C B Ranch, Almost Heaven, WV

            “Keep close to Nature’s heart . . . and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”—John Muir

 

“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.”—Edward Abbey

 

Author’s Note:  This originally began as one piece, but quickly became too long! Therefore, this is part one of a three-part travel series, once more featuring the Greenbrier Valley area of WV.  In this piece, I will focus more on the outdoor attractions, especially those of C B Ranch.  In next week’s piece, I will feature the wide array of dining experiences Lewisburg has to offer.  In the final installation, I will offer snapshots of what can be discovered along the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway.

 

 

“Mom, what would you think if I went home with Gigs over Thanksgiving break?”

 

I was listening to my daughter, Madelyn, on the phone as she talked in her usual rapid-fire manner.

 

“Listen, her mom invited me to join them. We’d be riding the Amtrak train from near her home in Sylvania, OH to Chicago.  Her mom said we could have Chicago style pizza for Thanksgiving!  How cool is that?”

 

And just like that, John, my husband of nearly 30 years, and I were childless for Thanksgiving for the first time in 19 years.  At first, I felt a bit sad, but deep in my heart I was happy for Maddie to have the experience. Maddie and Gigs had spent two weekends at our home already this semester of their sophomore year at Bethany College, and thus, I completely understood.  In fact, we often traveled with Maddie over the week of Thanksgiving, as she was growing up, visiting new areas for exploration.  Now it was her turn to sprout her wings and explore without us.

 

Images of our daughter, Maddie, and her friend, Gigs visiting Chicago with Gigs’ mom, Diana.

 

Soon enough, John was online and on the hunt for a Thanksgiving getaway for the two of us that would be pocket-friendly, and could be booked at the last minute as we were well into the month of November when Maddie made her announcement.  As we reflected over places to visit, we thought of our recent stay in the Greenbrier Valley area.  It was close—less than a three-hour drive.  Furthermore, it was beautifully situated in the WV Mountains, and the people we encountered were just the nicest.  Why not go back?  We had barely scratched the surface of things to do during our last visit.

 

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On a hiking trail at CB Ranch.

 

As John searched, he would show me one place, and then ask me to look at another.  Then, he found, “the one.” C B Ranch, located approximately four miles outside of Lewisburg, WV.  It was described as a “rental suite” with its own private entrance and private balcony views of the mountains.  Situated on 100-acre ranch, it offered everything we needed: living room, bedroom, full-bath, coffee-maker (always a must!), microwave, and mini-fridge. The pictures, along with its reasonable price, made it seem nearly too good to be true.  Hmm . . .

 

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We’ve learned, when using sites such a VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), that it is very important to read the client reviews—and the more customer reviews, the more accurate picture you can gain of a potential property.  CB Ranch’s reviews were stellar and filled with comments that appealed to us, such as, privacy, hiking trails, friendly/helpful owners, beautiful views, and so forth.  The more we read, the more we were convinced to give it a try.

 

C B Ranch owners, Cheryl (foreground) and Brooke (background) with Cowboy, one of their goats that acts more like a dog.  Notice how it appears that Cowboy is smiling in the first picture as he plays with Cheryl.

 

Cheryl and Robert (Brooke) Bidish, owners of CB Ranch offer a most unique accommodation—the ability to have your own private vacation rental suite (or even primitive camping if desired) while staying on an actively working ranch.  In addition to renting a vacation getaway, CB Ranch is host to numerous horses for which Cheryl and Brooke board and/or offer retirement care.  In fact, you could even bring your own horses when staying at the ranch if desired!

Horses are aplenty at C B Ranch; and, you can even bring your own during your stay!

 

The ranch is also home to Nigerian Dwarf Goats, Mini La Mancha Goats, Katahdin Sheep, one talkative burro, two ponies (one is still a baby), dogs, cat . . . yes, this is the real deal.  Thus, John and I woke each morning to milky sunlight streaming through the mountain mist as the horses’ tails swished, the burro called, the goats and sheep grazed,  while Cheryl or Brooke, aided by their pet dog, made their morning rounds. There was something so profoundly peaceful about simply sitting and sipping coffee while observing these animals in such a tranquil setting.

 

While staying at C B Ranch, guests have the ability to regularly interact with all types of animals!

 

In fact, the entire setting was soul soothing.  John and I consider ourselves “country-dwellers” compared to when we lived in-town, but C B Ranch takes country living to a whole new level.  The stillness at night was rest inducing as were our daytime hikes. C B offers miles of trails for both two and four-legged creatures that offer breath-taking views; and we certainly took advantage of those trails as we hiked/walked the land daily! All that fresh air, the pure spring water to drink daily, and the ability to engage with the all the variety of animal life was truly restorative.  Cheryl and Brooke respected our privacy, but were readily available to share stories of their animals or offer advice/help for not only navigating their property, but also exploring the Lewisburg area.

 

Some of the sights from trails at C B Ranch.

 

One area Cheryl and Brooke highly recommended was the Greenbrier River Trail.  I could not help but notice in the suite’s journal (a journal the Bidishs ask that you use to record events of your stay with them) that several visitors to C B Ranch had brought their horses along in order to ride and explore the GRT.  And, why not? With 78 miles of trail, the longest trail in WV and ranked as one of the top ten hiking trails by Backpacker Magazine, the GRT, whose trailhead begins just outside of Lewisburg, is the perfect spot for a wide-range of outdoor enthusiasts.  GRT, a former railroad line, can now be used for biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, camping, as well as snow sports.

 

Brooke and Cheryl had a couple of hiking sticks at the ready for us to use!

 

Therefore, we certainly took advantage of C B Ranch’s close proximity to the trail and spent one late morning/early afternoon walking along this beautiful winding, and clearly marked, path.  We trekked three miles out, and three miles back, never tiring of the rushing river, gushing waterfalls, and fresh air on a crisp autumn day.  Afterwards, we made the short trip to Lewisburg for refreshments before heading back to C B Ranch to wash away the trail dirt and clean up for a short drive back into town for dinner.

 

I kid you not, you should swing by C B Ranch on your next visit to Lewisburg, WV.  You might even get lucky and earn a hug from Cowboy!

 

If you are looking for the place that is truly “Almost Heaven, WV” for a weekend getaway, or even a weeklong adventure, consider staying at C B Ranch.  You will find the accommodations clean and comfortable, the natural surroundings heavenly, and Cheryl and Brooke Bidish to be gracious, friendly hosts. Their website is easy to find, http://www.cbranch.net, you can find them on Face book and Twitter, or you can directly contact them: cbranch@gmail.comor 304-445-6168.  Tell them Steph simply sent you!  I promise, you won’t regret a moment of your stay!

 

More scenes of tranquil beauty courtesy of C B Ranch.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you need for a comfortable stay.

Cheryl and Brooke completely respect your privacy.  

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

 

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           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.

 

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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?”

 

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           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.”

 

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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.

 

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           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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           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.

 

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           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!

 

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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.

            

           

           

 

The Sweetness of Life: Lessons from Blackberries

            “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth . . .”Mary Oliver

 

          “Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet, Through Love all that is copper will be gold, Through Love all dregs will become wine, Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.”–Rumi

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Isn’t it interesting how the mind works? As a kid, it seemed as if summer stretched on endlessly like driving across the state of Kansas on Interstate 70.  During the infinite sunny season of my youth, I spent many days and nights at my Grandparents’ house in the small town of Raceland, KY.  I can recall the unique smell of their home—a hybrid of mixed scents: fresh garden green beans, rambling rose and spirea bushes, fried meats, sweetly baked treats, Pledge wood polish, old books and magazines, moth balls, and Estee Lauder Youth Dew.  Even now, the memorable scent wraps me in a blanket of security.

 

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My grandparents’ home in Raceland, KY.

 

One of the highlights of these lazy, hazy days was the July 4 holiday week.   We almost always gathered at my grandparents’ house for a holiday feast.  Grandmother, as I called my maternal grandmother, was a phenomenal traditional, good ol’ Appalachian cook. Translated:  She often cooked and baked with bacon grease, left over fat drippings saved in a can, and plenty of sugar.  July 4 was her time to shine, let me tell you!!  Freshly strung half-runner green beans pressure cooked with about a half pound of bacon grease in an oversized pot with a whistling top that seemed to dance on the steam emanating from its center, thickly sliced and salted “just picked from the garden” beef steak tomatoes, Heiner’s brown and serve rolls topped with smears of “oleo,” aka margarine, homemade mashed potatoes mixed with whole milk and slabs of butter, fried chicken that was prepared in an electric skillet using an ample supply of Crisco vegetable shortening, salad sprinkled with little croutons from a can, and her famous, block-you-up-for-days macaroni and cheese.    Additionally, there was always a relish tray with olives, varieties of stuffed celery, and an assortment of pickles.

 

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One of my absolute favorite pictures of my Grandmother and Papaw on the day I graduated from Ohio University in June of 1987. Papaw would have been 75 and Grandmother 72 at the time this picture was taken; and, I was a mere 21 years of age.

 

The real rock star, however, of this show was the tri-fecta of July-4-only-desserts:  made-from-scratch brownies (I still use this recipe.), hand-cranked homemade lemon custard ice cream, and blackberry cobbler baked in a long metal sheet-cake pan with fruit filling on the inside, and a hand rolled pie crust on top. Yes, sir-ree this was some real unbuckle-your-belt and unbutton-your-pants sort of eatin’!

 

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Spending time with Grandmother and Papaw (as I called my maternal grandfather) a day or two before this epic-eating event was to watch ritualistic feast preparation worthy of mythological Gods.  Energy flowed and vibrated through my grandparents’ entire beings, and thus created a frenetic field of ever flowing love perfected through food. The house was redolent with sweet, savory, and salty aromas.  Typically, I’d hang out in the kitchen, offering to help, but really hoping for food samples.

“Do you need someone to clean the brownie batter dish (or icing bowl, custard dish, etc.)?  I’d be happy to ‘clean’ it for you.”

 

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I attempted to sound sincere, but my mind schemed, I’ll clean it after I slurp up all the generous leftovers clinging to the sides of the bowl. I’m sure my grandparents knew what I was up to, but they didn’t appear mind my so-called help.

 

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If I was up early enough during this time period, I’d eat breakfast with Papaw before his assent into the mysterious, overgrown hillside filled with “sticker bushes,” snakes, and insects.  No matter the temperature, he’d don his denim britches, as he called them, a long sleeve plaid shirt, cowboy boots, and a straw summer work hat that had a permanent perspiration ring around the closest part encircling his head like a dirty halo.  Lastly, work gloves were added to one hip pocket, and a red bandana (kerchief) was added to another. Then, once breakfast was over, he’d get an old metal bucket, and head into the safari of overgrowth on both the side and back embankment of their yard.

 

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Papaw would be gone for hours, or so it seemed. When he finally did return, his bucket would either be overflowing or contain just enough berries to make a cobbler—depending upon the weather the weeks leading up to his picking for which he would never fail to explain to any one who would listen.  His hands would be stained purplish-black, while his arms, legs, head, and face were often scratched with briar claw marks and numerous bug bites despite his clothing.  Aw, but the scent emanating from the bucket was sweet and earthy, the fruits of his stick-to-it-ness.

 

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All of these recollections, and more, ruminated within my head recently as I picked blackberries one hot July evening. Plucking those tiny jewels of dark sweetness, my mind also drifted to thoughts of how berry picking is so much like life.

 

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Picking blackberries is hard, often painful, and even annoying work.  It takes time, effort, energy, and much patience to pick enough blackberries to make a cobbler.  As I plucked away at the fruit, thorns perpetually pricked my skin, while mosquitoes and flies dined on my exposed flesh.  Much of the fruit was hidden in the brambles or dangling high above me.  I had to learn ways to work, such as lifting a branch by a leaf to reveal the berries behind it; or, contort my body by sucking in my belly, stretching up on tip toes, and craning my neck at odd angles in order to successfully gain a few more gems. I spent over an hour, and in that time I was able to pick about a pound of berries—not a lot for the wear and tear on my body.  Yet, the sweet reward of fresh baked cobbler scenting my home seemed enough motivation as I thought of my connection to family love.

 

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My hands were stained, scratched, and scoured from picking berries, but the sweet reward kept me moving.

 

My grandparents had it right.  Marriage, childbirth, education, friendships, work relationships, healthy habits, maintaining a robust faith life, and even family feasts–none of these are easy.  We get snarled, tangled, and stung by life events.   There are time periods in life where we may feel as if we are ensnared in the middle of the world’s biggest briar patch, but it is at these very times where we must keep the faith and continue to pick away from a place of love, genuine good-will, and honest effort, for the ultimate sweetness awaits us—the metaphorical taste of yummy-for-the-tummy, laugh-out-loud at the stain-your-teeth-purple goodness of the simple cobbler that is the joy of life.

 

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Over a pound of blackberries, ready for the freezer in order to make a cobbler later this month.

 

 

 

 

One Grain of Sand

           “I love the sea’s sounds and the way it reflects the sky.  The colors that shimmer across the surface are unbelievable.  This, combined with the color of the water over the white sand, surprises me every time.”—John Dyer

           “In this big ball of people, I’m just one grain of sand on this beach.”—Aurora

           Walking across black pavement, I moved as if the asphalt under my feet was melting into a viscous mixture.  The air was heavy with 83% early morning humidity. I rounded the corner of the Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk, NC, and there it was!  Looming directly in front of me: the Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

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The Kitty Hawk Pier bathed in morning sunlight.

          

           I followed the yoga teacher down the steps beside pier.  She explained that we would practice in the sand facing the pier.  “You’re not going to avoid getting sandy,” she added with a wry smile.  

 

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The beach yoga teacher rearranges a beach blanket on the ground from which she would teach yoga. She had just loaned the only yoga mat she brought with her to a student who did not have one.

 

           Watching her leave the designated area for our morning practice, she walked to the shoreline.  Sunlight glistened, dazzled, and danced over the expansive, seemingly breathing waves. I inhaled deeply, fully expanding my belly, rib cage, and heart space as is if I could make the ocean air part of my very being at the cellular level, if that were possible.   To and fro went the rhythmic slap of the waves overpowering the sounds of urgent morning birdsong, distant conversation, and the click, click, clatter of sand crabs. The resonance all blended into a shoreline tune full of layered harmony.

 

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Morning sun glistens on the Atlantic Ocean at the Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

           Gazing down at my feet, the most random questions struck me.  How many grains of sand was I standing upon? How long had it taken for each grain to arrive at this very point in support of my feet?  Furthermore, if I returned to this exact spot tomorrow morning, how many of those grains would be gone, or at the very least, be moved to another location, and how many would be new?  Then, it hit me . . .my life is but one of those grains of sand in a world full of billions of people. However, I rapidly lost this train of thought as a few others gathered. It was time for the morning yoga class to begin.

 

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How many grains of sand are under my feet? How long did it take them to travel there? If I stepped in the exact same spot tomorrow, would any of the same sand grains still be there?

 

           True to the instructor’s word, we did, indeed, get sandy—really, really sandy.  In fact, I was reminded of a TV commercial for a product of long ago, “Shake and Bake.”  Meat, usually pork chops, as best my memory serves, was placed in a plastic bag. Then, a beautifully manicured hand poured a prefilled pouch of spices into the bag, and over those generously cut pork chops.  Next, those same perfect hands shook the bag turning the raw, red meat into a white, ghost-like, powdery form. That was me practicing yoga on the beach, minus the bag.

 

Our instructor giving final instructions before beginning our yoga practice.  Students beside me listening and preparing to begin.

 

           The sun, still low on the eastern horizon, felt like a spotlight on each pose as the instructor taught.  Sweat began to form at the nape of my neck and ran into my eyes whenever we bent forward—which was often at the beginning. We practiced what is called in yoga, appropriately enough, “Sun Salutations.” This is often used as a warm-up sequence in yoga classes.  Warm me up, it did, but I wasn’t about to complain. After all, I was at the beach for heaven’s sake!

 

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           Half way or so, through the class, at the request of one of the students, the teacher moved us into the shade of the Kitty Hawk Pier.  It completely changed my perspective. The beach, the sand, the ocean waves, the beach homes in the distance, the hotel behind the sand dune, people with cups of morning coffee making their way idly along the shoreline, sea birds dipping, darting, and diving for their breakfast, the cacophony of sounds, and the briny, pungent scents—none of this had changed, but my line of vision was now redirected.  It was as if a whole new beach spread out before me.

 

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Under Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

           This is what a vacation, time away, a day or two off from work, or even a good night of sleep can bring—a newer, fresher perspective.  It is the feeling of the sweet release of a sigh after a deep inhale. It is the sunrise of life. The new sand washed ashore after a storm, or the blue of the sky after days of dark, doom-filled clouds.  

 

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The shore will erase the sand of my footprints as if it is a fresh sheet of paper ready for a new story.

 

           As a teen, and even into my thirties, I used a typewriter to write essays and assignments for classes or work. There was nothing like pulling out that white sheet of paper, feeling its smoothness, and drinking in its blemish-free blandness.  That blank page was full of promise and hope of work well written.

           I’d carefully line up those paper edges into just the right spot.  Then, I’d roll the bar until I could press the return button and count down the perfect number of lines down before I began typing.  Fingers would hover over the keys momentarily as I sent up the silent whisper of a promise to myself, “You’re not going to make mistakes this time, Steph.  This time, you will not need white out. The margins, the lettering, the spacing will all be beautifully aligned when finished.” Within the first paragraph, however, that fantasy typically came to a crashing halt as I was a terrible typist!

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           And so it is with our attachments, expectations, and even our challenges/problems.  We forget that everything can, will, and is changing. Frequently we attach, and even worry/fret, over our vision of the world, of ourselves, of others, of our problems, of our jobs, of our family, of our current situation, and so forth.  Sometimes, stepping out of the daily routine, habits, and schedule allows us to gain a new vantage point as I did on the beach that morning.

 

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My yoga mat was clean and ready for a new practice before I “dirtied” it up with sand as we practiced on the beach that morning. While I did have to suffer through a bit of sand abrasion and discomfort throughout the practice, once it was over, I picked up my mat and dusted off the sand in order to start fresh for my next practice–just as we can do each and every day and even moment!

 

           That number of sand grains under my feet as I practiced yoga, changed, shifted, and rearranged itself continually on that day.  My body continuously wobbled, bobbled, and tottered on the shifting sand. In fact, I fell down on more than one occasion! Before long, the sun had risen well above the horizon, the beach was more populated with people, the class came to an end, and those of us who were brought together to practice yoga as one group walked away, one-by-one.  Morning bled into afternoon, afternoon flowed into evening, and the sun was swallowed up by the western horizon. Tomorrow will be a new day with a different view.

 

I was blessed to see the sun rise on this morning.  A new day, a fresh start after a period of darkness.

 

           It was my lesson to learn that I need to attach less to material acquirements, status, ideas of perfection, worries, stress, problems, and other rewards or challenges social media and the world attempt to convince me are important.  Instead, may I learn to accept the shifting sands of life, and may I continually see there is always another perspective beyond the image directly in front of me. May I continue to rise up, dust the sand off, and try again whenever I do fall; and, may I allow the same for others.

 

           Playing around under Kitty Hawk Pier after the beach yoga class.  Thank you Outer Banks Yoga.  You’re absolutely right when you say, “There is time for this.”

 

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An image from Outer Banks Yoga with whom I had the pleasure of practicing yoga and pilates with all week! Namaste!

           

 

Cauliflower Protein Smoothie

“I really am a smoothie person. I love making a morning smoothie and then will drink some coffee and will not eat at all before lunch.” –Gwyneth Paltrow

 

Whether you like to drink your protein from a to-go cup or serve it in a bowl, there’s no denying the popularity of smoothies.  Smoothies are a great way to start your day on the right nutritional path. You can get a serving of protein, healthy fat, fresh fruit, and/or vegetables all in one convenient, portable, and most of all, tasty meal.  In fact, you can even add in your favorite coffee or tea for a jolt of caffeine if desired!

        

           You can even toss in your favorite morning beverage as a liquid to this smoothie recipe!

 

           While many proponents of daily smoothie-consumption encourage making the smoothie first thing in the morning and consuming it immediately, I typically make mine the night before, and store it in the refrigerator overnight.  Ok, so maybe after 8-12 hours of sitting in the fridge, my smoothie’s nutritional value is slightly reduced; it still has MUCH more nourishment than those ready-to-go bottles and cans found on grocery and convenience store shelves.  Plus, I know what I make has far less sugar, and does not contain any extra additives that might cramp or bloat my belly.

 

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

 

             I have experimented with adding several different vegetables to my smoothie: from spinach to Swiss chard, romaine lettuce to kale, and all other leafy greens in between.  However, my most often repeated go-to vegetable is frozen riced cauliflower. I know, it sounds odd at first, but it blends well and makes a smoothie extra creamy. Like a blank canvas, all other flavors override the taste of cauliflower, making it the perfect veggie add-in.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

          

          Adding in cauliflower to my daily smoothie adds significant nutritional value.  To begin, cauliflower is not only full of fiber which keeps me feeling fuller longer, but it also contains fancy sounding compounds–glucoraphanin, sulforaphane, glucosinolate, glucobrassicin, and gluconasturtiin—that when combined with cauliflower’s naturally occurring fiber–help promote digestion, detoxification, and nutrient absorption.  

 

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You don’t see any cauliflower here, and neither will you taste it; however, you will reap all of its nutritional benefits!

 

           Cauliflower is also abundant in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory elements.  It’s loaded with vitamins C and K as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Humble cauliflower is also chock-full of selenium, phosphorus, and calcium—which can boost your immune system.  Plus, not only does it look like a brain, but it can boost brain function as it also contains choline, a vital nutrient for brain development.

 

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Photo by meo on Pexels.com

 

           I could go on and on about the nutritional and health benefits of cauliflower; but, bottom line, my smoothie recipe taste great!!! It possesses the creamy texture I crave, and by the time my workday begins, I’ve already consumed one serving of vegetables, protein, and healthy fat to power my way through the morning!  Personally, I like to make it with less liquid and eat it as a smoothie bowl because it feels as if I am eating pudding for breakfast! That said, I’ve certainly been known to blend it up with coffee and drink it on the way to work!

 

From a handful of ingredients, I can make myself either a delicious smoothie or smoothie bowl.

 

           Regardless of whether you drink this, or eat it with a spoon, it is worth the effort to make this powerhouse meal!  And, hey, who says you have to have it for breakfast? You can consume this any time of the day you want the convenience of nutrition in a cup! Plus, this recipe can be modified to fit any nutritional program especially if you are following the **Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan.  It is gluten free, and can be made vegan or vegetarian if desired. What’s not to love about that kind of versatility?

           From my home to yours, I wish healthy, happy, homemade meals . . .even if they’re to go!

 

These are all optional nutritional boost add-ins if needed in your diet.

 

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A great gluten-free and plant based (vegan) protein powder that is pocket friendly and widely available at many local store.

 

Cauliflower Smoothie

**If following Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, see below!

Makes one smoothie or bowl

Ingredients:

½ to 1 ½ -cup water, coffee, tea, or favorite milk/milk substitute (Use less for bowl, more for smoothie)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

1-packet favorite sweetener (I use Stevia.)

1 serving of your favorite protein

1½-teaspoon to 1-tablespoon chia seed, ground flaxseed, or hemp seed (Use only chia seed if making bowl for thickness.)

1-tablespoon cocoa or cacao powder (Optional)

½ – 1-cup frozen riced cauliflower  (I use ¾ cup or 85 grams.) (Can also use same amount of spinach, but will give smoothie a green tint.)

Optional:  Add in ½- ¾-cup of favorite frozen fruit for added sweetness and even more vitamins and fiber, such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, and so forth.

Other optional nutritional boosts:  1 scoop of collagen, 1 scoop of greens powder, 1 scoop of glutamine (especially when consuming within an hour or so of working out), mct or coconut oil and/or ghee.

 

          Once you add in half of the total amount of liquid to your blender cup, then add in the ingredients in the order listed.

 

Directions:

Pour ½ the amount of desired liquid to bottom of 1 serving blender cup.

Add rest of ingredients in the order listed.

Pour rest of liquid on top.

Attach to blender and blend well—usually 60-90 seconds works on my Ninja.

Serve immediately, or store until next morning.  (I especially like to make this the night before, pour it into a bowl or cup, and refrigerate overnight for a quick grab and go breakfast.  If making a smoothie bowl, it is especially nice to top with freshly sliced fruit and/or sprinkle with your favorite nut pieces. Additionally, if you’re not opposed to consuming dairy, consider topping your bowl with a dollop of whipping cream.)

**Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan:

If you are like my daughter, Madelyn, a *Health Coach who follows the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, but you struggle to get in your “greens” because you are new to vegetables or not a big fan, then adding cauliflower to recipes if a fantastic way to painlessly get in that nutritious, and essential green.  We add in riced cauliflower to many of her recipes which I will continue to share in the future.  (As of the writing of this blog, Madelyn has lost a total of 11 pounds and 11 inches in three weeks!)

For this smoothie recipe, plan for the following:

Combine your favorite fueling (Shake or smoothie works best here)

Each 1/2 cup of riced cup of cauliflower = 1 green  (Remember, you need 3 per day!)

Then, the following optional additions fit in your plan this way:  (Of course, you do not need to add in any of the options, just pick one or two that you best suit you!)

1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract = 1/2 condiment

1 teaspoon cocoa powder= 1 condiment

1 packet stevia = 1 condiment

1/2 teaspoon chia seed = 1 condiment

1 teaspoon flax seed = 1 healthy fat serving

1 serving of whipped topping = 1 condiment

Remember, on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you can have up to 3 condiments per day and 2 healthy fats 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows and Willow Trees: Not-so-Simple Lessons of Life

           “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4

           “When walking through the ‘valley of shadows,’ remember, a shadow is cast by a Light.”—Austin O’Malley

 

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The willow tree branches dance on the hot summer air like the train of ball gown.

 

           I have often written about the willow trees in our yard.  The elegant, softly whispered grace of their meandering limbs are like the hem of a ball gown, long and loosely flowing behind a woman riding the waves of the air disturbance she creates waltzing about a large dance floor.  Unlike that gossamer dress, the willow is deeply rooted. It was this very image that came to mind this past weekend.

Father’s Day, our 29th wedding anniversary, our daughter’s birthday, and time set aside for writing were all on the agenda for the week.  It was all planned out, or so I thought . . .

 

 

Father’s Day, Maddie’s 19th birthday, and our 29th wedding anniversary were all celebrations on the schedule for the week.

 

           Saturday night.  Call came in. It wasn’t good.  Without revealing too much in order to honor privacy, John, my husband, and I ultimately headed to St. Mary’s hospital in nearby Huntington, WV on Sunday morning.  One delay after another, led us to arriving later than planned. Nonetheless, it worked out as our loved one was being moved from ICU—where we probably would not have been able to see her–to another floor of the hospital.

           As we spent time with this fragile soul, I took time to gently massage and caress her hands, arms, and shoulders. They were tense, tight, and cold. I kept trying to encourage the loved one to relax, but it was nearly impossible.  I suspect she was subconsciously grasping for control of a situation that was nonetheless uncontrollable. The few words she spoke reflected a deeply rooted faith; but her limbs as well as the tears welling in her eyes, like so often in life, revealed her hidden fear.  

 

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A picture in St. Mary’s Hospital, Huntington, WV, from the 1920s of one of the hospital’s early operating rooms.

 

             My heart ached as we departed from the tiny room.  John and I made our way through the maze that is a hospital in order to find our way to the exit. We were already behind the so-called schedule in our heads, but all would be on-track soon, or so we thought.

           With the whoosh of the elevator door, we stepped into the lobby.  For a split second, the moment was surreal. The vortex of my mind saw two beloved men with whom John, Maddie, our daughter, and me had spent countless weekends at the local YMCA soccer field.  For that mini-point of time, I was swept away into the past, and then just as swiftly thrust forward into the harsh reality. One of the men, approximately the same age as my dad, was sick—there was no doubt about it.  The other man with him was his son. It was clear the son was trying to get help for his father. Wait, what was happening?

           John and I made our way quickly through the crowded lobby and to these dear ones.  I was swept into the arms of the older gentleman, and John warmly gripped the hand of the younger one in a handshake that had the conviction of warmth and genuine happy-to-see-you-gratitude. Sinking into the older man’s arms, my gaze glanced over his shoulder to his seated, and very frail, wife and worried daughter-in-law.  Oh no . . . before I heard the truth, the pain of its bite fought to overtake my pounding heart. No, no, no . . .not this too.

 

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As seen on Instagram @heartcenteredrebalancing

 

           I felt the grip of the man’s emaciated figure pull me tighter still as my arms tried to hug him with an even more tenderness for fear of hurting him.  My dear sweet friends of years’ past, where had the time gone, and why are you hurting so? My mind raced through the maze of what-ifs before I heard the facts.

           Well over an hour passed as we sat with these precious souls.  John and I took turns speaking with husband and wife as well as son and daughter-in-law.  Just as it is when friends reunite, the time apart matters not, our hearts resumed their previous rhythms.  Hands held, shoulders stroked, eye gaze maintained with intention, ears perked to attention, all senses heightened.  Words of faith and strength were uttered, but body language belied the substratum of fear that is our human nature.

 

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As I spoke to my friend on the phone for a second time, a feather fell from a bird and drifted onto me. All living things must shed and release in order to renew and grow in strength.

 

           An unplanned, impromptu phone call followed. I needed to connect with this couple’s daughter with whom, at one point in my life for many years, I spent nearly every day.  I listened to her strong voice, so similar to her sick dad’s; but also, like her Daddy, that voice was filled with a dam of emotion, hovering below the surface of her brave declarations, threatening to break free.  Even in roots of faith, a vein of fear was nicked in the rawness of life.

           Arriving home to a torrent of anxiety.  Our daughter had made a mistake—the kind you make when you’re entering those early years of adulthood.  It was a minor one, but it burst within her a deluge of tears, self-criticism, and panic. Her faith in herself and her higher source wavered.  And so it was my calling to once more sit, listen, connect, and offer my time and presence. Writing remained undone, and the schedule continued to fall to the wayside. This was not the plan for the day, but yet it was all perfectly orchestrated by a power greater than us.

 

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I was captivated by this picture at St. Mary’s by the way the contrast of the light with the trees and the shadows they created together. When I looked at the photo days later, after writing this piece, I couldn’t help but notice my own image reflected in the glass. Divine Providence was already at work on my lesson without me realizing it yet.

 

           As I write these intensely felt words, my eyes often wander to the willow trees outside.  Not only have their roots deepened over the 17 or so years we have lived here, but also the branches have broadened and extend in all directions. Their shade now covers large portions of the yard, while the size and shape of their shadow shifts throughout the day as well as the seasons with the movement of the sunlight and the dressing and undressing of their leaves.  And so it is with life . . .

 

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           Our lives branch and broaden not only from day-to-day, but also from life-season to life-season.   As we move through the stages of life, we may form new connections, but all branches of our life remain intact.  Sometimes we are stripped bare, like the limbs of a willow in the winter, or even broken by the strong winds of life.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @spiritualist_within.

          

            Still, like the willow, there is opportunity for growth and strength when we root deeply into our core values of faith, family, and friends.   Then, the shadow cast by our lives becomes more expansive and shifts shape. This shadow, like the valleys of darkness we all must endure, is merely the underbelly of light.  Even though the willow must endure months of winter darkness, a time period in which it is disrobed of its brilliant emerald adornment, it redresses and is renewed each spring as the shafts of light begin to break through the winter clouds of bitterness.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Christopher’s Eats: An Excellent Local Eatery with Outstanding Service and Staff

           “A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you’re not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you.  If it can do both of those things at the same time, you’re hooked.”—Danny Meyer

           If you know me, you know I enjoy cooking. Preparing delicious food from scratch is, to me, a creative and rewarding process—not to mention healthy and budget friendly.  Finding a recipe with potential, allowing complete absorption of my senses as I work with the recipe, giving it my own unique twist, serving it to loved ones, and seeing a smile spread across their face after the first bite, is an endeavor worth pursuing in my mind.  

           However, in world where schedules are often overbooked, and people are frequently overextended, it is nice to have a healthy and delicious alternative for meals that isn’t fast food.  A place where food is prepared from scratch with a similar sense of adventure and self-expression that I often feel cooking; and, where the staff takes time to know you by name. This is not an easy request, especially for me, as I have to eat gluten free due to celiac disease; and, I choose to eat mostly plant based.  (In other words, I rarely eat meat.) Meanwhile, my daughter, Maddie, and husband, John, have their own individual taste preferences; thus not any ol’ restaurant will do!

 

 

 

When dining out, I want my family to eat made-from-scratch real food such as these dishes prepared at Christopher’s Eats.

           One of our long established go-to restaurants is Christopher’s Eats, located on US RT 60 across from the semi-notorious pink elephant.  We discovered Christopher’s Eats several years ago when our daughter kept us rather busy with sports, especially soccer. A large portion of her games, and nearly all of the practices, were held at the YMCA Kennedy Center—just a hop, skip, and jump away from US. Rt 60. Therefore, it became our habit, 2-4 times per month, to either dine-in CE’s, as we love to call it, or dash-in for a quick to-go order for dinner.

 

 

 

The evening shines brightly into the bar and dining areas of Christopher’s Eats.           

          Christopher’s Eats consistently serves good, made-from-scratch meals.  From freshly baked flatbreads in their coal-fired oven to a wide-array of traditional and unique appetizers; from phenomenal fresh vegetable sides to creamy Mac n’ cheese and grilled meats to cooked perfection; from original bowl dishes to burgers, tacos, and other handhelds; and, from a wide array of succulent salads to decadent desserts; Christopher’s Eats has something for everyone!  

 

 

 

Both the dinner menu and lunch menu offer a wide-variety of food options–from the ultra-healthy to the ultra-splurge, and everything in between!

 

 

Jason Ball is at the ready at Coal-fired oven to create a wide-array of flatbread pizzas.

 

 

 

Jason Ball warms up for pizza making!

           Both John and Maddie love CE’s burgers and Mac and cheese.  In fact, their burgers (especially the Pimento and Bacon Burger) as well as their Mac’s cheese is the standard by which John compares when we travel and dine out.  I cannot tell you how many times John has lamented that a burger he ordered elsewhere is not near as tasty as what he can eat at Chris’ Eats. Additionally, he is absolutely crazy about their fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts.  

 

 

 

Fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussel’s sprouts as well as Pimento and Bacon Cheeseburger served with a side of good ol’ Mac n Cheese are two of John’s favorite dishes a CE’s.

          Then again, John also loves their Black Bean and Corn Cakes as well as their Coal Fired Wings from the appetizer section of their menu.  We both love their Pulled Pork Nachos—although I rarely order them because of the meat and cheeses– but boy, are they ever good!! We have acquaintances that love the Coal Fired Olives, and others who love Pimento Cheese Fries or Sweet Tot Nachos.  Other diners with whom we have spoken, recommend all versions of the Seared Tuna—from appetizer version, to dinner portion, or served on salad. We keep it simple and order truffle fries as our appetizer even though they are technically a side.

 

 

Truffle fries are our favorite side that we often order as an appetizer, but tuna is a popular item with many of Chris’ Eats customers.

 

           Personally speaking, I love their bowls!  My two favorite bowls are the Veggie Stir-Fry and the Roasted Fennel Ragout.  The staff allows me to make tweaks to these dishes to adapt to my dietary needs and preferences.  (Oh my goodness, I am getting hungry just writing about them!) That said, the other bowls, look delicious as well; however, they don’t lend themselves as easily for adaptation for someone who eats gluten-free and mostly vegetarian.

 

 

 

Roasted Fennel Ragout, pictured here with asparagus and Veggie- Stir Fry are two of my favorite dishes at Christopher’s Eats.        

            Another personal favorite on their menu is the “pick three sides” option from which to make a meal.  (I’ve even added a fourth for a small upcharge.) Their vegetables are cooked and seasoned to perfection, including items such as Collard Greens, and their current offering of grilled asparagus!  The potato sides are also amazing—including Roasted Fingerling Sweet potatoes and Red-Skinned Mashed potatoes. Oh, and while these aren’t vegetables, have I mentioned their yummy melt-in-your-mouth fried apples?

           Additionally, I cannot say enough about their salads. I love the variety of salads as well as the fact that I can order most of their salads in two sizes.  Furthermore, for those eating a low-carb diet, CE’s offers several grilled meat options to top salads, including chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, and tuna. Plus, all of their dressings are freshly made, and oh-so-beyond tasty!

 

 

 

          Look at these beautifully plated salads as well as a delectable looking entree!

         

 While I have not personally eaten these, I have dined at Chris’ Eats enough to see the wide variety of beautifully plated meat-based entrees and savory soups.  Given how gorgeously and generously prepared the entrees are served; I sometimes wish I were more of a meat eater. John has eaten the ten-ounce pork chop—despite the fact he is not, per se, a pork-chop kind of guy.  However, after John talked with a man who ordered the pork chop, and then listened to him describe in great detail how wonderfully it tasted, John had to order it and loved it!!!

 

 

 

           Check out these scrumptious looking main dishes so stunningly presented!

 

Sadly, I cannot eat their desserts as Chris’ Eats usually offers a cheesecake selection of the day.  Let me just say though, they look unbelievably good. I feel pangs in my heart each time I see one go by me while dining there (sigh).

 

 

 

Oh how I wish I could eat these tempting, tasty looking desserts!

 

           Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceedingly friendly staff at Christopher’s Eats.  They offer personal and thoughtful service, and pay attention to the details. Furthermore, I love that they make an effort to get to know their customers. In fact, nearly every time we visit, Chef Christopher Dixon, his wife (a manager and fellow yogi), Laura Dixon, or one of their other management staff, make a point to come around to greet customers and ensure quality service and food.  And, frankly, bottom line—even with their phenomenal food, if they did not have such outstanding staff and owners, we would not return as often as we do! CE’s staff makes it worth the 20-30 minute drive from Chesapeake, Ohio!

 

 

           

The next time you’re craving the comforts of good food, quality beverages, and a staff that caters to their customers, give Chris’ Eats a try; and tell them, Steph Simply sent you!  

 

P.S.  Thank you Christopher’s Eats for allowing me to use a few of your pictures from Instagram as well as take pictures during the dinner rush!

 

 

Time with family at Christopher’s Eats.           

 

Always Choose Kindness

            “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”—Aesop

          “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness.  Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”—Scott Adams

 

Public confession:  I love to people watch and eavesdrop in public.  I suppose I indulge in this habit for a number of reasons.  Perhaps, it is the story-lover in me in search of an interesting “read.”  Maybe, my default teacher mode is continually surveying whatever surrounding area I happen to land in order to ensure the safety of all.  Then again, it could be a genetic predisposition as my parents and grandparents possessed a knack for taking in the public behaviors of others.  Sometimes, I think I am driven to seek examples of goodness in the world in order to prove wrong the media’s focus on the negative side of humanity. Regardless of the reason or motivation, I am guilty as charged.

 

As seen on Instagram at spiritualist_wthin

 

My husband, John, our daughter, Maddie, and I have often discussed the importance of treating others with kindness, especially in the public arena.  John and I spent years as youth working in a wide variety of minimum wage job settings, but even as teachers, we have had eye-opening experiences both positive and negative when interacting with the public.

 

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For example, while working at McDonald’s as a teen, a customer actually tried to physically pull me through the drive-thru window in a fit of rage because his food wasn’t ready.  Then, I once encountered was a woman at Lazarus (now Macy’s), who repeatedly berated me and accused me of purposely charging her the wrong price for a sales’ item.  (Thank heavens for a nearby manager in both situations.)

Even as a teacher, I have certainly had my fair share of negative/shocking experiences.  Thus, it is important to our family that we try to treat those who provide services for us with as much respect and kindness as possible as illustrated by a couple of recent experiences. I am by no means implying we are perfect, but we believe it is a worthwhile goal.

With Madelyn home from college, I have accompanied her to a few public spaces rife with opportunities to people-watch, specifically, doctor office waiting rooms.  Summer is the perfect time for updating contact/glasses prescription, visiting doctor and dentist for check ups, and, the big one, removing wisdom teeth.  Some of these visits, Maddie can navigate on her own with our family’s insurance card, while other appointments require a parent’s presence for either payment, or in the case of wisdom teeth removal, as a designated driver.

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As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways

 

Our eye doctor, Mark Brown, OD, has an office is inside a Wal-Mart, which is always an interesting place to observe people! However, for the sake of this story, I’ll stick to the take-away point: the importance of kindness.  Dr. Brown has a gentle way of interacting with his patients, and his staff reflects a similar sense of calm.  As we were leaving, Maddie and I were conversing with one of the staff members who began sharing with us the challenges of working with the public.  She concluded with a rude interaction she recently experienced with a (now former) patient.   In the end, she stated, “If he had only been nice in the first place, we would have worked something out with him.”

One day later, Maddie and I were once again together in another doctor’s office, Mountain State Oral and Facial Surgery, in order to have her wisdom teeth extracted.  She was naturally apprehensive and nervous, but the staff exuded kindness beyond measure, as did many of the patients in the waiting room.

Since I was in the waiting room for quite an extended period of time, I visited the restroom a couple of times.  On my last visit, I took the last of the toilet paper.  As I exited the bathroom, another lady was heading in there.  I suggested she wait while I asked the front desk staff for more toilet paper.  She seemed astonished that I would tell her, and even thanked me as she momentarily returned to the seat while the staff member graciously took care of the issue.

Later, a surgery staff member made a special trip to find me in the waiting room.  This young lady explained that Maddie wanted me to know that everything was fine, and that she was only now going under anesthesia.  “She knew you had been out here for quite a while, and she didn’t want you to be worried.”

Not only was I incredibly touched by my daughter’s thoughtfulness, but also by the staff member’s follow-through. After all, she could have assured Maddie she would tell me, but not actually taken time do it with good reason, as they were quite busy on that day.

While continuing to wait, another patient began to inquire about Madelyn.

“How has she adjusted to being old enough to fill-out and sign her own paper work?”

Realizing I was with another people-watcher in order for her to know this about Maddie, I respectfully listened to her experiences when she first turned 18 even though I had planned to use the time to study and read.  Ultimately, she ended up sharing information about a medical app called, Care Zone, which I could download on all of our family phones that would store our medical history, medicines, and insurance information.  She explained it would not only help Maddie as she independently navigated medical appointments, but it would also help the entire family keep track of important information medical facilities need for routine visits and emergency situations. I was moved by her helpfulness.

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As seen on Instagram at yoga_digest

 

Finally, I was called back to the holding room where, Kayla, another assistant, detailed all of the information required to adequately and safely care for Maddie as she recovered from this minor, but significant, outpatient surgery.  When Maddie was finally wheeled into me, she was naturally quite silly from the anesthesia, but Kayla remained patient, considerate, and tolerant of Maddie’s antics and repetitious commentary even when I could not keep a straight face.

 

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Maddie, pictured here, not long after her wisdom teeth were extracted when she was still in a really silly phase due to anesthesia.

 

In the meantime, another staff member, who I believe was named Brittany, came out to talk to me.  While I am not able to recall her precise wording, a couple of points stood out.  First of all, she explained that all types of people visit their office, especially young adults, but that Maddie was one of most thoughtful and respectful. Secondly, she appreciated Maddie’s curious mind and ability to engage in meaningful conversation.  There were other points shared that made my parent-heart smile, but I’ll privately treasure those.  The main point is: Brittany didn’t have to leave her workspace to tell me.  Likewise, it would have been understandable, given the situation, for Maddie to not have taken time to courteously interact; and yet, they both did.

Like begets like; kindness begets kindness. Even if you never see the effect, to act kindly is always the right choice. Is it always easy? No.  Are you going to have days where you forget? Probably.  Is it worth practicing as often as possible? Absolutely!  Besides, you never know who is watching, and what lessons you are exemplifying.

 

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As seen on Instagram at heartcenteredrebalancing.

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!

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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.

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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.

 

Moving into Mother’s Day

           “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new.”—Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

 

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Maddie birthed me into motherhood.

          

           This weekend, I will be traveling, once again, to the Wheeling/Bethany, WV area.  My husband, John, and I will be making this trip together in order to pack up our daughter, Madelyn’s, belongings for the summer.  She will remain at Bethany College with the few items she needs for the next few days in order to study and take her final exams before returning home mid-week.  

           A few weeks prior, when Maddie came home for a rare and quick weekend visit, it occurred to her, as we discussed the plan, that we would be moving her possessions on Mother’s Day weekend.

           “Sorry, Mom, that’s not much of a Mother’s Day present,” she said half-laughing, but I could see the remorse in her eyes.

           “Sure, it is,” I replied.  “I am spending time with you—Best. Present. Ever.”

 

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Maddie’s Mother’s Day present to me when she was in second grade at St. Joseph Catholic School, Gail McDowell, teacher.

           

          Maddie, being Maddie, rolled her eyes at me, but I spoke the truth—at least for the most part.  Did I look forward to lugging totes, boxes, and bags out of her dorm room, into John’s truck, and into the house once home?  Well, that is not exactly the most exciting part, but I am glad to do it. In fact, I am happy to help move her belongings for many reasons.

           First, and foremost, I am spending time with my daughter, the young woman who birthed me into motherhood.   I still fondly recall those nine months of pregnancy. Okay, the morning sickness was not that fun, but everything else was filled with wonderment.  

 

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Maddie serves me breakfast in bed one past Mother’s Day assisted by our two, now-passed cats, Bobbi and Robbi.

          

           Pregnancy in the late 1990s meant no gender-reveal party, no 3-D ultrasound images, no social media blasts, and so forth.  John and I did not even own a computer at that time. Instead, I went to the library often, and checked out multiple books on pregnancy, purchased the classic book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel (now in its fifth edition and considered to be one of the most influential books of the past 25 years), and eagerly called family to share to the news once we found out we were having a girl.

 

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This little bundle of joy was long awaited!

          

           As my belly expanded, I would gently caress it, thinking about the new life growing inside of me.  I talked, sang, and even read aloud to her. John would lean down in the evenings, put his hands on my stomach, and speak to her as well because, “She needed to know her Dad’s voice too!”

           The first time I saw her foot pressing against my stretched mid-section, I cried—such a miracle of life growing inside me.  It was a time in my life when I felt as if I was God’s assistant in creating and caring for life. Thus, why would I mind helping her move most of her things out of her dorm room nearly 19 years later?

           Secondly, helping my daughter move out at the end of an academic year is an act of celebration.  After all she successfully completed her first year of college as well as her first year of semi-adulthood.  (I say “semi” in that, we hold her accountable for and respect her decisions, but she is not yet 100% financially independent.) That first year away from home in college is not an easy transition.  Maddie, not only made it through, but also achieved a few significant milestones along the way for which John and I feel extremely proud.

 

          Maddie always loved to draw pictures for me as well as leave me notes when she was small.

 

           Thirdly, helping her move her out allows me to feel part of her life-away-from-home.  While there, we will have the opportunity to connect with her friends, walk the paths she daily ambles, and perhaps gain a bit more insight into life at Bethany College.  I don’t mean to imply I wish to hover; rather, it’s more about a genuine interest into the person Maddie is becoming, the person who made me, “Mom”.

 

                     In fact, she still leaves me notes.          

 

           Finally, while the trip will be a whirlwind of activity that will most likely create some fatigue, John and I will have some down time together.  The trip to and from Bethany traverses some beautiful scenery that we both enjoy sharing. It will grant us an opportunity to talk without interruption.  Plus, it will also give us the gift of shared quiet—something that is often undervalued in our society.

 

                    Maddie certainly “baptized” John and I into parenthood!          

 

           It’s funny, while writing this; a memory has repeatedly popped up in my mind’s eye.  It is a fuzzy, movie-like image of driving to work towards the end of my pregnancy. May was in its full-glory as the morning sun glowed through my windshield.  While waiting at a rather long red light, I began to rub my distended belly, as I was less than three weeks away from Maddie’s birth. Unexpected tears of joy began streaming down my face in that moment at the thought of soon meeting my daughter.   Now, I get to feel that sensation again as John and I drive to see and embrace our child once more. Life is good, and I am blessed. What more could I ask for on Mother’s Day?

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Maddie at one-year.