Go, Do Not be Afraid, and Serve

            “But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to every one I send you to and say whatever I command you.” Jeremiah 1:7


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


“It’s too early, Mrs. Hill,” yawned one of the 7th grade girls in my car as we traveled in a caravan towards our ultimate destination: Camp Magis, held at Bishop Hodges Catholic Pastoral Center located on 1,400 acres in the middle of WV mountains just outside Huttonsville.


“I’m just going to sleep until there’s enough daylight to read,” sleepily stated another young lady.


“I’ll just take a nap too,” I retorted in a poor attempt at early morning humor.


Neither of the girls said a word. Yep, they were definitely sleepy. After all, it was just minutes after 6:00 am, and most of the students were not used to being awake this early.


John, my husband and fellow co-worker, was ahead of me in his truck as well as five other parent-volunteer drivers, three of whom would be staying in the camp along with John and me. The drive would take about 3 ½ to 4 hours, depending upon traffic and length of stops.


The Camp Magis tradition began in 2014 for all seventh graders in WV Catholic schools.   The name, “Magis,” whose Latin roots mean more or better, also comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who asked, “What more (magis) can do I do for Christ?” In addition, the Camp’s spiritual theme was further inspired by Pope Francis who urged youth at the World Youth Day rally in 2013, to “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”


Last year, John returned from camp, after his first visit, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the activities, the counselors, and they way in which the students bonded—not only to each other, but to their faith. Thus, when I was asked this year if I would go, I had to say, “yes.”


Still, I must confess, the teacher side of me was bemoaning the fact I would miss three days of classroom instruction with my students. Certainly, I could leave plans for my 6th and 8th graders, but that type of work is not the same. Then, on Friday, five days before we were to leave for camp, Father Dean talked to the 7th graders at the end of our weekly church service. While his message was meant for the students, I could not help be inspired as well.


He began by emphasizing that importance that magis means more and better.


“Go, be ambassadors for our school. Do more than is asked of you. Do better than is expected of you. Ask yourself, what is God calling me to do more of or to become better at? Be mindful and prayful in these questions throughout your stay.”


Much to my delight, our students took Father Dean’s directions to heart during our three-day stay.   From volunteering to read during church service, to cleaning up after meals, to diving into activities with vigor and vim, to sitting/kneeling quietly during times of prayer, to helping one another during difficult tasks, as well as to looking out for a student from another school who clearly had some challenges—our students did more and better.


Specifically, two activities deeply stirred me. One occurred each morning. Students were asked to attend chapel at the start of each day, before any other activity, including breakfast, for a unique prayer service. I was prepared for whining, complaining, and passive nonparticipation, but I was pleasantly surprised.


Both mornings, students, with no prodding from the other parent-volunteers, John, or me, listened to the speakers, and did as instructed. Looking around the chapel each morning and seeing our students, side-by-side teens and chaperones from other schools, kneeling at the alter, or sitting with their heads down in prayer and reflection, was such moving scene—I could not help but feel a profound stillness and sense of peace within.


In fact, walking away from chapel on our last morning, one of my students said to me with a wide smile, “Mrs. Hill, I didn’t think I’d like having to pray every morning, but I feel happier each time I do it. It’s like God giving me a hug to start my day.”


She was still grinning as she took off running to catch up with a group of girls heading to breakfast in the brightness of the full-on golden sunshine of a brisk autumn morning. If only I could bottle that moment for another time, when teen hormones will inevitably cloud her vision; but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of prayer, like the fallen hickory nuts l kept stepping on, haven taken root within her and will help her weather stormy days of teenage angst.


Did I mention that the camp setting could not have been more idyllic? Fall colors were flamboyant like an outdoor Christmas light display. In fact, many of our activities required hiking up hills of multi-hued leafy paths.


One of these hikes was based upon Mother Teresa’s quote, . . .”God is the friend of silence. . . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Kids and chaperones alike were invited to spread over and up the side of a hill. Once nestled into a spot away from other campers, we were to spend 20 minutes in total silence.


I chose to walk as high as was permitted on the edge of a heavily forested area. The wind continuously whistled, rustling the leaves.   Colors of amber, rust, and honey gently rained around me. The scent of overly-ripened apples, the detritus of fall, and damp earth filled my nostrils. I leaned back on my hands sensing the blades of cool, green grass bending with the pressure of my touch. The mountains across the valley were rolling and numerous, striking a bold, colorful contrast to the cobalt sky and soft, billowy clouds. Below me were students immersed in the sounds of nature and stillness. It was as if this natural resonance were an old-school felt eraser wiping away the mental, monkey-chatter often scrawled upon my mind.   This was a Divine moment on a Divine canvas.


Such symbolic representation—we were separate; and yet, we were one in His silence. What a message: One world; one collective group of people–divinely created to serve one another and our earth.


Magis. Let us do more. Let us do better.
















New Brunswick Bar Clams

            “Oh, bar clams are so good. You could eat them right out of the jar!”—Vincent Theriault


This past summer, our family spent two weeks visiting the Canadian province of New Brunswick. It was a third visit, but our first time staying just outside the mostly French speaking community of Petit -Rocher. The house in which we stayed, found on Air BnB, was beautifully situated on the Bay of Chaleur.

Arriving to the vacation cottage in which we stayed off the Bay of Chaleur in Petit Rocher, New Brunswick


It has been our experience that the maritime provinces of Canada possess some of the warmest, most friendly people. This summer’s trip was not an exception. The neighbors to the right and left of our house were often visitors to our evening campfires, and we welcomed them with delight. In fact, by our last night, we were hanging out at one neighbor’s campfire, the Roy family.

Starting the campfire before darkness falls. Petit Rocher neighbors would stop by this campfire during the evenings to chat.


The Roy family welcomed us into the neighborhood on the first sunny day. (We arrived in the midst of a rainy cold front; and thus, the first couple of days were wet, cool, and not suitable for building a fire.) Bobby Roy was the first to introduce himself, soon followed by his son Denis. As the weeks progressed, we met more members of this gregarious and outgoing family.   They were great neighbors, and we now treasure fond memories of our time spent together in this picturesque setting.

Denis and his father, Bobby, were frequent evening visitors!

In fact, the Roy family was so generous, by the end of our first week; they had presented our family with an official Canadian flag that we flew proudly while staying there. John, my husband, was bestowed with a stylish Canadian ball cap. Furthermore, we were also given a jar of a New Brunswick delicacy, bar clams. Both Denis and Bobby stated the bar clams would make great chowder. I proudly took these into the vacation home in which we were staying; set the jar on the counter with the full intention of eating them while we were there.


On previous trips, we stayed in Janeville, NB, also on the idyllic Bay of Chaleur. During our first trip there, we made friends with another family, the Theriaults, Vincent, Gisele, and their dog, Bijou. On this last trip, however, we were located about 40 minutes north of them. Wonderfully, though, we were able to get together with them a couple of times during this same visit.

Vincent Theriault, John, Maddie, me, and Gisele Theriault when we first met in Janeville, New Brunswick. The house (church) in which we stayed is in background, and their summer cottage is directly behind us.


It was during a dinner visit with Vincent and Gisele, that they happened to notice the jar of bar clams on the kitchen counter. They both shared with us how tasty the clams were. In fact, they stated that the clams could be enjoyed as a delicious meal straight out of the jar! Simply add a salad and a loaf of crusty, buttery bread; and, boom, dinner is served.


Ultimately, the clams came home with us still uneaten. John researched alternate ways to prepare these clams in addition to the methods described by the Roy’s and Theriault’s. He landed upon an idea—pasta.



Hmm . . .I liked that idea, but I would have to choose the pasta carefully because it must be gluten free due to my celiac disease; and trust me, not every gluten free pasta is tasty. However, I had recently tried one called POW, made out of mostly green lentils, that John even found appetizing. Therefore, I began brainstorming.


I could make the sauce completely from scratch. However, given the limited time during the workweek, I opted for a shortcut instead, and came up with plan after a visit to my favorite grocery store, Route 60 Kroger. I perused their aisle and purchased the following items: spaghetti squash (What’s not to love about this vegetable?), POW pasta, one jar of Classico brand Riserva Alfredo sauce, a can of Bumble Bee brand Red Clam Sauce, a bag of frozen peas, and a can of mushrooms (although any fresh variation of mushrooms would nice) as well as a can of fancy white crab meat (for an increase protein), and finally, a wedge of parmesan cheese.



Ingredients gathered for Bar Clam pasta with an appetizer of cheese and prosciutto!


Later that week, John and feasted on scrumptious bar clam pasta! The first night, I served my sauce over spaghetti squash only, while John ate the pasta. The next night, however, I combined the left over pasta and squash into a large casserole dish, poured the sauce over it, and topped it off with a bit of shredded cheese. This turned into a flavorsome casserole, which fed the two of us two more nights!

First night’s meal.


In fact, we loved this dish so much, that I have already purchased the ingredients to make it again—only we will have to settled for canned clams, instead of the fresh New Brunswick clams. Hopefully, it will still be a just as tasty!

Leftover night!

Thank you, Roy family, for generosity and hospitality as well as introducing us to a new food! Thank you, Vincent and Gisele, for your generous encouragement! While we did not have crusty bread, we did serve this wonderful meal with a simple salad, and savored pleasant thoughts of the wonderful people are fortunate enough to call friends from New Brunswick!


Bar Clam Pasta

 1 spaghetti squash

1 box Ancient Harvest brand POW! Pasta (or your favorite brand/type pasta)

1 15 ounce jar of Classico brand Riserva Alfredo sauce

1 15 ounce can of Bumble Bee brand Tuscan style Read Clam Sauce

1 jar/can of bar clams or baby clams (size will vary depending upon how much you want, and brand you use)

1 6 ounce can fancy white crab mean

1 cup frozen green peas–optional

1 can or package of mushrooms—optional

Red pepper seeds, if desired


Preheat oven 375 degrees.

Coat long casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds.

Place squash halves flesh side down in pan.

Bake 45 minutes or until flesh is tender and easily pricked with a fork.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

In large saucepan, combine both Alfredo sauce and clam sauce.

(I also add half-cup water, or milk, to the emptied Alfredo sauce and shake to fully get all sauce, but it is not necessary.)

Warm gently to a slightly bubbly stage.

Gently stir in crab, clams, peas, and mushrooms (if using)—do not boil—rather return to slightly bubbly stage for a few minutes.

Stir in ¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese if desired to thicken sauce.

Cover and turn off sauce.

Once squash is baked, remove from oven.

With hot pads, flip squash over, flesh face up, and allow to cool.

Once cooled enough to handle, use large spoon to scoop out flesh into dish.

Separate flesh with fork and season with olive oil and sea salt if desired.

Ladle sauce over desired pasta, squash, or a combination of both.

Top with additional Parmesan and/or red pepper seeds.


When cleaning up after dinner, place left over pasta over top of squash and fold together.

Pour remaining sauce over the combined pasta and squash.

Top with desire amount shredded cheese, if desired.

Spray dull-side of foil with nonstick cooking spray. Then, place coated side of foil face down to cover pasta dish.

It will be ready to bake the next night in a preheated 350-degree oven covered for 20 minutes.

Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbly.




Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You

           “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee, op’ning to the sun above.”—Henry van Dyke



It was Saturday, and I had several errands that needed completed by weekend’s end. Would I have enough time? I felt anxious. Perhaps, I should not have slept in until 7:00 am.


I left the house around 8:30 am, list in-hand. First stop, my local bank. My stomach was fluttering with worry. Stepping out of the car, the sunshine felt warm and cozy, like wrapping up in my favorite hoodie and sweatpants after work. I looked up and vividly blue sky, streaked with white stretched like the pillow-fill Maddie uses when sewing pillows. The sun kissed my upturned cheeks.


Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”


I entered the bank and was greeted by all of the tellers. Bonnie, a long-standing employee, directed me to come to her.


“Well, how’s life without your daughter, and how is she doing?”


Just that question, alone, warmed my heart. How thoughtful of her to ask. I shared a bit of information regarding Maddie, my daughter—probably more than she wanted to hear. Then, I thanked her for asking.


“I think about her often and wonder how she is doing?”


While I would not call Bonnie a complete stranger, it is not like we are best friends; and yet, she thought of my daughter. What a wonder! I could feel myself smiling as I left the bank. Such a small act of kindness, but it helped assuage my apprehension.


All thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,

Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.”



Crossing the bridge into Huntington, I couldn’t help but notice how golden the morning was unfolding over the mighty Ohio River. Water glinted with silver as if thousands of sewing needles danced on top of the water. I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the shop Maddie and I used to frequent in the mornings before school when she was still home. It seemed like ages since I had last visited.


The sun was dazzling. Huntington was quiet, and the streets were fairly empty. A cheerful young woman bounced along the sidewalk walking her likewise lively dog. His fluffy red tail swished back and forth with metronome-like meticulousness.


“Hi, Stephanie. Haven’t seen you in a while. The usual?”


How did he remember me, much less what I drink?


“How’s your daughter? Where is she now?”


This time, I kept my answer short and to the point.


“Well, we miss seeing you two in here,” he said with a smile as he handed me my coffee.


Field and forest, vale and mountain, flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,

Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.”




Driving on to what was supposed to be the next errand stop, I become lost in my thoughts. I recalled a former kindergarten student I had encountered the previous night, Alexa. Her freckled face lit up with recognition, and I found myself enveloped in her warm embrace. Breaking away from our hug, she turned, face still broad with a gleeful smile and offered kind words to my husband, John, who had also been her teacher when she was a bit older. My heavens, it was wonderful to see her, now at age 21, and know she still had fond memories of her time spent with John and me.


It was then I realized I was driving on autopilot, not focused on my next errand, and was heading towards the school in which I now work. Instead of becoming frustrated with myself, I chose to turn it into an opportunity to head to Ritter Park, walk for a few minutes, and savor the splendid sunshine. Besides, I had not visited the park in over a month, and walking outside does wonders for my spirit.


Nearly blinding and abundant sunshine was interspersed with areas of cool, sweet shade. Colors of fall were clearly emerging—tarnished golds, leathery browns, rich merlots, and vibrant reds intermingled with fading, dull greens. Sand colored leaves now scattered over the path permitting a slight crunching sound that whispered, “This is only the beginning of a new season.” I could feel myself smiling, as I became the proverbial sponge, soaking up God’s goodness as more of my fretfulness fell away.


            “Thou are giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,

Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!



“Hi Mrs. Hill!”


I had completed a full loop of the park, walked up by the rose garden, further up through the rolling hills of the amphitheater, to the very top of the outlook where a large shelter once stood, down to the dog park, and then left, down the hill towards the tennis courts. I looked across the road to a tennis court. There stood one my current students enthusiastically waving at me.


By the end of the walk, I was at peace with the thought, “I will do what I can do today, and leave the rest behind.”



           “Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;

Teach us how to love each other—Lift us to the joy divine.”


          On the following day, we celebrated my dear, sweet mother-in-law’s 89th birthday, a few days before her officials date of October 10.


“Stephanie, how are you? How’s John?”


I looked up from the shopping cart at Route 60 Kroger, and there stood my former, physician. Several years ago, he sadly moved his practice from Proctorville to one closer to his home in Milton, while his kids were in their early teens. He had worked closely with John and me, and, at the time, his moving felt like losing a family-member.   Nonetheless, I was stunned, some years later, he would not only recognize me, but also recall John’s name as well as mine—after all, how many patients did he see? Once again, I delighted in conversation with another special person.



“Hi Neil! I am so glad you’re bagging my groceries today.   You’re my favorite bagger!”


I was looking at the young man that frequently bagged my groceries with an imploring smile. I purposely search each week for the line in which he bags because he is thoughtful, carefully places products in bags, and then gently arranges bags in my cart. Plus, he always offers to help carry them to my car. So far, I have declined his offer, but it is a nice gesture anyway.


“I was having a bad day until you said that to me,” he replied in his uniquely gravelly voice. “I don’t hear nice things from customers that often. Thank you.”


Later, once home, I was further overjoyed to talk with both of my parents—which is always a special treat.


In the end, most chores on the day’s to-do list were completed; the rest could be knocked out the following day at some point. More importantly, I was reminded of the joy of living a life that matters—maybe not on a grand scale, like a politician or entertainer, but rather in the simple day-to-day gestures that are frequently undervalued; such as, greeting another person by name, asking a personal question or two, wishing someone a good day, taking time exchange pleasantries, smiling, or even offering a hug. It is these seemingly effortless acts that quite often offer a momentary minute of joy.









Birthday Weekend in Cincinnati

            “If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.”—Mark Twain


“Steph, would you be interested in going out-of-town for your birthday? I was thinking we could go somewhere that has an Apple Store. You could talk to them in person about the best product for you and your blog-work.” John, my husband of 28 years, was making this suggestion with great sincerity.


Hmm . . . that was certainly a thought! My laptop had been limping along for the past two years. It needed plugged-in at all times, and I spent more time watching the spinning beach ball of death, than I did actually typing.   One thing was certain, it taught me patience; however, portability and increased speed would be exceptionally nice. Plus, what’s not to love about a weekend trip?


Thus, after debating the pros and cons of the few nearby cities that had an Apple Store, we finally settled on Cincinnati. It was a great decision! The weather could not have been more perfect, and we were able to combine business with pleasure.


We left for Cincinnati around 3:30. John drove along OH 73 and OH 32 as we zoomed past the beautiful countryside in transition from summer to fall. Golden and purple flowers/weeds dotted the landscape as the evening sunshine glinted.


Arriving at the Kenwood Hampton Inn, mere minutes from the Kenwood Town Center, which housed the Apple Store, around 6:30, John suggested we head to dinner. Thus, when asked, Amber, the affable and thoughtful Hampton employee, suggested a restaurant within walking distance, Cooper’s Hawk. She shared that a plethora of Hampton clients reported positive dining experiences. As she described the varied menu, we were sold.

Unfortunately, it was Friday evening in Cincinnati and nearly 7:00. Walking toward the restaurant, we could espy copious customers walking into this sleek winery and restaurant. Entering, we encountered wall-to-wall customers. Ultimately, this restaurant was booked with numerous reservations, and we would be facing an hour and half wait. We were too tired for this length of wait, so we decided to trek elsewhere.


Ultimately, we walked a tad bit farther to a funky, Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant, Chuy’s. It ended up being a serendipitous choice! Despite the waiting crowd, we were immediately able to find seats at the bar—which worked for us as we have learned that whether consuming a favorite adult beverage or water, the bar is typically the best place to receive attentive service.

Excellent service was indeed part of our dinner experience at Chuy’s. The vibe was full-on positive energy, especially for dog-lovers as the eclectic décor was filled with framed paintings and photos of all varieties of dogs! Thin, salty, and crispy tortilla chips were served with fresh tasting salsa alongside a tasty white sauce.

John ordered a warm, creamy cheese dip as an appetizer as we sipped our drinks and washed away the road dirt. For dinner, John noshed on a combination platter in order to sample a wide variety of Chuy’s dishes. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a vegetarian combination dinner served with a side of creamy refried beans and Mexican rice—all of which was topped with a delicious ranchero sauce. Needless to say, we walked back to the Hampton feeling quite full.

The next day, we arrived at the Kenwood Town Center not long after it opened.   I was feeling both excited and hopeful. Arriving this early would ensure prompt service and attention, right? Wrong! This was the first weekend after the launch of the Apple 8 phone. Therefore, it took 45-minutes before I could talk with an employee.


In spite of the wait, a delightful young man named, Kuyuh, helped me.  Apple employees do not work on commission; thus, Kuyuh asked specific questions to help me narrow down my choice to determine the best product for me. Another employee, Rachel, in addition to Kuyuh, helped John and me thoroughly! I cannot say enough about them as they walked me through how to transfer all information from my old laptop to the new one.   We had such an overall positive experience, I would most certainly return to this store for any future Apple products.


My new laptop is much thinner, lighter, and cleaner than my “vintage” 2005/2006 version, it does not have to be plugged in at all times, and no 10+ minutes of the spinning beach ball of death!

In the meantime, John had been in contact with one of his lifelong friends, Steve, who happened to live fairly close to the Hampton in which we were staying. Thus, for dinner, Steve, and his wife, Lila, gave us a lift to one of their local favorite eateries, 50 West, a brewpub about 15-20 minutes away.

We arrived around 7:00, and the place was hopping with customers, mostly family groups. Nonetheless, we were immediately seated in the room just off of the tasting room. Our waitress, Nicole, was attentive and effusive. We started off with delicious appetizers: Pretzels served with Dijon cheddar dip and Pork Belly French Fries. Due to my celiac disease, I was not able to try the pretzels, but they looked amazing, and I was assured they tasted scrumptious. The fries turned out to be new potatoes, topped with Dijon-molasses glazed pork belly, thin slices of pickled granny smith apples, and finished with cheese fondue. As odd of a combination as this sounded, Nicole assured us they were good, and she was right! I especially loved the apple slices!

All four of us had different dishes. Steve devoured the Doom Pedal Sausage served on a heaping pile of polenta. John enjoyed a hot chicken sandwich—which was spicy! Lila dined on the Ham and Cheese sandwich, while I enjoyed Tex-Mex Wedge Salad! Once again, John and I did not go hungry! (Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon one’s perspective, we became so engrossed in our conversation that we forgot to take pictures of our entrees!)


All in all, I experienced a wonderful birthday weekend-get away! The Hampton Inn in which we stayed was comfortable, clean, and staffed with incredibly friendly and attentive people. It was perfectly situated within walking distance of a wide-variety of restaurants, and only a five to ten minute drive away from the Kenwood Town Center! I would highly recommend this area to anyone looking for a weekend getaway!  And, if you decide to visit any of these fine establishments, tell them Steph simply sent you!