Naples, Florida, a Great Beach Get Away from it all

           “I like anywhere with a beach.  A beach and warm weather is all I really need.”—Rob Gronkowski

 

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           Author’s Note:  This is part one of a travel focus on Naples, Florida.  This piece solely features overall highlights of the Naples area.  More tourist attractions, including dining points of interest, will follow in another piece.

 

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A beautiful shell I found along Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, FL.

 

           For many people, summer means travel time. Mountains, lakes, and, yes, beaches, are all popular spots for couples and families alike.   In fact, summer travel is often scheduled and planned months in advance in order to get the best deal. However, what if you are planning a trip at the last minute?  Are there ways to still get a good deal on a vacation spot? Absolutely!

           There are so many wonderful apps and websites that can help you do just that!  Two of our favorites are VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) and, the ever popular, Airbnb.   From secluded, rural destinations, to frenetic urban locations and all areas in between, today’s traveler has a multitude of ways to find their own ideal, last minute vacation spot.  It was, in fact, VRBO, that helped John, my husband, and me find our most recent get away—which was, indeed, scheduled just a couple of weeks in advance of our departure.

 

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          Without belaboring the details of why, we had not really set in stone in formal plans for the summer travel, despite the fact this is the summer of our 30th wedding anniversary.  Therefore, when John and I actually began discussing, in more concrete terms, potential locations, one spot kept entering our conversations:  Naples, FL. With its miles of white “sugar” sand beaches and calm waters, Naples’ Gulf of Mexico location makes it a great spot to relax and unwind.  Plus, during the summer months, vacation property and rentals are actually less expensive than most beach areas! In fact, we were able to spy numerous budget-friendly properties, including the small condo we ultimately settled upon renting.

 

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           One of the great advantages of renting directly from property owners and/or managers, rather than a realty company, is the fact that arrival/departure days, and length of stay are typically quite flexible.  Thus, by using VRBO, we were able to compare and select property based upon our budget and location desires, but also look at each location’s date availability in order to narrow down our field of possible candidates.  Then, once we settled on a vacation property to rent, we could directly communicate with our chosen property’s manager, Osi Germann, and start our stay on a Monday, and rent for ten days, rather than the usual Saturday or Sunday start to a traditional seven-day stay!  Germann was a pleasure with whom to work; she was prompt and courteous in her communication and ever the consummate professional.

 

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           As a life-long resident of the Tri-state area (WV, OH, KY), of which many of my early years were spent in KY, I found it of interest to discover that Naples, Florida was founded by two Kentuckians, Water Halderman, then owner of The Louisville Courier, and John Williams, then a prominent politician and senator, in 1885.  By 1888, Naples Pier was first built and has become one of the city’s oldest symbols, popular for its views, particularly dolphin sightings, as well as fishing.  Even now, Naples’ historic downtown, often called “Old Naples,” still has Victorian era-buildings, including the Palm Cottage, which was built in 1895 and is still open for tours.

 

Naples Pier, a must visit part of Naples, FL, is known for its dolphin sightings and fishing.

 

 

          Naples is part of Collier County, the largest county in Florida, and even with the population continuing to rise in Naples, and its surrounding neighbors, 80% of the county is a natural preserve!  One such example is Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A 13,000-acre preserve, this Sanctuary welcomes visitors to traverse along its 2.25-mile boardwalk that winds over and through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and into the largest Bald Cypress forest in North America.  Other natural sites of note in the Naples area, include: The Bird Gardens of Naples, whose sole concern is parrot welfare, which allows visitors to interact and view numerous varieties of parrots and other wildlife; The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, which offers 12 miles of walking, hiking, biking trails built from old logging tram roads—it also has a small boardwalk and allows visitors numerous views of cypress trees and bird/animal varieties; The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which allows visitors to interact with nature and experience their electric boat tours; The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, though technically not a preserve, is a non profit zoo focused on conservation of endangered species as well as a nationally accredited garden. Additionally there is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Clam Pass Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s only scratching the surface of the numerous nature attractions, parks, and preserve areas available to visit in the Naples area.

 

Images from Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.

 

           Lest you think Naples is only for nature lovers, Naples is considered the golf capital of the world, with more golf holes per capita than anywhere else.  It is also home to Swamp Buggy Racing, which began in 1918; and, visitors can even see the original swamp buggy that started it all at the Naples Depot Museum.  Naples is also known for its art, with over 100 art galleries in the area! A water taxi shuttle can be found at Naples Dock with stops including multiple downtown waterfront destinations for shopping, dining, and/or drinking—just $10.00 allows visitors to hop off and one throughout the day.  Of course, shopping and dining opportunities are endless while staying in Naples. Plus, there is, of course, that gulf-side beach for those who just really want to relax, unwind, and get away from it all!

 

Images from Naples City Dock, home of the water taxi shuttle serving multiple downtown locations.

 

           This was not our first trip to Naples, FL, nor do I think it will be our last. However, Dear Reader, in spite of all there was/is to do in Naples, especially with the abundant nature-centered activities, I barely ventured beyond the beach—which was true for this most recent trip.  John and I arrived during the last few days of May, a month that had been overloaded with a flurry of long hours and activities. Therefore, this trip to Naples was more about resting/recovering, reconnecting, and most of all, celebrating our 30 years of marriage.  (Plus, we enjoyed numerous good meals; and I enjoyed visiting several yoga studios, while John found a great conveniently located gym facility).  More about that in my next piece!) Our condo, which was perfectly situated, allowed us to do just that, as it overlooked a peaceful bay and was one short block away from the beach. Additionally, it was conveniently located to ample dining and shopping opportunities, especially those found at nearby Mercato.

 

 

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pocket-friendly summer travels!

  

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Picture taken on Naples Pier, Naples, FL.

        

           

           

           

 

The Greatest of These is Love

           “The most important thing in the world is family and love.”—John Wooden

 

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These hearts were found on a set of abandoned steps that must have one time led from a bayside house to a private dock.

 

           As I sat seaside, this past week in Naples, Florida, I watched the tide’s water flow one direction and pull back in opposition; wash in over one child’s sand sculpture, and soon another was built; gush forward over one set of footprints, roll back and a new set of imprints were created. I part-heard/part-felt the cacophony that is the shoreline–equal parts of water resonant, birdcall, breeze, and the tinny of playful, relaxed voices. Clear, bright blue waters melted into vivid green. Vibrant circles of color, as if part of an artist’s palette, dotted sparkling sand.  Dappled areas of bare sand, except for the wooden stakes surrounded by yellow tape, were interspersed throughout the colorful landscape–protected turtle nests.

 

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Protected sea turtle nests dot the shoreline of Naples, FL. Here is one such example.

 

           On June 17, 1989, I married my husband, John.  I was a mere 23 years old, but viewed myself as MUCH older; and, John, at age 27, was positively pushing the needle towards the “old” mark!  Feelings of elation and excitement regarding our future coursed through my soul’s veins. Looking deeply into John’s eyes during our ceremony, I saw an ocean of love in those blue green orbs, and I was overwhelmed with my own reciprocal feelings as we publicly proclaimed our vows.  I tried to clasp the moment . . .

 

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  John and I on June 14, 1989.

 

           Back in Naples, I scooped up water along the shoreline and tried to hold it in my hands.  I tightly sealed my fingers, and still, the water flowed—much like thirty years. 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 . . .and on the years streamed over smooth, sandy bars of happiness and rough, rocky outcroppings of life challenges.  One house rented was soon left for a mortgage and a new address. One degree earned, was followed by another, followed by still more schooling. Tides of life rolled in as one event followed the outward flow of another.

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and sunset.  

 

           Soon it was the end of September 1998; something felt different. Habitual morning coffee suddenly became nauseating.  Strong scents, once easily ignored, were now sending me scrambling to find the nearest restroom. Emotions surfaced with more frequency and greater intensity.  What treasure was the tide rolling in our way . . .?

 

 

           Once more, in Naples, I clasped another scoopful of water.  Again, I pressed my fingers firmly together, determined to savor the warmth of the water and not allow it to seep away–similar to the way in which I tried to cling tightly to both pregnancy and our soon-to-be-born daughter, Madelyn.  

          

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           The end of September flowed into the fall of October and November, followed by the winter months, and on into spring. May came and went, and in spite of doctor’s best predictions, the tides of life had not yet revealed the small, sweet person growing within my womb.

           Much in the manner of a sea shell seeker scouring the beach, serenely waiting for the tides to reveal its hidden treasure, so too were John and I instructed to remain patient, potentially for up to two more weeks.  June 1, June 2, June 3 . . . and on the days continued to stream.

 

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Me, June 13, 1999.

 

 

 

           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and Sunset.

  

         June 14, 1999.  Sweat drips. My hand entrusted into John’s.  Those eyes, those same eyes from ten years prior, still filled with an endless ocean of love, gaze strongly into mine, sending currents of strength.  Whispered words of encouragement. Clasping onto to those loving words . . .

          Dusk fades into dawn, which gives way to day. One hour followed by another . . .

           Her eyes, alert and curious, met mine for the first time and locked on.  I gazed up at John and back to her. Love at first sight. Unbelievable joy.  A precious baby girl was placed upon my chest as my arms carefully cradled around her.  

 

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This ribbon proudly hung from our hospital door June 14, 1999.

 

           Baby cries and coos part ways for songs and words.  Crib evolved into a toddler bed, which became a double bed.  Board books and storybooks are soon replaced by novels. Bright, primary colored toys give way to dolls and outside play.  Childhood calls as the back door slams. Trees climbed. Flowers picked. Tears and boo-boo kisses. Giggles and laughs. Snuggles and hugs.  Puzzles and games. Creative art corner ever expanding. Textbooks and paper. Prom dresses followed by cap and gown.

 

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and Exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           In Naples, turtle nests are protected. Eventually, these eggs will hatch, and the newly born turtles will attempt to make their way to the sea. Many of the turtles will not make it to the water—due to predators, dehydration, and other obstacles.  Those that do make it to sea are not guaranteed survival. From birds to sharks, or other big fish, and from ingesting tar balls to ingesting plastic, only one out of 1,000 baby turtles survive into adulthood. And yet, these nests are ceremoniously protected—to at least give the hatchlings a fighting chance.  

           Truth-be-told, we are all navigating this ocean called life–through smooth, placid waters, to large waves of storms; and from predator-free, wide open currents, to dangers lurking within each undercurrent and sandy shoreline. Just as the sea turtles cannot clasp and remain still in safe waters, neither can we.  Ceremonies, traditions, and rituals often buffer early stages of relationships and families, but these do not guarantee survival. Genuine effort, thought, patience, dialogue, plus a good dose of humor—in addition to love—are just a few of the many tools, humans must employ in order for family relationships to survive.

 

 

         In spite of my best efforts at the beaches of Naples, I was never able to hold onto the seawater for very long.  Similarly, our sweet baby girl and beautiful daughter will no longer be a teenager when these words are read, and she now spends more time away from John and me than with us.  Meanwhile, wrinkles line both John’s and my eyes. Gray incessantly sprouts along my temples and part-line; and John’s hair, once curly and dark, is mostly missing.

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           I still seek, find comfort, and see much love in John’s eyes—those same eyes into which I gazed in June of 1989.  I love those eyes, and the person behind them, even more now. Equally, I am filled with abundant love for my brilliant, beautiful daughter whose eyes locked into mine and overflowed my heart with joy twenty years ago.

           Happy Anniversary, John!  Happy Birthday, Maddie! I love you, both . . .to the moon and back.

             Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

           

           

           

 

A Visit to Blenko Glass Co. is Worthwhile Outing

           “We all need, now more than ever, handmade possessions that are unique and inspiring.”–as seen on blenko.com

           “Magnificent color, skilled craftsmanship and creative design

make Blenko the most colorful name in glass.”—As seen on blenko.com

           When I scheduled the tour, I had no idea the cultural significance and rich history of what our students and staff were about to experience.  Sure, I had heard of it, and I had even been given a couple of pieces of it as gifts. However, from the time our bus entered the parking lot, until the time we had to return to the bus, I was enthralled with the hand-blown art form created at Blenko Glass, “proudly located in (nearby) Milton, WV, since 1921.”

 

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The entrance to Blenko Glass, Co.

 

           According to the travelchannel.com, writer Jeff Stafford, Blenko Glass Co., a family owned and operated business that began in 1893, is one of the top ten factories to tour.  Stafford ranks Blenko Glass Co. with factory tours of such notables as Boeing, Steinway Pianos, Crayola Crayons, and Harley Davidson to name a few—not bad company to say the least!  After our visit and tour of Blenko, I can certainly see why!

 

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Blenko Glass, Co. as seen on blenko.com

 

          Entering the Visitor’s Center Gift Shop is like diving into a colorful bowl of jelly beans.  The colors throughout the shop were vibrant jewels. Shelves sparkled and shimmered with a rainbow of colors and a wide array of shapes, sizes, and textures.  From the exquisitely designed decorative pieces, to beautifully crafted functional pieces, Blenko glass offers one of a kind treasures, trinkets, and gifts for everyone!  I have to admit, though, as clumsy and easily distractible as I am by all that is shiny and sparkly, I was a bit nervous walking around the shop afraid I might accidentally trip, stumble, or bumble.  In fact, visions of cascading glass, falling like dominoes in a line, kept me on edge while walking through the visually stunning gift shop!

 

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Blenko Glass, Co. Visitors Center as seen on blenko.com.

 

          Fortunately, I was traveling with staff and students of St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, so I quickly reported our arrival to the front desk, learned where the staff was to lead the students, and walked quickly (and without falling) back outside to assist with leading our students through the gift shop entrance and immediately up the stairs just inside the door and to the right.  Still, as we trekked up the open staircase, my eyes were continually drawn to the colorful glass below in the gift shop—that is until I reached the top of the stairs and saw all the glass art in Blenko’s historic glass museum.

 

          Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum. 

 

          The small, but lovely museum area, is filled with memorabilia of Blenko’s historic pieces and works.  Most, if not all, of the small pieces are safely tucked behind glass panes. From delicate pieces; such as bowls, vases, and other smaller works of art worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars; to breath-taking larger glass panels and stain windows, visitors are surrounded by hundreds of pieces of hand-blown, WV crafted, art.  Additionally, examples of glass making tools throughout the years, historic story boards, and iconic, once only designed pieces, also line the gallery. Our tour guide was affable, knowledgeable, and engaging as we made our way around the museum; however, given the nature of supervising a large group of kids, in spite of how very well behaved they were, I could not always hear or focus on what he was saying—making John, my husband, and fellow co-worker, want to return.  

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum. 

 

           Once the museum had been thoroughly explored, our group was led outside, along a covered walkway, lined with beautiful glass panels, and out to the glass factory.  Talk about a fascinating experience! With furnaces burning at temperatures above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, watching what is mostly composed of sand, turn to a liquid, and then altered through the tools, talent, and time of the local artisans to a solid, uniquely designed piece of art is, in the words of one of our students, was mind-blowing!  In fact, there were times that our students broke out into applause at the seemingly magical transformation appearing before their eyes.

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum.

    

       In fact, according to an April 18, 2019 writing on the company’s blog, Blenko has eight furnaces under fire, allowing them to create glass pieces of eight different colors.  Once lit, these furnaces burn around the clock for years until they burn out. Additionally, when a change of color in a furnace does occur, the artisans must melt a batch of glass between the two colors to “clean out” the furnace.  Thus, they use this as an opportunity to create matchless, unique works, filled with whimsy and interest, out of the never-can-be-recreated hue. According to the writer, the quintessential Blenko water bottle is a reoccurring favorite creation of these one time only colors.

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Only eight furnaces burn at Blenko Glass with temperatures soaring above 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in each as seen on blenko.com.

 

           A nice fact about the Blenko Glass tour is that once you are in the factory area, the tour guide does not rush you. Even with our large group of students, and other tour groups simultaneously occurring, we were still encouraged to stay as long as we wanted.  In fact, this glass making process held our students’ attention for a significant period of time—which is saying something for 12- 14 year olds!

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum.

 

           From the factory, we walked the students once more over the walkway, through the museum, and down to the gift shop. Several of our students had brought money in order to purchase gifts to take home.  Since thoughts of my Papaw saying, “Stethie, you’re like a bull in a china shop,” when referring to my awkwardness, kept running through my head, I had no problem volunteering to take students who did not have money outside to the “garden of glass” area along the shore of a man-made lake. This colorful trail and park/picnic area is filled with colorful works of glass art, both large and small. It was, and is, the ideal way to end a tour of Blenko Glass Co.

 

Garden of glass as seen from inside the museum, looking out a window.

Images from the garden of glass at Blenko.

           I highly encourage you, Dear Reader, if you have the opportunity to travel to Milton, WV, stop by and visit Blenko Glass Co. and/or schedule a factory tour.  You will walk away amazed! And, tell them Steph simply sent you! In the meantime, be sure to check out their website, YouTube videos, or find them on your social media spot!

           From my home to yours, I wish you safe, happy, and art-filled travels!

 

          P. S.  Thank you Blenko Glass Co. for your wonderful treatment of SJCMS!  We appreciate you!

Images from the garden of glass at Blenko.

Trip to Washington DC in 2019, still a Wonderful Experience

           “You want a friend in Washington?  Get a dog.”—Harry S. Truman

 

 

           **Authors Note:  Unless otherwise noted, all quoted information comes from Fun Facts About Washington DC as created by Old Town Trolley Tours.

           It was before 7:00 am when our bus rolled out.  John, my husband; the school counselor, Breana Moore; her husband, Patrick; 20 eighth graders; one bus driver named, Bennie (who, three hours later, would be replaced by Allie); and I were ready to begin St. Joseph Catholic Middle School’s annual 8th grade trip.  Destination? Washington DC. Months of planning by Moore and her husband had gone into this trip. Now, the fruits of their labor were about to come to fruition.

 

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Students standing in line to enter the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

 

The Hope Diamond and Topaz as seen in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History

 

           “Washington DC is missing “J” Street.  The city uses letters instead of numbers for their streets, but because DC was planned before the letter J existed, there is no J Street.”

           I always find traveling to DC an interesting and adventurous trip, as I never know who or what will be encountered in our nation’s capitol city.  For example, on this particular trip, George Washington University was holding their commencement ceremony on the lawn of the National Mall. Thus, we were able, throughout the weekend, to gain glimpses of the staging and seating area as it was set-up and broken down—both of which appeared to be a major undertaking requiring what appeared to be hundreds of people.

More interesting images from Museum of Natural History.

    

       “All roads in the city lead to the capitol building.  It’s the dividing center for all quadrants of the city, so all roads actually do lead there.”

           We arrived in DC around 3:00 pm, thanks, in part, to Allie, our DC savvy bus driver.  Our afternoon/evening began with visits to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.  Our time was limited for each museum, but the students took full advantage of the time given as they took in the sites. Highlights included the Hope Diamond; a crater formed in Arizona by a meteorite; an elephant thigh bone which was taller than me; John Glenn’s space capsule and other early flight ships/planes; and, images from Mars and other planets, to name a few.

 

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SJCMS 8th grades students at the entrance of Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

 

 

           “There was a typo in the original etching of the Lincoln Memorial.  It’s been touched up since, but the letter E was accidentally chiseled into the beginning of the word Future on the north wall of the memorial.”

           Next up, we explored many of DC’s monuments. This required a lot of walking, and it was hot.  However, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sun was on its downward decent, and the breeze was light and continuous, making the walk much more bearable.

 

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SJCMS 8th grade students on the National Mall in Washington DC before embarking on a walk to see many of the major monuments.

          Images from the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.

           SJCMS 8th grade students in front of the Washington Memorial.

 

          We began with the Washington Monument, and continued on to the World War II Memorial.  Next, our group moved on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, followed by the National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Then, we trekked onward to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and finally journeyed to the Jefferson Memorial. By the evening’s end, we had put in eight or more miles; but, wow, what a magnificent evening filled with inspiring sites!

 

More images from Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (as seen at top of page), Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.

SJCMS 8th grade students at the Lincoln Memorial.

           The next morning began with mass, church service, as it was Sunday.  The church we visited in Virginia was warm, welcoming, and a completely new experience to our students.  Parishioners of all backgrounds filled the pews, speaking several different languages, with English spoken via strong accents, reflecting the diversity of this wonderful church.  The hand clapping that accompanied the upbeat praise music pleasantly surprised many of our students; however, they could take comfort in the fact that the liturgy was the same. All of us walked away feeling blessed for having spent time in this house of worship.

          SJCMS 8th grade students attended mass just outside of DC in a nearby town in Virginia.

 

           “One of the unknown soldiers has been identified.  In 1998, a soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was identified.”

           Back on the bus after church, Allie deftly maneuvered the bus to Arlington National Cemetery. Once there, we walked the path to the JFK burial site, home of the eternal flame, and then we made our way to witness the changing of the guard. In between those two locations, it was humbling, to say the least, to observe the sea of graves and names.  By the time our group was present for the changing of the guard, tears were welling in my eyes by the presence of all the fallen surrounding us. It truly felt like a sacred moment. Afterwards, our group devoured their lunch, and made their way to historic Ford’s Theater, the location of Lincoln’s assassination.  While the Ranger-narrator gave an interesting talk regarding the events leading to Lincoln’s untimely death, my mind still kept drifting back to Arlington.

Images from historical Ford’s Theater and Arlington National Cemetery. 

 

 

 

           “There are underground tunnels beneath the capitol.  Miles and miles of tunnels are for senators and members of the House only and are never seen by the public.”

           Later that evening, our group enjoyed an evening cruise along the water of the Potomac River.  No, nothing educational, per se, about this adventure; but, hey we had teens with a great deal of energy to burn.  This was, by far, a favorite experience for many of the students.

             SMCMS 8th grade students danced the evening away on a cruise of the Potomac River.

   

      “There are elevators in the capitol building that are off limits.  This is because they are reserved for senators.”

           Our last day in DC, before hitting the road for home, was spent in three completely different locations.  First stop, the capitol. Congresswoman, Carol Miller, had a couple of staffers meet our group for a personal tour.  We were even able to use the “off-limit” elevator that is typically reserved for congress members. After riding this elevator, we traversed at a clipped pace along one of the many underground tunnels.  It was during this long walk, our group was informed of the all of numerous businesses and other perks located along this sub-terrain paths, including, but not limited to, a Dunkin Donuts and other food vendors, bank, private gym facility with showers, meeting rooms, and so forth to accommodate congress members’ busy schedules.  In fact, one staffer told us that many congressmen and women spend four days, or more, per week in their offices, rather than pay for housing in DC, and then they travel home on the weekends!

 

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SJCMS 8th grade students inside the Capitol Building listening to our tour guide.

 

           Images from our tour of the Capitol.  (On a personal note, I had to take a picture of phone booths as it had been 30+ years since I had last seen this style of phone booth.)         

 

           “There are marble bathtubs in the capitol building.  They were installed in 1859 to keep senators from stinking: during that time, they lived in boarding houses that had no running water.”

           Once our Capitol tour was completed, our last stop of the day, before lunch, was a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian.  This was a very interesting stop, rich with history, artifacts, and culture. As an added bonus, it also brewed up strong and delicious coffee; something John and I were both in need of consuming by that point of the trip!

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SJCMS 8th grade students in front of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Images from the National Museum of the American Indian.

           Although I did not take any pictures, it worth noting that our third stop, before leaving DC, was Fogo de Chao, an authentic Brazilian Steakhouse.  What a dining experience for our students, and frankly, John and me! As a person who needs to eat gluten-free, and prefers to eat plants as well as avoid meat, I didn’t think this establishment would offer much in the way of options for me beyond salad. Boy, was I ever wrong!  John and I would highly recommend this place to the meat and veggie lover alike. If you walk away hungry from this eatery, that’s on you as the food is plentiful and prepared deliciously!

           All in all, the trip was a positive experience for staff and students.  

Even when our bus had two belts break in the mountains of WV and sat on the side of the road, our students made the best of it by creating “tents” with their blankets and edges of bus seats! DC left us smiling, and rekindled a sense of connection to what it means to be an American.

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe and happy travels this summer!

P.S.  Thank you, Breana, Patrick, and SJCMS for making this trip happen!

 

On a final note, John snuck this picture of me taking a picture of a totem pole carved by Tlingit indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America.  I was doing this in honor of my 6th grade students who were not on this trip as they learn about the Tlingit people when reading the book, Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen.

Don’t Quit: A Story of Scaffolding.

           “Be alert. Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

           “Achievement builds character.  People striving, being knocked down and coming back . . .this is what builds character . . .. In Romans, Paul says that adversity brings on endurance, endurance brings on character, and character brings on hope.”—Tom Landry

           Recently, I was talking with my students about the “scaffolding” they bring to the stories they read.  We were discussing a short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, that the students had just read. As is often the case with students upon reading this story for the first time, there was great confusion.  In their mind, the word, “Lottery” has a positive connotation. What’s not to love about winning money? However, in Jackson’s story, the students soon come to realize that the word, “lottery,” doesn’t necessarily mean winning money.

           After explaining the notion of scaffolding to my students, as it pertains to reading and writing, I attempted to invite them to see how each person brings to a story their own unique reading and life experiences. If, for example, they had never before heard the word, lottery, used as a negative, then the brain is left to scramble-around trying to make connections of understanding to from their prior experiences to other parts of the story.

 

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

           Leading the discussion further, I probed their minds for examples.

           “Have you ever read a story and been reminded of a similar situation, or a similar character, or a similar setting?”

           Heads nodded around the room, and sidebar discussions ensued.

           “At the end of “The Lottery”, it reminded me of the premise of The Hunger Games books and movies.”

           “Yeah, well, that woman’s youngest son made be think about my brother in kindergarten.”

           “Oh, yeah. Totally.  That women who was stoned made me think of that story in the Bible about the woman about to be stoned, and Jesus saves her. . .”

           It occurred to me later, as I was in a conversation with my brother, Scott, how this same notion of scaffolding is true for life.  With each new situation, experience, and/or person we encounter, we bring our own life experiences—even baggage– and make certain assumptions about what will occur. More often than not, these assumptions are often wrong, or at the very least, off-target; and, if we truly pay attention and maintain an open mind, our scaffolding—our understanding—shifts and even expands.  However, if we avoid new situations, new people, new skills, and/or avoid trying new things, then our scaffolding, like those attached to work sites, remain fixed and rigid.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           I am reminded of the scaffolding along the multi-storied federal building in Huntington, WV, the town in which I work. Several years ago it was renovated for security purposes.  Local traffic along 5th Ave and 8th streets was often altered due to the ever-changing scaffolding. With each phase of the renovation, the shape of the scaffolding and the space it filled varied, changed, and, at times, grew.  It rarely stayed one shape or one level for long. The same is true for us when we try new things, meet new people, or dive into new experiences. Nonetheless, this does not occur without some risk for negative experiences.

           The scaffolding used today in construction looks and is made differently than when high-rise buildings were first built. Accidents, falls, and tragically, even deaths, informed engineers on how to design stronger, safer, more durable, and more reliable scaffolding. The same is true for life.  

 

 

           Does heartbreak hurt? Does injury create pain? Do failures, break-ups, accidents and so forth create misery and/or heart ache? Yes. Yes. Yes.  And yet, it is these very events that teach us the lessons we need in order to grow stronger, more durable, and perhaps even, more dependable, creating greater empathy/understanding, and perhaps even. increase one’s capacity for love.

           A month, or so ago, a friend sent me a devotional-style story that focused on Tom Landry, arguably one of the most successful professional football coaches.  As I read the story, it talked of Landry’s experience with adversity. It described the way in which Landry was treated when he first arrived at Dallas, and the team was not winning.  He was much maligned, vilified, and disparaged for his team’s lackluster performance. However, when his team began to experience success, Landry became the hero in this same public’s eye.  

           The author’s lesson was that Landry was the same person.  He had not changed. Landry had courageously stood firm in his convictions and loved his work, regardless of what others said or thought. While I wholeheartedly agree with that take away, I also think the author skipped another point:  adversity increases personal perseverance, which increases one’s character. Landry knew this; and though the author of the devotional story did not state this, I later read an interview in which Landry made this very point to a reporter.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The tendency of human beings, including me, is to resist change, resist pain, and discomfort as well as avoid challenges. And yet, no matter how much we resist and avoid these negative experiences, life still has a way of forcing us to experience these.  Heartache, physical and emotional pain, as well as loss, are all a valid, and important, parts of life. Without them, not only do we lack opportunities to increase our stamina/perseverance, but we lack understanding, empathy, and compassion. Like those first attempts at high-rise construction scaffolding, we are weak, inflexible, and lack strength.  When Landry and his players experienced loss, criticism, and failures, they grew stronger as individuals and as a team. It was from those negative life experiences, that they grew as individuals and as a collective. The same is true for all of us.

           We do not have to be a professional football coach to experience adversity, criticism, and challenges.  These are all part of the human experience. However, we can have faith that if we remain strong in our convictions, act with courage in the face of difficulties, work and interact with others with great love/passion for what is right, our ability (endurance) to withstand difficulties strengthens–expanding our character and increasing our hope.  After all, isn’t hope one of the biggest driving forces throughout history as well as through our own personal story, your personal scaffolding? As the old Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

 

Whatever you are going through, Dear Reader, don’t quit.  Don’t. Quit.

           

Students from St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, grades 6-8, recently at an end-of-the-year neon-themed dance.  With each new experience, including this dance, students are developing their scaffolding, understanding, of life.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Protein Smoothie

           “One cup of this tasty summer delight (cherries) can keep the doctor away, aid you when it comes to cancer and age-related disease . . .help you get a good night’s sleep, (and) . . .helps with arthritis and inflammatory conditions . . .”—Lizette Borreli, Medical Daily

           “Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.  By following an anti-inflammatory diet you can fight off inflammation for good.”—Harvard Women’s Health Watch

           There is no doubt, this spring, has been one of the most beautiful seasons in the Ohio Valley in years!   From early spring flowers, to flowering trees and shrubs, Mother Nature’s artistic flair has painted one beautiful canvas after another with each passing week.  My husband, John, and I have had repeated conversations about our deep appreciation and admiration of this bountiful, colorful season.

 

 

           Additionally, this spring I have had the privilege of teaching classes at Brown Dog Yoga in Ashland, KY!   At age 53, it is wonderful to begin a new season of fitness, and help others do the same! Traveling to teach in Ashland means I am able to enjoy a 30-minute drive that cuts mostly across the back of Lawrence County, OH on OH 243; and what a seasonal display of colors I have enjoyed during these drives!  Red buds, dogwoods, cherry trees, and so forth line the roadside and surrounding hills radiating their celebratory colors for all to witness. In fact, it was the combination of teaching back-to-back fitness classes as well as the colorful blossoms of the cherry trees that became part inspiration for the following recipe.

 

 

           I have three bulging discs as well as an extra vertebra.  Standing or sitting for long periods, walking up stairs, and even certain exercises, all of which both my career as an educator and my new found fitness passion require, can really fire up the pain receptors along my low back, down my legs, and into my ankles/feet.  Typically, I simply grin, grit, and inwardly groan my way through the discomfort, and keep on moving. Still, I am often contemplating ways to reduce inflammation, increase recovery time, as well as maintain overall good health. And, I suspect, I am not the only one.

           Whether or not you are in my age group, fighting inflammation and maintaining overall good health are keys to an active, long life.  Our immune system flairs up any time a foreign substance, or an injury (even excessive workouts can sometimes be perceived by the body as an injury), enter/occur in the body. Sometimes though, inflammation continues to nag the body, even if there is not a, per se, foreign threat/invader. In fact, many well-known diseases such as cancer, arthritis (like I now have in my low back), diabetes, depression/anxiety, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and so forth, are linked to chronic inflammation according Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

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As seen at Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

           In fact, in an article published by the Harvard Medical School, reducing inflammation in the body may be as simple as daily food choices.   Foods, such as refined carbohydrates—most white flour breads and baked goods; fried foods; soda and other sugary beverages; red meats, especially those processed; and margarine—including shortening and lard, can all produce inflammation, especially when consumed in excessive amounts.

           Anti-inflammatory foods, however, have been proven to reduce inflammation and chronic disease, especially fruits and vegetables. According to HMS, anti-inflammatory foods include:  tomatoes; olive oil; green leafy vegetables—the darker the better; nuts, especially walnuts and almonds; fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna; and fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.   In fact, these are the foods, HMS maintains, should make up the primary food choices of a healthy diet.

 

          Standing and taking stairs daily at school, regular workouts at BDY, back pain, inflammation, cherry blossoms, anti-inflammatory diet, strawberries, blueberries, cherries . . .”Hey, I why I haven’t I created a cherry smoothie?” This is how my brain rolls on 30-minute drives or during random middle-of-the-night musings.

           I typically dive into my school workday with a smoothie.  Strawberry, blueberry, cauliflower, and spinach are four of my favorite go-to ingredients, along with a non-dairy, gluten free protein powder, for a plant-strong, nutrient rich breakfast.  While I know it is often recommended to not drink your calories, I find my breakfast smoothie habit works well for me as I otherwise tend to make coffee, my only breakfast liquid. Although coffee does offer some health benefits, it does not necessarily offer nutrients that both fuel and feed my body like my homemade smoothies. Thus, if I am going to drink my breakfast anyway, I might as well make it as beneficial as possible.

 

          If I am going to drink my breakfast, which is the better choice? A protein packed, plant based smoothie or a cup of coffee. True, the purple coffee cup is prettier, but the real nutritional bang is in the black shaker cup.

 

           This recipe was also created with my Grandmother Helen in mind.  She dearly loved chocolate covered cherries. Each Christmas holiday, someone in our family always made sure she received at least one box of her favorite confection.  Since I lived with both she and my grandfather for two years, I can still see her, sitting down in her gold recliner after dinner, one chocolate covered cherry on a napkin, as she savored it, bite by little bite.  She’d often grin at me when I would teasingly ask her what she was eating, and bits of chocolate, as well as that whitishcovere goo that covered the cherry, would blanket her lips. What a sweet memory for me to now savor!  And, while, my smoothie recipe may not coat your lips in the same manner, it will fill your tummy with the anti-inflammatory goodness of fruits, vegetables, and walnuts.

 

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From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals or smoothies!

 

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P.S.  If you happen to buy frozen cherries, they are soooo yummy to eat frozen, straight out of the bag, in the same manner some people freeze grapes and eat for a treat!           

 

Chocolate Covered Cherries Smoothie

Ingredients: The Basics

1 cup of favorite smoothie liquid, divided ½ (water, milk—dairy or non dairy variations)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-cup cherries, frozen or fresh

½ cup riced cauliflower, frozen or fresh

1 serving of favorite chocolate protein powder

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts or almond slivers

Dash of ground sea salt

My favorite add-ins for nutritional boost:

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1-teaspoon hemp hearts

1 tsp-1 tablespoon cocoa or cacao powder (for extra chocolate goodness)

Additional Optional add-ins:

1-teaspoon favorite greens powder

1-teaspoon favorite mushroom extract powder

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Directions:

In a blender cup, add-in ½ cup of chosen liquid.

Add in vanilla extract.

Toss in cherries, followed by protein powder, nuts, and any other add-ins you wish.

Top it all off with rest of liquid.

Blend well until smooth.

Drink, or serve in a bowl, sprinkled with your favorite toppings, such as granola, mini-chocolate chips, dried cherries, additional nuts or seeds, and so forth.  

Serves 1.

Tip:  I often make my smoothies for the week on the weekend and store them in my freezer.  Then, the morning before I wish to consume a smoothie, I take one from the freezer, and store it in the refrigerator to thaw for 24-hours until the following morning. Quick, portable, and ready-to-go nutrition!

 

 

Mother’s Day Musings 2019

           “In my daughter’s eyes/ I can see the future . . .and though she’ll grow and someday leave . . . When I’m gone I hope you’ll see/ How happy she made/for I’ll be there/ in my daughter’s eyes.”–James T. Slater as sang by Martina McBride

           Driving home from Ashland Brown Dog Yoga on Saturday morning.  I had just finished teaching two classes, and the upbeat attitudes of the participants never fail to enthuse and infuse me with positive vibes. Therefore, I was floating on good energy during my 30-minute traverse along OH243, mentally creating my checklist for when I arrived home.

           Quick bath. Add toiletries to overnight bag. Grab lunch from fridge to eat while John drives.  Gather towels to wash Sunday upon return home. Refill water bottle. Set dishwasher to run after midnight.  Unplug . . .Oh, man, I should call Mom. She had a couple of doctor’s appointments this week . . .

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and my daughter, Madelyn together taken in January of this year.

 

           Talking hand-free to my mom as I continued my drive, we flitted in and out of multiple topics, meandering away from one subject, but then circumnavigating back to other unfinished subjects as if each topic was a colorful strand of a woven tapestry—typical of our mom-daughter conversation style. It occurred to me as we talked, how she and I communicate much in the same manner as my daughter, Madelyn and me.  In fact, I had just talked to Maddie only moments earlier upon exiting BDY.

           “Okay, Mom, I just want to update you on the plans for today and tomorrow.  I’ve already talked to Dad; and, oh, before I forget, did you know . . .”

 

Pictures from the early days/experiences with Maddie at Bethany college.

 

           John, my husband and Maddie’s father, and I would be heading to Bethany College about thirty minutes outside of Wheeling, WV as soon as I arrived home and was ready.  Maddie is winding down her second year of college; and, with the approach of finals, we were making the four-hour drive to gather most of her dorm room supplies to bring home.  This would allow her to bring the last little bit of her belongings home in her compact car once she completed her finals during the middle of our workweek.

 

 

           Maddie and I had spoken several times throughout the past week figuring out how to best coordinate with her schedule as she had several events to attend at her sorority house over the weekend as well as the fact she needed to study for two finals occurring on Monday.  As is often the case, John and I have learned with the whole college experience, it best to not attach to one plan as these are often fluid every changing/ever moving. Kind like parenting . . . Kind of like the conversations I have with my mother . . .with my daughter . . .like I used to have with my grandmother . . .

 

         Eating at El Paso Mexican Grille the night before we packed most of Maddie’s things for John and I to bring home while she stayed on and finished finals.   Pictured:  John and me; Jillian (Maddie’s room mate) and Maddie; me and Maddie getting silly.

 

Moving day on Sunday morning: Jillian, Gigs, and Maddie at the ready to load up John’s truck.

           Listening to mom’s story about her last doctor appointment of the week.  She talked of losing her family doctor, the same one she has had since she married, Jim, my stepdad.  It was nothing personal, in fact, the doctor had expressed to mom her deep sorrow for leaving Jim and mom, but she needed to move on to another position in order to improve her work-life balance.  

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and her husband, my stepdad, Jim Scherer taken a year or two earlier.

 

           “Who can blame her?” mom said.  “I remember being in my 50s and juggling multiple jobs.  After a while . . .” mom’s voice trailed off. Soon she veered into a seemingly unrelated story about her doctor and her daughter’s fondness for the musical, Wicked  . . .

           “Leaving her office,” Mom said, “I put my hand on her shoulder and said, ‘Because I knew you. . .’”

           Tears filled my eyes as I understood the reference.  Mom, Maddie, and I had seen Wicked a couple of years ago in Cincinnati.   One of the most beautiful songs, and our favorite, in the musical is entitled, “For Good.”  

           “Let me say before we part/So much of me/Is made of what I learned from you/You’ll be with me now/Like a handprint on my heart/And now whatever way our stories end/I know you have rewritten mine . . .”

 

         Maddie, my mom, Dolores Scherer, and me saw Wicked in the fall of 2017 in Cincinnati.

  

         We talked some more, reflecting of her numerous trips with my Dad to pick me up from Ohio University in Athens, and that led me to briefly flash back to my two years after college living my grandparents. Refocused, we talked more about her doctor’s parting recommendations. Yes, she had already spoken to Mom’s new doctor.  Mom was assured Jim and she would be in good hands. “Handprint on my heart. . . .”

 

    Recent photos of my mom with Maddie, my younger sister, Rachel, and one of my nieces, Naomi.

 

           Her words led my mind to quickly wander back to an earlier moment of that morning.  I had looked down at my hands during the course of teaching yoga as the lyrics of, “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” began to fill the studio’s sound system from the songs of my class playlist, and in that moment, my eyes had also filled with tears at the significance this song once held, and still holds, in my own life.

 

           “In my daughter’s eyes . . .I know no fear/But the truth is plain to see/She was sent to rescue me/I see who I want to be /In my daughter’s eyes . . .”

 

           For my mom, there is no mom to call; and, yet, when I look at my mom, I see my Grandmother’s eyes there.  No they are not as milky as Grandmother’s were in the end, but it’s in the way Mom’s eyes light up at the sight of her family, her kids, her grandkids . . .the way I hope mine do when I see my daughter; and Maddie says, “Aw, mom, you’re not going to cry, are you?’

 

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My mom’s mom, “Grandmother,” my sister, Traci, me, and my Mom taken many years ago.

 

          I am forever changed by these remarkable women.  Their voices, forever a resident in my heart: Grandmother Helen’s, “Stethie, I’ll let you go get that for me at the store” . . ..  Mom’s, “Stephanie Rene, have you finished straightening your bedroom yet? What are you still doing in that closet looking at those books?” . . . . Madelyn’s, “Hey, mom, I’ve just got to vent for a moment. Listen to this . . .”

“I love you, Grandmother” . . .”I love you, Mom” . . .”I love you, Maddie” . . . .

         “ . . .It’s hanging on when your heart has had enough/ It’s giving more when you feel like giving up/I’ve seen the light/ It’s in my daughter’s eyes.”

“. . . You’ll be with me/ Like a handprint on my heart . . .”

           Happy Mother’s Day to all.

 

 

           

           

 

Lexington, KY, revisit April 2019, Part 2

           “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”—Daniel Boone

           Author’s Note:  This is part 2 of a travel piece regarding my recent trip with my husband, John, to Lexington, KY.

           After a good meal the night before at Pies and Pints and a sweet snack from Trader Joes, we were up early, ready to go at Homes2 to Suites by Hilton Lexington, KY.  First priority though, we both squeezed in a workout. While I would not say, the fitness center at Home2 to Suites offers full gym experience; it does possess enough of the basics to maintain some semblance of a fitness routine.  Of course, after the workout, we took time to enjoy the hotel’s expansive breakfast bar while we mulled over our plans for the day.

           It was over our second cup of coffee that we decided to visit Fort Boonesborough State Park, about a 30 minute, or so, drive away.  We were fortunate to visit in April, the start of their season, which runs from April 5-October 31. This Kentucky State Park offers a campground, pool, and a reconstructed fort built in honor of the original Fort Boonesborough, a frontier fort in Kentucky founded by Daniel Boone and his men following their crossing of the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775.  This reconstructed version is a complete working fort with cabins, blockhouses, and furnishings offering visitors a glimpse into pioneering life in 18th century Kentucky. Throughout the year, Fort Boonesborough offers numerous special events with different historic emphasis. Although there were no special on-going events during our visit, we were able to still get a taste of those early pioneering days.

 

         Images from the entrance area of Forts Boonesborough, Ky.

 

           We began at the orientation building, watching a nearly 30-minute long documentary on the rich and unique history of Fort Boonesborough.  Afterwards, we took our time on a self-guided tour visiting as many of the cabins and blockhouses that were open, as well as listening and interacting with resident volunteers and artisans who make crafts and/or answer questions/offer information about life inside the fort.  These living history staff members were appropriately dressed in 18th century attire, and offered much insight into 18th century pioneer life.

 

      Cabins are arranged in a circle.  Visitors are encouraged to turn left past the entrance and begin at the Orientation building. John purchases entrance tickets for us.

 

Beautiful, historical paintings line the walls of the orientation room.

A small snippet of the the introductory video that is quite informative.

 

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Even the bathrooms have bits of 18th century history for visitors.

 

           In fact, we learned a few random, but fun facts.  For example, at one cabin, we were able to view how yarn was made from locally harvested wool and dyed, using native plants, such as walnuts, black eyed-susan flowers, and goldenrod, the state flower of Kentucky.  We further learned that women’s dresses were purposefully made without fasteners because an 18th century woman, living at Fort Boonesborough, would have only a couple of dresses her entire adult life, and those dresses needed to be able to accommodate her ever changing body size and shape.  Additionally, women were often better shots with guns than their husbands, as the men could be gone for extended periods at a time; thus leaving the women to defend themselves and their children. Furthermore, as soon as a child was old enough, male or female, they were put to work weaving, spinning yarn, or other such ongoing chores as young as the age of two years!  Plus, nearly every plant in the surrounding woods served some purpose to these pioneers! Additionally, nothing inside the fort was wasted, and all materials that could not be consumed were reused, recycled, or repurposed.

 

  Yarn color variety created by plants grown locally.

Fort Boonesborough’s meeting hall, tavern, and all purpose gathering place.

Other random images from Fort Boonesborough, KY.

           After a complete tour of the fort, we decided to explore one of the hiking trails.  This meandering, downhill (and uphill on the return) path led us down to a beautiful cool area with running water and the not-so-natural sounds of a distant highway! Along the path were numerous tiny white and violet flowers, vibrantly green mosses, and oversized mushrooms. Additionally, birdsong followed us all along the trail adding a melodious backdrop.  By the end, according to my tracker, we had hiked over four miles at a pleasant and conversational pace.

 

The trail starts off as a concrete path, which leads to a crushed limestone path, which leads to two paths that diverge . . .we chose what appeared to be the path less taken as it was narrow and did not show much wear.

Beautiful tree canopy images.

More beautiful images from the trail.

Three short video clips capturing the sights and sounds along the trail.

           Back at the hotel, hungry, tired, but relaxed from all of our time spent out-of-doors, we debated our plans for the evening.  Lexington has a Distillery District along Manchester Street, and John is a huge bourbon fan. However, John is also passionate about finding restaurants in which I can easily dine due to my celiac disease and my commitment to eating mostly plant-based foods.  As he perused through a number of local menus, he came across a place called, Carson’s, not in the Distillery District, but not too far away either. Doing what John does best, he zeroed in on the dishes he thought I’d like and began reading them aloud to me.  I was sold!

           According to the founder, Mark Fichtner, Carson’s is . . .”a rustic, yet refined concept with chef-driven recipes paired with prohibition cocktails, hand-selected wines, and craft beers.”   After a beautiful Uber drive through downtown, we walked into an industrial style setting with abundant leather, wood, brick, and over-sized crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. As odd as that sounds, the atmosphere worked, and put us right as ease.

Water is chilled and  served in repurposed bourbon bottles; chandeliers hang from the ceiling; ample wood and leather; and an attentive and friendly staff make Carson’s atmosphere fun, casual, and yet, refined.

           Our servers for the evening, Cassidy and Madeleine, (I hope I spelled her name correctly!) were attentive, thoughtful, and full of advice/suggestions regarding food and beverages.  Additionally, we were able to meet and spend time talking with Kyle Limmerman, General Manager. He was a wealth of knowledge regarding food, beer, and bourbon, as well as was an on overall great conversationalist!  However, the biggest “talker” of the night, was the food!

 

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Kyle Limmerman, General Manager, at Carson’s in Lexington, KY>

 

           The menu of Carson’s is expansive; spanning all taste ranges from burgers to steaks, ribs to seafood, from salads to gluten, free vegan options, and nearly everything in between.  After much debate, discussion, and advice, we began our meal with béarnaise truffle fries. Oh my heavens, made with béarnaise, white truffle oil, shredded Parmesan, and scallions, John and I could have shared this with four other adults! The taste, scent, and texture were out of this world delicious!  

 

 

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We began with an appetizer, béarnaise truffle fries.

           For the main course, John enjoyed the Pork Belly Beer Cheese Burger.  Topped with lettuce, fried onion strings, spicy aioli, and finished with their sriracha bourbon BBQ sauce, this burger is sure to please!  John ordered it with a side of smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese that looked as if it were swimming in cheese sauce! Needless to say, after eating all of those fries, John ended up taking half of his dinner back to the hotel with us.  

 

           Meanwhile, I ordered the Portabella Vegetable Stack. This beautifully plated meal started with a bed of Bibb leaf lettuce and added grilled tomatoes; asparagus; red, yellow, and green bell peppers; red onion; and jalapeños sautéed. Then, it was topped with sliced avocado, marinated Portobello mushroom, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, cilantro lime vinaigrette, and sriracha. HEAVEN!  What a gluten-free, vegetable delight for me with so many gorgeous colors, tastes, and textures blended into one perfect dish! Unlike John, I ate every last morsel of my meal!

 

 

           Sadly, our stay came to an end, as it was a short, but sweet stay.  We did do a quick stop at Lexington’s Whole Food Market situated in a gorgeous, and seemingly newly developed area, called, The Summit at Fritz Farm, just minutes from the hotel.  While there, I met a super-infectious barista who educated me on all things I did not know about coffee and the use of non-dairy milk to make various coffee drinks. He was quick to offer John and me both samples and made an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk that tasted as good as it looked.

 

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At Whole Foods I enjoyed an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk for the chilly and rainy ride home! 

           We drove home in a chilly rain, but the route was still guarded by ample red buds waving goodbye as we made our way home with warm thoughts of the possibilities for our next food/travel adventure!

From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pleasant travels!

 

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Revisit to Lexington, KY, Part 1

           “There is nothing like Southern hospitality.  It’s such a beautiful and genuine thing.”—Abigail Spencer

           We had to go back.  The lure of its hospitable people, and the family ties to this state that run deeply in both of our families, acted as sirens beckoning for our return.  Of course, there’s no denying our love for a good meal—especially dinner; and, there were so many unexplored eateries vying for our attention. Sigh, yep, we had to go back—even for a short visit.

         It was love at first encounter for John, my husband, and me despite it occurring under a rather stressful situation.  In fact, like an old friend, Lexington, KY was, during our first visit, the calm in the chaos; the salve for the wound; and, the lullaby for the colic.  Okay, I’ll stop with the corny metaphors and get straight to the point. You, Dear Reader, should add Lexington to your short list of towns to visit for a weekend getaway.  

 

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           First stop, back to Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  During our previous visit, about a month earlier, John and I were with family, supporting a loved one at Albert B. Chandler Hospital a few blocks down the road from the hotel.  Due to the fact our stay was hospital related, we received a steep discount from Home2 Suites for our rooms—a considerate policy for customers who require a long term hotel stay in order to remain near loved ones receiving treatment/services at UK hospital.  Plus, the hotel staff could not be nicer. They go out of their way to ensure you have a comfortable, warm and welcoming stay; and we discovered the same was true on this return trip!

 

This is the out-of-doors patio complete with grill, numerous tables/chairs, and it is located just outside the salt water pool of the Homes2 Suites in Lexington, KY.

 

           This time, we did not have the discount; however, we took into consideration the following facts regarding the price: 1) Home2 Suites offers large, comfortable rooms with full size refrigerator, sink, dishes, glasses, cups, utensils, microwave, thus permitting us to bring along a few food items (mostly for me), but also allowing us to store any leftovers from dinners for later consumption.  2) Breakfast is included in the price, and it includes a wide array of food choices. In fact, I think the hotel advertises that there are over 400 breakfast combinations that can be created. 3) Therefore, the only meal for which we would need to buy was dinner. Plus, at Hilton hotels, fresh fruit, afternoon cookies, as well as hot and cold beverages are always available to the customer at no extra cost. 4) Plus, we were only staying two nights, making this stay budget friendly.

 

This is the just the oatmeal/cereal station section.  It is the section of the breakfast bar I visited, but there is soooo MUCH more offered here.

 

        The comfy lobby and breakfast area of Homes2 Suites. 

 

          We left on a Wednesday, immediately after school, because the school in which John and I teach, St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, was closed in honor of Easter for a few days.  Of course, that meant we hit Lexington at the height of rush hour. Ugh! By the time we navigated traffic, and what seemed like an unending sea of stoplights, we made it to the hotel after 6:00 pm.   Once settled in our room, we quickly made plans for an early evening, in order to be more rested and fully ready to enjoy the following day’s activities.

           We quickly decided to use Uber and head to Pies and Pints, a favorite of ours–though we had not visited this location.  Using Uber is something John and I enjoy doing when traveling because it allows us to ask questions, fully view the town, and gain insight into the location in which we are staying. As we drove through the heart of Lexington, the driver highlighted different spots along the route, noting those popular with University of Kentucky students versus spots favored by locals.  The weather was fine and students, professorial types, as well as all walks-of-life were strolling the walks of Lexington soaking up the last of the evening sunshine.

 

Menu from Pies and Pints.  Notice all of the gluten free options.

 

           As it turned out, Pies and Pints is next to Lexington Visitors Center in the square just across the street from the Convention Center and Triangle Park as well as within walking distance of Rupp Arena! The ambient sound of the nearby water fountains filled the air with a satisfyingly serene sound.  A man sang and danced across the street on the sidewalk opposite of ours, and colorful flowers sprouted along the walks. It reminded us of the drive to Lexington that afternoon as we passed one red bud tree after another—a long purple parade of petaled soldiers standing at rapt attention as we drove past one colorful roadside display after another.  Scents of spring abounded all around, followed by aromas of. . . . pizza, of course!

 

 

           Just like other Pies and Pints, this Lexington location offered the same menu staples with plenty of gluten free and vegetarian options for me, along with plenty of carnivore choices for John! However, for those who enjoy beer, each location of Pies and Pints features a unique menu of craft beers, many of which are local to the location.  In fact, Lexington Pies and Pints offered 35 beers and root beer (non-alcoholic) on tap, plus an extensive bottled beer menu.

 

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Devan, our bartender/waiter for the evening, was courteous, efficient, and attentive.

 

           Devan (I think that was our waiter/bar-tender’s name!) was courteous, attentive, and prompt with service.  John and I decided to relax and take our time with dinner. Therefore, we gave their chips and salsa a try while enjoying conversation before ordering our meals. Big mistake!  Why? Because their salsa is so stinkin’ delicious that we ate MUCH more than we needed, but boy, was it good!!

 

Chips and salsa for an appetizer hit the spot!

 

           We eventually decided upon our meals. I had to have their simple salad.  Maybe it’s the way they thickly cut cucumber slices and hollow out the center before cutting each piece in half, but there is something special about their simple salad that I cannot get enough of it!  Of course, it could also be their creamy Gorgonzola dressing that I always get served on the side. Whatever it is, it all comes together in deliciously tasting salad.  But, did I stop there? No!

 

This salad . . .

          I also ordered the Black Bean Speciality Pie with a gluten free crust.  This pizza is served with black beans, cheddar, jalapeños, salsa, cilantro & crème fraiche.  If you like a spicy beans and salsa, then this pie is sure to please! Plus, the gluten-free crust is actually quite good!

 

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          Meanwhile, John ordered a small pizza pie with traditional red sauce.  He had it topped off with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Boy, did it look and smell good!  Unfortunately, he was so full from all of the chips and salsa we had noshed on earlier, that over half of his pie went uneaten that night.  Of course, it made a delicious lunch for him the next day!

 

 

          Throughout our time at Pies and Pints, our service was excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxed and yet upbeat.  I can only imagine the number of pizza pies made, and pints drank on afternoons/evenings of UK basketball games! What an ideal location for this tasty food venue!  John and I would certainly return, and we would highly recommend it for fun and a festive food atmosphere with friends and family!

 

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          After the Uber ride home, taking in more of the sights of Lexington, we decided to amble across the hotel’s parking lot to Trader Joe’s Grocery.  John and I cannot help ourselves! We love to visit grocery stores that we cannot find at home in order to see what’s trending food-wise outside our local area.  As with the one other Trader Joe’s we have visited, this one wasn’t large, but boy did it offer a wide variety of items not necessarily available in our local grocery market at fairly reasonable prices.  We found a few treats to try in the true spirit of further food adventures, and I could not help but feel a envious of the gluten free, non-dairy, and vegan options available there, but not available here locally.  Oh well . . . that’s what made it special!

 

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          Thus, the end came to a great first, albeit short day, in Lexington.  Part 2 of our Lexington stay will follow next week. . .

          

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Tippi Tail, one of our cats, was not happy we were leaving. Thus, this must be her attempt to keep us from packing!

 

Encouragement is a verb

           “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encouraging one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  Hebrew 10:24-25 (NLT)

           “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”—Simone De Beauvoir

           They have arrived, via text, nearly daily for two weeks.  Daily devotionals sent my way courtesy of a family friend.  Some of the readings are better than others, but all brighten my day simply because this person is trying to offer a bit of positivity and inspiration into my day.  However, there are times, due to their length, that I cannot read them at the time they are sent because my schedule varies significantly from his. Therefore, I often do not read get to read the devotional until bedtime.  I figure, regardless of the time of day, it is still a worthwhile task.

 

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           Task: job, chore, responsibility, undertaking . . . My day is filled with mental and written lists of things to do.  In fact, I start my day by looking over the post-it note of goals for the day and week listed the prior afternoon/evening before leaving work. Even still, driving to work, my mind is already scrolling through thoughts of what I will do when I first arrive, followed by what I will do next, followed by the next task, and so on.  The same is true for my planning period without students, my time after school, my time driving home. However, the one so-called responsibility that I most value is that of encouraging.

 

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           To that end, however, there are times; I am so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paperwork, computer tasks of documentation and communication, and the constraints of deadlines and times, that I misplace my priorities.  Thus, one recent night, as I rested in bed before turning off the light, finally reading the daily devotional sent to me, I came to face-to-face with what I love to preach, but allow the noise of the must-dos to hypnotize me into forgetting: encourage is a verb.

 

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           Reading the words from Hebrews 10: 24-25, there was my reminder in black and white.  “Let us think of ways to motivate one another . . ..”  Boy does the world need that now, more than ever.  Distractions abound all around. From the dings of texts to the bleeps of another email filling the inbox; from a screen flash of a calendar reminder of an upcoming event to another job-related task/deadline added to the reminder app; and, from rushing off to fulfill another commitment/appointment to bustling away from the work desk in order to acquire at least some time to maintain certain living rituals, it seems everyday life often creates both outer and inner noise that fill, and sometimes even, numbs us to the value of a kind word, a gentle pat/hug/embrace, or even a genuine smile that truly offers a moment of encouragement.

 

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         Two days later, after mulling over this devotion, I was seated in a yoga class, that I was teaching, sharing the following words before beginning the practice:  “You are not there.  You are here. Be here.  Be all here.”  As I saw the words sink-in and resonate with the students around me, I began to shift inwardly as my own inner ear perked up. Hmm . . .I hate it when my own words teach me as the weight of what I was sharing wrapped around my heart like my favorite warm, softly fuzzy sweatshirt. Be.  All. Here. And, how does that fit into encouragement as a verb?

 

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           As that day progressed, and really, into the next day, the words kept returning like the peal of the 5:00 pm church bells along 5th Ave in Huntington, WV.  Family, and a couple of my daughter’s friends, was gathering at my home that evening. Be. All. Here. Encouragement.

           I would like to write a picture perfect ending stating that I spent the rest of the weekend in perfect presence with all who were visiting my house.  Additionally, I would like to say that I floated about my home offering wise words of wisdom and encouragement to all. Cue the rousing and heart-wrenching music, but that would NOT be true.

 

           Still, I was keenly aware of the sweet sensation of an arm around a waist, the warmth of an embrace, the way smiles and laughter are contagious, and the special buzzing sensation that comes with conversation among and between people who are genuinely interested in supporting and uplifting one another.  By the last good-bye around noon on Sunday, as John smiled broadly, wrapped me up in his arms, and said, “Ah, Steph, this was a good weekend,” it felt full-circle-good.

 

 

          We had done nothing great, nothing fancy, and offered no great life-changing words.  Instead, we opened our home, we offered our hearts, we shared a simple meal or two, and swapped a gaggle of stories and laughter. That is the magic dust for forming memories.  My stack of ungraded papers never changed. This piece I am now writing, had yet to be written. Several loads of laundry were still in need of tackling. Weeds still needed pulled. Dust and dirt weren’t disappearing.  And, somehow, none of it mattered . . ..

           Ok, so, yes, as I write this, I am already worried, anxious, and a bit stressed about the to-dos, but I would not change a thing.  Not. One. Thing.