These women inspired me to start cooking

by Shannon Skinner on July 28, 2014

Anyone who knows me well knows that cooking ranks up there with extracting fingernails. As a woman who is in a constant state of “busy-ness,” I often eat on the fly. Sure, I can assemble a salad, or re-heat healthy, prepared foods. Plus, I have learned how to feed my dog raw or whole food. Despite the fact that I rarely cook, I do strive to lead a healthy lifestyle.

What has become clear to me, though, is that to be as healthy as possible you need to make your own meals to have control over what you put in your body. As I began facing changes in my body due to stress, hormones and the inevitable — aging — I knew I had to do something. And I knew it had to begin with nutrition.

So one night, I opened my fridge, only to find it nearly empty, with the exception of food for my sheepdog, Bob. I opened my cupboards, not unlike Old Mother Hubbard, which were also nearly empty, except for ingredients for my dog’s food. I realized my dog eats healthier than I do. At that lucid moment, I was reminded of a Chinese proverb:

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself. ~ Proverb

Enter my teachers…

(Fit Chicks Laura Jackson and Amanda Quinn)
I met Laura Jackson and Amanda Quinn, known as Fit Chicks, this spring at a weekend retreat held at Horseshoe Resort, located one hour north of Toronto. Based on their bootcamp-style programing that Fit Chicks have become renowned for, I knew I would get butt-kicking exercise, fun activities as well as nutrition information – and in a location surrounded by beautiful nature.

What I did not know I would walk away with was a miracle of miracles: inspiration to – gasp - start cooking for myself.

It is changing my life.

The people who inspire me the most are those who have transformed their lives. Fit Chicks Jackson and Quinn have done just that. The two have been close friends since Grade 9 when they, like many other teens, both began to experience body image issues. Then years later, the two friends both felt the need to do something about it. They embraced a healthy living style and changed their lives — from the inside-out.

Both women became certified personal trainers. Quinn also got certified as a yoga teacher and Jackson branched out as a nutrition wellness specialist. Later, an “aha” moment would have them leaving corporate jobs for an inspired journey of helping thousands of women change their lives.

And so, they created Fit Chicks, a company that is dedicated to “spreading healthy love” and provides a range of award-winning bootcamp-style programs at more than 20 locations across Canada, as well as weekend fitness retreats, personal training, nutrition counseling and more. They are also hosts of Shape Up with Fit Chicks on Rogers TV.

It was during one of Jackson’s nutrition workshops that I had my ‘aha’ moment, which inspired me to want to learn more about cooking. “Cooking is probably the biggest lost art in our society,” said Jackson as she demonstrated how to make almond milk. “It used to be about celebration, but now it’s about counting calories. You need to start with a food philosophy.” That food philosophy, according to Jackson, is as simple as eating food that is “grown and made with love.”

Today, as I (slowly) embrace cooking, I am experiencing a difference in my energy and seeing positive changes in my body. While I have yet to open a cookbook, I have been creating my own concoctions of food that is “grown and made with love.”

And so, thank you, Laura Jackson and Amanda Quinn, for being the teachers who opened the door.

Read my post about the weekend retreat at Horseshoe Resort here.


On a recent trip back to Alberta to visit family, I spent some quality time with my maternal grandmother, who thankfully fit me in her busy schedule between her social life and her creative activities that she does in her “adult living” home. At nearly 90 years of age, she is in relatively good physical condition with all the walking she does, has the spirit of a schoolgirl, and she still enjoys being productive.

Gramdma with puzzlesDuring our visit, my grandmother (a.k.a. Baba) proudly showed me the numerous picture puzzles she has been working on that are in various forms of completion, and told me of the other creative projects she works on with other women in the centre, such as making quilts. Though her eyes are not as sharp as they once were, she continues to crochet, needlepoint and knit – all creative forms of expression. She seems happy and content.

So I asked myself if my grandmother’s ongoing creativity is somehow connected to her longevity and overall happiness, and if there is a kernel of wisdom in that knowledge for me.

And voila! Based on a recent German study that “links creating visual art and improved functioning of the brain,” I may have my answer.

I believe we are here on planet Earth for a life of self-expression, and the form of that expression is unique to each individual. Creative expression is at the core of our life’s purpose, and is whatever gives us joy and meaning every day, whether it is being a healer, entrepreneur, parent or artist.

 “The purpose of our lives is to give birth to the best which is in us.” ~ Marianne Williamson

For several decades, my grandmother played the nurturing role of a mother to two daughters, and hands-on grandmother to six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren — and now one great-great-grandchild. As well as wife to a first husband who was physically disabled and, after being widowed for several years, re-married to a husband who, in his twilight years, had his own health issues prior to his death.

Today, with freedom from those caregiver obligations, grandma enjoys spending time with her friend and working on her visual creative projects. These are the things that give her joy. And admittedly while doing picture puzzles and the crafts of quilt making, crocheting and needlepoint work may not be ‘high art,’ the creative process remains the same.

Since I do not have a crystal ball, I do not know what is in the cards for me as I move into the next few decades of my life. But what I do know is that, when I reach the age of 90, I hope that I will live it with the health, spirit and creative expression of my grandmother. Because at 90, she continues to ‘birth the best that is in her.’ And I believe her continued creation of her “visual art” is one of the keys to that.


10 Tips for Traveling and Staying at Hotels with Your Dog

July 12, 2014

As a busy career woman who owns a dog, it can be challenging to pack-up and go whenever the wanderlust desires. Dog sitting services add-up and sometimes it is too much of an inconvenience to travel with a dog. I am not alone. With one third of the households in Canada owning dogs and, according […]

Read the full article →

Going it Solo: 6 Things to do in Ontario for Women who Travel Solo

July 8, 2014

The summer issue of Infinity Magazine, one of the publications I write for, is out! It features my article “Going it Solo: 6 Things to do Around Ontario for Women Who Like to ‘Go it’ Solo.” Check it out! You can read it here – and more travel articles and reviews that I have written.

Read the full article →

The pitfalls of following your heart

July 2, 2014

Since my mid-twenties, I have been on a conscious journey of following my heart. Over time, I have become increasingly more in-tune with my heart’s whispers – or shouts, or screams. More recently, I have become braver to overcome the barriers to my dreams that I alone have built. But, by no means have I […]

Read the full article →

Canada Day is not all “red and white”

June 29, 2014

This Canada Day has given me more than a reason to pause and celebrate. With all the waving of “red and white,” it reminds me of how “colour” impacts our daily lives. When we can start to see and experience the world in colour, we are able to unleash our creativity — and be more […]

Read the full article →

My day at Woodbine Racetrack

June 28, 2014

What is a fun way of spending the Friday before the Canada Day weekend? Horse around at Woodbine Racetrack! I have always wanted to know about the world of horse racing. Previously, I had been to one race ever, the Queen’s Plate, when Queen Elizabeth was visiting Canada. So when the opportunity arose to meet […]

Read the full article →

Celebrating Canadian art at McMichael’s Moonlight Gala

June 16, 2014

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending what has become one of my favourite events of the year:  the 3rd Annual Moonlight Gala at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. A fundraiser like no other, every year it is held on the gallery’s grounds where it is located in Kleinburg, Ontario. Guests can walk through […]

Read the full article →

Premier Kathleen Wynne shines a bright light for women in Ontario, Canada

June 13, 2014

Athough she isn’t a newcomer to leading the Ontario Liberals, the fact that Premier Kathleen Wynne, a woman — and a gay woman at that — was elected last night by the people of Ontario to lead the government (for four more years) is not only historical, it speaks volumes of opportunity for women in […]

Read the full article →

How to be the media’s ‘go-to’ expert: tip #3

June 8, 2014

Want to know the secrets to becoming the media’s “Go-To” Expert? Here’s Tip #3 in my series of short videos to help you! Tip #3: Sign-up with online resources that connect experts with journalists. Find out why…

Read the full article →