Summer - please don't be so busy

I had wanted to write so much more. It's always like this. I wonder if I'll go to my grave saying those same words.

The last two months have been busy, straight out busy. There are theories that North Americans carry busy like a badge of honor. I assure you that is not my intention.

I resist "busy" with every bone in my body. I usually carve out times of "do-nothing" in my schedule. This means I am not available because I am doing nothing time sensitive, nothing stressful, nothing with any strings attached. At this stage of my life these are largely solitary activities.

I have no problems taking an afternoon off to rest, read, have a hot bath, to simply check-out. I do not feel the need to always be productive. I don't need to always be moving or going. I do not find my worth or value in being busy.

But sometimes I am this busy, almost constantly in a state of motion, no time to regularly check-out for an afternoon or talk with a friend. I'm under deadlines, because those happen in life. I'm moving in multiple directions, multiple times a day. For weeks on end.

This is the kind of busy it's been.

Busy has meant that I have been waking up early in the morning weighed down with the day's to-do lists and other worries and anxieties - kids growing up, not enough money in the bank, can I count on this person to do this job? how will this all turn out?

I am not prepared to start my day at 4:00 or 5:00 so I will pray and do mind and breathing exercises to arrest the anxiety (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't). I desperately want to get back to sleep because once the day starts in earnest it won't stop.

Thankfully, I have felt fairly healthy during this time - physically, emotionally, and mentally. Like I'm drawing strength directly from the sun, nearing its zenith in the north. For all I know, I am. Who knows how energy works, really?

I could not keep up this pace in winter. And truthfully, I can't keep up this pace now either, but we're almost out the door, literally.


found this on my phone, how fitting for how I feel these days

I feel like a lot of my life is out of my control. And yet most of what I'm dealing with, all the to-do's, are the results of my own decisions, recent or in the past.

We made a decision years ago to homeschool through high school, to basically live on one income for most of our child-raising years. The repercussions of these two decisions alone are huge in our lives. We decided to be self-employed, to move to the city.

I take on responsibilities in my community and my relationships because I feel called to do them. I do not enter into commitments lightly because I feel a strong sense of responsibility in any commitment I make.

The reality of decisions in our lives is a lot of hard work. I've given up asking myself, "why is my life so busy right now?" It's because of the decisions we've made in the past, which we are living and seeing through.

I feel like I'm always stretching a bit past where I'm comfortable. This is growth. I hate this part of growth. I like gaining a stronger muscle, a healthier mind, increased skill, I just don't like the stretching.

Because I've experienced an extended season of stretching, followed by a burn out and break down I am cautious about over-extending. Boundaries are so important and so is giving within those boundaries, and the paradox, giving beyond those boundaries. I think that's called sacrifice. And it's part of being human.

For me, there is no tidy package of "how you navigate a busy life in 5 simple steps", or "how to simplify your life in 5 easy steps".

We have simplified, decluttered and made values-based decisions in our life in many ways and for many years, and all that seems to have done is made space for us to take on more projects and make decisions that add more complexity to our life. From where I stand right now, there hasn't been a net win in the complexity department.

Our trip this summer is a perfect example. Our life allows Damien to work anywhere (this was a goal of ours), and we love to go to beautiful places and explore (another goal of ours). So we're taking a trip. But this project brings a lot of complexity to our lives. Way more complexity than just staying in Montreal for the summer. But we don't want to stay here for the summer, we want to go.

And because we're not in our apartment this summer we're able to practice another one of our values - offering hospitality to travelers and strangers. Again, more complexity - scheduling and correspondence, etc.

This is just one thing in my life from the last couple months.

I was looking back through my journal to see where the crazy started, it's hard to pinpoint exactly, but since the beginning of May life has shifted into another gear. A gear I don't like driving in.

During May I worked on the Herbs & Essential Oils Super Bundle, I put a lot of hours into that. (I'm still not entirely sure my efforts were well spent, in terms of return on investment, but it was a learning experience.)

We finished our year at homeschool co-op and then our lives were consumed, and I mean consumed, for two weeks by our co-op drama production. The rehearsals, the commuting, the performances, the chaos of a production that was not well managed completely stretched me beyond my boundaries. I will not be giving to that extent in future years. But you live and learn, and generally survive.

Right in the midst of all of that Celine turned 18. And then she graduated. And then she started working full-time with Damien in computer programming and web development and design. And I still haven't caught up with all that.

I'm not finished her high school transcript as I had hoped to be, but she doesn't need it yet. She's already working in a good job (for her skill level and interest), with a lot of room, almost unlimited, for upward growth and opportunity. It's up to her what she chooses to do with that and how post-secondary education will or won't factor into her near future.


Celine working with her Dad and a client/friend

(I still haven't finished any of the kids year-end homeschool wrap up from the 2015-2016 school year. I am terrible at that part of homeschooling and mostly I just don't do it, because no one is checking in on us and requiring it. But I personally love closure and reflection and checking boxes and looking back but I just haven't been able to do that with any consistency since 2010. I'm serious, 2010.

But with kids in high school I feel I have to do this better, even if no one is checking in. I want to check in and put that reflective effort into building transcripts. But I suck at this. Really. It's a big thing hanging over my head as we homeschool through high school.)


Our family graduation photo

Celine is now an adult and she's graduated. And our lives have shifted noticeably with this transition. My role is different. And I've had no time to write about that. And there's been a lot going on in my mother's heart with that change.

My parents came to visit in all this. My dad drove from NS on his motorbike and stayed for a few days, and mom flew in for a longer visit. They came to see the play, to spend time with us, to celebrate Celine crossing this big threshold in her life. My mom came to just "be" with us in the busy and her presence was a balm and a blessing to me.

And then there was the homeschool conference and all the investment of hours I put into my presentation, never mind the actual presentation itself. (Which I will share here, but that too is just another thing for me to-do.)

That takes us into June and my current work of securing a new property manager for our house in Maine (and making big financial decisions in that process). And making the arrangements for both our home and basic itinerary plans for our nine week trip.

Somewhere in all this, with help from my mom, I planted a simple vegetable garden and built more perennial beds in the backyard. I did both on a teeny-tiny budget, which means nothing looks spectacular now, but in time as things grow, it will be beautiful.

Yes, we're gone all summer, but it's important to me to stake this claim and keep moving forward on creating an urban oasis in my backyard. Yes, most of these spaces will get overrun with weeds in our absence but the little perennials will get rooted in the soil and grow in the sun. And next year they will bloom. And the seed packets of bee-friendly mixed wildflowers I planted will yield self-seeding annuals and perennials. It just takes time.

The sunflowers in the vegetable garden self-seeded from last year and are already two feet tall. They will be beautiful when we come home from our trip. And the kale will survive the weeds, and maybe a few tomatoes will be on the vine. And our summer guests can pick basil, cilantro and dill to season the meals they prepare in our kitchen.


what it looks like to plant the garden:
kale and broccoli plants purchased at the grocery store

I haven't written about this on the blog yet, but I manage the greeter and welcome ministry at our church. I took on this volunteer position last October. Talk about a stretching and growing experience.

This was a commitment I made cautiously but felt it was the right thing to do, and God has totally moved me out of my comfort zone on this one, while providing everything I've needed to grow my leadership skills and serve the church (which is people) to the best of my abilities.

I've had a lot of work to do in passing the baton to a summer intern who is taking over my responsibilities in my absence.

And because I'm really interested in herbs and essential oils for health and wellbeing, I've been researching, purchasing ingredients and starting new batches of herbal remedies for muscle soreness, tissue repair, and topical pain relief. Some are ready for our trip, the others are infusing in dark, quiet places and will be ready to use upon our return.

And because I'm really interested seeing out my windows again, the kids (which means Laurent and Brienne) and I have been cleaning all the windows in our apartment. I also want to bless our summer apartment guests with clean windows. I don't feel burdened that I must or that I should, but it's just a heart's desire to give them clean windows. I love clean windows myself and some of our windows have never been cleaned in the two years we've lived here.

Like last year, I find that preparing the house for guests is a great time to declutter, organize and clean.

If you are friends and visit for supper we don't do anything special before you arrive. What you see is what you get. But if we're leaving and passing the house over to other people, especially at a seasonal juncture like this, it's a great opportunity for keeping on top of the clutter.

I really like this. I don't find this burdensome. This kind of management and maintenance is energizing for me, but the squeeze of everything else causes stress in a task I normally enjoy doing. I don't like that.

And behind-the-scenes of all of this I'm writing about and experiencing the deconstructing and rebuilding of faith (or rather, an expanding of faith). Because I don't have enough going on already. It's one of the reasons the blog has been so quiet. To write about that takes so much time.

It seems that the more intense my life gets, the more intense my life gets.

This level of intensity is not sustainable for me. But I don't have to sustain it, I just have to get out the door tomorrow morning and it will all change. I learned this from last year's adventure. All the work it took us to get out of the city was worth it.


Brienne and Laurent shooting video for Brother does my Makeup

I've been micro-blogging my life on Instagram, because the flow of words gets stoppered up by "all the big things" over here (creative constipation). And I recently wrote;

I'm always trying to shore up my security in various ways, in part because I do need that. And one way to shore up security is to "keep life simple". But that's proven to be a false premise for me. I've never been able to simplify my life out of all the things I struggle with, they follow me no matter how I live. And yet... I do need some measure of security and routine and steady home life to feel secure enough to want to venture out and about, travel and try new things. It's a balance for me. But the essential things I struggle with - uncertainty, deadlines, plain old hard work, and financial stress exist no matter what path I take (I've tried a few different ones so I have a bit of an idea). And so why not have a memorable experience while experiencing these realities. It's a life lesson I'm working through by living it.

I should add, it's a life lesson I'm working through by living it, again, again and again.

As a person who evaluates the present based on past experience I have degree of confidence that once we get out the door, things will shift. And so I'm able to work really hard knowing a rest, or at least a change, is coming.

Last week I started to catch glimpses of the awesome experiences we'll have, a blog reader sent me an email about all the things she recommends to do in The Bay area and I researched options for camping/hiking/backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas and spending time in Olympic National Forest in Washington state. And that's just some of what we'll do in this nine week trip.

But it's really hard work getting there. And I don't do well with the transitions and the anxiety that accompanies transitions. And sometimes I think maybe I just don't do well with hard work, like somehow I'm not cut out for "this", this being life.

Deadlines, uncertainty, hard work, not enough money in the bank, these realities of living seem to crash like waves around every big adventure we embark on. I should know the drill by now but it still catches me and causes anxiety.

Whenever we do something this intense something doesn't get managed well, or at least to my standards. Or something slips through the cracks.

That's what's nice about trying to keep life small, you think you can manage it well enough to control the outcomes. And this might work for some people but for many of us life pushes us beyond what can be managed well.

I tend to feel like a failure when things go wrong that could have been prevented if we only managed it better, made the better choice. And so I feel like a failure when I'm in times of high stress because I made a string of decisions, commitments, and choices that led me to this place. This is my thought process and it's not helpful but it's what I do and I suspect some of you do the same.

Talking about it helps. Having someone speak truth in my life and feeling love in their communication helps also.

There's a big awareness in our age about the detrimental effects of stress and so when I feel really stressed I feel bad that I'm feeling stressed. (And as a Christian you can feel extra bad, some Christians are good at that, because you can blame your stress on a lack of faith or trust. Honestly, sometimes the baggage that accompanies faith is ridiculous.) In stressful times if I can make changes I do so, but sometimes you can't, you just have to go through whatever it is and recalibrate on the other side.

But in order to get through to that other side I've got to love myself. Because beating myself up does not help. I've got to accept the love that lives in me, wanting to love me, wanting to minister to my craziness and my need.

This is what I believe self-love is. It's the Divine in self ministering to self.

I went to Wonder Woman this week with the girls. (Click that link for a preview of the continuing faith series.) It was a mother-daughter movie date with the gang from homeschool co-op and it was a chance for us to say goodbye to our friends before our departure.

I didn't want to go to the movie. I have no time. I hate it when my life feels like I have no time for rest, or fun. (I probably do have time and I know my constructs of time are so narrow, restrictive and two dimensional - which is not the reality of time - but still there is the "reality" of a proposed departure looming over my head.)

We went to the movie and it was a such a great story. I sat next to my friend and afterward I cried out my stress, and she was the one that reminded me to love myself. That it doesn't rest on me. I'm not called to be all things to all people. Or to be all things to my family. Or to manage things so well that nothing bad ever happens. We're all doing the best we can with what we've been given.


it appears my face is streaked with orange/brown matter
probably something to do with the tumeric cayenne arnica oil I was working with earlier in the day

There are no answers in that love for exactly how to do the work that needs to be done. But perhaps if I spend less energy stressed about the stress, I'll have more energy to do the work.

And like another friend reminded me, whatever doesn't get done, doesn't get done. Which, as a homeschooling mom, I am well familiar with. Trust me, a lot doesn't get done in the traditional sense of schooling in our homeschool, even through the scholar years.

All that hasn't been done is one of the thoughts that plague me in my moments of morning weakness. I just graduated a kid without a lot of the usual standards used in our society to exit the time of formative education. Is this really it? Are we really done? And the biggie, did I do enough?

So yes, it's been an intense two months.

If I'm going to actually publish this I'll end it here. No particular conclusion except, like I said to my friends as I was leaving the theater this week, "see you on the other side".

I'll be back here sometime in the coming weeks, hopefully sooner than later, posting from the western US. I'll be regularly sharing our adventures on Instagram and Outsideways.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.


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The one resource you need for cold and flu

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I created a systematized approach to treating cold and flu: the Herb & Essential Oil Cold and Flu Protocol. I'm sharing it with you, completely free (no sign-up required) so you too will be ready for cold and flu season.