A garden to be

We've lived in a few different houses in the past five years, six of them to be exact, and one of the things I've enjoyed doing on the blog is giving "house tours", mostly because I love looking at other people's homes, online and in person.

I like to see how other people live, how they organize stuff, how they decorate, etc.

I want to share our new apartment as part of these house tour posts because, can I tell you a little secret?, I LOVE our apartment. Love, love, love.

Each week it becomes more an expression of us; art and photographs go on the walls, the arrangement of food and tools in the kitchen cupboards gets refined (I'm still asked all the time "where's the..."), the routines of how we move and use the space get tweaked.

There are many things I love about this honey wood floor, black cabinetry, white walled house. But what I love most is the feeling that it's mine for a few years. This is different than every other home we've lived in for the past four years.

Knowing this is where I'll be in a year, two years, three years... is like drifting off to sleep, on a cold winter's night, the duvet pulled up tight under my chin. Comfort I tell you, pure comfort; settling into space and community, settling into home.

I'm happy here. Happy.

And so I'd like to start the house tours because I'm simply delighted to share our home with you.

We're going to start outside, in the backyard specifically. Which is ironic because, unlike the rest of our living space, the yard is un-done. It is not even in process, it is all before and no after. And I thought this would be fun, to share what it looks like now and then next summer and the next summer and the next summer (feel I should add a "God willing" at this point). I can show the yard in process, on the way to after but always becoming, the way life is.

First, some Montreal apartment facts. We live in a three-storey, four-plex apartment building. Two or three storey apartment buildings are common, both in our neighborhood and in other older parts of the city. Many of these buildings, the ones closer to downtown especially, were grand homes built in the 19th century. The buildings in my Rosemont neighborhood are circa post-WWII housing boom.

Buildings are owned by landlords (who may or may not live in the building), or co-operatives (something I'm not really familiar with). Buildings sit smack dab against neighboring buildings (sometimes with alleys or driveways between) but the "building" remains a discrete unit of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, (more?) apartments.

Our three-storey building has four apartments. Two above us, side by side, and one below us. Ours is the main floor apartment and usually the main floor apartment gets the backyard, if there is one.

Our building has a yard, and as the main floor tenants it's both our responsibility to maintain it and our privilege to use it.

I get to be a gardener again.

Years ago, when I was a newbie organic gardener I dreamt I might become an urban homesteader, maxing out our Maine city lot with food producing crops. A combination of factors, including my husband's lack of interest to be significantly involved in any such enterprise and the wide availability of local foods at farms, markets and even grocery stores, convinced me that urban homesteader was not in the cards for me.

However, with each growing season I honed my gardener craft and by the time I left that garden four years ago I knew the kind of gardener I am.

I garden for beauty.

Gardening's primary function in my life is to contribute to my spiritual, emotional, and creative wellbeing; and also my physical wellbeing in terms of exercise and spending time outdoors. It's not a means of growing a lot of food.

apartment building in our neighborhood, not ours

I was very proud of the gardens I created around our home in Maine. We grew a few green edibles in a raised bed and some tomatoes that, year after year, were infected with a blight that I couldn't eradicate from our small space yard. But most of the garden space was dedicated to flowers. Flowers planted by design so we'd have blooming beauties through the entire growing season, flowers planted to provide nourishment to bees and butterflies, flowers planted for their medicinal and healing properties, flowers to make me happy.

All of this garden craft has been put on hold for the past four years. I can't say I really missed it, there were too many other things in my life to fill that space. I lived surrounded by a beautiful natural environment. I didn't feel a strong need to plant more beauty and spend the time doing so, and logistically it just didn't make sense since we moved, on average, every nine months. It was not a season for gardening.

When we moved to Montreal a backyard was on the want list. Technically not a need, but high enough on our wants to border on need. We found an apartment with the interior space we needed (3 bedrooms), in an area we liked, with not only a yard/garden space but our own driveway, a huge bonus in a city of complicated and competitive street parking.

I have a yard, two actually counting the front yard which is mine to garden also, and we intend to stay put for a few years. It's time to start gardening again.

Not this summer. This summer I had one gardening goal: to grow colorful pots of annuals on our balcony.

Next summer I will start transforming this space into something beautiful. Right now, not so beautiful, but full of potential.

Some people like the idea, or reality, of rambling acres, mown lawns, large gardens and an outdoor space with room to grow. We're city dwellers and our teenaged kids have a whole city to explore, they don't need a big backyard. And I'm pretty much on my own when it comes to any yard work beyond mowing, which Damien has always done.

I approach gardening like I do managing my home. I like tidy spaces and simplicity.

This is the perfect yard for my needs.

My vision for the yard is something like this: an outdoor eating area on the concrete patio (I'm thinking twinkly lights strung along the back wall of the house need to be part of that plan); perennial beds along the "green" fence; and a vegetable/sunflower/annuals/herb garden behind the garage.

Damien and I are currently debating replacing the pool. There used to be a pool but it was old and damaged and so it was removed from the property. The space would work well as a pool but we are not big "maintainers" and signing ourselves up for regular maintenance is not a decision we make lightly. This summer we've taken advantage of the free public outdoor swimming pools. (Cameras are not allowed otherwise I'd love to share photos since pool swimming has been a big part of our summer.)

So we'll see about the pool.

The backyard is a southern exposure and because there are no large trees it gets full sun all day. It's meant for a garden.

I feel our yard space, front and back, are just the right size for how we want to spend our time at this stage of family life; enough space for me to grow lots of beauty, but not too much space that we have to spend a lot of time maintaining. Both of us would rather do other things. And the best part is that in the city there are no pesky biting insects. No mosquitoes, no ticks, no black flies.

It's not the most beautiful backyard ever, I've seen some amazing yards, seriously swoon, in Montreal. But if it was already done I wouldn't have the privilege to create that beauty.

What I don't like about the yard is that the soil is full of clay and very compacted (and there are a lot of rocks around the old pool area). But I've worked with clay before in Maine and though I'll never have the loam of the prairies in my Montreal backyard I know I can build a good soil back there with basic composting and soil amendment principles.

One thing I used to do when gardening was to keep a garden journal, or rather, pages of looseleaf notes, flower tags, calendars with planting dates, and garden sketches filed in a garden section of my homemaking binder.

The garden section of that binder has long since disappeared but I do look forward to resurrecting it next year. I had been thinking about this, anticipating how I would start planning the garden next February, when Angi Schneider contacted me last week to tell me about her Gardening Notebook garden planner and record keeper.

She's doing a special promotion right now of the Garden Notebook, perfect timing for making records about this year's harvest, records you will probably want to revisit as you make plans for next year's garden.

Gardening Notebook is not an extensive "how-to" garden manual but it does have helpful information for growing, harvesting, storing and common pests and problems for the common vegetables, fruits and herbs. Angi lives in Texas and the book has a Texas 'flavor' with some Texas resources listed but includes a lot of other resources also for gardening across North America.

One of the most helpful features of the e-book is the planting guide which lays out for you when you can plant your garden vegetables based on the date of the last frost in your hardiness zone. With our move from the peninsula to Montreal I've gone from zone 3 to zone 5. Yee-haw!

The Gardening Notebook is on sale for $5 till August 31st.

I'm looking forward to getting my garden started and once again being an urban gardener.


Mid-Summer and settling in to Montreal

I'd like to see if I can't push through this anxiety. Instead of pulling back, I'm going to lean in.

I'm not going to stand by and watch my passion for writing and the joy I get from this creative pursuit and relationship-building opportunity be ripped out from underneath me. Not on my watch.

I have a lot of drafts of half finished posts. A lot. They are nagging me a little. Let's see if I can publish one of them, if I can publish this one.

As I've mentioned in my last post, I've had a hard time writing.

When we first arrived in Montreal, a little over one month ago, we were in survival mode. No fridge or stove. No curtains. No routine. I don't write in survival mode.

We got through that period, we survived. But life as I know it, or knew it, shifted on its axis with our move to Monteal. And it's a lot to simply process, never mind write about.

There is much I could write about. Our days are full and there is just so much to do in the city. Free public swimming pools (which we visit often), the market, Comic Con, finding a church, walking access to both downtown and our local neighborhood shops selling everything from the obscure to the mundane necessities, connecting with homeschoolers, making new friends, a continuous run of festivals; in just the first month of living here there has been a lot to take in. Not to mention unpacking, shopping, and setting up home.

We are busy, and not just because of moving. That part, at least finding a place for everything and everything in its place, is almost done.

For many years I pushed against busy, set up boundaries to protect my children and myself from doing, doing, doing. I wasn't cut out to be the mother who shuttled three little kids all over the place. Our life ran smoother and I was happier (which means everyone was happier) if we had a fairly routine and quiet-ish quotidian rhythm.

I rail against the North American culture of busy-ness. But a time has come in my life when I am busy, not simply because I have a lot of work to do, I've always had that. I'm busy, because, well, we're busy, out and about, kids going and coming. We chose this busy-ness, or more accurately, as the parents of active, want-to-live-life-to-the-fullest teenagers, it chose us.

This is my season of busy. (I'm still figuring out how to balance this with my need, yes need, for routine, order and regular blocks of rest and downtime.)

I am adapting and adjusting right now, internally and externally, to a barrage of new experiences, adapting to busy. Adjusting to the experience of living in a new city but also the definite shift in family life. It's all my brain can do to simply process the experience in my own body. Putting everything into words is another matter entirely.

Photography presents a similar problem.

Photography is a multi-faceted art for me. One of its roles in my life is to help me remember. That part is not so much creative as it is functional, though I can't help but take those "remembering" pictures with an artistic eye. But the photography I share here is a visual form of story telling and an expression of beauty. Without a lot of conscious awareness on my part (except for when I stop to think about it, like now) I photograph and then publish the things I value and find beautiful. In this way, photography is a form of artistic self-expression.

In this new environment, this new phase of life, the question I am asking myself is: what do I value and find beautiful? There is so much beauty in this city and many things here that I value and appreciate. But almost everywhere I want to take a photograph, is a very public place and people are around. In spite of all the camera-wielding tourists and smartphone picture-takers in my midst, I feel self-conscious pulling out a camera in very public places. It's new for me, and it takes some getting used to.

Not only that but I'm in beautiful-city overload and awe. I want to take photos everywhere I go and yet, even if I can get over my insecurities of taking pictures, I can't capture the images I want. I can't pixelate? digitize? the colors, the vibrancy, the eclectic mix of people, the architecture, the history, the joie de vivre of Montreal in summer.

And the place I would normally feel at-ease taking and sharing photos, my home environment, still feels too new for me to feel completely at-ease sharing online (or even IRL).

The house is coming along. We're nearly all settled in. There are 5 boxes of photo albums waiting to be unpacked, sitting in the living room. We need to get a shelf to put those in and then the unpacking will be done. Five boxes away from done. Yep. I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Like I mentioned in this post, July 1st is Moving Day in Montreal. And as people were preparing to move, or were simply cleaning their spaces with the arrival of summer, treasures could (and still can) be found on the sidewalk. We scored some good finds in this lead up to Moving Day and I was able to set up our shared learning and living space, and my desk, aka "command central", all with found and free objects. That felt good.

The list of things that need doing or need to be purchased is dwindling. I think (cross my fingers) I only have one more trip to make to IKEA. We have the space and tools we need to cook, eat, study, create, relax and hang out together.

It's not magazine perfect, we don't have a couch, and our dining room table is too small to comfortably accommodate guests (my parents are visiting right now and supper is squishy); but it's home, it's tidy and organized (it has to be, it's a relatively small space), and we're comfortable here.

We've done a lot of shopping and household purchasing since moving. We've never bought this much "house stuff" at one time in our entire married lives. There were things we truly needed - like a fridge and stove, and then those things we needed for comfort - like bean bag chairs for the kids. We've dipped into the red a bit and my frugal sensibilities and no-debt ideals feel bruised, but truthfully, it's also been fun to purchase some new things.

Everything we could possibly want to purchase is accessible here. This is a blessing after years of limited access to material things. For example, this past winter we had to drive 4 hours, 2 hours to the nearest Staples and 2 hours back, to buy a new power adapter for our computer. So it's a nice change to have easy access to goods and services. But a dizzying array of shops and the shopping experience itself, is overwhelming to my senses.

The urban milieu in general requires a certain amount of desensitizing oneself. After years of living surrounded mostly by nature, and trying to take it in as much of my physical environment as I possibly could, I am now actively filtering out a lot of physical input, consciously and sub-consciously. I am trying to ignore the people always asking for money, while at the same time having conversations with Damien about our responsibility in these situations. We haven't resolved it.

It's a huge change and a lot to acclimate to. Life in a big city. Living in an apartment. New routines and ways of doing things for our family.

It's been hard to re-establish my writing routine in midst of all of this. And in the midst of this.

I'm frustrated with that situation and, if I'm not careful (and oh, how vigilant I must be), fearful. I'm frustrated that my life has had so many twists and turns and in all that movement, literally, I've lost my writing groove (and my homeschooling groove). I fear I will never be the Writer I want to be. That I will drop off the edge of the blogosphere map, become irrelevant, a has-been blogger.

(And worse than that, I'm not even sure anymore what I want to be and how to define myself. So I've been letting that go - the need to define what I want to be and who I am outside the core of who I am in Jesus Christ - loved, chosen, as is. Loved. Chosen. As is. I'm letting that settle in my spirit.)

In my fear, I want to know the "success" secrets of other people's lives. But another part of me - my older, experienced, perhaps wiser self (or maybe it's just the jaded part) doesn't want to know other people's secrets for how to live a good life, how to write through crisis and transition, how to homeschool through high school, how to eat, drink, sleep, exercise (everyone seems to want to tell you how to live and are usually trying to make money while doing so).

I just want to live without all that for a while. Truthfully, a long while.

I've learned something over the past few years, living through some life-altering, life-jarring, life-twisting experiences.

There are very few principles for living that can be applied to most people. The world is a big place with a vast array of micro and macro cultures. If you've never lived, worked, found food, or parented in a different culture than the one you are most familiar with you will not get this. If you've never truly pushed yourself outside your comfort zone in some way (which by the way, I'm not sure I completely recommend, I'm still bruised from doing so) you will not get this.

When you've lived in one place for a while and found your groove, when you've got a good thing going, whether it's in a city, a suburb, an RV, or a farm, it's natural to think you've got life figured out.

After all, you're doing something that works. For you. And if you're a blogger you're tempted, I know because I've been this blogger in a previous life, to share those systems that work for you. And you may write them in "11 easy steps... or tips... or things I've learned..." or whatever.

But those secrets of success, those "11 tips for..." are rooted in who that person in, her personality, where she lives, her culture, the relationships she's in, the way she views the world.

The only tips for successful living that cross cultural barriers (those ideas that transcend time and space), and that are applicable no matter where you live and who you are, are those pertaining to attitude, outlook, and belief.

Successful living, happy living, passionate living, missional living, intentional living... that thing you are seeking after, that I am seeking after (I'm not entirely clear right now what I'm seeking, but it's wrapped up in there somewhere), is not about being more organized, decluttering and folding your underwear just so, it's not about growing your own food or having a life adventure, it's not about reading all the classics or keeping up with Netflix releases, it's not about eating vegetables or eating meat, it's not about unschooling or Classical Conversations, it's not about shopping at big box stores or from a farmer, it's not about having your clothes chosen by an online stylist or buying them at the mall.

That thing you're after, a hunger for meaning and significance perhaps, is not about what's happening on the outside of your life, it's about what's happening inside. And what's happening inside a person - they ways in which they are breaking and being rebuilt, dying and being reborn, falling and being redeemed - cannot be easily quantified, never mind written up as steps someone else can follow.

And so as much as I want to find the steps, to read about how other bloggers have done this, to read about how I can be an amazing writer through a life-changing experience, through a mid-life crisis, through the raising and educating of teenagers, through a move from mountains to city, through a re-imagining and re-directing of marriage and family life; the fact is, I'm never going to find the answers outside of myself.

I don't mean the answers to life's problems and mysteries lie within me. Good gracious, I'm not God.

What I mean is that other people's answers will not be mine. My answers will not be yours.

I am new to Montreal. I love this city. I don't love everything about it. I don't love getting stuck in traffic on the big highways. I don't love having noisy neighbors. I don't love transition times but the city itself, all the potential that awaits our family here, that, I love.

I can google my way around the city (what did we do before smartphones?), find out which festivals are going on this weekend, and discover taekwondo schools, art-supply stores, and drama classes.

I can search Kijiji for used furniture, drive to big box stores or walk down the street to the mom & pop shops (or whatever the equivalent is in French) to get what we need for the house.

I know how to do all of that. I can find those answers fairly easily. But the other answers in my life don't come so easily.

The answers to how I'm going to get through this mid-life questioning, who I will be on the other side, how to write my way through this, and the biggie, how to have peace and patience with some of things I'm learning about myself through this process, can't google any of that.

And so what I'm learning this summer (I'm skeptical of other people's "what I've learning" blog posts, sorry for the hypocrisy), with the traffic just outside my bedroom window, is the surrender at the end of the struggle.

I don't know if this is the breakthrough I've been seeking, or just a reprieve, but something's mending here.

Something's mending in the evening walks with Damien, in going to the pool with my kids, in finding a church where we can't wait for next Sunday, in the new relationships I'm making (everyone I meet past "hello" knows I'm in/moving-through/coming-out-of a rough time), in buying fruits and vegetables at the market, in seeking and finding homeschool connections, in the humid heat of a languid summer afternoon, in my morning mediation, bible reading, and drawing, in the planting of the Rudbeckia in the backyard.

It's slow, but it's mending.

I am cautiously optimistic. But I am also arms wide open ready to accept God's provision for me at this point of the journey. His healing, His love, and His vision for my future.

I think this is exactly where I'm meant to be, and I don't want to get all woo-woo or cliche about it, "everything happens for a reason", but maybe it's true.


Facing my writing anxiety

I'm doing my anxiety homework this morning.

If my breakdown last fall and the mid-life crisis that followed it were a comet, anxiety is the dust tail or maybe the gas tail of that whole experience.

I don't know if this metaphor is most accurate but you'll see soon that's not so much the point.

The breaking, the un-doing, the falling apart has already happened, that's the head of the comet. When that burst into the atmosphere of my life it was obvious to me I needed to chart a course for myself for healing. That's been my personal focus for this year. But anxiety lingers like the comet's tail, following that fiery explosion, but just as significant in terms of "things I must address". Which is how I've come to the point of doing anxiety homework.

I can't tell that whole story here. Oh, I am tempted to talk about how anxiety has been bubbling below the surface for a few years but I haven't really identified it as such. And even if I had, I don't know that I would have known what to do with that knowledge. But with the breakdown, re-build and mid-life crisis, everything has been laid on the table and I've been able to get real honest with myself about all the pieces that are at play here. And anxiety is definitely at play.

The point of this post is to not tell about that discovery, nor even to talk about everything I'm doing (which is quite a bit) now that I've come to this realization. Here's where I'd like to list all the spiritual, cognitive, creative strategies I'm using to deal with my anxiety, to prove to everyone reading my "good-girl ness", how I'm fulfilling my responsibility to myself, my family, the whole fricken' world. It could be a list of five, or seven, or another odd-number of strategies that are "working for me these days."

I set a thirty minute timer this morning for my writing.

For the last few months writing has made my anxious. The belly roil, I thought it was because I was digging deep, and I have been, to figure out what went wrong and how I can fix this. Most of my energies lately have been on the fixing part.

So I've been thinking that my anxiety about writing has been because it's hard to face these truths about myself. Yes, that's part of it.

But the bigger part of it is that my anxiety has skewed a few of my innate tendencies (my drives, motivations, the way I look at the world) and it is that skewing of those tendencies that has actually been causing a lot of my writing anxiety.

Two of those tendencies of mine, those core drives and values, are for "rightness" and "expression". Of course, closely aligned with my "rightness" value, just on the other side of healthy, is perfectionism.

I don't see the pursuit of rightness as a bad thing but its sinister side, perfectionism, is a beast. I would like here to delve into what "rightness" means to me. If you're an ESTJ you might understand that drive to "do the right thing", the joy/burden of loyalty and responsibility. I'm not going there. Again, this is actually part of my homework, to not go there right now.

I can't go there right now, not in the thirty (plus a few more) minutes because my tendency in my writing, for oh, the last year? longer? is to "get it right" on all levels. Honesty is so important to me and so is self-expression and communication. And there is so much going on inside me these days and trying to find the words to express that all is killer. And then I want my grammar to be right. And the photos and the everything. I want it right.

Few things in my life are under my control and what I can control, what publishes here, has had the life-joy squeezed out of it by that same desire to control the outcome.

My anxiety homework is to engage one of my anxieties. Yuck.

I have a couple key anxieties. My biggies. I'm not talking about those here and now and I really don't know how to engage them. They're not fears of snacks or phobias of public speaking or elevators.

But writing and publishing to the blog is an anxiety-causing thing I can face. (Can you even believe it, I'm anxious about blogging?!) I can set a timer and write a post and hit publish. Even though it pains me to do so.

I know that it won't have expressed all I wanted to express. The grammar will have errors. It won't be completely right. It won't be perfect.

It's not that I need to be right in constrast to other people. I used to thrive on that kind of competition in my younger years, and carried a ton of pride in my heart. But I have been humbled so many times on the road to mid-life, the deepest of that happening in the last few years, that most of that "look at how I'm right" has been broken in me. Lest you think I'm a saint (ha!), I still love to be right about silly things like navigation (and a bunch of other things, because, well, I can't help it. I just like to be right.)

So this particular anxiety is not about me in comparison to other people, though I do have that anxiety also, but that's not the one I'm dealing with here. This writing anxiety is that I want to express myself as pure and as close to the truth as I can. I want to be "in the right" about understanding myself and then expressing that here. In the right about understanding my mid-life crisis.

Readers might make all manner of erroneous assumptions when reading this and I hate that I can't thoroughly explain myself to basically make myself look better. Thoroughly explaining myself would take many writing hours, writing hours of anxiety and "did I say this right", and "is this the best expression of what I'm going through and trying to communicate" angst.

So this post is my self-assigned homework: face an anxiety, the fear of not expressing myself fully and being misunderstood and therefore judged and found wanting and let go of the perfectionism of endless editing to produce that perfect or as close to it as possible expression.

Even that last sentence, I had to stop myself from falling down the editing rabbit hole. Yeesh.

Write, in thirty-ish minutes (my timer just went) publish and let go.

(Disclaimer: The post took me longer than 30 minutes. I wrote the first draft in 30(ish), than I did some non-bellying roiling edits two days later. Plus, moving photos from the camera, to my editing software, editing and uploading them here, well, all that takes time too.)


Summer Check-In

Things have been real quiet on the blog. If you are a regular reader, God bless you, you'll have noticed.

You've been sending emails and reaching out, asking how I'm doing. With a mid-life crisis underway and a big move, a long period of silence is setting off alarm bells for some of you. I can't adequately express how grateful I am for this blog and the people who have come to care about me through my writing. It seems pretentious to say, but it's true. I care about the people who read this blog. And I am cared for, prayed over, loved on by the people who read it. I am humbled by that reality.

Also, I don't want to presume anything about the place this blog has in your life but personally, I have a handful of blogs I regularly read and one absolute favorite. If those blogs went silent for a while I would be both concerned, wondering if everything was ok, and disappointed because I enjoy the gifts those blogs bring to my life. If I am in your list of favorites, I apologize for the disruption to your reading pleasure :)

A longer post is forthcoming, I think. I've been writing one at least, slowly. But until that publishes (and there's an if in there), here's what I want to say.

I'm ok. I am living right now fully present and engaged where I am, in the tasks, pleasures, and sometimes hardships of everything that is going on. Writing is not a big priority for me right now, for many reasons I won't get into.

That is the simple reason for my absence here.

The non-simple reason is just a long, drawn out explanation of my current priorities and what it looks like to be "fully present and engaged where I am, in the tasks, pleasures and hardships of everything that is going on".

I have a lot of things to "live" this summer and writing is not making the cut. But really, I am ok.

Not ok as in "I'm through my mid-life crisis, my anxiety is fully resolved, and everything is crystal clear", but I am catching glimpses of when I will feel that way. And I believe the path towards that threshold, or milestone, is surer than it has been for months.

I know. It all sounds a bit cryptic. It's really not. It's just life, and life for me this summer, at least so far, doesn't involve a lot of writing.

Thank you for your love, concern and care.

If you want to get ahold of me, you can reach me with the contact form or at renee at tougas dot net. Some of you are in the Montreal area. Yes, we should get together. Maybe have a meet-up at my house? Later this summer/early fall? Or, one-on-one stuff is fun too. I just don't have time right now to do any of that, unless you have a pool (and you invite us to come visit) or you want to meet up at a city pool.

Free pools! Montrealers have a good thing going. We're spending a lot of afternoons at a pool these days. Summer is short, the city is hot and happenin', and we're making the most of it.

Montreal is amazing. Other than the usual city caveats, namely traffic, we all love it here. We're adjusting well, exploring our new digs, and getting connected in a myriad of ways. This is exactly where we're supposed to be.


I didn't even know this was special

For the last thirteen years we've lived, more or less, near the ocean.

In Maine we didn't live on the coast, but compared to landlocked states we lived near the water. Four years ago, when we left Maine to move back to Canada, we lived with my parents in Nova Scotia for about six months. They were minutes from the ocean. Most of our time on the Gaspe peninsula has been near or in the mountains. But for the last nine months the view from our front yard has been the ocean.

At some point in these last thirteen years we started a sea glass collection. A few of our best finds have been from Plage Henderson, the local beach, a ten minute walk from this house on the hill. I don't think I've come home once from that beach without a piece of smooth glass in my pocket.

The sea glass goes in a jar. Over the years the kids have crafted lovely jewelry with a few of the most beautiful pieces we've found.

When you find sea glass on the beach, it always feels like discovering treasure, but not all the glass we've collected is worth keeping. Before I packed up the jar to move it to Montreal we went through the collection, choosing our favorites, discarding the rest. (The discard is easy. They just go back to the beach.)

At the time of the sea glass sort, I was experiencing a particularly intense wave of transition anxiety so arranging the pieces, touching their smooth surfaces, and noting the subtle differences in a color, all felt like a meditative practice.

My situation remained the same, I was still surrounded by the general disorder and chaos of moving. But for a few moments there was beauty and calm.

I shared an instagram to remember that moment. Then I picked up the sides of the paper and funneled the "chosen ones" back into their jar.

Later in the day I checked my instagram and noticed a comment on that post in which someone tagged two of their instagram "followers? friends?" people to check out the collection.

The first thing that came to my mind, and which I added to the comments was, "I didn't even know this was special."

Last month I published the following in my Kitchen Table essay.

Looking through some of those photos I could see how precious each stage of our family life has been. How blessed we have been to have our family culture enriched and shaped by our unique experience of living in a variety of situations. I see strong relationships in those photos forged through happy times, and not-so-happy times.

My children are nearly grown and I'm six months out from my fortieth birthday. Looking at those photos, it hit me hard. I don’t want to spend the first few years of Montreal asking if we've done the right thing and wishing for the past. A past that, in retrospect, was happier, more secure, and contented than I actually felt in the living of those days.

I don't want to appreciate what I have only as it slips out of my grasp: health, time with my children, ordinary days, food on our table, friendships, the opportunities to make art, love, and music.

I want to experience life while living it, not just pine for a (false) halcyon past, or place unrealistic hopes in my expectations for the future.

In other words, I don't want to get to the end of life, my kids' graduations, next year, or next month, and say about right now, "but, I didn't even know that was special".

I've had so many experiences that, at the time, I didn't fully appreciate and recognize how special they were. Because so much else was going on, all those distractions and stresses of life.

There are some moments, days and seasons that are simply hard to appreciate.

I've told you I'm having a mid-life crisis.

It has not come out of nowhere. It comes from four years of nearly constant transitions and upheaval that has undermined my overall sense of security and self-confidence. It comes from being the forty year old mother to three teenaged children, two significant life phases converging on each other. It comes from the Big Things we learned about ourselves, and our marriage, on our thru-hike.

It has come because it is time to deal, head-on, with some things in my life (me) that I have previously avoided facing, choosing instead to (try to) control, manage and manipulate my environment.

This has been painful. And in experiencing that pain I have doubt and regret. Where did I go wrong to bring this upon myself? How did I get myself in this pickle?

If I had known this pain was coming I would have tried to avoid it but I wonder then, what else would have been avoided in doing so? What relationships would have never formed? What wonderful moments and memories, that I now cherish, would have never existed? What personal growth would have been stunted?

Moving is hard on me for many reasons. It brings disorder and chaos into my life. There is a huge loss of efficiency which I beat myself up for. My management systems are stressed and strained. It can feel like things are out of control. It's just hard.

Life is hard, for everyone, and this is just one of my "hard" realities. It's something I hate doing and for my mental health we intend to not move again for a while. (There is a very good reason why most people try to avoid moving too often.) But this situation I do not like has enabled me to have some amazing experiences, to live in unique and wonderful places, and taught me a great deal about myself and about life.

This spring I was reading John Gottman's book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I wasn't able to finish it before I had to return it to the library, but one of the things I wrote down that really encouraged me was this: "couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well.” This statement is based on his extensive research on marital stability.

I have very positive memories about our past, all parts of it - the places we've lived, the relationships we've had, our family story, our history as a couple. I have to dig to remember the painful stuff. And although Damien remembers our past positively also, when I start moaning for the good ol' days he's the one to remind me of some of the struggles we faced, and conquered together, in our past.

These positive memories give me hope, because I realize that I will remember this time fondly also, mid-life crisis and all. I am going to cherish these memories, because they're ours, they're mine.

Experience teaches me this, and just knowing that challenges me to look at the present through that lens - one day this will be a cherished memory. Remembering that someday I will look back on this time as the good 'ol days encourages me to grab the camera and take a photo, encourages me to watch Netflix with my kids and pack hasty picnics for the beach, encourages me to slow down when I can and to work hard when hard work is what is called for.

This is a difficult lesson for me to learn. I wonder how long it will take me to "get it".

Cherishing our lives is something a lot of us struggle with. And I think we struggle with it because it's something worth struggling for. When life is easy, cherishing is cheap. But when things are hard (and they are for all of us, in different ways and at different times) that is the time we must develop the discipline of appreciating and noticing.

PS. These lilacs make me so happy. There is a lilac hedge between the guesthouse and the main house and the air is heady with their fragrance, which right now is wafting through the open window of the guesthouse bedroom, where I sit writing.

I had been anxiously awaiting their bloom, a bit peeved at how late they blossomed. I was frustrated with the peninsula's almost non-existent spring season. Talk about an exercise in futility.

The lilacs bloomed during the in-between time of our move, something I could not have planned or orchestrated. I will always cherish this timing and in future years, as the lilacs come into bloom wherever I am living, they will remind me of this period of our lives; this house, our friendships, sunset trips to the beach, the age of my children at this time, our move. They will remind me of now.

The moving report

Two posts in as many days, I know, crazy. I post to the blog as often as I have something ready to publish. And it just so happens that this weekend I have two posts ready back to back.

We are almost done our move, which we staged in a few parts.

First, we packed up and moved all our belongings to our apartment in Montreal. (Actually, the real first part of the move was our trip in April when we found our apartment.)

This transfer of our belongings happened last weekend in a whirlwind three day trip. Two full days of driving (it's about nine hours to Montreal, without food breaks) with a day sandwiched in-between for unloading, setting up what furniture we have (not much), and picking up what appliances we could. Apartments in Montreal generally do not come with appliances, unless you buy from the previous tenant, which we couldn't since the apartment had been completely renovated and there was no previous tenant.

My brother took the bus from Guelph, Ontario to help us unload and do anything else we needed doing. My brother Brad is rock-star. Being closer to his family is just one of the perks of moving to Montreal.

All of that unloading, putting the kids' beds together, a trip to IKEA to buy us a bed, building that bed, unpacking and organizing the kitchen, picking up a used washer and dryer found via Craigslist (which including moving said appliances down three flights of stairs, without a dolly), and installing the washer/dryer happened on Sunday. We crammed as much work as we possibly could into that day.

We are still without a fridge, stove, couch, comfy sitting chairs, dining room table, window coverings, and other household sundries. All in due time.

In Montreal, most leases run from July 1st to June 30th. This means July 1st is Moving Day in the city. I am hoping to score a lot of what we need in this annual moving melee.

Before moving all our stuff to Montreal I had to pack it. Some of it was still in boxes from our last move, when we left the chalet and stored our stuff in the basement of Tony and Julie's house during our hike. Most of our belongings though were unpacked while living here - clothing, craft supplies, homeschool stuff and books.

During the course of the last nine months, and especially the last couple months as we prepared to move again, I have once again gone through all our belongings.

Sorting, organizing, cleaning, and purging, yet again, the extraneous stuff from our lives. Most of those extras we got rid of here but I had to move some of them with us to Montreal since I'm at a loss for where to hand-down English homeschooling resources and books where we live. There is no community of people here to use and appreciate those resources, which is a big reason for our move.

Our belongings are now as downsized as they are going to get while still raising children. When we left Maine in the Big Move four years ago, we got rid of a lot of stuff. In the past four years we've lived pretty much in furnished places so a lot of furniture went. And now that our kids have grown out of childhood a lot of the toys, etc. have left the house.

There are no groaning garage shelves. No basement with boxes of junk. No basement.

All this moving has been hard on me. But one of the gifts that has come out of it is this: everything that's left has a place and purpose in our life. And I'm excited to start our life in Montreal with this clean slate.

The only "things" I am still trying to figure out how to deal with are photo albums from the first thirteen years or so of married life. I quit making these albums six years ago and I'd like to digitize them but that seems like a monumental task, so we keep putting it off. These albums have a purpose in our life. They are a visual and written record of our family history, from the years before I did a lot of blogging. But they don't have a "place".

We're not a "sit down and look through photo albums" family and so they have sat, for years, on bookshelves and more recently in boxes. There is no bookshelf for them in Montreal, nor do I plan to get one. They are the loose end in our downsizing process.

I have touched our belongings so many times over the past five years. Sorted, purged, and packed. And done it again six or nine months later. I am tired of this process now. And I am done with it. Our belongings are pretty spare, unloading a moving truck with two adult men, and three teenagers took about one hour.

I'm beyond ready to settle now with what we have, buy the furniture we need (IKEA, Craigslist, and the yard sales that abound with the July 1st Moving Day) and live in a clean and creative space.

The kids will all be getting their own desk space with this house. Damien's raising the girls' beds, the ones he built three years ago, and building them desks below. He's working on that while we he has access to a well-equipped workshop.

I am really pleased about each person in our family having their own workspace.

Well, that took quite the turn. I started this narrative by telling you about the stages of this move. Back to the present. After we unloaded and worked our butts off for one day in Montreal to get as much installed and set up as possible, we came back to the peninsula to finish our work here.

Every place we've lived I've left cleaner than it was when I found it. I don't spring clean I just move a lot.

This house was pretty clean when we arrived, so I don't know that I got it clean-er but I sure tried. And there are the large yard, flower beds, pool, etc. all of which I wanted ready for the home-owners return. Or as ready as we could possibly make it.

That's been life this past week.

I am so thankful for three very able-bodied young adults in the house. These kids can work and with gaming/TV time as the reward everyone's desires are met in the arrangement.

Julie and Tony and their boys arrived on Friday afternoon. It's been a great weekend with them. I was a bit nervous about the transition period of giving them back their space. I struggle with people-pleasing tendencies and I didn't want to disappoint them in how we took care of their home, which we loved and lived in as it were our own.

This house was a gift to us and we felt immeasurably blessed by Tony and Julie's generosity to us. We had some good times in this house, it has become a part of our family story. However, I've gone through a very difficult personal period while living here (which had nothing to do with the house). This home was a safe refuge for me. Like I said, a gift.

With the return of our friends and the end of my work in preparing the house for their arrival it's time to shift into another gear. It's time to shift into summer.

We'll be moving permanently to Montreal later this wek.

We're living in the guesthouse right now and I am enjoying the "vacation-like" feel of this space. I have paperwork stuff to do before we leave but I also want to relax and play tourist a wee bit.

I've said most of my goodbyes here but there are a few more I need to make.

And then it's time to go, time for the next chapter.

A time of making home, somewhat permanently. A time for finding a church community that we connect with. A time for enjoying the relatively clean slate of a new living space, our belongings pared down to those things which have a place and purpose in our lives. A time for making new friends, which I love to do. A time for discovering a beautiful city. A time for connecting our kids with the resources and community they need. A time for Damien and I to find new interests and loves together while carrying over those from our past that still fit.

Time for a new season of life.


At the start of summer

The lilacs bloomed this week. And though there have been a few moments of sunshine, the days have been mostly rainy and overcast, with afternoon thunderstorms.

The birds start their songs at 3:30, a chorus in response to the lightening sky. And at night, fat June bugs hit the window screens, trying in vain to reach the light. I'd feel sorry for them if they weren't so creepy.

Summer has arrived.

I used to know what summer was all about. Back when my kids were little and our week-day family life was largely lived according to my personal rhythms and interests.

In July we'd pick strawberries and raspberries. Come August we'd pick blueberries every week. We didn't pick for fun, well it was fun for me, raised as I was by berry pickers. Stocking the freezer with the fruit of the oh-so-short northern summer was a point of pride, tradition, and great taste.

Farm day was every Thursday. And what was in those boxes inspired the week's menu.

There were a few, but not many, wickedly hot humid days sprinkled throughout an otherwise beautiful Maine summer. I never minded that humidity much, it was short-lived.

I took the kids swimming once a week to one of the many local lakes. And sometimes, though this was less often, we'd make the hour long drive to the ocean. Usually when family came to visit.

I worked in our yard, creating an urban oasis. I built easy-to-maintain veggie gardens and beautiful perennial beds yielding bouquets all summer long.

Come weekends, there was hiking and monthly camping trips.

We'd live summer well into September before starting our fall school routine. We didn't take a "summer vacation" from school but sprinkled our breaks liberally, and I mean liberally, throughout the whole year. A month for Christmas festivities, a month to shake the February blahs, a month to dive into the heady spring rush of May. In summer, I found it was best to keep a bare minimum school routine going, when time allowed.

We don't live in Maine anymore and my kids are no longer those kiddos I used to write about. Kids are always growing up and out from their parents but it seems to me that our hike last summer accelerated, or at least accentuated, this process.

I have mourned this change. It is part of my mid-life crisis and questioning, to be sure.

They still look like kids, and they are kids, but they are not children. Childhood is over in our home.

With this move to Montreal, the dolls, Barbies and other vestiges of childhood play have left the premises. (The Legos remain.) A couple treasured items were saved in their memory bins and I kept one of their formerly-precious handmade dolls for myself because even though my kids don't need or want that reminder of their childhood, I do.

This latest purge of childhood was done without fanfare or any participation on my part.

In the morning I asked Brienne to go through her stuff to pack for the move and at the end of the day she was getting rid of more things than she was keeping.

Since leaving Maine four springs ago I haven't established a typical summer routine. In part because summer is so short here. Even shorter than in Maine. You just hold on for the ride and try to cram in as much stuff as you can.

In addition, we've had a lot of moves and transitions in the last four summers with nothing for me to hold on to, as firmly, as I did our summer routines in Maine.

Our first summer back in Canada we lived with my parents in Nova Scotia, enjoying the close proximity to ocean beaches, which we visited often. Our family did a lot of hiking and a couple backpacking trips. I can't recommend Nova Scotia as a hiking destination but the backpacking trips were commendable. Damien and I went out west for a couple weeks that summer. A couple weeks of the northern summer is a significant chunk of time.

We've had two summers living on the peninsula, both of those at the ski hill. That first summer we were settling into the not-quite-finished chalet and took a trip to Nova Scotia. The second summer we took a three week road trip to the States, family and friends came to visit, we enjoyed hanging out at the river, and there was some late summer camping with my parents. It was a whirlwind as I remember.

Last summer we hiked the Appalachian Trail.

We've had a lot of great experiences over the last four summers but none of them speak "summer" to me the way our life in Maine did. On the opposite note when I think "winter" I think of our years here on the peninsula. Snow, skiing, and wood stoves. Quebec is a winter place. Winter gains the upper hand on summer by being about 4 months longer. And we have really made the most of our winters here.

Maine, especially our last five years there, was a season of relative rooted-ness in our family story. These last four years have been a season of adventure. Moving to Montreal is the start of new chapter in which Damien and I hope to find the balance between these two.

I don't know what this summer will bring.

I can't go back to what summer was. My children are not children any more. I don't have a freezer, I won't be stocking up on berries. There will be outdoor pools to swim at (turns out the pool in the backyard of our new apartment was damaged and is being removed from the property) but my kids might have other ideas for how they want to spend their time.

That's really what it's all about these days in our home. That's what this move is about. Our kids are becoming their own people. They may join me in the things I enjoy doing, but then again they may not. And I'm in a season of trying to figure out what it is I enjoy doing!

We've started our "what we want to do this summer" list and there is nothing "lazy summer days" about it. These kids want to do stuff. And I don't blame them.

It's been pretty low key around here since ski season ended. Not low key in terms of work for Damien and I, there's always more than plenty of that to go around. But low-key in terms of corralling the troops to "do stuff together". We're not done doing stuff together, hardly. But Damien and I have made the conscious decision to embark on a new phase of family life in which we invite our kids to join us in our interests and activities. It is no longer "this is what we do as a family, now pack your gear".

We want our kids to grow into their own people. They want to grow into their own people, and they need to figure that out while feeling loved and supported by us as they do so. And that's what we intend to do.

Since coming home from our hike the kids have opted to join us in our together activities. But with more options on the table (again, the whole reason we're moving) Damien and I know we'll do a lot more supporting in the coming years than we will leading.

This will be the first summer of that shift and I just don't know what to expect. I have my own summer list: make a classic strawberry shortcake with Quebec berries, enjoy my morning coffee on the balcony, make sun-tea, start making new friends, go to some summer festivals, ride a bike to the market, often, that kind of thing.

Family life is a dynamic entity because the people who make up families are growing and changing beings. My kids couldn't stay little forever. I didn't want them to and some days, I was desperate for them not to. And now here we are, no more little kids.

My mom thinks that one of the best things about having grown children and grand-children is the way in which we have enriched and influenced her life with our interests. She's often telling my brother and me how much she appreciates the changes we've brought into her life. My mom, one of my dearest friends, is who she is today in part, because of who I am. And it will be the same for me and my kids.

I don't know what summer in Montreal will look like. I have a growing list of things I want to do. And a Pinterest board of inspiration. Summer is short and I want to make the most of it.

I do know that going forward our lives will be defined by a divergence of interests and life paths, there are five unique individuals in this family unit. But this will add more to our family than take away from it.

Blogging through a mid-life crisis

I'm in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

You may chuckle at the cliche. I assure you, it's no laughing matter.

I'm not at "rock-bottom" of this crisis, which for me was the brutally honest assessment of early winter. Though the incredibly scary feeling of that un-doing comes back from time to time. And I've been in that place of un-doing again as we make this move to Montreal. Transitions are hard.

Each time those feelings come back it's not as bad as that first time and I climb out of the pit, usually with some help from Damien and my parents, a little quicker (not as quick as I like), knowing, from experience, this too shall pass.

Here's the very brief run-down o what's going on: in the past few years we've made some big decisions based on an inaccurate understanding of ourselves, and the results of these decisions have hurt me and hurt Damien. This was never our intent, obviously. We both need to forgive each other and ourselves. The latter being the harder to do.

At this point of the healing process, I am without a clear vision for my future. I am questioning my identity at this stage of family life, I am questioning my identity period. Basically, "what is the meaning of all this?, who am I, really? and where do I go from here?"

I told you it was a mid-life crisis.

This is the stuff I've been writing, and moving those words from my heart to my head is a colossal effort. And in response to that effort, and the crisis, I have entertained so many different thoughts about how to proceed here, on the blog. Do I shut the whole thing down, start fresh, re-work, re-build, keep going as "usual".

I may not know exactly who I am right now and what I want to do with my life but there's no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater; i.e. make rash decisions about the blog.

In fact, a big change here is not the best thing to do right now. I desperately want to get to the end of this discovery process but I know this is something that can't be rushed, or quick fixed. I didn't get into this confusion overnight, and I won't get out of it so quick either.

In my first Kitchen Table essay I wrote about finding my flow.

There are things you find fun, that make you laugh, that make your heart pound faster in excitement and joy.

There are ways you move in the world, ways you function best in your relationships, ways in which you do your work, your homemaking, and attending to your family's needs that feel natural and easy for you. They even feel fun.

After a long life season of pushing against resistance, in which I saw the essence of who I am as the resistance I must push through, I am trying to find my way back to my flow, so I can work with myself, not against myself, in overcoming obstacles.

This is really hard. All of it. I regret pushing against myself for so long and the pain that has caused me. Changing our course has been absolutely necessary but I'm still not exactly sure where my course has shifted to.

We used to have such a clear vision for our future but the vision was founded on a version of myself that wasn't true to who am I.

Ouch. I told you, this is really hard. I hate writing about it because there is deep shame for me in recognizing I wasn't honest with myself. One of my core operating principles is honesty. How could this happen to me? (I know how it happened. This isn't the post in which to explain.)

This shame tells me to keep silent, and I am so thankful for my "you can't tell me what to do" spirit which, though sometimes gets me into trouble, in this case, is my saving grace. It could have been my saving grace a lot sooner but we won't go there.

I've lost bits of myself in the past few years. We all "lose" ourselves in marriage and mothering (ang gain things of course), but the loss for me, of me, in recent years was too much. And we've changed course to address this but I still need to figure out where I'm going from here.

This is interesting because we have a house of growing (and eating!) young adults who are somewhat in the same boat. Adolescence is a period of autonomy and self-definition and I imagine that process is unsettling for them (I am privy to some of that, but not all). But at their age they aren't haunted by the "I should have done this differently" miasma; that fog that likes to trail me and threatens to overwhelm me sometimes. Shaking that fog is a fight in itself.

I can't go back to who I was. But I want to regain my self-confidence, hope, and overall sense of wellbeing I had at that time. (You know, "that time" in our past we all look back on as our golden age, which never was quite as golden as we think it was.)

I want to return, or I rather move forward into, a certain security in knowing, basically, who I am, what I love, and my purpose in all of that.

In this season of summer, my season of wellbeing, I've been trying to focus on, remember, find, and celebrate the things I love in an attempt to re-discover who I am, or to discover anew.

Over the years I've blogged a lot about what I love. And maybe a bit of that wouldn't hurt now. A little less head, "how exactly do I define ego? how do I build an identity of eulogy virtues vs. resume virtues?", and a little more heart. Especially in summer. Especially in a transition period. Especially in a mid-life crisis.


Sunday Night at Plage Henderson

It has been such a privilege to live here.

This is a place I will hold in my heart, always.

The Gaspe Peninsula is a part of me. It's not where I was born or "where I'm from" but it's a place that speaks to my love for natural beauty like no other place we've lived. 

My heart holds space for all the places I've lived and the people I've loved and known through the years. Which means only one thing: I have a really big heart. 

Blog Housekeeping

I've been working on behind-the-scenes blog organization of late. My main goal is to finish FIMBY's Best, which involves re-formatting, tweaking, and cataloging literally hundreds of posts. I've been at that project for two years (minus six months of hiking). Yep, two years.

I'd like to have that done before we update the blog and online store next year.

In the past couple weeks I've re-written my About page. I am unable, in our current set-up, to get these pages to publish to the "front page" of the blog. So I wanted to write a quick note, tell you it's updated, along with my Meet Renee page (which I think I mentioned already this winter). You might appreciate reading these if you're a new and wondering what to expect from this blog. And if you're a long time reader you'll probably nod your head in recognition at the changes and evolution I mention.

Regardless of who you are and how you've come here - I welcome you. I deeply appreciate you reading.

Hard Stuff

So it was the calm before the storm.

You have to kind of laugh, because like we say around here, “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”.

Which I did enough of already last week.

It was an emotionally difficult week, they come and go like this. Though I like it best when they go.

Damien and I cycled back around in our re-building process to some core issues and big questions about our identity as individuals and as a couple. These are the kind of discussions that feel like the rug is being pulled out from under my feet. My feelings do not define reality but they still must be acknowledged and worked through.

I sent out an email to the Kitchen Table last week and in there I said,

...there are places where healing is slow and there are some painfully tender spots in my life right now, specifically in my marriage. I am working my way to writing about those, in due course. It's easy to be discouraged about the pain I feel in those areas, never mind the heartbreak and sadness for the pain itself, but then I can look at the healing that has happened. The subtle shifts that over months have changed me in significant ways. It's still a process and always will be. When I reach one marker, one healing milestone, I set my sights on another, and then another.

I've been writing down to the bones of our marriage since last fall. As we talk and dig together I need to write these new understandings. I need to frame things in a way that allows me to appreciate the gains (there have been many) among the losses, disappointments, and unmet expectations we've both experienced.

I plan to "go there" publicly someday, as far as I can, while maintaining my own dignity and the privacy and trust of our marriage.

This is not a tell-all blog. I don’t hang my family’s dirty secrets on the line but I am willing to tell some of mine. And I believe it’s important to do this. Even though part of me wants to shrink back from that telling for fear of shame, blame, and all those other nasties that like to lurk in dark corners.

So why do this?

Why blog about the hard stuff.

Because when people keep hard stuff hidden, especially those of us with a public voice, there's a tendency to believe I'm the only one. In my pain its so easy to believe the lie that I'm the only one experiencing this. And that's lonely. In your pain, you may feel likewise.

But you're not the only one.

Crisis, failures, and disappointments involving our children, marriage, finances, and health; you are never the only one experiencing the hurt, confusion, and sorrow that defines, in part, what it means to be human.

You're not the only one walking around with a box of tissues. You're not the only one feeling the sting of regret. You're not the only one wanting to take back words and actions. You're not the only one needing to forgive yourself. You're not the only one looking for the path in pea-soup fog.

We read about these trials, and often the triumphs that follow (dear God, we are holding out for triumph), in books and memoirs, all the time. At least I do. But less rarely do we read about it on "beautiful blogs".

I believe I have a beautiful life and my desire at FIMBY has always been to write about that life. Because that’s how I remember all that beauty, celebrate it, and mine it, like gold, from the less-than-beautiful aspects of the daily grind. It's how I be the change I want to see in the world, by spreading the beauty around.

But what do you do when you’re hurting?

Well, for me, I need to write about that too. Even though my greatest fear in doing so is to be misunderstood, to have people make assumptions and speculations. Or worse, for my loved ones to be misunderstood. And the ultimate insult on top of injury, to be offered unsolicited advice.

Of course the things I fear other people doing to me are probably the worse traits I see in myself, the things I do to others.

People who write blogs about beauty feel pain also. The carefully arranged furniture, the curated reading lists, the homey crafts, the happy homeschooled children, the stylist-created mail order wardrobes, the nature photography - whatever it is you read on those blogs you love - just know this: everybody goes through illness, disappointment, and heart break.

It’s just hard to get a beautiful photo of that so you probably won’t see it on many beautiful blogs. And when these hurts involve our loved ones, who are the most beautiful and treasured "things" in our lives, and whose privacy we must protect, well, you can see where it gets tricky.

This month's Kitchen Table essay is about how I'm facing perfectionism head-on with self-acceptance and mindfulness. It's also about practicing Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

There are stories in that essay of healing. And my steady, though slow, attempts to be more self-aware and proactive about my mental health.

But then there's this also, a week of new marital honesty and looking into dark corners I hadn't yet dared to go. Places we need sweep clean before moving on, but still, I'd rather these places didn't even exist (hence the tinges of reget).

Here's all I'm really trying to say, the point of this post: if you’re struggling, you're not alone.

I'm not going to ask you for details and I am not going to give you advice. I'm just going to offer my shared experience.

And this.

My Dad was reading East of Eden on one of his recent visits, Christmas I think, and he shared a quote with me from near the end of that book.

For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be. Marcus Aurelius

The pain in your heart, the tears on your pillow, the hard conversations you wish there was no need for in the first place, all of it is the seed of new growth in strength, maturity, and wisdom. The seed of good things yet unknown.


Sixteen (minus fifteen years or so)

Today is Celine's sixteenth birthday

I'm finding it hard to express how I feel about this day and its importance in my life. The birth of a first born is as much about the birth of a mother, as it is the birth of a child.  

I'm struggling this morning to put my emotions into words, and instead of teasing them out, I'm leaving them stuck at the catch in my throat. 

I love you Celine. I hope that today, and every day I am privileged to share with you, I communicate to you the unconditional love, affection and esteem I feel for you.

I can't help myself. I am head-over-heels in love with you. Still and always.

(And truly, you were such an adorable baby. And when I look at you now, almost grown-up and startlingly beautiful, on the cusp of your independence, I still see that baby. My baby.)


There was nothing special about the afternoon. It was ordinary.

A list of things to do.

I was sitting in what we call "the school room", though you might call it a playroom or TV room. It's where we've kept the school supplies and our library. All of which I am currently packing.

I was scanning school papers (artwork, writing projects, etc.) from the fall of 2013 and winter 2014. Something I didn't have time to do before we left for our hike early last spring.

To accompany the rather mindless activity of scanning I was listening to CBC radio online, picking and choosing recent recordings of my favorite shows. Interviews with writers and musicians, radio hosts and their guests discussing ideas profound and moving, yet simple and universal.

I was present right there. Nothing spectacular, just life. A to-do list made enjoyable by thought-provoking, encouraging conversation.

It washed over me then, right there. Contentment. Not in chasing a new thing. Not in finishing, or starting, and certainly not in perfection of any kind. Just listening, doing, noticing. Appreciating.

The spring surge, decluttering stuff, organizing the archives and other weekly happenings

What a glorious, glorious week it was.

It's possible that what I'm experiencing is the calm before the storm. I catch myself wondering if I'm allowed to feel so good, with no impending storm on the horizon.

Deactivate the vulnerability shield Renee. Experience the momentary joy without anticipating the worse.

Brene Brown has a name for this "paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness". She calls it foreboding joy. And in my attempt to be more mindful (the subject of the essay I've been writing all this week for the Kitchen Table) I need to stop doing this. Let's start over again.

What a glorious, glorious week it was.

Sunshine and roses. Ok, not roses. The only thing blooming in the yard is coltsfoot, but sunshine and coltsfoot doesn't quite roll off the tongue.

Oh sunshine days of Spring, how I love you.

I'm finding it hard to go to bed at 9:30, an intention I laid out in my previous post.

I think my summer energy surge is starting and I probably don't need such an early bedtime. But I've been going "to my bed" at that time anyway, enjoying the spring air through the open windows, reading while I savor the quintessential sound of spring - male frogs trying to attract a female.

In the winter my body depends on long hours of nighttime sleep, preferably 8 1/2, but I can get by with less in the summer. Sometimes a lot less.

I had forgotten this because the same was not true during our hike. The farther we hiked, deeper into summer, the earlier and earlier we tried to go to bed. We had to in order to break camp by 7:30 the next morning and put in fifteen to eighteen mile days. Even falling asleep at nine o'clock did not feel early enough.

But this seems to be shaping up into a "normal" spring, in terms of energy.

I wonder if this energy surge, which peaks almost into a frenzy of activity in high summer, is a northern latitude phenomena. I do know that Quebec kicks into high gear in the summer with more festivals than you can even hope to participate in.

This week Damien and I bought tickets for a Steven Wilson show at the Montreal Jazz Festival. We'll be living there by that time and we'll be able to walk to the Metro station and easily get downtown for the show and probably pick up some sushi beforehand. This is a far cry from our current date night scenario of going to Tim Hortons while the kids go to youth group.

I started packing this week. And was reminded once again, that though moving is a lot of work, it's also a good way to keep "stuff" in check. I have seriously culled through the kids' library this winter, and just yesterday went through all the craft and art supplies. Good bye pipe cleaners and wooden popsicle sticks (and a whole bunch more).

We washed the camping mats, the only gear I had not cleaned last fall after we returned from our hike. I was waiting for days like these. Warm days for washing outdoors with the hose and drying in the wind and the sun.

I thought we might have to take a school break with my energies focused on our move. But Brienne and Laurent are independent enough in their studies to continue in the basics - math, reading, and writing - without requiring too much of my time. (Celine is completely independent with some oversight from me, but no teaching time of mine is required). This is a middle school years reality, and wasn't true for elementary.

Of course I'm keeping a running list in Evernote of ideas for summer school and next year's curriculum but I can't spend a lot of mental energy on homeschooling as we prepare to move.

I'd like to finish that homeschooling through high school blog series but I've been writing for the Kitchen Table this week. Everything has to take its turn.

In April 2013 we did a serious overhaul of the blog. In that process I had envisioned creating pages of posts grouped according to the major themes and popular posts at FIMBY. Taxonomically speaking, these are different than my my nested blog "categories", which function more like tags.

I'm still working on that overhaul and hoping to complete it before we make the next upgrade to FIMBY in 2016.

In the past two years I finished Homeschool Help (which I'm now updating a bit) and Homemade Soap, Body Care & Herbal Skin Remedies.

In the interstices of my life I've been working on three other such compilation pages: Wife Mother Blogger, Homemaking, and Adventure Living.

As we prepare to move I've been reflecting on past moves and subsequently working on the Moving & House Tours page of Adventure Living (that page is a mess so I'm not sharing the link yet). Feel free to click over, if you're interested. Moving & House Tours is almost done, and here's the intro.

In our first fifteen years of marriage we lived in two countries, three different states/provinces, and eight homes. (And there's the house we bought but never lived in.) Alberta, New Jersey, Maine. Our last house during this time, the home we bought we Maine, we lived in for six years. A record of home stability. Then we had a four year season of moving, moving, and moving some more; two provinces, five houses, and a six month hike on the Appalachian Trail. Nova Scotia, Quebec, the Eastern United States. We've lived in thirteen houses in nineteen years of marriage, but I've had the same email address since forever! Our plan now is to stay put until our youngest is mostly grown, because I'm done moving for a while. These are the "stories" of the houses we've lived in, and our moving from one to the next, since I started this blog.

I was thinking this week I'd like to write a bit more about the current house we call home, Julie and Tony's house on the hill. Maybe someday.

We're housesitting, living in someone else's space, surrounded by their personal possessions and the intimacy of their family photos. Naturally, I have some reservations about how much of that is my story to tell, in writing and my photography.

That's the week-ending around here. It's a work weekend for us as we work on our taxes, self-employed folks have till June 15th to file.

Monday is a statutory holiday, it's Victoria Day throughout Canada but Patriots Day here in QC, which apparently is a day to remember the "importance of the struggle of the patriots of 1837–1838 for the national recognition of our people, for its political liberty and to obtain a democratic system of government" (from wikipedia).

Even with my recent personal and homeschooling Canadian history studies I have no idea who these patriots were and what they were struggling for. Modern Quebec politicians love to spin history according to sovereignty agendas. I think this holiday belongs in that camp.

Regardless of the agenda, as self-employed people, with no paid holidays, we're not taking the day off.

Victoria Day is the unofficial start of the Canadian summer. But really, how can it be summer when the leaves aren't even out on the trees yet?

I think summer will start for me the day after we've moved our belongings to Montreal. Till then I'll savor every warm spring moment I can between packing and sorting our stuff, and anticipate the blossoming of more flowers than just the coltsfoot.