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Quebec

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.

This is my fourth winter living in Quebec and there is something distinctly Canadian/Canadien (or Quebeçois, depending on your viewpoint) about l'hiver au Québec.

In my quest to become a Quebecker (I will stay away from the politics of this statement for now) I keep a Quebec culture, history, and/or politics book in circulation in my "currently reading" stack of library books.

Last fall it was Sacré Blues. After reading it I was inspired to write a short review. I intend to share that review here someday but there's more I want to write about belonging, place, home, and security, along with that review, and so I'm waiting to publish it.

One of the chapters in that book deals entirely with winter. I agree with the author, Taras Grescoe, that winter "is the defining season of the place".

It's a simple reality: if you want to live in Quebec, you have to come to terms with the winter. It's the defining season of the place, the dominating inevitability. Spring is a convulsion, a windy, rainy shudder of cracking ice and meltwater, a brief prelude to a summer that brings waves of sticky heat to the city and swarms of biting insects to the countryside. Fall, shortened by weeks of Indian summer, would barely be noticeable if it weren't for the screeching chlorophyll of the maple leaves. "Mon pay, c'est l'hiver," sang Gilles Vigneault, and he was right: by transforming landscape, culture, and habit of mind, winter really did create a new country, permanently changing a few hundred boatloads of French peasants into a distinct people.

If the snowfalls along the St. Lawrence had been lighter and the growing season longer, the United States' abortive incursions would certainly have been more frequent and determined. Without the snow, there might have been no survivance française, and the people of Quebec would be as integrated into the pan-American melting pot as the Kerouacs and Theroux of New England.

Taras Grescoe

My enjoyment of winter has increased since moving to Quebec. Maybe because that's when we started skiing. I feel like Quebecois, or at least our friends, know how to live winter.

I've given a lot of thought to living winter. How to survive it and make the most of it.

I'm participating in Heather's Hiberate course this month and next. I'm kicking myself that I didn't mention it more on the blog during the enrollment period. There was a lot going on, breakdown and Christmas mostly. You'll have to excuse my reticence.

It's my first time with Hibernate, and although I'm familiar with Heather's signature style and course delivery, I had no idea how rich and meaningful this course would be, how many kindred spirits I'd find. Again, I am in awe of Heather's work and her ability to create and support such beauty, intention, and connection in her workshops. (PS. I want to be like Heather when I grow-up into my own work.)

This winter I contributed an article for Hibernate on wintertime wellbeing, specifically sharing my toolkit for SAD - supplements, a happy light, daily outdoor exercise, loving myself and living seasonally.

I feel I am nearing that place of making peace with winter. Though I think true equanimity will only be possible when I can leave for the last 6 weeks - basically March and early April, missing the bitter, drawn-out, ugly end of it all, which is really the worst part.

Of course I'd miss sugaring season but we don't have our own sugar bush so there's no responsibility there. Leaving for the end of winter is seriously on my let's-make-this-dream-happen list, and it's even possible with our location independent work. Someday.

In January though, winter is still fresh. (Except when it warms up, rains, and melts the snow away and all you are left with is ice and some confused robins, as happened this week.)

Winter holds its own promise and purpose - as a season of rest, reflection, and renewal. A season for thinking, gathering, and creating culture.

In Sacre Blues, the author quotes Bernard Voyer, a Quebec arctic adventurer, cross-country ski instructor and television commentator.

For me, the winter is actually the softest of seasons. The light comes in at a low angle, the shadows are longer, the sky doesn't seem quite so high, it's a purer blue. One's gaze is freer to wander, the colours are more pastel.

Voyer also says,

Our artistic side, our reflective side, we owe to the winter. When you can't go out because there's a storm, you stay inside with your family, you create, you think, you tell stories, you paint. Winter is enormously inspiring. It's what built our society.

I'm going to wrap up this little ode to l'hiver au Quebec with vision put forth in Grescoe's book by Bernand Arcand, Quebecois anthropologist, author and communicator. A man, I daresay, who would appreciate the principles of Heather's Hibernate course. Here is his idealized take on how we should live winter.

Arcand would like to see the period from January 2 to the beginning of March declared a national holiday, during which businesses and schools would close. People would spend the darkest months practicing winter sports, tinkering around the house, organizing family reunions, or simply lolling about in bed. "Once again, groups of friends would visit one another for the pleasure of eating, drinking, and talking," Arcand imagines. "We could even learn to make music again, and reinvent the art of telling incredible stories. In other words, we'd take the time to reinvent our culture."

The Quebecois are BIG on their culture. But I've taken to heart these words, pondering my own winter intentions for Project Home & Healing, and my experience with Hibernate, and have decided to be pro-active in creating our own family culture around winter and a personal "culture" for the season.

I am singing this winter avec un groupe. I am playing my guitar. I have scheduled skiing, creating, and studying history (aka: museum field trips) for February homeschool. We are making plans to go visit and stay with friends, in which my goal is to "enjoy the pleasure of eating, drinking, and talking together".

I know I cannot shut down the machine of society which insists on productivity and output at all times of the year. Being wired for these myself and depending, as I do, on trucks to deliver food to the grocery stores, I can appreciate living in a society that emphasizes order and efficiency. But there are limits, and I'm learning mine and honoring them.

I still have a full plate of responsibilities during winter, who doesn't? But I do have the freedom to put a cap on what I attempt to accomplish in one day. I can structure how I do that work and when. And I can prioritize writing, reading, creating, and nurturing myself and my family, in the course of our days. This much, I can do.

I can't change the big picture but I can influence the culture in my home and in my community and most importantly, make positive, values-supporting choices for my personal wellbeing.

Practicing winter sports (skiing), reading a couple times a day, making music together, telling stories (ok, watching our favorite TV series on Netflix), photographing the light, letting my children rest longer in the morning when they are fighting a bug (that's been the story in our home this week), knitting, taking my supplements, enjoying warming drinks in the afternoon (perfecting my chai recipe right now), sitting by my HappyLight, touching often and making love, setting up the sewing machines for a week on the dining room table, cooking soup for my family, inviting friends for supper, spending a whole Sunday afternoon "lolling about in bed"... I intend to make the most of winter, in the doing and the not-doing.

Laurent turned 13 last week and we combined the celebration of that milestone with our bi-annual city trip.

boy

Saint jean street Quebec

When you live in the sticks as we do (the sticks with good coffee shops, good neighbours, and the mountains) you need to make regular pilgrimages to larger centres to access goods and services that are just not available “in the woods” - comic book stores, “the mall”, and the Apple Store.

boy in store

With our hike now mere weeks away we used Laurent’s birthday as a good reason to drive the 7+ hours (one way) to Quebec City. We crammed the trip full of fun and necessaries. The aquarium, a stay at the hostel in the heart of the 400 year old city, and the crown jewel - an English comic book store - were the fun highlights.

Clownfish

Polar bears in aquarium

ice fish sculpture

A trip to MEC for the last gear purchases and a visit to Place Sainte Foy/Laurier mall complex for an iPad and clothes (not totally successful, we still need trail underwear for the boy, and running shorts for Celine and I) were the shopping parts of the trip.

Door comic book store

Shopping is not Laurent’s idea of a good time, neither is it mine. But sometimes it just has to be done. And if you have a new book along, well that does help.

Reading comic in car

If you go

The hostel downtown Quebec is a great place to stay. They treat families well there. Our kids love the social aspect of a hostel, probably because their parents do. In the course of our overnight stay, which involved cooking our own supper and buying the breakfast they served in the common kitchen area, we met two other families.

Quebec hostel

The hostel is easy walking distance from all the old city must-dos and must-sees. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time for that.

If you do go I recommend hitting a large grocery store on the way into the city (the IGA’s are nice) and arriving at the hostel with the food you’ll need for your stay. I didn’t have the foresight to do that. There is a grocery store nearby but it’s small, as are all downtown stores.

blue snowflake

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