Posted in family life

jack-o-lanterns in july

The unique gardening calendar of the low desert means that we’ve been harvesting butternut squash and pumpkins for the past few weeks, and enjoying all the traditional fall flavors and activities as we go.

We had so many pumpkins that I really didn’t know what to do with them all. We have cups and cups of seeds (some roasted, some dried for crafting), two quarts of pumpkin juice (for my inner Harry Potter fan), and quite a few bags of puree in the freezer (although that is mostly from the butternut). I’ve made butternut pasta sauce, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, and Thai butternut curry so far – and more pumpkins and squashes keep ripening on the vines. (Everything was good except the pasta sauce, and I knew it was a risk when I tried it. What can I say, I was getting desperate.)

So, I’ve been letting the kids draw faces on the extra pumpkins, carving them out, and using the resulting jack-o-lanterns as nightlights! It may not be October, but we’re certainly enjoying our autumnal friends this summer 🙂

 

 

Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

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My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – just living life

This is a real {sqt} post this week: just seven updates from our life 🙂 Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

  1. I now officially have my autism diagnosis! So if you read my series for Autism Acceptance Month, which I wrote during the diagnosis process, you can now be comfortable in the knowledge that it comes from a “real” autistic person instead of an imposter. Not that I think most self-diagnosed individuals are – but it was how I was afraid I would be perceived (and honestly, I was deeply afraid that it was true of myself). It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and also a lot more uncomfortable. I was so afraid, the whole time, that the psychologist would tell me I was just intelligent with typical gifted quirkiness – and then I would be left wondering, if that were so, why I seemed to struggle so much with things that came naturally to the gifted friends I grew up with? But fortunately for my peace of mind, I can now say I’m autistic with confidence, and I say it to myself a lot when I need to advocate for myself or address areas of weaknesses in my life, and it helps to stop the perfectionist depressive thinking patterns from asserting themselves.
  2. I have realized how much game play helps with the development of strategic thinking and forethought, by watching Rondel grow in those skills. I’ve seen him take the initiative to plan a course of play at the beginning of a game; stay aware of the events of the game so that opportune moments for deviating from that plan can be seized; look ahead at his opponents’ possible moves to make the optimal choice for his own; and see several steps ahead on the pathway to his desired end – in several different game settings. These are really valuable skills for life, not just for games! This is all about considering options, observing the environment, planning for the future, and making decisions in the moment that affect long-term goals. When I write up his kindergarten year summary, I may include some of these games in a SPED section under executive functions…
  3. Teaching something that I don’t remember learning is challenging. In other words, while we are all into math and science over here (definitely at least a grade ahead in math, and more for Limerick), we’ve barely done more than the alphabet and letter sounds when it comes to reading, and I’m struggling to know where to go next. I have a few ideas from my sister-in-law and I looked up some phonics/beginning reader games online that look fun (my kids are always up for a new game) – but to me, reading is like breathing. I can’t imagine (or remember) life without it. And how would you go about teaching someone to breathe?
  4. I may have a new favorite food, and I think Aubade would agree. I whipped up some heavy cream, added some yogurt and maple syrup, and discovered paradisiacal creaminess with just the right balance of airiness and weight, sweetness and tang. We’re calling it “breakfast cream”, over here.
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    Picture is of Aubade in a black and white striped polo shirt at a kitchen table with a bowl of whipped yogurt, eating a spoon of it, with white smears all around her mouth and nose.

    The recipe is very straightforward: two parts heavy cream, whipped until very stiff; beat in three parts plain Greek yogurt (I used full fat); sweeten with one tablespoon maple syrup for each quarter cup of yogurt. Last time I made it, I rolled it up inside fresh crepes with diced peaches; Aubade just ate three bowls of it unadorned 🙂

  5. The cantaloupe vines have reached the top of the trellis (8 feet high!) and are beginning to claim the other side. It makes for a beautiful shady green retreat from the world, tucked under the trellis on a camp chair, looking out at the sunflowers starting to bloom. The fruits themselves are not overwhelming in number (which could be because I planted too many too close together), but they are massive. Paul keeps asking me if I’m sure they aren’t actually watermelons and I can’t really blame him because I have never seen cantaloupes this size in my life…

     

  6. Every few months for the past couple years, I’ve pulled out my old pattern blocks to see if the kids are interested in them – and now at last their interest and their fine motor skills are there! Limerick and I make patterns (he prefers to work with me rather than on his own, even if he’s making all the decisions), and Rondel tends to build animals. Aubade isn’t really ready – but she has fun playing along with the boys 🙂

    It is such a great foundation for an understanding of geometry and the more mathematically abstract styles of art, and having the hexagonal base is a nice contrast to our other building toys which are either octagonal (Brain Flakes) or rectangular (Legos). And it’s just so much fun… I could make patterns for hours.

  7. This past week was rather interesting for me in terms of theological discussion. My sister-in-law and I had a discussion about Protestant/Catholic differences that spilled over onto Facebook (where actual Catholics got involved, to my delight) and many text messages days later. Then, I spent a morning with two Protestant missionaries on home assignment, and finally was accosted by two Mormon missionaries that same afternoon. These are all concepts and divisions I have thought about and researched a lot, but I don’t often have the opportunity to actually discuss them in real life very frequently. And I realized that while I still am officially Protestant, I was arguing the Catholic side and thinking in Catholic terms more often than not during all of these interactions. So, having surmounted the autism diagnosis hurdle, addressing this theological hurdle is next on my list of Important But Uncomfortable Things To Address. I’d be interested in any resources, thoughts, or experiential wisdom you have to offer here!

Again, don’t forget to visit the linkup today! If you share your own blog there let me know and I’ll make sure to read it, or I’d love to hear some of the highlights of your week in the comments as well 🙂

Posted in family life

mary, mary, quite contrary

Finally, finally, our yard has come to life.

It’s been almost two years since we moved in to a home with a large empty dirt yard, and  slowly began to shape it as time and budget allowed – and the final step, this spring, was to add irrigation and plants.

  1. Instead of grass, we planted a lawn of clover and herniaria. And then on impulse I threw in a bunch of wildflower seeds and they took over. Not so great of a decision there – but they brought all the butterflies to our house while they lasted, and they aren’t perennial so the main staples of the lawn should eventually fill in the space. Rondel spent a few days prowling through the wildflowers with an old salsa container trying (and succeeding, surprisingly often) to catch the visiting butterflies.191140
  2. On another impulse, fortunately with a more fortuitous outcome, I planted a row of mammoth sunflowers along the eastern side of the lawn, in between the lawn and the gardens. They still have another two months to grow (and won’t those bright blossoms be a gift in the hottest, most barren part of summer here in Phoenix?) and already the largest is taller than me! 

  3. On the west side of the yard we planted our first two little saplings, a lemon and a peach (we have room for three more on the east side, but the ground isn’t ready). And the little peach tree has the softest, fuzziest baby peaches on it right now! We pruned off most of them so the tree wouldn’t be over-stressed, but we left a few – I don’t know exactly which variety it is but I believe it should typically finish ripening by mid-May, depending on the weather. 191138
  4. Speaking of weather, our cold, wet winter has turned into an uncommonly mild and rainy spring, which I really appreciated when I realized that my cantaloupe vines were taking over everything and I seriously needed some sort of trellis to provide them with the necessary space to grow. Two trips to Lowe’s (something is always forgotten) and many hours of work later (spread out over several days), I got them built and in place, and un-tangled and tied up as much of the viny mass as possible. They’re like tunnels over the path between the garden beds and if the cantaloupe grow to the top I will be very happy but not at all surprised as they are already halfway up. Word to the inexperienced: have ample space or trellises in place before your cantaloupe have seven-foot long vines twisting around each other and trying to take over the neighboring garden beds! 

  5. Cantaloupes are not the only vining plant we have growing right now, though the others are still much more restrained. Opposite from the cantaloupe on the north side we have cucumbers and butternut squash, and on the other side of the southern trellis from the cantaloupe we have pumpkins. I am doing my best to train these up the trellis as soon as they are long enough to reach it to avoid the tangled mess that is the bed of cantaloupes…191150
  6. In the remaining un-trellised bed I have mostly herbs: lavender, rosemary, oregano, purple basil, sage, mint, and dill. It is so convenient to have those herbs on hand when I’m cooking (especially the dill, which I love and which is expensive and doesn’t last well when bought at the store). I am, however, going to have to put a barrier around the mint to keep it from spreading, as I ignored everyone’s advice about it when I planted it and have been amazed at its rapid growth in just the past two months. The basil has also grown like crazy and I’m thinking there will soon be enough to make purple pesto. This bed is probably the kids’ favorite since they can pluck a leaf off any of the plants for a quick bite whenever they walk by 🙂191146191147
  7. Finally, out front, we have a blackberry bush filling in the planter along the front wall! We are in the middle of blackberry season right now and Limerick makes sure to go outside at least twice a day to see if any more berries are ripe! There aren’t a ton of berries this year, but given the amount of new growth, next year’s crop is going to be insane. (And yes, that’s a tomato cage. I didn’t have any stakes and I wanted to encourage one of the main stalks to grow more vertically…)IMG_5399

How does your garden grow?

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of today’s linkup!

Posted in musings

growing beets

Our garden is starting to look lush and green again, now that harvest is at hand for the winter vegetables.

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It’s mostly beets… the cilantro didn’t grow this year, the carrots only made half-hearted attempts at it, and the one stand of dill that made it is off in the other corner of the raised bed. I do miss the cilantro, but beets are better than nothing I suppose! The effusion of green helps lift my spirits, though, even if half of what I planted never grew, and beets are lovely plants.

These particular beets ought to be ready to pull and eat by now, but the few that we’ve tried have been all leaves and no beets. It’s rather disappointing, even though beet greens are also good to eat, to find no dark red bulb waiting beneath the soil like hidden treasure. The soil was finally loose and rich (and not clay!) this year, which was our problem in past years; I think perhaps it was too rich as I recall reading somewhere that excess nitrogen can cause root vegetables to overproduce leaves instead. But who knows.

It makes me wonder if my life has (or can have) the same sort of imbalance – an overproduction of the things that look good from a distance, or in a casual acquaintance, and an absence of the things that are hidden and deep. Do I put all my energy and resources into looking like a good mom when I’m out in public, or do I give significantly of myself in loving and guiding my children at home when no one is watching? Is my goal to be known by my church community as someone who knows the Bible and has all the answers ready, or is my goal to know and love God and His words and His people? Do I work hard at home and at my job for the praise and appreciation of my family and coworkers, or for the inner satisfaction of excellence? To be honest with you, it’s often a struggle. I want both things, of course – both the leafy greens and the red beets are good! But when I have finite time and limited resources, I’m tempted to devote myself to the cultivation of greens at the expense of the beets: to make sure everything looks okay instead of making sure everything is good and right under the surface and behind the scenes. And in so doing, I end up with the same unfortunate imbalance from which my garden suffers, as beautiful as it is above ground.

Posted in family life

a little bit of normal life: gardens, dirt, and popsicles

Well, our sweet potato growing experiment failed.

I know some varieties of sweet potato can grow in Arizona, but the microclimate of our backyard is warmer than average due to heat radiating off the walls, and the copious amounts of water we gave the plants just barely managed to keep them from dying for the past couple months. Compared to how sweet potatoes should look after that much growing time, they were small and sickly. And all the purple ones died after a particularly hot and dry week in July.

However, we took advantage of the garden being empty of plant life to completely rebuild the frame for the raised bed, since the old one had succumbed to weather damage and splintered apart. My husband did an awesome job with it, and found an environmentally-friendly water sealant to protect the frame so it should last for a while – and the boys have been loving the chance to play in the dirt before it’s time for our fall planting.

Rondel prefers to sit outside the bed and use his construction trucks to dig; Limerick had more fun climbing right in and burrowing into the dirt with his hands.

Since the soil hadn’t been watered for a few days in preparation for moving it out of the old frame and back into the new one, it was blowing all over us like dust – so I turned the hose on to a trickle and added it to the fun 🙂

Limerick was incredibly focused on the dirt/mud. I don’t think he smiled once… he was too busy investigating the different sensations of dusty soil, wet soil, and puddles in the soil. It amazes me how dirty he can get when he’s intent on experiencing or exploring something! I had to spray him down before we went outside and it was surprisingly difficult to get all of the dirt off of him. But it was worth it – if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know what a fan I am of messy/sensory play!

And then (true mom confession) I fed them homemade peach popsicles for dinner with the excuse that we were all too hot from being outside to eat anything warmer 😛

Posted in musings

gardening our hearts

When my husband and I started our backyard garden a few years ago, we overestimated the quality of our soil (well, I overestimated it) and made our garden soil mix with 50% native soil, 30% compost, 10% peat moss, and 10% vermiculite. I had actually found this percent mix recommended for particularly poor native soil and so thought it would work for our adobe clay.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, but quite a few seasons of plants have now struggled to grow deep roots through the hard earth, and been small and stunted as a result. I have only to compare the growth of the plants in my garden to those in my mom’s garden to realize the significant impact made by the poor soil.

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my oregano – a decent plant, but spindly compared to the massive bush in my mom’s garden, that has to be sheared back dramatically every few weeks to keep it from taking over

Each growing season, as we add more compost to the soil, it improves a little bit more, and eventually it may be as rich and soft and fertile as the soil in my mom’s garden was to begin with – but that process is going to take time, patience, and effort.

I think it is the same way with my heart – with all of our hearts, probably. We all start out in different places; some of us are more naturally inclined to virtue than others, some of us more easily bear the fruit of our beliefs, and some of us just need a lot more work before our actions take on the robust and fruitful nature of a plant in abundant health. We can all have the same seeds planted in us through books, experiences, relationships, and so on; we can all water those seeds in appropriate amounts through continued learning and the building of spiritual habits; but some of us will bear fruit in certain areas far more quickly and beautifully than others. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are trying harder – just that we had better starting material in that area.

For example, when it comes to sex, I started out with really good soil. I have no natural inclination toward sexual sins, and significant appreciation of the spiritual and physical mysteries of the marital act. It has always been an area that leads me to meditate on the incredible love of Christ for His Church, instead of an area of struggle and temptation. On the other hand, I have extremely poor soil when it comes to emotional regulation. My moods swing like a pendulum, and the negative emotions (anger, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, depression, and so on) linger and build up within me like a storm of darkness ready to break upon those closest to me. It damages my relationships, preventing me from becoming truly close to anyone, and wounds the people I love the most. So I can put in hours of prayer and concerted effort towards managing my emotional reactions and redirecting my thoughts and attitudes toward Christ, and still appear to have weak and scraggly plants in that part of my garden – but I can put almost no effort in to resisting sexual temptation and still enjoy healthy and thriving plants in that area. And these areas of strength and weakness are different for every person.

We can and ought to put in the time and effort to improve the soil in those struggling areas, and not just focus on improving the short-term health of the plants therein. How do we do this? By making everything we do be about Christ, centered on Christ, living in Christ, knowing Christ, loving Christ; by immersing ourselves in His word, by constantly coming to Him in prayer, by unifying ourselves to Him and to His people. If He is first, if He is all, everything else will find meaning and beauty in Him. If He is in us, He will be transforming us, mixing the rich compost of His life into the hard clay soil of our hearts, making us more like Him.