Ravens Rock Trail, Portsmouth, OH

            “But the love of adventure was in father’s blood.”—Buffalo Bill

           “Only one who wanders finds a new path.”—Norwegian Proverb

As a young girl, one of my favorite events was a Sunday afternoon hike with my dad, Larry Musick. Dad would gather part or all of us kids. (Counting me, there were four kids in my family, of which, I was the oldest.) This most often occurred, as best I can recall, on fall or mild winter days. Once bundled up, we traipsed out into our back yard and headed up a petite hill to what we referred to as the “back road.”

The back road was really a long right-of-way dirt path to the property behind our neighborhood street. The Broughton family owned most of the hillside behind one side of our neighborhood, and had a farm just beyond the top of our cul-de-sac street. They were a quiet family who mostly kept to themselves, but had given Dad permission to hike their property from time to time.

Dad, as I recall, was never in a hurry with us when we hiked, and he was especially patient. We could pile leaves together and jump in them if we wanted, or swing on a vine hanging from trees, and then, bravely jump off. He’d talk to us about the different types of trees, nuts, birds, animal tracks, leaves, and so forth. Sometimes, on rare moments, he could convince us to be quiet, so we could learn to hear God’s voice whistling and whispering to us amongst those rolling hills.

I recall on a couple of walks, we seemed to get “lost,” but if Dad was worried, he never let on to us. In fact, these “lost-times” were often the best hikes because that was when we discovered, in my overactive kids imagination, magical places. Once or twice, we ran across a group of family tombstones so old the writing was weathered and unreadable. I felt certain, in my child’s heart, the buried family had been brave pioneers who had withstood a number of Indian attacks. Another time or two, we encountered the hearth and foundation of what appeared to have once been a tiny home. My imagination would be stirred once more, and I could vividly envision my childhood storybooks for which this home might have been the setting.

My point is this—I found peace during those times– I could not have articulated it then, but I was developing a profound sense of Divine communion when I was out exploring on those wooded hill hikes of long ago. Just as from a tiny acorn, a mighty, deeply rooted oak can grow, so too, was a seed planted within me during those hikes. Even now, at age 51—I feel deeply rooted and simultaneously awe-inspired when I spend in nature.

Recently, I had the pleasure to join my Dad on a hike in honor of Father’s Day, but I’m not sure if it was a gift to him or a gift to me! The original plan was to hike and/or visit what we call, “High Rock,” the towering overlook above Ohio 52 near Hanging Rock. However, we discovered that access is now denied as we encountered a “No trespassing” sign. Therefore, we had to give up that notion, and quickly come up with an alternative.

My dad, Larry Musick, about half-way up trail pictured in what I referred to as the “Rock Garden.”
Dad at the top of the ridge, just before walking onto Ravens Rock.
This sign is so small. No wonder I have driven past this trail head repeatedly and never noticed it.

In keeping with the hike-with-a-view theme, we formed an alternate plan to hike Ravens Rock trail, a suggestion from my husband before we left home. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had we, but Dad and I decided it was worth a try.

Located directly across from the Shiners’ Lodge and Portsmouth West schools, I have literally driven past Ravens Rock trailhead on numerous occasions and never knew it existed. In fact, it wasn’t until 1996 that this land, that includes three arches formed from Mississippian sandstone, became an official nature preserve. In fact, due to the vulnerability of the cliff community and the rigorousness of the trail, hikers are only allowed to explore this path with a permit. This was not hard to obtain, as we simply had to drive a bit past Ravens Rock and follow the signs to Shawnee State Park Lodge to the Shawnee Parks Office, just before the lodge, and apply for a free permit there. Additionally, permits can be obtained on-line.

Dad and I had the perfect day—at least as far as summer hiking goes. It was cloudy and breezy, a bit humid, but not too hot. It wasn’t until after the hike that I learned that Dad and I had ascended approximately 500 feet on this winding, steep, but well marked trail. Additionally, I also later learned that the path is lined with blackjack oak trees—a potentially threatened tree species in Ohio. Likewise, the state endangered, small-flowered scorpion weed can also be viewed along this trail; and, while I did not spy this flower along the path, I did observe several varieties of minute flowering plants dancing in the breeze.

Based upon what we read before our hike, as well as information we read on a sign at the top of the trail, Native Americans, such as Shawnee scouts, once used the rock as a lookout in search of European settlers. These settlers traveled by flat boats on the Ohio River and could be seen from this high rock; and thus, the Indians could then launch attacks in an attempt to keep the white settlers out of the Ohio territory.

In fact, one legend, (though there are many variation) credits Native Americans for naming the rock as it supposedly looks like a raven with outstretched wings. As previously mentioned, there are three natural arches, with the largest spanning 10-15 feet long, depending upon the source cited, and 14 inches wide at it most narrow point.

The trail to reach the high bluff is 1.5 miles long—which doesn’t sound too bad—until you realize it’s all ascending. Nonetheless, it is quite doable for all levels of healthy hikers. Furthermore, once you arrive at the top, it is well worth the “uphill battle” (pun-intended).

I immediately exclaimed to Dad that this was a double-high-five view as we took our first glance of the expansive, and spectacular panorama. In fact, I felt downright giddy as we gazed out over the Portsmouth/Ohio River Valley area. We could see sprawling fields, the Ohio River snaking through the valley, and layer upon layer of hills across the river in Kentucky.   To the left side was the beautiful, cabled Portsmouth bridge, to the right was the quilted patchwork of farmland, directly below us were the new Portsmouth West schools, and above us, well, I am pretty sure I could have tickled God’s beard if I had jumped—of course that may just be a slight exaggeration. Dad and I sat down and remained seated for 20 or so minutes just soaking the goodness from below and above. Funny, how a change in perspective can alter your view—literally and figuratively.


For those with curiosities, like my Dad and me, you can certainly explore a bit at the top.   However, we HIGHLY recommend hikers exercise great care and caution if choosing to do this. Dad and I felt like we were on a giant, natural jungle gym for adults as we climbed, photographed, and investigated the magnificent rocky area.

Dad and I agreed; Ravens Rock is a hiking gem. It is a trail we would highly recommend, no matter the season. It is certainly worth the drive and the climb.

Dad and I agreed; We would definitely recommend Ravens Rock trail!

Sometimes we must quiet ourselves, look inward to find the right path

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”—Coco Chanel

          “A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

As I stepped out of our car and into the garage, I immediately noticed the twittering of a bird. This was not, necessarily, an unexpected sound during the month of June with the garage door open. Chirp, chirp, chirp–it was a frantic sort of cry. Chirp, chirp, chirp–the sound became more rapid, more insistent. Chirp, chirp, chirp—why was this sound so loud? Something nagged at my subconscious until my full attention came to rest on the source of this sound.

A small bird was in our garage. How long had it been here, I mused? I had left the garage door open while I ventured to the grocery store as my husband, John, remained home. It was perched on a shelf close to the ceiling directly opposite of the open door. Watching it, I noticed it fly upwards, hit its head on the ceiling, and alight once more on the shelf.   Next, it flew towards the wide garage door, but instead of banking down and left, it zoomed upward and right; then plopped down in seeming frustration on top of the garage door.

Tittering its complaints even louder, it burst into flight towards the narrow side door. By this time, John had stepped out into the garage and quickly opened this door in anticipation of the bird’s exit. Instead, our little winged friend mounted upwards and hit its head against the doorframe. Flittering in a dazed like fashion, it managed to make it back to the opposite side of the garage to that ceiling-high shelf once more. John dashed around the garage waving his arms, hooting, and saying things like, “Fly this way bird.” The bird attempted, several more times in fact, its urgent callings, miscalculations, and repeated banging of its head just above doors of escape.

John then opened the other garage bay door. Surely now, with three open doors, our mournful, anxious sounding bird could successfully escape the walls of our garage. Alas, no. Chirping lugubriously for an escape, it took full flight towards the newly opened door. Hope ballooned within my chest for this stressed creature of God, but then faded with an exhale as the bird mounted upwards, instead of gliding low, and came to roost upon the top of this door where it remained, appearing to surrender.

Meanwhile, John and I carried in groceries; however, because of the heat on the outside, and the air conditioning on the inside, a vexing fly worked its way into the house. As I put away groceries, it kept banging itself again one window and another. I would try to shoo it towards the back door while simultaneously opening the door, only for the insect to veer upwards at the last minute, missing the open door. What was wrong with these flying creatures? Then, the lesson hit me as Divine Providence was once again providing me with an object lesson.

I think back to one of my earliest dates with John. We were in a parking garage trying to exit it through a glass door. We could clearly see our destination on other side, yet the more we pushed the door, the more firm it held. Were we to be trapped in this garage forever? John pushed. I pushed. Why was this door locked? I pushed. John pushed. We pushed together. Pausing, we looked into one another’s eyes filled with questions of what to do.   Finally, it occurred to John to pull inward, instead of push outward, and the door opened easily.

As humans, so often we push and push under the illusion that we can control—control a situation, control our destiny, control another, and so forth. And yet, in all honesty, we are in control of very little. It is only when we relinquish control, look inwardly, and get quiet that we can hear the answers, the directions, and the solutions in whatever human situations we may find ourselves. Attempting to control an outcome, another human being, or a certain situation never works in the end. Ultimately, we can only control our own behaviors, actions/reactions, or words; and, we make the best choices when we take that inward gaze, allowing God to guide us. It is only when we put our full trust in God, that our direction, acceleration, and flight can be fully guided—but only our own—not that of others.

This was a hard and profound lesson as I witnessed the stunned bird, sitting motionless on top of the very door in which it could make its escape. Every now and then I would peek at this bird as it remained sitting, chest heaving, but voice now quiet. Had it given it up, or was it going inward to its earliest teachings with Mamma bird? Away I would walk, saying a prayer for the bird, and trying to ignore the pesky fly banging repetitively at the back door window. How many times have I witnessed loved ones, including myself, in a similar situation as that bird and fly? What a life metaphor.

Throughout my various positions in life, how many times have I tried to control another person or a certain outcome? Additionally, how many times have I tried to force something to happen in my own life without meditating on whether it was aligned with what I know to be true and right at my core? Further, how many times have I fretted over the behaviors, or circumstance of another, wishing these would change—wondering how I could change it? From war to politics, from drugs to poverty, from seemingly poor choices of friends to anxieties of loved ones, and so on, I must let it all go.

Instead, I must put into practice a saying I have often said to students of all ages in some variation: “You take care of you, that’s a full time job.” Life is not for me, or anyone else, to judge, push, and attempt to control. Instead, we must trust in Divine Providence, look inward, honor what we know to be true for self, and allow doors to open in Universal time—not ours.

Stepping out into the garage an hour or so later, I took in the bird, still poised on top of that garage door. Moments later, the birds wings defied inertia, gave lift, and accelerated swiftly, pitched right and slightly down, then soared, defying gravity and lifted out into the June afternoon never to be seen again.





Sugar Hollow Hiking Trail, aka Moorman’s River Trail, Charlottesville, VA

        “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”—John Muir

       “If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”—Raymond Inmon

“If you like hiking, you should try my favorite trail.” I was talking to a vivacious, young saleslady in a store in Charlottesville. VA. She was one year older than my own 18-year-old daughter, and her co-worker was the exact same age. Her expressive eyes communicated almost as much as her words.

“My first semester this past year started off rough. I remember going to my advisor’s office and crying, feeling as if I would never make it in college.”   She went on to explain that a few weeks later, she landed a part-time job and was then able to have a car on-campus.

“Once I had my car, I was able to leave campus and explore the Charlottesville area.” Continuing, she explained that it was through one of her weekend excursions that she found what she referred to as her, “favorite hiking trail and swimming hole.” She called it, the “Sugar Hollow trail,” but my husband, John, and I would later learn its actual name is the Moorman’s River trail, near Sugar Hollow.

John and I were staying in Charlottesville, VA in June of 2017 celebrating the 28th anniversary of our wedding. The week in which we stayed was hot and humid—with temperatures soaring into the 90s, while lows merely dipped into the 70s, and thunderstorms occurred each afternoon/evening. The morning prior to this conversation, John and I had traversed along the Rivanna Trail for a round-trip hike of approximately ten miles, and we were up for a new challenge!

After talking it over, we decided that Sugar Hollow, aka Moorman’s River trail, sounded right up our alley. Described by our young friend as possessing several waterfalls, swimming holes, and picturesque scenery, John and I were super pumped. We both feel renewed and close to God anytime we are out in the woods and/or near water, especially wooded waterways. Searching on our Google maps and Waze GPS apps, we found a location for Sugar Hollow, so we thought we were all set!

Jetting off the next morning on I-64 towards Crozet, VA, John and I believed with our trusty map apps in hand, all was good. Crozet itself is an adorable, clean, quaint looking town, we observed, as we made our way along the winding roads to what we thought was our hiking destination. The drive itself was stunning. Beautiful roadside vistas, rolling cattle farms, and charming wine vineyards zoomed past us on twisty-turny country roads. Eventually, we no longer had cell phone service, and my Google maps app quit working on my phone; however, John’s Waze app fortunately continued working.

Soon the road narrowed greatly, and the pavement began to look worn. Before long, we were driving along a mixture of gravel/dirt road. We were following the Moorman River, an ambling, rocky river that looked like trout/fly-fishing waters with its rocky bottom, shallow waters as well as here and there waterfalls. We drove past a camp called, The Living Earth School, which appeared to be currently in use as a summer day camp. Continuing on down the dirt path, we passed the Sugar Hollow Inn, a beautiful bed and breakfast in the middle of a mountain/river valley. Finally, the Waze app said we had arrived.


Parking the car in what appeared to be a parking lot and walking around, we found a sign that stated we were at the Sugar Hollow Dam and Reservoir. (We later learned this dam was scenery for the beginning of the of the movie, Evan Almighty. Who knew?) Searching all around, we never found what appeared to be a trailhead. Long story, longer, we decided to drive a few miles back to the camp. Lo and behold, one helpful camp counselor sent us right back in the direction from which we came! As it turned out, when we were at the dam, we were only a short distance away from the trailhead!

Apparently, at one time, there were two parking areas for this popular outdoor adventure area; however, there is now only one, and it was packed when we arrived. That said, for as many cars as we saw—we did not encounter what we would consider a large number of people that day. Further, the hikers we did encounter spanned the age bracket from preschoolers to senior adults and all ages in between. Additionally, the hikers we met, as a general rule, were friendly, helpful, and courteous.

The hike itself is 4.5 miles or so. The elevation change is 460 to 625 feet—depending upon the source referenced. John and I agreed the path could best be described as gently sloping. Our heart rates were elevated, but steady throughout the hike; and, we were never huffing or puffing as often happens on steep incline trails. The challenge came with stream crossings. We encountered three crossings in which we either had to choose to wade the water, or balance-step from one rock to the next across the stream—which is what we did until the third crossing. At the third, and final, crossing, there was no way to avoid getting our feet submerged in the water; and, while John was wearing waterproof boots, my hiking shoes were only water resistant. Therefore, we made the choice to skip the last short leg of the hike because the idea of finishing the trail, walking back through the water, and then continuing the rest of the way down hill with wet feet sounded like an excellent invitation to blisters!

Nonetheless, this trail was fairly easy to navigate and certainly well maintained. In fact, I would call it pleasing as we hiked along to the continuous musical sound of flowing water. Additionally, there was indeed one swimming hole along this trail that seemed fairly popular with young families, teens, and young-adults. Furthermore, on this particular day, the trail was teeming with a multitude of butterflies of all sizes and colors. These ethereal creatures flitted, floated, and fluttered along the path and nearby wooded area. At times, it felt as if John and I were experiencing an otherworldly hike; and at any time, we might encounter a fairy, nymph or elf. (Perhaps, this is a sign I have an overactive imagination!)

In conclusion, John and I most certainly hope to return to this trail. It is a superb trail for those who enjoy beautiful scenery, a shaded path, the sound of babbling water, and a doable hike that isn’t super difficult, but definitely nourishing for soul. Next time, however, waterproof shoes, hiking poles (for balancing over rocky stream crossings), and bug spray will certainly be on the list of required attire/accessories! In the meantime, we highly recommend this trail to healthy hikers of all ages!

Another hiking couple volunteered to take our picture for us along the Moorman’s River Trail.



Dining in Charlottesville, VA at Travinia

  “There’s nothing more romantic than Italian food.”—Elisha Cuthbert

It was my turn to pick a restaurant. My husband, John, and I were visiting Charlottesville, VA, celebrating the 28th anniversary of our wedding. We had walked nearly five miles along a section of the Rihanna River on the Rivanna Trail near the Woolen Mills Village Historic District that morning. Later in the afternoon, we ambled around and along Charlottesville Historic Pedestrian Downtown Mall, which also happens to be one of the longest pedestrian malls in the United States.   All told that day, we walked over 11 miles! Plus, earlier in the morning, I had completed a 30 minutes yoga practice. I say all of that to say, I WAS HUNGRY!

While I had taken in plenty of water that day, as it was super-humid and hot, and had noshed three protein/vitamin rich fuelings, I was certainly ready for a healthy meal.   However, eating out for me is often tricky, at least around home, because I have celiac disease; and thus, I should not consume wheat, barely, or rye products, aka gluten. No worries in Charlottesville, VA though! John hopped on Trip Advisor, and within seconds, we had an array of choices—all offering gluten-free selections! From burger joints to pizza spots; from Chinese to Thai; from Mexican to Italian; truly, my choices were nearly limitless. Ultimately, I chose Travinia, an Italian Kitchen.

In addition to searching for gluten-free choices, John has further become a sleuthhound for restaurants with happy hour specials, and Travinia was no exception. In fact, their happy hour was held for a rather long period when compared to other dining venues as it is from 4:00-7:00, Monday through Friday. Therefore, we made sure to arrive around 5:30 or so.

Many diners mistakenly think that happy hour only means alcoholic drink specials; however, our travel experience has taught us this is, in fact, not true. Most well established restaurants, especially in a competitive market, offer various drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and food specials during happy hour! That said, these eateries might require the diner to sit in the bar or patio area, but you are not obligated to drink. Travinia, did in fact offer discounted drink specials, including 25% off wine bottles, but the restaurant also had numerous $5.00 food choices, including mussels, fondue, flatbread, crab sliders, and a weekly chef special.

Walking into the restaurant, we were immediately drawn to its simplicity, beauty, and spaciousness. Stone and caramel colored wood adorned most of the walls, interior and exterior, as well as the patio. Expansive windows also lined the walls while the bar was a long, curved crescent.   The ambiance was warm, inviting, and fragrant. Our attentive, friendly servers on this particular evening were Katie and Sarah.

Scanning the menu, it was clear John and I had a challenge ahead of us as there were so many tasty offerings, and that included copious gluten-free choices. While we perused the menu, we were served freshly made bread with a side of seasoned olive oil.  Sadly, it was not gluten free, but John enjoyed it immensely!

Ultimately, we began our meal with two abundant sized, vibrantly colored (and these were supposedly the small portion) salads piled with local, fresh mixed greens, tomatoes, shredded carrots, and cucumber. All dressings were made fresh in the house. I tried their balsamic vinaigrette, while John tried a warm pancetta dressing—both were outstanding! Next, for dinner, I enjoyed a rustic gluten-free, tomato-based pasta dish in which the pasta didn’t taste pasty, or powdery, as gluten-free pastas often do. Meanwhile, John chose a BBQ chicken flatbread with a side of made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese—one of his all times favorites.   While I could only eat half of my serving, John did just fine with the amount he was served, as the flatbreads were not oversized, but just right!

We did not walk away from Travinia hungry on that night. What’s more, I often have digestive issues when dining out due to something called, cross-contamination. This is when gluten is accidentally slipped into my food due to an unclean kitchen, chefs not changing gloves when switching from preparing a dish with gluten to a dish without gluten, or gluten particles, such as flour, floating in the air and landing on my gluten free dish. However, I had absolutely no issues later that night, or the next morning! What’s more, we were fueled, but not over-full, and ready for our following day of adventure!

John and I send much appreciation and gratitude to Katie, Sarah, the chefs, and staff at Travinia on June 13, 2017 for an outstanding, gluten-free, and scrumptious dinner experience. We hope to return one day! In the meantime, if you are ever in Charlottesville, VA, and enjoy dining on sumptuous Italian food, I encourage you to try Travinia.




I See You

    “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”–Proverbs 21:13

I see you.

Hunched in the same coffee shop, more mornings than not.

Your head may be bowed, but you don’t seem broken–yet.

I see you.

Making swift inspections of all, but direct contact for none.

Sipping, or pretending to sip, from that emblazoned cup.

I see you.

Full head of gray hair trimmed in an unfashionable way.

Body thick. Were you once strong?

I see you.

Sitting in the usual spots around town as the evening sun sets.

Cart by your side, you remain visibly near people. Why?

I see you.

Blankets folded; stacked tidily upon that cart.

Socks drip-drying from the top

I see you.

Peaceful. Reserved. Quiet.

What were you like as a child?

I see you.

Did your mom sing to you and call you dear?

Did you have a father proudly call you son?

I see you.

Did you laugh, romp, and hoot with other boys your age;

Eat ice cream, blow bubbles, or catch a lightening bug in a jar?

I see you.

What is your name?

What is your story?

I know you see me too

Because one day, by chance, or was it purpose,

Your eyes met mine.

I saw the glint.

Short though it was.

Was that acceptance that I saw?

I see you.



Want to Feel Closer to your Creator? Spend Time in Nature

            “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. They will not fear when the heat comes; its leaves will be green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”—Jeremiah 17:8

          “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”—William Shakespeare

The day was mild and breezy with vivid turquoise skies that acted as a bright backdrop to billowy, clouds with ample spaces of blue in between. It was the kind of day that imbues my spirit with gladness, joy, and hope—hope for my loved ones; hope for my own personal journey; and hope, as corny as it sounds, for the world. It is as if I caught God smiling when He thought no one was looking—smiling at the potential instilled within each of us at our creation. Frankly, it was one of those gloriously cheerful days that if I were my younger self, I would have enwrapped myself with a mock-hug.

Alas, sigh, I am an adult; and, hugging myself in public would certainly provoke an odd look or two! Still, I walked along the familiar paths of Ritter Park with a Cheshire cat grin on my face soaking in as much of the radiance and positive energy my time permitted. Reflecting over the past months, it occurred to me how infrequently I have visited the park. In years past, I ran it almost daily, but a back injury abruptly halted my running, and for several months, even walking was prohibited.

Since August, when the back discomfort became too overwhelming to ignore and a doctor’s visit revealed three bulging discs and an extra vertebrae in my lower back, I began practicing yoga nearly every day in lieu of running, well, who am I kidding, slowly plodding along, in the park. That said, practicing yoga daily has been a positive side effect of my injury. My body, especially my back, core, and shoulders are certainly stronger. Additionally, because I tend to practice yoga first thing in the morning, I start my day with a mind that is more settled, centered, and peaceful—at least for a few hours!   However, I never realized how grounding it was for me to spend time outdoors with nature until this injury.

Therefore, each time I am fortunate enough to be outside for any length of time, especially at the park, I have a newfound appreciation for its uplifting benefits. One particular advantage for me is the lessons nature never fails to present my mind, especially if I am not plugged in to any device. It is as if brain fog lifts, and God is right there whispering lessons in the vibrations of the rustling leaves. And, this day, in particular, was no exception.

My eye was repeatedly drawn to the towering trees that line the paths throughout the park. In addition to taking in the outstretched and soaring limbs, I further observed the outspread roots splaying in all directions at the base of each trunk. So thick and sturdy were these roots, they seemed to be playing peek-a-boo through the grassy soil with passersby. Indeed, there was a lesson here for me to ponder.

In the meantime, my husband, John, and my father, Larry Musick, were spending this glorious day fishing for small-mouth bass on Brush Creek, a nearly 60 mile-long stream that begins in Highland County, flows through Adams County, past the famous Serpent Mound and on to its ultimate merge with the Ohio River, approximately four miles west of Rome. As I continued on my ambling through Ritter Park, John began sending me pictures of Dad, the creek, and, of course, the smallies they were catching and releasing. Of noteworthy interest to me was a video of the bubblings, gurglings, and babblings of Brush Creek. The text accompanying the video simply stated, “I could listen to this all day.” I knew what he meant as I could listen to the sounds of the breeze playing in the trees, the twitterings of the birds, and the titterings of the squirrels all day as well.

Like the trees, Divine Providence is calling us to be deeply rooted in our faith, so deeply implanted, in fact, our roots, like the roots in the park, should be visible to those we encounter. Likewise, we must spread our branches wide enough to be open to receiving and appreciating the blessings that abound around us—even an injury has a blessing. In fact, it is those seemingly common miracles, like a beautiful sunny day, that should fill us with as much joy as those dancing leaves I overheard in the park.

Further, like the creek’s musical burblings flowing under, over, and around Dad’s and John’s feet, so we too should overflow with compassion and positivity to others even in the face of seemingly bad times—even droughts are eventually followed by life-giving rains. And, just like the stream kindly shared its “fruit” in the form of fish, we too must give to others—just as Dad and John gave back the fish to the stream.

All waters flow and merge together. Creeks flow into rivers, and rivers flow into oceans. Ultimately, all water evaporates to the heavens, returning to the ultimate Source. Likewise, so will our earthly bodies merge with all the souls before us, and the souls to come after us. The earth, the sky, the sun, the rain, the animals, the plants, and us—we are all from the same Creator. Why wouldn’t time in nature make us happy? My lesson to learn: time spent in nature brings me closer to my Creator the source of all energy, all peace, all wisdom, all hope, all joy, and most of all, love. We are one.




Protein Pancake

What’s not to love about a pancake, especially one that’s primed with protein?!?!  Plus, like a painter’s blank canvas, protein pancakes can be flavored and/or topped with a wide array of healthy ingredients.  I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t have time to make pancakes in the morning.  I have two possible solutions for you–make your pancakes ahead of time, or multi-task while making this fresh in the morning as it takes about 5-10 minutes of cook time, depending upon how hot your griddle or stove runs.

Starting your day of protein has numerous advantages.  To begin, starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast supplies your stomach with nutrients so that it feels full and reduces your desire to eat when you arrive at work.  Plus, it allows your body to maintain a lower level of a hunger-stimulating hormone called ghrelin–which can help reduce those brain-related “cravings.”  Additionally, people who consume high levels of protein in the morning typically consume less unhealthy, fatty foods later in the day.  Finally, some studies even indicate noshing a high-protein breakfast within 30-60 minutes of waking up not only jump start their metabolism, but often end up taking in 100 or so fewer calories per day.

Why not indulge in a tasty protein pancake for your next breakfast??  You can use your favorite protein powder, so it can be gluten-free (or other allergen-free), vegetarian, vegan, or animal based–the choice is yours! What’s more, your stomach, mind, and body will thank you later!

Steph’s Basic Protein Pancake Recipe

1 scoop or packet of your favorite protein

1/4-1/2 cup water, milk, or milk-product (The less liquid, the thicker the pancake)

1-2 egg whites (depending upon your protein level requirements–plus, egg white gives it a nice, fluffy texture)

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

Dash of salt (I use pink himalayan salt.)

Now, feel free to pick as many of the following add-ins as your taste and nutrition requirements prefer:

1/4 – 1/2 cup favorite berry

1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, etc . . .

1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon powdered peanut butter

1 packet of sweetener, especially if using cocoa (I prefer Stevia based sweetener.)

2 teaspoons –  1/4 cup oats or oat bran (for thickness & heartiness–only if desired)

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc . . .

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or maple, coconut, lemon, orange, etc. . .)


Coat griddle or small pan with nonstick cooking spray, butter, or coconut oil, and preheat to medium. (You’ll know it is warm enough if a drop of water “skitters” (bounces) across surface.)

Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients first, and then add wet.

Stir until protein powder had dissolved, but lumps may remain, depending upon additions.

Pour onto preheated pan.  If possible, cover.

Leave alone, and do not flip for 5-9 minutes until bubbles form across entire top of pancake and edges are firm when touched with a spatula. (While cooking you can pack your lunch for the day, check your Facebook or Instagram account, or even dry your hair!)

Using a large spatula, flip entire pancake over with one quick, fell swoop.

Turn off heat and allow to sit in pan for approximately 2 minutes.

Serve immediately; or allow to cool, and store in resealable bag in fridge for up to 2 days until ready to eat.  Then, simply reheat and enjoy!

Makes one large protein pancake!

Top with your favorite topping!

**In picture, I have topped my gluten-free, vitamin and protein enriched pancake with 1-tablespoon of powdered peanut mixed with 2, or so, teaspoons of water.  I sprinkled that with a few Enjoy Life brand (gluten-free) semi-sweet mini-chocolate chips for the picture!  Please contact me if interested in finding out more about protein source I used!






‘Birth is God’s way of reminding us that good still exists’


“And I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”—Mitch Albom

“Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children.”—Charlotte Gray

I could hear her squalling, yet the door remained closed. It was that tiny cry that seems cat-like—the high-pitched sound that only an infant can create. Immediately, my heart hurt, and my arms yearned—even though I knew she was safe, secure, and soundly in her mother’s direct supervision. It was pure maternal instinct that longed to provide comfort to the grieving, unseen newborn.

Catching the eye of my brother, Scott, I could see the tension across his face. Only moments earlier, he had knocked, asking to enter, but instead had been told to wait outside in the hallway while the photographer finished her work. He seemed filled with both joy and anxiety. Joy at becoming a grandfather; anxiety-ridden hearing his concealed granddaughter cry for the first time. Who knew hospitals had an official photography session for newborns? Much had changed since Scott had his own children 20-plus years ago.

Gratefully, the photographer finished; politely speaking to us as she pushed her black velvet covered cart passed us. By this point, my mom had also arrived, so she and Scott entered the hospital room first.

Passing into the room after them, I took in the scene. Hugs were shared with all present. Meanwhile, in front of me, was a young lady, my niece, Lydia, looking quite fatigued, but still radiating pride, love, and joy as she carefully dressed her firstborn child, a beautiful baby named Luna. Lydia talked softly and sweetly to her unhappy baby girl who was clearly not pleased with the current situation. Luna’s limbs writhed in protest within her tiny, but tall hospital bed as Lydia carefully placed each of her extremities into a cozy pajama-type outfit. Once in the security of her mother’s arms, however, all crying ceased; an audible sigh could be heard as Luna nestled into loving comfort once more.

At the base of the baby’s bed were Luna’s inky-black footprints. Lydia immediately pointed out the size of Luna’s feet to Scott, her father, laughing at the way Luna had inherited big feet from both sides of the family. Scott listened and laughed along, but both he, and my mom, Luna’s great-grandmother, could not pull their eyes away from Baby Luna.

Luna was indeed beautiful. Yes, I know, everyone believes this about his or her own children and relatives, but really, she was exquisite. Long fingers and toes; a head full of black hair complete with a swirl at the back of the scalp.   Animated lips, face, and eyes that moved about in the full, curious methods of newborns forming the type of expressions in which one begins mimicking in return and/or uttering baby-talk expressions in sing-song voices, such as, “What?” “What is it, Sissy?” “What do you think?” “Oh, yes, I know, I know.”

Hours before Baby Luna was born, I sent my niece a text stating that both her pregnancy and her birth were the two sacred and specials moments when a woman is blessed to help God in the miracle of life.   Feeling the baby grow inside you; caressing your belly; and talking to her throughout those nine, seemingly long, months, mother and child begin building their God-given bond. Those months feel so extraordinary, and they are; but nothing compares to birth.

Personally speaking, one of the most hallowed moments of my life occurred when my doctor, before even cutting the umbilical cord, gently placed my own daughter, Madelyn, onto my chest and in my arms. I remember my husband, John and I, crying tears of unrelenting joy at the miracle of her birth as he leaned in placing a hand upon her back. That was a long ago June moment—18 years, in fact. Now, Lydia, and her partner, Bradley, have experienced it too. And, in that hospital room, I recognized the look on their faces—one of pure awe, pure devotion, and pure love. It was truly beautiful.

And so, one weekend, I proudly watch my daughter address her classmates at her own high school graduation. Seven days later, my niece gives birth to Luna. “So it goes like it goes and the river flows/And time it rolls right on/ And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better/ And maybe what’s bad gets gone.” (Lyrics from an Academy Award winning song from 1979 as I began high school.)

I am entering a new phase of motherhood as Lydia is only just beginning. My daughter will become more and more independent from me over the next few years as Luna will become more and more dependent upon her mom. I will now need to pray for God’s guidance and protection of my daughter’s newfound independence. Meanwhile, Lydia must pray for wisdom in her newfound role as a mother.

However, Lydia and I have one very strong, common bond: love. We will continue to offer our girls unconditional love; never ceasing to be amazed at the miraculous growth of our daughters as one daughter spreads her wings to leave the nest, and the other daughter grows while in the protection of her parents’ nest.

Thus, even with all the worldly chaos, birth is God’s way of reminding us that true good still exists. Our daughters, Miss Lydia, are proof of that goodness. So, if you ever wake up feeling defeated by an unkind comment, a shattering headline, or a negative attitude, turn to that baby girl; rest assure that hope exists as you gaze into her eyes; know that miracles do happen as you feel her warmth in your arms; and know with confidence, each time you tenderly kiss her head, that love wins. Love always wins.












My favorite green tea mock- or cocktail

My husband, John, loves iced green tea–especially during the warm months of summer.  I suspect he loves the clinking sound ice makes in his glass, but I’ve been known to be wrong about motives!  Perhaps, instead, he loves the fresh lemon slices I keep on hand for our tea.  Then, it again,  it could be that he’s been reading WebMD, and he is fond of the antioxidants green tea possesses as well as the fact that 2013 review of literature reveals that green tea improves blood flow and lowers cholesterol.  Regardless, green tea’s refreshing, light taste makes it the perfect summer drink for anyone, including John!

I tend to make our pitchers of iced green tea out of decaffeinated tea bags, so we can drink the tea all day long without worries of evening jitters.  Further, decaf tea is not dehydrating like caffeinated drinks tend to be–an important factor to consider when the summer temperatures begin to soar.  That said, the recipe that I will share with you can be made with either regular tea or decaffeinated tea.

Walking down the beverage isle of my grocery store, I noticed all the tea flavored waters, tea drink brands, and flavored teas. A bit later, I wandered into the beer/wine section of the store and spied a wide array of “spiked” or “hard” teas. This led to me wondering, why not make these at home?  Then, you can make any flavored tea beverage you like with as little or as much flavor enhancer as your taste buds prefer; and, they could be non-alcoholic, or spiked, depending upon your preference!

Creating flavored tea is as simple as combing your glass of green tea with your favorite pure extracts, juices, or even those flavored water enhancers, such as Crystal Light, Mio, or Stur, a product that states to be an all-natural stevia based product.  Furthermore, adding fresh sliced citrus fruits, muddled berries, or crushed fruit flesh, such as watermelon are other simple, natural, and tasty tea flavor enhancers.  The fun comes from playing around with different add-ins, until you find the combination(s) that suit your current mood or taste preference.  One night, try adding in pomegranate juice; whereas, the next night try muddling fresh berries in the bottom of your glass before pouring in your green tea and adding ice.

Want an antioxidant rich cocktail?  Try adding any of the above additions as well as an ounce (or so) of your favorite clear liquor, such as vodka, tequila, or rum.  Plus, there are all varieties of flavored liquor that might be worth exploring on a Friday night!

Why not try brewing up a pitcher of iced green tea using my recipe below?  Then, grab some friends, family, and plenty of glasses, so the experimenting can begin!  The variety of flavored teas you create are only limited by your imagination!  (Send me pics of your creations!)

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals, or in this case, beverages!  Cheers! (Cue the sound of clinking glasses.)

Steph’s Favorite Green Tea

8 bags green tea (either with or without caffeine is fine.

3 cups almost boiling water

3 cups chilled water (or ice)

1/2 cup (more or less to taste preference & sweetness of products you’ll be adding in) of your favorite sweetener (I prefer Stevia based products)

Prepare 8 tea bags for brewing.

In a teapot, bring fresh water to a near boil.  

Using a heat resistant measuring cup, measure and pour 3 cups worth of near boiling water into a heat-resistant pitcher over tea bags.

Allow to steep 5 minutes.

Gently squeeze excess tea from tea bags and remove from pitcher.

Stir in 3 cups of chilled water or ice.

Stir in favorite sweetener, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6-8 glasses.  

When ready to serve, let the creative play with favorite add-in begin with each glass!  

Tip:  Drink this tea up within 2-3 days as it develops an odd flavor if allowed to get old.




Graduates are in His Hands

            “And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, Bear you on the breath of dawn, Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of His Hand.”—Michael Joncas

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” –Philippians 4:4

“Spread your wings guys, it’s time for us to fly.”—Madelyn Clarice Hill from her salutatorian address

What a weekend it has been for many Tri-State families! Graduations galore! Personally speaking, between my husband, John, and me, we have attended four graduations and one baccalaureate service in the span of five days!   Plus, we were able to be co-hosts to one grand graduation party for our daughter, Madelyn, and her cousin, John Davis—who in my mind will forever be Johnny! It has indeed been a whirlwind time period filled with activities, families, friends, and loved ones. We are indeed feeling blessed beyond measure.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my Dad, Larry Musick, randomly sending me a text that simply stated, “Philippians 4:8.” It was a gentle reminder to focus less on my busy calendar, and instead think about the lovely and praiseworthy events creating such a calendar. Little did I know, that in the span of two days this past week, I would encounter this verse, not once, but twice more!

Philippians 4:4-9 was the scripture reading at both Maddie’s baccalaureate service and graduation! And, why not? It is a passage of both joy and peace—two feelings that should be attached to the celebration of the journey from one life stage to the next!   “Have no anxiety at all . . .the God of peace will be with you.” When I shared this coincidence with my Dad, he replied, “God speaks to us in many ways. Sometimes when it is important, He repeats Himself.” I think he had a valid point.

The irony was not only the repeated Bible verse, but also a song sang at the baccalaureate service entitled, “On Eagle’s Wings,” based upon Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40:31. It is one of my favorite songs; one I often associate with my grandmother, Helen.

Helen was an ardent reader of the Bible; and, during her final earthly days, I would read Bible verses to her, especially Isaiah 40:28-31. I often read this passage to her because when I lived with her during my early twenties, she took great comfort in those verses when she was going through, what she referred to as, “a rough spell.” Thus, in those precious hours, as her soul vacillated between heaven and earth, I had hoped those same verses would ease her pain and suffering when the morphine began to wear off, and it wasn’t quite time for her next dose.

When alive,  Helen was a tough-as-nails lady, who worked hard to do the right thing her entire life. I was not, per se, her favorite grandchild; however, because I was the only one to live with her for over two years, I became especially close to her. Even after I married, and left her home, I would still visit her every Friday evening immediately after school.

I learned many significant lessons from Helen, both directly and indirectly. Some of the most important lessons include: love your family; read the Bible; pray daily; get an education; and, always put forth your best effort in all endeavors. Helen did not have the most engaging personality, like her husband, my Papaw Check, but she seemed most happy when she was around friends and family who made her smile and laugh. Her life was one of service, faith, and family. I miss her greatly.

Yet, like many loved ones who pass, I often feel her presence with me. Perhaps, it is my overactive imagination, but sometimes I can almost hear her whisper to me; and, even, at times, I can sense her laughter in moments of joy. And, that is what I felt throughout the five days of celebration!

Helen was there to remind me that God would hold both Maddie and Johnny in His hands as they spread their wings and begin to fly a bit farther from the nest. Certainly, she would have agreed with Dad that God was indeed to speaking to me through song and verse. I believe she also wanted me to know that I needed to dry my tears, rejoice in the educational accomplishments of Johnny and Maddie, and focus, instead, on the time at hand with them. Further, I can only imagine the pride that must have beamed from her heavenly face as my siblings, parents, stepparents, nieces, nephews, other family members, and friends came together to celebrate this momentous occasion.

And so, as this weekend of celebration winds to an end, life will resume, but with a new normal taking flight–a new normal that includes teens transitioning to young adults as they prepare for new skies in which to dip, dart, and glide. Young adults that, despite the distance that will separate them, will remain connected to one another as well as to the rest of their family and friends. In fact, when we gather again next Memorial Day weekend, the flock may include new friends, and perhaps more, or less, family members. One thing is for certain though, next year will not look like this year, but that is as it should be–for time and life are fluid—ever moving, ever flowing, ever changing—like the sky itself.  Regardless of the changes in life, I can take assurance in the fact that our maturing children, and the rest of our loved ones for that matter, will be held in the palm of His hand.