When clouds of depression darken your sky, don’t give in

“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”–Mary Engelbreit


There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”–Aldous Huxley


“I don’t know if it’s the holidays, the cloudy weather, the lack of sunlight, or what, but I am really struggling.  Then, when I say it aloud, I feel like I am crazy–like no one else struggles this time of year.”


Yes, I was “eavesdropping,” as John, my husband, has frequently accused me of doing, but I was waiting in a long line at a popular store the Saturday before Christmas to buy a gift. All around me were people having conversations. What was I supposed to do?  Besides, the lady who was speaking kept looking back at me beseechingly as if she wanted me to participate in the conversation.




While the unknown sad woman, as I now came to think of her, had listened to her companion offer the advice to focus on the “real reason for the season,” sad woman was quick to retort.


“Yes, I know, I know.  I hear every week at church.  It seems like either pastors feel they have to say that, or they are just clueless to the real mental anguish people go through,” she added with frustration in her voice.  


As the line slowly moved forward to the check out point, sad woman went on to describe to her companion how her life had been turned upside down over the course of the year.  She had lost one parent and a good paying job thanks to a corporate decision to cut costs. Now this woman, for whom I was now feeling profoundly empathetic, was working two part time jobs, her remaining, but ill, parent had moved into her house, and her adult child had also moved back home, albeit temporarily, due to an impending divorce. 


Sometimes, it’s hard to count your blessings when overwhelmed by life.


“I know I am supposed to ‘count my blessing and name them one by one’ as the old hymn states, but I am so busy trying to count dollars to make ends meet . . . ,”  her voice trailed off as she stepped forward to pay for her meager purchase, a gift for her mom–it was her mom’s favorite fragrance.  


“She always smiles when I rub this scent on her arm.  It’s the one time she knows me,” I heard her explain to the young, but uncaring clerk.





Driving home the thirty or so minutes to my home, my mind kept rolling over this sad woman’s story.  She was around my age, maybe a bit older, but not by more than ten years. How many other stories did I know similar to hers?  Too many, I realized.


Likewise, I can think of several other people with whom I interact who seemingly, “have it all,” as far as financial success goes, who I have overheard or been engaged in conversations with that openly confess they are mentally struggling.  Every time I hear this, I am so deeply empathetic, that I can feel/sense their cloud of sadness too. In fact, I sincerely wish there was a way I could brush away the darkness for them as if I were brushing crumbs off of a table after dinner.  


adult alone anxious black and white
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Unfortunately, whether it’s short term holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder, or a more serious mental illness, such as depression and/ or anxiety, there is no quick-fix.  However, having experienced depression, and bouts of the blues, I can tell you this. There is a gem inside of you, it’s just covered up with some dirt and dust, and with a bit of patience and persistence, it is my sincere belief that you can get through the dark times.


I do not own much of what some might consider “good” jewelry, but the few pieces that I do own, I wear nearly daily, mostly because of the importance of the people in my life who have given them to me.  Due to the fact that I wear them frequently, they get dirty, dull, and diminished looking. Therefore, I try to weekly to soak my jewelry in a combination of ammonia and classic blue Dawn detergent (not anything with pearls or sterling silver).  




Once these pieces have soaked an hour or so, I use an old soft toothbrush to gently brush away the grime.  Three events during this process never fail to surprise me. The first is the amount of dirt particles that have settled in the bottom of the solution that came off the jewelry.  The second event is how shiny and lustrous the pieces look after being brushed and rinsed in warm water. Finally, as I set each piece on a paper towel to dry, I am stunned by how silky smooth/soft each one feels.  



When I first put on each piece, I am still taken aback by the way they look in the light, reflecting it just so.  As I rinse away the solution I made for the cleaning, I never fail to be surprised by the fact that I never realized how dirty each piece was until I cleaned it.  Further, I am so thankful I once more took time to clean them, rid them of their dirt with a little TLC, and, as I gently put each piece back on, I am reminded that no matter the irritants that can sometimes darken my soul, like the dirt in the jewelry, in the end, I can ultimately shine through with a little bit of help and self-cleaning.  And, that, Dear sad woman, or anyone else experiencing depression, is true for you!




You may be a bit dulled up, in fact, you may be flat out covered in darkness.  I get it. I have experienced depression too–not yours, but my own version of the dark cloud–the kind that makes it hard to get out of bed; the kind that sends you behind closed doors, so that you can cry profusely without prying eyes; the kind that makes you feel like you don’t matter, no one cares, and there is nothing you can do. I’ve been mucked up with all that, and more, on a few occasions.



Well, I am here to say, hold on, Dear Friend, hold on.  Clasp, claw, clutch the edge and hang on for dear life. There is a way through it.  You’ve collected some metaphorical dirt, maybe even more than your fair share, but inside of you is a gem that can be found by simply placing your hand on your heart.  No one, and I mean no one, has a heartbeat rhythm similar to yours. It is your unique marker formed by The Creator. It is continuously beating, whether you think about it or not, and it serves as a reminder that you, like your heart, can beat this.  It may take time, it may take therapy or medicine, it may take hours of exercise or talking with a trusted friend, it may take time spent outside, a change in scenery, or any other number of ways to get through it, but keep cleaning away the dirt; keep excavating–the real you is still there waiting to shine through once more.


Best Laid Plans–A Lesson in Humility

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”–Robert Burns


“This too shall pass.”–Persian adage


The schedule for the day, as is often the case on Saturdays, was full. My to-do list was inscribed and fortified via thorough mental rehearsals for several days prior.  In fact, Saturday was really only a continuation of a busy week filled with items needing to be completed and a forecast of another week just like it coming up. Nothing insurmountable as long as the steady pace of productivity persisted.  Get. It. Done. Girl.




Friday was a late night, at least late in my early-bird world. John, my husband and co-worker, and I had, along with the rest of the St. Joseph Catholic School middle school staff, chaperoned a Christmas themed dance for our students.  Combine that with an after-school writing club that I sponsor on Fridays, and I wasn’t able to leave school that day until after we cleaned up from the dance. No big deal, other than we had not yet eaten dinner, and I needed to be up fairly early the next morning to teach two classes at Brown Dog Yoga in Ashland, KY.


christmas tree with baubles
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com


Therefore, John and I headed to a nearby Asian restaurant in hopes of avoiding a heavy dinner for my sensitive stomach.  Steamed vegetables and rice seemed light enough. Once home, I did feel extremely tired, but nothing too unusual. Thus, my thoughts once more pursued that mental list of appointments and “must-dos” as I drifted off to sleep.




After a restless night, I stepped out of bed the next morning, and knew, as soon as my feet hit the floor, my stomach was upset.  Not unusual, between eating late–a new found age-related issue–and my celiac disease–cross-contamination of wheat products is a threat any time I dine out–I wasn’t super worried.  Sure, my belly was protesting, but if there is one thing I do well, it was persist . . . at least that is what I told myself with dramatic mental flair.


Driving the thirty minutes to Ashland, my stomach only complained more.  It’s the curvy state route over which I am traveling.  That seemed like a plausible reason to me.  You ate a late dinner.  Plus, you didn’t sleep well last night.  Maybe a wheat noodle was accidentally cut into your rice.–Okay, that last thought was logic-defying, but these are the types of lies I tell myself even when the proverbial handwriting is on the wall. 


gray concrete roadway beside green and brown leafed trees
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Arriving at the yoga studio, I still did not feel better, but as the clients began to arrive, I was able to focus on them, taking my mind off my own digestive distress.  In fact, as I taught through my first class, I was convinced that if I’d just give it time, whatever was upsetting my stomach was sure to subside. You’ve been here hundreds of times, Steph.  This is not a big deal.


Heading into my second class, heated yoga, I was 80-90 percent convinced, this was all in my head.  Now, to clarify, the warm yoga classes at our studio never have the temperature set higher than 85 degrees fahrenheit, so it is not an unreasonable temperature, especially on a chilly Saturday morning.  In fact, I embrace the warm temperatures as I tend to be cold natured. However, half-way through class though, the heat began to increase my nausea as a feeling of imminent misery began to grow deep within my gut.  Swallow.  Swallow. Keep focused on the clients and the flow. Swallow. Swallow. Focus on their needs. Not. About. You.


I made it through, and convinced myself that nothing was wrong once I was outside of the warm room.  This too shall pass as my Dad is fond of saying.  He’s right, you know.  This will pass. 


Determined, I drove to my next stop–a hair appointment which had been scheduled six weeks earlier.  Arriving early, as the appointment time had been slightly changed, I decided to take a nap in the car.  Seemed logical, despite the fact I don’t typically nap, much less take one in my car. A nap will allow your stomach to settle.


vehicles parked in front of cinemark building
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Erin, my stylist and salon manager, warmly greeted me as I entered 20 minutes later, and we talked a bit.  Then, she took a good look at me.  


“Are you alright?  You don’t look like yourself.”


I assured her I was fine, and she assured me that we could reschedule the appointment if needed.


“Just an upset stomach–no big deal.”


Fortunately, as the manager, she is often pulled away from the chair to take care of minor issues as they arise.  Several issues later, she was finally ready to mix my hide-the gray-color. As she walked away to mix up the colorful magic, I urgently called after her. 


male and female signage on wall
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com


“Don’t mix the color,” and I ran to the public restroom, embarrassed, but worried I wouldn’t make it in time.


For the record, there is nothing more humbling than being forced to, shall I say, bow before the public porcelain.  Ironically, thoughts of all of the germs I must be encountering filled my mind as I contributed my own germs to the water below.   Why now?  I have an entire list of things that must be completed, plus another appointment in Barboursville, and Christmas party tonight. . .or, so I thought.  



“Best laid plans of mice and men . . .” a saying my mom is fond of repeating came to mind.  Why do my parents’ words still continue to haunt me at my age?


Dad and Mom were both right.  The stomach bug did eventually pass, a few days later, and my perfectly timed plans were, well, publicly flushed away as I was forced to drive home, crawl into bed, and not leave except for, yep, you guessed, more visits with white porcelain fixtures–but at least it was my own!


white toilet paper
Photo by hermaion on Pexels.com


The moral of the story?  God has a funny sense of humor?  While I suspect that’s true, it was not my take away.  When life gives you a virus, write a story? While that is always a possibility with me, it, too, was not the lesson.  No, for me, it was all about the arrogance of “I” and my attachment to my ego.


I can persevere.  I have plans. I am busy.  I must do this. I, I, I . . .


I had to let go of my perceived control of life, and allow life to unfold without meI had to humble myself to a virus.  I was forced to face the fact that I am not in control–not even a little.  As the hours ticked by, the dear faces of my daughter, Madelyn, and John, appeared, hovered, checked, covered, and cared for my withering ego and temporarily waning body.  Daylight dimmed to darkness; night hours stretched out with simmering suffering; the sunrise eventually, but slowly, slithered through panes of glass; and still, time ticked on without me.


And perhaps, that is one of the greatest gifts of the holidays, or “holy days.”  A designated day to renew our faith and set aside time to rest–preferably not ill– and recharge, gathering with the ones we love, and perhaps even, swap a story or five.  Time spent together– savoring the sweet, simplicity and comfort of laughter, love, and the present moment without any focus on “I.”  


collect moments not things quote
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Chunky Pear Butter Delight

“Being a good neighbor is an art which makes life richer.”–Gladys Taber


“Pears cannot ripen alone. So we ripen together.”–Meridel Le Sueur


I found them sitting on the kitchen counter.  Brown with a rough texture and a bit of an uneven texture, these late season pears were a gift from our neighbor, Sandra, who had told me in a text, “They are good for the body.”  While they weren’t much to look at, I wasn’t about to judge the fruit by its skin. I gently arranged them on a plate in order to allow them to ripen up a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with them, but I felt certain they had great potential stored within–despite the fact, I honestly don’t often eat pears.




I began scouring through recipes on-line in search of ideas.  I had no idea the versatility of pears! For years, I have eaten and cooked with apples in a wide variety of ways, but it turns out, pears can be used in nearly every way an apple can and more!  From poached pears to pear pie, from pear butters and sauces to pear pizzas and pear tarts, and from pear salad to pickled pears, and so much more, it turns out the pear, and all its varieties, is quite the versatile fruit. Plus, it turns out that Sandra was spot;  pears are good for the body!




Of course, consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is an overall beneficial habit to one’s health and can help reduce one’s risk for a number of diseases.  The pear is no exception. To begin, it is full of fiber. In fact, the average pear typically has a whopping six grams of fiber wrapped up in one deliciously sweet package that comes in around 100 calories and is naturally fat-free and cholesterol free.  


close up photo of bunch of pears
Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com


In particular, the pear possesses pectin, a soluble fiber that is good for promoting gut health because it feeds the gut’s bacteria. What’s more, pears have a high water content. Combine the pectin with high water and pears possess the ability to promote soft stools, increasing healthy bowel function as well as naturally flushing toxins out of the system.  This same fiber is also good for naturally reducing cholesterol, reducing one’s risk for diabetes as well as reducing one’s risk for diverticulitis.  




Pears are full of antioxidants which combat cancer causing free radicals.  This includes vitamins C and K as well as copper. Pears are also a good source of potassium and possess smaller amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6.  Finally, pears, especially those with red skin, contain carotenoids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins which promote heart health. 


Chunky Pear Butter Delight takes a bit of time to cook down, but it is totally worth it!


Overall, pears are an underappreciated (at least they were in my world) nutritional powerhouse that are chock full of fiber, vitamins, and beneficial plant compounds. Thanks to Sandra, I have since purchased pears by the ½ dozen or so, repeatedly.  I’ve learned, due to her generosity, that it is all about allowing pears to ripen together on a plate before storing them in the refrigerator.  


We like our pear butter chunky, so I use a potato masher to break down the pears.  However, you can choose to use a blender or food processor for a smoother consistency.


Finally, the one important piece of nutritional information I did learn while researching for this recipe is that many of these nutrients are stored in the fruit’s peel, so be sure to eat it to maximize the nutritional benefits.  Sadly, the recipe I am sharing with you today does not include the peel. Therefore, while your buying pears to make this recipe, be sure to pick up a few extra for a healthy grab and go snack sure to benefit your body’s health.

Pear butter is delicious served up on whole grain (gluten-free here) bread or spread across a flatbread or tortilla.


From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and well, humble, but certainly tasty, food choices!


Amp up the nutrition of the pear butter by sprinkling a few cacao nibs to increase antioxidants.



Pear Butter


6 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup maple syrup

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon salt


Combine chopped pears, lemon juice, maple syrup, and brown sugar.

Cover and cook over medium heat 20-25 minutes until pears are soft, stirring often to prevent sticking.

Using a potato masher, gently mash pears while still in pot to desired texture. (My family and I like our pear butter with a few small chunks remaining.  You can always use a food processor if you desire a smoother consistency–just remember to cool the pears first. Then, return back to pot for final cooking.)

Stir in remaining ingredients and continue simmering over medium to medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes without a lid, allowing pear butter to thicken. Remember to occasionally stir to prevent sticking.

Cool and pour into container for storage.  

Can be stored in the fridge for 7-10 days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes a delicious dessert by itself, and it also tastes terrific spread over toast or flatbread/tortilla.

I especially like it served in a small dish topped with a granola-like topping while my husband likes it warmed in a bowl served with whipped cream.


Thanksgiving in Lexington, KY 2019–Relax, Unwind, Enjoy Great Food

“Traveling – It leaves you speechless, then turns  you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

I am not a glutton–I am an explorer of food.”–Erma Bombeck


Quite honestly, I am not sure how it finally all came to be decided, but in the end, it was a romantic, food-laden adventure.   In fact, I would argue, sometimes, last minute plans end up making the best adventures because you haven’t had time to think about and attach to certain outcomes.  You just pack a bag, hop in the car, and see what unfolds! That is what happened to John, my husband, and me this past Thanksgiving.


John and I are not traditional Thanksgiving meal fare people. I know, I know, for many people, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday; and, I get it.  Focusing on the big three–food, family, and friends–is never a bad thing, I wholeheartedly agree. To be certain, I have baked my fair share of turkeys over the years–including baking the neck and giblet bags within the turkey!  What can I say? Fortunately, that year, I had a brother-in-law, Tony, who took good care to help me out without making me feel like a complete and total idiot–even though I was!


cooked chicken on white plate
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Despite the fact that turkey, dressing, and all the other traditional trimmings aren’t really John’s and my thing, we do love our food, and we do love to travel–even if adventuring fairly close to home! Thus, years ago, we began the family tradition, when our daughter, Madelyn, was fairly young, to combine travel and food during Thanksgiving week.  We tended to travel to mountainous destinations in nearby North Carolina, West Virginia, or Kentucky, and we usually kept the driving distance no longer than 6 hours. However, for the past couple of years, Maddie, now in college, has tended to venture separately with friends, included trips to Chicago and New York City. Therefore, this year, we were unsure if she would be joining us or not.  Furthermore, I preferred not to be out of town the entire week of Thanksgiving.


Conversations regarding Thanksgiving travel waxed and waned among Maddie, John, and me.  


“Are you interested in traveling with us?”


“Where would you want to go?”


“What days did you say you wanted to travel?”


“You know, we could go . . .”


“You know, we need to make a decision soon.”


Even the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, we still had not fully decided what to do!  Talk about indecisiveness–mostly on my part. In the end, we settled on Lexington, KY–a short three night, two hour trip.  John and I had discovered this town’s appeal this past spring, due to a family experience at the UK Medical Center. Therefore, why not head back to Kentucky’s warm hospitality?


Hospitality is exactly what we discovered on Airbnb.  We found what appeared to be a cozy apartment hideaway, reasonably priced, and tucked into an old residential Lexington neighborhood, only minutes from downtown.  However, due to a hacking experience the previous spring, our Airbnb account was not properly functioning. That is when hosts, Dawna and David Gaither, stepped in and offered direct Airbnb contact information, so that we could talk to an actual person, and get our account up and operating once more.  This was only the beginning of Dawna and David’s hospitality.




Their “Uptown Retreat,” as it is called on Airbnb, is comfortable, cozy, and full of thoughtful touches for one or two travelers.  This spacious two-room apartment offers a retro kitchenette, wood-burning fireplace (complete with wood to burn), sauna, full bath, and laundry.  Plus, Dawna and David stock it up with beverages, snacks, toiletries, plenty of linens, coffee/tea, as well as comfortable bedding. Plus, they responded promptly and courteously to all text queries, and we were stunned by the fact they checked on us regularly to see if there was any more they could do to make our stay more pleasant!  John and I would highly recommend both the hosts and this location–absolutely perfect!




Now for the food . . .


Pies and Pints is always a favorite dining establishment.  I cannot say enough about their Simple Salad and their Black Bean Pie with gluten-free crust, which even John agrees is tasty!  And, yes, I splurged on cheese for this visit! John loves the rotating tap of local breweries and the Make-Your-Own-Pie choice since he’s a straightforward pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese kinda guy.  During this visit, we were fortunate enough to have Devon waiting upon us again, as he did this past spring, and his service and the food/beverages did not disappoint! Yum, yum, yum!





Next stop, Wild Eggs for brunch the following day with Ms. Janette Gomez as our waitress extraordinaire. When I explained that I really did not want to eat meat, wanted little to no dairy, and I needed to eat gluten-free, she did not sweat one bit!  She helped me find several dishes from which I could choose, and she even suggested ways to make my ultimate choice filled with even more of what I love–vegetables! Add to that a carafe full of unlimited flavored coffee, an adorable atmosphere, that included mixed drinks if we had wanted them, an eclectic menu, and John’s big ol’ “Yellow Submarine” sandwich, we left Wild Eggs feeling full, happy, and definitely wanting to return again the next time we are in the neighborhood..





That evening, it was time to visit Carson’s–John’s favorite spot (so far) in Lexington.  While we had dined there this past spring, we recalled that the menu had so many items that we wished to try, this visit seemed like the time to return and try a new dish.  I went straight to their vegan and gluten-free entrees, while John debated which meat-centric dish he wanted to enjoy. During our conversation that evening, I asked John if he ever got tired of finding restaurants with gluten-free and vegetarian options for me.  His reply left me thinking.






“I figure, if a place takes the time to think about creating a few good food choices for those desiring vegetarian and gluten-free options, then they probably take just as much care, if not more, creating great meat based dishes.”


Hmm . . .maybe he’s on to something!  To be certain, that has certainly defined the majority of our dining experiences!  One thing is for sure, we found our meals tasted unbelievably delicious at Carson’s with courteous, and overall, prompt service that left us wanting to return a third time!  My Tofu Stir-fry was loaded with all the colorful veggies I love, and John’s Sweet and Spicy Rib Entree was loaded up with what could be called, bone-sucking good ribs! We did not leave hungry that night.


What did we do about Thanksgiving Day?  John still had one-half of his Yellow Submarine sandwich from our brunch at Wild Eggs, and he also had half of his ribs from dinner, but I did not have any leftovers.  Therefore, after a long walk around the neighborhood’s peaceful lake and homes, we visited Whole Foods Market’s food and salad bars. John loaded up on containers full of green salad and Mac n Cheese to round out both his meals for the day, while I loaded up on an eclectic mix of containers: mixed berries, salad, tofu, assorted grilled and roasted vegetables, quinoa chili, and, of course, dark chocolate!  Once back at the apartment, we burned a fire all day long, took in the football games, relaxed, and enjoyed each other’s company in our pleasant and snuggly setting. Now that’s a trip for which to feel grateful!



From my home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and delicious travel experiences, and we certainly recommend givings Lexington, KY a visit when looking for a close-to-home adventure.  You won’t go hungry or be disappointed!