Springtime in the Desert

“So light my way through the mire of the direst day
And make a place where the fears and fires fade
Oh baby, oh baby, lend me your soft cheek
Oh baby, oh baby, bring the world home to me “

— “Baby,” by Sam Shaber


Note: I am totally not going to include a graphic description in this update concerning our recent two-months-long effort to rid our camper of rats. If I described this, it would completely remove any sheen of romance that might otherwise color your perception of our nomadic lifestyle.

So: as far as you know, vermin have barely ever been even a passing contemplation for inhabitants of our camper, and have not at ALL been responsible for the many, many nights of terrible/interrupted sleep experienced by Jeff and me since the beginning of March.

(Current Status Report: no rats currently in camper as far as we know, as of 4am on Monday morning. Glory Be!!!!!!)


My intention was to make this year’s homeschooling record into a combination humor piece and portfolio. It was a total fail on both counts.

How the heck do YOU keep records?? I would love to know how others track and write up their children’s “educational” homeschooling accomplishments. Please share any advice and/or a template to make my next year’s records less sucky!

(Meanwhile, I’m happy to share my description of our 2017-2018 homeschooling year if you just shoot me an email requesting same. It’s just not very professional or humorous, despite our family’s many educational accomplishments this year.)



Brushing her hair: “I’m making me beautiful!”

Pistachios = “biz-tash-yos”

Sobbing after a spill at the playground, expressing real regret: “I shouldn’t have DONE wat! It was hard to get my bike up, but I didn’t WANTA get off, and wen I fell down cuz Jem wasn’t there to catch me.”

Fly swatter = “Swy fwatter”

"I'm huntin' like a mountain lion: hunt, hunt, hunt! Acuz wat's what mountain lions do."

How are you, Ivy? "Good! I sweeped well, and had good dreams about oranges!"

Ivy's rendition of Tom Lehrer’s Pollution Song: "...the fity shreets are quite a frill, if hoodont getchoo, monoxide will!"

“I got bright eyes! They open wide...and beyooootiful!”

Ivy, how did you get your hair like that? “Oh! I combed it wis way! An' wen wis way! An' wen wat way!"

“I’m gonna wear this dress to nap!” How did I know you would, Ivy?! “Acuz I telled you! You’re my crazy poo ball! …I’m just jokin‘: you’re my gooseball!”

"But it's my baby and it [a crimini mushroom] doesn't want to get cutted up! Its name is Rose."

"I wuv you - you're the best mama in my life. I'm keepin' you."

“I’m not tired! WAT’S why I’m not tired! ...I can see a train! An I see the cars an’ the angels.”

"I wuv everyone, acuz everyone in my life [except she said 'my wife'] is good!"

To me, while I was putting on my makeup and false eyelashes for a performance: “Why do you have Scary Eyes?”

Ivy, will you be my baby forever?? “No! I gonna get HUGE!”

“Knock knock!”
Who’s there, Ivy?
Sink who?
“Um...I wash my hands in the sink! (…I made wat up.)”

“I surprised at you!”

“Fanks, Mom! I WUV my new sandals! Fanks for getting’ them.”

“Where’s Ben and Eliza? Where’s Jem?? Where’s Papa??” They went for a hike, and they’ll be back soon, Ivy. “…Good! I wouldn’t want them lost!”

Ivy turned three in March, and she is a running, yelling, falling, smiling, joking, enthusiastic, completely aggravating, entirely adorable, fast-moving bundle of child. She is always high-intensity, but everything (including tantrums :( :( ) seems to get worse during periods of illness and/or outbreaks of her herpes sores. When we give her supplements to treat these, her tantrums generally abate somewhat; apart from this action step, we mostly try to hang on and survive the ride.

She is extremely sharp and funny and loving when she isn’t being incredibly irrational and volatile and annoying concerning tiny matters of inconsequence. She is no longer willing to sit in her baby seat at mealtimes, and she insists on sitting where the big kids sit even though half the time she falls off and screams loudly. She sings tuneful song medleys with hysterically funny words. Meanwhile, she has absolutely no interest in putting on her own clothes, but instead hollers wardrobe orders and wonders why nobody offers to dress her anymore.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a child with a low-key personality.



“I think…my hair looks like I’m going to the ball, but my dress looks like I’m going to the park!”

"My stomach is as empty as a pit that no one can climb into!"

Reluctantly, due to cold weather: ”I choose...to put on one of my hoodies. My Worries just came over me, but it won't cover up ALL of my skirt, so I'll put it on."

How marketing works (concerning a cheap sheet set at Walmart): "Mama, look! Wonder Woman! I love her! This actually doesn't look like Wonder Woman at ALL, but I know it's SUPPOSED to be her, and the woman is beautiful, so I LOVE it!"

Handing me a detailed drawing filled with intensely frowning stick-people with fabulously fancy outfits: “Mama, this is for you. It’s a drawing of my feelings, because of how I feel that nobody understands my sickness and how I can’t eat.”

“Aaah! I don’t want to! I don’t like it! I don’t want this headache!! These are the complaints of ELIZA!”

Eliza does indeed have many complaints. She spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks over the winter, because she mostly didn’t feel well enough to do much else. I finally let go of homeschooling activities for a few months, because she was struggling so much that it wasn’t fun for either of us anymore. CBD oil helped the intensity of the headaches, and lately it’s possible that Dr. Nathen’s protocol is helping as well: the headaches haven’t returned even after weaning off regular CBD use in March.

Over the past two months or so, when mealtimes are regular and activities are not too stressful, she is often actually chipper. It’s a marked difference (and you can DEFINITELY notice if she goes even an hour longer than usual between meals) to have such a well-behaved, sweet child in the house. Please lord, let this trend continue!

Now we just have to wean off the audiobooks.

Eliza took a puppetry class in January and February, taught by an enthusiastic teacher who next organized a science class during April and May. These were both a great chance for Eliza to experience both independence and a gentle non-family-member coach to help her with anxiety (not to mention eating her own lunch away from home). The anxiety and Eating Challenges were fairly impactful to her class participation, but overall it was a wonderful experience.

Eliza also took a theatre class over the winter, which was a bit of a stretch but she made it through. She is a wonderful artist and often lets beauty inspire her drawing and painting. I love that this happens even during some of her darkest times. I wish for her that she will always appreciate beauty in this world, and that it will brighten her life more and more and she feels better and better.


The Butterfly in the Tree
by Eliza

Once in a tree a butterfly stood on its wings and a little fairy came by and asked, "What's the matter?"

The butterfly said, "I can't even fly yet, I am so small. I would fall down. And if I fell down, I would probably break my wings, and then I wouldn't ever be able to fly. All the other butterflies in my family can fly if they want. I can't even fly at all!"

And then the fairy said, "Why don't you come with me? Ride on my back and I will show you to my home. I think some of the fairies could turn you into the best flyer in your family."

Then the butterfly said, "Could they? I would be very, very pleased. I've always thought I could learn, but my family would probably think that I'm not a butterfly, and say to the police, 'another butterfly is pretending to be our daughter!' The police would say they'd look into it. So I cannot see why I'd be able to do that..."

The fairy said, "I know another fairy, who's a fairy godmother, and she helped Cinderella. She could do it!"

The end



Jem has been a busy man this year, and while he bellyaches and struggles mightily with distraction, I’m pretty sure he’s glad to have had much more structure in his life. (It’s insanely difficult to get more than single-syllable responses to any questions about his feelings regarding same.)

Jem’s “structure” includes reading practice, touch-typing, e-mail-writing to Grandma and other family members (plus some additional short-story composition on his own), physical exercise, piano practice (with once-weekly lessons), mental math practice (which was preceded by basic arithmetic study), occasional movie-viewing from a list that I curate, lots of educational audiobooks concerning history and social sciences plus fiction (there is more available for his age group than for any other, as far as I can tell!), weekly get-togethers with other teens and tweens, plus daily free-time during which he plays hard (and also gardens).

Also, he and Ben signed up for a Comedy Improv class over the winter.


It didn’t happen exactly like that. What happened was, I told the boys that they absolutely needed to avail themselves of Teachers Apart From Their Parents. “Not only do we not know everything, but we can’t possibly give you all the things you need in life, and there are also amazing things to do and learn that papa and I can’t teach you! You HAVE to get out of the house and into The World. Therefore, you need to choose a class to attend.”

Neither of the boys were impressed.

Of all the ideas I suggested, I honestly couldn’t believe it when Jem chose to participate in an improv theatre class. My child who barely speaks to strangers! But with him signing-on, Ben was also convinced, and despite many challenging moments (mostly having to do with the teacher’s authoritarian/school-ish interactions with the kids, as well as Ben and Jem’s various challenges in such a public setting - the experience was extremely similar to a Roller Coaster Ride), both of our boys completed the entire semester.

The last day of Improv Class was a stress-fest, during which Jem decided to particpate/not-to-participate in the final Presentation approximately ten separate times over the course of nine hours (he finally decided to participate, half an hour before the performance).

Jeff and I could barely believe how fun and entertaining the recital at the end turned out to be. We were a very proud Papa and Mama, watching our boys and their classmates up on stage in front of everybody, out in the world.


A recent letter from Jem:

Dear Fambily,

Ha ha ha

I know that I'm a few days late replying, but there has been a lot of stuff like: Ben and I sang The Pollution Song by Tom Lehrer for the kids' talent show. Our friend Forest, who's a kid, played his violin for the talent show and our other friend Faith, who's an adult, talked about dog body language. Eliza and some other kids danced, and our other other friend Nathan did the Rubik's cube in 1 minute and 13 seconds.

Yesterday Ivy threw up because she had some fish oil and she didn't eat any food with it.

The day before yesterday, Papa, Ben, and I went on a walk to Coyote Hole  but we didn't get all the way there.

Yesterday I planted some let us (ha ha ha) seeds in a empty mushroom container that turned out to be Ivy's, but she'll get the next one.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Winniethep who?

Ha ha ha

But the day before yesterday, we watched Winnie the Pooh and also The Red Balloon. They were both good, but the Winnie the Pooh movie was different than the book, and The Red Balloon was about a boy who finds a red balloon.

Last night I had a dream about some space aliens that came to the earth.

Here's a haiku:
Apples are juicy.
Apples are spectacular.
All of them are gone.

Does anyone besides Uncle Loren have any Steel pennies or silver quarters or dimes?

I love this anagram: Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am lord Voldemort.

Ivy wants to tell you guys that she had Happy Music Time. Mama organizes Happy Music Time.

I'm about an inch shorter then Ben and I'm 4 feet 8 and a half inches tall



This is the longest E-mail that I've ever written.



After a long day of math, piano, reading, social studies, phys ed, and writing: "Can we go play shop now? I just wanta play!"

Ben has pushed his limits this year with a gradual increase in Homeschooling Structure. He started with an absolute refusal to accept any at all…and he has gradually (at my Strong insistence) (I am a strong woman) (accolades welcome any time) begun participating a widening variety of activities. He is not always happy about this, but I keep telling him that I believe it is only essential to his future and to my Present.

Ben’s Homeschooling Stuff is very similar to Jem, although he reads most books on his Kindle rather than listening to audiobooks, and he reads a lot more dictionaries in his free time than Jem does. He is also learning to play the piano, and is also doing very well. He’s recently started to learn to “speed cube”, and is now deep into Rubik’s. Some passions of Ben’s that came and went over the winter included: bird watching, star gazing, magic tricks, card-playing, rock collecting, collecting factual books about facts, comparing the various features of Thesaurus(es?), and some other things too.


Here’s a recent e-mail Ben sent to his family:

Dear Everyone,

Jem and I have been doing the Improv Class, and at the conclusion there is a showcase for our class and some other ones (some people did monologues). And yesterday was the showcase, and Darlene, Mama, Papa, Eliza and Ivy arrived and observed us.

I viewed “Avatar” afresh, and Jem beheld it this time. It was fantabulous! Marvelous! Sensational! Fantastic! Unsurpassed!

Jem, Ollie, Eliza, (Luna was, and Ivy might be) have been playing shop, where we get stuff (mostly rocks) and we make shops, and we exchange things.

Nathan has been instructing me how to solve a Rubik's Cube speedily.

Can you tell I used a thesaurus?



I dreamed recently that I had given birth to eleven-tupulets, who were very easy to birth because they were so tiny. They were all napping in various locations and I was trying to do Elimination Communication and help them pee and poop when they woke up from their naps, but they all woke up at once. And after helping five of them poop in the potty, the rest of them all went in their diapers. That, and the fact that I couldn’t possibly produce enough breastmilk for eleven babies and therefore had to supplement formula, led me to conclude in my dream: “This is it! I finally have total justification for not-doing All The Things Perfect for these babies, since I CAN’T actually do it!”

And in my dream, this was strangely happiness-inducing, because I could then sit down and relax and enjoy the really sweet babies I had (a total of fifteen! I did this math while slumbering).

I woke up feeling like I had just received Direct Counsel.


Some wonderful times this winter and spring have been weekly walks with my two good friends and neighbors, Maya and Reanna. We tend to solve the problems of the world in less than an hour, and we get Functional Movement to boot! It’s been really fun to live next-door to folks I’ve known since I was just a kid. :)

Other fun events this spring: weekly-ish potlucks at our campsite with lots of neighbors and food and relaxing-ish moments of Sitting Down. These potlucks have been an often successful attempt on Jeff’s and my part to emerge from our reclusive haze after a particularly intense round of Health Challenges in the midwinter. Socializing is a lot better than hiding away, it turns out.


Jeff has been working a lot this year, and appreciating the mobile nature of his job while still experiencing bouts of Distraction that impact his work and life in fairly challenging ways. His various health symptoms were all evaluated by Dr. Nathen back in February, and hopefully the protocol Jeff has currently begun will help address these things. Recently, when asked how he was feeling, Jeff explained it like this: “I don’t usually feel very good, but I’m also a smartass and I crack jokes, so it doesn’t LOOK like I’m feeling all that bad.”

Meanwhile, despite the challenges, Jeff does really good work while standing at his new desk (“built” from four yoga blocks, a folding keyboard stand, and a solid oak board). He is learning to play the ukulele, and is always on the lookout for good music to listen to (not only for ukulele! Check out excerpt from recently-discovered really-nice-song at the beginning of this update).

He’s taken the boys on many expeditions to the National Park, and to view the latest Action Movies, and Jeff keeps up to date on the bewildering (to me) number of Privacy and Other Concerns that one must be ever vigilant for in this Technological Age. Jeff has also taken his wife on many Nice Dates this year, which she appreciates very much.


Health is not a place to get to - it’s a process, a way of approaching life and the challenges that come up as our experiences interact with genetics and environment and luck.

Goddammit, I sometimes wish SO BAD that it WAS a place, and that my family and I could freaking Get There Already so we could escape our various stupid “Health Challenges” that sometimes resemble shackles and other times The devil Incarnate. When I’m not practicing Mindfulness I sometimes feel epic levels of rage and frustration.

I must admit that I’ve reached a Dark Place more than once over the past six months.

But I was also in a play, thanks largely to the support of my supportive spouse. Yes, “The Wizard of Oz”, again at Theatre 29, and again with the same rehearsal schedule as “Mary Poppins” (every weeknight for six weeks). I do not love the stage version of Oz, but I was the dance captain and had an increasingly fun time learning and teaching dances and performing my role of Jitterbug. I love community theatre. I actually love teaching. And there is an intoxicating feeling that comes when you’re up there on stage and the dance is going well and you are wearing sequins that glitter in the spotlights and you think: I AM, RIGHT NOW!

And these sorts of feelings help to balance a person’s life, it turns out.


At the beginning of March, Mom came for a nice, long visit and got to experience the vagaries of The Desert in Winter (everything from freezing nighttime temps to eighty-degree daytimes). Then Nick arrived for a wonderful ten-day-long visit that also included some crazy windy days…and then Dad stepped off the plane, and the desert got perfect - warm, calm days, quiet, cool nights, and not even a hint of a windstorm.

Loren arrived for Passover as well, and Aunt Sheryl and Ajit came to town, and Mom hosted a lovely Passover at our campsite during which my children participated enthusiastically and I experienced the bizarre sensation of watching my kids do the Kid Rituals that my siblings and I used to do, which feels like it was just yesterday! Except now we’re grown-ups and my kids are growing up so quickly and soon THEY will be the grown-ups and then my brain gets all muddled and maybe that’s what holidays are all about.


A couple of fun family outings that we pulled off recently:

—An expedition to the Living Desert Museum in Palm Springs (our membership sponsored by Grandma - thanks!!), which is an amazing botanical gardens/zoo that focuses on the landscapes and fauna of North America and Africa.

—A trip to a nearby Nature Preserve where, due to a lucky earthquake, underground water flows very near to the surface and has created a riparian habitat full of tall trees, otherwise surrounded by desert.

—Thanks to our wonderful friend Maya, who not only did childcare but ALSO cooked food for and fed the children who needed it, Jeff and I were able to go Actually Out a number of times this season. Most recently we saw an amazing performance of “In The Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit show. Oh my goodness it was AMAZING! We’ve also attended a number of other more amateur but also really fun and well-done shows at local community theatres.


Jem and Jeff made up a joke:

Why was the nickel maker crazy?
Because he didn't make cents!


A Few Random, Worthwhile Links:

Movies appear to reflect social mores of the time, but they are more likely a stylized reflection of what the movie-makers’ and studios’ think will sell, along with a hefty dose of unconscious bias. Hence, Frances McDormond’s rousing Oscar acceptance speech:


My baby brother will convince you why science should be funded (and isn’t he handsome?!):


Fascinating excerpt from a book detailing the history of mail-order brides, from colonial times to the present.


The first “Free Range Parenting Law” - actual good news from a state legislature (thanks, Darlene, for pointing this out)!


Really yummy lamb roast recipe - the trick is the 130 internal temp so it doesn’t overcook.


It can be more difficult to stop taking antidepressants than to quit heroin or crack cocaine:


Indoor air quality - finally a mainstream concern??


Ananymous letter about the writer’s years’-long struggle with an eating disorder.


Psychoneuroimmunology: forgiveness, gratitude, trauma, psychology...and the immune system.



Thanks for all your notes and updates - I love hearing what’s happening all over the country and the world in my friends’ and family’s lives. I cannot wait to see many of you in a few short weeks and months as we travel to the northeast for the summer.