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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

img_9905

          Charming Capitol Street in Charleston, WV.

 

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

          

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

 

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

 

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

 

                       Four Points by Sheridan in situated alongside Kanawha Blvd. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                     Some sights along Capitol Street  . . .

 

                      Sights along Kanawha Blvd. . . .

 

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

 

                      Pints and Pints is a local favorite! 

           

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

 

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

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

 

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

            

 

            

 

Keep Pedaling Through Life; Lesson from Camp Magis 2019

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

            Sweat dripped down my face. 

 

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

 

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

 

            Lungs and thighs burning.

 

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

 

            Heart pounding in my ears.  Lungs in my throat.

 

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

 

            Heaving breaths.  Legs trembling.  

           

forest bike bulls
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Must. Hold. On. For. Dear. Life.”

 

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

            

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Portable Breakfast: Easy Parfait and Overnight Oats

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

blur business coffee commerce
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

berries blackberries close up cocktail
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

img_9774
This parfait is a plant based twist as the yogurt is nondairy! Above the yogurt are chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Additionally, there is 1/4 cup water which the chia will gradually absorb to create a pudding-like texture!

 

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

 

img_9788
Plant-based yogurt parfaits topped with three different types of seeds.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Portable Breakfast Parfait/Overnight Oats

 

Ingredients: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Directions for parfait:

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

Spoon 1/3 of granola over yogurt.

Add nuts/seeds

Top with 1/3 of fruit.

Repeat layering process until all ingredients are used.

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

Can be stored for several days at a time.

Serves one.

 

Directions for overnight oats/granola:

Place all ingredients in resealable glass jar.

Shake well.

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

Can be stored for several days at a time.

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

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

Serves one.

 

 

 

Lewisburg, WV, Labor Day 2019: A Dining Adventure Awaits to Feed Your Inner-Foodie

            “People will travel anywhere for good food—it’s crazy.”—Rene Redzepi

 

            “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”–Mary Davis

 

img_9721

 

It had been a beautiful evening for a drive through the mountains of West of Virginia—clear, bright evening sun with billowy, cotton-fluff clouds overlaid on a canvas of brilliant blue.  Exiting I-64 to the main road leading to downtown Lewisburg, John, my husband, and I took in the sights of the bustling commercial area radiating outward from the downtown.  Turning right, and driving along the main road running through the heart of town, numbers of people meandered along the town’s walks enjoying the pleasant weather.

 

 

It was a beautiful evening with herds of deer along the country road home.

 

We continued driving, moving away from the town and towards the country.  Along our route, expansive farms mixed with residential areas in a patch quilt fashion seemed to unroll around us.  Dust blew up around our car as we left the asphalt road making our way towards CB Ranch, where we would be staying for the weekend.  Cattle swished tails; round bails of hay lay in fields, ready to be gathered for storage; and herds of deer were out for their evening meal. It was going to be a good weekend.

 

 

Once situated and settled in our bedroom suite at CB Ranch, we readied ourselves for dinner in town.  Since we had stayed in Lewisburg in November of 2018, we already knew where we wanted to head to for dinner:  The Asylum.  This local eatery, located in downtown Lewisburg, describes its offerings as upscale comfort food served with craft beers and spirits in a laid back atmosphere.  The Asylum has multiple TVs, a gas fireplace, numerous sitting areas, including multiple deck levels, and a full bar area.  John and I recalled the great food and excellent service we experienced on our previous visit as it met his love for great meat-centered meals, and my love of plant based, gluten free food.  (I have celiac disease and prefer to eat vegetarian.)

 

img_9556
The Asylum, in Lewisburg, WV, is a great place to meet friends, dine, and unwind.

 

The Asylum did NOT disappoint.   We began our meal with drinks and an appetizer of House Fried Potato Chips served up sizzling siracha style.  These tasty little crisps of goodness were loaded with flavor and just enough heat to be spicy without over whelming the taste buds.  John then chose the Pork BBQ sandwich.  This sandwich was loaded with pulled pork and a side of coleslaw.   I have to admit, despite the fact I am not a big meat eater, his pork smelled wonderful!

 

 

Meanwhile, I actually ordered an appetizer for my dinner:  Hummus and Pita Platter, but without pita.  Instead, they served me extra veggie sticks. Talk about creamy and crunchy goodness with just a hint of garlic all rolled into one scrumptious meal!  Yummy for the tummy.  Additionally, our service was once more attentive, affable, and always at the ready to ensure John and I had an enjoyable meal experience.

 

img_9513
Saturday was Del Sol Cantina and Grille Day.

Saturday ended up being Del Sol Cantina and Grille day regarding food and beverages.  Described by Google as a “comfy Mexican place” with both indoor and patio seating, John and I found their menu to offer an eclectic, fresh twist on Mexican fare.  John ended up in Del Sol at noon because it was the one location willing to put on The Ohio State football game, with one caveat—when the WVU game started, the large screen TVs would be switched over to that game.  Thus, John was only able to see the first half of the OSU game.  Fortunately for John, the OSU game quickly became an easy win, and also allowed him time to enjoy his lunch: Del Sol’s version of the classic BLT sandwich served with chips and salsa.   While John watched the game, I used the time to trek about the town, sip and savor some coffee from the Wild Bean, a downtown local coffee and sandwich shop; however, I did join John at Del Sol for an afternoon margarita treat.

 

    While John watched the OSU football game at Del Sol, I enjoyed walking around Lewisburg and taking a coffee break at The Wild Bean–check out the painted sign on the bathroom door of The Wild Bean!

 

Later, that evening, John and I return to Del Sol for dinner.  At Del Sol, if you want to start with tortilla chips (with free refills) you get to pick two dips—not just one.  Therefore, we chose both salsa and queso.   So, so, good!  Then, John decided to order homemade fried fish tacos, while I enjoyed vegetarian fajitas—Del Sol style—served with a large plate of freshly made black beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream, and tortillas—which I gave to John (although I could have ordered corn tortillas).  Then, I placed all of the veggies over the rice, beans, and guacamole (I removed the sour cream.), and I ate as one big plate of veggie heaven!  Our service during both lunch and dinner was on-point and friendly.

 

 

Sunday was set aside for hiking the Greenbrier River Trail.  While eating at Del Sol the previous night, the bartender/waiter recommended that we start our hike at the Anthony Trailhead, a few miles outside of Lewisburg.  He said it was pretty area that is often underrated.  However, before making our way to Anthony, we decided to fortify ourselves for the hike with breakfast.  Thus, we made our way to Retro Donuts and More, which serves both breakfast and lunch.  Set up like a 50’s style diner, John enjoyed a cream filled donut alongside a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich served on a donut bun.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed a latte while I noshed on a granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait. Fortified with deliciousness, we ultimately hiked a six miles along the beautiful, peaceful trail as the Greenbrier River meandered beside us most miles.

 

Retro Donuts and more before the hike!

 

At the Anthony Trailhead, parking lot, and boat ramp area.

 

Views from boat ramp and bridge above it at the Anthony Trailhead.

 

Views along the Greenbrier River Trail.

 

More of the beautiful scenery from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

Peaceful signs and sounds from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the sensory experience of the Greenbrier Trail.

 

After a long day of hiking, we cleaned up, and once more headed into Lewisburg for our final meal of the trip at Hill and Holler Pizza.   John and I had highly anticipated this dinner—John for their hand-tossed wood fired pizza; and I was eager to dive into the homemade gluten free crust pizza.  Plus, we both loved their salads—Cesar for John; and I love their crispy fresh garden salad.  Here, though, is where the proverbial wrench was thrown. While our salads were still fresh and plentiful, my beloved gluten free crust no longer appeared house made, but rather pre-fab, pre-made, and not-so-good anymore.  It was beautiful with all the veggie delights that I enjoy, but the crust was no better than frozen I can buy at the grocery store. After eating one piece, I chose to settle for eating the toppings, and left the over-priced crust behind. Don’t get me wrong, I understand I have to pay more for a gluten free crust, but this crust was not the same as it had been in November of 2018.  Furthermore, they seemed understaffed for the busy crowd they had in attendance on that Labor Day Sunday; thus, leaving us with poor, inattentive service.  Indeed, we were both disappointed.

 

Hill and Holler Pizza was a bit of a heart breaker this visit.  John’s pizza was still delicious, but the gluten-free crust was not what it used to be.  Still, the salads were fresh and tasty!

Despite this slight displeasure, John and I would still highly recommend the Lewisburg area as a great weekend getaway—even if you just want to go for the food!  There are plenty of sights to see, places to dine, friendly shops and boutiques, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and land of West Virginia. It’s a short, easy drive from the Tri-State area, and as the fall officially ushers in this week, it’s a great place to visit for an autumnal retreat!

img_9693
I still have not mastered the art of taking a selfie without triple chinning myself–I blame my short arms, but it could be aging! Still, look how beautiful that sky is behind us!

Restoration and Relaxation Can Be Found at CB Ranch

            “Why do you go away?  So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.  And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is the same as never leaving.”—Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

 

            “Hey, we have a long weekend comin’ up! Would you want to get away for a short trip?”  John, my husband, said in passing one early August morning.

 

            “And, ironically enough, I just recently heard from Cheryl Biddish at CB Ranch in Lewisburg, WV—that cute suite we stayed during the week of Thanksgiving last year,” I replied

 

            “That would be doable trip and close—only a 2-3 hour drive, if I remember correctly,” John replied in earnest. “Why don’t you reach out to her and see if she has any availability for Labor Day weekend; she could already be booked since it’s already August.”

 

img_9614

 

            Thus, began our plans for our first weekend getaway since last school year.  We had traveled in late May/early June for our 30th wedding anniversary to Naples, Florida, but with partial remodeling going on in our house and other life events, John and I had not traveled together anywhere since then.  Normally, during any given summer, we typically travel to two or three closer-to-home destinations in addition to a so-called “big trip summer vacation,” but not this past summer.  Therefore, despite the fact it meant for a tight work week prior to the trip as we knocked out chores we typically complete during the weekend, once we arrived at CB Ranch, just six miles off I-64 and four miles away from historic Lewisburg, WV, that Friday evening —it felt well worth it.

 

img_9508
As seen in the window of a store in Lewisburg, WV.

 

            Driving down the country lanes to reach CB Ranch, the golden sunlight streaming over the tall cornfields and grazing cattle, I could feel the stress begin to gradually seep away.  Traversing the ranch’s long driveway, we took inventory of the changes since we last stayed in November of 2018. We noticed the languid swishing of tails belonging to the numerous horses remained the same, but the green growth of the ranch’s fields and surrounding hillsides was completely different from the tawny and golden hues of late fall.  Additionally, a cute, but extremely tiny, red cottage, with a fire pit set up beside it, now lined the lane that previously wasn’t there. (We would later learn that this was the ranch’s latest, “glamping” vacation option for those who wanted a more comfortable camping experience.)  

 

This tiny cabin, located on CB Ranch, complete with horse trailer restroom and shower, is ideal for warmer weather “glamping.”

   

      Reaching the top of the lane, the actual house appeared the same with the addition of colorful flowers now fading, as August seems to be Mother Nature’s color-dimmer switch.  Brooke and Cheryl Biddish, owners of CB Ranch, had already contacted us with the entry code to the private bedroom suite where we would be staying. Walking into the spacious living area, I couldn’t help but notice how immaculately clean it appeared. Continuing through to the bed and bath area, it too was spotless as were all of the large windows and sliding glass doors. Sighing with sweet satisfaction, I set down my bag, and stepped back outside to find Brooke and Cheryl already engaged in a conversation with John.  It quickly became evident, as I listened, that CB Ranch had become their combined full-time passion; and, they have plans for expansion—including the camping cottage we passed earlier in their long driveway. It would be the only time we interacted with the owners in person throughout our weekend stay, as they were both busy with the business of running the ranch. However, they were only a text away, and Cheryl regularly, and graciously, checked on us via Facebook Messenger throughout our stay.

 

          Guests choosing not to camp at CB Ranch, can stay in the suite with its own private entrance, private deck, private fire pit, and still have full access to roaming/hiking about the ranch. 

 

          The weather, over Labor Day weekend, was delightful.  The temperatures dropped into the low 50s by night, allowing us to sleep with the windows open.  Breathing in abundant fresh air as well as basking in the peaceful quiet that is the countryside of Lewisburg, John and I slept soundly. 

 

          In the early morning light, we thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of the ranch animals’ stirrings; and, we took pleasure in watching Brooke and Cheryl make their rounds feeding animals, especially the horses as they gracefully galloped towards the sound of the side-by-side UTV (utility task vehicle), eager for their morning victuals.  At night, John and I would sit on the suite’s private deck, listening to summer’s ending songs as performed by the crickets and katydids gazing up at the immeasurable stars, passing planes, and even a satellite—all winking, dancing, and dazzling us with a glimmering light show.

 

img_9746
Early September morning light filters through trees on CB Ranch.

 

          While staying at CB Ranch, John and I were able to once more visit what was once voted as one of “America’s coolest small towns,” nearby Lewisburg, WV. This welcoming town is known for its walkable streets, quaint shops, friendly residents and business owners, historic landmarks, eclectic restaurants and eateries, as well as its close proximity to a plethora of scenic and natural sites, including the Greenbrier River Trail, Organ Cave, Lost World Caverns, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and so much more!  In fact, at one point during our stay, I knocked around town for a couple of hours, while John found a local eatery, Del Sol Cantina, that was actually showing the Ohio State football game—well, at least for two hours prior to the start of the WVU game, then no more OSU viewing for John! Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day for a leisurely stroll of the town; and, lucky for me, when the game was over, John and I sauntered over to Amy’s Cakes and Cones for an ice cream splurge—a rare, but special treat!

 

           Some of the historic sites in downtown Lewisburg, WV

                      More images from historic, downtown Lewisburg, WV.  

      After all of John’s efforting, cheering on his Buckeyes, he needed a nap; and I was ready for the peace and solitude of the ranch.  Back at CB Ranch, it comfortably warm with a refreshing breeze stirring the air and the muzak-like sounds of the soft mewings of ranch animals and summer cicadas. Perfect for napping, hiking the hills surrounding the ranch, and reading on the deck soaking up the waning September summer sun. 

 

          While John watched the OSU football game, for two of the hours it was on before the WVU game, in Del Sol Cantina, I walked around the town of Lewisburg, stopping at one point for a coffee break in the little central park, listening to a local clarinetist. 

 

                      Images from Del Sol Cantina courtesy of John.    

 

                      I highly recommend a stop by Amy’s Cakes and Cones, where the owner clearly marks the foods that are gluten-free!

 

      The next day, John and I hiked a new section (new to us, not the trail) of the Greenbrier River Trail, beginning at the Anthony trailhead.  Again, the weather was picture-perfect—warm, but not uncomfortable hot, with a steady breeze. Along most parts of this trail, the Greenbrier River meandered past us, and we occasionally encountered people fishing, paddling kayaks, or drifting along in water tubes.  Meanwhile, on the path, we happened upon a few bikers, hikers, dog lovers, and a few couples/families meandering along the trail in search of an idyllic spot for a picnic or swim. I couldn’t help but remark to John my yearning for the ability to bottle up the natural scents emanating throughout the trail and surrounding wooded areas.  (More about this hike, including images, in Part 2!)

 

                   Images from my meanderings on and around CB Ranch while John napped.

 

        Throughout the weekend, John and I made it a point to dine at all of our past favorite local Lewisburg eateries, including Del Sol Cantina, The Asylum, Hill and Holler Pizza, Retro Donuts and More, as well as The Wild Bean. All but one of these establishments were as top notch as our last visit, but one left me disappointed. (More about that in Part 2.) With that being said, overlooking that one minor food disappointment, our stay at Lewisburg could not have been more refreshing, rejuvenating, and restful. (I find myself sighing as I write this, so much did I savor every moment we were there.)  We were able to return home with restored souls ready to take on the busyness of the autumn season.  

 

img_9619
No matter whether visitors are coming from or heading back to the ranch, adventure awaits around each bend in the road!

   

       Much appreciation to Cheryl and Brooke Biddish and their recuperative ranch, they allowed us our privacy, gave us permission to roam their property (even offering us a trip to the top of their many scenic hilltops with their UTV if we didn’t want to hike it), and also managed to make us feel welcome and at home. Needless to say, John and I highly recommend CB Ranch and Lewisburg next time you’re in the mood for a close, but relaxing getaway; and if you go, be sure to tell them Steph Simply sent you!

 

           From my home to yours, I wish you safe and memorable travels.

 

 

 

Reflection Revelations

            “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways . . .If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”—As performed by Michael Jackson; written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett

 

            “Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”—Rumi

 

close up photography of human left hand
Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

 

            I can still remember the first time it happened as if it were yesterday.  Since then, it has happened on several more occasions, each one occurring as if it had never before happened.

 

            “What do I have on my forehead?” I will think as I catch a quick glimpse of my reflection in my bathroom mirror.  

 

            “What do I have near my eye, my cheek, my mouth . . .?”  

 

macro photography of a stainless steel faucet
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

            It’s always the same surprise.  At first, I think I am seeing dirt, and I begin rubbing vigorously with a saliva-wet finger—as if I do not have a faucet only inches away from my fingers.  When it doesn’t disappear under such spirited efforts, I then switch to the soap and water directly below the mirror and renew my efforts. About halfway into the motion of soaping up the so-called soiled skin, it hits me like a red round gym ball smacking the side of my head. Arg!  It’s a wrinkle, or two, or seven.

 

            That’s when I go through the next round of self-deprecating thoughts.  

 

            “You look at yourself every day in the mirror to brush teeth, wash face, apply make-up, fix hair . . ..  How on earth did you NOT notice these wrinkles before? Are you blind?”

 

img_9783

 

            The facts are, Dear Reader, I don’t wear contacts, I’ve been far-sighted since I was a kid, and I am the proud owner of aging eyes with an astigmatism; so of course, I don’t see my wrinkles when I am at the bathroom mirror as I typically don’t yet have on my glasses for the day. 

 

            Ok, well, that’s not entirely true.  I typically have my glasses on when I am brushing my teeth—which is twice per day, but let’s be honest.  At the age of nearly 54, I do not spend much time truly gazing at myself. In fact, while I may see my reflection, I don’t really see me.  My mind is typically off meandering around the hundreds of thoughts scattered throughout my cerebrum.  Still, at my age, it should not be any great shock or surprise to discover wrinkles are mapping out my face like the tattered, overused roadmap that my husband and I once kept in our vehicles in the years before driving apps. 

 

img_9785

 

            In fact, recently, due to my aging eyes, and a remodel, I now have a small magnifying mirror attached to my bathroom wall near the vanity mirror.  Talk about a shock to the system! At first, it was all fun and games because I could actually see to pluck my eyebrows, apply eye makeup, and floss my teeth.  The party quickly ended, however, when it also began to reveal how deeply those crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines, and smile lines have really embedded into my face like lines on wet sand made with a stick.  What the heck? When did all of this happen? Why didn’t someone tell me? You mean, I’ve been walking around feeling like I am 20, or at the very least, 30 years old on the inside, but actually looking like my real age on the outside?  I’ve been lying to myself, and no one had the courage to tell me? Clearly, I have no real friends or honest loved ones!

 

            And so it, with criticism.  Hard, cold, biting, slashing, tearing, stomach wrenching critiques offered up freely by others.   Speaking of being whacked with a red gym ball, criticism can also be like that. It seems to come out of nowhere when we are not prepared or looking for it—like the way I felt the first time I really gazed in my magnifying mirror and saw the truth of my aging face.

img_9802 

            Proclamations of censure seem to happen with great frequency in pop culture, and at this point in time, they almost seem comical given their sources.  However, when it is personally delivered and received via special delivery by an important person in one’s life, it is not so funny. Raw emotions, wounded feelings, and even misunderstandings are often tilled up like a fallow field of wasteland as a result of these personal bombshells.  What is a person to do at such times?

 

            According to wise words I recently read, one has two options.  The first alternative is to make the realization that the person must not truly see you, your true heart, and your true intentions. Understand that their vision may be a reflection of their own self-judgement or insecurities.  Accept it with empathy for their suffering, and then move on with the knowledge that you have actually learned more about the messenger.

 

img_9776

 

            In contrast, the second option is to think of the critique as mirror magnifying and reflecting an actual smudge of dirt upon your proverbial face that needs to be cleaned.  Of course, you can ignore it, and lie to yourself, as I have done for years regarding the wrinkles on my face. Then, there is the option of fighting back, punching the mirror, and shattering its reflection, hurting both the person, your metaphorical fist, and possibly risk destroying any opportunity to amend the relationship.  Finally, you can view it for the truth it is revealing. Thus, creating an opportunity to wipe the dirt off, and challenging you to begin to search for ways to change, seizing the opportunity for a more fertile awareness in which a new seed has been planted, offering you a chance to learn, grow, and perhaps even improve. 

 

          Here’s to magnifying mirrors.  May we embrace the true reflections they reveal.

 

img_9786 

            

 

 

 

A Penny For Your Thoughts

        Find a penny, pick it up, All the day, You’ll have good luck!  Give it to a faithful friend, Then your luck will NEVER end!—Unknown

 

There it was, glinting in the bright morning sunlight, although not as lustrous as it once had been.  The blacktop had recently been paved, and from the appearance of its copper face, it appeared as if some of that pavement had covered it as well.  I started to walk on past, but like the siren call, I could not ignore it.  The face seemed to implore me to bend down.  Must. Be. Picked. Up.

 

Hunched over, the weight of my bag pushing me even lower, I could see the year.  1977, huh?  I think I was in 6thgrade or 7thgrade when it was made.  I had a total of two albums then:  Queen’s, Night at the Operaand Kiss’s, Rock and Roll Over. Additionally, I possessed one eight track tape, Fleetwood Mac’s, Rumors,that played on some portable 8-track player that I had somehow won for selling something, but I don’t recall what the somethingwas; and, I was saving my lunch money change and babysitting money to buy the Saturday Night Feversoundtrack, from the soon-to-be released movie that I was absolutely forbade to see. Bell-bottom jeans were on their way out. While straight-legged jeans and Annie Hall clothes, would soon be all the rage in teen fashion. Why all this should pass through my mind in an instance, I’ll never know.

 

img_9450

 

The words, “In God We Trust,” were fairly crusted over with black; however, the word, “Liberty” was fairly recognizable. Abraham Lincoln’s image was marred in spots by the blacktop as well, but he was still identifiable. I decided to give in to my instincts and pick it up.

 

I thought about giving it to one of my clients; and now, based upon my research, I wish I would have.  However, I decided not to give it away because it seemed so tarnished.  (See what I did there?)  Still I felt thankful and even a bit giddy after finding it.  Perhaps, it was the silly memories it triggered me to recall; maybe it was the bright sunshine that imbued my soul with joy; then again, maybe it was the feeling of luck—luck for me, and luck for the rescued to penny to continue on another day, rather spend the rest of its life doomed as part of a parking lot.

 

Did I have a good day on that Saturday?  Absolutely!  Did good fortune follow after finding it?  Well, not exactly, but, hey, I am healthy, alive, able to work, and can spend time with my family—I’d say that’s fortune enough.

 

bitcoins and u s dollar bills
Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com

 

Still, finding that penny inspired my curiosity. Why do we say, “Find a penny, pick it up, all the day, you’ll have good luck?”  Week’s later, relaxed and out of town for the weekend, I took time to indulge my inquisitiveness. What I learned was quite interesting—assuming my sources were reliable.

 

First of all, there’s more to the saying than I knew.  I had never learned the rest of the saying, “Give it to a faithful friend, then your luck will NEVER end!”  Who knew?  I should have given it away as my gut had told me to do!

 

img_9449

 

 

However, before that, I also should have paused andthanked God for my blessings. According to several sources, only a face-up penny possesses the words, “In God We Trust,” which is serves as a reminder that we must trust and rely upon God for everything in our life. Therefore, picking up the penny, pausing long enough to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving before giving the penny away, is key to increasing positive fortune in one’s life.

 

It would appear that the whole, “Find a penny, pick it up,” practice might stem from ancient times.  Folklore has it that metals, such as copper, were considered gifts from gods. If one found something metal, such as a copper coin, that object was a gift, sent from the gods, to protect the finder from evil

 

pexels-photo-730647.jpeg
Photo by Carlos Pernalete Tua on Pexels.com

 

However, the picking up a penny found in one’s path can also be traced to ancient Ireland and parts of Northern Europe.  Long ago, in this area of the world, it was once believed that pennies belonged to fairies, leprechauns and pixies.  When one found a penny during this time period, the person was instructed to spit upon the ground where the penny once lay.  Then, the coin was to be tossed into nearby foliage or bushes, so the little creatures could have it.  It was further believed that when the little creatures witnessed a human doing this, they would provide this person much luck and fortune.

 

pathway to house
Photo by Annie Japaud on Pexels.com

 

There are other interesting, so-called rules regarding the finding of pennies.  For example, a penny found tails up should be turned over and left for another person to find. This promotes good karma to both the person who turned the penny over, and the person who finds the head-up penny.  Along this same line of logic, supposedly, if you see a penny tails up, and do not flip it to the heads up side for someone else, bad luck will befall you.

 

Another nugget oddity that I found was the belief that if you see a person drop a penny, you must return it to them if it lands heads up; otherwise, you’re attempting to steal their luck.  If, however, the penny lands head-down, then it is your job to flip it over.  Thus, changing your fate, the dropper’s fate, and the ultimate finder’s fate!

 

img_9737

 

A few writers went so far as to offer this sage wisdom: Do not flip a found tails up penny, wait 5 seconds or whatever, and then pick it up. Good fortune does not work that way!  These were also the same writers who further believed that when you do find a heads up penny, it must go some place significant, not just in your wallet or pocket. In fact, one source said the found, heads up penny, must be placed on, near, or with some area of your life in which you hope to flourish or increase.

 

img_9718

Then, there were these quips about pennies:

 

          “Put a penny wrapped in paper, keep it to avoid your debtors.”

 

          “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—and a lucky penny in the shoe!”

 

midsection of woman making heart shape with hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Finally, I found that some people believe that a penny represents oneness (Get it, one) with God—the unity of the spirit and the body—reminding the finder of their ultimate afterlife.  Several of these writers went on to add that, if, however, one finds a dime, it is thought to be sent from a loved one who has passed away letting you know that you are loved and valued.

 

round silver colored liberty coin
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

 

Regardless of which belief(s) you wish to embrace on finding a coin, may your day, Dear Reader, be filled with good fortune, much luck, and perhaps, a random coin or two.  Just remember, I shared this advice with you, so don’t be a miser, and keep it all to yourself!

          Hmm . . .maybe I’ll start leaving random, heads-up pennies on the ground for others.  After all, I can now fully say that the penny I found gave me the good fortune of added knowledge! Who knows what a penny could provide for someone else?

 

yellow leaves green macro
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The Lauren Salad: A salad that will make your taste buds dance

            “The colors of a fresh garden salad are so extraordinary, no painter’s pallet can duplicate nature’s artistry.”—Dr. Sun Wolf, professorsunwolf.com

 

            “The salad is the main dish.”—Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

 

img_9467

 

            It was the colors that first attracted my attention–vibrant hues of varying shades.  From claret to crimson; deep purple to indigo; and, sunshine orange to all shades of earthy greens, this artist’s palate-like bowl seemed to have it all.  As if I were a playful, curious kitten, drawn to a piece of dangling string, my body made a beeline towards the vivid dish of food art.  

 

            “Lauren, what is that bowl of deliciousness?” 

 

            Lauren, a seventh grader who makes regular appearances in my lunchtime study hall, attempted to smile while chewing as she held up the universal sign for, “Wait one moment.”  Allowing her to silently chew, I appraised the contents of her reusable lunch bowl. From what I could tell, I saw blueberries, strawberries, and other assorted brightly hued morsels on a bed of what appeared to be lettuce.

 

img_9475

 

            It wasn’t unusual for Lauren and me to discuss food.  The previous year, Lauren had been part of my 3rdperiod, 6thgrade class, which falls during “snack time,” a time set aside for hungry middle school students to eat a quick snack at the beginning of class.  Lauren, who has a passion for good food, and dances nearly every evening of the week, typically took advantage of this time to fuel herself with mostly nutritious and yummy food choices to sustain her physical efforts.  Thus, she and I occasionally had sidebar conversations regarding her latest, or my latest, food/beverage obsessions.  

 

          These brief conversations would sometimes resume during lunchtime study hall as Lauren was a regular attendee in order to best manage her time due to her after school dance schedule.  Through these conversations, Lauren and I discovered we shared an affinity for Larabars, herbal and green teas, reusable water bottles, as well as assorted types of salads and fruits.   What’s more, Lauren possesses an infectious personality, and she is able to easily flow between relaxed, silly conversations with peers to a more formal style of dialogue with adults.

 

img_9477

 

          “It’s a salad my mom and I create, but I made this one,” Lauren finally answered while still gnawing at the remains in her mouth.

 

            Once she finished chewing, she continued to describe the ingredients in her salad, explaining that the ingredients might occasionally change, depending upon what her mom is able to pick up at the grocery store. 

 

            “Well, most of the time I make it myself,” she confessed with a wry smile, eyes twinkling with truth,  “but sometimes, Mom makes it for me.”

 

img_9476 

 

            Listening carefully to the ingredients, I wandered back to my desk to eat my lunch, as I did what the students around me were doing, complete my own schoolwork as I ate.  Gazing at the contents of my lunchbox, I saw a baggie of carrot and celery sticks alongside cucumber slices. Additionally, there was ½ No Cow protein bar and ½ Larabar plant-based protein bar.  Sure, I had cleaned and cut the vegetables myself; and to be certain, I sure did love my protein bars with coffee, but my lunch wasn’t near as colorful and fresh looking as Lauren’s salad. I began to fill with pangs of food envy!

 

img_9461

 

            “Lauren, tell me those ingredients again, please? I am going to write them down, and add them to my Kroger click list. 

 

            As she told spoke, I carefully recorded each ingredient on a sticky-note.  My mind began to fill with possibilities that would be tasty additions to her salad.

 

            “Do you add any sort of dressing?”

 

            She affirmed my hunch; no dressing for her, but my mind was already thinking about how good a balsamic glaze would be, like the one I had eaten earlier in the month at Fuel in The Market in downtown Huntington, WV.  I further began thinking about how good walnuts, or crushed cashews, would be—like my favorite salad at Black Sheep, another Huntington restaurant. Then, it hit me. Granola!

 

img_9456

 

            Last summer, before the start of school, John and I traveled to the Alderson/Lewisburg area of WV.  One evening, we dined at a Lewisburg eatery known for fresh, local, farm-to-table, organic ingredients called Stardust Café. It was at this local eatery that I tried a salad called, “Trust Me.”  It was described on their menu as their signature salad, and it was topped with granola. Our waitress convinced me that granola on salad was indeed a tasty topping. And, it was! Why not make Lauren’s salad topped with one of my latest food obsessions, Julian’s Bakery ProGranola, Vanilla Cluster? Hmm . . .

 

 

            In that moment, I giddily declared to Lauren, “I am writing about this salad, and sharing it with others.  It will be forever known as, “The Lauren Salad!” Lauren, being Lauren, merely giggled as her focus returned once more to eating and working.

 

img_9465

 

            Thank-you, Lauren, for sharing your delicious recipe with me.  It is a joy to have you as a student as well as to share your vibrant, flavor-filled, nutritional bowlful of goodness. Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches. Additional gratitude goes to, Pam, Lauren’s mom, for allowing me to photograph her daughter and publish her recipe creation!

 

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

 

img_9453 

 

 

The Lauren Salad

 Ingredients:

3, or so, cups favorite salad greens (Lauren enjoys iceberg lettuce, but I enjoy all variety of greens.)

¼ cup shredded carrots

¼ cup sliced celery

1-2 tablespoons dried cranberries (I prefer the less sugar variation.)

½ cup grapes (I left these off my salad, but Lauren says she enjoys adding grapes.)

¼ to ½ cup blueberries

5-8 sliced strawberries, depending upon size and taste preference

2-3 teaspoons of favorite balsamic glaze (I never see Lauren eat dressing on her salad, but I love the way this brings the flavors all together! I especially enjoy a strawberry-fig balsamic glaze.)

Optional toppings: walnuts, slivered almonds, chopped cashews, pistachios pieces, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc, and my personal favorite, granola!)

Hint:   While I rarely ever eat meat, you could certainly add your favorite meat protein, or for that matter, plant based protein, to this salad.  Ideas include, but are not limited to: hard boiled eggs; grilled meats; bean or bean-based patty; cheese, especially, chevre or Parmesan. With quality salad ingredients, the choices seem endless!  

 

Directions:

In a large bowl, layer all vegetable and fruit ingredients in the order in which they are listed.

If using balsamic glaze, drizzle over salad ingredients.

Sprinkle with favorite optional toppings. (I personally like 1-2 tablespoons chopped black walnuts and 3-4 tablespoons of granola.)

Serve immediately; or, if packing ahead for lunch:  Keep balsamic glaze in a separate container, and the toppings in another container.  When ready to eat, add glaze followed by toppings.

Makes one large, healthy salad.

 

Hey, Lauren, Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches!

 

img_9452

Shining Light on the Golden Present

          “There is nourishment like bread that feeds one part of your life and nourishment like light for another.  There are many rules about restraint with the former, but only one rule for the latter–Never be satisfied.  Eat and drink the soul substance, as a wick does with the oil it soaks in. Give light to the company.”—Rumi

 

red candle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

          My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces.  From the center of my soul, I felt the shards of accusations, regret, and all those unsaid words exploding from within my body and moving in an outward trajectory piercing my flesh—my mistakes visible for all to see.  The car of the past, in which I was the driver, was rushing, speeding, racing, and breaking all speed limits–accelerating too quickly to control. The vehicle of the present was dead ahead. The impact was coming. It could not be avoided. I attempted to bear down on the brakes, but the collision was inescapable.  Bracing, knowing it was coming, the impact, the pain, the unavoidable blood, carnage, and most likely, death, was seconds away . . . 

 

broken heart love sad
Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

 

          Gasping for air, as if fighting to stay afloat after being capsized into a tumultuous, tempestuous sea, I sat bolt upright in my bed feeling my heart race, sweat dripping down my neck, back, chest, and arms, wondering if I was really alive.  Gradually respiration resumed a more regular rhythm, allowing my heart to pound with less voracity. The cloak of darkness that is 2:00 am enveloped me with little solace. Emotional rubble from the impact once more pierced my heart as if stepping barefoot onto a tile floor covered with the remains of a fractured light bulb.  It was as if the metaphorical bulb of what seemed like a well-intended, great idea had suddenly shattered, leaving only a black hole from which there was no escape.

 

aluminum electrical bulb component
Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

          Days later, the waves of emotion, with little to no warning, would heave, pitch, and swell with its nauseating and dizzying effects.  Was there no Benadryl for emotional sickness? Was there no salve for the raw and blistered soul?

 

          “But what is visible?  The golden present. Think of the golden present, sow what is necessary, what is right.  Sow good thoughts, sow good deeds . . .”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

img_9427

 

          Wait, what?  I read and reread those words clinging to them with great wonder as if I were Charlie with the winning ticket to the Wonka chocolate factory. The golden present.  The. Golden. Present.

 

          Riding the raft of remorse and repentance did nothing.  Nothing to change the past. Nothing to affect the outcome.  It was what it was. But the golden present, the winning ticket, was doing what was right, now. This is what could be changed.   This is what could be done, and it began in my head and my heart. 

 

img_9372
The message written inside a piece of Dove chocolate that I recently found.

 

 

          The soul needs nourished; and, one must soak in that nourishment as a wick in an oil lamp in order to give light to others as Rumi once wrote.  This notion reminds me of what airlines advise parents: In the case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on first in order to effectively help your children. Feed the soul and the mind with words of encouragement.  Focus more on the positive, let go of the mind’s desire to attach to the negative. Seek, read, listen to words, scripture, and other texts that offer timeless wisdom and nuggets of valued truth in order to train and guide the mind, fueling the soul.  

 

img_9431
As seen on a post on Instagram.

 

          More importantly, judge less, beginning with myself.  If I am to be transparent, I have battled with self-worth throughout my life.  I have spent countless energy, especially during my younger years, saying, “If only I could be better; if only I could be good; if only I were more like this person or that person . . . then ___________ (fill in the blank) would happen.”  It was, and, even today, at times, the erroneous belief of my ego that my actions could control, influence, or otherwise affect the outcomes of others’ actions, beliefs, or behaviors.  

 

img_9389
As posted on Instagram by heartcenteredrebalancing.

 

        Perhaps, it is the curse of my empathic nature.  Due to the fact, I can often sense others’ emotional energy, I sometimes have urges to fix, fight, or flee from people.  It can a bit manipulative, if I think about it–trying to alter the actions of another. Therefore, it seems to me that the proverbial broken light bulb of the past now needs replaced with a new light, one that is brighter, more golden, as it were.

 

img_9359

 

          I cannot change my past thoughts, words, and actions.  However, I have been given the present, and a new light shines on this realization.  It is up to me to stop dwelling on the past and begin sowing seeds in a new way. Like an organic farmer giving up fertilizers and pesticides that often deplete the soil of nourishment, I, too, must put aside poisonous ways. I must continually till and remove the weeds of past behaviors, including judgment that inevitably will rise with regularity, threatening to overtake the seeds of positivity.  It will not be easy; and, change will not occur lineally, as I would prefer, but rather, in fits, starts, and spurts with setbacks in between. In fact, the best advice can be found in Rumi’s words—“Never be satisfied.” 

           May my life become as the wick for which Rumi spoke—properly fueled, illuminating in the golden present, in order to offer that light to others.

 

img_9361.jpg
As posted on Instagram by spiritualist_within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightswimming: September is Coming Soon

            “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night . . .

            Turned around backwards so the windshield shows . . .

            Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse . . .

            Still, it’s so much clearer . . .”  lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

            R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

           I heard the stirring sounds of oboe and strings.  Immediately my hand, momentarily, went to my heart as my mind raced towards the youthful summers of my past.  Reaching down for my phone as I drove, I waited until I reached a stoplight before snapping a picture of the song title.  Later, I would use that picture as a reminder to not only add the song to one of my Spotify playlists, but also as a potential source of inspiration for a later written piece. 

 

 

 

 

            I continued listening, and even replayed it later, a few more times, allowing random images of the past to flash through the movie screen that is my mind’s eye.  Nonsensical was the order as memories from all different ages hit me: The scent of green beans and sliced tomatoes; the summer soundtrack of cricket chatter offering background sounds to a quiet conversation with one of the neighborhood boys as we sat on his family’s wooden rail fence, seemingly late into the dark of the night, until my mom came to the front door to call me inside; the distinct metallic resonance of a water hose spraying car hubcaps on a sunny Saturday morning; hot rays of sun penetrating any exposed skin; the taste of Honeycomb cereal—a special treat courtesy of grandparents; kickball games and childhood tempers; family gatherings and church picnics; vacation bible school and late morning wake-ups; summer jobs and money to burn; roller skating and record playing; The Midnight Special and the discovery of album oriented radio (AOR); ice cream, French fries, corn on the cob, family treats of bottled pop guzzled alongside my three siblings to the sounds of music, laughter, bickering, and, yes, much to our Mom’s disapproval, burping contests . . .sweet, savory, summer.

 

selective focus photography person holding lighted sparkler at nighttime
Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

 

            By August, although though I would have never admitted it aloud, I was a bit bored and semi-ready for the routine and social aspect school brought with it.  It was always a new start, as ripe and juicy with possibilities as a July watermelon. Usually it began with several sleepless nights filled with anxious wonderings regarding teachers, classmates, classes, workload, and of course, the never-ending, but unspoken worry of my youth, “Will I fit in this year?”  

 

back to school conceptual creativity cube
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Updated clothes, newly sized trendy shoes (or at least as updated and on-trend as we could afford), unblemished notebooks, sharpened pencils classically scented of wood and lead; plus a new tube of bubblegum Bonnie Bell Lip smacker for pockets, and a pink bottle full of Love’s Baby Soft Cologne—these were the shiny, sparkly implements waiting to be used on that first day.  Inevitably the bus stop would be chaotic and competitive, the bus ride smelly and hot, schools halls redolent with scents of newly applied floor wax and cooked cabbage or other such malodorous vegetable. Then, there was always that first step into the classroom, the moment of truth, the feeling of dread, or hope. Who was your teacher; and, more importantly (at least at the time), who was in your class?

 

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Crossing the threshold, summer’s enchantment crumbled like chips in the bottom of a foil bag, and the new reality began to itch slightly as if bitten by one mosquito only to later mercilessly feel the irritation of numerous bites waking you in the middle of the night.  This was what happened, or so it seemed, between day one and day six of school. First days made it all seem manageable, fun, and even lighthearted, followed by homework, tests, and requirements that started building in crescendo-like fashion until finally reaching the climax at the end of a grading period, only to begin once more with the next.

 

homework paper pen person
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           And yet, in between, in between the raindrops of assignments, and storms of essays and exams, there were those moments, those times, when you just knew, just felt you were either going to rock this world or be crushed by the world; and this unknowing, somehow felt exhilarating, tantalizing, and even breathtaking. The world was filled with an endless array of possibilities, potential, and even dangerous, but tempting, pitfalls. It all seemed right there, alive, and at your fingertips for the taking.  Drunk on youth, heady as it was.

 

 

 

 

            Looking back through the rear windshield of time, I sometimes grow nostalgic for that spine tingling longing that is uniquely part of youth.  Oh, it’s not that I am dissatisfied with my life. Quite the contrary. It is merely that I truly did not know what I had when I was young; but then again, none of us truly do until we are years removed it.  

 

            If only I had known to slow down, savor the moment.  If only I had known to really sip from the cup that is youth and relish every drop of its intoxicating effects.  Ah, but such is life. . .

 

 

 

 

             Perhaps that is why my husband and I still teach, still go out on dates, still workout, and still hold hands.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to conversations with young people, allowing us to bask in their energy and vivaciousness. No, we are not trying to be young again, nor are we trying to relive our youth.  Rather, it seems to me, as if we are appreciating the NOW, the now of the moments we are living, and the now of the relative health we possess.  You see, we have caught glimpses of the other side, the next step of progression as it were, and now own the life-wisdom to know—to know and to appreciate bursts of energy found in exercise; to linger a bit longer over date conversations; to savor the comfort, and tingle, that comes from holding hands, embracing, and even kissing.  We value the vibrancy and vigor of youth and allow it to fill us with inspiration, laughter, and hope—endless, boundless hope. After all, hope, it is said, springs eternal.  

 

yellow plush toy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           Goodbye, summer, my dear friend.  Even though, I know by calendar-time, you will linger a tad longer. I must leave your dreams, your reverie, your romance, and return to a new reality. A land filled with the sights of unblemished whiteboards and post-it notes of reminders; the feeling of a busy, new schedule and a rushed routine; the scent of floor wax and dirty gym clothes stuffed in a locker; the taste of rapidly thrown down lunches and vanilla or mocha coffees; and, the sound of blaring early morning alarms and the banter of middle school students.  A new school year, a new start, as ripe, sweet, and prickly as the blackberry brambles of mid-July, begins this week. 

 

            “These things, they go away

            Replaced by everyday . . . 

            September’s coming soon . . .” lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

             R.E.M.

blur branches depth of field dry leaves
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

img_9394.jpg