Marble Jar Living

“When you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.”–Bansky

I have a photo of myself from early in my teaching career.  It was taken in an old portable classroom, located a good distance from the rest of the K-5 elementary school in which I worked with students with severe behavioral problems.  Filled mostly with odds and ends of what the custodians and myself could piece together, and a few study carrols that a special education resource center provided, I was tasked to help students whose behavior was considered far too disruptive/dangerous for the so-called, “regular” classroom.  These students came from diverse backgrounds across the entirety of our rural county, rather than solely the local school community, and were aged five through twelve.  Complicating matters further, roughly 75 percent of the students had been affected by drugs and/or alcohol while in the womb.  The challenge to remediate behavior while educating these students was overwhelming at times.  As a look back, it was a good thing I was young and naive! 

While behavior management is not without its criticism, I found these techniques to be effective in this particular classroom setting.  One such practice that I employed was the marble jar.  Using an empty jar, I set a clear behavior goal, such as students engaged in on-task classwork for 15 minutes (without outbursts or tantrums).  Using a timer as a clear measure of time, I added a predetermined number of marbles to the jar each time the goal was successfully reached.  Students would then be praised, take a short three to five minute break, and then resume work again for another time period. However, if the behavior goal was not reached, I would remove that same number from the jar and remind students of their goal.  As the length of time increased for appropriate on-task behavior, the more marbles could be earned or detracted.  Once the jar was filled, we celebrated with a “reward” as determined by the students, such as an extra or longer recess, a “dance party,” extended storytime, popcorn party, and so forth.

Photo by Anthony on

I worked to make the marble jar, and other behavior management procedures, more class-owned.  Holding group meetings, students discussed and selected group and individual behavior goals.  We talked about red light, yellow light, and green light behaviors that detracted or benefitted their own learning and the classroom community as well as the power of personal choice/accountability of behavior.  

Writing about it now, it seems like such a simplistic, idyllic world.  It was FAR from that.  The developmental, emotional, and cognitive functioning levels in this K-5 classroom were an incredibly wide gulf. Furthermore, since it was the early 1990s, I recognize now that several of my students had been misidentified/misunderstood and were actually on the autism spectrum, but that was not as recognized as it is now.

If you ask my husband, John, he will tell you of the long hours this class demanded of me.  He will further tell you the physical toll it took upon me as the job often required the instructional aides and me to restrain students who were acting out.  Emotionally, I did not leave my job at the door.  Many students–not all–were impoverished, lacked resources, and/or returned to homes that were the source of their behavior issues in which to begin.

Photo by Grafixart_photo Samir BELHAMRA on

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”–Edmund Hillary

I can recall days, and even weeks in that former special classroom, in which there were no more marbles to remove and none had been added.  These were discouraging time periods for me because, in my youth and arrogance, I could not understand why I could not make a difference.  Why couldn’t I make them want to change their behavior?  Why couldn’t I do this or do that?  It was a bitter pill to swallow; to know that no matter how much I loved and cared for these students, I could not make them change. In fact, while I could provide a safe and consistent classroom environment with clear procedures and boundaries as well as maintain a professional, caring, and calm demeanor, I could not control the chemistry in their body, the functioning of their brain, or their environment outside of the classroom.  However, I could choose to adapt my thinking. It wasn’t easy, and it took a long time.

My students were with me due to multiple negative events in their personal lives and/or educational history.  They did not need a visible representation of another failure, another negative.  Instead, they needed a visual representation of their success–a reminder that they can “do good.”  Therefore, I made the adaptation to quit removing marbles from the class jar–life was already doing that for them.  I added weekly “positive meetings” in which each student, staff, and me had to state at least one positive behavior/event/thing that they witnessed, thought, or chose to do.  We added at least one marble per positive observation during this pause in our week, and celebrated the good, no matter how small.  These meetings were difficult in the beginning, but with practice and grace, we all began to take notice throughout the week of the acts of “good” we needed to remember for our weekly meetings.  

Reflecting on those marble years, I realize that many of us (myself included) have spent much of 2020 and have continued into 2021 focusing on the marbles taken from our life jar.  One negative event upon another has left many of us, at times, feeling as if our life jar is empty. However, if we allow our minds/hearts to open, there has also been at least one–if not more–positive event(s) that have occurred during this same time period, and they need to be honored/remembered.

Therefore, I realize that like my early marble jar days of education, continually focusing on the losses of our proverbial life jars only reinforces the negative.  While the losses need to be remembered for perspective, and those lives lost need to be held within cherished memories, there remain many positive events that currently fill our life jars, such as family, friends, and life itself.  Additionally, COVID numbers are dropping, more vaccines are rolling out, and daily life is beginning to feel closer to normal, it is important to recognize and feel grateful for positive steps and events, no matter how small. 

“Practice makes permanent.”–Bobby Robson

Like those weekly positive meetings of long ago, let us likewise take time to pause, reflect/look for items/events/people for which to feel grateful, acknowledge these, and perhaps even offer a “positive statement” to at least one other person–even during those days & weeks when it feels as if no marbles other are being added.  It takes practice and patience as the brain seems to automatically focus on the negatives–at least mine does.  However, with regular pauses of gratitude and appreciation, we can begin to feel, well, more “pause-i-tive,” if not every day, then at least, with greater frequency.  

Gazing at that old classroom photo, I was reminded that seeing those marble moments is about practice, not perfection.  That is what I had to learn then, and it remains true today.  Positivity and gratitude take time to foster, and, like me, for many people, it is not easy, especially after so-called negative, life-altering experiences.  

Spring eventually arrives after winter; and yet, even spring has rainy days and downpours.  There is good and bad, light and dark in every season, every year, and sometimes every day.  If we only focus on the rains of spring, we miss the birdsong and blooms.  If we only focus on the darkness of night, we fail to see the brilliance of the sunrise that follows.  Plink, plink, marbles are available if only we take time to see them.

“God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them.”–John Aughey

May we be a Light to One Another

“May the supreme light illumine your minds, enlighten your hearts, and strengthen the human bonds in your homes and communities.”—Unknown (As seen on Times of India)







“What a life we have!” I exclaimed to John, my husband of nearly 30 years, as we sat down for a late evening dinner.


It was Saturday, and our workweek had been a whirlwind, but that evening had been spectacular.  I recalled a statement made by one of my friends, Christine, earlier in the day during a lunch get-together and found myself repeating her words to John.


“We are truly blessed.”  Then, I added, “No matter the bills, we are truly blessed.”


Of course, John, being his ever sarcastic, and realist self, retorted, “We’d be a lot more blessed, and could bless ourselves more, if we had everything paid off.”



While John and I do not know the ladies in the picture on the left, they graciously posed for our picture.  Right picture is of one of our former students, Ajay Neginhal, and his beautiful mother, Sapna.


While I felt both the humor and the reality of his comment, I continued to feel contemplative and inspired as we had just left the Tristate India Association’s Diwali celebration held annually at Cabell Midland High School.  As John and I both currently teach in the same school, many of our current and former students were performers in the evening’s festivities.  Additionally, several more students and staff were in the audience. The celebration was lovely, full of displays of generosity, positivity, love, and mutual respect.  I could not help but feel my heart overflowing with hope, optimism, and gratitude in spite of the realities of life.




         Former and current students gathered to celebrate Diwali.  Top to Bottom, then right: Emily Blatt, Naveen Joseph, Angelina Bir, Nishi Chowdhury, Maanasa Miryala, and Heidi Short.

As best I understand it, (I do not claim to be an expert, and I ask forgiveness from readers in advance, if I explain something wrong.) Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated yearly in either October or November, depending upon the Hindu lunar calendar. It is not only celebrated in India, but also in several other countries, including Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Fiji to name a few.  Additionally, it is not only commemorated by those of the Hindu faith, but also by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists.  However, it is the basic tenant upon which Diwali symbolizes and honors that persons of all faith backgrounds can agree upon, “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”


          The beautiful Bir family celebrate Diwali and insist on taking pictures with me.

In a world often filled with division, derision, and discord, Diwali appears, based upon my limited understanding, to focus on the sweetness and goodness of life that can be attained through a commitment to faith, family, education, work, and community.  Thus, as I looked around the auditorium and observed people of all faiths, not just Hindu, coming together respectfully and quite joyfully, I could not help but feel encouraged.  Hopeful for not only our daughter, but also for the students John and I have taught, past and present.


These adorable girls dance and celebrate Diwali with their family and friends.





The family-centered atmosphere delighted John and me, and we were especially amused by buoyant and excited children of all ages, vibrantly adorned.  We watched in awe as women of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed the most vivid colors and sumptuous-looking fabrics, were honored and celebrated. Distinguished and dapper men of all ages, clad in colorful clothing, helped hold babies, patiently delayed performances for family members trying to change costumes, talked with the audience about the importance of giving back to the local community, and even turned up the lights for crying toddlers, who had become suddenly scared, when the house lights were dimmed for the performance.



     Left to right: Dr. Kalpana Miriyala, Dr. Pushpa Joseph, and Dr. Vinod Miriyala at the 2018 Diwali celebration.

Police officers, Tri-state dignitaries, and various community leaders were recognized, honored, or even given donations for their various works of charity.  Abundant, and seemingly endless, trays of what appeared to be traditional Indian foods were offered to guests for an hour or more before the start of celebration. Additionally, after the first song, performers walked off the stage and out into the audience offering small bits of food. Countless hugs, kisses, cheerful greetings, and affirmations could be heard throughout the evening.  I could not help but wish I could bundle all this positivity up, and send it out into the world, allowing it to envelop all of humanity with love and light, peace and patience, and an overall sense of community . . . the, we-are-all-in-this-together sort of attitude.  But alas, I am a sentimental, dreamer . . .



Our student, Maanasa Miriyala, dances in a performance at the 2018 Diwali celebration.



One of narrators of the evening’s festivities, as he defined and explained Diwali to audience members, who, like myself, did not have a background, referred to the famous words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. He encouraged all in attendance to go out and be a light unto others, living the change we wished to see in the world.  This line, and its variations, is so often quoted, it sometimes falls on deaf ears.



Current students, Angelina Bir and Nishi Chowdhury, dance in a performance during the 2018 Diwali celebration.


On this evening of Diwali, however, my ears listened as Gandhi’s words rained over me. I was bearing witness to one group’s attempt to not only offer light, but also be the change they wished to see in the world. No, they were not trying to convert those of us of other faiths to their faith.  Rather, it felt as if the TSIA was demonstrating the understanding, tolerance, and dialogue that are possible when we concentrate first on the similarities we have with others, rather than focusing on the differences.


It was a beautiful evening with an even more beautiful lesson to be learned.


“From untruth lead us to Truth.

From darkness lead us to Light.

From death lead us to Immortality.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”—Brhadaranyaka Upanishad



More pictures from Diwali!




Protein Waffle

           “You should eat a waffle!  You can’t be sad if you eat a waffle!”—Lauren Myracle

           “We need to remember what’s important in life:  friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work, it doesn’t matter.  But work is third.”  Amy Poehler


cherries daisies flowers food
Photo by Brigitte Tohm on

           I smelled them before I saw them.  

           Yum. What is that delicious smell?  I couldn’t help but wonder as I stepped out of my bedroom and walked toward the kitchen.

           I had been at one end of the house getting dressed and ready for the day.  I had not yet eaten breakfast and the sweet smell emanating from the kitchen made my mouth water and stomach rumble.   As I continued down the hall and closer to the kitchen, the freshly baked scent became even stronger.

           “Dang, something smells good in here!”  I declared as I entered the kitchen.

           My daughter, Maddie, turned her head and smiled at me.  She was standing at the kitchen counter. In front of her, steaming away, was her mini-Dash waffle maker.  Beside the mini-waffle maker was a plate stacked with several waffles of varying colors.


The mini-Dash waffle maker


           “Wow! You’ve been busy.  Tell me what you’ve made here.”  


           I said this with marvel and admiration in my voice, as it had only been a few weeks since we ordered the waffle maker at Maddie’s request.  When it first arrived, she was a bit apprehensive about how to use it. I talked her through the basics, and set her free to experiment. As with all new skills, there was a bit of a trial and error period. However, now, it was clear, she was the master of the mini-dash.

           “This stack is chocolate chip, this is brownie, this is blueberry, and this is strawberry,” Maddie explained pointing to each one.  “Want to try one?”




           As good as they smelled, she did not have to twist my arm.  Then, she served me strawberry and blueberry flavored waffles.  Boy, did they smell heavenly!


           When I was a kid, I wanted syrup in every single square of a waffle, but the aroma was so divine that I decided to try them just as they were.  Since they had been made in a mini-Dash waffle maker, they were about the size of a large cookie, so I ate it like I was eating a cookie as I sipped my morning coffee.

           “Oh my goodness, Madd, are these ever good! Tell me how you made them.”


Some of the ingredients for protein waffles.


           As I listened to Maddie explain how to make the waffles, I felt a sudden rush of motherly pride and a profusion of love. While she had often helped me out in the kitchen, she had not spent much time in the kitchen by herself experimenting with cooking.  Her life throughout high school had been busy, filled with her devotion to studying and sports’ teams.



           Then, this past school year, she entered Bethany College, throwing herself heart and soul into her classes and studies. The pressure she put on herself was enormous; and while she ended the year with a 4.0, it came at a cost to her physical and mental health.  Maddie came home in May both physically and mentally spent. Her weight was up, her energy was low, and I often saw her sitting and staring straight ahead.


adult blur books close up
Photo by Pixabay on


           As a mom, I couldn’t help but worry about her, but I knew I could not do as I used to do when she was a young girl—hold her in my lap, smother her with kisses and reassurances.  Rather, I had to learn to hold space for her—not an easy thing to learn to do as a parent when you see your child suffering.

           Without going into too much detail, a family member reached out to Maddie.  This person was also going through a difficult time and had also put on stress-related weight.  The family member said they wanted to take charge of their health and were considering the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 plan—a system devoted to optimal health and wellness, not just weight loss.  


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Photo by Pixabay on


           Long story, longer, Maddie and this family member decided to join forces with a health coach and begin taking small steps towards improving their energy levels and habits as well as mental and physical well-being.  Additionally, Maddie and the other person checked in with their respective doctors. Together, they have been supporting one another; and, as a result, Maddie is beginning to explore the kitchen more. Protein waffles are just one example of the healthful goodies she has learned to create.




           Who doesn’t love waffles? I thought as I sat there mindfully chewing through each tasty bite of the waffles Maddie shared with me.  I never dreamed I could eat a waffle without syrup, but when one tastes this good, it simply doesn’t need a thing.  That said, I have watched Maddie drizzle a little sugar free syrup on her waffles; or, sometimes, she squirts it with a bit of spray butter.  Maddie tends to make these waffles in batches and store each serving in sandwich baggies or reusable containers and reheat them for breakfast or takes them in her lunch. Waffles for lunch?  Sounds good to me!




           In addition to eating these plain, I also like to take one tablespoon of powdered peanut butter and thin it down with about a tablespoon and a half of water, then drizzle that over the top of chocolate and vanilla flavored waffles.  Sometimes, if I want a bit more of a splurge, I will grab about 15 or so mini-semi-sweet chocolate chips and sprinkle over the top—but that’s the rare case. Most of the times, I follow Maddie’s example. I make my mini-waffles ahead of time.  Store them in individual serving bags or containers, and eat them plain any time of the day I need a grab and go meal.




           Now that Maddie is cooking, I am eager to share all that I am learning from her with you, Dear Reader!  While I enjoy the treat of dining out, I most love made-from-the-heart-home-made meals. And, I love sharing that home-cooked joy with others!

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


white and gray chevron print recipes book
Photo by Isaiah on


           Final note: In addition to learning to take charge of her own food preparation, Maddie has also begun to practice yoga regularly; she has increased energy; she now possesses the skills to eat out with friends AND make healthy food choices; she is focusing on organizing her bed room and helping her dad and me organize our house; and as I write this, she has also just so happened to have lost 13.4 pounds and over 10 inches in five weeks!  Plus, her sparkling eyes and infectious smile are back! And that’s not all; she is now a Health Coach and paying forward the journey of health with others!




Protein Waffles  **If following the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Plan, see recipe below

1 serving of your favorite protein powder

Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

1-tablespoon light cream cheese

2-tablespoons egg whites or egg-replacement

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other flavor extract for that matter)

1-package of stevia or other favorite sweetener

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT water, including any optional ingredient you wish to add.

Then, gradually add, 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until you get the consistency of a thick batter.  You do not want this to be thin and runny.

If using a round waffle maker, spread all batter onto waffle maker and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions.

If using mini-Dash, pour 1/3 to ½ batter into waffle pan. (It may take a few trial and error practice sessions to figure out the right amount.)

Then, cook according to directions.  (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm; or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

Makes one serving.

**Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Recipe for Protein Waffle (Approved by Nutrition Support)

Choose 1 fueling  (Some of Maddie’s favorite fuelings to use are Decadent Double Chocolate Brownie, Sweet Blueberry Biscuit, Chewy Chocolate Cookie, Golden Chocolate Chip Pancake, and Wild Strawberry Shake.  I also personally love all of the chocolate shakes, Creamy Vanilla Shake, and Velvety Hot Chocolate.)

Once you have decided on the fueling to use, decide if you want one thick waffle or two thinner waffles.

For one thick waffle:

1-tablespoon egg white  

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine your favorite fueling with egg white and any optional add-in.

Then, gradually, add water, one tablespoon at a time.  Stirring after each addition until you get a thick (NOT RUNNY) batter.

Spread all batter onto waffle maker, and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions. (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm; or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

For two thinner waffles:

1 tablespoon light cream cheese = 1 condiment

1-2 tablespoons egg whites  

2-3 tablespoons water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT water, including any optional ingredient you wish to add.

Then, gradually add, 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until you get the consistency of a thick batter.  You do not want this to be thin and runny.

If using a round waffle maker, spread all batter onto waffle maker and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions.

If using mini-Dash, pour 1/3 to ½ batter into waffle pan. (It may take a few trial and error practice sessions to figure out the right amount.)

Then, cook according to directions.  (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

Remember, on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you can have up to 3 condiments per day.

*For more information regarding the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, send message here, or send a private Facebook message my daughter, Maddie Hill or me.





Gluten free Chocolate Chip cookies

            “If you can’t change the world with chocolate chip cookies, how can you change the world?”—Pat Murphy


            “Number one, I absolutely love making chocolate chip cookies. I mean, it’s fun. It’s exciting. Beyond the fact that I love making them, I love eating them.”—Debbi Fields


“Mom, when are you making chocolate chip cookies? I want to help you,” stated my daughter, Madelyn, with a smile.


Certainly, Maddie does like helping me bake chocolate chip cookies, but I think she has an ulterior motive. To begin, there are the bags of chocolate chips. We like to mix both mini-chocolate chips with regular sized chips. Thus, both bags must be opened, measured out, and mixed together before adding them to the dough. Which means, of course, a quality control taste or two, or ten!


Then, there is the cookie dough. Ooey, gooey cookie dough filled with, yes, that’s right, chocolate chips. Now, I know what you may be thinking. I should not allow my child to eat unbaked cookie dough filled with raw eggs, right? I have certainly considered the danger; however, my mom allowed me to eat cookie dough, and I am well into my fifth decade of life! Furthermore, Maddie has been sampling cookie dough ever since she’s been old enough to help me. Neither of us has ever become sick afterwards. I mean, it’s not like we sit down and eat the whole bowl.  That said, I certainly understand if you choose not to eat raw cookie dough!
I grew up in a house where I ate nothing but homemade desserts. Store bought desserts were no-nos—at least until I was old enough to date a guy who worked for Keebler, but that is a different story entirely! I am not saying that my mom made dessert every day, but we did have made-from-scratch cakes, cookies, and sometimes pies at least one time per week.  


Once I was old enough to help my mom in the kitchen, you bet I volunteered. Why? Samples—that’s why! Sure, I could say it was because I loved to spend time with my mom, but sadly, that usually wasn’t my motive. A growling belly was all the motivation I needed!  Mom was always generous to allow me “lick” the beater or scrape the mixing bowl once finished, a.k.a., getting in her way!


It was a different time period too. I grew up eating three meals per day—not grazing all day long. Snacks were not heard of until I was in high school; and even then, it was only when my parents weren’t home. (My siblings and I would sneak in those after-school snacks before they arrived home from work whenever possible.) The idea, which we often heard was, “Don’t spoil your appetite”; or, “Don’t spoil your dinner.” Still, if left to supervise ourselves after school, we were certainly known to grab a spoonful of peanut butter or a slice of lunch meat/cheese.


Likewise, Mom did not cook separate food for picky eaters at meals. Either you ate what she prepared, or you’d eat at the next meal. Her philosophy was that none of us were going to starve over one missed meal. Sometimes, I think many of our kids today would benefit from this attitude, but again, that’s another story for another day.


Back to baking with Maddie . . . Since my mom allowed me to sample while she cooked, including eating that much maligned cookie dough, it was only natural that I permitted my daughter to do the same. In addition to saving the mixing beater for my daughter to “lick,” we also enjoy tasting the cookies right off the baking pan!


The traditional recipe that I follow, calls for cooling the cookies on the pan for two-three minutes before removing. Maddie and I have learned to respect this rule, otherwise the cookies fall apart. Then, we remove all of the cookies carefully and gently with a metal spatula and place on racks to cool. (We have learned to cover the cooling rack with paper towels for quicker clean-up.) After that, watch out! We have to sample at least one, or three, warm! Mmmm, this is when these cookies are best! Therefore, when serving these cookies, do not be afraid to warm them slightly before eating. It brings out the flavor of the butter and makes the chocolate melty.



Finally, yes, this recipe is full of shortening, butter, sugar, and white flour. I get that these are NOT the healthiest ingredients—and, if you’re vegan,  these are clearly not vegan. I offer no apologies; however, I do NOT make this recipe as part of my everyday diet. These cookies are made for special occasions, and likewise, fully savored and enjoyed!!! In my opinion, life is about balance. I eat a healthy, plant-based diet the vast majority of the year, so why not splurge from time to time. And, if I am going to splurge, I want real, quality ingredients.


I think my mom had it right. Save desserts for special occasions and make them yourself. And, take time to share the experience with your kid, spouse, or friend. By baking with another loved one, you add the secret ingredient that can enhance any cooking experiences . . .love.


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



Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies


3 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour, (Reduce the flour if you prefer a crispier cookie.) & (I prefer Cup4Cup brand)

1-teaspoon baking soda

1-teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, softened

½ cup shortening

¾ cup packed dark brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups chocolate chip (I prefer semi-sweet.)

Optional: 1 cup chopped nuts


Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

In large mixing bowl with mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and both sugars until fluffy.

Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in vanilla extract until creamy.

Gradually mix in flour mixture until well blended and thick.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden, but NOT dark, brown.

Allow cooling on cookie pan for 2-3 minutes BEFORE gently removing with spatula onto wire racks to cool completely.

Once thoroughly cooled, store in airtight container.


Morgantown, WV 2018 Visit Offers a Fun Experience

           “Whether you’re in town for a conference at the Waterfront Place Hotel, attending a WVU football or basketball game, or exploring the great outdoors, Morgantown is a city that has something for everyone!”—

        “I like spending time with my husband.”—Lara Stone

        We had been visiting with our daughter in the Wheeling/Bethany, WV area, but it was Monday, and she was returning to her classes and studies.  However, my husband, John, and I were still on spring break from the school in which we teach, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV. Therefore, we decided to spend a few more days together in a slightly different area of WV.




          During the winter months, John helped chaperone students from our school to a Latin conference and competition in Morgantown, WV.  It is held annually at Waterfront Place. This beautiful hotel, located in the Wharf District, boasts a full-service Bar & Restaurant called Bourbon Prime, a Starbucks, spa services, and a state-of-the-art fitness center to name a few of the amenities.  It also overlooks the Monongahela River and the Caperton Trail, a six mile bike and walking/running path. Plus, as John was able to see on his most recent Latin trip, Marriott has recently redesigned it, and he was eager for me to see it. Therefore, we decided to visit it for a couple of days.


Waterfront Place overlooks Caperton Path and the Monongahela River.

        Even though it was technically spring, Mother Nature was not particularly inclined to cooperate with spring-style weather.  Instead, John and I “enjoyed” bitter weather that ran the gamut. From sunny and blustery cool on our arrival, to bone-chilling rain the next day, and finally to snow and high winds as we were departing, spring was visible only in the buds of trees and blooms of daffodils during our Morgantown stay.  While we were able to walk to and from eateries, we were always bundled up in layers! Still, the Capteron Trail is a convenient part of the Wharf District winding alongside the Monongahela River. Plus, the Wharf District is an area of revitalization with numerous restaurants, a few retailers, and several professional service offices readily visible on our strolls.






          One restaurant we visited while in Morgantown was called the Iron Horse Tavern. This distinctive eatery specializes in WV craft beer and offers unique pub fare that was filled with variety.  From appetizers, soups, and salads to from sandwiches, burgers and full traditional dinner fare, John and I both found plenty of options from which to choose as he is the meat-based eater, and I am the plant-based (gluten-free) eater.  Which brings me to an interesting story. . .


Ironhorse Tavern proudly featured WV brews.


          Months ago, I read about something called, the “Impossible Burger,” a product that is 100% plant based.  It supposedly looks, cooks, smells, and tastes just like ground beef. The last I had read about it, this burger was only available in big city locations along the West and East coast.  Therefore, I never imagined I would walk into a WV restaurant and discover it listed as a menu option, and yet it was!

        John and I were curious and asked our waiter/bartender about this item.  He shared with us that he was skeptical too, but tried one when it was first added to the menu.  Once he ate, it not only tasted exactly as described, but also he noticed that he was not bloated like he normally was after eating a traditional burger.  Therefore, he added that all he now eats, when it comes to burgers at the Iron Horse Tavern, is the Impossible Burger. Without thinking twice, I ordered it sans the bun as I have Celiac Disease and should eat gluten-free; and thus, here is the punchline.


The Impossible Burger at Iron Horse Tavern

        I ate the burger.  It was AMAZING! The smell, the taste, and the look reminded me of my Grandmother Helen’s ground chuck hamburgers of over 40 years ago.  John tasted it too. He could not believe it! If he had not known it was a plant-based burger, he stated would have thought it was the read deal!  I ate every delectable morsel, which was accompanied by a side of tasty Brussels Sprouts (without the usual sautéed bacon in which they typically prepare it) and a tasty house salad.  Then, I went back to the hotel to read about this delightful burger discovery.




        Reading online I discover that one of the first ingredients is wheat.  The very thing I am NOT supposed to be eating! All I could do was laugh at myself during this head-slapping moment.  I had not even thought to ask or look-up before ordering! Needless to say, I experienced the side effects the next day; but frankly, I have no regrets.  I’ll never eat one again unless they make it without wheat, but I am glad I had the experience!



        The other restaurant in which we had the pleasure of dining while in Morgantown was Iron Horse Tavern’s sister, Mountain State Brewing Company.  This restaurant is a proud WV establishment with an interesting and one-of-a-kind story that readers should definitely take time to look up either on the company’s web-site or on YouTube.  




          Here is what I most loved about MSBC, I could eat gluten-free and plant based!!!  Not only was there hummus and veggies on their menu, one of our favorite go-to appetizers when we eat a home, but also this restaurant had gluten free buns and/or bread with NO up-charge as well as a gluten-free pizza crust!  I was in shock at having so many gluten-free and plant-based choices. And, yes, for you wheat and meat lovers, there was PLENTY of that! After all, this was founded in WV by a couple of guys! John and I both walked away from this eatery with full bellies, happy hearts, and no nasty side-effects on the following day!


Gluten-free food for me!  Veggie sticks with hummus, Cowboy Caviar with tortilla chips, and a mushroom gluten-free pizza!



Pulled-pork nachos, pepperoni pizza.  John and both had so much food, we each took half of a pizza home, and it made a delicious lunch on the following day!


Zack, our attentive server, at Mountain State Brewing Company


          Back at the hotel, John treated me to a 60-minute massage at the Olexa Salon and Spa located inside of the Waterfront.  Allison Friend, a licensed massage therapist, was delightful, engaging, and gave a massage I will long remember. I highly recommend Ally to any visitors.


Allison Friend, licensed massage therapist, inside the Olexa Salon and Spa at Waterfront Place.

        Additionally, we must recognize the friendly and gregarious Waterfront, Bourbon Prime, and Starbucks staff.  Everyone seemed to go out of his or her way to ensure John and I enjoyed our time in Morgantown. We engaged in conversation with numerous employees as well as visitors throughout the hotel, and we did not experience any negative encounters.  We definitely left with a positive impression, and will likely return for another visit!


Inside Bourbon Prime at Waterfront Place

Next time you’re in Morgantown, try any or all of these places; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!

Looking up at the terrace area of Waterfront Place overlooking the Monongahela River.

Return to Wheeling/Bethany, WV beginning to feel like a second home

            “Every moment I have had with my daughter is precious.”—Cathy Shaffer


            “From the region’s largest trail system, to national schools of excellence, to a reorganized municipal government, the City of Wheeling offers a dynamic environment for you, your family and your business.”—


           We have visited this area so much over the past few years; it is beginning to feel a bit like a second home. Wheeling, WV, with its rich history, wide-ranging geographic layout—including abundant water sources, mountains, hills, and valleys, as well as gracious residents, is a welcoming and inviting city worthy of repeated visits. Furthermore, it located, “down-the-mountain,” as we like to say, from our daughter’s current home-away-from-home, Bethany College—a charming, picturesque institution also chock full of a warm, hospitable population. In fact, we have yet to tire of staying in this area.



Old Main at Bethany College in Bethany, WV on a crisp, cold spring April morning.

This past spring break was no exception! Madelyn, our daughter, had experienced her spring break a few weeks earlier. However, she was unable to come home for it. Instead, she applied for and was accepted into a research internship at West Virginia University. During this time, she called/texted at regular intervals, delighted with both the equipment/facilities she was able to use and/or see as well as overall with the experience.


“Mom, Dad, I saw a $600,000 microscope, but I wasn’t allowed to use it.”


“Today, I was able to use a $150,000 microscope!”


“You wouldn’t believe what I experienced today—a whole virtual experience where it seemed like I was inside a snake, and later, the a human brain. It was so cool!”


On and on her comments came, so we knew the experience was positive for her. Still, we missed seeing her; and, she said, she missed seeing us. Therefore, as John, my husband and I, are both teachers at the same school, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV, we decided to take advantage of our time off and go see Ms. Maddie.

John, me, and Maddie


While we wish the little town of Bethany had a hotel in which we could stay in order to be closer to campus, we are always happy to stay in nearby Wheeling, a short 30 minute or so drive up the mountain ridge. The scenery is always quite stunning–no matter the season of the year, despite the fact I personally fight carsickness as we wind around the curvaceous roads.


On this visit we stayed in the Wheeling Hampton Inn located on historic National Road, the first highway built entirely with federal funds during Jefferson’s administration.   This comfy and delightful hotel provided an outstanding and accommodating atmosphere for spending time with Maddie and one of her roommates, Tatum Dyar. Assistant General Manager, Taylor J. Smith, went out of his way to ensure our experience was positive, including shuttling us around Wheeling when needed despite the fact we offered to drive.



Hampton Inn in Wheeling, WV located on historic National Road the first federally funded highway dating back to the Jefferson administration.


“No, no, man. We got you. We will take you there, and pick you whenever you call. Don’t use your gas!”


Now, that is service!


Taylor J. Smith, Assistant General Manager, Wheeling Hampton Inn


However, it wasn’t just the shuttle that made our experience so uplifting, it was the way the entire staff went out of their way to welcome John, Maddie, Tatum, and me—even though Maddie and Tatum were not staying overnight in the hotel. Additionally, the breakfast staff was also personal and attentive, including walking around with fresh baked cinnamon rolls for visitors in the morning. That said, the Hampton employees were not the only affable and obliging staff, so were wait staff and cooks in two different Wheeling restaurants and at Bethany College.


Tatum Dyar with Maddie, our daughter


To begin, our family was shuttled, courtesy of Taylor, to and from Ye Olde Alpha, a favorite restaurant. Tatum had never eaten at this local establishment, so we felt we should help her experience the charm of this unique and family owned business. In fact, this business was established in 1932 and offers both a traditional lounge, separate dining area, as well as rooms for private parties. The menu is wide and quite varied, allowing for a wide variety of tastes, American, Mexican, Greek, as well as provides options for meat and veggie-lovers alike. The portions are generous, and our experience with the service has always been positive. This eatery has certainly created return customers out of our family.



Some of our dishes at Ye Olde Alpha in Wheeling, WV.


The following night, Steve, also from the Hampton Inn, shuttled us to and from Wheeling Brewing Company. On this night, we dined with Maddie, Gigs Ashton, Amy Van Horn, and her daughter, Eden. This was our second visit to this quaint establishment that prides itself on, “Keepin’ it local.”   In fact, WBC has more than 20 local partnerships from Fiestaware in Newell, WV to HerBold Organic Farms; from Centre Market Bakery to the Ukrainian Catholic Church; and from Miklas Meat Market to Susan’s Antiques and Décor, to name a few.  This restaurant is a one-of-a-kind experience. The foods are fresh, the menu is eclectic, and the service is excellent. Additionally, on two separate visits (the first time was in the fall of 2017), the kitchen went out of their way with one of their menu items, Kimchi Boat, to tweak the ingredients in order to ensure the dish was gluten-free for me; and, I personally love their Detox Salad and Vegetarian Board—YUM! Still, you do not have to be a plant-based eater to enjoy this eatery. They offer plenty of traditional burgers, sandwiches, nachos, and pizzas to satisfy the pickiest eater!







A few of our delightful meals from Wheeling Brewing Company.


John, me, Maddie, Amy VanHorn with her daughter, Eden Rice, and Gigs Ashton.


Finally, we cannot say enough about Ms. Linda and Bethany College Dining Service, including the on-campus coffee shop, The Hub. Ms. Linda, an employee at Bethany, I believe, for over 40 years, is the campus guardian of students. All students seem to know her by name, and she knows them as well. She welcomed John and I with hugs and served up awesome coffee on the golden, but very chilly spring day. The following day we enjoyed brunch with Maddie and Tatum in the Dining Hall. Wow! What an establishment—so many choices—including, as my daughter proudly pointed out, all types of gluten free bread, fresh vegetables, salads, and fruit. Of course, there was the traditional hot meal line as well as made-to-order paninis, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and omelets!




All in all, we are so pleased our daughter has chosen to attend Bethany College. We enjoy this unique locale, its friendly people, and beautiful scenery. More importantly, we appreciate the individualized education our daughter is receiving, the scholarship and internship opportunities available to her, and the phenomenal friends, staff, and professors that surround her. Even though we know a college education offers personal and academic challenges, as parents we feel comforted in knowing our daughter is in good hands. We look forward to visiting her again and again over the next three to four years!


The next you’re in the Wheeling/Bethany area, please visit any or all of these fine establishments; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!


P.S. Thank you, Maddie and friends, for making us feel at home during our visit!!!




79105626-7650-4c2c-9c6a-9277528f2fa1It’s nice to see college hasn’t taken away Maddie’s sense of humor!!! 

Gluten-free Blueberry Buckle

            “Advice from a blueberry: Be well-rounded. Soak up the sun. Find beauty in small things. Live a fruitful life. Be a good pick. It’s OK to be a little blue. Make sweet memories!”—Ilan Shamir


“Mom, why do you only make Blueberry Buckle for Christmas Brunch or when we have overnight company? Why can’t you make it more often . . .like when I come home this weekend?”


I was talking with my daughter, Madelyn, on the phone. She was coming home for a long weekend break from college this past fall. Her point was valid, I conceded, I did save Blueberry Buckle for special occasions. In the end, I agreed to make it this delectable breakfast treat more often, including the weekend when she came home.


My husband, John, and I first discovered Blueberry Buckle in the early nineties when we frequently traveled to Staunton, VA, either as a weekend getaway, or as overnight stop on the way to or from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In Staunton, we most often stayed in a bed and breakfast called, The Kenwood, and owned by the late Ed and Liz Kennedy.


Ed and Liz were complimentary pair. Ed, as best I recall, was scientist who retired from Corning. He was widely traveled, well read, and collector of nonfiction magazines such as the Smithsonian, American Heritage, and National Geographic to name a few. Happy to talk about nearly any given subject or offer advice for nearby historical sites, hiking trails, or scenic sites, Ed played the perfect gregarious host.


Meanwhile, Liz, a retired nurse who spent her life working in inner-city Boston hospitals, was more reserved. She was happy to remain behind the scenes cooking breakfast, knitting, or watching baseball. That said, John and I visited their B & B so often, that over the years, Liz warmed to John and me, and often talked with us as much as Ed.


It was Liz who gave me this recipe for Blueberry Buckle. She preferred baking recipes like Blueberry Buckle that could be made ahead, cut into individual servings, and frozen. Then, she could take the amount needed the night before to thaw, and warm them in the morning. She served often served blueberry buckle with some form of protein, a fresh bowl of seasonal mixed fruit, and the customers’ choices of juices, coffees, and/or teas.


I feel privileged to have this recipe because it was Liz’s policy to not share her recipes with customers at least not when they first began their business—and, we were their very first customers (but that is a different story for another day.) In fact, because we were frequent guests of their establishment, Liz would often come out after breakfast, sit down with us, and would talk for hours if we let her.


We enjoyed knowing Ed and Liz. We considered them friends. They were special people, and I think of them each time I make this recipe. Sharing recipes, such as this, is one of the reasons we love to travel—getting to know people from different geographic locations and experiencing “their” foods that we would have otherwise never before experienced.


While the recipe I share with you is mostly true to Liz’s original version, I have made a few minor adjustments. First, and most obvious, I replaced regular all-purpose flour with a gluten-free version. If you do not need a gluten-free version, then by all means, use your favorite flour. Additionally, Liz did not use orange extract—it is a “trick” I learned from other recipes with blueberries. Thus, feel free to leave it out or replace it with another favorite extract. (I have even read Blueberry Buckle recipes that use lemon zest instead of any extract.) Finally, feel to use other types of berries, shredded apples, or even rhubarb in place of blueberries—you may then want to play with various additions to the cake batter, such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, etc.


From my home to yours, I wish you an abundance of happy, healthy, and homemade meals. . . and a vacation adventure filled with wonderful people and new foods to try!


P.S. You don’t have to save this recipe for overnight guests or once-per-year events. Just ask my daughter!





Gluten-Free Blueberry Buckle


Cake ingredients:

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup shortening (or plant –derived replacement)

1 egg (or equivalent egg replacement)

½ cup favorite milk

½ teaspoon orange extract

2 cups gluten-free all purpose baking flour (I prefer cup-4-cup brand.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)


Topping ingredients:

½ cup sugar

1/3-cup gluten free flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup soft butter (or equal plant-based equivalent)



Begin by measuring and setting aside ¼ cup butter (or plant based replacement) to allow it to soften.

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Prepare 9 x 9 square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or coconut oil.

Begin with cake ingredients by thoroughly mixing ¾ cup sugar, shortening, and egg.

Stir in milk and orange extract.

In separate bowl, blend together gluten-free flour, baking powder, and salt.

Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

Carefully blend in blueberries.   (If using frozen blueberries, you can gently shake them in a zip lock bag with a bit of flour to prevent, or at least reduce, the batter turning purple.)


Spread batter into pan.


Reusing now empty dry ingredient bowl, (no sense dirtying another bowl) stir together dry topping ingredients: ½ sugar, 1/3 gluten free flour, and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.


Once dry ingredient well mixed, stir in butter with fork, mashing and blending until soft crumbly topping forms.


Sprinkle the topping over batter.


Bake 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean. (Please note, if using frozen blueberries, you do not need to thaw; however, the buckle may take a bit longer to bake.)

Serves 9, but recipe can be doubled as I frequently do this.

Further, once cut into squares, it’s great to freeze ahead for quick morning reheats.



Two types of gluten-free flour that I have used.

Faith is like Baking–recipe for Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

            “God gives us the ingredients for our daily bread, but he expects us to do the baking.”—Chip Ingram

I stood there, contemplating the recipe. Would it be good? What if my modifications/changes to keep the recipe gluten-free, cause it to fall flat? Furthermore, what would my daughter and her friend think? I could be investing 20-30 minutes of my time that may ultimately end up wasted, and require me to start all over with something different. On the other hand, the recipe seemed to possess all the key ingredients . . .


I was hoping to create muffins that were not only gluten-free, but also infused with much love and, of course, yummy flavors that would appeal to my daughter’s taste preference. I was putting complete confidence in a recipe I had never before made, created by a person whose recipe-website I had never before used. Hmm . . . That is when it hit me. Baking was similar to our faith life.


According to Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.” Furthermore, according to the dictionary, faith has two meanings: “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something;” or, “a strong belief in God.”


Faith is as intangible as love; and yet, we all can recognize the feeling of love. Love, like faith, requires the proper ingredients, such as people, as well as loving actions. Examples of these ingredients in action might include (but certainly aren’t limited to): a man who thoughtfully writes a love letter to his beloved for no special occasion—only the feeling of love; the mother who painfully tells her child, “no,” not because she doesn’t want her child to be happy, but because she loves her child enough to give him boundaries; or, the grandchild who sets aside a work project, in spite of a pending deadline, in order to help grandparent. The point is, without the proper ingredients fueled by action, love may not thrive or grow. In fact, without action, love may stagnate, flounder, or perhaps even wither. Thus, it is with faith—and even baking!


Faith, without the suitable ingredients that are further energized by a recipe for action, cannot thrive. While it is easy to say, “I have faith in God,” action is still required. Just as I could have stood at my kitchen counter stating that, “I have faith in this recipe,” but then didn’t make the muffins, did I really have faith?   Furthermore, there is no one action that defines faith, just as there is no one recipe to successfully bake muffins. Rather, it often those little, day-to-day choices and actions, that demonstrate, build, and foster one’s faith.


Compared to the steps for building one’s faith, baking muffins is relatively easy. I have read and baked a wide variety of recipes over the years to recognize what basic ingredients should be part of a quality baked good; therefore, it is a merely a matter of selecting a recipe with the flavors that suit my family’s taste buds. Then, the key is following the recipe, step-by-step, in order for the muffins to bake up into the consistency of a mini-cake with delightful aromas and delectable taste.


Likewise, there is the Holy Scriptures, prayers, meditations, inspired readings, church, teachers, priests and/or pastors offering a plethora of recipes on how to put our faith into action—depending upon our innate taste preferences—by that I mean, the inner calling. For some, the inner calling may require a quite visible faith-recipe, such as, mission-work, ministering to the sick, teaching Sunday School classes, caring for the homeless, working in hospice, teaching children, and so forth. For others, their faith-recipe may be more reserved, but absolutely just as valid, such as a private prayer/devotional room, reading the Bible or other inspired/devotional type reading during a work break, being at the ready for service to others behind the scenes, being the person who is willing to take time to listen to co-workers, and so forth. Just as there are wide array of ingredients for serving up muffins, there are potentially an unlimited components for serving up faith.


However, just as muffins require certain basics in order for the chemical reaction to occur, turning individual ingredients into one tasty treat; faith, similarly, requires key elements in order to turn individual gifts into the beautiful body of Christ. For muffins, baking powder or baking soda, salt, flour, fat source, sugar, liquid, and egg are typical baking essentials. Likewise, faith also demands basic components, such as frequent encounters with the Scriptures, daily prayer/meditation, and regular guidance from a trusted priest, pastor, or teacher.


The basics for muffins, such as flour, salt, baking powder/soda are required for any style muffins–just as our faith-life requires certain basics.


Once given the basics, muffins can be imparted with a multitude of flavors; however, if were not for the heat of the oven, no matter the quality of the ingredients, the batter would never change. Thus, it is with us. Our faith will only expand, just like my muffin batter, when heat is applied. It is through the extreme heat that the chemical reactions occur. Some recipes call for a bake time of 20-25 minutes in a 325-degree oven, while others require 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees. Therefore, it is worth remembering, (and I say this to myself as much as to anyone reading this) that when encountering the heat of our oven-of-life, no matter for how long or how hot, keep in mind the humble muffin. Then, allow those basic ingredients to provide you with the “assurance of what we do not see” while in the midst of life’s heat; and, may it allow us to confidently rely on our faith that all is at it should be in order for us to become “baked” into the best version of ourselves.


The liquids without the basics ingredients and heat cannot become the dozen muffins–nor can we fully “become” without the basics of regular faith life actions.

Even when you combine the wet with the dry basics, without timed exposure to heat, muffins cannot come to fruition–neither can we without the ingredients of our faith recipe exposed to the heat of life.

P.S. I did bake the new recipe with a few modifications; and, my daughter and her friend indeed liked it. In fact, her friend ended up eating four! Therefore, I share my reconstructed recipe with you. I hope you will have faith to bake them up sometime!

The recipe follows below.

It is worth remembering the humble muffin when experiencing great heat from the proverbial oven-of-life.




**Gluten Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

 ¾ cup white sugar or equivalent substitute, such as Stevia

¼ cup oil (vegetable, coconut, or even applesauce, if you prefer no additional fat)

2 eggs (or equivalent substitute)

¾ cup canned pumpkin

¼ cup water

1½ **gluten free all-purpose flour (I prefer Cup-4-Cup brand.)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

(**You do not have to use gluten-free flour if you do not need/want it.)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line muffin pan with parchment papers or grease.

Mix sugar, oil, and eggs.

Add pumpkin and water.

In a separate bowl mix together the baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt.

Add wet mixture and stir in chocolate chips.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.

Sprinkle tops with love dust; a very light dusting of sugar, if desired.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.



First Visit to see our daughter at Bethany College and Wheeling, WV area

            “The oldest private college in the state (WV)—where traditions of academic excellence and lifelong learning are still the hallmarks of the Bethany experience.”—Bethany College website


Leaves crunching underfoot, sun light playing hide and seek with clouds of cream, cold air rudely stinging cheeks and uncovered hands, lungs and legs burned with the effort of walking up a steep hill, and not a soul to be seen. We had been here before, but this visit was strikingly different. Young co-eds did not descend upon us in persuasive greeting; there was not an influential keynote speaker awaiting, not only our arrival, but also for others like us; and, not a single sign of swag, banners, or other outwards signs of bravado lining our walk. Instead, our initial greeting was the random and sparse chirpings of the remaining songbirds that had not traveled south to warmer environs. And yet, we were not alarmed, but rather, reassured on this peaceful Saturday morning.

Pausing to snap pictures here and there along our ascent, we took in our surroundings. From the looks of the leaf-filled paths, we had just missed the peak autumn colors by mere days. The phone weather app that had earlier revealed an air temperature of 19 degrees, now boasted a balmy 28 degrees! Ahead, on the brick lined path, we saw the first sign of life: two girls walking an energetic and enthusiastic small dog. The dog paused upon seeing my husband, John and me. He cocked his head this way and that, as we talked to it in our best doggie-voice. Laughing, we continued walking as the dog jauntily returned to his short-legged step-hop-prance walk.


We were visiting our daughter, Madelyn, at Bethany College for the first time since she became a student. We planned to meet her at the college’s coffee shop, The Hub, but upon entering the shop, it was clear she had not yet arrived. In fact, no one was there except for the lone employee whose name, we soon discovered, was Linda.

The Hub, pictured above, is Bethany’s coffee shop.

Linda greeted us warmly, and upon learning the reason for our visit, asked the name of our daughter. She indeed knew Maddie, and said she was a “sweet girl.” In fact, we would later learn that Linda knew all of “her students” at Bethany. She was in her 49th year of working in the food service industry at Bethany. It was quite clear she loved her job because of the students, and later, as we discovered from several students, they loved Linda.

Linda, pictured with Maddie, and Maddie’s friend, Ben, join us on the couches of The Hub.

I couldn’t help but think that is why Maddie loves Bethany College so much— a school small enough to allow the opportunity to quickly form relationships and bonds, not only with students, but also with professors and staff such as Linda. This notion was confirmed frequently as we encountered and met many of our daughter’s new friends, peers, as well as another staff member, Amy Van Horn, Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, who, along with her daughter, Eden, has taken Maddie under their wings, giving her a local family base—something we greatly appreciate! Nearly every person to whom our daughter introduced us, we ended up parting in a hug of farewell!


Maddie and Eden Rice seated together.

Additionally, we experienced similar positive with encounters off-campus, albeit without hugs, in the nearby town of Wheeling. To begin, the staff at the Highlands’ Hampton was just as accommodating, friendly, and engaging as on previous visits. Each time we stay there, we feel as home as one can feel in a hotel. Furthermore, our dining experiences over a two-night stay further reinforced the genuinely genial nature of Wheeling residents.


On our first night in town, Maddie and Eden, trekked down “Bethany mountain,” as I have come to think of it, and met us at the Hampton in order for us treat them to a dinner at a local favorite eatery, Ye Olde Alpha Restaurant and Tavern—a Wheeling, WV Landmark Restaurant. Its website describes Ye Olde Alpha “as a no-nonsense establishment offering meat-centric meals along with other classic American dishes and beer.” Our waitress for the evening was Jesse, and as busy as Jesse was serving numerous patrons, she remained attentive, upbeat, patient with our questions, and offered ordering tips for our meals. In the end, Maddie and Eden noshed on oversized, juicy burgers, fixed to their personal taste preference along with a mound of fries. John enjoyed a nightly special sausage sandwich also served with a heaping over plate of fries. Meanwhile, I enjoyed their house salad and stuffed banana peppers. It was scrumptious food with fantastic service. We will return!


Maddie, Jesse, our waitress, and Eden Rice at Ye Olde Alpha.

The following evening, after spending the entire day on campus with Maddie, John and I explored another dining spot as Maddie had plans with her sorority sisters. Therefore, we tried another local eatery, Wheeling Brewing Company. Talk about a hidden treasure! This wood-filled, cozy brewpub was also staffed with spirited and warm people.   Fannie and Kylie took care of all of our dining needs, by answering questions, making suggestions, and even going out of their way to ensure my meal was gluten-free. Executive Chef, Ryan Butler, in fact, stepped out the kitchen to discuss meal modifications to ensure my dining safety as I have celiac disease that requires me to avoid consuming foods with wheat, rye, and barley. He even, unbelievably, had Braggs Liquid Aminos on hand to replace soy sauce in my delectable dish, The Kimchi Boat. WBC strives to work with local business to not only cook with local food ingredients, but also serves food in bowls, platters, and cups crafted by local artisans! This was truly a dining event that John and I hope to visit again soon!

Maddie was busy with her sorority sisters on Saturday evening.

While Maddie was hanging out at Alpha Xi house, John and I checked out the scene at Wheeling Brewing Company.  Fannie and Kylie took great care of us!

Of course, what weekend trip would be complete without Sunday brunch? Therefore, I fought my perpetual car-sickness once more as we made our way   ‘round the winding roads back to the top of “Bethany mountain” in order to dine with our daughter and Eden in Bethany College’s newly remodeled and completely renovated cafeteria. This cafeteria is not the typical college cafeteria I experienced back in the dark ages of the 1980s. Operated by the same company that runs Eat ‘n Park, this cafeteria featured locally sourced foods, a made-to-order omelet station, as well as copious varieties of fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads. Additionally, there was a sandwich bar, salad bar, freshly made pizza stand, traditional hot-dish-of the day section, drink station, and ice cream/dessert station. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my taste buds! With all of those food choices, I am betting the freshman fifteen is more than a college myth a Bethany!

All in all, John and I find both Bethany College and the Wheeling area an excellent location for a weekend getaway. We would highly recommend to others—which is a good thing since it looks like it will be our home-away-from-home for many years to come!


P.S. Currently, from November 10-January 1, it is also the home of Olgebay Winter Festival of Lights—a festive display of lights John and I also enjoyed as we made our down the mountain towards Wheeling on Saturday evening.



Go, Do Not be Afraid, and Serve

            “But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to every one I send you to and say whatever I command you.” Jeremiah 1:7


         “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis


“It’s too early, Mrs. Hill,” yawned one of the 7th grade girls in my car as we traveled in a caravan towards our ultimate destination: Camp Magis, held at Bishop Hodges Catholic Pastoral Center located on 1,400 acres in the middle of WV mountains just outside Huttonsville.


“I’m just going to sleep until there’s enough daylight to read,” sleepily stated another young lady.


“I’ll just take a nap too,” I retorted in a poor attempt at early morning humor.


Neither of the girls said a word. Yep, they were definitely sleepy. After all, it was just minutes after 6:00 am, and most of the students were not used to being awake this early.


John, my husband and fellow co-worker, was ahead of me in his truck as well as five other parent-volunteer drivers, three of whom would be staying in the camp along with John and me. The drive would take about 3 ½ to 4 hours, depending upon traffic and length of stops.


The Camp Magis tradition began in 2014 for all seventh graders in WV Catholic schools.   The name, “Magis,” whose Latin roots mean more or better, also comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who asked, “What more (magis) can do I do for Christ?” In addition, the Camp’s spiritual theme was further inspired by Pope Francis who urged youth at the World Youth Day rally in 2013, to “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”


Last year, John returned from camp, after his first visit, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the activities, the counselors, and they way in which the students bonded—not only to each other, but to their faith. Thus, when I was asked this year if I would go, I had to say, “yes.”


Still, I must confess, the teacher side of me was bemoaning the fact I would miss three days of classroom instruction with my students. Certainly, I could leave plans for my 6th and 8th graders, but that type of work is not the same. Then, on Friday, five days before we were to leave for camp, Father Dean talked to the 7th graders at the end of our weekly church service. While his message was meant for the students, I could not help be inspired as well.


He began by emphasizing that importance that magis means more and better.


“Go, be ambassadors for our school. Do more than is asked of you. Do better than is expected of you. Ask yourself, what is God calling me to do more of or to become better at? Be mindful and prayful in these questions throughout your stay.”


Much to my delight, our students took Father Dean’s directions to heart during our three-day stay.   From volunteering to read during church service, to cleaning up after meals, to diving into activities with vigor and vim, to sitting/kneeling quietly during times of prayer, to helping one another during difficult tasks, as well as to looking out for a student from another school who clearly had some challenges—our students did more and better.


Specifically, two activities deeply stirred me. One occurred each morning. Students were asked to attend chapel at the start of each day, before any other activity, including breakfast, for a unique prayer service. I was prepared for whining, complaining, and passive nonparticipation, but I was pleasantly surprised.


Both mornings, students, with no prodding from the other parent-volunteers, John, or me, listened to the speakers, and did as instructed. Looking around the chapel each morning and seeing our students, side-by-side teens and chaperones from other schools, kneeling at the alter, or sitting with their heads down in prayer and reflection, was such moving scene—I could not help but feel a profound stillness and sense of peace within.


In fact, walking away from chapel on our last morning, one of my students said to me with a wide smile, “Mrs. Hill, I didn’t think I’d like having to pray every morning, but I feel happier each time I do it. It’s like God giving me a hug to start my day.”


She was still grinning as she took off running to catch up with a group of girls heading to breakfast in the brightness of the full-on golden sunshine of a brisk autumn morning. If only I could bottle that moment for another time, when teen hormones will inevitably cloud her vision; but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of prayer, like the fallen hickory nuts l kept stepping on, haven taken root within her and will help her weather stormy days of teenage angst.


Did I mention that the camp setting could not have been more idyllic? Fall colors were flamboyant like an outdoor Christmas light display. In fact, many of our activities required hiking up hills of multi-hued leafy paths.


One of these hikes was based upon Mother Teresa’s quote, . . .”God is the friend of silence. . . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Kids and chaperones alike were invited to spread over and up the side of a hill. Once nestled into a spot away from other campers, we were to spend 20 minutes in total silence.


I chose to walk as high as was permitted on the edge of a heavily forested area. The wind continuously whistled, rustling the leaves.   Colors of amber, rust, and honey gently rained around me. The scent of overly-ripened apples, the detritus of fall, and damp earth filled my nostrils. I leaned back on my hands sensing the blades of cool, green grass bending with the pressure of my touch. The mountains across the valley were rolling and numerous, striking a bold, colorful contrast to the cobalt sky and soft, billowy clouds. Below me were students immersed in the sounds of nature and stillness. It was as if this natural resonance were an old-school felt eraser wiping away the mental, monkey-chatter often scrawled upon my mind.   This was a Divine moment on a Divine canvas.


Such symbolic representation—we were separate; and yet, we were one in His silence. What a message: One world; one collective group of people–divinely created to serve one another and our earth.


Magis. Let us do more. Let us do better.