Autism and the Battle with Mysterious Meltdowns

Having two boys on the autism spectrum, I have come to anticipate meltdowns. These are different from temper tantrums or hissy fits (these ones, I’m prone to). There are many articles delineating their difference, and through the years I’ve learned to correctly identify whatever it is I’m dealing with, and thus respond accordingly.

More importantly, I’ve become better attuned to the brewing stage of meltdowns. I’ve made the effort to identify triggers in order to avoid them and to understand what’s going on when meltdowns do happen.

Nonstop Meltdowns

However, there are meltdowns, and there are long spells of seemingly aggressive, violent, and self-injurious behavior. We had this with Cameron, who’s now 9 years old, from 3-6 years of age. These were outlier episodes. Cameron is very chill. When he was a toddler and first exhibiting signs of autism (they only emerged at 1.5 years – he had always been on time/ahead with his milestones before then), we initially kidded around about him being so cool, like he didn’t have time for cutesy and silly behavior that was typical of kids his age. If he paid any attention to you, it was like being noticed by that perfect but aloof guy in a high school romance trope. That he was very handsome (he is; that’s not just a mother talking) certainly completed the cliché. That was a fun, entertaining way to look at it, except that it turned out to be autism.

Anyway, for about two weeks every year, Cameron would have this spell of him crying and angrily thrashing around almost nonstop. Both of us would come out of those episodes with minor cuts and bruises. He’d be fine or back to his regular ways after, but I’d be licking my actual and metaphorical wounds in despair long after. Don’t worry; the licking is figurative. I’ve happily noticed though that those weeks of marathon meltdowns hadn’t transpired in the last couple of years.

And the Fun Continues

Last year, his younger brother Sawyer had his own autism diagnosis. Oh, we’d known he was on the spectrum long before the official diagnosis, but we thought we’d get the official certification as well so we could be advised by a professional, and, of course, so he could be eligible for PWD privileges.

Right away, the developmental pediatrician told us that Sawyer was incredibly intelligent – and this was a boy who was pretty much non-verbal. Side note: I hate using the term for my boys because they do have language and they would use it to ask for stuff they want. They can identify things like champs, but couldn’t figure out how to use all those words they know in a practical way. It’s just easier to throw the non-verbal label out there to manage other people’s expectations.

In any case, the doctor told us that Sawyer’s autism was mild and that he manifested many signs of giftedness. She recommended a regular preschool instead of SPED. Okay. I have always been committed to homeschooling, but I got excited about sending the boys to school. I had already picked summer classes for the boys to join – School Readiness for Sawyer and Life Skills for Cameron. And then the pandemic happened. At the very least, that stupid virus was a monkey wrench thrown into the new course we were to take on our autism journey.

Autistic and Gifted

The thing about Sawyer is that we could tell he was very smart. He taught himself how to read and write really early, like Marguerite, their big sister did, but he had been more challenged in that he wasn’t even conversing. He is extremely curious and interested. He would get into everything and want to try everything we were doing. It’s like the opposite extreme of Cameron’s coolness. Sawyer is red hot in his buttinski-ness. He has always had an air of mischief about him. He also had a very volatile temper. He laughed easily and got mad easily.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, he seemed to be in a perpetual rage, alternately crying and pouncing on those around him. We all fell victim to these attacks, but I was most frequently on the receiving end. It was a lot like trying to tame a bobcat, except more heartbreaking.

Meltdowns on Steroids

We tried to figure out what was going on with him. He didn’t seem to be in pain. Sometimes he’d laugh after screaming angrily. As much as I hate to say it, it often felt like a demon possession. He would thrash around on the floor in abandon, kicking his legs, uncaring of hurting others or himself. He’d ask to be hugged and carried, and then ambush us in the middle of being comforted. I was frankly at my wit’s end. Cameron’s episodes seemed like leisurely walks in the park compared to Sawyer’s.

We persisted in finding an explanation for the behavior. We all had theories coming out the wazoo. My mom thought that he was frustrated because he was so smart but had disabilities that hindered his learning. I thought that he was frustrated about not being able to communicate better in a verbal way (in his fits, he would often scream out a spate of random words, but, at the same time, he was also often successful in expressing himself, e.g. “I’m sad!” “Help me!”). Mark thought that he was experiencing restless legs (growing pains?) and remembered getting them himself at around Sawyer’s age, and they had been bad enough that he would cry because of them. We also thought that it was a sensory thing, that he was reacting to a stimulus that we just couldn’t detect yet.

Calming Tricks and Hoodoo

We had tried a diverse range of calming methods. Mark would roll Sawyer up in a soft blanket like a burrito. He would also tirelessly massage his son’s limbs.  I made a calming roller blend and calming play dough with lavender and bergamot essential oils. He definitely received lots of bribes from aunts and grandparents who wished nothing but to get back our mischievous but amusing little imp.

Sawyer’s birthday was on January 26, and while he was beginning to calm down, those lulls were often traitorous, presaging an ambush that left scratches and bruises on Sawyer and his hapless target. Understandably, his presents this year mostly had to do with calming him down. My sister gave him a much nicer bedtime projector lamp than the one we had (it was tacky; we moved it to the garage before Christmas where it projected red and green stars in the dark). My cousin got him kaleidoscopes and a fidget popping toy.

My mom got the kids gummy melatonin (not as a present), but we’ve only used it once to underwhelming results. It wasn’t for regular use, but we were trying to go back to an earlier bed time, and then, of course, there were those punishingly sleepless nights with Sawyer’s meltdowns. He refused to take one for some reason, by the way, while Cameron and Marguerite both did go to sleep  early but woke up in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll give it a go again when we encounter sleeping issues.

I’m also going around the house now to scope out the right ceiling beam from which to hang the boys’ therapy swing. My sister had given it to Cameron on his birthday, but we have yet to install it. Obviously, we’re getting all the tricks we could possibly conjure out to make sure we are well equipped to deal with a repeat of these episodes.

Of the tools we have used, I can say that the play dough, the popping toy and the lamp have been effective. The lamp’s effect can vary, however. It lulled Sawyer to sleep while it fascinated Cameron so much that he sat in front of it and watched for a long time.

These days, Sawyer’s episode is dwindling down. He’s still given to crying when he doesn’t get his own way, and I think his habit of holding his breath until he’s very red in the face has gotten to be, well… a habit that we have to distract him from. He has also learned to curb his impulse to grab and kick, and it does seem that whatever was causing him to fling himself down in a self-inflicted wrestling power bomb has gone. I’m not going to speak too soon and say that the episode is over, but I am praying that it is.

Anyone on the Same Boat?

Have you had any experience with this kind of episode? Do you know with certainty what caused it? What action did you take? I hope an informative, helpful, and supportive discussion about this can be started in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m coping, it’s with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t judge.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the calming play dough that I made:

 

Bringing Iceland’s Jólabókaflóð to Your Home

I’ve always been intrigued by Iceland. For someone who lives in a tropical archipelago, I imagine it’s pretty much the opposite of what I know. Watching travel shows featuring it, I was further enchanted by its exotic (for someone based near the equator) qualities like its combination of glaciers, geysers, and volcanoes; its non-stop sun in the summer and super short winter days; its close-knit community with everybody being related to everybody else (this is actually familiar to me, being from a city with a small town vibe – but Iceland is a whole freakin’ country!), etc.

In recent years, I learned of another Icelandic offering that really resonated with the avid bibliophile in me. Every year, Iceland holds the Jólabókaflóð (Yule book flood). In the weeks before Christmas, new books are released, and every household gets a catalogue of the new titles.

This tradition dates back to the Second World War when there were restrictions on imported giftware. Since imported paper wasn’t as restricted and Iceland has always had a solid literary tradition, books became the default gift at Christmastime. Thus ensued the lasting custom of exchanging books at Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading.

For a bookworm like me, that sounds like heaven, especially now when I can’t sit for two minutes without one of my kids demanding my attention.

When I was growing up, I was always certain that I would get a book(s) on my birthday and Christmas. Books didn’t cost much (in the late ’80s, most children’s books like the Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and the Newbery titles were about 30Php brand new) and my mom could be sure that I would enjoy them. We weren’t poor, but my dad is kind of an ascetic. He shuns materialism and is critical of indulgences, so there was that element in our childhood.

Now, with my own kids, I don’t really get them books as gifts. I buy a lot of books on ordinary days, and then get them other presents for special occasions. My husband and I tend to bend over backwards trying to think of presents that would make our kids ecstatic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I sometimes wonder if they can better learn gratitude and appreciation if we keep our gifts simple.

***I know I mentioned on the Ulysses post that I was just doing a last edit on this one and it was pretty much ready to go. I’m afraid, however, that WordPress failed me. For some reason, the saved draft didn’t include anything past the previous paragraph, so I’m rewriting three long essential sections of the post. I hope I can recall all the main points, and that what comes next reads well since I’m typing it while still disgruntled. 😀

The Benefits of Observing Jólabókaflóð

Of course, getting books is a perk in itself, but there are other benefits that should urge you to consider observing Jólabókaflóð – or a version of it, at least.

  • Less expensive gifts. If you decide to just give books on Christmas, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to trim down your usual holiday gift budget. If you can find pre-loved books in good condition, even better/cheaper. Anybody else out there who actually prefers secondhand books?
  • No great cost divide. You won’t have to worry about your gifts being “unequal.” There shouldn’t be a huge price gap between books unless you’re giving rare editions, a complete series, or those expensive coffee table books. It’s probably still best to set a price cap, but even if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be facing something akin to an exchange involving an expensive watch and a rap song (“Friends” reference).
  • Something for everyone. If somebody’s claiming to be a non-reader, I’m certain there would be books out there that would interest him or her. There are all kinds of books, and on every possible topic. I know people will read if they’re interested enough in the content; after all, supposed non-readers can read social media posts the entire day. 😀
  • Exercise in simplicity. While books are still purchased, there’s something about giving them that seems like a less commercial exercise. Although a book is not the most impressive present you can give, it’s usually a thoughtful one, and you’re essentially catering to a simple yet timeless pleasure.
  • Gift of slow time. Today’s pace is incredibly fast and we are super distracted. I really feel sorry that my kids aren’t growing up in a time that allows them to create and imagine more, to put in more effort to arrive at what they need or want, and to deal with those idle, boring moments with minimal modern provisions for amusement. Books belong to that lost era.  Thankfully, they were able to cross over to and linger in this millennium. Time spent with a book is quiet and serene, even if your mind has wandered off to a wild adventure in a far off place and distant time. It’s a true gift. ***Let me note that the original post was a lot more “ranty” than this, haha.
  • Lesson in gratitude. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to delight our kids that we unconsciously teach them to expect grander things. It would be in their interest to teach them to appreciate every kind of present. If they can feel joy in their heart over a new book to read, that’s a win for you as a parent.

Coming up with Your Own Jólabókaflóð Tradition

Not being in Iceland or even Icelandic, you’ll just have to borrow the custom and perhaps tweak it to better suit your family. Here are some ideas you can apply in making your own Christmas book flood tradition.

1. Hygge it up.

Make the entire evening extra cozy. Since in the Philippines we do our Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, and that’s usually a fun and noisy feast, you might want to choose the eve of Christmas Day for your Jólabókaflóð. You can wear your pjs, set out some hot cocoa and munchies for the family, play some nostalgic Christmas muzak, use warm lighting, and diffuse some Christmassy essential oil blend. You can relish all that hygge as you read your new books.

2. Decorate with books.

You can fashion a tree from a pile of books. Festoon it with fairy lights, perch a star or fairy on top, and you have yourself a Jolabokaflod tree! It can be the focal point of the area where you will be exchanging books and reading.

3. Have a theme.

Themes always make events more interesting. You’d think that books would be enough as the unifying theme, but you can narrow it down to something more specific. It could be an author, a decade, a place, a topic… Just make sure to have the right spread and décor. Maybe even attire?

4. Serve Icelandic Fare.

As a nod to where it all started, you can have an Icelandic treat. You can buy ready-made goodies or try creating something from a recipe. Something that looks relatively easy to make is pönnukökur, which is Icelandic pancakes with skyr (a dairy product that’s close to Greek yogurt). Honestly, it’s just pancakes; it’s the skyr that makes it Icelandic. If you can’t find skyr, you can sub with Greek yogurt. Pair it with a popular Christmas drink called jólaöl, which is a mix of malt and orange soda.

5. Read books and eat chocolates.

Jólabókaflóð explanations don’t always specify that Icelanders have to eat chocolates while reading in bed, but quite a few do, and that picture understandably appeals to me more. Reading + chocolates sounds heavenly, and it’s a custom I’d be happy to start with bells on.

I’m always eager to talk about books and reading, so let me know if you’re considering adopting this wonderful Icelandic treasure for your home. I’m sure you can come up with more ways to make your own Christmas book exchange more fun and specifically suited to your family’s holiday needs, tastes, and traditions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas here. 🙂

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 2

I was fortunate to have had access to libraries with a wide array of children’s books when I was growing up. I never ran out of new stories to read. My parents were also very encouraging toward this pastime and happily financed the beginnings of what would turn out to be a vast personal library.

I’ve often boasted about my kids reading the very copies of books I’d read as a kid. I can imagine some people going, so what? I guess it would take a kindred to grasp how special that is. Fortunately, I’ve encountered many who belong to the race that knows Joseph and get it. 😉

A little while back, I published a post listing three children’s book series that are so wonderful that I feel kids today shouldn’t miss out on reading them. Unfortunately, they’re not as easily accessible anymore. I acquired my own copies from thrift stores and secondhand bookshops. I’m afraid they’re no longer the titles you’ll find on the market these days.

And there are more series that can be included in the list. Here are three of them:

The Boxcar Children (first published in 1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This series is pretty successful, so it’s actually still being perpetuated by different writers and with stories set in the current time. I’m not really interested in those. I prefer to read the ones from the first half of the 20th century, preferably those that were actually written by the series creator, Gertrude Chandler Warner. Why should your kids read these books?

  1. The stories are really riveting for children with a penchant for mysteries, a sense of adventure, and a desire for independence. The four children were always doing things on their own. Of course the stories (the original ones – I have no idea what’s going on in the current ones) are set in a different time, but I suppose, even then, most kids wouldn’t be allowed to travel in a caboose by themselves, stay on an island by themselves, do long bike rides by themselves, etc.
  2. There’s so much they can learn from the collection of stories, trivia stuff, different era stuff, practical stuff, etc. I personally got to apply some ideas from the book in my life. For instance, when I was first living on my own, I had the idea to make a pie because I had a can of peaches that was set to go to waste if I didn’t intentionally use it for something. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rolling pin, but, fortunately, I did remember reading in Surprise Island that Jessie was in a similar predicament and found solution in a bottle. I did have wine bottles, so I was able to make my first pie that day. It was pretty good for a first attempt.
  3. The Alden kids are nice kids with manners and values typical of an earlier, more genteel time. This will hopefully inspire your kids to behave similarly. Times have clearly changed, so we have to be similarly dynamic, but there are some tolerated behaviors today that I just can’t accept. This reminds me of a favorite rant of mine. I’m so bothered by the way people nonchalantly take out and use their phones at the dinner table. It’s so anti-social, and that’s coming from me, an unrepentant introvert! There was a time when you had to excuse yourself and leave the table to take a call, and even then you would apologize profusely because you shouldn’t take calls at mealtime. It would be nice for kids today to be exposed to the etiquette and social conventions of an earlier era.

The Famous Five (first published in 1942) by Enid Blyton

Most of the children’s book series I’ve featured here are set in the US. This one, penned by beloved children’s book author Enid Blyton, however, is set in Britain. Similar to other children’s book series, the protagonists in The Famous Five encounter in each story some mystery that they have to solve. The formula clearly never gets old since I also use it for my own children’s books. This is a worthwhile inclusion in my list because it shares many of the benefits I already enumerated with regard to the other series I’ve already featured, plus the following:

  1. It allows readers to experience various British climes, often rural, allowing them to learn about the people and culture of these places. I don’t know about you, but reading about these far off foreign places gave me a hankering to know more about them and experience them first-hand. These seemingly inconsequential exposures have a way of shaping readers, including their goals and dreams in life.
  2. It lends an opportunity for young readers to learn the Queen’s English. With some guidance from you, this shouldn’t confuse them about which type of English to use. Ideally, this would allow them to compare and contrast it with American English. Of course, there’s also the factor of time adding an extra nuance to the expressions used, which, in turn, also adds to the readers’ stores of knowledge.
  3. It’s all about adventure – being outdoors, exploring, engaging in physical activities… In these old books, the characters don’t spend the day watching TV or playing video games. It allows young readers to have a better idea of what a screen-free childhood is like, how it’s actually possible and (dare I say it) more fun. I often lament that kids today are missing out on slow time, which is actually real time. It allows the mind to work better, to better process and savor moments, to come up with solutions with fewer tools available, etc. Sorry, that’s another favorite rant of mine. 😀

The Great Brain (first published in 1967) by John D. Fitzgerald

Although the books are set in 19th century Utah, they weren’t published until the 1960s. They’re essentially stories that are loosely based on the author’s own childhood experiences. The “Great Brain” alluded to in the series is the author’s older brother, Tom. He demonstrates amazing intelligence, which is unfortunately accompanied by a money-loving heart, turning him into a mischievous swindler.

How do kids today benefit from reading about this adorable rapscallion’s escapades? The same way kids of previous generations did.

  1. The books are a very entertaining read. Each story is a humorous account of The Great Brain’s youthful shenanigans. Don’t worry about his propensity to manipulate others for his own monetary gain. He actually has a strong sense of justice, and despite his smarts, he often does get his comeuppance and is subjected to discipline.
  2. I’m a strong believer in living books being more effective tools of learning than text books. The Great Brain stories offer many snippets of knowledge in various subjects, particularly history, science, and logic.
  3. The setting is pretty unique. 19th century Utah offers a fascinating visit, as you can probably imagine with its natural landscape, as well as its historical and religious significance.

Did you get to read these books when you were young? Do your kids know about them? I hope you and your kids can access copies. You can probably find some from secondhand bookstores and online sellers.

Can you suggest other early to mid-20th century series that should be included? I can already think of two.  I think there may be a part 3 to this. 🙂

Observing the Life Cycle of a Lime Swallowtail

I used to groan in dismay every time I spotted this brown and white slug on one of my citrus plants. One time, I had various lime and lemon seedlings and they were all decimated in a matter of days. I made the mistake of being delighted by the presence of those tiny slugs that turned into an army of chunky, strapping young green caterpillars in the twinkling of an eye.

Since finding out that they’re ravenous little creatures, I started plucking the leaves they’re on and moving them to the other side of the garden. I figured if they could find their way back, then they deserved to feast. However, sometime ago, I read a post in one of my Facebook gardening groups beseeching us to leave these caterpillars alone. They can’t really devour an entire (mature) plant and the butterflies will be an asset in the garden when they emerge.

I could roll with that. That’s why when I found two minuscule brown caterpillars on my Meyer lemon plant, I left them alone to feed. A few days later, they turned green and I got the idea of using them to teach the kids about metamorphosis.

I snipped off the branch they were resting on, still with plenty of leaves for them to feed on, found a big enough jar to temporarily house them in, and relocated them into it. I covered the jar with a doily since I couldn’t find the tulle I knew we had (as usual).

I was going to transform this old Quaker Oats jar into an upside down tomato planter like this one (below) I already have hanging. So far, the tomato plant is thriving (much bigger than that now). The jar also has moss rose growing on top. In the interim, the second jar will serve as as home for caterpillars we want to study.

Something to note is the amount of waste these caterpillars produced. It was A LOT. I thought the quantity was amazing and didn’t really mind; it meant fresh fertilizer every day.

Four days later, one of them went missing. Or so I had initially thought. It turned out that one just pupated ahead of the other. One of the drying leaves on the stem was actually a chrysalis. A day later, the other one followed suit. The chrysalides made a fun little “Find Waldo” kind of game for the kids. They took a bit of time figuring out which ones were the cocoons among the leaves.

We waited about a week for the things to complete their magic inside their cocoons. One morning, I heard a frantic flapping noise as I walked past the jar. One of the butterflies had finally emerged. It seemed ready to fly off, so I got the family for the send off.

What a miracle, right? It transformed from that creepy brown slug-like thing into this pretty butterfly (with a couple more steps in between, of course). Nature really is so amazing. And there are so many life truths in this lesson of metamorphosis.

Anyway, the other butterfly emerged the day after. I think maybe it wasn’t quite ready when we released it because it just flew to the twine we used to hang an old CD (to keep the birds from plucking off cuttings we’re trying to root and beating us to the fruits, especially the chilies.) When it was ready, it flew off.

The kids are sad to learn that their butterflies will only live a week or two, but such was the life of an adult lime butterfly. In any case, the cycle continues. Our butterflies and their comrades must have come back to lay their eggs in our garden because there’s a whole bunch of brown slugs on our citrus plants again. We’re just going to leave them be. I’ve stopped thinking of them as garden pests because their presence just shows that the garden is part of the ecosystem, and, really, having butterflies in the garden is a wonderful treat.

I think next we’ll see what those caterpillars on the pechay are going to turn out to be.

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 1

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love books. Some people love reading; I love reading AND books. Those are two different things. The second means that I prefer experiencing paper pages instead of the LED glow of an e-reader. I’m afraid it also means that I have a compulsion to hold on to my books. I just… don’t let go of my books! It might be a mental condition; I don’t know, but those who’ve been to my house bear witness to this particular trait of mine.

Being a book hoarder also means that my kids get to read the actual books that I read as a child. They can open a book and see my name written in my then-still childish handwriting. More often than not, the date or year when I got the book is included. That’s something I got from my mother. It was always thrilling to me to read her old books and note that they had been with her since the ’60s and ’70s. I came to love Emilie Loring because of the stash of old romances that she herself held onto. None of my friends knew who Emilie Loring was.

So that’s the other thing, hoarding books means that I have copies of older editions or of books that are no longer being printed at all, and I’m just the kind of person who would consider those treasures. 😀

I love children’s books, and I’ve started writing and publishing my own as you might know. However, nothing beats a tale of childhood adventure during a time when children had more freedom to explore, when they had to turn to the outdoors for fun, when they had to rely on their imagination and creativity to be entertained…

I like exposing my children to this kind of childhood. It was a great time. It had its problems, of course, but I think many of the old-timers have a hankering for the good old days for a reason. I would love to let my kids experience such an era, even if only in books and movies.

But we’re talking about old children’s book series. Many great ones have remained popular through the decades such as Nancy Drew, but I think there are also many excellent ones that have slipped through the cracks. From time to time, it’ll be my pleasure to write about the more obscure old series I love and want my children to read. Today, I’ll start with three.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (first published in 1965) by Bertrand R. Brinley

Each book in the series, except for the last one (The Big Chunk of Ice), which was published by Brinley’s son in 2005, is a collection of short stories narrating the wacky adventures of this group of friends comprising The Mad Scientists’ Club. The stories were first published in “Boys’ Life,” the official youth magazine of Boy Scouts of America.

What do I love about this series?

  1. It’s straight up adventure and shenanigan. It’s a fun read that’s meant to engage your imagination and tickle your funny bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys pestering the rest of the town with their grand scientific schemes.
  2. The science is solid. The main characters are boys who strongly practice DIY and accomplish scientific feats in the name of wholesome mischief.
  3. It’s set in the idyllic (but, of course, fictitious) small town of Mammoth Falls, which provides hills, river islands, caverns, etc. for energetic and inquisitive children committed to staying out of the house.
  4. The characters are all entertaining, the townsfolk included. Even the main villain, the rival gang of a former Mad Scientists’ Club member, is funny and not at all menacing.
  5. It’s the kind of book that will have you frequently bursting out in laughter.

*There was a two-part episode in “The Wonderful World of Disney” based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake.” If anybody could point me to a copy, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Trixie Belden (first published in 1948) by Julie Campbell Tatham (Kathryn Kenny)

Trixie Belden is kind of like Nancy Drew, except written with more levity and a younger sleuth (13) who is decidedly less of a paragon, but definitely more fun than Nancy. My mom scored my first Trixie Belden books (1 “The Secret of the Mansion” and 2 “The Red Trailer Mystery”) from, of all places, the nearby supermarket. I loved them. I loved Nancy Drew, but I enjoyed Trixie’s stories more. Why?

  1. Trixie was more realistic than the perfect Nancy. She could be rude, short-tempered, and impulsive. She also had chores and was usually short of cash. She was forever struggling with math.
  2. Again, the stories are set in a small town (love small towns!), and it’s easier to picture Sleepyside-on-Hudson than River Heights, which seemed too much like your generic suburban neighborhood (to me anyway).  The modest but sweet Crabapple Farm, which was nestled in a valley between two mansions on a hill, is decidedly more enticing.
  3. Bess and George provide humorous banter for Nancy Drew, but the Bob Whites (what Trixie and her friends, including her brothers, call themselves) definitely engage in zanier exchanges.

The Melendy Family Series (first published in 1941) by Elizabeth Enright

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are the Melendy Quartet, siblings who had a myriad of adventures starting from their time in the Manhattan brownstone they lived in and all the way to their odd-looking home in the country. They eventually gained another sibling in the heart-warming “And Then There Were Five.” What’s so great about this series?

  1. It is set in the Second World War, and you can see how children in the States were able to support their troops in their own small ways.
  2. The books are pretty action-packed with a wide variety of adventures from building a dam to staging a show, from gathering metal scraps to nighttime hikes, etc.
  3. They are children who follow their aptitude and nurture their gifts.
  4. Their values are solid even if they are also prone to mischief and snarkiness like many children.
  5. There’s no shortage of lovably eccentric characters, including a smiling pet alligator kept in a bathtub.

All these fictional children are ones I’d love for my children to get to know and draw inspiration from.

There are more wonderful, lesser known old-time children’s book series I’d love to feature, but which ones would you recommend? Let me know. 🙂

Quarantine Nature Scavenger Hunt

Do you miss immersing yourself in the natural world? Now more than ever, I wish my family lived in our own homestead. This quarantine wouldn’t be as oppressive if there was a bigger space in which to move around. At least we do have some outdoor space and a garden to which we can venture out (sans mask) for some fresh air and greenery.

We like going out though, especially to drive down to the river or up to the mountains so the kids can get their nature fix. Another usual outdoor recreation haunt for us that we greatly miss is the UP Diliman (my alma mater) campus, which seems to have acquired squirrels in the absence of the typical university bustle! Also, there are said to be sheep grazing on the grounds or hanging out at the jeepney stands! All these, of course, just make the hankering to see the place that much stronger.

I have to say that I’m the worst kind of introvert, but even I’m feeling penned up. I miss our church. I miss our homeschool co-op. I miss bumping into friends and acquaintances as I’m out and about. I miss eating out (how my heart breaks over all those long-running dining establishments that have been forced to permanently close their doors, or those that just opened and never even got the chance, or just all the businesses out there that have suffered and continue to suffer because of the pandemic). I also miss buying stuff from brick-and-mortar stores and not having to worry about exorbitant shipping fees. I’m most definitely craving our family road trips.

But I disgust myself when I get this whiny, so I compensate by finding ways to make the situation work.

Like I said, I crave nature and doing nature-oriented activities, but even in our concrete (or cinder block and plaster) cocoons, we can still encounter bits of the natural world (all very “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”). As that cool Dr. Malcolm says, “Life finds a way.” If we bother to take our eyes away from the screens, we can find living nature, other than the humans, at home. If we take the time to register their presence and appreciate their existence, we’ll feel a connection with the fresh and living world out there and our minds are healthier for it.

We can consciously look out for these things in our confinement, and what better way to do that than with a Scavenger Hunt. This is always fun. At least, for me, it is.

I know we have different home situations, so I’m going to make a list each for those who are really pretty much limited to finding the items listed inside their homes, without even a window with a good view to look out of; for those who don’t have exterior space, but do have a nice view from a window; and for those who have a yard. I hope at least one of these can help you pass the time and the activity can help tide you over until you can venture out again.

 

It’s okay to include items in the fridge or pantry.

 

Repeat items ought to be different kinds, e.g. Bird 1 (sparrow), Bird 2 (pigeon), Bird 3 (crow).

 

Feel free to add interesting items you spotted to the list. 🙂

Unschooling and the Budding Artist

Today’s post is written by my daughter. She’s going to talk about her main interest, which is art.

I’m Marguerite, I go by Lumia online. I love art and spend a lot of my time drawing and painting. I am not very polished yet, but I am willing to work and train to become a professional artist someday. That’s what every beginner artist wants, right? To get better so that they can be like the artists they admire. Well, if you want to become an artist as well, you better practice everyday and look at tutorials online like I do. You also have to toughen yourself up because, if you want to improve, you also have to accept criticism.

I am also fond of video games and anime, so I usually draw video game and anime characters. I got the name “Lumia” from a video game series named The Touhou Project. (She’s actually called “Rumia,” a mistranslation of Lumia.) Let me tell you more about my journey as a young artist.

I first learned that I wanted to become a professional artist back in 2016. I saw lots of process videos of art. They looked very fascinating and I got inspired to get into drawing more seriously.

Before that, I just knew that I enjoyed drawing and did a lot of it. The earliest art creation of mine I can remember is drawing ovals with faces and sticks for arms and legs on one of the walls outside my grandma’s house when I was about 2-3 years old. (Hahaha. Don’t worry, I used chalk.)

Since then, I’ve gone through several art phases. For a time, I liked drawing digitally, and then with colored pencils and watercolor markers. I also did a lot of painting with watercolor and acrylic. I didn’t like using oil that much.

Right now, I enjoy both digital and traditional art forms. I like to draw or paint on paper first, and then scan the picture to digitize it. That’s what I did with the cover of “Encounters with Strange Creatures,” the first book in Mom’s series about the XQ Girls. For that one, I used Ibis Paint. The medium I prefer for drawing is colored pencils, but I’m eager to use other media more in the future.

To improve, I’ve taken courses and workshops, including basic drawing and painting classes, landscape watercolor painting, sumi-e style watercolor, and other techniques applied to watercolor. I’m interested in learning how to do semi-realistic art. My drawings are more cartoony than realistic.

When it comes to influences, mine include Pluvias, Chaesu, Orange0925, Alphes, and Moe Harukawa. These are artists I found on YouTube and Instagram. When it comes to the classics, I like many of Edvard Munch’s works.

I’ve been thinking of opening commissions for a few months already, but I still have to get around to doing it. Mom said I should create a gallery of my artworks and build my resume. I’ll get on that soon. Right now, I’m working on a couple of paid art projects – a few illustrations for my mother’s books and three acrylic paintings for my uncle. I recently finished the cover for “Return of the ’80s White Lady,” the second book in the XQ Sisters series. I used watercolor to make it and didn’t digitize it beyond scanning it and using a filter.

That’s all for now. Here is a picture I drew and then digitized using PaintTool SAI 2 for the pandemic frontliners.

Homeschooling Methods and Jigsaw Puzzles

As you probably already know, we’re a homeschooling family. Many of you who have been forced by the pandemic to consider homeschooling are probably learning that there are vastly different ways to homeschool. If I were to label our homeschooling style, I’d say it was independent eclectic with strong leanings toward unschooling.

My eldest child is 13 years old, so, since we believe that learning starts at infancy, we often say that we’ve been homeschooling for 13 years. In those 13 years, we’ve tried a number of homeschooling methods. In the beginning, I fell in love with Waldorf. I had some concern about the spiritual aspect of it, but found a Christian Waldorf resource. We tried it out, but it involved an entire lifestyle that wasn’t always easy to keep up, so we took the bits that we liked and tried out other things that we thought might suit us better. It was early days, so we did a lot of sampling. At preschool age, my daughter ended up doing a lot of lapbooks and project-based homeschooling. 

In between then and a couple of years ago, we sort of fell into unschooling. I was busy with work, autism revelations, new babies, homemaking, etc. and it was just easier to let Marguerite follow her interests since I didn’t have the energy to be consistent with any structured curriculum. In those years, she got very good at different forms of art, amassed an impressive vocabulary, turned herself into a grammar Nazi, and cultivated a hodgepodge of really cool interests. She was definitely behind in Math. Her grasp of Science was splotchy but okay, probably not any worse than what I’ve retained after 15 years or so of traditional schooling. Her historical and trivial knowledge, however, was impressive. 

It was mostly going okay, except that I felt a lot of guilt and disquiet about the total absence of “schooling,” and I experienced a lot of anxiety about the future. I obviously didn’t go through proper deschooling like I should have to properly embrace the concept of unschooling. So, about two years ago, I decided to try another homeschooling approach that had interested me in the beginning. Charlotte Mason appealed to me because it prioritized a lot of the subjects and skills I valued. I like the idea of copywork, nature studies, narration, living books, classical art studies, practical crafting, etc. We tried following Ambleside Online’s curriculum, but we tended to deviate from it to read and do whatever the kids preferred, so, as with Waldorf, we took the bits that suited us and moved on.

I want to say that we switched back to unschooling, but it wouldn’t be true. I feel that there are skills and knowledge that my kids would benefit from and should acquire whether they’re interested in them or not, so I include them in their to-do lists.

I do still subscribe to a lot of Waldorf and Charlotte Mason resources and I remain a member in the FB groups oriented to these learning methods because there are just some things about them that I really love. Of course, I also affiliate our family with unschoolers because we just identify with them so much.

At any rate, in a local Charlotte Mason group, I recently came across a post advertising jigsaw puzzles depicting famous paintings. I was instantly interested. I love art, I love puzzles, and I loved that these ones were very reasonably priced. I would have liked to order every design available, but I convinced myself to calm down and just start with four. I let Marguerite choose two and I chose the other two. She chose Starry Night (Van Gogh) and Mona Lisa (Da Vinci) because “we should have those,” and I ended up going with Spoliarium (Luna) and Open Window (Matisse).

The seller (The Art of Homemaking) was very accommodating and the transaction went smoothly. I had the puzzles (and all my other shipments) delivered to my parents’ house because there’s always somebody there to receive parcels. I didn’t get to check them out until the day after when we visited my folks. While still there, I decided to try working on one and chose Starry Night. My sister worked with me for a short while, but I did it by myself for the most part. It’s pretty challenging for a small puzzle set (A4-sized, I believe). Of course, I was a bit distracted because I was also chatting with other people and watching TV the entire time (never say that I can’t multitask, lol). It took me two NCIS episodes and one NCIS New Orleans to finish it. We don’t have a TV at home – and obviously for good reason- so I binge watch when I’m at my folks’.

The kids and I worked on Starry Night again at home. It wasn’t in one sitting, so I’m not sure if it took longer or not. When we were done, we debated on whether to hang it on the wall in our homeschool room or not, but decided to break it up again so we could have it as an activity option when we have people over (after the pandemic ends, of course) or whenever we feel like challenging ourselves again. I think it will eventually go up on the wall though. Anyway, I think we’re doing the Mona Lisa next. It’s probably going to be easier than Starry Night, but we’ll see.

There’s only Marguerite in the picture because the boys liked to flit around. That orange on the table is actually Cameron’s. Usually when they’re doing mental work, I diffuse a blend of Peppermint and Lemon essential oils for clarity and focus. 

In any case, these puzzles are a great tool for teaching kids about the masters. They’re definitely more engaging than simple prints. If you’re interested, you can go to The Art of Homemaking Facebook page to check out the different available designs. This is not a sponsored post, btw, in case you’re wondering.

Anyway, puzzles hold happy associations that brim with ‘80s nostalgia for me. Since I do like exposing the kids to old school childhood elements, this activity is a win in multiple ways.

What about you? How do you feel about jigsaw puzzles? Are you homeschooling? What method are you using? Do you have a TV at home? How do you feel about the ‘80s? Let me know!

Our Journey to Pet Ownership (Scam and Benefits)

I’ve always wanted the kids to grow up with a pet or two. Knowing, however, that the responsibility of housebreaking and other necessary pet training would fall on my shoulders, I thought it would be best to wait until all my own kids were already potty-trained before we got one. I hadn’t figured on autism, however. I should know better than to make conditional clauses that tempt fate. 

My daughter Marguerite has wanted a cat for the longest time. Her lovey as a toddler was a stuffed toy cat she very originally called “Kee Cat” (her way of saying “kitty cat”). When she outgrew her dependence on Kee Cat, she naturally nurtured an interest for the real thing.

Through the years, she has expressed her desire to have a pet cat, and I could definitely relate. I had also distinctly identified myself as a cat person early on. However, she had two brothers who were still in diapers. Based on my own condition, it wasn’t the right time, so I had no choice but to simply  assure her that we would eventually get one for her. Fortunately, she reacted very well to the idea of waiting.

A couple of years ago, however, after reading about the benefits of a dog companion for autistic kids, my husband and I were convinced that the sacrifices and inconveniences of pet ownership would be worth it if our boys were to have significant gains from the experience. We thus visited a pet shop to see how our sons would interact with a Yorkie (our chosen breed at the time). While there, Marguerite got to hold and pet a super cute Persian cat. A few minutes later, she had hives on her arms and red, watery eyes. 

Oh, right. I forgot that I was allergic to cats as well when I was little. I developed a rash on my arms and neck, prompting my parents to rehome the kitten they’d gotten me. My allergies seemed to have eventually gone away as I had cats again when I was in college, also bunnies, and a dog. 

I started reading up on cat allergies and whether there were breeds that were hypoallergenic. There are none despite what some people may claim. There are less allergenic breeds, however, and I became partial to two breeds, the SIberian and the Russian Blue.

I first contacted a Siberian kitten seller I found through an online ad site. It turned out to be a scam. Basically, they would tell you that they’re giving the kitten away for free, complete with a questionnaire to ensure that you would give the kitten a good, loving home, and then when you’re about to close the deal, they say, alas, I’m abroad right now, about to have surgery and the kitten is with me. If you’d send me 15k, I’ll arrange for an international pet shipping service to deliver the kitten to you. I played along with this fishy arrangement until I got their Gcash number, and then told them that I’d just wait for them to get back to the Philippines. Now, I have the Gcash number, but I don’t know how to go about reporting it or if that would even help stop these people from trying to scam others. And they have been successful in some instances. I’ve read in a local FB cat group a woman’s post about how she was still pet-less after paying for several deliveries that didn’t pan out. She said that after she’d sent the money, she never heard from the seller again. Unfortunately, some members were not very kind in pointing out her gullibility.

Anyway, long story short, I tried again, this time on Facebook. The deal went through and we got ourselves two Russian Blue x Scottish Straight kittens. Scottish Straights aren’t known to be low-allergenic, but the former owner assured me that she herself had asthma and skin sensitivities, but the kittens or their parents had never triggered an allergic reaction from her. It has been a week since we got the kittens and no flaring allergies so far. 

It’s early days yet, but I’ve made up my mind not to regret doing this. I’m not a fan of scooping up their waste and cleaning the litter box, but it has been really wonderful having the kittens around. In any case, studies have shown that having a pet offers multiple benefits for the family.

Here are some of them:

  • Health-wise, findings indicate that pet owners are less inclined toward depression and hypertension (Pet fish owners count!). They also tend to have stronger resistance against pathogens. In many cases, the presence of pets is downright therapeutic.
  • Pets give comfort and unconditional love alongside the companionship they provide. They embody a ready confidant free of judgment.
  • Animal care sparks the instinct to nurture, planting the seeds of good parenting. It teaches selflessness, sympathy, sacrifice, and service. 
  • Owning a pet reinforces both responsibility and confidence. Pet owners are helping another living thing remain happy and thriving. It gives them a sense of control and boosts their self-esteem.
  • Growing up with pets provides cognitive support and helps learning in many other ways. Animals can provide lessons in socializing, behavior, emotional management, empathetic insight, and natural progressions.

Anyway, I’m very happy to be the person (one of them) of these kittens, and I’ll probably bore some of you by going on and on about them. If you do want to see more pictures, head on over to my Instagram. Hasta luego. 🙂

Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

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