Raven Rock Nature Preserve–A Great Place to Hike in Southeastern Ohio

With its dramatic overlook, Raven Rock has long been an attraction for area residents and visitors. Its history is legendary, with some stories placing, at various moments in time, Daniel Boone and Tecumseh at its edge, 500 feet above the Ohio River.”–Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D. 

He asked me, but if my answer surprised him, he didn’t show it. 

Our 33rd wedding anniversary was fast approaching, and John, my husband, asked what I wanted to do in honor of it.  Go hiking, of course!  I know, not the most logical, or necessarily romantic choice, but it is something special we typically do out-of-town.  If we love hiking at destination locations, why not also start hiking more often closer to home? After all, after 33 years together, as the saying goes, “We’re not getting any younger!”  

John was able hike, in spite of the meniscectomy, with the help of this hand carved hiking sticking, a gift from a beloved student.

The more we talked about it, the more we embraced the idea.  Within an hour to two drive of our home, there are an abundance of trails that we have not explored.  Why not take more frequent mini-staycations and enjoy the great outdoors together?   While there is definitely some cost in gas, especially given the current prices, hiking closer to home is an overall more cost effective experience when compared to traveling hundreds of miles. 

Once owned by Charles Brown, this 98 acre preserve was donated to the state of Ohio in the early 1990s.

Our destination?  Raven Rock State Nature Preserve.  This was a trail I had previously hiked a few years ago with my dad.  The thing I remembered most about it was the rewarding spectacular view at the top of this trail after a strong uphill effort.  If I remember correctly, Dad and I walked to the edge of the rock, collectively inhaled, and exclaimed, “Wow!”  I hoped John would have that kind of experience too. 

Rumors abound that the now closed former trail was a gut-wrenching, vomit inducing, path that challenged even the most experienced hikers.

Unfortunately, John had a meniscectomy in August, so I knew his knee would be fragile on this trail.  I wasn’t sure if he would feel up to it, but he gladly agreed to the hike as long as he could take as many breaks as his knee demanded.  Breaks, schmakes, I don’t mind those when I get to hang out with Mother Nature!  

A few images of Mother Nature along the way.

That said, the trail involves several switchbacks with anywhere from an 8% grade to a 28% grade in some parts of the heavily forested trail. In fact, according to Natural Ohio Adventures, Raven Rock trail may be the only trail in Ohio that has an elevation gain similar to a Rocky Mountain trail. The same website also states that no other known Ohio overlook is more elevated than Raven Rock.

Here’s one arch!

Depending upon the source, there are a couple of different reasons as to why Raven Rock was named as such.  One account, according to an article by Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., describes the romantic tale that a long ago native warrior, named Raven, once jumped to his death from the rock ledge, rather than surrender to enemy hands.  However, most sources note that when looking at the rock from above, the central overhanging rock looks like that of a raven’s head and beak while the rest of the rock appears to be its outstretched wings.

You’ll find this faded sign at the top of the trail explaining the Raven Rock’s past.

Historically speaking, there seems to be general consensus that Raven Rock would have been an overlook used by native people, such as the Cherokee and Shawnee.  As the faded marker at the top of the trail indicates, there must have been countless natives who observed European settlers traveling on the river encroaching upon their original lands.  What must these unknown original people have felt?  Did they, in fact, use that overlook as a place for planning attacks in an attempt to prevent these strangers from taking land that rightfully belonged to them?  One can only speculate.

Hello in there!

Raven Rock, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is composed of Missisiipian age sandstone. The weathering of the sandstone over the years has created three naturally occurring rock arches. The largest arch, Raven Rock Arch, is over ten feet long.  

Mother Nature is an artist.

Raven Rock preserve is home to the rare and potentially threatened Blackjack Oak tree (Quercus Marilandica) and a state endangered plant, Small-flowered Scorpionweed – Phacelia dubia.   Therefore, this trail, and the land around it, is considered quite fragile.  Ohio requests that hikers obtain a permit before exploring the trail which can be completed online in advance. I did read that hikers can also obtain permits at Shawnee State Park, but I am not sure about this point. 

We made it to the top! 500 feet above the confluence of the Ohio and Scioto River.

As John and I headed up the trail, the skies were bluebird clear, and the temperatures were pleasant. There had been strong thunderstorms that had moved through the area the night before, which had fortunately broken a heat wave, but had unfortunately left thick, muddy sections along the path.  Those slippery, mucky spots, however, were few and far between, mostly located near the bottom of the trail.

It’s all uphill to get to the top with varying grades of inclines.

We both hiked with walking stick/pole for the first time, and we found them to be quite helpful for balance in several of the more rocky and steep areas.  They were also helpful both moving uphill and downhill as well as for creating an awareness of the edge of the trail/cliff.   

The trail can be quite narrow and rocky in places.

There were no trail markers that we could see, aside from the entrance sign, but the trail was easy enough to follow as it was a well-worn path.  A couple sections of the trail, we noticed, were beginning to wash away, but there were no confusing portions leaving us wondering which way to go.  Even though the trail is steep, it does seem to alternate between segments that are less steep and more steep, giving hikers ample time to catch your breath on the 1.25 mile ascent. 

Check out this view.

The view was as spectacular as I remembered it!  Overlooking the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, as well as all the surrounding hills, farmland, and community, the panoramic view was spectacular, especially on this clear day.  John and I discussed how gorgeous the precipice must be in full autumn colors or even in the winter, once the leaves have fallen.  

And another view

One safety point:  There is no guard rail, so hikers must be careful walking the edge of Raven Rock.  Nonetheless, you can stand or sit at a safe distance from the edge and take in miles of landscape and riverview.  However, for those with a healthy fear of heights, there is a bench, at a safe distance, on which you can sit and take in most of the vantage point. 

Don’t want to get on the rock? Have no fear, a bench is here!

If you like to hike and appreciate a scenic perspective, then Raven Rock Nature Preserve is a trail John and I recommend you explore.  According to two respected hiking sites, the trail is rated as an intermediate or moderate level due to its inclines.  While we do agree with that assessment, we also believe it would be doable for any level of hikers as long as you take breaks as needed and definitely bring a bottle of water–uphill hiking makes you very thirsty!  

Here’s to the wonders of the trail and Mother Nature!

Another perspective from the top
In this photo, you can clearly see the edge of Raven Rock as we look out over the land and rivers below.
When you look up and feel the Divine Source of all creation.
Standing of Raven’s Rock!
Playing around along the path.

An Ounce of Prevention Goes a Long Way to Preventing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. . . . Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. . . . Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally.”–World Health Organization, 2 September 2021

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It happens more often than I care to admit–the inability to come up with a particular word while engaged in conversation. In my mind, I can see the shape of the word lurking in the shadows of my brain.  Try as I might to shine a mental flashlight on the word, the word will continue to evade me in a cavernous pit of forgetfulness only to materialize a few hours, or even days, after the conversation has ended.

I have witnessed dementia grip one grandparent’s aging mind and Alzheimer’s disease affect another.  Then again, how many other people can say the same thing?  Therefore, why do I worry, when my brain stutters, sputters, and struggles with a word, misplacing an item, or wondering why I walked into a room?  Answer: because I do not want to be a burden to others.

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That said, I dearly loved my Mamaw and my Papaw.  Even when they were in the throes of dementia and Alzhiemer’s respectively, I still adored them.  However, I was not responsible for their overall care and well-being.  That responsibility fell squarely upon the shoulders of my parents, their spouses, and their siblings. Instead, I was the grandchild who could visit, help-if asked–and leave as I pleased. I didn’t have to worry about the direct care and multitude of decisions that each diagnosis required–and those decisions, it seemed to me, grew in direct proportion with the disease’s progression.  

Mamaw had two children, and Papaw had three.  Even if one child was the legal guardian, they still had another sibling with whom they could confer regarding decisions, seeking help, or any of the other myriad of responsibilities that accompanies caring for a loved one with a form of dementia.  Whereas, I have one child.  One.  And in the words of Three Dog Night, “One is the loneliest number . . .”  I could cry thinking about putting that sort of responsibility upon her.  

My prayer is that dementia will not be my legacy to my daughter. Therefore, I have become somewhat obsessed with habits that could prevent dementia and Alzheimers. One quick recent search for, “preventing dementia and enhancing brain health,” and, according to Google, precisely, 1,500,000 results appeared in 0.56 seconds, many of which are considered “scholarly articles.”  Additionally, searching “habits that increase risk for dementia,” produced nearly as many results.  The point is that I am not alone in my desire to prevent and reduce risk for dementia.

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Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dementia, and even the currently prescribed therapies and medicines have proven to have little efficacy. This is often due to the fact that developing any of the various types of dementia is believed to be a complex cocktail of factors including age, medical history, lifestyle factors, and genes. Consequently, numerous scholarly sources point to a number of preventative measures since most cases/types of dementia are not directly inherited. 

One of the most cited statistical links and effective measures to prevent dementia is regular participation in movement and exercise. Some sources break down the amount of time devoted to cardiovascular, strength, balance, and flexibility, with 150 minutes/week being gold standard. However, all agree that it is the consistent practice of exercise/movement that matters most.

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Another point of agreement is the importance of consuming a healthy diet. In fact, many researchers point to the following diets: MIND, DASH, or Mediterranean as exemplary choices for prevention.  However, there are some research quibbles with regard to best diet practices.  One debate is over how much and/or what meat should, or should not, be eaten, although most seem to agree that fatty fish, such as salmon, is a solid preventative choice.  There is also some contention regarding the use, or disuse, of dairy, but the general consentment is that if you choose to consume dairy, pick low-fat products.  Most research agrees that the consumption of healthy fats–plant oils, seeds, nuts, and avocados– are an excellent choice.  However, the amount needed is not always a point of agreement.  Nonetheless, the research clearly points to an overall consumption of a high fiber diet that heavily emphasizes a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; AND limits salt, sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods as effective and preventative practices.  

Alcohol consumption and sleep appear to have both positive and negative attributes when it comes to dementia prevention.  It appears that moderate alcohol consumption–no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women–specifically enjoyed with food, appears to be preventative.  However, drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, seems to increase the likelihood of dementia.  Likewise, getting enough sleep, defined as 7-8 hours, on a regular basis is a preventative measure; conversely, getting too much sleep (10 or more hours), or not enough sleep (less than 6 hours), increases dementia risk. 

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One of the more interesting bits of research centered around the practice of Kirtan Kriya (KK). It is a type of meditation, specifically 12-minutes long, that involves small hand movements, known as mudras. This ancient practice has been cited in several scientific journals as strongly linked to the prevention of dementia. In fact, several Alzheimer’s and dementia research groups offer/sponsor tutorial videos and articles on KK.

There are several other points of agreement among the scientific community for preventing and/or lowering the risk for dementia, including: 

  • Avoid, or quit, smoking
  • Stay mentally active, socially connected, and engaged in meaningful work/tasks
  • Care for mental health 
  • Manage blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Schedule regular wellness checkups and preventative tests/screenings
  • Maintain a faith/spiritual/meditation practice(s).

While I did not discover anything ground-breaking in my recent research dive, it was clear to me that a few good habits of health go a long way.  Best of all, it’s never too late to increase a healthy habit or two.  Just as following the basic tenets of faith are important applications for spiritual well-being, implementation of basic health practices can go a long way in ensuring the vitality of life.  In the end, we may not be able to avoid dementia or other age-related illnesses, but we can make impactful choices in order to maintain a healthy, active, and balanced lifestyle for as long as possible.   

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Nailing down your vision

“Privilege blinds, because it’s in its nature to blind. Don’t let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.”–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Driving along a familiar major state route, I noticed a car was in front of me, and observed that no one was behind me. My mind began to wander while we maintained the legal, steady-as-she goes speed limit.  I took in the sights along the familiar route, then back to the car in front of me.  I took in the blueness of the sky with no puffs of white, and went back to the car in front of me. I glanced at the steadily flowing river, and back to the car in front . . .Wait, the car was suddenly braking! It was only then I noticed the turn signal.  It was not turning at an expected later point, such as one of several roads that connect to the route, but instead, it was turning into a random location. I had to brake fairly hard, grateful no one was behind me.

What caused my inability to not see the obvious turn signal? In fact, what causes us to overlook seemingly obvious items. I think I’ve lost my phone, only to have my daughter point out that it was right in plain view.  Of course, the reverse also occurs, such as when my husband, or daughter, think they have misplaced a particular object. I go to the same places they have already looked, and I find it for them.

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There are several theories/notions about why/how this happens.  Some of it is steeped in science, while some of it is more theoretically. Two, more scientifically studied reasons, include inattentional blindness and change blindness.  Based on my preliminary research, these phenomena are closely related because they are both failures of visual awareness. However, inattentional blindness is described as the inability to notice an unexpected, but fully visible, object because your focus is diverted to other items within your field of vision, such as when I was driving and did not notice the turn signal.  Whereas, change blindness is a surprising failure to notice significant visual changes. 

Thought leaders, conversely, might say that a failure to see an obvious object has more to do with a mental scotoma, or mental blind spot due to personal bias, beliefs, stress, or even pressure.  (As a point of reference, scotoma is actually a health condition of the eye in which there is a fully diminished or partially diminished area within one’s field of vision.)  Thus, in a similar vein, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, have blind spots about ourselves, others, and/or the world around us.  Personally, I think we can fail to see something for any one of those reasons, it may just depend upon the situation. 

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This past weekend, for example, I was weeding an area in front of my house in which I am trying to fill in with one of my favorite flowering ground covers.  Stooped in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, I was weeding a bare section of soil, when I noticed a pair of roofing nails–remnants of a late fall roof replacement.  They had partially rusted and, quite frankly, looked like twigs. I removed them, and went back to work.  Low and behold, I noticed two more roofing nails, then one more, then three more, then two more, and so it went for the better part of an hour. My eyes were no longer blind to nails, aided by the clear, bright light and angle of the sun. 

How many times had I previously weeded this bed since the start of spring and never noticed the nails?  While I worked, my brain dumped other notions, such as how many times do I overlook my own flaws, but not those of others.  Likewise, how many times have I done the reverse, picking myself apart and quickly absolving others who may have the same so-called, “flaws.” As my field of vision became more agile in finding nails, my brain dump also grew larger.  

The collection of roofing nails grew as my vision became more clear.

I thought of the poem about a louse, a poem both my mom and dad would quote at different points of my youth.  How did it go?  Something about a woman feeling so self-pious as she sat in church with all of her privilege and status that she didn’t notice the louse crawling on her fancy bonnet.  There was a particular line my parents would especially quote with frequency–a turn of phrase such as–what a gift it would be if we could truly see ourselves as others see us.

Then, my mind meandered to the scriptural story of Jesus speaking in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, when he warns hypocrites to remove the beam out of their own eye in order to clearly see before removing a speck from another’s eye.  As best I understand this section of Christ’ sermon, believers are warned to admit and address our own sins first, before attempting to pass judgment on others.  However, even then, as the book of Matthew continues, Christ did not want us to condemn another person for their flaws, but instead offer help/support and grace as they work through their own issues. 

The more nails I gathered, the more my mind expanded into the understanding that we, myself included, often do not see the full picture–not of ourselves, of others, or even on larger, broad-scale, societal issues. Without this full scope of understanding, we make snap-decisions, fall prey to false information/doctrine/beliefs, or worse yet, become apathetic.  It is all too easy to be lulled by the seas of a busy life–caught up in the minutia in order to get through the day/week/month. When this happens, our vision is blinded because our attention is distracted, our focus is narrow, and/or our scope of vision is limited. Thus, we may not realize how comfortable we’ve become with our illusions, our biases, our knowledge/understanding and even what we perceive as truth.

The point is that it is easy to elevate our views/positions/ beliefs and overlook our own issues.  It is also easy to overlook/ignore points of disagreement and/or so-called flaws with others for whom we may hold in esteem; and yet, have no trouble identifying “others”–however you define them–as being wrong, bad, or even, the enemy.  Left unchecked, the busyness of life can create a pernicious way to cloud, distract, and even blind our perceptions.  Therefore, it is worth the time to regularly pause from the distractions and noise of life, and allow the Universal Light to reveal to us the nails in our own life beliefs/actions that need to be removed.  They may be disguised as good-intentions, but once a light shines upon them, their sharp edges, like the nails in my flower bed, could hurt someone, including ourselves, or worse yet, those whom we love. 

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Prayer for Uvalde, Texas

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”–Aeschylus

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I walked through the strangely-quiet darkened hall, down the familiar stairwell, and exited under a leaden sky with light rain falling.  Students had left an hour or so earlier, and I was heading to a meeting regarding the next school year. Nonetheless, shouldn’t there be some magical feeling for the start of summer break?  Instead, all ranges of emotions churned within my gut. How could I feel celebratory when my heart was reeling from ANOTHER school shooting?  Meanwhile, the intensity of the rain increased . . .

Thinking back to the previous week’s events, I realize that powerful sentiments, including grief, were coming together like the confluence of several rivers vying for dominance as their waters merge.  35 years in education, and yet, all I could truly focus upon was the Uvalde community.  What hopes and dreams were savagely snatched forever–even from those who survived–while terror reigned supreme inside the school and confusion, disorganization, and unbelievable anguish surrounded the school?

What about the two Robb Elementary educators?  Between them, they had 40 years of teaching experience. Years of service to the community that were also brutally wrenched away.  They too had children, spouses, parents, and loved ones.  Their hopes and dreams were likewise vanquished.

Once more, a lone male–psychologically hurting–legally accessed weapons of war and played out his own private warfare on innocent victims.  While we can state the school was at fault for having a door open, as an educator, I know the reality of schools.  A door left open can happen (At the time of writing this, the report had not yet come out that, indeed, the teacher DID close the door, and the door’s lock malfunctioned).  However, an open door at a school, or any community building for that matter, should not be considered an implicit invitation to mortal combat.

I was teaching and pregnant with my daughter when the Columbine shooting occurred.  John, my husband, who is also an educator, and I sat in our modest house, silent tears streaming down our faces as we watched the news story unfold.  How could that happen?  Little did we know we were bearing witness to the start of what would become a terrifying trend in education. 23 years later, names of schools, nowhere near me geographically speaking, are as familiar as names of past students–Red Lake Senior High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Stoneman Douglas High School; and the list continues.  Countless schools with families and communities forever changed and affected.

Several years after Columbine, I was teaching Kindergarten, and it was the first time for the school to practice an “Active Shooter Response Drill.”  Given the fact that I had advance notice, I talked with my young students about the notion of “bad guys” and how the school had to practice what to do if a bad guy came to school– just like they practiced what to do in case of a fire.   

Per procedure, the coded announcement came over the intercom, and I quickly ran to lock my classroom door and instructed my students to hide and cover as we had previously practiced.  A well-meaning sheriff deputy repeatedly knocked on my classroom door stating things in an attempt to trick me to unlock the door.  One student began to softly cry, followed by another, and another as I crept from one student to another trying to allay their fears and reassure them that this was pretend.  Nonetheless, they were scared.

I share that memory to say, if those few moments of hiding in a darkened classroom evoked such a fear response in my former students, what terrors were experienced by those blameless children trapped in Robb Elementary School?  What conflicting emotions must the teachers and staff members have experienced as they tried to keep their students safe and calm, while thinking about their own families, and watching one of their very own Uvalde youth massacre beloved students and colleagues? 

Children are a sacred part of society, and the schools they attend are the heart of the community. When children and educators are in school, they should be active participants in learning, engagement, and educational problem-solving, rather than passive participants in a disturbed soul’s personal anger campaign. Parents, children, and educators should have the peace of mind that the school is valued, supported, and always protected by community leaders, policy makers, and societal structures, including local law enforcement 

I am sickened by the politicians, community leaders, and even some journalists, who use the Uvalde event as an opportunity to point fingers, grow their audience, and puff up themselves with haughty righteousness.  Their pandering, grandstanding, and virtue signaling are NOT solving the problem–which is multifaceted and requires multiple types of community interventions.  To them I say, get off your soap box, get into communities and listen–I mean really listen with both ears–and then, work for real solutions rather than sound bites.  Endeavor to genuinely serve your community, instead of posturing for cameras looking for the next crisis-opportunity for which you can preen and pose.

I end where I began this piece. Summer is starting, and schools have, or will soon be, dismissed for another academic year. Meanwhile, the blood of more children and more educators weaves and seeps into the soil and rubble of another school.  There will be no more summers for them.  No more new beginnings.

I once wrote about the importance of threading a needle when sewing. All the fibers of the thread must be concentrated and twisted together to go through the eye of the needle.  Like the fibers of thread, it is easy for one fiber to get distracted, and when that happens, the thread will not go through.  Once more, we, as a nation, are being asked to go through the eye of the needle.  This is an opportunity to bind the ties that connect us–schools, children, communities–and sew together the common ground on both sides of the aisle.  Can we avoid distractions, remain tightly focused, and come together in order to thread this needle?  The silenced victims of the Uvalde classrooms beg us to do that.

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Proffee or Protea: Beverage with a boost

“While eating an adequate amount of protein is not going to prevent age-associated loss of muscle altogether, not eating enough protein can be an exacerbating factor that causes older adults to lose muscle faster,” Wayne Campbell, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University.

Recently, I listened to a podcast with a great deal of information about women’s health concerns after menopause.  I was stunned to hear that after the onset of menopause, women can lose up to 20% of their bone density.  Skeptic that I am, I decided to research this fact. Turns out, according to numerous bodies of research, including several articles cited on the National Library of Medicine, women lose up to 10% of their bone mass within the first five years after menopause. By age 60, according to a 2022 article by the Endocrine Society, most post-menopausal women have indeed experienced 20% bone loss, with one in two women suffering from at least one fracture in their later years of life.  I. Was. Stunned. 

While I’ve always known bone loss was a real thing, I did not realize the rapidity and significance of bone mass loss for post-menopausal women.  Furthermore, I discovered that somewhere between the ages of 65-70, men experience bone loss at approximately the same rate as women, according to the National Institute on Aging. Therefore, both men and women should be concerned about bone loss, especially if wanting to reap the benefits of one’s senior years with a healthy, fully-functioning body.

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That said, to those readers in their younger years, according to an article, updated in 2022 by Breastcancer.org, it’s never too early to take extra measures to prevent and/or slow the loss of bone mass, especially if you’re over the age of 30, when the natural loss of bone mass begins.  Common preventative measures for ALL ages include, but are not limited to ensuring a daily intake of calcium through dark leafy greens; fortified milks, juices, and cereals; low-fat dairy products; and/or taking a calcium supplement.  Additional bone maintenance measures include participating regularly in a variety of weight bearing exercises, such as running, walking, hiking, resistance training, weight lifting, and balance exercises; either quit smoking, or don’t start it; limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per day; and maintain a healthy body weight.  Finally, another commonly overlooked item is ensuring consistent consumption of daily protein. 

According to numerous recent articles, including 2019 pieces by the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Health News, one of the biggest diet changes men and women over the age of 50 should make is increasing the intake of protein to support both muscle and bone health, especially since aging bodies process protein less efficiently. There are many valid reasons cited, but one of the most compelling reasons include reducing the likelihood of the loss of basic functioning, such as dressing self; walking up and down stairs; getting out of bed, bath, shower.  Additionally, increased protein intake helps ward off chronic or acute illness.  Furthermore, if experiencing a serious illness, surgery, or hospitalization, the added protein benefits the body’s ability to more efficiently metabolize protein, which significantly declines in times of stress, such as one experiences during serious health events.  This is especially important in the case of hip or knee replacement, or other similar surgery, in which large muscles will be underused. 

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The recommended RDA intake for protein is .8 to 1 gram of protein for every 1 kilogram of body weight (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds) for the average healthy adult.  However, according to both the Mayo Clinic and KHN, adults over 50, should lean into slightly higher levels, 1-1.2 gram of proteins per 1 kilogram of body weight; however, those with chronic or acute illness or injury, should consider 1.2-1.5!  Ideally, this total amount is consumed throughout the day, with a serving of 25-30 grams of protein at each meal.  While supplements such as protein powders and/or ready-to-drink protein shakes are easy and convenient ways to increase protein to the diet, they should not be the end-all-be-all source of protein.  Instead, focus on consuming a wide array of whole food sources of protein such as lean meats, eggs, soy, nuts/seeds, quinoa, dairy, and beans/lentils.  

If you do choose to supplement with protein, as I am doing once per day, it is important to choose one that is low in sugar and other additives that can be harmful to the body such as heavy metals, thickeners, fillers, and extra ingredients with low nutritional value.  Personally, I look for a protein supplement with as few ingredients as possible that I can read/recognize/know and 20-25 grams of high quality, plant-based protein.  That said, protein supplementation is a highly personal choice, and I encourage you to take time to carefully read labels, research, and choose one wisely.  It should be considered only one tool in the toolbox of healthy nutrition along with consuming a wide variety of whole foods with heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits. 

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Below I am sharing a recipe for my currently favorite way of consuming protein.  It is super quick and easy.  I mix it up in the morning, take it with me to work, and sip on it with my lunch.  You may prefer it for or with breakfast, as an after work-out snack, or an afternoon pick-me-up.  It can be made with regular or decaf coffee or tea.  Personalize the ingredients, and make the recipe yours!

In the meantime, exercise regularly, eat whole foods–including lots of nutritious plants, maintain healthy sleep hygiene, and be mindful of your protein intake.  Here’s to your health and the health of your bones!  May you be strong and healthy for years to come!

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Proffee (Protein coffee)

*Ingredients:

4-8 ounces of favorite cold brew coffee

**4-8 ounces favorite milk (plant or dairy)

**4-8 ounces ice and/or water

**1-2 scoops favorite protein powder (I like chocolate flavored for coffee.)

Optional add ins:

½ teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

¼ teaspoon cinnamon or other favorite spice

Favorite sweetener 

Dash of salt

Protea (Protein tea)

*Ingredients:

4-8 ounces brewed tea that’s been cooled (black, green, matcha, etc. . .)

**4-8 ounces favorite milk (plant or dairy)

**4-8 ounces ice and/or water

**1-2 scoops favorite protein powder (I like the vanilla flavored for tea.) 

Optional add-ins for chai tea flavor:

½ teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

½  teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

⅛ teaspoon allspice

Favorite sweetener such as honey, brown sugar, etc . . .)

Directions for both recipes:

Combine ingredients in a shaker cup or blender.

Shake or blend well.

Drink immediately, or make ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for up to 48-72 hours; however, the recipe will need to be shaken again before consuming. 

Additional notes for both recipes:

*Feel free to adjust amounts/ingredients to personalize for your taste preferences and/or dietary needs.

**Milk, added water, and/or protein powder can be replaced with favorite ready-to-drink protein shake, such as OWN, CorePower, Boost, Evolve, etc. . . .

Cincinnati, Ohio–what a place to visit

“Humidity notwithstanding, summer seems to bring out the best of Cincinnati.”–Bill Dedman

I love all three of the states that make up our Tri-state area: Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  In fact, even though I was technically born and raised in Ohio, due to the fact that I live in its most southern section, I feel like a resident of all three states.  I have family in all three states, I have worked as an educator in all three states, and my husband, John, and I absolutely love to travel, visit, and explore all three states. 

Therefore, when the school for which John and I worked chose to resume the pre-pandemic tradition of the 8th grade trip–this year to Cincinnati–I was stoked.  Ok, so maybe stoked isn’t the right word. After all, we would be two of the chaperones of 8th grade students, which meant little sleep and a steady stream of focused vigilance, but what a great place to take students!  Professional demands notwithstanding, we would still get to see some sights and soak up the ambiance of this vibrant river city.  

St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 8th grade students at The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, OH.

Ohio’s Queen City, Cincinnati, is known for many things, one of which is its professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, and this was our first stop on our grand, post-pandemic adventure.  I would later learn that the Reds were the first professional baseball team to play under electric lights, with President Franklin Roosevelt flipping on the switch in 1935.  However, no special lighting was needed for a mid-day 12:35 first pitch start against the Milwaukee Brewers that our group attended. Little did we know we would also be witness to a piece of baseball history in the making. 

According to AP news, Brewer’s Chris Yelich tied the record for completing his 3rd cycle, all of which have occurred against the Reds. This means Yelich hit a single, double, triple, and homerun all in the same game.  Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the Reds, his efforts were unable to help the Brewers as Cincinnati won 14-11.  Nonetheless, it made for an exciting game for the students to attend.

St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 8th graders jumping for joy at the Cincinnati Museum Center
St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 8th graders at the former Union Terminal.

Another stop in our three day, two night adventure, was Cincinnati Museum Center, once known as the train station icon, Union Terminal.  It is considered one of the last great American train stations to be built, and it is known for its art deco style, including the largest half-dome in the western hemisphere. With its so-called magical whispering fountains and the Winold Reiss mosaics, this once former grand station of transportation (trains, buses, and taxis) now features three museums, an Omnimax theater, and the Cincinnati History Library and Archives.  While there, our students were able to view the Cincinnati History Museum, with its contemporary addition of 15 hidden Marvel movie characters for visitors to spy, and the Museum of Natural History and Science, with its interactive physical science lab, Dinosaur hall, Neil Armstrong Space Exploration Gallery, and Ice Age Gallery.

BB Riverboats, at the Port of Cincinnati, was a first-time visit for not only the students, but also for John and I.  However, it will not be our last! Our students enjoyed a delicious buffet of freshly prepared food, three decks of sight seeing featuring one of Mother Nature’s spectacular sunsets, along with a DJ and dancing on the top deck. Sipping on Shirley Temple’s, the students enjoyed a wonderful evening of cruising on the mighty Ohio River with scenic views of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.  Personally, I have to give a shout-out to the May 12 evening crew and kitchen, not only for the specially prepared, and oh-so-tasty gluten-free, plant based meal for me, but even more so, for the way in which they treated our students and staff.  They were courteous, attentive, and very helpful–especially when we had one student become sick.  Thank you, BB Riverboats! It was an evening our students will long remember.

St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 8th graders at Newport Aquarium on the Levee.

Newport on the Levee and the Newport Aquarium were also fantastic stops on our whirlwind Cincinnati visit. The Levee offered plenty of dining options for the students to explore and savor.  There were also options for retail and entertainment, but our focus, after eating, was the Aquarium.  Students and chaperones were able to view all forms of aquatic creatures such as the dwarf seahorse, albino alligators, upside down jellyfish, stingrays, eels, cuttlefish, penguins, and so much more.  Plus, we were able to test our bravery by crossing a rope bridge over shark infested waters!  Well, maybe it wasn’t so much bravery that we tested as much balance. Regardless, the Newport Aquarium is always a great place to visit, especially on a hot day!

Our final Cincinnati highlight was the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.  This expansive zoo is the second oldest zoo in the United States, opening in 1875.  Currently, its Reptile House is now the oldest zoo building in the country, and it is one of three buildings on site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  However, none of these bits of trivia were why the students were there, they wanted to see the animals!  Featuring 21 different animal habitats, there were plenty of creatures for all of the varied students’ interests.  Our group spent five hours there, and even with that much time, there was no way to see all of the animals.  However, it was time to head home as we were all worn out.

Hanging out with the girls at Embassy Suites Cincinnati Rivercenter
Hanging out with the guys at Embassy Suites Cincinnati Rivercenter.

A great trip to Cincinnati must include a great place to stay, and our group certainly drew the lottery ticket for that. Embassy Suites Cincinnati Rivercenter, located in Covington, Kentucky, was the ideal location for a large group, but would also meet the needs of traveling families and individuals.  It is located on the south bank of the Ohio River, and it offered our group spectacular views into Cincinnati proper, especially at night.  The hotel served a daily breakfast buffet featuring made-to-order foods which was perfect for our group. Additionally, it offered a fitness center, pool–both of which our students loved– as well as pet-friendly rooms, on-site restaurant, business center, and so much more. The staff, featuring Danyelle Doherty, Sales Manager; Trish Buda, Reservation Coordinator; Kris Bridge, Front Desk; and the Food Beverage Crew for our stay–Ali, Tasha, and Al–offered outstanding, attentive service.  In fact, having chaperoned several of these trips in previous years, they offered, by far, the most helpful, thoughtful, and courteous service I’ve experienced with a school group.  If you’re in the area, we certainly recommend you consider staying with them.

On a final note, our trip would not have been possible without A Goff Limousine and Bus Company out of Charlottesville, NC.  Driver, Jackie Young, was not only an excellent, safe driver–exactly what you would expect when traveling with a school group–but she was incredibly flexible when it came to our schedule.  If something needed to be adjusted at the last minute, she was always amenable.  A former school bus driver, Jackie was relaxed and comfortable with students while still remaining professional.  Thank you, Jackie!

In the end, overnight school adventures, such as the one described here, are never easy and take teamwork to plan and execute.  John and I were/are fortunate enough to be part of such a team effort. From those who went on the trip, to those who were part of the planning, it would not have been possible without their support and planning. Additionally, our students made us proud as they behaved well and even remembered to tip.  I believe they returned home with many special memories for years to come.

Chaperones ready to go! Left to right: Me, Anisa Dye-Hale, Brittani Buckley, and John.
A student snapped this picture of John and me on BB Riverboat.

The Path

“Every flood has its ebb.”–variation of an old expression

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The rains began in the dark of the night, like so many foreboding events.  At times, the light showers seemed harmless and a normal part of spring. Unfortunately, there were the dark underbelly periods too, with intermittent downpours spewing from inky, looming clouds determined to demonstrate their dominance.  Within the confines of the classroom in which I teach, instructional flow was periodically interrupted, as my students and I turned towards the wall of windows to stare with wide-eyed wonder, due to the showers thunderously pounding the roof above. Rain reverberated as if threatening to break through with the strength and precision of a military special operations force. 

Lunch came and went, then one by one, like a slow trickle of water, students began to be called for an early dismissal. The trickle turned into a steady stream of children leaving school as flood warnings resounded throughout the local area.  Rumors began to circulate among the staff that waters were rising rapidly. Young children, I was told, in one local day-care school were all being moved from their first floor classrooms to higher levels, and parts of town near and around my beloved park were completely submerged under water.  A state of emergency had been declared by the mayor’s office.

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As my school emptied, my mind drifted to those young day-care children trapped at school, but safely remaining on a higher floor until the waters subsided.  I was reminded of a nearly-forgotten event of my childhood.  While I do not recall my exact age/grade level, I know I was quite young.  At the time, the creek that ran beside the main road leading to the tiny subdivision on which I lived frequently flooded.  There was a day, quite similar to this past week’s event, when during the school day, the road was completely flooded, and all of the kids who lived along that bus route were unable to get home.

We were all taken to our elementary school’s tiny gymnasium.  I remember it was a bit loud and chaotic at first, and I felt very fearful, in the way only a young could, worried that we would be stuck at school all night.  I vaguely recollect a few adults with us, most likely the principal and a teacher or two.  Eventually, a few of the older students became too loud and raucous, and we were made to stop talking and asked to sit still.  For whatever reason, it is the image that is imprinted in my mind.  In kid logic, if the adult was angry, there was something out of control about the situation; therefore, I should be really afraid.  I could not quell the heat of fear rising within me, and I leaned my head back against the blue cushioned mat that hung against the wall closing my eyes in hopes of making it all go away.

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Eventually, of course, just as it happened a few days prior to writing this piece, the waters did subside, and I was able to be picked up by my dad, still in his suit from his day at work.  He looked tired, the growth shadow of a long day was lining his face.  Looking out of the car’s window as we traversed the wet roads home, I vaguely recall seeing debris–gravel, branches, leaves, and trash–all tumbled and messy, spot-lighted by the car’s headlights. It is more of the feeling that I recall rather than precise imagery, but in that moment I felt relief, fatigue, and the remnants of fear still gnawing around the edges of my gut.  What if it happened again?

And, of course, it did, and it does.

Looking at those recent images of Ritter Park and the entire area surrounding it, I am astounded and wonderstruck.  I understand the basic science of the connection between watersheds and weather events.  Nonetheless, it was an unimaginable event, one that is often described as “a once per generation event.”  Many of those homeowners/renters, I am sure, never dreamed of, much less experienced, flood damage.  It seemed unthinkable, and yet, it happened.  

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The ebb and flow.  Today, as I write, the sunshine is luminously abundant, a light breeze is tossing about newly formed spring leaves, and the skies are a brilliant blue! Isn’t that life?  As it was written in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . .” 

Looking at those images of the Ritter Park area, I am reminded of the pedestrian path below the waters that cannot be seen.  Instead, the lens of the camera could only capture the murky brown waters filled with floating bits of flotsam that covered it over.  Bottom portions of vehicles, fire hydrants, mail boxes, park benches and so forth can be seen submerged in the rising waters with no visible way through.

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How often in life do those times occur?  Times filled with fear, wondering how much higher the waters of trouble will rise.  Moments spent wondering if the showers of bad fortune will ever stop?  Day upon horrible day, moment after nerve-wracking moment, fear, like a vice, squeezing your gut, and anxiety, like a noose, threatening to cut off your breath.  

Somehow, in due time, the clouds begin to shift.  Not quickly, it seems, but enough to allow a glimpse of hope for tomorrow.  The path is there.  You cannot see it, as I cannot see Ritter’s path in those on-line images, but you know it is there.  

Like the child I once was, flooded in at school, I had to bide my time, sit with my fear, and wait for the waters to recede. Sometimes, that is all we can do. In those dark moments, life requires that we tread water, and sit with our fear.  Our legs get tired and our bodies ache, but faith beckons us to stay afloat.  

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It will happen.  It may take longer than ever dreamed, but the waters will recede, and the path will emerge, albeit still covered with the remains of the havoc that once was.  It takes work and effort to clean it up, piece by piece, part by part, and step by precious step, but eventually, you are free of the wreckage and strong enough to forge ahead. 

Dear Reader, if it looks dark now, if your path is hidden, if it is buried deep below the rising flood waters, keep treading, keep the faith.  The path ahead is still there–just temporarily covered over.  It’s not easy, it never is, but every flood has its ebb. One day, it may not be soon, but one day, the path will be revealed once more.  May you be reunited with its peace soon.

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Aging with Serenity

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”–Serenity Prayer

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After writing humorously about the aging process a few weeks ago, I ran across an article written by Paula Span, focusing on the research and work of Becca Levy, a psychologist, epidemiologist, and professor at the Yale School of Public Health. Part of Levy’s work specifically points to 7.5 years that can be added or subtracted from a person’s life based upon personal and societal attitudes towards aging.  Since then, my brain has picked up Levy’s thesis, as if it were an object of study, and has been manipulating it from all angles as I consider its premise with what I thought I knew and what I hope to understand/apply. 

And what do I know? I know that I definitely won’t be retiring during my 50s as I once believed. At one time, I harbored some resentment about this.  Then, we went through the pandemic, and I experienced the heat of transformation with millions of other people, like sand particles melting into glass.

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It was during the pandemic that I slowly began to observe many of my attachments to “how things should be,” such as my retirement age, and I began to undergo a practice of  learning to say “yes” more often to things that weren’t, “how they should be.”  It was, and continues to be, a very imperfect practice.  Learning to accept AND surrender to the things that I cannot change is NOT my natural inclination.  

In addition to my belief about retirement age, nearly ten years ago–I battled low back pain due to three bulging discs and an extra vertebra.  Without belaboring the topic, the pain led me down a meandering path of chiropractic care, regular epidural steroid injections, and ultimately two 12-week rounds of physical therapy.  Both well-meaning doctors and physical therapists, told me that I should never participate in any form of high intensity exercise, including running again.  I accepted this theory because, after all, they were the professionals, and besides I was getting to “that age”–whatever that means.  

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Fortunately, one physical therapist disagreed, suggesting that I should strengthen the weak muscles that were causing imbalances that led to my injury in the first place.  Then, if I continued to work on maintaining that strength and listen to my body, he believed that I could gradually resume running and other forms of exercise I had been told to avoid. His advice later proved to be spot-on.

Therefore, as the pandemic continued, work changed, living conditions changed, and exercise changed as we said goodbye to gyms and group exercise.  Work meant sitting for hours. Low back, hip pain, depression, and sleep disruption escalated. I learned that I was not made to sit for long periods, and I began to realize that in-person work was more beneficial to my life than I realized. 

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Through trial and error during the pandemic, I began to resume various forms of exercise that I had once abandoned, including running, and I began to rethink my belief system about my own aging process.  I started approaching my life, and my physical body, with a bit more curiosity–making observations, asking questions, forming hypotheses, testing them, and making adjustments. This continues today.

The pandemic forced me to make peace with the fact that I will work longer than I had originally planned because it is still beneficial for me. Furthermore, I have embraced my need for movement; I cannot sit for hours, and even if I could, it is NOT good for me physically or mentally.  Additionally, I need interaction with others, even if I am an introvert at heart.  However, I still value and honor my need for downtime, introspection, reflection, and quiet. 

Span’s article, combined with the pandemic experience, inspires me to seek the courage in the coming years to continue to change what I can, but to also hone my ability to know when I can’t.  This is only possible through the wisdom that comes with life experience, aka, aging.  Aging is not a point for which to attach shame, negative stereotyping, or embarrassment.  Instead, the process of aging should celebrate one’s life experiences and provide us with opportunities to not only apply the knowledge gained from these experiences to our own lives, but to also use them for the benefit of those with whom we interact and/or mentor.

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To be certain, aging brings unavoidable changes in the physical body and in the way in which we think (and forget), but it is not necessarily a time for stopping, like much of our cultural cues teach us by celebrating youthful beauty, prowess, and achievement. In fact, after reading about Levy’s work, I realize there’s plenty of money to be made.  In fact, according to Span’s article, Dr. Levy and her colleagues estimate that “age discrimination, negative age stereotypes, and negative self-perceptions of aging lead to $63 billion in excess annual spending on common health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and injuries,” not to mention all of the money made from products promising to turn back the clock. 

One of the most compelling examples of psychological absorption and damage of cultural ageism in Span’s article occurred when Levy took her 70-something grandmother shopping in a Florida grocery store and her grandmother fell over a crate left in an aisle. The grandmother’s injury was superficial, but it did bleed profusely.  When the grandmother suggested to the store owner that crates should not be left in an aisle, the store owner replied that “old people fall all the time, and maybe they shouldn’t be walking around.”  After that point, Levy observed that her once lively grandmother began to ask others to do tasks for her that she once regularly completed.  It was as if her grandmother began to subconsciously view the grocery store incident as her cue that she was old and incapable of caring for herself.

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Meanwhile, in Blue Zone parts of the world, geographical locations in which people live the longest and are the healthiest, centenarians are celebrated as if they were highly acclaimed celebrities.  If these parts of the world can encourage, foster, and honor a culture where aging is not only accepted, but highly valued, why can’t we?  

Maybe I cannot change the current culture, but I can change my own personal view on the maturing process.  Wrinkles capture the adventures in the sun as well as countless moments of smiling. Gray hair celebrates the continuation of our inner child wanting to roam free and wild, and body aches/pains are a reminder to care for the vessel God gave us. 

I now know that phrases such as, “that age,” reflect cultural and social programmed attitudes that marketers, business, and the healthcare industry prefer is an ingrained part of our vocabulary.  While not every business or healthcare provider is personally invested in this ageism, I no longer desire to accept those marketers’ money-making, psychological damaging propaganda. What about you?

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Fudgy, Healthier Brownies (With Black Beans)

“The primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.”–Michael Greger, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

When I read the above quote, it gave me reason to pause.  Hmm.  Reflecting on the generations that I knew within my family lineage, I realized three things.  One, I came from excellent cooks on both sides of the family.  Two, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimers/dementia were clearly present on both my paternal and maternal sides of the family.  Thirdly, those same two facts could pretty much be applied to most of my husband’s, John, family heritage.

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Let’s be honest, food is often the center of gatherings, events, and holidays.  While food is nourishing to the body, it is also comfort, warmth, love, and care, all wrapped up in a flavorful and aromatic quilted blanket of tradition.  Every family has their own unique variation of food traditions.  Even in families where the art or time for cooking has been lost, there are still food-centered events.  People love food, and why not?  

Unfortunately, food doesn’t always love us back–depending upon the foods we choose to eat, the portions we consume, and the beverages we down with it.  That said, I am not writing to push any one way of eating, cooking, or approach to food in general.  It is my firm belief that lifestyle and diet is an experiment of N = 1. Everyone has a unique genetic make-up, body, and life circumstances, so who am I to know what works best for each individual.  However, I do think most can agree that consuming more plant based foods is never a bad thing.

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One of my most treasured family recipes is my Grandmother Helen’s brownies.  It is the go-to recipe I make for special occasions, and it is most often requested by my daughter, Maddie.  In fact, I created a gluten-free variation of it, so that I, too, can enjoy this wonderful and scrumptious treat.  Thus, it was the combination of the quote above and my love for my grandmother’s brownies that led me to the research I used as motivation to cobble together this recipe variation for brownies that includes more plant based foods and uses less sugar.  

I give credit and inspiration from the following sites: chocolatecoveredkatie.com, dailydozenmealplans.com, nutritionfacts.org, busbysbakery.com, and The Jaroudi Family on Youtube.  Their recipes, combined with my own experience, gave birth to this healthier variation of my grandmother’s brownies.  Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to bake Grandmother’s Helen’s version for special occasions–there’s no replacing it; however, this recipe will do, as Grandmother Helen used to say, “in a pinch,” in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, but still sneak in the healthful benefits of a few more plants into my day.

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 From my heart to yours, I appreciate you reading this and wish you much health and vitality!  I hope this will be a recipe you try! However, based upon my experience, you may not want to let your tasters know there are black beans in the brownies until AFTER they’ve eaten it!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, and be sure to share your variations with me.

Recipe below pictures ⬇️

The humble black bean can be transformed into a fiber-rich, AND delicious, sweet treat!
You can mash those black beans with your high powered mixer!
Bake them up in a pan lined with parchment paper or nonstick spray.
Then dive into the ooey-gooeyness!

Fudgy, Healthier Brownies (With Black Beans)

Ingredients:

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 fleggs* (can substitute with 2 eggs)

¾  cup cocoa powder

½ cup oats

½ cup applesauce (can substitute with ¼ cup vegetable oil)

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or white)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup or more chocolate chips

Optional: ½ cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of batter before baking OR 2-4 tablespoons of peanut or almond butter mixed into the batter before baking

Instructions:

If using flaxseed (fleggs) instead of eggs, add 2 tablespoon flaxseed to a small bowl, and add in 6 tablespoons of water.  Stir and place in the fridge for 5 minutes. 

Prepare square baking pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9) by lining with parchment paper or spraying with nonstick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, high speed blender, or with a quality mixer set on higher setting, mash beans. (You can also do this by hand.)

In a large bowl, mix mashed beans with the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT chocolate chips and nuts if using. 

If using almond or peanut butter, it SHOULD be mixed into the batter.

Using a spoon, gently fold in chocolate chips (and/or nuts if desired) into the batter.

Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Add more chocolate chips and/or nuts if desired on top for decorative effect.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Allow to cool 10+ minutes before serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge.  These brownies magically get better after a day in the refrigerator!

The Ceaseless Wonder and Amusement of Aging

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”–George Bernard Shaw

Aging is a funny thing.  Only last week, I looked in the mirror at the end of a work day and thought I saw a streak of eyeliner running up the center of my brow bone toward an eyebrow–which seemed odd.  With a shrug, I thought, “Who knows?” as I tried to wipe it off.  Then, I just had to switch my gaze to the magnifying mirror, an addition whose assistance I seem to require on a daily basis. I should have realized–since this is not the first time it happened–what I thought was a makeup streak, turned out to be a new wrinkle.  Geesh!  Another serving of Fun-for-all Aging Humble Pie, whipped up by the Chef Life.

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Heaven forbid, if I make comments about my age to my parents, they merely make jokes about it and offer encouraging comments, such as, “Just you wait,” or “You don’t know the half of it yet.”  Nonetheless, there are seemingly preternatural changes that are beginning to occur that give me pause.

For example, at work I am (along with my husband, John) in the top 5-10 oldest employees on staff; and in all honesty, we’re probably in the top five.  On the bright side, I am pretty sure it’s the first time in my life I can claim to have ever been ranked so highly! On the downside, I often pinch myself, wondering if I am in a dream state, when coworkers ask when/if I am close to retirement; or better yet, when they can have my job. It feels otherworldly to now be one of the teachers that is perceived as “old.” Of course, in my oh-so-ignorant early career years, I also thought I would be able to retire early in my 50s, and would already be working a not-so-serious retirement job. Ha! 

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In addition to my recent elevation in work rankings, there are other insidious signs that I could be aging.  It seems my skin is now changing at an alarming rate as it thins, folds, hangs, and forms once unimaginable cavernous crevices and fanciful spots.  In fact, I am pretty sure I’ve spotted (pun-intended) a miniature Australian continent currently forming on one of my cheeks and Antarctica on the other! 

Then, there are body parts that are beginning to rearrange themselves in entertaining and unprecedented ways.  Who knew cellulite could be so shifty?  And, of course, the new found plot twists of balance, digestion, sleep, and the ever elusive recovery.  I mean, my goodness, aging is an amusement park of fun–no need to pay for the Tilt-a-whirl, Bumper cars, or Scrambler here–the aging body gratefully provides this amusement for free!  

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In the midst of all this wholesome clean fun is a bit of good cheer! Since John is only a couple years older than me, he probably hasn’t noticed ANY of these so-called changes in me.  Right? After all, the changes in vision, as we age, is like walking through life in a perpetual tunnel of Funhouse mirrors.  I’m sure he’s never noticed my thinning, gray hair or any of the other deviant developments gifted to me by life.

Oh, and then there’s the shrinking height.  I can not begin to express the sheer amount of joy that GROWS within my heart, with each annual checkup, swelling my head to new proportions, as I am reminded that I have already scaled to my highest height of  4’11”, and I will never conquer anything taller. Instead, I have the good fortune of experiencing other parts of me that are now growing, like my ear lobes, nose, and jowls! Those are nasty rides of nonsense I’d rather put a stop to–the sooner the better! Sigh, I guess I am going to finally have to set aside runway model as potential retirement gig! 

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Another fun fact? Getting lucky has a new definition.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had the titillating experience of walking into a room only to wonder, “Why am I here?”  If I remember BEFORE leaving the room, I think, “Yeah, Baby, I just got lucky.”  If, however, I start walking back and remember mid-path; well, that’s at least making it to third base.  If I return all the way to my original starting point, but then remember, I’ve at least scored a single or a double. If it is the middle of the night, or the next day, before I remember, that is a definite strike-out since it probably means I’ve left the ice cream or the cheese in the car to melt into a gelatinous gooey heap of spillage that I now need to clean up. 

While I don’t seem to have yet acquired some of my acquaintances and friends’ talents, I am told that with age, they now possess an even greater ability to multitask.  One friend claims she can sneeze, pass gas, pee, and laugh all at the same time.  Meanwhile, another person states that, like George Burns, when they bend down to tie their shoes, they look around to see if there’s anything else they could do while they are down there.  In fact, I can recall my Papaw once telling me that he was living in a haunted house with my grandmother as he claimed there were lots of unexplained sounds and smells floating around the place!

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Recently, one of my 6th grade students asked me if I ever tried to rewind movies on Netflix after I finished them.  Before I could answer, another student jumped in and asked if I ever had to step over dinosaur dung when I was a kid.  While they were on this downward spiral of frivolity, another student, inspired by their knowledge of the Holy Land, asked if the Dead Sea was only sick when I was their age.  Youth, along with its pernicious sense of humor, is indeed wasted on the young!

In the meantime, I’ll keep plucking those gray hairs sprouting in random places like spring onions in a flower bed.  I’ll continue to write-off forgetful moments to, “Sometimers,” and I’ll continue to be grateful that cellphones and social media were NOT things when I was coming of age.  In fact, I am pretty sure in bourbon or wine years, I haven’t even begun to reach perfection, but I’m leaning closer!

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 So good news, Dear Readers, if you’re reading this, the best is yet to come–no matter your age.  It’s like riding a roller coaster, as our age keeps climbing, so does our sense of humor and our sense of humility as we watch other things start sliding. Besides, I prefer to think I’ll never be “over the hill”; after all, I’ll forget where the dog-gone hill is, or I’ll be too tired to climb it!

Here’s to life! With age comes wisdom, so I am eagerly anticipating my rise to near-genius level! In the meantime, as once suggested by the great Will Rogers, if we could perhaps get Congress to take issue with aging, we could at least be guaranteed that the aging process would be slowed down for years to come! 

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