2.20.2017

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.)


2.05.2017

a (fluorescent, cold) room of one's own

I've recently leased a small studio space outside of my house.  It's quite inexpensive, which reflects the light quality and general atmosphere.  I call it my fluorescent dungeon. 

My studio is a little cubical cave in the basement of a building downtown dedicated to the arts.  There is two theatres above my space and, above that, offices.  Some days I work along to the piano score for Into the Woods and some days only to the sound of my creaking broke down winter boots.  There is quite a few cubical caves still to lease in the basement, but so far it's only me who is a regular denizen.

I haven't taken any pictures of my fluorescent dungeon because it's as picturesque as it sounds.  Instead, I will share a picture of the worst book shelf organization I've ever had:

 
Now, with a warm home filled with books and skulls, why would I want to rent a cubicle cave in a cold basement?  Especially since I have children at home all day and stuff to do at night that isn't sewing or arting?  Good question! 
 
At first I thought that having an outside space would allow me some extra room, desperately needed in my 644 square foot home.  So far it turns out that my actual stuff I use is quite minimal versus the stuff I store, so not much gain here.
 
I also thought that maybe an outside spot would quieten down the constant hubbub in my brain of conflicting reflexes.  I always think I should be doing something with the sewing but when I do something, I can't help notice that my dishes need done, the kids and cats want attention and, dang, is that a nice sunny patch on the couch that looks like a me sized slice of warm sleepy reading?  Time in the studio is focuses, nothing else to do but whatever sewing project sits before me.  But time at home is still the same pull in all directions, except now I also think, geez, maybe I should be down at the studio...
 
Additionally, and maybe just as important for me, the basement has nice concrete floors, perfect for roller skating.  Isn't the skate-ability of a floor a major consideration for whether or not to lease a space?  Okay, for me, I think about these things.  I play roller derby but I also live in a place covered by snow for six months of the year and obsessed with hockey ice rinks all of the time. There is precious little opportunity for me to skate outside of derby practices.  So having a spot where I could sneak in some footwork training is kind of a bonus.  Even more so since I challenged myself to use my skates every day for 365 days. 
 
Turns out, unsurprisingly for anyone thinking beyond yay, roller skates!, keeping my skates on in my studio spot is not conductive to sewing.   Sewing doesn't allow a lot of opportunity for movement and instead of just awkwardly hunching over the table to cut, I now almost bend double since my skates lift me five inches high off the ground.  Operating a foot pedal in skates is... tricky.  Actually, stupid is a better word.  So that idea is, while not out, still a bit silly.
 
On the upside, I haven't been in the florescent dungeon for very long, only a week, but I have managed to get in a couple hours everyday of productive work, which puts me about fourteen hours ahead of where I normally am after a week of working at home.  It's amazing at how little fourteen hours of sewing time will produce - one bear doll and a few quilt blocks.  On the other hand, those fourteen hours felt like only a few since I do become highly absorbed (and irritable, another reason to work outside the home).  I believe experts call that flow, but I don't call it that because it sounds like something I need to buy hygiene products for. 
 
So the jury is out on whether or not this outside (downstairs) studio idea is good or bad. I am trying to refrain judgment while I am in the settling in stage.  Either way, it's something I think I've always wanted.  Not actually a fluorescent dungeon but definitely a room of one's own.  I will get to, one way or another, lay aside that particular ambition, knowing that it was a worth it or not all it's cranked up to be. 
 
In the meanwhile, I'm going to make sure I have my good wool socks on and install a little coffee maker for heat and company, and get a little sewing time in. 
 


1.29.2017

deer skull

 

I really like it when my home school resources doubles as my home décor.  It helps to enjoy natural  objects and biology aesthetically as well as intellectually.  Then resources and décor can be found inexpensively and just sort of, you know, lying around. 


Around here we love our skulls.  Sometimes we are given a beautifully prepared clean skull, such as the deer in these pictures, and sometimes are given a freshly decapitated head and must do the preparation itself.  (The later situation is why ants are bros.)  Some types of learning is messier than others.

In our home, our formal instruction time is quite minimal (each child has one subject that they absolutely must learn and absolutely hate to do, so a half hour of each day is dedicated to progress, no matter how small, in that subject) and the rest of the time the childs get to pursue what they are interested in.  So it's good to have some stuff about the house for the childs to get interested in.


In a perfect universe my home would be a large industrial space that could be temporarily partitioned into smaller human size work spaces, with insane amounts of tool/materials storage, ample heat and a fully stocked kitchen.  With bean bag chairs, cozy reading corners and ample electrical plug ins.  Basically it looks like an interactive science center, but with fewer toddlers.

In reality, I have a home about the size of the bathroom off of a large industrial space and if I put in a cozy little reading corner here, we'd have to move out the dining room table.  The storage is nearly non-existent.  If we have it, it's out in the open.  Everything must serve double duty.


Thus, having the interesting things about that the childs can get interested in is a tricky bit of curating and use of outside home resources.  But we are in luck there because between the woods and the library, we can get an amazing array of materials to work with.  And when we are done with it, it can go back to continue its natural lifecycle elsewhere.

Some items are keepers, though.  This deer skull came from friends, one had the head, one cleaned it, and it's beautiful.  I try not to over interpret our natural objects until the childs have developed a good amount of familiarity with it.  Labelling something with a value like interesting or ugly or morbid is limiting, whether that be for good or not, and I want them to explore it first before the label get slopped around on things.  My kids tend to be interested in anatomy and view dead animals as fascinating but I know that some visitors to our home have different views.  Like the friend of boy child's who plays a game called 'count the creepy heads' in our living room.


Anybody interested in cleaning and studying animals bones with their children may find Jakes's Bones website interesting and informative.  I know that if you wish to have more skulls in your life, you only need to let people know and they will shower you with boney gifts.  Skulls are one of those things that people find intriguing and beautiful yet somewhat disturbing.  They are hesitate to trash something lovely but do not necessarily want to keep it themselves.  Gifting it to a novice collector and science enthusiast uncomplicates the situation. So, go ahead, just ask about.  You will most likely become rich in bone.

Girl child in particular is a bit of a bone nerd, expanding her love of skulls to beyond the ones in our home out to studies of ossuaries (mostly European ones we've read about in books and on the Internet) and to human evolution and the changes in skull shape.  In fact, last week we were in a shop when she ran across a wooden carving of a homo erectus skull and she did a little fan girl squee.  You never know where the childs are going to take their passions.  So I'm just here, quietly curating our home, bringing as much of the world in as I can fit in these close quarters without bursting.

1.02.2017

I found the key!


But it seems the typewriter is misplaced.  No New Year resolution list making for me.

I do enjoy a good New Year's resolution and generalized declarations of intent to self improve.  I mean, by other people.  Not me.  I'm getting a little bit too old (and jaded) for self-improvement and, frankly, it's hard keeping up with all the good stuff in my life without adding more.

Not like there isn't anything to improve on around here.  The house is a mess, the children are semi-feral, the DIY lacks the D and the freezer is full of corpses but nobody has taken out anything for dinner. 

BUT, I prefer to think of the house as gloriously messy because the only tidy places I know belong to people who no longer want to live there (staging my house for sale was the only time it was ever neat enough for company, it's true). The children are delightfully semi-feral.  And I'm relishing the DIY that sits upon the pile waiting to be done because it's nice to have something to avoid and feel like reading a book instead is a subversive treat.  As for the freezer full of corpses, well, you let a few people know that you are interested in learning a bit of preservation and taxidermy and your world is suddenly rich in deceased animals.  So that's not so bad. 

Girl child's altered tee
 What is it that they've said about life stages?  In your twenties and thirties you are trying to impress the world and in your forties you start just trying to impress yourself?  It's been easier since I refused to read or watch anything that even faintly hints of self-improvement.  I'm pretty tired of myself as a topic in general, so for this New Years I'm just going to resolve to keep learning about the world beyond my physical and mental boundaries and how I can appreciate it more. 

(No need to point out how I'm talking about how tired of talking about me on a blog all about me and mine. I'm all about the irony.)

A terrible picture of a slightly larger than life doll I made last month... it's out now visiting professional artists, getting some enhancement and, judging from progress photos, a lot of personality.

If you want to see what terrible things the semi-feral childs and I are up to everyday, check out my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maladybeastly/

Until next time, don't you go changing a thing.

1.01.2017

Dry mounting a scorpion

Happy New Year!

I was super excited to finally have a chance to sit down and try my very first attempt at dry mounting a scorpion.  This critter came to me from a friend whose pet passed some half decade ago.  Through several years and a couple of moves, the scorpion had been kept frozen.  Until today. 

Realizing that this isn't everybody's cup of stinger, I'll keep this brief, though I'm always paying attention to the comments if there are questions.  The pictures are of the final part of the procedure.  The pins are there to brace the scorpion but do not go through the body anywhere.  The scorpion will sit and dry for a couple weeks before I pull out the pins and see what I done did.




For anyone curious, these are the instructions I used.  The hardest part was finding syringes (Peavy Mart ended up being the place to go).  And messing with the wood glue - next time instead of trying to inject the uber thick paste, I'm going to try something a little different. 

If there is a next time... scorpions are actually in fairly short supply in my part of the world.  I'm trying to figure out how to politely and respectfully ask my friends and family to bring me their dead (pets).  Road kill is acceptable too. 

I have read that taxidermy is the hottest trend for middle age housewives who love their DIY and, I thought, I'm middle age, I'm a housewife, I DIY.  And after cleaning up boy vomit and changing diapers for years, the inside of anything not currently trying to bite me or asking me for food isn't going to bother me much.  Sign me up!

And bring me your dead.