long walk

IMG_0256Last Saturday I completed a goal set last spring: to walk a half-marathon. I did it mostly for the discipline imposed over 14 or 15 weeks of training. I enjoy the experience on race day, on a beautiful route in a supportive community. But I’m always slightly embarrassed to be walking in the midst of the runners.

This is the fourth half-marathon I’ve walked in the past few years and the second in Lake Placid, the most historic of beautiful Adirondack venues. When I mention my self-imposed challenge to friends or co-workers, they assume I’m running. I feel compelled to clarify, almost apologize. “I’m just walking.”

Not long ago, a long distance runner and colleague gave me new perspective. When she heard that I was walking a half, she congratulated me and said, “I think walking is harder than running.” Huh?

She and her husband are both amazing athletes. They run up and down grueling mountain trails or in oppressive dessert heat, wallowing in mud puddles to stay cool enough to continue 80 or 100 miles. When her husband is competing she will run alongside in the dead of night for awhile to pace him. When the going gets tough and his body is begging him to stop, his mantra is “Keep running. The only thing worse than running is walking.” No doubt because it’s only going to take you longer to finish!

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Sharon and I began our preparation in late May, training separately during the week while gradually increasing distance on weekend walks together. We’d start by 7:00, sometimes 6:00 a.m., to go the distance — up to 10 miles. Lately, it’s been near dark when we met up on the trail. As summer winds down to fall and daylight hours shorten, it’s harder and harder to rise extra-early on Saturday.

In mid-July I also began working with a personal trainer. My birthday present to myself was 6 months with Carrie and 12 months of gym membership. I’m surprised to find that I’m enjoying the gym, with Carrie’s support. I’m glad to put event training behind me and focus there. I guess I like best to compete against myself. But first, there was a long walk. We were ready!

We enjoyed a lovely evening in Lake Placid, followed by a beautiful sunrise. It was a chilly forty-some degrees; the mist hung heavy over Mirror Lake as the sun climbed over the mountains. Starting at the 1932 Olympic oval, we walked uphill and down, around the lake and through town, alongside mountain streams and rivers, past horse barns and vegetable farms, under the watchful gaze of the 1980 Olympic ski jumps and ever-present old mountains.

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We even jogged a couple stretches, letting the momentum of the long hills carry us down, praying we’d have the strength to climb back up. We were particularly motivated by a group of noisy French Canadians in pink tutus. We followed closely for awhile before they pulled out in front. For perhaps half the race, we trailed them, scheming of a victory. We made our move to pass in a slow but stealth jog on a fairly crowded stretch, blending in with the running pack. Boo-yah! They never caught up. ;=)

It was a wonderful experience although a rather long 13.1 miles. I was ever so thankful to have a partner for the journey. I’m proud that we finished the race on our intended pace and that we didn’t finish in last place. Sometimes our victories are small and very personal but still they are important.

~ René Morley

washington, again

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It’s almost irrational, the degree of happiness I feel visiting D.C. in spring. It’s not just that I am sure to exchange a dirty-white and beige-brown landscape for fresh spring green bursting with leaves and blossoms. It’s also the thrill of being in such an historical place. Everywhere I go, I’m reminded of happy times exploring America’s capital city.

Most of this week, however, I was confined to a hotel and professional conference. At the same time (foolishly, in retrospect) I was trying to climb back on the detox train. This was my first experience with a 10-day detox. I thought I knew how to detox. I didn’t pay too much attention to the details when I signed up. I’ve got this, right?

Huh. Not so much! I couldn’t believe how miserable I felt coming off processed foods, sugar, and such. But caffeine was the killer! I consider myself a minimum to moderate coffee drinker but, wow, that was ugly. I could medicate for the headache but there was no fix for an energy level near zero. Attending the conference was all I could manage to do. Quite disappointing, given the amazing opportunities within walking distance outside my hotel each evening. Frustrating, to say the least.

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But on Wednesday afternoon, the conference closed and I turned the corner toward personal wellness. A friend picked me up at the hotel and we were quickly off for a late lunch. It was a gloriously sunshiny and warm day in D.C. What a gift!

We strolled around the lovely homes, boutiquey shops and restaurants of the Eastern Market before settling on a place to eat. Matchbox served delicious soup and salad, perfectly flavored with long over-due conversation. The downside of being a distributed worker is the scarcity of face-time with professional colleagues. I take every opportunity I can find to connect. It’s essential to a complete sense of wellness.

After lunch, we drove through the National Mall, just for fun. Tourists, tourists, everywhere, and not a cherry blossom to spare! Until we got to the airport. There, three early blooming trees graced the median. I couldn’t ask for better way to close out another D.C. visit. Thank you, friend. Thank you.

~ Renè Morley

Read more about Washington, D.C. — Post 1 and Post 2

virtual happy hour :)

imagejpeg_0IMG_7490How does a virtual happy hour sound to you? i pour a glass, she pours a glass, and we chat or text our way through an hour of catch-up. Well, I can tell you how it sounds to me: almost perfect.

Sometimes there is just no substitute for gab time with a girlfriend. Sometimes, regrettably, there is no viable option to get together in person. Virtual can work!

This doesn’t strike me as the least bit odd, perhaps because I am a “distributed employee” who connects virtually with colleagues across the country in various time zones numerous times over the course of a day or work week. But some of my girlfriends might give a bit of pause. It’s just not natural for we who are late Boomers or early Gen-Xers. However, once we connect this way, unwinding over a glass or wine or two virtually, it’s a no-brainer.

In this case, we’d hoped and planned to be together in person … until the winter weather intervened. Doggone it and drat it all! But i was not to be dissuaded.

Me: Are you home? Wanna’ grab a glass of wine and chat? … I am beat. Ready to unwind.

She: Huh? I am home (city).

Me: Virtual happy hour 🙂 If you have a glass there and I have a glass here we will both be better for it 🙂 LOL

She: Sorry, I’m a bit frazzled. On my own with the kids this week. Sure, I can text chat. I’ll pour a glass…

Me: Yes I’ve been thinking of you. Long week of “vacation” … Are the kids occupied enough for a phone call?

She: Unfortunately not. They r a bit crazed with being inside, etc. I’m playing referee…

Me: Oh yes, I remember those days … 

But then we were off on a text-chat on children and grandchildren … home renovations …  kitting projects …  parents … dreams and plans. We exchanged photos and video tours and lots of love between the lines and megabytes. I can’t imagine a better way to spend an hour after work. I feel reconnected and rejuvenated. (Thank you, my friend.)

So, how about it? Virtual happy hour! It’s a sure-fire way to improve your outlook.

~ René Morley

cup of kindness

IMG_0525As we turn the corner on Christmas and approach the New Year, I realize that, once again, I didn’t get to Christmas cards. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given my sporadic track record. This year perhaps more than any other I’ve realized that our holidays are overloaded. By Christmas night I was exhausted and dispirited. I am sure that is not God’s intent for the season. Next year I resolve to streamline and simplify all things holiday, including and especially Christmas.

But I am getting ahead of myself, eh? We’ve yet to finish this year. I hoped 2014 would finish more smoothly than 2013, when a barn fell to ice and other calamaties beset us and our extended family. Weeks of unfortunate events occurred from early December and into January. It was a long, slow slog to recovery on farm and home fronts in 2014. We were more than half-way through the year before it felt like we had lift-off.

SONY DSCThe brightest moments of 2014 were in the double blessings of new grandgirls, the first arriving in late February and the second early August. This brought the grandchids count to four: Oliver, Henry, Sadie and Rosie. I cannot express how much these wee ones matter. Just a moment in their presence lifts my heart and fills me with joy.

The next best thing about 2014 was turning fifty. I never thought I would be able to talk about that milestone in those terms! I enjoyed a series of small celebrations with family and friends over the course of a month or more that made for a most pleasant summer. Then a joint fiftieth birthday sailabration, starting and ending in Quebec City, sailing to Saint Pierre & Miquelon, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island provided wonderful memories and invaluable time together. A few weeks after we returned, I threw a surprise party to close out on fifty.

Soon thereafter, we were into the holiday season. But not before my mom suddenly landed the perfect opportunity to relocate nearby. This has been a big but happy transition for her and another 2014 blessing for my family.

All of those wonderful events notwithstanding, the past few days I’ve been struggling with a very difficult situation and resultant emotions; working toward healing has been hard work. I really didn’t want 2014 to end on a down-note but wasn’t sure how to pull it back up.

If it was entirely up to me, I might hang on to my ugly feelings. On the face of it, that sometimes seems easier if not justified. But in the big scheme, it is neither. Yesterday afternoon I took yet another long, brisk walk to wrestle with my inner spirit.  In that hour, Matthew West’s powerful lyrics in Forgiveness (listen in) spoke deep into my heart and sealed my resolve.


Its the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

Its the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word

Forgiveness…

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
Its the whisper in your ear saying Set It Free

Forgiveness…

Finally, with God’s help, I began to set it free. And then I received the most amazing gift in an email from another continent from a young woman who I haven’t seen in a few years. Her home country is Zimbabwe, her current home is England, and our paths crossed while she attended the local university. I became her host mother and we became friends. Her loving message and fond remembrance was a balm to my wounded spirit and a gift of grace to treasure.

This morning, I was thinking on the past year, with all of its trials and tribulations when the song Auld Lang Syne (i.e. for old time’s sake) came to mind. That phrase, cup of kindness, struck a chord with me. To share a cup of kindness is to extend goodwill and the most generous fare-thee-well sentiments. A cup of kindness is the essence of right living.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne
And surely (you’ll buy your pint)
And surely I’ll (buy) mine
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

I wish I had opportunity to share such a cup with each and every one who has impacted my life for good this past year. To you who have honored me with good will and generosity of spirit, I offer a virtual cup. Cheers! Happy, happy New Year. May all of God’s best be extended to you and to yours in 2015.

~ René Morley

P.S. The chids collaborated on a family photo shoot. Sweetness.

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celebrate

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This was a Big. Birthday. Weekend. A birthday I’d been thinking about for a long time. Yes, the big Five-Oh. Fifty! Me? Yes, indeed.

I’m big on celebrations for just about any reason. Especially as we age, we must be purposeful in maintaining joie de vivre — the enjoyment of life. My personal motto has become, Celebrate: just because.

Celebrate the interview, don’t wait to see if you get an offer. Celebrate the friendship, don’t wait for her birthday or promotion. Celebrate the journey, don’t wait for the next big transition. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring; celebrate today.

So that is what I did about turning Five-Oh: I celebrated.

Two Saturdays past, I spent with my girls at my favorite Adirondack destination, Lake Placid, NY. One of the girls is very pregnant, so this might well have been her last luxury for awhile. Both of the others are mommies who appreciate a few hours baby-free. We enjoyed lovely spa treatments and lunch, refreshing margaritas and laughter. The best part is that it was their idea.

The next day, I left for a week of work in Boston. The final day of my trip, I dropped by the Apple store on Boylston just before the airport. What a treat! I knew what I wanted to buy before I stepped through the doors. It was easy enough to justify, with a big birthday ahead. It was just so much more fun to buy in a beautiful Apple store store than online. The sales clerks were all too happy to help me celebrate. ;=)

On Wednesday past, I had dinner and drinks with some dear colleagues … who could not resist a round of the birthday song. I embraced their harmonious effort as a gift, an expression of love. It was wonderful to spend an evening among treasured friends.

On Friday night, the Hubs treated the family to dinner on the back patio at one of our favorite restaurants. Fresh lobster on any North Country menu is cause for celebration in and of itself! It was quiet on the patio, the river slipping easily over the dam behind us as daylight faded into a lovely summer evening. What a gift.

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On Saturday, I rose early to grocery shop and pack a picnic lunch. We set off with the grandboys, Ollie and Henry, and lady baby, Sadie, for the Central Agricultural Farm and Museum in  the heart of Ottawa. What a fantastic place and so much fun to return, after all these years, with grandchids.

The Hubs couldn’t take time off, what with Rosie due to arrive any moment and knowing he will cover for her daddy when she does. But the rest of us sure enjoyed the squeals and giggles of little boys surrounded by farm animals they’ve seen only in storybooks  — except for cows and kitties, of course. Goats, sheep, and alpaca; horses and cows; ducks, chickens and rabbits — oh my! It was a near-perfect day.

The only thing lacking was baby Rosie. Then we will surely celebrate again!

But truth be told, I’m not planning to close out this birthday celebration yet. I’m still trying to connect with a few friends spread afar. And I’m waiting for two of my sisters to arrive, mid-August. Then there’s another get-away day planned and a lot of catching up to do.

Finally, in October, the Hubs has planned a wonderful cruise. His big Five-Oh is still ahead. We’re celebrating in between our birthdays this year by visiting a few bucket list places: Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland. Bonus: Saint Pierre and Miquelon! Who knew France still owned territory in the “New World”? So exciting!

One thing I hope is clear: it’s neither about turning fifty nor is it about me. It’s about richness of relationships that make life worth living, maintained across decades and generations. It’s a privilege to turn 50 or 60, or 70 or 80. It’s a joy to live in proximity to family. It’s an honor to remain close to sisters from childhood and girlfriends from grade school, to reconnect with colleagues spanning a career and good friends gathered up like treasures over time. To each I say, let’s celebrate.

~ Rene Morley

20140608-223252.jpgThe babies’ blue Ts were a gift from my cousin, as we were celebrating this spring in Arizona. The boys’ Ts say: If you mess with me, you mess with my Grandma. You don’t want to mess with my Grandma! Sadie’s T says: She’s not my Grandma, she’s my Glamma!  ;=)

thanksgivingness

It’s dark yet, the house quiet, fireplace roaring against the chill. The Hubs left hours ago. I procrastinated a bit before stumbling to the kitchen to set the rolls to rise. Those frozen rolls take forever to rise! There’s no point trying to rush them in a warm oven; inevitably, it backfires. They turn out flat and ugly.

Next up, World’s Best Stuffin’, if I do say so myself (and I do). Then maple roasted butternut squash using a new recipe this year (whereby I also learned a handy trick for peeling the stubborn outer layer). That should keep me busy ’til almost noon.

I’m getting off easy again this holiday. Last year we began the hopeful practice of rotating Thanksgiving dinner locations when my daughter took it on. This year, our younger son’s in-laws are hosting. I’m happy to take my turn again, someday. But I am really delighted for a break, two years running.

Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Even if you like to cook; even when everyone brings something; even if they bring wonderful food and generous quantities, it is still a lot of work! I am thankful for the abundance of food we will share and those who prepare this feast today. I know not everyone can say the same.

There are lots of things to be thankful for, certainly. Beyond the essentials, a warm and safe habitat, clean water, nutritious food, and stable employment (which truly is, sadly, saying a lot), “real” people with whom I enjoy “real” relationships always top my list. I hope you know who you are and that I am thankful for you.

I am thankful for those family and friends who have consistently shown up in our lives. I’m thankful that neither time nor distance is a barrier to maintaining relationships that truly matter. There are no words to adequately express the richness of a journey so graciously blessed.

For the first time this Thanksgiving, I can also say that I’m thankful for two grandboys and another grandbabe on the way. Who knew grandchids would be such a blessing? They fill my heart with such joy. Rumor has it that today we learn if a grandgirl or grandboy! We welcome this wee one with hearts full to the brim of thanksgivingness.

Warmest thanks-giving blessings to you!

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation

~ René Morley

priceless perspective

If you happened to peer in my front porch window as Sunday was winding down, this would have been the scene: a sleepy Sweetums and a satisfied GiGi. It is a mere snapshot of the immense blessing I know with two grandboys.

It was a busy weekend; busier than most ‘though they always go too fast. I spent most of it in the kitchen, roasting ham and then chicken and all the fixins’. Family and friends in and out. Dishes and more dishes to do. Babyfoodapalooza! Pumpkin scones. Seems I hardly left the stove or sink for days. My back ached. I began to feel weary.

There was a welcome wagon mission for new arrivals to our small community. Plus pizza delivery to the moving crew. A stolen hour (or two) with a glass of red (or two) and heart-to-heart with a girlfriend, long overdue. And a wonderfully unexpected drop-in visit from a dear friend I once worked with at the University. Such joy to reconnect!

But the sweetest of the sweet moments were with our grandboys. Playing and tickling, snuggling and soothing, lullabies and rock-a-bye in a squeaky rocking chair in the front room. Whether swaddled tight or squirmy ’til sleep, these moments are most exquisite. Priceless.

When all the hullabaloo faded, I was no longer weary. I was only thankful for a cup past full-to-the-brim, spilling freely, running over.

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Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.

Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

~ René Morley


“Ollie and GiGi” photo by S.R.Smith c. 2013;
“Taps” lyrics written by Horace Lorenzo Trim.

i really knit!

20130817-023555.jpgRemember that knitting project I started last September? Well, I finally finished the sweater in July. It was knit by a village, for sure.

I called often on my friend, D, and organized Girl’s Night Out for Knitting with her and C. Whenever I forgot what D taught me, I looped YouTube video instruction until I caught it again. I joined an online knitting network for moral support. Finally, I ventured out alone for a knitting class at the yarn shop, which says a lot about my level of desperation. Eventually, a baby sweater began to take shape.

But I stalled out repeatedly. I’d get only so far with a guide at my side; on my own, I’d get stuck. For every row I knit, there were at least six unraveled. Probably ten. I dropped stitches. I twisted stitches. I split stitches. I knit when I should purl and purled when I should knit. It seemed I would never reach my goal. I should have knit that sweater many times over in the time it took to complete.

Then, in late July, I captured and held an expert knitter at my house for the weekend. Aunt Bea couldn’t escape my knitting neediness. I trailed along behind her, knitting bag in hand, thrusting my wrinkled and worn pattern in her face. She patiently taught me to decrease and bind off, encouraged my wild desire for a signature statement in stripes. I broke free of that doggone pattern like a horse let out of the barn!

I resisted the urge to unravel, determined to finish, conceding perfection. And do you know, just moments before Aunt Bea sprung loose for the airport, I sewed up two tiny sleeve seams. Sweater complete. What a relief!

20130817-023603.jpg A few days later, I tried my work of sweater art on wee Ollie. Oh, my. Have you ever seen a sage green sausage? This was not the intended effect. My D-i-L looked on as I tried to stuff him in it. Ten months in the knitting, it was, I fear, as expected: too little, too late. Classic, eh? What was there to do but start another?

So it was back to the yarn store, with fear and trepidation. I couldn’t afford another ten month knit-a-ganza. I cast on for the largest size this time. It had to fit!

A mere five days later, I had knit another. I know. I can hardly believe it, either! But it’s true. In all of the fits and starts and frustrations of the first project, I learned something. I learned a lot, actually.

My mom was right that it was a great pattern to learn on. But she was mistaken to suggest that it was an easy pattern to start with! Still, I was ecstatic to realize it did the trick. The challenge kept my interest; I learned to knit. I really knit! And what a relief to discover that Ollie’s second sweater fit. He will wear it through the fall, no problem at all.

I’ve already started on Henry’s sweater, blue with green stripes. I may be a one trick pony, this being the only pattern I know, but I am going to ride it as far as I can.

~ René Morley

fare thee well

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Early this morning, our friends departed for points south, then west. They are on a long road trip, criss-crossing the country. We felt fortunate to be scheduled into their itinerary. Three weeks have passed like a blur; they arrived the same day as Henry James . We are sorry to see them leave.

Those of our friends who don’t know them say, “Three weeks! That is a long time to have houseguests.” Those of their friends who don’t know us say, “Why are you staying with them?” Yet it makes perfect sense to each of us.

Our bonds were established years ago, in a community of faith. They have tightened in travel together, at home and abroad. From the Adirondacks to the Alps, the Rhine to the Rideau, the St. Lawrence to the Seine, the northeast to the midwest and back again, there have been no better companions for adventure.

Three weeks went much too quickly! Their visit was flavored with a taste of bittersweet, each of us knowing we may not meet again anytime soon. We’ve treasured the pleasure of their company in conversations richly woven like tapestry, many threads waiting to be picked up again.

Hospitality is a gift, to give and to receive. Those who have it should use it well. Those who find it should stop and rest a spell. Life is too short and so much better with friends.

Fare thee well, dear friends. Until we meet again.

~ René Morley

hopeful peace

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I haven’t been very consistent in chronicling my peace journey this year. But time after time, I’ve been reminded of my One Little Word. Peace.

I have a peace phrase for each month. In January it was blessed peace — the Barocha! In February, pathway of peace. In March, perfect peace. In April, gift of peace; God was there, midst the tragedy. And in May, seeds of peace — while I was wrestling for peace!

This month, it is hopeful peace. Well, yes.

A couple of weeks ago we learned that our pastors are moving on. Just when we were settling in! (Or hoped we were.) I have to admit that I was surprised by the timing. But I am not surprised by the decision. Down deep, I knew this would not be a long term appointment for them. I anticipated this day would come. We will miss them so much it hurts.

It’s hard to imagine this little country church moving forward without their leadership. They have given much for great impact in a short time. And there is much work yet to do. So much that I might easily become discouraged. I remain hopeful that their replacements will be implements of continued progress. The pathway ahead is uncertain.

Soon after that, I took a wild ride on a roller coaster of reorganization at work. When the wheels squeaked to a stop, still solid on the rails, I had more responsibilities and new projects to manage. Under other circumstances, I might have been rattled. I was only thankful.

Inexplicably, it might seem, in the face of these recent upheavals, I remain hopeful and at peace. Beneath the surface runs a strong current of faith. To me, these uncertainties are opportunities for God to reveal himself. My hope is not in myself or my abilities. It is not in my title or position or association. It is not in my pastors or dear friends. My hope is in God; in God I trust.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Speaking of hopeful … First thing this morning, a calendar reminder popped up: M’s due date! Yes, indeed, Henry James was due to arrive today. He doesn’t seem to be minding the calendar. But that is okay, we know he will come soon. Nothing suggests hopeful like anticipating the birth of a grandbabe.

20130620-081857.jpgGigi’s ready for you, Henry James! Yes, oh yes, your Mommy and Daddy, too — more than ready! And your cousin Ollie, our sunshine boy. Lots of aunts and uncles and second cousins (Sophia arrives today!) … most certainly your Pops and your other grandparents, too. Please come soon! Perhaps June 22 — what would have been your great-grandpa Dave’s 74th birthday? Or, well, whenever it suits you.

~ René Morley

st. maarten

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Sint Maarten is one of those places that comes immediately to mind when we think, Aaaah, Caribbean. It’s the Hubs’ immediate response to the question, “Which island would you like to go back to for a week, a month, a retirement?” In fact, we do go back often, with pleasure.

However, our first visit did not leave us longing for more of St. Martin. We quite missed the point. We were sucked into one of those tours that should be banned forever. I’m sure it was the Hubs’ idea.

The point, I thought, was a scenic tour of both the Dutch and French sides of the island. No. Turned out, the point was to take the island by duststorm. We rode for hours on 4-wheeled ATVs, slowly baking in the tropical heat.

Nearly the entire tour was bumping along on minimally maintained blacktop, when we weren’t dodging holes on a dirt trail; a long string of ATVs following closely, one after another. I could pity the residents, no doubt annoyed by the perpetual whine. Something like a giant, incessant mosquito?

We were at the mercy of understanding local motorists at each crossroad, most sans traffic lights or even stop signs. We felt pressed to move through uninterrupted, lest we sever the chain, irresponsibly losing the way for those following behind. Most of the time, they waited patiently for us to pass. (Tourists!)

At more than one intersection it occurred to me that this was dangerous. When the lead guide did not stop to intersect traffic, my heart pounded in my chest. What if a car came careening around that curve? I gunned it and sped across, knowing I would be furious to hear that any one of our children had been so foolish as to take this tour!

When we finally came to a stop at Orient Beach, my hand was numb from throttling. My white linen shirt was splattered with mud. My head ached under the hard, hot plastic helmet. My jaw, too — no doubt from clenching my teeth. It was not a joy ride, not by a long shot. The Hubs and I weren’t long finding a table under an umbrella and downing a couple of brews. I dreaded the return trip. And I had a bad, gritty taste in my mouth for St. Martin for quite some time.

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The next time we visited, we decided to explore on our own. It was a good decision; we’ve done the same ever since. The island has become familiar, which makes for a very relaxing day. St. Martin provides a lovely mix, and not just of Dutch and French.

We watertaxi into Phillipsburg, still quiet in the early morning, and cab to Marigot, on the French side. We enjoy pastries and café au lait. We shop art and spices. Dona Bryhiel‘s artwork adorns our home to remind us of this place. I restock on French Vanilla and purchase Caribbean spices for friends. We wander the straw market and explore for a bit, enjoying the harbor views. We are neither hurried nor worried because we know our way. Easy peasy.

Eventually, we return to Phillipsburg. First, a bit more shopping. This is not the frenzied “outlet” shopping atmosphere of other ports. (Although there was some suspicious construction underway at the pier last year. Sigh.) This is an opportunity to buy fine Dutch products. Linens for certain; baby gifts and housewares. Sometimes cheese; Gouda is especially nice. Jewelry is also big here. We visit a family run jewelry on Front Street to chat with Sam, perhaps arrange for repairs. He attends to our modest needs as if we are old friends or important customers. Always a delight.

Our best visits involve meaningful conversations, often with a colorful cabbie, like Tony, whose stories entertained us for the half-hour drive to the French side. Another cabbie told of relocating his family from Aruba. Well, huh. We’ve enjoyed Aruba; isn’t that a paradise island, too? Turns out there are degrees of paradise when you live in the tropics. We learn a lot from cabbies, wherever we wander.

Finally, we land at Taloulah Mangoes for local fare and refreshing brews. It’s easy enough to take a swim; the boardwalk rims a lovely crescent of silky white sand. The sun is intense by then. We enjoy the live band and people-watch, older folk arm in arm, younger folk strutting their stuff, beach hawkers selling lounge chairs and umbrellas, drinks, beach activities. We dream of that time we will have a week, a month, a season at our leisure. Someday, maybe? For now, we are content with a small slice, just a day.

Next trip, perhaps we’ll mix it up a bit, find another adventure. Maybe the high speed ferry to St. Bart’s? Maybe a little beach, off the beaten path? But if we have friends along, perhaps we’ll give the grand St. Martin tour, our way. Whaddya’ say?

~ René Morley

sister-friend

20130612-065323.jpg Some of us are blessed to have a sister. If we have also known her unconditional love and undying support, we know that she is among God’s greatest gifts. Coming from a family of four girls, I always give a cheer when a second girl arrives in any family. A sister might just be the best gift a little girl will ever get.

Of course, not everyone has a sister. And not all sisterly relationships are mutually beneficial, loving, and supportive. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult or painful relational failure. But we can be glad God provides sister-friends. When I stop to count my blessings, sister-friends are near the top of the list.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my “real” sisters! I am privileged in their companionship, especially as we’ve matured into middle age. We’ve had our ups and downs, for sure. But there is nobody else who “gets” some of what I am dealing with … or is so willing to help me figure out. They know my deepest fears, my wildest dreams and my highest hopes. I can count sisters among my closest friends.

What could be better than a sister? Only sister-friends!

An older woman recently challenged my perspective on this. “Really? Who are your friends like sisters?,” she asked, with just a hint of sneer. I can understand if this concept is difficult to embrace. I am sorry for those who have not had this experience. But truly, I didn’t have to think about it. I rattled off several names without hesitation.

It is not a long list — counted easily on two hands. One sister-friend was a fourth grade pal, another I have known barely a year, others have been close companions for much of my career, another was a friend long before mommyhood. There is an ebb and flow, over time and the seasons of life. But it is not about how long we’ve been acquainted or how often we see one another. It’s the soul-sister bond that we share. When it forms, in my experience, it forms quickly and is not easily broken.

Age, time, and distance are irrelevant. We need not necessarily agree — even about some important things, like religion. We will experience some disruptive discord. But we will forgive and we will forget and we will move on. Once we have tasted the grace of sisterhood, known the sweet joy of working through, the alternative is too much pain to bear.

Each of my sister-friends is a treasure trove of wisdom, a model of integrity, a multifaceted beauty, and a source of indomitable strength. I trust her with my life. She knows some of my deepest secrets. She has seen me fail miserably, repeatedly. Yet I do not fear her chastisement or reprisal. I anticipate her warm embrace, her encouragement, her enthusiastic, over-the-top, celebration of my next success, however small or distant it may be. She is my mentor, my teacher, my guide, my counselor; at times, I may be hers. No matter what kind of difficulty I might find myself in tomorrow, I know she will step up. I love her and she loves me, like a sister.

Maybe I prove the exception more than the rule in this richness of sisters? I hope not. I hope that any woman can count a handful of sister-friends. If not, why not? Maybe there is something to be done about that? I hope so. It is a choice to love and live in sister-friendship. It need not be difficult but does require effort and mutual commitment. It means opening doors, hearts, and minds; always a bit risky, eh?

In my experience, God often demonstrates his great love through sister-friends. May it be so for you, too. One thing I know: when we are willing, open, and accessible, God is able. I remain ever thankful that he always fills the gaps.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. … Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand …how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. … Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

~ René Morley

spaa-aaah

Oswegatchie River (August, 2008)Sometimes, we need to get away for a bit. That’s just what I did. Today’s excursion was extra special because both my daughter and daughter-in-law came along. Henry’s mama is in that bellied-out, about-to-burst state. She is feeling it: two weeks and counting! Ollie’s mama is four months into mommy-hood, immersed in all of the joy and challenges that brings. It was less than a month ago that her wee boy was in the hospital with RSV. A spa day would do them both good. Me, too. This GiGi loves a spa!

I remember the very first time I went to the spa, with K. I was nervous, feeling out of my element, so thankful for someone to show me the ropes. Who better than a well traveled, highly cultured, trusted colleague and friend?

It was a cold and blustery March day. “Spring break” doesn’t feel much like spring or break unless you vacate the North Country for much warmer climes. But the next best thing — trust me in this — is a posh Adk resort. We stayed over to make the most of our illusion of getting away. In truth, we’d hardly relocated. Yet it was enough.

Entering the spa an hour or so in advance of our appointments, we received keys to storage in the women’s locker room. Darkly paneled wood cabinetry, plush fabrics and privacy curtains, richly tiled showers in earthy tones, an upscale product line of personal supplies and associated gadgets accounted for every need. I hadn’t done a thing but step through the door and already, I was beginning to relax.

Well, this is the life! How had I managed to miss it?

K. had advised me, somewhat, what to expect. My sense of wonder at my surroundings was briefly interrupted by a naked, gray-haired, wrinkled raisin of a woman leaving the whirlpool. I ducked into the steam room to avert the awkward moment. An infusion of steam replaced the cool air I brought in with me. Balsam? Eucalyptus? I am not sure but it was delightful. I placed a towel on the bench and stretched out, another towel rolled behind my neck. Heavenly. Deep breaths, in, out.

I might have stayed there all day, if not for my appointment. But I couldn’t leave without trying the whirlpool. I was safely swimsuit clad this first visit but thankfully, I had the bubbling bath to myself. A fire blazed on the ledge above, offering a peek through to the sanctuary. Another aaaahh. More deep breaths. For a few moments, there was not a worry in the world. Yet somehow, what seemed a luxurious amount of pre-appointment time had evaporated like so much balsam-scented steam. I took a quick shower, found a fresh robe, and made my way to the sanctuary to meet my therapist.

I’ve been to a few spas since then, coast to coast, across the border, in the mountains, the desert, on the high seas. I’ve enjoyed them all! Hot stones and fancy schmancy wraps or rubs have their place, for sure. Most spas develop signature offerings with a regional flair. But my favorite treatment is an age-defying facial with neck and shoulder, hand, feet, and scalp massage worked in. It is a luxury I readily admit I do not deserve.

As I discovered on my very first visit, the spa can be a bonding experience in the company of another. Even so, I have taken to heart K’s admonition that silence is a gift at the spa. I appreciate the quiet time myself and try not to intrude on others’ solitude. A well-trained therapist understands the gift of silence, too.

My favorite spa is still the first I visited, located in the sweetest Adirondack town. I don’t go all that often so it’s always a treat. Afterward, we enjoy a late lunch, a glass of wine, a leisurely stroll, some window shopping, perhaps a few purchases, before we begin our trek home through the mountains. Yesterday the misty rain seemed to induce a lingering state of bliss. What a lovely way to spend a day.

20130610-070625.jpgNot everyone is interested in a spa experience. Nor do we all have the flexibility in our budgets. (I remember that long season in our family life, too.) Still, we all need to take time and create space to breathe, deeply. We need time to unplug, to disconnect from the pressure and distraction of too much information at our fingertips. A quiet paddle on the river, walk in the woods, or wander in the garden will do just as nicely. ‘Tis the season for clean scents and deep breaths, eh?

In the Garden

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Words and music by C. Austin Miles, 1913

~ René Morley

lessons from tulips

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20130521-064713.jpgMay is a magical month in the North Country, as early spring’s drab coat of thin, gray tweed is finally shed. April’s showers have worked their charms; a plush cape of green cloaks the landscape. Windows opened wide, we breathe deeply of lilacs and cherry blossoms, reveling in heavenly scented breezes. Eventually, flowering trees and shrubbery must give way to tulips.

20130520-080617.jpgTulips are spring’s pride and joy, bursting forth in an amazing array. They may sprout short or tall with blossoms slender or fat, elegantly poised or ruffled and disheveled. They bloom in variegated hues, with stripes, flames, or fringe. They come in whites, reds, pinks, corals, yellows, purples; in so many shades of beautiful! Fully opened, some resemble peonies, roses, or lilies. They lend outrageous diversity in their brief display; gloriously intense, like the last few minutes of Fourth of July fireworks. Maybe that is why I love them so.

20130521-134244.jpgThis weekend I enjoyed a brief girl’s get-away to Ottawa for the Tulip Festival. It is a longstanding tradition, celebrating Canada’s friendship with the Netherlands. Hundreds of thousands of tulips, artfully planted, blossom and bloom over nearly three weeks of event programming. The tulip meter indicated tulips were at peak. Spring’s tardiness would serve us well, it seemed. In the end, perhaps they were just a tad past prime.

20130520-080215.jpgWe were hardly in the city 24 hours but we made the most of it. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Mama Grazzi’s Kitchen (delectable pasta), breakfast at Moulin de Provence (divine pastries), lunch at GuadaLaHarry’s (yummy sangria) and even the Ikea café. In between, we strolled Parliament Hill, shopped the Byward Market, crammed ourselves into the free shuttle to tulips en masse. We covered miles in bright sunshine with uninterrupted gab time, stopping frequently to capture a shot. It was a perfect break from the stresses of life. I came home exhausted and slept soundly for the first time in weeks.

20130520-075501.jpg On Sunday morning, my photos of tulips, tulips, and more tulips spoke to me in very simple terms. They reminded me that perfect is not required for exquisite beauty. That raggedy edges have a place, in the grand scheme. That a full-bodied form is just as lovely. That differences are to be celebrated; contrasts bring out the best in us. That to stand out from the crowd is admirable. That one of the privileges of aging is the opportunity to cross-pollinate and encourage the next generation. (Hmmm. Where have I heard that last one before?)

Spring sunshine warms and opens a tulip blossom just like God’s love warms and opens our hearts. Then we can receive his great grace. If only we were so transparent as these blooms, so welcoming of his tender mercy, soaking up his love. If only we were so trusting, no cares or concerns, awaiting his provision. But isn’t this the ultimate lesson of the tulip?

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Luke 12:27

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~ René Morley

weary ones

Tuesday I experienced a couple of a-ha! moments — Bing! Bam! — sudden insights where I’m left shaking my head and thinking, “How did I miss that?” More often than not, I wasn’t looking for it, caught up in other things, too busy or distracted to notice.

I am thankful God uses scripture to pierce my heart. It may be something I’ve read a dozen times when suddenly it leaps off the page to capture my attention. The word of God is always fresh and timely. This week it was a passage in Isaiah.

The Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. (Isaiah 50:4)

I’ve long known this is my role, generally. Suddenly I realized the weary were among my immediate family. I want nothing more than to encourage Ollie’s parents in their faith through this difficult season. I want to give them wise counsel, not just nervous-Nelliness. I am acutely aware that it is also important to put “hands and feet” to my efforts, taking turns in caring for Oliver and giving them a break, making a meal or two, and whatever else I can do. His recovery is slow, physically and emotionally exhausting.

As this GiGi is still battling with her own worries and fears, it is a challenge not to burden them with my concerns. Wrestling for peace is a process. I know whom I have believed … but I still have to get past myself to be of any help to them.

How well God knows my heart! This first a-ha! was perfectly paired with a second in Psalm 71. This second was a reminder on two fronts: who God is and how I am to respond.

Many years ago I wrote a song based on Psalm 71. I was in an unfamiliar city, traveling on business, feeling lonely, perhaps vulnerable, when this psalm first spoke to me. I loved the imagery the psalmist used. He spoke of God as a rock, fortress, refuge, place of safety. He affirmed God as rescuer and source of confidence. He reminded God of his faithfulness from his own youth into old age. He pleaded with God to listen and to save him from harm. Finally, the psalmist promised to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness to this generation and the next.

From his description, my mind traveled to medieval times, where the countryside was often dangerous, rife with marauding bandits or vagabonds of ill intent. I could imagine the satisfaction of harboring inside thick city walls of stone, inside the fortress, secure under the King’s guard as darkness fell. Can’t you just see the people scurrying inside before the gates closed at night? Living in the shadow of the King’s castle must have seemed like the safest place in the world.

It’s no coincidence that the song I wrote last week, Ollie’s Lullaby, also speaks to God’s loving care and protection. These past ten days, I’ve soaked in reminders of his character like a sponge, reading over again Psalms 71 and 91, meditating on his strength and protection. I’ve needed to be reassured — for sweet Oliver. But just as importantly, and here is the second a-ha!, I’ve needed to be reminded of my response, my responsibility, to this generation. And the next.

I hadn’t thought about that song I wrote in many years. Apparently I hadn’t forgotten it, either. It came back to me, line by line, early Tuesday morning. Out of curiosity, I retrieved my thick leather-bound Ryrie NAS, version of choice at that time, from the shelf. Sure enough, tucked between onionskin thin pages were hen-scratched chorus and verses on faded Marriott hotel stationery. I hope these lines encourage you!

Rock of Habitation (Psalm 71)*

In you, oh lord, I have taken refuge
I will never be ashamed
In your righteousness, you deliver and rescue
From my youth ’til I’m gray
You will not forsake me
You listen to me now and you save me
You hear me now and you save!

For you are my rock of habitation
To you I continually come
You have given a commandment to save me
You are my rock
You are my fortress
My mouth is filled with your praise!

Your righteousness reaches to the heavens
For you have done great things
I declare your strength to this generation
From my youth ’til I’m gray
You will not forsake me
You listen to me now and you save me
You hear me now and you save!

For you are my rock of habitation
To you I continually come
You have given a commandment to save me
You are my hope
You are my confidence
My mouth is filled with your praise!

~ René Morley

*Email me for the melody.