A month of homeschooling on FIMBY

It's been a long time since I've written anything substantial about homeschooling and I'd like to do something about that.

Since I've been quiet on the subject it could be inferred I've lost some of my passion for homeschooling or that it's not going well. (My kids are teenagers after all.) Thankfully, neither is true.

These are some of our best homeschool years yet. I still LOVE homeschooling my kids. And our kids (mostly) still want to be schooled at home. The energy and tenacity of older students, when they are working toward their own goals is a real beauty to behold. (I just gave you a real big hint as to why homeschooling is still working in our home.)

A significant area of contention in our homeschool life is that we have limited community resources at our disposal to support our anglophone childrens' growth, development, and interests. (We live in rural Quebec.)

For two years we went without good library service. We finally solved that problem by joining the library system in New Brunswick, which is the province next to us. Thankfully, our nearest library is only one hour away.

The most difficult thing though, is that we've gone nearly four years without a homeschool support group or homeschool community. We have two teenagers and a social, extroverted twelve year old who want to connect with kids like them and so the situation has to change. And it will, very soon. (That's code-speak for "we're moving" but I'll get to that announcement soon enough.)

Although I haven't written much about homeschooling on the blog, homeschooling is as near and dear to my heart as ever it was. To be sure, my long term sights are on what comes after this first vocation of mine (what kind of career do I want after my kids aren't the center of my universe?) but finishing well is where my focus is right now and for the next three to five years.

I spend a lot more time now, than I did when the kids were little, investing my energies into the "homeschool" part of my job description. When the kids were young I invested a lot of energy into establishing our homemaking systems and teaching the kids likewise. I was banking on the belief that if I laid that foundation well I would have more physical and mental energy to help guide their studies in the intense middle to high school years. At that point I could only hope that my efforts would yield the fruit I see today. I have not been disappointed.

I have a lot to say about homeschooling in these years and I want to spend some time in March, all of March actually, writing about homeschooling, and I want to do it as openly as possible.

I've got a little side project going on called The Kitchen Table, many of you have joined me there. I am blown away but what's happening around the table. And I'm getting glimpses of the work I want to do post-homeschooling but mostly I am simply hanging out and sharing my heart, as you share yours.

I have been given so much already in the short time I've been facilitating that group, but what strikes me the most is seeing FIMBY readers, who I've always considered friends, for who they are: real people.

You are a real person and it's likely you're a real homeschooler. You have real kids in a real home. Real-ness means we are beautiful but at times feel wretched. It means we love our kids to death (and we would die for them) but God help us if they don't drive us to drinking some days. Real-ness means we have our spectacular homeschooling days but also days, months, seasons where we wonder if we're not failing our children, crippling them for life.

I want to write about homeschooling in our home with all this in mind. I try to be honest in my writing but when I don't hear the voices of who I'm writing to it's hard to be open. Not because I don't want to, but because without knowing who you are (dear reader and friend) I'm writing into a void. And in that emptiness I wonder, who the heck cares about these particular details, this triumph or this struggle.

As it turns out, you care and you want to know. You may not contribute to comments, nor do I expect you to, but you're reading and you want to know what it really looks like to homeschool older kids. And I want to share that with you.

I started this blog eleven years ago. Brienne, our youngest, was a toddler. You can read my first homeschooling-related post here. It's about hiking, what else?

You might also like this blast from the past post about our early school days, published ten years ago, almost to the day.

I didn't start to post regularly to this blog, which wasn't even called FIMBY at the time, till Brienne was five.

Our kids are now 12, 14 and 15. What does it look like to homeschool kids these ages? Does it look how I thought it would as a starry-eyed, interest-led, newbie homeschooler?

Do our kids still want to be homeschooled? Are they still eager to learn (like they were as adorable eight year olds)?

Will they go to highschool? (If you've been reading my blog for a long time you'll already have a clue to the answer.)

What are we doing to prepare for university? Will our kids go to university?

How do we (attempt to) meet the needs of three diverse kids? Are our kids weird homeschooled teenagers? (My oldest daughter and her friends like to be weird so this is a tricky question to answer.)

I've got a good chunk of these posts already written. I've been plugging away on a "homeschooling through high school" series since last fall. That should answer all the high school related questions. But I'm guessing you may have other questions. (Or maybe you have a very specific high school question you'd like to see answered in the high school series.)

I'd love to hear your homeschooling questions. Feel free to post them in comments below or email them to me.

I can't promise to get to each one, but as much as possible I want to try to work my answers into the posts I have planned for the month of March.

I'm not a homeschool guru but after ten years at this vocation I'm still happily doing it and the kids haven't mutinied yet. In truth, we all really enjoy each other, there's a flow of learning through our days and excited plans for the future, so I probably have something of value to add to the conversation.

A civil discourse disclaimer and why I write our story, in spite of the risk.

A dear blogging friend of mine was recently attacked on a blog post she wrote about her daughter's homeschooled high school experience. The comment was offensive and mean-spirited (I didn't read it) and my friend felt compelled to un-publish the post as well as change her plans to publish follow-up posts related to high school, record keeping, transcripts and the like.

In all my years of blogging I have received one spiteful comment on a homeschool post. I deleted it and I updated my comments policy, which I'm certain no one reads. I've had less than a handful of mean comments at FIMBY and only one that was about my kids.

I have a zero tolerance policy for attacks on my kids on the blog, or mean stuff in general, regardless of who it's directed at. I don't mind honest discourse, thoughtful questions and questioning, but kindness is the rule, just as it is in our home.

(We've had very few "rules" for our kids. I'm sometimes inconsistent with the ones we do have. All those parenting books that stress consistency make me feel like a failure, so I don't read them. And the kids, Brienne especially, know they can negotiate their way around most "rules". But kindness is non-negotiable, it is the rule we enforce.)

All of this to say, homeschoolers and people who blog about parenting and family life in general go out on a limb sometimes in sharing their experiences. And so you might wonder why I share publicly at all?

In my case I do it because it's what I want to read.

I want to read about healthy, vibrant, loving, and real family life. I want to know how to homeschool my kids through high school. I want to know how to have close relationship with them through their growing years and into adulthood.

I want to read about families who live with hope and kindness, joy and vitality. I want to know how to raise amazing kids who will bring the light of Christ into the world and affect positive change in their own circles of influence.

talk about breaking the rules, or in this case the law: there is a great (scary at the time) story behind this not-so-stealth campsite in Harriman State Park, NY

I want to know how to hold on and then let go. I want to know how I can build community with my children so we might live communally as adults and experience third, and fourth (with my parents) generation family life. I want all of this in a culture and society that seems to tear families apart and isolate us from one another.

I want nothing short of an amazing family life and it's sometimes hard to find models for this, in the context of our current culture. I don't identify as much with books written by parents who's kids are grown and gone, raised before the internet and iPads.

Also, most of the current books available (and a lot of healthy family life blogs) seem to be about farming, homesteading families, and we are definitely not that.

We are a technology family who's members love gaming, sci-fi movies, design, fashion, and computer programming, as well as having fun in the outdoors together (and we can be pretty hard core about that.) I am the natural-living inspired mom and spouse to this tech savvy crew. I figure my earthiness keeps us grounded whereas Damien's geeky engineering bent keeps us technologically "in-the-game". Something I especially appreciate with teenagers in the house. I may be clueless about the latest and greatest, but their dad isn't!

I love to read blogs about families (homeschooling families since that's what I identify with) finding their way into into healthy, fulfilling, and vibrant lives.

Our family is not the model. But we're doing stuff that works for us (and sometimes trying stuff that doesn't), and I want my voice, our story, to be part of the collective "this is how families do it" narrative that is being written on the web. Not because we're perfect parents, perfect spouses, or perfect kids. But because we love each other, and we love life, and we love Jesus, and we love our neighbors and the world needs love, period.

It's a love story, and you may question and ask "what about...?" but hurtful comments directed to our family, or each other will not be tolerated. It's a house rule.

(A note about the photos in this post. I don't take many photos of us "doing school" so I don't have a lot "visuals to illustrate" this post, or the posts coming this month. This seems like a perfect opportunity to start publishing trail photos. Already, the kids have grown so much since these were taken last spring and summer on the Appalachian Trail.)


I didn't bring my camera skiing this morning, just the phone. But I took a few portraits of Laurent last week anticipating that I'd want to share his mug today. 

When it comes to celebrations, Laurent is a fun-loving, active, but easy-going kid. 

A morning of snowboarding with his family, an afternoon of Merlin on Netflix, followed by an evening of Taekwondo, with omelettes, bacon, strawberries and whipped cream, lasagna and garlic toast (frozen food aisle folks), tossed salad, and brownies with ice cream does a birthday make. 

There were handmade cards and small, heartfelt gifts from his sisters, all of which had a monster-goblin-beast theme. Ironic as Laurent is such a sweet guy but he does love his bestiaries and we all know it! 

Settling in now to watch a movie before a late bedtime. He's a teenager, this is what they do. Eat a lot, play hard, watch TV, and stay up late. 

Happy Birthday Laurent!

Mid-Winter: Skiing

Damien was gone for nine days this month and I have to admit winter was harder in his absence. I realized a lot of my joy in this season comes from doing fun stuff together. (And having someone to snow blow the driveway helps too.)

Damien returned early last week, he made it home in-between two storms. Winter storms, or at least snow fall, means better skiing conditions, better skiing conditions means more fun. So unlike a lot of winter-cranky northerners we welcome snow. Because by our way of thinking (and living) snow=fun.

With each fresh snowfall, Friday morning skiing is an activity I anticipate all week and Sunday is a day to get in as many runs as possible. And this year, on my alpine touring skis, I feel confident, and am having fun, on everything but the double black diamonds.

Mid-winter is the time for many activities - playing hockey, crafting, enjoying hot drinks, making soap, walking in the woods. And it is most definitely the time for skiing.

Mid-Winter: Tracks & Trails

I didn't go cross-country skiing this week.

We had a lot of snow that had to be shoveled. (Shoveling snow is a different type of exercise that I generally don't mind, in moderation.) And on Friday mornings we ski at the hill, so no cross-country that afternoon.

I thought the wind-whipped snow would be to hard to ski on but when the kids and I went for a walk mid-week I discovered sections I wished I had skis for. But for the most part we could easily follow the snowmobile track without sinking through.

our neighbors snowshoe tracks

One of the best parts of winter walks in the woods is all the evidence of animal life, tracks only visible in the snow.

And like animals, or as animals, we leave our own evidence, marks that we have been here. 

Mid-Winter: Making

My sweater project has not gone as planned. As in, I haven't made nearly the progress I had hoped to by this point in the month. 

But a successful re-stock (everything turned out lovely) of my handmade soap, lotion, and lip balm helps to ease my creative woes. 

I made my lip balm, following my tried-and-true recipe. However, I divided the batch in two and made half peppermint, and the other half fennel. 

I also tweaked my lotion recipe a bit, experimenting with more culinary-inspired essential oils. 

How I made the lotion:

1. I melted all of these together.

  • 1.1 oz cocoa butter
  • .6 oz shea butter
  • .6 oz beeswax
  • 1 oz almond oil
  • 1.1 oz grapeseed oil
  • .5 oz skin-healing herbs infused oil

2. In a separate container I whisked 1/4 tsp of borax into 4 oz of water. 

3. I poured the melted oils into the water mixture and whizzed with hand blender. 

4. I added:

  • 20 drops GSE
  • 10 drops lime essential oil
  • 10 drops basil essential oil

5. Whizzed it all again. Poured into sterilized jars. 

6. Applied pretty labels. Download your own labels here. (I love these labels.)

I don't usually like lotion bars. They are awkward to store and are especially greasy. But winter calls for some intense skin care so I experimented a bit with the Shea Butter Lotion Bar recipe from Wellness Mama's Natural Beauty Guide (offered with the Ultimate DIY Bundle back in January).

I added frankinscence, rosemary and orange essential oils. I haven't used the tube yet, the one you see pictured above. I keep a small disc of the lotion bar (which I made by pouring half the recipe into one of my silicon muffin pan cups) above the kitchen sink. This is a great spot to remind me to care for my hands with frequent applications. 

This is the soap recipe I used. 

I was feeling quite inspired after whipping up this batch. And since I have been asked repeatedly (and repeatedly) by local friends to teach a class, I've decided to get it on the calendar for May. I've decided on a recipe and I'll start ordering the supplies, creating the handouts and "advertising" soon. Feels good to be inspired to teach. 

Find links to all my soap making posts - instructions and recipes - on this page


Mid-Winter: Drinking

This winter I discovered, thanks to Hibernate, daily herbal infusions.

In the morning I prepare a mason jar with loose herbs, add boiling water and drink throughout the day - warm or cold. My favorite afternoon pick-me-up is herbal chai, also from Hibernate. Heather's recipe is an adaptation of Rachel's, found here

I enjoy other loose leaf teas mostly from David's Teas or this Coureur des bois from Tea Taxi.

Everyone else in the house has a cappuccino or latte habit, made easy with the super-duper espresso machine. And steaming milk for a frothy hot cocoa is a fun treat too. 

Mid-Winter: Crafting

I had high hopes for a creative project I wanted to do this month. Things have not gone as planned but the pieces are still there (and aren't they pretty?), waiting for my next round of inspiration and time.

The kids are enjoying a mid-winter break with more time for crafting, gaming (of the tabletop variety), and drawing.

In a way, these kids of mine are my inspiration. They're not afraid to try, or afraid to fail. They know what they like and they keep working at it, diligently, till they can create what they imagine. I want to be like them.

FIMBY Feature: January Baby

Do you find it challenging to get outside with your little ones in the snowy, cold weather? Do you have a hard time keeping them warm? Do you have a tyke who refuses to keep her mitts on, sending everyone back indoors sooner than you'd like?

You're not alone.

Let me introduce to you Anna from January Baby. Maybe you can relate to her experience.

The year my daughter Robyn turned two she refused to do anything she was asked, especially wear her mittens. I thought, "when her hands get cold she will put on her mitts".

Wrong! I had completely underestimated the power of will. The result: her hands would get cold and she would start to cry. That was the end of playing outside. Then, while her hands were warming up they would start to ache and she would cry harder.

Using my experience in fabric and design, I came up with Smittens: the no-escape mittens. They worked, she couldn’t take them off.

Then I thought, "Am I the only mom whose child refuses to wear their mittens?" I started looking around. There were mitten-less children everywhere. I knew what I needed to do.

Five years and two kids later, I started January Baby.

Why January Baby? Guess when Robyn’s birthday is.

January Baby is a Canadian company (they ship to the US also). Their signature product is Smittens. Baby, you're not gettin' these babies off! They also make adorable winter hats and very practical and cozy neckwarmers.

Not just for toddlers and tykes, January Baby's neckwarmers have become an important piece in our big kids winter wear. Laurent and Brienne wear them on those cold winter days for playing outdoors and I love mine for staying warm on the chair lift.

I highly recommend January Baby products, the construction and fleece quality is excellent. We wear our outdoor gear hard, and these hold up.

January Baby is offering a 10% discount to FIMBY readers on their fabulous products. Offer expires March 12. Use the code fimby10 at the checkout process.

And, because it's February and we all need a little bit of a pick-me-up this month, January Baby is offering one lucky FIMBY reader a neckwarmer of your choice!

To enter your name for the giveaway click over to January Baby (that's the link for the neckwarmers), choose a color you like, come back and leave a comment with your favorite color. (I know commenting is quirky here for some of you so you can also comment at FIMBY Facebook or send me a contact message if you can't comment on this post.) Giveaway ends Saturday midnight EST.

Make the most of winter, dress for it, and enjoy it!

Do you want to see your small business, blog or enterprise featured on FIMBY? Click here for more information.

My sweet spot

I love how winter is a perfect time to enjoy the indoors, drink warm beverages, watch Netflix, knit, and be cozy.

I have a strong "hibernate" tendency in winter and like to indulge that as much as possible.

The seasonal rest-mode of winter is an important part of the natural cycles. (Could someone please send a memo to Revenue Canada/IRS?! This should not be tax season! Too much work for winter.)

My default-mode in this cold, snowy season is to withdraw and hunker-down. But I suffer emotionally, physically, and mentally if I withdraw too much, from both social engagements and outdoor activity.

Two years ago I made a commitment to myself to get outside and move my body every day (or nearly every day) in all seasons.

This "body movement" is also called exercise but I've noticed that the word exercise is so 90's and is out of vogue. Movement is the new exercise. (Unfortunately, the word "movement" brings to my mind the well-known euphemism for the end stage of the digestive process.)

I have a certain resistance to exercise or movement. It doesn't matter what it's called, I respond the same way.

When I'm engaged in it, it's fine. (Unless we're talking nine hours of hiking everyday for six months, that's another story.) But getting over the hump, in my case, out the door, is the most difficult part for me. Always.

This is an example of the resistance I talked about in January's Kitchen Table essay.

As I wrote about in that essay, I could push through that resistance working against myself and be really frustrated, or I can work with who I am and how I operate to flow through that resistance. I choose the latter.

People with successful "physical movement routines" usually have their own tricks and routines that make it work for them.

Here's what works for me.

I choose activities I enjoy.

I like walking, hiking, casual running, cross-country and downhill skiing, all of which I do outdoors.

The outdoors part works well where I live and is a good fit for my interests. Because I'm also social and like gathering with other people, if I lived in a city I might consider group classes - yoga, dance, Zumba etc. I have done these in the past when we lived in Maine, though these were weekly classes not daily routines.

I choose a time that works for me.

This changes for me with different life seasons but right now the time that works best is right after my lunchtime reading break. I eat lunch and read. Then I go skiing or walking in the woods. It's the warmest time of day in the winter and it breaks my day up nicely. Morning Homeschool. Lunch and Break. Exercise. Afternoon Work.

I'm accountable to my family.

In our family, we use our relationship with other to help us in meeting our healthy living goals. For example, holding each other accountable for what we eat and encouraging each other to exercise. (Ok, so we require the kids to exercise and/or be outside each day. And this is how they earn their TV or gaming time.)

Each of us makes an effort every day to be active, and this effort encourages each one of us. And because we require our kids to be active (we feel this habit formation is of prime importance), we can't very well as parents not set the same example.

I have a secret motivation.

The kids have their own motivating factors for physical activity, usually fun. Damien is motivated by health and achievement, tracking and charting his progress with technical devices - a heart rate monitor, fancy watch, iPad app, you get the idea.

Beauty is what motivates me to get out the door, the promise that I will encounter something especially lovely. I also call this my sweet spot.

This winter, my afternoon ski has two different sweet spots. To get there I start at the front porch...

cut through the backyard, between the garden and the greenhouse...

and ski parallel to the edge of the woods, along the field.

I dip down to cross the creek and then my climb starts, first through woods, then more field. I follow the snowmobile track, until I reach my destination - the larger stand of mixed evergreens on the hill. 

And it is here, in the evergreens, that my climbing is done, and I reach my first sweet spot.

Surrounded by the quiet forest I know I'm on the descent, the work is done and the ease begins. At this point I am reluctant to return home. The woods is one of the places I feel I belong. I feel at home here. (I feel the same thing in my kitchen.) But I'm excited about getting to my second sweet spot and so I ski on.

You see that orange glow in the trees? That's sweet spot number two, calling me to come see.

If the day is clear, or mostly clear, and the sun is low in the sky, as it on winter afternoons, this spot will stop me in my tracks, literally. And I will revel in the moment. Trees lit on fire by the setting sun, a jewel of brilliance in a white, green and grey world.

I never want to leave this spot, but I'm on the descent. My return is inevitable. And there's work to be done at home. Always work to be done.

My sweet spots are my motivation. I hold them in my mind as I'm disciplining myself to get out the door each afternoon, because yes, it is a discipline for me.

I don't know why getting out the door is such a beast for me, but it is. However, as soon as my boots are clipped in my bindings and I'm on my way, my reluctance disappears. Every time. I know this about myself.

I also know that I love the way my body feels when it's moving, not pushing too hard against the resistance but enough. 

Pushing to climb to that sweet spot, that sweet reward, before descending back home, through the field, across the creek, and along the woods.

Back to the kids, the kitchen, and my to-do list. And a warm winter drink, herbal chai please, enjoying the memory of the woods and my barely-tender muscles reminding me how I got there, and home again.


10 more weeks of winter (a Project Home & Healing update)

I find pronouncements of "six more weeks of winter" somewhat amusing. Spring on the horizon, as seen in the Groundhog's shadow or celebrated in Imbolc, is a decidedly non-northern, or at least non-Quebec, reality.

We still have a lot of winter left, and the really surprising thing is that I don't mind.

I was sad to say goodbye to January.

This winter feels precious to me.

In part, because it is a season of healing. A time of deliberate attention to self. I feel supported, affirmed, celebrated, and taken care of in ways I haven't for many months.

Another contributing factor to this winter's unique-ness, is the knowledge that we will never again live in this exact spot. This is our only winter in this home on the hill overlooking the bay.

I will never again be treated to this particular winter-woods ski route or watch the January sun rise from our bedroom window.

The other reality is that with each major transition in our family life, I'm getting a clearer picture of life in just a few short years, a household without the hustle and bustle and voracious appetites of our teenaged brood. And so like Heather, I am realizing how much I want to cherish this time as mother, homemaker, homeschooler. Some of these winter days together have been so beautiful to me, I just want to stop time.

One last thing that I mourn about the passing of winter is the change in the light.

The days are longer - rejoice! But deep winter holds the special honor of being the only months of the year when I can witness both the sun rising and setting. On clear mornings I will often step out the door, in the frigid cold of winter pre-dawn, wrapped in a blanket, and watch the sun climb over trees at the edge of the field.

And again, later in the afternoon I'll put on a jacket and my pink rubber boots, or maybe my sheepskin slippers. I'll grab the camera and watch the sun sink, across the bay, over New Brunswick.

I'm having a fantastic winter.

I can't say, yet, that it's the best winter of recent memory. It's still too early to tell. We have many more weeks of skiing and shoveling ahead of us. For early February though, I'm doing well.

It's been quiet on the blog for the last week because I was working on January's Kitchen Table essay. That essay is about January's Project Home and Healing theme: fun and flow and pushing through resistance (or not).

That essay touches on just one aspect of my post-hike recovery but January was a month of making significant strides in several areas of healing on both a personal and marriage level.

Project Home & Healing: An Outline

When we came home from our hike last September I sketched an outline for my emotional and mental recovery. I was trying to make sense of a three-year decline in my confidence, security, and wellbeing. This decline culminated in intense mental and emotional strain during our hike, a feeling of brokenness, and then burn out upon our return.

In the past few years some important pieces of my identity and wellbeing were, how do I say this, shelved or ignored. Both Damien and I share the responsibility for this.

Last fall, my physical body and the inner me spoke loud and clear what I needed for healing. I understand my inner me to be the essence of who I am - the child me, young woman me, current me, and the sage woman I hope to become.

Is that my soul? I don't know. All I know is that she spoke.

And in response, I came up with a three pronged approach to rebuild my wellbeing:

  • Attend to my Mental Health
  • Return to my Roots
  • Craft a Vision for me Going Forward

By the time December rolled around I was making some progress but it was slow. As a couple however, we were still spinning our wheels.

Then we had the breaking down and rebuilding on the marriage level and things really started to make sense, to click. And the forward momentum shifted into another gear.

My recovery and healing at this point involved a fourth, and most necessary element:

  • Structural Changes to our Family Life

This actually became the bedrock for the three elements I had established earlier.

I think it's working. Actually, I know it is but I am cautious in these regards. Two months is not two years of change and progress but it's something.

January was a good month. And I think it's fitting to tell the story of the month in the structure of my Project Home & Healing outline.

A breakdown of January according to Project Home & Healing 1. Structural Changes to our Family Life

These are huge and I hope to share the story in more depth, because man, what a good story, but here's the short version.

Damien and I stopped our online working together. He has his work and enterprises, and I have mine.

Damien is completely focusing on the technology side of his skill set, passion and experience. And he's earning a lot more money because of it. And this is an important part of my wellbeing, since I crave security and stability.

He's started a new business with someone really cool, another geeky engineer like himself that some of you might recognize as the husband of a well-regarded small business woman, online entrepreneur and blogger. (No, I'm not telling yet who the mystery man is. But Damien met him three years ago through my online world, and I think that's pretty cool.)

And we sold Toe Salad. All that happened in January.

Most of the structural changes to our family life have to do with work. How we earn our income, or rather how Damien earns the income for our family. Those changes affect more than our financial bottom line, they affect our schedule and our division of labor in the home.

2. Attend to my Mental Health

I don't know that I've actually come out and said this before in a post so I will now. I have a paternal family history of depression and anxiety. These are private stories that aren't mine to tell but they are a part of me because that same blood runs in my veins.

Last fall I looked back on three years and took stock. I had a tough winter with SAD in 2012, a really bad March with SAD in 2013, a two month bout of depression in the middle of summer (my happy season) on the trail, precipitated, accompanied by, and followed by feelings of shame, brokenness, and unworthiness.

This is not how I want to live so I need to get serious about my mental health. The degree to which Damien and I successfully execute our plans and live our values and the joy we experience in our marriage and family life, largely hinge on my mental health. My outlook, how I perceive challenges, and how I overcome them is critical.

For winter specifically, I have a SAD action plan which I shared in Heather's Hibernate course. But there needs to be more because I have years of faulty and sometimes destructive mental tracks laid, where one thought leads to another that quickly goes down a path that takes me to hairy and scary.

This is one of my projects for the year. With our family structure feeling much more supportive to who I am, what I need, and how I'm wired, it feels safe to be critical with my thinking and work to make changes.

This is a large-scale project and will not be accomplished in one year, and I do believe I'm going to have to take special care, if my family history is any indicator, of my mental health for probably my lifetime. But my goal is to make significant strides forward this year.

January's Kitchen Table essay discusses very practical steps I am taking in this regard.

3. Return to My Roots

Here are the words that first came to me last fall in attempting to define Return to my Roots: comfort, stability, security, routines, connection, and creativity.

Return to my Roots encompasses many things but at its core it's about listening to my inner voice calling me back what I know and love.

It's about making music, making home, making beautiful, useful things with my hands. It's about recognizing and honoring the importance of tradition, security, and stability to my wellbeing. It's about being rooted in community and place, and knowing I belong.

There are big and little manifestations of this Project Home and Healing element in my life, but I'll stick to two big January initiatives - joining a choir (a return to making music, a dominant theme from my personal past) and participating in Hibernate.

The choir is completely en français, and though that leaves me a little shaky in the security department, the making of music feeds my soul. Not to mention learning French as a Second Language is a intellectual goal of mine and my choir immersion experiences contribute to that.

Hibernate was the surprise win of January. Hibernate is an online retreat about making the most of winter around five themes: nourish, gather, renew, create and rest. For the last month I've been a part of a community of creative homemakers, enjoying winter around home and hearth.

This celebration and community of seasonal homemaking and self-care speaks exactly to where I'm at. And has contributed significantly to Project Home and Healing this month.

I have had so much fun in this workshop and felt very supported in who I am - a natural-inspired homemaker and seeker of beautiful things in my life. This workshop has been pure joy, comfort and winter goodness (herbal recipes, healthy meals & nourishing hot drinks) all rolled into one.

4. Craft a Vision

I'm not a big visionary so the Craft a Vision as part of my wellness strategy is about seeing the future in baby steps and little dreams. I honor that my preference is to work this way - with a fairly narrow, detail-orientated scope.

Last fall I created eight compass points to guide my goals and personal development moving forward. These points don't reside solely under Craft a Vision, but I'm sticking them here for simplicity sake.

Those eight points are:

  • creative
  • intellectual
  • work
  • body
  • spirit
  • relationships
  • home
  • adventure/travel

Some of my compass points are filled with specific vision and action steps for the next couple years. For example, my vision for my work as a homeschooler is very explicit - graduate these kids. My home compass point is also well laid out, as are my intellectual and creative goals.

Others are a bit vague right now. Especially unclear is where I want to go with my work as a writer, homeschool coach, photographer, blogger, and communicator. Not working with Damien in a close income-earning partnership (though he's still my technical go-to guy) changes the game for me.

As part of the Structural Changes to our Family Life we established a clear division of labor for the next couple of years.

I am taking care of kids and home and helping to manage our business finances. Add daily exercise, reading, personal study, and creative pursuits and my days are completely full. I don't have time, in this season, for outside-home-and-family work beyond writing this blog.

However, this is just a season and I'd like some sense of direction for what comes next.

But the picture is still really fuzzy. I compare it to studying an impressionist painting. Close up, the lines are swirly and indistinct, but at the appropriate distance, the painting's meaning and message is obvious.

I have an up-close and indistinct lines perspective of my work. I see the dominant colors in my experiences, skills, and passions but I don't see the big picture. I see strokes of yellow and blue but I don't see The Starry Night.

For now though, the task-at-hand, in terms of crafting a vision for my work, is to rest.

That's what the Year of the Fallowed Field is all about. Resting, being at ease with myself and rebuilding my confidence.

January was a very busy month. Things happening on big and small levels. We are raising teenagers who go to taekwondo and youth group and there's skiing and friend get togethers and the library in New Brunswick and choir practice for me and keeping everyone coming and going and well fed while doing so. Maintaining a structure and atmosphere for studying and creating and ensuring everyone has clean clothes (on a somewhat regular basis) requires good management.

We've been up to our eyeballs in financial stuff - selling a blog, starting another business, managing changes with the house in Maine, and reassessing our insurance needs. Financial Management, most of it with a deadline attached, was like a big wave crashing into our lives this past month.

Everyone, except me, had a spell with a winter cold in January. And Damien bruised his ribs skiing. The recipes for soothing infusions and remedies from Heather's workshop came just in time.

Life is busy, and it's deep winter, but things are good. I feel great. And this tells me Project Home & Healing is working.

Now it's time to invest my energies into February's theme: creativity. Which means February's shaping up to be great month too.


Photographing January's Color

The January weather on the peninsula has not been particularly kind to winter sport loving folks. There was a bit of snow, which was welcomed in our home with much rejoicing. And then the air warmed for 2 days, it rained and most of the snow melted. The temperatures then plummeted, freezing everything into a hard crust. There was some snow this weekend but not anything substantial.

It would be easy to complain about the lack of snow. Ok, so I have. But I'm really trying to reframe it because last week we had a string of sunny, clear and cold days. The warm orange-pink light contrasting with blue-hued snow and gathering indigo skies, in the early hours and again in the lengthening afternoon, was spectacular, both outdoors and in.

I couldn't cross-country ski last week at all but there are these handmade-for-me mukluks, with a very special story of their own (which I plan to share around the Kitchen Table soon).

And wearing them makes me happy and wearing them to walk in the woods is double my happiness.

So I put on my mukluks and walked through the woods instead of skiing. And it was ok. More than ok with this as my view.

I take my camera with me almost everywhere I go. I never know when I'm going to see something I will want to remember and record. Something I'll want to share.

Half of the pleasure for me in taking photos, is publishing them. Seeking and sharing beauty gives me great joy.

As I wrote in Nurturing Creativity, I believe each one of us is wired, created, to receive joy and pleasure in beauty and creativity. Of course, the expressions of creativity and the joy it elicits are unique to each person.

My husband's creative expression in writing elegant code... the joy my children get from creating Pathfinder characters, those are different from my own.

Expressing and celebrating creativity and beauty is part of my heartbeat. And photography is one of my dominant creative expressions. I want to grow and develop my skill in a few others, music making specifically.

But this is good, there should always be something we are growing in, playing around with; creative spaces and expressions we are exploring.

I'm on a mission this year to live in these creative spaces.

Are you wanting to explore your creative edges and expression? For the joy, beauty and fulfillment it brings to my life, I can't recommend the practice enough.

The Ultimate DIY Bundle sale ends tonight at midnight. Included in the bundle is access to an online Craftsy course, one of your choosing (from a list of eighteen popular choices), that teaches the skills and techniques to help you grow creatively.

There are classes in woodworking, artisan bread making, scrapbooking, sewing, gardening, and knitting.

And there are photography classes, three of them.

These are great resources if photography is a creative space you want to explore.

There are 75 more ebooks, ecourses and bonus materials in the bundle. I've mentioned a few already.

The bundle price, for everything, is just $34.95. Most of the Craftsy courses alone cost more than that. If you want to take advantage of this excellent offer you have till midnight tonight. (This is the last reminder I'm sending.)

Disclosure: I have included affiliate links in this post. For more information, read the fine print and get the answers to frequently asked questions from Ultimate Bundles.

Get your craft on

This year it is my intention, to once again, nurture creativity in my life.

Three years ago I wrote a little ebook about this very subject. I wrote it for my blog readers. I didn't give much thought to offering it to the wide world, but as these things go, it's out there and has been circulating now for almost three years.

I wrote that ebook straight from my heart about something very dear to me, mothers nurturing their creativity.

aprons made by Celine and gifted to Brienne and I

My own heart has been speaking to me, encouraging me that the creative process - play, imagination, and making - are part of my healing, part of me.

And so this is something I will do this year. I will create things. I will make beautiful things with my heart, head, and hands.

I have a couple winter projects in mind, an idea for summer, and a fairly substantial fall project planned.

Are you wanting to nurture creativity in your life this year also?

Here's something you might be interested in.

Right now the Ultimate DIY Bundle is on sale and I thought I'd give you a mini-review to help you determine if it's the right fit for you.

Last week I downloaded my own bundle and went through, picking and choosing, looking for two things:

  1. Resources that will support the creativity in our home.
  2. Resources that will inspire, encourage and nurture the creativity of FIMBY readers.

Here's my favorites from the bundle that fit the bill.

For a household with younger children
  • Handmade Gifts for Every Occasion - Lots of ideas, with complete instructions of course, for nice gifts, that even children can make. The kind of resource I would have used when my kids were younger and I did crafts with them.

  • Make Believe - Props, cut-outs, templates, simple sewing dress-up ideas to support your children's imagination. Such a sweet book if you have little ones. I personally love the fashion designer dolls, the superhero dolls, and the fabric store scavenger hunt (give those kids something to do while you're shopping!), brilliant.

  • How to Sculpt Miniature Breakfast Foods - This is not a book for young children but I wasn't sure where else to put it. My children have made hundreds of miniatures over the years with polymer clay, sculpting food and dollhouse props. This is a book about just that! Brings back good memories for me.

Are you a homeschooler?
  • Getting Started in Chalk Pastel Art & Chalk Pastels Through The Seasons - These books step you through making art with chalk pastels. We've had pastels around the house for ages and the kids use them, now and again, but we've never had any tutorials or teaching on how to use them. Chalk pastels are a very "accessible" art medium for even the "un-artistic". These books would be all you need, plus supplies of course, to teach and play with pastels as part of your homeschool art curriculum.

  • A Summer of Stories - Teaching kids how to write stories, in Tsh's clear, easy to follow and apply style. I would use this as a guide to do with my students, writing stories together, (my kids wouldn't do something like this on their own).

  • Family Writer’s Club - This is an ecourse from Playful Learning, "Participants will learn a variety of strategies and techniques for generating ideas and producing meaningful writing."

If you're new to photography...
  • Say No to Auto - This is a great get-you-started guide for understanding how to use your DSLR camera. It's short and easy to understand. In no time you'll be feeling confident fiddling with ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

...or, if you're a visual, watch-a-video learner, and want more comprehensive instruction you'll love this ecourse (valued at $67!)

  • Photography 101 - "We wanted to create training classes that were laid back, and very easy to understand. All of our videos are shot in high definition, and the overall goal is to teach you to understand how your camera works so that you can have total control, and take better and brighter photographs."

There are also two photography courses available with the Craftsy bonus (or 16 other courses you can choose from).

Do you want to learn how to make your own body care products?

I am such a sucker for these books. I always cruise over them, looking for inspiration for making my own. (If you're new here you may not know I make our own soaps, lotions, etc.)

  • A Beginner’s Guide to Homemade Personal Care Products - Basic and simple guide.

  • Natural Beauty Guide - This is a very comprehensive ebook from Wellness Mama. Her site often comes up in my searches for "homemade shampoo", "natural toothpaste" etc. A lot of recipes and lots of instruction about what to use and what not to use are in this book.

  • DIY Organic Beauty Recipes - Lots of recipes in this book also. I'm learning all the time. In reading Heather's ebook I learned the importance of pH in shampoo and why just using soap leaves hair dull and gummy. (I've been on the quest for homemade shampoo for the girls for years. I can use my homemade soap just fine.) This book also teaches you how to make soap in your crockpot, and has a few soap recipes. I'm going to come back to this one.

Do you sew? Or want to learn?

I hem pants and sew square things - decorative pillows, curtains and such. And truthfully I haven't used the sewing machine in over one year. If you like to explore sewing beyond hemming and square objects you'll like:

  • Sewing School 101 - I finally understand what fat quarters are. Seriously, I never knew before.

There are a bunch of patterns available through this sale, in the ebooks, ecourses, and bonus materials. Here's what I've found in my brief look through: cute kiddo clothes, aprons, tops, skirts, bags/totes, quilts, bras (yes, really), curtains and drapes, and roman shades (hey, they're rectangular, I might manage those!)

I was a little disappointed there wasn't a pattern for the project I want to do this winter: re-fashioning sweaters into new clothes.

Are you interested in journaling and writing?
  • A Year of Art Journaling: A Beginner Course in Artful Discovery - One of my creative projects this winter is to create a collage, or two, around the themes of Project Home & Healing. I'll be referring back to this book.

  • On Becoming a Writer - For writers and bloggers who aren't English majors (like me, not an English major that is). About the craft of writing, with optional writing assignments to help bloggers/writers put into practice what they've learned.

That's just 15 of the ebooks and resources included in this bundle, curated by me, for our household interests and what FIMBY readers might also enjoy (since you come here to read about our household).

There are 60+ more resources in this bundle.

Christmas and party themed tutorials, cake decorating, seasonal decorating, canning, staging your home for selling, thrift store transformations, interior design and painting, scrapbooking and printables, sewing, embroidery, and quilting, selling your diy at craft shows and farmers markets, writing and journal prompts.

Obviously you're not going to read them all, or need them all. But if you like and use just five or six, and access a Craftsy course or one of the other bonus'- you've scored a deal.

Visit The Ultimate DIY Bundle to get the whole scoop. You can scroll through and see every ebook, ecourse, and bonus included.

The price for the whole kit n' caboodle is $34.95. There's a 30 day money back guarantee. Which means you have a full 30 days to enjoy all the eBooks and eCourses in the bundle, and if you don’t think they provided enough value, you’ll get a full refund.

Sale ends Monday, January 26th.

Bundle Housekeeping

A quick note about bundles, if you are not familiar with them: A bundle is a "bundle" of ebooks and ecourses for a fraction of the cost if you were to purchase them individually. In addition, you get bonus materials from companies who are wanting to get the word out about their products and services. And like any sale, the offer is only valid for a limited time window. Bundles are not for everyone but if have an interest in the specific theme of the sale you're almost certain to end up with a really good deal.

If you have any questions, before you buy, about the resources themselves just shoot me an email. I've downloaded them all and have access to the bonus materials and can answer any "what's in this product?" question you might have.

Once you've purchased the bundle you can find a comprehensive FAQ section on the bundle site, including how to download the books to your Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.

This bundle also allows you download individual ebooks, one by one, as you need them. Yay! I always download the whole thing, cull the ones I don't need (yes, I delete them), and then re-sort and file them in a way that's useful for me.

Disclosure: I earn money from every bundle sold through my blog and there are affiliate links in this post.

l'hiver au Quebec (Winter in Quebec)

This is my fourth winter living in Quebec and there is something distinctly Canadian/Canadien (or Quebeçois, depending on your viewpoint) about l'hiver au Québec.

In my quest to become a Quebecker (I will stay away from the politics of this statement for now) I keep a Quebec culture, history, and/or politics book in circulation in my "currently reading" stack of library books.

Last fall it was Sacré Blues. After reading it I was inspired to write a short review. I intend to share that review here someday but there's more I want to write about belonging, place, home, and security, along with that review, and so I'm waiting to publish it.

One of the chapters in that book deals entirely with winter. I agree with the author, Taras Grescoe, that winter "is the defining season of the place".

It's a simple reality: if you want to live in Quebec, you have to come to terms with the winter. It's the defining season of the place, the dominating inevitability. Spring is a convulsion, a windy, rainy shudder of cracking ice and meltwater, a brief prelude to a summer that brings waves of sticky heat to the city and swarms of biting insects to the countryside. Fall, shortened by weeks of Indian summer, would barely be noticeable if it weren't for the screeching chlorophyll of the maple leaves. "Mon pay, c'est l'hiver," sang Gilles Vigneault, and he was right: by transforming landscape, culture, and habit of mind, winter really did create a new country, permanently changing a few hundred boatloads of French peasants into a distinct people.

If the snowfalls along the St. Lawrence had been lighter and the growing season longer, the United States' abortive incursions would certainly have been more frequent and determined. Without the snow, there might have been no survivance française, and the people of Quebec would be as integrated into the pan-American melting pot as the Kerouacs and Theroux of New England.

Taras Grescoe

My enjoyment of winter has increased since moving to Quebec. Maybe because that's when we started skiing. I feel like Quebecois, or at least our friends, know how to live winter.

I've given a lot of thought to living winter. How to survive it and make the most of it.

I'm participating in Heather's Hiberate course this month and next. I'm kicking myself that I didn't mention it more on the blog during the enrollment period. There was a lot going on, breakdown and Christmas mostly. You'll have to excuse my reticence.

It's my first time with Hibernate, and although I'm familiar with Heather's signature style and course delivery, I had no idea how rich and meaningful this course would be, how many kindred spirits I'd find. Again, I am in awe of Heather's work and her ability to create and support such beauty, intention, and connection in her workshops. (PS. I want to be like Heather when I grow-up into my own work.)

This winter I contributed an article for Hibernate on wintertime wellbeing, specifically sharing my toolkit for SAD - supplements, a happy light, daily outdoor exercise, loving myself and living seasonally.

I feel I am nearing that place of making peace with winter. Though I think true equanimity will only be possible when I can leave for the last 6 weeks - basically March and early April, missing the bitter, drawn-out, ugly end of it all, which is really the worst part.

Of course I'd miss sugaring season but we don't have our own sugar bush so there's no responsibility there. Leaving for the end of winter is seriously on my let's-make-this-dream-happen list, and it's even possible with our location independent work. Someday.

In January though, winter is still fresh. (Except when it warms up, rains, and melts the snow away and all you are left with is ice and some confused robins, as happened this week.)

Winter holds its own promise and purpose - as a season of rest, reflection, and renewal. A season for thinking, gathering, and creating culture.

In Sacre Blues, the author quotes Bernard Voyer, a Quebec arctic adventurer, cross-country ski instructor and television commentator.

For me, the winter is actually the softest of seasons. The light comes in at a low angle, the shadows are longer, the sky doesn't seem quite so high, it's a purer blue. One's gaze is freer to wander, the colours are more pastel.

Voyer also says,

Our artistic side, our reflective side, we owe to the winter. When you can't go out because there's a storm, you stay inside with your family, you create, you think, you tell stories, you paint. Winter is enormously inspiring. It's what built our society.

I'm going to wrap up this little ode to l'hiver au Quebec with vision put forth in Grescoe's book by Bernand Arcand, Quebecois anthropologist, author and communicator. A man, I daresay, who would appreciate the principles of Heather's Hibernate course. Here is his idealized take on how we should live winter.

Arcand would like to see the period from January 2 to the beginning of March declared a national holiday, during which businesses and schools would close. People would spend the darkest months practicing winter sports, tinkering around the house, organizing family reunions, or simply lolling about in bed. "Once again, groups of friends would visit one another for the pleasure of eating, drinking, and talking," Arcand imagines. "We could even learn to make music again, and reinvent the art of telling incredible stories. In other words, we'd take the time to reinvent our culture."

The Quebecois are BIG on their culture. But I've taken to heart these words, pondering my own winter intentions for Project Home & Healing, and my experience with Hibernate, and have decided to be pro-active in creating our own family culture around winter and a personal "culture" for the season.

I am singing this winter avec un groupe. I am playing my guitar. I have scheduled skiing, creating, and studying history (aka: museum field trips) for February homeschool. We are making plans to go visit and stay with friends, in which my goal is to "enjoy the pleasure of eating, drinking, and talking together".

I know I cannot shut down the machine of society which insists on productivity and output at all times of the year. Being wired for these myself and depending, as I do, on trucks to deliver food to the grocery stores, I can appreciate living in a society that emphasizes order and efficiency. But there are limits, and I'm learning mine and honoring them.

I still have a full plate of responsibilities during winter, who doesn't? But I do have the freedom to put a cap on what I attempt to accomplish in one day. I can structure how I do that work and when. And I can prioritize writing, reading, creating, and nurturing myself and my family, in the course of our days. This much, I can do.

I can't change the big picture but I can influence the culture in my home and in my community and most importantly, make positive, values-supporting choices for my personal wellbeing.

Practicing winter sports (skiing), reading a couple times a day, making music together, telling stories (ok, watching our favorite TV series on Netflix), photographing the light, letting my children rest longer in the morning when they are fighting a bug (that's been the story in our home this week), knitting, taking my supplements, enjoying warming drinks in the afternoon (perfecting my chai recipe right now), sitting by my HappyLight, touching often and making love, setting up the sewing machines for a week on the dining room table, cooking soup for my family, inviting friends for supper, spending a whole Sunday afternoon "lolling about in bed"... I intend to make the most of winter, in the doing and the not-doing.

Using a personal crisis to update a mission statement

In my early to mid thirties I started thinking about my personal mission. What was I doing with my life besides raising kids, loving Damien, keeping home? Turns out that's mostly what I'm doing with my life in this stage (and it's what I love to do), but I still wanted to codify that somehow. Make it official, professional.

At the time, this was a common theme in the blogs and books I read. Identify your mission, live your mission, get professional about your mothering and your blogging, your life.

I got on the bandwagon, I rode the wave and I started writing about my mission here at FIMBY. You can find all my mission and personality posts here.

Those posts are interesting (for me) to look back on. But they also have takeaways for the reader, questions and strategies you might find helpful for crafting your own personal mission statement (or figuring out your personality type).

I wasn't finished those mission posts, I was just warming up and had promised to deliver more. But then writing about mission dried up, mostly because I kept getting stuck at who Damien and I are together. I was trying to codify the work we were doing, our online partnership, and the direction we were going.

I wrote a lot of stuff (in my personal files, not necessarily on the blog) about our strengths, our gifts, our collective mission - and this sidetracked me for a while from finishing up the mission posts I was intending to publish here.

And then we hiked the Appalachian Trail. I had a breakdown, we came home, I broke some more, and the whole thing came crashing down. (What exactly came crashing down is something I hope to write about in the near future. I'm tempted to get into it here but it's too much of a tangent.)

The dust settled and the crying stopped and the rebuilding began. And the beauty of the breakdown is that in its aftermath was clarity, once again, about who I am, what I need, what I love, and how I want to live.

With my lists of what I value, need and desire and what motivates and energizes me I decided to re-write my mission statement.

My personal mission is to:

use my skills and strengths as a manager, administrator, leader, and communicator;

supported by my values for beauty, order, honesty, and loyalty;

to fulfill, in joy and freedom, my responsibilities in marriage and mothering;

while using my talent in writing, photography, and communication and my heart for connection and expression, to mentor, encourage, and support people in building relationship, nurturing creativity, and living courageously.

Please excuse the grammar, that was a hard one to punctuate.

You should know, as an ESTJ, I am naturally duty bound and the language of duty (i.e.: fulfill responsibilities) satisfies me, and the hierarchal structure of my mission makes me happy. I find contentment in its orderliness, security in its structure, and freedom in its boundaries.

Ah... the mind of an ESTJ at work.

This update from my more simple mission statement of the last few years better reflects who I am in my late thirties and what I want moving forward into my forties.

Ideas to help you write your own mission statement.

When I promised, three years ago, a follow-up post on writing a personal mission statement, I said I would share some mission writing resources. I still have a few of those links and book titles kicking around, but they don't seem relevant anymore, too 2012.

Instead, maybe you'll find my own formula useful:

  • identify your key skills and strengths (personality typing helped me with this, so did Strengths Finder)
  • that are supported by your core values (or you might switch it around and have your skills support your values)
  • that help you fulfill or live, what you identify as, your life's most important work
  • using your unique talents and passions (your heart) to share and live your "message"

The key phrases here are:

  • skills & strengths
  • core values
  • highest calling
  • talents, heart & message

You may appreciate reading my previous mission post (though its a few years old) in which I pose questions that helped me craft my first mission statement.

That mission statement, circa late 2011, is:

My personal mission is to nourish, encourage and teach; build relationship and create beauty. Investing first in my family and then others.

Updating my old mission statement.

What I've expanded on in my updated mission statement is how I live my mission - using my management, administration, communication skills etc.

Articulating, through personal writing and discussions with Damien, my key skills and strengths, has been hugely important post thru-hike. I want to move forward in living true to who I am, and to do that I have to know who I am.

This new mission statement reflects a deeper understanding I have of myself.

For example, I thought I was a teacher, but I'm more interested in leading, and creating order and structures for learning, and the quest for knowledge, truth and beauty themselves, than I am teaching.

All of this might look like being a teacher because when I'm passionate about the subject matter (say interest-led learning or biology), together with the combination of strong leadership, structured thought, and my quest for truth and understanding, I am a very good teacher. But it's not teaching itself that fires me.

Also, I've evaluated the word nourish to see if that's a good fit for me. I am driven to build strong relationships with a core group of people, to whom I am intensely loyal, using good management and communication skills to attend to their needs.

If I feel responsible for you I will be driven to care for you. (This is one reason I limit my responsibilities to the wider world, I don't have that much love or time to give to meeting all those needs.)

My caring comes mostly in the context of routines, order, and structure. Strong family relationship, clear communication, and acting responsibly are all very important to me and these values will drive me to do things that are nurturing and nourishing, but I can't say my motivation, or highest value, is to nourish, in and of itself.

It might all be semantics but words are important to me and so I tease them apart, looking for the root idea, then try my best to express that accurately, honestly.

It's been very important for me to clarify, in the context of how I'm wired (i.e.: my personality), the distinctions between my skills, values, heartbeat, and talents.

This process has helped me understand why I have gotten into situations in the past couple years that haven't been the best fit for me. Specifically, I see how my sense of responsibility to Damien, my desire even for a hierarchal structure to subordinate myself within, overrode my strong need for stability and the expression of my own leadership abilities. (Again, this is the tangent which I mentioned earlier. So I'll stop here.)

My mission statement provides a framework for the work I do at home as homemaker and homeschooler. It also provides structure, direction, and purpose for the work I am building and growing as a communicator, mentor, and leader.

I'm not hanging my hat, forever, on this mission statement. In fact, I feel nervous even about publishing it because I think, "what if I said a but what I really meant to say was b, what if I need to tweak it in a year?"

So, I'm giving myself the permission to do that. But for now, it feels right.

If you have a written mission statement, I think it's good to re-evaluate it every so often, and big life changes provide the perfect opportunity. It was a big life change four years ago that motivated me to write my first mission statement. I imagine I will go back to the drawing board when my active parenting and homeschooling years come to an end, and my mission becomes more outside-the-family focused.

Having the courage to be who you are.

No one can tell you what your mission is. And if someone tries tells you that your mission needs to be this, that, or the other, especially in "Christianese" terms, run away.

I've had some doubts over the years, thinking my mission wasn't big enough or world-service orientated enough. It's not entrepreneurial or big picture. It isn't about fighting big scary things. I don't even read, listen or watch the news.

My mission isn't about living simply, buying organic, eating local, or "living off the land".

(There are many things my mission is not about, obviously. I've listed just a few that sometimes haunt me and cause me shame when I'm in an emotionally or mentally vulnerable state.)

Those things are important, and many of them are a part of my life in some way, big or small. But a season of shame, brought on by making decisions that didn't support my basic needs and comparing myself to someone else (in this case my husband of all people!) taught me something.

Dwelling on all the things you don't do, can't do very well, aren't inspired to do, or simply don't want to do, cripples you from fulfilling what you should be doing - knowing who you are, how you want to live (you could call it a mission statement if you want), and serving people in the nitty-gritty of that.

I'm not going to recommend you sign up for burn out, breakdown, personal crisis, spiritual awakening, whatever you want to call it, to get real clear on who you are and craft, or re-craft, a personal mission statement.

But, if life provides such an opportunity for you it would be silly to not take advantage of it to redefine yourself, with new understanding and insight.


Support your wellbeing and creative self

By now, you all know the theme for my year is Project Home & Healing. A year to restore my health and confidence by focusing on homemaking, personal growth, and wellbeing.

My intention, through the year, is to use select resources to support my journey to health and happiness. Like I mentioned in my last post, I have chosen themes for each month of 2015, a central idea to focus my thoughts and actions around.

Many of you (I'm thrilled with the response) are joining me around The Kitchen Table to talk about these themes. Looks like I'm going to need a bigger table.

Restore your Vitality

From your emails and sign-up response it's clearly apparent I'm not the only one turning my energies to personal growth and healing.

Many of us are looking to restore and replenish the vitality and vibrancy in our lives.

I have mapped out my own path to healing for the year. I've done a lot of soul searching and self-evaluation to plan my course of action. And I have a group of close women friends to draw on for support. I will be sharing some of this in my monthly Kitchen Table essays but there is only so much I can give in that regard.

If you are on a path to healing and wellbeing this year, and want intense support and community around that, I highly recommend my friend Lisa's Replenish course.

I'll be straight with you. It's a big investment. It's not a free once a month essay in your inbox (which is what I'm offering at The Kitchen Table).

Replenish 365 is a full-year, self-care, vitality and well-being program for moms who are ready for vibrant health in every area of their lives. It combines:

  • engaged, safe and heart-centered support,
  • soul-honoring, science-driven and strategy-focused learning,
  • forward momentum, real-life, lasting kind of change.

The course is built around six pillars of wellbeing. The material is delivered in Lisa's signature, easy to understand, science-made-simple, heartfelt, simple-to-apply-now method via video teaching, monthly Q&A calls, workbook materials, and an online community of women supporting each other.

It's comprehensive in its content and delivery. If you want to go deep into personal wellbeing and want support around that, Replenish 365 is for you.

I can't offer this. It's not my mission (my next post is my updated mission statement), or even my desire to do so. But Lisa does offer it and she does it really well.

Enrollment closes on January 23rd.

Nurture your Creativity

One of my themes for the year is to nurture my own creativity. I'll be sharing that of course around The Kitchen Table and on the blog.

I'm really excited about the ways in which I'm doing that during this winter season, returning to my musical roots (I've joined a singing group, en français!) and exploring a fashion-inspired sewing project. Eek! My daughters are a huge inspiration to me in this regard. I love being inspired by them.

If you are wanting to explore your own creativity, tap into it more, or try your hand at some DIY projects, I've got a recommendation for you.

Next week the Ultimate DIY Bundle will be available for purchase. It's good, I've downloaded it already with my author access privileges. The girls and I are inspired by a few of the books. I love all the creative writing resources for homeschooling and the bonus Craftsy online classes are very cool. (I'm fightin' with the girls on that one.)

The bundle is inexpensive for what you get. But even cheaper, as in free, is Four Steps to Rediscover Your Inner Creative Genius - 4 day mini-course to help you connect with your creative side.

I've seen the course also. It's very reminiscent of my ebook Nurturing Creativity, which is included in the Ultimate DIY Bundle (which is why I have author access).

What I like about this mini-course is that it lays out four steps to discover your own creativity (in case you had any doubts); providing simple inspiration, questions-to-ponder, and easy action items to explore and apply.

This mini-course - short, sweet and practical (oh, kind of like me!) - is a prelude to the bundle. And it's free!

I can't wait to start sharing, on the blog and around The Kitchen Table, the practices, routines, and mindsets I'm using to restore my vitality and wellbeing, and the projects and activities I'm engaged in to nurture my creativity this year and this season.

These resources: Replenish 365, the Ultimate DIY Bundle, and the free mini-course are a good fit for people interested The Kitchen Table, and are worth exploring if you are looking for resources.

This post contains affiliate links.


Project Home & Healing: The Kitchen Table

Project Home and Healing is a personal wellbeing project of mine, a roadmap to recovery after an intense family adventure and a difficult life season.

When I considered that I would be writing about this recovery on my blog, sharing insights and struggles, I thought it might be nice to connect with a smaller, more intimate group of women on my journey to health.

The Kitchen Table

The Kitchen Table is a group of women interested in connecting and learning from each other around the themes of homemaking, personal growth, and wellbeing.

It is my invitation to you to join me on my creative homemaker's journey to health and happiness.

Why the name Kitchen Table?

Because that's where I'd meet with you if I could. I'd boil water for tea. I have a fun collection of green, black, rooibos, and herbal teas, or an espresso machine if that's more your style.

I'd probably knit while we talked, I don't usually just sit. And we'd share what it's like to be on the cusp of forty (or in our forties, or late twenties or thirties, or fifties, seventies). We'd talk about our tender, broken places and how we experience healing.

We'd gather as women, and homemakers, readers and crafters. Women who appreciate nature, beauty, simple creativity, and friendship with kindred spirits.

And after you left to go back home, I'd email you that pattern I mentioned, the book title you asked about, and the recipe I have bookmarked at Pinterest.

What can you expect from joining The Kitchen Table?

Well, I'm not entirely sure. (smile).

This is a completely new venture for me and I'm keeping it really simple (and free) to make it easy to maintain and follow-through.

Here's my plan.

Each month this year I want to send one essay to the group, via email newsletter.

The essay will be like reading one of my blog posts, but a bit more personal.

After that, I don't know where it will go.

I'd like to send one follow-up email with a "let's apply this to our lives" type activity or a small DIY project related to that month's topic.

I would also like to create some kind of way to connect all together and share ideas with one another. Facebook seems to be a popular venue to do this, but I'm just not sure about this part yet.

Monthly Topics

I have a personal focus, a theme, for each month of 2015. These themes have been chosen to support my own home and healing project and are designed to bring me back to a place of personal safety and security, of joy and confidence - doing what I love, for the people I love, in a place I love.

Each theme relates to my home in some way, and my heart.

I think these themes will resonate with your home and heart also, which is why I'm inviting you to join me on this journey.

You can join the group anytime, and leave anytime. No hard feelings.

As the year progresses, if I lose steam with maintaining this I have the freedom (because this is free!) to bow out gracefully. But I hope I can keep it going, which is why I'm keeping it really simple.

If you're interested please sign up below.

PS. The Kitchen Table is a group open to women of all ages and stages, though you'll probably identify most if home is part of your heartbeat.

First Name


(If you're reading this in your email and the sign up form doesn't show up, just pop over to the blog post and sign up there.)

Now, can I get you a Silk Dragon Jasmine green tea, Vanilla Rooibos, Cream of Earl Grey, Pu'erh, Forever Nuts (I'm a huge David's Tea fan); or a soymilk cappuccino with maple syrup?


Art Cards for Sale (by popular request!)

Written by Guest Contributor Brienne Tougas.

Two beautiful card sets for sale. A Mountain Ash Berry tree set, and a Winter Birds set.

The berries are a vivid red that contrast against the dark gray of the branches.

The Bird set features a brilliant Blue Jay, bold Cardinal and a sweet soft Chickadee.

Both card sets are perfect for winter greetings, and are blank inside, suitable for birthdays or any occasion. Or they make a great framed picture.

A set of three cards, printed on thick card stock paper, including envelopes, costs $7.50.

If you are interested in purchasing these cards please contact me directly at brienne at tougas dot net.

Renee here again. I am delighted to open the blog to Brienne today.

I mentioned card sales back in late November and many of your were interested in buying some but the kids closed up shop early December as their energies shifted elsewhere.

I'm happy to say, the cards are back on the market!

Laurent has long sold art cards and done private commissions. Recently he teamed up with his sister to be his manager. A working arrangement that allows him to focus on the work he loves - doing the art - and gives Brienne an opportunity to earn money while doing work she's very good at and enjoys doing - corresponding with clients, managing orders, handling finances etc. (You could say she takes after her mom).

For the longest time Brienne has struggled in the shadow of two very talented older siblings who earn money from sewing, drawing, designing, website work, etc. Helping her find "her place" and identify her gifts and ways she can use those gifts to earn money, while supporting our older children as they fly with their pursuits, has been at times challenging.

Watching Brienne and Laurent partner and see them both succeed and their storehouses increase because of working together, well, that makes my homeschool mama heart very happy. And ps. this all "counts" as their curriculum, this is what interest-led homeschooling looks like.

Just a reminder: to get your hands on these beautiful cards email Brienne directly - brienne at tougas dot net - and she's take care of you.

Year of the Fallowed Field

In December of this year I will turn forty.

Forty is significant for me.

I have anticipated and looked forward to turning forty since I was probably thirty-five. I can't quite explain it but I don't fear these mid-life years, I revere them.

In truth, from the time I was a girl, I've always wanted to be older than I am. When I was little I wanted to be "in the know". The adults always knew things I didn't, and I wanted that inside track.

I think my anticipation for turning forty is based on a similar desire.

I am an authority respecting and tradition-loving person and I view forty years as a measure of achievement, a significant milestone; a personal threshold that once crossed, will usher me into a new decade of wisdom, understanding, and strength.

Of course it can't be all that and I probably have higher hopes for forty than are realistic, but hey, a girl can dream.

Although I am anticipating forty I have spent a lot of time in the last few months looking back, seeking to reacquaint myself with little girl and young woman inside me, Renee at 9, 15, and 21; never afraid to stand up for herself or for others.

I was a very confident young person. I was a leader. I was opinionated, direct, and right (smile). I believed in myself. I love that girl (I loved her then also) and I want to express more of her in this last year of my thirties.

Thankfully with age comes mellowing and wisdom. I appreciate the depth of compassion I now feel for people, even though that compassion was refined in personal brokenness and pain. I am empathetic in ways I couldn't conceive in my "my way or the highway" youthful vigor.

I don't want to re-assume the mantle of the slightly arrogant and insensitive (though I never considered myself arrogant at the time) version of my younger self. But I am looking to reclaim something rightfully mine - my confidence and belief in myself.

Maybe the reason I have been looking forward to forty is because I hoped my confidence and security would return, magically, with the big four-oh. I know now that's not going to happen, the magic part at least. But I do have faith that in living and celebrating essential me elements this year I will see the return, if not in full at least in part, of my confidence, security and ease with myself.

This year I am preparing my heart, my home, and my body for a significant milestone birthday in my life. I don't recall the last time I thought so much about a birthday, especially one year in advance. But thinking one year in advance of a big birthday is not just about turning forty. It's about what I want out of life and what I'm doing this year to move in that direction.

My two life themes for 2015 are to heal and lie fallow.

fallow: land that has undergone plowing and harrowing and has been left unseeded for one or more growing seasons. (emphasis mine)

Just like everyone else I want to do cool and courageous things in the world. I have done a fair share of cool and courageous in the last few years, what needs to change moving forward is that I do those things flowing in my strengths, gifts and talents.

Because whenever you experience anything life-draining at all…

(like exhaustion, overwhelm, frazzled thinking, frumpy body, flatness of mood, disconnection to yourself or others, irritability, short temper, frustration, sluggishness, self doubt or unworthiness)

…it points to the fact that you’re (in some way) working against yourself. You’re fighting yourself. The flow is gone, there is friction and pain.

We blame it on how busy our lives are… but I know plenty of women who have very full lives and are still living them out with a vitality and joy I knew I wanted.

Lisa Grace Byrne, Replenish teacher and wellness coach

I am so done with self doubt, unworthiness, and shame. I'm done with overwhelm and frustration seething below the surface. Damien and I are done with the pain we have unintentionally caused each other.

I am fed up with fighting against myself. It's time to flow in my strengths and preferred ways of living. But first I need to remember what those are, I need to nurture them. I need to support them before they can support me.

As I enter my 40's I have big dreams, not for the things I will accomplish in the world this year but for how I will feel about myself. Because I know a return of my confidence and wellbeing is the foundation I need to build on for the work I want to do - finishing our children's home education, helping other homeschooling families (and who knows what else).

I am inspired by women who walk before me into their forties with the quiet confidence in who they are, and do work - in their homes and communities - that flows from that place.

This is the life I have been waiting for. I've let go of the guilt for creating a life that is quiet, nourishing, and peaceful. It helps to embrace the truth that our world benefits when people live life in this way... quiet, nourishing, and peaceful.

Heather Bruggeman, Time Beside Healing Waters

In my forties (hopefully sooner than later) I want to be able to say, this is the life I have been waiting for.

Don't get me wrong. I have had moments, seasons even, in the past few years that have felt that way. Mostly during periods of stability, those sweet spots in-between the moves, transitions, and upheaval (of which there has been a lot in the past few years).

In those times I have loved my life. I love having Damien home and a part of our family homeschool. I love the freedom of location-independent work for our family. I love meeting new people on a regular basis.

I loved living in the city for a month. I loved downhill skiing out our door.

I love coaching homeschool families and helping them with the nitty-gritty of interest-led homeschooling. I love the friends we met on the Appalachian Trail. So many things I love and have loved about our life, and discrete situations in which I felt like "this is what I've been waiting for". But so much insecurity has plagued me also.

And not just writer's insecurity. I'm often insecure about what I publish, I've gotten used to that. What I'm talking about is an "insecurity of being" because of decision making and lifestyle choices that turned out to be good for Damien but not for me. Decisions that allowed him to operate in his strengths but cut me down at the knees. And of course we didn't realize this was happening at the time, we saw the symptoms but not the underlying cause, until we finally saw the light.

I want to be able to say this about our life:

We have, in essence, crafted the life that is just right for us.

Amanda Soule, A Project Completed

This is what we've been trying to achieve, but our approach took us down a path that was a better fit for Damien than it was for me. Which of course made it not a good fit for either of us since because we are so intimately connected what hurts me, hurts Damien and vice versa.

I want 2015 to be a quiet year, a year to lie fallow and rest the soil of my heart. But just like fallowing a field is not permanent, neither is my period of rest.

I am not a quiet person (though I'm willing to guess I have nurtured the reflective and introspective parts of myself more than the average extrovert). I am wired to lead and live loud, and although I have built (and am darn proud of it!) a peaceful, kind, and loving home I'm also feisty and fiery and I love that part of me. At my best, when I am in my zone, I am exuberant, confident, and in-charge. I want to nurture those traits into their full, beautiful forties-something expression.

I want to carry this strong sense of self in me, like a secret knowledge. Not to be something I push on other people, but an inner strength and sense of wellbeing that enables me to operate in my full capacity to bless, serve and help others.

I feel so happy, lately. A steady, almost solitary happiness, a sense of wholeness and strength inside me. Recently, I realized that I can go into a room of people carrying my knowledge like a secret and not care whether anyone sees it. I know it is there.

Beth Powning, Edge Seasons

(About that quote... having read both of Beth's memoirs, which I highly recommend, I know that this steady, solitary midlife sense-of-self did not come easy. It was hard-won and followed a period of brokenness, pain and then rest.)

I can't anticipate what my forties will bring, but I know how I want to feel when I get there - a sense of wholeness, inner strength, confidence, security.

2015 is my year of the fallowed field, organic farmer fashion, planting a cover crop that protects and nourishes the soil. A cover crop that doesn't ask for much and gives back more than it takes.

There are boundaries around this field, lichen-softened New England stone walls, feathery needled tamaracks, tall gnarled oaks. And there are some prickly brambles (you have to be careful sometimes where you tread) that in August's heat produce sweet and luscious berries whose warm juice dribbles down your chin and stains your finger tips indigo. These natural boundaries, which I maintain and honor, make the field safe and secure, a place of healing and rest.

In my field I am keeping home, my first and enduring life's work. I am tending to beauty, order and good management. In this field we are nurturing our marriage in friendship and mutual respect. In this field I am cross-country skiing in the winter and eating picnics in the summer.

I'm happy to stay in the field. I don't need to know what's beyond the horizon right now, because it will still be there when I'm ready to venture forward and discover it.

2015, my year of comfort and wellbeing on the road to recovery.


Ringing in the New Year

The hardest thing about not blogging for a couple weeks is figuring out where to pick up the story.

Do I start with yesterday's skiing and move back backwards in time to the church Christmas concert where my brother and his family arrived, just in time for the banquet, officially kicking off eight days of Christmas with twelve people?

Or do I start where I left off on December 19th, making my lists, giddy with anticipation of family and festivities?

Let's start further back in the winter, spring, summer, fall of 2014, and finally the breaking and rebuilding of early December.

The emotional rawness and strain of 2014 carried into my Christmas celebrations. I hadn't anticipated that because most of December brought with it incredible healing and hope. But add seven extra people to the mix, into my place of work and wellbeing, and a change of routine (to a routine-loving person) and it's not much of stretch to see how I could feel emotionally strained during Christmas.

The interesting thing about working, living, learning (everything) at home is that home is both my workplace and my safe place. Having people in that space for extended days, changing the flow of both the work and the sanctuary is challenging for me, and not particularly relaxing.

I have an amazing family. These are the people who love me most dearly. Who appreciate and accept me as I am, but I still felt raw and exposed, vulnerable in my healing.

It would be easy to misconstrue my words, to imagine family drama where there was none. Most of the drama happened inside my head and heart, in tender spots just starting to heal.

Healing takes time. That's all.

We haven't seen my brother Brad and his wife Dawna since August 2013. Too long.

I was so happy to see Brienne and Navaeh become best, fast buddies. Most of Brienne's friends are younger than her so getting along with a younger cousin came pretty naturally.

There were epic amounts of Minecraft played, culminating in a juried contest for best castle. Joah, Laurent, and Brienne each contributed to that competition and I managed to extricate myself from judging (phew). Hats off to Brad, Nana, & Papa who came up with a clever re-working of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places into three 1st place categories for different elements - structural, artistic design etc.

One of my favorite memories wasn't captured on camera at all, an evening of tubing on my brother's birthday at the ski hill with all the kids and most of the adults.

The weather didn't cooperate for a lot of winter snow play, raining on Christmas day, but we enjoyed walks on the beach and I was able to get out for a couple afternoon skis through the back fields and woods. This time out by myself, in nature, was hugely important to me.

We ate well. My schedule worked wonderfully with necessary tweaks as we went (we didn't need as much food as I originally planned for).

Having a four bedroom, three bathroom home with a guest house worked beautifully for this many people. What a rare gift in our family history to have this much space to share.

There was so much energy in this Christmas, and not just from six kids bouncing off the walls. Brad and Dawna are in a really great place with their work and life vision, they fully support their family with a thriving and growing doTERRA business. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Such great people to be around. (Love you guys!)

When everyone left I was relieved to laze around and not have to worry about meeting needs (perceived, or real). My kids can fend for themselves in our home and perhaps more importantly, they know the routines and my preferences for how things get done, etc.

Last week the temperatures dropped, finally starting to cooperate for skiing. We bought our season's pass at the ski hill and some combination of family members were at the hill almost every day. I love the freedom of a season's pass to take advantage of the best snow conditions, skiing for just the morning and returning home by lunch, or for a full day of winter fun.

I had an end of the month writing deadline and once that was met I shifted into full rest and holiday recovery mode; reading, napping, lazying around, and thinking about 2015.

This is the most intentional I think I've ever been going into a New Year; identifying what I want from this year, what I need, my goals, dreams, etc. Our hike and my post-hike breakdown precipitated this.

Many other years we've been traveling, winter adventuring, or hosting people right up to, and beyond January 1st. I am so grateful for the space I had between Christmas and the start of real life (today) to reflect and plan.

Ever since we returned from our hike in late September I have been writing down to the marrow of my being. I've written pages and pages (in Evernote specifically) of notes with titles like: my career vocation self-employment direction; spiritual goals; my needs, goals and top values; marriage healing; attacks to my self-worth; late fall 2014 life assessment; post-hike evaluation; who I was as a girl; etc...

Through this process I created an eight point list, eight compass points, to guide my goals and personal development moving forward. Those are:

  1. creative
  2. intellectual
  3. work
  4. body
  5. spirit
  6. relationships
  7. home
  8. adventure/travel

Late last week I organized all that introspection and self-reflection. I updated notes, and permanently filed others as "resolved". I created new Notebooks and renamed others.

From my many pages of writing, about who I am and what I need and want out of life, I curated a list of actionable steps into a document called Life Projects & Goals; a long note (in Evernote again) divided into a six month plan, one year plan, 1-3 year plan, 5 year plan and 10 year plan; each section divided according to my eight compass points.

I also wrote out my focus for 2015 - a year for personal health and healing; a year to take care of me, to focus on activities and ways of operating that feel right for me. A year to rest and prepare the soil for the next stage of life - my post-homeschooling career, my forties, 20+ years of knowing and loving Damien, our children graduating (and eventually leaving home), etc.

Although this is a year of rest and healing for me we actually have some big plans on the horizon. When do we not? But these plans, instead of taking us on grand adventures into the unknown, waters we have navigated for nearly four years, are instead to ensure stability and steadiness in our lives. There will be changes, but they are changes designed to support our marriage and our family by supporting me.

2015 is my year to rest and recover, to focus on healing and home. To live in my safe zone and relish the comfort I feel here, to re-gain my security and confidence in who I am and how I operate. It's my year to live in a way that rings true for me, building a more solid foundation for my mid-life years.