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 🙂
  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

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 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 sautĂ© 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 sauté 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 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 🙂

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

Posted in recipes

shelled green bean soup

When our green bean plants were mass-producing this fall, I missed harvesting a significant number of them at their peak (before I learned how much I loved roasted green beans, and before I knew how much the boys would enjoy eating the frozen green beans). They slowly aged on the vines, getting fatter, tougher, and yellower; some began to dry out, their formerly green shells first turning brown, then becoming thin and brittle.

I harvested a big bowl of the completely dried pods, and ended up with about two cups worth of dry seed to use for my next planting. But I really didn’t need any more seeds to plant (I already had far more than I could use, to be honest), and I didn’t want to wait for the remaining green beans to dry out on the vines. So, I harvested all the yellow-brown pods that were in various stages in between moist green and dry brown, and shelled them. The seeds were large and firm, not yet polished and pebbly like their more mature counterparts, and they looked like any other white bean – so I decided I would use them accordingly.

Bowl half full with white shelled green beans – these may be the hard dry ones instead of the more tender shelly beans but they look about the same. And you could make this soup with the dry ones – you’d just have to simmer them longer.

I simmered the beans until they were creamy and tender, then added diced butternut squash sautĂ©ed with fresh rosemary in bacon grease, threw in a couple handfuls of chopped arugula at the end, and adjusted the flavor with red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and cayenne. The sweetness of the squash, the earthy bitterness of the greens, the creamy nuttiness of the beans – they all melded together to make a soup both satisfying and filling. And just as good as the taste was the knowledge that all those things – the beans, the squash, the arugula, and the rosemary – were grown in my own garden, that I was using the bounty of the land and not letting even the random old green beans go to waste.

(No pictures of the soup, unfortunately, because I ate it all :P)

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.