A Fall Prayer of Gratitude

            “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about the trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”—Jeffrey McDaniel


            “We should never forget a good act that has been done to us.”—The Thirukkural


           As I stepped out of my vehicle into the straight lines and right angles of the parking lot, leaves–wispy and whirling–whizzed past me as the gusts of wind directed their descent to earth.  Flitting and floating shades of amber, coriander, tobacco, and cinnamon offered contrast to the somber, slate-colored clouds. I stood momentarily as pin-prickles of spiky raindrops spotted my glasses and seemingly pierced my face.  Another change of weather signaling winter was coming soon. 




           Remnants of the dream from much earlier, well before I rose for the work day, still clung to me the way the smell of cigarette smoke once clung onto my clothes after a date night with my husband, early in our marriage, before laws banning public smoking.  I continued to let the rain pelt me as my vision began blurring from the droplets accumulating on my lens.  




          “Let it go, Steph.  Let it go.”


           Soon enough, I was immersed in my day, and all was forgotten, replaced by the immediacy of the present moment.  


green maple leaves on river
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com


             Teaching, whether in my current middle school setting, or when I am in the midst of a yoga or fitness class at Brown Dog Yoga, demands that I fully focus on the needs of others.  What is the goal of the day’s lesson/s? How are the students responding? Do I need to make adjustments? It is a continuous feedback loop. Present, observe, adjust, interact, respond, sense, encourage, listen . . .the verbs are endless.  If I am really focused, all else is forgotten, and before long, another 45- or 60-minute class has flashed before my eyes.


           Likewise, writing, planning, cooking, or other purposeful endeavors can draw me into only what is happening, right there, in that instant.  In fact, quite often, if I do not set timers, I can become totally engrossed and lose track of all time–often making me late for whatever is on-tap for the day.  It is both a curse and blessing.


Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com


        Additionally, as I become more keenly aware of the passage of time via the loss of loved ones, the aging of other loved ones–both above and around my age–as well as my own changing life, body, and status, I fully recognize that I am no longer that young, wide-eyed, optimistic young woman who wanted to leave my home geography, eradicate injustice, offer love and hope to those without, and move up the ranks of education.  Instead, life has kept me rooted home, and offered me experiences I could have never envisioned.


As photographed for Brown Dog Yoga, photographer, Ashley Franz of AF Photography.


      So life has not been what I once envisioned it to be as a younger person.  What of it? So there have been challenges, difficulties, heartbreak, and even an occasional bad dream about a past event.  Again, what of it? I can choose to focus and wallow on those perceived negatives–and quite honestly, I occasionally still do.  However, why negate all the good that has occurred in my life and continues to occur? I have so many bountiful blessings that money, prestige, or another address could have never given me.  I am not the story or labels in my head, and neither are you Dear Reader. We are each uniquely, infinitely, and beautifully created by a Divine Source.




        I have, and continue to enjoy, opportunities to travel and explore, not only within the Tri-State region, but also throughout the U.S. and Canada.  I have been further blessed to teach in a multiplicity of settings with a wide-array of ages that my younger self, with its limited perspective, could have never imagined.  Additionally, I was lucky enough to have a young woman take a chance on my writing in a now defunct county newspaper that gave me the confidence to approach another local paper that continues to welcome my writing—something I absolutely never dreamed I would do and for which I continue to be grateful with each passing week.  


As seen on Instagram at thepositiveminds


         Furthermore, I am so fortunate to have lovingly shared my life with another educator who is just as passionate as me in the lifelong pursuit of learning and sharing with others.  Together, we have a daughter who is half way between her 20th and 21st year of life—a time that is so exciting, unpredictable, and oh-so-challenging.  What a wonderful gift it is to see the world through her eyes!


          I had/have the love, support, and/or closeness of my spouse and daughter, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, countless relatives within immediate and extended family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, mentors, and the list could go, including pets, connected like an intricately woven spider web, drenched with early autumnal dew of which I am but one strand of connectivity.


arachnid artistic blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


          Thank you, God, Divine Source, Ultimate Creator, for keeping my heart beating and my breath coming–continuously, persistently, resolutely.  I am Your instrument. My prayer is that You, in an Infinite Wisdom that I will never comprehend, continue to use me, lead me, teach me, and guide me.  I am here to serve; I no longer question my calling–that in and of itself is a gift. Lead my life where You will, and I will continue to do my best to live in the present moment, shaking off the dust of my past and uninformed self as the trees shed their leaves in the fall.  Though the trees look dormant in times of winter, life is percolating inside, revitalizing, nourishing, and strengthening, so that when spring emerges–and it always does–it can offer shade in the heat of life.  


As seen on Instagram at drwaynedyer





Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate


          “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”—Chinese Proverb

           “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes 3:1

           “Wasn’t the snow so pretty this morning?  It was so nice to see snow again.”

           My daughter, Maddie, said this to me on a recent evening after temperatures from the previous day had hovered around 60 degrees, only to plummet to 13 degrees the following morning.  Additionally, a light layer of snow covered the grassy areas, trees, and hilltops.  




          Upon hearing Maddie’s observation, I felt pleased to hear she still appreciated the natural world even now as a young adult.  My next thoughts were to recall how cold my feet and hands had remained throughout the day as well as all of the ways in which I chilled, and quite honestly, complained due to the sudden onset of cold rather than appreciate the miracle that is snow.  Oh boy, who’s the parent?

           Maddie was correct.  From the sugar coated tree branches standing in sentinel silence earlier that morning on surrounding hillsides, to the wispy white of the grass, as crisp and precise as a starched shirt under a jacket of cold air, it certainly made for a picturesque, albeit chilly, start to the day.  Hmm . . . I felt the sting of humility enter my mind.


brown tree covered by snow
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


        A few days prior, while preparing to teach a yoga class, I encountered a phrase in one of my books that stated, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury.”   I made it a point to write down those exact words because I wanted to remember it. Now those words were reverberating in my conscience. Who was I to complain about the cold?  After all, it was mid-November. 

          The article, which contained that phrase, as best I recall, described the power and influence of our thoughts, and the importance of cultivating a clear mind in order to discipline and guard our minds against disturbances and fluctuations driven by our ego. Of course, it emphasized the importance of praying, meditating, and all other faith based practices, but its real intent was to point out that all those practices/habits are useless if not applied in day-to-day life.  If our thoughts, words, and actions are full of complaints and resistances for things we cannot change or overflowing with attachments and thoughts to how things should be, not only are we not putting our faith into action, but we will not experience true inner peace.  



As seen on A to Z Quotes


          A week later, I found myself walking with a friend. Half way through our walk, I could feel a rock in my shoe.  However, it was cold and our conversation was lively, so I did not want to stop to take the rock out of my shoe.  Still, the annoyance of it kept pressing into my foot, irritating and distracting me, but I remained doggedly determined not to take a few moments to remove it from my shoe.  Thus, at times, I found myself losing focus on our conversation as my attention drifted to that rock in my shoe.  




           Once home, I stepped out of the car, took off my shoe, and shook out the rock.  Returning the shoe to my foot, I walked the length of our driveway to paper box to collect the newspaper.  Next, I sauntered over to the porch, pruned dead leaves and flower heads off of a chrysanthemum. Finally, I moved the pot, with the chrysanthemum in it, across the porch and into the sunlight as temperatures were once more climbing into the 50s.  Not once did I become distracted as I worked because I had removed the irritant—the obstacle–from my shoe. What a metaphor for our thoughts. 




          How often do I fixate on negative thoughts, such as, “It is so cold;” “I am so tired;” “My back is killing me;” “I am so overwhelmed with . . ..” I could continue with examples, but the point is, these negative influences become like those scratched records of long ago, the words keep repeating, and won’t stop, until the needle is moved past the scratch.


          Likewise, at the end of a meditation, prayer, focused reading, walk, or even a yoga practice, most, if not all, negative thoughts have been removed from my mind like the rock in my shoe.  I can begin tasks, and even conversations, with a renewed focus, energy, and a sense of positivity. It is only when I begin to allow those perceived injuries and insults; such as, cold weather, aging, work load, and so forth, to infiltrate my thoughts that I once more become distracted, irritated, or filled with doubt/uncertainty. 



          When my grandparents were living, a framed “Serenity Prayer” hung upstairs in the attic area in which I lived for two years fresh out of college.  I remember once asking my Grandmother to explain the significance of the prayer, especially the first two lines: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference . . ..”


          “Stethie,” her pronounced name for me, “over the years, there have been a lot of things that happened in my life that I could not change.”


Grandmother, Helen Clarke Slater, with her father and mother.


          Grandmother went on to provide me with examples.  From the death of her own mother when she was a young girl, to her “crippled” dad, as she referred to him, refusing to receive charity—including not allowing my her to accept a scholarship (at a time period when a high school education was not mandatory) to attend a high school in a nearby town; from the 1937 flood in which she and my papaw lost the grocery store in which they owned and operated, to the fact that her beloved sister, Ruth, had married and divorced several men over the course of her life and lived out her final days impoverished.


          “I can’t change any of it, just like I can’t change these wrinkles on my ol’ face. I had to learn when to let things go, and live my life for the Lord and my family, especially you-kids.”




          Her dark blue eyes, that were beginning to become milky with age, filled with tears as she finished by saying she loved me.  As an afterthought, she added that I’d come to understand and appreciate the prayer more with age. This was an especially poignant moment because I now realize that my papaw and she had had to accept major changes in their retired life in order to make room for a young-know-it-all 21-year old to move into their house.              

          Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury, and keep on going with devotion and love.  Perhaps, this was what Grandmother Helen was trying to impart to me all those years ago.

As seen on Instagram as posted by postivenergyalways.

30 Seconds More

            “How did it get so late so soon?  It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.  My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”—Dr. Seuss


            “The trouble is, you think you have time.”—Jack Kornfield


            “You have 30 more seconds!  You can do it!” I encouraged the group of exercisers working out with me at Brown Dog Yoga.  However, as soon as I spoke those words, I was struck with the notion of how relative time is.  30 more seconds of push-ups can seem like a long time. Interestingly, within that same time span, human eyes will have blinked at least six times, heart and lungs will have ceaselessly continued their rhythmic beats and breathes; and around the world, about 125 babies will be born with a little more than 50 lives crossing over into eternity.




            30 more seconds of time . . .


            30 more seconds to say, I now know you were doing your best; I now see how hard it was; I didn’t know you were worried about my siblings and me; I didn’t know you didn’t know the answers; I didn’t know the struggles, the hurt, the heartache, and the trials. 



            30 more seconds to say, I am sorry, I love you, I was a stupid kid, and an even dumber young adult. Heck, who am I kidding? I am still not so great at adulting at times.




          30 more seconds of–falling asleep to the sound of the Singer sewing machine whirring away on another dress for me as Mary Tyler Moore played on in the background; listening to WGNT each morning as we all dressed for school/work in our rooms while you made breakfast, packed lunches, ironed clothes, and studied your notes from night school; traipsing behind you throughout our avocado green kitchen in the afternoons watching you cook, offering to help, getting in the way repeatedly, talking without pausing to catch my breath about the latest high school drama.




        30 more seconds of–waking to the sound of the water hose spray hitting the hubcaps of our car on a Saturday morning followed by a routine oil and engine check; books read or notes studied while reclined in a chair as black vinyl dropped from the top of the stack and music began to fill the room; long, menacing snakes that mysteriously disappeared from the side yard; nails that were driven into the family room wall frame while multiplication facts and/or spelling words were given in random order; driving lessons that ended up in the neighbor’s yard.




            30 more seconds to–stay up late watching the Midnight Special; listen to our 45s and roller skate around our driveway; fight over board games; watch the free version of MTV on selected weekends; eat pizza and Snyder’s potato chips, drink pop, and see who could burp the loudest; sneak off to another room in the house with a deck of cards and daringly play a game of Blackjack like we were really doing something; say I am sorry I wasn’t the best sibling, and I am even more sorry for all my cross words as a kid about things that really didn’t matter.







          30 more seconds of sitting on the metal green and white glider with Mamaw on her front porch, lulled by its metallic cadence as she sips iced tea, and I drink Tang out of what were once jelly jars, looking at the colorful zinnias that once lined her walk.



         30 more seconds to enter the backdoor directly into the aromatic-scented blue and white kitchen of my Grandmother’s and Papaw’s as they bustled together around the steaming pots and pans, aprons around both waists, beckoning us to enter their house, “such as it was.”



            30 more seconds of walking across the Convocation Center’s stage at Ohio University, grinning widely up at my family who had endured the motion-sickness-invoking car ride to celebrate with me. 



           30 more seconds to–drive in the so-called fancy car with monogrammed floor mats; to laugh hysterically at a door we could not push open because we overlooked the “pull” sign; sit on the stoop of my grandparent’s house and talk as the moon passed over ours head; nervously meet your mom and sister, and ultimately laugh ‘til I cried as I took in all of their wonderful stories;  ride roller coasters repeatedly like we were 13 year olds; walk down the aisle with my arm linked into my Dad’s gliding towards an ear-to-ear smiling, soon-to-be husband; watch the snow fall half way up the back door of that tiny rental home; fly into the middle of a Canadian woodland in plane held together with duct tape surrounded by all sorts of creatures and critters that skitter-scurry in the night.







         30 more seconds to–savor when my eyes first locked into our daughter’s as Dr. Lee placed her gently on my chest; read another story book; sing another song; recite another nursery rhyme; watch another musical DVD again for which she has dressed up and is dancing/singing along; help with homework; shop for another special event dress; listen to a flute played in musical practice while I prepare dinner; proof read another essay.



          30 more seconds to once more taste–Mamaw’s holiday fudge; Grandmother’s brownies; Papaw’s sorghum molasses; Mom’s Christmas cinnamon rolls; Dad’s summer peanut butter milk shakes; Colleen’s family favorite broccoli casserole; and those scrambled eggs with grape jelly made in an attempt to get a sibling to eat them . . . okay, maybe not the eggs!



          30 more seconds to say–I didn’t realize the joy you felt; I didn’t fully realize the love you gave; I didn’t fully comprehend the pride you held; I didn’t fully grasp your compassion, empathy, and your capacity to overlook my idiocy.


            30 more seconds; one more minute; one more hour; and one more day.  If only I could go back into those moments. I’d gather each experience up, and arrange it like a bouquet of flowers whose fragrance I would sniff repeatedly until I sneezed myself silly.  Then, I’d place those colorful flowers safely away from all the mischievous cats of our past, change the flowers’ water daily, and gaze at their vibrancy frequently. What’s more, I’d stroke their velvety petals and bask in the whispers that would resonate when others walked past and remarked on their exquisiteness.


One of the many cats we had as kids.


            When I was a young girl, my papaw loved taking pictures with his Kodak camera.  He then had each image developed into a slide, and he spent hours arranging those memories in just the right order in a rotary projector tray.  Each Christmas, and sometimes, if we were lucky, around July 4, Papaw would get out a large screen, set it up at one end of their special occasion living room, gather a TV tray table, set in just the right spot, and carefully place his carousel slide projector on top of it.  Once dinner was served, the kitchen was cleaned and all food items put away, save for the desserts—extra servings were sure to still be enjoyed—the lights were turned out. Family would gather in that seemingly expansive room on chairs, couches, and even on the floor as the room glowed with the larger than life images.  Papaw would dramatically pause for each photo, and then click on to the next one. We ooed and awed, laughed and swapped familiar stories. I never tired of that ritual.



            If only life could be captured perfectly like those rotary projector trays Papaw so lovingly organized, labeled, and gathered. Click, there’s my childhood.  Click, there’s my youth. Click, there’s my family, my friends, those special moments—it’s all there . . .Click, click, click . . .white light fills the screen. 

             30 more seconds . . . please.








Versatile Vegetable Marinara

            Your choice of diet can influence your long term health prospects more than any other action you might take.”—Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop


            “We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it—because they do.”—Michael Greger, MD


            Recently, my husband, John, after watching the documentary, The Game Changers, has made the choice to increase plant foods in his diet and drastically reduce the meat he consumes.  As someone who has been a plant-based eater for years, I whole-heartedly embraced his decision. However, before carnivorous readers stop reading, please do not assume I am writing to proclaim, “The gospel of how you should eat,” according to Steph.  How you choose to eat, Dear Reader, is a highly personal choice, and only you know what type of diet works best for you. With that being said, I think most readers can agree that increasing one’s intake of whole foods, with emphasis on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods, is an overall healthy practice. 


abundance agriculture bananas batch
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


            Trust me, John has not completely abandoned meat, but he is now choosing to consume it as a rare treat, rather than an everyday occurrence.  This change in John’s dietary habits has certainly made it easier on me with regards to how I cook for us. Now, instead of cooking one meat-based recipe for him, and a vegetable-based variation for myself, I only have to plan for one recipe.  (Although, I must confess, I often prepare myself something different only because I am either experimenting with a new recipe or making a variation for myself that is gluten free.)


green basil topped dish in brown bowl


            Furthermore, I am a big believer in food prep on the weekend.  John and I live busy and active lives. We are up by 5:00 am each work day and typically unable to sit down for dinner until 7:00 pm or later.  Thus, I do not have much time to cook during the workweek. Therefore, I purchase, clean, and prep all of our vegetables for the week on the weekend.  I also typically prepare all of my work lunches on the weekends; and I generally cook up large batch recipes for dinner that can easily be warmed and supplemented with a quickly thrown together salad.


beige wooden rectangular chopping board
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


            This past month, John and I have enjoyed a week’s worth of black bean soup, meatless chili, or big bowls of chopped salad overflowing with prepared greens, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and/or seeds.  Of course, it helps that we love eating leftovers. Perhaps, it goes back to our childhood as both of our families regularly made leftovers part of the weekly family dinner experience. However, it seems to us that certain foods get magically better with each reheating, especially soups, chili, and pasta sauces.




            This month’s recipe is no exception.  I actually made it on a Saturday afternoon, but immediately cooled it, transferred it to a Crockpot, and then stowed it away in the fridge for a six-hour simmer on Sunday.  Then Sunday afternoon, I prepped all my salad veggies for a week, so they were ready to be thrown together quickly each work evening. Additionally, I made up a large batch of gluten free pasta, which happened to be a type made out of beans that is high in protein, and mixed it up with spiralized zucchini. (Confession: I buy the prepared zucchini found in the freezer section.  When I see it go on sale at my local market, I buy up several bags at a time for future dinners.) Finally, I also ensured we had both cauliflower pizza crusts and a few portabella caps on hand as an alternative sauce-carrier to the pasta.




            When making this sauce, you will notice my emphasis on finely chopped vegetables.  This is because John and I have an agreement. As long as he can’t see chunks of certain vegetables for which he would not normally eat (i.e. carrots, celery, onion, and peppers), and they do not crunch, he will quite happily dine on the sauce, especially if seasoned just right.  Furthermore, meatless crumbles, or meatless meatballs, can be added into this sauce if desired.

            Give this versatile vegetable chocked recipe a try.  You can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, but also as a sauce for pizza, pizza bread, calzones, and baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.  As earlier hinted, I’ve even made a low-carb variation in which I filled portobello caps with this sauce, added a few basil leaves, and other favorite pizza toppings, then baked it all up in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—delicious!


            From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals.



Gluten Free, Vegetable Marinara Pasta Sauce




2 tablespoons olive oil or for no-oil alternative, choose ½ -1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or stock

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped green (or other color, if preferred) pepper

1 small zucchini, finely chopped or grated

1 cup finely chopped or grated carrots

1 cup celery, finely chopped or grated

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (I use baby portabella, but any type will do.)

1 28-32 oz of no salt tomato sauce (I could not find one large can, so I ended up combining a total of 3 cans–one of which was not a no-salt variation– or nearly 32 ounces of tomato sauce.)

1 6-ounce can tomato paste (preferably no-salt if you can find it)

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, crushed tomatoes

(Optional:  1 package no meat crumbles or meatballs; or you could add your choice of ground meat–it is just no longer marinara!)

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

‘1 teaspoons fennel seed

1-teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar or other equivalent sweetener, i.e. Stevia, maple syrup, agave, etc

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 large bay leaf




In large saucepan, preheat pan over medium heat.

Once warm, (a small spoonful of water will skitter across bottom of pan) add oil or stock.

Add in garlic to pan.

Meanwhile, finely chopped onion and green pepper; then add to garlic in pan.

Next, chop and grate all veggies as finely as possible.  (If using a food processor, do not pulse for too long or veggies will become mush.)

Add vegetables as each is chopped, stirring in each addition.

(Note, if using stock to sauté vegetables, continuously ensure there is enough broth or stock to prevent vegetables from sticking to pan.  Add in liquid as needed.)

Once all vegetables are added, continue to sauté until all vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.

When vegetables are properly softened, begin to add canned ingredients, pausing to gently stir-in each addition.

Next, add in seasonings.

Bring all ingredients to a low boil.

As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Serve over pasta, vegetable noodles, or spoon into portabella mushroom caps, pizza crusts, or pitas.

Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days; or kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes 6-8 servings.