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.

 

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            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?”  

 

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            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?

 

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            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.

 

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           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.  

 

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           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.

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On Mistakes, Lessons Learned, and the Power of Kind Words

             “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ― Mother Teresa

 

            “Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift.  And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.”—Richelle E. Goodrich

 

            I reread the client’s text in disbelief. How could I have made this mistake? I looked at my Google calendar.  Nothing there. I looked at the business app. Yep. It was there, but I had not checked there. On a hunch, I glanced once more at my calendar, but ahead one week.  Insert face to palm as I felt a knot begin to form and constrict my insides.

 

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            I once learned that there are three default modes for humans when reacting to a so-called “threats:” fight, flight, or freeze; and, I have years of experience with freezing—absolute glacial freeze. Inside my body, it feels as if the great glaciers of the ice age are tying, twisting, turning and tearing their way through my gut; while on the outside, starting at my extremities, and moving across my outer skin, I physically become cold to the touch.

 

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            How could this have happened?  I am 53 years old. In addition to 31 years as a teacher in various schools, I also worked at a number of other locations from an early age.  For years, as a teenager, and into my 20th year, I worked as a part-time opener for the local McDonalds, which meant, depending upon which job I was assigned, I had to be at work between 3:30-5:30 am.  Never. Never did I miss a shift. Never have I not shown up for work. Ever. Until age 53.

 

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            What happened?  I had accidentally plugged the date into my Google Calendar for the following Friday.  I could feel my face growing red; my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel that icy sensation crystallizing like shards of glass on a window pane across my epidermis as my innards became more bound up like wet, sweaty socks balled up and stuffed inside a sports shoe for later retrieval.  Was it too late for me to be retrieved and cleaned, or was I stained for life?

 

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            My current employers and clients don’t know me—at least, not my work history and work ethic.  They don’t really know my passion and drive regarding the ridiculously high bar for which I set for myself.  Honestly, what do they know about me other than my visible outward work behavior, which, up until this point, had been taintless?  Now, this mark, this failure, this complete and total mess-up by me—was now part of my work legacy.

 

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            That’s when the tears hit.  My heart shattered. I made my way to my bathroom, turned on the sink water, then slumped to the floor in a heap and cried.  Tears of regret. Tears of remorse. Tears of, “if only I had.” Salty, briny, bitter tears.  

            This began all over again when I received the typewritten censure.  Here was a young lady, still in her twenties, having to reprimand me. ME!  It was more than I could I take. Great sobs of failure racked my body. I had let the team down.  I was a disappointment. Moving forward I would be asked to . . . , I felt the weight of my error

 

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            The clients, though, were nothing but nice when I communicated with them.  Words like, “Everybody makes mistakes;” or, “It’s no big deal;” and, “I still love you and the business,” only made me feel worse.  Not because I thought they weren’t sincere, I think they were, but it still only pointed out more, at least in my mind, that I was a complete and total failure, a letdown.   

            Hours later, as I studied my home Armstrong email inbox, which had contributed to the problem—I did not receive my typical reminder email regarding substitute teaching.  Earlier in the week, for some inexplicable reason, my emails began appearing in a jumbled, random order; and, it now appears that I am not receiving all of them either. I continued examining the inbox, hovering over one tab, and then another, in an attempt to find a way to correct the issue, when an email popped up—of course, in the middle of the inbox, rather than the top, from an unknown name with the subject saying, “Your columns in the Herald Dispatch.”  Hmm . . .

 

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            As I moved, like a distracted squirrel to grab this little nut of possibility, another email popped up—also, not at the top, but toward the bottom of the inbox—with the subject, “On wearing purple,” the name of my most recent column.  Now, I really felt like a squirrel in Ritter Park during the autumn months when acorns are abundantly available. Which should I grab—click open—first?  

 

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            Then, my sense of order kicked, strengthened only by years of a teacher schedule—first period, is followed by second period and so forth—I clicked open the one that entered chronologically first!

            Wait, what?  I could not believe what I was reading.  Without revealing the content of the emails, let me just say, I found myself once more teary-eyed—this time from the sheer sweetness of the thoughtfulness of a stranger’s words.  They did know of my epic-failure that occurred earlier that morning. Neither did they know of the so-called stain upon my reputation—they only knew the heartfelt words that pour out of me week-in and week-out.

 

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            Writing this piece, after a mere two days of reflection, I recognize, first, that a lesson in humility is NEVER a bad thing. Additionally, heading into a new school year, this was also an extremely VALID lesson for me to have experienced what it means to make a real mistake, so that I can better empathize with, and teach, my incoming 6th , 7th, and 8th graders.  Human beings err, fall short, and make mistakes.  No one is perfect—not even at age 53.

 

            Thus, I have learned three lessons, so far, from this experience. (Though I suspect there will be more.)  First, be humble—in word, deed, AND thought. Who was I to pretend to be Stephanie Supersomebody who would NEVER _______ (fill in the blank)?  How haughty of me! Secondly, humbly admit a mistake, not only to others, but also to yourself; learn from it (double check dates when inputting to Google calendar, and check your business app daily—rather than relying on memory) in order not to repeat it again; then move on, offering yourself forgiveness.  Lastly, and I think, perhaps most importantly, while actions do matter, so do words. All spoken, written, and thought words influence us–often imperceptibly.  Therefore, not only is it important to take the time to speak, or write, positively to others, but also offer yourself, in thought, kind words—even in the midst of so-called failure.   After all, in the words of Henry Ford, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learning nothing.”

 

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Purple landslide and the Undertow that is Life

            “ Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above?”— from the song, “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks

 

            “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . .”— from the poem, “Warning,” written by Jenny Joseph

 

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         “It’s been a good life,” he said as he leaned in kissed me.  

            

            Inquisitively, I gazed at John, my husband, now of 30 years.

 

            “What are you thinking?  What prompted that comment?”

 

            “Just thinkin’,” was all he said.

 

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Maddie’s very first meaningful painting–painted in May of 2003. It’s called, “The Beach.” If you look, you’ll see the, “happy beach sky with sun; Daddy, Mommy, and Maddie on the beach.”

   

        “Well I’ve been afraid of changing . . .”

             Had he been reading my mind from earlier in the day, or were we both wrestling with an underbelly of life’s newest current.  Hours prior, I had been completing routine chores around our home. My mind wanted to drift with the undertow of thoughts awash in my head, but instead, Stevie Nicks’ song, “Landslide,” became a sort of cerebral soundtrack on repeat, with an odd intermittent interruption of the famous first line of the poem, “Warning.”  I began to wonder if this random monopoly of my mental loop was worth further mental investigation. Of course, as a yoga teacher, I recognize that, like leaves on a tree, thoughts come and go, and aren’t necessarily reflective of reality. However, I have also learned that there are times when seemingly arbitrary thoughts are whisperings of my soul’s search for a greater understanding of a deep seeded emotion trying to surface like a bubble rising to the top of a carbonated beverage.  

 

 

            “Cause I’ve built my life around you . . .”

             I recalled a last minute, hastily planned, vacation with John, and Madelyn, our daughter.  It was the first of August, and we decided to travel to the four-wheel drive beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We stayed in a tiny house near the edge of the Virginia border. There was no ocean view from the vacation rental, but the cabin was cozy, inexpensive, and perfect for the three of us.  We would load up our 4-wheel drive vehicle with our beach gear: three boogie boards, towels, sunscreen, and chairs, and drive to and from the beach—usually twice per day.  

 

 

      

      “But time makes you bolder . . .”

                         This trip was made special by the fact that John, Maddie, and I spent most of the days boogie boarding together on the rough OBX tide.  Of course, the fact that the temperatures hovered near 100 degrees daily encouraged us to get in, and remain in, the ocean. Once our vehicle was parked on the beach, and beach chairs placed in front of the open hatch, we’d awkwardly push, pull, work our way past the low breaking waves, boogie boards in hand.  Together, we’d catch a good wave, and ride it to shore, laughing hysterically, at the person whose board had been flipped–usually me! Then, without really gazing at the shoreline, we’d push, pull, work our way back out to those bigger waves. Eventually though, one of us would notice that one of OBX’s famous undertows had sent us on a northward drift from our starting point. We’d stand calf deep in the water, just feeling the edge of tide’s pull, and marvel at the great distance we had drifted, and yet we had not realized it until that very moment.   

 

          Images from Maddie’s current bedroom–a mix of childhood favorites, stuffed with memorabilia from elementary, middle, and high school as well as her now former school, Bethany College. 

 

            I paused mid-stride in my house hallway. Oh my heavens that was it! I was standing calf-deep in the waves of my life, my boogie board has just been flipped, and only now do I realize that the undertow that is also life, and its constant ebb and flow of changes, has been carrying me along with waves–waves of joy, waves of love, waves of wonder, waves of struggle, waves of sorrow, waves of regret, waves of  . . .well, time. And, now, as I catch a glimpse of the shoreline, I see that I have drifted into a new phase of life.

 

           One night, Maddie jokingly prayed for a snow day, then she placed a spoon under her pillow for added security; the next day her prayers came true. She and I had played in snow all day, and when we came inside, I made her purple snow cream.  Later, we painted our toes in front of the fire that John built.  

    

        “Even children get older . . .”

             I mentally tick-off the inventory of recent changes.  Maddie is now changing universities, transferring to Marshall, and she is switching from a Biochemistry/Chemistry major with a minor in Art to a Visual Arts major with a minor in chemistry.  She is moving out of our family home and into a rental. Even now, as she prepares for the move, her bedroom is often empty for long spans of time as she stretches her newly found wings of adulthood.  

 

 

            Meanwhile, our house is in the flux of a gradual remodel as John and I prepare for the next phase of our life.  This phase will ultimately mean we, too, will leave this house, our home, for another. How much longer will we be here?  One, two, three more years? There is no definitive answer.

 

 

            “And, I’m gettin’ older, too . . .”

             Furthermore, John and find ourselves in new roles as more and more of our family members have passed, moved away, and/or changed in ways we could have never predicted when we first married.  Divorce, death, disease, and departures, of one sort or the other, seem to occur with more frequency than we care to admit. We are no longer defined by our daughter’s schedule, but by new roles, for which we feel, at times, ill prepared.  Just as when we first arrived home from the hospital as proud new parents, but without a parenting manual, neither is there a manual for, well, AARP living, for which we are now official members—though not retired.

 

          Even though he wasn’t a human member of the family, saying good-bye to our Rusty-boy truly broke our hearts. 

 

            “Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?”

             When I was younger, I knew, with a fair amount of predictability, that junior high would be followed by high school, which would be followed by college, which would be followed by a career.  Later, I felt confident, that in all likelihood, a Masters degree would be followed by more educational hours, that marriage would be followed by at least one child, which would, of course, be followed by parenting. Then, as I parented alongside John, we were keenly aware that one developmental stage would follow another, and so on and so forth; but, not this–not this sea of unknowing, this sea of no control (As if I ever had control?).  

 

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My mom had these images framed for me years ago from Maddie’s Kindergarten graduation. Her artwork was the cover of the program.

 

            “Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

             John’s parents are now gone.  My parents are older. Maddie is leaving home.  We will, one day, leave this home too—both literally and metaphorically.  How long will our careers continue? Where will we live? What paths will Maddie take?  How long before the next change? What does the future hold? How much longer will the newspaper continue to publish my words? Will I ever write a book, or will I continue to express myself creatively through other written means, such as my website? Does this writing help anyone other than me, or is it a selfish pursuit? How much longer will I have my loved ones and friends? For heaven’s sake, when shall I wear purple?  And, in the end, will my life have mattered? Will I have mattered to my parents, my siblings, my husband, my in-laws, my daughter, my friends, my colleagues, my students, to anyone at all?

             I hope so.

            “Ah, take my love . . . And, if you see my reflection in the snow covered hill 

Well, the landslide will bring it down.”

             

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Blackberry Bliss Smoothie and Berrilicious Blackberry Salad Dressing–Simple Summer Satisfaction

 

            “I really am a smoothie person.  I love making a morning smoothie and then will drink some coffee and will not eat at all before lunch.”—Gwyneth Paltrow

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Sip and savor this summer sensation while blackberries are still in season. In the morning, and/or after a hard workout, enjoy the blissfulness of solid nutrition, not to mention great taste!

          

  “From salad dressings all blessings flow.”—Paul Newman

 

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Enjoy blackberries as a salad topper, or as a salad dressing!

 

            Depending upon where you live in North America, blackberry season may have come and gone, or you are still anticipating the berry-ful bounty of blackberries. In fact, our family spent the weekend, one year, at Canaan Valley, WV, in late July, when blackberries were just coming into season, well past the time they would have been available back home. Additionally, I can recall visiting PEI and New Brunswick, Canada, during July, but during different years, and sadly learning that local blackberries would not be available until mid- to late August, well past the time of our respective vacations. 

 

            Why do I love blackberries so much? Perhaps, it is because it links me to childhood summer memories.  Ironically though, I would have never eaten a raw blackberry, much less my Grandmother Helen’s family beloved blackberry cobbler as a child! I did, however, love the smell of the fresh berries as Papaw brought them into the house; the stories he would tell of the wars he waged with insects, heat, and thorns; and, I loved the way family, from as far away as Texas, would visit Grandmother’s house every July for a piece of that delicious smelling, warm cobbler topped with ice cream that slowly seeped into nooks, crannies, and crevices–creating a purple pool of creaminess that made my relatives, especially those ever-so-cool older cousins, smile and laugh as they teased Grandmother good-naturedly.

 

 

 

 

            It wasn’t until I was a “mature” first year teacher, living with my Grandparents, that I came to try, and ultimately love blackberries.   Moving in with my grandparents at the ripe old age of 21 was, at the time, a challenge; however, now, I look back on that time period with great fondness.  While I do have certain regrets about this period of my life, I appreciate the love, security, and flexibility my grandparents provided me during those early adult years.

 

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As a child, I would have never eaten blackberries, much less top a morning bowl of muesli with it!

 

            While Papaw was not an adventurous eater, Grandmother and I shared our love of exploring new foods with one another. In fact, it was seated in her kitchen where I would learn to eat foods that I had never before touched as a child. Maybe it was those Kentucky cooking skills she enthusiastically wanted to share with me, or perhaps it was all of the wonderful smells that filled her kitchen, day in and day out.   Then again, maybe I just opened my mind, and, consequently, my taste buds. Whatever it is was, I learned to love blackberry cobbler, and, a whole host of other traditional, and no-where-near traditional, Kentucky (think Appalachian) foods, thanks, in large part, to Helen, my grandmother. From green bean casserole to broccoli casserole; from sliced and salted summer tomatoes (always beefsteak) to good ol’ half-runner green beans cooked with some form of pork; and, from stir-fried veggies and rice (I purchased a wok while living with my grandparents.) to rice cakes spread with natural, freshly ground peanut butter (at the newfangled nut-butter grinder located inside a fancy, newly opened Kroger grocery), topped with a bit of locally made sorghum; Grandmother and I ate and sampled, in our minds anyway, great food. 

 

 

 

 

            Two food items Grandmother never made were smoothies and salad dressings.  In fact, it has only been in the past couple of years that I have started experimenting with creating these items.  That said, I know if I had been creating smoothies and/or salad dressings in Grandmother’s kitchen, she would have been right there, in her designated kitchen chair, watching me work, asking me questions, and ready to be the first one to taste each new creation. Even now, there are numerous times that I think of Helen as I go about experimenting in my own kitchen and wish she were still around to sample, advise, and, of course, enjoy right along with me.  

 

 

 

Grandmother Helen would have loved trying both my blackberry smoothie and salad dressing.

 

            I can hear her, in my mind’s ear, “Oh, Stethie, that looks good!  What did you put it in?” Furthermore, in my mind’s eye, I can see her tasting both of these recipes, rolling that first taste around her tongue to get all the flavors as she muttered, “Hmm . . .” and then, smiling at me, teeth purple from the blackberries and eyes radiating with both love and joy—one foodie to another– “Maybe I’ll have just a little bit more of that, Stethie, but not too much.”

 

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I would have loved to have served up this salad of dark greens, granny smith apple, diced tomato, walnuts and my freshly made blackberry vinaigrette to Grandmother Helen. If I had had avocado on hand at the time this photo was take, it would be a delicious addition to this salad, especially when making the oil free version.

 

        And, I’d probably retort, good-naturedly, “Grandmother, do you want a small portion, or a Grandmother-Helen-size “small” portion?” Then, we’d both have a good laugh, she’d allow me to serve her, and then we’d sit diagonally from one another–at that table with it’s red checked table cloth– and savor our food together.

 

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I’d give anything to sit across from my kitchen table, as I’m doing here after teaching at Brown Dog Yoga, and sharing a nutrient rich and tasty blackberry smoothie with my grandmother!

 

            The following recipes are fairly flexible and can be altered based upon your preferred tastes and textures.  Play around with ingredients, amounts, as well as combinations. Make these recipes your own.  

 

 

 

 

            From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals as well as wonderful food memories!

Store

 

 

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Shake up the smoothie if made in advance, before sipping up.

 

Blackberry Bliss Smoothie

(Serves 1, but can easily be doubled or even tripled)

 Ingredients:

 1-cup blackberries, fresh or frozen

1-cup liquid (milk or plant milk, pomegranate juice, or water)

2 medjool dates (pitted), or ½ banana, or  ½ cup peaches, mango, or another type of berry

½ cup frozen riced cauliflower (my secret way to sneak in veggies early into the day)

½ teaspoon vanilla

Optional Add-ins: protein powder, nut butter, and/or 1 tablespoon of the following: chia seeds, flax seeds, or hemp hearts 

 Directions:

 In a high-speed blender, add in ½ -cup liquid of choice.

Add in blackberries, fruit of choice, cauliflower, and vanilla.

Add any optional ingredients.

Top off with rest of liquid.

Blend until smooth.

Serve immediately, or store in a container for up to 3 days in refrigerator.

Shake well before drinking a smoothie that has been stored.

 

 

Berrylicious Blackberry Vinaigrette

(Makes enough 2-4 individual salads, and can easily be doubled, if desired.

 Ingredients:

 1-cup blackberries

1 medjool date (pitted)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons pomegranate juice

2-4 tablespoons water (depending upon desired thickness)

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ – ½ teaspoon (or more) of salt free seasoning, i.e. Mrs. Dash

¼ teaspoon salt, optional

¼ teaspoon onion powder, optional

**If you’d like the mouthfeel, and/or taste of a fat, add-in 1-2 tablespoons cashew butter, tahini, or a quality olive oil.

 Directions:

 In a high-speed blender, place in all ingredients.

Blend until well smooth.

Check thickness and water accordingly.

Serve immediately over a fresh green salad, and/or store unused portion in refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rootbound: A Lesson in Limiting Beliefs

            “You can do it, you can undo it, and you can do it differently.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

            “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2

 

            I smiled as I took in the view of the 17 plants, nearly two flats, of ajuga, often known as carpet bugleweed. It is a beautiful ground cover that, well, carpets land by underground runners that root the plant into the surrounding soil.  Ajuga is perfect for crowding out weeds; it thrives in poor soil, doesn’t need regular attention, possesses a colorful, shiny foliage, and it’s late spring to early summer bluish to purple blossoms are bee, butterfly, and bird favorites.  In fact, our beloved dog, Rusty, who has since passed over to his eternal yard, loved to sit in the middle of the ajuga blooms, snatch the bees into his mouth, and eat them! (He always was a one-of-kind dog!) Shaking my head out of the Rusty-reverie, I settled down to the business of planting.

 

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Rusty, on our front porch, after snatching all the bees current in the late spring ajuga, looking pitifully up at John, my husband, as if to ask, find more bees for me–I just can’t help myself.

 

            Sliding on my purple gardening gloves, I glanced around at the bright begonias and geraniums that were recently potted, pruned, and plucked of dead or yellowing leaves and buds. The new plants’ cheery reds and glossy greens radiated with the joy of roots freed to spread, expand, and grow.  It was as if they came home from a hard day of work at the green house, put on their comfy pants, and sighed an audible, “Ah . . . .”   

 

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Free from the constraints that once held them firmly in place, the roots are free to explore and expand beyond their former boundaries.

 

            Grabbing a trowel, I went to work.  Digging holes 8-12 inches wide, not too deep, I began by persuasively coaxing each plant out of its pot. Once out, I observed that the roots were tightly bound.  In fact, it took quite a bit of hand strength to pry and unbind the roots for planting—so tightly were they clinging to their former pot shape in which they were contained.  As I developed a planting rhythm–digging holes, vigorously shaking free plant from pot, firmly clasping and pulling apart bound roots, gently placing in prepared hole, tucking in soil over and around roots—my mind, like the newly planted ajuga roots, was free to expand and roam.  That’s when Divine Providence began to trowel up a lesson for me.

 

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17 newly planted ajuga, also known as carpet bugleweed, have room to carpet new territory and explore new space because their roots are no longer tightly contained in pint-sized containers.

 

            Many people, myself included, become root bound by limiting beliefs about self, faith life, career path, education, community, and so forth. Often, these beliefs are seeded in early childhood by well-meaning adults and the knowledge those adults possessed at the time. These views are sometimes further propagated by schools, churches, and/or societal “norms’—again functioning with the best information these groups have at the time.  Additionally, the soil, or culture, into which we are planted, may not be as fertile as others—either damp with too much emotion, or dry and devoid of all support. Thus, we can become bound up by beliefs, attitudes, and even tenets that keep us from thriving with the unbridled vibrancy I noticed in the flowers planted days earlier. 

 

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This plant only had one way to grow as it was in a crowded flat in a container the size of a school lunch milk carton tightly surrounded by other like plants. It will be interested to watch its shape change and shift over the coming months.

 

            Ironically, even when planted into new circumstances with nurturing support that welcomes new thinking, new ways of being, new ways of expressing, living, loving, learning, and so forth, internally we are still remain bound, restricted, and constrained.  Whether intentional or not, the pot into which we grew, so tightly bound us, that we may not realize the expansion and possibilities that wait for us if we would only allow our roots to release the shape into which they so tightly grip. 

 

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Despite their freedom, these ajuga roots still hold tightly to the shape of the former container that limited their scope.

 

            In order to get each ajuga plant out of its container, I had to robustly shake it free.  Once free, the roots remained in the exact shape of the pot from which it came. In fact, in order to get the roots to release their grasp of this shape required forcible, almost violent, pulling apart. Once broken free though, the roots seemed to comfortably sink and settle into their new environment with relative ease. And, isn’t that like life?

 

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In order to free the roots, I had to forcibly pull apart the bound ball of roots to allow them to properly develop runners and expand into new, more natural way, of living.

 

            For some of us, it takes a negative, blunt force experience, or even trauma, to break us free from our tightly bound self-imposed constraints.  However, for others, it’s as simple as waking up one day and realizing what Satchidananda was saying in the quote above, we can recognize that we are living one way, because at one time, it seemed right for us, but it now no longer fits our need for growth.  Therefore, it is within our power to undo past paths, and expand in a new direction, keeping in mind the lessons from the past.   

 

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While this is the perfect size container at the time of planting, eventually, this plant will begin to outgrow this container, and will require new territory in which to expand its need for growth–just like humans.

 

            Like the newly planted ajuga, begonias, and geraniums around my porch, we can choose to unbind our roots, prune off the decaying, limiting beliefs, and allow our minds to be renewed–transforming and beautifying, not just our own life, but all of humanity in a new way.  While the ajuga only produces flowers once per year, its blooms not only beautify the location in which it is planted, but also its flowers attract bees, butterflies, birds, and on the rare occasion a random dog, from miles away–taking bits of its beauty with them wide and far.  Furthermore, even once their flowers are gone, the plants’ foliage seems to take on a whole new sheen of color and vibrancy as if they glow from not only giving back to the world at large, but from the new found freedom of their underground runners use in order to expand—allowing them to cover more ground and offer up new shoots of growth—and new possibilities for replanting and expanding.

 

                        We can choose to release and prune decaying and limiting beliefs. 

 

            May our roots be unbound, so that we can cover more ground, offering more love, beauty, and peace to the world. Heaven knows the world could use it!

 

            

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Backwoods Blackberry Boogie: Lessons on Connectedness

            “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is.”—Mary Oliver

             “ . . .purple as the stain blackberries leave on the lips, on the hands, . . .”—Marge Piercy

 

            “Ouch!”

 

            Smack.  Rub. Brush.

 

            “Ow!”

 

            Whack.  Ruffle. Shake.

 

            “Ah, dang it!”

 

            Wipe. Smear.  Reach.

 

            I smile as I decide to give my shenanigans a name, the “Backwoods Blackberry Boogie”.  Truth-be-told, while I should be in the woods, I am actually standing in our yard. Several years ago, a bird must have “dropped” a special package amongst the shrubs planted along one side of our home; and now, some years later, we have a large blackberry bush blossoming each July just around the corner from my front door.

 

            Should we have cut it down?  Probably. Perhaps, we should have dug it out instead.  Then again, there were always chemicals we could have use; and yet, we did not.  Lazy? Not really. Distracted? Certainly. Distracted with life—caring for loved ones; working long hours while juggling a few part-time gigs; and, spending time with our child—initially running with all of her sports/activities of high school, to now, making the four hour drive each way to her college several weekends per year . . . the list goes on. Bottom line, we no longer should live on five acres of land, much less own a large yard; and so, a blackberry bush grows in one small part of it.

 

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            Whether the choice was intentional or not, the point is moot now; and honestly, we don’t have the heart to uproot, cut down, or destroy our yard-growing blackberry bush.  Most likely, it will come down at some point—either by us or future owners—but, for now, blackberry juice, which ironically looks like blood—will not be on my hands. Well, actually it is on my hands, but not due to the death of the bush.

 

       While I did have blackberry juice stains on my hands, it was NOT from killing the wild bush in our yard.

 

            If a big ol’ blackberry bush is gonna grow wildly in my side yard, to the scorn of aesthetics—I can only imagine what a realtor would think—then, I am going to at least make the most of its brambles. When life gives you lemons, or in this case blackberries, why not make blackberry cobbler, right?  Therefore, in the cool shade of a quiet July 4th evening, well before the noise and mayhem of fireworks, I peacefully, well as peacefully as one can be in blackberry bramble, picked berries.

 

            As I live alongside a main route in Lawrence County, OH, the late afternoon/early evening hours are typically filled with the sounds of cars zooming by as residents traverse home from work, head to town for dinner or errands, and even zip down the road for a summer joy ride.  However, on this night, there was little to no traffic, allowing bird song, insect buzz, and the mewing of the neighbor’s cat to provide a soothing sort of lullaby as I piddled, prodded, and picked. My mind floated, like a lotus flower on pond water, despite distractions from the prickling thorns and the overbearing bites of the aggressive blood sucking summer bullies.

 

 

 Picking blackberries

One by one

Thinking of him.

Papaw taught me

How it was done.

Not in the heat 

Of the summer sun, but

Early morn’ or evenin’ cool.

Pick ‘em ripe and

Leave a few

For feathered friends—

They gave ‘em to you

 

Plucking blackberries.  

One by one.

Carefully selectin’

The darkest of clusters

Purple blemish on hands.

Blood blots on limbs.

Mosquitoes buzz and bite.

Birds scare and scatter

While a nearby rabbit skitters.

Plunk, plink, plop

Bowl fills.

Did I leave enough?

 

Cleaning blackberries.

One by one

Thinking of her.

Grandmother taught me

How it was done.

Search for crawling critters and

Random leaves or stems.

Add some sugar.

Bake it up.

Summer bursting,

Exploding with goodness

Memories in my mouth.

 

             Divine Providence served up part fruitful lesson and part sweet memory on that evening that continues to linger in my mind as a sip of good wine on the tongue.   Sure, there are the obvious lessons of thorny times; brambly messes of unexpected life events; and the fruits produced by our labors. However, beyond that, at least for me, there was the lesson of connectedness—not only to my past, but also to nature, my life, and the roots of my faith.

 

          The thorns and bramble of blackberries are often like the thorns and bramble of life.

 

            My grandparents, the three that I knew well, were deeply influential in my life in their own unique ways. While I spent more time with my maternal side, all three planted within me the belief of God and the magic of summer that our Creator provided.  From summer church revivals to extended summer sleepovers at one of their houses; from the proper time to pick a tomato to green bean stringing techniques; from flower watering to bird watching; from garden planting to good ol’ Appalachian summer cookin’; and, from berry pickin’ to pie or cobbler bakin’, they taught me that summertime was God’s magical show for adults and kids alike to savor, sip, and share.  

 

Rinsing batches of blackberries in the kitchen sink when I noticed a hitchhiker that I had to send back outside!

 

            A bird drops a seed.  One tiny seed. The rains come, and frost covers. The sun warms, and a sprout grows.  The mower misses, and the busy family doesn’t notice. Bees flit about its early blooms.  Slowly, quietly it grows, rooting, spreading, and sprouting—just like my faith, just like my grandparents’ love, and just like life.

 

            As I rinsed the blackberries carefully, their astringent, but sweet, aroma rising from the sink, I plucked a fat berry from the colander and plopped it into my mouth. I bite.  Juice explodes upon my tongue. I am again a child–drifting between–Grandmother’s kitchen as she prepared to bake a cobbler, humming a hymn, while Papaw could be heard in the basement below, hand-cranking ice cream; and then over the hill to my Mamaw’s front porch after she’d watered her multihued zinnias and gathered their seeds, the squeak of the to and fro of the green and white metal glider, upon which we sat, provided the ambient seasonal sound, and the scent of her baby powder mixed with her VO5 hair product filled my nostrils as we waited for the fireflies to dance, and listened for the whisperings of God. 

 

         Blackberries in grain-free granola and topped with chia and flax seeds with a splash of non-dairy milk.

 

          I thoughtfully chew the berry, closing my eyes, knowing at that very moment, birds are once more nibbling away at the remaining blackberries in my yard, and somewhere, in a Raceland, KY, cemetery, rest in peace all of my beloved grandparents eternally bird-watching, cradled in the arms of the Creator.  My heart burst with connectedness, and I offered up a prayer of gratitude.

 

            Who knows, whenever we do leave this house, maybe the next owners will keep the blackberry bush too?

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Blackberries and hemp hearts on a freshly made garden salad, drizzled with fresh made Dijon Date Dressing. 

 

 

 

 

 

            

 

            

 

The Sweetness Follows–the Story of Healing

            “Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love.  Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.”—Sai Baba

 

            “You enjoy the white writing because there is a black board behind it.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           As a young girl, and later, as a newly minted educator, I savored the look, feel, and sound of printing neatly, and as precisely as possible, on a clean, black board.  I wrote slowly and meticulously because I did not want to have to erase a mistake. Erasing meant a fine white cloud would not allow the writing to pristinely stand out against the dark background. However, the immaculate look of the black board never lasted long—not with students to teach.  Eventually, the board became overcast, gray, and dull by day’s end, requiring a fresh shower of water to wipe the slate clean.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            I have been reminded of chalkboard writing this past week as I have watched my vibrant, gregarious daughter, Madelyn, succumb to the darkness of the painful healing required of a tonsillectomy as an adult.  She had been warned that the procedure came with a difficult recovery. However, she moved forward with her commitment to the procedure and the promise it offered of improved health. As is often the case in life though, knowing that an event will be grueling, and actually experiencing the pain in real time, are two different matters.

 

            Without going into great detail, I have watched her suffer through what appears to be excruciating tenderness, gurgling/choking sounds during fits of sleep, fever spikes, chills, flashes of heat, and the rejection of most forms of liquids and food.  She’s given up on Percocet, the prescribed, temporary form of pain management as it knocks her into a sleep-induced fog, but doesn’t seem to reduce the pain much. Instead, she relies on acetaminophen, which dulls the pain, but never fully allows it to abate. The usual offerings, recommended by well-intended people, such as popsicles, Gatorade, and ice cream are either too acidic—which sets her throat “on fire”; or, in the case of ice cream, offers too much milk fat—causing her to cough, which is not only painful, but can also cause her scabs to come off too soon.  Even her favorite soft foods, such as pudding, mashed potatoes, and noodle soup are all irritating and difficult to swallow according to Maddie. Therefore, I am often coaxing her just to eat a small something in order to take the prescribed steroids.

 

 

 

            Meanwhile, John and I do what we can to make her comfortable and distracted from the pain.  Caring for sick adult child, however, is different than when she was little. Gone are the days of pulling her into my arms, cradling her closely, gently swaying back and forth, humming, and using a free hand to lovingly stroke her hair off her forehead as if the action was a sacred healing ritual.  Instead, I now try to balance not hovering in an overprotective/reactive manner, with being an available and present source of compassion, concern, and consolation. Furthermore, I find myself imploring Divine Providence for the wisdom to know when to encourage her to push and persevere through the hurt versus when to back off and let her be.  I want to make her feel better, but experience has also taught me there is growth in the anguish of the ache.

 

            Like the classroom black board of years ago at the beginning of the day, Maddie’s life board has barely begun to be written upon.  She will have to endure repeated erasings/do-overs, clouds of confusion, and experience the dullness of the drills demanded by her own education/training.  The spring showers and the new blossoms of her budding career and new way of living will come, but not without the dust, dark, and dimness of the work and pain required to achieve her future adventure.

 

 

 

            One of the tenants that my faith, my yoga practice, and life experience teaches me is that nothing is permanent.  Nothing. Not my body, not my various life roles, not my home, not my job, not my circumstances, and certainly not the challenges and pain.  Change, and the temporary nature of circumstances, whether perceived as good or not so good, is the one real constant. One cannot get the satisfying white writing on the chalkboard without the dark side; there is no real joy filled experience without sadness; and, of course, there is no healing without pain.

 

 

 

            Two weekends ago, we stayed in Cincinnati for two nights celebrating Maddie’s 20th birthday.  My brother, Scott, and his husband, Mywon, joined us for both days; whereas my mom, and Mywon’s mom, were only able to spend Saturday with us in order to see the production of Maddie’s childhood favorite, Cats.  We gathered for meals, relished the joy of the theater, and shared numerous laughs. We immersed ourselves in the bliss of the moment—no work, no studying, and no real challenges.  And yet, even with all of the happiness of the moment, life still managed to dose out a few challenges, difficulties, and discomforts. Ironically though, as I look back through the pictures, it appears to be a picture-perfect weekend.

 

 

 

            This past week, as I attempted to offer comfort to Maddie by means of foot, neck, and/or back rubs, a song, “The Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M., repeatedly echoed in my mind.  The enigmatic lyrics and haunting cello music, I have read, are one of the most misinterpreted songs by fans. Regardless of the true meaning of the lyrics as intended by the songwriters, I believe there is a reason this song, and in particular, its title, became an earworm in my mind’s ear . . .   

 

            My dear, darling daughter, the sweetness will follow.  No, you will never be able to avoid the pitfalls, pains, and problems of life, but there is always sweetness following, even within a seemingly unrelenting, difficult situation. Life requires perseverance, fortitude, and sometimes even, doggedness, especially as a woman, but there is a sweetness to savor.  Messy—Neat; Stormy—Calm; Exhausted—Energetic; Black—White; and yes, Pain—Ease. You cannot have one without the other. Therefore, look for the sweetness—the sweetness in an unexpected gesture; a kind word; a stranger’s smile; a friend’s visit, call or text; and even in a caring caress and touch of a loved one . . .

 

            While I cannot take away the painful events of life, may you always have the ability to find the sweetness . . . for it will eventually follow.  

            

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          Maddie and my Mom having a little fun in honor of Maddie’s birthday!

 

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I cannot recall photo-bombing a picture before, but in the frivolity of the moment, I hopped into view.  Fortunately, there’s another photo of this beautiful moment of my brother and mom without me!

 

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LOL In the age of selfies, I still haven’t mastered it, probably because I do not take selfies that often.  Maddie laughs (and I am sure rolls her eyes) whenever I attempt to do a selfie with her when she is home, then she grabs my phone, and takes the picture for me as was the case here!

Naples 2019, Part 2: Fitness, Food, and Fun

           “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”—Paul Prudhomme

           “I didn’t mean to gain weight, it just happened by ‘snackcident’.”—Unknown

           What’s not to love about vacation?  Time to rest, recover, and consume ridiculous amounts of tasty food. However, in order to do that, one must “earn” those calories.  Thus, what better way to warrant devouring all of those scrumptious calories than through exercising in new, motivating locations? Never mind that the rest of the time is mostly spent sitting–surfside with a book, on a couch scrolling through social media, or in a lanai nerding out on an Internet interest?  It’s all about balance—right?

           Naples, Florida is the perfect location for foodies and fitness alike!  This gulf-side city offers a seemingly endless selection of dining and workout adventures.  From casual, open-air, bayside dining, to formal, four-course meals; from eclectic yoga studios, to year ‘round out-of-doors adventures; and everything in between, Naples has much to offer both.  In fact, there are so many options; it is hard to narrow down your choices, especially when staying for a short amount of time. Therefore, here are a few of the highlights John, my husband, and I discovered on our most recent trip; but trust me, there is SO MUCH MORE!

           To begin, name your athletic pursuit, Naples most likely offers it!  Golf? Check! Swimming/paddle boarding/scuba diving/kayaking? Check! Running/walking/hiking/biking trails/paths?  Check! Truly, the list seems endless! I happen to love yoga and group fitness classes, while John loves self-motivated gym workouts, and we did not have to drive far to find either of those!  

           Yoga studios were abundant in Naples.  Unfortunately, I was only able to visit three: Naples Yoga Center, Yoga Lab, and Yoga House.   I cannot say enough about all three sites! They were each aesthetically pleasing, extremely clean, and the instructors, with whom I encountered, were knowledgeable, friendly, and motivating. Specifically, Christine Salmons at Yoga Lab; Cesar Rios and Amy Lucky at Naples Yoga Center; and Lisa Frey at Yoga House were all talented instructors who offered challenging and rousing workouts for mind, body, and spirit!

 

 

           Meanwhile, John and I both worked out at the nearby L.A. Fitness Club.  Wow, what a great facility! Offering not only the usual cardio equipment, weight machines and free weights, but also possessing areas for swimming, group cycling classes, group fitness classes, basketball gym, separate baby sitting area filled with colorful play and climbing equipment as well as its own smoothie/juice bar. John made good use of the free weights, machines, and cardio equipment, while I tried out a cycling class, fitness classes, and made us of the cardio equipment.  One of the managers, whose business card I have sadly misplaced, was quite accommodating and helped us find the best short-term membership deal specifically designed for vacationers.

 

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           Now for the fun-stuff . . .food, food, and more food!

           We decided to break our drive to Naples into two days.  On our first day, we drove as far as Orangeburg, SC. There, we stayed in a new hotel, Tru by Hilton.  It was within walking distance to Ruby Tuesdays, so we decided to head there for dinner. Honestly, Ruby Tuesdays are typically not my top favorite places to eat, but this location certainly hit the spot.  Bartender and waiter extraordinaire, Webb, amused me in his attempt to sympathize with the fact I have celiac disease, “If it makes you feel any better I’m allergic to morphine!” Plus, General Manager, Anthony Dealoia, like Webb, was a great conversationalist! Overall, this was the perfect place to shake off the road dust at the end of a long day.

 

 

           Aw, Naples . . .it was so difficult to choose where to eat once we were there.  John would text me one on-line menu after another, trying to find the best gluten-free friendly spots in which to dine (Not that John needs to eat gluten-free, but he knows the challenge I often face when dining out.)  Here are a few we tried and really loved.

           Due to a minor staff miscommunication, our condo was not quite ready for us when we arrived after a full day of driving. Therefore, since it was dinner time anyway, we decided to stay out of the car and walk to the restaurant literally steps away, DaRuMa, a Japanese Steakhouse. Jeff, bartender/waiter, was welcoming and informative with regards to food choices.   He made excellent food recommendations for both John and I that met our unique, but very different, food loves. We would both recommend this spot one short block from Vanderbilt Beach.

 

 

           Another wonderful spot in which dined, not once, but three times, was Naples Flatbread.  Why? Besides being delicious and offering an expansive menu, there were also abundant gluten free options, and NFB has one of the best happy hours in Naples! (John and I have learned that if you are traveling on a budget, and you’re willing to eat dinner early, happy hour deals are often the way to go.)  Plus, did I mention the NFB staff? Manager/bartenders Conner Cerrito and Kyle Gilbert, along with Michelle Mejia, who also happens to be a free-lance writer, served up ample laughs, stories, cold drinks, and 100% delicious food! It goes without saying that this is a spot we would highly recommend.

 

          Two fun and festive eateries, also possessing great happy hour menus, include Agave as well as Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar.  Offering an abundance of gluten-free fare, both of these restaurants were obviously a local favorite as they were packed with business.  While their menus were overall different, their tasty dishes, attentive service, and celebratory atmospheres make both of these spots recommendable.

 

           One of our condo neighbors, Donna Wolf, recommended a restaurant called, The Dock, Waterfront Dining at Crayton Cove. Oh. My. Heavens.  What a lovely spot to dine, relax, and, you guessed it, enjoy Happy Hour specials. Our waitress/bartender, Ashley, was extremely helpful and considerate.  She worked diligently to ensure we had a positive “Dock-side” experience. In fact, we enjoyed the location, food, and Ashley so much that we came back for a second night, a few evenings later.  The food and drinks were stupendous, the service was outstanding, and did I mention how nice it was to dine on the Naples waterfront? Yep, this is one more place John and I would 100% endorse! (Thanks Donna! Also, thank you Robin Waeltz for the delightful conversation—fellow educators unite—and great insight into living in the Naples area.)

 

 

           Last, but not least, I have to mention, Haley Beaman, bar manager and notable waitress at Top Dawg Tavern in Columbia, South Carolina.  Driving for long hours on the road makes one tired, hungry, and sometimes even grumpy. However, when dining on delectable food while meeting someone as friendly, energetic, and outgoing as Haley, it eased away the road weariness on our return trip home.  This restaurant was in fact, one of several recommendations by the Hampton hotel in which we stayed. It also happened to offer a discount to those staying at the hotel.

 

 

           See what we did there?  We weren’t able to make Happy Hour at Top Dawg, but we were still able to find a deal on a great meal, super service, and pleasurable atmosphere while stopping for the night.  Definitely, this is a dining spot worth visiting when traveling in the area.

           Food, fitness, surf, and sand . . .take us back to Naples!

           One final note, I cannot say enough about all of the pleasant Uber drivers during this trip.  Special thanks go to Thomas, Ritchy, Herve, Fred, Hunter, and Craig. While we know it is your job to be safe, efficient, and sociable drivers, we still appreciate your outstanding service.

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and food-filled vacations!

 

          Other Wonderful restaurants that did not make it into the original newspaper article due to space include . . .

AZN:  Azian Cuisine

 

         Skillets Restaurant  (with gluten-free bread, pancakes, and waffles!)

 

The Crust (With a gluten-free crust!!)

 

Epiphany Gluten-Free Bakery (100% dedicated gluten-free:  serving up all gluten-free products as well as offering vegetarian/vegan, paleo, keto, and other food allergy-free options)

Naples, Florida, a Great Beach Get Away from it all

           “I like anywhere with a beach.  A beach and warm weather is all I really need.”—Rob Gronkowski

 

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           Author’s Note:  This is part one of a travel focus on Naples, Florida.  This piece solely features overall highlights of the Naples area.  More tourist attractions, including dining points of interest, will follow in another piece.

 

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A beautiful shell I found along Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, FL.

 

           For many people, summer means travel time. Mountains, lakes, and, yes, beaches, are all popular spots for couples and families alike.   In fact, summer travel is often scheduled and planned months in advance in order to get the best deal. However, what if you are planning a trip at the last minute?  Are there ways to still get a good deal on a vacation spot? Absolutely!

           There are so many wonderful apps and websites that can help you do just that!  Two of our favorites are VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) and, the ever popular, Airbnb.   From secluded, rural destinations, to frenetic urban locations and all areas in between, today’s traveler has a multitude of ways to find their own ideal, last minute vacation spot.  It was, in fact, VRBO, that helped John, my husband, and me find our most recent get away—which was, indeed, scheduled just a couple of weeks in advance of our departure.

 

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          Without belaboring the details of why, we had not really set in stone in formal plans for the summer travel, despite the fact this is the summer of our 30th wedding anniversary.  Therefore, when John and I actually began discussing, in more concrete terms, potential locations, one spot kept entering our conversations:  Naples, FL. With its miles of white “sugar” sand beaches and calm waters, Naples’ Gulf of Mexico location makes it a great spot to relax and unwind.  Plus, during the summer months, vacation property and rentals are actually less expensive than most beach areas! In fact, we were able to spy numerous budget-friendly properties, including the small condo we ultimately settled upon renting.

 

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           One of the great advantages of renting directly from property owners and/or managers, rather than a realty company, is the fact that arrival/departure days, and length of stay are typically quite flexible.  Thus, by using VRBO, we were able to compare and select property based upon our budget and location desires, but also look at each location’s date availability in order to narrow down our field of possible candidates.  Then, once we settled on a vacation property to rent, we could directly communicate with our chosen property’s manager, Osi Germann, and start our stay on a Monday, and rent for ten days, rather than the usual Saturday or Sunday start to a traditional seven-day stay!  Germann was a pleasure with whom to work; she was prompt and courteous in her communication and ever the consummate professional.

 

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           As a life-long resident of the Tri-state area (WV, OH, KY), of which many of my early years were spent in KY, I found it of interest to discover that Naples, Florida was founded by two Kentuckians, Water Halderman, then owner of The Louisville Courier, and John Williams, then a prominent politician and senator, in 1885.  By 1888, Naples Pier was first built and has become one of the city’s oldest symbols, popular for its views, particularly dolphin sightings, as well as fishing.  Even now, Naples’ historic downtown, often called “Old Naples,” still has Victorian era-buildings, including the Palm Cottage, which was built in 1895 and is still open for tours.

 

Naples Pier, a must visit part of Naples, FL, is known for its dolphin sightings and fishing.

 

 

          Naples is part of Collier County, the largest county in Florida, and even with the population continuing to rise in Naples, and its surrounding neighbors, 80% of the county is a natural preserve!  One such example is Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A 13,000-acre preserve, this Sanctuary welcomes visitors to traverse along its 2.25-mile boardwalk that winds over and through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and into the largest Bald Cypress forest in North America.  Other natural sites of note in the Naples area, include: The Bird Gardens of Naples, whose sole concern is parrot welfare, which allows visitors to interact and view numerous varieties of parrots and other wildlife; The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, which offers 12 miles of walking, hiking, biking trails built from old logging tram roads—it also has a small boardwalk and allows visitors numerous views of cypress trees and bird/animal varieties; The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which allows visitors to interact with nature and experience their electric boat tours; The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, though technically not a preserve, is a non profit zoo focused on conservation of endangered species as well as a nationally accredited garden. Additionally there is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Clam Pass Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s only scratching the surface of the numerous nature attractions, parks, and preserve areas available to visit in the Naples area.

 

Images from Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.

 

           Lest you think Naples is only for nature lovers, Naples is considered the golf capital of the world, with more golf holes per capita than anywhere else.  It is also home to Swamp Buggy Racing, which began in 1918; and, visitors can even see the original swamp buggy that started it all at the Naples Depot Museum.  Naples is also known for its art, with over 100 art galleries in the area! A water taxi shuttle can be found at Naples Dock with stops including multiple downtown waterfront destinations for shopping, dining, and/or drinking—just $10.00 allows visitors to hop off and one throughout the day.  Of course, shopping and dining opportunities are endless while staying in Naples. Plus, there is, of course, that gulf-side beach for those who just really want to relax, unwind, and get away from it all!

 

Images from Naples City Dock, home of the water taxi shuttle serving multiple downtown locations.

 

           This was not our first trip to Naples, FL, nor do I think it will be our last. However, Dear Reader, in spite of all there was/is to do in Naples, especially with the abundant nature-centered activities, I barely ventured beyond the beach—which was true for this most recent trip.  John and I arrived during the last few days of May, a month that had been overloaded with a flurry of long hours and activities. Therefore, this trip to Naples was more about resting/recovering, reconnecting, and most of all, celebrating our 30 years of marriage.  (Plus, we enjoyed numerous good meals; and I enjoyed visiting several yoga studios, while John found a great conveniently located gym facility).  More about that in my next piece!) Our condo, which was perfectly situated, allowed us to do just that, as it overlooked a peaceful bay and was one short block away from the beach. Additionally, it was conveniently located to ample dining and shopping opportunities, especially those found at nearby Mercato.

 

 

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pocket-friendly summer travels!

  

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Picture taken on Naples Pier, Naples, FL.

        

           

           

           

 

The Greatest of These is Love

           “The most important thing in the world is family and love.”—John Wooden

 

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These hearts were found on a set of abandoned steps that must have one time led from a bayside house to a private dock.

 

           As I sat seaside, this past week in Naples, Florida, I watched the tide’s water flow one direction and pull back in opposition; wash in over one child’s sand sculpture, and soon another was built; gush forward over one set of footprints, roll back and a new set of imprints were created. I part-heard/part-felt the cacophony that is the shoreline–equal parts of water resonant, birdcall, breeze, and the tinny of playful, relaxed voices. Clear, bright blue waters melted into vivid green. Vibrant circles of color, as if part of an artist’s palette, dotted sparkling sand.  Dappled areas of bare sand, except for the wooden stakes surrounded by yellow tape, were interspersed throughout the colorful landscape–protected turtle nests.

 

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Protected sea turtle nests dot the shoreline of Naples, FL. Here is one such example.

 

           On June 17, 1989, I married my husband, John.  I was a mere 23 years old, but viewed myself as MUCH older; and, John, at age 27, was positively pushing the needle towards the “old” mark!  Feelings of elation and excitement regarding our future coursed through my soul’s veins. Looking deeply into John’s eyes during our ceremony, I saw an ocean of love in those blue green orbs, and I was overwhelmed with my own reciprocal feelings as we publicly proclaimed our vows.  I tried to clasp the moment . . .

 

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  John and I on June 14, 1989.

 

           Back in Naples, I scooped up water along the shoreline and tried to hold it in my hands.  I tightly sealed my fingers, and still, the water flowed—much like thirty years. 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 . . .and on the years streamed over smooth, sandy bars of happiness and rough, rocky outcroppings of life challenges.  One house rented was soon left for a mortgage and a new address. One degree earned, was followed by another, followed by still more schooling. Tides of life rolled in as one event followed the outward flow of another.

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and sunset.  

 

           Soon it was the end of September 1998; something felt different. Habitual morning coffee suddenly became nauseating.  Strong scents, once easily ignored, were now sending me scrambling to find the nearest restroom. Emotions surfaced with more frequency and greater intensity.  What treasure was the tide rolling in our way . . .?

 

 

           Once more, in Naples, I clasped another scoopful of water.  Again, I pressed my fingers firmly together, determined to savor the warmth of the water and not allow it to seep away–similar to the way in which I tried to cling tightly to both pregnancy and our soon-to-be-born daughter, Madelyn.  

          

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           The end of September flowed into the fall of October and November, followed by the winter months, and on into spring. May came and went, and in spite of doctor’s best predictions, the tides of life had not yet revealed the small, sweet person growing within my womb.

           Much in the manner of a sea shell seeker scouring the beach, serenely waiting for the tides to reveal its hidden treasure, so too were John and I instructed to remain patient, potentially for up to two more weeks.  June 1, June 2, June 3 . . . and on the days continued to stream.

 

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Me, June 13, 1999.

 

 

 

           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and Sunset.

  

         June 14, 1999.  Sweat drips. My hand entrusted into John’s.  Those eyes, those same eyes from ten years prior, still filled with an endless ocean of love, gaze strongly into mine, sending currents of strength.  Whispered words of encouragement. Clasping onto to those loving words . . .

          Dusk fades into dawn, which gives way to day. One hour followed by another . . .

           Her eyes, alert and curious, met mine for the first time and locked on.  I gazed up at John and back to her. Love at first sight. Unbelievable joy.  A precious baby girl was placed upon my chest as my arms carefully cradled around her.  

 

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This ribbon proudly hung from our hospital door June 14, 1999.

 

           Baby cries and coos part ways for songs and words.  Crib evolved into a toddler bed, which became a double bed.  Board books and storybooks are soon replaced by novels. Bright, primary colored toys give way to dolls and outside play.  Childhood calls as the back door slams. Trees climbed. Flowers picked. Tears and boo-boo kisses. Giggles and laughs. Snuggles and hugs.  Puzzles and games. Creative art corner ever expanding. Textbooks and paper. Prom dresses followed by cap and gown.

 

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and Exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           In Naples, turtle nests are protected. Eventually, these eggs will hatch, and the newly born turtles will attempt to make their way to the sea. Many of the turtles will not make it to the water—due to predators, dehydration, and other obstacles.  Those that do make it to sea are not guaranteed survival. From birds to sharks, or other big fish, and from ingesting tar balls to ingesting plastic, only one out of 1,000 baby turtles survive into adulthood. And yet, these nests are ceremoniously protected—to at least give the hatchlings a fighting chance.  

           Truth-be-told, we are all navigating this ocean called life–through smooth, placid waters, to large waves of storms; and from predator-free, wide open currents, to dangers lurking within each undercurrent and sandy shoreline. Just as the sea turtles cannot clasp and remain still in safe waters, neither can we.  Ceremonies, traditions, and rituals often buffer early stages of relationships and families, but these do not guarantee survival. Genuine effort, thought, patience, dialogue, plus a good dose of humor—in addition to love—are just a few of the many tools, humans must employ in order for family relationships to survive.

 

 

         In spite of my best efforts at the beaches of Naples, I was never able to hold onto the seawater for very long.  Similarly, our sweet baby girl and beautiful daughter will no longer be a teenager when these words are read, and she now spends more time away from John and me than with us.  Meanwhile, wrinkles line both John’s and my eyes. Gray incessantly sprouts along my temples and part-line; and John’s hair, once curly and dark, is mostly missing.

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           I still seek, find comfort, and see much love in John’s eyes—those same eyes into which I gazed in June of 1989.  I love those eyes, and the person behind them, even more now. Equally, I am filled with abundant love for my brilliant, beautiful daughter whose eyes locked into mine and overflowed my heart with joy twenty years ago.

           Happy Anniversary, John!  Happy Birthday, Maddie! I love you, both . . .to the moon and back.

             Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7