A Mostly Autumnal Update

December 27, 2015

Dear Family,

"But oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself."
-- Dar Williams, "What do you Hear in These Sounds?"

"Theirs was a large, noisy and improvident household, but they muddled through."
-- Beatrix Potter, "Peter Rabbit" [an adapted version of?]

"Time flies, when it's not your baby!"
--Our Neighbor, upon seeing Ivy for the first time in two months



Ivy (now almost ten months old) is learning to say sounds beginning with "y". All day, for the past two days, she says, "Yah! yah yah yah yah yeah!" in very conversational tones.

While we have not in any way reached perfection in terms of having an infant who sleeps through the night, we have gotten a tremendous number of useful tips from an online resource that actually rocks. They offer paid content and services, but also tons of free and useful articles like these: http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/bedtime-routine-baby-toddle… and http://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/10-month-old-schedule/ . I highly recommend bookmarking this site for the next time you need to figure out whether your infant is tired vs. overtired vs. in need of more nighttime sleep vs. needing an adjusted feeding/nap schedule vs. an earlier bedtime vs. a later bedtime vs. Is She Ready For A Trial Of Night Weaning? vs. ...well, I won't give away the whole plot. Even if you don't currently have a baby, feel free to spend hours perusing the site in honor of your favorite infant and the adults who are sacrificing the best years of their lives in order to care for him/her!

Earlier in the fall, I spent the better part of a week using a large portion of my cognitive resources to determine The Best Way to Adjust Our Family Schedule to Dampen The Effect on Ivy's Sleep of Moving The Clocks Back. This says a lot about the stupidity that is daylight savings time. Do we actually need to add more complication and stress to our already screwed-up circadian rhythms?? That week of effort on my part also says something about both the - ahem - (Not Very) Flexible Sleeping Skills of Amaral/Matilsky babies, plus the current state of my cognitive powers.

During the day, Ivy is a crazy cute, curly-haired character. She thinks it's just great to have her entire family around her at all times, and as soon as she wakes up from her nap, she cocks her head to listen for whatever action is happening downstairs. Then she says, "Heh? Heh? Heh!" and she's off, scooching all over the place. She doesn't crawl, but lurches hand-over-hand on her belly. Even Ben and Jem, who love to carry her around, say they wish she were more cuddly - but legend has it that when I was a baby, I was always crawling away to play while the other babies sat in their mothers' laps, so I try to be understanding of Ivy's independence. :)

Those of you who know my babies' Feeding Histories will understand what a big deal it is for me to proudly announce that Ivy is already a fantastic eater. She nurses tons, but she eats tons too, and is - as I must mention again - an adorable and _plump_ little girly. Feeding her isn't always the most fun thing, because she's like one of those change machines that dispense quarters if you can get them to accept the dollar bills in the first place. Except with this machine, when the dollar bills aren't arranged Just So, all sorts of mushy stuff comes back out again. (If you're lucky, you _don't_ get change!) At least, that's how I feel when I'm spooning in egg yolks with beets.

Sometimes I think, I am so, WAY done with babies (and believe me, I'm not planning to have any additional!). But then I catch a glimpse of Ivy's awesome and curly hair, and just have to give her lots of kisses, and then I feel exceptionally lucky to have gotten Just One More.

The week of Halloween, Ivy got her first tooth (front lower right)!


All three kids are super great with Ivy. Even Eliza commented that although she's glad she's not Ivy's age, she likes to play with her...except she _really_ wishes Ivy could play in the sandbox already!

Ivy thinks Jem is just about the world's funniest guy. It's extremely rewarding to watch Jem jump up and down and make faces that cause Ivy to belly-laugh REALLY loud. And Ben is an equally, solidly awesome brother in his own right.


Eliza: Don't BLOW ME!

Me: Jem, what did you just do in your sister's ear?!

Jem, with That Glint in his eye: I blew her!



...will be forthcoming in next week's update, which is devoted entirely to her. She has had a Really, Really Difficult Fall, and her family has suffered along with her. My brain may be toast.

But more on that Next Week.



Ben is totally obsessed with his growing collection of world atlases. He says that actually, atlases are the best things _in_ the world, and while I'm sure his enthusiasm will fade in time, he has spent hours memorizing facts and maps and statistics. But he's also had a very well-rounded autumn: he's playing piano in the IC Homeschool Band program, and I'm thrilled about that. He had such a fun time doing the fall homeschool Primitive Pursuits that he is planning to do the winter program also. He taught an origami class earlier this year, with our awesome neighbor Graham http://gourdlandia.com/ , and he's beginning to get excited about future career possibilities as a Mother's Helper (he's taking his first job quite seriously).

Between Primitive Pursuits, homeschool band, karate, reading, helping out (yes, Ben Starling does his chores with much complaint, but also very thoroughly, plus he's amazingly patient with his sisters), and looking at his atlases, Ben is still spending a tremendous amount of time asking me countless questions. :)

If I'd known that we'd make it to this point, back in 2010...well, I still might have turned tail and run away from the task that lay before me, but at least I would have had some hope.

In just a couple of weeks, my Baby Ben will be twelve years old!



This fall has been the season for Jem Reed to learn about What Jem Reed Likes To Do. More precisely, this fall has been the first time that Jem has spent large chunks of time away from his brother/the rest of his family, doing all sorts of cool Stuff at The Lantern http://earthartsithaca.org/ , a really wonderful program that is incredibly impractical for our family's schedule and yet just exactly what Jem needs right now. My son is a man of few words in some regards, so "Stuff" is generally the response I get when I inquire what he did that day. But on a scale of 1-10 (ten being the best), his Lantern days rarely rank lower than 9; the worst day I can remember happened only once, coming in with a score of 8.

During early fall, Jem took a homeschool clay class at a very cool new clay studio in town, and - along with Ben - got his second yellow belt-stripe in karate.

Jem's Various Health Symptoms are a bane to me (though he gamely endures them, professional Kid that he is), although we've been mounting as aggressive an attack as possible on the infection/lip rash that I dislike with a huge passion, and which kept his mouth rash raging, blistering, and awful for 9 months last fall/winter/spring. Too soon to report whether the supplement protocol I began for him in September is "working." I'll check back about that next year...


Another shared family activity this year: Ben and Jem and I began the process of getting orthodontics! Ben has palate-stabilizing and jaw-depth-increasing appliances, in preparation for palate-widening and braces once he has enough adult teeth. Jem got removable palate-widening appliances with the hope that by the time his grown-up teeth come in, he will have enough space for them without needing braces. And I have a splint, the first step in an attempt to see if correcting my bite will correct the tooth-eroding and nerve-shearing TMJ pain that has been increasing for me in recent years. If my body tolerates this for nine months, then next year I will get additional appliances and/or braces, which gently, possibly, slowly re-shape my jaw.

The process has been fairly straightforward for the kids (although Jem had to get his tongue-tie revised in order to accommodate the appliances, which he endured very bravely, and Ben is also being very brave about a mouthful of Strange Things Poking Him), and a total pain in the ass for me...but while the boys aren't exactly excited by having orthodontics, I am _thrilled_ at the possibility of my mouth becoming a Happier Place.


Oh, one more activity that all three of our older children love: ice skating! I am so happy about this, because _I_ love ice skating, but homeschool skating is only happening this year because Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Terry provided money to pay Karen to take Ben, Jem, and Eliza each week. Prior to this lovely gift from Grandparents, I honestly could not fathom how I would be able to care for an infant (who isn't allowed on the ice) while also teaching a three-and-a-half-year-old to skate.

I now realize that there was no possible way I could have done this, and so I stay at home every Wednesday and breathe sighs of relief. After Karen's careful tutelage, Eliza will know how to skate on her own and be independent by the time Ivy is old enough to take to the ice (feels like that will take a decade, but I suppose it's likely that she'll learn to walk etc. sooner than that).



My True Love is a very busy man these days, due to the fact that he is the father of the four children I briefly mentioned above. (Wow, they are a lot of work, aren't they, Honey?)

Jeff has been working with the nice folks at the Colab https://colab.coop/ this fall, and is enjoying and also challenged by the experience of working with a Distributed Company (meaning: most everyone _doesn't_ work in a central office). He's getting to do some interesting work with various technologies that I unfortunately cannot do full justice by describing, so I'll have to postpone a full update until he's sitting next to me. He does great work, and helps keep clients satisfied. :)

Jeff is starting to reap rewards from the aforementioned Parenting that he and I do all the time: he finally has someone in the family (Ben) who loves to watch action movies! Also, on Jeff's birthday back in September, Ben and Jem accompanied Jeff (bringing along our awesome camper!) to Knoebels amusement park in Pennsylvania. They stayed over for two nights, and those men played HARD at that amusement park, let me tell you. They rode roller coaster after roller coaster, checked out pretty much every ride in the place, and they had amazing weather to boot. Jem said it was the best day of his life. Eliza and Ivy and I prepared a party for when the boys got back into town, and there's a really great photo that Jeff took of Ben on top of the ferris wheel which definitely made it into our family album.



In November, I turned 36. Which means that I'm edging toward 40! And it's not the gray hairs, so much as the wrinkles around the eyes, I think, that consistently cause me to look as tired as I feel. (Well, I mean actually it's my kids who tire me out, but we're talking about looks here.)

But actually, I'm joking. I feel super youthful. In fact, I say "haha!" in the general direction of Sarabeth-at-fifteen, who made a Sincere Vow to "be able to do splits when I'm FORTY" (because forty was so gosh darn old, of course). I may not be quite as limber as I was when I was fifteen, but I did take two dance classes in the last month (first time since Ivy's birth!). And I can very nearly almost still do splits.

However, I _was_ so freaking tired at the first class that halfway through, I could not remember more than every third step of the combination. I completely petered out at 8:58, and had to sit down. The youthful AND young woman in the front danced beautifully, plus she remembered all the steps. My brain felt awe and wonder (and a tiny bit of envy, but not much because even that required energy) at her powers of comprehension and memory.

Will I be able to do splits when I'm forty? I wondered. Or will I be wearing jeans that aren't cool, changing diapers, and worrying?

The next class (which was only last week, thank you very much), I got it! I remembered the steps AND I could do them! I felt hot! The music strutted, and I strutted too, on the beat, smiling for the fun of it! Yay! And then...

Oof. Took a quick look in the mirror. My poise dissolved, my sweatpants were twisted, and I turned right in time to see a small, extremely well-utilized breast flop into position just after the rest of my body arrived. Huh. Well, I thought, at least it's possible to feel hot even without looking that way!

I kept dancing, at least. Though I could tell, by nine o'clock, that I was lagging behind. There was no way that my brain, thinking about Eliza's tantrums today and dinner tomorrow and the logistics of snow tires, could remember this combination of dance steps. "Okay!" said the teacher. "From the one-two-three with the elbows? Or from the top?" Huh. It was really, really unlikely that I would remember the combination from either juncture. But actually, maybe if I just didn't _think_ about it, I could feel it. The teacher was clarifying a bunch of things about the movement phrase, but I tried not to listen. "If I don't think, maybe I'll remember, if I don't think, maybe I'll remember..."

"This is when my brain shuts off," my friend whispered.

"Maybe that's 'cause it's 9:14pm!" I said, although I brightened when I saw the clock - last time I'd faded sixteen minutes earlier than this!

And then we tried it again. And suddenly something clicked, and I was _dancing_, and somehow the one-two-three AND the elbow part made some sort of sense, and three of us finished the phrase at the exact same time, happy because of that ecstatic feeling of moving in syncopated unison, and when I looked in the mirror, we looked hot! Yes, I mean the crows feet around my eyes were still there, and there are gray hairs and stuff, and sure, the younger perky woman had really much more awesome teeth than me, but somehow the dancing smoothed out the edges so that we could all be human together, wordlessly, for a few counts of eight with some great music booming out of the sound system and the December night dark and rainy outside.


Autumnal Events of Note:

-- For the first time in a very long time, our entire family went to New Jersey (for Sukkot). The journey was exhausting, and also worth it, because all of the expectedly challenging parts about traveling With Small People were counterbalanced by the great perks of hanging out with family and eating dinner cooked by My Mother, may she get a ticket to heaven for all the meals she made for us then and also over so many, many years when we were all little, amen. (And to be fair, may Dad get a ticket too, for all of his support of us kids and supporting Mom in her cooking those aforementioned meals, also amen.)

-- On Halloween, possibly our family's favorite holiday of the year (in spite of how much less time adults have than kids (in my recent experience, anyway) to devote to important things like Halloween costumes), Ben and Jem dressed as scarily as possible, and Eliza was pretty much amazingly adorable as a princess-ballerina-lion-with-a-skeleton-mask-to-make-her-SCARY-too.

-- We have high hopes, Jeff and I, of somehow manifesting our Magical Budget for 2016 that will not only cause savings to appear in our bank account for the first time in ten years, but also contribute to world peace and allow us to additionally save for a cross-country camping trip in 2017. We'll have to keep you posted on progress for this one.

-- I have been making a whole lot of fermented things this autumn - some really fabulous (if I do say so myself) combinations like ginger beets, and rutabaga with kohlrabi/carrots/daikon, and apple kraut, and daikon kraut, and hot sauce, and kimchi, and radish relish, and jalepeno kraut, etc. etc. etc. Jem even made a jar all by himself, using one gigantic radish that he grew in his garden.

-- Ben and Jem and Eliza had a great time participating in the Ithaca College Physical Therapy Graduate Program's "Kid Lab," in which the graduate students get to test their skills on real live kids, and the kids get paid to play and run around for several hours. It was a total win-win-win (because I got to sit and watch!). The kids wish that the Kid Lab was every week.

-- In November, a friend and I took a monumentally ambitious trip to Northampton, to visit North Star http://northstarteens.org/ . I brought Jem and Eliza and Ivy. My main goal was to get clear on the structure of North Star, as well as the various roles people play in the organization. It was pretty clear to me - after getting clear on all that - that I would need pretty much 24/7 childcare (i.e. a really dedicated wife) if I want to take on founding even the most humble of North Stars. Which is a teeny bit frustrating, since sometimes I think: _I_ want some of the freedom that I'm trying so hard to provide to my kids! But that's a complaint session for another day. My other goal for visiting was to find out if I am still drawn to working with teens. And after touring North Star, remembering some of the Trust that I often forget to have during my days full of laundry and tantrumming 3-year-olds, and listening to the North Star band croon "I Will Follow You Into The Dark"...well, it turns out that I still feel super passionate about all that North Star represents! It's an amazing place.

The North Star visit wouldn't have been possible without our super awesome and generous friends, Jenny and Brett (and their four-year-old twins, Maya and Ella), who hosted us all week, allowed my 3-year-old to camp out in their house for hours on end (she is still wishing Maya and Ella could live downstairs from us here at home!), and who understood that the Typhoon of Chaos that was our crew galloping around the upstairs guest rooms had no actual intention of causing major property damage.

I also got to visit with Susannah and Aaron for the first time in what felt like years. In addition, I got to see a mature, incredibly helpful side of Jem that I had never seen before. These four things were the fantastic parts of the trip, and made the godawful nature of travel with an infant + Eliza actually worthwhile.

-- I know that this whole Global Warming thing is really a Problem, but...I have to say, the warm weather this fall has been absolutely freaking amazing. On Thanksgiving, we took a family walk/scoot/balance-bike-ride down on the new waterfront trail that now connects Cass and Stewart Parks, and it was So Awesome!! The sun was shining, it must have been 65f degrees, and I was so incredibly thankful for this new sliver of smooth pavement that exists in our world. Bike paths are so great - our whole family signed a thank-you-note to the Waterfront Trail Commission, after enjoying a turkey from the Good Life Farm.

-- We honored our Jewish ancestry by eating A Lot of Latkes during Hanukkah, and lighting the candles every single night. I miss singing songs during the holidays...am hoping my parents will move nearby any day now, because seems the simplest solution to that problem, no? :)

-- Jeff, Ben, Jem, and Eliza are currently having a fantastic, fun, and fulfilling Christmas celebration with family in CT...while Ivy and I work on Baby Sleep Plans in the privacy of our own home beds. Reports are that Christmas was awesome, the Trolley Museum was super fun, and Aunt Celeste's gift of a tutu and headband coordinated outfit made the day after Christmas just as fantastic as Christmas itself, at least according to a certain small person whose name rhymes with Jeliza.


Some articles I've enjoyed this fall, plus a few which I've yet to read but plan to just as soon as I'm in a Really Intellectual Mood:

Modern Myths of Motherhood that Really Have To Go

What to do for the stomach flu

The Science of Heat vs. Temperature

EcoVillage in the news! This article doesn't give you the full picture, but is one of the most balanced pieces concerning the cohousing model that I've read in while. (Also: if you could see the doorway in the photo - which you, can't because it is really dark - you'd see Jeff, holding Eliza!)

There is a growing need to better define the term "Shaken Baby Syndrome", and understand certain causes of infant death, to prevent the imprisonment of innocent parents and caregivers. [An aside/my opinion: scurvy, and other types of borderline malnutrition that can be side effects of a Modern Industrial Diet, can cause symptoms that mimic SBS.]

How To Drive In The Snow Like A Pro

Most Americans use prescription drugs. What does this mean? How does it impact you and our society? Discuss.

A fascinating article focusing on a debate between Peter Singer and disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson.

Why there's no such thing as reverse racism.

A white man discusses White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism.

I adapted this: a little less salt and allspice, a little more meat...it is So so good and easy to make-ahead!

An Op Ed: ten million dollars can convince a whole lot of people that What You Eat Doesn't Matter, As Long As You Exercise A Lot.

Kelly Brogan, on the broken state of her profession: "It is dangerous to be certain, let alone so aggressively and dismissively certain about science, which, by definition is a process rather than a destination."

The comedian Wyatt Cenac talks about being the only black writer in the room (on "The Daily Show").

A nice reminder: girls like to make things, too!

Haven't tried this yet, but seems intriguing: Kundalini Yoga for OCD! (They do need to come up with an abbreviation that sounds less like a personal lubricant, however.)

A neighbor suggested this link: Why $2 a Gallon Gas? OPEC and the Frackers...

...While another neighbor recommended this article. He says: "Their thesis is that the Saudis see the demand for oil dropping long-term, because of efforts to reduce carbon output and renewables getting cheaper, and want to sell all they can before no-one wants it any more.

"Sheikh Yamani, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia, in a 2000 interview: 'Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil - and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.'"

"Who Owns the Federal Reserve Bank and Why Is It Shrouded in Myths and Mysteries?" (thanks, D&J, for all the article recommendations!)


Media Viewed and Enjoyed This Fall by Various Family Members:

* Annie - the movie + the soundtrack
* Mary Poppins - the movie
* Cinderella - the Rogers and Hammerstein Television Spectacular, plus numerous versions of the book
* The Gunniwolf, retold by Wilhelmina Harper
* Tallulah's Solo, by Marilyn Singer
* The Fancy Nancy series, by Jane O'Connor
* The Mr. Putter series, by Cynthia Rylant
* The Hobbit
* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, plus the Order of the Phoenix
* (In progress: Lord of the Rings)
* The new Star Wars Movie
* Marvel's Jessica Jones series
* Brooklyn (movie) - Made me think a lot, and was good (plus it was the first time Jeff and I had an out-of-the-house-date without Ivy since she was born!! Thus, very memorable)...but I felt like my conclusions were forced by the director/writer.
* The Spectacular Now (movie) - Made me think a lot also, and was good...and I felt like it was open-ended so _I_ got to decide what to make of it.


And now...farewell for now! I hope that your Christmas was lovely, if you celebrated! And that your New Year is a fantastic one, full of all the stuff that might not have fit into 2015, plus extra space for all that you don't yet know you want.

Sarabeth :)