Treasures and the Tide

The summer of 2022 in Nova Scotia gave us exemplary, spectacular weather.

September raised the bar with beautiful warm days, leaning into its East Coast pattern of saving its grandest days for the fall season.

To soak in the ocean’s warmest time capsule of the year, I walked on a different beach for several consecutive days – all within an hour’s drive from home.

Surfers searching for ‘the big one’ – Speery Beach.
A storm must be brewing at sea; sailboats are rarely anchored at Hirtle Beach.
First time exploring Beach Meadows: a new treasure.

Calm waters (typical before a storm); beaches littered with rocks. Only one treasure chosen to add to the collection on my window sill.

Sand Dollar Beach where the tide quickly sneaks in to snatch towels or toys left near the shoreline!

I grew up in the Prairies. After living here fifteen years I still pinch myself in wonder, thankful to experience the power and constancy of the tide and discover its offerings left in the sand.

A treasure transplanted’ in the perennial bed.

Beach excursions are typically therapeutic but these walks were especially invigorating: inhaling salty air, exhilarating to feel my physically stormy spell coming to an end. (Some of that experience is shared here and here if you want some back story.)

I have a stack of books on my desk; actually, several stacks. A motley mix of how-to’s, devotional, writing resources, adventure and non-fiction, and two volumes of poetry – the last two written by a friend I’ve known since childhood. Kay now lives on the opposite coast of Canada, by the Pacific Ocean: we haven’t seen each other for a very long time, years that have held significant changes and challenges for us both. Thanks to Covid’s nudge for re-connecting and our kindred passion for writing we occasionally shoot off an email.

I appreciate Kay’s poetry that I can understand (which isn’t always the case in this genre!) and especially resonate with how she relates to nature – the birds, the decaying leaves, the clouds, and the tide. These bring life and hope to her spirit, as they do for mine. With Kay’s permission I’m sharing her poem The Tide is Out. Thank you Kay for this metaphorical angle I hadn’t thought of before.

Kay Gillen – used by author’s permission

Dear friends, keep on searching and believing for the treasures.

Be well, with love


Photo-Blog: First Visit to Newfoundland

I bought a new bike to replace my older, heavier one. That was in March: when the weather and roads were still not compatible for a test run, but I needed a carrot to shore up motivation and spirit that my hip and back would be better. I would cycle this summer and specifically in mind was my first-ever visit to Newfoundland, a plan ‘in the works’ for many months, with friends I’ve adventured with before.

That pretty blue bike sitting in the shed and a hope-filled turnaround in May (plus comfortably enduring a 5000km trip sitting in the car in June!) all nudged me to go-ahead. Hurrah, I did go to Newfoundland!

July 16, 2022. Gros Morne National Park – (photo credits: Shaun Dale)

Every adventure I’ve shared with this group of friends has been a production: this time rivalled a three-ring circus; what with bikes, camping gear, duffle bags and coolers for thirteen people. All safely secured onto three trucks. Thank you Art and Shelley, the experienced couple who organized another great event – and capable, willing helpers who made the puzzle pieces fit every time we moved locations.

Our group, hailing from eastern Canada and Ontario, rendezvoused at North Sydney, Nova Scotia: where we – and a parking lot full of transport trucks, RV’s, cars and trucks – embarked on the MV Blue Puttees. Destination: Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.

Watching from the deck, waiting for our turn to depart for NFLD.
Once en route, time to mark out the itinerary: maps compliments of NFLD-Labrador Tourism.
Channel-Port Aux Basque – this first view of Newfoundland fit my quintessential expectation.

After our post-noon departure, six-hour voyage, disembarking, and short drive to J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park it was early evening by the the time we set up camp. The fact this was all in warm weather with clear skies was a blessing especially appreciated by us first-timers to Newfoundland, forewarned about the joys of its changeable and challenging weather.

The next day was hot and dry – perfect. We dismantled our camp; heading north to Deer Lake where we stopped for groceries, ice, drinks, lunch-to-go; before turning northwest onto Highway #430. Destination: Rocky Harbour.

Stops can take longer than anticipated- rest when you can.

Some of the gang opted for the long-haul cycle from Deer Lake to our campground destination near Bonne Bay – several others (including yours truly) chose to drive part way and cycle a shorter distance, beginning at the boundary of Gros Morne National Park. There, clicking into our pedals, a small sign warned us of significant elevation changes in the next six kilometres. Not totally correct: the next 35-plus kilometres were a series of significant ups and downs! Thankfully we had the wind at our backs: the descents were a mix of exhilaration and hanging on for dear life while saving some momentum for the next climb.

A ‘must-stop’ break. (photo credits-Shaun Dale)
Awesome views: safe spot at Birchy Head for us to pull over and enjoy. (photo credits- Shelley M)

Happy to finish (survive) this first ride on ‘the rock ‘ our group set up camp at Gros Morne Berry Hill campground . With a cook house/shelter (and plug-ins to charge our phones), showers and bathrooms, a fire pit surrounded with circular-seating, we were set to pitch our ‘tent city’, make and eat supper – and for some: a short walk around Gull Pond. A perfect spot to end a tiring day.

The view across Gull Pond: Gros Morne Mountain, the mound under the cloud.
Berry Hill campground was home for 4 nights.

More sunshine the next morning! Perfect for plans to tour Bonne Bay: stopped on the way at the Lobster Cove Lighthouse to climb and clamber around this Newfoundland shoreline. Awesome.

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse (Rocky Harbour)

A short drive through Rocky Harbour (too early for Sweet Rock Ice Cream but tagged it for later), and another 10KM to Norris Point, where our group rendezvoused for the short water-taxi-ride across Bonne Bay to Woody Point (population, 281).

Exploring Canada’s beauty and culture is amazing; meeting other travellers is equally fascinating, i.e. Kaisa and Christoffer in the line-up at the ferry. I had seen them pumping up the mountains the day before and judging from their gear it was clear they were long-haulers. They began this adventure (one of many) from their home in Finland and were gunning eventually for New York city, an ambitious goal for any cyclists. Their website shows a fascinating story of teamwork, courage and grit. The end of August Kaisa posted this Instagram photo from the Big Apple: they made it! More fuel for my fire: never stop dreaming and aiming for big adventures.

The ferry ride to Woody Point was barely 15 minutes: yet enough time for live entertainment! Yes – Newfoundlanders’ music and hospitality is a real thing!

Woody Point boasts shops with great coffee, ice cream, chocolate, pottery, yarn and souvenirs. A couple kilometres further is the Gros Morne Discovery Centre: the uphill walk along the road getting there is worth the effort: so much to see and learn about the Park’s surroundings and history.

The Centre is also a trailhead for hiking: I chose the Lookout Trail, a doable distance to finish before catching the last ferry of the day back to Norris Point and campground. A friend joined me part-way; then on to the windy summit where a fantastic view rewarded my uphill efforts.

At the summit a couple from Vermont, USA, kindly took my photo. In a brief chat we discovered my husband and I share with them some unfinished hiking business: to complete the northern half of The Vermont Long Trail. Now wouldn’t it be crazy-fun to meet sometime on that trail?!!

On my descent I met Frances from Quebec. I had observed her earlier at the trailhead; about my age and stature, an ambitious, confident, no-nonsense hiker – and now we hustled and talked our way down the trail to the parking lot where I also met her waiting husband. Fantastic fun. (The next evening the two of them stopped by our campsite fire-circle to say hello; initially not recognizing this kindred soul without her cap, walking shorts and poles! )

A view of the Tablelands on my descent.

The next morning brought another beautiful day. Excited for the highlight of my trip – hiking Gros Morne – I joined the early-bird shuttle to the parking lot for the approach trail; a scenic 5 kilometre warm-up for the Summit Trail.

Hiking companions Dan and Joanne: headed to the Gully (Summit Trail) on the other side.
Scrabbling my way up the Gully: that small dark-ish spot beyond the top, right corner of huge boulder.
Gros Morne summit: flat, rocky, with 360º views.
Perfect conditions: no wind or bugs, treated to glimpse of a moose in valley below.

Joanne, Dan and I descended Gros Morne on the ‘easier’ section of the Summit Trail – challenging but not scrabbling over rocks and around boulders. On the approach trail back to the parking lot I was excited to see Jolie and her family from Quebec. We had met briefly the day before at the Woody Point ferry-taxi dock, where we did what hikers do – exchange hiking plans! After a brief ‘hello and have fun’ our threesome and a couple other friends were anxious to finish up our Gros Morne hike (18Km) and celebrate with a Sweet Rock ice cream treat. And get back to camp for a shower, supper and sleep.

An easy 3KM hike took us from the parking lot to the dock.

The next day’s itinerary held another Newfoundland attraction: a ten-mile boat ride on the Western Brook Pond. (Apparently even the largest lakes are often called ponds in Newfoundland!)

Clouds threatened rain, which spit on us for about five minutes; but otherwise a fine day.

Rocky cliffs with many cascading waterfalls.
Pissing Mare Falls: 1125 ft – highest in NFLD and the 31st highest in Canada.
One of several ‘faces’ on the cliffs of this glacier-carved land-locked fjord.

Multi-gifted tour guides.

This boat ride to the end of the fjord at Sally’s Cove is also a drop-off for back country hikers to hike the Long Traverse: a 35km hike from the Cove to Gros Morne.

This arduous, spectacular hike boasts a not particularly well-marked trail, with tortuous black flies and the possibility of snow. The first two conditions were confirmed first-hand the day before, descending the summit of Gros Morne, where we’d had a ‘shouting conversation across the valley’ with a hiker finishing the Long Traverse trail. The flies were ‘driving him mad’; after which we were privy to the yelling conversation between him and his female partner who’d lost the trail, equally frustrated by the bugs, and “could he come find her or at least wait up for her!” He evidently kept charging ahead to get beyond the miserable insects; we saw him “across the valley” shortly after: they were still communicating so nobody was in danger.

I love challenges but hiking the Long Traverse is no longer on my bucket list.

Me and Catherine, my adventure (and tenting) companion: prepped for the weather.

Those dubious clouds thankfully held off until we were back at camp; when tarps started to whip in the wind and it began to rain. Nervous about keeping my down-filled sleeping bag dry, all my gear was quickly stuffed into kit bags and taken to the shelter. Uncertain about the tent (which later collapsed on itself), I decided to share with others a cabin at the campground. Wonderful idea.

The next day several of the group carried on up the coast to do more cycling and sight-seeing; me and three others drove back to Channel-Port aux Basques to catch our ferry reservation.

It was a meandering day, stopping at restaurants for lunch, then for tea and pie, “sit wherever you like, m’love...” , exploring as many nooks and crannies of coves and views before arriving for a midnight departure at the ferry terminal. Onboard, with an adjustable chair to stretch out in, my jacket and small cushion for warm comfort, I had a solid six-hour sleep!

6am sunrise, viewed from my bed-seat in the ferry.

I’m grateful for my wee taste of of Newfoundland. There’s much more to see and explore: I will return.

Canso Causeway: back home to mainland Nova Scotia.

A Turnaround Week of Wonder

Merriam-Webster defines wonder as “a cause of astonishment; to feel curiosity or doubt, rapt attention or astonishment, at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience.” My curiosity about wonder uncovered synonyms like: marvel, phenomenon, caution.

What’s the big deal about this six-letter word that triggers a question mark?

If you’ve read my recent blogs, a saga of pain has been the dominant – and very tiresome – feature. Sometime during this season one of my OWLS friends (a small group of wise and curious women) asked me, wondering – ‘where was I was finding the strength to keep going’? I wondered about that too and compiled a list. Journalling; connecting with friends in person (regardless how I felt); adjusting physical expectations; experimenting (marijuana gummy bears did NOT do a thing for me); praying (sometimes ranting); facing fear head on; coming to terms with no shame in taking pain killers.

Taking one day at a time.

Then in the middle of May I had a definite turnaround.

It started when I bumped into a friend outside a local market who asked me if I was going to an upcoming women’s event at a nearby church.

I told her, “I haven’t really thought about it and don’t have a ticket.”

My faith and God are integral to my life: a childhood inheritance that I’m grateful for which has remained my Rock. In my present season of life I’m more of a one-on-one, or small-circle-of-people kind of person; yet when I checked the event online I thought “I’d like to go to this!”

About sixty women were there – on pre-registration we were assigned to a specific table of seven or eight women. I knew two of the ladies at mine; it was a friendly, comfortable fit, chatting before the event started.

The event advertised, ‘the season of singing has come’, and that’s how the day began. A tonic for my soul; there’s just something about singing, joining voices with other women. After a brief introduction, the guest speaker shared encouraging family life-changing stories including her own physical healing. Then she posed this question: ” when you came here today what were you hoping to discover or take home with you?” Several women audibly answered the question – myself included; as I had thought about this, being open to receive something, to ‘feel better’.

As the speaker walked amongst the tables it was like she was listening, sensing what was happening in the room; she stopped at our table to pray for one of the women, and also did so for my pain, including a few words about ‘not holding rebellion and resistance‘. I thought at the time, “how curious!”. From life experience I have learned to assess messages and directives that others give me; and as I pondered this part of the prayer later at home, though I wasn’t certain just what it meant, its spirit and intent resonated as being right for me.

The morning session was followed by lunch and conversation around the table: followed by more music, and a short wrap-up session to finish as per scheduled (something I appreciate). I left the gathering with a spirit of contentment and gratitude for what I’d shared and experienced.

Two days later, a Monday morning email announced the re-opening of a small cafe on the Atlantic shoreline not far from our home. I’d missed this charming, homey spot; and wanting to support it again from the get-go, I drove there for an afternoon cup of tea to celebrate with them. Sitting at one of the three occupied tables in this one-room house-cafe, it was difficult not to catch the thread of other conversations. My antennae picked up phrases from the three women and a gentleman across the room i.e. keep trusting God to help you, don’t give up hope that He is with you in difficult times.’

I said to myself, “God, I am wondering if this is a bit weird … or is there something cool happening here?”

Attentive to reading my book and enjoying tea, the foursome stopped at my table on their departure, asking if I was enjoying what I was reading.

“It’s a great book”, I responded, ” A Trip Around the Sun by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth, two pastors who mentor and challenge each other to turn everyday life into the adventures of a lifetime. “On another note,” I said, “I wasn’t meaning to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help but hear your conversation about God helping us, to keep trusting Him through our difficulties. That especially resonated with me as I’ve been suffering with physical pain for a few months.”

As vulnerable as this sounds here on the page, it didn’t feel odd at all though I’d never seen these people before.

The gentleman bent down his large frame and looked at me, “I’m Nick, would you like me to pray for you?” Now I thought for sure, this is not weird but something cool.

This could have been really uncomfortable – people lean over and chat eye-to-eye all the time but typically not with strangers – but this felt right. With no hesitation on my part, ” thanks, Nick, that would be great. I’m Karen, and I believe in prayer.”

He confirmed, “you’re okay with me praying for you?” before gently placing a hand on my arm and quietly asking God to help me in my need for healing. It was short – I don’t remember the words, but I won’t forget the spirit and impact of this brief meeting.

Nick and his wife gave me encouraging smiles and left the cafe.

Tea-time was over. Before leaving, the other two women introduced themselves; Jean Ann lives in the area and I’ve since discovered she radiates Life to whomever she meets.

Later that same week – after months of trying a myriad of modalities – I discovered a physiotherapist whose expertise and exercise recommendations proved to be physical game-changers for me.

I wonder about it all; the months of suffering and searching, the see-saw of surrendering and despairing. The strength restored and spirit renewed.

And particularly, the timing. My physical turnaround made it possible to travel to Alberta to visit family and attend a brother’s memorial service. And to later join friends for a physical-activity-filled week to Newfoundland (catch that story next – almost ready to post) ): a wish I’ve had since we moved to the Maritimes.

I live with the mystery, the wonder of all this: with gratitude to God and the people who ministered help and hope. Aware that the flow of life is uncertain: each day is a gift.

With love for hope and courage – for wherever you are in the ebb of life.



Rescripting Life With The Pain

In January I wrote Life Disrupted: My Season of Wintering and never imagined that here in May, my life and physical activities would still be so restricted by pain. A short reprieve in February gave me an injection of hope – thank you! – and then the pain came back full steam. So did the pendulum swing of positive expectation and helplessness.

I’ve written snippets elsewhere about the Enneagram. Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s book The Road Back to You has been helpful in my self-discovery for learning how I’m wired. I don’t program my life to following their description of a type Seven – “The Enthusiast” – but I resonate with many of the identifying factors that includes both strengths and self-defeating patterns.

Rescripting (trying to make sense of) my present season has been a collaborative practice of this evolving understanding of who I am and scripture and prayer with journalling my highs and lows (with the accompanying emotions, these words are for my eyes alone!).

My new normal is a hot morning bath. A couple weeks ago I laid back, planted my feet on the tiles on either side of the taps, and talked to my legs.

“I don’t appreciate what you’re up to – particularly you there on the right! Yet as I look at you I know you’re still strong, you look fine and I’m grateful for you.”

I thanked them for all the tasks of life they’ve helped me do: running upstairs to fetch laundry, mowing my lawn, trundling the green compost cart to the road every other Monday. For all the places they’ve taken me: hikes in the backwoods and trails I’ve shared with friends and family, the sights I’ve viewed and the hills I’ve climbed on my bike, launching and portaging the kayak to reach my happy place on the water.

“Oh yeah, I’m aware you’ve lost some tone and strength, and you’re probably frustrated also by so much sitting and laying around. But please hold the muscle memory, I’m counting on you for when I get into action again.”

Adding more hot water and essential oils to the bath, I continued the impromptu gratitude-body scan session.

“I can’t see you heart and lungs but your faithfulness is relentless – to the extreme, helping me conquer marathons and mountains. Thank you. Stay alert for more adventures.”

I thanked my eyes: to soak in the view of the river beyond my living room, to read words of many books (check out my list in the postscript), to see and connect with friends on my computer monitor. I gave a shout-out to my ears, to hear and commune with an owl’s melancholic tones and the wind shuffling in the woods behind my house.

Finally, I went deeper and thanked my genes. Mom and Dad – who as children immigrated to Canada with their parents – gave me resilience, spirit, courage. Gifts that endure though they have passed on.

“Mom, you had your share of suffering. Headaches, arthritis – painful frustrations that hindered you from keeping up to speed with your ambition. Thank you for modelling how not to give up.”  

“Dad, many years before I was a gleam in anyone’s eye, your first wife died unexpectedly, leaving you in shock and heart-broken with three small sons to raise. Thank you for choosing life. And for choosing Mom, so a sister and I could become part of a precious blended family. I still draw strength from your deep well, and from what you taught, by living a life of rock-solid faith and trust in God.”  

I release the plug to drain the water and finish up with a two to three minute cold shower to boost my immune system and a kickstart to feel fully alive. (A newbie to this practice, I was happy to share a cold-water ocean dip with my daughter Renee on her recent visit to Nova Scotia.)

There’s a knock on the bathroom door.

“Dear, do you want me to bring you a coffee?”

“Thanks, but I’m just stepping out of the tub, and will enjoy that coffee in a few minutes.”

My husband – bless him – consistently offers to turn on the bathroom wall heater, light a stick of incense or white sage: one morning even balanced a small fruit plate on the edge of the tub! I can’t imagine life without his love and positive, enduring support. xoxo

Life is wrapped up differently than what it was and what I want it to be; I sometimes do poorly at accepting each day as it comes. But when I choose to live from a place of gratitude I live a more peaceful, healthier story. It helps me believe, hope, expect that this current story will someday shift to another one less painful.

Dear friends, thank you for listening – that’s all I have to say. May you be well.



Books I’ve recently read or listened to on audio. Non-fiction: Stories of courage, adventure and challenges.

  • What Comes Next and How to Like it – a Memoir – Abigail Thomas
  • A Three Dog Life – a Memoir – Abigail Thomas
  • And There Was Light: the Extraordinary Memoir of a Blind Hero of the French Revolutionary – Jacques Lusseyran
  • Llama Drama: A 2-woman, 5500M cycling adventure through S.America- Anna McNuff
  • The Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000K running adventure through the wilds of New Zealand – Anna McNuff
  • With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial – Kathryn Mannix
  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death – Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Well
  • We are Not Refugees: The Stories of the Displaced Gary Tiedemann

Poetry by Kay Gillen: Dancing Between The Raindrops

A Photo-Blog: What’s in a Flag

The Canadian national flag was inaugurated in a public ceremony on Parliament Hill, Ottawa on February 15, 1965. Before this, our national flag was the Union Jack and the Canadian Red Ensign flew from government buildings: both emblems attached to our British heritage. In 1963, (newly elected) Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson promised to resolve the proposal of a unique and distinctive national flag in time for Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967.

Thank you to Mr. Pearson for accomplishing his mission, and for hoisting the new flag proclaiming these words: “May the land over which this flag flies, remain united in freedom and justice … sensitive, tolerant and compassionate towards all.”

As of the beginning of February 2022, my husband and I have been concerned and curious to see and sense for ourselves how our country’s freedom and justice is being supported and upheld at Parliament Hill in our country’s capital. We checked our schedules – and the weather forecast – and on February 10, 2022 we packed up warm outdoor clothes, several flags and we were off on a road trip to Ottawa.

En route to Ottawa, we had a stopover to see family in Montreal. Where, unknown to us, a Freedom rally was planned for February 12, 2022! Perfect timing. I unravelled and waved my flag with thousands of Canadians gathered in Jarry Park for “United in Love for Freedom” (Unis Dans L’Amour Pour La Liberte). Politicians, educators and first nation leaders gave speeches; we sang the Canadian National Anthem, jostled amongst a crowd of young and old, shouted Liberté! We talked to friendly, smiling people en Anglais and en peu de français.

The next day, February 13, 2022 we drove about 2 hours from Montreal to Ottawa. We were there: the symbolic heart of our nation, home to Canada’s federal government.

Ottawa, National War Memorial

We were there seven (very cold) hours walking the streets: it felt peaceful; humanizing; unifying; mingling, talking to other people spending the day just like we were; talking to truckers; listening to speakers, musicians; dancing to stay warm; an absence of anger, illicit signs or language.

We looked for and discovered some Nova Scotia connections: a trucker with his rig.

Our Nova Scotian flag identifying hospitality and welcome to an East Coast Kitchen Party. Too bad we were on a short visit and had to miss the party.

Sadly, on February 14, 2022 – the day after we left Ottawa – the peaceful landscape of this protest for protecting Canadians’ freedom and justice was disrupted when the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

How many and how deep are the potholes ahead for our wonderful country of Canada? Nobody knows.

I cry, I get frustrated, I share my heart and my words.

A truck flag –banner bears witness with my heart’s hope and prayer : God keep our land glorious and free!

Life Disrupted: My Season of Wintering

It was like any other morning. I pulled back the covers, swung my legs out of bed and stepped down, ready to rock and roll. Whoa! Pain in my right hip triggered a nerve to go berserk down my leg, stopping me in my tracks. Without any sudden moves or different twists or angles, there it was. It was October 27, 2021. I’m glad I didn’t know then that three months later I’d still be in my season of wintering: a concept I’ve been unwrapping in Katherine May’s: Wintering:The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.

I understand winter.

My childhood years in central Alberta, Canada were long enough ago to remember ten-foot snow drifts along our country road; skating for weeks on the frozen slough behind the barn; extra work for my Dad to feed livestock and keep milk cows healthy in a steamy barn. As an adult I raised a family with my husband who established and worked in our construction company year-round.

My visceral experience with the natural world of winter is cold and dark, not weak or easy.

In spite of the pain, I couldn’t just curl up in bed and wait for a miracle. I’m wired for movement; in spite of the agitation from nerves gone amok, I had to be doing something. In spurts of activity I moved about my kitchen, preparing ahead for Christmas feasting. And went for short walks in the sanctuary of the woods: breathing deep and sensing my ever-present Creator.

My walk of Faith is also a non-rigid practice of reading Scripture, praying, journaling, and during these last weeks I’ve logged pages with laments, questions, declarations of hope and trust, railings: “God, are you there, hearing my cries?” – along with “thank you!” for the wonderful moments of respite, sensing I am being supported by a Being greater than myself.

I’ve been privileged to also access health professionals skilled in a broad field: medical and naturopathic doctors, chiropractor, acupuncture, physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage: costly financially, and emotionally with hopes rising and falling. I’ve been recommended to try – and have – an arsenal of tricks and tips: belly-breathing, stretching (some contortions of my own design searching for the sweet spot), hot pads, ice paks, rest, yoga, over-the-counter-painkillers, hot morning baths with Epsom salts and essential oils. Their short-term relief have kept me sane. The belly breathing, stretching, hot morning baths with a cold shower finish could become my lifestyle hacks for a more limber body. But not yoga. I gave it another valiant try but it’s truly not for me.

Back to the book.

My daughter Renee and I swap books – as much as we’re able to living two provinces apart – and Wintering was the most recent exchange. Uncannily, it was during winter solstice when we met for family time at Christmas! This book was a ringer, helping me begin a shift from quick, get me out of my discomfort (something nobody escapes!) to alright, this hurts a lot, but I’m okay here. After weeks of grappling to figure out what was causing my pain and how do I stop it; Winteringinvited me to change how I’d been relating to this fallow [bare] period in my life” (paraphrase from book’s flyleaf).

May writes from her own experience and that of her interviewees: categorizing Wintering into eight sections – September through Late March – her personal narrative of lessons for rest and retreat sourced from the natural world – also literature, mythology, and much more. Some parts of her book resonated more than others – i.e. her experience swimming in icy waters, which I tried once. Two minutes is hardly swimming! But it’s my beginning for future ocean dips: not only for pain but a host of other benefits that May shares in her book. If you’re curious, here’s an article about cold water dippers.

It’s taken me time (a crucial part of healing), and reflection during the course of writing this post, to finally get May’s message and the courage to practice it. I can accept unhappiness (for me, an Enneagram Type 7, happiness is a big deal!). I can endure painful hardships of wintering. I can embrace the power of rest and retreat. At sixty-eight, I think I am getting it: life is not linear, life is cyclical.

Where are things today, this last morning in January, 2022?

Minimal pain: no more wild, wacky stuff. More comfortable sleep without aids like heating pad, cushions, ice pak, vial of “just-in-case” pain-killers on my bedside table. I shout Hallelujah for all these blessings.

My healing is still in progress: multi-faceted emotionally, spiritually, physically. In the latter I’m grateful for so many options available and feel most effective has been chiropractic adjustments on my Sacroiliac joint combined with consistent stretching.

A few personal revelations:

  • I’m humbled by my broad expanse of supportive family and friends. Especially my husband Derryl.
  • I mourn shovelling snow, hauling firewood: winter physical activities I’ve taken for granted.
  • Disappointment in how self-absorbed, inward-focused I can (have) become. Yet learning, in my lowest moments, to find grace for my weakness.
  • Empathy for those suffering from chronic pain. “God help me to care and remember more.”

Fear – of not knowing how long, or will this never end – is crippling and tough to fight. These help.

  • I committed to join friends in July, 2022 for a cycling trip in Newfoundland. I set my bike up on a trainer in my spare bedroom for easy, short periods of cycling exercise.
  • my friend Christine shared in Mindful Musings her experience in visually looking ahead – not a fluffy, empty practice but with power for changing reality. One of the most positive people I know, she shared with me the story of her first stroke in this post.
  • meditating on Biblical Scriptures, i.e. Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer
  • a focus on gratitude : music: Brian Doerksen’s lyrics reading: Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every day of your Life . M.J. Ryan shares this practice “Before getting up in the morning, I have asked myself what I could count on that day , both externally …. and internally… just for today.” (adapted from practice by Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: passed away January 22, 2022 at the age of ninety-five.)

Before wrapping up I must acknowledge ‘the elephant in the room”: the enormously difficult world-wide Wintering we’ve had for almost two years. Collectively we’ve tried every conceivable practise and strategy to survive in this season without end.

I have little to add; beyond extending my heart aching for your pain. And a short quote from the end of May’s book (published in 2020) – written from a different context but applicable nonetheless: “….We need friends to wince along with our pain…people who acknowledge we can’t always hang on…to give ourselves a break when we need it and to be kind.”

Stay connected. Reach out – we can make it through the winter.

Love and prayers for your peace,


UPDATE: Feb 2/22 – Day by day I’m feeling closer to ‘normal’. Thank you to so many friends who have read and cared with emails, comments, phone calls. Sharing our stories and supporting each other: this we can do in every season. xoxo

Family Moving to Nova Scotia: A Dream I Didn’t Even Think to Wish for

photo credits: Renee Tougas

When I get messages from my kids – texts, emails, phone calls – they’re special news bulletins I read or pick up as fast as they come.

Text April 11, 2021 “Hey Mom, are you and Dad available tonight? I’d like to chat about something in particular (nothing bad!). Damien and I have been discussing how the next fifteen years might look for us and want to start the conversation how your future could be a part of ours. Can we talk soon? Renee.”

Thankful for the disclaimer, my mind starting whirring, where was this going? Maybe Renee and Damien had discovered a piece of land for getaways from the hubbub of Montreal. Maybe they wanted a consultation with Dad the builder.

2009 – Derryl setting beams in the SANCTUARY
2009 SANCTUARY stairs

Or maybe it was connected to those inserts in earlier conversations about Derryl’s and my future. The first time was eight, maybe nine, years ago when Renee and I were enjoying a walk and talk in the woods.

“Mom, I want you to know I’m taking care of you and Dad when you get old”.

Whoa! Like wind through the trees, the thought swooshed through my mind: “oh my goodness, what did my daughter just say’?!

“Uh. That’s amazing, Renee. It’s comforting to hear that, and wow – thank you.”

At that time Derryl and I were about sixty years old. Blessed with energy and good health we were living our life story – not using a script for being a certain age. Derryl was busy with building construction and motorbiking jaunts: my days were full managing our acreage home plus hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

I knew Renee wouldn’t say something with such conviction just off the top of her head, but I wondered about their three kids. How would their education and future adventures fit in with this idea? I wanted to say, ‘are you sure, Renee?’ but didn’t. I had a feeling in my bones that whatever directions our lives would take, being together in the future could probably work out. Renee and I didn’t carry the conversation further, but I was thinking if this does happen, it will be a long time from now!

Derryl and I phoned Renee the next day. She jumped right in with, “Mom and Dad, I’ve told you this before. I want to care for you when you get old. Even though Damien and I enjoy the outdoor activities in Quebec it doesn’t make sense for us to buy property here, when all the conversations for our future have included going to Nova Scotia.”

“Really?!” I said, totally surprised by this.

“Yes, it’s true” said Renee. “And to me, caring for you means I want to spend time with you, be close to where you live. Yes, taking you to appointments and helping you in other ways, but besides that, to be sharing what we enjoy. Walking; discussing books and ideas; being in nature. Hanging out together.”

Thinking back, since that walk and talk in the woods, Renee had reminded us of her plan five, six times, maybe more. Derryl and I hadn’t given much thought to the logistics of her wish. Wasn’t that a conversation for later, like in our seventies? We planned for our financial future and that was pretty much it.

That post-text chat continued: “I care about living life with you Mom and Dad, in your old age; not waiting to come sit with you when your health requires you to be in a medical care facility. And just to be up front about how I feel, I’m not sure how good I’ll be for the intimate personal care: but I plan to be connected with you in person, with your heart and spirit, throughout your aging journey.”

Now that made me smile. This was just like her forthright Grandma Forsberg (my Mom). Renee got the message across in a way that Derryl and I understood we’d be respected, cared for. Loved.

Next item in our conversation: Renee wants to come and spend blocks of time with us long before the ‘helping my aging parents’ stage. Maybe as soon as the next two to three years. That is good news as the phase ‘we’re old and need help now’ doesn’t reveal itself at a precise moment in time. Plus – if we can – we want a picture-window chunk of years together. Renee and Damien work virtually; spending a month or more here in Nova Scotia wouldn’t be very different from previous long-haul spells they’ve had away from home, i.e. the months they’ve worked and travelled with their three children.

My initial concern – what about the kids? – was for naught. Renee’s super-power is organization and planning ahead.The kids are young adults: in university, with part-time jobs, and though they’ve spent lengthy periods of time here, their home is Montreal. They might not come to NS as often as before: a sad thought for Derryl and I, but we get it. For the most part, the kids will live at the family apartment; well-able to manage by themselves. Pippen, the feline family member, might also choose country living over Montreal. His feral kitten-hood introduced him to the joys of freedom in the woods, and though I’m not a cat lover, he and I have established a compatible, even friendly relationship. He’s in on the plan too.

Under the open staircase, cosiest spot in the house.

As our phone chat continued, the wheels picked up speed.

Dad the builder: “You’d want your own separate living space to live in when you come, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah. It would be great when we come for those weeks or months at a time, but for sure it’ll be necessary later down the road.”

“Exactly. Real estate prices are crazy right now, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a nearby property.”

“Dad, how big is the acreage where you and Mom live? Is it big enough to add another house?”

Now the lightbulb came on!

“Hey, Renee, we have four and a half acres. Plenty of space. Why didn’t I think of that?!”

The spark ignited; thoughts and ideas tumbled out as Renee, Derryl and I brainstormed how this might look.

“We’ll subdivide a piece of the property to ensure that detail is clean and tidy. I’ll build a wonderful house for you to come to in Nova Scotia – with room for the kids too.”

“I love the name you have for your home – what do you think you’d call the new house?”

“We lived in the Sanctuary two years before we came up with that name. An inspiration will show up when we’re ready for it.”

“Renee, imagining here on this property in NS – you and Damien, the kids, maybe even great-grandkids – makes this Papa’s heart sing!”

I jumped in when I could: “When I’m done with the stairs in the Sanctuary it will be time to switch houses.”

“Dad, we’ve got lots of time. Your design ideas for the house sound great, but there’s no need to go wild and crazy. Our family of five has been living in a 1000 square foot walk-up apartment!”

Whew!! We had enough on the table to process and plan. Plenty for Derryl to get excited and start dreaming about, and for me to envision sharing meals, walks in the woods, shopping at the farmer’s market.

We wrapped up the call: to be continued.

That kick-off chat was several months ago. Derryl paid no mind to Renee’s suggestion and started sketching house designs. My dreaming and actions moved towards home and garden.

The perennial beds must have been shocked this summer by the enthusiastic attention triggered by my long view for their happiness and health. I texted Renee about my newly acquired pleasure in planting trees and shrubs I may never see to full growth.

“Mom, do you have a lilac bush planted yet? Also, I vote for a magnolia tree. (I Googled to make sure they grow in NS). Magnolias are just stunning in spring! I can’t remember, have you planted raspberry canes?”

I had the lilac and magnolia covered but not the raspberries. That changed May 25th: as logged in my gardening journal: ‘Today I planted fifteen raspberry canes. I grew up picking and eating this fruit on my family farm where Renee’s childhood is also linked to these delicious berries. It makes sense to me now to get a patch going. We installed two motion-detector water sprayers. Hope they deter the deer.”

Now in November, I realize certain things matter more inside my house too. I want to put myself into these rooms, these walls (which for the record, will never be spotless as that’s not my gig!). My hope is for Renee and Damien and their family – including those yet to to be added – to feel the spirit of their parents, their grandparents, who loved and lived in this space.

When my husband and I moved from Alberta to Nova Scotia in 2007, we left behind ALL our family connections. No more Friday morning breakfasts with my sister or sharing family anniversaries, birthdays or “let’s meet for coffee.” I left my roots at the farm where one of my brothers still lives; where my siblings and their children and grandchildren regularly visit. When I travel back to Alberta I always must ‘go to the farm’, to the land that belongs to me, and I to it.

Renee and her family’s memories may never take root as deep as mine, but my vision and hope for their future on this land brings me unspeakable joy. In my understanding, family caring for their elderly members in-house isn’t as common here as in some cultures. Yet the more I share this prologue for our multi-generational living, I’m hearing of other families planning their care-giving households. I am hoping this is a growing movement.

Months have passed since that first text; Derryl and I are still wrapping our heads around this gift. Work, decisions, issues, negotiations – it’ll all be in the mix of fulfilling this dream. Our daughter’s fiercely loyal, nurturing heart and commitment – along with her husband’s support (thank you, Damien) – is humbling. We are in this together.

Jumping for joy!

Love and hugs – from my home to yours.


Do first Solo Campout – 2021 ✓

My wish to do a solo campout had simmered long enough. This was the year I made it happen.

Conditions were right: I had a beautiful destination in mind (important detail to me), I could easily explain my whereabouts to local hikers, and ‘warm and dry’ was in the forecast.

I love to camp but this time was different. I had a purpose. To discover my response to alone-ness in nature’s quiet darkness; would I have confidence and ingenuity to handle unknowns – and what about the wildlife?! I wanted to dip my toes into a practise run for future solo camping: to say I can do this and encourage other women my age to do whatever is the thing they’re wanting to try.

The closest thing to this kind of adventure as a kid, was when my friend and I lugged a blanket to a field midway between our homes in the country when we dared each other to sleep overnight under the stars. Camping much later after that – with my husband and children – was using RV’s that my parents generously shared with us.

Tenting with camping began for me in 2007 when we moved to Nova Scotia. Being closer to our daughter Renee, husband and family who lived in Maine, we were able to discover hiking and tenting with them; eventually joining them for a couple sections on the Appalachian Trail (AT). I discovered the fun and comfort of tenting and sleeping in the woods and the feeling that ‘whatever I need’ I’m carrying on my back. The overall AT experience, meeting women hikers there (some of them going solo), triggered my itch to hike and camp alone.

The most daunting detail for my solo trip was pitching the tent. Crazy but true. I can do it, but where possible, defer that job to fellow campers while I find firewood and water. To build my confidence, the day before my solo trip I pulled out my light-weight single tarp tent and had a practice run on the grass in front of our house. No one was around to observe how long this would take. I reviewed the instructions I had printed out, emptied the bag with those extra cords I’d never been sure what to do with, added some extra pegs to the gear bag and figured out how to use my foldable hiking poles for tent supports. Yay! A successful trial run.

The next morning after confirming with friends where I was going and when I expected to be off the trail, I drove to the trailhead, strapped on my pack, and started walking. The first section was a multi-purpose trail and on that afternoon a brilliant pencil-thin snake and I were the only ones using it!

The total wildlife to be seen!

Pivoting off the wide trail and onto the narrow one through the woods, I watched for scat. I’m not an expert at reading animal poop, but I know what bear scat looks like. I didn’t see any, but there was some smaller stuff, possibly from a coyote. This didn’t make me feel nervous – perhaps living near the woods and being able to spend lots of time there – has helped me respect ‘nature in the wild’, to feel safe. But I did remind myself to “look big and menacing” using my hiking poles if I encountered a coyote, and thankfully I didn’t have to test my defensive moves.

I reached my camping spot with ample time to pitch my tent before dark. However, looking for a flat and brush-free spot was not easy to find on this (beautiful!) bluff destination. There was scarcely a two-inch layer of topsoil under the blanket of scraggly, prickly ground-cover.

Respecting the landscape for my stealth campsite, i.e. minimal disturbance to the environment, and after a couple false starts I found a suitable spot. SO grateful for those extra pegs and cords, I talked myself through it. No need to hurry. Take one step at a time, just like yesterday. Eventually my cosy nest was standing. I crossed my fingers and prayed for a night without wind.

Solitude. Supper sitting on a rock watching the sunset.

I enjoyed the warm evening (about 19 degrees Celsius) in silence, sitting on the smooth rocks soaking in nature’s beauty until sunset. It wasn’t late, maybe 9PM, but I couldn’t build a bonfire, so after a final check of the tent pegs and cords there wasn’t anything else to do other than crawl into my sleeping bag.

My tarp tent is a narrow, confined space that feels a bit like a cocoon; with the mesh lining drooping very close to my face, it was beyond cosy, a bit like a coffin! A small solar light provided a soft ambience. I read a book on my phone for half an hour and then it was lights out.

Totally dark and quiet.

Did I lie awake? I normally go to sleep quickly and I did here too. Also normal, is at least one nocturnal visit to use the bathroom, which always poses a challenge when tenting. Sparing some details, suffice it to say on this night I took extra precautions unzipping the tent, absolutely not wanting to bump my poles in their precarious positions holding up the tent, such as it was! That, plus gingerly avoiding the thorny brushes in my bathroom, made this a one-off event for the night. I laid awake for a while after this (which is also normal). Not a sound! I live in the country and with my bedroom window open I hear more wildlife there than I did on this night. No need for the bear-bell I had handy to alert any creatures scuffling about. Part of me was disappointed it was so quiet. In this wooded space, where were the animals?

I woke up at 6:30 to the sound of crows. Yay – there are animals here! The light of another glorious day was showing though the canopy of trees above my sagging, but still standing, tent.

It was such a lovely morning. I made my breakfast of coffee and granola last as long as I could before breaking camp and returning to the trailhead for my expected arrival time.

I will go solo camping again. I think I will stretch the edges next time – maybe go for a longer time and/or distance, perhaps a more remote location. Not that bigger is better, but because I’ve done the practice run and am curious to discover what more I can experience and also learn about myself in going solo.

Friends, I extend the invitation. What is it that you’ve been hankering to try? If there isn’t time or opportunity in 2021, plan ahead to 2022. If you’re comfortable in sharing, I’d love to hear the story.

Love and happy camping, and tenting,


Sole Sisters Hike Mont Mégantic

Winter, 2021. I was on a Zoom call with my husband’s sister. She and her husband live in another country two time zones away, share life in a communal family household, and were then working from home. Not surprising that we rarely connect; my husband and I jumped at Nancy’s invitation to meet them for a happy-hour visit. After catching up on their merry-go-round of life, Nancy shifted the conversation to her urgency to connect on this winter day.

 “I need something to plan and look forward to!”

Oh I could relate. Even during the best of life circumstances, without something exciting coming up the future looks dismal.

Nancy, dedicated in maintaining her health and fitness, was feeling ready to push her hiking passion forward a notch by adding overnight camping. I had enthused often about my love for such adventures and encouraged her, “let’s do it together. Maybe other women could join us!”.

The likelihood of reaching this goal this year with so many shifting variables was a wildly hopeful shot in the dark. But with a “why not?!!” Nancy and I jumped in. We’d dream up a plan to carry as far as possible.

Who else would we ask? Top of my list was my daughter Renee, an experienced thru hiker who showed me through the planning and possibilities of multiple day hiking. Her response was a quick yes. Yay!! Nancy checked with her sisters about joining us, being clear on details for this kind of hike: no electricity or running water; reasonable physical challenges and rewarding views; backpack priorities were sleeping bag, rain gear, minimal clothing, basic nourishing food. Weighing in on practicalities like travel, work, home responsibilities – and motivation – Nancy’s sister Ruth was a ready YES. We were a family foursome.

What gets packed and what stays home?

Where would we go? Renee is familiar with the hut and hike system where she lives in Quebec; research for Parc National du Mont-Mégantic landed us a hike-in home base cabin with four bunks, a nearby outhouse and cut wood for an outdoor fire pit and indoor stove. Perfect.

When was a big question narrowed down by work, university classes starting in September and previously-scheduled vacations. Using a blurry crystal ball we predicted forthcoming travel openings and aimed for September: this was no small detail – Nancy was flying from Minnesota, USA; Ruth from British Columbia; and me from Nova Scotia. We spun the wheel and set our hiking dates for September 10-13; committed with high hopes, a prayer, and a non-refundable cabin reservation.

We watched and waited hopefully throughout the weeks of summer, planning “as if” the hike was going to happen. Renee shared her master packing list: we collaborated on our gear needs; discussed food and water supplies; dehydrated meals; conditioned ourselves for endurance, i.e.hiking with a heavy bag of flour in our backpacks.

And what sometimes happens: three of us had physical mishaps that tried to mess with our mental endurance.

In July Nancy was buzzing around the house; snagged her right baby toe on the furniture. Crack. A nurse practitioner confirmed it was broken. Oh no!

“With several weeks to heal it just had to get better by September,” Nancy told us later.

She let it rest (a bit), protected it from getting jarred or stepped on, let it heal. Which it did.

Ruth was rear-ended in her vehicle three days before our scheduled hike. The driver at fault, a kinesiologist student, advised Ruth what signs to watch for the following day. Fortunately, she was fine.

Three weeks before the hike I was running up our open tread wooden staircase, and in a way too complicated for words, sprained my right ankle and scraped my shin.

I also said “this has to get better” but forgot the compression or icing routine until a week later when I finally went to ER for an expert’s opinion. After which, tight-fitting cycling sox and ice packs (along with a few more days treating it kindly), praying I could ‘let it go’, I was ready to hike the trails.

Interesting to me was that we hadn’t shared our mishaps with each other when they happened. I think it was a matter of not dwelling on something that can trigger fear to haunt our thoughts; don’t give it airtime to create worry for the others.

Thankfully all of us were able to board the flights we’d booked and once on the trail our mind, body and spirit worked in harmony. Sole Sister conversations on and off the trail were as refreshing and inspiring as the views that never ended.

Nancy’s desire was to do a multiple day hike. And Renee’s goal (a big thanks to her intuitive leadership) was to provide a challenge that would be a stretch, but offer the best possible experience that doesn’t push one over the edge.

Reaching those goals deserved a toast; an extra special treat we carefully accounted for in adding up the weight of our backpacks!

We – the Sole Sisters- dared to dream a scheme and were thrilled it happened. We hope to share a trail together another time, somewhere else. And I also hope this story inspires you to hold on and and nurture those sparks of desire to explore something you not only want to look forward to, but to accomplish.

I’d love to hear your dreams. Your stories. Dare to try, my friend.



Are we having fun yet?

Twelve of us in ten boats were paddling the Atlantic shoreline near Canso, Nova Scotia.

We had navigated through rocky inlets, shoals, surf, the wind’s wanton shifting in direction and velocity; we’d schlepped gear to where we could find suitable camping spots. We’d been soaked by rain.

Yes, we were having fun – responding to whatever with humour and we can do this. We even had music, thanks to our disc jockey paddler and his solar panels. A definite bonus for re-charging soggy spirits too!

A beach with sand – and sun. Charging the solar panels meant music around the evening’s bonfire.

Then. On day five of our seven-day plan we got the call to pull off the water. This directive came on short notice, but wasn’t a big surprise.  

Our group decided to split up that morning.

Some went exploring on the water, others took a hike – everyone planning to be back and spend the afternoon enjoying the beach where we’d set up the night before.

Trying to see the phone screen: where on the trail are we?!

The hikers, soaked by rain when the sunshine quickly disappeared, arrived back at camp first. We coaxed damp wood into flames and started erecting tarps over tents and the cooking station, planning to create a welcome atmosphere for the paddlers’ return. While we were trying to get dry and stay warm by our struggling fire, we received the cell message from our expedition’s leader : “the wind is increasing, break camp asap and load your boats.” We were aborting the trip, and apparently the quicker the execution the better. With eyes on the weather this made good sense; the rest of the group – the paddlers – were out there pushing hard to get back to camp. And truth we told, we all were a bit weary with wet gear and the physical demands of this trip. But an early tear-down right now? It took a few disheartening minutes to process. We wondered, did we understand the phone message correctly? We had planned a two-night beach-camp here. The night before we had settled in creating a comfy space, food and gear scattered around.

Our homey spot gave us a good time, but a short one.

Us hikers who got the call to “pack up, we’re breaking camp” talked our way through the sudden change in plans and got into action. Tearing down those wet tarps we had just tied into place; stuffing gear into bags and then into cargo holds; splitting a beer instead of packing it out. By the time the paddlers were back we were well in motion and could also help them pack up.

By late afternoon we all were ready and made our final launch: in this formation: a navigator (where are the shoals?), a lead kayak, two side-guard vessels flanking the main group, and a sweep ensuring all ten boats were accounted for. We safely rocked and rolled the swells (it does feel safer in a group) to the beach at Black Duck Cove. This is a day-use provincial park that has trails, a boardwalk and canteen, and a parking lot where one of our vehicles was parked.

For the second time that day, our group split up.

Some got busy with the trip’s final schlepping of the gear. I won’t guess the distance or laps from the shoreline where our full vessels rested, to the parking lot where all the gear needed to be ‘dumped’ and loaded into vehicles. Many steps each way. Eventually, the boats empty, we splayed ourselves amongst the gear we’d dropped on the grass and deck of the canteen. Too bad it was closed: they could have pulled in a whack of business!

The others in the group left to fetch vehicles from other locations along the coast; also delivering a thank you message with a bottle to the Munro’s, who had portaged our crafts earlier in the trip which had saved us a bundle of time and hard labour!

Portaging instead of accessing the canal waterway: who knew it was closed for new bridge construction?!

It was nearly dark by the time we were all together again, now the empty boats had to be moved from the water’s edge to the parking lot.

Among the ten vessels were five single kayaks, one tandem kayak, three pedal-driven kayaks (kind of like these but different) and one custom-made, pedal-driven boat that I can’t define or name but holds a LOT of stuff. And because it is wooden and heavy, needs to be moved carefully using foam rollers. Back and forth we went. Thankfully we had a two-wheeler gadget for the kayaks, and finally – in the dark, hurrah for headlamps! – our combined energy and robust spirits got the job done.

Typically after a trip like this when we’ve had fun playing hard, this group winds up with a celebratory meal at a restaurant. Not this time. We had a few hours to drive home, physically were wiped out – and hungry – so we used one of the canteen’s picnic tables and dumped out all the excess food we had left. Cheese, tortillas, peanut butter, sausage, avocados, chocolate treats – you name it – whatever we could find. It was a celebration supper in a category all of its own and one that (hopefully) will never be repeated!

Sometimes I’m asked, “what makes you keep showing up for adventures you know will be challenging physically and mentally, probably with some serious discomfort, even potential for injury?”

I ask myself that question too and I did especially before this kayak trip. I had an intuition it would go differently than planned. It was strong enough that I considered discussing it with the trip organizer. I’d feel awful, even negligent, if something really terrible happened. Yet the only basis I could pin for this premonition was paddling shores near open ocean; we’d done similar trips before without incident. In the end, only my journal and God were the wiser for my wondering. I came to rest with it and shifted my angst to curiosity, what kind of adventure was on our horizon?

We alI had a good dose of adventure, including the open-door culture-hospitality of a fisherman’s wharf and shack on our second night of the trip. It wasn’t five-star but it was available when we couldn’t find any place to pitch all our tents. I managed to secure a bunk where I rolled out my sleeping gear inside the cabin.

I would have missed so much had I not shown up for this trip.

Learning from people’s leadership and experience to read the signs, and knowing when it’s time to pull away from something.

Testing my physical resilience. Putting up with wet gear, paddling through swells (exhilarating!). The thrill of belonging to this energetic and amiable group and watching my mates’ ingenuity for problem-solving. These are just some of the reasons I get out and try new and difficult stuff.

My intuition was right. The trip do go differently than planned.

We had fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

With love and a nudge: go find your fun!

xo, Karen

PS Credits for several photos to Catherine MacRae (tent-mate and adventurer-friend both on and off the water) and my other mates whom I may have missed.

“boundary” – what comes to your mind

The place my husband and I call home borders the LaHave River, where we’re situated amongst other acreage dwellers both upriver and down.

Our property in this bit of Nova Scotian paradise borders the forest, where residents of the animal kingdom roam and occasionally wander into our yard. This can be fascinating and frustrating. Four porcupines and seven deer together one evening in the yard this spring was a bit much. Especially as they dug around and grazed on our small field, paying no mind to my yelling to “keep moving along!”

The plant kingdom brings me most pleasure: trees and flowers and veggies. I grew up shelling buckets of peas, picking raspberries, helping my Mom water and dead-head her flowers: such labours didn’t warp my love for working with plants. Excluding of course, the weeds that persistently seek and creep through chinks in boundaries of all kinds.


Managing the weeds and the wildlife has prompted me to consider this topic of boundaries more closely. Borders, boundaries, barriers (I’m intermingling them): what do you think of when you hear these terms?

Some possible responses: they help one define what you’re comfortable with, how you like to be treated and interact with others.

Or one may think of a specific line or object that indicates safety, i.e. a guardrail on a twisty road to help drivers stay on the road.

I resonate with Merriam-Webster’s definition for boundary: “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different.” To me that doesn’t necessarily imply one of the two things is better, or is more logically sound or universally safer. There is simply a difference.

Fluctuating differences has been our story of the last sixteen months. Navigating through the limitations has been like running the rapids: pivoting around boulders and fallen timbers, hoping to find a calm pool.

Depending on personalities (and perseverance) some have been pushing against Covid-19 barriers in their mindset – daring to be more hopeful than negative, leaning in to what they feel in their gut to be right for them, etc. To be healthy I think we need to believe in ourselves, decide what matters to us, still make plans for ourselves. One of the things I’m not relinquishing is giving up the wish to hike with my daughter Renee, who lives a thirteen-hour drive away from me. Several months ago, when provincial borders were still closed, we scheduled a four-day hike for September. There will be us two plus two others. Hurrah – I can hardly wait!! We are moving forward in our plans, pushing forward to move beyond a boundary.

For whatever I choose to do, if my decision is to move forward then I need to focus ahead to where I want to land. An illustration from my garden helped me understand this. Rocks keep surfacing through the soil in my garden (it’s like they grow all year long – where do they come from?!) and my pail for picking weeds and rocks often ends up a distance away from me. I’ve discovered this: if I toss a rock towards the pail while looking at the pail, it’s much more likely to land in it. Obviously I was never a basketball player or I’d have known this already!

This focusing principle also helped me push beyond a border I’ve struggled with for many months longer than Covid.

That beautiful LaHave River is my closest waterway for kayaking. We don’t have waterfront property to build a wharf and there’s a guardrail between the river and the road, so accessing the water has been an ongoing challenge. My husband has helped me slide my vessel over this boundary but he isn’t always available – and it seems especially so on those calm days when the river is calling my name.

I tried to find an access via nearby locations but I was at a dead end. Until the day I focused where I wanted to land: in my kayak in the water a few metres away. I wasn’t looking for a crossing of the Red Sea but when the idea simply landed I was very excited! Just slide my kayak under the barrier. Easy and safe.

We all know the term tunnel vision. That was my problem, I could see only one solution.

Restrictions are slowly lifting for the Covid barriers we’ve had. What we’ve been waiting to do or whom we’ve been wanting to see will have similarities and also be different.

I love what my September hiking partner said regarding Covid restrictions lifting and forthcoming choices: “I see an opening, a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m running for it.”

Thank you for reading these thoughts about boundaries; perhaps you’ll be encouraged to look at things differently if you’re feeling stuck. Look for the light at the the end of the tunnel and run for it.



asking questions, being the real me

If I were to identify a question of the year that I’ve been asked and have asked it’s “how are you feeling today (i.e. living with Covid-19)?”

Today, I feel cloistered. Strict policies like stay the blazes home put my comings and goings on a short leash.

Today I feel grateful. In the Canadian Atlantic Bubble we do have pandemic restrictions, but I can see my friends, eat at restaurants (at least where I live), and roam and hike the great outdoors. We probably hold the record (or close to it) for the lowest numbers in the world.

Today I feel conflicted. I crave physically connection with family – all beyond the isolation bubble of my enviable world. My insides feel edgy. And guilty when my inner critic speaks up “what on earth is your problem? You have nothing to complain about!”

Many folks, like my coffee roaster guy, are contented with this arranged life. Albeit, good coffee helps manage a mood (especially in a favourite mug) but I’m acknowledging I find this a challenge – struggling with the contentment factor.

Long before 2020 and Covid I questioned: “why do I lean towards, or away from, certain responses and actions?”

Opposing all kinds of personality testing I dug my heels in: “don’t label me and put me in a box”. But five years ago curiosity won out. I dipped my toe into the Enneagram journey. Test results identified me as an enthusiast type 7 which certainly resonated with my positivity, appetite for adventure and general spontaneity for life.

Other tendencies made sense too. Like finding it hard to sit in the moment with life’s painful stuff. Getting easily bored with the same routines, opting for discovering new things instead. Not liking it when people put expectations on me. Mmm. That’s an interesting connection to the “don’t put me in a box”!

Living according to my personality tendencies hasn’t become my new religion. This knowledge is added to my toolbox for understanding how I’m wired.

Back to now, April 2021.

I’m wired to thrive with a full social calendar. Thank goodness and thank God for Zoom. Family meetings and myriad other fun-people-surprises keep my daytimer booked up. The Parliament of Owls: reflective, spontaneous and wise women; writer connections like Pyjama writing (for real); Alison Wearing’s memoir course and writing community.

I consider my inherent bright-side view a blessing. My weaknesses and challenges also belong in the mix of me, so I own and honour all of it. A human fearfully and wonderfully made who is feeling cloistered, grateful, conflicted all at the same time.

My socializing thing could stem from “the more the merrier” kind of hospitality growing up. However it landed, it’s been one easily adopted for my table. I am very grateful for friends with whom we meet. Most of us share the ache of kids and grands living beyond our reach. Our guest rooms and bunkbeds are empty.

I’m wired for action. In my 60’s I became passionate about hiking. I call it my new religion. Whoa – hear me out. For me, the very nature of hiking is being in nature. Google says religion is: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods“. Walking in the woods – be it alone or sharing that sacred space with others – feels to me like a sanctuary, a communion with the presence of God as I understand and believe.

A ‘knight’ in the backwoods.

Hiking is restful for my soul (deep breathing, flushing monkey-mind chatter) and activates energy to push my boundaries (a tough trail). How these two can marry was revealed at an online art journalling class. Our writing prompt was, what do you think of when you hear the word boundary? No hesitation, I blurted push. Then I asked myself, why that?

The Atlantic’s peace and power.

Here’s a simple explanation. My personal wiring has these two things going on: it’s a challenge for me to be still – physically and mentally – and I have an abundance of energy (a term I like better than excess). Hiking offers intriguing boundaries for me to push. I welcome them for my personal growth. There you have it.

Pollett’s Cove, Cape Breton Nova Scotia.

This reading list, non-fiction and memoir, has inspired my hiking passion.

August 2020 memories – rendezvous in Quebec with kids and grands.
Anticipating the next time to kick off our shoes and hang out.
Backyard Montreal feast – hold that thought….

Hiking supports my whole being to feel grounded in every way. Knowing my personality tendency cards helps me ‘play the game.’

But at the end of the day (and wrapping up this post) relationships are the way and the walk of my religion.

Fellowship with God in whom I trust and rest as beloved; connecting however I can with those dearest to me; exploring the enlarging circle due to – and in spite of – Covid.

Accepting grace for who I am, and wishing that mercy will be the same for you.

Karen xo

Rescripting thoughts for “i Can help myself”

At a gathering with some high-activity friends one of the group stated “I can’t help myself!.” Have you said that too? I have. This time, an image of casually handing over control grabbed me full stop. How can I help myself is a good consideration if addicted to excessive gym workouts. And I think a critical discussion when feeling stuck, regardless of your age.

I’m fifty-five (sixty, sixty-five, sixty-seven); what kind of person do I want to be now in this stage of life? What dreams and adventures call my name? I’ve never tried anything like this before.

Clearly we have limitations. I would love to heft my sea kayak onto the car rack, using saw horses or some other leveraging system I can dream up. But it’s pretty certain on this one: I can’t do it by myself. There’s a high risk of damaging my body and vehicle if I do.

Other than physical limitations what are the ways we get stuck ? I’ve listed three reasons.

#One. Our thoughts, and our belief that they are true. Thoughts. They are sentences of words that come into our mind. That doesn’t mean they’re true. Has anyone else misinterpreted something, then built a thought in your mind that someone doesn’t like you, is against you: based only on your thought evaluation?

#Two. Change. Answers to questions like ‘what’s next for me’ will probably mean doing something differently. Developing new self care practices, shifting attitudes, reaching for dreams – do I hear ‘yikes’?!

#3Three. Fear. Stepping out of our box. Knowing what to do first. Anxiety how to respond to family and peers who may question our new actions and ideas. What-if’s. It can be intimidating just to start.

Three tools that have helped me to rescript my thoughts, dare to dream, and take action.

#1 Make a mindmap: this is something new in my toolbox and I love it. Daphne from the Publication Coach showed me how to use mindmaps for writing. Now I use them for everything: to get started on a blog post, process a work decision, organize my next back-packing trip, approach a sticky situation.This is how I do it:

  • get an 8×11 sheet of paper and position it on a writing space landscape-style
  • draw a circle in the middle of the paper. Inside the circle write a question. From that middle circle draw spokes out to other circles for responses triggered by that question. This can be a short exercise, 3-7 minutes tops, jotting thoughts down as they come. There isn’t a right or wrong way. It’s getting thoughts out of the head for the vantage point of seeing them and working with them.
  • If this tool is new to you, I encourage you to test it out, perhaps related to our topic with a question, i.e. what makes my heart sing, or – what stops me from trying new things? Daphne’s website offers a download for her mindmapping instructions. If you’d like to contact me here I’d be happy to do one together.
My foray into something new: art journalling – with Anna. Creative progress without expectation for perfection!

#2 Be mindful about what is taken in through all the senses. What we read, see, listen to becomes part of what we think and believe. This message bears highlighting, especially in our current world situation with so much input blasting via every medium. Author Dr. Caroline Leaf, whose work on and off the page marries both spiritual and scientific wisdom, writes this “….what we say and do is based on what we have already built into our minds {based on implanted thoughts that form our point of view}. We evaluate this information and make our choices based on this information, then we choose a new thought, and this is what drives what we say or do.” 1.

#3 Make small doable goals. The temptation is to tackle the world and that’s a set-up for self-sabotage. This is old news but still relevant news: remember the hare and tortoise!

Graphic Credits: Laurent-Auguste Tougas ~2013

Friends, it feels easier sometimes to sit in the rut or behind the tree. Chilling out: believing we can wait a while (folks, time is a limited commodity) or that we can’t help ourselves.

Change is hard work. And there isn’t a formula to rescript your life because your life, with its dreams and goals, is one of a kind. If you’d like to connect for support on moving forward, reach out here.

Love, until next time …


  1. p. 42 Switch on Your Brain

what’s in my backpack for 2021

I am a woman in her 60’s who doesn’t have to log on to work-from-home or home-school young children. I’m able to choose my daily schedule including writing projects, work and play activities, freedom to hike local trails or beaches where I live in Nova Scotia, Canada. A sanctuary of woods is behind my house.

I am not a designated care giver for loved ones suffering with ill health, confinement and confusion. My husband and I and our children and their children haven’t had Covid and are not sick. Many people living in other parts of Canada and the world are restricted and enduring circumstances more difficult and heavier-handed than my experience.

I’m so very privileged. Yet I struggle with my yin and yang of blessings and the frustration and weariness of Covid-19.

A 2020 Christmas without family hugs and no game plan for when will we see you next was a sad, first-time-ever experience. I find trying to stay aware of my world while navigating the crush of voices with opinions, fears and judgements a tiresome dance. Isolation created by face masks that fog up my eyeglasses and conversations makes me more impatient than I like to admit.

Letter Saying Good-bye 2020, Hello 2021!

My personality, an Enneagram ( type 7), leans towards fun, spontaneity, physical activity, adventuresome excursions with friends in locations now out of reach. It’s work to keep my body, soul and spirit intact through the frustrations of missing what was. It’s a tension that makes my mental health gauge feel off kilter.

Clenching my jaw is not healthy. I need to establish a different thought pattern to rescript life to what it is now.

As a long distance hiker, I love the excitement of planning where I will go and what I will need in my pack for multiple days on the trail. Experience helps. Yet I’m still learning that I wouldn’t have needed that many granola bars and wondering why didn’t I bring an extra long-sleeved shirt? Then there’s the weather, the mix of hiking companions, physical limitations and the unwanted injuries. Even with diligent planning it’s a bit of a cr*p shoot.

Metaphorically speaking, my pack for trekking through 2020 originally held gear that would typically go the distance in function and comfort. But navigating Covid’s wind and rain and tedious rocky elevations exposed inadequacies. Like real-life hiking, there were a few scrapes.

Painful Tree-Hugging

Some essentials for my 2021 pack.

Companionship beyond the walk in the woods.

Virtual gatherings are expanding my friendship base and my collection of badges to decorate my backpack. Cross-Canada family visits and birthday parties; international personal growth huddles; a Montreal supper club; kindred women-creatives from across the continent; a writer in Paris, France participating in the same writing coaching/course . Caution. Overcommitting to Zoom and online events is a bigger problem for me than packing too many granola bars in my backpack! This ‘more is better’ tendency is a common curse for my personality type and can be my undoing for losing focus for my day. It’s possible to have too many friends or meetings.

Appreciating, respecting TIME. Time is not a forever commodity. I’m asking: what are my desires, the wild wishes, the gifts only I have to offer which I’ve been barely nursing along year after year? One of those is my writing, which I’ve dabbled in since the 1990’s: fitness articles, a small publication of family stories, a newsletter, this blog that travels along in spurts. October 2019 I declared I would write my story of the biggest change in my life that began in 2007: moving with my husband, both in our fifties, from our forever-home in Alberta to begin a new life in Nova Scotia.

I’ve been showing up at my keyboard consistently the last ten months. This habit and goal is lodged in my backpack for 2021 and longer, as this is a lengthy trek. But I’m gettin’ it done.

Another thing has been on my wish list for twenty years! I’ve wanted a tattoo but never could come up with a meaningful design. Inspiration landed in 2020 after not being able to attend two planned family reunions.Triggered by gratitude for my deceased parents, who immigrated to Canada with their parents, I surfed Pinterest for symbolic images of my ancestral heritage. And with help from an artistic grandson, Laurent Tougas (@mypictograph on Instagram) the graphic revealed itself. A Scottish thistle for my Mom; Styrka, Swedish word for Strength for my Dad.

The deed was done in December. There’s a good chance another image is in my backpack!

I couldn’t be trekking 2021 without my Faith. Anyone here remember the Jesus People – Hippie Movement of the late 60’s and 70’s? It was a happening thing in my teen’s, and for me then, it was too far out! As a senior citizen now, I readily identify my faith and purpose in the ranks of being a Jesus People! Feeling divinely beloved is my experience that’s evolved over decades, and especially now in this season, encourages and grounds me “… not to worry … fix thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…” (Broad translation: Philippians 4:6-8, NLT Bible.)

Keeping track. To remember the distances, where to resupply food and find water, the highs and lows – along with a cache of too many photos – I log snippets of life’s adventures and excursions. On and off trail. Bits and pieces of 2020’s notes went up in smoke Dec. 31/20. Other sections remained, reminders of joys and vistas, injuries and pain. Of healing and resilience of my body and heart.

I expect 2021 to be meaningful, mundane, maddening and more. The record-keeping devices in my pack will help me write the script en route.

Surprise Christmas Gift – 2021 Gratitude Journal

I Will Be Me and You Be You. I’ve lost some freedoms. So have you. I miss adventure activities, my family, mingling. What we’re missing and how we manage it is not a competitive sport. My schedule of online connections might swamp someone else. In the context of all the variables we are living in – family, location, health – we must do how it fits for us.

This a wrap-up my friends. I’d love to hear if you’ve stuffed a backpack for your 2021 journey.


Karen Toews

rewriting life after stroke: acceptance, self-discovery and hot pickled Peppers

Catching up with Christine, 2020

UPDATE NOTICE October 19, 2021. Christine shares her latest journey following another stroke in June, 2021: again meeting the challenge with resilience, gratitude and a positive attitude.

I met Christine in 2001 when she and her family moved to my hometown in Alberta, Canada. We shared kindred passions for running . “Why don’t we help others to get active on the trails too?” Along with like-minded friends we formed a committee to support the running community that was already happening.

A favourite reminder of our friendship and running group relationship.

Christine’s calm attitude to just get the work done and have fun while you’re at it! – together with her recreation background and a family that was all-in – was invaluable. Our committee worked like crazy to execute fun, successful running events. Her love for family, fun and fitness was apparent straightaway. But it wasn’t until I got to know Christine better how high she set her personal bar for grit and endurance in pushing the edges for adventure. Rock-climbing, running with a team in the Canadian Death Race , spelunking (a.k.a.caving) – she was game for it all!

On a mountain, Canadian Death Race. Grande Cache, Alberta.
Under the mountain with her son.

Christine and daughter. Colour Me Rad.

I think we would have enjoyed a wild and wacky adventure of our own but the two of us were too busy in our individual worlds. Then in 2007 when my husband and I made our move to Nova Scotia, the likelihood of that happening basically vanished. Before we left Alberta Christine and her husband kindly gifted us a small medal of St. Christopher, historically the patron saint to lighten a traveller’s load and for their protection. Tucked in my wallet for safekeeping on our cross-country trip, this token found a final resting place in the framework of our back-door threshold.

Living several provinces apart, the two of us lost touch until July of 2020, while I was back home in Alberta for a family visit. I popped by her house to say hello.The sight of their comfortable living room triggered flashbacks of committee meetings with laughter and a coffee table littered with cups and snacks. Everything felt the same.

My visit was unexpected, I didn’t want to interrupt family plans on a nice summer day, so I jumped straight into “what’s been happening since we last saw one another?” We shared a few minutes of family updates, then Christine said she’d had a stroke in April of 2017.

What?!! I’d noticed her speech was slightly stilted but overall she wasn’t so different. Christine was an active woman with healthy eating, mindset and lifestyle habits. She had a full life with her family and a fulfilling job. She had been in her late 40’s. How could this be?

Christine shared her condensed version of re-writing life after a stroke:

  • debilitating physical limitations ‘forced’ her to stop denying and start accepting her new normal
  • moving ahead with therapy was rigorous work, to keep pushing ahead was a choice
  • grieving the loss of her career was the hardest part
  • deciding what, how much she could physically, mentally required filtering through new restrictions
  • accepting a stroke had happened in spite of her living a health-focused life was really tough
  • lingering physical sensations, i.e.dizziness, variable skin temperatures, over-sensitivity to noise, loss of taste. Hot pickled peppers became her go-to because everything else tasted so bland!

Coming to terms that this was her new reality, Christine determined she would become ‘The Best Stroke Survivor’. And to help others in their recovery she started a podcast, wrote and self-published a book 7 Jars of Hot Pickled Peppers and continues to write short, encouraging newsletters – with humour and a recipe that is often spicy! Wow. Still the strong woman I knew and admired.

My drop-in visit had extended longer than I intended. She gave me a copy of her book, we made plans to meet again before I went back to NS, and I left with my head in a whirl.

Her story is written as a log of events in chronological order. I’ve included some of them here.

“I knew something was wrong… ..needing to hold onto things to keep my balance…….[but I] suppressed my symptoms, resistant about going to the doctor.” (April 16, 2017)

Holubec-Jackson, Christine. “7 Jars of Hot Pickled Peppers A rollercoaster ride to acceptance.”

April 17, 2017 Christine “couldn’t ignore that quiet inner voice” any longer and went to see her doctor. This was the beginning in discovering her life would never be the same. She received a call April 18th with this message: a CT scan revealed a small bleed in her brain, on top of the brain stem between the pons – “pack your pyjamas and immediately check in at the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton“. Two hours later Christine was hooked up to IV and underwent a deluge of procedures and examinations, i.e MRI, angiogram, multiple tests, endless questions.

Trying to make sense of it all was exhausting and finally, in a telephone chat with her sister who’d previously worked on a stroke ward, Christine got some clarity on what her angiogram had shown. In short, she had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke1. Yikes! As grateful Christine was to hear her sister’s voice – someone who loved and shared life experience with her – stroke was NOT a term she could yet accept or wrap her head around. Her health looked to be in a spin but she was not prepared for this.

April 20th Christine was discharged: her spirits revived at seeing her daughter’s Welcome Home sign. Eventually, gratefully, she climbed into her own bed; away from the hubbub of the hospital, not the least of it being her roommate’s passion for non-stop country music!

Christine had been released from the hospital with no clear directives for recovery nor medications. Surgery wasn’t an option due to where her brain had been affected. She tried to relax, wondering, now do I just get on with life? Yet the niggling dizziness, nausea and fatigue was putting her on edge. Something was going on.

April 25th, after five days of feeling off and miserable, Christine relayed the symptoms by phone to her sister: “get to emergency immediately; don’t wait for tomorrow morning!” Christine went to a hospital close to home, where a CT scan showed that bleeding in her brain had slightly increased. Providentially, this hospital has a Stroke Early Supported Discharge (ESD) program where rehab therapists come every day to your house to help in your recovery! Christine writes, “… the conglomeration of events that led us to Camrose seemed divine in nature and I thank God for bringing us to this place.”

Christine’s book walks the reader through her self discovery in the rollercoaster ride of physical, emotional and mental challenges like:

  • frustration with being dependent when you’re used to being the caregiver, the one in charge: facilitating First Aid and safety courses, organizing events and making life happen
  • would she be able to play her guitar again
  • living with sensory overload that could topple her mental and physical equilibrium

How did her husband and three teen-age/young adult children manage this? Their solid family relationship helped keep them grounded. Of course it was stretching: balancing the line between helping Christine in what she wanted to do, couldn’t do (yet) – encouraging and helping her get back to swimming, taking slow walks – even driving! Reminding her “give yourself time, rest more, you’re amazing”.

To connect with Christine for more of her healing experience and the progress of her new narrative check out her website and a recent podcast interview with Cheryl Ilor. In my view, to know her is to be inspired!I

Learning to walk again

Not giving up the bass – still part of ‘the band’.

How I wish Christine and I could have shared some exciting, edgy adventures. Yet following her desire to discover and become the best she could in life-changing health challenges is no less an adventure to admire and applaud.

Thank you Christine. Rock on!!

1Simplistic definitions: a hemorrhagic stroke is when an artery or other blood vessel leaks or ruptures blood directly into the brain (accounts for 13 to 16% of all strokes) – as compared to an ischemic stroke which refers to some type of blockage of blood supply to the brain (which accounts for almost all other strokes).

What’s nourishing you now?

If you ask yourself or a friend what’s nourishing you now the response could be a recap of a day’s food consumption. As a foodie and holistic health advocate, I’m all in for paying attention to what we eat.

Yet we crave more than physical food.

What we pay attention to, think about and act upon, turn our hearts towards – feeds all those complex corners of our body, mind, emotions and spirit. Especially now in this confusing, crazy, confining Covid season without an end date.

I need to believe I can survive as a whole person; even hope for some moments of real vibrancy. It’s a slow start but I’m proceeding by filtering life through this question posed by author Christine Valters Paintner:

Does this [what I’m doing right now to satisfy my need] nourish me or deplete me?

I appreciate how Halifax journalist Gail Lethbridge expresses this present world experience isn’t the same for everyone: “we are in the same storm, but not in the same boats”. We have individual personalities and circumstances that are all over the map. We respond in ways that surprise and puzzle us. How often I question myself: ‘where did that come from?!’

I do not have this all figured out. I’m navigating new territory also and as we take this journey I invite you to consider some possibilities. Here they are in random order.

Connect. If we’re online, have a phone, or close enough to wave and smile at a neighbour we can connect. Let’s put some of our angst-energy into making surprise connections; like the card and mandala (symbol for wholeness) I received by post from someone I never expected to contact me. Each dot in this mandala – inspired by the Nova Scotia flag – symbolizes how everyone living in this province is connected to the province, to each other. This small gift nourished my soul on a day I was feeling removed and disconnected from my Alberta family. Thank you Sharon.

Dream. Write down a wish list – this isn’t a futile exercise. Even in the best of times a bucket list (or whatever you call it) gets revised. Feed hope more often than hopelessness.

Fun, letting loose a little. Productivity and ‘getting stuff done’ was the initial theme song for this Covid season. For a while that was kind of fun because friends were doing it and we were inspired by what we were accomplishing. But feeling exhausted, weary with just keeping up, could be a message to change that gear of getting-it-done. If efficiency is your thing, I dare you (me too) to dial down and crank up on the fun. Experiment with a craft you’ve wanted to try. Walk a new route. Make some crazy cards expressing Victory can be Viral (or whatever…) Collect some rocks, paint some rocks. Coffee with a friend instead of mowing the lawn. Some of you are really good at fun; help fill our well with some ideas.

Hospitality. Oh I do love the buzz of conversation and sharing food with others around my table . Whatever we were used to, it’s not like that now. Expanding the hospitality narrative is possible. Share the garden’s bounty with a neighbour. (Anyone want some of my kale?) Deliver a basket of berries, exchange cookies or muffins with a friend. It’s not so much what’s in the package as what’s shared from the heart.

Music – Choosing from the music menu is like making a dinner plan walking through the supermarket. What am I hungry for? Often triggered by emotions: ‘why do I feel like crying right now – again‘ or ‘thank you God for my daughter’s love that’s deeper than XO or a heart emoji‘ – feel the grief or the joy, from country to jazz. On any given day my playlist can include Steve Bell’s heartful lyrics; symphony classics; an oldie but CD favourite, More than Gold by Various Artists.

Social media, news networks, chat forums. A toughie, as this pipeline keeps us in touch with friends, for our work, meetings of all kinds, AND a yawning vault of everything else. If viewing or participating in the ‘media mountain’ overwhelms you with grief and other emotions, makes your heart race, or your blood boil, listen to that wisdom of your body. I am not a therapist, yet the first step to making a change is to start with one thing we are able to do. Unplug, unfriend, un-comment: in a clear and courteous way establish boundaries. You and I are not obliged to be a sounding board or blotter soaking up viewpoints or opinions of others. To help overcome an addiction to stuff that isn’t nourishing, I urge us to ask ourselves “is this (post, comment, article, conversation, etc.) going to make me stronger or weaker?”

What am I thinking? As we do with food labels, pay attention to the ingredients on the input what we read, listen to, and watch: the pool from which our thoughts burble with anxiety or nourish us with comfort. Consider reaching for the Psalms from the Bible, other sacred texts. Meditate on that ‘which is good‘ – journal, craft liturgical prayers.

Completion. I was amazed how satisfied I felt this week after washing my bedroom windows. Such a quick, simple project, stymied by procrastination. I have the same contented feeling wrapping up this blog post. Those many days I let it sit waiting for the muse or avoiding the discipline of sitting down, I felt uneasy. Doing the mundane is sometimes nourishing.

What’s in our hand? We can choose.

Keep learning. It’s the beginning of the school year (as odd as it is) and as it feels for many of us, September is the start of something different or new. Mentally I’m feeling restless – my Enneagram 7-ness manifesting itself – so I’m researching for an online course to feed my need for focus and mental stimulation. Perhaps something new or different is calling your name – have courage to test the water.

In our ‘real food’ consumption we have days we’re distracted or don’t feel as motivated or it’s time to go grocery shopping. But we don’t quit because our life depends on it.

Whatever you do my friend, don’t give up. Nourish all of your beautiful self.

Love and hugs – and a sweeping prayer for all to be well.


Rescripting ‘this’ Story

Covid-19’s upheaval is trying to sabotage my story.

I want a script with intimate gatherings around my table, traveling, hiking with friends  on a trail, elbow-jostling and close-up conversations. This happy-buzz story where people like me thrive, has been traded out for isolation, restriction, loss – and for some, illness and great grief.

Collectively? Living from a position of vibrancy since March has been a tough call. This shifting ground is exhausting and unsettling: resilience is tested, deflated and somehow restored – all to be repeated. Living out a messy story we didn’t choose to write, we feel like calling it a bad story.  

To make sense of it, I am determined to stay involved in the script.  This is still my life, I am owning it.

Again, I appreciate many suffer burdens bigger than mine. Yet bearing witness to my story, I’m sharing four things that are helping me rebound closer to living with vibrancy.

Flowing with the way I’m wired:

  • as a #7 Enneagram personality type, Enthusiast, I naturally lean towards the positive side, fighting back with an innate drive to reframe the painful parts of my story to make it more palatable, i.e. I live in a country with medical, financial, and stable leadership resources. I’m not in a crowded refugee camp – neither are those I love. (I am learning this re-framing can annoy other people so sometimes have to keep it to myself!)
  • investing attention to  the shadows  – those challenging traits I could work on. For me, I chase after new stimulation and activity rather than sit in the moment through something uncomfortable, some kind of pain. My recent 14-day self-isolation period after being out of province was a real test in slowing down, calming down, being present. It does not come natural but I want to work on it.

Activity, moving in nature: my primal need:

  • Being in nature grounds me physically and spiritually; having access to the woods beyond our back door is a sanity-saver; it was especially so when public trails and beaches were off-limits. Developing some understanding in discovering this sacred path are: Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways and Reforesting Faith by Matthew Sleeth, MD. 


Inspiration on the page:

  • Have You Seen Luis Velez   I listened to this novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde (this isn’t an affiliate plug but I do love Scribd for audio). I seldom read novels but weeks later I’m still reflecting on this story of kindness, connection and hope. 
  • The Wisdom of the Body: a Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women is a new book waiting on my desk: prompted by  kolbe time’s conversation with author Christine Valters Paintner: a Benedictine oblate, spiritual director, poet and teacher.  Initial chapter titles Veriditas: Claiming New Body Stories and Breath: The Gateway to the Body suggest appear to be pointing me towards my intenion to ‘slow down’ !


Real life inspirational stories:

  • I met Christine in 2001, through kindred passions for running and adventures to push our physical boundaries. We recently re-connected after a gap more than 10 years; I was shocked to hear Christine is now a stroke survivor . Over tea in her back yard, she shared her story: processing through the denial of stroke, the life-changing physical and emotional challenges, finding her present view for moving ahead. “I can’t live in a cage and in a holding pattern, waiting for all the stars to align…my identity is based on the decisions I make each day, my actions, my attitude…” In 2018 Christine published 7 Jars of Hot Pickled Peppers – journaling her unexpected, unwelcome path. In the near future I’m sharing more of Christine’s story for her long-term commitment to living life full. It is sure to motivate us all.  


  • Heidi is a new friend in the neighbourhood. Some of her interesting life story: she and her husband Russ have worked as teachers in different countries; they’re explorers, sailors, fun-loving, AirBnB operators  – where they serve guests (and lucky friends like my husband and I ) the most amazing Pirate Pizzas; offer river sailing tours on Tillicum. Heidi’s ‘normal’ life was broad-sided by a vehicle accident a couple years ago, leaving nerve damage and on-going challenges that cramp her ambitious style and activity. Yet. She’s the one who calls “do you want to meet me in 20 minutes at Beck Lake for a swim?” Heidi inspires me for choosing a story with energy.


  • I have three older brothers. They are in the small select group of men I fiercely love. Wayne is my middle brother. Generous, hard worker, gentle, quiet-spoken like our Dad, devoted to his family, knows what he thinks – and is suffering through the rigorous, painful journey of cancer and its cocktail of treatments.  We live in different provinces; considering a trip to see him this summer in his vulnerable condition was a cautious decision determined after family conversations, prayer and trusting my gut on this one. Thankfully it was right. I felt it was all right: together-time with all my siblings; with Wayne at his home, the farmstead where we grew up; nobody got sick with the virus; so much love for each other and for life.


This is my evolving vibrant living script. Leaning into loving and offering mercy, recognizing and pivoting from judgement. It’s praying, believing in God’s love and goodness in the story. Picking myself up after I fail and keep living –  this is my life.

Vibrant living may feel beyond reach for your present emotional and mental bandwidth. We aren’t all wired the same. My hope is that in what we can’t change, we will find space to rest. Can we try together?



With love for your peace and well-being,

XO, Karen











Less vulnerable with a script

We are being told: regularly wash your hands with soap and water; practice social distancing (two metres apart from people other than those in your own home); do not go anywhere except for essential services.

I’ve followed this script for a month and will do so until advised otherwise.

Complying with our government’s policies helps keep us less vulnerable from contracting or sharing the COVID-19 virus.

To be clear, I live in an environment where I feel safe: shelter, food, professional and accessible medical system, stable government leadership. Yet even in a place of privilege, we can feel mentally and emotionally vulnerable.

Writing a script could help us walk stronger through this foreign landscape.

Children and family sequestered in one place 24/7? Expect some roller-coaster angst. Using the collective we, in one moment we thank God our families are not sick from COVID-19. In the next we’re talking ourselves into getting a grip over our impatience and frustration with the squeeze on our privacy or the noise and messyness of life. We can get triggered by shots of shame or guilt but we don’t have to embrace these emotions – a hug, a smile, a sorry – and move on.

Loneliness and separation from our social community and family is a disorienting loss without real-people touch and support. Margaret Feinberg: podcaster, author, speaker shared during Holy Week the five stages of grief on her (mafeinberg) Instagram stories. I think her suggestions relate to our present journey also.

The ‘news’ and social media can inform and entertain – and can drive us crazy. Hearing the virus case numbers, and not hearing that this will soon be over, can amplify anxiety about our lack of control. Media distancing can help protect the mind and soul. You can Unfriend if you want. Use your power where you can.

Even though there’s nowhere to go and so much extra time on our hands, we don’t all have the personality or mental will to conquer the world doing all the stuff we think we could or should do. If boxes of photos have been untouched for years it’s pretty unrealistic to think now’s the time to get them all get organized. Writer and Publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant shares helpful tips for what she calls PR-LOP — pandemic-related lack of productivity. I think you might find her reassuring.

Trauma psychologist Alaa Hijazi emphatically shares her view on the push for efficiency : “This…obsession with…always spending time in a productive fruitful way is absolutely maddening. What we need is more self compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us…..”

Yes, there is another side of that coin. The Apostle Paul’s letters and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison were written confined in prison; Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth while under quarantine resulting from the plague. I’m cheering for you if you’re feeling inspired to do your best work.

More relatable stories are the many family and friends who are choosing to nail it and are getting a whack of cleaning, creative work, and cooking accomplished.

Others are exploring ‘for fun’. My daughter Renee Tougas whom I’ve happily shared here before, produced a FB live video with me, No Knead Dutch Oven Bread. If you have a cast iron Dutch Oven with a lid – and flour, yeast, salt, water – you might want to check it out. (Note: recipe in the video didn’t include the flax option but recommend scattering a few seeds on for good measure!)

We decide what we want to do, what we’re capable of doing – while preserving our wellbeing, sanity and relationships with those sharing space in our quarantine. It’s in our court.

Resisting guilt or comparison yet thinking about what we can be comfortable with at the end of this, whenever and however that will look. Undertaking one (small) thing can be the best thing.

To wrap this up…

Author Brian D. McLaren writes in Naked Spirituality – A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (2011) “….’when new troubles come our way, new threats, we can maintain a kind of peace, a peace beyond understanding Philippians 4:7‘ ….we can rest in the eye of the storm, seeing our difficulties neither as punishment for some past offense nor as evidence that God’s protection has gone off-line….just wait…hold on, and keep your eyes open, and you will eventually behold what you do not see now.” Not simple, but easier without guilt.

Things may never be the same, but life won’t be quite like this forever.

A wee closing prayer from Ecumenical teacher Father Richard Rohr: “Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longing for the healing of our world.

We are in this together. We do the best we can.

How have you been managing with COVID-19? If you or those you love have been personally affected, my heart hurts for you.

With love and gratitude,


P.S. If you’d like to share, I would love to hear how you are doing.

a novice observing Lent

I learned about Easter in my Christian upbringing and often participated in programs and musical performances re-enacting the story of this religious holiday. But I was never taught about observing Lent.

As I grew up and met a broader scope of friends of the faith, my perception of Lent was 40 days of fasting or denying oneself certain foods, habits, pleasurable things, or unhealthy vices i.e. smoking or gossiping. My theological opinion about Lent rested on it being a sacrificial practice to mirror Christ’s fast in the wilderness and suffering leading up to Easter Sunday.

I saw my friends and family following intentions for their own Lenten practices. But never thought about it for me.

Until this year.

The Lent discussion came up in the huddle of women I meet with for friendship, growth and accountability in our spiritual and personal lives.

Why would we want to observe Lent? If we did, how would that look? How dedicated could we see ourselves to our intentions? We decided to think, meditate and pray until our next meeting, then report back if and what our individual practice could look like.

I’ve walked through the why, what, and how questions – personally and with others in my rejuvenated health work – to get clear about making changes in food, lifestyle, mindset for healthier living.

Not surprising then that my initial thought for Lent was from a similar perspective. Should I restrict or eliminate wine with dinner, my snacking on fresh-roasted peanuts, or roving around social media for 40 days?

This could be positive and challenging. I love those peanuts.

But this direction didn’t feel right for me. Instead of denial or taking away something, I reflected on the question: what could I add to my life?

I’m a believer that personality types influence most everything. My favourite testing tool is the Enneagram. If you’re familiar with it you may know your type. I won’t carry on about the Enneagram (for me a fascinating topic) other than to say I am a type Seven.

A mini definition for type seven is: The Enthusiast. Busy, fun-loving type: spontaneous, versatile, distractible, and scattered.

I love my strengths as a seven. And the other side? Authors Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson explain so well, “a busy, scattered mind that won’t simmer down …. is a problem because the quiet mind allows us to feel profoundly supported: inner knowing and guidance arise from the quiet mind and give us confidence to act in the world.”

That was it. I’d add a habit with intent to support a quieter mind.

This is my daily practice for Lent: pulling out of my active life a block of ten minutes to be physically and mentally still. Without intentional thinking or meditating or praying or planning. Only ten minutes. Yet not a simple thing when you’re wired with a mind burbling and bubbling with ideas, plans, energy.

With an inclination to talk to my Creator rather than sit and simply be and breathe together.

Lent is now at the halfway point. My mind still runs about. Skipping from one place to the next, including “don’t forget to be in stillness today!” Yet I am experiencing longer moments of mental stillness.

The point is stillness and not “thinking”, but I’ve still been taking away thoughts to journal later.

Structure. Flow. Life happens in the gaps. Courage. Stillness and rest. Breathe. Don’t force it. Endurance for suffering. Limits. Depth.

My stillness has triggered thoughts for other times in my day.

Imagining the unconceivable stillness of the Christ of Easter leading up to Easter weekend. Visualizing how universally people seek and struggle to move into stillness in their lives. Wondering how my friends online and in real life might be walking through their own Lenten practice right now.

I don’t think it serendipitous or by chance I’m doing this particular practice at this particular time.

For me it’s a kairos moment – beyond “conditions are right… opportune and decisive moment“.

I’m accepting it as a divine moment when the world; my country and community; my family; me – are all trying to cope with unusual uncertainties. Three weeks ago we knew the coronavirus was active on another continent, today a pandemic afflicts the whole world. Isolation, fear, disease bears down on hearts and minds. Our normal living.

My prayer – especially now – is that you are finding safe support, a place of inner stillness. If you are observing Lent and would like to share I welcome your comment.

Love and peace ….