My son likes his stuff.  Everyday he has a small group of objects that he deems particularly important, often related to some ongoing private imagination game he is playing.  The game may be or may not be related to whatever video game or video gamer he is interested in at the moment.  I'm not entirely sure, since he does not directly share the plots of his games with me and the games evolve constantly.  But I do receive little hints from the things he leaves about.
Boy child's playthings are generally of two categories: techy or weaponry.  Guns, swords and the like are preferred toys.  Things with buttons are the second favorite.  Remote controls, robots, calculators, toys that blink and whirr.  Sometimes a random piece of plastic or a Pokemon card will sneak in but those will be few and usually has some sort of interesting graphic or is shiny in a way that boy child will relate to weapons and machines.  Rarely does anything representing a living thing come into the boy's games.
Important objects to boy child, whatever they may be at the time, are often left in specific arrays in specific locations are not to be moved when found.  This can be a bit tricky, since information about where and when things become relevant is also not share, but I'm getting good at spotting the signs. 
Like this little tableau I came across on the table the other morning:
That one was a rather obvious arrangement and, sure enough, when boy child awoke, he came to the table, loaded up his person with these objects, and wandered off to continue his internal narrative.
I remember being flummoxed by little boys long before I had my own, irritated with their fascinations with weapons and just want to shoot, slash, and bludgeon everything in their atmosphere.  I like books and quiet games where all the characters talk about their feelings.  When boy child came along and wanted to mash everything he couldn't blow up, I turned to resignation and for a time gave into the lazy thinking, 'Well, I guess, boys.  What are you going to do?'
But lately I am finding myself becoming interested in the forms that weapons take and what that means.  Truly there is a vast array of objects that are outright representations of actual weapons used in the world today,  but also a great variety of imaginary weapons with science fiction capabilities (turning people to stone or freezing them, creating space/time rifts, etc.) all mixed in with a primitive skill of turning the most benign object into a weapon by sharpening a point and swinging it wildly. 
Stranger still, to the way my brain classifies, boy child has no division between these very different types of weapons.  He will carry his space zapper right next to his pointy stick.  He's like a warrior out of time, or in all times.
Thinking a bit further, this anachronistic warrior, though, isn't such an anomaly when you consider that despite all of boy child's fascinations with the things, they are still tools in service to a narrative game he is playing in his mind.   In his imagination there are people like characters that are moving about motivated by their own virtues and vices.  Bravery and sacrifice is a common theme.  Protecting, endurance and strength.  Heroism.  This is, I think, the core of the weapon fascination and connecting factor that explains why the mace is nestled next the ray gun.  It's in service to a higher value.
Even with the weapons and the monsters that he draws and the insistence that all our books be about zombies and the first person shooter games and the acts of violence perpetrated against any standing pole, he's not really a scary kid.  He's loving and sweet.  I don't want to diminish his love of imaginary violence (he does not like real violence), because, for sure, he is all about splashing about the imaginary blood of his imaginary enemies, but his the movies he loves, the stories he plays, are about overcoming odds and being the good guy.  And if being the good guy and saving all the people requires stepping up and crushing the imperial warlords with extreme prejudice, well then, a guy has to do what a guy has to do.  Because, you know, boys.  


studio update

For almost three months now I've had a separate working studio space away from my home.  This has produced mixed results.  First of all, anything you might imagine when you think 'studio', you have to strip out all the romantic elements like sunlight, windows, quiet and peacefulness.  It's located downtown in a basement of a busy theatre, so the atmosphere can be charged with all sorts of theatrical emotions and, if there is no theatre above, then Phantom of the Opera level subterranean spook, with me being both the creeper and creeped.

My ability to find get down to my studio is quite limited, much more than I initially anticipated.  If I manage an hour a day, I get quite excited.  Maybe three on the weekend.  Maybe.

While I'm there, for however long, is it work time, so that part is working out.  Focusing on the task before me, I am not interrupted by the demands of home, childs, husband and cats, leaving me emotionally intact instead of irritated and scattered, which is how I feel when working at home.  An hour focused on my work is much more satisfying in the studio as I feel like I've been able to immerse myself.

But what am I working on?  I pictured finally getting to jump into all the ambitious ideas I've had over the years and really produce as an artist.  So far... nah.  I have done about the same as I would have done at home, but, and this is important, with more quilts!

This is boy child's design (as inspired by a non-traditional quilt he spotted on the Internet).  I started this on the first day I worked in the studio.  It's now ready to have the border hand stitched in the back but here it is in starting the 'making a quilt sandwich' phase:

There is no way I would of been able to leave out the quilting supplies while working on other projects when at home.  As mentioned (whined about) many times, I have six hundred and forty four feet of home here and there is hardly enough room to swing a broadsword, never mind working on a multi-piece quilting project.  If you have children like mine, you know how relevant it is to understand how much room it takes to swing any variety of weaponry.

In addition, while working on the boy's quilt, I actually made another one as well:

The quilt reads "Hello I'm good for nothing Will you love me just the same", which is a little bite of the lyrics from the Dresden  Doll's "The Perfect Fit".  I love that song.  I love this quilt!  And I love this child:

It's our new couch blanket and everybody loves it, especially the cats.

My studio has allowed me to do these quilts along with some of my more usual work, but, they really aren't the purpose of having the studio.  As my husband reminds me, I have overhead now.  Producing the art so I can sell the art has been a little low on my priority list.

I love this guy, but he is the only doll I've made in the past three months:

He is a were-bear and I actually never want to give him up, so that brings my doll productivity down to, round-about, zero.


That is exactly opposite of the plan.

Okay, but, the studio has allowed me to start learning a brand new skill.  A little anthropomorphic taxidermy to expand my horizons and indulge an interest. Here is Rat King, one of several rodents I have been learned all about the taxidermy with:

Girl child has also been down to the studio to taxidermy a mouse along with a couple friends of mine.  New skills for all of us, and even commercially successful for me so far.  I've sold a couple of rodent pieces.  That would be a check mark in favor the studio.

I have committed to keeping the studio until midsummer to give it a fair trial and see if it's worth all the bother.  So far I give it a grade of fifty percent worth-it-ness.  I do like having an emotional separation between the creative work and this home where the childs and distractions are, though I end up doing quite a bit in the house still.  Mostly the quilting and hand sewing bits that I can do while talking to the childs or when we are all listening to a podcast.  If I tried sitting alone in my studio while hand stitching a quilt border, I'd probably go bananas. 

I have a situation right now where I've cleared out a couple projects and can begin something new.  I'm talking to myself about what is a good idea as far as taking care of some of that overhead, but, well, honestly, another quilt idea seems to have wiggled in and is proving difficult to ignore.  It is, with a bit of foreshadowing here, worming its way into my headspace.  I know there is no way I could tackle this idea at all at home, but, far away in my private studio space, just maybe... 


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.