OBX Dreaming, Part 2

           “We know what it means to feel over-extended, to be raising a family, running a household, managing a career (and all simultaneously) . . .. We know what it means to be aging gracefully and with intention.  And, we believe . . . There is time for this.”—Outerbanksyoga.com

           This is part two of a travel series regarding the Kitty Hawk area of the Outer Banks (OBX), North Carolina.  In this piece, I will focus on tourist attractions and dining establishments that my daughter, Madelyn, one of her friends, Tatum, and me discovered and enjoyed last summer.

           My family and I love traveling!  My daughter, Maddie, spent a good portion of her summers, spring breaks, and sometimes, even holidays, on the road traveling with my husband, John, and me.  We have traveled as far west as Colorado/Wyoming area, as far north/east as Prince Edward Island, Canada, and as far south as Florida. That said, one of our often-repeated travel destinations is OBX, NC.

 

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Maddie and I visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial at the OBX of NC.

 

           As I explained in my last piece, this love affair with the OBX began around 40 years ago with my first visit as a teen with my parents, siblings, and grandparents.  Over the years, the OBX has grown in popularity and expanded in scope/size. Thus, I do not get there as often as I once did, but it is still a great spot for a vacation get-away as we were reminded.

 

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Fly away to the OBX for your next vacation!

 

           Last summer (2018), I returned to the OBX for the first time in several years.  John was spending time in Canada fishing, so Maddie, and one of her friend from college, Tatum, and I left the Tri-State area early one Saturday morning.  While it is less than a nine-hour trip without stops, we planned to drive easy, stopping every two–three hours. Therefore, we allotted about ten hours of drive time.  

 

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Maddie and Tatum at Jockey’s Ridge at OBX, NC

 

           Thankfully, we made good time, and arrived earlier than planned—leaving us with plenty of time to unload, unpack, stow away perishables, and still managed to get to the beach for a couple of hours.  I made the executive decision, that while this was a budget-friendly trip with most meals eaten in the cottage, we were splurging that first night on dinner at one of my OBX favorite restaurants, the Black Pelican, Waterfront Café.   With an extensive menu–that includes both gluten-free and vegetarian options, plenty of fresh seafood-based dishes, and a wood-fired pizza oven—this eatery has something for every taste! Additionally, Black Pelican offers a kids’ menu, and all kids’ meals are served on a Black Pelican Frisbee.  (Maddie used to own several of these Frisbees when she was young from our annual summer visits.) Our food, as usual, was amazing, and the service was outstanding!

 

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The Black Pelican is one of my favorite dining spots at the OBX, NC.

 

             The food, as pictured here, at the Black Pelican is always delicious with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options too!

 

        Another restaurant, a bit closer to the house in which we stayed, that I tried and immensely enjoyed, was Vilai Thai Kitchen.  I ordered take-out from there on a night that Maddie and Tatum also grabbed take-out from Subway after they spent an afternoon shopping.  Once inside this charming eatery, the menu blew me away! In fact, Vilai’s describes their vast menu offerings as, “Thai with fresh OBX twists.”  With plenty of sushi options; traditional Thai dishes; seafood, pork, chicken, beef, and/or noodle-based dishes; as well as numerous vegetarian and gluten-free options, there are plenty of options for all diners as I soon discovered.  My meal, Vegetarian Pad Thai, by the way, was delicious and quite generous!

 

          Vilai’s Thai Kitchen was a cozy restaurant within blocks of our vacation cottage.  I ordered take-out and dumped my dish in a bowl before remembering to photograph.  It was actually artfully arranged in the take carton before I messed it all up!           

 

           Later that week, in honor of July 4, we decided to visit both the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Jockey’s Ridge State Park.  What a day we enjoyed! The WBNM is part of the National Park Service. While there, we were able to enjoy an interpretive tour of the story of the Wright Brothers with special emphasis on their time in NC.  Afterwards, we made the long walk to the Wright Brothers National Memorial—commemorating their first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903.

 

          The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a national treasure for all; and, in case you didn’t notice a great place to play around with the camera!  Click on each picture to enlarge.

 

 

Breath-taking views from the top of the WBNM from land to sea.  Click on each picture to enlarge!         

 

          Next, we drove a little further down to road to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home of the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern U.S.  This park covers 426-acres, and it is the most visited of all NC state parks. It’s no wonder it is so appealing to visitors. Jockey’s Ridge is filled with places to walk/explore, hand glide, ride ATVs, camp, and even go sand-sledding.  Plus, we can attest to the view from the top of the highest dune—just spectacular—especially when we were visiting due to the clear, bright skies. Both WBNM and Jockey’s Ridge are definitely worth the time to visit when staying at the OBX.

 

          Cooling down and goofing off, just a bit, in the parking lot of Jockey’s Ridge before we began our hike all around this natural wonder!

Learning the science and history of the dune before trekking all around this marvel.

 

         The views from the top are so worth the hike in the hot afternoon sun, and they were a bit inspiring as well!  (The right angles of triangle pose, and the rootedness of tree pose are in strong contradiction to the soft, shifting lines of the sand of Jockey’s Ridge.)

           After an afternoon filled with walking, climbing, and exploring, we were ready for a good dinner!  Maddie and Tatum chose Plaza Azteca. Described as, Mexican, Southwestern, Vegetarian and Vegan Friendly on Tripadvisor, it seemed like the perfect spot for all of us. We noshed our way through chips, salsa,  and freshly made guacamole while spending time chatting with our waitress. I wish I could remember her name, but she was a young college student from one of the European countries staying in NC on a student visa.  She described to us with great awe the overwhelming abundance she was experiencing while staying in NC. Ultimately, she knew she would not remain in the US; however, she did not wish to return to her home country either because of the social restrictions on women and unrest. Bottom line, while the food at Plaza Azteca was unbelievably delicious with abundant portions, our conversation with this friendly student was a real-eye-opener to how much all of us take for granted as Americans.

 

          This meal was so delicious, especially after all the walking/hiking we completed on that afternoon/evening.

 

        Our waitress, pictured between Tatum and Maddie, was a delightful, curious, and friendly young college student who opened our eyes to the abundance of our country, ironically on July 4.

 

           One of my favorite daily spots to visit while staying in Kitty Hawk was Outer Banks Yoga and Pilates Studio–only two-three blocks from the cottage in which we were staying.   Offering, both yoga and Pilates mat classes, as well beach yoga, and more, I found this studio to be a beautiful place of restoration, renewal, and relaxation. The weekly beach yoga class was a one-of-kind experience for me, and the staff at the studio, and beach location, was knowledgeable, sensitive, and encouraging.  This is one yoga studio I hope to make a return visit one day!

 

Images from OBX Yoga, “There is (was) time for this,” whether in their beautiful studio or enjoying one of their unique beach classes.

 

Anne Howard,  Manager and Director of Yoga Teacher Training, at the Amalam School of Yoga at Outer Banks Yoga, was a unique, creative, and sincere yoga teacher from whom I had the pleasure of taking two of her classes during my stay at the OBX.  I highly recommend this studio!

           Finally, I would miss amiss if I did not mention the Tanger Outlets in nearby Nags Head, NC.  While Maddie and Tatum spent two-three afternoons at the discount mecca, I only visited it once, as I am not a big shopper.  That said, I did find some real bargains, (like 75% off name brand leather bags and clothing). Therefore, I was certainly glad the girls convinced me to go shopping with them.

 

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Experiencing the urge for warm sand between your toes, plan your next vacay for OBX.

 

           All in all, I still love the OBX!  It has changed dramatically since my teens, but at its heart, it is still the same sweet sand, ocean dunes, and waves. As the damp chill of February continues this week, maybe you’ll take time to plan your summer vacation. If so, be sure to consider the OBX, NC as a potential spot for your next beach adventure; and tell them, Stephsimply sent you!

           From my family to yours, I wish you safe, budget-friendly, and relaxing travels for your next upcoming trip!

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As I type this, I haven’t seen sunshine in over a week . . .I can almost feel the sunshine from this picture offering a warm embrace of Vitamin D.

 

 

OBX Dreaming: Reflections of 2018 trip, Part 1

           “Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Town of Kitty Hawk offers year-round residents and visitors alike a unique and relaxing environment. The town consists of a thriving village that has been around for generations, a newer beach community of residential cottages, and a maritime forest called Kitty Hawk Woods, featuring a wide variety of plant and animal life.”—kittyhawknc.gov

           While this was originally supposed to be one cohesive travel piece, as I wrote it, it became clear that I needed to break it into two-parts.  Therefore, this is part one of a two-part travel series featuring the OBX of NC, in particularly, the Kitty Hawk-Kill Devil Hills-Nags Head areas.  While this piece will mostly focus on the advantages of staying in the town of Kitty Hawk, next week’s piece will focus on the tourist attractions and restaurants.

           “Mom, that was such a great trip, you know? So relaxing and nice.  Tatum and I had such a good time!”

 

 

           I smiled with sweet remembrance as Madelyn, my nearly 20-year old daughter, spoke of our trip last summer to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or OBX, as most locals call it.  We stayed in an adorable cottage in the town of Kitty Hawk that was ideally situated between the two main thoroughfares. We were less than a three-block walk to direct beach access, and about three blocks from the business route that easily leads to all of the unique attractions the OBX has to offer.

 

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Our cute beach cottage–just the perfect size for a family or small group such as ours.

 

           Maddie was right; it was a fantastic trip last summer.  And, right now, in the middle of February, especially after such a brutal week of cold, ice, and snow, a trip to the beach sure sounds wonderful.  In fact, now is the ideal time to begin to make those summer plans and reservations! This is especially true if desiring to rent in a certain area and/or type of living space!

 

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After this week of brutal winter weather across North America, who wouldn’t want to warm their face in the morning sun?

 

           Last summer’s Kitty Hawk trip was not our first trip to the OBX by any means.   We have frequently made trips to various spots of this 200 mile-long stretch of barrier islands that splits off the coasts of both North Carolina and Virginia.  When my family first discovered the OBX, I was around 14 or 15 years old, and it was a well-kept secret. In fact, I recall our first few trips to the northern beaches, somewhere between the areas of Duck and Corolla, required passing through a guard station and keeping a visitor’s pass visible in our front windshield for the length of our stay.  At the time, it was a fairly easy drive, but also seemed so remote the closer to Corolla we traveled.

 

A cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of chilled glass of wine in the evening from the cozy crows nest with a view of the ocean and quiet neighborhood of Kitty Hawk.

           Since then, I have had the pleasure of staying on the northern beaches on the 4-wheel drive beach near the VA border, all the way down to the Hatteras/ Ocracoke areas, and numerous spots in between. However, I do not ever recall staying in Kitty Hawk, just beyond the intersection where one must choose whether to turn right to travel to the southern beaches or to turn left to travel to the northern beaches.  

 

Like many of the OBX beaches, they are not crowded with room to roam, lounge, play, soak, sun, read, sea-shell seek, and all other favorite beach activities. 

 

          In the past, once reaching this main, congested intersection, we could still count on a good 30-90 minute drive, depending upon the location of our vacation rental home.   Staying in Kitty Hawk, however, is completely different. Once you cross that intersection, you are only minutes away from your vacation cottage! I tell you, I am now 53 years old, and there was nothing like turning right off that intersection, and realizing, “Wow, we are already here!”

 

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Who doesn’t want to sink their toes in the sandy shores and warm waters of the OBX?

 

           In fact, had we known when we first arrived, we could have gone straight, then made a quick right onto NC 12, traveled two or three blocks, then made another right, we would have been two blocks or so away from our vacation cottage for 2018.  Despite not knowing this, we still had to drive to our realty company to check in with them, but depending upon from whom you rent, this may be a completely unnecessary step—making it easier than ever to get started on your beach vacation!

 

 

           What made our 2018 OBX vacation different than previous other trips, in addition to staying in Kitty Hawk, was the fact that John, my husband of nearly 30 years, was not traveling with Maddie and me. He was with several of his buddies fishing in Canada; thus, Maddie and I were accompanied by one of her college roommates of last year, Tatum Dyer.  What’s more is that Tatum had never before been to the beach, so that made the trip seem even more special!

 

Tatum’s first trip to the ocean was such a delight for my daughter, Maddie, and I to share!

 

           Keeping the trip pocket-friendly was, and still is, a must, especially when your child is attending college.  The cottage was priced quite reasonably, but still full of all the amenities we required. It had a full kitchen/dining/family combined area perfect for preparing nearly all of our meals as well as hanging out, playing games, or working puzzles. Additionally, this three-bedroom location also had two full bathrooms—one for the girls to share, and one for me—a large wrap-around porch, a crow’s nest (My favorite spot for reading, sunning, beach and star-gazing.), and a ground floor laundry and outdoor shower as well as an ample carport space for parking two-four cars.

 

I spent several morning enjoying the sunrise from the crow’s nest while the girls slept on.

 

           This cottage was not only within walking distance of direct beach access, but also shopping, dining; and, my personal daily spot, a yoga studio!   However, we were also a short drive to all those attractions we had wanted to visit for years, but had not gone to them because of all the beach time that would be lost in order to have ample time to drive.  Ironically, while we could see the OBX intersection from the crow’s nest if facing the back of the house, the neighborhood in which we stayed, however, was an extremely quiet, mostly residential area.

 

One of the attractions to which we were close was the famous Kitty Hawk pier.

 

           As I hope is evidenced by my enthusiasm, I wholeheartedly recommend the town of Kitty Hawk as an ideal location for your next OBX adventure.  While there’s no denying the wonder, beauty, and uniqueness of all OBX towns, if you’re looking for convenience, nearby shopping, restaurants, and tourists’ attractions as well as uncrowded beaches, then consider staying in Kitty Hawk for your next beach trip.  As previously mentioned, next week, I will feature several of those nearby OBX highlights. Trust me on this; they are worth your time to visit!

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A view from the top of Jockey’s Ridge, one of the sites we visited, but more about that next week!

 

           From my family to yours, I wish you safe, budget-friendly, and relaxing travels for your next upcoming trip!

 

These three empty chairs were arranged from the previous night in which Maddie, Tatum, and me sat as we watched fireworks going off up and down the beach areas in honor of July 4 holiday.

 

One day we watched a wedding take place on the beach directly out from the beach access we used on a daily basis!

 

Play Shuffle, Life

           “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.  One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”—Anne Morrow Lindbergh

           Remember when the IPod was introduced, and the way we consumed music was forever transformed.  Years of listening to the radio, or even an album, where another person controlled the sequence and timing of songs without, per se, personal input, was revolutionized.  The consumer could now choose songs for download, create personal playlists for any occasion, and if desired, could even shuffle all those songs, those playlists, those genres into a Golden Corral of sorts, where all types of music could be sampled, and if the appetite was big enough, voraciously devoured. And, like a buffet, one could simply skip over any song nugget that did not fit one’s current craving with the push of a button.

 

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          Along a similar path, I recall the days of typing papers.  Ugh! Even my master’s degree was completed with an electric typewriter.  Personally, I spent hours, taking random notes/facts and writing them on individual note cards with sources listed on the back as my long-ago high school English teacher, Mr. Wheeler, taught me to do. Then, I’d lay them all out on the floor, or dining room table, and begin the process of arranging, rearranging, and grouping these cards into potential sections of the paper. Next, I’d label each stack, and arrange them into what seemed like a logical order.  Finally, I’d used stacks of notebook paper to write out some semblance of a rough draft long hand style—and, yes, arrange and rearrange those pages. All of this before even sitting down to type! And, oh, heaven help my typing skills (Sorry, Tana Lewis, you tried to force my fingers to type 45-65 words per minute without an error in your Typing 1 class, but, alas, I am still an over-thinking-lack-of-confidence-error-ridden typist!)

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The digital age has changed life in dramatic ways as I reflect over all of the rapid change I have witnessed over five decades.   I can now pay, or use a “free-version” (with, of course, commercial ads), of various music services, if I desire, rather than downloading individual songs or albums.   These services will even suggest songs I might like—allowing me, like that Golden Corral buffet, to sample a bit of this album or a morsel of that genre without increasing my cost.

 

 

           Furthermore, when writing and/or researching, I can copy, cut, paste, delete, and rearrange to my heart’s delight.  Multiple sources filled with facts, data, and anecdotal evidence can be easily and quickly be found, validated, and bookmarked.  No longer do I have to buy nearly a forest-worth of paper, note cards, and notebooks. I just click a key, touch a screen, or scroll with my finger, and voila, information in less than a second!  Why, it almost tempts me to go back to school just to research and write papers. Hmm . . . Stephanie Musick, Hill, PhD, does have a ring to it . . .wait a minute . . .nah . . . I think I’ll shuffle on to a different life tune.

 

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           My current rabbit-hole of thoughts regarding shuffling, cutting, pasting, and even buffets, led to me to a recent lesson—a lesson I am still struggling to learn:  l-i-f-e. Those playlists and even writing projects, such as this, can be carefully controlled. Click—add a song; click—no, delete it, and put it here; or likewise, click—change the word; click—find a quote; click—no, there has to be a better way to say it; click, click, click, click—delete the phrase; click, click click—ah, that sounds better this way.

 

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

 

           Life is not so easily arranged, manipulated, and/or controlled.  Sure, as humans, we like to think we are in control. We believe we can arrange our schedules, our goals, our days, and our lives into precisely sequenced time-slots of events. However, like the shuffle option on our favorite way to consume music, life is full of randomness.  Sometimes, we are lulled by days, months, or even years (if we’re lucky) of sweet sounding summer-like tunes like time spent with gentle surf, warm sunshine, and not-too-hot sand. Yet, even that ideal beach shoreline, continuously changes due to storms, rough water, high tides, strong winds, and pollution; and still, tourist go back year after year.

 

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As seen on Instagram by positiveenergyalways

 

           Like the beach of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s eloquent quote, we must remain open to the possibilities.  Grasping and attaching to “the story of life” as arranged by our mind, often leads to suffering, anxiety, and even fear–especially of the unknown.  And, while the sea of life, can certainly shuffle-in storms, debris, high-waters, and random pieces of trash, it can also offer up beautiful shells of memories for collecting, calm water moments for soaking, and the soothing sounds of comfort.

 

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          While we cannot create and sequence the so-called perfect a playlist or word-document of life, we can be open to the shuffle of it, the buffet of its opportunities, the ebb and flow of its waters; and in that openness, we can find songs of joy, words of praise, and a uniquely crafted, tension-filled story of adventure with its own dynamic soundtrack penned by the Ultimate Divine Hand of Creation offered to us with love.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveaffirmations101

 

           Life is unfolding and, well, shuffling, as it should.   I often forget this, but I know in my core, this is true.  And while I may never attain perfection in remembering this, I can work towards progress—progress of learning to accept, nibble, and even savor all the varied and unpredictable tastes life offers up.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveenergyalways

Versatile Vegetable Soup

            “Soup is a lot like a family.  Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it need time to simmer to reach full flavor.”—Marge Kennedy

 

“A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.”—Abraham Maslow

 

As the weather in southeastern Ohio this weekend played a mash-up mix of rain, snow, bitter winds, and plummeting temperatures, my mind churned with thoughts of ways to warm my icy fingers and toes. I drifted back to a conversation John, my husband, and I had regarding the ways in which his parents and my grandparents made their vegetable soup.  As we swapped stories, we realized how similarly his parents and my grandparent “saved” for one their favorite wintertime go-to meals.

 

 

 

Both pairs had large, white plastic tubs with red lettering, about 5 gallons in size, that once held some sort of meat previously purchased at a local meat market.  Once emptied of its contents, the tub was scrubbed clean and repurposed as the “vegetable soup” container. Then, throughout the year, but especially in the summer and early fall when fresh garden vegetables were abundant, they saved left over vegetable from meals in this tub.  Uneaten bits of green beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, and so forth, would be scraped from pots at the end of meals and into the tub.  This container, which resided in their freezer, was gradually filled from week to week.  Once full, there was typically another scoured-clean-container-in-waiting, ready to be filled as well!

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Large white tub, only as I recall my grandmother’s, her containers had red handles and worn off red lettering reflective of the former contents.

 

During winter months, my grandmother, often cooked up large chuck roast covered with carrots, potatoes, and onions. Once this meal was eaten, as best I recall, the leftovers from it were often the base of her vegetable soup. She’d cut up the meat and any left over vegetables into bite size chunks, open up a couple of cans of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup along with a can of Veg-all, and put those into her large pressure cooker.  Next, she’d add water.  Finally, out came the white, filled-to-the-brim-tub with all those frozen leftover vegetables; and, while I’ll never know how she determined the “right” amount, she scooped an undetermined quantity of vegetables from tub and into the pot until her cook’s eye told the soup contained the right amount of those former garden gems.

 

                     360 degrees of memories Grandmother’s kitchen of long ago . .  .

                     Top to bottom left:  My baby sister, Rachel, in caught-off guard as I photograph her serving our Papaw; our middle-sister, Traci, uses the ever-present dirt-buster, to pick up crumbs after dinner; my cousin, Clifton, sneaking in the fridge; and on right side, my cousin, Michelle and me seated in the corner of Grandmother’s kitchen at the kid’s table with the ever present, white-painted, wooden high chair used for all nine of Grandmother’s grandkids!

 

I can still recall the way that little gadget on the top of the pot bobbled, hopped, and danced around on cloud of angry steam.  Soon, aromas of comfort emanated throughout her cozy home.  The ice that had formed on the inside of the single-paned kitchen windows was slowly transformed into condensation drops worthy of childhood finger drawings.

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Though not exactly the same, this is similar to the often used pressure cooker of my grandmother’s.

 

To be honest, as a youngster, vegetable beef soup was not my favorite meal.  In fact, I found the meat impossibly chewy, and in my spoiled child mind, it seemed to expand the more I chewed.  Plus, I was not a hug fan of all those vegetables mixed together. However, later, when I lived with my grandparents in my early adult years, I came to love my Grandmother’s vegetable soup, but I still attempted to furtively avoid the meat as I ladled out my serving of soup!  Then, in true family tradition, I’d break up a handful of saltines into the soup before chowing down!  Oh, how I wish I could have just one more bowl of that soup and tell Grandmother how much I loved it and appreciated her loving planning and frugality . . . There’s something to be said about the skills of those who survived the Great Depression and truly knew how to not waste anything, and could thrive within their resources.

 

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Grandmother’s vegetable soup often started with left over chuck roast and any remaining vegetables. Ugh! Never my favorite as an ungrateful child.

 

While I am still not a big meat eater, John is, so when creating this recipe, I tried to create a versatile blend to make both of us happy.  Sometimes, I make a huge pot of this, but pick around the chicken—just as I once picked around Grandmother’s beef in her vegetable soup.  Other times, I drag out both the large Crockpot and my mini-Crockpot.  In the larger pot, I make a version with the chicken thighs, but without the beans and potato. While in the smaller pot, I make a version with all ingredients, but no meat.  This allows John to have a lower carb variety of this healthy soup while still allowing me a hearty plant based version. Plus, both variations are naturally gluten-free.  (Sigh, sadly, saltines crumbled into soup are NOT gluten-free, and I no longer add them to my soup due to celiac disease.)

 

                    Cooked with chicken in a 6-quart crock-pot for John, and without chicken cooked on stovetop (or mini-crock pot) and stowed away in a 2-quart glass dish.  There’s several meals with of food here!  And, it can be frozen!

 

If cold weather is chilling you to the bone, set up this soup in the morning or on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon; and, you’ll be noshing on warm, home-cooked comfort by dinner.  In fact, you can even throw all of your ingredients in your Crockpot-insert the night prior, and stow it away in your fridge overnight.  In the morning, simply add it to cooking base, select your setting, and dinner will be ready after work.  Additionally, while I do not yet have an Instant Pot, I am told this handy kitchen tool will allow you to prepare this soup in less than hour!  Wow!

                     Served, sadly without crackers, for me.

 

Served with plenty of saltines for John!

 

Play with the ingredients of this recipe—add more of some ingredients, and/or remove the any ingredients that do not suit your tastes or dietary needs. Make this recipe work for you and yours, as it is versatile.  Then, drop me a line and let me know how it went.  I’d love to hear about your variation!

 

Play with these ingredients.  (I forgot to include the russet potato in these photos.)  You do NOT have to use them all.  Pick the ones you like, and double up if desired! It’s your soup, your way, to meet your dietary needs!

 

From our home to yours, John and I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

Versatile Vegetable Soup

 Serves: 6-8 generous servings (Depending upon serving size.)

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (optional)

1 ½ teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 russet or sweet potato, chopped (optional)

1 ½ cup chopped carrots

2 cups broccoli florets (Can substitute equivalent amount of favorite green vegetable, such as green beans, spinach, kale, peas)

1 zucchini, chopped

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 large can (28 oz) pureed tomatoes

1 can (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes

2 cans (14.5 oz) cannellini or garbanzo beans (optional)

4 cups of broth—either chicken or vegetable, depending upon preference

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper

2 bay leaves

1-2 cups additional water

 

To Make:

First, prep vegetables that need chopped and set-aside.

Next, in large pot, over medium heat, add oil if using, or spray pot with nonstick cooking spray.

If using chicken, arrange meat all along the bottom of pot and place garlic on top of it.

If NOT using meat, place garlic on the bottom of pot.

Next, add in onion, celery, potato (if using), carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and squash.

Pour in both cans of tomatoes, beans (if using), and broth.

Gently stir in, avoiding the chicken layer if using meat; sea salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper, and red pepper

Add additional water until desired soup consistency is reached.

Gently place bay leaves on top

Cover and allow to simmer (gently bubble) 60-90 minutes, or longer, until chicken, if using, is cooked through, and vegetables have reached desired level of softness.

If using Instapot or Crockpot, be sure appliance has an 8-quart capacity, and follow manufacturer’s suggested cooking time.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

 

Tastes even better reheated!

Can be stored in refrigerator for up to a week or stored in freezer for up to a month.

 

 

 

 

Bear Lake Wilderness Camp: A Boat-in Fishing/Hunting/Canoeing Adventure!

           “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”—John Buchan

           “There are always new places to go fishing.  For any fisherman, there’s always a new place, always a new horizon.”—Jack Nicklaus

 

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Scottie Duncan holds a bass he caught and released at BLWC.

 

           For fisherman and hunters alike, January and February is the time of year when many outdoors enthusiasts start planning their spring, summer, or fall fishing or hunting trip(s).  Many larger cities host annual hunting and fishing shows in attempt to bring together outdoors enthusiast with those organizations that who support their endeavors either through goods or services.  In fact, the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show is scheduled for January 25, 26, and 27 of 2019.

           This is the 32nd year for this local treat sponsored by the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association. According to the show’s website, proceeds from this event, other than the costs to run the show and operate the club, “are donated to programs that promote or protect hunting, fishing, wildlife, conservation, and related educational activities.”  This show prides itself in offering the outdoor adventurer quality products and services related to hunting and fishing with first class exhibitors from as far away as Alaska, New Zealand, Spain, and Africa as well as the United States and Canada.

 

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Another nice bass caught and released at BLWC.

 

           One of those first class businesses is Bear Lake Wilderness Camp.   Owned and operated by Pendleton, KY resident, Major Bill Drane (US Army Reserve), this camp offers opportunities for both fishing and hunting adventures, depending upon the season.  Located in the La Cloche Mountains in the heart of Ontario’s Killarney Wilderness Park, this boat-in camp is situated in a picturesque, pristine natural setting sure to please the pickiest outdoors person.  In addition to abundant hunting and fishing opportunities, BLWC is also a great location for swimming, wildlife photography, hiking, rock hounding, camping, as well as multiple canoe excursions, including portage routes.

 

 

 

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Welcome to the peace, quiet, and seclusion of BLWC.

 

 

Cooper, the camp’s husky; Manly, the camp’s rottweiler; along with dockhands, Rheal Quinn and Stewart Jordan are ready to take to your cabin at BLWC, so that you can start your next fishing adventure!

 

           Located on Bear Lake, the most remote lake of a chain of ten connecting lakes on the northern boundary of Killarney Provincial Park, campers can expect a 15.5 mile boat ride from the only road in the area of the lodge!  Due to this remoteness, Bear Lake offers fishermen and women the opportunity to fish for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, lake trout, walleye, northern pike, whitefish and perch. Given its location, BLWC may have the best largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in all of Ontario!  Furthermore, this lake is especially known for its trophy walleyes.

 

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Who’s ready to fish?

 

 

Scottie Duncan, Travis Lane, and my husband, John Hill last summer (2018) at Bear Lake Wilderness Camp.

 

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Notice all the lakes and waters (red, yellow, green, and blue areas of map) that can be explored in BLWC

 

        This past summer (2018), John,  my husband and diehard fisherman, along with two of his buddies, Travis Lane and Scottie Duncan, visited BLWC for John and Scottie’s 3rd visit and Travis’ 2nd.  All three fishermen agree that BLWC is the ideal location for budget-friendly fishing (or hunting) adventure.  Lane especially could not say enough about the friendly and helpful staff. “They are all around good guys who are willing to go the extra mile to help their campers.” Duncan added that it’s the camp’s seclusion that grabs his heart with each visit.  “You can’t find a place more remote or more beautiful than BLWC, especially the remote portage lakes. Bill goes out of his way to help campers get to those isolated areas with no fishing pressure whatsoever.”

 

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Taking a lunch break on the shore of a secluded Canadian island after several hours of fishing in the pristine and private wilderness found at BLWC.

 

 

 

           For sure, opportunities for off-the-beaten path fishing are a special and unique feature of BLWC.   With 35 other lakes surrounding Bear Lake, BLWC has canoe or boat caches on 25 of those remote lakes!  According to John, these lakes are virtually un-fished and untouched by man except for the few adventurous fishermen and women willing to take the time to explore those areas.  Furthermore, John added that the immense peace and quiet, as well as the wild, natural beauty, of those remote lakes must be seen to be believed! “When you realize that no other human is around; it’s just you, your fishing buddies, and nature, it is a feeling like no other!”   A few of those lakes, he added, even offer the opportunity to fish for brook trout or lake trout

 

 

Are you ready to go fishing yet?

 

 

 

           That said, if spring and summer fishing/ canoeing aren’t your preferred out-of-doors adventure, BLWC also offers hunting for moose, black bear, duck, and grouse.   Can’t decide between fishing and hunting? Talk to Bill about the “Cast and Blast” special. This offers campers the opportunity to fish and hunt during the fall. When hunting, campers can expect to hunt over baits from tree stand or from ground blinds; and, BLWC offers hunting specials both during bow-only season as well as gun/bow seasons.

 

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AW . . . the peace and quiet of watching storm clouds rolling in . . .

 

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Living the dream of wilderness fishing away from the hustle and bustle of contemporary life.

 

 

Random images captures while exploring abandoned cabins found on several remote islands of BLWC.  If only their walls could talk, what tales might they reveal?

 

          As a boat-in camp, BLWC doesn’t have those challenging weight-limits that fly-in camps have.  However, it still offers the same desired level of remoteness that fly-in camps possess. Located on a small island, BLWC offers both American (dinner only) and housekeeping plans.  Each cabin comes with a refrigerator, stove, lights, and sinks with running water. The kitchen area of each cabin is stocked with all the pots, pans, and utensils needed to cook up favorite camp meals.

 

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Who’s ready for a fish fry? Plus, extra to freeze and take home!

 

 

Hungry after a hard day of fishing . . .

 

           With regard to fishing, every two paying customers get the use of a new 16-foot Lund boat with Honda four-stroke outboard motor; and, BLWC pays for the gas!  Plus, the camp has a fleet of portage boats and canoes on the surrounding lakes at the disposal of campers—something John and his buddies highly recommend taking advantage of!

 

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The excitement of your buddy and you catching a fish at the same time!

 

           Want to take your child along to BLWC? Kids under 14, when accompanied by a paying adult, are offered a reduced rate.  Studies indicate that kids who hunt and/or fish with their parent(s) have a greater appreciation for nature, wildlife and conservation efforts.  Thus, BLWC could be the perfect destination for parent/child outdoor adventure!

 

 

The splashing joy of catching fish . . . 

 

           John and I highly encourage you to visit not only the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show at the end of this month, but to especially make sure you visit  Bill Drane at his BLWC exhibit! You won’t find a nicer gentleman who is ready to make your Canadian fishing and/or hunting aspirations become a reality. Tell him Steph simply sent you!

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you happy, safe, and adventurous travels in this upcoming year!

 

 

 

           P.S. If you have any questions regarding this camp, feel free to email me at hill992@zoominternet.net, and I will put you in touch with John.  Additionally, you can directly check out BLWC.com for more information!

 

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Just imagine sounds of the shoreline water lapping the dock and boat and the moon blesses the sky above.

 

 

A community to remember and honor

        “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”—Lao Tzu

        “wear blue: run to remember is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. wear blue: run to remember creates a support network for military members and their families; it bridges the gap between military and civilian communities and it creates a living memorial for our country’s fallen military members. wear blue: run to remember exists for the fallen, for the fighting and for the families.”—excerpt from wearblueruntoremember.org

 

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       Aw . . .January . . .the month where many people begin or renew health and wellness goals.  Gyms, yoga studios, health clubs, and outdoor running/walking/biking paths are often overflowing with the vigor and excitement of New Year’s resolutions.  The gluttony of holidays is now replaced with better, healthier habits and goals.

 

 

 

 

        Personally, while I rarely, per se, establish New Year’s resolutions, I do find I have increased motivation and renewed excitement for my own personal health goals.  Additionally, I use the start of the New Year as a time to reflect upon my current habits and look for ways to refine, improve, and if needed, change/adjust current practices for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

        

        At one point in my adult life, running was part of my fitness regime, including running a local marathon to celebrate turning 50.  I loved that most races in which I participated benefitted a local charity, so that my training/running felt as if it served a purpose greater than my own personal gain. However, a back injury brought running to a quick and unforeseen hiatus.  While I dream of one day returning to the world of running, I fully recognize that most forms of movement, including walking, offer numerous benefits to the body, mind, and soul. Thus, I have learned to accept my current physical state and fully recognize that I still have the gift of life.  A back injury is a minor life setback compared to other more life-altering experiences. Still, I remember the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that followed the obligatory, once-per-week “long run,” that was part of any training plan/goal.

 

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Mindi Church Newell (left) smiles at sister-in-law, friend, and “cheerleader”, Sandy Mers, Coordinator of Ashland wear blue community, during the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.this past fall–a true long run.

 

        Thus, when Sandy Mers, friend and Coordinator of the Ashland wear blue community, shared a video with me from TedxTacoma of Lisa Hallett, Executive Director & Co-Founder of wear blue: run to remember,I was reminded of those once-upon-a-time “long runs”. As Hallett described the back-story that ultimately forged the foundation of her group, I was moved to tears. She passionately portrayed the way in which running, in particular, her once-per-week long training runs with her community of friends, provided her with much needed support as well as a healthy outlet for her grief following the loss of her husband/ best friend/ father of their three children (one whom he never met), CPT John Hallett, “who was killed when his Stryker was attacked with an improvised explosive device in South Afghanistan” on August 25, 2009.   It is from these friend/community-supported runs that the wear blue running community evolved.  Yet, from what I can tell, it is so much more than running . . .

 

www.youtube.com/watch

 

https://www.armytimes.com/video/2018/12/27/who-will-remember/#.XDIPRoZZz0g.email

 

        In fact, Mers emphasized the importance of all participants, whether running or otherwise, in the group’s first local event held this past Saturday at Central Park in Ashland, KY.  12 people, according to Mers, convened 8:00 am at the 17th street entrance. Then, at 8:15, participants gathered in a celebration circle where they took turns reading the names of 51 military personnel killed in action during the dates of January 4-6 from 2001 to present.  Then, some participants ran, some walk/ran, others solely walked, and still others remained at finish line to cheer for each participant as he or she reached their goal destination. Despite the fact it is called a run, each participant, emphasized Mers, offered “a purposeful step” for the wear blue community.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Participants gather in a celebration circle for the inaugural wear blue: run to remember of the Ashland community.

 

        The Ashland community of wear blue established a distance of one mile for this inaugural event.  However, the goal for community members participating in the February “run” is two miles, and the goal for March is three miles—at which they plan to remain for future events, although Mers is not ruling out hosting longer events.   Of course, participants can always choose to do more, depending upon their training needs.

 

 

 

 

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        Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to participate in this first event.  That said, as I read about this movement, I found myself yearning to once more get out there on a running path, even if it means walking; and what better motivator than supporting, honoring, and remembering those who have served and sacrificed while in our American military. As the wear blue website states, the  “wear blue is an all-inclusive organization that actively strives to bridge the gap between the military and the community.”

 

 

 

 

        Therefore, I have joined the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community, which can be found on Facebook.  It is a public group that is open to all. Each “run” occurs on the first Saturday of each month at 8:00 am at Ashland Central Park, 17th street entrance with the celebration circle beginning at 8:15.  The next event will occur February 2. For more information/inquiries, outside of the Facebook page, email: Ashland.community@wearblueruntoremember.org

 

 

 

Images of Mindi Church Newell from the Marine Corp Marathon held annually in Washington DC.  Newell ran in honor and remembrance of her late husband, “Tuc” Church who was killed in action in May of 2007.

 

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         In the meantime, won’t you consider participating in February and/or other future events? There is absolutely no cost; and, best of all, your effort, whether walking, running, a combination of both, or cheering pays tribute to those service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice.  Plus, as icing on the cake, you’ll reap physical, mental, and perhaps spiritual benefits. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From the Facebook page of one survivor.

2018 Family Love and Reflections

           “Family is a unique gift that needs to be appreciated and treasured, even when they’re driving you crazy.  As much as they make you mad, interrupt you, annoy you, curse as you, try to control you, these are the people who know you the best and who love you.”—Jenna Morasca

           “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”—Barbara Bush

 

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From Maddie, my daughter, and Johnny’s, my nephew, high school graduation party in 2017.

 

           I suspect there is a direct correlation with each increased year of age, but I cannot help but notice that I have a growing sense of appreciation for my family.  It is not as if I never before put value on my family, because I always have. However, like the warmth of the sun’s rays in winter versus late spring, the esteem with which I hold my family has likewise intensified; and, I further suppose will evolve in the same way spring’s warmth develops into summer’s heat.

           This past year, especially the holiday season, only convinces me more of the truth of this realization.  I more fully appreciate the gift of each year with my husband, John, now of nearly 30 years. Each moment with our daughter, Madelyn, in her second year of college, is more precious.  Conversations with my siblings and parents are also more cherished. Furthermore, I have a greater sense of loss with the passing of each friend and family member as, like my age, those numbers are also increasing.

 

 

 

           2018 was certainly a year of amplified awareness for me—an awareness of things left unsaid, words said in hasty anger, impulsive reactions, and/or a lack of action.  It seems time is flowing rapidly like our Ohio River after heavy days of rain; and, I am adrift on a log of emotions unable to reach the shore line.

           Thus, as the holiday season winds down, if you will allow me, Dear Reader, to indulge in a few lines of gratitude.  It is my hope that by sharing these thoughts with you, that perhaps you will join me in saying those words that need to be said; or, at the very least, begin to reflect upon the people Divine Providence has put in your own life.  

 

 

                      Images of my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel.

 

           To my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel, during the holiday season, I received the gift of seeing all of you! As stories were swapped and laughs were shared, I frequently heard tales of my childhood bossiness, although I prefer to think of it as my blossoming leadership skills!  “The kids,” as I thought of you, were in need of my guidance and advanced wisdom, I felt certain as a youth. Thus, while I am sincerely sorry for my pushiness, I hope each of you know that my actions were motivated from a sense of great love, pride, and protectiveness for you. I felt as if I was your third parent, and with that came a sense of responsibility for your well being—however misguided my intentions were.  I loved, and still love, each one of you. We share a unique history that bonds us like no other. You each formed me into a better person; and you each shaped/influenced the type of parent, teacher, and even writer, I am now. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

           To my nieces and nephews, while I was unable to see all of you, I was blessed to see six out of nine of you during the holiday season.  Furthermore, of the three great nieces/nephews, I was able to see one. What a blessing each of you are to our family and me! Each of you is bright, articulate, witty, and all possess beautiful and unique souls.  When I am around you, I feel energized, renewed, and full of hope for the future. May you continue to bless the world with your sense of humor, creativity, and raw honesty. I love each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

           Mom and Dad, while you were not a perfect match for one another, you each did the best that you knew how to do at the time.  I could have never managed to go to school, work, and raise four kids in my twenties; yet, you unbelievably did just that despite the obstacles! Each of you instilled within me the love of the written word, appreciation and drive for education, a strong work ethic, and a love of movement.  Mom, you gave me the gift of cooking and baking; while Dad, you gave me the appreciation for quiet time in the woods. Both of you also shared with me the love of the beach, the mountains, educational travel, and you tempered my leadership, aka bossy skills! I hope each of you know how very much I realize you sacrificed of your own happiness for us kids.  Your early adult years were not easy; and I was NOT an easy first child, but through your struggles I learned, and, even now, I continue to learn from you. I am more empathetic and sensitive because of you. I love you both; and, I am so glad you each are traversing your own paths of happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Maddie, my singular, miraculous, and marvelous child, you are truly a gift, not only to your Dad and me, but also to the world. Your quick smile, sensitive nature, and pure, honest soul heals and/or soothes all who come into contact with you.  I was, and continue to be, an imperfect mother that is for sure. However, from the moment you were born and our eyes met, I have felt a deep, abiding Iove and connection with you that is more fierce and true than I ever knew was possible until I became your mother. Furthermore, you are my greatest teacher—providing me with ample lessons of humility, strength, and fortitude.  I love you, and will continue to love you “to the moon and back again” as your Dad and I would assure you when you were quite young.

 

 

           

           John, you are my dear husband and truest friend.  From our very first conversation, I knew you were the love of my life.  As my greatest cheerleader, you have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, however crazy they may seem to others.  You believe in me—even when my inner-demons of unworthiness raise their ugly heads of doubt and fear. I know that when we join hands, we are an unstoppable team that is able to face down any obstacle or challenge that life swerves our way.  Our nearly thirty years together have not always been easy, but just like the pains of birth, nothing worthwhile is born out of ease. It is through our challenges that we have grown, and they have only deepened my love and appreciation for you. You are, and always will be, my north star.  

 

 

           

           Finally, to you, Dear Readers, who faithfully read my words as I struggle to derive greater understanding, deeper meaning, and more positivity from life, thank you for joining me.  Whether you are reading my writing for the first time, or you are a follower and regular reader of my blog, you motivate me to continue this writing exploration as amateur as it is.  Your feedback, kind emails, and unspoken energy fuel this writing exploration. It is my wish that maybe, just maybe, in some small way I add a form of encouragement, optimism, and/or light to your life.  

           Here’s to 2019 and all its lessons, promises, as well as realities it has to offer us.  Namaste.

 

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Photo by Sonam Yadav on Pexels.com

 

Gluten-Free Seafood Pasta with Zucchini Noodles

           “Nothing is better than going home to family and eating good food and relaxing.”—Irina Shayk

           “I’m not a chef.  But I’m passionate about food—the traditional of it, cooking it, and sharing it.”—Zac Posen

 

           This past August, John and I were dinner guests of Amy and Keith VanHorn in Bethany, WV, while visiting our daughter, Madelyn, at Bethany College.  While we were there, Amy and Keith shared dinner with Maddie, a few of her college friends as well as John and me. One of the dishes they served was zucchini noodles prepared simply in what I believe was olive oil, perhaps a bit of butter, salt and pepper. John, who is not necessarily, a big zucchini lover, to my great surprise, loved that dish and suggested that we begin to incorporate zucchini in recipes at home.  Fine by me! I love all veggies, and I am all about discovering and/or creating new ways to prepare them!

 

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Photo by Toa Heftiba Şinca on Pexels.com

 

           As I began to mull over various way to incorporate those zucchini noodles, I was reminded of one of Maddie and John’s favorite dishes, Fettuccini Alfredo.  While I enjoy making it from scratch. It is full of fat, and takes a bit of time. I began to wonder, however, if there was a way I could make a lighter, more calorie friendly version of this family favorite that would include zucchini noodles. Hmm . . .

           Another thought came to me as well.  What about a favorite seafood stew, taught to me by our friends, Vincent and Gisele Theriault from New Brunswick, Canada?  This seafood dish is cooked in a Rose-style sauce and served over white rice. Vincent and Gisele once made this recipe for our family by combining one jar of red pasta sauce with one jar of Alfredo pasta sauce.  Then, they stirred in leftover freshly caught crab and lobster meat from a meal they had shared with us the night before. It was such a tasty way to use seafood, that it is a recipe I have made on occasion at home—only substituting canned crab, baby shrimp, and clams in lieu of fresh fish.

 

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Vincent, Gisele, and Bijou Theriault of Janeville (summer) and Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

 

           One night, John, seemingly reading my mind, said, “You know, Steph, I bet those zucchini noodles would be good with Alfredo Sauce over them.”  As I pondered what he said, the idea began to form that I could create a dish similar to that of Theriault’s seafood stew, but instead of serving it over rice, I could incorporate our favorite gluten free, high fiber pasta and zucchini noodles.  It would be the best of both worlds—a lower fat variation of Fettuccini Alfredo and Theirault’s hearty seafood stew.

           The recipe I share with you today, is one I have made several times with a few variations. I have made it with nothing but two jars of reduced fat Alfredo sauce.  I have also made the Theriault-rose variation with both a jar of reduced fat Alfredo sauce along with a jar of rich red pasta sauce. Additionally, I have used a number of combinations of seafood, but I feel certain it would be just as good without seafood.

 

           Some of the ingredients to gather for making this recipe.

 

           Finally, another tasty variation of this recipe that John and I have created with the leftovers is to pour the uneaten portion of pasta and sauce into a prepared casserole dish.  Then coat foil with nonstick cooking spray, before covering the leftovers, and storing in refrigerator. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Next, remove foil long enough to add desired toppings, such as shredded cheese, gluten free breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and/or bacon bits. Then, recover with same foil and bake 20-25 minutes until sauce begins to bubble.  Finally, remove foil and continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes until top begins to brown.

 

           Take any leftovers, place in prepared casserole dish, and top with your favorite shredded cheese, nutritional yeast, gluten-free bread crumbs, bacon bit, and/or so forth.

 

           This is a great recipe to make on a busy work night because it can be thrown together quickly; and, if you are only serving 2-3 people, you should have enough leftovers for another meal! Likewise, if you are feeding a family of 4-6, you will have plenty of servings for everyone, with a leftover dish or two for lunch packing.

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

 

          Cooks up in one pot, pasta and all!  Makes for easy clean-up and a tasty, quick dinner!

 

Gluten Free Seafood Pasta with Zucchini Noodles

Serves 6-8 (Leftovers are great baked in a casserole dish and topped with optional toppings; such as, parmesan cheese, other shredded cheeses, bacon bits, nutritional yeast, and/or gluten-free bread crumbs)

Can also be made vegan or vegetarian.

2  (12-ounce) packages of zucchini noodles (We like Green Giant frozen bags.)

1 (8-ounce) package favorite gluten free pasta (We like POW lentil pasta or Banza Chickpea Pasta.)

Your favorite style of seafood, enough for 6-8 servings, examples include: lump crabmeat or claw meat, clams, baby shrimp, imitation flaked crab meat, lobster, etc . . . (Obviously, if preparing this as a vegan or vegetarian recipe, you would leave out seafood.)

2 jars of favorite pasta sauce (We like Bertolli Reduced Fat Alfredo Sauce and/or Muir Glen Organic Portabella Mushroom Pasta Sauce.)

½ cup favorite clear broth, such as vegetable broth or chicken bone broth

½ cup water

¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese (nutritional yeast could be substituted for vegan version)

1-tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

½ teaspoon Bragg’s liquid aminos (Can substitute salt)

Use the following seasonings to taste:

–Italian Seasoning

–Onion Powder

–Red pepper flakes

–Black pepper

To Make:

Coat large pot with nonstick cooking spray and place pot on medium heat.

Empty contents of both pasta sauces into pot.

Fill one empty sauce jar with ½ cup clear broth, cover tightly with original lid, shake well, and empty into pot.

Fill other jar with ½ cup water, cover tightly with original lid, shake well, and empty into pot.

Stir in uncooked pasta noodles.

Meanwhile, follow microwave directions for heating/thawing zucchini noodles, one package at a time. (I typically reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes.  I just want zucchini slightly warmed.)

Drain water from zucchini package before stirring into pot.

Once both packages of zucchini noodles have been added to sauce and pasta, stir well, and continue simmering over medium heat, checking to ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of pot.  If, at any time, sticking begins to occur, gradually reduce heat, but try to maintain a simmer.

Begin to stir in desired seafood.

Next, stir in parmesan cheese (and/or nutritional yeast if using)

Finally, stir in seasonings. (If I had to guess, I would say I use ½ or more teaspoon of both Italian seasoning and onion powder; and ¼ or more teaspoons of black pepper and red pepper flakes.)

Stir well and continue simmering for 10, or more, minutes until pasta is al dente.

Reduce heat to low and cover.  Allow dish to rest in pot for 10, or more, minutes.

Serve warm.

 

A Christmas Sort of Story, 2018

           Most people never really sat down and get to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God and it is the same kinds of different as us; they just have a different story.—Ron Hall

           There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control.  We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.—Jan Schakowsky

 

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As seen on Instagram at sbtbreathe.

 

          We were tired, our bodies ached, and we were hungry.  Our school day started at 7:30. After school, I spent time with students in my “Elevate Writing and Arts” Club until 5:15 or so. Afterwards, I joined the other St. Joseph Catholic Middle School Teachers who were already busily working away to prepare and decorate our school gym for a Christmas movie themed dance for 6-8 grades at both our school and Our Lady of Fatima School.  Soon, the students began arriving.

           Overall, the dance went well.  Kids seemed to have a great time, there was plenty of food, and their Christmas movie themed costumes were phenomenally fun! All in all, we felt pleased that everything seemed to come together without a hitch.  

           Of course, once students were safely returned to their parents, there was still the clean-up process.  When all floors, decorations, tables, and so forth, were sufficiently returned, each to its proper place, we were able to lock up the school, and walk out of its doors sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 pm.

 

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Heading towards Roosters located at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           John, my husband and co-worker, asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat since we had not yet eaten dinner.   We were both too tired to cook, but wondered if there would be any late night eateries open. Sure enough, Roosters, in Pullman Plaza was open until midnight, and served food until 11:30.  It sounded perfect as it was only located a few minutes from our school.

           Once there, J’lisa Kelly-Walker was our server/bartender.  She was quick with a smile and possessed an easy-going, friendly demeanor.  We sat in the bar as that is where most patrons this time of evening were dining.  John ordered a sandwich, and I ordered a salad. While we were waiting, we shared pleasant conversation, despite our overall fatigue as we took in the people around us.

 

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Entrance to Roosters at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           Not long after we placed our order, a dapper looking gentleman sat at the bar beside us.  Dressed in a suit, he gave off the appearance of having just finished his workday as well.  He was unassuming, ordered his food, and seemed content to sit quietly as he waited. While J’lisa seemed to know him, perhaps he was a regular customer; she respected his desire for solitude.

           As a long-suffering people watcher, this man’s purpose seemed one of efficiency.   He talked into a wireless headset occasionally while reading on his phone. He courteously interacted with J’lisa, and received his food around the same time we received our meals; however, he did not engage in active conversation with her as we were doing. (J’lisa is a mom of three beautiful children, and we enjoyed chatting with her.)

 

 

 

           While we were finishing the last of our food, the reserved man beside us, who had already paid, quietly slipped away into the chilly night.   Ten or so minutes later, just after we had asked for our bill, I noticed the same man re-enter Roosters, but this time, he had another man with him. The other man was a pale, stark contrast to his well-dressed, black companion, as he looked a bit disheveled with a visible line of black beneath his nails.  His hair was in need of some TLC, but he was civil and peaceeable. The more distinguished man seated his companion in the same area in which he once sat, whispered to him, and then motioned for J’lisa to come over.

           It a minute or two past 11:30, as J’lisa cheerfully asked the seated man what he wanted to drink.  I could not help but notice J’lisa giving him not one, but two to-go cups filled with Mello Yellow soft drink.  Then, she met the unknown businessman at the opposite end of the bar as the man talked softly to her and then gave her his credit card.

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveaffirmations101

 

 

            J’lisa walked to speak with what appeared to be a manager.  I overheard the manager say, “The kitchen closes at 11:30, and it is past that time.”

           J’lisa, not to be deterred, sweetly and sincerely, smiled, and urgently replied, “But they’re not shut completely down, the other man is willing to pay, the guy is hungry, and it’s cold outside.  See if they will do for me.”

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways

 

           Though he wasn’t mad, he certainly wore the expression of inconvenience, as he walked in the direction of the kitchen, and soon returned to whisper in J’lisa ear.  I watched in focused anticipation and baited breath as John asked me what was going on.

           “I’m trying to figure out if the restaurant is going to do the right thing.”

           “What?”

           “Shhh . . .”

           Admittedly, I was taking people watching to an extreme, but my heart had a vested interest in this unfolding drama.  I watched as J’lisa walked toward the bar. Was the credit card still in her hand? I couldn’t see it! Oh no! The suited gentleman began to walk toward the other man, leaned in, whispered, and patted his arm. The seated man nodded, and turned slightly towards the other with the appearance of disbelief.  Meanwhile, my heart pounded as I wondered if he going to be fed?

 

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J’lisa Kelly-Walker, student, mother of three, bar-tender/waitress, and kind person to ALL.

 

           Suddenly, J’lisa appeared, handed the businessman his credit card as well as the bill.  Another hungry, alone soul would have warm meal in his belly before another cold night on the streets. John and I quietly walked away, and I felt tears sting my eyes with gratitude for bearing witness to the Christmas spirit embodied in the actions of this one man, followed by J’lisa, the Roosters management, and kitchen staff.  

 

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

 

           What if the man who owned the Inn, had turned Mary and Joseph away all those years ago?  I am sure that they, too, were disheveled with dust/dirt-covered clothes and skin as they had travel for miles on a dirt road.  It is certainly worth remembering and contemplating.

P.S.  Thank you J’lisa, Rooster’s staff and management, and unknown man-of-action for inspiring this story.  It is my hope it will ignite others into simple acts of kindness, not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the year.  Finally, my wish for the hungry man at Roosters is that he may come to know peace, love, and compassion; and, most of all, may he one day no longer need to be at the mercy of others for food and warmth.

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As seen on Instagram at spiritualmovement

           

           

           

           

 

Midland Trail, National Scenic Byway, a Road Full of Adventure and Fun

            “I am not a great book, I am not a great artist, but I love art and I love food, so I am the perfect traveler.”–Michael Palin

 

“To travel is to evolve.”—Pierre Bernardo

 

Author’s Note: This is the last installment of a three-part travel series that mostly featured the Greenbrier Valley area of WV. While the first and second part focused on the outdoor attractions, specifically C B Ranch, and the numerous dining experiences that abound in and around the city of Lewisburg, WV, this piece will focus more on the numerous attractions along the Midland Trail Nation Scenic Byway (US 60).

 

“Well, should we drive Interstate 64 home, or should we try Route 60?”

 

I mulled over the question John, my husband, just asked.  The interstate was full of orange barrels (construction) and, most likely, would be busy with Black Friday shoppers driving to and from shopping centers, malls, and big box stores.  We weren’t, per se, in a hurry, so why not slow down a bit?

 

After a bit more conversation, it was decided. We would travel along Midland Trail Scenic Byway (U. S. Route 60) or Midland Trail, for short.  After all, it was a crisp fall day with bright, clear sunshine that imbued the landscape with a golden light allowing the leafless trees and fallen leaves to possess the color of toasted pecans.

 

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The familiar road leading us from the beloved C B Ranch to the Midland Trail.

 

 

Historic landmarks and a small cemetery along the roadside leading to and from C B Ranch.

 

As we departed from C B Ranch, just outside of Lewisburg, where we had been staying, the surrounding farmlands glistened in the mid-morning light.  This now familiar road led us directly to the Midland Trail.  However, instead of the usual right that would have led back into Lewisburg, we turned left, and away we drove past expansive farmland, horse and cattle pastures, and earthen fields seemingly at rest for the upcoming winter season.

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Once last view as we departed C B Ranch.

 

The Midland Trail is part of a longer transcontinental road linking Washington DC to both Los Angeles, CA as well as San Francisco, CA that runs through a 172 mile southern portion of West Virginia, from Kenova (Mile 0) to White Sulphur Springs (Mile 172).  Research indicates that buffalo and/or native people mostly likely originated this expanse.  Later, George Washington ordered the trail to be cleared.  Of added note, John and I could not help but marvel at how earlier travelers could have ever managed the multiplicity of steep inclines and nausea-inducing switchbacks and curves in covered wagons, coaches or even horseback.  One thing was, and is still, for certain; the Midland Trail offers all travelers picturesque scenery.

 

Since we were departing from Lewisburg, we completely missed White Sulphur Springs.  (We will have to save that for another adventure.) We were, however, able to drive by Sam Black United Methodist Church, an historic, and quite majestic looking, Carpenter Gothic-style church, located in Greenbrier County and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was built in 1902 in honor of the Rev. Samuel Black, a circuit-riding Southern Methodist preacher credited for spreading the gospel through Greenbrier, Clay, Fayette, Nicholas, Webster, and even Kanawha counties.  Black sold socks and deerskin gloves made by women of his congregations in order to help organize and build numerous churches throughout his beloved circuit. Thus, he came to be affectionately known as, “Uncle Sam.”

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Sam Black Church image as found on Trip Advisor.

 

Babcock State Park, the next point of interest after Lewisburg, took us by surprise, and we unintentionally drove past the exit.  We had been told that we needed to see and photograph the Glade Creek Grist Mill where cornmeal is still freshly ground, so we will have to save that for another visit.

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Glade Creek Grist Mill image via Trip Advisor.

 

Next up, Ansted and Hawks Nest State Park. While we did not, precisely, drive into the park, we stop at the look out area as well as the gift shop. This was a beautiful rest area with plenty of picnic and hiking spots, but it was the lookout that was indeed the true focal point.  This area offers breath-taking views of the New River Gorge.  While I am typically not afraid of heights, I have to admit, looking straight down over the edge of the lookout rock wall made me dizzy and a bit nervous!  Still, what an awe-inspiring view!

 

 

A few views from Hawk’s Nest.

 

While our daughter has never visited Hawk’s nest, I couldn’t help by photograph a rock with her name carved in it.  Looking over the rock ledge made me nervous and dizzy.

 

Driving on, we passed both Mystery Hole and Chimney Corner.  Described as a place where gravity does not apply, Mystery Hole is exactly that—still a mystery to me as we did not stop.  We have read that it is certainly worth the time to see balls roll uphill and chairs sit on a wall, but we decided to save both it, and Chimney Corner, with its country store and corner café, for another trip.

 

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Image via Trip Advisor.

 

Traveling westward, we derived great pleasure by the views at Gauley Bridge where the New and Gauley Rivers join to create the Great Kanawha River.  Additionally, we were able to see the remaining piers from a bridge burnt by Civil War soldiers for which we had read about at the Hawks Nest look out. However, it was the stunning sounds and view of Cathedral Falls that left us speechless!  Of course, the mere fact that water roared at deafening levels as it cascaded over the mountainous granite wall made any conversation nearly impossible!

 

Images from Cathedral Falls and Gauley Bridge area in WV.

 

 

Listen to the sounds of Cathedral Falls, WV.

 

Making our further along Midland Trail, John skillfully maneuvered the car around the twists and sharp turns of Gauley Mountain while I navigated the waves of carsickness attempting to overtake me. Gratefully, we entered a semi-straight stretch of the byway as we took in the view of Kanawha Falls and the Glen Ferris Inn.  My sister-in-law, Jacki Humphreys, and her husband, Tony, had recommended that we stop in the 1839 Inn for a bite of lunch to savor the view of the falls; however, since it was hours past lunch time, we decided that this should be saved for another trip. In the meantime, we did stop at the boat ramp, which appeared to be fairly unkempt due to what appeared to be heavy flooding, in order to better view and take pictures of the rushing falls.   Plus, the fresh air was an excellent remedy to motion sickness!

 

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Kanawha Falls with Glen Ferris Inn in the background.

 

 

 

Continuing on, we drove past Cedar Grove with great interest, but did not take time to stop by, choosing to also save it for another trip.  Of interesting note regarding this town, it was established in 1774 and was the location for the finishing point of the original road George Washington commissioned. There is both a mansion and a chapel from the mid-19thcentury located within the town’s borders.

 

Ten or so miles past Cedar Grove, is Malden, known as the boyhood home of Booker T. Washington.  This town has a replica of Washington’s childhood cabin as well as the church in which he taught Sunday School which can be viewed by the public.

 

Of course, the Midland Trail does end there. Other highlights include Charleston–the state capital of WV, South Charleston, St. Albans, Hurricane, Milton—home of Blinko Glass, Huntington with its Old Central City section, Camden Park— a 109-year-old-amusement part, and of course, Kenova, the starting point, that the geographical borders of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.  However, as these areas are our own local stomping grounds, and certainly noteworthy, each in their own right, we decided to drive on home, so we could plan our next traveling adventure.

 

Hmm . . . I wonder where the road will take us the next time?

 

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John and I pose for a selfie in front of Cathedral Falls.