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 ….