skin around your eyes (and breasts) prematurely anyway.

No, no, no, in my case the feelings of burnout likely arise from managing logistics of three special-diet meals per day, plus never ending household (campsite) chores in abundance - which, when combined with Ivy’s nap time, result in two approximately 1-hour windows each day that aren’t spoken for. Which isn't bad - it's a lot more than nothing! And I barely ever have to haul heavy loads of bricks, nor apply spackle or enlarge a mining shaft with my bare hands. But even so, monotonous chore-type chores wear on a person’s psyche, and sometimes make one feel as though entire regions of ones brain are somehow underutilized. Possibly atrophying, even.

Plus, it's almost impossible to go for fun outings that last only a single hour, and whenever we do go out, something suffers (usually Ivy’s nap, which causes the world to end I mean makes her sleep poorly at night, but this truly takes years off Jeff's and my lives, plus incentivizes eye makeup) (Huh. I wonder if Breast Makeup is a thing??). We don’t go out every day, and I try to appreciate the really great places in which we’re specifically camping, since we spend more time in these actual campsites than virtually any of our neighbors. That's right: back when I used to live in a house, there were many days when I never left it. Now, there are many days when I don't leave the campground. To me, the latter is better, but both scenarios can engender that Slightly Trapped Feeling.

And yet, here come waves of guilt when people assume I spend my days sightseeing with my home-educated kids (when I'm not helping them with academic homework), and I almost want to apologize: “I'm sorry, if only I did my chores more quickly, I’d be able to take them out and see All The Things! And actually go to the national park that is only five miles away! But you see, that would take more than one single hour! And we’re only camping here for two weeks! To make it five whole miles, I would have to bring LUNCH and it would take so long for everyone to poop first that we’d leave super late, and I’d be rushing and then I'd get a speeding ticket, and worst of all, Ivy STILL probably wouldn’t get her nap and she’d be up three times at night and my breasts would sag even MORE. (And uh…academic homework?? I'm really sorry, but that is DEFINITELY not a thing.) I promise, I will try and do better tomorrow…”

——

The biggest drain on my energy right now is parenting another child with disordered eating when I still haven’t nearly gotten over the PTSD from the first time around. In early May, when it was finally clear that anorexia was still grasping our child firmly and her calorie deficit was just too high, we once again began feeding Eliza every meal, one bite at a time.

It sounds so innocuous, to spoon-feed a child. I know that most people would think: feeding a kid just can’t be that stressful! Eliza has all her arms and legs, so what am I complaining about? Plus, now that we feed her, she’s eating easily twice as many calories as she was when I had been trying and failing three times per day for months to employ the tough-love, if-she’s-hungry-she’ll-eat technique which has pretty much never ever worked to get a child to eat, in the history of Amaral Matilsky kids eating. So…it’s all great, right?

I do realize how much better Eliza is than she was last fall (and at other times in her short life), when she was not just exhibiting obsessive behaviors around food and having apparent allergic reactions to Buildings, but also throwing massive tantrums at mealtimes and often refusing to eat at all, spoon-feeding or otherwise. So yeah. Disability and the trauma it shares with patients and caregivers is relative.

But it is super chronically stressful to have another child whose illness prevents her from lifting food to her mouth; who often hears that it’s mealtime and begins to cry; who says things like, “Isn’t it funny? I’m super hungry, but I just can’t eat!" or "I'm so sorry I have this sickness that makes me not want to eat food!"; who sits in front of me with the most bizarre inability to nourish her body, which then results in (or at least partly contributes to) her younger sister’s copycat food-refusal behavior. I am so freaking tired of spooning food into whining, pouting, picky, pitiful little mouths!!

Before I had kids, I thought feeding would be just a quick phase. I did not sign up for 8 years with one child and 5 years and counting with another. I watch Eliza and Ivy engaging in habits that nearly exactly mimic Ben’s and Jem’s in 2011 - except that neither of the girls were alive back then, so this sickness obviously owes more to genetic predisposition than Learned Behavior.

Feeding is Only a Little Thing. But three times a day, every single freaking day without fail, for a total of hours per day, Jeff or I must sit at the freaking table and perform the overwhelmingly boring and dexterity-challenging task of spooning food into two other people besides ourselves. This grates on my nerves like a fine, razor-sharp microplane grater, and every few days I go POP! Like the weasel.

Feeding is such a little, bitty thing! Which is why, although I spend more time than I wish feeling resentful and fried, I wish SO BAD that I had more energy to appreciate all the OTHER things more while they're happening. How ridiculous, right?! If I do my job right, our four kids will grow up and Jeff and I will have Peace and Quiet, and I’ll wish that I could have just a tiny bit of this back.

But I won’t wish for the feeding. Oh lordy, I will NOT miss it!! For as long as I can hold my own spoon, I will be grateful every time I am privileged to feed only myself.

Please let that day ever come.

——

A wise friend of mine recently offered her perspective on Preventing Madness During Delirious Moments. (Well, she didn’t call it that, but since I in general attempt to employ this friend’s advice when I am delirious, that’s what _I_ call it):

“Do everything you're doing already,” my friend suggested, “without focusing on what's exhausting. Just try that as part of your Grand Experiment, as a factor to toy with to see what happens then. Because it's likely NOTHING you think to do anytime soon will change all that you need to do to feed your family and have relatively clean clothes and get through a morning's feeding and bathroom activities and so on, so there it is: the way of it, reality. There you'll be, day in and day out, moment to moment, doing those things, often to the tunes of shrieking and whining. You're doing it anyway. Nothing is going to stop you from doing it except dying or leaving them all to become a cashier in a grocery store. So don't call it exhausting while you're doing it. Do be with the sensations that whining or burnt rubber or one more kid who needs to shit bring up for you. Be with the sensations you might label as exhausting. Breathe them. Allow them. NEVER judge them--in other words, catch yourself in a judgment and then feel that without believing it. Hmmmm...

“If the word 'exhausting' forms in your mind (and why wouldn't it?), see if you can depersonalize it (and not let it pour concrete into your tired cells, thus making itself a stone statue or a fixed Thing that must then sit inside you--that you're then stuck with). Depersonalize it by telling yourself, ‘This is what exhausting feels like.’ There it is, something human beings feel, and you're feeling it now. And then, instead of thinking thoughts about it or repeating that word, FEEL IT. Breathe the feeling. Allow it. Have compassion for yourself and, simultaneously, if you can bring them into it, for every exhausted parent of kids or challenging kids or traveling challenging kids who ever graced the face of this planet. But don't keep repeating ‘exhausting.’

“Do shift to telling yourself, ‘But I'm badass. I'm still badass. I'm so fucking badass. I'm absolutely badass.’

“Or whatever word you like better than badass that conveys for you and to yourself the concept of how you should admire yourself more than you tell yourself how exhausted you are. You should be stunned by your own badassery…You're amazing. You and Jeff are amazing.”

Those are very nice words.

I _think_ I get what she’s trying to say: to give ones feelings space to be felt _and_ to leave. And to leave off the self-flagellation.

I have been trying (to remember to try) it out when things feel delirious. Checking in with the sensations and all that, when I’m not Popping like a weasel. I wish I could say that this has made me able to withstand monsoons and surf tidal waves and feel like a Total Professional Person…but I did have a crazy-feeling day recently that resulted in: me shifting my thoughts before the burnout actually took me out under the weight of it. (In other words: I took some quiet time before I had a mama temper tantrum followed by a two-day sulk.) And this allowed me to let in feelings that were eventually different, and the following day was actually quite inexplicably lovely. In the sort of way that makes you feel compassion for all other humans who have ever felt feelings of exhaustion, joy, near-complete frustration plus adoration at exactly the same time.

——

So yeah.

I may experience sensations that might otherwise mimic Despair during the fifty-seven-thousandth feeding session, and my breasts may look like something other than Spectacular Melons of Awesome…but I am SO badass!

----

And listen up, Kiddo Of Mine: your mother still has nice legs. She will now be taking some Quiet Time to remember that.

——
----

And this concludes my update. I'm amazed and honored that you have read to the end.