Breakfast, or Brunch, Vegetable Stir-fry

I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I am inconsistent with breakfast during my work week.  Most days, I do eat something, even if it’s part (or all) of a protein bar and/or some fruit.  Other days, especially if I’ve taken time to food-prep on Sunday afternoon, I have containers of pre-made smoothies, smoothie “bowls,” or overnight oats lined up in the fridge–ready for grab-and-go convenience.  However, once I arrive at the school in which I work, I find I’m trying to quickly gulp down my food before my students arrive, or saving my prepared breakfast food for lunch (why not?) and either skipping breakfast all together, or falling back to eating a bit of the ever-present protein bar or fruit that are always in my lunchbox. Thus, during the work-week, there’s very little food enjoyment for me with regards to breakfast–and often lunch too–(see later paragraph) which makes me sad as I really do prefer to enjoy my food. 

 

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Still, I continue to love food, especially when I have enough time to sit, savor, and enjoy each yummy bite.  However, I fully recognize that the foods I prefer, and most enjoy, are often considered different as others have so kindly pointed out to me.  In fact, I have been told on multiple occasions that my food, “looks disgusting.”  While I try to laugh off the insult and weakly attempt to defend my food choices, “It’s only oats with blueberries, chia seeds, a bit of banana, and maple extract,” it has certainly caused me to reassess when and what I eat, especially in front of others!  

 

At one time in my life, I was especially fond of breakfast foods!  However, since being diagnosed with celiac disease nearly ten years ago, around the same time I decided to commit to eating a more plant based diet, dining out for breakfast, or it’s more gluttonous cousin, brunch, is seldom easy, much less fun, for me–at least in my immediate geographic area–as gluten-free, plant based eateries are a bit of a rarity.  If I am lucky, the menu will offer that so-called “disgusting” oatmeal; and, if I’m super fortunate, a restaurant might offer tofu and allow me to order it prepared,“naked” (not dipped in batter, so it remains gluten-free).

 

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While my weekends during the school year tend to be busy, whenever I do get some extra weekend time, I take great delight in making a big ol’ breakfast away from critical eyes, and one that holds me through until time for dinner..  I particularly find pleasure in serving these breakfasts with gluten-free bread and/or some fresh fruit. Thus, when creating this recipe (and my forthcoming recipe), I cobbled together ideas from several plant based recipe sites, but also tried to make it carnivore-friendly if desired.  This is because I believe that how each person chooses to eat is highly personal. I try not to proselytize a one-size-fits-all diet, or for that matter publicly criticize one’s diet choices. While I know a gluten-free, plant-based diet works for me, I’d rather create recipes that offer flexibility, nutritional benefits, and still taste good for all types of eaters.

 

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While my original creation was designed to somewhat look and mimic the flavor of eggs, it doesn’t have to focus on that. Feel free to play with and change up the ingredients. Consider adding in other colorful vegetables of your liking, including diced yukon gold or sweet potatoes.  Remove and replace any vegetable you don’t like with vegetables you do enjoy, and feel free to increase or decrease vegetable amounts. (I chose cauliflower as a base because it is so mild and tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients, however, chopped potatoes make an excellent base too.) Remove and/or change up the seasonings, along with their amounts! Additionally, play with toppings!  Consider lively and colorful toppings, such as chopped/sliced scallions, chopped avocado, sliced olives, roasted red peppers, salsa, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional breakfast box and play! Food should be fun and tasty!  

 

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May this recipe inspire you to get creative in the privacy of your kitchen!  Feel free to send me pics and comments about how you chose to prepare it! I’d love to see your pics and share them on my website!  

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and, hopefully, not-so-disgusting meals!

 

 

 

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Breakfast Vegetable Stir-fry

(Feel free to double or triple ingredients.)

Ingredients:

½ tsp minced garlic

¼-½ cup, or more as needed liquid, water or vegetable broth *If not cooking oil-free, 1-2 tablespoons of a mild-flavored oil can be used instead. 

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped peppers (I prefer a mix of colors.)

1 cup roughly chopped cauliflower (I prefer to use one cup prepared riced cauliflower to save the mess and time.)

½ cup sliced portabella mushrooms (or other mushroom variety)

3 ounces **tempeh sliced thin and cut into small pieces **Instead of tempeh, you can use tofu, 2-3 beaten eggs or egg whites, or 3-4 ounces of precooked meat of your choice

½-1 tsp liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or soy sauce

½ tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and black pepper to taste

***Kala Namak (Black salt) to taste ***Only use this seasoning if keeping it egg and meat-free as it adds a flavor and aroma similar to that of eggs.

Directions:

Preheat pan over medium. (You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water skitters across the bottom of the pan.)

While the pan is preheating, gather and prepare vegetables.

Once the pan is preheated, add garlic.

When garlic begins to soften and turn golden, add in onions and peppers.

Stir in ¼ cup of vegetable broth or water, if not using oil. (If using oil, add in the desired amount.)

Stir constantly.  If you notice vegetables sticking, stir-in liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Add cauliflower and continue stirring.

Add green peppers and onion, stir, and then add sliced mushrooms. 

Again, if at any time, vegetables begin sticking, add in more liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Stir in desired protein (tempeh, tofu, beaten eggs, or precooked meat).

Continue stirring and tossing over medium heat until protein is cooked through.

Reduce heat to low and stir-in desired amount of aminos (or soy sauce) and rest of seasonings.

Once seasoning is thoroughly mixed into food, remove from heat, cover, and allow flavors to meld for 2-3 minutes.

Then, serve immediately.

Makes one generous serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge–makes a great breakfast or lunch for the next day!  

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Politeness is the Flower of Humanity

 

“Politeness is the flower of humanity.” – Joseph Joubert

 

“In the Spirit which draws us into honest engagement with one another, including those who may be very different from us in various ways, God calls us to wake up and learn how to love and respect one another, period.”–Carter Heyward

 

There is a woman with whom I work. Her genuine smile rarely ceases.  Even when she is expressing disagreement, frustration, and anger, she is able to articulate it in a way that is both respectful and without a hint of anger in her voice.  Whenever I am feeling particularly moody, I chastisingly ask myself why I can’t be more like her.

 

While I like to think of myself as an overall kind and polite person, I fully recognize I have a long way to go in the thoughtfulness department.  Perhaps, that is one of my drivers for writing regularly–my own quest for greater understanding and personal growth. One thing I know for certain, on those days when I feel less than my best self–I see my co-worker’s smile, and I feel inspired to dig a little deeper to shake off whatever annoyance or struggle upon which I have focused.  And, perhaps, that is the key: focus.

 

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There is an old saying that states, that which we focus upon we become. Thus, maybe I need to ask myself on those days, where is my focus, and what can I change?  How can I begin to cultivate more inner joy like my co-worker seems to possess? As fate would have it, the Universe kindly provided me with a lesson.

 

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John, my husband, suggested that we take advantage of an upcoming three day weekend and head out of town for a couple of nights.  Sometimes just a change of scenery can reset and rejuvenate our spirits. Besides, John knows me all too well, when I am home, I typically focus on work.  Therefore, my only request, upon his suggestion was that we not travel too far in order to return home with enough time for me to–yes, you guessed it– get caught up on my weekly weekend chores, so I didn’t have to start the next week feeling frantic and rushed.

After a bit of price comparisons on various travel sites, we ultimately settled on returning to Charleston,WV and the Four Points Hotel.  We have personally found the staff at this hotel to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. Furthermore, we love the location along the Kanawha River within walking distance to the downtown Charleston Historic District.  

 

 

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Due to an extreme drop in temperatures, we decided to remain within the hotel grounds for dinner that evening.  While the hotel does have its own restaurant, it also has another eatery on the opposite side, Recovery Sports Grille.  Many of the hotel staff members had recommended this spot on previous trips, but we had never before tried it. Therefore, with temperatures hovering in the teens, we gladly walked the short distance to the restaurant, using it as an opportunity to view the beautiful local artwork and photographs displayed along the warm interior route.

 

 

Once seated in Recovery, we met Britney Stamper, our waitress/bartender, for the evening.  John and I learned years ago that sitting at the bar often renders the best service, plus it typically gives us insight into the areas in which we are visiting.  While we didn’t, per se, gain additional insight into the Charleston area, we did learn a great deal about Charlotte, NC, an area in which Britney had lived for several years with her family.  By the end of the evening, we gained a greater awareness of another town we now plan to visit, ate fantastic food, and thoroughly enjoyed connecting, if only for a couple of hours, with another human whose varied life experiences expanded and enhanced our own. 

 

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Britney Stamper, at Recovery Sports Grille

 

 

Throughout the rest of the weekend, we were able to meet other people from all walks of life.  For example, while browsing in the Historic District, I wandered into The Consignment Shop. While I had discovered this store on a previous visit, I had not met the owner. However, on this visit I was able to meet her.   We shared a lovely conversation through the process of checking out, bonding over aging, being a woman, and other life experiences. I exited the shop smiling at the sense of connection.

 

 

Later that weekend, John and I met two engaging young people at Pies and Pints, a favorite dining establishment.  While dining there, we could not help but find ourselves drawn into their conversation as one employee celebrated and congratulated the other’s acceptance into nursing school.  Again, their short life experiences were certainly different from ours, but that did not hinder us in our conversations as we were able to find common ground.

 

 

Additionally, during breakfast, both mornings, we learned about Bruce, who may (or may not) be the morning manager of the hotel restaurant.  (We are uncertain of his exact title.) What John and I do know is that Bruce has been part of the Four Points staff during each of our visits, and he is the friendly face with whom we chat during our late morning meals.  It is easy to talk with Bruce, and it is clear from our conversations that he is kind, thoughtful, and devoted to his girlfriend and family.   

 

 

As we said our good-byes to Bruce, he confessed that he usually doesn’t talk much to his customers, “But, I really do like talking to you guys,” he added with a crooked smile, and I found myself smiling in return.

His comment remained with me throughout that day, and it later occured to me the lesson within his comment.  Perhaps, inner joy comes when we focus on others. Reflecting on my co-worker, she possesses a strong focus on others’ needs as well as a genuine and sincere curiosity.  I began to realize that I had spent so much time trying to measure up to what I perceived was “wrong” with me and “right” with her, that I had forgotten she has also talked privately about her own inner battles and demons.   However, in spite of any inward struggles she may be experiencing, when she comes to school, her light is on, open, and ready to engage, much in the same way John and I were engaging during our weekend away. Hmm . . .

In the final assessment, I fully recognize I still have many shortcomings, and there remain numerous areas in my life in which I still need to  improve. That recognition, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing. Perhaps, if I thought I had “arrived,” or had no more ways to improve, maybe that would be a bigger problem.  Instead, I will humbly accept that I have more inner work to do, need to focus on others’ needs more, and must continue to remain open to the lessons and sources of inspiration Divine Providence keeps providing me.

 

“Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

It’s What You Leave

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”–Jennifer Niven

 

“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”–Jennifer Niven

 

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Chester “Check” Arlen Slater, aka Papaw

 

There he was, in my mind’s eye, intently gazing at me with those merriment-filled blue eyes, that, though dimmed by age, still had the ability to communicate to the person with whom he spoke, “No one but you matters at this moment.”  

 

“Stethie,” he would say as he steadfastly clasped my hands, “Get your education.  Go as far as you can. Don’t be like your dumb ol’ Papaw.”  

 

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Papaw and me when I was around two years old in his backyard in front of his garden.

 

Chester “Check” Arlen Slater was my maternal grandfather, but my siblings, my Kentucky cousins, and I called him, “Papaw,” while our “Texas cousins” called him “Poppie-Check.”  On one hand, I was closest to “Grandmother,” his wife, in spite of our continued clashes–unfortunately, I was as strong willed as she; however, as my mother talked to me in a recent conversation, I realized, it was Papaw who tended to inject me with doses of conviction and self-reliance as if giving me a vaccination of inner-strength against the challenges of the world.

 

Grandmother and Papaw through the years.  In later years, they tried to color coordinate their outfits .

 

To be clear, Papaw was a complicated man.  As I understand it, based upon stories I recall my grandmother, my mom, and other various family members telling me, he possessed quite a bit of wanderlust and a roving eye when he was early married to Grandmother.  In fact, he was known to leave my grandmother for months at time to go “hobo-ing,” hopping from one train for another. Furthermore, I was told years later, he would lock himself upstairs for days at a time once he and my Grandmother settled into a home they had built after my mother was born.  Regrettably, I was never brave enough to ask him about any of those events. I sensed it would have embarrassed him.

 

 

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Papaw could been seen at his desk every Sunday between church services, working on various items for the church he and Grandmother faithfully attended.

 

I do know that he often described in great detail how he never did well in school.  He told tales of a teacher putting a “dunce” hat on him and putting him in the corner of the classroom.  Then, there were the stories of how the teacher would tie a string from her finger to his, “because I was her favorite pupil.”  His educational career was short-lived as he only made it to the 5th grade.

 

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Papaw with his motorcycle 1929.

 

He loved to play football when the game was in its infancy and did not require much in the way of safety gear.  I can imagine him as a strong, swift athlete, full of swagger. Papaw was even once described to me as a spoiled and indulged child.   He owned one of the first motorcycles, if not the first, in the town of Raceland, KY, and was known to perform “wheelies” and other daring feats on the town’s streets–sending bystanders swarming to the sidewalks.

 

His sister, Gladys, whom he dearly loved, and for whom felt immense pride–although it likewise seemed to create personal shame–was educated at Morehead State University at a time when women of Eastern Kentucky were rarely educated beyond the 5-8th grade.  She became a teacher, married a veterinarian, and they lived in a town not far outside of Lexington, KY. 

 

Papaw often held up Great-Aunt Gladys to me as the gold standard for how I should aspire to live my life. She had a master’s degree, a career, and a successful marriage/family.  Her husband was soft-spoken and kind, and Gladys possessed a quiet strength and grace that never failed to impress me during the few times I recall meeting her.

 

 

Somehow, I think Papaw felt inwardly like failure due to his lack of education, especially when in comparison to that of his sister.  However, as a lifelong educator whose university studies focused on the needs of special education, I recognize that Papaw most likely had a learning disability accompanied with what would now be identified as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  I further suspect he was both an auditory and kinesthetic (tactile) learner, and he probably best learned through some form of movement while listening. I am further inclined to think he may have battled depression that may have been tied to this same learning issue.

 

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Grandmother and Papaw at his mother’s house in 1932.

 

In spite of his struggles, Papaw had the ability to quip numerous adages, a few poems, random science facts, bits of trivia, geographic information, and oh-so-many stories.  He “read” the daily local newspaper, National Geographic, American Heritage, Guidepost, and various other magazines. His bookshelves were lined with these periodicals as well as World Book Encyclopedia with its annual updates. Although truth be told, I suspect, as I reflect on his reading behavior, he mostly looked at the pictures, read the captions below, and focused on reading headlines, titles, and bold faced words.  Nonetheless, his thirst for knowledge and understanding of the world, his desire to make real human connections, and his even greater eagerness to be the center of attention were all real sides of this complex man.

 

 

I share all of this to lend context to the following. All of these images, and more, hit me as mom and I talked on that Saturday.  

The ebb and flow of our conversation led me to share with her a beautiful quote from a young adult book my daughter had recommended to me: “The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

 

 

“Like the ‘Bridge Builder’ poem Dad used to recite?” mom queried with an eyebrow raising. “Dad used to recite it all of the time.”

 

In my mind, I tried to scrape, claw, and dig my way to a memory of this, but I kept coming up empty.  

 

 

At home, later that day, I looked it up.   There it was, the very lesson Papaw was trying to convey to me all those years ago. He wanted me to be a “bridge builder” because that is how he saw his sister.  He failed to recognize that he, himself, was a bridge builder to hundreds of members of the local Boy Scout troops he led, to the local church he loved, to the C & O railroad employees with whom he worked, to the hundreds of missionaries he either visited or hosted at his home, and to me, along with all of his eight other grandchildren who listened, learned, and loved this conflicted, but well-intended, man of heart. 

 

And so, Dear Reader, I say to you, no matter what your career, position, job title, and so forth–none of that matters.  Life is neither what you take from it, nor is it the money you make; rather, life is about the moments you create and the bridges you build for the next generation. 

 

 Be a bridge builder; I fervently pray that I am. 

 

The Bridge Builder

By   Will Allen Dromgoole

 

An old man, going a lone a highway, 

Came, at the evening cold and gray, 

To a chasm vast and deep and wide. 

The old man crossed in the twilight dim, 

The sullen stream had no fear for him; 

But he turned when safe on the other side 

And built a bridge to span the tide.

 

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near, 

“You are wasting your strength with building here; 

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way; 

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide, 

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

 

The builder lifted his old gray head; 

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said, 

“There followeth after me to-day, 

A youth whose feet must pass this way. 

This chasm that has been as naught to me 

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be; 

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

 

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A poem that I wrote for Grandmother and Papaw for their 50th wedding anniversary. (I was only 17 years old, so while it is not the best quality, the message still rings true!)

 

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Papaw Slater and me one Christmas.  I would have been in high school, and he was most likely in his 70s at this point, or at least, close to 70.  

Spring Grasses

“You could cover the whole earth with asphalt, but sooner or later green grass would break through.”–Ilya Ehrenburg

 

“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”–The Talmud

 

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The largest part of my childhood was spent in a tiny cul-de-sac built into the valley of U-shaped hills.  A creek ran down the back of one side of the neighborhood, and behind it were steep, rocky hills. Along the rear of the opposite side of the neighborhood–the side on which my family and I lived–was a low hill with a gravel road running along its flattened top with tall wooded hills soldiering alongside this.

 

During the summers, my mom ran a fairly tight ship with my three siblings and me, even during the times she wasn’t home.  While we were permitted to sleep-in within reason, we typically had a list of chores to complete, limits on the time we could watch the family TV, and we were, most of all, encouraged–aka ordered–to spend most of our days outside.  Ironically, however, she preferred us to stay in our own yard.

 

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Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

 

As a parent, I now understand why she enforced this rule, but as a kid, it certainly seemed, “not fair.” Looking back, it seems to me that she wanted to be able to look out one of the windows in our small, ranch-style house and be able to see us. However, there were soft edges to her boundaries that we eventually discovered because–as children do, especially me–we tested those edges for firmness.

 

Typically, we could climb up the moderate hill in our backyard and play on the portion of the “backroad”–as we called it– that was within view of the kitchen window.  It was, in actuality, an extended driveway to a family farm just beyond our neighborhood; thus, the only traffic on this road, as best as I can remember, were those traveling to and from this home.  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Likewise, we could also play in the street in front of our home.  Again, we needed to be visibly seen from the house–this time from the picture window in the living room–as the only traffic flow was from neighbors traveling to and from the four houses around the top of “the circle,” as we called it, one of which was my own childhood home. 

 

Our summer play varied from year to year as our ages often determined the type of play in which we participated.  During my youngest years, it seems to me that play centered around the yard–often around the larger of the two trees in the front yard, the area around and on our small front porch, or in the backyard where the shady area would expand in the afternoons. These younger years, it seems to me, were filled with mostly imaginative play as we kids played “house,” “school,” and role-played popular shows and/or concepts on TV, such as “war” and “cowboys and Indians,” and other similar ideas.  Afterall, this was the seventies.

 

 During my older years,  it seems that our play occurred often in and alongside the top part of “the street” and “the circle,” especially alongside the front of a split rail fence belonging to one of our neighbors, the Allen’s, that lined their front yard.  These were the summers of riding our bikes up and down the road, as well as playing more organized games; such as, wiffle ball, red light green light, dodgeball, monkey in the middle, football, and the ever-popular kickball. Tempers flared, egos grew quickly–and were just as swiftly deflated–swear words were uttered by the most daring, and time seemed endless. 

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Time seemed endless.

 

Depending upon the year, but especially so during the summer months, once grassy areas would be worn down to flat brown earthen patches due to the heavy foot traffic of kids.  Most years, there was a brown, semi-oval shaped edge to our front yard that rarely held any grass. Likewise, in our backyard, there were bare patches alongside of our house as well as in parts of the backyard that recieved the heaviest footfall and/or wear and tear, such as under and around the swings of our swing set.  On the back road, irregular grassy sprouts would grow in the middle of the road and alongside it, but the path for the tire tracks would be worn smooth except for the gravely rocks. Meanwhile, the Allen’s poor fence line would begin missing patches of grass from the “teams” taking turns standing, sitting, or leaning on their fence, waiting for a turn to “at bat” or to kick.  

 

 

Once school resumed, fall became winter, and less foot traffic stressed yards. Come spring, the grass–albeit sometimes crabgrass–would begin to threaten to fill in those brown patches.  Then, our feet would trod down those areas once more. Eventually, as kids grew, leaving for other locations, I can imagine, as if viewing a time lapse video, the grass triumphed again and again–even with a new generation of kids.  Some areas may have required a bit more TLC, save for back road–assuming it is still used– but nature’s green carpet was sure to have returned; and so will you, Dear Reader. 

 

Eventually, nature’s green carpet would soon return, and so will you, Dear Reader!

 

Throughout one’s life seasons, wear and tear occurs.  There are times in which life can absolutely wear a person down. This can be manifested physically, mentally, and even spiritually.  Moreover, these wearing-down time periods often affect more than one aspect of a person’s being. Fatigue sets in, weariness abounds, and the proverbial grass from the past, in the future, or even the proverbial yards of others’ lives, seem greener and more lush–leaving us clasping and wishing for better, less downtrodden, times.  However, like those brown patches of earth from my childhood, eventually, with time, growth will occur–and that is the fact upon which to focus.

 

According to an old adage, it takes a fire to grow grass around a hydrant.  Likewise, it takes time to bounce back after an abrasive and inflamed time period in life.  Afterwards, you are often not the same person you once were, as you are more informed about life and your own inner strength/resolve. 

 

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Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that there are angels in your life, encouraging you to grow–even at your most worn-down time.  Sometimes these so-called angels can been seen, known, and identified as friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and sometimes, even strangers..  However, there may be other times when you may not realize that so-called angels are guiding, prompting, praying, and nudging you towards regrowth.  

 

You, like each blade of grass, were planted on Earth by The Divine Creator, to grow, change, and bloom into a unique creation.  Like each blade of grass, you are continually transformed by life’s seasonal modifications; but you can, and will, rise–face shining in the sun again.  As a matter of fact, in life’s ultimate conclusion, you will also rise, and angels will still surround you.

 

Don’t give up, Dear Friend, don’t give up.  Angels are everywhere, and new grasses are already sprouting their roots within you. 

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Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

Just Breathe

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.  Conscious breath is my anchor.”–Thich Nhat Hanh 

 

“Yeah I’m a lucky man/ To count on both hands/ The ones I love . . . Stay with me/ Let’s just breathe . . .” as performed by Pearl Jam, lyrics by Eddie Veder

 

“Now, what was I going to do?” 

 

I was talking to myself, but loud enough for one of my EW! (Elevate Writing) Club members to overhear me.

 

“Mrs. Hill, just do what I do when I can’t remember what I wanted to do.  Sit down and say, ‘I am breathing. I am living. I am me.’”

 

“Hmm, Amanda, I am impressed,” I replied.  “Does it work for you?”

 

“Aw, I just made it up here on the spot.  But, it sounded good, huh?”

 

She turned back to her writing as I froze at the profound wisdom this 13 year old had just so casually tossed my way.

 

“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.

 

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I hastily jotted down the words before I forgot them, and then rolled them forward in my mind as a kid rolls a kickball toward a kicker in a game. Unfortunately, it was Friday afternoon, my EW! students were good-heartedly, but loudly, teasing one another as they wrote, and so it was a strike–at least for the moment–as my tired and distracted brain could not connect with the words.  Still, I tucked the yellow sticky- note in my school bag for later retrieval once home. 

 

In fact, as soon as I was home, I placed that sticky-note on my kitchen table, so that I would be reminded of those words for the next few days.  Throughout the weekend, though, my mind, along with my body, was rushing about. Laundry seemed to be overflowing. Errands needed to be ran. There were meetings to attend, groceries to get, and a nearly forgotten, nearly overflowing cat litter box that pretty much summed up my mindset when I finally got around to cleaning it.  That, of all places, was when it hit me.

 

“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.

 

I reflected over the discussions I often lead at the start of the yoga classes I teach.  How frequently have I stated the importance of the breath as a reminder of the presence of God in our life. Our breath, like our heart beat, is automatic.  Both the breath and the heartbeat occur without us ever thinking about them–pulsating and filling our life with living energy. What a marvelous miracle that is in and of itself! 

 

calm blue sea during golden hour
Photo by Sasha Martynov on Pexels.com

 

In yoga, the breath is often referred to as prana, a Sanskrit word that means “vital life force.” It allows us to bring in vital energy and expel out that which does not sustain life.  In yoga practice, the breath is often considered, “the anchor,” the “thing” to come back to–to refocus upon–when the mind begins to wander into thoughts rather than clearing. Stooped as I was, looking down at the waste that needed to be removed from the litter box, it occured to me that perhaps my own mind needed to return to its anchor.

 

“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.

 

As I went through the motions of scooping and cleaning, I began to slow down my breath and simultaneously attempted to clear my own racing thoughts. I began to reflect on a story for which I had asked my mom earlier in the day.

 

“Tell me about Papaw Musick,” I had asked her.

 

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Papaw Musick alongside my Mamaw as they proudly hold their newborn son, my Dad, Larry Musick.

 

He was my paternal grandfather who passed away not long after I was born.  Asking my mom’s impressions about her former father-in-law may have seemed odd, but we were talking about the closing of a local facility, Bellefonte Hospital, which had been the sight of care for many of my loved ones who have now passed on to their heavenly home.  For whatever reason, our conversation made me think of Papaw Musick, and before I had time to think, I had blurted out those words. 

 

My mom smiled immediately. 

 

“Oh, he was a good man, Steph. He was just crazy about you,” and she proceeded to share a few sweet anecdotes.

 

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Papaw Musick holding/feeding newborn me

 

Reflecting on mom’s stories of the small, but stout man who I never really knew, but who once held and cradled me in his arms, tears momentarily filled my eyes.  In fact, I was reminded of one of my favorite photos of him in which he is doing that very thing with my tiny newborn body while holding my a bottle. 

 

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Mamaw Musick with me at her house, 1-2 years after Papaw Musick had passed. I remember Mamaw once telling me that Papaw Musick had always wanted a daughter, so he was happy that his first grandchild was a girl.

 

I am fairly certain that I have Papaw Musick’s large rib cage, as does my Dad, and I further suspect that I have his shoulders and arms–again, like my Dad. I also have the Musick eyes, like my Dad and siblings; and yet, like my mother, I have my Grandmother’s face and lower body shape.  I talk with my hand like the Slaters, my maternal family; but I have the Musick volume; and, both sides of my family gave me the love of Appalachian food and the power of a good story. In fact, without both the Slater and Musick clans coming together, I may not have ever met my husband and shared my life with the Hill/Moore family and . . .

 

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My Dad and me when was about two or so.

 

I was overcome with emotion at all of these thoughts, so I stood up and walked through our home thinking of what a miracle my life, and all lives for that matter, truly are.  As a child, I blamed myself for my parents’ ultimate difficulties. I used to think that if I had never been born, then they would not have been brought together. However, in that moment, it occurred to me that if there had not been a me, then there may not have been my brother and two sisters–for which I am continually grateful.  Which also means, there would not have been such a rich tapestry of relatives with all of their wonderful experiences and stories that now connect me to distant states such as California, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Florida, and others, in spite of all of us being rooted, at one time, in Kentucky.

 

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My brother, Scott, top center; my sister, Traci, left; me right; and our baby sister, Rachel, bottom center.

 

“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.

 

Thank you Mom and Dad for the gift of my life.  I hate that your married life, while I was growing up (and I suspect, you too, were likewise growing), was so challenging and difficult.  However, there is not a doubt in my mind that you loved us. Despite those trying times, you still provided me with many rich memories, stories, recipes, and the love of extended family for which I am thankful.  

 

I hope that one day, I will meet Pappaw Musick, and all those who have gone before me, and perhaps hold them all in some form of an eternal embrace.

 

I am not sure Amanda knew the inspirational power of the words she shared with me, but I certainly do appreciate that I was there to hear to them. *****

 

Amanda Day, an eighth grader at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, is also an EW! Club member, writer extraordinaire, and the source of inspiration for this piece.

img_0620  Sigh, just breathe.

The Lesson of The Little Prince

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets oneself be tamed…”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

          “If you love a flower which happens to be on a star, it is sweet at night to gaze at the sky. All the stars are a riot of flowers.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

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My love for children’s and young-adult literature is no secret. As a veteran educator with nearly 35 years of classroom experience, books have centered at the heart of what I do.  In fact, books are quite typically the unifying thread that binds, and has bound, the vast majority of lessons I teach. Good literature has the power to inspire lessons in geography, math, biology, physics, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and so much more. Additionally, a great story can even offer a life lesson, or two, that pulls at the readers’ hearts and challenges the reader to reflect, contemplate, and evaluate both their internal world as well as their external actions.

 

Many years ago, I was once asked, during an interview, to name my favorite book.  To this date, though I do not recall for what I was being interviewed, I vividly remember my response, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, and the stinging silence that followed.  Afterwards, I remember inwardly cringing because I am certain, given the context of whatever adult-situation in which I found myself, the interviewer made certain assumptions about me–namely, I must not be very bright and/or well-read. 

 

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Later, I thought of all of the phenomenal and influential novels I have read for which I could have responded, making me sound, at the very least, more mature–and certainly more well-read–than the beloved children’s classic.  Still, E.B. White penned a story in 1952 with two strong female characters who saved a life, motivated by their passionate desire to rid the world of a wrongful death. More importantly, White’s characters illustrate to readers what it means to live a compassionate and loving life, how to develop and foster lasting relationships, and, in the end, how to sacrifice one’s self to the greater good of another–even if that means letting go and saying goodbye.

 

I was reminded of this interviewer’s question from the 1990s when I overheard a piece on public radio regarding inspiring spiritual books that aren’t, per se, considered “religious,” but still offer readers lessons for the soul.  While I was not able to listen to the entire piece, it was of interest to me that of the six or so titles that were recommended, at least three of those titles were considered children or young-adult literature. Huh, maybe I was on to something years ago and only now is the rest of the world catching up to me!

 

 

Two of the juvenile titles, I had read within recent years, but one title, The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, I was not sure if I had read or not.  I felt as if I had, but memory, like the morning fog rising above the Ohio River, fades as time passes. The person being interviewed on the radio stated that it was this particular book that continues to help him in times of grief.  That was all it took, and I decided in that moment to read–or perhaps, reread–this classic.   

 

“Stars

They make me wonder where you are

Stars

Up on heaven’s boulevard . . .”–Grace Potter

 

There is a song, written by Grace Potter, and performed by Potter and the Nocturnals, for which I have found great comfort when missing a relative who has slipped their Earthbound chains.  While I suspect the song is actually about lost love, since the writer states she cannot look at the star without wondering where her former love is, her lyrics, instead, remind me of how I prefer to think the opposite.  Whenever I look at the night sky and see my friends, Orion, Libra, the Little Dipper, and even Mars and Venus–though they’re not stars–I am reminded of those I have lost. It often seems to me as if the twinkling of the stars is God’s way of allowing the heavenly souls to wink at those of us still bound to Earth’s gravity as if to say, “We are okay, and you are okay.  You’re welcome to join us, but there is no rush. Time is endless in the heavens.” 

 

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Ah, but I am a silly, ingenuous adult at my heart, I suppose.  Perhaps that is why from the very first chapter of The Little Prince I was transfixed.  The author’s opening scene describes, in great child-like detail, why the main character, an adult pilot, abandoned his budding career as an artist as a child due to grown-ups who could not understand his art; and therefore, the character was encouraged to pursue more serious matters such as, “geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”  Thus, at the ripe old age of six, the main character begins to lose sight of matters of the heart and soul–which cannot be seen by the eye–until his plane crashes in the desert where upon he meets a Little Prince from another planet.

 

I can recall the nagging feeling, after that unknown interview, that has always nagged at me, if I am to be honest.  That feeling is called, “You, Stephanie, are not smart.” And while I do not want to create some glorified fictional version of my childhood–and adulthood, for that matter–I certainly can look back throughout the years and recognize my dreamy nature.  My desire, which is perhaps equal parts strength and Achilles heel, to go into my head, to dream, create, and think–really, heartfully, soulfully think–has always been my comfort, ally; and at times, has given me the ability to withstand certain difficult situations.  It is probably that very quality that makes me immensely sensitive, and perhaps ultimately, it is what called me to education. Then, again, perhaps this is my over-active imagination wanting to believe this. . .

 

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It is often juvenile literature which challenges us to think deeply on matters of the heart.

 

What I do know is that I will no longer apologize for adoring children’s literature.  I have cried more real tears, felt more deeply, and have often been more motivated–upon reflection of a work–to evaluate and rethink my actions or motives due to well-written books geared for younger audiences.  My interviewer was merely, in the words of The Little Prince, a serious adult who could not see, or find value, in the matters of the heart and soul.  He could not look up at the stars and see what I see; he could not feel the depths of real love; the joy of true friendship; what it means to really sacrifice for another; and I am quite certain, he could not pick up a children’s book and allow himself to imagine, dream and grow.  And that, Dear Reader, is a sad story, for he is missing out on the joy of seeing heaven’s boulevard and other inner-worldly experiences.

 

May we all celebrate great books, even those written for the unfledged mind.

 

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The Girl with the Pink Fuzzy Socks

“Hope is an adventure, a going forward, a confident search for a rewarding life.”–Dr. Karl Menninger

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul–and sings the tunes without words–and never stops at all.”–Emily Dickinson

 

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It was her pink fuzzy socks with the swath of white encircling the top of her long ankle that kept drawing my attention–well, the socks and her face–imploring, seeking, and open. Those socks spoke of youth, vibrancy, and a healthy need for warmth–except that the weather was quirky for winter and, on this particular day, the temperature was exceptionally warm.  Plus, this was a warm yoga class with the temperature set at 85 degrees. Still, it wasn’t unusual for people to prefer to practice yoga in socks rather than bare feet.

 

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In direct contrast with the cute socks and her youthful visage framed by long locks, the shade of flax intermingled with goldenrod, were her eyes, that darted, jumped, and searched.  Her energy was frenetic and animated. It appeared that she spoke with the entirety of her body. In fact, she needed little invitation to talk as one small question seemed to release the valve to the unseen dam within her soul.

 

My level of empathy and compassion are part blessing and curse. When someone is truly suffering, I can feel it emanating off them as steam rises from the soup pot when the lid is removed.  With age, I have tried to learn to develop emotional bubble wrap, especially when faced with angry, negative, or heartbroken energy. Try as I might to seal myself insides off, like the scent of garbage drippings that cling to blacktop in the summer, long after the truck has collected the refuse, so often do other’s emotional dross sink into me leaving me affected for hours and even days.

 

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Her socks reminded me of socks like my daughter likes to wear around the house, especially in the winter.

 

 

Thus, when the girl with the pink socks, that I shall name Sarah for the sake of this story, began talking, it was as if offshoots of her pain gradually began to stretch and grow within me.  Her story came out as quickly as an overturned cup of wine; and, just as swiftly as that proverbial glass of wine, it had rapidly and permanently stained her life. Without revealing too much, her husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for which he had undergone one radical and brutal treatment after another. It had been exactly a year since his initial diagnosis, and now, she explained, hospice had been called in.  The couple wasn’t yet in their third decade of life, and they had two young children! 

 

As I write Sarah’s story, I can still feel her sadness and anxiety deeply within my gut. Sarah was taking a yoga class that I was teaching. It was a recent visit to her doctor that had prompted Sarah to yoga.  The doctor, she reported, wanted to prescribe numerous medications to help reduce her anxiety. Sarah had refused, and instead, decided to give yoga a try.

 

“My mind is never still.  It won’t settle; it is so restless. I can’t pray anymore.”

 

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She went on to explain that she was hoping that yoga would help her quiet her mind, so that she could, once more, meditate and pray.  Ironically, the theme of my class on that particular day was focused on the fact that health encompasses more than just the physical body, but it also includes the well-being of the mind and spirit. Additionally, I had planned to read a short passage explaining that one of the traditional purposes of yoga was not only to strengthen the body and make it more supple; but ultimately, to quiet the mind, so that afterwards, one could sit and meditate and/or pray for extended periods. After hearing her story, I just wasn’t sure if this was the appropriate way to proceed, but I decided to give a try anyway.

 

And while this is an imperfect story, just as life is also rarely defect-free, Sarah did sit still, if only for a few moments, at the end of class.  The other exercisers and I gathered around her afterwards. Sarah talked more, and we listened more. We looked at the pictures of her beautiful, and oh-so-young family.  One person typed the correct spelling of her husband’s name into her phone, so his name could be added to the prayer-list at her church.  

 

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My daughter’s variation of pink, fuzzy socks.

 

 

Meanwhile, I still keep thinking of those fuzzy pink socks, and I am reminded of my own daughter who loves to wear those types of socks in the winter.  Like my own child, this young couple were once children of parents who loved and cared for them. How those parents must have envisioned their children’s future with such hope and promise.  Most likely, those same parents must have felt that same hope rising when the young couple were married, and even more so with the birth of each child–their precious grandchildren.

 

I can’t understand this story; I only feel the pain, the hidden hurt of this child with her pink fuzzy socks; the beautiful strands of  her wavy, tousled hair; her darting eyes; and all of her words–pouring out of her soul in search of the path of least resistance like excessive rain water travels down hill.  However, for this child–there is no path of least resistance–she traverses a path few would want to trudge.  

 

 

As I write her story, I think of all the events in my life for which I could complain, I could whine, and snivel.  In fact, I could write a tale or two of woeful, personal tragedy, but those stories would be nothing, nothing compared to Sarah with the pink socks.  Wherever she is, may she somehow be comforted, her pain lessened, and I further pray that her mind will find peace, so that she can focus on being a mom who is full of hopes and dreams for her own two children as well as herself.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

C B Ranch, Almost Heaven, WV

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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On a hiking trail at CB Ranch.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Some of the sights from trails at C B Ranch.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

More scenes of tranquil beauty courtesy of C B Ranch.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you need for a comfortable stay.

Cheryl and Brooke completely respect your privacy.  

Protein Waffle

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

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

 

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           I smelled them before I saw them.  

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

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

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

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

 

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The mini-Dash waffle maker

          

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Some of the ingredients for protein waffles.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

1 serving of your favorite protein powder

Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

1-tablespoon light cream cheese

2-tablespoons egg whites or egg-replacement

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

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

1-package of stevia or other favorite sweetener

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

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

Makes one serving.

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

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

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

For one thick waffle:

1-tablespoon egg white  

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

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

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

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

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

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

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

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

For two thinner waffles:

1 tablespoon light cream cheese = 1 condiment

1-2 tablespoons egg whites  

2-3 tablespoons water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

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

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

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

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

            

           

           

 

The Sweetness of Life: Lessons from Blackberries

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

 

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

ice cream cone on wood
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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My grandparents’ home in Raceland, KY.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

woman girl jeans clothes
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

 

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

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

 

person washing his hand
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

 

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

 

berries blackberries blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

blackberries on table
Photo by Ir Solyanaya on Pexels.com

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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