Posted in art, family life

nature walk in the neighborhood

Sometimes we drift along in a repetition of the same old activities – reading, playing out back, building Legos, etc. – and sometimes I have a sudden idea to do something new (or forgotten and recycled). I’ve found that often just a small taste of novelty can make an activity seem exciting and engaging for the kids, so I can come up with iterations on a theme when I’m not bursting with enough creativity to imagine something completely new! For example, today, as everyone was ambling around not sure of what to do, I decided we should take advantage of the beautiful Arizona spring weather by going on a walk. Then, I looked around the kitchen and saw the empty egg carton in the recycle bin, and had an epiphany. Instead of just walking, which we do fairly frequently, we could walk with an egg carton each, and use each of the twelve small compartments to collect a different small natural treasure.

We had a few difficulties (Limerick collected a clump of dirt and it disintegrated in his carton, and then he found a thirteenth treasure and couldn’t decide how to make it fit; Aubade got all the way through the walk without filling her carton), but overall all three kids had a really good time exploring the neighborhood with a fresh goal in mind. We found dappled arugula-like weeds, and wild red lettuce, and juniper cones under a neighbor’s tree; palm fronds (which they cut small enough to fit in the egg carton), huge black prickly seed pods, and petals from our own Hong Kong orchids; pink rocks, flakes of clay, and small spherical ficus seeds.

When we arrived back at the house I had another epiphany. We had a huge piece of paper currently lying on the floor, having just been taken down from the wall after serving another purpose, which I spread out on the wooden patio table. This was our canvas; our treasures were the medium of our art.

Rondel instantly knew that he wanted to create a tree with his treasures (he supplemented his small egg carton collection with several large objects from our yard, like the grapefruit and the dried broccoli leaf):

Limerick started by setting his treasures one by one onto the paper, moving them around semi-randomly until he noticed the shape of a person forming; he then added ground, and a sun, and then an avalanche starting to fall on the person’s head… it became quite the story!

the avalanche and sun are not visible here, just the little person with ground beneath their feet. Their legs are in such a wide stance because they are running to escape the avalanche!

Aubade thought Limerick had an excellent idea and copied it, avalanche and all 🙂 But her person looked quite different, as she had different treasures to use and her own interpretation to lend to the concept.

We played around with the art a bit more after the initial creations – Limerick made a rocket ship using rocks from the yard, and Rondel took apart his tree and made a person of his own – but I think the nicest thing about the whole experience was realizing how much natural beauty was waiting in our own city neighborhood for us to discover and explore. We just had to look in a different way.

a snippet from the past

Found this in my childhood journal while going through old papers… apparently I’ve always been meant to do science 🙂

child-me wrote, “I love Daddy. I love Daddy because he is a fun Daddy. He does science and fun things.”

Posted in family life, learning together

learning together: counting in binary

Limerick has been interested in different base systems for several months now; he’s enjoyed playing place value games in bases other than 10, converting between bases, counting in alternate bases, and so on.

The other day he came up to me and told me that he’d figured out a new way to count on his fingers. Holding up the pinky finger on one hand, he told me that was 1. Just the ring finger extended was 2; the ring and pinky together was 3. The middle finger on its own was 4, middle and pinky together was 5, middle and ring together was 6, and middle, ring and pinky all at once was 7.

It may be easier to see his logic with 0’s and 1’s, where a finger curled down represents a 0 and a finger extended represents a 1.

00000 00001 (one pinky extended)
00000 00010 (ring extended)
00000 00011 (pinky and ring extended)
00000 00100 (yeah, this one looks wrong, but he’s six so he has no clue)
00000 00101 (middle and pinky)
00000 00111 (middle, ring, and pinky)

And so on.

It’s binary! Assigning each finger one place in the binary place value system, he figured out how to count on his fingers to 1023 (which would be all fingers extended). In addition to showing how natural this aspect of mathematics is to him, it also shows a good foundational understanding of computer science – because electric signals are either on or off, just like Limerick’s fingers could either be extended or curled down, and therefore represent data in this same bitwise manner. It is so amazing what kids can think of and create when they are given the chance to deeply explore something they love.

(We tried developing a base 3 counting system but found it was too difficult to keep some fingers folded only halfway down when the fingers next to them needed to be extended or completely curled – someone with more fine motor control might have more luck though!)

Posted in miscellaneous

tea is a happy little thing

When it comes to cooking, baking, drinking, writing, teaching, gardening – well, basically anything – I like to have a rhythm and structure within which I can imagine and create. Boundaries give me the freedom to explore without feeling overwhelmed by too many new things at once, I think, but avoiding strict rules and routines keeps me from burning out or losing interest altogether. So I have my four garden beds and their two trellises, and I rotate through some of the same crops each year, but I always add something new that I’ve never planted before. I write down favorite recipes, but I never make them the same way more than twice, and I drift through categories of favorites depending on season and mood.

And I drink tea every day (two teaspoons steeped in the huge mug Rondel got me for Christmas, and at least three brews throughout the day with the same leaves), but I mix and match the varieties I have with different fruits, spices, and herbs. I really enjoy this, to be honest – maybe it’s because the pandemic has rather limited my opportunity to have novel experiences, or maybe I’m just the kind of person who delights in simple pleasures, but trying out new flavor combinations in my tea is something I like forward to each morning.

This time of year, when the weather is cold, I drink most of my tea with cream, and lean on the strong teas whose nutty depths can support it. I also love Assam tea with or without cream, so I find that I prefer cut all of my flavored teas (which have a Ceylon base) 1:1 with the unflavored Assam. Some of my favorites?

  • Almond with a sprinkle of cinnamon – with cream, this is reminiscent of rice pudding
  • Almond with diced candied lemon peel is also good, and reminds me of Christmas cookies – both of these almond mixes have a very dessert-like feel
  • Vanilla with dried lavender (from my poor bush that perished in the record-breaking heat this summer) – this is the most calming of my teas, and particularly good for stressful days
  • Chestnut and caramel with a dusting of cardamom (this is good if you want something almost coffee-like; the chestnut on its own has an aftertaste I’m not especially fond of)
  • Rose, also with cardamom – I wasn’t sure if the rose tea could hold up to the cream, but I really enjoyed the light floral notes dancing over the earthy base.
  • Maple with candied orange peel, whole cloves, and cinnamon (this is so amazing. I have to make it at my mom’s house because the maple tea is one I gave her for Christmas, and while she doesn’t keep cream or Assam on hand, this is quite excellent without either.
  • Plain Assam with saffron and cardamom – this is like a mild chai, and really lets the saffron flavor shine, with a bit of sweetness from the cardamom.

Soon I’ll stop using the cream, as the weather gets warmer, and eventually I’ll tend towards iced tea instead of warm tea, and I’m looking forward to seeing what flavors will blend together well for those seasons – but for now, these are my favorites.

What areas of life do you enjoy experimenting and creating in? What are some of the small and simple things that bring you joy? And if any of you also love tea, what are some of your favorites?

Posted in book lists, book review

january’s books

This was a good reading month! I read nine books (which I’m pretty proud of 🙂 ), five non-fiction and four fiction, including one re-read. If I had to pick a favorite… well, I’m not sure I’d be able to. At least five of them would be in the running. A summary and some of my favorite quotes from each book are included here, and if you decide to read any of them, please let me know what you think! Talking about a book with someone who’s also read it is just about as good as reading the book to begin with – and sometimes even better.

Continue reading “january’s books”
Posted in book lists, miscellaneous

new year, new books!

For the first time ever, I’ve started a pen-and-paper reading journal!

It all began when I was looking for Christmas presents for my kids and found these delightful small-squared graph paper journals with transparent covers – so whatever you draw on the first page would show through and be the cover image. I got a pack for Limerick for his numerical drawings and then added one for myself… and when I found a new pack of my favorite rainbow Signo pens in my stocking from my dad, it was a perfect match.

Continue reading “new year, new books!”
Posted in hikes

hiking: old fossil creek dam (bob bear trailhead)

For our anniversary a few months back, Paul and I went up to Payson and hiked Bob Bear Trail down to the Old Fossil Creek Dam in the Fossil Springs Wilderness. Neither of us had been there before, and both of us would gladly go back!

The Fossil Springs Recreation Area is a permit area; due to its popularity, it had been completely closed down several years ago, and reopened in limited capacity following a time of rehabilitation. Bob Bear Trailhead is one of the less popular parking spots in the area, and it was early in the summer, so we were still able to reserve a parking pass just a few days before our trip. While a portion of the parking lots can only be accessed from Camp Verde, the Bob Bear Trailhead can only be reached from Strawberry, which worked out well for us!

As we began, we were greeted by multiple warning signs. Combined with the trailhead map letting us know this was an 8 mile round trip with a 1500 foot elevation change… and the brochure from the forest service telling us this was one of the most strenuous hikes in all of Tonto National Forest… this was a bit alarming. But we’d both done longer hikes before, so we weren’t too concerned. In retrospect, however, I do recommend taking the warnings seriously. If you are not an experienced hiker, start with something else and work up to this one.

The majority of the hike is through a region of arid high desert – there is very little shade, the air is thin, the sun is hot, and the grade is steep. The views, however, are gorgeous.

When you finally get to the first crossing over Fossil Creek, at a shallow ford, you’ve finished the hardest part of the descent and have about a mile of cool, lush, riverside hiking left.

The trail is well-marked, from the cattle fence up in the mountains, to the rocky river crossing, through the undergrowth, and down to the dam itself. At some point along the river there will be option to continue to the spring or to the dam; while neither will take you to the famous Fossil Creek Waterfall, hiking to the dam will take you to a waterfall that is still quite spectacular.

We could hear the waterfall roaring down over the old dam before we reached it; the trail led us around a blackberry thicket to the top of the falls, and we clambered down the rocky canyon sides to the deep pool at its base. The river here was far wider than I’d imagined, and the sheer volume of water cascading over the dam was a stark contrast to the miles of desert we’d walked through to get here.

This is looking down at the falls from the top of the canyon around the pool; you can really only see the bottom half of it, as I brought the wrong camera lens and couldn’t zoom out to get the wider angle.

It had taken us about an hour and a half to hike the four miles down (I think it is really more than four, as the dam is a bit further down river from the spring where the trail map ends), and we spent about an hour just enjoying the water. I tried to swim close enough to the falls to touch the rock through the falling water, but it was far too deep to stand in and the current was strong – I had to swim as hard as I could just to make a small amount of headway, and was pushed about six feet back as soon as I stopped fighting against it. Paul got closer than I did, but even he had trouble dealing with the current.

It may be hard to see, but that is Paul’s head at the base of the falls! He told me it was hard to keep his head out of the water that close to the waterfall.

Outside of that area of turbulence, however, the pool was calm, clear, and cold. I was content to just sit and relax, enjoying the beauty (and the company!), and I could have stayed even longer there than we did. Of all the places I’ve been in Arizona, this is one of the more special and unique – and the cold water is a good reward for the long hike in the heat!

Hiking back out again, however, is when the trail really shows its difficulty. The steep grade of the trail, nothing more than an inconvenience for the knees on the way down, makes the hike up incredibly strenuous. As I didn’t yet have my POTS diagnosis, I wasn’t wearing a heart rate tracker – but there were quite a few times when I had to stop and rest because my heart felt like it was racing so fast it was almost fluttering. Paul wasn’t any better off, the elevation and exertion combining to completely exhaust him. We wore off the chill of the creek by the end of the first mile, and I ran out of water with at least a mile to go (fortunately Paul had extra, since his pack was bigger).

I do better with steep inclines than Paul, possibly because I’m lighter, but I honestly didn’t feel much better than this when we finally made it back up.

Despite the difficulty, I highly recommend this hike and would go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance. The waterfall at the bottom makes everything worth it. I would, however, carry more water…

How to get there: from Payson, drive 18 miles north on the US-87 to Strawberry, then turn left on to Fossil Creek Road. The Bob Bear Trail parking area will be on the right in about 5 miles.

Permits: Parking permits must be purchased in advance from the Bob Bear Trailhead page on Recreation.gov, April-September. The trails have had limited availability through the pandemic but were still open when I last checked.

Posted in information, musings

POTS: adding another diagnosis to the stack

Shortly after things closed down for the pandemic back in March, I was biking on the stationary bike in the garage (since I was no longer biking to commute to work, since I was now working from home) when I started feeling very lightheaded, shaky, and queasy. It was similar to, though more severe than, the times I’ve had low blood sugar events, so I decided to eat something and rest; I don’t think the eating helped very much, but the rest certainly did.

I would have written this off as dehydration, not eating enough, biking at too high of an intensity, or so on if it hadn’t initiated chronic lightheadedness, dizziness, and fatigue. On good days, I would get a rush of lightheadedness when standing up; on bad days I would have lightheadedness just from sitting upright, reading aloud, or singing, and fatigue from just walking around the house interacting with the kids. But I could always just argue that it was one or two bad days, and that it isn’t that abnormal to get dizzy when standing up. Maybe it was just the hot weather arriving and I needed to drink more water… but I didn’t seem dehydrated otherwise.

My family finally convinced me to see a doctor after this had continued for just over a month, and because my EKG at the primary care office had an abnormality (and all my lab work was normal), I ended up seeing a cardiologist who ran a variety of tests and diagnosed me with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS for short).

I’d never heard of it before, so I’m guessing most of you probably haven’t either. Here’s how it works (in abbreviated terms!). Normally, when a person stands, the brain triggers the autonomic nervous system to constrict blood vessels in the lower part of their body to help blood return to the heart, and at the same time tells the heart to beat faster to help pump that blood against gravity up to the brain. In POTS, the heart beats faster like it should, but the something goes wrong with the autonomic nervous system and the blood vessels don’t constrict the way they should. The brain, not getting the oxygen it expects, continues to send out ever more frantic messages to the heart and the nerves – and so the heart ends up beating faster and faster since the nerves aren’t responding.

What does that look like for me? Well, on a good day, my heart rate will go from mid 70s when sitting to 100-110 when standing, and stay that high even after the initial rush of lightheadedness passes. On a bad day, it will go up into the 150s just from standing. It makes standing very tiring… cooking a meal for the kids or washing dishes after a meal can be one of the hardest parts of the day because of the time spent just standing in the process. Interestingly, walking can be easier to handle than standing, because the movement of the leg muscles helps push the blood back to the heart despite the lack of assistance from the ANS. In addition to the tachycardia, which is the primary symptom that defines the syndrome, I may have chest pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, body aches, tingling arms and/or legs, and feelings of clumsiness and/or muscle weakness.

Unfortunately, medicine hasn’t yet determined the cause of POTS or a reliable treatment for it. The primary recommendations are to wear compression socks/stockings (to help push the blood back up), exercise (to strengthen the skeletal muscle that can help push the blood back up), and drinking tons of water and eating lots of salt (to avoid dehydration and also increase overall blood volume). There are also a lot of medications that can be prescribed off-label that help some people, but while my cardiologist prescribed one for me he didn’t realize it was contraindicated by other aspects of my medical history so for now I’m trying to manage with the home remedies.

So, the last few months I’ve been mentally processing this during my free time, instead of spending my extra energy thinking and creating and writing for the blog. It doesn’t help that the amount of extra energy I have has been depleted both by the POTS itself as well as by trying to learn a new dance of pushing toward growth without triggering a crash. In a way, it’s similar to the balancing act of living with autism in a neurotypical world, but with a new set of triggers and symptoms (as well as some overlaps; bad POTS days definitely make me more sensitive to sensory input). But I think I’m finally ready to emerge from this hibernation! I’ll probably write a few more articles about POTS, as this is really just a brief introduction, but I also have so many amazing hikes to tell you about from this summer, and so much learning to share as the kids have started our homeschool program for the year. Thanks for still being here to share this little corner of the Internet with me 🙂

Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in musings

toward love, toward justice

A woman from my church – the leader of our church’s ministry for neurodivergent and disabled children, and the mother of one of those children – asked me what my thoughts were on the recent protests, the black lives matter movement, and how it relates to the autism community. To be completely honest, I’ve been pondering exactly that for a while now. It takes a long time for observations to settle into my network of concepts and data, and longer still for me to verbalize those new connections.

There are of course obvious similarities between the black community and the autistic community, as there are between any minority groups simply by virtue of being different from the majority. I’ve been listening to Morgan Jerkins essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, and her childhood longing for whiteness – for the ability to confidently belong in circles of popularity and influence – mirrors the longing autistic people often have to be neurotypical. (If you see that the way you innately are makes you a target for oppression and shuts down opportunities for careers, friendships, and more, it makes it a lot harder to live authentically.) Building a society in which all people can belong, can be treated fairly, can move with equal confidence – this is good and necessary for the full flourishing of all minorities, no matter their race, ability, gender identity, or so on.

But the two situations are also very different, and it wouldn’t be right to look at the black lives matter movement and only see it in light of how I, as an autistic person, can relate to it. Our country has harbored violent discrimination against black people for hundreds of years, and the recent occurrences of police brutality (especially combined with the default reaction of many white people to defend and excuse the officers involved) show that it still exists despite the last 70 years of almost completely nonviolent civil rights action. I believe our most recent presidential election was also in part a white backlash to the previous eight years during which the Obamas held their power and influence with dignity, intelligence, and principled character. To a lot of people in majority groups, the thought of a minority group gaining power is threatening – and to prevent it happening they preemptively threaten minorities instead. And in our county, black people have borne most of that scorn, fear, oppression, and discrimination.

One last point I want to make is that oppression compounds. A black, trans, autistic woman is going to be at a massive disadvantage against the norms and institutions of our culture, even more than the average black woman. Just looking at the intersection of blackness and autism, for example, autism has historically been significantly under diagnosed in the black community (though it is getting better, according to the CDC) and the voices of autistic self-advocates are overwhelmingly white. When I think about how much having a diagnosis can benefit an autistic person, it makes me angry that just having darker skin can make it more difficult for an autistic person to get that diagnosis – not to mention the social supports following diagnosis that can help autistic people fully flourish and thrive.

The Bible shows us a vision of society that is radically different than what we have in America today, with our myriad lines of division and discrimination. When the Psalms praise God specifically as King, they do not say that He brings equality. Instead, they say He brings justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 99). He doesn’t place us all on an even footing; rather He gives more grace where more is needed. He forgives more where sin is greater, comforts more where sorrow is greater, provides more where need is greater. As Mary sang in the Magnificat, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” As we work to build God’s kingdom, it is important for those with power and privilege to set it aside (or to be made to set it aside, when they have used it unjustly), to learn humility, that those who have been outcast or oppressed can also experience those good things. His kingdom, being for all nations and tribes and peoples, is conceptually inconsistent with racism, with in-group power hoarding.

The path from where we are as a country today to a nation patterned after God’s kingdom – a nation of justice and equity rather than injustice and oppression – is not going to be short or easy, and I definitely do not have the expertise to outline public policy. But I do know that change has to happen individually as well as systemically, and I can speak a bit about how to change and grow on that level. Just as I recommend reading books written by and about autistic people to begin to understand the autistic lived experience, so too I would recommend reading books written by and about black people to being to understand their lived experience (and of course I include talking to real people about their experiences as “reading”, especially if you are not a socially anxious introvert like me, since good conversations can be as edifying as good books). Read widely, and let your preconceptions be proven wrong – so your mind can be changed. Read deeply, so you can begin to empathize with those who belong to a different group and see the world from a different perspective – so your heart can be softened. Read prayerfully, letting the Spirit teach and convict you – so your soul can be moved to confession and intercession. For it is only when we have those three things that we can truly know and love the other – whether they are colored or abled or gendered differently than we are – and begin to work together on the institutional and systemic changes that must also take place.