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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography presents a similar problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's slow, but it's mending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the simple reason for my absence here.

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your love, concern and care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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