A Lot Can Happen in a Year!

Last year during the holidays, this lovely quote from Neil Gaiman appeared on my timeline and it resonated with me deeply. So much so, that I took it as a sort of “to-do” list for 2016.



I am happy to report that each and every one of these things happened for me.
I like to believe it’s because I live by this philosophy:


I still have occasional dark and grief-filled days missing my husband, but the challenges and changes we’ve experienced in the past year have been positive.

In 2016, I did indeed read some fine books, my favourite being Wild by Cheryl Strayed (sent to me by a dear friend in Toronto). I related to that book in a way I haven’t for quite some time and it inspired me to make some art and get writing again – thus launching this blog. I have made it my resolution for 2017 to write every day.

I had hoped that I would surprise myself by finding a new talent or strength I didn’t know I had, but it manifested much differently: I forgave someone who hurt me to the core.

Someone I had trusted as an intimate confidante turned on me in my darkest time and said downright hateful things about me and my late husband. It took a long time – almost a year – and I didn’t think I’d ever find forgiveness. However, when you make the decision to approach life from a place of love and focus on the positive, certain emotions like anger and resentment cannot thrive for long. It was a great weight off my shoulders and extremely liberating.

(Note: forgiving the person doesn’t excuse the behaviour; it enables you to move on with your life without the burden of old wounds.) 

Also, I kissed someone who thinks I’m wonderful.

His name is Mike. I hadn’t been looking to start dating again – in fact, it was probably the last thing on my mind. It just happened. He had some time off work and a chainsaw, so a mutual friend sent him my way to do some clearing for me.

We formed a strong friendship over a couple of months as he helped me with the property and to navigate my grief. He provided a big shoulder to cry on when I needed it, and it was oh-so-nice to tell all the old stories again and to laugh with someone.

Then, one night by a winter campfire, he kissed me.

That was several months ago, and our family bonds continue to strengthen and grow.

And grow and grow and grow…

Shortly after Mike moved in with us, the Land of Lackadoo saw a population explosion. When we first arrived here, my son and I, we were two. Mike made us three. Now that Mike’s daughter and her three wee girls (ages 2, 5 and 6) have come to stay with us, we are a family of seven. The adults have tripled and the number of kids has quadrupled. (Also, the domestic animal population has quintupled.)


It’s busy, messy, loud and so, so, so much fun – filled to the brim with magic and dreams and good madness. This property was meant to echo with the sound of children laughing and playing and it brings so much joy.


Wishing you a Happy New Year and all the magic and dreams and good madness the coming year has to offer. #TeamLackadoo



Lackadoo Doodlebug

Since my last post, the feedback I’ve received has been a phenomenal ego boost, and I want to say thank you for all the kind words and messages of encouragement. In the past year or so, I’ve been called brave, amazing, Superwoman, remarkable, a warrior, and lots of other very lovely things, all for making the decision to go ahead with the original plan. But, let’s get real. I’m still the same old Karen and I still do some, not unfunny, but pretty stupid things.

Take the riding lawnmower, for instance.

It came to me in the spring. My cousin, Harold, who has been very helpful since the move, shopped for and fixed up a cute, little, orange Husqvarna, then delivered it to my doorstep. Appropriately, he named it the Lackadoo Doodlebug.

Doodlebug tractor is the colloquial American English name for a home-made tractor made in the United States during World War II when production tractors were in short supply. The doodlebug of the 1940s was usually based on a 1920s or 1930s era Ford automobile which was then modified either by the complete removal or alteration of some of the vehicle body.

He gave me a quick lesson in how to work it, and then I let it sit for a few weeks while the grass and wildflowers grew ever taller in the front yard. I’m not sure why I hesitated, but I did. Maybe it was a case of too much too soon, but I finally hopped on it one day, determined to make the front yard, back yard and trails pristine. Thinking I was going to get through the whole thing in one day on my first try was the first naïve assumption I made.

It was going very well, actually. And it was un-freaking-believably fun! I felt like the King of the Hill! Take that, long grass!


The front yard. It looks deceptively flat.

I developed a system of sorts where I studied the rough terrain and avoided anything that looked outright dangerous. I’m not going to lie: I was feeling like a total badass who could conquer any challenge, learn to drive and operate any piece of machinery.

I was almost finished the front yard and already excited to tackle the back (which is decidedly less flat) when…


It was loud. I was no longer moving. The blades wouldn’t turn. I got the Doodlebug started again, but there was nothing going on down there where it counts.

I got off to investigate and found that I had hit a stump that was sticking out of the ground about an inch.


Seriously? Seriously?!!

I was crushed. All of that sweet, sweet adrenaline drained right out of me. The disappointment of not finishing what I had started and the dread of telling my cousin what had happened put me in a pretty dark place. You see, I was supposed to be a totally, utterly kickass bush mama who could do anything she put her mind to.

Except fixing a broken tractor, it would seem.

I had no clue (or skills or experience) to fix my poor Lackadoo Doodlebug, whom I loved with all my heart already. My baby was hurt. And so was my pride.

Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have local love and support, which I called in immediately.


The blade took a beating, but apparently that happens to everyone. (My friends are very kind.)


Found the problem! And fixed it with a $50 part. Phew.

Still smarting from the embarrassment of hitting a stump my first time out, I got back in the saddle. I had a load of organics to compost, so I hooked up the trailer and away I went with my son to the compost bin, located in a field behind the house.

Where I got stuck.

The wheels would just spin in the tall grass. (I later learned that the under-mounted deck probably got caught in the overgrown vegetation.) I detached the trailer, thinking it might help to have less weight. Then my son jumped in the trailer. Which tipped. Which sent the connection pin I had placed there flying. I swear I saw the glint of the metal in the sun before it was lost to the field, probably forever. And the tractor was still stuck.

I texted a friend to declare that I should not ever be allowed to touch machinery. Another friend, who freed the Doodlebug from the field, reminded me that it’s a riding lawnmower, not an ATV.

The third time I attempted to drive it, after a wild ride through the fire pit (blades turned off, thank goodness, and no fire going), I learned to turn the speed down from “rabbit” to “turtle”.


My decidedly less-flat back yard and fire pit.

And the fourth time? It was incident free, thank you very much.

The experience was a good reminder that all these new skills I am tackling have a learning curve that needs to be respected – as much for my own safety as for extending the life of the machinery. The pace of life here is not the same as it was in the city – I’m allowed to slow down, to be gentle with myself and admit that I am a beginner.

Also, it’s incredibly fortuitous that I didn’t get to the back yard that first day, believe it or not. In my excitement, I had completely forgotten that when I had a new satellite internet connection installed last winter, and the dish had to be put on an outbuilding, the technician had laid the cable across the yard to the house. By this point, the cable that had slipped my mind was completely hidden in the tall grass. If I hadn’t hit that stump, I most certainly would have run over that cable and cut off my internet connection.

Hey, I look for the blessings wherever I can find them.

My skills are improving as I get to know the machine and the terrain better. As I keep reminding my son, everything takes practice.


Just parking her in the barn for the night!
(Photo credit: Mike Hookimaw. Editing credit: Tim Emery)

From the City to the Bush: Our First Summer

We made it through our first year!

It seems like a lifetime now, but a year and a half ago, my late husband and I first decided to move from our home of 16 years in Toronto to a large acreage in Northern Ontario. We talked at length about the transition from the city to the bush. We realized that it would probably take a full calendar year – firsthand experience with each of the four seasons – before we would really have a handle on what we had gotten ourselves into. Without his humour, his love and, frankly, his muscle, the challenges of each season have indeed proven to be more than I expected when I first signed on.

Back in Toronto, in the wake of my husband’s sudden passing and the early days of my grief, I put one foot in front of the other, far too busy with the move and all the paperwork that attends death to think about the work ahead. I only longed to be in nature where I could heal.

My then seven-year-old son and I arrived towards the end of July, shell-shocked and heartbroken, yes, but also gobsmacked by the natural beauty that surrounds us. Our arrival was also a bit of a rude awakening. I scanned the mess on the property left by the previous owners: heaps of garbage, decaying machinery, stacks of old tires, overgrown trails and dead trees. And then there was the unfinished state of the house. I’ll never forget the looks on family and friends’ faces when they saw it for the first time. It wouldn’t have been a big deal with my husband here – he was very handy – but, well…

In the time before school started, I spent my mornings being productive and afternoons noodling around the property and the area with my son. We visited every hardware store, chip truck and ice cream shop within an hours’ drive. We hung out at the beach and even drove two hours for a private, invite-only music festival in Haliburton. We ventured down a gravel road that looked for all the world like a shortcut on the map, only to find that it degraded into a mucky, messy trail through a swamp. (I later learned that my neighbours did the exact same thing when they first arrived eight years ago.)

My son got a tire swing, two puppies and a cat to help smooth the transition to a world that was vastly different from the only home he had ever known. The timing for adding three new animals to the household was less than ideal, but it was a promise that I just couldn’t break given everything my little boy was going through. The parrot we’ve had for 18 years didn’t seem to mind – he was grooving on the amazing view.

I set up my son’s temporary, pre-renovation bedroom:


I worked to get a new roof put on the house:


I had the fallen-down deck removed from the back of the house where it had been left to rot after collapsing under the weight of snow years ago. Not to mention hiring a crane to move the gazebo that stood precariously on broken concrete pillars, held up only by a 2×4, before it could squash my child or the animals.


I consulted contractors about the safety of the house (my son’s bedroom floor was bouncy) and got quotes for renovations.

Seriously, check out these stairs: 20150814_123622

Now, imagine carrying a laundry basket up and down – well…up…picture carrying folded laundry up the stairs. I threw the dirty laundry down.


Amidst our mourning and the work and the worry, we had campfires as often as we could. My boy – so much his father’s son – was skeptical at first, but finally pretty impressed that his mom could start a campfire and carve a marshmallow-roasting stick.


Those first few months were about getting settled into our new life, of course, but also forging a new dynamic with just the two of us. There were arguments and tears, but laughter and smiles and cuddles, too.

Also, banana bread.


Are You Happy?

In recent weeks, I’ve been asked the same question by a number of friends and loved ones:

Are you happy, Karen?

Each person seemed hesitant to ask under the circumstances, and I guess I can understand why. The short answer is: Yes, I am happy.

Do I wish things were different and that my husband and father of my son were here with us? Of course I do. I miss that man and cry for him every single day, over big things, but especially with the little things that I know he would get a kick out of. I still get angry that the man I loved was robbed of this experience that he worked so hard to make happen, but I am deeply grateful to have landed here, safe and secure. I half expect him to walk out of the trees, but I am learning to carry on without him.

I don’t believe in ghosts or angels. However, when my son asked the important question of where Daddy is now, I told him that nobody knows what happens after we die, but I like to think he’s all around us.

It’s true: I do like to think that, and I look for signs that support my narrative. It helps to keep him with us, part of the daily conversation, always with us, poking someone with a stick to get a reaction. He’s my forest imp now, my own personal Puck, up to his old mischievous self. Playing tricks like dumping snow from a branch on someone’s head or making the campfire smoke chase me around in circles, but also watching over us and rooting for us as we carve out a new life. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but who cares if I am?


Nature heals. And nature inspires.

I’m happy. We’re happy. My son is thriving in his new school. We are forming new relationships here and continue to welcome old friends and family to our home just like we always have. We have the dogs and the cat we always wanted. My back feels strong. We’ve explored our surroundings by foot, canoe and snowmobile, and have only seen a fraction of what’s out there. I’m writing again, and making a strategic plan for the future. My stress level is significantly reduced; certainly nothing a drive on a country road or a walk in the woods can’t take care of.

Yes, we’re very happy. Coming here was the right decision. Thank you for asking.


The Story So Far

Happy Spring! We are at the beginning of the fourth season in our new home and time seems to be flying by. We’ve come a long way in the nine months since we first arrived and I have a true sense of accomplishment from improvements to the property and the challenges we have met head on.


We first arrived at the end of July to find the property in an absolute mess. The previous owners had not finished cleaning up three decades’ worth of garbage, the roof on the house clearly could not handle another winter, and the collapsed deck in the back was an accident waiting to happen. Also, the inside of the house was…well…let’s just say I didn’t post any interior shots to Facebook because I didn’t want to send friends and family into a panic about our well-being.

Daunting, yes, but I knew there would be challenges when I decided to go ahead with the move. So, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the issues one by one.

The first handyman I hired did not work out. It didn’t take a genius to realize that I was nothing but a cash cow to him. In a couple of months, the only job he actually completed was replacing a couple of rotten boards on the porch. Whenever I asked him to do something, his response was to “mansplain” why it wasn’t a good idea. He was also great at finding new jobs to start that I hadn’t asked for and wouldn’t shut up about religion.

I didn’t fire him right away because I still needed him to winterize my water (he never did). The final straw came when my roofer, Rob, quietly asked me one day what I was paying that guy for. Apparently, when Rob and I negotiated the price for the roof, my handyman sidled up to him afterwards to ask, “Did you get anything for me?”

Hmm. Taking advantage of a widow with a small boy doesn’t seem very Christian to me.

We got off to a bit of a shaky start, but I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the first nine months. With a new, metal roof and a wood delivery, we were ready for winter by mid-November.


The deck got cleaned up and the scrap wood sorted for future projects (tree house!). I leaned on the previous owner until he took away most of the garbage. The interior renovations are about halfway complete, with the second round starting as I write this. I experienced some issues with my water over the winter months and can say that I understand my water system much better now – a summer project will be fixing the idiosyncrasies that led to the problems in the first place.

I also learned how to drive a snowmobile. So much fun.

2016-04-19 12.37.19

And then, there’s this guy.

snow day

A lot of work still needs to be done, and I don’t expect that to change with a large property. But, we’ve settled into a nice rhythm and I’m excited about the future and new projects. First order of business, a garden!





Journey from The Junction to The Land of Lackadoo

My husband and I lived in Toronto for 20 years; the last 16 in a recently gentrified, hip and happening neighbourhood called The Junction. We were happy for most of those years, secure in our little house with our small son, a beautiful wee garden and lots of wonderful friends and neighbours.

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but for the past five years or so, our family was not thriving in the city. Perhaps it started with the crazy neighbours who liked to slash tires, or our increasingly hectic lifestyle: work/life balance seemed as elusive as a red dot.


Or, it may have been the two years I lost to debilitating back pain. Despite a determination to get up every day and keep moving forward, the constant noise and crowds of the city were wearing on us. It felt like we were digging a hole.

And then, a year and half ago, an old friend invited us to join her family at a rented cabin in a part of Ontario I had never before visited: the Magnetawan River. It was love at first sight. We visited every chance we could get away from the city, making new friends in the process. Our reluctance to return to Toronto grew stronger with every visit and, eventually, my husband started shopping for real estate.

mag river

Overlooking the Magnetawan River, Maple Island, Ontario

Of course, I was trepidatious. Could we afford it? What about all our friends in the city? What about work? Would we be able to handle the northern lifestyle? And…winter.

The thing is, since I was a kid, I’ve nurtured a dream of having a cabin in the woods where I could write in solitude. And my husband was always an avid outdoors man. Given our level of stress and my battles with back pain, the real question became how could we not?

We decided to take the leap into a new, simpler, and healthier lifestyle, and bought a large acreage about 20 minutes outside of town.

Then tragedy struck.

In June, 3 weeks away from starting our new life, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury and collapsed. He died 10 days later in hospital, practically on the eve of realizing the dream.

Unfair doesn’t begin to describe it.

Reeling and heartbroken, I was embraced with love and support from family, friends and neighbours, who came out in droves to help with packing up and cleaning the city house and moving to our new home in the country.

So, here we are – a fresh widow and a small boy – knocking around in the bush, picking up the pieces and moving forward.

I invite you to follow our adventures as we find our way In the Land of Lackadoo.