Appalachian Trail spring memories on the North Carolina and Tennessee border

I think my please-be-spring-already trip down Appalachian Trail memory lane is working.

North Carolina or Tennessee mountains in spring

It appears to me, on this hovering-just-above-zero degrees Saturday morning, that more snow melted yesterday. And the weather report is what gives me real hope. A week of sunny days and daytime temperatures in the double digits is forecasted.

Sun and warmth is good, real good. I hope it will help usher in the blossoming of buds in our neighborhood. There's a large hedge of lilacs next to the house and an old apple orchard next to the field. I can't wait to see these in bloom in about a month.

And I am hoping soon the snow and ice will melt from the mountain trails so we can do some hiking again. I haven't hiked since I finished the trail with my family last September. My trail feet are getting itchy.

Day 31: April 30 - 15.4 miles Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter

from my journal that day:

Started ok, terrain not so inspiring, felt pressure to make 15. One long climb and we felt the rest would be easy. It was not. The ridge trail was strenuous, strained my feet on the rocks. We came into Jerry Cabin in the rain and fog. It was 6, or shortly after, supper with apple cobbler and then straight to bed.

found this photo from another camera, maybe the video camera
me trudging up to Jerry Cabin Shelter

Not recorded in my journal, but remembered in the photos, is that we found a makeshift store at Allen Gap right on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.

At this point on the trail, I had a recent freak out about the amount of soda our kids had been drinking at trail magic and in town stops, and I kiboshed drinks with corn syrup. Alas, only corn syrup-laden drinks were stocked at "mom's" makeshift trail store. So no drinks that morning.

In due course, I relaxed my "no corn syrup drinks" rule. I'm a little embarrassed when I think about all the energy I spent agonizing over such things.

It drove me a bit crazy to think how far we fell from our nutritional high horse while hiking. Not in our supper meals so much, which were very high quality for trail food, but in our snacks, and trail magic food choices, etc. When you need 4,000 - 5,000 calories a day your standards change a little. This change was hard for me to swallow, literally.

Eventually, I just lightened-up. We haven't been to the dentist in two years so I'm not sure how much damage was really done. Until someone has a toothache, I'd rather not know.

Day 32: May 1 - 14.7 miles Jerry Cabin Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter

from my journal that day:

Hard day number two. Started in fog, which was beautiful... basically I don't remember much notable about this day except B & I did a far amount of complaining. We all felt pressed for time trying to make camp at a decent time, since we all look forward to that time of day for relaxing and doing our own thing.

Coming out of Rector Laurel Road crossing, an open meadow leading to woodlands with a cascade - that section was my favorite part of the day. Great supper, as always, sweet potatoes. Shelter with 3 old men and Bloodroot and Red Hawk camping. D. walked with me today and I walked slowish and careful due to feet.

end of the day at Hogback Ridge Shelter

While we wait for spring

This might just be the longest winter ever. I'm a newcomer to the Peninsula so this may be average, but snow on the ground on May 1st is just wrong to me.

I don't really want to live in a place where there is still snow in May but we can't help where we're born. In our case, Canada.

We tried immigrating south (because Maine became home) but we gave up when the process proved too arduous. We've made peace, for now, with living in a cold climate, that is until one of our kids moves either to the west coast or back south to the land of their birth. In either case, I suspect we'll follow. Until then, I live in a region with snow on the ground in May.

The last time I took an outdoor photo at home was on April 14th. There are very few inspiring subjects to photograph right now. There is the matted straw of grass, grey trees, white patches of snow, mud where the snow is melting and the occasional blue sky. So, no photos except these beauties from the beach, two weeks ago, before our trip to Montreal.

It's a good time to share some trail photos taken last spring.

When we were on the trail I had hoped to take photos daily, upload and edit them every couple days on the iPad, and then publish them on the blog or to Facebook on our town stops. I think I managed six or eight weeks of this, commendable really, before it all broke down.

For one thing, my camera stopped working in the moisture and humidity of being held close to my stinking, sweaty body day in and day out. Hiking in the rain didn't help either. After a couple days of this nonsense and some TLC my camera started mostly functioning again, but the back display screen remained frozen and hasn't worked ever since. What a bummer.

Then there was simply the issue of time. Not enough of it. Not enough time in camp, not enough time in town, not enough time to sleep, not enough time to eat, not enough time to relax, certainly not enough time to regularly edit and share photos. And yes, I'm still a bit bitter about this. And my camera malfunction.

Shortly after finishing our hike, or maybe even during, I cleared the first few weeks of photos from my iPad (I have copies on my computer). But for some reason the photos from early May remained. I think because it was a beautiful time in our journey.

The honeymoon period was just coming to an end, which was hard, but North Carolina and Tennessee were some of my favorite parts of the trail. Spring's burst of growth was energizing and photographing all the that new green and forest floor blossoms was exhilarating.

Most of these photos made it to Facebook but I don't think any of them made it to the blog. When I found them on my iPad they brought back so many good memories and warmed my heart with thoughts of spring, even though, on this chilly May 1st morning, it doesn't feel like spring to me at all.

So, for a little trip down Appalachian Trail memory lane, and to stick it to the winter that never ends, I'm going to share some photos today and in the next couple days from last year, taken on the trail in late April and early May.

April 29, 2014 the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

Our 11 mile trek through Hot Springs, crossing the spring-swollen French river, making camp at Spring Mountain Shelter, eating Damien's fabulous cooking, and relaxing in the long light of an an insect-free spring evening.

Ah, the trail, if it weren't so darn hard, I'd be tempted to go every spring.

Cheaper than a hotel: family-friendly travel accommodations

Our family likes to go places.

Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky for me), Damien is an experience junkie. He adapts really well and is a great problem solver; his INTP brain seems to thrive on the stimulus of new situations.

I am more set in my routines and I love home sweet home but I also appreciate having interesting experiences, seeing new places, and I especially love meeting people.

Put the two of us together and you get a couple (with three big kids who are a combination of the two of us) who like to travel.

Here are four different types of accommodations we've used over the years to make travel more affordable.

1. Tenting

We're outdoorsy people so tenting is a natural option for us when traveling in non-urban places. For us, tenting is not the ends, it's the means to the ends, the ends being to go places and do things.

Tenting is not a "sacrifice" for us. Since deciding to use tents as a reliable form of accommodation, we've invested in high quality tents (and comfortable mats and sleeping bags). Our tents are not big, we use them for backpacking after all, but they are dry.

tenting on the Jim Murray Property on the AT in NJ

Car camping tenting has enabled us to go beautiful places like Grand Manan Island, Perce Rock, and Common Ground Fair.

For us, a tent (or two or three - like we had for our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail) is a great investment for family travel.

2. Couchsurfing

A few years ago we discovered Couchsurfing. Most of our travels and adventures are outdoors-related so tenting is our go-to accommodation. But tenting doesn't work so well on a city visit, or for winter travel.

Our first experience Couchsurfing as a family was on our reconnaissance trip to the Gaspe Peninsula right after Christmas. Definitely no tenting.

On this particular house-hunting in Montreal and flying to Chicago trip we used Couchsurfing again for our first six nights of accommodations.

There were a surprising number of Couchsurfers willing to host a family of four (Laurent is not with us this trip) but I guess that's what you get in a big city like Montreal. More people, more hosts.

One of the requirements for me in booking a Couchsurfing host for our time in Montreal was that our family could share a room. We didn't need beds per se, though we were able to find those also, but a private room for our family was a non-negotiable.

This is a safety precaution for me when Couchsurfing as a family since you really don't know much about your hosts, other than what is shared on their profile.

We spent six nights Couchsurfing in Montreal this trip. Three nights with two different families. Both were amazing in their own way. And each household offered us a different view of Montreal life.

Montrealers are diverse and cosmopolitan people. Between the two families we stayed with, three unique cultures were represented - mixed European, Moroccan and Quebecois and seven to ten different languages were spoken (I lost count and the common language was English - lucky for me).

In my experience people who try Couchsurfing - either as hosts or "surfers" - are adventurous, open-minded, generous, hospitable, and community-orientated. My kind of people.

3. Airbnb

This trip to Montreal we added a new option to our cheaper-accommodation experience: airbnb.

With Couchsurfing you're never exactly sure what you're going to get. This is part of the appeal for some people, though free is the biggest draw I suspect.

When I am traveling with Damien I feel more comfortable with this unknown as he rolls with things really well. And he's my husband, and is the protector of his family, and I feel safe with him.

This weekend Brienne and I were alone, with me as the solo-responsible parent and I just didn't feel comfortable, back in March, booking a Couchsurfing accommodation for the two of us, without Damien along. (If I had known then what I know now I might have felt more comfortable. Our Couchsurfing in Montreal was fantastic, but you never know...)

For my solo time together with Brienne for our last four nights in Montreal, I decided to book an airbnb accommodation. It's not free but it's not expensive either.

In Montreal you can find a private room with a double bed in some very cool neighborhoods for under $50 a night. Much more affordable than a hotel room, plus you get full kitchen access and the chance to meet great people.

You can also find full house rentals on airbnb, and many adventuring families choose this option on their travels.

Brienne and I are loving our current airbnb digs in Montreal. We have a private bedroom with a double bed. Our hosts are two women both originally from France. They are as interested in our stories as we are in theirs.

What a great way to meet people.

4. Hostels

In my experience and opinion, the most amazing hostels are those along the Appalachian Trail. (There are some scary ones too, but the gems are truly awesome and I will never forget them.)

But those hostels, at $20/person, are not necessarily the most affordable options for a family.

Our family has stayed in a couple non-trail hostels over the years. I remember meeting up with my parents and celebrating Celine's 5th birthday in the Ottawa Hostel. And more recently we celebrated Laurent's 13th birthday at the hostel in Quebec City.

Hum... we seem to have "celebrating birthdays in Canadian city hostels" theme goin' on.

Our hostel experiences have been fun but with the growing availability of airbnb I feel hostels are a less appealing option, in terms of cost and amenities, for families than an airbnb rental. Hostels most often charge per bed and with a family of five there's not a lot of cost savings over an airbnb rental. And the comfort of a home is nice.

I will say though you meet really interesting people at hostels, which we like, and most are strategically located.

We're going home very soon. We've been here nine days and we've had a productive time - we found an apartment and got Celine and Damien off to Chicago. But in amongst those activities, and especially after those were taken care of, we've been enjoying a little vacation with great food, shopping and friendly people.

And inexpensive non-hotel accommodations are part of what make this possible.


Introducing Black Widow

We're in Montreal right now taking care of family business on a couple fronts - finding an apartment for July and getting Celine to C2E2.

I am extremely relieved to report that, after a hectic schedule of appointments and applications, we secured an apartment in the first three days of our trip. It's a wonderful place and I'll tell you more about it later.

In Montreal the majority of rental leases are signed for July 1st and tenants must give notice by the end March if they are not renewing their lease. This means April and May are the best times to find an apartment. So we needed to come to Montreal to do that.

Our apartment hunting trip was timed to coincide with Celine's travel plans for Chicago.

There is no international airport where we live, just small expensive regional airports. On our budget, to fly you must first drive. And so drive we did, to Montreal, so Celine and Damien can fly to C2E2 today.

Celine's big project and driving goal since returning home from the trail is to attend C2E2, this weekend in Chicago.

I wrote about that in this post on a goal-driven curriculum.

Today's post is the big reveal of Celine's costume. Part of attending a comic convention, or Comic Con as they are called, is participating in cosplay.

Not all attendees do this but the really creative geeky ones do.

Celine has been working on her costume since last fall. She bought the fabric on our trip to Nova Scotia, just two weeks after getting off the trail.

She had many months on the trail to think about what character she wanted to be and in the end she choose Black Widow from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated television series.

This is a television series I know nothing about, belonging to a realm of media and pop culture that is foreign to me.

I'm not entirely sure what it is about Black Widow that captured Celine's imagination except I do know that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow character is one of her favorites from the Avengers movies (not to be confused with Earth Mightiest Heroes animated series). And Celine informs me that the animated costume is easier to recreate, with its simple design, than the non-animated version.

Our entire family eats up superhero movies, they are the one movie genre we all mutually love, and the Marvel Avengers are always a great hit. How can you not love Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America and Robert Downey Junior's Iron Man?

Celine's costume, down to the golden gauntlets was made entirely by her. No dollar store or costume shop purchases for her. That's part of the fun of cosplay.

It's not about buying the costume, it's about creating the costume. You can see how this is the perfect "fit" for my geeky, sci-fi fan, sewing and design astute daughter.

For her, this is what "project-based" learning looks like.

When people find out that we employ project-based learning (among other methodologies) in our homeschool they sometimes ask "what kind of projects" our kids do.

I sometimes wonder if they are expecting projects that are academic in nature, along the lines of a science fair project.

Real life, project-based learning is driven by a person's natural need or want to make or build something. These projects arise from an innate desire or interest to figure something out, express an idea, or participate in community and culture.

In which case, it might look like a "classic" science fair type project, figuring out the best location to plant the beans in the garden for example. But project based learning can look like almost anything.

The key thing is, you don't "assign" true student-directed, project-based learning with a scoring rubric of "skills to be learned".

The project itself is the educational means and ends.

Conceiving the original idea, making plans, re-configuring plans, doing the work, (sometimes discontinuing), and finally finishing - the process itself is the learning as much as the finished product or community contribution.

I cannot tell you all the hours Celine put into this costume. It is entirely her baby. I did not "direct" any of it.

Celine did all the stitching and painting. All the research into wigs and where to buy them. Not to mention all the hours she spent on her part time job to earn the money to pay for all her materials (and her flight, hotel, food and convention ticket).

This kind of project was well outside the scope of my personal experience, or interest. I offered opinions when asked for them. But it's hard to give an opinion on something you know so little about. Mostly I was just a cheerleader and sounding board for ideas.

And when Celine considered giving up all together, sometime in February (who doesn't want to give up in February), we said the choice was all hers but we would do everything we could to support her in finishing through to the end.

And finish she did!

Celine worked so hard to get here. She's overcome many obstacles and unknowns (too numerous to mention), not the least of which is her own mother's cluelessness about such things, "what's a comic con?"

To say I'm proud is an understatement, and to say she's beautiful is stating the obvious.

Watching her in cosplay is to see a new side of Celine, "who is this girl?"

I am continually amazed at Celine's talent for something that eludes me (sewing anything other than straight lines on cotton fabric). And I am impressed at her dogged persistence in working towards a goal.

And today I'm grateful that the person I trust the most, who loves Celine as much as I do (her dad and my husband) will be accompanying this blossomed-into-beautiful young woman on the first of her many self-directed grand adventures.

You go girl!


Letting them grow up into who they are meant to be

I am currently writing a homeschooling through high school blog series, which is focused around Celine's high school education, as she is our only high schooler. After writing this very long post, which is part tribute to my father, a story of my roots and heritage, and our present homeschool journey, I realized that Laurent has probably started his scholar years also. Gulp. So I am including this post in that series.

There's always an exchange of stuff when my parents come to visit. Clothing, books, food, computer expertise, lotion and lip balm are a few things that come to mind.

But two weeks ago, when my parents left after coming to celebrate Easter with us, they took something most precious with them, our fourteen year old son.

They didn't take Laurent with them for a holiday, like they did when he was nine years old. Laurent is closer to being a man now, than he is a child. And so they whisked him off to Nova Scotia to do what men do, to work.

Not just any work, but to work with a craftsman builder and small business owner. To get an introduction to the building trade, learn a few skills, and earn a bit of money apprenticing for a month (maybe more?) with a master builder: my dad and his papa.

My dad, Derryl, has been a builder his whole life. He started his building career, as a young man, only four years older than Laurent is now.

By the time he was in his mid-twenties my dad owned his own construction business. And my childhood memories start, somewhere at age two or three, in the first house he built for our family.

During my growing up years Dad's business grew and his labors moved from the job site into an office where he was "the boss", as my brother and I explained to people who asked "what kind of work does your dad do?"

As a grown woman, I look back and see that Dad carried a lot responsibility on his shoulders, the wellbeing of his family and his employees.

He was my first employer, paying me to do office work. When my brother was old enough to work on a job site, he too worked for Dad. We both learned to work, working for our dad.

Owning and operating a business and the responsibility of employees and large building contracts (by my teen years Dad no longer built homes but commercial buildings all over central Alberta) started to suck the life-joy from my dad in his mid-life. By this point I was grown, married and starting my own family.

I wasn't there when my dad went through a period of depression. I was on the other side of the continent taking care of babies. But I felt his pain on our visits and in our conversations.

It was a great relief to me when he decided enough and that it was time for a change. The need for a change, the dream of life on the water, and the desire to be closer to their eastern-dwelling children moved my parents out to Nova Scotia eight years ago.

When my parents started their life again in Nova Scotia in their mid-fifties, my dad went back to his first love - working with his hands on small scale building projects.

My dad is intelligent, he's extroverted and genuinely interested in people, he's an incredibly hard-worker, he's generous, and he builds to a standard of beauty, detail and workmanship reminiscent of previous eras. He is an artisan builder.

He didn't go to school to be a builder. He has a high school education. Everything he's knows about building, and trust me, at sixty-two he knows a lot, he has learned by doing.

At a young age I was building toys that my parents could not afford to buy and in grade 5-6 I built a multi-level tree house, 25 feet above ground which the city made me take down due to it extending over the neighbours property! An early lesson in building without a permit?? I began designing and building multi-level rabbit cages with my dad's tools, which was the beginning of my own personal tool collection which has never ended. In grade 9 my teacher told me it was unfortunate that the existing school curriculum did not allow me to follow the passion and desire that I had to build. I was stuck in a traditional educational system. By the end of my 11th grade I was assisting the wood working shop teacher with helping other students learn the trade.

Dad and I don't discuss educational philosophy very much, though my Dad definitely has a "philosophizing" bent, as do I. Educational philosophy is my passion, building is his.

It's funny that I've never clued into this before, but the decision to home educate my children as self-motivated learners in the path of interest-driven education was not just the product of my own careful research, observation, and inspiration.

The seeds of my children's interest-driven education were planted in me as the child of an autodidact.

I was raised by a self-motivated man, who was once a interest-driven boy, who sought out the resources and opportunities he could within the confines of his reality, to pursue his passion.

Traditional schooling was not the best fit for my dad but he made it work as best he could.

My learning style and intelligence types were a good fit for the school system. I was a "good" student and I liked school.

I was expected to do my best at school, and my studies were my responsibility, but there was no pressure to make honor roll or any specific grades. (I put enough pressure on myself that my parents certainly didn't need to add anymore.) If anything, my parents encouraged me to lighten up, and more than once I remember my dad telling me to take a break from my homework.

My parents didn't homeschool me. They didn't teach me read or write or how to do long division, but they taught me something else.

They taught me right from wrong. They taught me to do my best. They taught me faith through actions not empty words. They taught me how to work. They taught me integrity. They taught me how to stay married. They taught me how to love.

They taught me you learn to do by doing.

An apprenticeship for Laurent

It was on the trail, in Virginia, that we first discussed Laurent having a building apprenticeship with my dad. My parents had joined us for two weeks of hiking and at camp one night, or maybe it was during one of our breaks, Damien and I proposed the idea to Dad.

Laurent hasn't had a lot of exposure to building trades or skills and we wanted him to have the opportunity to learn a few things in that realm. Going to work with Papa for a time wasn't just about helping my dad or earning some money. It was to be about learning skills.

I'm pretty sure Laurent wouldn't go to work for just any builder. Construction building is not his driving passion the way it is my dad's. But Laurent loves to spend time with Papa making stuff. One of his fondest Nova Scotia memories is building the neighborhood wharf the summer we lived there.

My dad is at the stage in his life and his career where he has time to teach while he works. And the timing is perfect because he's currently working on his own project right now, building three retirement-living duplexes in Lunenburg.

Laurent has been connected to this particular project from the beginning as Papa commissioned him to design the site logo, Eric's Place.

The logo in progress

Eric's Place is named after my mom's Dad (my dad's father-in-law) who passed away last year. Naming this housing development after Grandpa is a tribute to his character and legacy. And the sign's design, which Laurent created according to Papa's specifications, is a remembrance of our family's Alberta roots and my grandfather's lifelong work, vocation and passion as a farmer.

Laurent is still a boy and can't fully appreciate the family story being written here, but I can.

By the time he was Laurent's age, my dad knew he wanted to be a builder. In his early twenties, as a young husband and father to a baby girl named Renee, my dad worked for his uncle's construction business, under the tutelage of his grandfather, my great-grandfather.

Dad was working hard to build a home and a livelihood for his young family. His grandfather, his mother's father, worked alongside him, teaching him more than how to build a house or a trade, but how to build a life. They shared family, faith, and a love for music. They shared a friendship.

I was four years old when my great-grandfather died at seventy years of age. He is a man I only know from pictures, from the stories I didn't pay enough attention to as a child, and from the love and esteem my father still has for him.

This is the family story that Laurent is being written into: grandfathers teaching grandsons, young men learning to work, learning skills, and how to support a family. This is a story Laurent he won't be able to fully appreciate till he is a man himself.

I don't know that Laurent will be a builder, but he will be a maker of some sort I have no doubt.

Like my father who was a builder from the time he was a child, Laurent is an artist. This is a gift, a talent he gets from Damien's side of the family. And as an interest-driven homeschooler he has had time to develop this gift.

Even now, busy though he is working with my dad, he shows us his latest watercolor painting over Skype and is hoping to spend his first earnings on new oil paints on this week's trip to Halifax.

An apprenticeship with my dad is partly about learning practical skills but it is about building relationship. It is about a boy learning how to be a man.

Damien and I know our children need more than us, they need elders to invest in their teenage years. We feel this is especially important for our tender-hearted, physically active, artistic, handsome, becoming-a-man son.

This is what I believe and yet I struggled to let him go.

Laurent has dyslexia and he didn't learn to really read, with solid comprehension, till age eleven.

For Laurent, delayed reading meant delayed writing. In a traditional classroom setting, reading and writing is key, even in the early grades, not just for those skills alone but so teachers can deliver and assess other knowledge and skills to a large group of students.

Homeschool is completely different, at least for us. I know, just by talking to my kids, what they understand and don't understand. I can tailor the materials we use to their needs, strengths and limitations. When they are little, I can read and write for them, as needed. This is fine for elementary years but my goal has been to move towards independence and skills-proficiency in their middle school years.

Laurent is at the end of his middle school years and we're not as far with his writing skills as I had hoped we'd be at this point.

Writing is a difficult skill, craft, and practice all around. Throw dyslexia into the mix and it's extra challenging.

I panicked a bit when we got home from the trail. My kids learned how to persevere through struggle to reach a goal but they forgot long division. And after six months in the woods, it seemed there were more gaps than solid footing in their written communication skills.

I view the middle years, roughly 10-14 years of age, as a time of increasing academics (though the methods I use are suited to my kids' interests and learning styles), with the goal of filling-in any gaps in foundational skills of reading, writing and math before my student's progress to scholar.

It feels like I have more "filling-in" to do with Laurent than I did with Celine.

But Laurent is nearly ready intellectually and emotionally for his scholar years. I see it in his self-initiative and the dissatisfaction with my leading.

(I've noticed that when my kids give me push-back in areas they never used to it's often because they are ready to progress is some way and I'm holding them back somehow. Teasing out where they need to progress and how I'm holding them back though is homeschool detective work.)

The time is coming, it's nearly here, for Laurent to steer his ship the way we gave the reins over to Celine. And I don't feel ready.

I've been trying to remember what it was like when we let Celine ditch my plans and make her own. I wasn't ready then either.

I'm never ready for the next stage. But they are and I have to let go.

One of things I'm coming to terms with is that my kids are not going to "learn" everything I had hoped to teach them before they graduate our homeschool, or before they move from middle school to scholar.

I've never operated under the assumption I can provide a well-rounded education. I don't even believe in that notion. Well-rounded according to whose standards? according to what metrics?

But still, I want to give my children more than I possibly have time, energy, or financial resources to provide. I want to empty myself of all the wisdom I've gained from years of trial and error and short-circuit for them the losses and painful lessons I've learned. I want to provide them with wise teachers and faithful friends. I want fill them with good memories and root them in a strong family and faith identity.

I want to give them the moon and the stars.

I can't even wrap my brain around some of the skills and knowledge that Laurent and Celine possess. Their learning far exceeds the bounds of my experience in several areas. And I know my kids will not be illiterate, in either the basics or not-so-basics, but there comes a point where I have to say, "that's good enough, I've done the best I can with what I have."

There comes a point where I have to say, "you have my blessing, go".

Letting Laurent go work with Dad was one such release.

My son will probably never excel at spelling. His Papa isn't a natural speller either and it hasn't hindered him much. And there are so many things Laurent will not learn under my watch.

If Laurent grows up to be anything like my dad, however, in terms of his work ethic, faith in God, steadfastness in family-life, community engagement, and a drive to use the talents he's been given to their full measure, although I won't have been able to give him the moon and stars, he'll be salt of the earth.


A time of new beginnings

My parents came for Easter weekend. It was so nice to have them. During our eleven year sojourn in the north eastern United States we didn't spend many of the minor holidays, Canadian Thanksgiving and Easter, with family.

Since my parents moved to Nova Scotia, and especially with our return to Canada and our move to the Gaspe Peninsula, a mere nine hour drive from their home in Lunenberg County, spending minor holidays together has become a common occurrence, for which I am so grateful.

Their visits to us are variations on a similar theme. Mom brings rubbermaid bins and reusable grocery bags loaded with food. My parents bring their computer questions for Damien, and my Dad brings a paperback or two.

My mom brings a bag of "goodies". Clothing she no longer wants or something she picked up, thinking of us, at Guy's Frenchys (Atlantic Canada's discount clothing store). Brienne, Celine, Mom and I are all around the same size now so clothes can be circled 'round.

Sometimes she brings jewelry and accessories from her stash that she thinks would suit one of the Tougas girls better. Reusable lotion and lip balm jars are returned empty, in exchange for refills. There is almost always books in the bag. Books to borrow and books to give.

There were a few small treasures in the Easter-trip goodie bag. Photographs that were set aside for me, remnants of my grandparent's earthly possessions.

Both of my maternal grandparents are dead and the bulk of their "estate" has been divvied up among their children but sometimes little pieces of our Alberta past will make their way out to me in Quebec, via my mom in Nova Scotia.

I am far from the land where I was born and raised; the Canadian prairies that was home to my grandparents since immigrating, as small children with their families, in the 1920's from WWI-ravaged Europe.

I don't live under the vast prairie sky anymore but my Canadian identity, my Forsberg/MacKay heritage, and my Christian faith; as remembered in these photos and celebrated in sharing Easter with my parents, roots me to my past.

There were more goodies in the bag, a handmade cable-knit wool sweater mom bought a few years ago at a vendor's market in Annapolis Royal. It hasn't proven to be her style so I am the lucky recipient, along with a headband I simply love. I'm not sure if she's giving me the headband because she doesn't need it anymore or because she knows I love it. That's my mom.

To receive a cable-knit wool sweater for Easter may not be the most traditional Easter outfit but for the long winter of the Gaspe Peninsula it's perfect.

April is a month of new beginnings and opportunities for our family; Celine's trip to Chicago for C2E2, a month-long building apprenticeship for Laurent in Nova Scotia, and an eleven day trip to Montreal to find a place to live for our move in July.

I feel a strong seasonal shift this month, in spite of the snow that still blankets the fields and mountains. And there's is an undeniable and inescapable (and sometimes painful) tug into the future.

Last weekend we turned the last page on a special chapter in our family story. It was the final weekend of operations for the winter 2015 season at Pin Rouge, our local ski hill. And with our impending move, it wasn't just the last ski day of the season for our family, it was a goodbye.

Growing up as a I did, on the prairies, I could never have imagined that skiing would become such an important part of our family story.

Damien had dreams and it was his initiative that made skiing into a reality for our family. Since we moved to the peninsula, four years ago, skiing has been a central feature to our winter. Considering how long winter is here, you could say skiing has been a central feature to our lives.

Our introduction to Pin Rouge was in January 2012, in the deep cold of winter. We rented one of the sweet cottages at the base of the hill for the weekend and paid for telemark lessons to get our family started.

We became friends with our telemark instructors and learned of their rental chalet at the ski hill, just down the road from the lodge and lift.

That summer, the chalet became our home in the country for eighteen months, and for two full winters we lived at a ski hill.

Our first winter living at a ski hill we bought a family season's pass and skiing was on the schedule.

We met the neighbors, two families who were building a ski chalet together. We eventually found out that one of those families was planning a round-the-world trip and they were looking for someone to take care of their house while they were gone.

Wouldn't you know it, we were looking for a place to live for the very same period of time. Which is how we ended up in our current housesitting arrangement.

Last year, winter 2014, our Appalachian Trail hike loomed on the horizon, and all available funds were funneled there. We didn't buy a ski pass but skinned up through the woods trail, skiing down the fresh powder on weekdays when the hill was closed. It was our private winter playground.

For nearly two years, the ski hill was our backyard. We hiked it the summer and skied it in winter.

When we came home from our hike last fall, completely broke, I was certain we couldn't swing a ski pass this winter.

Then we received an unexpected and timely gift from my parents. A gift that allowed us to make an important investment in our future, buying a season's pass at the hill.

Damien and I sometimes disagree on how to spend money. I like it the bank. He wants experiences. And the truth is, we need both and this is a constant tension (not necessarily bad but sometimes hard to navigate) in our marriage.

Over the years I've come to see that spending money on shared life experiences - skiing every weekend as a family, hiking the Appalachian Trail together - is a type of investment.

We haven't grown a financial portfolio but we've grown a family culture and a shared history, making daily, weekly and monthly deposits into our relationship with our children. Relationships, that we trust will stand the test of time and prove to be more be more secure than financial investments.

I cried when we got home from our Saturday morning ski. Our winters of living near a ski hill is a chapter that is closing with our move to Montreal. We still plan to ski, but it will look different.

Many doors are opening in this move, which is the reason we're going. And I will relish exploring those open doors when the time comes, but first there is mourning the loss of what we had here. There is the hollow feeling in your chest knowing you will never again have this experience as a family.

We are in the last stage of active child raising years. It's not the end but it is the beginning of the end. And we're moving to Montreal because we want to finish strong, supporting our teenager and young adult children's needs as best we can.

The foundation of our family life and culture has been laid. The core of who my children are, and how that will affect who they will become, has been established. I try not to overthink it, because I am prone that way, but I hope and trust that our best has been, and will be, enough.

Our first time skiing at Pin Rouge, January 2012

My oldest is a month away from sixteen. My fourteen year old son is currently doing his first "working-world" apprenticeship. I can't believe we're this far in the game, and yet we are.

It was an emotional Easter weekend. The memories of our years here and our winters of skiing flooded my heart all day Saturday. And in spite of being filled with memories, my chest felt like a hollow ache.

It's strange that I can be surrounded by the people I love and still feel an ache at the memories I have of being with these people through the years. They are in my present but I am remembering the past. Saturday was my day for that.

And then came Easter Sunday. After the blustery snows of Saturday, we welcomed the day's bright blue sky and piercing sun.

Easter is a story of new life. It is a new book beginning when the everyone thought the book was closed. Not just closed, but nailed shut.

Sometimes, I can feel like the book is closing, especially when an era or season of family life is, in fact, ending. And I have a tendency to overanalyze my children's growing up (especially as we near the end) and think "it's all over now". Hogwash!

Things do end. But new things begin.

Our family leaves the Gaspe. And starts a new chapter in Montreal.

Jesus died. But he rose from the grave.

Immigrants leave the old country. And become citizens in a new one.

Children grow up. And a new generation of family life begins.

This is the Easter story. When your heart aches with the loss of what has ended, Easter is the hope of not just a new chapter, but a brand new book.

Color where we can find it

It's snowing right now (for real), with the promise of freezing rain later today. Oh goody. 

By the 10th of April I'm no longer inspired to photograph snowstorms. What was cozy in mid-December  is just "ugh, not again!" past Easter weekend. 

I am desperate for color - bright red, orange, and yellow. Green leaves are the stuff of art and imagination in this world of white, blue and grey.

We're holding out hope for spring in these parts. And appreciating color and sparkle where we find it.

The Structure of Project Home & Healing

Outlining the structure for Project Home & Healing is something I've wanted to write for a while.

I am still working on the homeschool posts and homeschooling through high school series, as promised, but I've put those on hold for a few weeks so I can do some other writing.

Some of what is in this post I've shared before and some is new. But before the year gets too far along (one week into April already!) I want to publish this outline as a reference point and fence post around which to anchor other writing and future posts.

Coming off the trail I knew I needed healing in some areas of my life. It's funny how some people find and seek their healing in the trail experience itself. For me, the trail caused pain I needed to heal from and it was the last straw in a downward spiral of insecurity.

By putting me in situations far outside of my control, trail life illuminated ingrained and habitual ways of thinking (which were in part responsible for my trail pain) that I needed to change if I was to improve my mental and emotional health, both for the short and long term.

I conceived Project Home and Healing to give structure to the healing process, to provide myself some direction and focus in moving forward and a way to organize my ideas.

It started as an outline in Evernote, a list actually of things I felt compelled to do for myself, coming off the trail.

This list was not "self-care" in the typical sense most often associated with that word, it was self-care at the deepest level. It was about knowing self, loving self, caring for self, ensuring that my self has what she needs to be what the people I love and serve need. It was about being healthy for the people I love (Damien and the kids), but first and foremost it was about being healthy for me.

That list which was part self-evaluation, part checklist of basic routines to re-establish in my life, and part "questions to ponder and ideas to revisit" (actual title of list) ended up becoming several documents; more lists, more self-evaluation, and eventually a semi-concrete plan of healing focused around my place of vocation, comfort, and well-being - home. Hence, Project Home and Healing.

As I explained in this post, at that point, Project Home & Healing was a three pronged approach to rebuild my wellbeing:

  • Attend to my Mental Health
  • Return to my Roots
  • Craft a Vision

It wasn't until the breaking down and rebuilding on the marriage level that things really started to shift into another gear. And at that point, my recovery and healing, involved a fourth, and most necessary element:

  • Structural Changes to our Family Life

Shortly after Christmas, it was actually mere days following our celebration when I was out skiing near my sweet spot, I thought why not share my healing process with a group of women? What a great opportunity this would be to nurture FIMBY community and connection around fixed topics, or themes, as related to my personal project.

The benefits of this were a few-fold:

  • It would help me stay focused on my healing. By committing to writing about it, I was committing to doing it.
  • It would allow me to explore a private FIMBY community, something I've wanted to experiment with for some time for personal and professional reasons. (I'd like to run a homeschooling workshop in the future and have wondered how to bring a group together online for discussion and sharing).
  • Writing about very specific themes and ideas would enable me to go deeper, as a writer, into the topics I wanted to explore. And publishing them off-blog would allow me to get over the last vestiges of "this is what a good blogger does" hang-ups that I have been holding on to since deciding I wanted to be a professional blogger.
  • And looking ahead to the future, having written in-depth essays about a cohesive theme, I may be able to re-work those into something I can publish as a stand-alone product - an ebook? a workshop? a retreat outline? print publication? Lots of possibilities exist, but first I have to write it.

And so The Kitchen Table came to be - a writing project and a community building endeavor - the outward expression and sharing of a yearlong personal endeavor called Project Home & Healing.

By the way, I'm not writing this to elicit more subscriptions to The Kitchen Table. I don't gain anything financially from doing so, it's free. In fact, I just gain more work since there will be more "how do I do this?" emails. (Which I don't mind, by the way, but I only respond to those about twice a month. And so if you join now, don't panic if you feel clueless or out of the loop for a while.)

In December I will turn forty. And Project Home & Healing is what I'm doing to prepare for this milestone in my life. My end aim with this project is what I laid out in Year of the Fallowed Field.

I am wired to lead and live loud, and although I have built a peaceful, kind, and loving home I'm also feisty and fiery and I love that part of me. At my best, when I am in my zone, I am exuberant, confident, and in-charge. I want to nurture those traits into their full, beautiful, forties-something expression.

I want to carry this strong sense of self in me, like a secret knowledge. Not to be something I push on other people, but an inner strength and sense of wellbeing that enables me to operate in my full capacity to bless, serve and help others.

I can't anticipate what my forties will bring, but I know how I want to feel when I get there - a sense of wholeness, inner strength, confidence, security.

Those are the impetus, the outline, the writing/group project and the end aim of Project Home & Healing.

Now all we need is a Venn diagram, wouldn't you agree?

I'm a linear thinker. I generally categorize ideas in hierarchies and ordered lists, or at the very least in distinct "zones". But when I looked at my four category outline for Project Home & Healing I recognized that a lot of my ideas - action items, questions I was pondering, etc. belonged to multiple categories. They resided at the convergence of return to my roots and structural changes to family life, for example.

So I created a Venn Diagram which better represents Project Home & Healing than a linear progression or a list of ideas.

I had a lot of fun making this and gave a surprising amount of thought to these colored bubbles, how large they are in comparison to each other, their placement, where they converge, etc.

There are a lot of activities, projects, books I'm reading, changes we're making and have made to our lives that are wrapped up in these pretty bubbles. That's the stuff I plan to write about at FIMBY in the coming months, and have already been writing about.

March was a month of both subtle and significant breakthroughs, with cognitive understanding, spiritual insights, and deeply-emotional experiences related to the themes of belonging, identity, community and connection, and even citizenship.

These insights resided at the convergence of mental health and return to my roots, and inspired some progress even in craft a vision.

This is the stuff I want to write about, but as you can see I couldn't very well have said, "These insights resided at the convergence of mental health and return to my roots, and inspired some progress in craft a vision" without first laying down the framework for you.

I had planned to write about the specifics (I love details) of what happened "at the convergence" but when I sat down to do so I felt compelled to write this instead. And now, all of a sudden, it's April and we've rounded the spring cornerstone of Easter.

In spite of all the snow on the ground my energies have shifted into a new groove, which has a significantly different personal and familial focus than the month of March. As much as I'd love to recap the growth of last month (or even the winter in general) I won't have the time, but that's ok, it still happened.

After an intentional season of hibernation and rest, re-discovering fun and focusing on my flow while reaching out to make connections and build community I'm ready for the next stage, and a new season.


Trail Anniversary

I wasn't planning to write anything about starting the trail, one year ago today. But then I picked up these photos from the pharmacy this afternoon, put them in the frame and couldn't help myself.

The photos, all framed and everything, were begging to be shared on the one year anniversary of our Appalachian Trail thru-hike start date.

I bought the dollar store frame months ago. In fact, seeing the five-in-a-row design is what gave me the idea to print these photos.

These photos were taken close to Bear Mountain State Park in New York State. They do not commemorate the start of our hike, rather they capture how we looked a little more than halfway into our journey.

By this point we were the real deal and these photos show that. They capture poor Padawan's bug bites, but her big grin all the same.

They tell the story of dirty legs (and my hairy legs); Toesalad's bewilderment at having taken us on this grand adventure in the first place and Otter's unbridled enthusiasm for the whole thing.

They portray (isn't that what a portrait does?) my indomitable, come-hell-or-high-water-I'm-finishing-this-thing spirit; and of course this photo shares Tenacious Bling's, well, her bling.

We arrived at Bear Mountain State Park on Saturday, July 26; day 118 of our adventure. The state park, which boasts a zoo (the Appalachian Trail goes right through the zoo, white blazes and all) was filled with weekend picnickers. And right at the bottom of the long descent down Bear Mountain itself was Stan Goldblatt, a professional photographer working on a project - taking photos of thru-hikers on their way through Fort Montgomery, NY.

"Are you the Von Trapps?", he asked.

He'd been hoping to meet and photograph us and he made us an offer we couldn't refuse. For a bowl of homemade chili, rice, and cold drinks he'd drive us to his nearby studio located in his home, take our photos, record a bit of our story, then drive us back to the trail.

All we had to do was get into car (without enough seat belts for all of us) with a complete stranger, and trust him to do as he promised.

Which of course he did. We'd heard about Stan from friends ahead of us on the trail.

"If a strange guy meets you at Bear Mountain State Park and offers you a ride to his home to take your photo - it's all good. He's legit."

Trail family takes care of their own.

And that's how it was that we got our trail portraits taken by a professional photographer.

We weren't dressed fancy. We weren't dressed "for a photo shoot". We were wearing what we always wore, the same clothes, day-in, day-out. We hadn't showered or put on deodorant. Poor guy, taking all those smelly hikers in his car. (No wonder he kept the windows rolled down the whole time.)

I remember exactly where I was one year ago tonight. In our red Hilleberg tent, sleeping with the girls, at Hawk Mountain Shelter, approx. 8 miles into our 2,180 mile hike.

So full of hope and expectation for what was to come, feet already tired.

AT Journal Day 1 3/31/14

Summited Springer Mountain with Powell Family. Left Big Stamp Gap at 2pm. Arrived at shelter 6:30. Brienne and Laurent sore. Celine no complaints. Clear day, no rain. Beautiful trail along creek. Shelter campground full of people, 30? No time to chat or really chill, busy figuring out camp routines. I felt good going to bed. Feet tired. It was a very good first day, all things considered.

I remember so many details about that first day. Most of the trail is like this for me. With the help of my photos and journal entries I can recall our days in amazing detail.

In the last month, as we've noticed an increase in trail buzz online (people are starting thru-hikes this time of year and there's a lot of internet chatter about trail stuff) we have spent more time as a family remembering our hike, sharing our stories with friends but also amongst ourselves.

We don't hide things under the rug in our family and so my trail struggles have been part of the conversation since the very beginning. But recently, there has been a marked increase in laughter as we share our memories.

Some of us, Damien, would go back tomorrow. Others, Brienne, may never hike a long-distance trail again. It's still too early to tell for any of us but our sights are westward for the future.

None of us can imagine hiking the Appalachian Trail again without the friendships we made in 2014. Without the people who made the trail what it was.

Part of us wants to go back and do it better. Basically, I'd like to thru-hike without an emotional breakdown and with more time. Damien would like to enjoy trail life without the heavy responsibilities he bore as team leader.

But when we recall the places we experienced and the friends we made, we realize that none of that would have been the same if our hike hadn't been exactly as it was. I had no idea how precious all of that would be to me one day, how precious it would be to me on this day.

And that's just how it goes.

I'm happy to be sleeping in my bed tonight. But I'd be lying if I said the trail hasn't tugged on my heart today.

Soapmaking Workshop on the Gaspe Peninsula

Since moving to the Gaspe Peninsula almost four years ago I've had a couple soapmaking get-togethers with friends, but never a formal workshop for a small group of people.

Friends have asked me for years to teach them how to make soap and it's always been my intention to do so. Now, with a Montreal moving date on the horizon I figured it was now or never.

I know a few locals read my blog so this invite is for you.

If you live around here and you want to learn how to make soap and take some beautiful soap home with you I hope you'll join me on May 9th. All the pertinent details are on the poster. You can email me for the address and payment instructions.

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


(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.


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.


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


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.)


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.


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.)


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.