I feel like we did something right and good for our family, for me, by traveling this summer. I don't know if summer in the city would have achieved the same effect, but life has a very different vibe, the beginning of September, than it did at the end of June.
The kids' spring schedule was intense with the drama production and year-end co-op projects, those priorities consumed us. Co-op wrapped up, I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and we shifted gears into a June busy with different kinds of priorities, checking off tasks, meeting deadlines. Taking care of the things that must be done (appointments, scheduling more appointments), being a responsible citizen (filing tax returns in two countries); you know, just managing a home, a business, a family.
Some of those deadlines were about our trip, like getting our house ready for six weeks of guests and housesitters who stayed in our apartment during our absence. I loved this part, by the way, preparing a welcoming space for friends and strangers. And it was a great opportunity at the end of the spring season to de-clutter, purge and organize our belongings. I was very satisfied with that experience.
Then we left and life shifted into working-vacation/visit family/drive cross-country mode.
At the beginning of our trip I made a list for myself of goals and intentions for the summer, and like I said in that post, "anxious, uptight, and frustrated" were not on the list. My intentions guided my actions and my attitude, through the great parts of our trip and not so great parts. And I feel that setting my intentions (which is not the same as a to-do list or checklist) for the summer, was a very helpful guide for me when I did experience anxiety, frustration and stress.
After the usual stressful transition period upon our arrival home (I'm always stressed and anxious during transitions) I've settled into the most relaxed and at-ease mental and emotional space I've experienced all year.
I stopped taking my supplements for the summer; all those vitamins, minerals, and herbs that are intended to fill any nutritional gaps and help me manage anxiety. I stopped partly because we were traveling but also just to take a break from pills. I haven't started back up again, though I probably will sometime this month. It feels nice to feel good without the help from ashwagandha, St. John's Wort, magnesium, a multivitamin, DHA, and vitamin D (making that one myself right now). Those are great. I often need them, and would take a few of these regardless of anxiety, but right now I'm just taking a break from pills.
a trip to Burlington, VT
Coming home after a long trip felt a bit like a fresh start and I used the opportunity to tweak some behaviors and habits of mine. One thing I've done is to I re-boot my morning routine, getting up with more consistency at 6:30/7:00. I'm going to bed by 10:30/11:00 so this is not a problem. I give myself till 9am to write. Just write. (And make a cup of coffee.) No email. No reading. No breakfast. (I don't need it till later.) If I get up at 6:30 I get a solid 2 hours of writing. I am loving this.
I'm also back to meditating regularly. Which is literally allowing me to breathe deep.
The biggest change to my routine is the time I spend checking e-mail/Facebook. I've cut way back. My goal is to check and respond to e-mail twice a day, mid-morning or around lunch (after I've spent time on activities more important to me) and again around supper-time. (And definitely not before bed.) This is also generally when I read the handful of blogs I follow, as most of the blogs I read I follow via e-mail.
I will deal with school related e-mail during my planning sessions (it's homeschool planning season for me) and financial e-mails during my bookkeeping hours (approximately one afternoon a week) but everything else I'm trying to keep to two discrete times per day. And I'm much more judicious with how and when I use FB, becoming really aware of how I mis-use that app on my phone.
I am tired of the effects on my life (I can feel pressured and frantic) when I don't respect my personal limits around text, e-mail and Facebook. So I've re-evaluated my intentions and goals in these areas and the result is a more relaxed state of mind.
I've been working in the garden, I can actually start to call it that now (as the space is transforming from weedy yard into flowers). An honest-to-goodness vegetable and herb garden is taking shape behind the garage. I started preparing the area last fall with the lasagna gardening technique of covering the sod/weeds/stuff-you-want-to-kill with cardboard and then layering that with organic material. I used leaves for my organic material, because leaves is what I had available to me. I collected bags of leaves from neighbors' driveways, which they had left for the city to pick-up as it does each fall.
Fast forward to this August when we arrived home from our trip. The "garden" looked like a jungle. We have a vining plant, I don't know the name, that takes over if not cut back. That vine plant had blanketed the garden space, covering any evidence of my lasagna gardening technique. Since our return, I've been ripping out those vines and digging out the persistent dandelions that grew through the cracks in the cardboard. This summer's vining branches ran on top of last fall's lasagna layers, but there are old and established horizontally growing roots under those layers also. I've been doing the satisfying work of ripping out all those roots and finding that the lasagna layers did their job in killing everything else (except those dandelions) and have mostly composted into the soil.
And that's my point, I'm starting to get soil in the garden where there was once a mat of weedy grass, overgrown yarrow, and rampant vines. I'm creating a garden!
And while I do that work I get to appreciate the fruits of my spring labors, minimal though they were, enjoying the wildflower mix, zinnias, sunflowers, morning glories and cosmos I seeded in May. I am satisfied that the bees are visiting my backyard and my elderly francophone neighbors are smiling on, from the upper balcony and over the fence, encouraging my efforts, grateful to see a neglected yard nurtured into beauty.
One of the principles I live by is to leave a place better than you found it. I can't always do this, I have my inconsistencies and areas of incongruence, but in the case of this yard, I'm living according to my values. And that brings me immense satisfaction.
There are times I feel dismayed at the slow progress. I want a beautiful yard and I want it now.
Wouldn't it have been nice if the yard was lovely when we moved in? But I had a revelation this spring about the yard and building gardens back there. Transforming that space is part of my calling in this season of life. I'm called to create beauty here where there was none before. It wasn't pretty when I moved here because that's my job to do. I do this for my neighbors and I do this for my soul. It's part of the reason I live in this particular apartment, it's a gift I have to share that comes naturally, it's part of who I am.
I am tempted to make some kind of self-deprecating remark, downplay the significance of this awareness.
I won't do that.
My dad has been here for a few days, he left this morning. He's taking a roadtrip on his Suzuki V-Strom adventure bike through Quebec, Vermont, NH, Maine, and NB before returning home to Nova Scotia. His time here and the essence of his trip, man and the open-road, feels like a late summer celebration of life.
During his visit we ate on the patio. Using the reclaimed-from-the-rubbish tables I found in the garbage last year and bringing out our collapsible dining room chairs, one of our key pieces of small space living furniture.
It gives me enormous pleasure to have cultivated a small garden that beautifies the space where we shared those meals, even though the rest of the yard still needs a lot of work. It's a project-in-progress and I've made peace with that.
Having my dad here was wonderful. As I've gone through struggles in the past few years with anxiety and insecurity, my relationship with him has only deepened. Dad's gotten to know me more through my writing, he reads all my posts. My truth-telling and discoveries, and the stories he's shared with me in kind, have revealed our shared history and experience with these struggles.
We understand ourselves better looking in the mirror of the other and we understand each other better looking into self. This connection with my dad, whom I've always admired and respected, but not had the empathetic relationship we do now, is a gift to me. My dad's heart beats for his wife, his children and grandchildren, building, and now his bike. To know that he cares so deeply for me and knows me, not just as the child I was, but the woman I am - is the best gift a grown woman can receive from her parents. To be known intimately and to be loved. (Thank you Dad.)
September is traditional back-to-school time but our yearly learning schedule - what we're doing and when we're doing it - is fluid. We don't "finish" in June and we don't "start" in September, and we take long and short breaks throughout the year that sometimes correspond with the school system, but mostly do not.
An aside: While I'm talking about homeschooling, it's worth mentioning that since Celine is seventeen at the start of this school year the compulsory education laws no longer apply, which is to say: the government/local school board no longer has any say or oversight in how we homeschool her. We're not registered with a school board to begin with, so no governing bodies interfere with our homeschool anyway, but they could, if they wanted to. But not for Celine, not any more. And that feels pretty darn good to me.
This is the time of year when I plan the school year ahead and try to make sense of the one that just ended (recording and documenting the learning that happened). When the kids were little I did this wrap up and portfolio prep in July and August. Then for a while I didn't do very much "wrap up" and my record keeping got rather haphazard, which is not how I like to operate. And since moving to Montreal I've been really trying to get on the ball with this, for personal piece of mind (this area of my life feels out of order) and for necessity as I now have two high schoolers and Celine is graduating next year. I must get this stuff in order.
That's my big focus this month, to curate her work from the last few years, and to set up the templates and systems to start creating her transcript and graduation portfolio. She'll be involved in this process but I have to get the structure established first. Then I can work on it over the coming year and use a similar set-up to start recording Laurent's work.
I've been in information-gathering mode for the last year. Talking to other homeschool parents how they go about graduating their kids. Getting the low-down on how to get a Quebec high school diploma, if Celine chooses that route. Attending information sessions both at our co-op and at a homeschool convention this past June on "how to prepare a portfolio", "how to get into Concordia or McGill (or other universities) from homeschooling", "why you don't need CEGEP" (that's applicable for us Quebeckers), etc.
I've got the all the information and now I need to apply it to our situation; to package and be able to present (if needed) Celine's self-directed, interest-driven, very non-standard (even by homeschool standards) high school education. I have my work cut out for me, but I'm also excited to see how it has all come together for her, and for us, in ways I could not have imagined at the outset of this journey.
The kids have been at their studies for a few weeks already, according to their own initiatives. They have goals they want to accomplish and stuff they want to do. Celine is currently taking two online classes with Coursera; The History of Rock and Fundamentals of Music Theory through the University of Rochester and University of Edinburgh, respectively. Buying a guitar and learning to play it (she'd never played the guitar before buying her own) has opened up a whole world to her, both in terms of knowledge and academic skills, such as note-taking.
The skills and knowledge she's learning while taking these courses is awesome, of course, but the fact that there is music in our home, arising from a motivated and interested learner, is so satisfying to me.
When there is art going on in one room and guitar playing in another, or sometimes both in the same room, I'm in my blissed out homeschool mother place.
Our family will be a part of the homeschool co-op again this year and it is such a relief to me that co-op doesn't start till October. I need this month of late summer to transition and establish things around the home before we once again commit ourselves to classes, lots of driving, and someone else's agenda.
Brienne is not happy that co-op starts in a month, she wants it to start now. She loves socializing and being with many friends, she loves going to class, loves the external expectations. She's in-between right now. In-between projects, in-between goals, and those times can be hard and require patience and trust, for both the learner and guide/parent. Co-op is a clear route out of feeling stuck, uninspired, and unmotivated. Which has both advantages and disadvantages. It's important not to short circuit or short cut the discomfort of uncertainty in the self-motivated learning process.
All of our kids love co-op and excelled last year in the structured learning environment and worked hard at their classes (receiving excellent grades) on their own initiative. And I love the vision of this co-op, the people we've met there, the excellent teaching, and finally finding a village. We're all excited to be going back, this time not as the new kids but as regulars. We know what to expect and are anticipating it.
And this sense of anticipation is part of this season.
I've got my own learning to do this month.
I'm getting serious now about going through the resources from the Herb & Essential Oils Super Bundle and putting together my plan for cold & flu season. I've already bought a few highly recommended prepared remedies as well as started to purchase herbs at the market. My pile is growing on the kitchen counter. I'll be putting together a plan of action, and sourcing, preparing, and organizing the accompanying oils, herbs, and remedies so I am ready this year.
September is also a month of a few adventures. Laurent will be off to work with my dad again sometime mid-month. He's ready to learn more carpentry skills and he needs to earn some money to pay for art classes.
two of the three most handsome men I know
We're fitting in some family hiking days, hiking in September is such a joy, and a little getaway for Damien and I. My Dad gave us a financial gift for our 20th anniversary. We had brief thoughts of buying things we want but the most compelling option was to seed a marriage adventure/travel fund and take regular weekend trips over the next year. A year long 20th Anniversary celebration.
We both miss the outdoors. We have lots of gear for four season backcountry and frontcountry adventures. And our kids are old enough to stay home, alternately we have friends we can farm them out to for a weekend. The idea of spending a full weekend, every couple months, just the two of us, outdoors in beautiful places - backpacking and tenting, backcountry winter skiing to hidden refuges in the mountains, or even discovering quaint towns in the Eastern Townships or northern Vermont - is exactly the way I want to celebrate being married for twenty years and start dreaming about the next twenty. The fund will help to pay for park fees and refuge rentals and dinners in nice restaurants on the way home from the adventure. To know that we have the means and opportunity in front of us to have these regular adventures brings me so much joy and will contribute to my winter wellness also, because winter adventures and trips really help.
It's a good season, this late summer time of re-setting habits and establishing routines. An in-between season for some family members but for others a time of interesting studies, learning new skills, and preparations for further study. It's a season for looking back on Celine's high school journey, translating it into a language that makes sense for "the system", and helping her prepare for the next, as of yet undecided, stage of her journey. It's a season to start preparing for winter health and wellness. It's a season for having a few adventures and anticipating more.
The beginning of this year was ski season, which was shortened by a season of sickness. Then there was drama production season, followed by tax season. And the get-ready-for-our-trip, followed by the trip. And now this, a season that feels relaxed, yet purposeful and productive. For me, that's about as good as it gets.