Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

“Ms. Hill, is that a green smoothie?”

Due to COVID restrictions, the school for which I work offers early drop off for students in order to stagger their arrival times; therefore, students begin entering my classroom at 7:30 am.  Until 8:05, students in my middle school homeroom class gradually fill the room while I am typically setting up Google Classroom and other platforms that we use throughout the school day.  Meanwhile, the students use this time to finish homework, study, read, or quietly chat with friends.  

While going about my morning tasks as students arrive, I typically drink a homemade smoothie.  I had not realized any of the students had noticed my habit until a few weeks ago when one of the earliest arrivals asked the question above.  When I confirmed her question, she followed it up with another.

“Why do you drink that?  Is it like a protein drink?”

I briefly explained the whole food ingredients, including leafy greens and fruit, and how otherwise I don’t make time for breakfast; she nodded in understanding.  Then the same student explained that one of her friends also drinks green smoothies, but that she, the student talking to me, never gets up early enough to make one.  At this point, another classmate came in, and the inquisitive girl’s attention was drawn away.

I used to feel the same way driven by authors who touted that smoothies must be blended and consumed within an hour of being made or vital nutrients would be lost.  Then again, I used to feel guilty for even consuming smoothies due to other authorities who insisted that all food must be chewed.  Eventually, I tossed both views aside and found my own nutritional middle ground that works best for me. 

Smoothies, made with whole food ingredients that I control, are my nutritional bombshells.  They may not work for others, but they work for me.  These breakfast cocktails are loaded with a serving of dark leafy greens (or riced cauliflower), a serving of fruit, and whatever nuts, seeds, and/or protein I choose to add–depending upon what nutritional need I want to address.  I think of them as a blended breakfast salad.

Last month I began to wonder if I couldn’t freeze smoothies in order to make them in advance, and still keep them fresh.  With a quick bit of research, I found several valid websites that shared the ins and outs of this technique!  Therefore, this past month I began freezing my smoothies.  On Sunday afternoons, I gathered all of my ingredients and blended enough smoothies for the upcoming week.  I put one in the refrigerator for Monday morning and the rest were stowed away in the freezer. Then, each morning, as I packed for work, I grabbed in one thawed smoothie from the fridge, and took another one down from the freezer to thaw for the next work day. As one who loves to food prep for the week ahead, this was a dream come true!

According to several manufacturing websites, when freezing smoothies, wide mouthed glass jars, like canning jars, work well.  Be sure to leave a gap at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.  Smoothies can safely remain frozen for up to three months and still retain their nutritional value.  When ready to use, simply take one out of the freezer the day/evening before, and allow it to thaw overnight.  

“All berries and their juices—including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, acai berries, goji berries, elderberries, and strawberries—are superfoods.”–Joel Fuhrman

Reading through my list of ingredients, keep in mind that I am a petite, older woman whose calories and nutritional needs are on the lower end.  Additionally, I do not have one of the top of the line blenders, like a Vitamix or Blendtec.  Therefore, if you are larger and/or younger, and have a top-notch blender, feel free to double any of the ingredients according to your nutritional needs or taste preferences. (Personally, if my blender could handle it, I’d add a full cup of both fruits instead of ½ cup of each!)

“Indian gooseberry (amla powder) may promote heart health, provide anti-aging effects, improve immune function, and reduce heartburn severity and cancer risk.”–SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

I call this recipe my super immunity smoothie because every ingredient serves multiple nutritional purposes. Dark leafy greens, amla powder, and spices are important for heart/vascular health and anti-inflammatory properties.  Aloe gel is excellent for digestive/gut health, skin, and maintains blood sugar levels. Walnuts and flaxseeds are healthy sources of omega-3 fatty acids which are good for heart health and cholesterol regulation. Berries and other fruits are full of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins.  Additionally, many of the ingredients are loaded with Vitamin C,  improve brain function, lower one’s risk for cancer, and boost the immune system.  Plus, the recipe is versatile when it comes to swapping out choices of fresh or frozen fruits and greens, nuts/seeds, and spices.  Change up the amounts, swap out the ingredients, and even add your protein powder if desired!

These bright green smoothies were made with riced cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, pineapple and so forth which given them their bright green color as I stow them away in the freezer!

“Dark leafy greens have been shown to help the endothelial lining of your blood vessels, cutting inflammation, and helping blood cells to glide through your arteries.”–Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it, if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, then make your own whole-food smoothie.  You can control the contents, you can make them ahead of the time needed, there are no unpronounceable additives/chemicals, and no added ingredients that you don’t want or aren’t good for your body.  Best of all, you can make them in batches, freeze them, and have portable punch of nutrition at the ready.  Homemade green smoothies check all the boxes for nutritional well-being.  Even on the most hectic, crazy days, you can start your day with a smoothie and know that if everything else goes wrong, at least one step towards your well-being was accomplished!

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, vibrant, and nutrition filled mornings!

Notice these smoothies, stowed away in the freezer, are darker due to the fact that they were made with kale, spinach, mixed berries, cherries, and so forth. They still taste fabulous when they are thawed!

Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ¼  cups of favorite liquid ( I typically use water, but if you can afford the calories, pomegranate, blueberry, or cherry juice makes this recipe super sweet and full of antioxidants.)

2 cups of favorite leafy greens (I typically combine kale and spinach, but any dark leafy green works!)

¼ cup aloe gel (preferably from inner fillet)

1-2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1-2 tablespoons flax seeds (Can use chia, hemp or combination thereof.)

1-2 tablespoon alma, if you have it (powdered Indian gooseberries)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon matcha, contents of a cut-open green tea bag, or other favorite greens powder

1 ½ inch fresh or ½ teaspoon powdered turmeric, ginger, or both

¼ teaspoon black pepper (Activates turmeric, but feel free to leave out if you don’t like its taste.)

1 medjool date (Optional addition for sweetness, fiber, and other nutritional benefits.)

½-1 cup strawberries or other favorite berry/berry combination mix

½-1 cup pineapple or fruit of choice!

½-1 banana (I keep these cut up and frozen. You could also replace it with ½ an avocado.) 

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (I keep sliced lemons on hand and toss in a couple of slices since the pith is full of fiber and vitamin C.)

Dash of salt. (I use ground pink himalyan.)

Add liquid, aloe gel, and greens first; then, blend well. (Blending greens and liquid first works well for less pricey blenders, but may not be necessary if you own a top of the line model.)

Add the rest of the ingredients in the blender in the order listed, and blend until smooth.

Divide between glasses.

Can be drunk immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to two days, or freeze for up to 3 months in a jar with a wide mouth–be sure to leave some empty space at top to allow for expansion.   

Makes 1 extra large serving or nearly fills 2, 16-ounce bell jar size servings.

When Cardinals Appear . . .

“When cardinals appear, angels are near.”–Unknown

Tink, plink, tink. It’s 6:00 am, and the first light of the dawn is beginning to show.  While the actual sunrise won’t occur for another 40-50 minutes, I hear the newest members of our neighborhood at it again. If this were a school day, I would have been awake.  However, on this occasion, it is the weekend, and I typically give myself permission to sleep in until 6:00 or 6:30.  Ugh! 

Boink. Doink. Boink.  The sound varies depending upon which room I am in.  Persistent.  Insistent. Relentless. All members of my household, human and feline, have moved from fascination to annoyance to down-right sympathy for our neighbor’s continuous need to pound, rattling both the living room picture window and the master bedroom window.  Don’t they ever get tired?

Our newest neighbors moved in around the beginning of April.  John, my husband, Maddie, our daughter, and me, did not really think much about them.  Each couple, one across from the front of our house; and the other, across from the bedroom end of our house; seemed peaceful and pleasant enough.  In fact, both pairs could often be heard singing to one another, especially during the first light of morning and the last light of evening.  The practice seemed like such a romantic thing to do.  Clearly, they were deeply in-love, or at the very least, highly infatuated with one another.

Furthermore, we couldn’t help but notice both males have a predilection for parading around dressed in bright red with flamboyantly styled hair.  While their female partners dress more subduedly in colors of brown and buff, they do appear to try to complement their male counterparts by donning caps with red feathers and hints of red skirt their lower half.  On an odd note, both couples seemed to only own black facial masks. 

Not long after both couples moved in, we also noticed they each had the habit of dining outside.  While that wasn’t particularly unusual, given the mildness of our early April weather, it was the habit of the males feeding the females that was most striking.  In fact, it appeared as if they kissed first, allowing the female to take the food from the male’s mouth.  What love birds both pairs appeared to be!

When their habit of banging around first began, the two pairs could be observed pounding away with great intent.  This, hysterically, drew great attention from both of our lacidzical cats.  Our feline companions could, with great regularity, be found wherever our neighbors could be seen industrially belting away–so curious were our cats’ desire to see our neighbors’ carrying-ons. 

By the second week of April, however, it was only the male partners that appeared to knock around–not that we were truly keeping tabs on them.  Meanwhile, their female partners were only occasionally detected outside of their new home.  It was whispered that the females were holed up inside privately nesting.  Although, it was reported that one couple, during this same week, was observed publicly engaged, in their odd practice of kissing-before-swapping-food-mouth-to-mouth.  

As I write this during the third full week of April, both couples seemed to have somewhat settled.  While the males can sometimes be heard plinking away, they are blessedly less active than when they first moved in.  However, the tune of the pair’s vocalizations still fills the air at the day’s beginning and end.   The rarely seen females can be heard from inside of their home singing a wide repertoire of choruses, while the male confidantes still proudly sing the same ol’ melody, over and over, right outside their home.

John, Maddie, and I recently stood at the front picture window looking out at one set of our newest neighbor’s home. Rumors were continuing to circulate regarding the state of the hidden females.  Most fodder contended that due to all of the hanky-panky-dining-habits, both couples must be in the family-way.  After all, what is to be expected from all of those acts of public display of affection and strange exchange of food?  Bunch of granola-eating hippies if you ask one commentator!

Of course, John and Maddie, used to my crunchy, granola-eating, tree-hugging ways, seem to have come to terms with our newest neighbors who munch, mouth, and swap nuts, seeds, and berries.  

“What’s one more plant-based eater in the neighborhood?” Maddie teases.  “You can make friends with them, Mom.  You know, swap recipes!”

John, more prone to roam the neighborhood, than Maddie and I, claims the latest tittle-tattle accuses both couples of sometimes eating insects and spiders.  

“Supposedly, someone watched one of the males spewing an entire bug into the mouth of his partner.”

Maddie cringed with disgust.  I quickly reminded her how some people do go on and on about things for which they have little to no knowledge.

“Yeah, but eating bugs is just, well, gross.  And, I thought eating nuts and seeds was weird . . . .”  

As Maddie walked away from the conversation, one of our new male neighbors determinedly drummed a window as if for effect.  At this sound, I walked closer to the window and waved my arms above my head.  I looked at him, as he moved towards his home.  I am fairly certain that, since the windows were open, he could hear me through the screen, so I told him to stop. 

“It’s like banging your head against the wall, Buddy.  It’s not productive.  Your partner needs your protection; I get it, but you’ve got no worries with us.  We’re cool if you guys have kids out-of-official-wedlock.  I mean, it’s my understanding that you and your partner have been together for life.  The neighbors you’ve got to worry about aren’t us anyway.  The more menacing neighbors are on the hills and in the woods around us.”

I thought he was listening.  He cocked his head from one side to the other, keeping his black mask in place. (Boy, does he take this COVID crisis seriously.)  However, right as I thought my message was getting through his tiny bird brain, (I hate to be rude, but seriously, our new neighbors are TOTAL bird brains.) he flitted away as if my words meant nothing to him.  

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you meet our hawkish neighbor on the hill!”  I exclaim to him, but I am expending energy on one who doesn’t want to listen.  Hmph!  Just like a male to not accept advice.

I am not sure that I would call our newest neighbors angels, and in spite of their red wardrobe, I wouldn’t refer to them as devils either. One thing is for sure, from the looks of their homes, all bound up tightly like twigs of a nest, I think our new neighbors are here to stay for a while.  Maybe Maddie is right, perhaps I should ask them for their granola recipe.  After all, if it inspires all that kissing, it might be worth trying!

“Cardinals may protect a territory size of 1/2 to 6 acres during breeding season. Males will chase other males and females will chase other females from the pair’s territories.  Cardinal birds often fight with their reflection in house windows and car mirrors.” –Wild-Bird-Watching.com

As seen on Instagram @ forrestyoga

Visit Virginia Beach

This was the view out of our beach front hotel room at Virginia Beach. (It was clearly Rita’s day!)

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” – Sarah Kay

Recently, as some readers may recall, John, my husband, and I had the opportunity to visit Virginia Beach for its annual event, The Shamrock Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 8K event.  Of course, the 2020 event was cancelled due to pandemic restrictions, and the 2021 event, in which I participated, was a hybrid virtual event–it could either be run virtually from any location, or ran any day of the designated three-day weekend of the event on-site via a self-guided route that was well marked and supervised.  In spite of the not-so-cooperative weather during our stay, John, and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Virginia Beach so much that we have talked about returning.  Therefore, as more families begin to travel again, I wanted to share our experience in this family and couple friendly town.

While we were there, we took in a few sites, but quickly realized that we did not have enough time to adequately explore this area of Virginia.  Additionally, with a few clicks of the keyboard, while relaxing and taking in the view of the Virginia Beach boardwalk and beach from the comfort of our hotel room, I learned that there is so much more to Virginia Beach than just the boardwalk/town area in which we were staying!  Therefore, I will share a few of the highlights from our visit as well as a few tidbits I discovered from a short bit of research. 

‘‘In the planning and preparation to re-open the beaches of Virginia Beach, we believe we’ve defined the Gold Standard for beach safety and cleanliness, and our Hotel and Restaurant Associations followed suit with their own new protocols with the same important goals.’’–Virginia Beach CVB

To begin, John and I checked the usual sites, AirBnB and VRBO for budget friendly rentals.  However, since we were hoping to stay in a place with an ocean view, we quickly realized that those homes came with a price–either out of our budget or the houses were nearly as small as a hotel room.  We then compared home rental costs with oceanfront hotels and condos.  Much to our surprise, it turned out that the latter were much more reasonably priced and conveniently located within walking distance to restaurants, shops, and the Virginia Beach boardwalk.  Furthermore, due to the short nature of this trip, we knew we would not be taking time to cook, nor would we spend much time in the place in which we were staying. Therefore, the hotel seemed like the way to go.

The Hampton Inn, with its restaurant on the beach, in which we stayed.

“Together, we’ve all made a pledge to VB Smarter – and adhere to these protocols without compromise. It is Virginia Beach’s way to shine a light on our collective commitment to ensuring a safe, fun, and relaxing environment for all.”–Virginia Beach CVB

John and I were super impressed with the protocols throughout the oceanfront area of Virginia Beach.  We felt safe, and likewise, did not feel restricted in our travel or experiences. The city definitely seemed to have the right balance.  While we did walk to several of the restaurants and shops near our hotel, and we also enjoyed visiting other parts of the town due to the free parking that was in place until April 1.

One creative approach to out-of-doors dining in the era of COVID–Individual geodomes for groups!

Since our hotel’s back door literally opened out to the Virginia Beach boardwalk, John and I took full advantage of this area daily.  This three mile long and 28 foot wide expanse, equally divided with lanes for biking versus walking, runs from 2nd Street to 40th Street.  It is full of local attractions and numerous oceanfront restaurants and eateries.  Highlights include the JT Grommet Island Park, a perfectly shaded park for active children to let off some energy while parents still remain oceanfront and near public restrooms/showers.  Along the path are also two museums, the Atlantic Wildfowl museum, located in the de Witt Cottage, built in 1895, and the Surf and Rescue Museum, housed in a former U. S. Life Saving Station that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Near our hotel was the well-known Virginia Beach Fishing Pier that does not require a fishing license.  Finally, further down from the pier was the festive 31st Street Park, home of the iconic King Neptune which was also the start/finish line for the Shamrock Marathon events.

Of course, food was a big part of our short stay; however, restaurants can be a bit tricky for me due to the fact that I have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products with wheat and gluten. Additionally, I choose to eat plant-based.  Virginia Beach, however, did not disappoint me or leave me feeling hungry.  We serendipitously discovered a hidden gem within a short walking distance from our hotel, Side Street Cantina, filled with Peruvian-influenced Mexican fare. Located in a colorful building with vibrant and funky decor, the staff worked hard to accommodate my dietary needs.  In fact, John and I loved it so much, we ended up dining there twice!  The menu was lengthy and varied, portions were generous, the drinks were cold, and food was cooked to perfection.  This is the perfect casual dining experience within walking distance from the beach.

Another restaurant within walking distance was Il Giardino Ristorante. Self-described as “upscale dining,” John and I found this restaurant to be the perfect place to celebrate the fact that I survived 12 weeks of half-marathon training and the extreme weather conditions of the actual event. Filled a wood-burning oven–creating a warm, aromatic scent emanating throughout the dining area–a wide variety of green plants, and an enormous wine collection lining the walls, the vibe of the restaurant felt clubby, and yet, relaxing.  It turned out that the exceptional service and outstanding food ended up being the shining star! Wow, did we ever enjoy this meal. 

One more exceptional dining experience that John and I discovered was Pocahontas Pancake House.  Decked out in slightly cheesy Jamestown & Powhatan murals with a teepee, this family owned, super-clean eatery turned out to be gluten free heaven for me!  Clearly, a local favorite based upon the crowd, this breakfast and lunch only diner, served up more breakfast and lunch gluten free options than I have ever before experienced.  Their menu was more like a novella, and my choices ranged from waffles, pancakes, bagels, muffins, bread, and wraps!  Plus, numerous vegan/vegetarian options, along with countless meat/egg-centric options for John.  We dined here twice and relished every single bite!

“Whether you’re a history buff, outdoor enthusiast, or die-hard foodie, or you’re just looking to do little bit of everything, Virginia Beach is an adventure you just have to experience for yourself.”–Virginia Beach CVB

While John and I did take a quick trip to visit the Lynnhaven Mall, one of the largest malls on the East Coast, we spent the remainder of our time taking in the sights and sounds along the boardwalk and beachfront town areas of Virginia Beach.  However, as I discovered with quick internet search, there is MUCH more to discover in the Virginia Beach area.  From outdoor adventures throughout the beach and Chesapeake Bay areas to more inland adventures, from historic explorations to arts and cultural discoveries, from micro breweries and distilleries to Town Center adventures and family fun, and from Sandbridge to Pungo, the areas of Virginia Beach offer a wide variety of unique beach vacation opportunities.  John and I look forward to exploring more of what this area has to offer especially since it is only a short six-to-seven hour drive away!   

From our vaccinated family to yours, we wish you the return of safe and happy travels!

Sun Kissed Stranger

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs.  But the world needs all the good that I can do.”–Jana Stanfield

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I was walking into a local coffee shop as I typically do nearly every Saturday morning.  It was one of those delightful early spring mornings overflowing with abundant sunshine that enlivened the brisk air.  New green grass stretched through the manicured town patches after its long winter hibernation while newly formed flowering buds and blossoms bobbed and bobbled to the rhythm of the breeze.  

Inhaling, I slowed my typical hasty pace and felt a smile forming in response to all the sensory overload.  Absorbing the glow of my surroundings, I noticed a few people, in spite of the morning chill, sitting on benches, faces tilted towards the luminescence.  Visages, unknown to me, radiating with the joy of appreciation after dreary days of darkness.

On the right side sat a young woman most likely around the age of my daughter–early to mid twenties.  Short, flaxen hair, tucked neatly behind her ears, her face wiped clean of any makeup except for lipstick, the shade of spring tulips.  Tall and curvy, she wore a lavender spaghetti strap shirt that struck me as a bit underdressed for the morning crispness, but what did I know–I am nearly always cold. Chin thrust high, eyes shut, a close-lipped smile across her face.  She seemed happy, content, and at ease.  How lovely, I thought, as I walked past her and on into the coffee shop.

It was only when I walked out of the coffee shop that I noticed what lay at the youthful feet of the woman.  There was an overstuffed worn backpack with a rather faded and worn water bottle inserted into one side of the bag that she heaved it upward in one practiced swoop.  Then, with much effort, she picked up another bag and what appeared to be some sort of walking stick.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”–Camille Pissarro

Was she a hiker?  Maybe, but she was wearing a spaghetti strap shirt, which didn’t strike me as hiking apparel for this time of year.  Besides, if she was a hiker, why would she be in-town?  I tried to put the pieces together and kept coming up short.  As I neared my car, I looked across the street, and I watched her begin to amble away from the community patio, moving westward, the opposite direction of where I would be traveling. Her shuffle and bent back stabbed at my heart.  Then, as I took one last glance at her, with the sun on her bare shoulders, she paused, straightened her posture, tucked stray strands of hair behind her ears, threw back her shoulders, and determinedly continued moving on.

 Who was she?  What was her story?  Where was she headed?  Why was she walking around with a backpack, much less alone?  Was she okay?  Did she have family and friends who loved her?  On and on my mind spun with the worry of a mother.  

Then, it occurred to me that I hadn’t truly seen her entire circumstance until she was walking away, and yet I did nothing.  I could have bought her a cup of coffee, a breakfast sandwich, a bottle of water, a piece of fruit, or something, yet I took no action.  Why hadn’t I been more observant?  Why hadn’t I taken time to check on her?  I felt an onslaught of self-criticism and disappointment.

My imagination was certainly getting the best of me.  There could have been numerous valid reasons for her carrying such a heavy load.  She could have been traveling solo, visiting random places off the beaten path.  Perhaps she was a university student heading home for the weekend, but why would she have a walking stick?  Maybe she was training to hike a big trail, such as the Appalachian Trail.  On the flip side, however, there were as many unfortunate circumstances that could have caused her to be so overburdened. I could not then, and still haven’t, been able to shake this young woman’s image.

Photo by Rishiraj Singh Parmar on Pexels.com

“Love calls us to look upon anyone and say: You are a part of me I do not yet know.”–Valarie Kaur

Since that encounter, I have often thought about this unknown female.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I didn’t pay closer attention upon first seeing her as well as wonder why I can’t forget her image. What lesson was I to glean from this chance sighting?  Then I read an essay in which the author’s main point seemed to say that it is the very people about whom we wonder that fosters our capacity for compassion, empathy, greater understanding, and sometimes even prompts us to take action for others for whom we see as different within our community and/or the world.  She (the author) suggested that by “seeing others as part of us we do not yet know,” we can begin to stop the cycle of separateness.

While the author’s vision was/is highly aspirational, it nonetheless was/is a catalyst for personal reflection.  Reflecting upon my own actions, I’d like to think I am open-minded and compassionate; however, there are still multiple ways in which I have failed to see others as part of me, to share another’s pain, grief, or dared to understand their seemingly self-absorptions.  In fact, some of my most vociferous and worst behaviors often occur while driving.  However, I have also been known to be guilty of a condescending look, a sarcastic thought, or even in my ability to look the other way.  While I can soften the blow and claim that I am a human being, having a human moment, it doesn’t make my actions in those moments any better, and it also doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work on eliminating, or at the very least, reducing them.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value.”–Rafael E. Pino

My lesson to learn, at least as I presently reflect upon it, is a reminder of what I know to be true as an educator.  Every person starts as a child of someone–a symbol of hope and promise for the future.  Each child is part of a family, whether known or not, a being of a community, and a citizen of the world–the same as which we all began.  While I will never know the story of the unknown young lady, she is a part of the same humanity as me.

If the human collective could be thought of as one large web, my life would only be one of the hydrogen or oxygen atoms forming a drop of dew on one strand glistening in the early morning light alongside all of the other droplets.  If each orb of dew were a family, each uncrossed part of strand were a community, the full length of each individual strand would be a county, and the entire web would be the world, the resiliency of the web’s ability to support all of  dew drops on the strands, as well as to sustain life, depends on the integrity of each strand.  The strength of the web’s silk depends upon the bonding of various atoms to form the proteins forming the web in the first place.  If one part of the web is damaged, it must quickly be rebuilt, or the entire web will cease to exist.  To take this analogy one step further, those atoms making up the dew drops at the top of the web may perceive the green tips of grass, while those at the bottom may only discern the brown of dirt–and yet, no matter their view of the world, they all belong to the same web.

I pray that my thoughts and actions more regularly reflect the fact that every person is part of the same web of life as me.  When my brain deems someone as “another,” may I begin to habitually remember with each encounter that they are part of me that I may not yet know, and their existence matters.  I would do well to see the world from their position on the web. While it is overwhelming to think of repairing the entire web of the world, I can begin to repair, foster, and reshape my thinking and interactions within my own communities. I may not be perfect in my efforts, as the story of the young woman illustrates, but with each shortcoming, I can likewise use it as a reminder to try again.

As seen on Instagram at MyLife ( Formally Stop, Breathe, Think)

Shamrock Green Smoothie

“No matter when you start, a diet that is focused on plant foods will help you work toward the prevention of many illnesses and feeling better overall”–Julia Zumpano, RD, LD

Diet choices have long been debated.  From Adkins to Keto, 7-Day Rotation to Whole 30, Paleo to Low Carb, Mediterranean to Pritikin, and all variations in between, regardless of the varying diet trends, there’s no denying that fruits and vegetables are nutritionally sound food choices for promoting health. Experts may argue about which fruits and vegetables are the so-called better choices, but most will agree that eating unadulterated food from the ground is more nutritionally sound than eating chemically enhanced processed foods.

In fact, when going through the research, numerous medical clinics, cancer centers, and disease prevention sites recommend Americans increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.  It makes sense too.  All those different colors offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be found naturally in processed food.  

“Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: “Thank you!”.” – Karen Salmansohn

Think about it.  Fruits and vegetables don’t need a label that says, “Vitamin-D enriched” or “Fortified with 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”  They don’t need it because they naturally contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals–depending upon which plant you choose to consume.  This is why, “eating the rainbow,” is an often quoted expression.  If you eat a wide variety of colorful plants throughout your day and week, Mother Nature, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our Creator, provides all the nutrition your body needs for healthy functioning and vitality. 

Like many, since March of 2020, I have become increasingly more focused on what I eat.  Keeping my immune system running high, and my inflammation low, seems more important than ever in the era of living in a global pandemic.  While I’ve been a plant based eater for nearly ten years, I find myself more attentive to daily consuming dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous vegetables as part of my desire to remain healthy and avoid COVID.  While I recognize that eating well isn’t the only protective act I need to do when dealing with a highly contagious virus, these vegetables have long been established as possessing cancer and disease preventive properties, reducing oxidative stress, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Additionally, they increase bone health, protect eye health, and boost the immune system.  Plus, their varying shades of green are chock full of fiber and a wide array of vitamins and minerals.  

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”–Thomas Ediso

Below is a green smoothie recipe I drank throughout most of March that features leafy greens and cruciferous.  After such an extraordinary winter with snows, ice, and then flooding, drinking a bright green smoothie felt like a personal manifestation of spring. Furthermore, since March was also the month in which I was wrapping up 12-weeks of training for the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon, this smoothie felt like extra-nutritional insurance for remaining healthy and ready to run. 

I like to think of smoothies as a blended breakfast salad.  When made fresh at home, I am the controller of ingredients, calories, fiber, and nutrition.  I keep my smoothies whole food and plant based food based in order to start my day off on the right foot–especially since I would otherwise, at least during the work week, skip breakfast.  While I often add healthy fats in the form of nuts or seeds to smoothies, I personally do not with this one, but you could.  Instead, I tend to add a teaspoon of greens powder for an extra boost of concentrated green goodness, and sometimes matcha (ground green tea) if I feel I need a boost of energy and focus.   This smoothie fuels my morning and keeps me full until lunch.  The flavor is bright and tangy, and it’s super refreshing to drink.  

Here few other tidbits and factoids I have learned while refining my smoothies techniques:

*  Put greens and liquid in the blender first and blend well, this is especially important, if, like me, you don’t have a top-of-the-line blender.

* Spinach is always the sweetest greens, which is why I often blend it with other greens such as kale and swiss chard.

* Riced cauliflower, fresh or frozen, works well as a “green” since it’s cruciferous and makes smoothies extra smooth and creamy.

* Lightly peel/cut away any citrus fruit, leaving part of the pith (the white part).  It is high in fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids–which boost the immune system–and it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.

* Ginger and turmeric are both known for their immune boosting properties, reducing inflammation, and decreasing chronic pain.  Fresh ginger and tumeric–both are roots–offer the most benefits, but ground versions are still beneficial.  Therefore, I tend to add both spices to not only nearly all of my smoothies, but also incorporate them throughout the day.

I hope you’ll give this vibrant green smoothie a try. It is an easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.  Plus, you’ll start your day fueled with the power of green!

From my home to your, I wish you health, vibrancy, and vitality.  Be well, and, if you do give this, or any of my other smoothie recipes a try,  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shamrock Marathon Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup of your favorite greens, fresh or frozen, feel free to combine 2 different ones (think spinach, kale, 

½ to 1 apple, quartered (I use granny smith apple.)

1 lemon, peeled, quartered & seeds removed 

1 mini cucumber or ½ large cucumber, quartered

1 stalk celery, quartered

1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger or 1” fresh piece

¼ teaspoon turmeric or ¼” fresh piece of turmeric 

Dash of salt

Optional add-ins: 1 teaspoon greens powder and/or matcha powder, 1 tablespoon hemp, chia, or flaxseeds, and/or 1 scoop favorite protein powder 

Makes 1 generous serving

Against the Wind

“I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind”–Bob Segar

It started out as an email.  I get a similar email every year due to the fact that my daughter and I once ran the 8k event of the Shamrock Marathon/Half MarathonWeekend in Virginia Beach while she was still in middle school.  Since she’s nearly 22, and the emails have never before planted a seed, it seemed unlikely that the December 2020 email would plant such a seed.  Nonetheless, the seed was planted, wriggled, niggled, and forced its way through my gray matter until it could no longer be ignored.  

Why not run a half marathon?  Let’s see. There’s a global pandemic raging.  My job is more challenging than ever.  Life is busy.  A back injury required me to step away from running for over three years.  I only returned to running in May 2020 via a walk/run program.  It’s hard.  I’m 55 for heaven’s sake. The list could continue.  However, like a pesky fly on a horse’s rump, no matter how many times that horse swishes its tail, that fly keeps returning, so too did this seemingly crazy notion. Throwing caution to the wind, I downloaded the beginner half-marathon training plan, and I was, dare I say, off and running. 

“Run for your life my love,

Run and you don’t give up”— Isaac Slade / Joseph King as performed by the Fray

The Shamrock was virtual, but with in-person hybrid options.  I did not have to travel to Virginia Beach; and in fact, when I initially registered for the event, I did not plan to go there. However, since John and I were both fully vaccinated, and the pandemic–though not gone–was beginning to wane a bit, we ultimately decided to travel to Virginia Beach.  

In-person participants could choose to run at any time from 7:00 to 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  The various courses were mapped and marked, but no roads would be shut down.  No more than ten participants could be at the starting line at any given time, and participants were encouraged to wear a mask throughout the entire event, but required to wear masks at the start and finish line area.  Water bottle refill stations were provided at designated spots along the route with social distancing requirements, and participants were encouraged to run safely, stay on the route, and wear their numbered bib visibly as a form of identification.

“Ride like the wind, Bullseye!”–Woody, Toy Story 2

With an early wake-up, as planned, on Friday, I was up and ready to run.  However, the weather, like the rest of 2020 & 2021, offered an unplanned twist.  Strong winds and storms had ravaged the east coast Thursday evening.  In fact, winds were galing around 31 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, wreaking havoc throughout the town sending scaffolding and signs down, debris soaring, and flags flapping at right angles to their poles.  Additionally, rain was moving back into the area and temperatures were dropping by the hour from the low 50s into the 30s.  I could technically put off running until Saturday morning, but with an 11:00 am hotel check-out, I would be short on time–especially given the fact that I am not a particularly fast runner.  

John did not want me to run for the sake of my safety, but I wanted the experience.  This was what I had trained for! Throughout my training, I envisioned running along the Virginia Beach boardwalk, basking in ocean views and sunshine with a gentle breeze caressing my face.  Okay, so in reality the day was cloudy, wet, and the breeze was not so gentle, but it would certainly qualify as a memorable experience!

I compromised my running plan, due to the weather, and ran the 8K route rather than the 1/2 marathon route because the 1/2 marathon route would have kept me in town longer where debris was soaring through the air like a child’s frisbee.

In the end, I compromised by running on Friday but only for the 8K distance.  While it broke my heart to NOT run the actual mileage for which I had trained, my instincts told me that I needed to respect the weather and my personal safety.  I’d be running alone in wet, cold, and windy temperatures with random windborne projectiles.  Given my natural clumsiness, there was a definite increased risk of injury. 

There was no climatic build up of pulsating music.  No welcome speeches and heartfelt prayer given by a local pastoral dignitary.  There was not a gun fire start either.  Show up with your runner’s bib on the outside of your clothing, mask on, and then, unceremoniously take off running.  Push, step, step–the tempo began.  

With the start/finish line right behind me, I used my ear band to not only protect my ears from the chilling winds, but to also hold my hat down! Notice, my mask is in my hands at the ready.

The first mile was like running straight down the steepest possible incline even though I was gliding along fairly flat ground.  With the wind thrusting me forward, I could have sworn that either I had a superpower, or God was at my back not-so-gently imbuing me with momentum and speed.  I giggled aloud repeatedly. At times, I windmilled my arms to keep from toppling forward.  Meanwhile, sand bit and clawed at the back of my exposed calves and ankles.  Push, step, step. Then, came the turn-around point.

Winds that had felt like the hands of God, now felt like Satan’s strongest snares.  Was this what it felt like to push a football blocking sled?   Push, step, step.  That is when the rain began to fall, needling my face.  My glasses were covered with droplets. Push, step, step, the cadence continued.

The race director drove up beside me in his warm, dry-looking truck.  He was checking on runners. He offered words of encouragement, as I headed towards the in-town section of course, and stated the conditions would be less challenging.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind”–Kerry Livgren as performed by Kansas

Ha! False hope!  The wind speed, along with the rain, increased.  Furthermore, at the end of every block, between each building, a trapped swell of wind would send me sideways, like dust in the wind, running nearly in place to hold my own.  Push, step, step. Water splashed out of my shoes with each step.  Two more miles of this. 

The final mile loomed ahead.  Half of it would be more topsy, turvy in-town-running, and the other half returned me to the boardwalk again with the wind surging me forward once more.  Push, step, step.  God at my back again. The Divine sure does have a sense of humor. 

Finally, the Virginia Beach icon, King Neptune sculpture, was once more in sight, right where I had earlier left him, at the starting/ending point.  Push, step, step. I laughed all the way to him, pushed by a force greater than me.  I didn’t resist.  I welcomed the opportunity to work with it, rather than against it.

Push, step, step–the rhythm came to an end. There was no cheering crowd in the end.  No congratulations, high fives, or “Way-to-go” cheers.  I started as I began, without fanfare or festivity.  Nonetheless, I quietly knew what I had accomplished, from the taxing Saturday runs to the tiresome after-work-I-don’t-feel-like-running-but-I’m-doing-it-anyway runs, all of those moments had led me to facing down the storm’s winds, learning when to resist the winds of change and when to work with them; and the realization that even when plans go awry, God will have my back the entire journey.  What a metaphor for life.

No.  I did not run a half-marathon.  Instead, I opened my heart to an opportunity that I most likely would not have ordinarily permitted.  My reward, if you will, was an experience I will always remember, and a first hand lesson, like no other, about the ever-presence power of God.  And for that, I am eternally grateful. 

“I run for hope

I run to feel

I run for the truth, for all that is real . . .

I run for life”–Melissa Ethridge

My hair standing straight up says it all! What a scarey image!
The official training plan!

When It Rains, It Pours

Lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my!” states the famous quote from The Wizard of Oz.  Recently, I rewritten it, “Covid, snow, ice, rain, flooding. Oh my!”  While my rhythm and words don’t quite line up with the original, it certainly fits the 12 month period from March 2020 to March 2021.  Of course, other words like loss, death, pandemic, quarantine, masks, virtual meetings, virtual learning/teaching, work from home, job loss, business closures and so forth, could likewise be added to this list.

However, there are other words too.  Words such as faith, opportunity, growth, stretch, change, appreciation, home, family, friends, compassion, community, kindness . . . . No, I am not trying to make light of the seriousness of everything our local and global community collectively have experienced, not in the least.  Instead, I am trying to discern the lesson(s) that Divine Providence has placed within my own life path, and perhaps, yours too, Dear Reader.

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“There is always a good lesson in whatever happens to us, even in the midst of our losses . . . Every individual should think, ‘I am the only student. Everyone and everything are my professors.’”–Sri Swami Satchidananda

Personally speaking, like so many within our local Tri-state community, my family and I have been directly impacted by, not only all of the ramifications of the pandemic, but more recently, the power outages, water outages, and flooding.  As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours,” and this adage most certainly fits mid-February through early March.  Beginning with steady rains, followed by snows, followed by ice, and wrapping up with more rain, the resulting effects of each one was felt by thousands within our three state region.

I have listened and overheard many stories from co-workers, friends, and acquaintances describing life without power for up to 14 days during the height of our coldest weather. Several more were without water for part or all of that same time period.  Meanwhile, I have encountered, or read accounts, of those working within our local communities–braving the frigid temperature, dangerous conditions, icy roads–working extraordinarily long hours to restore power, wifi, communication, water lines and so forth.  Their past and present acts of labor cannot be underestimated or underappreciated.

A major state route covered with water in recent early March flooding.

“He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’”–Job 37:6

Just as power, communications, water lines, and roads began reopening–as well as the beginnings of the vaccination process–thoughts of life settling down with slightly warming temperatures seemed like an imminent reality.  Then came rain, a steady pitter patter of several days of rain during those final few days of February, in an already water-logged Tri-State area, giving way for March to come in like a lion.  

As the rains fell, more roads closed as the burgeoning Ohio River waters backed up its tributary waters.

“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops.  Eventually.”–Eeyore

Throughout the weekend, John, my husband, and I were keeping a close eye on Symmes Creek, a 76.4 mile long tributary of the Ohio River, which runs alongside OH 243, in a small section of Lawrence County.  By the end of the last weekend in February, The Symmes, as it is often called, was rebelling against its banks.  Additionally, the backwaters of the Ohio River, along OH 7, were spilling into the lowlands along the river.  

The National Weather Service issued, changed, and updated flood warnings all along the Ohio River and its tributaries.  However, the last time this type of widespread flooding occurred, our daughter, Maddie, was five years old–she is now 21.  Surely, this wouldn’t happen again, right?  We had had close calls in recent years, but we had not been flooded in, or flooded out, for that matter, since that singular year of Maddie’s life.

For the record, our family home is not in harm’s way with regards to flooding; however, the stretch of road on which we must travel to and from work and home, can potentially flood.  However, it takes unusual, long-term circumstances of wet and rainy conditions in order for this to occur.  Therefore, while we kept our eye on the waters, we really didn’t think it would happen.  Still, there was that little niggle . . .

In the early morning predawn hours, with rain pouring down, it was becoming evident, there would be wide-spread road closures.

Monday evening, driving home from a local gym after work, I couldn’t help but notice that all along OH 7, water was up to both sides of this state route.  Driving alongside OH 243, Symmes Creek was beginning to slip closer to the edge of the white line.  This. Was. Not. Good.  

“Steph, I think we’d better pack a bag in case we can’t get home,” John resolutely stated Tuesday morning.

Really?  Really?  As if going without power and water for nearly a week wasn’t enough.  As if a pandemic wasn’t enough.  As if . . .well, the tunes from WHINE radio station were spinning through my mind like a commercial-free power hour.  Packing my bag was an act of resentment and anger–spoiled adult that I am.  However, driving to work, as John and I tried to find a safe route out–the waters were swiftly advancing–my attitude quickly tempered as it became clear, there was only one route open, and it would be a close call.

Unable to get home due to widespread flooding, we stayed in local hotels overflowing with power & communication workers as well as numerous members of the National Guard still making repairs and cleaning up from the ice storm from the previous weeks.

“After the rain, the sun will reappear.”–Walt Disney

Without belaboring the point, John and I spent two days unable to return home while still working.  It was equal parts of stress and adventure.  Local hotels were still overflowing with National Guard and laborers who continued to work in surrounding areas that remained without power, water, reliable forms of communication, fallen trees and limbs, as well as blocked roads from the February ice storms. Thus, we were unable to stay in the same hotel.

Meanwhile, Maddie, who was flooded in, sent us daily reports of the rising, and eventually, falling waters.  Thursday evening, when we were finally able to make it home, I was, well, overflowing with joy.  Our home, be it full of flaws, in need of multiple repairs with a yard full of downed trees and limbs, was still our home.  It was, and is, a sanctuary of personal comfort and calm. Cooking my own food, sleeping in my own bed, hugging my daughter and listening to her stranded adventures, petting our cats, wearing my favorite stretch pants (You know you have a pair too!), and the sun shining brilliantly through our dirty windows–home never looked so good.

Sections of OH 243 remained completely submerged in spite of the lovely weather following days of rain, snow, & ice

And maybe, that is part of the lesson–appreciation for one another and for what we have–be it ever so modest–not to mention the realization that we are not in control. We can grasp, plan, and strive for future plans, such as vacations, bigger home, better job, more money, and so forth.  However, none of these “things” bring us inner peace, nor do they offer us any form of control.  Certainly, having the ability to pay the bills and meet your basic needs does bring about a certain peace of mind; but happiness and inner peace start with appreciating what you have in the here and now.  

To be happy, we don’t need much.  Family, friends, a safe place to live, meaningful work and/or life purpose, with faith acting as the glue that holds it all together, is, at the end of the day, more important than any title, job status, fancy address, or extravagant vacation. All the names and titles we use to define ourselves, all the carefully crafted plans and routines, all of our meticulously curated possessions and dwellings–all of these can be gone in a moment’s notice.  Therefore, it is vital to have faith in the Divine Force greater than all that has happened or can happen to us. I am walking away from the past 12 months with a greater understanding of what TRULY matters, a deepening faith in the Divine, and appreciation–while it is cliche– that it genuinely is the simple things in life that matter most. 

“Do not fear, the rain is only here to help you grow.”–Jennae Cecelia

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Steph’s Chocolate Cherry Berry Smoothie

“Every time that you eat or drink you are either feeding the disease or fighting it.–Heather Morgan, MS, NLC

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Were you ever made to sit at the dinner table until you ate every pea on your plate?  Those wrinkled, collapsing orbs of dull green were, well, gross, at least to my kid’s immature taste buds.  Sometimes those dull greenish spheroids might get a color splash of orange from cubed or sliced carrots just as mushy and often congealed with some sort of cooking fat–margarine, bacon grease, or other unknown fatty substance.  

Based upon personal, but juvenile, experience, there are limited ways to move and rearrange those overcooked peas before they devolve into some sort of smushy, mashed concoction sure to ignite the gag reflex if sniffed long enough. Sometimes, I would hold my breath, quickly insert a forkful into my mouth, then coyly spit it out in my napkin while pretending to wipe my mouth.  Unfortunately, those paper napkins could only absorb so much, and alas, there still remained a glob of uneaten goopy green mash on my plate.  

It was a duel in epic proportions–me or the pea pulp.  One of us was going down in the end.  Ready. Aim. Fire . . .the hum of the refrigerator filtered through the air.  Through screened windows, neighborhood children could be heard playing in the little cul-de-sac in which I lived.  Sadly, there I sat, an outlaw, imprisoned at the avocado green kitchen table, unwaveringly staring down the enemy of mounded up, wearisome putrid peas.  Tick, tock went the kitchen clock . . .

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Okay, in fairness to my parents, they were young, wanted me to eat healthfully, and strongly desired that I not be so dang-gum finicky.  As a parent, I now understand their viewpoint.  Plus, in defense of the poor peas, they were merely being served in the manner in which most Americans were consuming them in the 1970s–canned vegetables flavored with some form of fat and salt.  

Flashforward to present day, and I love vegetables!  Of course, we have a wide variety from which to choose, including fresh carrots and peas (Snow or sugar snap peas with baby carrots and hummus anyone?).  Between the produce aisle and the freezer aisle, I load my cart weekly with a rainbow of goodness that also includes plenty of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, mindful of the importance of dark leafy greens and berries.  In fact, one of my favorite acronyms for prioritizing the types of fruits and vegetables upon which to put greater emphasis, in order to assure the highest nutrition-to-calorie ratio, is GBOMBS, which comes from Dr. Joel Fuhrman. 

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 “Leafy greens have more nutrition per calorie than any other food.”–Ornish Lifestyle Medicine 

GBOMBS stands for: greens, beans (legumes), onions (and garlic), mushrooms, berries (and pomegranate), and seeds.  According to Dr. Fuhrman, while all vegetables and fruits are good for you, GBOMBS are the top six cancer preventing foods that should have the greatest emphasis when planning daily meals.  Numerous well-known, health-orientated platforms and personalities likewise encourage the consumption of GBOMBS including Silver Sneakers,  Blue Zones, Ornish Lifestyle, Joan Lunden, and Dr. Oz to name a few.  In addition to warding against cancer, these foods have also been proven to boost the immune system, prevent chronic disease, increase longevity, decrease mental decline, reduce heart disease and blood pressure, and due to their vibrant colors, are chock full of antioxidants while offering a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.  Plus, these foods are high in fiber–need I preach about the value of fiber?

“Smoothies that blend whole fruits and vegetables without additional sweeteners and are served in appropriate portions may be helpful for some people to consume more of these foods, but should not replace eating them in their whole form. It is best to prepare smoothies at home so that you can control the type and amount of ingredients added to ensure calorie control and optimal nutrients.”–Harvard School of Public Health 

With this in mind, I share with you one of my favorite GBOMBS smoothie variations.  While I know that eating one’s food is preferred to drinking one’s calories for a wide variety of reasons, I personally find sound nutritional value in whole-food-plant-based smoothies that I make at home.  I am especially fond of consuming them in the morning when my stomach is not feeling so great and/or I’m rushed for time.  These smoothies allow me to start my day off with a blast of nutrition.  Furthermore, I also drink smoothies as a useful part of my half-marathon training regime as a, a-hem, “mature” returning runner (jogger, crawler, whatever you want to call it!) as the weekly mileage increases. 

Like all of my smoothie recipes, think of this one as a scaffolding.  Feel free to add, delete, reduce, and adjust any and all ingredients to best accommodate your nutritional and caloric needs.  Although I do not feel the need to supplement my smoothies with protein powder, it is certainly a possible addition to the recipe.  I prefer to make these smoothies ahead of time–such as the night before I will drink one, and save the second one for the following day.  Some nutritionists state there is a small bit of nutritional breakdown that occurs when making smoothies ahead of time, but in my mind, if it saves me time and effort–it’s worth the minor loss.

“Berries and pomegranates have the highest nutrient-to-calorie ratio of all fruits, and they protect against cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and dementia.”–VegKitchen.com

Fortify your body’s well-being with a whole food plant based smoothie.  Notice how easy it is to feel like a nutritional bombshell at the beginning of your day.  Plus, you can move through your day knowing that whatever ever else comes your way, you took time to give your heart, cells, and overall health a bit of nutritional TLC.  Best of all, nutrition never tasted so good!

From my home to yours, I wish you heartfelt, healthy, and homemade goodness!

Steph’s Chocolate Cherry Berry Smoothie

Ingredients:

½ cup favorite milk (I use plant based milk.)

2 cups chopped spinach (Can use frozen chopped spinach.)

1 ripe banana (I buy ahead of time and keep frozen once ripe.)

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon flax seed (Can substitute chia or hemp seeds.)

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric (Optional, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, and I add it to my food throughout the day.)

1 cup frozen cherry berry medley (Can use fresh cherries mixed with favorite berries.)

½ pomegranate or cherry juice

Dash of salt (I use ground pink himalyan.)

Optional: Add favorite 2 teaspoons of favorite sweetener if desired, such as pure maple syrup and/or favorite protein powder

Place in a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Divide between glasses.

Can be drunk immediately or stored for later use in the fridge.  If saving for later use, be sure to shake well before consuming.

Makes 2 servings.

Thank You to All Those Working Tirelessly to Recover from Ice Storm

Comments from Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio, respectively, February 17 & 19, 2021: 

 “Gallia County has been placed under a state of emergency. Lawrence County was put under a state of emergency Wednesday night.” 

“Thousands of people in the area are still without power because downed trees are getting in the way of utility crews that are trying to fix the power lines. By calling in the Ohio National Guard, we can help restore power faster and also prevent future flooding by removing debris from the water before the weather warms up.”

When the first ice storm hit on a Thursday evening, John, my husband, and I had just eaten an early dinner.  Within the hour of finishing dinner, the power kicked off.  We tried to get our generator working, but to no avail.  Ultimately, the power only ended up being off 6-8 hours.  No big deal in the grand scheme of things.  

Life went on as normal for John, our college-aged daughter, Madelyn, and me.  However, we could see some signs of storm demolition all along the state route on which we live in Ohio.  Additionally, many of our co-workers living in WV were without power for days, with a few never regaining power before the second round of ice hit February 15.  

The following Monday, due to the storm’s impending presence, I made the call to once again, prepare dinner early.  (My Depression-era Grandmother Slater would be so proud by the way in which I prioritized food on the nights of both storms!)  We had just sat down to eat, when we heard what sounded like a gun-fire.  Then came another, and another, and another as branches all around our rural home began breaking.  ½ inch, or thicker, of ice coated trees making them look like winter goblins with tentacles of certain danger and doom.

Next began, what at first my confused mind thought was, lightning.  Lightning in the midst of snow, ice, and sleet?  Wait a minute . . .the cogs in my brain spun faster. Flashes of light repeatedly displayed all around us.  Transformers and power lines were exploding like bombs as the pop, pop, pop of trees branches continued to battle on.  Craaack!  With the snap of a limb, our home’s power seemed to disintegrate along with the trees.  Darkness enveloped us, and the sound of the weather war soldiered on all around.  This. Was. It. 

Scrambling for flashlights, candles, and emergency radio, Maddie and I made our way through the house as John kept stepping outside checking on the house and our vehicles.  Gallon jugs of water were strategically placed throughout the house because when we lose power, we likewise lose running water due to the fact we have well-water that makes its way into our pipes via an electric well pump.  We made jokes regarding the toilet.  “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”  Resorting to potty humor was, indeed, juvenile, but laughter seemed better than crying.  Little did we know we were in for five days worth of no power or running water.

Going to bed that night, extra quilts on the bed (Thank you, Mammaw Musick!), we fell asleep to the snap, crackle, pop of what was NOT the famous cereal, but instead the very real surrounding woodland.  Waking in the morning, the house temperature had significantly dropped.  Walking quietly into the kitchen, as I was the first one up, I realized I would not be starting my day with a hot cup of coffee.  The fun had only begun.

Using an emergency lamp/radio/weather alert/thermometer, temperatures inside our family room, even with the fire going, hovered in the low to mid-fifties as seen here.

Facts from Jeff Jenkins, Saturday, February 20, 2021, Metro News The Voice of West Virginia:

 “Ice storms hit on Feb. 11 and then again on Feb. 15.”

“After the two storms, outages peaked at 97,000.” (In WV alone)

 “Around 44,000 customers remain out of power. Counties most affected include Cabell, where 15,019 customers are without service; Wayne, 14,203; Putnam, 5,074; Lincoln, 3,973; Jackson, 2,343; and Mason, 2,402.” (As of February 20)

  “A total of 27 bunkhouses are now in place at the Huntington Mall to house the additional (power) workers. Due to COVID-19 precautions, they will be filled only at half capacity, or 15 workers per trailer.”

Our neighbor shared with us that early Tuesday morning–he typically leaves for work around 4:00 a.m.–when he attempted the short three mile drive to the next state route in order to reach his place of employment, he was stopped by a sheriff deputy who told him that 20 or more trees were down over the road!  Hours later, when John and I finally ventured out for more gallon jugs of water, instant coffee (I found a camp stove pot for heating water.) and a few other supplies, it was like traveling an obstacle course over those same three miles.  We navigated around downed trees and limbs, fallen telephone and electric poles, power lines, and so much natural debris.  All around us, the typically scenic route looked like a war zone.  There were countless dark, injured homes and vehicles with shattered safety glass.  Shrapnel of wood covered the roads and glistening white snow.  Meanwhile sparkling tree limbs, weighed down by ice, bent their weapons of glassy appendages toward those of us daring to drive under and around their glacial shafts. Scraaape! Their frosted tips like fingernails scraped our windows, hood, and doors.

Ever the conscientious recyclers, John and I veered off-course on our way to Huntington, to drop off our recyclables in the designated receptacles located in a large parking lot behind the local post office.  Much to our astonishment, this parking lot of a large abandoned storefront was not empty as it usually is.  Instead, there were twenty to thirty power vehicles loaded with buckets, bulldozing equipment, transformers, power poles, and so forth.  Men were gathered in circles talking–hard hats and traditional cold weather garments adorned these burly, red faced men.  John and I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude.  These men, based upon their truck identification, were from Indiana, parts of Ohio–near and far, as well as Kentucky.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”–William Arthur Ward

John rolled down his window.  I rolled down mine.  Out each of our windows, we began thanking these unknown men for the efforts to abate the surrounding devastation and destruction.  Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of fate, sea gulls circled and called, seemingly encouraging these workers onward. 

Seagulls that had been circling around the power workers, lifted in flight and landed on a more empty part of the parking lot as we drove closer to the power trucks and workers.

We repeated our words of gratitude any time we ventured for supplies throughout this past icy week.  Often, opportunity would occur after waiting for our turn to drive in a single lane as we slowly made our past men working on power lines along our state route.  It was important to us that they know their efforts were heartfully appreciated, especially given the bitter weather conditions.

While I know that these power workers, tree removal specialists, state troopers, local law enforcement, National Guard members, and other community members were compensated for their time, they were, nonetheless, sacrificing time away from their family, friends, and loved ones.  This is time that they will never get back in order to help restore power for complete strangers. Hours spent in frigid temperatures, snow squalls, and dangerous conditions is not for the faint of heart.  This type of work requires grit, determination, and empathy–the ability to feel the needs of others. 

Therefore, to all the men and women who have and/or are working to repair the power, remove the fallen trees, restore safe road travel, and return water and power services to the many without, my family and I thank you.  Thank you for your long hours, your exposure to the winter elements, and your personal risk in often dangerous situations.  We are grateful for your time, energy, focus.  Behind each repair that you make, were/are people’s lives for whom your work is making a difference.  May your generosity circle back to you in some form.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

May Her Steps Be Remembered

“Nothing is impossible: The word itself says “I’m possible!”–Audrey Hepburn

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”–Tim Noakes

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

I am so cold.  I’m freezing.  

I was shaking so badly as I stepped out of bed during this nocturnal, chilly wake up call;  my legs did not want to hold me up.

What is happening?

Waves of nausea immediately flooded my middle, and I became suddenly aware of the sharp tinges of a headache that reminded me of an illness, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to define the association.  Did I have a stomach bug? The flu, or something else? 

In the bathroom, I retrieved sweatpants and a sweatshirt and donned them in protection of my pervasive cold shivers.  On wobbly legs, I humbly returned to my bed knowing that something was off.  Trembling under the covers, sleep came in fitful waves, with bouts of shuddering wakefulness and nausea in between. Tossing about from side to side, my left shoulder was noticeable tender each time I rolled onto it.  The injection site. Images danced dreamily around in my head.

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“You have the hardest arm to stick,” the young pharmacy student stated with a grimace as she pushed harder to get the vaccine needle inserted into my arm. 

Across the way, I watched as another pharmacy student injected my husband, John, as if his arm were a stick of room temperature butter, despite the fact he has spent years exercising with weights.  John winked at me as I winced at the second effort of pushing by the pharmacy student into my arm.

Oh, yes, I had my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  My arm was sore last time; it is sore again. 

When the alarm eventually did go off at its usual Saturday morning time of 5:30, I groggily reset a new alarm for 6:00.  This was followed with a 6:30 alarm, and a final 7:00 am alarm.  

I never sleep this late on a Saturday.  Must. Be. A. Stomach. Bug. Surely, it’s not a reaction to the vaccine.  Can’t be, right?

Saturday was also the day I was to run my first 10 miler in preparation for my first virtual half-marathon since my back injury five years ago, and I could barely walk due to my convulsing shivers.  With sudden clarity, it occurred to me that I could take acetaminophen to mitigate the symptoms.  

Why hadn’t I thought of that during the night?

Opening the childproof medicine bottle, I discovered that I had five pills.  Great.  I decided to start with two and see what happens. 

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Making my way into the kitchen area, I started a pot of coffee, guzzled down several ounces of water, although my stomach protested, and sat staring out the window.  The nausea was pervasive, my headed pounded, and the chills were ever-present as I pondered the day ahead.  I felt extremely thankful that it was Saturday, and I did not have to work. Otherwise,  I would already be at school preparing for the arrival of students at 7:30.

Slowing sipping coffee–not sure if my stomach would revolt or not, a plan for the day began to take shape–assuming the acetaminophen kicked in.  By 8:15 am, the chills had mostly subsided, the nausea and headache were present, but felt more the muzak of years ago softly played in elevators.  I made the decision; I was going to try to run.  First, however, I needed to locate a name to honor from the Honor the Fallen website. 

A few clicks later, there came a name.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker, a  26-year-old was an Army Reserve soldier assigned to the 89th Sustainment Brigade, out of Wichita, Kansas.  She was so young looking.  Her eyes were bright and full of empathy, but her slightly crooked smile looked wry–as if engaging in conversation with her was sure to be filled with quick-witted, sharp comments.  As I read her story, I felt a surge of inspiration. 

Given my suppressed chills, I ruled out running outside and opted instead for the treadmill. Besides, I told myself, the treadmill offers less impact on my back. An hour or so later, I was on the treadmill hoping for the best, but ready to abandon the training plan if needed.  

Don’t look down at the numbers.  Eyes straight ahead, arms at right angles, melt those shoulders away from your ears, keep the speed slow and steady.  One mile at a time, Steph.  One mile at a time.  Focus on the name:  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.  Pretend her name is written on the wall.

Podcast playing, my mind semi-focused on its content as my stomach continued its somersaults.  I decided to save walk breaks until later, when all of my reserves might be running low. Walk breaks would be the reward for early efforts.

Photo by Bogdan R. Anton on Pexels.com

As a teenage girl, I often rode my bike to and from summer bandcamp. There was a hill on the way home that was steep and wound round a hill. At that time, a childhood jingle would enter my mind, “Just think you can, and know you can just like the engine that could.”  This same jingle entered my mind as I jogged on the revolving belt of the dreadmill, I mean, treadmill.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.

One mile turned into another and another.  One hour passed, and one podcast was over.  Walk break taken long enough to start a new one.  Thirty more minutes passed; another walk break began.  Can’t take another moment of the incessant talking.  Time for the power button–music.  A driving playlist of beats began its encouraging cadence.  Nausea grew greater and legs grew wobbly again.  So close now.  Increase the determined self-talk.  More nausea, more achiness. . . keep pushing.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.

It wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t fast, but it was purposeful. My struggle was nothing compared to the struggle of those who have served in our military. Christina M. Schoenecker, the name I found on the website, served during Operation Inherent Resolve. Assigned to the 89th Sustainment Brigade, Christina was an Army Reserve soldier out of Wichita, Kansas. This young woman died in a non-combat incident in Baghdad, Iraq.  She was the third casualty of this operation at the tender age of 26. 

It is through the mission of wear blue: run to remember that I often run, “in honor of the service and sacrifice of American military.”  My contribution is minimal.  There are local and national groups who do so much more work and efforts to increase awareness and honor the fallen and their families.  My only contribution occurs each Saturday, when I search the name of a fallen person–someone’s family member–write their name on a post-it note, place that paper the zippered pocket of my running tights, and send up words of gratitude to the heavens for this person’s service as well as to the family each one left behind.  My steps, no matter how challenging, still do not equate to the service of those brave men and women freely gave to our country.  It is my hope though, in some minor way, I honor their memory and offer their family some form of unseen comfort.

Thank you, Christina, for your service.  Thank you, for your ultimate sacrifice.  Thank you, Christina’s parents.  Your daughter was remembered this past Saturday, step by step.  Her memory truly inspired me to finish.

For more information regarding wearblue: run to remember, visit their national website, or look/join the local Ashland community, found on Facebook, or via email:  Ashlandcommunity@wearblueruntoremember.org.