What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

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

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Did you know? This resource is also available as a print book called “Simply Blunderful: A cancer survivor’s illustrated guide to flaming tennis balls, camping catastrophes and the many obstacles life throws our way.” Click here to learn more and order your copy.

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

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

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience