Posted in musings

books

Quote overlaid on image of the sides of books: “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

Over my lifetime I have read thousands of books (estimating from the years I’ve actually kept track). Books are easier than real life: the author filters out most of the irrelevant information from the narrative, internal perspectives provide verification for the emotions being communicated through a character’s body language or tone, and confusing sections can be reread until things make sense while the rest of the book waits. So sometimes it can be a nice escape from the complexities of life to dive into the world of a book – but on the other hand, spending so much time analyzing social interactions in written form helps me to understand them better when I encounter them in the wild, so to speak. There have been countless times when I’ve noticed something happening and thought, “oh! I’ve read about this! What was a helpful response when this happened in the book?” and based my reaction off of what I’ve read.

(The one time someone tried to bully me as a child I thought, “oh, I’ve read about bullies. They are usually sad and insecure people. Poor kid.” I was also highly amused that he though I’d be offended by the name “Four-Eyes” when it was a taunt straight out of the books! How unoriginal!)

Books also help me understand my own emotions. As the characters experience situations and as their emotions are described, I try to put myself in that situation and feel those emotions. This is anxiety: observe the triggers, observe the physical response, observe the words that are used to describe the associated emotional response. This is happiness; this is grief; this is insecurity; this is attraction; this is contentment. I feel things extremely strongly, but I struggle to understand those feelings, and books help me create a reference against which I can evaluate and by which I can name my own emotions as well as the emotions I see in others. And it does this in a safe way, allowing me to proceed at whatever pace I need to, not overwhelming me with sensory input about an unfamiliar or upsetting emotion.

(This is probably why I enjoy books with a lot of emotional content even though I am very uncomfortable with emotional expression in movies or in person. I can take a break if I need to, I can process the emotions slowly and through multiple filters, and I don’t have the intense sensory input of a strongly emoting person to deal with while I’m figuring out what’s going on and why. And I do think it gives me a foundation to work from when I encounter those emotions in the real world, whether in myself or in others.)

So I’m thankful for the gift that books are to me – that on top of the enjoyment of a good story, I have their help in deciphering the puzzle of emotion and social communication, in decoding the physical clues that reveal someone’s feelings, in learning the rules and patterns of social behavior. And that when I need them, they are always there to be my friends.

Posted in sqt

snippets of life

  1. We are now flooded with blackberries! I have made 4 jars of jam, a crisp, and the most wonderful simple sauce to pour over crepes filled with tangy whipped cream – not counting all the berries we’ve simply eaten straight off the bushes! And honestly this is just the beginning of the season; we probably have another few weeks of fruit.
  1. I’ve been texting my sister all about my blackberry goodness and I think she’s a bit jealous, as she lives in a place where blackberries ripen much later. It might even be one of those places where you can legitimately eat the last of the blackberry harvest on September 29th for Michaelmas (which just boggles my mind as that seems so late for berries). But her turn will come in a couple months and then she can make me wistfully recall these blackberry days.
  2. My other sister, who lives locally, made me a very nice cloth mask to wear when I need to go out! She’s actually been making a lot of them and donating them to one of the local grocery stores where she knows some of the employees, and she even offered to donate some to the security personnel where I work after they commented on mine and on their anxiety about not having enough (the man I spoke to was going to be on patrol on one of the floors scheduled for deep cleaning after a confirmed covid-19 diagnosis and didn’t have a mask, so there’s clearly a problem here for people’s state of mind at the very least, even though the masks aren’t as crucial as keeping your hands clean and off your face).
Sporting my mask! It’s like the opposite of one of those superhero masks that just go around their eyes.
  1. I also got to wear the mask down to Aubade’s dermatology follow-up this week. Of all the places I’ve been, they are definitely taking the virus most seriously. Two people wearing masks stood outside the waiting room to take our temperatures before letting us in; the chairs were mostly removed with just a few left in isolated locations; and everyone there was masked and gloved. And while Aubade’s eczema (about which we were following up) is well under control currently, it was still a useful visit with regards to the molluscum epidemic among the kids (a possible treatment at last! Hurrah!) as well as Aubade’s nevi spilus birthmark (which apparently slightly increases her risk of skin cancer over her lifetime and is something to watch as she grows). Also Aubade got to show a bunch of new people her sparkly light-up sneakers, and we got to chat just the two of us for the whole drive down and back, which is always nice.
  2. Limerick is still loving numbers over here. He really just needs a whiteboard and a marker and a new concept to sink his (figurative) teeth into and he is so happy! This week he spent quite a bit of time calculating powers of different numbers until they got to be 6-7 digits long; he made lists showing the conversions between fractions and decimals for 1 down to 1/12; I introduced him to long division; and we had a fun afternoon counting in different base systems. (It always seems like we aren’t doing enough school, but I think that’s actually a lot for one week now that I list it out like that).
We did base 10, 16, 2, and 3 together; then he did base 4 on his own and here he’s working on base 5. He ended up making lists for bases 6-9 as well, counting as high as he could fit on the whiteboard for each base.
  1. In general, Limerick has a good mind for solving problems of the quantitative sort. Paul’s been setting up the boys’ loft beds so that one of the ladders and the two railings lie across the space between (with Aubade’s mattress on the floor below) so that the kids can crawl across and hang and swing and jump off them. Well, they decided they didn’t want to wait for him to be done working, so Limerick and Rondel figured out how to do it together. It’s not easy! The ladder is heavy and difficult to position even for me, as is the mattress they have to drag in from the other room (through two doors and a narrow hallway). But Limerick has an eye for angles and positions and possibilities, and was able to figure out how they could set it up without the advantage of adult height. It was really awesome listening to him direct the whole project, with Rondel providing good input and feedback as they worked together.

And… that’s all I’ve got for quick takes this week! (Well, I suppose I could add that Rondel and I have almost finished The Horse and His Boy since last week’s takes. I’m not always sure just how much he understands, especially in places with lots of names and places, but he keeps wanting me to read more.) Visit the link-up at This Ain’t the Lyceum! I hope you all have an excellent week filled with unexpected pockets of joy πŸ™‚

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – social distancing with littles

I tend to use field trips and excursions (and even errands!) quite liberally with the kids: as a way to break up a long day, cut through moodiness, provide structure, and create enjoyable and educational experiences. So being stuck at home all day, every day, has been a bit of a challenge – though I’m sure not nearly so much of a challenge as it is for parents accustomed to being away from the children most of the day. I’ve been aiming for one new or different activity each day to break up the routine, and we’ve been diving more deeply into some regular activities as well. For your inspiration, here are a few of the highlights!

  1. The Dome Tent: we have a climbing dome out back, and the boys helped me move it into the lawn and cover it with sheets (using chip clips!) to make a tent! The kids hung out in it, hung upside down in it, and hung in a swing from the center of it (I put the swing up after I took pictures, but it was Aubade’s favorite part). It needed more openings so the breeze could keep it cool in the sun, though πŸ™‚
  1. Water (and mud): with a sprinkler and some pipes, the boys discovered how water pressure can force water up through a vertical pipe, how the water will seep out of any crack when two pipes are joined, and how to make the water spray everywhere by blocking part of the opening and thus increasing the pressure. They also filled their pipes with muds and pretended they were magic mud sticks.
  1. Custom Pancakes: We eat pancakes a lot, but we’ve been eating them even more recently, because I started making them look like letters (for Rondel), numbers (for Limerick), and cute animals (for Aubade)! I love when the kids eat pancakes because my recipe is 100% whole grain with no added sugar and a secret addition of some type of vegetable. These days we’ve been using up the frozen pumpkin and butternut squash from last summer’s harvest, but carrot is also good, as is a half and half blend of spinach and banana (for quite vibrantly green pancakes that are amazing with chocolate chips and walnuts mixed in!)
I’m lucky – the kids are quite forgiving of lumps and irregular shaped ears lol. Also it took me way too long to realize that if I shape the numbers and letters as mirror images I’ll be able to have the better-looking side of the pancake visible when they’re right way around on the plate. This batch would have the ugly bubbly side on top.
I was trying to make a cat, but Aubade was convinced it was a mouse…
  1. Lots and lots of reading! All the kids are starting to get excited about reading, and it makes more reading possible when I’m not the only one who can do it (my throat does get tired, and also now we can rotate who is listening so everyone gets a chance to not be just listening). Aubade has memorized Old Hat, New Hat by the Berensteins and likes to read it multiple times a day; Rondel puts so much expression into the words that it’s like listening to a dramatic audiobook with all the added nuance and humor he conveys; and Limerick is beginning to devour everything he sees with the craving of insatiable curiosity and an intensity bordering on perfectionism. We’ve spent hours just reading out loud to each other (I read the entire The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just this week out loud to Rondel, just by way of example…)
  1. Uno: the boys very recently discovered the card game Uno and have been wanting to play it all day every day. I’ve been using it as an incentive, or to give rhythm to the day: I’ll play three games of Uno now, but then I’d like you to exercise your body before the next set of three, or exercise your mind with reading or with math. We talk about the importance of using our minds and bodies and stretching them to do hard things, and then break up those more challenging things with some fun and relaxing Uno games, and it seems to be working well for now.
  1. Leaf Rubbing: To get some outdoor time and for a unique art project, we took a walk around the block collecting interesting-looking leaves as we went. Our neighborhood is rather weedy, so we were able to get a wide variety of leaves while only pilfering a very few more cultivated plants reaching out over sidewalks πŸ™‚ And of course we had some good leaves to use from our own plants also! Once we got back, we laid them out on the counter, covered them with plain printer paper, and rubbed crayons over the paper to generate the impression of the leaves below. Juniper wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, though it was still good, but the Hong Kong orchid and mallow leaves were stunning. And Rondel used black crayon over a longwise half of a wild arugula leaf to make something that resembled a jagged blade.
  1. Costumes: one day, we pulled down the box of old Halloween costumes and had fun dressing up and playing pretend as the various animals and conglomerate creations to be had there. Rondel loves his alligator outfit the most, while Aubade prefers to rotate through all the options (and her princess dresses) rather rapidly…

Between all these things and more (and I have more ideas stockpiled for the next idle moment!), we’ve managed to keep TV time to a minimum without getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the same place for so long. I’ll definitely be glad when the libraries and museums and zoos are open again, but I’m not going to jeopardize the health of my community over boredom or frustration. Instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to creatively connect with my family even more than normal.

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today if you want to join the linkup! She’s posted a few times in the past week or so with helpful and humorous thoughts about isolation and quarantine (with two medically fragile kids, she’s been less complacent about it than a lot of people).

How have you been handling isolation or social distancing? Especially those of you without backyards or easy ways to get time outside, how have you managed to create a sustainable new rhythm of life?

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 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

Posted in links, musings

janus (looking forward, looking back)

British Library digitised image from page 384 of "Man, embracing his origin, ... civilization, ... mental and moral faculties. ... Illustrated"
Picture of the two-headed Roman god Janus, from the British Library Flickr

I’m not really that great at looking back or looking forward. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis in my formative years, and I still have his words echoing in the back of my head: Screwtape teaching Wormwood how to enslave men to either the past or future and thus distance them from the present which alone intersects with eternity; the unfallen Queen on Perelandra describing time and circumstance as the waves of the sea into which we plunge as we swim, taking what comes and letting go of what has come before.

Aubade standing in the waves rolling ashore, feet in the water, arms spread wide in the air, with her back to the camera and the sunset before her.

However, it can be helpful to look back and see the path I’ve taken – to see evidence of God’s grace, of answered prayer, of comfort in hardship, of blessing and providence in good times – and be reminded of God’s faithfulness. It can be encouraging to see progress made, or convicting to see unhealthy patterns deepening. Similarly, it can be good to look forward, to make goals and resolutions, so that I can prepare well for the future I hope to build.

This year especially is a bit of a landmark, as not only the old year but the old decade comes to a close. Ten years ago – 2010 – I was single, graduated college, moved out, bought my first car, and began working at the university where I am still employed now – so really, the whole of my adult life so far has taken place in the now-past decade, and even the highlights would take far longer than this post to describe.

One of the major highlights of 2019, however, was finally getting diagnosed with autism and having a reason for all the times I’d felt out of place and two steps behind despite hearing from everyone how smart I was, for all the moments I’d been so overwhelmed by a sound or touch that I couldn’t process anything, for all the weird behaviors (now I know they’re called stims) I’d accumulated over my life, and more. This was reflected on the blog – 4 of my top 5 most popular posts this year were from my Autism Acceptance series in April:

  1. autistic inertia
  2. seven awesome things about being autistic
  3. {sqt} – spring will come again
  4. autism and faith
  5. {sqt} – seven senses: sensory processing struggles and strategies

That third post in the list above touches on one of the things I’m most proud about this year, actually: the way I was able to identify the onset of seasonal depression and take steps to counteract it. This is the first Christmas in several years that I have only had minor situational anxiety instead of moderate overarching depression, and I think being prepared made a huge difference. It wasn’t the type of preparation that gets me all anxious about making lists and potentially forgetting things; just a conscious choice to let go, to dig deep, to roll the thoughts away, to take things one step at a time, and to center my life on meditative prayer.

What also helped was a chance, at the beginning of December, to bike significantly more frequently. I started biking in to work 1-2 days a week in November, but in December my hours increased (from 8 to 20 per week!) and I needed to commute 4 days a week. That regular time outside exercising is amazing for mental regulation and emotional health, at least for me! And the reason for the change is also something I’m excited about, both for 2019 and going into 2020: I have the chance to learn bioinformatics and transition over the next 6 months from the genomics wet lab team to the bioinformatics team, which gives me a chance to learn something I’ve been interested in for years and develop skills which will be even more valuable for my career.

Outside of work, I’m looking forward to an opportunity to help develop neurodiverse community and support at my church. The woman who’s been running the special needs children’s ministry wants to reshape it to better reflect acceptance and neurodiversity, multiple people have anonymously asked the pastors about ministries specifically for neurodiverse adults, several pastors across our web of churches are working on formulating a theology of disability, and I’m apparently one of the adults they know of who is neurodiverse. Hopefully they will not ask only me, since neurodiversity is by definition diverse πŸ™‚ But I really appreciate that they care deeply about the whole spectrum of the children of God, that they don’t want to make it something that neurotypical people are doing to or for us without our input or leadership, and that I have a chance to be involved!

With all of that said, I have just a few resolutions for the new year.

First, I resolve to pray every day. Things are just better when this happens, like marriage is better when I actually spend time talking with Paul πŸ˜›

Second, I resolve to write on this blog more frequently. My goal is approximately every 3 days – so, 122 posts for the year. I have lots of ideas but often don’t post for reasons that don’t make sense outside of my head, so I’m going to try to let go of my perfectionism and just share my thoughts.

Third, I resolve to read a variety of good books and keep a book log again! That was such a good experience in the past and I really need to get out of my fan fiction rut anyway. (I already have two books on my list and I can’t wait to write about them!)

How about you, readers? Any highlights from the year (or decade)? Anything you’re resolving for the New Year or especially looking forward to? Or conversely, any challenges from the past or apprehension about the future? I always love to read your thoughts.

Posted in wwlw

{wwlw episode 10} – CVC words

All credit for this game goes to Ruth Beechick! Her books are full of good ideas and perspective on education.

The boys had been walking around talking about different letter sounds and trying to find objects that started with each letter of the alphabet in order, so I thought that it would be a good time to introduce more phonics games. CVC words are the easiest place to start, so we started there.

I cut two pieces of card stock into sixteenths. On each of the sixteen blue rectangles I wrote a consonant; on five of the orange rectangles I wrote a vowel (some consonants don’t show up that often in three-letter words, so it wasn’t hard to find a few to leave out). We spread them out, face down, on the table, and took turns drawing three cards.

The first time we played, we earned a chocolate chip just for sounding out the potential words. The second time, though, we only earned the chocolate chip if our three letters spelled a real word. So our beginning level helped to build confidence in the rules of sounding out words, while the harder level forced the boys to think of the collection of letters as a word instead of just a series of sounds.

Chocolate chips are an exceptional reward in our family πŸ™‚ By the end of our second game, the boys were almost literally rolling on the floor in laughter at some of the words (real and otherwise) that our randomly-drawn letters spelled – and in the meantime, their speed at decoding those words had increased significantly.

I think next time we play I’ll make an extra “e” card with the chance to earn an extra chocolate chip for successfully sounding out a real word made with the three random letters and an “e” at the end – it’ll be a good way to practice the short-to-long vowel change!