High School

The defining feature from our month of May was the drama production at our homeschool co-op. The yearly musical theatre is one of the keystones to our homeschool co-op and it's one of the (many) reasons we joined.

Putting on a show serves a few purposes: it gives our kids training and experience in theatre, it brings the group together in the way that only intense, creative endeavors do, and it's the primary annual fundraiser for the co-op.

Brienne has long desired to be in theatre, she is what you'd call a natural. The reason we moved to Montreal was for our children to have these kind of experiences.

This was our family's first experience with musical and theatrical performance. (The girls each took a year or two of dance when they were little and we lived in Maine, and they performed in recitals as part of that, but those were minuscule commitments compared to this production.)

The production was an adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, titled Tradition... TRADITION.

Our creative children, with no prior experience or training, dove headfirst into the endeavor, adding their own skills, talent, and interests to the troupe's existing dynamic.

Brienne and Celine, who had been taking drama class since January of this year, were actors and chorus members, with lines to learn and parts to sing. Brienne played the role of Chava, one of the main characters. Celine sewed costumes, helping out the costume director. She also designed posters, the playbill cover, and welcome sign.

Laurent, not a drama student, helped with the technical team, operating the slide-show which projected the scenes. He assisted the costume director with odd jobs, served as usher, and was tasked with fine art projects.

One of the things I so greatly appreciate about the co-op is the way the students' gifts are taken into account in the very choosing of the projects, and roles and responsibilities given. Our own children contributed to the whole, based on interest and ability, and were challenged to grow in those capacities, as well as trying new things they were unfamiliar with. What a wonderful opportunity.

I am a proud parent; our children shone, along with the rest of the cast and crew. They shone because they were coached and mentored by fabulous teachers, directors, and more experienced students; they practiced and worked hard; and because we, as the homeschool parents, created an atmosphere and opportunity for them to do so.

We sold out the show within the first couple weeks of ticket sales, had to add another show, which also sold out in a couple days. All told, we ran five shows in four days.

I'm relieved and exhausted.

The production is over and it went very well. As with all things of this nature, there were emergencies, glitches and errors, and the show went on, with aplomb and enthusiasm. And garnered rave reviews.

I am relieved about all that but I am also relieved that we were able to add this to our repertoire of homeschool and family life experiences. That after years of living removed from such opportunities we could step into this kind of experience.

But it was intense.

And not just because performance and production is intense, which it is, but because parents are the ones who make it happen. And I am one of those parents.

This drama production exists because parents make it possible. Some of these parents are uniquely talented and experienced with music and theatre - they are the show directors. Others organize and mastermind. Others cook. Others sew. Others drive (oh, do we drive). Others design. Others manage children backstage. If your kid is in the play, you too have a part.

Damien and I believe that family life and parents should be the primary influence and social dynamic in children's lives, even through adolescence. Which is just one of the reasons we decided, years ago, to homeschool for the long haul.

Even though family is the primary influence, the circle of interaction, experience, and opportunities must expand as children grow. And if you're homeschooling, especially homeschooling through high school, parents are often instrumental in building community and providing enriching opportunities and experiences.

I am so thankful for the influence I have in my teenagers' lives, for the close relationship Damien and I share with them. I am a co-creator and collaborator in their social community. I know almost all the parents of all my kids' friends, and many of them are my friends. This feels like a gift and a blessing, which it is, but is also a fruit.

It is the fruit of a lot of labor because the endeavor of building community for teenaged kids, kids in general, requires effort and sacrifice. There are things we have sacrificed in this life season, and priorities that have shifted, so our children can be an integral part of their homeschool community.

When our kids were little, assuming responsibility for their education was not a decision we made lightly but we didn't really understand the long-term ramifications. You never do.

I wrestled with the ramifications of that decision all last month. In truth, I wrestle a lot with this. You can hear some of my frustrations in my previous post. Damien and I call these the whoosh years and May typified what I mean by that.

fundamentalist homeschooled children?
no, just girls in costume playing soccer during a rehearsal break

I felt challenged every day. I struggled with sacrifice and selfishness.

My inner world, my writer's world, craves silence and reflection. I need time to read and to ponder and think about ideas. I want to examine my life, not just live my life. I need to write my way through and when that time is limited I get antsy. And my faulty thinking can get the upper hand on me if I'm not careful. (The ways things are today are the way they will be forever, that kind of thing.)

What about my goals?, I moaned from time to time, temporarily forgetting the truth that participating in this production was the fruition and culmination of previous goals and dreams - to find a thriving homeschool community for our growing children.

It was a taste of the Appalachian Trail all over again. Which is to say, it's exactly like life. You have a goal, you set a course and when inevitably that course gets rocky, steep, and sticky with sweat, you think why is this so damn hard? And you remember, ah yes, because good things require hard work. Fruit is the reward of labor.

And you think for the 100th time, if it wasn't for the companions with me on this journey there is no way I'd be doing this.

Which is exactly why we're doing this, why we invest ourselves in teenaged community, homeschool community, and doing hard things together - because of the relationships. The relationships for our kids and for ourselves.

Homeschool parents sign themselves up for a challenging task. We have not passed the torch for our children's education into the hands of a system or an institution. We carry that torch ourselves. The wonderful thing about being part of a homeschool community is that they help us hold it up.

I'm so grateful to be part of a community that provides, through the incredible effort of parents and families, opportunities for greatness and service, high expectations and accommodations, hard work and lots of fun.

Which is not to say we're a perfect group of people. There's "stuff" in our families and community, but there is support for the stuff we are going through, and there are boundaries to ensure everyone's safety; emotional, physical, and otherwise.

It's not the absence of "stuff" that creates a healthy community, a healthy marriage, a healthy family. Hard stuff is the result of our own brokenness, our unfortunate birthright as children of Adam and Eve. And when we pretend there isn't suffering and difficulty in our life, it's a lie at best, and a cancer at worst.

What builds healthy teenagers and healthy families, is having community that will support you through your stuff. People to hold you up, and hold you accountable. People to say, "I've got you covered". People who help rub off your sharp edges. People to pray with you and cry with you. People who will agree to disagree. People who will help discipline and disciple your kids. People who will be those other adults in your child's life to mentor and guide when you are not the best person for the job.

This post sat in draft mode for days because I couldn't write a conclusion on that note. Gratitude for togetherness, we need each other, the importance of community; all sounds so great but it is not the whole story, or the end of the story.

I am tired, physically and emotionally. All that social engagement which my teenagers enjoy and crave, is only ok for me in much smaller doses. You could say I've overdosed.

We crossed my personal boundaries for face-to-face engagement and out-of-the-house commitments many miles ago. Because of commitments on top of commitments I am only now starting to catch my breath, even though the drama production wrapped up at the end of May.

Many other parents "seem" to manage this level of involvement just fine. I've struggled with feeling inadequate and selfish compared to these parents. I'd rather be at home gardening, writing and reading than engaging with people every. single. day. And driving to engage with said people. (And these are wonderful people! They are great to be around.)

Perhaps they, like me, acknowledge this is just for a season. And so, like me, they keep most of their personal angst to themselves.

It's been too much of a good thing.

This last month has been flat out busy and scheduled-to-the-max. End of term projects, visiting family, my trip to Toronto, kid friend birthday parties, the year end co-op celebration, long rehearsals, performances (an extra performance), a youth ministry meeting at church, many shared meals (which build community yes, but also wear me out), birthday celebrations (Celine turned 17!), a post-production cast and crew dinner, debrief and impromptu dance party (best dance I've gone to in my whole adult life, we didn't get home till 1:30am), doctor's appointments, and a homeschool convention all piled up on each other.

This may be "typical" end-of-school-year stress for many families, but it's new to us.

Damien and I have been doing this together. Thank God or I'd really be done for. I feel we have pushed the boundaries of what is healthy. Oh the irony! Healthy marriage, healthy family, healthy teens... rings false in my ears when I am worn thin right now from community. We need companions for the journey, yes, but right now what I need is no companions, no journey. Just rest.

And time to do some of the other work I've had to put off for the last three weeks.

Sitting here with this tension, and having had lots of discussions about this with Damien, I draw on the truth that this is all part of the experience, a necessary part of building healthy family culture and healthy community. A time to re-establish boundaries and re-assert individual and family limits. A time to recalibrate and learn from what we've experienced.

A time to withdraw, because not only is fruit the reward of hard labor, so is rest.

My inner manager falsely believes all discomfort, overcommitments, and periods of overextending ourselves could be eliminated if we only managed things better. Not so.

To some extent yes, good management has the potential to produce better results for all involved. Good drama production management, good home management, good community management. But so much lies outside of our control, and we're usually stuck with making the best decisions we can based on the current information available and then living through the consequences of that. And then we make adjustments for future, based on what we've experienced.

That's called learning. That's called life.

Family life, homeschooling life, teen life must allow for that type of learning also.

I love to keep things well managed in my life, under control. But when things veer out of control is when I have to dig down into one of life's most important spiritual lessons.

When life spins outside of my well managed schedule with its neat and tidy boxes, and I cannot rely on my own strength, I have an opportunity to learn how to rely on the Holy Spirit.

I didn't intend to hit you with a previously unmentioned idea right here at the end. Not good writing form, but I'm pretty sure this is the reason I couldn't conclude this post, I wasn't telling the whole truth.

The truth is, I could not do this thing called parenting, marriage, homeschooling teens, without the breath, or living waters, of the Holy Spirit in me. And I can't do community, the kind I wrote about above where you rub off sharp edges, pray and cry together, agree to disagree, etc. without the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hesitate to write about this (which is no doubt why the idea didn't work its way into this post earlier), because I want to write in a language that is accessible to a wide spectrum of readers.

So this is how I'd explain the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

If I didn't have the faith that a divine power, a resurrection power, is available to me, I'd run out of the essence of what I have to give.

What I give, to my family and community is expressed, for better or worse (oh the constraints of being human!) in a Renee skin and skill set. But I cannot give living waters from an empty well. I can only give what has been given to me and so I desperately need the Spirit in my life.

There is a lot of talk these days about soul care filling the well. The power of the Holy Spirit in my life is the ultimate soul care, the source that fills my well.

Truer than true: I cannot be who I am called to be in my own strength.

What I want to be, as a mother, a community member, a wife, a writer, is way beyond what I am capable of doing in my own strength. I need divine inspiration. I need the Divine. And this is what I know as the Holy Spirit. It is what I intentionally connect with and seek out when I meditate and when I consciously stop, in the course of my day, to breathe deep. It is the reason I seek solitude, gardening, and good books, so I can hear the still small voice of the Spirit.

What I have to give is not something I dredge from within. What I give is something I surrender to; it flows through me (around the various obstacles I put in its way), changes me, enables me to contribute to community, serve my family, write this post.

I know I said that What builds healthy teenagers and healthy families, is having community that will support you through your stuff. I stand by that, I strongly believe in being part of building and supporting healthy teen culture in the context of family and community.

In addition to that, the conclusion I'm seeking for this post, is that what builds a healthy homeschool mom, at least this mom, is to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill my well.

To recognize that the inevitable seasons of life that move me beyond the zone of "well-managed living", beyond my control, what feels like miles beyond my boundaries, are the Divine opportunities to learn a most important truth: I cannot do this in my own strength. I can fight (and I tend to do that, wasting a bunch of emotionally energy), or I can invite the Holy Spirit to work through me.

And then I rest.

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.

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