FIMBY

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.

Resources: 

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.

Resources: 

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

Email

(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?

Resources: 

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.

Resources: 

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.

She's makin' a list, checkin' it twice... (and talkin' religion)

This weekend our Christmas festivities will begin in earnest.

My brother, sister-in-law, and their three kids will arrive from Guelph, Ontario. My parents will arrive shortly thereafter from Nova Scotia. It's Christmas in Quebec for the Toews/Tougas family.

We are thrilled this year to host everyone in our large digs. A three bathroom house, plus a guesthouse enables us to comfortably fit everyone on a mattress or in a bed without anyone having to sleep in the living and hanging-out-together spaces.

A well-stocked kitchen, our favorite tool being the Saeco espresso maker (but there's also an Omega juicer for a healthier hit), plus extra fridge and freezer space will accommodate all the cooking, eating, and general kitchen merry making that is a part of Christmas.

We spend almost every Christmas with my parents but not very often do we get the privilege and joy of being with my brother's family.

I am so excited.

Our own family-of-five has a couple holiday traditions, the way we do things. Gifts and finger foods on Christmas Eve - I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. Damien grew up with appetizer, finger foods on the menu.

Christmas morning we do stockings, a tradition started with my parents when I was a teenager.

Christmas, for the family I've created with Damien, is about having fun together, being with family, exchanging small gifts, eating foods reserved for feast days - turkey, special desserts, etc. and playing outdoors (skiing preferably).

As a Christian I am uncomfortable with trite phrases like Jesus is the Reason for The Season, and its derivatives, popular within Evangelical Christian culture (the branch of the family tree I identify most strongly with).

Family is my reason for the Christmas season. It's why I cook and gift and want it to snow. And it's why we give to others in our community or around the world, so they can be supported in loving relationship with their families.

Having said that, the Christian call and tradition to remember the birth of Christ at this particular time of year (I don't actually care how accurate the date is) provides a reflective season, a sacred space in our 21st century lives, to tell the ancient story of our faith, again, to our children.

I don't save this story telling for Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning. I prefer to unravel and remember the story of our faith through the whole month with a Jesse Tree inspired Advent tradition.

Sitting at the post-breakfast (lunch or maybe supper, whenever it works) table with my kids, we read portions of the Old Testament together; recounting ancient stories, that in the birth of Christ reveal their full richness and meaning, from an otherwise sometimes disturbing and violent narrative.

After all this telling and remembering, by the time the days of Christmas roll around we're pretty much done the faith-filled observances of the season. We're ready to party. Ready to celebrate a winter holiday with feasting and merry making.

Jesus in our reason for the season only in as much as he is the reason for our lives, and our faith in Him the foundation of our family life and values. Which means of course, he is The Reason for our season but I don't go around slinging slogans in February, July, or October so why would I do it in December? Nor do I expect Jesus to be the reason for the season for non-believers, why would he be?

Family is the focus of our actual Christmas celebrations. And it doesn't matter to me that pre-Christendom European pagan ritual is intricately woven into Christmas tradition.

This is the story of the church through time, we adapt to and adopt culture; for better, and sometimes, for worse. And our expressions of worship necessarily change through the centuries.

The only thing sacred is the Truth itself, the meaning of the story. Why was Jesus born? What does his birth, life, death and resurrection teach us? How then shall we live, in this light? The seasonal re-telling (or not) of his birth, Holy Day ritual, or holiday reveling, these are not the foundation of my faith, Jesus Emmanuel is.

And how we as individuals, and we the Church, celebrate and share Jesus Emmanuel with the world will look different in time, space and culture. And woe to us if those expressions are limited to December!

This week we listened to the Tim Curry audio performance of A Christmas Carol, a new-ish tradition in our family, about three years running now.

This is my absolute favorite performance of the classic. The kids have been sewing, painting, and drawing while we listen. Be still my Christmas-tradition-happy mama's heart. (If you follow @sparklypinkbling on Instagram you can see some of these creations.)

Such a splendid and rich audio experience. My favorite parts give me goosebumps as I savor Dicken's language and the power of words and story to speak Christmas truth through a mid-19th century ghost story. And when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, a new man, I'm not ashamed to say, I cried.

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!

It's not called a classic for nothing.

A new "classic" in our home is for Damien to find a new multi-player computer/iPad video game he and the kids can play together during Christmas week. It's a perfect fit. They game. I read.

My parents are bringing me, from their neighbor's personal library, the book The Long Way Home. A highly valued treasure unavailable through the local library till about mid-spring.

Celine has been sewing, ensconced in her studio attic bedroom. (I know. Talk about the best set up ever for an introverted, seamstress fabric-artist fifteen year old.)

Her handmade creations have become somewhat legendary in our family. A recipient of a made-by-Celine creation is a lucky individual. Laurent still talks about his 10th birthday gift from Celine, a cardboard castle set up on the table, the first thing he saw when coming downstairs for breakfast.

Having never required our kids to give gifts to each other, either handmade or store-bought (and I've never supplied funds or gifts for them to give each other) their gift giving is completely self-motivated, from the heart, and somewhat random.

We don't have a "you must give something to everyone" mentality in our home, or that gifts must be equal in a value. But somehow it all works out. There are always presents-a-plenty for everyone under the tree.

A rather swift and unexpected improvement in our financial situation - a change of fortunes, literally, has enabled the outfitting of skiing and snowboarding, once again, for this winter.

Skis, boots, and bindings have been arriving through the door all month, sourced from the local ski shop and Ebay, and the pay-it-forward goodness of hand-me-downs. Damien has been mounting bindings and tuning skis. Now all we need is more snow!

We give small Christmas gifts to our kids and save the big expenditures for outfitting them for family fun in the outdoors. And this year the focus is definitely on fun.

Earlier this month, in anticipation of eight or so days of hosting seven extra people, I emailed a holiday itinerary and kitchen schedule to our guests - what to expect this Christmas at the Tougas family residence.

Come prepared to play outside. Brings skates if you have them. There will be media and video games. Here's your sleeping arrangements. Prepare a contribution - a poem, a skit, a story, a song - for Christmas Eve. What can everybody eat and not eat? That kind of thing.

My brother's family are strict gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, paleo-ish, plant-based eaters (it's complicated, there's a bunch of sensitivities and food reactions, which I totally get). My mom is a holistic nutritionist kitchen goddess. And our family is somewhere between the two. My Dad adds the spice, he's making the BBQ meats.

This week it was time to revisit the itinerary I sent and get planning the meals and food our family is responsible for.

The itinerary laid out the food plans so everyone knows to expect.

Breakfasts. Fend for yourself, except for Christmas morning brunch.

Lunch. Usually a meal salad or large vegetable-based dish with our collective crew.

Midday snack. Six active kids in the house, gotta have a snack plan.

Supper, divided into main dish and side dish, both contributed by a different family.

Dessert. Pretty healthy with our crew but a birthday and Christmas Day will call for something a bit more extravagant. Thank goodness for Nana/Nutritionist/Kitchen Goddess, as desserts are not my specialty!

Four times a day, not including breakfast, food needs to be coming out of the kitchen to feed twelve hungry people. And there is no way I'm doing all that, nor would anyone expect me to!

So I made a meal rotation schedule.

On any given day, a family (Mom & Dad, my brother's family, or our family) is responsible for approximately 2 food blocks. Lunch and a supper side or maybe snack and the supper main dish. That kind of thing.

Everyone will contribute dishes to Christmas Eve, Christmas Brunch and Christmas Dinner.

This week I looked at what blocks had been assigned (by me) to our family and made a spreadsheet for myself with neat boxes, the grey ones corresponding to meals I am responsible for.

Schedule geek that I am, these little grey boxes with their thin black borders make me inordinately happy. I paraded my handiwork before my family who politely affirmed my joy, "looks good Mom". All they care is that food will be coming out of the kitchen at regular intervals, they are not completely thrilled that they will be helping to cook it. (Insert maniacal mother laugh here.)

Pinterest and I have been getting reacquainted with each other after a long absence. As everyone else already knows, Pinterest is a great tool for storing recipe ideas and I've updated my board completely with categories that represent the way I approach menu planning and meal prep. Love that.

I've also been clearing out the digital clutter and setting up new boards to take me into 2015. The first year for me, in many years, that I've done significant end-of-year self evaluation (breakdown, burn out and post-hike rebuilding will do that to a person) and have very specific goals, and a personal agenda and vision going into the New Year.

I'm hoping to use Pinterest a bit more in my planning and dreaming.

The kids and I have been on school break since my birthday week. As has been the case for every year I've been homeschooling, there is just too much going on in December to focus on studies. Too much sewing. Too much painting and drawing.

Rounds of Settlers of Catan. Gifts to be made. Shopping and extra "I need to go the bead store Mom" type errands. Last Friday morning was a field trip to a local fossil collector's home which inspired a fossil search of our own. And then, "Where's the microscope slides? I'm looking for micro-organisms in the water we collected at the beach."

With all this going on, there's just no time for lessons, which no one minds at all.

Saturday night is our neighbors annual Christmas party. Our neighbor has been flooding the rink the kids and I helped him set up last month. We finally have freezing temperatures again that will keep the ice.

It's a potluck, I'm taking this salad which I discovered last week and love. This will be the third time in two weeks that I've prepared it.

Sunday night is the church Christmas concert. The first we've been a part of for many, many years. Brienne wanted to be involved and with only one car we've all be been making the 45 minute drive to church an hour earlier on Sunday mornings for practice. She's very excited.

There's a banquet first. I think people might dress up for this. Thank goodness I picked up the Calvin Klien sweater dress at le Baluchon last month. Together with my wine-colored silk scarf, some handmade dangly earrings my sister-in-law gave me Christmas' ago, and the black low-heeled Rockports I've had since student teaching when I was pregnant with Celine some sixteen years back, I can pull something off. Maybe I'll go all out and even borrow the girls' makeup.

The kimchi is fermenting for next week's Bibimbap feast on my brother's birthday, two days before Christmas. The few gifts we're giving are still unwrapped in my closet, more should be arriving in the mail any day.

Yesterday, snow finally started falling again. I went skiing in the afternoon and I will go again today.

This morning I need to finish my food planning, and I need to make lotion soon, a favorite gift requested by my Dad. Tomorrow we'll clean the house before heading to the neighbors party.

Christmas, just around the corner.

My heart lives here

I met a woman at church on Sunday. A mother of three; girl, boy, girl, just like mine. Her youngest is seventeen years old and is attending college in another province.

We chatted about our kids and she talked about the difficulty in transitioning out of the active mothering years. How much she misses all her kids at home.

The noise, the fights for the bathroom, banging on doors.

It wasn't one of those "you just wait and see" type talks, it was just heartfelt. Mother to mother.

In five years my own baby will be seventeen. Five years.

I am at the beginning of the end of child raising. Almost at the end with Celine. How can this be?

Damien and I are watching our children grow into their own with anticipation, curiosity, and wonder. We are making plans, making changes to adjust to who they are, what they want, and what they need.

Even though they share a childhood, the same home, parents and family memories, they are their own people, as it should be, and are each going their own way.

But sometimes life, and the different interests we all have, slows down to the measure of a steady heartbeat. An hour in late afternoon, when I'm on supper and all three sit, together, drawing and painting at the table.

My heart lives here.

In these children. Around this table.

My joy. My love. They still live here. And I can't imagine my life without their daily presence, though I know it will come.

So I abide messy rooms without the angst I thought I'd feel when letting that go. I am a tidy person who abhors clutter. But I was a fifteen year old girl once and my room looked much the same.

I accept video games and Netflix, movies with "language" and more violence than I can handle. I don't have to watch them, those are interests they share with their Dad, not me.

There isn't really a lot I've had to learn to live with, yet. They get along. They're kind to each other. The youngest two are best buddies. They respect me and their Dad. We laugh, at each other, at ourselves.

I have it pretty good, as far as the early teen years go.

There are no boyfriends or girlfriends. There isn't texting or even Facebook. (There's nothing righteous in this, it's just our reality.) There is no rush to get a driver's permit. That's all coming. I know. But right now there is this.

It's been a slow childhood and a gradual transition to the responsibilities and privileges of young adulthood.

I can't take complete credit for the amazingness that is my children, but these children have been my life's work. Being with them. Guiding them. Loving them. Protecting them. Educating them. They are my investment in the future.

When I came home from our hike all battered and bruised inside, questioning my worth, I looked at these children as a remembrance of what I have accomplished and what I value.

I am not in that dark place anymore but I still marvel at them each day. Their radiance, their skills, their gifts, their heart. And when I'm feeling low, or insecure about my place in the world of work I remind myself, "you're doing this amazing work called raising three children, and look at the beauty you have to show for it, look at the relationships."

These three, my heartbeat, minister to me in my difficult moments, by virtue of their very being. Beings that I have had a significant role in creating.

They are their own people. I honor that and respect that. But they are my creation also. My finest work. And they are still here. And I don't want to take that for granted, not even for a moment.

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Excellent Warm Drinks for Winter Wellness

Written by Guest Contributor Lisa Grace Byrnes of WellGrounded Life.

Here in the Northern hemisphere, some of us are easing into the winter season while others are getting slammed by its snowy arrival!

This is a time of year that we revel in holiday festivities and gather with loved ones.

It’s also the time of the year when relations can feel strained, emotions can take a roller coaster ride, and our schedules feel like they are on steroids.

One of the simplest tools I use to help ground, cleanse, and restore me is sipping on nourishing hot beverages each day of these winter months.

There is just something about having a warm cuppa-goodness always nearby to help me take a few minutes to pause, sip something that will calm and cleanse me, and give me an opportunity to decide how I most want to handle the next moment of my day.

What we eat and drink can provide natural ways to support, cleanse, and nourish ourselves. When our bodies are well cared for, we have the raw materials our minds and moods need to stay resilient and uplifted.

Many choose to do intense, short-term cleanses as a way to rid the body of toxins and excess. Although doing this type of cleanse can have significant benefits, it can also feel overwhelming during an already busy season.

An alternative, simpler approach is to consider how you can weave cleansing foods and drinks into your everyday diet. The winter months are a perfect time to add cleansing and immune-boosting drinks to your menu.

Here’s a few nourishing winter drinks that you can begin to have around throughout your days.

Excellent Warm Drinks for Winter Wellness

Lemon & Hot Water

Lemon is a natural detoxifier and works to counteract acidity in the body. Because lemon is a high source of vitamin C, it helps to convert toxins in your body to a water-soluble form. This allows your body to flush them from your system. Squeeze half a lemon into hot water for an excellent beverage (with the option to add raw honey if you like it sweeter).

Homemade Broths

Miso, vegetable, and natural bone broths are excellent ways to provide proper electrolyte and mineral nourishment while hydrating and warming the body. Broths can be made and sipped from a mug - an especially healing drink if you’re battling a cold or flu, but also an excellent support throughout the winter season.

Ginger

Ginger is a warming spice and excellent for supporting the body’s circulation and digestion. You can take 1 pound of fresh ginger root and thinly peel or grate it into a sauce pan. Mix with 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 4 minutes. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and leave for 24 hours. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and add the juice of 2 limes, plus maple syrup or raw honey to your taste.

Raw Cacao

When cacao beans are dried at low temperature, they are called raw cacao beans which can be consumed whole, broken into pieces called nibs, or ground to produce raw cocoa powder. Cacao beans are rich in natural antioxidant compounds with many health benefits and consuming them raw preserves the highest amount of antioxidants possible for this food. Personally, I love the Gnosis Raw Chocolate Elixirs.

Milk and Turmeric Drink

Turmeric possesses a wide variety of antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as vitamins and minerals. It also has a strong flavor so finding the right recipe is important to enjoying this incredibly healthy beverage. I generally combine about a cup of warm milk to 1/4 tsp turmeric and add honey, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla extract to make a delicious beverage.

Apple Cider Vinegar (with “the mother”)

Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (like Bragg’s) also contains “mother” -- strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky, cobweb-like appearance. Simply heat water and allow it to cool slightly so that it is not scalding in temperature. Add a couple splashes of an unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar and sip throughout the day.

Why don’t you choose just one beverage from above and give it a shot today ~ you may be surprised how so little effort can make you feel so good!

Want to learn more power-packed tips designed specifically for busy moms?

Consider joining our circle of women in learning small shifts that lead to calmer, more energized, and more deeply connected living.

Replenish 365 is a year-long transformative experience that delivers smart, science-backed and soul-honoring teaching modules within a vibrant, worldwide community of support. This is our most robust and generous offering and registration only happens once a year!

Check out the details here.

Renee here again. I am so happy to bring you today's post from Lisa. Her work is life changing for so many mothers. The courses I've participated in deliver big on immediate, applicable, and doable actions for improved wellbeing and health. An excellent investment in YOU! If you register for Replenish 365 before December 18th you pay 2014 prices for the course (which gives you lifetime access to the material).

Author Bio: Lisa Grace Byrne, MPH is a mom of three, founder of WellGrounded Life and a trusted authority on women’s vitality and wellbeing.  She is a passionate speaker, teacher, and mentor, and recently published the bestseller, Replenish: Experience Radiant Calm and True Vitality in Your Everyday Life.  She has a degree from Cal Poly State University, SLO in Biochemistry with an emphasis in Nutrition and Metabolism.  She also holds a Masters in Public Health degree from Boston University and she is a Certified Holistic Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in conjunction with Columbia University.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Redecorating the tree

I redecorated the tree this week. When the kids were little I would re-position ornaments sometimes but I've never pulled the whole thing apart to start again.

The tree went up on December 2nd, my birthday. I usually like to wait till the second weekend in December for tree decorating. To space out the holiday happenings, and also because we keep our tree up sometimes past the New Year.

But this year I grabbed for something I knew would bring festivity to the day, for the kids' sake, and my own. A bright spot in what was otherwise a difficult birthday, arriving (unbeknownst to it) in the middle of a deconstruction zone.

So we put up the tree to save the day, or something like that. And it served its purpose, bringing joy and Christmas spirit.

On a much happier day this week, as I was photographing the tree and the snowy day, the special beauty of December, I realized I really didn't like how the tree was decorated. It didn't feel right to me. Some of the ornaments were placed wrong, but mostly I just didn't feel good about it. It was put up in pain, and now I wanted to fix it in joy.

So I did.

I pulled it all down. On the table, next to the suspended Settlers of Catan game, I sorted all the ornaments according to type; shiny stars, glass balls, painted folksy wooden creations, wire and sea glass, etc. I re-strung the lights on the lower branches, which our newest family member Pippin had dislodged. (Pippin was neutered early this week which has toned down his tree-jumping, fellow cat-attacking antics.)

Then I redecorated. Laurent and Brienne were playing outside in the snow and Celine was sewing.

It was just me and the tree, like the years before children, except that nearly all the ornaments now (I have a few from pre-child and even pre-married life) speak of our family history in some way. Years of handmade ornaments, gifted ornaments, Baby's First Christmas, and even the sparkly purple balls purchased last year from the dollar store to decorate for Brienne's birthday, have a story to tell.

Some of the heavy ornaments didn't make it back on the tree, the branches not strong enough to support them. I found other perches and places for the most beautiful ones, but some I put back in the ornament box. They're not needed this year.

No feelings were hurt in the redecorating of the tree. I didn't think they would be.

The things that capture my kids imaginations and their expressions of creativity are increasingly different than my own. Favorite TV shows, the progression through Baldur's Gate (poor Laurent, no one wants to listen anymore), fashion, makeup, hairstyles, reading tech RSS feeds, sewing costumes, painting trees - their uniqueness from each other challenges us as parents in meeting their needs but also grants me freedom because the tree, well, that's mine. And no one else needs it to be just so, but me.

Living in a northern climate, winter speaks to me of tradition, responsibility, and hunkering down for the long haul. A necessary confinement. A curbing of summer's free spiritedness (and gasp, potential out-of-control irresponsibility) enforced by snow and cold.

But this year I feel freedom in the air.

Who knew that redecorating the tree, and being ok with redecorating the tree (no recrimination about what kind of control-freak mother takes down the decorations and replaces them to her liking) would bring me so much satisfaction. Satisfaction in who I am, a person who likes to arrange the tree. just. so.

There is a return this season, winter of all seasons, to loving me. Accepting me, my limitations and preferences. Accepting me, my strengths and ways of operating.

It's subtle and significant. It's relishing (and instagramming) my skill in creating and managing an equitable kitchen schedule for four (on weekends, five) cooks. It's wearing my favorite colors, favorite textures, while knitting more. It's watching shows that make me laugh and reading books that make me think. It's new backcountry alpine touring ski bindings and boots, replacing the telemark I struggled and struggled to learn (no more struggle where I should be having fun).

And it's singing Love Has Come with Amy Grant's A Christmas Album (the digital version of my first cassette tape, a gift for my 10th birthday) while redecorating the Christmas tree.

Resources: 

How the light gets in

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.

I love this line from Leonard Cohen. It speaks beautifully about our human condition.

We are but clay. And through the cracks the light gets in.

And sometimes there are many cracks, a breaking. And what will you do then, with all that light?

~~~

I've been feeling cracked for months, my clay being, once luminously glazed and strong, felt dull and weak, broken.

Light was getting in through the cracks, illuminating, at least somewhat, a path to healing. But not enough. Not enough light. Not enough healing.

Last week, the structure broke completely. The pain of that brokenness, shared between Damien and I, was almost more than we could bear. But the illumination that followed, the understanding and love that broke into my shame, insecurity, and pain is nothing short of a miracle to me.

The demolition of personal and familial artifact, the structures we have built up around our values and beliefs, is not something I want to do often. Tearing down structures, that at one time we truly felt supported those beliefs, but over time have proven to be barriers in our marriage and significant stumbling blocks for me, was very painful but is the start of deep healing.

In between two birthdays (I turned 39 last week), and during the first week of Advent, traditions I held on to during the maelstrom, we deconstructed our family life.

We didn't set out to do that, to tear down what we thought, what I thought, were sacrosanct principles in our lives.

But once the walls started coming down it became so glaringly obvious to us that my post-hike recovery depended on this breaking, and rebuilding. That the health and happiness of our marriage depended on this breaking. That the way forward in raising our children depended on this breaking.

Since coming home from our hike I have been on a very painful quest to answer why, oh why, have I struggled so much in the past year? Why have I felt a growing sense of deep insecurity and shame? What happened to my confidence, my spunk, my joy, my fire? I have not historically struggled with depression or anxiety, why now? Is it age? genetics?

I am a strong woman but I have been slowing cracking and crumbling for many, many months. And last week the whole structure came down. Never mind cracks to let the light in. There was nothing but open space, no structure (terrifying for me) and a lot of pain. It felt like our life lay in a heap of broken shards at our feet.

(If you're thinking "wow, that's dramatic", I assure you that's exactly how I felt.)

Standing in the shards, the artifacts of our marriage - ways we've been doing things and how we've set up our life - the only way forward was to dig under all that rubble for the nuggets of truth.

The truth about who I am, who my husband is, who the kids are, how we function and how we thrive.

When the dust settled, like the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, we both saw with such clarity why I have walked around with so much insecurity, shame and struggle, and why it was getting worse. Why I had lost my vision and enthusiasm for the future. Why most of the fun had left our marriage, and why my husband has wondered for months, “what happened to the spunky, fiery, and enthusiastic woman I married?"

Holding this naked truth in our hands, we realized that the path we've chosen for the past few years hasn’t been completely true to who we are, to who I am especially.

We, and it was completely we, set a course, and followed that course based on an ideal that was true to our values, but not true to how we actually function best in our unique personalities.

There are many ways to express our values, our core beliefs, and live them out. We choose a path that wasn't the best fit.

I am a complex individual, as is everyone, but there are a few key pieces about the essence of me that were glaringly obvious when exposed to the light.

I am a security seeking, honoring, and upholding person. I thrive in an environment of order, rules, and structure. I want nothing more than to "do the right thing". I am also extremely loyal, dependable, committed, and value family above all else. I already knew all this about myself.

What I didn't realize, what we didn't realize, is that these hardwired traits, in the right mix (wrong mix?) of circumstances, can take me down a dangerous path.

If I feel something is "the right thing to do", I can be loyal to a "family-building" cause or idea that actually works against the very nature of my being, making decisions that undermine my basic needs. And my stubborn, strong-willed nature will strive to work only harder, to be more loyal, even as I start to crack.

In this perfect storm, this mismatch of decisions and personality (a mismatch made worse by my loyalty to stay the course!) I will crack, and I will assign blame to myself. The plan must be right, I must be inherently wrong.

I have felt fundamentally flawed for the last couple years.

As my security, confidence, and well-being (that I feel well about my being, the essence of who I am) slowly eroded, I experienced shame, anxiety, and depression.

I am the kind of person that will go down with the ship.

And so it was time to grab hold of my husband's hand, side by side, not cowering behind him in fear, and jump ship.

Damien and I are very different people. We share values around core principles and beliefs, but our motivations and our way of functioning and expressing those values is nearly opposite of each other.

And when one of us, in this case me, attempts to operate, or mold myself into Damien's way of moving through the world, I will start to feel inadequate, doubtful, fearful, and eventually shame, deep insecurity, depression, and brokenness. (And the only reason I would try to mold myself to Damien's expression is because of my deep familial loyalty and dedication, two hardwired traits).

Likewise, if I impose my functioning on Damien he will also wither. Either way, if one of us is going down we drag the other with us. We’re one. We are very different people who have chosen to commit ourselves, our lives, our bodies, our fidelity to each other. And when I go down, so does he.

So we've decided no one's going down in this home, in this marriage, in this family.

We’ve picked up everything that is near and dear, or what we thought as near and dear to our hearts, and have held it, exposed, in the light. Light, that only in our brokenness, could finally reach the dark places.

Things are changing in our home, in our family life. (No, we're not done homeschooling. But if that wasn't working for me, I'd have to let go of my loyalty to that idea also.)

Some of the changes will show up on the blog sooner than later. Others I will write about on a need-to-write basis. But this isn’t about details, as much as I love those. This is about finally seeing hope, and a bright vision for my future, after months and months of increasing battles with self-worth, anxiety, brokenness and depression.

My Christmas miracle came early this year. Light shining through the brokenness, bringing truth and freedom. The path to healing.

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The things we do for love

We celebrated Brienne's birthday this week. She turned twelve years old, the threshold between childhood and her teenage years.

I am thankful for the vestiges of childhood that are still present in our lives because of her. And as a mother with two teenagers I observe the changes taking place in Brienne with knowing and acceptance, and a bit of trepidation. (I anticipate Brienne's transition to the teen years will generate more fireworks in our household than what we've experienced with her siblings, because like me, she's naturally gifted with a fiery personality.)

I have not mourned my children growing up "too fast" because I don't think they have. They have been sheltered and protected, gaining independence slowly and at a pace that feels comfortable for all of us. But each passing year I am reminded I will not be raising children forever and I see this part of my life journey and purpose - raising our children - coming to an end in the near future.

In late summer, while my family hiked the trail without me, my children walking away from me at road crossings, spending days and nights in the woods, doing hard things, without me, I mourned the loss of their childhood. And I also mourned the loss of my clear and definitive place in their lives.

As they grow into their high school years my role changes. This is new and uncharted territory for our family. Have I done enough? Do they know how much I love and support them? Have I given them enough tools to ease their transition to adulthood? Do they know what life is all about? Do I? So many questions.

I've never been here before. But at least with Brienne, I've done twelve - two times already. This is parenting terrain I know. And so it is easy to celebrate her growing independence, honor her natural nearly-teenaged daughter desires while I still relish the flower hair accessories, miniature horse collection, and Barbies that sometimes litter the floor.

Birthday weeks carry extra responsibility and obligation for me, and last minute preparations for all of us, so I decided to take a vacation week from homeschool. I've always done this but somehow I thought I might be able to carry-on, life as usual, this time around.

After our summer, I crave, more than anything, a home-based predictability to our days, fairly constant routines and structures. I didn't want to lose the momentum we've gained in that area so I thought we'd skip our usual birthday-week school break.

But on Monday, sandwiched between Sunday afternoon's birthday-playdate with friends and Tuesday's day long family birthday celebration, I remembered why we've always had birthday week breaks. Because I unravel if we don't. Extra trips to the grocery store, a complete day dedicated to the birthday child, and the emotional weight I carry as mom to make birthdays special - all of that drains my reserves.

It was good timing anyway. Laurent and Brienne are selling holiday art cards and needed to do a lot of work on that this week. The food club order came in and I was able to help divide the order and spend time chatting with a friend without feeling guilty I was dropping the ball at home - neglecting math, French or history.

I spent a good deal of Wednesday afternoon (I wasn't on supper that night) losing myself in How The Light Gets In. Sadly, I finished it that same night. I'm number 82 in line at the library for Penny's last book The Long Way Home. While I wait my turn, I'm thinking this is a good time to go back and read the first Inspector Gamache books.

Reading Louise Penny's books has given me the unexpected pleasure of discussing books with my Dad. My mom and I have talked books for years, recommending our favorite titles, swapping paperbacks we might have in our collection. But Dad and I haven't shared so many book interests, except for the occasional non-fiction inspirational book. It's fun to connect with my Dad around a story and a character.

As we entered this week I wasn't sure how festive I was feeling. Actually, not to sound like Scrooge but I wasn't feeling festive at all. In truth, I had PMS, and Christmas "stuff" on top of a child's birthday felt like more obligation and disturbance to my routine than I was willing to sign up for.

Not Christmas itself - that is expected and welcomed in our home. It is the holiday for our family and this year we're hosting my brother's family and my parents for eight days. It's not that part that feels like obligation. It's everything leading up to it. It's the work that goes into pulling that off. Making merry. I just wasn't in the mood.

I blame PMS but having winter melt away on Monday certainly didn't help. But winter came back, with mid-week snow flurries, blanketing the world in white. My hormones stabilized. My motherly birthday obligations were fulfilled. I spent an afternoon reading a December murder mystery. And I had cleared my school obligations with our break so I could put some time into Christmas planning.

I also started reading Christmas stories. At our last library pick up I came home with a few holiday story compilations. I anticipated I might need some help this year with Christmas spirit so I reserved some "chicken soup for the soul" type Christmas reading.

I can't heartily recommend any of the titles but they are doing the trick. Mostly in turning my heart to thankfulness for all the blessings in my life - family, health, a home to life in, good food to eat. A healthy dose of gratitude seems to be a good foundation for a season of celebration.

Christmas is something I do for love, it is about the keeping and making of family traditions. It is part of our family story, a dominant thread in the fabric of my own childhood that I now weave into my children's childhood. This is what I do, as mother, maker and keeper of memory, keeper of story, keeper of family tradition.

Birthdays are something I do for love. Stringing up colored lights, taking a week off studies (mine and theirs), spending an afternoon reading for pure pleasure, driving the kids to get more paper, more envelopes for making cards, are things I do for love.

Love is an action, stepping in to obligations, responsibilities, and stepping out of them.

The end of our journey is just the beginning

The 24th episode of the Beyond our Boundaries video series is live today. It tells the story of the final days of our hike.

On the weekend of fall's official arrival in mid-September, our family reached the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin, the end of an almost six month thru-hiking adventure.

Like the trip itself, it was a time I'll never forget.

It was the weekend our friends meet us on Friday night, deep in the Maine woods, with lasagna, fresh bread, and an end-of-season garden salad - headlamps bobbing in the dark while we ate supper; the weekend we registered at Katahdin Stream Campground Ranger's Station giddy with the knowledge of only one more day to go; the weekend we gathered, one last time, around a campfire before seeking the familiar comfort of a warm sleeping bag and tent; the weekend I rejoined my family after six weeks off trail to summit together, the last mountain and the last day of our journey.

While we were on the trail we used our Kickstarter funds to pay a video editor. Since coming home from our hike, Damien's been producing the videos. I'm not a significant player in this post-hike production but I am responsible for contributing the photos I took.

I haven't yet touched most of our photos from the hike, but this last video (or maybe second-to-last, we might do a six months later kind of video talking about life post-thru hike, what we learned in our hike, etc.) features a lot of my photography. Which means I had to revisit those last hiking days in the photo editing process.

When I went through the photos, and then again, when I watched the final cut of the video with my family yesterday morning, I was struck by how joyful the occasion was, how happy I look, and how excited and relieved we were to have made it this far, Baxter State Park in Maine.

We accomplished our goal.

Having now washed ashore, a bit bedraggled, onto the island of Rest Here, in the sea of Uncertain Self-Employment and Project-Driven Living (waters that Damien must navigate alone right now), I am beyond-words grateful that we finished what we set out to do.

We pulled this thing off.

There are days, still, when I question the sanity of what we attempted to accomplish, the audacity of it. Storing all our earthly goods, setting forth to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail in under six months, as a family, in a straight shot north. Hello emotional and physical breakdown.

There are days when I cry at what I perceive to have lost in that journey, momentum mostly, in everyday living. The loss of a small measure of financial security, and a loss of vision and direction in my career goals because of what I learned about myself and my limits, in my relationship with my primary business partner, my husband. Hard stuff to learn. Necessary stuff to learn.

These realities (perceptions?) have been hard. But then I watch these videos and I am reminded of the amazing-ness of what we accomplished. And I fall in love all over again with my aforementioned business and life partner, for what we did, together. For these children we are raising, together. For a life, filled with adventures, together.

I am so thankful for the friends and strangers (and FIMBY readers) who came alongside to help us in our journey. I am so grateful to my children who didn't mutiny and owned the experience for themselves. When I got off the trail any one of them could have chosen to end their hike. They didn't. Instead they hiked on and became Jedi Knights (you gotta watch the video).

I am so thankful we have this video series, which stretched me way beyond what was comfortable (not in being in front of the camera but in the production schedule), to always remember and share this amazing experience.

Such a paradox. How something so difficult and breaking could also be the positive defining experience in this season of family life. All the times I wanted to crawl into a cave, to retreat, to be rescued, I held onto hope that in finishing it would all be worth it. And it is.

Katahdin was the end of our Appalachian Trail journey but it was the just the beginning. The beginning of deeper personal understanding, a nascent beginning of a new approach to my career, the beginning of a new era of marriage, the beginning of opened doors for our business interests. And for our children, the beginning of increased independence and self-awareness of their incredible strength, resiliency and discipline. Traits that will take them anywhere they choose to go.

Our dear friend Springfever, who gave us the 2000 miler badges you see here, one for each us, told us the end was just the beginning. I think he is right.

I know many of you are subscribers to our video series, or Kickstarter supporters who have access to the videos. Thank you for that. I do hope you'll enjoy this episode.

For the rest of you, I want to share this last episode at a discounted rate. A thank you gift for reading and following our story here.

We've created a special access page for FIMBY readers where you can purchase the final episode for only $1.49. Or, you can purchase the entire series for over 30% off.

This deal is valid till November 30th only so check it out if you're interested.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for always being so kind and generous to me in your comments and emails. Thank you for praying for me and encouraging me with your words. Thank you for letting me tell my story in the safety of community, friendship, and understanding.

I am so thankful for you.

The first week of winter (and a bit of preamble)

This week I decided to take a break from soul-searching and write about homeschooling, specifically homeschooling high school. It's an exciting time for our family and we've learned lots through the transition into the high school years.


Brienne is enjoying House of Anubis on Netflix, and now likes to dress-up in an improvised school uniform

The older my children get the more I understand about interest-led learning, and its many possibilities and forms.

As I write snippets here and there about our experience and our philosophy, and as we meet new friends locally, I get the inevitable question how does it really work letting your kids have educational freedom? And more importantly for many people - how will it all end? How will Céline get into university, and especially for my Québec readers and friends, how will we navigate Cégep?

These are questions I've been wanting to answer. So that's what I've been doing, writing about Céline's current curriculum and interest-led learning in the high school years, what it looks like in our home, and where it might go from here for post-secondary studies.

Interestingly, the shift in writing focus has rekindled personal passions, dreams and visions in me. All of which have laid dormant for months and months. It is a small rekindling. There is no bonfire burning, I don't have the fuel to keep that going, but a flame of inspiration flickers more brightly inside.

Mid-week, when I realized how deep I was into a three, four, five part blog series on homeschooling the high school years, I had an idea I'd like to try to keep things fresh on the blog while I continue writing.

Going deep in my writing seems to be theme for me right now. I have a need to be thorough and explicit, covering all the angles. For me, this is not the time for short and pithy or sound bite ideas.

But while all this soul-searching, or in this week's case, homeschool writing, is going on, so is my beautiful life. The life I want to share with people on my blog because that is just what I do. Fun in My Back Yard.

I am seeing the beauty and relishing the story, once again, of our lives. And I want to write it. The joy, loveliness, heartwarming moments, laughter, and beauty of the days. Days in a life we have worked hard to build, that we have sacrificed a lot to build.

I feel pain and disappointment from some broken dreams that lie at my feet post-hike. I feel disillusioned and adrift somedays about moving forward. I feel loss at having sacrificed a lot of myself to gain incredible experience for our family as a whole.

Those things are all real in my life. But so is love and joy, commitment and community, beauty and purpose found in each and every day.

I want to tell those stories also.

That my friends, is just a really long introduction to explain something I'd like to try - a weekly post about the fun in my back yard. What we're up to, what I'm loving or doing these days, this is what I used to write about, it's actually the heartbeat of this blog, and it's the writing I always come back to, after various writing forays and blogging experiments.

So, I'll try that again, till I no long feel inspired to do so. Starting now.

Winter arrived this week. Not big winter but definitely winter's hello.

We are happy for winter's arrival but also challenged by it this year because our financial situation is tight, paying off post-hike debt, and we don't have the funds we're used to for outfitting our ever-growing kids for winter sport and activity, specifically backcountry skiing.

Damien is very resourceful, good at finding deals, etc. and I'm good at pinching the pennies, and managing the outflow. This week I found a few extra dollars in November's budget, but not near enough for the needs. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Our financial state post-hike has been a source of considerable strain and tension in our marriage. Thank goodness we're in this for the long haul because sometimes the short haul isn't so romantic, or even fun.

The kids took me on a walk in the woods, on a path our neighbors showed them last weekend. It will be the perfect cross-country ski route for me this winter, assuming we can find me some appropriate boots. Between a small amount of birthday and Christmas funds I have hope I may get the boots I need so I can ski out our door, which would be fabulous.

I only ventured to the beach once this week, at the end of a run. I left the house so frustrated and upset.

Running helped clear my head and by the time I got to the beach I had chilled out significantly. The roiling water and incessant pounding of waves on the shore though was the perfect picture of my previous frustration. I felt giddy with metaphor, nature's perfect reflection of a troubled heart.

I love living so close to the ocean and felt so privileged, and blessed this week, when I considered all the places we've called home in our community here on the peninsula. A little cabin in a river valley. A mountain ski chalet and now our home on the hill, overlooking the ocean.

I try to remember this feeling of blessing when the waves of moving-related frustration wash over me, reminding me that we've experienced all this in only three short years, plus six months away from home on the Appalachian Trail, and one month in Montreal.

It is our willingness to pick up and move, to be homeless for six months, that enabled us the freedom to hike the trail. It is that same sense of homelessness and significant disruption to home life that contributed to pieces of me crumbling and breaking.

I would like to be settled. I have things I want to do with my life besides managing our moves, managing my breakdown.

I am so used to Damien at home now, three years into the work-at-home gig, I take for granted the precious moments that our sacrifices have made possible. This week I was especially aware of the special connection Céline shares with Damien and how crucial his daily participation is in her life.

She is a technical girl. She consumes media, news and information I have no grid for, no interest in. But Damien is there, solid, informed and interested. My heart melting each time I hear her laughter rising from the kitchen in some discussion with her Dad about topics I just don't get.

My girl. Cautious but sure-footed. Confident and sassy enough to buzz cut her hair at fifteen. My heart simply can't contain the affection and respect I have for her.

The kids and I all visited Le Baluchon (rough Québec translation: hobo sack) yesterday afternoon, our local version of Goodwill. We scored big time.

At Le Baluchon they sell most clothing items by the bag. A full bag of clothes costs $5. We came home with stylish, tall brown boots and very practical snowpants for Brienne, a single breasted black wool pea jacket for Céline, and a knit grey winter Calvin Klein dress for me, plus a couple bags of clothes all for less than $20. Thank God for Le Baluchon.

As I finish up this post, I'm watching the snow fall again. Laurent has just come in from shoveling snow. Damien's out and about with Brienne, looking for deals on ski boots and skis, comparing with the prices he's found on eBay. Céline's ensconced in her attic studio/bedroom sewing a gift for Brienne's birthday. And Chocolate Chip Banana cookies - easy, vegan, and whole-food (with a smidge of processed chocolate) - are just coming out of the oven.

The first week of winter.

(Damien and Brienne just came in the door with new skis for Céline, she's bootstrapping the purchase for us, since she has more disposable cash right now than we do. And Damien found a good deal on ski boots for me. We may be outfitted for this season's skiing yet.)

A week of writing and home

It was another week of writing and digging. Walking a labyrinth of interconnected hallways in my heart and mind. Finding new doors, new hallways, following the trail of light through the open doors back to that first open door and asking myself, "now why did I open this door in the first place? What was I hoping to find here?"

I am unearthing what needs to be discovered but man, does it ever take a lot of writing energy to blaze the trails through the jungle thick undergrowth of my hiking experience and post-hike discovery/recovery period.

Nothing writes up easy these days. Nothing. And you reassure me its alright. Because absolutely it is. It is more than alright the work I'm doing. But the desire to publish, to produce, is strong.

Writing and blogging are not "a flash in the pan" pursuits for me. They are passions I will pursue regardless of their profitability or productivity. But gosh, how I want something to show, here, now, for the effort. Proof.

Proof of my worthiness as a blogger, as a writer, by how much I publish. Proof of my worthiness as a homeschooler by the progress of my pupils. Proof of my worthiness as a wife by how much I follow and support.


This artwork will be available as sets of holiday cards, coming to the blog soon.

Yeah, so all that. That's what I'm working through. I thought it was about being depressed on the trail. That was just a symptom of something deeper. Surprise, surprise.

Needless to say Brené Brown's work is a beacon in my labyrinth of digging and discovery.

Every fear, joy, truth, hope, lie, disappointment, pain, goes deep. And getting to the tip of that taproot to investigate the health of the soil in which I'm rooted is a bit arduous.

I am still surprised that the hike brought me to this point, which is a totally different place than I thought I would be, but clearly is the place I need to be.

I went into the hike knowing it would change me. That the intensity of the experience would peel back layers to reveal a core me. I had expected to find this distilled truth on the trail. I didn't know it would be a post-trail discovery and I certainly didn't know this is what I'd find.

So that was the writing week.

In other news, having found a home for kitten number one, we kept his sibling and christened him Pippin. It is completely unexpected that I, formerly on the antagonist end of ambivalent towards cats, would be the one to say, "let's keep him".

This week's music of choice was Switchfoot, Vice Verses and Fading West. Each song touching my experience, my heart, in the way only music does. Songs that have me reaching for my guitar, googling chords and playing along with.

I finished researching and writing out Céline's fall 2014 through summer 2015 curriculum. It was already happening, she was learning and progressing without a written document, but I don't feel peace about the process until I've written it down. Some of you have expressed interest in her job and I hope to write about that in a "this is what Celine's 10th year of homeschooling looks like" post.

I finished The Good Daughter, Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life (Seeds of Another Summer in Canada), and am savoring my way through Shadow Child, also by Beth Powning. (Yes, you should check her out).

I can't wait to pick up Louise Penny's first Inspector Gamache book at Wednesday's library pick up, having devoured The Beautiful Mystery and The Brutal Telling. I think Louise Penny will be a perfect windswept Gaspesien winter companion.

The beach sunsets this week were fabulous (so you may have noticed already). The sun sets earlier each day and it's a fast scramble to get out the door in time to make it there, but the rewards are worth it.

In spite of shorter days, and the rush to watch the sun set, I am relishing the steady advance of winter. I know full well it will be a long one, and I have a history with SAD but my body, spirit and mind see this winter as my time to hibernate and rest. To sit by the happy lamp in the morning as I write my way to understanding, cuddle with cats, drink tea, and on a daily basis brave the wind and snow for an afternoon excursion into the elements to remind me that I'm alive and why I love summer so much.

I finally replenished my depleted lotion stock with my tried and true recipe but I used shea butter this time instead of cocoa butter which resulted in a runnier lotion. This consistency would be perfect for a pump bottle, which I don't have. So I just make a drippy mess on the counter each time I use it.

The kids and I went to a Remembrance Day service on November 11. I felt so Canadian, surrounded by other Canadians remembering fallen family and community members in the world wars, Korea and our peace keeping missions. In a service conducted in English, French and Mi'kmaq I felt like I belong here. After three years to the day, of living on the peninsula, and a lot of struggle with insecurity about my place here, that is a feeling of inestimable worth.

Two Saturdays ago now, our dear friend Springfever, one of our biggest Kickstarter supporters and trail enthusiast (having done the trail 3 times himself) came for supper with his wife to swap hiking stories and look at our (still unedited) photos. I'm always amazed that on our peninsula, with few people clustered in small communities over many miles of coastline, we have a thru-hiker friend living nearby.

This past Saturday we went to the neighbors, the house just behind ours, for a gourmet tapas-like supper prepared from Plenty. We came home with ski boots to fit Céline's growing feet and a better snowboard for Laurent. Have I mentioned yet how much I love it here? Not just the house we are living in right now, but our community and our friends.

Yes, I have a lot of personal work to do right now. And some of it is painful. But there are so many beautiful, solid, and reassuring things in my life. The ocean's tides, which I never get tired of (whoever gave me that advice in a previous post was right); friends who aren't even aware of the blessing they are in our lives; a cuddly kitten, rock music, supplements, books, a happy light; and a community that, after three years living here (seven months of those in other places), truly feels like home to me.

Home, where we are known. Home, where we belong. Home, where we want to be.

Anyone want a kitten?

In the early years of marriage Damien wanted a cat. He grew up with cats and genuinely felt affection for them.

I did not grow up with cats, nor did I feel affection for them.

When the kids were little I finally relented to getting a cat. I didn't naturally feel drawn to animals and had no affinity for them so a cat seemed like a messy inconvenience to an already full family life I was trying to keep tidy and manageable.

I agreed to getting a cat under the following conditions.

I didn't want it to shed. I didn't want the cat on our bed. I didn't want it scratching our furniture. I didn't want it pooping in my flower beds. And with three pre-schoolers to take care of, I wanted no part whatsoever in taking care of the cat.

Damien found a breed that didn't shed, the Devon Rex. But of course I wasn't going to spend money to get a cat either. So Damien worked a barter with the breeder, who lived in Georgia (we lived in Maine at the time). He did computer work for her. A litter of kittens was born. We got one. Pixel, as we named our orange haired tabby, was delivered on a plane to Portland, ME.

I have laughed about this story since the very beginning. We are unpretentious people and here we have a "fancy" cat delivered on a plane.

I remember the August morning that Damien, Laurent and Celine went to pick him up from the airport. Brienne was still nursing, and too little at the time to accompany them. My mom was visiting, she remembers too, the children's squeals of delight as Pixel romped on the living room futon.

With my children's obvious affection and delight, my heart started to soften a wee bit. What I remember most about Pixel's kitten-hood is that he loved to sit in Brienne's blue vinyl highchair seat. And second to that he loved to lay on top of my open homemaker's binder next to my computer in the office.

It soon became obvious, mostly because of how cute he was, that Pixel was not going to be "true" Devon Rex. We were told before he came to live with us that new blood had been introduced into the family line a generation (or was it two?) before his birth. Pixel had the inquisitiveness, personality, and voice (they are loud!) of a Devon but decidedly longer hair, that shed.

Over time he came to sleep on our bed, much to my dismay, but by this point the battle was lost anyway.

Pixel, sensing who's really in charge around here, comes to me when he's hungry, pounces on my head in bed when he's needy and generally seeks me to meet his needs.

Staying true to my original terms and conditions - I don't change litter or do the feeding but I make sure someone does. And I guess Pixel knows I'm the one who makes sure things get done around here.

Pixel is an old man cat now. A fat old cat. We switched him to a raw meat diet over a year ago to help address his obesity and that was working until he stayed at our friend's house during our hike and binged on dry cat food. In spite of all the exercise he got terrorizing their two cats around their farm, he gained a lot of weight. He is back to his raw meat diet but I think it might be too little too late for him now.

Like Pixel, I am getting soft in my old age. So when we found two pre-teen aged kittens (they aren't babies but they aren't young adult cats either) on our daily walk, abandoned on the road to the beach, I couldn't very well leave them there.

The first day we thought it was kind of "random" to find a small cat on the road, unattended. Such a playful fellow following us, begging us to pick him up, which we did.

Our next walk to the beach the cat found us again, and we found its sibling meowing in a tree. Skittish as all get out, that little fellow was.

We took "Munchkin" home, and brought the skittish cat, "Pipsqueak", food. When we checked on Pipsqueak the next day he was still there, but the food sure wasn't. We managed to grab him and I carried him, trembling, under my arms back to our house.

We have asked all the neighbors if the cats are theirs. They aren't. We have Facebooked their availability, and put up posters in our community, looking for a new home for these adorable cats, whom we have grown to love. Pipsqueak has come out of his shell, enduring himself to us with his vigorous play. Munchkin is curious about all things and very cuddly.

Two cats came with the house, a pair of long-haired young spayed females, mother and daughter. We brought our own cat, old man Pixel and now these two kittens join the mix, temporarily.

Collectively these cats sleep on all the beds, shed like crazy (especially the long haired females), raise the dead (or in our case, the sleeping) with their occasional nocturnal howls and hisses, generate an awful lot of litter mess, chew through expensive earbud cords and inexpensive USB cords indiscriminately, and sometimes cough up the most disgusting hairballs imaginable (that would be the long-haired cats again).

They have made the house interesting and lively, the kittens especially adding much needed levity and love during our re-entry period. I have never been this smitten with a feline before.

I can't say I have a lot of affection for cats in general, but my feelings have grown over the years, mostly because my children love cats and the things our children love tend to grow on us, over time.

Last night we said goodbye to Munchkin. Our poster at the animalerie helping us find a family for this sweet kitten. There were tears and plenty of goodbye cuddles and kisses, even from me.

Checking in

We've been off-trail now for six weeks. One of those weeks we went to visit my parents in Nova Scotia.

In our five weeks at home I've been orchestrating our household routines, re-establishing old rhythms and establishing new ones.

As the kids take on more cooking and food prep duties I'm down to being responsible for two snacks, two lunches and two suppers a week. As kitchen manager I oversee the show, write the shopping lists, and make sure the cupboards are stocked, the almond milk is made and the beans are cooked but my work in this domain is waning. And as it wanes my inspiration and enthusiasm for cooking has increased. Can I hear an Amen!?

With the help of a local doctor friend I've started a run/walk routine and my foot is doing well. I can exercise without pain and as far as I know I'm healed but I'm still taking it slow. The nearby beach in on my daily route.

I'm reading tons. I have more books on the go and have worked into my schedule more time for reading than I've had in years. Books, my first love, have replaced the Internet as my source of escape and inspiration. Memoirs, mysteries, fantasies, non-fiction. I adore these piles on the nightstand and a full Overdrive bookshelf on my iPad.

I'm working on my shawl, with a goal to complete it by the end of winter. Winters are long in Quebec, I think I might just pull it off.

My guitar is out, I downloaded a tuner app, and I've started making music again, singing for all I'm worth. I've found new-to-me francophone folk musicians on Spotify, have listened to more ABBA in three weeks than I have in the last 15 years combined, and in the rest of my listening hours I have soaked myself in Steve Bell.

We started going to church. I've been making an effort to re-connect with local and not-so-local friends.

The kids have returned to their studies. Celine has a job. Out of necessity we hit the ground running with homeschool and I've had to build our curriculum as we go. I prefer to plan then execute but there was no time for that so I'm constructing the pieces as we go.

I'm studying French again, in earnest. So are the kids. We are fostering two adorable kittens which we found (rather, they found us) on the road to the beach.

Early-to-bed, early-to-rise, I find immense comfort in the punctuation of my days. The anchoring of The Morning Office and Evening Compline, the sound of surf on my afternoon walk. Morning coffee, post-lunch reading, afternoon tea. Routines that give definition, structure, and regular breaks to my industry.

I could write a blog post, or more about each of these things. I could talk about how to get kids in the kitchen. I could talk about how I loath to push myself out the door each day to exercise but I do it anyway and I love the way I feel when I get back, my hate-love relationship with regular exercise.

I could write reviews about the books I'm reading and new authors I love. (See the sidebar on my blog where I keep an updated list of recent reads.)

I could talk about the importance of pieces of my past in my present, why we stopped going to church many years ago and why we are returning.

I could talk about how our introverted, homeschool teenager has a job, location-independent, just like her dad. I could write about our goals-based curriculum, a schedule for project-based learning, and the kid's owning their own education.

I could write about Canadian history homeschool studies, self-directed second language learning (and the programs, apps and resources we're using), knitting as a meditation, playing guitar, and the recipes I'm loving these days.

I could also write about the excruciatingly frustrating moments and days I have on this path to post-hike recovery. How I seem to have little bandwidth in my life right now for failures and glitches but life is full of those anyway. (Someone didn't get my memo.)

I could write about our trail debt and our austerity budget to get ourselves out of that, which means no funds for homeschooling, among other things. I could write about how, after years of pushing the boundaries and walking the edge, right now I need to live in the safe middle of a very well defined box, with firm boundaries on time, resources, and ideas.

Each morning for a couple hours, or maybe just one, I write. Haltingly. Sometimes with tears streaming down my face and a rumble of anxiety in my belly.

I don't write about recipes, or homeschooling, or books - even though those seem like bright shiny objects. Tidy posts.

Right now I need to write about what happened to me this summer, to try and make sense of my trail depression and post-hike anxiety (which is thankfully subsiding). I'm going back even further to understand subtle and not-so-subtle shifts that have happened in my heart and psyche since leaving Maine in 2011.

This is hard work. Some days it hurts like digging out a splinter and other days it feels like rays of sunshine into dusty, dark corners. This is the focus of my writing time, which is the same as my blogging time. I need to write my way to understanding and discovery. I need to write my way to healing.

This is how I process with writing. I write, talk, write, read, write and maybe cycle through the whole thing again, and eventually I publish. But this kind of writing does not lend itself to a fast turn around on the blog. I do plan to publish, I have always published what my heart feels compelled to write and this is no different. It's just taking a lot of time.

I want to publish fun and beautiful things here. Some bloggers are very explicit in their purpose to use their blog to focus on gratitude, beauty, goodness. I want to share the joy of homeschooling life and homemaking and creativity and yes, even adventure, but a more important writing task calls to me.

My writing time looks like yielding to that call and then resisting. Walking boldly for a few steps then retreating. And in the resisting and retreating I am so tempted to publish "aren't these kittens adorable" or something like that. Maybe I will. But in reality publishing even a simple post takes hours and I don't have those hours to give.

I have always used my blog as a place to not just share ideas and a family story, but as a publishing platform to process and work through things.

In my pre-hike life there were steady and small eruptions, usually corresponding with times of transition and seasonal shifts, of navel-gazing and introspective writing, that would bubble up from the subterranean lava that constantly flows beneath the surface.

Now as I write my way through the last ten months I feel like I'm trying to harness a volcano. I'm not going to write one post and resolve this. I do believe the lava will cool, it will give new shape and structure to my life and eventually, fertile soil. Maybe it's already happening.

But writing my way through this is time-consuming and emotionally difficult. There is no turnaround time I can rely on for publishing to the blog.

Ideally, I would love to post little snippets of our life, whether those are homeschooling, creativity, homemaking, or adventure related, while I keep working on the heart writing. I love that when I look through the archives I see this blog as a record of our family life (according to mother) and I have a strong desire to maintain that somehow, while I'm doing this personal work.

I honestly just don't know how to do that. Each post I publish here takes hours of work. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud of that. It never used to take hours and hours to write, edit and publish a post. Reading the old archives, I can tell. (She writes with a smile.)

This is not an answer post, or a planning post, or a "you can expect such and such for me" post.

This is me, just checking in.

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