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It has been such a privilege to live here.

This is a place I will hold in my heart, always.

The Gaspe Peninsula is a part of me. It's not where I was born or "where I'm from" but it's a place that speaks to my love for natural beauty like no other place we've lived. 

My heart holds space for all the places I've lived and the people I've loved and known through the years. Which means only one thing: I have a really big heart. 

Our decision to move to Montreal starts a few years ago with our move to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.

I've told the story of our move to Quebec a few times on the blog, but a recap never hurts.

Four years ago we left our life in the United States and our home in Maine in a move we called Life 3.0. This was the "big move".

We went through this significant change because we needed to live in a place that gave us the freedom to follow our dreams and enabled us to create the life we wanted to live as a family.

We chose the Gaspe Peninsula originally because it met two very important criteria: it has mountains and it is within a day's drive of my parents in Nova Scotia.

Living on the Gaspe, with its mountains, breathtaking natural beauty, and low cost of housing positioned us to move forward in some important goals and dreams we had for Life 3.0.

When we left Maine we had some specific employment and lifestyle goals, we wanted:

  • to shift Damien from a salaried office job to location-independent self-employment. We wanted to be able to work and live wherever.
  • to explore the possibility of shifting Damien's career from computers to the outdoors; and the two of us wanted to work together at the intersection of our interests, skills and experience.
  • to live in a naturally beautiful place that supported an outdoors-based lifestyle as well as a possible career shift to outdoors-based work.
  • to have grand adventures with our kids.

And it was our long-term dream to have a debt-free home from which we could work, live, and launch our adventures.

Living on the peninsula met all these goals very well and had the potential to fulfill our housing dream also.

One of the big reasons we wanted location-independent work was because we really value freedom in our lives. We want freedom to pursue our work and life goals, to travel and have adventures.

Since leaving Maine we've had a bunch of adventures and pursued outdoor activities together - hiking, backpacking trips and backcountry skiing.

Our location independence enabled us to have take our first working road trip and to live in Montreal for one month. And most significantly, we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as a family. That was a working road trip also in that we produced a video series while hiking, about our hike to help fund our trip.

We don't own a house on the peninsula, we're renters. Moving a lot, which was not our first choice, but was a necessity in some cases, is one of the things that has enabled all of our adventuring.

Here's a very brief rundown of all the places we've lived in the past four years.

  1. My parents house in Nova Scotia. Living with my parents for five months after we left Maine helped us re-start our life in Canada.
  2. The 750 sq ft. chalet. This was vacation rental property and a temporary housing solution. We arrived in November and we knew we had to leave by the end of the following May.
  3. A month in Montreal. This was a fabulous opportunity to live in the city for one month while our next rental was being renovated.
  4. The ski chalet. What a dream location. A bit out of the way to be sure but I've never lived this deep in the woods before and at the base of a ski hill no less.
  5. Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Our six month adventure through the appalachian mountains of the the eastern US.
  6. Housesitting for friends. What a blessing to come off the trail, completely broke, with a safe haven to live in and take care of for ten months till our friend's return.

I'll help you do the math. I've moved six times in the past four years and lived in six distinct places, and we're moving again in June when our friends return from their round-the-world trip.

Living in these variety of situations, and moving often, was the best choice at the time to reach our goals. We've had inexpensive and sometimes free housing which has helped with getting our feet off the ground with self employment. And being homeless during our hike was a key piece to affording that adventure.

We did the best we could with what we had. And we've been able to pull off a lot of amazing adventures on a lower middle class income, but we paid in other ways. And the cost to me personally has been high. (Hello breakdown.)

They say moving is right up there in the top five most stressful life events, along with divorce, death, job loss and major illness. I don't doubt that. In which case, I've experienced a fairly high level of stress for the last four years.

The re-evaluation

We've learned that as much as we value freedom, I also need security.

In our marriage these are opposite sides of the same coin. It turns out we need a somewhat equal measure of both in our lives for us to be happy, as individuals, and as a couple.

When we came off the trail we both knew I needed more security. One of my basic needs was not adequately being met and I was crumbling. And so Damien made the very difficult decision to move all his career eggs to his technology basket to help stabilize our lives with an increased and reliable source of income.

Damien had been carrying two baskets for a while, building outdoors-related communications and media sources of income while continuing his computer programming. We were working together and it was a slow build that unfortunately was tearing me down.

This was a heartbreaking revelation for both of us. We had dreamed of working together, combining our interests and talents to financially support our family. It was part of the vision for Life 3.0, but the inherent unknowns and insecurity of launching self-employment while affecting a career change for Damien, along with our constant moving, eroded the foundation beneath me.

It's not surprising then that somewhere on the trial I lost vision and enthusiasm for working together and when we came home I wanted nothing to do with building our online business. I felt like I had lost myself and Damien felt like he lost a partner. Like I said, heartbreaking.

You live and learn, right?

This is something I wish I hadn't gone through.

We both wish that my security had not been eroded so significantly and wonder how things might have played out differently if it hadn't, if we had paid attention to the signs earlier. We saw the signs, and to Damien's credit he questioned at each major junction if I was ok, he knows me really well. I reassured him I was because I wanted it to be true. I am loyal and committed (sometimes to a fault), and so we kept pressing forward.

The grand irony is that I have appreciated having these diverse experiences and living in these unique places. I have grown so much.

My life has been enriched because I took risks and stepped outside my comfort zone. And yet these very experiences, which I appreciate for their individual merit, when put all together, just wore me out.

In early December, when everything seemed to fall down around our feet and we knew we had to rebuild it, we looked honestly at everything. Our work, where we live, the stage of life our family is in, our kids' needs, our individual needs, our core values, our financial needs, all of it.

This was the point where Damien decided to shift his career back to technology, a field he still loves and work he's very talented at.

As we looked ahead to the summer, knowing that when our friends return from their trip we needed to move, again, it was obvious to us that I needed to move to a home and stay there for a while. I still want to travel and adventure but I need a "permanent" (we're not prepared to buy yet) home.

So then the question was, "do we feel ok making the peninsula semi-permanent?" If you had asked me one year ago, I would have said yes, absolutely. In fact we talked about it on our hike, home was the Gaspe, and when we got off the trail I couldn't have imagined moving.

I have started to feel rooted here and part of the community.

But when we looked closely at the needs and interests of our anglophone homeschooled teens, and looked ahead a bit to what's coming down the pipe for them, it became clear that our rural, largely-francophone Quebec community isn't the best fit for this stage of life.

There are limited opportunities here for our kids and there is no homeschool community. The small pool of local resources to support our kids' educational, spiritual, and social needs was starting to become an emotional burden for me, because I feel responsible for providing the resources to help meet these needs.

The kids haven't expressed "too much" frustration with the situation, yet. We just finished a six month hike, we travel lots, we're willing to drive long distances to support their interests, we make an effort to do fun and challenging stuff together, and we have tapped into whatever is available locally to support them. But we can see that we're maxing out our options here and our kids will probably feel constrained by this shortly.

For better or for worse, as a family, our happiness and satisfaction in life is all tied up in each other and the ability to provide for each other's needs. 

My happiness as a homeschooler of young adults, the satisfaction I get from doing a good job, is directly connected to feeling I can provide opportunities and resources for my kids. And my husband's happiness is directly connected to feeling that he can provide security for his wife. 

We moved to the Gaspe for very specific reasons, most notably, its beauty, outdoor opportunities, and relative-remoteness supported our family goals at the time. But our goals have shifted, and our needs are different now.

At this stage of the game, our family doesn't need more nature, we need more city.

Moving to Montreal

Full-time technology work (Damien is still self-employed, working at home) has increased our income and this means we can afford Montreal housing costs, which are actually lower than most other major North American cities.

Living in Montreal, we'll still be a day's drive from my parents, we'll be closer to my brother in Ontario, and we'll live in a city with an international airport. The Laurentians will be less than two hours to the north, and just to the southeast lies the Appalachian mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We won't live in the mountains but we'll be close enough to them.

We won't be skiing out our door, or going for walks on the beach but we'll have a homeschool support group and access to all the city things our kids are interested in and want to explore - art, technology, media, fashion, design, and theatre to name a few.

Our kids are artsy, creative teenagers. They want to attend comic conventions and regularly visit art supply stores. They want to go to movies and progressive rock concerts (so does Damien). They want to try theatre (in English) and participate in gaming or larping communities.

In a few short years they may want to attend design school, or university.

And then there's our faith.

Something I don't talk about much on the blog is that our family are evangelical Christians. As much we eschew religious labels, this one is the easiest to slap on in a pinch to explain how we interpret the Bible and understand and live out our faith.

Quebec is the most secular society in North America (churches send missionaries here) and the number of evangelical Christians in rural Quebec is extremely small. And in our experience, the number of anglophone, evangelical Christian, homeschooled teens, outside our family, is exactly zero.

We had hoped when moving here that we could start a house church, as we had done in Maine. But the population of believers is so small where we live that local churches are essentially house churches in terms of their numbers, but very hierarchical and traditional in structure and practice.

Congregations of evangelical Christians on the peninsula are few and far between. And the ways of "doing church" and the styles of worship here remind me of what church was like when I was five years old.

We want our kids to know that our faith, and the Church, is dynamic and relevant to modern life, relevant to their lives.

Our own faith as parents is well rooted, it is the foundation of our marriage and our family life. Damien and I don't need to be in a community of "people like us" to carry on in the faith. (To be with people like us would be a bonus, it would be an answer to our heart's desires but it's not going to make or break us.)

The same is not necessarily true for our kids. They are at a crucial age in their faith journey, an age in which they will decide if this is the path they will continue to follow. And as they investigate the options, ask questions and seek answers, and look to hang out with "people like them", we want to live in a place where it will be easier for them to find their faith tribe.

We want to be in place where it's physically possible to find a community of believers whose structure and expressions of faith through worship and service are dynamic and current, and where the gatherings and church services engage our kids' hearts, minds, and spirits.

Moving to Montreal is very much about parenting the teen years with as many resources as possible - community resources, educational resources, and spiritual resources.

This move is about about helping our children transition to their early adult years and helping them meet their goals for the future, while still providing Damien and I access to the resources and relationships we need to live according to our values and interests.

And incredibly, in this move we will start to prepare for the life we'll live together without the responsibility of raising our children. Incroyable!

Looking Ahead

I am hoping Montreal will be home for our family till we’ve finished actively raising our kids. No more of this moving every six months business.

Damien intends to grow his business and pursue interesting technology projects that can adequately pay the bills of raising teenagers and fund an adventurous lifestyle. Increasing our income is one of Damien's primary objectives. Graduating our kids with the resources, experiences and credentials they need for the next stage of their lives is my primary objective.

In the next couple years we hope to start saving for our post-child-raising-years dream home, all 500 sq. feet of it, or some other small-house square footage.

Even with this forward thinking, our hopes and dreams, it has been hard for me to think about leaving the peninsula. I love living by the ocean and near the mountains. What a privilege it's been to ski out my door and walk to the beach, to watch the sun set over the bay, and to fall asleep under the twinkling stars of the un-obscured night sky.

But this is not all there is to life.

I am looking forward to shopping at the Jean-Talon market in our Rosemont neighborhood, and joining another choir.

I can't wait to get back on a bike to cycle around the city. I am looking forward to decorating and furnishing our apartment. I am already investigating free lectures at McGill, art exhibits, and knitting groups. And I know I will enjoy regularly hanging out with other homeschool moms.

On our recent trip to Montreal we spent a day at the Communidee. Within minutes Brienne was welcomed into the preteen girl group (she was so delighted and felt right at home with this homeschool gang) and I sat down with the multi-racial, mixed-citizenship moms.

Our conversation wove through home birth, extended nursing, interest-led learning, mothering challenges, whole food recipes, gardening, knitting, lifelong education, learning to speech French and understanding Quebec culture, "finding ourselves", and more; and I thought, "these are my people".

I am looking forward to feeling settled for a season, having access to the resources I need to support my learners and reclaiming my creative, mental and physical energies to invest in my online work and interests.

Damien's looking forward to living in one Canada's prime technology, innovation, and media hubs while still being close to the mountains. And we will all appreciate easier access to flight travel, and travel in general.

We're not buying a house in Montreal. We want to live on the island of Montreal in one of the "distinctly" Montreal neighborhoods near the city's core. We still own our house in Maine and once we sell that we want the next home we buy to be small and/or portable, and to have a very low mortgage that can be paid within five years or less. That ain't happening in Montreal, not yet.

We found a sweet apartment. A completely renovated main floor of a fourplex in a great neighborhood. It has everything we hoped for and more - a private yard with southern exposure garden space, (and a pool!), a garage, storage, private parking space (nearly unheard of in Montreal), 1,100 sq. feet of living space with a bright spacious kitchen. I love it. I hope to be there for a few years.

It's definitely urban, but that's what we wanted. We're not moving to Montreal to live in the suburbs. We're moving to Montreal to live in Montreal.

It's another adventure, but it's an adventure where security is as important as freedom. It's an adventure with the purpose of supporting each member of the Tougas tribe, enabling all of us to grow and develop in this next stage of family life.

My parents came for Easter weekend. It was so nice to have them. During our eleven year sojourn in the north eastern United States we didn't spend many of the minor holidays, Canadian Thanksgiving and Easter, with family.

Since my parents moved to Nova Scotia, and especially with our return to Canada and our move to the Gaspe Peninsula, a mere nine hour drive from their home in Lunenberg County, spending minor holidays together has become a common occurrence, for which I am so grateful.

Their visits to us are variations on a similar theme. Mom brings rubbermaid bins and reusable grocery bags loaded with food. My parents bring their computer questions for Damien, and my Dad brings a paperback or two.

My mom brings a bag of "goodies". Clothing she no longer wants or something she picked up, thinking of us, at Guy's Frenchys (Atlantic Canada's discount clothing store). Brienne, Celine, Mom and I are all around the same size now so clothes can be circled 'round.

Sometimes she brings jewelry and accessories from her stash that she thinks would suit one of the Tougas girls better. Reusable lotion and lip balm jars are returned empty, in exchange for refills. There is almost always books in the bag. Books to borrow and books to give.

There were a few small treasures in the Easter-trip goodie bag. Photographs that were set aside for me, remnants of my grandparent's earthly possessions.

Both of my maternal grandparents are dead and the bulk of their "estate" has been divvied up among their children but sometimes little pieces of our Alberta past will make their way out to me in Quebec, via my mom in Nova Scotia.

I am far from the land where I was born and raised; the Canadian prairies that was home to my grandparents since immigrating, as small children with their families, in the 1920's from WWI-ravaged Europe.

I don't live under the vast prairie sky anymore but my Canadian identity, my Forsberg/MacKay heritage, and my Christian faith; as remembered in these photos and celebrated in sharing Easter with my parents, roots me to my past.

There were more goodies in the bag, a handmade cable-knit wool sweater mom bought a few years ago at a vendor's market in Annapolis Royal. It hasn't proven to be her style so I am the lucky recipient, along with a headband I simply love. I'm not sure if she's giving me the headband because she doesn't need it anymore or because she knows I love it. That's my mom.

To receive a cable-knit wool sweater for Easter may not be the most traditional Easter outfit but for the long winter of the Gaspe Peninsula it's perfect.

April is a month of new beginnings and opportunities for our family; Celine's trip to Chicago for C2E2, a month-long building apprenticeship for Laurent in Nova Scotia, and an eleven day trip to Montreal to find a place to live for our move in July.

I feel a strong seasonal shift this month, in spite of the snow that still blankets the fields and mountains. And there's is an undeniable and inescapable (and sometimes painful) tug into the future.

Last weekend we turned the last page on a special chapter in our family story. It was the final weekend of operations for the winter 2015 season at Pin Rouge, our local ski hill. And with our impending move, it wasn't just the last ski day of the season for our family, it was a goodbye.

Growing up as a I did, on the prairies, I could never have imagined that skiing would become such an important part of our family story.

Damien had dreams and it was his initiative that made skiing into a reality for our family. Since we moved to the peninsula, four years ago, skiing has been a central feature to our winter. Considering how long winter is here, you could say skiing has been a central feature to our lives.

Our introduction to Pin Rouge was in January 2012, in the deep cold of winter. We rented one of the sweet cottages at the base of the hill for the weekend and paid for telemark lessons to get our family started.

We became friends with our telemark instructors and learned of their rental chalet at the ski hill, just down the road from the lodge and lift.

That summer, the chalet became our home in the country for eighteen months, and for two full winters we lived at a ski hill.

Our first winter living at a ski hill we bought a family season's pass and skiing was on the schedule.

We met the neighbors, two families who were building a ski chalet together. We eventually found out that one of those families was planning a round-the-world trip and they were looking for someone to take care of their house while they were gone.

Wouldn't you know it, we were looking for a place to live for the very same period of time. Which is how we ended up in our current housesitting arrangement.

Last year, winter 2014, our Appalachian Trail hike loomed on the horizon, and all available funds were funneled there. We didn't buy a ski pass but skinned up through the woods trail, skiing down the fresh powder on weekdays when the hill was closed. It was our private winter playground.

For nearly two years, the ski hill was our backyard. We hiked it the summer and skied it in winter.

When we came home from our hike last fall, completely broke, I was certain we couldn't swing a ski pass this winter.

Then we received an unexpected and timely gift from my parents. A gift that allowed us to make an important investment in our future, buying a season's pass at the hill.

Damien and I sometimes disagree on how to spend money. I like it the bank. He wants experiences. And the truth is, we need both and this is a constant tension (not necessarily bad but sometimes hard to navigate) in our marriage.

Over the years I've come to see that spending money on shared life experiences - skiing every weekend as a family, hiking the Appalachian Trail together - is a type of investment.

We haven't grown a financial portfolio but we've grown a family culture and a shared history, making daily, weekly and monthly deposits into our relationship with our children. Relationships, that we trust will stand the test of time and prove to be more be more secure than financial investments.

I cried when we got home from our Saturday morning ski. Our winters of living near a ski hill is a chapter that is closing with our move to Montreal. We still plan to ski, but it will look different.

Many doors are opening in this move, which is the reason we're going. And I will relish exploring those open doors when the time comes, but first there is mourning the loss of what we had here. There is the hollow feeling in your chest knowing you will never again have this experience as a family.

We are in the last stage of active child raising years. It's not the end but it is the beginning of the end. And we're moving to Montreal because we want to finish strong, supporting our teenager and young adult children's needs as best we can.

The foundation of our family life and culture has been laid. The core of who my children are, and how that will affect who they will become, has been established. I try not to overthink it, because I am prone that way, but I hope and trust that our best has been, and will be, enough.

Our first time skiing at Pin Rouge, January 2012

My oldest is a month away from sixteen. My fourteen year old son is currently doing his first "working-world" apprenticeship. I can't believe we're this far in the game, and yet we are.

It was an emotional Easter weekend. The memories of our years here and our winters of skiing flooded my heart all day Saturday. And in spite of being filled with memories, my chest felt like a hollow ache.

It's strange that I can be surrounded by the people I love and still feel an ache at the memories I have of being with these people through the years. They are in my present but I am remembering the past. Saturday was my day for that.

And then came Easter Sunday. After the blustery snows of Saturday, we welcomed the day's bright blue sky and piercing sun.

Easter is a story of new life. It is a new book beginning when the everyone thought the book was closed. Not just closed, but nailed shut.

Sometimes, I can feel like the book is closing, especially when an era or season of family life is, in fact, ending. And I have a tendency to overanalyze my children's growing up (especially as we near the end) and think "it's all over now". Hogwash!

Things do end. But new things begin.

Our family leaves the Gaspe. And starts a new chapter in Montreal.

Jesus died. But he rose from the grave.

Immigrants leave the old country. And become citizens in a new one.

Children grow up. And a new generation of family life begins.

This is the Easter story. When your heart aches with the loss of what has ended, Easter is the hope of not just a new chapter, but a brand new book.

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