This is a page about what you can expect reading and exploring the archives (16 years worth!) of this blog. This blog is not my "job", even though at one time I hoped it would be (you'll read about that down below). But it has been an enduring and vocation-building hobby and passion, and provided the foundational skills and experience for current (and past) paid employment. So, Yay!
This is a spiritually aware, intellectually curious, and wholehearted memoirist lifestyle blog. I know, it's a mouthful.
Or somewhat easier, it's a personal blog about my life.
Renee Tougas, the person and by extension the blog, is about family life, which for me has been raising and homeschooling our three children who are now teens and young adults. It's about the ongoing journey of being a partner and friend to my husband of 24 years, becoming a writer, making a home and making things, traveling and having outdoor adventures. And through it all, probably because of it all, growing, developing, and evolving as a person - spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, cognitively, relationally etc. (all the ly's)
Personal growth and evolution is my muse, and what I write about most consistently.
I write at the edge of my growth curve, at that line where things are evolving or have recently shifted. The details change according to calendar and life season, but in a nutshell my blog is a memoir of personal growth, through the lens and experiences of: mothering & homemaking; homeschooling & education; spirituality & Christian faith; adventures & travel; nature & city life.
Consistently, I seek truth and beauty, in the experiences and the telling of the story, while carrying a healthy dose of skepticism for easy answers.
I grow. I change. My blog grows with me, like a tortoise shell, always accommodating the expansion.
Perhaps it's not surprising then, that in the early iterations of this blog some eleven years ago, I had named it "Growing". I was growing, the kids were growing, the garden was growing, even the laundry was growing. Shortly after that, I settled on FIMBY, for Fun in My Back Yard. In recent years I re-named my blog by my own name.
Since that renaming I mostly write about:
I explore ideas as deep as I can take them, with as much intellectual rigor as I can muster, while being committed to living what I write and honestly writing what I live.
I welcome you to follow along in the expansion and the discovery process.
I also have a Patreon community with varying levels of support and benefits. For 2 years I produced a monthly podcast - interviews with extraordinary ordinary people, exploring the Big Ideas in their lives, stories of personal growth and transformation at the edge of their own life experience - which is available for supporters on that platform.
This is the longer story of how this blog came to be, what it is, and maybe where it's going.
Many of my blog readers, the few I have, have been hanging around for a long time. They've watched my kids grow up, we've hiked many mountains together, they've tracked with me through moves from Maine to rural Quebec to Montreal. They've adjusted to my name change, when I switched the blog from FIMBY to Renee Tougas. We've shared gardening, soapmaking, homeschool discussions, and book recommendations. They've walked with me through a mid-life crisis and faith deconstruction. They are cheering me on in the homestretch of raising kids.
I've been here for a while and I intend to stay, this is my online home and I've lived here longer than any physical home in my entire life.
Readers, friends, and family (but their opinion is suspect) say my writing helps them articulate their thoughts and feelings. That my words accompany them at the edge of their own experiences.
This confirms one of my core convictions about humanity; the intimate is the universal. What I share here is my story but in some ways it's also your story.
Writing helps me remember, reflect, know myself, and organize my thoughts. But the most rewarding part of writing both how I live and how I think is helping people find the courage to live their own convictions and values.
That's the sweet spot for me, right there. When my writing makes a difference in someone's life, besides my own.
A lot has happened in this space over the last fifteen years. Here's the overall story-line (which you can read for yourself in the archives):
We live in Maine and all our family lives in Alberta, so I write family updates online to keep everyone in the loop of our lives. The kids are 5, 3 & 1. These updates to a private site eventually become a blog.
I write about what the kids are up to, start sharing our unschooling approach to education, talk about our hikes and stuff we're doing outdoors. I love living in Maine and sharing this beautiful place over the internet with our family.
We buy a house, we do some renovations (that never end). I start to blog about crafting and making things.
I turn 30. In addition to my "the way life should be" updates from Maine, I occasionally write introspective posts about mothering, faith, and marriage. There are a few more people reading, blogging is a thing.
Gardening, being involved in our small urban community, traveling to visit family, picking blueberries, swimming in Maine's lakes, more renos (I told you, they don't end) - I write about our life. When the baby, we call her Dolly, is three, we start hiking every week as a family.
We're starting to get really "green". I'm reading books about simple living, writing short book reviews, monitoring our trash (yes on the blog). We don't own a dryer, we hang all our laundry. There's a phrase for the kind of work I do, it's called radical homemaking.
I'm trying to create an urban homestead while the kids spend their days crafting, playing with lego, and jumping on the trampoline. We call this homeschool.
I start making soap. I teach local friends how to make soap. I make my own lip balm and lotion. People find my blog when they search how to make soap. I'm gaining more readers. In my online world I notice stay-at-home moms are starting to earn money from blogging, a seed is planted. I write about all manner of things related to homemaking.
We're house vegans, we have been for a while but I start to write about this aspect of our lives. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I write about vegan cooking, share some recipes. I'm connecting with readers around shared interests and beliefs. I start friendships that will be going strong a decade from now.
I've been photographing our life for years but like so many others, I get my first DSLR camera and my creativity explodes in this area. The combination of writing, photography, connection with other likeminded mothers and homeschoolers; and the possibility of earning money from this hobby makes blogging a passionate hobby of mine.
I actually do "homeschool" the kids but we're super relaxed about it. Reading together, a smattering of lessons here and there, lots of outdoor play and crafting, visiting the farm, helping me around the house - our days are directed by our own interests. The kids are super crafty and I share their work on the blog. I'm invited to write for a homeschool website.
After living in the US for 11 years, 2 in NJ and 9 in Maine, we decide to move back to Canada. We've been trying to immigrate for years and 9/11 complicated the process for sure. We have dreams that we can't pursue without permanent residency. Our kids are growing older, if we're going to take the plunge, now's the time. It's Life 3.0
We move to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, but first we live with my parents in Nova Scotia for 6 months. It's an exciting and scary time. We are experimenting with our life - Damien is now self-employed, we're location independent with work, we live in a beautiful place, we've downsized in our move. We are living our dream.
We decide to fulfill another dream and hike the Appalachian Trail. We prepare for two years. Moments during this life season are so sublime, the beauty where we live deeply moves me. So much to photograph! We start skiing which will transform my relationship with winter.
I write e-books on creativity, vegan eating, and community building. I blog about homeschooling, I teach and coach other homeschoolers, I go to a blogging conference. Blog readership has grown significantly. I want to be a professional blogger. I decide to partner with my husband in his online projects and vision, which includes a successful kickstarter campaign to document our hike with a video series.
We hike, we backpack, we ski, we travel. We live in the mountains, we're doing the things we dreamt of doing, but I feel emotionally isolated and the financial stress and uncertainty is difficult for me. We move a lot in a short period of time. There is a growing latent insecurity that is expressed in increased anxiety. I don't know it yet, but I'm starting to fall down a well that will lead to a mid-life crisis.
We give our everything to hike the Appalachian Trail. It is an amazing experience. We meet people who have read my writing for years. I find it impossible to keep blogging while we're hiking. The trail wears me raw and I finally break, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
When we return to the Peninsula I am recovering from the stress fracture that terminated my hike. We start to lay all the cards on the table in our marriage and decision making. It is the hardest time. I start my long road to mental and emotional wellness with Project Home & Healing.
We move to Montreal for more opportunities for our now teenaged children. Yep, we're still homeschooling. We find community here, I make home in our apartment, I return to gardening. I stop being mostly vegan and seriously reduce the amount of time I spend cooking with kid labor and more processed foods. I draw and write my way through the anxiety and sense of loss, failure, and shame I feel. I tell stories of city life and beauty around me.
We take long summer roadtrips out west, I struggle with more anxiety. Our oldest graduates homeschool. After years of being called FIMBY, for Fun in My Back Yard, I rename my blog by my name. I sometimes write about herbs, crafts, homemade soap and other things I'm making, like I used to, but increasingly my writing is about the inner life.
What started on the Appalachian Trail as a deconstruction of my marriage becomes a full-scale deconstruction of my faith, this makes space for the re-imagining and rebuilding of a new partnership with my husband and for the deeply contemplative faith that is growing in me. Raising teens, homeschooling kids through high school, and building community for that purpose occupies the rest of my mental and emotional energy.
I'm in my forties now. I'm healing. I write a lot of series on the blog because I can't write short posts, I do that on Instagram instead. I return to hiking with Damien. The kids are doing their own things but sometimes they join us. In the winters, which are long and snowy in Quebec, I live to ski.
I start working part-time. I'm trying to figure out the path for my post-homeschooling career. I start a Patreon community and produce a podcast there. I teach an online course on homeschooling. Statistically, my blog readership is the lowest it's been in 10 years, where 1K+ people per day once visited my blog (I know, hard for me to believe also), I'm lucky now if 150 souls land here in a day. So much for professional blogging!
My babies, now 20, 18 & 16 are finishing high school and going to post-secondary studies (in arts, no surprise). These are the most intense years of homeschooling, nothing like the relaxed experience of the early years. But I love sharing these years and such close relationship. My people, my heart. I get out of the city - to ski & snowshoe in winter, and hike and backpack in the summer - as much as possible.
My days are full with income-earning writing and communications work squeezed between managing our home and parenting teens, homeschooling and homeschool community building. Damien and I are figuring out what comes next. My city-bound life and my desire to be surrounded by nature is a constant tension.
Globally, 2020 is defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. But a lot is happening in family life also. I get a new part-time job (location independent, working from home) and we spend the first 6 weeks of lockdown in Nova Scotia with my parents. But the really big news is that we finish homeschooling through high school! Celine finishes her first year of university and both Laurent and Brienne start their post-secondary education. Not wanting to be left behind (actually, it’s part of the career plans I’ve been working on for the past couple years) I apply to and am accepted into grad school. It is a very big year for our family in many ways.
Personal growth, dreams, homemaking, homeschooling, loss, pain, joy, trying new ideas, becoming a writer/communicator/teacher (if not a professional blogger), failed ideas, growing my babies into adults, what we're eating, what we're not eating, lifelong learning, moving, building community, growing plants, hiking, skiing, backpacking, making soap and making home, moving and migrations, an evolving faith, an evolving woman... I've been publishing the story of my life, at least those major parts of it, since 2004.
Why? Because I'm compelled to write. Because in all the change and transitions of life, writing this blog has remained consistent and constant for me. Because writing helps me makes sense of my life, it literally helps me build the story. Because life is beautiful and I feel compelled to share it. Because life is difficult I feel compelled to share it. Because I have the need, like so many others, to say I was here. I did stuff. I loved people. I thought things.
I write as one witness to one human heart; a pilgrim and seeker on the journey of life, my life.
Cheryl Strayed says:
When you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice.
Here's another way to explain it:
anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life. ~ Henri Nouwen
Here's how I summarize it:
The intimate is the universal. ~ Renee Tougas
This blog is a chronicle of the journey of being me.
I write through joys and sorrow, happiness and struggle. It's intimate.
I write through the growth, change, and evolution of being human. It's universal.
In my life and in my writing I dig for beauty, order, and truth; I choose freedom, courage, and compassion with each tentative step into the unknown.