Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – social distancing with littles

I tend to use field trips and excursions (and even errands!) quite liberally with the kids: as a way to break up a long day, cut through moodiness, provide structure, and create enjoyable and educational experiences. So being stuck at home all day, every day, has been a bit of a challenge – though I’m sure not nearly so much of a challenge as it is for parents accustomed to being away from the children most of the day. I’ve been aiming for one new or different activity each day to break up the routine, and we’ve been diving more deeply into some regular activities as well. For your inspiration, here are a few of the highlights!

  1. The Dome Tent: we have a climbing dome out back, and the boys helped me move it into the lawn and cover it with sheets (using chip clips!) to make a tent! The kids hung out in it, hung upside down in it, and hung in a swing from the center of it (I put the swing up after I took pictures, but it was Aubade’s favorite part). It needed more openings so the breeze could keep it cool in the sun, though πŸ™‚
  1. Water (and mud): with a sprinkler and some pipes, the boys discovered how water pressure can force water up through a vertical pipe, how the water will seep out of any crack when two pipes are joined, and how to make the water spray everywhere by blocking part of the opening and thus increasing the pressure. They also filled their pipes with muds and pretended they were magic mud sticks.
  1. Custom Pancakes: We eat pancakes a lot, but we’ve been eating them even more recently, because I started making them look like letters (for Rondel), numbers (for Limerick), and cute animals (for Aubade)! I love when the kids eat pancakes because my recipe is 100% whole grain with no added sugar and a secret addition of some type of vegetable. These days we’ve been using up the frozen pumpkin and butternut squash from last summer’s harvest, but carrot is also good, as is a half and half blend of spinach and banana (for quite vibrantly green pancakes that are amazing with chocolate chips and walnuts mixed in!)
I’m lucky – the kids are quite forgiving of lumps and irregular shaped ears lol. Also it took me way too long to realize that if I shape the numbers and letters as mirror images I’ll be able to have the better-looking side of the pancake visible when they’re right way around on the plate. This batch would have the ugly bubbly side on top.
I was trying to make a cat, but Aubade was convinced it was a mouse…
  1. Lots and lots of reading! All the kids are starting to get excited about reading, and it makes more reading possible when I’m not the only one who can do it (my throat does get tired, and also now we can rotate who is listening so everyone gets a chance to not be just listening). Aubade has memorized Old Hat, New Hat by the Berensteins and likes to read it multiple times a day; Rondel puts so much expression into the words that it’s like listening to a dramatic audiobook with all the added nuance and humor he conveys; and Limerick is beginning to devour everything he sees with the craving of insatiable curiosity and an intensity bordering on perfectionism. We’ve spent hours just reading out loud to each other (I read the entire The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just this week out loud to Rondel, just by way of example…)
  1. Uno: the boys very recently discovered the card game Uno and have been wanting to play it all day every day. I’ve been using it as an incentive, or to give rhythm to the day: I’ll play three games of Uno now, but then I’d like you to exercise your body before the next set of three, or exercise your mind with reading or with math. We talk about the importance of using our minds and bodies and stretching them to do hard things, and then break up those more challenging things with some fun and relaxing Uno games, and it seems to be working well for now.
  1. Leaf Rubbing: To get some outdoor time and for a unique art project, we took a walk around the block collecting interesting-looking leaves as we went. Our neighborhood is rather weedy, so we were able to get a wide variety of leaves while only pilfering a very few more cultivated plants reaching out over sidewalks πŸ™‚ And of course we had some good leaves to use from our own plants also! Once we got back, we laid them out on the counter, covered them with plain printer paper, and rubbed crayons over the paper to generate the impression of the leaves below. Juniper wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, though it was still good, but the Hong Kong orchid and mallow leaves were stunning. And Rondel used black crayon over a longwise half of a wild arugula leaf to make something that resembled a jagged blade.
  1. Costumes: one day, we pulled down the box of old Halloween costumes and had fun dressing up and playing pretend as the various animals and conglomerate creations to be had there. Rondel loves his alligator outfit the most, while Aubade prefers to rotate through all the options (and her princess dresses) rather rapidly…

Between all these things and more (and I have more ideas stockpiled for the next idle moment!), we’ve managed to keep TV time to a minimum without getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the same place for so long. I’ll definitely be glad when the libraries and museums and zoos are open again, but I’m not going to jeopardize the health of my community over boredom or frustration. Instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to creatively connect with my family even more than normal.

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today if you want to join the linkup! She’s posted a few times in the past week or so with helpful and humorous thoughts about isolation and quarantine (with two medically fragile kids, she’s been less complacent about it than a lot of people).

How have you been handling isolation or social distancing? Especially those of you without backyards or easy ways to get time outside, how have you managed to create a sustainable new rhythm of life?

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – like a child at rest

Compared to the scope of a pandemic, my life feels quite small. Not necessarily insignificant, but most definitely small: myself just one person, my family just one little cluster of people amidst the billions all swept up in a single massive crisis. It is the kind of smallness that can make someone feel helpless and afraid, unsure of how to protect themselves and their loved ones from something so big and so out of their control; it is the kind of littleness that can leave us cowering and vulnerable against a greater force than we can hope to conquer.

But tonight, as I put my daughter to bed, she curled herself up against my side, tucked under my arm, and I thought that the smallness of fear or helplessness is not the only kind of smallness in this world. There is also the smallness of restful trust: the smallness of a little child confident in their parents’ love, to whom the world may be very big and scary indeed but for whom that parent is a shield and refuge and source of strength. This is the smallness of a child who is hurt, or sad, or scared, or angry, but whose tears fade in the arms of their mother or father.

The Psalmist wrote that,

"Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother's arms,
even so my soul."
(Psalm 131)

Against the swirling unknown threats of a pandemic, against the overwhelming storm of uncertainty and anxiety that is threading its way around the world, we are each on our own very small indeed, like a young child trying to fend for themselves. But where I find peace in this time is in acknowledging my own smallness and staying close by God my Father, who is quite the opposite of small and helpless, and in whose unconditional love I can be utterly confident. I do not need to be my own strong tower in the hurricane; he offers his strength so that in him I may have the peace of a child comforted in their mother’s arms.

My view biking home from work the other day! (Panoramas are tricky to capture in the rain on a bike…) I love the promise of the rainbow, which I believe can be taken figuratively: that God will not prove faithless to his people, but will be with them through the storms and floods of life. Sometimes the things that make sense from an eternal perspective don’t make sense from our earthly perspective, but I choose to trust in his faithfulness.

Visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of this week’s linkup! She didn’t do 7 takes either this week so I don’t feel too guilty about just sharing one thought πŸ™‚

Posted in musings

thoughts on fasting

The discipline of fasting, I am coming to think, is a discipline of perseverance.

The opportunity to indulge in whatever I am fasting from is continually around me; my mental routines and physical habits both bring it to my attention regularly. So I cannot be content with saying at the beginning of Lent that I will fast in a certain way, nor even with waking up each morning with that intention. Instead, my commitment must be renewed every time I am faced with the opportunity to choose otherwise.

It is a fitting type of discipline for this season leading up to Easter, because it is the same discipline Jesus would have had to have to endure the suffering beginning in Gethsemane and culminating in the Crucifixion. As God, he had the power to end his suffering at any point – to step away from the path he had started on. He had to choose, moment by moment, to stay the course, to remain committed to our salvation. The crowds taunted him, saying that if he were the son of God he could save himself, and they were right about his power and opportunity. They just failed to see that his endurance was greater: great enough to enable him to make the sacrifice his unfathomable love demanded.

Fasting cultivates in us that same kind of endurance. Through it we can walk with Jesus in his suffering (though our steps be small and halting indeed), and in him begin to develop the kind of perseverance that can hold fast to something painful – even faced with a way of escape – when love requires it.

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 sautΓ© 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 sautΓ© 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜› )
  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 πŸ™‚
  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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜›

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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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 don’t really feel qualified to write about the mystery of Lent, its call to holiness and love through suffering and confession. I’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 (it’s not about comparing with others anyway).