Making a wellness plan for 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.

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January for the rest of us »
  • Krista

    Krista on Jan. 18, 2016, 6:11 p.m.

    I really like this. It is part of what my Mind-Body Reboot is about - getting clear on WHO we want to BE and HOW we want to FEEL. My course is broader than Hibernate, mind you, and does ask participants to add in habits, mindsets, new foods, etc. in order to support them in aligning with their Core Desired Feelings and 'Big Rocks'. It is also how I live my life - getting really clear on HOW I want to be. I must continually check-in as it is so easy to get pulled off track. Creating To Do Lists and action goals are meaningless if they do not align with my bigger vision. Or if they begin to tear away at my spirit and cause weariness.


  • Lisa

    Lisa on Jan. 18, 2016, 11:33 p.m.

    I love how you split winter up into three "seasons" because that truly is how I experience the long winters in MInnesota, but I've never thought of it that way. I'm going to try thinking that way and see if it changes my experience or aids in my ability to "make it through." Of course, the weather will determine a lot of it. If it stays frigidly cold in Minnesota like it is now (which it hopefully won't and usually doesn't!), I'm probably going to keep hibernating and doing my walks at the mall. I guess I live by the weather so much, on reality...



  • Beth

    Beth on Jan. 20, 2016, 9:25 p.m.

    Bravo for the organized freezer cooking! Your system is impressive. Mine is a little more haphazard but it still saves my butt regularly.  The doubling method seems to work better for me as well instead a marathon cooking session once a month. We are blessed with a very large upright freezer in our basement so I tend to stockpile frozen meals over a few weeks or months and then pull them out when we have a period where all hell breaks loose with the schedule.  I don't mind cooking every day but with the ages of my kids right now I can't be spending so much of the after school time cooking. Too much to manage. 


  • Sarah

    Sarah on Jan. 23, 2016, 11:34 p.m.

    I find it very helpful to let my children cook. It takes a lot of pressure of me and also there are four minds at work, thinking of what to cook, planning meals, etc. instead of just mine.

    In any way, when I feel tired and see there is too much work somewhere around the household I delgate it. My children have a lot of energy and are capable to take over some things to free up some time for me to rest, do something for myself or enjoy some time alone (which is when I recharge my batteries).

    I love your beautiful winter-photos, Renee - so much snow! :-)


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 24, 2016, 1:36 a.m.

      That's a great idea Sarah. My aunt sent me an email with the same message: have the kids cook. :) In past life seasons that has worked really well for us.

      Last year at this time the kids were cooking three suppers a week (one each) so they are perfectly capable, and I am a firm believer in kids contributing and sharing the load. They've been working around the house since they were toddlers :)

      My kids clean the house, make lunch, do chores (laundry, garbages,etc) they definitely contribute and I'm happy to delegate jobs. But this current season, fall 2015 and winter 2016, is not the season for them to be cooking supper because of increased study requirements, part-time jobs, scheduling issues and other priorities we have as a family. That's my choice and it's a conscious one. 

      This is a season where I am the one responsible for this job and I’m ok with it. I'm onboard on the intellectual level, I'm theoretically willing, but it's been hard for me practically, until figuring out freezer meals.


      • Sarah

        Sarah on Jan. 24, 2016, 5:38 p.m.

        Oh I see, I didn't know.

        I think we all organize things around our schedules and make choices to ensure everything goes smooth - sometimes this works best, another time we have to try out something else. ;-)

        Freezer-cooking sounds great, too! I am considering this option for when our 4th baby arrives in April. The weeks before and after birth when I need time to recover. My kids are not old enough to take over all the cooking, and freezer meals would be a great option.

        Maybe you would like to write a post about freezer meals? Or did you do it and I missed it?



        • renee

          renee on Jan. 24, 2016, 9:02 p.m.

          No problem (and I have compulsive need to explain my reasoning for things and my position so you got more information than you bargained for, I'm sure). 

          I haven't written about freezer meals. I'd recommend Heather's course to you but she isn't running it again till next Autumn, past your baby's arrival. Congratulations by the way. 


  • Lane Vega

    Lane Vega on Feb. 16, 2016, 10:47 p.m.

    I am still making something weekly from Heather's wonderful frezzer meal class. It makes me feel wonderful to cook myfamily something wholesome, pack wholesome food for lunch and then have an extra meal. I ussaly take one day everyother week to organize my frezzer/plan prep for the next batch. Glad I was not the only one who felt it was a game changer. :)


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