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Artists-in-Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

In September I posted about the newest addition to Laurent's studio, his Wacom tablet. Much sketching and painting have been done with this tool since he purchased it this summer.

This digital tool has opened up many doors for Laurent to experiment with new techniques and play with new projects.

I am very pleased to present Laurent's most recent project - a 2016 wall calendar.

As with most of Laurent's artistic offerings he has partnered with his sister Brienne to bring this project to life. Laurent does the artwork and Brienne manages marketing, customer service, shipping, and other administrative tasks. They make a good team.

From Brienne:

This 2016 calendar has 12 beautiful drawings, greet each month with a seasonal nature drawing. The calendars are available this week only, so don't miss out. Each month's artwork can be framed to enjoy for as long you want. A calendar would make the perfect gift to give to friends, family or for yourself.

Calendars are sold in two formats: regular weight glossy and cardstock glossy. They are available to purchase until Saturday, November 21. If you order this week, they will be shipped in early December to the destination of your choice, in time for holiday gift giving.

Calendars can be shipped directly to friends and family. We are happy to include a gift tag if you specify your purchase is a gift!!

This collage shows the artwork for each month. Just to be clear, each month features one seasonally-inspired print.

Calendar sale is over now. Thank you for your purchase.

My cousin is getting married this weekend. The wedding is in Chilliwack, British Columbia and I have arrived, a couple days early, to spend time with my aunts, cousins, and grandparents who live in the lower mainland.

I haven't been to a wedding, nor have I visited with my west coast family for ages. This trip has been months in the saving, planning and scheduling and I'm so happy to be here.

I don't dress up much, nor do I wear makeup very often so these are two things I'm a little anxious about in going to a wedding with all my stylish aunties and cousins. Most of my cousins are beautiful young women in their twenties. My aunties are older, obviously, but they are stylish and sassy, all six of them. They get it from my grandmother.

The first grandchild, the oldest niece, the oldest cousin, I've always felt most comfortable on the casual side of the spectrum.

But a wedding calls for something more than casual. I have the sparkly black dress, the open-toed, high-heeled black shoes, and jewelry on loan from my mom. I even have some makeup.

Regular readers know that Brienne is the big makeup wearer in our house. I don't share her creative interest in this area but I can appreciate her passion for beauty and self-expression. I have the same passions, I just express them in other ways.

Brienne LOVES makeup, she studies what is good for skin and hair, she researches products, and creates her own. It's just her thing. As for me, because I don't wear makeup very often I don't own any makeup, and because I don't own makeup, I don't wear makeup. But I've been wanting to re-route this loop, to actually own some makeup so when the need or desire arises, I have something to play with. (I've been borrowing from the girls for the last couple years.)

So when Simple Beauty Minerals contacted me to review their products I knew this would be the perfect project for Brienne and I to do together. I needed some makeup and Brienne "needs" more makeup.

Simple Beauty Minerals sent Brienne and me four products for review.

Brienne received a mineral foundation and mascara. I tested a lipstick and mascara.

Our first impressions upon receiving our makeup was that we liked the packaging. There was a certain "bling" to the presentation which really resonated with Brienne who loves all things sparkly and girly. From the purple gauze bags to the rhinestone adorned contact card, Simple Beauty Minerals makes you feel special and pretty before you even put the makeup on.

Simple Beauty Minerals asked us specifically to test their mineral foundation. I was most interested in the mascara and lipstick so we choose a foundation for Brienne to experiment with.

Simple Beauty Minerals offers many foundation choices for different skin types. So that was our first task, to figure out Brienne's skin type. Once you know your skin type you shouldn't have any problem finding a foundation from the many options at Simple Beauty Minerals.

Brienne tested the Warm 2 Perfect Cover Mineral Foundation. At first, she didn't think it was the best match for her skin tone but after a couple trial applications Brienne noticed that the color blended well with the skin tone under her eyes. Overall, Brienne likes the medium coverage this foundation provides.

I tried the foundation also. Brienne and I have very similar skin types and I wanted to see for myself what a foundation layer would look like on my skin. This is a mineral powder foundation and I like the matte effect on my skin but it looks too dry under my eyes. So Brienne, who loves to experiment with makeup, came up with a makeup hack to solve that problem.

The girls and I use straight Argan and/or Jojoba oil to moisturize our skin. Brienne mixed some of the foundation powder with a drop of jojoba oil to create a moisturizing foundation for under my eyes. Voila. The effect was much improved over the straight powder application.

I don't know that this is how the product is intended to be used but it works for us.

Both Brienne and I love the Simple Beauty Mineral mascaras we were sent to try. The Jet Black Ultimate Healthy Mascara is perfect for my needs. As I've mentioned, I rarely wear makeup but there are some occasions, like my cousin's wedding this weekend, that I want to add a little ummphf to my appearance.

"Buy a healthy mascara" has been on my to-list for at least two years now. It's been years since I've purchased mascara and the last time I bought one there were very few "healthy" options on the market.

Healthy is a subjective word so here's how I define it. I use the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to assess the skincare products our family uses. Because of Brienne's keen interest in cosmetics this has become a valuable research tool in our home.

Sometimes the product is in the database and a simple search for the product name will bring up a rating for the exact item. It's not a perfect assessment tool, many products are not in the database and you have to search by ingredient, and there is limited data available for many ingredients.

For a small company like Simple Beauty Minerals, whose products aren't yet in the database, I searched by individual ingredient to figure out what the rating was for the mascara.

According to my research, the Jet Black Ultimate Healthy Mascara gets a slightly better rating than the Black Magic Healthy Mascara, which is what Brienne is wearing, but both end up with a low hazard rating based on the concentration of ingredients in each.

This is my definition of a "healthy" product, if it gets a green low hazard rating from EWG.

I really like the mascara, it highlights my eyes and if I want more emphasis I can add another layer. Brienne concurs, in her words, "the mascara looks natural but makes eyelashes darker and longer, and it can be layered." We both agree this probably isn't the ideal mascara for you if you want a really dramatic look, but it's perfect if you want an enhanced natural look.

In addition to mascara I have been trying the Sweet Spiced Berry Mineral Lip Color. I'm out of the loop with makeup styles. I don't know if bold is in, or maybe the look is muted these days. In my opinion, if I'm wearing lipstick I want it to look like I'm wearing lipstick, so I went with a darker color.

I was disappointed that the "stick" broke at the base on its second use, perhaps natural lipsticks are more prone to that, or maybe I'm just a brute. It reattached well but I'm more gentle with it now.

I like the color and the lipstick goes on smooth but I think if I was to get really serious, i.e. more regular, about wearing lipstick I'd benefit from using a pencil or some other lip liner.

I'm much more comfortable wearing mascara than I am lipstick. I feel self-conscious wearing lipstick and I worry it's smudged on my teeth or is "bleeding" around the edges. I suppose a pencil would help that. And I think I look older wearing lipstick, not younger. Maybe I'm choosing the wrong color? Maybe muted is best?

Here's where I feel makeup is fraught with too much uncertainty for the very-casual wearer like myself. For someone like Brienne wearing makeup presents the opportunity to experiment, an artist's palette to play with. For me, it feels a bit like a minefield, not knowing if I'm making the right step, is this too bold? to understated?

I think the most important thing is to find the place, or the look, where you are comfortable in your own skin, that place where you feel good about yourself (as cliche as that sounds). For me that is an unadorned state, whereas Brienne prefers a look that is more embellished.

Even though I'm not personally confident with makeup in general, I'm confident about the quality and care of the products created by Simple Beauty Minerals. I love that when I do want to wear makeup, for a bit more color or so I don't looked washed out in family wedding photos, I have skin-healthy products I can use and safely recommend to my daughter.

I also appreciate Simple Beauty Mineral's unique stance against photo shopping images of women on their site. The photos in this post, as with all my published photos, are edited for white balance and color correction but I don't "touch-up" or otherwise change the photo to enhance features.

In addition, Simple Beauty Minerals is a small family business founded by a homeschool mom. What's not to love?

If you are interested in trying Simple Beauty Minerals sign up for their newsletter to get your 20% off coupon.

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