Xylem, Heartwood, and Unscheduled Haircuts

Yesterday, my kids attended the first in a series of homeschooling classes about trees. This one was called, “What Makes a Tree a Tree?”

They discussed the differences between trees and bushes, conifers and deciduous trees (and the tamarack, which is the only deciduous conifer and the name of the cabin I stayed in when I worked at a conference resort one fall right after college).

Then they all went out into the hallway and used their bodies to make a model of the layers of a tree in a kind of interpretive dance. My daughter was the heartwood, and my son was one of the two people who formed the xylem around her and chanted, “Water flows UP!” while reaching from their feet to the sky. The heartwood and the xylem are right next to each other, which means my son started hitting his sister while the other layers were being formed, prompting one of the countless ridiculous parenting threats that I find myself uttering: “You can only be a xylem if you have gentle hands!”

Their favorite project was making a paper bag tree.

My daughter twisting branches.

My daughter twisting branches.

My son's finished tree, with paper leaves and flowers, dried winterberries for the apples, and spun wool for the roots.

My son’s finished tree, with paper leaves and flowers, dried winterberries for the apples, and spun wool for the roots.

You can find instructions for making a similar tree on Pikadilly Charm. Ours were apple trees and included roots, leaves, flowers, and fruit because the instructor wanted the kids to show all of the components of an apple tree at all stages.

My eight-year-old made her tree almost entirely on her own, but my four-year-old got a lot of assistance from me. While I was distracted twisting brown paper into the branches of his apple tree, my mommy-sense told me to look towards my son who was right at my elbow. I glanced over and shouted, “NO! NO, NO, NO, NO!” and grabbed the scissors just as he was about to chop a big chunk of hair from the top of his head. A few stray hairs were cropped nearly to his scalp, but due to his naturally shaggy hair, we avoided an emergency crew-cut trip, and although I was embarrassed at having overreacted so dramatically, the rest of the parents in the group just shrugged it off. And the shock got my blood pumping on a cold afternoon, so it all worked out fine in the end.

In other news, my spouse lost his smartphone. He turned it off Thursday night and it immediately dropped into the vast Bermuda Triangle in our house, where it presumably joined my digital watch and the PVC training flute my son was supposed to use in his early flute lessons. Only two items have been disgorged from this Bermuda Triangle, and we’ve already looked in the spots where we found those, and in every other drawer, closet, freezer, toilet, and clothes dryer in the house. Why we bought a house with a Bermuda Triangle in it, I have no idea. If you’ve got any ideas where we ought to look for the phone, I would welcome all suggestions.

UPDATE! We found the phone! It was in a gap in our office chair, and when I sat down in a huff, I dislodged it and it fell to the floor. (Luckily I knew it was likely to get abuse so I’d bought an impact-resistant cover for it so it was totally fine after the fall.) One time, at least, my irritability paid off.


  1. Frankie Laursen · January 30, 2014

    Hello, this is my first visit here. Nice digs!

    I laughed when I saw this post because I recently posted about the opposite: “Why I Won’t Home-school My Kids.” The trees look really cool. I’m glad home-schooling is working for your family, and I’m equally glad I’m self-aware enough to know I would not be up for doing it with my own kids. It’s nice that we all have the choice of how to educate our kids.

    I have a house with a Bermuda Triangle too. I call it “the Black Hole” though. It’s astounding. Our house is only 1125 sq. ft. and the kids don’t have access to all of the cabinets. Where on earth could the lost stuff go? When I manage to find something even though I swear I looked everywhere already for it, I feel like a demigod, like I raised it from the dead. 🙂


    • CJ · January 30, 2014

      I saw your homeschool post (or rather, non-homeschool post). I definitely like that there are options, and I can absolutely see a million reasons why homeschooling isn’t the right choice for every family. I’m not even positive it will be the right choice for my family for all of the years of my children’s childhoods, but for now, we’re loving it. It helps that we have such a vibrant homeschooling community where we live.


      • Frankie Laursen · January 30, 2014

        That’s good. I can see how a lot of it must be fun. Do you find you still have enough time for yourself?


      • CJ · January 30, 2014

        “Enough” is a tough word; for the most part I find my me-time adequate. It does take some finagling, though. When we lived in Utah, I had a sitter two afternoons a week, and that was fantastic. In Massachusetts, I’ve not been able to find a workable sitter situation, so I’ve had to get a little creative. It’s gotten easier as the kids have gotten older, though. Like right now I’m commenting on blogs while my daughter does vocabulary exercises and my son trashes the toy room. I’ll probably lose some time again once my son is doing more structured lessons. But by then maybe he’ll be able to participate in outside homeschool activities without so much of my help, and I’ll be able to catch some me-time then.


      • Frankie Laursen · January 30, 2014

        That’s cool. I’ve pictured it as “being a slave to one’s kids’ educations,” but of course even my kids can work independently now and then. My kids are 3.5 and 6.5 though.


      • CJ · January 30, 2014

        The other thing that helps is that one-on-one education takes a lot less time than teaching a whole classroom of kids, so our instruction time is usually only about half of the day…unless we drag our feet.


      • Frankie Laursen · January 30, 2014

        What are the downsides, if any? Why did you choose to home-school in the first place?


      • CJ · January 30, 2014

        There are definitely downsides. The biggest is not having school hours to myself.

        I wrote a series of blog posts last spring in which I address a lot of homeschooling questions. You can find those in the “Homeschooling” category archives via the “Other Regular Features” heading up top. The first of this series is here: https://imperfecthappiness.org/2013/03/03/homeschooling-a-day-in-the-life-part-1-overview/

        And then there’s a post that’s a few years old now, but which still largely holds true in which I address the reasons we chose to homeschool and some of the downsides: https://imperfecthappiness.org/2012/08/27/back-to-school-homeschool-style-2/

        But now that I think about it, these might be due for a bit of refreshing, so I might work up some new “why we homeschool” posts for this spring.


  2. Lori · January 26, 2014

    I have a few disconnected things to say.
    First, I like how the website looks. Nice and clean and welcoming. Congratulations on your own Web address too!
    Then, those paper bag trees indeed look awesome. And your photographs are very nice. Have you bought a new camera?
    Also, I wanted to commiserate with you regarding Bermuda Triangle in the house. We have that in our house too. I’ve made my peace with it. I know someday it just spews out its contents out of the blue, just when you’re too tired of searching.


    • CJ · January 26, 2014

      Thanks for the compliments on the site and on my photos. I’ve not gotten a new camera…still using my little point-and-shoot. I like having the challenge of getting it to do what I want without manual controls. And then if my photos look like crap, I can blame it on the camera. If I had a really nice DSLR, I could only attribute poor photography to my poor photographic skills.


  3. Ellery Davies · January 25, 2014

    Google Device Manager is exactly what your spouse needs. It was released for Android about a year ago, and for iPhone just last month. It has no privacy issues and does 3 things simply and effectively:

    1. It blare’s noise from your phone at the highest volume even if it is asleep, set to silent or — for some models–even if it turned off.

    2. It shows the location of you phone on a map from any other phone or PC. It can even help you narrow it down to a room within your home or office.

    3. It allows you to completely wipe the contents of your phone — in case you feel that it has fallen into the wrong hands.

    Feature #2 will work even if you had previously disabled GPS for all applications. That’s because you gave the app permission to override GPS settings when remotely controlled under your log-in from a separate PC.

    Speaking from experience, I couldn’t manage without it. It beats any other 3rd party apps that I have seen.


    • CJ · January 25, 2014

      He’s signed up for that now. But his isn’t one of the phones that will make a noise if it’s turned off. He’s just going to have to be a little more careful. And I might need to put buttons or snaps on all of his pockets.


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