Spot: A Humorous Story on Crisis Management

“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” Amit Ray

 

“In times of crisis, it’s wonderful what the imagination will do.”–Ruskin Bond

 

“I swear!  You all love that thing more than me!” Madelyn, our nearly 21 year old emphatically states. 

 

We knew Spot was stuck based upon the sound that came from the back of the house.  It was a clear message, a signal for help, a call to find Spot. Immediately, I made my way from the kitchen table, where I was working virtually and walked towards the back part of the house.  

 

I headed straight to our bedroom, deeply bending to look under the dresser.  Spot, not fully recognizing his size, often becomes stuck there since becoming part of our home. Next, I lifted the bed skirt to look under our bed, but Spot was not there.  What about the bathroom?  Nope, not there. 

 

 Deciding to try Maddie’s room, I looked under her bed, around corners, and in her closet, but no Spot.  Moving to what was once a guest bedroom, but I don’t spot him there either.

 

“Where could that little rapscallion be?” I say out loud.

 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mom.  You’re ridiculous,” states Maddie, her voice full of censure. 

 

“But, Maddie, he’s like the baby brother you never had!  Did you hide him?”

 

“Dad, do you hear her?  Do you hear Mom?  I swear she’s more attached to that thing than you or I!”

 

“Would you two stop talking and help me find Spot?  He can’t just disappear out of our house.  Our doors weren’t open,” I say full of exasperation as I peek into the hall bathroom, return to our bedroom, and back again to Maddie’s bedroom.

 

John and Maddie join in the search, but Maddie won’t let up.

 

“Dad, she thinks I would hide him.”

 

A few minutes later, “Mom, do you really think I would hide, Spot?”

 

Then, from the once guest bedroom I hear John’s voice, “There you are, you little rascal.  How’d you get under there?”

 

I walk in just as John helps free Spot from underneath my mammaw’s old wardrobe. I pick up Spot, wipe him off gently, and carry him back to the kitchen.

 

“Poor little fella. You were really stuck.” I commented rhetorically as I put him on his charging station.

 

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Can you spot the message?

 

Spot is a Roomba, a robot sweeper.  Spot was an at-home purchase early into the COVID19 crisis.   It has not only been a source of sweepingly clean floors, but also spirited frivolity, filling-in the vacuum of our once humorless virtual work space.  The jokes are endless.

 

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John and I tease Maddie that Spot is her baby brother.  Maddie often retorts to John that Spot is the hardest working male she’s ever been around.  I make fun of all of us by saying that Spot is the most reliable member of our house.  The list goes on . . .

 

 

Spot is helping us clean up our act!

 

“Let’s tape my phone to the top of it, blast Spotify, and call it, DJ Spot!”

 

“Hey, Tippi Tail,” we say to our female cat staring at Spot.  “Are you looking for some good, clean fun.”

 

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Tippi Tail is just looking for some good clean fun!

 

“Hey, John! Do you know what we could call you if you stood on the Roomba? ‘Johnny on the Spot!’”

 

This past weekend, I was shopping at two different local stores.  From week to week, it is interesting to notice the changes that occur.  This week, the yellow tape and security remained, but directional arrows were newly located in most store aisles.  Furthermore, more people were visibly sporting masks, bandanas, and/or gloves.  However, the biggest transformation that I observed was a change in shoppers’ mood/behavior.  

 

I observed numerous people, adults and kids, in both locations clad in pajama pants and slippers. This was nothing new, but not this many. Likewise, there were so many more children with parents than I normally would see, and they were not wearing any protection over their face or on their hands. I guess no job, equals no babysitter.  Plus, foul body odors abounded, in spite of the mask I wore.  How was this explained?  Most of all, though, I kept encountering angry people–angry about a lack of supplies, angry about prices, angry about the amount of overtime or loss of job completely . . . . The list of blaring complaints seemed endless.

 

In fact, I thought one furious man might strike me.  He was walking down an aisle, towards me, in the opposite direction of the store’s designated sign.  I paused, stepped aside to allow him to pass with the greatest distance between us.  His neck muscles were taut, and his lips were sealed into a long, thin line.  He looked me up and down with an air of disgust.  I wasn’t wearing make-up, my now graying hair was (and still is) in need of a trim, but I was shower-fresh that morning and modestly dressed–not offensive by any means.  It was like a slow-motion scene as he began blurting out every swear word created by man, his face turning red with exertion and his eyes not really focused on me.  Then, just as sharply, he turned on his heels, and marched away, shaking his head.  And, while I did not encounter any more people filled with as much venom as this man, tempers continued flaring-up as I made my way through the stores. 

 

Yes, staying at home is hard; and, yes, I am so fortunate to still have a job with the ability to work from home.  I fully recognize that not everyone has that luxury.  Therefore, I certainly will not pretend to know how awful this experience must be for those without a current source of income.  Truly, it must be a nightmare filled with worry about how to feed the family, pay bills, stay afloat, and pray you don’t get sick.  Even if there is the assurance that bills don’t have to be paid now, that money will eventually have to be paid.  Maybe these were the kinds of worries this man, and so many others I encountered, were experiencing.  Maybe the pajamas, the kids, the body odor, and anger were revealing the levels of great depression many people are currently experiencing.  

 

 Each time I now go out into the public realm, I try to keep a respectful distance, and follow the best medical advice regarding covering my face and keeping my hands clean. I try to  convey a smile through my eyes, since my mouth and nose are covered.  “Thank you for working,” is a phrase I speak as often as possible to the workers I do encounter.  

 

I could choose to complain and cry about this crisis, but this weekend reminded me that there are many people hurting far greater than any of my complaints, and my heart genuinely goes out to them.  I wish I could make it all better with a collective virtual hug, but I cannot. 

 

Therefore, I offer my story of Spot to serve as a reminder for all of us to find a way to laugh daily; remain resilient in spite of the fact we are all stuck in a challenging spot; and, remember to offer as much kindness as we can to others with whom we encounter and interact.  We may never know what the other person is going through, but we can reframe our reaction to one of positivity, hope, and compassion.

 

“I hope no one steals Spot.  If they do, they’ll probably make a clean getaway!”

 

 

As an added bonus, we tried to film ourselves thanking those who are still working in the public, but clearly we were swept by silliness.  There was no vacuum of laughter here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin-Blueberry Scones, with Gluten Free Variation

I just can’t pass the scones up if they’re there. They’re soft and light and a little bit salty.  Sometimes I dream about them.”–Rainbow Rowell

 

I remind my American readers that biscuits in England and Australia are crispy and flat things such as you call cookies, and the soft doughy things you call biscuits are what we call scones.  And they say we speak the same language . . .”–Kerry Greenwood

 

I owe much gratitude for this recipe, the research that went into it, and everything I learned as a result of it to Jacki and Tony Humphreys, both of whom are wonderful cooks and greatly loved family!  For as long as I have known them, they’ve loved the art of cooking and the gathering that often goes with it. I’m fortunate to have been, and continue to be, raised, influenced, and surrounded by family, on all sides, who love to cook.

 

In particular, I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread are some of my favorite things to create, but I’ve dabbled in other forms of baking, but never scones.  I suppose I could count the times that I made biscuits from scratch–which are supposed to be similar to scones– but, trust me, I would not be able to tick off all five fingers on one hand for the number of times I baked biscuits, and that was years ago!  

 

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Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

 

Scones just sounded intimidated, but what I came to find, thanks to Jacki and Tony, is that I actually enjoyed baking them a bit better than made-from-scratch biscuits.  Perhaps, it is because, at least for this recipe, scones require less precision than biscuits. Then again, mounding the dough into two circular blobs was certainly entertaining, and the aromatic scent of this recipe throughout the process was likewise pleasant.  Whatever the reason, while I wouldn’t call this a simple recipe, it certainly wasn’t overly complicated either.

 

When Jacki and Tony first gave me a box of gluten free, plain scone mix, I set it on the counter for a week, looking at it as it stood erect, menacingly communicating that only real experts can make these, and I was a complete a total baking fraud–which is sort of true–I am NOT by any means, a professional baker.  As the days passed, I would occasionally pick up the box, read the directions, put it down again, and walk away feeling a knot in my stomach. Why was I letting this inanimate object unnerve me? 

 

                      Cut eight tablespoons of butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or if                          you don’t have a pastry cutter, see substitutions below.***          

 

Knowledge is power, right? Right.  Or so I told myself at the end of the week when I decided to dive into the world of Google in order to discover all that there is to know about making scones.  Ok, ok, maybe not ALL, not even close, but I certainly read several educational and informative pieces on scone-baking. Much to my delight, the scone recipes that most resonated with me did not require kneading; and furthermore, when cutting the butter into the flour mixture, the butter did not have to be evenly crumbled.  In fact, large chunks of butter were permitted. Baking scones might be doable after all!

 

Rolling up my proverbial sleeves, I decided that it was time to play.  What’s the worst that could happen? If I messed up, and the scones were a total flop, then I would have plenty of freshly baked scone scraps to feed the birds.  While I don’t particularly like wasting perfectly good ingredients, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I had fed the birds the flopped results of a well-intended recipe!

 

            Ok, so they are not the most attractive looking blobs!  Give a gal a break.  I am NOT              a professional baker, and it was my first attempt at baking scones.  Still, they were                gluten-free, (Although you don’t have to bake yours that way, Dear Reader.) and                     delicious!

 

In the end, I cobbled together this recipe that I share with you today.  My husband, John, and my daughter, Madelyn, were my official taste-testers.  Both were surprised by the texture, at least for this variation, was more like muffin–albeit less sweet.  Maddie, who suggested the pumpkin/blueberry flavor combination, observed that the scones weren’t super sweet, so she tried topping them with pure maple syrup, honey, and even whipped cream.  John, slathered them with butter, and he further suggested that a vanilla glaze drizzled on top might be a nice addition for those wanting to sweeten up this recipe a bit. Meanwhile, I was greatly relieved that I didn’t have to feed the local bird population!

 

Give this recipe a try when you’re hankering to bake something different.  It makes a nice addition to breakfast that would be especially tasty served with some fresh fruit and yogurt, or it makes a nice dessert or snack for later in the day.  And, for those of you like me who need a gluten-free option, the great thing about baking scones is that you simply replace all the purpose flour with a gluten free variation, and everything else about the recipe stays the same, unlike other bread recipes I’ve made.

 

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

 

                     Serve these scones up with pure maple syrup, honey, or butter as my husband,                         John is did!

 

 

Pumpkin Blueberry Scones

 

Ingredients

2 ¾ cup all purpose flour (I use gluten-free.)

⅓  cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt* 

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice**  

8 tablespoons cold butter, sliced thinly

⅔ cup pumpkin

2 large eggs

¼ cup plain or vanilla yogurt (Can substitute milk with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice added, allowing it to sit for 3 minutes before adding to the recipe.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon orange extract

1 cup blueberries, if frozen thaw in colander to allow liquid to drain off

2 tablespoon cinnamon & sugar mixture or sparkling white sugar

 

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, if you don’t have parchment you can simply grease the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices.

Using a pastry cutter,*** work in the sliced butter until it is crumbly.  This process is very forgiving because it doesn’t have to be evenly crumbly, and large butter chunks are ok! 

In a separate mixing bowl, stir together pumpkin, eggs, yogurt, vanilla, and orange extract

Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients until everything is incorporated, then gently fold in blueberries.

Sprinkle parchment lined (or greased) baking sheet with a bit of flour.

Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the baking sheet, (the dough will be a bit sticky), immediately divide in half, and form two flattened circles about ¾” inch thick.

Brush with milk if desired and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or sparkling white sugar.

Using a knife that’s been run under cold water, slice each circle into 6-8 even wedges.

Then, I know this sounds crazy, but I promise this works, set the pan in your freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while the dough is in the freezer.

Bake 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.  (If using gluten-free flour, baking sometimes takes longer, so monitor carefully. This should not come out of the oven wet or doughy.) 

Serve warm, and store leftovers in an airtight container (or zippered bag) in the fridge.  

Rewarm leftovers in the microwave or stove for a few moments before serving.

These kept nicely for a week in our fridge.

Makes 12-16, depending upon how you cut the circles of dough.

 

My daughter and I found this was delicious served with pure maple syrup as well as honey, while my husband topped it with butter.  Additionally, my daughter also topped the scones with whipped cream.  

 

  

Additional notes: 

*You can also use a scone baking mix–which should have the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Just check the ingredients list first to ensure it does.

 

**If you don’t have cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, you can simply use 1 ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. 

 

***If you don’t have a pastry cutter, you can use a food processor (but don’t over overwork dough), two butter knives, a sturdy fork, or you can even use a box grater and grate the very cold (or even frozen) butter into flour mixture, making it easier to cut into mixture with forks or knives.

 

Transmit Good for the Well-being of Self and Others

“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.”–Leo Tolstoy

 

“The first thing a kindness deserves is acceptance, the second, transmission.”–George MacDonald

 

As a kid, my parents had this small, portable silver and black transistor radio that could be moved throughout the house and even outside–depending upon the user and setting.  As best I recall, it had a telescoping antenna, so it had the ability to pick up both AM and FM radio stations. From my young girl perspective, it was a tried and true piece of seemingly magical technology that appeared to work with the raising and lowering of the antennae and a twist of a knob.

 

I can remember seeing it in my parents bedroom window tuned to WGNT in the mornings, so that they could hear weather updates and/or school closings.  I’d watch Dad carefully adjusting the dial to listen to a Reds game while he was outside washing and/or tinkering with the family car on Saturday mornings.  Mom often tuned in and listened to it while working in the backyard hanging up laundry to dry; then later, taking it down; or when soaking up the sunshine while reading a current novel.  I can even recall the way it traveled with my dad through all the various modifications and additions to our family house whenever he was in construction-mode. 

 

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As seen on Pintrest

 

This radio worked best when placed in a window if being used indoors; whereas, if it was being used out of doors, it worked better, especially when the antennae was fully extended.  As a young girl, I would beg to use that radio, especially if I were outside. I’d slide the tiny black block to the FM position, and then I’d slowly rotate the wheel-like dial on the side of it until the red line fell somewhere just past 100 on the dial for WKEE, “Playing all your favorite hits!”  I felt so grown up. 

 

Listening to music on that long-ago transistor radio must be similar to how I have envisioned it is like to play a slot machine at a casino.  Just before lifting the handle, a prayer is offered, pleading for matching images to come up, dreaming of the money that could be won. I can only imagine the let-down that occurs when those images don’t match, but just as quickly, the way in which hope appears once more.  Maybe, just maybe, with another pull of the handle, the winning images will happen this time!

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As seen on catawiki

 

In a similar manner, as a young girl, I’d hold my breath as I turned on the radio, praying that my favorite tune would be played next. 

 

 “If only the radio played  _________ song next. That would be perfect!”  

 

Still I had to endure those dang commercials, the lengthy live broadcasts from local businesses hawking their wares, or the overplayed-no-longer-greatest-song-ever-created.

 

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I kept coming back though, kept tuning that radio to the same station, the exact same frequency because I knew eventually, a good song would be played, my mood would be lifted or enhanced, and I could dance, sing, or be-bop my head to the beat.  Ultimately, I even developed the ability to ignore most of what I perceived as the negative side of radio–tuning out most commercials and songs that were no longer of interest to me.  

 

As I became older, I was even given that same radio for use once my parents no longer used it. I also kept that radio poised in one of the windows of the bedroom I shared with my sister, antenna fully raised, and tuned into one of my then favorite local frequencies–WKEE, WAMX, or ROCK105–depending upon the mood and type of music I wanted to hear. That radio, in spite of its age, when properly tuned, still had the ability to receive and transmit a good song, positively influencing my mood, increasing my energy level, and elevating my spirit. 

 

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What if now, more than ever, we begin to tune our mental dial, as if it were a radio, so that when the mind begins its broken record loop of the-I’m-not-worthy-message; the he-said-she-said banter; the if-only-I-had/did-that-then-everything-would-be-perfect scenario; the what-if-this-happens, then what-will-I-do vignette; the if-only-my-life-were-more-like-this-person-or-that person story; or, any other of the other negative mental dialogue in which we sometimes engage, we instead, choose to dial up another station–like one does with a car radio.  We try tuning-in to another way of thinking/talking to self–choosing thoughts and words that are more positive, encouraging, or at the very least, begin to accept and acknowledge, with great tenderness, our worries and concerns. Then, maybe, with continued practice, we could then begin to raise our inner antennae, our heart, to its highest vibration–one that is more compassionate, empathetic, and authentic. 

 

As I write these words, I fully recognize and know first hand that  COVID-19 has pushed many people to the edge. I think about loved ones, friends, and acquaintances who have lost jobs and their source of income; those who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are daily at risk for exposure; there are those who are quarantined by themselves–not even with a pet for a companion; there are those who are elderly, frail, sick, fighting cancer or other debilitating disease who can no longer shop for themselves and are dealing with heavens-known-what physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges; and, well, my list can go . . .  People are hurting, and my heart aches for these dear, distressed souls. 

 

 

On the other side, I have witnessed the way in which this crisis has inspired people to transmit good, to offer themselves in service, in kindness, and in generating positivity.  These hopeful actions inspire me to keep writing, keep encouraging, and keep focusing on the good. Don’t get me wrong, Dear Reader, like many of you, I have moments where I simply sit and cry–acknowledging and feeling the pain, the loss, the fear, the anguish, the stress, and the worries of so many beloved ones. Eventually, however, I turn my proverbial inner dial and switch-off the so-called sorrow station in my head and focus on what I can do.

 

Cultivating and disciplining our inner channel is never easy. Wallowing in our sorrow can feel like the easiest choice, the clearest transmission, if you will.  However, we can change the station–the inner narrative–at any time. We can choose to focus on at least one positive thing per day; find at least one thing for which to be grateful; and, reach out to at least one person outside of our home–especially those in most need of our love and attention.  

 

 

Let us seek, discover, and tune in more frequently to positive words, readings, conversations, and, well, even songs.  Let us uplift others as well as our own self. In the words of my daughter–words that she carefully painted on the grass of our yard–let us, “Spread love not germs.”  And, while we’re at it, let us remember to likewise transmit a good dose of self-compassion and self-love.  

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Like tuning into a radio station on that old transistor radio took time and patience, so too can we learn, with time, to sensitively transmit at a higher frequency for the greater good of self and others.  In the words of the Scottish author, poet, and writer, George MacDonald, “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would giving as the angels would give.” 

 

 May we learn to give as the angels would give.

Slow Down, My Friend, and Gather Some Blossoms

“You can go slow.  Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life.”–Kumail Nanjiani

 

“You’re only here for a short visit.  Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”–Walter Hagen

 

 

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“Feather your nest,” states the soothing baritone voice emanating from my ipad as I settle down on the floor with my legs bent back under me and my bum resting on a yoga block.  I take a long, slow inhalation pause at the top and then sigh out the exhale. I try to simultaneously melt my shoulders away from ears in an attempt to bring relaxation to my body while also attempting to focus on the next deep belly inhalation.  Parting my lips once more, I sigh out the exhale, and then gently close my lips in preparation for the remainder of practice. Inhale . . .

 

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More consistent morning meditation has been one off-shoot from working from home.  After the first rough week trying to wrap my head around not only how to convey what typically transpires in my 6th-8th grade Reading/Language Arts class–the conventions and intricacies of writing, the interpretations and methodology of literary devices, and the motivation and encouragement for the not-so-simple task of reading a novel–but also, determining the best ways to finesse, manage, and deliver various educational platforms and content to students, I quickly deduced that if I don’t calm my inner dialogue down, abate the pressure I put on myself, and relax my mind, I was going to quickly spiral into a dark, dank inner hole of depression, self-loathing, and burnout.  Thus, enter, my morning meditation practice before my work day at home begins.

 

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My personality type tends to sense and judge.  Both of these skills in and of themselves are not, per se, bad things.  I can often sense others’ emotions and moods. Thus, in a classroom, I can typically discern, fairly quickly, when a lesson and/or my instruction is or isn’t working as I had thought it would.  Knowing when to downshift, upshift, or make a hard turn in instructional delivery is not a skill that universities taught me. For sure, my higher education has provided me excellent foundational knowledge; however, by and large, it is my inner compass, informed by over 30 years of experience, as well as my intrinsic desire to learn and improve that are the pillars rising up from that long ago laid foundation upon which I most rely.  But, now, the walls of my classroom, the students that fill it, and the staff that surround me are all physically gone. G. O. N. E. Therefore, my inner-compass was spinning during that first week of virtual school.

 

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BOOM!  Like high tide rolling in while boogie boarding on the surf of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I know, as the waves begin to grow in size and strength, that there is a strong chance that a big one will come along and knock me off the board into the notoriously strong undertow, sucking me further downshore.  That was COVID-19 for me. It began at low tide as the storm clouds ploddingly gathered far off on the other side of the globe. The storm, it appeared, was over-there-somewhere, but as the days and weeks passed, the skies grew darker, more menacing, more determined, and most of all, closer. Like the domino trains I once made as a kid on my grandparents table, the domino fall continued its winding path.  Then, when the governor of Ohio closed schools and universities, a shock wave went through my school setting. I knew it was only a matter of time. Clink, clink, the domino that was WV schools and universities fell in the line.

 

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After that intense and stressful first week of virtual education for students, parents, and staff, spring break blessedly arrived the following week.  Of course, everyone was home, but we could all hit the pause button, take time to reflect, evaluate, and make adjustments accordingly. The realization that COVID-19 is a process, with regard to nearly everything, became crystal clear to many, especially me.  Like the rapid fire of a machine gun, life lessons were exploding all around, and there was no running for cover.  This. Was. (and is) For. Real.

 

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And yet . . .

 

And yet, the blossoms of spring are abounding.  There is time to savor their scents–some sweet, some delicate, and others pungent or even spicy. Traffic has slowed, and at times, nearly stopped outside the state route near our home, allowing birdsong to be heard more clearly as well as the peck, peck, pecking of the wood-pecker, and making the imitating calls of the mockingbird more noticeable.  The steady hum of the flight of fat and fuzzy bumble bees are noticeably more, well, loud. Time is more available to pull those weeds, instead of sighing as I rush past them on my way to hither and thither. Dinner is being cooked more slowly, and conversations with loved ones are occurring with more frequency.  

 

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Still, in the background is the ever-present disquietude of worry, concern, and even hand-wringing moments when I think about family, loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, and so forth.  Will they all remain healthy? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Already, we have friends who have been exposed. Will they recover? We can only pray and hope. Meanwhile, there are friends and acquaintances in the medical field or who work to provide essential services who are out in the public every single day.  Will they remain safe? And let’s not forget the ever present search for toilet paper, (who knew?) disinfectant wipes/cleaner, masks, medical equipment . . .  

 

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We can’t hug our loved ones not living in our own home, shake a friend’s hand, or console an acquaintance with a pat on the back.  Must. Stay. Six. Feet. Apart.

 

What can we do?  What can I do?

 

We can slow down. We can adjust our goals, our ways of working, our way of thinking, and our ways of demonstrating love, care, and concern.  We can live with new found intentions. We can pray, meditate, and practice gratitude for all of our blessings. We can try to worry less; and instead, rely on our faith.  We can go outside and soak up the natural world. We can stop, smell, and savor the flowers as well as all good moments. In fact, I believe we should soak up every positive event, moment, and thought as if we were camels preparing for a journey through the desert.  

 

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In the end, life is sweet but short, like the colors of spring unfolding around us now.  Therefore, in the infamous words of a poem my parents have often quoted, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may . . .”.  May you, Dear Reader, and may I, take time today to gather some rosebuds and to give some rosebuds. Afterall, “ . . . Old Time is still a-flying . . .”.

 

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Gluten-free Chocolate Banana Bread

Like many others quarantined at home, I have been cooking and baking quite a bit more than I usually do.  Additionally, John, my husband, and I are exploring more plant-based recipes. (I don’t eat meat, but John will order a meat based dish on the two nights per week we order take-out in order to support local restaurants during this COVID-19 outbreak–although I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to grill up some meaty morsel at some point.)  What we are finding is that we enjoy what we consider more fun-based and/or comfort based type foods. Examples would include pasta, based dishes, Mexican-inspired variations (tacos, enchiladas, nachos and so forth), and a weekly baked sweet treat. Nothing fancy, mind you, just good ol’ homemade goodness.

 

On a recent grocery order, I thought I ordered two bananas, but when my groceries arrived at my car, I had an entire bunch.  Rather than make a fuss with the poor overworked grocery staffer (God bless them for working during this crisis–seriously.), I just kept the entire bunch of bananas knowing that in the worst case scenario, if they didn’t all get eaten, I could either freeze them or bake-up something with them.  

 

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Photo by Juan Salamanca on Pexels.com

 

Sure enough, I ended up with 3 large ripe bananas.  I started to freeze them, but then thought about the banana bread I used to make with mini-chocolate chips.  As I began looking through my past recipes, the thought hit me. I wonder if there are recipes out there for chocolate, chocolate-chip banana bread?  Hmm . . .

 

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Thus, began my research into the recipe idea. There were literally hundreds of recipe ideas, so I narrowed my search down further to plant-based ideas.  Again, I found hundreds of these variations as well–some with cocoa, others with melted chocolate, some with nuts and/or nut butter, and some with oil . . . well, the list went on.  Therefore, I read recipe reviews and taste notes and began cobbling together my own recipe variation.

 

 

 

First of all, the batter itself is thick, rich, and fun to lick up!  (I always think of my Grandmother Helen when I lick a spoon at the end, stating, “Here’s to you Helen!”  It’s a family thing.) Secondly, the redolent scent of sweet bread baking in the oven is sinfully delightful and highly recommended on a rainy or chilly day when you won’t have your windows open.  Lastly, the taste and texture only gets better with time–just like a good banana bread should. That said, you do need to refrigerate this in order to make it stay fresh for a week, but it will still get more moist and more sweet with each passing day.

 

 

 

My husband and daughter served this warmed with redi-whip on top as a dessert or snack.  I ate it out of the fridge for a quick and easy grab and go (well, go to work virtually) no-fuss, little-clean-up breakfast.  I especially loved to smear it with peanut butter or PB2–it was like eating a Reese’s cup for breakfast!

 

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Slice it up and eat plain, or top it with a wide variety of sweet or savory toppings.

 

Why don’t you give it a try the next time you end up with a few overripe bananas?  In fact, if you’re willing to go into the grocery store, you could buy overripe bananas from the produce clearance bin for next to nothing.  Not only does it make a great dessert, snack, or breakfast, it can also be frozen for up to a month or so!

 

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals and sweet treats!

 

Fresh out of the oven goodness!

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Look at that moist center of melted chocolate chip gooeyness!

 

 

Gluten-free, Chocolate Banana Bread 

(Plant-based, no-oil option)

Ingredients:

2 cups over-ripe mashed banana (about 3 large ripe bananas)

2 ½  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

2-4 tablespoons of favorite nut butter (peanut, cashew, almond, sunflower) or 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I split the difference and went with 3 tablespoons of almond butter.)

⅔ cup date syrup (or maple syrup, honey or agave)

1 ¾ cup all-purpose baking flour or gluten-free variation

½ cup unsweetened pure cocoa powder + 2 more tablespoons dutch cocoa powder, if have on hand, but regular cocoa powder is fine

¼ cup sugar or stevia

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate mini-morsels

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper, so that the paper overhangs sides. (I used 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 pan.)

Mash bananas and measure.

Then, add bananas and next four ingredients into large blender cup

Blend until smooth and creamy and pour into a medium mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients EXCEPT chocolate morsels.

Mix dry ingredients with a fork until no white powder remains.

Gradually fold in dry ingredients into wet, scraping down the side.

Gently stir in ½ cup semi-sweet or dark morsels

Carefully pour in batter and smooth over top of batter.

Sprinkle with remaining mini-morsels and gently press into batter.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Turn off the oven and leave in the oven an additional ten minutes.

Remove from the oven, lift bread out of the pan holding on to parchment paper, and set on the cooling rack to cool.

**Store in the refrigerator.  

**It’s also easier to slice once stored in the fridge. My daughter and I were eager to taste this bread once baked because the aroma that filled our house while baking left our mouths watering.  However, I sliced off both heels (She doesn’t like them, but they don’t bother me!) set in the fridge for several hours, keeping it on the parchment paper, but moving it to a plate.  

Then, when I removed it from the fridge, I found it MUCH easier to slice and store it in a sturdy bread container, but keeping it in the fridge.

Stores in the refrigerator for up to five days or so.

Makes ten average-size slices.

 

Pollinate Our Present with Positivity

“If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof.  If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

There is an old country adage that states not every hole has a snake.  In other words, just because you saw a snake disappear into a hole doesn’t mean that every snake lives in a hole.  Nor, does it mean that every recess in the ground will be home to a snake. This simple proverb is a warning guarding against stereotypes and preconceived beliefs/judgements.

 

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Photo by mark broadhurst on Pexels.com

 

As a resident of Ohio who works in WV, I have often heard my students and coworkers make fun of Ohio drivers.  

 

“Ms. Hill, my mom was so mad this morning because this car was driving so slow in the passing lane. And, guess where the car was from? (Insert dramatic pause here.) Ohio! Of course!”

 

Likewise, when I worked in Ohio, there were numerous jokes about Kentucky drivers, and when I worked in Kentucky, there were jokes about both Ohio and WV drivers, depending upon a person’s leanings. The point is there are always going to be both good and bad drivers in any given state–it all depends upon what you train your eye to see. 

 

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Photo by karen Alchin on Pexels.com

 

Not far from where I live, there is a group of pay-fishing lakes that lay on the outside of a curvy section of the county road in which I often travel.  Between two of these lakes, beside one of the deepest parts of the biggest bend, is a tall, but dead and decaying tree. Quite often, congregating at the top of this inky dark rangy tree, is a venue of  buzzards. 

 

This past week, my college-age daughter, Madelyn, and I were driving along this twisty road on our way to a local walking path when I slowed the car to a halt in order to allow a buzzard to cross the road in front of me.  It ambled as if it were on Sunday stroll and heading back to the ground entry floor to its treetop apartment. Its beady eyes seemed to look at our car, then peck at something in the road, and finally made its way to the grassy curb, so we could continue.

 

Madelyn made some sort of comment about how cute the bird was, and she followed this comment up with a not-so-serious question as to whether or not we could take the bird home.  Being my ever-sarcastic self, I merely rolled my eyes at her query and continued driving. However, this was not the end of it.

 

Madelyn continued commenting on the cuteness of the bird.  Eventually I reminded her that this so-called cute bird was a buzzard.  She persisted to cling to her admiration.

 

“Don’t you see them nearly every day you drive by this tree?” I dryly asked.

 

“Yes, but I’ve never seen one up close. That makes it different.”  

 

Then, a song from her childhood began to echo throughout our vehicle, and Maddie switched from talking about the buzzard to singing a line from the song before regaling me with an anecdote about this once childhood TV star turned singer.

 

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Part of the “beauty” of COVID-19 is spending more time with my artsy and analytical daughter, Madelyn, as well as our two cats, LJ, in Maddie’s arms, and Tippi-tail, beside her.

 

It would be days later as I watched my daughter “arting,” as she calls it, that I recalled her observations of the buzzard.   After two years of taking nothing but science courses–enough to already earn her a chemistry minor–Madelyn is now an art major–previously, her chosen minor.  Thus, her mind can switch back and forth with a fair amount of ease from the analytic to the creative. It’s kinda like being ambidextrous–only mentally.

 

I share this because now that she is back living at home in order to pursue art at the local university, Marshall, she has opened my eyes to a number of my “vision flaws.” For example, buzzards, Maddie would point out serve a very real and valuable purpose for the world–ridding the natural world of dead and decaying animals flesh.  “It’s all how you look at it, Mom.” While this is quite true, I began to see a lesson forming regarding the buzzard, but not in the same way Maddie was seeing it.

 

One of the very things I admire about buzzards is how high they soar and fly.  In fact, watching them circle and glide on the air over the hills surrounding my home is like observing an aeronautical ballet.  With all the height of their heavenly soarings, however, they still choose to look down in order to pick, peck, and probe dead flesh, yet with each flight, they nearly touch the face of God.

 

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Buzzards fly so high, they nearly touch the face of God, and yet, they keep their gaze focus downward in order to feed upon fallen prey.

 

Meanwhile, the compact hummingbird possesses a likewise graceful flight pattern.  However, rather than setting its sights high, this aerodynamic creature flies closer to ground seeking blossoming sources of nectar (sweetness)–all the while pollinating flowering plants.  Hummingbirds’ vision focuses on the Divinely created colorful beauty of this world. Buzzards, on the other hand, ascend celestially, but ultimately, dive to dine on the deceased. Both birds are useful to the balance of the world, and yet, I think there is a lesson for those of us living in the new world of COVID-19.

 

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Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Pexels.com

 

We can choose to be like the buzzards, soaring close to the heavens, but choosing to continuously look down to feed upon fallen prey; or, we can choose to humbly fly closer to earth, not always visible to others, but nonetheless peacefully pollinating the earth with granules of positivity and hope.  In fact, the hummingbird’s present moment flight promotes a continuation of flowering plants for not only unknown passersby to enjoy, but also it creates additional food sources for future hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. 

 

Dear Reader, let us not be like the buzzard, soaring high on the wings of sanctimony, looking down in order to feed upon the geography of misfortune of others who may have experienced and/or unintentionally spread this illness.  Rather, may we fly humbly like the hummingbird, spreading hope like a hummingbird spreads the pollen of the spring flowers surrounding us. May our time at home be used as an opportunity to clear our vision, plant seeds of love through simple acts such as regularly checking in with family and friends via phone call, facetime, or texts.  Furthermore, may we acknowledge the sacrifice and labor of health-care providers and those employees of businesses who must continue to work in the public realm in order to provide us with provisions of food, supplies, and basic medicine needs. 

 

In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”  May we take care of this present moment as if we were touching the very face of the heavens from our own earth-bound homes.

 

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Take care of the present moment as if touching the face of the heavens.

 

Where Flowers Bloom So Does Hope

“Blossom by blossom the spring begins.”–Algernon Charles Swinburne

 

“I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”–William Wordsworth

 

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Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

 

A co-worker had joked about it in the previous week’s Friday staff meeting.

 

“Get ready!  Next week, there’s a full moon and it ends with Friday the 13th!”

 

We all laughed good-naturedly as there is something about full moons that, anecdotally, seems to bring out, well, the “high-spirited” side of students.  Of course, I’ve been in the education world long enough to know that all student behavior is cyclical, developmental, and dependent upon multiple variables, rather than the size of the moon. Still, we had no idea the real foreboding that my co-worker’s good-natured joke held  . . .

 

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I was only minorly concerned, but throughout the weekend, as the evidence and data continued to mount, so did my concern.  By the beginning of the week, more and more states were affected by something called, COVID-19. What had once seemed like an other-worldly concern was unfolding into a harsh reality. Day-by-day, as this past week progressed, like dominoes in a line, more and more closings, including colleges, began to occur.  By Wednesday, when Marshall University decided to close for a minimum of three weeks, the pulse of Hungtington, WV, was palpable, especially at our school, one block away from MU. Thursday’s new reality became a, “Not an if, but when we close” scenario; and by Friday, with a decision from WV Governor Justice, plans began to swiftly be created for our school’s students, and the majority of staff, beginning the following Monday, to remain at home “indefinitely” as instruction would become virtual.  Life with COVID-19 was now part of the Tri-State area.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Simultaneously, while all the news outlets were filled with stories of COVID-19’s proliferation, spring was silently and nonchalantly populating the landscape.  Daffodils displayed their buttery bonnet capped blossoms. Willow tree branches, that were already gradually unveiling their green, were now fully encumbered with vividly green leaves.  Long and lithe brambles of delicate, golden forsythia waved hello in the shifting winds of the week. Throughout town and countryside alike, seemingly snow-capped trees expanded their blossomy branches.  Furthermore, spring’s chorus could be heard through the cheerful morning birdsong and the goodnight tune of the spring peepers. Meanwhile the dipping and darting return flight of the brilliant blue birds added another harmonious line in spring’s song.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Those with whom I shared conversations about spring’s renewal seemed to concur that spring’s annual showing was early for the Tri-State area.  I thought about this as I walked outside this past Saturday, taking in the surrounding spring sights. I wondered if there was a lesson in this seemingly premature unfolding of nature’s glory.  Clearly, trees, flowers, shrubs, and even animals do not adhere to a calendar, much less a specific schedule. These heavenly creations only sense when the conditions are right. With winter’s mild temperatures, the large quantities of rain throughout the winter months, and the increasing amount of sunlight, nature took its cue to raise the curtain for spring’s first act.  And so it is with COVID-19 . . . 

 

 

The conditions have been right and the evolution of a new way of living and talking continues expanding its reach like the brambly branches of forsythia, blowing in the ever-shifting direction of the spring winds. One blossom, so to speak, begets another, and another, and soon enough, just as the forsythia began to reveal its blossoms one branch at time, COVID-19 has begun to send out branches of a virus around the world, blooming into pandemic proportions.  Hand-washing, social distancing, quarentines, and even toilet paper are now words worthy of near-like worship and focus.  

 

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Meanwhile spring keeps on shining–continuing to beautify the world at a time when chaos, stress, tension, and concern seem to overburgeon our lives like those spring blossoms seem to over-burgeon trees.  Sweet spring, be it ever-so-early, is signaling us to blossom into our fullest potential in the midst of this crisis–becoming the best versions of ourselves. We cannot fall into an, “us vs them” mentality, rather like spring, we must use these conditions to unite us to navigate together.  

 

It is the fullness of the spring orchestra–the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the grass, the birds, the peepers, and so forth–that dresses-up nature, marking the end of gray winter months.  Thus, it must be with the fullness of our humanity, our compassion, our ingenuity, our hardiness, and well, a good dose of patience and humor that must likewise band together for the symphony of survival.  

 

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Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

 

I sincerely believe that each of us is a creation of God, filled with a Divine light.  Let us shine those inner lights and unite them as one large flame of hope. Let us take our cue from Mother Nature using these conditions to bloom, allowing us to spring into action together with each person playing her or his harmonious part for the renewal of all.

 

Lady Bird Johnson had it right when she said, “Where flowers bloom so does hope.”  May hope bloom in your heart today. 

 

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Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

A Prayer of Light

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”–Ben Sweetland     

“Be the reason someone smiles.  Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.”–Roy T. Bennett

 

It took a moment to register.  How long it took, I am unsure. I suspect it was a gradual awareness, albeit, a confused recognition clouded by sleep. 

 

Light.  Why was it so bright?  Who turned the light on? What is going on? Where is the light coming from?  I gradually forced my eyelids slightly apart. The source of the cheerful brightness seemed to be coming from my right.  I closed my eyes again. Tried to drift back into that blissful blanket of sleep, but the radiance would not be ignored.

 

Gradually, another modest moment of awareness, pried my resistant eyes marginally apart.  Turning to the right with heavy-headed effort, I blinked back the boldness of the intruder to realize it was nearly a full moon.  Bathing the bedroom with its silvery, bold shine, alertness remained with me long enough to take in the preciseness with which its light penetrated the darkness, chasing away the shadows.  As sleep drew me back into her comforting arms, I sensed my mind nudging me to recognize the moonlit depiction was important.

 

Upon waking, the image of the nocturnal illumination continued to gnaw at the edges of my brain as I made my way through my morning rituals.  Coffee in hand, I sat down with my laptop, shivering off the morning chill, and clicked open a document titled, “Writing ideas.” Reading through the snippets of phrases, I mentally touched each one as if I were a child walking down the plush animal aisle at a toy store.  Metaphorically, I gave a squeeze here, a rub there, a brushing back and forth of the velveteen on another. Then, I read two quotes, and I knew their words were working together with the middle of the night spotlight to offer me a lesson that needed written.

 

The day of the moonlight wake-up call was also the same date for the March run/walk of the Ashland, KY wear blue: run to remember community, held the first Saturday of each month at 8:00 am in Central Park.  For months, I had not been able to participate in this worthy cause due to other commitments, so I was grateful for the opportunity to once more have the time to support this group.  This local chapter is part of a national nonprofit that, according to their website, “honors the service and sacrifice of the American military . . . creating a living memorial, ‘For the fallen. ‘For the fighting,’ and ‘For the families.’”. 

 

As we circled up to read the names of 24 soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice on this same weekend date since 2000, I shivered.  Yes, it was a reaction to the 30 degree temperatures, but it was also a visceral sensation upon hearing and reading the names of men and women, who, if still alive, would most likely be younger than me and are now absent from the lives of countless moms, wives, daughters, sisters, and other family members.  Shuttering as I read the names I was given, I wondered if they knew we still remembered them. I further pondered what their families would think if they knew we honored their loved one by name . . .

 

 

With those names etched in our hearts and before setting off, each person in our small group encouraged one another to reach their personal goal for the day.  Throughout the three laps, runners and walkers alike, continued to uplift one another. In fact, even local bystanders, out for their own morning exercise, also volunteered smiles, kind words, and even a joke or two . . .

 

“You better run harder, she might catch you.”

 

“Keep it up.”

 

“I see you’re still at it.  That’s the way.”

 

“We’ve almost got this.”

 

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While the words, in and of themselves, were nothing special.  It was the way in which they were spoken and the smile that was proffered with each audible emission that made a positive impact. I felt heartened and part of something greater than myself as I thought of those names.

 

Driving to Ashland, I was full of doubt, self-deprecating thoughts, and mentally listing every reason why I should not and would not be able to complete the three laps around the park.  How could my small effort even compare to the sacrifice of the men and women whose lives we were honoring. However, once there, I felt a small flicker; and though that spark was not big enough to completely rid my brain of self-doubt, those motivating smiles, words, and most of all, the names of those fallen men and women, brightened the path helping to overcome the shadows of self-defeating thought.   

 

 

 

To come full circle in conclusion . . .

 

I now understand that my mind used the image of the bold moonlight to serve as a reminder of the need to offer light to others.  May we shine through with our thoughts, words, and actions. May we overlook the ugliness that all too often permeates our own thoughts, vies for our attention in the media, and sometimes fills our conversations. Instead, may our smiles be given freely. May we believe in the innate goodness of humanity. May we offer love, gentleness, and kindness to all with whom we come into contact– even to those who seem the most unlovable.   

 

And, finally, Dear God, may I continue to grow and learn, so that one day, perhaps, I, too, might light the way for another fellow traveler struggling in the darkness.

 

Winter Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Prayer

“If you want to see sunshine, you have to weather the storm,”–Frank Lane

 

“O sunlight!  The most precious gold to be found on earth.”–Roman Payne

 

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“How do people live in Seattle?” I asked one of my co-workers?

 

“Or, Portland?” she added.

 

“No wonder our kids are so sick,” added another co-worker, referring to the large number of students that continue to be absent due to illness.

 

“We need a good frost, a solid freezing to kill off things, but we just haven’t had it this winter,” the first added in response.

 

We all made our way down the short school hallway, each exiting into our own classroom before the arrival of our students. 

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Walking into mine, I made my way to my desk, and clicked on school email.  There, in my in-box, were numerous emails from sick students or parents of ill students asking for missed assignments, requesting clarification, or submitting make-up work.  I was struggling to keep up with the daily correspondence as well as keep up with all the other behind-the-scenes work and preparation as well as maintain the demands of the daily schedule.  Sighing, I turned to look out my classroom windows that ran almost the entire length of one wall. Light snow was blustering about, but it was expected to return to the rain that we had seen throughout the week.  Another day of gray and gloom. With one more audible sigh, I turned, and began setting up for the day.

 

Surprisingly, towards the end of the school day, a bit of milky sunlight began to break through the pervasive dullness. In fact, the following day, Saturday, abundant sunshine filled the heavens; and despite strong wind gusts and frosty temperatures, I could feel the positive effects of the sun’s rays.  The metaphorical cloud of despair that seemed to permeate my outlook for the past few weeks, began to–momentarily, at least–thaw.

 

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“Not again,” I bemoaned to my husband, John, later that same day. “Another week with mostly rainy weather!” 

 

John and I were on our way to dinner to celebrate his birthday.  I had just clicked off the weather app on my phone to check out the forecast for the following week as the day’s dousing of sunshine made me hopeful, and perhaps a bit greedy, for more sunshine in the following week.

 

“It’s supposed to be heavy at times too.  Another chance of flooding,” he added with a voice full of disappointment.

 

I let his words sink in feeling the weight of disappointment clutching at my chest.   

 

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Sunshine, sweet cheery friend, why are you so fickle this season?  

 

Seasonal affective disorder has never felt so real to me as it has this winter.  Is it my age? Is it in my head, and like the pains of childbirth, I have simply forgotten how I felt last winter?  Surely, I cannot not be the only one feeling this way as February winds down? Based on conversations I’ve been sharing with co-workers, I don’t think so, but maybe we’re more sensitive souls as we work with hormonal middle school students.  And yet, I have participated in countless conversations with others outside of the confines of our school building who share similar thoughts. Still . . . 

 

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Where are you sunshine?  You tease me with a day or two of golden joy, only to hide for days, even weeks, at a time.  Please come back to me and stay. Have I been taking you for granted? Have I not admired you enough? Have I not given enough appreciation for your satisfying solar sensations?

 

Then, it hit me. I have abandoned specific routines that typically nourish my soul.  However, my morning meditation and prayer practice has fallen by the wayside. I have further abandoned  my morning moment of daily devotional reading. Daily yoga practice has likewise been forsaken. These morning rituals have been supplanted by “to do” lists and hitting the snooze button, one too many times, and/or setting a later morning alarm because I am so desperate for more sleep.  While I do need sleep, and I never seem to get enough of it, my overall need for rest is not going to be solved by getting 15-20 more minutes of sleep. Thus, perhaps it is connecting with the Divine through my spiritual practices that I am truly missing–my inner source of sunshine. Insert face into palm!

 

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The day before writing this piece,  I encountered a woman at a local grocery store.  I was departing the store through the designated “exit,” and an unknown woman was attempting to enter through it.  I stepped aside to allow her to come in, and I encouraged her step in out of the sharp wind. She smiled and apologized.  

 

“I know I shouldn’t come in through the exit.”  

 

 I smiled at her in reply, confessing that I often do the same thing.  It occurred to me then that the store doesn’t mind how you get inside their premises as long as you keep coming back when you run low or out of their products. Hmm . . .  

 

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How similar is that to our own faith habits?  God doesn’t mind the way in which we enter our faith walk, we just have to keep returning for the love and the lessons that are offered.  Otherwise, we will always run low, or in my case, run on fumes–nearly depleted of all inner joy. In fact, Divine Providence, I continue to observe, has a way of continuously placing the same lessons in my life until I am finally ready to learn.  While I am not by any means stating that the dismal weather was purposely put into our local winter weather system solely for me to learn this lesson, I do realize now that it was/is my perception of this season, created by my depleted tank and lack of faith habits, that was/is the main source for my personal cloud of suffering, rather than the actual weather.  

 

Winter weather must be endured, or spring would not smell so sweet.  However, by returning to my faith routine, the ones that I know nurture my soul, I can begin to, well, weather the downpours of life’s seasonal and metaphorical changes.  I believe I see a forecast for the return of earlier starts to my day with morning peaks of devotional reading, prayer/meditation, and perhaps even five minutes of yoga.  May they return me to the Ultimate Source of personal sunshine.

 

grayscale photography of man sitting on grass field
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

Breakfast, or Brunch, Vegetable Stir-fry

I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I am inconsistent with breakfast during my work week.  Most days, I do eat something, even if it’s part (or all) of a protein bar and/or some fruit.  Other days, especially if I’ve taken time to food-prep on Sunday afternoon, I have containers of pre-made smoothies, smoothie “bowls,” or overnight oats lined up in the fridge–ready for grab-and-go convenience.  However, once I arrive at the school in which I work, I find I’m trying to quickly gulp down my food before my students arrive, or saving my prepared breakfast food for lunch (why not?) and either skipping breakfast all together, or falling back to eating a bit of the ever-present protein bar or fruit that are always in my lunchbox. Thus, during the work-week, there’s very little food enjoyment for me with regards to breakfast–and often lunch too–(see later paragraph) which makes me sad as I really do prefer to enjoy my food. 

 

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Still, I continue to love food, especially when I have enough time to sit, savor, and enjoy each yummy bite.  However, I fully recognize that the foods I prefer, and most enjoy, are often considered different as others have so kindly pointed out to me.  In fact, I have been told on multiple occasions that my food, “looks disgusting.”  While I try to laugh off the insult and weakly attempt to defend my food choices, “It’s only oats with blueberries, chia seeds, a bit of banana, and maple extract,” it has certainly caused me to reassess when and what I eat, especially in front of others!  

 

At one time in my life, I was especially fond of breakfast foods!  However, since being diagnosed with celiac disease nearly ten years ago, around the same time I decided to commit to eating a more plant based diet, dining out for breakfast, or it’s more gluttonous cousin, brunch, is seldom easy, much less fun, for me–at least in my immediate geographic area–as gluten-free, plant based eateries are a bit of a rarity.  If I am lucky, the menu will offer that so-called “disgusting” oatmeal; and, if I’m super fortunate, a restaurant might offer tofu and allow me to order it prepared,“naked” (not dipped in batter, so it remains gluten-free).

 

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While my weekends during the school year tend to be busy, whenever I do get some extra weekend time, I take great delight in making a big ol’ breakfast away from critical eyes, and one that holds me through until time for dinner..  I particularly find pleasure in serving these breakfasts with gluten-free bread and/or some fresh fruit. Thus, when creating this recipe (and my forthcoming recipe), I cobbled together ideas from several plant based recipe sites, but also tried to make it carnivore-friendly if desired.  This is because I believe that how each person chooses to eat is highly personal. I try not to proselytize a one-size-fits-all diet, or for that matter publicly criticize one’s diet choices. While I know a gluten-free, plant-based diet works for me, I’d rather create recipes that offer flexibility, nutritional benefits, and still taste good for all types of eaters.

 

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While my original creation was designed to somewhat look and mimic the flavor of eggs, it doesn’t have to focus on that. Feel free to play with and change up the ingredients. Consider adding in other colorful vegetables of your liking, including diced yukon gold or sweet potatoes.  Remove and replace any vegetable you don’t like with vegetables you do enjoy, and feel free to increase or decrease vegetable amounts. (I chose cauliflower as a base because it is so mild and tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients, however, chopped potatoes make an excellent base too.) Remove and/or change up the seasonings, along with their amounts! Additionally, play with toppings!  Consider lively and colorful toppings, such as chopped/sliced scallions, chopped avocado, sliced olives, roasted red peppers, salsa, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional breakfast box and play! Food should be fun and tasty!  

 

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May this recipe inspire you to get creative in the privacy of your kitchen!  Feel free to send me pics and comments about how you chose to prepare it! I’d love to see your pics and share them on my website!  

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and, hopefully, not-so-disgusting meals!

 

 

 

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Breakfast Vegetable Stir-fry

(Feel free to double or triple ingredients.)

Ingredients:

½ tsp minced garlic

¼-½ cup, or more as needed liquid, water or vegetable broth *If not cooking oil-free, 1-2 tablespoons of a mild-flavored oil can be used instead. 

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped peppers (I prefer a mix of colors.)

1 cup roughly chopped cauliflower (I prefer to use one cup prepared riced cauliflower to save the mess and time.)

½ cup sliced portabella mushrooms (or other mushroom variety)

3 ounces **tempeh sliced thin and cut into small pieces **Instead of tempeh, you can use tofu, 2-3 beaten eggs or egg whites, or 3-4 ounces of precooked meat of your choice

½-1 tsp liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or soy sauce

½ tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and black pepper to taste

***Kala Namak (Black salt) to taste ***Only use this seasoning if keeping it egg and meat-free as it adds a flavor and aroma similar to that of eggs.

Directions:

Preheat pan over medium. (You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water skitters across the bottom of the pan.)

While the pan is preheating, gather and prepare vegetables.

Once the pan is preheated, add garlic.

When garlic begins to soften and turn golden, add in onions and peppers.

Stir in ¼ cup of vegetable broth or water, if not using oil. (If using oil, add in the desired amount.)

Stir constantly.  If you notice vegetables sticking, stir-in liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Add cauliflower and continue stirring.

Add green peppers and onion, stir, and then add sliced mushrooms. 

Again, if at any time, vegetables begin sticking, add in more liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Stir in desired protein (tempeh, tofu, beaten eggs, or precooked meat).

Continue stirring and tossing over medium heat until protein is cooked through.

Reduce heat to low and stir-in desired amount of aminos (or soy sauce) and rest of seasonings.

Once seasoning is thoroughly mixed into food, remove from heat, cover, and allow flavors to meld for 2-3 minutes.

Then, serve immediately.

Makes one generous serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge–makes a great breakfast or lunch for the next day!  

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