When the DIY Diva turned out to be just a diva….

I have been stewing about this for several months now and figured I had better ink it and ease the pain.

For the past few months I have been going non-stop with DIY projects in the house and around the property. My husband works full-time and I am currently the stay-at-home parent elect, following my husband’s 4-year stint of being the one at home. I take my “job” very seriously & feel a sense of duty to ensure I take care of almost everything home-related Monday-Friday (weekends are another story, because it’s my weekend too!). Whether it’s building a boot rack, sketching out plans for a mudroom, renovating the kitchen, or tearing down the old shed, I find a way to git ‘er done. Now, on to what has got me more crazy than a badger in a rain barrel: the lack of women who feel they are capable of DIY projects. In my search for DIY ideas and instructions I have found few, if any, women who actually DIY from start to finish. What gives?! Like the blog of the DIY Diva, who is actually just a Diva who shops, paints and gets her husband to do the real DIY work…. Grrrrr, badger moment.

It’s really not that hard…. Really…. I mean it, really! Now, I do have to say I was fortunate to grow up with a father who worked in construction & taught me to be self-sufficient with vehicle maintenance and woodworking. Along with a mother who was fiercely independent because, said father, was bi-polar and unreliable. However, I am not that gifted when it comes to doing home projects. I know how to use the tools and basic safety, but I’m impatient and I rarely take the time to measure and being a visual learner when it comes to making sense of written instructions or trying to come up with a plan on my own, I pretty much stink at it. But I try, and I learn, and I eventually succeed.

I recently came across the blog of an incredibly gifted & rockin’ chick, Laura, that features used pallets made into furniture:


Mylanta! my life will never be the same! I have been collecting pallets, breaking them down and building everything from boot racks to side tables to desks since then. Every piece of scrap wood I spy has visions of DIY projects dancing in my head. The pallets are free, the tools needed are basic and the difficulty level is easy. Yet when I show the finished projects to women I know they state emphatically “Oh, I could never do that. I’ll have to get my husband to make that for me.” Insert gag reflex here. I have the greatest husband ever, but I still love my independence. And I think he likes it too!

A few of my projects from last month: fire pit patio from discarded paving stones & side table from pallet scraps ($0), boot rack from a pallet & scrap wood ($2 for wood screws), refinished hutch ($75 for hutch, $5 for used paint), refinished hideous gold brass light fixture above kitchen table, now a nice antique bronze ($5 Rustoleum paint), the bricks we dug up and a spare pallet eagerly awaiting the next project, and homemade donuts and pasta, because I pride myself in being a well-rounded housewife! Lol)

Just to be devil’s advocate I admit I used to be too independent. I wouldn’t ask for help if my life depended on it. Now moderation is what I try to aim for. One of the greatest women I’ve ever known, Janet Hart, changed my stubbornly self-sufficient ways. She is a legend in high-end hotels and I was lucky enough to have her as my boss. She was fierce as all hell at work – I witnessed grown men running from the pint-sized red-head on a daily basis. But at home she was satisfied with deferring to her husband. Her advice was this “Be able to do everything yourself, but if you have a man who is willing to do it for you, let him. The key being “be able to do it yourself”. I have yet to witness many who are willing & able to get their hands dirty & enter the amazing world of DIY.

In all fairness, this can also be said for many men who also believe DIY projects involve using the yellow pages to find someone to put together the playhouse just purchased from Costco & who support the local bakery rather than rolling up their sleeves and baking with the kids. Have we totally lost the pride in passing things onto our children that we have made with our own hands? How wonderful is it to have a child cherish & pass down what was made imperfectly with oodles of love. And our kids deserve the role models who lead by example & don’t just tell them they can be anything they want to be. Like my beautiful daughter who looks like a model and is going to school to be a heavy-duty mechanic. She fights stigma every day from nay-Sayers who are stunned into silence when they see her at work on a Kenworth truck. And my son who enjoys baking in his free time & ignores the “gay” comments made by kids who don’t seem to think his hobby is so queer when they are begging for seconds of his gourmet cupcakes.

And let’s not overlook the economic & environmental factors. I save hundreds of dollars every month by using scrap materials and recycling what others would normally throw out. If you have never lived on a farm you may not know the dark, ugly side to old farms. The years of buried garbage, including bottles, rusty tin cans, broken & unwanted household goods…we’ve even dug up a few hundred antique red bricks. Who in the heck buries perfectly good bricks?! Well, those bricks are about to be a beautiful walkway from the back door to the playhouse. The old shed that was left to rot has been dismantled and the good wood salvaged for what will soon be a chicken coop (yay! Next project!)

I think everyone could benefit from the joy of DIY. It boosts your self-confidence, makes for great quality time so the kids, saves money (and at times the environment) and if nothing else, power tools are a most excellent form of stress release. I have often thought about starting a non-profit organization called “Many Hands” where people in the community come together to borrow & lend tools, teach others their talents and lend a hand with projects around our homes & properties. How great of a community would that be??

If you need me, I’ll be outside refinishing the 8′ cedar picnic table we just bought from the “Habitat for Humanity ReStore” for $35.

Posted in Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The old, weathered baseball on our mantle… Some things are meant to be.

We have an old, weathered baseball with faded writing sitting in a glass case on our mantle. We love it when people ask “What’s with the ball?” They expect it to be valuable, autographed by one of the greats, or hear a story of how that ball made it’s way to the bleachers during a big, important game. But that’s not the story of the baseball that sits on our mantle. The story is simply this: On a sunny summer day back on June 20, 1972, my husband (then 13) was playing baseball with his little league team. It was that day he hit a home run… His team cheered and he beamed as he wrote “1st Home Run June 20, 1972” in red and green marker on the special ball. It would be the first, and last, home run in his short-lived baseball career, which gave way to his true love, football, the following year. Soooo…. That’s it? Well, no. Shortly after Mike and I met we discovered that day was a special day we both shared. It was the day I was born. Indeed on that sunny summer day on June 20, 1972, when Mike thought he had scored his “1st Home Run” 32 years later he would find out that day he’d hit a double.


Life, for us, is just like that. We try to put a round peg in a round hole and it just won’t work, then a square peg slips right in when we’re not even trying. We had both given up meeting the right person when fate would have us meet, quite by chance. We lived 2000 miles apart and only saw each other a total of 15 days over the course of 9 months, but on the 16th day we were married, and we are still ridiculously in love. It shouldn’t have worked out, but it did. All the stressful times we’ve been through since then only make us stronger as we learn and grow from life’s challenges, knowing everything will work itself out… Eventually! Our kids think it’s pretty icky how we’re still like honeymooners. We consider it a bonus that making them run from the room and set about doing their chores is as simple as slow dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” in the kitchen. No yelling needed.

As we were in the midst of loading the rental truck we discovered moving a piano is a lot like life. We were trying to move my heavy, old piano (which was hell, thanks for asking) and we just couldn’t budge the darn thing. The wheels were sinking into the carpet and I felt like we’d have more luck dragging an elephant out of the room. Then we stopped and both slid down the side of it in frustrated exhaustion. And what should happen? The piano starts rolling slowly toward the door from us leaning against it. Gravity, physics, yes, those played their part. There has to be action to get a reaction without a doubt. But seriously, we ended up just sitting and pushing with our backs up against it until it was out the door and in no time it was on the moving truck. That’s how life feels at the best of times for us. Dying of thirst one minute, drowning in water the next. What happens when we ignore these subtle doors that open? We get our asses knocked out the window.

Like a few short months ago when we were struggling to force things to work, miserable, broke, and hope waning…. And then we opened our eyes to what had been creeping into our hearts and minds, said some prayers, and threw ourselves head first into moving to Saskatchewan with little more than faith, hope and the belief this was where we were supposed to be. At least for now. Explaining this to our kids isn’t easy, but we know that we’re doing the right thing and we’ll just have faith a great family counsellor is waiting for us in our new town. ; )

I could give so many more examples, but the point isn’t to convince someone… You need to figure that out for yourself. Oh, and disclaimer: That doesn’t mean the tragedies in life are “meant to be” (just throwing that out there before I get any hate mail!) As my step-daughter Gracie always says “What He leads you to, He’ll lead you through”. It’s also not about sitting at home and waiting for the doorbell to ring and ” hello, it’s life handing you the things you need”. Dreams only come true when you wake up and chase them. But if you’re fighting and not getting anywhere I suggest spending some time soul searching and really opening yourself up to what the bigger plan is for you. Just my opinion. Feel free to treat it like an apple: look at it, throw it away, take a bite & spit it out, or take it all in. Your choice. My blog is simply about being totally open and honest about myself and my life and whatever random thoughts come to mind. (And they are definitely random!) Now I’m off to take a look at my new visual board. I highly recommend one if you don’t have one. That also keeps you focused on life’s priorities, dreams and goals.


Posted in Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pursuing A Healthier Life: The First 30 Days

As always, my timing is impeccable. We moved to Saskatchewan days before the snow started falling on the coldest winter on-record. So why not start a quest for healthier eating a few weeks before Christmas? Clearly, staying the course with how I live my life, I just dove straight in.

My vision for a healthier life for us included making everything humanly possible from scratch and eventually using ingredients grown in our huge new garden. I also wanted to ensure my plan was sustainable. There’s no point in eating healthy to the point it stresses you out and takes away from the good things in your life, like time with family. And it has to be good… We love our comfort food and are passionate about southern food, German, Italian and anything resembling farmhouse staples..

I went back to my notes from when Mike had nutrition counseling following his heart attack. They tried to simplify the advice as much as possible: Shop the outsides of the grocery store (fresh dairy, meat, produce, bakery items) and leave the inner areas alone as much as possible (canned goods, packaged snacks etc.). I remember feeling overwhelmed and just standing and staring at containers in disbelief the first time I went grocery shopping while Mike was still in ICU. Everything I had used and relied on now looked like a heart attack in a box, can or bag. Mushroom soup, cottage cheese, crackers, white sugar, white flour… All death-by-sodium, GMO and refined products. I’ve never cried before over grocery shopping, but I did that day! I did make a lot of changes starting then, but most were in the form of store-bought quality foods. I was working at the time and we were able to afford the $1400 per month grocery bill that came along with shopping at organic and specialty stores. When I recently gave up my career to battle the mental health care system for our girls we went back to some unhealthy choices both to save money and time. The month we were in emergency 8 times I think almost everything we ate was frozen or from a can. Diet Coke kept us going for energy. Ugh.

So, on to figuring out this home baking thing! Thankfully I had worked in a bakery for a year as a teen and remembered a few tips and tricks to making bread and buns, so that’s where I started. After a few days I was turning out fairly decent bread and buns. The whole wheat bread was hardest to find a recipe that would meet the approval of my youngest, who has a sensory disorder and doesn’t like “skinners”, aka crust, or anything on bread that isn’t as soft as the inside of the loaf. But it felt really good to get the thumbs up as he ate the entire piece of bread, skinners and all, from the 4th recipe I had experimented with that day. (I would have given up after the second loaf if I hadn’t received a KitchenAid Pro mixer as a gift a few years prior. It was finally getting the workout it was made for!)

Since I was feeling triumphant I decided to tackle a few more breads: tortillas, hamburger buns, hotdog buns and sourdough bread & pasta. Oh happy day when I discovered making homemade spaghetti noodles, linguine, gnocchi takes very little time or effort. The sourdough was probably the most fickle because of the starter, but we went through the whole loaf when I finally got my starter right. The time experimenting really ate up my days (no pun intended) but by the end of the week I was self-sufficient for our bread needs. (I plan on posting recipes shortly for anyone who is interested). And so it went, the first month I scoured the internet for homemade recipes for whatever was on the grocery list. Skillet Corn replaced canned creamed corn (and is to-die for), a substitute for cream of mushroom soup, that I swear is called for in every other recipe, big soft German pretzels, crackers, even our occasional Sunday morning doughnuts and Christmas eggnog.

By the end of the first month I had successfully kept my cupboards void of almost every pre-packaged product, my grocery bill had been reduced to $800/month, my family was raving about the homemade food and looking forward to my daily experiments, and best of all, I felt amazing. A-MAZ-ING. On top of the changes in food, water and ginger tea had replaced my insatiable thirst for soda. Now, remember, I am the one who hates health nuts, even when they’re right. Yet here I was trying to remember the last time I felt this good. My life-long eczema condition had cleared up, my skin was great, my long, black hair was no longer leaving trails throughout the house, I had energy, my mood was calm and happy, my focus and memory was vastly better and I could think clearly instead of feeling like I was in a constant fog. (Did I mention amazing?)

All the time experimenting in the kitchen did have one negative side effect… I had put on a few pounds, on top of weight that I had gained over the past unbelievably stressful 3 years of my life. Now I needed to expand my repertoire to include balancing family, settling into our new life, keeping up the healthier choices AND adding an exercise regime to the mix. Oh Nelly, better get blogging and gain some support… Once again, feets don’t fail me now!!





Posted in A Heart Attack & A 2nd chance, Mental Health: Why it Matters to Us, Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Have 3 Weeks to Come Up with $5000??

Job? Check!

Home? Check!

$5000 for moving costs? Hell no, not even close. Now what?!

With three short weeks to go, we were faced with our toughest task yet. We were already financially between the proverbial rock and a hard place when we began our search for a new rural life. With things coming together faster than we could have ever anticipated we hadn’t even gotten to the stage of budgeting and planning it out on paper. My first thought was “We’re screwed.” My second thought was “If it’s meant to be, it will happen. We just need to do what we can and let everything else work itself out.”

We had approximately $1800 in available credit on our credit cards, that would cover the cost of renting the moving truck. We went ahead and reserved the truck. Another deep breath, gotta keep the faith.

With pen & paper in-hand we went from room to room. Anything we weren’t sentimentally attached to, or a bare necessity, went onto the list, along with a price. We would simply have to sell anything and everything possible. Now, for many people, selling a few items to make a decent amount of cash might be easy. But we didn’t have much. We have 7 children and 1 income, we were on a strict budget to say the least! Our TV is a 19″ flat screen computer monitor (after our, then 2 year old, threw a toy and broke our 46″ flat screen we were never able to afford to replace it), we don’t own cell phones, and any jewelry I own was from my husband and my tiny Coach clutch purse was a gift from my daughter. But even though we didn’t have any big-ticket items we still had belongings we could sell. Lots of small things can really add up.

If we had 50 items worth $20 each we would have our first $1000. I had some vintage and antique items I had forgotten about in a box in the garage that were left from my Etsy.com shop I was forced to close when things were at their worst. We had our above ground pool, swing set and outdoor toys that I had bought second hand for far less than what we could sell them for. The list was starting to build. We were up to $2000. We cancelled our satellite tv, phone and internet and worked out a restricted budget for living costs. Another $350 towards the move. With a light at the end of the tunnel we started to realize this was really going to happen. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”

I started taking photos and listing items on craigslist. I was grateful for my online selling experience. Most items went fairly quickly. I found a few extra items at our local Salvation Army that I was able to resell for profit as well. A $99 table and chairs set resold for $350, a boost of $250 to the budget in 2 short days. By the end of the first week we had raised $1500, and by the end of the second week we were at $2700. We were still short $500, which was the final amount of our damage deposit for our new place. With only a few items left to sell we were left without any other options, but we had come too far to give up now. Mike had given his notice at work and we had given our notice to move out. We had no choice but to keep moving forward with the move.

Mike’s last day of work came all too soon. It was an emotional day. His company and co-workers had been like family to us. They had taken care of our family during Mike’s hospital stay and had been there to support us and encourage us through the girls’ never-ending trips to BC Children’s Hospital. It also meant that was the end of his pay cheques. We wouldn’t see another for 4 weeks. That was a terrifying thought. But we held tightly to our belief that this was where we were meant to be, and as in the past, things would work themselves out. And they did. Mike left work that day with a generous gift from his company and colleagues totaling $520. We had the last amount of money we needed to afford our move. Stunned, relieved and grateful, that was the moment it all became real to us… We were Saskatchewan Bound.

At times I had visions of this being how we would get to Saskatchewan…


Posted in Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Hate Health Nuts… Even When They’re Right

Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word, I don’t hate anyone. Perhaps a strong dislike, or I could just say I’m a believer in moderation and don’t see eye-to-eye with extremists. I think my aversion to extremists began with my mother, who is extreme about everything, including eating healthy. Her idea of healthy eating is more of an unhealthy obsession than anything resembling the road to wellness. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you her lunch consists of a salad made from 2 sardines, spinach leaves and a teaspoon of vinegar. If she’s feeling risqué she’ll sprinkle on some flax seeds.

But to my point, a few months back, while my kids devoured chicken nuggets and fought over happy meal toys at a local McDonalds restaurant, I watched a fascinating documentary on unhealthy foods. (I found it ironic this was on their tv, I have no idea if they knew it was on or not.) It showed the effects on laboratory rats on a diet of over-processed & GMO foods such as corn, potatoes and sugar. The rats were in poor health and were mentally confused. When placed in a pool of water, the rats on the healthy diet could find their way to safety while the other rats just swam in circles until they were plucked from the water, near death, by those heartless buggers in the white lab coats. As someone who has been directionally-challenged and battled mental and physical health issues for the past 20 years I began to evaluate how I had been living for the past two decades.

I was raised on good, hearty German cooking, before my mom went off the OCD health nut deep-end later in life. We rarely ate packaged food (to Germans, at least in my family, apparently it is an insult to serve anyone you like any food that is store-bought). My family was a hunting family so we ate lean wild meat and also grew most of our own vegetables in the organic, black soil in our vast garden. Living in the Okanagan we were spoiled with some of the best fruit year-round. But after leaving home I became a city girl, dining out, Tim Horton’s “triple triple” while on the train into the city for my first desk job, discovering the bliss of eating an entire container of Haagen Daaz Coffee ice cream in one sitting while watching Bridget Jone’s Diary or Runaway Bride, and heaven came in the form of cold Domino’s pizza on Saturday morning after a late night out, with Coca Cola to wash it down and wake me up. Ohhh, those were good times.

I settled down in a few short years and along came baby #1. It was a difficult 9 months, with complications including losing one of the twin babies only 3 months into my pregnancy. I was bed-ridden for 6 months and the lack of activity caught up with my unhealthy eating. After my daughter was born I realized the vacation was over. I was fat and out of shape. I weighed in at 220lbs, and being only 5’4″ I was as wide as I was tall. I knew nothing about dieting, so after struggling for a few years I finally decided I needed a boost. The so-called boost came in the form of two bottles, one marked caffeine, the other, ephedrine. And the weight just magically fell off… 60 pounds in 3 months to be exact. Sure, I was jittery and felt nauseous and could feel my heart pounding constantly, but I was finally losing weight! I didn’t care.

As the years went by, caffeine and ephedrine became harder to find as people died from abusing the powerful combination. I tried desperately to find a way to shake my dependence, as I battled the dizziness and fainting spells caused by a fatigued heart and adrenal gland. I was grumpy, aggressive, tired and unable to filter anything I said. I was a loose cannon…an unhealthy,loose cannon.

In 2005 I was diagnosed with ADHD and over the next 8 years I was given stronger and stronger doses of every ADHD drug available. My dependence on caffeine and ephedrine was replaced by the meds, but I was still moody, irritable, unfocused and began to develop anxiety. Good thing there are drugs for that.

Then came the epic breakdown of 2013, which I will discuss in another blog (bring popcorn). More dignoses (bipolar and anxiety) and more drugs. Lithium and sleeping pills.

Through all of my interactions with medical professionals, never once was diet and lifestyle discussed. Moderation, go for walks, breathe deeply and take up a hobby.

Well I decided, then and there in McDonalds that I didn’t want to be the drowning rat anymore. I was going to do my own experiment and see how it played out. The next day I tossed it all out, all the meds, the back-up stash of caffeine & ephedrine always hidden in the back of my drawer. (Disclaimer: I am not suggesting anyone stop taking meds, especially suddenly) The cupboards were cleared of chips, crackers, cookies, snacks and canned goods. The fridge was emptied of soda and lunch meats. There wasn’t much left when I was done.

Now, to get back to basics and see after 30 days how I felt. I put together a list of meals, snacks & treats for the whole family I could learn to make from scratch with basic ingredients. We were about to have a taste of true country fare. Not necessarily “health food” but definitely “healthier food”.

Up next… Day 1, bread & buns and Amish cookies, oh my!

Posted in Mental Health: Why it Matters to Us, Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Home in the Country

A few short days later Mike was on a plane to a place neither of us had been before & weren’t certain how to pronounce. His new employer was a large supplier of Ag equipment who valued his distribution and electronics background almost as much as his Southern charm and small town values. Yes, my husband is a good man, the better half, who says what he means & means what he says and is quiet in-between, giving me ample opportunity to do most of the talking.

The town has a population 700 people. Main Street consists of a small Coop grocery store, a house that was converted into a public library, a bank and “Swen Cafe” which is a Chinese restaurant that used to be located on the opposite side of the street, and was called “News Cafe” at the time. When the restaurant switched sides of the street, the owner thought it high time for change and reversed the name. Little towns are funny like that.

“And that is it” he texted me… “That’s all there is, as far as the eye can see. A handful of streets with homes, dirt roads and wheat fields.” Sounds like heaven to me…

A view of Main Street:



The next hurdle: finding a place to live.

As you can well imagine, a sleepy town of 700 people doesn’t see a lot of change. Most residents have been here their entire lives, making a living off the farm that has been passed down several generations. That doesn’t bode well for newcomers looking to rent a home, partly because they would rather leave a house sit empty than rent to an unknown city slicker! I’m sure their heads were filled with the notion that we would bring drugs and crime to their bedroom community. Thank goodness for Mike’s ability to win people over… If it were up to me I would’ve been run out of town before I had even arrived.

Mike made his way about town, stopping to talk to everyone who happened by. They were kind and some even called relatives to see if anyone had a place for “the new family” to rent. There was nothing within a 30 mile radius except a run-down little trailer in a trailer park. Desperate or not, Mike knew that wouldn’t fly with me. Champagne taste on a beer budget, that’s me all the way.

The night before Mike was due to come home, quite by accident, I came upon an ad on he internet for a home for sale in a rural area close to town. It was sitting empty. Our only chance was to convince them to rent the home to us for even a few months. “No pressure, Mike, but we’re going to be moving in 3 weeks and we have nowhere (decent) to move to.” He managed to reach the owners on the phone and arrange to meet with them before leaving town the next day. “we’ll get back to you” was all they said, but on all accounts Mike felt it had been a pleasant interaction. He described the country home and 7 acres and it was simply too much to hope for. I didn’t care what the house was like, it was better than the only other option he had come across. That was a relief to Mike – having to pick out a house without your partner’s input is more stress than any man should have to endure. It was out of our hands, as always, when it comes to life’s bigger plans. All we could do was pack and wait.

As luck, and the good Lord, would have it we didn’t have to wait long. They called a few days later and said they would let us rent the home for a few months to at least get us through the winter. The rent? $800 a month – let me tell you folks, you can barely get a parking spot in Vancouver, BC for that price. We were thrilled. So now my husband has a promising new career, we have a home on acreage in the country, all that’s left is getting there. Which leads me to…

“How are we going to get there when we can’t afford the cost of the move?”

A few pictures to bring home for the kids and I of our new home and acreage:




Posted in Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding a job is tough when you’re middle-aged… especially from 2000 miles away

Those people who are similar in age to us (I am 40’ish and Michael is 54) and dreaming of moving to the country unanimously give “employment” as their number one reason for not making the move. And rightfully so, but our experience with finding employment, at least in Saskatchewan, was a rather good one. Saskatchewan readily helps potential employees immigrate from other countries, such as Ireland and the Ukraine, so many employers have had experience with long-distance hiring.

It was actually harder for Michael to find work locally in Vancouver when he immigrated from the USA to Canada. He was in his 40’s and found himself sitting in waiting rooms with 25 year olds fresh out of University with MBA’s and current, local network contacts. It would be a 2.5 year search to find a company who would see him for the diamond in the rough that he truly is. (Not that I’m biased!) So this was what we felt we would be facing once again.

It was early September and Michael started looking at any and every job opportunity from Alberta to Nova Scotia, and everywhere in-between. In the first month he had a few nibbles, some phone and Skype interviews, but mostly it was either silence or “give us a call when you get here”.  Now, we feel that through faith & hard work we have always been able to get by, but picking up and moving without a job waiting on the other end is too far out of our comfort zone. A happy medium would be taking a cross-Canada trip, or if you know which area you are interested in, spend some time and drop off resumes. This wasn’t an option for us, but I highly recommend it if you can do it!

By now it was the end of September and we knew if something didn’t shake loose before the snow started flying we would have to stay put until the spring. We didn’t feel financially we could even survive until spring if we stayed where we were at, so Mike decided to apply for positions that were outside his area of expertise. That’s when things got interesting. Mike had a series of phone interviews for a great position with an Insurance company in Saskatchewan – they do farm insurance and make a good living doing it. But the interviews were dragging on and they seemed no closer to making a decision, we started to become concerned once again.  Then he got a phone call from one of the “long shot” companies he had applied to. Wouldn’t you know it, within 24 hours of a phone interview he received an offer and was making plans to fly out in a few short days to meet with them and finalize the offer.

“When can you start?” Ummmm…. honey, are there any rental properties in that area?  No, there doesn’t seem to be any listed anywhere.

Which takes us to the second biggest challenge… finding a home.


Picture: One of Mike’s first pictures when he arrived for his orientation weekend. A grain elevator a few miles from our tiny town of 700 people. You’d be hard-pressed to find a picture of Saskatchewan that doesn’t have a grain elevator, barn or prairie gopher in it!

Posted in Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental Health isn’t a sickness… Apathy is.


When I was young I had so many plans for my life. None of them included spending 20 years seeking mental wellness for myself and my family. We live day-to-day, the only certainty is uncertainty, exhausted from waging daily wars on the non-system that exists, combatting the stigma of crazy, struggling to get by & vowing to leave our mark on the psych ward wall that says “we were here” ….. and ensure that “here” is left far better than we found it. We do it for ourselves, for our family, and most of all to feel like our suffering mattered, was worthwhile, was part of a greater plan if not our own.

A favorite quote from an amazing man who suffered, and died from, mental health related issues:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929



Posted in Mental Health: Why it Matters to Us | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’re moving where??

Since braving the move from the city to the country we’ve had countless friends, family and strangers ask us both “Why?” and “How?”  It’s always the same, they ask the questions and cross their arms, eagerly anticipating the response as to our reasons for leaving everything behind, only then to make up their minds as to whether we’re insane or brave, which we won’t hesitate to admit we are a combination of both.

We both had secure jobs, a nice rental home just blocks from great schools, some good friends and our kids were, for the most part, happy. From the outside looking in there would be no reason to think we would pick up & move in 3 short weeks. Certainly the notion of relocating our family to a tiny town that was completely unknown to us wasn’t something we took lightly, but when opportunity knocks, sometimes you just have to say “feets don’t fail me now” and go for it!

The shortest possible version of a long & complicated story is that for as long as we could remember our family had been plagued with mental and physical health challenges, leading to additional emotional and financial issues. Mike survived a massive heart attack January 4, 2011, which lead to a deep anxiety, depression, and PTSD in both myself and our 2 girls, who had multiple additional mental and physical disorders. We had lived on the same street in the city for 5 years and didn’t know a single neighbour. We had no emergency contacts and without family nearby we were all alone. The fight to get a laundry-list of to-do’s done in the hectic city, only to get 1 or 2 checked off at best, left me feeling like I was slowly drowning with no way out. The basic homes in the ‘burbs were all million dollar homes & were well beyond our grasp. Even just to rent a decent family home would set you back about $2000/month. We needed a change. We needed a life that didn’t evolve around both of us working 24/7 just to attempt to keep up with our growing monthly bills. A life where I could stay home and care for my kids and tend to their numerous medical appointments and make some healthy homemade meals. A life where we could afford both the money and the time to do activities with our kids and maybe, just maybe, a life that allowed us a few minutes to just ourselves. Big dreams indeed.

And so the search for a better life began…

Posted in A Heart Attack & A 2nd chance, Mental Health: Why it Matters to Us, Saskatchewan Bound: The Big Move | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Our Story: My Thank you to the Heart & Stroke Foundation

Our Story, as shared at a Volunteer Rally in Vancouver for the Heart & Stroke Foundation:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here tonight to share how our lives have forever been changed by the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Our story isn’t unique, it didn’t make headlines, life went on around us…. But that in itself is a testament to the remarkable advances made by the Heart & Stroke Foundation & the commitment of volunteers like you. The silent, difficult & sometimes thankless efforts over the years have given so many of us the ability to make death wait that the extraordinary has begun to seem ordinary. With so much work still to be done I hope our experience will help encourage others to support the HSFC & ensure the lifesaving research, education & advocacy isn’t taken for granted, the way we did until my husband Michael’s life depended on it January 4, 2011.

Michael was a businessman & paid volunteer firefighter/paramedic in Wisconsin when I met him by chance while on a business trip to the States. The following month we had a chance to spend a few days together and when I left for Canada, I was so miserable without him, despite all that life had to offer at home. Looking back, I realize the moment I knew he was the one was when he sent his favorite broken-in firefighter t-shirt for me to wear around the house, because even though I was at home when the package arrived in the mail, I felt desperately homesick. I then realized “home” meant him. It still does.

On the 3rd weekend together we were engaged and six months later, after 5 visits & a total of 12 days together, we were married & we’ve never looked back. From immigration woes, work, a family that would grow to include 7 children, we felt we had everything even when we had nothing.

On January 3, 2011, Michael was feeling off, and even though he assured me it was nothing, being sick on any level was unusual for him. Even with all of the kids & I taking turns with the seemingly endless cycle of cold & flu he was never sick and always erred on the side of caution when it came to healthcare issues. I was exhausted so after reassuring me once more he was fine I went to bed. At 2 a.m. I went upstairs, barely awake, to check on him. He said a pain in his left arm was bothering him. I became concerned once again, but he said he was monitoring it & if it got any worse he would go the ER. At 4:19 am he came downstairs & kissed me good-bye & said he was going to the hospital. I told him to call when he got there so I knew he was ok. I was trying so hard to wake up, knowing I needed to go with him, sensing something was really wrong, but after endless 60 hour weeks at work, late nights over Christmas & being up many nights with kids I was stuck in a state of conscious sleep.

To this day there is no regret that even comes close to what I feel when I look back over the events of that night. At 4:20am I was startled awake by a huge crash. A few feet from our bedroom was our front door, and just outside was where Michael had collapsed from a massive heart attack. His head miraculously landed on the soft padding of a child’s car seat we’d left out in the driveway. His arms were straight out to the side, his eyes were open, & he was making gasping sounds. He was unresponsive, I called 9-11. The operator asked me to tell him every time Michael took a breath, but he wasn’t breathing – Michael took one final gasp of air, and then nothing. I couldn’t find a pulse. The operator asked me if I knew CPR – I did, I had taken first aid 4-5 times in the past 10 years. For the next 8 minutes the operator counted me through the 100 compressions every 60 seconds required. It was all I could do to focus on the counting & not my husband as he lay there lifeless. I broke down once, putting my head to his chest, which had always been my safe place. I remember the awful feeling of the cold, dark street – I was alone & my husband was dying. I could hear the fire engine in the distance, it felt like an eternity before they arrived, 2 of them jumping off the truck before it came to a stop, seeing the state Michael was in. I know how strong the bond is between firefighters & paramedics, so I told them to treat him as they would one of their own & went inside. They used the defibrillator twice before Advanced Life Services arrived.

One of the paramedics came inside as they were preparing to leave for RCH. He had a very weak pulse, but they couldn’t promise me anything. He was already showing signs of posturing indicating brain damage. I got to kiss him good-bye before they left with him. I left shortly after to meet them at the hospital. I stopped at the end of our driveway & stared at our house trying to stop time. It was still a home, I was still married, I had a husband & my children had a father. I was afraid to drive away thinking the next time I see this house I may be a widow & I will have to find the words to tell our kids their father is gone. At the hospital I was handed a large bag of Michael’s clothes. I sat in the long empty hall & pulled his t-shirt out of the bag, it was his favorite green bay packers t-shirt, it was cut into pieces. I held it so tight I could hardly breathe & felt homesick, just like when we first met.

The doctor advised Michael’s condition was stabilized following a massive heart attack, with the left artery having a sudden 100% blockage, which was treated with a shunt. He was placed in a medical coma for the next 24 hours with therapeutic hypothermia. Following that it would be a matter of time to see if he could wake up on his own, and after 4 days they would perform an EKG to see what, if any, brain function he had left at that time. I stayed for some time, then went home to be with our kids. We dragged the kids mattresses into the living room that night & we all slept there, not knowing how to manage without Michael there.

I don’t know what time it was the next day when I got a frantic call from a nurse in ICU. Michael had woken up on his own shortly after they removed the medication. He was scared, confused, but he was awake & could respond to the doctor. That was the first of many times I heard him referred to as “Miracle Mike”. I took a few extra minutes to put on make-up before I left – If he didn’t remember me I thought I should make sure he at least found me attractive when he saw me. After 2 tiring days of 4 nurses wrestling to keep him from pulling out his oxygen tubes they removed them. The first 3 things he said were I love you, Am I going to die, and Can you call my boss & tell him I won’t be in the office tomorrow.

For the next few weeks so many doctors & students stopped by to see Miracle Mike. After 2 weeks his memory was showing enough improvement & despite the pain of some broken ribs, a sore shoulder & general complaints he was able to come home, and after 6 weeks he was back at work.

We were told during Mike’s hospital stay that his chances of surviving were about 3%, with proper CPR the chance of survival increased, early defibrillation & advanced life support as he received it increased his survival upwards of 75%. The care he received, including therapeutic hypothermia, furthered the amazing outcome. What we didn’t fully appreciate until much later was that each of the areas crucial to Michael’s survival & neurological recovery would not be what they are today without the HSFC. The guidelines for CPR & Emergency Cardiac Care were developed by HSFC in collaboration with the AHA. HSFC is also a founding member of the Int’l Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) without it’s advice, many life saving practices such as therapeutic hypothermia, would not be propelled into common practices.

For most people the story ends when you leave the hospital, but it’s a difficult journey back to a normal life. We were given some great education, provided by the HSFC, while in the hospital & received additional resources to help us once we were home. I had to learn to rethink my entire approach to healthy eating. At times it was terribly overwhelming & frustrating. Michael doesn’t remember anything from the week leading up to his heart attack, so he was ready to move on with his life & I was stuck on trying to get past the reliving January 4, 2011.

Once back at work we continued to share our experience with those around us, encouraging others to take CPR, know the signs of heart & Stroke, support HSFC. Within 2 months of his heart attack a female colleague of mine recognized the warning signs of a heart attack, received immediate help, and was treated successfully. The following month another colleague wasn’t as fortunate. Her husband passed away from a heart attack in his sleep. We continue to be grateful for all of the ways HSFC unknowingly helped us make death wait.

Picture: Abigail listening to daddy’s heart working as he recovered in-hospital.



Posted in A Heart Attack & A 2nd chance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment