2016 Seasonal Art Wall Calendars for sale

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

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

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

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

From Brienne:

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

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

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

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

Shipping is available to Canadian and US addresses. Locals can pick up from us.

Regular Cardstock Local
(hand delivered) $30 $33 Canada
(shipping included) $32 $37 USA
(shipping included) $33 $38

All prices are in Canadian dollars and with the current exchange rate if you're purchasing from the United States, you're getting a really good price.

You do not need a PayPal account to make a purchase, you can use a credit card at the PayPal checkout.

Order one or order many. (Order many). But make sure to order this week.

I agree with Brienne. An original artwork wall calendar makes a great gift.

If you have any questions please email Brienne at brienne at tougas dot net.

Some photos of the city in October

I'm getting more comfortable photographing city life, home life, life in general. Something that challenges me as a photographer is that I have to feel relatively comfortable, within the context I'm shooting, before I'm able to feel confident behind the lens.

That comfort is not physical. I've taken many photos with frozen fingers and cramped body positions, angling for just the right light. The comfort I speak of is emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. It's kind of complicated but it's a feeling that I belong where I am or I have a right to be there. I'm not merely an observer, but I'm a participant, and I've found my place.

Which means I generally don't feel comfortable taking photos of new environments, new situations. I don't think I could be a journalist photographer, and I've never felt the desire to take my photography skills and knowledge into the realm of portrait photography, other than dabbling over the years with friends.

If all else is well in my emotional world, if my sense of self and confidence is firm, I can over-ride my "I'm just new here" insecurities to photograph unfamiliar situations, sometimes rather handily. Thank goodness, otherwise I wouldn't have any photos of all the new experiences I've had.

I don't take photos out of curiosity. I take photos to remember and share the beauty of things/people/places to which I feel a connection, and generally in places (geography, relationships) where I feel safe.

Which is why I'm happy that I once again take my camera with me nearly everywhere I go and I'm not as shy about using it, as I was when I first moved here. This means I feel increasingly at-ease with city life. It's not that I didn't want to feel at ease, or even that I felt it was a bad fit. It's just that ease and familiarity takes time.

It takes time.

This is a truth I think about a lot, in fact it's probably one of the most dominant "truths" in my daily cognitive wanderings.

I am impatient with my personal growth and healing. Impatient with how long it takes the kids to learn long division and fractions. Impatient with traffic, the time it takes to make a nice supper, the time it takes to build a reliable income from self-employment.

I am impatient that I don't have exact career plans mapped out for the post-homeschool years. I'm impatient that I'm not a big picture person. There are a lot things I am impatient with. I was impatient with myself this summer, through my writing anxiety and photography hang-ups. I could go on and on.

But, in my more reflective (vs. reactive) moments of awareness, I am much kinder to myself, my kids, my family. Hence my desire to build a lot of reflective moments and practices into my life - reading, photography, meditation, journaling, outdoors, drawing, even something as simple as deep breathing. Oh my goodness I am a champion deep breather these days.

I'm reminded in those practices that life takes time. Periods of transition take time to adjust to, and life is simply a series of transitions. Transition, adjust, short period of calm (if you're lucky). Repeat.

I tend to live my days seeking out (gunning for, if you must know) those short periods of calm, of "arrival". Contrary to whatever you may perceive from someone else's curated life, also known as their online/social media presence, we are all living through this cycle over and over and over again.

None of us ever arrive, but we reach mini-milestones. Like feeling confident enough to stand on the sidewalk of a busy street in our pajamas, puffy jacket, and pink rubberboots (the easiest shoes to slip on when you're in a rush out the door) taking photos into the rising sun.

(Note about the photos: with the exception of the photo of Atwater market, second from the top, these photos are from my Rosemont neighborhood, including the views from our back porch and front balcony. I love where we live.)


It took us till mid-October to find our fall groove.

We started a few pieces of our homeschool routine way back in August. We were well past due, what with the move, an apprenticeship, traveling, and a mid-life crisis consuming our energies April, May, and June. July was all about summer and getting settled. August was a continued celebration of all things summer though my personal focus was homeschool planning and getting homeschool routines back up and running.

In the general upheaval of the last couple years, the multiple moves and our 6 month hiking adventure (which was a solid 6 months of prep prior to leaving and 6 months of emotional recovery for me after), some things in our homeschool curriculum had been sidelined, neglected, set aside for another day. A day with more emotional reserves, more physical resources, and access to more opportunities. A healthy family life can accommodate these ebbs and flows but it is time to focus our collective energies on studies once again.

This summer I drafted our Tougas Family High School Graduation Requirements, the HSGR as I refer to it in my files. The HSGR is my answer to the question, "how do I know when we're done this journey?"

Celine doesn't yet have any post-secondary plans so there's not a university or college admission track to her homeschool, at this point. Which makes it a little tricky for me to figure out our homeschool wrap-up.

We don't follow a set curriculum, I devise our own, for each child, year by year based on who they are and our family vision and values. I needed to clarify our family's vision and values for finishing high school, what does that look like? When do I sign off on my responsibilities? That's what I had to figure out, and for the most part I did. Which is something I hope to write about in the homeschooling through high school series.

We moved to Montreal because our kids needed more opportunities than we could access where we lived. I hit the ground running with this mandate, so to speak, when we arrived in June. Within a month I had made connections with a homeschool co-op, we had reconnected with our old homeschool group here (from when we lived/visited three years ago), we found a church and made fast friends in that church. I was on a mission.

Homeschool co-op didn't start till the beginning of October. This gave us the month of September to transition to a full homeschool schedule before co-op started in earnest, i.e. easing everyone in to fuller study days after months of other projects and priorities.

That transition time included a Canadian government and civics study. I taught a four week class at Communidee using Student Vote materials. What a great experience. I haven't "taught" a class of kids since my student teaching days.

My desire in teaching this class was partly selfish. Because of living in the states, and becoming non-residents of Canada (non-residents aren't allowed to vote) I haven't voted in a Federal election since I was in my early twenties. I haven't stayed in the political loop and I had a lot of catching up to do before voting in this election. Teaching my kids about government and elections was one way to do that.

It is so much fun having kids at the age where I can have political discussions with them; talking about where we are on the political spectrum/grid, finding our common points and our differences. Talking politics is really just another way of framing and explaining one's values and belief systems, a worldview. Learning how to do that, while respecting differing opinions, is a crucial part of democracy and civics education.

It was invigorating, all around. I was somewhat informed when it came time to vote and I was able to check off an important piece of the kids' middle school and high school years education. Yes, civics is part of the HSGR.

(I'm still reading the biography Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson which was to help inform my vote. I didn't get it from the library in time and subsequently hadn't read enough of it for the book to really influence my decision before voting. I think I would have voted the same regardless. The book is excellent. And for the record, I voted Green.)

My cousin got married the beginning of the month. And I traveled to Abbotsford/Chilliwack, BC for the wedding and for a long long weekend visit with my large extended family who lives in the area.

Part of my healing for this year has been to return to my roots. When I found out last winter that my cousin was getting married this year I started earmarking the funds and reserved that space on our calendar.

My time out west was like a big family reunion. I belong to these people. They are my roots. I haven't written much about my extended family, as my writing is mostly about my internal life and the family Damien and I have created. But I come from a large, loving, extended family. My maternal and paternal families combined, I have eleven sets (all still married) of aunts and uncles. I have dozens and dozens of cousins ranging from younger than Brienne to established mid-lifers.

I grew up surrounded by most of these people, or within close proximity to them. A lot of my family lived in the same community, my parents worked with my aunts and uncles, I could walk to my grandparents' homes, we went to church together, we shared birthdays and holidays.

Since the end of my childhood, the family has spread across Canada and a few members down into the States. My own birth family - my parents in Nova Scotia, our family in Maine and now Quebec, and my brother's family in Ontario - has moved the farthest from the epicenter of central Alberta that was the cradle of my growing years. But I belong to these people, they watched me grow, they prayed me up and continue to care from afar (there was quite a family hue and cry after this post last year). And on this visit I was folded back into them. Into their kitchens, into their middle-aged auntie wisdom, into their love.

In the weeks bookending the wedding trip we had to buy school supplies for co-op classes, fall clothes for growing teens, a dress for the wedding, Student Vote class was ramping up to the actual vote, homeschool co-op was starting, and there was the election. There was a lot going on and I had despaired a bit that the glory of fall, those oh-too-brief, jaw-droppingly beautiful autumn days, would pass me by while I was too busy.

But they didn't. Fall waited, and we found our groove.

This fall, everyone is adjusting to a busier study schedule - assignments, research projects, presentations, quizzes, etc. I have two scholars now and they need more time for their studies. As we figure out how to make sure kids have time for studies and projects, time for exercise and outdoors, and time to chill in the evening as a family, I've taken over supper prep. But I don't make lunches or snacks so it's probably about the same food-prep load I was carrying last winter, which is doable.

I've figured out when to do the grocery shopping, the night we do a store-bought frozen meal (hoping this workshop will maybe shift that to homemade frozen), and the day I can spend more time making supper (because once in a while I like to do that). I've found a routine for paying the bills and managing paperwork and that blessed time of the week I reserve just for me. Writing has even found a space again, at least four days a week.

Disappointingly, I realized I couldn't commit to volunteering this season, something I started late summer, when I have out-of-the house homeschool co-op, home management, and church commitments almost every day of the week. I am a homebody at heart.

I'm still trying to figure out how and if I will walk/move outdoors/exercise every day. There are a couple days in my week that it just doesn't seem possible, we'll see. I know come winter, I need to be outdoors every day. No skiing into the woods this year. But winter is a new season, the routine will shift again post-holiday. I'll work it out then.

Speaking of winter (how can you talk about mid-fall without referencing winter), I've dug my happy light out of storage in Laurent's closet and zentangle by it each morning, followed by morning mediation and readings. I've ordered my fall and early winter supply of multi-vitamins, in addition to the supplements I take for anxiety and clarity of mind.

October and November is my season to pro-actively prepare for the winter ahead. Along with finding the mittens and assessing which kid(s) outgrew their boots, this is the time of year for me to establish and nurture habits and source helpful tools that will hopefully keep me invigorated through the winter.

But let's not linger there right now. October, though marked with some pain, has also been beautiful and healing.

I am really satisfied with the homeschool vibe we have going and the opportunities and friends our kids have here. I'm going to focus on that, grateful for memorable summer that is now passed and anticipating the season of Big Birthdays and Christmas celebrations just around the corner.


Sitting with life

Here's how writing works for me these days: it doesn't work very well. I don't get enough time to do it. I'm frustrated. I think I got over the writing anxiety hump. (Dealing with anxiety, in general, is a reality in my life, but not the point of this post.)

I'm trying to figure out the place of writing in my life during this season. The fact that writing has been pushed to the margins of my life, stolen hours on a Saturday afternoon, grieves me.

This is but one source of pain in my life. It is the sorrows of family members, the pain of unmet expectations and dreams, the groanings of the earth, the plight of displaced people (displaced: a word that does not even begin to express the horrors) - in short, it is the brokenness of the human condition to which this writing grief is added.

It's a season of some pain for me, punctuated with commas, periods and exclamation points (like my cousin's wedding last weekend) of deep joy, gratitude, and belonging. Ok, so that's life in a sentence.

It's a season in which my writing feels neglected, malnourished. Something I have enjoyed doing for many years, an activity that brings satisfaction; and here's the crux of it, adds a certain meaning to a very ordinary existence, sits on the margins of my life.

Damien and I have talked a lot about this. The shift in our family life (we're calling these the whoosh years, I'll explain more later), the shift in my writing. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid of losing something that I've attached to my identity.

That's really the source of my writing grief; writing - the dearth or expanse of it in my life - is wrapped up in how I define myself. It's wrapped up in my identity.

I've spent most of the summer thinking about identity, meditating on my true identity (which is hidden in Jesus Christ), and yes, sometimes even writing about identity. Most of that has not been published, increasingly I despair it never will be published, but maybe that's not the point.

And then when I do have a moment to write, sitting here in this Second Cup on Parc and Milton, while my husband works out a few blocks away, what do I do? I write about my writing angst instead of writing through and trying to publish all those notes on identity or any one of the many other ideas gathering digital dust in my Writing Ideas Evernote folder.

This is something I don't like about my writing. My tendency to do this. To analyze my writing practice, bemoan the change in my writing routine. Bemoan change period. Writing about writing. It seems self-absorbed and whiny.

Why oh why can't I just live ideas, live life, live homeschooling, live marriage, live mothering and friendship, belonging, and faith without the desire, and on another level, the need, to write about it. Which is like asking the questions: why am I the way I am? what are my motivations? what's the difference between need and want?

Right now, in this exact moment and in the greater scheme of my days, I feel I'm being asked, being taught, being conscripted against my will to sit with life. To sit with the discomfort, to feel pain for which there is no pill, to feel frustration for which the only answer is surrender.

The answer, if there is one, has something to do with spending my energy swimming with the current of our family life, instead of exhausting myself swimming against the realities of my life, quite a few of which I have willingly chosen.

I strongly resist certain aspects of this age and stage. As much as I love Montreal I struggle with the some of the realities of city living. I struggle with the schedule of keeping older homeschooled kids engaged.

There's that struggle and there's also pain, disappointment, grief over life's little and big sorrows.

It's a stretch for me to show up for family and friends in their losses and grief, to open myself to experience pain and uncertainty in situations that I cannot orchestrate or manage a favorable outcome. Like most of my life, it's out of my control.

And so I have to sit with it, acknowledge it. Seek peace not in removing myself, emotionally or relationally, from the sources of pain, but seek peace in acceptance and surrender. And offering my presence, tears and broken-heart; which, for an action/task/product-orientated person like myself, seems a meagre offering.

Simple Beauty Minerals: A Mother/Daughter makeup review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mono no aware

Last Wednesday morning I went to the market. On that first day of fall, the market was a symphony of tomatoes, apples, eggplants, zucchini, chrysanthemums, basil and broccoli. As always, it was a feast for my senses and I was filled with gratitude, as I am each week, at my good fortune of living near Montreal's famous Marche Jean Talon.

I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, and didn't even mind doing so. As long as the frequency isn't more than once a week, I'm ok working for a couple extra hours (on top of my usual kitchen duties); chopping, saucing, freezing, drying, or whatever else needs to be done to make best use of that week's market haul.

I don't purposely buy produce to "process, put up, or put by". (Say that fast five times.) But I can't seem to help myself in the presence all that seasonal beauty. In my enthusiasm I over-buy and then I must deal with it.

Case in point, my kids aren't wild about eggplants, and I know this from years of experience, but I couldn't resist their luscious purple beauty at the market, so eggplant un-parmesan was on the menu. From-scratch tomato sauce bubbled, sliced apples went in the fridge for Thursday morning apple crisp breakfast, wild blueberries were drying in the dehydrator. It was that kind of afternoon.

September was unrelentingly beautiful. A tad warm if you ask me (no one has) but impossible to complain about when day after day we were graced with cerulean skies.

But the earth turns regardless. And though the days were clear, sunny and warm they were, they are, shortening. At 6:00 o'clock the sun sinks behind the horizon of three story walk-ups and maple trees in our neighborhood. The sky is still light, but in what seems an instant, that golden glow of slanted late afternoon sun is gone from the day.

It is my favorite time for photography.

Eggplant in the oven, tomato-crusted pots and pans stacked in the sink, I grabbed the camera from my desk, and ran to the community garden (called un jardin pour tous/a garden for all).

But I missed it. As I was layering the casserole, in a hurry if you must know, I kept thinking I'm going to miss it. This light will be gone by the time I get to the garden. And it was.

The weather held for a few more days and I returned to the garden later in the week. No rush this time. No eggplant, except the un-touched leftovers in the fridge.

It is that time of year, the season of mono no aware.

Mono no aware is a Japanese term. I am not a student of Japanese, the language or the culture, and I feel inadequate talking about something that I can't claim as my own, culturally or linguistically; though I can definitely claim it as my own experientially. My Japanese friend, if he reads my blog, might call me out on my mis-interpretation of this idea, "nice try Renee, but actually, it's like this...". But he would never say that, he is far too polite.

According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, mono no aware is the pathos of things, deriving from their transcience.

I'll admit, I don't quite grasp the concept of pathos. I can't define it in my own words. But transcience, oh my do I understand that. The wikipedia definition of mono no aware helps explain it.

Mono no aware is a sensitivity to ephemera.

Sit there for a moment.

A sensitivity to ephemera.

an awareness of impermanence, or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.


I now have a phrase, an understanding, a ladder rung of an idea to define late summer/early autumn melancholy.

A few years ago I recognized this pattern of late summer melancholy in myself. (And wrote about here, here, here and here.)

I experience mono no aware most keenly in September and early October. It's not cherry blossoms that trigger for me this wistfulness and gentle sadness. It's the last cicadas and the drooping heads of spent sunflowers. It's the noticeably darker evenings and that golden glow of late afternoon. It's the first crisp days and red-tinged leaves.

It is exactly as wikipedia says: a transient gentle sadness at the passing of (summer) and that longer, deeper gentle sadness that this is the way of things.

The impermanence of summer's beauty, splendor, her majesty, is the story of us. That is the ache of course. We ache not just for a season, gone, we ache for us.

The renewal of the earth next spring, the birth of babies, the eventual redemption, permanence, of all things, all of these are so precious, anticipated, longed for, because we experience the ache of the passing, the impermanence, the transcience of things.

And there are some moments, seasons, that my awareness of this transcience is heightened, the veil thinned.

(Cue Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.)

It is that time of year. A time for apples, eggplants (the kids are done with eggplants) and roasted tomato soup. A time to feel wistful and allow myself the gentle sadness of the passing of things.

Summer Stories ~ Fashion and Beauty

In this last post of my summer stories (I know summer is officially over, bear with me, I'm shifting to fall soon), I'm writing about an unfamiliar topic, fashion.

Today's Story: Fashion and Feeling Beautiful

I'm probably a clothing minimalist. I've never consciously limited my wardrobe to x number of items. But moving a whole bunch in recent years and our hike last summer, in which I wore one outfit (with extra layers in cold weather) for 6 months, tipped me over the edge into a minimalist wardrobe.

Damien and I share a four drawer clothing dresser. I get two of those drawers. Roughly speaking, one holds in-season clothing, and the other one, off-season clothing. What was off-season will soon be in-season. I also claim 23 (I just counted) all-season clothing on hangers. These include my "once-a-year" dress pants and my "once every-three-months" long sleeved white button up blouse.

I don't actively try to limit my clothing, I'm just not "into" clothes, I don't like shopping, and I don't have any patience for uncomfortable or ill-fitting clothing. These factors conspire to limit my wardrobe to well-worn favorites, with the occasional investment into a foundation piece of clothing.

My wardrobe is cobbled together with found, functional and free items. Found mostly at thrift shops, functional because I value practicality and comfort, and free because I'm blessed with a mom (with great fashion sense and a similar body size) who passes things along.

This black skirt is actually a hiking skort. These are the "shorts" I wore for the second-half of the trail, after my first pair became threadbare. These are a highly functional piece of clothing in my wardrobe.

Last winter, I noticed that my spring and summer wardrobe was in dire need of an infusion of color and "wear outside the house" worthy threads. When we came to Montreal in April to find an apartment the girls and I hit up Value Village and I scored big time.

Not all of these have proven to be keepers (but when you pay $3 for an item of clothing, that doesn't sting so much). The straps on the white tank bother me. The grey pinstriped leggings were cooler in concept than reality. And the grey shirt with the purple/orange/pink animal print-ish center stripe makes me look pregnant.

But a few of these items paired with favorite staples already in my wardrobe, a local friperie find, and a hand-me-down from my mom made their way into my clothing favorites this summer. Pretty much everything I wore this summer was one of these outfits or a combination of them.

The one outfit I wore most often, sometimes for days in a row with a shower washing at night, is the psychedelic circle rayon dress.

I love this dress the most and feel beautiful wearing it. I think I never did get a full-length photo of me in it because I was afraid the picture wouldn't capture how wonderful I feel in this dress and how much I love it. I've been complimented on this dress, by strangers (blush) and friends more than any other clothing I can recall.

If you scroll through my instagram you'll see corners of this dress in almost all the photos of me.

I've not had many experiences with feeling really beautiful in the clothing I'm wearing. My desire for comfort and functionality preclude a lot of showy and fussy clothing. I don't know that I've ever lucked out like this before, something that makes me feel beautiful is also completely functional (I bixi in this dress) and extremely comfortable. In fact, on humid days the light rayon of this dress was the most comfortable thing to wear from my closet.

Because I haven't had a lot of "wow, I feel beautiful wearing this" everyday clothes (it's not that I feel ugly, but mostly I feel "put-together" or "cute") this dress taught me something.

I've underestimated and undervalued the restorative, healing, and life-giving power of feeling beautiful. What you wear can be a form of art, an expression of you. And what You are is beautiful.

It's a vulnerable thing to believe about yourself, it's a vulnerable thing to share - I feel beautiful, I am beautiful. It's no doubt at the core of why I was insecure about getting my photo taken in the dress. Can I be so brazenly beautiful?


Summer Stories ~ City flowers

Fall is officially tomorrow so I really need to wrap up these summer stories. Homeschool co-op starts in two weeks. Starting Thursday, I'm teaching a four week class (to a different homeschool group) on Canadian government and elections. And the weather is starting to shift to cooler temps (finally).

With fall's arrival there will be new stories to write and hopefully I'll finish, or continue, the homeschooling through high school series, because man-oh-man, I feel up to my eyeballs in homeschooling high schoolers. Homeschooling, period.

I'm experiencing my fall-schedule overwhelm, so let's look at flowers shall we?

Today's Story: City Flowers

Montreal is a city of gardens. There are community gardens in parks, gardens growing on boulevards (I still don't know who maintains those or gets to harvest those veggies), window boxes and balcony flower pots, and backyard gardens. I've found flowers all over the city in my travels. And some of my favorite finds are the back alley green spaces. Some of these have the official designation ruelle verte (green alley), and others exist unofficially as a community effort to make safe places for children to play and neighbors to connect.

A digital tool for a growing artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post has affiliate links.


Summer Stories ~ Around town

Continuing on with the summer stories...

Today's Story: Around town

Walking, as a means of transportation, has become a big part of our lives again since moving to the city. When we lived at the ski hill, the most beautiful natural place we've ever lived, I loved walking along the river. But those daily walks, as beautiful as they were, took a certain force of will to get out the door. My walk was a set-apart time in my day. It existed for itself alone. There is nothing wrong with that. Those walks, and sometimes runs, were an important and necessary health practice in my life.

But living in the city, walking and biking are a form of transportation. It's how you get places. It's the means, not the end. Since moving here I don't have "exercise" on my schedule, the way I used to, I just walk as many places as possible on my list of must-do's. The library, the fruiterie (I don't even know what you call this in English, the store that sells mostly fruit, some dairy and basic sundries), the health food store, the pet food store, the grocery store, the dollar store, the boulangerie, and Jean Coutu/post office outlet (don't have to walk to far to hit one of those).

Walking, and even taking transit, with the whole family doesn't always make sense in terms of time and resources. It's cheaper to park one car downtown than it is to buy bus or metro fare for five. Getting to the west island and off-island, weekly occurrences in our life, is way easier with a car. And sometimes we just don't have the time to walk (or we don't make the time). But when we can, we do. Which means almost daily. And the things we see on our walks still delight me, rural transplant that I am.

Summer Stories ~ Urban adventures

The weather continues to give us summer through the middle of September. Which fits my frame of mind nicely and let's me finish publishing my Summer Stories without feeling out-of-step with the season.

Today's Story: Urban Adventures

Yesterday was the first time in three months that we'd all been to the mountains together. We knew that when we moved to the city it would be harder to get into the outdoors regularly, that we were trading one lifestyle and environment for another. It's not just the difference of living in the city vs. living in the woods, it's also the age and activities of our kids, our schedule is not as open and parent-directed as it once was. (I'll be blogging more about that in the near future.)

But we believe adventures are not just about getting out of the city into the outdoors, but discovering the outdoors in our city, or simply discovering the city. Urban adventuring is finding the treasures, natural and human-made, in our environment. And in Montreal, there are many. It's shouldering our backpacks and taking a long walk, often right from our door, into territories unknown and unfamiliar. Sometimes it's simply taking an afternoon walk, or bike ride through our neighborhood.

That's been our adventuring this summer. Adventures of an urban variety.

Summer Stories ~ Bixi

One of the things I love about Montreal is how bike-friendly the city is.

Designated bike lanes abound and you don't even have to own a bike, you can subscribe to the bike sharing service called Bixi. Bixi is a combination (a portmanteau) of the words bicycle and taxi, though there isn't much taxi-like about the service.

Bixi stations exist all over the city, especially in the city core and surrounding arrondissements. There is one a couple blocks from our house. The Bixi app is an indispensable tool in finding these Bixi stations.

We purchased a Bixi subscription which gives us a "key" we can use to unlock a Bixi bike from the station. We are then required to return that bike to a Bixi station, anywhere in the city, within 45 minutes.

What this means is that we can't take the bikes out of the Bixi service range for hours and hours. Well, we could, we just would be charged extra money. However, after you return one bike you can use your key to pull out another. So, although one ride can only last 45 minutes you can keep exchanging bikes at the stations for as long as your trip takes you.

Our subscription key allows us unlimited bike access, with each ride a maximum duration of 45 minutes.

If you are just visiting and don't need a season, half-season, or monthly subscription you can also get a one-trip rental, 24 hour or 72 hour rental period. (Again you have to return the bike to the Bixi station after x amount of minutes, but you can pull another bike out if you have time left on your rental period.)

We didn't ride bikes when we lived on the peninsula and as the kids have outgrown their old bikes we haven't replaced them. Which means we landed in Montreal with one serviceable bike that is an ok fit for the kids and I, as we're all about the same height. We got that bike all tuned up so at least one of us could hop on a bike to get around our neighborhood and the city but with the Bixi service we haven't even used that bike.

We're not a biking family, and the only people who really want to bike are Damien and I. So we share the Bixi key. I use it when I want to get out on my own, when I want/need to go to the Plateau or downtown. Damien uses it almost every other day as part of his "commute" home from whichever Starbucks he worked at that morning. (Damien is self-employed and works at home but goes out every morning to work in a cafe environment as a change of pace and also as a destination for getting exercise.)

The bikes are kind of heavy and only have three speeds but I love the freedom of the Bixi. You don't have to lock and unlock your own bike, you just "pull up" to the Bixi station.

I fell in love with Bixi this summer but I also just fell in love with biking in Montreal in general. To bike in Montreal you don't need a special cycling "uniform". You don't need to dress like a cyclist.

People bike with babies, dogs, musical instruments, veggies, and even furniture. People bike wearing shorts, skirts, high heels, and black dresses.

When you get on a bike in Montreal you wear whatever you're wearing, to go wherever you're going, to do whatever it is you need to do. And if you think the right pant leg of your business suit might get caught in the chain you secure it with an elastic around your calf. Cycling is the means, not the end. (Except for the athletic cyclists who you do see cycling for the sport.)

I know some of you have considered visiting Montreal. If you do, Bixi is a fabulous way to get around the city. It's cheaper than transit, and you see so much more of the city when you bike than when you drive. And it's just so much fun.


Summer Stories ~ Kids at home

It was raining today and for most of the weekend, which puts me a cozy frame of mind. A perfect day to share the "at home" photos of summer.

Today's story: Kids at home

Three years ago Damien made the girls their beds. This summer, before we left the peninsula, Damien converted those beds into built-in desk loft beds. The girls sanded, stained, and varnished their own desk. We purchased Laurent's faux-wood desk at IKEA.

The loft beds are awesome, except in the worst heat of summer. The girls have a large fan in their room, but on the hottest nights of the summer the oscillating motion didn't provide enough direct air movement for both the girls. So we converted the bean bag chairs into a mattress and moved Brienne to the living floor for those nights. That way, each kid got their own fan for a lot of direct air flow on those 30+ deg C nights.

Summer Stories ~ Moving and Making Home

Welcome to Summer Stories, a series of photo-posts telling the story of our first summer in Montreal. It's not officially fall until September 23rd, and so I'm indulging my love for summer and my gratitude for the gifts of this particular summer by squeezing a summer's worth of photos into the season's remaining days here on the blog.

Today's Story: Moving and Making Home

Laurent's room is the most "done" room in the house, hence it gets wide-angle coverage.

The living room needs a bit more love. The photo albums are in shelves under the TV but they're not organized yet, and artwork is still stacked on surfaces, instead of hanging on walls. Throughout the house we need a few more pieces of furniture to move our belongings out of bins and off wire shelves.

My goal is to have shoes in a closed cupboard (instead of on open shelving in the kitchen) and to store the girls' "stuff", which has lived in bins for many years, in an armoire in their room.

I have some decorating projects I need to do. I want to hem the floor-length curtains in all the rooms so that they don't cover the heaters in winter and to use that fabric to make large comfy throw-pillows. And I want to sand and stain our itsy-bitsy dining room table, though someday I want a larger one altogether. You know... a house gets settled but is never "done".

I plan to give a more thorough, wide-angle view of all the rooms - 3 bedrooms, living/dining room, kitchen and bathroom (it's a 5 1/2 by Montreal standards) - when some of these projects are done.

You'll see a few more shots of the house in some of the other stories I'll be sharing this week.


Summer Stories

I didn't write much this summer, and here's why. First we moved. I define this phase as the actual work of packing our life, transporting our household belongings, unpacking, and the ton of details before, during and after related to all of that.

Following the move was the transition phase, also known as my life feels like a disaster. Just as I hit that "my life feels like a disaster" point I experienced a spell of writing anxiety, which was just one expression of the overall anxiety I've been experiencing in my life for the last few years.

I resolved the transition/disaster zone feeling by making home and establishing new household routines to accommodate for summer, big kid needs, and the realities of life in the city.

I am attempting, mostly successfully, to address my anxiety by making space and time in my day to deal head-on with the issue. I call this self-therapy, and it includes working (note taking, homework, assessments) through a couple self-help books, Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and drawing. This takes time.

Not surprisingly, in all that, my regular writing practice which I have maintained for years (except for last summer's break while hiking) got squeezed out of my daily routine. I am now trying to pick it back up again. I hope it works out.

I didn't write much through summer but I did take some photos. I'm not yet completely comfortable in that creative medium in my new environs (some might say comfort precludes true creativity), but I'm getting there.

Since it's still summer, according to the weather (we've had a heat wave in this corner of the world) and the calendar, I'm going to share those photos in a series of posts around different themes.

These photos will tell the story of summer, just without words. Except for a few lines, I don't have the writing time nor desire to spin the tales that narrate those photos but I think the photos tell the stories fairly well all on their own. The story of moving and making home, the story of out and about in the city (so much of that this summer), the story of kids growing up, the story of urban gardens and green spaces, the story even of my summer fashion.

Even though our schedule has shifted to a not-back-to-school homeschool routine, I'm not in a fall state of my mind yet, the weather won't allow it. So I'll be hanging out with summer a wee bit longer on the blog.

The summer I made sushi

In August, my family went away for the weekend and I was home alone. By Sunday afternoon, refreshed and re-energized, I felt inspired to make a special supper for their return.

I made one of our favorite foods, something I haven't made for years. I made sushi, or more technically, maki. A simple supper of California-type rolls. I don't do raw fish, or roe at home. That's restaurant fare for us.

I was super proud of my accomplishment. The rolls were beautiful and delicious and tightly rolled, even without a mat. And there was enough to feed everyone till they were full. Filling the teenagers on sushi. Super score!

I don't like cooking all that much these days. These days being, oh, the last five years or so. Only recently, in the last nine months, have I named it and claimed it when it comes to how I feel in the kitchen.

Cooking is not something I love, or even really like to do. Cooking is not the time I "come alive", nor is it a form of happy creative expression for me.

As far as home management, I much prefer to make order in routines and space than to make food. And when it comes to creativity and leisure I'd rather take a bike ride through my neighborhood, read a book, photograph a flower, draw zentangle, etc. than craft a meal.

The sushi was beautiful, but the lighting was bad, such is the state of our dining room. And I didn't take any photos. The inspiration came. I happily made the meal. Not cooking for days does wonders for my motivation.

We ate the sushi. End of story.

I'd like to write a whole post about coming clean in the kitchen with regards to my general "meh" about that part of my job description. I'd love to write about how I thought being a good mother meant being like my mother - passionate about cooking, finding my energy and my "place" in that passion.

(My hang ups with being a good mother don't stop at comparing myself to my own mother, oh no, I've created a good mother character of mythological proportions who is a composite of all the best qualities, and none of the flaws, of the mothers/homemakers/homeschoolers I admire and aspire to be like. Oh yes, being this mom is an impossible task. But you already knew that, perhaps from experience.)

As it stands, cooking is part of my job description. It is something that must be done.

I try to minimize the pain with occasional frozen shortcuts (healthy and not-as-healthy) and outsourcing to the kids. And this summer I "officially" (we've been sliding for some time) brought animal foods into our kitchen for more easy meal options to satisfy my own desires (crepes...) and to attempt to fill the endless-pit-of-hunger that is the teenage stomach.

How I feel about cooking; eating a few more animal foods (though still cognitively believing veg is best); keeping everyone fed according to their consciences, dietary preferences, the need for calories, within the constraints of the budget; and letting go of the need to define myself as a good (good meaning: likes to cook) homemaker - lots of things I could write about here.

And that's the problem with a writing hang-up, writing sabbatical, writing anxiety - the loss of my writing groove for the summer. All of that, which is fairly significant writing fodder (or fooder? haha!) is now water under the bridge, and I didn't post about it.

There have been other transformations in my life than those just happening in the kitchen.

Though I think what's happening in the kitchen reflects the bigger theme in my life as a whole.

This life phase of raising teenagers, of separating my desires from those of my husband's (and being ok with having different opinions and preferences in food and other interests), and accepting myself exactly as I am, in the kitchen and outside of it.

I'm not prepared to write about the false beliefs I'm shedding (have shed), and who I am becoming, just yet, because something else needs to be written.

Summer needs to be written.

With back-to-school in the air (rentree here in Quebec), the official summer season feels like water under the bridge, yesterday's news. But I'm still standing here on summer's shore and I want collect my favorite treasures from the beach. Gather them. Cherish them. Share them.

Care to join me?

Summer is my favorite. Summer is my balm. Summer is the bomb, and on and on. That's not supposed to be bad poetry, it's just that I really love summer and this one was wonderful.

I've never had a summer like this and so some of the "wonder" of wonderful was in fact just that.

Rock concerts and movies on the big screen; festivals and fireworks; outdoor pools and cafes on the sidewalk; Montreal has been a string of adventures and a pace of activity so suited to life with three teenagers. Every week this summer was significantly memorable in some way.

The highlights of summer 2015.
  • Shortly after moving, Damien and I went to a Steven Wilson concert at the Jazz Festival. The last time just the two of us went to hear a live band was when we were in university.
  • Attending Comic Con with the whole family, watching Celine in cosplay.
  • Finding a feels-like-us group of believers to share our lives with and the communal expression of our faith. We don't have to talk different, relate different, or step out of the culture and into another one to hang out with these people. And we made instantaneous (seriously) friends with another homeschool family with kids the same ages as our own. And the fact that we meet Sunday mornings in a movie theater? Totally cool. Christians in the culture, not in cloistered churches. This is how we've lived our faith for years, but we've lived it mostly alone, and that's been lonely.
  • Having my parents come to visit for a week. They loved on us with their usual generosity of spirit and friendship. I am so blessed to belong to them, and they to me.

  • Setting up our fourteenth home. We bought used appliances, a big screen TV, the ubiquitous black Kallax Ikea shelving, and made-to-order bean bags for the kids - three kids, three colors. We established our raising teenagers home and I am happy here.
  • Biking around the city with Bixi. I am completely smitten with the service and the city. Biking is the best way to explore Montreal, and with such a great bike subscription service and dedicated bike lanes through downtown and the arrondissements, this is an uber biking-friendly city.
  • Neighborhood shopping, on foot, or with the Bixi. I do my produce shopping at Jean Talon, I drive there because I buy a lot of produce and I don't have bike trailer to carry it home. But everything else is walkable distance from my house. So walkable that supper can be cooking and I will run to the grocery store (or usually send a kid) for a missing ingredient.

  • Going to La Ronde, the local six flags amusement park, with friends. This was the first time our kids had ever been on these kind of rides. By the end of the day I found enough courage to go on the pirate ship. Yay me! We're all eager to go back.
  • Swimming all summer, for free. By the end of August the kids had "graduated" to walking to the pool and back again on their own. We also made friends with "the other" anglophone family at the pool (we live in a francophone neighborhood) and the kids spent hours swimming together.
  • Finding a homeschool group of older kids, mostly teens and meeting Monday afternoons to play soccer. Active! Teens! Homeschooling! This group meets as a co-op through the school year with a theatre/academic focus and we'll be joining.

  • Walking with Damien after supper. We're hoping to continue this practice into fall. The kids do dishes and we hit the streets around our house to walk and talk. We're not the only ones out, even at 9pm (we eat late in the summer), the streets are alive with people. Montreal is a city for living, it's a city for families, it's beautiful.
  • A youth conference for the kids. This was a Christian teen weekend where the kids tented, had chapel and group sessions, played games late at night and came home tired, smelly, happy.
  • For the two nights they were gone Damien and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary at home and on the town and found this fun vegetarian/vegan buffet restaurant on St. Denis.

  • Celine was baptized in the parking lot of the Chinese Baptist Church on St. Urbaine street. Our church borrowed the space for baptisms because we meet in a movie theatre. In front of family, friends and the city of Montreal, Celine made a public profession of her faith. And there was some celebratin'.
  • I got my Montreal library card and read some books: Maurice Richard, Nellie McClung, The Back of the Turtle, and The Buried Giant. I'm currently reading Along a River: The First French-Canadian Women which is an academic narrative of the history of the women of Quebec during the 17th and 18th centuries. (I forgot, I also read All The Light We Cannot See, great book.)In June, while still on the Peninsula I read The Rosie Project and Station Eleven. The only book in this mix I don't recommend is The Buried Giant but even that was interesting if you could just let yourself relax into it, which I did. This reading doesn't include my self-therapy reading. The big theme in my reading this year is Canadian authors, Canadian subjects and specifically Quebec history. This is part of Returning to Roots (in Project Home & Healing).
  • Learning to zentangle with One Zentangle A Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration, and Fun (One A Day). I draw almost every day, part therapy, part creativity, all around goodness.

  • Creating our "Tougas Family High School Graduation Requirements" document. I have been wanting to write this for over a year now. Celine is halfway through high school and the big question for me has been how do I know when we're done? If our kids don't pursue post-secondary how do close this chapter? How will I know when my active/super-hands-on phase of being a homeschool mom is completed? So, I answered these questions this summer and spent a lot of time with my head in homeschooling land. Also, for the first time in probably my whole homeschooling career I am "ready" at the beginning of September with an overview of this year and our curriculum. Not gardening or traveling for the summer is a significant factor in this readiness. When the kids were younger I didn't get my act together till later in September. Our time on the Peninsula was quite chaotic with moving and traveling and I was largely out of step with the school year scheme, which is fine in theory (especially since we're life learners), but in practice, it's not so fine for me.
  • Learning how to make a homemade frappuccino, sangria and crepes.
  • Staying put. I didn't go anywhere this summer. I barely left the island and that felt so good. At the end of August Damien took the kids to New Hampshire for the weekend and I stayed home. We had actually planned a weeklong trip of visiting friends, camping, some hiking and trail magic in Maine but the discovery of my passport expiration changed those plans. The part of the plan that still went ahead was Damien and the kids going to New Hampshire to shoot guns. Our friend is part of a gun club and they were having an open house of sorts where you could shoot all manner of guns, from hand guns to semi-automatic rifles. The kids and Damien loved it. I stayed home and have never been so content to be by myself. Two full days of my own agenda and my own space. I'm thinking that the older my kids get and the more out of the house and "on-schedule" I must muster during the week the more my introverted side is rising.

  • Fabulous weather. I'm new here. I don't know what summer is usually like in Montreal but I'm ordering more of this kind of weather for next summer. Some humidity, not too much, just enough to get you in the pool and to help you be grateful for the non-humid days. I love when summer feels like summer. When you can't wear a sweater, or pants. And you rarely need to wear a rain jacket. I wear long underwear and wool socks for 6-7 months of the year. This summer filled my well for the winter months ahead.

That was the summer for me. Those were the highlights, but there were definitely lowlights: difficult talks with Damien and levels of honesty in our marriage that cause pain even as they bring healing, moving-related financial strain, and just run-of-the-mill stressful situations.

Life's trials don't stop for summer but so much about this summer - activities, friends and homeschool community; the spiritually significant milestones; making a small and tidy home; my daily disciplines in self-awareness, self-care and self-therapy - all of that felt like healing to me.

This summer was exactly what I needed.


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.