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Moving

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.

Two posts in as many days, I know, crazy. I post to the blog as often as I have something ready to publish. And it just so happens that this weekend I have two posts ready back to back.

We are almost done our move, which we staged in a few parts.

First, we packed up and moved all our belongings to our apartment in Montreal. (Actually, the real first part of the move was our trip in April when we found our apartment.)

This transfer of our belongings happened last weekend in a whirlwind three day trip. Two full days of driving (it's about nine hours to Montreal, without food breaks) with a day sandwiched in-between for unloading, setting up what furniture we have (not much), and picking up what appliances we could. Apartments in Montreal generally do not come with appliances, unless you buy from the previous tenant, which we couldn't since the apartment had been completely renovated and there was no previous tenant.

My brother took the bus from Guelph, Ontario to help us unload and do anything else we needed doing. My brother Brad is rock-star. Being closer to his family is just one of the perks of moving to Montreal.

All of that unloading, putting the kids' beds together, a trip to IKEA to buy us a bed, building that bed, unpacking and organizing the kitchen, picking up a used washer and dryer found via Craigslist (which including moving said appliances down three flights of stairs, without a dolly), and installing the washer/dryer happened on Sunday. We crammed as much work as we possibly could into that day.

We are still without a fridge, stove, couch, comfy sitting chairs, dining room table, window coverings, and other household sundries. All in due time.

In Montreal, most leases run from July 1st to June 30th. This means July 1st is Moving Day in the city. I am hoping to score a lot of what we need in this annual moving melee.

Before moving all our stuff to Montreal I had to pack it. Some of it was still in boxes from our last move, when we left the chalet and stored our stuff in the basement of Tony and Julie's house during our hike. Most of our belongings though were unpacked while living here - clothing, craft supplies, homeschool stuff and books.

During the course of the last nine months, and especially the last couple months as we prepared to move again, I have once again gone through all our belongings.

Sorting, organizing, cleaning, and purging, yet again, the extraneous stuff from our lives. Most of those extras we got rid of here but I had to move some of them with us to Montreal since I'm at a loss for where to hand-down English homeschooling resources and books where we live. There is no community of people here to use and appreciate those resources, which is a big reason for our move.

Our belongings are now as downsized as they are going to get while still raising children. When we left Maine in the Big Move four years ago, we got rid of a lot of stuff. In the past four years we've lived pretty much in furnished places so a lot of furniture went. And now that our kids have grown out of childhood a lot of the toys, etc. have left the house.

There are no groaning garage shelves. No basement with boxes of junk. No basement.

All this moving has been hard on me. But one of the gifts that has come out of it is this: everything that's left has a place and purpose in our life. And I'm excited to start our life in Montreal with this clean slate.

The only "things" I am still trying to figure out how to deal with are photo albums from the first thirteen years or so of married life. I quit making these albums six years ago and I'd like to digitize them but that seems like a monumental task, so we keep putting it off. These albums have a purpose in our life. They are a visual and written record of our family history, from the years before I did a lot of blogging. But they don't have a "place".

We're not a "sit down and look through photo albums" family and so they have sat, for years, on bookshelves and more recently in boxes. There is no bookshelf for them in Montreal, nor do I plan to get one. They are the loose end in our downsizing process.

I have touched our belongings so many times over the past five years. Sorted, purged, and packed. And done it again six or nine months later. I am tired of this process now. And I am done with it. Our belongings are pretty spare, unloading a moving truck with two adult men, and three teenagers took about one hour.

I'm beyond ready to settle now with what we have, buy the furniture we need (IKEA, Craigslist, and the yard sales that abound with the July 1st Moving Day) and live in a clean and creative space.

The kids will all be getting their own desk space with this house. Damien's raising the girls' beds, the ones he built three years ago, and building them desks below. He's working on that while we he has access to a well-equipped workshop.

I am really pleased about each person in our family having their own workspace.

Well, that took quite the turn. I started this narrative by telling you about the stages of this move. Back to the present. After we unloaded and worked our butts off for one day in Montreal to get as much installed and set up as possible, we came back to the peninsula to finish our work here.

Every place we've lived I've left cleaner than it was when I found it. I don't spring clean I just move a lot.

This house was pretty clean when we arrived, so I don't know that I got it clean-er but I sure tried. And there are the large yard, flower beds, pool, etc. all of which I wanted ready for the home-owners return. Or as ready as we could possibly make it.

That's been life this past week.

I am so thankful for three very able-bodied young adults in the house. These kids can work and with gaming/TV time as the reward everyone's desires are met in the arrangement.

Julie and Tony and their boys arrived on Friday afternoon. It's been a great weekend with them. I was a bit nervous about the transition period of giving them back their space. I struggle with people-pleasing tendencies and I didn't want to disappoint them in how we took care of their home, which we loved and lived in as it were our own.

This house was a gift to us and we felt immeasurably blessed by Tony and Julie's generosity to us. We had some good times in this house, it has become a part of our family story. However, I've gone through a very difficult personal period while living here (which had nothing to do with the house). This home was a safe refuge for me. Like I said, a gift.

With the return of our friends and the end of my work in preparing the house for their arrival it's time to shift into another gear. It's time to shift into summer.

We'll be moving permanently to Montreal later this wek.

We're living in the guesthouse right now and I am enjoying the "vacation-like" feel of this space. I have paperwork stuff to do before we leave but I also want to relax and play tourist a wee bit.

I've said most of my goodbyes here but there are a few more I need to make.

And then it's time to go, time for the next chapter.

A time of making home, somewhat permanently. A time for finding a church community that we connect with. A time for enjoying the relatively clean slate of a new living space, our belongings pared down to those things which have a place and purpose in our lives. A time for making new friends, which I love to do. A time for discovering a beautiful city. A time for connecting our kids with the resources and community they need. A time for Damien and I to find new interests and loves together while carrying over those from our past that still fit.

Time for a new season of life.

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.

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