My “journey through the seasons” feels best described by Leandra Medine Cohen – Love summer, hate everything else. To me, the long days, carefree spirit and sizzling temperatures of summer should be the baseline of our days, all year long. Winter can really feel like just the waiting game until next summer.
It’s the first week of November, and with COVID and now a tumultuous election, it can already feel like we’re in for the longest winter ever. On top of that, the only certainty we seem to feel lately is that the future will remain uncertain for far longer than we’ve ever been asked to be comfortable with.
To me, the opportunity of our situation is our ability to create routines that not only break up the days and weeks when we’re staying close to home, but also connect us with our self-nurturing spirit that, for me, contributes to a greater feeling of well being and control while everything outside is cold, dark and germy. So often I can view the work that comes with keeping a family well through winter as more to do, when really the steadiness of the work brings comfort to so much more than our physical bodies.
While it feels like we’ll have to be more meticulous in our care than ever before, I’ve always found our seasons changing from bright, long summer days to colder and darker ones in the winter to be a good way to allow rest, family time and a focus on care. It’s not my fave, but I’m hoping a restful and health-minded winter will have us ready for 2021’s Best Summer Ever energy (if you’re reading this from the future and this does not ring true – I thank you for holding your comments).
If you’ve been wanting to add some new routines to this season, please help yourself to anything I’ve found that sounds helpful, make sure to consult with your personal doctor about it, and leave the rest!
Having our family schedule balanced with the right amounts of adventure and rest was a pre-COVID pursuit for me, although I always struggled with the actual boundaries that this required in life “before.” My goal is always to “unschedule” my family, taking a look at our family’s day to day life from a higher viewpoint to make sure we’re in a healthy rhythm of growing and restoring. While I never expected this much time at home, I see more benefits in our well-being, creative lives and family life than ever before.
Keeping a schedule that’s over-stimulating for us endangers our family’s immune system, thanks to eating less nutritious foods on-the-go, getting less sleep, our adrenals having to work overtime to catch up with our activity levels and an increased exposure to germs. During the summer, a busy schedule may just mean grumpy attitudes or stress. In the winter, I stay motivated to embrace a slower pace knowing, for us, it directly affects our family’s health.
In one of my favorite books, Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne discusses working with parents to label their family calendar with A (active) and C (calming) days. This always helps me see what we’re committing to on a more objective level – sometimes I want to go to *all the things* myself! – and help my family better understand why I’m campaigning against some of our social opportunities, no matter how exciting they can sound.
The premise is to review the activities scheduled each day on the family calendar, then code the day with A for active or C for calm. In any typical winter (even more so this year), I prefer at least a 2:1 ratio of calm to active days so there’s ample space to restore from our bodies coming up against cold, germs and stress when immune systems are compromised.
I still struggle with this one, especially as cabin fever sets in, but I can always tell when one of us is feeling run down and, in our house, I can typically trace it back to trying to be everywhere at once.
Instead of going out, we get our hygge on! Making the most of inside time with cozy fires, new board games and puzzles, cuddling with soft blankets and pastimes such as crafts and baking makes the season intimate and memorable in different ways than summer.
Being at home more this time of year definitely helps me get in a better cooking rhythm. (If I’m in the habit of cooking, it flows easily. Tempt me with takeout once, and it will be a week before I’m back in the kitchen.)
When I am meal planning, I try to eat on a schedule of harvest foods throughout the year. I can be picky about the taste and quality of produce, and I’m rarely disappointed when I’m eating in season. Since our daughter helps with my dinner prep, I find going through the ingredients together and learning more about how each item grows, is harvested and supports our well-being to be a fun way to keep us both engaged in and appreciative of the work while we’re in the kitchen.
I also look for quality protein sources for our family meals, and I always love seeing how I might be able to sneak my favorite DIY bone broth recipe into our meals. From learning more about how the long simmer times and quality gelatin used in bone broth can seal the intestines and bolster the immune system with its high mineral content, I’ve decided for us that it’s worth the time to make a batch each week to either sip on or use as a base in our meals. My daughter and I throw everything in the pot on Monday mornings and let it simmer, filling the house with an amazing aroma, so we have plenty to sip on and use in meals the rest of the week.
Some of our favorite bone broth based recipes:
40 Aprons Healthy Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Marci Tidbits Pressure Cooker Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Mary’s Whole Life Healing Homemade Chicken Soup
Gimme Some Oven Butternut Squash Soup
40 Aprons InstantPot Whole30 Chili with Butternut Squash
Gimme Some Oven Chicken Tortilla-less Soup
NomNom Paleo Simple Egg Drop Soup
Mary’s Whole Life Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
(In any recipe listed, you can sub bone broth for a traditional stock or broth at 1:1 ratio.)
I could speak forever on how many benefits our family sees from eating together at the table as many nights a week as possible. Only one of those benefits are the health improvements we feel when we commit to menu planning, eating in season and being mindful of the nutritional content of our food.
In addition to healthy, warm foods I feel extra motivated this time of year to put on the kettle for hot teas. Our current favorite is Spring Dragon tea with a splash of milk.
Another form of liquid love in our house is fresh juice. Our Champion juicer might be the only item in the house older than Markus and I’s relationship – Markus bought it more than 17 years ago! There can be slight differences in juicers based on investment, but I think any means to a fresh cup of juice in the morning is a great way to awaken the senses and add a shot of immunity to our day. Two bonuses lately are that our daughter loves to make it and our animals (dogs, chicken, pig and even rabbit) love the pulp!
Good Morning Juice Recipe
1 large beet
*I cut a sizable chunk off of larger roots that we buy each week. The end quantity of these in each person’s juice (Mom, Dad and kids) ends up variable based on our preferences!)
I find supplements to be a really personal choice! And something best discussed with a doctor. However, we do all take a few extra supplements in the winter to keep us in our best defenses.
Markus, our daughter and I all start our day with 2 tbsp of Elderberry Syrup each morning. Elderberry is such an effective flu preventative, it feels like good karma to commit to our daily doses. It also isn’t cheap or particularly easy to keep in supply for three humans over the long winter. I make ours myself in the name of the ease and cost effectiveness of being able to make large batches. I use these organic elderberries and this recipe, and store it all in glass jars.
A few other over-the-counters I make sure to have on deck during winter are Children’s Natural Expec for breaking up mucus, Boiron Cold Calm (we do two tablets under the tongue every 15 minutes the first hour of feeling under the weather), and Mary Ruth’s Organic Vitamin C Drops, which I love since everyone in the family can use the same bottle when following the proper dosing instructions. These seem to be the perfect add-ons to our regular routine for this added protection this time of year!
Being a summer girl at heart, my personal favorite way to feel healthy in the winter is to stay warm!
Not only do I feel more comfortable and like my happy summer self wrapped in the warmth of a sauna session, a recent study by Yale University concluded that when body temperature drops by 5°C, our immunity decreases. However, a one degree increase in body temperature can increase immune system production by five-fold. Time I spend in warmth during cold months seems to help my circulation, lymphatic drainage, immune system and Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In addition to hot meals and hot drinks on the family menu, I love to keep our fireplace going for added warmth. I harp on covered feet and heads like a good, old fashioned Mom.
To really drive it home, we purchased a Sunlighten infrared sauna for our home a few years ago, and, wouldn’t you know, have been a flu-free family ever since. Markus and I try to enjoy it for 30 minutes a day while we catch up without phones (a secret benefit is our phones don’t work in the 130+ degree F space). Our daughter has always enjoyed climbing in too – one minute per her current age, up to six minutes this year!
While it was a massive investment, we purchased ours one year when we wanted to look at what a year of less travel and more investment into adding quality to our home life would look like for us. Our sauna was a game changer for my anxiety, meditation practice and overall feeling of well-being, but I appreciate it more than ever in the winter months for keeping our body temperature in a healthy zone and creating a little escape from the rest of the house.
What I love about these rituals is how they’re centering for me and signify the value I find in my health and the health of my family. I do truly believe health is a privilege and blessing!
While it’s not something any of us can ever completely control, I make these habits my outward expression of my gratitude for the baseline health I’ve been fortunate to have. These daily habits help me embrace the calm, quiet season of winter and its ability to slow down life and bring us closer together inside the home. When we do come up against the yuck, I feel assured that our bodies are ready to fight anything in our way thanks to these daily commitments to honor their purpose and nurture their well being.
What’s your winter well being ritual? As spring starts to appear, I end up feeling nearly thankful for this slower season of the year. I’m rested up for another round of summer adventures. So until I convince the fam to move to the beach, I’ll keep the soup on, the fire going and my fuzzy socks close.