Caravan Sonnet: March 2018

3/31/18

the Tiffany and Co Necklace... almost 6 years later

This past week was incredibly special in so many ways...one deeply personal. My last senior trip (when I was teaching) we stayed at Coronado Springs Resort... back where I was returning. The following was definitely a precious full circle moment for me... 

Almost 6 years ago (in May 2012) I stood on this same bridge at Coronado Springs resort, touching this beautiful gift that had been given to me (along with a gorgeous luggage tag for traveling adventures), crying because I knew I was saying goodbye to the life that I knew and loved.

At the time I had no idea that I was extremely sick with Advanced Late Stage Lyme, Cancer and a few additional health issues, that the journey of healing would take so many years, or the way that healing and restoration would encompass every single area of my life.

I have kept that Tiffany necklace and worn it almost everyday of these last 6 years (either in its original form of a necklace or bracelet). It's been a beautiful reminder of love, inspiration to continue to fight to return to the classroom, and to treasure the moments that happen.

Returning back and standing in the same spot I cried again on Wednesday...a bit from grief over so much time lost in this health journey, but more because of being so grateful for where things are at now. 

Is there still more treatment? Yes
Is there still some final things I am healing from? Yes
Is the journey completely over? No

But returning back to that spot has been a sweet full circle moment. I remember the girl standing there, fearful of what was to come, to now being humbly grateful for where I have been brought.

FCS Class of 2012, thank you. I love and miss y'all. I remember the night these gifts were given and one of you sweetly hugging me whispering, "isn't it wonderful to know that no matter where we all go and where life will take us, that God is there Ms.V?

Oh yes dear one. Oh yes.

3/28/18

gone to see mickey

I can't believe it... TODAY I leave on a beautiful (and quick) adventure with my sister to Florida and Disney! I am so grateful to Disney for their extreme kindness with an exciting blogging collaboration that I  can't wait to share more with y'all in the next couple of weeks!

I will be away from the blog until Saturday, but will be updating my instagram page while I am gone and can't wait to connect with y'all more over there! You can following along by clicking HERE

I hope y'all have had a wonderful beginning to your week and have a wonderful rest of the week! 

3/27/18

an unplanned and unexpected emergency room visit

If we are connected on instagram than you know that last evening held an unplanned and unexpected trip to the emergency room. As I sat in the waiting room staring at the triage doors in front of me (seen in the picture above) I couldn't help but think about how grateful I am though to be at this point in the journey. Five years ago trips to the ER were pretty much nightly (or daily) or every other day events due to severe anaphylaxis reactions. Here we are so many years later and while it was a necessary trip (due to an issue with #courtneytheportney) it is a simple trip. As I waited to be seen I had tears of gratitude... These beautiful healing moments take my breath away.
And this is the look I have at 2am when my mom is giggling § trying to tell distracting stories while we waited for ultrasound results. Hahaha even after all of these years of ER visits my mom keeps me laughing about hospital "fashion" gowns. HAHAHA.

Thank you so much for all your kind messages, sweet texts, love and prayers. Thankfully there was no blood clot § #courtneytheportney looks good. The pain is a bit better § I appreciate your thoughts & prayers for it to completely heal (especially as I head out to Florida tomorrow). So grateful for y'all! Humbled by nurses § doctors who are so knowledgeable, kind § compassionate (even putting me in a private room due to my compromised immune system). 

To my tribe...thank you for your support. I love you guys!!

3/26/18

16 Unexpected Items to Bring on Every Cruise

Today I wanted to share 16 unexpected but necessary things to bring on every cruise that you go on. While a lot of packing tips and lists can be found on the internet that include the usual items you would think to bring (clothes, camera, passport/documents/toiletries/etc) I wanted to share a few things that you might forget and are unexpected but are must pack items: 

(1) Over the Door Shoe Hanger
On my first cruise I didn't bring one of these and heard from lots of people that this is a must to bring. It is a great way to have dozens of small size compartments for a variety of different things and will help add extra storage to the small staterooms. 

I ended up choosing THIS ONE from Amazon and it worked perfectly for our trip! It is only $12.99 so it was pretty cheap and I have now used it on the Disney Cruise and the Royal Caribbean Cruise too and plan to use it on all future cruises!

(2) White Noise Machine/Small Fan
For years I have been sleeping with fans and have loved the "white noise" that they provide as I am a very light sleeper. The walls on a cruise ship can be exceptionally thin (even more than a hotel room) and a small fan can be very helpful, especially if you are heading to bed and people are still wandering back in from a nighttime activity. These are also very cheap- I found a small fan for under $14 at Lowe's and it is a great size that easily fits into even a small carry on suitcase that can be used for other trips besides the cruise! 

(3) Laundry Bags
Throw in a small (or large) laundry bag to make it easy to put in your dirty clothes at the end of the day. When you get home everything is already in the bag and can easily be cleaned. Another tip that I heard from a seasoned cruiser was to take three different laundry bags- one for whites, one for darks, and one for clothes that need to be cleaned. That way when she arrives home all she has to do is drop things off at the dry cleaners and through loads of laundry in the wash- brilliant! I personally love THIS set of laundry bags from Amazon. For less than $10 you receive 5 different bags and can separate things in a variety of ways making laundry when you return home incredibly easy. 

(4) Thermal Coffee Mug
For the coffee lovers out there this can be a great tip for a couple of reasons. First, many times room service is not offered on disembarkation days when people are hoping for coffee most. Second, this is an easy way to fill your mug up with coffee and take it anywhere on the ship without spilling things, especially in stormy weather. I love THIS ONE by Yeti in the seafoom green color (but there are tons of other colors to choose from!). You can find it HERE.

(5) Extra Hangers
Depending on who you are traveling with you might want to bring extra hangers. Many cruise ships will provide more if you request them, but if you are going on a long cruise or like to hang everything instead of using the drawers you might want to consider this tip!

(6)Power Strip
I shared this in my  "10 Must Pack Items for a New England and Canada Cruise", but this suggestion is universally helpful for anyone cruising. 

(7) Ginger
A lot of people use Dramamine (or the patch) for motion sickness on a cruise which is a wonderful option, but ginger can be a great natural resource to help with nausea. You can read more about ginger and its health benefits by clicking HERE. I have mentioned this in several posts but I swear by THIS ginger here. Also, if you are wanting to use dramamine- did you know that there is now a non-drowsy version made with ginger? You can find it HERE!

(8) A Picture of Your Luggage
I learned this tip from a couple that was sitting at our dinner table on my last cruise who make cruising a weekly event. The wife was explaining how her luggage was "lost" one time and couldn't be found on the cruise that they were on. She was trying to describe her luggage to the cruise staff but all of the bags that they presented her with (about 20!) weren't hers. Eventually (two days into the cruise!) her suitcase was found in staff quarters. From that point on she always takes a picture of her luggage on her phone and said that she can now easily show someone her luggage without trying to spend hours of precious cruise time explaining it! 

(9) Blank Cards
Y'all know how much I love letter writing and sending thank you cards to people and I highly suggest throwing a few cards into your luggage to have handy on the cruise. There are so many people that you can meet on a cruise and become friends with and so many people to thank. A handwritten, old fashioned card can always make a beautiful and long lasting impression! I love how pretty THESE Rifle Paper Co cards are!

(10) Towel Clip
If you have days on your cruise where you will be cruising only or simply want to spend some time outside laying out and enjoying the ocean breezes, you will want to bring a clip to hold your towel down. As the wind blows you don't want to be chasing the towel all over the ship (*smiles*) so bring a fastener to help hold down the towel. There are special clips for deck chairs that you can find in a variety of places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and even online for fairly inexpensive costs. 

(11) Your Favorite Snacks
Before we left on our last cruise, my best friend and I headed to one of my favorite stores and stocked up on some healthy (and gluten free for me) snacks to bring on board. While there is SO much food to be found on cruise ships, you might find this suggestion helpful, especially if you have food allergies like me and will want a snack. 

(12) Bungee Cords
Bungee Cords can be a wonderful resource to use in a variety of different ways. You can use the bungee cords to hold a balcony door open, secure your luggage, or even make a temporary clothes line to hang wet bathing suits! The options are endless but this will help you as you cruise! 

(13) Duct Tape
I have heard from several seasoned cruisers that they live and swear by using duct tape on the cruise so throw it in your suitcase! 

(14) Ear Plugs/Eye Masks
I am a huge believer in eye masks, but recently I have been using ear plugs when I travel. Even if you don't completely block the noise from your cruise mates on the ship, it can help dim it and this can help you sleep better! I love THESE ear plugs and THIS eye mask!

(15) Deck of Cards (or Dutch Blitz!)
Sometimes, even on a cruise there are periods of waiting or "down time" and having a deck of cards for when you are traveling to the cruise, or hanging out in line waiting to embark on the ship or disembark at the end of the cruise can be a fun way to connect with others and pass the time. While a regular deck of cards is wonderful, consider throwing in a card game like "Dutch Blitz" which is fun and a little unique! (You can purchase Dutch Blitz cards on Amazon HERE!) 

(16) Clothes Steamer
This is a suggestion that I learned from a fellow cruise mate on my last cruise after I waited for hours for laundry services to come and pick up some clothing that I needed ironed. They kept saying that they would be there "in a minute" and low and behold, almost 2 hours later they still had not come. The simple and easy solution to this would have been a clothes steamer that would help take out the wrinkles (just like a regular iron, which a lot of cruise lines do not allow you to bring on board) and could also be used to heat water for tea. Win/Win! 

What are your unexpected but must pack items to bring on a cruise? I would love to hear your suggestions!

3/25/18

old fashioned sundays

"The tradition of an old fashioned Sunday accomplishes more than just feeding us, it nurtures us."
- Chef John Besh- 

Almost a decade ago, back when I was working in Washington DC I started to find myself in a pattern that I grew to quickly dread. I found myself tired and exhausted from the week and then would give myself an "off day" on Saturday but then found that I was running around like a crazy woman after church and between Sunday night community meetings to get everything done that I needed to for the coming week. I often would go to bed on Sunday night worn out and tired, thinking to myself, "I need another day in the weekend." 

As I kept thinking about my time and my weekends I remembered a story that my mom had told me about my grandfather's childhood days. My grandfather shared that his father insisted that Sunday's after church were to be kept simple and for the family and friendships. The whole day was to be centered on community. 

As a girl who loves community and people I was drawn to this idea and theme and kept returning to it as I considered my weekends. So about ten years ago I started to put into practice the concept that my Sunday's were going to be "old fashioned Sundays" that are simple and centered solely on community. As I fought for my health some of these ideas were tweaked a bit, but the concept of keeping things simply centered on community has only grown more precious. 
My "old fashioned Sunday" truly consists of connecting with my community in a deeper way. After my morning, I connect on the phone with dear friends and have long heart-felt conversations as I sip tea, and spend many hours writing old fashioned letters to loved ones and to the soldiers that I have adopted through Adopt-a-Platoon. I get together with friends, plan precious moments of skiing, adventures, or simply gathering together. I look ahead to the week, schedule in time that I want to face-time with precious friendships and make phone calls to friends that are far away. I look ahead at what is coming up in the month ahead, spend time planning gifts, creating, and thinking of ways to mark important special days and listen to music softly playing in the background. As my health has returned, I have loved baking again for loved ones, and look forward to preparing meals for my tribe, gathering around the table, and sharing laughter and our lives.

What I started to find was that by taking time to rest and invest in my community was a beautiful gift that started to erase the "worn out and tired" that used to exist. I know some of you are shaking your heads and thinking, well that sounds delightful, but I have so much responsibility that I could never do that. I get it. I really do. Most of my days (due to treatment) go 14-16 hours. I am not going to try and compare lives as we all have responsibilities, deadlines, demands, etc, but instead I hope that this will encourage you to carve out sometime for your own old fashioned rest and connection. 

Recently, as my life has been more full due to my health improving I found myself evaluating this time again. One of the ways that I have been recently challenged about this was in watching an old TV show, "Little Men". (It is available free on Amazon Prime- you can find it HERE... it's a bit slow, but adorable.) As I watched this show I was struck by the community and depth and challenged to really put down my phone, stop spending so much time scrolling through social media, and invest in the lives of those around me and who are in my community. It may seem like a strange connection, but watching this show was a gentle and beautiful reminder of the gift of the present. Something that I have been fighting so hard for for the last five years and something I want to continue to treasure.

All of these things have brought a richness and depth to my life and I truly look forward to Sundays. I think that for every person and family during different seasons this might look unique, but the concept of having an old fashioned Sunday is something that I hope to treasure forever. I shared at the beginning that Chef John Besh once said, "The tradition of an old fashioned Sunday accomplishes more than just feeding us, it nurtures us."love this. I would love to know what ways you incorporate this idea into your lives! Please share in the comments below!

Here's to a beautiful and nurturing and refreshing day friends. I hope that today is the start of an amazingly beautiful week for you. 

3/23/18

Viking Eir Ship (Viking Cruises) Food and Dining Review

Happy Friday friends! I hope that you have had a wonderful week! Anyone doing anything fun this weekend? Saturday is my amazing mom's birthday so I am so looking forward to celebrating with her! Today I am so excited to share with y'all a review about the food and dining on the Viking Eir. I am going to cut to the chase here and just say that the food was absolutely wonderful, especially if you have food allergies like myself.
From the moment that we arrived on board we were immediately impressed with the quality of food, the taste, and the attention to detail that Viking Eir gave.

As a bit of an explanation for those who haven't sailed on the Viking Eir before seating is a bit different than a typical ocean cruise where you are assigned a table and the people you sit with. This is "free and open seating" where you can choose who you sit with and it was awesome. Honestly, I absolutely loved it. It was fun to meet a ton of different people on board the ship and get to know people - especially at the beginning of the cruise. 
Having this open and free seating allowed us to make treasured friends on our cruise. On our second night on board we saw these four beautiful ladies above and we asked if we could join them for dinner. From that night on (and at most lunches for the rest of the cruise) we sat with "the girls" (as my mom and I affectionately named our friends) at both lunch and dinner. My mom and I still say that this was one of our absolute favorite parts of the trip for us! We love and miss you guys!! Seriously- these ladies were amazing. They were warm, welcoming, and made the cruise for us. Their life stories are inspiring and I walked away from the cruise inspired in so many ways because of them. 
Breakfast each morning was incredibly delicious. As a lady who usually just has a fruit smoothie in the morning and some gluten free granola, these breakfasts were outstanding! You had the choice of the buffet (where I discovered my love of European Pepper cheese- still dreaming about it!) or you could offer the menu that was provided. We usually did a combination of both- getting fruit and cheese and some veggies from the buffet and then ordering off the menu.
Everything could be made gluten free and dairy free - and so both my mom and I enjoyed the french toast and the pancakes. One morning my mom had a delicious omelet and tried a few other specialty breads, which she said was delicious. Because of all of the walking that we would do during the day, having a yummy and nourishing breakfast was a great way to start off the day. As a side note for those who are concerned and have food allergies: I had called ahead to discuss my allergies, was able to talk with a Viking Cruise chef, and never had one worry about food. Not having this concern truly made the difference on this trip. I was so impressed with the way that Viking handled everything throughout our cruise.
One of the neatest things about a river cruise is that you can watch outside as you are eating. It was so neat to see the countryside as we would eat our meals!
For lunch we had the choice of a buffet again (where I enjoyed the most delicious salads- everything was so incredibly fresh!!) and an opportunity to order off a menu. Typically there were choices of specialty soups and salads, sandwiches, or light dinner options. Lunch was one of my favorite meals because I was able to get so many greens into me, and y'all know how much I love my greens! *smiles*
This was our chef on our cruise! He was the absolute best!!
Dinners were also a favorite meal... so yes, I have said that all three meals were my favorite (*smiles*) hahaha! But honestly, they were just delicious. Each meal had so many yummy choices and the food was done to absolute perfection. It was hands down some of the best food that I have ever eaten- not just on a cruise, but from a restaurant. The presentation was also amazing - it was simply beautiful in the creativity and colors and you always felt like you were dining in a 5-star restaurant.
This chocolate cake above makes me smile. It was gluten and dairy free and even though I don't like chocolate it was delicious. I loved it so much that I asked if I could have it again the final night of the cruise and our waiter surprised me and my mom with two pieces. We couldn't eat all of that but we still dream and talk about that chocolate cake! 
Because we were on the cruise over New Years Eve they held a special dinner for us that night and the food was amazing. We had such a great time- hanging out, talking, and just enjoying the evening. Later on there was dancing on the ship and then we watched as people all over set off fireworks- it was simply a beautiful evening! 
On every Viking cruise there is a "cultural night" which is a special evening of music and food. On our cruise it was a German themed evening and it was so much fun! 
All of the staff was dressed up and they brought in special music, had beer flowing, and yummy German food for the night. It was so much fun! I have to add in here a few words about the entire wait staff (and all of the waiters that we came in contact with). They were absolutely amazing. They seriously went above and beyond in so many ways to help accommodate my food allergies and were just amazing people to talk with and get to know. Each one was incredible patient, helpful, and fun. I was so impressed with each staff member!
I hope that this review of the Viking Eir Ship Food and Dining has been helpful! Please let me know if y'all have any questions! 

If you are interested in reading more about our Basel to Amsterdam cruise on Viking, you can click on the links below: 

Happy Friday friends!