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Quebec

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

We live in a northern climate, it's winter for about five months where we live, so we've decided to maximize our enjoyment of winter.

We do this by engaging in winter sports, specifically skiing, and getting out in all four seasons in general. In winter we fight against the pull to stay indoors (it's cold!), the tendency to withdraw and retreat. Because if you do that too much you'll get depressed. Ask me how I know.

This past Sunday we had the pleasure of spending the better part of the day with another outdoors-loving family. We had a huge dump of snow Saturday night and early Sunday morning. After a big snow we greet the day with so much joy - a day for playing in the snow!

Our friends' children are small so instead of a big ski on a snow day we went sledding at the nearby school. They invited us for lunch and cappuccinos at their house. After hours of talking about adventures, travel, and the beauty of the Gaspé we were reluctant to leave.

During the course of our conversation I asked our friends about cabin fever, if they experience it. They don't. The best way to live winter, in their estimation, is to get out in it.

These friends love winter, they don't think it's long enough!

Do you know how wonderful it is to share a pot of lentil soup and baked tofu, after a morning of sledding, with friends who love winter? Friends who love life.

How do you love winter? Why you ski, skate and sled of course. And if you can do it from your door, all the better.

This family has three young children. They have built a life where they have time to zip up the snowsuits. Because like all things that demand our attention, learning to love winter and engage in it will take time.

Our friends have the time, make the time. They are cool people to hang out with. They love to travel and have outdoor adventures, they live life to the full with their young children. They love where they live, and so do we.

Enjoying winter is about attitude and opportunity. Having the right attitude and providing yourself with the most opportunity to enjoy it.

Every morning I stop my work, all the things that must be done, and get outside for some exercise, usually with the kids. (They have to spend time outside everyday, most often they choose to exercise with us during that time.) My minimum is one hour of fairly vigorous activity but if we have time for a 2 hour ski, oh heaven, that's lovely.

The daily exercise outdoors is a non-negotiable part of my winter wellness plan.

Other key components of my winter wellness are daily supplements (2000 IU of D3, and omega-3's) and a happy light.

Many of you have asked how that's working. Wonderfully!

I have not yet experienced the winter blues (my January overwhelm was a case of something different called "OMG we're hiking the AT in 3 months") nor do I have cabin fever, yet.

In fact, I feel really quite fabulous this winter. Perhaps I'm just too busy. Or maybe I know winter will end for me in six weeks when we start the trail. The definitive end to winter probably helps.

The more I live winter the way a child lives winter - with my whole body and all my senses - the more I enjoy it. The more I build outdoor activity into my day, the more I love life, in all seasons. It makes me want to spend more and more time outdoors.

Telemark skiing, specifically skinning up a mountain and skiing down on a regular basis has totally energized my winter. It is such good exercise and so much fun. I told Damien this year I never want to live anywhere I can't ski in winter. 

Quebeckers, or maybe it's just Gaspesians, have a winter joie de vivre I haven't experienced anywhere else. I know very few locals, in fact I can't name a one, that complain about winter.

Maybe they know life is too short to complain about where you live. Maybe I'm just hanging out with the right crowd. Maybe people here know the best way to love winter is just to live it.

This must be why Quebeckers are so well represented, and medaled at the Olympics. Go Canada!

I know it's hard to prioritize outdoor winter exercise, but the same could be said for any new discipline. And when I'm not motivated the together principle helps a lot.

I can't imagine not skiing, or going through my week without the outdoors, because winter outdoors energizes me to do winter indoors.

PS. For another taste of Québec winter and joy-in-all-seasons living I recommend my friend Catherine's blog. She is an amazing photographer, and her photos of times spent around the table captures, I feel, the essence of Québec culture.

PPS. I know a few places for rent in our area, our house is one and a friends' house will be available late summer. Wanna live winter? This is a good place to do it. 

Every family has special times of the year and traditions near and dear to them.

The time between Christmas Eve and New Year's is our family's high holiday of the year. A week long celebration of outdoor winter activity, games, and feasting with family and friends.

When I was growing up my Dad took a work vacation the week between Christmas and New Year's. Our family would visit relatives, and when I was a little older, late elementary and early teens, I remember taking short ski trips to the ski resorts of the Alberta Rockies.

Damien's dad was a teacher so the week after Christmas was a time of being together as a family. Growing up as he did, an hour from the Rockies, downhill skiing was a key part of his family's holiday traditions also.

For the early years of our family life, the Christmas holiday meant traveling on planes with small children to visit our families of origin in Alberta. Three kids later, and at full price tickets, flights became too expensive for traveling west for Christmas.

We haven't been west for Christmas since my parents moved out east. When we were still living in Maine we drove to Nova Scotia for our Christmas holiday and one year to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) where two of our brothers and their families were living at the time.

Lac cascapedia

But for the last three years we have celebrated Christmas at our home in Québec, my parents making the trip to be with us, driving the four lane TransCanada Highway, sometimes through rain, crossing from Nova Scotia into New Brunswick. Then up the snowy highways of eastern and northern New Brunswick, crossing the Restigouche River onto the Gaspé Peninsula, sending a quick e-mail "we've stopped at the cafe, see you soon."

To the end of the road they come, laden with cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, and duffel bags of warm clothing. Nova Scotia produce, bottles of wine, apple cider, fruit soup, fruit cake, flatbread, granola, and a "happy" turkey my mom sources from her local farmer's market, not to mention the Christmas gifts and mail still being sent to their house from the time we lived there over two years ago, are all disgorged from the car, finding space in the nooks and crannies of our home.

They come because we want to stay home for Christmas. This is where the snow is. Why go anywhere else? This is where we can ski.

We can blame our parents for this. They were the ones who introduced us to holiday skiing when we were our kids' ages. And now we do the same.

Christmastide, our family's high holiday of the year, is when our lives shift into a different gear completely. For years Damien has not worked during this stretch of days. The food preparation is shared amongst family and visiting friends. We stay up late and sleep in, reluctant to rise, the house cold after the nighttime fire has burned to just embers. Normal life is put on hold. It's the holidays.

It is our our "time out of time", definitely an in-between space (which in all honesty can rattle my routine loving personality just a bit if I don't just completely surrender to it for its short duration).

For the last two years we have been so pleased to host friends from Maine during this holiday time. Indeed having them visit has taken our Christmas holiday to a whole new level. Hardcore outdoorsy types, they come to ski with us. And eat, and play games.

This year we did a backcountry ski trip together, our first. Québec has a vast network of backcountry shelters in its "national" parks. This time of year most national parks in Québec are deep in snow, some deeper than others.

The Chic Choc mountains of the Gaspé are renowned for their snow and backcountry ski opportunities. During the long Québec winter, residents and tourists alike take advantage of the many trails and the maintained and wood-stocked shelters.

This fall Damien reserved a backcountry refuge for our two families in the Parc National de la Gaspésie. La parc will snowmobile your gear in for you, for a fee of course. Even if we wanted to spend the extra dollars that just wouldn't feel right, for any of us.

We carried everything on our backs. And what couldn't be carried, because there were some small legs in our group, was pulled on a sled.

The trip was breathtakingly, and at times toe-numbingly, beautifully. Snow like I've never experienced before. It was magic and it was hard work.

Experiences like this don't come without the effort, which is what makes them all the more meaningful.

Our guests are now gone, the gear is stored away, the house is slowly being put back together, and vegetables will once again feature more predominantly on the menu (we don't do vegan for the holidays).

I will be going back to my regular responsibilities, in full force, the beginning of next week.

This weekend I will wrap up holiday loose ends. Finish writing New Year's cards to our siblings, put away the decorations (the holiday lights remain through the winter though), edit photos, read, knit and watch more Downton Abbey.

I want to enjoy this last holiday-ish weekend before life picks up speed once again. The AT looms large on the horizon and is the subject of conversation and planning every single day (even during the holidays, especially since our friends are hiking the trail this year also). But for right now, for these last couple days of Christmastide I'm staying right here, trying to remain present in the happy afterglow of a fabulous holiday.