One pot walnut and mushroom penne, with gluten free option

“One pot meals make a lot of sense . . . because so much of what people hate about cooking is really the clean-up, the mess, the grease.”–Tom Douglas

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Autoimmune diseases, according to John Hopkins University, unbelievably affect about 23.5 million Americans, 80% of which are women, of which I am one. While scientists are busy trying to understand the biological gender differences that contribute to this higher prevalence among females, one unexpected discovery is the contributions of the intestinal (gut) microbiome as a driver for these excessive numbers according to Scientific America. Furthermore, those identified with gut-centered autoimmune diseases, including irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease, tend to have micronutrient deficiencies, in particular iron, folic acid, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, copper, zinc, and vitamin D–which can really put the microbiome in dysbiosis.  

If left untreated, nutritional deficiencies can lead to an array of other health concerns, such as neurological complications, psychiatric symptoms, cancer, and bone health issues.  This is particularly of concern if adults have not been properly diagnosed.  For example, symptoms of celiac disease often vary from person to person; therefore, it is possible to go decades without identification as was the case with me.  I was in my late forties experiencing numerous unexplained, uncomfortable symptoms before one doctor finally suggested an endoscopy along with a blood test and a colonoscopy.  As it turned out, the endoscopy and blood work both identified celiac disease.

This dramatically changed my life, especially the way in which I eat.  In addition to eliminating gluten, the doctor advised a nutrient-rich, whole food diet, heavily emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains (without wheat, barley, and rye), as well as legumes.  This is because I spent most of my life with malabsorption issues due to the damage of the lining of my small intestine as well as the inflammation and atrophying of the villi that absorb nutrients and minerals. Hence, the reason I was often sick as a young child.

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Specifically, vitamin D deficiencies are especially high with those who have celiac disease, which is crucial for growth of bones.  Chronic deficiency of vitamin D can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis to name a few. Additionally, zinc is another nutrient often deficient in those with celiac disease. This nutrient promotes wound healing, virus recovery, growth, and development. 

Therefore, how I now choose to cook and eat is heavily influenced by this knowledge.  While, I can’t, per se, play catch up, I am aware of my need to focus on healthy eating and supplementing with a few key vitamins. The recipe below, based upon recipes by Simple Veganista and California Walnuts is reflective of this focus as it is chock full of nutritionally dense plant foods. 

In particular, this recipe emphasizes foods high in zinc, such as walnuts, mushrooms, spinach, and legumes as the pasta I use is made out of chickpea flour.  Mushrooms, especially those grown under UV light, are one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D. Additionally, walnuts benefit gut, heart, and brain health while spinach (or other green vegetable I may use) is rich in flavonoid antioxidants and vitamins and possesses anti-inflammatory properties. 

With or without an autoimmune issue, we can all benefit from eating more healthy, homemade meals.  These meals don’t have to be complicated or time consuming and can even be completed in one pot as demonstrated in this recipe. Feel free to swap out the chopped walnuts with your favorite ground meat or meat alternative.  Don’t want spinach? Replace it with another favorite green vegetable. The point is eating healthfully doesn’t have to be hard, tasteless, or make clean-up challenging.  One pot and you’re done! 

From my home to yours, I wish you the best in health!

One pot Walnut and Mushroom Penne (with gluten free option)


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 pound mushrooms

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ red pepper

½ teaspoon fennel seed, options

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 cup chopped walnuts*

1 cup chopped fresh or 14.5 ounce canned tomatoes

4 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 pound penne pasta (I use gluten-free, chick-pea pasta.)

2 cups fresh spinach or other favorite green vegetable


In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. (Can also use ¼ cup water if you prefer oil-free cooking.)

Add in onion and garlic, saute until translucent. (If using water, you may need to add more water to prevent sticking.)

Stir-in mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.

Stir-in tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, oregano, basil, black pepper, red pepper, and fennel, if using.

Add crushed tomatoes, walnuts, and chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and stir in vegetable broth and pasta.

Allow to simmer and gently bubble for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat, stir in spinach or other green vegetable.

Allow to rest 3-5 minutes, then divide between 4 serving bowls.

Sprinkle with your favorite topping, such as parmesan or pecorino cheese, fresh parsley, and/or chopped scallions. 


*Walnuts can be swapped out with your favorite ground meat or meat alternative.

Surrender and Accept Change

“And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me, shine until tomorrow, let it be.”–Paul McCartney

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During the height of the pandemic, I cultivated the habit of a daily meditation practice.  In particular, I often used an app that was free of charge for those in the service careers, including educators.  In addition to offering guided meditations, it also offered short (3-5 minute) video clips designed to bolster spirits, inspire courage, and calm feelings of anxiousness.

While I can’t say I was a regular viewer of those videos, I did enjoy, and often learn, from the ones I did watch.  One video in particular, used time-lapse photography to demonstrate the ways in which light changes throughout the day.  It was one of my favorites, so much so, that I saved the link to my laptop to rewatch from time-to-time

During this video, the narrator explains the way our experience of color changes over the course of a day and the science behind it. Beyond the obvious point of light brightening at the beginning of the day and darkening at the end of the day, there is a daily light progression that we may not perceive.  It allows us to experience every color of the light spectrum within one 24 hour period.  Much of this progression has to do with the nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere scattering the light waves coming from the sun and making the sky appear blue.

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At sunrise, we see more reds and oranges, while other colors, like greens, blues, and purples, appear darker and more muted.  Then, as the morning progresses, yellow light becomes the dominant color we tend to associate with sunlight. Meanwhile, the “yellow” sunlight reflected upon the so-called blue of the sky intensifies the color of anything that is green up until noon.  Then this same light/color progression begins to reverse itself throughout the remainder of the day until the sun sets.  As the sun returns to its lowest point on the horizon, the light returns to a red-orange hue, and then gradually fades into the blues and violets associated with night, illuminated by what we perceive as the white light of the moon. 

And so it is with life. Change happens daily, from moment to moment, and life never stays the same.  Like the changing of light rays throughout the day, many of these changes are so subtle, they are often not observed in the moment, such as the growth of our children, or our own aging process.  For example, a parent may not clearly see the day-to-day growth occurring within the physical development of their own child, until one day, they happen to notice the child’s clothes are suddenly too short/small.   Likewise, we may not discern our own aging process until we see a picture of ourself from as few as five years prior, and suddenly we are face-to-face with our own change.  

As an educator, I sometimes measure life in terms of an August to July school year, rather than the typical January to December calendar year, depending upon what is being measured.  Nonetheless, I recognize, now more than ever, that time is fluid, and it matters not how I measure time because it continues to flow and stream like the daily progression of light.

That being said, these past 12 months have been full of joys, changes, and of course, challenges. Many of these changes were immediately as visible as a bright sunrise over the Ohio River. While others shifts were less visible, but nonetheless impactful. Then there were those challenging dull hue moments that accompany the colors of night that felt as long as evening shadows.  In fact, there were moments when it felt like I was riding life’s carousel, returning, again and again, to the same point as if progress was at a standstill.

And yet, now I can look back and see that, indeed, even if I wasn’t directly observing it, change was occurring.  While my eyes may not directly witness every sunrise, nor catch sight of all of  night’s blues and violets, these events still occur–without or without my direct detection. An invisible force, a guiding hand, if you will, greater than you and I can comprehend, maintains this on-going, ever-moving cycle of change.  It is ever present, even during those darkest, bluest nights when we often feel alone with the shadow-side of life and wonder if the darkness will ever abate.  

Ultimately, the darkness ebbs, and the light does begin to flow, but precisely as the light/colors of the day must go through their unique progression, so too must the solutions and resolutions to those dark and lonely life challenges.  Life, like light, will go on and will continue, along with the Source, the maker of light and life.  Therefore, we must surrender to this knowledge.  Surrender to the what is, and to what will be; surrender to the notion that we are not in-control.

The lesson for me this 2022-2023 year, and it is a tough morsel to swallow, is that the only guarantee of life, like the light progression of our day, is change.  While I can try to control certain factors, such as schedule and routine, the choices I make, or even how I measure time, for the most part, what will be, will be. 

Thus, as long as I wake up, whether I rise with the cool dark blue of the predawn hours, or I get up with the bright orange and red light of sunrise, there is a Source shining, not only within me, but throughout all of life.  Therefore, as the light surrenders, rather than falls, to its daily course of change, it is likewise my job to see the illuminated gift of each day as I ride the ups and downs of this carousel called life.  

Teachers Matter: Welcome to the Next Generation of Educators

“So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge, wisdom, and love.” –Alumni Gateway, Ohio University, entrance view.

May 2017.  Upon high school graduation, like many, my daughter, Madelyn (Maddie), thought she had an idea regarding the direction of her adult path.  However, once immersed in the pursuit of this path, biochemistry/chemistry, despite excelling at it, she was miserable. Midway through her undergraduate studies, after much reflection, discussion, and contemplation, Maddie bravely decided to pivot.

Her decision to change course was not a simple one.  And while I do not want to speak for Maddie’s experience during this process, I do recall her stating that the one class that truly brought her joy during her first two years of undergraduate work was an art course.  Art was her minor, but in the decision to switch, art became her major, and biochemistry/chemistry became her minor.  

Like all change, there was some catching up to do and several adjustments, especially since she switched locations of study. Then COVID, and the ensuing pandemic, hit, impeding progress as the railways of education greatly slowed in an attempt to switch tracks.  This meant virtually navigating coursework meant to be completed in an art studio.

As the pandemic’s impact grew, the staggering blow of life-interrupted affected all, especially those between 18-25 years.  Daily living went upside down and sideways for this age group as the so-called normal way of interacting and connecting with friends, family, and mentors was often lost during times of isolation.  Even as restrictions gradually eased, those last two years of undergraduate study, while simultaneously working part-time, were not the typical college-age experiences for Maddie and her peers.

In the shadow of the COVID cloud, Maddie was also reflecting, examining, and embracing a greater understanding of herself to best determine what her next steps into adulthood would look like.  Again, I cannot speak to her internal experience, but from the outside, her contemplation process appeared deep, honest, and, at times, painful.  I wanted to help ease the discomfort of this transitional process, but as with any metamorphosis, only the person within the cocoon can undergo the change.

Beside a bright green cap, you will see Madelyn looking up at us with a glowing face of pride.

May 2023. John, my husband, and I waited as the candidates for Doctoral and Master’s degrees from Ohio University, our alma mater, made their way into the Convocation Center.  It was a long procession with Patton College of Education entering as the next-to-last school of candidates. Finally, we spied Maddie with a smile for miles, waving at us, face glowing with pride.  She had not only emerged victorious from the cocoon of young adult transition, but also, she had successfully earned a Master of Education degree during this transformation and appeared ready to take flight.  I hoped that like a sponge, she soaked up all the joy, hope, and satisfaction relegated to such a momentous occasion.

Celebratory milestone moments of life are few and far between.  These cherished junctures of life mark a moment in time when one can say, “I did it.  I put in the work.”  Or, as Maddie likes to say, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  And persist, she did.

And so, as John and I sat there, tears frequently slipping out of our eyes, I reflected over the ways in which this moment could potentially impact her life.  You see, our daughter is now a fourth generation educator, the ninth teacher of our collective families.  Education is not an easy career, and often the rewards are not, per se, tangible–at least if you measure monetarily.  Instead, the rewards are more intrinsic.  It is a calling to go forth and make a difference in the lives of others.

It struck John and me that these hundreds of candidates, no matter their field, present in full regalia, were there, in part due to their past teachers.  In fact, though teachers are often at the bottom of the pay scale, there isn’t a single adult, or child over the age of five, whose lives have not been impacted by a teacher.  As with any field, there are always going to be some bad apples, but the dynamic teacher, the teacher who cares, who is passionate about his or her students and subject matter can truly make a difference, and, in some cases, be transformational.  Call me biased, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Maddie will be the latter.

I have often shared a story about my Papaw.  He once pulled me aside and said, “Stethie,” (that is how he said Stephie), “Your ol’ Papaw only got a 5th grade education.”  

Papaw then spoke proudly of his sister who had gone to college, earned her degree, and went on to become a teacher. 

“Don’t be dumb like your ol’ Papaw.  Get your education.  Go as far as you can with it.” 

He went on to encourage me to be a teacher, like his sister, and later, his daughter, my mother.  

“There’s no greater job.”

Papaw and me when I was around two years old in his backyard in front of his garden.

Little did he know that I would not only go on to become a teacher, but also marry an educator who was from a family of teachers.  Therefore, I can only imagine the smile on Papaw’s heavenly face, knowing his belief about education still inspires and motivates today.

This story will be published in May on the final day of National Teacher Appreciation Week. Numerous colleges and universities will be graduating more educators around this same time period, but the fact remains that the long-standing shortage of teachers that has been increasing since before the pandemic, will continue to grow. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, this is not a result of the number of qualified candidates as much as it is the working conditions and lack of compensation.  

I am hopeful this will change for my daughter and her educational peers, but I am often discouraged by current political culture and societal trends, especially with regards to the importance of education.  Nonetheless, Madelyn comes from a long line of people who knew, know, and believe(d) in the merit of quality education and the impact of a positive teacher. My prayer is that she, along with the newest class of teachers entering the field, will proudly stand on the shoulders of those who came before them, and bless this world and its children, with their many gifts in even greater and more innovative ways than their predecessors could have ever dreamed.

“So depart that daily thou mayest better serve thy fellow man, thy country, and thy God.”–Alumni Gateway, Ohio University, exit view.

Sawubona: How this one word could change the world

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”–Jane Goodall

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Listening to a podcast recently, a word piqued my curiosity.  Sawubona.  The speaker stated that this term had a moment of notoriety in the 1990s in the business world based upon a book written to encourage companies to solve group problems through various systems of learning.  This may explain why I never heard of it up until now as I was, and still am, in the field of education as opposed to business.

As I understand it, at its most basic level, it is a Zulu expression of greeting, another way of saying “hello.”  However, as heard in the podcast, and confirmed in later reading, its meaning is far from a common greeting.

Depending upon the source read, Sawubona, means “I see you,” or “We see you.”  In response–again, depending upon the source–the other person greets, “Yebo, Sawubona,” (Yes, I/we see you too), or “Shiboka” (I exist for you).  Regardless, it is the seeing of the other person and acknowledgement of existing to help the other, that most stood out to me. 

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Quite often, in our morning rush, our greetings and responses are typically short, polite, and given with a smile as we promptly move on to our work and/or day at hand.  Certainly, there are occasions when we pause long enough to ask about a specific event or person, but as our schedule often demands, we listen, long enough to be polite before moving quickly on, without really looking.  

I know I do this, and I feel fairly certain that I am not the only one.  Therefore, I do not want the thesis of this piece to be interpreted as finger wagging or shaming.  Instead, I hope to provoke some thought regarding the importance of seeing our shared humanity in one another and existing in a state of respect –even if we don’t see eye-to-eye with everyone with whom we meet.

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Respect, according to Merriam-Webster, is derived from the Latin root, respectus, which means, looking back (at), refuge, regard, and consideration. The beauty, to me, of Sawubona is in the underlying message of regard for the other person. I SEE you is such a powerful acknowledgement. It is a way of communicating that I SEE (regard/consider) your uniqueness, your talents, and your gifts, no matter the differences we may have.

I once heard a story of a farmer who espoused hate towards a certain political figure.  As it turned out, the politician asked to visit the farmer for a conversation.  The farmer told the politician’s team that he felt reluctant for the politician’s visit because the farmer espoused a certain faith, and given the public servant’s political status, the farmer assumed the politician could not possibly have a faith affiliation.  Nevertheless, a meeting was arranged, and the two men of opposing sides walked the farmer’s land together as the farmer talked and shared his concerns about his way of living.  The political figure looked and listened. 

Later, as the conversation progressed, the two men ended up in the farmer’s house, drinking coffee and learning more about one another.  When the farmer realized that he, indeed, shared the same faith practices as the politician, he called a few of his friends to join in the conversation.  As the story goes, upon the politician’s departure, the two men shook hands, but the farmer made it clear that he still would not vote for this political figure.  However, he added that he was surprised to learn the two of them had more in common than he realized.  He further invited the politician to return to his home at a later date, so that they could continue their conversation.

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Some might ask what is the point of the story if the farmer was not convinced to vote for the politician. Instead, I think it makes a case for the idea of Sawubona. Two men, on opposite sides of the political fence, spending time with one another, asking questions, listening, learning, and finding some common ground in their shared human experience is a way of conveying consideration or regard for one another. They didn’t have to agree on all points in order to respectfully get along.  In fact, as it turned out, the politician would later reach out to the same farmer when certain legislation was being considered that would have affected the farmer and his community in order to gain a greater understanding of the potential impact.

Reflecting on Sawubona is a lesson of seeing others and being seen by others. It is understanding that we do exist together for one another.  We may have our differences, but it is those collective differences that can create a community of support.  Each individual has their own gifts and talents that we bring to the proverbial community table.  And, thank heavens, because there are so many skill sets of others upon which I rely in order to live, work, and participate in many other daily activities. 

When we truly take time to see others, we can see the common struggles, celebrations, and life experiences. We can feel compassion for another’s suffering, and we can feel the joy of their milestone celebrations. Furthermore, we can appreciate the gifts and talents of others, even those with whom we may disagree on certain subjects. 

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In the end, I am not suggesting that the idea behind Sawubona is easy. Instead, I encourage us to think of Sawubona as a practice. A practice in which we take time to look others in the eye more frequently when greeting in order to make others feel seen.  Additionally, it is a practice for when we find ourselves feeling angry or incensed by an opinion different from our own, to challenge us to pause, and look more closely for the common human thread shared with that person of opposition.  

One word cannot solve all problems, but if we begin to look for more Sawubona moments, it might allow for more opportunities–like the farmer and the politician–for listening, learning, and finding common ground.  When we feel seen/heard by another person, it makes us feel respected, and that feels good.  Therefore, imagine the positive reverberations that could be created within our own local communities if we began to offer that same Sawubona feeling to even one person per day.  It is certainly worth considering. 

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Heal and Recover Smoothie

“Our food should be our medicine, and our medicine should be our food. “– Hippocrates.

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As I’ve recently written about, I have been recovering from a surgical procedure of the spine, specifically my neck. Prior to this surgery, I spent time talking with the doctor’s nurse about not only what to expect, but how to appropriately prepare.  One point of preparation was to plan for soft foods as part of the recovery process.  This is because I would most likely experience dysphagia, difficult/painful swallowing.  

Reflecting on this point later, I knew that most traditional soft foods that were suggested would not, from a nutritional standpoint, promote healing.  Therefore, I began to research foods that would promote healing after surgery. Surprisingly, there was not only abundant information, but most articles agreed on the same basic food groups: healthy fats; foods high in vitamins A and C as well as fiber; dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables; berries; and healthy sources of protein. 

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As I read through various articles, one piece, written by a spinal health center, emphasized the importance of using smoothies as a way to consume soft foods that would nutritionally promote healing and help with recovery.  However, I had already blown through two blenders–literally. Each one, a budget friendly investment with the promise of high speed, power blending, had already crossed over to the great appliance graveyard.

That’s when I recalled reading about the pocket-friendliness of higher-end, refurbished blenders.  In passing, I mentioned this idea to my brother.  Unbeknownst to me, he used, and still has, at least one refurbished kitchen appliance.  He attested to their value and performance.

One week out from my surgery, after pouring through product reviews, I selected and ordered my American made, refurbished blender that came with a five-year warranty.  Since then, I have powered through fruit and vegetable blends like a professional smoothie maker.  No overheating, no smoking, no waiting for the blender to cool down. 

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In fact, I’ve enjoyed rotating through several smoothie recipes, but the one I am sharing with you today is one of my current favorites because the color is so stunning.  However, don’t let the gorgeous, magenta color fool you; it is chock full of foods designed to promote, protect, and heal the body from the inside.

In fact, the first ingredient, riced cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable that reduces inflammation.  It is naturally high in fiber, B-vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants.  Mango and dragon berries are high in vitamins, packed with fiber, polyphenols, and antioxidants that protect the body, reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system.  Whereas, elderberry syrup has long been touted for hundreds of years as part of traditional folk medicine remedies for boosting the immune system and shortening the duration of respiratory viruses, which may be due to its high in Vitamin C and antioxidant content. 

Then, I added in a bit of ground ginger to aid in digestion and as a natural pain reliever.  I also included a scoop of vanilla protein powder, high in amino acids to assist in the healing of my incision and the rebuilding of muscle tissue. Sometimes I used other berries, in lieu of dragon berries, and occasionally, I tossed in some ground seeds as a source of healthy fats and more protein.  I have even added a stalk of celery and part of a cucumber on some days–just to add in a few more vegetables. Additionally, I used mostly frozen fruits and vegetables, which meant nothing went to waste due to an expiration date.

All told, my simple, tasty smoothies, along with my daily bowl of oatmeal, and a few other carefully selected and prepared foods, helped me through the time period in which swallowing was difficult.  They provided my body with key nutrients to promote healing and reduced my risk for falling prey to a respiratory illness.  As an added bonus, the fiber kept my guy happy and chugging right along.  Plus, I now have a fantastic blender that is reliable and will be a source of inspiration for all sorts of nutritional and fun concoctions for future recipes.

From home to yours I hope this delightfully vibrant, refreshing, nutrition filled smoothie will boost you through allergy season or any other time your immune system needs a little extra umph. 

Wishing you the best of health . . .

Heal and Recover Smoothie


1 cup frozen riced cauliflower 

½  lime

1 cup liquid 

½ to 1 cup mango (dependent upon caloric and/or taste needs)

1 cup dragon berries (or other favorite berries)

2 teaspoons elderberry syrup 

Optional add-ins:

1 stalk celery, cut into chunks

½ medium cucumber, peeled

¼  teaspoon ground ginger 

1-2 scoops favorite protein powder 

1-2 tablespoons favorite ground seed: chia, hemp hearts, flax


Add in all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth

Notes & Substitutions:

*Can eliminate all veggies, if you prefer only fruit

*Can eliminate lime, if not a fan.

*Can substitute kale, romaine lettuce, or spinach (However, your smoothie will look more brown than magenta.)

*Liquids can include: favorite type milk, water, coconut water

*Banana, or even pineapple, can be substituted for mango

* Up to 2 tablespoons pomegranate or tart cherry juice can be substituted for elderberry syrup 

*Finely chopped, ¼ inch long, fresh ginger for ground ginger

Move into Health, Part 10: Create a fitness plan that meets you where you are


I came across a quote only days after my recent ACDF surgery by Oprah Winfrey that read, “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” It accurately summed up what I have been trying to do as I recover.  Find new ways to stand, sit, sleep, work, walk, etc. . . Of course, I am blessed that my surgery did not require more than one night’s stay in the hospital, and wasn’t more serious.  Nonetheless, surgery is no joke and recovery is for real.

My movement was limited for days following surgery.  I had to learn to turn at the waist, rather than use my neck. Additionally, I had to focus on using my stomach muscles to get in and out of bed to avoid straining my neck. And, all forms of exercise, except for walking, was eliminated per staunch medical advice that my family took to heart with frequent reminders. (They didn’t need to worry, I truly wasn’t feeling like doing much during those first few days.)

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Walking, I was told by the release nurse, was to be completed every hour, even if it meant only completing one lap around the dining room table before I sat back down.  However, I was encouraged, once I got past what the nurse called the “recliner days”–days when swelling and inflammation (aka pain) was at the highest level–to try to walk 10-15 minutes each hour.  I had just completed a half-marathon, albeit slowly, only weeks earlier, and now this was my new fitness plan. What a shift!

So why was walking so important, even on those days when I didn’t feel like moving?  Well, it turns out there are numerous valid reasons according to my doctor and as described in countless studies out of the Mayo Clinic, University of Wisconsin, and in a 2020 US News and World Report article. Here are a few of the reasons cited:

  • Prevention of post-surgery complications
  • Enhances blood flow throughout the body
  • Increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body
  • Accelerates wound healing
  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Improves digestion (aka ability to poop) and the function of urinary tract while reducing bloating and gas
  • Reduces risk for blood clots, infections, and lung issues, such as pneumonia
  • Boosts mood and self-esteem  

Why do I share all of this?  To make the point that my old fitness plan was, and currently is, no longer appropriate for me.  I had to adopt a fitness plan that meets my body’s needs where it is.  Therefore, my current movement plan consists of short segments of walking completed throughout the day as I remain home recovering, which complies with medical advice from my doctor and best meets the needs of my body.  

Gentle walking on my driveway or in my house is part of the slow and steady recovery plan.

At the time of writing this, I am entering my third week of recovery. After my two-week, post-operative appointment, I now have permission to begin to gently explore a few  strengthening exercises and stretches that can be completed without forward bending.  Additionally, I can begin to explore my neck range of motion with a few doctor approved neck stretches and strengthening exercises, but nothing more.  Slow and steady helps me find my new center of gravity.

Due to this experience, I want to continue to encourage you, Dear Reader, to carefully plan how you will enter, or reenter, your own exercise/movement plan this spring.  Create a plan that meets your needs, and commit to doing it–even if you don’t “feel like it.”  Personally speaking, I could feel angry and convince myself that if I can’t exercise the way I once did, then I won’t do anything at all. After all, it would be easy for me to sit around all day and use my surgery as an excuse to do nothing.  Conversely, I could try to push too hard with the delusion that, “The staff doesn’t really know ME,” and begin overdoing it with images of former, younger me dancing in my head

Instead, I have accepted the reality of my situation, rather than reject the medical advice I have been given.  They are the professionals, not me.  I have to meet my body where it’s at when it comes to fitness.  Sure, I have dreams of hiking again, walking (or jogging) the entire bike path of Ritter Park, and even practicing yoga with regularity, but none of those will ever happen if I don’t recover first.  And my first step in recovery is walking, so my body can focus on the miraculous work of healing.

Welcome walking into your life! You might be surprised by the benefits!

Therefore, no matter where you are, what shape you are in, or any other personal obstacles that you may be facing unbeknownst to me, I still encourage you to never give up on regularly incorporating movement into your day. Avoid the temptation to make excuses for yourself, but at the same time, don’t start off with a complicated plan.  Talk to your health care provider, and then start.

Start where you are.  If you don’t regularly move, then begin, like me, with short walks around your home, or up and down your driveway or sidewalk.  Do that 3-4 times per week.  The following week, add one more lap, or add five more minutes to your walk, and complete it 3-4 times per week.  Gradually, you will build up your time and the distance covered.  By keeping this up over several weeks, you will create the habit of moving.  Your body, lungs, and heart will be stronger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you find you are reaping other unexpected benefits!

Think about this, my friends, if walking is scientifically established as one of the best tools for recovery after surgery, what can it do for you?  Don’t beat yourself up because you are no longer what you once were, you didn’t exercise over winter due to the cold weather, you’ve never really tried to exercise previously, or you’re somewhere in between, like me.  Start where you are at, and move one step at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is fitness, but you have to take the first step, and spring is a great time to start.  

Here we go my friend, take my hand, let’s find that new center of gravity, and cross this bridge together, one healing step at a time.

Open the door to spring, and find your new center of gravity one small step at a time!

A Lesson on the Power of Positivity

Lift up your two hands; remember one is for helping others while the other is for helping you.”–Israelmore Ayivor

“So, what do you do?”

Her name was Pam.  I did not get her last name, but she was one of several nurses with whom I came into contact during my recent stay in a local hospital due to a surgical procedure.  Pam was a competent, no-nonsense, veteran nurse, and she was asking me this question on my second day when my thinking was a bit less clouded by anesthesia and pain meds. 

“I am a teacher, and I write,” was my simple response.

She asked several more polite questions regarding teaching while taking my vitals and dispensing meds; in turn, I asked about her work experience.  

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Then, she asked what I wrote about it.  I tried to describe the various topics about which I most often wrote, and I ultimately summed it up by explaining that I tried to focus my writing on the positive topics, especially the ways in which readers can positively impact themselves and/or others.

My response really got her talking about the fact she believed there was too much negativity put out into the world.  Pam then invited John, my husband, and me to imagine what would happen if people would take time to say one nice thing to another person?  She went on to ask us to further envision those people, in turn, saying one nice thing to another person, and the way in which the chain of positivity would most likely continue.  

 Then, she looked at me and implored, “That’s what I want you to write about next.”

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Pam made an excellent point. There is way too much negativity in the world, and I do not want to disappoint Pam.  That is because she, along with Jennifer, Natalie and Brittany took excellent care of me immediately following surgery.  However, Pam spent the longest amount of time with me over those two days, so this piece is written, not only in honor of Pam, but also in honor of all those who positively impacted my recovery.

 Based upon my interactions with Pam, her professional conduct exemplifies what she was preaching to me. Specifically, when Pam first took charge of my care, when I was transferred from the post-surgery area to a hospital room, she insisted that I walk from the stretcher to the bed in the room.  Of course, she guided and steadied me, as I was still strongly under the influence of anesthesia and pain meds, but her insistence established a positive tone for my recovery: the affirming belief that I could take ownership of my recovery.

Pam urged me to walk within the first 30 minutes of arriving on the floor.  Again, she steadied me.  When I asked how far I was supposed to go, she did not limit me.  In fact, she told me to choose my directions and go as far as I wanted to go within the confines of the floor.  Therefore, I felt compelled to go the full length of my boundaries, albeit ever-so-slowly and on wobbly legs initially.

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Those first walking efforts were then met with praise and encouragement.  Phrases like, “You’re doing great,” or “That’s good,,” buoyed my bruised spirit.  Furthermore, when I apologized for moving slowly, she kept encouraging me.  When I worried about being so unsteady, she instructed me to look straight ahead in the direction in which I was moving.  

Furthermore, Pam (and the rest of the nurses) insisted I do as much as I could on my own.  She did not hold onto me long, once my muscle memory of walking returned.  To be sure, her hands were at the ready each time I waivered a bit, but she always maintained a stance that facilitated as much independence as I could muster.  

Of course, I fully admit several of my memories are veiled under a haze of postoperative fog.  Nonetheless, the ones that remain, I believe, are stored there because of the positive efforts of nursing staff, family, and friends.  

In fact, several studies validate that the way in which a person reacts to specific events or situations determines, not only one’s ability to commit to memory what happened, but also affects one’s ability to recall that event/situation later.  What’s even more interesting is that memories of emotional events are more vivid and remain more accurate as time passes.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

This explains why, when I was first separated from John and my daughter and taken to a pre-operative area, I began to feel real tinges of fear.  I was left alone in a curtained off corner with operating staff moving all around while other patients were being wheeled by for surgery.  Furthermore, I did not have my glasses on, so my vision was not clear. Panic began to set in, and slow tears began to trickle out of my eyes. 

Two distinct and separate memories remain from that time-period.  First, there was a female who kept looking at me from across the room.  I have no idea her position, but suddenly she walked over to me with a small box of hospital-issued tissues.  I do not remember precisely what she said, but her voice was soothing, her eyes were kind, and her gentle pat with her gloved palm communicated understanding.

In contrast, several long moments later, the anesthesiologist arrived with a nonplussed look that quickly turned into a look of frustration when he heard that I had Raynaud’s disease, which could potentially affect the arterial line he needed to draw for the surgery.  While I knew it wasn’t my fault, as I had repeatedly shared this information throughout the numerous paperwork, somehow the information had missed him.  Immediately, my level of fear increased, not only because I irrationally felt he was angry with me, but also because my brain began to overthink about the two IVs, arterial line in my wrist, and a slew of other needles that would be involved during the procedure.

The unknown female in the pre-op room actions versus the aggrieved attitude of the anesthesiologist, perfectly illustrate Pam’s point.  If you spread negativity, even unintentionally, it lingers with others, and can potentially spread.  Likewise, when you offer others kindness, generosity, patience, and positivity it ripples out in waves across humanity; however, instead of stirring up little fires of fear, those positive qualities quell the fears and anxieties of troubled hearts, and perhaps, offer hope to those in need.

Thank you, for the exemplary reminder, Pam.  Wherever you are, may your day be filled with positive moments worth remembering in the same way I will remember you, and the rest of the nurses, who not only cared for me, but chose, and continue to choose, to positively impact lives.  Thank you.

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Trusting before a surgery

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A quote attributed to voice actor, Billy West, states, “Life is for living.  I was a little scared before surgery ‘cause of the release you sign that says there’s always a very small percent chance that you’ll die during the operation.”  This quote pretty much sums up how I feel as I write this piece the morning before I have a fairly common neck surgery.  I am a little scared, but I am going to trust.  Trust my surgeon; trust that Divine Providence will guide his hands, eyes, and mind; trust the surgical team that will be in there with me; and be at ease knowing I am loved and supported by a community of family and friends.

As fate would have it, I was recently listening to a guided meditation designed to focus on my breathing in order to reduce anxiety. The meditation teacher ended the session by explaining that if you mix up the letters of TRUST, you can create the word, strut.  Therefore, by trusting in the Divine, you can “strut” into the future in the confidence that you are held and beloved.  Needless to say, I love word-play, so that idea grabbed my attention, leading me down a further path of thought . . . 

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It led me to reflect on a popular acronym for the word, FEAR: false evidence appearing real.  The closer to the date of my surgery, the more real the fear has felt, which seems so silly to the logical part of my mind.  Honestly, I think a large part of it has had to do with the overwhelming task of preparing to be out of commission for at least four weeks.  This is due to the fact that I am not naturally organized, so to try to think through all the different details that needed to be addressed, especially with regards to my classroom as well as several other items, seemed daunting.

Another reason I think the feelings of fear increased was because well-intentioned friends and family members began asking, the week before my procedure, how I felt.  Up until they started asking, I hadn’t really felt/thought too much about the procedure.  I mean, after all, if you don’t think about it, it can’t hurt you, right?!?!

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Seriously, I knew that those who asked were sincerely trying to connect with me, or let me know they cared and/or were interested in my well-being.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  Which led me to create my own word-play-acronym for FEAR:  friendly embrace affecting (my) resistance. 

For weeks, I had resisted thinking/dwelling upon the impending procedure.  Heart-felt questions expressed by loved ones allowed me to face my resistance to the surgery, express my feelings (fairly) openly and honest, and offered me a metaphorical embrace of support, care, and/or love–which is often hard to accept when you are used to being the one who gives it to others.

In fact, this FEAR–friendly embrace affecting (my) resistance–has allowed me to see that if I am going to give to others, I have to humbly accept when others give to me, even if it feels uncomfortable.  For example, I had a student stop me after class and ask me to not worry about them while I was gone.  She offered me a note, along with a beautifully handwritten prayer from her Baháʼí faith.

 “Let us pray for you now,” she said.  I was moved to tears.

A beautiful prayer from the Bahá’í faith written by a student for me.

Our school and church priest stopped me to say that he would be praying for me.  I didn’t even know he knew!

A parent filled a paper box to the brim with individually wrapped items for my post-surgery care, complete with four night shirts with buttons up the front, so as to avoid having to pull clothes over my neck incision.  There were teas, chocolates, books, a coloring meditation book created by her son’s uncle, colored pencils, a massaging tool, cold/hot pack, and several other considerate touches that I would not have thought of.  Plus, she showered me with messages of encouragement.  This was yet another example of a friendly embrace affecting (my) resistance.

A very thoughtful care package.

My daughter asked the university in which she is enrolled in a 12-month, fast-track graduate program, for permission to be absent for a couple days to help me out.  John, my husband of nearly 34 years, took the entire week off work, something he would never do under normal circumstances.  My parents have been praying, my siblings have been texting/sending funny memes, friends have been reaching out and sending both text and video messages.  All friendly embraces affecting (my) resistance.

So about the fear . . . yes, it is present as I write these words.  Yes, I feel it in my gut and in my slightly elevated heart rate.  However, by the time you have read this, Dear Reader, I will have TRUST(ed) the Divine and the many guided, well-trained hands of the surgical room, and I will have STRUT(ed) into my recovery phase.  It will not be an easy process, most likely; however, any kind of healing process is slow and full of challenges.  Nonetheless, “I will FEAR no evil,” and I will continue to try my best to allow those friendly embraces to affect (my likely) resistance along the recovery route. 

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Grateful memories of Virginia Beach, Shamrock Marathon 2023

“We should learn to savor some moments to let time feel worth existing.”–Munia Khan

One of the Cape Henry Lighthouses, situated on Fort Story.

“How do you feel about tomorrow?”  my husband, John, asked me as we sat at a corner table for two in Mannino’s Italian Bistro in Virginia Beach, a hidden gem we had discovered during last year’s visit.  

We had arrived around 5:40, hoping to beat the crowd for an early dinner the night before I participated in the 51st annual Shamrock Half Marathon. Clearly, we were not the only ones who had thought of that!  The restaurant was positively packed with runners and their family and/or friends.  Therefore, I mulled over my answer to the animated vibe of enthusiastic and celebratory conversations.

“I will let it be.  See how it unfolds and just . . . enjoy and be grateful.”

Looking back over the twelve months prior to that weekend, March 17-19, we had withstood several unforeseen challenges, and still had more face upon returning home.  However, for this weekend, we took a time-out.  We took time to breathe in that salty air of renewal, watch the waves caress the shoreline, feel the warmth of the sun as it kissed our cheeks, and soak up as much joy as our hearts could hold. No rush; no hurry; few worries.

One of the highlights of our trip was discovering the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Arts.  This contemporary, non-collecting museum is a vibrant and welcoming space.  During the weekend in which we were there, the museum’s exhibition galleries were brimming with a wide-variety of collections, including stunning quilted art from 54-40 African American Quilters Guild of Virginia. 

Additionally, it was Virginia MOCA’s annual celebration of youth art month, so there was a multitude of student art on display.  Additionally, we were able to take in a kaleidoscope of blown-glass color from the museum’s only permanent work of art, Mille Colori, by Dale Chihuly. Virginia MOCA is a gallery that appears to be a local favorite for good reason, and I encourage anyone visiting VB, who loves art, to visit it!

Immediately within the doors of Virginia MOCA, is an adorable, independent bookshop called, Read Books, which I recommend checking out while pursuing the museum.  It was while we were visiting this space that we learned that both the bookshop and the museum are part of the ViBe Creative District. This walkable designated area of VB is the heart of over 100 artists and creative businesses. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to further explore this district, but we’ve added it to the top of the list of areas to explore next time we visit VB.

These discoveries reflect the joy of revisiting a diverse location, such as VB.  We get to return to those experiences that we previously relished; and yet, there remains an abundance of new sights with which to enjoy on future visits.  Two favorite VB spots for which John and I delighted in returning were Side Street Cantina and Pocahontas Pancakes and Waffle House. 

John and I love Mexican food, and the Peruvian-inspired Mexican food of Side Street Cantina always delivers.  This is our third year visiting this site, and the service and food remained consistently excellent.  In fact, their personable staff goes out of their way to make us feel like one of their regulars.  This establishment is worth experiencing if you are vacationing in VB. 

As for my all time favorite breakfast/lunch restaurant, it is Pocahontas Pancakes and Waffle House, and we made sure to eat there twice. This is because this quintessential eatery–in addition to having an expansive novel-like, made-to-order menu–offers a wide-array of gluten-free options. It was clear from the crowd over the weekend of events, this is a favorite dining experience for both locals and visitors like us who return year after year.  

 Whereas, a new VB dining establishment we discovered on this trip was the Mellow Mushroom.  Sure it’s a chain, but it was within close walking distance to the hotel in which we stayed, and it was newly opened as of fall of 2022.  It made for the perfect place for a gluten-free pizza in the evening for which I ran the half-marathon.  Fans of the Mellow Mushroom establishment will not be disappointed.

Meanwhile, back to the morning of the half marathon. John and I stayed at a hotel conveniently located near the starting line.  That said, John and I had a good laugh at my corral number.  We kept walking, and walking, to find the group with which I would start based upon estimated finish time.  My corral was nearly at the back of the line!  Nonetheless, I proudly joined my corral group and waited as each group was given their own individual countdown.  

The anticipation grew. 3, 2, 1!  We were off on an adventure!  And what an exhilarating adventure it was!

This is the first time I actually ran the event in-person, rather than virtually, so I was all-smiles taking in the sights.  Runners of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and ethnicities were supporting one another as we made our way along the northern end of Atlantic Ave.; up the creeping incline of Shore Drive; through Fort Story with special event permission; alongside Cape Henry Lighthouses; back down Atlantic Ave with the wind blessedly out our backs, and finally turning left on 37th street as we traversed the VB boardwalk during the final part of the last mile alongside of the Atlantic ocean, past the iconic King Neptune, to cross the finish line nearest to 30th street.

I simply could not stop smiling.  The sun was shining, and the temperatures were great for running (high 30s to low 40s).  As I crossed the finish line, tears came to my eyes; my heart was overflowing  with joy.  John was waiting at the finish line with our daughter, Maddie, on Facetime to join in the finish-line fun.   

It was a glorious day and soul-renewing weekend. I am grateful to the friendly folks at J&A Racing (and VB) who believe in creating a safe, well-organized event that offers a sense of community for runners, walkers, and their families/friends of all stages of life and all levels of fitness–from walking to sprinting, and everyone in between.  This event does precisely what the organization sets out to do, make memories!

Green and White Enchilada Bake, featuring G-BOMBS, is a powerhouse of delicious nutrition

“Remember the acronym G-BOMBS, which stands for Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds. These foods fuel your body with protective micronutrients and phytochemicals that support your immune defenses and have a wide range of health-promoting effects. And here’s a bonus: They’re delicious!”–Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Photo by Min An on

Beginning in December, I spent 16 weeks preparing to run, walk, or even crawl a half-marathon.  For those who are natural distance runners, completing a half-marathon is no big deal. However, for someone like me, it was a challenge, but it was an overall positive experience.

While preparing for this half marathon, I was battling an injury–one that did not affect my running, per se, but one that will ultimately require surgery.  Therefore, I knew I wanted my nutrition to solidly support the recovery of my middle-aged body.  However, for the sake of full disclosure, I still indulged my penchant for dark chocolate on a daily basis!

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I read, and continue to rely upon, the most up-to-date nutritional studies out of respected research institutes such as Harvard, Northwestern University, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic and so forth.  Additionally, I read more popularized sources of research such as Michael Pollan and National Geographic author/researcher, Dan Buettner, and his study of Blue Zones, as well as a few other noted sources.  The point is, I don’t make my food choices lightly, especially since I must also balance out these choices with my celiac disease and food sensitivities while still consuming food that looks great and tastes even better.

For a whole slew of reasons, I rely on a whole food, plant based diet 90% of the time, and this recipe–that I created during my half-marathon preparation–is an example of this.  I want my meals to be alive with color, texture, and balanced flavor, with a bit of spice thrown in.
Additionally, I try to regularly consume GBOMBS, greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds, for the most nutritional bang for my buck, and this recipe has four of the six of them.  (I typically eat berries and some form of seeds–flax, chia, or hemp hearts–during an earlier meal of the day.)

Photo by Vanessa Loring on

If you prefer to add meat, my recipe can accommodate your preference.  You could choose to replace the beans with chicken or seafood, or keep the beans, and add in meat.  Spices are optional, and I have made a note regarding why I add them.  I typically serve these enchiladas on a bed of leafy-greens and top them with a dollop of guacamole and chopped scallions.  However, you could serve them on top of rice, quinoa, or simply as they are.  Feel free to get a little frisky with the toppings of your choice!

Personal food choices are the N = 1. Therefore, I would never presume to tell anyone what they should or should not eat.  Nonetheless, I think most of us can agree, you can’t go wrong consuming a bit more veg.

From my home to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Ready to broil a bit.
Add your favorite toppings . . .
Serve it up on a bed of greens and/or grains and add more of your favorite toppings, such as guacamole.

Green and White Enchilada Bake


½ cup vegetable broth or water

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped mushrooms, any type, optional 

½ cup chopped red, yellow, or orange bell pepper

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (can substitute equal amounts of grated parmesan or chickpea flour)

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon crushed *red pepper, optional

¼ teaspoon *turmeric powder, optional 

Dash of *black pepper, optional

1 15 ounce can great northern beans, drained

1 4-ounce can green chiles

1 package low-sodium taco seasoning

8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1 can green enchilada sauce

6-8 tortillas, depending upon size (I used gluten-free tortillas.)

2 cups shredded cheese, your choice (I used a vegan substitute for photos, but I’ve also gone without it.)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a small casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Chop onion and bell pepper, if using.

Heat a saucepan over medium heat.

Add minced garlic and broth, stir.

Add in onion and bell pepper, stir well.

Allow to simmer until vegetables begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

While vegetables are cooking, stir in nutritional yeast and onion powder 

If using crushed red pepper, turmeric powder, and dash of black pepper, stir those in as well.

Meanwhile, open, drain, and rinse the beans; stir into the simmering vegetable mixture.

Stir in green chiles and taco seasoning into the simmering vegetable and bean mixture, and allow it all to simmer for another 3-5 minutes, continuing to stir.

While the vegetable/bean mixture is simmering, stir in the spinach and allow it to simmer and wilt into the rest of the ingredients.

While vegetables are simmering, set up all tortillas, taco style, in the casserole dish.

Remove vegetables from heat; then, divide and fill tortillas with vegetable/bean mixture, folding down one side over the other, and using a toothpick, if needed, to keep closed.

If there is any remaining vegetable/bean mixture, pour over the tops of the closed tortillas.

Pour a can of green enchilada sauce over the closed tortillas.

Top with desired cheese, if using.

Bake, uncovered in the oven for approximately 25 minutes until sauce is bubbling at the edges.

Feel free to turn on the broiler for the last minute or two to brown the top of the casserole if desired.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes 3-4 servings, two enchiladas per serving.

Top as desired.

Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 5 days.

*Note: Spices are a personal preference, so you choose if you want to add these ingredients.  Here’s why I do.

  • I use turmeric daily as an anti-inflammatory agent.  When cooking with tumeric, I pair with a dash of pepper as the pepper enhances the absorption of turmeric in the body by up to 2,000%.  Together both spices reduce inflammation and improve digestion.
  • I also regularly use crushed red pepper flakes and red pepper for its ingredient, capsaicin, which soothes stomach issues, boosts heart health, and fortifies the immune system.

Move Into Health, Part 9: The Long Game

“ . . . To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.”–Francis Bacon

I recently ran across an inspirational story that was being shared across a multitude of media outlets.  Jean Bailey, a 102-year old resident and fitness coach of Elk Ridge Senior Living in Omaha, Nebraska, has been leading fitness classes there, four times a week, for the past three years.  

 Bailey’s classes consist of exercises that go through a wide range of motion, designed to get every part of the body moving, including activities such as overhead reach, arm circles, neck rotations, and seated toes touches to name a few.  Her classes last about 30 minutes.  Bailey realizes that, like her, many of her fellow exercisers have mobility limitations or their bodies are different from day to day; however, she believes that everyone, including herself, can benefit from doing what they can do.  

102 year old Jean Bailey leading an exercise class at Elk Ridge Senior Living in Omaha, Nebraska.

Bailey is redefining what it means to age.  She proudly proclaimed in a recent interview, “If you don’t keep your mind and body busy, then why are you here?” Friendships have blossomed and flourished since she first began leading the classes during the pandemic when Bailey invited her neighbors to bring chairs into the hall and exercise with her at a socially safe distance.  

Since COVID restrictions were lifted, Bailey has also been known to treat fellow exercisers with baked goods after class, especially in honor of someone’s birthday.  This is because, as Bailey points out, birthdays at their age are noteworthy. When asked if she’ll ever quit, she replied, “When I get old, I’ll quit!”

I share this story as part of the 9th installment of the “Move Into Health” series. Bailey’s story serves as a direct contrast to those limiting beliefs, which can easily entrap any one of us, regarding adopting or changing certain healthy lifestyle habits as we age. However, even though our bodies change with age, according to numerous scientific studies, there is very little difference between an 18-year old brain and a 100-year old brain from a cerebrovascular perspective; thus establishing, we are never too old to mentally adopt new habits or overcome poor habits that may have crept in over the years.

Bailey is most likely an example of what scientists call SuperAgers, those living into their eighth decade, and beyond, who possess cognitive function similar to that of a middle-aged adult.  In fact, neuroscientists at Northwestern University in Chicago have identified four specific habits of SuperAgers. Adopting these four SuperAgers’ healthy habits may help slow down the aging process within the brain (and the body), potentially staving off Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, while boosting overall health; thereby, spending less time at the doctor’s office and more time doing the things you love.  

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The four habits of SuperAgers are listed below. While I am not a proponent of changing everything all at once, I do sincerely believe that taking small steps towards any of these habits can have a positive impact upon personal health.

Daily Movement/Activity. You know the old adage, “Move it or lose it.”  Incorporating daily movement increases oxygen and blood flow–both of which benefit the brain.  Regular bouts of exercise, even as few as twice per week, strengthen not only the heart and lungs but can also strengthen muscles required for stability to avoid falling, help maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. As an added bonus, exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety and lower your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers.

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

Challenge yourself. Adopt habits of reading, puzzle solving, and learning. Experiencing the mild to moderate stress that often accompanies learning a new skill is good for creating and/or maintaining healthy neural pathways. Take classes, learn a new language, or choose any number of activities that get you out of your comfort zone.  Mental challenges are good for you and your brain.

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Get social.  Meeting regularly with friends, engaging with others via group settings, or partaking in family gatherings allow for the maintenance of healthy social relationships.  In fact, autopsies of SuperAgers reveals that the attention area of their brain has four to five times the amount of neurons responsible for social processing and awareness, when compared to others who lived into their 80s or later.

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Drink, but in moderation. Moderate drinkers are less likely to develop memory issues, including Alzheimer’s disease.  However, too much alcohol creates the opposite effect on memory as well as increased belly fat (the most dangerous type), increased blood pressure, and numerous other health conditions.

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Two other beneficial habits worth considering that are also associated with aging well:

Adopt a MIND diet.  MIND, in addition to being a huge buzz word in current medical research for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive delays, is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.  It is a plant-based diet that combines the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diets. The MIND diet encourages the daily consumption of plenty of fruits (specifically berries), and vegetables (especially leafy greens), whole grains, legumes, nuts, as well as limited amounts of poultry, fish, and olive oil.  Not only are these foods good for overall brain health and cognitive function, but they also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, two actions strongly associated with chronic health illnesses and disease. 

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on

Quit smoking. While I cannot pretend to know how hard it is to stop this habit, I do remember a nurse telling my mother-in-law during an emergency room visit that within 24 hours of quitting smoking, she would begin to reduce her risk of a heart-attack by 50% or more.  It still took her several more years before she quit; however, I will forever admire the way in which she finally gave up the habit at age 71. Although health issues related to a lifetime of smoking remained with her until the end, because she did quit, she added years to her life.  

Photo by Irina Iriser on

Who among us will be the next SuperAger?  No one can know for sure. To be certain, any one of us could follow all the so-called rules, and still develop Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or other detrimental condition.  Nonetheless, watching Jean Bailey lead her exercise classes on Youtube and Twitter videos certainly persuades me to keep moving into my own health, and her story further motivates me to continue to share this valuable information. Adopting any or all of these healthy habits can’t hurt any of us, and they just might add a bit more quality to the quantity of years we have remaining.  Here’s to your health!

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Detaching from the illusions our attachments create

“Time is an illusion.  Lunchtime doubly so.–Douglas Adams

A coworker and I were talking after school one day about plans for the work week, the schedule, and what we were planning.  It was a brief exchange as he was preparing to leave for the day, and I was settling into grading papers. 

 I jokingly said, as he headed out of the door, “You know it’s all an illusion.  We can plan all we want, but who knows how it will really unfold.”  

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This made us both laugh and shake our heads because we both know as teachers no matter how much thought, effort, and time we put into planning for our students, things rarely go as predicted.  Schedules can change and/or students’ level of attention, understanding, or even behavior can completely alter our well–intended plans, creating the need to pivot quickly, adapt and modify plans.

Sure enough, the very next day, plans for the week had changed.  We rethought and restructured our plans.  The next day arrived with another change.  Before long, how the week actually turned out was very different from how it was originally conceived.

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I share this, not as a point of negativity, but rather as a point of reality.  Rarely does life unfold as we plan for it. Nonetheless, I still tend to cling to schedules and routines since I am not naturally organized.  However, I have learned to embrace the word “flux” over the years. In fact, I am realizing that my attachment to “how things should be” is all just one big illusion.

Furthermore, my illusion is due to my attachment to “control,” which, in fact, is also an illusion.  The desire for control is a gripping cycle for many of us.  Our attachment to ______ (how things were, how they should be, or how they could be) reflects our wish for control.  It also helps to create the illusion that we will be happy if everything “goes according to plans.”  However, when things don’t go as we had hoped, we can feel downhearted or disappointed. 

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However, it’s not just schedules and outcomes to which we attach ourselves.  We can attach ourselves to friends, family, groups, teams, circumstances, positions, things and so forth.  We begin to identify with those people, those groups, those situations, and so forth.  Even our address becomes a point of attachment.  

Unfortunately, these attachments can sometimes allow stress to enter our lives when/if we lose one of these identifiers, things, or when circumstances change.  Sometimes a change can become nearly debilitating due to our grief and sense of loss.  Other times, our anxiety spirals out of control from the pressure we feel as a result of expectations caused by our attachments.

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Again, none of this is inherently bad.  We are all human beings, experiencing the very human need for belonging, validation, and contribution.  However, it might be helpful to also allow for some amount of detachment as we move through life.  This is because when we attempt to only hold on to what feels familiar and comfortable, we can sometimes prevent ourselves from experiencing a newfound way to experience joy and happiness.  Therefore, it is worth remembering the importance of letting go, or at the very least, holding loosely, in order to allow for new, unimagined life experiences.

I was thinking more about this attachment-control-illusion cycle as I went for my weekly long run one morning along the tree lined paths of Ritter park. Jogging alongside those noble limbed sentinels, I realized that trees are not attached to one another.  Instead, they function independently, even though they are part of a collective landscape.  

Photo by Artur Roman on

Numerous dogs, people, and other creatures move in all directions under the shelter of the branches.  Chunky squirrels and round robins flit up, down, and all around outstretched tree arms. All the while, neither do the trees attach their identity to or make plans for any of this, nor do they try to control it.

The trees did not seek my attention, and yet I couldn’t help but notice them.  Neither did the trees seem to need my praise or approval.  Nonetheless, my mind kept marveling at the way their leaves were beginning to bud while at the same time birds were creating neighborhoods of  nestled nests. Likewise, without being attached to a certain group, I could still identify the various types of trees. 

The park trees, like all trees, are independently rooted in the soil and work with the circumstances in which they find themselves planted.  They do not, per se, have expectations or plans for how their growing season should unfold.  In fact, they can’t even count on predictable circumstances from year to year, so changeable is the weather.  

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No matter their situation, and without any attachments or attempts to control, trees still manage to contribute. They act as a refuge for food and shelter for birds and other animals/insects.  During warmer months, their well-dressed branches provide cooling shade for people and creatures alike. Trees even offer opportunities for raucous fun as squirrels chase one another all around their trunks and branches while birds play hide and seek, singing songs of tidings.

Near the end of my jog, the sun began to burn through the tapestry of clouds.  As the glistening light gradually emerged, the overcast dullness gave way.  Instantly, I felt less encumbered by tired legs, and a renewed vigor filled my heart and lungs.  

Photo by Adam Kontor on

I was then reminded of how cloudy our thinking can become when we fall prey to our self-inflicted illusions. Furthermore, I began to see that there is no pushing through attachments and the illusions our attachments create.  Rather, it is a practice we must intentionally pursue through patience, perseverance, and most of all gentleness, which is not easy. However, the more we can recognize when we are attaching, the more often we may be better able to lightly detach. 

Personally, I still like predictable plans as well as my coworker.  Nonetheless, similarly to the way the sunlight lifted my spirits as I jogged, I know that the more we can detach or grasp less to our so-called illusory plans/attachments, the more we can experience unexpected, and dare I say, unplanned, moments of joy! 

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Use the RAINDROP technique to weather life’s emotional storms

“Peace is this moment without thinking that it should be some other way, that you should feel some other thing, that your life should unfold according to your plans.”–Dorothy Hunt

Several months ago, during the fall of the year, I was walking on a local, circular path.  Suddenly, I heard the loud rev of an engine.  VROOM!  I saw a large SUV type vehicle, careening, plowing, and then swerving off the road, straight towards the path over which I walked.   

My heart began to race, and my thoughts quickened, trying to process what I was witnessing.  The SUV drove along the slope that forms a ditch line surrounding the path.  KREECH! The sound of metal collapsing was ear-splitting as the vehicle crashed into a heavily staked, metal line, thick and entwined like a rope, that supported a power line pole.  Fear raced through my veins as I ran towards the vehicle to see if the person inside was ok while grabbing my phone to call 911.

Photo by Mike B on

I find this event to be an excellent illustration of what it means to witness.  I was the bystander.  My senses heard, saw, and even felt this scene as it unfolded in a surreal manner.  This same skill of witnessing as a bystander is a tool we can use to help navigate difficult emotions/feelings when they come crashing into our life path.  And, let’s be honest, difficult emotions can be a regular occurrence at all stages of life.

From anxiety to depression to life event stressors and work stressors, I daresay none of us are immune to challenging emotions such as anger, insecurity, sadness, fear, and numerous other less-than-kind emotions.  This is where tapping into the bystander part of the brain can help us navigate through the mental storm clouds with a technique called RAIN and its counterpart DROP, acronyms first coined by Michele McDonald, a mindfulness teacher.

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There are times when we may not initially recognize that our emotions/feelings are impacting our thinking, but with a bit of practice, we can begin to recognize that they are.  Actions such as, lack of focus/feeling distracted; binge eating/drinking/scrolling/watching; avoidance/procrastination, and so forth can be indicators that something is awry.  Even seemingly positive actions can be a side effect of not-so-great feelings trying to bubble to the surface, such as busyness; continuously working; over-exercising; frequent napping, and so on.

This is when the RAIN technique can be effective.  RAIN gently asks us to become a bystander in our minds to determine what we are feeling or perhaps trying to avoid feeling.  Then, it takes us through a process of reflection to bring us to a point of compassionate self-awareness.  Like all techniques, however, it takes practice, and it is not a one-stop-fix-all solution. However, it can be one more tool in life’s toolkit for managing difficulties and suffering.

Here are the steps, based upon my interpretation and personal application of the technique. However, it is worth noting that there are numerous free apps, videos, books, and websites that offer guided versions of this technique that can be quite helpful, especially in the beginning.

Recognize what is going on and name it. “I’m feeling angry, hurt, lonely, sad . . . .”  Then you might also notice if you’re judging those feelings or feeling guilty for having the feelings in the first place.

Acknowledge and Allow. Once you’ve named it, begin to witness your feelings as a bystander would at the scene of an accident. If thoughts pop up that tell you that “shouldn’t feel this way,” gently tell yourself that it is ok to have this feeling.  

Investigate your emotion/feeling with curiosity and interest minus judgment or blaming self or others. What are you feeling and where are you feeling? Similarly to the way I experienced the accident–first in my heart, next in my mind, and finally in my body–where in your body do you feel this emotion? How is it affecting you?  Do you want to cry, eat, move, hide, nap, and so on?

Natural Awareness, Non-identification and Nurture.  This is where you can tell yourself that just because you feel it, doesn’t mean it defines who you are.  Instead, use this as a lesson for how ________ (name the emotion) feels like, similar to the way you feel symptoms of a cold, the flu and so on. Then, take time to offer yourself compassion just as you do when experiencing a cold or flu. You could even place a hand on your heart center or gently pat your cheek as an act of self-compassion.

Contrastly, each stage (letter) of DROP to a corresponding, often knee-jerk, reaction to each step (letter) of the RAIN process.  It creates a greater understanding of those monkey mind tendencies that want to interrupt or impede the RAIN process in order to confuse the bystander role of our brain. 

Distraction and Delusion. Our brains would often rather distract or delude us from the truth of the matter instead of allowing us to recognize and name what we are really experiencing. 

Resistance. Sometimes, this means, we have to push past our mind’s initial resistance in order to allow and accept the emotion we are experiencing.

Obliviousness. When you take time to honestly investigate a so-called negative feeling, you are overcoming the self-obliviousness, the “I lie to myself all the time, but I never believe me” habit, so many of us unwittingly practice.

Personalization. Your feelings do not have to be the narrative of your life.  You might feel angry, but it doesn’t mean you’re an angry person. You might cry when you feel insecure, but it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy.  In other words, don’t make the emotion/feeling personal, it just is.

Raindrops are going to come and go in life, and some time periods are cloudier than others. There are times when it seems those rain-filled clouds will not leave.  And so it can be with our emotions.  We cannot always control the stormy feelings and thoughts that we encounter throughout life’s ups and downs, but we can choose to change our relationship to them. With the RAIN practice, we can tap into our brain’s ability to witness the impending storm clouds and offer ourselves an umbrella of self-compassion and understanding to help us weather the storms of life with a greater sense of resilient grace.  

Rain and Umbrella by Fu00e9lix Hilaire Buhot (French, 1847u20131898) is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Crab Cake Delight with gluten-free option

“Do not be the proverbial crab in a bucket and make war with those around you! Work together and grow! Love! Live Life!”–Marvin Gaye 

I know, I know!  Why am I writing a piece about crab cakes when I personally don’t eat meat?  Furthermore, why would I create a recipe that not only has meat, but also has “glutinous” bread crumbs, when I have celiac disease? I have several valid reasons, but the biggest of all is that I live in a world with a wide-array of taste/dietary preferences.  

Besides, I do not have the proverbial “crab mentality” that says, “If I can’t have it, you can’t have it.”  Goodness gracious, not eating meat is my personal choice; whereas, avoiding gluten is a necessity.  Regardless, my choices and restrictions do not dictate my ability to create recipes and share.  What’s more, I am already fast at work, creating my own plant-based, gluten free version of the following recipe, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki on

John, my husband, recently said to me, “You know what I’ve been craving that you haven’t made in years?  Crab cakes.”

I was delighted to make them for him, but I had to first hunt up the 20+ year old recipe.  When it wasn’t saved on my computer, I thought I was in trouble.  Nevertheless, I persisted and found my original recipe for crab cakes tucked inside an old Longaberger recipe basket, given to us as a wedding gift, nearly 34 years old.

I created this recipe when our daughter, now an adult, was a toddler, before I had decided to give up meat, and well before I knew I had celiac disease.  The recipe was now faded, yellowed with age, and full of stains from heaven-knows-what ingredients as I tend to multitask while cooking.  Looking at the neatly penned recipe, I recalled the chicken-scratched incarnations of the recipe as I originally crafted it.  Once I settled on the final variation, it was a recipe I frequently made–I even made it, a time or two, using salmon.  Then, like so many family foods, the recipe faded into the past, and it was replaced with other family meal-time favorites.

The yellowed card covered with the stains of cooking ingredients, speaks to its original creation of over 20+ years.

How was it this time?  Well, I didn’t taste them. What I can say is the cakes were super easy to make, and baked to a golden perfection, filling the house with the redolent scent of a seaside bistro. I did, however, make them with gluten-free Italian bread crumbs because I would be handling the ingredients. (Many people with celiac disease cannot touch/handle wheat products, or they break out in hives.  I typically don’t, but it wasn’t worth the risk.)  Nonetheless, John ate those crispy cakes with gusto throughout the week, often questioning why I ever stopped making them in the first place.

 Whether a person eats meat, or gluten for that matter, is a personal choice.   While I do sincerely believe that we all benefit from eating more whole plant-based foods, it is up to each individual to determine what foods are personally right for their unique body and life circumstances.  Regardless of dietary practices, I wholeheartedly believe that good food should be savored and enjoyed.  And, as a creative person who relishes the process of cobbling together new recipes, it is incredibly gratifying to see others smiling and enjoying the foods I create.

With that said, I hope you enjoy this recipe–whether for a Lenten supper or for lighter dinner fare.  Serve these crab cakes up with some grilled asparagus (as it will be coming into season soon), mango salsa, air-fried peppers and onions, rice pilaf or any number of side favorites.  The choice is yours!

Eat. Good. Food. Made. With. Love.

Steph’s No oil Crab Cakes


1 egg (or liquid egg substitute)

1/4 cup ranch dressing

2 (6 oz) cans lump crab meat drained, flaked*

4 teaspoons lemon juice (juice from about half a lemon)

½ cup Italian breadcrumbs (gluten free, if needed)

⅓ cup shredded parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese

1 teaspoon dried minced onion (can substitute ground onion powder)

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

Directions for oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat egg lightly with a fork in a medium bowl.

Stir the remaining ingredients until mixed well.

Divide mixture into six equal portions.

Roll each portion of crab mixture into a ball, flatten into a patty, and set on parchment paper.

Repeat process, allowing an inch or two of space between each crab cake patty.

Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Directions for air fryer:

Follow directions above for mixing and dividing crab mixture.

Lightly spray the air fryer basket with cooking spray.

Set the air-fryer to 375 degrees.

Place crab cakes, three to four at a time, in an air fryer, lightly spraying the top of each with cooking spray.

Cook approximately 8 minutes on each side.

Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve.

Makes six cakes.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days, and reheated as needed. 

Leftover crab cakes make great sandwiches and/or wraps.

Stir together all ingredients into a bowl. I didn’t have have shredded parmesan on hand, so I used freshly shaved parmesan instead.
Mix well until ingredients are well-incorporated.
Divide into six approximately equal sections.
Form each section into a ball, press into a patty, and place on parchment lined paper.
Bake them up, being sure to cook on both sides, until golden brown.
Serve them with fresh lemon and your favorite side or dip! You can also use them to make sandwiches or wraps!

Mind Over Matter: Mental Strategies to Push Towards Your Movement Goals

“Put all excuses aside and remember this:  You are capable.”–Zig Ziglar

During my Saturday morning run this past week, there were numerous times I wanted to quit. It had taken me nearly two hours to complete, and it had not felt nearly as good as my last run at the exact same distance.  Nonetheless, I kept employing different mental strategies I’ve learned over the years and, ultimately, completed my goal.

Photo by Volker Meyer on

That run got me thinking about the importance of mindset and the mental strategies/techniques we sometimes need to employ to incorporate more movement and exercise into our lives.  Therefore, in this 8th installment of my “Move into Health” series, I will share several research based mental strategies for exercise/movement for those days when we “aren’t feeling it.”  Moreover, many of these tips can be applied to other areas of life, such as tackling difficult tasks.

The mind-body connection is powerful. Whether discussing exercise, or tackling a difficult/challenging project, it is important to recognize the influence of the mind-body connection.  From having a churning stomach in response to an upside routine change, such as shift workers, to coming down with a cold after prolonged exposure to a stressful event, our bodies respond to the changes in our mind.  Therefore, by understanding this connection, we can unleash its potential to positively influence our attitudes and choices, especially with regards to movement goals.

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Be patient; remember the long game, and avoid comparison: As my decades continue to stack, the long-game is most often at the forefront of my thoughts.  By prioritizing the fact that I want to remain injury free, healthy, mentally engaged, and purpose-driven for years to come, I’ve had to slow down, make moderation a priority, and avoid comparisons to my past self, previous workouts, and definitely not to others.  It’s important to be clear on long-term life goals and determine how movement/exercise can benefit that plan.  When we see how exercise and movement can contribute to and enhance our bigger life picture, it provides a bit more motivation to get out there, even when we don’t “feel like it.”

  Let go of attachments, especially to perfection and the all or nothing mindset: Our mind can be a bit of a trickster and convince us that exercise and movement should feel, be, or look a certain way. That’s all nonsense. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel great, but if nothing is hurt or injured, we have to keep going.  Other times, we may have little in the tank or reduced time. Rather than throw in the towel, try another workout or shorten your workout time.  Some form of added movement is always better than nothing!

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Embrace the unknown, including discomfort: Along with letting go of attachments to how exercise/movement should be, it is important to embrace the unknown.  Whether it is going to a new gym, a new exercise class, or walking in a new area, accept that it will feel uncomfortable and new for the first few times.  Likewise, it is important to understand that with muscle growth comes some discomfort, including sore muscles.  This is where it is important to discern the good pain from the “I-might-be injured” pain.  Most of our pain is the good kind, but we do need to pay attention to unusual or persistent pain.

Muscle has memory:  The more we exercise/move, the fitter we become, and the “easier” it is for the body to move.  This is important for those of us who are not “naturally” gifted athletes, or no longer spring chicks for that matter!  As our fitness levels increase, our likewise energy increases, making even everyday movement tasks feel easier.  Now that’s motivating!

Photo by Timothy on

Break “large” workouts into smaller tasks and start easy: When I am faced with a long run, I think about it in chunks, and I start slowly with a walk to build success.  With each successfully completed chunk, I mentally celebrate, “One-third down, only two-thirds left to go!”  I continue in this manner until I attain my goal mileage.  Additionally, I’ve applied this mindset across a multitude of workouts and projects unrelated to exercise.  

Visualize the feeling of success that comes with finishing, and don’t underestimate the potency of a smile:  This is a tool I employ before and during a workout.  I think about how good it will feel to know I accomplished whatever it is I set out to do.  By focusing on that feeling, I automatically smile.  Smiling starts a chain reaction of positive feelings coursing throughout my body, but especially my brain.  It is those good vibes that keep me going, and they can keep you going too!

Photo by Pixabay on

Adapt a “no-fail” mindset.  Since we do have that mind-body connection, we can harness the power of words to move our bodies. Create a mantra, or saying, for when your workout or movement gets tough.  I often talk to myself during, especially hard workouts.  I’ll use phrases like, “You can do this, Steph.”  “You’ve got this, Steph.” Other times, I use one word, such as, “Fortitude,” “Perseverance,” and “Tenacity,” which are a few of my favorites.  The key is finding the motivating word(s) that strengthen your resolve.

Power up with music and songs: Music doesn’t motivate everyone, but it certainly does a large number of us.  The right playlist can motivate and move you into action.  

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Create a reward system: I call it the if-then principal.  If you do this, then you get to do this. Have some sort of reward system in place for yourself, and focus on it during those challenging workouts.

Have a purpose for your run:  I often have a prayer/meditation that I repeatedly say.  Other times, I run in honor of a veteran (Team Red White & Blue and Wear Blue) by writing the name of a veteran on my hand, or creating a list of several vets and tucking the list into a tiny pocket in my tights.  The point is that by adding a higher purpose to my workout, I attach greater meaning to a workout that increases my motivation.

Everyday may not offer ideal situations for movement; therefore, having a toolkit of mental “hacks” can help us push past our own resistance and/or excuses.  Exercise not only works only our muscles, but also our mental strength and, ultimately, our overall well-being. Combining the power of the mind-body connection, especially over time, improves both our physical well being and creates a more disciplined and determined mind.  So grab your toolbelt, and learn to attach and switch out any of these various tools to motivate you to move into health, so you never have a reason to give up.

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Like Cereal Soaking up Milk

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, 

Old Time is still a-flying . . .” –Robert Herrick

Photo by Brett Sayles on

I stepped out of the car and into the liquid sunshine pouring over the park.  Above me, a brilliant flash of red caught my eye.  A red-headed woodpecker landed near the top of an electric pole directly in front of me.  It cocked its head this way and that, scampered around the top of the pole in half a circle, and then, with a quick flap of its wings, darted back across the road to land on the trunk of a nearby evergreen tree.

Smiling, I made my way around my car toward the trunk to stow away my purse before my jog began. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat.  The woodpecker found its morning rhythm; a reminder that I needed to do the same.

Along the sidewalk beside my car, a swishing caught my eye.  It was the friendly sway of a tail of a large shaggy dog of no particular breed, replete with long black and white bushy fur.  Hip-hop, hip-hop, scurried its four paws in a perfect cadence with its owner, leash amenably  loose.

Photo by Alotrobo on

Inhaling, the crisp morning air rushed in prickly through my nose, and hinted of the day’s warming to come.  Aromatic, earthy scents lingered in the air, a mix of damp earth, decaying leaves, and cold rocks.  Breathing in once more, the fragrant air brought to mind a word a student had recently run across in a book, petrichor, and had asked me to not only pronounce it, but also explain it. 

“Uhm, let’s see, the scent of walking along a wooded path after a rain.”

Inwardly smiling at that memory, in the geeky way of one who loves words, I closed the trunk, started a podcast, adjusted the volume low–in order to listen, but also hear the surrounding sounds–and away I went with my own pit-pat, pit-pat rhythm.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on

It was the kind of rare winter day in the Tri-State area in which the chilly morning would give way to golden sunshine warming the air to a relatively toasty 50 degrees. In fact, it was predicted to be the kind of day in which I want to tilt my head back, spread my arms, and embrace the sun’s rays in the same way a small child reaches for a loved one’s arms.  Most January and February days, in our neck of the woods, are often cold, cloudy, and gray–wash and repeat–lacking little in the way of inspiration.  Therefore, gleaming days of full-on sunshine must be celebrated, soaked-up, and gathered like a flower cut for a spring vase.  

It reminded me of Saturday morning cereal as a teen.  During those years, when I tended to sleep late, it was my habit to eat cold, boxed cereal upon my late morning rousing.  Those were the days of pouring large bowls of cereal, hosing them down with milk, and reading the box as if it were a treasured novel.  

Wheaties was a particularly popular brand at the time. I loved the ritual of letting those gingerbread colored flakes soak up the milk, making them thicker, sweeter, and chewier.  Weird as it may sound, I savored each soaked spoonful, one ritualistic bite after another, in my attempt to lengthen the solitary solace of the morning. 

Photo by Pixabay on

 That was how I felt on this day.  Like cereal soaking up milk, I wanted to soak up the splendor of the rare, mid-winter sun sighting.  Heading down the path, the sun played hide-and-seek with me, using clouds of varying thickness to conceal its bright warmth.  Nonetheless, by my jog’s end, its rays were resplendent, warming the cab of my car as I lowered my bones inside.  So, so yummy.

How many moments do we have in life in which nothing in particular is happening; and yet, it is everything all at once.  All the simple sweetness of life wrapped up and twisted tootsie-roll tight, just waiting for us to take notice, sanguinely unwrap, and allow its taste to roll  around, lingering on our tongues as we soak up all its sugary goodness.  Those are the days where things flow, go right, feel good, but absolutely nothing special, per se, occurs.  These need to be plucked, gathered, and dried between the pages of life, so we can hold, admire, and even cling to them during our darkest moments.

Life, I am finding, is a vase.  A vase that cannot be filled with salaries, brand-names, large houses, or ranking status.  Instead, it is a vase waiting to be filled with stems topped with colorful petals of memories.  Memories of molten sunshine days, heads tossed back with laughter, tender kisses, and soft touches.  Moments of whispered words and words best left unspoken.  Memories and moments hand-picked over a period of time, arranged, rearranged, and replenished if only we take the time to gather them.

Like cereal soaking up milk, may you soak up all of the nourishment of an ordinary, every day moment.  Fill your vase with the blossoms of these moments.  May they nourish your spirit and feed your soul, even during the darkest days of winter. 

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on

Overnight, Work Week Oatmeal with optional protein boost

I love oats!  Ask my family and coworkers, and they will all attest to the fact that I eat oats 6-7 days per week!  Why?  Well, oats are like a creamy white canvas waiting to be filled in with a multitude of vibrant colors and all varieties of yummy flavors. Plus, oats happen to benefit the body, and your budget, in a multitude of ways.  Due to the versatility of oats, and its low cost per day (about .45 cents per ½ cup rolled oats), you, like me, might consider making delicious and nutritious oats part of your daily menu rotation.   

If your idea of oatmeal is cooked plain with a smattering of brown sugar and cinnamon, you are missing out on the full potentiality of oats. Think of the ingredients of your favorite quick bread varieties, such as banana nut, peanut butter chocolate chip, strawberry pecan, to name a few, that can easily be stirred into oats. However, it doesn’t have to end there. 

Photo by Taryn Elliott on

One of my favorite steel cut oats recipes is made with spinach, mushrooms, and a few key spices cooked which is then cooked to savory perfection.  Then, there is another recipe for tropical rolled oats that includes coconut milk, mango, banana, and pineapple that make your taste buds want to tango. And, that’s just the tip of the, well, oat bowl.  

In addition to oats’ versatility, oats benefit your health in a number of ways as demonstrated in numerous studies and a wide array of articles. In fact, due to oats’ high nutritional value, the Food and Drug Administration permits the use of health claims on oat food-labels, boasting its ability to reduce coronary disease. However, the regular consumption of oats does more than benefit your heart.  It can also:

  • Manage type II diabetes
  • Lower LDL cholesterol
  • Offer high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Help manage a healthy weight
  • Maintain a healthy gut bacteria
  • Reduce/ease constipation
  • Reduce colon cancer risk
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Are you someone who practices intermittent fasting?

Oats can be a healthy part of that protocol as well!  For example, I mostly eat two meals a day at this point in my life.  My first meal of the day occurs around a typical lunch time, so I make it brunch!  I start with a cup of veggie sticks, followed by some sort of fresh fruit, and end with a bowl of warm, creamy oats.  This meal is incredibly tasty, oh-so-satisfying, and keeps me energized until dinner.

Does making oats daily seem like too much of a time commitment?

I understand!  I also lead a fairly busy and active life.  Therefore, I set aside one day per week for food prep, which is usually Sunday afternoon, but it can be any other day of the week as long as it works for your schedule. 

Photo by Alexander Mils on

On Sunday afternoon, I clean, cut, divide into containers, and stow away all my veggies in the crisper for the week.  I keep it simple, usually a mix of carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas, but it can honestly be any veggies you like that will remain fresh. Then, I typically take bags of frozen fruits and divvy them up into lunch containers, and also store them in the fridge. 

Next, I set out six containers for oats, and I begin filling them–first, with dry ingredients, followed by liquids. After liquids are added to each container, I give it a good shake, ensuring all ingredients are mixed well.  If using nut butter, I add a dollop of it to the top of the oat mixture after shaking, and reseal the lid. All six oat containers then get stored in the fridge.  The entire prep process, from veggies to fruit to oats, typically takes less than an hour, and I have a daily lunch ready to go for Monday through Saturday, which can often be a hectic day.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on

 Consider my recipe for Overnight Work Week Oats as scaffolding, and begin to experiment with building your own oat-bowl variations.  Typically, I try to have steel cut three days per week and old-fashioned rolled oats the other three.  My preferred oat bowl variations are mostly sweet, but I do branch out with other tasty profiles on occasion.

 I hope my approach to oats, and even weekly food prep, encourages and inspires you to create your own quick and easy formula for healthy workday meals that will scrumptiously nourish your body and benefit your budget too!

From my home to yours, I wish you health and vitality!

Overnight, Work Week Oatmeal cups, with optional protein boost

Be sure to use certified gluten-free oats if you have a gluten intolerance/allergy or have celiac disease


½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats or ¼ cup steel cut oats

1-2 tablespoon seeds, such as, chia, flax, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds . . . 

1-2 tablespoons nuts or nut butter, such as walnuts, slivered almonds, pecans, peanut butter, almond butter, and so forth

½-1 scoop protein powder, optional

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 teaspoon maple syrup; or, for less sugar, ½ teaspoon maple extract 

½ teaspoon cinnamon as well as ¼ teaspoon other desired spice(s)

1 cup favorite milk or water, add more or less, depending upon how thick you like your oatmeal

Optional toppings: Fresh fruits, such as, blueberries, strawberries, sliced banana, to name a few; dried fruits, such as, raisins, dried cranberries, goji berries; or sweet touches, such as, chocolate chips, honey drizzle, sprinkles, or any other sweet tastes you prefer


In a single serving bowl, add in all ingredients, adjusting milk as needed.  (I prefer one cup, but you may like less or more.)

Stir or shake well.

Store in the fridge until ready to eat for up to a week. (The longer it is stored in the fridge, the creamier it gets.)

Can be eaten cold or heated in a microwave for 2-4 minutes.

Cover with lid or an inverted plate for 3+ minutes to allow absorption of liquid.

Remove and add any desired toppings.

Serves 1 

(Can be doubled or tripled or made ahead of time as described above.)

Note: For my photographs below, my oatmeal was made with: oats, ¼ cup frozen riced cauliflower, ¼ cup pumpkin puree, ½ cup blueberries, chia seed, vanilla protein powder, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla & maple extracts, soy milk, and topped with peanut butter & chocolate chips for a weekend treat

Pumpkin oatmeal flax oatmeal
Pumpkin blueberry oatmeal with buried goji berries
Banana, peanut butter, and chocolate chip oatmeal with hidden goji berries

Find your own way to increased movement: SMART steady steps

“Set goals not for the outcome itself, but for who you get to become in the process.”–Jim Rohn

My husband and daughter recently gifted me with a popular, updated fitness watch to replace the one that I have worn for over ten years. The new watch has numerous bells and whistles that can be quite motivational to encourage movement, healthy sleep, heart health, and so forth.  However, the updated icon, consistent with the former version, tends to focus on unrealistic, outcome-based goals that are not necessarily appropriate for my unique age, gender, body type, and fitness level.  

The gadget, and its programmers, don’t know ME, the individual.  And therein lies the problem in these well-intended gadgets as well as the thousands of fitness plans found, not only on fitness watches, but also found on-line and in-print.  Therefore, in this seventh installment of my “Move into Health” series, my focus is about setting SMART movement goals that focus on your unique health needs and lifestyle.

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It is so easy and tempting to be swept away by programs with tantalizing titles such as, “9-weeks to a bikini bod,” or “8-weeks to your fastest 5-K,” or “Walk your way into a new jeans size,” and so forth, often made popular in January.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these types of plans, I have personally found they tend to set us up for failure when our bodies don’t look like the 19-year old willowy model used in the workout plan, our running pace doesn’t match the 5-K plan designed by a former professional runner, or our jeans still fit the same in spite of all of our best efforts.  

Instead, there needs to be a way to personalize plans in order to adapt to individual health goals, interests, schedule, lifestyle, body type, age, and current health circumstances.  Thankfully, there is! 

This year, consider setting SMART goals that focus on the process of promoting your distinct health needs as a way to focus your movement/exercise habit, rather than predetermined outcomes. There’s no need to make outlandish New Year’s resolutions, despite what the exercise industry would have you believe.  We simply need to take steady, SMART steps.

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SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound processes.  

This acronym has been used for years across a wide array of disciplines and settings.  However, I find it just as useful as a tool for leaning into personal movement and health processes. Personally, I find far more joy, and little to no guilt-ridden feelings of failure, when I focus on the process of a goal, rather than a specific outcome of that goal. 

For example, I am currently training for a half-marathon in March; however, this year, I’ve adopted a SMART approach.  Completing the half-marathon in March is specific, measurable, and based on my own current level of fitness, is achievable within the 16-weeks for which I have been using to prepare for it.  What my plan is NOT attached to is a specific finish time or whether I will run, walk, skip, or even crawl across the finish line.  Instead, my focus is about the measure of fitness I will gain in the process.  

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I am no longer worrying about the pace of my jogging or walking; instead, the focus is how I FEEL before, during, and after each workout with a close eye on how my heart rate is responding.  If it takes me twice as long as it takes others to complete a certain mileage, I am absolutely ok with that.  This journey is about the scenery along my path as well as improved cardiovascular health, better sleep, reduced anxiety/stress, and the gift of time to listen to great playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Your goal may not look like mine, but that is not the point.  Rather, think about what process you want to embrace?  Increased movement throughout your day? Improved cardiovascular health? Increased flexibility and range of motion?  Maybe a little bit of all three, or maybe something completely different.  Once you have decided, work through the SMART process to develop your approach.  Take time to write it down or type it up.  There is something about the power of slowing down your thinking, and then putting your thoughts down in some form of print that brings clarity to your ideas.

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Begin first by simply reflecting on your current health status as well as current lifestyle.  What could YOU realistically do to move the needle towards a gentle process of increased health.  Be honest in your self assessment, but NOT judgemental.  Once your idea is clear, write/type your thoughts using the SMART steps:

  • Be specific:  Is your goal clear and defined?  For example, the ability to walk for ____ minutes without stopping, or increased stamina to finish a 5K, or the strength to carry ____ grocery bags into the house independently.
  • Measurable: Can it be tracked or measured? How do you know if you are making progress? If your goal is to walk without stopping for a certain amount of time, perhaps each week you dedicate three days per week to walking, starting with the length of time you can comfortably walk now, and increasing that time by one minute each successive week as long as your body is comfortably recovering.
  • Achievable: Will the process be challenging but attainable?  This is the sweet spot that only you can determine.  For example, given your age and health status, walking a 5K may not be realistic, but perhaps focusing on the process of walking 15-20 minutes may be attainable with small incremental increases in walking time over several weeks or months.
  • Realistic: Is your goal relevant to your life purpose?  For example, my life purpose is to remain mobile, heart healthy, and mentally agile in order to make a positive contribution to others for as long as I possibly can. Therefore, challenging myself with a process of increased cardiovascular health is one of a handful of processes I can realistically develop.
  • Timely: Can you set a date in order to hold yourself accountable to the process? This is why the process of training for half-marathons works for me.  I can choose an event that fits my schedule, and gradually build towards that goal.  Plus, I make a monetary commitment, which I know will hold me accountable.  Along the way, I find ways to celebrate, enjoy, and embrace each little step in the process.  Once the date has come and gone, I will consider my next SMART process that will further my health and ultimately, life purpose.

You do not have to run/walk a half-marathon like me to embrace the process of SMART goals.  The point is to let go of certain outcomes established by others who don’t know you nor have your same values.  Rather, get clear on your life purpose, then ask yourself what you can do to improve your own health towards achieving that goal.  Don’t beat yourself up with unrealistic expectations of others.  Get quiet, get honest, and get “smart.”  With this clarity, you will be able to come up with the best approach for you.

Here’s to your smart version of healthy in 2023.  May you continue to fulfill your own life purpose with vitality!  And, don’t hesitate to reach out, and let me know how it’s going!  I am cheering for you!

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Reading for fun provides lifelong benefits

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”–Walt Disney

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I recently had a high school student ask me, with great sincerity, why reading was important.  

“It’s not like it’s as important as math, science, or even computer class,” he added.

Why read indeed?  It is a question I have had to answer for decades as an educator, and one that occurs with growing frequency.  When all the answers to nearly every conceivable question are merely a few keyboard clicks away, why pick up a book, especially a work of fiction.  The number of inquiries I now field from parents questioning the value of their teen children reading, when their child already has “so much to do” is also increasing.

My observations reflect overall data trends in the United States.  According to one recent 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, approximately 23% of the population did not read in part, or in whole, a book–paper, electronic, or audio–during last year.  Additionally, the number of American children between the ages of 9-13 who read for fun is also dropping according to another Pew Research Center article.  Adults who are reading, are reading fewer books than ever, approximately 12 books per year reports a recent 2021 Gallup Poll. This is the lowest number Gallup has observed since they first began tracking reading in 1990.

Given the fast pace of life, the number of responsibilities we tend to juggle, not to mention all social media outlets and streaming services that vie for our attention, I can certainly understand why reading has become a bottom feeder on society’s list of priorities.  However, research, science, and even the business world have a new message for us.  Reading, including reading fiction, is important, and it is worth considering moving to the forefront of routine priorities.

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Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”–Margaret Fuller

Habitual reading is now viewed as beneficial to careers and to the business world.  This position is reflected in the growing number of recent articles by respected business publications, such as the Harvard Business Review, Business News Daily, and Business Insider.  This is because one of the benefits of reading fiction is that it helps strengthen several cognitive skills that are critical for developing EQ, or emotional intelligence. Reading increases one’s vocabulary and ability to solve problems creatively.  It fosters empathy, builds critical thinking skills, and increases the ability to understand and respect those whose beliefs and desires may differ from their own.   In fact, businesses are now using reading facilitators, such as Reflection Point, a nonprofit organization, to use shared workplace reading experiences and conversations as one method for strengthening collaboration and inclusion within the workplace. 

Beyond the business world, however, reading offers a wide array of benefits to every individual.  One of the more obvious benefits of reading is pleasure, which, in turn, reduces stress. Science not only backs this fact up, but also reveals both mental and physical benefits of reading, no matter your age.  From the youngest, emergent readers all the way through your senior years, and even those critical teen years, reading can benefit your mind and body throughout a lifetime.

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Reading strengthens cognitive function and may reduce cognitive decline.  MRI and brain-scan based studies have demonstrated that reading dramatically changes your brain.  As you read, a complex series of signals and circuits are engaged throughout your brain.  As your reading skills advance, so do those neural pathways.  Additionally, reading stimulates a flow of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients to the brain, which could help stave off age-related cognitive decline and strengthen cognitive function and enhance memory.  Reading has even been linked to increased activity in the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that responds to physical sensations.

Reading can help manage stress. Obviously, reading is not the only tool for managing stress, but reading, as little as 30 minutes a day, has been shown to ease muscle tension while reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of stress. 

Reading fosters empathy and improves relationships. Empathy, the ability to understand how another person is feeling, is key to fostering social, interpersonal, and work relationships.  Reading about the lives of others, be they real or imaginary, broadens our experiences and offers insight into situations, feelings, and beliefs that we may not otherwise be able to experience.  This knowledge builds what is known as “theory of mind”, which can lead to more tolerant and compassionate attitudes towards others as well as for ourselves.

 Reading builds vocabulary. This one is a no-brainer, but it also exposes us to language outside of our everyday conversational experiences as well as to a variety of sentence structures, voices, and styles that can strengthen and enhance our personal communication skills.

Reading helps adolescents with self identity.  As a middle and high school educator of a so-called “soft-subject”, this is important validation.  Identity development is a critical component of the teen years.  Identity of self is typically developed through real-world relationships, events, and maturity, but it is now known that reading can also play an important role in this development. Reading allows teens a safe and distanced way to develop insight and explore relationships, friendships, cultural identities, and personal values which can help them as they navigate their own feelings, determine their identity/values while transitioning into adulthood.

Reading builds perseverance and inspires creativity.  Reading teaches you to be ok with ambiguity, and it reduces the desire for immediate gratification.  The ability to read a book demands setting a goal, sticking with it over a period of time, and builds our focus/concentration stamina.  These skills can translate into the ability to think creatively and solve problems. 

Reading may add years to lifespan.  While reading won’t replace longevity health habits such as eating well, incorporating movement throughout the day, and getting quality sleep, regular reading has been a proven life lengthener.  According to one study, reading a chapter per day, equivalent to 3½ hours per week, adds nearly two years more to a person’s life expectancy when compared to nonreaders. 

Reading may improve your mental well-being and prepare you for a good night’s sleep.  One of the top six tips for a better night’s sleep, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, includes reading a print book. Within about six minutes of reading a book, the body begins to relax, the heart begins to beat slower, and the day’s stress begins to fade into the background–all of which can lead to a better night’s sleep. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness encourages reading as one method for reducing anxiety and depression, lowering stress levels, and increasing one’s ability to relax. 

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No matter how busy our lives may become, taking time for reading, even if it’s listening to an audio book during your work commute, is as important now as it was when we were young.  With an endless array of  books available on-line, in bookstores, and housed in local libraries, on any number of topics, why not grab one and start reading today.  Get a friend or family member to join, so you can both reap those wonderful benefits reading has to offer.  

P.S.  If you haven’t yet discovered the Libby app, a free digital library app available through most U.S. state public libraries, I highly recommend this app for its free digital and audio content of books, magazines, and other publications!  It’s a budget friendly, easy way to read on any device! 

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Practical and mindful tips for navigating life’s storms

“Start where you are.  Do what you can. Use what you have.”–Arthur Ashe

There are times I feel as if I can’t think straight.  My thoughts are scattered like fall leaves, colorful shapes of ideas caught in the whirlwind of my mind. I have goals and lists of things to-do for school (I’m an educator), writing, home, family/friends, self, and so on . . . . 

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For example, I may begin my day feeling energized, fully focused, and operating in a flow state, moving from goal A to goal B.  Remaining clear-headed, I move on to task C, when, unexpectedly, an email or text will be sent my way, creating an impending deadline for another task that was not on my radar for the day. 

Meanwhile, another challenge develops, and another issue needs addressed, and the wires in my mind that were moving linearly, now have to bend, zig, and zag.  When time and circumstance finally permits me to circle back to task C, my thoughts are scattered as I wonder how I will ever make it through the day, much less the week.

 Too much to do, too many responsibilities/obligations, and numerous distractions, for many of us.  Is it any wonder we often feel scattered, overwhelmed, and/or agitated/anxious with greater frequency in a culture that fosters and rewards busyness.  Therefore, if hiring a personal assistant isn’t anywhere on the horizon or budget, what are some practical and more mindful techniques mere mortals can practice when feelings of overwhelm threaten to take our minds away.

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Practically speaking, there are organizational strategies.

  • Long list:  I like to start my week with a long list, or a brain dump, of all the things on my mind, mostly for the upcoming week, but some items are more long term.  I typically do this on Sunday or Monday.  I am old school, so I prefer handwriting, but it really doesn’t matter.  The point is to get all my deadlines, worries, ideas, goals visually listed and out of my jumbled mind.  I may add to this list throughout the week as various items pop-up.
  • Short list: From my long list, each day, I try to prioritize 2-4 items to complete and mark off my long list. I typically write these on a post-it note for the day or add it to my reminders app. 
  • Break down big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps: For example, in my world, this may look like setting the goal of grading one class’s (or ½ half of a class’s) essays each day, with the goal of finishing that grade level by week’s end.  I apply this to all other larger/bigger projects, setting mini-goals for each larger job.
  • Create rituals/routines:  For certain tasks, I create rituals/routines. I set aside specific time periods/days for completing certain tasks.  For example, laundry is typically started on Saturday and finished on Sunday.  Food preparation for the week is Sunday afternoon. Early mornings on Saturday and Sunday are set aside for writing and/or school tasks, with a few hours added in the afternoons of both days, if time allows. 
  • Set boundaries on email, texts, and social media: These are rabbit–holes of distractibility if I am not careful, especially when working.  Therefore, I check email at certain times of the day, and that is it.  If I am grading/writing or completing any other type of work that requires my full focus, the phone is face down, silenced, and I set a 50-minute timer with an allowance for a 10-minute movement break  and text check each hour.  
  • But, be flexible: All of these strategies may work, but–and there is always a ‘but’ in life–we have to be ready to bend with life and be flexible enough to throw lists and plans out the door as needed.  Which is why we need mindful strategies . . .
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When life gets in the way, all the best laid plans go out the door, and this is when overwhelming feelings can occur.  Therefore, we need more than neck-up strategies; we also need strategies that speak to and soothe the heart and soul.

  • Breathe, and try not to panic: Take several deep belly breaths and acknowledge that you feel overwhelmed without judgment.  I know this isn’t easy, but be gentle with yourself. Your work may not be coming together as you originally envisioned it or within a time frame you had hoped, but you’ve completed other challenges before, you are trustworthy and committed; therefore, trust that you will get it completed.
  • Take a break: If time allows, take a short break. Consider walking away for a moment, even if only for the time it takes to walk to the restroom and grab a drink of water. If you can’t walk away, look away from the work for a moment.  Close your eyes for a breathing break, focus on an image, look out the window if you have one, pause for a prayer–whatever works to SLOW down your breathing, distract your mind, and reduce the stormy feelings inside. 
  • Switch gears to another job.  This may mean completing a short task that requires little, to no, brain power; or, it may mean jumping ahead to another item on your list and working on it for a few minutes.  The point is to gain a sense of accomplishment to refresh your spirit and put you into a more positive mindset.
  • Be your own cheerleader:  Offer yourself encouragement and supportive thoughts.  “You’re doing great.”  “Two steps completed; you’re on a roll.”  “Two phone calls down.  Only three more to go; you’re making progress.” 
  • Make peace with the storm: Work-life balance is fluid.  Sometimes life is as calm as a cloudless June day; and other times, it is like a room full of toddlers who haven’t had their naps, and they all have colds–you don’t know which nose to wipe first or which kid to attempt to calm because they are all crying.  
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Accepting that life is messy, imperfect, and sometimes turbulent is not easy, but resisting this fact, only makes it more difficult. Just as the toddler teacher cannot leave the classroom of crying kids, neither can we leave the storms of life.

In the end, making peace with our sometimes traffic-jammed brains doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be organized or equipped with strategies, it merely means we accept the process of working through the challenges of life. It’s a commitment to the implementation of daily strategies, mindful habits, and a healthy dose of gentleness in order to recover some semblance of clarity when the chaos of life occurs.

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Spinach-Artichoke Dip with plant-based and gluten-free options

“Popeye was right about spinach: dark green, leafy vegetables are the healthiest food on the planet. As whole foods go, they offer the most nutrition per calorie.”–Michael Gregor

“You’re not going to believe what I ate, Mom!”

I was talking with my daughter, Madelyn, on the phone.  She is attending graduate school, and she was describing a dinner that a friend had prepared for one evening during a break from her studies.  

“Spinach and artichoke dip!  Not only that, Mom, but it was vegan, and it was surprisingly good . . . and you know how funny I am about texture and taste.”

Maddie went on to insist that I would have to make this dip when she was home for the holidays.  In fact, she had already asked her friend to share the recipe with her, so she could send it to me.  She went on to explain how her friend has lupus, and eats an anti-inflammatory diet that focuses heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and a few select whole grains in order to reduce her inflammation.  

As I listened to her continue to describe the dip, my mind was already thinking about the ways I could adapt the recipe.  I was eager to, ahem, dip into reading various plant forward recipes and techniques in order to create my own version.  Not only did I want to make the dip in honor of my daughter’s request, but also because the dip is largely made up of two of my favorite vegetables: spinach and artichokes.

Photo by Jacqueline Howell on

Maddie’s friend was on to something.  Both artichokes and spinach are highly anti-inflammatory.  Spinach, specifically, is chock full of vitamins, such as A, K and C, and it also contains folate, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and small amounts of other B vitamins. It is high in fiber and low in calories.  Spinach is also high in antioxidants, supports brain and eye health, has been shown to protect against certain diseases, and helps to lower blood pressure when regularly consumed.  

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Artichokes are no joke either. They, too, are full of vitamins, including folate, magnesium, manganese, potassium, as well as vitamins K and C.  Like spinach, artichokes are high in fiber, full of antioxidants, and have been shown, when consumed daily, to help regulate blood pressure. Additionally, artichokes promote liver health and are a unique source of prebiotics, which are beneficial gut bacteria that can boost immunity, assist in digestion, and benefit mood.

Of course, I can share all the benefits of these two nutritional, anti-inflammatory powerhouses, but let’s be honest, for most people, myself included, it’s all about the taste. Does this dip taste good, in addition to being made with beneficial ingredients?  Is it worthy of being shared with others?   

I had my favorite taste tasters, and pickiest eaters, Maddie, and my husband, John, taste the dip, and miracle of all miracles, they both liked it!  Maddie, the pickiest of the two, said she loved it just as I made it.  Her only wish was that we had baguette crackers like her friend served it with.  John, typically not as picky, filled up and ate a big soup bowl worth of dip; however, he added both parmesan and mozzarella cheese to his bowl because he, “wouldn’t want to eat too healthy over the holidays!”  Meanwhile, I served up the dip on a plain baked potato for my dinner, and let me just say that was one tasty dish!

Whether you make it with, or without dairy, you’re still packing a healthy punch of powerful, propitious plants. Serve it up for your next favorite gathering and watch it disappear.  No one ever has to know the dip benefits their health too! 

From my home to yours, may you have a prosperous and healthy 2023.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Plant-based with dairy-free and gluten-free options


1 cup (raw) cashews, soaked overnight or at least 4+ hours

1 ¼  cup Greek or plant-based Greek yogurt (can substitute with mayonnaise)

¼ cup water

12-16 ounces (1 package) frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1 14 ounce can artichokes, drained and chopped

⅓ cup finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon

1 teaspoon braggs liquid aminos (or soy sauce, if don’t need gluten free)

 ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon pepper

Optional additions: Mix in up to 4 ounces or ½  cup of any of the following ingredients:

cream cheese (or vegan variation), parmesan/romano/pecorino cheese, soft goat cheese, and/or mozzarella cheese, if desired


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Coat a small casserole dish with cooking spray (2 quart size).

In a food processor or high speed blender, blend cashews, yogurt and water until creamy, about 1-2 minutes.

Add cashew mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Spread dip evenly in the casserole dish.

*Bake 20-30 minutes, or until top turns golden brown

Serve warm with veggies, tortilla chips, crackers, smear over your favorite toasted bread, or even a baked potato.

Store leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Serve warm with crackers, tortilla chips, or baguette chips

*Serves 6-10 as appetizer

Through the eyes of a child

“Chin up, chin up. Everybody loves a happy face.’–E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

Landon and Grayson often greet me in the morning with bright-eyed smiles and plenty of discoveries about the morning.

One of the special joys in my life are the smiles of toddlers and young children at the school in which I work.  As an educator working on a school campus setting that provides care/education for children, ages 6-weeks through 12th grade in different buildings, I often see parents and other educators dropping off their children for daycare or preschool.  Some of the little ones are sleepy in the morning, others are crying, some are shy, and others walk in–or are carried in—with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye.  They jabber, babble, talk, or even sing with joy, depending upon their age/stage of development.  

I could be having a rough start to my day, but if I happen to walk through the campus parking lot alongside a staff member’s bright-eyed child, smile as wide as the sky itself, I can’t help but smile too.  Before long, the child has engaged me into a conversation, and all the previous negative energy of the morning fades.  I share in the delight of their discovery of a rock or a piece of mulch, and smile back enthusiastically when they show me their shoes, their mittens, or their hat.  They find happiness in the very things I tend to overlook or take for granted.

Then there are the babies–wrapped, swaddled, and layered into their parent’s arms.  Face peeking out over their caretaker’s shoulder, eyes blinking in the morning air.  Those large round orbs, of all shades, take me in, and then, as if I were a royal subject, reward me with a smile.  I can’t help but smile back.

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The babies, toddlers, and young children look at me and the scenario unfolding around them with fresh eyes and innate good cheer.  Eyes that are free from judgment.  Eyes that do see my age, my skin color, my size, or care about my socioeconomic status, religious/political affiliation, and so forth.  They only see me smiling back at them and hear my affirming voice.  

Possessing the ability to look at the world and others without motive is a powerful concept.  This is the lesson young children and babies teach, but because we are so busy, or our lives are so removed from young children, we miss the lesson.  Imagine, looking at each new day, event, person, even the great outdoors with fresh eyes.  What magic, what wonders, what friendly people do we miss because our brains have a tendency to be drawn to to-do lists, work, worries, irritations, conflicts, gossip, bad news, and so forth. 

However, children, until we teach them otherwise, are inherently open and accepting. They have no preconceptions about all the things we, as adults, begin to define, discern, and draw lines of division around.  A dog’s tail is a thing of wonder to a child.  Common dandelions are flower puffs to be plucked, sniffed, touched, and held as an object of fascination.  Birds are special creatures who fly and sing for their amusement. Time is of no consequence, and space is meant to be explored–be the space a sidewalk, yard, a floor, or even cabinets of a kitchen.

Miss Evalynn often greets me in the morning with bright, inquisitive eyes.

Of course, as adults, we cannot conduct ourselves exactly in the same manner as young children.  However, there are certain behaviors for which we can adopt and put into practice more often.  The first of which is smiling.  

The late Thich Nhat Hahn was once asked why someone should smile when they weren’t feeling happy.  He responded that smiling was a practice.  Hahn went on to explain that when we smile, we release tension from our face muscles which in turn releases body tension.  The less tension we have, the more we smile. And the more we smile, the more others notice, and in turn, they smile back, often initiating a chain event of others smiling too.  A smile, he explained, is “an ambassador of goodwill”.

The act of smiling is contagious, as Hahn pointed out, and a sincere smile has the potential to change the trajectory of a moment.  Imagine the power of one person smiling, which triggers another person to smile in response.  Then that person’s smile causes another person to smile, and so the chain continues.  This is the first lesson of young children.

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Another lesson of young children is viewing the world and others with an open mind:  Looking widely, listening carefully, and taking in your surroundings without jumping to conclusions and immediately passing judgment.  Obviously, there are certain situations in which quick judgements/decisions are required; however, by remaining a calm, lucid, and observant presence, the more likely a pragmatic outcome can be achieved.  

Appreciation for the small things is another lesson provided by children.  When my own daughter was young, we would sometimes walk through the woods.  Her dad’s pant’s pockets would get weighed down from all of the “treasures” she would find along the way.  From sparkling rocks to a kaleidoscope of leaves–crimson, gold, and burnt orange, and from a discarded snail shell to a special stick perfect for digging, it was those little delights that added up to big pockets of joy!  The world continues to be full of small treasured moments that we too can collect along life’s path, if we view the world as a child. 

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Finally, there is the lesson of the restorative power of laughter and the healing power of love.  One needs only to observe–or recall–the ease with which a child can transition from tears to laughter with the embrace of a trusted loved one, and then the way in which they can explode into laughter, when afterwards, an adult gives them a raspberry.  Laughter and love are also contagious, and as the children demonstrate to me on a regular basis, can be the salve to a world full of hurt and sorrow.

Therefore, I encourage you to try, if only for one day, or part of a day, to practice viewing the world with the eyes of a child.  Smile at others and even to yourself.  Observe events and others with openness and without motive.  Notice and gather the small blessings. Enjoy a good belly laugh, or five, and, like a child offering you a flower, offer love to others (think: generosity, gentleness, patience . . .), and see what happens.  Who knows how many lives/situations your child-like focus will affect . . . including your own!  

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Exercise your right to JOY

“Around the world, people who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives.”–Kelly McGonigal

“Movement awakes and activates many of our mental capacities.”–Carla Hannaford

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I was going through the movements of getting ready for my work day half-heartedly listening to a podcast whose title had promised much.  Unfortunately, like many podcasts, it ended up being another interview designed to promote the sale of a book. My phone was off to the side, away from my point of focus, so I didn’t immediately stop the interview.  

Despite my lack of focus/interest, my ears perked up when I overhead a nugget of an idea.  Unfortunately, I cannot quote the idea precisely since I wasn’t fully focused.  However, the kernel of its intent resonated with me.  It was the idea that the main focus of exercise should not necessarily be to get “fit,” to maintain or lose weight, sleep better, or any of the other valid reasons.  Instead, the main goal of all exercise/movement should be to increase joy.

This was such an interesting thesis that I had to dive more into the topic, and it turns out science has quite a bit to say about this.  Of course, I nearly always feel better when I can integrate movement into my day.  Plus, I typically felt better after more “formal” exercise sessions.  However, this was all anecdotal.  

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Before diving into the research a few days later, my mind kept going back to the notion of reframing our relationship with exercise.  Dropping the typical exercise narratives–weight management, fitness goals, therapeutic/emotional release, better sleep and so forth was fascinating. Of course, exercise provides all of those goals and more, but the idea of letting those be the side dishes, and allowing joy to be the main course was intriguing.

After perusing numerous articles, I became super excited; I knew this information needed to be shared with my local community and beyond.  This felt especially important since I have previously written pieces fostering the notion that movement is for every unique body–even those with limitations, and it can be incorporated into daily life even on the busiest of days.  Armed with this information, I was ready to spread the word: More Movement = More Joy!  

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Exercise, even in short bursts of time, improves one mood. A study conducted by West Virginia University found that middle school students who regularly exercise feel overall happier.  This was a no brainer! Ask any educator what their students’ behavior and mood is like on days they don’t have recess versus days they get it, and you’ll most likely get an earful.  Kids instinctively know they need movement, and if they can’t get it via the playground, athletics, dance, etc.–they are going to find ways to move more animatedly in the classroom.  Otherwise, if kept from moving, they become sullen, whiney, moody, or even combative/confrontational. And, this is also true for adults.

Interestingly, in one study, researchers determined specific movements that not only are associated with the feeling of joy, but also enhance the joy when completed.  These include: reaching, swaying, bouncing, shaking, jumping, and an action called, “celebration,” an action that mimics tossing confetti overhead with both hands. One researcher, Kelly McGonigal, writing for the New York Times, created, shared, and posted a video in the article, “The Joy Workout”, based upon these specific movements.  The video is approximately eight minutes long, and can be easily accessed through a quick click of keys.  (It is important to note, after giving it a try myself, not all movements are appropriate for those with limited mobility or injuries; however, movements could be modified or even completed while sitting.)  

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Another interesting study I ran across stated that simply standing, sitting, or moving with a more open posture, as opposed to a closed posture, can likewise increase positive feelings.  Moreover, a smaller 2021 study focused on participants who were asked to go through a series of movements similar to those McGonigal studied.  Once more, movement, even those completed in a seated posture, increased feelings of happiness. Clearly, exercising with the goal of joy in mind is not a crazy notion.

My research continued, including studies from the University of Michigan, University of Iowa, University of Texas, and Northeastern University, just to name a few.  What I found was that scientists tended to agree that all forms of exercise/movement are beneficial when performed safely.  That said, aerobic exercise currently seems to have a slight edge overall in brain boosting potential, but that may be because it appears to be the most researched. However, all conclude that exercise and movement benefit the young, seniors, and all ages in between.  Whether a short burst of activity or a more formal workout, movement ameliorates the effects of depression and anxiety by boosting the production of serotonin, and other feel-good chemicals and decreasing stress-inducing hormones. 

Exercise your right to enJOY movement with friends and family.

When we move, we increase our heart rate, which, in turn, moves more oxygen to the brain. As numerous studies indicate, increased oxygen to the brain mitigates symptoms of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, movement/exercise, when repeated frequently enough, can give rise to new neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for not only emotions, but also memory and learning!  This means that movement/exercise not only affects your brain in the moment in which you are participating, but it also makes positive structural changes over time.

So back to “The Joy Workout.” Does it work?  Well, only you can decide that. I will say that I found it clever, cute, and definitely made me smile.  However, you do not have to do “The Joy Workout” in order to feel joy in movement.  I found multiple, what I like to call, “movement-snacks,” videos and apps that offer 10-minute or less movement breaks if that’s your thing, such as the 7-minute workout, available on-line and in app version.  

Joy can be increased through movement, step-by-step.

Of course, there are so many other ways to increase movement from taking short walk breaks, to parking farther away from your destination, from walking to another floor for a restroom break to simply stretching or walking/marching in place on commercial or pop-up breaks, and so much more. The important thing, researchers noted, is that you find ways to move and/or exercise that you enjoy, that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine, so that you will do them on a regular basis in order to reap all those joyful benefits.

Ultimately, who doesn’t want to feel more joy moving into the new year?  Help boost yourself towards that goal by determining ways you like to move.  The worst movement mistakes you can make are inactivity or repeatedly moving/exercise in a way in which you dread it.  Let’s keep it simple.  Focus on moving more, smiling more, and feeling more joy overall.  It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

Take a leap of faith, move for joy!

Do you disturb the peace, or perpetuate it?

  “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

The tail twitches and crouching ensues. Hips raised, ears flattened, the tail twitches more rapidly.

“LJ, stop!”

He remains immobile and continues his focus.

“LJAAAY,” said with slow emphasis on the A-sound.

A look is tossed over his lowered shoulders, signaling he doesn’t feel like listening.

Hand reaches for the spray bottle, and John, my husband, walks towards LJ, trigger aimed.  That is all it took. LJ, our solidly black cat, takes off in an attempt to avoid being squirted, but he’s not to be conquered.  Not yet. 

He circles back around the dining room table and reenters the same room through another entry point as if we can not see him.  Meanwhile, the desire of his pouncing antics, Tippi (Tail), our 14 year old gray cat, with the exceptions of tuxedo white on her chest and tufts of white on the tips of her paws and tail, sits peacefully undisturbed.  The only sign that she is aware of his shenagings is the very slow whishing of her tail along the top of the carpet.

LJ prepares to pounce once more; however, John rapidly squirts water in LJ’s direction.  Although John isn’t trying to precisely hit LJ, the sound and sight of the water sends LJ scuttingly out of the room.

Tippi looks towards where the water missed its target, turns her head back to its original position as her body sighs towards the floor in a perfect cat loaf.  Her tail encircles her body once more.

Throughout LJ’s attack, Tippi remained peaceful, never hissing or spewing.  While her tail signaled her awareness, she did not otherwise bring attention to LJ’s negativity.  Instead, she chose to remain at peace with it.  Vigilant, but non-reactive.  

John and I have watched this play out repeatedly, yet no matter how many times LJ attempts to attack Tippi Tail, she rarely responds out of anger. To be sure, Tippi will occasionally respond if he corners her. Mostly, though, she remains peaceful and at ease.  

LJ is a bit younger than Tippi and has not moved from the self-absorbed stage of life.  He wants to be the center of attention on his terms.  If the humans in his home, family members or visitors, aren’t paying attention to him, he finds ways to draw attention to himself.

For example, if Tippi decides to sit with one of us, due to her arthritis, we find ways to offer her assistance to climb up beside us, such as slightly lowering the reclining portion of a chair or couch.  As she tries to lift herself up to position, LJ will haughtily cross the room and attempt to “beat” her to the desired person.  If we move a step stool near the bay window, in order to assist Tippi’s assent to the cat beds in the window, LJ will try to block her attempts in order to claim the bay window area for himself.

Nonetheless, Tippi Tail finds ways to persist with grace and equanimity.  Her peace remains (mostly) unflappable.  Neither does she appear to hate LJ, nor does she appear to be jealous of his presence.  Instead, she seems to understand with a sense of compassion and patience that he can’t help what is inside him–his tendencies to compete, invade, dominate and exploit perceived weakness.  

Due to her serene perseverance, there reigns an unspoken peace between the two cats . . . most moments.  The more peaceful and tolerant Tippi becomes, the more LJ is learning to become that way.  It has taken years, but there are times I will wake up in the morning to find both cats sleeping at the foot of the bed–not necessarily near each other–but in the same approximate area. Furthermore, it is not unusual during cold days to find both of them soaking up the morning sun in the same room and within the same area, albeit, not touching each other.  

Sometimes, upon waking, I am surprised to discover, after I turn on the bedroom lamp, that both LJ and Tippi Tail had been peacefully sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” When LJ sees Tippi with one of us, he suffers jealousy because he perceives that she is getting all the attention and love.  If he sees that Tippi wants to be in one of the cat beds in the bay window, he suffers fear because he is afraid there isn’t enough secure space for him in the sunlight to cozy for a nap.  

While they both lived their early lives as stray cats, it is possible that something happened in LJ’s past that causes him to remain stunted and insecure.  Then, again, due to the fact, Tippi is older, and lived with us longer; perhaps, she feels solidly secure with her position in our family.  It could also be that she remembers a time when she was the younger cat in the house, competitively trying to exploit the weakness of one of our former cats, in order to gain our attention.  Possibly, she has simply outgrown those impulsive years. 

Whatever the reason(s), Tippi seems to understand that within LJ are potential seeds of love, compassion, playfulness and peace.  However, she also appears to sense that LJ is dominated by seeds of willfulness, anger, fear, and insecurity.  Due to age, circumstances, and/or experience, she is mindful of these seeds both within herself and within LJ.  Therefore, it often appears that she uses this insight to mindfully choose her actions–modeling peaceful behaviors, and only fighting back in order to keep from getting hurt when he corners her.  

Of course, I have personified my cats in order to make a point. To live in peace and harmony with others, we must recognize that all humans have similar needs/desires:  food, water and shelter, safety, esteem/value, love/belonging and so forth.  There is often fear and/or a feeling of lack when humans sense one of these is missing.  Additionally, everyone has the potential to develop and foster seeds of insight, self-awareness, and self-control, but not everyone focuses on developing these, much less developing them at similar rates.  

As the story of Tippi and LJ illustrates, it is important to be aware of our own insecurities, fears, and impulses in order to exercise self-control.  Recognizing our own proclivities with compassion and understanding, allows us to offer that same consideration and empathy for others.  

While this is never easy, and it takes practice, by learning to be less-reactive and modeling more appropriate ways of speaking, engaging, and responding to others, the more we can reduce conflict.  Of course, this is not to say we passively agree or accept all behavior and actions; rather, it is important to recognize that not every word, action, and deed with which we disagree needs a response.  Furthermore, if a response is required, how much more productive and beneficial they can be when given with considered insight/thought, self-control, and discipline   

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all learn to do what Tippi does with LJ– pursue patience, tolerance, and think before acting.  

The more Tippi practices patience and tolerance with him, the more LJ is becoming more at peace with her.

Combating SAD and those winter blues

Dawn is one of my favorite times of the day.  All is quiet and peaceful.  The colors of indigo, purple, and blue gently fade into shades of boldness– cantaloupe and blood orange. Ultimately, such an audacious start cannot last, and those bold colors melt into a subtle blush.  It is as if all of nature is holding its breath.  There is a hush that can be felt, rather than heard. This quiet sweetness is often intercepted by the temerity of a bird singing, “Chip-a-we, chip-a-we.”  Soon other birds echo their harmonies–little melodies of hope.

As the sun rise wipes away the darkness from the skies, yesterday is officially rinsed away.  Lifelong teacher that she is, Mother Nature, hands each of us a new canvas.  We can begin again.  

Photo by Micah Boerma on

But what about those days, when skies are blanketed with the clouds of fall and winter?  When the morning doesn’t possess the grandeur of the symbolic gesture of a slate cleaned.  When, instead, all those burgeoning clouds seem overflowing with all of the errors and mishaps of the previous day, and the sorrows and pains of the future appear to hang low on the horizon of inky darkness.  When the mind, like a glass bottle tossed into the sea, drifts from one fret to another.

Another winter looms larger than ever.  The past feels forever chained to the soul, and the future, oh-the-future, what more frets could it hold?  Our thoughts begin to plague us. We are held in bondage to our thoughts.  Bondaged to the what-ifs, the how will I be able to, and the weight of the unseen dangers lurking within every charcoal layer of gloominess.

Photo by Alex Conchillos on

It is not uncommon for many of us to fight this sort of mental tug-of-war as cozy, amber autumnal hues dissipate under winter’s drab, gray overcoat.  An affable cook with whom I worked during my long-passed college days, named Shirley, would say, “Ah, honey, that ain’t nothin’ but them winter blues.”  She’d tell me to be grateful for my life, praise God more, and, “Bundle up, git outside, girl! Go for a walk, and git ya sum fresh a’r. A little cold won’t harm ya, and it’ll chase them ol’ blues away!”   Turns out, Ms. Shirley was on to something.

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression, triggered by the change in seasons, typically beginning in fall, and worsening throughout the winter months until the days begin to lengthen at some point in spring.  It more commonly occurs in young people and women, but men are by no means immune to it.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 15 million adults, or 7.1%, of the US population experience SAD, with another 10% – 20% of the population experiencing some form of the winter blues.  

With so much of the population already experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or phobias, it felt important to share a few established practices, according to several leading medical institutions, for coping with SAD and the winter blues.  

Go outside. One of the most common techniques is getting outside for a walk, even for a few minutes, like Ms. Shirley suggested all those years ago.  Even on cold and cloudy days, getting outside provides multiple benefits.  It exposes you to light, and the movement increases blood flow and oxygenation, all of which are good for producing those feel good hormones.  

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

Regular exercise.  Along those same lines, according to International, regular exercise–whether you are doing it inside or outside–can be as effective as medication, without the worrisome side effects. Choose a form that is rhythmic and continuous and also incorporates both arms and legs, such as weightlifting, walking, swimming, tai chi, dancing, and so forth, as this provides the most benefit to mental wellbeing.  Regular exercise and/or continuous movement boosts serotonin, endorphins, and other mood enhancing brain chemicals.  Furthermore, exercise and/or movement improves sleep and boosts self esteem. 

Light exposure. Expose yourself to as much light as possible. Open up drapes and blinds during the day.  Sit and work, if possible, near sources of natural light.  Walk outside, and if you can tolerate the temperature, sit outside, even for a few moments.  Natural light is another way to boost serotonin.  Additionally, consider bright light therapy–special lamps or daylight simulation light bulbs–to use while reading, eating, working, and so forth. 

Photo by Vincent Rivaud on

Be social.  Reach out to family and friends.  Volunteer your time.  Meet friends for lunch, dinner, or coffee.  Join a support group.  It doesn’t matter so much what you choose to do, rather it’s about making social connections.  Even if you don’t feel like it, being social is a mood elevator.

Eat right.  Depression causes sufferers to crave starchy carbs, which leads to lethargy, lack of motivation, and even greater mood swings.  However, choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, along with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and even bananas, can boost that ever desired serotonin, without the sugar crash. Additionally, omega rich foods, such as oily fish, soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds, are known mood boosters, and, if taking antidepressants, may increase their effectiveness.

Keep a regular sleep schedule and engage in stress reduction practices.  Both are beneficial to ameliorating SAD symptoms.   Avoiding naps, or limiting their length, prevents the sluggishness that can often accompany them. Managing or reducing stress through various techniques, such as yoga, prayer, meditation, gratitude journals, and other mindfulness activities may be beneficial.  Other related tips include, completing one activity/thing you love to do daily, and even watching videos, shows, and/or movies that make you laugh are beneficial to reducing symptoms associated with SAD or those winter blues.

Wint-o-green mints.  Ok, so this isn’t an established practice.  However, it is my technique for using mints to remind me that if I “wint” int-o the present mo-mint, I can stop borrowing tomorrow’s troubles.  While I can’t say it’s great practice for my teeth, those round orbs of refresh-mint offer a sweet signal for my brain to slow down my monkey mind, breathe slower, and focus on one moment/thing at time.  Mint = Mind In Now-Time.

Acknowledging that winter can make many of us feel a little sadder is important.  Not only does it allow us to feel more compassion and empathy for those experiencing SAD, but it also gives us permission to recognize those feelings within ourselves, should we begin to experience them.  I can’t say I am a fan of colder temperatures, but I still get outside most days of the week, like it or not.  In the meantime, I can’t help but think Ms. Shirley would be pleased to know science now proves her sage advice to be true.

Get into the holiday baking mood with Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips–with gluten-free and vegan options

“As long as you know how to bake, life is sure to be sweet!”–Unknown

One Sunday afternoon this past summer, I was talking with my Dad via phone as he now lives in Florida.  He shared that after church service, a fellow worshiper shared slices of homemade strawberry bread with others.  Listening to Dad, I decided to add “strawberry bread” to my list of writing/cooking ideas.  Of course, Dad was not surprised.

It took some trial and error, but I think I found the sweet spot.  Of course, when I bake, I am trying to meet unique dietary needs.  Selfishly, I prefer baking recipes that have the ability to be gluten free due to my celiac disease; however, I also like to find versatile ingredient scaffolding for those that can safely consume wheat.  Furthermore, I choose to eat plant-based; therefore, I also like to play with ingredients that offer that option as well.  Bottom line, however, if it tastes good and is easy to make, most people don’t care if it’s gluten-free and/or plant-based. 

Photo by solod_sha on

The recipe all came together after picking up a grocery order one day only to discover I was given extremely ripe, fully brown bananas instead of bright yellow.  Once I saw those bananas, I knew how I wanted to create my own version of strawberry bread.  I took further inspiration from The Big Man’s World website.  

Strawberries and bananas are complementary and commonly paired in many food items, such as drink mixes, smoothies, yogurts, fruit-cups, and so forth.  Additionally, bananas are one way to bake without eggs to bind ingredients together into a batter with a creamy texture and balanced moisture composition.  Furthermore, bananas add a subtle sweetness to baking recipes that tends to compliment many ingredients.  

Photo by Kimona on

When baking without eggs, I also add a tablespoon of vinegar.  This depression era egg replacement reacts with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide that helps baked goods rise as they bake.  Plus, vinegar overall improves bread texture, whether baking with or without eggs.

You may notice that I use date sugar in this recipe, although it can be replaced with your preferred form of sugar. Date sugar is considered less processed due to the fact that it is made from dried dates pulverized into a powder; therefore, it retains much of its fiber and nutrients.  That said, don’t be fooled, it is still sugar, and like any sweetener, it should be consumed in moderation.

If you like to bake for the holiday season, this bread will lend itself to potluck gatherings, as it can be made a day or two ahead of time.  It would also make a nice holiday gift or simply a fun weekend addition to brunch.  It stores well, becoming more moist with age. I have toasted leftover slices of it in my air-fryer and reheated it in the microwave–either way works.  Plus, you can substitute your favorite chopped nuts in lieu of the chocolate chips–I just happen to like chocolate!  It’s tasty plain or smeared with butter or cream cheese as my daughter and husband  do or with your favorite nut butter, as I like to do.

This recipe is versatile, using fresh or frozen fruit. (Hint: I save all over-ripe bananas–and even strawberries–in a freezer bag in my freezer and pull out what I need anytime I’m baking!) Notice all the ways I offer substitutions for the original ingredients I used, so that you can meet your own individual needs/taste preferences.  Sprinkle the top of the batter with crystallized or festive-colored sugar before baking if desired and find ways to make this recipe your own!

From my home to yours, here’s to holiday baking!

Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips

 with gluten free and vegan options


2 cups oat flour, can replace with all-purpose or gluten free flour

1/2 cup date sugar, can replace with regular or brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)

1/4 cup applesauce, can replace with oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk, dairy or non-dairy work

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ + ¼  cup + sliced strawberries, frozen or fresh

¼  cup + 1 tablespoon chocolate chips, gluten free and/or vegan; 

(can replace chocolate chips with chopped nuts)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare loaf by spraying with nonstick cooking spray

Mash banana and set aside

In a large mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients

Stir in remaining ingredients, including banana, into the dry EXCEPT for strawberries and chocolate chips

Fold in ½ cup of sliced strawberries and ¼ cup of chocolate chips

Pour batter into loaf pan

Top with remaining strawberries and chocolate chips

Bake for 50-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean

Cool in pan for 10 or so minutes, use spatula to gently lift out of the loaf pan.

Finish cooling on wire rack

Slice to serve.

Can be kept in an airtight container, once completely cooled, in the fridge for up to five days.

Can also be stored in a ziplock freezer bag and frozen for up to 3 months.

In a large bowl stir together dry ingredients and make a well in the center. Then set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together wet ingredients.
Pour wet ingredients into the center of dry ingredients and mix with spoon until blended.
Finally, stir in sliced (or chopped, if preferred) strawberries and chocolate chips or nuts.
Bake in oven, and allow it to cool in pan at least 10 minutes before using a spatula to gently lift out loaf. Set loaf on cooling rack, and allow it to continue to cool.
Slice it up and eat it plain or with your favorite toppings, such as maple syrup, honey, nut butter, butter, or cream cheese to name a few.
Personally, I love nut butter smeared on a heated slice and allow the warmth of the bread to melt it.

Unwrap your best holiday health: Ways to keep moving from Thanksgiving through those New Year’s Celebration

“Take care of your body. It’s the one place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

This is my fifth installment of celebrating and encouraging movement for everyone.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you already know that my goal is fairly simple.  I want to encourage everyone to move more in whatever manner works best for you, your body, and your schedule.  I do not believe in one-size fits all when it comes to fitness and health goals.  Instead, I am writing to explore techniques, habits, and motivations for incorporating more movement into life, even during the upcoming holiday season.

Why should you consider maintaining your movement/exercise routine during the weeks of Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration?  There are many possible reasons, but only you can decide your why(s).  Personally, it allows me to feel as if I have accomplished one positive thing for the day.  If everything else derails throughout the day, at least I exercised–even if it had to be for a reduced amount of time.  However, there are so many more valid reasons.

Photo by Julia Larson on

Increased movement and exercise is one positive way to combat the stress that often accompanies this season.  Although stress isn’t a disease, per se, it is the body’s physical, mental, and emotional responses to external events, especially change, which often occur from Thanksgiving through the New Year celebrations. High levels of holiday stress can detrimentally impact mental health.  However, being physically active throughout the holidays is a proven technique to significantly reduce stress levels.

Along the same lines, exercise during the holiday season can provide structure to your schedule. If you have already committed to moving more throughout your day/week, and you have already been consistently applying it, then continuing to follow through with that plan builds at least a sense of familiarity and comfort.  Even if you have to reduce your time and/or days for physical activity, there is at least that semblance of reassurance that you are choosing to still take care of yourself, which can increase the likelihood of making another healthier choice throughout your day/week.

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As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise gives you more energy during the holidays.  Harvard Health explains it this way. Increased movement and exercise increases oxygen circulation, which in turn, allows your body to energy more efficiently and therefore function better.  Furthermore, exercise increases cellular level changes, including augmenting the production of mitochondria inside your muscle cells. Having more mitochondria translates to your body possessing an adequate energy supply.  Plus, exercise boosts the production of the feel-good hormones that likewise make you feel more energetic.

Exercise and increased movement is a proven way to combat anxiety and depression, often associated with the holiday season. Let’s be honest, for many people, the holidays often serve as a reminder of loved ones and traditions lost to the past.  For others, the increased requirements for more socialization, or so-called holiday-expectations, can trigger the desire to curl up in a fetal position and hide until the season is over.  Furthermore, increased levels of darkness often precipitate seasonal affective disorders (SAD), a form of depression that affects approximately 10 million people annually. Physical activity is a proven method for reducing symptoms by releasing endorphins that increase positive feelings.  

Physical activity can reduce increased sedentary behavior associated with late fall and winter months. Colder and/or inclement weather can reduce motivation to get outside and move. It’s only natural to want to stay in and watch sporting events, stream series, or watch old movies while noshing your way through comfort food snacks and often calorie laden beverages.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors, too much inactivity is not beneficial to the body, mind, and even spirit.  A commitment to physical activity, even if it is laps around your house on commercial breaks during sporting events or between streaming episodes will go a long way promoting your overall well-being.

Photo by Andres Ayrton on

In spite of all of these benefits, it can still feel challenging to maintain that fitness plan or movement goals you have established for yourself in previous months.  However, there are ways that can help you overcome obstacles.  The key is finding the ones that work for you as no one method/approach works for everyone.

Walk, march, or even jog around the neighborhood, if weather permits, or inside your house.  Even walking, marching, or jogging in place is beneficial!  If you don’t have time for your usual amount of time, such as 20 or 30 minutes, break it up into smaller time periods spread throughout the day.  If that isn’t possible, even one shorter burst of activity is better than none!

Consider exercising with an app, DVD, or streaming platform.  There are numerous apps and platforms that are free or reasonably priced.  In fact, you can even look up “holiday themed workouts” on Youtube lasting anywhere from 10-30+ minutes!

Inexpensive, portable exercise equipment are the perfect solution when traveling.

Invest in personal, home exercise equipment for use during inclement weather, traveling, or when short on time. Resistance bands and tubing, jump ropes, and exercise mats  are inexpensive, and easy to transport when traveling and/or visiting family/friends. The bands/tubing come in different sizes and resistant levels and require little training.  In fact, most come with a workout plan or can be found online.

Think outside the box, but keep it simple: 

  • Wake up 15-20 minutes earlier for a short movement period.  
  • Be mindful of the number of steps you take throughout the day, and challenge yourself to complete more than the day before.  
  • Wear exercise shoes when shopping and add power walk breaks in between stores or consider more frequent walks to your parked car after a store visit to stow away bags. 
  • Rethink your lunchtime, if your job allows, and use it as an opportunity for a short walk.
  • Challenge a fitness buddy to hold each other accountable to a realistic daily or weekly goal.
  • Complete bodyweight exercises throughout the day, such as push-ups against desk, body weight squats and lunges, chair tricep dips, twists, stretch, and so forth.  You might get a whole body workout by the day’s end!
  • Set realistic expectations and plan accordingly.  Consider reducing time/numbers of days per week, and then make a commitment to those.
  • Make movement part of the family/friend traditions if possible.  A family walk or dance session after a big holiday meal can not only improve digestion, but take the edge of any accumulated stress.
  • Make a holiday playlist.  It doesn’t have to be holiday music.  Instead, create a special playlist that motivates you when your energy is low.
  • Make sleep a priority too.  A well rested body moves with greater ease.
  • Hydrate consistently.  (Think of all the added sodium in those holiday treats.)

The holidays do not have to derail your exercise/movement routine.  There’s only one you and one body in which you live.  Therefore, think of physical activity during the holidays as the one gift you can give to yourself.  With a bit of flexibility, creative thinking, and determined mindset, you can continue to unwrap better health, one step, or choice of movement, at a time. 

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Fall for The uniqueness of your own heartbeat

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.”–Brian Andreas

Several years ago, I had the privilege of taking classes in order to become a certified yoga teacher. YTT, as it is often referred, was a year-long process that involved much reading, studying, and, of course, yoga practice. One of the more fascinating facts that I learned during this process was that each person has a unique heartbeat. It is a point of awe for which I find myself contemplating at times when I am in need of self-comfort/reassurance.

Driving home recently on a golden fall lit afternoon with gilded leaves swirling and whirling in a dance down to Mother Earth, I thought of our Creator and the unique gifts of creation all around. Ahead of me were the rolling hills of southern Ohio and beneath my road was a ribbon of river, sunlight glinting off its glassy flow.  Cracking the window and turning off the radio, I inhaled the crisp fall air as it glided through the car’s interior embracing me like an old friend.  Instinctively, one hand went to the heartspace of my chest, and in the moment, I felt the pulse of gratitude and sighed with peace.

Now, to be honest, it was also a sigh of relief.  I was more than happy to have the challenging work week behind me! However, that simple moment of gratitude and relief served as a reminder of the uniqueness of my heartbeat, and hence, the uniqueness of my own life.  Which led to my mind’s meanderings of the singularity of each individual life.

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It turns out that national agencies, such as NASA and The Pentagon (at the request of US Special Forces) , as well as private technology companies, such as Bionym, a Toronto based company, recently acquired by Inominds out of San Jose, have been researching and harnessing the technology around the unique heartbeats of individuals. According to Andrew D’Souza, the one time president of Bionym, the original maker of Nymi, a wearable device that the uses an ECG to identify the wearer, each one of us has a unique heartbeat that is based upon the size and shape of our hearts as well as the orientation of our heart valves and our unique physiology.  This individualized rhythm can slightly change with age, about every five years, and can also be altered if a person suffers a major cardiac event, such as a heart attack. Nonetheless, even with age or a cardiac event, our heartbeat remains unique to each person. Even when our heart rate is elevated from exercise, stress, or anxiety, D’Souza explains that electrically speaking, our heart waves still look the same. 

Without going into further scientific depth my rabbit-hole deep dive produced, an overall message kept emerging, each person’s heartbeat is definitively different and unquestionably unique to each individual.  The power of this knowledge brought me back to that sense of awe and wonder that I felt on the autumnal afternoon drive home.  Even after an exhausting week in which I felt like one lone worker ant in a colony of ants, each with our own humble roles, knowing that my heartbeat was not like that of anyone else was a comforting reminder that I am, indeed, a uniquely Divine creation. And so are you Dear Reader!

In a world where divisiveness and partisan language seeks to divide, separate, and categorize us into opposing factions, it is worth remembering that each one of us is a unique creation, a child of our Creator.  Our individual heartbeats can serve as a reminder that we are here to, as the saying goes, march to the beat of a different drummer and not necessarily to conform to any one group or one way of being. We were not created to be the same.  Indeed, each one of us is unparalleled, designed to offer our special gifts and talents to the world.  No one else can be me, and no one else can be you!

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Therefore, on days when you’re feeling out of sorts, overlooked, or overwhelmed, place your hand on your heart center.  Feel the one-of-a-kind rhythm of your own heart.  Allow its individualized cadence to serve as a reminder that you do matter.  No one else can be you.  You, and you alone, were created to follow your own beat, and offer your own rhythms to the world.  

Your heartbeat demonstrates that you are special, and YOU ARE.  Know it.  Believe it.  Act on it in a positive way by caring for yourself and your heart, so in turn, you can walk to the beat of your own drumming heart, blessing the world in the unique ways in which only can do. 

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The realness of depression and anxiety

Speaking with a child recently, she spoke to me of the very real pain she felt from her depression and anxiety.  She shared that one of her parents was embarrassed by her need for medication and therapy.  My heart broke for her, and I wished I could make her pain go away.  However, it is not that simple, and all I could do at the time was listen, so she felt heard.   

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The pain of depression, combined with the constant worry of anxiety is very real.  In fact, most of us have felt depressed at some point to a lesser or greater degree, depending upon circumstances.  In fact, my own experiences have been fairly short-lived, no more than 1-2 years, and I was able to continue on with work/life/education, albeit with great difficulty.  For some, it is a challenging seasonal event, tied to the anniversary of an event, holiday, or winter months. However, for many, depression, and its side-kick anxiety, is pervasive, lasting two or more years.

According to a March 2022 World Health Organization report, since the pandemic, there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of depression and anxiety world wide, with young people and women having been most affected.  In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health adds that young people, aged 18-25, currently have the highest prevalence of mental illness, a whopping 30.6%.  Furthermore, in another WHO report, globally speaking, one in seven adolescents, aged 10-19, are currently experiencing some form of mental illness. Specifically, in the US, the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists reports that one in five youth, aged 9-17 years, are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness.  More sobering, acccording to the same report, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-24 years old.

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As an educator, parent, and most of all, as a fellow human being, my heart breaks reading these statistics.  It only confirms what I am witnessing and encountering on a daily basis.  More teens and young adults with whom I come into contact on a regular basis are in real pain–whether I am aware of their mental anguish or not.  The most common mental illness among teens and young adults according to several health organizations include generalized anxiety, phobias, and depression.

However, it is not all grim.  Mental illness, especially among teens and young adults, is very treatable and manageable.  There are a wide-array of techniques and support systems designed to address the unique needs of each individual case, no matter the age. 

Treatment often starts with some form of psychotherapy, also known as counseling or therapy.  Therapy may last for only a short period, or over several years, depending upon the person.  It may focus on thoughts and feelings regarding current life, issues in the past, as well as concerns about the future.  Through therapy, the person not only feels supported and less isolated, but typically develops strategies and coping skills designed to address current mental health issues.  Additionally, therapy may also include ways to develop/strengthen specific relationships, overcome fears/insecurities, address past traumas, increase self-compassion and understanding, as well as create a plan for moving forward.

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Medication is often another form of treatment used in tandem with therapy, but it does require monitoring of a psychiatrist or other trained medical doctor.  The most commonly used medications prescribed for depression and anxiety are safe and effective ways to treat mental illness.  Unfortunately, the wait times for such professionals, especially in recent times, can be months long.  

As a result, many school counselors, universities, family doctors, and churches/civic/community centers are stepping up their support for those in need of mental health support. Many universities offer access to free, or nearly, services via in-person, videolink, or phone.  Some church, civic, and community leaders are pooling services to likewise offer hotlines, group therapies, or other activities designed to promote and support mental health. 

Even once a person is diagnosed and in-treatment, progress takes time, and there can set-backs, as well as ups and downs, in the process; however, certain factors do help facilitate treatment/recovery.  These include:

  • Positive support from friends and family
  • Self-direction in determining own direction and goals for recovery
  • Positive environment living/working/educational setting
  • Financial stability
  • Self-responsibility to administer self care needs
The road for treatment, therapy, and recovery may be long and winding with ups and down, but with the right support and environment, a positive outcome can be achieved.

It is worth remembering that the therapy process is unique to each individual.  Those in therapy may not return to where they were before the illness.  Rather, the typical goal of therapy/medication is to increase a person’s ability to manage their own mental health using positive methods/coping strategies while still engaging with life.  

In the meantime, what can mere mortals do to foster and improve our own mental health? Ireland’s Public Health Agency offers five simple ways worth considering in order to maintain and improve our mental well being.  These include:

  • Connect-invest time in building relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and/or neighbors.
  • Be active– this doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym, although it could, rather the focus is to move more, especially throughout your day, including walking
  • Keep learning-this boosts self-esteem and self-confidence as well as keeps the mind actively engaged
  • Take notice-increase awareness of the present moment; observe–without judgment–how thoughts and feelings fluctuate throughout the day, and how they may, or may not, affect the physical body
  • Give to others-acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, go a long way in helping others and positively impact personal mental well-being.

Mental illness is a very real thing, affecting nearly 50 million people in the United States, but there is hope. If you are experiencing mental health issues, do not be afraid to seek or ask for help.  And, please know that you are NOT alone. 

Furthermore, if you know someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, support them, offer forms of encouragement, and above all, let them know you care.  With so many silent sufferers in the world, it is more important than ever for us to be the light for one another.  

Now, more than ever, it is important to be the light for others with kind gestures, words, and deeds. ✨

Rice Krispie Air Fryer French Toast

“What does the best man at a French wedding do?”

“Make French toast!”

“Why is the French Toast the best team in the baseball game?”

“Because they have the best batter!”

Rice Krispie french toast sticks with melted peanut butter. Gluten-free and vegan options available!

Okay, I’ll try to stop, but in my defense, it’s way past my breadtime as I write this. My mind is crumbling, but I am not toast yet. There are still some ideas left in me, although I think they may be a bit stale. Perhaps, I should settle down, wrap up in a blanket, get warm and toasty, and go to bed to stop all this syrupy humor!

In all seriousness, National French Toast Day is November 28, 2022.  So why write about it in October?  Because I began playing with this recipe in September to, well, toast my birthday! It took several incarnations to get the recipe right, and I wanted to give you, Dear Reader, ample time to experiment with this recipe before the big toasty day.

You say you haven’t heard of National French Toast day?  Well, you’re in good company because neither had I until recently.  How did this obscure holiday come to be?  Based upon my research, no one source seems to know.  However, I did learn some interesting facts about a sweet and savory dish that is a weekend favorite food for many.

Rice Krispie French toast sticks smeared with chocolate powdered peanut butter, topped with strawberries, mixed berries, and chocolate chips!

The origin of French toast is debatable.  One source dated it back to a collection of 4th or 5th century Latin recipes.  While another source dated this eggcellent dish back to sixteenth century Europe. Additionally, the French were historically known for reclaiming old, stale bread, dipping it in egg batter, and frying it up.

It’s been known under a wide variety of names such as, “poor knights pudding,” “pain perdu,” “eggy bread,” and “French fried bread” to name a few.  The name, “French toast,” according to one popular Maryland breakfast restaurant, first appeared in American print in 1871, in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. Regardless of its origins, or name given to this recipe, most of us can agree, French toast is one delicious dish of tasty goodness.

There are many variations for making French toast, but the basic formula includes bread, dipped in batter, typically made out of eggs and milk, and fried in a pan.  Some recipes call for added seasonings such as vanilla and nutmeg, while others call for rich cream and egg yolks with a dash of cinnamon.  Other recipes insist on thick bread, while others aren’t as picky.  

While reading through numerous recipes for French toast, I saw variations in cooking methodology.  Some cooks swear by frying in oil, while others enthusiastically endorse butter.  There were several variations of baked French toast, and even recipes that call for frying up the batter-dipped bread, then dipping it again in the batter, and baking it up.  I even found several French toast casserole recipes that made my mouth water.

Rice Krispie French toast smeared with chocolate powdered peanut butter and topped with strawberries, blueberries, mango, and chocolate chips.

This recipe uses an airfryer, and it offers variations for those with Celiac disease like me (hence the use of gluten free bread and crispy rice cereal).  I personally made this plant based as well by using non-dairy milk and a plant based liquid egg replacement, but that is a highly personal choice that may not be your preference.  The point is, the recipe is flexible and can meet a wide variety of dietary needs.  Plus, using the airfryer, rather than a butter or oil, can be a healthier option for those needing to cut back on dietary fat.  That being said, this recipe can be prepared in the traditional frying manner with butter or oil.

The use of Rice Krispies was intentionally designed for fun; after all, I created this recipe in honor of my own birthday.  I personally loved the way it added extra texture, visual interest, and the taste did not detract from the overall flavor of the batter.  In fact, the cereal gave the recipe a fun and festive vibe that made my inner-child, who needed to be honored on her birthday, smile!

Rather than wait for National French Toast day, why not give this recipe a try?

From my home to yours, I toast to your health and cooking endeavors! 

Rice Krispie Airfryer French Toast sticks

with gluten free and vegan options


3 large eggs or plant based equivalent

½ cup favorite milk, dairy or non-dairy

1 tablespoon maple syrup

½  teaspoon vanilla extract

¼  teaspoon nutmeg, optional

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 cup Rice Krispies 

4 slices of thicker bread, cut into “sticks” (gluten free if needed)


In a small shallow pan, stir together egg, milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, nutmeg (if using), and salt.  

On a separate plate or shallow dish, spread out Rice Krispies.

Dip bread into batter mixture.

Press battered bread into cereal twice, coating both sides.

Place battered and coated bread sticks into the airfryer, without overlapping, into a single layer.

Turn the airfryer on 375 degrees and cook for 7-8 minutes. 

Repeat the process, if needed, until all “sticks” are cooked.

Keep “sticks” warm until ready to serve.

Top with favorite toppings, syrups, spreads, and/or fruits.

Serve immediately. 

Serves 2.

Recipes can be doubled or tripled if needed.

Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.

Cut your bread into “sticks”.

You’ll need a few basics to make this gluten and plant based if needed/desired.

First, dip bread into batter.
Next, pressed batter-dipped bread onto Rice Krispies.
Cook up in an air-fryer for 7-8 minutes, or until desired brownness and texture reached. Then add your favorite toppings and enjoy!

Rest, recovery, and self-care: All important aspects of fitness

Self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on this earth to offer to others.”–Parker Palmer

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In previous writings, I have written to encourage reluctant movers/exercisers to find ways to increase movement, mobility, and/or exercise into their daily routine.  I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of moving more and sitting less.  There is a vast array of scientific evidence that demonstrates movement and gentle exercise increases mental and physical well-being, decreases diseases, and furthers longevity.  While it doesn’t make you bulletproof, there’s not denying its benefits.  That being said, there is also a time and place for self-care AND rest and recovery days as they are known in the fitness industry.

   Let’s first differentiate between the two as both are worthy and valuable tools.  Technically, self-care can be defined as anything you do to take care of yourself.  Self-care can, and should, include a wide range of activities that nurture your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.  In an ever-evolving world in which more and more value is placed upon hustle, productivity, and work along with the expectation to either pass on vacation days, or if you do, then there is the pressure to continue to work on those days–taking time to care for self is more important than ever.  Plain and simple, self care is vital to the integrity of our own health, so we are more effective both in and out of the work-setting.

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Self care is a practice that can occur on any day of the week or at any time of day. It can be as simple as offering yourself kind words of praise or encouragement when you do something well, such as thinking, “I am proud of you for choosing to do this.”  However, it can also be an entire day, away from work and/or stress, filled with activities that feed your soul, mind, and body.  The point is, self care will vary from person to person and can encompass a variety of actions.

In fact, according to many health experts, areas for which self-care can occur includes many dimensions. Some of the more obvious areas comprise of spiritual, emotional, occupational, and physical well-being.  However, less obvious areas for self-care include intellectual, social, financial, and environmental.  Given these diverse facets for self-care, it creates a vast array of opportunities for self-care activities.  Here are a just a few ideas to get you thinking, but by no means are definitive:

  • Journaling, writing, drawing, creating
  • Spending time outside, gentle walks with pet, hike
  • Spending less and paying down credit cards
  • Reading/listening to books; watching a documentary
  • Change jobs/careers; Clean up that resume
  • Exercise; prioritize sleep; regular medical checkups
  • Volunteer; regularly scheduled social or family events
  • Pray, meditate; read inspirational scriptures; attend the worship service of your choice
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Leaning into daily self-care activities leads to a healthier, more well-rounded life. Just as regular movement/exercise can vary from person to person, and from day to day, self-care will too.  Even when/if current life situations limit time for self-care, a little can go a long way in contributing to our overall well being.

Likewise, rest and recovery days can be part of the self-care plan, and should be essential part of your movement/exercise plan.  Adequate rest and a day or two devoted to recovery offers the body numerous benefits. While our muscles, heart, and lungs become more efficient when we repeatedly complete the same action, such as walking, running, cycling, weightlifting, playing tennis/golf/basketball, or any other sport/activity, it also places stress on those same areas.  Resting and/or a day away from those activities, allow the muscles, lungs, and heart to take a break and recover, allowing you to actually make more progress. 

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Recovery can include completing movements/exercises that are outside of one’s regular routine, such as walkers taking a day to bike, those who play specific sports taking a day to practice yoga, or runners taking a day to swim.  However, recovery can also be a day devoted to rest, or at the very least, a day in which exercise is avoided.  Both types of recovery, in addition to a regular sleep schedule and nutritious eating habits, benefit the body in numerous ways.

Recovery days reduce the likelihood of injury and allow the muscles to rest and repair.  It also reduces muscle fatigue that can decrease performance and reduces muscle pain and soreness. Adding an active recovery day, allows our bodies and minds to experience and try out new forms of exercise. While days completely devoid of exercise allows the body and mind to rest.  Both types of recovery improve your ability to sleep soundly, promote longevity, and reduce stress. 

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on

In the end, increasing daily movement and activity as well as the implementation of a regularly scheduled form of exercise are important, but more isn’t always better, especially for those who are competitive or prone to over-doing it.  As with most things in life, the key to any wellness program is finding the right balance that works for Y-O-U, and that may change from season to season and from decade to decade.  

Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit are important and worthwhile investments.  After all, each of us is a creation of the Divine, but we are only given this one life.  Let’s honor our Creator by respecting the unique creation that is each of us, and live our lives to the fullest, imbued with the vitality of a healthy mind, body, and spirit!

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Gratitude over Attitude

“Gratitude is one of the strongest and most transformative states of being. It shifts your perspective from lack to abundance and allows you to focus on the good in your life, which in turn pulls more goodness into your reality.”–Jen Sincero

I caught myself complaining, AGAIN, about an irritant within my life. While I was doing this in the safe company of a trusted person, it was a habit I was beginning to recognize and for which I was beginning to feel I needed to personally address.  Therefore, I began to ponder why I have such a strong tendency to bellyache, fuss, and grumble?   Does my complaining make anything better?  Does it benefit anyone?

Furthermore, why is it our nature to yammer on about all the so called wrongs in our life?  Part of the reason, I know, is that in a polite world, we often bottle our frustrated feelings inside and continue to wear a smile on the outside.  This often leads to our complaints exploding out of our mouths with the first opportunity to release them in like-minded/sympathetic company. It plain ol’ feels good to liberate the tension–which, on one hand, is a healthy coping mechanism.  

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But what happens when we keep going on?  Telling anyone and everyone who will listen to us about the perceived infractions.  As our audience changes and expands, so does the story, expanding in power and hijacking our brains. We might even post our complaint on social media, magnifying the story and giving us the impression that we are truly supported, and most of all, righteous, in our indignation.

What does this gain us?  Is it a sense of control?  A sense of support?  A sense of community?  Perhaps all of that and more, but since I am not a psychologist, I’ll leave that answer to the professionals.  Instead, all of these ponderings brought me to the importance of mindset. 

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One of the more inspired lines that I’ve run across, previously written about, and regularly applied in my own life, is “mood follows action.”  It is a phrase I implement when I don’t feel like doing a particular task, such as getting up early, tackling a workout, or instigating work/chores.  Those three words remind me that once I complete the task, I will feel a sense of accomplishment, and my mood will lift as a result.  It is the dread that is often worse than the actual doing. I began to wonder if something similar was true with regards to complaining . . .

action = increased complaining = decreased gratefulness = negative mood

If I continue to choose the action of frequently complaining, particularly about the same thing, am I creating my own negative mood?  And if so, am I creating a bias towards these so-called “terrible” events, making them out to be more grievous than they actually were?  What if instead, like the eye doctor asking me if I preferred A or B,  I flipped my daily lens so that it was tinted with more gratitude and shaded less with attitude? 

action = reduced complaints + increased gratefulness = happier mood

Photo by Anna Shvets on

I took this thought even further and researched what the science said. It turns out that complaining can actually negatively harm your health, not to mention serve as a repellent to others.  First of all, it turns out that every time we complain, our brain rewires itself to produce more negative thinking. According to neuroscience, synapses that fire in the production of the complaint, wire together, making it easier, over time to react, complain, and think negatively with more frequency.

Negative thinking/stressing and complaining can damage the hippocampus, which is responsible for overall cognitive function, problem solving, and critical thinking.  The smaller the hippocampus, the greater our decline in memory and the less adaptive we are to change. The more we complain and/or focus on the negative, the more we increase our levels of stress, and, in turn, cortisol.  High cortisol levels decrease immune function and make us more susceptible to a wide variety of health problems such as sleep disruptions, digestive dysfunction, depression, and high blood pressure to name a few.


Complaining, and an overall pessimistic attitude, can shorten our lifespan.  Research indicates that optimistic thinkers tend to live longer than proverbial pessimists. Additionally, like attracts like. The more positive or negative we are, the more we tend to attract others who do the same. In fact, our brains naturally mimic those with whom we most often associate through a process called neuronal mirroring. This is often due to our ability to feel empathy, which can be a positive thing, but it can backfire on us if we repeatedly surround ourselves with negative people.

Nonetheless, there is a time and place for complaining, but it is how you frame it, and to whom you speak, that makes a difference. If something is truly worthy of a complaint, think constructively when talking (or writing) about it.  Identify, before initiating the conversation or written evaluation begins, a clear purpose about the specific goal/desired behavior. Then behavioral experts encourage us to deliver the complaint like a sandwich.

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Start positive, with a true and affirming comment. (This first step may require some thought and some reframing, but it is worth the time to get the listener/reader to pay attention.) Next, state the desired outcome/behavior in a matter-of-fact tone without accusation.  Then, follow this with another positive, but true, statement.  Below is a highly simplistic example, but it illustrates the point.  

“I really love shopping at this store because the employees are so friendly and helpful.  However, lately, I encountered issues with the pick-up system in which numerous items in my order are not bagged.  I’d like to continue shopping here, so I am wondering if there is a way to ensure my order is properly bagged on my next visit.”

If, however, someone is directing the criticism to you; own it, and empower yourself as an agent of change rather than victim. By taking ownership of the issue, we have the power to create a solution that works for us. In the end, we earn more respect for owning up to our own mistakes, flaws, or misperceptions. Furthermore, it allows us to be perceived as a problem solver with integrity.

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One point worth remembering is that, while complaining can be a healthy way to relieve stress, we want to be careful with whom we confide, who is around us when we make these comments, and how often we are complaining.  If you know that you will feel better to get a grievance off  your chest, do-so with trustworthy companions in a private location–rather than on a platform for everyone to read or in an area in which anyone can hear.  Then move on, let it go, and identify at least one positive about your day/situation on which to focus, including your controlables–one of which is your attitude.  

By training ourselves to choose gratitude over attitude, we are more likely to see our blessings, promote our own mental and physical well-being, and increase our ability to perform tasks.  Furthermore, we may ultimately attract more good to our life by merely opening our eyes to seeing it.  For many of us, however, this takes practice and time.  Therefore, the next time you find yourself complaining, be like the eye doctor, flip the lens, determine the better view, and find something for which to be grateful.  


If you must complain, do so. Then, flip the lens and look for the points for which to feel grateful.

Maybe it’s time to close the window: Self-care and balance includes moving away from toxic people and situations

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted.  Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”–Hans Margolius

I love to sit at my desk in the flush of morning light writing with the window above my desk open.  Even when it is cold and chilly, I will often crack the window a few inches to enjoy the predawn air. There is something about the fresh air, the stillness, and the early hymn of dawn that fills me with a sense of peace and hope. The dawn air dissipates the frights of night that may have entered my dreams and nourishes my mind with renewed resiliency for whatever the day may bring.

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One especially hushed, predawn Sunday morning, as I sat, savoring the caress of fall air on my cheeks and hands, I noticed smoke rising from the yard beside mine.  It was my neighbor burning something.  I returned once more to my writing as the serenity of the morning continued humming its charming ambience.

Gradually, every so subtly, the scent of the air shifted. Wafts of acrid air began to drift in through the window screen.  Still, it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall freshness of the morning, and so I left the window open, continuing my writing.  

For 30-40 minutes, I continued my typing, pausing for moments here and there to gaze out the window and clarify my thoughts.  I noticed the dullness of the green leaves, a sure sign that Mother Nature is changing into her fall wardrobe. A single bird rapidly called in a repeated series of three trills, “Hello, hello, hello,” but earned no response. 

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Noticing the familiar tingling in my lower half, cued me into the fact my extremities needed a walk break.  I rose and walked outside to the newspaper box.  A cacophony of Canadian geese, singing their song of seasonal change, flew overhead towards the autumnal clouds.  

It was then I realized how strong the scent was.  Whatever was being burned in my neighbor’s yard had filled the air with a noxious haze that I had not noticed while at my desk with its slightly opened window. However, when I walked back into the house and returned to my desk, the insidious odor had indeed permeated the air.  How had I not noticed previously?

Perhaps it was due to the fact my window had only been partly opened or maybe it was due to my focus.  Regardless, the scent had gradually slithered through the opening of the window, changing the air in a subtle and measured manner that I had not noticed.  I began to reflect upon how often that happens in life, for better AND for worse.

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The seemingly piecemeal process of aging is but one example.  Our children gradually change. Often, we may not notice it in the day to day, but one day you will look at your child and suddenly it hits you how much they have grown and changed.  Likewise, we may not notice our own aging process until we happen to see a photograph of ourselves, and like a slap on the face, we are quickly hit with the awareness of our own aging.  This is all a normal part of the evolution of life.

However, what about other life events? For example, the progressive way in which computers evolved and changed the way I teach.  When I began nearly 36 years ago, there were no computers in my classroom.  The most technological advancement that I had was a rolling chalkboard and a box of dustless chalk!  Flashforward, and my current classroom uses Apple TVs, Google classroom, iPads, Chromebooks, and Macbooks, with all students using their own device on which they are expected to complete work.  For better or worse, that change is here to stay.

I think back through history, for example, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany.  It all started in a seemingly moderate way, but it progressively evolved and soon evil, incrementally, blanketed much of Europe, affecting/influencing much of the world.  This, along with countless other historical events, remains a cautionary tale of the way in which harmful developments, left unchecked, can crawl into our lives without our realization until they have fully enmeshed themselves into society.

Photo by Melike Benli on

Back at my work area on that particular Sunday, I decided to close the window above my desk, and leave my writing space for a while, allowing the air to clear.  As I moved into other areas of my home, I could clearly observe the difference in air.  An hour or so later, the air in and around my workspace was cleared, and all it had taken was the simple act of closing the window.

There are certain ideas, concepts, environments, and even people–personally associated to us and distantly known by us– that are likewise toxic disguised in appealing and attractive soundbites, conversational style, and images.  Like the sweet lullaby of the break of dawn, they lull us into acceptance, or at the very least, acquiescence–better to play along or ignore in order to remain focused on our own goals. The problem is that, little by little, we begin to assimilate, breathe in, if you will, the poisoned atmosphere/attitude until it has permeated our being in ways we can’t clearly sense until we step away and gain a new perspective.  Only then do we fully feel the necessity of closing the proverbial window and stepping away from the baneful environment.

Photo by Mizuno K on

The irony of it all, is once you close the window and move on, you begin to realize that there had been a small, still voice inside you all along telling you something wasn’t right.  For me, on that Sunday morning, my tingling legs told me to move since my sense of smell had been so gradually overcome by the slowly shifting air.  Therefore, it is important to tune in, listen for that inner guidance, to Divine Providence.  Perhaps, you may not be able to remove yourself entirely from certain situations and/or certain people, and if that is the case, determine what you can change, and then act.  Close the window. Move in another direction, and notice how much better you will feel with fresh air and a fresh perspective. 

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Root to rise

There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how you use them.”–Friedrich Nietzsche

There were three crossings over the stream in which we had to choose to balance-step across rocks as John is doing here, or wade the water.

Life can be challenging.  Demanding work schedules, a multitude of community and family commitments, and even the basic chores of life can often leave many of us feeling depleted.  Then, throw into the day-to-day mix, some minor crisis and/or irritation, such as the washer quit working, the car is making a funny noise, or __________ is getting sick, and we begin to wonder how we will ever get through the coming day, much less the week. 

I was reflecting on this thought, not only from personal experience, but also from experiences of others. In a recent conversation with a young mother, I listened to the challenges she faces as she tries to balance the increasing demands of work, family life–especially her growing children’s varied activities/interests–and several house issues that require extra time, money, and attention.  It was clear, in spite of her ability to joke about it, that she was completely frazzled and worn out.  My heart went out to her.  

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Haven’t we all been there?  Perhaps we may not have experienced her exact circumstances; nonetheless, feeling overwhelmed and over-extended is certainly a relatable human experience.  We all encounter rocky times along life’s path, and those times may feel like insurmountable stumbling blocks.  In fact, we may indeed stumble, stutter-step, and fall off the path, but the question is, can we then use those same life boulders as stepping stones?

Later in the same week, I found myself once more engaged with a parent of younger children.  In this conversation a young man was describing the demands of balancing the needs of his three children, whom he clearly adored, his beloved wife, and his work.  He described a recent experience in which he begrudgingly attended a study group at his church with his wife in the midst of a grueling week. 

“I did not want to go,” he said.  

Once there, however, he realized that it is at the busiest or most stressful times when he most needs to take some time for renewal if he truly wants to be of service at home or at work.


Driving along a hill lined road a few days later, I observed a tree that seemed to grow out of the rocky rise.  Its multiple roots wrapped around and over the rock-defined prominence. I marveled at the tree’s ability to stay rooted and find nourishment in such an unlikely environment.  

In fact, later that day, I took time to read an article or two about trees that can live in rocky soil. I was stunned to learn that there is a wide variety of hardwood and softwood trees that can live in stony soil, including fruit trees.  It was the fruit trees that most surprised me because not only is the tree tasked with the job of sustaining and growing its root system, trunk, limbs, and leaves/needles, but it also must produce enough nourishment for the additional task of fruit growth.  

Photo by Elias Tigiser on

As I read these articles, I found that many trees’ roots have the ability to adapt and thrive in rocky, stony, or even compacted/dry soil.  Furthermore, many trees that are drought tolerant have shallow root systems. This adaptation offers them the ability to grow in rocky soil as their roots seek and stretch to find sources of water and nourishment.  Additionally, there are other trees with deeper root systems that somehow find a way to burrow in between rocks to find water and nutrients.  Regardless of the type of root system, the one commonality among all trees is the fact that they use those boulders and rocks as stepping stones from which they extend their branches towards the heavens, rising above a so-called inhospitable environment.

In an era of disparate sound bites, images of divisiveness and dissonance, and all the demands of life, we must strive to live more like the rock loving, sand embracing, and drought tolerant trees.  We must continually seek and stretch towards our true source of life, the great I AM.  It may be difficult, as life throws us one challenge after another. Therefore, we must take time to mimic those rock-loving trees by rooting down to rise up in order to offer our unique gifts–our fruit–to the world.  

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Taking time to routinely root down into our inner faith world, allows us to rise above the stumbling blocks of life. Root down to rise up. Depending upon your faith and/or religious practice, that regular practice of “rooting down” may look different from one person to another in the same way trees’ roots vary.  However, they all serve the same purpose: anchoring us to our true foundation, keeping us straight and stable, and providing us with the ability to absorb the good and filter out the bad, storing-up a wide array of resources for when times get, well, even rockier. 

With the foundation of a well-established root system, we become like the trees that thrive in rocky and dry environments. We can climb around, over, and sometimes even remove life’s stumbling blocks, so we too can rise up, stretch towards our higher power, in order to produce more fruit, especially in our busiest times.  Root to rise.

Even in an rocky area known as Craggy Flats, ancient trees have rooted down and around the rocks in order to rise above its above of it all.

Good Fitness Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.”–Gene Tunney

For the past two months I have written a couple of pieces focused on the importance of incorporating movement into your life.  It is my belief that movement benefits everyone and can add years to your life and life to years.  Therefore, this month, I’d like to blow open the myth that fitness requires a gym or club membership and/or requires special, and often, expensive equipment.  Rather, I’d like to shed light on free, nearly free, and budget friendly ways to increase movement and exercise.

Remember, in a capitalistic society, corporations and businesses want to make money.  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but my point is that you do not have to buy into all the slick and pretty packaged marketing!  As a consumer, you DO have choice.  So when those social media pop-up ads try to convince you that you need this “exclusive, just-for-you, one-time only offer” for a studio/gym membership or the “latest, greatest, in-debt-til-die exercise equipment, you absolutely have my permission to walk away—for real.

Photo by Liliana Drew on

In fact, walking, according to both the Mayo Clinic and University Hospitals 

Network is considered, “just as good as any other form of exercise.”  Of course, walking at a steady pace for a given period of time is the best, but all forms of walking count towards your overall health.  Walking for exercise is free, all you need is a supportive, comfortable pair of shoes.  It can be completed solo or with friends.  Plus, it can be completed in a multitude of  indoor and outdoor sites.  However, walking isn’t the only inexpensive way to increase movement and exercise into your life.

You can do housework or yard work as a workout.  Cue your favorite up-tempo tunes, set a timer, if you’d like, and get to work.  Keep moving until the job is done or the timer rings–whichever works best for you. 

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If you have younger kids or grandkids, play with them.  Take them to a park if you don’t have access to a yard.  Better yet, ask them to join you while you walk, bike, hike a trail, or jog.  Play soccer, shoot some hoops, throw frisbee, toss a baseball or softball.  Other options include, but are not limited to, volleyball, pickleball, tennis, golf (make sure you’re walking if you want the full workout), badminton, and so on.  There are so many ways to move, play, and enjoy your kids/grandkids and even get to know some of their friends. Of course, all of these activities can also be enjoyed with friends!

Free workout options include walking, pushups, planks and walking up and down the steps of your house.”–Joe Cannon, MS, certified strength and conditioning specialist, NSCA certified personal trainer

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

Make use of equipment at home and youtube videos (or other sites to which you may have access).  With just your body weight, a chair, and stool, you can get a whole body strength workout. You can even use canned goods and water bottles/jugs as “weights.”  Honestly, there are so many free workouts available online that require little to no equipment that can provide fantastic cardio and/or strength workouts.

Two worthwhile items I do regularly use are a quality yoga mat and athletic shoes.  Both of these are versatile and worthwhile investments.  The yoga mat not only can be used for yoga, but it can also be used for any type of exercise that requires time on one’s back, belly, hands, and/or knees.  This one time investment is portable; it can be used on a back deck or patio, carried to the park, or taken along when traveling.  Similarly, a pair of good-fitting shoes are just as versatile.  Personally, I am always willing to invest a bit more for personal service to determine a proper fit for a supportive workout shoe from my local neighborhood running/walking store. (Shout out to Robert’s Running and Walking Shop!) 

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Other pieces of inexpensive equipment to consider:

  • Exercise bands and/or tubing (love these inexpensive items!)
  • Free weights, kettlebells, and/or medicine ball (in light, medium, and “heavier” variations)
  • Jumprope
  • Step bench (can be used both for cardio and strength training)
  • Fitness ball (can be used for a variety of core exercises)
  • Exercise DVD or apps (many apps are free or a low-cost)

Learn to be a savvy shopper.  You don’t automatically have to buy from one place, nor do you need to purchase items all at once.  Gradually add pieces, and consider purchasing used items on Amazon, eBay, Facebook market, Goodwill, and consignment shops.  I am often amazed at what I find at both Goodwill and consignment shops for next to nothing.

Budget friendly pieces of exercise equipment can be gradually added to your collection. You can even build your own step bench.

Personally, I love to find free fitness plans on-line, and modify them to fit my age/fitness level.  There are so many good sites, many of which I outlined in a previous article.  Once you find a plan you like, there are no decisions to make.  Simply follow the outlined plan for the set-number of days/weeks.  Your heart, mind, and body will thank you.  One word of caution, however, be sure the plan is appropriate for your level of fitness.  You want to set yourself up for success, so choose wisely.

Other budget-friendly tips include:

  • Split a gym membership with a friend.  Many gyms offer a payment plan that allows you to bring a friend for “free” for x-number of workouts. 
  • Join walking or running clubs.  Many parks, walking/running shoe stores, and even some malls offer these for little to no cost
  •  Join community gyms.  Many religious centers and some communities offer gym memberships for little cost to no cost.
  • Try donation based classes.  Many yoga studios and community centers offer weekly donation classes that are paid as or if you can.

Bottom line, you absolutely do not have to pay much, if anything, for a quality workout.   Other than perhaps quality footwear, you can absolutely get an excellent workout without spending any of your hard earned money.  Therefore, don’t let budgetary restrictions keep you from putting a little pep in your step and vitality in your years. Exercise your right to ignore those money-mongering marketers, and take charge of your own health AND budget! 

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Chocolate Chip Muffins, gluten-free, plant-based options

Procrastibaking: the art of making muffins instead of whatever else you should be doing.”–as seen on INTO THE COOKIE JAR

I had work to do, but there it sat.  The lone, leftover banana.  Muddled and marred by dark brown spots, hiding its inner-sweetness.  Too mushy to eat, but perfect for baking.  But what?

Nosing around in my cabinets, I noticed a partial bag of chocolate chips.  Hmm?  Maybe I could bake chocolate chip cookies, but would I be able to use a banana in it?  Not sure if that would work, at least regarding taste.  Then, it hit me like a Monday morning: muffins!

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I was pretty sure that I had once read that bananas can be used as a substitute for an egg in a recipe.  Sure enough, for once, my memory was correct. One banana equals one egg. Now don’t get me wrong, bananas cannot do everything an egg can do when baking, but in a recipe such as this one, where I am also including vinegar and baking soda, bananas are a decent substitute.  

Speaking of vinegar . . . Why add it to baking?  Historically speaking, vinegar has been used in baking for centuries.  One such example was during the Great Depression when rations, such as eggs and butter, were limited.  One teaspoon of baking soda combined with one tablespoon of vinegar makes baked goods light and fluffy.  Even if you are using an egg, adding one tablespoon of vinegar to a cake, cookie, or bread recipe will help batter rise, increase moisture, and even brighten the color.  

Photo by Rosana Solis on

Regarding flours, you will notice that I chose a combination of two different types as well as oat bran.  This was an intentional choice due to the fact that I have celiac disease, so I cannot consume wheat.  Additionally, I wanted to increase the fiber/nutritional content of these muffins while keeping the texture light and fluffy side.  Think of it as a compromise–balancing out the white flour and sugar with the nutritional profile of oats!  Plus, I happen to like baking with oats and oat flour due to the texture and moisture oats tend to create while not lending an overpowering flavor.  Nonetheless, you could use almond flour, rice flour, or other preferred varieties. In fact, you could simply use nothing but all-purpose flour if that is your preference.  As long as the total amount of flour remains the same, most flours should be fine!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

Finally, feel free to play around with the stir-ins.  There’s up to one cup total, so make the recipe yours.  Stir in raisins, walnuts, peanut butter chips, dried cranberries, chopped dates, butterscotch chips, chopped pecans, and so forth.  Make the recipe fit both your taste preferences and/or the ingredients you have on hand. 

Once these muffins are baked and cool enough to serve, slather one with butter or your favorite nut butter.  Dip them in maple syrup–who says it’s for pancakes only?  Drizzle agave or honey over the tops.  Then again, eat ‘em plain–after all, they will be plenty moist! 

Customize this recipe, and make it work for you and yours!  Then, hit me up on social media, or send me an email, and let me know what variation worked for you!  In the meantime, enjoy procrastibaking! 🙂  

Chocolate Chip Muffins, with gluten-free, plant based options

Recipe inspired by Betty Crocker’s 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook Betty Crocker’s Cookbook/40th Anniversary Edition Hardcover – September 1, 1991,

Allergy AwesomenessRhian’s Recipes, HealthyGirl Kitchen


¾  cup oat flour*

¾ cup oat bran*

1 cup all purpose flour, gluten-free flour*

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ripe banana

1 cup milk, any variation

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ -1 cup chocolate chips, gluten-free and/or vegan if desired/needed

½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Sparkling sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line 12 muffin tins with parchment paper or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mash banana in a medium bowl.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla, and vinegar.

Gently combine liquid ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined.

Fold in chocolate chips and/or nuts, if using.

Divide batter evenly among cups.

Top with extra chips, and/or sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack.

Serve immediately.

Can store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days, or can freeze for up to 3 months.

After refrigerating or freezing muffins, reheat muffins before serving.

Makes 12. 

*Notes: Feel free to mix and match types of flours, and even leave out the bran, to suit your needs/taste preferences as long as the total amount of flour used equals 2 ½ cups.  Additionally, while I have to bake/eat gluten free and choose to eat plant based, you choose the ingredients that match your preferences.  Finally, you can use an egg, ¼ cup applesauce, or ¼ cup yogurt to replace the banana if desired or don’t have a banana on hand.

You’ll need two bowls.
Mix your dry ingredients in one bowl.
Mash your banana well.
Stir in wet ingredients with banana.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently mix.
Be sure to preheat oven and prepare muffin tins. I prefer parchment liners.
Stir in those luscious chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly and top with desired toppings. I added mini chocolate chips and white sugar.
Allow muffins to cool on a rack, but feel free to serve warm!

Enjoy the yummy results of procrastibaking!

Seasonal Growth

“Every season is one of becoming, but not always one of blooming. Be gracious with your ever-evolving self.”— B. Oakman

This past May, John, my husband, and I were given nine tomato seedlings that our neighbor, Dianna, had started.  John purchased special potting soil, and I carefully planted those seedlings into large gardening containers.  They were my pet project this summer as I tended to them like a mother tends to a baby.  From suckering them to fertilizing them at specific points in the summer to monitoring the moisture in the soil to determine if I should water or not, I tried to be the best plant parent I could be. However, I knew that in spite of my best efforts, Mother Nature had more control than me.

Nonetheless, John and I ooed and awed over the plants’ first golden blooms.  We gleefully counted the tiny green orbs that first formed in place of the blossoms, and we celebrated as they grew bigger, and more petite tomatoes began to emerge.  As their color gradually transformed from chartreuse to a yellow-orange, and then gently evolved from an orange-red to scarlett, our anticipation mounted for a plentiful harvest, to the degree nine-plants could produce. 

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By the first week of August, we had a bounty of tomatoes.  None of them were particularly large, but they were bursting with flavor–the perfect tangy blend of sweet, tart, and acid.  With our first pickings, I cut-up fresh cucumber and tomato to add to shawarma-spiced chickpeas for me, and made bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches on homemade bread for John.  Throughout the week, there were salad plates topped with aromatic, zesty tomatoes alongside dinner, and veggie sticks and tomatoes in bowls for packed lunch.  Oh, the ways we can, and do, enjoy tomatoes!

Last weekend, I was out picking more tomatoes, and I reflected on a conversation with my dad the previous week.  He lives in Melbourne, FL, about an hour or so, east of Orlando.  He and my bonus mom, Pam, have a fenced-in backyard that they have transformed into a tropical paradise.  Vibrantly filled with plants that would never grow here locally, thrive in their backyard as they continue to learn more about the growing seasons of Florida.

In that recent phone conversation, Dad and I discussed the plants they were currently trying to grow, and the ones they would soon plant, once the temperatures cooled and moderated.  One plant he was eagerly anticipating growing were tomatoes.  He explained his plan to plant a couple of seedlings, then several weeks later, plant a couple more, then he’d plant another a few about a month after that, and so on.  Apparently, unlike here, fall is the perfect time to plant tomatoes, and throughout the winter months, he gets to reap the harvest.

Therefore, when I shared with him how well my tomato plants were producing, he bemoaned the fact he could not yet have a fresh garden tomato, but of course, encouraged John and me to enjoy our season while we could.  Nonetheless, he was looking forward to the season when he, too, could enjoy a fresh slicer tomato on a sandwich or chopped up in a salad.  We talked some more about his different growing season, and the types of tomatoes he planned to try to grow this upcoming year before moving on to other topics at hand.

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As I reflected on this conversation while picking tomatoes, with each snip of my pruning shears, I was simultaneously filled with gratitude for each tender fruit, but I was also feeling a bit of sadness for the fact that I could not share these with Dad.  Then, I reminded myself that he would be enjoying tomatoes, most likely in December, January, and February when our area will be chilling to rain, sleet, ice, and snow with not a single fresh tomato in sight.  That’s when it hit me.

In the same way I can gather tomatoes in August and September, but Dad cannot until the winter months, we all have different growing seasons in life.  I began to think about all the ways in which we, as part of our humanity, often compare our current position in life with that of others in similar circumstances, age-range, or whatnot, and feel as if our situation/status falls short in comparison.  Personally, I often think of dreams and hopes I still hold for the future, but due to life, many of those notions must be put on-hold for the time-being.  However, the more I snipped tomatoes, the more I began to realize that perhaps instead of comparing, and thinking about where/what I think I should be doing, maybe I would be better benefitted to switch my focus to cultivating and nurturing those seeds of hope, and recognize that it’s not their growing season . . .yet.

Photo by Binyamin Mellish on

“Be aware of what season you are in and give yourself the grace to be there.”--Kristen Dalton

Just as it is the growing season for me in southern Ohio, but not for my Dad in central Florida, the same is true for life.  Our lives are filled with seasons too.  There are times when we must let go of notions and things that no longer serve us, like the trees do in fall, and the winds change the color of our lives with a flourish.  Other times, our lives are filled with great spaces of dormancy as harsh and bitter winds send us into a blanket of darkness.  Then, there are those moments in which we experience blooms of hope, sometimes even in the midst of a rainy season.  That is when the magic can occur.

Through our letting gos and goodbyes, through those dark and latent times, and even through downpours of sorrows and grief, there remain within each of us, planted seeds of possibility and potentiality.  Those seeds have their own growing seasons, but each person has different seasons and different times for harvesting.  It is our job to be aware of our season, cultivate our inner seeds, and trust that when the time is right, new growth will occur.

As it is wisely stated in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . .He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Therefore, we must put our faith in our Creator, and rest in knowing that our hopes and dreams are indeed being cultivated by a force greater than us; and when the season is right, our season for growth, and ultimately harvest, will one day come into fruition.

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There she goes . . . again, a parent’s prayer

There she goes.  There she goes again.  Racing through my brain.  And I just can’t contain. This feeling that remains.”–as performed by Sixpence None the Richer 

What is it about a child? No matter how old they are, the imprint of their tender ages remains with you, especially when you see them struggle.  You want to help, but you know that in order for them to transition, you must allow them to struggle and figure things out.  Sometimes, no advice is the best advice you can give your child as they journey along their own unique life path.

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Therefore, watching my own daughter, Madelyn, figure out her own way in the world has been a mix of bittersweetness.  Like many parents, I have observed her growing pains and celebrated her milestones.  I’ve cheered her on through uncertain times, and I have stood back when she needed her space to figure things out her own way.   Most of all, I have just loved her no matter what.

Of course, she also has her dad (John, my husband), grandparents, aunts/uncles, family, and friends who each offer their own unique form of perspective and support.  In fact, I am grateful for the influence and love bestowed upon her throughout her life from others. Their rich perspective and knowledge offer Maddie a quilted tapestry of life in which she can wrap up and take comfort at any time of need. 

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Therefore, as we recently helped Maddie move for graduate school to Athens, Ohio, a town where she did not know anyone, my mind raced to how fortunate she was, and still is, to have so much love and support, albeit at a slight distance, from that network of friends and family during this time of transition. While Athens is new territory for Maddie, it is familiar to John and me as it is home to our alma mater, Ohio University. With over 21,000 students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs on-campus (with a total over 28,000 when you factor in regional campuses), OU is by far, the largest university Maddie has attended since starting her college education.  

By contrast, the program in which she is enrolled is extremely small.  In fact, within her immediate field of study, art education, there are only three other students, two of which are married and with kids.  Not ideal circumstances for connecting and making friends.

Nonetheless, given the nature of Maddie’s program, a blend of working with two currently practicing Athens art teachers in their classrooms, a graduate assistantship, in-person classes, and virtual classes with a broader scope of students, Maddie will have much in the way of work to occupy her time.  

Athens, and the Ohio University campus, remains the ever charming setting I remember from all those years ago.  Situated alongside the Hocking River, amidst the iconic rolling hills, Ohio University is the oldest university in Ohio. From its historic Cutler Hall, the oldest building on campus, to its quintessential alumni gateway, and from the sprawling campus, filled with classically designed traditional, older-looking buildings, to its state of the art facilities contained within, Ohio University is certainly a source of inspiration.  Plus, it offers students a wide array of activities–no matter their interests.  

I couldn’t help but notice that the same energy I felt as an undergraduate all those years ago during the 1980s, still imbues the streets today.  Although the names of the businesses may have changed from back “in-the-day,” uptown remains vibrant and more lively than ever.  In fact, Maddie recently marveled at how busy those sidewalks and businesses can quickly become as the students embark uptown before, during, and after classes.  That said, like the other students, there is no denying, she too finds herself frequently drawn to that uptown vibe when her time permits.

On the weekend in which we first helped Maddie move into her apartment, John and I decided we needed to check out a few local spots for future dining and recreational adventures.  To begin, we found a fantastic location in which to stay, just outside of Athens proper, and approximately 10-15 minutes from Maddie’s apartment.  It’s called The Barn at Shamrock Farm, and it can be found on Airbnb and Facebook.  We were fortunate enough to stay during a discounted weekend, which made it a much more budget friendly option, right along the price point of local hotels. 

Unlike the hotels, however, The Barn offers so much more in the way of amenities and space. Host Kerry, and her husband, Michael, were incredibly responsive to their guests, and their property is located amidst the idyllic scenery of a working farm. From the stunning and comfortably appointed house/barn to the ample out-of-doors seating area and additional fire pit, and from the meandering trails over which stretch your legs for hike to all the special touches found throughout the entire home and property, this Airbnb rental is perfect for those looking to visit Ohio University or those desiring a weekend getaway!  

While there, John and I discovered, along with Maddie, several dining options that we found both enjoyable and tasty.  With regards to casual dining for breakfast, lunch, and/or coffee/snacks, we visited Fluff Bakery and Bagel Street Deli. Both of these diners offered personal, attentive service, freshly made food at a pocket friendly price level, perfect for the budget-minded student and parent alike. Both unique establishments offered a blend of made-to-order items, along with freshly baked goods, and crisp, colorful bowls of salad and fruit. If you’re a bagel fan or fond of baked goods like us, then both of these spots are for you!

Additionally, we tried a couple of local restaurants for evening meals.  The evening of the actual big move, we were sweaty, tired, and very hungry.  After communication with Kerry, back at The Barn, she and Micheal recommended the casual atmosphere of Gran Ranchero.  This allowed us to get away from the busyness of uptown, relax, unwind, and enjoy some comforting, traditional Mexican food.  This establishment did not disappoint!  Not only was the staff attentive and efficient, the beverages were cold, the food was exceptionally fresh and tasty, and we all left with full stomachs!

The following night, we were just as worn out and hungry, so we went with another local favorite, Pizza Cottage.  With a menu brimming with not only a wide variety of pizzas, but also wings, salads, pasta, calzones, subs, desserts, and so much more, Pizza Cottage filled the bill with our desire for comfort food after another long day of work.  The atmosphere was casual and light, the service was friendly and quick to offer help/suggestions, and the food was the perfect blend of spice, sweet, salt, and tanginess that one would expect from a casual Italian eatery.