Welcome to the Fifth-Decade-of-Life-Club, a Tale of Sibling Warfare and Love

            “Everyone knows that if you’ve got a brother, you’re going to fight.”—Liam Gallagher

 

            “Nothing can stop me from loving my brother.”—Brandy Norwood

 

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Me, and baby brother, Scott at his 50th birthday celebration at La Famiglia, Huntington, WV.

 

“My back has been bothering me.  I’m not for sure why,” he reveals to me during a phone conversation.

 

“I know what you mean.   I put ice on my back most mornings,” I reply.

 

“Those foods used to never bother me, but now . . .” he later bemoans.

 

“Me too!” I declare in affirmative.

 

“I love you,” he states as he hangs up the phone.

 

“I love you, too.”

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Left to Right, my sister, Traci; my brother, Scott; me; and my sister, Rachel. This was our annual night before Christmas picture, one of the few times we weren’t fighting about something.

 

Is this really the same person with whom I used to debate over whose turn it was to wash versus dry the dishes after supper?  Is this the same person with whom I became so enraged that I actually pelted him in the belly with a plastic baseball bat?  Was this the same person who, in my young mind, used run straight to Mom to reveal my misdeeds, and infuriate me enough to plot his death, or, at the very least contemplate all of the ways I could cause him equivalent injury?

 

Of course, this is also the same person whose baby crib and my twin bed once occupied the same space, leaving me to feel like his guardian.  He is the same person to whom I would read storybook after storybook once I learned how to read.  As a teen, whenever I heard the newest alternative music, I couldn’t wait to tell him all about it.  Furthermore, we shared a love of cooking the classic, “Chef Boyardee Pizza kit,” all the while “doctoring it up” (aka adding extra toppings to it that weren’t in the kit.)   Plus, we both loved to come home from junior high and high school, flip on the TV, and watch the newest After School Special, a made for TV movie based upon a currently popular teen book; old TV reruns, such as Bewitched or Bonanza; or, later, when I was in my first year of college at the local branch of Ohio University, our favorite soap opera, Santa Barbara.

 

 

I felt as if I was my brother’s guardian.

 

It all began one day in May 1968.  Up until that point, I was special.  I was the only one; and in my mind, the entire world centered on me.  Then, my solo career came crashing to a sudden and irreversible halt!  One day I was sent to stay with my grandparents; and, low and behold, several days later, I went home to find, of all things, a baby—a boy, at that, who would monopolize what was once my spotlight! Little did I know, this unknown baby was only the first addition with whom I needed to adjust—I would eventually have to share the limelight with two more babies, but at least they were girls!

 

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Up until May of 1968, I was in rocking’ in the limelight of my parents’ love and attention.

 

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Then, in May of 1968, I was sent to stay with my grandparents for a few days. Pictured here with my grandparents’ during an Old Fashioned days celebration.

 

 

 

By the time I was three, I had lost my center-stage status and was forced to share the stage with other siblings, the first of which was my brother, Scott.

 

As the childhood years passed, my brother, Scott, would become both friend and foe.  I had a temper, and he knew how to set it off.  Heaven help me, when he and our middle sister, Traci, would pair up together against our baby sister, Rachel, or me.

 

One of the more funny examples of this occurred when Rachel was quite young—no more than two years of age.  Scott and Traci devised a plan to trick her into climbing inside a toy box in their bedroom to look for a “lost” item. Once she was within the box, they promptly shut the lid and sat on top of it.  I was horrified, and of course, angry.  I began yelling at them from my bedroom to, “Let her go,” while they laughed at me.  Running in a rage towards them, I tried hitting and kicking them.  Of course, mom quickly entered the room; and in the end, I was trouble because, “I was the oldest and should have got her rather than taking business into my own hands.”  I declare, where’s the justice in that?

 

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Scott, Traci, Rachel, and me on the morning of Christmas. By this point, I shared a bedroom with Rachel; and, Scott and Traci shared a bedroom.

 

No matter how annoyed I could become with Scott, I was the first person to rise in his defense any time I perceived another person outside of our family picking on him.  If any of the neighborhood or school boys we knew, said a cross word to Scott, my black and white saddle oxford shoes instantly turned into kicking weapons as I simultaneously gave those so-called-baddies the greatest tongue-lashing I could create.

 

In fact, I recall one hot August day, while on a break during high school band camp, throwing my nearly five feet self in front of a pack of football players who were making fun of my brother. I dared a single one of them to pass in front of me and say another word to him.  I stood my ground, craning my head, in order to look directly into each of their eyes as I set my chin firm and determined. They, quite miraculously, walked away and quit bothering him—at least for the rest of that day. Afterwards, once I realized how dangerous and quite stupid my actions were, I ran to hide inside the instrument closet of the band room and cried, but never told my brother, well, until now—assuming he reads this.

 

 

During our teen years, my siblings could be my best friend one moment, and my mortal enemy the next–at least temporarily.

 

Now that Scott is joining me in the fifth-decade-of-life club, I can see that through good times, and some rather ugly times, our deep connection and love has remained.  Scott is witty, articulate, and intelligent.  He loves Broadway musicals, good food/drinks, dogs, and music—especially danceable tunes.  My brother served in the Air Force, has experienced a wide-ranging, successful career-life, has three beautiful kids, and one adorable grandchild.  Plus, he is married to a person who truly loves him.  I am proud to be his big sister.

 

 

 

Happy Belated Birthday, Scott!! May you continue to celebrate and dance through the rest of your life!

 

P.S.  Thank you La Famiglia for the wonderful venue in which to celebrate and thank you Selena Urbaez for the delicious gluten-free, melt-in-your mouth, lemon cake as well as the decadent, uber-rich, gluten-free chocolate cupcakes!!  Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gluten-free, Cauliflower Protein Pancakes

            “The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.”  W.C. Fields

 

One of my more fond childhood memories were Saturday morning pancakes.  I was the oldest of four kids, and my parents simultaneously raised us while both of them managed to work and earn their degrees.  Thus, I do not mean to imply we had pancakes every Saturday; but, boy, when we did—it was a real treat for all of us.  Pass the syrup, the butter, and hand those pancakes over!

 

Mom would make them, and stack one on top of the other covering them over with a towel to keep them warm until all of the batter was cooked.  She usually called us kids into the kitchen about mid-way through her flapping.  Then, when she was down to the last little bit of batter, she would pour it all into the skillet and make one large pancake.  Sadly, it was always my brother who got that one!

 

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Gathering ingredients for my latest twist on pancakes.

 

All those years ago and I can still recall the feelings of resentment watching her place it on his plate!  Why couldn’t I have it?  Was it because he was the only boy?  Was it because he was capable of drinking a gallon of milk a day by himself? Was it because he usually ate the most food out of all of us kids?  Hmmm . . .this large pancake serving still remains a mystery.

 

Now that I am capable of making my own pancakes, I make my own big pancake—thank you very much!  No more little pancakes for me.  No more worries of using too much syrup or butter because I choose not use those items. Instead, I load-up my over-sized pancake with healthful toppings such as fresh fruit, thinned out almond butter or powered peanut butter, or sometimes, even a few not-quite-as-healthy mini-chocolate chips.  Plus, my pancakes are gluten-free and loaded up with a full serving of veggies!

 

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Making a “flour” by grinding up old-fashioned oats.

 

Wait, what?  Yes, that’s right! My pancakes recipe has a vegetable in it, but you would never know it by its taste.  Using my blender, I mix up my gluten-free, protein-rich batter right along with a full cup of riced cauliflower.

 

I was inspired by the idea when I started blending riced cauliflower in my morning smoothie.  (Another recipe I’ll share at a later date!)  It was delicious, easy, and a creamy way to start my day with a serving of vegetables and never even taste it—not that I don’t like the taste of cauliflower, I do.  Since this experiment went so smoothly, (Ha! Did you see what I did there?) I began to wonder if with a few tweaks, my smoothie recipe could be converted to a pancake?

 

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Dry ingredients mixed in a bowl.

 

Sure enough, with a bit of experimentation, and a whole lot of luck, I came up with the following recipe.  It is easy, and does not take much time to create. Best of all, it makes one large, delicious pancake that you can eat all by yourself without blowing your nutrition for the day!  Treat yourself to this healthy recipe the next time you get a hankering for a sweet breakfast treat!

 

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

 

 

 

Gluten-free Protein Cauliflower Pancake

Serves 1, but could be doubled

 Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oats

½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

½ serving of your favorite vanilla protein powder

1/8-teaspoon baking powder

1 cup (100 grams) riced cauliflower (I actually used frozen, and set it out on counter about thirty minutes before mixing.)

¼ cup egg whites or Vegan egg replacement**See recipe below

½ teaspoon vanilla

Optional Toppings

 

Directions:

In a blender, pulse oats until it forms flour. (I use the blender cup of my Ninja.)

Place in mixing bowl.

Stir in cinnamon, protein powder, and baking powder.

Place cauliflower, egg whites, and vanilla in blender; then, mix until smooth.  If needed, adding a tablespoon or two of water if seems too thick, but don’t make it too thin.

Add in dry ingredients and blend until fully combined.

Meanwhile, coat skillet with nonstick cooking spray and preheat over medium heat.

Spread (it doesn’t really pour) batter into prepared skillet.  Cover and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the edges appear firm and batter looks set.

Flip with large spatula and cook uncovered for two more minutes.

Remove and serve immediately with desire toppings.

 

**Vegan Egg Replacements

1-tablespoon chia seed (or flax)

3 tablespoons of water

 

Mix thoroughly in a small bowl, and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.  Use this in lieu of egg.  Can doubled if needed.

This recipe works well for any baking recipe that requires only 1-2 eggs.

 

 

 

  The Power of the Pause

           “Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10,

        “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”—Kim Collins

        I was reading through a book when I ran across the line, “pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.”  While this phrase was directed towards how to teach yoga, the words jumped out at me. I looked away from my book and closed my eyes, internalizing the phrase, “pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.”  There was something more to this than teaching yoga.

        Looking out my family room window, I noticed the willow trees with their new brightly green leaves still not fully developed.  I took in my neighbor’s ornamental pear trees, dotted with emerging pinkish, white blossoms. The grass covering both of our yards, though still filled with brown patches, was noticeably more green— so vivid and brilliant.

 

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The brown patches are still visible from the seasonal pause, but the grass is beginning to green up–thanks to the pause.

 

        Next, I heard the robins trilling in celebration of the cessation of several days of steady spring rain.  Their celebratory songs were layered with enthusiasm and optimism. Listening to their calming vocalizations, I glanced towards our weeping mulberry tree.

        Earlier in the day, my husband, John, had observed one of two old nests in the tree had been knocked out.  In it’s a place, a mockingbird was building a new nest. I paused for a moment watching the bird dart to and fro from tree to ground, bits of branches and yard detritus dangling from its mouth.  Then, it would pause; cock its head from one side to the next, then echo back to the robins’ song.

 

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The mockingbird nest in our weeping mulberry tree–still visible due to the tree’s seasonal rest.

       

     Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        As I took in the signals of spring revival, I could not help but recall how bare this same view had been during the winter season.  Nature seemed to pause during December, January, and most of February. Yet during this hiatus, trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plant life, were, in actuality, taking time to renew from the inside—all the while maintaining incessant respiration–breath.  Their intention was to root down a little deeper in order to prepare for new growth; and so should we.

 

In spite of all of the bare ground, branches, and shrubs, internal renewal, linked to continual respiration, is still occurring.       

      Our lives are full of busyness.  Calendars booked. Workdays overscheduled.   From early morning to late evening, and from weekday to weekend, our tendency is to go, go, go.  And if we are not busy, we often fail to appreciate the gift we have been given. Instead, we complain, “I’m bored;” “I don’t know what to do with myself;” or, “I feel guilty, lazy, or afraid I have forgotten something,” to name a few.   Free time, it seems, does not match society’s image of the, “perfect multi-tasker.”

 

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Our daughter, Madelyn, taking a pause out of her busy college schedule.      

      

       Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        Does constant busyness truly reflect God’s intention for us?  If Divine Providence provides built-in rest time for the natural world, my guess is that humans need this time too.  After all, even God rested as described in the book of Exodus; and thereby, we were likewise commanded to also rest on the Sabbath. However, what about day-to-day life?  What would happen if we brought a bit of the Sabbath day pause/reflection into our daily routine?

 

We can pause, feel, reflect and renew with our dog, while sitting outside, or even before a meal.  Regardless of where we choose to “pause,” the point is improvement not perfection.     

         

          Years ago, I was part of a women’s book study group.  One of the books we read had an entire chapter devoted to the notion of a daily practice of breath prayer.  Its intention was a short prayer or petition that is whispered throughout the day as a way of praying without ceasing.

        Breathing in, we were instructed to say one phrase; and, breathing out, we were to say another phrase—all of which was tied to a personal/spiritual goal(s).  Examples include: Breathing In: “Be still. Breathing Out: “And know I am God;” or, Breathing In: “Guide me” Breathing Out: “to a greater purpose.” There are certainly endless combinations and possibilities.  While I found it impossible to pray in this manner all day, I did benefit from the practice of starting my day with five or so minutes of a breath prayer, and then, throughout the day intentionally coming back to that same prayer.

 

Looking at this tree from afar, it appears to have no new growth.  However, when you get a closer look, the internal growth from the seasonal pause of rooting into its source, is slowly emerging–and, so it is when we pause regularly and turn inwardly.       

         

          Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

        Similarly, during a yoga class, participants are often encouraged at the beginning of class to close their eyes, focus on their breath, and set an intention.  This is considered the anchor of the practice. The teachers I have experienced periodically remind students to return to their breath and intention as the class progresses.  In fact, if a movement or pose becomes too difficult or challenging, students are typically instructed to pause, notice their feelings; and if needed, rest on their knees, head down, eyes closed, while focusing on their breath and personal intention until they feel ready to join back in.  Additionally, at the end of class, participants are once again asked to pause, close their eyes, feel, reflect, and renew their intention before leaving class. Like the breath prayer, most yoga classes unite a purposeful pause with an intentional reflection, and link it to the act of respiration.

        Therefore, why not take time each day to incorporate a purposeful pause that links focused breathing to a prayer or personal intention?  In fact, why not attempt to incorporate it two, or more, times, per day, such as, at the end of the workday, and again at bedtime, or in correlation with each meal eaten?  What benefits might be reaped from the simple act of pausing?

 

       

          Pause, feel, reflect, and renew intention.

         May we allow the surrounding spring renewal, beauty, and bird song to remind us of the importance of taking time to pause, feel and root down into our faith, reflect on the gift of life we have been given, and renew our intention to be more mindful of what God is calling us to do.  While we may never perfectly master this, we can make progress just as the trees and plants outside my window did during those winter months.

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As seen on Instagram @studio8wv

      

       

       

       

 

Ambiguity and Prayer: A Lesson in Tapas

“ I should not make any promises right now,

But I know if you

Pray

Somewhere in this world—

Something good will happen.”—Hafiz

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As seen on Instagram at meditation.quotes

 

            “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”—Isaiah 41:10

 

Ambiguity. I stare at the black and white print.   Within the word I see small words: “am,” “big,” “’u’, also known as, ‘you’.” I arrange the words. Play with them. “You are big.” “I am big.” “Big, you are.” “Big, I am.” Big, big, big . . ..

 

Problems feel big. Illness feels big. Crisis feels big. Parenting feels big. Aging feels big. Financial struggles feel big. Education feels big. Currents news feels big. Violence feels big. Sadness feels big.  Depression feels big.  Big, big, big . . .translates into hard, hard, hard.

 

“You are big.” “I am big.”

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As seen on Instagram at spiritual movement

 

One part of my yoga teacher training homework for this month states, “Tapas” (Which literally means “heat,” but also translates into discipline and commitment–as best I understand it.) “’Just feel it!’ Use discipline to stay committed to the path, and use tapas to direct your anger in positive ways.”   Anger often feels hot. Discipline can feel hot too, but also soothing.

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As seen on Instagram at spiritualist_within

 

Tina, one of my yoga instructors, recently stated, “I believe you must pray daily and often. Meditation is important, but so is prayer.” I am paraphrasing, but basically she added that prayer is not about a wish list, but more about gratitude and an attitude of, “Thy will be done.” Sometimes gratitude, and the ambiguity of “Thy will be done,” is hard.

 

Tapas. Heat. Discipline.

 

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Recently, I shared with my husband, John, a personal struggle I was experiencing with an acquaintance.   I explained that I could sense her negative energy, and even anger, when she was around me. “I want to apologize for whatever wrong I have caused her, but I honestly don’t know what I did.”

 

John’s reply was simple and direct, “Pray for her.”

 

And so I did.

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As seen on heartcenteredrebalancing

 

One month later, this same acquaintance was seemingly happier, lighter, and more at ease. She even approached me to thank me. Unbeknownst to me, she overheard me giving one of her close friends the same advice John had given me. This friend asked me about how to handle a person who was set in their ways and would seemingly never embrace the faith-filled path she was now embodying. I shared with her what John had told with me, “Pray for that person.” Adding, “it might not change that person, but perhaps it might change the way in which you view and relate to him or her.”

 

The acquaintance who was confessing to overhearing my comments explained that a light bulb went off in her mind. She described a bit of her own personal struggles; and added, “So I just said a prayer, and went for a walk. When I came back, I had a long awaited text on my phone.”

 

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As seen on Instagram at positivenergyalways

 

Then, she thanked me, and spent the next few minutes describing to me in great detail, all of the ambiguity surrounding her due to an upcoming major procedure and potential life change. “I just turned it over to my Higher Power, and you helped me get there. Thank you.”

 

By turning over my anxiety and false assumptions regarding this person to my faith, I released the notion that somehow I was in control of her actions, her feelings. While I had been indeed, sensing negative energy in this person, it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the ambiguity of the situation into which she was being thrown—one of life’s unexpected curveballs. When I focused less on the ambiguity I thought was surrounding her, and disciplined my mind and heart to direct my energy, instead, to the great, “I am,” the ambiguity still remained, but we were both released to feel, accept, and allow our faith to embrace us.

 

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As seen on Instagram at bodymovejoy

 

When I was young, my prayers were often the selfish prayers of a personal wish-list; such, “Please let me pass this test. Please let me get a job. Please keep my car running . . ..” As I have aged, I have certainly offered more prayers of gratitude, but my wish list is still present—only now, I convince myself it isn’t selfish because my prayers are most often my wish list for others.

 

“Please give Maddie (my daughter) both mental and physical strength;” or, “Please watch over my parents, my husband, my siblings, my loved ones,” and so forth. I am not saying these are “bad” prayers, but it is still my attempt to control. “Hey God, let me tell you how it should be, because I am pretty good at taking charge; and, in case you haven’t noticed, I have the perfect plan for you to follow.”

 

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The bigness, the vastness of God, the Great “I Am” is even bigger and warmer than spring sunshine.

 

As I stared at that word, “ambiguity,” it all came together, then hit me like a strong, blustery March wind. Tapas is faith in a nutshell—embracing the heat of the unknown, the uncertainty, the unexplained—and our prayers are the disciplined connection to our Creator, a Higher Power that is so big, so vast, and beyond what we can conceive. Therefore, even when our prayers are a wish list, it is still okay as we are brought into communion with that that is so big. “I am big. I, too, am ambiguous, but I am omnipresent and all-pervading, enveloping you in my palms that are so big, so big . . .they contain you, your struggles, and all that is and ever will be.”

 

Life can feel like the messiness of a bird’s nest, but just as this nest is still able to envelope the baby birds and mama bird, so too can the vastness of God support us.

 

Most of life events are ambiguous. We think we are in control of time and space, but life events are God’s way of reminding us, “I am big. Have faith in my bigness.” The heat of life, really, is a way of demanding tapas, the discipline to pray more as well as rely on faith more. In turn, the discipline of faith and prayer taps into the greatness of, “I am.”

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As seen on Instagram at positiveaffirmations101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circle of Pain vs. the Kingdom of God: Lessons in santosha aka contentment

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            “Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not– As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.”—Thomas Obediah Chisholm

 

I have recently been wrestling with the notion of contentment—more to the point—having faith that turn-of-events and/or daily circumstances are occurring as they should be; and simply leaning in to say, “Yes,” to all experience, rather than resist or attempt to change/modify it. In fact, in addition to numerous readings and other assignments for this month, one part of my yoga teacher training homework is to practice santosha, which is Sanskrit for contentment. I have been asked to: notice when I feel content; find small spaces of contentment in the busyness of life; and contemplate on how this feels.

 

This is a challenging concept for me because, as I most recently shared, I like to attach to “The Story of How Life Should Occur” as written by the great-all-knowing Stephanie Hill. Examples of these sure-to-be best selling titles include, but are not limited to: My own child should not have suffered as she did all through her senior year of high school. My mother-in-law should not have suffered an excruciating end-of-life. My parents should not have to face the painful issues that come from aging; and, as a matter of fact, neither should my husband and I. Friends, co-workers, and loved ones should not have to experience painful events. My students should not have to struggle with learning new concepts. The world should not be filled with violent rhetoric and actions. Honestly, how can any of us experience contentment when life is often filled with much pain and suffering?

 

Children should not grow up so quickly, becoming a grandparent should not occur too quickly, and my parents should have to deal with the aches and pains of aging–for that matter neither should my husband and I!

 

“Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.”

 

I was exiting the school in which I teach on a recent cloudy, rainy afternoon while mulling over this notion of contentment.   As I happened to be exiting the building at 5:00 pm, a set of church bells began chiming an old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I smiled instinctively because I have always loved that song.

 

“How fortunate it is to work at a school near an old church that still plays these great hymns like the church bells to which I once listened in Raceland, KY so many years ago whenever I stayed with my grandparents.”

 

I drifted into a brief moment of reverie harkening to all the beautiful moments when at 8:00 am, noon, and 5:00 pm those Raceland church bells would chime in the background of my childhood through young adult days. Scenes, scents, and sounds flashed through my mind’s eye before it occurred to me, “Was this a moment of contentment?” I paused in the middle of the parking lot, rain drip-dropping around me, and focused on the melody until the last note was played. Then, I peacefully sighed and entered my car for the ride home.

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My grandparents’ home in which I spent over 30 years listening to hymns chimed by nearby church bells at daily, regular intervals.

 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

 

Later that week, I was struggling through an incredibly long day. I was tired, physically and mentally, and fighting through some pain—that also happened to be both mental and physical. Driving home in the dark of the same evening, I turned on an audible book and just happened to hear a story about a woman who went to her priest weeping profusely as she unloaded all her worries and sorrows. When she was finally spent, he took one of her hands and drew a circle in the center of her palm with his finger. He told her that the circle represented the place where she was currently living with all of her very real pain and suffering. He explained that it could not be avoided, and she must let it be. Then, he covered her hands with his, asking her to remember there is a greatness and a wholeness in the Kingdom God; and, in this merciful space, her immediate life could unfold.

 

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When experiencing pain and/or suffering, we must surrender into God’s mercy as it hold us and wraps around us much in the way this blanket is comforting and supporting my cat, Tippi Tail.

 

“This pain,” he added, as he touched the center of her palm, “is held always in God’s love.”

He added that as she began to know both the pain and the love, she would heal.

“By surrendering to your pain, you are surrendering to the mercy of an ever-loving God. The more you let go, the more you are held by the Infinite compassion of God.” I audibly sighed. Was this, yet, another moment of contentment?

 

 

That same long, grueling day, our school discovered unexpected disturbance to our playground:  a tree had been blown over by a storm the previous night, crushing part of the playground fence.  Of course, that “should” not have happened.

 

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!” Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!”

 

The next day, I talked at length by phone with my daughter, now in her second semester at Bethany College.

“Mom, I never realized how miserable I was last year,” she emphatically stated.

Our conversation continued, and I added that I had often wondered if she would have been better served with early entry into college after her second or third year of high school.

“No, Mom. As much as I hated that last year of school, I had to go through it in order to appreciate how much I love Bethany and the whole college experience.”

 

In other words, she, too, had to learn to let the pain be, and rely on Divine Providence, in order to heal and grow into a greater understanding.

 

My daughter, pictured in the floral dress, is positively glowing as she appreciates with greater clarity moments of joy.

 

Learning to say, “Yes,” to each of life’s moments: be it pain, sadness, impatience, depression, disappointment, injury/illness, loss, and so forth; or likewise, times of happiness, patience, joy, successes, wellness, and abundance is still a skill for which I think I must continue to work. In part, contentment means I must fall in love, not only with my life, but also with the Divine Mercy that carries each of us through the wide expanse of the human experience. Each day of life, I must remember, is complete–no matter what form it takes—and for each experience of life, I must be grateful.  And, perhaps, that is the key to contentment: gratitude.  Gratitude for each moment–irrespective to the life script I have written.

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Let us step away from media, and thankfully spend time in the here and now

            “For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies

             For the love which from our birth over and around us lies,

            Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”—Folliott S.

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“Stop worrying, Mom. It’s Thanksgiving week. You’re supposed to be thankful!” Madelyn, my daughter, home from Bethany College for a week of rest, chided me with a teasing voice and an ornery look on her face.

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I had chosen to rise somewhat early on Saturday in order to go to the gym, run a couple of errands, and return home to complete a few household tasks. This would allow me to be available to talk with Maddie once she was awake. I’ve learned, as she has grown older, that it is more important to be available during time periods she is most likely to be home before she takes off to be with friends.

 

Near 4:00 pm, as she was getting ready to head out the door to spend the evening with friends, it occurred to me I had not completed any writing. I often try to begin writing on Saturday morning, but on this morning, I was so focused on spending time with Maddie, I had completely forgotten about my side-gig!

 

            “Oh, no! I completely forgot to do any writing!” I said more to myself than my daughter. That is when I received her admonishment to be thankful. Which led my mind down the rabbit hole of thoughts . . .

 

            In an evolving, rapidly changing world in which the media, world leaders, and businesses vie for headlines, tweets, and other forms of attention; and, in which citizens strive for “likes,” “followers,” and “friends,” it is all too easy to allow these images, and they are that, mere images—not necessarily reality—to enter our psyche and plant tendrils of thought-control. The more of these images our brains take in, the more the vines and wisps of social imagery subconsciously subvert our minds until we forget to fully focus on the here, the now, and the visceral reality of our own life.

 

Appreciation, gratitude, love, and joy for our life, and all of the Divinely created earthly resources, are often forgotten—or sometimes viewed as a prop for a media-driven image. My daughter was right to call me out. I had spent time with her rather than writing. If I didn’t make my self-imposed blog deadline or the newspaper deadline, life would not end. What was the motive behind my worry for not writing? Furthermore, what is my intent for the writing in which I do—create an image, or increase genuine good will. It was worth exploring, reflecting, and self-checking.

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           “For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night

            Hill and vale and tree and flow’r, sun and moon and stars of light,

            Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

            I do possess a passion for writing. I discovered it during the angst of my teen years. Writing gave voice to the thoughts, words, and phrases stuffed into my head and heart; words that I could not, would not verbally express. During those developmental years, I did not (and often still don’t) clearly articulate my words, especially if there was a perceived negative emotion attached to them. Often, I unintentionally offended people, or “made them mad,” as my immature mind thought of it, when I spoke.

 

Furthermore, when faced with another person’s strong emotion, I am intrinsically wired to feel their emotion. While this is a good thing with regards to teaching students, as a youth, I could not separate (and still often struggle) another person’s emotions from feelings of my own. As a teen, I tried to speak, but as I simultaneously experienced both the other person’s feelings and my own gut emotions, my words became jumbled and never came out the way I intended. After several negative experiences of saying, “the wrong thing,” the fear of my own spoken words greatly magnified. Thus, words, words, and more words began to jam my soul like the traffic on I-95 attempting to evacuate Florida during a hurricane.

 

Writing became my safety net; but as I entered young adulthood, I honed my writing skill for the benefit of my education, not self-expression.   Once I was finished with formal education in my early thirties, I abandoned my writing for many years. Still, the words continued jamming, jamming, jamming and damming my heart and soul like the Greenup County Lock and Dam holds back the Ohio River.   It wasn’t until my mid-forties that a dear friend suggested I write again.

 

“Not only would it help you, but you might also be able to help others,” she had insisted.

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I have written weekly ever since, and I am grateful to that friend for helping me reconnect with my writing voice. Writing allows me to work past emotions of self and others–leading me to important life lessons and revelations that I may not have otherwise learned; and, it is my hope that these reflections, that I so publically share, help others too. However, I must ask myself, am I attached to the image of my writing or to the lessons I continue to learn and experience?

 

My daughter was right to call me out.   If I am to write, I should do it with a heart of gratitude and the humble intention of allowing Divine Providence to lead me to the lesson, the heart, and purpose of my words, rather than the need to meet superficial deadlines, images, or other worldly imposed standards.

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It is Thanksgiving week. My writing should give voice to gratitude, gratefulness, and appreciation for the tangible and intangible alike—from the beautiful rolling tree-covered hills surrounding us, to dear family, friends, co-workers, and students; from the God that created our beloved Earth and our dear loved ones, to the sweet joy felt during an embrace, kiss, or handshake, there is much for which to be thankful. Furthermore, I encourage all, including myself, to step away from social media, the headlines, and all the other hullabaloo surrounding us; and instead, on this day of Thanksgiving, make time to appreciate, love, and savor the here and now—the reality, rather than the image.

“For the joy of human love; brother, sister, parent, child.

Friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

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First Visit to see our daughter at Bethany College and Wheeling, WV area

            “The oldest private college in the state (WV)—where traditions of academic excellence and lifelong learning are still the hallmarks of the Bethany experience.”—Bethany College website

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Leaves crunching underfoot, sun light playing hide and seek with clouds of cream, cold air rudely stinging cheeks and uncovered hands, lungs and legs burned with the effort of walking up a steep hill, and not a soul to be seen. We had been here before, but this visit was strikingly different. Young co-eds did not descend upon us in persuasive greeting; there was not an influential keynote speaker awaiting, not only our arrival, but also for others like us; and, not a single sign of swag, banners, or other outwards signs of bravado lining our walk. Instead, our initial greeting was the random and sparse chirpings of the remaining songbirds that had not traveled south to warmer environs. And yet, we were not alarmed, but rather, reassured on this peaceful Saturday morning.

Pausing to snap pictures here and there along our ascent, we took in our surroundings. From the looks of the leaf-filled paths, we had just missed the peak autumn colors by mere days. The phone weather app that had earlier revealed an air temperature of 19 degrees, now boasted a balmy 28 degrees! Ahead, on the brick lined path, we saw the first sign of life: two girls walking an energetic and enthusiastic small dog. The dog paused upon seeing my husband, John and me. He cocked his head this way and that, as we talked to it in our best doggie-voice. Laughing, we continued walking as the dog jauntily returned to his short-legged step-hop-prance walk.

 

We were visiting our daughter, Madelyn, at Bethany College for the first time since she became a student. We planned to meet her at the college’s coffee shop, The Hub, but upon entering the shop, it was clear she had not yet arrived. In fact, no one was there except for the lone employee whose name, we soon discovered, was Linda.

The Hub, pictured above, is Bethany’s coffee shop.

Linda greeted us warmly, and upon learning the reason for our visit, asked the name of our daughter. She indeed knew Maddie, and said she was a “sweet girl.” In fact, we would later learn that Linda knew all of “her students” at Bethany. She was in her 49th year of working in the food service industry at Bethany. It was quite clear she loved her job because of the students, and later, as we discovered from several students, they loved Linda.

Linda, pictured with Maddie, and Maddie’s friend, Ben, join us on the couches of The Hub.

I couldn’t help but think that is why Maddie loves Bethany College so much— a school small enough to allow the opportunity to quickly form relationships and bonds, not only with students, but also with professors and staff such as Linda. This notion was confirmed frequently as we encountered and met many of our daughter’s new friends, peers, as well as another staff member, Amy Van Horn, Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, who, along with her daughter, Eden, has taken Maddie under their wings, giving her a local family base—something we greatly appreciate! Nearly every person to whom our daughter introduced us, we ended up parting in a hug of farewell!

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Maddie and Eden Rice seated together.

Additionally, we experienced similar positive with encounters off-campus, albeit without hugs, in the nearby town of Wheeling. To begin, the staff at the Highlands’ Hampton was just as accommodating, friendly, and engaging as on previous visits. Each time we stay there, we feel as home as one can feel in a hotel. Furthermore, our dining experiences over a two-night stay further reinforced the genuinely genial nature of Wheeling residents.

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On our first night in town, Maddie and Eden, trekked down “Bethany mountain,” as I have come to think of it, and met us at the Hampton in order for us treat them to a dinner at a local favorite eatery, Ye Olde Alpha Restaurant and Tavern—a Wheeling, WV Landmark Restaurant. Its website describes Ye Olde Alpha “as a no-nonsense establishment offering meat-centric meals along with other classic American dishes and beer.” Our waitress for the evening was Jesse, and as busy as Jesse was serving numerous patrons, she remained attentive, upbeat, patient with our questions, and offered ordering tips for our meals. In the end, Maddie and Eden noshed on oversized, juicy burgers, fixed to their personal taste preference along with a mound of fries. John enjoyed a nightly special sausage sandwich also served with a heaping over plate of fries. Meanwhile, I enjoyed their house salad and stuffed banana peppers. It was scrumptious food with fantastic service. We will return!

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Maddie, Jesse, our waitress, and Eden Rice at Ye Olde Alpha.

The following evening, after spending the entire day on campus with Maddie, John and I explored another dining spot as Maddie had plans with her sorority sisters. Therefore, we tried another local eatery, Wheeling Brewing Company. Talk about a hidden treasure! This wood-filled, cozy brewpub was also staffed with spirited and warm people.   Fannie and Kylie took care of all of our dining needs, by answering questions, making suggestions, and even going out of their way to ensure my meal was gluten-free. Executive Chef, Ryan Butler, in fact, stepped out the kitchen to discuss meal modifications to ensure my dining safety as I have celiac disease that requires me to avoid consuming foods with wheat, rye, and barley. He even, unbelievably, had Braggs Liquid Aminos on hand to replace soy sauce in my delectable dish, The Kimchi Boat. WBC strives to work with local business to not only cook with local food ingredients, but also serves food in bowls, platters, and cups crafted by local artisans! This was truly a dining event that John and I hope to visit again soon!

Maddie was busy with her sorority sisters on Saturday evening.

While Maddie was hanging out at Alpha Xi house, John and I checked out the scene at Wheeling Brewing Company.  Fannie and Kylie took great care of us!

Of course, what weekend trip would be complete without Sunday brunch? Therefore, I fought my perpetual car-sickness once more as we made our way   ‘round the winding roads back to the top of “Bethany mountain” in order to dine with our daughter and Eden in Bethany College’s newly remodeled and completely renovated cafeteria. This cafeteria is not the typical college cafeteria I experienced back in the dark ages of the 1980s. Operated by the same company that runs Eat ‘n Park, this cafeteria featured locally sourced foods, a made-to-order omelet station, as well as copious varieties of fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads. Additionally, there was a sandwich bar, salad bar, freshly made pizza stand, traditional hot-dish-of the day section, drink station, and ice cream/dessert station. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my taste buds! With all of those food choices, I am betting the freshman fifteen is more than a college myth a Bethany!

All in all, John and I find both Bethany College and the Wheeling area an excellent location for a weekend getaway. We would highly recommend to others—which is a good thing since it looks like it will be our home-away-from-home for many years to come!

 

P.S. Currently, from November 10-January 1, it is also the home of Olgebay Winter Festival of Lights—a festive display of lights John and I also enjoyed as we made our down the mountain towards Wheeling on Saturday evening.

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Morning Mindset

          “Your first ritual that you do during the day is the highest leveraged ritual, by far, because it has the effect of setting your mind, and setting the context for the rest of your day.”—Eban Pagan

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          “There is enormous power in nailing your morning routine, but there’s even more power in adapting to it when it doesn’t happen as we’d like.”—Terri Schneider

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I will be painfully honest, and perhaps even, a bit vulnerable. Last week, was not one of my better weeks. Therefore, as I write this piece, I am writing to myself as much as I am writing to you, Dear Reader.   It is my hope these personal reflections benefit another person struggling through a tough week, day, or even moment.

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Due to the fact, I try to accomplish several tasks in the morning; I try not to hit snooze-button on weekday alarms. I have learned that by hitting snooze, I am setting myself up for trouble later, namely running late. Running late then leads to the domino that starts the fall of other events, such as not having enough time in my classroom before students and co-workers arrive to adjust to my space and the day—which can have a noteworthy impact because I am no longer naturally wired to be instantly extroverted in the morning.   Engaging with numerous children and adults requires abundant energy, clarity, and focus, at least for me. Thus, having that buffer time of 15-20 minutes to quietly rev up, despite the fact I typically have everything in my classroom set up for the day before I arrive at school, generates an upbeat start.

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Of additional importance, as this past week demonstrated, are those initial waking thoughts. Mindset is vastly influential. Despite the fact I did not hit the snooze button, I began last week, and honestly, each day, with a mindset of dread. But first, a disclaimer . . .

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I am, by nature, as the saying goes, a hot-mess-express when it comes to organization, including time. One look at my house and personal belongings will give you insight into this fact. Fortunately, my wonderful parents recognized my hard-wired chaotic nature, repeatedly talked to me about it, and further modeled the power of routine. Not only did they teach/model the importance of establishing a routine schedule for time-management, but also habits regarding where and how to keep belongings. Therefore, I know how to set up a fairly successful time management routine, and have at least applied them to my professional life.

 

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My car/house keys are kept in my purse, while my school badge and school keys are kept in my school bag. Cell phone is placed in my purse on the way out the door to school, and set on my desk upon arriving to my room. White boards at the back of my classroom have three lists, one for each grade I teach, enumerating my students’ daily goals—which are always rewritten every afternoon before leaving school. Post-it notes of to-do lists adorn my desk, along with a stack of papers that require my attention on the next school day, are organized in the afternoon before my departure as well. Instructional routines for the day, week, month, and year, have all been intentionally created to ensure I hit every instructional goal by the end of a school year. However, one alteration in these plan; and BOOM, I become a proverbial fish out of water, not able to breathe properly as I yearn for the waters of routine, structure, and consistency.

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And, that, my Dear Reader, is why I began last week with a mindset of dread. The previous week had already been filled with numerous alterations in the schedule, and the then current week was beginning that way as well. Furthermore, I began to feel as if I had become the stereotypical, “old” teacher, set in her inflexible ways. “Get rid of me now,” I felt certain, was printed all over my forehead last week like the scarlet letter of Hester Prynne’s chest.

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Like that recognizable fish on the sandy shores of life, I flipped and flopped, trying to edge back into the water in order to swim with the flow. “I can do it,” I told myself, “I can go with the flow of change.” Then, as I began to go-with-the-flow, and not my carefully constructed routine, I would completely forget to complete required task(s). This would then initiate another cycle of self-flagellation, “I’m of no use. Why couldn’t I remember a simple request?”

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With great admiration (and some envy too), I watched as several of my young co-workers navigated through all the changes and requirements with seemingly little struggle. Oh, how I wished I could be more like them. (On Friday, however, one shared the week had seemed frustrating and challenging to her too!)

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Which brings me back to the purpose of all this rambling confession: the importance of a positive morning mindset. While a routine is helpful and important, a flexible and optimistic mindset is quite possibly of greater value than my routine, especially now as the upcoming days become shorter and more frequently cloud-filled, and yet schedules often become more harried, hurried, and inconsistent as the year heads into holiday months.

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Getting up early, without hitting the snooze, in order to have time to exercise is a noble and worthy cause for the health of my physical body. However, if my thoughts, as I step out of bed, are focused on the dread of the upcoming day, then perhaps I am creating a habit as powerfully negative as hitting the snooze button repeatedly. Perhaps, instead, I would benefit from two skills that I most recently practiced on a trip with my 7th grade students to Camp Magis.

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Firstly, going to bed with grateful heart and a positive intention for the next day. Then, upon rising, refocus on that positive intention. Furthermore, I need to return to an old habit, which has gradually slipped away from me: spending a few moments of each morning in meditation/prayer. Taking as little as 10-15 minutes of time to pray/meditate and/or reflect upon a purposeful readings, may not only offer clarity to the monkey-chatter of my mind, but may also encourage a more agile, nimble, and responsive state of mind—benefitting not only me, but also, the co-workers and students with whom I want to be of service. Of course, I will need to readjust my established morning routine, but if last week was any indication, it is certainly with a try!

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748 Restaurant, Beresford, New Brunswick, Canada

            “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”—Chinese Proverb

          “Customer service is the new marketing.”—Derek Sivers, Founder CD Baby

“Bienvenue,” she stated enthusiastically with a broad, warm smile. We were tired, chilly, and hungry as we entered 748 Restaurant in Beresford, New Brunswick.   We had spent a total of over 24-hours of driving in the past two days—14 hours the previous day, and 10 hours on this particular day. We arrived to a cloudy, blustery evening. It was nearly 8:00 in the evening, and we had not taken time to eat much that day.

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Menu at 748.

My family and I were arriving on what would be the first night of a two-week stay in the nearby village of Petit Rocher. Literally, we had walked through the gorgeous bay-side home that would be our residence during this time, talked briefly to the owner of this home, Denise, by phone, carried in our luggage, and based upon her reference, drove to this dining establishment.   We were told they would serve dinner until 9:00. Would the resent us entering an hour before closing? That did not appear to be the case as Nathalie, our waitress for the evening, quickly switched to English when it became apparent we did not speak French.

New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that is officially bi-lingual. Both French and English are spoken by nearly all residents. As I would observe on this night, and throughout the week, residents of the Acadian Coastal region in which we were staying switched so effortlessly between the two languages, it appeared to be as automatic as their proud Acadian heartbeats.

We explained to Nathalie that we had not visited 748 Restaurant before as we took in the expansive menu. She had no problem giving us plenty of time to look over the menu as well as make recommendations based upon our taste preferences. From traditional burgers and sandwiches, to salads and soups, from stir-fries and fried fish, to all variety of entrees in between, 748 had something for everyone! Additionally, they had what looked like an assortment of homemade pies and cakes for dessert. Plus, if that wasn’t enough, they had an additional breakfast menu that I just happened to notice at the entrance as we walked in.

Looking around the restaurant, I saw one large party, of perhaps 20 or so people, as well as several tables of smaller groups. As we observed the plates being served, we noticed sizeable portions that looked appetizing, and smelled tasty. Later, a resident would tell me that 748 Restaurant was the place to go when you were in the mood for good ol’ home-style meals with truck stop serving sizes!

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Enter and feel welcome at 748.

To be honest, on that first night, I was so tired; I forgot to take pictures of all the wonderful food on which each of us dined. I did, however, think to get a picture of Nathalie. That said, I do recall how superb we all thought the food and service was on the bleary, weary evening.

John, my husband, enjoyed a big ol’ burger, cooked to his taste preference and served with poutine. What is poutine, you may ask if you are an American? Poutine is popular dish across much of Canada. It is made with French fries, topped with cheese curds with a light brown gravy poured over the top—although, we saw numerous variations of poutine offerings as different restaurants enjoy creating and serving their own special twist on this traditional dish.

Meanwhile, our daughter, Maddie, and her friend, Gracie, split an order of fish and chips with a side of fresh scallops. They were glad they decided to split the order as the portions were more than generous, and they each were able to sample a two different style/types of seafood.

Finally, I started with what was supposed to a small house salad. My goodness, it was loaded with fresh greens and topped with a variety of colorful vegetables. Then, for my main course, I chose vegetable stir-fry—oh my. If I thought the salad was heaped with vividly crisp vegetables, I was overwhelmed (with joy of course!) to see my plated overflowing with vibrant vegetables, covered in a light savory sauce, and served over perfectly cooked rice. My mouth is watering recalling that wonderfully cooked dish as the stir-fry veggies were neither overcooked nor undercooked.

To end a perfect dinner, John and the girls ordered pieces of sugar pie, another Canadian delicacy we have learned to enjoy. Okay, well, I cannot enjoy it because it has gluten (wheat) in it, but it looks and smells heavenly to me! (It is also a popular dessert in Northern France, Belgium and other western European countries as well as in a few Midwestern United States where it is often called sugar cream pie.)

In fact, our experience was so positive at 748 that we returned on another day to try out their breakfast menu, and we were not disappointed! We were preparing for a visit to Miscou Island, the most northeastern point of the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick. It was a beautiful, but windy (chilly) day, and a big breakfast sounded like the perfect start to our adventure on this breathtakingly beautiful island with its expansive, secluded beaches.

Once again the effusive 748 staff greeted us as we entered. Our waitress was gregarious and helpful with suggestions. (I remembered to take her picture, but did not write down her name—so, I unfortunately do not remember it.) Looking over the expansive breakfast menu, it was certainly a tough decision.

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Friendly staff awaits you at 748 Restaurant, such as this gregarious waitress who helped us select the perfect breakfast before a day of adventure on Miscou Island.

As it turned out, Gracie and Maddie ended up eating blueberry pancakes. They were close to the biggest pancakes I have ever seen. Once these blueberry-filled golden cakes of joy arrived, the normally talkative girls did little talking as they attempted to eat the entire serving; but alas, their eyes were bigger than their stomachs.

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Heaping over plates of blueberry pancakes served with plenty of butter and syrup!

I tried their vegetable omelet. The omelet was cooked to perfection, and it was served with a gigantic portion of potatoes. Additionally, the omelets are served with toast too, but as they did not have any gluten-free bread, I had to, sadly, decline it.

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My yummy vegetable omelet served with plenty of potatoes and coffee!

Meanwhile, John thoroughly enjoyed his over-sized breakfast. He selected the ham and cheese omelet. Like my omelet, his was served with a generous portion of potatoes and toast. Plus, our waitress was always at the ready with a coffee refill for John and me as well as water refills for Gracie and Maddie.

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John ordered a delicious ham and cheese omelet served with potatoes, toast, and of course, plenty of coffee!

Overall, our family highly recommends the 748 Restaurant. It offers a varied menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The staff is friendly, efficient, and quite obliging. Plus, did I mention the overflowing plates of food? If you live in the Beresford area, or just happen to be visiting like my family, give 748 a try, and tell them Steph simply sent you!