Shaped by my family and community

family frame rotated v2.jpgOn a small IKEA table in our sun room sits an inexpensive frame with a couple of family photos taken at our niece’s wedding a few years ago. Etched on the glass is a corny saying, “family shares your past, shapes your future, and loves you for who you are”.

The essence of this sentiment is core to my own story.

Who I am today and who I will be tomorrow is heavily influenced by the company I keep and the communities I belong.

I’m shaped by my family and my urban roots.

For me, hanging out with my core family in a city that I’ve lived and loved all my life is soul-soothing.

I was fortunate enough to marry a man who values family and who is committed as I am to putting that family first in all we do. Together, we raised two daughters who appreciate family time. Whether it’s a gathering of our immediate siblings, nieces/nephews at our suburban home or visits with extended cousins once or twice removed, our girls will always make time for those special people in our life who we call family, whether they’re related by blood or not.

This past weekend, as many Canadians marked Family Day across the country, it was just the four of us hanging out at home and exploring some of the allure of this great city we live in – Toronto.

Our eldest daughter recently left the family nest and moved into her own place. We spent some of the weekend exploring her new ‘hood in St. Clair West. With the dog in tow, we hiked west through the micro hoods of Wychwood Park, Oakwood and Hillcrest. A brief respite at the Artscape Wychwood Barns allowed us to catch our breath and take in some of the beautiful sunny rays as kids frolicked in the playscape. We enjoyed watching one little boy as he splashed in the puddles with his knee-high rain boots assuring his father that his socks were dry. Later we recharged our energy stores with an assortment of scones from the nearby Baker and Scone. Lemon-currant is my personal favourite.20170219_143831.jpg

Day 2 of our 3-day family weekend was spent closer to home. We used the time to explore the ravine behind our house, our own personal playground. While we don’t live in Don Mills proper, Canada’s first planned community, we live on the periphery just east of the Don Valley in Victoria Village.

This part of the Don Valley is my happy place. It’s where I explored as a kid and where I go when I want to be one with nature. I can hike through the remains of an old farmer’s orchard, watch the salmon swim in the icy river and forget that I’m literally in the heart of the city. Once, on a quiet winter morning, I came across a deer as it sauntered through the hilly woods. We often have fox and coyote venture up into the street and neighbours will knock on my door to make sure I don’t leave our dog tied up alone outside.

On this Family Day weekend, the ravine is busy with other families navigating the narrow trails or resting on the clay beach by the water’s edge. The paths were slick with melting ice so it was a muddy and messy sojourn. Our 12-year old Westie loved running off leash and managed to burnish his underbelly with grime from the boggy ground.


The third day of Family Day weekend was another beautiful and unseasonably warm and sunny day. We joined thousands of other families at the Evergreen Brick Works out to enjoy the annual Winter Village. This urban oasis was once an old quarry and abandoned brick-making factory. Now it’s a study in reinvention and repurpose, something I can relate to.


In the summer, I come to the Brick Works to watch the turtles swim in the pond and listen as the wind blows through the tall grasses that border the walking trails.

On Family Day 2017, the pond is frozen and a few daring kids are walking on the ice and we worry whether it’s thick enough to hold their weight. We run into three large wolf hounds who appear as gentle as they are big.

As the seasonal Winter Village begins to pack up for the day and the crowds begin to thin, we head back to our home in Vic Vill for a dinner of hearty stew.


The weekend is over but the memories will stay with us. Our oldest heads back to the house that she shares with a few of her crew and our youngest gets ready for a busy study week ahead. And I set out to capture my heart-enriching experiences from my 2017 Family Day weekend in narrative and photographs.

If you’re interested in following the personal reflections of a family gal who considers herself a small town storyteller living in a big urban city, please click Like or Share below or Follow my blog in the sidebar. I’m also interested in hearing your stories about family life in the big city so send me a comment or reach out to me on social.


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From dreams to playtime, I realized I could be the author of my own adventures

Stories have always been important to me. There isn’t a time I can recall when stories weren’t running through my head. I remember being 4 or 5 and telling my mum after dinner that I wanted to go to bed right away because the night before I had dreamt about a bear and an Indian (yes, that’s the word I used, it was the only one I knew). The animal and the man were friends and were having such fun together that I wanted to rush back to sleep so that I could dream about the two of them again. I realized I wanted to be part of their adventure.

That’s what a good story does. It draws us in. Makes us feel we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.

From dreams to playtime, I soon realized I could be the author of my own adventures.

Barbie was the lead protagonist in all my stories that played out on my bedroom floor. You would think that in a house full of five children I would have been playing with one of my many siblings. Nope – I liked playing by myself because in my imagination I could be anything or do anything. The stories and their outcome were always my own.

It wasn’t until I was 7 or 8 before I actually wrote my first story and shared it with others. I carefully hand printed a story that was playing out in my head and put it down on a scrap of paper I’d found lying around our house. It was about a thief named Louie. He was the leader of a gang of bad guys. I can’t remember what he stole but I know he got caught. In my world, the bad guys always have to pay for the harm they do to others.

I’m sure I had been influenced by the Flintstone’s episode of 88 Fingers Louie who tried to sell Fred a hot piano as an anniversary gift for Wilma.

You know the one – where Fred and Barney and friends serenade Wilma with the catchy tune:

“Happy Anniversary…Happy Anniversary…Happy Anniversary… Happy Anniversary!”


That’s the amazing thing about a kid’s imagination; it is highly susceptible to cultural influences – and to praise.

My parents had fawned over my initial draft; they told me what a good job I had done and showed it to my grandparents. But when I discovered that the one and only copy of my handwritten story was nowhere to be found (likely thrown out by my minimalist mother), I carefully hand wrote out another draft. The story wasn’t exactly the same as the first, but Louie was still the central character and he still got caught in the end. (Sadly, that draft too was discarded so the scrap of paper has become a wisp of nostalgia).

Another early story I remember writing that drew some positive reaction was in grade four when I was nine. My teacher had drawn a few squiggly lines on some carbon paper:


She asked us to draw a picture from those lines and write a story to go with the picture.

While everyone else in the class was drawing dinosaurs and writing stories about the extinct creature…


I made a crown and wrote a story about a king:


Apparently I was the only one to do so. My teacher singled me out in the class for my creativity.

I learned two things from these experiences:

  1. One, be original. Think differently from others to stand out. Don’t accept the ordinary. Go beyond. Be bold enough to take a different path. 
  2. And two, be tenacious. Stay true to your passion. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Persistence pays off. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but perfect practice helps you learn.

I didn’t stop with the first couple of stories I wrote.  I kept going. Sure, over time the focus of my writing evolved from fictional stories I wrote for myself, to essays I wrote for school, to articles I wrote for newspaper publications, to corporate messaging.

Now, I’m learning to write for the online world. This blog is just one example.

Check out the curated digital story I put together using Storify and published on Twitter:


Image credits: Flintstones: Pinterest / The Bachelor: HollywoodNewsDaily / All other images original

My year of living dangerously

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Last year, after nearly 20 years of working in corporate communications for a major Canadian organization, the opportunities for meaningful growth and development were no longer available to me. Instead of severing my organizational ties outright, I opted to take a leave of absence from corporate life for a time to re-evaluate my professional goals and re-invent myself.

2017 is my year of sabbatical. I also call it my year of living dangerously. Not that I’m planning to bungee jump off of any high buildings or deep sea dive with sharks. The danger I refer to is stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m setting course on a journey to learn new things and get more actively involved in those things I’ve always been meaning to do but never seemed to find the time or courage to pursue – things like acting, singing, exploring new places or learning a new skill.

One such goal is mastering the world of social media. Despite being a trained journalist, experienced writer and all-round solid communicator, I realize that my understanding of the world of digital communications is woefully lacking.

Sure I was an early adopter of Facebook. I signed up more than a decade ago long before the social networking juggernaut began to squeeze out Myspace. But I wasn’t very active. I didn’t upload any photos and I didn’t post in News Feed. I was a creeper. My first friends were my children who were too young to sign up, but did anyway, and my nieces and nephews. I followed their wall posts, their statuses and liked their photos.

It was only in January that I signed up for Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp. I could see that the world of communications had long been rapidly evolving and knew that if I wanted to master this dominant domain I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I was too late to the game to have my daughters teach me. To ramp up quickly, I had to immerse myself and get active in the arena. I found a course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies that looked like it would force my hand.

One of the requirements for my Foundations of Digital Strategy and Communications Management program is to develop and maintain a blog over a 12-week period.


Yikes! How does one do that? What would I write about? Who would follow me? Who would care? All of these thoughts scrambled through my brain. But my biggest concern was about my personal exposure. It was like showing up naked to a meeting. People would see me – warts and all.

It’s all well and good to write about corporate initiatives or profile business leaders and be behind the messaging rather than the face of it. But to write about one’s self and share one’s inner most thoughts, that was a development stretch. That’s why I hadn’t been active in social media before – it was too revealing.

Yet, I’m a raconteur. I love to tell stories. I recount family lore to my relatives. I share anecdotes with my friends. I always have a story to tell or a message to convey. I once worked with someone whoraconteur kept a log of SH*T Mary Lou says.

When I wailed to my family that I wasn’t an expert on anything, my youngest daughter said, “But Mum – you know stories. Here’s your chance to put [digital] pen to [virtual] paper. I’ll read it!”

And SpinMeister blog was born!

Here’s the thing. I believe we are all the masters of our own tales. I  believe that by embracing our past, experiencing our present, and envisioning our futures, that we can each shape our own storyline. We each have our own chronicles to tell.

storytelling_here_signSpinMeister is The World According to Mary Lou. It will be a little bit of stream of consciousness and a little bit of dramatic monologue. Always, you will get a glimpse into the inner workings of my kinetic mind. I apologize upfront if this seems self-serving. My intent is to share insights that may expand others’ way of thinking.

When it comes to telling tales, I trust in three truisms – be genuine, be kind and be bold – dream big!

So sit back and see where this rambling mind of mine takes us. I hope you’ll stay for the journey.

Image credits: Closed door: Encouraged in heart / Yikes clipart: SilentMornings blogspot /Raconteur: Wordpandit / Storytelling signboard: Story Dynamics