School Boxes

Tiny Cat gets a scalp massage.  It's funny how it doesn't actually help him relax.

We are asked sometimes about our homeschool and what we do to 'cover' subjects.  Sometime the person asking is a teacher who is assigned to our family to oversee us and, ultimately, keeps us in the legal zone of homeschool education.  Which is this whole artificial dividing of learning and mastery into ersatz categories that make no sense and frustrates me to no end.  Like you can chop life up into little boxes, stick a label on it, and study it at the appointed time.  Well, maybe other people can, but we've got a lot of stuff to cover around here and all our boxes are open and spread out across the floor, covered in cat hair.  So we don't do boxes well.

The worst about making 'subjects' of learning is when the childs buy into it and start to panic because they just go about doing stuff and then their conventionally schooled friends are all, 'Hey, what grade are in?  What unit are you doing in math?  What's your reading level?  What kind of science you studying?
Burning Stuff is a subject at conventional school too, right?

Every once in awhile I need to remind a child who has suffered a 'what level are you at?' inquisition from their school friends that learning can be measured in many ways and taking a test and getting a score is only one way.  Rolling around to September and being assigned a new grade number is another.  Or you can make stuff see how you have improved skills or build communities with other people creating things together.  Other ways of measuring learning is communicating your ideas with other through reports or stories or drawings, or keeping records, or just waking up and knowing a little bit more than you did yesterday and, even more important, getting excited about what you are going to do today. 

Stretching rabbit pelts.  You can never really wash away the smell of rabbits, unfortunately.

My favorite way of keeping score is by how many times I have to wash my hands in a day.  In our home, we are hands on.  No, we are Hands On.  I tell the kids that our learning is 'project based' which is totally legit (Google it) but, even better, is a good shorthand for all the stuff we do and how we learn while doing it. Generally, we do not shy away from the messy stuff. 

But, to make a homeschool plan in our province that is approved by government types, we do need to play the boxes game a bit.  So I need to figure out how the things we do because we want to do them and (sometimes) they just need done fits into scheduled learning objectives relating to subjects.  To be fair, they give the objectives generally and then allow us to label our own boxes without preset categories.

Still.  Now I have to make the categories that I am categorically against?  Sneaky work, people.

This is more art than anything.  Today, for instance, the childs did Math while helping put up the insulation for a room we are building for girl child in our basement.  (Right now the childs share a room, thus, there is high motivation for both of them to get involved in the construction and speed things up.)  They had to measure up the walls and cut the insulation to size.  That means Math, yes? 

Or was it Science, because they were learning how to insulate against concrete, to keep the heat in the room and the damp out. Or maybe that's Engineering?  Is Engineering a topic in grade school?  It could be Health because preventing dampness in the room is preventing poor lung health and also they had to wash up afterwards.  No, wait, it was Physical Education, because it was a lot of physical work carrying, prepping, measuring, lifting, holding and more holding as the glue set.  Or it was Communications because there was a whole lot of instructions given by their father.  Also, they listened to the radio, so Music Appreciation!   

Girl child painted the basement stairs.  With her face, it appears.

So where I put the priority?  Also today, girl child did her first taxidermy.  I was vastly impressed at her maturity and deftness with a scalpel.  Plus, it's hilarious to listen to the muttering monologue of a twelve year old girl trying to figure out how to deal with a mouse's oversized scrotum and to incorporate it into her plan of making her mouse into a tiny rodent Greek philosopher, complete with toga and laurels.

(Do the balls tuck under?  Do exposed genitalia add or detract from the general authority of the speech posture?  Why are mouse balls so damn big?  This is why he has to wear a dress.)

(Additionally, it helps to know that one of girl child's favorite memoirists is Jenny Lawson, which explains much yet also manages to raise even more questions.)

So, taxidermy. That is Biology.  And Art?  Anthropomorphic taxidermy is also a vocabulary exercise.  Could be Sewing. Definitely Health education.  Even Sex Ed. 

Boy child tries a little light dentistry on a swine jaw we used to make headcheese with.
Whatever it is, I have a meeting coming up with my homeschool authority to try to explain what it is we are doing and whether or not we meeting the learning objectives I said that we would meet.  Luckily, my homeschool people are totally onboard with the unschooling and work to help me articulate what it is we are doing and how to translate into the language that the educational authorities can understand. 

Also good for us is they allow me to use my Instagram account as part of our portfolio to show examples of our projects.  I use a specific hashtag I can search and bring up our portfolio at our teacher meetings.  My account is here, if you are interested.

I leave you now with our current favorite super Hands On STEM Youtube Channel, The Brain Scoop, which is fascinating for so many reasons and so good for my science-y girl to watch.  Also, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is a great way to make a big box to throw a bunch of stuff in and not have to sort it out.  Sort of like how I always label all my moving boxes with 'miscellaneous'.     


The Peculiar Demands of Hot Beverages

The other day I was discussing stopping by The Man's work and he says, sheepishly, 'Don't be surprised if my co-workers ask you to do a moose call.'


I actually know why he said this.  It's me who is the weirdo here, not The Man's coworkers.

I don't want to brag, but my moose call is Hilarious.  And private.  I only let people who have come from the inside of my body (and the one who put me in the awkward position of having people inside of me) hear my moose call because it's not flattering.  It's loud and shocking, designed to make small sad children a little less sad. 

You may think that making moose calls is a strange way of cheering up children, but try it.  An awkward and sudden moose call can do wonders to lift a mood.  I also use it bribe the children into doing chores sometimes.  Like, 'if you clean the bathroom, I'll make a moose call.'  It works.  As I said, my moose is Hilarious and worth a little toilet scrubbing.

It's also worth, apparently, a little bragging about at work.  Like, 'My wife's moose call is better than your wife's moose call,' or whatever it is that guys sit around in the lunch room competing over.  Or maybe he was just being sweet and fondly talking about how awesome I am at moose calls while chuckling over the water cooler?  Maybe they often talk of moose calls at work and it was inevitable that mine would be brought up?  Because it is, as has been mentioned, Hilarious.

Now I am studiously avoiding The Man's work.  I still haven't recovered from the whole thirty seconds of roller derby that The Man showed his boss and coworkers of me playing in a tournament when I was accidently pantsed by a teammate.  ('Nice beige granny panties, honey!'  THOSE WEREN'T PANTIES!)

Here, look at Tiny Cat for a moment while you seriously do not think about what I just said.

Actually, there might be a tragic lack of entertainment during coffee breaks considering The Man also likes to talk about my hot beverage preferences. 

My hot beverage preferences are, admittedly, a little quirky.  A little exact.  And if the beverage isn't just like I want it, I feel betrayed and sort of like my day is ruined and what's-the-point-of-it-all-anyway ennui sets in and I have to go lay on my face for awhile.  Hot beverages are important to me.

For example, I like my coffee hot.  My first cup of the pot, after adding a precise amount of cream and butter, must be heated for exactly thirty seconds in the microwave.  Unless you are The Man, and are leaving the coffee on my bedside chair (yes, a chair, not a table) in the morning, and then it'll have to go in for a minute so in that the three minutes it take for me to wake up enough to drag myself upright to take a sip, it will have cooled enough but not too much.  If it's too cold, I can't drink it and will have to warm it up and then cream will make a congealed film on top that I have to scrap and then WHATSTHEPOINTOFITALLANYWAY?

The second cup does not need to be heated, because the cup is warm from the first already (back to back coffees) unless it cooled a bit  because it's been a little while since I finished, which if you place the cream in the cup (no butter this time) and then put the cup on top of the coffee machine to stay warm, then it's already perfect when the cup is finally poured sometime in the near future.

You will not be surprised to learn that only certain mugs are 'approved' for my use.  I rank cups along volume, weight, handle shape and cleverness. 

I also like hot cocoa, but I prefer dutch processed cocoa powder, exactly one heaping (super heaping) tea spoon into a half cup of boiling water (boiled on stove in kettle) and mixed in with coconut milk or heavy cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sixteen drops of stevia from a fresh bottle, seventeen drops if the bottle has been open for a couple weeks.  Mix well and fill the rest of the cup up with remaining water from the kettle.  Now, it must be hotted, so into the microwave for one minute twenty seconds.  No longer because it will already be bubbling ominously and about to flow over the sides like lava spewing from a chocolate volcano.  I like my cocoa to be so hot it takes a layer of skin off the roof of my mouth. 

Cocoa is my evening drink sometimes but before bed I like to have hot lemon, which is half a lemon squeezed into a mug, along with a quarter teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, a baby toe size wedge of ginger and filled with hot water.  But no need to heat the hot water any further, because I like to drink it up in just a couple gulps so it merely has to be hot.

I won't get into my afternoon tea for time and space reasons but you can assume there are some rigorous guidelines around that as well.

The way The Man tells it at work, I think his buddies consider him to be a living saint having to put up with someone with such maddening specifications for making coffee.  Around here, it doesn't do to fix me a cup of tea just to be nice.  No, you need training for that.

To balance this rigidity on hot beverages, I defend, I am incredibly relaxed on topics like housekeeping and yard maintenance.  Or where the children are. 

On some level, I think my hot beverage preferences (laws) have kept our relationship strong these past seventeen years.  I have changed my recipes over time but my desire for a consistent experience has not changed.  Having The Man trained up to specifications and, more importantly, the recognition of the importance of hot beverages to my mental well-being keeps here and working whenever we go through rough patches.  I mean, good help with hot beverages is so hard to find.

With this in mind, I asked The Man why he puts up with my hot beverage nonsense, bringing me coffee nearly every morning.  I expected him to say something about how he loves me and wants to do nice things but instead I got, 'It's my first line of defense for the children every day.' 


Like he's being a good dad by caffeinating Mom before the children wake?  But what does he think I'll do if I do not have a cup or two of coffee in me?  Satan blood rituals with the children as sacrifices?  Run screaming around the house, violently throwing cups and cats?  Or maybe I'll simply fall to get up to attend to the hundreds of things needed to be done each day before noon?  Frankly, I'm a little insulted.

Maybe I should rethink these past seventeen years.  Right after The Man fixes me a cup of joe.



The Womanly Art of Peeling Rabbits

The other day I was all set to go crash a roller derby practice in another town when I got a call from a friend, Dame-O, to please come help flesh rabbits.

I am a good friend.

Fleshing rabbits is the part of the process of tanning a rabbit pelt where the fatty tissue is removed from the flesh, or what will be the leather.  It's a slightly persnickety job and requires a bit of finesse to get some speed up, but not so much attention to detail that you overthink the situation and decide that you'd rather shove it all in the closet and never think about it again. 

Putting your tanning project off and pushing it back to where dwelleth unfinished sewing projects and clothes that you want to fit into when you finally lose weight is a really bad idea.  For obvious reasons, dealing with organic materials has a timeline that needs to be respected. When it's rabbit fleshing time, it's rabbit fleshing time.

In other words, it's a social job, to do with friends, like making cabbage rolls or quilting.  Work that can be shared by many hands.  Women's work.  Smart women, anyway. 

So, we had a fleshing bee. 

Before we go on, for delicate constitutions, I offer you this picture of Battle Cat having a little chortle and then you may be excused from this discussion. 

For anyone still here, I'll tell you I have some beautiful pictures of inside out rabbits that I will not share at this moment.  If you want to see the process in detail, the Internet does a good job of hiding nothing.  This video is great for getting a detailed look at what's happening and learning the process.

Now I would like to offer up my own observations on peeling rabbits. 

First, rabbits make even non-allergic people's noses twitchy. 

Your hands get all wet and wrinkly like you've been soaking in the tub for an hour, only inside of wine and bubbles, you have achy thumbs and micro-abrasions. 

When you accidently pull out a nipple, it makes a little popping noise that will cause children to scream and run from the room. 

The backside of faces it less interesting than you'd think, although the whisker roots are fascinatingly alien.  Or like cartons that show carrots from the underside of the garden, down in a rabbit warren.  

Dead, skinned rabbits are still cute.   

Okay, one picture to share.  This is Dame-O in her rabbit peeling fashions, fleshing a rabbit face.  Be assured, this is a very wholesome activity and she is not a monster.

I'm not sure exactly what my friend has planned for her hides but I do know that shared work get reciprocated and I happen to have a medium sized quilt that needs to be hand quilted.  Now, quilting, that is terrible, dark work.  As I realized the other day, I quilt because I have anger issues and I have anger issues because I quilt.
Though, to my knowledge, no one has ever accidently popped a nipple while quilting.
Here's hoping, anyway.


Girl child's revenge

This is a picture of girl child's arm.  She used it as a reference today as she wrote her second post on her new blog, Book Drift.  She's great with the reading but maybe not so much with the math.

I have conflicted feelings about having a vulnerable twelve year old showcase her tentative writings on the Internet, where all sorts of unfriendly people can post their opinions of her opinions, but girl child tells me that she's good with that, she just wants a place where she can practice her writing and share just enough of herself to build a small community. 

Or she wants revenge against me for blogging about her since her toddlerhood.  I know she's been itching for an opportunity to refocus the spotlight a little.  I have written thousands of words about her, posted hundreds of photos.  Oh, dear. 

I am freaking out here because I totally deserve everything she's going to say.

So far so good, though.  Two blog posts in and I've only cast in a small supporting role. Maybe I'm not nearly as important as I thought?  Or maybe I should be worried that she hasn't talked about me.  Maybe she's got more than me happening in her life?! What if she never talks about me at all? 

What about me?

I have predicted that it will all end in tears anyway.  Probably mine.


my domestic space: the scene of the crime


I was recently asked to contribute a photo to a project that focuses on domesticity in all of its weird and wonderful manifestations.  That got me thinking.  Which is why I have yet to actually make my contribution to this domestic documentation because I am basically paralyzed by trying to manifest a photo that tells of my relationship with the most messed up partner I've ever had: my home.

I can't tell if my domestic situation is fairly typical or way crazy different.  Talking about my home always makes me feel like I am being inadvertently weird and confessing something that will later make you judge me harshly.  I mean, I am obviously a unique special snowflake, just like everybody else, and I'm going to do 'home' in my own unique special snowflake way.  But does that mean that my home and family pretty much looks like everyone else's just maybe the cushions on the couch are a different colour and my soap smells like running water in Ireland and someone else's is rose blossoms?  Generally, we kind of all have the same stuff such as seating spaces and cats and organized chaos, and all that is completely normal.   Right?

Or, and this is what my paranoid shoulder angel whispers, maybe I've got the trappings of domesticity and if you were looking at my house from a blurred photo, it could be anybody's place, but if you paused to examine the details, maybe you might start to get that creeping sensation of jamais vu.  Like how the interesting print on the wall turns out to be a cover on an ironing board and there is a glue gun kept by the bedside, right beside a glass of water and a tin of nail clippings.  It's like domesticity pushed through the looking glass.

I feel like at some point, after finally making peace the fact that I am indeed a middle age home maker and a home schooler to boot (which is completely at odds with my self-image, which is embarrassingly juvenile and I'm choosing not to talk about it, but I will say that I still listen to angry punk music turned up loud every time I'm driving the childs around to their activities), I turned from cozying up my place with a couple of nice quilts and other soft furnishings and started thinking skulls and unexpected taxidermy was the ticket to domestic tranquility. 

(Unexpected taxidermy is when you go over to your friend's place and you find her mom fussing in the kitchen, not making muffins or doing dishes, but flaying a rodent and stuffing it's skin with foam and polymer clay.  Didn't see that coming, did you?  Well, maybe you did, but you have been warned.  And so has every child in our neighborhood.)

But it's not the creepy heads cuddled in by the pickled carrots or that fact that the soup pot may contain organ meat (we're big fan of beef tongue in soup too) or that the décor is reminiscent of natural history museum meets bookstore.  That is just aesthetics.  And nutrition.  Soup anyone?

It's more that my home isn't actually homey.  It's not really especially relaxing, domestic space.  There is no conversation enhancing furniture arrangements, the entrance is not inviting, the welcome mat does not exist (thought there is a mat specially reserved for the cats since they like to throw up on it.  Why do kitties vomit so much?)  There is no bathtub to soak in and if you want to sit at the table, I'll have to yank it out of the corner and unfold it because I've got a jersey knit all over the floor I'm trying to cut a sports top from.  I mean, it can be relaxing.  For me.  But maybe not for you, since I have a place that you can do a handstand if you want up against the wall and a dress form for spontaneous tailoring but not really a place to sit.  I also have coffee for you, but hold on because I've got to wash a cup (which is less china and more novelty overpriced mug from a Youtuber).  And while I do that, can you hold your finger on this horn I'm trying to glue here, it needs constant pressure until the glue dries.  Thanks.

Shouldn't such a place that I've basically invested most of my adult life into - including the creation and maintenance of this blog - and the center of my family's world be more... nice?  A little bit more thought out? Because it's more like a curio shop rolled over a hardware store and somebody covered the resulting debris with glue and glitter.  Then sprinkled the whole mess with books and bones.   

See, this house is a workshop that we happen to sleep and eat in. Or a classroom that has a shower and a slow cooker.  It's home because we keep our dirty dishes here and wash our laundry but it's also a huge storage locker for craft and art supplies, educational materials, and sports equipment.  It's six hundred and forty four square feet of locker. 
Nearly everything in here is seen as tools or resources for whatever it is that we are working on at the moment. Nothing is safe from craft here.  If I don't patch it and add text, the girl will cover it in washi tape and suspend it over the dining room table.  The walls are drawn on, scuffed up and patched with sewing supplies, books become furniture and the furniture gets embroidered with quotes from the musical Chicago and then sent out to the garage because there is not enough room for it while we turn out living room into a fort that never gets put away.  The chairs are end tables, the tables are book drift holders and not a single wall was built using a plumb line.  If you found a coffee table here, you'd actually at the neighbor's house. 

Which is fine!  Really. It suits us.  My children can hardly complain about the freedoms they experience at home.   But is it domestic?  You probably aren't judging me (mostly because you don't have to live here) but I am judging me.  I judge me especially when someone is dropping off a small child for me to look after for an evening or when the child's friends visit.  I mean, are you sure you want to leave a baby here?  We believe scissors are functional décor and the carpet is mostly made of stray straight pins.
(Just kidding!  Your baby is safe here!  Please let the baby visit!  I watch very carefully!  I can make a playpen of books and they'll be fine!)
I've always had this niggling little uneasiness about calling this place a 'home' and being asked to share my so-called domestic life has definitely brought up all this weird insecurity about not actually having a home-home but more of a workshop-home.  Or funhouse-home.  Most of the time it doesn't bother me (because I'm busy and have to deal with a bag of rabbit heads while getting us all off to roller derby practice) but sometimes when I look at Goodnight Moon or a vintage picture of a Victorian parlour séance or a box of Sleepy-time tea - all scenes of what I would think of as ideal domesticity - I think, I may be missing the mark here.
(By the way, this has nothing to do with Internet generated inadequacy.  Pinterest is nothing but an enabler to my weird house ideas (books in the fireplace!  Ladders as towel holders!  Stools used for everything but sitting!) and if I want to be inspired by something incredibly weird and dead, my Instagram feed is a great place to start.  No, this is about when I walk into the home of real people that I actually know in real person.  Friend and family who are also creative and do interesting things, but do not live in what seems to be a middle school science fair project gone wrong.  Did y'all take a course or something where you learned how to acquire a coffee table and use book shelves for holding books?  Because I must of been sick that day.)