Thanksgiving in Lexington, KY 2019–Relax, Unwind, Enjoy Great Food

“Traveling – It leaves you speechless, then turns  you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

I am not a glutton–I am an explorer of food.”–Erma Bombeck

 

Quite honestly, I am not sure how it finally all came to be decided, but in the end, it was a romantic, food-laden adventure.   In fact, I would argue, sometimes, last minute plans end up making the best adventures because you haven’t had time to think about and attach to certain outcomes.  You just pack a bag, hop in the car, and see what unfolds! That is what happened to John, my husband, and me this past Thanksgiving.

 

John and I are not traditional Thanksgiving meal fare people. I know, I know, for many people, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday; and, I get it.  Focusing on the big three–food, family, and friends–is never a bad thing, I wholeheartedly agree. To be certain, I have baked my fair share of turkeys over the years–including baking the neck and giblet bags within the turkey!  What can I say? Fortunately, that year, I had a brother-in-law, Tony, who took good care to help me out without making me feel like a complete and total idiot–even though I was!

 

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

 

Despite the fact that turkey, dressing, and all the other traditional trimmings aren’t really John’s and my thing, we do love our food, and we do love to travel–even if adventuring fairly close to home! Thus, years ago, we began the family tradition, when our daughter, Madelyn, was fairly young, to combine travel and food during Thanksgiving week.  We tended to travel to mountainous destinations in nearby North Carolina, West Virginia, or Kentucky, and we usually kept the driving distance no longer than 6 hours. However, for the past couple of years, Maddie, now in college, has tended to venture separately with friends, included trips to Chicago and New York City. Therefore, this year, we were unsure if she would be joining us or not.  Furthermore, I preferred not to be out of town the entire week of Thanksgiving.

 

Conversations regarding Thanksgiving travel waxed and waned among Maddie, John, and me.  

 

“Are you interested in traveling with us?”

 

“Where would you want to go?”

 

“What days did you say you wanted to travel?”

 

“You know, we could go . . .”

 

“You know, we need to make a decision soon.”

 

Even the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, we still had not fully decided what to do!  Talk about indecisiveness–mostly on my part. In the end, we settled on Lexington, KY–a short three night, two hour trip.  John and I had discovered this town’s appeal this past spring, due to a family experience at the UK Medical Center. Therefore, why not head back to Kentucky’s warm hospitality?

 

Hospitality is exactly what we discovered on Airbnb.  We found what appeared to be a cozy apartment hideaway, reasonably priced, and tucked into an old residential Lexington neighborhood, only minutes from downtown.  However, due to a hacking experience the previous spring, our Airbnb account was not properly functioning. That is when hosts, Dawna and David Gaither, stepped in and offered direct Airbnb contact information, so that we could talk to an actual person, and get our account up and operating once more.  This was only the beginning of Dawna and David’s hospitality.

 

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Their “Uptown Retreat,” as it is called on Airbnb, is comfortable, cozy, and full of thoughtful touches for one or two travelers.  This spacious two-room apartment offers a retro kitchenette, wood-burning fireplace (complete with wood to burn), sauna, full bath, and laundry.  Plus, Dawna and David stock it up with beverages, snacks, toiletries, plenty of linens, coffee/tea, as well as comfortable bedding. Plus, they responded promptly and courteously to all text queries, and we were stunned by the fact they checked on us regularly to see if there was any more they could do to make our stay more pleasant!  John and I would highly recommend both the hosts and this location–absolutely perfect!

 

 

 

Now for the food . . .

 

Pies and Pints is always a favorite dining establishment.  I cannot say enough about their Simple Salad and their Black Bean Pie with gluten-free crust, which even John agrees is tasty!  And, yes, I splurged on cheese for this visit! John loves the rotating tap of local breweries and the Make-Your-Own-Pie choice since he’s a straightforward pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese kinda guy.  During this visit, we were fortunate enough to have Devon waiting upon us again, as he did this past spring, and his service and the food/beverages did not disappoint! Yum, yum, yum!

 

 

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Next stop, Wild Eggs for brunch the following day with Ms. Janette Gomez as our waitress extraordinaire. When I explained that I really did not want to eat meat, wanted little to no dairy, and I needed to eat gluten-free, she did not sweat one bit!  She helped me find several dishes from which I could choose, and she even suggested ways to make my ultimate choice filled with even more of what I love–vegetables! Add to that a carafe full of unlimited flavored coffee, an adorable atmosphere, that included mixed drinks if we had wanted them, an eclectic menu, and John’s big ol’ “Yellow Submarine” sandwich, we left Wild Eggs feeling full, happy, and definitely wanting to return again the next time we are in the neighborhood..

 

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That evening, it was time to visit Carson’s–John’s favorite spot (so far) in Lexington.  While we had dined there this past spring, we recalled that the menu had so many items that we wished to try, this visit seemed like the time to return and try a new dish.  I went straight to their vegan and gluten-free entrees, while John debated which meat-centric dish he wanted to enjoy. During our conversation that evening, I asked John if he ever got tired of finding restaurants with gluten-free and vegetarian options for me.  His reply left me thinking.

 

 

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“I figure, if a place takes the time to think about creating a few good food choices for those desiring vegetarian and gluten-free options, then they probably take just as much care, if not more, creating great meat based dishes.”

 

Hmm . . .maybe he’s on to something!  To be certain, that has certainly defined the majority of our dining experiences!  One thing is for sure, we found our meals tasted unbelievably delicious at Carson’s with courteous, and overall, prompt service that left us wanting to return a third time!  My Tofu Stir-fry was loaded with all the colorful veggies I love, and John’s Sweet and Spicy Rib Entree was loaded up with what could be called, bone-sucking good ribs! We did not leave hungry that night.

 

What did we do about Thanksgiving Day?  John still had one-half of his Yellow Submarine sandwich from our brunch at Wild Eggs, and he also had half of his ribs from dinner, but I did not have any leftovers.  Therefore, after a long walk around the neighborhood’s peaceful lake and homes, we visited Whole Foods Market’s food and salad bars. John loaded up on containers full of green salad and Mac n Cheese to round out both his meals for the day, while I loaded up on an eclectic mix of containers: mixed berries, salad, tofu, assorted grilled and roasted vegetables, quinoa chili, and, of course, dark chocolate!  Once back at the apartment, we burned a fire all day long, took in the football games, relaxed, and enjoyed each other’s company in our pleasant and snuggly setting. Now that’s a trip for which to feel grateful!

 

 

From my home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and delicious travel experiences, and we certainly recommend givings Lexington, KY a visit when looking for a close-to-home adventure.  You won’t go hungry or be disappointed!

 

 

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A Fall Prayer of Gratitude

            “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about the trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”—Jeffrey McDaniel

 

            “We should never forget a good act that has been done to us.”—The Thirukkural

 

           As I stepped out of my vehicle into the straight lines and right angles of the parking lot, leaves–wispy and whirling–whizzed past me as the gusts of wind directed their descent to earth.  Flitting and floating shades of amber, coriander, tobacco, and cinnamon offered contrast to the somber, slate-colored clouds. I stood momentarily as pin-prickles of spiky raindrops spotted my glasses and seemingly pierced my face.  Another change of weather signaling winter was coming soon. 

 

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           Remnants of the dream from much earlier, well before I rose for the work day, still clung to me the way the smell of cigarette smoke once clung onto my clothes after a date night with my husband, early in our marriage, before laws banning public smoking.  I continued to let the rain pelt me as my vision began blurring from the droplets accumulating on my lens.  

 

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          “Let it go, Steph.  Let it go.”

 

           Soon enough, I was immersed in my day, and all was forgotten, replaced by the immediacy of the present moment.  

 

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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

 

             Teaching, whether in my current middle school setting, or when I am in the midst of a yoga or fitness class at Brown Dog Yoga, demands that I fully focus on the needs of others.  What is the goal of the day’s lesson/s? How are the students responding? Do I need to make adjustments? It is a continuous feedback loop. Present, observe, adjust, interact, respond, sense, encourage, listen . . .the verbs are endless.  If I am really focused, all else is forgotten, and before long, another 45- or 60-minute class has flashed before my eyes.

 

           Likewise, writing, planning, cooking, or other purposeful endeavors can draw me into only what is happening, right there, in that instant.  In fact, quite often, if I do not set timers, I can become totally engrossed and lose track of all time–often making me late for whatever is on-tap for the day.  It is both a curse and blessing.

 

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

 

        Additionally, as I become more keenly aware of the passage of time via the loss of loved ones, the aging of other loved ones–both above and around my age–as well as my own changing life, body, and status, I fully recognize that I am no longer that young, wide-eyed, optimistic young woman who wanted to leave my home geography, eradicate injustice, offer love and hope to those without, and move up the ranks of education.  Instead, life has kept me rooted home, and offered me experiences I could have never envisioned.

 

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As photographed for Brown Dog Yoga, photographer, Ashley Franz of AF Photography.

 

      So life has not been what I once envisioned it to be as a younger person.  What of it? So there have been challenges, difficulties, heartbreak, and even an occasional bad dream about a past event.  Again, what of it? I can choose to focus and wallow on those perceived negatives–and quite honestly, I occasionally still do.  However, why negate all the good that has occurred in my life and continues to occur? I have so many bountiful blessings that money, prestige, or another address could have never given me.  I am not the story or labels in my head, and neither are you Dear Reader. We are each uniquely, infinitely, and beautifully created by a Divine Source.

 

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        I have, and continue to enjoy, opportunities to travel and explore, not only within the Tri-State region, but also throughout the U.S. and Canada.  I have been further blessed to teach in a multiplicity of settings with a wide-array of ages that my younger self, with its limited perspective, could have never imagined.  Additionally, I was lucky enough to have a young woman take a chance on my writing in a now defunct county newspaper that gave me the confidence to approach another local paper that continues to welcome my writing—something I absolutely never dreamed I would do and for which I continue to be grateful with each passing week.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thepositiveminds

 

         Furthermore, I am so fortunate to have lovingly shared my life with another educator who is just as passionate as me in the lifelong pursuit of learning and sharing with others.  Together, we have a daughter who is half way between her 20th and 21st year of life—a time that is so exciting, unpredictable, and oh-so-challenging.  What a wonderful gift it is to see the world through her eyes!

 

          I had/have the love, support, and/or closeness of my spouse and daughter, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, countless relatives within immediate and extended family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, mentors, and the list could go, including pets, connected like an intricately woven spider web, drenched with early autumnal dew of which I am but one strand of connectivity.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

          Thank you, God, Divine Source, Ultimate Creator, for keeping my heart beating and my breath coming–continuously, persistently, resolutely.  I am Your instrument. My prayer is that You, in an Infinite Wisdom that I will never comprehend, continue to use me, lead me, teach me, and guide me.  I am here to serve; I no longer question my calling–that in and of itself is a gift. Lead my life where You will, and I will continue to do my best to live in the present moment, shaking off the dust of my past and uninformed self as the trees shed their leaves in the fall.  Though the trees look dormant in times of winter, life is percolating inside, revitalizing, nourishing, and strengthening, so that when spring emerges–and it always does–it can offer shade in the heat of life.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at drwaynedyer

 

 

 

 

Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate

 

          “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”—Chinese Proverb

           “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes 3:1

           “Wasn’t the snow so pretty this morning?  It was so nice to see snow again.”

           My daughter, Maddie, said this to me on a recent evening after temperatures from the previous day had hovered around 60 degrees, only to plummet to 13 degrees the following morning.  Additionally, a light layer of snow covered the grassy areas, trees, and hilltops.  

 

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          Upon hearing Maddie’s observation, I felt pleased to hear she still appreciated the natural world even now as a young adult.  My next thoughts were to recall how cold my feet and hands had remained throughout the day as well as all of the ways in which I chilled, and quite honestly, complained due to the sudden onset of cold rather than appreciate the miracle that is snow.  Oh boy, who’s the parent?

           Maddie was correct.  From the sugar coated tree branches standing in sentinel silence earlier that morning on surrounding hillsides, to the wispy white of the grass, as crisp and precise as a starched shirt under a jacket of cold air, it certainly made for a picturesque, albeit chilly, start to the day.  Hmm . . . I felt the sting of humility enter my mind.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

        A few days prior, while preparing to teach a yoga class, I encountered a phrase in one of my books that stated, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury.”   I made it a point to write down those exact words because I wanted to remember it. Now those words were reverberating in my conscience. Who was I to complain about the cold?  After all, it was mid-November. 

          The article, which contained that phrase, as best I recall, described the power and influence of our thoughts, and the importance of cultivating a clear mind in order to discipline and guard our minds against disturbances and fluctuations driven by our ego. Of course, it emphasized the importance of praying, meditating, and all other faith based practices, but its real intent was to point out that all those practices/habits are useless if not applied in day-to-day life.  If our thoughts, words, and actions are full of complaints and resistances for things we cannot change or overflowing with attachments and thoughts to how things should be, not only are we not putting our faith into action, but we will not experience true inner peace.  

 

 

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As seen on A to Z Quotes

 

          A week later, I found myself walking with a friend. Half way through our walk, I could feel a rock in my shoe.  However, it was cold and our conversation was lively, so I did not want to stop to take the rock out of my shoe.  Still, the annoyance of it kept pressing into my foot, irritating and distracting me, but I remained doggedly determined not to take a few moments to remove it from my shoe.  Thus, at times, I found myself losing focus on our conversation as my attention drifted to that rock in my shoe.  

 

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           Once home, I stepped out of the car, took off my shoe, and shook out the rock.  Returning the shoe to my foot, I walked the length of our driveway to paper box to collect the newspaper.  Next, I sauntered over to the porch, pruned dead leaves and flower heads off of a chrysanthemum. Finally, I moved the pot, with the chrysanthemum in it, across the porch and into the sunlight as temperatures were once more climbing into the 50s.  Not once did I become distracted as I worked because I had removed the irritant—the obstacle–from my shoe. What a metaphor for our thoughts. 

 

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          How often do I fixate on negative thoughts, such as, “It is so cold;” “I am so tired;” “My back is killing me;” “I am so overwhelmed with . . ..” I could continue with examples, but the point is, these negative influences become like those scratched records of long ago, the words keep repeating, and won’t stop, until the needle is moved past the scratch.

 

          Likewise, at the end of a meditation, prayer, focused reading, walk, or even a yoga practice, most, if not all, negative thoughts have been removed from my mind like the rock in my shoe.  I can begin tasks, and even conversations, with a renewed focus, energy, and a sense of positivity. It is only when I begin to allow those perceived injuries and insults; such as, cold weather, aging, work load, and so forth, to infiltrate my thoughts that I once more become distracted, irritated, or filled with doubt/uncertainty. 

 

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          When my grandparents were living, a framed “Serenity Prayer” hung upstairs in the attic area in which I lived for two years fresh out of college.  I remember once asking my Grandmother to explain the significance of the prayer, especially the first two lines: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference . . ..”

 

          “Stethie,” her pronounced name for me, “over the years, there have been a lot of things that happened in my life that I could not change.”

 

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Grandmother, Helen Clarke Slater, with her father and mother.

 

          Grandmother went on to provide me with examples.  From the death of her own mother when she was a young girl, to her “crippled” dad, as she referred to him, refusing to receive charity—including not allowing my her to accept a scholarship (at a time period when a high school education was not mandatory) to attend a high school in a nearby town; from the 1937 flood in which she and my papaw lost the grocery store in which they owned and operated, to the fact that her beloved sister, Ruth, had married and divorced several men over the course of her life and lived out her final days impoverished.

 

          “I can’t change any of it, just like I can’t change these wrinkles on my ol’ face. I had to learn when to let things go, and live my life for the Lord and my family, especially you-kids.”

 

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          Her dark blue eyes, that were beginning to become milky with age, filled with tears as she finished by saying she loved me.  As an afterthought, she added that I’d come to understand and appreciate the prayer more with age. This was an especially poignant moment because I now realize that my papaw and she had had to accept major changes in their retired life in order to make room for a young-know-it-all 21-year old to move into their house.              

          Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury, and keep on going with devotion and love.  Perhaps, this was what Grandmother Helen was trying to impart to me all those years ago.

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As seen on Instagram as posted by postivenergyalways.

30 Seconds More

            “How did it get so late so soon?  It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.  My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”—Dr. Seuss

 

            “The trouble is, you think you have time.”—Jack Kornfield

 

            “You have 30 more seconds!  You can do it!” I encouraged the group of exercisers working out with me at Brown Dog Yoga.  However, as soon as I spoke those words, I was struck with the notion of how relative time is.  30 more seconds of push-ups can seem like a long time. Interestingly, within that same time span, human eyes will have blinked at least six times, heart and lungs will have ceaselessly continued their rhythmic beats and breathes; and around the world, about 125 babies will be born with a little more than 50 lives crossing over into eternity.

 

 

 

            30 more seconds of time . . .

 

            30 more seconds to say, I now know you were doing your best; I now see how hard it was; I didn’t know you were worried about my siblings and me; I didn’t know you didn’t know the answers; I didn’t know the struggles, the hurt, the heartache, and the trials. 

 

 

            30 more seconds to say, I am sorry, I love you, I was a stupid kid, and an even dumber young adult. Heck, who am I kidding? I am still not so great at adulting at times.

 

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          30 more seconds of–falling asleep to the sound of the Singer sewing machine whirring away on another dress for me as Mary Tyler Moore played on in the background; listening to WGNT each morning as we all dressed for school/work in our rooms while you made breakfast, packed lunches, ironed clothes, and studied your notes from night school; traipsing behind you throughout our avocado green kitchen in the afternoons watching you cook, offering to help, getting in the way repeatedly, talking without pausing to catch my breath about the latest high school drama.

 

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        30 more seconds of–waking to the sound of the water hose spray hitting the hubcaps of our car on a Saturday morning followed by a routine oil and engine check; books read or notes studied while reclined in a chair as black vinyl dropped from the top of the stack and music began to fill the room; long, menacing snakes that mysteriously disappeared from the side yard; nails that were driven into the family room wall frame while multiplication facts and/or spelling words were given in random order; driving lessons that ended up in the neighbor’s yard.

 

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            30 more seconds to–stay up late watching the Midnight Special; listen to our 45s and roller skate around our driveway; fight over board games; watch the free version of MTV on selected weekends; eat pizza and Snyder’s potato chips, drink pop, and see who could burp the loudest; sneak off to another room in the house with a deck of cards and daringly play a game of Blackjack like we were really doing something; say I am sorry I wasn’t the best sibling, and I am even more sorry for all my cross words as a kid about things that really didn’t matter.

 

 

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          30 more seconds of sitting on the metal green and white glider with Mamaw on her front porch, lulled by its metallic cadence as she sips iced tea, and I drink Tang out of what were once jelly jars, looking at the colorful zinnias that once lined her walk.

 

 

         30 more seconds to enter the backdoor directly into the aromatic-scented blue and white kitchen of my Grandmother’s and Papaw’s as they bustled together around the steaming pots and pans, aprons around both waists, beckoning us to enter their house, “such as it was.”

 

 

            30 more seconds of walking across the Convocation Center’s stage at Ohio University, grinning widely up at my family who had endured the motion-sickness-invoking car ride to celebrate with me. 

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           30 more seconds to–drive in the so-called fancy car with monogrammed floor mats; to laugh hysterically at a door we could not push open because we overlooked the “pull” sign; sit on the stoop of my grandparent’s house and talk as the moon passed over ours head; nervously meet your mom and sister, and ultimately laugh ‘til I cried as I took in all of their wonderful stories;  ride roller coasters repeatedly like we were 13 year olds; walk down the aisle with my arm linked into my Dad’s gliding towards an ear-to-ear smiling, soon-to-be husband; watch the snow fall half way up the back door of that tiny rental home; fly into the middle of a Canadian woodland in plane held together with duct tape surrounded by all sorts of creatures and critters that skitter-scurry in the night.

 

 

 

           

 

 

         30 more seconds to–savor when my eyes first locked into our daughter’s as Dr. Lee placed her gently on my chest; read another story book; sing another song; recite another nursery rhyme; watch another musical DVD again for which she has dressed up and is dancing/singing along; help with homework; shop for another special event dress; listen to a flute played in musical practice while I prepare dinner; proof read another essay.

 

 

          30 more seconds to once more taste–Mamaw’s holiday fudge; Grandmother’s brownies; Papaw’s sorghum molasses; Mom’s Christmas cinnamon rolls; Dad’s summer peanut butter milk shakes; Colleen’s family favorite broccoli casserole; and those scrambled eggs with grape jelly made in an attempt to get a sibling to eat them . . . okay, maybe not the eggs!

 

 

          30 more seconds to say–I didn’t realize the joy you felt; I didn’t fully realize the love you gave; I didn’t fully comprehend the pride you held; I didn’t fully grasp your compassion, empathy, and your capacity to overlook my idiocy.

 

            30 more seconds; one more minute; one more hour; and one more day.  If only I could go back into those moments. I’d gather each experience up, and arrange it like a bouquet of flowers whose fragrance I would sniff repeatedly until I sneezed myself silly.  Then, I’d place those colorful flowers safely away from all the mischievous cats of our past, change the flowers’ water daily, and gaze at their vibrancy frequently. What’s more, I’d stroke their velvety petals and bask in the whispers that would resonate when others walked past and remarked on their exquisiteness.

 

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One of the many cats we had as kids.

 

            When I was a young girl, my papaw loved taking pictures with his Kodak camera.  He then had each image developed into a slide, and he spent hours arranging those memories in just the right order in a rotary projector tray.  Each Christmas, and sometimes, if we were lucky, around July 4, Papaw would get out a large screen, set it up at one end of their special occasion living room, gather a TV tray table, set in just the right spot, and carefully place his carousel slide projector on top of it.  Once dinner was served, the kitchen was cleaned and all food items put away, save for the desserts—extra servings were sure to still be enjoyed—the lights were turned out. Family would gather in that seemingly expansive room on chairs, couches, and even on the floor as the room glowed with the larger than life images.  Papaw would dramatically pause for each photo, and then click on to the next one. We ooed and awed, laughed and swapped familiar stories. I never tired of that ritual.

 

 

            If only life could be captured perfectly like those rotary projector trays Papaw so lovingly organized, labeled, and gathered. Click, there’s my childhood.  Click, there’s my youth. Click, there’s my family, my friends, those special moments—it’s all there . . .Click, click, click . . .white light fills the screen. 

             30 more seconds . . . please.

 

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Versatile Vegetable Marinara

            Your choice of diet can influence your long term health prospects more than any other action you might take.”—Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop

 

            “We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it—because they do.”—Michael Greger, MD

 

            Recently, my husband, John, after watching the documentary, The Game Changers, has made the choice to increase plant foods in his diet and drastically reduce the meat he consumes.  As someone who has been a plant-based eater for years, I whole-heartedly embraced his decision. However, before carnivorous readers stop reading, please do not assume I am writing to proclaim, “The gospel of how you should eat,” according to Steph.  How you choose to eat, Dear Reader, is a highly personal choice, and only you know what type of diet works best for you. With that being said, I think most readers can agree that increasing one’s intake of whole foods, with emphasis on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods, is an overall healthy practice. 

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Trust me, John has not completely abandoned meat, but he is now choosing to consume it as a rare treat, rather than an everyday occurrence.  This change in John’s dietary habits has certainly made it easier on me with regards to how I cook for us. Now, instead of cooking one meat-based recipe for him, and a vegetable-based variation for myself, I only have to plan for one recipe.  (Although, I must confess, I often prepare myself something different only because I am either experimenting with a new recipe or making a variation for myself that is gluten free.)

 

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            Furthermore, I am a big believer in food prep on the weekend.  John and I live busy and active lives. We are up by 5:00 am each work day and typically unable to sit down for dinner until 7:00 pm or later.  Thus, I do not have much time to cook during the workweek. Therefore, I purchase, clean, and prep all of our vegetables for the week on the weekend.  I also typically prepare all of my work lunches on the weekends; and I generally cook up large batch recipes for dinner that can easily be warmed and supplemented with a quickly thrown together salad.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            This past month, John and I have enjoyed a week’s worth of black bean soup, meatless chili, or big bowls of chopped salad overflowing with prepared greens, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and/or seeds.  Of course, it helps that we love eating leftovers. Perhaps, it goes back to our childhood as both of our families regularly made leftovers part of the weekly family dinner experience. However, it seems to us that certain foods get magically better with each reheating, especially soups, chili, and pasta sauces.

 

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            This month’s recipe is no exception.  I actually made it on a Saturday afternoon, but immediately cooled it, transferred it to a Crockpot, and then stowed it away in the fridge for a six-hour simmer on Sunday.  Then Sunday afternoon, I prepped all my salad veggies for a week, so they were ready to be thrown together quickly each work evening. Additionally, I made up a large batch of gluten free pasta, which happened to be a type made out of beans that is high in protein, and mixed it up with spiralized zucchini. (Confession: I buy the prepared zucchini found in the freezer section.  When I see it go on sale at my local market, I buy up several bags at a time for future dinners.) Finally, I also ensured we had both cauliflower pizza crusts and a few portabella caps on hand as an alternative sauce-carrier to the pasta.

 

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            When making this sauce, you will notice my emphasis on finely chopped vegetables.  This is because John and I have an agreement. As long as he can’t see chunks of certain vegetables for which he would not normally eat (i.e. carrots, celery, onion, and peppers), and they do not crunch, he will quite happily dine on the sauce, especially if seasoned just right.  Furthermore, meatless crumbles, or meatless meatballs, can be added into this sauce if desired.

            Give this versatile vegetable chocked recipe a try.  You can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, but also as a sauce for pizza, pizza bread, calzones, and baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.  As earlier hinted, I’ve even made a low-carb variation in which I filled portobello caps with this sauce, added a few basil leaves, and other favorite pizza toppings, then baked it all up in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—delicious!

 

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

 

            

Gluten Free, Vegetable Marinara Pasta Sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

2 tablespoons olive oil or for no-oil alternative, choose ½ -1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or stock

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped green (or other color, if preferred) pepper

1 small zucchini, finely chopped or grated

1 cup finely chopped or grated carrots

1 cup celery, finely chopped or grated

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (I use baby portabella, but any type will do.)

1 28-32 oz of no salt tomato sauce (I could not find one large can, so I ended up combining a total of 3 cans–one of which was not a no-salt variation– or nearly 32 ounces of tomato sauce.)

1 6-ounce can tomato paste (preferably no-salt if you can find it)

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, crushed tomatoes

(Optional:  1 package no meat crumbles or meatballs; or you could add your choice of ground meat–it is just no longer marinara!)

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

‘1 teaspoons fennel seed

1-teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar or other equivalent sweetener, i.e. Stevia, maple syrup, agave, etc

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 large bay leaf

 

Directions:

 

In large saucepan, preheat pan over medium heat.

Once warm, (a small spoonful of water will skitter across bottom of pan) add oil or stock.

Add in garlic to pan.

Meanwhile, finely chopped onion and green pepper; then add to garlic in pan.

Next, chop and grate all veggies as finely as possible.  (If using a food processor, do not pulse for too long or veggies will become mush.)

Add vegetables as each is chopped, stirring in each addition.

(Note, if using stock to sauté vegetables, continuously ensure there is enough broth or stock to prevent vegetables from sticking to pan.  Add in liquid as needed.)

Once all vegetables are added, continue to sauté until all vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.

When vegetables are properly softened, begin to add canned ingredients, pausing to gently stir-in each addition.

Next, add in seasonings.

Bring all ingredients to a low boil.

As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Serve over pasta, vegetable noodles, or spoon into portabella mushroom caps, pizza crusts, or pitas.

Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days; or kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Be a Lighthouse

            “Don’t fight darkness—bring the light, and darkness will disappear.”—Maharashi Mahesh Yogi

 

            “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”—Anne Lamott

 

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            I listened to the interview with minimal interest.  Not that the story being told by both the interviewer and interviewee were without merit, I just wasn’t fully focused.  My mind was adrift in a sea of thoughts tossing pell-mell from one aspect of my life to another and another. Still, something kept drawing my attention back to the ongoing radio interview as I made my way to work on autopilot one morning in August. 

 

       “My role is to be like a lighthouse, keep shining a light on the danger, so that others can avoid the nightmare that I encountered.”  

 

silhouette of lighthouse
Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

          That was it–the lighthouse analogy!  Divine providence was whispering a lesson; yet it would take months before the seed fully began to emerge. Even as I typed the words that evening on a blank document, so that I would not forget to explore/write about the concept, unseen and unclear sprouts for rooting around for greater understanding even if I wasn’t consciously aware of them.

 

            Months later, I noticed on my Google calendar that Diwali, the festival of lights for those of the Hindu faith, would be soon occurring.  While I am not of the Hindu faith, I fondly recalled attending a local Diwali celebration last year in which several of my current and former students from St. Joseph Catholic School would be performing.  My husband, John, and I attended the colorful and highly symbolic celebration together. We learned many interesting facts, including that the essential meaning of the five-day festival of lights (although there is more than this simple definition) is to celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil and light over darkness.  

 

bright celebration crowd dark
Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

 

          In fact, one person of the Hindu faith recently explained to me that Diwali also serves as a reminder to shine the light for others who have strayed, made mistakes, and otherwise have not been living a good life, so that they can find their way out of the darkness and return to living in the light.  This same person also shared that the darkness must be fully experienced in life in order to truly appreciate the light.

 

          “Sometimes we go through bad experiences, make mistakes or poor decisions, but it is those very events that teach us how to crawl out of the tunnel and move toward the light.”

 

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            This person went on to explain that in order to create a movie, one must have proper lighting.  Without light, the story cannot be filmed; and yet, without the darkness in which to view the movie, the story cannot be told.  

 

            “You see, Stephanie, we need both light and darkness in our life.  Darkness is not to be feared, but it must be passed through in order to understand and embrace the light.” 

 

photo of tunnel
Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

 

            I was reminded of a trip John and I took several years ago when Maddie, our daughter, was quite young.  We were hiking and encountered a natural tunnel that, at one time, served as a one-lane road to get from one side of a mountain to the other.  Now it served as a tourist attraction for hikers and visitors to walk through. There were signs posted all around the entrance to warn visitors, that the tunnel would get very dark, and that visitors were encouraged to have some form of light. 

 

          Once fully away from the light of the entrance, I began to feel nervous as I held Maddie’s hand.  Fear’s tentacles gripped my claustrophobic mind as I was certain disease-infested rodents, nefarious criminals, and other pernicious creatures surrounded our little family.  We walked for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, and I was quite certain this was really an insidious trap for which there was no escape. Then the first sliver of light could be seen ahead, and my heart slowly resumed its normal rhythm.  

 

woman standing inside cave
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

 

            There have been times in my life in which I made a succession of mistakes so bad and so numerous, it seemed as if I would never dig myself out of such deep, dark hole.  Likewise, I have experienced horrific life events for which there was no rhyme or reason, and I also felt as if I would never again see the light of day. Like that dark tunnel, those dark life occurrences left me feeling trapped, scared, and lacking trust/faith. However, it is those very experiences that not only inform my present day decisions and actions, but also increase my appreciation for, well, the light, the happier moments in life.  Furthermore, it is those very happenings from which I gained strength and knowledge in order to help, or at the very least, offer empathy and understanding to others.

 

          Lighthouses serve two purposes, as I understand it, to serve as navigational aids and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  They are painted differently, depending upon the background for which they are built—lighter colors for lighthouses built against a darker background, and brighter colors and patterns for those built in light-colored, sandy/rocky surroundings.  Additionally, they are built of varying heights, depending upon if they are to dwell above the water or closer to the water’s surface. In fact, even the lights within each lighthouse often possess different and various flash patterns to guide and inform mariners along coasts and/or through fog. 

 

 

            And, so the lesson of the lighthouse comes down to this.  The world, it seems to me, sure could benefit from more people serving as the humble lighthouse.  Our life experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have shaped us into the person that we are today.  Those dark and light experiences–the mistakes, tragic events, and even glories— serve as a personal teacher.  Therefore, why not allow those same experiences to help others navigate through both calm and stormy waters? It doesn’t require a bully pulpit, flashy interventions, or various other methods of gaining attention.  Rather, it only requires the embodiment of the humble lighthouse, an unpresumptuous fixture within its own community; consistently shining, day-in and day-out; quietly standing up, even when unobserved; offering light, radiance, and guidance to passersby without searching for an audience.  

 

landscape photography of white lighthouse during cloudy daytime
Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

 

 

The Resort at Glade Springs, another WV Gem

“There are cookie-cutter resorts, and then there are endless possibilities that define your experience at The Resort at Glade Springs. You won’t believe the options you have – from the dizzying array of recreational activities to lodging and dining choices. You envision your perfect vacation, and we’ll make it come to life.”—The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

“The vacation of a lifetime awaits you at our resort in WV. Reconnect with your family in a place that’s close to home, but a million miles removed from your hectic life.”— The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

It began as a classic misty mountain morning in Appalachia as John and I drove along the WV turnpike.  Sunshine, muted, but still golden, slowly seeped through the milky mist as our vehicle moved us closer to our first destination, Grandview, part of the National Park, located in Glen Jean, WV.  While Grandview was originally part of the WV State Park system, the National Park system took over its care and upkeep in 1990. John and I knew we would be joining members of the Brown Dog Yoga team for a morning hike as part of the activities planned for our instructor retreat; however, we truly had no idea what a dramatically scenic area we were about to experience.

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Brown Dog Yoga (Ashland, Barbrousville, & Huntington) first annual instructor retreat.

 

Overlooking the New River, Grandview offers visitors, at Main Overlook, 1400 feet above the river, some of the most incredible views of a seven-mile section of the New River.  Additionally, the sights from Turkey Spur Overlook were just as dizzyingly stunning during our crisp, early fall hike. In fact, Grandview offers five hiking trails, ranger led walks/talks, a visitor center that is opened seasonally, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playground and shelters.  The trails over which John and I trekked with the group were long, rocky, and a bit slippery from rain the day prior to the hike. Nonetheless, the magnificent views of the New River for which we were continually rewarded made every step worthwhile, not to mention the fun, friendship, and fellowship felt along the way.

 

 

After more than two hours of hiking, our group made its way to the next stop, Dogwood Court, located in the resort at Glade Springs, home of our fearless BDY leaders, Rich and Katrina Mailoux.  John parted at this point, and made his way to our room at the resort. Meanwhile, the BDY team was treated to the Mailoux’s warm hospitality and homemade lunch. Furthermore, we were uplifted with two separate motivating presentations with team building activities in between, one of which was participating in the Glade Spring’s Escape Room offering us a challenging adventure as well as abundant opportunities for good natured ribbing and laughter.

 

 

 

By 6:00, I parted ways with the group to rejoin John Glade Springs.  Although John had forewarned me that our room, “an executive suite” was a bit dated, I was delighted to find it to be spacious, comfortable, and immaculately clean.  While we were not located in the actual Inn, we found our section of eight buildings, each named for a different tree, to be quiet, lined with plenty of walking paths, dog-friendly, and within walkable distance to the main inn.

 

 

While I was bonding with the BDY team, John had showered, rested, and enjoyed lunch at Bunkers Sports Bar, one of the restaurants on premise at Glade Springs.  Overlooking the driving range, John happily watched a college football while noshing on an over-sized barbeque sandwich with a side of house made chips that he said were a crunchy delight!  However, for dinner, rather than try another one of the other on-site restaurants, John suggested a highly-recommended restaurant that he thought I would especially enjoy, The Dish.

 

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John’s lunch at Bunkers located within Glade Springs.

 

The Dish, located in Daniels, WV—mere minutes from Glade Springs—was created, according to their website, “by a group of partners who wanted to offer healthy food choices . . . of natural, whole ingredients.”  In fact, their menu proudly boasts, “Real food tastes better and is better for you.” Using much locally grown/raised fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beef, the menu of The Dish asks patrons to allow time for the preparation of their meals as nearly everything on their menu is made from scratch.   If that’s not enough, their menu’s food offerings are wide and varied, offering choices that are gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan as well as all plenty of meat-based entrees the carnivore-loving diner.

 

 

 

We entered the restaurant with high hopes, and we were not disappointed!  We began our meal with made-from scratch Roasted Red-pepper Hummus Dip topped with a bit of feta served with artichoke hearts, olives, as well as toasted pita-points for John, and carrot/celery sticks for me.  This yummy-looking appetizer was beautifully plated, and it tasted divine! 

 

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For our main course, John ordered Chicken Parmesan Pasta with a side salad, and I chose the Black Bean Burger (bunless) with a side of grilled Brussels sprouts.  Our taste buds were dancing the happy dance for sure! John’s chicken was cooked to perfection with its panko breading, melted provolone, and house made marinara.  He ate it all up—which is saying a lot as he is not a big chicken eater. Meanwhile, my gluten-free black bean burger, made with black beans, corn, red pepper, and quinoa, was served on an emerald bed of greens, topped with chipotle aioli and sliced avocado—so very delicious.

 

 

I thought I was finished for the evening, when I recalled spying a gluten-free dessert on their menu—a rare, rare treat for me.  I decided to fully indulge and order the Gluten-Free Butterscotch Blondie, served with a sauce that reminded me of a scratch made sauce my mom used to make when I was a teen for my birthday.  I took it back to our suite, thinking I’d only eat half, but as the menu states, this dessert was “total deliciousness.” In fact, it was so unbelievably good, I ended up eating the entire generously cut piece!  

 

 

The Resort at Glade Springs has unbelievable offerings.  From three golf courses to fly-fishing adventures; from numerous hiking trails to disc golf, from a fitness center with indoor pool to an out-of-doors pool and playground; from volleyball, horseshoes, bowling, corn hole, tennis, and horseback riding to shopping, dining, lounging, spa offerings, Escape Room, Haunted House,  and cinema, (and I still haven’t listed all of offerings) Glade Springs is an affordable, WV gem for which John and I will most certainly make a return visit, especially since it’s only two hours away from home!  

 

Once again, traveling in WV does not disappoint.  It truly is wild and wonderful! From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe travels and abundant adventures!

 

          Images from Glade Springs.

           Images from Small Talk Cafe Coffee Shop.

 

 

 

Once More, Charleston, WV Makes for a Relaxing, Pleasant Anytime Getaway

            “I think it’s nice to age gracefully.  OK, you lose the youth, a certain stamina, and a dewy glow, but what you gain on the inside as a human being is wonderful:  the wisdom, the acceptance and the peace of mind. It’s a fair exchange.”—Cherie Lunghi

 

            “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”—Michael J. Fox

 

            Walking down the sun soaked sidewalk absorbing all of the Vitamin D goodness, I felt full of vigor and vitality.  Sleep had been quite restful the night before, lasting nearly eight hours—which was remarkable for me. My morning workout at the hotel’s fitness center felt great; and the late, but freshly made breakfast that followed afterward with my husband also at the hotel, was tasty, hearty, and nutritious.  All in all, I was feeling full of positivity as John, my husband, and I walked hand-in-hand toward the quaint, brick covered sidewalks of Capitol Street, Charleston, WV.

 

Workout in Four Points’ fitness center in Charleston, WV; breakfast with John in the hotel’s restaurant, which included oatmeal and fruit for me and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for John; and then, out for a walk with John along quaint Capitol Street.

 

           As we walked by the window of one shop, I caught a glance of John and me in the window.  Wait. What? What the heart and mind feels, I am learning, compared to what the eye sees, are often two different narratives.  The two people holding hands in the shop window looked middle aged, but John and I were in our thirties, right? Wrong! The window shouted quiet loudly back at me.  Hmm . . . 

 

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          Charming Capitol Street in Charleston, WV.

 

            It was the weekend after my birthday.  John had offered to take me out of town for a couple of days, but realistically, I did not want us to drive too far for a number of reasons, including our upcoming trip with St. Joseph Catholic Middle School seventh graders on their annual trip to Camp Magis that was looming ahead in three days.  Ultimately, we settled on Charleston, WV for my birthday get-away.

          

            Yes, I know that technically, Charleston, WV is only an hour away from home, but I was working late Friday at school with my writing club.   On Monday, we would be riding on a school bus for three to four hours traveling to Huttonsville, WV with our students. Besides, who wants to be in a car for several hours after a long week/day?  

 

             As one of my Brown Dog Yoga co-workers Janice, pointed out, “You won’t have to make the bed, cook, clean, or worry about laundry for a couple of days, who cares how close, or far, away?  Just go and enjoy your birthday weekend with your husband!”

 

            Thus, we arrived at our destination, Four Point by Sheraton in Charleston, WV, late, tired, and very hungry on a Friday evening.  We had stayed at Four Points previously, a year or so ago, and we had found the service, cleanliness, and the location of the hotel ideal for our purposes.  Beautifully situated on Kanawha Blvd. overlooking the Kanawha River, Four Points is within walking distance of numerous restaurants (several of which are personal favorites), bars, and shops.  We stowed our car safely in their garage and never drove again until the return trip home on Sunday.

 

                       Four Points by Sheridan in situated alongside Kanawha Blvd. 

 

            Once situated in our room, we were ready to walk to dinner.  The weather could not have been more perfect with a clear, starry sky overhead, and temperatures moderately hovering in the low seventies/high sixties—perfect for walking.  Ambling hand-in-hand, we made our to a familiar sports bar & grille, Adelphia.

 

Although several of the multiple TVs in Adelphia were on baseball and news channels, John was also able to watch the Friday night college football game in which he was interested.

 

            Featuring pub grub, Greek food, a patio, and plenty of TVs for John to keep up with college Friday night football games, we found Adelphia’s patio to be packed on such a pleasant evening, while the bar side of the restaurant was not quite full.  We were able to find a seat at the bar, our favorite spot to sit when it’s just the two of us when traveling as we typically experience excellent service and usually gain insightful information regarding the area in which we are staying. 

 

            As a plant based eater, (I rarely consume meat.) with Celiac disease that requires me to eat gluten-free, married to a meat and potato kind-a-guy, dining out is always an interesting adventure.  John typically has no trouble finding numerous choices on the menu; whereas, I often have more limited food options. This was the case for me at Adelphia.  

 

                     Salad, Nachos Grande, and Bon & Viv Seltzer for me. 

 

        Obviously, there were several salads from which I could have chosen (and have chosen on previous trips), but it was birthday for heavens’ sake.  I eat salad nearly every day of my life! In the end, John quickly settled on the super-sized, “Homewrecker Hot Dog, a half pound of kosher beef footlong hotdog served with chili, cheese blend, diced red onion, and coleslaw” along with a side of onion rings, but I was not so quick to decide.  I finally settled on a side garden salad to begin dinner and chose nachos grande for my meal, as nachos are kind of a weakness for me.

 

  The Homewrecker footlong hot dog, onion rings, and a beer for John.

 

          John absolutely, positively loved every single bit of his hot dog as worried aloud if his stomach would be upset in the morning.  Meanwhile, I was a bit disappointed. The cheese sauce reminded me of Cheez whiz—something I had tasted maybe once or twice in my life, and never really like (I know, I know!).  While I did not see any meat in the chili (for which I was grateful), it still seemed to have a greasy flavor/mouth-feel. (It could have been an off night for the restaurant.) On the bright side though, Adelphia did offer unflavored Bon and Viv hard seltzer on tap!  Plus, they offered to flavor it with 12, or more flavors of Mio liquid water enhancement. At only $2.50 per 16-ounce glass, it was a deal I could not refuse!

 

          The next we enjoyed a stroll along Capitol Street with Taylor’s Book Shop, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, Rock City Cake Company, Pies and Pints to name a few.  In fact, I discovered a really nice shop, The Consignment Company, directly beside Ellen’s, that boasted high-end clothes, shoes, and bags on a sign in their window.  Must. Go. Explore.

 

The Cosignment Company, on Capitol Street in Charleston, WV, is a great place       for bargain hunters!

 

          I walked out of the store having spent less than $50.00 for three items, all with their original price tags still on them!  (Gotta love bargains!) We began to make our back towards the hotel and sauntered alongside the sparkling waters of the riverfront watching several leisure boats, with music blaring and passengers laughing, glide along the placid waters with ease; and, we were regaled by small children enthusiastically embracing their play in a small park as we thought of our own daughter when she was that age as the memories streamed forth like the waters of the Kanawha River coursed along beside us. (Sigh.)

 

                     Some sights along Capitol Street  . . .

 

                      Sights along Kanawha Blvd. . . .

 

          That evening, we dined at a local favorite for meat and veggie lovers alike, Pies and Pints!  What I love about Pies and Pints is that they also offer a gluten free crust, so even I can eat pizza pie!  While the gluten free crust is not house made, it is by Kinnikinnick Foods, I find this crust to be reliable tasty with a decent texture.  I savored every bite of my choice, the Black Bean Pie, taking half of mine back to the hotel for the return trip home the next day. However, John was unable to enjoy his Pepperoni, Sausage, and Extra Cheese Pie as it proved to be too salty—something he had never before experienced on prior dining experiences with Pies and Pints. (Possibly off-night in their kitchen as well.)  Additionally, we both relished our after dinner treats we picked up at Rock City Cake Company—John, a fresh made cream horn; and, me, three large chocolate covered strawberries! Yum!

 

                      Pints and Pints is a local favorite! 

           

           Once more, Charleston, WV, as well as the Four Points hotel, did not disappoint.  Sure, we had each experienced a less than perfect dining experience during one of our meals; but, overall, the town was warm and welcoming, our stay was wonderfully relaxing, and the company, spring chickens or not, was wonderful.

 

Before heading home, after hitting Four Point’s fitness center once more, John and I enjoyed another great breakfast: more oatmeal and fruit for me and sausage, egg, and gravy bowl for John.

            From our John and I, to you, Dear Reader, we wish you safe, happy, and wonderful travel/food experiences, especially when wondering wild and wonderful West Virginia.

 

P.S.  Thank you to all the friends and family who made this a special birthday weekend, especially John. 

            

 

            

 

Keep Pedaling Through Life; Lesson from Camp Magis 2019

            “In the silence of the heart God speaks.”—Mother Teresa

 

            “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis

 

 

 

           The wind whipped the remaining strands of my tangled mop of hair that wasn’t covered by the helmet, which, by the way, was continuously pinching the skin under my chin.  I chose to ignore the minor skin irritation; and, instead, embrace the sensation of freedom that comes with riding a bike out of doors. In fact, I grinned from ear to ear feeling like a teenager again . . .

 

            Sweat dripped down my face. 

 

            “Please stay upright, Steph.  Now is not the time to crash. There is a car behind you.”

 

            “Oh Lord, I’ve got to stand.  Pedal harder, Steph. You’ve got to get up this hill.”

 

            Lungs and thighs burning.

 

            “Get up and around the bend of this hill, Steph.  Come on.”

 

            Heart pounding in my ears.  Lungs in my throat.

 

            “Oh my heavens, are my shorts stuck to my butt from sweat?  Is my underwear showing? Oh please, no God, don’t let them be showing.”

 

            Heaving breaths.  Legs trembling.  

           

forest bike bulls
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

 

          Random lyrics from a childhood record that my siblings and I used to play in my grandparents’ attic ran a loop in my mind—one word at a time, matching each stroke of the pedal.

 

“Just. Think. You. Can.  And. Know. You. Can. Just. Like. The. Engine. That. Could.”

 

            Legs, pushing harder on the down stroke of each pedal, slowed, as the peak of the hill bend grew closer.

 

            “No, no, no, Steph.  You can’t stop now. The bike will topple over.  You. Will. Be. Run. Over. By. The. Car. Behind. You. Don’t. Stop. Now.”

 

            Hands gripped the handlebars so tightly; I could feel the bubble of sweat trapped below each palm.  

 

“Must. Hold. On. For. Dear. Life.”

 

            “I am at the top.  Thank you, God. I made it.  Here I go. Oh, Steph, don’t go too fast.  You could topple over and that car is still behind you.”

            

          Wind blowing through my long, youthful tresses that were bleached from summer sun; the perspiration on my face and limbs drying from the rush of air that was the downhill flight.

 

            “FREE . . .DOM! Feel it, Steph.  Total freedom from it all. Oh Lord, don’t get carried away though; you could wreck.  Car is still behind you! Oh, why won’t that car pass me?”

 

white mountain bike
Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

 

          I shake my head out of the Solida Road revere of my August bike ride home from high school band camp that I regularly made during the early weeks of August before another new school year had officially begun.  I am snapped back to the reality that I am no longer a teenager, not even close; and for a moment, I feel a knot of restriction in my throat threatening to release a spillway of emotion for which I did not have time.  

 

 

          I was at Camp Magis for heaven’s sake, chaperoning St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 7th graders on their annual retreat; and right in front of me, a wreck was unfolding as two girls’ bikes accidentally collided on the rough terrain of the off-road trail. 

 

          “Time to shift gears, and not on this mountain bike you’re currently riding, Steph, get back to your current reality. Be an adult, for heaven’s sake, and help those two giggling girls get their bikes upright!”

 

 

          Bike riding was only one of the activities planned for seventh grade students during their three day visit to Camp Magis, located at the Mary Help of Christians Pastoral Center situated in the sloping valley just outside of the Kumbrabow State Forest and on the literal edge of the Monongahela National Forest between the communities of Elkwater and Huttonsville.  From archery to rock wall climbing; from canoeing to swinging on a zip line-like contraption; from a focused, mindful prayer-walk to a late night scavenger hunt; and from a morning prayer service to an evening mass, Camp Magis focuses on students experiencing fellowship, prayer, and service to others through an adventure-filled camp-like atmosphere. Students get out of the classroom environment and away from their screens; and spend their days filled with plenty of fresh mountain air, exercise, and the glory that is the natural world.

 

 

 

          Honestly, it was physically exhausting, but it was worth it as the other chaperones, along with John, my husband, (also at teacher at SJCMS) and me, were able to observe the students interacting with one another and their faith in new ways that were equal parts challenging and pleasurable.  By the end of each day, there was no convincing the kids that the lights needed turned off at 10:30; they were ready for a good night’s sleep. Of course, so were all of the chaperones!

 

 

          While Camp Magis is offered for all seventh grade students enrolled in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia Catholic Schools, John and I also reaped spiritual benefits from the experience in spite of the always present fatigue as we were as deeply immersed in the activities as our students.  It was, in fact, that nagging, age-related weariness that required us to rely on our faith to get us through.  

 

          Additionally, Camp Magis provided  a continual reminder that our life together has, and is, rooted in service to others.  The very motto of the camp, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve,” truly emphasizes what is required, not only of educators, but of all humanity at this moment in time.  We cannot, and will not, survive, much less thrive, if we do not conquer fear, step outside the boundaries of our personal comfort zones, and offer good to the world.

 

          During those long ago days spent biking to and from band camp, I had to conquer my fears—fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of flipping my bike. (Never squeeze the left hand brake first, Steph, that’s the front wheel.  Always squeeze right hand first when braking.)  I may not have realized it then, just like it may not have dawned on the students at Camp Magis, but I was relying on my faith to get me through those numerous, and dare I say, treacherous, bike rides.  While I wasn’t, per se, in service to others; I recognize, as I look back on it now, (just as I hope my students will do), that those bike rides were an important step in learning self-reliance, overcoming challenges, and deepening my belief, and faith, that something Greater than myself, would get me safely across that four-lane intersection, up that curvy hill, and around the sharply bent, downhill slope.

 

 

          Now, as I boldly face the early stages of aging, the physical and mental demands that not only my career still dictates, but also that life in general requires, I choose to continue to keep going, to keep pedaling up that metaphorical hillside.  I choose to keep serving others through teaching, writing, and creating—however small my service may be, it is my life-bike to ride. Fear tries, and will continue to attempt, to dig its claws into me. Some days, I swear I can feel it sinking its talons into my heart, contracting my throat, and ripping into my stomach; however, I choose to persist, persevere, and well, keep on pedaling.

 

 

            And in the end, when I am coasting down that last hill, embracing the last gasp of breeze, may I still not be afraid, but may I know that it was worth every push of the pedal.  

 

          Remember, Dear Reader, there is joy in the push. Pedal on life, pedal on.

 

 

 

Portable Breakfast: Easy Parfait and Overnight Oats

            “I rely on breakfast to give me a kickstart of energy in the morning, so I choose my foods accordingly.”—Mikaela Shiffrin

 

          “A plant-based diet has actually simplified my life in so many ways.  For breakfast, I try to get my first serving of fruits and nuts for fuel.”—Michelle Forbes

 

strawberry and blueberry on clear glass bowl
Photo by Ovidiu Creanga on Pexels.com

 

As a kid, I loved breakfast.  I could not wait to get up and eat it.  Part of my morning enthusiasm probably had to do with the fact that I was often hungry as my mom did not make special, additional foods for dinner for our family of four kids.  Her philosophy was, “Here’s what I made the family for supper, if you don’t like it, breakfast is not too far off.” Frankly, it’s a solid practice for which I now wholeheartedly applaud her, but I wasn’t so appreciative as a kid.

 

In the morning, it wasn’t unusual for mom to have a large pan of scrambled eggs on the stove, alongside stacks of buttered toast on a plate; or, other mornings, she might have a huge pot of oatmeal or cream of wheat from which we could all ladle.  We did not, per se, and sit and eat as an entire family on school/work day as that was saved for special weekend breakfasts. Instead, mom got breakfast ready; and then, once each person was ready in the morning, you went to the kitchen to fill up your plate or bowl.  Last one in the kitchen meant there might not be much left for you. Unfortunately, for me, as I got older, that usually fell to me—a slow moving, morning person.

 

cooked food on white ceramic plate close up photography
Photo by BP on Pexels.com

 

Even now, I move slowly in the morning.  In fact, I wake a full hour before I begin to get ready—a full two hours before I need to leave for work.  Part of my reasoning is because that first waking hour is devoted to coffee and productivity—an hour to work on my writing; planning a yoga, fusion, or cycling class; managing a couple of email accounts; folding laundry; packing lunch. . . well, you get the idea.   The problem is that I become so highly focused some mornings that I lose COMPLETE track of time. Then, as is the case more often than not, I jump in the shower, already 20 or more minutes behind, and end up rushing out the door in such a hasty fashion that breakfast does not cross my mind until my belly begins to growl on the frantic drive to school!

 

blur business coffee commerce
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

There are time periods of “breakfast eating perfection.”  Last year was a big smoothie phase. I loved, loved, loved exploring all the different ways to get plant-based nutrition in a cup to go.  My blender whirred nonstop at least twice a week with breakfast smoothie food prep. Then, I’d hit a busy week, not have as much time for food prep; and then, I’d once more be back to relying on either nothing for breakfast but coffee or bits and bites of plant-based protein bars.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

While I’d love to say that this school year I have reformed my distracted ways, but the truth is, I am still neck deep in spurts of breakfast brilliance, and even greater spans of nutritional neglect.  Still, when I am feeling a fit of inspiration, I am all-in . . .at least for a week (or until mid-week)! That said, I do love the notion of fully embracing three meals of whole, plant based foods sans any processed, packaged, chemically-engineered nutrition.  Sigh, may be one day . . .

 

One of my more recent fits of nutritional, whole food achievement attempts involved portable parfaits.  This was inspired by a recent trip to Lewisburg, WV. Before hiking six miles of the 78-mile long Greenbrier River Trail, my husband, John, and I ate at Retro Donuts and more.  While he enjoyed a breakfast sandwich on donut bread (Yes, you read that right—donut bread.), I scarfed up a super-sized fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait. Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, house made granola—complete with oats, seeds, and nuts—layered with mixed berries, this stack of whole food yumminess was delicious and, totally replicable.  However, I would give it a plant based twist. 

 

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This parfait is a plant based twist as the yogurt is nondairy! Above the yogurt are chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Additionally, there is 1/4 cup water which the chia will gradually absorb to create a pudding-like texture!

 

To be clear, I am not 100% opposed to consuming dairy; but, it does not like me as a general rule.  Plus, a true plant-based eater does not consume dairy. However, like my flurries with breakfast preeminence, my 100% devotion to avoiding dairy vacillates at times.  

 

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Plant-based yogurt parfaits topped with three different types of seeds.

 

Sigh (again), still my intentions are worthy; and, maybe one day will be fully attained.  In the meantime, my goal of using my morning time wisely without running late, while still maintaining time to full compliance of daily consumption of whole-food, plant-based, breakfast looms largely and nobly in front my idealistic self . . .

 

 

Overnight oats made with 1/2 an apple.  Once made, I grab it in the morning, shake it up, and then I choose the option of heating it before gobbling it up!

 

In the meantime, here’s my recipe for portable parfaits of breakfast righteousness meant to be eaten on the go if need be; or, as a casually made-ahead morning meal.  Like so many recipes, think of it as scaffolding. Modify, swap-out, and change ingredients to suit personal taste and health goal preferences. It is perfect for those weeks you feel inspired to set-aside time to food prep and really focus on your dietary goals.

 

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

 

 

 

Optional ingredients for breakfast parfaits or over night oats.  The ProGranola can be used in both parfait or in lieu of oats in over night oats if following a paleo or keto diet.

 

Portable Breakfast Parfait/Overnight Oats

 

Ingredients: 

½-1 cup of your favorite dairy, or non-dairy, yogurt

½ cup of your favorite grain (granola, oats, grape nuts, and so forth)

½-1 cup (or ½-1 whole piece) of favorite fresh or frozen fruit

1 tablespoon of favorite nuts or seeds (chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, walnuts, slivered almonds, and so forth)

Optional stir-ins:  cinnamon, honey, sweetener, vanilla extract, acai powder, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, protein powder, ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (if you like a more pudding like texture as I do in my overnight oats), and so forth

 

Directions for parfait:

Place 1/3 of yogurt in the bottom of a small resealable glass. (I like canning jars.)

Spoon 1/3 of granola over yogurt.

Add nuts/seeds

Top with 1/3 of fruit.

Repeat layering process until all ingredients are used.

Cover with lid and store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

Serves one.

 

Directions for overnight oats/granola:

Place all ingredients in resealable glass jar.

Shake well.

Store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

While this can be served cold, I prefer to heat my glass in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  Give it a quick stir. Put the lid back on and allow oats to steam and thicken up a bit more.

This is great served with a dollop of dairy, or non-dairy, redi-whip!

Serves one.