February 23, 2016
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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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