Posted in learning together

learning together: a "3R's" treasure hunt

Rondel really enjoys looking for treasure (thing-finding in the tradition of Pippi Longstocking, where almost anything can be considered treasure), and as I pondered what to do with our morning (unexpectedly open since Aubade had too bad of a cold to handle the hike we’d planned), I thought he might enjoy following a series of clues to find a treasure at the end.

Because there is always some way to incorporate math, reading, and handwriting into life’s activities (please take that with some humor!), I decided that each clue would be a numerical cipher but that the numbers in the encoded message would have to be determined by calculating a series of math problems. I made short messages like “under the desk” and “lego box”, converted them to series of numbers using a key, and then came up with arithmetic problems at Rondel’s level. He started out with the key and the first clue, which led him to the second clue, then to the third, and all the way to the treasure after six clues in total (probably about 50 math problems all together, which is a lot more than he’d normally do otherwise!). In addition to the math, he got a lot of handwriting practice in from writing down the numerical answer to each problem as well as the corresponding letter value from the cipher, and then even got to do a bit of reading to put all those letters together for each clue.

Above are two examples of keys and clues – the orange set was for Limerick and the red set was for Rondel. Changing the key values to larger numbers would let you create even more difficult math problems without needing to alter the method of encryption. Limerick kept commenting on how the problems corresponding to the letter “A” – where the answer was 1 – were too easy, and a different key value would have eliminated that issue.

Rondel did a whole treasure hunt, despite the difficulty of focusing with two younger siblings running around at high volume and also being very interested in everything he was doing and not giving him any quiet or space! I was really impressed with his determination and motivation, because nothing about this was easy for him but he didn’t give up.

Rondel sitting at the kitchen table with sound-reduction headphones, writing out the answer to one of his clues.
The sound-reduction headphones were a huge help! I could see him relax and focus more easily the instant he put them on.

Limerick wasn’t interested at first, because he isn’t all that into finding treasure, but he like the idea of following a path of math clues so I made a set for him later and he finished his as well! He does not like to write or draw often so pulling him into an activity where he writes this much is a rare and pleasant thing (I think he couldn’t resist the math).

Limerick standing by the kitchen table writing on his clues

One thing I did notice from the activity was that both boys have legibility issues, and I’m going to have to find a way to work with them on pen grip and letter formation that hopefully doesn’t result in daily fights. Rondel’s letters in particular are like people, each with their own personality and opinions, and they dance around the page and swing by their toes and jump on each other’s heads and sometimes sword fight – and they are highly offended by the idea that they should arrange themselves in a neat orderly line! So if you have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear them.

Posted in book lists, book review, sqt

{sqt} – library haul!

We finally made it to the library this week and stumbled upon some pretty good books – a mix of classics and new finds that I’m looking forward to reading. So for the quick takes link-up today at This Ain’t the Lyceum I thought I’d share what we found 🙂

cover of The Mitten by Jan Brett
The Mitten, by Jan Brett

It’s hard to go wrong with Jan Brett books, in my experience – her stories are humorous and the extra details woven into the side panels of her illustrations add so much to the (already excellent) written words. This book has quickly become one of the boys’ favorites; not only have they been asking me to read it over and over again, but Limerick has also spent time reading it on his own and aloud to me with just a little help. In this story, the forest animals (getting steadily larger) all find a place to snuggle inside the mitten Nicki’s grandmother made for him, until finally even the bear wants to join in!

cover for A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A Chair For My Mother, Vera B. Williams

This is a new book for me, told from the point of view of a little girl who lives with her grandmother and her hard-working mother. There is poverty and loss here – her mother works long hours and comes home worn out, and the three of them lost everything in a home fire (which is why they are looking for a good chair now) – but there is also community, and hope, and love, and happiness. I laughed when the grandma said she feels like Goldilocks when they are trying to find the perfect chair, and I love the picture at the end of the mother sitting in the new chair with her littler girl snuggled up asleep on her lap. It’s just a beautiful picture of life and family.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco’s autobiographical picture book about her struggle with dyslexia is definitely not a new book for me, but it is for my kids. Rondel especially was deeply affected by the bullying portrayed in the book, by Trisha’s close relationship with her grandmother, and by the encouragement and help she was finally given by her teacher Mr. Falker. It’s a hard book to read, because of the emotional pain involved, and I’m always in tears at the end, but it so hopeful to see the difference one person’s commitment and care can make in someone else’s life.

cover art of Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Most people are probably familiar with The Rainbow Fish, the story of the fish who was so special and beautiful that he became arrogant and selfish and ends up having to give away his shimmery scales to make up for his rudeness and find friendship. It’s honestly not one of my favorite books, because I don’t like the pressure put on Rainbow Fish to give away something uniquely his – he could have said no in a much gentler and kinder way, true, but he still should be allowed to say no without losing his relationships with the other fish. Generosity is a good and beautiful thing when it comes from authenticity; bribing other people to like you by giving things to them is not so beautiful. But maybe I’m just looking at it too cynically.

The Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
The Extraordinary Egg, by Leo Lionni

Ok, I picked this one up on our way out of the library and I haven’t had a chance to read it with the kids (or on my own) yet! But I’m looking forward to it 🙂 We read our first Lionni picture book around Christmas, and I was impressed by the emotional depth of the book (and the illustrations are lovely), so I’ve been wanting to explore more by the author. Given that Rondel’s favorite animal is the alligator, this one seems particularly apropos and I’m excited to read it to him.

Mix It Up cover art
Mix It Up by Hevre Tullet

My mom gave the kids Tullet’s book Press Here for Christmas, along with its companion, the Draw Here activity book (which I saved for them to open on Epiphany). While they all enjoyed the book, Limerick really fell in love with it – he’ll read the books to himself, re-draw the illustrations on the iPad as he tells himself the story, spend hours doing the drawing activities, and even recreate the story with our brain flake building toys! So when I saw this book at the library I knew I had to grab it, and Limerick loved it as well. I’ve read it to him and let him do the shaking, mixing, etc. – and he’s read it to me and had me follow the instructions 🙂 I need to buy more paint, as ours is about empty, and then I’d love to go through this book with all the sensory texture and messiness of real paint!

cover art for My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

After we finished reading The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, I started looking for other chapter books to read that would be a step above the beginning readers but not too long or complex for a six year old to enjoy. I came across this book on several lists and decided it was worth a try since it’s about dragons and animals (Rondel’s favorites, still) and available at the library 🙂 Although it’s a classic, I’ve never read it, so I’m looking forward to discovering a new great story with the kids.

As a bonus, I found a copy of Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human for myself. I’m hoping to write a lot more about this book after I read it, as well as more about Vanier himself and the L’Arche communities he founded for mentally and intellectually disabled adults, because I haven’t encountered a more hopeful, loving, and godly approach to disability than what I’m starting to discover in his philosophy and work – but I need to learn a lot more before I can really dive into it here.

What books are you reading or looking forward to reading, with kids or on your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts about anything good you’ve been reading lately!

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – little happy things

  1. When I was younger (maybe until partway through high school), my Grandma would bring delicious Spanish turron with her every year for Christmas – yema quemada, mostly, but occasionally the alicante and jijona varieties as well. I’m not sure why she stopped, but I missed it – I haven’t seen it out here. But this year my coworker brought big blocks of all three types back with him from his visit home to Spain and it made me so happy 🙂 Such a special treat, such a good taste, such good memories coming along with it.
chef flaming the top of the yema turron to caramelize it
This is the brand my coworker brought back (and the photo source). It’s really good.
  1. I get home from work late three nights a week and I have the Christmas tree on a timer so when I walk in the house is illuminated with this soft glow and the warm beauty of the tree welcomes me in. And for the first week the smell of fir greeted me as well!
  2. We had a heavy frost here earlier this week, and the whole world was icy and white with it – not a common occurrence. Fortunately, I didn’t have any frost-sensitive plants to worry about other than the basil, which took a pretty serious hit but went out in a blaze of glory, absolutely beautiful with its dark purple leaves edged in shining ice.
Leaves and budding flower stem of a purple basil, white-edged with frost
  1. Aubade got to do sparklers for the first time in her life for New Year’s Eve and the look on her face when the first one started sparking was so perfect – just pure astonishment and delight all in one, and then she got to hold her own and she was in bliss.
Paul lighting two sparklers from the one that Aubade is holding, so the three meet in a shower of sparks in the center of the picture, illuminating her face
  1. Limerick is a solid reader now. I can give him a book he hasn’t read before (picture book or early reader level) and he can get through it! He has definitely inherited some perfectionistic tendencies, however – he will silently work out each sentence or page as a whole before reading any of the words out loud.
  2. Rondel has his first loose tooth! It wiggled for the first time on Christmas day and it’s quite wobbly now but still definitely attached.
  3. Aubade will pretend to be Cinderella in a sparkly dress and Rondel will dance with her, holding her hands and twirling her around the room, both of them singing together. He always hugs her at the end ❤

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the Quick Takes linkup! They’re doing a New Year’s theme, but I already posted my New Year thoughts 🙂

Posted in hikes

fall in arizona: lamar haines memorial trail

While in Flagstaff at the end of October, we took a day to hike around the aspens. I don’t think I’d seen the aspens in the fall before, and I was amazed at how brilliantly gold they were.

We hiked the Lamar Haines Memorial loop up towards Snow Bowl, and found it to be both beautiful and easy enough for the kids. (Actually, it was so easy that Limerick lost interest in it for part of the time… he isn’t happy unless the trail is letting him clamber over logs or boulders!) About midway along the loop there are some old buildings remaining from the Lamar Haines homestead, which Rondel especially enjoyed exploring, as well as a few lean-to style tree forts. Rondel could have stayed in the forest all day building with the loose branches.

One of the most unexpectedly beautiful aspects of the trail was the way the sunlight would catch the aspen leaves as they swirled down from the highest branches in the wind, like golden snowflakes settling softly to the ground.

While it would be difficult to visit this trail on a day trip, at least while the kids are still so little and struggle with long car rides, it is definitely a good hike for catching a glimpse of the aspens in autumn, and is easy enough for even the most casual hiker (though I don’t think the trail is quite smooth enough throughout the entire loop for a stroller, it is close). Hiking in the last weekend of October, we found that many of the aspens had already dropped their leaves – but as is evident from the pictures above, many of them were still in full golden array. My guess is that you could go any time from mid-October to early November and still see the fall colors.

How to get there: From Flagstaff, take highway 180 north to Snowbowl Road. Turn right onto Snowbowl Road and follow it for about 4 miles until you reach a pull-off on your right. There is no designated parking, just a short inlet with space on both sides. The trailhead is quite close to the main road, and is marked by a gate and two signs so you can easily confirm you’re in the right spot!

Posted in family life

independent writing

The boys were trying to be sneaky, scampering through the kitchen when my back was turned, hiding behind the trellised sweet potato vines when I said hi through the kitchen window, running into their bedroom when I peered down the hall.

(They’re not particularly sneaky, but they are very adorable when they’re trying to be.)

At one point Limerick crept silently into the kitchen and proceeded to stare at the water and ice dispenser on the fridge for several minutes, then disappeared again. Shortly thereafter, the boys appeared with the following note:

A piece of printer paper with the message, “PLEEZ MOM CAN U FILL UP MIE WATER”

Rondel needed more water and they wanted to ask in a sneaky way, so they worked together to figure out how to spell the words and Rondel transcribed the message (they had a dispute about whether “water” should be spelled with an “a” or an “o”, thus explaining Limerick’s mysterious visit to the fridge: he’d been checking the spelling (and proving himself right!)). They told me they didn’t know how to spell the word “you” so they just used the letter even though they knew it wasn’t correct 🙂

This is the first time they’ve used writing to communicate, besides a few happy birthday cards, and definitely the first time they’ve written without any external prompting. So I’m most likely inordinately excited about it and am looking forward to more notes of this nature!

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – learning to pray (again) and celebrating a birthday

  1. One of my favorite short Harry Potter fan fictions, Sanctuary by Sheankelor, centers on a Severus Snape who is deeply, devotedly Catholic, and follows him through the war and its aftermath (Snape doesn’t die from the snakebite in this story) from the perspective of his parish priest and friend, who is also a wizard. The way faith is woven into the fabric of his life as he balances the demands of his dual role in the war – how it influences every decision he makes even as it remains hidden to protect his church community, how it is his source of strength when the strain of staying in Voldemort’s good favor is overwhelming (especially in the final year when even his former allies and fellow teachers are convinced he is against them), how it provides him with a pathway of repentance and renewal and lifelong conversion – it is simply beautiful, and utterly inspiring. If you like Harry Potter and aren’t averse to fan fiction I would definitely recommend it.
  2. Partly inspired by Sanctuary, and partly because trying to pray the liturgy of the hours on my phone proved to be too distracting, I used my birthday present from my Grandma to buy the one volume version of the liturgy of the hours, Christian Prayer. I think it is going to take a while for the structure of the prayer to become more natural, so that I can focus more on the substance of the prayer, but I love the ritual and beauty of it. I especially appreciate that the book contains not only musical settings for the recommended hymns (most of which I didn’t know and had to skip on the iBreviary app since I wasn’t raised Catholic!), but also has tonal settings for the antiphons, psalms, and canticles! It is so nice to be able to sing the psalms with a guide instead of making up something on my own and winging my way through it (especially since I am not particularly good at coming up with my own chant tones…). And I am hoping that I can make these prayers enough of a natural habit that I can begin to share them with my family, since they are ultimately designed to be prayed communally.
  3. In other news, Limerick turned five this week! It’s hard to believe he’s so old already when he’s still so small and snuggly sometimes – but on the other hand, it does make sense considering he can read fairly well and is comfortable with multiplication and division… but I suppose a bit of back and forth like that is to be expected in early to middle childhood. He’s expanding his interests a bit as he grows older, also: instead of just numbers, he’s now interested in numbers, the solar system, and climbing 🙂 One of his favorite games these days is to pretend he’s changing the size of the planet he’s on and acting like he’s experiencing the resulting changes in gravity.
  4. For his birthday, as he’d spent weeks resolutely proclaiming that he wanted no party, no presents, no people, and no cake, Paul and I took him to the Phoenix Rock Gym while my mom watched Rondel and Aubade. (While they don’t advertise this on their website, kids under 6 are only $5 for a day pass including gear rental, and it’s completely free to belay. So it was quite affordable for Limerick and I to take turns climbing with Paul as our alternate belayer!). He did so well, especially considering it was his first time doing that type of climbing. We spent about 2.5 hours climbing together – he would give a trail 3 tries and then take a break while I climbed one – and he got about twenty feet up several times but was a bit too nervous to climb higher. And he liked it enough to want to go back!
  5. Towards the end of our climb, another climber had a seizure and woke up extremely disoriented (he started fighting the EMTs and had to be restrained to go to the hospital 😦 ). It was really hard to watch. The man who was one of my closest mentors in junior high and high school was a rock climber, and passed away 9 years ago from brain cancer; needless to say, he had a lot of seizures along the way. So I was already in a place saturated with his memory, and then witnessed a reminder of the illness that left him vulnerable and hurting and ultimately took him away. And I felt so bad for the stranger suffering that day, and missed Mike so much at the same time, and thought about the man who represented strength and toughness and running the race of faith with endurance being so utterly helpless and out of control, and there was nothing I could do about any of it except to pray.
  6. It did leave me thinking about prayers for the dead. This is very much not a Protestant teaching, and it’s also not something I’ve spent a lot of time studying from a Catholic perspective. I understand praying to the saints – we know they are in heaven, we know God gives them the ability to hear us, intercede for us, and sometimes even respond to us. But most of the dead that we knew personally aren’t canonically recognized saints, although they very well could be in heaven rather than in purgatory – and that uncertainty makes me unsure of how to pray for them. At least I have the assurance, with Mike, that he was striving for Jesus and trusting his soul to the mercy of God. The pain of the death of a loved one without that knowledge must be so much sharper and more desolate.
  7. I suppose that in that case, as in the case of anything that seems hopeless or in the face of any call to despair, prayer is the only support we have left. It is the one unbroken thing in this broken world: because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that cannot be uttered when our own words fail; because Jesus Himself stands before the Father on our behalf when our sin leaves us again in need of His mercy; because through the cross there is always an open door for us to come as supplicants, as worshippers, as beloved children into the holy of holies where God Himself hears our weak and feeble voices with understanding and with love. Of course the Apostle Paul tells us to pray constantly, when prayer is such a gift!

Join me over at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the seven quick takes linkup this week – and if you have thoughts on prayer, please do comment with them; I would love to hear from you.

Posted in family life, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 11: field trip to lowell observatory

Through a fortuitous combination of a Groupon deal for tickets to Lowell Observatory and my mom’s travel bug, we were able to travel up to Flagstaff for a weekend and take Rondel and Limerick to the observatory one evening while we were there, without worrying about a late night drive home or an overtired Aubade.

I had been to Lowell before, but not since before college, so I didn’t remember much, and it was of course all new to the boys. Paul and I split up near the beginning, and I went with Limerick who absolutely loved every inch of it. He sat through an entire 45 minute talk about the solar system, explored the old telescope through which Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and got to see both Jupiter and Saturn through the massive telescopes set up for public use. (He was so cute looking through them – he had to climb all the way up the ladder to look through the view piece, and he kept pausing to tell me about everything he could see: storm bands on Jupiter, the four Galilean moons, Saturn’s rings, and some of Saturn’s moons as well, until the observatory volunteer told him that it was time to let someone else have a turn 🙂 ). Lowell also has a large globe that can display in three dimensions images of various planets and moons, and Limerick enjoyed experimenting with that as well.

I think both boys’ favorite part, however, was the Solar System walk stretching through the heart of the observatory grounds. The walk starts with the Sun and has a sign for each planet along with two bronze markers in the sidewalk denoting the aphelion and perihelion of each planet’s orbit. The distance between the markers is all to scale, of course, and reveals just how close together the rocky inner planets are compared to the outer gas giants. We’d done a smaller scale model in our house, but when you have to keep walking and walking to find Neptune, because the scale is larger, it has more of an impact. We did the walk through twice, marveling at how elliptical some orbits were compared to others (Mercury, for example, has a distance of almost 24 million kilometers between its aphelion and perihelion, while the near and far points of Venus’s orbit are only 1.5 million kilometers different), and probably would have done it again if it hadn’t gotten too dark.

While Flagstaff at the end of October is cold in the evenings, it was definitely worth it to be above the city in the dark, clear air; the boys had never seen the sky so full of stars, and I was able to show them the cloudy glow of the Milky Way arching across the night sky as well. It made me think of how humanity must have seen the heavens throughout history: a tapestry of light spread wide above them, telling the stories of their people, singing the praises of God. For both science – the desire to learn, to know, to explain – and story – the desire to remember, to understand, to give meaning – are fundamentally human and find a home in the stars above.