Encouragement is a verb

           “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encouraging one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  Hebrew 10:24-25 (NLT)

           “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”—Simone De Beauvoir

           They have arrived, via text, nearly daily for two weeks.  Daily devotionals sent my way courtesy of a family friend.  Some of the readings are better than others, but all brighten my day simply because this person is trying to offer a bit of positivity and inspiration into my day.  However, there are times, due to their length, that I cannot read them at the time they are sent because my schedule varies significantly from his. Therefore, I often do not read get to read the devotional until bedtime.  I figure, regardless of the time of day, it is still a worthwhile task.

 

img_8047

 

           Task: job, chore, responsibility, undertaking . . . My day is filled with mental and written lists of things to do.  In fact, I start my day by looking over the post-it note of goals for the day and week listed the prior afternoon/evening before leaving work. Even still, driving to work, my mind is already scrolling through thoughts of what I will do when I first arrive, followed by what I will do next, followed by the next task, and so on.  The same is true for my planning period without students, my time after school, my time driving home. However, the one so-called responsibility that I most value is that of encouraging.

 

img_7788

 

           To that end, however, there are times; I am so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paperwork, computer tasks of documentation and communication, and the constraints of deadlines and times, that I misplace my priorities.  Thus, one recent night, as I rested in bed before turning off the light, finally reading the daily devotional sent to me, I came to face-to-face with what I love to preach, but allow the noise of the must-dos to hypnotize me into forgetting: encourage is a verb.

 

img_8020

 

           Reading the words from Hebrews 10: 24-25, there was my reminder in black and white.  “Let us think of ways to motivate one another . . ..”  Boy does the world need that now, more than ever.  Distractions abound all around. From the dings of texts to the bleeps of another email filling the inbox; from a screen flash of a calendar reminder of an upcoming event to another job-related task/deadline added to the reminder app; and, from rushing off to fulfill another commitment/appointment to bustling away from the work desk in order to acquire at least some time to maintain certain living rituals, it seems everyday life often creates both outer and inner noise that fill, and sometimes even, numbs us to the value of a kind word, a gentle pat/hug/embrace, or even a genuine smile that truly offers a moment of encouragement.

 

img_8041

  

         Two days later, after mulling over this devotion, I was seated in a yoga class, that I was teaching, sharing the following words before beginning the practice:  “You are not there.  You are here. Be here.  Be all here.”  As I saw the words sink-in and resonate with the students around me, I began to shift inwardly as my own inner ear perked up. Hmm . . .I hate it when my own words teach me as the weight of what I was sharing wrapped around my heart like my favorite warm, softly fuzzy sweatshirt. Be.  All. Here. And, how does that fit into encouragement as a verb?

 

img_8026

 

           As that day progressed, and really, into the next day, the words kept returning like the peal of the 5:00 pm church bells along 5th Ave in Huntington, WV.  Family, and a couple of my daughter’s friends, was gathering at my home that evening. Be. All. Here. Encouragement.

           I would like to write a picture perfect ending stating that I spent the rest of the weekend in perfect presence with all who were visiting my house.  Additionally, I would like to say that I floated about my home offering wise words of wisdom and encouragement to all. Cue the rousing and heart-wrenching music, but that would NOT be true.

 

           Still, I was keenly aware of the sweet sensation of an arm around a waist, the warmth of an embrace, the way smiles and laughter are contagious, and the special buzzing sensation that comes with conversation among and between people who are genuinely interested in supporting and uplifting one another.  By the last good-bye around noon on Sunday, as John smiled broadly, wrapped me up in his arms, and said, “Ah, Steph, this was a good weekend,” it felt full-circle-good.

 

 

          We had done nothing great, nothing fancy, and offered no great life-changing words.  Instead, we opened our home, we offered our hearts, we shared a simple meal or two, and swapped a gaggle of stories and laughter. That is the magic dust for forming memories.  My stack of ungraded papers never changed. This piece I am now writing, had yet to be written. Several loads of laundry were still in need of tackling. Weeds still needed pulled. Dust and dirt weren’t disappearing.  And, somehow, none of it mattered . . ..

           Ok, so, yes, as I write this, I am already worried, anxious, and a bit stressed about the to-dos, but I would not change a thing.  Not. One. Thing.

           

          

           

 

Stolen Identity: A Divine Inspired Lesson

           “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”—1 John 3:1 NIV

 

img_7984
As seen on Instagram at oneminddharma.

 

          They are in my house again.  The two men with nasty sneers and malevolent eyes are ordering John and me to do things against our will. Both of us have been struck repeatedly.  John has blood trickling from his nose, and blood has filled my mouth from my banged-up bottom lip, still smarting from the latest smack I received when I screeched for them to quit.

            “Stop it! Stop it, now! You’re hurting him.”

           These thugs smell vile as if they have bathed in alcohol, tobacco, and body odor.  John is trying to resist their orders because he knows it is wrong. The one with the shaved head is wearing a black t-shirt with a red face emoji that has xxxx in the place of a mouth. He is the one who slapped me, and his coarse hands are now pushing me out of the room and into the bedroom away from John and the man with long, dark greasy ponytail.  I’ve got to get back to John some way. I’ve got to figure out how to get away from this man. His touch reviles me. His smell makes me want to vomit, but it is his negative, dark energy, emanating off him like the stream of dribbles left on the street by garbage trucks in the summertime, that most fills me with terror. Must. Figure. Something. Out.

 

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

           I hear John scream from our dining room. What has happened to him? Must. Get. To. Him. Now!  I open my mouth to scream, but I have no voice. No voice. Nothing comes out—not even a squeak. I am as voiceless as the emoji face on the evil man’s shirt. Meanwhile the stinky, rotten man laughs menacingly . . .

           Once more I try to shout, then my cat, Tippi Tail begins to walk on my legs, adjusting to get comfortable, and I am awake, soaked in my own sweat.  My heart is racing; my hands are tightly gripped.

           “Wake up, Steph,” I think reflexively.  Crawling out of bed, I grab a drink of water from my nightstand, and walk to the bathroom. It is the same basic nightmare I have repeatedly experienced for weeks.  Each occurrence has its own twist, but all end in me trying to scream, but I have no voice. How deeply symbolic.

 

blue and white smoke digital wallpaper
Photo by Rafael Guajardo on Pexels.com

 

           A month or so ago, many of our accounts were hacked.  From Facebook to Instagram, from Netflix to Amazon, and even one of our bank cards—all essentially stolen.  Porn was posted on my husband’s social media accounts. Netflix went from three users to five, all of whom required Spanish-speaking shows.  Numerous attempted purchases appeared on our Amazon and bank accounts. Thank heavens for our local, Chesapeake, Ohio, PNC bank branch in which Tammy, and all of the other employees, take great care of our family.

           Even with all of the great help/support from PNC, my husband has not yet returned to social media; and, we still cannot get Amazon completely corrected because trying to get an actual person who cares enough to truly help you at this big corporation is nearly an impossible task, we are finding.  The days and weeks that followed have left of us filled with much stress, worry, and many sleepless nights as we continue into week four of trying to get Amazon fully corrected.

 

moon and stars
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

 

           Stolen Identity.  While I am not sure if this is the exact title that would most accurately describe what happened to us, something was stolen nonetheless.  Life has been different since then—filled with a series of actions, follow through steps, waiting, hoping, and praying that everything will just return to normal.  And yet, the reality is that time has never, nor will ever, return to the-way-things-were. Life is in a constant state of flux. So why do we often think in terms of I-just-want-things-to-go-back-to-normal?

         Life, as illustrated in these pictures, is in constant change.

 

           This concept of stolen identity led me down the proverbial rabbit hole of thought.  What about other forms of stolen identity? For example, I am reminded of my Grandfather, whose personality, mind, and even bodily functions, were gradually overtaken by Alzheimer’s. In a similar vein, I have considered all of the athletes, both amateur and professional, whose lives are turned upside down and forever changed by injury.  Who are they if they are no longer an athlete? For that matter, what about the person who simply retires from a given career path? Who are they without their job?

           I am reminded of the few people I know who have experienced traumatic brain injury.  Often, they never return to their former self. Then, there are the numbers of people I have known who battled, or are battling, cancer.  I would conjecture that life with, and even after cancer, must be a forever-changing experience. The same must be true for those battling with multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, and so forth.  I guess the point is, we are all one injury, one diagnosis, or even one event away from experiencing a so-called thief stealing our identity.

 

adult athlete cramps field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           All of these thoughts have been swirling around my mind and heart for weeks.  I think that is why I continue to have the recurring night terror. Then, this past weekend, my heart was quite literally and figuratively filled with a reminder.

           It came at the closing of a yoga class that I was teaching on Saturday morning in Ashland, KY at Brown Dog Yoga.  At the end of class, with eyes closed, I asked the students to place one of their hands on top of their heart. I shared with them the story of how I learned, during yoga teacher training, that each individual’s heartbeat is unique. Every person creates a signature ECG, and much like one’s fingerprint, no two ECGs are exactly alike.  

 

blur chart check up curve
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           Adding the following words, “This means you are infinitely and beautifully inscribed as a child of God.  You are special. Only you can bless the world in the way God created you to do.” My own words, no doubt, Divinely inspired, provided a powerful reminder for me, and I hope for you too, Dear Reader.  

           No matter what changes life is throwing at you as you are reading this, please remember the following. Each of us is a singular, divinely created being.  There is no one like Y-O-U. And throughout all of life’s changes, something doesn’t change, and that is the fact that you are a uniquely crafted soul created and cared for by a Supreme Being.  No one else can be you. No one else can bring to the table of life what you, and your experience brings. So use those changes, use your Supremely created self to find your own way to bless the world.  Heaven knows, the world sure could use a blessing or two.

 

stone artwork
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

           

           

Life is in a state of constant change, but in spite of all the changes, something doesn’t change, and that is the fact each of us is a Divinely inspired and unique creation.

 

The Kindness of Strangers in Lexington, KY

           “I’m convinced that probably everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  It’s just one more reason to always try to be kind.”—Yolanda Hadid

 

person holding round smiling emoji board photo
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           Life is often not easy.  In fact, sometimes, it can seem down right mean; or, at the very least, unfair—especially with regards to a loved one’s distress.  Although it is the loved one dealing with the pain, emotion, and treatment of the illness, I would argue that the closest caregiver, often a spouse or child, also endures his or her own form of anguish, aching, and anxiety.  

 

grayscale photography of patient and relative holding hands
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           Thus, John, my husband, and I, upon receiving a text, made the quick and easy decision to go on an unplanned, though not entirely unexpected, trip to Lexington, KY in order to offer support and help for both an ill loved one and spouse.  However, the purpose of this bit of writing is to shine a light on the numerous acts of kindnesses we encountered from complete strangers. When coming upon others in day-to-day life, we often do not know what secret suffering simmers in each soul, therefore the simple act of a smile, sympathetic ear, or a soothing word can be a source of salve in another’s day as we experienced first hand in Lexington.

           Three completely different settings;and yet, all were a source of comfort. These three were the only locations we visited during our brief stay; however, all three made a positive impact in our time spent in Lexington.  Of course, bottom line, it was the people at these places who chose to make the difference; and to the many unnamed, I say (as do my loved ones and John), “Thank you!”

 

img_7919

 

            UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.  It was, and is, a sprawling and bustling facility, with Kentucky Children’s Hospital behind it, and the Shriners Hospital for Children Medical Center across from it. In spite of its vastness, from our first impression–asking for help to find parking–to our last impression—the sweet lady from transport offering assistance to the parking garage—this facility was first class when it came to compassion and kindness.  

 

Left: Pedestrian connection ramp to hospital garage.  Right:  Shriner’s Hospital for Children Medical Center.

           Once we figured out the parking and pedestrian ramp, we realized how easy it was to access the hospital.  While it did require a good bit of walking, what appeared to be oversized golf carts zipped by walkers offering rides to those either unable or physically challenged by the walk.  Art surrounded us throughout our daily traverses of the ramp and entrance. While the beauty of the art certainly offered an element of tranquility to visitors who may be experiencing anxiety or stress, it was the staff of this facility that offered the greatest sense of calm.

 

img_7884

Look closely at the different shots of this painting.  If you focus long enough, the word ‘still’ can be found in a tree.  That simple word offered me a daily reminder of the importance of remaining ‘still’ on the inside.

 

           Given our situation, only two of the three of us were allowed back in the hospital room at a time.   Therefore, there were multiple opportunities for me to explore the hospital. Whether I was running errands to get coffee or food, or choosing to move/walk around and stretch my legs, I encountered supportive and thoughtful employees throughout the hospital.

           For example, there was the smartly dressed staffer in a resource room I happened to enter out of curiosity, that within one minute and three key questions, gave me an armful of free educational materials, not only for those at the hospital with me, but also for loved ones back home.  Then, there was the young man—heavily tattooed on arms and neck—an image for which a negative label might have been assumed; however, that was far from the truth with this gentleman! He had observed me taking pictures of the hot food available and texting it to another waiting back in the hospital room.  Placing my order, the man asked for whom I was getting the food. When I answered and explained the situation, he nodded—as did another employee beside him.

img_7902

This waterfall offers a source of tranquil sound.  It is a nice place to sit near, close eyes and focus on prayers, meditations, or simply relax.

 

           Handing me the box of warm food—given in generous portion sizes, I should add—he added with eyes full of sympathy, “May this food warm their belly and bless their soul.  God bless.”

           Then, the other employee added, “Yes, God bless both of them.”

 

57524331933__832e30d2-fd92-40b2-8ffb-07eb09c22664
A tasty, warm meal can sometimes be a source of comfort.

  

         Yet, these were not the only examples of simple acts of kindness. Without giving names and specific details, I sadly do not have the room to elaborate on the innumerable positive and thoughtful actions offered from each of the nurses, staff, and doctors with whom we daily interacted; all were genuinely nice, engaging, and seemingly always willing to put forth the extra effort.  In fact, as we were leaving, two of the nurses said they would miss our loved ones. Even through the discharge procedure, we had the pleasure of being assisted by a gregarious transport female who truly took an interest in the absolute best place to take our loved ones in order for John to get their car to them easily. She was a delight, and I hate that I do not recall her name!  

 

img_7904
The entrance to the uphill, winding entrance ramp to parking garage.

 

           Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  It is hard to find the right words to describe the amount of care the staff of this hotel offered all of us.  As soon as they realized the purpose of our stay was related to the hospital, they bent over backwards to offer assistance.  Each time we entered the lobby, a manager was there to greet us, and ask if we needed anything. The rooms were spacious and comfortable with large refrigerators, microwave, kitchen sink, storage, and Keurig coffee makers.  While we did not spend much time in the room or hotel, it was certainly a bright spot to start and end each day, and a great place to rest. In fact, John and I agreed we would love to return on a leisure visit.

 

           BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse.  While we might have discovered this restaurant on our own, it was our good fortune for our loved ones at UK Hospital to encourage us to dine at this establishment for dinner both nights of our visit.  What an excellent recommendation it turned out to be! From plenty of gluten free, plant-based options for me—including pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and even gluten-free buns—to a wide variety of carnivore-centered dishes for John, BJ’s had it all. In fact, their menu is like reading a book (I think I saw it was 24-25 pages long), with page after page of choices.   Our waiter/bartender, Sam, was Johnny-on-the-spot, with great service, recommendations, and nice conversation. Despite the fact it took quite a bit of time both nights for John and me to settle upon a dinner choices, Sam did not bat an eye and remained patient, understanding, and attentive to our needs throughout our time there.

 

img_7892
The menu at BJ’s is big enough to be a book!

 

           John and I started both meals with chips and salsa while we perused the menu. (However, those with severe allergies to gluten should best avoid the chips, as they are not cooked in a dedicated fryer.)  Next, we enjoyed salads—side salad for me both nights, and John tried the Wedge Salad and the Caesar Salad on respective nights. My dinner choices were Turmeric-roasted Cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl the first night, and Gluten-free Veggie Pizza the second night; whereas, John went with the Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for dinner on the first night and BJ’s Brewhouse Classic pizza the second night.  Our meals were prepared, presented, and tasted beyond palatable. In fact, I am fairly certain our taste buds did a happy dance during each meal! Again, this is another place we would love to visit again.

           In the end, our trip to Lexington was made as pleasant as possible, given the situation, due to people taking time to smile, offer kindness, and extend a caring attitude.  Thank you to all we encountered at these establishments in Lexington. We are forever grateful for your generosity and hope to return!

 

img_7918
Sam, our waiter and bartender for both of our evening visits, was congenial, attentive, and patient with our inability to decide on dinner!

Meal 1:  Turmeric-roasted cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl for me; and Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for John.

Meal 2: BJs Brewhouse Classic Pizza for John; Gluten-free Veggie pizza for me.

         

           

 

Springtime Strawberry Smoothie

           “Blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are true superfood.  Naturally sweet and juicy, berries are low in sugar and high in nutrients—they are among the best foods you can eat.”—Joel Fuhrman

           “Sometimes you’ve got to grab an apple—or grapes, or strawberries.  Something that’s healthy but maybe a little bit more adventurous, if you can see fruit as adventurous.”—LL Cool J

 

img_7690
Quincey Mullins, 6th grader, at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School.

 

           “Here you go, Mrs. Hill.  They are from Florida. My parents thought you’d enjoy them!”

           I glanced up from my computer to see Quincey, a 6th grader in my homeroom class.  She smiled broadly and handed me a clamshell box of red ripe strawberries. Sure, enough, there was a sticker on the top boasting the berries had been recently picked in Florida.

           “Wow, Quincey!  This is a first; I’ve never before had a student give me strawberries.  They are one of my favorite fruits! I cannot thank your parents and you enough!  I will definitely put these to good use!”

           I said all of this as I gave her a sidearm hug.  It was such a touching gift.

           “I know you like to eat healthy, and we thought you’d like them,” Quincey added as her eyes sparkled with pride.

 

img_7689
The gift of Florida strawberries from Quincey.

 

           Boy, do I ever like strawberries!  In fact, I love all berries, but there is something about spring-ripened strawberries.  Depending upon where you live, strawberries are now in season, or they will be in season within the next month or two.  This means they will be priced ready to sell and at their tastiest.

           One of the freshest and tastiest ways to acquire strawberries is to actually go to a local farm that allows you pick your own.  There is nothing like smelling the sweetness of the berries and the tang of the earth in the damp early morning as you stoop down to pick those luscious berries.  However, if there is not a pick-your-own-strawberries-farm near you, one visit to the local farmers’ market, roadside market, or even local grocery store will often offer a plethora these garnet-colored jewels.

 

 

          Strawberries are high in fiber and many nutrients. One cup of strawberries has about fifty calories and over a gram of protein but only has half a gram of fat. Strawberries are full of Vitamin C.  In fact, one cup of these red succulent orbs possesses 150% of your daily-recommended dose of this vial vitamin. Further, strawberries are full of antioxidants, which are important for neutralizing cancerous free radicals as well as reducing inflammation, including inflammation caused by gout and arthritis.

           If that’s not enough, strawberries also are a source of both magnesium and potassium—important for lowering blood pressure.  They are a good source of folate. Plus, strawberries are great for brain, eye, and immune system healthy. Clearly, strawberries, like all forms of berries, are bursting with natural sweetness and are nutritional powerhouses!

 

strawberries and blueberries on glass bowl
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

          

           These vibrantly red berries, as in all berry varieties, are easily incorporated into a wide variety of recipes.  Strawberries’ sweet versatility makes it easily incorporated into baked goods, salads—fruit and veggie based, parfaits, ice cream—dairy and nondairy variations, jams/jellies/preserves, and so much more. In fact, I am sharing the strawberry smoothie recipe I created for those beautiful berries from Quincey.  My smoothie recipe creates an easy way to add these spring seasonal favorites to your diet.

 

 

            I, personally, loved making this smoothie for breakfast—often making it the night before.  I’ve even made several in one setting, as I did when Quincey gave me the box of strawberries, and stored them in the freezer to make the most of the fresh berries’ ripeness.  Then, I moved one from my freezer to refrigerator each afternoon/evening before, and grabbed it on the way out the door to school!

           Consider trying this recipe with your next purchase of fresh strawberries.  It’s chocked full of all sorts of goodness that is sure to be a tasty and nutritional sound start to your day.  You’ll power through your morning running on high nutritional-octane!

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

P.S.  Thank you, Miss Quincey, for the strawberries as well as the inspiration for this recipe!

 

 

Spring Strawberry Protein Smoothie

Serves 1

Ingredients:

½ to 1-cup (70-140 mg) strawberries (fresh or frozen)

½ to 1 cup (43-85 mg) riced cauliflower (best if frozen)

1 serving of favorite protein powder

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1-teaspoon hemp hearts

1-cup favorite liquid (water, milk or plant-based alternative)

 

My basic ingredients, except for chopped walnuts, those are optional.

Optional Add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other favorite extract)

1 tablespoon walnuts (These are especially nice if eating as a smoothie bowl.)

1 teaspoon or packet of favorite sweetener (stevia, honey, maple syrup, etc.)

1-teaspoon favorite greens powder (Amazing Grass variations, i.e. Organic Supergreens Powder)

1-2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Dash of sea salt

Directions:

In a blender or large blender cup, add ingredients in the order listed.

Add in any optional ingredients.

Blend until smooth.

Serve immediately or store in fridge up to 2 days; or, freeze until needed and thaw overnight in fridge!

Sip, savor, and enjoy the springtime goodness!

 

img_7711
Mix it all up in your favorite blender.

 

Birdsong: A Tune of Spring Renewal

           “The Sun after the rain is much beautiful than the Sun before the rain.”—Mehmet Murat IIdan

           “Give food to the birds, you will then be surrounded by the wings of love, you will be encompassed by the joys of little silent heart!”—Mehmet Murat IIdan

           “There’s the robins,” my husband said recently in a singsong voice typically reserved for animals.  It is such a simple phrase that hearkens back to my childhood; and yet, plants me in the here and now.

 

img_7853
As seen on TrekOhio.com

 

           Before meeting John, there were two men in my life who introduced me to nature, my Papaw, as I called him, and my Dad.  As a child, I spent quite a bit of time with my grandparents. Papaw loved to watch the birds. He usually kept a bird feeder year round in his backyard, just outside the kitchen window.  During the winter months, he was often known to go outside and chase away the blue jays.

 

img_7854
As seen on All About Birds

 

           “The meanest bird there ever was,” he was fond of explaining.

           Ah, but the arrival of the robins got Papaw jazzed.

           “Stethie,” as he called me, “spring’s not too far off when the robins come back.”

           He would linger over the draining rack as he dried dishes that my grandmother washed.  Steam would be rising over the chilled window panes of glass as his eyes twinkled watching the robins.   

           “Lookie how red the breast is on that one.”

           “Notice how they sing even though it is still cold.”

           “Notice, look, lookie-here . . .”

           My Dad was also fond of birds, but he would sometimes take my siblings and me “on the hill,” as we called it, for Sunday afternoon walks especially in the spring and fall.  He would encourage us to notice the trees—their leaf shape, their bark texture; notice the moss—where it grew, how it felt, the different ways it could look; pick up and examine the seeds and nuts that were tossed pell-mell; notice the early spring flowers poking through the detritus of the forest floor . . .

 

img_7832

 

           “Did you hear the woodpecker?” Dad would ask us.  “Let’s see if we can find it,” as our eyes scanned the tree arms above.

 

img_7857
As seen in Ohio on FeederWatch

 

           Therefore, on a recent night this past mid-March week, as John, my husband, and I sat on the front porch enjoying the warmth, the sunshine, and the birds, my mind drifted to those feathered friends of Papaw and the hilltop hikes with my dad.

           “Listen to the robins sing, Steph.”

            “Look at those two robins in the grass fighting for mating rites.”

           I sighed, taking it all in.

 

 

           The multi-layered, billowy clouds above; the willows’ early greenings; the skeleton appendages of the other trees, full of dark buds just waiting to burst through; the bite of the breeze that caused John and me to shiver; it was all so glorious and grounding during the midst of a difficult week.

           “Look!” I exclaimed to John.

           “There’s a bluebird couple!”

           “No wait, there’s four blue birds on the line!”

 

img_7820
You have to look closely. Three of the four bluebirds are in this image. We always look forward to their return.

 

           As I crept from one end of the porch to the other, in order to capture a picture of them, I happened to see another bird couple, house finches, in our lilac bush. I motioned for John to come look, but he didn’t notice.  

           Therefore, I tried to gain his attention with a whispered, “Psst!”

           While it did gain John’s attention, it was too much noise.  A flash of both bright and dull cobalt blue fluttered into flight; followed in suit by a flicker of pinkish red and gray, one more vibrantly colored than the other.  

 

House finches, can be seen, if you look closely, singing in our lilac bush.

 

           Returning to my chair, John said, “Look, Steph, aren’t those gold finches with the dipping and darting flight you like so well?”

           Our conversation and observations continued until the growling of stomach told me, we needed to eat the dinner already prepared and staying warm in the kitchen.  John lingered a bit longer as I reluctantly, and yet, joyfully, parted from my porch perch. My soul felt grounded and renewed from those 30 or so minutes of observing, noticing, and listening—and, all those other verbs of nature-love Papaw and Dad taught.

 

img_7838

 

           Walking into the entrance of my home, I shook my head. Oh, how both Papaw, now in his eternal spring; and Dad, wintering in the Florida sunshine, would have enjoyed such natural theater of that evening. How very marvelous and precious the season of spring has become!  What a gift of time John and I shared on that rare March evening surrounded by hints of spring. Such a metaphor for life . . ..

           “God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.  Let me straighten after pain, As a tree straightens after the rain, shining and lovely again.  

           God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.  As the grass lifts, let me rise From sorrow with quiet eyes, knowing Thy way is wise.

           God, make me brave, life brings Such blinding things.  Help me to keep my sight; Help me to see aright That out of dark come light.”—Grace Noll Crowell

 

            

           

           

 

Come Back to Your Breath: A Return to Meditation

           “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

           “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.  You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

 

           “Come back to your breath.”

           It was a simple direction, but powerful nonetheless.  I was in the middle of a fairly intense yoga class. Could the instructor read my mind because I had wandered into thoughts; and thinking, for me, can be a source of positivity or, as is more often the case, a source of negativity and defeat.  

 

img_7786
As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          I often give a similar instruction when I am teaching yoga.

           “Focus on your breath.  If thoughts enter your mind, brush them away as if they are food crumbs on the table of your mind.”  

           And yet, how very often do I practice this? How often do I ruminate on lists of things to do for school and other work, for home, for my daughter, for my husband, for when-I-get-home, for when-the-weekend-gets-here  . . . On and on the mental post-it notes stick in my mind in the same way they adorn my work desk, my notebooks, and sometimes throughout my home. Must do, gotta remember, can’t forget . . .Oh, those lists; and I haven’t even made it to the lists of worries; the lists of things for which I should feel guilty; the lists of oh-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-to-do . . .. All this mental inventory and babble!  

 

Like the lists that adorn my notebooks, kitchen counters, and work desk, my mind is often filled with post-it notes of mental lists.

 

          Of all people, I should know better! After all, I spent a large portion of 2018 in yoga teacher training (YTT), which had a huge emphasis on mindfulness and meditation.   In fact, during this time period, I was an avid meditator with a daily practice emphasizing breath work. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of years of meditation under my belt before starting YTT, and yet, here I was standing in a yoga class with my monkey mind as it dashed, darted, and dipped.  

 

img_7784
As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Momentarily, my racing mind, as if it were a bird in flight alighting upon a tree limb, landed on a phrase by Thich Nhat Hanh, the author of hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation.  In fact, at the end of my YTT training, each student, in our group of 20, received a mini-book with excerpts from his numerous books.

           “This is an in-breath.  This is an out-breath.”

 

img_7790
Both the book and the heart were gifts from my instructors at the end of YTT training at Brown Dog Yoga. They are on my work desk as a reminder of what I had not been doing for nearly 3 months.

 

           As I repeated those words, my awareness shifted its focus to my breath.  So simple, yet so energy shifting. Without realizing it, I lost the words as I continued to follow the breath—which of course is the point. Lose the words along with the chattering thoughts. Albeit, it was brief, because my mind is so addicted to its thoughts, worries, and fears.  However, with the brevity came the recognition that in order to be of service to others, as well as myself, I needed to return to a regular mindfulness practice–one that included more meditation.

 

img_7760
As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          Yes, I had a whole routine of prayers, petitions, and points of focus that I did daily each time I drove first thing in the morning.  I mean, I even turn the radio off for heaven’s sake to ensure my mind is not distracted, so I can fully concentrated on my murmurings.  Plus, each week at mass, I also wholly devote myself to prayers and meditations—ok, ok, semi-wholly . . . ok, more like, well, like the squirrels that scamper throughout our school’s grounds skittering around from one thought to the next. Truth be told, I had been lying to myself for several month as guilt washed over me.  Great, another point to add to list of things for which to feel guilty!

 

img_7787
As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Time to get back on the proverbial wagon. After honest reflection, I realized I could not make meditation-time another item on my many running post-it lists of things-to-do-for-the-day.  It would then run the risk of becoming a daily point of pressure for which to create an excuse for not doing—I don’t have time for twenty minutes, so why bother at all? What could I do then?

           “Come back to your breath.”

           Wait, could it really be that simple? What if I set a timer for five minutes in the morning before showering?  Then, for five minutes sit and focus on breathing-in and breathing-out; and, actually practice what I preach. If  . . .I mean, when, because I do know my mind . . .when thoughts enter my mind, I push them away as if they are food crumbs on the mind of my table—just for five minutes; or three minutes, if need be.  

 

img_7780
Could I set a time for five minutes and meditate?

 

           As I write this, I am three days in to this practice.  Ironically, I ended up sitting all three days for 10-15 minutes focusing on the breath and pushing away those pesky mental post-it notes of thoughts. Afterwards, I have felt more grounded, focused, and less anxious.  Oh-to-be-certain, all those lists were still there! However, for the time that I focused on the in-breath and the out-breath, they did not exist. And, that, for now, is good enough. That said, I fully recognize that there will be days when five minutes will be all that I manage, but this is how one returns to a habit that has been lost—at least how I know I can realistically.

 

There are numerous apps and youtube videos on meditations that can be of great assistance. . .if I would actually use them!

 

           In fact, this simple practice of focusing on breathing in and breathing can be accomplished anywhere, even at those dang-blasted red lights that prevent me from getting home quickly after a long day away.   As Hanh points out, “The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful.” And, while there are numerous other benefits from a regular meditation practice supported by science that can be found with a quick click of computer keys, I’ll start with a bit more joy!

 

img_7785
As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

           

img_7776
An image my daughter, Madelyn, painted for me several years ago when she was just starting to explore painting–which is a form of mindfulness–and, when I first began to dabble in meditation.

 

img_7777
An OM, given to me by a dear friend, adorns my kitchen, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of meditation on the mind, heart, and soul.

Life, Like Lightening, Strikes Quickly

              “Here hyacinths of heavenly blue, shook their rich tresses to the morn.”—James Montgomery

              “Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”—Marcus Aurelius

              Tuesday morning.  It was John’s birthday—my husband of nearly thirty years.  We had celebrated his sister, Jacki’s, and his birthdays earlier in the week, but as I wished him a “Happy Birthday” that morning, I was struck by the number of birthdays we had celebrated together in our marriage.  Later, that same day at school, when one of our much younger co-workers asked if John was 49 years old and holding, the look of amazement in her eyes when he stated he was 57, struck me as ironic. John and I were once the young staff members; now we are the veterans. The realization of this notion did not fully sink in . . .yet.

 

img_4278
Mike McCabe, left; John, center; and Steve McCabe, right pictured together at their annual get-together always right around John’s birthday. They have all been friends since high school.

 

              Thursday afternoon.  As I was waiting for a fitness class to start at Brown Down Yoga, I looked around the room.  There were women of all ages present, but I was struck by a pair of younger women who were clearly, based upon their conversation, teachers.  My eyes kept being drawn to how very young they looked. Surely, they were not old enough to have a college degree, much less already be current educators. Then, from a deep cavity of personal recollections, I inwardly smiled as I recalled the fact the fact that I had been like them at one time in my life. In fact, during my first year as a teacher at a local high school, many staff members, who did not know me, would ask for my hall pass. What a memory!

 

img_7717
A picture of me from my third or fourth of year of teaching.

              

              Friday morning. Our priest, Monsignor Dean, walked behind the pulpit to speak.  The school had surprised him with a gift after our weekly mass (church service) in honor of his 67th birthday. He spoke with a clear voice, but his face was unmistakably caught in a reverie.  His words were full of sentiment and wistfulness.

              Monsignor described celebrating his first birthday in Huntington.  He had been in third grade, and was home sick with the mumps—quite a disappointment for a young lad on such a highly anticipated event.  His dad gave him a hyacinth that year. With great emotion, he described how on his walk over to the church that morning he passed a hyacinth, newly sprouting from the ground and was reminded of his dad as well as the bittersweet taste of the passage of time.  I swallowed hard as I felt the powerful implication of this words when he added, “It seems like that was only yesterday when Dad gave me that flower.”

 

 

               After mass, I found a hyacinth outside one of the church doors.     

 

             Saturday morning.  I held and read the three names I was given: Hospitalman Luke Emch, KIA 03/02/20017; Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, KIA 03/03/2006; and, Sergeant Joshua V. Youmans, KIA 03/01/2006.  I listened as other voices took turns reading 33 more names of women and men killed in action on March 1-3 since 2011 in the circle of remembrance. We were all preparing, in some way, to participate in an over 3-½-mile run/walk of the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community monthly outing. These names would be carried in our hearts as we took purposeful steps in honor and remembrance of their ultimate sacrifice.  Once more I felt the constriction of my throat as I fought back the emotion.

 

img_7698

 

img_7702
wear blue: run to remember Ashland community for March: Front Row–Sandy Mers, Carrie Kyne, Kathy Dingess-Akers with Gus; Back Row–Debbie Davis, Melissa Colyer, Josh Skeens, Valerie Carson, me, Mark Gaffney, & Peyton Gaffney

 

              Who was I to complain about the quick passage of time?  Their families would give nearly anything to have more time to spend with their fallen loved one, no matter how many gray hairs or wrinkles acquired along the way.  How fortunate I was to be alive; to be present in that moment; to have spent nearly 30 years of marriage with my husband; to have both of my parents and step-parents alive; to have all of my siblings still alive; to have a beautiful daughter in college; to be able to work and contribute to society and my local community in a meaningful way . . .how very fortunate, indeed.

 

img_7537
Me with my daughter, Madelyn, on her most recent visit home from college.

 

              A couple of hours later.  Driving home from Ashland on US 52 I was struck by the number of times I had traversed this route over the years from age four until now—nearly fifty years of traveling this road.  Memories of driving to and from holiday and birthday celebrations in order to be with grandparents and extended family; church events; numerous visits to our pediatrician when I was a kid; years of driving to and from Ohio University; anticipating my latest haircut as I drove to Ironton; dates between my now husband and me . . . .how many more miles will I travel this route until it is my last?

 

img_7719

 

              Then, the song came on.  “Lightning Crashes,” by Live—the haunting imagery; its striking lyrics; the emotional voice . . . and, that is when the tears could no longer be held back.  It was a song from oh-so-long-ago. A song I often played when I first started writing in my forties to begin to crawl out of the deep despair of depression into which I had fallen after the death of one of my precious kindergarten students—the exact same age as my daughter.  I thought of his final trip down this highway. My mind raced to the final mile of the men and women whose names I had read just hours ago. What was their final mile? Was there an angel with each of them as they crossed over, calming their fear? I would like to believe this is true.

              I thought of the loved ones I have already lost in this life.  My dear grandparents and sweet mother-in-law, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends . . . Do they know I still think of them?  Do they know they mattered? And, in the end, will my life have mattered?

              Tears flowed. The miles rolled.  Life streams through my clasping hands.

                             “Oh now feel it, comin’ back again/ Like a rollin’, thunder chasing the wind/Forces pullin’ from/The center of the earth again/I can feel it.”—Lyrical excerpt from “Lightning Crashes” as performed by Live

 

More images from the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community March event

 

              

              

 

Green Protein Smoothie–3 Delicious (and Nutritious) Ways

           In life, much like smoothies, you get out what you put in.”-Bolthouse Farms

           “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”—Hippocrates

           Life is busy.  It seems that many of us, me included, are feeling time-crunched. Between the demands of work; juggling time to work out; plan/prep/cook meals; parent kids; carpool to and from school and/or sports activities; caring for a loved one, such as a parent or spouse; and so forth, it often feels as if there are not enough hours in the day.  You want to eat healthy, but you don’t always have the time to cook/prepare three meals per day.

           Before you throw in the towel and buy another box of toaster pastries, run through the nearest fast-food eatery, or dart into the neighborhood convenience store; consider making a smoothie for at least one of your meals.  I personally suggest a breakfast smoothie. Just as the Dalai Lama is often credited with saying, “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day,” adding a protein breakfast smoothie to your morning routine can be one small positive step towards your own health.  You can even make it the night before if you want! (I often do this!)

 

img_7676

           A protein shake for breakfast has numerous benefits.  They are usually quick, portable, cost-effective; and, if made correctly, can be highly nutritious. Additionally, health blogs, nutritional websites, and other literature often link consuming a high-protein breakfast to appetite reduction for several hours as it suppresses ghrelin, a hormone linked to hunger.  This, in turn, reduces the sugary, high-carb cravings that often hit mid-morning. However, if these reasons aren’t enough for you, read on.

           Protein requires more effort for the body to burn; thus, about 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolizing protein as compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats and alcohol.  Additionally, high protein intake can help you burn anywhere from 80 to 100 more calories per day, and some studies suggest an even higher number. Furthermore, protein can help prevent muscles loss and keep your metabolism humming, especially when combined with an exercise program that includes strength training at least two days per week—and, yes, body-weight bearing exercises such as, push ups, squats, and planks, count!   This is especially important as we age. In fact, I was shocked to learn that my protein intake need has actually increased because of my age!

 

img_7673

 

          I personally love the notion of a green smoothie.  For one, what’s not to love about the color green? In my mind, green is the color of nature, earth, and all of the Divine goodness contained therein.  A simple way to make a green smoothie is by simply adding a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder to your favorite vanilla protein scoop/packet. Place both the matcha powder and protein into a dry shaker cup, add 8 ounces of water, milk, or nondairy “milk” beverage, and your engine is revved up for a highly focused and productive morning.

           Why matcha? There are numerous reasons to incorporate matcha into your morning smoothie.  It’s loaded with a plant compound called catechins, which is a natural antioxidant known for reducing cell damage and preventing chronic disease.   Because it contains both caffeine and L-theanine, it has also been shown to increase memory, focus, and reaction time without the jitters often linked to coffee consumption.  Furthermore, studies have shown that green and matcha tea may protect the heart and liver, prevent cancer, and increase metabolism.

 

img_7674

 

           WARNING! With all of this talk about the power of a morning protein smoothie, it is worth mentioning that a smoothie does not mean milkshake!   To ensure your morning smoothie habit does NOT derail your health goals, check the quality of your protein powder and limit what you add to your protein. Mixed plant-based protein, for me, is my preferred choice as it is easier on my system to digest.  However, there are many other quality proteins, depending upon your dietary practices/preferences, such as whey, collagen, and egg white powder to name a few. One top-notch brand many of my friends successfully use is Optavia. One quick look on Facebook can put you in touch with a local Optavia Health Coach to guide you.  However, there are many other excellent brands out there as one visit to your local health food market or on-line search can reveal. Just make sure your chosen protein does not have added sugars, carbs, and additives that you cannot pronounce.

 

Simple Green Smoothie

 

Cauliflower Green Smoothie

 

Spinach Green Smoothie

           I’ve included three ways to create a healthy green, protein smoothie.  This is just a scaffolding that can be adjusted to fit your tastes, dietary needs, and preferences.  The two most important ingredients are a quality protein powder and eight or so ounces of water, milk, or plant-based, non-dairy alternative.  On rushed evenings or mornings, I often toss protein powder and matcha into a shaker cup that I can simply add water to in the morning. When have more time, I add other ingredients to increase the nutritional value.   The most important thing, regardless, is to take that one small, positive action towards your own health. Typically, one good decision leads to another, which can only increase your level of vitality and vigor in spite of a busy schedule!

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals . . . and, of course, smoothies!

img_7687.jpg
Me, at work, before my students arrive. Making my morning cup of coffee and preparing to drink my portable and nutritious green smoothie. In this picture, it is the creamy, cauliflower green smoothie recipe!

 

Green Protein Smoothie—3 Ways

Main ingredients:

1 serving of favorite protein powder

1-teaspoon organic matcha green tea powder (Make sure it had nothing else added to it as matcha by itself, like all tea, has zero calories, carbs, fats, and so forth!)

8 or so ounces of your favorite liquid, such as water, milk, or nondairy “milk”

 

Optional ingredients:

1 cup (85 grams) riced cauliflower, or fresh spinach or other greens**Requires blender

1-teaspoon supplement greens powder (I like Amazing Grass Organic Supergreens Powder.)

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1 packet of stevia or other favorite sweetener

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Dash or twist of pink Himalayan sea salt

 

 

Simple Green Smoothie:

1 packet or scoop vanilla protein powder, such as Optavia Creamy Vanilla Shake

1-teaspoon matcha powder

8 ounces water

Directions:

Place protein powder and matcha into shaker cup.

Add filtered/bottled water and drink!

How easy is that?

You can even make it with hot water, and drink it like a green tea latte, but without all the added sugar!  

 

Cauliflower Green Smoothie:

1 cup (85 grams) riced cauliflower

1 scoop/packet vanilla protein

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Any additional add-ins from above optional ingredients list

8 ounces, give or take, favorite beverage

Directions:

Mix well in blender.

Drink immediately, or store in fridge for later consumption

 

**Spinach Green Smoothie:

1 cup (85 grams) fresh spinach **or other greens

1 scoop/packet vanilla protein

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Any additional add-ins from above optional ingredients list

8 ounces, give or take, favorite beverage

Directions:

Mix well in blender.

Drink immediately, or store in fridge for later consumption

 

Charleston, WV a Perfect, Quick Weekend Getaway

            “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”—Barbara De Angelis

 

 

            “If you don’t think a small act can make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.”—Julie Foudy

 

Who doesn’t love a short get-away? Therefore, when John, my husband of nearly 30 years, surprised me by suggesting we take a short trip during our long weekend over President’s Day holiday, I was all in.  We debated the merits of various locations especially with regards to drive time.  The plan would be to leave immediately after work on Friday and return home on Sunday.  While not a long time, it would at least allow us an opportunity to take a break from the every day routine!  Ultimately, we settled on heading to Charleston, WV

 

Although only a short drive, around an hour or so from our home, it turned out to be the perfect distance as I was NOT ready to go immediately after work as originally planned.  Instead, we ran home after work to pack up for our short escape. Still, we made it to Charleston by 6:00 pm, and were soon walking from our hotel towards Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille for dinner.  Aw, but I am getting ahead of myself!

 

Four Points by Sheraton was our hotel of choice for this weekend adventure.   We stayed at this hotel on a previous trip in August on a spur-of-the-moment extension of a trip that was mostly spent in Alderson/Lewisburg, WV area.   It was purely by accident that we discovered this gem of a place as the hotel in which we have often stayed on previous trips was booked solid.  In fact, we had never before noticed Four Points. Looking back now, I don’t how we missed it.

 

Located on Kanawha Boulevard overlooking the beautiful Haddad Riverfront Park, it’s bike/walk/run trail, and the Kanawha River; Four Points is within walking distance of great restaurants, shopping, as well as local events.  The hotel itself is warm and inviting, allowing guests to immediately feel at ease.  The lobby is open and offers a variety gathering spaces as well as easy access to the hotel’s bar and restaurant, Riverside Cafe.  Just off the lobby is the 24-hour access fitness center.  Additionally, the rooms are nice, spacious, and very clean with extremely comfortable beds.  While there are nice amenities that come with the rooms, it is the staff that brought us back!

 

Various images from inside Four Point Lobby–there are so many places to gather in small groups or as quiet couples.

Cindy Bagwell, Director of Operations at this Four Points location is the quintessential hostess.  She can be spotted at all hours of the day chatting with guests, joking around with staff, and taking care of the needs of both guests and rooms.  In fact, Bagwell, who remembered us from our previous visit, made it a point to take time each day to talk with us. Her ease, grace, and humility seem to overflow onto the staff as well.

 

img_7609
Cindy Bagwell, right, is Director of Operations at Four Points, Charleston, but we think of her as Queen of hospitality!

 

Gina, Bruce, Kamilah (aka Mimi), and Sue were just a few of the Four Point staff that took time to get to know John and me. Conversations with this staff were such friendly exchanges with a genuine desire to get to know us and help us in any way they could.  From recommending food or wine on their menu to ensuring we had enough coffee and bottled water in our room, from giving John advice about sites to see on an upcoming conference trip to Chicago to chatting with me about yoga teacher training, we felt as if we were part of their work-site family!  In fact, we have already planned a return trip when the weather is hopefully warmer and more accommodating to explore the Haddad Riverfront Park area.

 

Pictured here:  Notes from “Mimi” regarding places to visit in Chicago; fitness center–complete with weights, yoga mats, exercise bands; and cardio equipment; Riverside Cafe; wine recommendation from Mimi; ballroom currently displaying the watercolor works by a local artist; and, this hotel offers recycling bins throughout its public spaces and private room.

Still, we cannot complain about the weather for the weekend of our stay.  After a week of rain, clouds, and more clouds, we were more than pleased to enjoy rain-free evenings on both Friday and Saturday.  In fact, the sunshine was abundant all day Saturday, making the temperatures hovering in the 40s feel like a balmy spring day, well, almost! Thus, we did not drive once during our entire stay until it was time to leave—which we loved!

 

We ate breakfast both mornings in the hotel’s restaurant, Riverside Café.  In fact, our meal Saturday morning was so good; John and I ordered the exact same meal the following day!   John enjoyed the Farmer’s Bowl featuring two homemade biscuits, freshly scrambled eggs covered with made-from-scratch sausage gravy. It smelled and looked amazing! I kept it simple and savored their steel-cut oats with raisins, slivered almonds, and brown sugar.  As we enjoyed our late breakfast each morning after working out the Fitness Center, we took just as much pleasure in our conversations with the staff during this time!  In fact, we lingered a bit longer in the lobby after breakfast to enjoy coffee, relax, read, and interact with staff.

 

Our breakfast was so good, we had to order the same thing each morning!

 

As previously mentioned, we walked to Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille offering traditional “Greek and classic American fare.”  Their menu offerings are varied and wide encompassing.  From Greek nachos to spicy wings; from a Greek salad to a Chef salad; from grilled salmon to Souvlaki; from Gyros to sandwiches; the menu at Adelphia is sure to have something to please every taste.  The staff was super-friendly, including our waitress/bar-tender, Brittany, who actually remembered us from our visit in August. With a super casual, fun atmosphere, this is the place to go, especially for TV sports viewing as there a numerous large screen TVs throughout the dining space.

 

img_7635

 

Another favorite Charleston eatery of ours is Pies and Pints.  Boasting the second ever location of this restaurant, it is also within walking distance of Four Points.  In fact, it is located right beside Adelphia as both are situated amidst cute local cafés, art galleries, a bookstore, and other local shops.  Pies and Pints make a one-of-kind pizza and offer many gluten-free options—including pizza!  Their salads are delicious and filled with abundant goodness!  Further, they offer a unique twist on nachos, wings, sandwiches (and yes, there is a gluten-free bread option!), and even pizza skins.  As their name indicates, they also offer a wide-ranging option of beers as well as wines. On this past visit, Alison was our waitress.  Like our previous visits to this establishment, Alison was quite friendly, good at making recommendations, and attentive to the needs of her customers.  If you love pizza, then Pies and Pints is a must-visit place when in Charleston.

 

Pies and Pints is located beside another one of our favorite places, Taylor Books.  It is also across the street from Ellen’s, a local ice cream shop; and, it is just down the street from Rock City Cake Company.

All in all, John and I thoroughly enjoyed our short excursion.  We didn’t have to travel far; and, once parked in the hotel’s lot, we never had to drive during our stay.  I enjoyed a few hours of shopping on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Town Center, which was less than a five-minute walk.  Our room had a beautiful view of the river, and the hotel accommodations and staff allowed John and I to have equal parts of rest and fun. Plus, I can’t help but think all of the walking, fresh air, and sunshine also added to our restoration.  In case you can’t tell, Dear Reader, John and I highly recommend you consider a weekend get-away that is not too far from home in Charleston, WV.  And if you stay at the Four Points, tell them Steph Simply sent you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBX Dreaming, Part 2

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

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

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

 

img_5177-1
Maddie and I visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial at the OBX of NC.

 

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

 

img_5285
Fly away to the OBX for your next vacation!

 

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

 

img_5287
Maddie and Tatum at Jockey’s Ridge at OBX, NC

 

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

 

img_5009
The Black Pelican is one of my favorite dining spots at the OBX, NC.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

img_5026-2
Experiencing the urge for warm sand between your toes, plan your next vacay for OBX.

 

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

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

img_5046-2
As I type this, I haven’t seen sunshine in over a week . . .I can almost feel the sunshine from this picture offering a warm embrace of Vitamin D.