Teachers are Heroes with Heart

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”– Chinese Proverb

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“Thank you, Teachers,” the sign read on the side of the road. 

Wait, what?  I couldn’t help but think.  Really?  It took a global pandemic to inspire appreciation for educators.  Hmm . . . 

I suppose that is how those who work in the medical field and first responders feel.  After all, like educators, those drawn to and working in the healthcare industry, by and large, have always been effective, efficient, and caring individuals. Naturally, praise was given to medical providers from the very beginning of the pandemic–and rightly so!  They were putting their own lives on the line while attempting to quell the flames of a ravaging wildfire sparked by a virus for which there was a dearth of knowledge.  Story after story would reveal the suffering and agony of the front line caregivers and their patients.  My heart, as well as those in my field, ached for those professionals, and we felt grateful for their long suffering service.  And yet, there was one question that continually niggled my mind . . .

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“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.”– Unknown

Who were the early influencers of these various professionals that make up the health field?  Who taught them to read, write, and think mathematically?  Who helped to shape and foster their curiosity, their work ethic, and their quest for knowledge and understanding?  To be certain, parents are the first, most important, and long-lasting teacher in any child’s life.  Additionally, there are often other relatives that influence and impress a child, but guess who often spends more time with a child day-in and day-out?  Teachers.

It takes a big heart to help shape little minds.”– Unknown

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This past March (2020), many teachers across the country, as well as at a local level, were told on a Friday to get their students ready.  Educators directed students to pack up all of their personal belongings, textbooks, notebooks, personal implements, and any other necessary supplies.  Furthermore, on this same fateful day, schools–like the one in which I work–who were fortunate enough to have the resources, also directed teachers to quickly allocate technological resources to students who thought they might need one at home.  Those districts without these assets were rapidly scrambling for funds in order to likewise provide technology for students.

Once students were sent home with their overburdened school bags, teachers were likewise told to quickly gather what they thought they would need to teach from home.  Additionally, teachers were swiftly conferring with one another and administrators as to the types of resources available throughout the school that could be used to make teaching from home work.  Cobbling together this and that, gathering our own bags of wares, like ants marching in a line towards their hill mount, teachers exited the school on that pivotal Friday with the understanding that we were to be up and running as an online educator by Monday. Like a boulder plummeting onto US Rt 52, the dramatic educational paradigm shift had begun.  It was time to put on our proverbial hard hats and head into the construction zone.

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“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.”– Colleen Wilcox

News, gossip, and directives swirled around like flaming ash from a distant brush fire.  The heat of how to get virtual school up and running amidst worry about safety, closings, quarantines, supply shortages, deaths, headlines, and the never ending chain of one email after another compounded to the ever-building fear, anxiety, and sense of uncertainty.  One thing was clear, however, teachers would be there for our students and for one another–no virus was going to stop us.

By the time Monday rolled around, teachers had students enrolled in virtual classrooms–our school used Google products, but other platforms abounded in other school districts.  We communicated to students through the virtual classroom and through virtual meetings.  The technology was imperfect and full of glitches and hiccups, but students and teachers forged through each and every challenge thrown our way.  In a way, educators were pupils once more, learning right along with our students, relying on part innovation, part intuition, and a whole lot give and take via virtual forms of communication.

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The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”– Mark Van Doren

Together, with our colleagues and our students, educators made many new discoveries about technology and pedagogy as well as how to tap into our creativity.  We had meetings with one another in which mutual tears were shed for the loss of “how it used to be,” but more often, the focus and concern was for students’ well-beings and how to best provide for their needs–both educationally and psychologically.  Additionally, there were a multitude of professional development virtual meetings in which we listened intently, scrawled notes, typed our questions in chat boxes, and discussed with one another in virtual breakout rooms.

This is not to say that they weren’t frustrations, nor am I trying to imply it was a perfect, seamless transition of rainbows, butterflies, and magical, mythical unicorns.  It was not.  Students would not show up to class meets or not complete their work.  Administrators asked for a multitude of documented records, such as, individual missing student work, student needs, staff needs, ideas for improvement and future planning–spreadsheet after spreadsheet and list upon list.  Towards the end of April, there were so many lists, spreadsheets, and schedules that it was easy to overlook one or another, and I certainly had my fair share of oversights.  However, I wasn’t the only one, and the compounded effect sometimes led to flared tempers, quiet resentment, or virtual words of implications–albeit, never for long.

Plus, there was the learning curve.  Educators were continually encouraged to be flexible and foster an attitude of expansive and forward thinking.  For those teachers possessing a technologically nimble mindset, this was a Montessori school of experience, full of opportunities to explore, expand, and engage.  For those of us with less technological deftness, it was like being asked to wake up each day and start walking in the opposite direction of fast and furious freeway traffic, leaving our brains often feeling short-circuited as our work day grew longer and longer.  However, regardless of which side of the technology tree one fell, a new phrase emerged from this experience, “COVID taught me this,” and together with our educational peers across the country, we emerged stronger and more resilient.

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Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”– Nelson Mandela

Educators are persistent, tenacious, kindhearted individuals who spend their own money, their own time, and give freely of their own hearts to students each and every day.  We did this before the pandemic, we are continuing this now, and we will likewise do this after the reign of COVID.  Teachers matter, with or without COVID–just as those in the health professions matter.

Recently, I overheard a confident middle school student reporting to a peer that women tend to choose low-value degrees, like teaching.  

“They choose not to make money,” he exclaimed, “because they don’t want to do the hard stuff like be a doctor or lawyer.”

I am not sure where or how he came to this conclusion, and perhaps he will always feel that way about my chosen profession.  Regardless of his sentiment, I, along with my colleagues (and my husband–who also happens to be an educator), will continue to work to educate him along with his peers–no matter what life throws our way, in spite of our so-called, “low value” degrees.  This is because we know the truth, and now it appears, based upon that sign alongside the state route, the word is spreading.  

Cranberry-pumpkin Muffins (Gluten-free and plant-based)

Historically, the health-promoting properties of cranberries have been based on folkloric remedies, which have existed for centuries. The healthy giving properties of this fruit were recognized by Native American Indians, and early New England sailors are said to have eaten the vitamin C-rich wild cranberries to prevent scurvy.”–Massachusetts Cranberries website

Cranberries are one of just three fruits native to the United States.”–The Humble Gardener website

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I couldn’t help but notice all of the ongoing fresh cranberry offerings and deals that have been found lately in the local grocery stores; therefore, I purchased a 12 ounce bag for myself.  Those inviting, bright crimson berries have often reminded me of mini Christmas baubles hanging from an evergreen branch.  Curiosity began to get the best of me, and I decided that I needed to learn more about these tiny ruby orbs.  Afterall, a fruit full of that much color had to have some redeeming qualities, and boy-oh-boy do they ever!

One of the first facts I noticed was that numerous medical and nutritional-based websites consider cranberries to be a so-called, “super-food,” due to their overall nutritional benefits.  Part of this designation is due to cranberries’ high levels of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, that give cranberries their bright red color. (I knew that bright red color was important!) In addition to being consumed in its various forms as part of the treatment for and prevention of  UTIs, research has also linked cranberries to improving the function of the immune system as well as decreasing blood pressure. Additionally, there are several promising studies indicating cranberries may be helpful in slowing down the growth of cancer cells, particularly in certain types of tumorous growths.

Stir in fresh cranberries to your favorite fruit salad.

Several websites describe cranberries’ high levels of polyphenols may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Studies have also found that consuming cranberries, as part of a whole-foods healthy diet, regularly promotes the health of gums and teeth.  Cranberries are also believed to decrease inflammation associated with both chronic disease and aging, and these tiny powerhouse fruits offer numerous benefits to one’s gut health and microbiota. Additionally, the naturally low-sugar, high fiber berries possess anti-inflammatory properties.  Plus, like other berries, cranberries are high antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Cranberries are typically in season and widely available throughout the fall and into the early winter months.  They can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two months, and frozen for several more months for later consumption.  When choosing fresh cranberries, look for smooth skin that is firm to the touch and unwrinkled.  

Fresh, ripe cranberries have smooth, unwrinkled skin, and are said to bounce like a basketball.

Of course, cranberries are typically part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, however, they are quite a versatile food that can be used in a wide array of recipes.  Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salads, and even dark, leafy green salads.  Cook them down into a sauce on the stove with some maple syrup, honey, or sugar, add a bit of cinnamon, and perhaps the zest or juice of an orange or a drop of orange extract.  Use this sauce as a condiment for toast, sandwiches, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, or even in muffins.  Stir in fresh, or dried, cranberries into muffins, cakes, breads, and even cookie recipes.  The ways in which to use cranberries are only as endless as your imagination. 

Below is a recipe I created based upon one I found in an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  Betty Crocker cookbooks have been a mainstay for the members of my family, a tradition handed down to me and my siblings from both my mother and grandmother as Betty Crocker recipes are fairly easy to follow/create and typically use simple ingredients.  This recipe I adjusted to make it both gluten free and plant-based.  I added a few extras to it in order to, as my Grandmother Helen used to say, “doctor it up.”

Gently fold in cranberries into the batter, careful not to overstir the batter so that the muffins do not turn out “tough.”

Both my daughter and husband tried these plump muffins of goodness, despite the fact that they do not, per se, like cranberries.  To their surprise, they both really liked this recipe.  It is moist, but springy–like a good muffin should be.  The sparkling sugar adds a thin crusting effect to the muffin tops.  Plus, a large portion of the berries burst open into the batter during the baking process creating a just the right amount of tang and sweet.  Enjoy these muffins slightly cooled, but still warm, from the oven or warmed over in the microwave.  Share the goodness of these muffins, chock full of healthful benefits, with someone you love, and be sure to store the uneaten muffins in an airtight container or bag in the fridge or freeze them for quick morning or a snack time reheat on the run.

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

Use an ice cream scoop to help divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.
White sparkling sugar, sprinkled on top, creates a nice crust to muffin tops.
Cool muffins on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups (I use a gluten-free variation.)

¾ cup sugar (Can use a sugar substitute, such as Swerve.) 

3 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) of pure pumpkin

½ teaspoon orange extract 

½ cup apple sauce (Can substitute ½ cup oil if preferred.)

2 eggs or “flegg” equivalent (2 tablespoons ground flax seed + 5 tablespoons water, allow to sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.)

2 cups cranberries

½ chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

White sparkling sugar (If you do not have this on-hand, simply use regular sugar.)

Directions:

**Note: if using egg replacement, “flegg,” please make first and set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Line muffin tins with parchment paper or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir in pumpkin, orange extract, apple sauce, and eggs. Until just mixed–careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in cranberries and nuts if using. 

Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups and sprinkle with sugar.  Before sprinkling with sugar, you can also top with a few cranberries, a bit of pumpkin seeds, or a bit of oats.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool on a rack.  Serve warm. 

Makes 12 muffins that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve slightly cooled, but still warm from the oven.

Have Faith Like an Artist

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”–Hebrew 11:1

“Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.”–Andre Gide

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After two years of studying the black and white hard facts of science at the university level where she was doing quite well, my daughter, Madelyn, switched gears and decided to study art at a different university.  Nearly one and a half years later, she is thriving with the challenge of the creative process.  At this point in her art journey, she has worked with clay, ceramics, water colors, photography, printmaking, fabrics, charcoal, pen/ink, and several other mediums. I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder, as I watch her transform seemingly nondescript materials into works of art, at the level of her faith throughout each the process.  

It is her example of faith in action that got me thinking about my own faith and the faith of the world around me.  Personally, I catch myself repeatedly clasping and grasping for the way-it-should-be, the if-only-things-were-like-this, and the when-it’s-normal-again, rather than, like my daughter, trusting the process and allowing Divine Providence to work through her.  Instead, I keep resisting change and focusing on the down-side of 2020: negative attitudes possessed by so-called “others,” negative outcomes, negative requirements, negative situations, and on-and-on the list can go.  And, guess what, 2021 is just around the corner, and from the looks of things, the new year will continue with much of the same so-called obstacles of 2020.

This beautiful watercolor painting study of leaves took much effort, adaptation, and was an opportunity to learn a new skill that Maddie may not have otherwise learned.

When Madelyn first started in the art program, I witnessed her very real resistance to the process. Gone were the structures, rules, and methods of the scientific process on which she had relied for years. Instead, she was now being asked to create, out of a wide variety of materials, unique creations that adhere to the rules demanded by each requisite medium, course, and/or instructor(s).  While at the same time,  she is likewise expected to “break the rules” in order to avoid creating pieces that are commonplace, cliched, or conventional .

During these early months of her transition, Madelyn would make statements such as, “I don’t like ______;” “I don’t know how I’m supposed to create _______ with ________;”  “I don’t know why I have to ________;” and so on. The first few times this happened, I began to wonder if the field of art was the correct call on her part.  She seemed so opposed to the various requirements and loosely formed experimentations/expectations.  Nonetheless, by the end of each of those early projects and classes, she exited the other side having mastered a new skill and with tangible evidence as seen in each of the pieces.  

It is because of Madelyn’s example that I now understand that resistance is part of the process of faith. It is through the act of resistance, as counterintuitive as it may seem, that her faith is ignited.  Then, as she wrestles with each new style, material, and/or expectation, the embers of her creativity are fed, allowing the heat of the process to lead her through to the other side.  Thus, by acting in faith, Madelyn is able to push through the growing pains of each project and is ultimately able to create something new.

Like Madelyn’s initial struggles with art, I too have been rather contrary with the changes around me.  I have felt the opposition to things-not being-the way-they-used-to-be.   Like an indulged child, my mind has thrown numerous tantrums and protestations. I have mentally muttered countless grumblings and asked numerous questions as to why and how I am supposed to do ______.  Nevertheless, I am now realizing that it is this very resistance that continues to spark, not only me, but all of humanity into adapting, evolving, and creating a new way of living, being, and interacting with one another.  

Faith, I am learning, isn’t blind acceptance that encourages the wave of our Maker’s hand, and, boom, we get our heart’s desires.  Faith is work; it is a labor of love, devotion, AND effort.  It is having the ability to believe in the unseen/unformed and to see that there is something new and original that can be formed through the very real friction of the struggle. Step-by-step, through set-backs, changes, and adaptation, faith is fortified.  Through perseverance, sweat, and belief, the faith process continues to grow and burgeon.  Embracing belief throughout the struggle, The One greater than us is inspiring change and challenging us with new situations and demands in order to foster growth in the same matter as Maddie’s art teachers force exploration of new materials and tools in order to push her capacity for creativity as well as her skill level.

When Madelyn starts a new art project, she typically starts with an idea.  However, I have noticed that she cannot cling to one way strict vision of the concept.  Sometimes, certain materials aren’t available.  Other times, what she originally envisioned would work, does not work in the way in which it was initially conceived, plans get altered, materials and tools are changed, outcomes or time-lines change, and sometimes even temperature fluctuations alter her outcomes/production.  It seems as if there are hundreds of tiny little changes and adaptations that contribute and influence her endeavors as well as the final product.  However, in the end, through the humility of her strivings, a new product is created, and a new skill set has evolved.

That, to me, is 2020.  The canvas that we had at the beginning of 2020 was blank.  Individual and collective visions for the final outcome of the year varied, but we all relied upon a certain amount of consistently available materials, timelines, and predictable outcomes.  Then like the multitude of art projects I’ve observed Madelyn begin, things began to go off-plan. We have been asked to follow some of the same rules, but not all rules, use this material, but not that material; likewise, we are asked to improvise as needed, and, in-the-end, we are now developing a new way of living, being, and interacting. 

Therefore, like an artist, we must overcome our own resistance.  We must continue to work through the process, adapting and improvising when needed.  The end product may continue to evolve and change, but through our collective endeavors, energies, and faith in the unseen, we must trust that Divine Providence is inspiring us to create a new work of life-art. We are but tools in The Creator’s hands.  Have faith.

A reminder for all of us from Maddie.

Enjoy the Golden Present Moment, but Don’t Attach

“Life is short, and time is swift; Roses fade, and shadows shift.”–Ebenezer Elliott

It’s all just a carnival.”–Sri Swami Satchidananda

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I can remember as a preteen, our family made its first week-long vacation with all three of my siblings and me to Wrightsville Beach, NC.  We stayed in an old family-owned Inn just a short walk to the shoreline and pier as best I can recall.  The owner, it seemed to me at the time, was an older lady who enjoyed getting to know her guests and gathering them each afternoon/evening for some sort of simple family-centered event, such as sharing freshly cut watermelon or offering an ice cream social hour.

Honestly, I do not remember many details about this trip, but I do recall making friends with another family who stayed in the same inn.  With my parents permission, I accompanied this family to a local roller skating rink.  At the time, I loved to roller skate.  It was an older sibling in the family that drove all of us in a red-orange sports car, with the windows down, and with  rock music blaring–the likes of which I had never before heard.  Once at the roller rink, the same type of music continued, bright lights of colors were flashing, and a disco ball spun and sparkled in the center of the rink.  At the time, I felt so grown up.  I was certain that I was nearly touching adulthood as I skated around blissfully, ignorant of my very real youth.

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In a similar vein, I can remember on another family vacation a few years later.  This time we stayed on Outer Banks of NC, which was completely different from Wrightsville Beach because we were not near typical vacation attractions.  The beach, at the Outer Banks, was the center attraction, which was fine by my family and me. My family stayed in a house that was “fourth row” back from the beach.  While we could see a bit of the beach from the deck of the house, we still had about a 5-10 minute walk to the beach.

On this trip, my siblings and I made friends with another family. Their names were the Kirtleys, (I hope I am spelling their name correctly.) and they had three kids–two boys and one girl, if I am remembering correctly.  Their family had an ocean front vacation home with a line of glass windows that ran from bottom to top with a spiral staircase visible through the panes.  It seemed so spectacular in my teenage mind.

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Once, their family invited our family over for drinks and appetizers.  While my parents did not drink much in the way of alcohol, they still accepted their invitation.  I can recall walking the length of the spiral staircase with one of the Kirtley kids and looking out at the ocean from the top of the stairs that opened up into a large main floor with abundant and unspoiled views of the ocean.  I was certain that it was one of the finest things I had ever climbed and the ocean seemed so close and vivid–like I could hear the water breathing.

These trips were like visiting a carnival or amusement park, highly anticipated events that seemed the most important thing in the world, but like the numerous sand castles I have built over the years, the tide, like time, drew up, and washed the moment away.  How many moments of life are like that?  Graduating from high school, winning some sort of special event or game, attaining a job, planning and taking part in a special ceremony, and even the simple act of going to dinner with a loved one.  The people, the moment, the time, the event . . . so special, so sacred, so anticipated . . . Then, like the snap of your fingers, time’s tide rolls in, and it is over.  Just as the ocean shore in July is smooth and pristine in the dawn of the morning with no evidence of the previous day’s beach goers, so too is the present moment.

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The present moment is so golden, and yet it is so overlooked.  Magical memories are being made, and we don’t realize it.  People come and go in our lives.  Events occur and pass.  One moment, you’re on the Big Dipper roller coaster in Camden Park with a friend surrounded by strangers, and then you, your friend, the other riders, as well as the amusement park’s employees move on. 

For a time period, a child is small and dependent, but soon becomes an adolescent with thoughts of independence.  For a season, you encounter the same person at the grocery store, week in and week out, then that employee is seen no more.  You work with a person for years, but eventually, the workplace changes.  One day you’ve earned your way to the top of the work heap, the next you are no longer there.  Attaching to titles, money, things, and even moments are all temporary.  We leave this earth the way we entered it: naked and with no belongings.

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What remains in between is each present moment while it lasts. The kindnesses of gentle words, the acts of warmhearted acts of compassion, the peacefulness of the calm, the resonance of laughter and joy, and the humble tears streaming quietly down the cheek.  From the cantaloupe-colored sunrise, to the gleaming midday sun dancing through amber autumn leaves; from the purples and indigoes of sunset over the Ohio River to blinking of faraway stars and planets against an inky sky, and all other moments in between, the present moment is humbly, but fleetingly, waiting for us.  It is right there, in our sight, but cannot be grasped or attained–only lived in for that one moment–then, like the footprints in the shore line sand, it is washed away.

What also remains is the earth, the sea, and the heavens above. People come and go in our lives. Words and actions can build or destroy the present moment.  Let us all use our golden present moments to find the common ground, share kindnesses, so that one day we may walk the ultimate spiral staircase to a higher ground.

“Earth sky sea and rain  . . . 

Words that build or destroy . . .

I’d like to be around

In a spiral staircase

To the higher ground . . .” –excerpt from “Promenade” as performed by U2, written by Clayton, Evans, Mullen, & Hewson

Job: Pain is temporary, suffering is optional

“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”–Job 7:11

“Do your daily work, deal with everyone, move with everybody.  Be in the ocean, but learn to surf well.”–Sri Swami Satchidananda

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I had not read, or really, even thought much about the story of Job from the Bible in quite a while. Therefore, when I encountered it recently in a reading, I was reminded of my childhood days of flannel board Sunday School stories.  The large board covered with blue flannel cloth standing on a wooden tri-fold easel was used to temporarily, and seemingly, magically, attach characters, and other figures, from the Bible to help students visualize the lesson of the day.

My Aunt Janet was one of a handful of Sunday School teachers I had during my first 12 years of life, and I can still semi-remember our upstairs classroom in which she shared Bible stories with other children and me.  For some reason, as I reread parts of the story of Job, it was her flannel board lesson that filtered into my mind like the autumn fog slipping into the dark hours of morning only to fade with the light of sun.  That Sunday School memory slithered and slipped around the edges of my recollections, but no matter how hard I tried to fully summon it up, all that I could grasp was the memory of the flannel image of Job, covered with sores, on his knees, looking skyward in great anguish.  Still, that was more than I had had before reading this story.

Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible. She had a bookmark at this book and the book of Isaiah.

It was because of this memory that I began to read more from the book of Job.  Now, I do not want to lead anyone astray into thinking that I read the entire book of Job, I did not.  Nor do I want to imply that I am by any means a Bible expert, I am not. Nonetheless, as I started reading these passages, I began to see themes and parallels to present day life were held within this old book.  In fact, I found quite a few points of interest.  

Additionally, on the very same day, I encountered another story that I had previously read, but I had forgotten.  I was bowled over by the way in which it connected to the story of Job.  In this story, the writer suggests that while it is one thing to find peace by developing and fostering the habit of daily prayer and meditation, it is a completely different skill to maintain one’s inner peace when injured/sick, overwhelmed, or when feeling insulted by the actions or words of another. 

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Reflecting on the two stories, I realized both stories are of particular relevance in our current climate.  In fact, with each story, I was confronted by powerful truths.  One of the themes of Job, is that regardless of his suffering, he remained faithful to God. At the height of Job’s suffering and loss, he basically stated that if he was to accept the good things in life that God had given him, should he not accept the troubles from God as well?   Whereas, in the other story, the author essentially teaches the importance of living in the world, allowing for both the ups and downs of life, while maintaining a sense of equanimity.  Neither are easy truths. 

2020 though has certainly challenged me to learn to adjust, adapt, and accommodate all of the drastic waves of change it has brought.  From learning to stay at home for long periods of time, to teaching remotely from home; from adapting to a new normal of living and working at home, to returning to my work place in order to simultaneously teach students virtually and in-person; from thinking the discord and dissension would be temporary, to bearing witness to ever-increasing and supposedly acceptable levels of vitriol that seems to have to end in site; from viewing COVID as an illness that doesn’t affect me, to observing its lingering effects on my own mother; and from seeing others suffer with illnesses unrelated to the current pandemic, to observing and experiencing ever increasing levels of anxiety within myself and so many of my co-workers, family and friends; it all leaves me to ask, how much more injury and insult must we all accommodate, adjust, and adapt to?  

Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible.

As I read through the early chapters of Job, I did something I normally never do, I skipped over a large portion of the story, and went straight to the last chapter to see how the narrative concluded. Job’s story ended with the universal theme that good will ultimately triumph over evil, but it did not occur without some ranting and complaining by Job, it appears.  In fact, in the last chapter one can read Job admitting he was wrong and offering a humble apology to God. That is when it hit me.  The even bigger lesson of Job is that in life there will be pain, there will be suffering, there will be discord and illness, but it is our individual response that determines our level of personal suffering.  

 Job could not control events of his life any more than I can, or you can, for that matter.  Like Job, I am quick to grumble and protest things that I cannot understand.  It is easy to complain and demand answers.  It is far more challenging to choose to remain calm and ride the waves of uncertainty when life’s waters get choppy.  

I cannot pretend that I have lived a faultness life like Job any more than I can pretend to have his level of faith.  All I can humbly do is apply the lesson of his story by becoming more aware of my own petty, reactive complaints, learn to better surf the waves by adapting and accommodating to all of the changes, rather than resisting, and take heart from the words of Job towards the end of the story, “ . . . Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  Job 42: 3  Lastly, I must put my faith that these current life-pains that we are all experiencing, like the waves of any storm, are only temporary.  Calmer waters are coming soon.

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Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible.

Let’s Walk in Another’s Shoes

“Walk a little in my shoes; see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel, then maybe you will understand why I am the way I am.”–Jerose

“If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes.”–Corrie ten Boom

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Two emails found at the end of a full Saturday.  A day in which I tried to balance the needs of others and the mundane chores of life we all face.  The fading sunlight kissed the western sky with a melon-colored glow that felt warm on my neck as I completed the last little task for a dear one.  By the time I made it home, the dust remained in writable levels on all of my furniture, but I had managed to somehow be of small service to loved ones. After a quick shower, I started dinner.  It was already full-on dark, but I felt a good-kind of tiredness swathe me like a robe.  

In the kitchen, I scurried about like a mouse being chased by a cat throwing together a gluten-free pizza for myself, and salads for John, my husband, and me.  Our daughter was with friends for the evening, and John had already purchased a pizza for himself as he doesn’t require a gluten-free option.  Pouring myself a glass of golden wine, I sipped slowly as I relaxed in the rhythm and routine of the kitchen, my life-long source of comfort and creativity.   John would be back home soon, so could we eat, share conversation, and watch a bit of college football.  

An hour or so after dinner, John walked over to a neighbor’s house to visit with a couple of buddies.  I remained home, relaxing in the quiet.  What made me decide to do it, I don’t know, but I picked up my phone and began scrolling through emails.  I immediately began deleting all the junk and buy-me emails that so many companies send once they get your email address, and was about to close the app . . .

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Wait, what? Who is this person?  Is this spam?  Hmmm . . .  Should I even click it open?  It seems real enough though.  Huh?  Oh my goodness!  Wow!

My heart began to race and pound as if I were running from a knife-wielding maniac in one of those B-level slasher movies. Instead, however, I was mentally attempting to run away from the words of an email sent by a person with a name that I did not recognize, but this person sure did seem to think he or she knew me.  While there was nothing life-threatening in the email, the unknown sender certainly meant for his or her words to cut, and I was definitely feeling the intended slashes.

Instead of closing the email app, I clicked over to my work email.  WHY????  Scrolling through, I began to make mental notes of things to complete tomorrow afternoon and delete spam.  That was when I ran across yet another negative note from a different person.  Why did I open my email?  Why didn’t I just leave the phone alone and focus solely on the book I had planned on reading or continue watching the football game?  Why did I pick up that blasted phone?

Immediately, I was reminded of a documentary that both a friend and my dad had recommended entitled, The Social Dilemma.  John and I had watched most of it.  While some of the acting and storyline felt a tad over-dramaticized, the gist of the documentary was not lost on us.  The internet, computers, and smartphones were all created, originally, to be used as tools–streamlining information, improving efficiency, easing communication, and so forth.  However, as competition and the market grew, the tech companies began to figure out ways to create consumer-driven platforms designed to be addictive, track behavior, and target ads/influence.   By picking up my phone without thinking and mindlessly scrolling through email, I had fallen prey to the attraction of the screen as this documentary pointed out. 

Ugh, I had allowed my phone to control me. There was positively no need to pick up the phone in order to relax.  Now, I was far from a relaxed mental state!  So, what did I do?  What any normal person would do, of course, reread both emails again!  After a second reading, the words of the emails still struck the same negative chord, and I thankfully decided it was time to put away the phone and focus my attention elsewhere.  

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In the wake of those two emails, I fell asleep that night pondering why people make assumptions, especially negative assumptions, about others?  Which then begged the question, why do I?  After all, I can’t be self-righteous and not include my own behavior.  As with so many big picture questions, I had to offer it up to Divine Providence and keep my heart and mind open to answer.  It came later in the form of a novel for youth. 

As I was reading a book my 6th grade students are currently reading, an elderly male character offers a long stick to a character who is a boy with severe anger issues.  The elder asks the boy to break off the left side of the stick, and the boy does this.  The man responds that the left side is still there, and he asks the boy to break it off.  

This is again repeated until the exasperated youth finally says, “This is stupid.  There will always be a left side.”  

The older man retorts, “There will always be a left and right side to life.”  The gentleman went on to explain that the young man will always have his anger and something for which to be angry, but likewise there will always be something for which to be happy or thankful.  The choice was his, focus on the left side or the right of the stick–the choice was his every day and every moment.

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Clearly, the writers of those letters were angry.  Both had made assumptions and implications about my life or my behavior that were viewed through their own personal lens without spending a day, much less a week, walking in my shoes.  Additionally, I had initially done the same thing–passing judgement on the senders of those emails.  

However, in the light of a new day, I chose to focus on the right side of the stick.  The first email, I decided not to answer because there was no sense in trying to defend my life and choices in a singular email to a person who doesn’t know me, much less live my life.  If the person needs to have someone with which to focus his or her anger, I can be that left side of the stick for this unknown reader.   I did, however, take time to respond thoughtfully and truthfully to the second, work-related email as I thought it was merely a misunderstanding. 

Bottom line, I don’t live in the shoes of the senders of the email.  I don’t know what life experiences have framed their thinking, much less what had happened within their life on the day they sent their emails.  Perhaps they were simply having a bad day and only able to see the left side of the stick when they chose to write to me.  I get it.  I’ve been there, and if I am to be fully honest, I have focused on the left side of the stick quite often in my own life.  

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Just as screens have practically hardwired us to seek out their company with great frequency, humans also seem to be hardwired from an early age to seek out and focus on the negative.  It takes work, effort, and energy to focus on the positive, to feel gratitude, and to feel happy just as it takes focused choices to put down, or step away, from screens.

 I can’t always choose the path my shoes walk, as life is often full of curvy roads and unexpected hills and valleys, but I can choose to take care of my shoes, aka, my life, and regularly remind myself that there are, indeed, two sides to a stick.  Thus, when I find myself focusing on the fact I can’t break off one side of the stick, I can choose to redirect my thoughts to focus on the other side, trusting that, when others try to cloud my way, I’ll put my faith in the fact that the shoes God gave me will lead me to the light.

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(Almost) One-bowl Gluten pumpkin muffins with optional add-ins

“Oh my gourdness, it autumn!”–as seen on Country Living 

“Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about!” as seen on Elite Daily

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On October sixth, I wrote about when life hands you bad tasting, bitter ingredients turn them into a sweet slice of cake.  In response to that piece, a reader named Bonnie, sent me an email asking for the made-from-scratch pumpkin cake recipe to which I referred in the article.  When I read her email, I was touched by the fact, someone beside my parents and husband read my column!  Furthermore, I felt fortunate that she would take time out of her busy schedule to send me an email.  Then, I was gourd-smacked.  I didn’t have a recipe to share with her. Oh my gourdness! 

I didn’t have the guts (gourd it?) to tell her that when I wrote the original piece, I based my so-called recipe on my knowledge of ingredients of recipes for other cakes, muffins, as well as pumpkin pie.  The closest I ever came to baking a pumpkin cake was actually pumpkin muffins for Maddie, my daughter.  It soon became one of her favorite fall recipes which was made from a spice cake mix and blueberries.  Still, I couldn’t go(urd) breaking Bonnie’s heart.  She asked for a recipe.  I had to harvest something.

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In the meantime, Maddie, who now lives at home, attends Marshall University as an art major, and works at La Famiglia at the MU student center, was showing me photos of the latest chalk art she had completed promoting the restaurant’s pumpkin cannoli’s.  In fact, her store manager had recently made one for Maddie to taste, and Maddie described in great detail how gourd the pumpkin cannoli tasted.  Maddie further added that she told her manager that the manager should try my pumpkin blueberry muffins. 

Maddie’s chalkboard art for La Famiglia at Marshall University Student Center

Hmm. . . I needed to patch some Zs on this thought.  After a good night’s rest, a new idea vined through my mind.  Why not create my own made-from-patch recipe for pumpkin blueberry muffins that could also double as a 9 x 13 cake if one desired?  I patched together some gourd research and soon enough, a new recipe was born, or should I say, carved.

Of course, I had to bake up a trail patch to taste.  Since I have celiac disease and should not eat wheat, I went with a gluten-free variation.  However, it should be noted that any all-purpose flour will work here just as well.  Additionally, I am not big on using a lot of oil in my food, mostly because it tends to create reflux which I prefer to avoid.   That said, you can always replace the applesauce with oil or melted butter if you prefer baking with a bit of fat.  Plus, with a variety of potential stir-ins, this recipe serves as a Jack-of- all-lanterns as there are many ways in which you could carve it up. 

This is the Jack-of-all-lanterns cake/muffin recipe. Pick your additions and stir up some gourdness!

Whether you are craving something a little sweet, or someone has asked you, “What’s cooking gourd-looking?”  Your answer can come straight from the vine!  Scoop out a bit of time to bake, and let the gourd times roll! Wishing you all of the pumpkin gourdness of fall!  

From my pumpkin patch to yours, I wish you happy, homemade, and hauntingly gourd pumpkin treats!  

P.S. Thank you, Bonnie, for your gourd inspiration.  Your email was the pumpkin of my pie, and it added spice to my life!

(Almost) One bowl Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins (or cake) with optional add-ins

Ingredients:

1egg or “flegg” (1 tablespoons ground flaxseed + 2 ½ tablespoons of water stir together and allow to sit for 15 minutes)

2 cups all purpose flour or oat flour  (I used oat flour to keep it gluten-free, but you could also use any gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup brown sugar (Can substitute with other sugar or sugar replacement.)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) pure pumpkin 

½ cup unsweetened applesauce (Can also use oil or melted butter if preferred.)

½  cup milk (I like to use plant based, but any milk is fine.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder (I love vanilla powder for a more rich, vanilla taste.)

Optional stir ins: blueberries, cranberries, raisins, craisins, walnuts, even chocolate or white-chocolate chips

White sparkling sugar or cinnamon-sugar

Directions:

If  making a “flegg,” mix first and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare 12 muffin tins by lining with paper, oil, or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients until flour and spices are well blended.

Stir in egg (or flegg), pumpkin, applesauce, milk and vanilla until just combined without over-mixing.

If using an add-in, gently fold into batter.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.

Sprinkle muffin tops with white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow muffins to cool on wire racks before serving

Can also pour batter into a prepared  9 x 13 pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If choosing this variation, allow the cake to cool, and then frost if desired.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator or can freeze for up to a month.

Foggy Morning Leads to Sunshine Breakthrough

The fog comes on little cat feet.  It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.” –Carl Sandburg

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Not only is it dark when I leave for work now, it is often foggy.  This common autumnal weather occurrence, slows my drive along the twisty, valley roads in the hills of southeastern Ohio.  In the chiffon covering of predawn, my surroundings are hidden, my future path is concealed, and all that I can see is the road directly before me, illuminated through the low-beam lights of my vehicle.  Runners sometimes appear as if they are ghosts.  Other times, deer dart, scampering across the road with the grace of a ballerina.  There are other nocturnal creatures, stray dogs, cats, opossums, raccoons, and even skunks, that amble alongside or across the roads over which I traverse.  Sometimes, there are inanimate objects, unknowingly or knowingly, fallen or dropped from an unseen vehicle.  All of these obstacles offer potential threats and hazards since they only come into view when the headlights illuminate their presence.

As the current situation unfolds, I feel as if I am often moving through my days in a fog. Life seems to be demanding as work days are now longer, and there are unseen perils abounding around every life curve and news headline.  Often, especially at the beginning of each day, all I can see is the day’s workload before me.  As the day progresses, my view becomes more widespread, and I feel tossed, pell-mell, in a sea of waves engulfed by a completely revised way of living and engaging at work and in the public realm.

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Recently, my mother contracted the COVID virus, moving this shrouded illness directly into my own personal vision.  Mom’s COVID emerged after attending a family funeral event.  At first, she thought it was seasonal allergies that developed into a cold, but one thing led to another, and soon enough, testing confirmed what we suspected–COVID.  She became yet another statistic for the local county to track, but this number had a name, Mom.

Although she was in relative good health upon contracting the virus, she kept feeling worse.  While I will not belabor her unique symptoms, it soon became apparent that she was not recovering as she should.  Furthermore, there was no Walter Reed Hospital to rescue her health.  Her own children could not go around her to help.  She was left to rely on our phone calls and a very unreliable social media to help her.

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Despite daily phone calls from her children/grandchildren, offering this bit of advice and that, she did not improve.  Eventually, a decision was reached that she must, once more, call her doctor’s office because, of course, she could not go in-person.  It wasn’t until her 8th day with COVID, I believe, that her doctor recommended she go to a local 24/7 medical campus with its own emergency staff and decontamination room.  Unfortunately, there was no advice as to how she was to get there, and no waiting helicopter, paid by tax dollars, waiting to whisk her away.

Instead, my sister and I, the two of her four children who live here locally, were left to figure out how to safely transport her to the medical facility.  Of course, we could have called an ambulance, but that would further punish my mother with an exorbitant medical bill that she could not afford to pay.  Under normal circumstances, one of us would drive her there, but these are not normal times.  Driving her there meant exposing ourselves and our own families and requiring all of us to quarantine afterwards. 

Quarantining is like the curvy lines of dominoes I used to create as a child on my grandparent’s glass dining room table.  One quarantine means another domino falls and another and another.  Since my sister and I are educators, quarantining would mean putting more work on our co-workers and exposing our spouses–meaning more work sites comprised/short-staffed.  For my work site, I would be doing double damage to the staff because my husband teaches at the same school as me.  Plus, it would also mean that our daughter, an art major at the local university who is taking three studio classes that require in-person participation, would not be able to create her requisite studio projects. Meanwhile, my poor mom still needed medical care. Clink, clink, clink, I could hear the dominoes tipping as we tried to problem-solve.

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In the end, a compromise decision was made.  Mom drove herself to the medical campus, and I followed behind in my own car.  She was dizzy, lightheaded, and weak.  To say we were filled with worry was an understatement, and my sister and I talked on the phone nearly the entire drive.  Once there, I followed behind her illness-imposed shuffling gait. As she made her way inside, I stood outside the double glass sliding doors feeling both helpless and angry–helpless in the face of an illness gone wild and angry that I felt forced to make such a decision between my own mother’s health and work.  What kind of choice is that?  What kind, indeed?

Ultimately, not only did my mom have COVID, but she was also suffering from a UTI and pneumonia in one of her lungs.  While her care was more than adequate, it was still routine–steroid injection and prescriptions for more steroids for the following days, anti-nausea pills to stave off constant queasiness, and an antibiotic for the pneumonia.  There were no therapeutics, no experimental meds, and 24/7 care around the clock care.  Instead, she was sent home that same evening. Once more I humbly followed her vehicle home knowing she was weakened even more from the exertion, and I watched with tears in my eyes as she slowly made her way into her empty house.  There were no medical follow up visits, no medical personnel to check on her throughout the night, and no one there with her when she awoke in the morning, groggy and exhausted the previous night’s efforts.

One of the things that has recently struck me, and believe me, so many current events are cutting me to the bone, is the fact not only am I feeling overwhelmed by COVID, work, and life as we now know it, but I feel undervalued.  It is expected that, like a good soldier, all of us, including me, should simply fall in line, willingly do more at my work site, work longer and longer hours–including weekends–with no extra pay, and just accept that I cannot help my mom, or any other family member for that matter, when needed. Who or what is to blame for this feels covered by a fog of political bluster and self-righteousness alongside the winds of disheartening news and current events.  Meanwhile, many of us remain transfixed by the persistent distractions that media platforms of all types offer turning a blind eye to the events of the real world affecting real people.  If it’s not affecting you, why worry, lulls social media and entertainment platforms.   

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There is a type of fog called “pea-souper.”  It is a type of thick fog of various shades of black, brown, green, and yellow reducing visibility even greater than organically occurring fog.  Pea-souper fog is caused by air pollution.  This highly toxic fog contains soot particles and the poisonous gas, sulphur dioxide.  The only way to remediate this type of persistent fog, historically speaking, has been through clean air acts.   Therefore, I am left to wonder what will clean our own current poison-filled air of living?

Sadly, I do not have answers.  Perhaps, all of this chaos is working towards a greater good that I cannot see, but will one day be revealed.  I am unsure.  Instead, I must rely on my faith to light my path forward. 

May we, as a collective, offer up prayers for compassion, prayers for healing, and prayers for a clearer vision.  Finally, Dear Reader, it’s high time we clean up the air by not only praying, but also by researching the issues on less-biased news outlets/platforms and then voting your conscious, by engaging in meaningful dialogue, and by having the courage to speak out.  We must put our faith and our convictions into action.  

The fog is lifting. I refuse to be another domino falling into line.  What about you?

Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.” –Corrie Ten Boom

Cake: The bittersweet recipe for life

Take the broken pieces of your life, bake a master cake out of it.–Israelmore Ayivore

Life is a cake and love is the icing on top of it.  Without love, it becomes difficult to swallow life.–Mehek Bassi

Have you ever tasted flour or baking powder?  What about vanilla extract, unsweetened canned pumpkin, cinnamon, salt or even a raw egg, how would each item taste on its own?  Personally, I even find sugar, by itself, isn’t really that tasty, but certainly more preferred than the previously mentioned ingredients.  However, if all of these ingredients are baked together with some oil or applesauce, and perhaps some milk, you have the makings of a pumpkin spice cake, a perineal fall favorite.

My sixth grade students are required to read a novel in which a caring adult challenges the rebellious, teenage main character to try the individual ingredients of a spice cake.  Accepting the dare, the main character boldly tries each item, determined to hide how badly most, if not all, of the ingredients taste separately. 

When asked how it all tasted, the character snarked, “Gross . . . .What did you expect?”

Of course, the caring adult is providing an object lesson for the malcontent teen, and while I’ve read this book countless times, this scene really struck a chord with me this past week. 

There can be no doubt that 2020 has been full of harsh ingredients. From the bitter taste of a pandemic worthy virus causing the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to acidic rhetoric and social media posts.  From the salty feeling left from closures, unemployment, and economic fall-out to the bittersweet taste of quarantining at home, increasing feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression, and fanning the flames of fear.  Jobs have been lost, and those that remain have been drastically impacted, and many are forever changed.  People are hurting, struggling, striving, and worst of all, dying.  At times, it feels as if it is just too much, especially if we dwell upon all those negatives.

Likewise, I am certain there are many readers in which even before the life-altering events of 2020 for whom life hasn’t always seemed fair.  There are those whose experience as a child was far from ideal.  Others may have experienced the way-to-soon death of a parent or care-giver.  Some have experienced wars abroad in which morib, horrific, and violent scenes were a frequent occurrence.  While others have battled severe illness such as cancer, brain or nervous system disorders, disformed/disfigured bodies, heart/blood issues, lung/breathing issues, and, well, the list could go on . . . . There are those who have been a victim of trauma, severe accident, or other life changing occurrence.  The list of negative life events can go on, seemingly to infinity.   Additionally, others may experience the negative feelings associated with the lack of progress, the feeling of stagnation, entrapment, or and so on.  Frankly, there are numerous events that can leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths, and unfortunately it’s just so darn easy to focus and dwell upon all of the bad in the world and/or within our own lives.

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This is where the lesson of the cake began to reveal a few frosted edges of hope.  While I am not denying the bitterness, dryness, and acrid taste of this year, nor am I denying the very realness of life-altering, horrible events. I, too, have visited and dwelled in the valley of woe–and, I find, wallowing around in my own misery isn’t really that beneficial.  Therefore, I am challenging myself, and you too, Dear Reader, to reflect if it is possible to take these negative individual ingredients and create a bite of sweet hope.  

I sincerely believe in the old adage that hope springs eternal.  Additionally, I put my trust in my faith and love.  That is why I started out as a special education teacher, and even now why I continue to teach as well as write. I still believe in a world in which faith, hope, and love can make a difference.  This belief, to which I have clung for the entirety of my life, has waned and worn at times.  And yet, I am reminded of an old hymn my Grandmother used to hum, and sometimes sing in her off-key voice, around her house that was based on one of her favorite Bible passages.

. . . “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength

 They shall mount up with wings as eagles

They shall run and not be weary

They shall walk and not faint

Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait. . .”–Bill and Gloria Gaither

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When I bake a cake, especially one from scratch, it takes time.  First of all, I have to gather all of the ingredients–including stopping at the store if need be.  Then, I have to preheat the oven and prepare the pan.  Next, the dry ingredients are blended together, while in another bowl, the wet ingredients are likewise mixed.  Wet ingredients are folded into the dry ingredients, and any additional fruits, nuts, or candy chips are added before all the ingredients, now one massive lump of gooey-looking gunk, gets dumped in a heap in the cake pan, spread into a thinner viscous substance, and placed into a scalding hot oven for a set time period that is never quick.  Time passes slowly as the kitchen is gradually filled with the scents–hope of what is to come.  Even once removed, one still has to wait for the cake to cool before it can be frosted.  This, of course, takes more time.

Meanwhile, whipping up frosting does not happen with the snap of fingers. It takes the sweetness of confectioners sugar combined with the acrid taste of vanilla, the brineyness of salt, and the over-rich taste of melted butter in order to create a creamy, but oh-so-sugary, frosting.

Eventually, all of the waiting, the working, the wondering, the wishing, and the hoping all come together as a fork delves from cake to mouth, and soon the taste buds are dancing, the brain is singing a song of praise, and all tastes dreamy sweet in that one moment in time.  Sure, the cake doesn’t last forever, and neither do good times.  Thus, if we want more cake, we have to endure the bitter with acid, the bland with spice, the heating with the cooling period and all the in-between moments.  And, yet, it is the cake that is remembered, not the bitter taste of all the individual ingredients.  

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2020 has certainly been rancorous at times.  What’s more is that life, on the whole, can be as challenging, and run as hot as a 350 degree oven.  Waiting can be hard.  Therefore, as I put my faith in the baking process, so too, must I put my faith in Divine Providence, and humbly ask, as my grandmother used to sing, “Teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait.”  Cake is coming soon. 

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Under Pressure

“Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, no man ask for . . .

Splits a family in two

Puts people on streets . . .” from the lyrics of “Under Pressure” as written by members of Queen and David Bowie

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 It was still dark as I drove alongside the glinting waters of the Ohio River, but I could see the sky lighting towards day.  I tried to listen to the news when I first left home, but on this particular day the stories were making me feel way too anxious.  Thus, I switched to a favorite satellite radio music channel as I made my way onto the 6th Street Bridge heading into Huntington, WV.  As I took the exit ramp and began motoring towards the school in which I am currently an educator, I heard the unmistakable beat drop for one of my favorite teen anthem songs, “Under Pressure,” written and performed by Queen and David Bowie.

As is my habit when I hear an old favorite, my hand automatically went to my heart.  It was late fall of 1981 when this song was wildly popular.  As a teen, I was attracted to socially compelling song lyrics, and the words of “Under Pressure” certainly were thought-provoking.  While I cannot pretend to recall my exact mental state in 1981, I do remember feeling the song’s lyrics resonating with me on a visceral level . . . and, boy do they ever resonate now.

“ . . .It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about

Watching some good friends screaming

‘Let me out!’

 . . .these are the days it never rains but it pours . . .”

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In the 80s, from my know-it-all teen perspective, I thought the world was incredibly messed up!  From the rallying cries and images of “Tear down the wall” to songs calling for us to “Feed the World,” and from the music and message of “Farm Aid” to the drama and news headlines surrounding the AIDS/HIV crisis alongside all of the other world/political problems that created newspaper headlines, it seemed in my young mind that the older generations were creating a world of chaos that the younger people would have to fix.  How ironic now!  

“ . . . Ee do ba be

Ee da ba ba ba

Um bo bo

Be lap . . .”

Shaking my head out of my 80s remembrances, I observed what once must have been a beautiful young lady, now bedraggled and disheveled in appearance, stumbling along the sidewalk next to the traffic light at which I was stopped.  Across the street, an older man, wet down the front of his pants as if he had unknowingly (or knowingly?) urinated on himself, began screaming curses at the woman.  She shouted incoherent phrases back to him as she attempted to stumble, bumble, fumble ahead at a faster pace, and I drove on, but the image still haunts my very human heart . . .

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“ . . . People on streets

Ee da de da de

People on streets

Ee da de da de da de da . . .”

Images from my life flashed before me as I continued to drive.  Images from childhood, teen years, college years, early adult years, parenting images, teaching images, images from past world events through where I have lived, and images from on-going current events.  Words seemed to fly through the mental space of my brain. COVID. PANDEMIC. CHAOS. QUARANTINE. DIVIDE. HATE. DIVISION. HURT. DIVISIVENESS. PAIN. DISORDER. DEATH TOLL. VIRTUAL. MISTRUST. . .

 “ . . .Turned away from it all like a blind man

Sat on a fence but it don’t work

Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn

Why, why, why?

Love, love, love, love, love

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking . . .”

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Am I the only one with a heart that is breaking?  It seems as if we often become wrapped up in minutiae of policies, partisanship, and even personal egos that we lose focus of our commonalities and the lives, the real lives of people.  Why is it now okay to speak, post, tweet, and write rudely?  Why does the concept of compromise seem unacceptable and/or unattainable.  Why is mountains of completed paperwork for health care workers, educators, law-enforcement, and all other humanity-based career fields more important than actual time focused on real people-to-people interaction?  Why is society as a whole burning bridges of connection? 

“ . . . Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?

Why can’t we give love that one more chance?

Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love

Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?

As a young girl in the 80s, I was a hopeless romantic who believed that words like love, empathy, compassion, and understanding were the answer to all world problems.  My grandfather used to teach the importance of  “walking a mile in another man’s shoes.”  In fact, it was a consistent message I heard throughout my childhood from the adults in my life.   While my grandfather was far from perfect, he certainly tried to apply this expression to his own life.  He, along with my grandmother, would take food to those in need, offer rides to the elderly who could no longer drive, and were overall kind and pleasant with all those they encountered–even if they didn’t agree with their personal views.  Am I naive to think this aphorism should still be practiced today?

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“ . . . Cause love’s such an old fashioned word

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves . . .”

Currently, I feel “under pressure” in a number of ways, and I suspect, I am not the only one.  First, and foremost, I feel the pressure to remain healthy and behave safely for the sake of all others with whom I have contact, but even more so for my loved ones. I am not sure I could live with myself if I caused another person to become sick.  

Additionally, I feel professional pressure. Like most other careers, education has had to dramatically change and respond in the wake of a pandemic. Teaching simultaneously in-person students and virtual students, as I try to meet the needs of both groups, challenges me in ways for which I never dreamed nor was prepared.  Then, there is the additional pressure of keeping the in-person students safe, their environment sanitized, and still allow them to be kids.  It is a delicate balance of walking along a tightrope with strong crosswinds of politics, policies, and personal egos abounding.  

Finally, I feel pressure as a responsible citizen.  How do I separate the wheat from the chaff?  How do I parse out the truth from the half-truths and outright lies?  And, what, if anything, can I do about the people suffering in the streets, in the hospitals and other health care facilities, at their work-sites, or currently in their own home?  Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses seem at an all-time high with negative coping mechanisms providing easy and quick relief, but not solving problems long term. Meanwhile compassion, concern, and care seem harder to find.  

“ . . . This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves under pressure

Under pressure

Pressure”

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My grandmother used to tell me that things had to get worse, before they could get better.  Meanwhile, my grandfather used to say that diamonds form under pressure. I have a Ninja pressure cooker in my kitchen. As the pressure builds, the food inside is cooked and transformed into a tasty treat.  In order not to overcook the food,  I must release the pressure valve, allowing the steam to rise as the temperature and pressure inside reduces.  I pray for the pressure valve to release soon.  I pray this isn’t “our last dance.”  I pray that love will dare us to care, once more, for others, and that we will soon dare to “change our ways” . . . .