2022 Family Update

Friends and family,

Welcome to our family update for 2022!  We wanted to connect and give a quick update on our family! 

Fall 2022

Like everyone I think it was such a relief to begin to see our lives return to some normalcy.  We’ve enjoyed family gatherings and some travel.

Here’s an update on our kids.

Ben finished his program at Algonquin College in Phone App Development.  He landed a job working remotely for a startup software company called DependBuild (https://dependbuild.com) based out on the east coast of Canada.  Ben’s enjoyed his first step into the career world.  He’s living with some friends in Ottawa and we enjoy seeing him often, especially making meals together.  Ben loves to cook and workout.

Meghan is in her 4th and last year for Kinesiology at university.  She’s enjoyed it tremendously.  She is living with the same 5 girls now for the 3 rd year in a row. That’s gone well too.  Her plans for next year are not set yet.  Meghan has enjoyed getting more involved in exercise – by becoming a group fitness instructor at the Queen’s gym and prescribing exercise programs for adults with disabilities in the Revved Up adapted gym at Queen’s

Last summer, Meghan worked with a Physio Therapist in an admin role, which was fascinating to her.  

Meghan has had a close connection to Echo Lake Camp for many years and has developed many close friendships.  They camp has been a great encouragement to her faith and certainly lots of fun.  She aged out of it this summer and decided to celebrate the occasion with being baptized with a number of her friends. 

Some other big news on our family front this year was the engagement of Stephen and Riya.  Stephen proposed to Riya on an Italy trip they took together in September.  We are trilled to have Riya (and her family) join our clan.  They are planning for a wedding in August this year.   They hope to purchase a home this year too.

Engaged in Florence, Italy

Stephen continues to work remotely with Zapier as a backend engineer.  So computer programming stuff!?  He has also taken up Brazilian Jujitsu training out of the De La Costa gym on Ottawa.  He hopes to participate in his first tournament this year. 

Riya continues to grow her business as a Tattoo Artist and loves it.  She works out @hungryxhound in downtown Ottawa. You can see some of her work on her Instagram account here.

We enjoyed hosting Mark’s family at our family cottage again this August.  Not everyone could make it and they were missed. Mark’s brother John, contributed to the fun by introducing us to ‘Hot Ones’.  It’s a game based on a popular YouTube channel where celebrities are interviewed while they eat increasingly spicy hot chicken wings.  The ‘Hot Ones’ game includes 10 levels of hot sauce.  15 of us started with the first round (not very hot) but by round 5, a few started to drop off. It was a comical event with lots of panting, gulping of milk and numbness in arms (Stephen’s weird reaction to hot sauce).  Of the 15 who started, 7 were able to finish with special shoutout to Meghan as the youngest and Roy as the oldest! Watch out for hot sauce #8 – The Bomb!!

Hot Ones

Our family also got to enjoy celebrating Greek Easter at Thanos (Mark’s brother) and Josie’s home. This event is never short on food! As per tradition, it was complete with a whole lamb bbq’d on a spit. Delicious.

Delicious BBQ Lamb

Mark and Tracy got a chance to travel to Texas for a wedding in early November.  We used the opportunity to hang out in San Antonio for a few days together.  It was during this trip that Mark got introduced to Corn Hole.  We didn’t realize it was such a big deal with professional players and all. The game works as you toss bean bags at a single hole on a board – alternating with your opponent.  Mark’s planning to build the boards and start training, I mean playing for fun, at the cottage this summer.

Tracy continues to work at two jobs – each part-time.  She finds both to be stimulating and meaningful.  This year she started playing golf with Mark and Meghan.  We have a golf course near us at the cottage and we were able to get away a few evenings after dinner to play 9 holes.  The boys (and Riya) have shown are renewed interest in golf (much to Mark’s delight) and hope to play some this summer.  While visiting John and Vicki in Philly this Christmas we all went and played at Top Golf for the first time.  Best way to describe it is that is like a gamified driving range with chip embedded golf balls to track your every shot and you receive points for hitting targets.  You’ve got to try it if you get a chance.  

Mark and Meghan worked together to plant and look after a veggie garden.  It was the second year we grew habanero peppers from which Mark has concocted his own hot sauce.  It gives #8, the Bomb, and run for its money!  

For those of you living outside Ottawa, you may not have heard, but in May we experienced a significant storm – called a derecho storm. The storm was incredibly powerful and knocked out power in our city for days. Mary Ann’s (Tracy’s sister) power was out for 10 days. Interesting enough, some of the biggest damage happen near Mark’s office where there was numerous large, tall mature trees. After the storm it looked like a war zone. The storm has it’s own Wikipedia page now – see it here.

Storm Damage around Mary Ann’s house.

On the cottage front, we are looking into the possibility of converting our summer cottage into a year round home where we would move to.  It’s close enough to the city for us to do that.  It’s actually nearer to our office than our home is.  Stay tuned. 

Mark and Tracy continue to enjoy our local church community.  This year we were involved in  helping run the Alpha Marriage Course.  It’s a great way to help strengthen marriages.  We’d highly recommend it if you get a chance to participate in it.  

Thanks for reading our update! We hope that you are doing well and we pray this year is full of health, joy and peace. We’d love to hear from you and how you are doing! Have a great 2023.

2021 Annual Family Newsletter

Welcome to our family update for 2021.

Hey, we just wanted to connect and share a bit from 2021.

Kids Updates

Ben is in a his second year at Algonquin College doing Mobile App Development and Design. It’s been challenging and stretching, but he’s enjoying it. He hopes to be joining the full-time work force later this year.

Stephen and Ben have been living together with two high school friends in a lovely home close to Mooney’s Bay (close to the Rideau River and the Canal). Early in the year, Stephen was working very hard to try and launch a software startup with a good friend. With lots of great lessons learned, they threw the towel in and closed the company. Stephen has since taken a job as a software engineer working with a software company called Zapier. He’s enjoying it and is working remotely, as all their team does.

All of the kids enjoyed playing a game called Spike Ball. It got played at the cottage and the guys played weekly with their other friends at the park. While Tracy and I got into a game called Kan Jam. More our speed.

We’ve enjoyed getting to know Stephen’s girlfriend – Riya. Along with many wonderful qualities, she’s apprenticing as a tattoo artist. You can see some of her work on her Instagram account here. She’s a very talented artist and we’ve so enjoyed getting to know her.

Meghan is in her third year at Queens University studying Kinesiology. She’s loving it. She continues to live in a home with 5 other young ladies and they seem to get along quite well. She’s involved the P2C Christian club on campus. For the third straight year she has worked at our local church during the summer.

Our harvest after been grown in a big potato bag.

Meghan has become quite keen about vegetable gardening with me. We’ll be looking at seed catalogs shortly to start planning out our gardens for the summer. More on peppers below. Fun! Fun!

Tracy continues to work for One Way Ministries (where I work too) and with a software company owned by our friend Rob Walker, called Auctria.

Within a year, there are joys and sorrows. A huge loss of ours was the passing of our friend Leslie Brune. It was our privilege to walk along side Larry and Leslie as her life unwound. We miss her lots.

On the joy side, Tracy and I were able to spend an extended amount of time at our family cottage again this summer. We moved and lived there from mid-May til Thanksgiving. We were able to work from there as it’s closer to the city than our house is. We’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbours (John and Shirley) along with lots of great times with Tracy’s cousins and family.

Tracy’s family were able to get a Labour Day weekend softball tourney going again – which was so much fun. Most of my family were able to join us for the August long weekend.

Mark, Meghan, Tracy, Jamie, Sandra (dog – Beatrice), Linda, Roy, Thanos & Josie (dog – Meli)

I picked up a small drone early in the year. I’m fascinated with flight and something that can take pictures while it flies ticks all the boxes for me. For those who like details, it’s a DJI Mavic Mini 2. I made it a goal to try and get 10 quality images from it this year. You can see a few here.

Another new interest for me was the growing of hot peppers and making of hot sauce. This year I planted four habanero peppers in our garden. The harvest was significant. Unfortunately for one of our friends, she mistook the peppers for sweet peppers and proceeded to take a large bite into one of them. Things got messy after that. I’ve been using the hot peppers to make a variety of very spicy sauces.

A big highlight for our family was a return to Florida in late August with John and Vicki, (and kids Rebecca, Chris and Samantha) at their timeshare in Long Boat Ket. As usual, it was a very hot, but we thoroughly enjoyed the time there with lots of swimming, eating and hanging out. The trip ended with a significant challenge for us to return to Ottawa due to some timing issues on getting our Covid PCR test back in time. It’s along story, but it culminated in Ben and I being interrogated by the US border guards at midnight as we were trying to walk across the border at Thousand Island crossing. If you like to read about story, see it here.

On the sports front, I continue to enjoy running, playing ice hockey and golf. I nursed a nagging running injury for most of the year and thankfully it seems to have gone now. Thanos and I were able to return to a golf get away again in September at Smuggler’s Glen in the Thousand Islands area. It’s a great course and we love the deal we get playing after September 10th. Hoping my brother John can join us in 2022.

Another highlight for Tracy and I was hosting something called the Alpha film series with our friends Luke and Lee Anne. We did this online with a group of about 15 people. Alpha is a series of sessions that explore the Christian faith. Participants are invited to share their thoughts, criticisms and perspectives very openly. We love the honest discussion that often shows up.

Thanks for reading our update! We hope that you are doing well and we pray this year is full of health, joy and peace. We’d love to hear from you and how you are doing!


A Covid Florida Vacation – August 2021

In August our whole family decided to join my brother John and his family at his timeshare condos on Long Boat Key in Florida for a week.  It’s a vacation we’ve been privileged to enjoy and number of times over the years.  The weather is hot as stink and we are always keeping an eye out for hurricanes sweeping in from the Caribbean.  For me, it’s often been a fantastic time of rest, long chats, running, food, drink, clothes shopping and time on the beach.

Well, this year’s vacation was all that.  However, we had the bonus of having to get Covid tests both going and coming in order to cross our borders.  Going was easy enough but coming proved to be more of a challenge.

While in Florida we found a pharmacy where the whole family could go and get tested.  We could do this by going through the drive-through!!  It was quite the shared experience of everyone sticking swabs up each of our nostrils together, some sneezing and returning the packages.  The nice lady there mentioned we could get our test results shortly on their website as we drove away with big smiles on our faces.  This was Thursday morning.  We flew out Saturday at noon.  Tests had to be within 72 hours of arriving back in Canada.  All was good.

On Friday Tracy and I started the process of setting up our portal to receive the tests when they completed.  The pharmacy site had indicated times of less than 24 hours for test results.  Let’s just say setting up the portal was a nightmare.  Countless calls to their helpdesk, online websites, scanning and sending documents to them.  Finally, by the evening we had it set up – we thought.  But no test results.  We managed to get a person on the phone who was part of the lab test facilities.  We discovered a couple of things.  First, our tests had been sent out of state and had not arrived until midnight on Thursday and probably hadn’t entered the queue until early Friday.  Second, that their turnaround times were in the range of 2-4 days from when they received them.  2-4 days!! That was not going to work.  

We were stressed.  Our kids were concerned and worried as well.  We gathered to talk about how they were feeling about it and we prayed to ask the Lord to help us.  I believed that Lord was watching over us and had it in control.

Later on Friday, we got the news that our flight out on Saturday had been delayed by 4 hours.  I mentioned to Tracy that wouldn’t it be crazy if that delay would now allow us to get our tests back in time?!

Saturday morning – no test results in our portal.  A call to Air Canada confirmed that if we didn’t have a negative test result we were NOT going to be allowed on a plane.  What were we to do?  We gathered with John and Vicki and prepared for plan B.  Plan B was a flight to Philadelphia where John and Vicki live and there we would retest at a reliable lab and then take one of their cars and drive to the border and cross back to Canada.  I felt so good to have a way back home.  Our spirits were lifted as we headed for the airport with our new travel plans.

In the car, on the way to the airport, Tracy decided to call our Florida testing lab one more time.  Just in case some results came in that we could not see in the web portal.  In talking to the customer service rep, two results had come back – Tracy and Stephen had negative tests.  Our portal was not working!!  Could this be?  Would we get all of our results just in time?  Was the Lord watching over us?  Had he delayed our departure so we could make it home?  Just before arriving at the airport, one more result.  Meghan’s negative test.  Come on Lord!  Gathering around the Air Canada check-in, one more result – Ben’s.  Yes!  Ben’s result was……. was….. inconclusive.  WHAT?  It took a moment to sink in.  Some of us were not going home on the flight.  Lord, what happened?  This could have ended so well for you?

It’s a strange feeling kissing your wife goodbye through a mask as three of my family head home while Ben and I have to make a new plan to get home.  My result didn’t get back to me in time either.

John and Vicki were staying an extra week in Florida.  So they came back and picked us up.  Back to the condo.  Plan C hatched.  Plan C was Ben and I would fly to Philly and get retested and then drive up to Canada.

And so we did.  This time the testing and results came back within a day.  But in doing some research, it wasn’t clear that a Canadian can drive a US plated private car into Canada without problems.  So we decided to fly to Watertown and from there to grab a cab to the border where Tracy could pick us up.  What’s that?  Plan D?

Tuesday night we fly up from Philly to Watertown.  Now Watertown airport is a tiny little thing.  I didn’t see a security area for passengers getting on flights.  At best it was two decent sized rooms.  My checked bag arrived through a pass-through door from the tarmac and rolled down some rollers.  As we stepped outside to find a cab everyone soon disappeared and I think they turned the lights off in the airport.  There we no cabs around.  It was about 10:30 pm.

What to do?  Let’s use the Uber app and get a drive up to the border.  Using the app you have to indicate where you intend to go.  The “Canadian Border” is not a recognized location.  I ended up dropping a pin on the map as close as I could get to the border.  Shortly, Uber driver #1 picks up the ride and texts me.  Driver: Where are you going?   Me:  The Canadian border.  Driver:  I cannot drive you there.  Me:  Why?  Driver: I cannot turn around.  Me:  How close can you get us?  Driver: The Bridge.  Me thinking: “the bridge is at least 10 kms from the border.”  That’s not going to work.  I look on my map and find a park much closer – Dewolf State Park.  Me: Can you get us to Dewolf State Park?  Drive:  Where’s that?

I’m getting frustrated and decided to call Uber Drive #1, it’s easy to do on the Uber app.  Calling……. no answer?!  Text back from Driver #1:  No calling, just text.  I’m thinking, “forget this” and ask Ben to find us a cab company on his phone.  Ben finds some, but notices and comments that none of them has a rating over 2 stars on google.  I call the first one anyway and get an answer.  It sounds like the company and the taxi are the same guy, the same car.  Me:  I’m at the airport, can you get me to the Canadian border?  Taxi:  You’re going to walk across the border?  Me:  Yes, yes that’s the plan.  Taxi: Have you filled in the Arrive Can App?  Me: Yes.  Taxi:  Are you vaccinated?  Me:  Yes!  Taxi:  Do you have your documents?  Me:  (Getting more frustrated now) Yes!!  I’ve got all I need to get across the border.  Taxi:  Sure I can drive you.  Me:  Wonderful!!  Oh by the way, how much will you charge?  Taxi:  $160  Me:  What?  Uber was going to charge $60??  Taxi: Uber……???  WELL THEN FINE, TAKE UBER!!  And hangs up.

Ben’s looking at me with that “now what are we going to do?” look.  It’s dark.  No one’s around.  I look back at my phone and the Uber app and I get a notification – Uber Driver #1 has just cancelled the drive.  I’ve struck out.  

But then….. my Uber app comes to life again and Uber driver #2 picks up the drive.  Brian is Uber driver #2.  Brian is 4 minutes away and driving to us.  I say to Ben, let’s wait till he gets here and try to convince him to drive us.

Brian arrives grabs our bags and throws them in the back of his Toyota Puris.  Before we get in I ask Brian: Do you know where we are going?  Brian: No I don’t know that until we start driving.  

Me:  We trying to get to the border (which is about a 25-minute drive).  Is that ok with you?  Brian: (thinks for a second) I guess so.  

And we are off.  Brian is a chatty guy.  We soon learn that he’s a believer in Jesus and has served on short term mission trips to Haiti.  I’m concerned that Brian won’t be able to turn around on the interstate 81 and will get caught between the US and Canadian borders.  At the bridge we ask the lady there how far can we go and still turn around?  The answer – Exit 52.

Brian leaves the freeway at Exit 52 which ends up taking us to a lower-level underpass of the exit.  We get out of his car thank him and grab our bags and start walking around trying to figure out how we get back to I-82 so that we can walk to Canadian customs.   After going one way and then another Ben and I realize we have walls and fences that hinder us from rejoining the interstate.  Brian has not abandoned us yet.  He invites us back into his car to try another area.  This time we get out just behind the US customs area.  Cars entering the US would be driving right by us as they enter I-81 going south.  Once again we walk around a bit pulling our bags behind us.  It’s now close to midnight.

Suddenly a couple of US customs agents step out of their building and see us.  They run into their cars and with lights flashing they rapidly approach us.  They get out and start asking us all kinds of questions.  One male and one female.  What are you doing?  Where are you going?  Who’s this guy?  (pointing at Brian and his car)  Show me your passport?  You cannot be walking around here!  After a few minutes, they settle down and realize we are just a couple of Canadians who are trying to return home.  Harmless really.  Maybe they were hoping for more?  Ben asks, can you give us a ride to the Canadian border control?  Their answer is, “only if we put you in handcuffs.”  Ben and I look at each other, wouldn’t have bothered me at that moment.  They suggest that they can escort Brian and his car over and they’ll make sure he can get back into the US.  Which they do.  It’s now midnight and there has been no traffic.  The last advice they give to Ben and me as we started towards Canada was,  “Make sure those Canadian guys can see your hands.  They can be a bit antsy!!”  I look at Ben.  A bit “antsy??”.

We thank our faithful Uber guy – Brian.  We start walking and dragging our suitcases towards the one open lane.  Two big semi-trucks are waiting inline to cross into Canada.  Shortly the Canadian border guard steps out of his hut and stares us down.  Then another guard appears between the two trucks and calls to us.  “You guys!  Follow me.”  And he disappears into the building.  I look at Ben.  “Not very antsy.”

We get out all our documents – Arrive App, vaccination records and our last Covid tests.  I ask the guard, “This happening much?”  He answers without even looking up from his screen, “Oh ya.”

With that, we headed out of the building and find Tracy waiting around the corner ready to drive us home.  It was so good to be home.

Micro Connections

I’m a bit of a runner and on weekends I enjoy a longer run.  This summer my runs have been along an abandoned railway trail that runs through farmer’s fields, bush and forest between Manotick and Osgoode.  My runs are what runner’s call “out and backs”.  That’s code for you run to a point and return along the same way – as opposed to a circuit.  It’s a beautiful trail.  That path gets used by dog walkers, bikers and runners.  Some are out for a leisurely walk; others are pedaling hard enjoying a vigorous workout.  But I always enjoy seeing another runner on the trail.  Often, because it’s an out and back, I will pass someone twice doing the same thing.

Photo by Jenny Hill, Unsplash.com

It’s my goal that I say hi to everyone that is traveling towards me and who I pass.  My greeting is sometimes a clear “good morning” and other times it’s a weary wave with one hand.   The other thing is that I don’t wear my glasses, so who or what is approaching me in not always immediately clear.  

Last Sunday on my long run I passed a young man who was running at a significant pace.  He looked like he was in shape with big strong legs.  He was running faster than me for sure.  I gave him a wave and I got a wave in return.  I wondered, was he out for a long run?  If he can keep up that pace that’s impressive.  Maybe it was just a short quick run – not so impressive, but better than me.  Thoughts running through my mind.

On the return portion of my run, I was thinking about the young spry lad.  Would I see him again on his return or was he home by now?  Well, it was quite a while into my return that I decided he was home and I wouldn’t be seeing him again today.  When out of my blurry vision the young lad appears, still with a very good pace.  I was pushing myself by now, heart rate up, breathing laboured, so I didn’t trust my voice, but I wanted to give him some encouragement and so I clapped my hands as he was approaching.  Just as we pass, he says clearly “good running!”.

All of a sudden, like a shot of friendly adrenalin, energy runs into my legs and my whole body. It’s similar to the sensation when your hair stands on end.  I’m shocked at how my body responded to his encouragement.  I straightened up and my legs felt light again.  As I ran on, I wondered if he experienced something similar to my cheer? 

As I think about this, I can clearly remember who and when someone gave me a word of encouragement while running these trails.  These short little connections I’ve had with people I don’t know.  They put gas in my tank.  Amazing.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad (Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Brigham Young University) has done some research around what factors in our lives contribute to longer life expectancy.  Here is some of what she found:

Light predictors:  clean air, hypertension treated, lean and not overweight, exercise

Moderate predictors:  cardiac rehab, taking the flu vaccine, quit smoking or boozing.

High predictors:  close relationships, (this was the highest) was social interactions.

Social interactions are defined as the quick interactions we have with people we know and don’t know all throughout our day.  Do you say “hi” to the coffee barista taking a quick interest in their life?  The person who checks your groceries, the people you pass as you walk in your neighbourhood?  Those who have these types of social interactions are people who tend to live longer.

We have such an advantage with our Christian faith.  Built into and throughout it is this encouragement to connect.  We are exhorted and empowered to love people – even our enemies.  I know it’s more of a challenge during the COVID season, but it seems all the more relevant.  Let’s look for those opportunities for little, quick interactions.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

2019 Annual Family Letter

Happy 2020! 

Just our annual letter about what life looks like for us these days. 

Stephen – wonderful to have Stephen home over the holidays.  He is still working in China for a crypto-currency company called Saito.  We do try to keep check-in regularly (WeChat) and we are thankful for technology that can bridge the miles so easily.  With the 12 hour time difference, it can be a bit challenging to line up our time.  One time, after a couple of failed attempts to talk, we asked what’s new. His reply was – “oh I’m in Thailand.  Sorry I should have mentioned that.  We’ll be here for a few weeks”.  We did request that although he is an adult – could he at least let us know when he travels to different countries.  It has been a great adventure and although it can have its unique challenges, he has enjoyed it.

Benjamin – living in Ottawa and enjoys living closer to downtown transit and much better internet.  He’s working part-time for Auctria (same software company as Tracy) which he’s enjoying. He has varied interests and we love when he comes homes to visit- and we draw on his culinary skills to help with meals. 

Meg – graduated grade 12 from Carleton Place High School and we are thankful that it was a good high school for her.  She finished off her H.S. sports career by playing Rugby!  A bit of a Peterkins’ tradition here.   It was as rough and tackling as we were expecting.  She headed off to Queen’s university for Kinesiology.  She is really enjoying the school and her program.

Tracy – So, our kids moved out and we’ve become  “empty nesters”.   Based on advice from our friends Shawn & Andria, Mark and I took a trip out to Cape Breton after Meg went off to school to ‘adjust’ to not having children at home.  It was a great trip and we highly recommend it!  The landscapes are incredible and travelling without a schedule was very fun. I was especially thankful that I could do some hikes on Cape Breton trails.  I hadn’t been able to hike for a few years after tearing my rotator cuff (and other injuries) and it has been slow for me to regain my core strength.  I have this age thing where I just seem to have regular aches and pains too.  

Skyline Trail – Cabot Trail – Cape Breton

I still split my work time between One Way Ministries and Auctria (a great charity auction software company).   I love the challenges, diversity and flexibility of both jobs.  

Mark – some of my highlights (aside of being away with Tracy of course) includes an annual golf get away with my siblings, Sandra, John and Thanos. This year we stayed and played near The Thousand Islands on the St. Laurence. In past years we chose some pretty dumpy courses and well, this was a definite step up for us. We were treated with wonderful weather. What a great time!

My family continues to gather together at different times of the year, Greek Easter, Cottage Weekend and Christmas time – which we thoroughly enjoy. This Christmas had all the nieces and nephews together, not as easy with kids living in so many different cities. We get to see Tracy’s family too – with dropping in at Mary Ann’s, Lisa & Colin moving to “the Nap”, and Vince lives downtown.

I’m enjoying playing ice hockey, golf, squash and running. I’ve struggled with arthritis over the years which at times has really limited my mobility. I’m deeply grateful for some of the newer meds (called biologics) which really have changed my life.

I continue to work with One Way Ministries. I love our team and the work we have the privilege of engaging in as we support our leadership community in Ottawa.

We haven’t moved yet. Last year we wrote that we were planning to move and that has been put on hold for now. However, a highlight is we put in a furnace, thank you Dan R., and enjoying the luxury of propane heat. After years of burning wood as our primary heat source, it’s not lost on our kids that we installed this shortly after they all left. 🙂

Another highlight is that we’ve had opportunities to re-connect with some family and friends that we haven’t seen in a long time. Mark got together with some University friends that he hadn’t seen in over 25 years – celebrating Murray & Bernice’s engagement. Dan & Nancy Germo visited Ottawa with ACCI and Tracy & Nancy had a great time walking around Ottawa and catching up. They hadn’t seen each other since 1996. Mark spent a week with some old and new trusted friends on the Sunshine Coast, BC where they shared life’s highs and lows and help each other discern God’s work in their lives. We love time at our family cottage and the celebrations over the summer – Labour Day and the Kevin Saunders Memorial baseball tournament for MD which has been going on for 25 years (congrats to Terry Fleming and his nieces/nephew – Jenna, Shauna, Nick & Farron Smith)! A get together of Tracy’s 1st (female) cousins on the Kelly side – it had been years since we’d all been on the Rideau together. Cottage weekend with Mark’s family with some memorable moments that still make us smile.

We have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. We know that for many of us, 2019 had some tough, hard & sad things too but we’ll save that for another time. Hopefully we’ll see and hear from many of you in 2020 which is always a highlight!

From our family to yours, may 2020 be full of joy and deepening relationships around you. God Bless.


Glad to meet you

Ever meet someone briefly and wonder what their life is really about? What’s their story? What’s up with them? What has shaped them? I have to admit I do this all the time.

I’m assuming that we met briefly and somehow you were referred to this page. Maybe I gave you card with this link on it. Hopefully our connection was a positive one!?

I’ve written this because I wanted to share with friends and acquaintances about something that changed my life and I want you to know about it and experience it too. It has to do with faith.

Stick with me for a minute.

A little background.

My story starts in Africa. I was born in Malawi in southern Africa. Grew up living in the outdoors. Africa is a beautiful continent. My home life was loving and caring, but I grew up with some challenges. My dad developed Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when I was very young. I don’t remember a time when he was well. When I was 6 my mother and father divorced. My dad died when I was 12. This experience got me thinking about what happens after we die.

I’m sure your life has its share of problems too.

When I was 13 my family moved from Zimbabwe (in southern Africa) to Canada. Zimbabwe was at war with terrorist factions and the future of the country seemed bleak. So I’m an immigrant, wonderfully adopted by Canada, of which I’m so thankful. We lived in Toronto and I went to Ottawa to go to university after high school. There I met my wife Tracy.

It was at university that I was gently challenged by someone to consider how the Christian faith has some good reasons for why it’s true. The whole idea that faith could be thoughtful and reasoned was intriguing to me. I had not grown up attending any kind of church. In Africa, we had religion classes in school, but they seemed empty and boring. My step-dad George was Greek and so we visited a Greek Orthodox church from time to time. But it was all in Greek and I had no clue as to what was being said.

After university I went to work for a restaurant company – The Lone Star Cafe. One of the owners (Larry) talked about how his faith was changing his life and giving him hope. I had heard that the Bible was able to predict the future and mentioned to Larry that if he ever came across a book that showed how that worked, I’d be interested. Soon after Larry gave me a book called The Late Great Planet Earth. The first part of the book talked about how the Old Testament of our Bible (the part the Jews hold as their Bible) predicted many things around the life of Jesus. Very specific things that Jesus had no control over – like the number of pieces of silver he was betrayed for and what the money was used for after. It rocked my mind.

I came away beginning to believe that the Bible has some sort of power that I couldn’t explain. After joining a group that was studying the Bible, I realized that Jesus had a lot to say about me, who I was and how I could live a life full of meaning and significance. I started to see myself and the people around me with whole new eyes. I realized just how selfish I was. I became so fascinated and attracted to the person of Jesus that I took up his offer to follow him.

I was 26 when my journey with Jesus started. I’ve had my up and downs, but mostly ups. Not all of my problems are solved, Jesus never promised to do that. I’ve sensed his love and provision that have been deeply meaningful at times.

Tracy and I have raised 3 kids who I love deeply. I think I’ve been a better dad with my Christian faith, but we have our struggles from time to time. I’ve made some mistakes as a dad, but I know that Jesus can cover them.

I hope you’ve read this far. I just wanted to be clear about something that has been the most important thing in my life. If you’d like to have a coffee sometime and hear more, or just email me with a question, feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear your story. My email address is: mark@peterkins.ca.

God bless you.


Trader Joe’s

Ok let me tell you a little story.

As a family, we are always curious about new businesses and entrepreneurial activity. I’m also a podcast listener and recently we were listening to one of my favorite shows called Freakonomics Radio. It was all about a grocery store chain called Trader Joe’s.  I’m sure many of you have heard of them. We’ve never been in one. 

Here’s how the podcast started.

STEPHEN DUBNER (the host of the show): Shark Tank, if you don’t know, is the TV show where people pitch business ideas to famous investors.

ROBERTO: You might be Mark Cuban or Mr. Wonderful. You’re trying to decide, would you invest?

STEPHEN DUBNER:And that is Michael Roberto. He’s a business professor at Bryant University, formerly of the Harvard Business School. There’s one lecture he likes to start by giving his students this fictional Shark Tank pitch.

ROBERTO: “I’d like to open a new kind of grocery store. We’re not going to have any branded items. It’s all going to be private label. We’re going to have no television advertising and no social media whatsoever. We’re never going to have anything on sale. We’re not going to accept coupons. We’ll have no loyalty card. We won’t have a circular that appears in the Sunday newspaper. We’ll have no self-checkout. We won’t have wide aisles or big parking lots. Would you invest in my company?”

STEPHEN DUBNER:And of course you’re supposed to think, “There is no way I’d invest in that company. That sounds like the stupidest company ever.”

ROBERTO: And, of course, you get a lot of consternation.

STEPHEN DUBNER:That’s when Roberto reveals that not only does such a grocery store already exist, but they’re crushing the competition.

And of course, they are talking about Trader Joe’s. Here’s the link to the whole podcast if you’d like to listen to it.  

We were recently in South Carolina after March break heading home, when we decided we wanted to find a Trader Joe’s to explore, and find out if they are really as good as all this hype. They weren’t very many choices, but there was one just outside of Richmond, Virginia, and so we decided to head for it. The store was just slightly out of the way our way home. We made it there within half an hour of closing.

Once we were inside and started walking around I stopped to talk to one of the gentleman stocking shelves (Adam) and mentioned to him that this was the first time we’ve been to Trader Joe’s; that we actually live in Canada and that we drove out of our way just to drop in at the store.  Did Adam have any recommendations for us?

Well, Adam said, “just give me one second,” and got rid of the stuff that he was stocking and disappeared around the aisle. He was soon back with three really nice reusable grocery bags that he said were a gift to us. Wow!! Now he was prepared to show us around; and show us around he did for about the next 15 to 20 minutes. We walked all around the store picking up this and that from their fairly small, limited item store while Adam shared passionately what he liked or knew others really liked. The vast majority of the items were branded under the Trader Joe’s brand.

It was so much fun and we were obviously rookies. The other shoppers gave us little knowing smiles as moved back and forth.

One of the things I heard from the podcast was that the store intentionally stocks the shelves during the day because they want their staff to interact with customers. When I asked Adam about this he confirmed it, and indicated his primary job was talking to us and secondary was stocking shelves. I asked him how long he had worked for Trader Joe’s and he replied 8 years. He gushed about how well he had been treated and how he loved being part of the team there.

When we figured we were done, Adam put one last item into our basket and said, “this one’s on me” and crossed out the barcode so that it wouldn’t scan. It was a gift from him to us. What kind of business it this?? There was another lady employee there who wanted us to taste one of her favourite spices, and so she crossed out the barcode on it. This too was a gift. I’m thinking, they give their stock staff allowances to give away items!

It was just so much fun. By the time we checked out with $140 USD worth of items, we were fans and we had yet to taste a single thing. 

We have since started trying their products, and are enjoying them too. 

Trader Joe’s is a great example of what can happen when we buck the trends, and get personal. We’ll be back.

2018 Annual Family Letter

Hello Everyone,

Happy New Year! We love receiving our family & friends Christmas letters so we wanted to touch base with our annual Christmas/New Year/mid-January update too.

For us (Mark and Tracy) we love opportunities to visit family and friends. In March we visited with our friends John and Amy in Charlotte and we added a visit to Charleston – which is so, so pretty. Meghan joined in as it was March break. An added bonus was dropping in at Mark’s family – John and Vicki’s – in Philly along the way. We had the pleasure of hosting a weekend gathering for John and Amy’s friends around generosity called a JOG (Journey of Generosity). On our trip to Charleston, we had a chance to grab a coffee (and quick visit to an Art Gallery) with Matt Hedrick and his dad Tony. It really was great fun.

JOG Experience
Compassion Trip

Another highlight trip was travelling to Guatemala. Along with five other friends and couples from Ottawa, we travelled to Guatemala City with a child sponsorship organization called Compassion International. We came away highly impressed with the work that Compassion does. A nice bonus for us was that we were able to travel with Luke and Lee-Anne, pastors from church.

Dan Germo, Ken Roth and Lauren Roth – ACCI Meetings

This year we had the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends we had not seen in a while. Dan and Nancy Germo were friends from our Bethany days. Dan recently joined the board of ACCI. This allowed Mark and Dan to reconnect and catch up during our meetings in September.

This summer Tracy’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Rosemary’s celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the cottage. Bob & Rosemary’s children/grandchildren hosted a great party for them. Tracy’s sisters and cousins dressing up with 60 years of trends!

Mark’s family celebrated Greek Easter again at Thanos and Josie’s in north Toronto for a complete lamb on a spit, a long-lasting tradition. Other connects included our August long weekend in Ottawa on the Rideau and Mark, Thanos and John and our golf getaway in northern New York. We play a round of golf on pretty much the worst golf courses around – but we love it. This year we discovered a local bar that had a great jukebox and pool table. John and Thanos love their music and were in 7th heaven as they were able to play all sorts of old tunes while we all played pool very badly.

Christmas get-together with Mark’s family in Toronto. Wonderful to have everyone there – something we don’t take for granted as kids travel in from different cities!

Ben moved into his own apartment in late summer and has been enjoying his studies at Algonquin College in the area of App Development. Mom and Dad love having Ben closer to home and connecting with him on a regular basis.

Meghan is finishing off her high school as she completes Grade 12 this year. She’s been her usual busy self with school sports (basketball, volleyball, badminton and new this year rugby!!). She continues to work at McDonalds and enjoys some great friendships at Echo Lake Camp.

Stephen graduated from university earlier in the year and quickly ended up taking a summer internship with a company working in China in the area of blockchain development and cryptocurrency. He’s now on a one year contract trying to help a small company get launched. That’s about as much as we understand and can tell you. Stephen and his girlfriend Mackenzie are navigating a very long distance relationship well it seems.

Later this year we plan to put our home on the market and move back a bit closer to the city. We’ve lived in our county home now for about 18 years and have loved a lot of it. But now with kids not living at home, a country property is a bit too much to handle. So we’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy in this last year preparing the home for sale. Mark has done some great renos (with the great coaching of Roy) and we are enjoying the updates while we continue to prepare.

Mark and Tracy continue to work together at One Way Ministries which is great (says both of us). Tracy works there half-time. We are just about to host one of our most significant conferences – called Capitalyze. Tracy is also working part-time for a great local company – auctria.com – which provides software that helps organize charity auctions.

We are so thankful for family and friends and hope to see many of you over the next year. For those who live farther away – hopefully we can visit together sometime soon. All the best for 2019!

2017 Family Review

As the year draws to the end, we wanted to continue our tradition (as many others do) with a year-end family update.

Tracy and Maggie enjoyed a trip to New York City this summer to celebrate the birthday of one of Maggie’s close friends.  Maggie is in grade 11 and life is full for her.  She enjoys playing on the school basketball and volleyball teams, serving on the athletic council and participating in the youth group at church.  This year she also started working at McDonald’s, a tradition started by Mark and his brother John more than 30 years ago!!  I keep requesting a tour but that request has been denied so far.  I’d love to know just how a Big Mac is made these days.  Maggie continues to enjoy the camps at Echo Lake (3 times a year) where she has developed some great friends.

Ben is studying at Carleton Unversity (Tracy and Mark’s Alma Mater).  He enjoys spending the week living with his aunt Mary Ann, who is a 10-minute walk to the university.  Weekends he is usually back home.  Ben spent part of the summer learning how to seal and paint parking lots.   Ben and Stephen joined their Grandma and cousins in Florida again this summer at the end of August – the coolest time of the year in the southern states!!

With Stephen working this summer in Ottawa, I had a chance to train with Stephen as he prepared to run his first half marathon this fall – the Army Run.  Race day turned out to be one of our warmer days this year but he did a great job in completing the run respectably.  Stephen is about to start his last term at Queens after which he hopes to graduate with his engineering degree.  We continue to get to know and enjoy his girlfriend Mackenzie.

One of the highlights this year for Tracy and I was to attend my mom’s (Gramma Lin) baptism.  After experiencing her Christian faith more significantly over the past couple of years, she decided to demonstrate that by public baptism.  It was a wonderful celebration.

This summer I tackled two significant projects – a complete bathroom renovation (a first for me) and new deck at the cottage.  The bathroom came with lots of help and coaching from Roy (my mom’s husband), many of my handier friends and of course Youtube.  I have to admit, there were a few occasions where I struggled and wondered if I was in over my head.  I know you’re wondering, yes Tracy liked the results and I was able to pick up some new tools without any guilt.

In October Tracy and I had a chance to travel to London for work with our colleagues Richard and Terry Long.  It was a great trip as we attended a conference together.  Tracy and I also had the opportunity to visit with my cousins Malcolm (Noree), Brian (Julia) and Sue.  It was so much fun to talk about the history of my family and for Tracy to hear about it.  We also visited with Tracy’s cousin Dan and got a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House and saw his opera, Les Vepres Siciliennes. We thoroughly enjoyed London and were very fortunate to have fantastic weather while we were there.

This fall Tracy and I were part of an Alpha group that our friends (Mike and Alexis) hosted in their home.  Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the basics of the Christian faith.  We loved making new friends and seeing some of their questions and doubts from their perspective.  It quickly became the highlight of our week.

On Tracy’s front, along with working at One Way Ministries (halftime) with me, she picked up a part-time job working with a small software company (Auctria.com) by answering some of their online questions that come in daily.  This she is able to do wherever she is able to get an internet connection, so it offers a fair amount of flexibility.  She also went on a “reunion road trip” with her friend Jackie to visit Sonja in Vancouver, and oh yes, see U2.  The last time Tracy and Jackie flew together was in 1989 when they backpacked together as university students.

We both continue to enjoy working with One Way Ministries.  We are part of a tremendous team and we are very fortunate to enjoy the work we do.  If you’re interested in some of the details of what the organization does, you can see a year-end report here.

Tracy and I want to thank our family and friends who have loved and encouraged us this year.  We really are enjoying an abundant life.  We want to wish you a joyful new year.

God bless.


Book Review – A Disruptive Gospel by Mac Pier

Last fall, a number of Ottawa leaders attended the Movement Day Conference in NYC.  It was an excellent time bringing together over 3,000 international leaders.  As part of the welcome package, each participant received the book A Disruptive Gospel: Stories and Strategies for Transforming your City by Mac Pier.

This book fired my imagination for what can happen in a city.  The recent history in NYC is an example.  The book cites Tony Carnes’ research that indicates the percentage of the population in Manhattan who worship in an evangelical church has jumped from less than 1% to more than 5% in 25 years.  Pier credits a number of things for this. His big idea is:  As leaders are increasingly present to one another, God is increasingly present to the city.  He goes on to credit united prayer, effective preaching and grace to enhance the planting and growth of churches.  He notes there also has been significant effort in developing millennial leaders to ensure the future of the movement in NYC.

The book looks at movements in a number of other cities and countries from around the world.  These include Dallas, Manila, Mumbia, Chennai, Dubai, Singapore, Port-au-Prince, Pretoria, Kigali and the United Kingdom.

I was particularly struck by the discovery in the United Kingdom that there are at least 116 unity movements.  These movements are found all across the UK in nearly every major city and town. All of them birthed for mission and transformation.

Here are some of the elements that Pier suggests for a healthy city movement:

  • Everyone involved – the movement does better when it includes the majority of church leaders, Christian organizations and key Christian leaders in the cultural spheres.
  • Friendship and prayer – a healthy movement sees both of these as growing and important.
  • Mission – the city leadership must share a regular joint mission with special focus on the most vulnerable.
  • Transformational vision – people must have a vision to see their city significantly transformed culturally, socially and spiritually over the next thirty years.
  • Partnership approach – the leaders must be willing to link significantly with public, private and third sector partners.
  • Spheres focus – church leaders should enable, train, and release church members to be whole life disciples in their spheres of life and influence.

As I was reading the book I was evaluating where we are at in Ottawa.  I think we are doing well in terms of relationships and friendships. Where I think we can grow is the following:

  • I am looking for more leadership buy-in across the city.  Leaders who catch this vision and are willing to partner.  I’m encouraged to see how much buy in we have and how many leaders are now working together, but we need more.
  • More passionate, bold  and strategic prayer.  I long for God to visit and disrupt our city and for our leaders to be praying more together.
  • Creative ways to engage our younger leaders to release them into starting Kingdom focused businesses, social enterprises and churches.

If you want to get stirred up about Gospel City Movements and need some ideas on how to move that forward, pick up this book.  I recommend it.