Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if thereΒ weren’tΒ butterflies and moths:

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My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable πŸ™‚ and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – just living life

This is a real {sqt} post this week: just seven updates from our life πŸ™‚ Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

  1. I now officially have my autism diagnosis! So if you read my series for Autism Acceptance Month, which I wrote during the diagnosis process, you can now be comfortable in the knowledge that it comes from a “real” autistic person instead of an imposter. Not that I think most self-diagnosed individuals are – but it was how I was afraid I would be perceived (and honestly, I was deeply afraid that it was true of myself). It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and also a lot more uncomfortable. I was so afraid, the whole time, that the psychologist would tell me I was just intelligent with typical gifted quirkiness – and then I would be left wondering, if that were so, why I seemed to struggle so much with things that came naturally to the gifted friends I grew up with? But fortunately for my peace of mind, I can now say I’m autistic with confidence, and I say it to myself a lot when I need to advocate for myself or address areas of weaknesses in my life, and it helps to stop the perfectionist depressive thinking patterns from asserting themselves.
  2. I have realized how much game play helps with the development of strategic thinking and forethought, by watching Rondel grow in those skills. I’ve seen him take the initiative to plan a course of play at the beginning of a game; stay aware of the events of the game so that opportune moments for deviating from that plan can be seized; look ahead at his opponents’ possible moves to make the optimal choice for his own; and see several steps ahead on the pathway to his desired end – in several different game settings. These are really valuable skills for life, not just for games! This is all about considering options, observing the environment, planning for the future, and making decisions in the moment that affect long-term goals. When I write up his kindergarten year summary, I may include some of these games in a SPED section under executive functions…
  3. Teaching something that I don’t remember learning is challenging. In other words, while we are all into math and science over here (definitely at least a grade ahead in math, and more for Limerick), we’ve barely done more than the alphabet and letter sounds when it comes to reading, and I’m struggling to know where to go next. I have a few ideas from my sister-in-law and I looked up some phonics/beginning reader games online that look fun (my kids are always up for a new game) – but to me, reading is like breathing. I can’t imagine (or remember) life without it. And how would you go about teaching someone to breathe?
  4. I may have a new favorite food, and I think Aubade would agree. I whipped up some heavy cream, added some yogurt and maple syrup, and discovered paradisiacal creaminess with just the right balance of airiness and weight, sweetness and tang. We’re calling it “breakfast cream”, over here.
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    Picture is of Aubade in a black and white striped polo shirt at a kitchen table with a bowl of whipped yogurt, eating a spoon of it, with white smears all around her mouth and nose.

    The recipe is very straightforward: two parts heavy cream, whipped until very stiff; beat in three parts plain Greek yogurt (I used full fat); sweeten with one tablespoon maple syrup for each quarter cup of yogurt. Last time I made it, I rolled it up inside fresh crepes with diced peaches; Aubade just ate three bowls of it unadorned πŸ™‚

  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 πŸ™‚

    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 πŸ™‚

Posted in sqt

schnepf farm peaches

I remember, as a child, picking strawberries and sweet corn and blueberries and apples and Concord grapes, each in their own season, and bringing home the harvest to delight in and preserve. The seasons and the fruits of the land are different here in the desert than they were in the Northeast where I was young, but they are still here.

For example, it is May, and the peaches are ripe! Some types of peaches need more frost hours than we get here, but quite a few are adapted for the climate, and Schnepf Farm (about 40 minutes from our house) happens to have a peach orchard. The grove we picked in was the oldest at around 20 years old – these were established trees with a lot of fruit.

This was the kids’ first time in an orchard, and they responded in characteristic ways. Limerick absorbed everything I told him about how to tell when a peach was ripe and ready to pick, compiled it in his head into a rule, and proceeded to analyze every peach in his reach according to said rule (he does the same thing with the blackberries at home – and he really does end up only selecting the best).

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Rondel smelled the peaches before we even entered the orchard, tried to find the most heavily laden trees, and then got distracted looking for bugs.

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Aubade wandered around after the boys, commenting on everything she saw (especially the fallen/half-eaten/smashed peaches on the ground), getting excited about the bugs and about being lifted up to reach the higher peaches, and helping me take the picked peaches back to our box.

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We didn’t get too many – we don’t eat much jam, and we don’t use frozen peaches much compared to other fruits – but we have plenty to eat and enjoy, and it was good to be there: to see and touch the plants and the soil that birth some of the food we eat; to smell the fruit of the land; to hear the wind whisper in the leaves; and to taste the sweet juice running over in every bite as it only does in a freshly-picked peach, as the Psalmist writes of the blessings of God, “You crown the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance.” (Ps. 65:11)

I didn’t follow all the {sqt} rules this week, but I’m still linking up… πŸ™‚ Go read the rest of the linkup at This Ain’t the Lyceum today!

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 9

Every spring, as part of her job as a math professor at the local community college, my mom goes to a math education conference and brings home all sorts of interesting books, games, and ideas. One of these was a set of playing cards containing the integers from -12 to 12 (two sets of -12 to 0 and two sets of 0 to 12), from Eureka Math. I can only find the cards sold in packs of 12, which isn’t very useful for a single family in terms of either quantity or price, but if you have an interested support group or co-op I’d definitely recommend them.

So far we’ve come up with two different games to play (neither of which is the game for which instructions are provided with the cards, though that also looks fun). First, we’ve been playing addition war, where whoever’s sum is closest to zero wins the round. Limerick picked up the concept of negative numbers really quickly – I introduced them with a number line while we were waiting for Rondel’s speech therapy, and he understood them and was picking up speed in figuring out the sums in our game of war by the end of the 45-minute session. Rondel is more visual and tactile than Limerick, and was struggling with the concept and calculations when they were presented that abstractly, so we made a large helpful number line that has really helped.

Unlike a traditional number line that runs horizontally, this one extends vertically, with negative numbers at the bottom and positive numbers at the top. So positive numbers are like steps up a mountain, while negative numbers are steps down into a hole underground. When we make the sums during war, Rondel knows that he can start with either number and count the number of steps either up (for a positive number) or down (for a negative number) to calculate the result. After a week or so of playing with this board every day, he’s now grasped the concept well enough to be able to figure out most of the sums completely in his head, just like Limerick.

The board also gave us an opportunity to develop another game using the Eureka Math integer cards, this one cooperative instead of competitive. Each of us starts out with one playing piece (a small animal counter, usually) on the zero tick in the center of the board. Taking turns, we draw one card at a time from the pile and move that number of steps from our current position. Every time someone goes off the board (28 or -28 – my tick marks are centimeters on standard printer paper) or lands exactly on 0, everyone gets a chocolate chip πŸ™‚ The board is large enough that the amount of chocolate earned is fairly small, but small enough to keep everyone from getting frustrated. I usually end this game (to loud protests) when we’ve gone through the entire deck three times… more than that could lead to excessive amounts of chocolate and the concomitant hyper silliness πŸ™‚

From what my mom says, negative numbers were apparently one of the more difficult mathematical concepts for me to grasp (along with distance-rate-time problems), though I don’t remember learning (or struggling with) them. So I’m glad that these two fairly simple tools have made them intuitive and fun for my kids.

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: superstition mountains – treasure loop trail

Now that our very wet winter has come to an end, the desert has burst into life with a wild spring bloom, and I’ve been trying to take the kids out to see the mountains turned green with wildflowers decorating the slopes. My mood always tends to improve as the colder and grayer season ends (can’t imagine what I’d be like if I lived elsewhere), so I’ve had the energy and motivation to hike again – and the prospect of flowers definitely adds to that motivation!

The day we chose to hike the Treasure Loop trail in the Superstition Mountains was unfortunately cloudy and rainy, so many of the flowers stayed hidden away, but it was still a beautiful hike.

Treasure Loop trail is almost 2.5 miles long and moderately difficult – the trail is broad and well-marked, but it can be steep and slippery in places. We took a few hours doing it… in out defense, we stopped to smell the flowers a time or two (and count their petals, in Limerick’s case):

We also took time to climb up some boulders near the path and pretend to be mountain lions:

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And of course we took breaks for snuggles and snacks (the bench at the overlook was really timed perfectly for the kids’ hunger):

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The cold and wind did make the hike considerably more challenging, as Aubade really dislikes being cold and getting wind in her face (we’ve had this issue on other hikes). Because the trail ended up being a lot colder than our home just 30 minutes away, Aubade wore my jacket for most of the hike, which helped and was adorable but left me rather cold as a result πŸ™‚ I guess it’s just a reminder to check the weather at the actual trailhead before deciding what to wear!

For others considering Treasure Loop, I’d say it would take much less time with just slightly older kids – we were mostly slowed down by Aubade (and our spirit of exploration!). Good footwear is important though as the trail can get quite slippery once you start coming back down the slope. This is a fairly popular trail from what I could tell, based on the number of other hikers we saw on a weekday, but it wasn’t overly crowded. It can be accessed from free parking spots by the First Water trailhead, or through the Lost Dutchman state park for a $7.00 entrance fee (as well as a shorter hike and good bathrooms, both of which were needed with my little hikers). We enjoyed it and I’m sure we’ll be back next spring πŸ™‚

How to get there from the East Valley: take the 60 to Apache Junction and exit on Idaho Road; turn right onto Apache Trail and continue until you reach the entrance to the Lost Dutchman State Park. The entrance fee is $7.00 and the ranger will give you a map of the trails and state park roads/parking lots.

Posted in family life

playing in compost

More than a year and a half after moving in, we’re finally nearing the end of the backyard project: we’re putting in the lawn!

Most lawns out here are bermuda grass in the summer, overseeded with rye in the winter, which makes for a nice grass lawn but takes a lot of effort (and water) to maintain. So since we had a blank slate to work with, I wanted to try something different, and I’ve been researching the question for the past year or so. Most lawn alternatives aren’t quite hardy enough for the summers here, but I ended up choosing a miniature clover variety, interspersed withΒ Herniaria glabra and Roman chamomile (and wildflowers for fun, in hopes of butterflies).

The exciting part for the kids, of course, was spreading compost out over the native soil (which seems like clay to me, though it once supported cotton fields). When you’re little, rolling around is soft dirt is pretty awesome, especially when the air is cool and the soil is warm enough to steam up into the air.

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And of course there’s jumping into the piles before they get raked down.

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Not to mention running all over it, soft underfoot, warm against the chill of the morning, cold air rushing in your face and lungs:

Or digging in it, rolling around in it, burrowing into it, and just generally becoming covered in it!

You could even help spread it out, if you were feeling so inclined.

It was definitely an adventure getting them all cleaned up afterwards, but the happiness of getting dirty was more than worth it. They lasted almost two hours before wanting to come in and eat breakfast, and went out again later in the morning! Now, while we’re waiting for the seeds to germinate, they are pretending it’s all lava and creeping around the completed edges of the yard instead πŸ™‚ And I’m just waiting to see if all the effort pays off and green can come out of all that brown.

 

Posted in family life

spontaneity and snow storms

Last Wednesday I looked at the weather forecast and realized that two days of cold rain here in the valley would most likely mean two days of snow up north. I thought to myself that a day trip might be nice, on Friday or Saturday depending on the road conditions, but when I bounced the idea off of Paul and my mom (both of whom might have appreciated a day trip being scheduled when they could join me), my mom suggested that I go up before the storm and stay through it so as not to worry about the roads at all. And Paul thought that sounded like a great idea and a good reason to take a few days off of work, so I set about planning it.

Note: this idea was forged late Wednesday morning, and the storm was scheduled to hit around 9 o’clock that evening. So that left me with about six hours to find a place to stay, pack two days worth of food in case we ended up snowed in, buy or borrow snow gear for the entire family, and pack clothes, activities, and other necessary items. I definitely had some moments where I regretted ever having had the idea to play in the snow in the first place! (Like when Paul called to tell me his car battery died so I would also need to pack for him and pick him up at work on the way up, when I had been hoping for his help as the crazy late afternoon itch hit the kids…)

In the end, however, I am so glad that I didn’t let my anxiety or insecurity change my mind.

Thanks to Air BNB allowing same-day booking, we found a little house in Prescott Valley that didn’t seem likely to necessitate four wheel drive (I lost a couple hours agonizing over a different cabin that was absolutely gorgeous but whose owner was very concerned about us being stranded there), and took the kids to experience real snow – not just flurries or random patches on the ground – for the first time in their lives. And this was serious snow. Prescott Valley averages 5 inches of snow in the month of February, but this storm brought in about two feet in just two days (the official totals range from 21 to 28 inches depending on location in the city) – and we were there to watch it all come down, to feel the fluffy lightness of the new snow and the dense strength of the old, to wake up to icicles on the eaves and a world glittering like a preschool art project, to taste the ethereal coldness of snow dissolving like cotton candy in our mouths, to catch individual flakes on our jackets and marvel at their complexity, to be pelted by hard fast-falling half-melting and refreezing almost-hail flakes, to see the world turn suddenly white and new.

Rondel was a huge help preparing for the trip, because he was so excited about the chance to go up to the mountains to see snow, and so he cooperated with all the crazy last-minute packing and helped keep Aubade and Limerick happy all afternoon – and when we got there, he loved the snow just as much as he anticipated (though I think he didn’t realize just how cold it would be!). He ate the snow, he pretended to be the unstoppable boar from a Kung Fu Panda short (in other words, he knocked people over and was knocked over into the snow quite often), and he just generally relished in the opportunity to run and play in it!

Limerick had a slightly harder time with the snow – the depth made it harder for him to move around, and he got cold more quickly. But he still enjoyed it quite a bit, in his quieter way. On one of our excursions, when Rondel was chasing me around as Boar Unstoppable, I made a snowball for Limerick that just didn’t seem to break, no matter how many times he threw it at me, so we dubbed it the Indestructible Snowball of Doom. Every time Rondel would knock me over Limerick would come up with the snowball and drop it on me and the look of mischievous glee on his face was so hilarious that I could hardly push myself up out of the snow from laughing so hard.

Aubade really wanted to like the snow; she wanted to go out anytime anyone else went out; but she got cold really fast and struggled to walk through the snow as well. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find more waterproof mittens in her size and had to settle for lined fleece ones, either – the few times I put her in Limerick’s mittens she seemed to last longer despite having almost no control over her hands. She did have a lot of fun until she got cold, though, and she definitely enjoyed getting all bundled up in the snow clothes πŸ˜›

All in all, it was one of the best times we’ve had as a family (and definitely the most spontaneous!). There was so little tension and so much laughter, as all of us were able to relax into the wonder and excitement and peace of our time away. And as Rondel keeps reminding us, each time he sees the snow-capped mountains in the distance, we will definitely go back north again some day.