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High School

It took us till mid-October to find our fall groove.

We started a few pieces of our homeschool routine way back in August. We were well past due, what with the move, an apprenticeship, traveling, and a mid-life crisis consuming our energies April, May, and June. July was all about summer and getting settled. August was a continued celebration of all things summer though my personal focus was homeschool planning and getting homeschool routines back up and running.

In the general upheaval of the last couple years, the multiple moves and our 6 month hiking adventure (which was a solid 6 months of prep prior to leaving and 6 months of emotional recovery for me after), some things in our homeschool curriculum had been sidelined, neglected, set aside for another day. A day with more emotional reserves, more physical resources, and access to more opportunities. A healthy family life can accommodate these ebbs and flows but it is time to focus our collective energies on studies once again.

This summer I drafted our Tougas Family High School Graduation Requirements, the HSGR as I refer to it in my files. The HSGR is my answer to the question, "how do I know when we're done this journey?"

Celine doesn't yet have any post-secondary plans so there's not a university or college admission track to her homeschool, at this point. Which makes it a little tricky for me to figure out our homeschool wrap-up.

We don't follow a set curriculum, I devise our own, for each child, year by year based on who they are and our family vision and values. I needed to clarify our family's vision and values for finishing high school, what does that look like? When do I sign off on my responsibilities? That's what I had to figure out, and for the most part I did. Which is something I hope to write about in the homeschooling through high school series.

We moved to Montreal because our kids needed more opportunities than we could access where we lived. I hit the ground running with this mandate, so to speak, when we arrived in June. Within a month I had made connections with a homeschool co-op, we had reconnected with our old homeschool group here (from when we lived/visited three years ago), we found a church and made fast friends in that church. I was on a mission.

Homeschool co-op didn't start till the beginning of October. This gave us the month of September to transition to a full homeschool schedule before co-op started in earnest, i.e. easing everyone in to fuller study days after months of other projects and priorities.

That transition time included a Canadian government and civics study. I taught a four week class at Communidee using Student Vote materials. What a great experience. I haven't "taught" a class of kids since my student teaching days.

My desire in teaching this class was partly selfish. Because of living in the states, and becoming non-residents of Canada (non-residents aren't allowed to vote) I haven't voted in a Federal election since I was in my early twenties. I haven't stayed in the political loop and I had a lot of catching up to do before voting in this election. Teaching my kids about government and elections was one way to do that.

It is so much fun having kids at the age where I can have political discussions with them; talking about where we are on the political spectrum/grid, finding our common points and our differences. Talking politics is really just another way of framing and explaining one's values and belief systems, a worldview. Learning how to do that, while respecting differing opinions, is a crucial part of democracy and civics education.

It was invigorating, all around. I was somewhat informed when it came time to vote and I was able to check off an important piece of the kids' middle school and high school years education. Yes, civics is part of the HSGR.

(I'm still reading the biography Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson which was to help inform my vote. I didn't get it from the library in time and subsequently hadn't read enough of it for the book to really influence my decision before voting. I think I would have voted the same regardless. The book is excellent. And for the record, I voted Green.)

My cousin got married the beginning of the month. And I traveled to Abbotsford/Chilliwack, BC for the wedding and for a long long weekend visit with my large extended family who lives in the area.

Part of my healing for this year has been to return to my roots. When I found out last winter that my cousin was getting married this year I started earmarking the funds and reserved that space on our calendar.

My time out west was like a big family reunion. I belong to these people. They are my roots. I haven't written much about my extended family, as my writing is mostly about my internal life and the family Damien and I have created. But I come from a large, loving, extended family. My maternal and paternal families combined, I have eleven sets (all still married) of aunts and uncles. I have dozens and dozens of cousins ranging from younger than Brienne to established mid-lifers.

I grew up surrounded by most of these people, or within close proximity to them. A lot of my family lived in the same community, my parents worked with my aunts and uncles, I could walk to my grandparents' homes, we went to church together, we shared birthdays and holidays.

Since the end of my childhood, the family has spread across Canada and a few members down into the States. My own birth family - my parents in Nova Scotia, our family in Maine and now Quebec, and my brother's family in Ontario - has moved the farthest from the epicenter of central Alberta that was the cradle of my growing years. But I belong to these people, they watched me grow, they prayed me up and continue to care from afar (there was quite a family hue and cry after this post last year). And on this visit I was folded back into them. Into their kitchens, into their middle-aged auntie wisdom, into their love.

In the weeks bookending the wedding trip we had to buy school supplies for co-op classes, fall clothes for growing teens, a dress for the wedding, Student Vote class was ramping up to the actual vote, homeschool co-op was starting, and there was the election. There was a lot going on and I had despaired a bit that the glory of fall, those oh-too-brief, jaw-droppingly beautiful autumn days, would pass me by while I was too busy.

But they didn't. Fall waited, and we found our groove.

This fall, everyone is adjusting to a busier study schedule - assignments, research projects, presentations, quizzes, etc. I have two scholars now and they need more time for their studies. As we figure out how to make sure kids have time for studies and projects, time for exercise and outdoors, and time to chill in the evening as a family, I've taken over supper prep. But I don't make lunches or snacks so it's probably about the same food-prep load I was carrying last winter, which is doable.

I've figured out when to do the grocery shopping, the night we do a store-bought frozen meal (hoping this workshop will maybe shift that to homemade frozen), and the day I can spend more time making supper (because once in a while I like to do that). I've found a routine for paying the bills and managing paperwork and that blessed time of the week I reserve just for me. Writing has even found a space again, at least four days a week.

Disappointingly, I realized I couldn't commit to volunteering this season, something I started late summer, when I have out-of-the house homeschool co-op, home management, and church commitments almost every day of the week. I am a homebody at heart.

I'm still trying to figure out how and if I will walk/move outdoors/exercise every day. There are a couple days in my week that it just doesn't seem possible, we'll see. I know come winter, I need to be outdoors every day. No skiing into the woods this year. But winter is a new season, the routine will shift again post-holiday. I'll work it out then.

Speaking of winter (how can you talk about mid-fall without referencing winter), I've dug my happy light out of storage in Laurent's closet and zentangle by it each morning, followed by morning mediation and readings. I've ordered my fall and early winter supply of multi-vitamins, in addition to the supplements I take for anxiety and mental health.

October and November is my season to pro-actively prepare for the winter ahead. Along with finding the mittens and assessing which kid(s) outgrew their boots, this is the time of year for me to establish and nurture habits and source helpful tools that will hopefully keep me invigorated through the winter.

But let's not linger there right now. October, though marked with some pain, has also been beautiful and healing.

I am really satisfied with the homeschool vibe we have going and the opportunities and friends our kids have here. I'm going to focus on that, grateful for memorable summer that is now passed and anticipating the season of Big Birthdays and Christmas celebrations just around the corner.

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.

This post has affiliate links.

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!

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