10 more weeks of winter (a Project Home & Healing update)

I find pronouncements of "six more weeks of winter" somewhat amusing. Spring on the horizon, as seen in the Groundhog's shadow or celebrated in Imbolc, is a decidedly non-northern, or at least non-Quebec, reality.

We still have a lot of winter left, and the really surprising thing is that I don't mind.

I was sad to say goodbye to January.

This winter feels precious to me.

In part, because it is a season of healing. A time of deliberate attention to self. I feel supported, affirmed, celebrated, and taken care of in ways I haven't for many months.

Another contributing factor to this winter's unique-ness, is the knowledge that we will never again live in this exact spot. This is our only winter in this home on the hill overlooking the bay.

I will never again be treated to this particular winter-woods ski route or watch the January sun rise from our bedroom window.

The other reality is that with each major transition in our family life, I'm getting a clearer picture of life in just a few short years, a household without the hustle and bustle and voracious appetites of our teenaged brood. And so like Heather, I am realizing how much I want to cherish this time as mother, homemaker, homeschooler. Some of these winter days together have been so beautiful to me, I just want to stop time.

One last thing that I mourn about the passing of winter is the change in the light.

The days are longer - rejoice! But deep winter holds the special honor of being the only months of the year when I can witness both the sun rising and setting. On clear mornings I will often step out the door, in the frigid cold of winter pre-dawn, wrapped in a blanket, and watch the sun climb over trees at the edge of the field.

And again, later in the afternoon I'll put on a jacket and my pink rubber boots, or maybe my sheepskin slippers. I'll grab the camera and watch the sun sink, across the bay, over New Brunswick.

I'm having a fantastic winter.

I can't say, yet, that it's the best winter of recent memory. It's still too early to tell. We have many more weeks of skiing and shoveling ahead of us. For early February though, I'm doing well.

It's been quiet on the blog for the last week because I was working on January's Kitchen Table essay. That essay is about January's Project Home and Healing theme: fun and flow and pushing through resistance (or not).

That essay touches on just one aspect of my post-hike recovery but January was a month of making significant strides in several areas of healing on both a personal and marriage level.

Project Home & Healing: An Outline

When we came home from our hike last September I sketched an outline for my emotional and mental recovery. I was trying to make sense of a three-year decline in my confidence, security, and wellbeing. This decline culminated in intense mental and emotional strain during our hike, a feeling of brokenness, and then burn out upon our return.

In the past few years some important pieces of my identity and wellbeing were, how do I say this, shelved or ignored. Both Damien and I share the responsibility for this.

Last fall, my physical body and the inner me spoke loud and clear what I needed for healing. I understand my inner me to be the essence of who I am - the child me, young woman me, current me, and the sage woman I hope to become.

Is that my soul? I don't know. All I know is that she spoke.

And in response, I came up with a three pronged approach to rebuild my wellbeing:

  • Attend to my Mental Health
  • Return to my Roots
  • Craft a Vision for me Going Forward

By the time December rolled around I was making some progress but it was slow. As a couple however, we were still spinning our wheels.

Then we had the breaking down and rebuilding on the marriage level and things really started to make sense, to click. And the forward momentum shifted into another gear.

My recovery and healing at this point involved a fourth, and most necessary element:

  • Structural Changes to our Family Life

This actually became the bedrock for the three elements I had established earlier.

I think it's working. Actually, I know it is but I am cautious in these regards. Two months is not two years of change and progress but it's something.

January was a good month. And I think it's fitting to tell the story of the month in the structure of my Project Home & Healing outline.

A breakdown of January according to Project Home & Healing

1. Structural Changes to our Family Life

These are huge and I hope to share the story in more depth, because man, what a good story, but here's the short version.

Damien and I stopped our online working together. He has his work and enterprises, and I have mine.

Damien is completely focusing on the technology side of his skill set, passion and experience. And he's earning a lot more money because of it. And this is an important part of my wellbeing, since I crave security and stability.

He's started a new business with someone really cool, another geeky engineer like himself that some of you might recognize as the husband of a well-regarded small business woman, online entrepreneur and blogger. (No, I'm not telling yet who the mystery man is. But Damien met him three years ago through my online world, and I think that's pretty cool.)

And we sold Toe Salad. All that happened in January.

Most of the structural changes to our family life have to do with work. How we earn our income, or rather how Damien earns the income for our family. Those changes affect more than our financial bottom line, they affect our schedule and our division of labor in the home.

2. Attend to my Mental Health

I don't know that I've actually come out and said this before in a post so I will now. I have a paternal family history of depression and anxiety. These are private stories that aren't mine to tell but they are a part of me because that same blood runs in my veins.

Last fall I looked back on three years and took stock. I had a tough winter with SAD in 2012, a really bad March with SAD in 2013, a two month bout of depression in the middle of summer (my happy season) on the trail, precipitated, accompanied by, and followed by feelings of shame, brokenness, and unworthiness.

This is not how I want to live so I need to get serious about my mental health. The degree to which Damien and I successfully execute our plans and live our values and the joy we experience in our marriage and family life, largely hinge on my mental health. My outlook, how I perceive challenges, and how I overcome them is critical.

For winter specifically, I have a SAD action plan which I shared in Heather's Hibernate course. But there needs to be more because I have years of faulty and sometimes destructive mental tracks laid, where one thought leads to another that quickly goes down a path that takes me to hairy and scary.

This is one of my projects for the year. With our family structure feeling much more supportive to who I am, what I need, and how I'm wired, it feels safe to be critical with my thinking and work to make changes.

This is a large-scale project and will not be accomplished in one year, and I do believe I'm going to have to take special care, if my family history is any indicator, of my mental health for probably my lifetime. But my goal is to make significant strides forward this year.

January's Kitchen Table essay discusses very practical steps I am taking in this regard.

3. Return to My Roots

Here are the words that first came to me last fall in attempting to define Return to my Roots: comfort, stability, security, routines, connection, and creativity.

Return to my Roots encompasses many things but at its core it's about listening to my inner voice calling me back what I know and love.

It's about making music, making home, making beautiful, useful things with my hands. It's about recognizing and honoring the importance of tradition, security, and stability to my wellbeing. It's about being rooted in community and place, and knowing I belong.

There are big and little manifestations of this Project Home and Healing element in my life, but I'll stick to two big January initiatives - joining a choir (a return to making music, a dominant theme from my personal past) and participating in Hibernate.

The choir is completely en français, and though that leaves me a little shaky in the security department, the making of music feeds my soul. Not to mention learning French as a Second Language is a intellectual goal of mine and my choir immersion experiences contribute to that.

Hibernate was the surprise win of January. Hibernate is an online retreat about making the most of winter around five themes: nourish, gather, renew, create and rest. For the last month I've been a part of a community of creative homemakers, enjoying winter around home and hearth.

This celebration and community of seasonal homemaking and self-care speaks exactly to where I'm at. And has contributed significantly to Project Home and Healing this month.

I have had so much fun in this workshop and felt very supported in who I am - a natural-inspired homemaker and seeker of beautiful things in my life. This workshop has been pure joy, comfort and winter goodness (herbal recipes, healthy meals & nourishing hot drinks) all rolled into one.

4. Craft a Vision

I'm not a big visionary so the Craft a Vision as part of my wellness strategy is about seeing the future in baby steps and little dreams. I honor that my preference is to work this way - with a fairly narrow, detail-orientated scope.

Last fall I created eight compass points to guide my goals and personal development moving forward. These points don't reside solely under Craft a Vision, but I'm sticking them here for simplicity sake.

Those eight points are:

  • creative
  • intellectual
  • work
  • body
  • spirit
  • relationships
  • home
  • adventure/travel

Some of my compass points are filled with specific vision and action steps for the next couple years. For example, my vision for my work as a homeschooler is very explicit - graduate these kids. My home compass point is also well laid out, as are my intellectual and creative goals.

Others are a bit vague right now. Especially unclear is where I want to go with my work as a writer, homeschool coach, photographer, blogger, and communicator. Not working with Damien in a close income-earning partnership (though he's still my technical go-to guy) changes the game for me.

As part of the Structural Changes to our Family Life we established a clear division of labor for the next couple of years.

I am taking care of kids and home and helping to manage our business finances. Add daily exercise, reading, personal study, and creative pursuits and my days are completely full. I don't have time, in this season, for outside-home-and-family work beyond writing this blog.

However, this is just a season and I'd like some sense of direction for what comes next.

But the picture is still really fuzzy. I compare it to studying an impressionist painting. Close up, the lines are swirly and indistinct, but at the appropriate distance, the painting's meaning and message is obvious.

I have an up-close and indistinct lines perspective of my work. I see the dominant colors in my experiences, skills, and passions but I don't see the big picture. I see strokes of yellow and blue but I don't see The Starry Night.

For now though, the task-at-hand, in terms of crafting a vision for my work, is to rest.

That's what the Year of the Fallowed Field is all about. Resting, being at ease with myself and rebuilding my confidence.

January was a very busy month. Things happening on big and small levels. We are raising teenagers who go to taekwondo and youth group and there's skiing and friend get togethers and the library in New Brunswick and choir practice for me and keeping everyone coming and going and well fed while doing so. Maintaining a structure and atmosphere for studying and creating and ensuring everyone has clean clothes (on a somewhat regular basis) requires good management.

We've been up to our eyeballs in financial stuff - selling a blog, starting another business, managing changes with the house in Maine, and reassessing our insurance needs. Financial Management, most of it with a deadline attached, was like a big wave crashing into our lives this past month.

Everyone, except me, had a spell with a winter cold in January. And Damien bruised his ribs skiing. The recipes for soothing infusions and remedies from Heather's workshop came just in time.

Life is busy, and it's deep winter, but things are good. I feel great. And this tells me Project Home & Healing is working.

Now it's time to invest my energies into February's theme: creativity. Which means February's shaping up to be great month too.

« Photographing January's Color
My sweet spot »
  • Maria Cordner

    Maria Cordner on Feb. 9, 2015, 8:03 a.m.

    I love your self-awareness and courage to live truly! I can relate to have s family history off depression! I have battled depression myself on and off overthe years! I've learned to catch myself when I go into a "dip" of it! I think there are some very good cognitive strategies to help us through it! Your plan seams great, like living purposefully! All the power to you Renee. Thanks for sharing!


  • KP

    KP on Dec. 10, 2015, 7:25 p.m.

    Taking the time to stop what you're doing and discover yourself, especially as a mom has to be one of the hardest things to do. As we age it seems we only take on more responsibilities and take less care of ourselves. Some women take it to an extreme which can't end well. It takes a brave women to realize this and make a change for the better, for herself and her family. Very inspiring. 


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