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.

The Spring Shift

We had a string of sunny days last week and the season shifted, irrevocably, into spring. Snow remains in a few sheltered groves of thick evergreens, in protected coves and inlets on the bay, and of course in the mountains, but for all intents and purposes, snow is no longer a part of my world. And it's about time.

This winter did not put me through the emotional wringer as in years past. Yay! My strategies for better winter mental health seem to be working. Even so, I was finished with winter the middle of March, alas, winter was not finished with me.

We got through to the end of that month, with enough variety to our days and anticipation for Easter that I didn't experience any significant SAD symptoms, phew.

After spending Easter with my parents, April's arrival brought a change of energy and intention to our lives.

Laurent went to Nova Scotia to work with my Dad. And in the middle of the month the rest of us went to Montreal to find a place to live. And while we were there Celine and Damien went to C2E2 in Chicago. During Celine's five day trip I was down to one child in my care.

Elizabeth Stone says,

Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

Perhaps I chose to homeschool my children partly for selfish reasons, to simply keep the pieces of my heart within arms reach.

With Laurent out of arms reach I felt disorientated and emotionally foggy. I was so happy for him to go and have this experience with my Dad but we miseed him terribly, Brienne especially so.

Laurent and Brienne are best friends. I have been hesitant to label them as such over the years because I didn't want them to resist the idea simply because I mentioned it. But it's just the truth. They are companions, study buddies, confidants, friends, and sometimes foes. Though most of that is expressed in the friendly physical tousling which they both love.

They remind me of puppies, in their physical affection and obvious attachment to each other.

Laurent is happy in almost any scenario in which he can do stuff and be active, so going to live at my parents for a month and to work with his Papa was a good change for him. He's an easy going person with an almost always upbeat and sunny disposition. You can see why we love having him around!

Brienne felt a little bereft in his absence. And we all missed his physical presence and personality in our family dynamic.

Intellectually I know I am raising kids so that they can grow up and have a healthy independence from Damien and I. I'm raising them to be adults. And this means letting go, bit by bit. But my head and my heart don't always agree on this healthy detachment.

My head says, "this is good, let him go" while my heart is always looking around for its missing piece.

With Laurent's first big letting go experience I was given a small glimpse of my life post-child raising. Although I still need to invest a lot of my energy in their growth and development (teens need available parents as much as toddlers do, just in different ways) I see the importance of building interests and work that is independant of my children as we cruise towards the empty nest.

We're still years away from that but Laurent's absence showed me that I want to have meaningful non-kid related work, hobbies, and passions in my life at that point. And I want to be building on those now because they matter in the present also.

But before I do more building, I need to settle somewhere and April was all about that, specifically, finding a place to live in Montreal, which we did.

When we came home from Montreal I felt a bit weary from the month, emotionally raw from Laurent's absence and physically worn out from travel.

The first part of May has been about slowing my pace, listening to my body's needs, and focusing on a few specific intentions for health and wellbeing.

There's a juicer in the house and I'm finally getting around to using it. My body is craving green juices so I'm doing my best to oblige it. I think I may be eating less also.

This isn't something I measure by calories but I'm eating smaller meals and not always eating a meal, opting for a juice instead. Or a juice and a baked sweet potato, simple stuff. It's not a formal juice fast or detox plan (I can't even imagine giving up my morning coffee). It's just listening to my body and eating what I seem to need for that meal or that day.

Ever since the middle of March I've struggled with my daily goal for outdoor exercise. Despite my best intentions, it became hit or miss, with the aim to be more hit than miss. The end of winter is really hard for me to be inspired about being outdoors.

But Spring, oh spring, how I love you. My outdoor exercise and daily fresh air needs can be met in yard work and gardening, and there's ample opportunity for that on the property where we live right now.

I appreciate the change of activity. I don't have to think about where I should walk or what I can do for a bit of exercise. Being active outdoors in spring is a no brainer when there's yard clean up to do, perennial beds to weed and mulch, annual containers to be planted, and compost to turn.

April's traveling, house hunting, and the emotional burden of Laurent's absence kind of messed with my daily routine and rhythms and I've been trying to reset that this month. Not with a fixed schedule, we're moving in less than one month and I can't do "fixed schedule" with that reality.

As an ESTJ homemaker, I'm all about routines but sometimes my basic routines need to get real simple, because otherwise life feels like an unbearable burden of too many things to do and not enough time.

I have four anchor points I'm shooting for this month.

  • 9:30 pm in bed, which gives me time to read and unwind before going to sleep around 10pm
  • 6:30 am wake up
  • 9:00 am finish my morning writing, I always want to push this farther but then other things suffer
  • 6:30 pm supper on the table, I share the supper cooking with my kids so this is a group target but they look to me to tell them when to start supper so I am still largely responsible for the time supper is ready, whether I've cooked it or not.

My creative energies have shifted with spring's arrival. I finished my shawl last month and to be honest, I'm not completely thrilled with the finished product, but it's warm and I love the colors and I will love it as is. In six years of knitting it's only the second large project I've completed (I've never knit a scarf or hat), so I can't be too hard on myself.

If I were to do it over again I would want more pattern, less solid stockinette.

I seem to have gotten my center line off-center. Which is not surprising given the number of times I moved the stitch markers to where I thought was the correct spot.

I don't know if other knitters have this problem but my markers would get "caught" in my stitches (I don't know how else to explain it without a visual) and I'd have to move them back to the correct position, which apparently wasn't the correct position as the photo below seems to suggest.

Also my binding off didn't work so well. I didn't follow the pattern because I couldn't understand it, so I used a different binding off stitch. It tightened the stitches and resulted in a curled edge.

Blocking helped these two problems somewhat, but the finished work is slightly wonky. I still wear it all the time though. (You can find the pattern here at Ravelry.)

I've put the needles down for the season and am picking up markers and pens.

Inspired by Heather Bruggeman's Hibernate course I started practicing meditative flower drawings this winter but I keep making mistakes I'm not happy with.

I know, I know. There are no mistakes in mediative drawing, but in my meditative drawing there are mistakes.

I'm on my third attempt at a full page drawing which I intend to use as the cover for my new homemaker's binder, which is currently undergoing an overhaul and re-purposing to better reflect where I'm at now in life.

Truthfully, I haven't used a homemaker's binder for almost two years, having switched to Evernote as my digital tool of choice for keeping my life (mostly) organized. But there are still "papers" in my life that need a home.

Papers that have less to do with traditional home management stuff (I don't need snappy Pinterest charts to remind me when to clean the fridge and floors) and more to do with personal growth, community involvement and info., creativity, art, decorating, etc. It's becoming a home ~makers~ binder and I want one of my meditative flower drawings to be the cover.

I can't say I'm all that meditative when drawing, but I try. I tend to be more chatty than reflective as I like to do my drawing at the table with the kids when they are doing their art. I love the creative energy of these times together.

Heather's lesson on meditative drawing got me interested in Zentangle and I've been reading some how-to books on that art form and I'm very interesting in trying it. I need to buy some new pens though and with everything else going on I just haven't had the time to apply myself right now to learning Zentangle. But I want to. And soon.

Last week my creative energies were channeled into teaching a soapmaking workshop on Saturday. What fun. Once all the effort of preparing a workshop is done the actual teaching is so enjoyable for me.

Every time I teach soapmaking I take my own learning to the next level. I love that my knowledge and experience of the chemistry and craft of soapmaking has increased significantly from the first class I taught six years ago in Maine.

I am toying with the idea of turning my notes, workshop outline, recipes and resources (I put a lot of effort into this workshop) into a digital workshop of some kind. But we'll see, life is about to get a whole lot busier and my energies are now needed elsewhere.

Which brings me to the present. We are renting our apartment in Montreal as of June 1st. We reserved a U-Haul to move our stuff to Montreal the first weekend of the month. Then we'll return to the peninsula for the transition of our friends' arrival back to their home. Sometime around the middle of June we will leave here to start the next chapter in Montreal.

This will be my focus and responsibility during May, preparing to move, again. But this time the plan is for a semi-permanent duration. For which I am so, so grateful.

My season is coming.

Summer is my happy season in the calendar year. Yes, I love the new green of spring and I love the crisp air of autumn and I even love the first two months of snow, and especially the low arch of the sun in deepest winter. But summer, oh summer is when I thrive. Summer is the season when I grow strong in the days of long light and afternoons at the beach (or perhaps poolside in Montreal).

My body vibrates with a different energy during summer than it does the rest of the year and I can feel myself on the cusp of this now.

I missed my summer bliss last summer while hiking. Ironic, I know.

I've learned it's not just being outdoors that gives me this energy. I used to think nature was my happy place, and I know now that it's not nature alone that makes me feel alive and well during summer, or any other season.

It's a combination of factors - the sun, the long days of light, tending to the growing of plants, swimming or at least resting by water, eating lots of fresh, locally grown foods, exploring new places, sleeping under the stars, reading good books, and more things I just can't think of right now. I'm hoping to incorporate all of them in my summer.

But first, we've got to move. Which is the order of the next month and a bit. And then summer and a new season of life.

Moving to Montreal

Our decision to move to Montreal starts a few years ago with our move to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.

I've told the story of our move to Quebec a few times on the blog, but a recap never hurts.

Four years ago we left our life in the United States and our home in Maine in a move we called Life 3.0. This was the "big move".

We went through this significant change because we needed to live in a place that gave us the freedom to follow our dreams and enabled us to create the life we wanted to live as a family.

We choose the Gaspe Peninsula originally because it met two very important criteria: it has mountains and it is within a day's drive of my parents in Nova Scotia.

Living on the Gaspe, with its mountains, breathtaking natural beauty, and low cost of housing positioned us to move forward in some important goals and dreams we had for Life 3.0.

When we left Maine we had some specific employment and lifestyle goals, we wanted:

  • to shift Damien from a salaried office job to location-independent self-employment. We wanted to be able to work and live wherever.
  • to explore the possibility of shifting Damien's career from computers to the outdoors; and the two of us wanted to work together at the intersection of our interests, skills and experience.
  • to live in a naturally beautiful place that supported an outdoors-based lifestyle as well as a possible career shift to outdoors-based work.
  • to have grand adventures with our kids.

And it was our long-term dream to have a debt-free home from which we could work, live, and launch our adventures.

Living on the peninsula met all these goals very well and had the potential to fulfill our housing dream also.

One of the big reasons we wanted location-independent work was because we really value freedom in our lives. We want freedom to pursue our work and life goals, to travel and have adventures.

Since leaving Maine we've had a bunch of adventures and pursued outdoor activities together - hiking, backpacking trips and backcountry skiing.

Our location independence enabled us to have take our first working road trip and to live in Montreal for one month. And most significantly, we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as a family. That was a working road trip also in that we We don't own a house on the peninsula, we're renters. Moving a lot, which was not our first choice, but was a necessity in some cases, is one of the things that has enabled all of our adventuring.

Four years of Moving

My parents house in Nova Scotia. Living with my parents for five months after we left Maine helped us re-start our life in Canada.

  • The 750 sq ft. chalet. This was a vacation rental property and a temporary housing solution. We arrived in November and we knew we had to leave by the end of the following May.
  • A month in Montreal. This was a fabulous opportunity to live in the city for one month while our next rental was being renovated.
  • The ski chalet. What a dream location. A bit out of the way to be sure but I've never lived this deep in the woods before and at the base of ski hill no less.
  • Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Our six month adventure through the appalachian mountains of the the eastern US.
  • Housesitting for friends. What a blessing to come off the trail, completely broke, with a safe haven to live in and take care of for ten months till our friend's return.

I'll help you do the math. I've moved six times in the past four years and lived in six distinct places, and we're moving again in June when our friends return from their round-the-world trip.

Living in these variety of situations, and moving often, was the best choice at the time to reach our goals. We've had inexpensive and sometimes free housing which has helped with getting our feet off the ground with self employment. And being homeless during our hike was a key piece to affording that adventure.

We did the best we could with what we had. And we've been able to pull off a lot of amazing adventures on a lower middle class income, but we paid in other ways. And the cost to me personally has been high. (Hello breakdown.)

They say moving is right up there in the top five most stressful life events, along with divorce, death, job loss and major illness. I don't doubt that. In which case, I've experienced a fairly high level of stress for the last four years.

The re-evaluation

We've learned that as much as we value freedom, I also need security.

In our marriage these are opposite sides of the same coin. It turns out we need a somewhat equal measure of both in our lives for us to be happy, as individuals, and as a couple.

When we came off the trail we both knew I needed more security. One of my basic needs was not adequately being met and I was crumbling. And so Damien made the very difficult decision to move all his career eggs to his technology basket to help stabilize our lives with an increased and reliable source of income.

Damien had been carrying two baskets for a while, building outdoors-related communications and media sources of income while continuing his computer programming. We were working together and it was a slow build that unfortunately was tearing me down.

This was a heartbreaking revelation for both of us. We had dreamed of working together, combining our interests and talents to financially support our family. It was part of the vision for Life 3.0, but the inherent unknowns and insecurity of launching self-employment while affecting a career change for Damien, along with our constant moving, eroded the foundation beneath me.

It's not surprising then that somewhere on the trial I lost vision and enthusiasm for working together and when we came home I wanted nothing to do with building our online business. I felt like I had lost myself and Damien felt like he lost a partner. Like I said, heartbreaking.

You live and learn, right?

This is something I wish I hadn't gone through.

We both wish that my security had not been eroded so significantly and wonder how things might have played out differently if it hadn't, if we had paid attention to the signs earlier. We saw the signs, and to Damien's credit he questioned at each major junction if I was ok, he knows me really well. I reassured him I was because I wanted it to be true. I am loyal and committed (sometimes to a fault), and so we kept pressing forward.

The grand irony is that I have appreciated having these diverse experiences and living in these unique places. I have grown so much.

My life has been enriched because I took risks and stepped outside my comfort zone. And yet these very experiences, which I appreciate for their individual merit, when put all together, just wore me out.

In early December, when everything seemed to fall down around our feet and we knew we had to rebuild it, we looked honestly at everything. Our work, where we live, the stage of life our family is in, our kids' needs, our individual needs, our core values, our financial needs, all of it.

This was the point where Damien decided to shift his career back to technology, a field he still loves and work he's very talented at.

As we looked ahead to the summer, knowing that when our friends return from their trip we needed to move, again, it was obvious to us that I needed to move to a home and stay there for a while. I still want to travel and adventure but I need a "permanent" (we're not prepared to buy yet) home.

So then the question was, "do we feel ok making the peninsula semi-permanent?" If you had asked me one year ago, I would have said yes, absolutely. In fact we talked about it on our hike, home was the Gaspe, and when we got off the trail I couldn't have imagined moving.

I have started to feel rooted here and part of the community.

But when we looked closely at the needs and interests of our anglophone homeschooled teens, and looked ahead a bit to what's coming down the pipe for them, it became clear that our rural, largely-francophone Quebec community isn't the best fit for this stage of life.

There are limited opportunities here for our kids and there is no homeschool community. The small pool of local resources to support our kids' educational, spiritual, and social needs was starting to become an emotional burden for me, because I feel responsible for providing the resources to help meet these needs.

The kids haven't expressed "too much" frustration with the situation, yet. We just finished a six month hike, we travel lots, we're willing to drive long distances to support their interests, we make an effort to do fun and challenging stuff together, and we have tapped into whatever is available locally to support them. But we can see that we're maxing out our options here and our kids will probably feel constrained by this shortly.

For better or for worse, as a family, our happiness and satisfaction in life is all tied up in each other and the ability to provide for each other's needs. 

My happiness as a homeschooler of young adults, the satisfaction I get from doing a good job, is directly connected to feeling I can provide opportunities and resources for my kids. And my husband's happiness is directly connected to feeling that he can provide security for his wife. 

We moved to the Gaspe for very specific reasons, most notably, its beauty, outdoor opportunities, and relative-remoteness supported our family goals at the time. But our goals have shifted, and our needs are different now.

At this stage of the game, our family doesn't need more nature, we need more city.

Moving to Montreal

Full-time technology work (Damien is still self-employed, working at home) has increased our income and this means we can afford Montreal housing costs, which are actually lower than most other major North American cities.

Living in Montreal, we'll still be a day's drive from my parents, we'll be closer to my brother in Ontario, and we'll live in a city with an international airport. The Laurentians will be less than two hours to the north, and just to the southeast lies the Appalachian mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We won't live in the mountains but we'll be close enough to them.

We won't be skiing out our door, or going for walks on the beach but we'll have a homeschool support group and access to all the city things our kids are interested in and want to explore - art, technology, media, fashion, design, and theatre to name a few.

Our kids are artsy, creative teenagers. They want to attend comic conventions and regularly visit art supply stores. They want to go to movies and progressive rock concerts (so does Damien). They want to try theatre (in English) and participate in gaming or larping communities.

In a few short years they may want to attend design school, or university.

And then there's our faith.

Something I don't talk about much on the blog is that our family are evangelical Christians. As much we eschew religious labels, this one is the easiest to slap on in a pinch to explain how we interpret the Bible and understand and live out our faith.

Quebec is the most secular society in North America (churches send missionaries here) and the number of evangelical Christians in rural Quebec is extremely small. And in our experience, the number of anglophone, evangelical Christian, homeschooled teens, outside our family, is exactly zero.

We had hoped when moving here that we could start a house church, as we had done in Maine. But the population of believers is so small where we live that local churches are essentially house churches in terms of their numbers, but very hierarchical and traditional in structure and practice.

Congregations of evangelical Christians on the peninsula are few and far between. And the ways of "doing church" and the styles of worship here remind me of what church was like when I was five years old.

We want our kids to know that our faith, and the Church, is dynamic and relevant to modern life, relevant to their lives.

Our own faith as parents is well rooted, it is the foundation of our marriage and our family life. Damien and I don't need to be in a community of "people like us" to carry on in the faith. (To be with people like us would be a bonus, it would be an answer to our heart's desires but it's not going to make or break us.)

The same is not necessarily true for our kids. They are at a crucial age in their faith journey, an age in which they will decide if this is the path they will continue to follow. And as they investigate the options, ask questions and seek answers, and look to hang out with "people like them", we want to live in a place where it will be easier for them to find their faith tribe.

We want to be in place where it's physically possible to find a community of believers whose structure and expressions of faith through worship and service are dynamic and current, and where the gatherings and church services engage our kids' hearts, minds, and spirits.

Moving to Montreal is very much about parenting the teen years with as many resources as possible - community resources, educational resources, and spiritual resources.

This move is about about helping our children transition to their early adult years and helping them meet their goals for the future, while still providing Damien and I access to the resources and relationships we need to live according to our values and interests.

And incredibly, in this move we will start to prepare for the life we'll live together without the responsibility of raising our children. Incroyable!

Looking Ahead

I am hoping Montreal will be home for our family till we’ve finished actively raising our kids. No more of this moving every six months business.

Damien intends to grow his business and pursue interesting technology projects that can adequately pay the bills of raising teenagers and fund an adventurous lifestyle. Increasing our income is one of Damien's primary objectives. Graduating our kids with the resources, experiences and credentials they need for the next stage of their lives is my primary objective.

In the next couple years we hope to start saving for our post-child-raising-years dream home, all 500 sq. feet of it, or some other small-house square footage.

Even with this forward thinking, our hopes and dreams, it has been hard for me to think about leaving the peninsula. I love living by the ocean and near the mountains. What a privilege it's been to ski out my door and walk to the beach, to watch the sun set over the bay, and to fall asleep under the twinkling stars of the un-obscured night sky.

But this is not all there is to life.

I am looking forward to shopping at the Jean-Talon market in our Rosemont neighborhood, and joining another choir.

I can't wait to get back on a bike to cycle around the city. I am looking forward to decorating and furnishing our apartment. I am already investigating free lectures at McGill, art exhibits, and knitting groups. And I know I will enjoy regularly hanging out with other homeschool moms.

On our recent trip to Montreal we spent a day at the Communidee. Within minutes Brienne was welcomed into the preteen girl group (she was so delighted and felt right at home with this homeschool gang) and I sat down with the multi-racial, mixed-citizenship moms.

Our conversation wove through home birth, extended nursing, interest-led learning, mothering challenges, whole food recipes, gardening, knitting, lifelong education, learning to speech French and understanding Quebec culture, "finding ourselves", and more; and I thought, "these are my people".

I am looking forward to feeling settled for a season, having access to the resources I need to support my learners and reclaiming my creative, mental and physical energies to invest in my online work and interests.

Damien's looking forward to living in one Canada's prime technology, innovation, and media hubs while still being close to the mountains. And we will all appreciate easier access to flight travel, and travel in general.

We're not buying a house in Montreal. We want to live on the island of Montreal in one of the "distinctly" Montreal neighborhoods near the city's core. We still own our house in Maine and once we sell that we want the next home we buy to be small and/or portable, and to have a very low mortgage that can be paid within five years or less. That ain't happening in Montreal, not yet.

We found a sweet apartment. A completely renovated main floor of a fourplex in a great neighborhood. It has everything we hoped for and more - a private yard with southern exposure garden space, (and a pool!), a garage, storage, private parking space (nearly unheard of in Montreal), 1,100 sq. feet of living space with a bright spacious kitchen. I love it. I hope to be there for a few years.

It's definitely urban, but that's what we wanted. We're not moving to Montreal to live in the suburbs. We're moving to Montreal to live in Montreal.

It's another adventure, but it's an adventure where security is as important as freedom. It's an adventure with the purpose of supporting each member of the Tougas tribe, enabling all of us to grow and develop in this next stage of family life.


A Tennessee spring story

Day 33: May 2 -13.3 miles Hogback Ridge Shelter to Whistling Gap

From my journal:

Got out of bed this morning cranky about my time needs not being. No time for writing, journaling, photo editing this week... not wanting to surrender to the trail if that's what it means. Started the day complaining to D.

A lot of beautiful rolling terrain, some of my favorite terrain. Pretty views from Big Bald and the carpet of wildflowers going up was spectacular.

There were high points but I started ragging on D. later in the day - sore feet, long day. I just get tired of hiking. Damien reached his limit by the end of the day. We were silent through camp, supper, and clean-up (beautiful camp setting) and finally before going into separate tents we let it all out, in tears for both of us.

I miss intimacy with D. I am frustrated by the lack of time for things that matter to me, which makes the physicality of this adventure hard. D. is frustrated that his family doesn't appreciate this adventure for the opportunity it is, that we don't appreciate this time with him.

Going down into Sam's Gap, wildflowers and a Scarlet Tanager.

Part of the reason it's been so hard to write about our hike is because I don't know which story to tell. The small glimpses of trail life shared in journal entries, photos, and video are fragments, slivers of a complex and intense experience.

Even while we were on the trail we marveled to each other how hard it would be to convey the depth of our experience to the uninitiated. This is one reason why trail community becomes so important and close. And it also explains why Damien and I were so grateful, even on the days we found it hard to speak to each other, to be doing this together. It may be hard, but at least we shared in the hardship. And those beautiful views and quirky people wouldn't have to be explained to each other, we both got it because we had been there.

Climbing up to Big Bald, a carpet of Spring Beauties.

When I look at the photos it looks beautiful and even magical. When I read my journal entries it sounds depressing. When I watch the videos it's upbeat and inspiring. All of the pieces are accurate, in their own way. They just tell different parts of the story.

Summiting Big Bald, signing log book at Bald Mountain Shelter (grungy shelter if I remember correctly), and camping at Whistling Gap.

Appalachian Trail spring memories on the North Carolina and Tennessee border

I think my please-be-spring-already trip down Appalachian Trail memory lane is working.

North Carolina or Tennessee mountains in spring

It appears to me, on this hovering-just-above-zero degrees Saturday morning, that more snow melted yesterday. And the weather report is what gives me real hope. A week of sunny days and daytime temperatures in the double digits is forecasted.

Sun and warmth is good, real good. I hope it will help usher in the blossoming of buds in our neighborhood. There's a large hedge of lilacs next to the house and an old apple orchard next to the field. I can't wait to see these in bloom in about a month.

And I am hoping soon the snow and ice will melt from the mountain trails so we can do some hiking again. I haven't hiked since I finished the trail with my family last September. My trail feet are getting itchy.

Day 31: April 30 - 15.4 miles Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter

from my journal that day:

Started ok, terrain not so inspiring, felt pressure to make 15. One long climb and we felt the rest would be easy. It was not. The ridge trail was strenuous, strained my feet on the rocks. We came into Jerry Cabin in the rain and fog. It was 6, or shortly after, supper with apple cobbler and then straight to bed.

found this photo from another camera, maybe the video camera
me trudging up to Jerry Cabin Shelter

Not recorded in my journal, but remembered in the photos, is that we found a makeshift store at Allen Gap right on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.

At this point on the trail, I had a recent freak out about the amount of soda our kids had been drinking at trail magic and in town stops, and I kiboshed drinks with corn syrup. Alas, only corn syrup-laden drinks were stocked at "mom's" makeshift trail store. So no drinks that morning.

In due course, I relaxed my "no corn syrup drinks" rule. I'm a little embarrassed when I think about all the energy I spent agonizing over such things.

It drove me a bit crazy to think how far we fell from our nutritional high horse while hiking. Not in our supper meals so much, which were very high quality for trail food, but in our snacks, and trail magic food choices, etc. When you need 4,000 - 5,000 calories a day your standards change a little. This change was hard for me to swallow, literally.

Eventually, I just lightened-up. We haven't been to the dentist in two years so I'm not sure how much damage was really done. Until someone has a toothache, I'd rather not know.

Day 32: May 1 - 14.7 miles Jerry Cabin Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter

from my journal that day:

Hard day number two. Started in fog, which was beautiful... basically I don't remember much notable about this day except B & I did a far amount of complaining. We all felt pressed for time trying to make camp at a decent time, since we all look forward to that time of day for relaxing and doing our own thing.

Coming out of Rector Laurel Road crossing, an open meadow leading to woodlands with a cascade - that section was my favorite part of the day. Great supper, as always, sweet potatoes. Shelter with 3 old men and Bloodroot and Red Hawk camping. D. walked with me today and I walked slowish and careful due to feet.

end of the day at Hogback Ridge Shelter

While we wait for spring

This might just be the longest winter ever. I'm a newcomer to the Peninsula so this may be average, but snow on the ground on May 1st is just wrong to me.

I don't really want to live in a place where there is still snow in May but we can't help where we're born. In our case, Canada.

We tried immigrating south (because Maine became home) but we gave up when the process proved too arduous. We've made peace, for now, with living in a cold climate, that is until one of our kids moves either to the west coast or back south to the land of their birth. In either case, I suspect we'll follow. Until then, I live in a region with snow on the ground in May.

The last time I took an outdoor photo at home was on April 14th. There are very few inspiring subjects to photograph right now. There is the matted straw of grass, grey trees, white patches of snow, mud where the snow is melting and the occasional blue sky. So, no photos except these beauties from the beach, two weeks ago, before our trip to Montreal.

It's a good time to share some trail photos taken last spring.

When we were on the trail I had hoped to take photos daily, upload and edit them every couple days on the iPad, and then publish them on the blog or to Facebook on our town stops. I think I managed six or eight weeks of this, commendable really, before it all broke down.

For one thing, my camera stopped working in the moisture and humidity of being held close to my stinking, sweaty body day in and day out. Hiking in the rain didn't help either. After a couple days of this nonsense and some TLC my camera started mostly functioning again, but the back display screen remained frozen and hasn't worked ever since. What a bummer.

Then there was simply the issue of time. Not enough of it. Not enough time in camp, not enough time in town, not enough time to sleep, not enough time to eat, not enough time to relax, certainly not enough time to regularly edit and share photos. And yes, I'm still a bit bitter about this. And my camera malfunction.

Shortly after finishing our hike, or maybe even during, I cleared the first few weeks of photos from my iPad (I have copies on my computer). But for some reason the photos from early May remained. I think because it was a beautiful time in our journey.

The honeymoon period was just coming to an end, which was hard, but North Carolina and Tennessee were some of my favorite parts of the trail. Spring's burst of growth was energizing and photographing all the that new green and forest floor blossoms was exhilarating.

Most of these photos made it to Facebook but I don't think any of them made it to the blog. When I found them on my iPad they brought back so many good memories and warmed my heart with thoughts of spring, even though, on this chilly May 1st morning, it doesn't feel like spring to me at all.

So, for a little trip down Appalachian Trail memory lane, and to stick it to the winter that never ends, I'm going to share some photos today and in the next couple days from last year, taken on the trail in late April and early May.

April 29, 2014 the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

Our 11 mile trek through Hot Springs, crossing the spring-swollen French river, making camp at Spring Mountain Shelter, eating Damien's fabulous cooking, and relaxing in the long light of an an insect-free spring evening.

Ah, the trail, if it weren't so darn hard, I'd be tempted to go every spring.

Cheaper than a hotel: family-friendly travel accommodations

Our family likes to go places.

Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky for me), Damien is an experience junkie. He adapts really well and is a great problem solver; his INTP brain seems to thrive on the stimulus of new situations.

I am more set in my routines and I love home sweet home but I also appreciate having interesting experiences, seeing new places, and I especially love meeting people.

Put the two of us together and you get a couple (with three big kids who are a combination of the two of us) who like to travel.

Here are four different types of accommodations we've used over the years to make travel more affordable.

1. Tenting

We're outdoorsy people so tenting is a natural option for us when traveling in non-urban places. For us, tenting is not the ends, it's the means to the ends, the ends being to go places and do things.

Tenting is not a "sacrifice" for us. Since deciding to use tents as a reliable form of accommodation, we've invested in high quality tents (and comfortable mats and sleeping bags). Our tents are not big, we use them for backpacking after all, but they are dry.

tenting on the Jim Murray Property on the AT in NJ

Car camping tenting has enabled us to go beautiful places like Grand Manan Island, Perce Rock, and Common Ground Fair.

For us, a tent (or two or three - like we had for our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail) is a great investment for family travel.

2. Couchsurfing

A few years ago we discovered Couchsurfing. Most of our travels and adventures are outdoors-related so tenting is our go-to accommodation. But tenting doesn't work so well on a city visit, or for winter travel.

Our first experience Couchsurfing as a family was on our reconnaissance trip to the Gaspe Peninsula right after Christmas. Definitely no tenting.

On this particular house-hunting in Montreal and flying to Chicago trip we used Couchsurfing again for our first six nights of accommodations.

There were a surprising number of Couchsurfers willing to host a family of four (Laurent is not with us this trip) but I guess that's what you get in a big city like Montreal. More people, more hosts.

One of the requirements for me in booking a Couchsurfing host for our time in Montreal was that our family could share a room. We didn't need beds per se, though we were able to find those also, but a private room for our family was a non-negotiable.

This is a safety precaution for me when Couchsurfing as a family since you really don't know much about your hosts, other than what is shared on their profile.

We spent six nights Couchsurfing in Montreal this trip. Three nights with two different families. Both were amazing in their own way. And each household offered us a different view of Montreal life.

Montrealers are diverse and cosmopolitan people. Between the two families we stayed with, three unique cultures were represented - mixed European, Moroccan and Quebecois and seven to ten different languages were spoken (I lost count and the common language was English - lucky for me).

In my experience people who try Couchsurfing - either as hosts or "surfers" - are adventurous, open-minded, generous, hospitable, and community-orientated. My kind of people.

3. Airbnb

This trip to Montreal we added a new option to our cheaper-accommodation experience: airbnb.

With Couchsurfing you're never exactly sure what you're going to get. This is part of the appeal for some people, though free is the biggest draw I suspect.

When I am traveling with Damien I feel more comfortable with this unknown as he rolls with things really well. And he's my husband, and is the protector of his family, and I feel safe with him.

This weekend Brienne and I were alone, with me as the solo-responsible parent and I just didn't feel comfortable, back in March, booking a Couchsurfing accommodation for the two of us, without Damien along. (If I had known then what I know now I might have felt more comfortable. Our Couchsurfing in Montreal was fantastic, but you never know...)

For my solo time together with Brienne for our last four nights in Montreal, I decided to book an airbnb accommodation. It's not free but it's not expensive either.

In Montreal you can find a private room with a double bed in some very cool neighborhoods for under $50 a night. Much more affordable than a hotel room, plus you get full kitchen access and the chance to meet great people.

You can also find full house rentals on airbnb, and many adventuring families choose this option on their travels.

Brienne and I are loving our current airbnb digs in Montreal. We have a private bedroom with a double bed. Our hosts are two women both originally from France. They are as interested in our stories as we are in theirs.

What a great way to meet people.

4. Hostels

In my experience and opinion, the most amazing hostels are those along the Appalachian Trail. (There are some scary ones too, but the gems are truly awesome and I will never forget them.)

But those hostels, at $20/person, are not necessarily the most affordable options for a family.

Our family has stayed in a couple non-trail hostels over the years. I remember meeting up with my parents and celebrating Celine's 5th birthday in the Ottawa Hostel. And more recently we celebrated Laurent's 13th birthday at the hostel in Quebec City.

Hum... we seem to have "celebrating birthdays in Canadian city hostels" theme goin' on.

Our hostel experiences have been fun but with the growing availability of airbnb I feel hostels are a less appealing option, in terms of cost and amenities, for families than an airbnb rental. Hostels most often charge per bed and with a family of five there's not a lot of cost savings over an airbnb rental. And the comfort of a home is nice.

I will say though you meet really interesting people at hostels, which we like, and most are strategically located.

We're going home very soon. We've been here nine days and we've had a productive time - we found an apartment and got Celine and Damien off to Chicago. But in amongst those activities, and especially after those were taken care of, we've been enjoying a little vacation with great food, shopping and friendly people.

And inexpensive non-hotel accommodations are part of what make this possible.


Introducing Black Widow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The project itself is the educational means and ends.

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

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

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

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

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

And finish she did!

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

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

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

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

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

You go girl!


Letting them grow up into who they are meant to be

I am currently writing a homeschooling through high school blog series, which is focused around Celine's high school education, as she is our only high schooler. After writing this very long post, which is part tribute to my father, a story of my roots and heritage, and our present homeschool journey, I realized that Laurent has probably started his scholar years also. Gulp. So I am including this post in that series.

There's always an exchange of stuff when my parents come to visit. Clothing, books, food, computer expertise, lotion and lip balm are a few things that come to mind.

But two weeks ago, when my parents left after coming to celebrate Easter with us, they took something most precious with them, our fourteen year old son.

They didn't take Laurent with them for a holiday, like they did when he was nine years old. Laurent is closer to being a man now, than he is a child. And so they whisked him off to Nova Scotia to do what men do, to work.

Not just any work, but to work with a craftsman builder and small business owner. To get an introduction to the building trade, learn a few skills, and earn a bit of money apprenticing for a month (maybe more?) with a master builder: my dad and his papa.

My dad, Derryl, has been a builder his whole life. He started his building career, as a young man, only four years older than Laurent is now.

By the time he was in his mid-twenties my dad owned his own construction business. And my childhood memories start, somewhere at age two or three, in the first house he built for our family.

During my growing up years Dad's business grew and his labors moved from the job site into an office where he was "the boss", as my brother and I explained to people who asked "what kind of work does your dad do?"

As a grown woman, I look back and see that Dad carried a lot responsibility on his shoulders, the wellbeing of his family and his employees.

He was my first employer, paying me to do office work. When my brother was old enough to work on a job site, he too worked for Dad. We both learned to work, working for our dad.

Owning and operating a business and the responsibility of employees and large building contracts (by my teen years Dad no longer built homes but commercial buildings all over central Alberta) started to suck the life-joy from my dad in his mid-life. By this point I was grown, married and starting my own family.

I wasn't there when my dad went through a period of depression. I was on the other side of the continent taking care of babies. But I felt his pain on our visits and in our conversations.

It was a great relief to me when he decided enough and that it was time for a change. The need for a change, the dream of life on the water, and the desire to be closer to their eastern-dwelling children moved my parents out to Nova Scotia eight years ago.

When my parents started their life again in Nova Scotia in their mid-fifties, my dad went back to his first love - working with his hands on small scale building projects.

My dad is intelligent, he's extroverted and genuinely interested in people, he's an incredibly hard-worker, he's generous, and he builds to a standard of beauty, detail and workmanship reminiscent of previous eras. He is an artisan builder.

He didn't go to school to be a builder. He has a high school education. Everything he's knows about building, and trust me, at sixty-two he knows a lot, he has learned by doing.

At a young age I was building toys that my parents could not afford to buy and in grade 5-6 I built a multi-level tree house, 25 feet above ground which the city made me take down due to it extending over the neighbours property! An early lesson in building without a permit?? I began designing and building multi-level rabbit cages with my dad's tools, which was the beginning of my own personal tool collection which has never ended. In grade 9 my teacher told me it was unfortunate that the existing school curriculum did not allow me to follow the passion and desire that I had to build. I was stuck in a traditional educational system. By the end of my 11th grade I was assisting the wood working shop teacher with helping other students learn the trade.

Dad and I don't discuss educational philosophy very much, though my Dad definitely has a "philosophizing" bent, as do I. Educational philosophy is my passion, building is his.

It's funny that I've never clued into this before, but the decision to home educate my children as self-motivated learners in the path of interest-driven education was not just the product of my own careful research, observation, and inspiration.

The seeds of my children's interest-driven education were planted in me as the child of an autodidact.

I was raised by a self-motivated man, who was once a interest-driven boy, who sought out the resources and opportunities he could within the confines of his reality, to pursue his passion.

Traditional schooling was not the best fit for my dad but he made it work as best he could.

My learning style and intelligence types were a good fit for the school system. I was a "good" student and I liked school.

I was expected to do my best at school, and my studies were my responsibility, but there was no pressure to make honor roll or any specific grades. (I put enough pressure on myself that my parents certainly didn't need to add anymore.) If anything, my parents encouraged me to lighten up, and more than once I remember my dad telling me to take a break from my homework.

My parents didn't homeschool me. They didn't teach me read or write or how to do long division, but they taught me something else.

They taught me right from wrong. They taught me to do my best. They taught me faith through actions not empty words. They taught me how to work. They taught me integrity. They taught me how to stay married. They taught me how to love.

They taught me you learn to do by doing.

An apprenticeship for Laurent

It was on the trail, in Virginia, that we first discussed Laurent having a building apprenticeship with my dad. My parents had joined us for two weeks of hiking and at camp one night, or maybe it was during one of our breaks, Damien and I proposed the idea to Dad.

Laurent hasn't had a lot of exposure to building trades or skills and we wanted him to have the opportunity to learn a few things in that realm. Going to work with Papa for a time wasn't just about helping my dad or earning some money. It was to be about learning skills.

I'm pretty sure Laurent wouldn't go to work for just any builder. Construction building is not his driving passion the way it is my dad's. But Laurent loves to spend time with Papa making stuff. One of his fondest Nova Scotia memories is building the neighborhood wharf the summer we lived there.

My dad is at the stage in his life and his career where he has time to teach while he works. And the timing is perfect because he's currently working on his own project right now, building three retirement-living duplexes in Lunenburg.

Laurent has been connected to this particular project from the beginning as Papa commissioned him to design the site logo, Eric's Place.

The logo in progress

Eric's Place is named after my mom's Dad (my dad's father-in-law) who passed away last year. Naming this housing development after Grandpa is a tribute to his character and legacy. And the sign's design, which Laurent created according to Papa's specifications, is a remembrance of our family's Alberta roots and my grandfather's lifelong work, vocation and passion as a farmer.

Laurent is still a boy and can't fully appreciate the family story being written here, but I can.

By the time he was Laurent's age, my dad knew he wanted to be a builder. In his early twenties, as a young husband and father to a baby girl named Renee, my dad worked for his uncle's construction business, under the tutelage of his grandfather, my great-grandfather.

Dad was working hard to build a home and a livelihood for his young family. His grandfather, his mother's father, worked alongside him, teaching him more than how to build a house or a trade, but how to build a life. They shared family, faith, and a love for music. They shared a friendship.

I was four years old when my great-grandfather died at seventy years of age. He is a man I only know from pictures, from the stories I didn't pay enough attention to as a child, and from the love and esteem my father still has for him.

This is the family story that Laurent is being written into: grandfathers teaching grandsons, young men learning to work, learning skills, and how to support a family. This is a story Laurent he won't be able to fully appreciate till he is a man himself.

I don't know that Laurent will be a builder, but he will be a maker of some sort I have no doubt.

Like my father who was a builder from the time he was a child, Laurent is an artist. This is a gift, a talent he gets from Damien's side of the family. And as an interest-driven homeschooler he has had time to develop this gift.

Even now, busy though he is working with my dad, he shows us his latest watercolor painting over Skype and is hoping to spend his first earnings on new oil paints on this week's trip to Halifax.

An apprenticeship with my dad is partly about learning practical skills but it is about building relationship. It is about a boy learning how to be a man.

Damien and I know our children need more than us, they need elders to invest in their teenage years. We feel this is especially important for our tender-hearted, physically active, artistic, handsome, becoming-a-man son.

This is what I believe and yet I struggled to let him go.

Laurent has dyslexia and he didn't learn to really read, with solid comprehension, till age eleven.

For Laurent, delayed reading meant delayed writing. In a traditional classroom setting, reading and writing is key, even in the early grades, not just for those skills alone but so teachers can deliver and assess other knowledge and skills to a large group of students.

Homeschool is completely different, at least for us. I know, just by talking to my kids, what they understand and don't understand. I can tailor the materials we use to their needs, strengths and limitations. When they are little, I can read and write for them, as needed. This is fine for elementary years but my goal has been to move towards independence and skills-proficiency in their middle school years.

Laurent is at the end of his middle school years and we're not as far with his writing skills as I had hoped we'd be at this point.

Writing is a difficult skill, craft, and practice all around. Throw dyslexia into the mix and it's extra challenging.

I panicked a bit when we got home from the trail. My kids learned how to persevere through struggle to reach a goal but they forgot long division. And after six months in the woods, it seemed there were more gaps than solid footing in their written communication skills.

I view the middle years, roughly 10-14 years of age, as a time of increasing academics (though the methods I use are suited to my kids' interests and learning styles), with the goal of filling-in any gaps in foundational skills of reading, writing and math before my student's progress to scholar.

It feels like I have more "filling-in" to do with Laurent than I did with Celine.

But Laurent is nearly ready intellectually and emotionally for his scholar years. I see it in his self-initiative and the dissatisfaction with my leading.

(I've noticed that when my kids give me push-back in areas they never used to it's often because they are ready to progress is some way and I'm holding them back somehow. Teasing out where they need to progress and how I'm holding them back though is homeschool detective work.)

The time is coming, it's nearly here, for Laurent to steer his ship the way we gave the reins over to Celine. And I don't feel ready.

I've been trying to remember what it was like when we let Celine ditch my plans and make her own. I wasn't ready then either.

I'm never ready for the next stage. But they are and I have to let go.

One of things I'm coming to terms with is that my kids are not going to "learn" everything I had hoped to teach them before they graduate our homeschool, or before they move from middle school to scholar.

I've never operated under the assumption I can provide a well-rounded education. I don't even believe in that notion. Well-rounded according to whose standards? according to what metrics?

But still, I want to give my children more than I possibly have time, energy, or financial resources to provide. I want to empty myself of all the wisdom I've gained from years of trial and error and short-circuit for them the losses and painful lessons I've learned. I want to provide them with wise teachers and faithful friends. I want fill them with good memories and root them in a strong family and faith identity.

I want to give them the moon and the stars.

I can't even wrap my brain around some of the skills and knowledge that Laurent and Celine possess. Their learning far exceeds the bounds of my experience in several areas. And I know my kids will not be illiterate, in either the basics or not-so-basics, but there comes a point where I have to say, "that's good enough, I've done the best I can with what I have."

There comes a point where I have to say, "you have my blessing, go".

Letting Laurent go work with Dad was one such release.

My son will probably never excel at spelling. His Papa isn't a natural speller either and it hasn't hindered him much. And there are so many things Laurent will not learn under my watch.

If Laurent grows up to be anything like my dad, however, in terms of his work ethic, faith in God, steadfastness in family-life, community engagement, and a drive to use the talents he's been given to their full measure, although I won't have been able to give him the moon and stars, he'll be salt of the earth.