Common Ground

“Whether we like it or not, we have all been born into this world as part of one big human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else.  We all desire happiness and do not want suffering.”–Dalai Lama

 

“The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.”–Jimmy Carter

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Like many of you reading these words, I have been experiencing a great deal of turbulence of the mind and heart.  From COVID-19 to the seemingly never ending struggle for racial equality, the world–from both the macro to the micro–is feeling a bit upside down and sideways.  There is so much political and societal divide that I cannot pretend to fully comprehend it all.

 

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In my early adulthood, my grandmother shared a story about a time my papaw and she came to my elementary school to pick me up.  Since this did not occur with any regularity, I must have eagerly anticipated this event.  Grandmother did not remember why they were picking me up, so I can only assume it was to help my parents.

 

It is my understanding that I exited school skipping in excitement and holding hands with another girl.  Grandmother explained that, as she took my hand, she asked a question.

 

“Why were you holding hands with that colored girl?”  

 

According to my grandmother, I replied, “What color was she?”  I was around seven years of age, and up until that moment, I had not noticed the shading of skin.

 

photo of girls wearing dress while holding hands
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

What a marvelous thing to realize that kids are not born with innate prejudices.  As a professional educator, I have spent all of my adult life devoted to the classroom.  From Kindergarten to grade 12, and every grade in between, I have spent over 30 years instructing children, ages 5-20, and I can tell you that kids, especially the younger ones, do not make assumptions about skin color, or other dividing factors unless it has been taught/modeled by someone or something.  

 

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As seen on jayshetty on Instagram.

 

Specifically, 15 years of my career were spent with kindergartners, the overall most eager, curious, and loving age group as a whole.  While I can only speak to my experience, the majority of five year olds that I encountered were too focused upon themselves, and who or what they were going to play at recess, than to care about so-called differences.  However, they were certainly curious about what they perceived as differences for which they may not have been exposed, such as when a fellow classmate began to wear glasses, had to wear an insulin pump, or was sporting a cast.  However, if as the teacher, I allowed for both structured and organic conversations about the change to occur, within less than a day, the so-called difference became inconsequential. 

 

 

That is not to imply that the conversation of skin color, or other differences, never came up because kids are observant and inquisitive by nature.  For example, one school year, a white male kept playing with the hair of one of his black female classmates.  She always wore it in braids with colorful beads, and he often chose to sit beside her if he could.  This shy, quiet girl did not like him touching her hair, and I often had to remind him to keep his hands to himself, and I encouraged her to use her words to tell him to stop.  On and on this boy’s obsession with the girl’s hair continued as he specifically loved to take his hand, place it gently on the top of her head, and “pet” the braids from top to bottom in a repetitive motion.

 

 

Finally, the girl had had enough one morning, and blurted out during opening circle activities, “Stop it! Why you always touchin’ my hair?”

 

The boy burst into tears, covering his eyes with his hands. Eventually, he explained to her with great gulps of breath in between each word, “I like your hair.  It’s not like mine.”

 

 

True enough, the boy had medium brown hair that was closely cropped to his head except for his bangs that hung straight over his freckled forehead.

 

A few days later, I overheard the same two students talking as they practiced writing their names with scented markers.

 

“Do you want me to see if my mom can fix your hair like mine?”

 

The boy emphatically nodded his head and added, “Ask her when you get home.”

 

 

Reflecting upon my own family, specifically my nine nieces and nephews, they reflect a variety of appearances, interests, and beliefs. From very dark skin to the palest pale; from light blue eyes to black; from curvy to trim body shapes; from pink to black, brown to blonde, curly to straight hair; from conservative to liberal views, and all variances in between, these special family members reflect a wide cross-section of young adults.  Yet, when we gather together, whether it’s in person or virtual, the only thing that matters is mutual respect and love.  

 

 

We certainly do not see eye-to-eye on all subjects.  We do not have the same interests, jobs, hobbies, and so forth. Differences abound.  What we do possess, though, is a bond–the humankind connection, with emphasis on kind.  Sure, we are linked by family, but we are also woven into the web of humanity.  And like all webs, the resiliency of it is dependent upon the strength of every strand–and each strand of this human network, it is worth remembering, is a unique creation of God.

 

 

Neither my nieces and nephews, nor my past and current students had any control over who would be their parents.  They did not get to choose their address, their family income, their family make-up, their family circumstances, much less control the color of their skin, eyes, hair, and so forth. In fact, none of us could, so why should we judge one another by circumstances for which we can not control?  

 

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Why should I be more likely, as a white, middle-aged female, to be given a warning if stopped by the police for a traffic violation?  Why should my white, 58-year old husband be stopped by police over 14 times during the course of his life and not be ticketed?  It wasn’t until his 15th violation–forgetting to turn on his turn signal at the foot of a local bridge–that he actually received more than a warning.  

 

I’ve watched Spanish speaking, brown skinned students play side-by-side their mostly white peers.  While they weren’t able to verbally communicate, they were still able to construct the “tallest, most awesome block building ever!” Similarly, I observed a student, originally from Jordan, with only rudimentary English, being taught to dance by his English-speaking cross-country teammates. This year, I further observed a group of middle school boys notice a new Chinese student standing by himself during an extra recess.  Eventually, despite the fact he did not speak the same language, the boys were able to coax him into playing basketball with them.  While he did not participate for the entire game, for the ten or so minutes that he did play, the smiles and high-fives abounded. My point?  Children find a way to discover common ground.  Why can’t adults?

 

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As seen on Instagram at stephsimply. I posted this pictures years ago of my daughter, Maddie, playing dress-up one Christmas, with her cousins, Lexi and Naomi. They hadn’t been around one another in a couple of years at the time of the photo, and yet, they found common ground with minutes of being together.

 

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . 

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

 

I have a dream today.”

 

So do I, Dear Reader, so do I, for all the world’s children, including the newest members of our family, my great-nieces and nephews.

 

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As seen on heartcenteredrebalancing on Instagram.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties have anthocyanins that can help reverse some loss of balance and memory associated with aging.”–David H. Murdock

 

“Strawberries!  Fruit from the heart.”–Anthony T. Hincks

 

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Slice the sugar soaked rhubarb and place into a mixing bowl.

 

Long ago, in a far away land . . .

 

Oh, wait, it only seems like that.  

 

When I was a very young girl, my dad kept a small vegetable garden for a few years. While it didn’t seem to last for many years as our family grew, I was young enough to be fascinated with its order. I recall watching Dad as he planted and staked tomatoes then surrounded them by marigolds.  He explained to me that those unique smelling flowers would protect the tomatoes from pests.

 

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Halve the larger strawberries before adding all of the strawberries to the bowl with the rhubarb.

 

One year, I was especially interested in a new plant he was going to grow. Rhubarb.  I had never heard of this plant, and wondered about it as Dad described it as fruit that looked like red celery.  At the time, I was well-acquainted with celery from the holiday “relish trays” my grandmothers and mom made that contained both peanut butter and pimento cheese stuffed celery.  While I never liked the celery, (although I love it now) I would lick the peanut butter off, sneak over to a trash can, and furtively toss the celery!  Dad explained that rhubarb was sour (He may have said tart, but my small mind translated it as sour.) and needed sugar added to it, but that it made good crisps, pies, or cobbler.  I liked desserts, so it sounded like a good food to me!

 

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Combine the fruit mixture ingredients and pour into a prepared square baking dish.

 

I was saddened to learn that we could not eat rhubarb that first year, but instead I would have to wait another year before I could taste it as the plant needed to mature and become established. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much more about Dad’s rhubarb growing beyond one fading memory of Dad bringing a small batch of rhubarb into the house near the end of the school year–so it must have been early to mid-May.  I recall my childlike wonder with its appearance, and my eagerness to eat the pie Mom was going to bake up.

 

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Spread fruit evenly in baking dish.

 

In addition to following Dad around when he was working, I also loved hanging out with my mom in the kitchen.  I am sure I drove her nearly crazy with my incessant chatter and seeming desire to help.  However, my intentions to help were not always pure as I ultimately hoped to taste whatever it was she was making–especially if she was baking!

 

 

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about “helping” mom as she prepared to bake that rhubarb pie. One part that does stand out was the amount of sugar mom added to the bowl.  She explained that rhubarb pie required more sugar than most fruit pies because of its tartness.  That did not seem like a bad thing to me, but as a mom who often tried to limit our sugar intake–and, let’s be honest, with four kids, who would want them all sugared up–she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of me eating that much sugar.  Still, my dad had fond memories of rhubarb pie and was eager to eat it despite my mom’s mutterings in opposition. 

 

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Spread oat/flour mixture gently over fruit.

 

I have another faded recollection of sitting in our avocado green dine-in kitchen and eagerly awaiting a piece of rhubarb pie.  

 

Did I want ice cream on it?

 

You betcha, I did.  

 

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You will know when the crisp is done because the fruit will be bubbling and the topping will be golden brown.

 

My younger brother did not want to try it at all–he was a bit more picky about what he ate, and our middle sister was a baby/toddler age–still in a high chair, so she did not get any either. (I don’t think our youngest sister had yet been born.)  I sat with my unbreakable Corelle bowl, and took in the vanilla ice cream as it melted over the pie into all those cracks and crevices.  Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than I feel I must have liked it because to this day, I still have positive feelings about rhubarb.

 

 

When I recently saw rhubarb in a local store, along with plenty of red, ripe strawberries, I realized both fruits were in season.  It then occurred to me that recipes often combine the two ingredients for a fresh, plant based treat.  Therefore, I decided it was high time to research and play with rhubarb in honor of Dad’s rhubarb growing and Mom’s pie baking.  Both fruits are in season now through the first half of June, so it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try!  This is a much lighter dessert than that pie of my childhood, but it earned a tasty stamp of approval from my daughter and husband as well as my taste buds. Let me know what you think.

 

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You’ll know that it’s done when the topping is golden crisp, fruit is bubbling & it looks jammy.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals and/or treats–as the case may be!

 

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients

For filling:

3 cups strawberries, halved if large

3 cups of sliced rhubarb

¼ teaspoon orange extract 

⅓ cup strawberry jam  

2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch (or can substitute 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)

For topping:

1 cup rolled oats (I use gluten-free.)

½  cup sliced almonds or almond meal, or ½ more oats (I chose more oats, but I think almonds would be delightful!)

¼ cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour

3 tablespoon softened butter (plant-based if desired) or other vegetable/coconut oil

4 tablespoon maple syrup (Can use date syrup, honey, or agave, if preferred.)

2 medjool dates chopped, optional (Just for a bit extra sweetness if desired.  Can also use 2 teaspoons of date syrup.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Directions:

Place stalks of rhubarb in a glass with 1-2 tablespoons sugar (maple syrup, honey or agave) in ¼ -½ cup water and allow it to soak overnight, but really 2-4 hours will do it!

When ready to bake:

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Lightly coat a square baking dish (8 x 8, 9 x9 or similar dimensions) with nonstick cooking spray or with a light coating of coconut, vegetable oil, or butter.

Slice presoaked rhubarb, and add to a small mixing bowl.

Halve strawberries, if needed, and add to rhubarb.

Add orange extract, strawberry jam, and arrowroot (or cornstarch) to fruit and gently stir.

Spread fruit mixture into prepared baking dish.

In a separate larger bowl, stir together oats, almonds (if using) and flour.

Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in rest of ingredients, until mixture becomes course and crumbly.

Gently spread oat mixture over fruit.

Place in the oven and allow to bake for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden brown.

Serve warm as is or with your favorite topping such as ice cream or whipped topping.

Store leftovers for up to a week in the fridge, or can freeze for up to a month.

Enjoy leftovers gently warmed.  

Makes not only a great dessert or snack, but is also a delicious breakfast!

Makes 6 generous servings, or 9 smaller servings.

 

Power of Kind Words: Reciprocity is not Mandatory

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”–Mother Teresa 

 

“Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.”–Confucius

 

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As seen on Instagram @mylifesbt.

 

Oh no, not again.  Surely, my memory is mistaken.

 

I stood patiently.  Waiting my turn to enter the aisle.  I needed an item directly in front of a man standing in the middle of the aisle examining all of the choices.  I get it.  Looking at all of the available choices (or alternate choices, if your favorite is unavailable) can be overwhelming.  Plus, add in the new directional rules that are in effect at some stores as well as shortages of certain items, shopping can now take more time than ever. 

 

“What’s your problem?”

 

Oh, no, here we go again.  It. Is. The. Same. Man. 

 

“I’m just waiting.  Take your time,” and I added a smile, but then realized, unless I was also smiling with my eyes, he couldn’t see my mouth due to my mask.

 

That’s when I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask, nor gloves as I am used to doing when now going out to shop.  However, wearing personal protective gear is a choice.  I get, honor, and respect personal choice.  My own choice stems from my desire to err on the side of caution.  Regardless, everyone views things differently.

 

“Well, here you go,” he said in a voice rich with sarcasm as he feigned a gallant bow extending an arm in a sweeping gesture.

 

Oh boy, apparently, he thought I was waiting to go through and past him.  Why didn’t I communicate more effectively?  

 

“It’s ok.  I can wait.”

 

Again, I try to smile, but of course, it’s not visible.

 

That’s when it happened.  The very thing for which I was afraid.  Expletives exploded from his mouth, his face contorted into a fiery red emoji worthy expression.  He tried to march past me, saw there wasn’t any room, said some more finely selected words, and stomped around a display that was arranged in the center of an aisle.

 

woman wearing mask in supermarket
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

 

I am fairly certain this was the same man, who only three weeks ago, I had encountered in this same store–only in a different aisle.  At that time, he was offended, I think, because I stepped aside to let him pass six feet away from me, despite the fact he was not following the store’s directional arrows.  He took one long look at me then and about-faced with a nearly purple visage, spewing curse words for all to hear.  

 

This time, I momentarily froze, shaken once more by the negative emotional energy left in his wake.  It was almost as if I wanted to let his surrounding Pig-pen-like dark cloud of anger dissipate before I walked on.

 

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

Later, as I moved through the store, I kept encountering a woman who appeared to be just off work based upon her tired, but kind, eyes, scrubs, and hospital lanyard.  It always seemed as if wherever I pushed my cart, she ended up right behind me waiting as I made my choice and moved on.  She never said a word, never indicated a hint of impatience. 

 

In the freezer section, I was taking an exceptionally long time as I thoroughly searched for bags of frozen chopped peppers and onions, which had not been in-stock for weeks.  Not finding them, I slid down to the next set of freezer doors to grab a few bags of frozen vegetables that were in stock.  That’s when I noticed the same woman was behind me.

 

“I am so sorry if I was holding you up,” I sincerely stated.

 

“No, no, no. Not at all.  In fact, I was going to offer to hand something to you in case it was out of reach.”

 

Of course she’s significantly taller than me.

 

“Aw, thank you, but no.  There’s nothing.  They’ve been out of frozen chopped peppers and onions for weeks now. I was just double checking to make sure I wasn’t overlooking them.”

 

We chatted a few more minutes, both of us keep a safe distance, but still continuing to shop.

 

“Listen, just so you know, I figure it like this.  I’m going to let you take your time picking out what you need because I sure plan to take my time when it’s my turn.”

 

Exchanging polite farewells, I moved on and wrapped up my shopping.

 

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As seen on Instagram at heartcenteredbalancing.

 

Some days later, I reflected on the two experiences within the context of COVID-19.  The man’s anger, despite the fact I did not know him, had bothered me.  It was an irrational response, I know, but I tend to struggle with shaking off any form of strong emotion, but especially those of a negative nature.  However, the unknown woman’s words were like the sip of nice wine or bite of good chocolate at the end of a hard day–you don’t need or want a lot–just enough to calm the nerves.

 

Which led me to the renewed lesson of the power of words. Kind words, spoken or written, are never wasted.  Never.  In fact, my mom has often advised me to etch sweetly spoken words–or any positive moment for that matter–into my heart’s memory for those times when there seems to be void.  

 

make this day great quote board
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

 

Unfortunately, my encounters with this man most likely reflect his level of frustration and/or anger at the COVID-19 situation.  Perhaps, he has lost his job, is isolated from loved ones and/or friends, and he doesn’t have an outlet–a viable way to deal with his disappointment.  Of course, he could be reacting to any number of things, and I just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time–although I suspect I am not the only one with whom he’s blown up.  Bottom line, I don’t know his story, but he is clearly suffering some form of anguish, and I sincerely hope some form of ease enters his life–preferably before I encounter him again.

 

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Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

 

About a month ago, my 8th grade students and I considered a quote from a novel that stated, “Reciprocity is not mandatory.” These words refer to an idea that when giving a gift, one should give it freely without any expectations. Thus, my students and I, through virtual means, discussed the notion of whether or not it is possible to give without expectations. It was a lively debate and inspired thoughtfully written responses which ran the gamut of opinions.

 

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I love it when a business takes time to personalize and offer kindness for an on-line order. We began ordering from this locally owned and operated coffee shop, Cup of Joe, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I always look forward to the personalized notes we receive from the owner, Dawn.

 

Personally, I fall on the side of freely giving simple acts of kindness without expectations.  Smile at a stranger.  Thank the employees who help you check-out groceries.  Hold the door for a person whose hands are loaded.  Offer heart-felt compliments.  Help an elderly/disabled (or short LOL) person grab something from a top shelf or rack.  Call or text a loved one. Write a letter.  Send a card.  There are so many free, nearly free, or inexpensive ways to spread kindness.  

 

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

It is my sincere belief that while reciprocity is not mandatory–eventually, all that goodness you put out in the world makes it way back to you in some form–even if you don’t recognize its original source.  Thus, don’t let the negative behavior of some override the good that is out there because . . . IT. IS. THERE.  It’s like glitter.  

 

Remember making a craft with glitter in school?  Hours, why, even days later, you could still find a bit of sparkle in the darndest places.  That’s what kindness is like. And, if you don’t see it, then by golly get out your proverbial bottle of kindness glitter and start sprinkling bits of it here and there.  Just like that glitter from that long ago art project, you’ll soon find a few random sparkles returning right back to you in the most unpredicted ways.

 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com
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As seen on Instagram @ postiveenergyalways.

Relax, Recharge, and Reflect.

“Relax, Recharge and Reflect. Sometimes it’s OK to do nothing.”― Izey Victoria Odiase

 

 “Farmers learned to plant fallow fields with clover, which recharges the soil with nutrients.”― Charles C. Mann

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

“I got him!”  I said in reply to John who said he thought he heard our newest house member calling from the back of the house.

 

“I’ve spotted him!” I shout down the length of the short hall back toward the kitchen/dining/family area.

 

“Oh, no!  He’s hurt!”

 

As I bend towards him, I can see the broken arm.

 

“Poor little, guy!” I say as I gently pick him up, along with the broken arm, and I carry him back towards the kitchen.

 

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As seen on positiveaffirmations101 on Instagram.

 

Ever so carefully, I place him on the kitchen counter as he remained still and lifeless.

 

“If you weren’t such a spot-rod, zipping in and out of all of the rooms.  I warned you that you needed to clean up your act, and be more careful.  Like all youth, you’re determined to keep spinning your wheels,” I state with a sigh to the now inactive sweeping beauty.

 

Before Spot, our COVID-19 sense-of-humor was, like my towering 4’ 11” stature, on short-order. Days upon humorless days were, well, sucking the life out of us    However, since we’ve adopted Spot, our level of one-liners has been on a sweeping-frenzy.  Seriously, our level of laughter is piping spot.

 

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Spot is a Roomba iRobot vacuum.  We named it Spot when it swept us off our feet with its first spin around our home gathering dirt on us. It’s been cosweeping with us ever since!  Gazing down at it as it quietly remained inactive on the counter, barely alive, I could feel the wheels in my mind spinning to the days of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. 

 

 

Soundtrack cued . . .

 

Camera close-up on Steph’s Surgical home-club operational suite.

 

“We can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We can make him better than he was.  Better, stronger, faster.”

 

“Flat-head screwdriver?”

 

“Check!”

 

“Bionic arm?”

 

“Check!”

 

“Forceps?”

 

“What do you need those for?”

 

“Wound hair removal. It most likely created stress, and ultimately, precipitated the fracture. We must proceed with caution. It could be a hairy situation.” 

 

“New air filter?”

 

“Check, but will it be spot-blooded, again, doctor?”

 

Moments later . . .

 

“There you go, Little Buddy.  Now, be careful. You’re spot off the presses, so don’t go binge-spinning.”

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveaffirmations101

 

 

My daughter once told me that I am like Spot in that I am small and always moving, but need to be recharged at the end of the day.  She is spot-on when it comes to my personality as I am an introvert.  Most people assume being introverted means being shy; and while that can be true for some introverts, it has more to do with how a person recharges.  

 

For example, my husband, John, loves being around people, the more he’s talking and interacting with others, the more energy he absorbs and generates. Whereas, for me, while I enjoy interacting and conversing with others, small talk does not come naturally for me.  In fact, I have to focus really hard to keep a conversation going and would much prefer to listen rather than initiate conversation. It’s not that I don’t like talking, it’s keeping the conversation going that I find challenging and often draining to me.  This can lead to nervous energy, which leads to overthinking, which can sometimes lead to rambling about self-experiences in an attempt to connect with the person speaking– which can sometimes lead to unintentional, insensitive, thoughtless, or down right stupid comments.  Afterwards, I ruminate for great lengths worrying about all of the words, phrases, and questions I should have or should not have said instead. It can be exhausting.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ thoughtrepreneurs.

 

Therefore, one of my biggest jokes during this COVID-19 quarantine has been that as an introvert, I was preparing for quarantine my whole life!  And, in a way, it’s true.  The older I get, the more I have found that I feel emotionally depleted at the end of my pre-COVID work-days.  I describe it as feeling as if little bits of me are taken and/or given throughout the day from all of the interactions and/or energy absorbed by those with whom I come into contact.  Currently, (pre-COVID) those interactions would include over 80 students, nearly 50 co-workers, and anyone else with whom I would typically encounter throughout a workday.  By the end of the day, especially around holidays, special events, full-moon days, and the like, I was emotionally drained and fought the urge to go home, hug my knees to my chest, curl into a tiny ball in silent space, and simply decompress. 

 

You would think, then, that quarantine has been the greatest event of my life, but it is not.  Being at home means I cannot avoid all of my emotions, insecurities, and fears I have attempted to quash over the years through my busyness.  Now, with all the stillness in my life–the get up, drink coffee, work at the computer all day, eat, and repeat–those inner demons have time to rear their heads, causing my emotional wheels to spin until, like Spot, I am fractured–only not by hair wound around my arms base–but, by something seemingly inconsequential such as my inability to understand the newest technology platform/skill that I am expected to master on my own within a short amount of time in order to meet an imminent deadline.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ thepositiveminds.

 

 

Unlike Spot, though, I can’t wait for someone to fix me.  There isn’t someone who will empty my proverbial bin of emotional detritus. I have to fix myself–my mind, my outlook, my emotional state of being.  It must begin with me, and that, at times, is not an easy undertaking.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ positiveaffirmations101.

 

Therefore, if like me, you find this social isolation revealing ugly hidden truths about yourself, it’s okay.  You’re not alone in this, well, sweeping development.  Reach out to others, pray/meditate more, take time to read, get outside, practice yoga, walk or participate in other forms of exercise, garden, paint, create, or, like me, write your way through these emotions. Be your own source of peace.  If you have a bad day dealing with emotional dirt, take a cue from Spot, feel your pain, let it all drain out through whatever activity you choose, then plug into your higher Source for energy renewal, and start all over.  Like all devices, any moment can turn into a reboot moment, if we choose it.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ ashtangayoganaples.

 

Who knows? You may discover new seeds to sow, new skills to harvest, and the winds of emotional freedom blowing within you as you lighten your load, or should I say, empty your bin.   You might even find you are on a spinning streak and shouting, “Aye Caroomba!” as you look at yourself, your problems/challenges, and our world with new eyes.

 

So strike while the iron is spot, put on your spinning cap, and get caught up in a self-care sweeping frenzy. 

 

This spinning-streak spot of humor was brought to you by a writer learning to sweep with the enemy by poking holes, or should I say, spots, into her inner demons.  I hope I was able to spin a web of humor, and perhaps a bit of a lesson, into your day!

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As seen on Instagram @ spiritualmovement.

 

The Inevitability of Change–A Long ago lesson from a great, great aunt

There is something in the pang of change, more than the heart can bear, unhappiness remembering happiness.”–Euripedes

 

“Sometimes you have to accept the fact that certain things will never go back to how they used to be.  Life goes on.”–Unknown

 

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A letter written to my Great, Great Aunt Mandy, from her son.

 

As a young girl, the first death that I remember was Great, Great Aunt Mandy.  Although there had been previous deaths within my family, I had been far too young to remember the grieving process and the funerals that go along with that.  My mom tells me that Great, Great Aunt Mandy, Amanda Crockett Walker, was my Grandmother’s mother’s sister who had lived in Portsmouth, Ohio at one point in her life, but when her husband and two sons died, my Grandmother moved Mandy to a senior living apartment in Flatwoods, KY to allow her to be closer to family.  I recall Mandy visiting my immediate family’s home for a Thanksgiving dinner once, and I also remember interacting with her on a number of occasions at my grandparent’s house.

 

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My maternal grandmother, Helen, kept several written records of the family in her Bible.

 

My memories of Mandy are somewhat murky as I was still quite young.  She smelled, to my child-like perspective, like an “old person,” an impression that it is hard to elucidate other than to say it’s a storage-closet type scent, combined with the aroma of talcum powder and bar soap.  Her long grey hair was always gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck; and, her body, and skin, were soft and loose.  She lived a modest life, and, as best I can recall, she was quiet, gentle, and seemed content to look and listen to surrounding conversation. However, my further impression of her was that even though her vision was not great, her awareness was sharp, keen, and highly observant.

 

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I have three family quilts/blankets that my Grandmother Helen gave me as a wedding present. I can no longer remember which one(s )Great, Great Aunt Mandy hand-stitched, and neither does my mom when I recently asked her.

 

 

Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s dresses (no trousers for her) appeared to be simple, homemade frocks–at least to my childish impression.  She was regarded in the family for her sewing and quilting as well as for regularly reading her large print Bible.  Unfortunately, many of my memories of Mandy, and this time period of my life, are intermixed–much in the way my grandmother’s vegetable soup was a jumbled assortment of leftover vegetables all tossed together and cooked into a muddled, savory scent of past meals.

 

 

This is Great, Great Aunt Mandy at my childhood home for Thanksgiving.  Neither the first picture (L), nor the second picture (far R), are of great quality, but I still wanted to include her in this remembrance.

 

Sadly, one of my strongest memories of Great, Great Aunt Mandy was being pulled out of school early to attend her funeral.  This was a big deal, not only for the obvious reason of missing school, but also because I would be riding in a limousine!  I had never before ridden in such a fancy car, and in my young girl’s mind, it seemed like a grand adventure.

 

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This is the best picture I have of Aunt Mandy. It was taken at my grandparents house, obviously at Christmas, when I was quite young.

 

Honestly, I recall very little of the limo ride or the funeral.  However, I do distinctly remember riding in the back of the limo through the small town of Flatwoods, KY on our way to the cemetery, and I was astounded by the amount of traffic, well, as much traffic as this small town could have had in the 1970s.  It struck me as odd for two reasons.  The first was the new understanding that even though I might be in a school all day long, life continued moving, never pausing, outside the walls of our school building.  Furthermore, and even more striking, was the fact that even though Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s life had ended, life was going on without her.  This poignant lesson has since occurred to me through each and every loss or traumatic event. 

 

 

Again, not the best quality of pictures, but as you can see in the pictures, she was married in 1915 in Raceland, KY, the hometown for my parents, their parents, and so many of my relatives.  Raceland, KY, to this day, is near and dear to my heart.

 

For example, I could not believe that life could carry-on during the fateful day of the 9-11-01 attacks.  Cars continued to drive past the school in which my husband and I worked, and yet, we were very aware of the devastation of that day.  Why wasn’t time standing still out of respect?

 

 

                        Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s boys.  I look at this picture and feel sad knowing that each one left the bounds of this Earth before her.  I am so grateful Grandmother moved her closer to family once they had passed.

 

When a beloved teacher retired from an elementary school in which I not only worked, but had also been a student, I recall thinking that our school would never be the same.  How could our school continue without this formidable force of instruction guiding the way for the rest of us?  The following year, staff members occasionally recalled her, expressing how she was missed, how she would have responded to this new policy, or that type of behavior, but with each passing year, as more new staff entered, and other staff left, her memory grew more faint until now, I would imagine, no one at the elementary even remembers her.  Even now, my own memories of this once gigantic influence in my professional and personal life (She was teaching when I was a student at this school.) are clouding in the way a sunny day is steadily overtaken by an overcast day with the gradual gathering of grey. 

 

 

                    More pictures of Great, Great Aunt Mandy and her boys.

 

 Despite the fact that I currently live beside a major state route, there are no nearby businesses, and thus, since the beginning of our COVID-19 quarantine, there has been a drastic reduction in traffic near our home.  Additionally, working from home feels like a bubble–get up, sit in front of the laptop for seemingly hours on end, answer emails, grade papers, hold virtual meetings, and never leave our house as most information and communication now comes to us. 

 

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Again, this family wedding ring quilt was part of the wedding gift from my Grandmother Helen, but I am unsure if it was stitched by Mandy or not.

 

Driving to a nearby walking path recently, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of traffic zipping to and fro on the main roads.  Suddenly, and with great clarity, my early memory of driving through Flatwoods in a limousine for the funeral of my Great, Great Aunt Mandy came back full circle with a crashing realization. Memories, not only of the limo ride, but of Mandy and her peaceful, unpretentious, calm spirit. 

 

Life is going on in spite of COVID-19, just like it did on the day we buried my Great, Great Aunt.  How we live, interact, and move is changing, evolving, and adapting in real time, but life continues on.  Soon, COVID-19 will be a memory, and eventually it will be a blip on the radar of history, like the shooting of Lincoln, the trench wars of the first World War, the rise of Hilter, the shooting of JFK, the Cold War . . .  .

 

Meanwhile, Mandy’s memory will most likely pass once I am gone, but the lesson of her funeral drive is eternal.  

 

My Dear Readers, you won’t be housebound and/or restricted forever.  You won’t be eternally labeled as essential or nonessential; and, hopefully, you won’t always have to worry about finding supplies such as toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Life goes on.  Life continues, and eventually all of these memories, like my grandmother’s vegetable soup, will all merge into one collective. 

 

Have faith.  Honor and learn from the past, but don’t cling to it.  Trust that the Creator of Life will allow this event to serve a purpose–even greater than my remembrance of my humble Kentucky aunt.  Above all, rest in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, not even a virus, and you are not alone as we navigate this new terrain. 

 

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Again, this block quilt was the one of three hand-made quilts/blankets for which my grandmother gave me as a wedding gift. Unfortunately, I do not know which one(s) Mandy crafted.

Spot: A Humorous Story on Crisis Management

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Dad, she thinks I would hide him.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Can you spot the message?

 

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

 

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

 

 

Spot is helping us clean up our act!

 

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

 

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

 

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Tippi Tail is just looking for some good clean fun!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin-Blueberry Scones, with Gluten Free Variation

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Pumpkin Blueberry Scones

 

Ingredients

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

⅓  cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt* 

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice**  

8 tablespoons cold butter, sliced thinly

⅔ cup pumpkin

2 large eggs

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

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon orange extract

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

2 tablespoon cinnamon & sugar mixture or sparkling white sugar

 

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These kept nicely for a week in our fridge.

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

 

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

 

  

Additional notes: 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Slow Down, My Friend, and Gather Some Blossoms

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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And yet . . .

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What can we do?  What can I do?

 

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

 

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

 

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Gluten-free Chocolate Banana Bread

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

 

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

 

yellow bananas
Photo by Juan Salamanca on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fresh out of the oven goodness!

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Look at that moist center of melted chocolate chip gooeyness!

 

 

Gluten-free, Chocolate Banana Bread 

(Plant-based, no-oil option)

Ingredients:

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

2 ½  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

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

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

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

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

¼ cup sugar or stevia

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate mini-morsels

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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

Mash bananas and measure.

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

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

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

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

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

Gently stir in ½ cup semi-sweet or dark morsels

Carefully pour in batter and smooth over top of batter.

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

Bake for 45 minutes.

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

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

**Store in the refrigerator.  

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

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

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

Makes ten average-size slices.

 

Pollinate Our Present with Positivity

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

close up photography of brown vulture
Photo by karen Alchin on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

black hummingbird selective focus photography
Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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