Posted in musings

cauliflower and coronavirus

While my sweet potato vines were still forming a solid wall on the south side of one of my garden beds, I planted some seeds in the rest of the bed. They sprouted, and stayed alive, but didn’t grow very well since they weren’t receiving enough sunlight. I forgot whether I had planted cauliflower or broccoli, and as the months went by, I decided they must be stunted broccoli plants that wouldn’t produce because the shade had reduced their growing season by too much.

Then, one day, I sat down on the flagstone at the end of the garden bed to shell some peas and happened to glance over at the plants – to discover a little white cauliflower head peeking out at me!

I poked around in great excitement and found a much larger one, ready to be harvested, on the neighboring plants.

Since then I’ve discovered 4 more heads lurking among the leaves, a quite unexpected and satisfying harvest in the midst of more serious and negative unexpected news. We may have significant changes to our social patterns and routines, and soon people we know and love may get sick and make the virus more frightening in its nearness – but in the garden, life goes on, each plant quietly growing in fullness and beauty (I do really think the cauliflowers are beautiful). And so in our own homes, with our own families, we can continue to quietly grow in love and wisdom and holiness, doing the small and silent things that cultivate life. We may end up surprised at the harvest that results from the seeds of virtue we can plant now, even if we forget about them for a time when life returns to more normal patterns!


If you have a random surplus of cauliflower (who knows, maybe it’s the only vegetable left at the grocery store when you get there!), I have three recipes good enough to make multiple times (and no pictures of any of them. Sorry!)

The first is a Moroccan-inspired dish that basically consists of me tossing chopped cauliflower into a sautรฉ pan with diced preserved lemon, chopped dates, olive oil, a touch of smoked paprika, salt and pepper. I want to try adding cardamom next time I make it. I think a unifying sauce to hold all the disparate ingredients together would have made this better, but I didn’t know what base to use. So, this was good but could definitely be improved (and I’ll be playing around with it again soon, once my new batch of preserved lemons is ready to use).

The second is a simpler recipe; I just sautรฉ the cauliflower in olive oil and butter and add parsley and toasted sliced almonds at the end. This always ends up tasting wonderful and goes particularly well as an accompaniment to fish.

Finally, I tried Smitten Kitchen’s silky cauliflower soup recipe last night and fell in love with it (the recipe is 14 years old and I’ve been following her blog for at least half that time – I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid it this long. Don’t make my mistake!) It is so easy, doesn’t require any special ingredients, and has amazing flavor. I would recommend using a broth that you particularly like as the base for the soup, however, since there aren’t many ingredients and the flavor will come through.


I hope all you readers are staying healthy, finding positive ways to fill in the gaps left by cancelled events, and managing to hold on to calm and peace with so many extra anxiety triggers floating around – I’ll be keeping you in my prayers in general but especially with regards to the COVID-19 situation.

Posted in learning together

learning together: a multi-level cooperative place value game

We’ve been working on place value for a while. Rondel unfortunately decided that my default place value game was his least favorite thing ever, probably primarily because Limerick utterly loves it and finds it intuitive and easy while Rondel has struggled more with the concept. Fortunately, however, we were able to adapt it using place value blocks (wooden blocks in denominations of one’s, ten’s, hundred’s, and a huge thousand cube) into a game that let each kid operate on their own level of mathematical ability while working together to earn chocolate chips!

757 represented by a stack of place value blocks, with three dice and a pile of one’s cubes on the side

Our goal as a team was to reach 1000, rolling dice to add to our total on each turn. Along the way, we could get chocolate chips: one for each person every time we added a new hundred square, and ten for each person if we made it to the thousand cube. On Aubade’s turn, she would roll just one die and practice counting the dots to find how many she had rolled, then practice counting again as she put the right number of cubes onto our combined tower in the center.

Aubade carefully placing her one’s cubes on top of our combined tower.

On Limerick’s turn, he rolled two dice, multiplied them together, and then added his total to the combined tower. (Yes, this is easy for him. Next time I’ll have to come up with something more challenging for him to do! He also tends to supervise everyone else, however.)

Limerick straightening out the blocks on the combined tower after adding his total

On Rondel’s turn, he rolled four dice and added them all together (which was perfect for him! Adding two dice is easy for him at this point, but four lined up with the addition we’d been encountering in Life of Fred and he remembered and mentioned that.) Seeing how his one’s cubes lined up to form a group of ten, and how his ten’s lines added up to form a hundred square, the concepts of place value finally started to make sense to him! These blocks are such a nice visual/tactile representation of that ๐Ÿ™‚

Rondel adding a one’s cube to the top of the tower

By working together, we eliminated both the stress of competition and the need for everyone’s individual rolls to come out to, on average, comparable amounts. Because we were working together, it didn’t matter if Aubade was rolling much smaller numbers than Limerick or Rondel, or that Limerick’s highest possible total was higher than Rondel’s – everyone just contributed towards our shared goal in their own way. It also didn’t matter who was fastest or reached a goal first, and the shared celebration every time an intermediate goal was met (i.e., the chocolate chip for each hundred) prevented anyone from becoming jealous or discouraged. And finally, because none of those things were important to the game, we could tailor it to each participant’s math level, allowing all three kids to play together despite ranging from counting to multiplication/division with their math skills (which I’ve found surprisingly difficult, mostly when it comes to including Aubade in the game.)

Now I suppose I just need to come up with a name!

Father of light,
in you is found no shadow of change
but only the fullness of life and limitless truth.

Open our hearts to the voice of your Word
and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision.
Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son
who calls us to repentance and a change of heart,
for he lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.

(Liturgy of the Hours, Second Sunday of Lent)

father of light

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – disability rights, epidemics, communication, love, and lemons

  1. Some good news this week – the FDA has banned the electric shock devices used by the Judge Rotenberg center to control disabled (primarily autistic) patients. From the ACLU statement in response to the ban:

    “Using what are essentially human cattle prods to shock people with disabilities into compliance is simply barbaric. For over 40 years, the disability rights movement has fought to ban the use of abusive ‘behavioral treatment’ methods such as these ESDs. The FDA’s decision today banning their use should be seen as a necessary and important first step to securing a broader prohibition on the use of aversive interventions.
    “People with disabilities deserve the right to be supported with dignity and respect, and there are no circumstances under which they should be subjected to pain as a means of behavior modification.”
    – Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program
  1. Some not-so-good news is that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 does seem to be of potentially greater concern than I originally thought (in line with the flu in terms of transmission rate and severity, far lower in total number of cases so far, but still concerning to researchers and health care workers because it is an unknown agent). In response to that, one of the labs we frequently work with at the university is optimizing protocols for high-throughput diagnosis and training people to run those protocols; if an emergency situation does occur where the load of potential cases is very high, they’ll be equipped to run 24/7 and process 1000-3000 tests a day. (I say “they”, but I’m hoping to run through the training myself so I can be part of the public health response if the epidemic becomes a serious issue locally. I guess I’m nerdy enough that the opportunity to be involved with a novel virus on even a small scale is just purely exciting to me ๐Ÿ˜› )
  1. Coming down to a more personal scale, communication and relationships are so hard. Even when two people are trying as hard as they can, misunderstandings can happen and feelings can be hurt and it’s just all around miserable – so much so that even knowing how a good conversation about something meaningful can fill up my heart like food and drink, it’s tempting to just not even try sometimes. But isolating myself doesn’t lead to health, or happiness, or holiness; it leads to bitterness and selfishness and despair. My sister shared a quote with me today that speaks to this, and of far more than this – of the value and even necessity of pursuing relationship in a self-giving way, of staying alive and invested and connected not for your own sake but that you might in so doing pour out your life for the needs of others and open yourself to be so poured into by others (and I don’t have access to the original formatting of the quote, unfortunately, since that can be significant with poetry):
"I don't want to feel better; I want to know better.
I should have known that God is not in the meal
but in the sharing of the meal.
I should have told you that holiness resides in needing each other,
in acts of survival made generous."
- Julian K. Jarboe, "Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel"
  1. Speaking of powerful quotes from books, I came across this one and realized that far too often I am impatient with and even contemptuous of weakness – starting with myself, but sadly spreading out to those around me as well. I do not often respond to my own struggles with compassion and grace, and that attitude of harsh, high standards can carry over into my interactions with other people. Having had the issue brought to my attention, I’m trying to be extra intentional about cultivating a spirit of love and gentleness instead: to offer open arms and a listening ear instead of an eye roll or an “I told you so”; to wait calmly for someone to process and express themselves instead of letting my attention drift away from them in impatience or disrespect; to make space for struggle and failure and fear and meet people where they are instead of expecting them to succeed in a way or time that’s convenient for me.

    “No one is of the Spirit of Christ but he that has the utmost compassion for sinners. Nor is there any greater sign of your own perfection than you find yourself all love and compassion toward them that are very weak and defective. And on the other hand, you have never less reason to be pleased with yourself than when you find yourself most angry and offended at the behavior of others.”
    – William Law, cited in Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  1. One of the great blessings of cultivating this gentleness and patience is seeing the happiness and peace it gives to those around you. I think as a parent of small children it’s easier to see things like that – young children are both more sensitive to their parents’ attitudes and more expressive of their own feelings. For example, Rondel has been working really hard on riding his bike the past few weeks. He has training wheels, but he still feels very panicky about balancing, steering, and just generally maintaining control of the bike, especially at faster speeds. It is so easy to become frustrated when he bikes at a slow walking speed – Limerick racing ahead then having to wait for him to catch up – particularly because he doesn’t look anxious at that speed. Some part of my mimd interprets his actions as laziness or an unwillingness to try when really they stem from anxiety and poor motor skills, and my resulting impatience just makes him feel worse. But when I remember to re-evaluate in terms of gentleness and grace, I can see the anxiety and try to help him work through that root problem so that biking can be something fun and energizing for him like it is for his siblings.
  1. Another thing that I’m learning as a parent is how little control we really have in the interests our children develop. Aubade wears princess dresses as often as she can, claps with delight at the thought of going to a shoe store, revels in sparkles and stick-on earrings, and pretends every playhouse is a “princess house.” Just. What. I have no words. Aside from having to tell someone with no concept of monetary value that she can’t have all the shoes she desires, though, it’s actually pretty fun ๐Ÿ™‚
  1. Finally, I got a bag of lemons from my mom and need to use them up this weekend! I’m definitely going to make a jar of preserved lemons, now that I know I like them and won’t wait six months before breaking into them, as the batch from last year was beginning to get mushy (still tasted good though). I’m also contemplating making a jar of lemon marmalade, but I’m debating whether or not to add some sort of accent flavor to it. I could go a slightly savory route with rosemary (I made a rosemary and lemon shortbread last week that I loved, and this would be a similar flavor profile), or more Middle Eastern with cardamom (my favorite spice of all time). Or I could keep it straight lemon, simple and bright. Any thoughts?

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes link up! For fellow homeschoolers, there were some helpful/thought-provoking posts on that topic this week that I found encouraging ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in learning together

learning together: erupting citrus!

Inspired by one of Limerick’s class experiments at our co-op, we spent an afternoon watching baking soda and citric acid react explosively in our kitchen ๐Ÿ™‚

Limerick applying the baking soda to the lemon! (and his shirt, lol)

One thing I really liked about the way his co-op teacher presented the baking soda/lemon juice reaction was that she asked a lot of questions designed to help the kids come up with hypotheses and logically critique those hypotheses. Each lemon volcano had three components: the lemon, the food coloring (to make it look more like lava!), and the baking soda. So she asked them what they thought made the eruption happen, for example, and when a lot of the kids said the baking soda, she pointed out that the baking soda wasn’t making fizzy bubbles when it was all by itself in the bowl!

Limerick at co-op, right after adding the baking soda to his lemons.

So when we replicated and expanded upon the experiment at home (Rowan was so jealous that Limerick got to do it at co-op and he didn’t!), I tried to ask similar leading questions. We also decided to test other citrus fruits with the same reaction, so I had the kids think about the differences between the fruits and guess which would make the biggest reaction beforehand, so we could compare our hypotheses with our results.

To my surprise, the two types of oranges we tested had drastically different results. The big navel orange was even less reactive than I’d expected, while the small juicing orange was almost as explosive as the lemon! The grapefruits were also quite dramatic, being overripe and thus extremely juicy and very fun to squeeze everywhere to create great “lava flows” of fizzy reactive liquid. I do think the lemons were still the most reactive, although the results were not anything like quantitative ๐Ÿ˜›

While we didn’t draw chemical diagrams and get into the atomic reason acids and bases react, we did have a lot of fun exploring the reaction itself! It’s such an easy and exciting way to see how different types of substances can interact.

Posted in Uncategorized

autism comic

I came across this comic the other day and completely related to it! As in, this is me not just every night when the kids are asleep and I have self-directed time, but every time that the whirlwind of planned activity, schedules, and input from other people (mostly the kids demanding things ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) stops long enough that I have to decide what to do next.

The character Stimmy Kitty is lying on a couch. First panel: she thinks, “I need to get up.” Second panel: she thinks, “But do I do my homework or my chores? What chore do I need to do first? Do I clean my room so I can do my homework?” Third panel: her thought cloud surrounds her (evoking her mental overwhelm) as she thinks, “No… Or should I draw instead? Maybe a better idea would… But what about feed… What I really want to do is go on a walk, but first I… What is wrong with me? I still need to do chores but How do I even get up? Which foot first? I can’t move.” Fourth panel: a voice off-screen says, “You need to get up.” Stimmy Kitty replies, “I can’t.”

The artist behind this strip, Steve Asbell, has a whole series featuring Stimmy Kitty here. The comic illustrating the build-up to a meltdown/shutdown was also one I particularly identified with, but really they are all quite good and you should check them out if you’re not already familiar with them!

Posted in musings

ash wednesday

I donโ€™t really feel qualified to write about the mystery of Lent, its call to holiness and love through suffering and confession. Iโ€™m not particularly good at any of those things, to be honest.

But Lent is not just for the saints, an exalted or esoteric road that only the most advanced in the faith can travel. The pursuit of God – the long journey of learning to love – the turning away from sin to embrace the right – those things are for all of us. And Lent is a reminder to be intentional about them, and an opportunity to take tangible steps in their direction, no matter how small.

We made prayer chains yesterday as a physical reminder to pray and a way to mark the season of Lent. Rondel especially has so many questions and a heart open to learning about God; hopefully this will help him learn to come to God and know Him in that personal way.

We pray because Lent calls us to come to God with our weary hearts and distracted minds. We fast because Lent calls us to give up the earthly things we substitute for the consolation of God. We give because Lent calls us to emulate the One who gave his own life for us. Lent calls each of us this way, wherever we are, no matter how small or trivial our steps toward God might seem to someone else (itโ€™s not about comparing with others anyway).