Posted in sqt

small things that keep going even when the big things are broken and scary

So, our country is going through some tough things right now, and my prayer is that greater equity and justice will come from it, that wrongs will be set right. It’s yet another evidence of the brokenness of our world, coming on the heels of a pandemic and mass unemployment. But for today, here, I’m going to focus instead on the small pieces of beauty and growth and happiness that are like gifts in each new day. And maybe God will give me meaningful words to address those bigger issues another day; right now, everything I try to say sounds so empty.

  1. Our corn is really taking off! This is my first time growing corn, so while I’ve seen it in fields before I’ve never really paid attention to all the stages of its growth. For instance, I’ve never before seen those tall, willowy flowers that bloom before the ears form, or gotten to watch the ears slowly grow plumper within their husks. They also make a good barrier to hide behind when having water gun battles with the kids…
  1. The bed that doesn’t contain any Three Sisters planting (corn, beans, and squash) was intended for tomatoes and peppers and potentially peanuts but has been completely taken over by volunteer sweet potatoes from last year! Last year’s harvest was disappointing, but I think I am better informed now so hopefully this crop does better.
  2. Even if the sweet potatoes themselves don’t fill out well, I’m going to try to make better use of the leaves this year. They have a very mild flavor – akin to spinach – and a slightly firmer texture. I think they’d be good in curry, to be honest, and Limerick invented an amazing green smoothie with them just the other day by combining them with frozen mango, frozen banana, and apple juice.
  3. Limerick also discovered fractals and tessellation in the past couple weeks, and has been trying to build models of them with all the various pattern/construction toys we have around. And then whenever possible he turns them into rocket launchers, with progressively larger fractal rockets πŸ™‚
  1. He also got to help Paul change the oil in the family car, scooting under the engine block to see the oil cap and filter and looking in from the top to check the oil levels (and help identify a cracked part elsewhere on the engine…). He’s starting to show interest in learning practical skills by doing things together with us, which is just awesome for so many reasons (not least of which is the enjoyment of time spent together making something useful).
  1. Rondel, by contrast, has been so absorbed in the world of fantasy and imagination. He’s trying to build every Lego set we have so that he can set up a gigantic battle between them; he’s acting out stories with kings and queens and princesses and princes and good guys and bad guys and extremely dramatic climactic moments; all of his toys have some role to play in the ongoing narrative he creates. He begs me to read more and more of the chapter books we’ve been tearing through, so he can soak up the story, and his own reading ability has been increasing rapidly as well. It is so much fun to listen to all the adventures he comes up with!
  2. So, when we made bendy people earlier this week, it’s not surprising that the first one he requested was a king! (I later made a sword for him as well). Aubade asked for a princess (she is so obsessed with princesses right now), and I also made a grandma for her and an evil queen (not pictured) for Rondel since his king needed an antagonist. I used these instructions from The Enchanted Tree, although the beads I had available for the heads were quite a bit smaller than theirs. While they used embroidery floss for wrapping the dolls’ bodies, I found that yarn worked just as well, as did a strange metallic gold string I have around that is a complete disaster for just about anything else. My sister returned our bag of pipecleaners and my mom is bringing up her hoard of yarn remnants, so I’m expecting a new round of bendy people to join us soon!

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum today for the link up!

Posted in sqt

snippets of life

  1. We are now flooded with blackberries! I have made 4 jars of jam, a crisp, and the most wonderful simple sauce to pour over crepes filled with tangy whipped cream – not counting all the berries we’ve simply eaten straight off the bushes! And honestly this is just the beginning of the season; we probably have another few weeks of fruit.
  1. I’ve been texting my sister all about my blackberry goodness and I think she’s a bit jealous, as she lives in a place where blackberries ripen much later. It might even be one of those places where you can legitimately eat the last of the blackberry harvest on September 29th for Michaelmas (which just boggles my mind as that seems so late for berries). But her turn will come in a couple months and then she can make me wistfully recall these blackberry days.
  2. My other sister, who lives locally, made me a very nice cloth mask to wear when I need to go out! She’s actually been making a lot of them and donating them to one of the local grocery stores where she knows some of the employees, and she even offered to donate some to the security personnel where I work after they commented on mine and on their anxiety about not having enough (the man I spoke to was going to be on patrol on one of the floors scheduled for deep cleaning after a confirmed covid-19 diagnosis and didn’t have a mask, so there’s clearly a problem here for people’s state of mind at the very least, even though the masks aren’t as crucial as keeping your hands clean and off your face).
Sporting my mask! It’s like the opposite of one of those superhero masks that just go around their eyes.
  1. I also got to wear the mask down to Aubade’s dermatology follow-up this week. Of all the places I’ve been, they are definitely taking the virus most seriously. Two people wearing masks stood outside the waiting room to take our temperatures before letting us in; the chairs were mostly removed with just a few left in isolated locations; and everyone there was masked and gloved. And while Aubade’s eczema (about which we were following up) is well under control currently, it was still a useful visit with regards to the molluscum epidemic among the kids (a possible treatment at last! Hurrah!) as well as Aubade’s nevi spilus birthmark (which apparently slightly increases her risk of skin cancer over her lifetime and is something to watch as she grows). Also Aubade got to show a bunch of new people her sparkly light-up sneakers, and we got to chat just the two of us for the whole drive down and back, which is always nice.
  2. Limerick is still loving numbers over here. He really just needs a whiteboard and a marker and a new concept to sink his (figurative) teeth into and he is so happy! This week he spent quite a bit of time calculating powers of different numbers until they got to be 6-7 digits long; he made lists showing the conversions between fractions and decimals for 1 down to 1/12; I introduced him to long division; and we had a fun afternoon counting in different base systems. (It always seems like we aren’t doing enough school, but I think that’s actually a lot for one week now that I list it out like that).
We did base 10, 16, 2, and 3 together; then he did base 4 on his own and here he’s working on base 5. He ended up making lists for bases 6-9 as well, counting as high as he could fit on the whiteboard for each base.
  1. In general, Limerick has a good mind for solving problems of the quantitative sort. Paul’s been setting up the boys’ loft beds so that one of the ladders and the two railings lie across the space between (with Aubade’s mattress on the floor below) so that the kids can crawl across and hang and swing and jump off them. Well, they decided they didn’t want to wait for him to be done working, so Limerick and Rondel figured out how to do it together. It’s not easy! The ladder is heavy and difficult to position even for me, as is the mattress they have to drag in from the other room (through two doors and a narrow hallway). But Limerick has an eye for angles and positions and possibilities, and was able to figure out how they could set it up without the advantage of adult height. It was really awesome listening to him direct the whole project, with Rondel providing good input and feedback as they worked together.

And… that’s all I’ve got for quick takes this week! (Well, I suppose I could add that Rondel and I have almost finished The Horse and His Boy since last week’s takes. I’m not always sure just how much he understands, especially in places with lots of names and places, but he keeps wanting me to read more.) Visit the link-up at This Ain’t the Lyceum! I hope you all have an excellent week filled with unexpected pockets of joy πŸ™‚

Posted in sqt

finding joy in the little things

  1. Aubade has been so into princesses lately that I decided to make a couple little dresses for some of her tiny dolls, to match the princess costumes one of her aunts and uncles gave her for Christmas. I guess one silver lining of the quarantine is that I have a little extra time at home for little crafty projects like this! (Also, her pink nails are Crayola marker… she’s been coloring them to match her outfits!)
  1. For Limerick, I wrote a few quick Python scripts to let him see some of his favorite number sequences up to whatever parameter he wants – Fibonacci numbers, triangle numbers, square numbers, powers of any base, and reciprocals of integers. He loves being able to see those numbers in more detail (and more quickly!) than he could with a calculator. So far I haven’t gotten him interested in trying to write his own code, although since this is his first time using a computer he does have the whole learning curve of the keyboard and trackpad to deal with first!
  1. With Rondel I’ve just been reading and reading and reading. We started The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe towards the end of Lent and have now finished it, as well as Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. He absolutely loves worlds of fantastical beasts, bold adventures, kings and queens, and magic.
  2. One of the hardest things about the quarantine is making sure we all get enough physical activity. The other day we set off on what I thought would be a short exploration through the neighborhood and ended up being a 3.2 mile trek (Aubade in the stroller, Limerick on his bike, Rondel walking)… but now the temperatures are hitting 100 every day and those long walks are a lot less enjoyable. Also I’ve been sick for the past week and really didn’t have energy to do anything active with the kids. My parents’ pool has been such a blessing, as their house is the one place we are still taking the kids, but for the first time I’m wishing we had our own! I’m sure when things are back to normal this desire will fade, though.
  1. My other personal challenge is maintaining a sense of rhythm and structure when all the milestones and pivot points of a regular week are gone. I think especially as an autistic person, I struggle significantly with having an uncertain routine. So far I’ve been doing alright with bookending the day – prayer in the morning, reading to the kids while they eat breakfast, and exercising on the stationary bike in the evening while listening to podcasts – but the middle of the day is a great gaping void. And when I think the day is going to have a certain structure but then it doesn’t end up working out, it’s really bad. I suppose if I had to find a silver lining here, it would be both the confirmation that I am autistic and didn’t somehow trick the psychologist as well as the reassurance of God’s faithfulness and grace as I find myself needing Him more.
  2. Related to that last point, the Easter season has been such a gift right now. The daily reminder that Christ is risen, the reaffirmation of the hope and joy to be found in Him, even just the singing of the alleluias – those things help me stave off negative emotions and unhelpful thought patterns. They give me a starting point for seeing joy in each day, for learning to be thankful, and for abiding in hope.
  3. Finally, the sudden burst of warmth has made the garden flourish! The last of the winter beets are rounding out under their thin blanket of soil and the herbs are thick and bushy. The blackberries are ripe, the peaches are blushing, the corn is shooting up, and the beans are filling in around the trellis. I even have some sweet potato and purple basil sprouting up on their own from last summer! This is definitely a joy-bringing aspect of this time as well.

I hope you are all doing well, staying healthy and finding joy, and that you have the support you need right now! I am linking up with Kelly today so head over to check out the rest of the link up!

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 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!

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 family life

three year old fashion

Aubade has always had her own unique fashion sense – and strong opinions about it! Recently, she found a pair of kids’ reading glasses (they used to be Rondel’s) and added them to her wardrobe.

Aubade sitting on a swing in a white dress, striped purple pants, and large red-framed glasses

It makes me so happy when she comes up with new (sometimes crazy) outfits πŸ™‚ and I hope she never outgrows the confidence and flair that foster those choices!

Posted in family life

winter (spring?) in the desert garden

It’s somewhat confusing referring to the current season here in Phoenix. By our position relative to the equator and the sun, it is winter. The deciduous trees, having finally turned color and shed their leaves in early January, also proclaim that it is winter. On the other hand, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom around the valley, heralding the spring. And here in my garden, the harvest is overflowing – dill and cilantro reach higher than my head, the broccoli plants that have put me off grocery store broccoli for life are sprouting countless side heads for the secondary harvest, and the peas are persevering through the late frost to round out the last few weeks of their pod production. I suppose that would be late spring/early summer in most of the country?

But here it’s just the brief unnamed transition between the cool season and the warm season: the final ripening of all the plants that thrive in the chilly winter weather, and the first stirrings of the short-lived beauty that is the spring wildflowers, and the preparations for the summer planting in just over a month.

Now is when some days are cloudy and windy and we have to bundle up well against the cold, layering jackets upon jackets – but now is also when we can spend all day outside, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, climbing and running and imagining and snacking on the bounty of the garden.

In between shelling peas, the kids pretended they were giant spiders and the climbing dome was their web: the teal bars were the sticky threads to catch prey and the grey bars were the non-sticky threads that the spiders could safely travel across. Aubade kept getting her skirt hooked on the handholds but was quite adept at getting herself unstuck by the end of the afternoon πŸ™‚

So whatever this season may be, we are definitely enjoying it!

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – seven reasons to visit the sonoran desert museum

A few weeks ago my parents and I took the kids down to Tucson to visit the Sonoran Desert Museum. Despite its name, it is not very much like a traditional museum (although it does have an art gallery) – it is part botanical garden, part naturalistic zoo, and part museum. And all of it is exceptional. We were there for over six hours, impressive enough with three littles even before factoring in the 2 hour drive to get there, and we still didn’t get to see or do everything. But here’s a taste of what we did experience!

  1. So many native plants! – The museum irrigates their grounds, so that while the desert there isn’t representative of any exact part of the Sonoran Desert, all the plants that are native to the region can thrive in a smaller, more accessible space. I could have spent the whole day just looking at the plants and reading all the information about them.
This cactus was one of my favorites – I loved the shades of color running through its prickles. Those broad spikes earned it the name Cat’s Paw, or, more evocatively, Devil’s Tongue.
  1. The Hummingbird Aviary – While we didn’t visit at the optimal time of year for birds, bees, and butterflies, there were still a lot of hummingbirds zipping around the aviary. All the kids loved looking up into the branches to see if they could spot a bird, and Aubade got especially excited when one flew just over her head and landed near her. The aviary has a large informational sign as well for help in identifying the different species of hummingbird, which I appreciated!
  1. The Desert Bird Aviary – Yes, there are two aviaries at the museum! In this aviary, there is a wide range of different birds – we saw doves, ducks, cardinals, orioles, and quail, and my mom commented that she’d seen even more types on a previous visit at a different time of year. There were places to sit and be still and watch the birds, with water features trickling through the center of the aviary, creating an overall very calm and peaceful atmosphere. We had to be sneaky and peek under bushes to find most of the birds though πŸ™‚
  1. The Animal Shows – Every day, the museum hosts at least one live animal show where a docent will bring in a variety of native Sonoran species and talk about them with an audience. Unfortunately, I had to miss most of the show on the day we went because it was lunch time and Aubade was having a hard time – but Rondel and my dad absolutely loved it. The docent asked for questions and actually meant it, engaged with the audience, and explained things well. Rondel even asked several questions himself, loud and clear! And at the end, a few of the animals stayed up at the front for people to look at more closely and even pet. This was Rondel’s favorite part of the entire day, and I wish I hadn’t missed out on so much of it.
  2. The Animal Exhibits – The exhibits here recreate the natural desert environment, and can often be viewed from multiple levels. All the riparian animals have underwater viewing areas, for example, and cliff-dwelling animals like the ocelot can be seen from two different vantage points. We saw a beaver curled up in his den, and a playful river otter swam around by the window for a long time with Aubade and Limerick. He would swim right up to the glass and around in circles and back again; Aubade kept jumping back giggling saying that he almost touched her and Limerick kept trying to explain to her that the otter couldn’t actually touch her because there was a glass wall in the way πŸ˜›
  1. The Raptors – My mom and the kids also saw an ocelot, a fox, and a mountain lion, but I have no pictures of these because I was too distracted by the Harris hawk family winging over the desert. It was such a beautiful and wild thing to see, the hawks on the wing, or perched on top of the saguaros like sentries overlooking the land, glorious and fierce.
  1. The Packrat Playhouse – If you have little kids, this is a great place to stop in and play! The museum limits the number of people allowed in at a time, and restricts the time spent to a half hour, so you’ll probably need to reserve your time in advance and come back later. But after several hours of walking in the sun looking at plants and animals, a little time out of the sun climbing and sliding and tunneling was perfect for the kids.
Rondel and Aubade in the mouth of a large rattlesnake statue, pretending to be eaten
A couple of packrats didn’t get back to their burrow quickly enough and ended up as rattlesnake food!

Honestly, I could keep going. The views are spectacular. The offshoots from the trail with nests for solitary bees or gardens for butterflies are fascinating and beautiful. The day we were there, the museum had a rocks and minerals event going on and we got to learn about a lot of the different rocks that are part of the Sonoran desert – and even take samples home! The reptile and amphibian houses captured Rondel and Limerick’s attention for ages, with so many unique types of snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and more, and a wonderful display describing the life cycle of an amphibian.

In short, if you are anywhere near Tucson and in any way interested in the Sonoran Desert (or birds, or animals, or plants in general), I highly recommend the Sonoran Desert Museum. It can be a bit pricey, but there is a lot to see and do and it is very much worth the cost – just plan on spending the whole day there!

Again, here is the link for the museum’s website: https://www.desertmuseum.org. Check it out!

I’m also linking up with Kelly for quick takes again this week – head over and read the rest of the linkup!