It's time to change pens (and other ways to honor a seasonal shift)

Damien and I went backpacking this past weekend in the Adirondacks. This was the first backpacking trip we have taken since the we hiked the Appalachian Trail (for 6 months) and it was our first trip alone, without the children.

I loved it. I loved the trail, the mountains (though the trails straight up the mountains were a bit brutal). I loved waking up on Sunday morning to a frosty wonderland. I loved being with my husband in the outdoors. In all our years and many miles of backpacking, this felt to me like our best outing ever. This was our first trip with our 20th Anniversary fund I mentioned in this post and I am already anticipating November's adventure together.

Our three day trip, you can read my trail journal here, was the perfect way to transition to fall. We had some rainy weather, some frost, but also crisp blue skies and the glory of autumn foliage. It was amazing.

The turning of the season is an important marker for me. During the threshold from one time of year to another I like to think about the coming months and plan accordingly. I function best when I align my daily/weekly/monthly actions and expectations with seasonal rhythms. I feel disingenuous, inconsistent and just "off" when the pace of my life, my cycles of productivity and rest, and the direction of my inner compass doesn't correspond with these rhythms.

I've had seasons in my life where my cycles of productivity and rest did not align with my body's natural seasonal rhythms. Mid-winter seasons that required "high energy", or times when I set myself up to do certain projects without taking into account the limitations and opportunities of the season. "Make hay while the sun shines" is a cliche for a reason, it makes a whole lot of sense. These occasions when I have felt out of sync with the season have been really instructive for me and taught me the importance of honoring my natural rhythms throughout the year.

Sometimes we come to know and recognize what really works for us by bumping up against things that really don't work for us.

There are so many creative ways, big and small, that people celebrate and honor seasons. The home decor, greeting card, and craft industries, not to mention coffee shops with their pumpkin lattes, are kept alive by the natural desire we have to form rituals and routines around seasonal changes.

Over the years I've explored all kinds of decorative, creative, and crafty expressions of the seasons in our home. As a wanna-be-minimalist I don't do much with seasonal decorating anymore, though I love sprays, wreaths, and bouquets of spring pussy willows, summer flowers, autumn pumpkins and winter bittersweet. And I adore seasonal handmade, non-kitschy textiles - quilts, needle felting, stitching. I just don't make any of that myself and have limited space to store and display such beauty.

Photography (and online publishing of those photos) and gardening largely fill the need to creatively and visually express the seasons in a way that is more suited to my overall values and aesthetic than mass-produced, store-bought decor.

But honoring the seasons is so much more than creative and visual expression, it's more than mums and hay bales in autumn and potted pansies in spring. Seasonal living influences the type of outdoor activities I do and the foods I prepare for my family. Seasonal living is about recognizing the changes in my energy levels and changes in productivity, and being ok with that. Over the years I have become better at giving myself permission to go with the flow in this area and to honor my internal compass.

Embracing the seasons is partially a mindset, choosing to view my circumstances through a certain lens or shift in perspective. But it is also action-orientated, becoming conscious and intentional about what I plan for and commit to during different seasons, both life seasons and calendar seasons.

This is one of the chief ways I feel disconnected and out of place in the world-at-large, because so many systems operate on aseasonal rhythms. (I looked it up, it's a real world.) And yet I've come to depend on that for my survival and comfort. I'm complicit in that system, so I can't be all "nose up in the air" about it now, can I?

One of the things I am most drawn to in the modern homesteading movement, and more generally, the simple living philosophy, is the return to and the emphasis on seasons. This is also why I love the Waldorf education philosophy.

My urban Montreal life isn't a homesteading reality. And I don't think the large garden, canning, cheese-making, hunting and raising animals, fill-in-all-the-blanks, is anywhere in my future. I'm inspired by those things, but I don't aspire to do them, and I don't think I need to in order to live seasonally.

Sometimes very simple things, creative projects and intentional actions can help point your inner compass to align with nature and the season.

In a four seasons culture like Canada, people do this all the time as a necessity (regardless of their inner compass). Changing our wardrobe from summer to winter, reorganizing the mudroom and closets to hold boots and parkas, switching out swimsuits and beach towels for sweaters and toques.

This year I've been using a very simple tool to mark the change in seasons. It's something fun and light-hearted, doesn't require a lot of storage space, and is extremely practical for me.

I'm using colored gel pens in my journal.

This is my first year of bullet journaling, and I love it. I've started to write about using a bullet journal, but haven't finished that series.

I use my journal for managing my weekly calendar and daily to-do's, but I also use it as a place for spiritual growth field notes, creative inspiration, and keeper of other good ideas.

I've been using gel pens to draw attention to spiritual insights I've written, to focus my attention on the truths on which I want to meditate. I also like to highlight special days and events, and since March I've been writing brief monthly summaries and I use the gel pens to highlight the dominant words or themes from those summaries.

I've never kept this type of journal before. The Bullet Journal concept gave me an organizing tool that helps me bring together my to-do lists, monthly summaries, planning pages, conversations with God (prayers), spiritual reflections etc. I love the integration of all these.

I'm using seasonally-colored gel pens in my journal and I'm also making "inspiration" pages for each season. This started back in January, when I created my winter wellness plan, as part of Heather's Hibernate course. (I credit Heather with helping me to honor and celebrate my seasonal tendencies. Her blog and her courses, which bring together a community of likeminded women around excellent teaching, have affirmed this aspect of my being, and helped me to grow in my confidence as I set personal boundaries and make plans for each season.)

I don't like the blue tinge to these printed photos

This past winter I printed the photo collages from my winter wellness plan, paired it with a Zentangle I completed last December and ta-da, a inspiration page for the season was created. And having made one for winter I decided to follow-through for each season of the year: winter (January-March), spring (April-June), summer (July-September), fall (October-November) and holidays (December). Yep, five seasons in my year. In my life, in my home, in my internal landscape, late November through December is a season unto itself.

Each seasonal inspiration page in my journal is different but the colors, images, text etc. are inspired by the theme for that season, and the colors I've chosen to represent that theme.

Here are the colors I chose for this year. And the themes I wanted those colors to represent.


  • colors: icy blue & sparkling (champagne) orange
  • essence: sparkly, crystalline, warm, golden
  • a time to rest in the warmth and feel invigorated in the brisk air


  • colors: lime/celery green & lilac purple
  • essence: fresh, pretty, clean
  • a time for hope, renewal, a fresh start


  • colors: raspberry red, sunset/calendula orange, dark purple highlight
  • essence: juicy, vibrant, lush
  • a time of high energy, growth, bold colors, bold living


  • colors: goldenrod/sunflower yellow, chestnut brown, blue highlight
  • essence: golden, gathering, readying
  • a time to get ready for winter, to gather in and around


  • red, star-studded midnight blue, candle light yellow
  • essence: contemplative, saturnalia
  • a time for both merry-making and drawing in

I haven't yet created my fall inspiration page, I would like to do a "vining" type drawing. I see orange, pumpkins, goldenrod, brown leaves, a cornucopia of the fall harvest. It's all in my head and I wish I was a better artist to get it onto paper. Maybe I can do something with Zentangle drawing techniques. We'll see. It's a fun creative project to think about and execute.

winter color themed Zentangle

I wasn't able to find the exact color of gel pens I wanted for each season, I've made due with what I've found. I haven't owned any gel pens before this project so it's been fun to buy two new pens at the threshold of each season.

Last Monday I bought my fall pens, I couldn't get the brown I wanted, but the two colors I picked are a nice combination regardless. And my summer pen combination was not what I originally planned for either. I switched out the orange when I realized it would look like repeat of winter, so I went with a strawberry pink (Sakura Metallic) and a gold tinged purple (Sakura Gold Shadow).

My goal with the gel pens was to have different colors for each season even though I feel green could be used to represent all seasons, but then again the same is true for red, yellow and blue.

Anyway, it's not about picking the perfect color, it's about enjoying a creative expression of each season. And recognizing, in simple and pretty ways, that each season has a different energy for me, a different vibe. And sometimes they seem to contradict each other: merry-making and contemplation, for example. But these are true expressions for how I experience the different seasons, for how I experience the change in light, change in temperature, change in energy, change in focus.

My focus this fall is to gather the supplies to support our physical wellbeing through winter, to continue my preparations for cold and flu. To gather in around learning and learning routines, to adjust once again to the co-op schedule. To gather supplies and make body care products, a perfect November activity. And to ready ourselves for winter fun, saving for a ski pass and searching for used skates.

I will have to do things that don't align with my seasonal rhythms, that's life. But having an expectation for the season, an intention based on inner knowing and past experience, points me in the direction I want to go.

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  • Tracy Alsterlund

    Tracy Alsterlund on Sept. 27, 2016, 2:53 p.m.

    I am hoping that when the time is right, you share what you have come up with for your fight against cold/flu. I'm with you wanting to figure out how to support my family's health. I enjoy hearing what you are learning and exploring, including the health and wellbeing. Germs are a seasonal thing I don't want to celebrate this year.


  • Krista

    Krista on Sept. 28, 2016, 3:50 p.m.

    Love this, Renée. When I learn to shift and relax into and embrace the seasonal changes I live with greater peace and joy. I know my mental and physical health is supported as well. And of course by seasonal I do mean the four seasons and the seasons of life. Both are so important. Each day, though, I must be intentional about this. Remind myself all over again. I appreciate your constant encouragement. xo 



  • Beth

    Beth on Sept. 28, 2016, 8:58 p.m.

    I love this.  I too use colored gel pens but I tend to stick with mostly purple year round.

    The past decade I've become very seasonal in just about every aspect of my life.  What I eat, the kinds of beer I drink (Hey, I live in Wisconsin.), the colors I wear, even to an extent the books I read.  Not to mention my self care rituals and daily routines.   It's become a spiritual practice, as in, embracing the season even if it's uncomfortable.

    Kind of wish I could do that as well in the bigger Seasons of life! Ah well, it's a process.

    Right now we've just begun my very favorite time of year.  Autumn through January.  The preparation for winter brings nourishes my soul in a way that's difficult to express.  This week I've been canning roasted salsa and working on building my stash of your roasted tomato soup for the freezer.  One more half bushel of tomatoes and then I start on apples!


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 30, 2016, 12:43 p.m.

      Beth, I loved reading about your seasonal practices, and even the beer. I love seasonal beer also. 

      I like how you make the connection between seasonal practices and spiritual practices. As I was writing this I was thinking about the traditional church calendar, which I don't follow very closely, and how for some people that is how they shift and move through the seasons. Seasonal living, and honoring seasons, and responding to them accordingly, is a type of spiritual living, which all manner of religions and belief systems acknowledge. 

      I love to hear how you are nourished as you prepare for winter. Makes me happy :)


  • Francie

    Francie on Sept. 30, 2016, 4:06 p.m.

    Gasp! That single read maple leaf resting on a hammock of twigs stopped me right in my tracks. What a photo!


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