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Winter

It's snowing this weekend. As I type this the air is thick with the flakes and I try to capture the magic with my camera but it never does the beauty justice.

I am (gratefully) way past the toddler stage of parenting and so instead of bundling little ones to go trundling and toppling through the snow, I am sitting right here, enjoying my Saturday morning cup of coffee, my tired teenagers still deep in sleep.

This is the most "open", unscheduled, at-home all day Saturday I've had since November. And I feel both giddy and deeply at-ease in the expanse of this day before me.


Early last month I wrote that I needed all of January to transition into the New Year. It was more like January and the first week of February.

It was a bit tricky to give myself this space and time while the world around me was marching forward with 2017 plans and purposes and the ubiquitous self-improvement projects. But it was worth the effort of holding space for this month-long transition, because come mid-February I'm not discouraged or exhausted by my New Year's efforts at "being better". Rather, by intentionally withdrawing from that fray and hype, by honoring a hibernate vibe, and being patient with myself and the slow progress of living, I'm better rooted in what my purposes are for this season and stage of life.

2017 is not "the" year I will conquer the clutter, overcome a perennial struggle, or achieve any great heights of financial freedom or self-expression. It will be a year, as every other year, of steady and slow progress, punctuated with beginnings and endings.

I see this year as a continuation of goals, purposes, callings, dreams, etc. of the previous year and previous years. My chief purpose of raising our kids, the job I set out to do eighteen years ago, remains the same but the little (and sometimes big) details in how I do that work change as the kids change, not with the flip of the calendar.

Great things will happen, I'm sure. New things and new directions are brewing, adventures and celebrations are being planned and executed. There will be accomplishments and things checked off my lists, while new items are added. I will not arrive at an end point but I will find myself further on the path.

It's almost the middle of February and I am nowhere near a winter breakdown. That is an "accomplishment", a self-improvement of sorts. I don't have any cabin fever or even winter angst. March is the month that carries a sense of foreboding for me. If things are going to go bad, that's when it's going to happen. But it hasn't gone really bad (where I'm crying for days on end and feel exhausted by the effort of life by 9 am) for three winters. But I know it could, so I watch with some vigilance for the signs of winter depression and do everything I can to bear up against such possibility.

Which is to say I ski. Oh, I ski and how I love it.

February is not a particularly beautiful month in my white, grey, and salted-sidewalks world. Maybe that's why people love Valentines Day so much, all those red hearts adding color to the drab.

I don't take a lot of photos this time of year. Of the couple hundred photos I took in the first seven days of February (yes, hundreds), seven of those were non-skiing photos. They were photos of Laurent's art.

I don't keep all the photos I take. I have a photo workflow which involves a lot of deleting. I also edit all my photos, and tag them with keywords so at any point in the future I can find photos with ease. It's just what I do.

But in February I do a whole lot less of that because I just don't take many photos. Except when it comes to skiing.

I've noticed in myself that the things I try to capture with photography are the things that are capturing my heart and/or enlivening my spirit. There might be a positive feedback loop involved here. When I intentionally look for beauty, I tend to notice it more.

Right now, my children are the throat-catching and heart-tugging beauty in my world. I guess that's been true for their whole lives.

My heart alternately soars with deep gratitude for the present moment while also feeling the stab of loss at their impended independence and separation from me. There isn't a scheduled date for that in our home, but it is the next stage. And in the same way I want to bear up against the possibility of winter depression, I want to bear up against the pain of this impeding change.

Celine has no plans to leave anytime soon and we are encouraging our children to stay close for post-secondary. It's their choice of course, but the financial help we can offer for the next stage of their life will be mostly of the room-and-board variety. It's why we moved to Montreal. By living in this great city full of amazing schools and in a province with heavily subsidized post-secondary education we've positioned ourselves, in the way we are able, to help our children pursue post-homeschool studies, should they so choose.

Celine graduates from homeschooled high-school this spring. Finishing this stage of her education, getting all her documentation in order, helping her consider and narrow down her options (and providing a loving push as necessary) - this is the stuff of my life right now that consumes a lot of my mental mothering energies.

We are about to cross a major threshold with our firstborn, and that transition is probably "the" big thing that is happening for me this year, as a mother and a homeschooler. Actively homeschooling and bearing the responsibility of facilitating and overseeing the education of my oldest child is one of the things I will release this year.

I spend a part of every other week (I have a schedule) working on Celine's transcript and portfolio. There are regular meetings with Celine and Laurent about their plans and purposes and how we will help them meet those goals. And when there are no defined goals, we help dig to the place in their hearts and minds where the desires and interests are rooted and we work out how those interests would translate into goals. This is how we homeschool and living this philosophy with teens is the most energetic part of the journey.

I'm freaked out a bit sometimes, but mostly I am exuberantly excited about this stage. I love homeschooling my high-schoolers. I have amazing kids. I wouldn't trade this time and effort for more money in the bank. I wouldn't trade it for more writing time (something that always feels in short supply). I wouldn't trade it for the career I am hoping to build once my homeschool career comes to an end.

Everything has a season. And this is my season of high energy and high activity with my teenagers.

My heart is full.

I am so thankful for our weekly skiing. It's our one day a week practice in which we continue, with the full and eager participation of our children, to stake a claim for family life, for having fun together, for enjoying winter. It is so worth all the effort and expense: the driving time, the gas, gear upgrades and making due with what we have. It's an investment in our family and our health.

It is the highlight of my week.

It's been a good ski season and I am so grateful for that. I was re-reading some of my posts from last winter. Last winter was hard in many respects. The skiing conditions weren't great. We had weeks and weeks of sickness.

It's probably the foil of last year that makes this year that much sweeter.


It's 11 am now and my fourteen year old, our youngest, has emerged from the cocoon of her bed. She's puttering around me in the kitchen, brewing herself a cup of black coffee; like mother, like daughter.

My boy, about to turn 16, is still sleeping, recovering no doubt from yesterday's full day of activity that didn't end till we got home at 11:30 pm. He was still gaming at 12:30 am, when I clicked off my Kindle and went to sleep. I have no idea when he went to bed, I do hope he will get a good ten hours of sleep before coming to for the day.

My oldest, seventeen, slept over at friend's house last night. I was the chauffeur responsible for transporting four chatty girls from co-op to the friend's house and I treated the girls to coffee at Starbucks enroute. The Starbucks was in a Chapters bookstore and so I found a table some way off from the girls to give them space. The sound of their incessant chatter and laughter, before they all dispersed to scour the bookshelves in silence (three of these girls are introverts), was more than worth the price of the lattes.

Celine's friend turned 18 this month and is celebrating with a dinner and swing dance party tonight. A gaggle of girls will be getting ready in a few hours for that party; doing hair, nails, and make-up in the fifties fashion.

Eighteen, it's coming for us soon. I am so happy for Celine's joy in having great fun with friends, but I am a little disappointed I'm won't be able to photograph her carefully planned and tailored outfit. Celine bought a skirt at a Montreal vintage boutique but did the final tailoring herself, of course.

Photographing my heart's joy and delight, it's what I do. But as my "delights" grow and move to independence, as they have experiences completely apart from me, in such healthy and beautiful ways, I guess I'll content myself with photographing the morning snow.

I grew up in rural Alberta. Which is to say, I grew up skating.

skating in montreal

In my experience, even if you weren't enrolled in extracurricular skating programs like hockey or figure skating, every kid learned to skate in elementary school in gym class. There wasn't a reliable outdoor rink at my school but we walked the 10 minutes or so to the arena, near the high school and civic centre, and we had our skating classes there.

Damien learned to skate as a child also, growing up likewise in rural Alberta, close to the Rocky Mountains. He was in hockey for a bit and his family lived in the country and they skated on a pond. He didn't like hockey, skating was ok, but snowboarding was his real love and winter sport passion.

skating in montreal

As we grew up and moved away from "home", making new homes in first New Jersey and then Maine, we grew out of skating. By the time our children were at the learn-to-skate age, skating did not factor into our lives. There were one or two winters in Maine where I took the kids skating at the indoor arena at the liberal arts college where Damien worked. Not too cold, good ice and good company; we'd go during Damien's lunch break and he'd meet us at the rink.

skating in montreal

When we moved to the Gaspe Peninsula five years ago, we introduced our family to skiing and it's been our winter sport ever since.

Last year was my first winter living in Montreal and I learned that skating abounds here, in a way I haven't experienced anywhere else I've lived. The city and neighborhoods ensure that skating is an accessible winter sport to city residents. Outdoor rinks pop up all over the city. Two exist within a 10 minute walk from our apartment. One is a full size hockey rink with boards and nets. The other is a "loop" of ice in a nearby park. This one includes a trailer with skates you can borrow (for free) and a blue porty-potty in case you just gotta go. (I'll walk home thanks.)

skating in montreal

We're not hockey players and we're still newbies on our skates so we stick to the park where parents and grandparents teach the toddlers to skate with the PVC pipe frames that you can also borrow from the trailer.

skating in montreal

As a child I learned to skate by pushing around a folding chair. People here do that too, arriving at the park with a folding chair under their arms, a snow-suited preschooler in tow.

I never did get skates last year, but this year I vowed to make it happen. It was one of those non-negotiables on my winter to-do list. I don't know how long I'll live in Montreal, so I want to make the most of what the city has to offer.

skating in montreal

Because we don't have a lot of experience with skating and I'm not sure Brienne and Laurent's feet are done growing, and because I wanted to just go somewhere and get the right skates, for the right price, I opted to rent skates this year from Poubelle de ski on Boulevard Saint Laurent; the place where thousands of Montrealers outfit their families for winter sports by renting equipment, at reasonable prices, for the season.

If the kids, one of those kids is nearly an adult now (gulp), decide they want to continue skating we'll look at buying skates next year but this was a good way to re-introduce everyone back to the sport.

skating in montreal

The kids have gone skating in the afternoons, as the weather permits. And for Brienne's belated birthday party I brought a gaggle of girls here also.

Lucky for me, Celine and I can share the same size (if I wear an extra thick sock) so I've been borrowing her skates. It's been about 10 years since I've been on skates but I have a childhood bank of muscle memory and experience to drawn on, it's coming back to me slowly. And I wear my ski helmet, the only adult at the park to do so, in case I lose my footing.

The weather in the city has not been conducive to skating for the last week or so. Warming temperatures, then freezing rain and slushy snow, but it looks like some cold days are coming, for which I am grateful. (After publishing this post I came across this video of someone skating on the street this past week in Montreal. I guess conditions were ok, on that one day at least, for skating after all. Just not for driving or walking!)

skating in montreal

All over the country people are skating this time of year. They are skating in arenas, and on ponds, they are skating on outdoor rinks flooded and maintained by civic-minded volunteers and municipal employees.

skating in montreal

I live in a vast northern land that is often divided by politics, in a country where it is hard to find a cohesive center across great geographical and cultural distance. The gift of my experience growing up in the European immigrant settled, English-speaking rural west, and living now as I do in francophone Quebec, in the heart of Canada's most cosmopolitan city, is how intimately I understand these tensions. I often ask myself, "what ties it all together besides Tim Hortons?"

Maybe it's skating.

Winter is my season for making soap, lotions, candles, and lip balm. This past November I started with a big batch of soap and some candles to get me through the first part of winter.

In December I made lotions and body butters. This month I'll make lip balm and more candles. Everything that gets made before Christmas is fair game for gift giving, and is part of the reason that late fall is such a great time to make these things.

It's a delight for me to create, use, and give these products and to keep my skin well moisturized during the dark, cold, and dry days of winter.

This year I've been experimenting again with lotion bars.

After some less than impressive results in past years I had largely dismissed lotion bars.

Most of the tutorials I'd found in previous years recommended using silicon molds. I don't have silicon molds. (Yes, I've been making skin care products for nearly a decade and I don't have silicon molds and still no desire to buy them either.)


cocoa butter

One time I used my silicon muffin pan to make little discs of lotion. In other attempts I just poured the mix into a small tin or glass jars.

I was not impressed with the small disc molding method. I find these awkward to store and transport. I was not super impressed with the tin and glass jar option either. Scratching my nail across the surface to loosen the solidified bar I kept thinking "there must be a better way to mold and use a lotion bar".

Of course there is, and other minds greater than mine figured this out years ago but it's taken me a while to catch on.

Pouring the mixture into a dispensing tube (aka: a deodorant tube) was a game changer. Yes, it's more money to make the bar, because you have to buy the tube (less than $2). But you can also re-use an old (thoroughly cleaned) deodorant tube.


shea butter

I made two batches of lotion bars before Christmas, and in my usual fashion I adapted recipes I found online. And in my usual fashion, I learned from trial and error.

My second batch produced a very hard bar, too much beeswax, so I had to "recall" a gift from a friend (yes, I asked to have it back) so I could re-melt it, add more shea butter, then re-pour the whole lot. She's a good friend, I wasn't embarrassed. And I'm happy to report the re-melt produced a much softer bar better than the original recipe.


re-pouring the lotion bars

My third attempt this season at making a lotion bar has yielded the best results. In fact, I've been working on this recipe to make it as fail-safe as possible (not too hard, not to soft, but just right) so I could heartily recommend it to you.

Kokum Butter Lotion Bar

This recipe uses a new-to-me vegetable butter called Kokum. I got the inspiration from Frugally Sustainable. If you can't source Kokum you can use a mix of shea and cocoa butter. I tested both recipes, one with kokum and one with a shea/cocoa butter mix but I prefer the kokum. I find it less greasy which is a huge win for homemade lotion.

I use this bar on my hands primarily but I would also use this on dry patches of skin.

This recipes makes just enough to fill one 80 ml (2.65 fl oz) deodorant tube. I tweaked this specifically, so you wouldn't have leftovers that you had to pour into... little jars and tins. 80 ml is the standard size dispensing tube, is easiest to find, and is the cheapest, at least for me, to buy.

Ingredients:

  • 12 gm beeswax
  • 24 gm kokum butter, or 12 gm shea butter and 12 gm cocoa butter
  • 36 gm coconut oil
  • 5 drops each of peppermint, orange, clove, and lavender essential oils

You can use whatever essential oils you like but I find this particular combination to be an amazing fragrance.

I used a calendula-infused coconut oil for this lotion. I made a large batch in the fall and have been using it for all my lotions and lip balm making. Regular coconut oil is fine.

Directions:

  1. Over low heat melt the oils in a pot. Remove from heat.
  2. Add essential oils. Stir well.
  3. Pour into tube. (Make sure the base of the tube is twisted all the way to the bottom so the maximum space can be filled.)

I love the dispensing tube for a couple reasons:

  • There is no water in this recipe so you don't have to worry about microbial growth. But the lotion that is below the top of the dispenser is not exposed to any contaminants from your skin or the air. This reduced exposure means that the bar will stay fresh for a long time. (I don't know exactly how long but it will definitely last the season.)

  • The tube is very portable and clean to use. No greasy tins or jars or "how do I take this in my purse/backpack?"

Click here to download a printable version of this recipe → Kokum Butter Lotion Bar

Making lotion bars is one of the easier homemade body care products to make. It's way easier than making a liquid lotion, and you avoid all the preservative controversy and microbial risks. It's way easier than making soap. And I think it's even easier than making lip balm, which requires pouring into little tubes.

If I was new to making soap and body care products I think I'd start with lotion bars. The ingredients are relatively easy to source, the recipe and directions are a breeze, and it makes a great product.

My next post will be a review, along with a coupon code, from a Canadian supplier, Sunrise Botanics, for buying everything you need to make lotion bars and other soapmaking, cosmetic, and skincare products.

Also, if you want to learn to make soap this winter, registration for Hibernate is still open for a couple more days. We are already having a wonderful time in the retreat sharing our winter wellness plans, learning how to harvest and prepare chaga brews, making herbal cold remedies, and learning easy knitting patterns. And that's just the first four days!

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