I loved my travel adventures. But there really is no place like home. And for me, that has always been Port Albert — even after Mom sold the house there and moved to Ottawa. With my grandma and so many of my aunts, uncles and cousins still living in the area, I regularly returned to my old stomping grounds for holiday get-togethers. 

For example, every December 26th, Mom’s side of the family came together for some post-Christmas partying. Invariably, the raucous event drew out-of-towners like me who needed a place to crash after we exhausted the final box of wine. 

That’s where the Van Osch barn came in handy. Now, before you start picturing me sleeping in manure with a bunch of pigs, let me explain. Years earlier, my aunt and uncle had cleaned out the building’s hay loft and converted the upper level into a finished, insulated guest suite, complete with its own washroom. 

One year, however, I hesitated to use it because my cousin and her boyfriend were already up there by the time I returned from the holiday revelry. The last thing I wanted to do was to walk in on them playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Instead, I decided to sleep on a dirty couch on the ground floor of the barn — the uninsulated, unfinished and frigidly cold ground floor of the barn. 

Though questioning the wisdom of my decision, Uncle Bernie nonetheless helped me out by loading up a wood stove that sat next to my makeshift bed.

We then popped inside the main house to let the space warm up, and after a couple more drinks, I bundled up and trudged out to the barn.

Suffice to say, Uncle Bernie knew how to make a fire. 

As I stepped in from the howling Huron County snowstorm, a heat fist punched me in the face and I was instantly drenched in sweat. I’ve dug wells under the noonday sun in Ghana. I’ve hiked in sweltering jungles in Ecuador. I’ve played badminton in Taiwanese humidity.

The barn was hotter by far.

Realizing I’d be overnighting in the furnaces of Hell, I quickly stripped down to my newly acquired Christmas gotchies. Tossing the blankets to the floor, I flopped down on the ratty couch and fell asleep in a pool of my own sweat.

Several hours later, my chattering teeth woke me up. I was convinced I had been transported to a wampa’s cave on the ice planet Hoth. The fire had gone out while I slept — and any residual heat had long since been sucked out through the gaps in the barnboards.

I lay there in my underwear and wanted to cry (impossible, of course, with frozen tear ducts). My entire body was racked with chills so powerful my back ached.

Coaxing my numb fingers to cooperate, I put all my clothes back on, including my winter coat, toque and mittens. I crammed more wood into the stove, pulled the thin blankets over my head and spent the rest of the sleepless, hypothermic night convulsing from the cold.

A Merry Christmas indeed.

The initiatives we take on in life can often turn out to be like my Christmas sleepover in the barn: all fired up in the beginning but then quickly sputtering out. Whether it’s a new workout regimen, a book you’re writing or a home renovation, it’s important to find ways to stay motivated and ensure a sustained burn over the long haul.

Creating a “workback schedule” that breaks down a project step by step can help keep you organized and energized. Posting motivational quotes around your home or office can remind you why you’re working toward something. And investing in the right tools will make following through on your plans easier — like a decent pair of running shoes for your marathon training or a new ladder to help you repaint the bedroom.

Meanwhile, enlist the support of collaborators. That could be a workout buddy, business partner, mentor or coach. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people and other passionate go-getters can help you keep the spark alive.

If you want a project to succeed, you need to find ways to keep your fires stoked. 

And for me during my cancer treatment, it started with a list …

Next: Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude