March is my least favorite month and each year I have to be intentional about how I'm going to get through the end of the winter.

I get very antsy this time of year. Cabin fever I guess.

I definitely experience a transformation through the winter season. In January, right after the energy and resource expenditure of the holidays, all I want to do is retreat, rest and hibernate. I want to hunker down. So I make every effort to honor that desire.

But as the days slowly lengthen and winter's magic wanes (early winter is magical but the magic doesn't last forever) I am itching for a change.

By March I want to start making plans for the summer and I want to go places, right now. This seasonal shift in me has helped fuel our moves over the last few years. It wasn't the reason for our moves, they were necessary for other reasons - short-term rentals, hiking the AT, housing availability etc. But this natural change in "energy" helped us pull it off, for at least four of our last five moves (one move was in autumn).

This year no moving. Hallelujah!! So I can instead plan summer camping, backpacking/hiking, and roadtrip adventures. I am so relieved I want to start planning those again. After our hike I thought I lost my travel and adventure desires all together. All I wanted to do was to nest and make home. Thank goodness that was just part of my post-trail experience and recovery.

I'm ready to go places again, both in terms of the March "itch" and in the bigger picture of my life in which I am both a homebody and an adventurer.

That's the big story, the more immediate story is that back in January, anticipating my need in March to go somewhere I made a plan with my mom to meet up in March, roughly halfway between Nova Scotia and Montreal.

This weekend was that meet-up. We called it a retreat. We did this once before, six years ago when I still lived in Maine. We met in New Brunswick that time.

For this retreat my mom made a big effort in driving all the way to Riviere-du-Loup and I arrived by bus from Montreal. There are not a lot great places to meet, in March, in central New Brunswick, which is truly the halfway point between us. My mom graciously agreed to "go the distance" to meet me in Riviere-du-Loup, which offers more culture and outdoors opportunities than small-town New Brunswick.

I had such a wonderful time with my mom. We connect on many levels, and share multiple interests. And we respect and love the differences in each other. I feel safe with my mom, at ease.

Sometimes I get so caught up in our current friendship that I forget my whole history and being is dependent on her. There is no part of my life she does not know, she has not been witness to.

She knows me in one of the most intimate ways possible, more intimately than I can ever know her. My mom had a life before me, a childhood I wasn't a part of and an early adult life that I was largely oblivious to. As a child I didn't think of my mom as a person to know, she was just "my mom". It wasn't until my adulthood that I appreciated my mom as a person unique from me.

My mom does not offer unsolicited advice and she does not smother. She has always given me plenty of space to become independent, to be my own person, the daughter of Derryl and Karen Toews.

From the time I was little my mom has been the parent that I got along with most easily. It is my Dad, who shares many of my personality traits and ways of looking at the world, with whom the sparks flew in my teenaged years.

Now there are no sparks, except those that ignite the love in my heart for these two people in the world who know me so well and have loved me unconditionally all my life.

Most of the time my mom and I are together we are with other family - husbands/fathers, kids/grandkids. Our attentions are divided, conversations shortened by things we must do. But this weekend was one long, uninterrupted, conversation and connect time.

It was winter in Riviere-du-Loup but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm to get outdoors and walk, something we both love to do. We even dress the same for the outdoors. That's years of Damien's influence, helping equip our family and my parents to be comfortably active outdoors year round.

We drank red wine at the end of the day and ate our meals out. Nothing as tasty as my mom's cooking, but I sure enjoyed the break from the kitchen.

We talked a lot but we enjoyed companionable silences and personal time. I napped and did Zentangle. We read.

My mom loved on me with an AromaTouch Technique experience.

We talked about our passions and our dreams for the future. Of course I talked about my kids. My mom is the one person in my life, other than Damien, that does not tire to hear the stories and struggles of Celine, Laurent and Brienne, my life's pride and joy (and the cause sometimes of heartache and concern).

My joy is her joy and my pain is her pain. And as a grown adult, the empathy goes both ways. She is no longer just "my mom", the way she was when I was a kid, she's my friend.

We filled our adult relationship mother-daughter well, and agreed we should make this an annual activity.

Driving back to Montreal on the bus, watching the snow disappear as we travelled south, it feels like spring is just around the corner. I'm happy to leave the snow in Riviere-du-Loup.

March has turned. We reached the equinox, and winter is truly waning. The magic of spring will start soon, and summer, a season for traveling and adventures, will follow shortly.

I got sick last month. I'm pretty sure it was the flu, the same thing Laurent got in early February. The girls also got sick.

Damien escaped the worst of it. Thank God. As a self-employed person there are no sick days and to have Damien not working right now would be a real financial stretch/stress.

What I experienced last month is the sickest I've been in my whole adult life. I tend to forget bad things, this is actually a healthy thing so I don't mind too much this tendency of mine. But I'm sure I've never been that sick before. I could not function for a week and for the week following I could barely function and when our kids were really little that would have been awful. I'm sure I would remember something like that.

I speculate we got hit so hard because we're new to the city (public transit, homeschool co-op, church that meets in a theatre, etc.) so we were exposed to a lot of new germs this winter. And I wasn't ready for it, at all. I was low on herbal remedies and I didn't really know what to do with the essential oils I had, nothing seemed to work. Was my timing wrong? Did I not use enough?

I'm working to change that situation for next year. I felt helpless. I need to get educated and stock the cupboard. Remedies are already brewing and I'm considering this course. Do you know of an exhaustive "do this in the case of flu" resource? Please recommend in comments. (I'm not looking for vague, internet-search stuff. I did that myself. I want to be taught specifics and I want protocols, not "try a little of this, little of that". I don't want to experiment. I want effective solutions.)

Damien's mom came to visit in the thick of it, not because we were sick, it was a visit that had been planned for months. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta and we haven't seen her for two years. She helped cook and brought a motherly/grandmotherly vibe to a house of sickies. She also bought us a few small kitchen appliances while she was here. God bless her.

Laurent's birthday happened during this time and we were too sick to celebrate. With grandma's help we managed to pull together our traditional birthday breakfast before we crashed back into bed.

I spent so much time in bed that I developed muscle and joint aches from sitting and laying down. Within a couple days I had maxed out on Netflix and social media. Getting sick actually helped me reset my social media consumption, which had been getting a little out of hand. When I emerged from the fog after two weeks it felt like I had restart my whole life (that first grocery shopping trip was monumental) so I restarted with much less Facebook and Instagram.

Being sick was awful, and recovering hasn't been a cake walk either. Physically I was weak and have been more tired than usual but the real struggle has been in my mind.

This season of late February and March is the hardest time of year for me. It is not spring where I live, it is the end of winter, and it is not pretty. At this time of year, I am at my lowest point emotionally and mentally; getting so sick felt like a low blow, like someone kicking you when you're down.

I've been foggy brained in my recovery. And because I have a history of March malaise or situational depression I feared that in my weakened, post-sickness state I was fast-tracking down that path again.

And so I've had to fight.

I know now how my mind works, the paths I can and cannot let it go down. I know the principles of CBT. I'm very self-aware at this point. I know the importance of exercise and the outdoors. I know the importance of music. I know the importance of meditation and prayer. I know the importance of reaching out.

But I tell you, doing these things is hard work. I'm not asking for kudos, the reward is in the fact that I am not depressed. I am uninspired about this time of year, I am still tired from being sick, but I'm not crying every day. I'm not dwelling in negative spaces mentally or emotionally. My mind wants to go there but I am holding fast and firm against that.

Here's the hardest part about self-awareness and fighting the dark places: you still have to do the work.

It's not enough to have head knowledge and understanding.

I love book learning. I love to read things, nod my head, underline, make notes in the margin, and say "this is good". I love to listen to lectures and podcasts that teach me how to understand myself. But none of this is doing the work.

Doing the work:

  • Going outside even in these grey uninspiring days. (Ski season has probably come to an end, after a pitiful winter, and we missed a couple weeks because of sickness. I was so sad about this, skiing is my favorite part of winter.)
  • Forcing my thoughts in more positive directions. My thoughts are like misbehaving children who need continual correction and discipline. Just like training my toddlers, it can be exhausting to re-train my mind.
  • Meditating.
  • Overcoming my nesting/homebody urges to explore things that I know will give me a boost but that require the initial effort of changing the schedule, leaving the house, etc. (Made more difficult because the weather has been so yucky.)
  • Working on my income earning and writing projects even when I want to procrastinate and do other stuff around the house instead. There's always some other homemaking or homeschooling work I can do, but I have this tendency to self-sabatoge my personal income earning projects and this is something I must push through. (Sometimes you don't push, you rest, but trust me, this is something I must push through.)

Getting through this hardest part of the year and recovering from being sick is not all "work". This is probably the ugliest time of year outdoors. It's melting dog poop season in the city, beauty is really hard to find, so I must make it and find it where I can.

I've been drawing again, mostly in the evenings. I'm working on a tangle for Lent called "Hidden in Christ" and I'm also learning new tangles.

Something I did this winter was to choose a color theme for each season. I started a bullet journal in January, I'll probably blog more about that later.

My bullet journal is my weekly to-do lists, but it's also full of spiritual wisdom and insights, self-awareness stuff, things I want to meditate on during my days, seasonal menu plans, and some other stuff. This journal is a record of my year, not just what I did week-by-week but what I am thinking and how I am growing and changing.

I use a black pen to write but I wanted to use colored pens to underline and highlight. I decided on gel pens and chose two colors for each season to be used in my journaling, drawing, and miscellaneous stuff (all the little notes of encouragement I write to myself).

My winter colors are icy blue and sparkling orange. They are inspired by the colors of January. For me, the essence of winter, its most beautiful expression, is sparkly snow, crystalline clear blue skies paired with the warm and golden light of early afternoon sunsets and candlelight. This collage of images express the essence of winter that I love.

All of that is to explain that using my blue and orange gel pens (the blue isn't the same tone as the blue of winter's essence, truthfully, I was just using what I had on hand) has brought me a lot of pleasure this winter, even now. And I'm working on a little Zentangle that incorporates these colors.

My spring colors are lime/celery green and lilac purple. And the essence I want to capture is "fresh, pretty and clean". Last weekend I bought my pens and I'm not using them yet but I've been playing around a little.

I finally hung these photos and art in our bedroom. My first Power Hour project and it didn't even take an hour. And this brings a bit more beauty into my days.

While I was sick my mom sent some money to buy flowers. Damien was unable to get out to purchase them for me, so it wasn't till post-sickness that I was able to buy some. The bonus of this is that I can choose my own arrangements and if I buy them at the market my flower dollars go farther and I'm aiming to get three bouquets, enough to see me through the end of March.

Next weekend is my retreat with my mom, a plan I made in January because I knew I would need to go somewhere this month.

This week I bought our family pass for the Montreal Botanical Gardens, which is fabulous in summer, but also has greenhouses to explore this time of year. This afternoon the kids and I went to experience the Butterflies Go Free exhibit.

And we're starting to make our summer travel and camping plans. Last summer I didn't want to go anywhere. Tired of hiking and moving I just wanted to stay put and explore our new city. This year I am so anxious to travel and explore out of the city.

I am longing to sleep in a tent, be by a lake, hike in the mountains. Vermont, Ontario, and "out west" are calling. Some ideas are becoming reality with reservations and squirreled away funds, others are dreams that need a few things to align to make them reality. But either way, we're going places this summer.

March is now a third over and I know I'm going to make it. I'm being proactive (making summer plans, getting out of the house, going away next weekend), I'm doing the work, and I'm finding the beauty.

Like I mentioned late last month, I'm participating in Hibernate this month. An online retreat by Heather Bruggeman.

This is my second year so I am familiar with the format but I also know a bit what to expect as roughly half the content is recycled. It's interesting to me how even the familiar content feels fresh and inspiring. Stuff I theoretically "know" from last year but am re-discovering anew. In part because I had a lot of personal growth stuff going on last winter and Hibernate was just one piece of the plans I was making for my year-long wellbeing.

This winter, I'm all about Hibernate. I don't have any other significant self-development and self-care projects on my radar so I can pour those energies into making the most of the course.

I'm not going to explain the Hibernate content here, because that's the course and it's not my material to share, but one of last week's activities/journaling exercises was to create a winter wellness recipe.

Over the past few winters I've been honing my winter wellness strategies. This post about my phototherapy lamp addresses some of those techniques and activities.

Creating a winter wellness guide is a fun and creative self-awareness exercise. Heather's prompt for us is to answer the question what makes me feel amazing?

I've been seriously pondering this question for the last year. I've had seasons of life where I've journaled through similiar prompts like what does your ideal day look like? etc. But my midlife crisis intensified the desire to identify the activities, ways of being in the world, relationships, values, etc. that really resonate with me. (And also made me wonder where I went wrong in past assessments to wind up so bruised at the end of 2014.)

I have been unapologetically on a mission to find myself and nurture myself, and so basically the pump is already primed for a "what makes you feel amazing?" writing prompt.

Answering this question can generate a lot of ideas, phrases, images, and colors. And I know that my own responses are heavily influenced by my personality and interests, and (hard) life lessons. My winter wellness plan then necessarily reflects who I am, my life experience, and my spirituality.

A little spiritual side note: The tricky part about including a spiritual/giving element to this wellness plan is that life-affirming outward giving, in response to God's love for us, is not driven by "what makes me feel amazing?" It is motivated by gratitude, worship, compassion and other God-given, God-honoring, and God-glorifying responses to God's love.

But the doing of what makes me feel amazing gives me the physical and emotional energy to be of service; available and willing for the work of Spirit in my life, which by its very nature will not always feel amazing, as I am stretched in ways that are discomforting. Which seems antithetical to a season of rest and comfort but is actually the natural outpouring of experiencing rest and comfort - to give rest and comfort.

Hibernate is a winter-focused retreat but I've noticed that all the things I love to do, that make me feel amazing, that feel like honest expressions of me, and that support my well-being, need to be present (in some measure) at all times of the year, though certain needs become dominant, or take on different expressions, during the distinct seasons.

Winter is the time to focus on the winter-expressions of "what makes me feeling amazing?"

Organization and planning feature heavily into my winter intentions because of how I'm wired, but also because January heralds a new calendar year. And all the logistical (new schedules, changing routines) and metaphorical (starting fresh, tabula rasa) implications of that necessitate organizing the household for not just a new season, but a New Year. It's a heady time for an organization geek like myself.

I like to spend time making and tweaking the schedule, organizing our time before I start organizing, and re-organizing space and tackling creative projects. Those projects (bright shiny objects) are tempting but I feel better getting general life organized and a routine established before hauling out the sewing machine and tackling organizing projects around the house.

That's really what January is all about. Creating and tweaking the winter routine, talking about goals with Damien, making financial plans, making yearly plans, re-establishing daily habits that slide over the holidays, etc. And these aren't resolutions they're just the stuff I naturally think about and deal with at the turn of a new year.

The second phase of winter (by the way, the seasons of winter is my own idea entirely, not part of the Hibernate material) is all about making stuff, this year mostly hands-on creative projects to organize and decorate our space.

If early winter is all about cozy, and it is, this part of winter is a bit more crazy. By the third week of February cozy is starting to feel claustrophobic if we don't let off some of that steam. All that careful planning of early January starts to unravel and we take breaks from our routines to let off some of our winter indoor energies.

Right around this time we will celebrate Laurent's 15th birthday and Damien's mom will come for a visit. It will be perfect timing for our annual mid-winter break. We-can't-keep-up-this-schedule-anymore-and-winter-is-starting-to-irritate-me is a well-known phenomena in our house. I just go with it.

Then it's late winter, and at this point it's best if I have plans on the horizon to get out of Dodge. Mom and I are cooking up a retreat idea for that month and it is one of my main goals this winter: to make that happen. My other main goal: get outside every day.

Late winter is also the time I am reserving for more indoor attraction city exploration. Botanical Gardens, a museum or two.

  • January - make order and make cozy
  • February - make stuff and make crazy
  • March - make it through

Here's what my winter wellness plan is not however, it's not a thinly veiled attempt at self-improvement, "this winter I will eat better, exercise more, love move, more, better...". It's certainly not about productivity, or whipping the house into order.

It's about creating a seasonally-inspired, and realistic wellness structure for winter. It almost looks like resolutions, goals, and intentions, but coming through the kitchen door, like trusted family and friends, instead of the unexpected and unfamiliar (and therefore suspect) guests who use the front door.

My winter wellness plan is not about the activities so much or what they will accomplish, it's not about goal setting, and measuring my progress. There is a place and time for that, this isn't it. A winter wellness plan or recipe is an attitude and intention for the season, it's how I want the winter to "feel".

I do have a couple specific goals for each month. One of my January goals is to establish the habit of having supper consistently on the table by 6:30 each night.

Last fall we would sit down to supper anywhere between 7:30 to 8:30 because of our schedule (if I was out of the house till 6, for example) and because I strongly dislike cooking every single night so I would procrastinate like nobody's business even on the days I had no out-of-the-house excuse.

Whole Food Freezer Cooking another course by Heather, was a game changer for me. Now I only cook 3 meals a week but we eat 6 home cooked meals a week (Damien cooks one). Two of those are meals I pull from the freezer, having prepared on a previous week on one of my freezer cooking nights.

And here's the thing: preparing an extra meal for the freezer does not take double the effort, it takes maybe an extra 20 or 30 minutes maximum. And then I save 1-1.5 hours of meal prep time on those nights off of cooking.

So the actual schedule looks something like this:

  • Monday - at home day, cook a double meal
  • Tuesday - grocery shopping afternoon, come home late, eat from freezer
  • Wednesday - skiing day, eat from freezer
  • Thursday - at home day, cook a regular or double meal
  • Friday - homeschool co-op, store-bought pizza or something else
  • Saturday - usually at home, cook a regular or double meal
  • Sunday - Damien cooks

Supper at 6:30 is one of my New Years goals or resolutions that supports other goals, besides giving our bodies time to digest before bed. It makes relaxing evenings possible (one of my winter wellness needs) by providing a definitive end point to the work day. But seriously, I simply could not make this happen if I had to be cooking every night.

I have a evolving and never-ending list of tasks that make up my moments, my days, and my weeks and I do have specific goals for winter, but a winter wellness plan sets the tone for those endeavors and reminds me of what is really important to me during this particular season.

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