Feeling Grateful in 2017

By: Ashley Whisonant

The beginning of a new year is exciting. I love the fresh start and new beginnings. Instead of the usual New Year’s resolutions of losing weight, saving money, eating better, etc.….I decided to do something different than I have ever done. I want to focus on being grateful for the blessings in my life. This certainly does not mean everything is wonderful and picture perfect 24/7. We are all dealt tough hands and have not-so-great-things happen. My goal for this year is to change how I view the negatives in my life.

While getting ready for work this morning, I noticed my few gray hairs. They were shining so proud in my mirror under the bright fluorescent lights. Old Ashley would have freaked out and made the fastest hair appointment. With my new outlook, I tried to focus on the positive. Having gray hairs means I am getting older. Look at all the amazing things getting The Gratitude Diariesolder has given me: financial security, a strong, healthy body, a loving husband and two great little boys. Getting older is not too shabby.

I recently finished reading The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. Her year of grateful living has been an inspiration for me. She has seen improvements in her marriage, work life, and health. This book is certainly a must read for the New Year.

Will everyday be perfect? No, impossible. But in 2017, I am going to focus on making my outlook more grateful.

My Goal is No Resolutions

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Don’t believe in ’em.

But I do like to set new goals every year. Semantics? Maybe, but I think there’s a small, important difference between resolutions and goals.

Most people’s resolutions seem to be about fixing what’s wrong with us. Losing weight is the most popular New Year’s resolution in America according to most lists, while the very vague “get healthy” tops others. Get organized, quit smoking and get out of debt are also up there. And guess what? They’re also the most commonly broken resolutions, so come February the house is once again a mess, the credit cards are maxed out and we still can’t button our pants.

New Years Goals

Goals, on the other hand, are about accomplishment, building on our success and reaching our dreams. They feel positive instead of punitive. I may not achieve all — or any — of my goals in any given year. But thinking about them and putting them in writing helps me clarify what’s important to me.

So — in no particular order — here are some of my goals for 2017:

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2:05.
  • Paint our bedroom and get new linens and towels.
  • Obtain and complete at least 3 freelance writing jobs.
  • Lower my golf handicap to 14.
  • Finish the first phase of landscaping in the natural area of our Cat Island home.
  • Take a special getaway trip to celebrate a milestone birthday.

I’m far from perfect and there are many things that need fixing around about my person. But I’d rather focus my energy on the things I enjoy. That word — “enjoy” — has hidden power in it. Webster’s defines it as “to experience with joy.”

And if I were going to make a resolution, it would be to let myself experience more joy in life.

Back-to-Work Blues

By: Chaunte McClure 

How many of you spent Sunday evening dreading the fact that you had to go back to work this week? I wasn’t exactly dreading it, but the extra hours snugged in bed for the past week were much appreciated, and I’m not opposed to having more of those opportunities.

back to work blues

Remember how the week before Christmas you could hardly wait for your week off to begin so you could complete your Christmas shopping, run last minute errands, leave for vacation or just enjoy some time off? Then in seven, six, five, four, three two, one . . . it was time to prepare your mind for your normal routine of waking up to an early morning alarm and pressing snooze time after time before finally making your way to the bathroom.

With the rain pounding on the roof Tuesday morning, that made getting up a little harder, but I rolled out of bed, determined to get to work on time. I knew wet roads meant a higher possibility of accidents and traffic delays, so I made sure I had extra time for my morning commute.

With about eight minutes to spare, before walking into the building to unlock my office door for the first time since 2016, I skimmed my timeline and read a few posts from friends who had back-to-work blues. I think most of them started sharing days-off memes as early as last Thursday as the week gradually ended.

I survived the first day back in the office after the holiday break. I had meetings the first half of the day and I spent the second half responding to requests. Let’s see how these next three work days of the new year pan out.

The Midlands Arts Conservatory

Providing a Free, Public Education that Combines Arts and Academics

By: Shannon Boatwright

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Just one year ago, in January of 2016, I wrote this blog entry sharing news of a mission to bring an arts conservatory to Columbia, SC. With great zeal, I shared my support for this mission and why the arts are such a huge part of creating a quality, top notch education for the young minds of today.

“Amazing things happen and great knowledge is attained when the arts help to bring core school subjects to life. The joy of the arts is that they can be integrated into every subject. In a perfect educational world, every school would have a fine arts program and arts integration would be a part of every school’s curriculum. Students and teachers would only benefit; there are no negative aspects whatsoever, only the deepening of understanding. To those who recognize the benefits of, engage in and truly support the arts, bravo to you! And thank you.”
– Shannon Elizabeth Boatwright

I am thrilled to help announce that people have rallied behind the mission of the Midlands Arts Conservatory (MAC) and an outpouring of support is helping to make it a reality! Please help me continue to support the mission and share the progress of MAC. There are informational meetings being held this coming weekend that parents and families can attend to get all their questions answered. If you know of any student in the area with a passion for the arts, absolutely do not hesitate to share this info with them! For more details, please read the information below and share it in every way that you can. Let’s help make the arts shine so that young minds can be enriched, deeper understanding can be attained and creativity can thrive!

Arts Charter School to Open in Columbia:
Midlands Arts Conservatory

A committee of arts professionals, educators, parents and community members is moving forward with plans to open an arts charter school in Columbia. The Midlands Arts Conservatory (MAC) will have a focus on the visual arts, theater, dance and music.

mac-logo-squareThe school will hold two informational meetings for parents and the community: on Saturday, January 7th at the North Main branch of the Richland Public Library at 4:00pm, and on Sunday, January 8th in the second floor theatre at the main branch of the Richland Public Library at 3:00.

MAC will provide a free, public education that effectively combines arts and academics. The school plans to open in the Fall of 2017 with 6th and 7th grades, and will add a grade level each year, reaching 12th grade in 2022. The Midlands Arts Conservatory will be free for any South Carolina resident student in the appropriate grade level who has an interest in the arts and is willing to meet the high academic expectations of the school.

The school will be staffed with highly qualified arts and academic instructors in an environment that provides training, exposure and practical application in the arts and the integration of arts into the academics of the school. The student-teacher ratio in classes will be no higher than 20 to 1 and lower in specialized arts areas. MAC will have small group and individualized instruction in the arts with a wide spectrum of academic support available.

The MAC Planning Committee members understand the importance of a high-quality arts education for young people. They want to ensure that every child in the Midlands has the opportunity to experience the power of creative self-expression.

For more information, contact J Britt at (803)-630-1622 or (803)-630-1MAC; visit http://midlandsartsconservatory.org; or follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MidlandsArtsCon.

Giving Thanks One Postcard at a Time

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Writer Ralph Marston once said, “Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.”

A few years ago, my friend Julie Turner Smith did a yearlong Thank You Project. It was a letter writing and blog project in which she recognized and thanked people who enriched her life and/or made our community an even better place to live. I loved the project and started one of my own that year during Lent. I enjoyed it so much, and I’ve tried to keep it up, though not as formally.

postcard-project

It’s been a sentimental holiday season, and though I didn’t take time to do Christmas cards, I’ve thought many times how fortunate I’ve been to have such a great support system over the past 21 months. Today, I was cleaning my office and found a book of thank you postcards that I bought months ago. A quick flip through it showed that I had not used even one. Then I had an idea to start a new project, similar to my friend’s project, only with the postcards. I have no details other than to send all 24 by the end of 2017.  With each one I send, I’ll make a note in the book cover, and that’s as detailed as I’m going to get.

The first postcard is on its way to someone I don’t know who lives in my neighborhood. Every Christmas, they have the best light display I’ve ever seen. The big bushes in the front yard are each a different color, and it looks like a Pantone wonderland. Some years they put it up later than others, but every year we squeal when we see it and ride by it countless times. It’s not Christmas until the lights are up on Ponte Vedra Drive.

So the next time I remember a kindness out of nowhere, I’m going to send a little postcard to the sweet soul(s) who made a difference in my life.

Do you have a way of tracking the people you are grateful to? If so, what do you do? Do you journal it, send an actual thank you note, or something else?

It Takes a Village

By: Ashley Whisonant
it takes a village to raise a child

Most of us have heard the saying, “It takes a village.” I never really understood the full ramifications until the last year or so.

Raising kids in today’s world really does take a village. Surrounding yourself with people that love your kids and want to help is the only way I could make it through motherhood.

Take for instance, the girlfriends in my neighborhood. We are there to help watch each other’s little ones while someone else finishes dinner or homework with an older sibling. We are each other’s sounding board for aliments and aches, husband rants, and work success stories. We laugh, cheer each other on, and work to help each other’s littles.

What about my boys’ preschool teachers? Thankfully they can stand to be with twelve 2 year olds because this momma certainly can’t. They help me and help my boys to be independent. From potty training to letter sounds, we are allies in this kid raising thing.

Maybe your village is an online community of women that encourage and help you. That is awesome. Wherever you can find it, get yourself a village. Without one, it is a lonely road.

New Christmas Traditions

By: Rachel Sircy

My husband and daughter and I are in Ohio visiting my family for the holidays. On the way up we listened to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, read by Patrick Stewart. I’ve seen several different movie versions of A Christmas Carol and my husband and I listen to the book on CD every Christmas that we drive up to Ohio. Needless to say, it’s a story that I know a-christmas-carolpretty well, and I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this blog post will be equally familiar with it. Most years that we watch the movies or listen to the book read aloud, I think of it as just one of those quintessential Christmas stories, one of those stories that’s told so often that Scrooge and Humbug and the Spirit of Christmas have become bywords in our culture.

For some reason as we listened to it this time, the story’s bizarre nature struck me like a blow to the head. It’s a Christmas horror story, really. I mean, the parts about ghosts wailing and rattling their chains is fairly reminiscent of hell. I started to wonder why on earth Dickens decided to tell a story about Christmas in this way, and why the public ate it up in the way that they did. How did this weird little spook story become such an inseparable part of our modern idea of Christmas?

According to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) Dickens wanted to use people’s awakened interested in Christmas (in his day Christmas traditions were changing; Christmas trees were becoming popular as were Christmas cards) to promote awareness of poverty and social injustice. So, he created a strange story about a tight-fisted misanthrope being scared straight just in time for him to spread some Christmas cheer.

I have said all of the above to say that I have been thinking about the new Christmas tradition that Dickens created, and that has got me to thinking about creating new Christmas traditions of my own. Since my daughter – I’ll call her HRH (short for Her Royal Highness) – was born, I have been trying to find ways to simplify the holidays, honor the memories of loved ones, and teach HRH the true “reason for the season.” Here are three new traditions, two I have tried and one I want to try next year.

  1. Homemade Christmas Gifts: One way that I have been trying to simplify Christmas is to make each child on my list a gift rather than just buying a billion toys that will get thrown into the corner to collect dust after the child plays with them for a week. I want each child in my family circle to have something meaningful, something that Mommy or Aunt Rachel made them that they can keep and pass down. The work that goes into a homemade gift is personal. I think about each person as I make the gift, and that thought is part of the gift. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely buy a few toys as well, but my main gifts are almost always something I have made.
  2. Honoring Loved Ones: My husband’s grandmother passed away in 2012, and her passing was keenly felt by all the family. This year I wanted to revive a tradition that Grandma Sircy started during her lifetime – making a personalized ornament for each member of the family. I began this year with a simple project, wrapping styrofoam balls with fabric, yarn or tulle. I suppose this falls in the same category as the homemade gifts, but this particular homemade gift is really a tribute to Grandma Sircy – something to remind us of her.
  3. Making the story of Christmas come alive for children: My brother and sister-in-law found a Christmas activity on Pinterest that I absolutely love, Joseph and Mary on the Shelf. The idea behind this activity is basically the same idea behind Elf on the Shelf: you make it seem like toys (or Nativity set pieces) are moving around the house while the children are asleep. However, this particular version of this activity comes with the added bonus of teaching children the Christmas story. My brother and sister-in-law partially set up their Nativity scene, putting up the stable and adding the animals to it, BUT they left out Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, the wise men and the shepherds. They began the month of December by reading their children the Christmas story from the Bible and that night and each night afterward, the children have to find Mary and Joseph who are somewhere in the house, making their way toward the stable in Bethlehem. One night, Mary and Joseph were found on the kitchen counter “eating” some of the kids’ chicken nuggets to sustain them for their continued journey. Mary and Joseph arrived in the stable on Christmas Eve and Jesus, the shepherds and wise men were waiting for them on Christmas morning.

So, these are my new Christmas traditions, ones that I hope will bring the spirit and the reason for this holiday season close to my family. If anyone has any traditions that they have created for their family, or that their parents created for them, I would love a comment about it!!

Suggested Reading: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.