High School

This is the sixth and final (phew!) post in a series on vocation, marriage and work.

Just to re-cap where we left off in this story.

One of the four parts of Project Home & Healing was to Craft a Vision, and that piece has remained elusive for me.

Last year I didn't even bother thinking about it because I wanted to build this vision from a solid foundation, but first of all I had to work on that foundation. I knew it had to be a vision for me, not for Us, but of course it had to fit into Us. And I wanted it to be a vocation-related vision.

This year I felt it was time to step back into online work to see if I could figure that out. I didn't have a clear vision but maybe vision is overrated, and it was more important to just "do stuff", or maybe I would find one through bumbling around. Hey, anything's possible, right?

For years I have admired a specific handful of women working online. I am inspired by their quality of work, personal integrity, and success. Each of these women, and what they do, is different, but as I've watched them grow their businesses or grow their blogs over the past couple years, I've experienced two things. I've been inspired to think about how I might do something similar, and I've been discouraged and fearful that I'm washed up, already a has-been, haven't come near my potential and had no idea what my potential was to begin with. I missed the boat. These feelings of discouragement are not a helpful, or even true, mindset.

Then there is the matter of finances. To date, this is our most resource-intense season of raising kids. And it's only going to get "worse" before it gets better. Helping our kids with post-secondary education, perhaps starting businesses, weddings and establishing their own households; these are the investments and expenses that will help launch them into adulthood. Do we feel responsible to provide everything for these needs? Absolutely not, but we live in challenging economic times and where possible we want to help our emerging adults make a successful transition to the next stage of their lives.

So earlier this year I felt I had to "do something".

I needed to do something to "reach my potential". I needed to tackle an online project to help me get back in the game. I needed to help contribute to our finances. I had taken a year off from thinking along these lines, partly by choice, partly by necessity, but at the beginning of this year I decided to move forward, vision or no vision. So I started two projects: a writing project and the creation of an online soap course.

I felt compelled to do both for entirely different reasons. I knew the soap course could make money, the model is fairly clear and I know the market. I get how it works. I have no vision for how the writing project earns money, it's just something I need to write.

I worked at both endeavors through the winter and the spring. I worked some weekends. I worked while Damien took the kids to co-op on Mondays. But when late spring hit and all my energies were consumed by home and homeschooling (my first vocation) I started to get very frustrated and angsty about not moving forward on my projects. I felt like I had to prove to myself that I could do it, by golly, that I had it in me to produce and sell, and to help support our family this way. I needed to push harder.

And yet, I know through painful experience, the answer for me in these situations is not pushing, but pondering. Pushing takes strength and is often necessary in many areas of our lives to do the hard work of living. But stopping to ponder, and to listen, takes courage and is equally as necessary to find discernment into where we should invest our strength, where we should push.

I was very frustrated with my situation (these kids are taking so much of my time!) and with myself, and All. The. Things. I lacked internally and externally to move forward with my ideas.

I was paddling upstream, and I was unsure: was this a situation requiring strength to keep paddling or the courage to re-assess and change course? I do a lot of paddling upstream in my life in terms of society's expectations and values, sometimes it's hard to differentiate when I'm supposed to paddle and when I'm supposed to flow.

And then summer came, and our trip, and though initially I had hoped to find traction on my projects in the change of pace for the summer, I soon resolved myself to a different path. I set my intentions to embrace what was right in front of me. And I had a great summer.

I still hadn't resolved the issue of the stagnating projects and the deeper issue for me of my lack of vision, but I resolved for summer to just stop worrying about it. Our trip out west this summer felt once-in-a-lifetime, the kids hurtling as they are to independence. I didn't want to spend it over-analyzing and working away on a project with the mountains right outside our door.

I talked with friends and family about my frustrated efforts over spring. Conversations with Katie, Krista and my Mom were especially helpful. And then as we were driving home, somewhere in Illinois, I articulated the whole mess to Damien. I explained my frustrations with myself and the situation. Is there a problem with me that I can't progress on my goals? What is wrong with me?

I talked about my motivations to get back in the game and the desire to earn money to alleviate some of our financial strain. We discussed if it was maybe time for me to get a job, instead of trying to produce and sell a product online. And what kinds of income-earning jobs I might be suited for and enjoy doing (after years of being self-directed and independent). Perhaps more to the point, what kind of jobs could I possibly pick-up, without training and experience, that could come close to the remuneration that Damien's work can earn for our family.

We talked about our past experience of working together. We asked ourselves if that was an option we wanted to explore again, without all the emotional insecurities from the first time around.

Then we came back to the reality of the present, which is that I already have a full-time job! Which is why I was finding it so hard to move forward on other projects. This is a time-intense season of homeschooling for our family. It's a time-intense season of raising kids, period. More time-intense than I had anticipated years ago when I envisioned this stage of family life.

And we concluded we'd rather have the stress of home-educating our kids on a single self-employed, middle class income, allowing us to spend our days together and for me to have the time to invest in a community that supports this endeavor, than the stress of me working for an enterprise or a mission outside of family, pulling my energies away from these final years of homeschooling, pulling my energies away from the work I am clearly called to do, and love to do.

What this meant practically, is that I shelved the soap course. Even though I'd already worked many hours on it. I felt the sting of not-good-enough, especially since this is the second time I've shelved that course. I still want to do it, my material is still here but it's not the right timing for family life.

The writing project however, those words I just have to write, it stays. And that block of writing time has been back on the schedule since late summer. I don't know how and when I will publish what I'm writing. It might be my first book, or maybe a course. I'm not hung-up on what it will become. I'm doing the work of getting that Idea into the physical world.

The freedom to make this decision, to say, it's not the right season to pursue income-earning work, is a privilege, I realize. But it's also the result of a long string of choices we've made over the years about how we prioritize our values.

This is what we set out to do, twenty years ago: to make a home together, have a family, support our kids and each other, stay married, build community and relationships, homeschool our kids through high school.

The Big Vision, the Big Goal. I'm doing it, right now. It's hard work. I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task (what were we thinking?)

But this is one of the most clear callings in my life. The calling of creating and raising a family, providing a home and an education for our children.

What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity - the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.
~ Parker Palmer

In a way, we've arrived. Of course once you arrive at one destination, you're aiming for the next. And that is what I have been trying to craft a vision for, but I'm still so invested in the present work, I don't have a lot of imagination for the time after this. And I'm coming to understand that that's ok.

I've been comparing myself to other women (oh this is such a weak area for me, comparing myself) who build online-based careers and homeschool, and I figured I should be able to do that also. There is still potential for that but I'm not interested in juggling a bunch of jobs, or working evenings and weekends to build a career, a blog, a business. As it is, those hours are already full with the work (& leisure) of homemaking, mothering, marriage, community building, and taking care of myself (which by the way, is not last on the list in terms of priority).

Do I want to earn money? Yes. To be paid for what you do brings a unique satisfaction. Do I want to relieve some of Damien's burden to provide for our family? Definitely yes. But he has a responsibility to fulfill, as do I, and both Damien and I agree that income-earning is not my responsibility at this point of marriage and family life. I don't want that stress, on top of the existing stresses of my life. And Damien doesn't want a stressed-out wife on top of his existing stresses. Because let's be real, it's not like me working a very part-time job, which is all I'd barely have time to do, while sacrificing other things that bring me joy, is going to significantly alleviate financial burdens.

Acknowledging that my full-time work right now is home and family almost feels like a betrayal of previous goals and dreams of mine: to partner with my husband in earning an income, to be a professional blogger (I still want this but I'm not sure the right path for me), to join the ranks of creative entrepreurial moms working online. But it's not a betrayal of course, it's an deepening awareness of self and the evolution of family life.

Looking for a vision and trying to earn money when it's not what I feel called to do for our family right now, divides and diverts my energies from the work I clearly feel called, and equipped, to do.

And so it's back to Let Your Life Speak and asking myself, "Renee, what is your life telling you that you are called to do?"

I am called to build a garden. I am called to contribute to the village of our homeschool co-op. I am called to be a friend and life-partner to Damien. I am called to write. I am called to take care of our home in the way that I do; with good management, attention to order, beauty, and details. I am called to be a mom. I am called to study and learn. I am called to build community and make connections. I am called to do the work of Christ (which is to love), with the body of Christ, in the city of Montreal. I am called to appreciate beauty. I am called to get to know and care for our neighbors. I am called to be still in the presence of the Spirit. I am called to have relationship-building, beauty-questing, and health-supporting adventures with my husband. I am called to speak freedom and courage into people's lives because these are the most hard-won and difficult things for me to live. I am called to read good books and ponder what they say. I am called to share my space, share my life.

Vocation at its deepest level is, "This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully comprehend myself but that are nonetheless compelling."
~ Parker Palmer

Some of these callings are vocations and others are just such ordinary things I feel they are hardly worth being described as a calling. And yet, I'm coming to see that those things I can't not do, because they are part of my Essence, an expression of true self, which is to say: the Holy Spirit moving through me, working in harmony with how God knit me together, are in fact my callings.

And right now, I have three very clear vocational callings: homemaking, homeschooling, and writing.

I made the mistake of thinking I ought not to write because I wasn’t making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had not business to spend hours every day at the typewriter… I was looking in the wrong mirrors.
~ Madeline L'Engle

I can't say I've made that mistake, but I have scratched my head raw sometimes thinking about how to earn money from writing. Perhaps I was seeking a validation or justification for something which needs no external reward to begin with. I simply want to write, and continually get better at it.

These days, Damien and I are actively discussing, after a year and a half hiatus on the subject, our vision for the next stage of life. We are listening to each other's hearts and asking ourselves, how do I support my spouse to be everything she/he feels called to be? What was once a wound and a broken place is slowly healing. And I'm finally starting to understand the vision he's had for that last five years (the one I tried to support) is not about a specific product, website, or project, but is about becoming the best of what we can be, together and individually, to build a solid future together. A future we are both excited to walk into. It's about the next Big Thing.

We have a mutual understanding of each other at this point that we did not have before. We don't have all the answers, or even most of the answers, for how we will achieve our desires, but we have self-awareness and an awareness of the other that has been hard-won.

We’ve each disentangled ourselves, bit by bit, from the thicket of couplehood, and have emerged scarred after plucking out thorns of need, resentment, jealousy, and feel equal, and distinct, and secure in ourselves. Still, increasingly, we realize that it’s our love for one another that feeds our separate strengths.
~ Beth Powning

What am I aiming for in a career, a vocation, in my work? What is my vision?

Quite simply to do the work before me, and live the things I'm called to do. And I'm trusting that the work in front of me will evolve into the next stage. I don't need to be frustrated or feel forced. Perhaps instead of paddling upstream I can find a movement in which to flow.

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice "out there" calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.
~ Parker Palmer

Oddly, what I've learned is that the making of self is more a matter of yielding than forcing, it is like a gradual clarifying, and the slow, surprising emergence of an unexpected shape.
~ Beth Powning

Within the next couple years, as our kids start graduating, I want to start income-earning work. I want to be able to financially help launch our kids into adulthood and to help fund more travel and adventures with my husband. I want to contribute financially to our goals for the future. At least I say that now, maybe our path will take me in another direction, but that's where I'm currently aiming. Maybe it will be a job that builds on my previous career as a homeschooler, maybe it will be something brand new. Maybe I will work with my husband again, joining forces in projects or a business venture. Maybe I will earn income as a writer. Maybe I will tap into my organization, management and administrative skills and join a team of some kind.

I have a lot of competencies, skills, and experience that would make me an asset to many different types of organizations and structures. I see a lot of options in the future. And I see writing, homemaking (I started before the kids came along and I'll continue when they are gone), travel and adventure, beauty seeking, community and relationship-building as integral parts of who I am, regardless of a career path.

Right now, I'm not trying to figure out that future career, instead, I'm putting my efforts into what I'm clearly called to do and I'm playing with the Ideas that spark my curiosity. My chief aim is not to produce a product, find a job, or grow an email subscriber list. My goal right now is to nurture a sense of inner confidence, in all my callings, from a place of deep security and well-being. This is a spiritual path, not an employment one.

High-functioning Sixes are self-confident and self-affirming because they have learned to recognize and trust their own inner guidance. Their faith in themselves often manifests as outstanding courage and leadership. They lead from a deep understanding of people's insecurities and frailties, and others respond to them, seeing their sincerity and willingness to be honest about their own weaknesses. They nurture an egalitarian spirit, a sense that there really are not leaders and followers, just different people with different talents finding ways to combine them for a common good. This desire to engage, to find common ground, and to work for everyone's mutual safety and benefit is a gift that our species needs for survival.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

A working relationship with Damien, or anyone else for that matter, can't provide what God alone can give. Following, leading, "being good", "doing the right thing", managing well, having success in marriage, mothering, homeschooling, blogging, vocation, career, etc., none of that can secure what can only come from within.

These have been Big Lessons for me. Hard lessons. To be broken, to be in unhealthy places emotionally and mentally and to re-build from those is not how I wanted to find security or freedom.

I thought I had to Craft a Vision to help me find my footing. But the path for me, the way I can step strong and sure, is to walk in the confidence of who I am and whose I am even though I don't have a Big Vision for my post-homeschooling vocation.

Someday, maybe, I'll have a clear income-earning vocation vision. Or maybe, someday, I might just look around and see I'm already doing it.

For the past couple weeks I've been trying to get back into the head and heart space to return to a series I had started nearly two years ago on homeschooling through high school.

The work of homeschooling through high school is my main job right now. And of course when I say this to the uninitiated, they imagine me to be all manner of things that I am not: a high school biology teacher, English teacher, history teacher, etc... I have to explain to people, over and over again (I meet a lot of new people, which is a blessing since I love encounters with new people), I don't teach the high school subjects to my kids. In fact, I've "taught" very few subjects over the last twelve years of homeschooling.

I manage our home for learning and loving. I gather resources. I facilitate. I research ideas. I make connections. I do my best to answer many, many questions and to point my kids in the direction of the answers I'm unable to provide. But the actual teaching of lessons is not something I have done very much of in our homeschool. Nor do I lesson plan, or grade papers. I don't give assignments. It's not my style, or my strength, or my interest. If lessons are necessary I usually outsource that, to the myriad of resources readily available to homeschoolers or I search and source from obscure and not-so-obvious options.

After years of modeling this self-directed method of learning - do you want to know something? want to learn something? well, I'm certain a resource exists out there for you to learn from, a person, a course, an experience, let's find it - our scholar students do this on their own. They find resources and learning opportunities to support their goals. It's a rewarding process.

But that's actually not what I'm attempting to write through today. I want to talk about the high school blog series.

I started that series eighteen months ago. We lived on the Gaspe Peninsula. Celine was fifteen, grade 10 age. And looking back, Laurent was just about to start his transition to high school, or what we call, the scholar years.

I had envisioned writing that series as a string of posts about our experience with Celine's high school thus far. I wanted to share what it looked like have an interest-driven, love of learning, freedom mindset as we homeschooled through high school. I had a bunch of posts written in draft form and I thought I could finish them up and spit them out in a reasonable time frame. But I couldn't follow through on my plans. I was struggling with my anxiety, we moved to Montreal, and I was learning things about myself and my marriage, and I had to live and write my way through those experiences first.

And in the midst of all that our homeschool went through a big change also. We became members of a homeschool co-op, for the first time in our homeschooling experience. A most needed and necessary change for our children (that's why we moved to Montreal, to have these kind of experiences), and as it turns out, a beneficial change for me also.

Though our participation in a co-op extends me in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable (following someone else's schedule, the commute, the iron sharpening iron effect of a whole bunch of homeschool moms working together) the benefits of belonging to a homeschooling community at this stage of our journey outweigh the sacrifices required to make it happen. The sometimes difficult truth is that the sacrifices I make are part of the growth I need to go through at this stage of my life.

It takes effort, like all worthwhile endeavors, but the co-op is such a good thing for our family, for me, for our kids. The friendships, the academic opportunities, the drama production, the mentoring of my teenaged children by other adults with a similar worldview but a different way of doing things, all of which is to say, belonging to a village, has been transformational in our homeschool experience. Now that we are here and belong to this group, I can't imagine doing it any other way at this stage. I feel belonging to the co-op, which includes a substantial amount (in homeschool numbers) of high school aged kids, is a big part of what is making homeschooling through high school possible for us, especially when it comes to our youngest, who is not yet in high school, but is the most social of our kids and the most inclined to want to "go to school", if only for the social opportunities available there.

And so here I am, nearly at the end of Celine's high school years, she'll graduate next spring, shepherding Laurent through his own high school path, and anticipating what the baby's high school years will look like and thinking it is high time to get back to that series.

But it's been hard to pick it back up, as is, when so much has changed in the last couple years. I've been stumped for a while about what to do with this and feeling rather blocked. And then it came to me that I need to change the structure I originally set-up and move forward with what is, not with what was. I need to change the design.

I'm restructuring The Homeschooling through High School series from a Series to a Library.

Organizing is one of my loves. It is my happy place. It's my flow state. Which means I like to organize the heck out of my blog. The upgrade and re-launch of my blog will feature better organizing tools for me, because organizing my writing is really important to me.

The new blog (which will be a better and renamed version of my current blog) will organize posts several ways.

Every post will belong to categories, the more the merrier. Well not really, but almost. I used to feel I had to limit these and I found that restrictive for many years. And then, I was like, "this is my own damn blog, why am I limiting myself in my own space!?" So I've been adding categories here, there, everywhere. It makes me happy. But those aren't necessarily extremely useful for other people. And I want what I write here and how people find that information to be accessible, practical, and useful. And so I've created two other ways of categorizing posts - Series and Resource Libraries.

Series already exist on my blog, but not as their own tag. In their current form, series are awkward to navigate and organize. That will change.

Libraries also exist on the blog right now as "Resources". These are getting a facelift and the path to find them will be obvious. Clarity, ease of use, accessible information - all of this is really important to me. And it's coming soon. I'm so excited.

Back to the Homeschooling through High School Series. It's no longer a series. It's a Resource/Library. Currently you can find it here.

Now, instead of feeling stuck with the structure I originally created, which was linear, I can write these posts in a more organic open-ended way, jumping around from Celine in her final year, to Laurent in his first year, and soon to Brienne's transition and start of high school. Gulp. I can share the stories and philosophy of our high school experience, without worrying about where it fits into a series.

In reality, most of you probably never even notice all this organization, and may have no idea what I'm talking about. Posts appear, you read them and perhaps the fact that they are part of something bigger doesn't even register. That's ok. The structure and design matters to me and those largely unseen elements either enable and support the writing I want to do, or frustrate the process.

Which brings me to design. (Stay with me folks, it all ties together.)

I was listening the other night to an On Being podcast. Krista Tippett was interviewing Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. One of the things that really caught my attention in that interview was Jimmy's assertion that the software design of Wikipedia is largely responsible for the type of culture and community that wikipedia is advancing. For example, much of the commenting software in the larger news and media culture relies on understaffed administrative oversight to moderate comments. The actual software design does not allow the community to have genuine control of their environment, as Wales says, "the software doesn't let me do anything other than yell at people". Wales also says this about Wikipedia software design,

... at Wikipedia, there's a lot of different options. So if somebody posts an inflammatory comment, because our comment pages are just Wiki pages — they're editable pages — anyone can come and delete a comment. And that happens quite often. If somebody comes and says something incredibly nasty, somebody else will just come along and just say — delete it and remark “removing personal attack.”... at most websites, the only people who can ban people are employees. So employees of the newspaper read all the comments, and if somebody's being really vile and abusive, they'll block them.

Well, in our case, that isn't done in the main by employees at the Wikimedia Foundation. It's done by the community, by trusted community members who've been elected and who are held accountable for how they do it. So it's a lot of things like that that mean that, in addition to having a culture that says we want to have goodwill, we want to achieve quality work here, we also have the tools, that we have other options other than just yelling at people.

This is a matter of design; the philosophy of the organization informs the software design, the software design enables certain kinds of community participation (and excludes others), and this creates a culture. Fascinating.

The structure, the design of a thing, is largely unseen but has a lot of power to either support and help achieve your aims or it can do the opposite, frustrate your efforts, cause roadblocks.

My point here is this, design matters, the structures we set up will encourage and allow for certain types of activities, and not others. Designers know this, it's probably some kind of first principle in design school. I'm not a designer, and I've never seen myself through that lens. But we're all designers at some level. We design a life. We design our homes in simple things like how we arrange the furniture. People renovate homes to improve design, they hire architects and builders. We do all this to enable certain kinds of interactions, opportunities and relationships to exist and flourish. In this way we create a certain culture in our families and communities.

After listening to that interview, I started to have a new grid, or new language even, for what it is I do as a homeschooler, how I approach this journey of lifelong learning. I tend to think in terms of management and organization, some homeschoolers think in terms of teaching and mentoring, but another way to look at is in terms or design and architecture.

All these years I've been designing a family life, a homelife, and the structures I've created, in our actual space (how we arrange the furniture) and in time (how we schedule our days, weeks, months) have allowed for certain experiences and excluded others. (And I can't say we've always included the good or the best, and excluded the worst.)

The design, whether it's intentional or not, will allow for a certain culture and climate to flourish.

This is not about having enough money to redesign your home. I live in an apartment. I'm not renovating this space. But I do have a lot of input, a lot of influence, in the design of our family life. And I'm not talking here about family mission statements. I'm talking about the "unseen" things, the way we encourage or discourage activities, behaviors and mindsets simply by how we arrange our life in time and space.

I am fascinated and inspired by the potential and opportunity that homeschooling provides families to design the life they want to live. The exploration of this, in idea and action, fires me up.

Back to the blog for a moment. I want to have a blog whose design supports my goals for publication; which is to create an intellectual and emotionally-engaging experience for readers with thoughtful, wholehearted writing and beautiful photography. And I want the organization, structure, and technology to facilitate this experience. What's so interesting is that my aims for homeschooling aren't that much different.

To wrap up, design matters. But we don't have to be a designer by vocation to take advantage of design principles in our lives. Jimmy Wales had big vision for what he was creating at Wikipedia, and the software was one of the tools that allowed for the growth of that vision. But that growth happens incrementally and each of us is on a path with the ability to make incremental and iterative changes in our lives. (That's some software speak for you.)

To get really meta here, being open to the non-linear iterative design process is a design mindset in itself.

This is a digital painting of McGill College Avenue in Montreal Quebec.
This and other hardcopy copy art is available for purchase from Laurent's etsy shop.

In a lot of areas I don't do Big Vision very well (I find them scary and intimidating), but for the things closest to my heart and the areas that I have some control over: homeschooling, marriage, and mothering I definitely have Big Vision. And design in those contexts is simply a matter of asking myself, in the daily flow of my life, does this tone of speech, pace in our schedule, expenditure, curriculum choice, opportunity, etc. move me, move my family, along the path of that vision? And if not, how can I adjust, what can I tweak in my systems, schedules, and mental constructs to be more supportive of those goals?

How can I change or improve the design to create the culture I want: in my life, in my family, on my blog, in my community.

I feel like we did something right and good for our family, for me, by traveling this summer. I don't know if summer in the city would have achieved the same effect, but life has a very different vibe, the beginning of September, than it did at the end of June.

The kids' spring schedule was intense with the drama production and year-end co-op projects, those priorities consumed us. Co-op wrapped up, I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and we shifted gears into a June busy with different kinds of priorities, checking off tasks, meeting deadlines. Taking care of the things that must be done (appointments, scheduling more appointments), being a responsible citizen (filing tax returns in two countries); you know, just managing a home, a business, a family.

Some of those deadlines were about our trip, like getting our house ready for six weeks of guests and housesitters who stayed in our apartment during our absence. I loved this part, by the way, preparing a welcoming space for friends and strangers. And it was a great opportunity at the end of the spring season to de-clutter, purge and organize our belongings. I was very satisfied with that experience.

Then we left and life shifted into working-vacation/visit family/drive cross-country mode.

At the beginning of our trip I made a list for myself of goals and intentions for the summer, and like I said in that post, "anxious, uptight, and frustrated" were not on the list. My intentions guided my actions and my attitude, through the great parts of our trip and not so great parts. And I feel that setting my intentions (which is not the same as a to-do list or checklist) for the summer, was a very helpful guide for me when I did experience anxiety, frustration and stress.

After the usual stressful transition period upon our arrival home (I'm always stressed and anxious during transitions) I've settled into the most relaxed and at-ease mental and emotional space I've experienced all year.

I stopped taking my supplements for the summer; all those vitamins, minerals, and herbs that are intended to fill any nutritional gaps and help me manage anxiety. I stopped partly because we were traveling but also just to take a break from pills. I haven't started back up again, though I probably will sometime this month. It feels nice to feel good without the help from ashwagandha, St. John's Wort, magnesium, a multivitamin, DHA, and vitamin D (making that one myself right now). Those are great. I often need them, and would take a few of these regardless of anxiety, but right now I'm just taking a break from pills.

a trip to Burlington, VT

Coming home after a long trip felt a bit like a fresh start and I used the opportunity to tweak some behaviors and habits of mine. One thing I've done is to I re-boot my morning routine, getting up with more consistency at 6:30/7:00. I'm going to bed by 10:30/11:00 so this is not a problem. I give myself till 9am to write. Just write. (And make a cup of coffee.) No email. No reading. No breakfast. (I don't need it till later.) If I get up at 6:30 I get a solid 2 hours of writing. I am loving this.

I'm also back to meditating regularly. Which is literally allowing me to breathe deep.

The biggest change to my routine is the time I spend checking e-mail/Facebook. I've cut way back. My goal is to check and respond to e-mail twice a day, mid-morning or around lunch (after I've spent time on activities more important to me) and again around supper-time. (And definitely not before bed.) This is also generally when I read the handful of blogs I follow, as most of the blogs I read I follow via e-mail.

I will deal with school related e-mail during my planning sessions (it's homeschool planning season for me) and financial e-mails during my bookkeeping hours (approximately one afternoon a week) but everything else I'm trying to keep to two discrete times per day. And I'm much more judicious with how and when I use FB, becoming really aware of how I mis-use that app on my phone.

I am tired of the effects on my life (I can feel pressured and frantic) when I don't respect my personal limits around text, e-mail and Facebook. So I've re-evaluated my intentions and goals in these areas and the result is a more relaxed state of mind.

I've been working in the garden, I can actually start to call it that now (as the space is transforming from weedy yard into flowers). An honest-to-goodness vegetable and herb garden is taking shape behind the garage. I started preparing the area last fall with the lasagna gardening technique of covering the sod/weeds/stuff-you-want-to-kill with cardboard and then layering that with organic material. I used leaves for my organic material, because leaves is what I had available to me. I collected bags of leaves from neighbors' driveways, which they had left for the city to pick-up as it does each fall.

Fast forward to this August when we arrived home from our trip. The "garden" looked like a jungle. We have a vining plant, I don't know the name, that takes over if not cut back. That vine plant had blanketed the garden space, covering any evidence of my lasagna gardening technique. Since our return, I've been ripping out those vines and digging out the persistent dandelions that grew through the cracks in the cardboard. This summer's vining branches ran on top of last fall's lasagna layers, but there are old and established horizontally growing roots under those layers also. I've been doing the satisfying work of ripping out all those roots and finding that the lasagna layers did their job in killing everything else (except those dandelions) and have mostly composted into the soil.

And that's my point, I'm starting to get soil in the garden where there was once a mat of weedy grass, overgrown yarrow, and rampant vines. I'm creating a garden!

And while I do that work I get to appreciate the fruits of my spring labors, minimal though they were, enjoying the wildflower mix, zinnias, sunflowers, morning glories and cosmos I seeded in May. I am satisfied that the bees are visiting my backyard and my elderly francophone neighbors are smiling on, from the upper balcony and over the fence, encouraging my efforts, grateful to see a neglected yard nurtured into beauty.

One of the principles I live by is to leave a place better than you found it. I can't always do this, I have my inconsistencies and areas of incongruence, but in the case of this yard, I'm living according to my values. And that brings me immense satisfaction.

There are times I feel dismayed at the slow progress. I want a beautiful yard and I want it now.

Wouldn't it have been nice if the yard was lovely when we moved in? But I had a revelation this spring about the yard and building gardens back there. Transforming that space is part of my calling in this season of life. I'm called to create beauty here where there was none before. It wasn't pretty when I moved here because that's my job to do. I do this for my neighbors and I do this for my soul. It's part of the reason I live in this particular apartment, it's a gift I have to share that comes naturally, it's part of who I am.

I am tempted to make some kind of self-deprecating remark, downplay the significance of this awareness.

I won't do that.

My dad has been here for a few days, he left this morning. He's taking a roadtrip on his Suzuki V-Strom adventure bike through Quebec, Vermont, NH, Maine, and NB before returning home to Nova Scotia. His time here and the essence of his trip, man and the open-road, feels like a late summer celebration of life.

During his visit we ate on the patio. Using the reclaimed-from-the-rubbish tables I found in the garbage last year and bringing out our collapsible dining room chairs, one of our key pieces of small space living furniture.

It gives me enormous pleasure to have cultivated a small garden that beautifies the space where we shared those meals, even though the rest of the yard still needs a lot of work. It's a project-in-progress and I've made peace with that.

Having my dad here was wonderful. As I've gone through struggles in the past few years with anxiety and insecurity, my relationship with him has only deepened. Dad's gotten to know me more through my writing, he reads all my posts. My truth-telling and discoveries, and the stories he's shared with me in kind, have revealed our shared history and experience with these struggles.

We understand ourselves better looking in the mirror of the other and we understand each other better looking into self. This connection with my dad, whom I've always admired and respected, but not had the empathetic relationship we do now, is a gift to me. My dad's heart beats for his wife, his children and grandchildren, building, and now his bike. To know that he cares so deeply for me and knows me, not just as the child I was, but the woman I am - is the best gift a grown woman can receive from her parents. To be known intimately and to be loved. (Thank you Dad.)

September is traditional back-to-school time but our yearly learning schedule - what we're doing and when we're doing it - is fluid. We don't "finish" in June and we don't "start" in September, and we take long and short breaks throughout the year that sometimes correspond with the school system, but mostly do not.

An aside: While I'm talking about homeschooling, it's worth mentioning that since Celine is seventeen at the start of this school year the compulsory education laws no longer apply, which is to say: the government/local school board no longer has any say or oversight in how we homeschool her. We're not registered with a school board to begin with, so no governing bodies interfere with our homeschool anyway, but they could, if they wanted to. But not for Celine, not any more. And that feels pretty darn good to me.

This is the time of year when I plan the school year ahead and try to make sense of the one that just ended (recording and documenting the learning that happened). When the kids were little I did this wrap up and portfolio prep in July and August. Then for a while I didn't do very much "wrap up" and my record keeping got rather haphazard, which is not how I like to operate. And since moving to Montreal I've been really trying to get on the ball with this, for personal piece of mind (this area of my life feels out of order) and for necessity as I now have two high schoolers and Celine is graduating next year. I must get this stuff in order.

That's my big focus this month, to curate her work from the last few years, and to set up the templates and systems to start creating her transcript and graduation portfolio. She'll be involved in this process but I have to get the structure established first. Then I can work on it over the coming year and use a similar set-up to start recording Laurent's work.

I've been in information-gathering mode for the last year. Talking to other homeschool parents how they go about graduating their kids. Getting the low-down on how to get a Quebec high school diploma, if Celine chooses that route. Attending information sessions both at our co-op and at a homeschool convention this past June on "how to prepare a portfolio", "how to get into Concordia or McGill (or other universities) from homeschooling", "why you don't need CEGEP" (that's applicable for us Quebeckers), etc.

I've got the all the information and now I need to apply it to our situation; to package and be able to present (if needed) Celine's self-directed, interest-driven, very non-standard (even by homeschool standards) high school education. I have my work cut out for me, but I'm also excited to see how it has all come together for her, and for us, in ways I could not have imagined at the outset of this journey.

The kids have been at their studies for a few weeks already, according to their own initiatives. They have goals they want to accomplish and stuff they want to do. Celine is currently taking two online classes with Coursera; The History of Rock and Fundamentals of Music Theory through the University of Rochester and University of Edinburgh, respectively. Buying a guitar and learning to play it (she'd never played the guitar before buying her own) has opened up a whole world to her, both in terms of knowledge and academic skills, such as note-taking.

The skills and knowledge she's learning while taking these courses is awesome, of course, but the fact that there is music in our home, arising from a motivated and interested learner, is so satisfying to me.

When there is art going on in one room and guitar playing in another, or sometimes both in the same room, I'm in my blissed out homeschool mother place.

Our family will be a part of the homeschool co-op again this year and it is such a relief to me that co-op doesn't start till October. I need this month of late summer to transition and establish things around the home before we once again commit ourselves to classes, lots of driving, and someone else's agenda.

Brienne is not happy that co-op starts in a month, she wants it to start now. She loves socializing and being with many friends, she loves going to class, loves the external expectations. She's in-between right now. In-between projects, in-between goals, and those times can be hard and require patience and trust, for both the learner and guide/parent. Co-op is a clear route out of feeling stuck, uninspired, and unmotivated. Which has both advantages and disadvantages. It's important not to short circuit or short cut the discomfort of uncertainty in the self-motivated learning process.

All of our kids love co-op and excelled last year in the structured learning environment and worked hard at their classes (receiving excellent grades) on their own initiative. And I love the vision of this co-op, the people we've met there, the excellent teaching, and finally finding a village. We're all excited to be going back, this time not as the new kids but as regulars. We know what to expect and are anticipating it.

And this sense of anticipation is part of this season.

I've got my own learning to do this month.

I'm getting serious now about going through the resources from the Herb & Essential Oils Super Bundle and putting together my plan for cold & flu season. I've already bought a few highly recommended prepared remedies as well as started to purchase herbs at the market. My pile is growing on the kitchen counter. I'll be putting together a plan of action, and sourcing, preparing, and organizing the accompanying oils, herbs, and remedies so I am ready this year.

September is also a month of a few adventures. Laurent will be off to work with my dad again sometime mid-month. He's ready to learn more carpentry skills and he needs to earn some money to pay for art classes.

two of the three most handsome men I know

We're fitting in some family hiking days, hiking in September is such a joy, and a little getaway for Damien and I. My Dad gave us a financial gift for our 20th anniversary. We had brief thoughts of buying things we want but the most compelling option was to seed a marriage adventure/travel fund and take regular weekend trips over the next year. A year long 20th Anniversary celebration.

We both miss the outdoors. We have lots of gear for four season backcountry and frontcountry adventures. And our kids are old enough to stay home, alternately we have friends we can farm them out to for a weekend. The idea of spending a full weekend, every couple months, just the two of us, outdoors in beautiful places - backpacking and tenting, backcountry winter skiing to hidden refuges in the mountains, or even discovering quaint towns in the Eastern Townships or northern Vermont - is exactly the way I want to celebrate being married for twenty years and start dreaming about the next twenty. The fund will help to pay for park fees and refuge rentals and dinners in nice restaurants on the way home from the adventure. To know that we have the means and opportunity in front of us to have these regular adventures brings me so much joy and will contribute to my winter wellness also, because winter adventures and trips really help.

It's a good season, this late summer time of re-setting habits and establishing routines. An in-between season for some family members but for others a time of interesting studies, learning new skills, and preparations for further study. It's a season for looking back on Celine's high school journey, translating it into a language that makes sense for "the system", and helping her prepare for the next, as of yet undecided, stage of her journey. It's a season to start preparing for winter health and wellness. It's a season for having a few adventures and anticipating more.

The beginning of this year was ski season, which was shortened by a season of sickness. Then there was drama production season, followed by tax season. And the get-ready-for-our-trip, followed by the trip. And now this, a season that feels relaxed, yet purposeful and productive. For me, that's about as good as it gets.

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