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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.

In amongst the photos I've shared this summer on Instagram, and recently here on the blog, I've posted photos of Laurent's studio space in his bedroom.

It's a simple set up, a desk that gives him space to paint and draw. His most frequently used tools are kept on the desk; pens, favorite markers, pencils, a few paint supplies. And the rest is kept in the top drawer of his dresser. The boy has very few clothes, he's a true minimalist in that department. He could give the capsule wardrobe folks a run for their money.

But that's not the point of this post. In the course of sharing these photos, some of which are "action" shots of Laurent working, I've been asked repeatedly, in Instagram, emails, and blog comments, about the tablet he uses for drawing, "what is that thing Laurent is drawing with?" Many of you are wondering because you have your own artists-in-residence.

That tool is a Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Small Tablet, or simply a Wacom tablet (the link will take you to the size and model Laurent uses).

Of course there's a story to this tablet. This is the tool that Laurent bought with the money he earned working with my Dad this spring. Learning to use tools of a different trade, he was able to purchase a tool for his own trade.

Damien is the parent who manages the technical devices in our home. Smart phones, tablets, computers, etc., he's the guy who will identify a need, research products, and give advice as to the best option. Damien recommended the Wacom to Laurent and Laurent took a long time in deciding if this was for him. The tablet is the first major hardware investment Laurent's made in his art education and training.

I'm fairly clueless about all the wonderful features of this tool. So I spent some time interviewing Laurent to find out what he loves about the tablet, how it works, etc. Here's my summary of talk.

Firstly, the tablet is a piece of hardware and so what you do with it depends on the software you have. The Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Tablet comes with software trials and you have some different choices. Laurent tried animation software, painting software and sketch/drawing software. His favorite of these was Autodesk's SketchBook Pro. He's been using a free three-month trial but when that ends we'll start the yearly subscription option.

To learn how to use Sketchbook Pro we took advantage of a free 1-month trial from

I can't comment much about the other software options, we chose SketchBook Pro because it was best suited to Laurent's needs, is reasonably priced, and has received good reviews. However, Laurent says the painting software gave a more refined painting experience and realistic product than SketchBook (the digital colors actually fade as they "dry").

In Laurent's words, he bought this tablet, "because of the wide range of possibilites and tools".

One of the things he loves is having the full set of Copic marker colors. We've been a Copic marker house since Laurent's 10th birthday, when he started his professional grade marker collection. Since that time we've all fallen in love with Copics and I recently upgraded our "homeschool and family art" supply from Prismacolor to Copic. Both Laurent and Celine have their own stashes (Celine really appreciates the skin tone collection for character drawing) but the family supply is for everyone to use.

So back to SketchBook, as Laurent says, "SketchBook Pro has any Copic marker you could want, along with any color you want". Specifically, SketchBook Pro comes with more than 300 colors from the Copic Color System. Laurent has been amazed with how the brush tips and colors simulate a "real" Copic marker. In addition to the markers the software includes fountain pens, ballpoint pens, Copic liner pens, erasers, various brushes (for painting), and pencils.

The tablet is incredibly responsive and sensitive, responding not just to pressure but also the angle of the stylus (which comes with the tablet). Laurent says it simulates real drawing better than any other digital tool he's used.

In my observation and in Laurent's experience, the tablet has taken his artwork to the next level. Laurent still does non-digital drawing and painting, but this tool allows him to experiment with color and techniques that aren't available to him otherwise. And that's just in the "making" of the art, not the "producing" of the art.

A tool like this, that allows Laurent to create digital art, opens up more options for making prints of that art. (Hint: Based on the success last winter with the bird and berry art cards, a new entrepreneurial project is underway, with an expected release date in November.)

Laurent crossed a threshold this summer in his education, similar to his sister's a few years before him. He entered his scholar phase. I'm not going to talk much about that here, except to say it looks quite different from Celine's.

The purchase of this tool seemed like the catalyst, or tipping point, in this direction. This spring, I was sensing Laurent was getting close. And sure enough, within weeks of our move to Montreal where he was able to purchase the tablet, the shift happened, noticeably.

What does that shift look like? Mostly it looks like hours and hours of self-directed and self-disciplined work, day after day after day. It looks like a serious-minded investment into something that is important to him.

There's so much more to the scholar phase that I simply can't get into right now. I understand there are more questions than answers when it comes to what this actually looks like, but I can say one thing with certainty: it looks different for each kid :)

So now we're here: two high-schoolers. More digital tools, more options, many more hours spent studying.

Laurent and I are happy to answer any questions you have about the tablet. Feel free to ask in comments. Also there are a lot of product reviews and Q&A about the tablet at Amazon.

Over the years I've written a few posts about raising artists (I didn't set out to raise artists, they just came that way). These posts include answering questions like: what do you do with all that art? what supplies do you recommend? etc. Find those posts here. See also A little bit of drawing in which I share free software tools we use in our home for art.

This post has affiliate links.

We're in Montreal right now taking care of family business on a couple fronts - finding an apartment for July and getting Celine to C2E2.

I am extremely relieved to report that, after a hectic schedule of appointments and applications, we secured an apartment in the first three days of our trip. It's a wonderful place and I'll tell you more about it later.

In Montreal the majority of rental leases are signed for July 1st and tenants must give notice by the end March if they are not renewing their lease. This means April and May are the best times to find an apartment. So we needed to come to Montreal to do that.

Our apartment hunting trip was timed to coincide with Celine's travel plans for Chicago.

There is no international airport where we live, just small expensive regional airports. On our budget, to fly you must first drive. And so drive we did, to Montreal, so Celine and Damien can fly to C2E2 today.

Celine's big project and driving goal since returning home from the trail is to attend C2E2, this weekend in Chicago.

I wrote about that in this post on a goal-driven curriculum.

Today's post is the big reveal of Celine's costume. Part of attending a comic convention, or Comic Con as they are called, is participating in cosplay.

Not all attendees do this but the really creative geeky ones do.

Celine has been working on her costume since last fall. She bought the fabric on our trip to Nova Scotia, just two weeks after getting off the trail.

She had many months on the trail to think about what character she wanted to be and in the end she choose Black Widow from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated television series.

This is a television series I know nothing about, belonging to a realm of media and pop culture that is foreign to me.

I'm not entirely sure what it is about Black Widow that captured Celine's imagination except I do know that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow character is one of her favorites from the Avengers movies (not to be confused with Earth Mightiest Heroes animated series). And Celine informs me that the animated costume is easier to recreate, with its simple design, than the non-animated version.

Our entire family eats up superhero movies, they are the one movie genre we all mutually love, and the Marvel Avengers are always a great hit. How can you not love Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America and Robert Downey Junior's Iron Man?

Celine's costume, down to the golden gauntlets was made entirely by her. No dollar store or costume shop purchases for her. That's part of the fun of cosplay.

It's not about buying the costume, it's about creating the costume. You can see how this is the perfect "fit" for my geeky, sci-fi fan, sewing and design astute daughter.

For her, this is what "project-based" learning looks like.

When people find out that we employ project-based learning (among other methodologies) in our homeschool they sometimes ask "what kind of projects" our kids do.

I sometimes wonder if they are expecting projects that are academic in nature, along the lines of a science fair project.

Real life, project-based learning is driven by a person's natural need or want to make or build something. These projects arise from an innate desire or interest to figure something out, express an idea, have an experience, or participate in community and culture.

In which case, it might look like a "classic" science fair type project, figuring out the best location to plant the beans in the garden for example. But project based learning can look like almost anything.

The key thing is, you don't "assign" true student-directed, project-based learning with a scoring rubric of "skills to be learned".

The project itself is the educational means and ends.

Conceiving the original idea, making plans, re-configuring plans, doing the work, (sometimes discontinuing), and finally finishing - the process itself is the learning as much as the finished product or community contribution.

I cannot tell you all the hours Celine put into this costume. It is entirely her baby. I did not "direct" any of it.

Celine did all the stitching and painting. All the research into wigs and where to buy them. Not to mention all the hours she spent on her part time job to earn the money to pay for all her materials (and her flight, hotel, food and convention ticket).

This kind of project was well outside the scope of my personal experience, or interest. I offered opinions when asked for them. But it's hard to give an opinion on something you know so little about. Mostly I was just a cheerleader and sounding board for ideas.

And when Celine considered giving up all together, sometime in February (who doesn't want to give up in February), we said the choice was all hers but we would do everything we could to support her in finishing through to the end.

And finish she did!

Celine worked so hard to get here. She's overcome many obstacles and unknowns (too numerous to mention), not the least of which is her own mother's cluelessness about such things, "what's a comic con?"

To say I'm proud is an understatement, and to say she's beautiful is stating the obvious.

Watching her in cosplay is to see a new side of Celine, "who is this girl?"

I am continually amazed at Celine's talent for something that eludes me (sewing anything other than straight lines on cotton fabric). And I am impressed at her dogged persistence in working towards a goal.

And today I'm grateful that the person I trust the most, who loves Celine as much as I do (her dad and my husband) will be accompanying this blossomed-into-beautiful young woman on the first of her many self-directed grand adventures.

You go girl!

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