Treasure Hunting, and Other Subversive Acts

January 29, 2010

Dear Family,

It has come to my attention that one of the habits of Highly Happy People is that they do not dwell on the imperfections in their lives. Therefore, I deleted a whole bunch of text pertaining to my children's sleep/wake habits, and instead I have inserted: NO COMMENT.

That took a whole lot of self-restraint, and I'm proud of myself. Welcome to the New, Happy Me!


I have just finished a most excellent book entitled, “Committed,” by the author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” Yeah, I know that you're already thinking, Chick Lit here we come. But wait! It was really, super good!! Elizabeth Gilbert is intellectual and yet stunningly witty, and her topic--marriage--isn't exactly going out of style.

Gilbert and her partner had pledged their undying love to one another--and they also promised never, under any circumstances, to get legally married. Then he gets deported to Australia, and the couple is told that if they don't tie the knot, the Department of Homeland Security will never allow him in the country again. Furthermore, it turns out that it will take the DHS an indeterminate period of time before they're cleared to re-enter the country and get married at all.

For the next year or so, during their forced exile, Gilbert wanders the globe with her sweetheart and endlessly studies books, interviews strangers, and grills her own mother and grandmother on the subject of marriage. Her goal: find peace with her upcoming nuptials, in a culture where—among other issues—50% of marriages end in divorce.

Did you know that divorce rates historically skyrocket when a culture moves away from arranged marriages and start letting individuals make their own, love-based choices about romantic coupling? Did you know that the Christian Church originally discouraged marrying at all? Did you know that Rutgers recently published one of the largest benchmark studies on marriage trends in our culture? (And that according to statistical odds, I am very likely to get divorced?? ...Silly, you can't believe _everything_ you read!) Did you know that up until 1975, Connecticut state law required a married woman to get a signed permission form from her husband before she could open a bank account?

Despite learning more about the chameleon-like, sometimes sordid history of marriage in the western world, I remain happily wedded to my True Love (although I STILL kind of feel libertarian about the fact that the state has any say in the process at all. Which is to say, the definition of legal marriage pisses me off).

Actually, by the time I finished the book, I was so glad to be married to Jeff that I had to go and hug him especially. See, Gilbert finally makes a compelling argument in her conclusion, that marriage is the ultimate subversive act, which governments and religions alike have, despite centuries of hard work, failed to harness and control.

And I'm down with subversion, when I can possibly make any time for it in my hectic schedule.


But I know what you're really wondering: did Jeff make it to the end of his treasure hunt?? The answer, as of yesterday (day #13, clue #49), is YES! He had to call old friends from college, visit neighbors near and far, and collect clues from the bus stop and deep in the woods. Ben and Jem got into the game, and on that super-torrentially-down pouring day we had when it rained something like an inch an hour, the three of them hiked down into Coy Glen to collect a clue along the way.

The amazing thing was, I'm told that Ben and Jem did not complain once, despite the fact that they were out for an hour and a half and their clothes took took two days to dry.

I love Jeff, and I love treasure hunts. I'm already keeping notes for next time.


It sometimes seems that it's better to embrace the weather rather than fighting it. At least, that was my thinking this morning, when I decided that the boys and I should walk down into town as a sort of adventurous way of getting to the library.

It happened to be 12f degrees out, a fact which I'm glad I didn't totally analyze before leaving the house.

Jem has this way of beginning what seems like an actual, serious conversation, and just when you start thinking, Wow, this is really getting somewhere!, he'll say something like, “Ben Jem outside now: Beef Biff!” And you'll go, What?? And he'll just start laughing, and all he will say is, “Beef biff!”

So today, about halfway down the hill, in the frigid cold, Jem--who was riding in the Ergo by that point--looked up at me and said, “Jem go Graham house and bolf.”

“'BOLF'?” I asked him. “What's a 'bolf'?”

Ben and I spent the next five minutes laughing and trying to understand exactly what bolfing might be, but we never found out. To bolf does NOT require balls or candles, but Jem says that Birdie (the pet parrot) can bolf. And it has to happen at Graham's house.

I think that walks like this is why I had children.



Last weekend, after my dance performance, Jem took a long, solemn look at my made-up face and stuck his thumb into his mouth. The next day, he brought up the topic, out of the blue. Pointing to my face, he said, “Exerday Mama—DIFFERENT Mama!” It's called make-up, I said. I asked him if it looked funny, and he nodded. Then he said, “No different Mama now.”

The other day, checking on Jem's progress in the bathroom (= attempting to prevent the unrolling of toilet paper—see last week's update), I stuck my head in the door. Are you done yet? I asked him. He looked at me happily, perched on the toilet, and sang out, “No sir!”

Now all week, he says, “Yes sir!” “No sir!” “Yes sir!” “No sir!”

Jem has discovered the W word, and he illustrates his questions with sound effects. “Why big tucka go dat? Why dat?”

This is not a Jemmerism, but merely an astounding Jem fact. The boy had a Grow Day earlier this week. I know this because he sat at the table eating lunch for approximately four hours, getting up only to go to the bathroom a couple of times. He just kept eating everything on the table, and then announcing he was still “hungy.” An avocado, a carrot, what seemed like a pound of hummus, leftover broccoli, some flatbreads, some curry, some rice and mung beans, a smoothie, an apple, some pear, some nuts... It was truly astonishing. I have this feeling that he will be following in his uncles' footsteps when he reaches adolescence, and that we will have budget a lot more for groceries in the coming years.



“I made a magnet for Jem! It's a picture of him pooping, an' it will stick to the fridge.”

“Last time I wanted to write a train book, but I could only write, 'owl.' So I made an owl book. But now I know how to write 'train' and 'owl,' so I made a book with trains and owls.”

Ben spent several messy hours inventing a print process which creates very aesthetically pleasing products. It involves somehow coating a piece of sticky tape with ink from a ballpoint pen, and then making a pen-drawn imprint of something (an owl, for example, or a train) on the inky tape. Then, when the “printer” (as Ben calls it) is applied to white paper, a picture is stamped out. Kind of hard to describe, but the effect was lovely. It's just that he refused to either clean up after himself, protect the kitchen table, or work on his drafting table, so I finally had to permanently disallow the printing to continue.


Two museum visits this week. This makes me feel very Cultural in retrospect, except that in the moment it wasn't very cultural at all.

At the Museum of the Earth, Ben and Jem were charmed by...backhoes. The blurry two-second snippet of earth-moving equipment video can be found—for future reference, in case you visit the museum and want to check--in a short documentary about the excavation of the Hyde Park Mammoth specimen. This video was replayed approximately 37 times by my sons.

Meanwhile, across from the video monitor, I stared at a chart on the wall of the museum that shows average temperatures throughout the past several gazillion years. And I tried to figure out whether I'm missing something re: global warming. As far as I can tell, the earth is now near the very bottom in terms of average temperatures--in fact, we're still just emerging from the last ice age.

For most of earth's history, it's been WAY hotter than it is now, on average—as in, several times as hot, sometimes with no polar ice (or ANY ice, as far as anyone can figure out) at all. Also, it seems important to note that well before the arrival of humans, the averages fluctuated wildly, from really low to really high and back again, over and over, over millions of years. So while I don't at all condone the idea of dumping lots of CO2 and toxic pollutants into our atmosphere, I can't totally understand how we can avoid the earth's propensity to change its environmental trends over time.

Anyone care to enlighten me on this? What am I missing??

After about an hour at the Museum of the Earth, Jem began walking around clutching his stomach, saying, “Jem tummy hurt. Jem go home poop.”

It didn't matter that we were the only people in the museum, and that the bathrooms were entirely and completely quiet, with 6 stalls open for pooping. There is no reasoning with a two-year-old who wants his potty seat. Plus, Ben was hungry.

And there ended our visit to the Museum of the Earth.


Next Cultural Destination, the following day: The Sciencenter. Ben would rest not until he visited the animals. Once there, Jem climbed up on a stool to examine the turtle tank...and promptly fell off, twisting in midair to land directly on his nose. The blood gushed immediately, and didn't stop for a long time. Thank GOD there are wood floors in that room, as opposed to the light-colored carpeting that covers the rest of the place.

As Jem howled, Ben came over to stroke his head comfortingly, while gazing at the flooded floor with rapt attention. “Those are perfect round circles of blood!” he said admiringly.

“Did you hit anything besides your nose when you fell?” I asked Jem, when his tears had slowed a bit.

Of course had, he explained, sniffling: “The floor.”


Apropos of nothing, I am proud to announce that my third attempt at apple cider vinegar has produced a fruity, delicious product!! This is very exciting, because it's very easy to make, and the culture that grows within the vinegar over a period of months looks a lot like a jellyfish.


This is a transcript of an actual argument that occurred at our breakfast table the other morning:

Jem: Water is flax oil.

Ben: Water is NOT flax oil, Jem!

Jem: Flax oil.

Ben: It's NOT!

Jem--yelling: FLAX OIL!

Ben--yelling louder: WATER IS NOT FLAX OIL!

Jem: Water. No, flax oil.

Ben: Water is flax oil!

Jem: …..


Jeff is over at the Common house hosting a movie night, and I am going to attempt to fall asleep soonish rather than late-ish.

Hope you're all staying warm during this arctic freeze!


P.S. In case you need to make Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash, Minestrone Soup, and Carrot-Apple Salad for 75 people, you should check out the recipe section of