Don’t Quit: A Story of Scaffolding.

           “Be alert. Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

           “Achievement builds character.  People striving, being knocked down and coming back . . .this is what builds character . . .. In Romans, Paul says that adversity brings on endurance, endurance brings on character, and character brings on hope.”—Tom Landry

           Recently, I was talking with my students about the “scaffolding” they bring to the stories they read.  We were discussing a short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, that the students had just read. As is often the case with students upon reading this story for the first time, there was great confusion.  In their mind, the word, “Lottery” has a positive connotation. What’s not to love about winning money? However, in Jackson’s story, the students soon come to realize that the word, “lottery,” doesn’t necessarily mean winning money.

           After explaining the notion of scaffolding to my students, as it pertains to reading and writing, I attempted to invite them to see how each person brings to a story their own unique reading and life experiences. If, for example, they had never before heard the word, lottery, used as a negative, then the brain is left to scramble-around trying to make connections of understanding to from their prior experiences to other parts of the story.

 

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

           Leading the discussion further, I probed their minds for examples.

           “Have you ever read a story and been reminded of a similar situation, or a similar character, or a similar setting?”

           Heads nodded around the room, and sidebar discussions ensued.

           “At the end of “The Lottery”, it reminded me of the premise of The Hunger Games books and movies.”

           “Yeah, well, that woman’s youngest son made be think about my brother in kindergarten.”

           “Oh, yeah. Totally.  That women who was stoned made me think of that story in the Bible about the woman about to be stoned, and Jesus saves her. . .”

           It occurred to me later, as I was in a conversation with my brother, Scott, how this same notion of scaffolding is true for life.  With each new situation, experience, and/or person we encounter, we bring our own life experiences—even baggage– and make certain assumptions about what will occur. More often than not, these assumptions are often wrong, or at the very least, off-target; and, if we truly pay attention and maintain an open mind, our scaffolding—our understanding—shifts and even expands.  However, if we avoid new situations, new people, new skills, and/or avoid trying new things, then our scaffolding, like those attached to work sites, remain fixed and rigid.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           I am reminded of the scaffolding along the multi-storied federal building in Huntington, WV, the town in which I work. Several years ago it was renovated for security purposes.  Local traffic along 5th Ave and 8th streets was often altered due to the ever-changing scaffolding. With each phase of the renovation, the shape of the scaffolding and the space it filled varied, changed, and, at times, grew.  It rarely stayed one shape or one level for long. The same is true for us when we try new things, meet new people, or dive into new experiences. Nonetheless, this does not occur without some risk for negative experiences.

           The scaffolding used today in construction looks and is made differently than when high-rise buildings were first built. Accidents, falls, and tragically, even deaths, informed engineers on how to design stronger, safer, more durable, and more reliable scaffolding. The same is true for life.  

 

 

           Does heartbreak hurt? Does injury create pain? Do failures, break-ups, accidents and so forth create misery and/or heart ache? Yes. Yes. Yes.  And yet, it is these very events that teach us the lessons we need in order to grow stronger, more durable, and perhaps even, more dependable, creating greater empathy/understanding, and perhaps even. increase one’s capacity for love.

           A month, or so ago, a friend sent me a devotional-style story that focused on Tom Landry, arguably one of the most successful professional football coaches.  As I read the story, it talked of Landry’s experience with adversity. It described the way in which Landry was treated when he first arrived at Dallas, and the team was not winning.  He was much maligned, vilified, and disparaged for his team’s lackluster performance. However, when his team began to experience success, Landry became the hero in this same public’s eye.  

           The author’s lesson was that Landry was the same person.  He had not changed. Landry had courageously stood firm in his convictions and loved his work, regardless of what others said or thought. While I wholeheartedly agree with that take away, I also think the author skipped another point:  adversity increases personal perseverance, which increases one’s character. Landry knew this; and though the author of the devotional story did not state this, I later read an interview in which Landry made this very point to a reporter.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The tendency of human beings, including me, is to resist change, resist pain, and discomfort as well as avoid challenges. And yet, no matter how much we resist and avoid these negative experiences, life still has a way of forcing us to experience these.  Heartache, physical and emotional pain, as well as loss, are all a valid, and important, parts of life. Without them, not only do we lack opportunities to increase our stamina/perseverance, but we lack understanding, empathy, and compassion. Like those first attempts at high-rise construction scaffolding, we are weak, inflexible, and lack strength.  When Landry and his players experienced loss, criticism, and failures, they grew stronger as individuals and as a team. It was from those negative life experiences, that they grew as individuals and as a collective. The same is true for all of us.

           We do not have to be a professional football coach to experience adversity, criticism, and challenges.  These are all part of the human experience. However, we can have faith that if we remain strong in our convictions, act with courage in the face of difficulties, work and interact with others with great love/passion for what is right, our ability (endurance) to withstand difficulties strengthens–expanding our character and increasing our hope.  After all, isn’t hope one of the biggest driving forces throughout history as well as through our own personal story, your personal scaffolding? As the old Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

 

Whatever you are going through, Dear Reader, don’t quit.  Don’t. Quit.

           

Students from St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, grades 6-8, recently at an end-of-the-year neon-themed dance.  With each new experience, including this dance, students are developing their scaffolding, understanding, of life.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Protein Smoothie

           “One cup of this tasty summer delight (cherries) can keep the doctor away, aid you when it comes to cancer and age-related disease . . .help you get a good night’s sleep, (and) . . .helps with arthritis and inflammatory conditions . . .”—Lizette Borreli, Medical Daily

           “Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.  By following an anti-inflammatory diet you can fight off inflammation for good.”—Harvard Women’s Health Watch

           There is no doubt, this spring, has been one of the most beautiful seasons in the Ohio Valley in years!   From early spring flowers, to flowering trees and shrubs, Mother Nature’s artistic flair has painted one beautiful canvas after another with each passing week.  My husband, John, and I have had repeated conversations about our deep appreciation and admiration of this bountiful, colorful season.

 

 

           Additionally, this spring I have had the privilege of teaching classes at Brown Dog Yoga in Ashland, KY!   At age 53, it is wonderful to begin a new season of fitness, and help others do the same! Traveling to teach in Ashland means I am able to enjoy a 30-minute drive that cuts mostly across the back of Lawrence County, OH on OH 243; and what a seasonal display of colors I have enjoyed during these drives!  Red buds, dogwoods, cherry trees, and so forth line the roadside and surrounding hills radiating their celebratory colors for all to witness. In fact, it was the combination of teaching back-to-back fitness classes as well as the colorful blossoms of the cherry trees that became part inspiration for the following recipe.

 

 

           I have three bulging discs as well as an extra vertebra.  Standing or sitting for long periods, walking up stairs, and even certain exercises, all of which both my career as an educator and my new found fitness passion require, can really fire up the pain receptors along my low back, down my legs, and into my ankles/feet.  Typically, I simply grin, grit, and inwardly groan my way through the discomfort, and keep on moving. Still, I am often contemplating ways to reduce inflammation, increase recovery time, as well as maintain overall good health. And, I suspect, I am not the only one.

           Whether or not you are in my age group, fighting inflammation and maintaining overall good health are keys to an active, long life.  Our immune system flairs up any time a foreign substance, or an injury (even excessive workouts can sometimes be perceived by the body as an injury), enter/occur in the body. Sometimes though, inflammation continues to nag the body, even if there is not a, per se, foreign threat/invader. In fact, many well-known diseases such as cancer, arthritis (like I now have in my low back), diabetes, depression/anxiety, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and so forth, are linked to chronic inflammation according Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

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As seen at Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

           In fact, in an article published by the Harvard Medical School, reducing inflammation in the body may be as simple as daily food choices.   Foods, such as refined carbohydrates—most white flour breads and baked goods; fried foods; soda and other sugary beverages; red meats, especially those processed; and margarine—including shortening and lard, can all produce inflammation, especially when consumed in excessive amounts.

           Anti-inflammatory foods, however, have been proven to reduce inflammation and chronic disease, especially fruits and vegetables. According to HMS, anti-inflammatory foods include:  tomatoes; olive oil; green leafy vegetables—the darker the better; nuts, especially walnuts and almonds; fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna; and fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.   In fact, these are the foods, HMS maintains, should make up the primary food choices of a healthy diet.

 

          Standing and taking stairs daily at school, regular workouts at BDY, back pain, inflammation, cherry blossoms, anti-inflammatory diet, strawberries, blueberries, cherries . . .”Hey, I why I haven’t I created a cherry smoothie?” This is how my brain rolls on 30-minute drives or during random middle-of-the-night musings.

           I typically dive into my school workday with a smoothie.  Strawberry, blueberry, cauliflower, and spinach are four of my favorite go-to ingredients, along with a non-dairy, gluten free protein powder, for a plant-strong, nutrient rich breakfast.  While I know it is often recommended to not drink your calories, I find my breakfast smoothie habit works well for me as I otherwise tend to make coffee, my only breakfast liquid. Although coffee does offer some health benefits, it does not necessarily offer nutrients that both fuel and feed my body like my homemade smoothies. Thus, if I am going to drink my breakfast anyway, I might as well make it as beneficial as possible.

 

          If I am going to drink my breakfast, which is the better choice? A protein packed, plant based smoothie or a cup of coffee. True, the purple coffee cup is prettier, but the real nutritional bang is in the black shaker cup.

 

           This recipe was also created with my Grandmother Helen in mind.  She dearly loved chocolate covered cherries. Each Christmas holiday, someone in our family always made sure she received at least one box of her favorite confection.  Since I lived with both she and my grandfather for two years, I can still see her, sitting down in her gold recliner after dinner, one chocolate covered cherry on a napkin, as she savored it, bite by little bite.  She’d often grin at me when I would teasingly ask her what she was eating, and bits of chocolate, as well as that whitishcovere goo that covered the cherry, would blanket her lips. What a sweet memory for me to now savor!  And, while, my smoothie recipe may not coat your lips in the same manner, it will fill your tummy with the anti-inflammatory goodness of fruits, vegetables, and walnuts.

 

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

 

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P.S.  If you happen to buy frozen cherries, they are soooo yummy to eat frozen, straight out of the bag, in the same manner some people freeze grapes and eat for a treat!           

 

Chocolate Covered Cherries Smoothie

Ingredients: The Basics

1 cup of favorite smoothie liquid, divided ½ (water, milk—dairy or non dairy variations)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-cup cherries, frozen or fresh

½ cup riced cauliflower, frozen or fresh

1 serving of favorite chocolate protein powder

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts or almond slivers

Dash of ground sea salt

My favorite add-ins for nutritional boost:

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1-teaspoon hemp hearts

1 tsp-1 tablespoon cocoa or cacao powder (for extra chocolate goodness)

Additional Optional add-ins:

1-teaspoon favorite greens powder

1-teaspoon favorite mushroom extract powder

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Directions:

In a blender cup, add-in ½ cup of chosen liquid.

Add in vanilla extract.

Toss in cherries, followed by protein powder, nuts, and any other add-ins you wish.

Top it all off with rest of liquid.

Blend well until smooth.

Drink, or serve in a bowl, sprinkled with your favorite toppings, such as granola, mini-chocolate chips, dried cherries, additional nuts or seeds, and so forth.  

Serves 1.

Tip:  I often make my smoothies for the week on the weekend and store them in my freezer.  Then, the morning before I wish to consume a smoothie, I take one from the freezer, and store it in the refrigerator to thaw for 24-hours until the following morning. Quick, portable, and ready-to-go nutrition!

 

 

Mother’s Day Musings 2019

           “In my daughter’s eyes/ I can see the future . . .and though she’ll grow and someday leave . . . When I’m gone I hope you’ll see/ How happy she made/for I’ll be there/ in my daughter’s eyes.”–James T. Slater as sang by Martina McBride

           Driving home from Ashland Brown Dog Yoga on Saturday morning.  I had just finished teaching two classes, and the upbeat attitudes of the participants never fail to enthuse and infuse me with positive vibes. Therefore, I was floating on good energy during my 30-minute traverse along OH243, mentally creating my checklist for when I arrived home.

           Quick bath. Add toiletries to overnight bag. Grab lunch from fridge to eat while John drives.  Gather towels to wash Sunday upon return home. Refill water bottle. Set dishwasher to run after midnight.  Unplug . . .Oh, man, I should call Mom. She had a couple of doctor’s appointments this week . . .

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and my daughter, Madelyn together taken in January of this year.

 

           Talking hand-free to my mom as I continued my drive, we flitted in and out of multiple topics, meandering away from one subject, but then circumnavigating back to other unfinished subjects as if each topic was a colorful strand of a woven tapestry—typical of our mom-daughter conversation style. It occurred to me as we talked, how she and I communicate much in the same manner as my daughter, Madelyn and me.  In fact, I had just talked to Maddie only moments earlier upon exiting BDY.

           “Okay, Mom, I just want to update you on the plans for today and tomorrow.  I’ve already talked to Dad; and, oh, before I forget, did you know . . .”

 

Pictures from the early days/experiences with Maddie at Bethany college.

 

           John, my husband and Maddie’s father, and I would be heading to Bethany College about thirty minutes outside of Wheeling, WV as soon as I arrived home and was ready.  Maddie is winding down her second year of college; and, with the approach of finals, we were making the four-hour drive to gather most of her dorm room supplies to bring home.  This would allow her to bring the last little bit of her belongings home in her compact car once she completed her finals during the middle of our workweek.

 

 

           Maddie and I had spoken several times throughout the past week figuring out how to best coordinate with her schedule as she had several events to attend at her sorority house over the weekend as well as the fact she needed to study for two finals occurring on Monday.  As is often the case, John and I have learned with the whole college experience, it best to not attach to one plan as these are often fluid every changing/ever moving. Kind like parenting . . . Kind of like the conversations I have with my mother . . .with my daughter . . .like I used to have with my grandmother . . .

 

         Eating at El Paso Mexican Grille the night before we packed most of Maddie’s things for John and I to bring home while she stayed on and finished finals.   Pictured:  John and me; Jillian (Maddie’s room mate) and Maddie; me and Maddie getting silly.

 

Moving day on Sunday morning: Jillian, Gigs, and Maddie at the ready to load up John’s truck.

           Listening to mom’s story about her last doctor appointment of the week.  She talked of losing her family doctor, the same one she has had since she married, Jim, my stepdad.  It was nothing personal, in fact, the doctor had expressed to mom her deep sorrow for leaving Jim and mom, but she needed to move on to another position in order to improve her work-life balance.  

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and her husband, my stepdad, Jim Scherer taken a year or two earlier.

 

           “Who can blame her?” mom said.  “I remember being in my 50s and juggling multiple jobs.  After a while . . .” mom’s voice trailed off. Soon she veered into a seemingly unrelated story about her doctor and her daughter’s fondness for the musical, Wicked  . . .

           “Leaving her office,” Mom said, “I put my hand on her shoulder and said, ‘Because I knew you. . .’”

           Tears filled my eyes as I understood the reference.  Mom, Maddie, and I had seen Wicked a couple of years ago in Cincinnati.   One of the most beautiful songs, and our favorite, in the musical is entitled, “For Good.”  

           “Let me say before we part/So much of me/Is made of what I learned from you/You’ll be with me now/Like a handprint on my heart/And now whatever way our stories end/I know you have rewritten mine . . .”

 

         Maddie, my mom, Dolores Scherer, and me saw Wicked in the fall of 2017 in Cincinnati.

  

         We talked some more, reflecting of her numerous trips with my Dad to pick me up from Ohio University in Athens, and that led me to briefly flash back to my two years after college living my grandparents. Refocused, we talked more about her doctor’s parting recommendations. Yes, she had already spoken to Mom’s new doctor.  Mom was assured Jim and she would be in good hands. “Handprint on my heart. . . .”

 

    Recent photos of my mom with Maddie, my younger sister, Rachel, and one of my nieces, Naomi.

 

           Her words led my mind to quickly wander back to an earlier moment of that morning.  I had looked down at my hands during the course of teaching yoga as the lyrics of, “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” began to fill the studio’s sound system from the songs of my class playlist, and in that moment, my eyes had also filled with tears at the significance this song once held, and still holds, in my own life.

 

           “In my daughter’s eyes . . .I know no fear/But the truth is plain to see/She was sent to rescue me/I see who I want to be /In my daughter’s eyes . . .”

 

           For my mom, there is no mom to call; and, yet, when I look at my mom, I see my Grandmother’s eyes there.  No they are not as milky as Grandmother’s were in the end, but it’s in the way Mom’s eyes light up at the sight of her family, her kids, her grandkids . . .the way I hope mine do when I see my daughter; and Maddie says, “Aw, mom, you’re not going to cry, are you?’

 

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My mom’s mom, “Grandmother,” my sister, Traci, me, and my Mom taken many years ago.

 

          I am forever changed by these remarkable women.  Their voices, forever a resident in my heart: Grandmother Helen’s, “Stethie, I’ll let you go get that for me at the store” . . ..  Mom’s, “Stephanie Rene, have you finished straightening your bedroom yet? What are you still doing in that closet looking at those books?” . . . . Madelyn’s, “Hey, mom, I’ve just got to vent for a moment. Listen to this . . .”

“I love you, Grandmother” . . .”I love you, Mom” . . .”I love you, Maddie” . . . .

         “ . . .It’s hanging on when your heart has had enough/ It’s giving more when you feel like giving up/I’ve seen the light/ It’s in my daughter’s eyes.”

“. . . You’ll be with me/ Like a handprint on my heart . . .”

           Happy Mother’s Day to all.

 

 

           

           

 

Lexington, KY, revisit April 2019, Part 2

           “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”—Daniel Boone

           Author’s Note:  This is part 2 of a travel piece regarding my recent trip with my husband, John, to Lexington, KY.

           After a good meal the night before at Pies and Pints and a sweet snack from Trader Joes, we were up early, ready to go at Homes2 to Suites by Hilton Lexington, KY.  First priority though, we both squeezed in a workout. While I would not say, the fitness center at Home2 to Suites offers full gym experience; it does possess enough of the basics to maintain some semblance of a fitness routine.  Of course, after the workout, we took time to enjoy the hotel’s expansive breakfast bar while we mulled over our plans for the day.

           It was over our second cup of coffee that we decided to visit Fort Boonesborough State Park, about a 30 minute, or so, drive away.  We were fortunate to visit in April, the start of their season, which runs from April 5-October 31. This Kentucky State Park offers a campground, pool, and a reconstructed fort built in honor of the original Fort Boonesborough, a frontier fort in Kentucky founded by Daniel Boone and his men following their crossing of the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775.  This reconstructed version is a complete working fort with cabins, blockhouses, and furnishings offering visitors a glimpse into pioneering life in 18th century Kentucky. Throughout the year, Fort Boonesborough offers numerous special events with different historic emphasis. Although there were no special on-going events during our visit, we were able to still get a taste of those early pioneering days.

 

         Images from the entrance area of Forts Boonesborough, Ky.

 

           We began at the orientation building, watching a nearly 30-minute long documentary on the rich and unique history of Fort Boonesborough.  Afterwards, we took our time on a self-guided tour visiting as many of the cabins and blockhouses that were open, as well as listening and interacting with resident volunteers and artisans who make crafts and/or answer questions/offer information about life inside the fort.  These living history staff members were appropriately dressed in 18th century attire, and offered much insight into 18th century pioneer life.

 

      Cabins are arranged in a circle.  Visitors are encouraged to turn left past the entrance and begin at the Orientation building. John purchases entrance tickets for us.

 

Beautiful, historical paintings line the walls of the orientation room.

A small snippet of the the introductory video that is quite informative.

 

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Even the bathrooms have bits of 18th century history for visitors.

 

           In fact, we learned a few random, but fun facts.  For example, at one cabin, we were able to view how yarn was made from locally harvested wool and dyed, using native plants, such as walnuts, black eyed-susan flowers, and goldenrod, the state flower of Kentucky.  We further learned that women’s dresses were purposefully made without fasteners because an 18th century woman, living at Fort Boonesborough, would have only a couple of dresses her entire adult life, and those dresses needed to be able to accommodate her ever changing body size and shape.  Additionally, women were often better shots with guns than their husbands, as the men could be gone for extended periods at a time; thus leaving the women to defend themselves and their children. Furthermore, as soon as a child was old enough, male or female, they were put to work weaving, spinning yarn, or other such ongoing chores as young as the age of two years!  Plus, nearly every plant in the surrounding woods served some purpose to these pioneers! Additionally, nothing inside the fort was wasted, and all materials that could not be consumed were reused, recycled, or repurposed.

 

  Yarn color variety created by plants grown locally.

Fort Boonesborough’s meeting hall, tavern, and all purpose gathering place.

Other random images from Fort Boonesborough, KY.

           After a complete tour of the fort, we decided to explore one of the hiking trails.  This meandering, downhill (and uphill on the return) path led us down to a beautiful cool area with running water and the not-so-natural sounds of a distant highway! Along the path were numerous tiny white and violet flowers, vibrantly green mosses, and oversized mushrooms. Additionally, birdsong followed us all along the trail adding a melodious backdrop.  By the end, according to my tracker, we had hiked over four miles at a pleasant and conversational pace.

 

The trail starts off as a concrete path, which leads to a crushed limestone path, which leads to two paths that diverge . . .we chose what appeared to be the path less taken as it was narrow and did not show much wear.

Beautiful tree canopy images.

More beautiful images from the trail.

Three short video clips capturing the sights and sounds along the trail.

           Back at the hotel, hungry, tired, but relaxed from all of our time spent out-of-doors, we debated our plans for the evening.  Lexington has a Distillery District along Manchester Street, and John is a huge bourbon fan. However, John is also passionate about finding restaurants in which I can easily dine due to my celiac disease and my commitment to eating mostly plant-based foods.  As he perused through a number of local menus, he came across a place called, Carson’s, not in the Distillery District, but not too far away either. Doing what John does best, he zeroed in on the dishes he thought I’d like and began reading them aloud to me.  I was sold!

           According to the founder, Mark Fichtner, Carson’s is . . .”a rustic, yet refined concept with chef-driven recipes paired with prohibition cocktails, hand-selected wines, and craft beers.”   After a beautiful Uber drive through downtown, we walked into an industrial style setting with abundant leather, wood, brick, and over-sized crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. As odd as that sounds, the atmosphere worked, and put us right as ease.

Water is chilled and  served in repurposed bourbon bottles; chandeliers hang from the ceiling; ample wood and leather; and an attentive and friendly staff make Carson’s atmosphere fun, casual, and yet, refined.

           Our servers for the evening, Cassidy and Madeleine, (I hope I spelled her name correctly!) were attentive, thoughtful, and full of advice/suggestions regarding food and beverages.  Additionally, we were able to meet and spend time talking with Kyle Limmerman, General Manager. He was a wealth of knowledge regarding food, beer, and bourbon, as well as was an on overall great conversationalist!  However, the biggest “talker” of the night, was the food!

 

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Kyle Limmerman, General Manager, at Carson’s in Lexington, KY>

 

           The menu of Carson’s is expansive; spanning all taste ranges from burgers to steaks, ribs to seafood, from salads to gluten, free vegan options, and nearly everything in between.  After much debate, discussion, and advice, we began our meal with béarnaise truffle fries. Oh my heavens, made with béarnaise, white truffle oil, shredded Parmesan, and scallions, John and I could have shared this with four other adults! The taste, scent, and texture were out of this world delicious!  

 

 

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We began with an appetizer, béarnaise truffle fries.

           For the main course, John enjoyed the Pork Belly Beer Cheese Burger.  Topped with lettuce, fried onion strings, spicy aioli, and finished with their sriracha bourbon BBQ sauce, this burger is sure to please!  John ordered it with a side of smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese that looked as if it were swimming in cheese sauce! Needless to say, after eating all of those fries, John ended up taking half of his dinner back to the hotel with us.  

 

           Meanwhile, I ordered the Portabella Vegetable Stack. This beautifully plated meal started with a bed of Bibb leaf lettuce and added grilled tomatoes; asparagus; red, yellow, and green bell peppers; red onion; and jalapeños sautéed. Then, it was topped with sliced avocado, marinated Portobello mushroom, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, cilantro lime vinaigrette, and sriracha. HEAVEN!  What a gluten-free, vegetable delight for me with so many gorgeous colors, tastes, and textures blended into one perfect dish! Unlike John, I ate every last morsel of my meal!

 

 

           Sadly, our stay came to an end, as it was a short, but sweet stay.  We did do a quick stop at Lexington’s Whole Food Market situated in a gorgeous, and seemingly newly developed area, called, The Summit at Fritz Farm, just minutes from the hotel.  While there, I met a super-infectious barista who educated me on all things I did not know about coffee and the use of non-dairy milk to make various coffee drinks. He was quick to offer John and me both samples and made an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk that tasted as good as it looked.

 

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At Whole Foods I enjoyed an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk for the chilly and rainy ride home! 

           We drove home in a chilly rain, but the route was still guarded by ample red buds waving goodbye as we made our way home with warm thoughts of the possibilities for our next food/travel adventure!

From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pleasant travels!

 

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Revisit to Lexington, KY, Part 1

           “There is nothing like Southern hospitality.  It’s such a beautiful and genuine thing.”—Abigail Spencer

           We had to go back.  The lure of its hospitable people, and the family ties to this state that run deeply in both of our families, acted as sirens beckoning for our return.  Of course, there’s no denying our love for a good meal—especially dinner; and, there were so many unexplored eateries vying for our attention. Sigh, yep, we had to go back—even for a short visit.

         It was love at first encounter for John, my husband, and me despite it occurring under a rather stressful situation.  In fact, like an old friend, Lexington, KY was, during our first visit, the calm in the chaos; the salve for the wound; and, the lullaby for the colic.  Okay, I’ll stop with the corny metaphors and get straight to the point. You, Dear Reader, should add Lexington to your short list of towns to visit for a weekend getaway.  

 

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           First stop, back to Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  During our previous visit, about a month earlier, John and I were with family, supporting a loved one at Albert B. Chandler Hospital a few blocks down the road from the hotel.  Due to the fact our stay was hospital related, we received a steep discount from Home2 Suites for our rooms—a considerate policy for customers who require a long term hotel stay in order to remain near loved ones receiving treatment/services at UK hospital.  Plus, the hotel staff could not be nicer. They go out of their way to ensure you have a comfortable, warm and welcoming stay; and we discovered the same was true on this return trip!

 

This is the out-of-doors patio complete with grill, numerous tables/chairs, and it is located just outside the salt water pool of the Homes2 Suites in Lexington, KY.

 

           This time, we did not have the discount; however, we took into consideration the following facts regarding the price: 1) Home2 Suites offers large, comfortable rooms with full size refrigerator, sink, dishes, glasses, cups, utensils, microwave, thus permitting us to bring along a few food items (mostly for me), but also allowing us to store any leftovers from dinners for later consumption.  2) Breakfast is included in the price, and it includes a wide array of food choices. In fact, I think the hotel advertises that there are over 400 breakfast combinations that can be created. 3) Therefore, the only meal for which we would need to buy was dinner. Plus, at Hilton hotels, fresh fruit, afternoon cookies, as well as hot and cold beverages are always available to the customer at no extra cost. 4) Plus, we were only staying two nights, making this stay budget friendly.

 

This is the just the oatmeal/cereal station section.  It is the section of the breakfast bar I visited, but there is soooo MUCH more offered here.

 

        The comfy lobby and breakfast area of Homes2 Suites. 

 

          We left on a Wednesday, immediately after school, because the school in which John and I teach, St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, was closed in honor of Easter for a few days.  Of course, that meant we hit Lexington at the height of rush hour. Ugh! By the time we navigated traffic, and what seemed like an unending sea of stoplights, we made it to the hotel after 6:00 pm.   Once settled in our room, we quickly made plans for an early evening, in order to be more rested and fully ready to enjoy the following day’s activities.

           We quickly decided to use Uber and head to Pies and Pints, a favorite of ours–though we had not visited this location.  Using Uber is something John and I enjoy doing when traveling because it allows us to ask questions, fully view the town, and gain insight into the location in which we are staying. As we drove through the heart of Lexington, the driver highlighted different spots along the route, noting those popular with University of Kentucky students versus spots favored by locals.  The weather was fine and students, professorial types, as well as all walks-of-life were strolling the walks of Lexington soaking up the last of the evening sunshine.

 

Menu from Pies and Pints.  Notice all of the gluten free options.

 

           As it turned out, Pies and Pints is next to Lexington Visitors Center in the square just across the street from the Convention Center and Triangle Park as well as within walking distance of Rupp Arena! The ambient sound of the nearby water fountains filled the air with a satisfyingly serene sound.  A man sang and danced across the street on the sidewalk opposite of ours, and colorful flowers sprouted along the walks. It reminded us of the drive to Lexington that afternoon as we passed one red bud tree after another—a long purple parade of petaled soldiers standing at rapt attention as we drove past one colorful roadside display after another.  Scents of spring abounded all around, followed by aromas of. . . . pizza, of course!

 

 

           Just like other Pies and Pints, this Lexington location offered the same menu staples with plenty of gluten free and vegetarian options for me, along with plenty of carnivore choices for John! However, for those who enjoy beer, each location of Pies and Pints features a unique menu of craft beers, many of which are local to the location.  In fact, Lexington Pies and Pints offered 35 beers and root beer (non-alcoholic) on tap, plus an extensive bottled beer menu.

 

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Devan, our bartender/waiter for the evening, was courteous, efficient, and attentive.

 

           Devan (I think that was our waiter/bar-tender’s name!) was courteous, attentive, and prompt with service.  John and I decided to relax and take our time with dinner. Therefore, we gave their chips and salsa a try while enjoying conversation before ordering our meals. Big mistake!  Why? Because their salsa is so stinkin’ delicious that we ate MUCH more than we needed, but boy, was it good!!

 

Chips and salsa for an appetizer hit the spot!

 

           We eventually decided upon our meals. I had to have their simple salad.  Maybe it’s the way they thickly cut cucumber slices and hollow out the center before cutting each piece in half, but there is something special about their simple salad that I cannot get enough of it!  Of course, it could also be their creamy Gorgonzola dressing that I always get served on the side. Whatever it is, it all comes together in deliciously tasting salad.  But, did I stop there? No!

 

This salad . . .

          I also ordered the Black Bean Speciality Pie with a gluten free crust.  This pizza is served with black beans, cheddar, jalapeños, salsa, cilantro & crème fraiche.  If you like a spicy beans and salsa, then this pie is sure to please! Plus, the gluten-free crust is actually quite good!

 

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          Meanwhile, John ordered a small pizza pie with traditional red sauce.  He had it topped off with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Boy, did it look and smell good!  Unfortunately, he was so full from all of the chips and salsa we had noshed on earlier, that over half of his pie went uneaten that night.  Of course, it made a delicious lunch for him the next day!

 

 

          Throughout our time at Pies and Pints, our service was excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxed and yet upbeat.  I can only imagine the number of pizza pies made, and pints drank on afternoons/evenings of UK basketball games! What an ideal location for this tasty food venue!  John and I would certainly return, and we would highly recommend it for fun and a festive food atmosphere with friends and family!

 

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          After the Uber ride home, taking in more of the sights of Lexington, we decided to amble across the hotel’s parking lot to Trader Joe’s Grocery.  John and I cannot help ourselves! We love to visit grocery stores that we cannot find at home in order to see what’s trending food-wise outside our local area.  As with the one other Trader Joe’s we have visited, this one wasn’t large, but boy did it offer a wide variety of items not necessarily available in our local grocery market at fairly reasonable prices.  We found a few treats to try in the true spirit of further food adventures, and I could not help but feel a envious of the gluten free, non-dairy, and vegan options available there, but not available here locally.  Oh well . . . that’s what made it special!

 

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          Thus, the end came to a great first, albeit short day, in Lexington.  Part 2 of our Lexington stay will follow next week. . .

          

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Tippi Tail, one of our cats, was not happy we were leaving. Thus, this must be her attempt to keep us from packing!

 

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.

 

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           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.

 

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           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.

 

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           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.

 

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         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?

 

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           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

 

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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.

 

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           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.

 

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           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.

 

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           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.

 

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           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.  

 

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           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.

 

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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

 

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           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.  

 

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           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!”

 

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            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.

 

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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.

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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.”

 

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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!  

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 . . .

 

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           “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.

 

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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!”

 

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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.

 

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           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