The Wonder of It All

Dear Family,

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
—Helen Keller

The song is ended, but the melody lingers on...
—Irving Berlin



Ivy: “Hat! Hat hat hat...’hat’ has a T in it!”

Refuting my concerns about the impracticality of leotards: “What?! You can just pull it DOWN and piss!”

And further: “Mama! I am a kid! An’ I never get to wear leotards.”

Opening the bathroom door: “…PEEK! (I can peek at you acuz you’re my mother. But when you don’t live with somebody, it’s not okay for them to peek at you.)”

Planning Ben’s birthday present, holding up a toy car: “I want to give him this, because it’s already been his!”

Yet another cold: “I’m a snotty, mucousy wittle person!”

You know you’re living in The Modern Age when your three year old painstakingly constructs “Self Towers” (“Doze towers wif lights on the top so airplanes don’t crash”) out of legos.

Country music reinvented: “Jolene, Jolene, Joooollleeeenee, PLEASE don’t take my father!”

“The reason I got dressed in my colorful shirt and my rainbow dress is because I’m a dragon who changes shape an has venom and kills people, an also SWISHES its tail.”

Where do the ponytail holders GO, Ivy? I think they must walk away on little feet! She stares at me disbelievingly: “They don’t have feet! I think they just go Kerpoof and they’re gone.”

“When I grow up, I’m gonna fit NONE of my clothes! All of my clothes are small ones.”

Concerning a fallen Joshua Tree: “What the hell? It fell! ...dat even rhymes!”

Two new versions of the popular song: “Sarsley Page, rosemary and thyme… Partially sage, rosemary and thyme.”

The day she is finally allowed to use the felt-tipped markers, Ivy notes with satisfaction: “Ooh, the careful-tipped ones!”

“I guess there’s two parks, an’ this is the green-grassed park! I wuv green grass, acuz it feels good in my toes.”

“I’m gonna get a really big swing set when I grow up.”

Regarding shoes: “It’s annoyin’... cuz ... dey....are NOT what I want on my feet!”

Ivy, I don’t want you using the expensive card stock unless it’s for something specific…you can use paper for drawing! Later, Ivy can be heard muttering to herself: “hmm, gonna do sumpin Pacific now…”


Ivy: Mama mama mama mama mama mama!

Me: WHAT, Ivy?

Ivy: What’s your favorite animal?

Me: I don’t know. Um....I like chipmunks.

Ivy: What color are chipmunks? I’m gonna be a chipmunk.

Me: Um...brown? [noticing that what Ivy is deciding is....what to wear.] Or rainbow colored, actually.

Ivy [picking out a pink and white outfit after all]: Can you snap and button and tie this dress?



A fun game at the skate park is rolling down the jumps when skaters aren’t around: “I love doing it! It’s the most fun thing in the whole world. When you get to the bottom is the real laughing part.”

“This question is really making my head want to ask it…”

“Reading it in my head is hard because you can’t hear very well.”

“There won’t be another generation of you, if you don’t have babies.”

How do you...just take the fork...and POP the food into your mouth so QUICKLY?! My sickness makes it feels like I just CANT pick up my fork and eat because…YUCK!

Eliza’s class at the Institute of Inquiry last semester was called Tessellations, Patterns, and Mathematics of Nature. I signed her up because she knew and loved the teacher, and I didn’t mention to her that it was a math class because she had gotten into this ridiculous habit of saying, “I hate math.” As the weeks went on, she had more and more fun at each class. One day recently, Jem asked her, Do you do anything besides PLAY at Kim’s class? What do you learn there, anyway?! And Eliza replied happily, “We’ve been working on fractals and fibonacci spirals!” while proceeding to illustrate these concepts for Jem on a tidy piece of paper. Incidentally, Eliza no longer says she dislikes math, now that she’s discovered she loves it.


Ben: brrrr, it's FREEZING outside!

Me: please bring a jacket and a hat and mittens to the park.

Ben: Oh, I'll be fine. I don't need those.

Me: If you bring them, you can always not-wear them. If you don't bring them, you won't have any way to stay warm.

Ben: I don't need a jacket. I'll be fine.

Me: BRING THEM! [I am sorry, oh Mother, for all the times I gave you grief about outerwear!]

Ben: I'll be fine!

Rinse, repeat conversation with Jem, who wants to wear sandals instead of warm boots.

[Later: kids are freezing at park so they request a ride to an indoor location. “I told you so” suddenly is hollow and useless saying.]


Kimberly is the primary teacher at and founder of the Institute for Inquiry (where Eliza’s been taking that math class). Kim is one of those rare and amazing teachers who facilitate awesome groups, talks to kids like they matter (but is never a doormat), and who truly cares about helping each individual young person reach their own potential. The class she ran last semester for 5-8th grades was called “The Magic of Storytelling.” At first, Ben and Jem said they didn’t want to go at all since they weren’t interested in the topic. I told them that they had to try it…and they came home from the first class saying, “That was AWESOME!” They proceeded to learn more and more, and have more and more fun, as they began working on their group projects (in both cases, writing, directing, shooting, and editing a short film).

Here’s a conversation between Jem and myself one afternoon, several weeks into the semester: “I’m a scriptwriter in our group,” Jem told me. 

“Oh?” said I.

“Yeah, and I’m supposed to write a bunch of scenes before next week.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Yeah, and it’s gonna be really easy for me to say, ‘Oops, a whole week has just Gone By,’” Jem continued, “so I think I need to work on my scenes a little bit each day, starting today.”

You can’t understand how amazing this was without knowing my boy well. Jem historically almost never, for any reason, plans ahead. It’s a big challenge for him to manage his time, and that is an enormous understatement. Yet I watched him sit down at the computer, battle with his distraction demons (“Mama, how do you spell ‘scene’? Mama, how do you write ‘echo’? What’s the way to say to somebody how to do a thing you want? Mama, how do I zoom in on the photos Kim sent? I wonder how old Kay is in her character? What is Kay’s email address? How do you spell ‘scene two’ again?……”), and WORK. Jem spent two hours working that afternoon, and two hours later in the week, while I thanked the heavens above for those rare adults like Kim who actually and truly want to spend their days making life better for young people and their families.


One of my children: Kim is such a good teacher!

Another of my children: I guess all you have to do to be a good teacher is to be really nice.

Another of my children: Kim should become a mom, because she'd be a good one!

Me: I bet she would, but then she won't have as much time to run classes for you, so let's appreciate her now while we can!

One of my children: She and her partner are just boyfriend-and-girlfriend, and they're not even married, so we have time before they have kids…



An update from Ben is forthcoming in his own words. Stay tuned!


Some Interesting Articles I’ve come Across Recently:

A conversation with Ken Danford, who truly is an education revolutionary

France Bans Smartphones in Schools

Article about racial inequality during sleep

Why Eating Meat is Good For You - a debate

Chris Masterjohn Post Game analysis of meat-eating debate:

This article about the precipitous decline of insect populations worldwide, left me feeling very, very sober:

How to Raise an Optimistic Human in a Pessimistic Time:

Good metabolic health in American adults is alarmingly rare, even in normal weight individuals. The large number of people not achieving optimal levels of risk factors, even in low-risk groups, has serious implications for public health:

I’m Pretty Sure Instagram Doesn’t Capture This:

Ikejime - a better way to kill? Of course, the Japanese would figure out how to be a better carnivore:

Kyrgyzstan parliament (with other countries to follow) orders 100% organic agriculture:

Fascinating look at fever, developing the immune system, and the nature of disease


In October I began practically counting down the days till my braces were going to come off. “Two more months until I don’t feel compelled to make small talk with the glamorous women in public bathrooms who are touching up their lipstick or just washing their hands next to me - while I stand there picking at my braces to remove the insane amount of food that would remain therein if I didn’t, and saying, with a nervous explanatory laugh, something like: ‘only two more months until I get these braces off and don’t have to pick my teeth next to glamorous people like you in public bathrooms! Also I’m not homeless or contagious…’ “


I think it’s interesting how exceptionally rarely I walk into a bathroom that’s labeled for my non-affiliated gender.


I got my braces off on December 18th!! I have now gone as far in my functional orthodontics journey as my body will allow, and while I’m bummed I couldn’t go farther, I am suffering far less TMJ pain than I was two years ago, I am no longer grinding my teeth down to nubbins, my gum surgery healed nicely (which it couldn’t have done if I was still grinding and clenching), and it’s likely that my teeth will last far longer than my fiftieth birthday (the date beyond which I was once told they’d be done for, if I continued with the grinding and clenching pattern I had before). (And yes, I tried every kind of night guard they make, and broke all of them plus loosened teeth in the process for two decades.) I can always implement some myofunctional exercises at some point if I want to try to up the ante by dealing with my still-confused tongue, but right now I’m giving myself a little time to Not Try Anything New relating to my mouth, so I can focus on…my older three kids’ orthodontics! Wheee. They go in for their appliances in just two weeks’ time…

Seriously, just shoot me an e-mail if you want to chat about functional orthodontics. If I had all the time and money in the world, I would go to school to become an orthodontist, who must truly be a surgical artist in order to deal with the challenges imposed by our modern diet, lifestyle, and epigenetic legacy. It is such fascinating stuff. Especially if it’s theoretical and not involving either your personal teeth or your bank account…


Here are a few things that happened in the past three and a half months:

—We enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with Joel and Rhonda and Luna, and Thanksgiving entertainment night with the Lesters, and a day-after-Thanksgiving hike with everybody.

—We finally got our cheapo moldy camper #2 fixed in a super-expensive and time-consuming manner, such that it wasn’t ready to use until late December and the repair itself was ridiculously involved, considering the crappy quality of the trailer itself. But, we had made our bed by purchasing the thing, and we had to deal with it. And even with the cost of the repairs factored in, it was still a cheaper investment than renting a house for a year. Plus, after a year we’ll still own the thing! :) After removing all upholstered cushions and washing the ceilings/floors/walls/surfaces/cabinets/appliances/etc to within inches of their lives, the toy hauler passed its HERTSMI test and we have an office for Jeff, a bedroom for the boys, and…an indoor shower.

Yes, we are totally crazy. But I mean, indoor plumbing didn’t even used to be a thing! Even a warm-water spray nozzle is pretty amazing if you think about it, and we had that all along.

—-Moving on: the new trailer coincided with…Jeff getting a new job! He is now officially employed by Cornell. He was sad to take a break from his time working with the great folks at Colab, but he is (and I am!!) very grateful for the stability and simpler collaboration that this new job offers. His boss is very nice, his coworker is a good friend, and it’s such a relief for him to have less administrative and organizational overhead so that he can focus on what he does best: web development. Jeff flew back to Ithaca for staff orientation in December, where he had a wonderful time visiting friends (thanks so much, Kristen and Jeff!!!), and got to know the folks at his new workplace before flying back home to begin his telecommute from inside his newly renovated Office.

—In December, I found a cooking class curriculum and began implementation of same. I finally realized that the importance of teaching Cooking Skills to each of my four children, who consume a very expensive and involved Organic, Grain-Free diet - without, until very recently, knowing how to prepare any of it - trumps the Great Deal of Effort that it takes to coordinate this Large Teaching Endeavor. Fast forward seven lessons in, and I have both boys alternating on breakfast-cooking most mornings, and they are all learning how to make stir fries, eggs, meat, sourdough cassava bread, banana pancakes, chicken soup, salads, and lots of other stuff. Eliza is developing very good knife skills and is beginning to use the stove with supervision, while Ivy can now pour quite well, was very proud of her “spice blends” that we made for various meals, and is beginning to use a sharp knife with close supervision. One day recently, I had a very long drive…and came home to a delicious dinner, cooked and served by Jem, even while Jeff had been working all day. I’m not sure who was more proud, Jem or me! Ben can make incredible scrambled eggs, and his brussels sprouts are fantastic. I cannot recommend this cooking curriculum enough - just google “Kids Cook Real Food.” She even offers video tutorials if you don’t want to plan the lessons yourself.

—Ben turned 15 in the middle of a brief but wonderful visit from Kristen and Michael and Samuel and Isaiah, who came all the way from Ithaca to visit! Some of you might remember that when we moved there in 2006, Kristen and Michael and Samuel lived in the apartment upstairs from us. Kristen and I were both pregnant at the same time with Isaiah and Jem respectively, and we each ended up with the same wonderful midwife, Kate, for upstairs-and-downstairs homebirths. Fast-forward to January 2019, it was SO awesome to see the four boys together. Ben was particularly happy now, remembering how anti-social his behavior was becoming at the time when we were neighbors back in Ithaca. The boys have so much in common: music and piano, photography, athletics, reading… “If I had been able to hang out with people more, back when we lived in Ithaca, Samuel and I would have been really good friends,” Ben noted poignantly. On the last night of their visit, Ben and Jem and Samuel and Isaiah played Dark Tag long after the sun went down behind the mountain and the desert chill had turned downright cold. Kristen and Michael and Jeff and I reminisced about that long-ago time when we were all new parents… For those sweet three days last month, our boys climbed and played and got to know each other again. I was so grateful for a generous universe that provides good friends, and second chances, and children who can recover and grow Strong and Friendly.

—-Late January brought a visit from Grandma Jan and Grandpa Sal, who braved the insanity and stress of modern air travel and brought gorgeous desert weather with them: windless sunny days in the 60s and 70s, just a taste of winter paradise - as if the wind never blows here [it won’t help my cause of convincing our families to move out here if you tell them about the fifty-mile-an-hour gusts we’re expecting tonight…]. The kids loved having grandparents just down the block, and we got to share some highlights of desert life, including beautiful quiet sunsets, sand like you’re at the beach every day and everywhere, and the wonderful friends we’ve begun to make out here in this vast Dry Place.


In between working, Jeff plays the ukelele and troubleshoots our Camper Systems and reads interesting articles and books..while contemplating his hopes and dreams for the future now that his entire Monday evenings are not being spent at choir rehearsals (although I hope maybe he'll rejoin this spring! Ben has currently joined in Jeff's place). Sloooooooowwwwwwlly we're coming up with plans to integrate our desire to maintain a semi-nomadic lifestyle with the constraints of our culture (which does not encourage same). Susannah gave me such hope by reminding me that I can just write down our housing plans and include it in an update, thereby discovering what our housing plans will be! :) Seems simple enough! Maybe if I can just write it down tomorrow we can have a quick plan…

While we're busy staying parked in Joshua Tree, the kids are loving all their activities. Ben and Jem have joined a Model U.N. club, and both boys are starting to jump ahead with piano. Eliza and Ivy have started dance classes; the jury is out on whether their snobby mother can get over the fact that it's not the Princeton Ballet School...but they want it, so I'm gritting my teeth and ponying up for the classes along with all the other Dance Moms in Yucca Valley…

Ben will update you on his life happenings, as mentioned. Jem struggles with his demons but is doing a lot of cool stuff: writing, playing music, and hiking. Plus making more friends! Eliza is having fewer headaches overall, and is feeling better now that we got our moldy “composting” toilet out of our camper in October, and she is a wonderful and amazing person with high intelligence, but her health is Not Right. I finally took her in for some lab work in December and discovered, much to my chagrin, that even after two years of zinc supplementation, her copper levels are extremely high. To follow up on this, we went to an outreach clinic in Anaheim last week sponsored by Drs. Mensah and Bowman, who head out this way once or twice a year from Chicago in order to help people like Eliza who have these complicated and interesting Mineral Metabolism cases. Eliza’s eating (or rather, her lack thereof) is extremely challenging and more or less awful every day, and this damages our family fabric as well as causing apparently copycat behavior in Ivy so that I truly so often feel like screaming in frustration, not to mention throwing bowls of soup across the room. I mostly don’t, and we mostly just grit our teeth and spoon feed, bite after freaking bite after slowly-chewed-bite after never-ending bite after yet another bite of delicious, nutritious food, while she cries and cowers from the spoon. I am hoping that an updated Mensah protocol can bring down her copper, which might in turn help deal with Eliza’s feeding and anxiety, which has been so challenging since birth (since she’s undoubtedly had high copper since then, which I know from experience can make a person’s head feel like a pretty terrible place)… The health journey continues.

Ivy got really, really sick back in December, with a respiratory virus that just stayed and stayed for days. She slept night and day, except when she was coughing and having a hard time breathing. She couldn’t get food down for over a week. I have been trying to plump her back up ever since, and it’s taken about two months until she finally seems like she has her strength back.

I credit Turmeric Tonic for the fact that somehow, I managed to nurse 3 sick kids plus 1 very sick kid for several weeks without getting sick myself. Not that I want to ever try that again…I’ve been pretty thrilled to watch Ivy dancing and playing for the last few weeks!


One month ago I joined the cast of the musical “Working" at the Joshua Tree theatre, and for the next 28 days I learned really fun and complicated harmonies, sang more than I ever have in my life, and even learned a longer monologue after one of the actors quit the show. I am blown away by the quality of local theatre in southern California. Every little town seems to have one, and in turn there are tons of local people who may be housecleaners and secretaries and schoolteachers by day...but become singing and dancing Acting People by the time evening rehearsals roll around. It is such an honor to join the hugely talented and skilled cast of this show, folks who are willing to put in dozens of hours toward making a rockin’ little musical come to life. Turns out when I'm standing at a piano, learning one-fourth of a four-part harmony to be combined later with some choreography, my brain explodes with concentration and an incredible feeling of being In the Zone. I just love it!

This show has been a whirlwind, and when we opened on Friday it was a culmination of those 28 days of work - we were on point, and we nailed all the music, and the four-piece band was (is) awesome, and we got a standing ovation. And then, literally ten steps off the stage after curtain calls, even while the audience was still applauding, one of my cast-mates collapsed on the floor with a massive heart attack. There was a lot of confusion, including 911 call operators who delayed everything because they thought we were making a prank call from the theatre. And in the meanwhile, another cast member who knew CPR was doing CPR...and everything was kind of whirling around because it's hard to make your brain understand what's happening during times like these. At least my brain. I plan to re-certify in CPR and First Aid so that I never again sit uselessly in the corner during an emergency the way I did in those surreal minutes on Friday night.

Scott Cutler never did wake up. His mom and sister and partner got to see him perform (and he even remembered all his lines that night!!). How many actors die right after they receive a standing ovation?

But it was an awful and scary event. In a small town like ours, everybody knows everything by late morning. And things were crazy and shaky yesterday, with the entire situation giving new meaning to The Show Must Go On. Scott's partner insisted that Scott would have wanted it to; and so the remaining 15 of us gathered at the theatre and did a lot of crying, and Silently Sitting, and pacing around backstage, and talking and reminiscing and rehearsing to fill the giant hole left in the production in time for show #2 of "Working" at 7:30pm on Saturday: a celebration of Life, the American Working Class, and the Life of Scott Cutler.

We did our best, Scott! And I hope that you enjoyed your standing ovation.

Today it is windy and blowing and cold, and I'm still a little shaky. And glad to be alive. And grateful for all of you, my far-flung family and friends.

Sending love,