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.

Posted in family life

bikes!

For Christmas, we used part of our Christmas gift from my grandpa to buy a bike for each of the boys – their first pedal bikes! I’d been scouting Craigslist for months and hadn’t found much besides princess and unicorn bikes with pink streamers… so I figured this would be a good use of the Christmas money, and the boys were excited.

That is, until they tried to ride them, and realized how different it was from the little push bike they were used to. I think they avoided the bikes for at least three weeks before agreeing to try them out again, and for another week or so they wouldn’t want to go farther than down the driveway.

Now, however, they are finally starting to figure things out!

(No, my children never wear shoes if given a choice. Yes, they get that from me…)

While riding down the wide sidewalks at the park, Limerick was passed by a teenager going quite fast on his own bike, and decided that he could also go fast, and started pedaling as hard as he could. He got some speed, and had to go around some corners, and fortunately slowed down before reaching the parking lot or crashing πŸ™‚

Now I can look forward to family bike rides in the not-so-distant-any-longer future! You know, once they get the hang of braking, and can go more than once around the block without getting tired. Baby steps. Or in this case, training wheels, I suppose?

Posted in family life, musings

social learning through play

When I first read Peter Gray’sΒ Free to Learn a couple years ago, I was struck by his descriptions of young children playing together. In the interactions he transcribed, these children were negotiating social hierarchies, defining relationships, experimenting with emotional expression and response, making small talk, and learning to understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals – all through the context of undirected, independent, imaginative play with each other.

At the time I was both impressed and discouraged: impressed at the ability of the human mind to use pretend play as a means of acquiring important social skills, and discouraged at the thought that I hadn’t yet seen my son engage in pretend play with another child in that way. He could parallel play with his baby brother, and that was about it; other children overwhelmed and even frightened him.

But lately I have watched him playing with Limerick, roaring and yelling and screaming at each other, and when I cautiously peek around the corner they quickly assure me that it’s all part of the game, and their characters are angry, not actually them. Their pretend animals ask each other if they can come in, or share space, or help with something difficult. The boys ask each other, outside of the game, about what they are each comfortable with and what the other one’s preference would be for the kind of game they play, back and forth until they reach a compromise.

I have watched him playing with Aubade, laughing and wrestling and generally being silly, until suddenly she pretends to be sad with a pouty frown and a slump of her shoulders, proclaiming that she is sad, and he instantly changes his mood to match her emotional expression, curling up next to her to give her snuggles until she decides she is happy again.

While his understanding of other people’s emotions may not be as intuitive, and while social norms and niceties may always be more of a second language, he still has the innate desire to connect and belong with others. And so with the people he loves, he works hard to understand them, to compromise with them, to adapt to their wants and feelings. We’ve done a lot of “play coaching” with him and his siblings over the years, to get to this point, but now, every time I see him bend and adjust, every time I hear him ask what his siblings would rather do instead of demanding things go his way, I am so encouraged by how much he has learned, and by how much he can do without any adult around reminding him. Those hours of play have really been effective in helping him pick up and hone his budding social skills – and I have no doubt they will continue to be.

Posted in family life

lizard love!

We are now officially pet owners!

Rondel had been asking us for months when we would get an animal of our own (seemingly taking it for granted that someday we would), and slowly things fell into place for us to be able to buy a pair of green anole lizards. Rondel and I talked about different types of animals and researched how to take care of them; Paul took him to pet stores to see the animals in person; and so we settled on lizards as an acceptable option. Paul found a tank and lamp at Savers; Rondel made a hide from a wooden puzzle box; I watched YouTube videos with Rondel about setting up the tank so the lizards could be comfortable and safe.

And finally, after days of Rondel asking us when, when,Β when? – we finally brought them home.

Aubade and Rondel were immediately entranced with them, pulling up chairs by the bookshelf and watching them explore their new home (it looks a bit bare in these first few pictures, but we’ve since added more vines and climbing sticks).

After a few days of helping them to adjust, and the addition of twenty little crickets to the tank (buying those at the pet store was definitely a new experience for me… the employee just reached into this big bin of crickets and started shaking them into a bag and they were hopping everywhere!), Rondel was able to hold them, one at a time, to his great delight. While the lizards were not sure about being handled at first, they seem to have become a lot more comfortable with Rondel, and he is definitely comfortable with them. He asks if he can take them out at least 3-4 times every day, and plays with them longer and longer each time. At this point he is able to gently lift one from the tank (I remove and replace the cover), remain calm and gentle while letting it climb all over him (he’s getting good at directing where they climb, also, though they both still try to get to the center of his upper back when they can), retrieve it if it hops off of him onto the floor, and gently return it to the tank when he is done.

I am greatly impressed.

He also keeps an eye on the temperature and humidity gauges, and knows how to mist the tank through the cover if the humidity is below the recommended range.

In short, especially for a five year old, he is showing himself to be quite responsible and very natural with the lizards… and he has already started asking when we will get more animals! If things go his way we will end up living in a zoo – and he would be such a happy little person, so I suppose more animals will be inevitable at some point. But for now we will just enjoy these two green additions to our home.

Posted in family life

picky eating, oral stims, and anxiety

Rondel is not exactly a stereotypical picky eater, but he is quite particular when it comes to food, for clear sensory-related reasons. Texture and temperature are probably the most important aspect of a food for him – his favorite foods tend to be either frozen or in the dry-to-crunchy range. So he can be quite happy eating some tortilla chips (sometimes he’ll tolerate them with melted cheese) alongside a bowl of frozen mixed veggies, he loves toast and frozen blueberries for breakfast, he prefers crackers to fig bars, he only enjoys chicken nuggets if the outer coating isn’t at all “mushy”, and he won’t eat any fresh fruit at all (except perhaps melon in the summer or pear in the fall) after having decided his primary previously acceptable fruit (apple) made his mouth feel funny. He will eat noodles and potatoes in moderation, but not consistently. Mexican refried beans and rice are acceptable, but runnier beans and rice dishes (I have a few really good ones) are not. I don’t think he has ever consented to eat soup or oatmeal, and the thought of sweet potato or avocado is enough to make him emotionally upset. Also, having a favorite food to accompany a merely tolerable one seems to help by resetting or calming the tactile receptors in his mouth.

I had never really given much thought to picky eating prior to having kids, because I tend to be a more adventurous eater, but I am realizing now that I have my own sensory quirks. I heavily prefer foods where each bite will have a variety of textures, or where the level of spiciness is enough to leave a burn, or where dedicated chewing may be required – so in a peanut butter sandwich I will use crunchy peanut butter and orange marmalade and toast the bread if at all possible; I attempt to make even normal bland foods more bold by adding extra seasonings (cayenne in the mac and cheese, double the recipe’s amount of every single spice for spice cookies); and I enjoy fairly tough meat but can only rarely handle creamy soup.

The appearance or smell of a food can also cause an overwhelming or challenging sensory reaction. Rondel reacts quite strongly to anything that looks mushy or gooey (like yogurt or banana); I recoil from unevenly bumpy foods (I avoided looking at peeled bananas for at least a year as a child). Rondel can be bothered by the smell of the food other people are eating or even by food that he enjoys eating (which I have only observed in myself during pregnancy – I notice smells quite well but am not usually bothered by them), but we’ve found that lighting a candle on the table makes things significantly better for him.

Interestingly enough, I have also recently noticed that eating painfully spicy food actually helps lower my anxiety levels, and temporarily decreases my reliance on other stims. I’m guessing it is similar for Rondel, and may be part of why he’s been a bit pickier and more wild lately as we are out of both tortilla chips and frozen blueberries. It makes me wish some of his earlier oral stims were still helpful for him – he had been able to translate overt licking of his hands and arms into chewing a wooden necklace, and it made a big difference for him in more stimulating environments especially – but he hasn’t shown much interest in them since this summer. I was beginning to think he would take after my grandmother, who still surreptitiously chews on her hands to stim! And who knows, maybe he will πŸ™‚ in my experience, stims can ebb and flow over time, even if some are more enduring or central.

In the meantime, we’ll keep on freezing our yogurt into creamy cold dots, stocking our house with plenty of whole-grain bread for toast, lighting our candle at dinner, and continuing to try new foods in hope that some of them will cooperate with his unique blend of sensory cravings and aversions!