7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

Whoopi Goldberg is no nun, but she played one in Sister Act, where she befriended three other nuns all named Mary and made the convent’s choir into a rollicking, soulful act.

Wikipedia Image
Wikipedia Image


Dr. David Snowdon obviously is no nun either. He’s not even a monk. But he is an epidemiologist, who spearheaded a study to decode Alzheimer’s disease as he researched the lives of 678 nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame. All had willed their brains to research on death.

Aging with Grace could have been a deadly dull read, but I kept turning the pages because the author was able to intertwine the excitement of scientific research with personal stories. These nuns shared valuable life lessons about “Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives,” part of the book’s sub-title.

Here are the seven I gleaned from Snowdon’s book:

  1. Keep your sense of humor

 Just before she turned 90, Sister Genevieve Kunkel marveled at her wellbeing. She said, “I have two good traits . . . I am alert and I am vertical.” 183


  1. Mingle with the young

When pressed about her other secrets for staying young, Sister Genevieve admitted, “Maybe it’s because I’ve always been with the young.” An educator, she had taught young people from grade school through college and was currently reading a Harry Potter book. She also read nearly every issue of the Sunday New York Times.


  1. Enjoy eating as a social occasion.

Share mealtime with others when possible. “The air in the convent dining room buzzes with laughter and . . . chatting.” 168


  1. Help others

Healthy nuns served themselves during mealtime. Then they took turns helping sisters in the assisted-living wing by pouring drinks, cutting their meat and helping them take their medications.


  1. Stay “With It”

Sister Clarissa, age 90, drove around the convent in her motorized cart dubbed “Chevy” and knew “as much about baseball as any die-hard fan a third of her age.” (She sounds a lot like my Aunt Cecilia!)

Sister Dorothy Zimmerman drew others into Scrabble games, often closely contested.


  1. Keep Moving

 Sister Esther Boor, who lived until age 106, sat on her “exercise” chair and regularly pumped the pedals on a stationary “bike.”


  1. Wake up every day with purpose

Sister Matthia knitted a pair of mittens every day for the poor. Every evening she recited the names of all 4378 former students until her death less than a month before her 105th birthday.



  1. Pray and Meditate

Dr. Snowdon admits “while we cannot directly measure intangibles such as faith and social support, the Nun Study would be incomplete without acknowledging their powerful influence.”

Want to know more about these marvelous women? You can read my review here.

Here’s a link to the book!


Here is your invitation to add to my list of seven. You can also comment on the tips you find here.

Thank you!


Louisa Adams’ Moving Adventure

Remember the Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts strike oil in the Ozarks and move to Beverly Hills in a rags-to-riches sitcom of the 1960s.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images
Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images


Of an entirely different era and social class, diarist Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of the 6th American President, John Quincy Adams, writes about multiple moves – both in European nations where John Quincy was diplomat and in the United States serving variously as senator, secretary of state, president, and finally congressman again.


Woman on the Move

After the birth of her third child, “as soon as she could rise from her bed, she lifted the lids of her empty trunks and opened her packing cases to prepare to leave for Washington. She was ‘a wanderer’ again.” (140)

In her boldest move, Louisa traversed the passage from St. Petersburg to Paris while Napoleon rampaged through Europe. She traveled 2000 miles in 40 days, a journey almost unheard of for a woman alone.

Louisa and Son Charles’ Wild Ride

In 1815, while John Quincy was gone to Paris, Louisa in St. Petersburg had to “sell the furniture, dispose of the house, and buy a carriage that could carry her across the continent” to Paris. She needed supplies: food, drink, clothing, maps, tools and enough medicines for a small apothecary. She had read the map herself, not having heard from her husband, and unflinchingly set her course.

Her largest expense was the carriage, “a berline, a large vehicle with four seats and glass windows, all balanced on an elaborate suspension of springs intended to smooth the rough ride.” Leaving St. Petersburg, the carriage was outfitted with sleigh runners. Wheels were packed when she met melting roads traveling west and south. (206)

She sewed gold and silver into her skirts to hide her wealth from robbers and from her male servants. (206)

Touch of Humor:

During the sojourn, though her two male servants were armed, she put on her son’s military cap and held his toy sword so that what she hoped was a menacing silhouette would show through the carriage window. (221)

True to her declaration when she married Adams, “When my husband married me, he made a great mistake if he thought I only intended to play an echo.” (8)

Her Most Moving Adventure

Louisa, often sickly and afflicted with self-doubt, recorded her grief in “Diaries of a Nobody.” After all, she was often geographically separated from her husband during his ascendance to power, she suffered multiple miscarriages, all of her children except Charles preceded her in death, and she struggled with erysipelas, a skin inflammation.

But her vividly told “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France” enabled her to tunnel “her way out of depression with the sharp spade of her sardonic humor . . . .“ (396)

She wrote about Baptiste, innkeepers, haggard soldiers she has passed on the road, frightened faces of the women she met, cries of Vive Napoleón! She remembers the practical difficulties she had overcome: the moment the carriage wheel had come loose, the problem of procuring servants, the dangerous decision to ford a half-frozen river. She wrote about her growing confidence, which rippled out of her descriptions and into her voice. (411)

“Her story was her own. No other woman in America had experienced anything like it. But she made its lessons universal. It was a story about women and what women could achieve . . . . She wrote: ‘Under all circumstances, we must never desert ourselves.’” (411)

Move for Equality

At 62, in an era when a woman’s life span was about 40, she was blossoming. Like the Grimké sisters of Charleston, with whom she corresponded, she championed women’s rights and the freeing of slaves.

The Lesson of a Cracked Washbasin 

Cracked Washbasin, Google Images
Cracked Washbasin, Google Images

John Quincy and Louisa Adams observed their 50th wedding anniversary, a milestone almost unheard of in the mid-1800s. Before she died, Louisa presented her daughter-in-law Abby Adams with a cracked washbasin, symbolic of the naked faces bent toward it sometimes joyful and other times full of inconsolable pain, mirroring life itself. (444)

Want More Louisa?

Writer and editor Louisa Thomas has written a stunning account of a memorable woman entitled Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, 2016.


Thomas’ biography sings with color as she describes an incandescent sun on their approach to St. Petersburg, which edged “the statues with fire and [made] creamy walls blush.” (90)

You can read my full review here.

Your turn: Can you recall any other historical characters with moving stories?

One of your own to tell here? Go right ahead.

Coming next: Mother’s Sky View: The Beautiful City

A Rollicking Review: Marie Kondo’s Tidy Book and a Messy View

In last week’s post Paring Down and Tidying Up, I referred to Marie Kondo’s New York Times best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up. Her book has sold over 5 million copies and is being translated into 40 languages.  I promised you a review and here it is.


The Review: The life-changing magic of tidying up, Marie Kondo

“Organize your home once, and you’ll never have to do it again.” Tidying consultant Marie Kondo, who has a three-month waiting list, insists you will never again have to sift through snowdrifts of papers or endure clothes that pile up like a tangled mess of noodles. Just follow her revolutionary category-by-category system.

Kondo’s solution is simple but not necessarily easy, especially for pack rats. Effective tidying, she admits, involves only two essential actions: Discarding things and deciding where to store what you keep. Kondo instructs her clients to pick up items one by one and ask, “ Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” (60)

Simply put, tackle major categories like clothing, books, and papers. Sort by category, not rooms: Sort all clothing at the same time, then move on to books, and so on.

Her chapter headings are iconoclastic: “Clothing: Place Every Item Of Clothing in the House on the Floor.” Do the same with books. Interestingly, her chapter titles yell in capital letters while her book title sits calmly on the cover, lower-case, in a cloud of blue.

Kondo’s wit and humor permeates her 254-page instruction book. She admits to coming home and falling asleep on the floor without even changing her clothes (195) writing this book. In the Afterword, she confesses that she once had to call an ambulance because the day before she had tidied too much and found her neck and shoulders frozen stiff from “looking into the cupboard above the closet and moving heavy furniture” (255).

Why do clients of the eponymous KonMari Method not relapse? The secret lies in a chapter entitled “Reduce Until You Reach the Point Where Something Clicks.” Apparently, satisfied clients have reached their clicking point! Some have even lost weight and experienced a clearer complexion as “detoxing” their houses has had a refreshing effect upon their bodies. (241)

One of her most valuable bits of advice was the functionality of sturdy shoeboxes to store lingerie and socks. Then, she suggests, use the tops like a tray to keep cooking oils, spices, and odd utensils in their rightful place. I may use such advice moving into our new space.

Marie Kondo’s tidying impulse began at age 5 while reading home and lifestyle magazines. She volunteered to be the classroom organizer in grade school. Now in her New York Times best seller, Kondo enthusiastically promotes the Japanese art of de-cluttering and organizing, a magical system that has become her life’s calling.

Not everyone buys into this magic. Sanford in the TV series, Sanford and Son didn’t, and neither did my father as I show in a blog post entitled Neat Versus Messy. It features a poem “Delight in Disorder.”

Dad's Office

My father died many years ago in 1985. During this Father’s Day week, I pause to give thanks. Though my dad did not give me a love for order (Mother did that), he gave me other sterling values: love of music, intellectual curiosity, and appreciation for the natural world. For those I give thanks.

Daddy in his later years, taking a breather
Daddy, often winning trips and other prizes for top sales, takes a breather. Sign courtesy of Cliff Beaman, 1976


* * *

One day soon, we will take what we have curated from our possessions and move it to our next home. It will be very messy for a while.


What is your take on the KonMari Method? What tried and true tips can you add?



As we make the transition – painting, packing, and re-assembling in another space, future blog posts may be sparse and my comments on your blogs may be spotty too.

I love our weekly connections here and will miss them temporarily. Soon I’ll be back. Enjoy each summer day!

A Lunchables and An Invisible Thread

I bought this portable meal, a Lunchables, to give to a homeless person. So why is it still sitting in my refrigerator?


Last week I planned to give this lunch to the next person I saw holding a “Hungry & Homeless – Will you Help?” sign as I waited in my car for the traffic light to change on a busy boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that attracts the destitute for several reasons including its mild climate.

Sure enough, I was first in line at the red light leaving the grocery store, and I spotted a downtrodden young woman looked eager for my help. I popped the trunk and jumped out of the car, intending to offer her the lunch, but she declined, “No, ma’m. That won’t help at all. I need $ 99.00 to blah – blah – blah.” No, I didn’t give her $ 99.00 because I never give cash to the homeless. Instead, I give to the needy through our church or through homeless shelters in town.

Yet, this brief encounter left me conflicted, with two opposing strong sentiments: a Yes and a No

Yes, I did feel cynical as the light turned green, knowing the woman was probably scamming people. No, I will never stop feeling sorry for the “homeless” regardless of their intentions whether it’s a real physical need to survive, untreated mental illness or something else.

Giving money to the homeless is an economic crisis of the heart, a tug-of-war between the instinct to alleviate suffering and the knowledge that a donation might encourage, rather than relieve, the anguish of the poor.        The Atlantic

On my nightstand sat a copy of The Invisible Thread: The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny. It was time to read it!


An Invisible Thread, a Review

“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.” Those were the first words out of the mouth of Maurice, as Laura Schroff, a publishing executive at Time Inc, rounded the corner from Broadway to 45th Street in New York City. She passed him by, but something special in his eyes halted her and she turned on her heel and, nearly killing herself in traffic, went back. Thus their paths converged and the story of a thirty-year relationship began.

No, Miss Laura did not give Maurice spare change but on the spot she took him to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, large fries, and milkshake. Then over the years they met every Monday night often at her luxury apartment where Maurice learned about ritual and rules for living: sitting down to eat a meal, showing up on time for school. Laura’s cozy nest provided a safe haven, an escape from his one-room hotel room, a den of violence where 10-12 assorted needy “friends” and family flopped to sleep off a drug binge or cook crack to deal on the streets.

Not until Chapter 8 does the reader learn about the tug on the other end of the invisible thread – the unspeakable violence in Laura’s middle-class childhood home where a father in drunken rages would fling full liquor bottles against the wall and destroy his son’s sports trophies.

She admits, “I couldn’t help but think that the terror and uncertainty we faced as children because of my father was similar to the chaos that Maurice now had to endure.” (107)

Laura’s memoir, reminiscent of The Blind Side, interweaves three dynamic narratives: The first, the story of Laura and Maurice’s growing relationship. Secondly, Laura’s back story as both victim and then survivor of her dysfunctional home. And finally, Maurice’s maturation into an adult with a family of his own, reflecting what Joseph Campbell calls “the hero’s journey” often fraught with obstacles and setbacks.

Maurice & Laura, Google Image
Maurice & Laura, Google Image

I began reading the book because I was intrigued by the disparity between an accomplished woman in Manhattan and a needy young boy from Brooklyn. I was compelled to read on because I wanted answers: Why would a young woman who helped make USA Today and InStyle successful publications risk all to build trust with a young man who had nothing to offer in return? How did an ill-kempt beggar boy, who has since developed a career in construction and is raising his own family, enrich that woman’s own life?

In the end, Author Schroff realizes that both she and Maurice had traveled together on a voyage of self-discovery. Her message: “This is a book about how, if we learn to let go of fears and burdens and expectations, we can find ourselves plunged into the sweet, unplanned blessings of life” (book blurb).

After thoughts

Should you give money to homeless people? According to the article in The Atlantic: “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if [you do it through] an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”

But maybe . . . if you are someone with the incredible courage of Laura Schroff, there is still another answer.

Click here for a short video, a Lunch Date with Destiny

Your thoughts, always welcome!

Going Male: Amish Romance Novels


Cool Amish guys have replaced the dreamy looking girl with a huge covering and plain dress popular on the cover of some Amish romance novels. The images have done a flip. Now the young Amish-man with suspenders and broadfall pants and straw hat takes center stage.

Last week I finished reading my second Amish romance novel ever. These novels, usually with a female main character on the cover, are still wildly popular and stock shelves at Barnes & Noble and Amazon warehouses to the hilt.

Cover image via Amazon
Cover image via Amazon

Truthfully, I have resisted reading these novels for two reasons:

  • The plots seem formulaic to me: there’s a lover’s triangle, often with an “Englischer” from the tempting world beyond the farm.
  • Also, I have lived an authentic Mennonite life, and some plot-lines and details about the characters seem barely plausible.

Still, I took the time to read The Amish Blacksmith, starring a handsome dude named Jake on the cover with a plain Amish girl, grooming a horse in the misty background. I was curious about two things: the new trend in Amish romance fiction with a male protagonist plus the high profile of the authors within this sub-genre: Mindy Starns Clark, who has published more than 20 books including the Christy Award-winning The Amish Midwife and co-author Susan Meissner, whose novel The Shape of Mercy was named as one of the 100 best novels of 2008 by Publisher’s Weekly.

With five novels in the Women of Lancaster County Series (Mindy Clark and Leslie Gould). Clark and Meissner have begun the Men of Lancaster County Series: The Amish Groom, The Amish Blacksmith and mostly recently, The Amish Clockmaker.

Here’s a thumb-nail of The Amish Blacksmith from Goodreads:

Apprenticed blacksmith Jake Miller is skeptical of Priscilla Kinsinger’s innate ability to soothe troubled horses, especially when he has own ideas on how to calm them. Six years earlier, Priscilla’s mother died in an awful accident at home, and Priscilla’s grief over losing her mother was so intense that she was sent to live with relatives in Ohio. She has just returned to Lancaster County.

Not that her homecoming matters to Jake, who is interested in courting lighthearted Amanda Shetler. But Jake’s boss is Priscilla’s uncle, and when the man asks Jake to help his niece reconnect with community life, he has no choice but to do just that. Surprisingly, he finds himself slowly drawn to the beautiful but emotionally wounded Priscilla.

Jake then determines to prove to her that it’s not her fault her mother died, but what he discovers will challenge everything they both believe about the depth of love and the breadth of forgiveness.

Though the pace of the book slowed toward the end, I found the book a satisfying read. It is certainly more pleasurable to gain equestrian knowledge via a novel than from an equine textbook. In fact, the authors give credit to the Riehl and Fisher families of Lancaster County for helpful on-the-farm visits and to Elam and Elias Stoltzfus, for sharing their knowledge in their own Amish blacksmith shop. I applaud the authors too for their extensive research on horsemanship, particularly horse-whispering. I felt myself being both educated and entertained as I read.

Interestingly, male readers admit to enjoying Amish romance novels too. Valerie Weaver-Zercher reports in her book Thrill of the Chaste that an elderly farmer, Glenn Swartzendruber read almost ninety Amish-themed novels during the last three years of his life. And “a physician with degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania shared that he enjoyed listening to the audio version of Beverly Lewis’s [Amish} novels.” (249)

Do you enjoy Amish romance novels? Tell us why or why not. Do you know any men who read them?

Coming next – 4 Months, 4 Gifts: A Tribute to My Dad

Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

“Heidi, would you mind stopping by 329 East Bay Street before we leave town?”

We were on our way out of Charleston during our recent road trip, and my niece Heidi graciously agreed to stop her SUV long enough for me to catch a snapshot of the Grimké House basking in the bright morning sun. Its open arms-double staircase once welcomed visitors with a hospitable hug. (Until recently it housed attorneys’ offices, so you can draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!)

Grimke House_Charleston_mod

This house was made famous by Sue Monk Kidd’s book of historical fiction The Invention of Wings. Here is an excerpt from my review:

“ . . . the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimké and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimké. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own ‘bucking the constraints of cultural attitudes toward women and slavery, which Sarah and her sister openly challenged.'”

All the purple passages quotes today are pulled from the pages of The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction about the Grimké family:


The Weather

“I slipped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor.” (50)

(We experienced a Charleston, SC storm downtown as we entered this city May 7, 2015)



Mother Mary had ordered “the mosquito netting out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the blood-sucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house.” (56)

(Disparity between the races no longer noticeable in Charleston today, at least to tourists. )

Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street
Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street



“My breath clutched at my ribs like grabbing hands. I closed my eyes, tired of the sorry world.” (280)


Missing Someone

Sarah’s unrequited love: “Nina was speaking now, her face turned up to Theodore’s, and I thought suddenly, involuntarily of Israel and a tiny grief came over me. Every time it happened, it was like coming upon an empty room I didn’t know was there, and stepping in, I would be pierced by it, by the ghost of the one who once filled it up. I didn’t stumble into this place much anymore, but when I did, it hollowed out little pieces of my chest.” (281)


Yearning for a better world

[Lucretia] “leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.’” (275)


The Pineapple: the universal symbol of hospitality seen everywhere in Charleston's interiors and exteriors
The Pineapple: the international symbol of hospitality seen frequently in Charleston’s interiors and exteriors. Daughter Crista purchased a pair of these.

 We must try, that’s all!

Share your words: your thought, a quote or story adds to the conversation. It’s always nice to meet you here!

Coming next: Jenna’s Rainbow Cake: A Pot of Gold?

Moments of Discovery # 6: Whip up Recipes, Stir in Imagination

Clearing out a house after death is a sacred act, yet no amount of holiness assigned to this task can dismiss the back-breaking, shoulder-aching, neck-craning job of sorting, recycling, and passing on to others the possessions of a loved one. Aside from clothing and furniture, Mother left behind the tools of her trade in the kitchen along with beloved books of our childhood, some of which are displayed here.

Prepare Food & Serve It

What remains: A scale on which all of our baby weights were noted and recorded (or ingredients for recipes measured), cooking utensils, ice cream dipper, and juicer, most of which have been passed on to grand-children.

Scale Mom

My best guess is that these were wedding gifts or first (and only) time purchases. I don’t remember another scale, a different set of utensils, a second ice cream dipper or juicer ever passing over the threshold of our home. The throw-away mentality of our current consumer society never made sense to Mother. “You buy good, and keep it – for a lifetime” was her philosophy! Yes, prepare food and serve it, and with love! Her fancy china set, sterling silver flatware, and crystal glasses and goblets all have found homes with her grand-children.

Kitchen Utensils Mom

Daughter-in-law Sarah pleased with Grandma's ice cream scooper
Daughter-in-law Sarah pleased with Grandma’s ice cream scooper

Juicer Mom

Don’t Forget to Stir in Imagination

Page from Arnold and Ann Lobel's book
Illustration from On Market Street by Anita and Arnold Lobel

In previous Moments of Discovery, you may have seen other books from Mother’s bookcase or from the attic.

The book below, a reader, is certainly a keeper, recording media and methods that are becoming obsolete.

Pages from my text book
The Child-Story Reader, copyrights ranging from 1927-1936

And one of my favorites is My Bible Book with verses selected by Janie Walker and pictures by Dean Bryant (Rand McNally and Company, 1946). These words and pictures have been imprinted on my childhood memory as I joined the red-haired boy and blonde-headed girl roaming around gardens and romping through meadows with their pets. It was a perfect world!

My Bible Book_front cover

Aunt Ruthie gave me this book with penciled instructions to read it to my sister Janice, show her the pictures and tell her all about them.

My Bible Book_pre Title page w note_light text_7x8_300

 Ever the teacher, she closes with her sweet lead-in question: “Can you tell what each picture means?” This is probably a Christmas gift or birthday present given to me in 1948.

Puppy dogs, a frog, a snowman, a kite, some birds, squirrels, a herd of cows, and a even a special kitty cat amuse the children as the pages turn with words of wisdom all quoted from scripture.

My Bible Book_Be ye kind_p25-26_8x5_300

Do you have old books in your treasury of keepsakes? Some special utensils for cooking or serving passed down to you from a generation or two ago? We’re all ears!

Coming next: Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

Grandmother Kayaks from Maine to Guatemala for the Children at the Dump

Grandmother Kayaks from Maine to Guatemala for the Children at the Dump

These were the words in my invitation to a reception promoting Project Safe Passage honoring Dr. Deb Walters’ efforts to raise funds via her Kayak trips.


A stellar professional career behind her, this woman is paddling with passion in her mission to rescue children and families who live in the garbage dump of Guatemala City in Guatemala, providing them with literacy programs and medical help.


Who is Deb Walters?

Dr. Deb has always been adventuresome, having made solo trips to the Arctic, kayaking around the Northwest Passage, and leading kayaking expeditions, which she began in 1981. Several years ago, she was among a group of Rotarians who went to Guatemala City, saw the need and decided to do something positive about it. She reports, laughingly of course, that when she embarked on her first journey one person came up to her and asked this question:


The Need & How The Safe Passage School Helps

Over 9 million people live in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and 10,000 of those people scavenge for food in the city garbage heap and for any items they can find to sell to survive. Safe Passage was organized in 1999 to rescue these people from their dire situation through literacy and medical help. Kayaking is Deb’s way of fund-raising for this organization. She has reached 92% of her goal to raise $ 150,000.00 to fund expanding the school to include grades 3 and 4.

  • Safe Passage Educational Center houses classrooms, a cafeteria, library and a medical clinic, serving nearly 2000 family in 2014.
  • Provides literacy: English speakers are 3 times more likely to get a job. Incomes of Safe Passage graduates are 5 times higher than that of the average resident of Guatemala City.
  • Provides teacher training for local public schools.

Deb’s Day in her Kayak, a Chesapeake 18 model

She says every day “feels like I’m jumping off a cliff!” Typically she paddles 2-8 hours daily, monitored by her husband Chris back home via a tracking device that reports her whereabouts every 10 minutes. He helped her assemble tents, suits, cooking ware, and other travel equipment.

The children of Safe Passage have donated yellow, rubber ducks “El Patito Amistoso” for her kayak, so she has companionship while she travels.


Dr. Deb and Guatemalan boy: Safepassage.org/kayak video
Dr. Deb and Guatemalan boy: Safepassage.org/kayak video


  • Drug cartels control some sections of the waterway. “If they see you, they shoot you.”
  • Deb has encountered sharks, alligators, and whales. When she encounters a marine animal, she “looks them in the eyes while she sings.” Once however, at night she and her kayak were flipped over by a manatee on the Inter-coastal Waterway in Florida.
  • Once she kayaked out of the U. S. security zone, and the Coast Guard came after her with guns a-blazing. She could have been fined $ 500.00 and served 3 years in prison. The officers relented, however, when they discovered her cause and escorted her to safety.


After completing 1057 miles from Maine to South Carolina, her most recent trip was temporarily stalled by intense shoulder pain alternating with numbness, and Deb had to stop four times in the early part of the trip for medical attention. Doctors discovered a herniated disk in her neck which was surgically repaired with a titanium piece which in an X-ray looks to her like the image of a “thumbs up”! She says, jokingly, “I’ve been screwed!”

She is hoping to resume this latest trip in October and complete the remaining miles to Guatemala City.

Success Stories

  • One 73-year-old woman in the garbage dump enrolled in Safe Passage so she could help her grandchildren do homework. She herself learned to read and now she is writing her Memoir!
  • Another woman named Miranda rescued from the dump exclaimed after her success: “If you believe you can do it, you can do it!”

Final Words from Deb:

“Like many people who embrace an adventure, I learned more from the people I met than they learned from me.”

After her presentation, Deb admitted: “Even though I’ve seen this video many times, I never see it without tears in my eyes.”


Her blog: KayakForSafePassageKids.blogspot.com

The organization: SafePassage.org

Maybe your story is not as dramatic as Deb’s, but it has involved getting out of your comfort zone. We’d like to hear about it – or your response to Deb’s adventure.

Acquainted with Grief: Author Elaine Mansfield Speaks

January 28, 2014 – It is six months to the day since Mother passed away. I feel melancholy now. Maybe the cold weather has something to do with it, but more and more I miss the warmth of our Saturday morning long-distance phone calls and sitting around her dining room table, the tingly warmth of homemade vegetable soup in my belly.

Elaine Mansfield too has experienced loss – of her mother and of her husband both in a 13-month time span. She eloquently records the loss of her husband in a memoir entitled Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (October 2014)

LeaningIntoLove cover hi res

Elaine and I definitely differ in our world view and philosophy of life, hers based on Jungian psychology and meditation, and mine with a distinctively Christian perspective. Yet pain is pain, and we share the intimate, human experience of grief.

Here is our conversation about Elaine’s unique journey:

MB: How did your mother’s passing in 2007 affect you and Vic?

EM: My mom had Alzheimer’s Disease for twelve years. Her body was curled in a fetal position and her eyes were closed. She had been unresponsive for years. She died quietly during a lull in Vic’s cancer treatment, so grieving for my mother merged with anticipatory grief for Vic.

Iva_Elaine 2004


MB: Why did you write Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey Through Grief?

EM: At first, I wrote to digest and understand what had happened. When times are rough, I pay attention to life’s lessons. Writing was my way of doing that. During Vic’s illness, I kept journals so I could remember every detail during an emotional time. Five years after his death, my experiences became a book to help others deal with love and loss. I also hoped to create an engaging memoir that would interest any reader.


MB: What is the main theme of your book?

EM: The book is about a strong marriage and the initiation of losing a trusted partner: dissolution of the old order, then a period of confusion and despair, then a slow return to new life and possibility.


Vic & Elaine 1968


MB: In the book you promise your dying husband of 42 years, “I’ll find a way to be all right.”  What lies behind this statement?

EM: Vic and I shared every joy, sorrow, and dream. We’d had an intimate relationship since I met him when I was 21. He was concerned about leaving me and concerned about my grief. Even while I did all I could to help him live, I felt determined to find a way to make life work after his death. He was relieved when I said so. Of course, I had no idea how challenging that would be.


MB: Just like in your blog posts, you use poetic language in your book to describe bereavement and your slow recovery. For example, you describe a group of dolphins as “luminous revelations leaping from the great unconscious sea.” What other descriptive lines from the book are you especially proud of?

EM: “Our first kisses taste of tears and the knowledge that our time together is finite.”

“Mostly he sleeps, but when he’s awake, he whispers words of sweet gratitude.”

“Despite my better judgment, hope floats in, ethereal and transient as a feather.”


MB: What will readers learn from the book? What is the take-away?

EM: Everyone loses things they love—people, jobs, homes, health, dreams. It’s natural to grieve and long for what we cherish. I’ve learned that facing our losses and sorrows makes us more realistic and open-hearted human beings. We understand what matters in life and see that everyone suffers. In this way, sorrow leads us to kindness.


MB: Your book attracts readers who have dealt with or are now dealing with loss. What is your best advice to them?

EM: Experiment and find what comforts you: solitude, friends, nature, music, therapy. The smallest rituals helped me. I left flowers at the gravesite and said prayers there. Writing brought me daily comfort.

Watch for small signs of joy and hope. A bird chirping. The first spring flower. A child’s laughter. Grief is part of life. Give yourself time to feel what you feel. Open to grief and let it open your heart to love.

Elaine with her sons David and Anthony
Elaine with her sons David and Anthony


Her biography

Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief was published by Larson Publications (October 2014). Elaine writes from a spiritual perspective that reflects over forty years as a student of philosophy, Buddhism, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation. Elaine gave a TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss” on November 8, 2014 with TEDx ChemungRiver at Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY.

After a career as a health counselor and writer, Elaine’s work has focused on bereavement and loss since her husband’s death in 2008. Elaine facilitates bereavement support groups at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services in Ithaca, NY and writes for the Hospicare newsletter and website. She also writes a weekly blog about the adventures and lessons of life and loss, leads workshops, and lectures on bereavement topics. Her articles have been published in The Healing Muse, Open to Hope, Shambhala Sunspace, KirstyTV, Caring.com, Alzheimers.net, GriefHealing, and elephantjournal.

About Leaning into Love:

“Reading this beautiful memoir of love and loss and triumph felt to me like a sacred journey into the very heart and soul of the courageous woman who writes it.” Marty Tousley of Grief Healing.

“Not only a touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death and grief, Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love is a manual for healing that offers us the emotional and spiritual tools needed to grow and even flourish through Life’s deepest crises.” Dale Borglum, Living/Dying Project

Buy the book

See her website

Hear her TEDx talk


They say that “Time assuages” –
Time never did assuage –
An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with Age –

 Emily Dickinson

Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker    1918 - 2014
Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker  1918 – 2014

How about you? How have you dealt with grief over the loss of a loved one, mother, father, life partner, close relative — a pet, even?