Posted in family life, information, sqt

{sqt} – here comes the monsoon!

People who don’t know Arizona well speak of our weather dismissively (particularly the summer weather). It’s hot enough that significant numbers of people head north for the summer, while compensating for their insecurities by arguing that their northern humid summers are actually worse. Even people who live here but have never had a chance to really get to know the seasons tend to treat the summer as a penance to be endured, a payment for the gorgeous winters, spent holed up inside thankful for air conditioning and swimming pools.

I will not debate the wonders of air conditioning and swimming pools 🙂

But I do think that Arizona summers are inherently beautiful and wonderful – they are just a lot more difficult to understand and fall in love with than most seasons in most other places. Maybe I identify with them a bit…

And now, we are fully entered into the most glorious part of summer: the monsoon season, the summer rains, the desert’s wet season. So to celebrate, here are seven quick takes about this season that I feel is so sadly neglected, forgotten, and dismissed.

  1. April, May, and June are without a doubt the official “dry season” here. The average monthly rainfall drops to 0.25 inches for April and plummets to 0.04 inches for June (which is another way of saying that every few years there will be rain in June, but don’t count on it). While daytime temperatures steadily climb throughout these three months, reaching 110 easily by mid-June, the lows stay in the 60s and 70s so mornings and evenings are still cool and comfortable. And as long as you stay hydrated, the highs are tolerable also. I have commuted by bike through the summer (coming home around 3-4 in the afternoon) and never felt more alive.
  2. Right when you start to feel that the heat has been going for too long – when the ground is cracking and the plants look thirsty even with irrigation – clouds start to blow in over the horizon. The dates are variable, but it is typically in early July. You step outside one morning and your glasses fog up like you’ve somehow teleported to Miami in your sleep. That afternoon you get an emergency alert on your phone for dust and poor visibility, and 30 minutes later when you look out the window all the trees are bowing low, the sky is slate gray, and the air is slanted lines of water. There may even be hail. This is when every child who isn’t chained down dashes outside to run and dance until they are soaked to the skin and shivering with the unexpected cold.

    FullSizeRender
    This was Monday, at the library. I glanced up and saw the rain and threw all the books in a bag and told the kids to run outside because IT’S RAINING GUYS IT’S RAINING! Don’t judge – we hadn’t seen rain since February!
  3. Remember the dust alert I mentioned above? They are triggered by impending dust storms (also called haboobs), and here’s what they look like from an aerial perspective:
    Massive Haboob hits Arizona
    This was the storm that hit us Monday. Photo credit Mike Olbinski, from this article.

    When I was a kid I used to go out in every dust storm I could just to feel the thrill of the wind and dust flying into me. Granted, it’s not the best if you’re asthmatic, and it spreads Valley Fever, but it can make you feel the power of wild nature even in a suburban backyard so it’s pretty awesome. There are also some funny side effects of having so much dust in the air – this week my coworkers all had to leave the lab in the middle of the storm because a fire alarm thought the dust from the haboob was smoke from a fire and went off!

  4. The ground, not having been rained on for five months, is understandably unprepared for such a torrential downpour. Roads flood (although they drain quickly once the rain stops), and any narrow places in the desert will also flood. Canyons or washes (essentially the drainage channels of the desert) are the worst places to be when it rains, and people have been killed in the sudden flooding. So if it starts to get cloudy and a cool wind blows, climb to high ground as fast as possible. In more developed places, you end up with lakes instead of yards 🙂
  5. Monsoons come in systems, so you’ll be hit with a huge storm like the one above from Monday and then have smaller rainstorms for the next few afternoons. It’s sort of like earthquakes and aftershocks. This week, we had the major storm on Monday and we’ve had at least a small shower every day since. Four consecutive rainy days after five months of nothing! It’s a change in pace, to say the least. It’s also necessitated a lot more cleaning up as mud gets everywhere. If I lived somewhere with wetter weather, I think I would need a mudroom!

    IMG_3601
    Considering she voluntarily became this muddy with only splash-over from the kiddie pool to help her, you can imagine what happens every time it rains…
  6. The wet monsoon season typically lasts through early September, although the actual storms only come every couple weeks. In between, it is just hot and humid. The humidity right now is 44% and even though it is 9:30pm and the sun has been down for over an hour it is still 91 degrees. So while June fits the Arizona stereotype of “dry heat”, we definitely see more of a humid heat in July – slightly lower highs because of the clouds, but significantly higher humidity.
  7. I have discovered that while there are many, many good picture books about the changing seasons in other parts of the world – books about leaves changing and falling off, books about animals preparing for hibernation, books about the first snowfall of winter, books about flowers blooming in the spring, etc. – there are very few picture books of any sort about the desert seasons or even the desert animals inhabiting those seasons. It is to the point that I am seriously contemplating writing my own to try to fill the gap! It’s like me as a woman reading a book with a strong female lead, or an African American child reading a book where the people in the pictures look like her. This is the place, the environment, the habitat that my children know, where their roots run deep, and while all the other places are fascinating and the books about them are wonderful, a book that resonates with their lived experience – with their home – would be special in a different and treasured way.

I’m joining the SQT link-up at This Ain’t The Lyceum today so head over and read the other blogs! Also, if you live in a place with under-appreciated or non-standard seasons, please share! I’d love to hear other people’s experiences 🙂

Advertisements
Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 1

As a way to document our unschooling journey in case we need records or information for doubtful friends and family, as well as for our own memories, I’m going to showcase once a week some of the things we’ve been learning. It may be through conversations, books, TV, exploration, or more (and I’ll try to mix it up week to week!), since our goal is to be whole-life learners. Hopefully it may also provide some ideas for others, especially when I’m sharing resources we love!

 

In a search for a new animal documentary that Rondel “hadn’t even seen one of yet!”, we discovered BBC’s show Hidden Kingdoms.

hiddenkingdoms

I know this show generated a bit of controversy because it is more scripted and less observational than a typical nature documentary – but almost because of that it is an excellent introduction to these animals for people (especially young children) who may not have enough background information about them to appreciate something purely observational. These episodes showcase the unique abilities and challenges faced by its “stars” in a very compelling way, while still remaining biologically accurate. And the extra feature at the end of each episode, explaining how they filmed parts of the show, is fascinating in its own right!

Some of our favorite facts:

African sengis create trails in the grass for themselves to make it easier to run away from predators or catch prey – it is essentially a maze that they know by heart. (All of Rondel’s current imaginary animals are now building trails for themselves in the grass too.)

Arizona grasshopper mice are immune to scorpion venom and will fight, kill, and eat scorpions! They also howl to claim their territory, somewhat like wolves. (All three kids will now run through the house howling in a very high and squeaky way, telling me they are grasshopper mice.)

When chipmunks fight, they move so fast that the human eye can barely make out what is going on, but in slow motion you can see incredible twists and turns they are performing in midair. It’s absolutely amazing.

Marmosets (monkeys small enough to sit in your hand) who live in cities are often pursued by street cats, but are typically agile enough to escape. (Rondel uses stuffed animals to imitate this, constantly telling me how so-and-so escaped through his “amazing agility”.)

All small animals move at a much faster pace than large animals. They run faster compared to their body size, their metabolism is faster, and so on.

Without dung beetles, the African savanna would be pretty disgusting! It’s so neat that a creature exists whose purpose is simply to clean up (and eat) other animals’ poop, making the world better for everyone. They may appear small and lowly, but they are determined, strong, resourceful, and crucial for the ecosystem. Hmm… that may be a good object lesson someday 😉

What have you been learning this week? I’d love to hear about any fascinating, weird, exciting, or unexpected fact you’ve learned – or about any great resource that has facilitated your learning!

Posted in family life, musings

overcoming the fear of differences

Difference doesn’t need to be a reason for separation, distrust, or conflict.

This morning I watched as kids from 18 months to 10 years old played together. Everyone waited patiently without pushing or complaining when one of the toddlers wanted to climb up the ladder to the water slide, and the big girls helped her slide down when she was scared at the top. Four year olds and 8 year olds batted balloons across the house together; 3 year olds and 9 year olds danced to music videos together. The difference in their ages – a very significant difference, honestly, in both physical and mental development – was not an impediment to enjoying their time together.

This morning I watched as children with multiple developmental disorders and disabilities played together. A girl with Down syndrome held hands with two “normal” girls as they careened down the water slide together laughing. Four boys with varying levels of autism and speech and language delays and two neurotypical boys took turns on the slide, crashing into each other, trying new ways of going down, splashing themselves and each other, without any comments on the different abilities or behaviors represented. The point was to enjoy the water, and they all enjoyed it in each other’s presence without being held back by the very noticeable differences between them.

This morning I watched as people gathered together to celebrate the life of a boy who is different in multiple ways, who faces unique challenges, and who is very much loved. I am sure that it was this love, spilling over from everyone present, that smoothed out all the potential conflict that could have been caused by the myriad of differences there this morning. By learning to love at least one other person unconditionally, with complete acceptance, with eyes to see them for who they are, with ears ready to hear them however they are able to communicate, we begin to learn how to extend that love to others as well. We look for the bright shining highlights in each other, instead of the behavioral challenges or the confusing differences. We strive for connection and communication even in the most difficult moments, instead of letting those difficulties drive us away. We begin to learn to say, and think, and live, with this perspective: that I am made in the image and likeness of God, and so are you, no matter how different we are from one another; let us meet in the heart and center of that image; let it bind us together in love.

This morning I watched a small microcosm of the kingdom of God play out before me, and my heart was filled to see it.

Differences are so often a cause of fear and suspicion. This person acts and looks and speaks differently than me, so I don’t know how to predict their actions, so I am afraid and want to stay away from them, or I speak more harshly to them because of my unease and discomfort. These people are not like me, so maybe they don’t deserve the same freedoms that I have. An older couple may ask their neighbors why they don’t just keep their children inside, as if because of their age the children have less of a right to access public outdoor space. A concerned citizen may call the police if they see a developmentally delayed adult acting strangely and defend their actions by protesting that the individual should just stay inside their group home if they can’t behave “normally” in public. A group of fairly enlightened founding fathers may preserve slavery and oppress native people because they see them as less capable or even less human. White southerners may institute separate facilities for themselves and legislate others out because they are afraid of being “contaminated” by people of other races. And normally compassionate Americans may applaud strict and trauma-inducing policies of family separation because they are afraid that these immigrants may be lawless criminals and traffickers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And we who are parents have the chance to shape the future world into a more understanding and loving place by giving our children the chance, here and now, to experience difference and to see how little it really matter when it comes to living and enjoying life together.

Posted in family life

an oasis in the desert

I took my children to the lake last Thursday.

Yes, even here in the desert we have lakes! They are mostly manmade and act as water reservoirs… but they also serve as beautiful oases, especially when temperatures start rising.

IMG_9519

My sister-in-law joined us for a couple hours with her four kids, which was especially good when Limerick got in too deep and started panicking and needed me – that extra pair of adult eyes and hands makes a big difference sometimes. It was also fun for us just to spend time with them! But we stayed after they needed to leave and it was equally wonderful in different ways.

IMG_9554

I mentioned our day trip to someone and they instantly reacted with the words, “what a chore!”

I still haven’t been able to figure it out.

It isn’t a chore to spend time outside, in the natural unbuilt environment, enjoying the beauty of creation. In fact, it’s something I’m constantly striving to do more often! I want my children to love and respect the natural world, to feel connected to it and desire to protect and preserve it; they won’t if they are never exposed to it. And we were so lucky on this particular day to be visited by a herd of wild horses. I mean, how often do you get to see large wild animals like that? We were all in awe – even Aubade kept pointing and exclaiming in wonder as they moved through the water.

It isn’t a chore to take my children out on an excursion – at least not this type of outing. Rondel and I both struggle in crowded indoor environments, or in highly structured populated activities, because of the constant sensory bombardment and social expectations. Limerick and Aubade are both still noisy constantly-moving little people (as they should be!). So when we’re outside, away from the artificial stimuli and the obscure social norms of the city, free to make the sounds we want to make and move our bodies in comfortable ways without bothering anyone, it is incredibly relaxing and refreshing.

It isn’t a chore to be with my children, to let go of my own pursuits and just focus on them for an afternoon, enjoying the small details of life with them. They remind me how exciting a lake bed scattered with shells can be; they delight my heart with their surprised laughter at things that are now old and familiar to me. After you’ve been to the beach a few times, you anticipate the way the waves knock into you; when you’re only 1 or 3 or 4, each new wave comes as a surprise and a gift.

IMG_9614

And it certainly wasn’t a chore to watch Rondel and Limerick playing together for hours, intent on their exploration of this new world, sharing it with each other as best friends do. On the contrary, it was a gift for me as a parent to see my children growing and deepening in their relationship with each other in such a natural and unforced way.

I know these days are fleeting. For only these few years will I have such a strong influence on their lives, and such a deep connection; I don’t want them to stay little forever, but I do want to live these years with intentionality. Of course it takes a bit of planning and organization to take three small children to the lake for the afternoon. But the riches all of us reap as a result far more than outweigh that work of preparation. For us, places like this are more than just real and physical oases in the desert: they are also oases of renewal for our souls.

Posted in book lists, family life

literary explorations – traveling the world with picture books!

Inspired by the great resource Give Your Child The World, a globally-inspired picture book anthology by Jamie C. Martin, as well as by Rondel’s fascination with animals from around the world, we had a sort of Africa focus in our home a couple weeks ago. Martin is actually hosting a virtual book club spending one week on each world region over the summer, which I’m attempting to keep up with, but I’m woefully unprepared for Asia this week…

Anyway, Africa was a great place to start since most of Rondel’s favorite animals live there, and it was a natural connection to then begin reading stories involving those animals and the people who live near them. We also experimented with some African recipes (there is a huge variety of cuisines across the continent, so we were barely able to explore any of it and it still felt like a lot!) and crafts (but my kids don’t do so well with directed crafts). Of the books we could find from Martin’s recommendations at our library, two really stood out as our favorites: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, a Nandi folktale retold by Verna Aardema; and Wangari’s Trees of Peace, a brief pictorial biography of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped restore land degraded by irresponsible logging (and in the process helped maintain peace and prevent poverty in her home country), by Jeanette Winter.

The biography of Wangari is written at a level that even Limerick, at 3.5, can understand and follow along with, so many of the details of her life have obviously been omitted – this is just the general arc of her story. But those spare elements have been woven together, with the help of beautiful images, to create a compelling narrative. Every time we read it (which was often, since Limerick kept requesting it), Rondel would be devastated when Wangari returns to Kenya after studying abroad to find the forests cut down, the village women walking miles for firewood and food, and desert encroaching upon the arable land. The boys’ eyes would widen, riveted on the book, when Wangari stands “tall as an oak” to protect the remaining forests, when the government officials beat her and jail her for protesting their course of action. And at the end, when millions of trees spread across Kenya again, the boys would be all smiles and laughter, imagining the birdsong in the forest. So I would highly recommend it as a brief introduction to Wangari and modern Africa for young children.

In addition, it has given me a point of comparison when talking with the boys about current events in our own country. When Wangari is jailed, the book tells us that “Right is right, even if you’re alone,” and the whole story demonstrates how the right thing to do can sometimes be the opposite of what the government or people in authority want to do. So when the boys heard our president talking for a few minutes before I changed the radio station (I usually only listen to talk radio when I’m alone in the car), and asked questions about what he was saying, I could explain his position and then also explain how I thought it was wrong, morally wrong if not legally wrong, and how his power and authority didn’t make all of his beliefs or actions morally right and good. And I was able to tell them that unlike Wangari, people like us would be able to peacefully protest those wrong things without fear of imprisonment, because our nation makes space for differing opinions and protests (ideally, of course, but since they’re 3 and 4 they get the idealized version on some things still).

Wangari cared deeply about her country – she loved it – and that’s why she was able to work for its improvement with such persistence, devotion, and passion. She started with small things she knew she could do (like physically planting new trees to replace the harvested ones), and let her love guide her into bigger and bigger forms of activism. And when I look around me and see people cynically apathetic about this country, it makes me want to instill in my children a love for their country and a passion to make it better, in small personal ways and perhaps even in big political ways. It is only with the love and dedication of people like Wangari that we can heal our culture, our environment, and our world; I’d much rather my children be like her than like the enforcers of government authority who beat and imprisoned her.

At this point I’m doubtful that any other picture book we find for this book club will influence our family quite as much as this one has! But every one we’ve managed to find so far from Martin’s anthology has been worth a second read at least; we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve laughed a lot, and we’ve filled our home with beautiful pictures and stories, and there isn’t much more to ask for from a picture book 🙂

At the time of posting, Amazon has Give Your Child the World available on Kindle for only $0.99! It is a resource worth far more than that.

“So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” – Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man’s Fear

loving despite

Posted in musings

this broken beautiful world

My heart is heavy with the brokenness of the world tonight.

Tonight my family sleeps under one roof, with full bellies and soft blankets. Tonight my children’s memories are of books and snuggles at bedtime, an afternoon swimming with their grandparents, a morning of music and crafts at church. Tonight I have no reason to worry about where I will find food to feed them in the morning, or whether I can let them play outside safely, or whether the water they drink will make them sick. Tonight I can sleep with the confidence that nothing is likely to break in upon the refuge of love I have built around them.

Continue reading “this broken beautiful world”