5 Things I Learned This Winter (2019)

Winter has always been hard for me.

Seasonal affective disorder runs in my family. Every winter we Friesens all turn into those sad, shriveled little plant creatures in Ursula’s garden in The Little Mermaid.

But it became doubly hard when I had a non-ambulatory child. Navigating a stroller through snow and slush is challenging on a good day; and when said kid fights every step of the bundling-up process the whole thing starts to feel completely futile. We end up spending every day indoors.

And winter became triply hard when said kid decided that sleeping at night was irrelevant.

No sunshine + no exercise + no sleep for months on end = not a good recipe for my mental health.

(The meds and respite care I was so excited about a couple of months ago both ended up not working for us so that’s a bummer.)

BUUUUT we did go on a vacation (which was a bit of a mixed bag — see below) AND we started getting a bit more sleep in these last couple of weeks so it’s not all bad!

Anyway, I’m joining Emily P Freeman to share a few of the things I learned this winter.

1. Family vacations are better with friends when you have young kids.

Last year we went to Florida for ten days to escape the miserable Canadian winter and it was wonderful. The only thing that would have made it better was friends (especially for Lydia, who got bored and lonely without anyone to play with.)

This year we decided to go again — but this time for two weeks, and with another family with young kids. And it was so great!

For one thing, when we all got hit by a violent stomach bug in the first week (EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US), it was really helpful to have another pair of adults to take care of things when one of us was puking our guts out or cleaning toddler vomit out of our hair.

There were four whole adults to take turns with dishwasher duty or to grab diapers from the grocery store, or to google the best route to the zoo. I felt it gave us all a chance to relax a little more than we would have on our own.

And it was so lovely for Lydia to have a playmate around the clock! She was so much happier with a friend.

(Also? We saved so much money! We were able to split the cost of the villa and groceries, making it a very affordable vacation.)

2. I love owning a Kindle Fire.

Our family has never owned a tablet or e-reader before this February, so I didn’t know what I was missing. (We tend to be very late adopters of technology, mostly for financial reasons.)

Anyway, we already owned two laptops and a smartphone each. What else could a tablet possibly offer, I wondered?

Turns out, a lot!

A sweet and generous Internet Friend intuited that I would enjoy having a device on which to read e-books, and decided to gift me a Kindle.

(She consulted me about other e-reader options, but we decided together that a Kindle Fire would probably be most beneficial because I rely heavily on the library and wanted to be able to borrow books using Overdrive and Hoopla. Most other e-readers, including the Kindle Paperwhite, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with those apps, at least in Canada. A Kindle Fire, I learned, is basically just a regular tablet, on which you can link to the Internet and download all sorts of apps; but you can also read e-books on it. I worried at first that it would be uncomfortable to read books off of a screen, but friends assured me they did it all the time and loved it.)

So I got the Kindle Fire. And I can’t believe what I was missing!

One of the first things I did was install Hoopla and download the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels I’ve been pining over ever since we finished the TV series on Netflix. And it worked so great! And looked so beautiful on the screen! I was smitten.

I can finally borrow e-books from the library! I can take advantage of those Kindle deals I’m always seeing! I can read with one hand while holding a cranky Felix! YAY!

3. A Kindle Fire (or other tablet) is an AMAZING resource for homeschooling.

So the NEXT thing I did after tracking down the Avatar books was to download a few free educational games for Lydia to play. And wow! They’re so great! She loves them, and learned so much within the first week! I am just blown away.

As you know, we unschool, and I believe the best and most meaningful learning happens in real life (e.g. the best math learning happens when you save and spend actual money, or take measurements for an actual project, etc). It also works best when it’s self-directed. But sometimes I still wonder if Lydia could benefit from practising traditional math equations and things like that; but that is just not something she’s interested in doing.

Well, there’s an app for that! Or more like, a few dozen!

For example, Pet Bingo has Lydia doing the equivalent of six sheets of math equations to earn a “pet” that she can name and feed and play with. She’ll happily sit and do math for an hour just to find out what cute pet she’ll get. She begs to play! To do MATH EQUATIONS.

These apps are so great for assuaging any worries that she’s not learning enough “school-ish” stuff. (What if she has to take tests for higher education in the future??) And they’re fun enough that she chooses to play out of her own free will.

I feel like an hour of Khan Academy Kids on the Fire is roughly the equivalent of a day at school. Throw in an episode of Wild Kratts and some time at the park/forest/pool/ice rink/etc, and BOOM: you’ve got a pretty well-rounded education for an elementary-school-aged kid.

They’re so accessible, too: the new Fire HD 8 costs about $100 CAD (or less in the US), and I haven’t spent a dollar so far on apps. For that one-time cost you get a whole world of educational material at your fingertips.

I can’t wait to see what else we discover together!

4. Salt Matters.

I guess this was the season that people either felt really sorry for me or just really appreciated me (HA!) because I got another gift in the mail from an Internet Friend: The book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.

It’s a beautiful book jam-packed with cooking wisdom, and so far I’ve only gotten through the the part on salt. And it convinced me to splurge on some more expensive salts. (She suggests that the two things worth spending more money on are salt and olive oil).

I’d been buying Real Salt for a number of years, but recently decided I should try to save money and just buy some generic sea salt. Salt is salt, right?? But I was surprised to find I was consistently dissatisfied with the results.

Turns out, not all salt is created equal. And different salts work better for different things. The texture of the crystals has a surprising effect on how we experience the flavour. Samin explained it all to me and I suddenly understood why I wasn’t loving the salt I’d bought. (It’s fine for some things, though.)

So I bought another bag of my beloved Real Salt (Really, it’s an extra $9 every six months or so, and it’s a saltier salt so it goes further; and also some fancy fleur to sel for really special occasions.

In fact, I used the fluer de sel for finishing some edamame last week and it elevated the dish from pretty good to sublime.

Who knew salt could make such a difference?

Well, that’s about it for today!

What did you learn this winter?

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Comments

  1. I would love a post about how it is to take care of your son (which you allude to here but not in detail). I have a son with global developmental delays who is 3 but nonverbal and behind physically and cognitively, and it is so helpful to hear other people’s experiences.

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks for your comment. I’ve been grappling with how to talk about my son for a while . . . I’ve even somewhat regretted what I shared in this post, because in retrospect I feel like it doesn’t represent him fairly. I have a tendency to highlight the hard parts and I worry it dehumanizes him — I really don’t want to fall into the trap of being a “disability mom” and only telling the story of disability from a caregiver’s perspective. But at the same time, I love hearing from other moms! And he can’t exactly share his perspective. It’s tricky . . . I will be pondering this question some more over the next little while. Thank you for expressing your interest!

  2. Winter is the literal worse. I’m glad your vacation worked so well, though (I mean, other than the stomach bug)!

  3. Thanks for this info on the kindle and e-reading. I’ve always turned my nose up at the thought of not reading an “actual book” and turning the pages….and I just love library books! But after reading this post, it made me think perhaps I should be more open minded about it!

  4. I like the way you added a positive spin to a hard winter experience by sharing the valuable lessons you learned this year. The section on “Salt Matters” was indeed an eye-opener. I never realized the huge impact that something as basic as salt can have on the taste of dishes. Thanks for sharing this information.
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