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Photography

It's snowing this weekend. As I type this the air is thick with the flakes and I try to capture the magic with my camera but it never does the beauty justice.

I am (gratefully) way past the toddler stage of parenting and so instead of bundling little ones to go trundling and toppling through the snow, I am sitting right here, enjoying my Saturday morning cup of coffee, my tired teenagers still deep in sleep.

This is the most "open", unscheduled, at-home all day Saturday I've had since November. And I feel both giddy and deeply at-ease in the expanse of this day before me.


Early last month I wrote that I needed all of January to transition into the New Year. It was more like January and the first week of February.

It was a bit tricky to give myself this space and time while the world around me was marching forward with 2017 plans and purposes and the ubiquitous self-improvement projects. But it was worth the effort of holding space for this month-long transition, because come mid-February I'm not discouraged or exhausted by my New Year's efforts at "being better". Rather, by intentionally withdrawing from that fray and hype, by honoring a hibernate vibe, and being patient with myself and the slow progress of living, I'm better rooted in what my purposes are for this season and stage of life.

2017 is not "the" year I will conquer the clutter, overcome a perennial struggle, or achieve any great heights of financial freedom or self-expression. It will be a year, as every other year, of steady and slow progress, punctuated with beginnings and endings.

I see this year as a continuation of goals, purposes, callings, dreams, etc. of the previous year and previous years. My chief purpose of raising our kids, the job I set out to do eighteen years ago, remains the same but the little (and sometimes big) details in how I do that work change as the kids change, not with the flip of the calendar.

Great things will happen, I'm sure. New things and new directions are brewing, adventures and celebrations are being planned and executed. There will be accomplishments and things checked off my lists, while new items are added. I will not arrive at an end point but I will find myself further on the path.

It's almost the middle of February and I am nowhere near a winter breakdown. That is an "accomplishment", a self-improvement of sorts. I don't have any cabin fever or even winter angst. March is the month that carries a sense of foreboding for me. If things are going to go bad, that's when it's going to happen. But it hasn't gone really bad (where I'm crying for days on end and feel exhausted by the effort of life by 9 am) for three winters. But I know it could, so I watch with some vigilance for the signs of winter depression and do everything I can to bear up against such possibility.

Which is to say I ski. Oh, I ski and how I love it.

February is not a particularly beautiful month in my white, grey, and salted-sidewalks world. Maybe that's why people love Valentines Day so much, all those red hearts adding color to the drab.

I don't take a lot of photos this time of year. Of the couple hundred photos I took in the first seven days of February (yes, hundreds), seven of those were non-skiing photos. They were photos of Laurent's art.

I don't keep all the photos I take. I have a photo workflow which involves a lot of deleting. I also edit all my photos, and tag them with keywords so at any point in the future I can find photos with ease. It's just what I do.

But in February I do a whole lot less of that because I just don't take many photos. Except when it comes to skiing.

I've noticed in myself that the things I try to capture with photography are the things that are capturing my heart and/or enlivening my spirit. There might be a positive feedback loop involved here. When I intentionally look for beauty, I tend to notice it more.

Right now, my children are the throat-catching and heart-tugging beauty in my world. I guess that's been true for their whole lives.

My heart alternately soars with deep gratitude for the present moment while also feeling the stab of loss at their impended independence and separation from me. There isn't a scheduled date for that in our home, but it is the next stage. And in the same way I want to bear up against the possibility of winter depression, I want to bear up against the pain of this impeding change.

Celine has no plans to leave anytime soon and we are encouraging our children to stay close for post-secondary. It's their choice of course, but the financial help we can offer for the next stage of their life will be mostly of the room-and-board variety. It's why we moved to Montreal. By living in this great city full of amazing schools and in a province with heavily subsidized post-secondary education we've positioned ourselves, in the way we are able, to help our children pursue post-homeschool studies, should they so choose.

Celine graduates from homeschooled high-school this spring. Finishing this stage of her education, getting all her documentation in order, helping her consider and narrow down her options (and providing a loving push as necessary) - this is the stuff of my life right now that consumes a lot of my mental mothering energies.

We are about to cross a major threshold with our firstborn, and that transition is probably "the" big thing that is happening for me this year, as a mother and a homeschooler. Actively homeschooling and bearing the responsibility of facilitating and overseeing the education of my oldest child is one of the things I will release this year.

I spend a part of every other week (I have a schedule) working on Celine's transcript and portfolio. There are regular meetings with Celine and Laurent about their plans and purposes and how we will help them meet those goals. And when there are no defined goals, we help dig to the place in their hearts and minds where the desires and interests are rooted and we work out how those interests would translate into goals. This is how we homeschool and living this philosophy with teens is the most energetic part of the journey.

I'm freaked out a bit sometimes, but mostly I am exuberantly excited about this stage. I love homeschooling my high-schoolers. I have amazing kids. I wouldn't trade this time and effort for more money in the bank. I wouldn't trade it for more writing time (something that always feels in short supply). I wouldn't trade it for the career I am hoping to build once my homeschool career comes to an end.

Everything has a season. And this is my season of high energy and high activity with my teenagers.

My heart is full.

I am so thankful for our weekly skiing. It's our one day a week practice in which we continue, with the full and eager participation of our children, to stake a claim for family life, for having fun together, for enjoying winter. It is so worth all the effort and expense: the driving time, the gas, gear upgrades and making due with what we have. It's an investment in our family and our health.

It is the highlight of my week.

It's been a good ski season and I am so grateful for that. I was re-reading some of my posts from last winter. Last winter was hard in many respects. The skiing conditions weren't great. We had weeks and weeks of sickness.

It's probably the foil of last year that makes this year that much sweeter.


It's 11 am now and my fourteen year old, our youngest, has emerged from the cocoon of her bed. She's puttering around me in the kitchen, brewing herself a cup of black coffee; like mother, like daughter.

My boy, about to turn 16, is still sleeping, recovering no doubt from yesterday's full day of activity that didn't end till we got home at 11:30 pm. He was still gaming at 12:30 am, when I clicked off my Kindle and went to sleep. I have no idea when he went to bed, I do hope he will get a good ten hours of sleep before coming to for the day.

My oldest, seventeen, slept over at friend's house last night. I was the chauffeur responsible for transporting four chatty girls from co-op to the friend's house and I treated the girls to coffee at Starbucks enroute. The Starbucks was in a Chapters bookstore and so I found a table some way off from the girls to give them space. The sound of their incessant chatter and laughter, before they all dispersed to scour the bookshelves in silence (three of these girls are introverts), was more than worth the price of the lattes.

Celine's friend turned 18 this month and is celebrating with a dinner and swing dance party tonight. A gaggle of girls will be getting ready in a few hours for that party; doing hair, nails, and make-up in the fifties fashion.

Eighteen, it's coming for us soon. I am so happy for Celine's joy in having great fun with friends, but I am a little disappointed I'm won't be able to photograph her carefully planned and tailored outfit. Celine bought a skirt at a Montreal vintage boutique but did the final tailoring herself, of course.

Photographing my heart's joy and delight, it's what I do. But as my "delights" grow and move to independence, as they have experiences completely apart from me, in such healthy and beautiful ways, I guess I'll content myself with photographing the morning snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It takes time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a little pressed for time this morning, we’re working on the PDF version of Eat This. The Kindle version is ready to go. The book will also be available at Barnes & Noble and iTunes. We’re aiming for a Monday release. Damien and I are a DIY publishing shop. We do it all. And yes, we are available for hire.

As always I have way more photos from the week than I have the space to share or the time to tell the accompanying story. There’s always a story.

Summer is a busy time for my camera and on any given day I might take upwards of two hundred photos, especially since we are living somewhere new and there is so much to photograph and remember about this time. I edit and post process all those photos (I shoot everything in RAW format); deleting many, keywording the rest, posting some here and saving the rest for posterity and other publications (our product reviews, online articles and blog posts).

I’ve whittled down the photos from the past week’s camera activity (we have two cameras) to just under two hundred. I’ve done well.

Québec has a unique circus culture, for lack of a better description. Montréal is home to the largest circus school in North America, there’s a circus school on the Gaspe peninsula even, and there is a general “theatrical arts” feel to the culture here. I don’t quite know how to describe it. I don’t think the locals or provincial natives notice this much, but as an outsider I’m really aware of it. It’s cool.

I’ve mentioned before that I have missed the raspberries from my old garden. I may have spoken too soon. The wild raspberries are in season now and they are all over the woods where we live. We live at the base of a ski hill and the raspberries especially love the sunny slopes. The photo above is from the woods nearer our house (not a ski slope) but this afternoon or tomorrow I’m headed to the slopes to go picking.

There’s not enough raspberries, or rather I don’t have the time right now, to stock the freezer. Nor do I have a freezer to stock. We sold it before we left Maine. I’ll get another one this fall or winter for next summer’s bounty. This is not a gardening summer for me, it’s a moving and writing summer.

We added the raspberries to afternoon smoothies and to our Saturday morning baked apples. We used to only eat baked apples, topped with cashew cream sauce, in the cooler months (October through April). But the mornings are cool in the mountains (though the days get summer hot, which we love) and with all our moving this past year this food ritual has made the four different places we’ve lived feel like home. Baked apples all year round. No one is complaining.

Last Sunday we did an epic hike day with the kids and Monday they were totally wiped out. They spent a lot of time in this position, till about 8pm, when the futon mattress was place on the floor for wrestling.

At our last house in Maine we never owned a dryer. I wrote a post about that and it’s one of the most popular here at FIMBY. During the course of moving, we had access to a dryer at each of our houses. That was nice. We used it all the time in our little chalet last winter because there was no room to hang laundry.

We are once again without a dryer and it feels good. Sure I miss the ease of drying laundry, regardless the weather but we have the space again for racks - indoors and out. And the kids do all the hanging and folding (in style I might add) so it’s no more work for me. I just load and wash.

We don’t encourage the kids to change clothes all the time (a few spots on a shirt or pants are no big deal around here), we wash towels once a week and sheets far less often than that, and there is no cloth diapers anymore. So, we only do about four loads on an average week. Totally doable without a dryer.

There is a river where we live. I’ve already mentioned this, one or two times (smile). The water is crystal clear and aquamarine in the pools. Maybe next year we’ll have some kind of raft we can float on. For now we dip our toes (the younger two actually swim, head under), splash around, and just enjoy the cool valley air on the hot summer afternoons.

There is a trail along this river, Damien walks it a couple times a week for his morning exercise. He’s a very disciplined “exerciser”, I’m not. He takes the kids with him on these hour long walks. Céline lost her sweater along the trail early this week so I did the loop with her yesterday to look for it. We found it, and a lot of deer prints too. I had no idea how gorgeous this trail was, literally right outside our door.

After walking with Céline, I hopped in the car with the younger two and drove to town to pick up our farm panier. The pick up spot is at a municipal park, right on the bay. The kids swam in the ocean while I rested on the beach.

I had thought about sharing some more of those photos but I have gone past my photo limit already. Come back this weekend to see what farm pickup at ocean looks like. 

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