Winter Solstice

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If we were to give our family’s beliefs a name, we’d probably fall into the eclectic group of Pagans. We rely on the circular cycles of the rising sun and the ever-changing seasons, we try our best to listen to the earth, and we believe that less really is more. The Earth is our Mother, and we are her children. It is our duty to treat Her and everyone on our journey with the kindness and respect that all creatures deserve, for we know, that everything comes back to us in its own time. Remember that old adage “what you give is what you get”? Well, we say it’s true.

It’s December, and while the earth is cold and barren, we acknowledge that this time is meant to be the quietest part of the year (which may be why some find the hustle and bustle of the season so overwhelming). It’s a time when we turn inwards, into our homes and into ourselves. We reflect. We consider what changes we may wish to make in the coming year, and we create, whether it be soulful foods for our families or gifts to give to celebrate the Solstice, or as we also call it, Yule.

December 21st marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year; together with friends, we will celebrate the return of the sun, the spring! We’ll eat, oh we’ll eat! We’ll offer food to our ancestors by leaving a plate of treats on the back step, and new to this year’s itinerary (and much to our daughter’s excitement), we will decorate a tree outside with dried foods and other edible decorations. Most importantly, we will tell the tales to our children that have been told and retold since the beginning of time. We will be sure to share the wisdom of those who came before us, teaching lessons learned along the way.

Although my husband and I were both raised with plenty of Christmas traditions, we are infusing our family’s celebration with more of the things that represent what is true to our beliefs. So this year for Yule we’ll:

Celebrate with a live Yule tree, bringing our connection with nature indoors.

Bring as much light as we can to our home on the darkest eve of the year using Christmas lights and candles - perhaps even in the windows (a pagan tradition). And our favourite - lighting the lanterns at the four outside corners of our home from the hearth fire.

We’ll weave in the tradition of the Yule log this year. Although it used to be an entire tree trunk, we will choose a hardwood section to throw onto our fire, sending out our intentions for the coming year. Afterwards, we will collect the coals from the log and save them for next year’s fire, just as our ancestors did. We’ll give as many handmade gifts as we’ve been able to create, since everyone knows, those are the most meaningful.

And of course, we’ll attempt to catch the first crack of dawn on the 21st, the beginning of the New Year.

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HayMama is an artiste (pronounced with an 'eeste') tackling a multitude of works, mother raising three kiddos, lover of books, seeker of knowledge, consumer of great coffee, follower of nature, lover and friend to her one and only. You can find the beginnings of her work here

For Next Winter

Alright Old Man Winter, we are done and done. I've been patient. I was patient all through January, when post-Christmas blahs were at their worst. I was patient in February, apparently the most depressing month of the year. And I was patient at the beginning of March, as I eagerly anticipated warmer temperatures. But now? My patience has been swept away by the icy winds and blowing snow. My kids no longer fight their snowsuits - they just play dead when it's time to get dressed. It's like they've lost the will to live.

But alas, I know you can not haunt us forever, and slowly but surely, the sun is gaining strength. Yesterday I was actually sweating on my walk to work!

So this is the time of year that I begin assessing how to make winter better for the whole family. We're finally past the newborn stage, and both my kids will be ready for fun activities next year. And what's more fun than skiing? So I put the word out to some friends, asking for advice on the best age to begin skiing.

Apparently there IS no best age! My friends reported cross-country skiing with their 18-month olds (they must be athletically endowed - our family does not carry those genes). As for downhill, it seems that 3-5 years old is the best time to begin lessons. Parents suggest trying one lesson first before signing up for a package - let your kids decide whether they want to continue!

This gives me hope for next winter - that my family may embrace the snow pants and get out on our skis. I just hope my kids are slightly more athletic than I am, as pictured here several winters ago ;)

Me skiing

Me crashed

Do you ski with your children?

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New to Ottawa and Snowed In!

Our little family moved to Ottawa from Calgary in October of last year. We thoroughly enjoyed the fall that we had, including the beautiful colours of the leaves that we do not experience in the West. Everyone warned us about the winters in Ottawa, about how much snow you get, and how the cold was “different”- the kind that chills you right to the bone. I chose not to believe them - really, how bad could it be? I teased my mother with pictures of our backyard in November, bragging to her that we still had not had any snow, while Calgary was covered in it. She responded back, “Oh, just you wait”. Being from Ottawa herself, she knew what was to come.

The snow came, and with it came the cold. It really is a different cold. The snow, oh the snow! There was a point in the winter that I looked out of my backyard window to see just white. The snow was so high I couldn’t even see the top rails of my deck!

But yet, it was one of the most fun winters I have experienced. I was nervous with a toddler about what we would do, but we made our own fun. My son experienced true “Canadian” snow for the first time. We built a maze in the snow, and the piles of snow were well past his head - he loved it! We made snow angels, and even had our own sugaring off party, just my son and I. We had picnics on the floor in our house when it was just too cold for even our snow-loving dog to venture outside. We went for winter walks … to the mailbox…. 50 meters away. And being a photographer we took pictures – lots and lots of pictures. We made memories.

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I am ready for spring – but I am happy to say that I survived my first Ottawa winter, and actually quite enjoyed it! Here's to no more snow until December!

Alyssa lives with her husband,18 month old son, and excitable dog and is a photographer in the Ottawa area. She loves all types of ethnic food and is always up for an adventure! Check out her website and Facebook page!

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Family Day Roundup

Not sure what to do on Family Day Weekend? If you're like us, you haven't planned anything yet and are looking for ideas! Check out some of these great activities in and around Ottawa

1) Children's Wish FUNGANZA - Monday the 17th

2) NAC English Theatre Family Day - Monday the 17th

3) Vanier Winter Carnival - Saturday the 15th

4) Last weekend of Winterlude!

5) Valentine's Party at the Humane Society - Saturday the 15th

6) Free Pancake Breakfast (Monday the 17th) with Phil McNeely: 7:30 - 8:30 a.m. at 1825 St. Joseph Blvd, Community Pentecostal Church. A magician will be in attendance!

7) Portobello South Winter Family Fun Day (Monday the 17th) from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Portobello Park in Orleans. Free horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow games and hot chocolate! Bring your skates!

Did I miss anything?

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Bal de neige

I grew up in Ottawa, I have the requisite pictures of little kid me being pushed around the canal on a sled, I've eaten a fair number of Beavertails in my life and I have fond memories of being privileged enough to grow up walking distance from the canal. But the fact is that I haven't been to Winterlude in years, except for a very short journey with the stroller a few years ago – while putting on my new skates I realized that I had not in fact skated in over a decade. When the kid had a day off school and the weather was forecasted to be just about perfect, the kid and I made the trek to Jacques Cartier Park to see what Winterlude looks like these days.

How was it? In the words of the kid: "Awesome."

We walked through the gate and she saw the ice covered slides and immediately was ready to go. We had barely come to a stop in our inner-tube at the bottom of a hill when she asked to go again.

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(The guy they had at the top pulling those tubes down was awesome, truly, and really seemed to be enjoying himself).

A combination of fresh air, exercise, fun and tasty treats made it a great day.

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