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High School

In amongst the photos I've shared this summer on Instagram, and recently here on the blog, I've posted photos of Laurent's studio space in his bedroom.

It's a simple set up, a desk that gives him space to paint and draw. His most frequently used tools are kept on the desk; pens, favorite markers, pencils, a few paint supplies. And the rest is kept in the top drawer of his dresser. The boy has very few clothes, he's a true minimalist in that department. He could give the capsule wardrobe folks a run for their money.

But that's not the point of this post. In the course of sharing these photos, some of which are "action" shots of Laurent working, I've been asked repeatedly, in Instagram, emails, and blog comments, about the tablet he uses for drawing, "what is that thing Laurent is drawing with?" Many of you are wondering because you have your own artists-in-residence.

That tool is a Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Small Tablet, or simply a Wacom tablet (the link will take you to the size and model Laurent uses).

Of course there's a story to this tablet. This is the tool that Laurent bought with the money he earned working with my Dad this spring. Learning to use tools of a different trade, he was able to purchase a tool for his own trade.

Damien is the parent who manages the technical devices in our home. Smart phones, tablets, computers, etc., he's the guy who will identify a need, research products, and give advice as to the best option. Damien recommended the Wacom to Laurent and Laurent took a long time in deciding if this was for him. The tablet is the first major hardware investment Laurent's made in his art education and training.

I'm fairly clueless about all the wonderful features of this tool. So I spent some time interviewing Laurent to find out what he loves about the tablet, how it works, etc. Here's my summary of talk.

Firstly, the tablet is a piece of hardware and so what you do with it depends on the software you have. The Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Tablet comes with software trials and you have some different choices. Laurent tried animation software, painting software and sketch/drawing software. His favorite of these was Autodesk's SketchBook Pro. He's been using a free three-month trial but when that ends we'll start the yearly subscription option.

To learn how to use Sketchbook Pro we took advantage of a free 1-month trial from

I can't comment much about the other software options, we chose SketchBook Pro because it was best suited to Laurent's needs, is reasonably priced, and has received good reviews. However, Laurent says the painting software gave a more refined painting experience and realistic product than SketchBook (the digital colors actually fade as they "dry").

In Laurent's words, he bought this tablet, "because of the wide range of possibilites and tools".

One of the things he loves is having the full set of Copic marker colors. We've been a Copic marker house since Laurent's 10th birthday, when he started his professional grade marker collection. Since that time we've all fallen in love with Copics and I recently upgraded our "homeschool and family art" supply from Prismacolor to Copic. Both Laurent and Celine have their own stashes (Celine really appreciates the skin tone collection for character drawing) but the family supply is for everyone to use.

So back to SketchBook, as Laurent says, "SketchBook Pro has any Copic marker you could want, along with any color you want". Specifically, SketchBook Pro comes with more than 300 colors from the Copic Color System. Laurent has been amazed with how the brush tips and colors simulate a "real" Copic marker. In addition to the markers the software includes fountain pens, ballpoint pens, Copic liner pens, erasers, various brushes (for painting), and pencils.

The tablet is incredibly responsive and sensitive, responding not just to pressure but also the angle of the stylus (which comes with the tablet). Laurent says it simulates real drawing better than any other digital tool he's used.

In my observation and in Laurent's experience, the tablet has taken his artwork to the next level. Laurent still does non-digital drawing and painting, but this tool allows him to experiment with color and techniques that aren't available to him otherwise. And that's just in the "making" of the art, not the "producing" of the art.

A tool like this, that allows Laurent to create digital art, opens up more options for making prints of that art. (Hint: Based on the success last winter with the bird and berry art cards, a new entrepreneurial project is underway, with an expected release date in November.)

Laurent crossed a threshold this summer in his education, similar to his sister's a few years before him. He entered his scholar phase. I'm not going to talk much about that here, except to say it looks quite different from Celine's.

The purchase of this tool seemed like the catalyst, or tipping point, in this direction. This spring, I was sensing Laurent was getting close. And sure enough, within weeks of our move to Montreal where he was able to purchase the tablet, the shift happened, noticeably.

What does that shift look like? Mostly it looks like hours and hours of self-directed and self-disciplined work, day after day after day. It looks like a serious-minded investment into something that is important to him.

There's so much more to the scholar phase that I simply can't get into right now. I understand there are more questions than answers when it comes to what this actually looks like, but I can say one thing with certainty: it looks different for each kid :)

So now we're here: two high-schoolers. More digital tools, more options, many more hours spent studying.

Laurent and I are happy to answer any questions you have about the tablet. Feel free to ask in comments. Also there are a lot of product reviews and Q&A about the tablet at Amazon.

Over the years I've written a few posts about raising artists (I didn't set out to raise artists, they just came that way). These posts include answering questions like: what do you do with all that art? what supplies do you recommend? etc. Find those posts here. See also A little bit of drawing in which I share free software tools we use in our home for art.

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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, have an experience, 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!

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.

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