Middle March: rewriting the script

I'm guessing winter will be over in another five to six weeks. It could happen sooner, but let's be realistic, this corner of North America was slammed with winter this year and most of us are still under a lot of snow. I'm no meteorologist but I think it will take a while still for the snow to melt and winter to release her grip.

This winter was defined by a few things for me, the momentous and mundane: a season's ski pass which enabled us to ski every weekend, Damien's business trip to Alberta in February, Laurent's 14th birthday, Céline's C2E2 plans driving her curriculum (my next post in the homeschooling through high school series will explain this), cross country skiing out our door, participating in Heather's Hibernate workshop, a knitting project I'm so close to completing, watching Netflix on the big screen with my big kids (Downton Abbey's 5th season, and all of Merlin), weekly choir practice (our spectacle is on Friday!), and lots of reading.

The important thing, and the point of this post, is what did not define my winter: seasonal affective disorder.

I'm safely through the most dangerous winter territory, late February and into March, and I haven't experienced anything even close to the emotional lows of winter 2012 and 2013.

(Last winter we were too busy getting ready for our hike for me to feel depressed but I was quite stressed during that time. There was so much to do and a lot of deadlines. I hate deadlines. I repeatedly thought and expressed, "I don't want to live like this", but didn't see any way out except to just get through it.)

I met my SAD this year head-on with a personal wellness strategy of supplements, happy light, daily outdoor exercise, and self-acceptance.

We also changed our lives in significant ways to support a season of healing and restoration for me. The magnitude of those changes hasn't shown up on the blog much, yet. I have too many other things to write about.

Part of my "enjoy winter plan" was to get outside every day. I did a lot of cross country skiing but March required a change in my physical activity. The routine and route that brought me so much joy and beauty in January and February was just, meh, come March. I was bored.

So I started doing yoga.

I've done bits and pieces of yoga over the years, but never anything regular. I'm not sure if this month's foray into yoga will result in a regular yoga practice but it's getting me through March and that's fairly significant.

I'm using an iPad app called Yoga Studio. Damien got it for his own needs and introduced me to it. (I'm also borrowing Damien's yoga mat right now till I buy my own.)

I really like this format - the verbal instructions along with the video demonstrations are very easy to understand. I can choose different "classes", according to my needs and abilities. Right now I'm doing 30 minute beginner combo classes, strength focus classes and sun salutations.

A few other things are keeping me going through this last, long month of winter.

Dreams and plans

When we came home from the trail I was dreamed out. I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to think about the future. All I wanted to do was rest and to hunker down for the winter. A season of rest, along with making the changes we did in December and January have given me the security I need to start dreaming again.

March is a great month to make plans for the summer.

I'm starting to get the backpacking itch, the first stirrings since leaving the trail physically injured and heart weary. We've been tossing around summer hiking, camping, and travel ideas. One of my many cousins is getting married in October on the other side of the country, and I'm going. (I can't wait to be with the Toews clan again.)

Much sooner on the horizon, my parents are coming to visit for Easter.

In July, we're moving to Montreal. I guess this is my blog "announcement". I'll be blogging more about this move in probably April or May. I'll be answering, Why Montreal? Why now? that kind of thing.

We decided this move before Christmas but with spring fever in our blood we're starting to talk about what this will look like. All the places we'll be close to and all the adventures awaiting us living close to an airport, close to Vermont, New Hampshire, and the White Mountains.

A good homeschool groove

In February the kids and I took a two and a half three week break from our usual routine. I wanted some time for a sewing project. There was Laurent's birthday and, I don't remember... something else in there that necessitated a break.

"Spring" break for the school kids in our community was the first week of March this year. But when I flipped the calendar into March I was recharged and ready to roll.

I truly enjoy my kids at this stage, so very much. Our discussions are challenging. I like being able to watch non-PG tv together. I love collaborating with them as they do really cool things. I love that they cook and contribute significantly around the house. I love that we have distinct interests and loves but share affection for each other. I love that we can race down mountainsides together.

Sharing these years with my kids, anticipating the future together, watching them come into their own is my greatest joy right now. My relationship with them fills my well.

And homeschooling them, when I take the breaks I need to recharge, is not a burden but a joy also.

That's what homeschooling this month feels like to me. It feels like daily disciplines that yield good fruit in their season.

It feels like anticipation. All of us will be traveling next month, going separate ways, to meet goals we have. (I believe lots of plans, hope, anticipation and activity are key elements of a happy home in the teen years. Teens want to do stuff.)

There was no homeschool burnout this winter and with exciting plans on the horizon I'm motivated to finish March strong.

Affection and friendship with Damien

Our marriage took a bit of a beating on the trail. Someday I'll tell the whole story, why that happened, etc.

Damien and I were committed to each other, completely, through the whole thing but the bonds of our friendship were strained. Commitment is one thing (and it's one of the bedrocks of our relationship), but friendship is just as important. And we've been working, since coming back, on renewing our friendship and delight in each other's company.

Ironically, this necessitated that we stop working together and invest in ourselves individually, so that we come to our marriage and our "togetherness" as unique, vibrant, distinct and interesting people, not simply extensions of each other (which doesn't work so well).

This month, I've been reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I find all the questionnaires and scoring exercises tedious, I skip those parts but I'm gleaning a lot of insight from the rest.

I just finished the chapter on Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration and I recognized in this chapter something that we've been working on recently - reviving the fun in our marriage.

The sun setting as we drive along Route 132
on our way to Friday night young group

Switching to Alpine Touring, which I talked about in my first Kitchen Table essay, was one way to reclaim the fun in our marriage. (Damien is no longer my telemark tutor and I have the confidence to ski almost any run with him.) We've been dating while our kids go to youth group, and we went dancing in February.

Damien and I are very different people, when we remember that is what drew us to each other in the first place we are able to respect those differences and also encourage them to keep our friendship interesting.

Re-discovering friendship and enjoying the fun of being lovers is something that's definitely working for me this winter.

Historically, winter has been a hard season for me. February used to be the toughest month when we lived in Maine. After moving to Quebec, further north and deeper into winter (with no hope of spring till late April/early May), my most difficult month became March.

Knowing my personal history, I had some trepidation facing this winter but I feel like I rewrote the script.

This winter proved to me that "I struggle through winter" does not need to be the only reality or option for me moving forward, into the many more winters I plan to live. Maybe my new reality can be this: winter can be hard, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve - routines, beliefs, disciplines, thought patterns, activities, and relationships - to help me get through and even enjoy the season.

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  • Nana

    Nana on March 16, 2015, 2:05 p.m.

    A post filled with beautiful photos (as always), wonderful news of relational growth and contentment and happiness, and (my personal) hopes and hurrahs for future back-packing trips together. Much love, Mom 


  • Anna

    Anna on March 16, 2015, 2:17 p.m.

    I renee

    Inspiring post. I want to tell you how your blog has inspired me. Starting in Feb. we started going outside 2 hours a day, of course right at the start of a cold snap, but that just solidified my resolve, and, like you winter took on a renewed joy.

    I too am finding great joy in my teens, with a lot of the reasons you noted. I am still trying to figure out who we are as homeschoolers, but you are definitely a guide for me in that area.

    So thank you for sharing.



  • Alaina

    Alaina on March 16, 2015, 5:46 p.m.

    I love this: "winter can be hard, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve - routines, beliefs, disciplines, thought patterns, activities, and relationships - to help me get through and even enjoy the season." I am finding out this very thing, but with regards to other things in my life...not being defined by "I struggle with...." but instead saying "that can be hard, BUT I have tricks on how to cope..." Thank you for sharing.


    • renee

      renee on March 16, 2015, 6:01 p.m.

      Alaina, I'm so pleased you took this specific experience of mine and zoomed out to the big picture (an inductive observation?). Sometimes I will zoom out to the big picture explicity in my writing, trying to make connections for other people. But sometimes I don't want to be so explicit about it, and I want to let people take whatever speaks to them, to appreciate at face value or apply to their own lives in some regard. 

      But if I were to make generalizations about my experience this winter it would be exactly like you shared. We all struggle with stuff. But those struggles don't define who we are. Yes, they are hard but I am learning ways to cope, tools I can use so I don't lose my mooring or sense of purpose in the struggle. And for me the tools and resources are a combination of many things - activities, attitudes, what I choose to believe about myself, my relationships, so many factors. 

      Thanks again for popping in to say hi (smile).


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on March 16, 2015, 7:19 p.m.

    This post is so bright and cheery!I love that ski lift photo.

    I can definitely relate to finding the friendship in your marriage again. And ironically, I recently put that book on hold at the library, I just haven't gotten it yet. The hardest thing for us with our huge move across the country 2 years ago is that now the grandparents are absent. We can't afford many date nights either, and the times we've tried swapping with friends seems to work for a month or two, and then fizzles (and we're just watching kids after they're all in bed, so there's really no 'work', just housesitting, but I get it, I'm tired too at 8PM), but thankfully we're moving to a different location in the next few weeks and we will be saving tons of money, to the tune of about $500/month savings. We will definitely be going out more together on dates. We've been competing for rest for too long.

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on March 16, 2015, 8:35 p.m.

      Saving money and spending it on dates - yeehaw. Damien and I don't have a dating history. We haven't had regular dates, since having children, until this season in fact. As long as we have open-ended time to talk each week we don't need "dates" per se. One day a week really met that need for many years, but since coming home from our hike we changed our focus in that area and we're not guaranteed that time anymore. (long car rides to the mountains were always great times to talk, as were walks in the woods...) I

      I am enjoying our dates but our options for outings are very limited where we live. And we go out on Friday night, after dropping the kids off for youth group, so we can't do outdoorsy things  (complelety dark and cold all winter). When we move to Montreal, if we continue dating, I think we will love accessing city culture - asian restaurants! (our favorite) for date nights. 


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on March 16, 2015, 10:34 p.m.

    Yeah I agree that a big city is so much easier to 'date in' than a more rural area. I don't need to be wined, dined, and movie-d, just more or less out of the house with just my spouse to laugh more! Saving money and spending it on dates just means, for us, being able to afford to pay someone to watch our kids for two hours before their bedtime. The actual date usually consists of sharing a fancy drink at a coffee shop and going for a walk! ;) 


  • Amanda

    Amanda on March 17, 2015, 1:46 p.m.

    Hi Renee, 

    I just stumbled across your blog this morning while putzing around the internet searching out homeschool communities in the greater Montreal area. What a surprise to find a family of Anglophone homeschoolers in rural Quebec. I'm south of Montreal, just north of the border with Champlain, NY. We started homeschooling this year but my children are younger than yours: 8. 6. 4. 2. and 6 months. We are the only homeschoolers I (or our local school) know of in our town.

    All the best with your move this Spring to Montreal, and I will be checking out the yoga app you posted. I'm starting to feel the itch to do something, coming out of a long, combined winter/newborn-in-the-house hibernation. 



    • renee

      renee on March 17, 2015, 2:38 p.m.

      Amanda, how nice to "meet" you. I know, kind of weird - anglogphone homeschoolers living on the gaspe peninsula. I wrote the short story version of how we got here in this post. As much as we love it here (and I really love living here) our kids need more and we need access to more community resources for their education and development. 

      I'll be talking about our move in the upcoming months and about homeschooling in the montreal area. We lived in montreal for one month, a couple years ago, when we were in between rentals here. I wrote about that experience here. 

      Would be cool if we could connect sometime after I move. 


      • Amanda

        Amanda on March 17, 2015, 5:42 p.m.


        I would love to connect after you move!  I just read through your post about how you ended up in Canada and it seems we have some similar history. I, too, am Canadian (from Ottawa) and grew up in the US (North Carolina). My husband is French Canadian but his mother is Dutch-Canadian from Ontario so he is fluently bilingual. He also studied civil engineering. 

        You mentioned that you and your husband met at IVCF out west. If you are interested in finding an anglophone church/youth group or Christian homeschooled teenagers for your kids to befriend when you are here, let me know and I can put you in contact with a few families with older homeschooled kids that we are friends with. If not, never mind. ;)

        Whenever I meet fellow homeschoolers in Quebec I always have a bazillion questions to ask about whether or not they're in cooperation with their local school board or MELS or on their own, if they're seeking out an official diploma and taking the MELS leaving exams, or trying to apply straight to university, or going to CEGEP, or heading out of province after high school etc. I have my teaching license here in QC and wrote my Master's thesis on homeschooling so this is how I NERD OUT. 

        And somehow my gravar picture is a decade old and I can't figure out how to update it. Please ignore.


        • renee

          renee on March 17, 2015, 6:15 p.m.


          You wrote an thesis on homeschooling, oh my goodness. we need to get together. I have an keen interest in educational philosophy and psychology. Understanding how people learn and how to create systems and structures to support that learning is one of my long term passions (I have a degree in education).

          YES! we are interested in finding angolophone christian homeschooled teenagers (do such people actually exist in QC?!) when we move. Homeschooling community and christian community are two chief reasons we are moving, in addition to better location for work and travel. 

          I am currently writing a homeschooling through high school series in which I will explain our approach to CECEP, whether we're registered with the school board (we're not), high school diplomas (probably not doing them), etc...

          We need to talk. I'll get your email from your post :)


  • Jen Farrant

    Jen Farrant on March 17, 2015, 2:13 p.m.

    Renee, as usual I am so pelased to hear where you are you to with things and I am pleased your relationship with  Damien is as strong as ever. Things change as we change, our circumstances change and it can be difficult to adjust. That is something I am struggling with right now 

    My husband and I are very different, but also very simillar, it is good to remember that! 


  • Neptune

    Neptune on March 17, 2015, 6:34 p.m.

    I can't tell you how happy I am that you are doing this series abour high school while you are in Qc.  There are too few families that are willing to go that way. I am glad that of all people you guys are doing it, and most of all that you are taking the time to share it.  Thanks for showing that even in Qc, it is possible.  I think we all need that.




  • Cat

    Cat on March 18, 2015, 11:03 a.m.

    I love that you enjoy your kids and especially that you enjoy this age.  I too have an adolescent and can relate to what you say about sharing interests and enjoying some profound and intellectual discussions.  


  • Barbara Tougas

    Barbara Tougas on March 18, 2015, 6:31 p.m.

    Ahhhhh.....where do I start?  Your blog brought some memories of me and Damien's father dancing in the kitchen! Our children were about the same age as your children are now...teenagers. We were taking 2- step dance lessons and practicing dancing at home. We had a route...we laughingly danced around the kitchen, livingroom, diningroom and back to the kitchen while the puzzled children watched from the top of the stairs....shaking their heads in wonderment...muttering to themselves..."I think they've gone crazy!" Our 'dates' were going to a 2-step dance put on in a local Rocky Mountain House Bar just to practice our dance in public to see how we were doing with other serious 2-step dancers. Taking dance lessons was so much fun. After the lesson, we went for coffee with the other dance students and made a lot of new friends that also loved dancing.

    I know that relationship burnout can easily happen when you have small children and both parents are working very hard to keep everyone, fed, housed and schooled on a tight budget. Taking time to nurture the relationship is hard, but necessary and 'dating' is a good way to spend time together where you concentrate on your relationship with each other. Babysitters are expensive. As the children grow into teens, it becomes easier, so just remind yourself to take the time, to nurture your relationship with your spouse even if, you think you have forgotten how!


  • Carol

    Carol on March 20, 2015, 12:48 a.m.

    What are you knitting in the last picture and what is that beautiful yarn?  Love you posts, your honesty, and following your journey through life.  Thank you for the hope and inspiration, Carol.


    • renee

      renee on March 20, 2015, 12:52 p.m.


      I don't know if you're on ravelry or not, but here's a link to my project. It's a free pattern called the Harry Shawl, and Heather blogged about it here. 


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