Posted in hikes

gilbert riparian preserve

With all the sicknesses going around the family, we haven’t made it out for a hike in a few weeks, but we were able to visit the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert for a new experience and a bit of a respite from the city.

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The preserve is only about 15 minutes from our house, but it feels like we’re in a completely different environment once we’re there. There are several large basins, with trails weaving between and around them, and a myriad of native plant life. There were butterflies everywhere, and rabbits scurrying around under the mesquite trees with their little white tails bobbing. Ducks, turtles, and fish live in the water, and we even saw a large goose strutting down the path! Unfortunately, because the basins are filled with reclaimed water, they aren’t safe for swimming or wading in, which was disappointing for the kids, but they still appreciated the beauty of it.

On the parking lot edge of the preserve are some activity areas, including a dinosaur dig sandpit, a collection of Arizona animal footprints, and a lot of walls for climbing on. We honestly ended up staying around the climbing walls for the majority of our time at the preserve, and the kids seemed to really enjoy them.

Another nice aspect of the preserve is that it is directly adjacent to the Gilbert Public Library; a little boardwalk bridge connected our play area to the library lot, and the walk wasn’t far at all.

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We went over around 11, when the heat became a bit too much for us, to cool off, refill our water bottles, and spend some time reading. This particular library has a huge children’s section, with the picture books arranged by topic on sparsely filled shelves, enabling children to easily browse on their own for books that look appealing. I can imagine it would be difficult to locate a specific book of interest, but it is ideal for finding new books to try out, which is what we did.

I will note that our morning at the preserve and library so exhausted Aubade that she napped for a solid 3 hours that afternoon, and the boys flopped onto the couches and watched a movie. Everyone was worn out, mostly from the heat but also from the climbing.

We will definitely be going back, and hopefully we will get to explore the trails around the basins more thoroughly in the future! As the weather gets cooler I expect it to be an even nicer experience, but even in the heat I highly recommend it since the library is there to provide some relief afterwards.

For more information about the Riparian Preserve, including its location, visit the City of Gilbert site here!

Posted in book lists, family life, information, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 6

Due to his love of rain and his constant desire to know exactly when things are going to happen, Rondel has begun to ask me questions about the weather constantly. And because I never properly learned about the weather to begin with, there wasn’t much I could tell him.

So we did what we always do when faced with a topic of ignorance and armed with a thirst for knowledge: we went to the library and came home with books!

There are surprisingly few books about clouds, and no books that I could find at our library specifically about Arizona or desert weather, at least not at my kids’ comprehension level. But these three are not bad, and we’ve learned a lot from them.

Look at the Weather, by Britta Teckentrup, is a beautiful, artistic book, filled with gorgeous atmospheric drawings, leading questions and statements about the personal impact of weather, and interesting scientific facts about weather. Each page tends to have only a few sentences, so although the book is very thick it doesn’t take nearly as long to read as one might expect. It will walk you through the build-up to a storm, for instance, painting the gradual accumulation of clouds slowly, until you almost feel the tension of it around it. But it will also give you tidbits of very fascinating information – I never knew how hail was formed until Teckentrup explained it here, for example!

The Man Who Named The Clouds, by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub, is really more of a biography of Luke Howard, the man who invented the precursor to our current scientific classification system for clouds, than a book actually about clouds – but there is a serious amount of scientific information included. I particularly appreciated the diagram towards the end of the book illustrating the current cloud classification system, and we’ve been attempting to classify the clouds we see when we are out and about each day (we saw mostly cirrus clouds today; Rondel is holding out hope for some cumulonimbus clouds since they are the type of rain clouds we typically get with the monsoons!). Overall this book was a bit above the boys’ heads, and not completely aligned with their area of interest, but by skimming and omitting while I was reading it aloud we managed to get a lot out of it anyways. On a second read through I will probably include more, depending on how it seems to be holding their attention.

Clouds, by Anne Rockwellis probably the book best-suited for answering Rondel’s questions about clouds at his level. But I haven’t read it with him yet! We’ve been distracted with the other books, and he’s caught the virus the rest of us have been passing around so we’ve been a bit preoccupied with that. This book also has instructions at the end for creating a small cloud in a jar, and I’m looking forward to doing that with the boys. From reading the book on my own, this should reinforce the information we gleaned from The Man Who Named The Clouds, and be a short, easy way to soak up more weather-related knowledge. The Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out series, of which this is a part, has been in my experience a good source of basic knowledge on any science topic we happen to have questions about.

While we continue enjoy these books, I’m going to continue searching for books about our local weather; we live in a fairly unique ecosystem, and I’d love to learn more about the weather patterns and seasonal changes specific to the Sonoran Desert. Please let me know if you have a good resource on this!

(And if you were curious about how hail is formed, here is what Britta Teckentrup has to say:

“Hail is caused when the wind sweeps raindrops up into higher, cooler parts of a cloud before they get a chance to fall. They freeze in the cold air. When the ice droplets begin to fall, sometimes the wind catches them and sweeps them to the top of the cloud again. They can cycle up and down inside the cloud several times, adding layers of water and ice as they go.

“Eventually, the ice balls become too heavy for the wind to carry upward, and they fall as hail.”

So the stronger the wind, the bigger the hail can get! Now I understand why we typically only see hail in our craziest, most intense storms – only they have strong enough winds to lead to the formation of hail.)

Posted in book lists, family life

book-based activities: troll cupcakes!

The main branch of the Mesa public library system – our family’s current go-to library – does an excellent job of displaying children’s picture books to catch the attention of kids and parents alike, and additionally of rotating those picture books to highlight different excellent choices every week. I’m sure if I went to the library two days in a row I would notice at least some of the same options on display, but with our current 1-2 week interludes they are always all unique. With three little ones to keep an eye on, it is much easier for me to grab a few of the display books that look promising than it would be to scan the shelves (although I try to do that too, usually when we’ve found an author we enjoy).

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed a book that caught my eye for both its artwork and the clever twist hidden in its title: Troll and the Oliver, by Adam Stower.

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It’s just a little thing, using the article for the person in the story instead of the monster/troll/villain, and it made the boys laugh too.

The story is that of a troll attempting to catch a small boy named Oliver, who continually eludes him while singing songs about it. At the end of the book, after a hilarious turn of events, the two of them discover that trolls love cake, and they end by baking cakes for all of the trolls in the woods. And after the story ends, the author includes a recipe for cupcakes, along with ideas for decorating them to look like trolls! Needless to say, my boys were adamant that troll cupcakes had to happen.

So, with a few alterations to the recipe (which had no leavening agent – is that normal?), and a trip to the grocery store for some cupcake topper decorations, we made it happen!

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I have a tendency to let myself get carried away in the current of the kids’ excitement, so per their request we made twelve different colors of frosting (one for each cupcake) so that each troll could be truly unique. Rondel made sure that everyone got to pick the colors they wanted without choosing a color someone else already had, Limerick discussed the intricacies of color mixing, and Aubade tried to eat the frosting by the spoonful every time I glanced away from her.

Somehow we managed to get frosting on all the cupcakes without completely covering the kitchen in it, and we even were able to decorate the cupcakes instead of simply eating all the decorations plain first! (You should see the kids when we decorate Christmas cookies… the vast majority of the sprinkles seem to end up inside them rather than on the cookies.) Rondel decorated all of his, Limerick and Aubade each did one, and I did the rest. Aubade ate hers before I got a picture, unfortunately… although to be honest it is good she ate it right away because she had managed to lick the whole top of it before I frosted it!

Aren’t they adorable? The fuzzy ones have shredded coconut for their fur – I liked especially the texture from the extra wide flakes. I do think overall that either slightly bigger cupcakes (these were quite small, even on top) or slightly smaller decorative objects would make things easier, as would slightly moister frosting (and more of it per cupcake) to help things stick.

All in all it made for a fun morning, if also a lot of dishes 🙂 Rondel is already asking when we can make them again, and it’s only been three days! And I have to say, tying a book into normal life in such a fun and memorable way can only serve to make reading even more appealing and exciting than it already is.

What are some of your favorite picture books to bring to life, and what do you love to do with them?

Posted in book lists, sqt

{sqt} – what we’re reading now

We finally made it back to the library to return our old set of books (renewed at least three times because we kept forgetting to bring them back) and pick up a new set! We’re missing some of the old ones, but loving some of the new ones, as well as finding classic favorites from our own shelves and Grandma’s house. These seven are some of our current most-read titles.

  1. Make Way For Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey – This one is of course a classic. I had a copy as a child, but the one we have now I managed to find at a thrift store for $1.99, hardcover in perfect condition. I still can’t believe it… Published in the 1940s, it was a classic when I was a child and I wouldn’t be surprised if both my mom and grandma grew up with it. The Boston of the book is probably quite different from the Boston of today – but the story is timeless and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. The humor is subtle but still has both the boys laughing every time (it’s the rhyming names for the ducklings that really get them). It has the added advantage of being a book I will never grow tired of reading aloud.
  2. Marti and the Mango, by Daniel Moreton – This is another book that I grew up with, although I doubt it is nearly as widely known. We are currently borrowing it from my mom. It tells the story of a mouse who is supposed to find a mango to take to dinner at his friend’s house, but who doesn’t know what a mango is! On each page he asks a different animal if the fruit they have is a mango, and they give him a different point of reference as to why it isn’t. What makes it really enjoyable to read is the alliteration for each animal-fruit pairing as well as the repetition of the mango identification hints on each page, as they accumulate. It is a simple story with the attention to detail (in both words and pictures) that makes it interesting for both parent and child.
  3. How Does a Dinosaur Eat All His Food? by Jane Yolen – This book is from our new library haul, and is I suppose nominally about table manners and dinosaurs, but is really just hilarious as the dinosaurs exhibit every type of horrible, atrocious, behavior. The boys basically fall over laughing every time we read it.
  4. Hello Hello, by Brendan Wenzel – This is another book from our latest trip to the library, and one I didn’t expect the kids to enjoy nearly as much as they have. I had actually noticed it on the display and put it back because I thought they wouldn’t like it – but Rondel also noticed it, had me read it at the library, and then put it in out stack of books to bring home, and all three of the kids have requested it since we’ve had it. The words are very simple and sparse, but the illustrations are bright and bold, as the author takes you through pages of different animals and says hello to them (by category, not by name – the actual species of each animal is in a list in the back, however). Even Aubade will sit through the whole book looking at the animals, and Rondel and I will peek at the back to find out what some of them are that we can’t easily identify (although he’s quite good at remembering all the animals from the documentaries he loves… I probably need the identification key more than he does!)
  5. Tiny Little Fly, by Michael Rosen – This is one of the books we just returned, by the author of We’re Going On a Bear Hunt. It has a similar pattern of repetition and rhyme, beautiful illustrations (this seems to be theme with these books), and a little fly who manages to irritate all the huge animals and get away with it unscathed. The boys were starting to copy the rhythms of it into their conversation and pretend play, which was neat to hear!
  6. Usborne Big Book of Colors – This book has no story; it is just a book naming colors, with a color wheel in the back. But it’s beautiful, with thick not-quite-board-book pages, and the boys and I – especially Limerick – like to sometimes just go through it together enjoying all the gorgeous colors and finding our favorite shades of each. It also sparked a conversation on idioms that link emotion with color, which was interesting for me to think about in depth and a great opportunity to discuss metaphor with Rondel. And why is it that no one is ever described as being “orange” with some emotion?
  7. There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, by Dr. Seuss – This is Aubade’s favorite book right now (in board book form). She will ask us to read it multiple times per day, and multiple times per sitting. I’m not sure what she loves so much about it, but my hunch is that it’s the silly words and silly pictures combined. The book is basically just playing with the English language, and that’s a great way to come at it when you’re still beginning to learn that language.

Head on over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up today!

Posted in book lists

what I’ve been reading lately

After a rather long stretch of time in which I mostly reread my favorite fiction (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter on repeat!) and kept up with the news and our church’s Bible-in-a-year plan, I have been diving back into the world of books. I realized that I have a lot of time in which I can read but not do much else (while Aubade is nursing, especially at night), but of course holding a book is complicated by said nursing… so I had been reading the news, surfing the web, and spending altogether too much time on Facebook, which was not helping my postpartum mood in the least. Then I remembered that all the libraries in my county have come together to create the Greater Phoenix Digital Library – meaning that more books than I have time to read are available on my phone, for free, with a simple app and the PIN from my library card. Honestly I’m not sure how I managed the boys’ newborn phases without this…

So, despite finding that a lot of the books on my wish list are checked out by other users of the library system, here are four books I’ve read this week that were completely new to me, in a variety of genres:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

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This is of course a classic, and most people who haven’t read it are still familiar with some of Angelou’s poetry, at least (I knew of her mostly through her poetry, to be honest – Phenomenal Woman makes the social media rounds fairly frequently, and I love it every time I read it). But for me, who grew up in an educated, well-off, white family, it was eye-opening to see the deep personal and emotional impact of both intimate individual hurts (like parental divorce and sexual abuse) and systemic oppression (like the racism and poverty Angelou faced herself and saw affect her community). Someone’s story can be far more impactful than all the statistics and social study lessons in the world, especially when told with the simple power and unpretentious elegance of Angelou’s writing. It’s not an easy read, because of the painful topics it deals with, but it is definitely worth reading.

The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss

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This is a memoir of quite a different type, although it touches on some of the same themes. Doss and her husband discovered as a young couple that they were infertile and that the demand for Caucasian infants to adopt was far greater than the number of babies available. So, in the 1940s and 50s, they built their family by adopting the unwanted children – children of mixed heritage who didn’t look “white” enough for mainstream American families to consider – and ended up with 12 children all together! The book is an honest look at their family life, addressing the racism directed at their children and family but mostly just full of hope and humor (I laughed out loud many times at the anecdotes Doss related – she is quite adept at capturing the funny side of disastrous moments as well as the dialogue of her young children).

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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After reading two memoirs, I decided to switch things up and chose this post-apocalyptic novel after seeing it on one of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s booklists (in general, that is a helpful site if you aren’t sure what book to read next!). I don’t normally read this type of fiction because it is dark and suspenseful and keeps me up all night, and this was no exception… The basic premise is that a strain of the flu wiped out the vast majority of the world’s population, disrupting civilization to the extent that people are living without electricity, without medicine, scavenging and hunting to survive, holding on to what scraps of art and culture they can salvage, and falling prey to cults and prophets who offer some explanation for why so few survived. Mandel’s characters are diverse in personality and background, and the different ways they experience the pandemic (as well as the years before and after it) feel very authentic. I particularly liked how the threads of theatre, music, and literature wound through the characters’ stories without devolving into preachy passages about the meaning and value of those things in a broken world; the novel is far more about what it means to be human, and how humanity survives and even perhaps recovers from an event so utterly devastating.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

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Kristof and WuDunn examine the inequality of women in the developing world in a number of different arenas, including forced prostitution, rape (as a tool of shame or a weapon of war), maternal mortality and injury, and education. Each issue tackled is presented in light of the story of one or two individual women, spotlighting the problems involved as well as the complexities faced in addressing those problems; for instance, we see how difficult it is to truly free an underage girl from forced prostitution in the story of one young woman who returns multiple times to feed her drug addiction – which was in itself instigated by her captors and abusers. Some stories are inspiring; some are less so; and the statistics that they illustrate are often bleak. As a new mother myself, having experienced a labor (with my first) that would have resulted in death or serious injury without access to a surgeon, it is horrifying and saddening to read about women who have had similar experiences without the medical care available to me and others in the West. There is so much pain and death that could have been avoided. On the other hand, however, the book also shows us the stories of whole communities that have been improved by simple investments in education, or by deciding to take justice for women seriously. In addition to the stories and the statistics, a unique and valuable aspect of this book is the appendix listing specific organizations that are working in effective ways to address the issues faced by women in the developing world, to give the reader ideas of whom to support. I would encourage anyone – especially anyone who believes that things like rape and maternal care are only “women’s issues” – to read this book and see just how much communities can grow and heal when they come to realize that women, as in the eponymous proverb, “hold up half the sky.”

What have you all been reading lately? I’d love to hear your recommendations, since I have a short window of reading opportunity open right now!

Posted in family life

learning character from Dr. Seuss on a hard day

When your morning is characterized by yelling (from everyone), tears (from everyone), apologies (from everyone), toddler aggression (from both boys), strict boundary enforcement (from me), and overwhelming fatigue (probably from everyone but definitely from me), a blissful three hours at the library is a gift and an answer to prayer. Surely it wasn’t coincidence that we stumbled upon a Dr. Seuss book I’d never seen before, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, in which crisis is only averted by the remorse and sincere apology of the culpable character…

I am forever grateful for the forgiving love of my little children, even as they drive me up the wall, and I will forever try to pick up the pieces, start over, and love them as best I can in each moment. And when I lose it and they lose it and we’re all a wreck and the day feels ruined before it’s scarcely begun, we can remember King Derwin of Didd and admit our fault, say we’re sorry, and begin to rebuild together.

Posted in family life

Library time!

I think I’ve finally figured out how to make the best use of our local library! We have always enjoyed visiting it, but finding good books to read there or take home with us was always fairly unpredictable and dependent on what other patrons had been leaving out – it’s hard to browse the shelves with two babies/toddlers wanting to get out and play and read RIGHT NOW MOMMY!

So over the past couple months I’ve been doing a lot of preliminary research online, finding 5-10 books at a time that fit a theme of interest to either myself or the boys, placing a hold on them all, and then making a trip to the library when they’re ready for pick up. The library gives me a week to pick them up after they’ve been set aside for me, which helps when some are ready earlier than others for various reasons, and gives me some flexibility with actually getting over there.

At the end of September we found 3 books on apples and apple pies to celebrate fall and complement our apple activities (apple-printing in the archives, apple-pie baking at Grandma’s house, and apple fizzy painting coming soon!), as well as 5 dinosaur books to accommodate Rondel’s recent enthusiasm. All the books lived on our new display shelf and so were pulled out constantly to be read, re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed during their 3-week stay.

(Have I shown you the new shelf yet? It is one of the best simple changes we’ve made to the house:

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It lets me get books off the bookshelf – where the boys can’t see them well or find what they’re looking for easily – into a visible space, and has encouraged significantly more read-aloud time! In fact, I liked it so much that we put a smaller one in the boys’ bedroom for their bedtime books.)

Today we took all of those books back to the library and were able to pick up another batch of books, mostly fall-themed this time, with a few extras that had caught my attention. Rondel especially is going to miss the books we had to return, but I’m hoping the excitement of the new books will help 🙂 This serendipitous timing did require me to be proactive enough to start finding and requesting new books about 5-7 days before the old books were due 🙂 I think a trip to the library just for returns would have left me with two very sad little boys, so I’ll need to continue to stay on top of the library cycle for this to keep working… we’ll see how that goes.

How do you all integrate the library into your family’s reading? Any great ideas you’ve implemented or challenges you’ve faced?