My sweet spot

I love how winter is a perfect time to enjoy the indoors, drink warm beverages, watch Netflix, knit, and be cozy.

I have a strong "hibernate" tendency in winter and like to indulge that as much as possible.

The seasonal rest-mode of winter is an important part of the natural cycles. (Could someone please send a memo to Revenue Canada/IRS?! This should not be tax season! Too much work for winter.)

My default-mode in this cold, snowy season is to withdraw and hunker-down. But I suffer emotionally, physically, and mentally if I withdraw too much, from both social engagements and outdoor activity.

Two years ago I made a commitment to myself to get outside and move my body every day (or nearly every day) in all seasons.

This "body movement" is also called exercise but I've noticed that the word exercise is so 90's and is out of vogue. Movement is the new exercise. (Unfortunately, the word "movement" brings to my mind the well-known euphemism for the end stage of the digestive process.)

I have a certain resistance to exercise or movement. It doesn't matter what it's called, I respond the same way.

When I'm engaged in it, it's fine. (Unless we're talking nine hours of hiking everyday for six months, that's another story.) But getting over the hump, in my case, out the door, is the most difficult part for me. Always.

This is an example of the resistance I talked about in January's Kitchen Table essay.

As I wrote about in that essay, I could push through that resistance working against myself and be really frustrated, or I can work with who I am and how I operate to flow through that resistance. I choose the latter.

People with successful "physical movement routines" usually have their own tricks and routines that make it work for them.

Here's what works for me.

I choose activities I enjoy.

I like walking, hiking, casual running, cross-country and downhill skiing, all of which I do outdoors.

The outdoors part works well where I live and is a good fit for my interests. Because I'm also social and like gathering with other people, if I lived in a city I might consider group classes - yoga, dance, Zumba etc. I have done these in the past when we lived in Maine, though these were weekly classes not daily routines.

I choose a time that works for me.

This changes for me with different life seasons but right now the time that works best is right after my lunchtime reading break. I eat lunch and read. Then I go skiing or walking in the woods. It's the warmest time of day in the winter and it breaks my day up nicely. Morning Homeschool. Lunch and Break. Exercise. Afternoon Work.

I'm accountable to my family.

In our family, we use our relationship with other to help us in meeting our healthy living goals. For example, holding each other accountable for what we eat and encouraging each other to exercise. (Ok, so we require the kids to exercise and/or be outside each day. And this is how they earn their TV or gaming time.)

Each of us makes an effort every day to be active, and this effort encourages each one of us. And because we require our kids to be active (we feel this habit formation is of prime importance), we can't very well as parents not set the same example.

I have a secret motivation.

The kids have their own motivating factors for physical activity, usually fun. Damien is motivated by health and achievement, tracking and charting his progress with technical devices - a heart rate monitor, fancy watch, iPad app, you get the idea.

Beauty is what motivates me to get out the door, the promise that I will encounter something especially lovely. I also call this my sweet spot.

This winter, my afternoon ski has two different sweet spots. To get there I start at the front porch...

cut through the backyard, between the garden and the greenhouse...

and ski parallel to the edge of the woods, along the field.

I dip down to cross the creek and then my climb starts, first through woods, then more field. I follow the snowmobile track, until I reach my destination - the larger stand of mixed evergreens on the hill. 

And it is here, in the evergreens, that my climbing is done, and I reach my first sweet spot.

Surrounded by the quiet forest I know I'm on the descent, the work is done and the ease begins. At this point I am reluctant to return home. The woods is one of the places I feel I belong. I feel at home here. (I feel the same thing in my kitchen.) But I'm excited about getting to my second sweet spot and so I ski on.

You see that orange glow in the trees? That's sweet spot number two, calling me to come see.

If the day is clear, or mostly clear, and the sun is low in the sky, as it on winter afternoons, this spot will stop me in my tracks, literally. And I will revel in the moment. Trees lit on fire by the setting sun, a jewel of brilliance in a white, green and grey world.

I never want to leave this spot, but I'm on the descent. My return is inevitable. And there's work to be done at home. Always work to be done.

My sweet spots are my motivation. I hold them in my mind as I'm disciplining myself to get out the door each afternoon, because yes, it is a discipline for me.

I don't know why getting out the door is such a beast for me, but it is. However, as soon as my boots are clipped in my bindings and I'm on my way, my reluctance disappears. Every time. I know this about myself.

I also know that I love the way my body feels when it's moving, not pushing too hard against the resistance but enough. 

Pushing to climb to that sweet spot, that sweet reward, before descending back home, through the field, across the creek, and along the woods.

Back to the kids, the kitchen, and my to-do list. And a warm winter drink, herbal chai please, enjoying the memory of the woods and my barely-tender muscles reminding me how I got there, and home again.

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  • MichelleFL

    MichelleFL on Feb. 10, 2015, 1:56 p.m.


    I live in Florida and I miss winter and having 4 seasons. I live your pictures and descriptions of winter up there. Thank you for sharing those.


  • Marianna

    Marianna on Feb. 10, 2015, 3:06 p.m.

    The picture of the sunset just barely hinted at through the trees is stunning. 

    You speak my language in this post  I love group classes and have very little resistance to them (except in winter when all I want to do is sit with a car on my lap and book in hand), but getting out the front door to take a walk I resist with all my being. Despite the fact that I love to walk. We live in a neighborhood with beautiful trails,wide, well maintained sidewalks, ponds teeming with wildlife etc. Once I'm out the door the energy I draw from walking is life giving. It's that (and a few of your husband's techniques ☺️) that I use to keep myself motivated for that daily walk. 



  • beth lehman

    beth lehman on Feb. 10, 2015, 6:19 p.m.

    oh, goodness....  so wise to think about what you know you will gain from these special places... and thank you, thank you for the images that accompany - what a lovely lovely glow from the setting sun. i have a mental block about just starting, too.... in the winter, changing clothes can be the hardest part!


  • Laura

    Laura on Feb. 10, 2015, 7:38 p.m.

    Beautiful, Renee! Beautiful pictures. Beautiful words. If I hadn't already been outside today, I would definitely be inspired to move outdoors! If I would only follow your plan of a better set routine. That part of your life always inspires me, as well.

    Would you mind sharing more about the plan with your children? I need such a plan. Thanks!


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 10, 2015, 9:58 p.m.

      Hi Laura,

      Our physical activity plan for our kids has two parts really.

      Firstly, physical activity is required in our home. Along with chores, teeth brushing, contributing in the kitchen, etc. It is expected, scheduled, and also honored, that everyone will be exercising at some point in the day. We used to require the kids to go outside for this time but this doesn't work well for Celine anymore so she does an indoor exercise routine on the weekdays (mixed with outdoors and weekend skiing).

      Also, we regulate the amount of time our kids spend "consuming" digital media by having them earn their "tv" time with physical activity. By "consuming" we mean sitting in front of a screen to be entertained - by a video game, TV show, or movie.

      We do not limit our kid's use of technology and digital media for education and learning and connecting with people, which means that kids (and adults) are on computers, iPads, and smartphones a lot in our house. Research, writing, talking with friends (still no texting, the kids don't have phone plans), documentaries, recipes online, audiobooks - a lot of media-stuff goes on in house every day.

      But our kids also want to watch TV shows, play video games, etc. And they earn this with physical activity.

      I've written about our philosophy on technology literacy here.

      So, we require our kids to do something active, preferably outside, every day, (with exceptions of course). They can then use this time as a gauge for how much tv/gaming time they get in the day.

      Although our kids earn gaming/tv time with the outdoors it's not really about rewarding physical activity with inactivity, for us it's just a simple way for everyone to know what the rules are, so we're not forever answering the "can I watch...?" question.

      I've answered this question before, and here's what an excerpt from an email I responded to about what physical activity time=tv/gaming time looks like. 

      During the school week, Monday - Friday, we allow only 1/2 an hour of gaming time before 5pm. After 5pm the kids are free to game, tv watch etc. all they want (assuming they've earned it). The beauty however is that life is full of other things, like cooking, meal clean up, evening classes so all that "unlimited time", isn’t so unlimited after all. It’s limited by life itself, which is the whole idea we’re trying to teach the kids. 

      The rules change on the weekends. On the weekends it’s a straight outdoor time=computer/consumption time any time of day. So if they spend 2 hours skiing in the morning they’ll have 2 hours of gaming in the afternoon, or whatever. However, once again, life is full of other things and activities. So it is rare for someone to have 3 hours of gaming on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, there’s just too much else going on, which is intentional (smile).

      We want a rich life for our kids - physical activity, the outdoors, community involvement, church, youth group, getting together with neighbors and friends, chores, working in the house, etc... Between their part time jobs, friday night youth, weekend skiing, sleeping in (if possible, they always sleep late), cleaning the house for a couple hours with me, chilling with books, drawing, sewing, etc. there isn’t a whole lot of time for big blocks of gaming on the weekend, though theoretically they have the freedom to do that.


  • Laura

    Laura on Feb. 10, 2015, 10:54 p.m.

    Thank you very much! Such information is very helpful to me. I am a soft mama. I need to buck up and be the mom. I am good about making plans. But, sometimes I don't follow through with them. Do your children still seem to enjoy reading and other things as much now that they have such access to the online world? It is a constant concern of mine. My husband says this is the world in which we live (and he is right). He doesn't want them to be handicaped. But, their reading and their response to education has changed now that they are online. I pray the serenity prayer often, but sometimes don't have the wisdom to know the difference, if you know what I mean.


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 10, 2015, 11:23 p.m.

      Laura, I completely understand the way you feel about reading and our children's response to learning - the changes how they access information, etc. in the digital world. Without a doubt, my kids read less "books" than they would if that were the only way they could learn. But books, like schools, are not the only source of learning anymore. I have had to let go of some of my "bookish" leanings to accept what works best for my kids in the world they are growing up in. 

      Damien helps balance me out this way.

      Damien is very logic smart. He's a deep thinker, a very good problem solver, and a technologically-minded intellectual. His knowledge goes deep, whereas mine tends to go wide (I dabble in a lot of things over the years, he goes deep in a few). He does not acquire his learning through books. He never has. In our 18 years of marriage, he's probably read 10 books(?) Almost all of them about diet, exercise and health. I read 10 books every couple months. I am a book learner. I read and write my way to understanding. 

      The fact that Damien and I are both intelligent, healthy, active, responsible, loving, well-rounded (in our own ways) people encourages me that our children also will find their own learning paths and likely end up the same way. That's all I can hope for. 

      But I know they will get there on a different path, a path much more digital and technological than Damien or I experienced as kids. 

      Having said that, because I value book learning (the same way Damien values our kids having challenging & off-the-beaten-track outdoor experience), I require book reading (digital or paper), at some level, from the kids. This is a daily thing mostly. 

      I don't dictate what they have to read, but they have to have "reading a book" in their routine somewhere (in other words I don't want all their "learning" to come from wikipedia articles, RSS, youtube, The Oatmeal, and soundbite stuff). Celine is a voracious reader, so I can recommend all sorts of books to her, and if they catch her interest she devours them.  Laurent (14) is motivated to read books along the lines of superhero, cool-kid fiction mostly and I supply audiobooks for living book history type learning. Brienne is much like Laurent (but she likes books about girls, fashion, etc.) and I will supply "I'd like you to learn about this" audio books. The difference with Brienne is that she prefers paper books to digital. 


      • Laura

        Laura on Feb. 11, 2015, 5:43 p.m.

        "handicapped".... I should proofread.

        Renee, thank you for taking the time to reply. It is a balm to this mama's heart. I will save your responses to re-read when I am struggling with such (often!). I could type several pages right here, but I'll spare you. Do they have a set amount of time they have to read? If you ever run out of other things to write about (smile), I would love to hear more about what their education looks like these days. Such as, do they have checklists? Do you have to stay on them about assignments or are you more unschooling? I think you follow PBH somewhat. Don't feel you like you need to answer all these questions here and now (or ever). They are just questions that come to mind.

        I get that our world is changing. I love to read how education is changing and how others are educating differently. But, when something is new, it can be a bit frightening. I don't know what the outcome will be. Of course, I guess the homeschooling pioneers could have said that. Anyway, It's nice to chat with a book-loving homeschooling mom of older children who love technology. Thank you!


  • nicki

    nicki on Feb. 11, 2015, 11:17 a.m.

    The whole thing looks like a sweet spot to me Renee, breathtaking! I too love that afternoon light, when the sun is starting it's descent, it is magical. 


  • Sandra

    Sandra on Feb. 11, 2015, 3:41 p.m.

    Renée first I love your writting, I just take a commitment with myself to go out for one hour every day even when it's cold or rainy! I live in the French alps, just have to put on shoes or ski to go in the country. I love it but not allow me to do it (chores to do, meals to prepare....) but I decided to change and make it happen to go out and breathe. Sorry for my poor english but it's not my language. Xoxo


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on Feb. 11, 2015, 7:54 p.m.

    I loved this. I grew up cross-country skiing, especially with my mom. I have so many wonderful memories of the swish-swish of our skis and making tracks through the forest and the very satisfying tiredness of my whole body afterwards. I live in the desert now so there's not much skiing going on these days - someday though I'd love to take a vacation in the winter and re-connect with this wonderful activity. 


    • Nana

      Nana on Feb. 11, 2015, 8:45 p.m.

      Kathleen, may I ask which desert you live in? My husband and I are making our first trip ever to AZ this month. We're anticipating the new experience of hiking in a desert environment.


      • Karen

        Karen on Feb. 12, 2015, 11:48 a.m.

        Nana, I don't have any hiking tips but if you are anywhere near Jerome it is a great place to see local art and have a meal. It is a small artist town perched on the edge of a mountain. Orginally a copper mining town, it is filled with small shops owned by super friendly people. This is not a trendy tourist town and the views from the town are spectacular. If you google it you will find info on the town. Have a great time!


  • Krista

    Krista on Feb. 12, 2015, 6:39 p.m.

    I rarely spend time out of doors during the snowy/icy part of the year but recently upped my 'joyful movement' commitment to 5 days/week (I had fallen to 3-4x). I have, as you know, certain limitations due to a hip replacement and need to be gentle with myself since I am trying to 'heal' from Hashimotos/hypothyroidism/adrenal issues (I struggle with fatigue and anxiety, for instance). This means that I honor my commitment to myself to move in some way each day for a minimum of 30 minutes; sometimes I just do gentle stretching, other times I use a rebounder, body weight exercises, treadmill, etc. , according to my energy levels and joint pain. (I also avoid sitting in the day). Before, I felt like a failure if I coudn't always work hard enough to sweat but my thoughts on this have shifted which is why I now prefer the term 'joyful movement'. I believe it is an act of self-care and self-love to move our bodies in ways that feel good, respecting where we are at in our lives physically and emotionally, letting go of comparisons and rigid rules. Once spring arrives, I LOVE spending more time outside on long walks in town or through the wooded trails, or just puttering around the yard.


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