Smoke, Fire, and our Small-Enormous Cross-Country Move

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest fear is fear of the unknown”
— H.P. Lovecraft

“It was a pleasure to encounter so much diverting hardship.”
— Ann Patchett

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.”
— Irwin Corey

“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
— Alice Walker

—-

Bedtime complaints:

Eliza: I don’t want rest! I don’t NEED rest!
Ivy: I don’t like rest too. But you’ll die without it!

——

Ivyisms:

Ivy is so incredibly LONG these days - my giant “baby,” who uses big words, often tuts her annoyance rather than melting down (although meltdowns are still a distinct possibility), and has sadness that “is WAY to complicated to tell you about - you wouldn’t understand!” She is by far my most savvy child-of-five, and she understands sophisticated concepts as presented on film due to the fact that she watches 100% more film than the others did at her age. After movies, she MUST act out her characters: after WALL-E, she was the “Ivybot 9000.” After Free Willy, she squealed and clicked and “swam” around the house as an orca whale. After we all enjoy episodes of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or “The Legend of Korra,” she air-, water-, earth-, and fire-“bends”. Also notable: Ivy has been watching Ben work on his muscles, and she can now do pushups with impressive form - as many as 7 in a row!

Ivy, beautifully posed in her new skirt, clean shirt, brushing her shiny clean hair. Would you like me to brush your hair for you, Ivy? “Nah. I can make it hurt a LOT less by myself.” Ah. I see. A few beats, and Ivy continues placidly: “It is fucking annoying to brush my hair!”

“I just counted to thirty on my fingers. If you keep reusing your fingers, you can go higher!”

Stick-on “tape tattoos” decorate Ivy’s arm: “There is a truck, a face, footprints, a dog, a fireplace, and a loaf of bread.”

Eating dinner: “This chicken is fabulous!”

Driving in the car: “This way is definitely not familiar!”

Playing with two stuffed animals, one talking to another: “Why were you sad, puppy? You’re treated GREAT!”

“Laughs keep comin’ into my head!”

Acting out her day’s favorite animal: “Do you need help? I would LOVE to help you! I am actually a very helpful spider monkey.”

Concerning her doll: “She is a great cook...but an even better sew-er! She made her clothes AND her shoes. These clothes are polyester so she only wears them in the day. At night she wears cotton. ALL her other clothes are cotton. ...skitter, skitter, skitter: she walks…”

Concerning another stuffed animal: “This is Ulysses...my cat’s boyfriend!”

Shimmying up to the top of the bathroom doorway: “Were YOU lucky enough to be able to climb doorways when you were little?”

Zooming around on the scooter: “I’m ridin’ my motorcycle, listenin’ to loud music, and going FASTER than the speed limit! It’s one inch per hour, so I’m going FASTER.”

“When the flowers die, these [pointing to the center of the black-eyed Susans] are their spirits! Cuz they LOOK exactly like their spirits.”

Sneezing: “I always hachoo two times!”

Hypothetically: “Jem, would you yell at the top of your lungs for an hour to get whatever you wanted?”

Recently, Jem enlisted Ivy as his production assistant for a small stop-motion animation project involving dolls and toy horses. Jem would move the “characters,” and Ivy would click the shutter when directed, over and over and over. After the shoot, Eliza came in and asked Ivy if she wanted to make up a game with the dolls and horses. Ivy said yes, but that she REALLY wanted to be a character this time, since, “….with Jem, I was just the BUTTON!”

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Elizaisms:

The past six months have taken their toll on pretty much everyone, more or less, and obviously many have suffered a LOT more due to the Covid Response than our privileged family. In our household, Eliza has had the hardest time with the lockdowns’ social isolation, and despite her being in the lucky position of living in a loving, relatively large family, nearly 7 months is an incredibly long time for a child to not-see almost anyone outside her family. It can be hard to remember how things were before, let alone have the vision to imagine a better future. (Heck, I’ve had a hard time envisioning hopeful scenarios myself!)

In August, Eliza asked, “How long has it been again?” And then she said, “The lockdowns make me feel like I’ve been wasting my time for five whole months, and I think it must be worse for grownups because they have less time left to live!”

When last I wrote, we had left our lovely rental in Taos (tearfully saying goodbye to the awesome neighbors in the condo nextdoor), and had moved to a beautiful rental in Santa Fe instead. We were planning to stay through August, to enjoy the company of Serenity Luna staying with us for two weeks, to visit with our cousins in town, and to appreciate the fact that it was only 85 or 90 degrees rather than the 105-110f back home in JT

However, on Day #3 in the beautiful Santa Fe rental, Eliza started feeling unwell. And by Day #7, she was feeling REALLY unwell. The house was truly lovely, but it had some surprisingly moldy attributes and smells that we noticed right away and initially hoped were just our imaginations. We definitely hoped that the mold would not be an actual problem.

However, after a year of solid heath gains on the Low Vitamin A diet combined with our continuing mold-avoidance, in Santa Fe Eliza was suddenly having the awful headaches and other severe symptoms that, mold-caused or not, were slightly terrifying to experience. It was quite clear that a Vitamin A Detox in the context of the house where we were staying was not enough to keep Eliza healthy.

So back we went, sadly, as soon as Luna’s grandparents returned to town…to, you know, relax in the soothing, Joshua Tree inferno.

It was definitely the right decision, although the heat was incredible this past August (at least to us, having never lived through it), and once the fires started the air was generally choking and unpleasant and we were pretty much confined to our 875sf house 24/7. But: Eliza’s headaches and other symptoms cleared up pretty much the day we got home, giving us one more confusing data point to analyze along the way.

Despite Eliza’s declaration about having “wasted her time” this year, she has done anything but. In much less than a year, she has turned into an advanced reader, a creative writer, an incredibly-much-improved speller, and she continues her artistry in drawing, apparel choices, and almost all of her aesthetic sensibilities. In spite of massive doses of bellyaching, she has (and I have!) made it through six months of on-and-off piano lessons, and her sight-reading is improving in spite of the incredible whining she so often aims in my direction. I don’t make my children do a whole lot on my schedule, but a certain amount of enforced musical education is on my priority list. And, in spite of her complaints, Eliza’s naturally lovely singing voice and her naturally tuned ear are helping her to intuit rhythm and melody in a way that is so fascinating to watch.

— While wearing exclusively some stripy socks and tee shirt, noted while we all sweltered in an 87f degree house (the coolest our mini-split could take us) to escape the 111f degree temps outdoors: “if it were NATURALLY this temperature, it would be perfect! But with the air conditioner on my feet are FREEZING.”

— Concerning my constant admonitions to at least TRY reading a book before discounting the possibility that it might be good. “I think…when I’m thinking into it, I know you said I shouldn’t pick by the cover…but it should have a GOOD cover.”

— “I forgot to tell you, I would like to read a book about life! Could you get me one? I mean, I know I’m going to die someday, and I have ALL these questions, so I’d like a book about it.” [Suggestions, anyone??]

——

Jemmerisms:

Jem is trying not to grow up too quickly, but he turned 13 this August, which means he is pretty much failing at this task. He still has the cute little smile of my Baby Jem, but he is long and lanky and growing every day. He is learning classical guitar, which I love to listen to, and he has made it to Algebra 1, and he has played Fur Elise possibly more times in the past 9 months than we ever imagined we could possibly hear it. He has completed the first three Alfred’s Adult Piano books, is moving on to more challenging classical pieces, and is finally discovering nuanced dynamics (i.e. he doesn’t play every single piece REALLY REALLY LOUDLY, and instead has added Sweetness and Tonality to his repertoire). Jem has been teaching Ivy math, a lovely situation that constantly reinforces my happiness at having birthed so many children. Ivy pretty much goes to Jem whenever she wishes to go on a bike ride or play a game or go on any adventure, and he takes a level of Scolding from her that he won’t put up with from anyone else.

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Bennerisms:

Ben has been easily tackling his 10th grade coursework, and has many criticisms for the USA school system now that he is learning what his skills are “supposed” to be. He is working on advanced memorization and mental math, using techniques gleaned from practitioners who teach on Youtube and write books. A couple of months ago, after criticizing my admittedly failing approach toward teaching Eliza math, Ben decided to test out his new theories on his sister. This has been a massive relief for me, and plus Eliza is now working on fractions, rather than slogging through yet another page in her math book that, when assigned by me, she “absolutely HATED!”

Ben seems to spend a lot of time learning about card manipulation and various skills concerning the art of Illusion - but Jeff and I are damned if we have any idea of what he’s actually working on, because we never get to see even one trick. Someday maybe if you ask, he’ll show a trick or two to you and you can report back.

Ben has completed the first three Alfred’s adult piano books, and like Jem, is moving on to more complex pieces. It’s interesting to see where each of the boys’ musical preferences are taking him, and it is highly rewarding when they each begin to exceed my skills in various ways.

Ben has been working on his physique with daily rounds of pushups, and even though he complains, he goes out for the daily prescription of aerobic Exercise that his mother orders. Every so often I get a flicker of annoyance when Ben’s voice is so deep and his body seems so hulking next to, for example, Ivy. “Don’t get big!” I have almost involuntarily said, kind of grumpily, at these times. “Everyone else is still little,” I find myself wondering…”how come you’re not?!”

Ben has recently read a bunch of the old Family Updates that I wrote when he was 5 and 6. He is astounded by what I didn’t notice at the time, now that he is learning about autism spectrum disorders on his own. “Did you really not realize that anything was wrong?” he has asked me many times. Ben is interested in possibly working with autistic kids someday in the future, and would like to see if his growing knowledge of what might have been happening in his brain at the time could be transferred to a wider understanding of Kids Who Are Suffering.

——

Jefferisms:

Just this past week, my darling husband turned 50 years handsome! Last year, I had hoped that we would have a really fun, big party on the big Day. Instead, we had a lovely little party, he got many artistic cards from his children, he maintained a remarkably positive demeanor and sense of humor, and kept saying happily, “I made it! I really made it to fifty!” He doesn’t look a day over 35, so he can be happy about that, plus he got a Birthday Positivity Award (and a really-fairly-delicious gluten-free apple pie) from his loving wife who loves him.

——

Here’s where I poured the bulk of my energy this summer: I made the girls a pair of entirely hand-sewn Waldorf Dolls from cotton and wool. This is something I did for Ben and Jem as well, except that each boy, in his day, made an approximately 5-second, disinterested appraisal of my handiwork and never ever touched the doll again. In comparison, Eliza and Ivy were truly rewarding at every stage of the process: they checked in constantly, examined each seam, had collaborative discussions concerning relative eye colors and hair styles and foot shapes they preferred, they carried the disembodied doll parts around the house and cradled them in their arms prior to assembly, and - when the dolls were finally done - they began playing with them constantly and immediately. This was thrilling, and also the process of making the dolls was a great way to keep me from checking the news too often.

When the dolls were done, it was like there was a void in my lockdown days. And it was at about this point that we finally decided where and when to move.

Jeff and I had been talking about it all summer: the lockdowns, the craziness, the undesirability of staying in Joshua Tree during the summers, and the fact that our parents might not end up coming to visit us in any season at all in the indefinite future.

It started seeming like a move back east, if we wanted to be nearer to our parents during their Golden Years, just had to be imminent.

Jeff kept saying that he did NOT want to move back to the east coast climate, and I couldn’t help but mostly agree. And yet, the inhospitable desert summers had never been my dream either.

And then K. reminded me: what about east coast near the ACTUAL coast? The more we thought about it, the nicer it sounded. I spent a couple days researching rising sea levels (a really, really big deal that even politically binary entities cannot avoid facing when it comes to real estate sales), housing costs, and Amenities in lots of different shore towns in RI, CT, MA, and NJ. Couldn’t help noticing the insane tax rates in all these states. (Jeff and I have this habit of picking places with THE most expensive taxes and health insurance in the country - when you factor in NY and CA, we've lived in all the top-most-expensive-cost-of-living states).

Then we started reading about Delaware. Apart from Alaska, there is no more affordable state in terms of taxes. And then we read further about Rehoboth Beach and Lewes: “good schools” (which matters at the moment because Eliza is dying to go), good homeschooling laws, natural foods stores and also two community theatres, lots of beaches, a state park with lots of trails and more beaches, and a lovely new rail trail - plus, average temps are about 5-10 degrees warmer than Connecticut year-round. Also...they have a lack of modern RV Parks, and I want to develop one in the next couple of years.

At first, we decided that in spring of 2021 we’d make our move to Delaware. And then the rental in Santa Fe didn’t work out, and then I finished sewing the girls’ dolls and had the aforementioned “extra” time on my hands, and then the smoke poured in and the heat was incredible…and although that isn’t the exact hierarchy of reasons, I realized that right NOW I could much better orchestrate the exhausting task of moving us cross country compared with waiting until next spring.

Plus, I “met” a really wonderful new penpal, a homeschooling mom with teen boys just Ben’s and Jem’s ages, and I realized it was time to focus community-finding and -building in the place where we’re going to be long-term. It was going to be hard enough for us to leave friends in Joshua Tree…but if we waited until 2021, when potentially life might be un-locking down after a very long year…well, it could end up being truly heartbreaking for some people to leave at that point.

Which is how, after a smoky, hot hot hot month and a half of planning and packing and preparing and selling our house, we tearfully left Joshua Tree on September 10, with half of our possessions inside and on top of our van and the other half packed into a Uhaul Ubox awaiting the knowledge of Where Our Future Home Would Be.

I will spare you the details of our marathon 7-day cross country drive. The only detail that matters is that on September 15th we arrived safely at our lovely off-season beach rental here in Lewes, Delaware, in which Eliza has so far felt fine, which is a giant relief. We have already been out-bid on four houses in this crazy real estate market, so we are counting our blessings and appreciating the proximity of the beach (which will never been so near again, no matter which house we end up being able to afford in the future).

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Our Action-Packed summer left me with less time for reading the news and expressing my frustration and upset at almost all aspects of the Covid Response. You may appreciate that I sent fewer articles your way, but thanks to M., I must share this recent and very relevant one.

While partisan bickering about Mask-Wearing vs. Not-Mask-Wearing continues at fever pitch, and while there’s widespread misunderstanding about what mask-wearing might and might not be capable of doing, there is remarkably little useful discussion concerning whether it’s really the best plan to employ a lockdown strategy to suppress infections for as long as possible (or until a vaccine is developed). Well…is it the best plan, or isn’t it?? What are the options? And…where are the progressives in all of this, because some of us are NOT happy with the Lockdown-At-All-Costs Strategy!

This article discusses some really relevant ideas about the economy and the lockdowns, and while as usual there is (in my opinion) a giant dearth of discussion about actually improving the health of people in general, I think the authors do a fantastic job of outlining the ideas that our public health officials should be considering (oh, but wait: I forgot that we don’t live in Sweden…gosh it sure would be nice to have a functioning healthcare system!).

I really recommend the article: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/09/covid-19-pandemic-economy-us-response...

Some excerpts:

“[During the USA’s Covid Lockdowns,] Elites have seen their stock portfolios balloon in value, and many professionals have been able to keep their jobs by working from home. It is the country’s poor and working-class households, particularly those with children, who have borne a disproportionate share of the burden. Lower-income Americans were much more likely to be forced to work in unsafe conditions, to have lost their livelihoods due to business and school shutdowns, or to be unable to learn remotely.”

“Somehow, herd immunity has become a toxic phrase, which is strange, since it is a scientifically proven phenomenon just like gravity. Except for the occasional skier, people do not argue for or against gravity. Whatever strategy we use for COVID-19, we will eventually reach herd immunity, either with a vaccine, through natural infections, or a combination of the two.

“So, the question is not whether we get to herd immunity or not. The issue is how to get there with the minimum number of casualties. We do not know what percent immunity to the coronavirus is needed to achieve herd immunity, but we do know that if there are many older people in the group that is infected, there will be many deaths. On the other hand, if mostly young people are infected, there will be very few deaths.”

“…the discussion of COVID-19 policy has become polarized into two camps, with most liberals advocating some form of lockdown and people on the Right arguing to open up. It is difficult to insert a reasoned argument into the debate without being categorized as taking one of these unnuanced positions and then being dismissed or actively vilified by ‘the other side.’”

“…I am aligned with the Left when I defend the COVID-19 strategy in my native Sweden. But here in the United States, when I defend very similar strategies implemented by the Republican governors of South Dakota and Florida, I am perceived as being aligned with the Right. It is a little weird. Among my infectious disease colleagues that favor an age-targeted strategy rather than lockdowns, most are left-wing progressives, while most of my Twitter followers are on the Right.

“As a public health scientist, it is my duty to fight for public health independently of partisan politics. I hope that people from across the political divide can come together to end a lockdown that is so damaging to public health, and instead advocate for age-targeted counter measures that properly protect high-risk individuals. After all, we live in this world together, sharing both its beauties and its viruses.”

(The article itself has way more varied and nuanced ideas than the few I excerpted above, and I highly recommend reading all of it.)

——

I hope you are faring well in these challenging and crazy times, and to everyone back out west….we miss you!!! To everyone here on the east coast….we can’t wait to see you again soon! And if you know anyone who knows anyone who might be selling a house near the bike path in Lewes, Deleware, feel free to pass along our contact info. Once we are living in said House, we look forward to hosting YOU!

Much love,
Sarabeth