FIMBY

The best we can with what we have

I received a copyright inquiry this month from someone who wants to use one of my photos for an art project he's doing.

I was happy to give my consent, and appreciated being asked. The request sent me back into my photo archives looking for the original. It's an old photo and I never did find the original. (I'm sure I still have it, I just can't recall which year to look in.)

My photo wanderings landed me in March, six years ago.

And while the rest of my family slept-in on a quiet, snowy Saturday morning, I spent some time remembering our family's past, our family story.

March 2009 was not a spectacular month, as seasons go. By most accounts it was a "normal" end-of-winter month. We didn't go to Disney or take a vacation south. We went to the farm to see the lambs, and indulged our sweet tooth in Maine Maple Sunday.

In some ways it was a very painful month.

Damien's father died after a very long battle with cancer followed by ALS. Damien went back to Alberta at the very end of his father's life and stayed for his funeral.

In some ways it was a stressful month.

In my photo archives I see pictures of our rental suite, newly painted. We must have been between renters, which I always find stressful.

And I'm sure between the unexpected travel back west and our house-related expenses things felt tight.

I know all of that happened but the photos from that month don't communicate pain or stress, they tell a story of mini-adventures, creativity, the promise of spring, visiting my parents, and being in nature.

They tell a story of love and joy and you know, doing stuff as a family.

This month, March 2015, had its own pain and financial stress.

Last December, Damien made the decision to put all his working eggs in his technology basket as a means to increase and stabilize our income, something that is important to my wellbeing (I need stability) and our family's wellbeing at this stage of raising kids (it simply costs more to raise teens).

"The program" is well underway. Damien has good clients and started a new business with another engineer friend. It's all well and good but the timing of billing and payments is something that easily causes me stress because I really like certainty, knowing what I can count on and when. In this regard, I miss his salaried employment. But in all other aspects self-employed, location independent, and at-home work fits our family really well.

That's the stress, but the pain comes from how I handle this stress (based on my thought patterns) and how I then communicate this stress to Damien.

Part of my healing is to take care of my mental health and this means understanding where and how my thoughts turn toxic and how to change that. And so I've been really working this month on my thought patterns and my communication with Damien, but these changes take time, and I've not yet arrived.

The living goes on in spite of "how on top of things" we are. In spite of how much money is in the bank at the current moment. (Not much, we just bought our first-ever brand new car, gulp.)

My visual cruise through March 2009 was a reminder to me of the things that matter in my life. A reminder that none of us get out of here alive and so what will we do with this one precious life?

Remembering that "normal" month from six years ago (Celine was only 10!) was a much-need reminder for me of the importance of investing in our family, of doing things with our kids, of living together.

The first day of March 2009 was the last day of our first winter camping trip. An experience my parents drove all the way from Nova Scotia to participate in. Thanks Mom & Dad for being there for so many of our family camping trips.

We had a belated-birthday pottery party for Laurent. We went for walks in our neighborhood and late winter hikes in Maine's western mountains. I took the kids to the children's museum, mom came during Damien's trip west and we enjoyed Maine Maple Sunday, and there was the All-Campus Gala at the college where Damien worked, the kids' first formal dance.

It was a good month.

When we came off the trail last September I was pretty burnt out. I feel like I gave and gave out so much of myself to make that happen. I sacrificed things that were important to me (I didn't realize how important they were to me until they were gone) to help our family achieve that goal. I struggled with my thoughts and my toxic thoughts, without the means or skills to really cope with that.

I have never regretted our hike, but I regret the pain I experienced in the process. I wish that hadn't happened.

We came home from our hike completely broke, less-than-broke, as we had to open a line of credit to start our life again. (And no, this was not part of the original plan.)

I came home with a stress fracture and a weary spirit. My relationship with Damien was strained. We were as committed to each other as ever, but our affection for each other had been stretched thin from all we had given to have this adventure with our kids.

So the situation wasn't particularly pretty but nor was it dire. We have a very good thing going in our relationship as a family. Damien and I have each invested our lives, as most parents do, into raising our kids and it was our mutual love, all five of us, that held us fast.

When I look back at March 2009 I see that Damien and I did the best we could with what we had.

When I look back at our hike I see the same truth.

I love money in the bank, not to spend, just to have. I have to balance this tendency of mine (which is good for our family in many respects) with our need for adventure and spontaneity, our need to say yes to dreams and yes to goals; our own goals and our children's goals. I often have to say yes even when I don't know how we'll make those things actually happen. This is a constant tension for me.

But we keep striving to do our best with what we have because money in the bank, no matter how safe it might make me feel, doesn't hug me. Money in the bank comes and goes. That is the nature of it. But these people are permanent in my heart. And it is my relationship with them that is the strength and security in my life.

Looking back at March 2009 and considering our adventure last year, I see the importance of doing things together and giving all you can, which is going to vary according to our station and season of life.

All of us have different financial means. Each of us were born into a time and place we did not choose and we fill seven billion or so unique niches on this planet. Almost everyone I know feels the constraints of limited time and money.

And so I don't think it's what you do as a family that matters so much as that you do something. Something, or somethings, that root your family in relationship and experiences. Experiences that will help form your family identity and family culture, making the memories that become family history, your story.

I don't believe there is a financial formula that we can all apply to our lives that will guarantee success or wellbeing. (Though there are sound financial principles like spending less than you earn which increase your odds of financial wellbeing, and overall wellbeing.)

And having a good life is not about the specifics. It's not about being a modern-day homesteader, hiking the Appalachian Trail, living in an RV for year, the trip to Disney, raising sheep, going to Europe, or buying a cabin on a lake.

It's about doing the best we can with what we have. And putting our best into nurturing and building our relationships.

(All the photos in this post are from March 2009. The beginning of the month saw me shoveling a lot of snow and by the end I was working in my garden. Ah, Spring.)

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A goal-driven curriculum

This is the third post in the homeschooling through high school years.

In my last two posts I talked about why homeschool bloggers don't write as much about the high school years and project-based learning and interview assessments.

In this post I give an introduction to Céline's curriculum this year. The full curriculum will be laid out in post five.

General Curriculum Talk

I've written quite a bit about curriculum planning through the years.

Even if you're fairly low key about this in the early years (and you absolutely can be, though setting even a basic pattern for your planning can help you as you get into the later years), it seems obvious to me that planning and record keeping becomes more important in the high school years because more is on the line.

These are the years that set the foundation for post-secondary studies, if your student goes that route, and I'd like to have my ducks in a row for that possibility.

There are two main parameters, or pillars, I use when planning a student's curriculum.

Two guiding principles form the first pillar of my curriculum planning, those principles are our family values and our core educational objectives.

Here are my educational goals from a post I wrote five years ago:

When our children graduate our homeschool we want them to have:

  • An understanding of who they are, their gifts that can be used to help and serve others, their place (one of love and mutual need) within our family and community.
  • A strong foundation in our faith of loving God, following Jesus, loving people and their unique place within the church.
  • A working, hands-on knowledge of successful home and family life.
  • A healthy body, spirit and mind to fulfill whatever it is God has for them to do.
  • A basic knowledge of the world through the lenses of history, geography, nature, science, math, music, art, language (& other disciplines). Learning in these disciplines to be taken to the point necessary for further studies if they should so choose.
  • The ability to process information, solve problems, communicate and make sound decisions.
  • A respect and appreciation for and comfort in the natural world.
  • A life long sense of adventure and hope.

In short, we want our children to have what every good parent hopes to instill:

the roots our children need to feel secure and the wings they need to fly.


Charlie's Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 04-23-14

Somehow, through the years this simple list has become our de facto educational goals. Which is funny considering it took me about 10 minutes late one autumn evening to write them out after a particularly stressful time of seasonal transition and insecurities about our children's education.

There hasn't been any need to add to this list since it covers all the bases and emphasizes our strongest family values.

The second guiding pillar of my curriculum planning is knowing my child and meeting their unique needs for this particular school year.

I do this by asking myself some basic questions:

  • Who is my child? (answering this includes knowing their personality, interests, love languages, etc.)
  • What does she need right now to help her succeed?
  • What might she need in the near future?
  • What knowledge, skills and aptitudes need work?
  • What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses?
  • What are her goals? (immediate or longer term)

As my children have gotten older I work collaboratively with them to answer these questions, and build a curriculum around that.

The overarching educational goals (pillar one), together with the answers to these questions, are the starting point for me to create an individualized course of study, or curriculum, for each of my students.

A shift to a goal-driven curriculum

For the first time in our homeschool history one of our kids has a driving, fairly long-term goal that they are working towards. And this self-directed goal is shaping her curriculum and schedule this year.

Céline's goal is to go to C2E2 in April.

Céline has been dreaming about this since before our hike, and it was on the hike (during those long days in Virginia no doubt) that she determined to set this as a goal for herself when we got home.

What is C2E2? You can click the link above but basically it's a comic convention in Chicago that brings together "the latest and greatest from the worlds of comics, movies, television, toys, anime, manga and video games".

Like other comic conventions, C2E2 is a celebration of comics, movies, TV, pop culture, gadgets and gizmos of the sci-fi variety. It's a place where people go to get their "geek" on, to cosplay as their inner super hero, to hob nob with animators, writers, producers, costume designers, and actors from the world of comic books and pop culture.

What is most fascinating to me, the parent, mom, and non-comic reader, is how uniquely Céline this goal is.

I would never have imagined it would be a goal like this that would motivate Céline to get a part time job, just as I could not have anticipated a role playing game project would fuel the desire to learn Japanese.

The desire to go to, and participate in, C2E2 is somewhat similar to a project, but it's more of a goal (I see projects as producing something) in which small projects and other activities will help her meet that goal.

C2E2 means researching a cosplay character, sewing a costume, making travel arrangements, buying plane tickets and booking a hotel.

Céline is responsible for all her costs associated with the trip: her costume, her flight and hotel arrangements, her event ticket, her food while she's there. It's all on her dime. This meant getting a job.

We've assisted her along the way, helping her find a job, driving her to the fabric store, being a sounding board for costume ideas, reviewing flight and hotel prices, letting her use our credit card for reservations, and of course, the biggie: paying for Damien to accompany her (and no, he won't be going in character).

We are here to help, to remove what roadblocks we can, and assist her in moving past and through others, but the work is hers. The computer tech work she does to earn her money, her relationship with her supervisor, her sewing, her research and budgeting, all hers.


US-20 just past Upper Goose Pond Cabin, MA 08-05-14
Flint, Survivor, Ungerwhere, Mountain Light, Padawan, Otter

Not what I expected

When my kids were little, and I was a newbie at the the practice of interest-led elementary education (we had already been doing it for years as "preschool") I had to fashion some idea for myself of how it all might play out.

I couldn't simply steer the ship into a future educational void called "the unknown territory of interest-led high school education". (This was before I read Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, which gave me a guide to follow and even a language for what we were hoping to achieve. This is where we picked up the term Scholar Phase.)

During those first years of homeschooling, here's what I imagined: giving my children lots of time to play, explore and discover in their childhood, while fostering a love for reading, outdoors, creativity, and being together (some of our key family values) would give them a solid foundation from which to know and understand themselves. And ample time, oodles of time was my goal actually, to develop innate talents, interests and passions into skills, aptitudes and knowledge.


Céline working in her studio loft bedroom

I believed that this self-knowledge, together with the skills and self-discipline they would naturally develop from working on their interests and their participation in home and family life, would then translate into a clear career path in their high school years, which would inform and shape their studies.

I was still fairly biased from my own high school years which were very "tracked" towards university admission, with an emphasis on career preparation.

My experience has taught me I was right on the first assumption and little off the mark on the second.

As my oldest has entered her high school years and my middle child is on his way there, they appear to know themselves quite well and have all kinds of skills, aptitudes, and knowledge that are focused around a few core themes, completely unique to them.

Yes, we have family values and interests, and educational goals, but our kids are their own people. We knew this when they were younger, but as they grow through the late elementary, middle and high school years, we see this so clearly.


Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks, NY 07-25-14

This fairly solid grounding in who they are (of course my kids are still figuring this out, as am I) together with a unique skill set, knowledge, and aptitudes has not magically given them insight into a career path, therefore an educational path to reach that career.

But what it has given them is interest-led goals to work towards.

As they reach the scholar years, and are in the scholar years, our teens have become more goal orientated. These are not goals related to honor roll, entrance exams, or what they want to become some day. These are goals related to who they are now and what they want to do now.

These are not CAREER GOALS (I feel that should have a booming echo-y voice). These are goals for today, tomorrow, this month, the next six months, and more recently, one year.

I had thought that interest-led learning would eventually facilitate a self-directed career and post secondary education path. I still believe this but I don't think it's going to look like choosing a possible career, with laid out educational track, at age sixteen. At least not for our oldest.

I have a hunch our children's adult vocations, and the educational routes necessary to get there, will unfold in unexpected, interconnected, and serendipitous ways. We are already on this path with our oldest but we are not rushing decision-making in that process.


camping at Rock Spring Hut with our friend Loon,
Shenandoah National Park, VA 06-23-14

We don't pester our kids with "what do you want to be when they grow up?" questions, or pressure them to make decisions about this. But we are always looking for ways to springboard off of their interests, experience, and skill set presenting possible post-high school opportunities, in both employment or further education.

Nor do we build a high school curriculum around a "just-in-case" mindset. "We know you really love x and have a whole bunch of skills in y and are building experience in z but you're young and since we don't know what the future holds you should take calculus, just in case.

Which begs the question, what about calculus? You might be thinking, "so what if your kid has a job and can get herself to a comic convention (renew her passport, make hotel reservations, and sew) what about the other stuff... literature and physics, essay writing and algebra?"

Glad you asked. (And trust me, you have asked. I've been asked some variation of this question since we started homeschooling nearly ten years ago.)

I'll be dealing with that in post five of this homeschooling through high school series. First, there's post four, preparing for an unknown future, but I think we're going to get off the high school train altogether and take a short parallel detour on the route marked "My kids are uninspired, they don't have any goals or projects, what should I do?" And maybe while we're there we'll talk about about my very pragmatic approach to homeschooling called "doing what works."

Written with permission and editorial input from Céline.

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Middle March: rewriting the script

I'm guessing winter will be over in another five to six weeks. It could happen sooner, but let's be realistic, this corner of North America was slammed with winter this year and most of us are still under a lot of snow. I'm no meteorologist but I think it will take a while still for the snow to melt and winter to release her grip.

This winter was defined by a few things for me, the momentous and mundane: a season's ski pass which enabled us to ski every weekend, Damien's business trip to Alberta in February, Laurent's 14th birthday, Céline's C2E2 plans driving her curriculum (my next post in the homeschooling through high school series will explain this), cross country skiing out our door, participating in Heather's Hibernate workshop, a knitting project I'm so close to completing, watching Netflix on the big screen with my big kids (Downton Abbey's 5th season, and all of Merlin), weekly choir practice (our spectacle is on Friday!), and lots of reading.

The important thing, and the point of this post, is what did not define my winter: seasonal affective disorder.

I'm safely through the most dangerous winter territory, late February and into March, and I haven't experienced anything even close to the emotional lows of winter 2012 and 2013.

(Last winter we were too busy getting ready for our hike for me to feel depressed but I was quite stressed during that time. There was so much to do and a lot of deadlines. I hate deadlines. I repeatedly thought and expressed, "I don't want to live like this", but didn't see any way out except to just get through it.)

I met my SAD this year head-on with a personal wellness strategy of supplements, happy light, daily outdoor exercise, and self-acceptance.

We also changed our lives in significant ways to support a season of healing and restoration for me. The magnitude of those changes hasn't shown up on the blog much, yet. I have too many other things to write about.

Part of my "enjoy winter plan" was to get outside every day. I did a lot of cross country skiing but March required a change in my physical activity. The routine and route that brought me so much joy and beauty in January and February was just, meh, come March. I was bored.

So I started doing yoga.

I've done bits and pieces of yoga over the years, but never anything regular. I'm not sure if this month's foray into yoga will result in a regular yoga practice but it's getting me through March and that's fairly significant.

I'm using an iPad app called Yoga Studio. Damien got it for his own needs and introduced me to it. (I'm also borrowing Damien's yoga mat right now till I buy my own.)

I really like this format - the verbal instructions along with the video demonstrations are very easy to understand. I can choose different "classes", according to my needs and abilities. Right now I'm doing 30 minute beginner combo classes, strength focus classes and sun salutations.

A few other things are keeping me going through this last, long month of winter.

Dreams and plans

When we came home from the trail I was dreamed out. I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to think about the future. All I wanted to do was rest and to hunker down for the winter. A season of rest, along with making the changes we did in December and January have given me the security I need to start dreaming again.

March is a great month to make plans for the summer.

I'm starting to get the backpacking itch, the first stirrings since leaving the trail physically injured and heart weary. We've been tossing around summer hiking, camping, and travel ideas. One of my many cousins is getting married in October on the other side of the country, and I'm going. (I can't wait to be with the Toews clan again.)

Much sooner on the horizon, my parents are coming to visit for Easter.

In July, we're moving to Montreal. I guess this is my blog "announcement". I'll be blogging more about this move in probably April or May. I'll be answering, Why Montreal? Why now? that kind of thing.

We decided this move before Christmas but with spring fever in our blood we're starting to talk about what this will look like. All the places we'll be close to and all the adventures awaiting us living close to an airport, close to Vermont, New Hampshire, and the White Mountains.

A good homeschool groove

In February the kids and I took a two and a half three week break from our usual routine. I wanted some time for a sewing project. There was Laurent's birthday and, I don't remember... something else in there that necessitated a break.

"Spring" break for the school kids in our community was the first week of March this year. But when I flipped the calendar into March I was recharged and ready to roll.

I truly enjoy my kids at this stage, so very much. Our discussions are challenging. I like being able to watch non-PG tv together. I love collaborating with them as they do really cool things. I love that they cook and contribute significantly around the house. I love that we have distinct interests and loves but share affection for each other. I love that we can race down mountainsides together.

Sharing these years with my kids, anticipating the future together, watching them come into their own is my greatest joy right now. My relationship with them fills my well.

And homeschooling them, when I take the breaks I need to recharge, is not a burden but a joy also.

That's what homeschooling this month feels like to me. It feels like daily disciplines that yield good fruit in their season.

It feels like anticipation. All of us will be traveling next month, going separate ways, to meet goals we have. (I believe lots of plans, hope, anticipation and activity are key elements of a happy home in the teen years. Teens want to do stuff.)

There was no homeschool burnout this winter and with exciting plans on the horizon I'm motivated to finish March strong.

Affection and friendship with Damien

Our marriage took a bit of a beating on the trail. Someday I'll tell the whole story, why that happened, etc.

Damien and I were committed to each other, completely, through the whole thing but the bonds of our friendship were strained. Commitment is one thing (and it's one of the bedrocks of our relationship), but friendship is just as important. And we've been working, since coming back, on renewing our friendship and delight in each other's company.

Ironically, this necessitated that we stop working together and invest in ourselves individually, so that we come to our marriage and our "togetherness" as unique, vibrant, distinct and interesting people, not simply extensions of each other (which doesn't work so well).

This month, I've been reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I find all the questionnaires and scoring exercises tedious, I skip those parts but I'm gleaning a lot of insight from the rest.

I just finished the chapter on Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration and I recognized in this chapter something that we've been working on recently - reviving the fun in our marriage.


The sun setting as we drive along Route 132
on our way to Friday night young group

Switching to Alpine Touring, which I talked about in my first Kitchen Table essay, was one way to reclaim the fun in our marriage. (Damien is no longer my telemark tutor and I have the confidence to ski almost any run with him.) We've been dating while our kids go to youth group, and we went dancing in February.

Damien and I are very different people, when we remember that is what drew us to each other in the first place we are able to respect those differences and also encourage them to keep our friendship interesting.

Re-discovering friendship and enjoying the fun of being lovers is something that's definitely working for me this winter.

Historically, winter has been a hard season for me. February used to be the toughest month when we lived in Maine. After moving to Quebec, further north and deeper into winter (with no hope of spring till late April/early May), my most difficult month became March.

Knowing my personal history, I had some trepidation facing this winter but I feel like I rewrote the script.

This winter proved to me that "I struggle through winter" does not need to be the only reality or option for me moving forward, into the many more winters I plan to live. Maybe my new reality can be this: winter can be hard, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve - routines, beliefs, disciplines, thought patterns, activities, and relationships - to help me get through and even enjoy the season.

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Project-Based Learning & Interview Assessments

This is the second post in the Homeschooling Through High School Series.

Before we start, a brief note about grades, ages, phases...

We don't do school grades but Céline, currently aged 15 (16 in May) is "Grade 10 age" or "Secondary 4 age" in Québec. She started her high school years, which we also call the scholar phase, at thirteen and a half.

By comparison, Laurent, currently just fourteen, has not yet started his scholar or high school years. He is in the transition period, a learning phase marked by a certain restlessness and periods of dissatisfaction (whining) with some of my leading but not yet willing, ready or able to take significant self-initiative in directing his own education. Also, we have more ground to cover in his written communication skills (due to his delayed reading because of dyslexia) before he can launch high school. His "grade level" is 8, secondary 2 in Québec.

Céline started her homeschool high school education two years ago, in January 2013.

Céline was dissatisfied with her emergent high schooler curriculum I put together the previous fall and wanted to almost exclusively study Role Playing Games, since that was the only thing motivating or interesting to her in that life season. (I will admit, this caused a bit of panic in me initially.) So we switched gears that winter, handing the reigns over to Céline, stepping back to be parental advisors and guides in what became a project-based learning season for Céline.

In Fall 2013, Céline's grade nine year (in compulsory school speak) she continued with her project, though to a lesser degree of commitment and interest than the previous winter and spring. And in the open spaces created by the waning interest in her project, I supplied options and resources for Céline to help guide and inspire her, and she often joined in activities I was doing with Brienne and Laurent. But she still mostly directed her days and her learning.

In truth, homeschooling was quite low-key that fall. It was a back-to-basics, barebones curriculum because that's when we started preparing for our hike and our video series. Talk about project-based learning! That was a large scale project the whole family was a part of.

In the context of that family project and Céline's changing interests and growth, interest in her own project waned and it was shelved, indefinitely.

I want to address something here.

Quitting Projects

A lot of homeschool parents get hung up on kids completing things they start.I understand the reason for this.

The root of this is a fear that our kids will grow up to be irresponsible adults, and not be able to follow through on their commitments.

In our eagerness to see that they complete what they start (do you complete everything you start?) we might encourage small projects because we know they are doable. Don't dream too big, that kind of thing.

Or we crack the whip even when our kid's enthusiasm is totally gone and their interests lie somewhere else completely. Because by golly, we are going to have this thing completed so we can prove to ourselves, grandma, the neighbors, the school board, whoever, that homeschooling works, that our kids haven't failed and by extension, we haven't failed.

Hokey dinah people. That's a lot of small thinking, fear, pressure and joy-sucking living and learning.


on the AT in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 04-23-14
two very cool homeschooled teens: Invisible Bear & Padawan

There is so much to be learned by doing a project.

I don't know all the psychology behind project completion. I know that we tend to complete things when money is on the line, and sometimes no matter how committed we are and how much we've invested of time or money, we can't see some ideas through to the end.

Sometimes we complete projects, sometimes we don't. This is true for adults and children. This is true for everyone I know.

I agree with Kenny Rogers on this one. You've got to know when to hold em', know when to fold 'em... That's life, and homeschooling is no different.

Learning how to finish is an important character trait, and requires self-discipline. Learning how to re-evaluate and adjust course, based on new inputs, is just as important.

If you approach projects as a learning experience, learning how to manage and move through a project, not simply as a way to produce something that proves learning has happened (oh this is an easy trap for homeschoolers to fall into), you will gain so much from the experience, even if you don't complete it.

What we learned from Céline's project

The goal of Céline's project was to create a Role Playing Game (RPG). This was a big undertaking as RPG's are complex and multifaceted. They have a storyline, game mechanics, the world the game is "set in", etc.

(If your kids are interested in RPG's you might appreciate RPG Maker, Windows software to make your own games. We haven't used it, I can't make any recommendations.)

We learned three big things in the course of Céline's project.

  1. Knowledge, skills and aptitudes acquired in the process of creating the game.
  2. Team project management.
  3. Interview-style assessments.
1. Knowledge, Skills & Aptitudes

Céline's game was set in mythical feudal Japan, which necessitated research and study of Japanese history and culture. These cultural studies and research landed Céline in a self-paced beginners Japanese as a second language course.

In addition to her Japanese studies, Céline's developed research and correspondence skills, as well as technical skills in using software and other computer tools to produce the MMF's (see definition below) of her project, the map for example.

I could share more details here but they are specific and personal. Suffice to say, history, geography, Japanese as a Second Language, and computer applications were subjects studied in-depth.


Meeting Japanese friends on the Appalachian Trail
Padawan & Taka at Woods Hole Hostel, Pearisburg, VA 05-31-14

2. Project Management

To facilitate the development of such a large project and help the three of us manage it together (since we were all stakeholders in the project), Damien introduced two engineering, real world management tools into our homeschool, adapting and simplifying them greatly to our needs. Those tools were Kanban and Scrum Meetings.

I am not going to explain these management systems and tools. Like I said in my first post, when you start writing about higher level homeschool experience the information can get specific and arcane.

My goal here is not to explain a tool you can google an explanation for, but to share a wee bit of how these project management tools have influenced our homeschool.

Here are the briefest of definitions to give you some context.

Kanban is a production method (ironically, the Kanban system was developed by the Japanese car company Toyota) for managing the creation of products with an emphasis on continual delivery while not overburdening the development team.

We employed a very simplified version of it so we could all know, (somewhat) at a glance, where Céline was at in her project and also to limit the WIP's (works in progress) of such a large project. Our goal was forward movement and completed MMF's (Minimum Marketable Features), not perfection.

Céline did not finish her project through to the end, but because of Kanban's focus on MMF's she completed discrete parts of the project.

Scrum-style meetings was another tool we used to check-in with Céline in a regular basis to assess her project progress, and to understand how we, as facilitators and parents, could help her move forward.

Our meetings were modeled on the Daily Scrum, during which each team member answers the following questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • Are there any impediments in your way?

By focusing on what each person accomplished yesterday and will accomplish today, the team gains an excellent understanding of what work has been done and what work remains. The daily scrum meeting is not a status update meeting in which a boss is collecting information about who is behind schedule. Rather, it is a meeting in which team members make commitments to each other. From Mountain Goat Software

We did not have daily scrum meetings. We had weekly, or bi-weekly meetings in which we answered the following questions:

  • What have you done since the last meeting?
  • What are you doing next?
  • What are the roadblocks?
  • How can we remove those/move past or through them?

The key purposes of these meetings was group accountability and problem resolution within the project, to identify roadblocks and help move Céline through them.

3. Interview assessments and collaborative facilitator/student meetings

Céline's project introduced "real world" project management tools into our vocabulary and home learning environment. And it taught me how to step back and be a collaborator, like a learning colleague, more than a supervisor/teacher.

Our regular meetings opened my eyes to alternative and effective forms of assessments and feedback between student and facilitator.

When Céline's education started to track away from the plans I had designed for her and into territory and interests I was unfamiliar with I had to figure out some way of checking-in with her, some way to assess what she was doing (which was mostly digital and therefore hard to observe) for record keeping purposes. Just what the heck was she doing exactly?

Céline is a technophile introvert. Her world is largely digital and intellectual. If I want to know what's going on, I need to ask.


Padawan resting at Dahlgren Back Pack Campground, MD 07-03-14

Our regular Scrum meetings together with Damien, which were centered around her RPG project specifically, showed me how I could apply those same questioning techniques to all of Céline's pursuits to understand where she's at, what stands in her way, and how I might help her move forward.

So I started interviewing Céline. Instead of recording my own observations about her progress, which is what I had been doing for her core and love of learning years, I started recording her observations, with notes of my own to add depth or context when needed.

Instead of trying to observe and answer, for myself, "what is she learning?" I ask the student directly "what are you learning?"

This is a subtle but significant shift.

Prior to this I would do monthly-ish assessments of my kids without them even aware that I was doing so. I have explained that record keeping system here.

When you don't use many packaged resources, online classes, textbooks or other standardized educational materials, when you allow your scholar students to design their own curriculum with materials and resources that may be well outside your personal knowledge base, keeping track of their learning can be tricky. You are not checking boxes in the "teacher's guide".

Regular interviews have been a great tool for me to check in with my kids, find out what they're up to (what they're learning), where they are stuck, and what they need from me.

I started doing this in Céline's first year of high school. And since coming home from our hike I have been using this tool with all three kids, even though the younger two aren't in their scholar phase yet.

What does it look like?

Practically, this looks like a regularly-scheduled interview (once every six weeks or so) with each of my kids in which I assess three main things:

  • Project progress, if they have a project on the go. They don't always have projects on the go.
  • What are you learning? questions.
  • What do you want to learn? questions.

Project progress is fairly straightforward, no one has attempted anything as in-depth as Céline's RPG project and so I manage these without Damien's help. He still assists with many projects, especially with technical aspects, but he's not in the management loop at this point.

I don't actually ask my kids What are you learning? Instead I ask them the following questions:

  • What are you reading?
  • What are you listening to?
  • What are you making/creating?
  • What are you watching?
  • What are you writing?
  • What are you studying?

From their answers I get a good picture, along with my own daily observations and interactions, of what they are learning.

Sometimes what they are reading, listening to, watching, writing, or studying (this is my catch-all category for anything that we may have missed in the other categories) is directed by me. Sometimes it's chosen by the learner. (I will get into the parent-directed aspects of our high school and late middle school curriculums in another post.)

What do you want to learn? is the forward motion part of the interview. These are the questions I ask to assess this.

  • What are your current goals? And, or
  • What do want to study or learn?
  • What do you need to get there?
  • What are the roadblocks?

These could be very simple things or quite complex. And sometimes the kids have nothing to say in answer to these. I'm going to address that also in another post.

The answers from this part of the interview give me my "homework assignment", to help resolve the roadblocks (or light sparks of inspiration) where needed.

Based on what my kids need and are asking for, I go to work on providing resources, or steering my learners in the direction of finding their own resources, to help them meet their goals.

These are the formal interviews but there's informal stuff happening all the time. My kids don't wait 6 weeks to tell me they need help finding a time traveling book about fashion, for example.

In the time between our interviews I try to keep track (with little notes in Evernote) of the discussions we're having, books we're listening to together, interesting things we've watched, etc. but the regular interviews are my main assessment tool for the self-directed learning, project-based or otherwise, that my kids are doing.

Céline's first stage of high school (the beginning of her scholar years), roughly January 2013 through fall 2013, was transitional and transformational for our family and our home learning environment, with her RPG project dominating her curriculum.

In winter 2013/2014 we launched a large scale family project which took over our lives. Our Appalachian Trail family thru-hike - the preparation and hike itself - was the focus for the majority of Céline's second stage of high school.


Blood Mountain, GA 04-03-14: only 2,160 miles left to go!

How many high schoolers can say they thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in less than six months? (Approximately less than 20 individuals in the entire world.)

When we got home from the trail, the learning shifted again, to a goal-driven curriculum. Céline's third high school stage which I will describe in my next post in this series.

Written with permission and editorial input from Céline.

Resources: 

Where are all the homeschooled high schoolers?

For the next month (probably a bit longer) my plan is to publish homeschool-related posts here at FIMBY.

Some of those posts will be general "this is what homeschooling looks like in our home these days" type content, along with interest-led, relationship-building philosophical stuff. In between all that, and along side, I will be publishing a homeschooling through high school series, specifically about our experience with Celine's high school years, or scholar phase, so far.

The last time I wrote anything substantial about our high school homeschool experience was over one year ago, and I promised at the end of that post to spell out more of our high school plans and practice in future posts.

I'm finally getting around to doing that in this series.

First, I'd like to answer a question I've had for years.

Why don't more homeschool bloggers write about the high school years?

Specifically, why don't more unschooling, interest-led, project-based, experiential, learner-directed homeschooling families write and share their "curriculum" (simply course of study), hopes, dreams, methods, progress, assessment methods, successes and setbacks of homeschooling their high schoolers?

There is a lot written about the interest-led, relaxed early years homeschooling experience. For good reason, it's pretty easy at that stage. Once a parent has the courage to buck the system and follow their heart and family values for their child's education it's not that complicated when kids are elementary aged.

As children grow into themselves and their unique interests really start to steer their ship (for us around age 13), the choices and the curriculum get more complicated. It becomes harder to write about because the curriculum is specific to the child and it seems almost a waste of energy to share a bunch of ideas and resources that may not apply to many other people.

And I know for me, after I've spent hours and hours pulling together resources and sifting through options that I think will work best for my learners, in the context of our home life, I sometimes just don't have the mental energy to share it all here.

In addition, as my children grow, I have an increasing desire to protect their privacy. To give them space in their young adult years to try things out, to experiment with new ideas, new looks.

More and more, Céline's education, and her life really, is becoming her story to tell. A story I need to ask permission to share publicly.

Specificity and privacy are two reasons for sure that less is written about homeschooling through high school. Then there's attrition - homeschooled kids choosing, or parents choosing for them, to finish their K-12 schooling years in public or private school.

I don't know the actual numbers, I just know by simple observation that more little kids are homeschooled than older kids. There are many reasons for this.

Some kids want a school experience, if only for the sports and social opportunities. Not to mention accessing music, theatre, and other group learning structures that may not be available to them any other way. Not everyone has access to good homeschool co-ops or community groups that offer these programs outside of school.

Some kids want to test themselves in an academic context. Others feel they need the courses offered by their local or private high school to build transcripts for their post-secondary education plans. In other families, parents are just done by this stage, and who can blame them really. Homeschooling is a lot of work.

I think these are all possible reasons why it's hard to find posts about homeschooled teens circulating the web, and even harder to find posts about "non-schooly" homeschooled young adults.

This is unfortunate because these are the blog posts I wished I could read when my kids were younger.

The kind of posts I went searching for, for reassurance, that it would be ok to let my children mostly play during their childhood. (It is.) That it would be ok if they didn't read till they were 8, 9, 10, 12. (It is.) That it would be ok if they didn't participate in many extra-curricular activities for "socialization". (It is.) That it would be ok if we choose to study subjects at our own pace and if we didn't call them subjects at all, but "life". (It is.)

We all want the reassurance it will be ok. I am the same way. I've learned that you can't depend on that from someone else so I can't make you any promises, but I can share what the high school years look like in our home and you can read my organized archives to see the foundation we laid in the early and elementary years - high on enjoyment and low on stress - for both me and the kids.

You can also listen to my audio teaching Learning in Love for the Preschool Years, and Homeschooling from the Heart, for learners ages 5 through 8. It appears I need to bring these teachings up-to-date with late early years (8-10) and the middle years (10-13). And eventually, when we've actually graduated one of our kids, I can do high school (14-18).

...getting ahead of myself. Here's a sampling of our early years:

  • A little more structure - The year I started writing my own curriculum, Céline was eight years old. (And no, we never did stick with CM but her ideas have been very influential in my approach.)
  • Homeschooling Highschoolers - How I envisioned the high school years to look way back when Céline was nine years old. This is so much fun to read now that we're actually in high school.
  • A Relaxed Approach to Homeschooling the Early Years - "I'll try new ideas each fall but I keep coming back to a basic routine of reading books, being outdoors, participating in our community and creating together at home. And I let the rest flow from there."
  • Graduation Goals & a Long Term Vision - published in fall 2009 when Céline was ten, transitioning to her middle years.

Back to the present.

The archives are there for you to read about the foundation of how we got where we are. And now it's time to tell the story of where we are, which is what this whole homeschooling through high school series is all about.

Stay tuned for post two in the series - Our Experience with Student-Directed, Project-Based High School Education.

PS. If you're curious about the red wig be sure to read post three in the series, which is all about goal-driven curriculum, and how, in our house, dressing-up is an important part of Céline's high school education.

Resources: 

(teen) Kids in the Kitchen

Kids in the kitchen may not seem like the most logical place to start a month of homeschooling posts but it's perfectly logical for me.

As the kids' educational needs get more intense, not only do I have to, but I want to, devote adequate time to their education (and activities).

We are interest-led homeschoolers. Our kids are responsible for their learning, but I am responsible for preparing the environment, facilitating habit formation, sourcing materials, record keeping, getting them places, and showing up for my job enthused and inspired.

I spend a lot more time "homeschooling" during these years than I did when the kids were little. (This time does not necessarily equate to teaching them directly, but I'll get into that in another post.)

Having kids contribute around the house meets several objectives.

They learn "real life skills", which is core part of their curriculum, and they learn responsibility (character development).

But just as important for me, is that their participation frees up my time so I can "do everything" I need to do.

Kids contributing is my way of making sure I have enough time for their education, my other household work, and my own needs.

Taking care of my own needs is not trivial in the scheme of things. Showing up for my homeschool responsibilities enthused and inspired means that I am both inspired about what we're doing but also refreshed from doing things I love as a regular part of my day.

Damien and I have attempted to divide our labor, as much as possible, according to personal interests, strengths, and gifts. Our recent rebuild was largely about this.

Managing the kitchen, the kids' education, our household finances, and the basic care and cleaning of our home is my job in this life season.

I'm the one who makes things flow around here. I keep things in line. I manage "stuff" and schedules. I like that job.

Life with three older kids, kids period, can get kind of out of hand if you're not careful. I don't know about you, but my family will take as much as I am willing to give and then they'll ask for more. Not because they are mean or nasty or even trying to take advantage of me but because they are human.

We all have a tendency to look to other people to solve our problems, make life easier, do our work. As my kids grow older it is especially imperative that I'm not the mother who enables that.

I'm a dedicated, invested homeschooling mom, yes, but I want my own life also. A life that largely revolves around my kids, my home and hearth, but a life with time to read (in the middle of the day), exercise and be outdoors, time to write, time to make stuff and be creative, time to connect with other women - those are things I want to do.

It's my job to set my personal boundaries, and not to expect other people, my husband included, to intuit and advocate for my needs.

Having my kids involved in the kitchen is about learning important skills, like cooking, but it's also about sharing household responsibilities so I'm not taking on too much of the household burden.

Our kids are required to help in the kitchen for the following very practical reasons:
  • Meal planning, grocery shopping within a budget, and cooking are life skills. This is part of their curriculum.
  • Our health is largely dependent on what we eat. Food related disease (of some kind) is rampant in our society. Learning to cook, eat, and enjoy healthy food is habit formation of the highest order.
  • Kids eat a lot, it just makes sense to have them help prepare that.
  • Learning to cook, to plan meals and prepare them according to a schedule teaches excellent time management skills. (I don't give my kids school assignments, daily meals are natural "deadlines" in our days.)
  • I actually need their help for us to accomplish everything everyone in our family wants to do in a day. I just can't do it all, and when it comes to cooking, nor do I want to! We all have to pitch in, it's simple as that.
Looking Back

Six years ago (the kids were 10, 8 & 6) I wrote a post about the number of hours I spent on food-related chores.

Managing a buying club, weekly trips to our CSA, gardening, making most everything from scratch, and regular hospitality in addition to menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking, tipped my daily average into full-time hours. I spent approximately eight hours a day on food related chores. It's as unbelievable to me now as it was then.

When I wrote that post I resolved "it's time to get the kids more involved in the kitchen... I would love to work myself down to a part-time job."


our kids cooking Ramen noodles on the trail, a first for them

That particular summer was probably the height of my kitchen and cooking related time investment. It wasn't until a couple years later that I admitted on the blog I don't really like cooking, at least not all the meals, and such a high amount of food related chores, though noble (and I think I took some pride in how noble it all was), wasn't really how I wanted to be spending my time.

Since that summer six years ago I have been actively working myself out of that full-time job, down to a level that feels more manageable. Publishing that post, taking a hard look at the numbers, was a light bulb moment for me, illuminating where I needed to make changes.

Another lightbulb moment came this past summer when I watched my kids thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I realized what they were capable of and decided upon our return home that they would take on more household responsibilities.

Before our hike the kids were helping somewhat in the kitchen. Celine was cooking supper once a week, the kids were making snacks, and on their own for breakfast. And at the height of my online work Damien was also helping in the kitchen.

Since coming home from our hike Damien and I have changed the division of labor so I am back to being responsible for home, and he's responsible for the income, he's mostly out the picture in the kitchen. But the kids are more involved than ever.

Currently in our kitchen

We have a weekly cooking schedule and I divvy up the daily food responsibilities - cooking lunch, dishwasher and lunch helper, snack prep, and cooking supper - among the four of us. (Damien does supper dishes and helps me cook on the weekends.)

Each of the kids is responsible for planning and cooking one lunch, one snack and one supper every week. They also will assist either me or one of their siblings in preparing lunch two days a week.

What this means is the everyday each kid is doing something in kitchen, on a rotating schedule.

I am responsible for two lunches, two snacks and two suppers. And on the weekends one lunch and one supper.

I am now down to preparing less than 50% of our family's meals and snacks.

Meal Planning and Scheduling

First of all, participation is not optional. If you want to eat, you have to be a part of the cooking.

For the record, participation in household chores has never been optional in our home. If possible, I will divvy up chores according to interest and strengths, and the kids sometimes swap things around on their own, but participation is not voluntary. Because this has always been the standard, since they were toddlers, the kids may sometimes whine to me about their chore woes (to which I mostly laugh, and then usually tickle them, yes really) but they know resistance is futile.

At the beginning of the week everyone is responsible to choose their recipes for the week. There are a lot of repeats, each of us has our favorite recipes we like to make, but I "encourage" the kids to regularly try new recipes. I provide some guidance so we're not eating rice every night, etc.

The meals are written on a weekly menu plan that looks something like this.

I prepare the grocery list from this menu plan and do all the shopping. The kids aren't old enough yet for that!

The kids have dietary guidelines (our house rules) they must follow when choosing recipes. Vegan, minimally processed ingredients, lots of veggies, gluten-free and corn-free for their Dad.

Some of our current favorite recipe sources are:

You can find recipe inspiration for the type of food we eat on my Pinterest.

Breakfast:

Fend for yourself. I like eating the same thing, most every day, some variation of oats, nuts, fruit. None of my kids likes oatmeal anymore, they may never have "liked" it but it was what we ate for breakfast for years.

Everyone fixes their own - potatoes & salsa, leftover supper, rice, miso wakame soup. The only time we have convenience store-bought breakfasts (toast or cereal) is on the weekends.

Lunch:

Our lunch repertoire has expanded since the kids started planning lunch meals. (I used to plan them and they would help "cook" the salad.)

  • green meal salads (I wrote an ebook about that)
  • grain, vegetable and bean salads
  • soup (I'm the soup master of the house and at least once a week, especially in this season, I make soup for lunch)
  • occasionally a sandwich-type lunch


generally cats are not part of cooking

Snacks:

Oh, these kids need to eat a lot.

Snacks are either something baked (according to the house rules), popcorn, rice pudding, or veggies and dip.

Whole-food, plant-based snacks are some of the trickiest things to find recipes for and we're always tweaking recipes and making modifications. We have a few tried-and-true but we're always looking for more. (And we're all tired of Lara bar type foods.)

Supper:

As has been the case for the last fourteen years, suppers are built around either rice, potatoes, pasta or beans, with the addition of a hearty amount of vegetables, beans or tofu, in some kind of sauce.

Suppers are One Pot Meals though most often two pots are involved - one for the grain, one for the bean/tofu/vegetable sauce. Almost all of our meals are eaten in a bowl.

The kids cook much of the same fare I've been cooking for years. The following links give examples of the type of meals they make:

With the kids helping more in the kitchen I feel inspired once again in the kitchen to experiment with more complicated recipes. Yes, I can make hearty soup with my eyes closed but I am enjoying trying new recipes these days and reserving the soup usually for lunch.

Training and Technicalities

My kids have been working with me in the kitchen, in some capacity, since I could sit their diapered bums on the kitchen counter, or stand them on a chair to help wash dishes.

They know their way around the kitchen but I was still surprised how little "they caught" from this when it came time to start cooking a full meal, like supper.

At fifteen Celine has been cooking supper for a couple years. She's a pro in the kitchen now. She can modify recipes, make substitutions. Her repertoire goes beyond pasta.

Brienne, twelve, is my most inclined-to-cook child. She likes experimenting in the kitchen especially if sweet things are involved, which they aren't very often. She likes to dress the part.


House of Anubis inspired "boarding school" look,
lately Brienne prefers wearing a lady's maid/servant attire while preparing meals (or anytime of day really)

Laurent is fourteen and his biggest challenge in the kitchen is following the sequential steps of a recipe and also not having the experience to fill-in-the-gaps if the recipe if vague about something. Processing a long list of instructions is difficult for Laurent (because of dyslexia) so the practice of reading and following recipes is really good skill-builder. To assist him I will often re-type recipes, making sure the instructions are very explicit. Eventually he'll have the experience to fill-in-the gaps on his own, but in the beginning I need to help with this.

When the kids are first responsible for a meal or snack preparation I work with them, as their assistant. I did more of this hand holding pre-hike.

When we came back from our hike and Brienne and Laurent started cooking supper, as well as Celine, I helped them as an assistant for two weeks and then stepped out of the kitchen. They've had years of lunch cooking experience, my kids are master salad makers, so I knew they could work their way around a kitchen but there was still lots to learn.

Generally, I'm in the house and available in case they have questions. I've scheduled Celine's supper cooking with my weekly big grocery trip (in other words, I'm out of the house when she's cooking) because I know she can manage without me in the house.

Most of our recipes are now stored digitally. I chucked out my recipe binders in our last move, it was time to purge. I keep recipes now either in MacGourmet (the program I use for writing my own recipes), or as simple text or pdf documents stored in digital files, organized in the same manner as my old hardcopy recipe binders. (Beans, breads, curries & stir fries,... ferments, grains,... potatoes, remedies, rice...)

Brienne and Laurent like following printed recipes so we're rebuilding a much simplified recipe binder with our current family favorites.

That's the short version of what it looks like to have five cooks in the house.

It feels somehow selfish, and slightly ironic, to admit that having the kids contribute more in the kitchen has increased my overall enjoyment in my vocation as homemaker.

Although I identify most strongly as a homemaker, I'm happiest in my role as manager of our home as opposed to family chef. I am more comfortable with being a domestic maestro than a kitchen goddess.

My kids of course can make their own choice of who they want to be, and the roles and responsibilities they'll assume when they leave home and eventually start their own families. But one thing's for sure, all of them will know how to cook.

Resources: 

A month of homeschooling on FIMBY

It's been a long time since I've written anything substantial about homeschooling and I'd like to do something about that.

Since I've been quiet on the subject it could be inferred I've lost some of my passion for homeschooling or that it's not going well. (My kids are teenagers after all.) Thankfully, neither is true.

These are some of our best homeschool years yet. I still LOVE homeschooling my kids. And our kids (mostly) still want to be schooled at home. The energy and tenacity of older students, when they are working toward their own goals is a real beauty to behold. (I just gave you a real big hint as to why homeschooling is still working in our home.)

A significant area of contention in our homeschool life is that we have limited community resources at our disposal to support our anglophone childrens' growth, development, and interests. (We live in rural Quebec.)

For two years we went without good library service. We finally solved that problem by joining the library system in New Brunswick, which is the province next to us. Thankfully, our nearest library is only one hour away.

The most difficult thing though, is that we've gone nearly four years without a homeschool support group or homeschool community. We have two teenagers and a social, extroverted twelve year old who want to connect with kids like them and so the situation has to change. And it will, very soon. (That's code-speak for "we're moving" but I'll get to that announcement soon enough.)

Although I haven't written much about homeschooling on the blog, homeschooling is as near and dear to my heart as ever it was. To be sure, my long term sights are on what comes after this first vocation of mine (what kind of career do I want after my kids aren't the center of my universe?) but finishing well is where my focus is right now and for the next three to five years.

I spend a lot more time now, than I did when the kids were little, investing my energies into the "homeschool" part of my job description. When the kids were young I invested a lot of energy into establishing our homemaking systems and teaching the kids likewise. I was banking on the belief that if I laid that foundation well I would have more physical and mental energy to help guide their studies in the intense middle to high school years. At that point I could only hope that my efforts would yield the fruit I see today. I have not been disappointed.

I have a lot to say about homeschooling in these years and I want to spend some time in March, all of March actually, writing about homeschooling, and I want to do it as openly as possible.

I've got a little side project going on called The Kitchen Table, many of you have joined me there. I am blown away but what's happening around the table. And I'm getting glimpses of the work I want to do post-homeschooling but mostly I am simply hanging out and sharing my heart, as you share yours.

I have been given so much already in the short time I've been facilitating that group, but what strikes me the most is seeing FIMBY readers, who I've always considered friends, for who they are: real people.

You are a real person and it's likely you're a real homeschooler. You have real kids in a real home. Real-ness means we are beautiful but at times feel wretched. It means we love our kids to death (and we would die for them) but God help us if they don't drive us to drinking some days. Real-ness means we have our spectacular homeschooling days but also days, months, seasons where we wonder if we're not failing our children, crippling them for life.

I want to write about homeschooling in our home with all this in mind. I try to be honest in my writing but when I don't hear the voices of who I'm writing to it's hard to be open. Not because I don't want to, but because without knowing who you are (dear reader and friend) I'm writing into a void. And in that emptiness I wonder, who the heck cares about these particular details, this triumph or this struggle.

As it turns out, you care and you want to know. You may not contribute to comments, nor do I expect you to, but you're reading and you want to know what it really looks like to homeschool older kids. And I want to share that with you.

I started this blog eleven years ago. Brienne, our youngest, was a toddler. You can read my first homeschooling-related post here. It's about hiking, what else?

You might also like this blast from the past post about our early school days, published ten years ago, almost to the day.

I didn't start to post regularly to this blog, which wasn't even called FIMBY at the time, till Brienne was five.

Our kids are now 12, 14 and 15. What does it look like to homeschool kids these ages? Does it look how I thought it would as a starry-eyed, interest-led, newbie homeschooler?

Do our kids still want to be homeschooled? Are they still eager to learn (like they were as adorable eight year olds)?

Will they go to highschool? (If you've been reading my blog for a long time you'll already have a clue to the answer.)

What are we doing to prepare for university? Will our kids go to university?

How do we (attempt to) meet the needs of three diverse kids? Are our kids weird homeschooled teenagers? (My oldest daughter and her friends like to be weird so this is a tricky question to answer.)

I've got a good chunk of these posts already written. I've been plugging away on a "homeschooling through high school" series since last fall. That should answer all the high school related questions. But I'm guessing you may have other questions. (Or maybe you have a very specific high school question you'd like to see answered in the high school series.)

I'd love to hear your homeschooling questions. Feel free to post them in comments below or email them to me.

I can't promise to get to each one, but as much as possible I want to try to work my answers into the posts I have planned for the month of March.

I'm not a homeschool guru but after ten years at this vocation I'm still happily doing it and the kids haven't mutinied yet. In truth, we all really enjoy each other, there's a flow of learning through our days and excited plans for the future, so I probably have something of value to add to the conversation.

A civil discourse disclaimer and why I write our story, in spite of the risk.

A dear blogging friend of mine was recently attacked on a blog post she wrote about her daughter's homeschooled high school experience. The comment was offensive and mean-spirited (I didn't read it) and my friend felt compelled to un-publish the post as well as change her plans to publish follow-up posts related to high school, record keeping, transcripts and the like.

In all my years of blogging I have received one spiteful comment on a homeschool post. I deleted it and I updated my comments policy, which I'm certain no one reads. I've had less than a handful of mean comments at FIMBY and only one that was about my kids.

I have a zero tolerance policy for attacks on my kids on the blog, or mean stuff in general, regardless of who it's directed at. I don't mind honest discourse, thoughtful questions and questioning, but kindness is the rule, just as it is in our home.

(We've had very few "rules" for our kids. I'm sometimes inconsistent with the ones we do have. All those parenting books that stress consistency make me feel like a failure, so I don't read them. And the kids, Brienne especially, know they can negotiate their way around most "rules". But kindness is non-negotiable, it is the rule we enforce.)

All of this to say, homeschoolers and people who blog about parenting and family life in general go out on a limb sometimes in sharing their experiences. And so you might wonder why I share publicly at all?

In my case I do it because it's what I want to read.

I want to read about healthy, vibrant, loving, and real family life. I want to know how to homeschool my kids through high school. I want to know how to have close relationship with them through their growing years and into adulthood.

I want to read about families who live with hope and kindness, joy and vitality. I want to know how to raise amazing kids who will bring the light of Christ into the world and affect positive change in their own circles of influence.


talk about breaking the rules, or in this case the law: there is a great (scary at the time) story behind this not-so-stealth campsite in Harriman State Park, NY

I want to know how to hold on and then let go. I want to know how I can build community with my children so we might live communally as adults and experience third, and fourth (with my parents) generation family life. I want all of this in a culture and society that seems to tear families apart and isolate us from one another.

I want nothing short of an amazing family life and it's sometimes hard to find models for this, in the context of our current culture. I don't identify as much with books written by parents who's kids are grown and gone, raised before the internet and iPads.

Also, most of the current books available (and a lot of healthy family life blogs) seem to be about farming, homesteading families, and we are definitely not that.

We are a technology family who's members love gaming, sci-fi movies, design, fashion, and computer programming, as well as having fun in the outdoors together (and we can be pretty hard core about that.) I am the natural-living inspired mom and spouse to this tech savvy crew. I figure my earthiness keeps us grounded whereas Damien's geeky engineering bent keeps us technologically "in-the-game". Something I especially appreciate with teenagers in the house. I may be clueless about the latest and greatest, but their dad isn't!

I love to read blogs about families (homeschooling families since that's what I identify with) finding their way into into healthy, fulfilling, and vibrant lives.

Our family is not the model. But we're doing stuff that works for us (and sometimes trying stuff that doesn't), and I want my voice, our story, to be part of the collective "this is how families do it" narrative that is being written on the web. Not because we're perfect parents, perfect spouses, or perfect kids. But because we love each other, and we love life, and we love Jesus, and we love our neighbors and the world needs love, period.

It's a love story, and you may question and ask "what about...?" but hurtful comments directed to our family, or each other will not be tolerated. It's a house rule.

(A note about the photos in this post. I don't take many photos of us "doing school" so I don't have a lot "visuals to illustrate" this post, or the posts coming this month. This seems like a perfect opportunity to start publishing trail photos. Already, the kids have grown so much since these were taken last spring and summer on the Appalachian Trail.)

Fourteen

I didn't bring my camera skiing this morning, just the phone. But I took a few portraits of Laurent last week anticipating that I'd want to share his mug today. 

When it comes to celebrations, Laurent is a fun-loving, active, but easy-going kid. 

A morning of snowboarding with his family, an afternoon of Merlin on Netflix, followed by an evening of Taekwondo, with omelettes, bacon, strawberries and whipped cream, lasagna and garlic toast (frozen food aisle folks), tossed salad, and brownies with ice cream does a birthday make. 

There were handmade cards and small, heartfelt gifts from his sisters, all of which had a monster-goblin-beast theme. Ironic as Laurent is such a sweet guy but he does love his bestiaries and we all know it! 

Settling in now to watch a movie before a late bedtime. He's a teenager, this is what they do. Eat a lot, play hard, watch TV, and stay up late. 

Happy Birthday Laurent!

Mid-Winter: Skiing

Damien was gone for nine days this month and I have to admit winter was harder in his absence. I realized a lot of my joy in this season comes from doing fun stuff together. (And having someone to snow blow the driveway helps too.)

Damien returned early last week, he made it home in-between two storms. Winter storms, or at least snow fall, means better skiing conditions, better skiing conditions means more fun. So unlike a lot of winter-cranky northerners we welcome snow. Because by our way of thinking (and living) snow=fun.

With each fresh snowfall, Friday morning skiing is an activity I anticipate all week and Sunday is a day to get in as many runs as possible. And this year, on my alpine touring skis, I feel confident, and am having fun, on everything but the double black diamonds.

Mid-winter is the time for many activities - playing hockey, crafting, enjoying hot drinks, making soap, walking in the woods. And it is most definitely the time for skiing.

Mid-Winter: Tracks & Trails

I didn't go cross-country skiing this week.

We had a lot of snow that had to be shoveled. (Shoveling snow is a different type of exercise that I generally don't mind, in moderation.) And on Friday mornings we ski at the hill, so no cross-country that afternoon.

I thought the wind-whipped snow would be to hard to ski on but when the kids and I went for a walk mid-week I discovered sections I wished I had skis for. But for the most part we could easily follow the snowmobile track without sinking through.


our neighbors snowshoe tracks

One of the best parts of winter walks in the woods is all the evidence of animal life, tracks only visible in the snow.

And like animals, or as animals, we leave our own evidence, marks that we have been here. 

Mid-Winter: Making

My sweater project has not gone as planned. As in, I haven't made nearly the progress I had hoped to by this point in the month. 

But a successful re-stock (everything turned out lovely) of my handmade soap, lotion, and lip balm helps to ease my creative woes. 

I made my lip balm, following my tried-and-true recipe. However, I divided the batch in two and made half peppermint, and the other half fennel. 

I also tweaked my lotion recipe a bit, experimenting with more culinary-inspired essential oils. 

How I made the lotion:

1. I melted all of these together.

  • 1.1 oz cocoa butter
  • .6 oz shea butter
  • .6 oz beeswax
  • 1 oz almond oil
  • 1.1 oz grapeseed oil
  • .5 oz skin-healing herbs infused oil

2. In a separate container I whisked 1/4 tsp of borax into 4 oz of water. 

3. I poured the melted oils into the water mixture and whizzed with hand blender. 

4. I added:

  • 20 drops GSE
  • 10 drops lime essential oil
  • 10 drops basil essential oil

5. Whizzed it all again. Poured into sterilized jars. 

6. Applied pretty labels. Download your own labels here. (I love these labels.)

I don't usually like lotion bars. They are awkward to store and are especially greasy. But winter calls for some intense skin care so I experimented a bit with the Shea Butter Lotion Bar recipe from Wellness Mama's Natural Beauty Guide (offered with the Ultimate DIY Bundle back in January).

I added frankinscence, rosemary and orange essential oils. I haven't used the tube yet, the one you see pictured above. I keep a small disc of the lotion bar (which I made by pouring half the recipe into one of my silicon muffin pan cups) above the kitchen sink. This is a great spot to remind me to care for my hands with frequent applications. 

This is the soap recipe I used. 

I was feeling quite inspired after whipping up this batch. And since I have been asked repeatedly (and repeatedly) by local friends to teach a class, I've decided to get it on the calendar for May. I've decided on a recipe and I'll start ordering the supplies, creating the handouts and "advertising" soon. Feels good to be inspired to teach. 

Find links to all my soap making posts - instructions and recipes - on this page

Resources: 

Mid-Winter: Drinking

This winter I discovered, thanks to Hibernate, daily herbal infusions.

In the morning I prepare a mason jar with loose herbs, add boiling water and drink throughout the day - warm or cold. My favorite afternoon pick-me-up is herbal chai, also from Hibernate. Heather's recipe is an adaptation of Rachel's, found here

I enjoy other loose leaf teas mostly from David's Teas or this Coureur des bois from Tea Taxi.

Everyone else in the house has a cappuccino or latte habit, made easy with the super-duper espresso machine. And steaming milk for a frothy hot cocoa is a fun treat too. 

Mid-Winter: Crafting

I had high hopes for a creative project I wanted to do this month. Things have not gone as planned but the pieces are still there (and aren't they pretty?), waiting for my next round of inspiration and time.

The kids are enjoying a mid-winter break with more time for crafting, gaming (of the tabletop variety), and drawing.

In a way, these kids of mine are my inspiration. They're not afraid to try, or afraid to fail. They know what they like and they keep working at it, diligently, till they can create what they imagine. I want to be like them.

FIMBY Feature: January Baby

Do you find it challenging to get outside with your little ones in the snowy, cold weather? Do you have a hard time keeping them warm? Do you have a tyke who refuses to keep her mitts on, sending everyone back indoors sooner than you'd like?

You're not alone.

Let me introduce to you Anna from January Baby. Maybe you can relate to her experience.

The year my daughter Robyn turned two she refused to do anything she was asked, especially wear her mittens. I thought, "when her hands get cold she will put on her mitts".

Wrong! I had completely underestimated the power of will. The result: her hands would get cold and she would start to cry. That was the end of playing outside. Then, while her hands were warming up they would start to ache and she would cry harder.

Using my experience in fabric and design, I came up with Smittens: the no-escape mittens. They worked, she couldn’t take them off.

Then I thought, "Am I the only mom whose child refuses to wear their mittens?" I started looking around. There were mitten-less children everywhere. I knew what I needed to do.

Five years and two kids later, I started January Baby.

Why January Baby? Guess when Robyn’s birthday is.

January Baby is a Canadian company (they ship to the US also). Their signature product is Smittens. Baby, you're not gettin' these babies off! They also make adorable winter hats and very practical and cozy neckwarmers.

Not just for toddlers and tykes, January Baby's neckwarmers have become an important piece in our big kids winter wear. Laurent and Brienne wear them on those cold winter days for playing outdoors and I love mine for staying warm on the chair lift.

I highly recommend January Baby products, the construction and fleece quality is excellent. We wear our outdoor gear hard, and these hold up.

January Baby is offering a 10% discount to FIMBY readers on their fabulous products. Offer expires March 12. Use the code fimby10 at the checkout process.

And, because it's February and we all need a little bit of a pick-me-up this month, January Baby is offering one lucky FIMBY reader a neckwarmer of your choice!

To enter your name for the giveaway click over to January Baby (that's the link for the neckwarmers), choose a color you like, come back and leave a comment with your favorite color. (I know commenting is quirky here for some of you so you can also comment at FIMBY Facebook or send me a contact message if you can't comment on this post.) Giveaway ends Saturday midnight EST.

Make the most of winter, dress for it, and enjoy it!

Do you want to see your small business, blog or enterprise featured on FIMBY? Click here for more information.

My sweet spot

I love how winter is a perfect time to enjoy the indoors, drink warm beverages, watch Netflix, knit, and be cozy.

I have a strong "hibernate" tendency in winter and like to indulge that as much as possible.

The seasonal rest-mode of winter is an important part of the natural cycles. (Could someone please send a memo to Revenue Canada/IRS?! This should not be tax season! Too much work for winter.)

My default-mode in this cold, snowy season is to withdraw and hunker-down. But I suffer emotionally, physically, and mentally if I withdraw too much, from both social engagements and outdoor activity.

Two years ago I made a commitment to myself to get outside and move my body every day (or nearly every day) in all seasons.

This "body movement" is also called exercise but I've noticed that the word exercise is so 90's and is out of vogue. Movement is the new exercise. (Unfortunately, the word "movement" brings to my mind the well-known euphemism for the end stage of the digestive process.)

I have a certain resistance to exercise or movement. It doesn't matter what it's called, I respond the same way.

When I'm engaged in it, it's fine. (Unless we're talking nine hours of hiking everyday for six months, that's another story.) But getting over the hump, in my case, out the door, is the most difficult part for me. Always.

This is an example of the resistance I talked about in January's Kitchen Table essay.

As I wrote about in that essay, I could push through that resistance working against myself and be really frustrated, or I can work with who I am and how I operate to flow through that resistance. I choose the latter.

People with successful "physical movement routines" usually have their own tricks and routines that make it work for them.

Here's what works for me.

I choose activities I enjoy.

I like walking, hiking, casual running, cross-country and downhill skiing, all of which I do outdoors.

The outdoors part works well where I live and is a good fit for my interests. Because I'm also social and like gathering with other people, if I lived in a city I might consider group classes - yoga, dance, Zumba etc. I have done these in the past when we lived in Maine, though these were weekly classes not daily routines.

I choose a time that works for me.

This changes for me with different life seasons but right now the time that works best is right after my lunchtime reading break. I eat lunch and read. Then I go skiing or walking in the woods. It's the warmest time of day in the winter and it breaks my day up nicely. Morning Homeschool. Lunch and Break. Exercise. Afternoon Work.

I'm accountable to my family.

In our family, we use our relationship with other to help us in meeting our healthy living goals. For example, holding each other accountable for what we eat and encouraging each other to exercise. (Ok, so we require the kids to exercise and/or be outside each day. And this is how they earn their TV or gaming time.)

Each of us makes an effort every day to be active, and this effort encourages each one of us. And because we require our kids to be active (we feel this habit formation is of prime importance), we can't very well as parents not set the same example.

I have a secret motivation.

The kids have their own motivating factors for physical activity, usually fun. Damien is motivated by health and achievement, tracking and charting his progress with technical devices - a heart rate monitor, fancy watch, iPad app, you get the idea.

Beauty is what motivates me to get out the door, the promise that I will encounter something especially lovely. I also call this my sweet spot.

This winter, my afternoon ski has two different sweet spots. To get there I start at the front porch...

cut through the backyard, between the garden and the greenhouse...

and ski parallel to the edge of the woods, along the field.

I dip down to cross the creek and then my climb starts, first through woods, then more field. I follow the snowmobile track, until I reach my destination - the larger stand of mixed evergreens on the hill. 

And it is here, in the evergreens, that my climbing is done, and I reach my first sweet spot.

Surrounded by the quiet forest I know I'm on the descent, the work is done and the ease begins. At this point I am reluctant to return home. The woods is one of the places I feel I belong. I feel at home here. (I feel the same thing in my kitchen.) But I'm excited about getting to my second sweet spot and so I ski on.

You see that orange glow in the trees? That's sweet spot number two, calling me to come see.

If the day is clear, or mostly clear, and the sun is low in the sky, as it on winter afternoons, this spot will stop me in my tracks, literally. And I will revel in the moment. Trees lit on fire by the setting sun, a jewel of brilliance in a white, green and grey world.

I never want to leave this spot, but I'm on the descent. My return is inevitable. And there's work to be done at home. Always work to be done.

My sweet spots are my motivation. I hold them in my mind as I'm disciplining myself to get out the door each afternoon, because yes, it is a discipline for me.

I don't know why getting out the door is such a beast for me, but it is. However, as soon as my boots are clipped in my bindings and I'm on my way, my reluctance disappears. Every time. I know this about myself.

I also know that I love the way my body feels when it's moving, not pushing too hard against the resistance but enough. 

Pushing to climb to that sweet spot, that sweet reward, before descending back home, through the field, across the creek, and along the woods.

Back to the kids, the kitchen, and my to-do list. And a warm winter drink, herbal chai please, enjoying the memory of the woods and my barely-tender muscles reminding me how I got there, and home again.

Resources: 

10 more weeks of winter (a Project Home & Healing update)

I find pronouncements of "six more weeks of winter" somewhat amusing. Spring on the horizon, as seen in the Groundhog's shadow or celebrated in Imbolc, is a decidedly non-northern, or at least non-Quebec, reality.

We still have a lot of winter left, and the really surprising thing is that I don't mind.

I was sad to say goodbye to January.

This winter feels precious to me.

In part, because it is a season of healing. A time of deliberate attention to self. I feel supported, affirmed, celebrated, and taken care of in ways I haven't for many months.

Another contributing factor to this winter's unique-ness, is the knowledge that we will never again live in this exact spot. This is our only winter in this home on the hill overlooking the bay.

I will never again be treated to this particular winter-woods ski route or watch the January sun rise from our bedroom window.

The other reality is that with each major transition in our family life, I'm getting a clearer picture of life in just a few short years, a household without the hustle and bustle and voracious appetites of our teenaged brood. And so like Heather, I am realizing how much I want to cherish this time as mother, homemaker, homeschooler. Some of these winter days together have been so beautiful to me, I just want to stop time.

One last thing that I mourn about the passing of winter is the change in the light.

The days are longer - rejoice! But deep winter holds the special honor of being the only months of the year when I can witness both the sun rising and setting. On clear mornings I will often step out the door, in the frigid cold of winter pre-dawn, wrapped in a blanket, and watch the sun climb over trees at the edge of the field.

And again, later in the afternoon I'll put on a jacket and my pink rubber boots, or maybe my sheepskin slippers. I'll grab the camera and watch the sun sink, across the bay, over New Brunswick.

I'm having a fantastic winter.

I can't say, yet, that it's the best winter of recent memory. It's still too early to tell. We have many more weeks of skiing and shoveling ahead of us. For early February though, I'm doing well.

It's been quiet on the blog for the last week because I was working on January's Kitchen Table essay. That essay is about January's Project Home and Healing theme: fun and flow and pushing through resistance (or not).

That essay touches on just one aspect of my post-hike recovery but January was a month of making significant strides in several areas of healing on both a personal and marriage level.

Project Home & Healing: An Outline

When we came home from our hike last September I sketched an outline for my emotional and mental recovery. I was trying to make sense of a three-year decline in my confidence, security, and wellbeing. This decline culminated in intense mental and emotional strain during our hike, a feeling of brokenness, and then burn out upon our return.

In the past few years some important pieces of my identity and wellbeing were, how do I say this, shelved or ignored. Both Damien and I share the responsibility for this.

Last fall, my physical body and the inner me spoke loud and clear what I needed for healing. I understand my inner me to be the essence of who I am - the child me, young woman me, current me, and the sage woman I hope to become.

Is that my soul? I don't know. All I know is that she spoke.

And in response, I came up with a three pronged approach to rebuild my wellbeing:

  • Attend to my Mental Health
  • Return to my Roots
  • Craft a Vision for me Going Forward

By the time December rolled around I was making some progress but it was slow. As a couple however, we were still spinning our wheels.

Then we had the breaking down and rebuilding on the marriage level and things really started to make sense, to click. And the forward momentum shifted into another gear.

My recovery and healing at this point involved a fourth, and most necessary element:

  • Structural Changes to our Family Life

This actually became the bedrock for the three elements I had established earlier.

I think it's working. Actually, I know it is but I am cautious in these regards. Two months is not two years of change and progress but it's something.

January was a good month. And I think it's fitting to tell the story of the month in the structure of my Project Home & Healing outline.

A breakdown of January according to Project Home & Healing 1. Structural Changes to our Family Life

These are huge and I hope to share the story in more depth, because man, what a good story, but here's the short version.

Damien and I stopped our online working together. He has his work and enterprises, and I have mine.

Damien is completely focusing on the technology side of his skill set, passion and experience. And he's earning a lot more money because of it. And this is an important part of my wellbeing, since I crave security and stability.

He's started a new business with someone really cool, another geeky engineer like himself that some of you might recognize as the husband of a well-regarded small business woman, online entrepreneur and blogger. (No, I'm not telling yet who the mystery man is. But Damien met him three years ago through my online world, and I think that's pretty cool.)

And we sold Toe Salad. All that happened in January.

Most of the structural changes to our family life have to do with work. How we earn our income, or rather how Damien earns the income for our family. Those changes affect more than our financial bottom line, they affect our schedule and our division of labor in the home.

2. Attend to my Mental Health

I don't know that I've actually come out and said this before in a post so I will now. I have a paternal family history of depression and anxiety. These are private stories that aren't mine to tell but they are a part of me because that same blood runs in my veins.

Last fall I looked back on three years and took stock. I had a tough winter with SAD in 2012, a really bad March with SAD in 2013, a two month bout of depression in the middle of summer (my happy season) on the trail, precipitated, accompanied by, and followed by feelings of shame, brokenness, and unworthiness.

This is not how I want to live so I need to get serious about my mental health. The degree to which Damien and I successfully execute our plans and live our values and the joy we experience in our marriage and family life, largely hinge on my mental health. My outlook, how I perceive challenges, and how I overcome them is critical.

For winter specifically, I have a SAD action plan which I shared in Heather's Hibernate course. But there needs to be more because I have years of faulty and sometimes destructive mental tracks laid, where one thought leads to another that quickly goes down a path that takes me to hairy and scary.

This is one of my projects for the year. With our family structure feeling much more supportive to who I am, what I need, and how I'm wired, it feels safe to be critical with my thinking and work to make changes.

This is a large-scale project and will not be accomplished in one year, and I do believe I'm going to have to take special care, if my family history is any indicator, of my mental health for probably my lifetime. But my goal is to make significant strides forward this year.

January's Kitchen Table essay discusses very practical steps I am taking in this regard.

3. Return to My Roots

Here are the words that first came to me last fall in attempting to define Return to my Roots: comfort, stability, security, routines, connection, and creativity.

Return to my Roots encompasses many things but at its core it's about listening to my inner voice calling me back what I know and love.

It's about making music, making home, making beautiful, useful things with my hands. It's about recognizing and honoring the importance of tradition, security, and stability to my wellbeing. It's about being rooted in community and place, and knowing I belong.

There are big and little manifestations of this Project Home and Healing element in my life, but I'll stick to two big January initiatives - joining a choir (a return to making music, a dominant theme from my personal past) and participating in Hibernate.

The choir is completely en français, and though that leaves me a little shaky in the security department, the making of music feeds my soul. Not to mention learning French as a Second Language is a intellectual goal of mine and my choir immersion experiences contribute to that.

Hibernate was the surprise win of January. Hibernate is an online retreat about making the most of winter around five themes: nourish, gather, renew, create and rest. For the last month I've been a part of a community of creative homemakers, enjoying winter around home and hearth.

This celebration and community of seasonal homemaking and self-care speaks exactly to where I'm at. And has contributed significantly to Project Home and Healing this month.

I have had so much fun in this workshop and felt very supported in who I am - a natural-inspired homemaker and seeker of beautiful things in my life. This workshop has been pure joy, comfort and winter goodness (herbal recipes, healthy meals & nourishing hot drinks) all rolled into one.

4. Craft a Vision

I'm not a big visionary so the Craft a Vision as part of my wellness strategy is about seeing the future in baby steps and little dreams. I honor that my preference is to work this way - with a fairly narrow, detail-orientated scope.

Last fall I created eight compass points to guide my goals and personal development moving forward. These points don't reside solely under Craft a Vision, but I'm sticking them here for simplicity sake.

Those eight points are:

  • creative
  • intellectual
  • work
  • body
  • spirit
  • relationships
  • home
  • adventure/travel

Some of my compass points are filled with specific vision and action steps for the next couple years. For example, my vision for my work as a homeschooler is very explicit - graduate these kids. My home compass point is also well laid out, as are my intellectual and creative goals.

Others are a bit vague right now. Especially unclear is where I want to go with my work as a writer, homeschool coach, photographer, blogger, and communicator. Not working with Damien in a close income-earning partnership (though he's still my technical go-to guy) changes the game for me.

As part of the Structural Changes to our Family Life we established a clear division of labor for the next couple of years.

I am taking care of kids and home and helping to manage our business finances. Add daily exercise, reading, personal study, and creative pursuits and my days are completely full. I don't have time, in this season, for outside-home-and-family work beyond writing this blog.

However, this is just a season and I'd like some sense of direction for what comes next.

But the picture is still really fuzzy. I compare it to studying an impressionist painting. Close up, the lines are swirly and indistinct, but at the appropriate distance, the painting's meaning and message is obvious.

I have an up-close and indistinct lines perspective of my work. I see the dominant colors in my experiences, skills, and passions but I don't see the big picture. I see strokes of yellow and blue but I don't see The Starry Night.

For now though, the task-at-hand, in terms of crafting a vision for my work, is to rest.

That's what the Year of the Fallowed Field is all about. Resting, being at ease with myself and rebuilding my confidence.

January was a very busy month. Things happening on big and small levels. We are raising teenagers who go to taekwondo and youth group and there's skiing and friend get togethers and the library in New Brunswick and choir practice for me and keeping everyone coming and going and well fed while doing so. Maintaining a structure and atmosphere for studying and creating and ensuring everyone has clean clothes (on a somewhat regular basis) requires good management.

We've been up to our eyeballs in financial stuff - selling a blog, starting another business, managing changes with the house in Maine, and reassessing our insurance needs. Financial Management, most of it with a deadline attached, was like a big wave crashing into our lives this past month.

Everyone, except me, had a spell with a winter cold in January. And Damien bruised his ribs skiing. The recipes for soothing infusions and remedies from Heather's workshop came just in time.

Life is busy, and it's deep winter, but things are good. I feel great. And this tells me Project Home & Healing is working.

Now it's time to invest my energies into February's theme: creativity. Which means February's shaping up to be great month too.

Resources: 

Photographing January's Color

The January weather on the peninsula has not been particularly kind to winter sport loving folks. There was a bit of snow, which was welcomed in our home with much rejoicing. And then the air warmed for 2 days, it rained and most of the snow melted. The temperatures then plummeted, freezing everything into a hard crust. There was some snow this weekend but not anything substantial.

It would be easy to complain about the lack of snow. Ok, so I have. But I'm really trying to reframe it because last week we had a string of sunny, clear and cold days. The warm orange-pink light contrasting with blue-hued snow and gathering indigo skies, in the early hours and again in the lengthening afternoon, was spectacular, both outdoors and in.

I couldn't cross-country ski last week at all but there are these handmade-for-me mukluks, with a very special story of their own (which I plan to share around the Kitchen Table soon).

And wearing them makes me happy and wearing them to walk in the woods is double my happiness.

So I put on my mukluks and walked through the woods instead of skiing. And it was ok. More than ok with this as my view.

I take my camera with me almost everywhere I go. I never know when I'm going to see something I will want to remember and record. Something I'll want to share.

Half of the pleasure for me in taking photos, is publishing them. Seeking and sharing beauty gives me great joy.

As I wrote in Nurturing Creativity, I believe each one of us is wired, created, to receive joy and pleasure in beauty and creativity. Of course, the expressions of creativity and the joy it elicits are unique to each person.

My husband's creative expression in writing elegant code... the joy my children get from creating Pathfinder characters, those are different from my own.

Expressing and celebrating creativity and beauty is part of my heartbeat. And photography is one of my dominant creative expressions. I want to grow and develop my skill in a few others, music making specifically.

But this is good, there should always be something we are growing in, playing around with; creative spaces and expressions we are exploring.

I'm on a mission this year to live in these creative spaces.

Are you wanting to explore your creative edges and expression? For the joy, beauty and fulfillment it brings to my life, I can't recommend the practice enough.

The Ultimate DIY Bundle sale ends tonight at midnight. Included in the bundle is access to an online Craftsy course, one of your choosing (from a list of eighteen popular choices), that teaches the skills and techniques to help you grow creatively.

There are classes in woodworking, artisan bread making, scrapbooking, sewing, gardening, and knitting.

And there are photography classes, three of them.

These are great resources if photography is a creative space you want to explore.

There are 75 more ebooks, ecourses and bonus materials in the bundle. I've mentioned a few already.

The bundle price, for everything, is just $34.95. Most of the Craftsy courses alone cost more than that. If you want to take advantage of this excellent offer you have till midnight tonight. (This is the last reminder I'm sending.)

Disclosure: I have included affiliate links in this post. For more information, read the fine print and get the answers to frequently asked questions from Ultimate Bundles.

Get your craft on

This year it is my intention, to once again, nurture creativity in my life.

Three years ago I wrote a little ebook about this very subject. I wrote it for my blog readers. I didn't give much thought to offering it to the wide world, but as these things go, it's out there and has been circulating now for almost three years.

I wrote that ebook straight from my heart about something very dear to me, mothers nurturing their creativity.


aprons made by Celine and gifted to Brienne and I

My own heart has been speaking to me, encouraging me that the creative process - play, imagination, and making - are part of my healing, part of me.

And so this is something I will do this year. I will create things. I will make beautiful things with my heart, head, and hands.

I have a couple winter projects in mind, an idea for summer, and a fairly substantial fall project planned.

Are you wanting to nurture creativity in your life this year also?

Here's something you might be interested in.

Right now the Ultimate DIY Bundle is on sale and I thought I'd give you a mini-review to help you determine if it's the right fit for you.

Last week I downloaded my own bundle and went through, picking and choosing, looking for two things:

  1. Resources that will support the creativity in our home.
  2. Resources that will inspire, encourage and nurture the creativity of FIMBY readers.

Here's my favorites from the bundle that fit the bill.

For a household with younger children
  • Handmade Gifts for Every Occasion - Lots of ideas, with complete instructions of course, for nice gifts, that even children can make. The kind of resource I would have used when my kids were younger and I did crafts with them.

  • Make Believe - Props, cut-outs, templates, simple sewing dress-up ideas to support your children's imagination. Such a sweet book if you have little ones. I personally love the fashion designer dolls, the superhero dolls, and the fabric store scavenger hunt (give those kids something to do while you're shopping!), brilliant.

  • How to Sculpt Miniature Breakfast Foods - This is not a book for young children but I wasn't sure where else to put it. My children have made hundreds of miniatures over the years with polymer clay, sculpting food and dollhouse props. This is a book about just that! Brings back good memories for me.

Are you a homeschooler?
  • Getting Started in Chalk Pastel Art & Chalk Pastels Through The Seasons - These books step you through making art with chalk pastels. We've had pastels around the house for ages and the kids use them, now and again, but we've never had any tutorials or teaching on how to use them. Chalk pastels are a very "accessible" art medium for even the "un-artistic". These books would be all you need, plus supplies of course, to teach and play with pastels as part of your homeschool art curriculum.

  • A Summer of Stories - Teaching kids how to write stories, in Tsh's clear, easy to follow and apply style. I would use this as a guide to do with my students, writing stories together, (my kids wouldn't do something like this on their own).

  • Family Writer’s Club - This is an ecourse from Playful Learning, "Participants will learn a variety of strategies and techniques for generating ideas and producing meaningful writing."

If you're new to photography...
  • Say No to Auto - This is a great get-you-started guide for understanding how to use your DSLR camera. It's short and easy to understand. In no time you'll be feeling confident fiddling with ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

...or, if you're a visual, watch-a-video learner, and want more comprehensive instruction you'll love this ecourse (valued at $67!)

  • Photography 101 - "We wanted to create training classes that were laid back, and very easy to understand. All of our videos are shot in high definition, and the overall goal is to teach you to understand how your camera works so that you can have total control, and take better and brighter photographs."

There are also two photography courses available with the Craftsy bonus (or 16 other courses you can choose from).

Do you want to learn how to make your own body care products?

I am such a sucker for these books. I always cruise over them, looking for inspiration for making my own. (If you're new here you may not know I make our own soaps, lotions, etc.)

  • A Beginner’s Guide to Homemade Personal Care Products - Basic and simple guide.

  • Natural Beauty Guide - This is a very comprehensive ebook from Wellness Mama. Her site often comes up in my searches for "homemade shampoo", "natural toothpaste" etc. A lot of recipes and lots of instruction about what to use and what not to use are in this book.

  • DIY Organic Beauty Recipes - Lots of recipes in this book also. I'm learning all the time. In reading Heather's ebook I learned the importance of pH in shampoo and why just using soap leaves hair dull and gummy. (I've been on the quest for homemade shampoo for the girls for years. I can use my homemade soap just fine.) This book also teaches you how to make soap in your crockpot, and has a few soap recipes. I'm going to come back to this one.

Do you sew? Or want to learn?

I hem pants and sew square things - decorative pillows, curtains and such. And truthfully I haven't used the sewing machine in over one year. If you like to explore sewing beyond hemming and square objects you'll like:

  • Sewing School 101 - I finally understand what fat quarters are. Seriously, I never knew before.

There are a bunch of patterns available through this sale, in the ebooks, ecourses, and bonus materials. Here's what I've found in my brief look through: cute kiddo clothes, aprons, tops, skirts, bags/totes, quilts, bras (yes, really), curtains and drapes, and roman shades (hey, they're rectangular, I might manage those!)

I was a little disappointed there wasn't a pattern for the project I want to do this winter: re-fashioning sweaters into new clothes.

Are you interested in journaling and writing?
  • A Year of Art Journaling: A Beginner Course in Artful Discovery - One of my creative projects this winter is to create a collage, or two, around the themes of Project Home & Healing. I'll be referring back to this book.

  • On Becoming a Writer - For writers and bloggers who aren't English majors (like me, not an English major that is). About the craft of writing, with optional writing assignments to help bloggers/writers put into practice what they've learned.

That's just 15 of the ebooks and resources included in this bundle, curated by me, for our household interests and what FIMBY readers might also enjoy (since you come here to read about our household).

There are 60+ more resources in this bundle.

Christmas and party themed tutorials, cake decorating, seasonal decorating, canning, staging your home for selling, thrift store transformations, interior design and painting, scrapbooking and printables, sewing, embroidery, and quilting, selling your diy at craft shows and farmers markets, writing and journal prompts.

Obviously you're not going to read them all, or need them all. But if you like and use just five or six, and access a Craftsy course or one of the other bonus'- you've scored a deal.

Visit The Ultimate DIY Bundle to get the whole scoop. You can scroll through and see every ebook, ecourse, and bonus included.

The price for the whole kit n' caboodle is $34.95. There's a 30 day money back guarantee. Which means you have a full 30 days to enjoy all the eBooks and eCourses in the bundle, and if you don’t think they provided enough value, you’ll get a full refund.

Sale ends Monday, January 26th.

Bundle Housekeeping

A quick note about bundles, if you are not familiar with them: A bundle is a "bundle" of ebooks and ecourses for a fraction of the cost if you were to purchase them individually. In addition, you get bonus materials from companies who are wanting to get the word out about their products and services. And like any sale, the offer is only valid for a limited time window. Bundles are not for everyone but if have an interest in the specific theme of the sale you're almost certain to end up with a really good deal.

If you have any questions, before you buy, about the resources themselves just shoot me an email. I've downloaded them all and have access to the bonus materials and can answer any "what's in this product?" question you might have.

Once you've purchased the bundle you can find a comprehensive FAQ section on the bundle site, including how to download the books to your Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.

This bundle also allows you download individual ebooks, one by one, as you need them. Yay! I always download the whole thing, cull the ones I don't need (yes, I delete them), and then re-sort and file them in a way that's useful for me.

Disclosure: I earn money from every bundle sold through my blog and there are affiliate links in this post.

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