Summer in November!

Dear Family,

I made it to the other side, and have now officially completed three decades of life.

It doesn't feel much different, though. A young friend of ours, who also just had a birthday, explained it this way: "...I still _feel_ three an' three-quarters!"

Luckily, I've had a bladder the size of a lentil for several years now, so I can't blame that on old age.

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But I had a super birthday. Only a very small amount of Birthday Angst, right when I woke up, but for the rest of the day you'd be proud of how much fun I had and how un-angsty I remained. Those of you who love Winnie the Pooh will appreciate the banner that Jeff had hung on the wall when I woke up: "Hipy Papy Bithuthdeth Sarabeth."

Graham babysat for the boys (and created an amazing bee made out of gourds), Jeff and I hiked the entire length of Treman State Park (it was warmish and sunny on November 12th for the first time in what seems like ten years), I made a sourdough maple cake (gluten-free! and vegan! and amazingly good!), Alison and Peretz delivered a singing telegram (and a little chocolate cake) to my door, Kelly made me a spectacular "raw" cake and also left it at our door, I got lots of really lovely phone calls and e-mails from YOU, I took a dance class, and then afterward at rehearsal we all ate some more cake.

I ate too much cake, but otherwise I'm entirely glad to be alive!

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Jemmerisms:

Haycuck - a vaguely lewd pronunciation of "haircut."

Peendy - hint: it's a body part that everyone in this household possesses except me.

Boobies - Gotcha! Boobies means "blueberries," what did you think!?

Noriole (like a cross between the cookies and the bird) - "nori roll."

Inspired by his Papa, who was in turn inspired by Monty Python, Jem is into "Funny Walks." He sticks his butt out, waggles his head, reaches behind himself, and manages to walk forward while saying, "Funny walk! BIG funny walk! Show Papa!"

Jem has been taking bigger and bigger risks when it comes to leaping off large steps and boulders and logs. But the other day he pointed to the biggest rock of all and said, "Big rock Jem NO jump."

I forget that Jem and I do not always have the same ideas of what's fun. He screamed loudly in my ear the other day, and then laughed, and I was really annoyed. I kind of snapped at him: WHAT are you doing?! But then I noticed his smile, totally huge, completely without guile. And then he said, "Jem make BIG loud noise!"

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Ben has this habit of asking his little brother questions that he--Ben--would never answer himself, which I find fascinating. I'm sure it speaks some great psychological truth, but I don't know what it is.

The boys spent a good solid several hours together on Monday, strewing duplos around the entire house and also building duplo models of the Cornell Clock tower. Jem kept saying that he "loved" the clock tower, except that he said, "Wuv cock tower! Wuv cock tower!"

Ben kind of laughed gently, in a very adult-to-a-kid sort of way, and leaned close. "Do you know what love MEANS, Jem?"

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BEN--

--Have I mentioned that Ben has coined a new verb? It is: to Snake. "Snaking" involves silently wiggling your way (usually down off an object) headfirst. This is best done at a playground with a long slide, but can also happen off furniture, hay bales, or just flat on the ground.

--Luckily for Ben, his interest in critters is evolving with the seasons. Snakes are definitely done--we haven't seen one in weeks, although we often talk about how good it will be in the spring, when they're done hibernating and we can find them again. Centipedes and Millipedes seem to be dwindling in supply, and those that we find are slow. But moths--well, they are still in abundance, especially around our outdoor light. And since the door keeps getting left open for excited and extended periods, we're finding them inside quite frequently.

We read a little bit about how moths differ from butterflies (turns out it's similar to the oh-so-clear ways that frogs differ from toads). But Ben decided that the main variability is, "Moths are different from butterflies 'cause I can catch them."

The other night, a moth landed on Ben's hand and he was so intensely thrilled as he ran over. "The moth is tame to me!" he exclaimed. He spent forty-five minutes watching it.

--It's still like pulling teeth to convince Ben that it is, indeed, okay to be outside when Jeff or I is not. Instead, when he wants to go out before I'm ready, he whines and complains and says, "WHEN are we going to go outside!!?? But WHEN??? When do you THINK!?" To comfort my exasperation, Jeff assured me eloquently and thusly: "Like a butterfly from a chrysalis, Ben's independence will emerge someday."

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And there are ways that _I_ can strive to cultivate my own independence from my child. For example:

I took Ben to the Cornell origami club again last week, and he had a great time folding paper. I, on the other hand, spent the first hour unable to stop obsessing about his chapped lips. Ben constantly licks them, which makes them much worse. I kept reminding him: "Don't lick your lips! Remember, Ben, it just makes them worse."

"I _can't_ stop," he kept explaining. "I HAVE to lick them!"

"You DON'T though," I said. "Just _practice_ not licking them, and I can remind you. Then they won't get so chapped, and they'll feel much better." Two seconds later he'd lick them. "Ben, don't you WANT to stop licking them??" I said finally.

"No," he said. And I had one of those revelatory moments: Ben is his own person, and sometimes makes different choices than I would. It feels super important to me that he stop licking his lips. But to Ben? It turns out that he doesn't even _want_ to stop.

So I shut up, and stopped looking at Ben licking his lips, and we folded origami peacefully for the final hour.

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My mother, who is very wise, said this about her and Dad's parenting career: "Some of the most important things we did are the things we _didn't_ do."

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I've noticed this thread that weaves itself into both fiction and non-fiction accounts of lovers down through the ages. The basic plot line is: the flame of romance burns brighter in times of hardship, like wars or disasters or civil unrest.

Yet when it comes to the challenges of child-rearing, there are endless jokes about how moms and dads should just give it up as a loss. (You know, those stellar comedy bits describing how, after kids, couples have sex on the average of once every seventeen months.)

But I think that if romance is kindled and kept aflame during rebel invasions and famine and the like, kids should be added to that list of hardships, and we should rework our cultural mentality and mythology. Positive thinking! Kids as accessories to passionate affairs!! People would start wanting to birth or adopt children in order to add spice to their lives. People would stare enviously at parents on the street, and parents, in turn, would start feeling lucky themselves...

Thing is, maybe it's not the kids that are the problem. It's really really hard to make sleep deprivation sound sexy.

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Fun things we did this week:

--I took the boys to a different playground for five days in a row. It was over fifty degrees every day, and I figure if the human race is going to die off due to global warming, I want to appreciate its effects while I still can.

--Our town day took us to Slaterville Springs this week. It's currently a little blip of a gas station as you're heading east on Route 79. We happened to meet the town historian, however, who works in the post office, and I was actually able to have a conversation with her thanks to Ben finding a ladybug to examine. Barbara told us that around the turn of the century, Slaterville Springs was poised to get big like Saratoga Springs: they have artesian mineral wells, there were two large hotels where folks could come and "take the waters," and artisans made "amber water glass" using a technique to color glass using the minerals in the water. Slaterville's problem? They were way too staid, had no gambling or horse racing, and couldn't operate on Sundays. Now the hotels are gone, but the school has a great playground and the water keeps coming up out of the ground twenty-four hours a day. Ben and Jem were fascinated by the spigot with no on/off switch, and we bottled up some mineral water and took it home.

--We found a really great construction site down on Route 13. Seems that Ithaca is soon going to be lucky enough to have its very own Panera Bread. But for now, there's a lot full of rubble and machines, and Jem was ready to stay there all day. Ben and I have decided that next week we'll go back with some books so we can read while Jem watches.

--Jeff showed "The Producers" at the Common House on Friday. Here's the noteworthy part: I got to come see the movie (our neighbors listened in on the baby monitor), and valiantly remained awake through the whole thing.

--Graham and Otto and I hosted a pancake breakfast for 80 at the common house this morning. It was super fun, and you definitely get a good idea of who likes/gets to sleep in in the morning.

--Our neighbor organized a game of flashlight tag in the woods last night, which Jeff and Ben and a third of the village attended. Ben loved it, although evidently not quite enough to do his own running (he rode on Jeff's shoulders a lot).

--I've begun rehearsing for a dance/presentation that will be a part of the "Light in Winter" festival on January 23, 2010. Light in Winter is "A mid-winter festival of science and the arts." I'll be part of a collaboration between modern dancers and a physicist at Cornell who studies soft condensed matter. We're creating a dance inspired by the movement laws governing sub-micron particles. Come see it! It will be a blast. :) http://lightinwinter.com/

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Interesting reading:

Turns out that aspens, "the signature tree of the Rockies," are dying off at a precipitous rate. "Sudden Aspen Decline" sounds a lot like human autoimmune disorders, because it's a non-specific list of symptoms with no known cause. People are always yammering about endangerment and extinction...but what if the organism in question is a tree that blankets vast swaths of the American west?? In a couple of years, I guess we'll see what happens.

In the New York Times magazine, there was an interview with an author who (it turns out) is quite well-known and best-selling, named Margaret Drabble. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/magazine/13Drabble-t.html?pagewanted=1... And now I have _finally_ heard someone give a compelling reason for how depression can actually be a positive thing. "It's useful," Drabble points out, "for stripping off ways of getting through life that prevent you from having to think."

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Okay, I'm going to send this.

Love to all,
Sarabeth