Posted in family life, sqt, Uncategorized

{sqt} – because my kids are weird and wonderful

  1. No one is ever interested if I offer to read them a book, but if I sit down on the couch and start reading aloud I am covered in children within two minutes.
  2. Aubade currently refuses to be called anything except her first name. Literally. To the extent that she takes offense at being called beautiful, or helpful, or big, or little, or tough, or silly. I’ll say, “I love you little girl!” and she’ll reply, “I’m not a little girl, I’m an Aubade!” The exception is if she’s playing a pretend game, in which case she is usually a little alligator and objects to being called anything other than that…
Aubade twirling in a blue dress with a pink lei around her head and a ponytail sticking up
  1. Everything is fair game to become part of a Solar System. Countless rocks have been pressed into service as various planets; all the balls and balloons in the house have been used multiple times; and Limerick and I even built a version using pattern blocks the other day. The most amusing was when we went to the grocery store and the boys planned out a whole Solar System using the different varieties of pumpkin in the fall display… I think they were inspired by the pumpkin that was so big they could have curled up inside it, which made a rather stunning Sun ๐Ÿ™‚
Mercury is the single hexagon block on the far left, followed by the other seven planets in order. The tiny green triangle in between Mars and Jupiter is the dwarf planet Ceres.
  1. If I clean up the brain flakes, so all three jars are full and there are no more random pieces lying around on the floors, the kids will pounce upon them like a tiger on its prey and immediately dump them all back out and begin building as if the world contained nothing else. They usually stay cleaned up for no more than ten minutes, and that’s if I attempt to hide them…
  2. Aubade has quite a unique fashion sense. This morning she was wearing an overall dress with no shirt underneath but a skirt instead. The other day I came home from work to find her dressed in pants and a t-shirt with a tunic tank top and shorts layered over it. She also is very adamant about wearing socks and usually has at least six out around the house at any one time (she likes to layer the socks, too, on her hands and her feet).
Slightly blurry image of Aubade in pink heart pants, orange monster shorts, pink t-shirt, and sparkly navy tank, with a pink tiara on her head and a purple wild tied around her ankle. She never holds still for pictures…
  1. Rondel must be approaching some sort of growth spurt, because he is eating ridiculous amounts of food. The other day I roasted four medium potatoes and four large carrots and he ate all of them, plus two pieces of toast, just for breakfast. Another day I made a batch of waffles (whole grains, loaded with carrots, an extra egg for more protein) and he ate four of them (I was full after two, for comparison). And he tells me all day long that he is hungry. I’m starting to be nervous about how much he’ll be able to eat as a teenager!
  2. Limerick asked me, after seeing a selfie my mom took with Rondel when he was a baby, how she could take the picture and be in it at the same time. This was the result. Pretty much sums up how good life is with these crazy awesome kids ๐Ÿ™‚
Limerick hugely smiling with his mouth open wide and his eyes shut tight, leaning on my shoulder.
Posted in family life

dealing with childhood anxiety

When a parent realizes their child is struggling with anxiety, there is most likely going to be both sadness and relief: because while no one wants someone they love to live with high levels of anxiety, knowledge is much more helpful than ignorance.

With young children who don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings verbally, it can be difficult to correctly read their behavior to see through to the underlying anxiety. Maybe a child is just sensitive, or reserved, or organized – in moderation, those are all perfectly normal personality traits, after all, and can appear superficially similar to symptoms of anxiety. And a lot of parents just want their kids to be normal and healthy and happy, and don’t want to admit that something might be wrong. But if the anxiety is there and not seen, it can worsen until the symptoms spiral out of control, into extreme clinginess, or irrational aggression, or refusal to engage in everyday activities. (Here is a helpful list of potential signs of anxiety in very young children ).

With Limerick, I had concerns about potential anxiety issues from before he was two years old. He would notice when lightbulbs were blown (say, at a restaurant or at my parents’ house) and not be able to relax until they were fixed (so he’d have trouble eating if we were out, and would pester my dad about it until he replaced the broken bulb if we were at their house) – and that could just be a desire for things to be the way they ought to be, or it could be more. He always wanted me to sleep with him, and would act very scared if I were not there or if the room were too dark – which is fairly normal at two, but became less so as he grew. While Rondel and Aubade would want to go places, even if just to run errands, Limerick wanted to stay in the house – and I thought, maybe he is just a homebody and a quiet kid. But I knew enough to keep my eyes open, at least.

And then recently Limerick started struggling in class at church, needing help to stay focused and calm (tracing numbers on a sensory pillow helped, but he would tell the teachers he just wanted me). At home, I noticed in increase in angry and aggressive behavior: angry words, threatening gestures, and actual scratching, kicking, and even biting – and Limerick was never a biter, even as a baby. Talking to him about anger didn’t help the way it has helped Rondel, and I gradually realized that his problem didn’t lie in controlling anger, but in controlling anxiety. His brain, for whatever reason, felt threatened and unsafe, and he reacted with out-of-control aggressive behavior that looked angry from the outside.

Now that I realize what’s actually going on, I have a lot more hope that I’ll be able to help Limerick, both to reduce the behavior and to help him stabilize and calm down internally. It’s already started to be helpful, actually, just in the past few days, to have a more accurate perspective and a different toolbox of strategies to try ๐Ÿ™‚ When Rondel or Aubade get angry or want to state their opinions, they get loud, and Limerick reacts quickly and violently, so I’ve been stepping in right away, telling Limerick that he’s safe, giving him words to use to talk through the interaction, and coaching his siblings on how they can help defuse the situation as well (mostly be speaking more quietly, and by shutting up long enough to hear what Limerick is trying to say to them). When we needed to go to the grocery store and Limerick was starting to get physical with his refusal, I took some time to talk with him and found out that the store is pretty overstimulating for him (noise, bright light, undefined length of time, etc.), and I let him bring the iPad so he could focus on his current special interest (the Solar System!) when things felt overwhelming. It was the most peaceful errand we’d had in a while.

I found this website to be quite helpful with regards to anxiety-reducing strategies – it’s where I got the idea to use his love for the Solar System to help counteract the anxiety caused by the grocery store, actually! I appreciate that it has multiple ideas, since it can be unhelpful to be too dependent on a single coping mechanism and since some strategies are not ideal for certain situations.

I’m not surprised that at least one of my children has anxiety to the point that it interferes with their everyday life – it’s a pretty common thing in my family. But I am hopeful that by identifying it so early in Limerick’s life, we can help make sure that the neural pathways to address, calm, and stabilize are just as tightly woven into his brain as the pathway of anxiety. It’s much harder to rewire those networks after years of traveling down them in every tense or emotional moment, when you don’t realize the anxiety is there until after you’ve spent your whole childhood being controlled by it. Limerick doesn’t have to take that road, because his anxiety is no longer a hidden or ignored reality, but a present issue that he can learn to cope with in healthy ways from the beginning.

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: see canyon springs

I had the good fortune to stumble across the See Canyon Springs trailhead in time for a hike with Paul and both my parents (before my mom started teaching for the fall semester and while Paul had a week off between jobs). While I always do enjoy hiking with the kids, having all those extra adults makes it easier when little legs get tired or when one kid wants to explore ahead and linger behind to examine the bugs!

The trailhead sign! Several trails begin at the See Canyon Trailhead; while some are long and not safe during the monsoons, See Springs Trail is relatively short (2 miles round trip, approximately) and avoids canyons with flash flood risk.

And the bugs certainly were a highlight of the hike, from the very beginning when we came upon an Arizona Sister butterfly in the parking lot, through the handful of exoskeletons Rondel collected along the way, to the clouds of tiny periwinkle butterflies congregating along the trail on our way back.

The Arizona Sister butterfly is several inches across, velvety black with subtle navy patterning near the body, bold orange patches on the far end of the top wings, and white blotches creating a ‘V’ shape down towards the base of the body. In person, it is stunningly beautiful.

The trail crosses over the river only a few times, but follows close by its course the entire way up to the spring – there was only a short distance towards the middle of the hike where the murmur and rush of the waters was out of earshot. And at every turn there was some new beauty waiting for us. There were lush expanses of ferns, the rich odor of ponderosa in the air, sunlight reflecting off hidden pools through breaks in wooded shadow, mossy rocks with rivulets of clear water streaming around them, deep reddish brown trunks reaching into the sky, clear blue overhead with towering white clouds over the eastern heights.

I could have stayed there forever. (And I think Rondel could have as well. He’s already asked to go back, one of the first hikes he’s ever wanted to repeat.)

We did see a rattlesnake quite close to the trail, but it gave us its courteous warning rattle and we politely respected its space and watched it from a safe distance until it slithered back up into the woods. While there are certainly aggressive animals in the world, rattlesnakes are typically more like bees in that they only attack when they feel threatened, which is reassuring when your six year old is practically squirming to get closer to a venomous wild creature because he’s so fascinated by it…

The Arizona black rattlesnake we encountered – a mature individual, darkened to black on almost its whole body with only small tan stripes on the back. Apparently this species is capable of delivering large amounts of potent venom and should be avoided, as most bites happen when people attempt to handle the snake… not that I plan on trying to pick up any variety of wild rattlesnake, thank you very much.

In addition to being beautiful, the trail was easy enough for the boys to hike (Aubade ended up taking a nap in Paul’s arms – we should have brought the backpack for her), and they were captivated by the nature all around them. Limerick pushed on ahead with Grandma, excited to see what lay around each bend and to play in the water; Rondel meandered slowly with Grandpa, intrigued by each small detail and treasure along the way.

To get to the See Canyon Trailhead from the east valley: take the AZ-87 north to Payson. In Payson, turn right onto the AZ-260E and continue for 22 miles, until you reach the town of Christopher Creek, at which point you will turn left off the highway onto Christopher Creek Loop. Across from the Christopher Creek market, turn left onto FR-284 and follow the road until it ends at the trailhead. Once on the trail, follow the signs for See Springs instead of See Canyon for the shorter, kid-friendly hike – it is well marked. Parking at the trailhead is free and there is a bathroom available.

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 10

To incorporate some math into our current space-themed enthusiasm, I came up with a new game that we have been calling Space Race. All you need are three dice, a deck of cards, and some sort of token for each player, so it’s pretty easy to set up.

Using all 13 cards from one suit, we have enough cards to represent the sun, all 8 planets, and 4 dwarf planets (Limerick’s favorites). While you could line up the cards from 1-13 in order from the Sun outwards, Limerick prefers to assign each card to the appropriate planet according to its ranking by mass, as follows:

Sun13 (King)
Mercury5
Venus7
Earth8
Mars6
Ceres1
Jupiter12 (Queen)
Saturn11 (Jack)
Uranus9
Neptune10
Pluto4
Haumea3
Makemake2

In the table above note that the dwarf planets are italicized and that Uranus, despite having a larger diameter than Neptune, has less mass and is therefore given a smaller number. If you had cards going up higher than 13 you could incorporate more dwarf planets, but that would also make the game longer.

On a player’s turn, they roll the three dice and attempt to use the three numbers rolled to make the number of the planet to which they wish to launch a probe. Once they show how they can reach a planet’s number using basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), they can place a token on that planet’s card to symbolize the successful mission of their spacecraft. If the player is unable to make the number of any planet to which they have not already launched a probe, that turn is considered a “failed launch” and play proceeds to the next person. The goal is to be the first player to send spacecraft to the Sun and all the planets.

We have these awesome cards with non-standard suits, one of which is little rocket ships! And the face cards, while still called J, Q, and K, have the correct number of rocket ships on them which is helpful for this sort of game. We use brain flakes for our tokens since we have a lot of them in multiple colors, but Legos or coins would also work well.

If the game is too easy or goes by too fast with open-ended launch destinations, a more challenging variation is to select a specific order in which the planets need to be reached – smallest to largest or center of the Solar System outward, for example. Limerick prefers this variation; it forces him to be more creative with his use of the numbers while also removing the need to decide which planet to choose when there are multiple options. Rondel prefers the original more flexible version, however, since it allows him to launch to the first planet he is able to find a solution for and lets him play with the math skills he is more comfortable using. I would encourage the more flexible version if you have players who are primarily relying on addition and subtraction, and the ordered variant for players who are comfortable with simple multiplication and division as well. Either way, it’s fun and it’s good math practice – always a winning combination ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in family life

lift off!

Our biomes curriculum started off by introducing our planet’s location in the Solar System – it’s kind of important, after all, since the sun plays such a crucial role in shaping climate, determining the seasons, and maintaining life. It’s intended to be just a brief overview, before diving down more deeply into Earth itself, but both Rondel and Limerick have become completely, utterly captivated by outer space.

Limerick in particular has attacked it with his rather academic and obsessive bent, spending hours poring through images of the sun and the planets (always in order, from Mercury outward, including the dwarf planets), asking me to read and reread the books we have in the house, getting out the play dough day after day to model the solar system and using the kitchen scale to make his planets as close to an accurate scale as he can. (Since it’s finicky in its old age and won’t switch from standard to metric units, he’s gotten some practice working with pounds and ounces as well. It is rather irritating when something needs to be 1000 times larger than something else and you have to divide by 16 to get the correct number of pounds.)

 

(I may be to blame for his obsession with accurate scaling… for our first solar system activity, we made a scaled model of the solar system with play dough, based on NASA’s mass estimations for each planet, and measured out the appropriate distances between the planets so we could set them up down the hallway. Jupiter was so much larger that we ended up making a new double batch of play dough, using it all for Jupiter, and scaling everything else in relation to that.)

From top left, clockwise: all eight planets before placing them relative to the “sun” (the bookshelf); the whiteboard with calculations (and on the bottom a comparison of Jupiter’s mass in kg to various family members in kg); Jupiter looking out toward the other gas giants; Neptune looking in toward the “sun”; Jupiter looking in toward the inner planets.

Over the weekend, both boys decided to make paper models of the solar system as well, not to scale, but showing all the planets and the sun. They even wrote labels for each planet, which is the most handwriting they’ve ever done at one time! (Rondel’s picture is on the left and Limerick’s is on the right – Rondel included Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, and Limerick gave his sun quite a few solar flares.)

They’ve also been asking to read from our (admittedly small but at least quality) space book collection at bedtime and throughout the day. We’ve been cycling throughย Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (published in 1992, and lacking a lot of newer information),ย The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar Systemย (published in 1990, so the same problem), andย Astronomica by Fred Watson (published in 2011, absolutely massive, with amazing images and detailed information which I have to skim through to read at a level the boys can understand).

I’m planning on finding some supplementary books from the library about different space missions and picture book biographies of people involved in space exploration, so we can incorporate some history into our space study as well. We’ve already made a timeline with the lives of family members and individuals from books we’ve read, so it would be natural to include important dates in space exploration. Since ASU has a large space exploration exhibit and 3D show open to the public, I’ll probably try to incorporate that as well. And while Limerick has already used math with all the scaling he’s done, I’d like to find a way to show the boys how much math was used in designing spacecraft, planning missions, and charting the orbits of planets – Rondel enjoys math far more when it involves a topic he’s interested in. It might not have been my original plan for the beginning of the school year, but what’s the point in homeschooling, after all, if you can’t be flexible and use your children’s interests to motivate their learning?

Posted in hikes

horton springs take 2

Since we enjoyed Horton Springs last year (even though we didn’t really find the actual trail in time to hike it), I took the kids back up on my own this summer.

IMG_3018

The trailhead is across the road from the parking site (which has a bathroom and is free!), up towards the Horton Campground. To get all the way up to the spring itself is a 4 mile hike, so I knew in advance we wouldn’t be doing the whole thing, but the trail follows along roughly beside the creek with multiple opportunities to drop down to the water so it is still good for little kids.

The kids all found walking sticks by the trailhead, and held on to them devotedly for the whole hike (well, the boys did – Aubade traded hers out every ten minutes or so for a new model). IMG_3027IMG_3041 crop

We found a huge old tree reaching across the creek from the trail – Rondel went part of the way across, and Limerick went all the way across the creek until the tree starting sloping more steeply uphill on the other side.

Not too far after the second gate, since the kids were starting to get tired of just walking, we detoured down to the creek and trekked upstream a while. The water seemed to give the kids a new burst of energy, and they watched sticks and leaves float downstream, clambered over rocks, and waded through shallow pools.

Just a short ways upstream, however, we stumbled upon a pool about 3-4 feet deep at the base of a small waterfall, and decided to stay there – swimming in the pool, throwing rocks in to make a splash, and observing the local insects ๐Ÿ™‚

After we were done at the pool we hiked back to the trailhead and had a picnic lunch at the parking area – there are a few tables tucked away by a small trail that I believe leads back down to another section of the creek.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make our way up the road to the patch of blackberries we’d found last year – the kids were worn out and I wasn’t completely sure I could recall the way from the road without a bit of scouting. So I can’t update my prediction as to when they are actually ripe! I suppose we can just try again next year, when all the littles have longer legs and more stamina ๐Ÿ™‚

To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – just living life

This is a real {sqt} post this week: just seven updates from our life ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

    IMG_5466
    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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

    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 ๐Ÿ™‚