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Winter

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.

This may be my shortest "review" post ever and I'll tell you straight up, it's a hearty product endorsement.

I get a lot of emails, facebook messages, blog comments (maybe even instagram comments? can't recall) asking me about this light. The most recent arrived in my inbox yesterday.

So I just need to bite the bullet and put up a small post on the blog I can refer back to instead of re-typing the same response over and over.

My phototherapy light, which I also call my Happy Light because it's written on the lamp, is made by Verilux. Damien did the research on different brands and models and we chose this one (from what was available at the time) for its high intensity, fast session times, and large surface area.

You can find this model at amazon.com or amazon.ca. I'm sure you can buy phototherapy lamps at Best Buy and similar stores, I've seen smaller Verilux brand models at the Costco I frequent. If you're in Canada you may be interested in Northern Light Technologies.

Before making the investment to buy this light a few years ago, I did all kinds of research on what the light did, how it worked, etc. I read enough to be convinced to try it. Here are two short reviews on phototherapy from WebMD and Dr. Andrew Weil.

This is my third winter using a therapy light. The first winter I used it, there seemed to be a noticeable difference for me. But that was also the winter we were prepping for our thru-hike, a lot was different that winter, there was no control, in the scientific sense.

Last year I also experienced an improvement in my mental health. However, my winter wellness strategy is multi-faceted and involves supplements, outdoor exercise/skiing, enjoying the season, burning candles - the whole works. So it's really hard to separate the light from everything else, it's a holistic approach to health.

I use the light almost every morning for 1- 1.5 hours. I start in November and continue as long as I feel I need it. I think I packed it up in April last year.

Here's how I'd summarize my experience with my Happy Light:

  • I use it religiously.
  • I recommend it heartily.
  • It's part of a holistic winter wellness strategy.
  • Practical note: I store it during the day and take it out for my morning "therapy".
  • I bought mine at amazon.ca. At the time I bought it, it cost me $190, not including tax.
  • It's not pretty, it's doesn't photograph well like a soft candle, but it works.

If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or intense winter blahs, these other posts on the blog (listed in order of publication) may be of interest/helpful to you:

This post has affiliate links.

About five or six years ago I recognized my need for a proactive winter health strategy. There are things I love about winter; the Christmas holidays, the afternoon light in January (swoon), and skiing, for example. But winter is my most difficult season for the sheer length of it, the shorter days, and probably other factors (nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, negative thought patterns?) I'm not even aware of yet.

Each year I have added more tools into my toolkit to support my winter health, joy, and wellbeing.

Naming my difficulty was a huge first step. Not everyone in my family struggles with winter and to speak up for myself in this regard, and to be ok with being different from the crowd (in my very own living room), was a good first step.

Choosing to appreciate winter, regardless, was my first strategy. "By golly, I will make the most of this winter!" And then I swing my arm just like Rosie the riveter. This attitude, paired with a fairly serious commitment to getting outdoors everyday and looking for the beauty, was a good starting point.

Skiing was a game changer. I adore skiing. Telemark, alpine touring, alpine downhill (the kind people are most familiar with), and x-country. I've experienced all of them in the past few years. Huge thanks to my husband Damien for moving our family forward in this direction.

This will be my third winter using a therapy light. This is the model I use. (That is an affiliate link.) The first winter I used it, there seemed to be a noticeable difference for me. But that was also the winter we were prepping for our thru-hike, a lot was different that winter, there was no control, in the scientific sense. Regardless, I really think the light helps.

Supplements. A couple winters ago I started taking supplements - 2000 IU's of vitamin D and 1250 mg (750 mg EPA and 500 mg DHA) of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Now I take those daily all year round, and a few others to help out my sensitive amygdala. (In other words, for anxiety.)

A change of scenery has also helped. For me this means traveling, if possible, at the end of winter.

Three years ago, after a very difficult March, my lowest SAD experience to date, we decided on a whim to go to my parents for Easter. And we left the next day. It was one of the best spontaneous decisions (that cost a bit of money) I've ever made.

Two winter's ago we were so busy prepping for the AT I didn't have time to get SAD and our departure in late March shifted us into a geographic region that was experiencing spring. In two days we went from winter to spring.

Last year we took a house-hunting trip to Montreal and this shift in energy in our home during the month of April helped me get through the end of winter.

Last year I did something else to support my winter health, I joined Heather's hibernate class.

I have participated in almost all of Heather's classes except Summer Soul Camp and Harvest.

Here's my brief rundown:

  • Whole Food Kitchen - Love the recipes. I refer back to them often.
  • 30 Day Vegan - I actually know how to do that, so while the course is interesting, it's like preaching to the choir.
  • Hibernate (2nd run) - Knocked my knitted socks off.
  • Freezer Cooking (the one that just wrapped up) - Game changer I'm not going to tell that story here. Now's not the time but it shifted things significantly for me in a much more positive direction. (It's been a hard kitchen year.)

Hibernate

I didn't take Hibernate the first year. I wanted to, my body craved it but I was just too busy with our hike prep. I got through winter fine, no SAD, but the pace of that winter didn't set me up very well for what followed: the most physically, emotionally and mentally demanding experience of my life. By the following fall I was broken and bruised. You know the story. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I need winter as a time for rest, reflection, and fun. Winter is not a pushing through season for me. It's a time to be cozy, as much as our schedules allow, and a time to really nurture myself.

Life is life. Stuff happens. You can't make everything go your way in terms of arranging your seasons just so. But I can create intentions for the seasons of the year, and seasons of my life. As I learned from this past year.

I need to take care of myself all year, but I thin out in winter. Summer fills my well and I feel really healthy during those months, but the well is starting to run dry by mid-winter especially and I need to proactively refill it with life-affirming winter strategies.

Hibernate is part of that.

I was so blown away by it last year. The quality of the content, the vibe it brought into my days, and the skills I learned. Last winter I re-wrote the script for that season, in part because of Heather's workshop. I vowed if it was offered again I would shout it from the rooftops.

Because it was so wonderful for me I decided to gift a registration to a friend this year because Heather makes an impossible-to-turn-down offer where she allows a 2-for-1 registration for a limited time.

It's that time. Hibernate begins January 11 and registration starts today. The 2-for-1 deal is good till Monday.

This year is recycled content from year one and year two. Some content will be new to me and some will be familiar. If you've never joined, it's a great year to do so. I assume you'll get the best of both.

I appreciated so many aspects of last year's retreat. Each weekday for four weeks there were fresh ideas to inspire creativity, rest and renewal, physical health and wellness, and/or relationship building.

Heather organizes the self-paced workshop around five themes: renew, gather, nourish, create, and rest. In addition to beautiful essays, there is a Facebook group to connect, instagram hashtags to share our photos, and blog commenting. (I love all that stuff. Some people just want good content, you get that in spades.)

I didn't even try half of the ideas presented during the course and some of the content I saved specifically for later, candle making for example. I started that last month and now that I'm well stocked, with easy access to more supplies, I will make those in batches throughout winter.

Another favorite of mine from the course was the herbal chai recipe. I ordered a bunch of ingredients in bulk the end of last winter so I'm all set to start my herbal chai routine come January. It is the perfect nourishing, non-caffeinated, not-too-rich winter beverage. I can't wait.

And then there was the meditative drawing, which opened the door to Zentangle, which is an art and therapy I have been practicing, almost daily since summer. I will be publishing more about that next week, fingers crossed.

I loved all these things and more but what I appreciated most is that Hibernate helped me set an intention for the winter season.

I'm the only one in my house who seems to need a season-honoring focus for the winter months. My kids are, well, they're kids. They operate at a different level than me. When I was a kid I don't remember ever thinking about how the season affected my moods, etc. And as a teen I just wanted to do stuff all the time. Just like my kids.

I am not a teenager. I'm a life seasoned mom, supporting three teens. And as it turns out, my needs are different from those of my family, both teens and husband. He loves winter, loves skiing, loves snow. He wants to ski until June. He doesn't get moody in winter. He can power through without much attention to seasonal shifts. Not so for me.

(Interestingly, he isn't as buoyed up by summer the way I am. I'm high and low, and he's steady.)

I'm making a big effort to live according to my own seasonal rhythms, while providing a home environment that allows everyone the freedom to meet their needs also.

Hibernate is a winter gift to myself. The gift of friendship and beauty. The gift of cozy and craft. The gift of learning new skills and trying new recipes. It's just a really good thing. Join me there?

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