Renee Tougas, of the blog FIMBY, is a woman whose life seems as authentic as they come. As a homeschooler, passionate plant based cook, and avid lover of the outdoors, Renee has cultivated a unique life path that brings and her family fulfillment, and is truly all her own. She joins us here to talk about her passions, her work and her family. We hope that you enjoy getting to know a little bit more about Renee.
Your blog, FIMBY ( Fun In My Back Yard), reads like a book itself. You share your joys of homeschooling, vegan cooking, and life lived so fully in the outdoors. Share for us how your blogging journey began, and how it has evolved over the years?
I started blogging in September 2004. It was my husband’s ideas (I blame him for this crazy ride!) He suggested I start blogging and I thought, “why would I ever do that?” But he convinced me it might be fun to keep an online family journal for our extended families to read. We lived in Maine and all our family lived in western Canada at the time. Instead of writing e-mails to a group of recipients, blogging seemed more efficient.
I have always been our family chronicler. The one who records and keeps our stories – through scrapbooking, baby books, photo albums, memory binders and now blogging (I don’t do those others anymore, just blogging).
Just as in the beginning, I still write to tell our family story – only now for a much broader audience. But I also write for me. I am a writer and this is a way for me to publish my thoughts. I didn’t always recognize myself as a writer (writers publish books, don’t they?) but I’ve always been writing – journals, our story, letters to family, etc. Blogging is a fabulous way publish my thoughts. And meet people!
As blogging became more popular and more mothers started blogging, blogging also met another need for me – meeting like minded people. I love meeting people. My husband also blogs and together we’ve met very interesting people through blogging. Some of these people have become close family and personal friends.
As I met people online and as readers, other than my family, were actually reading FIMBY, another reason for writing started to emerge – to encourage and inspire people. At first, I thought it was a bit boastful to say that I could be an inspiration and encouragement to people; but other writers had always inspired and encouraged me, and I had no problems recognizing that. I started to slowly appreciate that I also had that ability to encourage, inform, challenge, inspire. This evolved as one of my reasons for blogging.
Blogging has also opened the door to freelance writing projects, publishing e-books, and offering coaching. All of which are income earning. Which is now another reason for blogging – to build an audience for our products and services and to contribute financially to our family – both through our own products and services and blog advertising and affiliates.
Long story short – the core reason I write our blog still remains to tell our family story. But the vision for FIMBY and the reason I write my blog has grown to include having an avenue to publish my writing, growing creatively (as a photographer and writer), meeting people, building community, inspiring readers, and earning money.
One of the things that resonates so strongly with us is your ability to truly live an authentic life. You do not just talk the talk, you really walk the walk. Your family values, the strong connection that you have to everything that you do, and your hope for your children to grow up fully fulfilled in life is beautiful. What guides you to make the decisions that you do for your children, their education, and the life that you all lead together?
I would say our core values guide our decision making in all these areas. Some families have mission statements, we’ve never been able to nail ours down – try as we might (and trust me, I’ve tried!). But we’re very clear about our core values and those have been guiding us for years.
I hope that what you read on FIMBY is authentic because it comes straight from these core values. I only write about the things that really matter to me. I’m not a technical writer. I’m not a review writer. I’m not writing to make money (though I’ve started to do that also). I’m writing to tell a story. Our story. And that story is guided by our values.
We value growing in our faith, being together, experiencing nature and adventure, healthy living, and freedom in education and livelihood. We appreciate beauty and creativity, building relationships and community, and living simply. And that’s what I write about.
Your family has a strong connection to plant based eating and nutrition. You have recently written an ebook titled Eat This: Meal Salads and Whole Food Dressings. Tell us about the book, and why you felt compelled to write on this subject.
I got the idea for Eat This last summer actually and my original idea was just to share a few dressing recipes. I didn’t think it would be an ebook but simply a recipe tutorial or something else small.
The idea grew from there to write a short ebook about eating salads as a meal, including the dressing recipes we liked the most.
What I really wanted to do was share whole fat dressing recipes, which are not very common. By whole fat I mean dressings made without refined oils and fats – which we try to really limit in our diet.
Nutrition is becoming a very hot topic, especially on the internet. We all hear a lot of claims that one way of eating is better than another. What do you believe is important when making a decision about how best to feed yourself and your family?
I think the most important things are to listen to your body (we changed our diet due to health issues), look to societies and people groups with longevity and good health and learn from them, and look critically at the science and research. All of which are easier said than done.
I think people approach nutrition decisions from such diverse personal backgrounds. This includes societal and family culture, how your body responds uniquely to food and even your personality. Some people, my husband included, are wired for research. It was my husband’s health challenges as young man along with his bent towards research and his esteem for science that took us on our health journey towards plant based eating.
My husband and I are on the extreme end of the diet spectrum. We have fairly radical beliefs about food. We don’t believe all foods are fine in moderation. We actually believe that science and experience shows this. We believe some foods are harmful to our bodies and others are very beneficial. Our aim to maximize the beneficial and that’s our bent. It’s an ongoing journey and we re-adjust our course every few years (it seems) as we learn more.
Plant based eating can be a challenge for some, what advice would you give to those that are interested in exploring this way of eating?
Firstly, accept that it’s going to be challenging. Every worth while endeavor is challenging. Our society is not structured to support this kind of diet. So it’s good to find support. Join one of Heather Bruggeman’s 30 Day vegan courses. She offers them every so often. I’m a contributor to those courses and she covers all the basics of plant-based eating, in a supportive community.
I have an Amazon bookstore with a list of books I recommend also.
Your first e-book, Nurturing Creativity: A guide for busy moms was so warmly received. Tell us a bit about the book itself, and why this subject was important to you.
Nurturing Creativity started as a blog post, written as a follow up to another post where I talked about making time for writing. As I started to write down my thoughts I realized I had way more to say on the topic than could be fit into one or even two long blog posts. I decided to publish those thoughts as a small ebook.
This subject is dearly important to me because of my own creative journey. Like I share in the book I never used to think of myself as creative – that was for bonafide artists (people who earned money selling art).
My children changed all that. As I watched them create, as very young children, I realized I wanted that same freedom in my own life. They had no creative inhibitions and I supported and valued everything they did. Their art was messy, imperfect (they were preschoolers after all), and beautiful. It wasn’t like a light bulb moment, more of a slow illumination, that I could give my own creativity the same love and acceptance as I gave to my children’s creativity. This translated to making time for creativity, accepting myself more, and realizing so much of what I did each day as a mom was creative. I didn’t have to be a bonafide artists to call myself creative.
What do you believe are some of the biggest stumbling blocks in nurturing both our own creativity, and that of our children can be?
Personally? Perfection, mess, and fear.
I am a recovering perfectionist. It’s in my genes, part of our culture, and also strongly part of my personality to “get it right”. I have to fight hard to let go of this. My children helped me a lot in this regard. I didn’t expect their creative pursuits to be perfect. They create for fun, for the pure joy of making something, for the pleasure of mucking about (in clay, in glue, in glitter). Watching them, I realized I could have that too, if I just loosened my grip on “perfect”.
Creativity is messy. It messes up your life. Your kitchen table, your living floor. It may even mess up your future plans. Because once you start creating you want to do more and you may realize the path you were on to financial stability and steady employment (just two examples) is not the path you want to walk anymore. I speak from experience. Creativity is addictive that way.
We are so afraid to fail. We think if we open ourselves up to creativity we’ll make a mistake. And then the whole world will look at us and laugh. Laugh at our poorly constructed sentences, our over-exposed photo, our wobbly stitches, our clunky pottery. But the truth is we don’t fail when we create. We might make mistakes but this is how we learn, we grow. We don’t need to fear this natural process.
I also think too much stuff and a focus on consumerism is huge stumbling block to creativity. Creativity is often born out of necessity – the need to make something to solve a problem. The need to make something instead of being bored. When we constantly amuse and entertain ourselves and our children we numb our creative potential.
I think most children don’t have stumbling blocks to creativity, unless the adults in their life put them there. And I think they are similar to what I said above. Perfection, mess and fear. Also, creativity takes time. Lots of time for daydreaming, exploring and actually “making stuff”. Adults need to make sure children have that time in their days. And we need to make time for that as adults also.
There is always a lot of discussion about the need for creativity in our lives, but not as much on the subject of why. What do you believe mothers gain, both as individuals and as parents, from fostering their own creative spirit.
Joy. When you tap into that creative activity (or activities) that both challenge you and help you express yourself you have access to a sweet spring of joy. Not all moments are joy of course (writing ebooks is NOT all joy). But the main reason I both nurture creativity and tune into the creativity in my days, e.g. arranging pottery just so on the table and taking a picture to share on my blog, is for the pure joy of it. The joy of beauty. The joy of being alive and having a gift to share.
My children also get immense pleasure from their creativity. The actual making of things brings them joy. Showing and giving their art to family and friends. Playing with their handmade toys. They do it because it brings them joy.
I believe we were created for joy and pleasure. For relationship and beauty. Nurturing creativity puts us back in touch with this.
You have a new website that you are heavily into developing called Outsideways. The site is dedicated to family adventures and outdoor living and learning. Let’ dive right in here and tell us what you hope to create with this site.
Well, part of what we hope to create is still secret. I had hoped we would be revealing our big project this summer but you know how these things go – they take time.
But mostly want we want to do at Outsideways is have a place to write about some of our core values and beliefs with regards to the outdoors, adventurous living and out of the box thinking.
Damien and I are idealists. We also happen to be in our late thirties, early forties – smack dab in the middle of raising a family. A lot of people lose their ideals and crazy notions by this point of life. Ours just get more intense!
Outsideways is the venue for us to talk about these things. To challenge the status quo (cliche as that is), to chronicle our life journey in this realm, and to talk about our outdoor adventures.
The outdoors seems to tie your family’s vision for life together. What do you find in the outdoors that you do not get anywhere else? How does it connect your family?
Where to begin. The outdoors offers us so much. It challenges us physically in meaningful ways. It’s not a treadmill or a gym work out. It’s exercise with a purpose – to reach the summit. The outdoors helps us disconnect from our computers. Damien is a computer programmer. We’re both writers. We both work and play on our computers, a lot. Yet, we need time away from that and getting outdoors, deep in the woods offers us that.
Uninterrupted time together. At home we are also distracted by something. There is always work to be done. On the trail there is just the task at hand – walking and thinking. Hiking really puts us in the moment and requires us to stay there.
Finally, you have lived so fully, and you are right in the thick of it. What do you hope for the future, as a family, and as a mother yourself?
We have huge hopes and dreams for the future. There are many places we want to travel and adventure. Damien and I are not rooted to a particular place like many people are, either because of employment or family, so we plan to travel extensively as our children grow and go where they go. One of our lifelong dreams has been to live in an intentional community. Maybe we’ll build that with our grown children and grandchildren?
As a mother, what I want most of all is to grow friendship with my children as they grow. I’ve laid the foundation already of parenthood – all those years with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I’ve worked hard and sacrificed to build what I share with my children now. I am having so much fun in these years as they grow into young adults. As my children grow and follow their own dreams, my goal is remain close as their mother and hopefully their friend. I feel I will always be a mom first. And every other life dream and purpose follows after that.
With an encouraging voice and beautiful photography Renee Tougas inspires mothers, homemakers and homeschoolers to live creative, healthy, and joyful lives. Fresh and honest, her blog is a story of intentional family living. You can find her books here
Partnering with her husband, Damien Tougas, Renee writes at their space where she encourages families to think outside the box and embrace adventurous living.