Finding Freedom: Part 1

A solitary dove sang it’s dreary tune as the young woman rose from sleep. In dim lamp light, she roused the stove fire to fight off the morning chill. She sat, shivering, at the small wooden table laden with nicks and scratches from years of use. Today was going to be a long one, longer than usual. Harder too.

When the damp cold had abated a little, the woman, Sarah, rose from the table and set to making a quick breakfast for herself. Nothing fancy, she hadn’t the time nor company to bother with all the fixins. She wasn’t hungry, she never was these days, but today she would need strength.

As she finished her breakfast of stale biscuits and the last of her hen’s eggs, the sun had risen enough to give the room around her a dull gray light, diminishing her lamp light even more. She put out the lamp, cleaned her plate, and put it away out of habit. It didn’t matter if she cleaned it or not, not today. She’d never see this place again. It would soon be someone else’s problem if she left a few dirty dishes and an unmade bed.

The one room cabin where she lived was a squalid affair. The floor hadn’t been swept in weeks. Dust and cobwebs had settled into corners that were no longer used. The windows were grimy from the stove smoke that escaped into the room. She hadn’t bothered to clean them. Wasn’t much of a reason to look out them anymore. It was a depressing sight to look at, and the gray morning light only accentuated it’s disparity further.

It was not always like this, Sarah reflected bitterly. Once, not but a few years ago, this room was filled with warmth and love and laughter, more good times than bad. But the bad times happened. And as time wore on, they happened more and more often. Until, at last, there was nothing but sheer heartbreak, and grief, and finally, desolation. But she shook the nightmares from her head and steeled herself. She had to leave this place. The tiniest ray of hope in her heart knew she had to break free from the grief this mountain had brought her.

She went to the little chest of drawers in the corner and, opening the bottom drawer and pulled out the old carpetbag she had brought when she had moved here as a newlywed. In it, she had toted a few possessions along to start a new life with a man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. Now the dusty old bag lay empty before her, much like a terrible parallel to what her life had become. The hopes and joys she had carried with her as a new bride had long been extinguished.

She paused for a moment before bending and removing a false bottom from the open drawer, took out a worn old mirror. It had belonged to her mother. It used to be Sarah’s most treasured possession, she had always been a little on the vain side. A major flaw in a mountain man’s wife, her husband had always told her, and he wouldn’t allow it. She hadn’t looked into the mirror in over a year. In fact, she had led her husband to believe that she had thrown it over the side of the mountain years ago.

She looked into it now, and was very nearly distraught at what she saw gazing back at her. Her once shining golden hair was matted and dull. Her braids, once diligently kept, were coming undone and were unintentionally adorned with bits of twigs and leaves. Her eyes, once able to light up a room just by entering it, were now empty and dull, reflecting only the bitterness and grief she so often felt.

How long had she been alone? She wasn’t sure. A month or two, at least. Probably more. Had to be more. The chill in the air this morning suggested that fall was very swiftly on its way. It had been late spring when, well, since the start of her isolation. But it was time to come back to rejoin society now. Time to come down from her mountain and move on with her life. She wouldn’t be able to survive a winter in the mountains alone anyway.

When her few possessions and meager rations were packed in the carpetbag, Sarah put out the stove fire completely. This cabin and this mountain might hold terrible memories for her, but there was no need to burn them down in carelessness. She stepped out and closed the cabin door behind her, not daring to take a last look around the room. The ghosts of her past might not let her leave if she did.

As she stepped across the yard, not more than a small clearing in the surrounding forest, she did dare to look one last time at the dwelling and land that she had called home for the past five years of her life. The small log cabin with it’s windows so grimy, you couldn’t see the faded floral curtains hanging on the inside. Those curtains had been a present from her mother. As Sarah’s eyes strained to see the floral pattern through the grime, her mind quickly drifted to her mother, and her past.

Born into wealth and raised in the city, Sarah was a lady of high Southern class. She was introduced to a charming young man by her older brother. The man, William, was somewhat wealthy by his own accord. He had made his living through wise investments and hard work. Soon after they were introduced, William and Sarah began to court. She had fallen deeply in love.

But the War started, cutting short their budding relationship. She wrote him letters, and for four long years, she waited for him to come home. When he returned to her, there was something different about him. He had suffered nary a scratch to his body, but the spark in his eye had gone out. He seemed to remain the agreeable gentleman she had met all those years ago, though, and soon they were engaged to be married.

They married and honeymooned in the city. His work with the railroad kept him busy and wealthy enough to furnish a home for his new bride filled with lovely things. He rarely slept through the night, though, and woke often with nightmares that he would never discuss with Sarah. But he continued to be a good husband, and after some time, Sarah thought she saw the spark of life beginning to come back into his eyes.

It proved to be only a temporary light though. A string of setbacks at work caused some financial strain in their home. As the days passed and the financial issues worsened, William became dispirited. Finally, he sat with Sarah and told her he wished to move to his childhood home, away from the city. He assured her the change would make him happy, so she agreed to leave everything behind and go with him.

At first, the move seemed to do the trick. The hard work William had put into the old run down cabin seemed to revive him. He enjoyed the labor, and laughed more freely with Sarah as they made the little cabin livable. It certainly wasn’t to Sarah’s taste or expectation, but she was willing to give up anything to see her husband smile again.

Once they had both settled into life on the mountain, William began to change again. He would have moments of rage, followed by grief. He would apologize for his behavior, blame the nightmares that were starting to plague him again. After his rage and grief, the day would move on as if nothing happened. Neither of them would mention it again.

Before long, life on the mountain grew worse. He would become angry with Sarah over the smallest indiscretions. He punished her for things that were out of her control. Mostly, he would beret and belittle her, or would refuse to speak to her for days. Rarely, he would take the strap to her, like she was some naughty child caught thieving from a penny store. He would hold her mistakes over her for days and weeks at a time. When she cried, and asked him why he was treating her in such a manner, he told her it was because she had not given him a child yet.

They tried for a very long time to have a child. But Sarah never seemed able to maintain a pregnancy. She began to fall into despair and William became angrier and more resentful with each miscarriage. When she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, he was disgusted. He had wanted a boy to carry on the family name.

They continued to try for more children, despite the fact that Sarah was struggling with motherhood. The stress of caring for a young child was hard on her, and it was not made easier by the fact that her husband punished her for not having a boy. She thought maybe if she could bear him a son, everything would be fixed. Sarah had three more miscarriages before William broke completely. Before she was left alone on this God-forsaken mountain.

Sarah drew a sharp breath and fought to regain her composure. There was a piercing pain in the hollow of her heart. She couldn’t break down, not today. She gathered her strength and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. This cabin, the yard, and everything within was her past now. It was time to put it all behind her, cling to whatever small hope she could find, and to start anew. The pain abated back to the dull ache she had felt for months. She turned, and began her journey down the mountain.

Drag Queen Story Time

Morgantown, WV recently had the opportunity to host a Drag Queen Story Time. If you are not familiar with what that is, it is very straightforward. Books being read out loud by drag queens.

Photo from an article about Drag Queen Story Hour in New Orleans from the New York Post

Unfortunately there were some in our community who decided their bigotry and hate was worth more than bringing joy and education to children. Threats of violence were made against the readers and the event. For safety reasons, the event was cancelled.

Did you know that reading out loud to a child has a myriad of benefits for your child? Children who are read to at young ages:

  • Excel in school
  • Develop better social skills
  • Have improved language skills
  • Increased listening skills
  • Tend to be more empathetic.

Basically, reading makes your children better people.

What could be better than that? How about having these amazing benefits instilled by beautiful people who are comfortable being true to who they are? Don’t we want our kids to be accepted for who they are? Don’t we want them to be happy and confident?

Kids feel the peer pressure to “fit in” even in the elementary school level. Too often, this leads to children hiding passions or changing their personalities just so they can feel loved and accepted.

I, for one, think the opportunity for my child to interact with such a brave and confident person would be nothing but beneficial. I am deeply saddened that the hate in our community has robbed us of this opportunity.

Something good has come from this, though. An eloquently spoken Facebook Live announcement was made following the cancellation of the event. Dimitria Blackwell and Robin Hearts-Love, the volunteers who were heading up the event, have announced that they will be creating a Drag Queen Story Time YouTube channel.

While it is not what they originally had in mind, it still fulfills the goal they had set: bringing literature into the lives of children. So take Dimitria and Robin’s lead and teach your children. Teach them about books. Teach them about self love. Teach them diversity. Teach them kindness. Teach them to be better than the hate we see too often in this world.

Teens and Vape Pens

Sorry for the delay on the posts everyone. We all know life likes to take hectic crazy turns sometimes. And I let this one get me down. The past couple weeks have left me speechless and has taken a huge emotional toll on me.

Photo by Thorn Yang from Pexels

It’s part of being a nurse. Dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with the care of human patients. I’ve dealt with it for 8 years with what generally could be considered grace. This time though, it has been tough.

By now, we all have heard the term ‘opioid crisis’. Most likely anyone who reads this knows someone who has been involved with drugs. I grew up watching family members make poor decision after poor decision because of drug use. I saw them as grown ups with a real problem and swore I would never even try a drug because I didn’t want to turn out like them.

As a nurse, I’ve worked on units where people have snuck their drugs in and overdosed right under our noses. They were adults and I (wrongly) judged them for making poor, but adult, choices.

Recently in our county, heroin laced vape pens hit our schools. Drugs in schools doesn’t surprise me. They’ve always been there. And we usually have a pretty good idea of who to keep an eye on. But this is different. These dangerous and unpredictable pens have been pawned off as THC pens. Something that kids aren’t afraid to try.

The results have been terrifying. Kids that you wouldn’t expect presenting with symptoms that warrant a visit to the emergency room. And I am so afraid it is only going to get worse. Because the kids ARE NOT AFRAID.

This one has left me speechless, and frankly, feeling helpless as well. Why are kids seeing this happen to their peers, their friends, and yet they are not afraid? I know being a teenager sometimes comes with the feelings of being invincible, but I know a good number of students in, not only our county, but our entire state, have seen an overdose first handed.

Talk with your kids, not to them, but with them. Give them the dirty ugly truth of drugs and what they can do to a person. Tell them about the “friends” who may try to get them to try a vape or a drug. Listen to your kids and let them tell you any experiences they have had at school. Chances are, they have seen or heard about something going on at their school.

And, if anyone has any examples of how they have talked with their kids about drugs, comment on this post! It is a difficult subject to approach, and anything that can help a fellow parent out is greatly appreciated.

How Can I Help You?

I watched a video this past week that really struck a chord with me. The video was about what it was like to get an abortion as a teenager before Wade vs Roe. But the part that really stuck with me was when the woman was describing what it was like to tell her parents that she was pregnant.

In the video, she describes the terrifying moment when she told her father she was pregnant. For all the responses she thought he’d have, he shocked her by simply asking, “How can I help you?”

Photo by lalesh aldarwish from Pexels

It really got me thinking. How many kids do I come across in my line of work who are in crisis of some sort? I go into nurse mode and offer solutions, set up resources, coordinate with other adults to fix the problem. But what does that student really need in that moment? How often do I stop to ask how I can help them?

While that student needs solutions and resources, they also need emotional support. That student might need a hug, a sympathetic ear, or a shoulder to cry on. And they probably need it before any of the other solutions I have to offer can even make sense to them.

Or maybe they already know what they need. Maybe they have already taken the time to look at their options. Maybe they have already decided what’s best for them, but just aren’t sure how to get started. Maybe having me go tell them all those options again would just cause further mental stress.

So here is my challenge for you this week. If you are in business of people, and you see a person struggling, ask them: How can I help you?

Happy Boss’s Day….To You

Boss’s Day is coming up this week. I have had many bosses in my life, both good and not so good. My current boss, for instance, is awesome. She often goes out of her way to be sure that we have everything we need to be and do our best, including encouraging us to do things to benefit our mental health. And on the other hand, I’ve also had bosses that made me cringe whenever they entered a room.

But this week, I celebrate them all, good and bad. The good for being the kick-ass leaders they are, and the bad for teaching me valuable lessons of how not to lead. But of all the bosses you need to celebrate this year, don’t forget Numero Uno:

You

That’s right, you. You are the boss of your own life. Whether you work from home or have a steady 9-5. Whether you are the sole leader of your family, or part of a dynamic duo that leads your family. It doesn’t matter, you are a boss. So celebrate you, and be the best that you can be!

Photo by Rebrand Cities from Pexels

But that’s a lot of pressure, right? It doesn’t have to be. We should take pride in being the boss of our selves, and being proud usually means doing a good job. So, how do you become your best boss?

Take time for your self

I can never stress this one enough. Mental health and wellness is key to happiness. We are all busy, but taking time for yourself is vital. Don’t have time? Take one of your normal chores, add your favorite tunes, and try turning it into something fun for yourself. No, singing along to Journey while scrubbing the toilet isn’t what one would normally consider “me-time” (And I wouldn’t suggest using the toilet brush as a microphone), but sometimes in our busy lives, we have to take what we can get.

Be kind

An act of kindness not only improves your mood, but can change how you view the world. It could even be something as simple as a smile for a stranger or not stepping on the bug crossing the sidewalk. And you never know who is watching. Those who look up to you may see your kindness, and start copying those acts.

Do what makes you happy

As boss of your own life, you are in charge of your happiness. Hate your job? Start looking for a better one! Not loving your hairstyle? Change it. Not loving how your family focuses on gadgets more than each other? Make time for technology free time! In this life, no one can make you happier than you. And no one is going to do it for you.

What are your thoughts on being your own boss? Comment below!

Staying Well

It’s that time of year again! School is back in session, and with it comes all the sharing. And no, I don’t mean swapping summer vacation stories. I’m talking about the germs. Those invisible tyrants that cause the sniffling, coughing, puking, fevered joys of illness. Want to know how to keep the germs at bay? Keep reading!

Wash your hands!

Seriously, I cannot stress this one enough. Wash. Your. Hands. Germs are everywhere. And what do we touch everything with? Yup, our hands. So slap some soap on there and wash them under warm, running water for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t have a sink handy (Haha, get it?)? Hand sanitizer works in a pinch! But don’t rely on it all the time!

Eat a balanced diet

Your body requires certain nutrients to function properly. This includes keeping your immune system up and running. What is your immune system? It’s your body’s line of defense that helps fight off the germs and keeps you healthy. 

So put down the energy drinks and Cheetos, and pick up some fruits and veggies!

Make time for “Me-Time”

Just as eating healthy is important for keeping your immune system up and running, so is your mental health! Your brain is the control center of your body. If you are stressed out and run down, you are more likely to get the latest cold going around. 

Take a few deep breaths, color a picture, listen to your favorite song, or dance around. Whatever you do to destress, get to it!

And after all that….

Remember that sickness will still happen. As I type, I am battling a very lovely respiratory virus that my youngest brought home. If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest!

Pumpkin Everything: Chili Style

In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I love all things fall. I have mentioned that I am not big on the pumpkin spice hype, but when a friend recommended Pumpkin Chili, I couldn’t resist giving it a try!

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this recipe. My husband, who is always hesitant when I try new recipes, ended up really liking it! I’ve even already had a request to repeat it! I love that the pumpkin doesn’t actually change the flavor of the chili that much. So, even if you aren’t a great lover of pumpkin, this recipe is worth a try!

Simply put, take your favorite chili recipe, and substitute pumpkin puree for the tomato sauce. Don’t have a favorite chili recipe? Try mine! I’d love to tell you it’s a family secret recipe, but it’s a Betty Crocker. A lot of times, I’ll use ground turkey instead of ground beef. And if I’m making chili dog chili, I use a potato masher to smash the beans up.

Pumpkin Chili

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (1 pound) tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 8 oz (or more if you like) pumpkin puree
  • 1 can (1 pound) chili beans, undrained
  • 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Place ground beef, onions, green pepper, and garlic in a 6 quart pot over medium heat until meat is browned and veggies are tender. Drain off excess fat.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for 25-30 minutes.

And since I had a bit of pumpkin puree leftover, I used this recipe that I found on Pinterest to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. They were easy to make, and quite yummy!

What are your favorite pumpkin recipes? Comment below!

Slow Cooker Ranch Pork Chops with Gravy

Today is another beautiful day. The sky is blue with pristine white clouds floating along. The day is warm, but there is a cooling breeze blowing. It is a perfect day to sit outside on the front porch, sip some tea, and listen to the joyous sounds of my youngest playing outside. But alas, dinner won’t be making itself.

Or will it? Today is the perfect type of day to bring out my favorite kitchen appliance: The slow cooker! Pair a main dish in the slow cooker with a super easy side or two, and dinner has basically made itself while I’m enjoying a gorgeous day outside!

One of my absolute favorite things to cook for dinner is Ranch Pork Chops. It is so easy, and so delicious. And there is gravy involved, and who doesn’t love gravy?

Just a glimpse of my lovely working environment today!

Slow Cooker Ranch Pork Chops with Gravy

4-6 boneless pork chops

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 packet ranch dressing mix

In a small bowl, mix the two cans of soup and the ranch packet together. Place the pork chops in the bottom of your slow cooker and pour the mixture over top. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

If you have a gravy loving family like mine, you may want to double this portion of the recipe. Also, if you are not a fan of mushroom, the recipe tastes just as great with all cream of chicken.

As for my easy sides? Tonight, I am whipping up some Bob Evans’ Mashed Potatoes (seriously, I love them so much!). 6 minutes in the microwave, and they are ready to go! And since it’s looking like it’s just going to end up being the youngest and I at the dinner table, I am throwing a can of peas and carrots on the stove.

That’s it. That’s all the harder I am working on dinner tonight. And it’s going to taste absolutely fantastic.

It’s Fall Y’all!

That’s right, I’m one of those people. Fall is my favorite season. I’ll admit, I don’t care for pumpkin spice beyond being a candle scent, but I really do love fall. There is just something so exciting about the whisper of cooler weather on the wind, the crunch of colorful leaves underfoot, and the feeling of life settling down for winter. And as a naturally cold person, fall fashion brings the most wonderful warm weather gear!

But another thing I love about fall is all the decorations. Everything from pumpkins and mums to ghosts and goblins to big fat turkeys and pilgrims. I’d have it all up August 1st if given my way, but I have compromised with the husband, and wait until September 1st.

So far this year, it has really been a joy to share my love of fall decorating with my youngest. He has really enjoyed helping me decide where all the decorations should go. He especially loved venturing out to the store to help me pick out some new decorations! (In case you all were wondering, A.C. Moore and Hobby Lobby have some pretty good deals on decorations!

On our outing to A.C. Moore, my kiddo was very insistent that we needed this pumpkin shaped basket in our lives. I couldn’t argue.

I’m really looking forward to sharing more fall traditions with my kids as the season goes on. Making pumpkin rolls, planning a big Thanksgiving Feast, watching our Mountaineers on Saturdays, playing in piles of leaves, carving pumpkins…the list could go on forever.

This week was another short post, but with all the above mentioned activities, I’m sure I’ll have plenty more fodder for posts to come! If there is anything you’d like to see me write about, let me know!

How to Hurdle ‘The Wall’

Guys, it happened again. Another week flew by, and I have nothing to show for it. Don’t get me wrong, I did actually have an entire post almost completed. But last night, I woke up out of a dead sleep and realized that it made absolutely no sense, and that there was no way I could possibly share it with the world in its current state.

So here I am, Sunday morning, drinking my coffee and sitting at my kitchen table (where all my best work is done), trying to think of anything I could write about. But I can’t. I have hit The Wall. I don’t like to call it Writer’s Block, because I find myself writing things. It’s just that, the things I write sound like they came from someone who has hit their head against a wall many times.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Over the years, I have worked on ways to help me hurdle The Wall when I come to it. Today, I thought I could share those ways, while also practicing them. So perhaps next week, dear reader, you will have something of a little more quality to read.

1. Write all the thoughts.

Write whatever pops into your mind. Write, write, write. Messy words, creaky stairs, hot coffee, rainy day. See? It doesn’t have to be pretty and polished. Thoughts are messy, let them be that way on your writing tablet as well. It’s just about getting them out of your brain.

2. Take your messy thoughts, and turn them into poetry.

Or whatever form of short writing you prefer. I’ve always enjoyed poetry.

Waking up, rain drops falling
into my coffee mug, steaming.
Stairs creak, solitude broken,
Good morning world.

See? I’m not even sure I’d call that poetry, but it felt nice to write. Get yourself lined up and stretched out for that hurdle.

3. Get in touch with all the emotions.

I find it difficult to write creatively, or at all, when I am stuck in one mood. A lot of times, I just write one liners in different emotions. Start with whatever you are feeling first, then jump to the complete opposite. Then work your way through the full range of emotions.

The cold rain poured down, mixing with the tears streaming down her face.
The sounds of the festival filled her head, filling her heart with joy.
Rage engulfed her as she listened to him, prattling on as if nothing had happened.

4. Go forth and write.

This is it, this is the last step. This is where you are running straight at that wall, preparing to leap. Go write something! If you are still struggling with getting original ideas out of your head, then don’t worry about it. Write in someone else’s idea. Write a fan fiction. Or write in the style of your favorite author. When I’m feeling low on ideas, I love to adopt Tolkien’s most Hobbit-y voice, and write. It brings me back to why I loved creative writing in the first place.

Still feeling like you are running straight into that wall? I will let you in on the last little secret. You don’t have to jump it like a hurdle at all. It just sounds better when you say it that way.

Start small. Use your poetry, short sentences, paragraph stories, and short stories or fan fictions to build yourself a set of steps. Keep on building until your reach the top of your wall. And then you can jump, and soar off into the wonderful world of writing again.

I hope these ideas can help you. If you have other ways that you break yourself out of a writing slump, comment below! Until next time!