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High School

This post is part my Homeschooling Through High School series. I apologize for such a long delay in continuing that series. Writing my way through the challenges and exciting happenings of this last year has taken priority over homeschool writing. Which is too bad because homeschooling through the high school years is really worth writing about.

I left off in that series talking about a goal-driven curriculum. This is not the next post I planned to publish, that one is still in draft mode and it's basically an overview of Celine's 10th grade year. I still plan to publish that post. I'm aiming to write one comprehensive summary for each year of high school.

Celine is in her third year of high school, grade 11. This year has been very different from grade 10, which was different from grade 9. We continue, as we always have, to figure it out as we go.

This is a sidetrack from those "grade" year summaries.

Like all my homeschool posts, this is a story of our family's experience. And in sharing our experience I hope to provide potential answers and inspiration about the following questions.

Can students succeed at high school level science with delayed math education and without elementary and junior high science courses? Ie: Can they do high school science having not followed the system in their younger years?

To tell the story of our experience with delayed math and "life" science education this post will also wind its way through the territory marked "my high schooler doesn't know what she wants to do after graduating".

There's a lot packed into this post, so let's jump in.

Eight years ago, I published a post called Homeschooling Highschoolers. It was a tad ambitious perhaps as Celine was only nine years old, Laurent seven and Brienne was five. But it's amazing how many people ask "what about high school?" when they find out you're homeschooling. I wrote that post in response to that question.

Those were the Core Phase and Love of Learning Phase years. (Those links are to Simple Homeschool where Jamie Martin describes the phases of Leadership Education, a philosophy we loosely follow.)


my heart, eight years ago

One of my aims in homeschooling was to build a family culture and environment for learning in which we would all thrive and enjoy our days together. That's a tall order and so of course we don't always hit the mark, and life throws curve balls, but at least I know what I'm aiming for.

Homeschooling my young kids was especially enjoyable. The pace was relaxed, we had a lot of fun. We still have fun of course but we also work hard and have more outside-the-home obligations and commitments. The energy has shifted from relaxed and easy-going to more structured and intense.

I feel this shift is completely natural and right, but it's still a little disorientating for me sometimes.

None of that has to do with math and science except that, it kind of does, because I didn't do much of either with the kids when they were young.

Like I wrote in that post I published eight years ago,

At this point with young ones our preferred curriculum is living books and our community...The people, places, art, culture, industries, museums, nature preserves, music and history unique to our area. These offer a wealth of learning and growth so we'll continue to tap the amazing resources in our community as our curriculum base.

The main academic skills I focused on in the Love of Learning years were reading, writing and math. But these were low-key endeavors. Reading was reading aloud to my kids and also teaching them to read. Celine caught on quick and was a voracious reader. The other two took quite a bit longer to learn.

I didn't use any packaged resources to teach writing, other than handwriting practice I didn't use workbooks. I roughly followed the The Brave Writer principles, emphasis on roughly. The kids wrote to communicate things, but there were no writing assignments in our home.

Math was always on the homeschool schedule but not always done in practice, and when we did do math, the lessons were "short & sweet".

My goal was not to complete the page but rather establish a familiarity with the ideas and practice using that part of our brains. We used different tools over the years, predominantly Math-U-See for early elementary and then one year of Teaching Textbooks later on. Our kids now use Life of Fred, Key To, and Khan Academy. Three kids, three different approaches.

But I have to tell you something, and I do so without any shame or embarrassment, our kids were always behind grade level in their math.

It wasn't important to me for them to be at grade level. We didn't do "the system" at home. We didn't track with the system either. I made our own curriculum, based on our values and who my kids were.

What was important was that the kids loved learning and that overall we were experiencing math concepts in our everyday life. I wanted math to be something very practical during the elementary years. And we weren't going to have tears over math.

I've talked about this before. There is a time for tears and frustration in formal learning but that time is not the early elementary years. To clarify, learners are always moving through frustration, it's an integral part of the learning process. Frustration is often the impetus for learning. Students will naturally experience a lot of frustration in self-directed projects and interest-driven learning. But in the elementary years or Love of Learning phase, I do not believe intense frustration should not be attached to academic lessons, unless the student is driving that experience.

It wasn't just my no-tears policy that slowed us down in math, it was life.

We lived by the seasons and if we were tired of lessons, we stopped. Brienne's birthday and American Thanksgiving in late November heralded a six week holiday season. There was mid-winter break for my own sanity. And when spring arrived, well forget about it, we spent as much time outdoors as possible. I also had other responsibilities and interests.

You get the picture. I just wasn't going to stress about keeping up with math in the bigger picture of our lives.

My philosophy was, and is, when they need to learn it, they will.

As for science, that was optional and self-directed; consisting mostly of nature study and backyard mucking about.

In the late elementary and early middle school years, roughly ages 10 through 13, I tried to do more science lessons with the kids. And I thought for sure as Celine was getting close to high school we needed to kick it up a notch in science.

Those plans were good for about two months, roughly October through November. And then science shifted back again into the realm of random videos, general reading, supper table discussions, more nature study and mucking about, with an increased focus on hands-on technology literacy.

We never made styrofoam models of atoms and molecules or jello molds of a cell, no volcanoes either. I bought a set of science experiment books that were never used. I bought the Story of Science (these are gorgeous books, I really like them), which has sadly met the same fate as the science experiment books.

The one tool that has been used most regularly is our microscope.

I had good intentions but it turned out I wasn’t the kind of parent who could pull together any sort of consistency in science lessons. I could be consistent in other areas: setting up our home and schedule for interest-driven learning, being outdoors together, reading, teaching good habits, etc. but I couldn't pull off middle school science education.

Fast forward to high school.

I'm going to revisit my post from eight years ago, in which I cast a vision for homeschooling our high schoolers.

We plan to homeschool our kiddos till they graduate from high school. Our children can learn from home any subject taught in school and as they grow we have several options to choose from. Every subject imaginable is available to purchase as curriculum - math, sciences, art, music, second languages - you name it. And for those areas of study that you personally can't teach, like dance or calculus you can always find some person or program that can.


In their high school years we may mix in (depending on interest and need) some public school classes and first year college courses.


We fully expect that as they near teenager years they will have a better idea of types of work they would find meaningful as adults. As they identify those we will, as a family, tailor their education to prepare for a life of meaningful, industrious, satisfying and creative work. If their desires and interests require vigorous academics, so be it. Or maybe they'll be looking for apprenticeships and mentoring.

A lot of my student-motivated, interest-driven, parent-guided education philosophy ideas have played out pretty well for us. But not all my ideas have proven true.

We have a teenager, who is nearly seventeen, who does not have any solid ideas of the work she might want to do as an adult. Nor does she have post-secondary (Depth phase) education/work experience/travel goals yet.

This is actually a tall order for a lot of kids. I see that now. We don't emphasis or stress the importance of a college degree or post-secondary schooling. We feel there are many paths in life. We do not grill our kids about "what they want to be when they grow up".

We do however help them identity their gifts ands strengths (that's nothing new) and discuss with them possible work and study options. And this year at co-op they are taking a Personal Finance course which also addresses goal setting with regards to careers/jobs/vocations.

In the high school years self-awareness and self-knowledge is an actual element of the Tougas family curriculum, along with math, literature, science & technology, Bible & religion, history, homemaking, etc...

It's not that we don't talk about this stuff.

Even so, "I want to study this, do this, go here, explore this... when I'm done homeschooling" has not yet been a reality in our homeschool.

This puts a kink in my original intention to build a high school curriculum around our kids' post-secondary goals.

My plan for high school was to help our kids prepare for whatever they wanted to do after high school. To tailor their high school experience for the next stage. But if there isn't a plan or goal for post-highschool, I felt I needed to create a guideline or default curriculum.

This may not be necessary for each of our kids, but it was necessary for Celine.

I created this guideline for my sake as much as Celine's sake.

I need to know when my homeschooling job is done with each of our children.

Of course we'll still be guiding and helping them through their young adult years, as they ask, but at some point I will no longer be homeschooling them. I needed to define when we've arrived at that point with Celine.

So last summer, between Celine's 10th and 11th grade years, I drafted the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements plan. (By the way, this does not grant our kids' an accredited high school diploma. That will be addressed, eventually, in my Homeschooling Through High School series, but I'm willing to discuss in the comments if you like.)

This plan takes into account the student, the work they've already accomplished (in this case, the studies of Celine's 9th and 10th grade years), their natural interests and strengths, as well as crucial areas they may neglect without guidance.

Over the years I've created an overarching curriculum we follow for all our kids but the specifics are different for each child. The same is true with the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements; which may not even be necessary for Laurent or Brienne if they devise a plan of their own for their high school years, based on what they want to do post-secondary.

And now we can return to the math and science story.

I don't believe all students need to study the full complement of natural sciences - physics, chemistry, and biology - in high school (or middle school for that matter).

But without a clear goal in mind I wanted Celine to choose at least one of these and complete a course of study.

I know my daughter. Celine is a technically-gifted person. One of her intelligence types is logical-mathematical and both Damien and I recognized that certain sciences, physics especially, would suit her quite well.

The Tougas High School Graduation Requirements does not lay out how the material must be learned. I don't require a certain program, textbook, or resource to be used, that's up to the student, in this case Celine.

This year we are part of a homeschool co-op. Every year this co-op offers a different high school level science class, taught by a knowledgeable tutor. They use the Apologia materials.

Last summer when I saw that the co-op would be offering Exploring Creation with Physics, I presented the option to Celine that she could take the course to fulfill her science requirement. It was completely optional, she could have chosen to work through a Khan course if she wanted, but the appeal of studying with other students and a ready-made program influenced her choice towards joining the course.

There are no high school level math requirements in the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements.

Our math requirements are these:

  • complete Pre-Algebra, which is approximately grade 8 level math
  • take a consumer/personal finance course
  • take the math you need to complete the science of your choosing

This doesn't mean the kids won't do more math, I just don't require it. It's their choice. If you're not going into a science or technology related field and if you're not going to university you don't need higher level math.

People who make their living using calculus, or who arrived at where they are having learned calculus may disagree with me. That's ok.

We all have different paths in life and I want my kids to spend their time in the pursuit of the things that inspire and intrigue them the most. And if math inspires them, fabulous. If dress making inspires them, that's fabulous also.

In the summer between her 10th and 11th grade years, Celine decided to take a college-prep level physics course to meet her science requirement.

At this point I will remind you what I said earlier about our Core and Love of Learning math and science studies. Non-rigorous is the best way to describe those years. Once Celine reached her Scholar phase there were large chunks of time when she didn't study math at all, including during our 6 month hike. Like I said, we've been behind "grade level" in math.

Having set her sights on a rigorous math-intense science course Celine got to work. In six weeks she used Khan Academy to bring her math from approximately grade 8 level to the level recommended by Apologia as the pre-requisite for their physics course - studying Algebra I and Geometry, and introduction to sine, cosine, and tangent.

Khan sends me weekly reports with how many minutes my students were on the site and what they were working on. In 2,486 minutes, or 41.43 hours, Celine moved through 2 "grades" of math, achieving grade level by working for 6.9 hours a week for 6 weeks.

That covers the math but what about all the science foundation that has to be laid before kids can study high school science?

Well, we didn't do it. At least not with any science lessons.

Our teaching method of videos, general reading, family discussions, nature study, talking about the scientific method, and as they got older, listening to science-heavy historical fiction and science-accurate science fiction (one of our favorite authors in this genre is Neal Stephenson) seemed to suffice.

Before her physics course this year Celine had never studied for a science test or written a science exam. She'd never heard many of the vocabulary terms in her textbook.

Has it been good grades and smooth sailing? Yes and no, respectively. Celine spent the first couple months "learning how to learn"; following a lecture once a week, how to use a textbook, and supplementing with Khan. We coached her on how to get the most out of her weekly class and how to manage her study time.

Like many homeschoolers Celine is motivated to master a subject, not just pass. She has excellent grades, even though we've never emphasized that as a family.

Celine experienced overwhelm. There were tears. And we re-assured her that learning how to work through those experiences was as important as the subject matter. We had complete confidence in her, we know this girl. But we can't take any credit, she does all the work. She figured out "the system" and now we don't hear much about physics.

Damien has been the go-to parent for this endeavor because I never did like physics, it was my least favorite science. I adored biology, and still do. I am looking forward to Laurent's high school science because I'm guessing this is the direction he'll go.

All homeschooling is non-standard to some degree or another; but not tracking with the grade mentality is a little further off the beaten track.

If you choose to step off the conveyer belt model of education there are always questions coming from within or without (or both) about how the kids will integrate into the system.

And really, what people want to know is will these kids have "what it takes"? Will they be too far "behind"? Can they "catch up"? Will it be too hard to catch up? If they don't learn to study as young children how will they build "study" skills? Oh, and my favorite, how will they develop discipline? A question I answer in this blog series.

I am not setting us up as the example. Every homeschool family does it differently.

We are behind, we are ahead, we are very average. My children are not precocious.

My point is simply this: you can choose to create your own system. A system based on phases of growth and development, not grades; a system defined by family values and learner needs; a system that allows for diversity and variation.

And this alternative way of doing things can raise learners who are competent and curious enough to take on challenging leaps in grade level.

Written with permission and editorial input from Céline.

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This is my second post in Heart of the home series.

A lot of the blogs I read and instagram feeds I follow are all spring, spring, spring these days. As a northerner, I'm used to early spring "down south". But a February spring in New England is disheartening to me.

I loved the mild November but it seems for some people that winter never happened and that makes me sad. I know that for people who don't enjoy winter sports or work outdoors a mild winter is a blessing, for us, it just ain't so.

The schedule I share below is our winter schedule, because that's the season we're in. We hope winter stays till the end of March, at least at the ski hill (they make snow) because we really enjoy skiing and snowboarding.

This schedule is quite similar to last fall, except for Monday, which I explain below, and Wednesday's ski day. It will remain our weekly schedule till co-op ends in May.

A note about the photos (because I care about that kind of thing). I haven't taken a lot of photos this winter. For me, the city in the winter is not as beautiful or inspiring as the city in the summer. Maybe in future years I'll see things differently. And with less natural light in our home I don't take as many indoor photos either. So I'm pulling some photos from my instagram feed and my phone to "illustrate" and beautify this post.


Monday - Co-op day

We belong to a homeschool co-op that meets on Mondays and Fridays.

Last October when co-op started I took the kids both days. I attempted to do other work while I was there, email and other correspondence/management tasks. It was too hard. Committing two of my days to co-op was getting very difficult for me emotionally. I was frustrated with the lack of momentum in my life in other areas.

The co-op requires parents to be present, it's not a drop-off center. So, as of December Damien started taking the kids to co-op on Mondays. The family leaves the house around 10:15 and returns around 6pm. On Monday the kids take personal finance, English literature, French conversation and drama class.

I am so grateful for Damien's ability to work anywhere. What I mean by this is that he can tune out everything to focus on something. Of course, this gift also drives me nuts sometimes, but for working in less-than-ideal environments, it's a self-employment win.

I can't do this, I'm very much a creature of habit when it comes to my work - homemaking, homeschooling, writing, etc. I'm sensitive to my environment and I work best with specific routines and rituals.


a picture from a walk in my neighborhood

I work on taxes or family finances in the morning (I help Damien with bookkeeping for our self-employed income) and try to take a walk at lunch usually to a neighborhood store to pick up what I need for supper. In the afternoon I work on a writing project that is still under wraps.

Mondays are one of my favorite days of the week. I love that weekday space to myself and the slow progress I'm making on a project that is near and dear to me.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Tuesday - School & Grocery shopping day

Tuesday morning Brienne (13) and Laurent (almost 15) and I have our weekly school meeting. The homeschool co-op offers classes in all kinds of subjects, from "life skills" to academics. Most classes my kids are taking have homework. I use this homework to teach the critical thinking, communication, self-confidence, etc. skills that are fundamental to the Tougas family homeschool curriculum. Tuesday morning we take a look at each class and see what is required for the next class and the kids then work on that during the week.

I'm a co-op newbie and the kids and I were interested in a lot of the classes (FOMO), so we signed up for a lot of classes. Little did I realize we wouldn't have time for some of my own homeschooling intentions for the year, working in weak areas mostly. I plan to pick those up this summer when co-op is out of session and carefully consider my options next year to make sure we have enough time for the things we deem most important.

But overall, what they've gained from the co-op outweighs adjusting my homeschool expectations for this year.

Celine (16) manages her own schooling and I will check in with her throughout the week and offer to lighten her household load if she's having a particularly intense week, but otherwise, she's pretty much independent. Damien is a great assistance to Celine's technical and computer education and work experience. Her part-time job is working for one of Damien's clients.

On Tuesday mornings Celine goes with Damien to a coffee shop to work till lunch.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I go grocery shopping and hit a couple different places depending on the week: farmers market, Costco, health food store, large grocery store, the neighborhood shops. This is my least favorite part of the week.


I often treat myself to a croissant on shopping afternoons

Supper: We eat a meal from the freezer.

Wednesday - Ski Day

Mid-week skiing has restored our family's one day a week outdoors together ritual/intention.

Damien and I realized that between Sunday church (which we all love), socially active teenagers with friend gatherings on weekends and our kids' desire to sleep long and hard on Saturday, setting aside a family day on the weekend just wasn't going to happen. Wednesday ski day has been our answer to this dilemma. And it works for our self-employed/homeschooling family.

This is a favorite day of the week for all of us.

Supper: Freezer meal.

Thursday - School & Family finance day

Thursday morning, like Tuesday, I am available for homeschool help. I also use this dedicated homeschool time to work on my co-op contributions, I occasionally teach the junior high science labs, in a rotation of other parents.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I work on finances.

Damien and I set our family financial goals together but I'm the one who manages the budget to meet those goals. I pay bills, keep track of expenses, make the yes and no calls on routine financial decisions. Our self-employed cash flow is unpredictable, the billing is good (Damien earns enough to support us) but the rate of inflow is not yet steady because clients pay on different schedules.

Our cash flow problem has been a source of considerable stress for me over the last few years. It's high, it's low... not steady. I feel secure in systems and consistency. This part of self-employment is not necessarily the "best" fit for me. But we're working this out because self-employment works for our family on many other levels. Not the least of which is that it provides Damien the freedom he needs.

Finances is one of my anxiety triggers. And at the root of this trigger is the fear I will be destitute and without support. One of the ways I'm working to improve that situtation is to be really proactive about resolving the issue, instead of feeling helpless. Things don't have to just "happen to you" (except when they do, says my inner skeptic).

This is one of many areas that Damien and I really diverge in our thinking. He almost always feels capable and competent that his intellect, skill set, and relationships will help him solve problems. When I am outside of the familiar, outside of my comfort zone, I doubt my abilities to create the systems and support I need to find solutions.

This was one of the big things we learned on the trail. And for a few years prior, basically in moving back to Canada, I had been relying on Damien's sense of self-competence and the belief that if it "feels good for him" it's ok for me. Wow, did that ever cause some strain in our marriage when the shit hit the fan, which was on the trail and in the period right after.

As for the financial problem, it's not rocket science, you have to save a fund from which you draw your "paycheck". This is tricky when we need most of what comes in each month to meet our financial obligations.

This year our financial focus is to resolve this problem, which means less money spent elsewhere - travel, household purchases (we don't have a couch, for example), extra educational stuff, etc.

Last November I started using YNAB. I started with their new app. I've always used our own spreadsheet system for tracking all our expenses and preparing monthly budgets but I wanted a more "modern", app-friendly tool.

My first go at it was fairly awful and resulted in a complete YNAB meltdown in January. I decided to start fresh in February. And low and behold, as my education philosophy supports, by making a bunch of mistakes the first time I learned what not to do the next time around. I'm doing much better with our Fresh Start (it's actually called that). What I really like are the easy bank record imports and the reconcile feature, something I couldn't do with my spreadsheet system.

I don't know that it will be the life changer it is for people who aren't used to budgeting, but I think it will be an improvement on my old system once I master it. That's my sweet spot and when I get there, watch out, I'll be a YNAB ninja.

We still own our house in Maine (anyone want to buy a house in Central Maine?) and I manage the just-enough finances for that and work with our property manager, this is another one of my family finance responsibilities.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Friday - Co-op day

We leave at 9:30 and return home between 7:00 or 8:00 pm. This is a long day but a good day.

The kids have science classes (Physics for Celine, Physical Science experiments for B & L), Canadian History, Painting (Laurent), and Phys. Ed with an honest-to-goodness gym teacher who teaches actual team sports skills, which our kids love.

I help facilitate Physical Science (parents rotate) and volunteer for little jobs around the co-op, mostly organizational tasks, since that's what I enjoy doing. I sometimes assist in classes. I try to take a walk in the afternoon.

The co-op is run by an executive committee, they use the member fees to pay teachers (homeschooling moms, community members, professional tutors) to teach the classes. The classes are offered as enrichment to the teaching/facilitating/overseeing that the parents do at home. This is not a private school.

The co-op is an amazing group of people (40 families) who come together to offer our kids more than we could do on our own. It's a community, and we help each other and watch out for each other. I have been so encouraged by these families.

The co-op meets in a space we rent from a Christian youth organization. The location is a 30 minute drive from our house, with no traffic.1 hr+ drive with bad traffic from our home.

Supper: A friend in cooking class at the co-op prepares supper for our family (for real, I told you these people were amazing). Or if that doesn't work I'll bring frozen pizza to prepare so the kids can continue their pick-up soccer game that is the continuation of gym class. Plus, at that time of the day, it's better to leave after 6:30, the traffic isn't so bad.

Weekends - Homemaking, R&R, Church, Hospitality

I try not to schedule things for myself on the weekends. One of the kids, usually Brienne but sometimes all three, will have a social engagement and need chauffeuring. Most of the kids' friends don't live near us. Damien and I make a good team in this regard. I usually do the drop-off and he does late night pick ups, or morning after pickups.


My favorite Saturday morning breakfast

Saturdays is my day for puttering. My goal is to work on creative homemaking projects: lotion and lip balm making, candle making, sewing, organizing, prettifying.

Because we ski on Wednesday the kids often have more homework/studies to do on the weekend.

Saturday Supper: Frozen store-bought food, something easy homemade, impromptu pizza with friends, etc.

Sunday mornings we go to church.

Sunday afternoons I like to nap and do little homemaking-creative projects. Once or twice a month, Damien and I will go on a long walking date to explore our city, an activity we both love. (A dating win!)

The kids clean the house after lunch, it takes less than 1 1/2 hours to completely clean our home: vacuum, mop floors, and scrubbed bathroom.

Sometimes we'll have friends over in the evening, almost always that works best impromptu since I don't like to schedule myself on the weekends (outside of driving the kids places). This is not a heavy hospitality season for our family, because of our full week schedule, especially with skiing. Most of my relationship-building happens at co-op and thankfully I've made some wonderful friends there, just as the kids have.

We all enjoy spending time with people in our home, playing games is a favorite activity, and when that happens it's a treat.

If our week was particularly busy or emotional for me (parenting teenagers can be emotionally taxing) I will take time on the weekend to completely relax, no agenda or projects unless doing it makes me feel great. Having no plans and no place to be a certain time makes me feel great (after a scheduled week). I might grab this time on Saturday or Sunday afternoon but sometimes I'll skip church and have a morning to myself. A divine experience of the non-church going variety.

Sunday Supper: Damien cooks

Chores, Cleaning, and Kitchen

The kids do garbages, recycling, cat litter, daily kitchen sweeping, folding and delivering laundry as part of their daily chore routine. I wash and dry the laundry, we average five loads a week. (I've never been hypervigilant about sheets.) Our stacked washer/dryer is in a closet right across from the bathroom, right around the corner from the kitchen, it's very easy to maintain a good system.

We clean the house once a week, usually the kids do it all but I will step in to help if someone is sick or if school/study/employment demands are especially heavy that week. There isn't any "deep cleaning" required in a small space like ours, except for keeping up with the fridge, which is my job.

This is a big perk to uncluttered, small-ish space living. Maintenance is really low. This includes routine cleaning and bigger stuff, that you generally don't do in an apartment rental anyway. This arrangement works very well for us since I don't want to do a lot of house maintenance or cleaning, and Damien's focus is on building a thriving business and doing fun stuff with his family.

Dishes. We don't have a dishwasher (as soon as we can afford one I definitely want to get one). People are responsible to wash their own dishes throughout the day. They don't always do this. I do most of the miscellaneous and food prep dishes. The kids do the supper dishes.

Cooking. I don't like cooking. I think I used to be ok with it, back when I would think nothing of spending the whole day in the kitchen preparing special occasion vegan, gluten-free foods for my family. I've lost that enthusiasm and I'm always looking for ways to manage/delegate/optimize my way out of my responsibilities in this domain.

Which is why I continue to sing the praises of Whole Foods Freezer Cooking.

For fall 2015/winter 2016 putting supper on the table is my responsibility. The kids are not cooking this season because of increased study requirements, part-time jobs, scheduling issues and other priorities we have as a family. And Damien is working so I'm responsible for suppers and I'm ok with this (because of freezer meals).

As for other meals, for breakfast everyone fends for themselves. Leftovers and sandwich type lunches are packed for co-op days and on Fridays the co-op serves soup. Tuesday and Thursday, Laurent and Brienne make lunch, usually salad. Wednesday we pack store-bought or homemade freezer foods that we can microwave for a hot lunch at the hill. Weekends is mostly fend for yourselves.

For snacks I've made peace with stocking store-bought convenience foods for when we're out the house; granola bars, trail mix, crackers and cheese. I have become a card-carrying Costco shopper and I love it. When kids are at home I require them to "prepare" something like popcorn, muffins, pasta, tortilla and salsa, smoothies, eggs, veggies and dip for snacks.

I'm the same mom I was to my littles but I have some different priorities at this stage of the game. Things that were so important to me then just don't matter much to me anymore.

Doing things I love and not running myself ragged with busyness is important to me and must be weighed in the balance of cooking everything from scratch. My cooking everything from scratch days are over, at least until the kids are gone. Also we don't have food allergies or intolerances these days like we did when the kids were little. Damien still avoids corn and wheat but our family diet doesn't rely on those foods very much and he prepares most of his daily food except supper.

I don't menu plan much these days. I hit repeat on easy winter meals. As it is, I only cook three meals a week. It's not hard to make a menu plan for three meals.


Some of you are interested specifically in how we organize our space. What does it look like for a family of five to live in an apartment? Although apartment living is the norm in the core of Montreal and many places the world-over, it's not the typical North American family living arrangement.

I hadn't intended to do a full apartment tour in this series but I feel it fits really well. The problem is that some of our spaces aren't "done" yet to my satisfaction. I still don't have the pictures on our bedroom walls, we don't have a couch, our dining room table is very ratty, so I haven't done the "house tour" photos.

However, if I wait for perfection, it won't ever happen so I'm going to get on that. I'm going to "stage" our space just a wee bit (I have some standards), take photos and walk you through our apartment. But that will have to wait. Because next up is Personal Care and Making and Breaking Habits Through Seasons.

I started writing this five months ago. Writing, as many of you can relate to, is a way for me to process and make sense of change. I order my inner world, and therefore my perception of the outer world, with writing. There have many changes in our family life since moving to Montreal, hence, a lot to write about and process.

The tsunami of a midlife crisis and the new shoreline that remains, in conjunction with the reality of raising/home schooling multiple teenagers, have pulled the rug out from under me in terms of writing with confidence.

It's hard for me to write with confidence as the landscape has shifted around me. My physical environment is different, my kids have grown significantly, I have grown.

What do I know about anything in this place of messy metamorphosis?

I am sure of my family's love for me, they are sure of my love for them (I think), and sometimes everything else is a muddle. And yet in the muddle, there are some things I know to be true, like finding sea glass on a beach of grey stone. Truth that sparkles, a shimmer of wisdom even. Not a lot, but some.

My experience is just that, mine. It's not universal but nor is it strictly personal, unique to our family only. I hear a resonance in the experience of other women, as their children grow and their mothering role changes.

I have met resistance at so many points in writing this. Not the least of which is the filter I painstakingly use when writing about my family. (Which I increasingly try to use in general.) Is this true? Is this helpful or necessary to share? Is this kind (to me, to others)? And, is this beautiful?

I've been stuck on the conclusion to this post but I can't write a tidy conclusion to what is essentially life-in-progress. And every finishing sentence or paragraph I write feels slightly false and even that millimeter of bullshit triggers the is this true? sensor, like the alarm of an emergency exit.

What I want to say at the very end is, "yep, we're doing life" but I find that lacking and not meeting the helpful/necessary criteria. Who cares?

This is the conclusion I want to write: in this life season I need to lean into the craziness that is homeschooling through high school. And yet, I can't say that without all kinds of caveats. I need to lean-in but also pull out, I need to be present and also gone, literally. (I like to leave the house somewhat regularly so we all appreciate each other once again, and I like it when everyone else leaves and the house is my own quiet space.)

My kids are not me. The way I want to live, as a middle-aged writerly person is different than the way they want to live as social teenagers. The amount of time I crave for writing, reading, thinking, drawing, meditating, thinking some more, journaling, sitting quiet and still makes me think I've crossed the Introvert/Extrovert line. Celine thinks that my need to verbalize my thinking process (chat, chat, chat) keeps me in the extrovert camp.

In the past few years I have cultivated practices of quiet and simplicity, reflection and self-awareness. Downsizing, living in the woods, hiking in the woods, spending a lot of time in and surrounded by nature I think helped foster this. But so did having a midlife crisis (partly brought on by hiking/living in the woods). The aftermath of which requires a fair deal of careful, kind, and honest self-examination.

Since moving I have to show up and engage, with more frequency than has been my reality for years, in a world, that moves a different speed than I do. I do this for my kids. This is jarring to me. And yet my extroverted self needs the meeting new people rush, needs to discuss the ideas I spend so much time ruminating about. Yet another paradox in which I'm looking for the goldilocks principle of "just right".

The reality of sharing life together with five unique people, three of them in the throes of hormones and questing towards independence, is not always smooth or without tension. And not because any of us are against each other but because our needs are different. We love each other and we're different.

That's my conclusion. And now for the post.


I strongly believe in recognizing, respecting and cultivating my children's unique interests and individuality. When the kids were little, the lion's share of each day was spent doing the labor of childcare and homemaking (cook, clean, train/love children, press repeat). This was hard work and I decided fairly early in my homemaking/mothering-young-children vocation that I wasn't going to spend my precious time, outside of what must be done, "enriching" the children's lives with classes and lessons and all manner of go-and-do that wasn't really interesting to me.

Within the constraints and realities of caring for young children and then later homeschooling those children, my way of doing things, my rules, my interests, my comforts tended to dominate our days.

I make no apology for this, nor do I see any problems with this parenting philosophy. In fact, I encourage other moms to do the same. Life with young children should be directed by the parents, with consideration of course for our kids, but someone has to be in charge. Someone has to steer the ship. In our family that someone was me.

I always believed, and still do, that the best thing I could do for our children's wellbeing and the longevity of our at-home learning and living relationship, aka: home education, was to do the things I loved; to operate in my strengths, pursue my interests and bring the joy those activities brought me into the mix of our days.

This was my aim, sometimes I missed the mark, but that was the goal.

Our kids' sense of wellbeing depended more on my wellbeing, and the security of our family life, than it did on their individual pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.

During, what I now call our Adventuring Years - the last four years of our family life - it was five of us at home, instead of the original four. The whole fam-damily, as I like to say, sharing living and learning space in small homes and bigger ones; living by rivers and the ocean, in mountains and woods; and having a grand family adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

The shift was subtle at first and then seemed to snowball. The TV shows we watched, video games played, music listened to, the homeschool curriculum, our schedule, etc.; slowly over the course of days, months, and years my interests played less of role in how we lived.

It was kids growing up, it was Damien at home, it was family life evolving. It was a natural progression, a necessary one.

Children don't have a choice as to how their parents raise them. For better or worse, they are stuck with who we are and how we do things. I don't think our kids have had it too bad but still, they didn't really have a choice.

When we came home from our hike last fall, Damien and I recognized that we had crossed a threshold, rounded a corner in our parenting journey.

It was time to shift course. Puberty hit our home, times three. Our children grew and outgrew. It was time for the opportunities, freedom and responsibilities that come with that growth.

So we moved to the city. Of course it's not quite so simple as all that, but at the core, it looks something like that.

(I've told this story, in some variation for a few months now on the blog. Sorry to re-iterate but I'm still in the adjustment period of that move, at the edge, marveling at how I've ended up here, and how our life took such an interesting turn.)

We are living in the "age" of Comic Con's and music concerts, public transit and going to festivals with friends. A homeschool co-op with science class, history and English Lit. Friday night youth rallies, summer youth conferences, and traffic on congested roadways. A big screen TV, a PS4, and church in a movie theatre. A Monday through Friday full learning schedule and Saturday morning sleep-ins. A change in our family routines and even a shift in our family culture.

We are in a different stage of family life, in large part because our children are in a different stage, but also because the hike was a catalyst to shift the tectonic plates of our family values. As these plates - outdoors, family togetherness, simple living, health, lifelong learning, and faith - have collided against each other there has been the formation of new mountain ranges, new expressions of who we are as a family. And at the subduction zones there have been some earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (Hello midlife crisis.)

Those places of collision and subduction, by their very definition, are zones of friction. And I don't necessarily mean friction between individuals, though that happens also, but friction between competing values and interests.

When the kids were toddlers and preschoolers the kindly old ladies at the grocery store, the library, and wherever else we visited, commented on how I had "my hand's full". And I did. My hands were busy - wiping bums, noses, and spills; feeding, loving, and correcting.

It was all hands on deck, all the time. Gradually my kids learned to wipe their own bums, cut their own apples, tie their own shoes and my days, my labors, expanded beyond childcare to personal interests and hobbies, most of which were extensions of my roles as mother and natural-living inspired homemaker.

And of course there was homeschooling. But my focus in that endeavor, in the early years, was on love of learning, love of home, love of family, love of nature. Homeschooling this way felt like an extension of parenting, and the "work" of it felt fairly easy and natural.

Our days were full but I chose activities - reading aloud, hanging laundry (we didn't even own a dryer), arts and crafts, baking bread, from-scratch cooking, gardening, weekly farm visits, nature walks - that required a deliberate slow-ness and attention to the season.

I built boundaries around our children, around our home, around our time; and I guarded the entrance.

I actively resisted a harried pace of life and a fast track to growing-up that I felt would undermine creativity, health, and relationship.

I would do it all again.

By no means was it halcyon. Then, like now, I had unrealistic expectations for myself. If I could do it again, I'd be more gracious with myself. (If I could do last week again, I'd be more gracious with myself.)

Parenting requires all hands (and head and heart) on deck through all the stages but in my experience parenting ages 8 through 12 provided a little lull in the intensity. Because we homeschooled and we didn't do individual extracurricular sports (our intention was to cultivate relationship and physical skills in the context of family activities, hiking together, etc.) our schedule was our own. Our pursuits built not just healthy bodies and appreciation of the natural world, but a strong family culture and identity.

Also, by this point, the core foundation was laid, which contributed somewhat to the "ease" of interaction in our days. I don't mean the days were easy but the values of trust, respect, unconditional love, obedience, responsibility, belonging, etc. had already been established during the pre-school years, and those values set the standard for how we treated each other, i.e.: the disciplining had mostly been done.

During this "golden age", the kids' physical independence from me and increased skills allowed for more "free-time" in my day. I wasn't needed quite so much. Hence, a season of writing projects, working-from-home, helping others homeschool, adventuring (and moving).

Our adventuring years, the four years on the Gaspe, was a period of family adventure and transitions. It was a time of experimenting in how we earn an income and how much space we need to live; what kind of resources and community we need as individuals, as a homeschooling family, as Christians.

We tried new ways of earning a livelihood, in online enterprises and outdoors-related pursuits. We experimented with new roles in our marriage, Damien contributed to the hands-on running of our home and I worked from home in online ventures - coaching and writing. We were adventuring on many levels.

Two of our kids passed the child/adolescent threshold during this period and it became increasingly apparent to us that their homeschooling through high school and young adult needs were not going to be met in our current living situation.

The post-hike breakdown opened the door for the "what is in the collective best interest?" discussions in which we decided to move to Montreal.

There have been some big changes in our move here. The tectonic plates of family life have shifted.

We don't hike every weekend, or even once a month. (Saturday morning sleep-ins, Sunday morning church). If you know our history, that's huge. Up until last fall, that was a cornerstone to our weekly schedule, part of our family identity.

We're once again committed to a church body. Practically speaking, we get together with other Christians, in large and intimate gatherings, multiple times a week to encourage each other and be discipled. This takes an investment of time and is a big change from the relative spiritual isolation we experienced for most of our years in the Gaspe.

We've returned to our pre-adventure years division of labor. There is no more "experimenting" with income-earning, we can't afford it.

Damien's technology work has the highest income-earning potential, so that is how we earn an income to support our family. And I don't mean to be crass, talking money, but the goal is to earn more, because raising teenagers is a resource-intense endeavor.

And then there's homeschooling through high school.

I used to down-play the work involved with homeschooling my kids. "That must be a lot of work," people would say. But I didn't think it was. Yes, it was work. Life is work. But I did it the way I wanted, according to our family values and my interests.

I homeschooled and parented as an extension of who I am. It honestly didn't seem that hard to me. Parenting, in general, was the work. Homeschooling, not so much.

Now, with three teenagers in the house, even though they are the ones that do the work of learning, more is demanded of me. Not by our children directly, per se ("mom this, mom that", though there's still plenty of that), but by the responsibility Damien and I bear as we steward our three kids through their final growing years: to provide, with the resources God has given us, for their intellectual, spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

We decided years ago to homeschool through high school. Some families take it "one year at a time, one kid at a time". We're a "homeschool all kids through high school unless we find a compelling reason not to" family. So far, there hasn't been a compelling reason not to. We've been able to meet our kids' needs without enrolling them in school. And since moving to Quebec, there is the added motivation to stay clear of the (often) homeschool-unfriendly school system.

Philosophically, we don't buy into a conveyer belt education model or curriculum for the masses, and that philosophy has not changed just because our kids are no longer adorable elementary students.

I'm not trying to be hoity-toity or an exclusionist, I believe all children should be free to grow and learn at their own rate, according to what is in their best interests, not that of a system. But the work I feel called to, at this stage of my life, is not to change the system but to raise and educate my own children according to those principles.

This long-term commitment to homeschooling allowed us a ton of freedom when the kids were little - "delays" in reading, "behind" in math, "it's a beautiful day let's play outside instead" - all of that was possible, without stress, when you're not tracking with "what your fourth grader needs to know", standards that honestly make me cringe. Who says? We set the pace for our family.

That was then and this is now. It's not a race, it never has been. We're not rushing to cross the "finish" line by a certain time, but the pace has absolutely picked up.

The very things I didn't do with my kids when they were little - weekly commitments, formal homeschool lessons, a homeschool co-op (assignments! homework! reports!) - are now the activities that structure our days and a week. We follow a schedule that is not entirely of my own making. Other people's expectations influence our time, influence our learning. (I know this is normal for a lot of people; for a nesting, micro-managing, relaxed-education, homeschool mom, it's a big shift.)

We take seriously our responsibility as parents to steward our kids through the high school years; to participate in building, joining, and connecting our kids to healthy teen culture, and to be a part of a strong community of likeminded families for our kids to find and make friendships and connections in their young adult years.

We want to help our kids be prepared for the next stage of their lives, post-homeschool. Their studies are their own, but guiding them through that labyrinth, is our job. It's my job.

You could say we've got our hands full.

Damien calls it the whoosh years because it seems so fast-paced and intense.

This age is not without compensation. Our kids don't need my presence 24/7 and they're big, they can do stuff. But their education and their emotional, spiritual, and physical health is my priority. Just like when they were little, it is their needs that largely drive my days, but in an entirely new context.

I'm no longer guarding the entrance, the way I once did. It's not the "keep out" time of raising children, it's "out and about".

In my experience, life with older children is more facilitated by parents than it is directed by them. I've always facilitated our kids' education, but now I feel like I facilitate a social schedule, I facilitate friendships, I facilitate group learning situations. I facilitate their participation in healthy teen culture.

We guide and mentor choices, but we try to let our kids make the choices, as much as possible.

However, because they are still not independent enough to bear the responsibility of all those choices (the driving that is required, for example), we parents do a lot of assisting in making ideas reality, assisting with the follow-through on those choices. That's our job.

Much like when they were babies, my desires, my needs, do not set the pace of our home life. My kids' values, their desires, their schedules influence my every day routine and schedule in ways I could not have conceived in the "I call the shots" stage of the preschool and elementary aged years. And I find this change from those "golden" middle years, when I set a pace that included more time for mom-directed activities that I enjoyed, to be challenging.

Have you ever spent significant time with teenagers? I love mine SO much, but it is not easy. They go through "stuff". Love and hormones and loss and hormones and project deadlines and hormones and stress and hormones, and the whole teenaged brain syndrome. In their transition to a young adult identity (on the way to adult independence) I feel them pushing against me and pushing against each other.

I am so thankful there are other people investing in my kids lives right now - youth leaders, teachers, family friends, church friends, grandparents - but we're still the the primary mentors and as a homeschool family we still spend most of our time together.

I've raised and educated these beautiful people (which means I am partly responsible for how this all shakes out), so I know them really well and yet, I have regular "who are you?" moments.

Heated sibling interactions, something that has not happened much in our home up till now (really), everyone's quirky wiring and personality traits, new struggles with selfishness and sin, it's a season of iron-sharpening-iron, and hot molten lava erupting at times. Tectonic plates I tell you.

I have a lot more physical freedom these days than I did when my children were babies and toddlers, no one is touching me all the time, physically needing me. But the level of emotional, spiritual and intellectual investment at this age rivals those early years in terms of intensity. Someone is crying, or near tears, almost every day. There are times, more than I care to admit, when I cannot believe I signed up willingly to do this gig - mothering, homeschooling, the entire works.

Sometimes I grumble. I cry. I complain. I get tired. I get exasperated. Ok, I get really exasperated.

I'm not a yeller, traffic aside, but I lose my cool for sure. I throw around really helpful advice like, "deal with it!" I swear more (internally mostly). I mourn the loss of my "middle-years" freedom. I am frustrated as I see my aspirations to be a professional blogger, a writer (of some sort) on-hold. I have resisted at times all that is being asked of me at this stage of parenting. I can easily lose perspective in the busyness of our weeks.

But now is not the time to bail, or moan, whine, or complain, (except a little).

I'm not done growing my people.

My kids need me to guide, encourage, chauffeur, listen, mentor, love, feed, hug, wipe tears through the end of adolescence and their homeschool education. This is my work.

I will never be done mothering, but I will reach a point where my child-raising will be done. I want to give all I have in these final years to know that I did my best. I need to flow with, not resist, the work set before me.

To co-opt a phrase from the corporate, career track women, now is the time to lean-in. And I haven't figured out entirely how to do this except by doing it, by showing up at the zones of friction, those boundaries and edges that rub against each other. Recognizing that we belong together and we love each other, even when it's hard.

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