Take Two | Fit as a Fiddle: The Intentional Way

“Intentional living is about living your best story.”

John C. Maxwell (One of New York Times best-selling, motivational authors, having sold more than 24 million books in 50 languages.)

After I published last week’s post–“Fit as a Fiddle: the Inefficient Way”–I brushed up against a fear that stopped me dead in my steps! What if my readers thought that I actually believed in my principle of fitness inefficiency? Or, worse. What if they thought that I actually applied all of those inefficiencies to my fitness routine, day after day?

I won’t lie: I have used those inefficiencies from time to time to reach or exceed my steps-per-day goal. How else could I have come up with such outlandish strategies for getting in more and more steps. Obviously, too, my inefficient method actually does increase daily steps. As I mentioned last week, since the start of this year I have walked 782,356 steps. Yes. That’s right. 782,356 steps. Based on my gender and my stride length, that’s equivalent to 370.4 miles.

And, obviously, too, other folks do similarly outlandish things. Thank you, Chris, for owning up to the fact that you have even stopped “the car on the side of the road [to] jump up and down and walk around for ten minutes to make up for the lost steps.” I will remember that strategy!

Little wonder, then, that I felt compelled to post a “Take Two” so that I could seize the opportunity to make perfectly clear what everyone hopefully knows already. Fitness takes work. Hard work. Consistent work. Intentional work.

Trust me. I know firsthand. I’m a straight shooter when it comes to my overall fitness game, and I play it with intentionality.

Ironically, down through the years I thought that I was enjoying overall success. But a decade or so ago, my dentist discovered—during a normal checkup—some surprising and not-so-normal numbers. My blood pressure was elevated. One week later, my doctor confirmed that I had joined the ranks of one in three Americans who have high blood pressure and do not even know it.

She minced no words: I had to play my numbers better, smarter, and with greater intentionality. I suddenly realized: this is no lottery, where the odds are far too high against my winning. This is my life, where the odds are good that I can control some numbers and turn this game around.

Some numbers, I can’t control. Like my age: 74. Like my height: 5’ 8”. 

But I can control other numbers. Generally, I want them low.   

Like my weight. My current 181 isn’t bad, but the low 170s is my best wager. I’d like to get my body fat below 23 percent. I want to hit a range of 18 to 22. I’m getting there, slowly but surely, by eating fewer calories. By cutting 500 calories daily, I can lose one pound weekly. What a payoff!

Generally, I like my cholesterol numbers low. I want my total well below 200 mg/DL and my LDL—the bad stuff—below 100. That’s optimal. I want my triglycerides—the fat—lower than 150.  But I want one number high: my HDL. Hot tip: aim for higher than 60.

I want some other numbers high, too. Like fiber. Most Americans consume 14-15 grams daily. I’m getting 30 grams plus, by eating at the bottom of the food pyramid: 6-11 daily servings of bread, rice, and grains; 3-5 of vegetables; and 2-4 of fruit. Dividends? Less body fat, reduced colon cancer risk, and lower blood sugar.  Keeping my blood sugar below 120 mg/DL but no lower than 70 is keeping me from developing diabetes.  

Since that initial diagnosis, I’ve been playing my exercise numbers with greater intentionality, too. 60 minutes—every day. Every other day, I go for 90. No bluffing.

With my new approach to exercise and diet—and with one pill a day—my blood pressure numbers have plummeted. I stay in a normal range of 120/80.  Most days, lower. My resting heart rate is low, too. 60-100 is normal. Mine runs 60. Jackpot!

My doctor remains astounded: my blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers continue to be spot-on, back-to-back wins. In fact, my numbers are so incredible that she’s always asking me for insider information! Go figure!

I’m going to keep on playing my numbers not only by the book but also with intentionality. I believe in life, and I want mine to be long, healthy, and productive. I want to hit those higher double digits: 80s and 90s. Who knows—triple digits might be grand. 

It may be a long shot, but the way I look at it: if I don’t live longer, I’ll live better. Intentionally.

Fit as a Fiddle: The Inefficient Way

Some of us wouldn’t get much exercise at all if it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are too far apart.

Joey Adams (1911-1999; American comedian, vaudevillian, radio host, nightclub performer and author)

I have had a Fitbit since 2013 when my late partner gifted me with a Flex, the first Fitbit tracker worn on the wrist. Allen wasn’t certain that I would like this new gadget. To his great surprise and equally to his great delight, I became a Fitbit junkie, upgrading my device with every opportunity. I moved smoothly from the Flex to the Charge to the Versa and, most recently, to the Sense. All the upgrades made perfect sense to me!

My Fitbit is the first thing that I check when I awaken. I want to make certain that I made it through the night. Sometimes I pinch myself when I realize that I have made it, and, then I pinch myself again when I realize all the things that it tracks! Sleep score–duration, deep sleep and REM sleep, and restoration. Exercise readiness score. Skin temperature. Resting heart rate. Breaths per minute. Heart rate variability.  Blood oxygenation. My God! I have my own 24/7 doc in a watch.

I especially like the way that my Fitbit tracks my daily steps. It nags me every hour at exactly ten minutes before the hour if I have not gotten in 250 steps. And, when I meet my hourly quota, it rewards me with titillating vibrations, followed by the sweetest message: “Goal Complete! 250/250.” That’s just the encouragement that I need to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.

On my teaching days, achieving that goal is easy. I walk all around the classroom while I talk. Of lesser importance–but important, nonetheless–I try to schedule my classrooms as far away from my office as possible. That’s a sure-fire way to rack up steps, going forth and coming back again.  And to the extent that I decide not to have back-to-back classes, I can double or even triple the benefits of applying my fiddle-fit inefficiency principle.

Similarly, on my non-teaching days when I am at home, it’s never a challenge if I’m outdoors. My gardens cover a healthy acre or two, so just walking around to see what needs to be done places me well above 10,000 steps. If I’m actually working in the gardens–let’s say mulching–that usually takes me over 20,000 steps. But, sadly, I can’t mulch and garden every day.

Many days, I am indoors, neither gardening nor teaching. I have found that the best way for me to reach and exceed 10,000 steps on those days is to be inefficient! I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually works.

The principle is basic and elementary. Forget–absolutely forget–multi-tasking. Instead take any task, break it into as many sub-tasks as possible–the more, the better–and perform everything at the sub-task level.

Performing everything at the inefficient, sub-task level works so well that since the start of this year I have walked 782,356 steps. Yes. That’s right. 782,356 steps. Based on my gender and my stride length, that’s equivalent to 370.4 miles.

I made this remarkable discovery about the power of inefficiency quite by accident, just like so many other great scientific advances. Coca-Cola. Cornflakes. Velcro. Viagra.

I remember the exact circumstance when I had my breakthrough moment.

I had gone grocery shopping, but I was nowhere near getting in my 10,000 fitness steps. When I drove into my driveway, I started thinking. The distance from my Jeep to my kitchen door is about 75 steps. I could easily carry my four or five bags of groceries inside at the same time. But what the heck. I need steps. This is where inefficiency steps in. Let’s see. If I leave the groceries in the Jeep and walk to the kitchen door, unlock it, and walk back to the Jeep, I add 150 steps. Then if I take one bag at a time, I will walk 150 steps every trip. Multiply that by four trips–one trip for each bag plus the initial trip to unlock the door–and suddenly my inefficiency has boosted my customary 75 steps to 750 steps.

My fit-as-fiddle inefficiency principle is equally efficient when performing routine household chores. Vacuuming is a good example. My vacuum cord easily reaches from the kitchen through the dining room and into the living room. If I didn’t need steps, I could just vacuum all three rooms before unplugging and moving on. But I get more steps by using the kitchen electrical outlet while vacuuming the kitchen. Then I take the vacuum and plug it in to the farthermost electrical outlet in the dining room and continue vacuuming. Then I do the same as I move to the living room. That simple action earns me slightly more than an additional 100 steps above the 3,186 steps required to vacuum those three rooms. Imagine how many steps my inefficiency will help me achieve as I vacuum the entire house.

One of my favorite applications of getting fit through inefficiency involves dusting furniture. I never ever start the task with furniture polish in one hand and dust cloth in the other. No way. That’s too efficient. I put both down somewhere as far away as possible from the furniture to be dusted. Then I step forth with just the polish. I apply it. Next I return the polish to the original staging area, pick up the cloth, and return. I wipe. I shine. Then I return the cloth to the original staging spot. I continue that process while dusting my entire home. When I finish, I am fit or fit to be tied. Sometimes, both.

And I simply must share with you how remarkably efficient I am with kitchen inefficiencies. For example, if I’m standing at the sink and I need something out of the cabinet immediately to my left, I could walk a step or two in that direction and get it. Far better, though, is to walk to my right and go all the way around my kitchen island in order to get to the cabinet that was within arm’s reach to my left. That gives me 45 steps. Imagine all the stepping opportunities that I can take advantage of, just by preparing breakfast alone. Add to that lunch and dinner. Gracious me! I just had a brilliant idea! What if I apply that same principle to drying and putting away dishes! Inefficiency can step up any meal, any time of day.

Here’s another thing that I do. Phone calls–whether incoming or outgoing–provide a perfect time to get fit through inefficiency. Instead of sitting down and sipping a cup of coffee while talking, I get up out of my chair and walk. I have tried walking around one room and that’s good. Better still, though, is walking back and forth between two rooms. Best of all is walking all around the house. That’s especially good for me since I have a two-story home. That boosts my steps and my heart rate at the same time. I admit that when I apply my fit-as-a-fiddle inefficiency principle to phone calls, I have to watch my steps as well as my phone manners.

If I really need more steps in a day, I never–absolutely never–return anything to its rightful  home. I put them all in one place, ideally as far away from where they belong as possible. Then, when I have time–but always before the end of the day–I step my items back to their homes, item by item by item. Those steps accumulate quickly, and I enjoy the double joy of seeing my home as uncluttered as it should be.

Another one that I like is walking from my office to take my coffee cup back upstairs to the kitchen for a refill. En route, I saunter past my aquarium and realize that I need to turn on the light. Rather than do it right then and there, I continue to take my coffee cup upstairs and set it down. Then I walk back downstairs and turn on the aquarium light. Afterwards, I go back upstairs to refill my coffee cup, and walk back downstairs to my office, thereby gaining a total of 312 inefficient steps.

Or if I want to get downright physical about it, when I’m lifting weights at home, I don’t just stand there between sets looking in the mirror at the muscles that I hope to see. Instead, I find something to do. Sometimes I just step over to another mirror on the far side of the room to look at the muscles that I hope to see. Then I run my comb through the hair that I don’t have as much of as I used to have. Here’s a sweet trick: if I swing my Fitbit arm sufficiently while combing what I wish I had more of, I add a few more steps to my day.

I have so many more examples to share that I could step this post out to the length of an entire book. But why tell all at once? Maybe I could find a co-author–another inefficient Fitbit stepper–and make it twice as long. And, frankly, on days when I am desperate for steps, group authorship has even crossed my mind.

So what if it takes me longer to get to wherever it is that I am going? So what if it takes me longer to do whatever it is that I am doing? Whenever I arrive wherever–for whatever– I’ll step out as fit as a fiddle.

Glimpses of My Father’s Hands

John Saunders Kendrick

(April 8, 1902–September 21, 1983)

Not long ago, I went searching for a relic that I thought I had stored in the loft.  I looked and looked, but I never found whatever it was that sent me on my quest. Instead, I may have found more.

As I rummaged through heaps of possessions—some treasured; some not—I found an elegantly framed photograph that Sister gave me decades ago. (In true Southern fashion—at least in my family—you never call the oldest daughter or the oldest son by their first names. Audrey has always been Sister; John, always Brother.)  Sister gave all five siblings copies of the same photograph. Hers is lighted and hangs proudly and prominently on the wall that you see when you walk into her dining room. It’s a photograph of an old man—a very old man, head bowed, forehead leaning on clasped hands, and elbows resting on the dining room table. On the table, a loaf of bread, a bowl with spoon, a knife, and a cross-laden tome. At first glance, the photograph appears to be a copy of “Grace”—Eric Enstrom’s famous 1918 photograph of a Minnesota miner. You may have seen it in a home, a church, or a restaurant. I’ve seen it everywhere.

The photograph on Sister’s dining room wall is identical to Enstrom’s in every detail save two. First, the old man in her photograph has no beard. Second, the old man in her photograph is not the Minnesota miner. He’s a West Virginia coal miner. He’s my father.

I’m rapt by the photograph, and I wonder now—just as I did when Sister gave me my copy—how she ever convinced my father to pose for it. My father knew neither artifice nor airs. More, though, I ponder an overarching question, “Why did Sister have my father sit for such a photograph?” 

I had never seen my father’s hands clasped in prayer as they are clasped in Sister’s photograph. My mother was the one who always said grace at our table, with all of us joining hands. It was not until late in life—perhaps just a few years before Sister’s photograph—that my father became a Christian. Certainly he would not have prayed at mealtime before then. By the time he became a Christian, I no longer lived at home. Sister, though, lived next door. Perhaps Sister had seen my father say grace.      

 I can’t say what Sister saw, but, as for me, I remember my father’s hands differently.

I remember my father’s hands as strong hands. When but a child—no more than four or five, so small that I had to stand on a kitchen chair to watch as he butchered a fresh chicken—I reached out to ask, “What’s that?” just as his cleaver—raised high in air—came thrusting down to sever the chicken breast. The cleaver could not stop. With equal speed, my father’s hand grasped my nearly severed right hand and held it in place until the doctor arrived. Today, the scar that spans my hand authenticates the strength of his: holding on, not letting go.

I remember my father’s hands as a coal miner’s hands—fiercely strong, calloused, rough, knuckle battered, and sooty from coal that could not be scrubbed away. Those hands shoveled coal for fifty years, never missing a day, never suffering injury. Those hands provided.

 I remember my father’s hands as a gardener’s hands—perfectly patient, tenacious, self-confident, and unswerving as he pushed the plow, laying rows as straight as the crow flies. “Don’t look down,” he prompted, when the time came for him to teach me how to plow a row. “Stay focused on one thing at the end.”  Those hands gardened longer than they mined, never missing a season, never losing a harvest.  Those hands fed.

I remember my father’s hands as a carpenter’s hands—steady, certain, and capable as he remodeled our home and helped others remodel theirs, working with wood and wallboard, concrete and plaster. Those hands were untrained hands. “Just a jackleg carpenter,” he’d say of himself.  Those hands built.

I remember my father’s hands as a thinker’s hands. His walking carriage, always—whether in coal miner’s “bank clothes” or in white starched shirt and khakis (always his at-home attire)—was with hands behind back, palms out, right resting in left.

Later in life—with our roles reversed:  I, the caregiver; my father the one for whom I cared—I saw his hands as gentle hands. As age and illness weakened his body, softened his heart, and calmed his soul, I often held his hands in mine. One day, and I remember it vividly, I had a great curiosity—a compelling curiosity—to compare our hands, his and mine. I asked him to hold his hands out in front of him, and, as he did, I outstretched my hands to his, touching. Our hands were perfect matches—identical—his hands and mine.

And when my father lay in bed dying, I held his hands in mine until we both knew peace as death came with certainty and with finality.

The next day my mother and I made funeral arrangements. We both wanted understated elegance. The brushed, platinum-finished casket with a solid white silk lining—without tufting or design—seemed perfect.

When the evening of my father’s wake arrived, I walked with my mother toward the open casket where my father lay. Even from the far end of the chapel, we could see something on the lining of the raised casket lid—a design.

Drawing closer, we were both taken aback as we looked inside the casket lid. It was not what we had ordered. It was not a solid white silk lining without tufting or design.

Instead we witnessed—together—a pair of praying hands. To the right of the hands, the words, “May God hold you in the palm of His hand until we meet again.”

It was not what my mother and I had planned. It was not what we had ordered. And, yet, the praying hands were there, holding for me—and I believe for me alone—a lasting message.

My Father’s hands.

My father’s hands.

My hands.

Now, as I look back, I see Sister differently. Now, as I look back, I see her photograph of my father differently. Being older than I, Sister knew my father longer—and better. Living closer to my father than I, she had spent more time with him.  Being more blessed than I, Sister had more than enough grace to glimpse my father’s hands in ways that I would not see until the end.

Get Behind Me, Satan– REVISITED

A memoir forces me to stop and remember carefully. It is an exercise in truth. In a memoir, I look at myself, my life, and the people I love the most in the mirror of the blank screen. In a memoir, feelings are more important than facts, and to write honestly, I have to confront my demons.

Isabel Allende (Chilean-American writer who calls her writing style “realistic literature, rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fueled her imagination.”)

I have always been a staunch practitioner of Robert Frost’s precept that “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second” (Letter to Sydney Cox, January 3, 1937).

That’s why I rarely share anything that I am writing with others until I am reasonably comfortable that my “draft” is fast approaching my “fair copy.”

But I would explode if I didn’t share teasing tidbits about what I’m writing with a select few along the way.

For example, when I was drafting “Get Behind Me, Satan,” I shared the basic idea with a friend, telling her that my goal was to create a funny, humorous post that would mention not only the way that my siblings and I dashed out the door as my mother rebuked the Devil, broom in hand, but also the way that the Flip Wilson Show in the early 1970s caught my mother’s comedic fancy. Whenever Geraldine did something wrong–and she loved misbehaving–her defense was always “The Devil made me do it.” My mother loved it. She made it clear that she did not want to be bothered when Flip Wilson was on TV.

When I finished the first draft of my post, I texted my friend:

“Well, good grief! I just finished a crummy draft of ‘Get Behind Me Satan,’ and it slid off in a direction that I did not see coming at all! Any deliberate humor is gone. Flip Wilson is gone. And I’m not sure what the post … IS. Well, it’s crummy. But, at least, I have a crummy draft calling me tomorrow night!”

She texted me back instanter:

“Maybe you have 2 posts in this: the one you set out to write and the one that happened. Can they be two with different messages?”

I replied enthusiastically:

“Hmmm…maybe so! I like that idea a lot! I may use it and NOT give you any credit OR maybe you will become my ‘Linden (VA) Correspondent.’ Oh! I’m liking this a lot! ‘Get Behind Me, Satan, REVISITED!’ Yep! This is a winner!

So now, dear readers, you have the first-hand backstory of the post that you are reading right now.

Obviously, since my Linden Correspondent paved the way for me to explain my initial plan for “Get Behind Me, Satan,” I’ll go right ahead and do so.

I’ve already mentioned that my siblings and I would dash outdoors when my mother started rebuking the Devil.

I’ve already mentioned how my mother fell in love with Flip Wilson and Geraldine.

What I haven’t shared, though, is something that I had intended to include in my initial post if it had not melted away in a different direction. Read on.

Who would have believed that after all these years–and just like my mother–I hold the Devil fully accountable for anything and everything in my life that’s negative.

As you know, especially if you read my post “Baking Up My Past,” I don’t suffer baking failures lightly, and, fortunately, those failures don’t happen often. But I have been known to toss a culinary dream right into the trash can, all the while rebuking the Devil with language not found in the King James Bible and not proper for this post. Nonetheless, the fervor of my rebuke is on par with my mother’s.

And if you remember my post “The Power of Consistency and Persistence,” you know that I take my biking even more seriously than I take my baking.

Without doubt, it’s when I’m biking that Satan tempts me the most. Just imagine. I’m on my bike doing my best to get into my daily routine, and almost always after about twenty minutes into it, I hear that voice:

“This is tough, no? Never gets easier, does it? Hey, give yourself a break. Why not quit for today? You’ve done enough already. Just stop.”

What a mell-of-a-hess that leaves me in, sitting there on my bike, Gospel music shaking the rafters, with that Devilish little voice doing its best: Stop. Hop. Off. Quit.

But it’s at that moment that my pedaling kicks into overdrive. I speed up from 20mph to 23mph, rebuking the Devil out loud, above the blaring Gospel music:

“Satan, you ole slew foot, you! You’d love for me to stop biking now. But I’ll show you who’s the master of this bike. With God’s help, I’ll bike the full sixty minutes, maybe more. So go. Leave me be!”

And for an extra punch, I pause just long enough to light up my Sage Smudge Stick to give my workout area another layer of cleansing purification.

At that point, my dog, Ruby, gives me her puzzled look, tucks her tail, and dashes off to safety, leaving me to fight my own battles.

My biking rebukes work well until the next day or so when inevitably the Devil returns to have another round with me!

So that’s the direction my initial draft was going, and it was moving along exactly as I had expected. That is, until my sister Audrey sent me my mother’s Dickson Bible, the one that included Through the Bible in Pictures. The Gustave Dore images were marvelous, especially the one of the Devil that was the most frightening thing I had ever seen as a child.

After I had looked at that well-worn Bible showing heart-wrenching evidence of my mother’s travels and travails, my next draft of “Get Behind Me, Satan” started to veer away from my intended humorous course.

Then, when I saw that the image of the Devil had been ripped from the lower quadrant of the page exactly where the Devil always stood with his pitchfork and his long serpent tail, waiting for my return visits as a child, it veered further still.

Needless to say when I realized that I must have been the one who destroyed the image as my guileless way of rebuking Satan once and for all, the draft veered into its own and claimed itself, triumphantly.

It became what it was supposed to be.

It became a reflection that captured the simple truth as I recalled it rather than a jazzed-up post aimed at entertaining readers.

If my mother were here, she would look at me, smile, and remind me of what she taught me all along, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In Praise of Bridge Builders

Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.

Fannie Lou Hammer (1917-1977; Civil Rights Crusader)

My life has been filled with people who have helped me succeed. People who have helped carry me over. I like to think of them–collectively–as my bridge builders.


My parents, of course, started building the bridge upon which I still trod. They gave me life and empowered me to live mine to the fullest. They provided forever-tools–always to use, never to lose, ever. As a coal miner, my dad lived the life that he worked, and he preached it. As a preacher, my mother lived the life that she preached, and she worked it. They taught me to work hard at and see to the finish anything and everything that I started, fully believing that all work has dignity. They taught me the difference between working for a living and working for love. They taught me to appreciate, value, and celebrate diversity. They taught me to embrace and accept everyone along my way. And, yes, they taught me that with an education I could be whatever I wanted to be and go wherever I wanted to go.

My five brothers and sisters played critical roles, too, in constructing the bridge that has served me so well. Since they were older, I didn’t always understand the full dimensions of their lives: restaurateur; sales person and caregiver extraordinaire; medical technologist; mechanic; and post mistress. Yet, whatever they were doing always impressed me and sent me chasing my own dreams.


Growing up in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia, I was blessed to have some of the best educators in the world. They knew the subjects that they taught, and they taught those subjects with passion. Perhaps more important, they loved their students and took personal interest in us. They were living witnesses: we could transform our lives through education just as education had transformed their lives.

My third grade teacher at Shady Spring Elementary School stretched my bridge by introducing me to Robert Frost’s poetry. I fell in love–and remain in love–with poetry, and Frost remains my favorite poet. Bridge work continued as other teachers pulled me toward Scripps National Spelling Bee Competitions and Voice of Democracy Competitions. And I will always remember the teacher who got me hooked on the parts of speech and sentence diagramming. She knew that she had unleashed a wild child in love with the power of language.

My teachers at Shady Spring High School lengthened and strengthened the bridge still more. One showed me that powerful writing and hefty revision go hand in hand. Another helped me realize that typing and bookkeeping were solid backup skills that could open other career paths if my dream of going to college had to be deferred. And what a critical expansion my high school biology teacher provided by welcoming me and several other students to crash his desk every day at lunch, day after day, week after week, semester after semester, from our sophomore year all the way through graduation. Those lunch-time conversations were far more important than any lunch before or since. He gave us his time. He gave us himself.

As high school graduation approached and going to college became a reality, benefactors stepped up to help build my bridge. My parents and siblings didn’t have a lot to give, but what they had, they gave. Similarly, the citizens of my hometown set up a scholarship fund to help college-bound students buy freshman-year textbooks. I was one of the first recipients. That $150 check meant my future to me.

My professors at Alderson-Broaddus University added wonderfully rich dimensions to the bridge. Most of them lived on campus–on faculty row–and our classes were so small that we were often their dinner guests. They helped me see the human side of the presumed academic ivory tower that years later I would strive to model. My advisor, though in her fifties, finished her doctoral degree while I studied under her and served as her Work Study. She gave me an appreciation of lifelong learning. Fortunately, too, benefactors made it possible for my life bridge to continue growing. Their endowed scholarships helped me fulfill my dream of becoming a college English professor.

As a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, phenomenal educators continued to enrich my life and build my bridge. I’m thinking of my advisor who turned me on to textual bibliography. Another professor introduced me to Mary E. Wilkins Freeman–the ongoing focal point of my scholarly research from then until now. I’m recalling the professor who lectured, literary work in hand and not a lecture note in sight, with fiery passion and exultant joy. He allowed himself to be slain in the intellectual moment just as my mother always allowed herself to be slain in the spiritual moment. Through his teaching, I saw the best of both worlds–his and my mother’s. I had a vision of the educator that I would strive to be.


Just as I was blessed to have bridge builders throughout my educational life, so too have I been blessed to have them in my professional and personal life.

I would not be where I am today had it not been for my supervisor at the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. When I was a summer intern in his Division of Two-Year Colleges, he was the one who suggested that the Library of Congress might be the perfect place for me as an editor. He was the one who nudged me to Capitol Hill to submit an employment application.

Without his influence, I would never have had a twenty-five year career at the world’s premier research library.

During that career, I worked with the best professionals in the federal sector. They were awesome bridge builders for me and countless others. One–a pioneer in library automation, at a time when computers were still called machines–helped me move up from being an editor in the MARC Project to being an editor in the NUCPP-Pre-1955 Imprints, the bibliographic wonder of the world. Another made me believe that information is never lost: painstaking and dogged research can always lead to its discovery. Another made me believe that I had it in me to be the Training Coordinator for the United States Copyright Office. Then he led me from there to being the Director of the Library’s Internship Program and from there to being Special Assistant for Human Resources, giving HR advice to department heads throughout the Library as well as to two Librarians of Congress.

After I crossed the bridge from the library side to the academic side at Lord Fairfax Community College, I was blessed to have still more bridge builders in my life. The biggest, perhaps, was the selection committee that recommended hiring me as a professor of English, thereby making my third-grade dream come true. Later, another bridge builder challenged me to teach dynamic 8-hour classes on Fridays and Saturdays. Another graciously asked me to co-advise the Alpha Beta Omega Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa–the International Honor Society of the Two-Year College. Other bridge builders challenged me to teach without walls: Virtual Learning. Still another, without books: free Open Educational Resources personally curated and designed by me. Then there was the seminal opportunity to co-author and edit the college’s report for LFCC’s Reaffirmation of Accreditation, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Add to that team teaching Leadership Honors Seminars and English Honors Seminars and co-presenting at conferences with mathematicians, artists, and psychologists. And I will always remember the growth opportunity afforded by co-chairing the Developmental English Curriculum Team charged with redesigning Developmental English across the Virginia Community College System. Other bridge builders–colleagues, deans, vice-presidents, and presidents–championed me so successfully that, from time to time, I was in the limelight at the college, state, and national levels.

Fortunately, close friends have been there with me throughout my crossing–giving the support that only friends can provide. The “You can do this” pep talks! The “You did it” celebrations. The listening. The sharing. The “Here’s a tissue” followed by “Better now?” The emailing. “What? You kept them all? Guinness Book of World Records? No way!” The texting. The calling. The nothingness. The silliness. The everything-ness. All the things that nurturing friends do…just because that’s what friends do.


Words cannot describe one of the most important bridge builders in my life: my soulmate, my late partner. Allen journeyed with me across a large expanse of my bridge, quietly adding key components along the way. Gourmet cooking. Gardening. Hiking. Biking. Together we made the journey from who I was before, to who I am now. Together we witnessed the power and depth of love through surrender. Together our hands clasped tightly one another’s, one last time, as he crossed his own bridge into eternity.


Today, I am in awe. I am standing on the bridge that others built for me, still strong after seven decades. I am standing on the bridge that others will continue to build for me, including my executors who will pay my bridge forward by strengthening the endowed scholarships that Allen and I envisioned and established.

Looking back, the distance from where I started–the coal fields of Southern West Virginia–to where I am today–the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia–is not that far: fewer than 300 miles. But the joys and triumphs that I have experienced while journeying across the bridge exceed by far the wildest dreams of my wild imagination.

Looking ahead toward my Golden Years–whatever they are; whatever they bring–I step forth confidently. My bridge is strong. My bridge is sturdy. My bridge will endure. Those who built my bridge made it according to the best specs.

Looking ahead further still to that time when I will cross from my earthly bridge into the Great Beyond–whatever it is; whatever it brings–I hope that all of my bridge builders will be there to welcome me. My Soulmate/Partner. My Colleagues. My Friends. My Educators. My Siblings. My Parents.

What a great gettin’ up morning that will be as I rejoice in singing the praises of my bridge builders, the ones who carried me over.

Special “Bridge” Post Coming Your Way on Thursday, March 31

Let’s jump right in!


I love a good challenge, and I could not resist the one that WordPress tossed out for the month of March:

Each month, we’ll be bringing you a single word that serves as a prompt for your writing, your art, your coding — whatever it is that makes you, you.

For March, the WordPrompt is: BRIDGE.

Use that word as a jumping off point to publish a new post, whether you’re a lifestyle blogger or a foodie, a photographer or a poet.

The word bridge alone was enough to captivate me, but the word combined with the photo (below) made it a real jump-off challenge.

Come back this Thursday, March 31, to see where the WordPress bridge took me!

Get Behind Me, Satan!

“We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.”

My early childhood memories–I’m thinking now of my preschool years–are rich and vivid. My five older brothers and sisters would have been at school, weekdays, so I hung out with my mom, hanging on to every word that she said, especially when she prayed.

Her prayers were as beautifully worded as the verses in the King James Bible, which she knew forwards and backwards. Throughout the day, she prayed whenever the spirit moved her.

When my mother prayed–or, for that matter, when she preached–she never focused on the Devil. Instead she put the spotlight on the love of God.

Even so, she fully believed that the Devil was a real force to be dealt with, and she held him fully accountable whenever things went wrong.

When the forces of evil seemed to surround her and close in, she would rise up with the same King James linguistic power with which she prayed and preached, fully ready to take on the Devil who was causing her grief.

Big things. Small things. It didn’t matter. My mother was armed and ready for proper spiritual combat. She never presumed that she had the power to rebuke the Devil. She knew better. She always did so in the name of the Lord.

Maybe the special-occasion cake that she was baking didn’t turn out as it should. Into the trash it would go, all the while I could hear my mother saying, “Satan, you may think that you’ll keep me from baking this cake, but I’ll show you a thing or two! In the name of the Lord, get behind me Satan.” Then she would tackle a second cake.

Or she might be sewing costumes for a school play and the stitching wasn’t going the way that it should. “Satan, in the name of the Lord  I command you to get out of this house right now and leave me and my sewing machine in peace.” Afterwards, she would make that sewing machine sing.

On weekends, with all of us at home, the noise might hinder her from praying or from collecting her Sunday-sermon thoughts. “Satan, in the name of the Lord, go. Get out of here.” We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.

To my young ears, the battles were real. Without a doubt, the Devil was right there in the room, with my mother looking him straight in the eye, determined to stare him down.

And it always seemed that her rebukes in the name of the Lord won. Peace and love and mercy prevailed, if not forever, then at least until the next battle.

Little wonder that I fell in love with one of her several Bibles: The Illuminated Bible (The Good Samaritan Bible), published in Chicago by John A. Dickson Company, 1941. It included not only the Bible but Index and Digest, Collation of Scriptures, Laws of the Hebrew People, Teachings and Sayings of Jesus Christ, Parables of Our Lord, Warnings and Promises, Concordance, Lives of Noted Bible Characters, Maps and Family Records, and, to my great delight as a child who had not yet learned to read: Through the Bible with Pictures.

Through the Bible with Pictures consisted of engravings, if not by Gustave Doré then definitely in his style. The green plate illustration of the Devil was the most frightening image that I had ever seen. It didn’t keep me awake at night, but it scared me to death, and the thrill was such that I kept coming back for more, over and over again.

Recently my oldest sister Audrey sent me my mother’s Dickson Illuminated Bible, used so extensively that the binding is gone and some of the preliminary pages are missing. Until now, I hadn’t looked at that Bible in decades.

My mother’s travels throughout the pages are still apparent.

Written in the margins of several surviving preliminary pages are faded pencil notes in my mother’s hand for a sermon beginning, “The old track walker waved a broken lantern to stop the train.”

Some pages are dog-eared, leaving me wondering: what verses captured her attention on those pages. On other pages, the verses are marked in large parentheses that I still recall as her signature notation.

Her travails and rejoicings are evidenced, too, by tear stains here and there, throughout.

As for evidence of my own travels throughout the pages of that Bible, I had hoped for some kind of childhood scrawl that I might claim as mine. I found none.

However, I may have found more. Something strange. Something surprising. On one of the pages in Through the Bible in Pictures, the lower right quadrant has been torn out. That’s the exact spot where the Devil always stood with his pitchfork and his long serpent tail, waiting for my return visits. I do not recall tearing out that image of Satan. But since I was the youngest and the one most fascinated by that image, I had to be the one who did it.

Who knows. Perhaps as a child, I simply decided to take matters into my own hands and rebuke the Devil in my own way by destroying his image once and forever.

“Get behind me, Satan.”

Heading Out

My mother was always unfazed by my haircuts, however much they surprised (or mortified) her. She knew what many other mothers didn’t. In time, I would get over my cut and move on.

Hey, folks! I got my hair cut last week on Saint Patrick’s Day. No big deal. Right?

Wrong! It was a big deal for me. I hadn’t had a haircut since March 17, 2020, right at the start of our fractured COVID world.

When I got that haircut, I was as hopeful as every one else that COVID would fade away just as quickly as it had emerged.

But COVID continues to hang around longer than any of us expected. And you guessed it. During the last two years, my hair grew longer than I ever expected. No problem. I secured my little ponytail with a little rubber band, and it didn’t look too bad at all. Really. It didn’t. I kept the sides and top cut about as short as usual. I kept my hairline and neck trimmed, too. I did it all, all by myself.

With my new “do,” whenever I walked toward people, I always got the usual greeting. “Hey, how’s it going?” But as I walked past, I always heard, “Oh, my God! You’ve got a ponytail. It’s so you.”

As my ponytail grew longer and longer, I decided to play it up with colorful hair ties for my longhairs. Purple. Blue. Green. Rainbow. Bling blings. Psychedelic. Celtic. They were the Raddest. On any given day, I’d usually pick my hair tie to match my shirt color. From that point forward, “That’s so you” became music to my ears, always making me smile a little wider and a little longer.

Finally, the ponytail was hanging down below my shoulders. It didn’t look that long because my hair has some natural curl. But, still, it felt just a little too long. Since I didn’t want to cut the glorious mane that I could always feel but could never quite see, it seemed to me that a man bun was a perfect–perhaps even a trendy–solution.

Mind you: it wasn’t much of a bun: I’m balding on top and the rest of my hair is thin. What mattered was the simple pleasure that it gave me. Actually, it pleased me a lot, so much so that I had every intention of celebrating the bun with a pair of hair sticks, ideally a little pair of sterling silver chopsticks. Sadly, I could not find any that were short enough.

Nonetheless, my ponytail/man bun made me feel more Rad than I had felt since my twenties and thirties when my Scandinavian stylist Hilda always whipped out her long matches after cutting my hair and horrified me as she singed the ends to keep my hair from “bleeding” and to encourage it to grow. Before that my mother sometimes used nothing more than her fingers and scissors to give me a feather cut. Both my mother and Hilda had an easy job, because in those days I sported a full head of hair. How can any stylist go wrong? Hair. Glorious hair. Those were the days, my friends.

In college, I flaunted a pompadour. In high school, a ducktail. In grade school, a Mohawk, and before that a buzz cut.

My mother was always unfazed by my haircuts, however much they surprised (or mortified) her. She knew what many other mothers didn’t. In time, I would get over my cut and move on.

And so it was with my ponytail. I guess I got over it. Maybe. I’m not really sure.

But I am sure of this. I’m trying my best to believe–even if I can’t do more right now than give my belief an elbow bump–that what seems to be a sharp decline in COVID numbers, at least in the United States, heralds better days ahead. Hopefully, it’s more than a temporary lull before we move on to the next surge.

Either way, I’ll be heading out with a new haircut to greet whatever awaits us.

Baking Up My Past

“If baking is any labor at all, it’s a labor of love. A love that gets passed down from generation to generation.”

–Regina Brett

Make no mistake: I love to bake! My earliest baking triumph was a total disaster. I was four years old. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen to bake a cake all by myself, as she pretended to busy herself in the adjoining room, ready to rescue.

Rescue? What on earth could possibly go wrong? After all, I had been hanging out in the kitchen since forever, watching my mom bake one delicious cake after another, one sweet, tasty day after another into oblivion.

But something went terribly wrong. I measured the baking powder incorrectly. Neither I nor my mother knew until batter oozed out the door of our South Bend, woodburning cookstove, onto the kitchen floor.

Then my mother helped me understand the companion joy of baking: cleaning up the mess.

More, she made me bold enough to give a botched bake another try! I have no doubt that my second attempt–that same day, of course–was a resounding success. Ironically, though, what lingers is the initial memory of cake batter oozing out onto the floor like lava spewing out of Mt. Vesuvius.

That first bake–catastrophic though it was–got me hooked on baking, and through baking, I discovered that cake is the way to everyone’s heart. It can also be a mirror into the past.

For example, my mother’s favorite cake was a twelve-layer strawberry stack cake, make (preferably) with wild strawberries. Her mother always baked it for mom’s birthday. Later in life, when I baked that cake on mom’s birthday, she insisted that mine was every bit as good as any that her mother ever made (even if my strawberries never quite measured up to the wildness of the ones that her mother picked each May).

As for my dad, his favorite was a yellow layer cake with apple butter not only spread between the layers but also slathered on the sides and top. The thicker, the better. It was his favorite, first because he enjoyed baking it, and, second, because it was a quick version of the more complex and complicated apple stack cake that he enjoyed as a child.

As for my two brothers and three sisters, I am clueless.

As for me, I may be clueless about lots of things in life, but I am never clueless about my favorite cake. It’s always the one smackdab in front of me, assuming, of course, that it’s homemade from scratch or the one that I’m planning to back next always from scratch.

My siblings must have their favorites, too. I could ask, I suppose, but that straightforward approach would give me straightforward answers. What’s the fun in that?

I prefer thinking and conjecturing and researching.

What cakes were the rage when I was born? My siblings? My parents?

Mind you. This is not original thinking at all. I have seen such articles before: “famous cakes the decade you were born.”

The thing is that most of those articles don’t focus on what matters to me: cakes before the 1950s. Apparently, people born before 1950 are no longer alive, or, if they are, they’re too old to be baking cakes!

Well, excuse me. I was born before 1950, and I’ll put my bakes up against the best!

So I decided to don my toque blanche and research cakes that were popular during the decade of the Fighting Forties when I was born! I have two older sisters and an older brother who were born in that decade, too.

I could simply tell you that desserts from the 1940s included Carnival Marble Cake, Magic Peach Cake, Mincemeat Christmas Cake, and even a Chintz Cake.

But my 1940s siblings and I, though born in the same decade (and of the same parents) are as different as night and day.

So I decided to see what I could discover about birth-year cakes.

1947 was my year. A Chocolate Weary Willie Cake seems to have captured attention. It might interest you to know that “Weary Willie” was another name for a tramp. (Well, excuse me again. I’ve been called lots of things before, but never a tramp. Having made that disclosure, I’m confident that you will check out the link to that recipe. However, would you refrain from doing so until after you finish reading–and liking–today’s post? Thank you in advance for refraining and for liking!)

Another 1947 cake was Jack Berch’s Mahogany Cake. Berch was a radio announcer who chatted, whistled and sang for audiences from 1935 to 1954. “Keep a listenin’ while I’m a whistlin” was his motto. I like the backstory enough to try that recipe.

Now let’s move back a few years to 1943 when my sister Judy was born. That year the Red Velvet Cake was a hit. The recipe had been around far earlier, but in 1943, Irma Rombauer’s classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking introduced the Red Velvet Cake to America.

The year before–when my brother Stanley was born–America was grappling with war rations, and many cake recipes called for cheap pantry staples and far less sugar. This was the year of the Victory Cake.

My sister Arlene was born in 1940, the year of the Do Nothing Cake: “easy, takes no time to throw it together, and is so delicious.” I’m sure that she will be quite insulted when she reads about “her” cake, because she is always busy doing something.

My two oldest siblings were born in the previous decade, the Threadbare Thirties following the Great Depression.

Little wonder that when my sister Audrey was born in 1935, an eggless, milkless Depression Cake cake was popular. Far better, though, would have been the Sun-Maid Raisin Nut Cake from the same year, with the recipe right on the back of the raisin box.

Moving back two years to 1933, when my brother John was born, a Chocolate Prune Cake was the favorite. If you don’t like prunes, you might try the Doberge Cake, also popular that year.

Since I started this post by talking about my parents’ favorite cakes, it seems fitting that I should end with something about the cakes that folks enjoyed during their birth decades.

My mother, Bertha Pearl, was born in 1912, the year that the Titanic sank. During her decade of the Nineteen Tens/Teens, lots of cakes were in the lineup. Chocolate Nut Cake. Sponge Cake.

But I think my mother would have given a nod to the Lady Baltimore Cake, described in Owen Wister’s novel, Lady Baltimore:

“‘I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,’ I said with extreme formality. I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore.  Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it?  It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts – but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.  Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full, ‘But, dear me, this is delicious!’”

Finally we reach 1902 when my father, John Saunders, was born, at the start of the Aughties decade. Among a number of other chocolate-battered cakes, the first recipes actually dubbed Devil’s Food appeared that year, “one in Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, and the other in The New Dixie Receipt Book in which it was slyly subtitled ‘Fit for Angels’.”

Clearly, I could bake up my past forever, especially if I were to pursue cake backstories for grandparents, aunts, uncles, first cousins, and cousins twice removed.

Fortunately, I won’t.

But rest assured. I will bake all the cakes that I have mentioned, knowing that I will continue to learn an awful lot about baking. Who knows: with a little luck, I might even stumble upon a recipe or two worthy of sharing with others.

As I taste my way along, I will stack up a rich and multi-layered appreciation of my family’s past with every cake I bake … with every bite I take.

Two Ways of Looking at the World

“Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes.”

Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas, 1938)

I live a quiet life. My days tend to have the same shape, with my activities anchored to specific times, so much so that at any appointed hour, I spring automatically into action. It’s similar, in many ways, to the meticulous scheme that Benjamin Franklin followed so faithfully and immortalized in his Autobiography.

A daily routine works for me as well as it did for Franklin. I swear by mine. Actually, I live by it.

Unlike Franklin, though, who got up at 5:00am, I tease myself (and sometimes others) claiming that I am a little more industrious because I get out of bed at 4:00am.

And, again, unlike Franklin, I start my day with robust physical activity rather than with passive–though well-intentioned–reflections about what good I shall do for the day, as Franklin did.

What Franklin did, of course, is all fine and well. But I prefer to engage in those reflections as I start my days–each and every one of them, seven days a week–by biking indoors for 20 miles.

As I bike, I listen to music. Not just any music. Generally, it has to be soul-filled Black Gospel music. But some White Gospel music slays me in the spirit of their singing, too, so those songs are on my biking playlist.

While biking recently, two songs by White Gospel groups caught my attention. In fact, those two songs got me to thinking about the importance of attitude in our lives.

Those two songs are at the heart of what you’re reading right now.

Both deal with the Biblical event recorded in the Gospel of John 11:1-44.

It’s the story of Lazarus. When he fell ill, his two sisters–Mary and Martha–sent for Jesus. But when He received word, He did not hurry to the side of His three friends. He remained where He was.

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus ordered that the gravestone be rolled away, and then He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Even though both songs celebrate the same miracle, each sees it through different eyes.

The first Gospel song is by The McKameys. They wrote the lyrics to “Right on Time.”

Their lyrics are consistent with the Biblical account. Having been sent for, Jesus tarried, Lazarus died, and they laid him in the tomb. And as they said their last goodbyes, they looked: coming down the road was Jesus, right on time.

“Right on Time,” the song’s title, is repeated five times in the lyrics.

“Right on time.” Five times.

There is in the McKamey version a celebration of the belief that the Miracle Worker knows our needs–whatever they might be–and that He will arrive to meet those needs right on time. His time.

It is a comforting way to look at the world.

The other song, it seems to me, sees the same Biblical event from a  slightly different perspective. It’s a song by Karen Peck and New River, “Four Day’s Late.”

In their version, when Christ arrives, Martha runs out to Him, telling Him that He could have healed Lazarus if He had gotten there sooner.

And then the Miracle Worker gets an upbraiding: “But you’re four days late and all hope is gone.”

Imagine that! He who had performed twenty-eight miracles previous to raising Lazarus from the dead was now charged with being four days late for His twenty ninth!

“Four days late” is repeated six times in the song.

“Four days late.” Six times.

In fairness to Karen Peck and New River, they use the “four days late” refrain to remind us that whatever we’re going through we should be mindful that the Miracle Worker will always be on time for us, even in those times when we think He’s late.

Nonetheless, “Four Days Late” seems more like a lamentation than a celebration.

Same Biblical event. Seen somewhat differently through different lyrics.

What it comes down to is attitude. On time? Late?

And isn’t that true with all of us? What’s our attitude as we look at the events in our lives? Right on time? Four days late? Either way, the outcome is the same.

Why not look at each day as a rich, multifaceted, unpredictable, right-on-time miracle?