Versatile Vegetable Marinara

            Your choice of diet can influence your long term health prospects more than any other action you might take.”—Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop

 

            “We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it—because they do.”—Michael Greger, MD

 

            Recently, my husband, John, after watching the documentary, The Game Changers, has made the choice to increase plant foods in his diet and drastically reduce the meat he consumes.  As someone who has been a plant-based eater for years, I whole-heartedly embraced his decision. However, before carnivorous readers stop reading, please do not assume I am writing to proclaim, “The gospel of how you should eat,” according to Steph.  How you choose to eat, Dear Reader, is a highly personal choice, and only you know what type of diet works best for you. With that being said, I think most readers can agree that increasing one’s intake of whole foods, with emphasis on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods, is an overall healthy practice. 

 

abundance agriculture bananas batch
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Trust me, John has not completely abandoned meat, but he is now choosing to consume it as a rare treat, rather than an everyday occurrence.  This change in John’s dietary habits has certainly made it easier on me with regards to how I cook for us. Now, instead of cooking one meat-based recipe for him, and a vegetable-based variation for myself, I only have to plan for one recipe.  (Although, I must confess, I often prepare myself something different only because I am either experimenting with a new recipe or making a variation for myself that is gluten free.)

 

green basil topped dish in brown bowl

 

            Furthermore, I am a big believer in food prep on the weekend.  John and I live busy and active lives. We are up by 5:00 am each work day and typically unable to sit down for dinner until 7:00 pm or later.  Thus, I do not have much time to cook during the workweek. Therefore, I purchase, clean, and prep all of our vegetables for the week on the weekend.  I also typically prepare all of my work lunches on the weekends; and I generally cook up large batch recipes for dinner that can easily be warmed and supplemented with a quickly thrown together salad.

 

beige wooden rectangular chopping board
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            This past month, John and I have enjoyed a week’s worth of black bean soup, meatless chili, or big bowls of chopped salad overflowing with prepared greens, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and/or seeds.  Of course, it helps that we love eating leftovers. Perhaps, it goes back to our childhood as both of our families regularly made leftovers part of the weekly family dinner experience. However, it seems to us that certain foods get magically better with each reheating, especially soups, chili, and pasta sauces.

 

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            This month’s recipe is no exception.  I actually made it on a Saturday afternoon, but immediately cooled it, transferred it to a Crockpot, and then stowed it away in the fridge for a six-hour simmer on Sunday.  Then Sunday afternoon, I prepped all my salad veggies for a week, so they were ready to be thrown together quickly each work evening. Additionally, I made up a large batch of gluten free pasta, which happened to be a type made out of beans that is high in protein, and mixed it up with spiralized zucchini. (Confession: I buy the prepared zucchini found in the freezer section.  When I see it go on sale at my local market, I buy up several bags at a time for future dinners.) Finally, I also ensured we had both cauliflower pizza crusts and a few portabella caps on hand as an alternative sauce-carrier to the pasta.

 

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            When making this sauce, you will notice my emphasis on finely chopped vegetables.  This is because John and I have an agreement. As long as he can’t see chunks of certain vegetables for which he would not normally eat (i.e. carrots, celery, onion, and peppers), and they do not crunch, he will quite happily dine on the sauce, especially if seasoned just right.  Furthermore, meatless crumbles, or meatless meatballs, can be added into this sauce if desired.

            Give this versatile vegetable chocked recipe a try.  You can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, but also as a sauce for pizza, pizza bread, calzones, and baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.  As earlier hinted, I’ve even made a low-carb variation in which I filled portobello caps with this sauce, added a few basil leaves, and other favorite pizza toppings, then baked it all up in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—delicious!

 

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

 

            

Gluten Free, Vegetable Marinara Pasta Sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

2 tablespoons olive oil or for no-oil alternative, choose ½ -1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or stock

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped green (or other color, if preferred) pepper

1 small zucchini, finely chopped or grated

1 cup finely chopped or grated carrots

1 cup celery, finely chopped or grated

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (I use baby portabella, but any type will do.)

1 28-32 oz of no salt tomato sauce (I could not find one large can, so I ended up combining a total of 3 cans–one of which was not a no-salt variation– or nearly 32 ounces of tomato sauce.)

1 6-ounce can tomato paste (preferably no-salt if you can find it)

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, crushed tomatoes

(Optional:  1 package no meat crumbles or meatballs; or you could add your choice of ground meat–it is just no longer marinara!)

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

‘1 teaspoons fennel seed

1-teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar or other equivalent sweetener, i.e. Stevia, maple syrup, agave, etc

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 large bay leaf

 

Directions:

 

In large saucepan, preheat pan over medium heat.

Once warm, (a small spoonful of water will skitter across bottom of pan) add oil or stock.

Add in garlic to pan.

Meanwhile, finely chopped onion and green pepper; then add to garlic in pan.

Next, chop and grate all veggies as finely as possible.  (If using a food processor, do not pulse for too long or veggies will become mush.)

Add vegetables as each is chopped, stirring in each addition.

(Note, if using stock to sauté vegetables, continuously ensure there is enough broth or stock to prevent vegetables from sticking to pan.  Add in liquid as needed.)

Once all vegetables are added, continue to sauté until all vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.

When vegetables are properly softened, begin to add canned ingredients, pausing to gently stir-in each addition.

Next, add in seasonings.

Bring all ingredients to a low boil.

As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Serve over pasta, vegetable noodles, or spoon into portabella mushroom caps, pizza crusts, or pitas.

Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days; or kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Be a Lighthouse

            “Don’t fight darkness—bring the light, and darkness will disappear.”—Maharashi Mahesh Yogi

 

            “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”—Anne Lamott

 

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            I listened to the interview with minimal interest.  Not that the story being told by both the interviewer and interviewee were without merit, I just wasn’t fully focused.  My mind was adrift in a sea of thoughts tossing pell-mell from one aspect of my life to another and another. Still, something kept drawing my attention back to the ongoing radio interview as I made my way to work on autopilot one morning in August. 

 

       “My role is to be like a lighthouse, keep shining a light on the danger, so that others can avoid the nightmare that I encountered.”  

 

silhouette of lighthouse
Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

          That was it–the lighthouse analogy!  Divine providence was whispering a lesson; yet it would take months before the seed fully began to emerge. Even as I typed the words that evening on a blank document, so that I would not forget to explore/write about the concept, unseen and unclear sprouts for rooting around for greater understanding even if I wasn’t consciously aware of them.

 

            Months later, I noticed on my Google calendar that Diwali, the festival of lights for those of the Hindu faith, would be soon occurring.  While I am not of the Hindu faith, I fondly recalled attending a local Diwali celebration last year in which several of my current and former students from St. Joseph Catholic School would be performing.  My husband, John, and I attended the colorful and highly symbolic celebration together. We learned many interesting facts, including that the essential meaning of the five-day festival of lights (although there is more than this simple definition) is to celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil and light over darkness.  

 

bright celebration crowd dark
Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

 

          In fact, one person of the Hindu faith recently explained to me that Diwali also serves as a reminder to shine the light for others who have strayed, made mistakes, and otherwise have not been living a good life, so that they can find their way out of the darkness and return to living in the light.  This same person also shared that the darkness must be fully experienced in life in order to truly appreciate the light.

 

          “Sometimes we go through bad experiences, make mistakes or poor decisions, but it is those very events that teach us how to crawl out of the tunnel and move toward the light.”

 

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            This person went on to explain that in order to create a movie, one must have proper lighting.  Without light, the story cannot be filmed; and yet, without the darkness in which to view the movie, the story cannot be told.  

 

            “You see, Stephanie, we need both light and darkness in our life.  Darkness is not to be feared, but it must be passed through in order to understand and embrace the light.” 

 

photo of tunnel
Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

 

            I was reminded of a trip John and I took several years ago when Maddie, our daughter, was quite young.  We were hiking and encountered a natural tunnel that, at one time, served as a one-lane road to get from one side of a mountain to the other.  Now it served as a tourist attraction for hikers and visitors to walk through. There were signs posted all around the entrance to warn visitors, that the tunnel would get very dark, and that visitors were encouraged to have some form of light. 

 

          Once fully away from the light of the entrance, I began to feel nervous as I held Maddie’s hand.  Fear’s tentacles gripped my claustrophobic mind as I was certain disease-infested rodents, nefarious criminals, and other pernicious creatures surrounded our little family.  We walked for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, and I was quite certain this was really an insidious trap for which there was no escape. Then the first sliver of light could be seen ahead, and my heart slowly resumed its normal rhythm.  

 

woman standing inside cave
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

 

            There have been times in my life in which I made a succession of mistakes so bad and so numerous, it seemed as if I would never dig myself out of such deep, dark hole.  Likewise, I have experienced horrific life events for which there was no rhyme or reason, and I also felt as if I would never again see the light of day. Like that dark tunnel, those dark life occurrences left me feeling trapped, scared, and lacking trust/faith. However, it is those very experiences that not only inform my present day decisions and actions, but also increase my appreciation for, well, the light, the happier moments in life.  Furthermore, it is those very happenings from which I gained strength and knowledge in order to help, or at the very least, offer empathy and understanding to others.

 

          Lighthouses serve two purposes, as I understand it, to serve as navigational aids and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  They are painted differently, depending upon the background for which they are built—lighter colors for lighthouses built against a darker background, and brighter colors and patterns for those built in light-colored, sandy/rocky surroundings.  Additionally, they are built of varying heights, depending upon if they are to dwell above the water or closer to the water’s surface. In fact, even the lights within each lighthouse often possess different and various flash patterns to guide and inform mariners along coasts and/or through fog. 

 

 

            And, so the lesson of the lighthouse comes down to this.  The world, it seems to me, sure could benefit from more people serving as the humble lighthouse.  Our life experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have shaped us into the person that we are today.  Those dark and light experiences–the mistakes, tragic events, and even glories— serve as a personal teacher.  Therefore, why not allow those same experiences to help others navigate through both calm and stormy waters? It doesn’t require a bully pulpit, flashy interventions, or various other methods of gaining attention.  Rather, it only requires the embodiment of the humble lighthouse, an unpresumptuous fixture within its own community; consistently shining, day-in and day-out; quietly standing up, even when unobserved; offering light, radiance, and guidance to passersby without searching for an audience.  

 

landscape photography of white lighthouse during cloudy daytime
Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

 

 

The Resort at Glade Springs, another WV Gem

“There are cookie-cutter resorts, and then there are endless possibilities that define your experience at The Resort at Glade Springs. You won’t believe the options you have – from the dizzying array of recreational activities to lodging and dining choices. You envision your perfect vacation, and we’ll make it come to life.”—The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

“The vacation of a lifetime awaits you at our resort in WV. Reconnect with your family in a place that’s close to home, but a million miles removed from your hectic life.”— The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

It began as a classic misty mountain morning in Appalachia as John and I drove along the WV turnpike.  Sunshine, muted, but still golden, slowly seeped through the milky mist as our vehicle moved us closer to our first destination, Grandview, part of the National Park, located in Glen Jean, WV.  While Grandview was originally part of the WV State Park system, the National Park system took over its care and upkeep in 1990. John and I knew we would be joining members of the Brown Dog Yoga team for a morning hike as part of the activities planned for our instructor retreat; however, we truly had no idea what a dramatically scenic area we were about to experience.

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Brown Dog Yoga (Ashland, Barbrousville, & Huntington) first annual instructor retreat.

 

Overlooking the New River, Grandview offers visitors, at Main Overlook, 1400 feet above the river, some of the most incredible views of a seven-mile section of the New River.  Additionally, the sights from Turkey Spur Overlook were just as dizzyingly stunning during our crisp, early fall hike. In fact, Grandview offers five hiking trails, ranger led walks/talks, a visitor center that is opened seasonally, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playground and shelters.  The trails over which John and I trekked with the group were long, rocky, and a bit slippery from rain the day prior to the hike. Nonetheless, the magnificent views of the New River for which we were continually rewarded made every step worthwhile, not to mention the fun, friendship, and fellowship felt along the way.

 

 

After more than two hours of hiking, our group made its way to the next stop, Dogwood Court, located in the resort at Glade Springs, home of our fearless BDY leaders, Rich and Katrina Mailoux.  John parted at this point, and made his way to our room at the resort. Meanwhile, the BDY team was treated to the Mailoux’s warm hospitality and homemade lunch. Furthermore, we were uplifted with two separate motivating presentations with team building activities in between, one of which was participating in the Glade Spring’s Escape Room offering us a challenging adventure as well as abundant opportunities for good natured ribbing and laughter.

 

 

 

By 6:00, I parted ways with the group to rejoin John Glade Springs.  Although John had forewarned me that our room, “an executive suite” was a bit dated, I was delighted to find it to be spacious, comfortable, and immaculately clean.  While we were not located in the actual Inn, we found our section of eight buildings, each named for a different tree, to be quiet, lined with plenty of walking paths, dog-friendly, and within walkable distance to the main inn.

 

 

While I was bonding with the BDY team, John had showered, rested, and enjoyed lunch at Bunkers Sports Bar, one of the restaurants on premise at Glade Springs.  Overlooking the driving range, John happily watched a college football while noshing on an over-sized barbeque sandwich with a side of house made chips that he said were a crunchy delight!  However, for dinner, rather than try another one of the other on-site restaurants, John suggested a highly-recommended restaurant that he thought I would especially enjoy, The Dish.

 

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John’s lunch at Bunkers located within Glade Springs.

 

The Dish, located in Daniels, WV—mere minutes from Glade Springs—was created, according to their website, “by a group of partners who wanted to offer healthy food choices . . . of natural, whole ingredients.”  In fact, their menu proudly boasts, “Real food tastes better and is better for you.” Using much locally grown/raised fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beef, the menu of The Dish asks patrons to allow time for the preparation of their meals as nearly everything on their menu is made from scratch.   If that’s not enough, their menu’s food offerings are wide and varied, offering choices that are gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan as well as all plenty of meat-based entrees the carnivore-loving diner.

 

 

 

We entered the restaurant with high hopes, and we were not disappointed!  We began our meal with made-from scratch Roasted Red-pepper Hummus Dip topped with a bit of feta served with artichoke hearts, olives, as well as toasted pita-points for John, and carrot/celery sticks for me.  This yummy-looking appetizer was beautifully plated, and it tasted divine! 

 

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For our main course, John ordered Chicken Parmesan Pasta with a side salad, and I chose the Black Bean Burger (bunless) with a side of grilled Brussels sprouts.  Our taste buds were dancing the happy dance for sure! John’s chicken was cooked to perfection with its panko breading, melted provolone, and house made marinara.  He ate it all up—which is saying a lot as he is not a big chicken eater. Meanwhile, my gluten-free black bean burger, made with black beans, corn, red pepper, and quinoa, was served on an emerald bed of greens, topped with chipotle aioli and sliced avocado—so very delicious.

 

 

I thought I was finished for the evening, when I recalled spying a gluten-free dessert on their menu—a rare, rare treat for me.  I decided to fully indulge and order the Gluten-Free Butterscotch Blondie, served with a sauce that reminded me of a scratch made sauce my mom used to make when I was a teen for my birthday.  I took it back to our suite, thinking I’d only eat half, but as the menu states, this dessert was “total deliciousness.” In fact, it was so unbelievably good, I ended up eating the entire generously cut piece!  

 

 

The Resort at Glade Springs has unbelievable offerings.  From three golf courses to fly-fishing adventures; from numerous hiking trails to disc golf, from a fitness center with indoor pool to an out-of-doors pool and playground; from volleyball, horseshoes, bowling, corn hole, tennis, and horseback riding to shopping, dining, lounging, spa offerings, Escape Room, Haunted House,  and cinema, (and I still haven’t listed all of offerings) Glade Springs is an affordable, WV gem for which John and I will most certainly make a return visit, especially since it’s only two hours away from home!  

 

Once again, traveling in WV does not disappoint.  It truly is wild and wonderful! From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe travels and abundant adventures!

 

          Images from Glade Springs.

           Images from Small Talk Cafe Coffee Shop.

 

 

 

Once More, Charleston, WV Makes for a Relaxing, Pleasant Anytime Getaway

            “I think it’s nice to age gracefully.  OK, you lose the youth, a certain stamina, and a dewy glow, but what you gain on the inside as a human being is wonderful:  the wisdom, the acceptance and the peace of mind. It’s a fair exchange.”—Cherie Lunghi

 

            “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”—Michael J. Fox

 

            Walking down the sun soaked sidewalk absorbing all of the Vitamin D goodness, I felt full of vigor and vitality.  Sleep had been quite restful the night before, lasting nearly eight hours—which was remarkable for me. My morning workout at the hotel’s fitness center felt great; and the late, but freshly made breakfast that followed afterward with my husband also at the hotel, was tasty, hearty, and nutritious.  All in all, I was feeling full of positivity as John, my husband, and I walked hand-in-hand toward the quaint, brick covered sidewalks of Capitol Street, Charleston, WV.

 

Workout in Four Points’ fitness center in Charleston, WV; breakfast with John in the hotel’s restaurant, which included oatmeal and fruit for me and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for John; and then, out for a walk with John along quaint Capitol Street.

 

           As we walked by the window of one shop, I caught a glance of John and me in the window.  Wait. What? What the heart and mind feels, I am learning, compared to what the eye sees, are often two different narratives.  The two people holding hands in the shop window looked middle aged, but John and I were in our thirties, right? Wrong! The window shouted quiet loudly back at me.  Hmm . . . 

 

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          Charming Capitol Street in Charleston, WV.

 

            It was the weekend after my birthday.  John had offered to take me out of town for a couple of days, but realistically, I did not want us to drive too far for a number of reasons, including our upcoming trip with St. Joseph Catholic Middle School seventh graders on their annual trip to Camp Magis that was looming ahead in three days.  Ultimately, we settled on Charleston, WV for my birthday get-away.

          

            Yes, I know that technically, Charleston, WV is only an hour away from home, but I was working late Friday at school with my writing club.   On Monday, we would be riding on a school bus for three to four hours traveling to Huttonsville, WV with our students. Besides, who wants to be in a car for several hours after a long week/day?  

 

             As one of my Brown Dog Yoga co-workers Janice, pointed out, “You won’t have to make the bed, cook, clean, or worry about laundry for a couple of days, who cares how close, or far, away?  Just go and enjoy your birthday weekend with your husband!”

 

            Thus, we arrived at our destination, Four Point by Sheraton in Charleston, WV, late, tired, and very hungry on a Friday evening.  We had stayed at Four Points previously, a year or so ago, and we had found the service, cleanliness, and the location of the hotel ideal for our purposes.  Beautifully situated on Kanawha Blvd. overlooking the Kanawha River, Four Points is within walking distance of numerous restaurants (several of which are personal favorites), bars, and shops.  We stowed our car safely in their garage and never drove again until the return trip home on Sunday.

 

                       Four Points by Sheridan in situated alongside Kanawha Blvd. 

 

            Once situated in our room, we were ready to walk to dinner.  The weather could not have been more perfect with a clear, starry sky overhead, and temperatures moderately hovering in the low seventies/high sixties—perfect for walking.  Ambling hand-in-hand, we made our to a familiar sports bar & grille, Adelphia.

 

Although several of the multiple TVs in Adelphia were on baseball and news channels, John was also able to watch the Friday night college football game in which he was interested.

 

            Featuring pub grub, Greek food, a patio, and plenty of TVs for John to keep up with college Friday night football games, we found Adelphia’s patio to be packed on such a pleasant evening, while the bar side of the restaurant was not quite full.  We were able to find a seat at the bar, our favorite spot to sit when it’s just the two of us when traveling as we typically experience excellent service and usually gain insightful information regarding the area in which we are staying. 

 

            As a plant based eater, (I rarely consume meat.) with Celiac disease that requires me to eat gluten-free, married to a meat and potato kind-a-guy, dining out is always an interesting adventure.  John typically has no trouble finding numerous choices on the menu; whereas, I often have more limited food options. This was the case for me at Adelphia.  

 

                     Salad, Nachos Grande, and Bon & Viv Seltzer for me. 

 

        Obviously, there were several salads from which I could have chosen (and have chosen on previous trips), but it was birthday for heavens’ sake.  I eat salad nearly every day of my life! In the end, John quickly settled on the super-sized, “Homewrecker Hot Dog, a half pound of kosher beef footlong hotdog served with chili, cheese blend, diced red onion, and coleslaw” along with a side of onion rings, but I was not so quick to decide.  I finally settled on a side garden salad to begin dinner and chose nachos grande for my meal, as nachos are kind of a weakness for me.

 

  The Homewrecker footlong hot dog, onion rings, and a beer for John.

 

          John absolutely, positively loved every single bit of his hot dog as worried aloud if his stomach would be upset in the morning.  Meanwhile, I was a bit disappointed. The cheese sauce reminded me of Cheez whiz—something I had tasted maybe once or twice in my life, and never really like (I know, I know!).  While I did not see any meat in the chili (for which I was grateful), it still seemed to have a greasy flavor/mouth-feel. (It could have been an off night for the restaurant.) On the bright side though, Adelphia did offer unflavored Bon and Viv hard seltzer on tap!  Plus, they offered to flavor it with 12, or more flavors of Mio liquid water enhancement. At only $2.50 per 16-ounce glass, it was a deal I could not refuse!

 

          The next we enjoyed a stroll along Capitol Street with Taylor’s Book Shop, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, Rock City Cake Company, Pies and Pints to name a few.  In fact, I discovered a really nice shop, The Consignment Company, directly beside Ellen’s, that boasted high-end clothes, shoes, and bags on a sign in their window.  Must. Go. Explore.

 

The Cosignment Company, on Capitol Street in Charleston, WV, is a great place       for bargain hunters!

 

          I walked out of the store having spent less than $50.00 for three items, all with their original price tags still on them!  (Gotta love bargains!) We began to make our back towards the hotel and sauntered alongside the sparkling waters of the riverfront watching several leisure boats, with music blaring and passengers laughing, glide along the placid waters with ease; and, we were regaled by small children enthusiastically embracing their play in a small park as we thought of our own daughter when she was that age as the memories streamed forth like the waters of the Kanawha River coursed along beside us. (Sigh.)

 

                     Some sights along Capitol Street  . . .

 

                      Sights along Kanawha Blvd. . . .

 

          That evening, we dined at a local favorite for meat and veggie lovers alike, Pies and Pints!  What I love about Pies and Pints is that they also offer a gluten free crust, so even I can eat pizza pie!  While the gluten free crust is not house made, it is by Kinnikinnick Foods, I find this crust to be reliable tasty with a decent texture.  I savored every bite of my choice, the Black Bean Pie, taking half of mine back to the hotel for the return trip home the next day. However, John was unable to enjoy his Pepperoni, Sausage, and Extra Cheese Pie as it proved to be too salty—something he had never before experienced on prior dining experiences with Pies and Pints. (Possibly off-night in their kitchen as well.)  Additionally, we both relished our after dinner treats we picked up at Rock City Cake Company—John, a fresh made cream horn; and, me, three large chocolate covered strawberries! Yum!

 

                      Pints and Pints is a local favorite! 

           

           Once more, Charleston, WV, as well as the Four Points hotel, did not disappoint.  Sure, we had each experienced a less than perfect dining experience during one of our meals; but, overall, the town was warm and welcoming, our stay was wonderfully relaxing, and the company, spring chickens or not, was wonderful.

 

Before heading home, after hitting Four Point’s fitness center once more, John and I enjoyed another great breakfast: more oatmeal and fruit for me and sausage, egg, and gravy bowl for John.

            From our John and I, to you, Dear Reader, we wish you safe, happy, and wonderful travel/food experiences, especially when wondering wild and wonderful West Virginia.

 

P.S.  Thank you to all the friends and family who made this a special birthday weekend, especially John. 

            

 

            

 

Keep Pedaling Through Life; Lesson from Camp Magis 2019

            “In the silence of the heart God speaks.”—Mother Teresa

 

            “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis

 

 

 

           The wind whipped the remaining strands of my tangled mop of hair that wasn’t covered by the helmet, which, by the way, was continuously pinching the skin under my chin.  I chose to ignore the minor skin irritation; and, instead, embrace the sensation of freedom that comes with riding a bike out of doors. In fact, I grinned from ear to ear feeling like a teenager again . . .

 

            Sweat dripped down my face. 

 

            “Please stay upright, Steph.  Now is not the time to crash. There is a car behind you.”

 

            “Oh Lord, I’ve got to stand.  Pedal harder, Steph. You’ve got to get up this hill.”

 

            Lungs and thighs burning.

 

            “Get up and around the bend of this hill, Steph.  Come on.”

 

            Heart pounding in my ears.  Lungs in my throat.

 

            “Oh my heavens, are my shorts stuck to my butt from sweat?  Is my underwear showing? Oh please, no God, don’t let them be showing.”

 

            Heaving breaths.  Legs trembling.  

           

forest bike bulls
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

 

          Random lyrics from a childhood record that my siblings and I used to play in my grandparents’ attic ran a loop in my mind—one word at a time, matching each stroke of the pedal.

 

“Just. Think. You. Can.  And. Know. You. Can. Just. Like. The. Engine. That. Could.”

 

            Legs, pushing harder on the down stroke of each pedal, slowed, as the peak of the hill bend grew closer.

 

            “No, no, no, Steph.  You can’t stop now. The bike will topple over.  You. Will. Be. Run. Over. By. The. Car. Behind. You. Don’t. Stop. Now.”

 

            Hands gripped the handlebars so tightly; I could feel the bubble of sweat trapped below each palm.  

 

“Must. Hold. On. For. Dear. Life.”

 

            “I am at the top.  Thank you, God. I made it.  Here I go. Oh, Steph, don’t go too fast.  You could topple over and that car is still behind you.”

            

          Wind blowing through my long, youthful tresses that were bleached from summer sun; the perspiration on my face and limbs drying from the rush of air that was the downhill flight.

 

            “FREE . . .DOM! Feel it, Steph.  Total freedom from it all. Oh Lord, don’t get carried away though; you could wreck.  Car is still behind you! Oh, why won’t that car pass me?”

 

white mountain bike
Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

 

          I shake my head out of the Solida Road revere of my August bike ride home from high school band camp that I regularly made during the early weeks of August before another new school year had officially begun.  I am snapped back to the reality that I am no longer a teenager, not even close; and for a moment, I feel a knot of restriction in my throat threatening to release a spillway of emotion for which I did not have time.  

 

 

          I was at Camp Magis for heaven’s sake, chaperoning St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 7th graders on their annual retreat; and right in front of me, a wreck was unfolding as two girls’ bikes accidentally collided on the rough terrain of the off-road trail. 

 

          “Time to shift gears, and not on this mountain bike you’re currently riding, Steph, get back to your current reality. Be an adult, for heaven’s sake, and help those two giggling girls get their bikes upright!”

 

 

          Bike riding was only one of the activities planned for seventh grade students during their three day visit to Camp Magis, located at the Mary Help of Christians Pastoral Center situated in the sloping valley just outside of the Kumbrabow State Forest and on the literal edge of the Monongahela National Forest between the communities of Elkwater and Huttonsville.  From archery to rock wall climbing; from canoeing to swinging on a zip line-like contraption; from a focused, mindful prayer-walk to a late night scavenger hunt; and from a morning prayer service to an evening mass, Camp Magis focuses on students experiencing fellowship, prayer, and service to others through an adventure-filled camp-like atmosphere. Students get out of the classroom environment and away from their screens; and spend their days filled with plenty of fresh mountain air, exercise, and the glory that is the natural world.

 

 

 

          Honestly, it was physically exhausting, but it was worth it as the other chaperones, along with John, my husband, (also at teacher at SJCMS) and me, were able to observe the students interacting with one another and their faith in new ways that were equal parts challenging and pleasurable.  By the end of each day, there was no convincing the kids that the lights needed turned off at 10:30; they were ready for a good night’s sleep. Of course, so were all of the chaperones!

 

 

          While Camp Magis is offered for all seventh grade students enrolled in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia Catholic Schools, John and I also reaped spiritual benefits from the experience in spite of the always present fatigue as we were as deeply immersed in the activities as our students.  It was, in fact, that nagging, age-related weariness that required us to rely on our faith to get us through.  

 

          Additionally, Camp Magis provided  a continual reminder that our life together has, and is, rooted in service to others.  The very motto of the camp, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve,” truly emphasizes what is required, not only of educators, but of all humanity at this moment in time.  We cannot, and will not, survive, much less thrive, if we do not conquer fear, step outside the boundaries of our personal comfort zones, and offer good to the world.

 

          During those long ago days spent biking to and from band camp, I had to conquer my fears—fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of flipping my bike. (Never squeeze the left hand brake first, Steph, that’s the front wheel.  Always squeeze right hand first when braking.)  I may not have realized it then, just like it may not have dawned on the students at Camp Magis, but I was relying on my faith to get me through those numerous, and dare I say, treacherous, bike rides.  While I wasn’t, per se, in service to others; I recognize, as I look back on it now, (just as I hope my students will do), that those bike rides were an important step in learning self-reliance, overcoming challenges, and deepening my belief, and faith, that something Greater than myself, would get me safely across that four-lane intersection, up that curvy hill, and around the sharply bent, downhill slope.

 

 

          Now, as I boldly face the early stages of aging, the physical and mental demands that not only my career still dictates, but also that life in general requires, I choose to continue to keep going, to keep pedaling up that metaphorical hillside.  I choose to keep serving others through teaching, writing, and creating—however small my service may be, it is my life-bike to ride. Fear tries, and will continue to attempt, to dig its claws into me. Some days, I swear I can feel it sinking its talons into my heart, contracting my throat, and ripping into my stomach; however, I choose to persist, persevere, and well, keep on pedaling.

 

 

            And in the end, when I am coasting down that last hill, embracing the last gasp of breeze, may I still not be afraid, but may I know that it was worth every push of the pedal.  

 

          Remember, Dear Reader, there is joy in the push. Pedal on life, pedal on.

 

 

 

Portable Breakfast: Easy Parfait and Overnight Oats

            “I rely on breakfast to give me a kickstart of energy in the morning, so I choose my foods accordingly.”—Mikaela Shiffrin

 

          “A plant-based diet has actually simplified my life in so many ways.  For breakfast, I try to get my first serving of fruits and nuts for fuel.”—Michelle Forbes

 

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Photo by Ovidiu Creanga on Pexels.com

 

As a kid, I loved breakfast.  I could not wait to get up and eat it.  Part of my morning enthusiasm probably had to do with the fact that I was often hungry as my mom did not make special, additional foods for dinner for our family of four kids.  Her philosophy was, “Here’s what I made the family for supper, if you don’t like it, breakfast is not too far off.” Frankly, it’s a solid practice for which I now wholeheartedly applaud her, but I wasn’t so appreciative as a kid.

 

In the morning, it wasn’t unusual for mom to have a large pan of scrambled eggs on the stove, alongside stacks of buttered toast on a plate; or, other mornings, she might have a huge pot of oatmeal or cream of wheat from which we could all ladle.  We did not, per se, and sit and eat as an entire family on school/work day as that was saved for special weekend breakfasts. Instead, mom got breakfast ready; and then, once each person was ready in the morning, you went to the kitchen to fill up your plate or bowl.  Last one in the kitchen meant there might not be much left for you. Unfortunately, for me, as I got older, that usually fell to me—a slow moving, morning person.

 

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Photo by BP on Pexels.com

 

Even now, I move slowly in the morning.  In fact, I wake a full hour before I begin to get ready—a full two hours before I need to leave for work.  Part of my reasoning is because that first waking hour is devoted to coffee and productivity—an hour to work on my writing; planning a yoga, fusion, or cycling class; managing a couple of email accounts; folding laundry; packing lunch. . . well, you get the idea.   The problem is that I become so highly focused some mornings that I lose COMPLETE track of time. Then, as is the case more often than not, I jump in the shower, already 20 or more minutes behind, and end up rushing out the door in such a hasty fashion that breakfast does not cross my mind until my belly begins to growl on the frantic drive to school!

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

There are time periods of “breakfast eating perfection.”  Last year was a big smoothie phase. I loved, loved, loved exploring all the different ways to get plant-based nutrition in a cup to go.  My blender whirred nonstop at least twice a week with breakfast smoothie food prep. Then, I’d hit a busy week, not have as much time for food prep; and then, I’d once more be back to relying on either nothing for breakfast but coffee or bits and bites of plant-based protein bars.

 

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

 

While I’d love to say that this school year I have reformed my distracted ways, but the truth is, I am still neck deep in spurts of breakfast brilliance, and even greater spans of nutritional neglect.  Still, when I am feeling a fit of inspiration, I am all-in . . .at least for a week (or until mid-week)! That said, I do love the notion of fully embracing three meals of whole, plant based foods sans any processed, packaged, chemically-engineered nutrition.  Sigh, may be one day . . .

 

One of my more recent fits of nutritional, whole food achievement attempts involved portable parfaits.  This was inspired by a recent trip to Lewisburg, WV. Before hiking six miles of the 78-mile long Greenbrier River Trail, my husband, John, and I ate at Retro Donuts and more.  While he enjoyed a breakfast sandwich on donut bread (Yes, you read that right—donut bread.), I scarfed up a super-sized fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait. Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, house made granola—complete with oats, seeds, and nuts—layered with mixed berries, this stack of whole food yumminess was delicious and, totally replicable.  However, I would give it a plant based twist. 

 

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This parfait is a plant based twist as the yogurt is nondairy! Above the yogurt are chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Additionally, there is 1/4 cup water which the chia will gradually absorb to create a pudding-like texture!

 

To be clear, I am not 100% opposed to consuming dairy; but, it does not like me as a general rule.  Plus, a true plant-based eater does not consume dairy. However, like my flurries with breakfast preeminence, my 100% devotion to avoiding dairy vacillates at times.  

 

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Plant-based yogurt parfaits topped with three different types of seeds.

 

Sigh (again), still my intentions are worthy; and, maybe one day will be fully attained.  In the meantime, my goal of using my morning time wisely without running late, while still maintaining time to full compliance of daily consumption of whole-food, plant-based, breakfast looms largely and nobly in front my idealistic self . . .

 

 

Overnight oats made with 1/2 an apple.  Once made, I grab it in the morning, shake it up, and then I choose the option of heating it before gobbling it up!

 

In the meantime, here’s my recipe for portable parfaits of breakfast righteousness meant to be eaten on the go if need be; or, as a casually made-ahead morning meal.  Like so many recipes, think of it as scaffolding. Modify, swap-out, and change ingredients to suit personal taste and health goal preferences. It is perfect for those weeks you feel inspired to set-aside time to food prep and really focus on your dietary goals.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you nearly healthy, mostly homemade, and always happy meals!

 

 

 

Optional ingredients for breakfast parfaits or over night oats.  The ProGranola can be used in both parfait or in lieu of oats in over night oats if following a paleo or keto diet.

 

Portable Breakfast Parfait/Overnight Oats

 

Ingredients: 

½-1 cup of your favorite dairy, or non-dairy, yogurt

½ cup of your favorite grain (granola, oats, grape nuts, and so forth)

½-1 cup (or ½-1 whole piece) of favorite fresh or frozen fruit

1 tablespoon of favorite nuts or seeds (chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, walnuts, slivered almonds, and so forth)

Optional stir-ins:  cinnamon, honey, sweetener, vanilla extract, acai powder, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, protein powder, ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (if you like a more pudding like texture as I do in my overnight oats), and so forth

 

Directions for parfait:

Place 1/3 of yogurt in the bottom of a small resealable glass. (I like canning jars.)

Spoon 1/3 of granola over yogurt.

Add nuts/seeds

Top with 1/3 of fruit.

Repeat layering process until all ingredients are used.

Cover with lid and store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

Serves one.

 

Directions for overnight oats/granola:

Place all ingredients in resealable glass jar.

Shake well.

Store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

While this can be served cold, I prefer to heat my glass in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  Give it a quick stir. Put the lid back on and allow oats to steam and thicken up a bit more.

This is great served with a dollop of dairy, or non-dairy, redi-whip!

Serves one.

 

 

 

Lewisburg, WV, Labor Day 2019: A Dining Adventure Awaits to Feed Your Inner-Foodie

            “People will travel anywhere for good food—it’s crazy.”—Rene Redzepi

 

            “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”–Mary Davis

 

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It had been a beautiful evening for a drive through the mountains of West of Virginia—clear, bright evening sun with billowy, cotton-fluff clouds overlaid on a canvas of brilliant blue.  Exiting I-64 to the main road leading to downtown Lewisburg, John, my husband, and I took in the sights of the bustling commercial area radiating outward from the downtown.  Turning right, and driving along the main road running through the heart of town, numbers of people meandered along the town’s walks enjoying the pleasant weather.

 

 

It was a beautiful evening with herds of deer along the country road home.

 

We continued driving, moving away from the town and towards the country.  Along our route, expansive farms mixed with residential areas in a patch quilt fashion seemed to unroll around us.  Dust blew up around our car as we left the asphalt road making our way towards CB Ranch, where we would be staying for the weekend.  Cattle swished tails; round bails of hay lay in fields, ready to be gathered for storage; and herds of deer were out for their evening meal. It was going to be a good weekend.

 

 

Once situated and settled in our bedroom suite at CB Ranch, we readied ourselves for dinner in town.  Since we had stayed in Lewisburg in November of 2018, we already knew where we wanted to head to for dinner:  The Asylum.  This local eatery, located in downtown Lewisburg, describes its offerings as upscale comfort food served with craft beers and spirits in a laid back atmosphere.  The Asylum has multiple TVs, a gas fireplace, numerous sitting areas, including multiple deck levels, and a full bar area.  John and I recalled the great food and excellent service we experienced on our previous visit as it met his love for great meat-centered meals, and my love of plant based, gluten free food.  (I have celiac disease and prefer to eat vegetarian.)

 

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The Asylum, in Lewisburg, WV, is a great place to meet friends, dine, and unwind.

 

The Asylum did NOT disappoint.   We began our meal with drinks and an appetizer of House Fried Potato Chips served up sizzling siracha style.  These tasty little crisps of goodness were loaded with flavor and just enough heat to be spicy without over whelming the taste buds.  John then chose the Pork BBQ sandwich.  This sandwich was loaded with pulled pork and a side of coleslaw.   I have to admit, despite the fact I am not a big meat eater, his pork smelled wonderful!

 

 

Meanwhile, I actually ordered an appetizer for my dinner:  Hummus and Pita Platter, but without pita.  Instead, they served me extra veggie sticks. Talk about creamy and crunchy goodness with just a hint of garlic all rolled into one scrumptious meal!  Yummy for the tummy.  Additionally, our service was once more attentive, affable, and always at the ready to ensure John and I had an enjoyable meal experience.

 

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Saturday was Del Sol Cantina and Grille Day.

Saturday ended up being Del Sol Cantina and Grille day regarding food and beverages.  Described by Google as a “comfy Mexican place” with both indoor and patio seating, John and I found their menu to offer an eclectic, fresh twist on Mexican fare.  John ended up in Del Sol at noon because it was the one location willing to put on The Ohio State football game, with one caveat—when the WVU game started, the large screen TVs would be switched over to that game.  Thus, John was only able to see the first half of the OSU game.  Fortunately for John, the OSU game quickly became an easy win, and also allowed him time to enjoy his lunch: Del Sol’s version of the classic BLT sandwich served with chips and salsa.   While John watched the game, I used the time to trek about the town, sip and savor some coffee from the Wild Bean, a downtown local coffee and sandwich shop; however, I did join John at Del Sol for an afternoon margarita treat.

 

    While John watched the OSU football game at Del Sol, I enjoyed walking around Lewisburg and taking a coffee break at The Wild Bean–check out the painted sign on the bathroom door of The Wild Bean!

 

Later, that evening, John and I return to Del Sol for dinner.  At Del Sol, if you want to start with tortilla chips (with free refills) you get to pick two dips—not just one.  Therefore, we chose both salsa and queso.   So, so, good!  Then, John decided to order homemade fried fish tacos, while I enjoyed vegetarian fajitas—Del Sol style—served with a large plate of freshly made black beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream, and tortillas—which I gave to John (although I could have ordered corn tortillas).  Then, I placed all of the veggies over the rice, beans, and guacamole (I removed the sour cream.), and I ate as one big plate of veggie heaven!  Our service during both lunch and dinner was on-point and friendly.

 

 

Sunday was set aside for hiking the Greenbrier River Trail.  While eating at Del Sol the previous night, the bartender/waiter recommended that we start our hike at the Anthony Trailhead, a few miles outside of Lewisburg.  He said it was pretty area that is often underrated.  However, before making our way to Anthony, we decided to fortify ourselves for the hike with breakfast.  Thus, we made our way to Retro Donuts and More, which serves both breakfast and lunch.  Set up like a 50’s style diner, John enjoyed a cream filled donut alongside a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich served on a donut bun.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed a latte while I noshed on a granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait. Fortified with deliciousness, we ultimately hiked a six miles along the beautiful, peaceful trail as the Greenbrier River meandered beside us most miles.

 

Retro Donuts and more before the hike!

 

At the Anthony Trailhead, parking lot, and boat ramp area.

 

Views from boat ramp and bridge above it at the Anthony Trailhead.

 

Views along the Greenbrier River Trail.

 

More of the beautiful scenery from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

Peaceful signs and sounds from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the sensory experience of the Greenbrier Trail.

 

After a long day of hiking, we cleaned up, and once more headed into Lewisburg for our final meal of the trip at Hill and Holler Pizza.   John and I had highly anticipated this dinner—John for their hand-tossed wood fired pizza; and I was eager to dive into the homemade gluten free crust pizza.  Plus, we both loved their salads—Cesar for John; and I love their crispy fresh garden salad.  Here, though, is where the proverbial wrench was thrown. While our salads were still fresh and plentiful, my beloved gluten free crust no longer appeared house made, but rather pre-fab, pre-made, and not-so-good anymore.  It was beautiful with all the veggie delights that I enjoy, but the crust was no better than frozen I can buy at the grocery store. After eating one piece, I chose to settle for eating the toppings, and left the over-priced crust behind. Don’t get me wrong, I understand I have to pay more for a gluten free crust, but this crust was not the same as it had been in November of 2018.  Furthermore, they seemed understaffed for the busy crowd they had in attendance on that Labor Day Sunday; thus, leaving us with poor, inattentive service.  Indeed, we were both disappointed.

 

Hill and Holler Pizza was a bit of a heart breaker this visit.  John’s pizza was still delicious, but the gluten-free crust was not what it used to be.  Still, the salads were fresh and tasty!

Despite this slight displeasure, John and I would still highly recommend the Lewisburg area as a great weekend getaway—even if you just want to go for the food!  There are plenty of sights to see, places to dine, friendly shops and boutiques, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and land of West Virginia. It’s a short, easy drive from the Tri-State area, and as the fall officially ushers in this week, it’s a great place to visit for an autumnal retreat!

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I still have not mastered the art of taking a selfie without triple chinning myself–I blame my short arms, but it could be aging! Still, look how beautiful that sky is behind us!

Restoration and Relaxation Can Be Found at CB Ranch

            “Why do you go away?  So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.  And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is the same as never leaving.”—Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

 

            “Hey, we have a long weekend comin’ up! Would you want to get away for a short trip?”  John, my husband, said in passing one early August morning.

 

            “And, ironically enough, I just recently heard from Cheryl Biddish at CB Ranch in Lewisburg, WV—that cute suite we stayed during the week of Thanksgiving last year,” I replied

 

            “That would be doable trip and close—only a 2-3 hour drive, if I remember correctly,” John replied in earnest. “Why don’t you reach out to her and see if she has any availability for Labor Day weekend; she could already be booked since it’s already August.”

 

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            Thus, began our plans for our first weekend getaway since last school year.  We had traveled in late May/early June for our 30th wedding anniversary to Naples, Florida, but with partial remodeling going on in our house and other life events, John and I had not traveled together anywhere since then.  Normally, during any given summer, we typically travel to two or three closer-to-home destinations in addition to a so-called “big trip summer vacation,” but not this past summer.  Therefore, despite the fact it meant for a tight work week prior to the trip as we knocked out chores we typically complete during the weekend, once we arrived at CB Ranch, just six miles off I-64 and four miles away from historic Lewisburg, WV, that Friday evening —it felt well worth it.

 

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As seen in the window of a store in Lewisburg, WV.

 

            Driving down the country lanes to reach CB Ranch, the golden sunlight streaming over the tall cornfields and grazing cattle, I could feel the stress begin to gradually seep away.  Traversing the ranch’s long driveway, we took inventory of the changes since we last stayed in November of 2018. We noticed the languid swishing of tails belonging to the numerous horses remained the same, but the green growth of the ranch’s fields and surrounding hillsides was completely different from the tawny and golden hues of late fall.  Additionally, a cute, but extremely tiny, red cottage, with a fire pit set up beside it, now lined the lane that previously wasn’t there. (We would later learn that this was the ranch’s latest, “glamping” vacation option for those who wanted a more comfortable camping experience.)  

 

This tiny cabin, located on CB Ranch, complete with horse trailer restroom and shower, is ideal for warmer weather “glamping.”

   

      Reaching the top of the lane, the actual house appeared the same with the addition of colorful flowers now fading, as August seems to be Mother Nature’s color-dimmer switch.  Brooke and Cheryl Biddish, owners of CB Ranch, had already contacted us with the entry code to the private bedroom suite where we would be staying. Walking into the spacious living area, I couldn’t help but notice how immaculately clean it appeared. Continuing through to the bed and bath area, it too was spotless as were all of the large windows and sliding glass doors. Sighing with sweet satisfaction, I set down my bag, and stepped back outside to find Brooke and Cheryl already engaged in a conversation with John.  It quickly became evident, as I listened, that CB Ranch had become their combined full-time passion; and, they have plans for expansion—including the camping cottage we passed earlier in their long driveway. It would be the only time we interacted with the owners in person throughout our weekend stay, as they were both busy with the business of running the ranch. However, they were only a text away, and Cheryl regularly, and graciously, checked on us via Facebook Messenger throughout our stay.

 

          Guests choosing not to camp at CB Ranch, can stay in the suite with its own private entrance, private deck, private fire pit, and still have full access to roaming/hiking about the ranch. 

 

          The weather, over Labor Day weekend, was delightful.  The temperatures dropped into the low 50s by night, allowing us to sleep with the windows open.  Breathing in abundant fresh air as well as basking in the peaceful quiet that is the countryside of Lewisburg, John and I slept soundly. 

 

          In the early morning light, we thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of the ranch animals’ stirrings; and, we took pleasure in watching Brooke and Cheryl make their rounds feeding animals, especially the horses as they gracefully galloped towards the sound of the side-by-side UTV (utility task vehicle), eager for their morning victuals.  At night, John and I would sit on the suite’s private deck, listening to summer’s ending songs as performed by the crickets and katydids gazing up at the immeasurable stars, passing planes, and even a satellite—all winking, dancing, and dazzling us with a glimmering light show.

 

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Early September morning light filters through trees on CB Ranch.

 

          While staying at CB Ranch, John and I were able to once more visit what was once voted as one of “America’s coolest small towns,” nearby Lewisburg, WV. This welcoming town is known for its walkable streets, quaint shops, friendly residents and business owners, historic landmarks, eclectic restaurants and eateries, as well as its close proximity to a plethora of scenic and natural sites, including the Greenbrier River Trail, Organ Cave, Lost World Caverns, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and so much more!  In fact, at one point during our stay, I knocked around town for a couple of hours, while John found a local eatery, Del Sol Cantina, that was actually showing the Ohio State football game—well, at least for two hours prior to the start of the WVU game, then no more OSU viewing for John! Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day for a leisurely stroll of the town; and, lucky for me, when the game was over, John and I sauntered over to Amy’s Cakes and Cones for an ice cream splurge—a rare, but special treat!

 

           Some of the historic sites in downtown Lewisburg, WV

                      More images from historic, downtown Lewisburg, WV.  

      After all of John’s efforting, cheering on his Buckeyes, he needed a nap; and I was ready for the peace and solitude of the ranch.  Back at CB Ranch, it comfortably warm with a refreshing breeze stirring the air and the muzak-like sounds of the soft mewings of ranch animals and summer cicadas. Perfect for napping, hiking the hills surrounding the ranch, and reading on the deck soaking up the waning September summer sun. 

 

          While John watched the OSU football game, for two of the hours it was on before the WVU game, in Del Sol Cantina, I walked around the town of Lewisburg, stopping at one point for a coffee break in the little central park, listening to a local clarinetist. 

 

                      Images from Del Sol Cantina courtesy of John.    

 

                      I highly recommend a stop by Amy’s Cakes and Cones, where the owner clearly marks the foods that are gluten-free!

 

      The next day, John and I hiked a new section (new to us, not the trail) of the Greenbrier River Trail, beginning at the Anthony trailhead.  Again, the weather was picture-perfect—warm, but not uncomfortable hot, with a steady breeze. Along most parts of this trail, the Greenbrier River meandered past us, and we occasionally encountered people fishing, paddling kayaks, or drifting along in water tubes.  Meanwhile, on the path, we happened upon a few bikers, hikers, dog lovers, and a few couples/families meandering along the trail in search of an idyllic spot for a picnic or swim. I couldn’t help but remark to John my yearning for the ability to bottle up the natural scents emanating throughout the trail and surrounding wooded areas.  (More about this hike, including images, in Part 2!)

 

                   Images from my meanderings on and around CB Ranch while John napped.

 

        Throughout the weekend, John and I made it a point to dine at all of our past favorite local Lewisburg eateries, including Del Sol Cantina, The Asylum, Hill and Holler Pizza, Retro Donuts and More, as well as The Wild Bean. All but one of these establishments were as top notch as our last visit, but one left me disappointed. (More about that in Part 2.) With that being said, overlooking that one minor food disappointment, our stay at Lewisburg could not have been more refreshing, rejuvenating, and restful. (I find myself sighing as I write this, so much did I savor every moment we were there.)  We were able to return home with restored souls ready to take on the busyness of the autumn season.  

 

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No matter whether visitors are coming from or heading back to the ranch, adventure awaits around each bend in the road!

   

       Much appreciation to Cheryl and Brooke Biddish and their recuperative ranch, they allowed us our privacy, gave us permission to roam their property (even offering us a trip to the top of their many scenic hilltops with their UTV if we didn’t want to hike it), and also managed to make us feel welcome and at home. Needless to say, John and I highly recommend CB Ranch and Lewisburg next time you’re in the mood for a close, but relaxing getaway; and if you go, be sure to tell them Steph Simply sent you!

 

           From my home to yours, I wish you safe and memorable travels.

 

 

 

Reflection Revelations

            “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways . . .If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”—As performed by Michael Jackson; written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett

 

            “Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”—Rumi

 

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Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

 

            I can still remember the first time it happened as if it were yesterday.  Since then, it has happened on several more occasions, each one occurring as if it had never before happened.

 

            “What do I have on my forehead?” I will think as I catch a quick glimpse of my reflection in my bathroom mirror.  

 

            “What do I have near my eye, my cheek, my mouth . . .?”  

 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

            It’s always the same surprise.  At first, I think I am seeing dirt, and I begin rubbing vigorously with a saliva-wet finger—as if I do not have a faucet only inches away from my fingers.  When it doesn’t disappear under such spirited efforts, I then switch to the soap and water directly below the mirror and renew my efforts. About halfway into the motion of soaping up the so-called soiled skin, it hits me like a red round gym ball smacking the side of my head. Arg!  It’s a wrinkle, or two, or seven.

 

            That’s when I go through the next round of self-deprecating thoughts.  

 

            “You look at yourself every day in the mirror to brush teeth, wash face, apply make-up, fix hair . . ..  How on earth did you NOT notice these wrinkles before? Are you blind?”

 

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            The facts are, Dear Reader, I don’t wear contacts, I’ve been far-sighted since I was a kid, and I am the proud owner of aging eyes with an astigmatism; so of course, I don’t see my wrinkles when I am at the bathroom mirror as I typically don’t yet have on my glasses for the day. 

 

            Ok, well, that’s not entirely true.  I typically have my glasses on when I am brushing my teeth—which is twice per day, but let’s be honest.  At the age of nearly 54, I do not spend much time truly gazing at myself. In fact, while I may see my reflection, I don’t really see me.  My mind is typically off meandering around the hundreds of thoughts scattered throughout my cerebrum.  Still, at my age, it should not be any great shock or surprise to discover wrinkles are mapping out my face like the tattered, overused roadmap that my husband and I once kept in our vehicles in the years before driving apps. 

 

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            In fact, recently, due to my aging eyes, and a remodel, I now have a small magnifying mirror attached to my bathroom wall near the vanity mirror.  Talk about a shock to the system! At first, it was all fun and games because I could actually see to pluck my eyebrows, apply eye makeup, and floss my teeth.  The party quickly ended, however, when it also began to reveal how deeply those crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines, and smile lines have really embedded into my face like lines on wet sand made with a stick.  What the heck? When did all of this happen? Why didn’t someone tell me? You mean, I’ve been walking around feeling like I am 20, or at the very least, 30 years old on the inside, but actually looking like my real age on the outside?  I’ve been lying to myself, and no one had the courage to tell me? Clearly, I have no real friends or honest loved ones!

 

            And so it, with criticism.  Hard, cold, biting, slashing, tearing, stomach wrenching critiques offered up freely by others.   Speaking of being whacked with a red gym ball, criticism can also be like that. It seems to come out of nowhere when we are not prepared or looking for it—like the way I felt the first time I really gazed in my magnifying mirror and saw the truth of my aging face.

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            Proclamations of censure seem to happen with great frequency in pop culture, and at this point in time, they almost seem comical given their sources.  However, when it is personally delivered and received via special delivery by an important person in one’s life, it is not so funny. Raw emotions, wounded feelings, and even misunderstandings are often tilled up like a fallow field of wasteland as a result of these personal bombshells.  What is a person to do at such times?

 

            According to wise words I recently read, one has two options.  The first alternative is to make the realization that the person must not truly see you, your true heart, and your true intentions. Understand that their vision may be a reflection of their own self-judgement or insecurities.  Accept it with empathy for their suffering, and then move on with the knowledge that you have actually learned more about the messenger.

 

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            In contrast, the second option is to think of the critique as mirror magnifying and reflecting an actual smudge of dirt upon your proverbial face that needs to be cleaned.  Of course, you can ignore it, and lie to yourself, as I have done for years regarding the wrinkles on my face. Then, there is the option of fighting back, punching the mirror, and shattering its reflection, hurting both the person, your metaphorical fist, and possibly risk destroying any opportunity to amend the relationship.  Finally, you can view it for the truth it is revealing. Thus, creating an opportunity to wipe the dirt off, and challenging you to begin to search for ways to change, seizing the opportunity for a more fertile awareness in which a new seed has been planted, offering you a chance to learn, grow, and perhaps even improve. 

 

          Here’s to magnifying mirrors.  May we embrace the true reflections they reveal.

 

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A Penny For Your Thoughts

        Find a penny, pick it up, All the day, You’ll have good luck!  Give it to a faithful friend, Then your luck will NEVER end!—Unknown

 

There it was, glinting in the bright morning sunlight, although not as lustrous as it once had been.  The blacktop had recently been paved, and from the appearance of its copper face, it appeared as if some of that pavement had covered it as well.  I started to walk on past, but like the siren call, I could not ignore it.  The face seemed to implore me to bend down.  Must. Be. Picked. Up.

 

Hunched over, the weight of my bag pushing me even lower, I could see the year.  1977, huh?  I think I was in 6thgrade or 7thgrade when it was made.  I had a total of two albums then:  Queen’s, Night at the Operaand Kiss’s, Rock and Roll Over. Additionally, I possessed one eight track tape, Fleetwood Mac’s, Rumors,that played on some portable 8-track player that I had somehow won for selling something, but I don’t recall what the somethingwas; and, I was saving my lunch money change and babysitting money to buy the Saturday Night Feversoundtrack, from the soon-to-be released movie that I was absolutely forbade to see. Bell-bottom jeans were on their way out. While straight-legged jeans and Annie Hall clothes, would soon be all the rage in teen fashion. Why all this should pass through my mind in an instance, I’ll never know.

 

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The words, “In God We Trust,” were fairly crusted over with black; however, the word, “Liberty” was fairly recognizable. Abraham Lincoln’s image was marred in spots by the blacktop as well, but he was still identifiable. I decided to give in to my instincts and pick it up.

 

I thought about giving it to one of my clients; and now, based upon my research, I wish I would have.  However, I decided not to give it away because it seemed so tarnished.  (See what I did there?)  Still I felt thankful and even a bit giddy after finding it.  Perhaps, it was the silly memories it triggered me to recall; maybe it was the bright sunshine that imbued my soul with joy; then again, maybe it was the feeling of luck—luck for me, and luck for the rescued to penny to continue on another day, rather spend the rest of its life doomed as part of a parking lot.

 

Did I have a good day on that Saturday?  Absolutely!  Did good fortune follow after finding it?  Well, not exactly, but, hey, I am healthy, alive, able to work, and can spend time with my family—I’d say that’s fortune enough.

 

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Still, finding that penny inspired my curiosity. Why do we say, “Find a penny, pick it up, all the day, you’ll have good luck?”  Week’s later, relaxed and out of town for the weekend, I took time to indulge my inquisitiveness. What I learned was quite interesting—assuming my sources were reliable.

 

First of all, there’s more to the saying than I knew.  I had never learned the rest of the saying, “Give it to a faithful friend, then your luck will NEVER end!”  Who knew?  I should have given it away as my gut had told me to do!

 

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However, before that, I also should have paused andthanked God for my blessings. According to several sources, only a face-up penny possesses the words, “In God We Trust,” which is serves as a reminder that we must trust and rely upon God for everything in our life. Therefore, picking up the penny, pausing long enough to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving before giving the penny away, is key to increasing positive fortune in one’s life.

 

It would appear that the whole, “Find a penny, pick it up,” practice might stem from ancient times.  Folklore has it that metals, such as copper, were considered gifts from gods. If one found something metal, such as a copper coin, that object was a gift, sent from the gods, to protect the finder from evil

 

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However, the picking up a penny found in one’s path can also be traced to ancient Ireland and parts of Northern Europe.  Long ago, in this area of the world, it was once believed that pennies belonged to fairies, leprechauns and pixies.  When one found a penny during this time period, the person was instructed to spit upon the ground where the penny once lay.  Then, the coin was to be tossed into nearby foliage or bushes, so the little creatures could have it.  It was further believed that when the little creatures witnessed a human doing this, they would provide this person much luck and fortune.

 

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There are other interesting, so-called rules regarding the finding of pennies.  For example, a penny found tails up should be turned over and left for another person to find. This promotes good karma to both the person who turned the penny over, and the person who finds the head-up penny.  Along this same line of logic, supposedly, if you see a penny tails up, and do not flip it to the heads up side for someone else, bad luck will befall you.

 

Another nugget oddity that I found was the belief that if you see a person drop a penny, you must return it to them if it lands heads up; otherwise, you’re attempting to steal their luck.  If, however, the penny lands head-down, then it is your job to flip it over.  Thus, changing your fate, the dropper’s fate, and the ultimate finder’s fate!

 

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A few writers went so far as to offer this sage wisdom: Do not flip a found tails up penny, wait 5 seconds or whatever, and then pick it up. Good fortune does not work that way!  These were also the same writers who further believed that when you do find a heads up penny, it must go some place significant, not just in your wallet or pocket. In fact, one source said the found, heads up penny, must be placed on, near, or with some area of your life in which you hope to flourish or increase.

 

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Then, there were these quips about pennies:

 

          “Put a penny wrapped in paper, keep it to avoid your debtors.”

 

          “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—and a lucky penny in the shoe!”

 

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Finally, I found that some people believe that a penny represents oneness (Get it, one) with God—the unity of the spirit and the body—reminding the finder of their ultimate afterlife.  Several of these writers went on to add that, if, however, one finds a dime, it is thought to be sent from a loved one who has passed away letting you know that you are loved and valued.

 

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Regardless of which belief(s) you wish to embrace on finding a coin, may your day, Dear Reader, be filled with good fortune, much luck, and perhaps, a random coin or two.  Just remember, I shared this advice with you, so don’t be a miser, and keep it all to yourself!

          Hmm . . .maybe I’ll start leaving random, heads-up pennies on the ground for others.  After all, I can now fully say that the penny I found gave me the good fortune of added knowledge! Who knows what a penny could provide for someone else?

 

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