Portaging: What do you put in your canoe?

Portaging is the act of carrying a water vessel over land either between two bodies of water or around an obstacle such as rapids in a river.

I had never heard this word until my book club read “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. In the story, one of the main characters, Molly, is learning about the Wabanaki Indians.  This tribe often had to migrate across water in canoes, so they had to determine what was important to keep in the canoe and what they needed to leave behind. Molly’s teacher assigns a project on “portaging” for which they need to interview an older relative or neighbor about their “literal and metaphorical” journeys and what they chose to carry and “leave behind.”

Prior to our meeting date the hostess asked if anyone would be willing to share a moment in our life where we had to decide what to bring, what to leave behind, and what insight we gained.

I have had several significant times in my life, where portaging has been necessary ~ although I did not realize this is what I was doing. Through much trial and error I began to realize that I had to weed out the emotions and/or circumstance that could weigh me down making it difficult to move forward or…. from completely sinking. Determining what to put in the canoe differed with each journey/transition, and I wound up discovering there are three common things I always carry in my canoe.

  1. Support  In order for me to progress I needed to put my ego aside and ask for help. I thankfully received a lot of love and support from my family and my circle of friends during these times. The various moves from one state to another, the new babies that grew into the challenging teenager years, the ups and downs of marriage, divorce, and death of loved ones became a lighter load when I asked for help.
  2. I had to decide if these transitions were going to make or break me  When I was a 19½ year old newlywed my husband and I moved 800 miles away to southeast Texas.  Leaving behind the only home I had ever known, as well as all my friends and close family ties, I was headed for a place I knew nothing about. I could have given into my feelings of loneliness and the almost eleven years we spent in Texas (with intermittent transfers to Baton Rouge, LA and Niantic, CT during this same period of time) could have been absolutely miserable. I am shy by nature so forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone was a huge and difficult step for me. I chose to make the best of it by attaining an undergraduate degree in education at the nearby university and got involved with a women’s club where I met and made some really great friends. We wound up moving back to my home state, and I returned a better person than when I left.  I did some much-needed growing up, made life-long friends, and created some incredible memories.
  3. Faith  I relied on my faith and the power of prayer to guide and help me through.  I will share that there was a time during one of these transitions when I was extremely frustrated, worried, and felt so helpless that I had to step away from my prayer life because I felt my prayers were not being heard. Understand, I never lost my faith; I just had to step away for a while until I could make sense of it all. I never  have made sense of it and I never fully understood the how and why of that transition; but I eventually came to realize ~ through the grace of God ~ how much that particular transition provided a positive influence in my tolerance of others, empathy for those struggling, and a deeper faith.  In times of joy and sorrow I still rely heavily on my faith and although it is number three in this post, it is always the number one thing I put in my canoe.

As the new chapters of my life unfold there will be more canoes to carry.  I am grateful that I have, so far, arrived at each destination with more courage, resilience, and compassion than I ever thought I could.

As I look toward the unknowns of the future, asking for help, deciding on whether I will allow this transition to make or break me, and relying on my faith will always go into my canoe.

What do you include in your canoe?

Also shared on Esme Salon

Book Club Night

Bursts of laughter and lively conversation…. Book Club is something I look forward to every third Thursday of each month.  We named ourselves REaD Threads and the story of how we decided this name is here.

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Simple, relaxed and informal we gather together to enjoy some delicious food and discuss the book of the month.  Preparations usually include a list of discussion questions pertaining to the book, maybe some visual props, or plan an easy game.

A few of our more creative members host unique gatherings. For example, one of the books we read was “Devil in the White City” by, Erik Larsen so the hostess shared memorabilia from the World’s Colombian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.  As we discussed the book we dined on some delicious Chicago style pizza and enjoyed a few treats first introduced at the fair such as Cracker Jacks and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum.  Another time we had a movie night where we arrived early and talked about “The Book Thief” by, Markus Zusak.  Afterward we relaxed in comfortable chairs or stretched out on the floor with a pillow and a warm blanket in the hostess’ home theater room to watch the movie version while we munched on movie type snacks. One of our members was a brand new mom of two newborns and she was soon lulled to (much-needed) sleep by the soothing darkness and gentle musical soundtrack. Another time, one of the members invited the author of one of the books we read to our meeting and she accepted!  That meeting was hilarious and is a whole other story in itself!

Every year we select a different month or season of the year to host and February is my month. For the past two weeks, I busied myself gathering discussion questions, planned a quick word game and prepared a menu of appetizers.

On the menu was a delicious Marinated Cheese Tray, artichoke spinach dip, stuffed mushrooms, assorted crackers, bread, nuts and homemade cookies.  These are some of my “go to” recipes when I want to prepare something I know will get eaten up.

Even though the weather outside was cold and rainy, it was warm and cozy inside.  My book buddies (we have been together for nine years) did not disappoint with their thoughtful insights and unique perspectives.  We, however, did our fair share of getting off topic and laughing so much our faces hurt!

By the way, this month’s book is “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate.  A historical fiction based on real events.  It was an emotional and riveting read.

Book club cartoon taken from this site. No copyright infringement intended.

Lesson from Sea Otters

Sea otters hold hands so they don’t float away from each other while they sleep.  Not only does that look adorable, it is also very good advice.  Holding hands can be incredibly bonding and has affected my life in so many different ways.

My husband spontaneously slipped his hand into mine and gave it a little squeeze. I squeezed back while we enjoyed a mid afternoon stroll with our dog. As we walked I enjoyed how secure and safe it felt. This simple gesture symbolized a connection between us and it felt good.

Holding hands brings joy.  In grade school I happily held hands with my best friend as we ran toward the swings on the playground. The first time I held hands with a boy it felt intimate and awkwardly thrilling at the same time. I remember when my children were learning to take their first steps. Their tiny hands grasped so tightly around my fingers totally trusting me to provide support as they toddled on wobbly legs toward this exciting new milestone.

Holding hands make words unnecessary.  My sister stood bravely beside her son’s body as I calmly took her hand in mine. It signified a moment of support and an attempt to comfort as I tried so hard to let her know, without saying a word, she wasn’t alone. (John had passed away very unexpectedly from a blood clot. He was a young father so full of humor and quick wit which made it extra hard to say goodbye.) I remember how she tightly grasped my hand as she struggled to comprehend that terribly sad moment.  A few years ago I held my mom’s hand as she breathed her final breaths of life. Mom was unconscious, but just in case she was somehow aware, I wanted her to know we were all there to support her through to the end as she always did for us. I also remember sitting by my dad’s body the morning he died. I placed his hand in mine, held it to my cheek, kissed it one last time and gently held onto it as my siblings and I said our private goodbyes.

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Holding hands breeds intimacy.  My husband and I often drift off to sleep at night as we hold hands. We eventually let go and roll away, but what a sweet way to end our day.  Holding our grandchildren’s hands as we walk together are some of my most cherished moments.  I treasure looking down at their faces as they glance up at me while we share silly jokes or serious talks about Legos or princesses. Saying grace together as a couple or when the family gathers is a truly special time.

Holding hands with a stranger can give you courage. There was a moment in my life when I received difficult news and a stranger took hold of my hand and held it firmly as if they were trying to transmit their strength as well as comfort.  They will never know what that meant to me.

In good times, in bad times, in times of comfort, in times of support, in times of closeness, nothing quite compares (except maybe a warm hug) to reaching out and wrapping your fingers around another’s.

Holding hands is such a powerful gift and I can’t believe how often it has been underappreciated or gone unnoticed in my life. I am taking a lesson from the sea otter and will extend my hand to others more often in an effort to keep the important people in my life from drifting away from me!  What memories do you have while holding someone’s hand?

 

Savoring Charleston

We visited the lovely city of Charleston, South Carolina about three years ago as part of a summer trip.  Neither of us had ever been to Charleston before and it sounded like a good idea.  We stayed in the historic district at an Embassy Suites Hotel which was the former Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.  It was very conveniently located within walking distance of many things we wanted to see.

After a hearty breakfast we started our day feeling refreshed and walked toward the historic district.  We enjoyed meandoring along the quaint streets and saw the Old Exchange, Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row. (A series of row houses painted bright pastel colors.)

Unfortunately, we picked a very hot and humid time of year to visit.  As the day wore on, we could not help but laugh at how hot and very sweaty we were both getting.  What had we been thinking to plan a trip like this at the end of June?!? If you look closely at the photo below, you will see some “moisture” on M’s shirt as we claimed a shady spot to enjoy some ice cold water before walking back to the hotel.  (Truth be told, I also had some on my shirt but it just wasn’t as obvious!  Also, seeing M without his mustache in these photos kind of freaks me out a little.  He grew it back not long after this trip and I am glad he did.)

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After a refreshing shower we headed down to the lobby for some complimentary cocktails and (surprisingly) heavy appetizers. The hotel had a very nice shaded outdoor area to enjoy these goodies and we took advantage of this perk each afternoon of our visit.

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The next day we took a guided bus/walking tour through the French Quarter and South of Broad neighborhoods where we enjoyed looking at all of the beautiful and elegant homes. I was especially charmed by some of the unique gates surrounding these homes.

After lunch we ventured to the City Market and enjoyed browsing around the different vendors.

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While we were there we met an artist who made necklaces and bracelets featuring some of the designs you would see on the gates of those lovely homes we saw earlier.  I could not resist and wound up purchasing this lovely bracelet.   I was delighted to see one of the charms pretty well matched one of the gates I took a photo of just that morning.

The next day, in spite of scorching hot temperatures, we took a boat ride out to Fort Sumter where the American Civil War began.  We also drove over to Sullivan’s Island and over to Isle of Palms to see what it was like.

Eating was also part of our experience and there are so many restaurants and deciding where to go was difficult.  The majority of our meals were very simple and casual and (in spite of the hot temperatures) one of our very favorite dishes was a bowl of She Crab soup at a local type restaurant which was off anyone’s radar recommended by a member of the hotel staff.

Our favorite restaurant was Hall’s Chophouse where we enjoyed a fun filled evening of laughter and delicious steaks. We had so much fun I forgot to take pictures!

Our visit to Charleston was one we will always remember.  If you have never visited this charming city in the south, I do recommend it.  However, I would reconsider planning a summer trip!!

Small Answers

Sometimes it is not easy to understand the reason for suffering.

We all have someone in our lives who is in need of healing whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual.  It’s hard to watch someone we love suffer with an addiction, a disease, or the consequences of a poor choice.

I have been praying about some very tough circumstance for several years and it is exhausting to continually ask, seek, and knock when I am not seeing the results for which I am praying. I am ashamed to admit this, but I have been questioning whether or not God has been hearing my prayers.

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The other day I as brought forth my prayer requests I realized the words I chose to pray were telling God that I did not want to get my hopes up.  (Was I insinuating He might not be able to answer my petitions?) To complicate it more, I realized the words I chose were also telling God, the creator of the universe, how to answer my prayers.  Pretty bold move on my part! I was startled at this realization because this is how I have been praying for years.

I randomly opened my Bible to a page and found this verse from Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” This was exactly what I needed to read. It gave me peace and encouragement not only for myself, but for the people I am praying so hard for.

As I meditated on that verse reading it over and over, it became clear that I was so focused on wanting the answer to the “big prayer” that I have been missing His “smaller answers” along the way.  For example, one of the people I am praying for has an addiction and is currently getting intensive help and is gradually finding the answers he/she needs. Friends, family members and even distance acquaintances have given generous acts of service to keep his/her family going while he/she is away.  Another person is finding random financial resources to get through a very tough financial time where they are truly living paycheck to paycheck with little to no savings as a safety net.  The beginning stages of dementia are challenging for another person and the unexpected patience of their spouse is a beautiful thing to see.

These examples are not the specific answers I am praying for, but I am so very, very thankful I have come to recognize these “smaller answers”.

I know His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. These sufferings are not easy and I admit I am afraid I will not receive the answers I so deeply desire; but I know in my heart that God’s plan is always the best plan.  I am trying hard to develop patience and understanding that He will help us through every seemingly impossibility we face.  I desire to pray with more thanks, seek His guidance and develop an acceptance to His response.  I desire to pray boldly, specifically, and without ceasing.

I also want to look for, expect, and appreciate the “smaller answers” to my prayers that God sends.

I sincerely want to see these sufferings as a privilege and an opportunity to watch what God does best ~ making the seemingly impossible possible as He draws us closer to Him through His goodness.

Also published on Senior Salon – take a look at what others are saying!

 

Inspired by a Scrooge

My husband and I love to support local entertainment so we bought tickets a few weeks ago to see a community play across town this past Saturday night. The weather outside was truly frightful with heavy rain and winds, but we decided we would venture out anyway.

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We arrived at this lovely facility which was very festive.  A company was having a Christmas party in one of the ballrooms so the smell of food combined with the sound of a DJ playing music added to the spirit of the season.

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The holiday classic tale “A Christmas Carol” is one of our favorites.  This production was really enjoyable as the actors put a different spin on the presentation with a witty narrator and delightful humor interwoven.

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At the end of the production everyone was on their feet clapping.  The encore was the audience singing (with the encouragement of the cast members) a rousing chorus of “Joy to the World!”

Dickens included so many lessons in this timeless story and the more I thought about it the more I realized what a master of allegory Dickens was. First, there’s the surface of the story. You know, the characters and plot and all that obvious stuff. Then there’s the symbolic level, or the deeper meaning that all the jazz on the surface represents.

  • Scrooge feels sorrow and remorse when the spirit showed him how poorly he treated others.  For the first time in his life he saw himself for who he really was ~ a humbling moment in anyone’s life.
  • Scrooge’s bitterness had roots in his early life but he allowed it to devour him. I once read an analogy and it went something like ~ Bitterness is like swallowing a poisonous pill and expecting someone else to die when in reality the victim is ourselves.
  • Initially Scrooge wants nothing to do with the three spirits. But eventually he does begin to listen to them and through his listening he begins to learn and move forward.  We also have the potential to grow and change in ways that not only enrich us, but those around us as well ~ just like Scrooge ~ if we take the time to listen and learn.
  • The spirit showed Scrooge that he wasted his life obtaining power and money and this will one day come to an end. It is important for us to bear in mind that our lives will also end one day and we still have time to change. Living with the end in mind might help us as it did Scrooge.
  • There is joy in change.  Scrooge realized he had a second chance at life. For the first time in a long time, through his jubilation, he began to connect to the real world again.   He asked forgiveness from the solicitors he refused to give money to the day before and made restitution. He spread unexpected joy and generosity to others.  It is interesting to note that when Scrooge awoke that Christmas morning literally nothing had changed in his circumstance.  The only thing that DID change was his heart.

We may think it is too late to change, but in reality the best time is now ~ a lesson Ebenezer Scrooge teaches us well every Christmas.

Someone’s Son, Someone’s Brother….

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He was only 25 years old when he was gunned down and left to die in the middle of the street.

This past Tuesday I met some friends for lunch at a favorite restaurant. Located in a charming area, it is almost an hour away from where I live. It is a rare treat to be able to visit, and the ham, brie and spicy apricot mayonnaise sandwich is the reason we go.

The unique restaurant is located in a former service station. The main dining area is where the cars used to get serviced.  The sound of talking voices, sudden bursts of laughter, clanging silverware and plates, as well as the scrape of chairs on the floor all bounce off the ceiling and the walls so it is quite noisy inside.

Although there are windows in the dining area providing a lot of natural lighting, it is impossible to see outside because of the proportion of the seating to the higher windows. The majority of the light comes from the garage door windows which run along the front of the seating area. Weather permitting, the garage doors are raised so patrons can enjoy outside dining. It was too cold on Tuesday.

We had finished our lunch and were in the process of settling our bill when the manager of the restaurant got everyone’s attention and said we would not be able to leave the restaurant for a few hours because of a tragic incident outside. A police officer then stepped inside and asked if anyone saw or heard anything at all that happened just outside the restaurant.  Everyone was stunned as we shook our heads back and forth.

People began to wander toward the separated front entrance section of the restaurant. As each of us gazed through the large floor length windows with eyes widen in disbelief we saw at least 30 police cars, an entire swat team circling a business across the street, a fire truck and a deceased young man laying in the middle of the street, face down, just 5 feet or so from my parked car and about 15 feet from the front door of the restaurant. Two young men had an argument, one shot the other and then he fled away on foot.  The newspaper said they had dined at the same restaurant at which we were eating just moments before the argument.

It took my breath away when I saw the body.  All I could think of was this is someone’s son, someone’s brother, nephew, friend.  I prayed for his soul, for his family, for anyone who loved him.

I also prayed for the young man (now in jail) who killed him, as well as his family and anyone who loves him.  He too is someone’s son, someone’s brother, nephew or friend.

Two lives – both over.

What in the world could have been so disruptive that the young shooter felt the only way to settle the argument was to kill the other person? The whole incident is incredibly sad.

My BFF and I are still processing what happened and we will never forget what we saw, heard and later read about in the newspaper. How did we or someone in the restaurant not hear the gun shot or hear the argument?  This whole situation could have been much worse and it could have involved innocent people. What if anyone had ventured in or out of the restaurant at the moment the shot was fired? What if the garage doors had been raised with people dining outside?

I pray the families, friends and loved ones of these two young men find peace and comfort during this very difficult time in their lives.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”  Revelation 21:4

Photo is from Irish times