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Can’t Get it ALL done? No kidding!

Ever feel like you don’t have time to get it all done?    Been there.  I attended a seminar about 10 years ago that literally changed my life.  I learned three major lessons.

1.    Use ONE system….

I used to use multiple systems to stay organized.   I used an electronic calendar but supplemented that with a paper-based system for the national training schedule.  I had multiple pretty notebooks that I took to meetings, post it notes at both of my desks plus a notebook beside my bed for those moments of know the ones that are brightest at 3 am.   It’s not a wonder I was always tired.  I was constantly running through my multiple systems….reviewing, re-reading meeting notes so I wouldn’t forget anything.    My brain NEVER rested.

2.   A brain dump is REQUIRED….

Have you ever ACTUALLY written down everything that needed doing every day?     The most brilliant part of the seminar for me was a facilitated exercise that required me to write down all of the tasks on the list in my brain. He prompted all of us to start from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning…think about having a shower (need to buy shampoo and toothpaste), getting dressed (I’ll hem those pants, suit to the dry cleaner), then brushing your teeth, having breakfast (need milk, eggs and chicken), get in the car (need an oil change and need gas), drive to the office.    Get your morning coffee.   Now, start with your outstanding items in every one of your projects…..oh dear!

I was literally halfway down Page 3 … the facilitator talked faster and faster…bringing home his point.     Once I realized that my task list was impossible to complete without a disciplined system, I sat back in my chair.    I was so excited that I stayed up very late that evening completing the huge task list, then started to schedule REAL time for everything I had written.   It was still IMPOSSIBLE!     

I re-negotiated some of my internal deadlines, shortened meetings to 45 minutes and stopped attending any without set agendas or clear objectives.   I communicated my epiphany to my team, set clear boundaries and got comfortable with the fact that I would be working through those outstanding tasks for some time.   I became a more efficient employee and became a better manager for my team.  I have no doubt that seminar saved my career and put my life back into balance.     

3.   Have a task list of things you might do someday, or perhaps NEVER at all!!!

As I mentioned, I had a long task list of things that I was unable to schedule that first evening.   I put all those tasks in a “not now” list so that my brain wasn’t a swirling mess of to do’s when my pillow was calling my name.   Interestingly enough, I eventually scheduled and completed every “not now” task on that list.   I felt like I had climbed Everest!   

If you have multiple systems, I urge you to trim to one.    Make a list of things that need doing that are taking up your precious brain power and schedule it….or put it on the  “not now ” task list.   Then sleep well knowing it’s on THE list!

With great love (for technology),


Shirly (Irene) Vanluling

Dandelions and Daisies

You’ve see some old journal entries along the way from my lovely Irene.   She’s been gone for many years but I think about her often and turn to her journal some days when I need a little song in my heart.  From the rainy day after school with my feet in the oven, delivering dandelions for her kitchen table as wee thing, to naps while she lovingly tucked my blonde hair behind my ear…I still miss her like crazy.

At a recent conference in Sydney, we were all asked  “if you could meet up with anyone….who would it be” my answer was (and always is) Irene.    I could easily have picked an artist, a great musician, a historical figure…..but  nothing would make me happier than sitting down with a cup of tea, some biscuits and a quiet afternoon catching up on all that she’s missed.

The flower delivery continued yesterday, clutched in Noah’s little hands pushed lovingly upwards.   My heart filled with love for this sweet boy who had no idea that some daisies picked off the side of the road, could totally make my day and bring me back to some very sweet memories.

This is me, sending love, love, LOVE!    I have to give some away, my heart is currently overflowing!

With great love (for this child),


Shirly (Irene) Vanluling

flowers from Noah

Making Vanilla

After the rising cost of vanilla in 2016, I started making my own.   After a good six weeks, 20 vanilla beans and two bottles of vodka later…voila!  I could write a big long article about it, but it’s already been done.   Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back.  🙂

IMG_5744I don’t love vodka, so although I started the first two bottles with that, I decided to try Southern Comfort for this round.   The vanilla beans are good to use over and over and over…so you do the math on the cost.   I imagine the better the alcohol, the better your vanilla will be.   Enjoy!   I’ll never buy vanilla off the shelf ever again!

Love always,


A day at the spa…and THM (S) sweets!

There’s nothing quite like a day at the spa. It’s even better when you can trade some “baking expertise” with a dip in the hot tub complete with a delightful cup of coffee and time with my sister.  OK, technically she’s my cousin, but whatever.  Check out this beautiful space!  🙂


The introduction of Trim Healthy Mama to newbies is always fun (for me).  I feel like I’ve been plugged into a supercharged outlet of enthusiasm.  We spent the morning together, my sister and her beautiful daughter, and baked up a storm.  Truth be told, I didn’t really do anything except for taste test with great enthusiasm!

You can find the recipe for the Cry No More Brownies on page 314 and the Raspberry Glosted Muffins on page 285. Isn’t it amazing that food that looks and tastes THIS good is on PLAN?

If you want to learn more about THM, visit Trim Healthy Mama. I could go on and on (and I do to almost anyone that will stop and listen to me for five minutes).

Love always,



Sweet Potato Chowder THM (E) via your Instant Pot

This is one of the easiest chowders around.  It serves about 6.

  • 1 can of black beans (rinsed)
  • 1 small can or corn (rinsed)
  • 1 small sweet potato (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice (rinsed but uncooked)
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • taco seasoning

ChowderAdd everything to the Instant Pot, then select Stew/Chili for 45 minutes.    Let it sit for 10, then release the pressure.   Stir to break up the sweet potato chunks, add low fat chicken if you like.  We did!  It was delicious!   Enjoy!

To learn more about THM, visit Trim Healthy Mama. I could go on and on (and I do to almost anyone that will stop and listen to me for five minutes).

Love always,


My favourite breakfast EVER – THM (S)

My favourite breakfast EVER ever is a smidge of bacon bits, with two eggs, zucchini and spinach in the cast iron frying pan.   It’s a solid THM (S) breakfast and will sustain me right until lunch.   I added spices that I love (garlic, italian seasoning and pepper), then topped with nutritional yeast and a little parmesan cheese.

BreakfastI added some Silver Hills toast for my love (for a delightful crossover) and voila.  Breakfast.   THM SO doesn’t need to be complicated!!!

To learn more about THM, visit Trim Healthy Mama.   I could go on and on (and I do to almost anyone that will stop and listen to me for five minutes).

Love always,


Sweet Potato & Tuna – THM (E)

Ok, full disclosure, I don’t REALLY love tuna. I HAVE however found a way to incorporate it in a way that I love into my THM lifestyle.  I steamed the sweet potato in the Instant Pot for 15 minutes, mixed a can of tuna with 2 laughing cow cheese wedges with garlic, italian seasoning and put the whole mix over a bed of spinach.   

Another great E!   🙂


To learn more about THM, visit Trim Healthy Mama. I could go on and on (and I do to almost anyone that will stop and listen to me for five minutes).

Love always,


I hate checkups!

I started my first round of chemo treatments back in 1991.

I had just started a new job working with Dr. Dave and learning the ropes about the chiropractic clinic.   I was not even through my orientation and training when he intervened.  Let me explain.   After almost six months on antibiotics from my family doctor, I was (not so gently) encouraged to get a second opinion.   I came in for my shift, he sat me down and told me that he had made an appointment downstairs with a GP friend of his.  Please go.  For me.  He’s expecting you.   Dr. Dave, if I’ve not told you lately, we are forever grateful.

My doctor’s appointment was short, less than 5 minutes.   I was referred to Oshawa General, and was informed that the head oncologist had been called and was waiting for me in Emergency.   Do not pass go.  Do not go home.  Go STRAIGHT to the hospital.   RIGHT.  NOW.

Enter, Dr. Chiu.   His bedside manner was deplorable.    He took one look at me, announced that I had cancer, told me that I was going to be admitted for testing and I would start chemo as soon as possible.

A blur.

I was all of 19 years old, sitting in the emergency department with my love, but without my parents.   Dr. Chiu told me not to cry and Ron nearly leveled him.   Somehow, we told my parents, Ron gathered some clothes and incidentals, I blindly navigated the admissions process and called Dr. Dave to inform him that I was in the hospital and would likely need a bit of time off.     He reassured me that my job would await me.

A blur.

After three weeks of testing, poking and prodding, I was told I would need six months of treatment which would start immediately.    Fast forward through many appointments, blood tests, CTs and Nuclear med scans, hospital stays, surgery, biopsies and chemo over the next six months, only to be told that another devastating six months were required.  No only that, but I was to meet with Toronto General to talk about the possibility of a bone marrow transplant.

A blur.

I had been in remission now for almost 18 months.   It had been decided that the bone marrow transplant was not necessary as they couldn’t find evidence of the disease and it was a lot to go through on a hunch. The 40 lbs or so that I had lost the year before was starting to come back, my hair was starting to grow and I was finally starting to feel like myself and I had gone back to work, at a chiropractors office in Bowmanville.

April 14, 1993.

This particular checkup will forever stand in my memory.   I was prepared for a quick visit … get in, get out and go shopping with my momma.   It was our day to celebrate new beginnings, freedom from the clinics and appointments and freedom from the harsh drugs in my chemo cocktail.     The clinic was busy as usual, but I figured that I should be able to speed things up for the doctor and let him get on to the other patients that awaited him.

As I entered the exam room, chattering away happily with the doctor he began his routine exam.  How are you feeling?  Ok.   Good.  Do you have a good appetite….Yes.     All of the usual questions as he continued his exam.

Then silence.  Then.  Hmmm.  My heart was in my throat.

I had routinely been checking my neck in the shower each morning for signs of a lump, but a lymph node further up my neck was inflamed and concerning him.    The doctor agreed we should watch it for the next week, and if it didn’t go down on its own, it was time to do another biopsy.   “Don’t worry about it, go home, don’t lose any sleep over it.”   Sure.

A week later, the lump remained so I returned for a biopsy to remove the node and it was sent off for testing.   In the depths of my broken heart, I knew I was going to have to start again.   It didn’t take long for a diagnosis to come back from the lab.   Hodgkin’s disease.  Round 2.

I had two options.   Chemo to knock it down as per Round 1 and wait it out or high dose chemo with a follow up autologous bone marrow transplant.

I had already read everything I could get my hands on about the transplant process following my previous year of treatment.   With fear running rampant, I had one final question for resolution before I could move forward.

I’ve dreamed of being a mom for as long as I can remember.   The sleepless nights, the pitter patter of little feet, the first day of kindergarden, I wanted it all.   To try and resolve that remaining concern, I was referred to a fertility doctor that specialized in bone marrow transplant patients.    She told me that although it wasn’t impossible, the likelihood of ever bearing my own children would be very slim and likely not without serious medical intervention.  The drug cocktail required was a brutal one, and it would do irreparable damage to my reproductive organs.  I had to lay my precious dream down.  Into His hands it went.

I started my second round of chemo at Oshawa General on August 16, 1993,  almost four months from the time of that fateful checkup.  I stayed in the hospital for the first round and received my treatment twice a day for a week.   I convinced the good doctor that I was ok to go home for a weekend pass with promises to return Monday morning as an outpatient.    First round done.   No nausea.   Nothing.

This was a far cry from the chemo treatments I received the first time around.   When I started, they made me tired and nauseated, but I just wanted to sleep it off.  As the treatments continued, I started getting sick earlier and earlier each time.  I was starting to throw up just thinking about going to the hospital.   The team changed up my medication, and I started taking Gravel BEFORE I got in the car to go to the hospital.     Mom always made sure I wore jeans to the clinic so that she could lift my legs out of the car.   How she managed to get me from the car to the house, I still don’t know.   Well, I guess I do; she was a strongly determined momma with her groggy sack of potatoes.

Enter Zolphran.

Once this drug hit the market, my life changed forever.   ONE dose of this drug and I was taking chemo in my left hand while stuffing a sandwich, and anything else within reach, with my right hand.    I was hungry!

Dr. Chiu, very modest about his emotion on a good day, was more than a little delighted.   He had ordered a deli sandwich and my mouth watered at the smell.    So, after I finished my hospital lunch, I finished his too.   I know he went hungry that day on my behalf.   It was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in months.

So here comes a little “I told you so”.    I had applied for special approval to gain access to Zolphran in Canada well before it was formally released here.  I filled out reams of paperwork, and all that I still needed was a signature from Dr. Chiu.   He refused to sign it.   I was so upset.  Angry.  Frustrated!   Looking back,  I do understand that he likely didn’t have the time to read the finer details and wouldn’t sign it without doing his homework.   I did remind him, once the drug was released here in Canada just six months later.

The second round of treatments went just as well.   I managed to keep my job except for the week I had my therapy and the weekends I spent either at home or at the family cottage.

One of the side effects of the treatment was a very low blood count approximately 2-3 weeks following the chemotherapy drugs.   To stimulate my bone marrow growth, I was put on a very expensive drug called G-CSF (Neupogen).     OHIP did not cover this drug and as my parents were both self-employed this cost was completely out of pocket.   For fun, I googled the price of these drugs today.  A single dose is about $350.00.  I needed 10 vials.

I have a real fear of needles to this day.    Now not only did I hate getting them, I now had to give this one to myself.   Marg, my lovely primary nurse, taught me to self-inject so, once successful, I was sent home with the meds and instructions.    I did manage to give myself that first injection, but in the days following I chickened out every single time.   My loved ones rescued me for the balance.

I really thought that in time, I would get used to needles but that was not to be.   My fear and anxiety only increased over time.   My veins were very sore, very hard and almost impossible for the collection team to get into even with the smallest of needles.    Every time they saw me as their patient, I apologized and I promised them a sticker if they got it on the first try.   I got to know many of them and they definitely knew me.

I want to thank the wonderful doctor that invented the Hickman.  It’s a tube that enters the chest and sits directly in the entrance to your heart and allows access via a port.  “Installation” is a minor procedure, under a local anesthetic.   Every medication I received from now on went through the Hickman.  No more needles!   Most of the anxiety I felt about chemotherapy was now gone.   Even blood tests could be drawn through this wonderful invention.


Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 4.55.52 PMMy line was infected.   We had a stretch of hot weather that year so after waking up with a temperature of 40.12 on September 1st, and after a day of struggling to get my temperature under control, mom drove me to the hospital at 8:30 pm.  Fever, chills, vomiting.  I was sick.  AGAIN.     One look at my pale face, the nurse admitted me to 7 main in a private room with reverse isolation.    I’ve never been happier to be in the hospital.

I have scarring on my left hand that makes it difficult to wear a watch or bracelet for any length of time.   My veins are the texture of a braided rope and my battle scars constantly remind me that we are an amazing creation.    Fearfully and wonderfully made.


Love always,


Extraordinary Gentlemen

Extraordinary Gentlemen

One of the happiest places in the hospital was, unbelievably, the chemo clinic at Oshawa General.    We enjoyed the morning news together, those hard candies that helped chase that terrible metallic taste of the chemo drugs away (they were HumBugs FYI), the hearty “good mornings” and “how was your week?”   We shared our diagnoses, our treatment plans, our coping mechanisms, hugged and supported each other.   Mom’s nursing background combined with her huge heart….naturally provided comfort to many even amidst her own grief.

You could immediately tell the newly diagnosed from the “seasoned veterans” in the room.   It was difficult to watch them wander in, struggling to find some even steady ground.    We welcomed them in, surrounded them….some stayed for a short time, some for a season.   Some we lost way too early.

The clinic that I speak of is not the shiny new LOVELY space that it is today at Lakeridge Health.   It was a space tucked into the lower level of the hospital.   It had room for half a dozen chairs inside, and we all lined up in the hallway outside.    We shared our collective highs and lows in that hallway….”I was to have been done in six months, but they tell me it’s going to be more like twelve”.  “We came in for blood work, and it wasn’t good news.”  “I’m in for a checkup and don’t have to come back for six months/a year…”.   We celebrated each victory and cried together when the news was less than expected.

During my time in the clinic, people came and went but there were a few patients that made a “permanent dent in the fender” in the best way possible.   There are two that stand out for me.

Bill Davis (and his lovely wife Margaret) was one of those warm souls that you’d be blessed to call your grandpa.  He was kind, very sweet and deeply concerned about my health and well-being.   It broke his heart to see me there each week.  We grew very close and it goes without saying that we were heartbroken when he passed away on December 17, 1991.    It was like losing a member of the family.   Mom and I had the pleasure of visiting with dear Margaret many times in  Ashburn and reminiscing about her sweet Bill, until, she too was eventually called home.

Anyone undertaking chemo at that time would likely have remembered Toley Wozniak.    Toley worked with the RCMP, was a detective for many years, was an avid curler if I recall correctly.   Honestly, he was the life of clinic.   It was hard not to gravitate to this magnet of a man.   A bright light…good for an influx of energy for the patients and the staff at the clinic on those days…he was better than any drug on the market.   A fighter!    As Toley grew weaker near the end, he wanted to spend a few minutes with me so, mom packed me up, wheeled me in, he delivered the … “chin up girl, my fight is soon over, but yours is NOT!” conversation.   I couldn’t tell you his exact words to this day.    All I remember is our very tearful goodbye and then … waiting for news.   A full police funeral was held in his honour in September of 1993.    I still have the announcement tucked away in my notebook.   There were bagpipes.   I likely don’t need to say more.

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Being surrounded by love, even the love of these strangers was a wonderful way of putting some of that brokenness and despair back into the light where it belonged.   Letting others help lift you out of the valley, having loving arms around you when you need comfort and the reminder to look up and trust that His eye is on the sparrow…..most amazing.

Many others impacted my journey, but these two warriors have stood firmly in my mind as extraordinary gentlemen.   I wrote a variation of these words 23 years ago, with them in mind.

Love always,



It’s time to do “Something”

Before I venture down this path let me just say, I continue to thank the good Lord for his watchful eye over this little sparrow.    It’s been 23 years since my autologous bone marrow transplant and I’m grateful that I can clearly see His fatherly hand…protecting and guiding me to this day…this moment, with you.   Whoever “you” are.

So why tell a story that’s 23 years old and counting?

A family member of a patient at Lakeridge penned a poem the other day about “Angels in Blue Plastic Dresses” and I’ve been thinking about it since.   It was a heartfelt outpouring of love and it captured perfectly the love I felt for my “angels in blue” who I still think of with great love to this day.   It goes further of course, to the doctors who, for some reason, choose this profession as their life’s passion (Dr. Chiu) and for every medical professional in their specific disciplines that all played a part in my health and wellbeing.   Emergency, Phlebotomy, Nuclear Medicine, Radiology, Surgery, Recovery…all of them!

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I tried to write daily during my transplant journey in 1993 and on the days I was too tired or sick to care; my mom filled in the blanks.  When finally we reached the other side of treatment days and home care nurses, I managed to compile all of my thoughts  into a nicely typed journal that I had planned to do “something” with.   Ok.  Now what?  I wasn’t sure I should put it out in the world or if I even wanted to.   I did circulate a few copies here and there but honestly, just like my blog now, it was my way of dealing with it all, finding a way to put it perspective and then even getting to a point where I was grateful for the journey.

“if you don’t learn anything in the valley, then the journey was just a frighteningly dark walk with no flashlight.”


My second birthday is approaching on November 5th.   It’s time to do “something.”

Love always,


PS.   If you find Robert, would you kindly hug him and any family members that will let you?   I’d be forever grateful.

Treasures in the Sand

A guest post from Opa V!

I have had a pocket knife collection/obsession ever since I was a little boy.  It’s a well-known fact for those that know and love me.   Knives and Flashlights.  🙂

My family traveled and camped every summer and as my dad really loved the mountains, westward we would go!   On one of our overnight stops at Neys Provincial Park, we walked down to the beach to see the creative submissions of the sandcastle competition.   As we walked, I noticed something shiny, so I stopped to dig it up.  I could NOT believe what I had found!   A Buck 3 blade pocket knife.  The knife every young boy was after!


I was initially very afraid dad wouldn’t let me keep it but he did and my obsession was born!   Many a marshmallow stick was carved with that knife along with many (unsuccessful) attempts at whittling a masterpiece that I imagined in my young mind.

My dad, a master carpenter, taught me everything I needed to know about soft wood versus hard wood and to NEVER cut towards myself.   Then came the sharpening lessons on his well-worn whet stone. “Give it a good amount of spit and turn the blade until razor sharp”.   It never left my pocket.   Until.   I lost it on one of my many adventures.   I searched high and low but it was not to be.  I was devasted.

Fast forward 35 years.   After anxiously awaiting news of the online auction for this little gem, it was mine.   Canada Post delivered it today, all the way from Tennessee.   The unboxing of the same vintage knife I held many years ago, was more emotional than I was prepared for.   The box was pristine, the paperwork intact, the knife wrapped carefully in paper, not a scratch to be found.    The note from the chairman of the board from mid-1970’s along with the knife care instructions was incredible to read.

Having it back in my pocket where it belongs is completely overwhelming but let’s face it, it wasn’t really ever about the knife at all.  🙂

I expect there will be some whittling around a family campfire in the very near future along with a bright-eyed little grandson asking….”Opa what is that supposed to be?”

Let me tell you a story Noah….


To learn more: