Closed Terrarium Project

Our first closed terrarium (made out of a gallon juice container) stayed sealed for two years before the plant died.

This year we’re trying a glass container with a better seal.

Educational value can be found in a mini demonstration of the water cycle, discussion of plant respiration, ongoing observation, discussion and problem solving. Children of all ages can help out with this great and simple family project.


  • small rocks for drainage (3.99 USD)
  • sphagnum moss (2.99 USD for a very large bag)
  • activated charcoal (from pet store, I’ve had it so long, I can’t recall the price)
  • potting soil (varies, I used left over from our planters)
  • small tropical house plant with low to medium water needs, generously pre-watered (important, no other watering happens- 5.99 USD)
  • Glass Jar (got this one at michaels, 9.99 USD)

We started by  putting drainage rocks in the bottom of our jar.


then a layer of sphagnum moss to separate the layers.


then came a layer of activated charcoal. (keeps mold away)


and finally the soil and plant.


We closed it up and wrote the date it was sealed on a piece of tape on the lid.

If all goes well, it should last awhile, filling the jar and dying back a few times. Our previous one was kept in the kitchen, but this time we’re placing it in the living room.

There is already a good bit of condensation on the glass, before long it will trickle down to the soil.


I plan to do a one, three, six, and annual update if it goes as expected. If it doesn’t we can hypothesize about what went wrong and adjust for next time.


Have you ever kept a closed terrarium? How did it go?


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Oregon Ridge Nature Quest (Wednesday Picture Diary)


I think I’ll begin using Wednesdays to share pictures/what we’ve been up to.

Yesterday we traveled a half hour north to “Oregon Ridge Park” for a picnic, nature center visit, and Nature Quest Hike.




I love the tallness of the trees here. The general mood of the forest is a good one and the weather was perfect. On the edges, Mountain Laurel was in full bloom.


Our finds: Robin Egg shell, flowering bud, a snail shell. Spotted: chipmunk, frog, minnows

DSCN0035 DSCN0036

Our hike (moderate/hard rating) involved several stream crossings and steep hills. The kids really earned this one.


Release the Frogs!

Happy Monday, and Memorial day/bank holiday  for everyone celebrating.

We’re on our final week of break before we start the new school year.


Time to get back to it.

We’re switching to year round now, but only 4 days a week.  My eldest and I managed that schedule for years so I know its workable.  It will, I hope, give me more open Fridays for writing.

As most of my weekends are kid free,I like to spend the lion’s share of them alone at home doing things I don’t usually have time for, and enjoying much needed solitary time.

Saturday my to-do list had :

  • write
  • groceries
  • release the frogs

Have you ever had that on a to-do list?

The  tadpoles from a week and a half ago developed into frogs quickly so I decided to not wait for the kids to come back to release them.  I grabbed the portable pet cage and drove them back.  Water is heavy so it was slow waddle from the parking lot to the pond.

A man out for a walk  came by, looking confused/interested. “Hello!!!!!:” I called super cheery (like “Flo” from progressive commercials level cheery) “Well hello!”

He passed without  another word.

I wonder what he was thinking.

Finding a good shallow spot I dumped them out and watched them. They were doing generally exploratory happy froggy things.

I began to think, will someone think I’m dumping a pet??

My plan, if so, was to defend myself saying “they’re indigenous,

indigenous (repeating for emphasis) !!! They belong here! And anyway -it was educational!”

No one asked.

I once raised non indigenous frogs from tadpole to frog.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Jeremy lived rather long lives.

We don’t like to talk about what they did to Kermit.

I’d like to say its was science-y educational reasons but no, it was on my bucket list. I have a mental list of things I’ve wanted to do in my life. Raising frogs, butterflies, and chickens are on it. I’ve managed all three. I raised chickens back when I lived in West Virginia, from peeping mail order chicks in a baby pool to grown laying hens in a portable pen. It was generally rewarding save for the killer dogs and foxes.  One time we even had surprise llamas. Butterflies are much easier.

It occurs to me that my bucket list may be a bit unique.

As far as our spring project list goes….

  • The pollinator garden planned for this year is growing ever so slowly.  The seeds we got from Green Fest  have not germinated, save one unidentified sprout.  One type of flower is blooming. Itty bitty ants like it.


Another is getting ready to:


  • We’ve had more orchard bees lay eggs in the houses. I’m hoping we also get some leaf cutter bees over the summer.

DSCN0013 DSCN0014

  • Our sweet potato are taking extra long to develop. I need to get them out in the planters and growing by June if there is to be anything to harvest by October.
  • I have the supplies for the new closed terrarium. That will be a step by step post when that is completed (some time within the week).

With Spring out of way, Summer plans are coming into view, which include

  • growing things in petri dishes
  • swimming at the waterfall/Patapsco
  • more nature Quest Hikes
  • keeping on with the Butterfly survey

Growing things in petri dishes is another bucket list thing, but at least I have the excuse of a teen studying microbiology.

Do you have a bucket list? (written or merely in your mind) What is one  you’d like to do but haven’t gotten to yet?  (comment below)


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Hot water consumer zombies (the noise of life)

Morning  :-)

I’m finding, even without broadcast tv, a weariness of the constant push to get me to consume/buy/upgrade stuff.

Its just  a never ending noise. I even thought a bit yesterday, about what it would be like to be “off the grid” entirely, to avoid ALL of it.

Then I am reminded,

WHY I wouldn’t last long in a zombie apocalypsezombiechart
 Even though I can dance the Thriller.

I don’t think its the brain eating walking dead that would get me.

Its not the lack of 21st century technology, or even isolation.

I can do isolation.

I see myself as an eventually aged  hermit on a mountaintop with huge signs like this one:


This future aged hermit will have electricity in which to run a well and water heater.

I am a wuss without a hot shower.

I think my desperation for hot water would spell my doom while everyone else is dying by zombie. The same thing goes for living :”off the grid” (unless I had a super impressive solar set up that could keep a hot water heater going)

Last night  while I was getting the littles ready for bed, the electricity went out .

We finished getting ready for bed  by cell phone glow and LED tea light.

Utmost thought on my mind was not,

“If the electricity is out tomorrow how shall we eat? stay cool? manage our day??”




It was, “uggghh. what if I cant get a hot shower?”

Mincemeat I tell you.

I once had a “conversation” with a woman trying to convince herself she had “caught” autism, at the age of 45 from power lines. It was a huge government conspiracy. Why the government would be motivated to do that, she never said.

Couldn’t  I “hear the hum?” The loud humming in her mind made her miserable. Now I think, she probably needed to see a psychiatrist instead of justify her paranoia. She was also mistaking symptom for cause, a not uncommon thing.

BUT she was right, there is a HUM.

Its most evident to people when the power is out and then comes back on. Some people do hear it all the time. Some electronics are hummy-er than others. This can really be an issue for hearing sensitive autists because other sound on top of that hum is really quite a din.

Water fears aside, It was nice to fall asleep to the sound of nothing.

The electricity stayed out until about 12:30 am, when everything went ROARING back on and sent me flying out of bed, or rather, off the couch, in a panic.

After checking to make sure all the lights were off, I went back to sleep secure in the knowledge my morning shower would be all good.

I suppose I can deal with constant ads and product placement.

So what do you think would be your doom should zombies descend?


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Making Assumptions Can Disable (importance of self efficacy)

While I do pay for tough jobs like yard work, I don’t believe in reward systems for getting kids to do the everyday chores that keep a house together and running. I don’t use stickers or candy, or allowance in exchange for housework.  Our family is a team and keeping a home together is a team effort. To me reward systems for basic work sends the message that “this isn’t really your job, this work is outside of you.”  Looking at a home as a team effort and having chores as an expected part of life in order to contribute to that team,  instills a work ethic and helps build self efficacy so very badly needed by our children, autistic and otherwise.

It helps with independence as well.

I once met a college aged girl who was clueless about doing laundry, and messaged me to ask how to fry an egg.  She explained that her mother wouldn’t let her anywhere near the stove. I know its easier, faster, and at times more pleasant for parents  to do chores themselves, but if independence is our end goal our children should know how to prepare food and be  familiar with how clean laundry ends up in their room.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still end up reminding people to do chores frequently, and sometimes things are not up to a level of cleanliness they would be if I just did it myself. However no one complains, and helping is a given around here.

Kids are capable of an amazing  amount of responsibility. (it doesn’t amaze me, but certainly often other people)

It is a disservice to assume that they cannot.  It can create a learned helplessness a lack of feeling of self efficacy.

SELF EFFICACY one of if not THE most important, more desired outcomes of childhood, far beyond academic attainment or self esteem.

One huge factor in its development is having an adult who believes in and challenges a child.

A very basic way to work on this is assigning chores.

The one kid most devoted to his chores is  my son Pete.

He’s the kid with the classic autism diagnosis.

You know what one of his major challenges is?

It’s not his difficulties in communication.

It’s not his “autistic” behaviors.

It’s not his sensory sensitivities.

It’s that people underestimate him.

Sure autism creates impairments, but people’s assumptions impair (disable) his abilities.

This was especially evident in school in terms of lack of challenging material, and an attitude that he was not mentally present.

Not being challenged put him further behind.

I try very hard not to assume that I know his limits.

Sometimes I fail at that.

Yesterday was the day we switch to summer schedule for visitation so the kids spend three days at Dads (Friday-Sunday)

I began to worry that not being able to do his Friday job was going to bring him stress/unhappiness. I thought “well, maybe I should ask him do it early? oh no, he wont understand why, would he mind if I did it instead? should I save the chore?” etc.

Yesterday afternoon I began getting people’s things together and asked Aidan and Bee to pack. I announced to no-one in particular that it was the start of our summer schedule.

Later Pete started his Thursday chore, making snack. He put his cupcakes in the oven, checked it off his chore list, and then asked to do Friday’s chore.

Of course he has heard me and seen the bags.

Of course he knew he wouldn’t be here today.

He solved the problem himself, because he is capable.




Reality tv, Freaks, Sifaka and Traumatic Haiku

Morning :-)

Thank you for all the kind comments on my last post. I am thinking of scheduling another walk for next week.

Do you all watch reality tv? I don’t, so I wasn’t much use in this past week’s #filmdis discussion on the topic. I have seen snippets of them here and there and fighting and high drama seems to be a common element.

Another is novelty.

My son Aidan says that while our family may be novel we simply aren’t interesting or screamy.

We’d make for excruciatingly boring reality tv.

We’re on our month break for schooling before summer session starts. I’ve been planning out 9th grade for the eldest which will include microbiology, geometry, ancient rhetoric, world history, and creative writing.

I’ve also been working on putting finishing touches on my paper and my talk I’ll be presenting at a Sherlockian symposium in a little less that a month, as well as book on nature study. I want to announce more about that soon and am also contemplating setting up a site for more serious writing about media representation of invisible disability.  Right now I’m re-reading  “Pop Culture Freaks: Identity Mass Media and Society, and “How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing through media influence.”

That’s what I’ve been doing.

It’s not particularly trend setting  or Kardashian-esque  I  know.

Other highlights this week:

This past Sunday we went to the Maryland zoo, which though only about 5 miles away, we’ve never been to before.


I have mixed feelings about zoos and keeping wild animals in captivity, especially those  cognitively complex enough to have awareness. (to know, “this isn’t my home”, “this isn’t what my home should be like”, “I’m lonely”…etc)


The sifaka lemurs seemed pretty content.

The leopard on the other hand…miserably pacing a small circle ( worn down into a groove), I felt for him.

Monday I organized the spare room into a study for myself.

I also gave “shiny armor” a new hairdo. Tessa was unappreciative.



Tuesday I had to remove a very much alive and frightened mouse from my kitchen sink. I wrote a haiku, to commemorate the occasion:

“Not in my job description”

Twas in my sink
it is now relocated
cat is on notice

Wednesday we went to “Font Hill Wetlands Park” for our biweekly butterfly count.  However it was cooler and breezy and not one butterfly fluttered by.


The paths were covered in helicopter seeds. Lily gathered up a few to bring home to use in the confetti cannon she made this week. We also gathered tadpoles for observation. They are loving lettuce and betta food.

DSCN0152 DSCN0169

Today will be more writing, planning, and cleaning. Tonight starts our summer schedule where the kids will spend Friday-Sunday with their Dad.

Tomorrow is the autism positivity flash blog, which I hope to do something for.

And that’s it.

Hope everyone is doing well.



Anxiety is a bitch.

About a week and a half ago I started a meetup group with the aim of forming a group of Baltimore area families  that meet-up for nature walks/hiking geared toward children. I set a date and location for our first meet-up for this past Thursday.
For days I checked it and saw no new members or any interest. I thought, “well that was a stupid idea, why would anyone come?” (I say mean things to myself, my inner voice is quite an abusive bitch sometimes). Thursday came and my son Patrick cut his toe. It wasn’t an emergency room situation or anything but he didn’t want to put on shoes. I thought, “oh well, its not like anyone was coming anyway.”

An hour after the designated meetup, I decided to go look at the site. I was thinking of taking it down.

Have you guessed yet?


People had signed up, I just hadn’t gotten the notifications and presumably those families had been waiting on a no-show leader. I felt, and still feel, terrible about it. Excuses aside I should have been more proactive in double checking. I hate letting people down. Though my initial desired response was to just erase the meetup, I didn’t. I put an apology on the page, but I totally get if people don’t want to give it a second chance. I haven’t gone back to look to see yet.

I blame me, I blame that bitchy  inner voice, anxiety manifest that defeats so many of my efforts.

During my neuropsychological evaluation I was found to have “elevated” physiological panic, social phobia and negative affectivity, as well as mildly elevated worry fear.  Taken together it came to a determination of “Severe Clinical Severity” (which was in red block letters, eek) To say I’m anxiety ridden is an understatement.

In my mind, every day I deal with a scornful abusive voice of worry…

“no one wants to hear what you have to say, why would your ideas matter, you’re going to mess this up, what if X,Y,Z happens, its not going to work out, why bother, you’ll be an idiot, give up, people don’t like you, something is wrong, the future is empty….   etc. etc.”

Now, rational me knows its irrational and negative. It doesn’t matter much if I’m feeling stressed or have rational worries on top of it, which is often.  I listen to her, sabotage myself  and then add that to my list of past mistakes I feel guilty about.  Oh and it ends up in that negative self talk as well.

Anxiety medication has not worked out,  I can’t afford counseling at the moment, so my only means of combatting it is through expressing my feelings, and getting out more.  However to be able to do that, I need to get around that voice to begin with because it tends to be in the decision making/planning/pre event process that the most difficulty occurs, not in the actual doing. It short circuits my executive functioning.

Interacting with other adults around things that interest me is  my idea of social outside of the internet.  I do that when I attend Sherlock Holmes themed events. I do that when I help with butterfly counts, and other nature related events.  I do that to some extent in general ways as a parent educator.

I was really hoping that the meetup would be a good option as well.










Review: How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson


I love parts of this book.

As a child development grad, nature educator, and mom to six, I agree wholeheartedly that free play is where connection happens. Experiences and environment shape us. I also agree that technology can be a valuable tool to connecting with nature, in moderation. Sampson rightly asserts that we don’t have to know it all but we do need to MODEL a love for nature and inquisitiveness. He describes how important it is not to lead or quiz but ask open questions that further inquiry and communication.

There are excellent suggestions/ideas in this book that include
• Telling nature stories (parent and child telling) both personal, the written word, and of the Universe)
• Watching sunsets, having nature experiences with this child
• Journaling or recording nature with more modern means
• Importance of green and nature play spaces
• Following children’s leads in interests

Sampson mentions Anna Comstock my woman naturalist/educator hero.

How could a nature nut NOT geek out over all of that?

But then…
For a guy who obviously understands the nature of the universe he also falls into assumptions which fail to look at the world complexly, or acknowledge varying degrees of resources and flexibility.

For example, the author suggests that for connection to be made that DAILY free play time in nature is necessary.

What is that you say? You don’t have time with adult responsibilities to be out there with your kids every day? No worries! Mr. Sampson’s idea of free play is both unstructured AND unsupervised! Even for very young children!

In the introduction he blames technology, fear of stranger abduction, urbanization, and litigation for children’s lack of unstructured unsupervised time outdoors.
There ARE safety concerns outside abduction AND parents get reported to cps for ignoring them. Regardless of whether concerns are valid,
unsupervised roaming is no longer accepted by society.

On the flip side, many children in urban environments need MORE time with encouraging adults, not less.

It is entirely possible to have unstructured time that also includes supervision for safety’s sake.

Perhaps Sampson understands this as he goes on to make many suggestions where adult supervision IS present.
Yet even so,
time outside for free play in natural spaces is not something that is attainable daily for most parents, or teachers for many reasons, most of which are out of their control.
A teacher cannot say, “Screw teaching to the test! I’m taking these kids outside!” and expect to keep getting a paycheck.
A working parent (especially lower income without M-F 9-5 hours) often doesn’t have the resources in terms of time, or energy.

Another issue, is that like kids in nature book authors before him, there is a casual linking of children’s mental disorders to too much time indoors. Of course ADHD gets mentioned without any real understanding of the nature of the disorder. I would suggest, as a scientist, he have a good look at those “studies” and consider their small sample sizes and lack of follow up. I also wish he would go out to his nature spot have a good think about the danger of this irresponsible linking in terms of stigmatizing kids (and their caregivers) who live with childhood disorders.

(amazon star system – 3 stars)

This is not the mom you are looking for. Move along. (Baltimore Riots)


Monday afternoon/evening as most of the world knows, there was rioting in Baltimore. It was kicked off by a group of teenagers.   Police officers, journalists, business owners and other bystanders were attacked. Buildings from businesses to a housing development for seniors were burned to the ground. Stores were looted. Cars were destroyed. Fire fighters were ambushed.

I want to thank everyone who tweeted/emailed notes enquiring about our safety.

We’re fine.

Our neighborhood has been quiet and we’ve been avoiding downtown/areas were incidents have been centered.

Monday night an online parenting magazine contacted me hoping I’d share what “families/moms are concerned about in Baltimore.”

I suspect its because the topic is trending.

I think I can speak for all mothers generally in that we want our children to be safe, to have opportunities, to  stay away from criminality.

We’d like justice as well.

However, I can’t speak for most Baltimore moms beyond that because, despite living here and being poor, I don’t share many of their concerns and struggles.

I’m white.

Really, really very WHITE.


I blame the Danish DNA

The average Baltimore mom is single, poor, working class, and African American.


(tweet from me: I’m a poor white disabled single mom living in Baltimore and never assume to know their (African American) struggle of speak for them)

Like Ms. Smith in the tweet below, I don’t think sharing in adversity as a minority makes me an honorary member of another.

virtually black

(tweet from Mere Smith concerning a quote from director Paris Barclay “I’m a back,gay mans, so I’m virtually a woman” Ms Smith says “Now try to imagine me saying I’m “virtually black” since I’m queer and a woman.”)

We are privileged in many respects.

I was home with my children.

 This is a privilege most moms here DO NOT have.

Most were working Monday.

Most moms have their kids in public school.

Older students take public transportation  to and from school.  They aren’t bussed. Shutting it down stranded everyone and left a crowd of cornered angry teenagers with no means home.

I DID NOT have to drive into what resembled a war zone, to look for my children.


(tweet picture of a van on a street with the words “i’m looking for my son” written on the back)

While I do worry, because of disability, my children will be seen by police as dangerous,

I have NEVER had to worry they will be judged so by the color of their skin.

I am just not the average Baltimore mom.

We are so far beyond the typical Baltimore family that

*throws up hands*

I can’t speak for them.

It would be ridiculous to try.

Outrage would be justifiable.

I’d be a hypocrite.


It would be like Autism Speaks, trying to speak for autistic people.

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Post on posting the post, riots and racoon skulls

Hey minions,

Remember the paperwork I’ve been working non-stop on for an age?

Its for the umbrella school that helps us keep all of our state reporting requirements.

At 20 pages a child, its time consuming.

But now,

It is DONE.


Today I went to the post office and mailed it off.

In case the blog title and “about me” section hasn’t clued you in, we live in THE CITY.

I know “homeschooling” carries the presumption of white bread middle class planned community living, but its simply not the case for us.

It’s not gentrified.

It is not upper class.


We’re white bread below poverty line city dwellers.

I know we’ve made the news lately for  reacting to police thuggery by looting and vandalism, but I assure you most of us are mostly harmless. Sort of. Those people aren’t representative of justified outrage or my neighbors in general.

You couldn’t tell that from our post office though.

Mail is often dumped at the wrong address, and if it looks as if something interesting/valuable may be in it, tampered with.  Whether that tampering is by employees are after its placed on the porch, its impossible to say.  They can’t keep a regular carrier for our neighborhood, so they  take turns.

Pick up is even trickier. You can’t assume they’ll see it, and if they do, that they’ll take it.

The best way to mail anything then, is to go to the post office.

My post office has a yelp rating of two, mostly because the counter is  open for 5 hours  and there are often lines.

The parking lot is quite small so its often necessary to park across the street.  Across the street is a fenced off older cemetery and on one post of that fence is a make shift memorial for a young man that was murdered there. Regularly refreshed balloons, stuffed animals, even sweatshirts with his picture adorn the spot. This memorial has been kept up for years, I don’t know much of the details around it. People don’t usually get shot around here.

The inside of the post office is older and rather dirty.  Bullet proof glass separates  the customers from the clerks.  A Hannibal Lector prison cell type drawer  is used for passing parcels, just in case we bite.


It smells too.

Today it had a subtle bouquet of burning rubber.

Anyway… they are SENT.

We went hiking today as well.

Banneker historical park and museum is a 15-20 minute drive away and offers hiking trails and museum dedicated to Benjamin Banneker, free African American colonist, scientist, surveyor and farmer.

Lily found what we think is a raccoon skull. It was brought home to keep the deer skull company.


We also completed a “Nature Quest” marker.


We came home to news of riots, burning vehicles, injured officers and otherwise chaos just north of us. Tonight we had a state of emergency declared and curfew imposed.

And yet, I still insist, most protests have been peaceful, characterized by a desire for justice. Its a shame the criminal actions of a few are being used to discredit/mischaracterize a primarily peaceful response.

I do not condone violent acts, or looting, or destruction of private property, but I do understand the anger and distrust.

Coming up on Nature in the City this week:

  • I will post three of the children’s paperwork so you get a glimpse at our past  school year (which began in June)
  • a review of “How to Raise a Wild Child”
  • possible Saturday vlog

I am really interested in your feedback. What would you be interested in my sharing? Do you have a topic or question you’d like answered in this Saturday’s vlog?

Let me know in the comments.


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