Thinking About Death – It’s normal.

This week I had coffee with a young man. He is celebrating his 28th birthday this week. He asked me, “At what age did you start to become aware of your own mortality? When did you start thinking more about your own death?”  I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few years. I told him I think it happens when you hit your 50’s.  Your 30’s & 40’s are a blur of career building and parenting. Then suddenly your kids move out and you start to look at your life differently.

As I’ve reflected on his question, I’ve decided there are a few major life events that provide the conditions to start thinking about death.

1. Health: Your own health influences how much you think about dying.  And apparently the reverse is true as well. The more you think about dying the more you focus on healthy habits. Last year, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t help but think about death. My own death. Melanoma is scary and deadly. So, I thought a lot about dying. Anyone I know who has had a serious illness has thought about death. No matter what their current age.

2. Grandchildren: Now that I am a nana (to the most beautiful little girl – in case, I haven’t mentioned it) I think a lot about the fact that I am ageing and that there is another generation coming along. It is a natural progression butretro couple in moon when it becomes parts of your reality, you come face to face with your legacy in a different way.

3. Your Parents: My dad was just diagnosed with dementia. It has been a sad few weeks for me. As I watch my parents age and their health decline my own mortality is once again brought to my attention.  My mother is only 20 years older than me. I often look at her and think ‘that’s me in 20 years’.   Many of my friends have lost a parent by this stage. When I ask them about it, they all tell me it feels like the passing of the torch. Your parents no longer are the family matriarch and patriarch – you become that person in your family.

So, it happens. Time marches on and one day, you find yourself thinking about how much time you have left. Although we never really know, in your 50’s you know that even if you live until 80 you only have x amount of years left (you can do the math). So, what do we do with that awareness? I’ve been thinking a lot about ageing well.  I’ll blog about it soon.


I always find August to be such a transitional month. If any month could be called ‘liminal’ it is this eighth month of the year. The nights are cooler, the mornings darker and the foliage seems to be losing some of the lushness of July. This morning when I went for my early morning walk the street lights were still on.

Frog-City-Cafe-Outdoor-PatioAnd then there is the calendar. September is always so busy. We hold off on making plans until ‘the fall’. I find my clients aren’t really interested in booking too much until after Labour Day. I have had several conversations with friends about ‘getting back to work’ or ‘getting focused’ or ‘getting thing in order’. I know we have aligned our lives to the school year and as a society we tend to orient our lives around September as the beginning of a new year. I often hear people comment that September feels more like the beginning of a new year than January does.

So, when I think of transition and this time before we settle into things once again and get back to work, I think we need to be present in this month. We know September is coming. But for a few more precious weeks we can relax and enjoy the warm weather, the slower pace, the opportunity to sit outside on a patio and the incredible bounty of the early harvest fruit and vegetables that fills the markets.

September isn’t here yet.

What I Hope My Daughter Does Better Than I Did #1

As a new nana (the moniker I’ve adopted as grandma) I have been thinking a lot about my own parenting journey. There are plenty of things I did well and then there are some things I would do differently. I had a conversation this week with a friend about things we wish we had done differently with our kids. We both raised our kids with some crazy fundamentalist influences as active members of evangelical churches in Canada. I add the ‘in Canada’ because I think we often think that the crazy evangelicals live south of the border. I want to assert they are alive and well in Canada as well.

Tonight I read a guest blogger on Rachel Held Evans blog about her experiences as a young woman in a conservative church. If you haven’t been part of a conservative church culture you might find it bizarre. If you have, you know you have your own version of her story. The post brought back my parenting conversation I just had with a friend.

Both of us were part of church movements that viewed a lot of kids programming as ‘anti-Christian’. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) , Pokemon, Power Rangers and The Simpsons were evil. I believed that allowing my kids to watch these programs would lead them down the garden path to hell. These programs, I was taught to believe, held anti-Christian message, insidious cult references and if I was serious about my relationship with God, I would not allow my kids to watch them.

I remember, being in a department store with my son, he had to be about six years old. We were looking a toys and he saw another boy in the aisle. My son loudly announced, “Look mommy, that boy doesn’t love Jesus!” Horrified, I asked him what he meant and he pointed out that the boy was wearing a TMNT t-shirt. Proof that the six year old boy didn’t love Jesus and was already living a life of sin and debauchery. I was embarrased and made it out of the store very quickly. I was also concerned that my son had made such a strong link between God’s love and a TV program. However, I was also convinced that I was doing a good job instilling good values in my kids.

My kids were not allowed to go out for Halloween – clearly linked to the occult and demonic. Read Harry Potter? Are you kidding?? They were however allowed to watch programs that were somehow deemed to be OK by the church culture. These programs included: Dr.Quinn, Medicine Woman; Seventh Heaven; and of course, Touched By An Angel. No one seemed concerned about the messages in those programs although I did wonder why the pastor’s salary we lived on didn’t provide a home like the one the family on Seventh Heaven lived in!

As my friend and I talked this week, we both can’t believe we were so stupid! What were we thinking? How is it possible that we were that indoctrinated by the evangelical church culture? I remember when my husband was interviewed by the church he pastored for 15 years, the only question the search committee had for me was, “Do you allow your kids to watch Disney movies? We all know how many kids have been destroyed watching the Lion King!

So, what do I hope my daughter does better than I did? I already feel optimistic about her not raising her kids in the fundamentalist Christian church culture. She has seen the craziness of it and left long ago. But she will have her own challenges with whatever sub-culture she identifies with. I hope she is able to hold her own in that context. I hope her values, the ones that will drive the decisions she makes as a mom, will be rooted in love not fear.

And Then There Was One

It happened quite suddenly. We knew it was going to happen eventually. We had talked about it and did what we could to prolong things. But this week it happened. Our old car died.  We had put $600 in it last week (unfortunately).  We thought new brakes might buy us a little more time.  Then it started overheating this week and then it wouldn’t start. The mechanic gave us a lengthy list of things to replace with an estimate of close to $2000. The decision was clear.  We are now a one car couple.

For most of our married life we have had one car.  We lived in Toronto initially and transit was good. When we moved to St. Catharines and eventually Regina we could walk to work and/or one of us was in school or at home with the kids so one car was a viable option.  A couple of years ago, with both of us commuting across the GTA we bought a second car.  That was before I really started getting more interested in environmental issues.  This Spring when we moved to Hamilton, I started biking and or walking more often. I became friends with a family with two children who have taken their car off the road. They bike everywhere. I’ve dubbed them my ‘city biking mentors’.  

Today for the first time in several years, I am home without a car. I have a meeting tonight. I’ll have to find a ride or take transit.  We will get better at planning our schedules so we both don’t have meetings or work onsite the same days.  Oddly, I am actually happy to try this one car experiment. I want to simplify my life and reduce my carbon footprint. For me, the car is linked with overconsumption. How often I use it to go shopping!  It will be a challenge not to jump in the car and go to the store. I’ll have to walk to the grocery store today. I do it often anyway but I won’t buy as much as I do when I have the car.  I will have to plan things a little better when it comes to doing errands. 

It feels liberating to have to rely on my two feet to get around. It feels like a step in the right direction. 

How Far Would You Go?


Living simply is a topic that interests me. I am constantly exploring areas in my own life where I can make changes that will impact the environment. I have a lot to learn and I am inspired daily by many of the people in this wonderful new community I now call home.

My daughter is way ahead of me in this journey. She doesn’t have a electric clothes dryer and hangs everything to dry. Recently her washing machine hasn’t been working well. Instead of replacing it, they have decided to purchase a hand powered washer. She’ll be doing laundry for a family including cloth diapers in it.

I’ve just moved into a house with a clothes line and I am starting to hang my laundry out to dry more often. I have a nice high efficiency dryer though and so some days I am just too lazy.

So, how about you? What sacrifices are you prepared to make? Would you consider hand powered over electric machines in your house?

Waiting for Inspiration

It has been so long since I have put anything up on my blog. I have a thousand things I want to write about and at the same time every time I think about sitting down to write I am not sure what to focus on.

I am taking it that I am in the midst of a transition. The dust needs to settle a bit around here. We moved in March. Our move was quick – about seven weeks from purchase to sale to closing. So, it is with good reason that I am feeling this way.

I think it is OK to just wait. To just be. To just sit with the creative tension I am feeling as we create a new path in a new community.

What do you need to put off doing so you can just be right now?

Why I Chose to Receive in 2014

The last time I blogged was at the beginning of January. In that post I said I would explain why I chose ‘receiving’ as my word for the year.  Apparently, I chose the right word. I’ve been so busy receiving I haven’t had a chance to get back to posting. On January 10th,  I bought a house in Hamilton. And I mean “I”. My husband wasn’t able to make it to see the house and it had multiple offers being presented so I went ahead and bought it. What a roller coaster we have been on ever since. We also had to list our house and sell it. Our closing date on the new house is March 7th. You can appreciate the chaos our lives have become.  I barely have time to watch House of Cards Season 2, let alone blog.

I do want to finish my thought though and I’m sure there are a few of you wondering when I’ll get around to the explanation.  So, as difficult as it is to explain the word, here goes.

To Receive means to get or be given something, to react to something in a specific way, to welcome someone usually in a formal way (receiving line). Most of the ‘words’  I have chosen over the years were focused on doing.  Past words or themes have included:

  • Moving Forward (after a particularly challenging year)
  • Living the Truth (being authentic)
  • Letting Go (releasing the things I was holding on to in my life)
  • Focus (the year I tried to be something I’m not)
  • Defining (or more accurately re-defining)
  • Choosing (the year I wanted to make better choices)

Last year was a difficult year for me. It was painful and scary. Several things happened that were not what I wanted to have happen in my life. I felt like I was trying to just get stabilized.  I got through it, thanks to the wonderful community of people I have in my life and the occasional numbing.  At the end of 2013, when I took stock, I realized how often my themes have been about striving. Trying to do something or be someone – if I could just be more focused, or choose better, etc.  The themes were what I needed at the time but this year I didn’t feel like I had the resources to embark on a self-improvement journey.

So, as I reflected on the year I had come through and thought about what I wanted several themes emerged for me.  A couple of the other words that I considered were welcoming or simply, ‘yes’. I wanted a word that included the idea of embracing whatever was happening in my life. But embracing sounds like it requires an element of doing as well.   As I reflected more the idea of ‘receiving’ came to me.  It is about about posture more than about doing.   In December, I was reading some reflections by Richard Rohr.  In one of them he wrote, “We can’t manage, maneuver or manipulate spiritual energy. It is a matter of letting go and receiving what is being given freely. “ That quote said it all.  I want to receive instead of managing my life. I believe that the posture of receiving has at its heart the idea of humility.   I hope that receiving will allow me to let go of my own beliefs and judgments of how things ought to be and accept with humility the gifts I am given each day. I am trying to journal every evening on that topic. I look back over the day and ask myself ‘what did I receive today?’  Sometimes the gifts are unexpected, sometimes they are obvious, sometimes they are in the challenges of the moment. But keeping this open heart to receive whatever comes my way is better for me than trying to drive my own agenda and facing the inevitable disappointment when something happens that wasn’t on my list. It is admitting that I might not have all the answers or even know what I really need at any given time. It recognizing the teachers that are sent into my life through many different channels. I hope this explanation isn’t abstruse.

So, what have you received so far in 2014?



Choosing A Word for 2014

I can’t remember how long I have been going through the process of choosing a word each new year. I don’t even recall where I first heard the idea. I do know that a lot of people do something similar so I am not taking credit for the idea.  I wanted to share a little bit of the process that I go through to choose a word for the year.

1. Reflect on the year that just ended. There are lots of ways to do this activity.  I usually begin by taking out my journal or a notebook and at the top of 12 pages write one month (January – December).  I then begin by going through my calendar and just making a note of anything significant that happened during the year on the appropriate page. I don’t make any observations about what happened. I just write down things like: weddings, deaths, births, significant work related activities, vacations, etc.  Even this process alone can take a few hours. It is amazing how much happens in a year and reviewing the calendar is reminder of how much we do in our lives.  After I have done this review I go through my journal(s). My journals are often a combination of notes on books I am reading, reflections on conversations I have been having, notes from messages I have heard, articles I have read, etc. I usually use flags in books I am reading and then go back and write out the quotes in journals. I review Evernote, Facebook and Instagram as well.  Lots of information gets captured in these places as well. When I finish reflecting on the year, I look for themes, lessons learned and take time to be grateful for all that I learned and experienced.  This reflection of a year usually takes place over a few weeks.

2. Choosing a Word. Sometimes it seems a word chooses me and sometimes I need to really think about what word feels right.  Sometimes I start with a word that is really the essence of what I want but after I reflect on it a little I begin to see that I can refine it a little or enlarge it to include more.  Last year my word was “Define”.  I wanted to really define what was important to me at this stage of life.  A lot of things happened that I didn’t plan – like cancer and my daughter having a miscarriage.  When I look back though even those very difficult things helped me define what was important.  I do feel after 2013 a lot clearer about what I want right now in my life.

Here are some tools that I have found helpful in this process:

1. Unravelling the year ahead by Susan Conway. This is the second year I have used this free .pdf by Susan Conway.  It’s a great tool to help you reflect on the past year and plan for the coming year.  I usually plan a time to get together with a friend or two and review it together.

2. Abbey of the Arts by Christine Valters Paintner. I’ve just discovered Christine’s work this past year. For some reason in 2013 I found myself drawn to reading a lot about people who have chosen to live a monastic lifestyle.  Even when I wasn’t looking for books on the topic I would receive them from friends.  It was one such gift that introduced me to Christine’s work.  She has an online (free) course in how to receive a word using monastic traditions.

3. My 3 Words for 2014 by Mitch Joel. I’ve been reading Mitch Joel’s blog for several years. He chooses 3 words each year. You can read what he does and some resources he uses on his blog.

So, there are some ideas for you. I would love to hear what word you choose for 2014. I will be writing about mine later this week.  I’ve chosen the word ‘receive’ but I will explain what it means to me and why I have chosen it in another post.

How do you reflect on the year that has ended?  Have you chosen a word for 2014?

A Suggestion for 2014

Last year I started to focus on the choices I was making that impacted my health and the environment. One of the changes I have been making is eliminating plastics – especially single use plastics from my life.  This morning I read about a plastic you might not even realize you are sending into the system and it is having an impact on our environment.  Read this article below and avoid microbeads in cosmetics.

Microbeads In Cosmetics End Up In the Great Lakes – Nature and Environment – MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


What Would Peter Senge say to Rob Ford and Toronto’s City Council? | Leadership ON PURPOSE

Like everyone else in the GTA, I also have an opinion.  Read what I wrote today about Rob Ford.

What Would Peter Senge say to Rob Ford and Toronto’s City Council? | Leadership ON PURPOSE.

via What Would Peter Senge say to Rob Ford and Toronto’s City Council? | Leadership ON PURPOSE.

via What Would Peter Senge say to Rob Ford and Toronto’s City Council? | Leadership ON PURPOSE.