A Theatrical, Satirical, Traveling Summer

August 11, 2019

Dear Family,

“Time went by so fast these days. There was some sort of malfunction going on with how fast the earth was spinning. Decades went by as quick as years once did.”
—Liane Moriarty, “Nine Perfect Strangers”

“And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.”
—John Greene, “An Abundance of Katherines”



You know what sometimes makes me really happy? That when Ivy walks next to me when I’m pushing the shopping cart, her head is still shorter than the handle, which means she’s still little and has a long way to go before she’s grown up.

Wriggling uselessly on top of her sleepingg bag, too tired to get in: “My covers don’t work!”

“Mama! You know what?” No, what, Ivy? “I WUV you! …Dat’s what papa always says.”

Recently, Ivy displayed her latest work of art, which appeared to be a giant screw taped to a picture she’d drawn: “It’s a beeyootiful elephant! Its trunk is a screw.”

Coming back from a bike ride with Papa: “That was goddamn fun!”

“I wuv you more than headphones! Acuz..you made me. Why would I hate you? You made me! You’re my Mama Chicken.”

My pain-in-the-ass, woebegone daughter tells me with clear intonation, after moping for half a freaking hour after I told her to do her chore: “...One time, PAPA helped me wash the table, and we did a GREAT job, and it went REALLY QUICKLY acuz he HELPED me.”

Ivy! It’s time to do your chore without me asking any more times!! “I hear you! I just hafta finish this.”

Ivy makes a book, illustrated with pictures of “karaoke tracks” on the cover, “an it’s about BEYOOTIFUL music and AMAZIN’ dance!”

“I’m going to draw pictures in my book of what I have seed!”

Sobbing after a bicycle accident: “I was WOOKIN straight ahead, but my handlebars didn’t go that way!”

Standing jubilantly in the backyard: “Tinkle tinkle, piss piss. I peed like a he!”

Showing off her picture: “This isn’t scribbles! It’s where the person lives. Who is a spider.”

“Nose boogers are soft, but eye boogers are hard - WHY?”

After a very long day of driving: “My legs are soooo tired of sitting but there’s nowhere for them to go!”

“A fevver! A bird fevver!”

Wading up to her chest: “My ovver body is wet now!”

Ivy tells me that if Eliza had a pet snake, it would “swivver away.” Also, she announces, while hugging Jem, “I WUV my brovver!”

Lifting a large box, Ivy mixes her metaphors but elucidates her meaning: “This is imaginably heavy as I respected it to be!”


Whispered conversation between two four year olds:

Ivy: what are those?

Blake: pretzels.

Ivy: are they candy?

Blake: no.


Blake: want to tap my tablet?

Ivy: [shakes head. Stares at pretzels.] what are they like?

Blake: they’re...like pretzels!



Eliza’s amazing teacher wrote to me: “FYI you are a co-superhero in Eliza’s comic about her [health challenges]. I was talking to her about her superpower today, and asking what it would be, and she said: ‘Well, my mom has to have one too because she’s my MOM and I’m from her, and I’m super!’”

Why Ivy can’t use Eliza’s stuffed bear even for just one night, and why a search party must be launched to find Ivy’s: “She really wants it, and anyway she wouldn’t get the same FEELING from mine!”

Singing: “The farmer had a nude wife, a nude wife, a nude wife, the farmer had a nude wife, all day long. The farmer had a nude man, a nude man, a nude man, the farmer had a nude man, all day long.”


Update on my Low-Level Mid-Life Crisis

The one big difference between myself at fifteen and myself at almost forty is NOT a differential in idealism, or even energy or excitement. It’s mostly that I thought life would be all figured-out and not-messy once one reached forty, and that is definitely not the case.

My LLMLC began about a day after I turned thirty-nine, back in November. I am well aware that in forty more years, if I’m lucky enough to get there, the age of forty will seem incredibly young. For now, it feels very new, how I now see a reflection in the mirror that looks older than I feel.

Also: WTF is going on with acne at age 39??? I will let you know if I figure that one out…


Okay, so remember way back about twenty-five years ago in May of 2019, when we moved out of our camper and into a house and a different camper? I know, I can barely remember that either.

What happened right after the Big Move was that time whizzed quickly by for two months, our choir had a super awesome and amazing little concert of which I was really proud (EVERYONE did great - and I’m excited for next year), and Ben performed in the JT Master Chorus concert to finish out the season. In completely other news, we sold our crummy toy hauler and also our beloved but no-longer-right-for-our-needs Lance, and our housing dwindled back down to that Giant Fifth Wheel and our sweet little desert house.

The boys continued with their piano lessons, Jem started learning guitar, and we experimented with various permutations of weekly movie nights (“A Star is Born” and “The Greatest Showman” are two recent favorites). We shed many tears saying farewell to Luna and Joel and Rhonda, who moved to Santa Fe for now…but it was too hard to say goodbye, thinking about the great many special and mundane times we’ve shared, so we’re planning for lots of visiting in the future.


And then summer youth theatre began at Theatre 29. 29 Palms is kind of a sleepy town in the middle of what feels like nowhere…and yet they boast this totally awesome community theatre with super committed people running it on a totally volunteer basis. Every single adult staff person for SYT was a volunteer, which made for an amazingly affordable program, and what a program it was…

Over the course of five weeks, the students were split into Juniors (ages 7-11) and Seniors (ages 12-18). Each group met for two and a half hours per day (juniors in the morning, seniors in the afternoon), and first they learned the ins and outs of the audition process, they each had a practice audition, and finally they actually auditioned for roles in the show (this year: “High School Musical”). And then, over the next four weeks, they learned how to put on a show, participating in every aspect of the production depending on their interests: students did the lighting and sound, helped with set construction and stage crew, and of course, acted and sang and danced and worked and played and Worked Together to create the amazing organism that is a live theatrical production.

Jem and Eliza were in the Juniors, and Ben was in the Seniors. Jem got the role of Chad, Ben was Ryan, and Eliza was one of the cutest cheerleaders you ever did see. One notable awesome thing was that they got to work with so many other talented and dedicated kids (and the parents watching the show go to enjoy not only their own, but all the other kids as well - no feeling like it was a chore to watch this recital!). Jem stepped up the plate like I have never seen him before: he did not want to let his cast-mates (nor his director) down, and he said, “Mama, I’m going to have to practice a LOT this month!” Which he really and truly did, and he pulled off his fairly large role with skill and pizzazz - plus he got to be a Big Kid among the Juniors, and get to know some really nice other kids.

Eliza struggled quite a bit at first, with the school-type crowd-control environment and her being one of the youngest participants in terms of her age and reading level, etc. - but she too worked hard, and her reading improved quite a lot over the month, and she did a really good job PLUS made new friends.

Ben’s role was a big one, requiring him to act, sing two songs as duets with his “sister” in the show, and also to dance. He felt pretty challenged by the number of things he had to keep track of at once, and he also worked really hard and enjoyed the company of so many other fun, smart, and talented teenagers.

One of the best parts about SYT was the carpool. We had a total of nine kids from our general vicinity involved in the program, and so the carpool involved one parent making a run to drop off the four juniors at 9am, and then another parent bringing them home at noon. Meanwhile, around noon Ivy and Ben and I would head out in the van to begin collecting another four seniors, whom I then brought to the theatre by 1pm. (I loved driving our van full of young people - truly one of those parenting moments when you’re just so happy that other people have nice kids to hang out with your children, and you feel really hopeful about the future of humanity. Plus, they were fun and amusing kids).

Ivy and I stayed for the seniors’ sessions (till 3:30 each day), and I helped out when I could - teaching vocal parts mostly, and working with some kids one-on-one to learn harmonies and duets - and one day I even got to operate the spotlight! Ivy, meanwhile, played with another four-year-old who came with his mom who was the assistant director, and Ivy also learned the show entirely by heart from watching it so many times (and I gotta hand it to my sometimes unpredictable four-year-old: she was incredibly well-behaved, and didn’t cause a single disruption during the entire month of attending SYT every single weekday afternoon. She also made great friends with a super sweet teenage SYT participant, and Ivy was sad to say goodbye to Hannah at the end of the run.

Another wonderful part about the carpool schedule was that Jem and Eliza had the chance to be independent each afternoon - when they were dropped off at the house each day, they would eat their lunch, do their chores, practice their music from the show, practice piano and guitar (Jem), and follow a short list I left each day concerning Dinner Prep Tasks. This meant that most days, I arrived home to happy kids, a halfway made dinner, and many waves of gratitude for such a fun summer activity.

The weekend of High School Musical performances was so incredibly great - exhausting, but so fabulous. Aunt Sheryl and Ajit even made it to both shows on Sunday! My heart was so full, and the shows were so very much fun, and all my kids are already planning for next year. (Did I mention? Jem’s actual dedication in his bio in the program, written by him, said: “…Thanks to my mom for making me do Summer Youth Theatre.”


Of course, now the kids are all pretty definitely not wanting to leave Joshua Tree during future Julys, which puts a damper on my own adamant statement concerning how we would NEVER spend a summer in Joshua Tree! But hey, there’s more to summertime than just July….


…There is also August, at which point we left Joshua Tree to embark upon an Unfolding series of adventures. I had originally come up with the crazy idea of a whole-family bike tour down a teeny stretch of the California coast for the first week of August. Instead, my father-in-law’s doctor scheduled a complicated bypass surgery for 8/5.

So, the bike trip got rescheduled, and on the 4th, Jeff flew to Connecticut so that he could be with his parents during the day of and week after his dad’s surgery (which went as well as these things can go, and from which he is now recovering - we send wishes for increasing and speedy recovery every day that goes by!).

Next stop for Jeff will be Ithaca, where he will spend a week working with his colleagues at Cornell, and saying hello to friends (and passing along greetings from all of us!! We miss so many dear people back east!! Just not the ticks and the weather - but definitely YOU!). His phone number is 607-216-7700 if you happen to be around this next week. :)


The day Jeff left for the airport (he was supposed to leave on 8/3, actually, but American Airlines canceled his flight not once but TWICE and so he didn’t leave till Sunday), Ben and Jem and Eliza and Ivy and I, plus about seventeen bicycles, two tents, six sleeping bags & pads and so very very much food and clothes and paraphernalia that we aren’t actually totally sure how Jeff will fit in the car once we finally rendezvous, began a 1000-mile road trip up north. Our final destination: Eugene, Oregon to drop Ben off at Not Back To School Camp (MY BABY!! IS GOING TO CAMP!! WAAAAH, I cannot totally believe this unreal thing which makes me cry every time I think about it). While Ben is at camp, the other three kids and I will meet up with Jeff at last, at Jake and Page’s new house on Vashon Island, for two whole weeks. Mom and Dad and Loren will meet us there too, and we’re all excited to have such a relaxed family visit.


And meanwhile, the kids and I are having adventures! And really, our road trip has been amazing. Not perfect, but on the whole, fabulous thus far.


Before we left, Maggie and Freja gave us all sorts of useful tips concerning a route north from Joshua Tree that would completely avoid the central valley awfulness that we’ve driven through on other roadtrips between northern and southern California. This time, we would head up “The 395” (as real Californians explain their highways).

Our first day of driving was six hours, and here’s a miracle: we only stopped one time during that entire drive. We made unheard-of good time. And we arrived at the tiny town of Benton Hot Springs, where we camped for two nights at the Inn which offers campsites with the most fabulous benefit: private soaking tubs, one per site, filled with super hot mineral water, in which you can soak at any time during your stay, PRIVATELY. It was almost a hundred degrees during the days we were there, so you might think it was too warm for hot springs - but if you turned off the water faucets and allowed your tub to cool overnight, by sunrise the temperature was just perfect. Our tub got very heavy use.

That first night out, I noticed Eliza gazing at the other campsites all self-consciously. “People looking at us will think it’s so strange,” she explained eventually, “because they’ll think that our papa is away visiting people or something because we don’t HAVE a papa here!”

This was the first campsite I have ever stayed at where I had to allow my drinking water to cool before using it.

On Jem’s birthday, which was our second day at Benton, Ben and Jem made a friction fire with no matches a la Primitive Pursuits, and the kids roasted hamburgers wrapped around sticks for a delectable birthday feast.

I might mention that the day of Jem’s birthday ended up being a terrifying, boring, and amazing day, without any plans or internet access or cell service. Jem received a kindle from Jeff and me, so we spent most of the middle of the day hiding from the heat and doing a lot of reading. There was a fair bit of Whining from the member of our crew who hasn’t been feeling too well lately, there was the aforementioned campfire, there was an early retirement to the tents to avoid mosquitoes, there was a bit of arguing, we did a lot of reading-aloud, and there were an awful lot of random Contented Moments.

Like, really: there were a bunch of times throughout that day when everyone was Chill. It was like one of those hot-summer-days-of-our-youth that novelists use as tropes - but it was real. A part of my brain kept marveling: Wow, everyone is for a moment CONTENT and we have no plans or parties or internet or cell service and maybe right now is like one teeny miracle…and here’s another…and another.

And each of those moments was also just regular, surrounded by many other moments of mundane and occasionally unpleasant things. But they kept coming, and we read three chapters of All-of-A-Kind Family before taking our evening soak-and-run-from-the-mosquitoes, and everyone was so exhausted, and it was so quiet and beautiful, and my babies were all around me except we all missed Jeff, and you could see stars and the moon above the screens of the tent.


After Benton Hot Springs, we headed north toward Bridgeport, which is just past a town that is one of the Gateways to Yosemite (and is therefore fantastically beautiful and also boasts the most expensive gasoline with which I have ever filled our van). We stopped at Mono Lake, an amazing inland sea that lost half its volume of water (and became twice as saline as it had been before) during a period of forty years when LA obtained the right to take all that water Away for important uses such as flushing toilets and irrigating lawns. The impact on the area and the millions upon millions of migrating birds who depend on the lake was tremendous. We took a hike from the place where the shoreline used to be…down 45 vertical feet and one horizontal mile to the place where the shoreline currently is. In perhaps a few hundred or maybe a few thousand years, more or less, the lake may fill partway (LA is currently disallowed to remove any more water until the level is somewhat higher), and meanwhile all of these formerly-underwater mineral deposits now tower above the sagebrush in an eerie and slightly devastating way.

Bridgeport was a cute little town full of houses with Very Nice Roofs. Metal roofs, shingle roofs - no matter what type, every structure in town kept theirs in extremely good repair. The Bridgeport reservoir was quite beautiful, and on the evening we arrived it was also very windy. This was good because it kept away the hordes of mosquitoes until just about dusk, when the wind stopped entirely and my youngest son and youngest daughter commenced being devoured. The mosquitoes adore Jem, and he gets all swollen and develops scars from bites - he’s still recovering from the bugs back east last summer!

The wind in Bridgeport was good in another way also. I mean, how lucky was I, to arrive at a campsite with hungry, tired kids, and be presented with the incomparable opportunity to practice Team Building with such willing participants?? Setting Up Your Tent All Together As A Team In High Winds is GREAT fun, and I highly recommend it! What happens is that the kids quickly learn how working together as a team is absolutely essential. They realize equally quickly that they must cooperate in order to efficiently and carefully erect their shelter for the night, and their rosy-cheeked grins are all the reward you need after a long day of driving and planning and cooking, and you think: “There is NOTHING BETTER than spending real, quality time with my kids in such a blissfully, primitively amazing way. I am so grateful for this chance to build their character in the Great Outdoors.” Practically drunk on happiness, you decide to take one of the children’s suggestion: to only erect a single tent for that night, so as not to have to wrestle another whole structure up in the gusty blasts. Five people in a four person tent turns out to be a WONDERFUL way to celebrate a restful evening of sleep for all.


Wowee, that was a good one!! “Sleep” is hardly the right word to describe what happened in the tent that evening in Bridgeport, and as for Teambuilding…well, there was one child who actually asked, halfway through the tent-erection process: “Why do we gotta put up the tent, anyway?!”

Which makes one realize that the only person who understands what you’re trying to teach in this world is…your very own self.

This brings us to a related point: Photos Lie.


It turns out that you can take a halfway decent photo and make even the most whiniest, most challenged kid look adorable for the duration of 1/1000th of a second, which means that Photographs are literally Only A Zillionth of the Truth.


We do it for us, anyway, not for them.

Which is what I told myself the next morning, when, before getting the heck out of dodge, we took a little kayak excursion that gave me more instagram-worthy photos. Truly, incredible scenery! And so incredibly much whining, which you can’t hear at all in the photos so feel free to gaze at them in blissful ignorance and wish enviously that YOU could have been so lucky, to take such a Peaceful and Gorgeous Kayak Ride with so many adorable and Perfectly Happy and Completely Non-Complaining Children as I have!

Did I mention that while those hot springs back in Benton were “WAY too hot!”, the pristine water in the Bridgeport Reservoir was “WAAAAAYYY too cold”?! Well, yes, that was how it was.

As we shoved off in our four kayaks, with our group of five people and three available paddles total, Ben reminded me nostalgically, “Whenever I take a boat ride, I’m always wondering how soon it will be over and when I’ll be back and DONE with the boat ride.” Hahaha, Ben, I guess I sure do know that about you…I remember a canoe ride that we took you on, oh, just about 7 years, 9 months, and 29 days ago (plus or minus), and it was SO incredibly beautiful…and my psyche might never recover from the amount of whining you did during that paddle! In fact, I think I never used our canoe again after that day…

But anyway, luckily Ben doesn’t hardly do that at all anymore. He has passed the baton to his younger sibling who shall remain generally nameless.

Luckily these days my psyche is composed mostly of hardened, calloused leather.


I found a little warm spring by the side of the road about 10 miles north of Bridgeport, and we stopped there so that Eliza and Ivy could take a quick soak in water that was finally, actually, Goldilocks-verified “PERFECT” Some sort of water bug or crayfish ended our swim by biting Ivy’s toe, but Eliza wanted to stay much longer since, as she noted, HER toe hadn’t been bitten after all, and it was just PERFECT…

And then we continued our staggeringly gorgeous drive onward to Carson City, to Christa and Mark’s home, where we spent three days luxuriating in friendship (the kids are all wishing that their family hadn’t left Joshua Tree), a gorgeous field trip to Lake Tahoe (amazing and incredibly beautiful and just about the temperature you’d expect from a lake composed mostly of freshly melted snow - “WAAAAY too cold,” according to most of our party), and many monopoly games and much playing of Dress Up.


After a lot more driving, through south-central Oregon and a whole lot of wide open space, we finally arrived in the pine-forested Cascades. We camped at a hot springs in Paisley last night, and today we traveled through the beautiful city of Bend and finally: Sisters!

I last visited Sisters in 1997, and it is still a gorgeous little town. I had a fairly transformative evening, way back in ’97, possibly while staying at the very campground where we are tonight… What a long time ago that seems. http://www.lifeisapalindrome.com/book/chapter-40-%E2%80%93-home-road

Tonight we had friends who were our welcoming committee! Maggie and Freja come over for a smoky dinner and fun conversation (we last saw them almost three weeks ago, back in another world - Joshua Tree, and hundred-degree heat). Tonight we all wore our fleece jackets and were grateful for hot food.

Tomorrow we will continue to explore the fascinating world outside our tents, and try to soak in the miracles and let those continual annoyances just Slide Right Off Our Calloused backs. At least, I will. You never know what anyone else is truly thinking…

I hope YOU are having a fabulous summer, and please send news and always the Instagram photos. :)

love love love,


A Few Interesting Articles I’ve Read Lately:

A Fascinating Shipwreck:

Is Social Media Ruining your Relationships?

Do bras cause breast cancer?

State of the research concerning the link between depression and intestinal permeability (leaky gut)

She: The Raunchiest of 60's Girl Groups

Spring 2019 photos of the Amaral Matilsky family!

A politically correct intellectual works on his sense of humor:

Toward a more equal division of household labor between men and women:

A potentially landmark case, reviewing the issue of water fluoridation. Fluoride is a neurotoxin - this is not the fact under contention - and the real question is: how different are the amounts of fluoride ingested by the average American child and the amount that causes permanent damage?

Is Star Wars Sexist?

How about Music?

And what about Lara Croft? (And yes, I know it’s a Christian perspective, but we can’t all be atheist!):

Surveillance and technology in the workplace