Settling Down, Family Style

Dear Family,

Happy Thanksgiving! I am so grateful to all of you, and thankful for friendship and lovely people. And I hope your celebrations today were much more fun than they were stressful. I am grateful for those of you with whom we spent today, and I miss all of you with whom we didn’t.

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And meanwhile, I know you’ve been just dying to know: What Are The Amaral Matilskys doing with themselves, now that it’s almost winter?!

The original goal for this Grand Adventure was to Live Outside For A Year. This was obviously not going to be possible in Ithaca (current weather conditions: Really Freaking Cold), so our cross-country road trip was a means to land somewhere Much Warmer. Which is why we arrived in Maya’s Driveway in Joshua Tree, California at the end of September, preparing to dock temporarily while exploring the land of Sun Sun Sun Sun Sun.

A fantastic perk here is Community. The driveway on which we are camping is about a mile from Joshua-Tree-The-Town, and adjacent to us is a wonderful family with a girl who is Jem’s age. Maya (so awesome to see her in person after twenty years of phone calls and e-mails and wishing we lived closer!) and her husband have a 5-year-old boy named Oliver, and they live just a couple hundred feet to the south. Maya’s lovely in-laws live next door to her and us, and beyond their house is Maya’s sister-in-law (another long-time friend from my youth, now - so surprising when this happens - all grown up!) and her husband, who have a 5-month-old. It is an amazing, informal, really pleasant neighborhood of the very best sort, and we are honored to be welcomed here until spring.

We have been exploring Joshua Tree National Park as often as we can, and with any luck we will have scratched the surface of potential exploration after about three lifetimes. The place is truly amazing. We’ve also been going to Homeschool Park Day, meeting lots of nice local folks, frequenting the Joshua Tree farmers market (locally grown dates and avocados and oranges and cucumbers and tomatoes etc. etc. etc., in November!), and we’ve descended upon the Joshua Tree Library like locusts who haven’t seen books in five months. We’ve been visiting the library two or three times per week, and are pretty much maxing out our borrowing privileges with a constantly rotating collection of 50 books.

Back in September, we celebrated Jeff’s birthday with a picnic dinner in the National Park. If you’re into rock climbing or bouldering or exploring small caves, you should absolutely check out this park. If you’re interested in exotic birds, or exotic plants, or exotic geologic formations, you should also check out this park. Eliza whined like crazy cuz she couldn't climb like the boys, who were basically climbing up the walls of these amazing rock formations before we had unpacked the car. However, Eliza is not only much smaller than the boys, but she was also wearing a red satin party dress that day, with a full petticoat and sash (despite many people imploring her to wear pants). Ivy...well, taking Ivy on a hike is difficult, because if she knows that you want her to walk in a particular direction, that's the exact direction in which she absolutely refuses to walk. And so, as my slightly insufficient gift to Jeff, I followed Ivy around, trying to prevent her from getting spiked by spiky things and running into the road. But the Joshua Trees are so freaking amazing, and the rock formations in the park are so freaking cool, that we just have to take our celebrations and our Fun Times with all the caveats they come with.

On weekdays these days, Jeff is working, and the kids are playing with their new posse, and I’m sourcing and preparing food (a LOT of food - it’s possible that if Jem keeps on growing, we will have to obtain larger pots and pans), and we’ve actually been doing a fair bit of traveling (more on that below). And all around us is the Mojave Desert. This desert is wild, and beautiful, and DRY. I mean, obviously. But it is hard to appreciate dryness until you’ve been somewhere like this. Sometimes I wonder how on earth people ever decided it was a good idea to live the desert. And yet there are people here in large numbers, and tons of things going on, and even (in the case of Maya and her husband’s homestead) permaculture ideas for living more sustainably in a climate much more suitable for creosote than for people. And man oh man, it is so fantastic to have sun every day, and rain only very occasionally…

The other day we were driving past yet another fenced suburban yard full of little more than sand, and I started laughing: “I still can't get used to how many people have cactus in their front yards here!" To which Ben replied, "I'm totally used to it." And I said, "I guess it takes time, sometimes." And Ben said, "I think it takes longer to get used to it when you're older," while his siblings agreed that cactus is the new normal for them, too.

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So here we are. Still living in our camper, after all these months, with a temporary home base. We’re about to pick up our new hard-sided trailer next week, but for now it’s still the pop-up, which is essentially a big tent (or “yurt on wheels,” as a friend described it). We’ve been more stationary in general over the past couple of months, but there have been many exceptions, prime among them a trip to Arizona to buy our new van and trade in our old new van (this exchange due solely to needing a vehicle robust enough to tow our above-mentioned hard-sided camper). We camped next to rotund buttes, prickly/imposing/adorable saguaro cacti, railroad tracks curving around the base of a hill (or was it a mesa?), and outside of Phoenix we passed through tiny towns situated in impossibly arid places. This was a very short and schlep-like trip.

Then, after bringing home our new Nissan, we promptly put 2000 miles on it by taking an extremely stressful, frenetic, and exhausting trip to San Francisco.

The trip to San Fran sorta made sense when we planned it, because Jeff had some appointments there, flying + hotels + car rental in a strange city seemed like giant hassle, and we thought it would be nice to camp amongst some redwoods. And it sorta made sense to combine that journey with the orthodontist appointments in L.A. which the kids and I needed to travel to anyway. But what followed was a shit ton of things that turned out not to make much sense at all, including loooong drives through the Central Valley of California (not a recommended road trip if you are turned off by industrial agriculture, synthetic pesticide and herbicide applications, irrigation in the middle of a desert/drought, or CAFO feedlots), lots of traffic and other misadventures that led to even longer drive times on every single travel day, and a Super Super Lot of rain. It rained more while we were in the Bay Area than on our entire trip prior, and while my hair and skin were thrilled, there was hardly anything else thrilling about camping out in the rain and schlepping with our tent camper and four children (not to mention my sweet husband who was trying madly to meet an extended deadline for work).

The highlight of that San Francisco Whirlwind was a visit with some dear old friends from Not Back To School Camp, who welcomed us into their beautiful home (out of the rain!), provided lots of fun activities for our kids, and allowed us a super sweet chance to take a break and hang out with friends.

Despite the rushed insanity of the trip, in some ways the kids were amazing. While camped in the redwoods, Ben and Jem took every opportunity (when it wasn’t totally pouring) to practice their newfound love of Parkour. Eliza was loving the trees, since as she noted, "it's been a long time since I saw lots of grass in one flat place!", and she did a lot of skipping up the paths. Ivy was pretty amazing in the car, considering that the driving was really exhausting and long. The boys were patient with the girls. Eliza decided to get a haircut to deal with her Very Snarly Locks, and she tried "very hard!" to stay still while I cut it. Ben was so sweet when he saw her: "Eliza's hair looks so nice!" I don’t EVER want to repeat a trip like that, but if such a thing were possible, I’d say that in the end It Built Character, and fostered family togetherness.

Character Building aside, we were all extremely relieved and thrilled to arrive back in Joshua Tree on Halloween, which Maya had organized to be the most lovely and wonderful evening of costumed trick-or-treating fun. (I will be forever grateful to Maya for this, since the first worry my kids raised last spring, concerning the prospect of full-time RV living, was: “But What Will We Do For Halloween?!”)

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We have spent the last four weeks recovering from San Fran, and getting ready for our new camper, and trying to remember that part of why we are so freaking exhausted (well, Jeff and me - the kids are not exhausted at all!) is because we are doing in five months what many people do over many leisurely years (i.e. most people do not sell a house and car, liquidate their possessions, buy a camper and van, and then buy ANOTHER camper and van, all in one year) (at least I don’t think they do).

By the way, if you happen to know anyone in the market for a really great, well-loved yellow Quicksilver XLP pop-up camper, please give them our contact info! The pop-up will be available to purchase once we have moved into our new hard-sided trailer…

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Reflections on Living Outside

Okay, so yeah. We’re not really living off the land or anything, but we really are living outside. We have eaten just about every meal outside for the past five months. When daylight saving time (may the practice rot in hell and be replaced by a freaking Clock Time That Doesn’t Freaking Change Twice Per Year) ended, it quickly became apparent that while the clocks had changed, our mealtimes really couldn’t. Eating dinner outside in the dark every night just isn’t a Thing. At all. So…for the first time ever, we essentially didn’t change our schedule, and we eat dinner at 4pm every day.

The kids had basically no screen time over the summer, but for the fall and winter I’ve decided that I wanted to implement a leetle bit of Pop Culture Education. If you have any suggestions for our weekly movie afternoons, here’s what I’m looking for: 1. Movies suitable for a four-year-old girl who loves loves loves all girly and Disney princess things, but is basically scared by even a tiny intimation of anything potentially scary (so far she’s okay with “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” and parts of “Frozen,” while every single other Disney animated movie is “way too scary”); and 2. Movies suitable for Jem and Ben, either comedies or dramas or accessible political fiction or documentaries, etc. Excessive violence is a no-go, and they’re not into Romance, but grown-up themes in general are fine. I figure that movies can be a useful window in the World Inside, now that we’re spending so much time out of it. :)

Autumn in the desert has been a really lovely and interesting time. For the first time in my life, my birthday (November 12) was a sunny, 75f day! Sunshine is pretty much a constant around here, which is a really amazing thing. Wintertime brings lots of wind, which we’re not super looking forward to, and the nights are starting to get cold. We have learned that for us, 50f is cool but manageable. However, just ten degrees cooler is Not Okay. (We’re all warm in our sleeping bags, but being out of our bags in 40f temps is just not fun. The flip side of this is that there has been much more time spent in bed, and I do like that! I literally can’t fall into my old habits of Cooking Cooking Cooking late at night, or doing housework - if I spent much time out of the covers, I might get hypothermic! So I stay in. (This might be what it takes to get Sarabeth Matilsky to sit down despite all odds otherwise.) Getting up in the morning is always earlier than I’d like, though, thanks to my four small, hungry alarm clocks (particularly the youngest one).

I wonder what will change once we’re in our new, four-season-worthy hard-sided camper? I sure don’t want to spend more time doing housework, as excited as I am to not have frozen fingers when I attempt to type! And I still want to be outside A Lot. Back in our beautiful house, last year, we had approximately one picnic over the entire summer. It was just so tricky to bring everything out, and wrench ourselves away from our indoor routines. Now I cook meals with gorgeous mountains visible beyond the stove, or sometimes beautiful trees (or sometimes ugly RV parks), and sometimes it’s a pain in the ass because the wind blows the flame out, but always my exhaust venting is extremely effective, and if I drop some parsley on the ground I just don’t need to pick i up unless I want to.

Living outside isn’t really simpler than living in our house. it isn’t really easier, either. But we are outside almost all the time, doing almost all the things, and that is so, so liberating!

Small victories: Jeff didn’t have even one single allergy day this fall.

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Bennerisms:

“You know what would make me hate someone? If they stole my money!”

Ben is happily anticipating his thirteenth birthday (where does the time go?!?!) (Nowhere besides a space time vacuum, as far as I can tell) not a lot. “Not at all, actually” he says. I think it's daunting for him to consider anything on the topic of independence. He gets frustrated when I don’t want to accompany him to all the places he wishes to go, but me not-going is rarely inducement for him to consider the possibility of Going Alone. Despite his many abilities, Ben continues to have more than his share of health issues, many of them quite challenging for a growing, developing kiddo. OCD - where it ends and reality subjectively begins - is a topic that I daily try to help him dissect. (Mental health is truly a shared family endeavor - you know this when your four-year-old says that she wishes she could watch “more movie OCDs!” and reminds you “it’s time to return the OCD to the library!”)

Sometimes I am angry that I haven’t been able to wholly eradicate the OCD monster for my son; mostly I'm profoundly grateful for how far we've come (on dark days, that comes out more like Oh My God It Could Have Been Super Fucking Horrible If We Hadn't Had A GAPS Turnaround), and when I have the energy I try to stay focused on What's Here Now. We are truly navigating uncharted waters - we are recovering a child, unique and gifted and scarred. All victories are to be cheered, but nothing is guaranteed. Just like life, I guess - but in Ben's case It’s All More So.

Ben finds solace in Books of Information, Facts, and Statistics, chiefly atlases, field guides, etc. He says that National Geographic is the best company in the world. He is a fantastic big brother, he reads fairy tales to his siblings, he aspires to do parkour in nature, he cracks jokes and smiles a lot these days, he can wash a mean load of dishes, and gosh darn it, the kid puts away real food at the rate of three meals per day. A rainbow on his plate, chicken liver (under duress), meats and spices and fermented foods…my Ben Eats Food. This continues to feel like a major achievement; when Jeff and I die, please let it be said: They Got Their Son To Eat.

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Jemmerisms:

Jem: Papa’s a Potty Mouth!
Eliza: Mama’s a Mama Mouth! And I’m an Eliza Mouth.

Jem (talking for Hooey, his green parrot stuffed animal): “Wow! It’s fucking dark out!”
Eliza (talking for her doll, except momentarily taken aback): “kids don't say fuck!”
Jem: “Yes they do! Fuck, fuck, fuck…”

“Do you think anyone in the world can blow out one nostril but not the other?”

“Has anyone named their kid Mike Rotch in real life?”

Jem is a highly intelligent and gentle young man, who intends always to bring joy and helpfulness into the lives of his parents, and to express gratitude for - despite the numerous and currently consistent episodes of Punkassedness and Insanely Debilitating Distraction that only very occasionally threaten his mothers very sanity - his mother’s non-corporal punishment approach to childhood discipline. His mother tries to dwell on the Gifts that come along with Jem’s challenges - he really is a sweet and adorable punkass - and only several times per day does she perform a silent hand-wringing in frustration and despair, while bolstering her resolve by counting the growing number of successful Persons who describe the ways they've achieved satisfying lives, focus, and Many Skills in the face of an ADHD diagnosis.

Meanwhile, Jem is having a second childhood with his stuffed bird, who talks in a unique voice, comforts and teases Jem's sisters, flies all around the camper, and tells stories. (This - apart from the teasing bit - warms my heart, because I always mourned the way that Ben's symptoms (neediness combined with an outspoken demand for linear, nonfictional play) prevented Jem from playing Pretend Games when he was little.) These days, Ben and Jem not only get along really well, but Ben’s “Beary The Bear” sometimes even joins in the game…

Jem is amazing with Ivy, and part of my amazement is that he plays with her because he enjoys it - not only because I’ve asked him to keep an eye on her. He’s learning to leap over jumps on his bike, and slowly - ever so slowly but surely - Jem is learning how to read. And he is thriving and growing and playing quite hard.

Jem: Beary, Hooey needs to get married. Are you a girl or a boy?
Ben: I’m a boy. Beary’s a boy.
Jem: Oh good! Hooey can marry you!
Ben: Actually, Beary’s a girl! Definitely a girl.
Jem: Oh, darn!! Can you be a boy instead?
Ben: No.
Jem: But Hooey needs to get married!
Eliza: You could marry Beary anyway!
Jem: No! Hooey doesn’t want to. But maybe Beary could go and just change into a boy sometime…

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Elizaisms:

“I have a plan for when I’m a grown-up. I’m going to have a baby!”

“My children will be named Elsa and Anna and Rose of the Meadow, and Olaf - that's my boy - and Summer Fuzz, and August - those are girls.”

“Argh! I want to stretch out my legs, but with that seat there, all I can do is NOT!”

Perusing the toilet paper aisle: "Why….oh! Are those paper towels made out of swans?"

“Ivy and me just burst into smiles!”

Hiking in the redwoods: "I love this place, and I'm so glad we came!"

Scribbling madly: “I’m drawing you! With one ice skating shoe on, an' one regular shoe on....and here's the belly...it looks like a bird to me…but a bird with pants!”

“If people didn’t have babies, then there wouldn’t be any more people!”

“My dress will have silver and gold and jewels and diamonds and crystals and pretend leaves and grass and lights of pumpkin.”

“If I lost you and you had a watering can, I would follow the dribbles to find you!”

“If everyone stole money and it was okay, then I would do it too...I'd buy stuff like Elsa and Anna things.”

Eliza is so highly social that she rarely scoots in for a hug from me, because she’s busy with everybody else. She always feels comfortable enough to fall apart totally once she has bid her friends farewell, however, and I’ve long since developed very thick skin concerning this proclivity, which also alerts me to when she is really off-kilter. Normal: she complains about dinner. Not Good: she refuses to eat dinner and also accidentally kicks my leg and speaks rudely. Normal: she falls down a lot. Not Good: she hurts herself while falling down extra much. Normal: she whines and complains when she sees me after a play date. Not Good: she collapse on the ground and cries at the sight of me.

Other people - unless things are REALLY Not Good - do not witness Eliza’s “quirks”. Other people do not know that last year at this time we were entering crisis mode with her REALLY Not Good behavioral and eating symptoms from hell. Other people may also think that zinc picolinate is a supplement that couldn’t possibly have super profound effects on mood and anorexia.

Anyway, that’s because what other people mostly see is a precocious, fashion-conscious, intelligent and athletic child, who is in love with the entire Disney Princess Empire, tries to memorize books so she can “read” them aloud, is patient with her sister despite the sister’s desire to grab all toys all the time, and who loves playdates and pretend games with any friendly and willing party (but particularly Oliver).

The Eliza sans symptoms (which we are trying mightily to address and eradicate, while knowing that perfection is futile) is a daughter I always wished for. Reality is a bit more intense that I’d hoped, but sometimes I just sit back and watch my daughter, festooned with bright bows and party dresses and pretend dog leashes, making sand castles and Pretending for all she is worth, and I soak it in. While nursing my bruised leg. And hoping the healing continues.

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Ivyisms:

I refused to agree with Jeff at first. In fact, fearing that Ivy would somehow get a complex, I tried every which way to refute his contention that "if we didn't have a baby along, this trip would be a hell of a lot easier!" I felt it wasn't fair to Ivy for us to feel this way, to blame our difficulties on her. All of us have our own Issues and Challenges, right?? We all have to give a little, and traveling is just...Hard. Right?! So it’s not like Ivy is to blame for that. Plus, what are we going to do: give her away??

But as it turns out, after having traversed the country and then some, I now know for sure: if we didn't have an active toddler along on our Grand Adventure, it would be so much easier. So SO so much easier. Don't get me wrong: We love her insanely. She completes our family in all sorts of wonderful and adorable ways. She brings fulfillment and childlike exuberance into our lives pretty much constantly. Her older siblings dote on her and think she’s the cutest baby around. But if she wasn't here, adventuring would be easier. Cooking and eating would be easier. Pooping would be easier. Cleaning up other people's poop would take 100% less of my time than it does now. Spending quiet or rainy afternoons drawing or writing or watching movies would be easier (as in, Actually Possible). Reading books aloud at bedtime would be easier. Driving long distances would be easier. [Not needing to be] dealing with naptimes would be so much easier. Doing pretty much ANYTHING would be easier!

That's a lot of words to say: You were right, Honey my Sweet! I gotta admit that we haven't met m[any] other families with active toddlers who live full-time in popup tent campers.

But here’s the thing about Ivy: every bit of her current state of development is ephemeral. And that is coming from a woman who has often had to stifle the urge to punch people who croon “Enjoy it now! It goes sooo fast!” at precisely the Wrong Moments.

It actually does go fast.

I started writing down New Stuff About Ivy in October, but now that seems so long ago. Back then, she made a kissing sound every time she saw her little rag doll, so we all started calling it “Kissy.” Now she calls it “Dolly,” or “One” (as in, “Everybody else is playing with a doll, and I want to play with ONE too!!”). She received a tiny little dolly for Halloween, which she promptly named “Anna” and often carries around lovingly by the head.

Three weeks ago Ivy could walk, but we could generally keep up with her. This week she learned to run fast, and mostly we really can’t.

On one of our first days in California, Ivy somehow choked on a chicken bone, and by the time it finally went down - after a couple of the longest minutes of my life - we had for the first time ever called 911 on behalf of one of our children. Turns out that even in the middle of the desert, the EMTs move quickly! And now when I’m taking the meat off a chicken I put the tiny bones out of her reach.

While her parents gain gray hairs, Ivy is a growing, developing, adorable force to be reckoned with. One of her main goals these days is Communication, coining phrases like:

“Ben” = Ben, Jem, Eliza, and also Banana. “Ben” also indicates the presence of people she likes.

“Pee-pee” means “I have to pee,” “I have to poop,” or “baby!” Context is everything.

“Ball-y!” Her favorite toy.

“Papi” - Her favorite word for for Papa, because Eliza says it that way.

“Birdie!” Her favorite animal.

“Doggy!” Her least favorite animal.

“Wow!” Her favorite exclamation.

“Yucky!” “Mine!” “Blech!” Other favorite words she uses often.

“Tie!” What she wants you to do every ten seconds, each time she unties a bow.

Ivy not only walks and runs now, but she also swaggers. She does it when she’s happy, or excited, or when she’s looking around with a gleeful chuckle because she knows how cute you think she is. She bends her knees deeply, swings her arms from side to side, takes enormous and uneven steps, and “exuberance” pretty much defines Ivy at those moments.

If it wasn't so much work to have a toddler, I'd wish she could stay like this forever!

In some ways it’s lucky that Ivy’s stages are transient, however, because I’m too old for the whole GAPS kid illness shit. Ivy got sick directly after her bout with chiggers in Memphis, when she swelled up and had an obviously topically allergic reaction. And then…she exhibited two weeks of Very Familiar Symptoms: the same nasty upper butt rash (not diaper rash) that Eliza had for nearly two years; a mini lip rash; bouts of diarrhea; lots of uncharacteristic screaming; super picky eating (really unusual for her, because up until then she was an amazing eater, and now she was spitting out most everything while making faces and saying, "bleah!", and consuming next to nothing)…plus several tense, PTSD-inducing, honest to goodness tantrum bedtimes. It may be never that I fully trust in the durability of my children’s gut flora. Ivy got mostly better after a couple of weeks, but she hasn’t been quite herself since then: she’s still got rashes, she’s had a couple of colds during which the screaming and picky eating got really bad again, and her eating is not quite back to normal even now. I will probably go to my grave attempting to understand the strange associations between my children’s behavior, chronic or temporary infections, digestion, and health.

But luckily, Ivy is my fourth child, so the Tsuris gets diluted by all her siblings and the worry THEY cause. Occasionally I sit back to admire what all Jeff’s and my work hath wrought - a batch of truly wonderful and well-behaved children - but due to the extreme constancy of all that work, I don’t do this often enough.

“Owie” is what Ivy says when she hurts herself. Also, it is the exact pronunciation of what she shrieks, repeatedly, when she wants to get out of her car seat, out of the shower, or out of bed.

Three weeks ago, if you asked her if she was hungry, she’d say, "Yeah! NUMmies!" Now she says: “EAT!!”

In general, Ivy says Yes - or rather, “Yeah”: Ivy, do you want to wear this shirt? "Um...yeah!" Ivy, is your hair green? "Yeah!" Ivy, did you eat the baseball? "Yeah!" Except when she says no: Ivy, do you need to pee? "Ummmm...uh-uh." Ivy, are you sure? “UH UH!!” But Ivy, there is pee coming out of you right now! “UH UH UH!!!”

For awhile, Ivy pretty much just wanted to go about her busy day and pee on her shoes at regular intervals, rather than pausing for even three seconds. Every time she had to pee we’d say, “Ivy, squat! Squat down to pee!” Ivy would look at us, think about it, and pee on her shoes. This continued for many days. “Ivy, please squat! Let the pee come out on the ground!” No luck. The shoes got it every time. Then, one fateful day, Ivy considered what everyone was shouting over to her…and carefully, Ivy squatted. And peed. And while everyone cheered, she smiled and applauded her own ingenuity. Half an hour later, she had to pee again, and so, with additional great care and thought, Ivy stood there and peed on her shoes.

Those particular shoes have since been retired to the nearest landfill. And over the past few weeks, Ivy has grown up in many ways, and she’s becoming ever so slightly more careful when she pees. Often she tells us when she has to go, and - after spending approximately 8 years of my life diligently Communicating with my children on the topic of Elimination - I anticipate a time someday soon when our family will be comprised of six potty-trained individuals. “Halle-fucking-lujah!!!!!” is what I will shout when that day finally comes.

Sometimes I hate and despise bedtime so much that I think unholy thoughts to an embarrassingly huge degree. I often think: I am so tired of dealing with baby shit/pee! I am incredibly super exhausted by and have no patience for picky eating babies!! And I really really really don’t want to put anyone to bed at night when I’m super tired and have been trying to Nurture and Lovingly Take Care Of and Supervise these children All Freaking Day, and I Do Not Want Anyone To Accidentally Shove Me Anymore AT ALL, and I want to personally go sleep in a quiet cave!!!

But then there are hugs. Chubby baby arms wrapped around my neck, sometimes when I least expect it. An adorable face looking at me like I am just the Cat’s Meow, not to mention like I have the Best Boobs in the Whole Entire Universe, absolutely nothing wrong with sagging and stretch marks. The way Ivy pats me on the back, ever so gently, while she’s busy hugging me, makes me wonder how I ever could have contemplated not planning to have a fourth child. Oh, these are the precious grubby moments that I'd like to bottle up and keep forever and ever and ever.

Really, it would be just perfect if you could experience the babyhood of your baby - rather than simply concentrated over two years, 24/7/365 - optionally at the rate of about one hour per day, on most days, for all of a lifetime.

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Some Good Books We’ve Recently Read:

Mama Provi and the Pot Of Rice, by Sylvia Rosa-Casanova
The Snatchabook, by Helen Docherty
Lilly's Big Day, by Kevin Henkes
The Red Hat, by David Teague
Luck With Potatoes, by Helen Ketteman
Harvey Potters Balloon Farm, by Jerdine Nolen
The Pink Refrigerator, by Tim Egan
The Peterkin Thanksgiving, by Elizabeth Spurr (adapted)
Mimi and Sophie, by Miriam Cohen
The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales, by Jon Scieszka
Alice in Wonderland, adapted and abridged by Jon Scieszka
Big Truck and Little Truck, by Jan Carr

Additionally, Ben would like to note that the National Geographic Guide To National Parks is just about the best book in the world; and both Ben and Jem are enjoying Jeff’s re-reading the Narnia Chronicles

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Eliza’s Notes:

10/20
There's great things here at Joshua tree, and the stars up above us are so nice and we have a new van and we're planning to get a new camper! And our camper is super nice that we have right now. Love, Eliza

10/30
I can't wait to see you! And there's sequins here. I wish you could come where we came, and there's water and nice swimming places here. We read Cinderella: The New Mouse. I found a new ball and acorns. I have an Anna doll and an Elsa doll and another Elsa doll. I have a pink sleeping bag and nice books. I will love to see you! Love, Eliza

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A couple of interesting articles:

What happens to various blood markers for inflammation and autoimmunity, etc. when you send people into the Pyranees to eat real food and live outside for ten days?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27366752/

Recovery from Depression After 25 Years of Meds:
http://kellybroganmd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/VIDEOTRANSCRIPT-Rose...

Is it ethical or sustainable to eat meat? A Dietician/Farmer weighs in:
https://chriskresser.com/impacts-and-ethics-of-eating-meat-with-diana-ro...

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And this is probably way more words than necessary to say: Lots of Love From All Of Us Here In The Desert!!

Love,
Sarabeth