Monday, November 17, 2014

Sperm & Fish

Yes, those two words DO end up together in this post. Trust me.

A funny thing happened this week. We'd signed up for a homeschool field trip a couple of weeks ago. It was a grades 4-7 trip to see the salmon spawn at a local provincial park. There would be a guide. There would be a film. It sounded fun. It was also a cheap trip - $2 a person - but a week before the trip FDPG and Dominic showed some concern that they were going to be WAY OLDER than everyone else there because they were in grade eight. This tour ended with grade seven, they reminded me severely. GRADE SEVEN. They are in GRADE EIGHT.  Surely I knew this. They expressed way too much incredulity (one was more polite about it than the other, that's for darn sure) at my signing them up for a tour that ended with a grade 7 period. How could I have done that?

Dominic was very firm. He. Would. Not. Attend. He brought up another trip we had attended where they WERE way too old and other the kids WERE all too young and the talk was WAY too juvenile (baby songs might have been sung). They reminded me how wildly embarrassing it was. I agreed, it HAD been embarrassing. I HAD felt bad for them. I HAD promised not to do that again. Solidarity.

I emailed the organizer, who was very nice and tried to find some more participants. No takers. I felt bad so I told the organizer that we would definitely show up, because I really hate it when people don't show up for organized trips and the organizer is left holding the bill. This happens a lot with our homeschool community: it's annoying and frustrating but there it is.

So we show up on the Appointed Day, my two reluctant ball and chains in tow. The organizer was waiting for us in the Nature House. As usual almost everyone else was late. I was standing idly in a corner of the Nature House waiting when I overheard a guide say "so, what songs should I do with the group that's coming?" Songs? I feel the icy grip of disaster grab me. I sidle towards the desk as surreptitiously as possible so I could hear the other guide answer. "Do the Fishy Song," she said, "the arm movements look like this and then you have them jump up and down for the next verse while pretending they are swimming. Then they can sing the final verse with you!"  They all beamed at each other, except for the male guide, who looked at me as though wondering why I was eavesdropping on such Super Secret Technical Information. I smile weakly and moved away.

I decide it would be best not to say anything to the twins about the impending song choices. Or the arm movements. 

Eventually we assemble at the back of the Nature House with our raggle taggle group of homeschoolers. There are tiny little kids chairs to sit in. Some of us sit. Boy, I thought, you sure can tell homeschoolers: one kid was in a medieval knight costume, two wore homespun knitted outfits that looked, well, weird, and the rest looked worryingly feral. Dominic was doing his If I Pretend Hard Enough I Just Might Disappear routine, staring hard at the ceiling. FDPG was making the best of what she clearly thought was a bad situation. She's philosophical that way.

Our guide walks in and sits down with a fish poster. An old, tatty fish poster. It's the Boy Guide, the one who thought I was stealing Nature House Secrets. He has a very soft voice. No one can really hear him. At least, I can't hear anything he's saying, so I decide to sit in one of the chairs right near him. He interprets this as a hostile gesture, I suspect, because he stops talking and looks at me carefully. I smile in what I hope is an extremely benign way. Fortunately he has no choice BUT to go on, so he does.

We sit through a lesson on how salmon spawn. He talks about the eggs, the fish sperm, how the salmon jaw changes while they spawn, how long they live, and so on. He asks the kids to speculate on the size of a fish brain, or how long they live, and stuff like that. He's a super low talker but he is genuinely interested in his topic. There has been no singing thus far, either.

There is, however, as there always is on tours like these, a kid in the group who knows all the answers and isn't shy about belting them out whenever the guide asks a question. He's very self-congratulatory which is even more irritating. At one point he asks the guide if he's wondering how he knows all this stuff. Awkward. His mother stands beside him beaming proudly, utterly oblivious. I can tell that the guide is uneasy but since no one else is even trying to answer any questions, he lets him go for it. If this were a Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel I would expect Bad Things to happen to this kid at break time out behind the Nature House, but because it's a Homeschool Tour nothing does. Well, a few kids start picking their noses but that's about it.

We then troop into the little theatre to see a film to "solidify" our knowledge about salmon. It's a really old film. I probably saw it when I was in school and that was a LONG time ago. I stand at the back and again, can't hear a thing. The film is ancient and grainy and looks as though the colour is leaking out as we're watching it. Everyone peers hard at the blurry images and tries to imagine the "brilliant colours" we're told we're looking at. Nevertheless the kids all listen carefully and quietly, mine included. Factoid Boy is mercifully silent. When it's over we go outside and down to the river to look at the salmon. I remember this part from my school days. We'd go in a school tour and I'd feel sick the entire time, watching the seagulls flocking on the edges, pecking and pecking and shrieking and shrieking, while the poor bloody salmon struggled along. I wonder, not for the first time, why I thought the twins would enjoy a tour like this.

Fortunately our guide is young and enthusiastic. He's also incredibly knowledgeable. He walks along the water's edge and points out various things: early spawners, old spawners, side markings on the fish and what they mean, the places salmon like to spawn in, the places where they likely fight. It's fascinating. Then our guide asks us if we would like to see inside a fish. Factoid Boy shouts out "YES WE WOULD!!!!" So he does. He walks around looking for a freshly dead salmon. There are a lot to choose from. He lays the salmon down in front of us, then drags his foot in the gravel, making a circle around the salmon. "We won't get in this circle," he says, "because this gives the salmon a dignified space." I'm not sure what he's getting at here but we're all willing to go with it, except for one of the nose pickers who interprets this as a request to get INSIDE the circle.

Then the guide gets out his knife and cuts a neat rectangle on the side of the fish. Oh wait, I forgot the good bit: right before he does this (it's a male fish) he starts milking all the sperm (err, milt) out of the fish. In great long creamy spurts. Over and over again. There's tons of milt in this fish. Gallons. It's graphically, wildly, improbably sexual in a strange and disturbing way. All the mothers stiffen. A snort escapes my mouth, causing the guide to look up. In one uneasy instant he realizes what we're all thinking and starts feeling self-conscious. The poor earnest guide, I think. I start laughing. Factoid Boy, not wanting to seem ignorant of ANYTHING scientific, chortles along with me. Fortunately the sperm stream, err, milt stream, ends, so we can all get back to normal. I wonder if anyone is going to light a cigarette then remember that I'm amongst devoted eco-West Coasters and if anyone is going to light anything it'll probably be an e-cigarette (or a joint).

We see the brain of the salmon, we see his kidney, his swim bladder, his heart, and his liver. It's a little graphic at times but everyone is clearly enjoying this part and they all jostle around, trying to respect the Dignified Space without missing too much. The best part is when he popped out the cornea, which looked like a miniature crystal ball, placed it on his palm, and showed it around. When we'd all looked as much as we wanted, he popped it back in, then replaced the organs and slid the flap shut. "For the next guide," he explained, "some of the girls aren't very good cutting open the fish." I wonder what else they don't do.

And that was that. One family had a seagull poop on them, Factoid Boy fell while balancing on a log (while shouting "look at meeeee!"), and FDPG got wet feet trying to ford a river, but all in all it was a remarkably good tour. We even got to meet a 900 year old tree, not to mention watching a dead fish ejaculate. Good times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pictorial Evidence

This was the first Halloween that I didn't take photos of my kids in their costumes.

Okay, I did take a couple of shots of Eldest Son in his Deadmau5 head (which you would have seen on my Facebook page), but those photos were taken less as a result of it being a Halloween costume than they were because we were all so shocked that it was a) finally finished, b) being worn to - gasp - SCHOOL, and c) it was finally finished.

Sadly, its start in life wasn't great, as you might expect from a craftsman who wasn't interested in anything that required time, effort, or finesse, aka a 14 year old boy. They have Big Dreams, these boys, but the strenuousness of turning those Big Dreams into Cold Hard Reality is often just too much work.

I, being the (sometimes often) grimly realistic mother that I am, was confident that that piece of papier maché would live out its days as a Half-Made Prototype taking up space in the workshop, in someone's closet, on the kitchen table, or on the coffee table.

Then, after being closeted for close to three years, kicked once or twice in a fit of pique, and having way too much money spent on it (not by ME, I hasten to add), it was finally resurrected and completed. I documented the moment with a photo. Then Eldest Son went off to public school, with it on his head. Apparently he wore it all day. I know because he texted me a few photos. One of him with other dressed up highschoolers; one with our university lecturer friend who dresses up as a giant pink bunny each year (and yes, he DOES teach his classes this way). The two of them are standing side by side, one very tall in a very pink furry suit, the other made tall by the giant blue head with its equally giant blue ears. His arms were crossed and his feet stood wide. I could feel the cool burning out of that Deadmau5 head. This kid sure has attitude, I thought. Attitude made bright by the completion of an albatross of a project.

That was probably when I realized that I forgot to take photos of the other two offspring. At that point of course they'd already changed into pajamas, washed the make-up off their faces, and were scoffing candy.

And thus ended another Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Song of the Day

 I've been posting this everywhere because it's just so incredibly awesome, but I forgot to post it here (where it's way easier to find than on Facebook).

If you're one of those people who do a little swoon at the end of Love Actually, you'll love this new version. There is so much to love about it: singers, sets, music, and fantasy. It's got it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Early Mornings

 One of the benefits to waking early these last few mornings is the short burst of colour on the clouds one gets as the sun rises. I don't know the science behind it, but it comes and then it's gone. Just like that.It encourages magical thinking.

And the clouds are doing all manner of odd things.

The moon is even hanging around. All I can hear are the squawks of the Stellar's jays, the rustling of the nearby squirrels, the fall of the acorns hitting the neighbour's roof, and the tut-tutting of the little Bushtits on the deck. Lovely quiet morning sounds.

Well, all except those Stellar's jays. They sound like a grouchy rusty old screen door, creaking open and shut, over and over again. Funny that such a beautiful bird has such a jarring cry.

We've had an extremely long run of hot dry weather this summer, which has lulled me into a false sense of when fall should or shouldn't be here, not to mention when winter might or might not appear. It was 22ºC on the deck yesterday. We had every doors and window open. I made 12 quarts of spiced applesauce, turned the Thanksgiving turkey into stock, picked yet more raspberries, and got another tub of Juliet and bastard Sungold tomatoes. They've been the best producers here this year and they're STILL fruiting.

What I WANT to do is leave the soaker hoses out in case things need watering. Leave the tomatoes in the ground, in case they keep producing. Leave the greenhouse open, because it's so hot during the day. But I also know that just one single bout of cold rain, along with a few nights of damp, and the garden will be a mass of sodden mush, sliming the hoses, encouraging blight, and rotting my pumpkins. So today I'll wind up the hoses, drain the lines, pick a bucket or two of tomatillos, and plant the garlic.  

I will also trudge outside at night to close up the greenhouse. I might even place the Christmas lights, so I don't have to do it later, in a hurried panic at the limp orange and lime leaves.

The cold frame has been moved so it can cover up the rows of lettuces, cayenne peppers, and leftover basil. The long row cover is over the tender little green onion shoots, the last few radicchio (which REALLY look miserable after a rain), and some Holy Basil. Speaking of Holy Basil, I think it's my new favourite garden plant. You always know when you've brushed against it. I'm not prone to much whimsical thinking but this plant smells of magic. And happiness.

And in the meantime I'll look out at FDPG's remaining dianthus flowers, raggedy stalwarts of the fall.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Simple Recipes

One cheap Walmart ringbinder = $3
Stickers from Michaels = $4
Cardstock = $1
Printed nameplates = 25¢

Cooking experiences happen twice a week, and those recipes deemed INCREDIBLE will be printed up and glued into the cookbooks.

So far we've made cookies (Dorie Greenspan's Espresso Chocolate Cookies), brownies, focaccia, an apple pie, and chocolate chip cookies (seeing a theme here yet).

Funny how the simplest things go so far.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

School Schedules

We spent the last 5 days getting back into the rhythm of the school day, never a small task at the end of a long, hot, beach-drenched summer, particularly when most of the participants spent much of their summer sleeping in and lolling about. This is where Charlotte Mason habit training comes in handy: everyone knows the drill, everyone knows it's inevitable, and there's way less Sturm und Drang when assembling the day.

FDPG, Dominic, and I set a wake-up time (7am), a time to begin Read Alouds (7:30am, current book is The Canterbury Tales), and a time to start school (9am). Theoretically this gives everyone time to play Lego in their room until I yell at them get ready, feed cats and bunnies, let out chickens, brush teeth, get dressed, apply vast quantities of toothpaste to the sink and taps, and fling yet another empty toilet paper roll behind the door in the hope that no one notices (even though there are already 10 there).

We also printed up our Week At A Glance, which is nothing more exotic than a coloured Excel chart slipped into a page protector and stuck on the wall. I used to scoff at schedules, but they stop the day from devolving, not to mention quelling many an argument, so I've grown to appreciate them. FDPG likes a crazily busy schedule, and always begins the year with way too much on her very enthusiastic plate. Dominic prefers a more spartan approach, and would probably jettison everything that doesn't involve Lego or sports. I have two non-negotiables: everyone in this house must have more than a passing acquaintance with math and everyone must know how to write (and speak) well.

Once we got those things on the schedule we wrangled over what else to include: foreign languages, art, poetry, science, history. Now that I've seen what goes on in public school, I've added in another thing this year: timed assignments. It wasn't the English Lit math physics chemistry biology OR socials that Eldest struggled with when he joined the Brick N' Mortar public school crowd, it was the timed assignments and tests. I don't give timed assignments here at Greenridge Homeschool. Shocking, I know, but there it is.

Eldest's schedule was more complicated. Last year he was in grade 11 at a real live high school, so his day looked quite different than ours. Instead of listening to stories or nattering pleasantly with the twins over who had to do the dishes, he was leaving early with Richard and a giant bag of textbooks. Rain or shine. This year he's in grade 12 , which is new and exciting, or would be if the teachers would go back to work. They are on strike. There always seems to be someone on strike in this province. I sometimes think B.C. really stands for Bolshie Communities.

And seeing as how the strike doesn't look as though it's going to end any time soon, I told Eldest he had to make himself a schedule (and make some attempts to follow it) so that he didn't lose momentum, given his choice of courses (physics, chemistry, pre-calculus, calculus, English Lit., biology). He was not particularly thrilled. I think he'd envisioned a less, err, strenuous start to the day. What with the strike and all.

If Eldest had to write about his first week of school, I think it would go like this:

Dear Diary,

This week I had intended to sleep in every morning and generally do nothing, but my Mum heard that I could get this semester's textbooks NOW. She said I should be reading them every day, instead of sleeping in and generally doing nothing. They are all very heavy. I don't like the look of the pre-calculus textbook. I'm sick of people telling me about the Khan Academy. 

Then she told me to email my former English teacher (who likes me because I was the only student in the class who didn't eat and talk and text the whole time) and ask for a schedule for my literature class so I could get to work on the required reading. I didn't think he'd answer my email but he did. He even sent me a reading list. 

Now I have a bunch of textbooks and a literature schedule. Oh joy. 

Now that the week is over, I'm going to add a coda:

Now it's Saturday and the first week is over and done with. Phew. Sigh. Hurray!

Friday, September 5, 2014

That Time Already?


The tide of summer has suddenly turned and everyone is talking about back to school topics. I can't seem to avoid it, no matter where I turn my eyes. Makes me think about how different our homeschool world looks these days.

In the years since I first started blogging our life has changed so much: back then we had more play resources and fewer reference books. More Playdough, chalk, and markers. More fingerpaint paper. Heck, I even had different SIZES of fingerpaint paper. Thomas the Tank Engine loomed large in our world. The kids LIVED for backpacks with their favourite characters on them. We all knew who Mr Frumble was. We spent a lot of time, rain or shine, trawling around the neighbourhood just looking at stuff: diggers, trucks, signs, rain, cats, spiders, friendly shopkeepers. We had our favourite librarians. And many an afternoon we'd sit down at 4pm with a tidy little snack (there's another thing that has gone by the wayside: tidy little snacks!) and watch 30 minutes of perfect happiness with our favourite aardvark Arthur. Then it would be time for dinner and, eventually, off to bed, whereupon I'd plan activities for the following day. I frequented websites like The Crafty Crow and Art Projects For Kids, poured over books like Festivals, Family, and Food or All Year Round, and picked out rituals and traditions to start with my own family. In my spare time I read about Waldorf-inspired playrooms, with wooden kitchen setups, Circle Time, and drifting silk fabrics everywhere.

Nowadays we have way more reference books: Latin, French, Japanese, science, history, and grammar dictionaries fill the shelves. We have Shakespeare anthologies, geology textbooks, philosophy books, and precalculus DVDs. We could open a library with the origami stuff we've amassed. The Thomas table has gone and in its place is a long, flat table. Adult sized chairs. Larger scissors. Larger bottles of glue. More serious glue, too. Less tissue paper and more cardstock. Fewer glittery pencils. Less glitter all round, come to think of it, except at Christmas.

Everyone has an iPod now, a fact which has its pros and cons. The pros being some of us have learnt a ton about exploring the internet, finding interesting apps on learning foreign languages, taking better photos, and fun new activities like geocaching or studying the hundreds of ships that pass through our island waters. The cons are less tangible: less interest in playing or laying out in the backyard being simply and wonderfully idle. More chatter about the games they like to play: Minecraft, Brave Frontier, Modern Combat. I'm not so keen on the games. Mindless entertainment is my preferred terminology for all that, with a special emphasis on the mindless.

There's also way less little kid noise. I used to go about my day to the sound of shrieks, screams, and giggles following me around. Pattering footsteps. Constant chattering. The laundry could be done in one or two loads because all the clothes were so tiny. I spent more time scrubbing stains off the fronts of t-shirts. Meals were simple because they didn't involve much. One can of black beans was enough for an enchilada dinner.

All that's been replaced by skirmishes over who gets the bathroom (or who stunk up/hogged/ruined the bathroom), stereo loudness contests, and arguments (although they call them 'discussions') over who has to do the breakfast dishes (and sometimes, why). I'm conversant with names like Tiesto, Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Kaskade. I'm even knowledgable about WHO they are, and how much money they make in a year (trust me, you don't want to know). We still watch PBS a lot, but Arthur has been replaced by Mystery, Doctor Who, and NOVA. More adult fare. No one goes to bed right after dinner, either, unless it's me.

Perhaps the biggest change in our homeschool world has been the departure of one of the homeschoolees. Nowadays there's only two kids at home instead of three. The eldest is off at public school, doing Highly Complicated Math, and dissecting Formerly Live Animals. Places I decided I was no longer willing to go. That's the thing, you see: when you homeschool you either farm out the academics or you learn them yourself so you can help and teach. Ten years of homeschooling has taught me a lot: I'm much more enthusiastic about fractions now than I ever was in grade school, but I'm no longer willing to put in the long evening hours studying the higher grades stuff. Nowadays I want to put that time into my winter garden plan, dust off the sewing machine so I can finish off that duvet cover I started for FDPG 4 years ago, or just sit on the couch and read. I'm also less gripped by the politics of the homeschool world: when people start discussing terminology and placing themselves in the various positions (unschooler? lifelearner? homeschooler? enrolled? registered?) I find myself losing interest, and mentally adding termin-what-EVAH. All they do is divide us all at the end of the day. If only people could see it.

The youngest two are in grade 8 this year. Instead of Circle Time beginning our day we do math. We still have read aloud time every morning, because none of us wants to give that up (it's also an amazing way to get through a TON of literature), but now we start the day with the tough stuff, leaving the afternoons open for less cerebral fare: art, cooking, science experiments, crafts, museum visits, or history videos. I frequent fewer online homeschool groups, too, but again, I think that's just the way it goes as the kids grow up. I don't need the reassurance anymore. I don't care what someone's interfering mother-in-law said. We have our groove and we're happy with it.

And so it goes. Back to school. How time flies!