Mono no aware

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is my favorite time for photography.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mono no aware is a sensitivity to ephemera.

Sit there for a moment.

A sensitivity to ephemera.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Cue Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.)

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

Summer Stories ~ Fashion and Beauty

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

Today's Story: Fashion and Feeling Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Stories ~ City flowers

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

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

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

Today's Story: City Flowers

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

A digital tool for a growing artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer Stories ~ Around town

Continuing on with the summer stories...

Today's Story: Around town

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

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

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

Summer Stories ~ Urban adventures

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

Today's Story: Urban Adventures

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

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

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

Summer Stories ~ Bixi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Stories ~ Kids at home

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

Today's story: Kids at home

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

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

Summer Stories ~ Moving and Making Home

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

Today's Story: Moving and Making Home

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The summer I made sushi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We ate the sushi. End of story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer needs to be written.

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

Care to join me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This summer was exactly what I needed.


A garden to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm happy here. Happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get to be a gardener again.

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

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

I garden for beauty.

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

apartment building in our neighborhood, not ours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the perfect yard for my needs.

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

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

So we'll see about the pool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mid-Summer and settling in to Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography presents a similar problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's slow, but it's mending.

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

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


Facing my writing anxiety

I'm doing my anxiety homework this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Check-In

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

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

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

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

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

That is the simple reason for my absence here.

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your love, concern and care.

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

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

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


I didn't even know this was special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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