The Not-so-easy Lessons of Mother Nature

            “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” –Henry David Thore

           “EASY: Embrace, Accept, Surrender, Yield”—Light Watkins


Maddie, my daughter, in front of the Alpha Xi Delta house at Bethany College. This picture was taken in the Fall of 2017.



“I just haven’t felt right for weeks now,” stated one young lady.


“Really?” questioned a woman who appeared to be her mom.


“I haven’t been sleeping well either,” added the younger.


“Good grief, I just can’t get it together lately,” another female shared moments later.  “It’s like my thoughts are as disorganized as the weather; and, with finals coming up . . .”


I was in a gathering room filled with women of all ages taking in bits and pieces of conversations.  Expansive windows covered one of the walls with an open door leading to a deck.  Trees surrounded the deck; and through the trunks, I could make out the curves and dips of the mountainside that form the campus of Bethany College.


Olde Main at Bethany College as pictured in spring of 2018.


My mom and I had made the four-hour drive earlier that day to attend a “Strong Women” appreciation event at my daughter, Maddie’s, sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.  The day before our drive had been a beautifully golden, sunny spring day with temperatures in the seventies and abundant brilliantly blue skies.  However, overnight clouds had moved into both the Tri-State and Bethany, WV areas.  Still, the temperatures were hovering in the mid-60s, and the sky was filled with the milky light of clouds—a far cry better than the snowy cold weather of a few days prior.


After the event the skies were noticeably darker as I dropped my mom off at my daughter’s dorm and parked the car in a lot a short distance away. In the less than three minutes it took me to park, the weather shifted gears.  Gusts of wind whipped and stirred the natural debris.  Brown leaves, bits of trash, mulch, and other matter seemed to momentarily rise and swirl; then came the downpour, or should I say, side-pour as a strong airstream directed the rain sideways.


Even with my umbrella, I became chillingly soaked hiking uphill to Maddie’s dorm. Ugh!  This weather!


Entering my daughter’s dorm room, I walked into a conversation.


“Snow and cold for the next few days.”


“I’m just gonna stay in bed.”


“I can’t deal with this and classes too . . .”


Wait, what?  Looking at the weather app on my phone, the same weather pattern was true for home—though without predictions for snow.  Good grief.  And, yet, I could not help but feel there was a lesson to be learned.



During winter/cold months, we often spend more time inside than out.   Additionally, days, and even weeks, can go by without much, if any, sunlight.  Therefore, many people experience SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.


According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD symptoms often begin in late fall or early winter, but in some cases, appear in spring.  Symptoms may include sluggishness, feeling tired/agitated, difficulty with memory or concentrating, problems sleeping—either too little or too much, overeating/weight gain, feeling depressed, and so forth.   Hmm . . . this certainly reflected the comments I had overheard—not only at Bethany, but also at work lately. Sadly, (Oh my, pun not intended.) however, the one activity that might reduce or moderate those symptoms is often avoided due to the weather—spending time in nature.


I often find time spent either outside, or at the very least, viewing nature through a window, to be quite beneficial to my mental and emotional well-being. Additionally, natural pictures and/or objects such as seashells, flowers, or plants can also serve as pick-me-ups.  However, it took me years to make this connection.


As seen on Instagram at sbtbreathe


One observation I noticed in my daughter’s quad dorm room was that there were few windows, and what windows it did possess were covered, allowing no natural light to pass.  Personally, I cannot tolerate this for long periods of time.  I need the natural light provided by windows—even if it is cloudy outside.  Still, I cannot criticize my daughter—I did the same thing in college—which, coincidentally, was the first time I also experienced severe depression, which was most likely SAD.


Reflecting on this notion later inspired me to wonder if spending time in or viewing nature could truly alleviate, or at the very least, ease symptoms of SAD by teaching the concept of EASY:  embrace, accept, surrender, and yield.  This is actually at acronym taught by mediation teacher, Light Watkins, as a method for mediating.  However, when I read about EASY a few days after visiting my daughter, I instantly connected it to the benefits of spending time with nature as a form of meditation, and on went the proverbial light bulb in my head.


The natural world embraces and accepts events as they come.  Driving home from Bethany, the snow and rain alternated, coating the daffodils, tulips, and newly greened grass.  The trees bent with the wind while the creeks and swollen streams swiftly rushed over rocks and embankments.  It appeared as if nature were gently sighing in the acceptance.


This little nest was blown out of a small weeping tree in our front yard, but . . .


                      Two days later, these nests were newly built in the same tree.


In fact, it felt as if Mother Nature had surrendered to the fact that chaos was a natural part of life.   And despite the chaos, gifts would ultimately be yielded.  The stirred up stream will be enriched with new nutrients to support current and new aquatic life; newly tilled garden soil will be filled with ample moisture to nurture soon-to-be planted spring seedlings; grasses and trees will flourish; and more flowers will soon bloom.


Even after the snow and rain, these flowers remained in bloom! They adapted and flourished in spite of the their not-so-easy circumstances.


We are not infinite, nor are we in control as the natural world models.  But it is worth noticing that in the natural world:  chaos leads to calm; darkness leads to light; rain leads to growth; cold leads to warmth; extremeness leads to moderation; and eventually, winter gives way to spring. Let us open the blinds to the natural world, embracing and accepting its lessons, surrendering to events as they come; and maybe, just maybe, this will yield a more peaceful heart and mind.



          As seen on Instagram at sbtbreathe









Morgantown, WV 2018 Visit Offers a Fun Experience

           “Whether you’re in town for a conference at the Waterfront Place Hotel, attending a WVU football or basketball game, or exploring the great outdoors, Morgantown is a city that has something for everyone!”—

        “I like spending time with my husband.”—Lara Stone

        We had been visiting with our daughter in the Wheeling/Bethany, WV area, but it was Monday, and she was returning to her classes and studies.  However, my husband, John, and I were still on spring break from the school in which we teach, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV. Therefore, we decided to spend a few more days together in a slightly different area of WV.




          During the winter months, John helped chaperone students from our school to a Latin conference and competition in Morgantown, WV.  It is held annually at Waterfront Place. This beautiful hotel, located in the Wharf District, boasts a full-service Bar & Restaurant called Bourbon Prime, a Starbucks, spa services, and a state-of-the-art fitness center to name a few of the amenities.  It also overlooks the Monongahela River and the Caperton Trail, a six mile bike and walking/running path. Plus, as John was able to see on his most recent Latin trip, Marriott has recently redesigned it, and he was eager for me to see it. Therefore, we decided to visit it for a couple of days.


Waterfront Place overlooks Caperton Path and the Monongahela River.

        Even though it was technically spring, Mother Nature was not particularly inclined to cooperate with spring-style weather.  Instead, John and I “enjoyed” bitter weather that ran the gamut. From sunny and blustery cool on our arrival, to bone-chilling rain the next day, and finally to snow and high winds as we were departing, spring was visible only in the buds of trees and blooms of daffodils during our Morgantown stay.  While we were able to walk to and from eateries, we were always bundled up in layers! Still, the Capteron Trail is a convenient part of the Wharf District winding alongside the Monongahela River. Plus, the Wharf District is an area of revitalization with numerous restaurants, a few retailers, and several professional service offices readily visible on our strolls.






          One restaurant we visited while in Morgantown was called the Iron Horse Tavern. This distinctive eatery specializes in WV craft beer and offers unique pub fare that was filled with variety.  From appetizers, soups, and salads to from sandwiches, burgers and full traditional dinner fare, John and I both found plenty of options from which to choose as he is the meat-based eater, and I am the plant-based (gluten-free) eater.  Which brings me to an interesting story. . .


Ironhorse Tavern proudly featured WV brews.


          Months ago, I read about something called, the “Impossible Burger,” a product that is 100% plant based.  It supposedly looks, cooks, smells, and tastes just like ground beef. The last I had read about it, this burger was only available in big city locations along the West and East coast.  Therefore, I never imagined I would walk into a WV restaurant and discover it listed as a menu option, and yet it was!

        John and I were curious and asked our waiter/bartender about this item.  He shared with us that he was skeptical too, but tried one when it was first added to the menu.  Once he ate, it not only tasted exactly as described, but also he noticed that he was not bloated like he normally was after eating a traditional burger.  Therefore, he added that all he now eats, when it comes to burgers at the Iron Horse Tavern, is the Impossible Burger. Without thinking twice, I ordered it sans the bun as I have Celiac Disease and should eat gluten-free; and thus, here is the punchline.


The Impossible Burger at Iron Horse Tavern

        I ate the burger.  It was AMAZING! The smell, the taste, and the look reminded me of my Grandmother Helen’s ground chuck hamburgers of over 40 years ago.  John tasted it too. He could not believe it! If he had not known it was a plant-based burger, he stated would have thought it was the read deal!  I ate every delectable morsel, which was accompanied by a side of tasty Brussels Sprouts (without the usual sautéed bacon in which they typically prepare it) and a tasty house salad.  Then, I went back to the hotel to read about this delightful burger discovery.




        Reading online I discover that one of the first ingredients is wheat.  The very thing I am NOT supposed to be eating! All I could do was laugh at myself during this head-slapping moment.  I had not even thought to ask or look-up before ordering! Needless to say, I experienced the side effects the next day; but frankly, I have no regrets.  I’ll never eat one again unless they make it without wheat, but I am glad I had the experience!



        The other restaurant in which we had the pleasure of dining while in Morgantown was Iron Horse Tavern’s sister, Mountain State Brewing Company.  This restaurant is a proud WV establishment with an interesting and one-of-a-kind story that readers should definitely take time to look up either on the company’s web-site or on YouTube.  




          Here is what I most loved about MSBC, I could eat gluten-free and plant based!!!  Not only was there hummus and veggies on their menu, one of our favorite go-to appetizers when we eat a home, but also this restaurant had gluten free buns and/or bread with NO up-charge as well as a gluten-free pizza crust!  I was in shock at having so many gluten-free and plant-based choices. And, yes, for you wheat and meat lovers, there was PLENTY of that! After all, this was founded in WV by a couple of guys! John and I both walked away from this eatery with full bellies, happy hearts, and no nasty side-effects on the following day!


Gluten-free food for me!  Veggie sticks with hummus, Cowboy Caviar with tortilla chips, and a mushroom gluten-free pizza!



Pulled-pork nachos, pepperoni pizza.  John and both had so much food, we each took half of a pizza home, and it made a delicious lunch on the following day!


Zack, our attentive server, at Mountain State Brewing Company


          Back at the hotel, John treated me to a 60-minute massage at the Olexa Salon and Spa located inside of the Waterfront.  Allison Friend, a licensed massage therapist, was delightful, engaging, and gave a massage I will long remember. I highly recommend Ally to any visitors.


Allison Friend, licensed massage therapist, inside the Olexa Salon and Spa at Waterfront Place.

        Additionally, we must recognize the friendly and gregarious Waterfront, Bourbon Prime, and Starbucks staff.  Everyone seemed to go out of his or her way to ensure John and I enjoyed our time in Morgantown. We engaged in conversation with numerous employees as well as visitors throughout the hotel, and we did not experience any negative encounters.  We definitely left with a positive impression, and will likely return for another visit!


Inside Bourbon Prime at Waterfront Place

Next time you’re in Morgantown, try any or all of these places; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!

Looking up at the terrace area of Waterfront Place overlooking the Monongahela River.

Return to Wheeling/Bethany, WV beginning to feel like a second home

            “Every moment I have had with my daughter is precious.”—Cathy Shaffer


            “From the region’s largest trail system, to national schools of excellence, to a reorganized municipal government, the City of Wheeling offers a dynamic environment for you, your family and your business.”—


           We have visited this area so much over the past few years; it is beginning to feel a bit like a second home. Wheeling, WV, with its rich history, wide-ranging geographic layout—including abundant water sources, mountains, hills, and valleys, as well as gracious residents, is a welcoming and inviting city worthy of repeated visits. Furthermore, it located, “down-the-mountain,” as we like to say, from our daughter’s current home-away-from-home, Bethany College—a charming, picturesque institution also chock full of a warm, hospitable population. In fact, we have yet to tire of staying in this area.



Old Main at Bethany College in Bethany, WV on a crisp, cold spring April morning.

This past spring break was no exception! Madelyn, our daughter, had experienced her spring break a few weeks earlier. However, she was unable to come home for it. Instead, she applied for and was accepted into a research internship at West Virginia University. During this time, she called/texted at regular intervals, delighted with both the equipment/facilities she was able to use and/or see as well as overall with the experience.


“Mom, Dad, I saw a $600,000 microscope, but I wasn’t allowed to use it.”


“Today, I was able to use a $150,000 microscope!”


“You wouldn’t believe what I experienced today—a whole virtual experience where it seemed like I was inside a snake, and later, the a human brain. It was so cool!”


On and on her comments came, so we knew the experience was positive for her. Still, we missed seeing her; and, she said, she missed seeing us. Therefore, as John, my husband and I, are both teachers at the same school, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV, we decided to take advantage of our time off and go see Ms. Maddie.

John, me, and Maddie


While we wish the little town of Bethany had a hotel in which we could stay in order to be closer to campus, we are always happy to stay in nearby Wheeling, a short 30 minute or so drive up the mountain ridge. The scenery is always quite stunning–no matter the season of the year, despite the fact I personally fight carsickness as we wind around the curvaceous roads.


On this visit we stayed in the Wheeling Hampton Inn located on historic National Road, the first highway built entirely with federal funds during Jefferson’s administration.   This comfy and delightful hotel provided an outstanding and accommodating atmosphere for spending time with Maddie and one of her roommates, Tatum Dyar. Assistant General Manager, Taylor J. Smith, went out of his way to ensure our experience was positive, including shuttling us around Wheeling when needed despite the fact we offered to drive.



Hampton Inn in Wheeling, WV located on historic National Road the first federally funded highway dating back to the Jefferson administration.


“No, no, man. We got you. We will take you there, and pick you whenever you call. Don’t use your gas!”


Now, that is service!


Taylor J. Smith, Assistant General Manager, Wheeling Hampton Inn


However, it wasn’t just the shuttle that made our experience so uplifting, it was the way the entire staff went out of their way to welcome John, Maddie, Tatum, and me—even though Maddie and Tatum were not staying overnight in the hotel. Additionally, the breakfast staff was also personal and attentive, including walking around with fresh baked cinnamon rolls for visitors in the morning. That said, the Hampton employees were not the only affable and obliging staff, so were wait staff and cooks in two different Wheeling restaurants and at Bethany College.


Tatum Dyar with Maddie, our daughter


To begin, our family was shuttled, courtesy of Taylor, to and from Ye Olde Alpha, a favorite restaurant. Tatum had never eaten at this local establishment, so we felt we should help her experience the charm of this unique and family owned business. In fact, this business was established in 1932 and offers both a traditional lounge, separate dining area, as well as rooms for private parties. The menu is wide and quite varied, allowing for a wide variety of tastes, American, Mexican, Greek, as well as provides options for meat and veggie-lovers alike. The portions are generous, and our experience with the service has always been positive. This eatery has certainly created return customers out of our family.



Some of our dishes at Ye Olde Alpha in Wheeling, WV.


The following night, Steve, also from the Hampton Inn, shuttled us to and from Wheeling Brewing Company. On this night, we dined with Maddie, Gigs Ashton, Amy Van Horn, and her daughter, Eden. This was our second visit to this quaint establishment that prides itself on, “Keepin’ it local.”   In fact, WBC has more than 20 local partnerships from Fiestaware in Newell, WV to HerBold Organic Farms; from Centre Market Bakery to the Ukrainian Catholic Church; and from Miklas Meat Market to Susan’s Antiques and Décor, to name a few.  This restaurant is a one-of-a-kind experience. The foods are fresh, the menu is eclectic, and the service is excellent. Additionally, on two separate visits (the first time was in the fall of 2017), the kitchen went out of their way with one of their menu items, Kimchi Boat, to tweak the ingredients in order to ensure the dish was gluten-free for me; and, I personally love their Detox Salad and Vegetarian Board—YUM! Still, you do not have to be a plant-based eater to enjoy this eatery. They offer plenty of traditional burgers, sandwiches, nachos, and pizzas to satisfy the pickiest eater!







A few of our delightful meals from Wheeling Brewing Company.


John, me, Maddie, Amy VanHorn with her daughter, Eden Rice, and Gigs Ashton.


Finally, we cannot say enough about Ms. Linda and Bethany College Dining Service, including the on-campus coffee shop, The Hub. Ms. Linda, an employee at Bethany, I believe, for over 40 years, is the campus guardian of students. All students seem to know her by name, and she knows them as well. She welcomed John and I with hugs and served up awesome coffee on the golden, but very chilly spring day. The following day we enjoyed brunch with Maddie and Tatum in the Dining Hall. Wow! What an establishment—so many choices—including, as my daughter proudly pointed out, all types of gluten free bread, fresh vegetables, salads, and fruit. Of course, there was the traditional hot meal line as well as made-to-order paninis, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and omelets!




All in all, we are so pleased our daughter has chosen to attend Bethany College. We enjoy this unique locale, its friendly people, and beautiful scenery. More importantly, we appreciate the individualized education our daughter is receiving, the scholarship and internship opportunities available to her, and the phenomenal friends, staff, and professors that surround her. Even though we know a college education offers personal and academic challenges, as parents we feel comforted in knowing our daughter is in good hands. We look forward to visiting her again and again over the next three to four years!


The next you’re in the Wheeling/Bethany area, please visit any or all of these fine establishments; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!


P.S. Thank you, Maddie and friends, for making us feel at home during our visit!!!




79105626-7650-4c2c-9c6a-9277528f2fa1It’s nice to see college hasn’t taken away Maddie’s sense of humor!!! 

  The Power of the Pause

           “Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10,

        “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”—Kim Collins

        I was reading through a book when I ran across the line, “pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.”  While this phrase was directed towards how to teach yoga, the words jumped out at me. I looked away from my book and closed my eyes, internalizing the phrase, “pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.”  There was something more to this than teaching yoga.

        Looking out my family room window, I noticed the willow trees with their new brightly green leaves still not fully developed.  I took in my neighbor’s ornamental pear trees, dotted with emerging pinkish, white blossoms. The grass covering both of our yards, though still filled with brown patches, was noticeably more green— so vivid and brilliant.


The brown patches are still visible from the seasonal pause, but the grass is beginning to green up–thanks to the pause.


        Next, I heard the robins trilling in celebration of the cessation of several days of steady spring rain.  Their celebratory songs were layered with enthusiasm and optimism. Listening to their calming vocalizations, I glanced towards our weeping mulberry tree.

        Earlier in the day, my husband, John, had observed one of two old nests in the tree had been knocked out.  In it’s a place, a mockingbird was building a new nest. I paused for a moment watching the bird dart to and fro from tree to ground, bits of branches and yard detritus dangling from its mouth.  Then, it would pause; cock its head from one side to the next, then echo back to the robins’ song.


The mockingbird nest in our weeping mulberry tree–still visible due to the tree’s seasonal rest.


     Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        As I took in the signals of spring revival, I could not help but recall how bare this same view had been during the winter season.  Nature seemed to pause during December, January, and most of February. Yet during this hiatus, trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plant life, were, in actuality, taking time to renew from the inside—all the while maintaining incessant respiration–breath.  Their intention was to root down a little deeper in order to prepare for new growth; and so should we.


In spite of all of the bare ground, branches, and shrubs, internal renewal, linked to continual respiration, is still occurring.       

      Our lives are full of busyness.  Calendars booked. Workdays overscheduled.   From early morning to late evening, and from weekday to weekend, our tendency is to go, go, go.  And if we are not busy, we often fail to appreciate the gift we have been given. Instead, we complain, “I’m bored;” “I don’t know what to do with myself;” or, “I feel guilty, lazy, or afraid I have forgotten something,” to name a few.   Free time, it seems, does not match society’s image of the, “perfect multi-tasker.”



Our daughter, Madelyn, taking a pause out of her busy college schedule.      


       Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        Does constant busyness truly reflect God’s intention for us?  If Divine Providence provides built-in rest time for the natural world, my guess is that humans need this time too.  After all, even God rested as described in the book of Exodus; and thereby, we were likewise commanded to also rest on the Sabbath. However, what about day-to-day life?  What would happen if we brought a bit of the Sabbath day pause/reflection into our daily routine?


We can pause, feel, reflect and renew with our dog, while sitting outside, or even before a meal.  Regardless of where we choose to “pause,” the point is improvement not perfection.     


          Years ago, I was part of a women’s book study group.  One of the books we read had an entire chapter devoted to the notion of a daily practice of breath prayer.  Its intention was a short prayer or petition that is whispered throughout the day as a way of praying without ceasing.

        Breathing in, we were instructed to say one phrase; and, breathing out, we were to say another phrase—all of which was tied to a personal/spiritual goal(s).  Examples include: Breathing In: “Be still. Breathing Out: “And know I am God;” or, Breathing In: “Guide me” Breathing Out: “to a greater purpose.” There are certainly endless combinations and possibilities.  While I found it impossible to pray in this manner all day, I did benefit from the practice of starting my day with five or so minutes of a breath prayer, and then, throughout the day intentionally coming back to that same prayer.


Looking at this tree from afar, it appears to have no new growth.  However, when you get a closer look, the internal growth from the seasonal pause of rooting into its source, is slowly emerging–and, so it is when we pause regularly and turn inwardly.       


          Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        Similarly, during a yoga class, participants are often encouraged at the beginning of class to close their eyes, focus on their breath, and set an intention.  This is considered the anchor of the practice. The teachers I have experienced periodically remind students to return to their breath and intention as the class progresses.  In fact, if a movement or pose becomes too difficult or challenging, students are typically instructed to pause, notice their feelings; and if needed, rest on their knees, head down, eyes closed, while focusing on their breath and personal intention until they feel ready to join back in.  Additionally, at the end of class, participants are once again asked to pause, close their eyes, feel, reflect, and renew their intention before leaving class. Like the breath prayer, most yoga classes unite a purposeful pause with an intentional reflection, and link it to the act of respiration.

        Therefore, why not take time each day to incorporate a purposeful pause that links focused breathing to a prayer or personal intention?  In fact, why not attempt to incorporate it two, or more, times, per day, such as, at the end of the workday, and again at bedtime, or in correlation with each meal eaten?  What benefits might be reaped from the simple act of pausing?



          Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

         May we allow the surrounding spring renewal, beauty, and bird song to remind us of the importance of taking time to pause, feel and root down into our faith, reflect on the gift of life we have been given, and renew our intention to be more mindful of what God is calling us to do.  While we may never perfectly master this, we can make progress just as the trees and plants outside my window did during those winter months.


As seen on Instagram @studio8wv